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Thread: Legend of the Sword Demon

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    Default Legend of the Sword Demon

    Hi all, this is my first attempt at creative writing and would appreciate any feedback. Please be open and honest in your responses so I can try and make the story better.

    Ok, so here it is:

    Prologue


    Vladimir Osir, division leader for the 72 Demon's Sect reigned in his mount at the crest of the hill and swung in his saddle to look back down the forest trail. The fifteen men under his command rode from the trees in single file and paused while he scanned the horizon. Removing his head-wrapping, Vladimir ran his hands through his long blond hair briefly enjoying the cool breeze as it evaporated the sweat on his scalp. He glanced at the captive girl on the pony beside him. Her hands were tied, but her dark eyes blazed in silent defiance. He smiled at her and enjoyed seeing her face blanch. She knew that he was going to kill her and that her death would be slow and painful. He felt heat coursing through his loins at the thought. The feeling passed quickly as his blue eyes narrowed and scanned the forest for signs of pursuit.
    Satisfied that no pursuit was forthcoming, Vlad tried to relax. He was still furious, of course, but calmed himself with the thought that his men were uneducated, uncivilized brutes.

    The raid on the settlement had been successful. It didn't make up for the colossal catastrophe they'd suffered two days earlier. They'd been sent to raid a caravan headed to Karakorum that was supposedly lightly guarded. They were to hit the caravan outside Almaliq. That information had been very wrong. Sixty four men had been sent to carry out the raid, but they had been surprised by a detachment of Mongolian cavalry that was escorting the caravan. Vlad didn't think of himself as a coward for taking his fifteen men and running. It was only pragmatic to retreat in the face of certain death. To pacify his men, they'd raided the farming settlement. Strangely there had only been six men in the settlement at the time and they were quickly killed with no losses among his men. The rest were presumably out in the orchards and fields. Most of the women and children had escaped into the forest, but three young women had been taken – enough, at least, to satisfy the carnal urges of his men. Vlad himself had captured the fourth, the dark-haired girl on the pony beside him. She had tried to run, but he had ridden her down, leaping from his horse and bearing her to the ground. She had fought silently and without panic, but a blow to her chin had rendered her unconscious. He had then flung her over his saddle. Her cheek was bloody and a purple bruise was showing on the side of her neck. Her faded blue dress was torn at the shoulder and flapped in the breeze almost exposing a breast. Vlad tore his thoughts from her silky skin, turning his mind to more pressing matters.

    Yes, the raid on the settlement had gone well until that idiot, Gao Zhang, had incited the others to burn down a few of the homes and the big communal barn. To a man of breeding such as Vlad, wanton destruction of property was criminally wasteful. Not just that, but the smoke would be a beacon for the Mongol cavalry. He didn't mind killing the peasant population, but good buildings were hard to replace. The homes and barn were well made. Whoever had built them had taken the time and put in a great deal of work. Vlad had been furious not only with his men, but with himself. In his rage, he'd allowed his needs to overcome his common sense. Instead of merely killing the captive women, he had taken his time, enjoying the screams of the first and indulging in the desperate pleading of the second and subsequent cries of agony from the third. With the three of them dead, he turned his attention to the now conscious dark-haired girl. She had not made a sound since regaining consciousness finding her hands and feet bound. She would be a rich harvest; her cries, when they came would be pure and sweet.
    The smoke had billowed over him while he unwrapped his ivory-handled skinning knives. Turning, he spotted the fires. Leaving the bound dark-haired girl where she was laying, he rushed back to the scene. Gao Zhang was grinning as Vlad came alongside him. He was still grinning when Vlad's dagger skewered his heart.

    This sudden act of savagery had seriously intimidated the other men. “Didn't I tell you?” he thundered at them. “Never property unless directly ordered! Now, gather supplies and let's go.”
    As Vlad returned to the young girl he thought of killing her, but there would be no pleasure in it now; no slow, pulse-pounding ecstasy as he watched the light of life fade from her eyes. As he gazed down at the small skinning knives nestled in their silk-lined canvas pouch, he felt the weight of disappointment dragging at him. Hauling the girl to her feet, he cut the bindings at her ankles and lifted her onto the now dead Gao Zhang's horse. She was still silent.
    A deep sense of shame filled Vladimir as he rode away. The buildings that had been burned had been built with great patience. The timbers had been lovingly, painstakingly fashioned and the joints fitted to perfection. Even the window frames had been beautifully carved and embellished. His father would have been disgusted at the wanton destruction.
    Vlad's second-in-command, the hulking Tangut, Orkesh, rode alongside him. “Sorry I wasn't in time to stop them, Boss,” he said in a soft voice.
    With a shake of his head Vlad accepted the apology. “This is what happens when one has to deal with uncivilized brutes. Let's just hope that the Elders and the Chief will understand our reason for returning to Dunhuang empty handed.”

    Vlad's thoughts traveled back twenty years. He had been a very young junior officer in the army that was supposed to protect Mohi from the Mongol invasion. He had deserted right before the main attack and fled south. The group of deserters were mercilessly pursued and systematically slaughtered. Only luck and a change of direction had saved his life. He had decided to travel east instead. This afforded him a small measure of safety as he traveled for three years finally reaching Dunhuang and there he joined the 72 Demon's Sect.
    He'd been with the sect for fifteen years and at thirty-five years old was one of the youngest division leaders. He'd been recently been placed in charge of recruitment for the Sect. The failed raid on the caravan would not do anything to enhance the Sect's reputation. They were a band of bandits, most of whom were deserters from the Song, Jin and Khitan armies who didn't want to join with the Mongols. There were also quite a few mercenaries from the vanquished lands to the west.
    He rarely received news from home and had been stunned when he'd heard that quite a few kings and generals had been assassinated ahead of the Mongol invasion. The fact that they'd apparently been killed by a single woman made the news somewhat unreliable.
    Vladimir wrenched his thoughts back to the present and gazed back at the now thirteen recruits that had been sent with him on this failed mission. They were still frightened and anxious to please, hoping that when they made camp for the night he'd let them have the girl. He would dash their hopes. He was planning to rape her then skin her and leave her body for them to bury. He glanced over at her again and smiled. This time she just looked at him with disdainful eyes.
    Just before dusk he called for a halt. He selected a clearing for their campsite and the men got busy setting it up. They had two fires going and they were making a stew with goat meat and vegetables that they'd taken from the settlement. While the other men unsaddled their horses, Vlad took the girl into the forest. She offered no resistance as he pushed her to the ground and did not make a sound as he took her. As he reached his climax, he opened his eyes and found her staring blankly at him. This took away all the pleasure from the rape and also spoiled his erection. Enraged he put his dagger to her throat.
    “The Grey One will kill you,” she said slowly without a hint of fear in her voice. Her words carried a certainty that caused him to pause.
    “The Grey One? A protector of peasants?” he scoffed his reply.
    “She is coming,” said the girl with certainty.
    He felt a prickling of fear stir the hair at the nape of his neck. “I suppose that she is a demon or some such.”
    The girl didn't reply and movement from the bushes startled him. Vlad surged to his feet, heart pounding, but felt relief flood through him at the sight of Orkesh.
    “The men were wondering if you were finished with the girl,” he asked in his soft voice.
    Pulling his trousers back up, Vlad glared at Orkesh. “No, I haven’t. Maybe tomorrow,” he replied curtly.
    The hulking man shrugged and made his way back to the campsite.
    “One more day to live,” Vlad said to the girl. “Aren’t you going to thank me?”
    “I’m going to watch you die,” hissed the girl in reply.
    Vlad smiled and then punched her in the face, hurling her petite frame back to the ground. “Stupid peasant cow!” he growled.

