“Perhaps we should discuss this first,” was the last thing Junjie managed to say before his mouth was shut by Bohai’s foot.
Junjie brushed the blood from his lip with the back of his hand, nodded at his opponent and asked, “So that’s how it is, is it?”
“It is,” Bohai replied as he cracked his knuckles.
“So be it,”Junjie said.
The two men paced to and fro like a pair of hungry jackals until Junjie threw a punch. Bohai caught it with his left hand then attacked Junjie with his right. They became locked in an attack and deflect pattern for several minutes until Junjie finally landed his fist on Bohai’s face.
“You have no idea how long I have wanted to do that, brother,” Junjie said.
“Ahh,” Bohai said as he spit blood out of his mouth. “You have no idea how long I have wanted to do…this!”
Bohai lunged for Junjie’s arm, gripped it, and flipped Junjie into the air before slamming him to the floor.
A grounded and dizzy Junjie looked to his right to find Niu sitting perfectly still on the floor, meditating with his eyes closed.
“You’re not interested in becoming the Twentieth Infallible Master?” Junjie asked Niu.
“Oh I am,” Niu answered. “But if I am meant to have the staff…”
“…then you will have the staff,” Junjie said as he leapt to his feet and quickly dodged Bohai’s foot.
“You are daft as you are humongous, Niu!” Bohai shouted.
“Perhaps I am the last one you should be worried about,” Niu said as he pointed a finger toward the ceiling.
Bohai and Junjie looked up to find that Mei-Ling was already five floors above them and easily jumping up to the sixth.
The master laughed. “Hmm. Perhaps the first female Infallible Master’s time has come.”
Bohai performed a running jump to the second floor’s wooden bannister, grabbed it, stood upon it precariously, then jumped up to the third floor bannister. Junjie followed, nipping at Bohai’s heels.
The chase was on. Junjie remained just below Bohai until the tenth floor when Bohai decided to improvise and stomp his foot down on Junjie’s head. Knocked off balance, Junjie let go of the bannister and began to fall until he grabbed Bohai’s leg and yanked him down with him.
The duo fell through the air for a few levels until they rolled to the right and crashed through the fifth floor bannister.
Back on the ground, the master was lecturing his most gigantic student.
“I am disappointed that you are not in this, Niu,” the master said.
“I am in it,” Niu said with his eyes still closed. “If I am destined to lead then I will.”
“Sometimes I think my foot is destined for your ass,” the master said.
“If your foot is meant for my…”
“Silence!” the master shouted. The old man looked up to see Mei-Ling moving higher and higher.
“Children!” the master shouted. “Have you found the toys I have placed around the tower? Play nice with them!”
On the fifth floor, Junjie and Bohai spotted a couple of the toys in question hanging on the wall. Junjie seized a pair of nunchucks while Bohai claimed a wooden bo staff.
“Stand down before I destroy you, Junjie,” Bohai said.
“You are not worthy of the Staff of Ages,” Junjie replied. “Your disrespect of the master has proven that.”
“It is mine by right,” Bohai said. “I am the best!”
Junjie gripped one end of the nunchaku and used it to twirl the other end by the metal chain. “Prove it.”
The pair had a stair down for a while. Finally, Bohai brought his bo staff through the air in a sweeping motion. Junjie cracked his nunchaku against the staff, deflecting the attack just in time.
Attack and deflect. Attack and deflect. Eventually, Bohai managed to get a jab in against Junjie’s chest. Not to be outdone, Junjie answered the hit with a nunchaku smack against the side of Bohai’s face.
Down below, the master and Niu listened to the commotion.
“I have done nothing but show you kindness since we were children and you have done nothing but mock me for it!” Junjie cried.
“How can I make you better if I don’t point out every one of your many, many flaws?!” Bohai asked.
“Hmm,” the master grunted. “Those two have some issues to work out.”
“If they are meant to work them out then…”
The master interrupted Niu. “No one likes a fatalist know-it-all, my son.”
“Perhaps they aren’t intended to, master,” Niu said.
“Ugh,” the master said as he slapped his forehead.
Up above, Mei-Ling was now on the eighteenth and final floor. There she found a bow, an arrow, and a coil of rope. She tied one end of the rope to the bannister and the other end to the arrow.
The tower was circular in shape, little more than an extra large cylinder. Mei-Ling could see the Staff of Ages hovering just underneath the skylight, but it was much to far too reach with her hands. So, expert markswoman that she was, she took aim at a wooden support beam on the other side of the eighteenth floor, fired, and scored a direct hit.
In doing so, she created a taut tightrope. Now she just had to walk it.
However, as she leaned over the bannister and looked down to see how tiny Niu and the master looked from this height, she realized that the feat she was about to try was easier said than done.