This is a story of a land you know... and a land you do not know. The Land where Martial arts chivalry was born. A story of Nine Clans… Nine lost Heroes… and Nine Heroes yet to be found. This is the Ming Dynasty — The Era of Nine Dragons.

This Land holds many adventures, many wonders, and many secrets, some horrible and others beyond belief. Acts of heroism, romance, and fierce combat will unfold before you, like lotus petals, to nourish…

The seeds of The Dragon within you.

To join the heroes of the Land, join 9Dragons.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Iron Face Demon

“You were lucky to have survived, grasshopper.”, said the elderly man next to his improvised bed at the Nanjiang Clinic and in doing so, startled the woman tending to his wounds.

Squinting in the sunlight, Zi Jing recognised Wang Sanniang from the local tavern and gave her a tentative but grateful smile. She had cared for him on several occasions when he was but a little boy while his mother was away, working for a living in the village of Tiantan and later, during her imprisonment by the bloodclaws of the Valley of Hell.

He tried to sit up but found that he couldn’t.

“Don’t overexert yourself, Zi Jing.”. Doctor Eight Hands had returned. Bringing a fresh batch of calendulas, by the smell of it. “Those are some ugly wounds those Toad Demons gave you. The village chief was right when he told you that you weren’t ready to face them just yet.”

“It wasn’t the Toads”, replied Zi Jing, stubbornly repeating his attempt to sit up, in spite of the searing pain that seemed to rip his chest apart. Doctor Eight Hands just shook his head.

“I’m afraid the grasshopper is right”, interfered the old man again. Nobody knew his name or where he came from, even though he had settled in Nanjiang long ago. For as long as Zi Jing could remember, the villagers had referred to him either as the Hermit or the Nameless Elder. For even though he seemed younger in years than Ma Weizhao, their own elder and chief of the village, he appeared to be a well traveled man and was much more knowledgeable of both the lore and the perils of the Land.

“He was much taller than the accursed Toads and seemed human”. Zi Jing had finally managed to sit upright in a position that made the pain from his wounds somewhat bearable, or maybe it was the effect of Doctor Eight Hands’ medicines. Apparently finding approval in the Hermit’s glance, he continued. “At least, he seemed human from what I see of him. He was wearing a mask.”

The Nameless Elder nodded knowingly in response, then cleared his throat. “You’ve run into the one known as the Iron Face Demon, grasshopper.” He glanced expectingly at the faces of those around: the wounded youngster, the village doctor and the woman from the tavern. There would’ve been more but most villagers were working in the fields and Doctor Eight Hands had shooed some other curious ones away to allow Zi Jing to rest.

The Hermit sighed. It was clear that knowledge of the lore was not as widespread in the Land as he had expected it.

“His name is Hao Shi and he is one of the three Colour Face Demons. Rumour once held it that they were brethren, the offspring of Lord Mara himself, but I do not believe they have such a high standing among demonspawn.

The other two brothers, Si Mazhao and Yu Mazhao are known as the Blue and the Red Face Demon. The two of them have plagued the regions of Nanchang and Hangzhou for years. Sometimes a valiant warrior takes them on, but on the rare occasions when the demons face defeat, they just retreat to the Underworld only to reappear later and begin their foul deeds anew. Some say they are bound to the service of the Golden Coin Clan, while others claim they serve the Beast Clan – both of which hold dominion and quarrel over the provinces. Personally, I think they wreak havoc for their own delight and maybe enjoy playing the clans out one against the other.”

“Then… what is the third brother doing in Jinan?”

“Hao Shi was always the weakest of the three, but he also has the darkest heart. I believe that he didn’t want to share the reign of his brothers, but neither was he powerful enough to overthrow them and establish his own dominion in the Land.” The Nameless Elder paused with a sigh.

“What happened after he left them is but a guess of mine, but I think it came as it always comes to be when the weak are blinded by their greed. He renounced his status as a Colour Face Demon and started using an iron mask to conceal his Face. Rumours hint that he has seeked a tool powerful enough to help him achieve what he couldn’t alone but has instead fallen prey to it. I am talking about the one who calls himself the Master of the Valley of Hell – Mei San He, the Iron Claw.