    Her words haunted him and the following morning’s ride found him constantly scanning their surroundings and he’d developed an ache in his neck. Vlad was about to heel his horse forward when he had a final look around. For only a heartbeat he saw a shadow moving in the trees a li or so back down the trail. He blinked and all was still once again. Had the shadow been a horseman or just a foraging deer? He just couldn’t be sure. Cursing softly he summoned three riders. “Go back down the trail and make sure we’re not being followed. If we are, kill whoever it is.”
    The men hurried to follow his order turning their horses and heading back down the trail to the forest. Glancing at the girl, he noticed that she was smiling.

    “What’s wrong, Boss?” asked Orkesh as he nudged his horse closer.
    “I thought I saw rider in the trees. Let’s keep moving for now.”
    They traveled quickly through the afternoon alternating between a fast trot and then walking the horses. They finally made camp in a sheltered hollow close to a clear, fast moving stream. There had been no sign of the riders since Vlad had sent them out and he was starting to get anxious. Looking up, he summoned Orkesh with a nod of his head. The big man eased himself down and walked over. Vlad told him about the girl’s warning.
    “Grey One?” he asked perplexed. “Never heard of anyone called that. I have heard tales of grey robed people who collect the dead for burial, but that happens in the west. If someone is following, the boys will get them. They’re tough ones.”
    “I hope you’re right about them,” said Vlad softly.
    “They’re probably just venting some of their anger on the unfortunate person that was following. Word is that Tang Qi is skilled at torture. The men say that he can keep a man alive for hours after opening his ribs. Now, what about the girl, Boss? The men could use a little diversion.”
    “Go ahead and take her,” said Vlad.
    Orkesh pulled her up by her hair and hauled her over to the waiting men. The ten remaining men cheered as the first man rose and grabbed her as she almost fell. “Let’s see some skin,” he yelled, tearing at her dress.
    The girl suddenly spun on her heel, slamming her elbow into the man’s face, crushing his nose. Blood spurted over his face and beard and he staggered backwards. Orkesh came up behind the girl dragging her into a tight embrace. She snapped her head back, striking his cheekbone.
    He grabbed her hair and savagely twisted her head as the first man drew his dagger and advanced towards them. “You crazy wench,” he snarled, “I’m going to cut you so bad. Not enough to kill you, just enough to make you scream like a gutted little pig.” The young, petite girl stared at the oncoming man with undisguised malevolence. She didn’t beg for her life or cry out.

    Suddenly there was a crunching thud. The knifeman stopped abruptly, his expression bemused. As he slowly reached up with his left hand, he fell to his knees. His searching fingers touched the shiny dart that was jutting from the base of his skull. He tried to speak, but no words came from his mouth as he pitched forward onto his face.
    For a few heartbeats everyone was frozen in place. Orkesh flung the girl to the ground as he drew his saber. Two other men, closer to the trees screamed in pain and shock as darts exploded into their chests. They fell backwards, dead.
    Vlad, weapon in hand, raced back to the campsite and then wildly charged into the forest, the rest of the men fanning out around him. Everything was quiet with no sign of the enemy. “We have to get to open ground,” shouted Vlad. The men ran for their horses, swiftly saddling them. Vlad grabbed the girl, forced her to mount, then hurriedly clambered up behind her and rode from the hollow.
    As the men raced through the forest, clouds drifted across the moon forcing the men to slow their flight. Seeing a break in the trees, Vlad angled his mount towards it and emerged onto a clearing. Orkesh quickly followed. Vlad counted the men as they broke through behind him. Including himself and Orkesh, seven men were now in the clearing. His gaze flicked over the milling group as he recounted. The killer had claimed two more victims during the flight.
    “Damn!” said Orkesh as he rubbed his hand across his bald head. “We’ve lost eight men to an unseen killer!”
    Vlad glanced around. They were in a large clearing, but to make any progress in their flight they would have to re-enter the forest. “We’ll have to wait for dawn,” said Vlad as he dismounted.
    Dragging the girl from the saddle, he swung around to face him. “Who is this Grey One?” he asked. The girl didn’t reply and received a hard slap as reward. “Talk to me, you b***ch” he snarled, “or I’ll gut you and strangle you with you intestines!”
    “She owns this whole valley,” she said. “The settlement you attacked worked for her.”
    “Describe this woman.”
    “She is a bit tall for a woman with black hair and a milky complexion. She is very beautiful.”
    “A woman? You’ve got to be mistaken.”
    “No, no mistake. I saw her half a year ago,” she said.
    “How do you know that she will be coming?”
    “Last year five men attacked a settlement on the northern slope of the valley. They killed two families. The Grey One followed them and when she returned she sent out a wagon and had the bodies brought back and displayed in the market square in Almaliq. Outlaws don’t trouble us now. Only ignorant foreigners such as yourselves would bring evil and violence to the Grey One’s lands.
    “Does she have a name? asked Orkesh softly.
    “She is the Grey One. That is all I know,” was the girl’s response.
    Vlad moved away from the girl and stared back at the shadow-filled forest. Orkesh joined him and looked around as well. “She can’t be everywhere at once,” whispered Orkesh. “Everything will depend on which direction we choose to travel. We were heading east so maybe we should change direction.”
    Vlad pulled a map out of his saddlebag and laid it out on the ground. They had been heading east into the Heavenly Mountains towards the pass that would take them onto the road to Dunhuang.
    “Boss, I don’t believe that a lone assassin could handle seven armed men out in the open,” said Orkesh softly as Vlad studied the map in the available moonlight.
    “The nearest edge of the forest is five li to the northeast,” he said. “We’ll head that way as soon as day breaks.” Orkesh merely nodded and didn’t reply.
    “What are you thinking?” asked Vlad.
    The huge man took a deep breath and rubbed his hand across his face. “I was remembering the attack. Three darts from different directions. There must either be more than one assailant or the person chasing us is a very highly skilled martial artist.”
    “If there’d been two or more men we’d have seen some sign when we rushed into the forest,” said Vlad. “They couldn’t have all avoided us.”
    “Exactly. So it must be one person. One highly skilled assassin who, having killed the first three men we sent out, can then take out five more without being seen.”
    “I take it that you have a point to make,” muttered Vlad.
    “There is a legend in the martial realm of a highly skilled assassin, who in the past has been a ghost. People die and no one can explain how. Some claim she died. Others claim she left these lands and went to a deserted island. Maybe she came here to these mountains instead.”
    Vlad Laughed out loud. “You think that we’re being hunted by Blood Orchid?”
    “I hope not,” whispered Orkesh as he involuntarily shuddered at the thought.
    “Well, whoever it is, we’re ready now,” said Vlad. “Have two of the men stand watch and tell the others to get some sleep. We’re going to need it.”
    Vlad moved the girl to the center of the circle made by the men. He retied her hands and feet, then settled down on the ground. Sleep was elusive as Orkesh’s words replayed in his head.
    Blood Orchid. Just the name made him shiver. Legend had it that Blood Orchid was a demon in human form. Nothing could stop her; not walls, not even armed guards. Even the most powerful martial clans and sects feared her. It was said that even the vaunted Lohan monks of Shaolin had failed to subdue her. He shivered again. Get a hold of yourself, he thought.
    A soft neighing woke him and he swiftly sat up. A rider slowly approached them from the tree line silhouetted by the moonlight. The rider had a milky complexion with a beautiful oval-shaped face, heavy-lashed eyes the color of thunderclouds and straight waist length black hair that was tied by a grey ribbon. She was slender and full breasted wearing a simple grey robe that had scarlet flowers embroidered on the collar, cuffs and hem of the robe. As she dismounted the men saw a flash of scarlet as her undergarments and calf length boots were briefly exposed.
    Startled by the woman’s sudden appearance, Vlad quickly woke the others. The men who’d been on watch were laying a ways off not moving. They didn’t seem to be breathing. There were now only five men to face this highly feared assassin.
    The scared men had all drawn their sabers and had spread out in a semi-circle facing the newcomer. She calmly seemed to glide towards them. Looking at the young girl she shook her head. “You might want to close your eyes for what comes next,” she said in a soft voice. Although she was speaking to the young captive girl, it seemed as though her words were directed at the five remaining bandits too.
    The men roared their defiance and seemed to be ready to charge at the woman together. As the young girl watched awestruck, the woman slowly spun and lifted into the air. As her hands flickered, shining streaks of silver filled the air. A crunching sound was heard as darts exploded through the bodies of the bandits.
    Something had struck Vlad in his throat and he was suddenly unable to breathe. He dropped his saber as his hands came up to his throat. A gaping hole had appeared and blood was bubbling down over his tunic. He was on his knees choking on his own blood when he noticed a face appear in front of him.
    It was the young girl.
    “I told you,” she said.
    The dying man watched in horror as her bound hands reached into his saddlebag and retrieved his pouch with the ivory-handled skinning knives. “This is for my three friends you killed,” she said as the first blade swept across his abdomen, spilling his intestines onto the ground.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Mandred Skavenslayer's Avatar
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    Very good work. Are you a fan of David Gemmell?

