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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, '10, 6:54 pm
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This story doesn't draw on any specific stories from Chinese literature, but it does draw a little from Japanese folklore for some of its characters. That said, this story isn't so much an actual narrative as it a preparation for the next story, which will cap off this PSIV story cycle.
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Li Si gazed into the small red orbs that were the tengu’s eyes. Perched in a tree, the blue-feathered humanoid looked down on his female visitor and nodded. Opening its beak, it let out a loud squawk and leapt to the earth, its large eagle-like wings flapping hard so as to slow it down as it reached the earth. The tengu landed softly and nodded. It produced a large iron fan and cooled itself for a few moments. Li Si saw that it held a wooden cudgel in its other hand and could see a sword, possibly a katana, hanging from its belt. The tengu was a legendary warrior in the Eastern Islands, and was exactly who Li Si was looking for.

“So you are the infamous Li Si, master of the dragon missile, or so they say,” squawked the tengu, scratching its long blue ears.

Li Si bowed respectfully to the creature. “Yes, I am.”

Next to Li Si stood a green, monkey-like creature with a large tortoise shell adorning its back. The creature laughed aloud and squealed, “Ri Si! Ri Si! I think she’s more man than those samurai who tried to beat me a few days ago.”

Li Si looked down at her companion and sighed. In a low whisper, she said, “Don’t push your luck, Raja.”

“You wouldn’t dare hurt me,” Raja said, even louder. “I have Grizu here by my side. We yokai always stick together.”

“Silence, kappa!” yelled Grizu, the tengu. Looking back at Li Si, Grizu inquired, “So, what brings you across these seas and to my abode?” Grizu narrowed his eyes as he asked.

Averting her eyes from the tengu’s gaze, Li Si answered, “I have heard legends that the first volume of the Sacred Scroll that was stolen from the court library generations ago is in your hands.”

Grizu said nothing, but nodded slightly.

Li Si continued, “You must know that I am of the Hunters Guild. My colleagues and I have been hunted by the government for the past several years. I have discovered that the one responsible for this decree is the eunuch Lau Shek.”

Grizu remained expressionless, but grunted.

“Eunuch?” said Raja incredulously. “Why would an effeminate man-woman want—“ He was silenced by Grizu raising his hand.

“I know Lau Shek,” Li Si went on. “I know that he’s mastered the iron vest technique—“

“Three,” said Grizu, coldly.

“Excuse me?”

“Lau Shek has mastered three different iron vest techniques, each with its own weak point.”

“How do you know?”

“One of them is described in the volume of the Sacred Scroll that made its way into my possession. The scroll mentions two others, although it doesn’t give any explanation about them. I assume you came all the way here to seek counsel about how to counter that technique?”

Li Si nodded and bowed reverently.

Grizu began pacing, staring at the trees as he talked. “Many samurai have come from the far corners of the island to study under me. Most of them I have turned away. Why should I help you, who are not only a foreigner, but a woman as well?”

“A woman who can probably beat up all those samurai who came to you, Grizu,” butted in Raja. “But a woman, nonetheless.” He quickly ducked away to avoid being struck by an irate Li Si. His movements caused him to nearly spill the water that filled a basin-like hole on the top of his head, the source of his magic powers.

Li Si took a deep breath and fixed her eyes on him. “Grizu Sensei, you know that I came here with only the purest of intentions. I do not wish to use any knowledge I might gain from you for myself, but to avenge my colleagues of a tyrant whose designs I think both of us can agree are far from honorable. You know a lot about the world around you. So you know that because of Lau Shek, even the spirits themselves are being hunted, so that nobody may oppose his eventual rebellion and coup. I can’t oppose him by myself. Please,” Li Si bowed again. “Please help me.”

Grizu was silent for a few moments. The only sound Li Si could hear was the wind striking Grizu’s wide-sleeved garments. Then, striking his cudgel on the ground Grizu laughed. “Very well. I shall take you as my student. But I need a payment first.” He stroked his beak gently. “How about your famed Dragon Missiles?”

