Chapter 82 The Living Legend
There is perhaps a modicum of truth in a principle that screenwriters worldwide have long since adopted: the cops are almost always late to the scene of any incident. To be fair, such a phenomenon is par for the course, since the cops are usually called during or after the incident. Even so, one has to concede that it would seem rather preposterous if the members of the press arrive on the scene before the cops do, which is exactly what happened after the tragic shooting in Tiannan University. By the time the cops arrived, the place was already crawling with reporters and journalists who were all eager to get their big scoop. The officers practically had to drag a few reporters away from Zhao Yujian's dead body before they cordoned off the academic building with barricade tape.
While the cops got to work, the vice-chancellor summoned all the members of the university council for an emergency meeting. A general consensus was reached by the end of that meeting: this incident had to be kept under wraps at all cost. The gag order was quickly passed down to all professors in the university, who then summoned their students to warn them not to breathe a single word regarding the shooting to anyone.
Fortunately, due to his role as the hero of the day, Li Yundong was spared from any censure and criticism from the members of the university's staff—yes, even Director Qian. After all, who in their right mind would criticize the man whose selfless actions had saved the lives of two students? Indeed, Tiannan University's reputation would suffer irreparable damage if it weren't for Li Yundong's act of heroism. Actually, no, that wasn't entirely accurate. The reality was that there wouldn't even be a Tiannan University if it weren't for Li Yundong's actions; Zhou Qin's family would no doubt ensure that Tiannan University's name was wiped from the annals of education if Zhou Qin fell to her death.
The members of the press were among those who were most vexed by the gag order issued by the university council. Being denied access to the crime scene by the cops was one thing, but having their requests for interviews flat out denied with flippant "no comments" was another thing altogether. At this point, they had nothing to go on: zero access to the crime scene; no information from the official source; even their memory cards were confiscated and wiped clean. The deathblow, however, was dealt when the press received a direct order from the Chinese government's Publicity Department. The reporters were now prohibited by law from providing any news coverage of the incident. So much for freedom of the press.
There were, of course, a few reporters whose curiosity refused to be quenched; they decided to conduct private interviews with the students. Some were lucky enough to score interviews with the students who were held hostage by Zhao Yujian inside the lecture hall.
"So let me get this straight... You're saying that this Li Yundong guy dodged bullets at point-blank range?"
"Oh, hell yeah, man..."
"Umm... Okay... Do you mind walking me through the whole thing?"
"Sure. Well, the bad guy was in front with the gun. The guy's got a loose screw I'm telling you. He was screaming at Zhou Qin while kicking chairs and smashing tables like some maniac. Everyone was pretty much shitting their pants at that point, you know. Like, shit, he had a gun! And he seemed to be a f*cking good shot too! He killed a professor with a headshot! Anyway, things were pretty heated in front, but then suddenly, Li Yundong stood up from his seat. He was sitting in the last row, by the way. I know coz I was sitting in the row in front of his. When he stood up, I was like, shit, what the hell is this guy doing? Then, suddenly, the screaming stopped and the gun was pointed at Li Yundong. F*ck, you should've seen the look on the guy's face, man. It was like he wasn't even scared, you know? He just stared at the gun like it was some harmless toy—"
"Wait, how come Zhao Yujian didn't fire the moment Li Yundong stood up?"
"Hell if I know. I mean, the guy's a lunatic, right? He ain't right in the head. But I suppose he wasn't confident enough to take a shot from that far away? Like I said, Li Yundong was standing all the way back, and the lecture hall is pretty big."
"Right. Go on, then."
"Okay. So Li Yundong was staring straight at the gun. Totally unfazed, like he was John Wick or something. Then, suddenly he was giving us orders you know. He was like, hey, listen up guys. Just stay down and duck under the table. Y'all gonna be fine. And I was like, are you shitting me right now? Zhao Yujian had a gun! What can an unarmed man do against a gun! So I asked him. I said, what about you? What are you gonna do? And you know what he told me?"
