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Thread: Identity - Wuxia fic

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    Member lilchilipepper's Avatar
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    Default Identity - Wuxia fic

    Hello all. I've been struggling with whether or not I should post this and embarrass myself like no other, but in the end, I guess my thirst for comments has won me out. Hehe...anyhow, this started out as a little idea that popped into my head and now I think it's fleshed out enough to become a story. I haven't quite settled on the title yet, but I think Identity will do fine for now.

    This fic is a wuxia fic taking place sometime toward the end of the Song Dynasty. I haven't really settled on time though, actually. As the title suggests, it will involve the all too-confusing true identities of the protagonists and follows them on their journey to find the truth. As is typical of many wuxia storylines, the fighting world is torn apart by greed and nothing is as appears. Hopefully, I can keep it complex enough so that readers can't easily tell the true identities of each character, but not so complex that it completely confuses you (and me, for that matter).

    Anyhow, although I'm an avid wuxia fan, I'm awful at writing fight scenes. Thus, although I'm labling this as a wuxia fic, don't expect awesome fight scenes. You'll be sorely disappointed if you do. Despite that fact, if you're still reading this little essay I'm writing, I'll assume that you're somewhat interested and I can go on to post the characters. Oh, and I don't really have any specific actors/actresses in mind to play these characters. I personally have a soft spot for Alyssa Chia and Alec Su, but hey, that's just me. You can take them as original characters, replace whoever with your favorite actors/actresses, or imagine them to be yourself. Whatever floats your boat.

    Anyway, the list of characters. These are just my initial draft of characters. While I have a good idea of what I will do with each one, I cannot guarantee that what I write as descriptions here is what they're gonna show up as. Also, expect more characters to show up. Whenever I write stories, I tend to introduce quite a few minor characters.

    许灵 (Xu Ling): Primary female protagonist. As her name suggests, she is clever and quick-witted. However, her tendency to mind business that has nothing to do with her causes problems for those around her. Still, she will never turn down a friend in need, no matter how or what she says in response to that person.

    赵承贤 (Zhao Chengxian): Primary male protagonist. To make up for the mistakes his parents made, he wanders the world as 无名大侠 (Nameless Hero). Something of a Robin Hood character, he is a rogue who doesn’t dare to get too close to anyone for fear of them finding out who he is.

    孙婷 (Sun Ting): Also an orphan, Sun Ting is both Xu Ling’s partner in crime as well as her best friend. More gifted in the ways of caution, she's often left with the not so appealing job of taking care of Xu Ling's mess. Still, their relationship is solid and she's committed to her friendships.

    王彩芬 (Wang Caifen): Too kind-hearted for her own good, she can never make her own decisions. Her family basically controls her every move. Only with Xu Ling does she ever seem to have a mind of her own.

    王天雄 (Wang Tianxiong): Caifen's older brother, he has had a life-long crush on Xu Ling, but he refuses to admit it. He’s a good person, but like his sister, he is easily manipulated by his parents.

    郭兴 (Guo Xing): Primary antagonist. Presumed to have died 20 years ago, he works behind the scenes to make Xu Ling’s life a living hell.

    李育联 (Li Yulian): A shady man with a dubious background, Yulian shows up at the most unexpected times doing the most unexpected thing. It is uncertain what his motives are.

    杨忠强 (Yang Zhongqiang): A highly trusted official in the courts of the emperor, Zhongqiang is a clever man with a strong sense of justice. However, his greatest downfall is his relatives who do as they please and ruin his good name.

    张小丽 (Zhang Xiaoli): The owner of the 天赐客栈 (Heaven’s Blessings Inn), she is the widowed woman who raised Xu Ling and Sun Ting. Although stern on appearances, she cares deeply for the girls and sees them as daughters.

    Whew! Finally, done with that. Now I can actually get to the story itself!
    Last edited by lilchilipepper; 08-04-06 at 04:14 PM.

  2. #2
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    Chapter One, Part One

    It was a peaceful night. The skies were devoid of any clouds for the first time in months, and the gentle breeze lacked the harshness of winter winds. The thin sliver of moon gave little light, but the stars made up for its dimness. The lights in the city of had long been extinguished and its inhabitants slept with carefree minds. Save for the occasional stray cat in the streets and the loose leaves fluttering in the breeze, there was no commotion in the streets.

    Suddenly, the clashing of cymbals cracked through the stillness. Children wailed at the rude intrusion of their sweet dreams whilst adults cursed under their breath as they rolled out of bed to tend to the sudden commotion.

    “Thief! Catch the thief!” a chorus of voices cried out. Men and women crowded into the streets only to shake their fists at the servants. Hundreds of voices melded into a sea of complaints.

    “All this commotion for a thief?” “I wonder if it’s even true this time?” “Do you think the Chen family does this on purpose?” “I wouldn’t be surprised.” “Damn rich people who think the world revolves around them.” “I need my sleep.”

    The mumbling among the city-dwellers continued as they returned to their own homes whilst the poor servants yelled for help in vain. The servants themselves—upon noticing that no one paid them any heed—soon gave up trying to convince their neighbors to help catch the thief and, they too turned back to their own rooms in the Chen family manor. After all, nobody liked working for the Chen family, but since many had no choice but to do so, they were determined to do as awful of a job as possible without getting punished by the infamous family.