You have already suffered at the hands of some of his lesser minions – the toad demons and the bloodclaws, as have almost all who live where the long arm of the Valley of Hell clan can reach. It looks like Mei San He is enthralling all those weak or evil enough – and sometimes both - to walk his dark path. To what end, only the gods may know, but certainly nothing good can come out of it.”

“It only sounds to me like I have more learning and training ahead”, Zi Jing concluded after a long and troubled silence. “I had only meant to stand up against the demonic scum that has troubled us all… now not one, but two foes seem to have appeared. I will hold true to what I’ve told the brave warrior who rescued my mother… I will train long and hard and one day I will master my Kung Fu. One day, I will rid Jinan of the Master of the Valley of Hell himself.”

An Old New Threat

Liang Xin! Come out of that tree right now! The imperial guards are almost here. We need to prepare for their arrival!
You swung down from an old oak tree and patted the trunk.

"Thank you for allowing me to rest in your branches. May your roots remain sturdy." With that, you lightfooted towards Hefei Marketplace to buy provisions and weapons. There was no telling what would happen when the guards arrived.

Near the Duel Grounds, you could hear the clash of swords meeting and the thud of bodies tumbling into the dirt. But then, amidst the whirlwind of sounds, you catch on to a private conversation.

"With the annihilation of the six clans, we will be able to take over. They are already nothing, weaklings because of the loss of their Dragons. Eliminate the clans and we will finally be in power."

"You know my price."

"Yes, your terms will be met."

"Very well. Various taverns will be occupied by my disciples. Send word for me and I will meet you again soon."

The rustle of a cloak could be heard and you let out the breath you didn't realize you had been holding. What could all of that have meant? Would the Black and White clans truly become extinct? Such a massacre would devastate the Land... You had to warn someone, anyone...

Forgetting the errands you had gone for, you rushed off...

too late. The mysterious person with the Japanese accent had mingled in the crowd and was impossible to find. You stood still in the middle of the busy marketplace, among the loud negociations between sellers and buyers, the clashes of weapons and the rumble in the arenas and the incessant yells of charlatan alchemists selling their fake gold, that made conversation in the marketplace virtually impossible.

A deep breath to calm your mind as your Masters had thought you... cut out the voices and the clash of metal... open your mind to the sound of the wind and let your thoughts flow like water. Suddenly it occurred to you that you'd heard the other voice before. That mysterios cloaked one, you know that man, you too like many others have bought strange weapons of unknown powers from him when you've met him in remote places throughtout the Land, though his cold eyes always gave you chills.

On a whim, you follow a group of warriors rushing out of Hefei and... what is that crowd of mixed white and black clan members doing? You line up with them and in a gesture of imitation prepare your money pouch. Shivers go down your spine. It is indeed him, Fan Shu, the black market dealer.

"Eleven thousand", said the same cold voice you had heard earlier. You gulp, empty your pouch and receive a piece of black cloth in return. Its touch makes you uneasy, it seems to tingle with negative energy but there's no way back. If anyone is to believe you, you must find out what's going on.

Following the crowd, you set foot in Bloody Plain, the most infamous battleground throughout the Land... and freeze in horror. The bloodshed unraveled to your eyes must match that of the War of Nine Dragons ten years ago.

"Prepare to die!" yells a voice behind you. The swift sword movements taught by Wu Tang?! How come you're attacked by a brother. It only stuns you for a fraction, until you notice the black cloth covering his face and dart off before he can reach you. You stop your lightfoot just after you have crawled into a cave to escape the madness and gather your thoughts. You recognize the place... it's the Cave of the Conqueror. Realising you're not safe, you dart deeper into the darkness before slumping down.

As you steady your breath and feel the black cloth in your hand thoughtfully, a steady but not unfriendly hand rests on your shoulders and startles you.

"You have come to the right place, Xin. I need your help."

Gazing up, you gasp. It is Him, as if stepped out of paintings, come alive from scrolls retelling the History of the War. But he's alive, in flesh and with a sad look upon his face: the Vagabond.

