Chapter 31: Cliche Can't Catch up with Changes
The Martial Arts Club's morale stayed low for a long time until a beautiful defeat over Liucheng University of Science and Technology. They also went all the way to Shanbei to challenge the national champion team led by Xu Wannian where Lin Que, Chen Changhua and even Sun Jian who had just returned from injury were all out of kilter, which completely shocked Lou Cheng. At the post-match meeting, Geezer Shi revealed that Xu Wannian bore the soul of language.
The group competition lasted until late December when business owners started to get busy with Christmas decoration.
Lou Cheng walked out of his dorm room and took a seat in the living room next to Cai Zongming whose full attention was riveted on a martial arts competition. Lou Cheng said, "Talker, may I ask you a question, please?"
"Very polite and very solicitous. Something is happening..." replied Cai Zongming with a jeer. "Is it about your goddess?" "He-heh," laughed Lou Cheng to admit.
"How is it going with your goddess? Look at the big leer on your face every day! I bet you are doing well," asked Cai Zongming casually.
Lou Cheng took a moment to think about it with corners of his mouth upward and then answered, "She was marked by low spirits for a long time after our loss to Guannan. Every day I wracked my brains to cheer her up and ﬁnally it worked. I think our relationship has developed a bit as we climbed out of depression together..."
"The ﬁrst one of the top three illusions in life," Cai Zongming responded mercilessly. "Relationship is furthered when she becomes willing to share her private matters or her family stories with you."
"That's right. Recently she often brought up her personal stuff to me, quite different from the Yan Zheke I knew before. I used to fall for that fabled beauty. Now... Now..." Feeling shy speaking of his feelings for her in front of Cai Zongming, Lou Cheng cut back to the beginning of the conversation. "I remember you advised me to ask her out alone in December after the group competition in the name of the amateur Ranking Event?"
"What if someone else takes advantage of the special day Christmas if I don't take action?"
That was what we called crisis awareness!
Cai Zongming laughed, "Do you need my help on such a simple matter? Your goddess' martial arts level has improved considerably after three months of hard training. Will she miss the amateur Ranking Event? Doesn't she want to ﬁnd out how good she is now?"
The Amateur Ranking Event was held four times a year with slight difference on dates. In Songcheng it took place on the last two days of March, June, September, and December. The Professional Ranking Event was hosted twice a year in April and October across the country. "Emm... During our talks, she seems to care a lot about her martial arts accomplishments." Lou Cheng agreed.
"You have also trained for three months. You were of Amateur Ninth Pin before, right? Aren't you curious about your current level?" Cai Zongming threw another question.
"Of course." Lou Cheng didn't disprove.
"Isn't that simple? Two good friends both want to take part in the next Ranking Event. It makes total sense for you two to go together! But your goddess will probably take Guo Qing with her. So you follow suit and bring Old Qiu along. Then you give her signals to leave Old Qiu and Guo Qing alone. Your goddess will certainly say yes and the pair of you can also have some alone time. Cai Zongming gave Lou Cheng a contemptuous gaze.
"And then?" Lou Cheng went on with his questions.
Cai Zongming answered with a smirk, "If she passes the Ranking Event and achieves her expected pin, ask her out for dinner to celebrate. But if she fails the event, invite her out for a meal to comfort her. Anyway, you can always make up some reason to go out with her alone. If you have some time to kill before the meal, watch a movie or have a coffee together. Pick somewhere quiet."
"My goodness. It's all cliche..." Lou Cheng was tempted to write everything down.
Cai Zongming started to rub his stomach and said with a frown, "I'll go to the bathroom ﬁrst. Talk more later."
Watching him go in the washroom, Lou Cheng withdrew his eyes and fell in a trance thinking about asking Yan Zheke out.
"Such a nice girl as her must have many admirers. Someone else might forestall me if I hesitate and wait. But are we close enough for a date? Will she go out with me? Isn't it too brusque? What if we couldn't be friends anymore? Does she have unrequited love for someone?" Swayed by considerations of loss and gain, he felt sweet then sour as different possibilities screened in his mind.
Lou Cheng lost track of time until the commentator started to review the ﬁght at the end of the Martial Arts Competition. "Where am I? What am I doing?"
"Uh... I'm seeking advice from Little Ming..."
"Where is Little Ming?"
"Still in the toilet?"
Lou Cheng turned around to the direction of the bathroom. "It's been over half an hour. Even the competition is over. How come Cai Zongming is still in there? Does he faint?"
He heard toilet ﬂushing as his concerns grew. The toilet door was open and Cai Zongming slowly came out, leaning against the wall with no strength in his feet. "Talker, are you alright?" Lou Cheng got up and made his way to Cai Zongming.
Cai Zongming answered through clenched teeth,
"Bloody hell! Terrible constipation!"
Terrible constipation... Constipation... Lou Cheng didn't get it at ﬁrst then suddenly came to realization.
"Ha-hah!" laughed him out aloud. "Plain rice with chili sauce every day. You deserve it! Ha-hah! You asked for it!"
"No wonder he was in there so long!"
Little Ming didn't strictly follow his money-saving plan but he was doing pretty well. At least one meal each day of his was plain rice with chili sauce. It had lasted for days prior to Christmas until he got constipation! Ha-hah!
Cai Zongming sat down helplessly, putting up with Lou Cheng's ridicule, and joked along, "Damn it! My bum hole hurts."
Lou Cheng wiped tears of joy off his eyes and said, "I'll write this one down for my solemn speech at your wedding. I'll tell everyone you once sacriﬁced so much for love. How touching!"
"Only a few days left until my ﬂight to the capital. Sigh... I'm done with saving up. From now on I'll eat like a king!" Cai Zongming sighed before changing the subject. "On your date with your goddess, do not learn from those stupid online lectures such as agreeing to go out with you signals the beginning of your relationship and seizing every opportunity to grab her hand boldly. Every girl is different. Your goddess won't buy these dating rules. But you should show her how much you care about her and this date or she will be misled by your indifference into accepting some other boy, which will be a sad ending for you." "Show her how much I care?" Lou Cheng looked like a diligent pupil.
"Be attentive and be sweet. Praise her and keep your eyes on her. Don't make it clear to her but give her enough hints to enjoy such attention and fondness. Keep it in mind that don't confess your love too early. Confession is the ﬁnal move, not for beginners. No one will accept a stranger's sudden love with the extremely handsome admirer an exception. Get closer to her and ﬂirt with her. Girls are inclined to hesitations which will be worsened by confession. They will gradually lose joy and pleasure and the balance will tilt to the defeated side. As the old Chinese saying goes, "When water ﬂows, a channel is formed." That's the moment to propose." Cai Zongming played the Casanova role to the full.
With tips stacked in his head, Lou Cheng went back to his dorm and turned his computer on to gather information on the next Amateur Ranking Event. He logged on his QQ and shot a message to Yan Zheke, "I'm thinking to sign up for the next amateur Ranking Event. What about you?"
Yan Zheke was online. She immediately sent back to an encouraging ﬁst emoji, "I was just about to ask you the same question. I'm signing up for sure."
"He-heh. Something in common." Lou Cheng wanted to say "Our hearts beat in unison" but instead he typed, "I've checked the application form. It costs 500 yuan and will take place in the Songcheng Martial Arts Stadium. Which level are you signing up for?"
"Fifth pin!" Yan Zheke sent a wicked smiling dog emoji and added, "Everyone needs a goal! What about you?"
Me? Lou Cheng lost breath. "Which level should I apply?"
"Over a month ago, I was already of Amateur Ninth Pin. Then I trained diligently after a ﬁerce ﬁght with Wu Dong, practiced the meditation and the basic moves of 24 Blizzard Strikes, and watched and studied a Martial Arts Competition on site. I must be stronger now but how strong? With the pair exercise halted, I have no idea which level I am at now. "
"Seventh pin!" Lou Cheng sent an "I'm awesome" emoji. "Seventh pin? If you fail the ranking event, don't tell people we know each other!" Yan Zheke sent a sneer emoji and continued, "Send me the form. Let's sign up today. By the way, ask Old Qiu to apply also and I'll work on Qing, giving them another opportunity together!"
"Great minds think alike!" Lou Cheng sent an emoji of a satisﬁed guy wearing a pair of sunglasses.
He suddenly noticed the date at the head of the form before he clicked the forward button. "Hmm? January?"
Surﬁng the Internet, Lou Cheng came across an old piece of news from a few days ago stating the martial arts stadium of Songcheng gradually disintegrated with age was under repair, putting off the December Amateur Ranking Event for almost a month to the middle of January.
"Crap!" He quickly sent Yan Zheke a link to the news alongside a sobbing emoji. "The Ranking Event has been put off to the middle of January." "Seriously? I will have many exams around that time... No time for this..." Yan Zheke sent an emoji with giddy eyes.
Mid-January was Songcheng University's exam season!
"We'll have to wait until March." Lou Cheng's heart ached. He sent a pitiful face.
Casanova's plan became wasted effort. Plans couldn't keep up with the changes!
"Well, I have got other stuff to take care of anyway." Yan Zheke sent an emoji of a kitten nodding.
"What's that?" Lou Cheng asked casually despite the nerves in his heart.
"A date?" Yan Zheke sent a silly emoji of a bunny chewing a carrot and answered, "I planned to study hard for the exams but my aunt suddenly came to visit as she heard my cousin was not in his best form these days. She'll stay until the beginning of January and I'll be her company whenever I can..."
"Your cousin is also studying in Songcheng? Or working?" Lou Cheng's broken heart instantly recovered upon hearing Yan Zheke talking about her relatives.
According to Casanova, that was a sign for moving forth of their relationship!
Yan Zheke replied with a cheeky grin, "Actually you know him."
"I know him?" Lou Cheng was puzzled. "Who?"
"When was I acquainted with Yan Zheke's cousin?" It didn't ring a bell!
"Guess," Yan Zheke replied.
"The gorilla?" Lou Cheng brought up Chen Changhua to tease her.
"People that Yan Zheke knows that I know are either from my class or from the Martial Arts Club special training...
"Pooh! What do I have in common with him? When was I ever thickly built?" Yan Zheke sent a despised face. "Try again!"
Something in common? Lou Cheng suddenly saw the light and sent Yan Zheke's favorite stunned dog emoji.
"Don't tell me it's Lin Que!" "Not bad." Yan Zheke sent a proud smile and added, "He's always been my idol!"
Lou Cheng's hands stopped from typing as a large ﬂock run across his heart.
"Holy crap! Breaking news!"
"Fortunately, I didn't develop any unnecessary jealousy. I admire Lin Que but never envy or hate him. I can't wait to call him "my dear cousin-in-law" while clinging to his thigh!"
"But you barely talk to each other," asked Lou Cheng, confused.
Chapter 32: Invitation
Yan Zheke didn't use emoji this time. "Sigh... Ever since my uncle-in-law passed away, my cousin became a bit introverted. I don't know how to talk to him... Besides, all those girls would bore me to death with love letters for him, dinner plans for him, his QQ number if they knew we are related. Very troublesome!"
"Ha-hah. Lin Que would have the same kind of trouble if guys found out he's your cousin!" Lou Cheng gave Yan Zheke an implicit compliment.
Yan Zheke replied a shy smile.
The conversation replayed in Lou Cheng's head. He sent an emoji saying "Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing" and continued,
"So you chose Songcheng University over those in the capital for your cousin?" Yan Zheke had always been an excellent student in school and never had a drop of form in any exam. It wouldn't be a problem for her to get in those top universities in the capital Huahai. Lou Cheng didn't expect to see her here in Songcheng University at all.
"Perhaps this is destiny?"
"Fate brings people together from a thousand li away!"
"Yeah, I'm charged with heavy responsibilities to keep an eye on him and keep him out of trouble. Hmm! Feels like I was the older one!" Yan Zheke sent a cute emoji of lifting a table. The secret vivacity hidden deep in her heart was gradually revealed as the two became closer, especially during their chats online. She seemed quite different from her usual delicate and elegance.
People were all complicated with many sides.
"At the beginning, I felt sorry for you to have missed the capital Huahai. However, now I'm grateful that you are here. At least I have this chance to tell you how I feel..." Lou Cheng added a silly smile.
Following Casanova's instructions, he implied his fondness.
Simple friendly chats would not take them any further.
Yan Zheke sent an exhaling image from the divine beast sticker pack and said, "It's okay. No need to feel sorry for me. My results were not good enough to get me in the top three universities in Huahai. Other options are of the same league with Songcheng University. Also, I have some special feelings for Songcheng University because of my uncle-in-law."
"Your uncle-in-law was related to Songcheng University?" Lou Cheng was very interested in ﬁnding out more about this girl on the other end of the mobile.
"Didn't I tell you already that my uncle-in-law was my ﬁrst martial arts teacher? A disciple of my grandpa, he and my aunt were childhood sweethearts. He was of Professional Sixth Pin at his peak and fought in the second level of professional martial arts competition. When he had to retire due to injuries, he became a coach of the Songcheng University Martial Arts Club. Those years our club was also at the peak, making all the way up to the national ﬁnal but lost to Capital College sadly." Yan Zheke typed a long message, showing her desire to unload.
Lou Cheng sent a comforting sticker of touching head. "Your uncle couldn't get it over? So your cousin came to Songcheng University to make up for his regret after his death?"
"Correct," answered Yan Zheke. "My cousin was very close to my uncle-in-law... On his deathbed, there are only two things he couldn't let go besides his family. One was that Songcheng University Martial Arts Club didn't get the championship. And the other was his injuries that forced him out of the professional martial arts circle."
