Shaoshang sniffed the air. “You reek of fear, whelp.”
Junjie’s hands trembled as he raised his fists.
“Bah ha ha!” The monster guffawed as he slapped his knee. “Oh, Yaozu! What a gaggle of women your clan has become if this is the best you were able to bring me.”
The master turned to Junjie. “Ignore his insults. Pay no mind to his games.”
“Are you going to cry, little girl?” Shaoshang asked.
Junjie looked at the beast with stone faced defiance.
“Why don’t you just step aside?” Shaoshang asked. “Clearly, you are a failure.”
“I’m…” Junjie stopped and gulped. “I’m not.”
“Your master is dead,” Shaoshang said as he paced to and fro, dragging the chain behind him. “Yet you are so weak he must carry you even in death.”
Junjie gritted his teeth. He squeezed his fists tightly, putting so much pressure on his fingers they looked as though they might pop.
The beast grinned. In doing so, he lit up the room with his shiny, dagger-like teeth. “Does your master wipe your nose and your bottom for you too, little one?”
That did it. “Ahhhh!” Junjie shouted a battle cry as he lunged at the monster, only to be repelled back by a flawless kick. The monster took great pride in making his moves seem effortless.
“Will you cry when Dragonhand rules China?” Shaoshang asked. “Will it pain you to your core to know that so many people died because a worthless nothing was called upon to save them?”
Junjie stood up. Without thinking, he sprang to his feet and fired off a kick at the monster. It did not connect. Rather, Shaoshang caught his opponent’s foot and used it to flip Junjie through the air. The hero landed on his backside.
Shaoshang sighed. “This is what you get for taking in orphans, Yaozu. People don’t feed stray dogs and abandoned children for a reason. No one in their right mind wants what others have thrown away.”
Finally, the hero landed a punch. Junjie assailed the monster’s abdomen with rapid fire punches. Shaoshang took seven or eight hits before he swatted his attacker away.
Swoosh! Woosh! Like two sets of sharp knives, Shaoshang’s claws passed over Junjie’s head again and again, coming closer to shredding Junjie into ribbons each time. The chain attached to the creature’s neck clanked loudly across the floor.
Junjie stepped backward. He and Shaoshang eyeballed one another.
“I can’t imagine what a sad disappointment you were to motivate your parents to look at you and say, ‘Eh, we won’t miss much if we rid ourselves of this little shit.’”
Junjie lost control. He ran at the monster. Shaoshang sidestepped the attack, then picked up a length of his chain, twirled it, and wrapped it tightly around Junjie’s neck.
“Yes,” Shaoshang said as he yanked up on the chain. “You want to give up. You want this agony to end. You want to be free of a lifetime of failure.”
Junjie’s face turned red. He slapped at the beast’s claws to no avail.
“Shh,” Shaoshang said. “Let it happen.”
The master stepped in front of Junjie’s face. “Disciple! Your focus must only be on your opponent’s defeat! Nothing else!”
“Erghhhh.” Junjie’s muscles strained as he tugged on Shaoshang’s claws.
“Every opponent has a weakness,” the master said. “Find his!”
Junjie’s face turned purple. He stomped on Shaoshang’s foot. The monster roared in pain. The hero stomped and stomped until Shaoshang let go.
“Gahh!” Junjie gasped for air. He ran forward and turned around. Shaoshang was angry. His body was in motion and he was on a collision course for Junjie.
Shaoshang ran and ran until…CLANK! He reached the end of his chain.
Junjie marveled at the sight before him. The vile demon strained and struggled but the chain prevented him from moving any closer. He took a few swipes, but Junjie easily dodged them.
The hero chuckled.
“And what are you laughing at, whelp?” Shaoshang asked.
Junjie ran into Shaoshang’s space, pummeled the beast, then returned to safety just before…CLANK! The monster was stymied by the chain once more.
“Your weakness,” Junjie said.
“A lucky shot,” Shaoshang said.
Junjie lept into the air and sent a flying kick toward the beast. Shaoshang took three shots to the face before Junjie landed. The hero backflipped out of the monster’s perimeter just in time to avoid a razor claw swipe.
“You’re cheating,” Shaoshang griped. “Just like the First Master of your joke of a clan!”
Junjie backed up…and up….and up…putting plenty of distance between his body and the monster.
“I knew your bitch would give up, Yaozu,” Shaoshang said.
“Wait for it,” the master replied.
Junjie ran toward the beast. Shaoshang’s claws burst into flames as he hurled a barrage of fire balls at his opponent.
