Love, Sorrow and Chaos

edited July 2015 in Original Stories
Love, Sorrow and Chaos
by Deathblade

Preface:

It occurred to me that I wrote a story a long time ago that some of you might enjoy. This is a complete (short) story that I will post in a handful of updates (as I go through and edit it again. Haven't looked at it for years). In terms of chapter length, it about as long as maybe 8 or 9 chapters of CD or ISSTH. So yes, relatively short. This a classic wuxia story. There's some heavy romance elements, but also a lot of action. I wrote the story many years ago, before I started to learn Chinese and before I had even traveled in China, let alone lived here. It's relatively cliche and derivative, but I had fun writing it, and when I started reading it again just now I thought it was kind of cute. Okay, enough blathering.

Comments

  • Spoiler about how it ends:

    This was written in a bit of a dark time in my life, so there are some tragic elements. If you're looking for "happily ever after" then don't read this story haha

  • edited July 2015
    Part 1

    In a little hamlet, high in the Ox Mountains, there was a village called Ox Eye. The name wasn’t flattering, but the villagers were proud of their home, and few ever left it, except to visit other villages in the mountains. There were 8 villages, and everyone that lived in them knew everyone else. It was like a huge family.

    In the corner of Ox Eye village was a small kung fu school that had no name. The teacher of the school was a handsome young swordsman named Chang. His face was long, his cheekbones high, his lips wide and always smiling. He was not a native of the Mountains, but the villagers loved him. He was the sort of person who would help you carry a burden into your home, even if he was busy. The elders of the village thought of him as a son, the adults as a brother, and the youngsters as an uncle. When he first arrived at Ox Eye village and requested permission to open a school of martial arts for children, the village elders answered with a firm no. Chang's persistence and charisma won out in the end, though, and less than 3 months after arriving, he opened his unnamed school, next to four willow trees.

    Though young, Chang was very talented, and an excellent teacher. Soon, children from the other villages were taking lessons from him. He quickly acquired so many students that he taught every day of the week except for the seventh, and festivals and holidays. He taught a simple style, Long Fist, which was easy for children to learn. The parents soon realized that their children were growing stronger, faster, more agile and limber, and that they had greater endurance. This was a great help when it came to household chores, but more importantly, the children were more disciplined and hard-working, confident in themselves and interested in learning. This made everyone love Chang even more, until every single villager in all of the Ox Mountains had met him and offered him gifts. Chang wouldn't accept anything, of course, saying that the only gift he needed was their love and friendship.

    It wasn’t long before adults and older ones sought lessons from Chang. He obliged, teaching Five Animals Fist to the adults and Tai Chi to older ones. All in all, Chang's arrival to the Ox Mountains was like a blessing from Heaven. The villages prospered, and life was good.

    The only thing Chang asked from the villagers, other than food and shelter, was that they not spread word of his school outside of the Ox Mountains. This was because Chang was actually a very famous person, well known in Jianghu. That’s not what he told the villagers, though. He told them that he didn't want the Ox Mountains to become overrun by churlish outsiders, who would, no doubt, disrupt their simple way of life. The villagers were very eager to accommodate his wishes. Thus, word of Chang's presence in the Ox Mountains was a well-kept secret.

    After he'd lived in the village for 8 years, when he was only 25 years of age, Chang fell in love with one of the villagers, a long-time student of his, Ban Shuai. She was nick-named Breeze, because when she was born, in the hottest part of summer, a rare cool breeze wafted through the surrounding forest to cool the village. Breeze was a pretty girl, her martial arts solid though not extraordinary, her personality happy and bubbly, her cheeks rosy and her skin as smooth as polished jade. Everyone loved her dearly. When Chang showed an interest in her, Breeze was smitten with love to the very core of her heart. He approached the elders, who, overjoyed, spoke with the Ox Mountains' match-maker. They were married in the spring, on top of the Ox Mountains' highest peak, with the sun setting behind them, a full moon rising from the horizon, and stars spread overhead like early-morning dew. If bandits had struck that day, it would have been disastrous, for all the villagers abandoned their houses and business and trekked up to watch Chang and Breeze be united. Even the very elderly came carried on carts by the young ones. It was a joyous occasion.

    Chang was faced with a decision when he married Breeze. Should he reveal his identity, and tell her the story behind his retreat to the Ox Mountains? Should he tell her of his involvement in Jianghu, and of his reputation in the Circle of Warriors? He decided not to, thinking that such things were not important, and that he would tell her some other time.

    Chang's unnamed school was eventually forced to expand. He had too many students to handle alone, so he took four of the best and made them his personal disciples. They were First Senior Breeze, his wife, Second Senior Yuan the 4th, Third Senior Ko Len the Ugly, and Fourth Senior Yuan the 5th. They took on the duties of instructing the larger beginning classes, allowing Chang to focus on teaching advanced students.

    Eleven months after Chang and Breeze were married, bandits made their way to the Ox Mountains. Their first stop was Ox Eye village. Fourteen dirty ruffians rode into the village on horses, demanding gold and food. The villagers were stunned. No one knew what to do. But when the bandits threatened to "beat them all to a pulp," the villagers laughed. Every one of them had been trained by Chang, and were confident in their skills. They were actually a little overconfident, because none had used their skills in real combat. Enraged at the villagers’ insolence, the bandit leader leaped out of his saddle and attacked the nearest villager, an elderly woman holding the hand of her young granddaughter. The elderly woman was well trained in Tai Chi. When the bandit struck with his halberd, she dodged his attack. Off balance, he fell face first into the dirt. Screaming the vilest curses, he leaped up and attacked her again.

    The man was no fool when it came to martial arts. He'd been raised on the streets of Hou Chai, and had learned his fighting skills the hard way. He’d probably killed more men than the elderly woman had raised chickens. The only reason she was able to evade his first attack was that he had not expected a wrinkled grandmother to defend herself. In fact, she had acted out of instinct, and was really just as surprised as the bandit leader. When he attacked the second time, he would have cleaved her in half, had not a slender, sheathed, straight sword deflected the blow. It was Chang’s sword. He had heard the commotion and hurried to the village square to see what was wrong.

    He cut a dashing figure, dressed in a long red garment tied with a yellow sash, his black hair glistening in the morning sun. The villagers were quite surprised, for they'd never seen Chang's personal weapon before. Even to the untrained eyes of the villagers, the sword was clearly a work of art. Its name was Thunder of Chaos, and had been forged ages ago by the great smith Three-fingered Xin.

    Upon hearing the commotion, Chang had feared the worst, that unchivalrous members of Jianghu had found his hiding place. So, he'd come armed with one of the most powerful swords in existence, the sort of which legends were made. This was the villager's first glimpse of the real Chang, the Chang known the length and breadth of Jianghu. Even his wife Breeze had never seen Thunder of Chaos.

    The bandit leader attacked Chang in a frenzy. His halberd might as well have been made of mud, though, for all the good it did against Chang. In the space of time it takes to eat a peanut, the hero of the Ox Mountains quickly disarmed the bandit leader, and then instructed his disciples, Breeze, Yuan the 4th, Ugly Ko, and Yuan the 5th, to capture the other the bandits. This was accomplished in short order. Under the direction of Chang, the bandits were stripped of their money, weapons, and horses, and forced to leave the Ox Mountains in shame. The villagers were overjoyed, and threw an enormous party that night. Chang, though, was not joyful, worried that the bandits would spread word that he lived in the Ox Mountains.

    Later that night, after the music had stopped, Chang and Breeze sat under one of the four willow trees, enjoying the warm spring air. Breeze looked up at her husband and said, "I've never seen that sword before."

    Chang was quiet for a long time. "I know. It's something I'd prefer not to talk about."

    An ordinary woman might have become suspicious of this, wondering why her husband kept secrets from her. But Breeze was pure and innocent and completely trusting, and her love was deeper than the farthest ocean. She accepted his wish, and never asked again.

    The next month, on the first anniversary of their marriage, Chang expressed his love to Breeze by building her a pond behind the unnamed school, which was also their home. The pond was large enough to swim in, with a stone bridge arching over it and eight golden fish swimming in its depths. Breeze loved it, and never slept a single night without walking onto the bridge and looking down at the fish.

    Years passed. Chang's and Breeze's love grew greater and greater. All the villagers in the Ox Mountains wondered when they would have their first child. Chang could have become a rich man had he charged the villagers for his teaching skills, but he always refused payment. He and Breeze lived with the necessities, happy and content in each others' arms. Every year on the anniversary of their marriage, Chang would make the pond behind their home more beautiful. He would make it bigger, or plant thick bamboo at its edge, or have smooth boulders placed on its banks. Soon, the area behind their home was like a paradise.

    When Chang and Breeze had been married for 5 years, they still had no children. The villagers were disappointed at this, of course, but as long as the two were happy, the villagers were happy too. Two weeks after the 5th anniversary of their marriage, Mao Tianri returned to Ox Eye village.

  • Part 2

    Mao Tianri was the daughter of Mao Yongtai, the village baker. Incidentally, it was Mao Tianri's grandmother who had successfully defended herself against the bandit leader four years before. At the age of seven, Mao Tianri had been sent to the distant lakeshore city of Hou Chai, which was the capital of Kingdom of Lakes, ruled by the Yang Clan. In repayment of an old family debt, Mao Tianri's parents sent her to Hou Chai to be raised in the household of Yang Guozhi, one of the most prominent members of the Yang Clan, and the ruler of the city of Hou Chai.

    Therefore, Mao Tianri was raised as a daughter of Yang Guozhi from the age of 7. She received advanced scholarly tutoring, and the most rigorous martial arts training. She learned the Yang Family Fist, an acrobatic and externally powerful style. She was very talented, and her teachers quickly realized that she had more potential than any of the legitimate Yang children.

    Some fathers would be angered that a girl from a distant, backwater village was better at kung fu than his own children. However, Yang Guozhi was an enlightened man and loved Mao dearly. When it became clear that the Yang Family Fist was not enough for her, he arranged to have her educated by one of the greatest kung fu masters in the city of Hou Chai, an aging warrior named Red-eyed Ou Bangli who, was one of the greatest and most chivalrous figures in Jianghu, renowned in the Circle of Warriors.

    Under his tutelage, Mao Tianri became quite an expert in the Mind-Body Fist, of which Red-eyed Ou was a skilled grandmaster. She also became involved with the affairs of Jianghu, embarking on many adventures at her Master’s side. On one such adventure, a situation arose in which Red-eyed Ou was temporarily paralyzed by a shower of needles. Surrounded by enemy forces, Mao Tianri brandished her spear and attacked. Thinking she would die, she contemplated her life, recalling many of the happy times she'd had, which caused her to laugh. Somehow, she defeated all her opponents, and from that day onward she was known in Jianghu as Laughing Mao Tianri.

    When she was 28 years old, Laughing Mao stood with Red-eyed Ou in the one of the courtyards of Yang Guozhi's estate.

    "Tianri," he said, "of all my students, I think only you will ever grasp the deeper meaning of the Mind-Body Fist."

