Only a moment ago, Zhang Chengfeng’s mood was still flying carefreely on top of the cloud, but now, it hopelessly dropped to the hell of despair.
His heart almost stopped pounding, his blood chilled.
“Seems my senior just… lost the battle?”
“He not only lost but… got killed?”
“No way! This can’t be happening. Senior was a Natural Expert! He had entered the Natural Realm!”
Zhang Chengfeng nearly had a nervous breakdown.
At a loss as to what to do, he looked around. Those bigshots who were eager to fawn upon him and to address each other as brothers a minute ago now stood as far away from him as possible. They were deliberately keeping a distance from him, and their smiles were already replaced by contempt, pity, and gloating.
It was true that by this point all the important figures had come to their senses.
Even though it was difficult to believe, the Heaven-Sword Celestial Being did have died.
With the Heaven-Sword Celestial Being gone, everyone knew the Heaven Sword Martial Club would face a calamity.
That was because Li Mu was still alive.
Now that Li Mu had bombarded their unmatched Natural Expert to death, the conflict between him and the Heaven Sword Martial Club was already irreconcilable. Thus, no one dared to show any sign of befriending Zhang Chengfeng at this juncture, unless he was sincerely loyal to him or was out of his mind.
Zhang Chengfeng, who was very popular not long ago, right now had turned into bad news that everyone shunned.
The disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club who were as cheerful as a lark before instantly wilted like pieces of limp lettuce. Crestfallen, they lowered their heads and furtively nudged towards the corners, the crowds, and the shadows, trying to melt into the background in case they drew any extra attention. Some quick-witted disciples even took off their red armors and headed for the outside.
Well, as the old saying went, when an influential person fell from power, his hangers-on dispersed.
After this battle, the decline of the Heaven Sword Martial Club was destined.
Zhang Chengfeng’s face was written with panic and dejection. He was staring at the front unseeingly. His body was suddenly so weak that he felt all his energy had been sucked away. With a pair of wobbling knees, he stumbled and almost fell on the floor of the audience stand, but no one was willing to give him a helping hand at the moment.
The seats prepared for the elders of the Heaven Sword Martial Club were now vacant. Nobody knew at what time those elder had left the audience stand.
A waft of chilly wind swept by, giving Zhang Chengfeng quite a shudder.
Then, he turned to look at Li Gang.
At this point, the magistrate of Chang’an was his only hope of keeping the Heaven Sword Martial Club intact.
After all, the magistrate was a representative of the power and authority of the empire. As long as Li Gang interceded for him, Li Mu would have to obey His Honor’s words. This way, at least the Heaven Sword Martial Club would not be destroyed and the disciples would not be wiped out.
“Your Honor…” Zhang Chengfeng turned to Li Gang and prepared to bow to him, his face gloomier than ever.
But Li Gang stood up before he could finish his remark. Beamingly, this handsome and graceful gentleman said, “Mr. Zhang, I reckon the proposal you made before does sound reasonable. If you still insist to kill those two maids and use their heads as the sacrifices to soothe your son’s soul, then, go ahead. I won’t be your stumbling block.”
Zhang Chengfeng was petrified to hear those words.
“No, that’s not what I mean. Your Honor, how could I dare to…” He forced a weak smile and wanted to explain.
However, Li Gang had already straightened up and turned to face the exit of the audience stand. “That battle is over now. I still got to fulfill some official duties, so please excuse me.” After saying that, escorted by a troop of guards, the actual ruler of the city of Chang’an strolled down to the exit without looking back.
Zhang Chengfeng, still, was rooted to the spot.
Only then did he have a taste of real despair.
It was also by that point did he realized how immature and stupid he had been. He even had given Li Gang a hard time by mocking his son’s manners. Was he courting death or what? Despite the Natural Expert on his side, he should have known better than believing the Zhang family was powerful enough to belittle that high official. After all, the Heaven-Sword Celestial Being was not the only Natural Expert in the city of Chang’an or across the whole Western Qin Empire. To say the least, the Natural Experts under the control of the government were much more formidable.
Unfortunately, he was carried away by the sudden twist of the battle and let loose that kind of offensive remarks.
At the moment, Zhang Chengfeng could not be more repentant.
When Li Gang took his leave, Zheng Cunjian followed him and went down to the exit as well.
A stream of mingled feelings had surged up within the Heartless Scholar and he found words had failed him for the moment.
“Did I make the wrong choice in the first place?” He could not help wondering.
“And to what level has Li Mu reached? Why does it seem more and more mysterious? Even till the end of today’s battle, the Natural Expert did not really managed to make Li Mu show his ace card, did he?”
Halfway down the aisle, Li Gang suddenly turned to face Zheng Cunjian and ordered, “You stay here.”
The scholar stiffened for a second but instantly caught on what Li Gang meant. Clearly, the magistrate had finally made up his mind to signal Li Mu his goodwill.
Come to think of it, that decision did make sense. If Li Gang had refused to cozy up to a man who was related to him and also could easily kill an unparalleled expert in the Natural Realm, he would need to get his brain examined. No matter what, he was Li Mu’s father. There were no undissolvable grudges between a father and a son. How could their kinship be really severed by merely exchanging three punches?
“Yes, leave it to me, Your Honor,” replied Zheng Cunjian as he bowed down to the magistrate.
“Good day to you, Your honor.”
“Farewell, Your Honor.”
Cai Zhijie, Zhou Yiling, and other experts working for the government immediately got to their feet and saw the magistrate off with a deep bow.
On the gate tower of the Heaven Sword Martial Club.
The two onlookers who were happily enjoying the show with snacks before now went thunderstruck.
