Two jagged, golden swords adorned the walls of the Emperor’s throne room. Dragonhand and Junjie had each managed to get there hands on one and sparks were flying as metal clanged on metal.
“Why does the name ‘Longwei’ offend you so?” the Infallible Master asked.
Dragonhand swiped his sword just over Junjie’s head. “There is no Longwei! There is only Dragonhand!”
“I see,” the master said. “And it agonizes you to be called Longwei?”
Dragonhand stepped back, barely missing a strike from Junjie. “How many times must I tell you, you dense, obtuse old idiot? There is no Longwei! There is only Dragonhand!”
Clang, clang, clang! The swordplay continued.
“Then why is it that it offends you when I tell you that you were not my best student?” the master asked.
Junjie sailed through the air at his opponent, his foot straight out in a kick position. Dragonhand caught his adversary’s foot, twisted it, then flipped him to the ground. Junjie stood right up, sword at the ready.
“Because I was your best student!” Dragonhand shouted. “I was the pride of the Clan of the Sacred Yet Inscrutable Tiger Claw! I fought harder and better than everyone combined and yet you held me back at every turn.”
The master chuckled. “You mean I held Longwei back at every turn.”
Dragonhand turned his attention to the master. It was a fool movie, as Junjie was able to land an uppercut against the zombified warrior’s jaw. Dragonhand retaliated with a brutal kick that knocked Junjie into a nearby wall.
“What?” Dragonhand asked.
“I never trained a creature named Dragonhand,” the master said. “I trained a young man named Longwei. He was bright and bold. Skilled and knowledgeable to be certain, but more concerned with glory and applause than working with his clan as one part of a larger whole.”
Dragonhand appeared confused. He pointed at the master. “Enough of your tricks!”
Junjie pulled himself out of the rut his body had formed when he slammed into the wall. He ran at Dragonhand and the swords connected again.
“You are wrong that there is no Longwei,” the master said. “Longwei’s soul suffers torment in Diyu, the same torment we all will be forced to suffer when our time comes and we cross over. One day, sooner or later, the Yama Kings will judge that Longwei’s sins have been sufficiently punished and atoned for, and he will be free to live in Heaven for eternity.”
Clang, clang, clang! Junjie and Dragonhand locked eyes and stared at one another as they pressed hard against one another’s swords. They hoped in vain to budge the other, but neither fighter would be moved.
“Silence!” Dragonhand cried.
“You, on the other hand, are merely a creature of flesh and bone,” the master said. “There is no soul in you. There is nothing of import in you. Your mind operates based on a brain that doesn’t belong to you. You share Longwei’s thoughts. Clearly, you sometimes get confused and think you are him, but you aren’t. You are just a pile of sentient meat and when you are gone, there will be nothing left of you.”
Dragonhand dropped his sword. Junjie assumed this was the perfect moment to attack. He raised his blade and was about to bring it down on his opponent’s head when Dragonhand bashed his skull into Junjie’s, dropping the hero with a vicious head butt.
“I don’t recall that move ever being recorded in the annals of kung fu,” the master said.
“I do what it takes to win,” Dragonhand said.
“A trait you share with the former inhabitant of that body I’m afraid,” the master said. “But no, no. No need to remind me. You’re not Longwei. You are the mighty Dragonhand.”
Dragonhand’s face was bloody. His nose was broken. He picked up his sword and ran towards the old man. He rammed his sword into the apparition, slicing and dicing through the ghost but it was no use. He was, in essence, chopping up thin air.
“Does this make you feel better?” the master asked.
Dragonhand was enraged. “Raaaaaarrrgh!”
The fiend spotted Junjie. The hero was kneeling on the floor, with his face down, blood trickling out of it. Dragonhand went to the Dragon Throne and picked up the Staff of Ages.
“It’s time to finish this.”
Dragonhand walked toward Junjie. He raised the staff over his head. Lighting cracked through the ceiling and into the staff. Thunder clapped.
“You will watch your student die now, old man!”
“It will be a pity to lose my best student,” the master said nonchalantly.
Another bolt of lightning struck the staff. More thunder.
“I was your best student,” Dragonhand said.
“Again,” the master said. “Longwei was my student. I don’t know you, strange creature.”
Dragonhand pointed the staff at the ghost. The ruby glowed bright purple. “Not another word.”
The master nodded. “As you wish, stranger.”
But the master wasn’t done talking. As far as Dragonhand knew, the old man was silent. However, his words flowed through Junjie’s mind. “I doubt your parents spent long in Diyu. They are in Heaven now, looking down upon you. Will you make them proud?”
Junjie’s head remained down. In the turmoil, he’d dropped his sword. It rested on the ground, several feet away. His right hand trembled.
A third bolt of lightning hit the staff. Thunder clapped again. Dragonhand turned the staff at Junjie. With all his might, Junjie struggled to turn his right hand into a tiger claw.
“Now you will know the power of zom fu!” Dragonhand shouted. “Now all of China will cower before…”
Before Dragonhand could say his own name, Junjie crammed his tiger claw into the creature’s skull and pulled out a goopy, gloppy, still-pulsating brain.
Like a chicken with its head cut off, Dragonhand’s body stumbled. His feet took him a few steps forward, then a few steps backward. The entire top half of his head was gone. Only the part from his mouth on down remained.
“All,” Dragonhand said with a strained voice. “All of China will…will…they will all cower before…”
The fiend’s body hit the floor. His mouth had one last word to say. “…Dragonhand.”
Junjie looked at the brain in his hand. It glistened and glowed in the moonlight that poured in through the thunderbolt made holes in the ceiling.
The Infallible Master stepped over to his protege. “I never doubted you.”
“You didn’t?” Junjie asked.
The master shook his head. “Perhaps there was a modicum of doubt. A slight, insignificant amount of doubt. Overall, I was fairly certain that this ordeal would end with Dragonhand’s carcass on the floor and his brain in your hand.”
“You were only fairly certain?” Junjie asked.
“Let’s not ruin the moment, my son,” the master replied.
Junjie stared at the gray matter in his hand. “Every brain I have ever seen has repulsed me. They normally make me sick to my stomach but this one…this one…”
“Intrigues you?” the master asked.
“Yes,” Junjie said. “I crave it. I’m hungry for it. It’s all I can do to keep myself from biting it.”
The master nodded. “Perhaps it different from other brains.”
“How so?” Junjie asked.
“Perhaps it contains knowledge that you have yearned for your entire life,” the master said.
Junjie licked his lips, then looked away from the brain. “No. I could never. I don’t want to end up like him.”
“You will never end up like Dragonhand,” the master said. “You are too pure of heart to become a brain addict. Of that, I am certain.”
“You keep saying that brain eating will never turn me into one of the undead,” Junjie said. “But honestly, how certain of that are you really?”
The master shook his head. “Fairly certain.”
Junjie rolled his eyes.
“I’ve been alive for a thousand years, my son,” the master said. “Trust me. ‘Fairly certain’ is the best anyone ever gets.”
Junjie continued to stare at the brain.
“Make a choice,” the master said. “Bite it or destroy it, but either way, let’s get on with it.”
“Well,” Junjie said as he brought the brain up to his lips. “Here goes nothing.”