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PostPosted: Sat Aug 7, '10, 8:38 pm
My attempts to retell the stories of the Phantasy Star IV characters in an ancient Chinese setting continue with this story. The events in this story are inspired by the old story "The Magic Sword", which was filmed as A Chinese Ghost Story, an all-time classic film. There are also some elements taken from the 1990 film The Swordsman, which was itself adapted from the Louis Cha novel The Laughing Swordsman.

The stranger entered the abandoned temple. He looked around the numerous cob-web covered chambers and was soon content to see that it was deserted. Finding a chamber the size of a small bedroom, he stepped inside and removed his backpack. He unrolled a small straw mat and placed it on the ground. He placed his backpack at one end of the mat; that was where he was going to lay his head that night.

An ornately-carved wooden scabbard hung from the man’s belt. On both sides of his hip were a pair of daggers as well, snuggled away inside sheaths just as beautifully-decorated as his swords. The man was a hunter and not just any hunter at that. He had once been a member of the famous Hunters Guild escort service, which had been disbanded and was now being hunted by the government. The hunter, like his surviving colleagues, was a fugitive and could never stay in one place for very long. The temple was a great place for him to rest without calling any attention to him.

After eating a few dry fruits he had picked up in a village some hours before, he laid down to rest for the night. After a few minutes, a voice—an angelic voice—woke him up. He got up and walked to the hallway to see where the voice was coming from. The voice was singing a sad, melancholy tune, but was nonetheless one of the most enchanting things the man had ever heard. He followed the voice and, as he reached the inner sanctum of the temple, it grew louder.

He stepped into the inner courtyard and rubbed his eyes at what he saw. It was a woman, dressed in an elegant white silk gown. Her long red hair looked like it had been made with the same material, as it shined in the pale moonlight. Her face looked as white as porcelain as it almost glowed ethereally against the soft moonbeams. The woman knelt at the edge of the pool, singing her soulful tune as she placed her delicate white fingers into the water. The hunter stared at her for a few moments.

The young woman looked up at him and smiled, but ceased not her singing. Instead, she gracefully lifted her other arm and beckoned him to come to her. The hunter, who had been on the run for so long that he had not felt the touch of a woman for some time, felt overcome with lust and walked slowly over to her. The more he listened to her soft voice, the more intoxicated he felt. He drifted close to her until he could smell her jasmine perfume and feel the soft silk of her sleeve against his cheek.

The woman kept smiling as she brought the man closer to her. She let him stroke her face a little, and then his hand started pulling the sash on her dress away. She didn’t fight back, but let him do so. As he began pulling her dress away, the woman extended one her legs and shook it ever so lightly. The hunter heard the distinct ringing of a little bell. He looked over and saw a small bracelet on the woman’s ankle with a tiny bell attached.

Suddenly, a horrific pain shot through his shoulder as something sharp ripped into it. He let off a scream as he felt around to find out what had pierced him. He felt the metal prongs of some weapon. It was a metal claw. He then felt the same pain in his other shoulder, as another claw dug into it. With a strong tug, he was off his feet and was soon being dragged into the shadows.
The young woman stood up and slowly adjusted her gown and tied her sash around it again. As she watched the man screaming in agony as he was pulled into the shadows while unseen figures fell upon him, several tears began to roll down the woman’s eyes. She turned away at the sight and covered her ears with her hands, not wanting to hear the man’s final screams.


As sun began to disappear into the horizon, there was only one person who walked on the lonely road that led to a small village in the Northeastern foothills. It was a humble tax collector, whose travels had now brought him into the more mountainous region of the country. He traveled by himself, talking to nobody, not even asking for directions. He wore a simple blue robe and trousers, with a square-shaped cap on his head. He carried a small backpack with him and a sword by his side, which was common for most travelers, since the less-traveled by roads were often rife with thieves.

The man walked for some time, never stopping to say hello to some of the merchants and farmers that showed up near the road as he drew closer to the village. He’d simply bow his head slightly to acknowledge their presence, and then focus his attention back on the trail and continue walking at a determined pace. Night was about to arrive, and the sounds of the wild animals lurking in the woods on both sides of the trail was enough reason to pick up his pace.

It was nightfall when he entered the small village. Without stopping to look around or ask for any information, the man made beeline for the local inn, where he entered and sat at the bar counter near the staircase. He remained silent for a while and waited for the owner of the inn, a thin bearded man of about fifty, to greet him.

“Hello, kind stranger. How may I help you? Dinner? A room? Some wine perhaps?”

The tax collector, who was sitting facing the door, turned and looked at the inn owner. The owner looked at him and did a double take. “Is that you?” he said, his voice getting louder.

Putting his finger to his mouth, the tax collector said nothing and nodded.

The owner understood. “Chang! Come out here, unfilial boy.” A young boy of about fourteen years of age walked into the restaurant area of the inn, from inside the kitchen.

