Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chapter 1: The Girl in White (9)

“Now known as the premier martial artist of the age, Xuan Ji’s fame soon attracted the attention of another remarkable person, a Buddhist nun known by the dharma name San Yin. While Buddhism teaches the doctrine of no self, no others; no envy, and no greed, San Yin was unable liberate herself from the binds of the latter two. During the third year after Xuan Ji’s victory on Lesser Chamber Mountain, San Yin set out from the distant Altai mountains in search of Kuocang Mountain in western Zhejiang, where she had arranged to test her skills against Xuan Ji. There, at Storm Cloud Cave, the two masters engaged in a fierce duel that shook the heavens and rocked the earth. They were so evenly matched that even after three days and nights, and over five thousand exchanges of blows, there was still no clear victor. On the fourth day, the mode of combat changed. Each brought their most advanced internal arts into play, battling with subtle energy instead of physical force. In the end they both were severely injured, and the battle closed with the two opponents facing each other seated, eyes closed, as they slowed their breath and harmonized their internal energies to sustain their horribly wounded bodies.

“They realized their injuries were grave, that they were not long for this world. Neither had left disciples, and their common desire to preserve their teachings overcame their rivalry, and forced them to cooperate to realize their final wishes. Kept alive only by their mastery of internal energy, they set about writing out the entirety of their teachings in three volumes entitled the Monadic Codex. These writings proclaim the unity of all martial arts, and teach the fundamental principles of gong fu which lie at the root of the teachings of every school. They hid the codex in a cave on Kuocang Mountain, while the precise location of the cave was recorded in a painting called the Map of Concealed Truth, which has hidden elsewhere on the mountain.

“The tale of Xuan Ji and San Yin has been passed down for three hundred years, and during that time, the various schools and sects have spared no effort in their attempts to find the Monadic Codex. From the hidden masters who take refuge deep in the wilderness, to the petty outlaws of the greenwood; none on the Rivers and Lakes are immune to the call of the codex. Rumors tell of a common bandit who discovered the Map of Concealed truth a century ago, but misfortune soon befell him. The map has since passed from one pair of covetous hands to the next, each possessor invariably dispatched with violence by the next claimant to the mysteries of the codex. Such is the power this map holds over the dwellers on the Rivers and Lakes. Who knows at what point the map came to Cai Bangxiong, but there is no doubt that soon afterwards, the Twin Fiends of Jiangnan were on his trail, pursuing him all the way here to the temple.”

His explanation at an end, Yi Yang Zi exhaled slowly and a pained expression settled over his face.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chapter 1: The Girl in White (8)

Yi Yang Zi smiled weakly, and then continued, “Though defeated, the five sects did not relinquish their dreams of domination. Each knew that a second contest was inevitable, and prepared for the coming confrontation with renewed energy. The masters of each sect delved deeply into the roots of their traditions, and perfected the essences of their techniques. Meanwhile, disciples were sent to infiltrate the ranks of competing sects to steal the secrets of their methods. As a result, all of the sects had no choice but to become more rigorous about accepting disciples. Talent and dedication alone were no longer sufficient criteria for entrance. The sects conducted full investigations of the background and history of each student before taking them on, and then trained them incrementally, only allowing a select few to receive instruction in the most advanced techniques. This clandestine war has continued for hundreds of years, on up to the present. Admittedly, the intense rivalry has advanced and perfected the techniques taught by every sect. However, the requirements of secrecy have ensured that only the great masters of each sect enjoy the full flowering of these teachings, while the majority of disciples acquire but a smattering of true gongfu.

“Even with their most trusted disciples, masters are very cautious about passing on their teachings. Of a hundred students—nay, even a thousand—perhaps only one or two will receive the complete transmission of the sect, and then only after swearing stringent oaths of loyalty. Generations of this kind of secretive transmission have led to our current situation, in which the sects have developed martial techniques of unprecedented power, yet few will ever have the opportunity to master them.”

Cheng Yin uttered a Buddhist mantra, then spoke softly, almost to himself, “The pursuit of prestige and glory leads inevitably to more suffering.”

Yi Yang Zi couldn’t help sighing again. “Take my own Kunlun Sect as an example. It was after the contest on Lesser Chamber Mountain that the elders of the sect, though intensive inner work and copious research, finally developed the Spectral Light and Heavenly Air techniques. Yet these same elders forbid all future leaders of the sect from teaching Chasing the Twelve Spirits, the distilled essence of the Spectral Light form. Thus, throughout the Rivers and Lakes, nearly all believe that the Spectral Light sword technique consists of a mere 96 moves, when in fact there are 108, and those last twelve are the quintessence of the whole. Only the heads of the sect and a few close associates know the truth.

“Normally, Chasing the Twelve Spirits would only be taught to a disciple who had been chosen to inherit the mantle of leadership of the sect. However, I have decided to break with tradition and pass these teachings on to Menghuan, without consulting with my peers. Menghuan has an unusual gift for the martial arts. In the twelve years he has been my student, he has already mastered all of the Kunlun techniques, save for this final sequence. Soon, there will be nothing more I can teach him.”

