Chapter 18 - Climbing to the Next Level
This was exactly the Qing Ling pill he had seen for a thousand times in collections of martial arts illustrations!
But still, he dared not to believe his own eyes; he gaped at the pill, studied it thoroughly, then smelled it, causing a pungent smell to penetrate his nose immediately.
It was definitely a Qing Ling pill!
It was claimed that the market price of one pill was as high as a million liang of silver, but actually, in some black market trade, someone had offered three million liang but could not find a source to buy from, which proved that the barefoot girl was very generous!
As Shi Mu was overjoyed with the unexpected good result, his curiosity over the girl's identity grew increasingly. It seemed now that his remark of marrying her must have been delirium to the girl - a toad wishing to eat swan meat. Also, the condition that he must reach the level of Houtian Warrior before thirty was so exacting a task, it weighed heavily on his mind.
He knew that it would be impossible for him to become an Houtian Warrior before the age of thirty. But faced with the girl, who made him palpitate with a passion for the first time in his life, as well as considering his unbending will, he would certainly not resign himself to the formidable prospect.
So it seemed that he could only proceed in small steps, abandoning unnecessary thoughts.
Now, his next goal would be to acquire qi-sensing before managing to reach the level of Houtian Warrior.
Shi Mu let out a sigh, finally purging himself of the disturbing thoughts, and then directed his attention to the pill in his hand, which gave him much confidence in acquiring qi-sensing with the aid of the other pill promised by Auntie Zhen.
Several days later, in the closed room of Feng Liu Club's backyard, striking sounds roared like torrential rain.
Inside, Shi Mu, who was doing a martial-art squat with his upper body bare, was struck heavily by the stick in Li Canghai's hand. However, the skin that used to become red and swollen was not doing so, this time; instead, the skin looked overly pale, and each strike on it would make a strange droning noise as if the stick had fallen on wood rather than on a human body.
An unknown number of strikes had fallen on Shi Mu's body, but his face, unexpectedly not contorted with pain, showed instead some irresistible excitement; meanwhile his mouth opened, echoing the strikes with low shouts.
Li Canghai had also taken off his jacket, leaving on only a short-sleeved shirt, his hard muscles visible all over his body. Waving his stick continuously, he was dripping with sweat, but would not pause for a brief wipe as his eyes were fixed on Shi Mu with feverish excitement.
As a strike fell on a certain acupuncture point on Shi Mu's chest, a thunderous noise exploded, with Shi Mu's face flushing as if the strike had instilled into him a great deal of energy. The next moment, everything returned to normal, but his face soon blushed again. Such a process went on for another ten odd times before crisp sounds, like those of firecrackers, came from inside Shi Mu's body voluntarily; simultaneously, the muscles on his body's surface began to bulge and move like mice.
"Haha! That's it! I'd never thought someone could really go through the half year's torture and reach the eleventh level in body tempering." At the sight Li Canghai threw away his stick and burst into laughter.
"It's all thanks to Instructor Li's painstaking training!" With a deep breath, the cracking sounds inside his body stopped abruptly, and the muscles also returned to normal in an instant. Shi Mu answered, overjoyed at his achievement.
He had finally reached the eleventh level in body tempering.
"No thanks, I'm only doing my paid job. But this only works for you, a very sturdy guy; others would absolutely not able to withstand the punishment." Li Canghai waved off Shi Mu's flattery.
"Anyway, I'm still thankful for your kind instruction, helping me to reach the eleventh stage." Shi Mu answered, smiling. He tried to move his arms and legs and to feel the change inside him.
"Well, if you want to thank me, then win me a championship in the competition in several days.", Li Canghai said straight forwardly.
"Hehe, that's easy, I'll do my best." Shi Mu returned his confident smile.
Seven days later, at the gate of Tian Lu Club, the largest one in Feng City.
The leader of the club, Feng Lengchan, whose stature was as large as that of a black bear, was walking to greet his guests with one of the instructors from his club, acting happy. Among the guests were Li Canghai and some other Feng Liu members. Shi Mu was following Li Canghai and a bulky fellow with reddish face closely along with two other practitioners.
"Haha, Brother Li, Brother Min, you've grown more energetic within months."
"Well, well, it seems that Leader Feng has grown more robust in a short while."
"Hehe, Brother Li, I guess you mean I've put on much weight."
"How dare I? It's Brother Feng who's the actual leader among our four clubs, and the other three leaders like me are only nominal, rarely seen on ordinary occasions. Right, has that fox Tian of Fei Hong Club and Old Wang of Jin Gang Club arrived?"
"Haha, Brother Tian will hit the roof if he hears that. Sure, the two have already arrived and are waiting at the competition venue. These three are your candidates?" Leng Fengchan was laughing as if the Maitreya Buddha when his eyes met Shi Mu and two other practitioners whom he had seen performing excellently in their club before.
"However skilled they are, they can never compete with Nephew Feng. This time I guess it's either us or Fei Hong who will come last in the competition." Li Canghai smiled faintly.
The big fellow with reddish face only smiled briefly in reply, seemingly a taciturn man.
"Brother Li, I'm afraid you are quite mistaken. It's difficult for Fei Hong to come last even if they want to." Hearing thus Leng Fengchan wore a bitter smile instead.
