A shoutout to my latest anonymous Patron and anonymous Donor! Thank you so much for the support!
Standing beneath the awning, Jia Yang fumed in anger as he stood stiff backed, eyes focused intently on the young man standing onstage. The clouds continued raining down, resulting in a constant thrum of raindrops as they merged to form a sheet of water cascading down in front of him. A jagged fork of lightning flashed in the distance, brightening the murky morning for an instant and illuminating the little savage, standing tall, victorious and defiant.
The match had started so well, the Bekhai runt skilled but inexperienced, making his first victory seem like luck as the minutes passed, unable to break through the bristleboar’s guard. Yang had erred in instructing the bristleboar to delay and draw out the match, the runt’s confident attitude fooling him too well. Even then, victory seemed within his grasp for the majority of the match, but that hateful runt was without shame, crawling and rolling about in a dishonourable spectacle. The worthless slave could not kill the runt cleanly and after disgracing the Society, the slave had died a dog’s death. Having lost two matches already, the Society was now being challenged for a third time by some unknown savage.
Beside him, Zian spoke through clenched teeth. “Uncle, we cannot let this insult stand. Allow me to champion the Society and end this farce. The arrogant runt is exhausted and spent, he will fall easily.”
“No, you cannot send him to battle.” On the other side, his sister chimed in, offering her opinion unasked. “You cannot sense it little Zian, but the savage has been channelling the Energy of the Heavens for some time now. What’s more, you saw how he reattached his foot, a delicate and complicated task completed in a quarter-hour under less than ideal conditions. Who knows what else he is capable of? True, his energy is spent, so why risk my son when you can send a slave in to end it?”
Remaining silent as mother and son traded thoughts aloud, he carefully considered the situation, searching for serenity in the face of raging anger. An important decision was before him, the third match between the Society of Heaven and Earth and the Bekhai. After two losses, he could no longer look down on him, this strong-willed barbarian winning through perseverance. With this weather and the poor condition of the stage, Zian was at a clear disadvantage, unused to such irregular conditions while the runt was in his element. Worse, to allow the Bekhai three victories would set tongues to wagging, critical of the Society for killing a ‘rising dragon’. The citizens loved to talk of their heroes, almost as much as they loved a dark horse, and this child would be both to them.
A slave was out of the question, for now. To acquiesce to the runt’s demand would result in a loss of face, one he could not stomach after those two disastrous matches, but sending Zian out against Ying’s wishes was almost as objectionable. Turning to the OuYang Elder, he cocked his head in question, seeking an opinion.
A silent reply sounded in his mind. “Hmph, your little Situ princeling lacks his mother’s permission, so you hope to send our OuYang clan’s little Patriarch to fight? Disgraceful to think that such a weakling is lauded as the most talented youth.” Speaking aloud, the OuYang Elder flicked his sleeves whilst sneering arrogantly. “Little Patriarch, go forth and cleanse this stain from the honour of the Society. Remember, a Lion uses its full strength, even when fighting a rabbit.”
“Thank you Elder for this opportunity. Await my victorious return.” Clasping his hands and bowing before the Elder, a young man in resplendent armour leaped powerfully onto the stage, a resounding crash echoing as his feet sank into the broken stone. Cheering erupted from the crowd, building up quickly into a cacophony of approval as the soldiers bashed weapons against shields, primed for victory after two disappointing defeats. With the emblem of his clan displayed prominently on his back, and only a small patch on his shoulder to show his loyalty to the Society, the young warrior looked every bit like a handsome military hero, his weapon held casually over both shoulders, a dagger-spear with a vibrant red tassel. With an unceremonious, one-handed sweep of the weapon, he launched the slave’s corpse from the stage, scattering the raindrops as it soared through the air, a powerful display of strength from their champion.
After acknowledging the praise of the crowd and signalling for quiet, he pointed his weapon at the runt and roared out his challenge. “This one is OuYang Yu Jin, 24 years old, Senior Captain of the Imperial Army, Little Patriarch of the OuYang Clan, Adherent to the Society. Reprehensible savage, prepare to meet your fate.”
