Author’s note: I will be taking a break at the end of this volume, which should be in ~10 chapters, maybe more, maybe less. The break will last until 2017 (sounds like foreverrrrr), and I intend to use the time to 1. shore up my shoddy outline of events 2. continue editing the earlier chapters of SD and 3. Get drunk and fat. I say this now so everyone can be forewarned and prepare themselves. Besides, it’s better than having one or two chapters of the next volume and then pausing, imo.
Anyways, it won’t be for some time, so don’t worry too much about it. 😉
That is all, enjoy!
Gingerly presenting his scarred body to Qing-Qing, he averted his eyes and cursed himself for these insecurities. With plenty of meat and rice these past few days, his body was healing even quicker, but it was still an ugly sight. Giant swathes of scar tissue blotted his limbs and torso, his face a mess of mangled flesh. It was not proper for a warrior to be seen like this, warriors are handsome and majestic, peak, physical specimens. Now, he looked like a half-chewed corpse, on display before a beauty in his shorts and little more, a lamb within the tigress’ den, frail and helpless.
Standing at attention, Baledagh glanced at Qing-Qing’s as she knelt before him, hard at work. Bangs falling across her eyes, she brushed them aside absently, her brow furrowed in concentration, her lips pursed and focused on the task at hand. Forgetting how to breathe, his body shuddered in a mixture of fear and ecstasy as her fingers moved across his skin, his face flushed with heat and lips parting in a silent gasp. Her palm cupped his inner thigh and parted his leg, his body moving automatically at her directions, allowing the more experienced woman to guide his every action.
A giggle from below broke his concentration and she glanced up at him with a teasing smile. “Don’t be so dramatic Baledagh, and stop fidgeting. How am I to take proper measurements with you shying away? I won’t bite.” Twine in hand, she wagged a finger at him in mock admonishment. “And for the Mother’s sake, breathe. My word, your vanity is astounding, I’ve seen your body many times already, it’s magnificent, happy now? Stop puffing up like a pigeon and relax!” Punctuating her point by jabbing him in the stomach, she clicked her tongue and stared at him, motioning for him to hurry.
Not the least bit shy, Qing-Qing’s playful smirk filled him with both desire and shame. She was so mature and sensible, he feared to show his inexperience yet inadvertently displayed it all the same. Spreading his arms and legs, he tried not to whimper or moan at her touch, gritting his teeth and flinching when she neared more sensitive areas. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on breathing, trying to ignore the sensations, but her wandering hands and hot breath brushing against his skin were far too stimulating for his sheltered mind.
The sweet torture was over all too soon, and he couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed or relieved. “There. All done.” Chortling, she poked him on the nose with lips pursed. “Hmph, acting all shy and innocent, as if I were some older woman taking advantage of you. You don’t fool me, I’ve heard stories about you.” Moving aside she lined up the twine on a bolt of cloth, drawing marks in an indecipherable pattern with a piece of charcoal. “This is quality material from the Chief, I’ll make a few outfits for you to wear, it won’t take long. You can’t be stealing all of Gen’s clothes, Mother knows he finds enough excuses to go around shirtless. You take away any more of his pants and he’d happily walk around in nothing but a loincloth.” She laughed at her joke, a lilting, quiet sound which he found endearing.
“You needn’t trouble yourself too much. One or two outfits is enough.” Besides, when she was busy sewing, she shut out everything else, and he found little chance to speak with her.
“Oh, it’s no trouble. Fact is, aside from cooking meals, there’s little for me to do lately. I’m unused to idleness, as they say, the Father makes work for idle hands.” The pink tip of her tongue poked out from her cherry lips as she worked, her oversized tunic hanging low as she leaned over to work, giving him the barest glimpse of the pale skin hidden beneath. Tan lines were so tantalizing, he stared hungrily, unwilling to tear his eyes away as a proper man would. “I’m not adept at making clothes for men, but I think I can manage something suitable for you. At the very least, you’ll be comfortable, if not fashionable. You go do what you do, I’ll be here.”
Politely shooing him away as she worked, he returned to his bed to ‘meditate’, using the time to check in with brother. Nothing changed in the past few days, brother’s astral form still suspended and damaged, the spectres still circling, ravenous as always. Settling down in the doorway, he cheerily greeted brother. “Hello brother, I’ve returned. The sixth month is upon us, and I’ve been awake for thirteen days now, which means we’ve been missing for a little over a month. Things are going well…”
It’d become a daily ritual to give brother a report while searching any signs of consciousness or awareness from him. The talking helped keep him from worrying over what to do next, unused to making decisions. He desperately wanted brother to wake, not only to dole out much-needed advice and guide their actions, but also so brother could spend time with Qing-Qing and help win her over. What’s more, brother’s charms would be needed to convince their other wives to accept her. The People were searching for him and if found, he lacked any idea as to how he’d broach the subject of Qing-Qing joining their marital bed.