"Ten years ago, I came to this Land to stop the clans slaughtering each other to extinction. I am not sure now that removing the Dragons was such a good idea.", he says thoughtfully as he sits down next to you. "However, the need salvation again, from another threat."

"Who are these people?"

"They come from across the Sea, wielding a new and deadly Kung Fu. You might have heard of the Easterners..."

'But... that cannot be. All the clans, black and white, put up a good fight in Liaodong. They haven't got further than that. And I know that in each clan, masters have arisen that have reached the enlightenment of Hermits. They even managed to defeat the Ayakashi, the fearsome ghosts that guard the Easterners' ships."

"It is true. And the Easterners as well have realised that by mere force, they cannot conquer the Land. The clans, weakened though they might be, will stand up against them wherever they meet. Against such determination, not even the Masters of the School of Rising Sun can weather.

However... they are shrewd as they are strong. If you cannot destroy a community from outside, you must make it crumble from the inside", he added with a bitter smile.

Understanding dawns upon you. "The masks", you whisper to the Vagabond's nod.

"Indeed. I don't know what it is... but it makes people go out of their minds. They feel powerful, invincible and forget all their teachings. They run amok against rivals and friends alike. Wearing that", he explains pointing to the mask "will make a Shaolin forget all mercy of Buddha, a Wu-Tang draw sword against a friend or a Demon ignore the orders of his Emperor Himself. The brave and the coward alike will relish nothing but slaughter, preying on whoever they can."

A heavy silence falls, interrupted only by the Vagabond puffing his pipe. You are caught as if in a dream. When the last whirl of smoke dissolved, he put it aside and stood up resolute. Wrapping his cloak around him, he prepared to vanish into the depth of the cave.

"I need you to spread the words to anyone who will listen - let them stay away from that wicked Fan Shu and his masks. If this madness spreads, it will be the downfall of all clans."


written for a "continue the story" contest..

Friday, August 28, 2009


It was a dark cold evening in the mists of Bloody Plains.
Nothing different from the usual evening there lately. There was a war going on for several months between disciples of the black clans and those of the white clans.

Were but four powerful leagues battling for supremacy. Destiny and its sworn sister, UnitedForces, were the greatest alliance of the black clans that the Land had ever seen. Their opponents were the Imperial Army and the Storm Riders. Mischiefely and without any knowledge of fairness, the white alliance was backstabbing anyone who didn't played by their rules.

That's where our story begins.
As a peaceful disciple thought and trained in the art of healing, I did not cared for how the war was going on but cared for the wounded offering them my help through the aid of the skills I have learned in my path for enlightenment.

I also did not cared which side I'm helping for I was able to attend to most wounded disciples from both sides.
But the white alliance was not just blinb, but seemingly brainless. After carrying for their people and giving them more strenght and dexterity with the help of my skills, they saw I was attending an injured member of UnitedForces league. None other than Shiva, the same disciple of the demons who not very far back tried to take my life and gain his karma. Faith brought us on a more friendly base, for now, after both realising is not a good thing to fight eachother, we became close friends.

Naturaly, being my friend, I tried my best to help him. But he was too young and his skills and strenght were too low for the opponents he was fighting.
And as a member of tyhe white alliance who were fighting UnitedForces saw me giving Shiva the help of my healing skills, she suddenly became enraged and attacked me cowardly. I was still young, and I was too weak. I had no intentions of fighting and I was only there to help those in need. It was fast, but the anger it caused me lasted too long. I was not just upset. I was furious. Furious because I saw how cowardly some people can be to attack a peaceful, harmless healer. I was enraged and my thoughts couldn't keep a straight line, so my words came out confusing.

Shiva quickly saw the state I was in and was determined to change it. To calm me down. He tried telling me I shouldn't care and the best thing to do is to ignore those coward people and enjoy my time there however I want. It was a nice attempt, but I didn't calm down enough.

Few minutes later I heard a loud noise... it was one of those ravashing roars that scream across the Land so everyone can hear. That fearful roar was for me...
It was Vision, a disciple of the brotherhood, who had the ability to scream that loud. His words were a threat to the one who just caused me such anger. A threat that was soon fulfilled by Vision, Shiva, and the other members of the black alliance. The coward payed ten times more for what she had done.