“Yes father,” the boy answered lazily.

“Get our guest some dinner and wine and have it brought up to our room,” barked the owner. Turning to the tax collector and smiling, the owner said, “Come, friend. Let me show you to your room.”

The tax collector was led upstairs and taken to an empty, but spacious bedroom. Inside, the tax collector removed his backpack and set it near the bed. The owner of the inn shut the door. The tax collector removed his cap to reveal a head full of blonde hair, which nearly fell down to his eyes.

“Cha-Zi! It’s great to see you again,” the inn owner said. He grasped Cha-Zi by the elbows. “It’s been a long time, my friend.”

Cha-Zi nodded and smiled. “It indeed has. Times have been perilous these days. As you can see, I can’t even walk around in public like a normal person anymore.”

The owner grumbled and nodded, stroking his long, thin beard. “Yes, it is a shame that the empire has lost its trust of the Hunter’s Guild. The good people of this country still remember your great works, but the envy has consumed the emperor’s soul and now look at you all: hunted throughout the country like so many rabbits.”

A knock on the door startled the two. The door opened and Chang entered, carrying a tray with a plate full of food, a cup, and a small bottle of wine. Chang set the food down on the small bed stand near the bed and left without saying a word.

“Please, Cha-Zi, eat. You know you and Li Si will always be my special guests here. After saving my establishment from those blasted bandits. I—the entire village owes you their gratitude.”

“It was all Li Si’s doing. I was just a novice at the time.” Cha-Zi shoved some rice and meat into his mouth with his chopsticks.

“Nonsense, my boy. Nevertheless, you and Li Si will always be welcome here at the inn. Which reminds me, most of the people, those who are honest and grateful to the Hunter’s Guild, keep up a certain covert intelligence, just in case we run into one of you guys.”

Cha-Zi nodded as he stuffed his mouth with some more food and washed it down with a small gulp of wine.

The owner continued, “Well, word has it that you and Li Si defeated the Kin Sai in combat, right?”

Cha-Zi nodded again, remembering the bloody battle in the bamboo forest a year before.

“Well, the government, as powerful as it is, seems to be a bit too cautious or incompetent, to send the royal guard or the army after you all. Especially since they don’t know where you all are and the pirate attacks from the Eastern islands seem to be getting worse with each month. It would be foolishness for them to spread out the entire army to find a relatively small group of people.”

“So they’re resorting to mercenaries again, aren’t they?”

“Strange times make strange bedfellows my boys. The rumor is that the government has hired the Sun Moon Sect to track down the hunters.”

Cha-Zi stopped chewing and food and looked at the owner bewilderedly. “The Sun Moon Sect?” he said, his voice distorted from the food in his mouth.

The owner nodded and groaned. “They live in the mountains not far from here. A savage lot they are. They occasionally come to the cities to do some trade, but they usually don’t interact much with the locals. They have a reputation for dealing with intruders in the most violent, inhuman fashions. They say that the last emperor sent up a platoon to try to straighten them out once. The next day, the villagers at the foot of the mountain found a number of severed heads on poles decorating the trail that went up the mountain. After that, the government just leaves them alone. Cha-Zi, you’ll have to be very careful from now on.” The owner’s voice became a whisper. “They say the Sun Moon Sect members are filled with all manner of devilry. Some think that they’re not even human.”

Cha-Zi stared wide-eyed at the owner as he chewed and swallowed the last bit of food. “Do you know if they’ve found any of us yet?”

The owner shook his head and said nothing. Then he looked up and said, “That reminds me. I’m told that a hunter, don’t know who, passed through the village about a day or two ago. Some of the villagers say that he was heading toward an abandoned temple in the hills. He didn’t come back, though. He might have continued on to the northeast toward the border. Who knows?”

Cha-Zi was pensive for a few moments. Any hunter was a friend of his and a needed ally. “Well, when day breaks, I’ll head up there. Don’t worry, if he’s not there, I’ll come back here before I continue with my journey.”

The owner nodded and got up. “Watch yourself, my boy. Well, you must be tired. I’ll let you go now. The owner picked up the tray and left the room. Cha-Zi hurried over to the door and closed it. He sat on the bed and soaked in the man’s words. “Assassins,” he thought, “there are more of them now.” He reached over to his sword and unsheathed it. The candlelight reflected off the smooth surface of the blade.

Cha-Zi then reached over into his backpack and pulled out a small book. It was a martial arts manual that Li Si gave him to practice with before they parted ways several months before. She had told him to head to the northeast and try to reach the border and wait for her. She assured him that she would seek him out, no matter where he was. Then they left and Cha-Zi was left alone. He knew what it was like to be alone. He had been orphaned when he was ten and it was Li Si who had found him and took him in. She trained him to be a hunter and was her apprentice for the last six years, down to the time that the emperor declared the Guild to be public enemies, causing them to go into hiding. Now his life was on the line, and he only had himself to depend on.

