Chapter 26: One Must Learn to Climb Without One’s Hands

Ryu came out of the Inner Gate of Li Lin. He walked into a breeze that blew plum blossoms across the school, right into his face. He brushed the flowers off, seeing Tazuki and Ling Yi clearly on the other side of the stream. The two were friendly fighting with wooden swords. It seemed to be an even duel, but Ling Yi eventually gained the upper hand and knocked the boy down.

“Okay, you win!” Tazuki said. He dropped his sword and raised both his arms.

“What did I say?” said Ling Yi. “The fight’s not over until it’s over!” She let out a growl and crossed her arms. She turned her head away and saw Ryu. Upon seeing the player’s arrival, her face lit up. She waved. “Ryu!”

Ryu waved back.

Ling Yi scurried across the bridge. Once she got up to him, she grabbed his hand and tugged him away. “Hurry. Grandmother’s been waiting for you.” She turned her head back to the boy on the ground and yelled, “Get up, Tazuki!”

The young girl dragged the player across the courtyard, past multiple buildings. She pulled him all the way to the grand pagoda at the center of the school. Yue Yi was practicing with a sword on the court while Madame Yi sat cross-legged at the top of the steps, her eyes closed.

“You’re late,” said the old woman, her voice coarse.

Ryu’s body shivered, a coldness filling the air. He laughed nervously, scratching his head. “I had something I needed to take care of. Sorry.”

“I don’t care what excuses you have,” Madame Yi said. “I’ve invited you to this place. You must obey my every word.”

Ryu cleared his throat.

The old woman continued. “However, since it’s him, I’ll let it go. Just this once. Don’t be tardy every again.” She opened her eyes, revealing a piercing gaze. “Now, take to the other side of the court. I need to see how much work is cut out for me.”

Ryu didn’t comment and did exactly as he was told.

“You will spar against Yue,” the Madame said. “Pick a weapon of your choosing.”

Sheesh. I just got here and she’s already having me fight…

Ryu glanced at all the weapons from the rack on his side. There were wooden swords, spears, and staves. He looked in particular at the swords and took a moment to think. Without choosing anything, he turned his back and faced Yue Yi.

“Hoh?” Madame Yi remarked. “Hand-to-hand combat? Are you sure?”

Ryu nodded in affirmation.

Proficiency in unarmed combat was a necessity, and it was a life lesson learned for Ryu. Under the tutelage of his mother, he’d learned the way of the sword. But it was under his grandmother that he’d learned unarmed martial arts. Of course, he’d always been a reluctant student, so his skills in either were utterly subpar. However, he did have some moves in his arsenal that were ingrained in him through repeated training sessions—very harsh training sessions that resulted as punishment from his laziness.

“Very well,” the old woman said, a smirk on her face.

Yue Yi stood at her end. She was also weaponless, having put her practice sword away. “Are you ready?”

I’ve gotta test my hand-to-hand skills first. I need be proficient before moving onto any weapon skills.

The player nodded.

“Then let the fight begin,” said Madame Yi.

As soon as the sparring started, Ryu took a defensive stance. However, Yue Yi didn’t take a particular stance at all. She stood straight, her hands down at her sides.

She’s leaving herself wide open?

Yue Yi extended her arm out and motioned her hand. She put up a light smile. “Come.”

Tch. She’s not going to come, is she?

Ryu didn’t want to engage. There wasn’t anything to rely on beside his fists and feet—and he wasn’t confident about either of them. But having no choice, he took the initiative. He dashed across the courtyard. As soon as he was in arm’s reach he threw out a fist, straight at Yue Yi’s chest.

Madame Yi saw this scene and smirked. Good. He doesn’t discriminateHowever, attacking your opponent head on like that. That’s the peak of naivety.

Ryu’s punch was inches away from hitting Yue Yi. But at the very last moment, the young NPC caught it with a single hand. With her other hand, she formed a palm and struck him in the chest, sending the player dozens of feet away.

Ryu crash landed on his feet and stumbled down on his butt. Immediately, he got up and began dashing across the court.

Ling Yi saw this from the sideline and exclaimed, “Ryu, that isn’t going to work against big sis!”

Ryu didn’t mind Ling Yi’s cry and carried on with his attack. Once he was at the appropriate distance, he drew in his hand and readied a punch. He struck once more, but Yue Yi caught his hand and pushed him back as before, making the young man fall again.