"Your cousin will make it up for him!" Lou Cheng sent a sticker to cheer her up and tried to change a topic to pull her out of the sorrow. "Didn't know your family has such a long martial arts history!"
Her grandfather, mother, uncle-in-law, aunt, and cousin were all martial artists! Yan Zheke replied a sticker of a pair of sunglasses. "That's right. Scared? I have ancestral martial arts techniques!"
"Very! I'm shaking here. Please accept my bow!" Lou Cheng played a gag.
Yan Zheke sent a sneer emoji. "Unfortunately, I didn't learn..."
"Why?" Lou Cheng used the emoji of a numb face.
"My parents practiced free love but my maternal grandparents didn't like my dad, a fair-skinned man from another city. He-heh... My dad was really good looking in his youth. Anyway, they couldn't stop my mom so they set up a rule to prevent her from passing on their ancestral martial arts skills to the Yan family. That's why I started my martial arts training with my uncle-in-law." Yan Zheke sent an emoji of a little monster licking ice cream.
Lou Cheng read her words carefully as if it was more important than the reading comprehension part of the college entrance exam. He replied a wiping sweat sticker. "Sounds like you don't have resentment against your grandparents. Are you close to them?"
"Of course. Lovely and clever as me... How could they not adore me? Those harsh words were just some water in their brains. Bearing a great sense of pride, they couldn't go back on their own words, so they sent my uncle-in-law to teach me." Yan Zheke sent a smiley behind sleeves and added, "The true reason is I grew up in Xiushan, very far away from them. And my uncle-in-law passed away early. I ended up spending all my time on study and didn't learn our family martial arts."
Getting to know Yan Zheke better little by little, Lou Cheng gradually threw away the disappointment of no chance asking her out before Christmas and almost forgot about time.
Dean's ofﬁce in the lakeside building. Geezer Shi sat at one side of the tea table facing the Principal who had his hair combed to the back. In his hand was an old bottle of Chinese wine and on the table were two plates of peanuts and boiled beans.
"How's your private disciple doing? Will he be ready to represent the Martial Arts Club next year?" The principal took a sip.
Geezer Shi answered after a big swallow, "He's not bad, but you know, young people are not humble. He's feeling too good about himself and thinking he's ready to ﬁght."
"Ha-hah. It's the same everywhere. Wasn't you like that in your youth? Wasn't I the same?" The principal laughed out.
Geezer Shi tapped his left index ﬁnger and a peanut jumped out of the plate into his mouth.
"He needs some setback to understand his current strength.
Time went by fast and it was already January. Cai Zongming returned from the capital with happiness radiating on his face. Lou Cheng's concerns about his long-distance relationship were ﬁnally relieved. He gave a thumb up as Casanova was matchless regarding love.
Lou Cheng developed a great admiration for this miraculous girl who was able to tame this wild horse. Little Ming was handsome, rich and charming, but he remained loyal for an entire term for her.
The Martial Arts Club's special training and all club activities were halted for the stressful and busy exam season in January. Lou Cheng continued to get up at ﬁve in the morning to train by the lake every day although often Geezer Shi slept in and didn't show up.
One after another exam wore Lou Cheng out physically and mentally. Taking exams is intenser than martial arts training. He didn't neglect his studies for martial arts throughout the term but he couldn't put much effort into it after classes with most of his time dedicated to the special training. His exam results were not a match for the super student Zhao Qiang's.
"It was ok, just above average but not good enough for the scholarship." Lou Cheng reported his record to his mother on the phone.
Hoping to comfort him, Lou Cheng's mom replied, "The scholarship is not for everyone. The ﬁrst term in university is all about adapting yourself."
"Mom, you have changed." Under Talker's inﬂuence, Lou Cheng joked noticeably more often.
"Changed how?" Lou Cheng's mom sounded confused.
"You used to care so much about my grades and press me so hard on my studies. You have changed. You are not concerned about it anymore." Lou Cheng answered gladly. "You're in university now. Should I still watch over your study?" Lou Cheng's mom said humorously.
For many parents, grades were no longer a big deal once the kid got in university.
They had chatted for a while when Lou Cheng's mom brought up the date for his return home. With the intention to ﬁgure out Yan Zheke's dates and go back to Xiushan together, Lou Cheng claimed there was more stuff to deal with, so he couldn't conﬁrm at that time. Also, travel expenses were covered by that month's living expenses as he would only be in school for half of January.
After the phone call, Lou Cheng calculated the ﬁnishing time for the afternoon exam. He logged on his QQ and shot a line to Yan Zheke,
"All exams were done?"
He added a cheering smiley for liberation. A while later, Yan Zheke replied with a ﬁrecracker sticker, "Done! "All done!"
"Sounds like you have done great!" Lou Cheng sent an evil smile.
"He-heh," answered Yan Zheke with some laughter.
Lou Cheng took a deep breath quietly before directly hitting the point. "By the way, when do you plan to go back to Xiushan?" Let's go together so we can keep an eye on each other. Also, I'll be your coolie!"
He added a sticker of muscle.
"Unfortunately, I can't have this coolie." Yan Zheke used a giggle emoji before continuing, "This year we are all going back to my grandparents' home for Chinese New Year. So, I have to travel to Jiangnan." In the deepest disappointment, Lou Cheng still aimed at good humor. "Must be a big celebration over there?"
"Yeah. Grandpa, grandma, two uncles and their wife, one aunt, two elder female cousins, one elder male cousin, one younger male cousin, one niece, and the three of us..." Yan Zheke ended it with a sticker of counting ﬁngers.
With pity and disappointment buried deep inside, Lou Cheng quickly had his good spirits back and put on a smile which Cai Zongming would call a leer.
The chat went on and on until dinner time. Lou Cheng was looking for Cai Zongming to dine at the cafeteria when Zhao Qiang, Qiu Zhigao, and Zhang Jingye came back together.
"Holy cow! Don't tell me you went to the study hall right after the ﬁnal exam!" Lou Cheng asked casually.
Lou Cheng answered with a grin, "No. We planned to buy some local products for our family in the city but ended up having a drink and dinner with Guo Qing and her roommates." "Not bad," Lou Cheng teased. "Any progress? With Guo Qing, and that Zhuang Xiaojun?"
"Don't bring it up! Zhuang Xiaojun has accepted that admirer." Zhao Qiang weaved a deep sigh. "We waited too long."
Old Qiu laughed. "Qiang, how many sighs you have weaved all this way? Don't be disappointed in love. You haven't fallen in love yet."
"Leave Qiang alone. I don't know if he can handle this right now." Zhang Jingye joked along.
That the beautiful girl from their dormitory meetup had got a boyfriend was always a sad piece of news even if they were not really sad about it.
Zhao Qiang gave his black-framed glasses a gentle push and responded, "You are all about love. Too young, too simple. I've been working on improving my knowledge level these days." "What knowledge level? You've been weird recently whenever you are on your laptop or mobile." interrupted Lou Cheng.
Zhao Qiang smirked. "Next time."
He picked up some clothes and went to the public bathroom.
The rest three were left confused. They were not sure if Qiang had erred from the right path.
The next morning Lou Cheng showed up by the lake for endurance training and worked on still stance and 24 Blizzard Strikes.
"Master, what's your plan for the holiday? If nothing is going on, I'll book a train ticket to go home." Lou Cheng asked Geezer Shi who stood there free from restraint. Geezer Shi sneered. "Good question. You often complained you had no practical combat experience and felt unsure about your current martial arts level. I've got this invitation for a new Martial Arts Competition. Have a try and we'll ﬁnd out which place you can get."
An invitation for a Martial Arts Competition? Martial arts competition? Lou Cheng was astonished by confusion on his face.
Am I going to participate in a martial art competition?
Which place can I get?
Accepting the invitation, he opened it up and saw neat regular script in black ink saying
"Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament"! PS: A chapter ready in the early morning. Advanced update.
Please recommend it.
Chapter 33: All Alone in A Foreign Land
Warrior Sage Candidate? Phoenix Cup? Challenge Tournament?
Instantly Lou Cheng felt thrilled with some fear and intense eagerness.
"Master, what kind of tournament is this?" asked Lou Cheng after a deep breath.
Geezer Shi waved his hand. "How would I know? I got it from a contact. Google it. Everything's available online these days. Emm..."
He strolled away from the lake with his hands clasped behind his back.
"What a carefree master!" Lou Cheng whispered to himself while reading the invitation over and over again. His name and the serial number of this invitation were written in a corner. He quickly took his mobile out and started to search online. "Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament..." As he typed in the name, many pages of results were returned with the ﬁrst linking to the ofﬁcial website and the second to the forum of Longhu Club.
Err... After a moment of hesitation, Lou Cheng clicked on the second link and was redirected to a post from yesterday sent by a forum user he was quite familiar with.
The bragging Road to the Arena shared a picture of a gilded red invitation, identical to the one in his hand with the serial number and name blurred.
"Sigh. Just realized my martial arts soul was not buried completely. I'm very tempted to participate after receiving this invitation." Road to the Arena left a line of vicissitudes below the picture.
Invincible Punch, a martial arts school student very popular on this forum replied, "Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament... Master Road, what tournament is this?" Road to the Arena responded with a big smile. "A new one hosted by the richest man of our province in Yanling. It aims to become one of the top ten Challenge Tournaments besides the ﬁve title matches in ﬁve years. This is to be the ﬁrst one, so no experience, low prize, small-scale, weak ﬁghters, and barely any propaganda. Just for practice. It's perfectly normal that you have never heard about it."
A new challenge tournament for practice... Lou Cheng gained a basic understanding of the upcoming competition.
Sea-Blue, a pretty active and popular female user of the forum posted a confused panda. "Master Road has shared the invitation with us. You are sure thinking about taking part in."
Road to the Arena replied a funny face. "Hard to quit! It's been so long since my last ﬁght... I doubt I can make it to the top 16. What a shame for my Professional Ninth Pin level!"
Such a small world. An acquaintance in a random challenge tournament... Lou Cheng didn't reply but quietly watched the former Professional Ninth Pin martial artist bragging as he didn't want his amateur level to be laughed at. "Anything special for the top 16?" Road to the Arena's reply was followed by Wonton Seller's head-scratching sticker.
Road to the Arena answered, "This Challenge Tournament has no restriction on ﬁghters' rank or the number of participants. It offers different rewards for high standard ﬁghters. The top 16 will each make 5,000 yuan. Make it to the top 8 and one will receive another 10,000. And the top 4 will be rewarded 20,000 more. The two in the ﬁnal match will get an extra 40 grand each and the ﬁnal prize for the champion is 80,000.
"In other words, the champion can make 155 grand in total whereas the runner-up gets 75,000. Pretty generous for the amateurs but not tempting enough to bring professional ﬁghters all the way here. I bet only those of Professional Ninth Pin who happen to have some free time will sign up alongside a few of Eighth Pin who are very tight on money, which will pretty much be the level of the tournament. How many ﬁghters can we expect? Well, only the best 16 are paid something. I don't think enthusiastic amateurs will make a journey for it. So probably just some locals will give it a try." The words caused Lou Cheng several indrawn breaths. The level of the challenge tournament sounded much higher than what he had expected.
He thought it would be a competition among amateurs. But apparently, there would be quite some Professional Ninth Pin martial artists and maybe a few masters of Professional Eighth Pin who are very likely in the Danqi Stage already. Fighters of Amateur First, Second and Third Pin would be plenty!
"Master is giving me an opportunity to widen my knowledge greatly or, just as he said, he has no idea what this invitation will take me to?" Lou Cheng was lost in thoughts. Fortunately, he didn't have a very high expectation. He knew he only had three-month training, and although making rapid progress, he was probably stronger than those of Amateur Eighth and Ninth Pin. And if he could keep up the good effort, he might ﬁnish his apprenticeship in a year.
"Whatever. Just for the experience. Hopefully, I can ﬁght a few rounds. Who knows I won't get super lucky to get all the good draws and make it all the way to the top 16?" Lou Cheng thought optimistically as his eyes moved down to read more of Road to the Arena's post. "Pretty high end! I thought Little Arena you could make it to the top four!" Wonton Seller loved to put "Little" in front of everyone's name, despite their actual age, to drag them all to her level.
Road to the Arena Road sent a worn face smoking sticker. "No chance. I would be conﬁdently aiming at a place of the top four taking a few years back. Now I need some really good luck to make it to the top 16. I don't even think about the top 8. My former martial arts teacher felt sorry for my lack of perseverance when he gave me this invitation. I didn't stick to the training."
"No matter what, Master Road, you are still the no. one on our forum." Beautiful World offered some comfort.
Pig-Riding Knight, the moderator of the forum, replied, "Keep us updated. We'd love to watch your legendary moves!"
"Sure! I'll do my best not to bring shame to our forum!" Road to the Arena Road sent a sharp-eyed face pushing glasses. Invincible Punch, the martial arts school student, wrote, "Master Road, I'm not far from Yanling. When is the tournament? I'd love to give it a try. At least I can gain some practical experience."
"Sure. We can ﬁnally meet up in person for a drink or two," Road to the Arena replied. "You better hurry. The entry deadline is 8 pm tonight and the tournament starts at 9 am the day after tomorrow. Four to ﬁve rounds of knockout and then eight groups with four ﬁghters each. Best two from each group will advance to the top 16."
"Okay. Got it. I'll buy a train ticket after I sign up for the tournament. It only takes one hour by the express train," said Invincible Punch.
He just failed to qualify the Professional Ninth Pin level in October, in desperate need of more actual combats.
A young girl Above the Sky also replied, "Don't forget to broadcast live. Dragon King is on Chinese New Year holiday. I'm so bored!" ...