That moment was decisive. I knew I had to meet the one named Vision and let him know I'm greatful for the revenge he had brought me.

My quest began... searching for that one disciple of the brotherhood who made all the anger go away with such a simple gesture.
Few days have passed and I was still searching with no luck. But luck is a funny thing. It comes when you least expect it.

It was at the gates of Hefei when I heard someone talking to Vision. He knew me just like I knew him - common friends. He remember who I was when I went next to him to greet him.
Was just like I imagined. Tall, strong, a handsom thief playing with his axe like it was a tiny knife and easy as the air.
And from that day on, Vision and I became friends, meeting occasionaly throughout the Land, me, him and Shiva, spending some time together, talking about all the nonsense in the world.

It's been almost a year since I've met him. But I still remember that day like it was yesterday.
Right before he gave his last strikes with the axe into the enemie lines, I told him he will be remembered for he is a legend.
I wondered today if that is true or if he's a legend just for a handful of people who had the chance to meet him.
Soon after that, Vision disappeared from the face of the Land, leaving his legacy to those who came after, remaining always a legend... at least for me.
The thief with the kind heart...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Demon Clad in Ashen Grey (I)


I met the demon on a summer's day -
Her name was Lily Anne was what she said.
She was standing there alone, waiting for the fall.

Only sorcerers of death remains,
Only shadowed ones as some would say
And the night that sings to me of Lily Anne the grey.

Back then the world was still in order, or so it seemed to her. Now all seems desolate.

Back then, mother and father were alive and looking after her. Now they are dead.

And maybe most importantly for her, back then, her brother was there and to her he was like a hero of old, protecting her of all evil (in the shape of the old lady whose plums she had stolen). Now... she has to take care of herself.

Outside, she hears the distant clashes of metal on metal and the high pitched shrieks of fellow apprentices and shakes her head in disapproval. Those silly girls think of nothing but fighting all day long. Even though it is their time off in the afternoon, they still run around brandishing training wheels and daggers. With a sigh, she grabs the writing brush and starts out on another pergament. It is both good practice for what she learns in matters of calligraphy and a way to stay clear of those hens outside.

“I am writing these lines to monitor myself. I am trying to live his dream now, for I know not what has become of him and it is a dream that doesn't deserve to die. What an irony it is though, that as I start this little diary, I do so as apprentice of Sacred Flower with a brand new name. The sisters said I should leave my old life behind me entirely and shedding my old name was part of the ritual.

What they do not know is that in choosing a new one, I have bound myself even stronger to who I am and to my brother's name. I have chosen to be called Arashi Shinji, Faithful Second of the Storm. As children, we called my brother Arashi, Stormy, because of his temper. As the little sister trying to follow in his footsteps, it seemed fit to me.

The last time I saw him, he had come to my bedside late one night, kissed my forehead and took his farewell. I know he needed to leave if he was to survive. Telling to the face of a Soul Lord of Heavenly Demon that one's greatest hero is Wu Tang's master Lingyun is not a wise idea, even more so if the Soul Lord is a customer in the tavern of neutral Hefei and the one saying it is a young man working as an aid in the tavern, with next to no kung fu skills. I do hope with all my heart he has made it to safety and maybe he is living out his dream, though no word has ever reached me.”

The girl leans back with a sigh and grabs her aching shoulder muscles. She is not yet used to writing, but her clumsy characters do show some improvement. Keeping the pergament sheets clean and inkblot-free at the same time is almost as tiring as maintaining the difficult meditation posture she has recently learned, or the daily drill at the kung fu grounds. Resolute, she dips the brush in ink again and adds one more paragraph before calling it a day.

“I know I must find my own place in the Land. I know also that to conquer one such, it is paramount to join a clan, yet I was reluctant to do so and postponed it as much as I could. However, things that must come to pass will come to pass, regardless of our will. Forces beyond our understanding guide our steps towards the paths we must walk. The reason for which I am writing this, is the strange events that have made me seek out the sanctuary of the Sacred Flower.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A maiden in the sunset - Bladewearing Witch

The sun has just set upon the lands of Jinan. A red sky became the guardian of all living creatures, watching with fiery eyes at the life beneath it.
Not very far from the village, following a dangerous path controlled by the forces of the Valley of Hell, lies the lair of their own master by the name Mei Shan Hei. From the peek of the mountains, spreading fear and obedience amongst his minions, for he, who once was a true disciple with beliefs in the power of good, the end of each day is only filling him with agony and painful memories of his past life.