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    actually very well written. Your language flow and imagery is very mature for a first timer. But a mistake when the girl calmly accepts her rape and yet she can display and put up a good fight later.

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    Senior Member Mandred Skavenslayer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geraldsaw View Post
    actually very well written. Your language flow and imagery is very mature for a first timer. But a mistake when the girl calmly accepts her rape and yet she can display and put up a good fight later.
    As long as the girl is mentally strong enough then she could react this way. A historical example would Genghis' wife who although kidnapped and raped was still strong enough to help her husband defeat her abductors.

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    Senior Member charbydis's Avatar
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    Hi Sjohnb! Nice work for a suspenseful and bloody first chapter! I was happy when that psychopath Vlad met his end! Looking forward more of The Grey One! However, I am having trouble picturing the people as I am reading. What is their dress code like? Vlad and his men are probably like nomadic brigands wearing leather or skins, but what of the girl and "The Grey One"? I can't help but keep think of European clothing when I keep reading "Vlad" even though I know it can't be cos they are supposed to be Dun Huang. re they wearing Han clothing, Mongolian tribal costume or other ethnic costume? Can you post a pic of similar attire to help me build up a picture of them in my mind?

    Quote Originally Posted by geraldsaw View Post
    actually very well written. Your language flow and imagery is very mature for a first timer. But a mistake when the girl calmly accepts her rape and yet she can display and put up a good fight later.
    Women can adapt to sudden tragedies quicker than men. If she perceives that she is outnumbered and alone at the time of the rape, she probably submitted to ruin Vlad's mood so he lost his urge to kill her cos some rapists are all about mind control. They want to break the mind as well as the body to make themselves feel good. By not giving him that mental satisfaction, she saved her life for another da and bought time for her rescuer to come. And when she was sure her rescuer was there, then she fought back.

    It can be uncommon for a woman of Han upbringing to have these ideas due to their Confucian teachings that a woman's body can only belong to her husband and the social expectation that a woman's reputation is more important than her life. But some women, especially from non-Han tribes, can have somewhat more modern concepts regarding chastity. Maybe she feels her vengeance against the raiders is more important than her sense of chastity so she is able to mentally control herself from fighting back.

    BTW, what ethnicity is the girl, Sjohnb?
    "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
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    Quote Originally Posted by geraldsaw View Post
    actually very well written. Your language flow and imagery is very mature for a first timer. But a mistake when the girl calmly accepts her rape and yet she can display and put up a good fight later.
    Yes, she accepts her rape, but what does she do later?

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    Hi Charbydis, Mandred and Geraldsaw. Thanks for actually taking the time to read this.

    Yes, I am a big Gemmel fan. Waylander and Skillganon are two of the best anti-heroes I've v
    ever read.

    To Charbydis, historically, I'm going for the look during the time Mongol forces swept through the central plains and conquered the Song.

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    This story is an attempt to fuse east and west. The world is basically Earth at the time of Mongol dominance. Before anyone asks, YES, I'm a big fantasy fan. I also love selected works by jin yong and gu long. When it comes to wuxia, I think that a hero should actually "not be a hero". Some of the tropes are just so restrictive. So, I'll be trying to release my characters…

    I hope that you guys will embrace and start to love the women who have been set on this path.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sjohnb View Post
    Yes, she accepts her rape, but what does she do later?
    ok let me rephrase it . its an anomaly that a girl can calmly accept rape. this indicates to the reader that the girl cannot fight back or accepts it rather than be killed by the rapist who is a bigger and stronger person. then the next thing is she displays good fighting skills against several would be rapists. what are her chances of winning against one rapist or against several rapists?. this is where your storyline does not gel.

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    Quote Originally Posted by geraldsaw View Post
    ok let me rephrase it . its an anomaly that a girl can calmly accept rape. this indicates to the reader that the girl cannot fight back or accepts it rather than be killed by the rapist who is a bigger and stronger person. then the next thing is she displays good fighting skills against several would be rapists. what are her chances of winning against one rapist or against several rapists?. this is where your storyline does not gel.
    I thought she was trying to use delaying tactics to prolong her life for her help to arrive. It also has to do with the psychological state well. The bandits were confident and high adrenaline at the time when she was assaulted by Vlad. She maybe could beat up one guy but could she beat up all of them and escape? If she fought back then she would have had zero chance of survival. She used that day's time to unsettle the bandits by freaking them up with tales about the Grey One until she really appeared.

    By the time she had decide to fight back, she was sure her help was already there and watching over her so she knew she had a chance. And she just managed to strike some of the men by surprise but they were hardly knocked out so she wasn't that great a fighter in the first place. It was her mysterious help that struck them with darts from behind.

    I think she had calculated her percentage of survival from the moment when her village was raided and decided that suffering the humiliation to get through the day was the better option.
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    Quote Originally Posted by charbydis View Post
    I thought she was trying to use delaying tactics to prolong her life for her help to arrive. It also has to do with the psychological state well. The bandits were confident and high adrenaline at the time when she was assaulted by Vlad. She maybe could beat up one guy but could she beat up all of them and escape? If she fought back then she would have had zero chance of survival. She used that day's time to unsettle the bandits by freaking them up with tales about the Grey One until she really appeared.

    By the time she had decide to fight back, she was sure her help was already there and watching over her so she knew she had a chance. And she just managed to strike some of the men by surprise but they were hardly knocked out so she wasn't that great a fighter in the first place. It was her mysterious help that struck them with darts from behind.