Cha-Zi flipped through the pages a little and he stopped on the page that talked about the cross-cut technique. He studied the drawings and the movements they depicted. He stood up and tried to perform them himself. He swung his sword vertically and horizontally, but did so rather awkwardly and without the energy the book instructed him to exert. He closed his eyes and concentrated, and then tried again. The movements were smoother, but there was no power or speed to the swings. The cross-cut technique, when performed correctly, could easily slice a man in half, even if that man was wearing the strongest armor. Cha-Zi tried a few more times and came closer to doing it right, but soon gave up and decided to get some sleep.


The next day, Cha-Zi got up early and quickly got himself dressed in his tax collector attire. He may not be that good with the sword, but he was good enough with disguises that he proved to be a good asset to Li Si and was always able to blend in or at least not look like a hunter wherever he went. He tucked his hair into his square cap and pulled it down a little so that nobody could see it. Tying his sash around his waist and sticking his sword into it, he picked up a few scrolls and pieces of parchment to complete the illusion.

He slipped out of the hotel and headed down the road in the direction of the abandoned temple. The owner was already awake and gave him directions on how to arrive there. A half-hour passed before the hills began to grow steep and Cha-Zi stepped off the beaten path and started making his way through a dense forest. Making his way through the trees, he often felt as if he was being watched; it was an instinct that he had cultivated while training with Li Si. He looked around, but saw nothing in the trees. He often thought he heard heavy breathing, but every time he stopped to scrutinize the area, there was no sign any human life.

At length he reached the temple, a large desolate building covered in ivy and spider webs. Two large lion statues guarded the place, their huge eyes striking fear into Cha-Zi as he walked past them to enter the derelict building. The sun was shining and it was probably not even noon yet. Walking into the temple, Cha-Zi heard a faint sound, a sound that soon dispelled some of his fear. It sounded like singing, but it seemed so distant that Cha-Zi thought it was his imagination. He stepped cautiously through the hallway, his hand on the haft of his sword. His arm was tense, despite his attempts to relax it.

Cha-Zi came to a room that had a straw mat on the ground. He stepped inside for a better look. He examined the mat for signs of recent use, but truth to be told, he didn’t really know what to look for. He lifted the mat and looked under it and looked for any other object that might have belonged to anyone.

A sudden sound from across the room startled him, causing him to spin around and draw his sword. For a brief moment, he thought he saw something stir in the window of the room that lay across from the one he was in. Cha-Zi narrowed his eyes and stared at the window for a few moments. There was no more sound to be heard. Had the Sun Moon Sect already found him? He left the room and made his way to inner courtyard. It was there that he heard that sound again. It was a girl singing.

Cha-Zi walked to the other side of the courtyard and, in one of the rooms on the other side, found that there was indeed an occupant in it. It was a beautiful woman in a long blue gown with wide sleeves ending in golden borders. Her hair was red and her skin was a delicate white, almost like that of a pearl. She sat at on a stool playing a harp, singing a melancholy tone much like Li Si used to play for him whenever he was sick and couldn’t sleep. She gasped when she saw him and stopped playing.

“Good traveler, what brings you here to this lonely temple? Do you wish to worship the gods from here? I’m afraid that no priest has set foot in here for many years.” The girl spoke with a soft voice that reached Cha-Zi’s ears almost like a song.

Cha-Zi bowed his head curtly and said, “Fair maiden. I am looking for a friend. I was told that he had stayed here some days ago. Have you seen him?”

The red-haired maiden stared at him for a few moments, her large doe eyes staring deep into Cha-Zi’s, making him feel simultaneously uncomfortable and relaxed at the same time. “Yes, there was a man who passed by here. But he has left and been gone for some time.” She got up and walked over to Cha-Zi, who was still looking around observing the place. “Why don’t you make yourself comfortable here? I am quite lonely.” She reached out and touched Cha-Zi’s robe.

A sudden sound from outside made Cha-Zi jump and draw his sword again. He tore his eyes away from the maiden’s comforting stare. “It seems we are not alone. I think they are here?”

The lady pressed on him more, but Cha-Zi broke away and walked to the window to have a look. “Who are they? There is nobody here but you and I?”

Cha-Zi, looking out the window, muttered to himself, “How did they find me? Did they know I was coming?”

The woman opened her gown a little near the chest, revealing a little of her cleavage. “My friend, you are nervous. Come, I shall make you feel better.”

Cha-Zi, however walked right past her and went down the hall. She followed him, trying to lift her dress and reveal some of her bare leg. Cha-Zi paid no attention to her, but with his sword drawn, began to inspect the other rooms. He kept muttering to himself, “So if they are here? How do you expect to the face them?” The red-haired woman came up from behind and placed her hand on his shoulder, startling him. He jumped and turned to face her, pointing his sword at her throat.