Li Si grew pale for a moment. “E-excuse me? But t-these—“

“—will be of no use to you when you finally confront Lau Shek.”

Li Si removed her two Dragon Missiles from her garments. For a few moments, she stared at that them and rubbed her light skin gently against the ornate dragon sculptures. The weapons had been hers for many years; she had defeated and killed numerous bandits and criminals and had saved many lives with those weapons. They were practically a part of her being, now. Li Si finally took a deep breath and walked over to Grizu and handed the two legendary weapons over to the tengu.


***

Lung Han knelt beside the abandoned inn and dug into the soft, Black mountain soil with his hands. There was something enriching to him about feeling the suave earth pass through his fingers. He looked around him; he and Kaire had found this abandoned inn in the northeastern mountains and decided to set up operations there. It was a beautiful place, to be sure. Large, thick clouds of fog hugged the higher peaks like a woman who had not seen her lover for ages. Most of the shorter mountains in region were covered with emerald green pine trees. Although not particularly high, the mountains would make it slightly difficult for any opposing army to reach them, should that ever happen.

Ah Han took in a mouthful of fresh mountain air and exhaled slowly. He then reached into his pocket and produced a small seed capsule. He dug a small hole in the soft earth and placed the seed in it. Blowing a kiss to the seed, Ah Han covered it up with the displaced soil, brushing his hands affectionately over the dirt.

“No need to fear, my love. You shall soon be by my side again,” he said, still looking at the ground.

Ah Han was then startled by a sudden cough. He spun around to see Ti’er Kaire standing behind him, smiling. She was wearing her Taoist robes instead of the coarse bear-fur vest she had worn when they met.

“How long have you been watching me?” Han asked, curiously.

“Long enough.”

“Thank you again, Kaire, for all this. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her.”

Kaire simply nodded. After a few moments, she spoke, “Well, it’s not going to be easy from here on out, you know. Eventually, we’re going to have to confront Lau Shek and his guards.”

Han looked away for a few moments, his face a bit forlorn. “I know. Do you think we can really beat Lau Shek?”

“I’m studying the manuals now, so we should at least have a good starting point. We’re going to need some strong allies though.”

Han nodded.

“Speaking of which, I need you to help me clean this place up. Pretty soon, this place will be teaming with people…and spirits.”


***


“Here! Take these!” yelled Grizu, throwing two small metal objects to Li Si.

Li Si reached out and caught both objects. They were fans, fans made of iron, just like the one that Grizu used to cool himself off in the hot summer heat. She held one in each hand and opened both of them, fanning herself in an exaggerated, flirtatious manner that suggested a super-delicate woman, instead of a fierce warrior. After making a mock flirty face to her teacher, hiding part of her face behind one of the fans, she asked, “Sensei, what are these for?”

“They shall be your new weapons,” he said gravely, pointing to her Dragon Missiles, which he had placed in his belt.

Li Si frowned at him. “These? How can I fight a nigh-invincible opponent with these?”

Grizu walked over to her and violent snatched the fans from Li Si’s hands. He then handed her one of the Dragon Missiles. Li Si gave Grizu a confused look as he walked a fair distance from her. Turning around, he demanded, “Attack me!”

Li Si raised her eyebrow. The hand that held the Dragon Missile trembled.

“Throw it!”

Li Si raised the curved blade and pointed it at Grizu. Squinting her eyes a little to get her target in focus, she threw it with all her might. The blade spun quickly as it cut through the air on its way to its target: Grizu’s throat. Grizu stood motionless. When the missile had come within a yard of him, he made a quick side-sweeping movement with the fan. The missile suddenly changed its trajectory, veering sharply off to the side and embedding itself in the trunk of a nearby tree. Li Si’s jaw dropped in awe.

