“<Cloudmist Steps>? <Purple Jade Bell>!?”
“Senior Brother Du was forced to that extent!?”
The youths simultaneously erupted into an uproar, their countenances a mixture between disbelief and awe.
They eagerly awaited the result of Du Yongkang and An Fei’s next exchange of techniques, all lighthearted banter abandoned in their earnest.
Even the old shopkeeper placed down his tea to observe, his wizened countenance flickering with an unknown emotion.
“Little Sister, avoid! That attack isn’t something an external martial arts technique can handle!”
Shen Ming Yue abruptly called out, her graceful countenance tinged with shock and anger.
The youthful girl attempted to converge her spiritual essence to dash forward and intercept Du Yongkang’s excessive strike, but discovered that she would be unable to reach in time.
Before An Fei’s vision, the palm effused with a violet light continued to enlarge as it approached her forehead.
The palm appeared to be devoid of any mercy, a cold and vicious aura streaming from the violet radiance as it sought to maim and cripple.
The young girl gulped and leapt towards the side, diving towards the ground as fast as her body could muster.
An Fei disregarded the probable chance of forcefully evading the strike with the <Steps of Underlying Shadow> and unleashing a counterattack, deciding to allow Du Yongkang’s <Purple Jade Bell> to shoot directly above her head.
The young girl lightly spun over the ground as she retreated to the far edges of the opened ring, her eyes quickly roaming throughout the surroundings.
Du Yongkang slowly cursed underneath his breath as he clutched his injured arm, his countenance distorted at the atypical and discordant sensations racing through the limb.
Bearing the mind-crushing mixture of searing pain and a frigid numbness without permitting his mouth to release a gasp of agony, the youth of the Du Clan fervently glared at the panting figure of An Fei.
“Senior Brother Du!”
“Senior Brother Du, that’s a little too excessive!”
The spectating youths cried out in alarm as Du Yongkang surged forward once more, his left palm embalmed in the violet radiance and his feet obscured by the grey mist.
Some of the female youths closed their eyes in fear, their hearts chilling at the flicker of malicious intent blazing from the youth’s extended palm.
The elderly shopkeeper raised the porcelain cup and slammed it against the table, his shout stern and solemn.
An intangible pressure blazed from the old man’s body to impose itself onto the interior of the restaurant, causing the air to visibly distort at the additional, abrupt infusion of gravity.
Several of the youths clutched at their chest as they gasped for breath, and those who were weak-willed immediately lost consciousness.
The full aura of a practitioner who had attained the peak of the Core Formation Realm billowed out towards the far corners of the restaurant, permitting none to escape its clutches.
Tableware and furniture warped and cracked at the pressure, and those who had mobilized their spiritual essence for any reason felt as if their internal organs had received a fatal slash.
Du Yongkang and An Fei were similarly affected, though the innate peculiarities surrounding the young girl prevented her from experiencing much other than a brief passage of mild nausea.
When combined with the accumulated mental stress and physical pain from An Fei’s previous counterattacks, the youth’s teeth finally grit and released a muffled howl, his heart begging for release.
Nonetheless, the die had been cast; the elderly shopkeeper could delay the impact of Du Yongkang’s strike by unleashing his aura to the maximum, but could not forcefully halt it.
The hand infused with violet light traversed through the air as the youth’s body appeared directly before An Fei, aimed directly towards the left side of her chest.
Watching his strike approach his target in a slow, gradual motion as though time had slowed, Du Yongkang’s mind flickered with a brief respite of arrogance and cruel joy.
However, the seconds of time bought by the elderly shopkeeper’s intervention was ultimately sufficient for An Fei to avert the crisis.
Obeying the urge of danger flooding her heart, the young girl willed the compressed sphere of spiritual essence confined within to erupt with its brilliance, flooding her body with warmth and strength that surpassed the limits of her physique.
At the same moment, a searing pain exploded into a bloodstained conquest of glory at her abdomen.