The woman giggled. “Enough of this, good stranger. You really don’t need to worry. There’s only you and I here—“

A slight jingling made Cha-Zi push her against the wall and motion for her to remain silent. He looked around, especially at the windows, where a surprise attack might come. “What was that?” he whispered brusquely.

In a soft, seductive whisper, the woman spoke into his ear, “It is only the little bell that I have on my ankle.” Cha-Zi looked down and saw a little bracelet on the woman’s ankle, which she showed by lifting her gown and exposing as much of her leg as she could. Cha-Zi quickly struck his sword straight downward and struck the bracelet, slicing through the thin metal and cutting it from her ankle.

“It’s too dangerous, fair damsel. I fear we are being watched. That bell may give us away.” He turned to see that the woman was now pale with horror. She did not look at him, but stared intently at the broken bracelet. “Are you okay? Don’t worry, fair damsel, I shall buy you a new bracelet when we return to town—“

The woman, her voice trembling, answered, “—to town?”

Cha-Zi nodded. “Yes. I think there is great evil in this temple. I fear lest it not only want to destroy me, but anyone near me.” He grabbed the girl by the wrist. “Let’s go.”

“But—“she started, her lips quivering with fear.

“Don’t make me do this,” Cha-Zi said, shaking his head. Suddenly, he lifted the girl into his arms and started running through the courtyard toward the exit. The young maiden was exceedingly light, almost like lifting a little child. He ran quickly through the other hallway and was soon at the steps of the temple. He stepped carefully down the hill, the girl still in arms, and only let her down when the forest became too dense for him to carry her without hitting her head on a birch tree. Even so, he pulled her through the forest, running as fast as he could, ignoring the damsel’s pleas to return to the temple.

The two soon made it back to the path that led to the village. In less than an hour, the two had returned to the inn, where Cha-Zi led her to his room without saying a word to anybody, despite the hushed whispers and stares. He took her into the room and closed the door, breathing heavily.

“I do not think that they will follow us here,” he said finally, his words broken up with his deep breaths. Finally, catching his breath, he asked, “So fair maiden, what is your name?”

The red-haired girl stared at him for a few seconds, her face showing a mixture of fear and disbelief. Slowly opening her mouth, she said, “I am Ri-Ge. And who are you?”

“I am Cha-Zi. I am a stranger in these parts; I hail originally from the capitol. So, what were you doing in a strange place like the temple? That’s no place for a pretty little girl like you to be.”

Ri-Ge stared at Cha-Zi in unbelief. “Are you a hunter?” she asked.

Cha-Zi laughed. “No, I am a lowly tax collector.”

“And who were ‘they’ that you were so afraid of?”

Cha-Zi’s face became more serious. “I have heard rumors in my travels that the dreaded Sun Moon Sect has come down from the mountains and started preying upon the innocent.” At that, Ri-Ge turned away and walked toward the window. “I was told a friend of mine had passed by the temple but hadn’t returned. I feared lest he had fallen victim to them. So I was on the lookout for them.”

“What do you know about the Sun Moon Sect?”

“Only what people tell me: that they’re a beastly sect of savage killers with no regard whatsoever for human life—“

Ri-Ge coughed. “Did you think that they were there at the temple?”

Cha-Zi hesitated and then nodded. “These are dangerous times, my lady. Despite my sword, I am not a good fighter and preferred to run away rather than confront them. If they had been there and I had fought them, I think both you and I would have perished. But now you are safe, which is important.”

Ri-Ge let out a long sigh and turned to face Cha-Zi with a forlorn look. She shook her head and walked over to the bed and sat down, staring at the ground.

“My lady,” said Cha-Zi. “Is there something amiss?”

“You don’t understand,” she said in a low tone. “I am from the Sun Moon Sect.”

Cha-Zi jumped back and then ran for his sword, but then paused and returned to where Ri-Ge was sitting. “You? A beautiful girl like you? A member of the Sun Moon Sect? I don’t understand.”

Ri-Ge said, “I am a member of the Sect, but my life is nothing more than a puppet show. I am but a slave to the other members of the sect, whom are truly like the way you heard them described. They are a thieving, murderous bunch and use me in their schemes.” A tear began rolling down Ri-Ge’s cheek. “They found me abandoned in the woods when I was but a baby, and took me in and raised me. When they saw that I was a fair young maiden, they decided that I would best serve them as bait for their traps. So, they would send me to frequent places where travelers often would travel alone. When a traveler arrived, I would bewitch him with my beauty and singing. Then the sect members would fall upon him and steal his belongings and slay him in a gruesome manner.”

Cha-Zi stared at her in disbelief. “Then is it true that the government hired your clan to find and destroy the Hunter’s Guild?”