    As hated as the Chen family was, few dared to oppose them. After all, they enjoyed the privileges of having a daughter in the high position of taizifei (太子妃—first wife of the prince in line for the throne). Furthermore, the master of the house, Chen Wanfu, was the son-in-law of the renowned military strategist and general, Yang Zhongqiang. Yang Zhongqiang was known to be a good official, something that was certainly rare during these times. He was greatly respected and loved by the common people, yet many couldn’t help but wonder if he was as great as stories made him out to be, then how could his son-in-law regard morality in such low light?

    The lights went out one by one and soon the slight wrinkle in the silent night was smoothed. It was almost as if the city itself had simply turned and sighed in its sleep before returning to its passive dreams. Once again, calm solitude blanketed the city.

    ~*~

    In the midst of the tumult, two shadows stealthily stole away from the city walls. Their movements were quick and agile, their footsteps not leaving the faintest trace of disturbance on the ground. Fallen leaves danced around in the gust of air they left in their wake. They stopped a couple of miles away and suddenly burst out laughing simultaneously.

    “Well, that was easy,” said one with a decidedly feminine voice after gaining control of her laughter. She slipped the piece of black cloth she had used for a mask over her head and tossed it on the floor as she began to undress. She was no older than eighteen years of age although her soft hazelnut eyes belied wisdom beyond her years.

    “No kidding. A little too easy, if you ask me. No challenge at all,” replied the other, also removing a cloth mask to reveal a girl of about the same age as the other. She stood a little shorter than her companion and her dark obsidian orbs contrasted greatly with her friend’s lighter eyes. Her long silky hair—when let loose—fell down well past her waist. However, she rarely let her hair down freely. She pulled a small bag from the folds of her clothes and tossed it up and down in her hand before dangling it before her dark eyes, her lips pulling thin into a frown. “All this trouble for this little thing? Wonder what’s in it?” Her dark eyes sparkled with a mischievous glint and her companion immediately rolled her eyes.

    “Please, not this again. We got in enough trouble last time for your little prank. We were supposed to retrieve it fully in tact and unopened, remember?”

    “Yes, yes, mother. Honestly, you’re going to be one of those mothers that pester their children to all degrees of insanity.”

    “Funny. Well, better than you. Good luck getting someone to marry you.”

    The other girl stuck her tongue out in response as the two friends fell into silence. They quickly changed out of their black clothing and into their normal wear. They wrapped up their black clothing into a bundle—carefully ensuring that the little bag was safely tucked away within the folds of their discarded clothing and stashed it within the small, but deep niche at the base of a cherry tree. After ensuring that it was sufficiently hidden so that no one would see it, they turned east toward a small river bordering their home city and followed it to a back entrance to the city.

    The two girls were Xu Ling and Sun Ting, orphans and friends since childhood.

    By day, they were the kind, if not roguish, hired hands at the local inn. By night, they were the notorious thieves known in the fighting world as the Godhand Apparitions (无形神手 ), being named so for their ability to acquire their target with the greatest stealth. At eighteen years old, the girls’ fame surpassed that of many who have fought and wasted their lives for decades untold.

    Of course, it was not as if anybody knew who they were. The only way it was possible to maintain even a remotely normal life was to keep their true identities secret. Thus was another reason for the title bestowed upon them. Nobody save for a very select few knew their true identities. In fact, nobody in the fighting world even knows anything about the Godhand Apparitions other than the fact that they were incredibly skilled in the art of thievery. There have even been arguments over whether there was a single member or if the Godhand Apparitions were made up of several thieves. For all they knew, the famed thieves could be old men nearing their seventies rather than two beautiful young girls.

    “Hello? Xu Ling? Are you there still?”

    Xu Ling looked toward her partner in crime and replied with an intelligent, “Huh?”

    Sun Ting shook her head and sighed. “The last five minutes have been a complete waste of my breath.”

    “Oh, sorry about that,” mumbled Xu Ling as her eyes trailed back toward the Chen family manor.

    Sun Ting scowled. “What are you looking for? I can assure you that none of those servants are coming after us, nor are any of the townspeople.”

    “I know that.”

    “Then what are you—” a look of understanding dawned on Sun Ting’s face. “Ah, I see. You’re looking for our annoyingly good-looking rival,” the tone of accusation unmistakable on her voice.

    “No, I am not looking for him. I’m simply surprised that he’s not here fighting us for this. After all, he’s always fought with us over everything in the past.”

    “Yes, and I believe you completely,” replied her friend, the sarcasm thick on her voice.

    “As you should. Besides,” she began deliberately, “from what I remember, you were the one tripping over your own feet the last time we met up with our dear…ahem…acquaintance.”

    Sun Ting scoffed and shook her head incredulously. “I cannot believe that you just brought that ‘incident’ up again. That was an isolated occurrence that should be wiped from the memory of all living things—from all non-living things too, for that matter.”

    “Mmhm. I believe you completely,” Xu Ling threw Sun Ting’s earlier words back at her and received a light slap on the arm in retribution. “Hey! So that’s what I get for caring about my best friend’s future love life…”

    “Xu Ling, you’re going the right way to getting your *** kicked.”