Blinded by anger and fame, soldiers of the six clans were guarding the entrance to the Valley of Hell's throne, with the help of their powerful weapons. Cudgels were flying in the red sky, cutting through everything that encounter in its ways, swords imbued with flames from hell betraying the laws of nature in order to protect their master. Who ever tried to cross and enter the throne was to fight the soldiers of darkness and gain their path to keep their lives.

But till that road there is a long way to travel. Just beneath the peaks of hell, with ghosts and shadows of the night wandering through the hills, haunting and scaring the innocent souls of the humans that came their way, was the place where once was the home of a beautiful maiden.

Not a lady like any others, but one with skills of a warrior, strong and beautiful, with glowing eyes that could bewitch any heart that looked upon her. She spend her days learning the secrets of poisonous herbs and mixtures that would help her kill or subdue whoever she pleased.
But her main goal was another. She dreamed and spent her days trying to make a potion to bring into her path the thief from Nanchang, a ninja with sparkling eyes.

As I walked towards the throne of Valley of Hell's master, gazing at the red horizons, there she was... wandering through the small trees that grew near her home, playing with her saber imbued with the blood of nine mystic dragons, dreaming at her future victim as she taught her loyal minions to protect her. The shadows of darkness were marching by her side, watching in the horizon to see if anyone with vicious intentions was approaching.

I was seen from afar and noticed, as I approached the maiden's home, the shadows began dancing chaotically around her, screaming and running towards me with their rusted swords. They were the enemy and I was to fight and prevail, for I had other plans for my journey. I was to meet the beautiful maiden, the witch dressed in red blades, stained with the blood of so many others before me; and I wanted her to know, once and for all, I had not forgotten her poison from when I was but a young disciple of the Wu Tang Clan.

My healing skills were much improved by now. So were the striking blows of the clawed gloves with which I learned to defend myself and defeat my enemies with strength, but grace, for I was a lady... just like her.

Not long after our encounter, the night skies laid upon the land, covering everything in dark mist and silence. Only our blades were sparkling, tormenting the silence around as the shadows were surrounding us. She had much strength, but so had I. My masters did not teach me to flee from combat, nor to surrender under anyone's violent requests. Yet, she quickly found a way to weaken me, when I was using what I learned to heal my body without letting her blade tearing me down. She had her poisons on her side, but I had my will. I was determined not to retreat and to defeat this fowl woman who once took me for a fool and thought her actions against me won't be revenged.

"I only want a lock of your hair and a drop of your blood" - the woman spoke to me when our blades were apart, and we took a second to catch our breath, for we were both very tired.
For hours we fought and the fight was far from being over.

I gazed into her eyes just like a feline stares his opponent, to let her know I won't give up. Then blades met again in a powerful struck as if the lightning fell down the earth, breaking it in half. The clothes I wore that had the insignia of the clan I lived for were torned to shreds and her red velvet dress was far from being called a clothing item. Were but pieces of a mud-red cloth that covered her body, letting the blood from her wounds drain on the green grass beneath our feet.

Was almost the dawns of the second day when the Witch gave her last breath of air into the hands of her master. She was a disciple of the dark forces, just like the future enemy I was to defeat was, just like Mei Shan Hei, and just like her beloved Ninja from the province of Nanchang.