    "I will, Master," she said.

    "I very much hope so. But . . . there is something that blocks your progress, Tianri."

    "What is it, Master? Tell me, and I'll solve the problem."

    Red-eyed Ou pulled on his chin. "Something is missing from your life. Without it, you will never ascend to the highest level of mastery of the Mind-Body Fist."

    Laughing Mao immediately fell to her knees before Red-eyed Ou. "Please, Master. Tell me what is missing from my life."

    Red-eyed Ou pulled her to her feet and then smiled at her. "Love."

    "Love?"

    "Yes, child. The Mind-Body Fist is not like many of the other arts, which require the deadening of emotion. Until your heart is made complete with love, the greatest secrets of the Mind-Body Fist will elude you. You'll have to leave Hou Chai and travel on your own until you find it."

    Laughing Mao was quite surprised. It had never occurred to her that something as seemingly simple as love could impede her martial arts. Throughout her life, many young men, entranced by her beauty, had sought her affections. But she'd never been attracted to any of them, and in truth had no idea how to go about looking for true love. She had never even experienced infatuation.

    Red-eyed Ou saw her confusion. "Don't worry, child, you'll be able to find love. Whether the person who loves you be a peasant or a prince, your uncle Guozhi and I will be able to arrange a marriage. Your happiness will be our happiness."

    "Thank you, Master. But . . . where should I go to look for love?" After a life of humble obedience, it confused Mao to be in charge of her own destiny, to be completely free after two decades of strict self-discipline. It was especially difficult considering marriages in the 10 Kingdoms were usually arranged, and had nothing to do with love.

    "Start with your home, Tianri."

    Mao thought about this for a moment. "Master, I know my home well. How can I find love here?"

    "Not this home," said Red-eyed Ou, gesturing around at Yang Guozhi's estate. "Start with the place where you were born, the Ox Mountains. Visit your parents, your childhood friends. Perhaps there you will find a husband."

    "And if I don't find love in the Ox Mountains?"

    "Then travel where your heart leads you."

  • Part 3

    Thus, five years and two weeks after the marriage of Chang and Breeze, Laughing Mao returned to Ox Eye village. Everyone in the village was very happy to see her back, and a holiday of sorts was immediately declared. In the many years she'd lived in Hou Chai, she'd never returned even once, though Yang Guozhi had several times paid for her parents to travel to the city to visit her.

    A few days after the festivities surrounding her return had died down, and life had returned to normal, Laughing Mao went to Chang's unnamed school to meet him formally.

    He received her over a cup of tea, after his afternoon session teaching Eagle Claw to some of the Ox Mountains' promising young adults.

    After exchanging pleasantries, Laughing Mao said, "You certainly seem to know much about martial arts."

    Chang smiled. "Thank you." When he looked at Laughing Mao, the first thing he saw was a beautiful young woman. But more importantly, he sensed her strong Inner Force, and discerned from the way she moved that she was a very skilled fighter.

    "Thanks to your skilled instruction," she continued, "the villagers have excellent technique."

    He bowed his head.

    Continuing, she said, "It's surprising to find a teacher who can successfully impart the deep meaning of so many different styles. Eagle Claw, Tai Chi, Long Fist, Shaolin Five Animals. Not many can claim to have mastered so many styles."

    "I've had the chance to travel, and study under several teachers."

    Laughing Mao looked him in the eye, and there was a meaningful pause in the conversation. "What are you doing way up here in the mountains?"

    "Excuse me?"

    "I am Laughing Mao Tianri, First Senior student of Red-eyed Ou and disciple of the Mind-Body Fist. I know who you really are, Chaotic Chang, master of the Infinity Sword Art, wielder of Thunder of Chaos. I mean you no harm, and I don't wish to reveal your identity. But having heard many stories of your exploits, and of your disappearance thirteen years ago, I can't help but be curious."

    Chang sat for some time, trying to decide what to say. After all these years, his secret was in danger of being revealed. When he hesitated, Laughing Mao worried that she'd offended him. "I shouldn't pry, Master. Please, forgive my rudeness. I only—"

    "I'm not offended," he said. "Any member of Jianghu would wonder why I now live in a village called 'Ox Eye.'"

    "Yes, and why the greatest swordsman of our time teaches kung fu to weavers and goat herders."

    Chang laughed. "First of all, I'm not the greatest swordsman of our time. I will never match the skill and chivalry of Untouchable Sword. And as for why I'm here in the Ox Mountains . . . well, it's a story I'm sure you will understand. Have you traveled through the 10 Kingdoms with your Master, Red-eyed Ou?"

    "From the mouth of the Red River to the halls of the Tibetan Lamas."

    "Did you travel through the lands ruled by the White Snake Clan, the Kingdom of Trees?"

    "Yes," she replied. "I've never seen a people so oppressed and . . . haunted."

    Chang nodded. "I don't want to go into too much detail about my story. I'll just say that a heated dispute arose between me and the son of White Snake Lord."

    "You mean Jiang Loxian, the White Snake Fang?"

    "Yes. White Snake Fang is arrogant, petty, and anything but chivalrous. We exchanged blows, and I could have killed him easily. However, his father, White Snake Lord, intervened. I was so angered that I attacked White Snake Lord himself. He countered with a powerful Snake Fist technique called 'Strike of the Underworld,' which combines a lightning-fast attack with a deadly, paralyzing poison. I was ill-prepared for such a mighty blow, and was severely injured. White Snake Lord pressed the attack, but, even though I was injured, I still had the Thunder of Chaos, and I avoided death. I leaped away from the fight up onto the walls of White Snake Lord's castle, which is situated atop high cliffs above the Great Ocean.

    "White Snake Lord raised his steel-tipped staff at me, and shouted that if I dared run from the fight, he would send assassins to kill my entire family. I was in a quandary. The poison in my blood was rapidly eroding my Inner Force, and I was no match for White Snake Lord, Thunder of Chaos or not. So, I decided that the best course would be to end my life. I stabbed myself through the chest with my sword, and then threw myself off the wall."

    "Was it a trick?"

    "No, it was a sincere attempt at my own life. The scar is still right here." He tapped his chest. "By some twist of fate, though, my sword missed my heart, and the fall from the cliff into the water didn’t crush my body completely. I was picked up by fishermen, and over the course of several months, nursed back to health.

    "After that, I made my way to the most backwater part of the 10 Kingdoms I could think of, the Ox Mountains.”

    She chuckled at his description of her birthplace.

    “Here I have remained for the past thirteen years,” he continued, “training, meditating, and preparing to return to Jianghu, to exact my vengeance on White Snake Lord."

    "It's strange that I've never heard the story of your fight with the White Snake Lord and his son."

    "White Snake Lord is as arrogant as his son. He wouldn’t want stories to spread of enemies eluding his wrath. Frankly, I'm surprised he never spread rumors that he killed me. But, I suppose that would have aroused suspicions in the Circle of Warriors."

    "Master Chang, how long do you plan on staying in the Ox Mountains?"

    Chang didn't need to think about his reply. "I plan to die here," he said. "I have grown to love the villagers here, and my wife brings more joy to my life than I could ever have imagined. One day, I must travel to the Kingdom of Trees to fight White Snake Lord. After that, I'll return here and live out my days in Ox Eye Village. Please, Tianri, I ask that you keep my true identity secret until I am ready to reveal it myself."

    Laughing Mao nodded. "Of course. Until then, Master Chang, I beg you to take me as your disciple. You are a legend in the Circle of Warriors, and I would be most honored to learn from you."

    Chang granted her request, and she became one of his personal students. It was clear from the start that her kung fu was far superior to all of Chang's other students, but he couldn't place her above his own wife. From then on, his Senior Students were First Senior Breeze, Second Senior Laughing Mao, Third Senior Yuan the 4th, Fourth Senior Ko Len the Ugly, and Fifth Senior Yuan the 5th. The other students were disappointed at being demoted so suddenly, but they recognized Laughing Mao's skill, and were happy to have her in their midst. Of course, everyone made fun of Yuan the 5th, for he was now both a 5th son and a 5th Student. From then on, he was known as Number 25 Yuan.

    As the months passed, Laughing Mao progressed quickly. Whichever style Chang taught her, she learned almost immediately. One day, two years after she'd returned to Ox Eye village, Chang spoke with her alone, in the same room he'd received her during their first formal audience. They sat together over tea.

    "Tianri," he said, "I would like to ask you a question."

    "Yes, Master?"

    "What are you doing up here in the Ox Mountains?"

    Mao laughed. "I think I asked you the same question about 2 years ago."

    "Yes, I remember," he said, chuckling.

    "My Master, Red-eyed Ou, sent me here to complete my training."

    "I’m confused. Your Master sent you here to train with me?"

    "No, no. He told me that something is missing from my life, and to find it, I should begin searching here."

    Chang nodded his head slowly. "Yes, that makes sense. The past several months, it’s seemed as though you've been getting bored. My lessons haven’t been challenging you."

    "I'm afraid not, Master. After learning the Mind-Body Fist from Red-eyed Ou, the common martial arts aren't very appealing."

    "Yes, the Mind-Body Fist is a very deep art."

    "Have you studied it, Master?"

    "Have I studied it?" Chang gave a little smile, and then leaped from his chair. With amazing precision, he performed the Five Elements Form of the Mind-Body Fist, not even breaking a sweat. So perfect was the presentation, that Mao shouted in astonishment when he finished. He cupped his fist and bowed to her, then sat down again.

    A grandmaster like Red-eyed Ou would instantly have seen the flaws in Chang's technique, but Mao, having not ascended to such a level, saw only a perfect rendition of the Mind-Body Fist. "Master, that was amazing! Where did you study?"

    "Under your Master, Red-eyed Ou. In order to master the Infinity Sword Art, I studied many styles under many Masters. That is the nature of my kung fu, to study all styles."

    The two sat sipping tea for a moment, looking at each other. At length, Chang said to Mao, "You returned to the village at the end of spring, two years ago. How long do you think it will take to find what you’re looking for?"

    Mao looked into her tea cup. "I don’t know. I think . . . I may have found it."

    He paused for a moment, waiting for her to elaborate. When she didn’t, he said, "I won’t presume to ask more about the nature of your search. But if there’s anything I can do to help, please, let me know."

    "I will," she said. Unfortunately, Mao had begun to develop feelings for Chang. He was handsome, charming, intelligent, funny, and an excellent martial artist. And married. The feelings tore at her young heart, but she could not control her thoughts.

    Weeks passed, and her feelings deepened. She stole every opportunity to gaze at him, and when they parted for the night, she thought about him until she slept. Mao was a genuine lady, and during her time back in Ox Eye Village, she’d grown very close to Breeze, as close as sisters. Mao could never hurt Breeze, even if it meant living the rest of her life with an empty place in her heart. But she couldn’t bring herself to leave. She couldn’t bear to be away from Chang.

    It was Breeze who finally took action. One warm night, when she and Mao were pulverizing soybeans to make tofu, Breeze said, "Tianri, there’s something I must speak with you about."