    I think she had calculated her percentage of survival from the moment when her village was raided and decided that suffering the humiliation to get through the day was the better option.
    That could be one way of looking at it.
    My thinking is that if she was that calm and collected to make her escape she would have realised her best chance was when Vlad took her into the forest to rape her. His man were setting up the camp and the rest were unsaddling the horses and both of them were alone. This was her best opportunity to fight back and try to escape. The following rape scene had 10 men plus Vlad around and she tried to fight back against 11 men. And how did she know her mysterious help would be there at that exact time? I am sure no communication passed through.

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    Quote Originally Posted by geraldsaw View Post
    And how did she know her mysterious help would be there at that exact time? I am sure no communication passed through.
    I thought they saw a mysterious rider stalking them in the forest! If the girl knew the Grey One from before, she would have recognised her signs!
    "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
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    The story picks up 10 years after the events of the prologue.

    Chapter 1


    “Where is it? Where is the Sword of Destiny?” yelled Fang Renzhi. The priest only groaned in pain when the stranger stepped from the shadows of the nearby trees.
    “You stole my horse,” he said in a quiet voice. Five of the men spun around in surprise. Even the old priest who was sagging against the ropes that bound him raised his head, trying to squint through now swollen eyes at the newcomer. The man was tall and with broad shoulders dressed in white merchant’s style clothing and also had a white cloak over his shoulders.
    “Where is my horse?” he asked.
    “Who can say? A horse is just a horse and its owner is the man who rides it,” answered Fang Renzhi scornfully. When the stranger first spoke Renzhi had felt the tingle of fear racing up his spine, expecting several armed men. As he turned from the priest, he scanned the trees in the approaching dusk and realized that the man was alone. Alone and clearly crazy. The priest was proving to be sorry sport, gritting his teeth against the pain and offered up nothing but groans. They would make this one sing a song of pain long into the night.
    “Fetch my horse,” said the man with a hint of boredom in his voice.
    “Get him! Alive!” yelled Fang Renzhi to his subordinates and swords quickly sang out of their scabbards as the five others attacked. The man calmly stood still and watched the approaching men. As the nearest assailant thrust his sword at the stranger he seemed to disappear and a “ding” was heard followed by the loud cry of pain from the assailant. The stranger swiftly evaded all the slashes and thrusts aimed at him. It looked as though he was dancing through a storm of blades.
    “Is this the extent of Qingjing Sect’s skill?” asked the stranger. “Looks like your claim to the best in the world is based on carefully crafted fiction.”
    As he said this he once again seemed to disappear. His movements were swift and vicious this time. No one saw him drawing a weapon and in a few seconds the air was filled with a bloody mist and Fang Renzhi was suddenly all alone. Five headless corpses were all that was left of his subordinates.
    “Unseen Blades! Who are you? How do you know this skill?” he asked as started backing towards the nearby thicket of trees.
    “I am no one of note. Now, go back to Mount Zhongnan and deliver this message to your Chief. Tell him to stop what he’s trying to do. If he doesn’t, I’ll have to personally come and persuade him. Bring my horse before you run.”
    Fang Renzhi quickly brought the stolen horse over and then, on wobbly legs mounted his own and galloped off into the night.

    The stranger checked that his belongings were still tied to the horse and without a backward glance mounted quickly.
    “Wait,” groaned the priest in a weak voice. “Re…release me. Pl…please!”
    The man turned in the saddle. “Why?” he asked.
    The man’s question was so casual that the old priest found himself at a loss for words, momentarily unable to even phrase an answer.
    “If you leave me here I will die,” he finally said.
    “That’s not a good enough answer,” said the man shrugging his shoulders. Snapping the reins lightly his horse started to move off at a walk. A few moments later the man stopped the horse. “Damn, what do I care about a dying priest?” Shaking his head he turned back and dismounted in front of the priest. Cursing softly he reached to his back and pulled one of his blades free and cut him free. The old man sagged forward into his arms. He’d been badly beaten and his chest had been badly cut; strips of flesh hung from his chest and his blue robes were blood-soaked. He gently laid the priest on his back and peeled his robe back to expose the wounds then walked to his horse and returned with a water skin and a small leather pouch. He gently washed the wounds and smoothed the strips of skin back into place. The priest made no sound and only his writhing was indication of the pain he was in.
    “Damn! Lie still for a while!” he gruffly said to the priest while taking a small needle and thread from the small pouch. “Shit! I need a fire,” he said. “I can’t see a damned thing!”
    Once the fire was lit, the priest quietly watched as the man went about stitching. His eyes were narrowed in concentration, but the priest noted that they were an extraordinarily deep brown, almost black, with flecks of gold. He was clean shaven and younger than expected. He had a wicked scar on the right side of his face that ran from his hairline all the way down to his jaw. It gave him a menacing look.
    Then the priest slept…

    When he awoke, he groaned as the pain from his torture stabbed through his body. He tried to sit up and winced as the stitches pulled tight. Groaning, he just lay back. His robe was gone and there were some clothes next to him that had obviously been taken from the dead men.
    The young man was next to the fire spitting what looked like a rabbit. He also had a small pot of liquid bubbling over the flames.
    “You’re awake,” he said with a smile.
    “Where are my robes?” demanded the priest.
    “I burned them,” said the young man with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
    “How dare you! Those were my sacred robes.”
    “They were merely dyed fabric. You can get more in any town or village.” Carefully taking the pot from over the flame, the young man walked over to the priest and squatted next to him. “I spent an hour stitching up your soft body, priest. I will not look kindly on you undoing my work. Now, drink this. It will help in your recovery.” He gently helped the priest to sit up as he drank the foul tasting liquid.
    “Thank you, young man. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful earlier,” said the old man after he finished the medicine. “By the way, who is that old bastard Wang Qi to you?” he asked.
    “What’s it to you, old man?” asked the young man in reply.
    “Just curious if you call him father or grandfather is all,” replied the priest. “I am Shuanghe, an old Taoist priest. I met Old Wang many years ago while I was travelling through the Changbai Mountains. He was developing the skill you used yesterday at the time and I spent some time discussing martial arts theory with him at the time.”
    “So, why were you tied up here and tortured if you know martial arts?” asked the young man.
    “I only know the theory. I've never practiced martial arts in my life.”
    “All right Reverend, my name is Wang Ziming and Wang Qi is my grandfather. Now, will you tell me why those men captured and tortured you?” asked Ziming. “Oh, and your “precious” robes are over there drying. I washed the blood out for you.”
    “The Qingjing Sect leader, Yue Peiyu, is after the sword. The sword is said to grant its wielder great power and he wants to use it to unite the martial world. I am from the Azure Dragon Temple on Mount Tai and they believe that we know the location of the sword. That is not true. All we have is the final account of the last man who wielded it- Qin Shi Huang.”
    “So, you’ll die to keep the knowledge secret? Why don’t you just hide somewhere remote?” asked Ziming.
    “I will not hide like a coward and I will not die so easily,” said Shuanghe defiantly. “Anyway, I was on my way to the Kunlun Mountains to meet with fellow Taoists when they found and captured me.”
    “I don’t know, Reverend, you tell me. You were close to death yesterday.”
    “But you rescued me.”
    “Ah, don’t read too much into that. I just came for my horse.”
    “So, a horse is worth more than a man?”
    “It is to me, Reverend.”
    “Not to me!” exclaimed the old priest.
    “So, if I had been tied to the tree, you would’ve tried to rescue me?” asked Ziming skeptically.
    “I would have tried.”
    “Then we would both be dead now. As it is, we’re both alive and more importantly, I have my horse.”
    “Could you bring me my robes? I do not feel like debating with you anymore.” asked the old priest.
    Bringing the robes and helping the old man get dressed, Ziming couldn’t help but shake his head in disbelief at this stubborn old man. He’d heard about him from his grandfather many years ago and always thought that his idea of non-violence was crazy. Now, after actually rescuing the old priest, he was sure of it.
    “I must go now. You’re welcome to travel with me as far as Chang’an if you wish.”
    “I don’t think that I will,” replied the old man.
    Ziming rose and shrugged his shoulders. “In that case, farewell.”