Their conversation amused Lou Cheng. Ha. One regional competition and two online friends. What a chance!
With so many participants, no way I will be ﬁghting them...
With a brief understanding of Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament, Lou Cheng left the forum and visited the ofﬁcial website for more details. The tournament would start tomorrow (the post was from yesterday) and last for ten days. One would have more than one ﬁght on average every day if he could make it to the ﬁnal, so those who had their eyes on the prize would aim at quick victories in the knockout and group competition stages to save strength and prevent injuries.
"Return train tickets, accommodation, and food..." Lou Cheng calculated the coming expenses and talked to himself, "Damn! This will empty my pocket!"
All the money I have saved up for my dates with Yan Zheke! Putting away my new year lucky money, all I have for now is 500 yuan for going home and another 500 saved from my daily expenses. But the trip would cost a fortune. One train ticket to Yanling and one from Yanling back home. Ten-day of tournament... Well, I can't make it to the ﬁnal, not even the top 16. The group competition stage... Maybe. Maybe I'm lucky. So seven days of accommodation plus meals... I can't even
afford a cheap guesthouse...
Lou Cheng pondered over it and called his mom up for more money to cover an extra seven or eight days in school.
Fortunately, his mom was prepared for this when he planned to wait for Yan Zheke to go home together.
With an extra 500 yuan to cover his living expenses, he felt relieved and quickly purchased train tickets using a mobile app.
It was not the Spring Festival peak season yet, so tickets to Yanling was very easy to buy. To save money, he would take the
9 pm train which would arrive just after midnight. Luckily there were still a few tickets left from Yanling to his home city, which saved him some hassle to ﬁght for tickets on different mobile apps.
"It will be quite late when I arrive, so I better take a room near the train station tonight. Tomorrow I can bring my luggage to the venue. If I lose, try to change my ticket home. But If I win, look for accommodation close to the venue..." Lou Cheng planned things out and tried to book it online in case everywhere was fully occupied.
After all this, he logged in his QQ to share this adventure with Yan Zheke.
Before he pressed the Send button, he suddenly became unsure about it.
It's probably a bad idea to tell her I'm going to a tournament. What if I'm out in the ﬁrst round? How humiliating it will be when she asks how it goes! Better wait for a decent result and then share with her... But what if she thinks I've been hiding it from her? How could I pretend nothing is happening and give her no hint at all?
After considering over and over again, Lou Cheng chose to be honest and sent a big smile.
"As you are not going back to Xiushan, I'll attend a Challenge Tournament for some actual combat experience."
By 9 am, Yan Zheke ﬁnally replied a jealous emoji with a pair of bright eyes.
"What Challenge Tournament?"
"Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament in Yanling. I heard it from Geezer Shi. I have nothing to do anyway. Might just give it a try. The tournament will start tomorrow. I'm taking an express train tonight." Lou Cheng briefed her with the general information of the Challenge Tournament. "My ﬂight is in tomorrow morning. Can't make it... Do your best! Don't bring shame to our Songcheng University Martial Arts Club! "I'll be watching you!" Yan Zheke sent a pair of piercing eyes.
The chat went on and off until 5 pm. Lou Cheng quickly packed his bag with some spare clothes, exercise clothes, and his laptop and left the rest of his belongings in his locker. "Will I have no clothes to wear when at home?"
His big backpack seemed much lighter than before. He said goodbye to Zhao Qiang and other roommates before knocking on the next door.
"Talker, my train leaves tonight. What about you?" He asked Cai Zongming.
Cai Zongming grinned. "I don't know yet. My love is coming to Songcheng and we will stay a few days for some fun."
Looking at his proud smile, Lou Cheng threw a punch on his shoulder and shouted, "See you next year!"
"See you next year!" Cai Zongming waved.
With no sadness for parting, Lou Cheng rushed to the school bus stop. A ton of students were already waiting there. It took him half an hour to get on the bus.
Putting away his backpack, Lou Cheng took a seat. Weishui Lake with a thin layer of ice, teaching buildings at dusk, and lonely commercial streets; sceneries of the campus went backward quickly in front of Lou Cheng's eyes.
That was the moment when Lou Cheng ﬁnally realized he would be away for a month.
Yan Zheke went to bed early around 11 pm because of her early morning ﬂight to Jiangnan the next day. Lou Cheng took a nap in the train and woke up ten minutes before the train arrived at Yanling.
Outside the window was a long night, strange lights ran fast backward. Lou Cheng looked blankly with sorrow and fear in his heart.
I'm going to a completely strange city!
I'm looking at completely strange views!
I know no one there. I feel no warmth there.
As the train came to a halt, he followed the crowd out of the station. A cold gust blew on his face, refreshing and biting.
Lou Cheng shivered. He said no to all illegal taxi drivers and small hotel agents and started to make his way to a nearby hotel along a wide road following the navigation on his mobile with the big bag on his back. The road was quiet with few passers-by and trees on both sides like monsters standing with open mouth at night. Just like every other city but full of strange scents, Lou Cheng felt all alone in that strange land that night.
He'd never been to a strange place all by himself. His parents, relatives, or teachers and peers from the Martial Arts Club would be there with him. But this time, alone, he went there for his martial arts dream and a brand new start of his life.
Thinking about dreams, Yan Zheke and the Challenge Tournament, Lou Cheng took a deep breath. Then he started to run slowly in that evening, that strange city and that absolute hollowness and desolation. An old song he began to sing,
"I know my future is not a dream."
"I live every minute to the full."
"My future is not a dream." ...
The singing echoed in that cold night as his ﬁgure disappeared in the distance.
Chapter 34: Number 656
The small hotel near the station that Lou Cheng booked online was converted from a formal guest house into a youth hostel. Charging by bed instead of room, it was relatively cheap and perfect for poor students like Lou Cheng.
It was noticeably better than average youth hostels. According to all the reviews online, it was quiet, standard and less complicated.
It took Lou Cheng about ten minutes to jog to the hotel. He registered with his ID and a waiter led him to a twin room where the bed further in was already taken by a loud snorer who didn't hear the door opening at all.
Lou Cheng frowned but soon soothed the brows as he realized that was exactly what he paid a few dozen yuan for.
He waited for the waiter to leave before putting down his bag and locking up his valuables. He quietly entered the bathroom to brush his teeth, take a shower and piss, and then settled himself in bed with jacket and jeans off. Not super soft but much better than a train seat, the bed touched Lou Cheng's body, comforted every inch of it and drove his emotions away.
A strange bed in a strange place in a strange city. Everything seemed so strange with no overlapping part with his previous life.
Snore, wind, and engine sounds now and then made Lou Cheng uncomfortable but also gave him an artistic feeling of isolation as if he was the only one on earth that's still awake enjoying the tranquility and the strangeness of the night.
Lou Cheng roused himself from all the thoughts and commanded himself to sleep to keep the best form for tomorrow's competition.
He sent Yan Zheke a message of his safe arrival in Yanling and then hid the charging phone under his pillow in case of a stealer. To overcome the noisy snore, he concentrated his spirit and qi on one item and started to meditate, throwing all the thoughts away in the glittery spinning nebula. Lou Cheng had no idea when he fell asleep, but his biological clock woke him up at 5:30 sharp. No snooze, he got up and put on his jacket at once.
He felt refreshed after brushing his teeth, washing his face with cold water and combing his hair. Lou Cheng took his bag out and changed into the navy blue martial arts suit of Longhu Club. He then tiptoed out of the room with all his belongings and checked out with the astonished duty manager before leaving the hotel.
5 am on a winter morning was still pitch black. No breakfast restaurant was open and only a few cleaners were clearing the street of snow. Fortunately, street lamps were everywhere in this big city, illuminating the journey ahead through the biting chill.
Taking out his mobile, Lou Cheng opened a navigation app and searched for routes to the tournament venue. He murmured,
"Just over 20 kilometers. Not that far. I could just run over as my morning exercise before the ﬁght." Just over 20 kilometers? Not that far? A cleaner raised his head and looked at Lou Cheng in disbelief.
It's not close even for a taxi.
Moving his limbs a bit, Lou Cheng started to run with his backpack against the cold winter wind through darkness till the ﬁrst beam of the rising sun. More and more vehicles appeared on the street.
It was close to 7 o'clock when he arrived at Yanling Martial Arts Stadium. He warmed up with still stance and ﬁghting moves near the venue before he wolfed down ﬁve minced meat buns and a large cup of soya milk in a small breakfast restaurant.
Suddenly his phone beeped - a message from Yan Zheke. "Lazy Cheng, wake up! Don't be late for the tournament!"
In a strange land receiving these familiar words, Lou Cheng subconsciously cracked up. "The good-looking was up early! I'm already at the venue." "You're hard on yourself for this competition. You didn't sleep until very late last night." Yan Zheke sent a touching head sticker. "How do you feel? If your ﬁght is in the afternoon, take a power nap somewhere."
"Nervous and excited! Full of vigor!" Lou Cheng shared his true feeling and added a silly smile.
Yan Zheke didn't ask Lou Cheng to ﬁght hard but chatted casually until she had to turn her mobile off on the plane.
Lou Cheng put his phone away and paced to the tournament reception with his backpack. He queued for a few minutes until a girl at the reception took his invitation.
The delicate, pretty girl wearing light-colored glasses scanned the invitation and typed the serial code into her computer to verify information.
"ID, please." She glanced curiously at Lou Cheng. A student of no rank. How did he get this invitation?
Lou Cheng handed over his ID. The reception girl checked a few times carefully before giving it back along with a black round plate of half a palm in size with a relief sculpture of Phoenix. It bore a number 656.
"This is your number and tournament pass. Go to the stadium and check the draws on big screens to ﬁnd out your opponent, ring and round. Wait there beforehand. If you need more information about your opponent, go to the help desk," said the delicate girl seriously and responsibly.
"Thank you." Lou Cheng smiled at her. "Just one more question. Where can I leave my bag?"
"At the service desk." The reception girl gave him a standard smile.
Yanling Martial Arts Stadium was much bigger than Lou Cheng had expected, which can accommodate 20 to 30 thousand spectators. A huge ring in the middle was surrounded by nine simply constructed rings separated with white lines. All ten rings would be used for the ﬁrst few rounds with matches arranged one after another. The most interesting and exciting ﬁght would take place in the central ring.
In group competition stage, the nine simply constructed rings would be removed and all matches would be arranged in the central ring.
Many screens had been installed in the stadium for spectators sitting afar to watch matches and for all to enjoy replays. Right now, the draws were shown. Lou Cheng got closer to one of the screens, searching for his number and name.
The screen turned a few pages and he ﬁnally found himself.
"Ring Seven, Round Five. No. 656 Lou Cheng, 18, no rank versus No. 237 Liu Yinglong, 22, Amateur Fourth Pin."
"God damn it. An Amateur Fourth Pin master in my ﬁrst ﬁght..." Lou Cheng grew sick at heart. "It's better than a Professional Ninth or Eighth Pin opponent, but still a pretty bad draw for me... I will be quite conﬁdent if I'm facing an Amateur Seventh, Eighth or Ninth Pin ﬁghter."
Will it be my only ﬁght? Do I need to change my train ticket to today?
Whatever... I'm here for actual combat experience!
In front of another screen were a few men also reading the draws.
"18, no rank. Brother, you're pretty lucky!" A bearded man wrapped in a dark down coat said to the head of the group with a grin.
The head of the group was a young man of average height with bushy eyebrows and pockmarks on his forehead. His most marked characteristic was his extraordinarily long arms almost reaching his knees. Liu Yinglong's calmness welcomed cheers from his junior brothers and sisters. He shook his head and said, "Too early to cheer."
"Why? Brother, this is the best opponent, right? 18, no rank!" A girl in a martial arts suit looked confused.
Liu Yinglong took a deep breath. "There is another kind of ﬁghters of 18 years old and no rank. Those disciples of a master from famous martial arts schools and clubs by direct line are not interested in amateur ranking events. They wait until they are ready to get a professional ranking directly."
"That's possible." The bearded appeared concerned. "Brother, let's get more information from the help desk."
Having ten matches happening at the same time, spectators are unable to watch them all. So, they read the draws and chose the ﬁghts that interested them and suited to their time. Then they would also get more information from the help desk to conﬁrm which ones they were to watch. The help desk would also recommend outstanding martial artists and thrilling ﬁghts to the audience. Lou Cheng carrying his big bag queued in front of one service desk. During the wait, he took out his mobile to check Road to the Arena and Invincible Punch's draw results.
In the Longhu Club Forum, a live broadcast post named Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament had been created where Road to the Arena sent a funny face. "Not bad. An Amateur Seventh Pin ﬁghter for me. Looks like the Goddess of Fortune is on my side. Punch also got a pretty good draw. An Amateur Fifth Pin opponent. His advantage is obvious."
"Bring glory to the forum! If you can't make it to the group competition, get castrated!" replied Okamoto's Fan.
Beautiful World and several other female members also posted to encourage them. They demanded Road to the Arena and Invincible Punch to share a selﬁe.
"We will after the ﬁrst victory!" Road to the Arena promised proudly. Lou Cheng bared his teeth and felt jealous of their good luck.
At his turn at the service desk, he left his bag there and got information about his opponent and himself. Then he slowly stepped towards Ring Seven while reading the page.
"Liu Yinglong, male, 22 years old, the ﬁrst disciple of Baiyuan Martial Arts School in Yanling. He started martial arts training at a late age of 20 but has quickly risen to Amateur Fourth Pin, best known for his arm boxing..." Lou Cheng's self-conﬁdence started to collapse.