I stood there after my victory, staring at the ground and the enormous stain of blood that covered the grass, thinking at the words she spoke. "What did she want to do with a lock of hair and my blood?"
I watched the sun rising above the surrounding peaks, watched the shadows that haunted all night around me and the woman that laid at my feet without a drop of life left in her... but the words she told me were to remain a mystery to me. I did not knew the paths of witchcraft in which she lived so I could not know what curses or potions could've been made.
I looked down at her body and noticed she left behind two drops of the clearest blood I've ever seen. Two splendid rubies, crystallized in two drops, sustained the Witch's blood. I took the crystals and left, leaving her in the hands of her loyal servants, not looking back nor asking myself what her words meant. She was a memory, no longer a threat for anyone in the land.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tiger's Revenge

Darkness still enveloped the Southern Trail in Zhengzhou. Though the moon was full, it seldom shone through the thick and heavy clouds and the coming dawn was more of a guess of the skies changing hues in the east. Huddled by the road was a figure dressed in black clothes. He had come there long before. A pack of black leopards had attempted an attack, but the figure had struck back at a couple of them, his clawed gloves slashing open their throats and the pack had departed, thinking it wiser to leave the man alone.

Seeing they would be a bother no longer, he hat sat down by the road and had sunken into deep meditation. They way he did it betrayed him as a disciple of Wu Tang, in spite of him wearing black clothes instead of the blue garnments that the Wu Tangs usually proudly displayed.

A couple of hours had passed since his arrival and an unknowing grasshoper might have wondered what the man was doing there, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, in the cold of night. As the faint light in the east grew with the approaching dawn, and everything turned from blue and deep black to shades of dim grey, it became apparent that the man was missing an eye. The scar of a slash wound was drawn across his right cheek and he did nothing to conceal it.

Indeed, it was none other than the young Wu Tang Adept known by his clan mates as Arashi Tora, the Storm Tiger. To this day no one, not even the three close friends he had made within the ranks of Wu Tang knew his real name or his past. He seldom spoke about things before the night he had been found wounded in exactly the same region he was now. And when he did, it was nothing that could tell his identity.

The days of his recovery had been long and he had spent them either studying the ways of the clan, reading through endless rolls of scrolls documenting the history of the Land or of the clan itself, or in the company of his healer, Leandine. It had come as a natural thing to join the clan and when the time came to choose his role among his peers, he only said two words and none could change his mind: White Tiger.

It must be known to the grasshoppers that the disciples of Wu Tang may choose among four different roles, according to their skills and inclination and with the approval of the Elders, and that each of these roles bears the name of one of the revered Celestial Animals in Feng Shui. The sword wielders are the warriors of the clan that brought its fame and are known as the Blue Dragons. Masters of Chi Kung are known as Black Turtles, while the Healers of the Clan who can both tend to the wounded and greatly increase anyone's abilities with their mastery of the Fortitude Arts bear the name of Red Phoenix. And lastly, there are those who choose to train in all of these arts. While they don't rise to the skill mastery of any of the other roles, they can hold their own in physical combat, master the channeling of chi kung in deadly ways and prove effective healers and fortifiers of their allies. Known as hybrids, they bear the name of the White Tiger among the Celestial Animals .

It was thus that Arashi chose his personal path on the Road of the Dragon as a White Tiger, keeping true to his name, and he walked on it in the company of Leandine, as well as the two other friends he had made - a warrior named Bloom and a hybrid named Marsyas. It was such that he had reached the sixth cheng of the rank of Raising Light. He had often been warned by his more experienced comrades to stay away from a couple of dangerous creatures plaguing the province, as his level of achievement was yet no match for them. These creatures seemed to have an astounding constitution, as they resisted well the most vicious blows a warrior could deal and some of them wielded deadly skills that could cause severe bleeding or tie their oponent to the ground, unable to move. And yet...

He had departed his friends early the previous day and had come to the small village of Lushan. From the doctor of its clinic, Divine Turtle, who had once helped save his life, he bought pills made from herbs that would help him staunch the bleeding and had headed out at nightfall. He was not often into the habit of heading advice. He listened, he nodded, he learned what there was to learn from it but he went out to try it for himself.

However this time, he had a more personal reason. The ferocious creature for which he planned to lie in wait was known throughout Zhengzhou as the Bloodwolf King, a huge bloodred wolf with deadly sharp claws, fangs to match them and a collar of white fur that stood spiked around his neck, giving him an ominous appearance. It was a beast of the same kind that had nearly killed him some years ago. He was lucky he had gotten away with a missing eye and a scar on his face and he knew it. Yet, the approaching dawn found him in wait near the beast's lair.

