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PostPosted: Mon Nov 8, '10, 1:46 pm
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Li Si got out of her bed and stretched her arms for a moment. She looked around her room for a few moments. It was a plain old monk’s chamber converted into a small bedroom. Her bed was big to accommodate her, but just barely. Ah Han had told her the night before that before he and Kaire had established the abandoned temple as a refuge for hunters and spirits, the place had been caked under countless layers of dust and cobwebs. There was little sign of that now. Furniture was sparse—a simple bed, a couple of chairs, and a small table—but after having spent a fair amount of time on a ship and sleeping in a forest, the humble room was more than enough for her needs.

Li Si wiped her long brown hair out of her face and walked toward a small table that had a basin of water atop it. Looking into a polished brass mirror, she splashed the room-temperature water onto her face. She cupped her hands and drank a little, swishing it around her mouth before swallowing. Following that quick morning ritual, Li Si changed clothes from her night garments to a set of white robes and loose trousers that Kaire had one of the fox spirits give to her. She quickly tied her hair into a bun and rummaged through her things to get the two iron fans the tengu known as Grizu had given her.

After a few quick stretches and jumps, just to get the blood flowing, she began to practice. With two quick flicks of her wrists, the fans opened up. In no time, Li Si was twirling and spinning the fans around her body at lightning-fast speed, blocking attacks from imaginary enemies whom were coming at her from all sides. The bladed tips of the fans often passed dangerously close to her throat and face, but by now she had become proficient enough with the weapons that she couldn’t hurt herself with them during practice.

After more than twenty minutes of practice, Li Si stepped out the door and made her way down the hallway to the rickety wooden staircase that led down to the restaurant. She could hear the yells and calls of people practicing downstairs, plus the sound of weapons hitting each other. Reaching the steps, she could see Kaire, Ah Han, Cha-Zi, and Ri-Ge practicing below. Most of the chairs and tables had been pushed to the side of the restaurant, and in some cases, were stacked on top of each other for the fighters to have more room.

Kaire was practicing with what appeared to be Emei piercers, a pair of pointed rods that were spun around the palms of the hands. Ah Han was practicing what appeared to be some basic knife forms; Li Si figured that the young fellow was not a natural fighter. Cha-Zi was sitting cross-legged atop a table; every few seconds Ri-Ge would throw one of her claws at him, which Cha-Zi would deflect with a quick swing of his sword.

As Li Si made her way down the stairs, her attention was brought to a series of light melodies coming from that solitary harpist, who sat at a table in the corner of the balcony above. Like the day before, the harpist’s head was completely obscured by a large conical straw hat. Li Si thought about going over to him and trying to figure out who he was, but was then distracted by the sound of Kaire’s voice.

“Ah Li!” the young woman called out. “Hope you slept well last night.”

Li Si turned to her host and nodded. “Yes, thank you. Nice to see you all up early and training. And the others?”

Ah Han responded, “They’re all outside practicing. Now that you’re here, they’ve decided to pick up their pace a little more.” He paused and looked at her thoughtfully. “To be honest, after you arrived yesterday, we sent one of our fox spirit friends to spy out Lau Shek. Depending on what the report is, we may have to pick up the pace even more.”

Li Si said nothing, but simply nodded. Kaire made her way to the kitchen and quickly returned with a small bowl of porridge.

“Ah Li, please have some breakfast. We have a lot to discuss today.”

Li Si nodded and sat down at one of the tables, which had been pushed aside to allow the others to train. As she brought the deep spoon of steaming porridge to her mouth, she paused and looked curiously at Kaire. “So, where does all this food and drink come from?”

Kaire laughed. “The fox spirits bring it to us. After we set up shop here at the temple, and the fox spirits found out that we were offering refuge to any spirit that wanted protection from any wandering Taoist priest who might want to exterminate him or her for a reward, they gladly accepted asylum here in exchange for providing us with provisions. Now, where they get the food, I’d be hard pressed to tell you.”

Li Si looked up at the harpist, who continued to pluck the strings of the harp in the most delicate manner. “And that fellow upstairs?”

Kaire looked up at the harpist. “Oh, him? He arrived here some time ago. He doesn’t talk much…er…at all really. He communicates mainly with a set of small scrolls that basically tell us anything we need to know, or that he needs. He mainly just sits around playing—the female fox spirits love his music so they’re always giving him good food. Sometimes he stops playing to read a little, but that’s about it.”

Li Si pursed her lips for a moment. “Have you ever seen—“

Kaire cut her off. “—his face? No. Nobody has. I tried to get a look at it and then I tried to have one of the fox spirits do the same. No success at that.”