On the other side, Liu Yinglong also got Lou Cheng's information. He took a quick look and laughed out. "Thank goodness, not one of the monsters. Just a beginner coming for some combat experience, probably preparing for the next Ranking Event."
The bearded man in a dark down coat had a read. "Student from Songcheng University? How come he came all the way here for the tournament?" "Maybe his home is nearby." Liu Yinglong didn't seem to care. "Your opponents are fairly strong. Buck up and be careful."
When Lou Cheng found Ring Seven, the tournament was about to start. The two ﬁghters in the ﬁrst round were already inside the ring. Few spectators scattered in the auditorium eying at the central ring.
"I can probably learn a thing or two by watching matches this closely..." He tried to comfort himself.
At nine o'clock sharp, a bell rang, signaling the beginning of the ﬁrst Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament.
Chapter 35: Ring Seven Round Five
Sounds of punches, kicks and body collision echoed in the stadium. While watching the ﬁght in Ring Seven, Lou Cheng unconsciously started thinking about his opponent. Amateur Fourth Pin. Baiyuan Martial Arts School. Specialized in arm boxing...
What are the features of arm boxing?
How big is a gap there between an Amateur Fourth Pin ﬁghter and Brother Li Mao of Amateur Third Pin?
Can I prepare myself for his specialized moves?
The thoughts disturbed Lou Cheng from watching the ﬁght. He took the closest seat in the audience stand and started to search for information about arm boxing on his mobile. He even watched a video where a ﬁghter was using arm boxing in a ﬁght to have a direct, solid understanding of his opponent despite a large amount of data it would consume.
"Arm boxing imitates moves of the monkey. Its footwork is very agile. In the video, the ﬁghter appeared at the opponent's back right after their frontal engagement as if a ghost. His punches were thrown like a whip or a spear with abrupt explosive force throughout his body. Every strike sounded crispy and crystal..." Lou Cheng painted his opponent with his own understanding and planned his responses. "I have no chance regarding agility or ﬂexibility. But a defensive ﬁghter can't win. One mistake and I'll be hit. I don't know if I can handle one or two punches from him.
"Err... I only have a very brief understanding of him and his arm boxing. What does he know about me, besides my age, height, and study in Songcheng University?
"I haven't attended any Ranking Event or formal combat. Who knows what I'm working on and what I'm good at if I don't say? He-heh... This is a rather special advantage. Is it possible to make use of arm boxing's characteristics to set a trap for him? Considering he must be taking me lightly, he should be easily hooked..." His strong points ﬂashed across his mind one by one. Lou Cheng lost in contemplation with his mobile in hand. Gradually an idea came up and a plan was formed.
As his anxiety passed, his breath became calmer and slower. His feeling of unease and loss faded while expectation and eagerness grew.
"It might work.
"How could I give up without ﬁghting?"
Lou Cheng suddenly rose with pride and enthusiasm. The haze and dark clouds above his head were gone. He could accept a defeat as long as he fought his best bravely. "This is the spirit and will of a real ﬁghter!"
Back to Ring Seven, Round Three just ﬁnished and the two ﬁghters of Round Four were trying to enrage each other by dirty swear words during the three-minute talk session. Lou Cheng looked around and noticed a group in black at the left side of the ring. Some of them had a down jacket on top of their martial arts suit and some were busy with the phone. One of them was very eye-catching as his arms were much longer than average.
"Long arms... Must be Liu Yinglong..." Lou Cheng observed thoughtfully. Liu Yinglong had also noticed him. He whispered to the bearded man, "Look, my opponent."
The bearded man looked over and laughed. "Just a young student. No wonder he comes all the way for some practical exercise."
Other members of Baiyuan Martial Arts School burst into laughter. Soon they all left for their ring except the bearded man, and a young girl concentrated on her mobile who had no ﬁght until 2 pm.
Round Four lasted for a long time as the two ﬁghters were well matched. After another ten minutes of stalemate, the tie was broken. The two were both out of breath. With over 20 knockout matches lined up in the morning, no time could be wasted. The referee quickly took a sip of water and announced the start of Round Five, inviting the two ﬁghters to enter the ring.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Lou Cheng could no longer hold back his panic, shivering from toes to teeth.
This is to be my ﬁrst ever ofﬁcial martial arts ﬁght!
Few spectators. No cheers!
He took a deep breath and concentrated his spirit and qi on one item to block most of the tension, leaving a reasonable amount to boost his adrenaline level which would push his body into the best form.
Leaving his jacket and all his belongings to the supervisor, Lou Cheng stepped into the ring after his number plate was checked. He stood at the referee's left-hand side, facing the long-armed Liu Yinglong. "Three-minute talk time." The referee cut it right to the point and took this three-minute period to recover his strength to avoid slow reaction in case of accidental injuries during the coming ﬁghts. After ten rounds, he would change position with the supervisor.
"Talk time?" Lou Cheng's head was empty after the bow. "What should I say?"
If it were Talker, the opponent wouldn't have a chance to make a sound...
Not good at this psychological play, Lou Cheng stood there still, kind of cute and innocent.
Liu Yinglong smiled and spoke ﬁrst,
"Don't be nervous. Take it as another daily practice." The bearded man and the young girl on her mobile both laughed aloud. "Is Brother too used to mentoring junior members in school?"
Lou Cheng looked a bit embarrassed as if facing Brother Li Mao's instruction during the special training.
"Thank you." He responded politely.
Facing a rookie, Liu Yinglong saw no point in playing psychological warfare with words. He counted down quietly and adjusted his breathing to push his body to its best form.
In half meditation, Lou Cheng coordinated every muscle of his body to reach the most suitable state for exerting strength slowly.
Three minutes soon passed. The referee pressed his right hand. "Fight!"
His voice was still in the air when Liu Yinglong stepped forward to take the initiative despite his higher rank. His right arm shook with strength streaming through his entire body, throwing a punch as if a javelin at Lou Cheng's chest, generating a crispy sound of wind.
To engage his raging charge, Lou Cheng got in the defensive position with his left arm blocking and right deﬂecting.
Bam! A dull sound came from their body contact. Lou Cheng felt heaviness on his body, realizing the opponent had slight superiority in physical strength.
Glad rather than surprised Lou Cheng felt as the slight superiority indicated the gap between them was not insuperable.
It meant the three-month training, strengthened by Jindan, had increased his physical strength to the Amateur Fourth Pin level! For a split second, Liu Yinglong disappeared from Lou Cheng's sight and reached his back like a bounding ape, giving him to time to respond.
Liu Yinglong's softly hanging left arm was suddenly taut up like a whizzing whip. It cracked down towards Lou Cheng's neck, leaving a curve and crispy sound in the air.
A strike with his strength on top of the arm boxing's abrupt explosive force could easily crack a bone or even cause a coma or high paraplegia if the neck was the target. The referee held his breath, ready to interfere at any second.
Lou Cheng, as if he had foreseen this move, dodged with two strides forth without looking back. Liu Yinglong followed with corners of his mouth upward and threw another punch, attempting to corner Lou Cheng and force him out of the ring!
Lou Cheng slid left and Liu Yinglong followed closely. His right arm was again like a javelin thrown at Lou Cheng. Right before the punch landed, his eyes froze as Lou Cheng suddenly straightened his back and pushed his spine, shifting his weight back to the right like a dragon rising out of the ford.
Lou Cheng's strongest point!
Playing on his footwork, Lou Cheng went to Liu Yinglong's back. He lowered his body and started to focus on a Brutal Blizzard and imagine the snow-capped land, whistling wind, and biting cold weather in his mind.
His mind concentrated on the chill as his strength chased the brutality. When his muscles were adjusted readily to launch one of the ﬁrst eight moves of 24 Blizzard Strikes, the scene formed in his mind changed. A giant lightning bolt shot down from heaven, hitting a tree and starting a blazing prairie ﬁre.
A numbing feeling hit his tailbone and a hot stream quickly ﬂew through his body. Pushed by two different forces, a sense of swelling started to spread along his arms. Lou Cheng clinched his right hand into a ﬁst and wielded it like a whip or a dagger, targeting at Liu Yinglong's neck. A whistling sound severed the air. Very similar to the last bout but the two ﬁghters had switched their roles.
By the ring the young girl was still on her mobile, too concentrated to notice the change of tide. However, the bearded man who had been watching the match closely already smelled danger and stepped forward with his eyes locked on the two.
As soon as Liu Yinglong's powerful punch missed its target, he saw Lou Cheng disappear and almost at the same time heard the howling wind behind his back. Unable to dodge, he could barely take a step. His body tilted stifﬂy to save his neck from the brutal strike.
Lou Cheng's punch landed solidly on Liu Yinglong's shoulder, pushing his entire body down with a sharp pain and the sound of bone cracking rising straight to his brain. Liu Yinglong gritted his teeth as he swallowed the pain. He attempted to turn the table with an elbow hit but Lou Cheng gave him no opportunity. As his heart, calm and cold, gave continuous impetus to Brutal Blizzard, Lou Cheng turned sideways to parry the elbow hit and then smoothly lifted his right foot to launch another move of 24 Blizzard Strikes at the back of Liu Yinglong's knee.
Hit at the back of the knee, Liu Yinglong couldn't remain standing. As soon as he knelt down, Lou Cheng held his left arm behind his back, leaving his injured right arm alone, and kept him under control.
"Round Five. Lou Cheng won!" The referee called the result.
Upon hearing the result, the young girl raised her head away from her phone, seeing her senior brother kneeling on one knee held by the student of no rank.
What? What the heck?
What just happened? She, full of confusion, turned to the bearded man, who appeared in a trance with his terriﬁed eyes locked on Lou Cheng whose eyes were ﬁlled with coldness and craziness.
Brother lost the ﬁght!
How is it possible?
A moment ago, he was winning. How did he lose the ﬁght?
The opponent was a young student of no rank! Am I dreaming?
"Round Five. Lou Cheng won!"
When the referee's announcement reached Lou Cheng's ears, he felt unreal.
I defeated an Amateur Fourth Pin master... Did I?
Everything seemed unreal until he let loose Liu Yinglong who then gazed at him with an odd expression on his face.
"You are very strong..."
"I am very strong?" Lou Cheng was instantly pulled back to reality.
I did just defeat an Amateur Fourth Pin master!
Everything went just as he has planned: exploit arm boxing's ﬂexible footwork to hook the careless Liu Yinglong, leave his own back vulnerable deliberately to lure him to launch a reckless attack, hit him heavily with Yin-Yang Stance after he loses ﬂexibility from the all-out attack, and then suppress him with Brutal Blizzard. If this plan didn't work, he would most likely be the one kneeling on the ground. As Master said, most ﬁghts between two martial artists in the body reﬁning stage or the Danqi stage, however long it lasted, all came down to one or two solid hits unless they were specialized in Iron Blouse or Golden Bell Cover. Normal bodies couldn't take bullets, nor could they stand solid punches or kicks. Some ancient martial arts book even claimed that between life and death was only one strike.
"Thanks for your instructions." Lou Cheng bowed to Liu Yinglong with a smile.
Watching the three of them walking away and frequently turning back with fear and surprise, Lou Cheng jumped out of Ring Seven. He got back his belongings and quietly squeezed into the crowd of ﬁghters and spectators.
In a secluded corner, Lou Cheng let joy and excitement take over, smiling, jumping and throwing punches in the air.
"I did it!" I defeated an Amateur Fourth Pin master!
Chapter 36: Spectators Accumulated One by One
The bearded man in a dark down jacket and the young girl holding a cell phone followed behind Liu Yinglong, turning around to look at Ring Seven once in a while until streams of ﬁghters and spectators completely blocked their sight.
Liu Yinglong advanced without a word, forming a great mass of depression over his junior brother and sister.
Finally, the young girl couldn't hold her tongue any longer.
She asked timidly, "Brother, where are we going now?"
Liu Yinglong stopped. He answered in a very low voice after a few seconds,
"The Emergency Room."
The bearded man and the young girl exchanged a look with disbelief. "The student of no rank defeated our senior brother and injured him?"
Dead silence again shrouded them as they barged their way through the crowd towards the emergency ward.
Injuries were extremely common in martial arts competitions. Disability and death took place every so often. All formal tournaments cooperated with hospitals to set up an emergency ward somewhere inside the venue for immediate treatment.
Lou Cheng, with a huge grin on his face, paced around excitedly. Words couldn't describe how thrilled he was. He took his mobile back and logged on his QQ to share his victory with Yan Zheke.
"Ha-hah! I won my ﬁrst ever ofﬁcial match! I won! I won!" His hands typed quickly, adding a proud smile in the end. Of course, Yan Zheke was still ﬂying in the air. She would get it as soon as 11 o'clock when she landed if there was no delay.
Lou Cheng calmed down a bit after sending that message. He decided not to inform Cai Zongming of this good news until after all were settled as he wasn't sure how far he could go. "In case I lost in the second round, he would laugh at me for days."
He opened the forum and clicked on the live broadcast post to check the progress of Road to the Arena and Invincible Punch but only to ﬁnd out their ﬁghts were both scheduled in the afternoon. They were wandering about in the stadium and watching random ﬁghts in different rings.
"Unfortunately, my match attracted no attention. Not many spectators witnessed my victory..." Lou Cheng was upset for a second. He put away his mobile and moved to the central ring to broaden his views.
The central ring was reserved for more attractive matches which were usually between two ﬁnely balanced ﬁghters. A martial artist of Professional Ninth Pin was not necessarily the key to a good ﬁght as it could ﬁnish in no time if the opponent was weak.
Those reputed ﬁghters were surely exceptions since many spectators came all the way to watch them ﬁght. Their matches were undoubtedly arranged in the central ring.