Lin wouldn’t be an issue, the adorable little half-hare loved being spoiled and Qing-Qing loved to please, a woman with a caring attitude and strong work ethic. Mila was the problem, an explosive and possessive beauty, causing brother to quip ‘don’t be jealous’ at least once a day. So long as she was the strongest in the relationship, her opinion was all that mattered, and she was more than capable of scaring frail Qing-Qing away with her threats. How he approached the matter would be crucial; call Qing-Qing his savior and she would pay the village girl to leave, profess love for her and Mila would dig in her heels and fight, tooth and nail. They were no match for her in combat, and this tricky matter was best left to brother’s soft touch. Mila was like clay in his hands, melting into a sweet, docile lady with a single kiss.
His report finished, he said farewell to brother before opening his eyes. Throwing on his woven-reed hat, lovingly hand-crafted by Qing-Qing, he stepped out the door and stretched, greeting the mid-afternoon sun with a smile. With a sheer veil sewn around the rim, the hat was much more convenient and comfortable than the blindfold, but he risked losing it in a scuffle and giving away his identity. He couldn’t risk being exposed, not with brother out of commission.
Grabbing his spear, he meandered through a few easy exercises, readying himself for travel should the worst come to pass. Like always, he didn’t really know what he was doing, but his body knew, moving through the spear stances like flowing water, leaving his mind free to ruminate on his problems. What to do? How had he arrived here? Should he stay or should he leave? The village was dreary and boring, surrounded by bandits who might well be searching for him. Sanshu city wasn’t safe either, brother had already suffered an assassination attempt within its walls, that much he knew. Safety lay only with his people, and they’d been travelling to some fishing village on the eastern coast of the lake to fight bandits, which was the limits of his knowledge.
At least he was healing quickly and growing stronger by the day. Shattering a wooden spear haft with a single blow had taken him by surprise, so much so he held back too much when striking Gen in the throat. If he’d known beforehand that the young man was Gen, he’d have smashed his face in for daring to make Qing-Qing’s life so difficult, but the chance was lost. No matter, another would arise, but aside from that single instance, he’d had no issues with explosive power, unable to replicate the feat in practice.
Perhaps now would be a good time to put effort into truly learning his skills. Putting an end to his mindless practice, he reviewed his actions and reenacted the movements with his body. He drifted back into the same mind frame, reliving the experience. Tired from the short walk, he leaned heavily on the staff, his breathing slow and deep, trying to appear strong. Gen stepped forward, his spear thrust slow and without purpose, lacking any intent or blood thirst. Barely giving the weapon consideration, he deliberately stepped into the attack, searching for an excuse to hurt someone as a warning, but he’d failed to take his body’s condition into consideration. Moving slower than intended, he made a mistake and the spear was now on a dangerous trajectory, piercing towards his chest. A moment’s hesitation caused him to stumble, and…
Hmm… That doesn’t seem right.
Confused, he repeated the encounter over and over, trying to find a flaw in his memory, but no matter how he looked at it, he came to the same conclusion: the spear should have hit him. He’d been trying to avoid injury by pushing himself aside with the staff when the spear struck. The metal tip should have dug into his skin and pierced his flesh, the logical conclusion to their exchange.
Instead, the spear glanced aside before touching his skin, diverted away by some unseen force. In his mind, he saw the spear head twist and contort, straining with stress for an instant before bursting apart from the tension, the spearhead rocketing off into the distance. From the outside, it appeared as if he’d parried the spear with the staff, and until now, he thought the same, smashing the weapon apart effortlessly. Was his mind playing tricks on him? There was no way he could have attacked, even with his autonomous skills, the staff firmly planted in the ground. Even if he’d managed a parry, it shouldn’t have destroyed the shaft like that, these spears were sturdy enough to pierce through boar hide.
This seemed like chi manipulation, but that fell within brother’s domain. Baledagh didn’t know how to meditate or control chi, but he’d been awake when brother researched various usages of chi, through stories and historical records. Feats of strength and agility were the most common, use of chi internally, while external usages were much rarer. Brother couldn’t use chi externally and Baledagh couldn’t even control his internal energy. So how did that spear snap like that? It wasn’t the ancestors, they no longer spoke…
Repeating his movements again and again, he searched for an answer to this mystery, thirsting for the power it entailed. Perhaps he was a genius, a prodigy, and if he could grasp hold of this technique, then ‘Baledagh’ might soon be as famous as ‘Falling Rain’.