    "Yes, sister?"

    "You love my husband, don’t you?"

    Shocked, Mao stopped pounding.  "What-- what are you talking about?"

    Breeze also stopped pounding. "Tianri, did you think you could hide the look in your eye when you watch him? I’m not a fool, you know."

    "Sister, I . . . I . . ."

    "It’s okay," Breeze whispered, resuming her work. "I’m not mad at you. I love my husband dearly, and I know how easy it is to fall in love with him. It happened to me overnight."

    "Sister, you’re wrong, I would never fa--"

    "STOP!" shouted Breeze, striking a single blow onto the wooden table. In her anger, she projected a large amount of Inner Force into the wood, shattering it. The bowls clattered to the ground, spilling soybeans and water everywhere. "Don’t lie to me, Tianri! You love him. I know it."

    Mao could hide the truth no longer. Faced with the reality of her situation, she fell to her knees before Breeze, kowtowing over an over again.

    "Please, forgive me, sister," she cried. "I didn’t want this to happen, it just -- it just did!"

    Breeze dried her hands and then hauled Mao to her feet. "I know, Tianri. I said, I’m not mad at you." Wiping the tears from Mao’s face, she continued. "I could never blame you for falling in love with the most wonderful man in the world."

    A great darkness filled Mao’s heart. Breeze’s words made her realize that she had no hope of gaining Chang’s love. Even if she could, it would be an empty love, a love based on betrayal. Mao stared into nothing.

    Breeze put a hand on her shoulder. "Sister, are you okay?"

    "No." She gave a long sigh. "No, I’m not." She forced herself to look into Breeze’s eyes. "You’re right. I’ve fallen in love with your husband. I don’t know how it happened, or why. All I know is that I find myself thinking about him all the time, and can’t bear to live a day without speaking to him or hearing his voice. I’m sorry, Breeze. I’m so sorry. I must beg a favor of you."

    "A favor?"

    "You must promise me to never tell him how I feel. Swear to me that you’ll never breathe a word to him about any of this."

    Breeze shook her head. "I don’t--’

    "SWEAR IT!" shouted Mao, gripping Breeze’s arm.

    Breeze stared into her eyes. "I swear it."

    "Good. I’m sorry I have to do this, Breeze, but, it must be done." In the blink of an eye, her hand shot out and closed several of Breeze’s vital points. Breeze’s eyes rolled up into her head and she collapsed. Mao caught her before she hit the ground, and placed her in a nearby chair, where she would awake in a few hours. Then she kissed her forehead and said goodbye.

    Mao dashed to her room and packed her few belongings, then ran across the village, sticking to the side streets, to say goodbye to her parents. Her parents were surprised that she’d decided to leave Ox Eye Village so suddenly, especially when she gave no reason for her departure. After saying her goodbyes, Mao left Ox Eye Village, with a resolve to never return. She would travel back to her Master, Red-Eyed Ou, and tell him that she’d found love, and that she could now complete her training.

    Forcing her mind into a void, she ran as fast as she could, taking the wide main road down the mountain. A few miles outside of the village, though, her emotions gave way. It started with little tears, streaming down her face. Then the tears turned into sobs, until her chest heaved with sorrow. Unable to run farther, she threw herself off the path into the lush vegetation, burying her head in her arms and sobbing. She lay there for a long time, until the sobs faded. After that, she turned over on her back and looked up at the beams of sunlight shining down through the canopy of trees. She wondered how such beauty could exist in the world while such sorrow dwelt in her heart.

    She was about to get up and continue her journey down the mountain, when she heard the distinctive sound of horses. Lots of horses. She sat up and peered through the vegetation toward the path. A column of riders ascended the path to Ox Eye Village. They wielded a variety of weapons, mostly spears and swords, and wore white armor branded with the insignia of a snake. They didn’t speak: the only sound they made came from the harnesses of their horses and the creak of their armor.

    "The White Snake Clan," thought Mao. Realizing they could only be in the Ox Mountains to find Chang, she slipped further away from the trail and then used her Art of Flying to shoot up into the treetops. Ignoring the leaves and branches that slapped against her face, she raced up the mountain, arriving at the gates of the village just a few minutes later.

  • Part 4

    She dashed through the streets to Chang’s unnamed school, but the swordsman was nowhere to be found.

    Number 25 Yuan and Ugly Ko were teaching classes, but neither of them had seen Chang for the entire morning. Mao bit her lip in frustration. She’d hoped to never see Breeze again, but now it seemed she must. Mao raced back to her sister-in-arms, who lay prone in the chair, her eyes closed. With a few taps, Mao released her vital points, and then began massaging the feeling back into her limbs.

    After a moment, Breeze’s eyes flickered open. "What . . . What happened?"

    "I knocked you unconscious, Breeze," said Mao. "And then I ran away. I decided to leave Ox Eye Village forever."

    "But then … why are you here?"

    "Half way down the mountain I saw troops from the White Snake Clan."

    "The White Snake Clan?"

    "Many of them. And they’re heading here."

    Breeze shook her head. "I’m not sure I understand, sister. Why does it matter if the White Snake Clan comes here?"

    Mao stared at Breeze. "He hasn’t told you …."

    "Told me what?"

    Mao closed her eyes, trying to decide what to do. She’d promised Chang not to reveal his identity until he was ready. But, it would only be a matter of minutes before the White Snake Clan arrived. She made her decision. "Breeze, your husband . . . He is . . . ."

    "Not who he seems?"

    Mao looked at Breeze. "Yes. How did you know? I thought he told no one."

    "I’m his wife, Tianri. I know more about him than . . . almost anyone here." Her eyes filled with pain. "But I don’t understand why he would . . . keep secrets from me and reveal them to . . . to—“

    "He didn’t tell me his secrets, Breeze. I figured them out myself. Chang is a famous person in the outside word. People call him Chaotic Chang. Everyone in Jianghu has heard of him, and he is well regarded in the Circle of Warriors. As soon as I laid eyes on him and saw his martial arts, I knew him to be the most famous swordsman in the world."

    Mao had hoped that her words would brighten Breeze, make her feel proud and happy. Instead, they only seemed to depress her. "Well, it’s good to know the truth after all these years," she said. "What does the White Snake Clan have to do with him?"

    "The leader of the Clan, White Snake Lord, wants to kill him. The whole reason Chang came here in the first place was to hide from them. Somehow they found out he’s hiding here, and they’ve come to put an end to their feud. We have to find Chang now! The White Snake soldiers are ruthless. They will kill first and ask questions later."

    Breeze tried to stand up, but was too woozy. "He . . . He should be at the Plum Pond, meditating."

    "Of course!" Mao cursed her witlessness. In the excitement of the moment she’d forgotten that Chang routinely meditated at Plum Pond when he had no afternoon classes. "Breeze, as soon as you’re able, go to the school. Have the students arm themselves, and then warn the villagers that trouble is coming. I’ll run to the Plum Pond. When the White Snake soldiers arrive, try to prevent them from fighting. Do you understand?"

    "Yes. Go!"

    Mao ran as fast as she could up the long path to the Plum Pond. By the time she reached it, her chest was heaving and her legs burned.

    Chang sat motionless on the grass-covered banks, facing the lake.

    "Master!" she shouted.

    Chang’s demeanor changed as he emerged from meditation. His head turned. "Tianri?"

    "Master," she said, approaching him, "something terrible is happening."

    He rose to his feet and turned. "What’s wrong, Tianri? Are you hurt?" He reached out to touch her, but she stepped back. Her heart ached for him to touch her, to hold her, but she was not his.

    "White Snake soldiers are coming up the mountain. They’re almost here."

    "They haven’t reached the village yet?"

    "I don’t think so. Breeze is organizing the students and warning the villagers."

    "Good. Hopefully we still have some time. Come."

    He sprang off like a deer, and Mao followed. Within minutes, they were within sight of the village. Even above the pounding of their feet on the path, and the thumping of their hearts, they heard clashes coming from the center of the village. It was the sound of steel on steel, accompanied by the hoarse shout of men locked in combat.

    "Tianri, run as fast as you can to the school. In my room, you’ll find my sword behind the Jueding painting. Bring it to me!"

    "Yes, Master." She vaulted onto the rooftops and ran straight to the school, which was empty. Inside Chang’s and Breeze’s room, Mao found the painting by the famous artist Jueding. Sure enough, on the wall behind it was the famous sword, Thunder of Chaos. It unnerved Mao to be gazing upon a legend. Thunder of Chaos was one of the most famous swords in existence, even more well-known than Untouchable Sword’s blade Black Tiger’s Heart. Thunder of Chaos’s ancient lineage was made up of the most chivalrous and heroic swordsmen of all time. Its edge had tasted the blood of countless villains, had won the hands of many maidens, and had toppled many kingdoms.

    Mao grabbed Thunder of Chaos and flew back to the village square. She arrived to a scene of madness. White Snake soldiers filled the square, disappearing in a long column down the road. Mao couldn’t believe White Snake Lord had sent so many men. Dozens of villagers, including several of Chang’s students, lay dead in the dirt. Mao gasped when she caught sight of Yuan the 4th slumped against a wall, his head half severed. An enraged Chang had rallied Breeze, Number 25 Yuan, Ugly Ko, and a large group of students, and were holding their own against the overwhelming numbers.

    "Master!" shouted Mao.

    As Chang turned, she tossed Thunder of Chaos towards him. His hands closed on the sword and as he drew it, the air filled with the faint rumble of distant thunder. The blade was cloudy and gray, but sharper than the sharpest steel, and covered with ancient characters.

    What happened next left everyone in shock.  With Thunder of Chaos at his side, Chang became unstoppable. In less than 5 seconds, he slew 10 White Snake soldiers. He was so quick, all 10 were dead before the body of the first hit the ground. Mao couldn’t even see what moves he used.

    The remaining White Snake soldiers drew back in fear. Chang flicked the blade, cleaning it of blood.

    "Hold!" shouted an oily voice. "Hold, hold, HOLD!" The soldiers parted, making way for a thin fellow on a black horse who was clearly not a common soldier. He wore fine white robes and a tall white hat, both embroidered with the sigil of the White Snake Clan. His twisted smile was framed by a narrow mustache. He stepped lightly out of the saddle and then clasped his hands before Chang.

    "Well, well. Chaotic Chang. It’s good to see you again, after all these years."

    "Wang Tin Go, the Snake Thrower."

    "None other."

    "Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand."

    Chang’s words wiped the smile from Snake Thrower’s face. "Because I bear a message from the White Snake Lord."

    "Was killing my friends part of the message?"

    The smile returned. "Well, I think so."

    When Chang took a menacing step forward, Snake Thrower raised his arms. "Hold your temper! I think you’ll want to hear this."

    Chang stopped.