Surprised, Cheng Yin asked, “I understand that this is an expression of your love for Menghuan, but you have an agreement with the other leaders of the sect. How will you explain yourself your martial brother and sister?”

Yi Yang Zi bellowed out a roar of a laugh. All of the lamps in the Cinnabar Chamber momentarily flickered under its force. To Cheng Yin’s ear, the laugh conveyed both sadness and mirth. He wrinkled is brow in confusion. Without warning, the laughter ceased and Yi Yang Zi said, “The key to everything lies in this map.”

The words were spoken almost as an aside, then Yi Yang Zi quickly returned to his tale: “The sects all departed from the sword contest with their ambitions unfulfilled. However, Xuan Ji warned them that he would not allow any further competition between the sects. He believed that all of the styles of martial arts were streams fed by a single source. Like the lotus flower and the lotus bulb, they were of the same family, however greatly they differed in appearance. To Xuan Ji, a battle to the death between the sects was just as abhorrent as watching family members turn on one another in violence. He forbade all intra-sect conflicts, and vowed to enforce his prohibition with his own hand. Obviously, his intentions were good, but there was much trouble that followed.”

“And it appears there is much trouble yet to come,” commented Cheng Yin.

“Indeed. For it is rumored that Xuan Ji did not learn his unparalleled skills from any teacher, rather, he discovered them in a lost training manual. In the vastness of all that is under heaven, mysteries such as these are inevitable; they simply await the proper moment to reveal themselves.”

Yi Yang Zi once again gathered his thoughts, then continued: “Before the contest on Lesser Chamber Mountain, no one had heard of Xuan Ji. After defeating the best of the five sects, his name was known and feared by all. He was universally regarded as the top marital artist of the age, and this renown was more bane than boon.”

“How could such an honor be his bane?” asked Cheng Yin.

“Because in the world of the martial arts, honor and reputation count for everything. As a practitioner nears the pinnacle of martial skill, worldly desires fall away. Wealth, luxury, fine art and precious antiques will seem nothing more than dust and weeds. The practitioner will eventually lose all trace of an individual ego, and be freed from the longing for love and affection. Yet, even as the seat of the soul is cleansed, the desire for name and recognition can remain, for it is the most deeply rooted of all desires, and not easily cast off.

“In defeating the champions of the five sects with his bare hands, Xuan Ji established a reputation that quickly spread to the far reaches of the world. Though he had succeeded in accomplishing his purported aim: to quash the competitive instincts of the sects, and also save the lives of not a few great masters, he also fulfilled a deeper desire: to establish a name for himself that would resound throughout the martial world.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chapter 1: The Girl in White (7)

Cheng Yin returned to the Cinnabar Chamber to discover Yi Yang Zi intently studying a square of white silk. Incense curled up from a three-legged jade censer on the floor, filling the room with a faint haze and softening the glow of the two red candles that burned on the table. Cheng Yin moved close to Yi Yang Zi and lowered his head for a better look. He was completely unprepared for what he saw.

Large characters were visible in faded ink at the top of the cloth “The Map of Concealed Truth”. There followed four lines of obscure poetry:

Ten thousand arts return to secret source:
A single sword in Empire’s winter wane,
Where noble pine obscures the light of moon,
And water springs from stony crest untamed.

Beneath this cryptic poem was painted a scene of two mountain peaks connected by a high vale. At the far end of the valley lay a small pine forest. One tree towered above the rest, it’s limbs spreading like an umbrella over its neighbors. At the foot of the tall pine was a large boulder tucked neatly into the elbow of a creek. The trickle of water flowed from the boulder into a larger stream, which poured into the narrow twisting gorge that formed the near end of the valley. The stream disappeared from sight into seemingly bottomless depths of the gorge.

Yi Yang Zi turned his head to Cheng Yin and smiled.

“The Map of Concealed Truth is the most highly sought prize on the Rivers and Lakes. Over the last hundred years, countless masters of martial arts have lost their lives to its pursuit. Yet suddenly, through no effort of my own, it has fallen into my possession.”

His smile unconsciously gave way to a look of pained desolation as his thoughts turned to Cai Bangxiong.

Cheng Yin spoke, his voice full of concern: “Many rumors concerning the map and the Monadadic Codex are heard upon the Rivers and Lakes. In fact, they are so numerous and varied that a humble monk like myself finds it hard to distinguish truth from legend. Surely, you and the other leaders of the Kunlun Sect have more experience in these matters. Please, enlighten me. Tell me what you know of the map and the codex.”

Yi Yang Zi sighed softly before responding. “The story of the map begins over three hundred years ago with a pair of extraordinary persons: the Daoist Xuanji, and the Buddhist nun Sanyin. While their paths to enlightenment differed, each had reached the pinnacle of internal and external training, and possessed incomparable martial skill.

“At that time, there were nine sects that dominated the landscape of the martial arts. Other schools may have taught certain isolated techniques that were of value, but they do not merit mention alongside the Nine Sects. Of the nine, the Shaolin and Wudang were most powerful and boasted the greatest number of followers. The remaining seven sects—namely Mount Hua, Kunlun, Diancang, Konglong, Snowy Mountain, Qingcheng and Emei—jointly occupied the second tier of power. During this period, each of the Nine Sects produced a number of gifted swordsmen, making this a golden age for Chinese martial arts.

