Chapter 12: Disdain of the Ogre
Sunan was nervous stepping back onto the platform to fight. Rat-hearted Li gave them a long, telling look, but didn’t say anything.
The other fighters looked at him out of the corners of their eyes; they looked more nervous than he did.
When the time came for the actual fight, Sunan was shocked. His opponent moved incredibly slowly, telegraphed his each and every move, and left holes in his defense wide enough to ride elephants through.
All that training paid off, he thought. Or is it just that this guy is a terrible fighter…?
The difficulty in the fight was making it look realistic. Because of Sunan’s recent increase in speed, power, and fighting ability, the platform seemed small, even restrictive. He had to hold back from countering the man’s strikes, and eventually, allowed the man to actually land some blows. They felt like the blows of a sleeping baby.
He somehow manage to make it through two full rounds before finishing the fight off by knocking the man clean out. Although he tried to make it look like a wild punch, Sunan knew that he could have killed the man without the slightest effort, and actually had to work hard to make the blow look realistic without seriously injuring him. He was even confident that he could have knocked the man out with the brush of a hand, which made him think back to when his village had been invaded, and he had been struck by that Demon Emperor soldier.
This must be why the Demon Emperor and his army are so invincible. They're all Qi fighters!
Time passed. Sunan followed the orders of Iron Awl Hu, winning and losing fights when instructed to do so. While he focused on fighting, Sun Mai ingratiated himself with the other managers. Whether that was intentional or not, Sunan wasn’t sure, but in the end Sun Mai managed to fit in and even make some friends.
Eventually, they learned that only about a quarter of the matches were fixed ahead of time. Most of the fighters who participated had no idea about the arrangement; only the select elite were part of the system.
After they identified who these select elite were, Sunan spent more time observing their matches. He quickly realized that although they were skilled, that was only in terms of fighters with no Qi.
Except for the Golden Immortal.
The first time Sunan watched the Golden Immortal fought, he saw the man use a move in which he jumped up into the air to an impossible height, to quite a few oohs and aws from the crowd, and then dropped down with a spinning back kick that leveled his opponent.
He can use Qi, Sunan realized almost immediately. I wonder what level he’s reached.
Sunan watched him more and more closely over the coming weeks and months, and soon realized that the Golden Immortal was also studying him.
As Sunan slowly climbed the ranks, he knew that an inevitable showdown was coming.
Sun Mai and Sunan were now regulars at the Heavenly Meat Palace. After some discussion, they decided that they didn’t care what kind of meat it was they were eating, as long as it was well cooked and they added enough spice. After some clandestine investigation, they came to the conclusion that the “yellow wine” was genuine, although of low quality and quite watered down.
One night after another profitable fight, they were wolfing down “lamb” skewers and guzzling yellow wine, when Sun Mai suddenly slapped his hand down onto the table.
“Twenty-one!” he declared.
By now Sunan was quite used to Sun Mai’s odd way of beginning conversations, so he took the sudden statement in stride. “Twenty-one what?”
“Twenty-one moves. The Golden Immortal. Haven’t you noticed?”
Sunan was also learning to follow Sun Mai’s seemingly random trains of thought. “You’re talking about how he uses a limited group of moves?”
“Yes! Excellent! Great minds think alike!”
“I noticed it but haven’t really been paying attention. You’re saying that he only uses twenty-one moves?”
“After much thought and analysis, I believe so. In fact…. WAITER!” A waiter scurried over. When Sun Mai demanded some paper and writing utensils, the boy looked at him oddly for a moment, but eventually hurried off, to return a few minutes later with the requested materials.
Sun Mai prepared some ink and then cleared a space in front of him. Placing down a sheet of coarse paper, he began to draw a man in a pose that Sunan recognized as the Golden Immortal’s opening fighting stance. Then Sun Mai made some notations below it and went on to draw another figure.
Over the course of the next hour or so, Sunan continued to eat and drink while Sun Mai worked. In the end, he had a sheet of paper with twenty-one illustrations and accompanying notes.
“Those are his moves,” he said, handing the paper over to Sunan. After packing the writing materials away, Sun Mai then descended upon another pile of meat.
Sure enough, the illustrations Sun Mai had just laid down onto the paper were all of the moves Sunan remembered seeing during the handful of matches he had observed. Combined with the observations he had already made, this information caused his mind to suddenly spin into overdrive. Of course, his mind was had already been spinning a bit from the yellow wine, but in this instance it actually helped.
He began to analyze how the moves he usually used would interact with the Golden Immortal’s. In his mind, he imagined the Golden Immortal attacking him, and how he would counter. He also imagined how the Golden Immortal might react to his own attack moves.
All of a sudden, he fell into a trance. Brilliant light began to flow through him, light that only he could see. He could feel energy coursing through his blood vessels and Qi passageways. All the meridians in his body felt as if they were being cleaned. Popping sounds rang out, sounds that no one else could hear, and suddenly, he felt completely calm.
His eyes opened to find a dark noxious mist surrounding him, which quickly faded away. He felt clean, and strong. The spinning sensation caused by the alcohol was no longer present.
Shockingly, the table had been cleared at some point, and it was no longer nighttime, but rather, dawn. Sun Mai still sat across from him, although his chin was resting on his hand, and his eyes were closed.