    “Gasp!” She feigned mock surprise at Sun Ting’s choice of words as she lifted a hand to her mouth. “My goodness, that’s no way for a proper lady to speak.”

    “Yes because you are so educated in how a proper lady ought to speak.”

    “But of course! You don’t think that all those hours scouting out rich families like the Chen’s are spent staring into space, do you?”

    “Hah! I would be amazed if you found a single proper lady in that entire household…unless you count the men…”

    “My dear friend, you know me too well. That’s precisely who I was referring to.”

    The girls shared a good laugh at that and continued their friendly banter until they neared their home at the local inn. As professional thieves, they had no difficulty in making their way in through the back entrance and into the small room that they shared.

    Just as they were ready to slip into bed and catch a few hours of sleep before the owner of the inn, a middle-age widowed woman by the name of Zhang Xiaoli, decided to wake them up at an ungodly hour, a rustling of clothes so slight that it would not have been heard without exceptional hearing had the two girls alert and wary. Still, to keep up appearances, they feigned sleep although they were anything but.

  3. #3
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    Chapter One, Part Two

    Although their eyes were shut, their acute hearing made out the lightest of footsteps approaching their door. There was a pause, almost as if whoever was there was deliberating whether or not he should come in. A gentle breeze swept into their room through the cracks in the door and windows and Xu Ling caught a scent that was, unfortunately, familiar. It smelled of pine and coals and she grimaced as she realized who the stranger was outside their door. With a growl, she rolled out of bed and said, “Oh hell. It’s just him, Ting Jie*.”

    Sun Ting also scowled as she tumbled out of bed and mumbled, “Speak of the devil and the devil appears**.”

    “What do you want, Zhao Chengxian or should I say the oh-so-famous Nameless Hero***?” Xu Ling opened the crack-riddled wooden door only to glare at the man standing on the other side. “Don’t you think it’s a little late for a visit?”

    The man smirked, his deep pools of black ink swirling with amusement. The man was young, around twenty, but he had a tall build that landed him well above many men. His thin black layers did little to conceal the well-formed muscles in his arms and torso, yet he somehow retained a lithe frame. Shocks of light brown interspersed themselves in midst of his darker hair locks and betrayed his mixed heritage. Falling to his shoulder blades, his hair was pulled back in a rather messy half-tail, loose wisps falling over his eyes and down to his defined jaw line. In short, he was certainly a man that would attract the attentions of several women while walking down the street. “Well, it’s obviously not too late for some thievery so I don’t think it’s too late for a visit.” He walked in without an invitation and sat down at the small wooden table located between the two beds that the girls slept in. “Hm…I must say though, the Godhand Apparitions’ hospitality skills are seriously lacking.”

    Xu Ling narrowed her eyes at him as she closed the door. The only reason she let him in was because she didn’t want the rest of the inhabitants of the inn waking up as well. “Again, what do you want?”

    “Ouch. Must you really be so blunt?” He was met with her deadpan expression. When he looked over to Sun Ting, she merely shrugged. Seeing he would receive no help from her, he said, “Alright, I give up. I want that jade stamp**** that you stole from the Chen manor.”

    Huh…so that’s what in the bag. I suppose it was heavy enough. Still, I wonder what’s so important about it. If it’s not of great importance, he wouldn’t come here and risk discovery like this. Well, only one way to pump more information out of him, she thought in her mind. Aloud, she said, “What jade stamp? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    It was faint, but both girls noticed the slight tick in his eyebrows. His earlier carefree attitude seemed to melt away although he tried to maintain his usual approach. Still, his eyes betrayed him. Normally warm, they were always smiling, almost as if he saying that he knew something that others did not. On this night, they were grave and, again, filled with an expression of knowing something that others did not, but this time, it was a burden he himself did not want to know, much less share. “Oh? Then what was it that you girls went to steal tonight?”

    There was no need to find fancy words for what they did. Both sides knew very well that, no matter how famed they were among the fighting world, they were still simply thieves.

    Sun Ting knew what her friend wanted to do so she shrugged and replied, “We don’t know. Why don’t you tell us?”

    This time, his eyes visibly narrowed and he gave up his show of attitude. “Look, it’s been fun, but now it has to end.”

    She knew she was pushing it, but Xu Ling couldn’t help but asking with a contrived innocent voice, “What? What has to end?”

    “Xu Ling, this involves a much greater matter than you realize. Don’t be such a fool.”

    She had been called many things in her life, but never a fool. Even during the day when she was a simple worker in the inn, people knew better than to call her that. She was greatly respected among the citizens of the city and many loved her for her mischievous yet kind attitude. She was known for her sharp wit and even sharper tongue. Nevertheless, she forced a smile on her face as she said, “Well, if I’m such a fool, what are you doing wasting your time here?”

    Tension mounted as the two rivals faced each other down in their typical staring match. Sun Ting merely rolled her eyes. As much as she loved her friend’s competitive nature, she found that Xu Ling often overreacted when dealing with this particular person. Of course, whenever Sun Ting confronted her about it, she simply blamed it on his abominable personality. Sun Ting, however, believed it to be the result of something else. After all, don’t they always say that the deeper the love, the deeper the hate? She smiled sadly as she reflected on the past. So unfortunate. As individuals, they already wreaked all sorts of havoc among the city; imagine if they joined forces. Her smile turned to a shudder as she thought of the possibilities.

