The shopkeeper’s words prompted the greatest wave of murmurs that reverberated throughout the interior of the restaurant, the many youths locked into discussion.
The male students wished to create a favorable impression of themselves to their newest Junior Sister who had fallen victim to the sneaky process of indoctrination imposed by their Teacher, as well as flatter Shen Ming Yue.
The female students, on the other hand, possessed mixed thoughts whether to stomp An Fei onto the ground, or establish a sisterhood just as Shen Ming Yue had done so.
The youths were divided on how they should conduct themselves in the presence of their Teacher, as well as considering the consequences of their actions with the variable that was the powerful Shen Ming Yue whose influence and capabilities were amongst the top five within the organization in their generation.
Thus, the entire room was suffused with a low din of chatter, prompting An Fei’s mood to sink even lower.
Of course, there were exceptions.
“Esteemed Senior, Junior wishes to be the examiner for Junior Sister Xu!”
Du Yongkang steadily rose from his seat to salute the elderly shopkeeper, his back straight and devoid of his true thoughts.
Obscured from an angle of which An Fei could not observe from, the youth of the Du Clan’s countenance was filled with righteousness and the proper seniority belonging that of a Senior Brother of a well-ordered organization.
The old man lightly frowned as he pondered for a brief moment.
Glancing at Du Yongkang’s confident and easygoing expression, the elder tapped his cup onto the wooden surface of the table, giving his approval.
“Then, Yongkang, be gentle with your youngest Junior Sister – since she has yet to enter the path of cultivation.”
As Du Yongkang’s waist dipped into a sincere bow towards the elderly shopkeeper, An Fei’s fists finally clenched into a tight fist. Similarly, Shen Ming Yue’s expression was no longer bright and warm, replaced by a solemn and grim grimace.
They just had a nasty run-in with the Du Clan and most particularly – Du Yongkang himself – yesterday night.
Anyone who had the slightest of background knowledge regarding the recent events would realize that the youth of the Du Clan was not aiming towards being a kind and enthusiastic Senior Brother, but aiming to settle his grudges.
On the side, Cheng Yu Xuan and a few other youths revealed sympathetic expressions as they gazed at An Fei, though they couldn’t bring it upon themselves to argue on behalf of the young girl.
“Teacher, perhaps Junior Brother Du may not be appropriate…”
Shen Ming Yue nibbled on her lower lip in a moment of thought, before raising her head to gently protest.
The youthful girl directed a hopeful gaze towards the elderly shopkeeper, but the old man lightly waved his hand in response.
“Ming Yue, no need to worry; Yongkang has improved immensely from last time. He is capable of restraining his strength as a practitioner – this, I can vouch for, as I have inspected him in detail a few days before.”
The soft and lighthearted words forced the youthful girl of the Shen Family to sit in silence and glumness, a worried expression on her beautiful countenance.
As nobody else dared to risk antagonizing their Teacher, An Fei was compelled to stand to complete the imposed assessment.
The surrounding youths simultaneously arose and pushed the wooden tables to the walls in a swift motion, creating a wide and ample amount of room for two people to spar.
Du Yongkang stood before the elderly man, his arms gently crossed before his chest with a graceful smile on his countenance.
…only An Fei could clearly spot the disdain and malice racing through his eyes.
“Then, Lingxue, remember to call out if you can’t keep up any longer,” the old man coughed and took a sip of his tea once An Fei had stepped into the clearing.
With the elderly shopkeeper’s hoarse voice as the starter, Du Yongkang’s figure blurred into a dense blend of color as he rushed forth towards the young girl.
A gentle warmth brushed against An Fei’s nape, and the her vision morphed into an unhealthy mixture of colors before settling onto that of Du Yongkang’s back.
A dainty hand sleeved in a long dress adorned with peach blossoms was lightly pressed against the youth’s spine, the palm pressed against the thirteenth vertebrae.
The youth of the Du Clan attempted to break free, but it was as though a golden chain had secured itself on his spine and anchored him in place.