Ri-Ge nodded and continued staring at the ground. “It is true. The friend that you sought at the temple was killed the night he came to visit.” Ri-Ge began to weep. “Please forgive me; I do not take joy in this. But I was obligated to do so. It was only when—“

“—when I cut your off your bracelet. That would explain why you were so scared at that moment. Well, if you must know, yes I am a hunter. Do not worry, though, I will try to protect you.” Cha-Zi sat beside Ri-Ge and placed his arm around her. “If what you did was forced upon you by cruel masters, than I will not blame you.”

Ri-Ge looked up and gazed into Cha-Zi’s eyes. “Cha-Zi, when you came to the temple, I tried to bewitch you, but you wouldn’t have it. Why? Why did you ignore my charms and beauty?”

Cha-Zi looked away and toward the window. “You are indeed a beautiful girl. I suppose part of the reason was fear, but another part of it was that my mentor, a great warrior, taught me to distrust women, especially beautiful ones.” He laughed out loud. “I might add that beautiful women who sit around in creepy abandoned temples singing for no real reason wishing to seduce strangers are to be trusted even less.”

Ri-Ge started blushing. “Forgive me, Cha-Zi. You are the first person to ever resist my charms. You are the first person to not treat me like an object, but like a lady.”

Cha-Zi smiled as he walked back to the bed and sat down again. “I have my mentor to thank for that. You see, my mentor and surrogate big sister is a woman, and really, she’s the only family I have. She taught me many things, one of which was to always respect women. But enough of that.” His face quickly became grave. “They are going to come after us now, aren’t they?”

Ri-Ge soon became pale again and nodded. “Yes, they are. They will want your life. I think they will simply take me back and force me to continue seducing victims for them.” At this , Ri-Ge started to weep.

“It’s okay. They may not be so bold as to come to an inn and bring attention to themselves. Spend the night here with me, and then tomorrow we’ll leave early and find somewhere else to go.”


Cha-Zi, thinking that he already knew what she was going to say, said, “Don’t worry. You can sleep on the bed. I have a mat here that I can sleep on. It’s alright, I won’t ask for anything in return for rescuing you.”

Ri-Ge, her eyes still glistening from her tears, stared blankly into Cha-Zi’s eyes. “Thank you, good Cha-Zi. If only for being the only person I’ve met that treats me like a woman.”

At that very moment, a loud metallic echoed through the room, and a large shiny object hurtled through the window toward Cha-Zi and Ri-Ge. They jumped out of the way in time for a large claw to rip into the bed mattress and tear it to shreds as it was pulled back to its owner. Cha-Zi and Ri-Ge jumped to their feet and saw four women standing at the window.

The women were hideous in appearance. Their faces were wrinkled with large warts covering their aquiline noses. Long, unkempt, brownish-gray hair grew out of their heads and fell down at their shoulders. They wore a simple dark violet tunic and shoes. All four of them held in their hands a pair of metallic claws, shaped like large eagle talons, both claws being joined by a long flexible cord. Their loud cackle sent a chill down Cha-Zi's spine as he fell backward and rolled over the bed to grab his sword on the other side. The four women stared at him as he did so.

"Stand aside," yelled Cha-Zi to Ri-Ge. "Whatever happens, don't let them get you. I'll fight them." He did his best to sound courageous, but it was all he could do to hide how frightened he really was.

"Puny hunter, we have killed several of your kind already. A young youth shall be no match for us. And you," one of the women said, pointing to Ri-Ge, "You belong to us and only us. We will kill and skin this hunter and take you back with us."

"No!" cried Ri-Ge. "I shall seduce no more men for you, murderous wretches. I'll kill myself before I go back with you."

The four women laughed. "No worries, when our chief comes, you won't have to bother."

Cha-Zi screamed and lunged at them with his sword. The melee began as Cha-Zi swung his sword wildly at the claw-wielding witches. Sparks flew and the sound of clanging metal filled the air as his sword struck their claws with full force. The women attacked him holding the claws and trying to hack him to pieces in close-quarters combat, their blows being aimed at Cha-Zi's face and chest. Cha-Zi swung and jabbed his sword quickly from one opponent to another, trying wildly to dodge the swinging strikes of claws coming from four directions at the same time. Once in a while, one of the witches would trap his sword with the curved talons of their weapons, but Cha-Zi quickly would kick them in the stomach or legs to keep them at a safe distance.

Finally, the four witches jumped back and started swinging one end of the cord in the air like a lasso. Simultaneously, they threw their claws at Cha-Si, who jumped, ducked, and rolled around to keep from getting struck by the flying talons. He swung his sword and parried several more attempts to get him with their long-range attacks. Cha-Zi felt it safer to close the difference and tumbled in the women's direction, blocking two more throws with his sword.