    It didn’t seem possible, but Snake Thrower’s twisted smile widened. "Smart man. Now, listen carefully. White Snake Lord made me memorize the message. He said, and I quote: ‘Tell Chang to come to my castle, tell him to bring Thunder of Chaos, and tell him to get here within a month. If he doesn’t, his family will be killed. Make sure he knows I make no idle threats. I have them imprisoned at my castle, including his beautiful little sister, and the baby brother he has never met. I won’t hesitate to slice their necks open."

    Intense fury overcame Chang’s usual rigid control. He leaped forward and struck with Thunder of Chaos. Snake Thrower was ready, though, and Chang, in his rage, made an ineffective attack. Snake Thrower jumped backwards seven paces, and at the same time extended his wide-sleeved arms and shouted, "Snake Arrows!"

    Two slivers of white shot from his sleeves toward Chang, who was completely off balance. Jumping wildly to the side, he twisted his body to avoid the first snake arrow, and used the flat side of Thunder of Chaos to deflect the other. Then, before he landed, he slapped the ground with his palm, flipping back into a standing position. He stared at Snake Thrower with murder burning in his eyes.

    His rage proved to be Chang’s greatest bane; Snake Thrower had pulled one of his snake arrows back into his sleeve, but the other had arced around in the air and was streaking toward Chang’s back.

    The only one who noticed was Breeze.

    While everyone else in the village square -- the White Snake soldiers, Chang’s disciples and students -- focused on the crackling tension between Chaotic Chang and Snake Thrower, Breeze watched in horror as the snake arrow made its way toward her beloved husband’s exposed back. With a hoarse scream, she leaped forward, throwing herself in front of the arrow, shielding her husband with her own body.

    The arrow struck her neck, and the little white snake bit hard, injecting its venom deep into her bloodstream. Chang whirled, shouting in alarm. He caught Breeze as she fell, watching in horror as the snake arrow detached itself from his wife’s neck and flew back into Snake Thrower’s sleeve. Breeze looked up into her husband’s eyes.

    "I love you," she said. Then her eyes flickered and closed.

  • edited July 2015
    WAaaaaaah! So sad ;(. I'm addicted...I need more!! GIMME!!! (Plz) I need to know is Breeze is dead! Maybe she is sleepy and closes her eyes but she is alive? (Probs not) I she is dead will Chang marry Mao? I think he fight the White Snake clan leader and beat him BUT also dies in the end. Or Mao will die? Aaaaaaahhhhh!! Imma go insane I NEED to know what happens! (As you can tell I like the story..hoping you could post more chapters...cuz that would be great) :(
  • WAaaaaaah! So sad ;(. I'm addicted...I need more!! GIMME!!! (Plz) I need to know is Breeze is dead! Maybe she is sleepy and closes her eyes but she is alive? (Probs not) I she is dead will Chang marry Mao? I think he fight the White Snake clan leader and beat him BUT also dies in the end. Or Mao will die? Aaaaaaahhhhh!! Imma go insane I NEED to know what happens! (As you can tell I like the story..hoping you could post more chapters...cuz that would be great) :(

    I'll do my best to post another one tomorrow!!!
  • Part 5

    Chang turned back to Snake Thrower. "If my wife dies, I swear to the Jade Emperor you will die the most painful and horrible death a man has ever known."

    Snake Thrower chuckled. "Oh, she’ll die all right, unless you can find a doctor skilled enough to neutralize the venom."

    Shifting Breeze into one arm, Chang stepped toward Snake Thrower and extended his sword. "Give me the antidote, Snake Thrower. If you don’t, I swear--"

    "Oh, shut up," said Snake Thrower. "I’ve delivered my message, and fulfilled my obligation to my Lord. If you don’t get your wife to a doctor soon, she’ll die. Have fun." Using a very well developed Art of Flying, he disappeared into the nearby trees.

    Ugly Ko and Number 25 Yuan made to follow him, but Chang shouted at them to hold back. He knew very well that Snake Thrower could slaughter them in an instant.

    The White Snake soldiers, unsure of what to do, sheathed their weapons and slowly retreated down the road, glad to escape the wrath of Chaotic Chang.

    Chang fell to his knees and cradled Breeze in his arms. "Breeze, love of my life, can you hear me?"

    Breeze muttered something incomprehensible. The venom of the snake arrows was not extremely swift, but it was deadly. If it had struck Breeze’s leg or arm, there would have been more time to get her to a doctor. But the arrow had struck her neck, and the venom was already dangerously close to her brain and heart. The skin on her neck was already turning sickly gray.

    "Master," said Ugly Ko. "Maybe Doctor Guo in Ox Leg Village will know what to do."

    Chang clenched his jaw. Doctor Guo was skilled in his arts, but was not nearly as knowledgeable as Healing Rain Xin Lo or Breath of Heaven Gai Lang Guo. But, Doctor Guo was far more experienced than Chang in the Art of Healing Needles, and was Breeze’s best hope for life. Chang rose with Breeze in his arms.

    "Ko, Yuan, I’m leaving you in charge. Take care of things. Tianri, come with me to Ox Leg Village." Ko and Yuan nodded. "Tianri, carry my sword."

    Mao took the sheathed Thunder of Chaos and followed Chang out of the Village. They took the west road, which wound its way through Ox Eye Pass and past more rocky terrain toward Ox Leg Village. Mao followed a few yards behind Chang, who set a steady running pace. It was about 3 miles to Ox Leg Village, and even someone as fit as Chang would have trouble running that distance at a sprint while carrying another person.

    Mao’s heart sank further and further as she watched Chang. It was bad enough that her sister-in-arms was on the verge of death, that at least one of her fellow disciples had been viciously slain, and that dozens of innocent villagers had lost their lives. But worse, the more she gazed at Chang, the more she determined that her love for him was an abomination. The love between Chang and Breeze was so deep, so pure, Mao felt vile that even the slightest hints of affection for him could lurk in her heart. Chang loved Breeze more than anything in the world, and it made Mao sick that she could ever desire that which belonged only to Breeze.

    As the seconds of their journey stretched into minutes, Mao forced her mind and heart to become blank. She stared at the ground as she ran, rather than be tormented by Chang’s wide shoulders and long legs. And Breeze’s limp body.

    The journey to Ox Leg Village seemed to last forever. When they finally arrived villagers led them to Doctor Guo’s clinic.

    They found the Doctor mixing herbs. He immediately dropped his work, told Chang to lay Breeze on a cot, and disappeared into the back of his small clinic. He returned with a kit of needles. After checking Breeze’s pulse, he began treating her.

    "I’ve never seen a snake bite like this before," the doctor said.

    "It’s not an ordinary snake. It’s the work of the White Snake Clan."

    The doctor grimaced. "I’m not sure if drawing the poison out will be enough. She needs an antidote."

    "I know," said Chang.

    After a few needles had been inserted into the proper points, dark red blood mixed with oily white venom began seeping out. The doctor captured some of the venom in a small bowl, then inserted a few more needles into Breeze’s neck.

    "That should slow the poison long enough for me to make an antidote."

    Chang didn’t respond. Looking at his face, Mao could see the rage slowly being replaced by hopelessness. Doctor Guo bustled around the room, using various powders and liquids to try to create an antidote. But Guo, who’d learned the medical arts from his father, had never left the Ox Mountains. He knew little of treacherous poisons, especially the sort created by the villainous White Snake Clan.

    Mao and Chang both knew that he would never be able to create an antidote in time. Breeze was already slipping away. Mao knelt next to her and felt her pulse. It was erratic, and weakening. With tears filling her eyes, Mao looked up at Chang. The swordsman was staring at his wife. His eyes glistened.

    "Master, she’s . . . she’s. . . ."

    "She’s dying."

    Mao nodded.

    Chang knelt beside his wife and clasped her hand. "Breeze, can you hear me?" He kissed her hand gently. "Breeze, if you can hear me, I want you to know that I love you. I swear to you that I will never love anyone as I have loved you." A sharp pain speared Mao’s heart. "I beg you, Breeze, please, don’t leave me. I can’t bear to think of waking up every morning without your smile next to me." Tears ran down his face. "How could I ever laugh again without you by my side? I’m going to make your garden even more beautiful this year. I’m going to plant cherry trees by the waterfall, because I know how much you love the blossoms in spring. We can sit by the waterfall together and eat cherries and watch the fish in the pond. Breeze, my love. Please don’t leave me. Please. . . . Please."

    He kissed her hand again and then brushed her cheek with his fingers. She took two more shallow, rattling breaths, and was still.

    A wave of conflicting emotions roared through Mao when she realized that her sister-in-arms was dead. Chang bowed his head, holding his wife’s hand next to his heart. Tears streamed from his closed eyes. Mao desperately wanted to put her hand on his shoulder, to comfort him. But the mere thought of doing so made her heart turn in revulsion. How could she betray Breeze like that?

    Chang threw himself across his wife and wept. Mao left the room, taking the villagers with her. She found Doctor Guo frantically mixing two chalky powders. She told him to stop, that it was too late. He stopped mixing the powder and bowed his head. Mao walked out of the clinic.

    She started crying. She sat up against the side of the clinic and buried her head in her arms, awash with misery. She cried for a very long time.

    ***

    Chang built a tomb for Breeze on the highest peak of the Ox Mountains.

    A pall fell over all the villages, especially Ox Eye. Chang suspended all his classes and went into mourning. He would sit in the garden for hours, staring into nothing, or perform endless martial arts forms in the empty school. He would speak no more than a word or two to anyone.

    Mao, too, was in shock. She knew that she should leave Ox Eye village and return to Hou Chai. But somehow, she could not bring herself to do so. She wanted to be near Chang. At the same time, though, it was slowly tearing her heart into pieces. She fully accepted now that she loved him. All day long, she thought about him, wishing she could talk with him and be with him. But, that wasn’t possible. And the realization that it would never be possible hurt her more deeply than anything she’d ever experienced. Yet, she could not make herself leave. Even though there seemed little hope that her love for Chang would be reciprocated, she could not resist the desire to be near him.

    Two weeks passed. Chang seemed to slip further and further into darkness, and no one knew what to do about it. Everyone did know about White Snake Lord’s ultimatum, though, and they all wondered when Chang would leave the Ox Mountains. Eventually, the village elders summoned Mao, Ugly Ko, and Number 25 Yuan to a clandestine meeting, to ask them what could be done to bring Chang out of his misery. They argued back and forth for an hour until Mao finally stood and spoke.

    "There’s nothing that can be done," she said. "Chang loved Breeze more than anything, and nothing short of her resurrection could bring happiness to him."

    "But what about his family?" asked Elder Yang. "If he doesn’t travel to the Kingdom of Trees, they will die."

    Mao shook her head slowly. "Chang is one of the most renowned swordsmen in Jianghu. His chivalry is legendary. But . . . but Breeze’s death has shaken the very core of his being. I don’t know if he’ll be able to recover."

    "But he HAS to!" said Ugly Ko. "If he doesn’t, that’d make him worse than that Snake Thrower!" He crossed his arms over his barrel chest. "If he doesn’t go, I’ll refuse to be his disciple! I will pay no respect to a coward."

    Many of the elders nodded their heads.