Grizu walked over to Li Si. Handing the fans back to her, and reclaiming his own prize, he said coldly to her, “There are two lessons in this. First, trust your sensei at all times. Second, a true master of the martial arts can make a deadly weapon out of anything, even such a banal object as a fan.”


***


The Eunuch Lau Shek inspected the numerous shelves full of books and parchments, occasionally stopping to pick one up and scan it briefly. His withered face would occasionally force half a smile as he glanced at a few words written down on the paper, after which he’d place the book back on the shelf and continue pacing. Lau adjusted his navy blue miter as he waited for the two court librarians to report to him. The old eunuch walked firmly and resolutely through the aisles, eventually making his way to the library entrance just as two men entered.

The two men, an older, bearded man and a young man with a pencil-thin mustache, knelt and kowtowed to the eunuch as soon as they saw him. With a raspy, effeminate voice, the eunuch bade the two men rise.

“I have been informed that two books were stolen from the library. Is this true?”

The two librarians looked at each other nervously and nodded. “Yes, my lord,” answered the older one.

“Do you know which books were taken?”

Sweating profusely, the younger man and wiped his brow and answered, “Yes.”

There was an uncomfortable pause for a few moments. Eunuch Lau Shek squinted at the two men, his wrinkled face taking on a more demonic visage. “Well?”

“Volumes two and three of the Sacred Scroll, your excellency.”

Lau Shek, who had been pacing still, stopped dead in his tracks. For a moment he stood perfectly still. He then turned to the librarians with an ugly scowl etched into his face.

“How did it happen?”

The younger man stammered, “W-we don’t k-k-know. We think it was one of the other librarians who had worked here.”

“Oh?”

“A young, intelligent fellow named Lung Han. He worked here for a few months. Right about the time that he heard rumors of a government decree against fox spirits, he simply disappeared.”

Lau Shek bit down on his lips, but then smiled. “Do the two of you know anything about the three Sacred Scrolls? I mean, what might be written in them?”

The older man, answered. “No. We’ve heard rumors, of course. The first volume supposedly was stolen by spies from the Eastern Islands almost a century ago, long before our time. I’ve heard from older members of the court that they contain the secrets of invincibility. But the Sacred Scrolls were among those volumes that were practically forgotten by us librarians and were expressly forbidden to be checked out by anyone other than the Emperor himself.”

Lau Shek nodded silently as he listened to the old man’s answer. He muttered under his breath, “So, they’re on to me, then.”

Lau Shek walked up to the two librarians. He saw beads of sweat rolling down their nervous faces. He looked at both of them with as pleasant a smile as he could muster. Then, without saying a word, he thrust both of his arms out and struck both men in their chests with the palms of his hands. The men toppled over onto the ground, clutching their chests right above their hearts. Blood began to trickle out of their mouths. After struggling for a few seconds to get back up, both men simply collapsed.


***


Li Si’s arms moved in long, sweeping motions, swinging out and across her chest slowly but firmly. Li Si breathed deeply, tensing every muscle in her body as she inhaled, and maintaining that firmness as she exhaled. She moved slowly, but kept her legs tight in a firm stance, as Grizu had shown her. For two months she had practiced these forms, referred to by Grizu as kata, for hours on end. Most of the movements in the sequences she performed were slow, calculating techniques, not based on strength and speed, but rather dependent on flowing, precise movements.

As she moved, she could hear Grizu talking to her, “Most of you foreigners think that our martial arts are composed of nothing but hard, straight attacks and blocks. Lies. There is a strong element of beauty in the martial arts of my country, should one delve deep enough into it to observe. Now, carry on. Remember, breathing is the key. You must be able to control both your bodily movements and your breathing patterns simultaneously.”

Li Si struggled to absorb his remarks while focusing her concentration on her training. This was made worse by Raja, who sat next to Grizu, sucking on a melon, and making snide remarks.

“So it looks like Ri Si the warrior woman finally has found a little grace.”