    Perhaps I should figure out a way to fix the current situation first…she thought. Throughout her whole mental reflection, the two rivals had not moved from their position. Neither was willing to back down and she could tell that they were going nothing fast. Well…All they need is a common enemy, I suppose…Heavens, I hate being their friend sometimes.

    “Aw, isn’t it cute? I could just see the love spewing from your adoring death glares,” she cooed exaggeratedly. It produced the desired response as both Zhao Chengxian and Xu Ling looked away and turned their glares at Sun Ting instead. “If you’re done with your little staring contest now, can you please tell us why the hell you want whatever it is that we stole so badly?”

    Zhao Chengxian glanced back at Xu Ling, noticed that she was ignoring him, and thus decided to turn his attention to the more civil of the two girls. Clearing his throat, he said, “Look, I really wish I could tell you. It’d make my life that much easier as well, but unfortunately, all I can say is that the jade stamp you stole is very important.”

    “Oh that’s a load of crap. We already knew that, or else you wouldn’t be standing here right now,” grumbled Xu Ling under her breath but purposefully loud enough so that he could hear her.

    Zhao Chengxian glanced at her briefly before doing the wise thing: ignoring her. Sun Ting shook her head at their immaturity and said, “You should know this by now. We don’t choose what we steal. We only follow orders. Besides, by now, our master would have already picked it up. There’s no point in asking us about it.”

    Zhao Chengxian cursed under his breath. She was right, of course. He was not certain what had possessed him to commit such an irrational act as going to the inn to look for the jade stamp. He should have known that they would have dropped it off already. Such a fool he was!

    “Are you finished with interrogating us now? If you are, I would appreciate it if you leave us alone,” stated Xu Ling flatly.

    “Where has civility gone?” he mumbled darkly.

    “Where has civility gone? I’d like to know where chivalry has gone!”

    “Hey, I’ve been perfectly chivalrous toward you. I let you girls steal the stamp first, didn’t I?”

    She looked at him incredulously. “You call chivalry?! That’s more like letting us do the dirty work! You wouldn’t be groveling at our feet for the stamp right now if you’d gone and g—” She wanted to say “if you’d gone and got it yourself,” but Zhao Chengxian’s hand darting across the table to cover her mouth stunned her from her thoughts. Her eyes widened in surprise but she could not say that the touch of his calloused hands draped across her cheeks and mouth did not elicit an emotional she thought she had buried long ago. Her eyes slid from his hand to his face, a gentle pinkish hue illuminating her own features.

    She could not help but feel slightly disappointed—albeit relieved—when she found that his attention was placed elsewhere. “There’s someone outside,” he whispered.

    Notes/Translations:
    *Older sister. Often used as a sign of respect/familiarity
    **Derived from the Chinese saying, "一说曹操,曹操就到."
    ***无名大侠
    ****Stamps were used sort of like a signature. It authorized something as authentic from whoever the stamp belongs to.
    Last edited by lilchilipepper; 08-14-06 at 12:13 PM.

  4. #4
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    Chapter Two

    Sun Ting slid over to the door and placed her left ear against the weather-beaten wood of the door. From her excellent hearing, she deduced that there was only a single person on the other side and that it was a person who knew nothing about fighting. From the weight of the footsteps, the person on the other side was female. Sure enough, when she glanced through a crack in the door, it was none other than the proprietor of the inn and their employer, Zhang Xiaoli. “It’s Zhang Dajie*,” she mouthed.

    Xu Ling managed to nod at her before her gaze, once again, fell upon Zhao Chengxian’s hand. Finally noticing her slightly blushed cheeks and her gaze on his own hand, he retracted it quickly and mumbled a quiet apology. A tingling sensation where he had touched her lips plagued his hand and traveled up his spine, causing him to shiver with some buried emotion.

    “She’s coming closer,” the urgency clear on Sun Ting’s expression.

    “Oh, I’ve missed you so much!” Zhao Chengxian’s sudden declaration startled the girls deeply.

    “What the hell are you doing?” hissed Xu Ling.

    “Just play along. Unless you want Ms. Zhang to figure out your identity that is,” he said quietly. Out loud, he said, “My dearest Ling Er, every moment that I can’t see you is like a thousand years without you. Oh, how I wish that we could go public with our relationship. I hope that you understand, however, that I want to ensure that I can provide for you before I propose.”

    “Don’t you think you’re being a little too dramatic?” ground out Xu Ling between her teeth, trying viciously to ignore the heat rushing to her face. It was a matter of reputation that was at stake here, and she could not stand how her name was going to be stuffed face-first in the dirt. However, she also knew that it was more important to keep her other identity hidden than to maintain the integrity of her reputation. Swallowing her pride, she fawned, “Chengxian Gege**, I understand. I’ll wait for you forever.”

    His raised eyebrow told her that he was thinking, “And you thought that I was being dramatic?” She glared at him, clearly conveying her not-so-pleasant meaning.

    Their little wordless battle was interrupted with Sun Ting’s soft, “She’s gone.”

    Everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief. Xu Ling wiped her mouth as if the words she had spoken were nothing but filth. She likely believed it to be, as well. “Pei! You have utterly disgraced my name. What do you expect me to do now?”

    Zhao Chengxian contemplated this for a brief moment before saying, “Well, I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I plan on going home to sleep. Good day!” With that, he walked through the door and was gone.

    Both girls were stunned. “I cannot believe he just did that. After completely mutilating my good name…Argh! I swear I’ll get my revenge.”

    “I suggest we get some sleep. It’s nearly daybreak already.”

    Growling, Xu Ling took her advice and buried herself as well as she could in the thin blanket they were each given. As she slipped into the land of dreams, her mind swarmed with thoughts of sweet retribution.

    Sun Ting simply shook her head in amusement as she too crawled back in bed. She was tempted to comment that there was no real harm done to Xu Ling’s name since nearly everyone in the city already assumed that there was a relationship of the more intimate sort developing between her and Zhao Chengxian anyway. Still, she opted in favor of sleep as she knew that a comment of that nature would lead to all sorts of yelling and denial. She was always entertained—albeit frustrated—by their—referring to Xu Ling and Zhao Chengxian, of course—interaction. Their relationship was a strange one. Xu Ling was obviously attracted to him and Zhao Chengxian was obviously attracted to her. It was a fact that, other than the two mentioned above, everyone knew. Even they, at one time, were on good terms—in fact, more than good terms.

    But, that was nearly two years ago. Secrets come out, lies are told, and hearts are broken in the course of two years. All that is left of what once used to be a perfect match is this pitiful rivalry. Perhaps this was their means of staying close, but in Sun Ting’s eyes, it was a pointless hatred that should not exist.

    ~*~

    The next morning awoke to disgruntled customers and groggy workers. The disturbance the night before had caused great turmoil amongst the inn’s inhabitants. Although the inn was located near the southern gate of the city—which was the direction where most of the travelers came from since that was the direction of the river—and the Chen family manor was located near the northern part of town, noise had still managed to reach the inn. Most of the inn’s residents were not from the area and were unaware of the Chen family’s tendency to create a large commotion out of a little matter. The unrest was eventually settled, but not without the cost of precious sleep.

    The result? An inn full of baggy-eyed walking dead. However, there was one person who seemed untouched by the utter lack of rest. This person’s mind was too occupied with thoughts of revenge that she seemed to forget fatigue. Her best friend, on the other hand, was suffering severely from the side effects of listening to the rather absurd ramblings of a disturbed mind all night. Who was this person who was causing her best friend such mental grief? It was none other than Xu Ling.

    “Ling Er, please! Stop your insane tirade! You’re scaring the customers,” exclaimed Sun Ting. Perhaps she should have been accustomed to Xu Ling’s strange behavior by now. After all, it was not the first time something of this sort happened. It was, unfortunately, actually a rather common occurrence.

    In Sun Ting’s eyes, it was Xu Ling’s greatest flaw, not that she had many flaws to begin with. It happened with such consistency that Sun Ting could not help but wonder whether it should be classified as a disease. She tried to imagine how the doctor would prescribe this type of “illness.”

    The symptoms: mindless rambling under one’s breath; ability to conjure imaginative torture techniques; complete disregard for hunger, thirst, weariness; etc.

    The cause: having a verbal spar with Zhao Chengxian over one of their “jobs.”

    The treatment: as of yet, none.

    “Forget it, Ting Er. She’s always in her own little world when this happens.”

    Sun Ting turned around to find herself facing Zhang Xiaoli. The proprietor of the inn was in her early thirties, the graying hair at her temples was the only suggestion that she was any older than twenty-two or twenty-three. However, the crinkles at the corners of her eyes betrayed the suffering she had endured, and her hands were calloused from manual labor. It had been a difficult climb to self-subsistence. For a woman—a widow no less—she commanded great respect among the citizens of Chongqing. Nearly everyone referred to her as Zhang Dajie, never mind if they were older or younger than the innkeeper. After her husband died from a terminal disease twelve years ago—only two years after she had married into the Lin family—she had single-handedly established the Heaven’s Blessings Inn as one of the city’s most well-known as well as most popular inns.

    Both Sun Ting and Xu Ling basically owed their lives to the Zhang Xiaoli. She was the one who took them in—Xu Ling three months after Sun Ting—and gave them a place to sleep and food to eat free of charge. All she requested in return was for their help in maintaining and caring for the inn. At that time, the inn was still newly opened and Zhang Xiaoli barely had enough food for herself, much less enough to care for two young children. The difficult years met with different shades of character. Xu Ling developed a rather dark sense of humor to barricade herself from the severity of the world. Sun Ting, the elder of the two girls, became the sensible counterpart to Xu Ling. Zhang Xiaoli lost the cheerful radiance of her younger days, and a stern shell with rare displays of emotion was left behind. Still, the trio managed to survive the harshest years through pure perseverance, and their commitment to each other was unrivaled even among blood relatives. To the younger girls, Zhang Xiaoli was both an older sister as well as a mother to them. To Zhang Xiaoli, they were the family that she had lost, but desired so strongly to possess.

