A sunny, windless day.
Zhang Ziliang and Zhang Shouyang each took a side of the big, tall platform, with a few disciples of their own standing behind them.
All necessary words had been exchanged beforehand and no one was in the mood for pleasantries. One of Zhang Ziliang's disciples stepped out first. He was bony, elderly, with stubbled chin, and dark skin. His flat nose and widespread facial features were clear indications of his Southeastern origin.
The domestic Celestial Master Temple was secretly offended by this. During its ninety years abroad, the foreign branch at some point had to take in pupils of other ethnic groups in order to maintain a solid foundation and spread the knowledge.
The Taoist community did not believe in "provide education for all people without discrimination". Contrarily, these fellows could be rather narrow-minded in this aspect: how dare they let a foreigner poke his nose in the venerable skill of Celestial Masters? That was preposterous!
The man walked to the middle of the platform and called out loud, "I am Aan, the eldest disciple of the Celestial Master. Who will fight me?"
"Muzi, you'll take this one!" said Zhang Shouyang.
"Yes!" A young priest in his early twenties stepped out from behind him at the command. With his big eyes and bushy eyebrows, he left one with the impression of being honest and sincere. He set foot into the test fully confident of himself.
He was Chen Muzi. Seniority-wise, he was Zhang Shouyang's junior brother. However, since Zhang Shouyang had taught him everything he knew, Chen Muzi had always presented himself as Zhang Shouyang's pupil.
"I'm Chen Muzi. May I ask how would you like this contest to proceed?" asked he.
"Haha, it's simple!" Aan looked him up and down and let out a strange laughter. "We'll each cast a spell and the one who cannot break the other's loses. How's that?"
"What if we both break the spells?" asked Chen Muzi.
"That won't be a problem. I'll give up right away if you can stand my spell."
"That's wildly arrogant!"
Frowning, Chen Muzi lowered his pitch. "No problem. Bring it on!"
"Haha, I'm in no rush. You probably won't have a chance to show your skill at all once I get started. You go first!" Aan apparently did not think him a threat in the slightest.
"That's just bombastic!"
Chen Muzi was a young man after all and was not trained long enough to keep his emotions at bay. Aan's words enraged him at once. Longhu Mountain was a family to him, and he would not allow any disrespect from anyone. Searching his memory, he picked a Taoist skill from what he had learned.
Looking around, he suddenly bowed towards the seats on the outer ring of the platform. "My spell works with water. I wonder if the Celestial Master could grant me with a cup of tea, please?"
Zhang Jintong swept a long sleeve across the table, and a white porcelain cup was sent towards Chen Muzi by a gentle force. It flew steadily to the latter, who caught it in his hands. He then checked the hot water in the cup with the floating green tea leafs and nodded contently.
Holding the cup in his left hand, he pinched a talisman between the fingers of his right hand and chanted in silence, "Like flowing jade and fleeting light, the omnipresent water can form an ocean anywhere. Take form and obey my order!"
After that, he swirled the talisman lightly inside the cup which disappeared in a puff of white smoke. He then turned the cup upside down and splashed the mouthful of water inside on the stage.
Looking up, he asked Aan in a stern voice, "May I challenge you to walk three steps towards me?"
"Sure, why not?"
Despite his arrogant attitude, Aan's deep black pupils contracted that instant, obviously taking the situation very seriously. Staring at the tiny pool of water, he made his first step with his left foot.
Then he made another step and still, nothing happened.
Finally, his third step took him just over a meter away from the water.
The crowd watched eagerly and was all wondering about it when Aan's left foot slipped as soon as it touched the floor. He lost his footing and plunged forward.
His big face fell right into the water.
Time seemed to freeze for a second. Instead of standing back up like the audience expected, he suddenly began to struggle violently, brandishing his four limbs and banging his hands and feet on the floor, as if he was swimming in the water.
"Bang! Bang! Bang!"
It was such a small pool of water, but he seemed to have fallen into a bottomless ocean surrounded by water on all sides. He was a drowning man unable to pull himself out.