    Mao clenched her fists. "He’s not a coward," she stated. "Remember how he slew 10 of the White Snake warriors in the blink of an eye? That is nothing! On the Xianguo peninsula, he defeated 100 bandits single-handedly, without even drawing his sword. In Hou Chai, he ran into a burning building to save an old woman. The building collapsed on top of him, but he survived, and saved the woman’s life. In the Kingdom of Sand, he offered himself as a ransom to the Sand Barbarians, to save a single peasant child. This is the man who for 13 years taught kung fu to you oafs. For free! Do you realize that before he came here, he refused dozens if not hundreds of lucrative offers to teach? He gave up a life of fame and adventure in Jianghu, to settle in this backwater village. He fell in love with one of your own daughters, came to love her more than anything in the world, and then watched her die in his arms! Have any of you ever experienced that? Do you know what it feels like?!

    "You have NO right to call Chang a coward. He is ten times greater than any of you could ever hope to be. He may be in mourning, but I know for a fact that he’ll travel to the Kingdom of Trees. He will save his family, and he’ll bring justice to that horrid White Snake Lord.

    "Do you know what he told me once?” she asked. “He said he wanted to die here. He said that he loved you people like his own family, and that he wanted to live out his days here in Ox Eye Village. Well you know what? I’m not sure if you deserve to have him.

    "Don’t DARE use the word ‘coward’ in the same sentence as you use his name. If you do, it will be the last thing you ever say!"

    Mao looked down at the elders, expecting them to revile her angrily or order her from the room. Instead, they were silent. Some looked down at their hands, others looked at something behind her. She slowly turned her head and saw Chang standing in the doorway. Her heart flip-flopped.

    "Master. . ." she said.

  • *sniff* *sniff* I-I'm not c-crying! I-I just have something *sniff* in my eye! T-Thats *sniff* all! T-Thanks for the chapter. N-Now if you will excuse me I-I'm gonna (go into a corner and cry) go get some napkins for my eye. :(
  • Part 6

    As he looked into her eyes, the tiniest smile touched his lips for just a moment, and then disappeared. "Thank you for your faith in me, Tianri." He stepped into the room and then sat at the table. Mao, too, sat back down. "I wish to apologize," he said. "It’s because of me that the White Snake Soldiers came here, and it’s because of me that many of our friends and neighbors are injured and dead. I wish now that I had decided to become a hermit instead of coming here. I truly do love you all, but in the end, that love brought only pain and sorrow. I will never be able to undo that."

    "Chang," said Elder Chan, "you’re too hard on yourself. The villainy of the White Snake clan is not your doing. You must not blame yourself for their actions. Tianri is right. We are honored beyond words to have you with us, and we will always support your decisions."

    Chang bowed his head. "Thank you, Elder Chan. I am honored by your support. The White Snake Clan must pay for their evil. White Snake Lord’s treachery has gone unchecked for too long.” He took in a deep breath. “I must leave the Ox Mountains. I will travel to the Kingdom of Trees to face White Snake Lord. In the past 13 years of meditation and training, I’ve ascended far beyond the level I’d attained in my original battle with him, so I’m confident that I will prevail.

    "However, I would not put it past him to enact some sort of treachery. His assassins are everywhere, and his desire to see me dead will overcome whatever scrap of chivalry still resides in his black heart. Thus, I wish to be accompanied by Laughing Mao and Ugly Ko. Number 25 Yuan will stay here to run the school. I will travel through the Kingdom of Lakes on my way to the Kingdom of Trees. I will stop by Hou Chai, and consult with Mao’s Master, Red-eyed Ou. When I reach the Kingdom of Trees, I will rid this world of the White Snake Lord. Does this plan meet with your approval?"

    "Of course," said Elder Chan. "The women will prepare food and drink for your journey, and we will provide you with money to buy horses and any other supplies you might need."

    "Provisions will be greatly appreciated, but money won’t be necessary. I have enough."

    "When will you leave?"

    "Tomorrow morning at sunrise."

    They talked for a bit after that, making final traveling arrangements. Mao watched Chang closely. It was the first time since Breeze’s death that she’d seen him speak at length to anyone. He was changed. His voice seemed devoid of expression, and his eyes no longer gleamed with the passion for life that had once motivated his every action. Though he still stood with his back as straight as an arrow, his spirit clearly sagged under an incredible weight.

    After the arrangements were made, Chang thanked the elders and departed. Mao followed, along with Ugly Ko and Number 25 Yuan. Sickly clouds filled the skies, obscuring both stars and moon, but orange light seeping from windows and doors lit the way back to the school. When they entered the main courtyard, Chang closed and barred the doors, then turned to them.

    "I won’t lie to you," he said. "This journey will most likely be dangerous in the extreme. Mao, you’ve roamed Jianghu before. You know how quickly perfect safety can change to deadly danger. You, however," he said, addressing Ugly Ko, "have never left the Ox Mountains. I want to you be especially mindful of what I’ve taught you. You must constantly be on guard. The roads will surely be crawling with White Snake agents and assassins, especially as we near the Kingdom of Trees. And that does not take into account the countless other villains and scoundrels in Jianghu. Ko, I will not force you to make this journey. If you wish to remain behind, I will find another to accompany you."

    Ugly Ko fell to his knees and kowtowed. "Master, I would be most honored to travel with you.”

    "Good." Turning his attention to Number 25 Yuan, Chang said, "I am entrusting you with all of the responsibility of running my school. I believe that you are more than capable of doing so. Do you agree?"

    "Yes, Master."

    He nodded. "I am going to sleep. Be ready at dawn. Bring whatever weapons you feel you can wield most capably. Good night."

    Mao watched him walk away. She sighed.

    Ko put a beefy hand on her shoulder. "Don’t worry, Tianri, everything will work out in the end."

    "No it won’t," she said.

    "Yes it will."

    "No. It won’t. Nothing will ever bring Breeze back from the dead."

    Now Ko sighed. "True. But at least we can have a part in avenging her death, and the deaths of our friends and families. Those White Snake bastards will pay when Master catches up with them."

    "I hope so. The White Snake clan is treacherous and powerful. Even our Master will have difficulty fighting them single-handedly."

    "He will defeat them all, Tianri. I promise."

    Mao wanted to mock him. Ugly Ko knew nothing of the outside world, and to hear him make such a promise was nothing short of ridiculous. Instead, she simply said, "I know. I know."

    Then, with shoulders bowed, she trudged off to bed.

    * * *

    The day they left Ox Eye village, thick, ugly clouds rolled in overhead. That night it started raining. Thankfully, the village elders had seen to it that wide straw hats and encompassing goatskin cloaks had been packed. For a few hours, the rain fell relentlessly, and then tapered off to a steady, droning drizzle. They traveled down out of the Ox Mountains, into the outskirts of the Kingdom of Lakes, a land where most children learned to swim before they learned to walk. The rain continued.

    Ugly Ko tried to make conversation, but neither Chang nor Mao responded. It didn’t bother Ko at first. This being his first time out of the mountains, there were plenty of new sights to capture his attention. Eventually, though, the depression that infected Chang and Mao rubbed off on him. They journeyed in almost complete silence, speaking to each other only when necessary. At first, they were forced to sleep on the road. It was difficult setting up camp in the rain: they inevitably slept cold and wet. When they found a small inn, or a farmer with an extra room, they took it. Slowly but surely, they approached Hou Chai. Thankfully, they found a farmer not far from the foothills willing to sell them horses, which made the going a lot faster.

    Mao dreaded her reunion with her Master, Red-eyed Ou. She harbored no delusions that she could keep any secret from him, and was horrified that her eyes would reveal her love for Chang. How would her Master react when she told him she’d fallen in love with a married man? He would surely revile her, and denounce her as his disciple.

    Rain fell intermittently and clouds choked the sky. In the border town of Hou Guo, in a small inn, after a long, wet day of travel, they sat around a small table eating an evening meal of noodles and wine. Half way through his bowl of noodles, Ugly Ko broke the weeks-long silence. "Master, I need to tell you something."

    "Yes, Ko?"

    He looked down into his bowl. "I’m sorry I doubted you, master."

    "Excuse me?"

    "I’m sorry for the things I said back at the village. I said you were a coward for not going to meet the White Snake Lord, and I said I didn’t want to be your disciple. I’m sorry."

    Chang stopped eating. "I don’t remember you saying any such thing," he said softly.

    "Ko," said Mao, "can’t you even remember the words that came from your own mouth? What you said was that if he didn’t go after the White Snake Clan, then you would refuse to be his disciple, because that would make him a coward. That was the night Master told of us his plan, the night before we left."

    "Ko," said Chang, "I remember that night, and I recall your words. You did no wrong to make that statement. Had I refused to act on White Snake Lord’s ultimatum, I would indeed have been a coward."

    Ko, still looking down into his noodles, nodded. "Even still, Master, I doubted you, and for that I am sorry. For over half my life, you have taught me about loyalty and chivalry. To think that in a single moment I would forget . . ." he shook his head, and his eyes glistened. "I’m sorry, Master. I strive to be like you, yet I fail miserably. Mao was right. Ox Eye village is a collection of backwater bumpkins with hearts like mice and faith like crocodiles. We DON’T deserve to have someone like you living in our little village."

    To Mao’s great surprise, Chang smiled. "Ko, you speak powerfully for one so young. But let me assure you, it is not a sin to doubt your Master." His smile disappeared. "Every student does it eventually. Even me. After all, we are only human. As for where I live and teach, that is my decision to make. I would ten times rather live in the quiet simplicity of a distant village, than in a big city, surrounded by the violence, deceit, treachery, intrigue and politics of the 10 Kingdoms and Jianghu. In fact, sometimes, I wonder whether I deserve to live in the Ox Mountains.

    "Many men have died under my sword, Ko. And many others have died because of me. My own wife, who I loved a thousand times more than myself, died because of me. It’s a weight I’m not sure I can bear. I have been involved in intrigues and plots. It is not possible to be a part of the Circle of Warriors and NOT become embroiled in the scheming of Jianghu. The people of the Ox Mountains know nothing of the violence and backstabbing that takes place. I only hope that when this mission is completed, I can return to those mountains."

    "I think I understand, Master,” Ko said. “I promise you, though, that I will never doubt you again."

    "Thank you for your faith in me. I promise you that--"

    Chang was interrupted by a crashing noise. The wooden doors of the inn exploded into splinters and six heavy knives sped through the hole toward their table.
  • Thanks for the chapter! I wonder if Chang will marry Mao..Most likely not buuuut who knows? :P (Besides Senpai Deathblade)
  • Part 7

    Before Mao or Ko could react, Chang, still seated, spun the sheathed Thunder of Chaos, deftly deflecting each knife into a beam overhead, or to the wooden floor beneath.

    The few patrons in the inn scurried out the side and back entrances.

    Staring at the darkness beyond the door, Chang said, "Who dares make such a cowardly attack on innocent travelers?"