    “Wait!” said Shuanghe as he forced himself to his feet. “I do not wish to sound ungrateful to you and you have my sincere thanks for your actions to rescue me and for saving my life. It is just that if I traveled with you, I would be endangering your life.”
    “That’s very thoughtful of you,” answered Ziming as he walked back to his horse and mounted. The old priest noticed a jade token with gold engraving flash in the sunlight.
    “Wait! You’re known as the Lonely Snow Dragon, correct?”
    “Yes.”
    The priest jerked back as if he was struck.
    “Ah, I see you’ve heard of me.”
    “Nothing good,” responded the priest.
    “Then you’ve only heard the truth. I must go now. Farewell.”
    “Very well. I will travel with you.”
    “What about the danger?” asked Ziming.
    “Qingjing Sect are the only ones after me. Once I get to Chang’an some friends can help me get to Mount Kunlun. That’s more than can be said for you. Most people would spit on you if they knew who you were and who you worked for.”
    “Well, it’s really nice to be appreciated. Now, Reverend, if you’re coming let’s be on our way.”
    Shuanghe grimaced in pain as he tried to mount the horse. Ziming slid from his saddle and approached the priest. “Do your wounds trouble you?” he asked.
    Shuanghe shook his head and when he looked up Ziming was surprised to see tears in his eyes. It shocked the young man; for he had seen the old man stoically endure torture without any signs of pain. Now he wept like a child without anything to torment him.
    “No, I weep for the death that I have caused.” Taking a shuddering breath the old priest accepted his hand as he lifted him to the saddle.

    Throughout the morning they rode through hills and valleys as they travelled south west. Ziming was constantly scanning the road and forest. He wasn’t nervous, just wary. One couldn’t be too cautious.
    “Are we being followed?” asked the old man.
    “Yes, but he is a good distance away,” answered Ziming grimly.
    Shuanghe had last ridden a horse ten years ago on a trip to a temple located on Mount Emei far to the south. Now, with the pain of his wounds increasing with every step the horse took and his legs chafing against the horses flanks, he bravely fought against the rising agony. Forcing himself to concentrate, he focused his attention on Ziming riding in front of him, taking note of the easy way he sat in his saddle and the fact that he held the reins loosely with one hand at all times. For a while they rode side by side and Shuanghe studied the young mans face. From the left side, the side without the scar, he was fairly good looking. Now, however, his mouth was set in a grim line and his eyes had become cold and hard as if expecting trouble.

    After riding for a good part of the day, Ziming found a clearing located near a swift flowing, clear, cold stream. After letting the horses cool down after the long ride, he led them to the stream to drink. He then fed them both with a sack he’d had tied to his pommel. When the horses were tended, he stretched out on the grass along the stream bank and closed his eyes. The only food they had available was cold meat from the day before and some apples that Shuanghe had found a little way off.
    After their meal, Ziming once again checked the old man’s wounds. He was happy to see that the old man was healing well and the wounds weren’t getting infected. When he’d checked the old priest’s pulse the night before, he’d found that the old man had deep reserves of qi. Astounded, he’d kept quiet about it so far, but figured that this was why he was healing so quickly.
    “Reverend, I’m going to scout around for a while. Please rest here while I’m away.” With that said Ziming used his lightness skill and disappeared into the forest. He was gone quickly leaving Shuanghe to his thoughts.
    Shuanghe had heard about Yue Peiyu’s search for the Sword of Destiny for the past five years now. He could only speculate about how he’d heard about it, but he was sure that he’d read about it in some documents that had been collected by the founder of the now almost non-existent Quanzhen Sect. Wang Chongyang’s seven followers had all scattered and founded their own sects. The most prominent were Qingjing, Huashan and Dragon Gate Sects. Of the three, Qingjing Sect under Yue Peiyu was the most ambitious and aggressive. He’d forced smaller sects to capitulate to him or be destroyed. Rumor also had it that he’d discovered the lost Pre-Heaven Internal Skill and was in the process of mastering it. If this was true there would be a blood bath in the martial realm soon.

    As things stood in the martial realm, out of the myriad of schools, clans and sects, only seven could stand against Qingjing Sect. Of the so-called orthodox sects, only Shaolin, Kunlun and Emei could hold their own against Qingjing Sect. The other four were either neutral or unorthodox. These were the Celestial Manor, Heaven Lake, Jade Dragon and 72 Demon’s Sects. Huashan Sect was an enigma. It was unknown if they supported the Qingjing Sect or were just staying neutral to avoid trouble.
    “We’ve rested enough for now, Reverend. We need to be on our way. There’s a town ahead we can get to before dark.”
    Startled back to reality, Shuanghe just looked at the young man dumbstruck. “Er…yes, we should get to the town quickly,” he stammered in reply. Ziming went over and saddled the horses while he tried to get back to his feet.
    “I think that we’ll have trouble in Lintong City. That man I let go last night is sure to have sent a messenger pigeon to Mount Zhongnan and if they travelled hard and fast, they’re sure to be waiting for us there,” said Ziming as soon as they got back on the road.

    The two men rode into Lintong City just as the sun was starting to drop below the horizon. They rode up to the nearest inn where they were courteously greeted by a waiter who summoned a young boy to take their horses to the stables.
    “Would you two gentlemen like two rooms for the evening?” asked the owner after they’d been ushered in.
    “Yes…”
    “No! We’ll take one room, thank you,” said Ziming in a threatening tone.
    “Er, sure. I’ll have the waiter fetch you when the room is ready. Please help your self to some tea while you wait,” said the owner indicating for them to follow him to the dining area. “Hurry and prepare the room,” he said to the nearest waiter.
    As he led them to a table, Ziming studied the other guests. He noted that they were all armed and even though they were dressed as scholars and merchants they all wore sturdy shoes. Sitting with his back to the others he poured tea for himself and the priest. “Looks like the rabbit sent for some tigers,” he said loudly. “We even got the Wolves of Zhongnan to grace us with their presence. Looks like Qingjing are serious about getting their hands on you, Reverend.”
    Reverend Shuanghe just sadly shook his head. “Please, no more killing,” he muttered under his breath.
    “That will not be up to you. It will be up to how badly they want to die.”
    “Young man, it would be best if you just let us take the priest. That way you both get to stay alive,” said the leader of the large group.

    “Ah, so it’s Elder Pan. Forgive me for not recognizing you earlier. Junior Wang Ziming humbly pays respect to you.”

  14. #14
    Senior Member Mandred Skavenslayer's Avatar
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    Good work. I assume Ziming is your homage to Waylander?

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    Yes, Ziming is my homage to a young Waylander. I'm thinking of paying homage to Skilgannon as well.