Li Si clenched her teeth for a split second, trying to tune out Raja’s pointless banter. She continued her practice, opening and shutting the fans with the most subtle of movements with her thumb, moving her arms in complicated, spiral movements that brought the sharpened edges of the fans within a fraction of an inch of her face and neck. For a few movements, she exhaled gradually as she extended her arm out in front of her, stepping forward and then to the side, moving her other hand upward. Then, without warning, her movements would become fast and jerky, her attacks faster and powerful, ending with her screaming at the moment of she delivered the key strike of the kata. After that, her muscles tensed and her pace lessened considerably, only to become hard and fast several moments later.

“The beautiful thing about the fan as a weapon is that most enemies will not expect it. It much like the pipe or the flute, a very powerful instrument of death disguised as something that anybody might possess for non-fighting purposes. The fan is much more than that, however. It is both a hard and soft, sharp and blunt weapon, depending on how you choose to use it. It can be used close range and it can be thrown, with equally deadly results. Come now; let’s move on to another sort of training.”

Li Si broke her posture and stood at ease, brushing a few strands of hair from her face with a few deft swipes of her hand. Grizu got up and flew a considerable distance from her. He reached into a small pouch on his belt and produced a small handful of iron stars. Li Si saw them and understood that he wanted her to deflect them the same way he had done to her Dragon Missile months before. Li Si took a few deep breaths and focused her attention on Grizu, more specifically his hands.

She saw him flick his wrist just a fraction of an inch. Li Si instinctively swung one of the fans in an upward, curving motion, knocking one of the stars out of her way. Grizu nodded from afar. Li Si quickly dropped her arms to her sides and inhaled deeply. Grizu made another near-imperceptible movement with his hand. Li Si instinctively thrust other arm out in a downward, cutting motion. She looked down and saw an iron star buried halfway into the ground a few inches from her foot.

After deflecting all of the stars thrown at her, Li Si bowed to Grizu, who returned the show of respect. Grizu then asked her to throw her fans at him. Li Si nodded. She closed her eyes for a moment and focuses her energy. Rather than pulling her arms back like with her Dragon Missile, she crossed them and bent them inward, a detail that took her a while to adapt to. She felt a warm sensation in her arms. Her eyes snapped opened and she threw the fans at Grizu. The fans rotated much like her old weapons and moved in a large outward arc before closing in on Grizu. Grizu struck both fans in middair with his cudgel. Li Si soon saw that both fans had gotten stuck in the wooden rod.

Li Si smiled. She was beginning to get the hang of her new weapons.


***


Ti’er Kaire stood behind the counter, wiping down the wood surface. There were already several people who had come to the inn to take up residence, some of whom were fox spirits and a few others whom were hunters that hadn’t been exterminated by the government. As the two groups knew that they faced a common foe, any sort of fear or enmity that might’ve existed among them had given way to a sense of camaraderie. They simply ate and drank together, often dueling each other for fun.

“Hey Kaire, where’s our pork noodles?” one of the hunters shouted gaily.

“They’ll be right up,” Kaire responded.

“And can I have a blue-haired beauty to go along with them?” another one of the hunters asked.

“I’ll tell you what,” Kaire said with a sinister smile. “Get past my demon rods and I’ll think it over.”

The others laughed and slapped their companion on the back.

Kaire shook her head and went back to her chores. As she started preparing the plates and bowls to carry out to the men, her attention was diverted by the arrival of two people whom she had never seen before. One of them appeared to be a monk, with a golden blonde goatee and a shaven head. It was soon evident that the monk was blind, as he calmly tapped his cane on the ground to make sure that he didn’t walk into any object. He was followed by a rather effeminate-looking swordsman. Kaire felt a burning sensation within her. She reached into her vest and saw her emei piercers shaking and the characters inscribed into them glowing; one of them was a spirit.