A match just ended when Lou Cheng arrived at the central ring. Some spectators who obviously preferred close, live competitions than big screen videos were in a heated discussion.
"Baiyuan Martial Arts School is so strong. No wonder their reputation has spread to other cities in less than two years," A young man with acne said impressively to his friend.
His friend, short and stocky, nodded along. "Yeah. The ﬁghter of Amateur Fifth Pin was only one level higher than the opponent, but he won the match so quickly with ease!"
"Ha-hah. He jumped up and down like a monkey in a dizzying pace. The opponent could hardly follow his rhythm. What's his name?" A middle-aged man wearing a black leather jacket interrupted.
"Something like Qin Zhilin, one of the better students of Baiyuan Martial Arts School." The young man with acne, probably a local, seemed to know Baiyuan Martial Arts School pretty well.
"Who is the best student of Baiyuan Martial Arts School? I'll go and watch his match." The middle-aged man wearing a leather jacket sounded very excited.
The young man with acne answered after a moment of thinking, "Their senior brother Liu Yinglong. Liu from Liu Bei, Ying like 'ought' and Long like 'Dragon'."
The man in jacket wrote the name down so he could check out which ring the ﬁght was arranged at the service desk.
As he stepped away, the two youths opened their mouth almost simultaneously. "Let's sign up for the Baiyuan Martial Arts School!"
Their conversation made Lou Cheng proud of himself. "He- heh! The greatest student of Baiyuan Martial Arts School has lost to me!"
Based on their words, Baiyuan Martial Arts School's arm boxing was very powerful. I probably shouldn't treat Liu Yinglong as an average Amateur Fourth Pin ﬁghter. He might have reached the Amateur Third Pin combat strength.
Of course, the gap of one pin or two is not huge. Even the difference of three or four levels is not that depressing. The outcome of a martial art match results from the ﬁghters' standard, body condition, mental state, style counteraction and mutual understanding. Ranks can't speak for the result or what's the point in ﬁghting?
"In this case, which level am I of now?" Lou Cheng evaluated his level while watching the match in the central ring. "My physical strength was slightly weaker than Liu Yinglong. My ﬂexibility and agility was not a match for him. But I'm way out of his league regarding body coordination, explosive force, and endurance. Concentration and sensation levels are hard to compare... My moves didn't fall behind, but my actual combat experience was poor... So... I'm probably of Amateur Fourth or even Third Pin already?"
The evaluation result was beyond Lou Cheng's expectation. From the actual combat, he gained a directly perceived understanding of his level.
In less than three months, I've already caught up with Brother Li Mao? Am I already of Amateur Third or Fourth Pin?
Err... Don't feel too good about me yet. Have a few more ﬁghts and then I can be sure about it!
Qin Zhilin from Baiyuan Martial Arts School won a ﬁght in the central ring and attracted much attention and cheers. He felt proud and contented, too excited to talk. He gathered with a few schoolmates who had just ﬁnished their ﬁght in nearby rings and headed to the meeting place together.
"Hurry up! Brother Liu Yinglong must be running out of patience!" said Qin Zhilin with squinted eyes. He scored a swift victory. Probably as quick as Brother Liu Yinglong's whose ﬁght took place earlier.
Another student from Baiyuan Martial Arts School joked along. "Brother's opponent was feeble and their match took place ahead of ours. He shouldn't blame us for being late."
He also won the ﬁrst round.
Qin Zhilin and his mates talked and laughed all the way to the meeting stand where Liu Yinglong was already sitting, accompanied by the bearded man in a down jacket and the young girl on her mobile.
"Told you Brother has been waiting." Qin Zhilin suddenly noticed something was stuffed in Liu Yinglong's right shoulder. "Brother, what happened?" He blurted out.
The other students also sensed the odd atmosphere since the vigorous bearded man didn't even greet them.
Liu Yinglong answered with no emotion after a long silence, "Injured during the match."
"No way! That kid hurt you? He... Isn't he of no rank?" Qin Zhilin stuttered. Among all the students of Baiyuan Martial Arts School, he admired Brother Liu Yinglong the most. Starting from scratch, he surpassed all his peers in two years and reached the Amateur Fourth Pin level. In their master's words, he was gifted for arm boxing.
How could Brother get injured this easily?
Another student from Baiyuan Martial Arts School seemed concerned. "Brother, your shoulder's injured. What about the following matches?" "What do you think? Quit." A female disciple retorted.
Her voice was welcomed by an awkward silence from the bearded man and the mobile young girl.
"No more following matches. I lost already," said Liu Yinglong in a hoarse voice.
Lost? Did brother lose the ﬁght? All disciples looked at each other and exchanged doubtful glances.
"Brother, that Lou something is actually a direct disciple of some great master from one of the big sects who just never participate in any Ranking Event? Which level do you think he is of?" asked Qin Zhilin as soon as he recovered from the shock.
After thinking for a while, Liu Yinglong replied, "The body acts like one and coordinates at will... He's not far from, if not already reaching, this description." The body acts like one and coordinates at will? Isn't that a description for the Danqi stage?
Astonishment and fear appeared in several disciples' eyes.
None of them could say anything.
Liu Yinglong rose slowly after a brief silence.
"Let's go back to the school."
After a few minutes of wait in the queue, the middle-aged man wearing a leather jacket smiled at the girl behind the service desk.
"Could you tell me the ring and round of the match of Liu Yinglong from Baiyuan Martial Arts School?" He was too lazy to go through the draws on the big screens.
Also, he had no idea if the match had already ended.
The girl at the service desk answered with a standard smile, "Just a minute, please. Liu Yinglong from Baiyuan Martial Arts School. Emm... His match has ﬁnished... He lost."
"He lost? Ha... Interesting. Who defeated him?" The man in leather jacket showed even more interests.
Liu Yinglong's strength could be predicted from Qin Zhilin's performance. How could he lose the match?
"A ﬁghter named Lou Cheng. He... He is of no rank." The girl at the service desk girl suddenly stammered.
The man in the leather jacket was stunned at ﬁrst and then relieved. "Must be a disciple of some big sect..." "He is... He's an ordinary university student." The girl was in shock herself.
"What?" A chill went down the man's spine and gave him a panic attack. "Please give me his information. I'll watch his ﬁght tomorrow!"
Back in the martial arts school, Liu Yinglong reported to his master Yu Haichao, the owner of the school. "Master, can you tell Lou Cheng's background? Which sect is he from?"
Yu Haichao, also featuring extraordinarily long arms and some grey hair, reﬂected on it. "Body coordination and weight shifting are basic skills of the Danqi stage. In the body reﬁning stage, some stance training also focuses on these. Too many possibilities. The second strike you got from him, according to Dong's description, sounded like 24 Blizzard Strikes from the Ice Sect and the explosive force of the lightning and ﬁre stance from the Thunder Sect. I can't be sure." "Master, could you make a phone call to ﬁnd out?" Liu Yinglong pleaded.
"For what? Who didn't lose a match or two? Warrior Sage did. So did Dragon King!" Yu Haichao shook his head.
Liu Yinglong continued to plead, "Master, it's not about revenge. I just don't want to lose like this."
Yu Haichao thought about it and took out his phone to dial a number.
He opened Baiyuan Martial Arts School in Yanling two years ago, but his relationships with several martial artists were enough for him to ﬁgure something out.
Martial artists had rapidly integrated into the modern world ever since they quitted ﬁghting against technology. They were no monsters, nor were they foe of advanced technology. They were able to use technology, wield weapons and occupy resources. Nowadays, martial arts began to become popular. Many criminals were rather powerful, signiﬁcantly stronger than poorly armed cops. The police department had to recruit martial artists who were after power or retired from the professional circle to maintain peace and stability of the society. Recently the police department positions were pretty much reserved for martial artists to confront those skillful and
heavily-equipped criminals. In the army, martial artists also form a great portion of the special forces. Only some of the high-tech and high-power units were still against disciples from martial arts sects to support their own new forces.
With such human connections, Yu Haichao quickly reached an answer and turned to Liu Yinglong.
"Same as what you found from the help desk. No other information available."
Liu Yinglong frowned. "It's strange."
"Yeah, very strange." Yu Haichao heaved a sigh and continued, "But what can we do? Should I go and watch his match tomorrow?"
Chapter 37: Astonishing Strength
Right before 12 o'clock, the last pair of combatants of the morning was ushered in the central ring. They went up the ﬂight of stone stairs and went to each side of the referee respectively.
A clamor burst forth among the audience with sounds of voices rising and falling and ﬂashlights shining.
"It seems like a long-awaited ﬁght." Without the match table for others at hand, Lou Cheng looked around with hazy eyes.
He took the opportunity to ask a passing young man out of curiosity, "Enthusiastic audience, for which two?"
The man raised his eyebrows on his alien-like face,
"Don't you know that?" "Why should I know that..." Lou Cheng thought adversely yet said smilingly. "I forgot to take a VS list,just looking around anyway."
The young man curled his lips and answered Lou Cheng's question, "It's a round of competition between ﬁghters with highest ranks and closest strength today, Professional Ninth Pin VS Amateur Second Pin. You see the girl in pink and white martial arts suit? She is Ye Youting, Professional Ninth Pin, the daughter of Yiye Martial Arts School's master in Yanling, known for her tiger-simulate and leopard-simulate kungfu. Her opponent is Guan Yan, a disciple of Jiuzhen Martial Arts School, Amateur Second Pin specialized in throwing techniques."
Professional Ninth Pin VS Amateur Second Pin? A competition of sorts... As Lou Cheng had seen the masterly display of Professional Ninth Pin, he had no conﬁdence in Guan Yan in the least. Seeing that it's merely a round of knockout, the rank difference was acceptably small for the audience.
Ye Youting was tall and slim with thick brows and straight nose. Her beauty was set off by the pink and white martial arts suit to a turn. Facing Guan Yan, she said,
"If you can take my three blows, I'll throw up the sponge."
The burly-set young man was apparently offended by her words. "Rank difference cannot deny my strength. Retract your offense!"
Guan Yan had come across Ye Youting several times in all manner of martial arts activities in Yanling yet without any conversation and competition with her. It was the ﬁrst encounter that he had with her in the ring, only to ﬁnd how arrogant the girl was! Knowing a person by repute was not as good as seeing him face to face!
A free and easy smile appeared on Ye Youting's face. "Have a try."
Silence smothered the ring during the remaining waiting time for referee's announcement. "Fight!"
The voice was still in the air when Ye Youting spurted out, sending forth the sound of wind. Her move was just like a leopard sprinting to its prey with powerful bearing sufﬁcient to overwhelm very many warriors.
The distance with Guan Yan was closed up in a ﬂash. She slammed her foot down and threw a powerful punch with strength streaming from her feet all the way up to her ﬁst at Guan Yan, just like a giant ax or a weighty hammer falling with intense oppression to the air and people around.
Guan Yan subconsciously evaded when Ye Youting's words ﬂashed across his mind, As long as he could take her three blows, Ye Youting would directly throw in the towel.
"Three blows are not that hard for me!" With teeth gritted, Guan Yan poised himself for Ye Youting's strike with muscles in his arms bulged out. At one time, he sparing strength to cope with changes as unexpected moves were the only key for Ye Youting's victory with no more than three blows! Pong!
With a dull thud sent out by the collisions of ﬁsts and arms, Lou Cheng saw Guan Yan's face turning pale, and the defense of his arms was unexpectedly breached by Ye Youting's surprising strength. The ﬁsts with remaining momentum straight hit Guan Yan's completely exposed chest, making him lose balance at once. Afterward, Ye Youting stamped the ground, turned her ﬁst into an open palm and pushed Guan Yan down the ring.
She defeated Guan Yan of Amateur Second Pin with just one blow and one push!
With Lou Cheng's mouth slightly open, referee's voice fell on his ears,
"Ye Youting wins!"
The audience was not prepared for this shocking result. A short silence was replaced by noise and excitement until Ye Youting stepped down the ring. "How large the gap is between Amateur Second Pin and Professional Ninth Pin!"
"A man of mark in amateur martial arts world was defeated with only one blow?"
"Have Ye Youting reached the level of Professional Eighth Pin?"
Even in the middle of the passionate discussion, Lou Cheng's heart was still ﬂuttering with fear. The pride of winning Liu Yinglong faded away in great measure.
Ye Youting beat Guan Yan by mere strength!
Lin Que, the same rank with Ye Youting and very close to the Danqi stage, tended to have a tiny advantage in strength when ﬁghting with Chen Changhua and others of Amateur First Pin or Second Pin.
Was Ye Youting born with "superhuman strength"?
It made no sense. Even if she could not reach the Danqi stage, Ye Youting had no difﬁculty in passing the ranking events for Professional Eighth Pin or even Seventh Pin by her strength and well-mastered tiger-simulate and leopard-simulate kungfu. Unless signiﬁcant progress made in a short time had prepared her for the ranking event yet to come, "superhuman strength" could not explain this shocking victory.
The other explanation was that the blow served as a clever trick. Ye Youting's punch force momentarily reached a rolling and crushing level resorting to the combination of extraordinary strength and explosive power.
Right, maybe it's the very reason! And that's why Ye Youting tried to irritate Guan Yan with the words of "three blows decide the ﬁght." She used a Lightning-and-Fire-Stance-like skill which could at most burst three or four times in a ﬁght to win an impressive victory over Guan Yan.
With a clear understanding of the ﬁght, Lou Cheng felt no relaxation, but even more admiration for Ye Youting, realizing the gap between himself and Professional Ninth Pin was still quite extensive. It seemed impossible to get away from Ye Youting's blow with leopard-fast speed while Guan Yan's crushing defeat was telling the story of confrontation.