"He said, I'm gonna end that son of a bitch. Yeah. Yeah, I know, right? I had the same reaction. At first, I thought he was bluffing or just trying to act cool. But then he left his seat and started walking to the aisle at the center like he meant business! That wasn't all. It's not like he just stopped there at the aisle. He was walking slowly towards the front! When he passed my row, I saw him making these hand signals behind his back. He was asking us to move away from the aisle and get closer to the side of the room. At that moment, I knew, I just knew what he was up to. He was drawing fire to himself! By then, everyone was like, thanks pal, we’ll all remember you and your sacrifice. But your efforts might be useless because what can your death even accomplish? Zhao Yujian might still shoot at us once he's done with you. But we were wrong. Li Yundong knew exactly what he was doing..."
"Hey… you alright, man? You look a little pale..."
"Ahem! Yeah... yeah, I'm fine. I just... I guess I'm still having a little trouble coming to terms with what I saw..."
"Err... You're gonna need to be more specific..."
"As I was saying, Li Yundong was walking down the aisle. At one point Zhao Yujian started yelling threats at him. And we all knew that he was gonna start shooting soon. F*ck, I almost wanted to close my eyes, man. I didn't think I could watch. It's the guilt, you know? A guy was about to sacrifice himself for everyone else. Shit... But I didn't even have a chance to close my eyes. It all happened so fast. Bang, bang! I didn't even see how Li Yundong moved. All I know is that after the shots were fired, Li Yundong was standing on the aisle with his torso twisted at an odd angle.”
“Wait. So two shots were fired. And this Li Yundong guy was fine. Maybe the gunman missed?”
“I thought so too at first. But it ain't over yet. Seconds later, bang, bang, bang! Three successive rounds. But this time, I saw him move. I saw him dodging those three bullets like it was nothing, and I’m telling you man, it was f*cking mindblowing. You see, he moved his body just a split second before the shots were fired. I swear to God, man. It was like he knew when and where Zhao Yujian was gonna fire... Anyway, he dove to the floor, and those three shots missed. But here’s the thing. When he stood back up, the hair on his head was upright, like in one of those Super Saiyan transformations—"
"Pfftt!!!! Hahahahaha....Hahahaha... Ahem. S- sorry, ahem! Continue. Please continue... I just... pfft. Couldn't help myself... haha—"
"You don't believe anything I said, do you? You think I'm just shitting you..."
"Believe what? Super Saiyan transformations? Dodging bullets? Come on, man. You have to admit that—"
"But I'm not lying! I'm telling you the truth! Everyone in the lecture hall can—"
"Listen, I have a degree in Psychology, okay? What you're experiencing is known as delusional disorder. It’s very common among the victims of trauma. What basically happens is that your mind will add details on top of your traumatizing experience based on your imagination. And make no mistake, it will seem and feel real to you, but that's not your fault. In fact, that's one of the symptoms—"
"You know what? F*ck you! I'm done with this shit!"
"Look I'm just telling you what I know from a psychological standpoint—"
"What you know? Guess what, pal. You don't know shit! I was there, man. Right there when it all happened!" There was a snort. "Delusional disorder, you said? It's all my imagination, you said? Well, good luck using your psychobabble to explain how fifty students could experience the exact same delusion at the same time. Coz if you ask anyone who was there in the lecture hall today, I can guarantee you that they're gonna tell you the same things I just told you."
The reporter stared at the student in shock.
"It doesn't matter whether you believe me or not. I swear by what I said. Li Yundong saved my life, and about fifty other lives too. He is a living legend, and nothing you do, say, or publish can change that."
He pushed himself off the ground, seeming to have drawn strength and power from the earth like the mythological giant, Antaeus. Then, he charged towards the building with lightning speed, hoping to prevent yet another tragic death. And he did. He made it. He got there just in time to catch the body of a grown woman that had fallen off the rooftop of a seven-floor building. The ensuing loud crunch struck terror into our hearts. We watched him crash into the floor, shielding the girl from the impact with his own body. The girl lived, and so did her savior. When it was over, all of us were left with feelings of wonder and curiosity. How? How did he do it? How did he come to possess such superhuman abilities?
Kris's delicate fingers hovered above the keyboard of her laptop. With a long sigh, she leaned back in her seat, which was far too cramped to be deemed healthy for her legs. The perks of flying economy.
Sounds of chatter drifted to her ears. Voices blared, and words bounced back and forth across the aisle as her mates regaled each other with tales about the exchange visit. Somehow, Kris didn’t share her friends’ excitement. To her, this trip was an eye-opener, a life-changing experience that challenged the very foundation of her understanding about life and the world. Kris knew in her heart that this trip was one that she would never forget, for it had given her a first taste of the bizarre, the mystic.
