The sound of a powerful punch striking its target came from the center of everyone's attention. While it was an expected outcome that Tian Zi would land the first hit and win very easily, what took place, however, fulfilled only half of their expectations.
The fist had struck Mu Ran right on top of his sternum with enough force to make the audience wince, only to stop there and then without dealing any apparent damage to the receiver at all.
Tian Zi's fist still glowed red, but his face became redder as he stared at his opponent with incredulity colouring his face.
How was an ordinary person able to take one of his punches head on and still remain standing?
The only spectator who could answer him was perhaps Han Xuhan, who was looking on gleefully as his protagonist boss did whatever is expected from a protagonist.
Only somebody like Mu Ran could ever get away with making trouble and constantly acting like an asshole.
"Is that your best?" Mu Ran smiled faintly at the sky, without even glancing at the dumbstruck Tian Zi.
Seconds later, another large crimson fist flattened the smile on his face, striking his chin.
Yet the resultant force only made Mu Ran's neck stretch backwards a couple of inches.
Still looking at the sky, Mu Ran snickered.
The spectators were stunned into utter silence. Tian Zi's fists were relentless as they created a hail of crimson storm upon Mu Ran's defenseless body.
Mu Ran's clothes were almost about to burn away from the bursts of flames that flickered around Tian Zi's fists.
Yet he only took a couple steps backwards without showing any signs of feeling pain. In fact, everytime a patch of his robes burned away, Mu Ran slightly leaned toward the portion of the crowd with more female disciples and flexed his exposed body none too subtly...
Huffing slightly, Tian Zi looked extremely depressed as his crimson fists slowly returned back to their normal brown color.
His mastery of the technique and cultivation base were simply not enough to keep maintaining the high-intensity boxing technique.
"Hah, trash like you who can only boast, yet cannot even defeat a 'mere mortal' are not worthy to call themselves my peers. My turn!"
Mu Ran chuckled and finally took the initiative to attack.
In front of all the disciples' astonished eyes, his fists glowed red, although not as intensely as Tian Zi's had. One fist hurtled toward the stunned guy's face faster than he could react.
"My god! Is what he said about zeroth layer of physique transformation true? How can a mortal with no cultivation base use the Bloodfuel Brawl Manual?"
"This guy must be hiding his cultivation base! I don't believe this!"
As the spectators gasped in awe and disbelief, Tian Zi flew back a couple of meters, staggered on his feet and crashed into the crowd, accidentally falling on top of a frail looking female disciple who, contrary to her looks, punched him away like swatting a fly.
"Take him to the infirmary," elder Kong Ye said as he helped Tian Zi back to his feet and checked his bleeding lips, gums and slightly misshapen jaw.
No one moved voluntarily. After all, the show here wasn't over. Who'd want to leave now? Not to mention, none of them were that well acquainted with Tian Zi to begin with.
At this moment, a figure struggled its way through the crowd with much effort and held Tian Zi's arm.
Elder Kong blinked. His confusion was mirrored by the rest of the disciples.
"I'll take him there," Han Xuhan declared, stunning even Tian Zi himself.
From the corner of his eyes, he saw Mu Ran flashing him a covert thumb-up...
There was a reason why he had done this, and that wasn't Mu Ran's approval.
Han Xuhan could predict what would happen here following this duel anyway. The protagonist was about to make his first impression on his fellow disciples. Surely, there was going to be a lot of incredible feats, never seen before techniques and tons of face slapping.
Xuhan, the veteran xianxia reader, was not interested in the slightest to stick around lest the situation should go out of control with the elder joining in.
Farewell, you poor side characters! Keep being thrashed by my boss and be impressed by his outstanding, explosive charm!
As he struggled to carry the half unconscious Tian Zi across the mountain peaks, the poor guy finally snapped out or his daze.
"You- aren't you the disciple who defended that asshole? What are you doing?"
"Ah, fellow disciple, please do not misunderstand. I only spoke the truth, see?"
"...." Tian Zi fell silent.
Indeed, Xuhan hadn't really lied, he realized. Mu Ran was an extraordinary disciple.
Defeating a cultivator two layers above him isn't something any average person can achieve. Even though he had a problematic attitude, nobody near his cultivation level could stamp it out of him anyway.
Power breeds arrogance, this was something Tian Zi well aware of.
Nevertheless, he was rather touched by Han Xuhan's gesture of goodwill. This disciple from the black sheep mountain peak sure seemed easygoing and friendly! He was even willing to defend such an arrogant bastard. It wouldn't be bad to have such a loyal friend.
As these thoughts circled around Tian Zi's somewhat dazed mind, Han Xuhan carefully helped him reach the infirmary pavilion, a facility in the central area of the clustered mountains.
"Fellow disciple, if you need any more help, please say it! It was partially my fault for riling all of you up so much that you even challenged my martial brother, " Han Xuhan said as the healers checked Tian Zi's injury.
Tian Zi squirmed uncomfortably, still slightly amazed by how helpful and good natured this fellow disciple was!
"No, brother. That's enough. I'm very grateful for your help. I'll remember it."
Under normal circumstances, Tian Zi wouldn't be so touched by someone helping him a bit. But he was aware that Han Xuhan had no cultivation base and thus, it mustn't have been easy for him to carry Tian Zi all the way to the medicine pavilion. Furthermore, Xuhan was from another mountain peak and one of the culprits behind Tian Zi's injury, albeit indirectly.
In his mind, he decided to befriend this fellow disciple and repay the favour by protecting him in case he got bullied for his zero cultivation base.
Han Xuhan finally bade him goodbye and left the medicine pavilion after handing him over to the person in charge.