How long would he take to bridge the strength gap with Ye Youting's blow if he combined Mega Avalanche in 24 Blizzard Strikes with the explosive force of Lightning and Fire Stance? Was there any chance to make it?
As this idea became clear, Lou Cheng went away from the arena and came to the service desk at leisure.
"Would you please give me the deposited bags?" Lou Cheng handed the number card and luggage card to the lady at service. Owing to Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Candidate Challenge Tournament, the hotels nearby were all in short supply. The reserved rooms would only be kept for customers up to 2 p.m.
The lady took the two round cards over to have a check. Immediately, she had a glance at the young man before she opened the storage room with the key and returned his backpack and the number card.
"Thank you." Lou Cheng put on his backpack, pocketed the number card and walked toward the exit of the gymnasium.
Watching Lou Cheng away, the lady suddenly turned around to her colleague, "Hey! Is that undergraduate with no rank, who beat Liu Yinglong from Baiyuan Martial Arts School?"
"Him? Not a superb guy he seems like..." Another girl gazed at Lou Cheng's back on tiptoe, "Looking forward to his performance in the second round tomorrow."
... Upon entering the lobby of Fulin Hotel, Lou Cheng saw many people in martial arts suit queuing up at the Service to check in.
"Good business..." He came to the end of the line, habitually took out of the phone and logged into his QQ to see whether Yan Zheke had landed and replied his messages.
Lou Cheng saw Yan Zheke's proﬁle of a cute cat winking at ﬁrst glance accompanying the QQ beep sound.
"Just landed. Not bad. No shame brought to the Martial Arts Club of Songcheng University! " Yan Zheke sent a smiley behind sleeves a few minutes ago, "(microphone) What would you want to say about your ﬁrst victory in ofﬁcial competitions?"
Lou Cheng subconsciously put on a happy smile and sent an emoji of a satisﬁed guy wearing a pair of sunglasses. "Say something?" "Uh... I would like to thank CCTV, MTV, and KTV... Oh, No, thank Yan Zheke, Coach Shi, Martial Arts Club and Lin Que." After dozens of seconds, Yan Zheke replied a laughing emoji with one arm leaning against the wall and then a glaring face in a frown. "I mean it!"
Lou Cheng came to be serious, "I was quite nervous before stepping up the ring because my opponent had reached much higher rank than me. But I took it easy when starting to ﬁght with only one thought in my mind that was to put my plan into practice and show my real strength after prior exercises."
"First of all, you had no rank. So 'much higher rank than me' does not make sense. Moreover, what's his rank?" asked Yan Zheke with a curious face of the Internet-celebrity cat.
Looking at the phone screen, Lou Cheng answered with a bigger smile, "Amateur Fourth Pin."
Yan Zheke immediately sent an emoji of a cat "dropping its dried ﬁsh out of scare." "Really?"
"Yeah! You are the last one I would lie to! " Lou Cheng expressed how much he cared about her by implication. Yan Zheke replied a comforting emoji of touching the head, "Um. Cheng is always honest. But I want to know how you could win him? How could you improve your strength so fast? I don't understand! "
"The information makes winners. I gathered my opponent's detailed information before the competition, coming at his proﬁciency in Arm Boxing. So I searched some videos of this skill and managed to ﬁgure out its features, which was ﬂexible footwork. They liked to move here and there in the ﬁght to bring their opponents under control. "
Lou Cheng explained honestly to the girl he fell for. "According to the information, I made a plan that was to expose my back to him, deceiving him into believing that his footwork had put me in a desperate spot. When he allowed his mind to relax, I spun to his back and launched a deciding blow with 24 Blizzard Strikes and Lightning and Fire Stance. Afterward, I managed to keep calm and followed up the ﬁrst handsome blow... Um, the key to this victory is that he knew nothing about me and took me lightly."
Yan Zheke replied a few minutes later. "Off the plane ~ Your description makes me feel personally participating in the ﬁght and putting my wit against the opponent. It is extremely satisfying and marvelous! My grandpa has told me that the rank of martial arts represented a stable level over the long term. There are too many external factors in individual competition."
"I am the continuation of your martial arts dream... " Lou Cheng confessed his love in the heart. "You will have this chance in the future."
Yan Zheke sent a pathetic emoji. "Your progress is so impressive! Cheng, I didn't expect this from you! I can't slack off! "
Only four people were ahead of Lou Cheng in the queue for check-in, a senior, a young man and two girls in their early twenties. All of them were in dark cyan martial arts suit with hill-simulate patterns decorated on the cuffs and neckband.
They reserved two rooms at the hotel, took their room cards and left the service desk. Walking down to the elevator, the young man with short hair turned his head and took a glance at Lou Cheng. "To participate in the Challenge Tournament?" He mumbled.
The senior turned his eyes to Lou Chen, only to ﬁnd a student-looking young man with a silly smile on his face totally immersed in the cheerful chatting on the phone. He shook his head. "Just a martial arts lover to watch the tournament."
With no more words said, the young man pressed the button in the elevator with his iron-colored right hand of big joints.
Lou Cheng booked himself a twin room. He needed a good rest to recuperate and build up energy for the tournament as Jindan (the Golden Elixir) could only help him gather strength. It merely charged a little more than 100 RMB one day for the room, since the small room was poorly equipped, even inferior to express hotels.
Yan Zheke went to bed after chatting a while on account of getting up early and airsickness while Lou Cheng slept off with relaxed mood after the competition. The curtain of night had hung down when he woke up. The dead silence in the room seemed to be relating to the coming of the day of doom.
Pulling himself together, Lou Cheng started to browse the forum and found both Road to the Arena and Invincible Punch won their competition. As agreed, they posted their pictures on the forum.
Road to the Arena had a good face with short hair parted on the side. The only ﬂaw was his clearly visible black eyes. Invincible Punch was tall and handsome with a brush cut and dashing eyebrows, which attracted not a few replies.
The ﬁrst round of more than four hundred competition was about to draw to a close. Lou Cheng did not feel like to go to the gymnasium. He went to a park nearby to do some exercise before having his dinner. After that, he came back to bed to chat with Yan Zheke and other classmates, as well as browse content posted in forums and videos in microblogs.
... The next day at eight forty, a middle-aged man in a leather jacket arrived in the gymnasium. He approached a screen, looking for some details in the VS list with his wide-opened eyes.
"No. 656, Lou Cheng..." He murmured.
Following Yu Haichao the master of their martial art school, Liu Yinglong and other disciples stepped into the arena once again.
Looking at the big screen at a distance, Yu Haichao muttered to himself.
"No. 656, Lou Cheng..."
... At the same time, Lou Cheng was also looking for his name in front of the screen to see who his opponent was in the second round of knockout.
Chapter 38: The First "Come on"
"Ring Four, Round Nine. No.419 Hu Zheng, 20, Amateur Sixth Pin versus No.656 Lou Cheng, 18, no rank."
With the pair-up arrangement coming into his sight, Lou Cheng sent a message to Yan Zheke with delight immediately. "Luckier than yesterday, the opponent is of Amateur Sixth Pin."
After learning the drawing result that she had been waiting for, Yan Zheke replied an emoji with a proud laughing face. "Look, I bring you better luck!"
"Right! My luck yesterday was bad on account of you being on board and not keeping me company." Lou Cheng seized the chance to give compliments to her.
"My luck is in the unexpected encounter with Jindan (the Golden Elixir) and the pursuit of you!" He thought to himself.
There were still many competitions in the second round with more than two hundred at total and at least ten ﬁghts on each ring in the morning. Even though the total number were halved, the schedule for today's competitions was also a little bit tight, considering every match between ﬁghters with close strength would take more time after many pure "fanciers" being knocked out yesterday.
Good luck was with Lou Cheng for he came across an opponent of Amateur Sixth Pin in the second round where the majority of the weak had almost been knocked out.
"He-heh." Yan Zheke replied a smiley with a cheerful heart.
She quickly sent the second message, "Just go to collect the ﬁghter's information! Do not take enemy lightly as your opponent did yesterday!"
"Yes, Coach Yan!" Lou Cheng sent a modiﬁed version of the funny emoji to entertain his girl.
Yan Zheke replied with a serious yet cute emoji, "Good boy.
Listen to your coach's analysis of your opponent later!" While chatting and joking with Yan Zheke, Lou Cheng got the ﬁghter's material from the service desk after queueing for a few minutes.
"Hu Zheng, male, twenty years old, high school degree, Yanling local, ﬁtness coach, martial arts training partner, Amateur Sixth Pin..." Lou Cheng found a seat at corner and sent Yan Zheke the detailed information of Hu Zheng, "175 cm in height, 67 kilograms, won Ji Xiaoxing of Amateur Eighth Pin in the knockout."
Yan Zheke sent an emoji of standing erect in the wind. "The material has been updated with the result of the ﬁrst round of knockout. There is no way for you to take advantage of your opponent's underestimation and negligence..."
Since Lou Cheng could see Hu Zheng won Ji Xiaoxing of Amateur Eighth Pin, Hu Zheng could also know Lou Cheng knocked out Liu Yinglong, the big brother of Amateur Fourth Pin from Baiyuan Martial Arts School. Apparently, Hu Zheng would be on full alert to his opponent without any underestimation and negligence today. "I'm unlikely always to have the good fortune to encounter a conceited and thoughtless opponent. I have conﬁdence in defeating the ﬁghter of Amateur Sixth Pin open and aboveboard." Lou Cheng answered calmly.
"Yes! That's the spirit of a warrior." Yan Zheke sent a touching head sticker. "There are some features in common for such ﬁghters as martial art training partners and ﬁtness coaches. These muscle ﬁghters employ miscellaneous moves in the competition which help them adapt to various types of opponents. On the other hand, they have no specialty in a certain move... I'll search more information for you..."
"Ha-hah!" Amused by Yan Zheke's cuteness, Lou Cheng answered with a pretended serious face. "How professional Coach Yan is!"
Time ﬂew by while watching competitions and chatting with Yan Zheke. Most rings had ushered the sixth pair of ﬁghters. "It has been the sixth ﬁght. I feel a little nervous now."
"Moderate tension is a good thing." Yan Zheke tried to make Lou Cheng relaxed. "Then you'd better stop chatting and do some preparations. Fix your attention, calm your nerves, try to adjust your state and reﬂect on your moves.
"Got it," said Lou Cheng.
A message from Yan Zheke came to his sight when Lou Cheng was about to sign out QQ to save power.
"Cheng, wait for a moment. The last word for you!"
Followed this message was a voice one.
Clicking on it with curiosity, Yan Zheke's soft and clear voice rang into Lou Cheng's ears.
"Lou Cheng! Lou Cheng! Lou Cheng! Come on!"
Ecstasy abruptly hit Lou Cheng with brilliant ﬁreworks blossoming in his heart. The ﬁrst "come on" for his ring journey!
Well over with joy, Lou Cheng replied unconsciously,
"I'll go all out!"
Yan Zheke sent back an encouraging ﬁst emoji without a word.
The motivated young man clenched his ﬁst heavily in the corner as if he had won all challenge tournaments. He favorited this voice message with solemnity and played it over and over again by his ears.
With surging courage in heart, he signed out QQ, left his seat, and stroke to the fourth ring full of strength.
... "The fourth ring..." the middle-aged man in the leather jacket came near to the fourth ring, holding the VS list and some material of over a dozen of ﬁghters whom he had some interest in.
He found a most suitable seat to watch the ﬁght, waiting for the dark horse who won Liu Yinglong to show up.
Five or six rows away from him was Yu Haichao the master of Baiyuan Martial Arts School, who sit upright and quietly with his eyes glancing at the screen of competition information.
Beside Yu Haichao were his knocked-out disciples in dead silence.
Because Qin Zhilin's competition was arranged in the afternoon, he also came with schoolmates to see the undergraduate from Songcheng University who hurt and knocked out their big brother.
In the silence out of tune with the noisy gymnasium, Liu Yinglong suddenly raised his right hand. "He is coming!"
Following the direction Liu Yinglong pointed to, Qin Zhilin saw a student-like young man in dark blue martial arts suit coming over,eighteen or nineteen years of age,of medium height, with short hair and a common face, leaving people with a gentle and composed impression.
"Perfect meditation and peace in the heart." A low, familiar voice came to Qin Zhilin's ear. He subconsciously took a look following the voice, realizing it was his master who had been keeping silent since entering the gymnasium. Yu Haichao, a martial art expert of Professional Fifth Pin, had participated in the competition of the second league. He started Baiyuan Martial Arts School in Yanling when getting aged after declining the invitation from the police force.
"Perfect meditation?" Qin Zhilin heard a deep breath from his brothers and himself.
Even the mighty ones of Danqi stage dare not declare themselves to be perfect meditation! Yu Haichao stood up with his hands down to the knee. "This judgment is based on my encounters with many ﬁghters of perfect meditation. Of course, there is no need for you to envy their genius, for your physique is also different from ordinary people."
"The little brother has entered a perfect stage with a talent for meditation. Great chance for him to reach the Danqi stage in the future."
Perfect meditation was not equal to absolute strength, which just meant less difﬁculty he'd experience to achieve Danqi stage.
Liu Yinglong turned his eyes to Lou Cheng again, realizing he still made nothing of his opponent. Every encounter with Lou Cheng brought a surprise or even shock beyond imagination to Liu Yinglong.
"Which level do you think he is of?" asked Qin Zhilin subconsciously. Yu Haichao shook his head.
"How can this be seen directly? Watch the ﬁght. "
People from Baiyuan Martial Arts School fell into silence once again.
Lou Cheng managed to calm down his rolling power and excitement a little bit until the end of the seventh ﬁght in the fourth ring.