    “Zhang Dajie,” addressed Sun Ting. Zhang Xiaoli nodded in response. “Isn’t there anything you could do to snap her out of it?”

    “Ting Er, you should know by now. Ling Er is as stubborn as a mule. Once her mind is set on something—say revenge, for instance—she will not be so easily deterred.”

    “I know. I do wish that she would just let it go sometimes.”

    Zhang Xiaoli shrugged slightly. “This is a demon that she herself must learn to defeat. But still…I suppose I could talk to her sometime.”

    The elder woman's eyes sparkled mischievously as she went about her work. Sun Ting was tempted to rub her eyes to ensure that she was not mistaken, but it was almost as if the innkeeper had briefly lost the detachment that she had reaped over the years. But, the twinkle was smothered quickly; so quickly, in fact, that Sun Ting was left unsure if she had imagined it.

    ~*~

    The night shift was among one of the most despised duties—second only to cleaning the privies—among the inn’s hired hands. As one of the city’s busiest inns, the Heaven’s Blessings Inn could not do what others did and close admittance for the night. It was one of the Inn’s prided claims that there would be service for its customers all twelve shichen*** a day. Thus, while night visitors were not frequent, Zhang Xiaoli demanded that there be a worker on duty throughout the night. Still, it was a tedious job that nobody had any desire to partake.

    Tonight, Xu Ling had night shift, although it was not actually her turn. A rotation order was created six years ago so that all of the workers, including the innkeeper herself, would take nightshift in sequence. If someone took a sick day and missed their rotation, they would later have to take double shifts to make up for that night. However, Xu Ling often found herself taking night shifts for others and not reporting the change in shifts to Zhang Xiaoli. She knew very well that the others were simply taking advantage of her soft heart, but she did not mind. It gave her an opportunity to reflect in peace.

    She had many questions about the organization that she worked for, but she never dared to ask. A person of her position learned quickly not to meddle with affairs that could get one killed. It was as they say: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” It was simply not her place to question her superiors.

    Yet, as many queries she had about her work, she had even more about her past.

    She reached into the v-shaped neck of the rough fabric that passed for her clothes and produced a small piece of jade attached to a black leather strap, which hung tight around her neck. There was nothing special about the jade. It was not expensive, nor was its carving exquisite. It was indistinguishable from the cheap jades that many peddlers had in their stock; yet, it was the most valuable item that Xu Ling possessed. It may seem strange that Xu Ling would put so much value onto such a worthless piece of stone. She was, after all, a professional thief who had successfully stolen items of such monetary significance that a single article would suffice for her to live out the rest of her life in comfort.

    Nonetheless, this particular jade meant more to her than her very life.

    Zhang Xiaoli had taken her in when she was eight years old. For the last ten years of her life, the only family Xu Ling knew was the people who worked at the inn. Try as she might, she could not recall anything about the life she had before living in the inn. She knew that she was an orphan, but other than that obvious fact, she could remember nothing. This piece of jade was the only clue she possessed about her past. She had been clutching it tightly to her chest while being beat by a group of low-lives who wanted to steal it when Zhang Xiaoli saved her. She did not understand why it was so important to herself that she would rather receive a brutal beating than to relinquish it, but she had kept it close to her ever since.

    “Did you get conned into taking night shift again?”

    Xu Ling looked up at Zhang Xiaoli in surprise. “Zhang Dajie! What are you doing still up? It’s well past midnight already.”

    Zhang Xiaoli shrugged nonchalantly. “I couldn’t fall asleep. There must be something wrong with me recently, though.”

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Just a case of insomnia. Take last night, for instance. After that disruption with the Chen family was settled, I simply could not fall asleep so I thought I would go and take a walk in the courtyard. I was walking by the room you share with Ting Er when I thought I heard a man’s voice. Would you care to explain what happened last night?”

    I’m going to kill him! thought Xu Ling viciously as she tried to conjure a credible explanation. “I-uh…ah…”

    Zhang Xiaoli smiled gently as she shook her head. “It may often seem like I don’t know what’s going on, but I must say that my mind is rather clear and sharp. Your and that boy’s acting last night was, quite frankly, pathetically melodramatic. I don’t know why you would risk your reputation and honor like that, but I know enough that you were hiding something. A woman’s good name is everything, yet you were willing to give that up.”

    The questioning lilt in her voice was unmistakable and Xu Ling could not help but be surprised by the innkeeper’s discernment. She had always taken the older woman as a rather simple person; obviously, she was sorely mistaken. Zhang Xiaoli caught hold of her gaze and Xu Ling suddenly felt as if the older woman was staring into her soul and reading all her thoughts. She tried to look away, but something held her paralyzed in her position. Just when she thought that all her secrets must be revealed, Zhang Xiaoli suddenly smiled and said, “I understand if you don’t want to tell me. Be careful though. You’re too easy to read to be suited for your job.”

    Xu Ling was left gaping after her as the innkeeper went back toward her room. Somehow, she had a premonition that the “job” Zhang Xiaoli was referring to was not Xu Ling’s occupation as a hired hand.