    "Not an attack," said a rough voice, "a test." A barrel-chested fellow entered the room, followed by a handful of henchmen. Like his followers, the barrel-chested man wore the clothes of a fisherman: pants pegged at the knees, thong sandals, a wide, flat straw hat, and a straw cape that dripped with rainwater. Mao recognized him, having met him on more than one occasion. It was Wu Zaocheng, also called Fisherman Wu. Sheathed at his hips were his famous Fish Knives.

    "So, the rumors are true," said Fisherman Wu. "Chaotic Chang has returned to Jianghu. And here everyone thought you dead."

    Chang did not respond.

    "Well, in the 15 years you’ve been gone, I hope you haven’t forgotten about our transaction."

    Chang’s face appeared like stone in the faint light. He remained silent.

    "It seems you have forgotten. 15 years ago, we made a deal, Chang. I sold you my portrait of the Red Mountains by the illustrious painter Ying Di. You were to travel to your home and send my payment of 1,200 gold coins. To this day, I have neither painting, nor payment."

    Chaotic Chang stood, clasped his hands, and bowed to Fisherman Wu. "Please accept my apologies. On my way back to my home, I was waylaid by the Wh--"

    "I don’t want to hear your lies! The truth is clear. You made a business arrangement with money you didn’t have. You then disappeared and hoped that I would forget. Unfortunately, you made an error in judgment. Fisherman Wu does not forget!"

    Chang’s hands dropped to his sides. "If you would take a moment to listen to my story, you would understand."

    "The only thing I’ll understand is the sound of gold in my hand. Where is my money? If you don’t have it, I won’t have any choice but to cut you down!"

    Mao stood and stepped in front of Chang. "Fisherman Wu, I can vouch for Chaotic Chang myself. His reasons for going into seclusion are quite valid, and have nothing to do with your business transaction."

    "And who are you?"

    "I am Mao Tianri, also known as Laughing Mao, disciple of Red-eyed Ou, grandmaster of the Mind-body Fist."

    "Little Laughing Mao, huh? You and your Master, Red-eyed Ou, both have excellent reputations in the Circle of Warriors. But my business is with Chaotic Chang. Get out of my way, and I won’t hurt you."

    Chang stepped forward, holding Thunder of Chaos in front of him. "It’s one thing to threaten and insult me. It’s quite another to threaten those I care about."

    Mao looked sharply at Chang, her heart quivering. Had she heard correctly? Did he just say he cared about her?

    "Chang, I’ll ask you one last time. Where is my money?"

    "I don’t have it."

    "Very well then. ATTACK!" Fisherman Wu drew his Fish Knives and lunged forward. At the same moment, his men drew their own knives and attacked.

    A low rumble filled the room as Chang drew Thunder of Chaos. Mao’s spear lashed back and forth as she defended herself against five of Fisherman Wu’s men. They were skilled fighters, but she’d fought against far better opponents. To her left, Ugly Ko held his own against four of them. The iron cudgel he wielded was slow, but more than made up in power what it lacked in speed.

    Out of the corner of her eye, Mao saw Chang and Fisherman Wu battling. Chang wasn’t having much difficulty defending himself against his opponent’s Fish Knives.

    Suddenly, Mao saw an opening in her own battle, and used a move called "Twisting the Top," which involved rapid spinning and kicking. One of her opponents took the butt of her spear on the side of his head, two others received powerful kicks to their chest. All three fell backward. Just then, Mao’s eyes fell on Ugly Ko, and she shouted out in warning.

    He’d left an opening in his defense, and one of the knife-wielding fishermen had noticed. Her cry was too late to help Ko. The knife plunged into Ko’s side, inches beneath his heart. The fisherman angled the blade up as it went in, and Ugly Ko cried out. All fighting stopped. The lanterns on the walls flickered eerily. Ugly Ko dropped his iron cudgel and sank to his knees.

    With a roar of rage, Chang landed a palm strike onto Fisherman Wu’s chest, sending him flying into a nearby table, blood spraying from his mouth. Then, he thrust Thunder of Chaos out in his famous stance "Lightning Strikes." A blinding flash filled the room, accompanied by a deafening thunderclap. When Mao’s vision cleared, she saw what was left of the man who’d stabbed Ko. His smoking corpse lay crumpled against the far wall, amidst a clutter of broken chairs and tables.

    As Fisherman Wu struggled to his feet, Chang and Mao rushed to Ugly Ko, who was still propped up on his knees. Chang slipped an arm around his back and felt his pulse.

    I’m sorry, Master," said Ugly Ko, his eyelids drooping. "I wasn’t paying attention. I should have been paying attention."

    Through the tears in her eyes, Mao could see that Chang’s eyes were also welling up. "I’m proud of you, Ko," he said. "You did well against so many cowardly opponents."

    "I’m sorry, Master. I wish I could have become like you. I wish that I could . . . I could have . . . I just. . . ." His head rolled back, and he was dead.

    Chang pulled him up and held him for a long time, then gently laid him on the floor. Mao wiped the tears from her eyes as Chang stood and faced Fisherman Wu. Pointing Thunder of Chaos at him, Chang said, "Take your men and leave. Now. I swear to my ancestors that if I ever see you again, I will kill you."

    Fisherman Wu looked like a cornered rabbit. “But—”

    Chang stepped forward. "I said GO!"

    Fisherman Wu sheathed his Fish Knives and bid a hasty retreat, followed by his men.

    sheathed Thunder of Chaos and looked down at Ugly Ko. As the tears flowed down his face, Mao’s heart throbbed with pain. How could life be so cruel to cause such heartache to a person? She stood for a long time, looking at her friend Ko, her brother-in-arms. As she wept, she realized once again how desperately she wanted to comfort Chang, to wipe the tears from his cheeks and neck, to wrap her arms around him and hold him. Her heart felt heavier and heavier, until she felt she could bear it no longer. The pain was worse than any physical hurt one could ever receive.

    Hardly conscious of what she did, she stepped next to Chang, reached out, and touched his shoulder. He did not recoil, or strike her hand away. Still looking down at her dead friend, she stepped closer. Her hand slid across Chang’s back.

    Suddenly, as if a twig had snapped, Chang dropped Thunder of Chaos and embraced her. As her arms encircled him, she felt the weight in her heart disappear. Though still constricted and cold, with Chang’s arms around her, she felt as though things could be right, one day.

    They stood together, holding each other, their tears mingling. Outside, the rain poured down.

    * * *

    Several days later, the rain ceased. Leaden clouds still thickened the sky. Chang and Mao were only a day or so from Hou Chai. The time spent traveling after Ugly Ko’s death had been made in resigned silence.

    Mao felt more confused than ever. For one brief moment, when Chang had embraced her, she’d felt as if the warmth of love had touched her. But in the days that followed, Chang had become distant once more. He did not mention Ugly Ko’s death, or their embrace. After several days on the road, Mao began to wonder if it had really happened. She knew it had. It was something she would remember until her dying day, though now it felt like a dream.

    It was as they traversed a lake-side road that Chang said, "Tianri, may I ask you a personal question?"

    It was the first time since leaving Hou Guo that he’d made any attempt at conversation. "Of course, Master," she said.

    He sighed. "Tianri, please stop calling me Master. Your Master is Red-eyed Ou."

    "What should I call you, then?"

    "Call me by my name, please."

    "Yes . . . Chang." It felt strange to address him thus.

    "Tianri, what do you think about love?"

    Her breath caught. "What do you mean?"

    "Have you . . . Have you ever been in love?"

    She bit her lip, not sure of what to say. She didn’t want to tell him the truth, but she wouldn’t lie. "Yes. I have."

    "How did it end up?"

    She closed her eyes. "With a broken heart."

    "Yours? Or his?"

    She gripped the reigns tightly. "Mine. It was my own foolishness that caused it."

    "When did this happen?"

    Mao kept her silence, unable to think of the right words.

    "I’m sorry," said Chang. "I shouldn’t pry."

    "No, I am sorry. It’s just . . . I don’t feel comfortable talking about it."

    "I understand." They continued onward. The profound moment fizzled away. Mao felt more depressed than ever. They rode on toward Hou Chai.
  • Thanks for all the great work!
  • Oops this slipped my mind! Sorry....

    Part 8

    Late the next evening, they sat in the estate of Yang Guozhi, Mao’s second home, around a cherry wood table next to a pond. The pond had a waterfall, and fat fish swimming in its depths, golden, white and black. Occasionally the moon peeked through thick clouds to cast its reflection on the inky water. It reminded Mao of the pond behind the school, in Ox Eye village.

    Sitting at the table with Mao and Chang were Red-eyed Ou, Yang Guozhi, and Guozhi’s young nephew Yang Daojuan, who had a thick, long beard. For hours they had been discussing Chang’s plans to meet the White Snake Lord’s ultimatum. Yang Guozhi wanted to send a contingent of Yang clan soldiers with him, but Chang refused. The ultimatum required him to come alone, he said, and White Snake Lord would surely have men watching the roads.

    Red-eyed Ou suggested sending the soldiers three days march behind Chang, so that they would be available if needed. Eventually, Chang agreed. After that, conversation became trivial

    Eventually, Chang stood. "I’ll leave in the morning," he said.

    "I’ll have my servants prepare supplies for you," replied Yang Guozhi.

    "Many thanks." Chang bowed to those present. "I thank all of you for your support and counsel. I hope to one day be able to repay your kindness. Good night." His eyes flickered onto Mao for a moment before he left.

    Red-eyed Ou shook his head slowly. "This situation is … tragic, to say the least.”

    "Yes," said Yang Guozhi. "It is time for the White Snake clan to receive retribution. Their treachery knows no end."

    "Give me an army, uncle," said Yang Daojuan. "I will destroy them. I swear it!"

    "If only it were that easy, Daojuan. The balance in the 10 Kingdoms is too delicate for such a maneuver. We must bide our time. After the duel, we may be able to act. But not before." He stood. "I must retire. Master Ou, you are welcome to sleep here tonight, if you wish."

    "I think I will, Guozhi. Thank you for your hospitality."

    "You’re always welcome, as you know. I’ll have the servants prepare your room.” He gave Mao a fatherly touch on the shoulder. “Sleep well, Tianri.” Gesturing at his nephew, he said, “Come Daojuan, let us leave the Master and his student alone."

    "Yes, uncle." Daojuan followed his uncle out of the courtyard.

    Red-eyed Ou and Mao sat for a long time in silence. Mao stared at the pond, catching tranquil glints of moonlight on golden scales.

    At length, Red-eyed Ou said, "How fares your quest, Tianri?"

    "I … I have found love, Master."

    "You have?"

    "Yes."

    "Who is it?"

    She could tell by the way he asked the question that he already knew the answer. "I’m not sure I can say it aloud, Master. It’s shameful."

    "You’ve fallen in love with Chaotic Chang, haven’t you?"

    She nodded.

    "Was it before or after the murder of his wife?"

    She took in a shaky breath, forcing her eyes to remain dry. "Before," she whispered.

    Red-eye Ou did not speak for a long time. Mao felt more terrible than ever. Surely her Master would reject her as his disciple, now that he had been told the truth.