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    Senior Member Mandred Skavenslayer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sjohnb View Post
    Yes, Ziming is my homage to a young Waylander. I'm thinking of paying homage to Skilgannon as well.
    Within the same story? That would be awesome. Don't forget Druss.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandred Skavenslayer View Post
    Within the same story? That would be awesome. Don't forget Druss.
    I'm not so sure about Druss. He's just too damned noble and basically everything a "Xia" is supposed to be. I might have to make him a little "gray" if I try to pay homage to him.

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    Senior Member Mandred Skavenslayer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sjohnb View Post
    I'm not so sure about Druss. He's just too damned noble and basically everything a "Xia" is supposed to be. I might have to make him a little "gray" if I try to pay homage to him.
    He wasn't always that way. Without his wife he would have become a mindless killer like his grandfather. Druss' battle to keep his humanity was a highlight of the books.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandred Skavenslayer View Post
    He wasn't always that way. Without his wife he would have become a mindless killer like his grandfather. Druss' battle to keep his humanity was a highlight of the books.
    I'll see about that. Maybe a little later in the story. Right now I'm working up to the birth of the Sword Demon so there's going to be a whole lot of background and what may seem to be unrelated plot lines. I'm not sure yet how many chapters I'll be writing. Working on finishing Ch 3. hope it will be as fun to read as it was to write.

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    Chapter 2

    The sunrise stained the sky crimson. Creeping up from the eastern horizon, it marked the wispy clouds a faint gold. Underneath it the road twisted down the hillside to the city of Chang’an—a large city with numerous old palaces, gates and two large pagoda’s all still dark against the now lightening sky.
    She had been travelling from the Heavenly Mountains for the past three months and couldn't wait to get to her destination. The endless motion of the camel she was riding and the lustful looks from the men in the caravan when they thought she wasn't looking was getting old.
    “You’re looking especially beautiful this morning, Young Mistress.”
    She sighed at the comment. She knew that she looked weary and travel-stained. Her senior, Ma Sidi, was just trying to be nice to her.
    “Uncle Ma, I don’t feel very beautiful this morning. Let’s wait till we get to the inn and get cleaned up. I’d be more than happy to hear more of your compliments then.”
    He noisily cleared his throat and held up a hand as if preparing to make a grand speech. “Now Young Mistress, you have to let your uncle shower you with compliments. You’re the adopted daughter of our Sect’s leaders and will most likely become the next leader.” With a big grin on his face he continued. “Your hair is like…a shimmering pelt of sable!”
    “You fawning sycophant. What was it yesterday? Something about my eyes shining like onyx reflecting the moon. I liked yesterday’s compliments better,” she said with a laugh.
    “How about lips like plum blossoms then? Or a nose like…”
    She gave him a fierce glare which only caused him to start laughing. “You can do better than that, Uncle. You’re not even trying.”
    “It only get’s harder every day,” he muttered softly.
    Everyone in the caravan watched this exchange in silent amusement. They knew better than to anger this feisty young woman.
    “That amber ring looks good on your hand.”
    Holding up her hand to admire the delicately carved amber ring that glowed in the morning sun, she shook her head. “I’ve gotten worse gifts.”
    “Maybe I should get you a ruby to match your temper!”
    “It would match my reputation too!”
    “That’s only out west. Here on the Central Plains, that doesn’t mean anything. You’re a vision. You look like…” he paused to scratch his wispy beard “the Goddess of Death!”
    “Enough of this fawning. It’s threatening to make my stomach upset,” she said with a laugh. “We’ll be getting to Chang’an soon. Do you know how to get to the Xinglong Inn, Uncle Ma?” asked Lin Jinfeng.
    “Mistress said to ask for directions at the western market,” replied Ma Sidi.
    “Very well. I can’t wait to get out of these clothes and take a bath.” Lin Jinfeng’s mind wandered as they continued the last part of their journey in silence. Ten years had passed in a flash. She still vividly remembered the night that she was rescued by the Grey One and the journey to the Celestial Manor…

    “What is your name Little One?” asked the woman in a soft voice.
    “I…I am called Su Ling, but my name is Zareen. It means “Golden One” in the Persian tongue.”
    “It’s very nice to meet you, Zareen. I am Lin Meixing. Would you like me to take you back to the village now?”
    “There’s nothing left for me there. Those men killed the only people that cared about me.” Tears started flowing freely down the young Zareen’s face.
    “How about I take you to my home?” asked Lin Meixing.
    The young girl’s eyes lit up. “Really? Will you teach me how to be strong as well?”
    “We’ll discuss that at a later time. For now I’ll take you with me.”
    The journey to the Celestial Manor took a day and a half. All the young girl could think of was how it had felt to plunge the knife into her rapist’s belly and how her body had tingled at the sight of his intestines spilling out onto the ground. The feeling was ecstatic. She’d enjoyed it immensely and wanted to do it again.
    While they rode, Lin Meixing was quietly observing this fascinating girl. She was calm under pressure and highly intelligent. She knew that she was going to keep the girl at the Celestial Manor; she just didn’t know in what capacity. She would have to discuss it with her husband.
    The two women reached the manor hidden deep within a secret valley just before noon. They were greeted at the gate by an older, bald-headed man in plain grey robes.
    “Welcome back, Dear. I’ve missed you.” Looking at Zareen, he asked, “Who do we have here?”
    “I’ve missed you too, my love,” replied Lin Meixing. “This is Zareen. I rescued her from a group of 72 Demon’s Sect thugs.” Looking to Zareen, “This is my husband, Hongxi,” said Lin Meixing.
    “It’s good to meet you, Sir. This is a beautiful home you have here.”
    “Come, let’s get you cleaned up and fed,” said Lin Meixing.

    “Young Mistress, we’ve got company,” said Ma Sidi softly.
    This wrenched Jinfeng’s mind back to the present. She’d wondered when the men tracking them would show up. With a heavy sigh she suppressed the question as Ma Sidi let the members of the caravan know to stay calm.
    The caravan that they were with was from the west and they had joined it in Luntai. They were carrying several thousand taels of gold and silver that was to be taken to both the Meng and Zheng families who would invest the money for the Celestial Manor. Jinfeng couldn’t believe that these bandits were attempting to rob them this close to Chang’an.
    Motioning the leader of the caravan over, “Do you have any idea who would attempt to rob a caravan this close to the city?” she asked in a hushed voice.
    “I have no idea. It could only be a very bold group that would try it this close though,” replied the older man also speaking in hushed tones.
    “Very well. Just leave it to us then,” said Jinfeng.
    “These woods are dense and very cooling. It’s also quite peaceful. Don’t you think so too, Uncle?” said Jinfeng in a loud voice.
    “You’re quite right. With no one lurking in the shadows, it is quite peaceful,” answered Ma Sidi. “Why don’t we stop and let everyone take a short rest break since we’ve been travelling most of the morning.”
    “Everyone, let’s take a break for a short while,” yelled the older caravan leader. Everyone reigned in their animals and those who were mounted dismounted.

