My body jerked forward, almost striking the glass window. Fei grabbed me and pointed outside. I saw a steep snow covered roadway in the distance. Hold on, Tess promised me that I wouldn’t have to climb anything today.
“Don’t tell me we have to get out and climb that thing,” I said, tapping the window.
“No, this vehicle is capable of getting up there. Probably about five more minutes before we’re at our destination,” Fei assured me.
The vehicle lurched forward and then shot straight up the steep roadway. After reaching flat ground again, we continued further up the mountain. Three minutes later, we stopped in an area with no snow covering the ground. A single bamboo sprout was visible in the center.
“Is this the place?” Fei tossed me a warm winter coat.
“Should be. Only one way to find out,” she responded, opening the door for us to all exit.
Zhuyu and En went out first. I followed after them and scanned the area. Nothing besides the single bamboo sprout stood out. Well, the lack of snow was strange.
“How do you trigger the fight?” I asked the math major.
“Offer it my blood,” he answered with a serious expression.
“You’re not kidding, huh? Fei, what’s the plan for us?” I glanced backwards at her.
“Just let Long handle everything. We’ll stand back and watch. It’s not like we can intervene anyways,” Fei answered, pointing at how far back we should stand.
Zhuyu knelt down, staring at the bamboo sprout. His breath was visible as he exhaled. Fei hurled a blade at the man. Her blade plunged into the ground next to his right leg. The hero yanked it out and then pressed the weapon into his left palm. Blood dropped onto the bamboo sprout, making it glow with a faint golden light. Ripples of magic pulsated outward from the young plant as it transformed into a fully grown tree. Multiple bamboo trees then sprouted up from the ground and formed the outline of a dragon. Kuro exited from it and ambled towards the hero.
“Is Zhuyu… bowing to Kuro?” I witnessed a strange turn of events.
“It’s a sign of respect,” Fei said, unfolding a chair for me to sit down in.
“Pretty sure that’s not normal if you didn’t know what’s going on,” En pointed out.
“Maybe you’re right. Regardless, Long must win if he wants the second to last dragon piece,” Fei admitted.
“What happens if he loses?” I was taken aback by how soft and relaxing the chair was.
“All the dragon pieces he’s recovered so far scatter throughout Zhongjie and we’ll have to track them down again,” she revealed.
“Of course there’s a stipulation like that,” I said, noticing a barrier forming around Zhuyu and Kuro.
Zhuyu Long v. Kuro Redux
Kuro wasted no time, slugging Zhuyu in the face. He tripped the hero and slapped him multiple times with his paws. Zhuyu had little time to recover as Kuro grabbed him by the legs. The beast swung Zhuyu around in a circle five times before tossing him back down into the ground. The math major landed face first, cuts and bruises appearing on his forehead and cheeks. This was much a faster pace than their initial fight. Kuro wasn’t messing around.
Zhuyu rose up from the ground and sidestepped Kuro as he barreled towards him. He took one step forward and then appeared at the panda’s backside. Ah, his version of the famous pivot Kyoi taught to him and En. I anticipated him going for a submission hold as he grabbed the panda’s shoulders. Instead, he leaped up and drove his knees into the animal’s back and yanked him downward. Kuro bounced off his knees and fell to his side. Zhuyu grabbed the panda’s left paw, stomping on it, before transitioning into an arm bar. The panda escaped his hold and lifted Zhuyu up from the ground. He squeezed him tight, not letting go as the hero flailed around. Kuro then scooped him up over his left shoulder and slammed Zhuyu into the ground.
“I’m not quite seeing how Zhuyu has unlocked anything with the beatdown he’s getting,” I remarked.
“Patience, Tomo. It’s been awhile since Long has used his Dragon’s Mandate powers. If I were him, I start off by neutralizing Mister Panda with his zero-vector powers. Just to have some time to recover and figure out what to do next,” Fei predicted.
As Kuro prepared to slap him, Zhuyu stopped his movements. Another pivot? No, not this time. The hero slammed his right palm into the panda’s left paw. I heard a crack and Kuro winced in pain. When the math major prepared for a second strike, Kuro utilized Zhuyu’s momentum against him, and knocked him to the ground. Kuro roared before bodyslamming Zhuyu. Blood flew out of the hero’s mouth upon impact. Okay, not the best start. However, I wouldn’t discount Zhuyu just yet. Kyoi trained him after all.
“Most people would give up after that,” En commented.
“Long’s quite a masochist. He can endure more than this. With the hell Feng put you both through, I would know,” Fei pointed out.
“Right,” I said, worrying if Zhuyu would even make it out of this fight alive with all the punishment he received.
A faint glow suddenly emanated from the math major’s left arm. The panda stepped back from the hero and growled. For a brief second, a majestic dragon tattoo covering the entire length of Zhuyu’s arm was visible. It morphed into a golden curve that wrapped around his lower left arm.
“About time that happened, dumbass,” Fei remarked, sitting upright in her chair.
