Zhu Fang struck out and William parried in a familiar pattern. Yet, William couldn’t let himself get used to it being familiar… otherwise, when it changed he would slip up. Especially since he was usually on the defense, if he slipped up he would likely lose. William practiced his offensive styles as well, but he felt there was something missing. William knew that they could be more powerful. When using soul techniques, he could do exactly what he intended, but when using brute force, he held back- more than he intended to even for sparring. William didn’t think he had this kind of hesitation in his previous life… but it had been over two dozen years and he hadn’t analyzed his style in depth as much then. William didn’t have as much muscular power now as he did then, but he could still bring to bear the same amount of force or more.
The spar had stretched on to the point where William would normally surrender. However, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was about to make some progress. Not that he needed to become better at kinetic force when utilizing soul techniques was so much more effective for him, but he wanted to. Besides, William could imagine circumstances where he had to fight something without a soul, or with soul defenses that were completely impenetrable, at least by him. Whether he would was another question, but William thought that bettering himself was always a good idea.
Wooden hafts collided with a striking sound. Each strike made a sort of rhythm, one that was predictable but not predetermined. William saw an opening, dodged a thrust, and countered with a sweep to the legs. Zhu Fang stepped back to avoid the sweep, causing a break in the fight. In a one-on-one with a martial artist, William would normally return to a more defensive stance at this point. However, something drove him to change. He couldn’t dominate this fight if he were always on the defensive. William threw a quick strike at Zhu Fang’s body. It was blocked with the haft of Zhu Fang’s ‘spear’, but the sound of the strike connecting was immensely pleasing.
William could feel and smell the sweat dripping down his brow… and in addition could feel his lungs straining. There was a strong desire to cough, but William suppressed it as much as he could. He knew that once that started he would be done… and he didn’t want to be done. He kept on the attack, pressing Zhu Fang back one step at a time. The spear wasn’t really designed for defending, and Zhu Fang certainly didn’t specialize in those techniques. However, just as he seemed like he was about to collapse, his aura changed.
Zhu Fang got his footing back, and he and William exchanged a series of blows. A stab connected with William’s ribs, but he kept going. William was pretty sure he’d gotten in a few good blows on Zhu Fang as well, but both of them were so into the fight that neither of them seemed interested in stopping. However, that only lasted for a short while. William saw an opening, and blocked a sweep from the side with his staff firmly planted. At the same time, he sent out a kick, nearly shattering Zhu Fang’s ki defenses and knocking him flying. Then, William could suppress it no longer, and started coughing. He couldn’t stop, and even as his body slowed down to a resting state, he continued to cough, including coughing up a small bit of blood. This continued until he passed out.
When William woke up, he was in an unfamiliar bed. That said, he wasn’t worried. Though he might not have recognized the specific bed, the room seemed to match some hallways he had seen many times. This was a bed in the Zhu clan. His suspicions were confirmed when he felt some familiar presences walking out in the halls. William was tired, so he let himself lay back and fall into a real sleep instead of just unconsciousness.
He awoke to Zhu Fang entering the room. “Are you alright?”
William shrugged. That hurt, because his ribs were sore, a minor detail he had forgotten. He noticed he had some bandages on, to lessen the effect of movement. “I’ve been better. I just pushed myself too far. I’ll need to keep my activity levels down for a few days.”
“Sorry about that. I should have stopped.”
“It’s not like it was your fault. I’m the one in my body, and I chose to keep going.” William smiled awkwardly.
“Alright. Well, you can stay here as long as you need to. We have plenty of space for a friend.”
William did stay for about a day, but when he left he was feeling worse. It wasn’t that his body wasn’t recovering. If anything, he just felt sluggish, discounting his bruised ribs. Instead, he was worried. First of all, there was his actions during the spar. It wasn’t really like him to push that far. Something felt strange, as if a piece of himself he’d never felt before had come out. He didn’t particularly like it, because it was foolish. He could handle that, but what had happened with Zhu Fang had been worse.
William wasn’t upset at his ribs, and wouldn’t have been even if they were even worse. That could happen during a spar. However when Zhu Fang had recovered from his assault and gotten back on even footing, William had felt something. It was the feeling of a different cultivation technique, and had a similar feeling to those demonic ones he had sensed before. In the heat of battle, William could have felt incorrectly, but over the time when he was resting his body he had tried to subtly observe Zhu Fang and some of the other members of the Zhu clan. Unfortunately, William discovered that he hadn’t felt incorrectly, and that made him worried and confused about what to do next. Although he was friends with Zhu Fang, confronting him about this would range from being extremely rude to potentially fatal. Finding evidence about the origin of the cultivation method would likely be impossible, at least by himself. It would be a clan secret no matter the origin. William knew his stealth techniques wouldn’t easily stand up to guards who could sense ki. Perhaps he could get by one or two, but if he got caught everything would likely be over. He could send word to the Order, and he knew they would act if he got caught or killed… but that wouldn’t save his life. Even though he had likely less than a dozen years to live, he still wanted to do just that. In fact, the Order would be willing to act on just the word he had now… but the question was whether he should tell them. After all, Zhu Fang was his friend, and the clan seemed reasonable and solid. They wouldn’t be traitors to the human race, would they?