The cheers shook the field, the young hero accustomed to working the crowd, raising the morale of his allies while demoralizing his enemies with their fervour. Unperturbed, the runt stood easily, his shield held low and sword resting easily on his shoulder, an arrogant look on his hateful face. The cheers continued until Yu Jin returned to his corner and the Justicar held his hands up for silence once more. Yu Jin was a talented duelist, Zian only able to hold his own against the warrior due to his control of chi and Aura. Where Yu Jin held the advantage was his experience, having fought in 11 life and death duels, whereas Zian was still unblooded.
Yang could already see this ending quickly on the first pass, Yu Jin settling into his stance for an unstoppable charge, the Heart Seeking Flash. A single step to cover massive distance in the blink of an eye, the runt would die in an instant from this ultimate attack. Inspired by a combination of 3 forms, it was unparalleled in speed, power, and accuracy, a fearsome strike especially in the dueling ring, the close quarters working to his advantage. It was a more respectable death than the enemy deserved, but Yang would show no mercy to the other Bekhai.
The Justicar had barely finished saying the word when Yu Jin launched into action, water and stones exploding from under his feet, evidence of his forceful charge. Closing the distance in an instant, an arrow leaping from the bow, weapon aimed at the Bekhai runt’s heart. Connecting with a deafening impact, the runt went tumbling head over heels backwards and off the edge of the stage, the match over in the blink of an eye.
Laughter bubbled up from within his chest, but it quickly froze in his throat, his eyes straining in disbelief at the scene before him. Upon the stage, the raindrops plinking off his armor, readily heard in the suffocating silence that followed aborted cheers, lay Yu Jin, face down and motionless. Blood seeped from his shoulder, washing away quickly in the downpour as he lay upon his spear, as if embracing it in peaceful sleep. Protruding from his left shoulder, the runt’s sword was embedded to the hilt, the blade buried deep in Yu Jin’s flesh, undoubtedly having pierced his heart and killing him instantly.
Replaying the brief exchange in his mind, Yang frantically set task, trying to understand what just happened. Yu Jin’s spear was more than 2.5 meters long, the runt’s sword only 35 centimeters. What’s more, Yu Jin stood head and shoulders above the runt, adding even more to the discrepancy in range. With how quickly his body was thrown back, it should have been impossible for the runt to counter attack, especially so precisely and at such an angle.
The blood drained from his face as he realized the only possible explanation: the runt threw his sword, killing Yu Jin before they clashed, the mere momentum of his corpse enough to send the runt off the stage. Was the decision made after seeing Yu Jin’s charging stance? No, his sword in place for an easy throw the entire time, resting on his shoulder, arm cocked and ready. Even after working out the puzzle, Yang felt dubious of the situation. What sort of warrior threw his weapon away at the first exchange? If the throw missed or was deflected, would that not spell certain death? It was madness!
A mocking laugh broke the tranquility of the field, the runt clambering to his feet. Lifting himself to sit on the edge before swinging his legs onto the stage, he appeared none the worse for wear but for a little mud, brushing himself off lightly as he stood. “What a fucking joke. The slave was more challenging than either of your ‘heroes of tomorrow’. Send out another slave so I can have a good match. This is pathetic.”
His words were a lit match thrown upon spilled oil, the Bekhai erupting into victorious cheers, celebrating their third victory at the hands of the little savage, their hopes still alive as they spit into the eye of the Society. Discord rose up from his people, angry yells and exclamations of disbelief as the Justicar declared the match in favour of the Bekhai, many of the soldiers still unclear of how Yu Jin had fallen. Their ire raised, the Society adherents began pushing and shoving, calling for blood and working themselves into a frenzy at the indignity of it all, to be so insulted by some worthless savage, it was almost too much to bear. Weapons were drawn and raised as they protested the decision, the Bekhai also readying their weapons to receive the charge, both sides edging forward, yearning to meet in open battle.
“Enough.” The Justicar’s voice echoed through the field, calming the soldiers as they sheepishly stepped back into line. The mood was dangerously volatile, ready to erupt into violence at the mere hint of foul play. “This is a trial between champions and you are here only to witness. Restrain yourselves, or be Sanctioned.”
The eyes of the Justicar landing upon him and Yang found himself in a cold sweat, his saber somehow in hand as he froze before the gaze of a man authorized by the Emperor to enforce His laws. A word from the Justicar and the adherents would be split, divided between loyalty to the Empire and the Society. Sheathing his weapon heavily, he took several deep breaths, staring hatefully at the Bekhai runt, watching as he smiled proudly and walked towards the corpse of Yu Jin. Standing to one side, the runt glanced directly at Yang as his foot trod upon the corpse’s shoulder, carefully atop the Society’s emblem, before leaning over to unceremoniously pull out his sword in a spray of blood.