Kaire eyed the two as they found a table to sit at. She noticed that everybody else in the inn had their eyes glued to the newcomers as well. Kaire got out from behind the counter and stepped over to the table. She squinted at the swordsman, who looked a bit confused at the attention Kaire gave her. Kaire smiled.

“I think you’ll make a better woman than a swordsman,” Kaire gested.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the swordsman responded, his voice cracking to reveal a slightly feminine tone.

Kaire made no attempt to justify her remarks. She simply picked up a single chopstick and flicked it at the swordsman like a dart. The chopstick flew at such speed that it tore the small cap from the swordsman’s head and pinned it to a nearby wall. Beneath the cap was a head full of long red hair, tied up into a bun. The other hunters and spirits saw that and began to whistling. The red-haired girl looked at the cap on the wall and then back at Kaire nervously.

“That’s enough, boys,” said Kaire laughing. She turned her attention to the girl. “Don’t worry, we’re all friends and allies here. You don’t need to hide your identity here.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” said the blind monk, chuckling. “I’m a bit tired of always having to shave my head every two weeks.”

“And who are you two?”

The monk spoke for him and his companion. “I am Cha-Zi the hunter. This is my lover, Ri-Ge.” His introduction was followed by a loud roar from the hunters present, who lifted up their wine glasses in a toast.

Kaire nodded and smiled. “I’ve heard stories about you two.”

“Really?” asked Ri-Ge, surprised. “But we’ve been in hiding for the past few years. How could you possibly know about us?”

Kaire nodded. “It’s a small world we live in, even more so now. Now Cha-Zi, I’ve heard stories about your…er…skills. Would you please do us the honor of giving us a demonstration?”

All of the others presented slammed their fists down on the tables in agreement. Cha-Zi nodded and stood up. He looked in Ri-Ge’s direction and nodded. Ri-Ge struck the bottom side of the table with her foot, sending a small porcelain cup full of chopsticks flying into the air. Cha-Zi raised his cane and, in a single deft movement, drew a sword from inside the cane and swung it in a small arc, quickly hiding the blade back inside the cane.

Amidst the rain of chopsticks onto the table fell the cup, sliced into two pieces.


***

“So just where are you taking me?” Li Si asked Raja impatiently, as the smart-mouthed kappa led her through the forest.

The green water demon ignored her as it moved on its flippers across the leaf-covered ground, munching nonchalantly on a cucumber. Once in a while, he’d look up at Li Si, and then look away again, giggling.

Li Si resisted rolling her eyes. Raja’s antics were enough to drive the most stoic warrior insane. Maybe those samurai attacked him those few months ago because he was too annoying, thought Li Si.

At length they reached a clearing in the trees. Li Si gasped at the first object that caught her eye: a dead, wet body hanging from a tree. For a few moments she looked at the lifeless husk that swung silently and calmly, and then she remembered that kappa were creatures notorious for drowning unsuspecting victims.

“I assume this is your doing,” Li Si said coldly.

Raja nodded with a grin. “Grizu told me a little about…er…yeah. In any case, I’m here to give you your next lessons.”

“You?” Li Si asked incredulously. “What do you have to teach me?”

Raja narrowed his eyes. “Never underestimate us yokai. We hold many secrets to this world that you mortals would kill to know. Now come! Our friend here will be our test subject.” Raja made his way to the waterlogged corpse and picked up a small metal rod lying on the ground nearby. To Li Si’s surprise, he began to strike the corpse multiple times the arms, legs, and ribs with the weapon. “Good,” he said brightly. “I think they’re all nice and broken now.”

Raja motioned for Li Si to join him. She walked cautiously over to the kappa, not sure what it was he wanted to teach her.

The kappa spoke up, “Right. One of things that we kappa are best known for, besides drowning people like this fellow here, is the art of bonesetting.”

Li Si looked over at him with a small hint of indignation in her eyes. “How’s this going to help me against Lau Shek?”

