Mei-Ling swung across the open expanse of the tower. Her trajectory took her lower and lower until she crashed through the bannister of the tenth floor. The silent warrior bunched up two ends of her robe and tied them tightly around the staff. She then backed up to the open edge of the floor, hopped backwards, fell and caught the bannister of the ninth floor with her hands.
Clear on the other side of the tower, Bohai and Junjie did the same. All three fighters fell and caught, fell and caught until they rejoined Niu and the master on the bottom floor.
Junjie, Bohai and Mei-Ling fanned out into a circle. They traded glances. They paced about. Mdi-Ling untied the staff and held it out in front of her as if it were a bo.
“Ha,” Bohai said. “Do you honestly think that the Clan of the Sacred Yet Inscrutable Tiger Claw will take orders from a woman?”
Mei-Ling furrowed her brow at Bohai.
“Brother,” Junjie said. “Our sister has made it to the ground with the staff. The test is over.”
Bohai’s nostrils flared. “This is over when I say it is over!”
“This is over when the master says it is over,” Junjie said as he looked to the old man. “Master?”
The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Meh. I could watch for a little longer.”
Two razor sharp swords hung on the wall. Boohoo removed both weapons and tossed one to Junjie, who caught it by the handle.
“I will fight no further,” Junjie said as he dropped to his knees. “Bohai, join Niu and I in yielding to the Twentieth Infallible Master.”
Niu perked up. “Oh, I have not yielded yet brother. I am still in this fight.”
“Idiots the both of you,” Bohai said. “Especially you, Junjie. What? You think if you just hand Mei-Ling this power she might give you a little kiss?”
Embarrassed, Junjie cast his eyes toward the floor. “I have given her nothing.”
Bohai turned his attention to Mei-Ling. “If you’re still alive after this, I’ll let you be my chamber maid.”
Many fighters would have felt the sting of Bohai’s insult, but Mei-Ling ignored it. She raised the Staff of Ages up just in time to absorb Bohai’s attack.
Clang, clang, clang! Bohai and Mei-Ling clashed in a series of spectacular blocks and thrusts, some of which caused sparks to fly as metal struck jade.
“Oof,” Bohai said as he took the ruby end of the staff to his stomach. Bohai fought through the pain and launched a kick at Mei-Ling. It connected and sent the silent warrior flying backward.
Amidst the confusion, the staff fell out of Mei-Ling’s hands, skittered across the floor and bumped into Niu’s leg.
The big man opened his eyes and looked down and reached for the treasure. “The fates giveth…”
Junjie stepped on the staff, preventing Niu from picking it up.
“…and the fates taketh away,” Niu said as he closed his eyes and returned to his mediation.
When the handsome hero picked up the staff, the ruby glowed brightly, almost blindingly. Junjie tried to look away but he couldn’t. He was mesmerized.
The grunts and smacks of the fight between Bohai and Mei-Ling snapped Junjie out of the trance. Bohai assaulted Mei-Ling with sword swing after sword swing, but Mei-Ling ducked and dodged the blade with perfection.
Junjie tossed the staff to Mei-Ling. As soon as she caught it, the ruby’s light went dark.
Bohai looked at Junjie. “Pathetic!”
Slam! Mei-Ling bashed the ruby end of the staff up against Bohai’s head. Enraged, the smarmy warrior hurled himself into the air, performed an airborne somersault, then connected his feet to Mei-Ling’s torso, sending her to the ground.
The crushing blow caused Mei-Ling to drop the staff. Miraculously, it landed right in front of Niu again.
The big man smiled and reached for the staff. “The fates favor me once more.”
Alas, the master was too quick for Niu in reclaiming the coveted object.
“Make up your mind, fates,” Niu muttered.
“Mei-Ling!” Junjie cried.
“You cannot interfere now that you have submitted, my son,” the master said calmly.
Bohai had Mei-Ling pinned. As he straddled her, he held out his hand as if it were a tiger’s claw, twisting it to and fro as if he were turning the lid of an imaginary jar. If Mei-Ling was afraid, she didn’t show it as she remained stoic as Bohai’s claw hand came closer and closer.
The master banged the end of the staff on the floor. “Enough!”