Kris stared at her laptop screen. The dark cursor blinked back at her, reminding her that she was supposed to be a damn journalist, not a wool-gatherer. Indeed, Li Yundong's story wouldn't write itself, and she, the person who was supposed to write it, was drawing a blank.
So much for being Lois Lane.
Kris closed her eyes. She couldn't stand the cursor's mockery anymore.
How was she supposed to write a story about a guy whom she couldn't even understand? And it wasn't just Li Yundong's superhuman abilities that she couldn't wrap her head around, it was his personality too. The guy was a walking contradiction. Behaviorwise, he was showy and ostentatious, yet he claimed that it wasn't fame and glory that he sought. He was honorable enough to risk his own life to save his classmates, yet despicable enough to devise a plot to humiliate John in front of the mayor. What was that guy’s deal? Which one was the real him?
A voice ended her reverie.
"Is there anything I can get you, miss?"
Kris opened her eyes and whipped her head to her right. John was in the aisle, crouching beside her seatmate — Kris was in the window seat.
Kris blinked a few times but she didn't answer.
"Why don't we swap seats?" her seatmate asked John.
Kris rolled her eyes when John gave her seatmate a panty-dropping smile.
"Aww... You're so sweet, my darling.”
A bout of harmless flirting ensued before her seatmate vacated the seat beside her and John settled himself in it.
Kris smiled at John. "A glass of water would do."
"Right away, miss," John said, reaching above his head to press the attendant call button.
A flight attendant came by a minute later, and John asked for a glass of water.
"What are you working on?" John asked, handing her the water.
Kris took a sip. "Oh, just an article for the Philadelphia Daily."
John took her laptop from the fold-out table and began reading out loud: "When I was young, my grandmother used to tell me stories about the existence of extraordinary individuals in China. These individuals possess Godlike strength, just like the demigods that appear in western mythology such as Archilles, Antaeus, etc. However, unlike the mythical demigods, these individuals didn't obtain their strength and powers through divine blessing, but through a painstaking process known as Cultivation..."
"What? Cultivation? What's all this, eh?" John turned away from the screen and eyed her skeptically. "This sounds more like a memoir than an article."
"Says the one who knows nothing about journalism," Kris said, grabbing her laptop from John.
John chuckled. "Fair enough."
Kris raised her arms above her head and stretched herself, groaning in pleasure when she felt several pops in her spine. She turned to her right and saw John staring at the exposed skin near the waistband of her skirt where her shirt had ridden up. Kris smirked. "Like what you see?"
John's eyes snapped to hers instantly. "You know you're beautiful, Kris," John mumbled, then cleared his throat. "So. About this article of yours. Think it’s good enough to be a hit?"
Kris sighed and lowered her arms.
"That stupid comb-over douche erased the video I took," she growled. "Now nobody would believe anything I wrote. Damn it! I could've made a ton with this piece."
John burst into laughter.
"Yeah right, Kris. As if a video could prove your article’s credibility. Hello? Ever heard of CGI? Hell, we wouldn't have believed it too if we weren't there to see it with our own eyes..."
Kris grew silent. She had to admit that John made a valid point. She turned away from John and stared at the fluffy clouds outside the window.
"Do you believe it, John?" she asked. "That there are people with extraordinary powers in this world? Superhumans?"
Her seat's armrest trembled slightly. Kris didn't even have to turn around to know that John was nodding his head enthusiastically. He'd always been very energetic.
"Of course I believe it! I saw it with my own eyes after all," John said. "Christ... When I saw him dodge those bullets, Kris... It was like everything I knew about fighting and martial arts were thrown out of the window. It was like I knew right that instant"—John snapped his fingers—"that there's so much more to fighting than what I currently know."
Kris said nothing, choosing instead to mull over John's words. So much more about the world that we don't know...
"That guy is basically a legend, Kris. I've already decided to join the student exchange program after we get back. I'll come here and become his disciple."
Something in John's tone made Kris turn away from the window. She looked into John's eyes which were filled with determination and passion. At least somebody here has made up his mind about Li Yundong…
"Wanna join me, Kris?" John nudged her.