Du Yongkang muttered in shock, unable to force the words out of his mouth as the pressure on the spine’s vertebrae increased dramatically.
Cold sweat dotted his brow as he urged the spiritual essence in his body to flood his back, removing the restraints on his movements with ease.
An Fei stepped back and removed her palm, her countenance slightly warping at the tinge of pain racing through her hand.
Ignoring the small welt that had emerged due to her coming into contact with spiritual essence originating from the Shattered Star Continent, the young girl tilted her head to stare at Du Yongkang who had retreated towards the fringes of the open clearing.
“Senior Brother Du, what are you doing?”
“Senior Brother Du, it can’t be… that Junior Sister Xu has made you apprehensive?” one youth muttered in a languish voice, leaning his chin on his palms to observe in interest.
“That’s not the case – I think that Senior Brother Du must have taken a liking to Junior Sister Xu, and can’t help but worry whether he would accidently injure her or not…”
“Indeed, indeed. Senior Brother Du truly is well versed in the art of enjoying flowers!”
The youths engaged in a furor of discussion amongst themselves as they either criticized Du Yongkang for abruptly displaying fear from Junior Sister Xu Lingxue’s seemingly useless palm, or praised him for his ‘honorable’ behavior as a Senior Brother.
The old man’s eyes slightly narrowed at the unexpected exchange, but returned to their normal state.
The elderly shopkeeper raised the porcelain cup to take a sip, only to realize that the cup had been drained of its precious tea.
“What… what was that?”
Du Yongkang murmured as he stared at the young girl with frigid eyes.
The youth of the Du Clan’s mind flickered towards the unusual sensation that had raced through his back, as well as the ice-cold thought that had plagued his consciousness afterwards.
“She doesn’t know martial arts, so what was that…”
The youth’s figure blurred into a blend of colors as he raced forwards, and An Fei found her body automatically moving upon instinct and the guidance of the <Steps of Underlying Shadows> martial arts technique.
The young girl’s vision distorted into background noise, but her hearing was sufficient to aptly manage her bearings.
The same dainty palm pressed against the elbow of Du Yongkang’s right arm, before springing away the instant.
The brief contact was nothing more than a fleeting touch, but the youth’s arm felt as if it had suffered a horrendous, crippling blow.
A searing wave of heat assaulted Du Yongkang’s senses, followed by a dull numbness that tore at the muscles.
Taking in a deep breath, the youth realized that his arm had become temporarily disabled from the light touch.
“External martial arts technique…”
Curbing his surprise, the youth of the Du Clan hissed out the words amongst his pain, causing numerous youths to gasp in shock.
The elderly shopkeeper even raised his eyebrows in interest, his wizened countenance displaying a profound smile.
“External martial arts technique!? At such a young age?”
“Junior Sister Xu is probably around the age of fourteen, perhaps fifteen,” a youth in an exquisitely adorned scholar’s robe gaped for breath.
“To have trained an external martial arts technique to be on par with Senior Brother Du…”
“That’s simply not the case here, since Senior Brother Du has been conserving his strength to match that of Junior Sister Xu. Perhaps the external martial arts technique isn’t of much quality, though the surprise is indeed great, ah.”
An Fei’s lips pursed at the words casually tossed from the lips of the youths who had been possessed by the messenger of gossip, her scarlet irises tinged with irritation.
Nonetheless, the majority of the young girl’s attention was focused onto the mental visualization of her body – the large region of flashing crimson light around her abdomen…
So far, she had discovered that the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> was still operational, though An Fei wasn’t sure whether it was because Du Yongkang was simply too weak or she truly didn’t have to worry.
Only, the crimson light appeared far too acrimonious, as though a message of ominous intent…
The elderly shopkeeper’s eyes flashed with an unfathomable light, but made no action as he continued to observe.
From the other side of the clearing, Du Yongkang had recovered from his second momentary retreat in the span of a brief five minutes.
The youth dashed forward, his feet obscured by a faint mist of grey light, and his left palm revealed a submerged radiance of dull violet.