    "Tianri, I’ve known you for a very long time. In many ways, you are like my own daughter. I’ve watched you grow from a gawky little girl into a beautiful young woman. I know that you hold virtue and honor paramount in your life. Please, tell me how this came to be. Leave nothing out."

    She started from the beginning, from the day she’d arrived at Ox Eye village. Hesitant at first, she began to describe how her feelings for Chang had developed. Once started, she could not stop.  When she started talking about her confrontation with Breeze, and her decision to leave the village, she couldn’t hold back the tears. She was sobbing by the time she finished the story. Tears rolled down her cheeks, forming little lakes on the polished wood of the table.

    Red-eyed Ou put a hand on her shoulder. "Daughter, stop crying," he whispered.

    She calmed herself. When the tears finally stopped, she wiped her face with her sleeve and looked into her Master’s eyes. "I’m sorry. I’m a horrible person, and I don’t deserve to be your disciple."

    The skin around his red eyes crinkled as he smiled. "Don’t say such foolish things. Listen to me. You are no more or less perfect than any other human. What happened is entirely understandable. That you chose not to act on your feelings shows that you are truly chaste and honorable."

    "I’m not sure you’re right, Master."

    "I am. Many women would have tried to usurp Chang’s and Breeze’s marriage. You did not. Many women would have tried to steal Chang’s affections, and his bed, after his wife died. You did not. There is no reason to torment yourself for having normal human feelings."

    "But, isn’t it wrong to love the husband of another woman?"

    "Absolutely. But sometimes, it is profoundly difficult to control one’s feelings. I’m proud that you were able to do what was right, despite the urgings of your heart."

    Tears filled her eyes again. "But, Master, it hurts. It hurts terribly!"

    "I know. I know that feeling."

    "How could you, Master?” she blurted out. “You’ve never even been married!"

    "No, I haven’t. But I have certainly loved, and been loved in return."

    "Really?"

    He smiled, a distant look entering his eyes. "It’s not something I like to talk about."

    She cast her eyes to the floor. "I’m sorry, Master."

    "Don’t be sorry. It’s a story you should hear. It happened many years ago, before I finally decided to settle down here in Hou Chai. Back then, I wandered Jianghu, free of cares and worries. Wherever I laid my head was my home. One day, in the Kingdom of Sand, I met a beautiful young warrior. We fell in love, and were very happy traveling together. For three years we were together, until our travels took us near the Kingdom of Trees.

    "It wasn’t until then that I discovered she was a daughter of a high-ranking noble of the White Snake clan."

    Mao’s eyes widened.

    "Yes, I know," said her Master. "I had the same reaction. At the time, we were staying in a small inn near the border of the Kingdom of Trees. Days passed as I tried to come to terms with the situation. Unfortunately, I never had the chance. She disappeared, leaving only a short note for me. Apparently, five years earlier, she had been promised in marriage to the son of another White Snake Lord. Instead of complying with the arrangement, she ran away.

    "In her note, she apologized profusely, saying that she would always love me. But she couldn’t live with the fact that her love for me was tainted by the evil of the White Snake clan. She did not say where she was running to, or how to find her. I searched day and night for 3 years before finally giving up."

    "Master, that’s . . . that’s so sad."

    "I know," he said. "I never found another woman who I could love the way I loved her. To this day, deep in my heart, I still nurture the hope that she’ll return to me."

    They sat in silence for a while. "Master, if you can live with the pain, so can I. I have found love, and my heart has been broken. Now I want only to finish my training, and try to forget all of this."

    Red-eyed Ou looked at her sadly. "Tianri, I’m afraid it’s not that simple."

    "What do you mean?"

    He sighed. "When I said you needed to find love, I meant true love, complete love. It’s easy to love someone, but not so easy to find a person who loves you in return."

    Mao’s heart sank. "You mean. . . ."

    He nodded, a profound sadness filling his face. "Unless Chang loves you back, your heart will never be complete, and neither will your training."

    She gazed down into the pond, feeling empty. "He doesn’t love me."

    "I know. The instant I saw you together, Tianri, I knew that you loved him. And I also knew that he didn’t love you in return. His love for Breeze was pure and true and complete. Once you’ve loved someone that way, it’s difficult, maybe even impossible, to feel the same for another."

    "I will never love another the way I love him. And he will never love me the way he loved Breeze."

    "That may be true. There’s really no way to tell, except to let time pass."

    She shook her head slowly. "No, I’m sure of it. I will never achieve supreme mastery of the Mind-body fist, Master."

    "I wouldn’t be too quick to make such a judgment. You have reached a time in your life that most warriors reach eventually. It will do you little good to stay here and atrophy. You need to travel. Spend some time alone thinking and meditating. When the situation with Chang and White Snake Lord is resolved, things could change. There may still be a place for you in Chang’s heart."

    She nodded. "I will take your advice, Master. Tomorrow morning I will leave, and see where the road takes me."

    “Tianri, from now on, there’s no need for you to call me Master. You are a master of the Mind-body fist. You’ve yet to reach the ultimate level, but I can truly say that few warriors have ever grasped its nature as well as you.” He placed his hand on hers. "I am proud of you, Tianri. I always will be."

    "I know." With tears in her eyes, she fell to the floor and kowtowed three times. When she stood again, Red-eyed Ou hugged her, and she hugged him back.

    "Come back to visit me, daughter," he said.

    "I will. I promise."

  • Part 9

    The next morning, Mao woke very early. She was surprised to find a box in her room, just inside the door. It was beautifully carved, and covered in dark brown lacquer. On top of the box was an envelope sealed with red wax. Inside was a letter, which read:

    Tianri,
    I give you this gift to aid you in your travels. It does little good to me as I sit and grow old in Hou Chai, but I am confident it will help you in the treacherous Jianghu world. I hope to see you again soon.
    Red-eyed Ou Bangli
        
    Kneeling, she opened the box. Tears filled her eyes when she looked inside and saw Red-eyed Ou’s famous weapon, the Lightning Spear. It was forged of white steel and decorated with gold and sapphire. A bright yellow tassel was tied around the extraordinarily long and sharp blade, which glinted dangerously even in the semi-darkness of early morning. Red-eyed Ou had won the weapon in a duel, and had grown to love it almost as much as a person. Dozens of rogues and villains had fallen under it, and stories and songs of Red-eyed Ou and the Lightning Spear were told throughout the 10 Kingdoms. He could have given her no greater gift.

    She could not take the box, so she wrapped the spear in gray linen and strapped it to her back. Then, she stole through the halls of the estate to the servants’ quarters, and found the laundry room. She searched through the piles of clothes and found some simple, worn garments. In other parts of the estate, she procured a straw worker’s hat, and tattered sandals. Back at her room, she cast her old raiment aside and donned her new outfit. When she looked in the mirror, she saw a tired servant looking back.

    Securing her belongings in a bag, she walked toward the south gates, leaving behind sealed letters for her uncle and various other friends in the estate. Half way to the gate, she heard footsteps coming from a corridor up ahead. She sank into the shadows of a nearby vase. She had nothing to hide, but neither did she want to make a big affair of her departure.

    Peering out, she saw Chang walk into the hall. He was dressed for travel, with Thunder of Chaos held in his left hand and a pack in the other. He walked purposely down the corridor, away from her hiding place.

    As she watched him disappear down the corridor, tears filled her eyes and spilled onto her face. She wiped them away and walked in the opposite direction.

    *   *   *

    Chang didn’t particularly want to keep track of the days spent on the road, but considering how important it was that he arrive on time at White Snake Lord’s castle, he had no other choice.

    Nothing spectacular occurred during the journey, except for the times he was attacked by White Snake assassins. None of the attacks proved to be the slightest challenge, and Chang showed no mercy to the attackers. Nor did he give them proper burials.

    He passed through countless villages and cities. When he finally entered the Kingdom of Trees, he was again reminded why he held such hatred for the White Snake clan. The people of the land were oppressed and unhappy, kept under control only by the ever-present White Snake soldiers. He was stopped often by patrols of soldiers on the roads, or by guards at checkpoints and city gates. Each time, he merely stated his name, and that he was traveling to an appointment with White Snake Lord. They always let him pass, though frequently with snickers and muttered insults. The dishonor heaped upon him was immense, and the closer he got to White Snake Lord’s castle, the more difficult it became to contain his anger. However, he knew it would do little good to lash out at White Snake Lord’s underlings, thereby weakening himself before the upcoming duel.

    He could not forget Tianri; her smile, her laugh, her loyalty. But when he realized the pleasurable memories were chasing Breeze from his thoughts, he shut his mind off to everything except his quest.

    Every night he meditated, strengthening and amassing his Inner Force. It was a blustery evening when he topped a sharp hill to see White Snake Lord’s castle perched in the middle a sprawling city. Like all cities and villages controlled by the White Snake clan, it was spotlessly clean. If one ignored the fearful, haunted faces of the citizens, one could almost enjoy the cleanliness. After finding an inn near the castle, Chang ate a filling dinner, meditated, then went to sleep. He woke the next morning refreshed and ready.

    When he approached the gates of the castle, Thunder of Chaos at his side, he felt more ready for battle than ever before in his life. The guards at the gate led him inside to the main courtyard, where, so many years ago, he’d fought Jiang Loxian and his father.

    Both were there waiting, ugly smirks on their faces.

    "I knew you’d come," said White Snake Lord. No man in the world looked more like a treacherous viper than White Snake Lord, with his beady eyes and hatchet face. His hair was white, and a long, thin beard trailed down from his narrow chin. He wore fine white robes inscribed with the sigil of the White Snake Clan. Silver jewelry adorned his wrists and neck, and he wore a circlet on his head shaped like a snake, with diamonds for eyes.

    "All of the men you sent after me are dead," said Chang.

    "I assumed as much."

    They looked at each other.

    "Where is my family? I’ve arrived on time, and I want them released immediately."

    "Or what? You won’t fight me?"

    Chang stared at White Snake Lord. "Where are they?"

    He chuckled and lazily waved a hand at a nearby henchman. "They’re just outside the courtyard. I assure you, I’ve treated them well."

    Moments later his family was herded into the courtyard by a dozen White Snake soldiers. He felt sickened to see his parents, brothers, sisters and other relatives in dirty rags, shackled together with iron chains. His mother cried out in gladness when she saw him. He gave her a short smile.

    "I want them out of your castle. Out of your city," Chang said.

    "Why, you don’t trust that I’ll release them when you lose?"

    "No, I don’t. I want them out of here, regardless of what happens."

    "Very well." He flicked his hand again, and the soldiers led the family to the main gate. Chang smiled and nodded to each of them as they passed.

    When they were gone, he looked at White Snake Lord. "Are you ready?"

    White Snake Lord’s mouth twisted into a smile. "Of course." A gesture sent all the soldiers, and his son, to the far edges of the courtyard. He snapped his fingers, and a soldier brought forth his famous long staff. It was green and white and the ends were capped with silver. He called it "Emerald Snake." He planted its end on the ground next to his feet.