Glancing back at Tian Zi's grateful face, Han Xuhan smiled to himself nefariously.
Heh, making allies and forming connections was too easy in a sect like this. All he had to do was to make use of the incidents Mu Ran created.
It's so easy making friends in a xianxia world! All of the disciples here were young folks far from their home. In such a sensitive time of their life, small gestures of goodwill could really work wonders.
Xuhan's aim was to make as many friends as possible. The more friends he had, the less enemies he would have. And a good reputation among fellow disciples could save his skin if any particular scum or a proud young master from xyz family tried to walk over him with their superior techniques and cultivation bases due to a conflict of interests.
As he had expected, when he reached the summit and entered the humongous hall, the oppressive silence there had grown stronger.
Many disciples were sprawled out on one side of the room, sporting many different sorts of injuries. But Mu Ran must have gone easier on them, because no one looked as injured as Tian Zi.
Mu Ran was now locked in a staring contest with elder Kong. Neither was willing to be the one to back down.
"Not bad, not bad at all. In each and every fight, you conserved your strength, took hits and exhausted your opponents before retaliating with the highest amount of force you can muster. Moreover, your technique in manipulating and conserving qi was exceptional!"
Han Xuhan blanched at elder Kong's words. Is this guy praising the troublemaker when he's supposed to punish him?
....The situation seemed to be veering off from his expectations.
"Since your prowess has reached a considerable level, I'll refrain from punishing you for your arrogance. None of your peers can defeat you unless they have a very high cultivation base, in which case, they'd be unwilling to even bother fighting you anyway.
However, you should bear in mind that there are cultivators far, far stronger than me in this world. Even I can squash you with a finger.
So you better learn how to be polite fast, child."
Elder Kong suddenly changed his tactics and retreated back to his podium. Mu Ran let out an imperceptible sigh of relief.
Han Xuhan came beside him and congratulated his boss on the successfull reputation heist.
"Boss, every disciple in this sect will learn of you from today forth."
"Haah~, I didn't really want to be such a high profile figure, but they forced me..."
Han Xuhan scoffed in his mind. What a shameless fellow! Who was the one that asked for backup to show off back then?
"Nevertheless, we should keep our heads down for a while. I understand that boss has many secrets. What if any particularly sinister elder of the sect covets your treasures?"
Mu Ran nodded gloomily.
"You're right. I should speak less from now on."
Han Xuhan was speechless.
I told this guy to learn to speak politely, but he'd rather not speak at all?!
What was this if not the very height of shameless arrogance?
As he contemplated how to make this troublesome golden thigh act more low key, the rest of the disciples slowly settled down and waited for the elder to start speaking again.
"As you have witnessed, Mu Ran, claiming to be on the zeroth layer of physique transformation realm, which I assume is a lie to hide his own cultivation base, defeated nine disciples in succession, with the last of them being on the peak of the third layer of physique transformation realm.
"How did he do this, that question is floating inside everyone's head, correct?
Does anyone have a guess?"
"I think he used some sort of secret cultivation method to absorb all the damage dealt to him in the beginning of each duel, after which he gathered all of it and fought back," one of the five top disciples of the hall answered thoughtfully.
Mu Ran's expression hardened at that.
"Your answer is quite close to the truth," the elder smiled at the disciple and looked at Mu Ran.
"However, that doesn't answer how he was able to continuously defeat nine disciples in a row.
"So let me tell you the accurate answer. Mu Ran has, in actuality, attained a very high level of control over the minuscule amount of qi he can absorb at this stage. During each duel, he constantly circulated the qi inside his body and despite being hit so many times, not a single drop of the qi deviated from the original pathway of the cycle.
"With each hit he received, he absorbed some of his opponents released qi and used it to observe his opponent's techniques before attacking back with a similar method.
"Even while he fought back, not a single drop of his own qi was wasted.
"In short, he was able to use the resources available to him with nearly a hundred percent accuracy and perfectly defeated opponents far above him in terms of cultivation but not even comparable to him in terms of control over qi.
"Even the five top disciples in this room with the highest cultivation base wouldn't have such high level of control over their qi."
Each and every disciple inside the room took in sharp breaths again and again as elder Kong dropped his verbal bombs. Even Mu Ran's breaths were hitching by now. It seemed that he hadn't expected the elder to be so observant.
But it didn't just end there.
"Before the duel, I asked all of you indirectly, what is the most important attribute of a cultivator?
"While the answer can be given in many ways, an easier approach to this conundrum would be...control of qi.
"Do you understand now?
"Mu Ran's actions, intentional or not, should have opened your eyes today.
"To be a better cultivator, understand yourself, your resources, your qi.
"All of those disciples who proudly challenged Mu Ran didn't comprehend this, and thus they were defeated by a person who understood the fact, despite having higher cultivation base.
"From today on, Mu Ran will represent your class in front of foreign sects. He has earned that. He will bear this responsibility.
As for the rest of you, the higher your cultivation base, the higher difficulties you shall face in controlling your qi as perfectly as Mu Ran.
"That means, the five disciples with the highest cultivation base here are going to be the worst students in this class because they are already far along their own path of qi control, based on their own family's methods. It is going to be quite difficult for them to learn to adapt to my teaching."
The silence inside the hall was deafening now. But the elder had no intention to stop.
"And the two students who do not have any cultivation base at all...
You shall be this elder's uncut gems. I shall
oversee every step of your learning myself."
Support "Ashes Of Heaven: Book One"
Bio: I'm a person who lives for stories, especially the lengthy, slow paced ones with chad characters. After running out of stories like that, I decided to write one for myself and all others like me out there who cultivate the chadly scriptures.