Ryu stood up, wiping the dirt off his pants. He positioned himself for another dash.

“Ryu! What are you doing, you big dummy?” Ling Yi shouted.

Ryu sprinted again toward Yue Yi.

Madame Yi looked down at the player. Her gaze intensified.

As Ryu approached, he empowered his body with natural essence. Both Yue Yi and Madame Yi observed this. However, Yue Yi didn’t falter. She stood her ground, but she didn’t strengthen herself with natural essence. As Ryu crashed onto her, she motioned her hand to perform another catch. But right before Ryu came into contact with her, he released his fist and caught her wrist. When he did this, Yue Yi threw her free hand out and formed a fist of her own, jabbing at the player’s chest. Much to her surprise, Ryu lifted his leg backward and swung it straight up, knocking her punch away.

Madame Yi’s expression livened up. He was able to kick with the opposite leg? And from that position?

Ryu used the force of his kick to re-maneuver his body. He pulled Yue Yi forward, and in a jujitsu-style movement, twisted her arm and used his body weight to collapse onto her. He slammed her onto the ground, pinning her down.

Whew. I almost screwed that up. Thankf—

Ryu wobbled and found himself being raised from the ground. Yue Yi stood up and shook him off. As he lost his grip, the young woman elbowed him in the abdomen. He attempted to block it, but it was to no avail. The power with which she struck was beyond his expectation. He was blown back, all the way to his end of the court.

Ryu didn’t immediately get up. He lay on the ground, his body stretched out.

She stood up from that hold, geez.

Ryu took a few moments to recover from the blow, placing his hand over the bruised area.

Damn, that hurt...

He lifted his hands up to his face and looked at them. They were shaking—a result of blocking Yue Yi’s blow.

If I hadn’t trained as intensively as I did with Bors, I would have been knocked out. I’m not her match in terms of skill, and I don’t think the things I’ve learned from obaasan will help me this time.

He wiggled his fingers.

I wonder…

He recalled his encounter with the Brown-Fanged Spider Queen, revisiting the motions and mentality of the fight. He vaguely remembered his tattered body being pierced by the monster’s fangs. But what he focused on was the very end of that experience. He recalled concentrating his natural essence all into his arm, with the aim of breaking the stalactite above the spider. He tried to recollect his memory after that moment, but it all came as darkness to him.

Ryu got up. He shrugged his shoulders a few times, loosening them. He readied himself for another head-on attack. Then, he charged.

Madame Yi saw his action, her face filled with slight amusement. He’s persistent.

As Ryu came to the midpoint mark of the court, he stopped and grounded himself. He pulled in his arm and with every once of energy he had, he swung forward.

Yue Yi stood calmly, only turning a baffled look. What is he do—

Before she could finish her thought, a draft came behind the Ryu.

Madame Yi’s eyes widened. This is…!

As the player’s fist flew out, a bullet of energy propelled forward, following the trajectory of the punch. Yue Yi was in momentary shock and didn’t do anything at first, but she quickly came to her senses. She stood firm, crossing both her arms in front of her. When the attack landed, it pushed her back by more than twenty feet. She maintained her balance, skidding across the cobblestone ground.

Ryu collapsed on one knee. He scoffed in disbelief.

Geez, she even blocked that?

“Stop!” Madame Yi exclaimed. She stood up, a grin on her face, and paid her attention to Ryu. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting an attack like that from you. I can see why that rascal, Bors, wanted you here.”

Ling Yi and Tazuki galloped to the pagoda steps.

Yue Yi wiped the bits of dirt off from her spar, then also approached the steps. “Grandmother… That was natural energy projection.”

Madame Yi looked at her and nodded. Then she shifted her attention to Ryu. “How long have you been training?”

“It’ll be two weeks today,” Ryu said.

Tazuki’s and Ling Yi’s mouths were wide open. Both of them simultaneously exclaimed, “T-Two weeks?! You’re kidding!”

Ryu shook his head. “It’s the truth.”

Yue Yi’s eyes were especially filled with incredulity. “That can’t be…” she softly uttered.

Madame Yi gave the player an acute look. She was stirred in disbelief. Impossible! It should take at least ten years to reach that stage, even for a prodigy. Unless… The old woman’s gaze intensified. “You’re a traveler, aren’t you?”

Ryu nodded in affirmation.

