Chapter 20 - The Challenge
Hearing this, the practitioners from all four clubs were thrilled. They all stood around the ring, waiting for the signal.
Li Canghai and the other instructors all approached the ring, among them were two strangers. One was wearing a sword and armor and had faint smile on his face. The other was an attractive woman in her thirties. Though she was beautiful, she gave off a cold aura. Both were invited by the four clubs to judge the matches. The man was the field officer of Feng City's military, while the woman was not only an Houtian Warrior, but also the leader of a powerful underground party.
After a moment, Leng Fengchan stood in the ring and began to announce the rules of the match.
"The rules are the same as they were last time. We'll decide the winning club in three rounds. In each round, each club can have one of their candidates issue a challenge to another club, which must provide a candidate to take the challenge. Candidates who have lost previously cannot enter the next round, while the winners can participate in the next round. After three rounds, whichever club has the most remaining candidates will win the match."
As soon as he finished explaining the rules, Leng Fengchan jumped down from the ring, and the military officer walked up in an unhurried manner. He only gave the crowd a greeting of clasped fists, then stood there without saying anything.
Li Yunfeng mouth twitched a little upon hearing the rules.
"Brother Li, do you have any opinions concerning the rules?" Seeing Li's reaction Shi Mu asked out of curiosity.
"Brother Shi, it's the first time you've taken part in the match, so it's natural that you don't know the problem: this framework of three-round competition is most beneficial to the club which has most powerful candidates. In last match, Tian Wanghao took the challenge on behalf of Jin Gang club, and won all the three rounds by himself because none of the other candidates could resist his attack." Li Yunfeng answered with a forced smile.
"I had been wondering why the rules were so simple. Thank you for enlightening me." After a moment's thought, Shi Mu also perceived the true meaning of the rules, giving Li Yunfeng a knowing smile.
Just then, someone had already jumped into the ring, announcing his challenge in a loud voice,
"I am Wu Ming from Tian Lu club, I'd like to see the techniques of senior brothers' from Liu Feng club."
"Yun Feng, you go and accept his challenge. This fellow lost to you last year, so it shouldn't be a problem for you." Seeing this the large red-faced fellow gave the order, not turning his head.
"Instructor Li, please rest assured, I'll will beat this guy." Li Yunfeng stopped talking with Shi Mu and answered his instructor, standing straight in a stance full of self-confidence. Then he suddenly put his hands behind his waist, and when he took them out again, both his hands were in blue gloves, which, when shaken even slightly, made a crisp 'tingling' sound, like a little bell. There were bronze pieces, each the size of a thumb, inlaid on the surface of the gloves.
Upon jumping into the ring, Li Yunfeng let out a fierce roar, drew two gleaming daggers, and rushed straight at his opponent.
The two met at the center of the ring. Li Yunfeng moved like a snake, as his fists attacked his opponent from all different angles, while the youth named Wu Ming wielded his two delicate daggers and jabbed continuously toward his opponent, making himself very hard to approach. From time to time their fists scraped into each other, producing sparks. The first round was a decidedly good one.
"No! Wu Ming's Air-Piercing Dagger had been polished to such a great extent, I'm afraid Yun Feng may be put at a disadvantage." After watching them for a while, the red-faced man made an prediction, his face slightly changed.
"Indeed, last year Wu Ming's technique was only at the initial stage, it's hard to imagine he'd reach such a high level in a single year. On the contrary, Yun Feng's Python-Bones Fist is still short of perfection, it's really hard to say if he can win. " Li Canghai also remarked on the uncertainty of winning.
As if to verify the remark, with a sudden low shout came from the ring, the figures of the two in the ring suddenly separated. Wu Ming stumbled backward for several steps, one of his hands pressed hard on his chest, his face dreadfully pale.
However, at the opposite side, two glaring daggers were inserted halfway into Li Yunfeng's shoulders. He was obviously unable to fight anymore.
"Winner of the first round, Tian Lu club! " At the ring, the military officer stepped forward to pronounce the result. Li Yunfeng left the ring reluctantly, after throwing a fierce glance at Wu Ming.
The red-faced man approached Li Yunfend and examined the daggers in each of his shoulders. He then grasped them and gave a quick yank, which pulled the two daggers out in an instant. Two sprays of blood rushed up into the air as high as a chi before the bleeding stopped abruptly.
"Apply some medicine there as soon as possible, bind up the wounds, and you'll be all right after a few days." The red-faced man said with a sombre face.
Li Yunfeng could only nodded his thanks in great pain, sweating profusely.
By then the ring was taken by a spear wielding youth of the Jin Gang club, asking to challenge Tian Lu club. The latter offered a candidate, knife in hand; the two then fought when the sounds of metal resounded all over the competition hall.
After some fighting back and forth for a while, the challenger from Jin Gang club lost his weapon as his opponent hit his knife and sent it darting away. The challenger could only admit his defeat and retire. The successive two winnings were a boost to the Tian Lu club's morale, even Leng Fengchan was radiant with content, stroking his mustache.
There were increasing small talks beneath the ring after two fights.
"What more is there to say? I've heard that there is a guy here with the Body of Thick Earth. Could you please stop hiding and come out face me?" Just then a figure leaped up from the crowd, his spear pointing behind him, and stood onto the ring steadily, looking into the direction of the Fei Hong club.
