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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, '10, 1:46 pm
Li Si sat on her bed, her brown eyes fixed intently on the two books in front of her. She analyzed the diagrams and the explanations of the two armor techniques, trying her best to not only understand them, but to find any hint as to how to break the infamous God’s Armor technique. It had already been four days since her last meeting with her colleagues. She had asked Kaire to lend her the books so that she might study them and figure out a weak point in the third armor technique that Lau Shek had supposedly mastered. Other than a couple of hours each day that she devoted to training, she spent most of her time pouring over the books in hopes of discovering something that would help her cause. She had found nothing.

At length Li Si lied back on the bed and let out a loud sigh. Deciding to allow her mind to rest a little, she allowed her thoughts to drift to her new allies. Ti’er Kaire, who more or less ran the inn, was probably the most powerful fighter behind Li Si herself, a feisty young woman with a violent mean streak hiding behind her cheerful tomboyish demeanor. Kaire had more or less volunteered herself to fight Lau Shek alongside her, which Li Si had no problem with.

Then there was Ah Han, the former scholar. Ah Han reminded her a little of her love, Ru-Ne, except that Ah Han also had something of a dark side hiding behind his harmless exterior. He was not a martial artist at all, but in the numerous months that he had been by Kaire’s side, she had taught him how to fight with a dagger, which he seemed to master rather well. Ah Han was something of an enigma to Li Si; he spent most of his non-training or serving hours in a small garden near the inn, tending to flowers, often striking up conversations with them.

Finally there was Cha-Zi and Ri-Ge, her young protégé and his lover. It didn’t take Li Si long to figure out that Ri-Ge was a fox spirit, although she was definitely not the sort that would bewitch young men in order to do harm to them, at least not on purpose. She was as good a fighter as could be hoped for and seemed to take good care of her blind companion. Li Si felt pangs of guilt whenever she saw or thought about her young apprentice—she thought that she should’ve taken him with her to the Eastern Islands to train beside her. Cha-Zi tried to reassure her that everything was okay, that more hunters would’ve been killed had he not gone to that abandoned temple when he did.

As she was lost in her thoughts, a sudden knock on the door startled her. Li Si jumped to her feet and made her way to the door, opening it slightly. She could see Ah Han’s face, full of youth but with visible emotional scars right around the eyes.

“Ah Li, our spy has returned with a full report on Lau Shek’s activities. Please join us downstairs.”

Li Si nodded. “I’ll be right down.” She quickly tied her hair into a bun and followed the young man down to the restaurant.

Kaire and the others were already sitting down at a table in the middle of the restaurant area. There was a female fox spirit, who looked like Ri-Ge but with dark purple hair, who was receiving all of their attention. Li Si and Ah Han both pulled up a chair and directed their gazes to the young fox spirit, who was sipping on a cup of tea.

The spy began her report. “Lau Shek is personally on his way here. He’s about fifteen leagues away, so he should be here in about two days or so.”

Kaire inquired, “How many soldiers are accompanying him?”

The spy nodded, swallowing a small gulp of her tea. “There are about 40 of the king’s guard with him.”

“That should make it fairly easy,” Ri-Ge observed.

“Not quite,” continued the maiden. “Lau Shek is also being accompanied by the three Generals: Chufa, Kuxing, and Zhu.”

“I’ve heard of them,” Li Si commented quietly. “’The Punisher’, ‘The Torturer’, and ‘The Executioner’. They’re known for being the three cruelest generals in the Emperor’s army. Anybody else?”

The spy nodded. “Riding alongside Lau Shek was a magician who was dressed in black. I’m not sure who he is, though.”

Hearing this, Li Si looked up at Kaire, who in turn looked at Ah Han. Li Si looked over at Ah Han, whose body seemed to tense up at the mere mention of a magician in black. Ah Han clenched his fists and bit his lips, but remained silent.

After the spy finished her report, Kaire dismissed her and the five turned their attentions to the need for a battle plan. After some discussion, it was decided that Cha-Zi, Ah Han, and Ri-Ge would confront the generals while Kaire and Li Si would face Lau Shek himself. The other hunters and fox spirits would ambush the guards on the mountain trail. When everybody was more or less satisfied with the battle plan, the topic of the discussion turned to Lau Shek and his God’s Armor technique.

Li Si, like Ah Han and Kaire, had not found anything in the books that explicitly hinted at what the weak point in the technique might be. As they fruitlessly tried to find some sort of solution to this problem, they were startled by an object striking the tabletop. It was another dart from the silent harpist. Kaire reached over and unrolled the small piece of parchment attached to the dart.

’I have the answer to your riddle,’” the note read.

Li Si and others looked up at the harpist, who was nonchalantly playing some music on his instrument. They got up from table and walked up to the balcony and over to the table where the harpist was perched. Pulling up several chairs, they all sat down and stared at the stranger, who at first acted as if he didn’t even notice that he had company. After a few seconds, the musician stopped playing and sat still.

“You said that you know how to break through the God’s Armor?” Li Si asked directly, her voice tinged with curiosity.

The harpist nodded slightly, his face invisible beneath the large conical hat.

“Please tell us,” pleaded Kaire.

Nodding once more, the harpist reached into robes and produced a small stack of papers. Handing them to Li Si, he gestured with an open palm that she should have a look at them. Li Si started looking at the papers, not noticing that all eyes were on her. After going through the stack of papers twice, she slammed them face-down on the table and glared at the silent figure.

“Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?” she asked, quickly losing her patience.

The stranger simply shook his head.

Ri-Ge reached over and picked up the papers with delicate hands. As she glanced at their content, her face quickly turned a shade of bright red. Trying to hide her embarrassment with a nervous laugh, she commented, “Well, I did notice some of the female fox spirits visiting his room these past few nights. Now I know what they were up to.”

Kaire quickly snatched the papers from Ri-Ge’s hands and had a look for herself. At first she began blushing, but soon her embarrassed frown became a wicked smile. “You know, this makes perfect sense!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier!”

Ri-Ge and Li Si looked at Kaire with unbelief, while Ah Han and Cha-Zi remained expressionless—they had no idea what was going on. Ri-Ge whispered something into Cha-Zi’s ear, causing him to chuckle.

Kaire went on. “Now I get it. You see, the God’s Armor technique requires pure thoughts to work. Any impure thoughts will almost immediately negate the technique and leave the user vulnerable. With these, we can break Lau Shek’s train of thought and get past his armor.” Turning to the harpist, who remained motionless, Kaire said, “If I’m not mistaken, the other person who uses this technique…” Kaire asked the harpist for a pen. Taking it from his hand, Kaire scribbled a quick note and handed it to him.

The harpist took the note and pulled his hand beneath his hat to read it. After a few moments, he turned his head to the grinning priestess and nodded.

Kaire turned to Ah Han and said, “Ah Han, I think you’ll be able to avenge Saya after all.”

Ah Han nodded and reached over and pulled his dagger from his belt. Touching the haft to his forehead, he muttered, “This dagger killed one corrupt Taoist priest. Now it shall kill one more.”

Author's note:

The words Chufa, Kuxing, and Zhu mean to "to punish", "torture", and "to execute", respectively.
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