He concentrated his thoughts and started to reﬂect on his opponent when the eighth ﬁght was going on.
"Hu Zheng deﬁnitely would analyze my ﬁght features in the light of my performance in the ﬁrst round of knockout. Liu Yinglong is known for his Arm Boxing, specialized in ﬂexible and swift footwork. So it makes sense for him to conclude my specialty in dealing with ﬂexible and guerrilla hit..."
"Facing me who won Liu Yinglong, Hu Zheng is supposed to ﬁght with great caution and avoid ﬂexible or guerrilla hit as long as he is not playing weak or has participated in the Ranking Event in the past one or two years...Huh? Can I take advantage of this?"
With many thoughts ﬂashing and ﬁght scenes staging in his mind, Lou Cheng ﬁnally freeze-framed the competition between Ye Youting and Guan Yan.
"Hu Zheng will surely give weight to his defense at the beginning... Um, I can attempt beating him with my utmost strength ignoring follow-up burst moves."
On careful comparison, Lou Cheng had conﬁdence in winning Hu Zheng with strength. At this moment, Lou Cheng desired a carefree ﬁght without considering whether Hu Zheng was playing weak or not. Lou Cheng relaxed his nerves and started to watch the ﬁght after making the decision.
The eighth ﬁght came to an end ten minutes later. The referee announced the beginning of the ninth ﬁght after taking a breath and some adjustment.
Lou Cheng VS Hu Zheng!
After handing in belongings and jacket, Lou Cheng stepped into the ring with the checked number card. Before him was strongly-built Hu Zheng in a karate-like suit.
The middle-aged man in leather jacket sat up straight, staring at Lou Cheng,
"A student he is! Do wonder his actual strength and specialty who beat Liu Yinglong..." Yu Haichao, Liu Yinglong, Qin Zhilin and other disciples of Baiyuan Martial Arts School also turned their eyes and paid all attention to the ring where Lou Cheng was.
There was no need to make much ado about contemplation from the audience in the match. Vaguely sensing the atmosphere, Lou Cheng became more inspired with enthusiasm.
He had his audience in this match!
Looking at student-like Lou Cheng, Hu Zheng was weighed down with anxiety. He had been fully aware of that he would ﬁght with a formidable enemy after receiving the opponent's material.
Baiyuan Martial Arts School was celebrated in Yanling. Hu Zheng was keenly aware of the power of Liu Yinglong's Arm Boxing, which he had long heard of. The young man opposite to him was exactly the one who knocked out Liu Yinglong. Hoo... He heaved a breath and saluted with a decision made in his mind.
Anti-arm boxing was the only key to victory!
Lou Cheng returned a salute without a word. He prepared himself for meditation, adjusting his muscles little by little and compressing the strength of the whole body.
The bowstring should be pulled to the tightest to make the arrows shoot furthest, and the spring stretched to the extreme to produce most powerful recovery. Likewise, the power should be compressed to the utmost to generate "heaven falling and the earth cracking" as Ye Youting burst out a blow with force of terror.
Lou Cheng conceived a scene of towering snow-capped mountains in his mind with snow falling in a whirl which made it even more majestic. The terror was accumulated for a blow from commanding position.
"The third group of 24 Blizzard Strikes, Mega Avalanche!" At this time, the referee raised his right hand and abruptly lowered it,
"The ninth. Fight!"
Suddenly, the snow-capped mountain started to quiver with accumulated power about to burst out. Lou Cheng felt that he became taller, overlooking Hu Zheng of similar height with himself. It was a feeling of looking down the passersby from the peak of the snow-capped mountain!
In his conceived scene, a lightning hit the summit of the snow-capped mountain in the roaring of thunder, starting a blazing prairie ﬁre. The accumulated snow suddenly collapsed, making a rushing and boiling ﬂow of the snow water!
This was the most horrible blizzard between heaven and earth! Feeling the rising hot ﬂow from the coccygeal vertebra and ready-to-burst strength compressed in muscles, Lou Cheng took a few steps and clenched his ﬁst at Hu Zheng with the momentum of collapsing masses of snow roaring and crushing.
With his arms raised to defend, Hu Zheng's sight froze with shock at Lou Cheng who seemed to be a giant, a towering mountain.
In the audience stand, Liu Yinglong got to his feet with a jump.
Chapter 39: Mega Avalanche
At that moment, the Lou Cheng that appeared in front of Hu Zheng seemed to swell into a giant like a ﬁgment of his imagination. His ﬁsts cracked and the wind howled. He suddenly felt like he had lost the high ground, and his former arrogant grandeur seemed to have been buried by a collapsing mountain peak.
This kind of strength made Hu Zheng unwittingly consider high tailing it out of there, but he didn't dare let it show. However, he was already in his defensive stance, and there was obviously no time to retreat. This led to an even more dire realization; and all he could do was bite the bullet, hold steady, and try to change his style of blocking. He crossed both arms against his body.
This stance wouldn't be broken, but he'd also lose the opportunity to lead into a counterattack. It was the both the safest and also the most foolish choice. Hu Zheng was unable to think that far in advance!
Bam! As the strike came forward, an oppressive sound ﬁlled the air and fell upon Hu Zheng's ears. At the same time, he felt an immense vibration across his body. Even though his blocking stance had still not been broken through, it was hard to receive such a blow with his arms stifﬂy pressed against his body, stuck on top of his chest.
Such frightening strength! Hu Zheng felt as if his arms were two sledgehammers slamming into him. His ribs ached, his balance started to falter, and his legs were unable to support him. He was going to topple over soon.
To maintain his balance, he could only stagger along and do his best to recover a steady sense of equilibrium.
At that moment, Lou Cheng had already come closer with his body leaning to the side. He lowered his left shoulder, moved forward a step, and crashed into Hu Zheng chest.
With the Avalanche Stance, unless you stopped it yourself, the power would run right over you! Hu Zheng stumbled after being slammed by such a powerful hit, completely lost his balance, and ﬂew towards the ground with a thud.
"Lou Cheng wins!" The referee declared.
"I lost, just like that?" Hu Zheng was in a daze, discovering he had already been thrown to the ground of the arena.
"I barely threw a single punch, and I've lost?
How many seconds had it taken!?
Did that kind of strength belong to an amateur?"
Nearby, above the spectator's platform, Liu Yinglong stared dumbfounded at his fellow disciple, his face white as death. After seeing Lou Cheng's striking power a moment ago, he'd realized with some disappointment that himself wouldn't have been able to resist this kind of frightening strength! After going through Master Yu Haichao's analysis of yesterday's ﬁght, he still hadn't been fully convinced. He thought that Lou Cheng still hadn't displayed any real power and would lose today's match like watching right into a booby trap. Going through the outcome of the previous ﬁght, the disparity between the two ﬁghters wasn't that big. He merely had a natural gift for meditation, impressive coordination and was adept at controlling his body. In other aspects, he wasn't as good as he seemed to be, and his victory was merely a ﬂuke.
But after what he had just seen, any trace of arrogance and self-consolation in his heart had been thoroughly defeated. He was brave enough to recognize his disappointment.
Could it be that Lou Cheng hadn't revealed his true strength before and now was going all out? Yesterday when he had thrown that one punch, it seemed like it could nearly break a bone!
Knowing your own body's weaknesses wasn't a simple matter, but it was an unavoidable cruelty. Beside him, Master didn't say a word. All of the Junior Sisters and Junior Brothers around them were silent. It was as if the entire world had gone still.
The man in the leather jacket had taken out his phone, intending on going home later to enjoy a recording of the most intense moment of the ﬁght, but by the time he'd unlocked his screen and opened the phones camera function, the match was already over!
"This... Isn't this a carbon copy of what happened in yesterday's match?" As a fan, his understanding of the meaning behind the punch that had just been thrown wasn't as deep as Liu Yinglong's. It was that he was astonished at how Lou Cheng had defeated an Amateur Sixth Pin like Hu Zheng with merely one punch. It was similar to Ye Youting's exceptional victory over Guan Yan yesterday. After taking in all of the information yesterday, he'd come back to watch more matches in the ring.
Although Guan Yan was an Amateur Second Pin, and more skilled than Hu Zheng, his blocking stance in yesterday's battle had left an opportunity for a counterattack. It didn't seem like Hu Zheng's arms had been intersected too tightly, which showed you couldn't judge simply by rank. After thinking thoroughly about this point, the man in the leather jacket put down his phone and clapped his hands, even though Lou Cheng probably couldn't hear it.
This competition did have some surprises in store!
"Uncle, what are you clapping for?" The young couple beside them stared past. They were looking at another match on the big screen.
Wasn't it brilliant enough a match to deserve applause?"
The man in the leather coat chuckled. "Just a moment ago a student with no rank defeated an Amateur Sixth Pin contestant. It was just like Ye Youting's victory over Guan Yan in the ring yesterday."
Ye Youting and Guan Yan's ﬁght was the highlight yesterday, and this brilliant scene was being replayed on the TV screen. A shy girl who was part of the couple smiled softly. "Sounds more or less the same, but it's not the same. The difference in ranks is really big." As a martial arts fan, the man in the leather coat gesticulated wildly to make his point, explaining once again that Guan Yan and Hu Zheng's defensive stances weren't the same. In the end, he said, "Even though there's a disparity, it's not that big. That no rank student is remarkable!"
The couple became quite intrigued. "What is he called?" What's his number? "We're going to see his match tomorrow. A lot of these performances are boring."
"He's called Lou Cheng, and his number is 656." The man in the leather jacket seemed as if he giving an endorsement.
""Lou Cheng wins!"
When the referee's verdicts hit his ears, Lou Cheng stomped his feet, stood up straight, and didn't pursue any further attack. All he could feel was a short burst of exhaustion in his body and a warmth in the spot where his Dantian was located, ﬂowing through his whole body. Now that he'd calmed down and was tired, the Jindan was starting to work on its own.
In addition to the Mega Avalanche, he had added the Lightning and Fire Stance punch, so his body felt exhausted of all strength. He was much more tired than he had been after yesterday's ﬁght, nearly more than Lin Que had been during his ﬁrst match when he had used the Brutal Blizzard.
"This kind of power is still an immense burden and consumer of energy. If I relied on my own body, I could only get two punches out at best..." Lou Cheng sighed to himself inwardly.
Today's victory was more joyous than yesterday's, yet he was calmer. There was no longer the feeling of the victory being a ﬂuke or not genuine. Going through today's ﬁght, he was certain that he had already improved his abilities immensely and yesterday's victory was not by chance.
"I've managed to become an amateur master!" Blinking in exhaustion and feeling a deﬁnite joy, Lou Cheng composed himself and walked outside the lines of the ring, looking for the supervisor to return his belongings.
Seeing this performance, the Baiyuan Martial Arts School Headmaster Yu Haichao, who had been calm and peaceful throughout, gasped and stood up.
"Master, what's wrong?" Liu Yinglong asked in shock.
Yu Haichao looked at the panic revealed in each and every face of his disciples, sighed and said, "With the combination of the Mega Avalanche in the Ice Sect's 24 Blizzard Strikes and the Thunder Sect's Lightning and Fire Stance, plus three minutes of concentrating his strength, this kind of power isn't at all surprising. What makes a Master like me concerned is that when he was done throwing that punch, I didn't see any sign of exhaustion!"
"This would leave me to believe that he could throw punches continuously for quite a while. Even if he didn't have three minutes to focus his strength, he could still retain 70 or 80 percent of his strength. That is quite frightening." Liu Yinglong, Qin Zhilin, and the other disciples were stunned that their Master's evaluation was this high!
"Master, what rank do you think he is?" Liu Yinglong asked subconsciously.
Yu Haichao smirked. "It's impossible to tell simply from watching a single punch. Martial arts levels aren't all about physical power, but he's certainly no less than an Amateur Third Pin. Look, all of you, if just one or two of you can grasp meditation and master stance training afterward, at the very least your strength will improve signiﬁcantly. Seeing another person's excellence, does it not make your hearts still?"
He seized the opportunity to teach his disciples. Certain still stances couldn't be performed in the martial arts ring, but if you were unable to grasp meditation, physical training would bring no serious results.
"We understand!" Liu Yinglong, Qin Zhilin, and the other disciples were all moved to a degree. "All of you, watch more of his matches, perhaps there will be other rewards." Yu Haichao advised as he walked out of the martial arts with his hands behind his back.
Taking out his phone, Lou Cheng immediately looked out at the faraway viewing platform. While watching other Martial Arts competitions on the big screen, he logged onto QQ to give Yan Zheke the good news!
In the Martial Arts Club, when joining the partition contest, Yan Zheke had organized a cheerleading squad and put herself in charge of logistics. While it was necessary to have a phone number, text messages and these kinds of things were now outdated. Student clubs rather preferred to use QQ or WeChat.
"Hey, hey, I won!" "Easy victory!" "Thanks to Coach Yan's guidance!" Lou Cheng used three exclamation marks to express his joy, and as a way to jokingly praise Yan Zheke. It seemed as if Yan Zheke had been waiting for the result, and she quickly responded. "Not bad. How is it that a child can teach you how to win?"
She was very interested in the details of the match.
"I knocked out Liu Yinglong. I'm sure he would pay attention to this point and thought I would restrain myself or use a similar kind of arm boxing move, so when I did this change in direction, all he could do was block ﬁrst." Lou Cheng explained everything in minute detail, sharing his triumph with the girl of his dreams. "Considering this point, I planned right from the start to hit with a violent blow to see if I could break through his stance and get the upper hand. It's a lot like the match that I told you about yesterday."