“What did Grizu tell you when you began you training?” asked Raja, tauntingly.

Li Si sighed and relented. “Very well.”

In a few moments, Li Si was moving her calloused hands up and down the dead body, striking with two fingers the points that Raja instructed her to—the “nerve points to deaden the pain”—and then pushing and manipulating the bones back into the place. This went on for hours. When Raja finally told her to stop, her hands had become nearly numb.

“Hmm,” he said. “I think a few weeks of this and you’ll be more than ready for your next mission.”


***

In front of a small brick house sat a lonely, silent man. His face was covered by the large, conical straw hat. He sat on a small stool and for several minutes he gazed at the empty house. The only sound to be heard was the man’s deep breathing. Next to the stool lay a large knapsack with the man’s belongings in them. At length the man reached into the knapsack and produced a small lyre.

He began to play a slow, sad melody, one he had heard several years before from a woman whom he had loved deeply. His fingers gently caressed the strings and soon those sorrowful tones filled the air around him. For more than ten minutes did the man play, putting all of his heart and soul into the delicate movements of his fingers plucking those strings. Although not visible to anybody who might’ve witnessed this emotional moment, two tears rand down the man’s cheek as he produced those melodies that had changed him so much over the past few years.

He eventually stopped playing and stood in silence once more. He glanced toward the horizon; the sun was now a blood-red orb sinking into the west, quickly giving rise to the evening. The lonely man looked around and saw that none of his neighbors had come out of their houses to watch him play. He nodded to himself. Turning back to the humble, brick house, the man lifted up his lyre. Taking a deep breath, he plucked a single string.

Suddenly, part of the brick structure shook and exploded, sending pieces of brick flying in all directions. He played another single note, once again causing the house to shake and another wall to collapse. He started playing more feverishly, striking the strings with more force. As he did so, more and more bricks began to shatter until finally the entire structure was reduced to rubble.

The figure than quietly got up and made his way down the path into the forest, which was becoming so dark that nobody could’ve seen where he was headed.


***


Li Si knelt before Grizu, who hovered above her, flapping his wings lightly. Her training had come to an end and it was time for her to bid farewell to her monstrous teacher. Grizu descended to the ground and stood in front of her, observing her closely.

“You may stand,” was all he said.

Li Si stood up and bowed. Grizu reached over to his belt and removed the sword that hung from it. “Please take this blade with you. You will probably need it when you face your enemy.”

Li Si reached over and removed the weapon from his hands. She unsheathed it partially, staring at the magnificent glare of the sunlight on polished metal. Sheathing it again, she placed the weapon at her side and bowed again. Grizu than flapped his wings and perched himself on a large tree branch. At this moment, Raja made his way over to her.

“Before you go, I’d like to give you a little pointer for your quest.”

Li Si raised an eyebrow at the monkey-like creature. “Oh?”

“Please, look into water.” Raja bent his head over so that Li Si could see the small basin in his head.

Li Si stared into the motionless water for a few moments. It then began to bubble and darken, eventually forming an image. Li Si saw a set of mountains. For a few moments Li Si stared at the image, racking her brain trying to remember the place. It all came back to her, causing her to stamp her foot on the ground.

“I know those mountains!” she exclaimed. She paused for a moment, and then knelt down and whispered something in Raja’s ear. He nodded and Li Si looked into the small pool of water in his head again.

Once again, the water boiled and darkened and eventually an image appeared in it. Li Si saw a familiar place, an old village where she briefly lived. However, the house in the image was not as she remembered it. In fact, the antique brick structure had been completely razed to the ground. There was no sign of life anywhere around it. Li Si grew pale, but quickly composed herself.

Wiping away a single tear from her, she took a deep breath. “Thank you, Raja.”

“Anything wrong, Ri Si?”

She shook her head. “No, nothing.”

Li Si then got up and, without saying a word, started gathering her belongings together for the trip home.
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