    “Stop! Surround them!” yelled loud voices from the trees as a large group of men ran towards the caravan.
    “Young Mistress, those men look to be from the 72 Demon’s Sect,” said Ma Sidi softly. “Their leader is Wei Tianguang who is known in these parts for his ruthlessness.”
    “Do you think that you can handle this or do you want me to?” asked Jinfeng. “I’m dying to kill someone!”
    “I’ll try first,” he said in a somber tone.
    “Brothers, are you all headed to Chang’an?” asked Wei Tianguang loudly. “If you are you have to pay the toll to use our road!”
    “Ah, we are but poor travelers coming to Chang’an to seek our fortunes,” replied Ma Sidi. “It is kind of you gentlemen to offer to help us with the goods we carry; however, I must respectfully decline your offer.”
    “What if I insist that you pay the toll?” asked Wei Tianguang menacingly.
    “I’ve heard rumors of so called liars, cheats, robbers and bandits in the area. Does this toll mean that we won’t be bothered by them?”
    “I don’t care if you’re really dumb or just pretending. Just blame your ancestors for not doing any good deeds. Brothers, relieve them of their belongings!” roared a now infuriated Wei Tianguang.
    “Hold on!” came a voice from the distance. A single horse galloped into the clearing and the man quickly dismounted and ran over to Wei Tianguang. The new arrival stopped and whispered urgently into his ear. Wei Tianguang didn’t look happy at the news and could be heard cursing softly.
    Turning back to the caravan, he shook his head. “Take this as your lucky day. You’re free to go. Brothers, retreat!” he said in a loud voice.
    “Damnit!” exclaimed Jinfeng. “I was really looking forward to a good fight to help relieve the boredom of this trip. I guess I have to wait till we get to the city then.”

    She looked around in wonder at this once magnificent city taking in the sights and smells along with the cacophony of voices.
    “We’ll be at the market in a few minutes. I’ll ask for directions to the inn and then we can relax for a while,” said Ma Sidi. “I wonder if Ever-Coiled Snake and Heavenly Fairy are here yet. They have to meet with Old Master Meng before the set date.”
    “What kind of people are they? I’ve never met them before.” asked Jinfeng.
    “They are two of the most highly skilled in our sect. They are also absolutely loyal to Mistress. They’ll most certainly take care of the problem that Old Master Meng is having.”
    Walking over to a small stall that had beautiful jade ornaments on display, Ma Sidi quietly asked for directions to the Xinglong Inn. An ornament caught Jinfeng’s eye. It was an exquisite piece of rare red jade delicately carved into a phoenix. She couldn’t resist it and had Ma Sidi purchase it for her.
    “So, you’ll be known as the Blood Phoenix from now on.”
    “I’ve been called worse,” said Jinfeng with a small smile playing across her lips.
    “Indeed you have. At least you don’t have to put up with the nickname I have.”
    “That’s right,” said Jinfeng. “You’re known as “Little Black Blood”. How did you get that name?”
    “Ah, that’s a story for another time, Young Mistress.”

    After a long, refreshing bath and a change of clothes, Jinfeng went down to join Ma Sidi for a light snack. She was dressed in traditional Khmer clothing, her favorite style of dress because of the freedom of movement it allowed. A scarlet sampot, white chang pong and open sandals that were laced to mid-calf. The chang pong stretched tautly over her breasts and left her midriff bare. She had lush curves and she was sculpted by muscle. Her dark, piercing eyes were large, haunting, long-lashed and mesmerizing. Her nose was prominent and showed she was of Persian descent; her hair was a thick, wild mass of black silk. Even her mouth was sculpted and inviting. Her coppery skin only added to her allure. She was thankful that this long journey was finally over!
    “Uncle, why did Mother send those two to help Old Master Meng?”
    “Well, it is a little complicated. At the moment the Meng family and the Zheng family are embroiled in a bitter territorial battle. If it continues for much longer, there will be bloodshed in Chang’an and many innocents will be caught up in it and lose their lives. Mistress is only involving our Sect to stop the bloodshed. Other than that she couldn’t really be bothered with the outcome.”
    “I’m glad that we were only sent to observe. How about we do some sightseeing this evening? I want to see the famous sites in the area.”
    “Sure, I’ll ask Mister Wen, the owner here, if he can spare someone to be our guide for the evening. Young Mistress, can I also suggest that you wear a cloak. Your attire will be frowned on by the Han people living in the area.”
    “No, I’ll not be one to conform because it will offend the sensibilities of these prudish people. I will be comfortable and if they don’t like it then it’s just too bad.”

    The odd couple, along with one of the inn’s staff as a guide, spent most of the early evening wandering about the city. Jinfeng was delighted to be amongst so many people. The last time she’d been in this large a crowd was when she’d gone with her adoptive mother to Angkor Wat three years ago.
    “Uncle, let’s find a place to have some fun.”
    “Good idea,” said Ma Sidi. Looking at the young man who was their guide he said, “Young man, where can we find a place with some good food and wine?”
    “We can go to the river district. The Lotus Blossom specializes in food, wine and entertainment.”
    “Good. Lead the way,” said Jinfeng.
    The young man blushed furiously. He didn’t know who these two were only that they were highly respected by his master and we treated as very important guests. “Er, Young Mistress, the Lotus Blossom is a place frequented by men. It would be very inconvenient for you if you go dressed like that,” he said.
    “Don’t worry about it. I can take care of myself.”

    The Lotus Blossom was lively and seemed to be very busy as they entered. There was music, dancing girls, laughter and the clinking of cups raised in toasts. Their young guide quickly arranged to get them a table in a pavilion facing the river. A young, pretty serving girl quickly delivered a flask of wine and some cups.
    “Miss, who are the most famous ladies here?” asked Jinfeng.
    “Young Mistress, what are you doing?” asked Ma Sidi.
    “Uncle Ma, I’m getting some ladies to accompany you while we drink.”
    “Er, let me see. There’s Liu Rushi, Li Xiangjun, Dong Xiaowan…” said the serving girl.
    “Just ask Liu Rushi and Dong Xiaowan over to accompany my uncle,” said Jinfeng.
    “Miss, these are the exclusive ladies at our establishment. They are very selective with who they accompany,” said the girl.
    Jinfeng quickly laid two gold nuggets on the table. “Will they come for this?” she asked coldly.
    The young girl’s eyes lit up at the sight of the gold. She snatched it off the table. “I’ll tell the Madam that you’ve requested them,” she said.
    As Ma Sidi quickly poured some wine for himself and Jinfeng he thanked the young man for his trouble and handed him five taels worth of silver.
    “There…there’s no need for this,” stammered the young man.
    “Nonsense,” replied Jinfeng with a grin. “Take it. I insist. Go and have some fun while you’re here. If you need more, don’t hesitate to ask.”
    The young man quickly took the silver and went back into the main building. He seemed to be very happy with his tip.
    As the two women approached their table, Jinfeng noticed that they seemed to be gliding over the floor. They must’ve spent years practicing to walk like that she thought.
    When they saw Ma Sidi, they both lost their smiles for a moment. Their smiles were back in place quickly. It must be the thought of gold and precious items thought Jinfeng with a slight smirk. That would change after they take him upstairs. With a bright smile she motioned for the ladies to take a seat next to the dwarf who was her senior.
    After they were seated she looked around the pavilion. She automatically tuned out the fawning women sitting across from her and studied the men all around her. I might as well have some fun tonight. Many of the men were openly leering at her, but she quickly dissuaded them with a quick, fierce glare. It seemed as if the women in the place were glaring at her and this just made her smile. She noticed a large, well dressed man sitting alone a few tables away. When he looked at her she smiled at him. He smiled back and nodded his head at her in greeting. He was fairly handsome. She just hoped that he had some stamina. She hadn’t had a man in quite a while. Not since she’d been to Lhasa to kill that recalcitrant lama.