Li Si shrugged as she sipped on her porridge. “So how do you all spend your time here?”

Kaire smiled. “Mainly training. Although Ah Han and I have a little project we’re working on.”

Swallowing another spoonful of her breakfast, Li Si lifted an eyebrow.

“Before we came here, Ah Han was a public servant at the Imperial Library. On the eve of our flight here, he found a couple of interesting books that I figured we might need. We also figured that it would help bring Lau Shek himself over here.” Kaire looked over at Han and motioned with her head for him to run some prearranged errand.

Ah Han quickly left the room and returned a few minutes later with two books in his hands. Li Si’s eyes widened as they scanned the covers of the two books. But she refrained from speaking. By now, the three were being joined by Cha-Zi and Ri-Ge, who had finished their training. The two young lovers pulled up a chair and sat near the others. The red-haired fox spirit used her wide white sleeves to wipe the sweat from hers and Cha-Zi’s brows.

“We’ve been studying these books trying to figure out how to get past Lau Shek’s armor.” Kaire observed. “The books mainly discuss how to develop the skills; unfortunately, they don’t really mention how to break the technique.”

Li Si pondered Kaire’s words for a moment. “Well, what we…or at least I know is that Lau Shek uses three different types of armor techniques. They function more or less as different layers of armor, so you have to break the techniques in the right order.”

Ah Han and Kaire nodded in agreement, although Ri-Ge showed a bit of surprise at that declaration.

Kaire continued Li Si’s thought, “One of the techniques is known as the Invincible Iron Armor. I’m not totally sure, but I believe that technique can be broken through pressure points. Are you familiar with those?”

Li Si’s thoughts returned to her training with Raja, and how he instructed her to push certain pressure points before setting a bone. She nodded. “Yes,” she answered quietly. “I have a bit of training in that area.”

Kaire smiled. “Excellent. I do, too. My piercers are particularly good at ferreting out pressure points, so we have a chance on that front.”

Ah Han, the scholar, continued the discussion. “The second type of armor is known as the Spirit Armor. According to the manuals, it summons the demons of the region to inhabit the user’s body and make him invulnerable. The books, however, mention nothing of its weak point. We think that it may be another pressure point, but we can’t be sure.”

For a few minutes an awkward silence followed. Li Si reached out for one of the books and scanned its pages, trying to find some phrase or diagram that the others might have missed, which might hold the key to breaking the Spirit Armor. It was as she was steeped in deep thought that a sudden sound of something piercing the table startled her and the others. The object appeared to be a dart, but with a small roll of paper wrapped around it.

“Huh,” commented Kaire, with a hint of awe in her voice. “It’s one of the harpist’s scrolls.”
Li Si shot a confused look at the harpist, who seemed to pay no heed to her, but continued plucking the strings of his instrument, producing sweet, soothing melodies. Kaire extracted the dart from the table and unrolled the little scroll.

The blue-haired Taoist read the contents aloud: “With regards to the Spirit Armor, you must consider the following: If the Spirit Armor were indeed unbeatable, our nation would’ve conquered the entire world by now. Therein lies the technique’s weakness.”

“That’s it!” yelled Ah Han after a few moments’ pondering. “Local demons, local weapons! I’m ashamed that I didn’t think of that before.”

“I don’t follow you,” Ri-Ge said, chiming in on the conversation.

“You see, the essence of the Spirit Armor is that the user’s body is possessed by local demons or spirits. Their power is limited to the region in which they inhabit. Thus, the user is protected against weapons that have been forged in that region or country. In other words, weapons that have been forged in a foreign land aren’t subject to the magic, and thus can harm the user as well as they would harm any other fighter.”

Now it was Li Si’s turn to speak up. “I think you’re on to something. That would very well explain why Grizu asked me to exchange my Dragon Missiles for these iron fans.” Li Si removed the two metal objects from deep pocket inside her robe. She showed them to Ah Han, Kaire, and Ri-Ge. “These were forged on the Eastern Islands. And this—“ She pointed to the sword that hung by her side. “—Kaire, can you fight with a sword?”

Kaire nodded. “Of course! Swords are standard-issue Wudan weapons.”

Li Si smiled faintly. She removed the sheathed weapon from her belt and handed it to Kaire. Kaire unsheathed the blade. Its bright reflection marveled both Ah Han and Ri-Ge. Kaire performed a Taoist sword form with the weapon, jumping, thrusting the blade out while standing on one leg, and swinging the weapon in broad, sweeping, circular motions.

“Good,” said Li Si dryly. “That leaves us now with one more armor technique to break through.”

Then the ominous words proceeded from Ah Han’s mouth: “The God’s Armor.”
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