Too far, the runt went too far. “Zian, go out and kill him.” Ying immediately tried to interject, but he turned his glare upon her, silencing her with an upraised palm. “He is my disciple and I am his Mentor. Deny this, and I will wash my hands of him, sister. I will not send a slave to end this and Zian is the strongest warrior present who can take the stage.” Turning to his nephew, he gripped the boys shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “You are powerful and well armed, a favoured son of the Situ Clan. You have received the finest training available and wear a runic breastplate which can stop several blows. Show no fear, but take caution. Unleash your aura and end it immediately, winning glory for Clan and Society.”
His nephews eyes were eager and tinged with both anxiety and hatred. “Yes Mentor, I will win. He will not die an easy death.”
Tightening his grip, Yang hissed at his nephew. “Idiot disciple, did you not hear me? Kill him without delay, there is something amiss here. Forget his origins, forget his debacle with the slave, he has killed two of your peers with a single strike each. Would you dare claim the ability to do the same?” Seeing the objection in his eyes, Yang shook the boy hard. “No need to fear him, but do not underestimate him. This is a life and death duel, approach it with vigilance and care. Do your duty and return to my side.”
“Yes … Uncle.” Understanding the grim situation, the young man moved towards the stage, barely glancing at the corpse of his rival as the OuYang Elder carried it past, cradled in his arms like a child. Yang felt no satisfaction in his death, the loss of Yu Jin a heavy blow to the OuYang clan, but also to the Society. So long as Zian returned, he would be unparalleled in his generation, in position to bring the Situ clan to new, soaring heights, but if the other clans and sects lacked strength, the Society of Heaven and Earth faced difficult times ahead. A costly feud thus far, young shoots plucked too early.
Ying’s hands closed around his bicep and she leaned into him for comfort, so he reached up and covered her hands with his own, his eyes never leaving his beloved nephew. “He will win. Rain is a formidable opponent, but Zian has talent beyond any I have seen, smiled upon by the Mother. He will win.” He repeated it beneath his breath, unsure if it was for his sister’s benefit, or his own. The two champions squared off against one another, and no cheers followed Zian’s introduction, both sides silently awaiting the Justicar as this fourth match took place.
“What the fuck dude, you said one more fight!” My tone is whiny and petulant, but I don’t care. Three duels to the death in one day is three too many. “Why are we still here?”
“No need for worry brother, these Society wastrels are nothing before us. Didn’t you just watch my plan play out perfectly? That barely counts.” Confident and brash, he stands in my body with a cocky smile on my face as he waits out my opponent’s introduction. “They are too arrogant, rushing idiotically to their deaths. Victory is as simple as turning over my hand.” The irony of his statement seems lost on him, the most arrogant one around.
“Don’t bullshit me, we almost died from a corpse crashing into us and this guy is way more badass. You know how I know he’s bad-ass? He has two fucking sabers in his hands and is wearing a shimmering breastplate! I haven’t met a single other person who uses two weapons at the same time, and what the fuck is that armour made of? He’s wearing a fucking unique purple gear while we’re here dressed in common whites.”
He replies as if speaking to a simple child, his words spoken clearly and slowly. “We have two weapons, brother, and we are dressed in brown leather.”
“No, we have one tiny sword and a shield with an even tinier blade attached, that does not make two weapons.” Were I not an ethereal spirit without form, I would be trembling as I pace around, but failing to do so, I continue to chatter, healing the bruises on my chest where that giant oaf crashed into me. “You know Mila is like 10 times stronger than we are and she’s probably pissed about standing on the sidelines, so we’re going to have to deal with that if we survive, even Yan and Huu probably want a piece of the action, not to mention Akanai, who I bet wants her daughter up here to gain fame or renown or whatever, which is just the kind of fucked up, backwards, warrior culture that she ascribes to.”