"Huh? What do you mean?" Li Canghai was really surprised, so was the reddish man.
"Brother Li, you'd better get some more ways of obtaining more information in the future. Haven't you heard of the newcomer in Fei Hong Club? He's got the Body of Thick Earth." Feng Lengchan changed to a serious face this time.
"The Body of Thick Earth?" The red-face man of Liu Feng Club finally opened his mouth involuntarily, full of surprise.
"It seems that Fei Hong Club is ready for a desperate fight this time and is highly likely to win the tournament. If so, that will be difficult for us." Li Canghai murmured to himself, estimating in silence the chance of Shi Mu's Stone-Breaking Fist defeating the Body of Thick Earth.
Meanwhile, Shi Mu was looking up and down the other two practitioners at the gate of Tian Lu Club, full of curiosity. The gate was covered with golden nails, flanked by a giant stone lion at either side, a much more imposing gate than their own club's. After some small talk Leng Fengchan invited them in; Shi Mu also followed them in through the gate.
Right inside the gate there was a huge practice ground where there stood an already arranged ring for the martial tournament in the middle, entirely made of thick round logs. It was over a zhang in height and ten zhang[A] in both length and width.
The whole practice ground was empty except beside the ring where some ten-odd practitioners were standing in three groups. Obviously, they were from the other three clubs.
"You three, go and wait there. Instructor Tian and I'll be with you in a while." Li Canghai said briefly and then followed Feng Lengchan to the wing-room behind the practice ground with the red-face man.
"Shi Mu, Sun Jun, let's go and steal a look at their skills." The eldest young man among the three suggested to the other two with a smile as soon as Li Canghai left, his body quite athletic.
"We're already here for the tournament, it's no use knowing their strengths. But this time, Brother Li and I have already reached the intermediate level in several practitioner skills before the tournament, so it's normal for us to be candidates. But you, a new-comer, even if you have reached the tenth level in body tempering, I've never seen you perform your skills in our club, so how can I be sure you'll perform them well in the tournament? I'm wondering why Instructor Li had to make up the number by adding you." The lanky young man of the three obviously had been nursing a grievance, which he vented to Shi Mu now.
"Hehe, I myself didn't want to take part in this, but could not refuse since Instructor Li asked me to. "Shi Mu was not even a bit angry at the reproach; instead he answered in a manner full of ease, even a little lethargically.
"Sun Jun, do you want to make a fool of yourself in front of the guys from other clubs?" The young man, his family name Li, seemed rather displeased and interrupted decisively, stopping the lanky fellow from saying more.
The young Li seemed to hold an authority, thus Sun Jun only snorted at Shi Mu and stopped the attack.
Then the three walked to the ring, measuring the nearby practitioners up and down.
"Well?" After a glance over the groups of candidates there, Shi Mu recognised faces. They belong none other than to the ones he fought when playing 'Fierce Fist'. But only two young men caught his attention: one was a tall youth surrounded by several Tian Lu practitioners, while the other youth, in white clothes, was sitting with his legs crossed on the ground all by himself, scrubbing a dark black spear.
"Feng Jun, Wang Tianhao!"
Shi Mu could tell in a glance who they were. The former had taken his three fist strikes with incredible endurance while the other quit the fight after showing off his amazing spear skills. Both left him with a lasting impression, but neither would not recognize Shi Mu by his true appearance at the moment. They only cast him a cursory glance as the three walked by.
When the youth Li led Shi Mu near them, a young man with a pockmarked face wearing Fei Hong Club's uniform came to greet them,
"Li Yunfeng, so you Liu Feng fellows have finally arrived. Then it seems the tournament will soon begin, I can't wait to encounter your Python-Bones Fist again!"
"Hehe, Gu Zhong, if we two become opponents in the tournament I'll surely fight with all my strength. But I just heard from some instructors that you have a newcomer claiming to have the Body of Thick Earth, is that true?" The youth Li replied briefly, his eyes involuntarily scanning the other two Fei Hong practitioners. One of them looked to be of similar age to Gu Zhong and had a puffy face, while the other looked to be fourteen or fifteen and seemed thin and weak, his skin dark, his ears sticking out and his chin like an ape's: extremely inconspicuous.
"Hehe, This is younger brother Jia, no need to introduce him since you met him last tournament; as for this younger brother Tie Dong, he did just join us a month ago." Gu Zhong paused at the question for a moment, then hurried his introduction with a smile.
"Brother Li." The puffy-faced young man greeted them with clasped fists. But the youth named Tie Dong only rolled his eyes, completely indifferent to them.
Seeing thus Li Yunfeng's face became embarrassed.
"Ah, Brother Li, younger brother Tie meant no offense to you. He grew up in an isolated island and became quite a silent boy. Well, the two younger brothers behind you should also be introduced now." Gu Zhong tried to ease the situation, full of annoying smiles, asking Li while his looks were turned to Shi Mu and Sun Jun standing behind.
 The Maitreya Buddha: The well-known version of the Maitreya Buddha in Chinese culture, usually portrayed as smiling heartily with his breasts bare.
[A] - It is 3&⅓ meters tall and 33 meters long and wide.