    "You know, Chang, I would like to give you my condolences."

    A long moment passed. "What?"

    "You heard me. My condolences, for the death of your wife."

    Chang’s jaw clenched. "Your lips aren’t fit to say her name, you bastard."

    "Oh, come now. That’s not really fair," said White Snake Lord.

    "You killed her."

    "I most certainly did not. It was not by my order that she died."

    "I don’t care if you ordered it or not. You are responsible. And today, you will pay with your life."

    "That, I doubt."

    "Enough talking." Chang drew Thunder of Chaos, filling the courtyard with its low rumbling.

    "Very well." White Snake Lord took a well known stance called "Serpent Lies Waiting in Grass."

    Chang twirled Thunder of Chaos and sprang forward. White Snake Lord met him with Emerald Snake. The sound of the two weapons clashing sent a resounding crack into the air. Everyone in the castle and the city heard it, and even fishermen in boats far out in the ocean.

    They fought back and forth, each using their most powerful stances and techniques. Chang was careful to keep out of reach of White Snake Lord’s hands, and his deadly pressure point poison attacks. Chang drew first blood, but it wasn’t long before both warriors’ robes were soaked in red. For many rounds they fought, until finally they separated, and stood a dozen paces apart, panting.

    "You’ve improved since we fought last," said White Snake Lord.

    "As have you. I warn you, though; I have yet to begin fighting."

    "What is that supposed to mean?"

    "That you’re about to die." He stretched his sword out in "Lightning Strikes." Inner Force surged from the sword, bearing down on White Snake Lord, who stood transfixed.

    At the last possible moment, White Snake Lord’s instincts kicked in, and he dodged to the side. He wasn’t fast enough to avoid the blow. It hit him in the shoulder, sending him spinning several times in the air before landing on the stone tiles in a pool of blood. His arm was nearly severed. Because of Chang’s intensive meditations while traveling, his Inner Force was immensely strong; the rest of the blow punched a hole in the wall, sending bricks flying.

    Chang smiled grimly and took a step toward White Snake Lord. Before he could reach him, Jiang Loxian shouted, drew his sword and jumped between the two. Dozens of White Snake Soldiers followed him.

    "What treachery is this?" growled Chang.

    White Snake Lord struggled to his feet, clutching his useless arm. He chuckled. "Did you really think I wouldn’t have any contingencies in place? My son, execute the plan."

  • Part 10
    "MEN," shouted Jiang Loxian. "YELLOW STAR DRAGON FORMATION!!!"

    Hundreds of soldier marched into the courtyard, surrounding Chang.

    "Your deceit knows no bounds," said Chang. "I never imagined you would stoop to such cowardly tactics."

    "Not cowardly," said White Snake Lord, grimacing as blood flowed down his arm. "Shrewd." He laughed. "As long as you are dead, I am happy. Give the order, my son."

    "MEN, KILL HIM!!!"

    The soldiers surged forward, and Thunder of Chaos became a blur. Chang held nothing back, sending the broken bodies of White Snake Soldiers flying left and right in the courtyard. Blood sprayed into the air like geysers, spattering the white uniforms of the soldiers.

    Chang fought faster and harder than he’d ever fought, but against such overwhelming odds, even the most powerful fighter will crumble eventually. For each soldier slain, more entered the courtyard. He felt his Inner Force slowly draining away.

    Chang was contemplating a desperate attempt at escape when a shrill cry filled the air. A blur of brown sped down from a nearby wall, mowing through the formations of White Snake soldiers as if they were blades of grass.

    It took Chang only a moment to recognize Mao. She was dressed like a servant, but her Mind-body fist was impossible to confuse with another style. She reached his side in seconds, wielding a shining weapon that he recognized to be the famous Lightning Spear.

    "Tianri, what are you doing here?"

    "I’ve been following you. I feared treachery, and it appears my suspicions were well-founded."

    They fought back to back, forming a circle of death. But the numbers were still overwhelming. The fighting seemed to go on for hours, until the weapons they wielded seemed as heavy as mountains. Finally, Chang said, "Tianri, I’m going to attempt to use a very dangerous technique. But I must draw on your Inner Force to accomplish it."

    "Do it, before it is too late.”

    He immediately began the 9th and ultimate form of the Infinity Sword Art, the name of which has been kept secret by the grandmasters for generations. Few outside the disciples of the Infinity Sword School know of its existence. Only those who attain complete mastery are even capable of attempting the technique. Some fail, and they die.

    Rippling energies surrounded Chang as he drew Inner Force from himself and Mao. Thunder of Chaos glowed until it shined like a star. Then, when the whole castle shook under the power of the restrained energy, Chang snapped Thunder of Chaos out and extended his free arm to the left, spinning in a complete circle before stabbing the sword into the ground.

    The release of force was more powerful than any person alive had ever seen, even Wang Liu the Chief Abbot of the Shaolin Temple or He Lingyun the Untouchable Sword. Every White Snake soldier in the square was ripped to shreds by the force of the blow, which leveled the walls of the castle and sent debris flying far out into the ocean. It sounded like a thousand bolts of lightning striking a thousand trees.

    When it was over, a fine white dust hovered in the air, mixed with a red mist, which was all that remained of White Snake Lord’s cowardly force of ambushers.

    Chang and Mao slumped together. Thunder of Chaos lay near Chang’s leg, steaming in the aftermath of the 9th form of the Infinity Sword Art.

    "I’ve never felt such power," said Mao.

    "Neither have I," replied Chang, out of breath.

    They lay together for a few minutes, drawing their strength together.

    Suddenly, on the other side of what was once the courtyard, a pile of bricks tumbled noisily to the ground, revealing a battered Jiang Loxian. His face was cut and bruised and covered in dust. He looked exhausted and frightened. Chang grabbed Thunder of Chaos and stood, standing on shaky legs.

    "I don’t wish to kill you, but I will," he said.

    Jiang Loxian stumbled forward, then fell to his knees and kowtowed. "I am not my father. I wish you no ill."

    Chang laughed. "Your lies are as transparent as glass. Have you forgotten why all of this happened? It was because of you!"

    "I know," he said, crawling forward, kowtowing. "But I have repented of my old ways. My father is a tyrant and a fool. I do not wish to follow his path."

    Chang looked down at the pitiful young man with whom he had crossed blades over a decade and a half past. "It’s hard for me to believe you, Loxian. But I’m not a cold-blooded killer. I’ll let you live for now. However, I want you to remember this day. And remember that if you ever attempt to harm the people I love, I will kill you."

    Jiang Loxian banged his forehead against the ground repeatedly. "I will always remember your kindness, Chang. You have my eternal debt of gratitude."

    Chang took a step backward, and was turning to help Mao to her feet when he sensed a sudden surge of Inner Force from Jiang Loxian. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, and he whirled Thunder of Chaos into a defensive position.

    Jiang Loxian looked up, his face no longer filled with exhaustion, but with evil and cunning. "You are a fool, Chang. Today, you die."

    Shouting, "Ambush of Vipers!" he slapped both hands to the ground, and an instant later, the crumbled tiles beneath Chang’s feet exploded upward. Dozens of glowing, writhing white serpents erupted from the ground, striking blindly in every direction. Chang leaped into the air, slashing at the beasts with surgical precision.

    Mao was not as quick. She’d been sitting slumped behind Chang, and hadn’t the time to stand. She screamed as three vipers sank their fangs into her body. By the time Chang landed, all of the snakes were dead, sliced into ribbons. But they had done their venomous damage.

    Mao sat shivering, dots of blood staining her simple servants’ clothes where the vipers had struck. She almost fell backward onto the ground, but Chang’s arm slipped around her and held her up. Fast as lightning, his hands shot out, blocking several of her vital points.

    "It’s too late," whispered Mao. "This venom is fast. It’s already wrapped around my heart."

    "No," said Chang. "No."

    "Yes. I’m going to die, Chang. I’m sorry."

    "No, you’ll be fine." He turned his head, vile curses on his lips waiting to be hurled at Jiang Loxian, but the coward was nowhere to be seen. He looked down at Mao. "You’ll be fine. I’ve blocked some of your vital points to slow the poison. The Yang soldiers are only a few days journey behind us. They’ll have skilled doctors with them, and we can--"

    "No," she said, her voice shaking. "I can feel it killing me. I’m going to die."

    Tears filled Chang’s eyes. "This can’t be happening. Not again."

    "I’m sorry. Chang, I want you to know, I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time. The day Breeze died, I’d decided to leave, because I knew it wasn’t right to feel the way I did about you. But when I saw the White Snake soldiers, I came back to warn you. Now--" she coughed weakly "Now, I wonder if that was the right thing to do." She coughed again. Her voice was so low, Chang was forced to bend his head down to her mouth to be able to hear her. "If I hadn’t come back . . . Breeze might still be alive . . . and you would be happy. I’m sorry . . . for all the . . . things I’ve done to hurt you. I love you."

    Tears spilled from Chang’s eyes, dropping onto Mao’s face and slowly running down her face and neck. "Tianri, you’ve done nothing to hurt me. I’m the one who should be sorry. I loved Breeze more than myself, but . . . I love you too. I’ve tried not to, because it’s not right. But I can’t control my emotions. You are everything I could ever want. You . . . You’re perfect. I love you, Tianri. Please, don’t die. We can make you better, and we can go off into the mountains and throw our swords away and be happy. We’ll leave Jianghu behind and never fight again. We can be happy together, just you and me. Tianri, please, I love you. Don’t leave me. Tianri? Tianri?"

    He looked down, and saw the vacant look in her eye, a look he’d seen too many times to remember, both in the eyes of those he’d hated, and in the eyes of those he’d loved. She was gone, never to return. He sat for a long time holding her, washing her face with his tears, until it shone radiantly, like that of an angel. Then, long after the dust of the battle had settled, he lay her down gently. Closing her eyes, he kissed her brow and told her that he loved her.

    Then, he took Thunder of Chaos and walked to the edge of the cliff, where the mighty walls of White Snake Lord’s castle had once stood. He looked back at Mao, lying silent and dead. Then he looked out to the sea, pure and endless. He held Thunder of Chaos aloft, saluting the world. Then, he spun it around and plunged it into his stomach. He angled it up as it entered, and the point emerged from his shoulder. Brilliant, crimson drops flowed down its dull, gray surface.

    He uttered no cry of pain, only a brief sigh of relief. Eyes open, one hand still gripping Thunder of Chaos, he toppled into the sea.
  • Hmm, I can't edit posts on my work computer, so I can't add

    THE END

    Yes, that's the end.......

    Kind of. My original story did end here. I wanted it to be a tragedy. Later on, I kind of regretted, and planned a way for the story to go on (even wrote a teeny bit, but never finished).
  • Oh my...so tragic. Love it though, thanks for the story.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed this, although I have to admit that somehow my eyes turned very blurry at the end.  
  • edited November 2015
    Thanks for sharing

    Welcome to the directory!
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