Hao Ren and Nolan stood face to face in the ring, and a crowd of mercenaries surrounded them.
Hao Ren did not know how things developed to this point, and to be entirely honest, he did not like being the center of attention in a crowd. He had enough of that, and all he wanted was to investigate things peacefully. But what the MDT said was right, this Nolan girl had many suspicious traits to her, and even if she did not look like someone touched by the guardians, she was well-equipped with abilities beyond her years as well as stature.
Melee combat was the best way to test things out. If Nolan was ever touched by supernatural powers before, Hao Ren was confident he could tell it right away. He was by now a "regular" with his meetings with the guardians.
Yes, he wanted to test her. To see if she would display any sort of superhuman strength under duress.
Nolan held one of her hand out in an inviting motion. "You're the guest. You start first."
Hao Ren frowned as he pondered how to not let Nolan discover his unusual strength and abilities while forcing the young lass to unleash her hidden powers. He came to the conclusion that he needed to turn off his Steel Membrane Shield first. He would be hard-pressed to explain things if sparks started to fly when combat was in full motion.
After turning off his shield, Hao Ren stepped forward swiftly and carefully as he led out a straight jab. He had never received any proper melee training, but his bio-enhancement had improved his ability to control every ounce of his strength like a proper grandmaster. He too had a reaction and speed that is beyond normal humans, and the experience gained from the past year under various dangerous situation; Hao Ren was not your run off the mill newbie, he was pretty certain he could take on Nolan with his superhuman body.
But the very next motion, Hao Ren found out to his dismay that Nolan had dodged his attack with an almost impossibly precise angle, and at the same time, he felt a sudden pain under his arm: Nolan had used the very moment when Hao Ren's jab blocked his line of sight to launch a sneak attack and hit him under the arm with a knife-edge finger stab.
As the pain bit into his arm, Hao Ren immediately recoiled backward. The pain dissipated almost instantly. While Hao Ren had turned off all his defensive techniques, his enhanced body was not something Nolan could harm with mere fist and kicks. Hao Ren reckoned that even at full strength she would only inflict some momentary pain on him. Yet, Hao Ren was surprised. With just a few swift exchanges, he discovered something really scary: Nolan's melee combat ability was terrifying, almost to the point of precognition. His every movement seemed to have been read many times in Nolan's mind, and just as he had raised his hand, she was already preparing a counter-move!
Was this pure technique? Or was it some sort of precognitive ability? Or was it simply experience?
Nolan too looked at Hao Ren rather suspiciously. She did not detect her opponent's unusual physical attributes, yet from her experience, she knew he was a relative newbie in terms of melee combat. Despite his very fast reaction and reflexes, and that he could probably intimidate most by presence alone, this did not work with Nolan. She knew from a glance Hao Ren's weakness underneath the shroud of his other abilities.
Was he a real Natural?
The soldiers, of course, could not tell what was going on. They were simply yelling at the top of their lungs to cheer for their leader. Some even stared jeering after seeing the rather mundane fight. Yet Nolan and Hao Ren quickly refocused. Hao Ren knew now that Nolan was not as easy a target he originally envisaged and Nolan was beginning to be suspicious of Hao Ren's 'Natural' status.
No Naturals that had not undergone some form of body reconfiguration had that sort of reaction ability and physical strength.
The two got into position again and started to exchange blows. This time around, both of them did not hold back and the ring immediately rang with a crescendo of clashes. Most of the sound was not due to direct contact, rather it was the burst of air when a strike failed to land. Both of them realized that their foe was not your usual fighter, and was trying their best to avoid a head-on clash. While their exchange was swift and colorful, there was very little physical contact. The rowdy crowd too had gone quiet: The fight was quite beyond them now.
One with a superhuman physique and another a monstrous veteran; a real fight between this two was not something your usual grunts would be able to comprehend.
They only saw Hao Ren and Nolan darted around the ring, neither with a specific style or moveset. But every attack or defense was swift and crisp. There were no telegraphed attacks, only a simple strike after some misdirection. This was a technical fight without many crowd-wowing moves, but it was the most practical thing to do in a fight. Some of the mercenaries could not appreciate that, while a few more senior ones started mumbling amongst themselves.
"Seems like Big Boss was not even serious with us?"
"I think she is serious in handing my ass to me..."
"Nonsense, you're only serious when you are getting your ass handed to you."
Ulyanov silently looked on as the bout continued. His masked obscured his expression. "Is this guy really a Natural?"
Sweat covered Hao Ren's covered, but he was much more nervous than he let on. He knew now the gulf in experience and technique between him and the young lass. While he knew not how she managed it, Hao Ren had to go all out while trying not to activate his supernatural abilities under Nolan's relentless onslaught. He was wholly reliant on his supernatural strengths to even keep pace with her, and his raw strength and speed was his only weapon against the difference in skill level.
He could not read her moves and he relied on sheer instinctual reaction to keep up with Nolan. That was the situation Hao Ren was in.
Nolan too was sweating, but her face expressionless as ever. Any surprise she had was well hidden away under her icy stares. Her ponytail had come undone during the fight ad her drenched hair was sticking on her face. She, however, did not have the luxury to tuck it back. It was not the first time she had made contact with her opponent, and her strikes were targeted at the joints and nerves, places that could immediately incapacitate someone. But neither of the attacks worked against Hao Ren. Nolan had no idea why, but she could only fight on to find out.
A few feints later, Nolan tried for another attack. This time she was determined to bring Hao Ren down and she suddenly lashed out with a powerful back kick. Hao Ren was not prepared for the move, and subconsciously the word "defense" sprang in his mind.
Just as it did, a faint glow appeared all over his body.
"Shit!" Just as Hao Ren cursed, Nolan's kick was already upon him. He quickly tried to disengage his barrier, but it was too late.
A solid thud later, Hao Ren was sent backward while Nolan was teetering as she lost her balance. Only at the very last moment, she managed to stabilize herself, her leg hanging awkwardly.
None of the soldiers knew what happened, the exchange happened so fast that no one saw what happened.
Hao Ren immediately went forward to give Nolan a hand. He saw that she was wavering and feared that she would fall. Just before Hao Ren could offer his hand, Nolan had placed hers on his shoulder. To the others, it seems like a normal greeting after a bout, and she used this opportunity to maintain her balance.
"It's a draw," Nolan said, impassionately to the rest as she waved her hand. "I'm done for today. Dismissed."
A commotion rang through the crowd but the Big Boss words still carried weight, and the beaten grunts left after some grumbling. Only one person remained in the ring, it was not Ulyanov, but a brown-skinned, middle-aged lady. A doctor.
"Bring me over there," Nolan whispered to Hao Ren as she pointed to a pile of discarded metal not too far away.
The two came to the resting place and the 'doctor' followed without a sound. Nolan still kept her undiscernable expression and even as she struggled to walk she kept the dignified air about her. But as she sat down, she finally let out a hiss of pain. The 'doctor' did not say anything as she pulled out a syringe and injected a vial of restorative nanomachines on the base of Nolan's foot. It was clearly swollen by now.
"A light fracture. It'll take about 15 minutes to heal," the doctor said after injecting Nolan before leaving without asking anything further.
"What was that?"
Nolan's voice rang next to him. 5 Best Chinese Romance Books of 2018 So Far