This arrogant fellow was none other than Wang Tianhao.
"This mindless boy, I've told him a thousand times to never blindly charge into a battle, and here he is, going and challenging the Fei Hong guys in his first round!" A sandy-haired old man was bemoaning the fact he missed the chance to stop his nephew, he was close to the point of throwing a fit.
Meanwhile, the sudden challenge created a disturbance among the Fei Hong fellows. The dark, thin guy, Tie Dong, was stirred, his eyes blazed with violence. Just as he was about to stride to the ring, he was stopped by a long-bearded man, who grasped at his sholders and shook his head,
"Dong Er, you don't need to go at such an early time, it'd be a waste of your energy, which might make it hard to last till the final roun. Gu Zhong, you go and test if Wang Tianhao's Blazing Spear techniques have progressed much."
Hearing this, Gu Zhong's spirits dropped, but he could only brace himself for the coming fight, draw his sword and jumping into the ring.
"I'm asking for that bastard, not you." Wang Tianhao protested impatiently as he saw the one jumping into the ring.
"Please consider other things after fighting me, honorable young master." Though always afraid of Wang Tianhao, Gu Zhong was irresistibly angered by his words. After a low shout, he made his sword shake in his hand, causing a strong wind to swirl around it. This was the Air-Piercing Sword he had been practising for years.
"Humph, asking for trouble." Wang Tianhao's face grew sullen and he stuck his spear out bluntly. The point of the spear began to vibrate rapidly, causing it to blur, and then it vanished for an instant.
With a loud noise a blazing ball of fire as big as a bowl appeared at the tip of Wang Tianhao's spear before it transformed into a red light and rushing forward at an unstoppable speed.
Boom! A deafening noise resounded and Gu Zhong let out a shrill cry as he was pushed down from the ring, his whole body scorched.
The fire ball continued to swirl for a while before it dimmed and was revealed to be the tip of the spear, glaring with cold light, only surrounded by a ball of blazing fire which made it look rather mysterious.
"The Flame of the Blazing Spear!"
The long-bearded man cried out, terrified at the sight. His feet moved involuntarily, then his figure immediately turned into a grey shadow as he floated up into the air and caught the falling Gu Zhong with his arms.
Until the long-bearded man steadied himself on his feet, it was clearly seen that the burnt body in his arms belonged to that of Gu Zhong, whose shirts had all been burnt to ashes, showing the bare skin beneath covered by white blisters. It was a gruesome scene.
"Brother Xu, who would have believed that your nephew had polished his Blazing Spear technique to such an extent! You've really caught us unguarded, maybe next time you should tell us beforehand?" With Gu Zhong in his arms, the long-bearded man turned round to question the older man 'Uncle Xu' in a stern voice.
"You can't blame me this time, I had no idea he had reached such a level. As usual, this is absolutely impossible. Only Houtian Warriors can use that powerful technique." Uncle Xu of the Jin Gang club was apparently amazed, answering without thinking.
"I won't forget this." The long-bearded man stomped in anger, but could only send Gu Zhong to a quiet medical room for treatment.
Meanwhile, instructors of other clubs all cast terrified glances at Wang Tianhao, as if they were looking at a monster with sharp fangs. Their eyes were saying, "this is absolutely impossible."
"That's impossible! How could someone accomplish the Flame of the Blazing Spear at the Practitioner level? The only thing we can do now is lose. No one at the Practitioner level can take that attack." Li Canghai also murmured to himself with a sullen face, obviously at his wits' end.
"Haha, now that Wang Tianhao had accomplished the flame of the Blazing Spear, it'll be easy for him to get enrolled into the Kai Yuan Martial Arts School. As far as I see, the championship is sure to be ours, no need to fight any more. Of course, whoever is unconvinced can come up to challenge us, and if ever Tian Hao loses in any challenge, we, the Jin Gang club, would retire from this year's competition and be happy to come in last." Uncle Xu declared this with utmost confidence after jumping directly to the ring and nodding at the officer who was completely dumbstruck by this proclamation.
Hearing this, Leng Fengchan and the other instructors of the other three clubs stood gaping at one another in astonishment, when Tie Dong's voice resounded,
"Humph! To win without first fighting me? Mere wishful thinking!" His words concealed his shock at Wang Tianhao's Blazing Spear, but still full of confidence and anger. He then stood up, ready to rush into the ring.
"Stop it, Dong Er! I know your Body of Thick Earth is outstanding, but it can not stand up to a single strike of the Blazing Spear. " The long-bearded man held up a hand and stopped him.
Tie Dong immediately lost much of his confidence upon hearing this. Though he had been wild and intractable, the man who had brought him to Feng City from his remote island held much authority in his eyes.
At the same time, Feng Jun, standing at the other side of the ring, clenched his fists tightly, to the extent that his nails were deep inserted into his palms. But he dared not to speak a word, his face completely pale.
"It's your turn, Shi Mu. Come! I've observed them all, only you have the strength to fight me." His eyes were glancing over the crowd below, with a trace of indifference, he then found Shi Mu, and gave him a mystifying smile.