Happy with her work, Qing-Qing carried her newly stitched tunic out to Baledagh, wanting him to try it on. Noticing him deep in concentration while practicing his martial skills, she held her tongue and watched, mesmerized by his graceful form. With spear in hand, he made a small, almost insignificant movement, bending his knee and leaning slightly to the right, then returning to his upright position and repeating the sequence. It seemed so mundane yet it caught her attention, unable to look away. The movement lacked a beginning or end, a fluid, hypnotic cycle as if caught in a loop, unable to break free.
Warriors were astounding when compared to normal humans. No one from the village could replicate his movements, a smooth and elegant motion that seemed as natural as breathing. It was as if his body and the spear were a tree swaying in the wind or a strand of grass flowing in the river. Seeing him at work reinforced the massive gulf between them, different as night and day.
They’d shared laughs and tender moments during their time together. Even before he woke, she’d worried over him. At first, she’d thought it bothersome looking after this half-dead young man, but she persevered. Imagining him to be someone’s brother, someone’s son, the tender care she provided blossomed into more intimate feelings, like family. She crafted a multitude of fanciful backstories for him but never imagined the truth would be even more outrageous. Although she feared him at first, his straight-forward attitude and shy demeanour won her over, a sweet young man like any other.
But that wasn’t true. Any other man would have died a hundred times from his injuries. He wasn’t Baledagh, common bandit, it was only a mask for Warrant Officer Falling Rain, the Undying Savage. She’d heard stories of the Herald of the Storms, a half-beast woman warrior who stood at the pinnacle. Rain was but one of her successes, raising warriors like Bloody Iron-Fanged Baatar and the Ravenous Wolf Huushal, or her newest disciple the Unstoppable Tempest Tong Da Fung. What was she like? Fighting, leading, and teaching, she was an expert at all, a true paragon, the Herald’s toenail was worth more than Qing-Qing’s life. Rain’s feelings aside, how could a warrior like her allow her grand-disciple to marry a common village woman?
Rain was so luminous an existence, she was but a toad lusting for swan meat. Clutching the linen tunic close, she noticed the frayed edges and poor craftsmanship of the coarse fabric and realized she wasn’t even qualified to be his maid. She told herself it was only a silly passing fancy, nothing more, staring as he stood in the sunlight, healthy and ready to ride away, disappearing from her life. They were two people destined to separate, a pit growing in her stomach as she crouched down in the shadows of her hut, lamenting the inevitable end to their happy days in the village.
Strange as it seemed, he was all she had, her only friend, and the thought of losing him made her irrationally fearful and forlorn. There were two sides to him, a sweet puppy in private and a raging dragon in public, and together, they meant more to her than she realized. Lost in her own little world, she watched him practice, cherishing their time together before it came to its inevitable end.
Such was life, two people meant for different things, fate bringing their paths together only to cross, each going about their separate ways.
Sweat dripping down his bare chest, Gen carried the sixteen-point buck by himself, the creature draped over his shoulders as he moved steadily through the village. Nodding at the women in passing, he smiled as they fawned over him, every eye upon him and the massive prize he carried. Who else in the village could do such a feat, not only killing the beast, but carrying it unaided? None of their husbands or brothers, that was sure.
A shame it was going to the worthless bandit Baledagh and his whore Qing-Qing. He tried to suppress the anger, but it gushed out, his rage mounting as he fumed over the injustice, the voice in his mind telling him to kill her. She should have belonged to him, pure and untainted, the woman he’d had his eye on for years. He’d been patient and kind, bringing her gifts and paying her compliments, but the loathsome, manipulative bitch strung him along with half-glances and fluttering lashing, playing hard to get. Why Pa insisted on feeding this adulterous pair of leeches was a mystery, a waste of effort and resources. It was one injured man, no matter how powerful, if they attacked while he slept, he’d die like any other. How easy it would be to slit Baledagh’s throat and bathe in his blood, before having his way with Qing-Qing and rejoicing in her pained cries.
Shaking his head, he dismissed the thought. He’d been so angry lately, a month ago he’d never have entertained anything like this. He was a good man, not some lecherous bandit. Besides, it wasn’t worth the risk, Baledagh had been here long enough for the neighbouring villages to learn of his existence, and who knew what friends he had. Pa always said, a secret isn’t a secret once shared, word would spread, it was inevitable. Pa was doing the right thing, let the bandit heal and take the whore away from here. She’d regret her decision eventually.