“I saw something similar before when I visited Za’ard to meet Lyra. She created a version of Zhuyu that had a dragon tattoo,” I recalled.
“Leave it to Lyra to do something like that. But no matter how much data she has, there are certain things that even a prophet can’t replicate,” Fei responded.
Zhuyu rose up from the ground and appeared at Kuro’s frontside. He punched the panda’s upper chest and then followed up with another swift jab to the animal’s neck. Kuro was staggered by the two strikes, unsteady on his feet. The hero then landed a solid blow to the panda’s right jaw, bringing his opponent down to the ground. Three quick strikes, all delivered with the power of wind behind them. Things just might work out for Zhuyu.
“Not yet,” Fei commented.
Kuro bounced up from the ground and charged at the man on all four legs. He headbutted him before slapping the math major around with his paws. Flames surrounded the panda’s left paw and lightning pulsated around the right paw. Damn it, so much for the battle turning in Zhuyu’s favor. No, it was too quick to jump to that conclusion. Despite Kuro’s fierce attacks, the math major sustained no damage. In fact, each paw strike bounced off of Zhuyu’s crossed arms. A barrier in the shape of a turtle’s shell?
“Fei, is that what I think it is?” I stood up, pointing at the hero.
“You see what you see,” Fei answered with a shrug.
I appreciate it if just once someone gave me an actual answer. As I continued staring, my necklace shook, and then the entire barrier was finally visible. I underestimated the size of it, assuming it only covered the man’s upper body. Now that I had a clear sight of it, the turtle shell barrier enveloped his entire body, from head to toe. Even with all the repeated swipes, the barrier showed no signs of breaking down. Just how many skills and abilities did Zhuyu have with his Dragon’s Mandate power?
“Which one is next?” Fei tapped her chair’s armrest.
The turtle shell barrier vanished. Zhuyu grabbed both of the panda’s paws, ignoring the fire and electric burns appearing on his hands and arms. Hold on, he was diverting the magical flow from his opponent into himself? This was way beyond what Kisai or Kyoi taught me. The flames and lightning vanished from the panda’s paws, snuffed out by the math major.
“Been awhile since I’ve seen Long at full power,” En remarked.
“Not yet. He’s getting there though. Let’s see how he decides to finish this off,” Fei disagreed.
Zhuyu’s sheathed sword appeared in his left hand. Golden tinged flames swirled around his weapon first before blue lightning joined alongside it. The hero plunged the tip of his sheath into the ground and a piercing sound occurred. I covered my ears before feeling sick in my stomach. I bent over in my chair, coughing up blood. Zhuyu, you bastard! En clutched his chest in pain but showed no other side effects. Fei tapped my shoulders and I felt much better.
Kuro rolled around on the ground, blood leaking out from its nose. He pounded the ground with his paws in frustration. The loud sound finally ceased and Zhuyu dashed toward Kuro’s backside. He yanked out his blade and plunged it into the animal’s right arm. The hero leaped backwards as flames engulfed the beast. Rain poured down from the sky but didn’t douse the fire. An intense burst of light emanated from the sword, forcing everyone to shield their eyes except for Fei. When it cleared, Kuro was gone. Zhuyu walked over to his sword. Underneath his weapon, the ground was scorched and sunken.
“Xinya, you can come out now!” the hero sheathed his sword.
“Long, you already knew!” the summoner appeared next to him.
“I had a feeling it was you when I fought him the first time. You have the dragon piece?” Zhuyu inquired, dissipating his weapon.
“Right here. Just one more to go!” Xinya placed it into his hands.
“How’s your husband doing?” the math major heaved a sigh of relief, sitting down on the ground.
“Stop that! We just got engaged,” she responded.
“Really? I was just joking around. Glad to see you two are doing well. I’m guessing you don’t know where the last piece is,” Zhuyu said, standing up.
“I’m already investigating. Xinya, do you need a ride back down?” Fei gestured towards her vehicle.
“I’m staying up here for a little bit. Need to get some training in after all!” Xinya declined and dashed away.
“Zhuyu!” I shouted at him once we were inside the vehicle.
“What’s up, Yuki?” he accepted a glass of water from Fei.
“You made me cough up blood!” I accused.
“Sorry, I still can’t control some of my old stuff super well yet. Fei, did you regulate her levels back to normal?” Zhuyu refiled his cup with more water.
“Of course. Tomo was the only one negatively impacted. Tess will have to work with her on that in the future,” Fei answered.
“It’s my fault?” I sighed.
“Fei didn’t mean it like that. That noise destabilizes magic levels so if you weren’t ready for it, that’s why you coughed up blood,” Zhuyu revealed.
Zhuyu soon fell asleep afterwards. I leaned back in my seat and stared out the window. What kind of challenge would he face to get the last piece? Xinya’s panda was tough so it only made sense that it would only harder, right? But, the progression of these things were almost never linear. I yawned and dozed off.