As this was happening, Ri-Ge stayed glued to the wall, staring in horror. She looked back and forth between the two conflicting parties: one of them had raised her and saved her from certain death, but had wasted her life exploiting her beauty. The other promised freedom and maybe even love. She watched as they engaged in personal combat once again, Cha-Zi wildly trying to defend himself, but whose movements became more and more erratic. Ri-Ge bit her lips as she watched him take his first and second scratches, one in the upper left the arm and the other across the right cheek. Her fists were clenched, but some invisible force seemed to keep her from doing anything. She wanted to help, but something made her feel helpless.

Cha-Zi yelped as another claw ripped through his trousers and into his thigh. Glancing at the deep, bloody gashes in his leg, he muttered the words "Ah Li, please be with me" to himself. He thrust out one of his elbows, striking one of the female fighters in the head, causing her to double back. But he was soon down on one knee, trying in vain to parry the next barrage of slashes, which hacked through his robes and into his sides and back. He felt his clothes grow moist with the warm blood that poured from his fresh wounds.

Ri-Ge stared in horror, which was soon converted into the anger. Her delicate white face grew red and then scarlet. Her teeth began to grind. Finally, she reached inside her dress and pulled out, which had been wrapped around her waist, a double-claw weapon of her own. It was similar to the others', but the claw, instead of being metallic, looked like an actual desiccated animal claw. She screamed and fell upon those she once called her own.

Too surprised for a quick counter-attack, one of them took a blow from Ri-Ge's claw to the neck and collapsed immediately. She engaged the other three, who threw their claws at her. She responded by flicking the cord of her claw in such a way that swung in a circle and wrapped around the three cords. She yanked as hard as she could and brought the three in close to her. Quickly putting her hands on both claws, she brought one claw across the face of one of them, which she followed through with an under-handed strike that buried the other claw deep under the beastess' ribcage, slaying her almost immediately.

She exchanged a series of blows and parries with the other two, but was able to get the upper hand because of their surprise at how good of a fighter she actually was. She reached down and threw her dress up, so that it blocked the others' vision, and then thrust her foot into the stomach of one of the remaining two sect members. The beastess keeled forward, stunned, and Ri-Ge, seeing the opening, brought one of the claws down and ripped into the back of her head, giving Ri-Ge a brief but sickening glimpse of her brain, putting an end to her life.

With only one more of them left, Ri-Ge fought her with all of her energy, parrying and locking her opponent's claw with every swing. Ri-Ge finally threw the cord around the woman's neck and switched hands with the claws, crossing the cords. She jumped high into the air and flipped over to the woman's backside, in such a way that the two were back to back. Ri-Ge quickly pulled the cord in both directions, so that it closed around her neck and started strangling her, She pulled the cord toward her and bent over forward, lifting the woman off the ground. The woman kicked and struggled for several seconds, but soon gave up and went limp.

"Cruel beastesses," Ri-Ge said. "May your corrupt souls descend speedily to the deepest level of hell."

"I'm sure you shall join them soon," cackled another voice from the window.

Ri-Ge and Cha-Zi looked up and saw another woman standing at the window. She looked like the others, but her skin was almost green in color and her hair was grayish-blue. She wore the same style of clothing as the others, but her tunic was pink rather than violet. She had long, gnarled fingernails and she also wielded a pair of claws, although hers were not joined by a cord.

"Insolent little witch," the trollish woman said. "Ungrateful wretch. We take you in. Feed you. Give you beautiful clothing. A home. Everything. And how do you repay us? You abandon us for a young hunter and kill four of your compatriots. I should've left you to die in the forest all those years ago."

"Maybe," said Ri-Ge sarcastically. "But it doesn't matter now. Now we're here, and I'll tell you now that either the hunter and I leave here alive, or we'll at least die trying. I'm through being your puppet!"

The green-skinned woman began to crow. "I'll be more than happy to oblige. But let me tell your little beau something." Looking down at the wounded Cha-Z, the hag pointed at Ri-Ge and said, "This girl is not a normal girl."

Ri-Ge began seething with anger at the woman's words. "Trogress! Hold your tongue."

"He should know, Ri-Ge, that the love of his life," the trogress said sarcastically, "is nothing but a fox spirit. Yes, had I not saved you, you would've been as good as dead. They would've hunted you down and slew you without thinking about it for a moment. The people in this part of the world hate and fear fox spirits, and nothing would make them happier than to kill one with their own two hands and skin them alive as an example for the others. Ungrateful witch! You'd be nothing if weren't for the Sun Moon Sect. How dare you think of ever leaving us. Where will you go? How will you survive in a world that hates you?"

Cha-Zi looked at Ri-Ge, staring deep into her eyes. "Is it true?"