The hero gained momentum. He picked up speed. Soon his body became an unstoppable force, one that rammed right into the creature, knocking him off his feet.
Shaoshang attempted to stand, but was pulled back to the ground by his chain. He looked up. Junjie was holding it.
“No,” Shaoshang said.
Junjie nodded his head up and down as if to say, “Yes.”
Out of sheer desperation, Shaoshang reached for his collar and tried to remove it, even though he had not been able to do so in thousands of years. He braced his feet against the ground but was not able to slow Junjie from pulling his catch in.
“Damn it, Yaozu!” Shaoshang cried. “This is not fair!”
The master shrugged his shoulders. “A win is a win.”
Junjie wrapped the chain around Shaoshang’s neck and yanked on it.
“I’m sorry,” Junjie said as he turned his right hand into a tiger claw. “Please forgive me.”
“No!” Shaoshang cried. “No, no, no, no, no!”
Bash! Junjie’s tiger claw tore through the beast’s skull.
“Ugh,” Junjie said as he felt the slimy demon brain in his hand. “Do I really have to, master?”
“I’m afraid so,” the master replied.
Junjie winced as he pulled the brain out. A lengthy section of spinal chord came with it.
“Disgusting,” Junjie said as he turned his nose up at the prize. “It smells awful.”
“Most brains do,” the master said. “Demon brains, more so.”
Junjie held the brain with both hands and stared at it. “I don’t want to go the way of Bohai.”
The master smiled. “You couldn’t if you tried. Eat.”
Ever so gingerly, Junjie pressed his tongue against the brain. He pulled back quickly and dry heaved. “Bleh.”
“You must gain the knowledge, my son,” the master said.
“Well,” Junjie said. “Here goes nothing.”
The hero closed his eyes and brought his teeth down on the demon brain. He bit into it and fought back the urge to vomit. He teared a good sized piece off and let it roll around in his mouth. His eyes watered and his stomach churned as he chewed. Inside his mouth, he could feel every vein, every bit of meat, every drop of blood.
Gulp. It went down.
“I don’t have to eat the whole thing do I?” Junjie asked.
“No,” the master answered. “And that you don’t want to speaks volumes of your character. Do you feel any different?”
Junjie looked at his hands and was taken aback as they burst into flames. He stared at them for awhile, then turned them off with his mind.
“I’m going to say yes,” Junjie replied.
“Good,” the master said. “Light your way back to the tank. From there, I will show you a secret passage to the forest.”
Junjie lit up his hands again. “You’re not coming?”
“I’ve served as Shaoshang’s jailer for a thousand years,” the master said. “There are certain duties I must tend to. Go along. I’ll follow shortly.”
Junjie nodded and headed up the winding staircase.
The master waited alone in silence for awhile until…poof! A giant red ghost popped up beside him.
“You do realize that there were at least four or five times when I could have snapped that boy in half had I wanted to?” Shaoshang asked.
“Excuses, excuses,” the master replied.
“I doubt this Dragonhand fellow will be as accommodating,” Shaoshang said.
“That is none of your concern,” the master said.
“And what of our deal?” Shaoshang asked.
“That is also not a reason for concern,” the master said.
“I didn’t throw a fight just to be cheated, old man,” Shaoshang said. “I’ll sneak your soul into Diyu so that you can begin your penance, but don’t think for a second I’ll let you out of your end of the bargain.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Yaozu said.
“You’ll serve twenty thousand years as my slave and not a day less,” Yaozu said. “You’ll make up for every day I was imprisoned by your pitiful clan.”
The master nodded. “I am a man of my word.”
“Even with the knowledge of my brain, the boy will fail,” Shaoshang said. “Fear drips from his every pore. The smallest slight causes him to doubt himself. Dragonhand will make short work of him.”
“My concern,” the master said. “Not yours.”
“Part of me hopes your whelp fails,” Shaoshang said. “It’ll be fun when the world is crushed under the foot of a dark warrior. Then again, I do so want that warrior to be me. When I’ve paid my debt to the Yama Kings and return to their good graces, I will move on the Dragon Throne. You can thank yourself for setting that in motion.”
“I must take my leave,” the master said.
“You’re not worried?” Shaoshang asked.
“I can only concentrate on one maniac bent on taking the Dragon Throne at a time,” the master said.
“I can’t believe your disciple apologized to me before taking my brain,” Shaoshang said.
“He’s polite,” the master said. “And pure of heart.”
“That’ll get him killed,” Shaoshang said.
“Perhaps,” the master said. “But to be impure of heart is no way to live.”