“Brother, calm yourself. Trust in me and all will be well. Akanai will not punish us, not after our spectacular performance. Did you hear those cheers? Not only from Lin and our friends, but everyone applauding our efforts. Soon, they will cheer for us once more, so pay attention this time and try to enjoy it.” The easy grin on my face makes me want to take control and slap the shit out of myself, but that would be counter productive right now. I’ll do that after this is over, assuming I survive. I should have taken control after he fell into the mud and high-tailed it out of here, stupid stupid stupid.
Akanai’s voice sounds out in my head, and her message sends chills down my spine.“Rain, be careful, this young man is formidable, capable of condensing his aura. Fight well, Sentinel.” Oh god, that was a warning, she’s worried about me. Akanai. Worried.
Oh god, I’m fucked.
No, no, Other me has a handle on this, he’ll kill this punk without breaking a sweat, easy peasy.
“…Brother, what is aura?”
Yep, definitely fucked. “… I dunno.”
The Justicar announces the start of our match, and my body tenses as Other me prepares to receive the attack. Unlike the other two society warriors, this one is slim and lithe, with a girlish face peeking out from his open-faced helm. His armour glimmers in every colour despite the gloom, the rain petering off as the storm clouds move further away, a drizzle which plasters his helmet plume to the metal. His steps are steady and unhurried, his swords held crossed before him as he approaches cautiously, without a single wasted movement. No flourishes, no grandstanding, this guy is here to fight and it shows in his eyes that he views me as a worthy opponent.
Contrarily, Other me breaks out into a cocky grin, banging sword and shield together as he steps forward, loudly taunting my opponent. “Seems you’re a little smarter than the other two. Makes this more fun, it’s so dreary sitting through all their speeches and cheering for only a mere moment of pleasure. It’s probably how your mother felt on her wedding night, all that build-up for a disappointing finish.”
C’mon man, mom jokes? Tasteless, especially since she’s watching. And super hot. Like damn.
Seeing our opponent not take the bait, Other me continues to taunt him as we walk steadily closer to one another, still more than 20 meters apart. “But then again, I suppose it was good practice for further disappointments, seeing how she has a worthless son who will die young and without accomplishment. I heard it, you have no fancy title for yourself, no ranking or achievements, nothing but a rich man-child who’s never suffered a day in his life.” Changing directions, Other me begins to stalk him in a circle, our opponent’s steady pace unwavering as he continues his approach. “Is this your first fight to the death? I can see you quivering, ready to piss your pants, struggling to swallow your fear with every step. Did the Society run out of talented warriors so quickly, sending a little lamb to the slaughter? No matter, I am happy to kill you, and then I will find your mother and comfort her on the loss of a son.” Other me laughs loudly, a sneer across my face. “Perhaps I’ll even put a child in her belly, let her know the joy of raising a true warrior.”
He continues to verbally jab at our opponent, the distance closing between us. “…cut your eyes out and…” 15 meters. “… my sword digging at your organs…” 10 meters. “…until your shit spe–”. His words cut out at 5 meters and I’m thrust into control, panic breaking out across my face as I try to understand what happened, paralyzed with indecision.
A victorious cry snaps me out of it, a saber slashing towards me and on reflex, my shield rising to block as I retreat, avoiding the second slash through pure luck, my cowardice saving my life. Settling into my stance, hiding most of my body behind my shield, my sword held close to parry, I wait for my opponent’s next move, his frustration clear. Using the brief pause, I frantically message Other me. “Hey… Brother? You there?” Silence is my only answer as I retreat slowly from my opponent, watching warily as he stands shocked, staring murderously at me. “Helllooooo, earth to crazy me, we have a crisis here, please respond.”
A deep gasp echoes within my mind, startling me. “You cannot feel it?” His voice is weak and distant, as if muffled by a pillow. “Something is suppressing me, I’m unable to even breathe in his presence, like a weight pressing down upon my entire body. You will need to fight him, in this you are stronger than I. Find victory, or die well brother.” God dammit, you had ONE job!
Staring back at my opponent, he begins his approach once again, steadily closing the distance between us. My mouth dries in fear as I back away, my heartbeat hammering in my ears as my body begins to shiver, the young warrior terrifying me more than anyone I have ever met, despite his stately and dignified manner. My mind fixates on one tiny detail I missed in my earlier panic; Akanai called him ‘formidable’. That’s a compliment.
She’s never complimented me, the highest praise I’ve received from her was ‘barely passable’.
I could almost cry.
|Previous Chapter||Table of Contents||Next Chapter|