Arashi opened his eyes and stood up in one slow fluid motion, preparing for combat. The leopards had grown restless. He crossed the path and cautiously went up the low hill by the side of the road. Suddenly, a deep menacing growl rolled through the cold morning air. For several seconds he found himself unable to move as something like a huge ball of red fur swirled through the air. Then the swirling stopped and for a brief moment all movement froze. Arashi was gazing directly into the fiery eyes of the Bloodwolf King, looking upon him. Had they been human, he would've called them hateful. He shook his head to clear his mind of the fear that had briefly grasped it. The memories of his past encounter with the beast were not easily overcome but he could not let them cast doubts upon him.

Something like a savage dance begun, to the sound of growls and the rhythm of steel. Clawed paws and clawed gloves alike were slashing out for the other's throat, reflecting the first red rays of the rising sun. All of his friends' warning came to his mind. Through several tears in his clothes he had started to bleed and had to use every breathing moment to swallow Divine Turtle's healing pills to staunch the bleeding and attempt to heal his wounds. None of it however stopped the burning of the wounds the wolf gave him especially when he found himself bound to the ground and unable to move.

After several long minutes, he broke into lightfoot, swiftly changing direction to deceive the beast. Behind some shrubbery he stopped to better tend to his wounds and calm the heavy panting with meditation techniques. But he couldn't indulge for long in this luxury. Not as long as the wounded beast was still out there.

It was proving much more difficult than he had anticipated, but as he returned to the fight, he slipped in a sort of routine. The fluid motions his Wu Tang masters had taught him not only imitated the constant flow of water, as all of Wu Tang's ways, they helped him carry on hitting at the beast in spite of all it's slashing. Hit, dodge, heal, hit, dodge, heal, hit, dodge, heal... it was like a mantra molding its rhythm to that of the fight, adding a strange beauty to the savagery of the deadly dance. The sun had by now risen over the horizon, bringing light into the morning mist and the full sight of his opponent heartened Arashi. The Wolf's attacks had not waned for a moment, but it was now clear that not much breath of life was left in it. Grinding steadily away at it, as a water grinds steadily at the stones, he was now certain that he would succeed.

The next time he fell into deep meditation, it was in the bright light of a cold autumn morning, next to the dead body of the huge red-furred beast. And in spite of all his teachings, he couldn't supress a feeling of pride. No, he shouldn't have sneaked out to come here for the hunt. But he had succeeded alone, with nothing to rely on but his own skills. Slowly a grin spread over his face, lighting the seriousness the scar usually gave it.

He stooped and almost lovingly caressed the now soft fur of the wolf. It had thought him a valuable lesson. As he prepared to move, he saw something glistening on the ground. Picking it up from the dewy grass, he let out a gasp of surprise. He was holding a huge single crystalized, perfectly shaped drop of blood... but he knew that it was nothing else than a much prized Blood Essence. With another grateful glance at the beast he had just slain, he took another of Divine Turtle's pills and headed for the village.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Under the Sign of the Raven

They say a man can pick his fights. Sometimes, however, a fight picks the man and won't let him go until either his or his foe's death might extinguish the fire in his heart. I am caught in such a fight and I have vowed it is not me who will perish. They also say that it is angels who fall first, yet not a word is mentioned of the fate of those that they leave behind. I can tell you what becomes of those touched by angels in their lives who are then left alone. They turn to demons.

My name... names do not matter. I have taken on another and it is this one that will make each and any of those who support the Emperor shiver, no matter who they are. For innocence and guilt were all the same for the Emperor, why should they make a difference to me then, a mere commoner?

I had never intended to set foot on the Road of the Dragon. I was however pushed onto it one night and the events that followed have led me to embrace, out of all, the Fire Dragon. It was the night I watched my entire life reduced to ashes - all I had and all I loved. I was returning home from a trip to Hefei - there were several of us who had traveled there to sell and buy goods. However, what greeted us home was neither the laughter of our children, nor the arms of our wives, but the blaze of our homes on fire.

Images that I have engraved upon my mind forever from that night are scarce but gruesome and they are the engine that drives me on. Apparently what had happened was the price our village payed for harbouring a runaway. I don't know who he was, what he had done and whether or not he had been hidden by someone or by whom. And none of this mattered to any of the soldiers who had razed our village the previous evening. None of it really mattered to me either.