Arriving at the shabby shack, he dropped the carcass to the dirt with a thud. Qing-Qing sat in the doorway, holding a shirt as she gazed upon Baledagh at practice, some meaningless movement, probably all his injured body could handle. Although a hat and veil covered his face, Gen had seen the horrific scars beneath which turned his stomach. The look on Qing-Qing’s face filled him with regret, cursing himself for not dragging her into the woods and raping her. He’d wanted to be gentle and loving, but now he saw the stupid bitch was falling in love with her rapist, her body enthralled by her lust despite his horrific appearance. He should break her jaw and teach her what a healthy man was like, not that half-chewed corpse of a bandit.
Neither of them paid him any attention, so he cleared his throat. He brought the food, the least he deserved was a thank you. Qing-Qing turned in annoyance and frowned, as if just noticing his presence, playing at her games. Rebuking him with a harsh whisper, she motioned for him to leave. “Quiet, he’s practicing. Thank you for the food, but we’ll need more rice tomorrow. Go now, don’t disturb him.”
Her dismissal enraged him and in a white flash of anger he strode forward, and grabbed her by the shirt. “Know your place whore! I am the Chief’s son, not your little serving boy to be dismissed.” Shaking her vigourously, he continued to yell, unable to control himself. “When he abandons you, I’ll have you strung up and beaten like the dog you are. I only hope to be there when he throws you away and see the despair take you. Abandoning your principles for some bandit, when I treated you so well, better than you fucking deserve, you -”
A powerful grip clamped onto his neck and a second on his wrist, wrenching him away from Qing-Qing with a twist. Thrown to the ground, he rolled nimbly to his feet only to catch a fist to the jaw, the taste of salt and iron heavy in his mouth, Baledagh’s lithe body standing before him. The world tumbled around him as a second punch caught him in the side of the head, the world going silent at the blow, only a muffled ringing in his ears. It was only the first of several, slow, methodical punches, aimed all over his body. After every hit there came a long pause, and he thought the beating over as he cowered on the ground, only to be picked up and struck again, and again, his world only agony until he mercifully blacked out.
Waking with a start, he shrieked, flinching back at an incoming attack. A warm, soft hand stroked his face as Ma’s voice soothed him. “Hush my boy, you’re safe now.” Hugging him close, she stroked his hair and whispered kind words as he cried, shaking like a beaten child.
A rough hand patted his shoulder gently, and Gen looked up to see Pa. Contrite and filled with hope, Gen tried to apologize and beg Pa to help him, but his tongue felt three times as large, his mouth swollen and pained. “Hush boy, you sleep now, mouth injuries will do that.” Pa chided him gently. “Idiot son of mine, is the girl worth all this pain and heartache? I tried to tell you, I tried, leave her be. We’re but sheep, and the world full of wolves in sheep’s clothing, hidden all around us. Such is our lot in life, weakness our burden to carry. You avoid Baledagh from now on, you hear? If you see him, bow and thank him, same goes for the girl. She’s the only reason you’re still alive, her mercy and the Mother’s.”
For the first time, Gen saw defeat in Pa’s face, his shoulders slumped and gaze turned away, rambling more insensible things. This was a man who stood tall in the face of monstrous beasts, held his head high when dealing with bandits, negotiated with bow and spear in hand as scum sought to exploit and step over them. The proud, reliable man was gone, replaced by some mouse, frail and weak. Pa couldn’t even look him in the eyes, the shame burning away at him, a coward too afraid to seek justice for his own flesh and blood. Pa wanted him to thank Baledagh? A Motherless, half-dead bandit cretin shows up and Pa can’t bow and scrape fast enough, catering to his every need, and for what?
Swallowing the bitter betrayal, he curled back up in his bed and ignored them until he was left alone, his anger and hatred choking away at him. Imagining all sorts of torture and retribution visited upon that bitch and bastard pair, he cursed his worthless existence. Weak, too weak. If only he had strength, real strength. The entire village was probably laughing at him as well, they’d pay too, a worthless bunch. He’d always disdained the bandits, but now he understood. The strong thrive, the weak survive, and he was through merely surviving. He would give anything for strength, step on anyone, do anything. Closing his eyes, he fell into a deep sleep, nodding happily as the whispers lulled him to sleep, promising power and vengeance. A beautiful dream.
Yes, I want it. Power. Give it to me.
Yes, any price will be worth it.
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