Kris didn't answer. If only she could make up her mind.
"You once told me that you've always found the wonders of China fascinating," John went on. "I thought you'd jump at the chance to be here."
Kris sighed and slid down an inch in her seat. "I don't know, John. I gotta ask gram first, I guess?"
"Oh, come on! What are you hesitating for?"
Kris crashed into the window after John nudged her "lightly" with his elbow.
Damn those muscles.
Kris rubbed her cheek and shot him a glare. The bastard was grinning back at her. The nerve of him.
"Think about it, Kris," John said, shifting closer to her. "You wanna win a Pulitzer Prize, don’t you? Then come to China! You said it yourself, right? China is a land full of wonders! Which means you'll get a lot of materials to compose a prize-winning article!"
John silenced her with a finger.
"A guy sending a grown man into the air without even touching him. Catching a fast-moving blade between his fingers. Catching a falling woman from the fourth floor, and then landing on his feet like it was nothing. Catching a woman who fell off a seven-floor building and then walking it off? Dodging bullets at point-blank range! Jesus, Kris. Need I go on?"
"Ooh, looks like you're his fanboy now, John."
Kris raised her head. The guy in the row in front of hers was smiling at them.
The girl beside him chuckled. "Hey, I'm his fan too, you know?"
"Really now?" John said with a smirk. "So! Louise! Why don’t you tell us your favorite Li Yundong moment."
Louise let out a dreamy sigh. "Well, it's gotta be the moment when his shoulder joints got popped back into place, and he didn't even make a sound. God, that's so hot!" Louise fanned herself with both hands. "I swear to God I've never seen a manlier guy in my life!"
Louise released another sigh, which, to Kris, sounded more like a moan.
"I wonder what it'll be like to f*ck him," Louise said. "I bet I'll die and go to heaven, but what a way to go, right?"
Kris burst out laughing, then slapped her hand over her mouth.
"Hey, hey, Louise. Aren't you forgetting something?" said the guy sitting next to Louise. "Guy's got a girlfriend already. And wow, you've seen that chick, right?" He let out a whistle. "She's smoking."
"Yeah, I saw," she said in a dejected tone. "That's why I didn't ask him out yesterday."
"Hey, hey, hey..." John said. "Don't you all start having strange ideas now. He's my master, so he's off-limits. Back off."
Kris rolled her eyes as another round of laughter filled the cabin.
"Say, John. Are you serious about becoming his disciple?"
All the chatter ceased right then. Kris raised her head and studied John's expression carefully.
"Of course I am," John said with a serious expression. "I'm telling you guys he's a legend. I'm not gonna miss this chance." John raised his fist and stared at it. "I'm going to go to China, and then I'm gonna become his disciple!"
"What, like how Luke Skywalker became Obi Wan Kenobi's disciple?"
The seats shook as John bobbed his head with zest. "Exactly! I've found my Jedi Master! I've found my Obi Wan Kenobi!"
Someone sneered. "If he would take you on as a disciple, that is."
A round of laughter filled the cabin.
Kris sneaked a glance at John and nearly laughed at the pout she saw there. He could be such a child sometimes.
"I don't care! I won't give up!" John declared. Then, his eyes went wide. "Hey, isn't there a Chinese saying that goes like... ching... ching... something, ching chong shuo jee... bleugh." He turned to Kris. "Yo, Kris, what's that phrase again?"
Kris burst out laughing.
"God, you're such an idiot," Kris said. "It's jing cheng suo zhi, jin shi wei kai!" (T/N: A Chinese idiom whose English equivalent is "faith can move mountains")
"A-HA!" John slapped his thigh. "Ching chong chuo ji, chin shit week kai?"
Kris burst into chortles, pressing her hand against her forehead. "Oh, you have a long way to go, John," Kris said. "A long, long way."
The conversation died down after that. Kris stared out of the window as John launched into a series of Mandarin pronunciations which sounded way worse than Sheep Poos.
Thick, white clouds obscured everything on the ground, and she couldn't help but wonder just how many more secrets the world had to offer that were still unknown to most people, that most people couldn’t even fathom. Should she plunged into the clouds, and venture into the unknown? Or should she coast above the clouds? Safe, but forever ignorant.
John's declaration echoed in her mind.
He is a legend…