    Notes/Translations:
    *Dajie (大姐 ) : Means 'big sister' but can be used a a familiarity with older females
    **Gege (哥哥 ) : Means 'older brother' but can be used as a familiarity with older male friends.
    ***Shichen (时辰 ) : 1 shichen = 2 hours
    如果要让我活 让我有希望的活
    我从不怕爱错 就怕没爱过
    ~“孙悟空” - 五月天

    难道说难道说 这性格是我的错
    你不会欣赏我是你的自由
    怎么说怎么说都认为你不值得
    你走了才发现这个世界没改变
    ~“平底鞋女生” - 迷子

  5. #5
    Member ylee_coyote's Avatar
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    Excellent writing! Your descriptions are detailed and the way your characters interact are 100% believable. (I particularly enjoyed the "marriage proposal"...it made me laugh out loud )

    Keep it up. I'm curious in seeing what the importance of the stamp is.

    P.S. will Zhang Xiaoli play a bigger role in the story? The fact that she's fooled people into thinking that she's a simple person leads me to believe she may have a secret/darker past.....

    Of course, I'm just speculating
    I'm not a robot like you. I don't like having disks crammed into me... unless they're Oreos, and then only in the mouth - Fry

  6. #6
    Senior Member dragonite3579's Avatar
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    this is good....it's ur first time writing? anyways....update soon...its a good fic....and its not nonsense and is realistic
    lollipops&raindrops (:

    'love me for me' ;D
    'you make me smile'
    'i love you, you idiot' o.0
    FEEL THE LOVE <3

  7. #7
    Member lilchilipepper's Avatar
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    Thankya, thankya, thankya. Glad to hear that I'm entertaining people. I always like hearing words of encouragement.

    As for Zhang Xiaoli, all I will say is that she has a lot to do with Xu Ling's past. She may be one of those characters that affects the story in a big way, but does not show up very often in person. I'm not sure yet. In fact, writing this story has been completely on whim. Unlike other stories I've attempted, this one has no set outline that I want to follow. I guess, in a way, I don't know any more about these characters than the readers do.

    Anyway, I'm working on the next part now. Should be able to pop it out within the next couple of days...I love summer vacation...
    如果要让我活 让我有希望的活
    我从不怕爱错 就怕没爱过
    ~“孙悟空” - 五月天

    难道说难道说 这性格是我的错
    你不会欣赏我是你的自由
    怎么说怎么说都认为你不值得
    你走了才发现这个世界没改变
    ~“平底鞋女生” - 迷子

  8. #8
    Member lilchilipepper's Avatar
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    A bit of change of style to break the monotony.

    Warning: A bit of gore in this part for those faint of heart.

    Chapter 3: Part One

    Somewhere several li* away, a lone rider forced his horse on through the night. The rider was donned all in black, a tattered leather cape fluttering behind him in the breeze. The rider’s horse had obviously been running for a long time; its breath was ragged and white foam frothed at its mouth. Its eyes rolled back and forth in its sockets and long veins of crimson engulfed the white of its eyes. Yet the horse rode on, unaware that if it continued to run like it has, it would soon run itself to death. It knew no fatigue; it only knew to run as long as its master desired it to run.

    The sound of hoofs pounding against dirt-packed paths and harsh breathing echoed through the deserted countryside. It was a steady rhythm that urged everything around it to give in to its will; its music fueled only the pumping of adrenaline. Faster, faster, faster! it demanded. The horse and rider conceded to its call.

    A loud ‘neigh’ suddenly cracked through the uniform progression. The rider placed a hand against the horse’s back and pushed off with surprising strength. The rider slipped out of the saddle, his arms outstretched to either side of him and his feet pointed together. Altogether, it was an extremely graceful movement that belied the catastrophe created when the horse collided painfully with the ground, its struggling body skidding several zhang** before coming to a stop. When the clouds of dust that were kicked up by the collision settled, the horse had burrowed a long but shallow crater where it had landed and the rider had landed elegantly on the same exact spot where he had pushed himself out of the saddle.

    The rider did not even cast a glance at the dead horse that had run itself to death before resuming his journey, almost as if he had been on foot all along. The rider’s footsteps were soundless and light, barely leaving a mark on the floor which said much about his lightness skills. He moved quickly, though his manner and attitude made it seem as if he was simply taking a stroll. Soon, silence reigned supreme once again.

    ~*~

    At the same time somewhere not so far away, a middle-aged man knocked firmly on the cracked wooden door of a small little cottage. The inhabitants of the cottage, an elderly couple who farmed vegetables and sold them for a living, came scuttling to the door. The husband stood slightly in front of his wife and stared scrupulously as the traveler. The man had not shaved for many days and, from the look of the tattered state of his clothes, had obviously been traveling. His eyes were blood-shot, his hair tangled and messy, and he kept his left hand pressed tightly against his ribs.

    “I apologize, Laobo*** for intruding on your home at this hour of the night, but this area is so deserted that I could not find an inn to spend the night. If you will allow me to stay the night, I can pay you however much money you want.” The traveler pulled out a little bag and pulled out a nugget of silver about the size of his thumb.

    The old man replied, “There’s no need to pay us. We do not have a spare room, but if you are willing to sleep in the shed, I can get you some blankets.”

    “Yes, that will do nicely. Thank you very much.”