Ri-Ge solemnly nodded. She pulled back her hair to reveal her ears, which were long, pointy, and covered with orange fur with small tufts of black fur near the inner ear, much like that of an actual fox. Cha-Zi squinted at her ears and then at her person. He contemplated her for a few moments and then stood up. Resolutely, he said, "We'll take our chances together."

At that moment, the trogress screeched and ran toward Ri-Ge, ready tear her in half. Cha-Zi, acting quickly, jumped in front her, just in time for the trogress' metallic talon weapons to sink into his chest. Cha-Zi braced himself as the pain shot through his body. Still grasping his sword, he threw his head forward and struck the trogress in the nose, knocking her back. He then lifted up his sword, and with lighting quick reflexes, swung in vertically and then horizontally in a small fraction of a second.

The trogress released her grip on her weapons and stepped back for a moment. She looked at both Ri-Ge and Cha-Zi without saying a word. Slowly, her tunic began to open and part down the middle. A thin red line appeared, running down her face, and starting again at her chest and continuing until it reached her navel. Her tunic then parted in the middle in a horizontal line, revealing another thin red line running across her stomach. Blood began to seep out of the red line, forming a bloody cross on her body. She fell over backward and died without so much as a last word.

Cha-Zi staggered back several steps, struggling to maintain his balance as he continued to bleed profusely from the many wounds he had sustained. His hands shaking from the intense pain he felt, he removed his robes and cap and tried to throw them on his bed, although his arm was so weak at that point that he was only able to drop them. He looked over at Ri-Ge, who stood trembling over the body of her former master, her eyes wide with horror and confusion. She finally covered her face with her hands and turned away. Cha-Zi stared at her and soon their eyes met. Cha-Zi tried to smile at her; after all, he knew that she was now free from the horrid life which she had been forced to live.

Ri-Ge stared at him with confusion, but soon began to understand her place in life now and returned his smile.

“You’re free now, Ri-Ge. They will no longer use you as they had for so long. It’s over.” Cha-Zi spoke those words with courage and compassion, as he imagined that she was still a bit confused.

“But where will I go? Remember, I’m still a fox spirit. I’m not looked upon very well by your kind. Surely they will try to kill me. What do I have left?”

Cha-Zi, whose body began to teeter and lose its balance, and whose each breath became more and more painful, simply said, “We are the same, you and I. I am also hunted by those around me. Ri-Ge, come with me. We can live in exile together.”

Ri-Ge nodded and smiled, her eyes brimming with tears. She started walking over to her benefactor. However, before she could reach him, Cha-Zi’s strength gave away and he fell over backward, striking the wood floor with a loud thud. Ri-Ge gasped and hurried over to his side. His body and most of his face was almost completely caked over in blood and his breath became erratic. Ri-Ge started fiddling nervously with her fingers, not sure what to do.

She then remembered that, as a fox spirit, she was endowed with certain powers. She breathed a bit slower, closed her eyes, and concentrated her inner energy into her hands. They began to emit a bright blue glow. Suavely and gracefully, she passed her hands over each and every one of Cha-Zi’s wounds. She took a deep breath and removed his trousers in order to heal the numerous deep cuts in his legs. Cha-Zi had drifted off into unconsciousness but his chest soon began to rise and fall at a more constant rate, causing Ri-Ge to sigh in relief.

Ri-Ge looked around the roof and found a pot full of water. Tearing off a piece of the sleeve of her own gown, she daintily dipped it in the basis and started cleaning the blood off of Cha-Zi’s body.

Within a few minutes, Cha-Zi returned regained consciousness. He opened his eyes and smiled at the blurry image of Ri-Ge kneeling beside him. He could not see her return the smile, but he felt her loving hand brush against his cheek. He blinked a few times to adjust his eyes again, but to his dismay, Ri-Ge and everything around her remained blurry. His heart skipped a bit and he quickly sat up.

“Ri-Ge,” he said nervously. “I-I can’t see. My vision…it-it’s leaving me.” Cha-Zi soon became hysterical.

He heard Ri-Ge’s gasp and then her voice say, “The claws—they must have been laced with poison. Calm down, Cha-Zi. Let me help you.” She took inhaled and put forth her hand, which soon began to emit a dark green light. She placed her hand firmly on one of the wounds that the trolless had inflicted on him. With all of her energy, she concentrated on purging the poison from him. When she finally began to feel faint, she pulled her hand away.

“Are you okay now?” Ri-Ge asked, concerned.

“I-I still can’t see. Ri-Ge, I think we’re t-too late.” Cha-Zi’s voice began to crack and his lip quiver. Ri-Ge saw him tense the muscles in his arms and clench his fists.

“Cha-Zi, don’t hold it in,” Ri-Ge said softly, running her hand up and down his back.