For a long while, I sat down in the hot ashes. The stench of burnt flesh and timber hung still heavy in the air along with an ominous cloud of smoke. The Imperial troops were already far on who knows what other mission. Some looked around for what they might salvage, others found relatives who had managed to scamper away into the woods. I sat down doing nothing, eating nothing and drinking nothing. At some point, I think I might even have forgotten who I was. The sole thought in my mind was which of those ashes were my home and which belonged to my wife and children.

Slowly, as night was setting, the ashes started to cool in the chill air. However, I wasn't. The pain that had struck me with numbness had started to yield to a new feeling. A burning anger was slowly rising inside me, red-hot and even slower - a purpose, as terrible as what had befallen me.

I left the village that same night, without a word or a gaze back. The last memory I bear of it is the creaking of the ravens that circled above that followed me late into the night, perhaps only in my imagination. I felt as bleak and gloomy as those birds of evil gods and heavy as the fate they foretell. And thus, I left behind the last bit of the man I once was - my name. That night I was born anew, not out of a woman's womb, but of pain and anger and I would bear a name suiting me: RavenSoul.

To the vow that night I stood true. I shall not tell of you of the years that followed, of the many doors that were shut in my face or how I came to be dismissed from apprenticehood of several clans because of my erratic behaviour, for those made me not who I am. The only place I was welcomed in my hatred for the Emperor and all he stood for was the stronghold of the Heavenly Demons. It was this, rather than my martial skills that made them keep me. I was merely a suitable tool for them, I know. A weapon which they planed to hone and then aim at the Emperor, the White Clans or anyone that stood in their path.

For many years, I was thus trained as an infantry warrior, one meant to strike in the first rows, for I cared not whether I lived or died. I just made sure my saber struck at as many as possible. Somehow, I managed to survive every time to endure yet another half numb half painful emptiness, until the next battle would allow me to unleash the next fit of rage. And it was so, until one day I was called to Xiao Zhuiyang. I had often seen him but never talked to him before, for he was the Senior of the Storm Demons, the elite troops of Heavenly Demon, the summoners of flames sowing death from afar with the sheer power of their minds.

He spoke no word, but motioned me to the training ground. Once there, he asked me to meditate and clear my mind, as I had been previously taught to do before battles. And as always when I did that, I could feel hot ashes in my hands and smell the smoke, while the croaking of ravens echoed in my ears. I never even realised when I had sprung to my feet and drawn my saber, who was now glowing in flames. The Storm Demon just smiled as he took the weapon from my hands and bid me get rid of my armour. Instead, he handed me light and comfortable black clothes.

"You, my son, are not made to wield steel. Whoever put you in the Blood Demon regiment is not in their right mind. From this day on, I am your trainer and the sole master you answer to. Go seek the Black Soul Lord Viper Eyes. Tell him it is I who sent you. He will know what to do. When it is accomplished, return to me."

I did as I was bid. I do not know what Viper Eyes has done. I felt like a haze descending upon me, no in me, like some cloud of forgetfulness. Suddenly, the weapons seemed clumsy tools to me, but the fires that once again rose inside wouldn't let me ponder that thought for long. Weakend, I stumbled back to the training grounds to Xiao Zhuiyang. Only then did he explain that I had undergone a purge of the chakras, freeing me of the training I had achieved so far and opening a new path before me. Under his guidance, I learnt a different way of controlling my chi, more suitable for that of a Storm Demon. For that is what I had become. Master Xiao Zhuiyang had recognised the fires inside me and the poor channeling they received in combat. I needed no saber to fight. If I learned to control them, those very fires would become my sole weapon in combat.

It is years since then. The images are just as fresh though, even as I sit here in the Bloody Plains, emptying my mind of all other thoughts save the burning fires. When I feel ready to release them, I get up and raise my glance. As always, ravens circle the sky. They know it is their day of feast. Under their watchful eyes, I step out into the open, a ball of fire already forming in my hands.

They say that it is angels who fall first. I can tell you what becomes of those touched by angels in their lives who are then left alone. They turn to demons. So be it.