    The old man waved a hand indicating that there was no need to thank him and took the candle from his wife’s hold. “Follow me.”

    The traveler followed the old man behind the cottage to where there was a small shed. There was barely enough room for the traveler to sit, much less lie down in the cluttered area. Still, the traveler revealed no indication that he was dissatisfied with his accommodations, and the old man returned wordlessly to the cottage to gather some blankets.

    The traveler settled himself as comfortably as he possibly could, which was not an easy task given the limited space. After much shuffling, he finally resolved to sit with his back against the door, his knees bent toward his chest, and his feet pressed firmly against a stack of firewood. He had almost fallen asleep in that position when he realized that the old man had not yet returned with the blankets he had been promised. Initially, the traveler supposed that the old man had simply forgotten. Yet, as he dwelled further upon it, that explanation did not make much sense. It was not a long walk from the shed to the cottage. No matter how bad a memory the old man had, was it possible that he would forget in such a short period of time? Could it be that someone found traces of his movement?

    The traveler immediately went on the alert as he stood up as quietly as possible. He slowly pushed open the door, but could not stop the soft curse from escaping his lips when the hinges creaked in protest. He glanced around the surrounding area and, upon finding no disturbance, stealthily made his way to the front of the cottage. Nothing seemed out of place and he could not help but wonder if his paranoia was getting the better of him.

    Taking a deep sigh, he knocked raptly on the door. “Laobo, are you there?” No answer. “Laobo?” The traveler furrowed his brows when he received nothing but silence in response. He placed a hand against the door and was about to push it open when he pulled his hand back. It was not as if he really needed a blanket nor was there any point in waking the old couple again.

    He turned back toward the shed when a voice tied his feet to the ground. “You may come in if you desire to.” The voice was muffled, as if the speaker had spoken with a cloth covering his mouth. It was obvious, however, that the voice belonged to neither of the old couple.

    The traveler swallowed thickly, fear threatening to overwhelm his senses. He was so close to escape. So close, yet so far. He tried to take a step back, but a projectile broke through the window at an alarming speed and struck his left knee. He grunted in pain as he fell to his knees. There was no escape.

    The doors flew open and the traveler found himself staring into the dark maw the unknown. Then, the silhouette of a leg stepped into the dim moonlight followed by the whole body. It was none other than the rider. The rider was of average height, but lean which made him look taller than he really was. His face was covered with a black cloth and only his sharp eyes could be seen beneath the mask.

    “You have been traveling for a long time, my friend. Don’t you think it’s time you take a rest?” spoke the rider.

    The traveler trembled visibly, but he tried to steady his voice. “It’s you! You’re still alive?”

    Beneath the mask, the rider smirked darkly but did not answer his question. “Life is ironic sometimes. You work so hard and give up so much time and energy to finish your task, but in the end—just when you are so close to reaching that beautiful end—you’re intercepted by a friend you once betrayed and thought dead.”

    “What do you want?”

    “What do I want? What a strange question to ask a friend you haven’t seen in so many years! I simply want back that which was mine. I suppose I’ll start with that item you’re carrying along with you.”

    The traveler did not even have the chance to respond when another projectile pierced through his throat and emerged through the back of his neck. Crimson liquid poured both ways from his neck and down the front and back of his body. His hands clawed wildly at his throat, his eyes bulging with pain, but only gurgling sounds broke through his lips. He fell forward onto his face as his body convulsed several times before it reduced to intermittent twitching. Blood pooled beneath his body and crept outwards slowly, the floor soaking its fertilizing feed greedily. Then finally, he was still.

    The rider walked leisurely up to the dead body. He slid his left foot under the body’s abdomen and flipped the corpse over. Crouching, he examined the traveler’s face. The eyes were now glazed over although still staring into space with a combination of shock and agony. The mouth was opened wide, the tongue lolled to the side. The face was contorted in unspeakable torture, begging for release.

    In response, the rider merely scoffed and turned away. He reached into the traveler’s clothes and, precisely where the traveler had been clutching himself in the ribs, found what he was looking for. His lips twitched upwards in a crooked smirk as he stood and dusted his sleeves. Without another glance, he moved on to his next destination. All he left behind were three dead bodies and the only sign he had ever been there: a bloody, one-inch diameter rock that had landed about a zhang from the traveler’s corpse.

    Notes/Translations:
    *li (里 ) : 1 li = 0.5 kilometers
    **zhang ( 丈 ) : 1 zhang = 3.5 meters
    ***laobo ( 老伯 ) : old uncle, old man
    如果要让我活 让我有希望的活
    我从不怕爱错 就怕没爱过
    ~“孙悟空” - 五月天

    难道说难道说 这性格是我的错
    你不会欣赏我是你的自由
    怎么说怎么说都认为你不值得
    你走了才发现这个世界没改变
    ~“平底鞋女生” - 迷子

  9. #9
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    Personally the plot doesn't interest me much, probably because I'm a sucker for glamour and action. however i love your descriptions, and your writing is pretty awesome except for a couple of typos. i hope you start another one haha or continue this one. jia you!

  10. #10
    Senior Member charbydis's Avatar
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    Nice! :thumbsup

    Chapter 3 has got my attention! Looking forward to Chapter4!
    "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
    Cyril Connolly

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