Cha-Zi bit his lower lip so hard that it begin to grow white. Finally, he relaxed his body and started weeping like a little child. His weeping soon gave a way to a pronounced wailing, a despair-filled bawl that became so loud that Ri-Ge quickly pulled his head into her bosom so as to not call any more attention than the previous fight had already called. He continued to cry for a few minutes and then regained his composure.

“It’ll be okay, Cha-Zi. I’m here with you. You sacrificed everything for me. I won’t leave you.”

Cha-Zi stammered, “You don’t understand, Ri-Ge. I’m a wanted man. Every assassin in the country wants to find me. You saw me fight; I couldn’t take on the Sun Moon Clan by myself, even when I could see. I was never as good a fighter as my mentor. Now I’m blind. I may as well give up now. How can I protect myself—and you—when I can’t even see?”
Ri-Ge stayed quiet for a moment. She then placed her face in front of Cha-Zi’s face so that their noses touched. “Cha-Zi, can you see me?”

“Kind of. I only see a blur.”

“I swear, by all of the gods, that I will protect you. I will be your guide. I will teach you to fight, even if you are blind. Even if you lose all of your senses, I shall stand by your side. “ She spoke with such resolution that Cha-Zi was touched. Ri-Ge paused for a moment. “Hmm. We do have a predicament, though. We are both not very welcome around here anymore. How do we get around? A wanted hunter and a fox spirit walking around isn’t really a conspicuous disguise.”

For a moment neither said a word. Then Cha-Zi stood up and said, “I know.” He limped slowly to his things, which he kept near his bed. He pulled out a second navy blue robe, which he had used when masquerading as a tax collector. “We’re about the right size,” he said. “Take off your gown and put this on.”

“But Cha-Zi, you—“

“—can’t really see you naked?” He chuckled. “It’s okay, I’ll turn around.” He turned around and rummaged through his things and threw a pair of trousers over to Ri-Ge. “You’ll need to wear those, too.”
Ri-Ge giggled as she removed her long flowing gown and got into Cha-Zi’s masculine clothes. Cha-Zi hobbled over to the water basin and placed a piece of cloth in it. Handing the wet cloth to Rika, he told her to remove her make-up. He then walked back to the bed and produced a small comb from his belongings. He bid her turn around, which she did. He began combing her long red hair. He then began to lift it, twist it, and finally tied it into a small bun on top of her head. His vision was getting worse, so it took him several moments to find his square cap on his bed. At length he found it and placed it on her head.

Ri-Ge giggled. “I must be the most feminine-looking man in the country.” She stuck her arms out and gazed upon the blue clothing that she was wearing. “I look like one of those swordsman that I used to—“ she paused and then cut off her thought. “Quite a bit different from the nice gowns I used to wear.”

Cha-Zi nodded. “It’ll help us a little, at least. And now for myself. Ri-Ge, please fetch me my sword.” Ri-Ge nodded and handed the long, two-edged blade to him. “I’ll need you to help me here.” With that, he began to pass the blade of the sword over his scalp, cutting his hair off. Ri-Ge put her hand over her mouth in surprise, but quickly stooped down and scooped up a few golden locks and placed them inside the robes she wore. She then helped him guide the blade and chopped off most of his hair. Ri-Ge found a small razor among Cha-Zi’s belongings and slicing through the hair that remained.Within a few moments, Cha-Zi had become completely bald.

“So it’s going to be an effeminate tax collector and a blind monk wandering around together.” Cha-Zi chuckled.

Ri-Ge rubbed his head a little. “I think we’ll make an excellent couple.” With a more serious tone of voice, she said to Cha-Zi, “Can you still see me?”

“My vision is fading quickly. Do not worry, Ri-Ge. I will always have the image of you, in all of your glorious beauty, in my mind.”

“Then I want you to have this as your final sight.” She walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him. She kissed him on the mouth, which surprised Cha-Zi at first, but soon he entered her rhythm and allowed himself to feel the love that Ri-Ge wished to express. For several minutes they kissed, during which time his vision continued to fail him, until he saw nothing at all.

Author's Notes

1. The pronunciation of Ri-Ge is "Rih Guh". "Ri" means "sun" and one of the meanings of "ge" is "to sing".

2. Claws are considered to be one fo the eighteen traditional weapons of Chinese martial arts. While they are sometimes portrayed as the type of a weapon you'd wear over your hand, they are often shown in film in the way described in this story.

3. Fox spirits are pretty common in Chinese stories involving the supernatural. They are portrayed as being alternately malicious and benevolent. They often try to deceive and bring mischief into the lives of mortals, but often the females end up marrying a mortal.

4. It's an old genre trope to have a girl dress in man's clothing and fool everybody around her, despite the fact that in movies, it is almost always unconvincing to the viewer. I imagine this is based on the assumption that a woman would NEVER wear a man's clothing and thus now matter how effeminate the man might look, it'd still be a man.

Last edited by H-Man on Sat Aug 7, '10, 8:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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