Yan Zheke replied with an adorable emoji that had its ﬁnger pressed under its lip, "Cheng, I'm starting to think that you've got a natural gift for competitions!"
Lou Cheng sent an emoji of Crayon Shin Shan scratching his head foolishly. "I'm not as good as you say." He continued to send a message. "As I had told you before, when Coach Shi discovered I had a gift for meditation, he privately taught me a few stance training styles. I took advantage of the three minutes during announcements to focus my strength, and compress my body's power to the limit. Then I used 24 Blizzard Strike's Mega Avalanche and the Lightning and Fire Stance together, and the punch was enough to make my opponent lose his balance. Then I got in close and threw him to the ground."
"Not bad...Cheng, every time I hear you describe a match like this, I can't help but imagine what would happen if it were me instead of you. What kind of reaction would I have, what would the result be? This lets me experience a great ﬁght without even going out the door." Yan Zheke sent an emoji with sparkling eyes.
"You'd surely respond better than me!" Lou Cheng seized the opportunity to praise her once more and sent a blushing emoji. "If I can make you feel like this, I'm delighted."
Yan Zheke sent an emoji with its hands over its mouth, and then said, "I was online looking for your ofﬁcial competition information before, and in the end I could only ﬁnd one short sentence of news: 'With the Phoenix Cup Warrior Sage Tournament's ﬁrst round ﬁnished, the athlete Ye Youting and others have easily smashed through the barriers.' Very nice!"
"I'm amongst those 'others', I'll have an opportunity for my name to show up later." Lou Cheng sent an emoji of a hand patting a head.
While talking, the afternoon competition came to a close. Yan Zheke sent a ﬁghting emoji and said, "Since I've been riled up by you, as soon as I've eaten and relaxed for a bit, I'll ﬁnd my grandma and grandpa to 'steal' some secret moves that have been handed down in the family, and I'll spend an afternoon practicing!"
"Haha, will they agree?" said Lou Cheng.
Yan Zheke sent a laughing emoji. "Relax, if I'm adorable and bat my eyelashes a bit, it absolutely can be arranged. My grandmother loves me dearly and has a kind heart. As long as I don't talk back and don't make her lose face, there won't be any problems." "Then you need to be careful to keep a balance between work and play." Lou Cheng sent a concerned message. As he left out the arena, he picked up some fast food along the way.
In the afternoon while Yan Zheke was practicing martial arts, he browsed through forums and watched matches.
Suddenly in a forum's livestream, he saw Invisible Punch post. "Master Road is on stage. His opponent is some Amateur Fourth Pin guy."
"Is the 'Road to the Arena' match happening?" Lou Cheng looked at every single big screen and quickly found the 'Road to the Arena" who had posted his photo before. He and his opponent were in the three minutes of announcements period.
Chapter 40: Brought Together by Fate
"Road to the Arena" didn't look much different from his picture. He obviously didn't use any beauty products or Photoshop skills. Lou Cheng felt a kind of happiness, as if he'd bumped into an acquaintance. Feigning ignorance, he posted in the livestream using an emoji with a blank stare. "I just ﬁnished an exam and saw this post. 'Master Road' and 'Invincible' are raising our forums prestige in Yanling! That Amateur Fourth Pin opposite him, what's his story?"
"Invincible Punch" apparently was watching the match at the same time, taking pictures and recording video while scrolling through the forum. After twenty or thirty seconds, he replied to Lou Cheng, "Oh, I'd thought you'd gone missing Tiger, but it turns out it's only exam season! Why would Master Road need to ﬁnd out any information about an Amateur Fourth Pin athlete? Anyway, there's no real threat."
"Hmm, a little bit arrogant..." Lou Cheng whispered. Without leaving his seat, he could see "Invincible Punch" next to the arena. Everyone online wasn't too familiar with each other, so talking in person would surely be awkward, and furthermore, he had entered the Warrior Sage Challenge Tournament. It would be hard to avoid being compared with the rest of the competition. Given the circumstances where the disparity in ranks was relatively large, this kind of thing could be avoided.
So he merely answered in a joking tone, "So Master Road is still chugging along despite his age?" He still holds the position of Number One Expert on the forum, and won't give us young people a chance!"
"You're talking as if Master Road's in his 70's or 80's." "Beautiful World" sent an emoji covering its mouth in laughter. "As for you Tiger, wait 10 years and it's likely that you still won't be Master Road's opponent, and still won't have the forum's Number One Expert title."
"I'm not saying that, I'm just joking. Why should I even have a rebuttal..." The corner of Lou Cheng's mouth twitched as he responded, "No, no, no, I'm helping 'Invincible' speak. He's got a plot to usurp the throne!"
"All of you wicked people want to cause trouble for me! If Master Road pops my cherry, what's to be done?!" "Invincible Punch" sent a terriﬁed sticker. "Okamoto's Fan" used a comical emoji. "Shouldn't you be happy to get your cherry popped on a date?"
Following along the same line of conversation, the moderator "Pig-Riding Knight", "A Plumber Eating Mushrooms", "Brahman" and others conversed excitedly, mischievously talking about the difference between condoms and contraception.
I couldn't even imagine junior high students being this ﬁlthy... Lou Cheng snickered and once again directed his gaze towards the match.
With impressive legwork, fast punches and elegant movements, "Road to the Arena" made other people as if they were looking straight at a tornado and that he was able to suppress his opponent so impressively, but Lou Cheng was a different person today than he'd been in the past. With one glance he could tell that his posture was awkward, and the force of his hits wasn't sufﬁcient.
In the past, Lou Cheng mainly watched the top tier Professional Martial Arts Competitions and the Top 5 Title Matches. Containing near physical invulnerability and the highest level of Danqi state, these battles were already at an inhuman level. Using the famous He Xiaowei's description, the physical invulnerability of every Mighty One was nearly equivalent to that of a battle tank. So high was this honor that there was no need for the military, who mostly would prefer for the martial artists to destroy each other as they were considered a danger towards the country's security.
It was for this very reason that, before entering the Martial Arts Club, Lou Cheng didn't watch many "Dan Stage" and "Body Reﬁning Stage" matches. He barely had any knowledge and what knowledge he did have wasn't that deep, but by observing the twenty or thirty matches throughout the National University Martial Arts Competitions Partition Contest over the past two days, in addition to the combat experience he had gained, his insight into these ﬁghts had become much sharper.
"Road to the Arena" looked rusty. His footwork and stance seemed like he'd been out of practice, causing his hitting power to be insufﬁcient. If the opposition put in a little more effort, he wouldn't be able to relax so much. However, in recent years he'd been so busy with business and yet hadn't abandoned his training. His physical strength, power, and agility had all been maintained well. After going through two or three matches, he should be able to regain about 70-80% of what he had at his peak. Lou Cheng analyzed the situation with all his might, but got caught up in second thoughts. "If he and I ﬁght hand to hand, how would I react, how to break his maneuvers..."
Using this thought, his constructed an image of the match in his mind. The Amateur Fourth Pin competitor had been replaced by himself, so he could watch and analyze Road to the Arena's every move, deducing how to employ which method. Unbeknownst to Lou Cheng, while simulating this ﬁght, "Road to the Arena" had used his foot to kick his opponent out of the ring, ending the match.
"A Punch's Journey" instantly took a photo of his victory pose and uploaded it into a post on the live broadcast.
"Master Road defeated his opponent in three minutes!"
Lou Cheng discontinued the simulation in his mind and glanced at the photo. He could only see that Road to the Arena's forehead was sweating, sliding down his cheeks. "He still had a big problem with his physical strength, which can't quite recover in a short period..." Lou Cheng nodded his head slightly as he watched the two opponents leave. He got up and headed towards the service desk and asked for a ﬁghting sheet, looking for the information on the match that had just happened so that he could ﬁnd out "Road to the Arena's" real name.
"Number 173, Zhou Yuanning, 29 years old, Professional Ninth Pin, from Heishan Province, is skilled at the Heavenly Wind Incantation's Wuthering Eight Movements. So "Road to the Arena" was nearly 30! It seemed to be true that he used to have a well-known ex-ﬁghter Master. Heh, all of his big talk before looked like it had been made up. At best, it's been exaggerated by quite a bit." Lou Cheng thought as he asked for Road to the Arena's detailed information.
Heavenly Wind Incantation wasn't typically known amongst the people by that name, but rather was commonly called "Way of the Wind." The "Wuthering Eight Movements" of "Road to the Arena" had been passed down through generations. Even if he'd never ofﬁcially become a master's apprentice, he must have received direction from a famous ﬁghter. Receiving the information, Lou Cheng went to a different arena to watch another match. A group of girls at the service desk waited for him to get far away, and then started to whisper in each other's ears.
"I checked. He won again! Looks like he is an expert."
"Mmm, most likely he thinks it's beneath him to join an Amateur Ranking Event."
"This is my favorite kind of man. I don't know what kind of opponent he'll encounter tomorrow. What do you think, should we recommend his matches to the audience?"
"Better wait and see, so we don't waste our energy."
Several girls in the forum were ecstatic. This way of exploring an expert was much more intimate and interesting than simply looking at ofﬁcial publicity. ...
Looking at one match after the other, Lou Cheng's mind gradually became crammed full with all kinds of styles, deducing how he would react. He did this until 4 o'clock, when he ﬁnally got out of his seat and headed out of the martial arts arena. He returned to his hotel room to put his coat inside and then went to a small park nearby. He then began to drill, going through all of the expected moves as if there was an imaginary opponent in front of him.
He disassembled the three sets of 24 Blizzard Strikes' Brutal Blizzard and Mega Avalanche, throwing them in random order and constantly reorganizing them. Lou Cheng practiced until he felt a kind of intoxication and icy coldness in the depths of his eyes. Although his calmness was nearly frightening, his hands and feet whizzed by with the ferocity of a madman.
As he changed his posture, he didn't limit himself only according to these three sets grouping, and instead threw all 24 hits indiscriminately, anticipating the moves from his imaginary opponent and adjusting accordingly. From all of the sloppiness of a novice in the beginning, he'd developed into this perfect image of a ﬁghter. The 24 Blizzard Strikes' style was aimed at beginner students, so it was easy to grasp quickly. At its core, there were three ideas: Brutal Blizzard, Biting Chill, and Mega Avalanche. Treating these as the foundation, it was possible for one to combine them into 24 possible hits within every attack.
Chops, elbows, swooping kicks, fast palms and sticking close to the body, a chain of all these hits, echoing out like a blowing wind, made it feel like there was a sudden explosion like an avalanche, vast and mighty, burying everything.
"Phew!" Lou Cheng withdrew his boxing stance and adopted his ﬁnal stance with ﬁring out a sharp breath of air.
The joy on his face was obvious. Under his abdomen, the Jindan warmly ﬂowed with its ice and ﬁre, healing his exhaustion.
Having mastered the 24 Blizzard Strikes at long last and reaching a higher level brought no small amount of pride. Lou Cheng chose a random place nearby to eat and went back to the hotel. The very ﬁrst thing he did was to turn on the computer, connect his phone, and save the voice message that Yan Zheke had sent earlier onto the hard drive so he could avoid losing it if his phone got damaged.
This was worth a lifetime's collection of memories!
After ﬁnishing this, he opened QQ and told Yan Zheke about how rewarding the training he'd just done had been, and Yan Zheke also shared with him how her afternoon training had gone with the moves handed down in her family.
Despite sitting in a shabby hotel room, being surrounded by an unfamiliar city, and hearing dialects that he couldn't understand in the park, Lou Cheng smiled and felt a serene comfort.
The next day at dawn, the man in the leather jacket had opted for a black down jacket. Dragging two similarly aged companions along, they all arrived in front of the big screen.
"I'm telling you, I noticed a very impressive expert, and he still doesn't have any rank..." the man in the leather jacket said, explaining the two past days' events. He lifted his head and looked towards the roster which was constantly refreshing itself. "Number 656, Lou Cheng..."
The couple from yesterday had brought with a few classmates. They all chatted nonstop as they approached the big screen.
"Yesterday I knew that expert, that No Rank Expert!" The boy from the couple pointed to the roster. "Ah, Number 656, Lou Cheng..."
... Liu Yinglong, along with other disciples that had been eliminated, arrived at the martial arts arena and gazed at the big screen.
"Number 656, Lou Cheng..." he said silently to himself, waiting for the roster to ﬂip to a new page.
Suddenly, he gazed his eyes and said with a smile.
Lou Cheng had wrapped a down jacket over his martial arts suit, and followed the crowd of people arriving at the nearby big screen. For the third time, he looked for his own name.
"Second arena, tenth match. Number 819, Jin Tao, 19 years old, Amateur First Pin. Number 656, Lou Cheng, 18 years old, no rank." Seeing this information, Lou Cheng wasn't at all surprised. In the third round, the arenas had been reduced to ﬁve. Encountering an Amateur First, Second or Third Pin Expert was highly probable.
It's just that he was a little bit unlucky that it wasn't an Amateur Third Pin...
"Well, even if it's just so you can thoroughly measure your abilities, there is nothing to be afraid of. Even losing could have its fair share of rewards!" As he headed to the service desk and comforted himself, he informed Yan Zheke about the results of the drawing on QQ. He used a laughing emoji to say, "Fine with me!"
In a time like this, you couldn't say that one's character could protect you from any problem, so you had to pretend like nothing was wrong.
Waiting for Yan Zheke's reply, he went to the end of the line in front of the service desk and ﬂipped through the forums. Under the live broadcast post, he could see that 'Road to the Arena' had posted something. "Little Fist has good luck today! Got a guy with no rank, some guy called Lou Cheng!"
"Eh?" Lou Cheng was dumbfounded.