Ling Yi’s and Tazuki’s eyes widened, their mouths dropping even more. Yue Yi, on the other hand, let out a gasp. She placed her hand over her chest, in light astonishment.

Madame Yi’s eyes remained focus on Ryu. That damn brat, Bors. He knew didn’t he? That old man must have known as well. She then put up a broad smirk. “Interesting.”

Yue Yi shook off her awe and smiled. “Grandmother, does this mean you’ll accept him?”

The old woman scoffed. “I’ve seen enough.” She paused for a moment. “Everyone except the young man, leave.”

Yue Yi spoke no word. She gave a humble bow and left, dragging both the two younger NPCs with her. Ling Yi could be heard mumbling as she was being taken away; Tazuki himself was crying and begging Yue Yi not to do anything suspicious to him.

Madame Yi continued staring at Ryu but eventually spoke. “Come,” she said, appearing right beside Ryu.

Ryu was beyond startled. He looked at the top of the steps where Madame Yi had been standing. He shook his head vigorously, thinking he’d just dozed off and hadn’t been paying attention. But his eyes were not playing any tricks. Madame Yi had indeed appeared right by his side.

How did she get down here? I was looking directly at her.

He gulped and looked wondrously at the old woman who was now strolling away. His mind was coming up with a multitude of rational explanations. But in the end, he had no remarks. Speechless, he followed her.

* * * * * *

Madame Yi took the most casual steps, leading Ryu across the garden bridge to an area of the school that he hadn’t seen before. They walked for several minutes, traversing across many courtyards.

This place is much bigger than I realized.

Many thoughts were going through his head, but the one that bothered him the most was how the person in front of him did exactly what she did back at the courtyard.

That speed was insane.

Ryu cleared his throat and finally asked, “Back there, how did you do that, if I may ask??”

Madame Yi did not initially respond to the question. She simply kept her pace and continued. But after a moment, she spoke. “You’re a slug.”

“Is it teleportation?” said Ryu, curious.

Madame Yi scoffed. “Teleportation is a rudimentary skill. Don’t think my skills to be of such a low caliber.”

I’ve never seen anything like it. It didn’t even seem like she moved. I didn’t blink, so I’m certain I would’ve seen her move... One moment, she was standing before me, then the next, she’s standing right next to me.

Madame Yi continued. “In any case, we have much work to do. Your senses are pathetic. Absolutely intolerable.” She then stopped.

The two had come to a gigantic waterfall, at least two hundred feet tall. The water was streaming down from a rocky cliff with numerous sized boulders mounting up to the top.

“I don’t know what kind of training you did with that little rascal, but your body is weak,” Madame Yi said. “I’ve seen your skills, and they’re impressive—if you want to entertain for theater, that is. But out there, they’re nothing. You’d die on the spot.”

That’s what Bors said, too.

Madame Yi pointed to the top of the waterfall. “There. That’s where we’ll start.”

Ryu was baffled by this. “What are you saying?”

“One must learn how to climb without one’s hands,” she said. “Your training has begun. So get there,” the old woman said, pointing to the top of the waterfall. She paused. Her lips formed a broad grin. “All without using your hands.”

The words didn’t immediately go through Ryu’s head. ”Top of the waterfall.’ ‘All without using your hands.’ What did that even mean? But he quickly understood, as unbelievable as it sounded.

…You’ve gotta be kidding me.

If he’d been giving some sort of flying skill, Ryu could’ve performed the feat within the minute. But this game wasn’t Dream World. It was a whole new frontier where he’d need to learn everything himself, all from the ground up.

Ryu paused and pondered for a second. He looked up to the waterfall.

Wait…

Without much thinking, he strengthened his legs with natural essence. He bent his knees, slightly lowering himself, and rubbed his feet on the ground to station himself. And with the most power he could muster, he took off into the air. Sadly, he lifted only ten feet off the ground and fell straight into the pond.

“Your legs are weak, but at least you know how to use your head,” Madame Yi said, smirking. “But that head will only get you so far. Against true monsters, you’ll need not only your head but your entire body as well.” She then turned away, and in a cool and calm manner, walked back in the direction of the pagoda. “Come see me when you’ve completed the task.”

Ryu came out of the pond. He collapsed onto the ground and stretched his body out. He looked up at the sky and sighed. A light smile came upon his face. “This is going to be quite a long journey, isn’t it?”

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