The crowd drew back their breaths in unison, feeling their limbs going numb and their backs chilly, as if they had all become a helpless child standing by a river, fearing of being kicked in at any moment.
"That was a nice move."
"Hm, the spell was cast well."
Lu Yuanqing exchanged a few brief words with Zhang Jintong and both gave their silent approval. The other members of the monastery were also observably delighted. Zhang Ziliang, on the other hand, watched this with gloomy face, but did not seem worried at all. Instead, he snorted and looked in full confidence.
"Mhm, mhm… Aaaaah!"
Aan was still struggling for his life and Chen Muzi began to have misgivings about his spell. Although the rules said until only one remained standing, dead or alive, he had never hurt anyone before and did not have the heart to begin to just yet.
He was pondering the idea of picking the man up when Aan shuddered and made a hand seal with moving fingers with much difficulty. He then smacked the floor.
The water splashed and there was a big hole in the platform floor. Aan rose to his feet. His face was bluish white and he was shivering with cold. He genuinely looked like someone who had just been scooped out of the sea.
"Nice, very nice! I have underestimated you!" Aan guffawed and said maliciously, "I was not going to make it too hard for you, but you have pissed me off. You'll get what you deserve."
Chen Muzi was astonished. His spell was called "Illusion of Drowning", which made the affected think they were trapped in a torrential ocean they couldn't break out of until they were drowned.
He had never expected that his opponent could break away from it! In that moment, his confidence ebbed a little and he cupped his hand. "You have my admiration. It's your turn!"
Aan spared no small talk. He produced a small gray walnut about the size of a peanut. It was round in the middle, had two pointy ends, and the patterns carved deep into the shell were strange-looking. "I have no one to ask a cup of tea from and I only have this walnut. Do you dare to eat it?"
He tossed the walnut, which Chen Muzi caught in his hand. A flicker of hesitation flashed across his face, then he opened his mouth and swallowed it.
As soon as the walnut was in his mouth, he was struck by its coarse and abrasive texture. It then scratched its way down to his stomach through his throat and he felt he was swallowing sand and stone. Even his windpipe and esophagus felt like burning.
Chen Muzi suddenly bent down, his face contorted. He clutched his stomach as cold sweat dripped down from his forehead. The walnut landed in his stomach and went straight through his gastric wall against all law of digestion. It was also growing bigger as it fell.
He activated his internal energy in a hurry, trying to ward it off, but his energy was useless to the walnut like a torn piece of paper.
The pain was aggravating until he could no longer fight back his moaning. The walnut kept falling down through his five internal organs and intestines, until it arrived at his anal orifice.
By now, it was several time larger than when he swallowed it and was blocking up that orifice without the tiniest crevice.
Chen Muzi fought all he could to activate his energy, but to no avail. His internal energy flow had gone deranged in a matter of seconds and his entire body had turned into pressure cooker without an air vent. The pressure inside kept rising and his face had gone frighteningly red.
Seeing this, Zhang Shouyang ignored the rules of the contest, rose to his feet, and ran out to his pupil's rescue. However, he had just reached the man when there came a loud bang!
A gust of bloody mist spewed from Chen Muzi's anal orifice and his vital essence gushed out. He shrivelled rapidly in front of everyone's eyes like a flattening balloon. In half a heartbeat, he was nothing but skin and dead flesh.
Chen Muzi swayed and stumbled, then collapsed to the floor.
He was dead…
"He's dead! He killed him!"
The crowd erupted into a tumult. No one had ever seen such a savage scene happening right in front of their eyes. Everyone was screaming and panicking, all trying to run away from this place.
But how could they achieve that? They were packed tighter than compressed cars in a dump site.
"Quiet!" Just then, Zhang Ziliang suddenly raised his voice above all the noise. He scanned the crowd and said contemptuously, "Do you have any idea how pathetic you are? You people have obviously been pet dogs for too long. It's just one dead man and you're already freaking out. How are you going to live through the strifes of the new world?"