An Fei bent her knees and dropped to the ground, her right leg extended to its full length as she forcefully pivoted in the counterclockwise direction.
Her palms firmly planted on the floor as her body spun in a vicious reverse full moon sweep, her right leg fiercely struck Du Yongkang’s extended legs – forcing him to stumble forward and towards the ground.
The young girl exerted the remainder of the gathered momentum to propel herself backwards towards the ring of youths spectating the assessment imposed by the elderly shopkeeper, vaulting over to flee the confines of the clearing.
Her leap out of the ring caused the table below her to be sent flying in the opposite direction – towards Du Yongkang’s falling body.
The youth of the Du Clan’s eyes froze in shock as the imposing edge of the wooden table enlarged in his vision to collide against his elegant and well-composed forehead with a resounded smack.
“Senior Brother Du!”
“Senior Brother Du!”
The youths shouted in aghast and surprise at the dense trail of blood that trickled from Du Yongkang’s forehead.
They watched as the stream of scarlet liquid parted at the bridge of the nose, their gazes tracing the wooden table’s carnage to its roots and the young girl heaving for breath besides Shen Ming Yue’s side.
The elderly shopkeeper’s angered voice cut across Du Yongkang’s suppressed mutter of pain and crazed wrath, the gravity in his tone forcing the youths to quell their questions and return to their seats.
The old man stomped onto the ground, his eyes flared in disappointment.
“Yongkang, I expected better from you,” the elderly man enunciated in a slow and somber voice.
“Esteemed Senior, this was not my intenti-“
“Leave. When you have calmed your mind and recollected your sensibility, you may return.”
The porcelain cup slammed against the ground, shattering into dozens of small fragments that scattered across the wooden floor. The tea contained within splashed in all directions, prompting everyone to gulp in fear.
The Esteemed Senior… was angry!
“I… I…” Du Yongkang stammered in an uncomprehending voice.
The youth of the Du Clan collected himself from the ground, not bothering to wipe the trail of blood encroaching on his countenance.
Underneath the silent and pressuring gazes of the thirty-odd youths and one elderly man, Du Yongkang staggered out of the restaurant, his figure lonely and fragile compared to his previous glorifying entrance.
“He will return; Yongkang does not lack talent worthy of a cultivator – he only needs to temper his personality,” the elderly shopkeeper explained in a curt voice.
Even the Esteemed Senior that was the shopkeeper of this restaurant, needed to pay respects to the Du Clan.
The implied message was clearly interpreted by the youths, and they slowly and emphatically began rearranging the tables and chairs to their original positions.
When the restaurant’s interior had welcomed its moment of peace, the old man turned to face the young girl who had been silently wiping off the bloodstains dribbling from the corner of her lip.
“Lingxue, what is the name of your external martial arts technique?”
“A family secret – none of your concern.”
The elderly shopkeeper spoke with a gentle and calming voice, but was rebuffed with a cold reply that ignored all honorable distinctions of either the jianghu or the secular world.
The old man’s brows twitched at An Fei’s obvious display of disrespect, but only a low exhale of breath could leave in the end.
“If it is a family secret, then it is naturally not my concern,” the old man released a wistful sigh.
“Ah, what a farce of a martial arts assessment – to think that even the usually well-behaved Yongkang could act in such brash manners… Lingxue, would you like to honor this old bags as your master and enter the diverse and infinite world that is the jianghu?”
The youths’s countenances brightened as they swiftly placed the incident of Du Yongkang to the back of their minds.
They gazed at the young girl’s countenance with earnest and appreciation, awaiting the arrival of a new Junior Sister to be doted on by the organization.
“This Junior shall refuse.”
“Ah? Little Sister?”
An Fei returned herself to the customary boundaries of etiquette, though her refusal caused both Shen Ming Yue and the elderly shopkeeper to jump in their seats at the unexpected shock.
As the youthful girl gaped in surprise, the old man extended a quivering finger as his voice quaked.
“Ling… Lingxue, could you at least… inform this old bag of… bones why you refused?”