    “Young Mistress, do you mind if I accompany these ladies upstairs for a while?” asked Ma Sidi, interrupting her train of thought.
    “Not at all, Uncle. Just be gentle with them,” she said with a grin on her face. When he’s done, they won’t be taking any customers for a while. I wonder if the rumors about his size and stamina are true.
    After they left, she poured another cup of wine and quickly drained it. She regretfully noticed that the man from earlier had left.
    Two men approached her table. “Come, drink with our Young Master! Hurry up!” One of the men tried to grab her by the arm, but she pushed him away. Not wanting to get violent, she stood and backed away from them.
    “What are you doing?”
    “What gives you the right to refuse to drink with our Master when you’re dressed like that?” said the man closest to her.
    As he said that an ugly, well dressed young man approached the table. “Where does this pretty lass come from?” he asked.
    “Who are you?” asked Jinfeng.
    “Who am I? Tell her who I am,” he said to one of the men.
    “Our Young Master Tang is the nephew of Lord Tang, governor of Chang’an. He loves to meet friends and is always a generous man.”
    “Young beauty, come home with me. Let’s go!” said Young Master Tang and tried to grab her hand.
    Jinfeng was getting really irritated. She hated it when men tried to impose their will on women. She’d been this way ever since she’d been raped so many years ago.
    “Huh, to think that Tang Shiying’s nephew is so impudent and despicable…how is he still fit to be Governor of Chang’an?” said Jinfeng softly.
    The loud cries of a woman in the throes of ecstasy provided Jinfeng with the opportunity to extricate herself from the situation quietly. Yes, she was itching to kill someone. She just didn’t want to do it publically. That had to be her “Uncle” at work, she thought smiling as she made her way back towards the Xinglong Inn.

    As Jinfeng walked down the lantern lit street she felt them coming. What a persistent person. When will he change his ways?
    “Young Beauty, the night is still young. We haven’t finished our conversation. Let’s go to my home and warm a few flasks of wine for our enjoyment.”
    “All right, but I forgot to bring something with me. Would you accompany me while I go and get it?” said Jinfeng.
    “Fine, no problem. Let’s go,” said Young Master Tang.
    Jinfeng turned and led the two men, Young Master Tang and one of his attendants, into a nearby alley. The men had no idea of what was about to happen to them. They were so focused on getting her to the Tang residence that all other thoughts were nonexistent.
    “Young Beauty, how far do we have to go?” asked Young Master Tang.
    Jinfeng spun around and her Soul-Claiming Claws flashed out. In two moves she crushed both men’s throats. They didn’t have a chance to cry out and died with astonished looks on their faces. “You should have found a different young beauty to pick on tonight.” She spat on the dead man and quickly left the alley.
    Walking down the street again, she suddenly stopped. “Were they worth the gold, Uncle?”
    “Yes, thank you. It seems that you’ve had an interesting night too,” said Ma Sidi.
    “It was an interesting evening and that lowdown noble spoiled it.”
    “Did you have to kill him?”
    “I needed some kind of excitement too, Uncle,” said Jinfeng with a slight whine.
    “No need to sound like a spoiled brat, Young Mistress. I guess it’s good that you killed them in an alley close to the river district. Let’s get back to the inn for some rest.”
    “I hope that you’re not angry with me, Uncle. I’ll try to behave for the rest of the time we’re in Chang’an, OK.”
    Ma Sidi pulled Jinfeng into an alley.
    “Uncle, what…” said a startled Jinfeng.
    “Shh. Over there. Let’s watch and see what happens.”
    A group of people were standing outside the front door of an inn. A tall, reed-thin, scholarly looking man was accompanied by an extremely beautiful woman; both were in plain grey silk robes and were facing a group of very polite people. The group seemed to be made up of martial artists.
    “I’ve long heard that the Blood Snake, Lin Chong, is a man of his word. Now that we’ve met, I can see that you live up to your reputation. The Blood Fairy, Lin Meihua, is as beautiful as her name implies. It is really an honor to meet you tonight. I am Fang Tianlao.” said one of the men.
    “I’ve also heard of the good name of the Wolves of Zhongnan and the Qingjing Sect. It’s a pity that you stay in Chang’an and we live in Ningbo. We’ve never had the chance to meet, but today we finally get the chance,” said Lin Chong in a non-committal tone.
    Lin Meihua just quietly stood by his side, watching the Qingjing Sect members warily. Although the conversation sounded amicable, she seemed to be on her guard.
    “My brothers and I are also here to help Brother Meng Bofei sought out the problem he’s having with the Zheng family. We must all work together to get rid of that old thief, Zheng Ruping!”

    “Who all did Old Elder Meng ask for help?”
    “Besides you two esteemed fighters, he also asked Reverend Hongtai from Shaolin to come and be a mediator. I also saw the famous Ghost Blade Twins earlier this evening. We know that the invitation was sent to Shaolin, but we haven’t seen any sign of the esteemed Reverend.”
    “The Zheng family aren’t pushovers. I wonder if you know who they’ve asked for help.” said Lin Chong.
    “From what we’ve been able to gather, they’ve asked the Jade Dragon Sect to send someone and they also asked the governor to send an official mediator,” said Elder Fang.
    “These families are both affluent and have been in Chang’an for generations. They also have connections in the current government, so no one should make any rash moves,” said Lin Meihua.
    “Of course. We will be very careful in our actions so as not to instigate any bloodshed,” said Elder Fang quickly. “Old Elder Meng is hosting a reception at his manor tomorrow evening. I hope to see you then.”
    “Very well, see you tomorrow. We’re going to get some rest now. It’s been a long day,” said Lin Chong. “Goodnight.”
    “Goodnight to you both,” said Elder Fang. “Let’s go, brothers,” he said to the group of men with him.

    “Something doesn’t feel right, Uncle. Why is the Qingjing Sect also involved in this matter? Let’s follow them and try and find out what they’re up to.”
    “All right. We have to make sure that we aren’t discovered,” said Ma Sidi softly.
    The two swiftly followed the Qingjing Sect members back to the Dagong Hall where they were lodging. Using their superior lightness skill they were unheard and unseen. They watched as Elder Fang went into his room followed by a subordinate.
    “Let’s get closer, Uncle.
    As they neared the room they heard loud laughter. Looking at each other as if to say what’s going on, they stealthily moved closer.
    “Seems like Master’s plan is working well. The Celestial Manor and Jade Dragon Sect are on opposing sides in this conflict. It’s a pity that no one from the Heaven Lake Sect will be here. If we can get these three Sects fighting each other, our plan to dominate the martial realm would go a whole lot smoother,” said Elder Fang.
    “How are we going to get the bloodshed started, Elder.” asked the other man in the room.
    “We know that the poison master of the Celestial Manor, Ma Sidi, is in Chang’an. It was confirmed by the 72 Demon’s Sect earlier today. So, we’re going to poison the members of the Jade Dragon Sect and push the blame onto the Celestial Manor.”
    Astonished, Lin Jinfeng and Ma Sidi could only quietly listen. Everything was not as it seemed and Blood Orchid’s decision to send them as observers seemed to be a well thought out one. Has Mother suspected this the whole time? Who else is involved in this conspiracy? Is this why the 72 Demon’s let them go? Are they collaborating with their enemies? These questions swirled through Jinfeng’s mind. They had to find a way to stop this from happening. No matter what!

    I apologize for the lack of action in this chapter. Don't worry, there'll be more soon.

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