Sunan took a deep breath, then cleared his throat.
Sun Mai opened his eyes. “Ah, you’re back. If I’m not mistaken you….”
“Yes, I had that breakthrough.”
“The third level?”
Sun Mai nodded. “Excellent. Now, let’s go get some breakfast. I stood watch over you the whole night and it was famishing.”
Sunan chose not to point out that Sun Mai had just been sleeping, casting a bit of doubt into the words “stood watch the whole night.”
He and Sun Mai left the Heavenly Meat Palace and headed south to where vendors sold breakfast food from stalls.
They were only halfway there when something caught Sunan’s ear. He stopped in place, cocked his head, and then turned toward a nearby alley. As he approached, he heard a gruff voice speaking.
“Tell me where the money is, bitch, otherwise I’ll slit your throat!”
Sunan’s eyes turned cold, and he hurried into the alley, Sun Mai following close behind. What he saw caused the coldness in his eyes to turn into fire.
A tall, lanky man was holding a woman up against the stone wall of the building. His hand was gripped around her throat, while her hands clutched at his forearm. She was pregnant.
When she spoke, she could barely force the words out through her throat. “I don’t… have any money… I promise….”
“Hmph,” the man said. “Then you’re no use to me.” He then began to slowly draw a long, curved dagger from his belt.
“HEY!” Sunan shouted, breaking into a dead run.
The man turned his head to look at Sunan, and then almost immediately dropped the woman. His shoulders swiveled as he continued to draw the knife, and simultaneously charged toward Sunan.
As soon as Sunan saw the man’s chest, his heart began to thump in nervousness. Clearly visible on the man’s garment was the insignia of the Demon Emperor.
He’s one of the Lions of Peace! Dammit, a Demon Emperor soldier!
Wishing he had had more time to think and plan, Sunan’s hands twisted into claws like that of a dragon. As the Demon Emperor soldier neared, Sunan planted his left foot and then slashed out with both hands. The soldier was still two meters away, but the power of Sunan’s Qi caused two nearly-invisible, illusory dragons to appear and surge toward the soldier.
It was hard to say whose eyes widened first, Sunan’s or the soldiers. However, the soldier was clearly a trained fighter; seemingly without even thinking, he crossed his arms in front of his chest and then splayed them wide, simultaneously shouting. “Disdain of the Ogre!”
A shimmering, circular ripple appeared, which the two dragons slammed into and then dissipated.
Sunan’s attack had been completely countered!
Grinning, the soldier stopped in place. “So you know a bit about the Divinity brought to this world by the King of the Pure Ones. A Misos attack? Did you invent it, or did someone teach you? Either way, the Lions of Peace could always use more hands. Why don’t you come with me? Become one of the greatest soldiers in the world.”
Just now, the two illusory dragons had surprised Sunan. He had simply used one of the moves he had been practicing for the past few weeks with Sun Mai, except in the heat of the moment, he had sent the Qi flowing a bit different, and had slightly adjusted the angles of his arms. Based on the feeling of how the Qi had flown through him, and they way it stuck slightly in some of the meridians in his arms, he could already guess how to improve the move.
So, they name their moves, huh? Fine!
Not deigning to respond to the soldier, he unleashed the same attack as before, except tweaked slightly, and simultaneously shouted, “Rebuke of the Dragon!”
This time the dragons shimmered like flowing water as they shot toward the soldier.
The soldier immediately crossed his arms. “Disdain of the-- URG!”
He was too slow. The dragons slashed into his chest, ripping his leather armor, sending blood splashing out in all directions. The soldier shouted in pain as he staggered backward a few paces, but just as quickly, snarled and slashed out with his dagger. This time, he didn’t yell out the name of the move, and yet the blade sent a blast of light in Sunan’s direction.
Sunan instinctively spun to the left, but he wasn’t fast enough to avoid the blast. It hit his shoulder, sending piercing pain down through his torso, and knocking him off his feet. Even as he flew through the air, he saw a trail of blood flying out from a gaping wound. Then he slammed hard into the ground.
As the soldier closed in, Sunan struggled to his feet. The soldier raised his dagger. “How appropriate to kill you with a move called the Peasant-Beheading Slash! Hahaha!”
Dammit. What do I do? Sunan thought.
That was when Sun Mai made his move. He extended his index and middle finger and, when the soldier was completely focused on Sunan, he slashed his hand down.
An invisible force flew through the air, hitting the soldier in the side of the neck. He shouted in rage as blood spurted out onto his shoulder.
Sunan took advantage of the man’s distraction to lurch to his feet and blast him with another Rebuke of the Dragon.
The force of the blow landed directly in the man’s face. His jaw was broken as his head snapped back violently. He was knocked off of his feet and then slammed down flat on his back on the ground of the alley.
Sunan’s hands clenched into fists, and Sun Mai once again extended his index and middle fingers.
However, the soldier didn’t get up, nor even move. After a long moment passed, Sun Mai carefully approached the man. After nudging him with his toe, he carefully reached out and felt the man’s pulse.
When Sun Mai turned to look back at Sunan, his upper lip was twisted in the slightest of smiles. “As dead as a rat in the Heavenly Meat Palace. Although not as tasty, I imagine….”