“Am I dreaming?” Eyes rounded and mouth wide open, the Marvelous Mathematician turned to the owner of the Xiongfeng Martial Art Club beside him and required, “Boss, give me a punch to see if it hurts.”
Without a second word, the owner of the Xiongfeng Martial Art Club threw out her fist and sent the Marvelous Mathematician flying. He then shrank into a black spot in a far distance and disappeared out of sight.
“Turns out it’s not a dream,” the owner of the Xiongfeng Martial Art Club exclaimed as she flexed her fingers, “His face felt very real. Good heavens, my sweetie has truly killed the Heaven-Sword Celestial Being who had entered the Natural Realm… Well, whatsoever, I must drag my sweetie to join our club even if I have to seduce him.”
“When has Li Mu become your sweetie?” said the voice of the Marvelous Mathematician, who had turned up like a ghost with black eyes and swollen lips.
He was back again.
The owner of the Xiongfeng Martial Art Club simply glowered at him and demanded, “Is that any of your business?”
“Oh my! The look of you…” The Marvelous Mathematician stroked his chin thoughtfully and continued, “Could it be… there is already something between you two? But it doesn’t fit. You like going to brothels. Our Xiongfeng Martial Art Club has fallen into a financial crisis because of your habit of frequenting those brothels. Boss, you’re into women, remember? When did you start to fancy men?”
He was sent flying by another punch.
“I’ll be back…”
The voice of the Marvelous Mathematician reverberated in the air.
Just at that time, the masses at the square finally recovered from astonishment and began to shout out their feelings.
At first, the sounds they made were like a few trickling brooks. But soon, more people joined them and the brooks converged into running rivers and then into a raging sea. There were high-pitched screeches, amazed exclamations, hearty whoops… The voices of tens of thousands of spectators grew from total silence before merging into loud thrilled roars that swept across the entire field within barely twenty seconds.
“God, I must have made this all up in my dream!”
“This is impossible! Impossible! Utterly Impossible!”
“How come a peerless master in the Natural Realm was defeated?”
“Does that mean the peerless master who had been able to produce a wisp of the Natural qi could not withstand a single punch of the young Great Master Li Mu?”
“Are you fool or what? Still call him young Great Master? How can a Great Master get rid of a Natural Expert with merely a blow? Li Mu certainly has not displayed all of his power yet. I assure you, he has long since been a peerless master in the Natural Realm.”
“No wonder that during the whole combat, even when the Heaven-Sword Celestial Being leveled up to the Natural Realm and created the first wisp of Natural qi, Li Mu showed no sign of nervousness and stayed totally unperturbed. Turns out that he had everything under his control.”
Various opinions were buzzing around the whole square.
However, Lei Yinyin, the loyal fan of Li Mu who had supported him with the loudest cheers before, fell silent at this point.
She had cheered Li Mu on through the whole duel. Even when the rest did not think he would win, she did not give up supporting him. But right now, she had lost her voice, and her overused throat was swollen and burning with inflammation.
But the girl did not feel the sting at all.
She was gazing at the figure who was quietly standing on the ruins of the fighting ring. Suddenly, the thrill and exhilaration that had filled up her heart subsided, because it dawned on her that this victory should come to him without effort in the first place. It was not so much an exciting miracle.
And what brought her to that thought was the realization that from her perspective, the young Great Master Li Mu himself was the symbol of miracles.
Even though he had crashed a Natural Expert, he was still that same young Great Master.
The young Great Master she admired forever.
He was bound to be a legend.
As if in a daze, Li Mu was stood motionlessly on a cracked boulder to recall the entire course of today’s duel and ponder over every detail. For him, only after he had done with the musing did the battle truly come to an end.
“Well, I’d better put on my clothes first.”
Li Mu jumped off the boulder and marched towards the crowd.
“Purr…” The chrysanthemum leopard gave a loud moaning and darted to Li Mu like a jet of lightning. The beast then rubbed its head affectionately against Li Mu’s arm, acting like a tamed pet cat.
“Haha!” Li Mu laughed with gratification and softly caressed its head like usual.
The throng of people stirred with excitement.
Many had squeezed their way up to Li Mu, trying to please him with a broad ingratiatory smile. They seemed to have completely forgotten that only a short while ago, they were still exerting themselves to butter up the Heaven Sword Martial Club, to cheer for the Heaven-Sword Celestial Being, while clamorously laughing and taunting at Li Mu.
“Your Honor Li…”
“I am the Guardian of Rules of the Gold Faction. I’m so impressed by Your Honor’s peerless strength…”
“I’ve long admired Your Honor’s legendary power, and I’ve been your most dead-set fan all along…”
“I studied Your Honor’s poems for days and nights. Your Honor, could you take me in as your disciple?”
Thrilled and enlivened, people with different looks swarmed towards Li Mu.
They dared not get too close to the winner, in case they spoiled his majestic aura. Given that he was the one who killed a Natural Expert, he was practically deemed as a Natural Expert…
Whereupon the large group of zealots shoved Lei Yinyin and several other students from the Fengming Academy to the rear. As they were about to have no foothold to stand, some of them were stamping agitatedly. Nevertheless, they could do nothing about it, because people kept flooding in.
“Everybody, please allow me to pass through,” said Li Mu with a smile. He looked neither conceited nor arrogant, perfectly taking advantage of this great opportunity to cut a fine figure.
The crowd parted to let him through at once.
Li Mu then went straight to his loyal fan, Lei Yinyin, and said beamingly, “It’s over. It went pretty smoothly, haha. And thank you for taking care of my clothes.” He sounded as if he was an old friend of her. The smile of this young man, who had killed a Natural Expert at the last minute of the battle, was still the same smile she saw on the stranger’s face as she and he were bragging wildly before the battle started.