“However, the leaders of the Nine Sects were arrogant, and each viewed their own lineage as the sole inheritors of the authentic teachings of the great gongfu masters of old. In order to settle the matter, they arranged a contest on the peak of Lesser Chamber Mountain. Each school would select three disciples as representatives in the contest, and they would be instructed to fight using only the sword techniques of their respective lineages. In this way, they hoped to determine the true ranking of their teachings relative to one another. It was assumed that this would likewise tell them which sect had best preserved the teachings of old.

“Great warriors and practitioners from across the lands gathered at the base of Lesser Chamber Mountain to await the outcome of the seven-day contest. Each of the Nine Sects saw heavy losses. Mount Hua, Diancang, Konglong and Snowy Mountain were eliminated in the first round, leaving Shaolin, Wudang, Kunlun, Qingcheng and Emei to enter the final contest. All of the contestants from these sects were incomparable masters. The death of a single contestant meant that martial techniques of profound subtlety and depth were permanently lost from the Chinese sword tradition.”

Master Yi Yang Zi paused to sigh once again.

Cheng Yin urged him to continue, anxious to know the outcome of the contest. “Which sect won in the end?” he asked.

“If the contest had continued, and the rankings were determined, it would have cost the lives of a few great masters and the teachings they kept, but it might also have bought order and peace to the martial world. Instead, just as the representatives of the five remaining sects moved forward to engage, the Daoist Xuanji arrived and urged them to drop their weapons. He hoped they could make their peace without resorting to a sword contest and the tragic losses it would entail. The leaders of the five remaining sects wouldn’t listen. The rivalries between the sects were hundreds of years in the making, and the contest itself had required years of negotiation and politicking to ensure the attendance of the great masters of the age. They would not lightly cede this chance to settle their disputes.

“When persuasion failed, Xuanji resorted to action. He challenged the five remaining masters to a duel, his bare hands against their swords. The masters of Shaolin, Wudang, Kunlun, Qingcheng and Emei, insulted by Xuanji’s wonton interference as well as his obvious disregard for their martial skill, immediately joined forces to attack. However, they had badly underestimated Xuanji’s abilities. The battle raged for less than five-hundred blows before the five sword-masters were defeated by Xuanji’s peerless open-hand technique. Though the five masters were greatly shamed, there was no loss of life.

“Thus, Xuanji was declared supreme champion, and the sword contest of Lesser Chamber Mountain was quickly concluded, but the question of the rankings of the nine sects was never resolved.”

Nodding, Cheng Yin responded: “Xuan Ji performed an act of kindness that day. It is only because the masters of the five sects survived that their precious teachings have been preserved. Surely your Kunlun sect, and all the others, would not enjoy their current illustrious reputations if each had lost a great teacher of the golden age.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chapter 1: The Girl In White (6)

Cheng Yin was confused by all that had transpired, but he realized it was not the time for questions. For now, all he could do was lead Xialin silently through the grove to the temple.

Menghuan and the abbot stayed behind to cremate the body of Cai Bangxiong. Once the flames had died down, they gathered the ashes into an urn and interred them in the temple cemetery, which lay alongside the peach orchard. Summoning vast internal forces, Yi Yang Zi directed his finger at the headstone that marked the grave. Smoke issued forth as finger slid over stone in graceful strokes. When the smoke cleared, these words were visible, etched in the surface of the stone: “Here lies Cai Bangxiong of the Kunlun Sect, disciple of Yi Yang Zi.”

* * *

It was dusk by the time Cai Bangxiong’s remains had been properly interred. Above the eastern horizon a bright moon flooded the the orchard with a light as pure as spring water. Yi Yang Zi started towards the temple, his heart laden with a sorrow born of events decades past. Suddenly, he stopped and spoke: “Menghuan, there are things I must explain to you about your martial brother, Cai Bangxiong.

“Once, in an act of anger, he injured a member of the Shaolin Sect. This nearly destroyed the relationship between our two temples, and I had no choice but to expel him from the Kunlun Sect. Bangxiong deeply regretted his actions and returned to the temple three times to beg forgiveness, but each time I refused him. On the last occasion, he begged that I assign him a penance. He raised a finger to the Heavens and swore through his tears that he would fulfill whatever task I assigned him, if only it meant he could return to the Kunlun Sect.

“I told him that unless he could bring me the Map of Concealed Truth, a most-likely mythical artifact, that he would do best to abandon all thoughts of reinstatement. Little did I know my flippant and angry words would be taken to heart. Here, 20 years later, he has indeed brought the map to me, and I can only wonder at what cruel fate saw him nearly to the gates of the temple, only to be brutally slain by the Twin Fiends of Jiangnan.”

The abbot paused. When he resumed, his voice quavered with conviction. “Menghuan, you must strive to achieve mastery of your powers, and never harm the good. But more importantly, never show mercy to these wicked men that defile the Rivers and Lakes with their greed and arrogance!”

Menghuan understood his master's words, but was disconcerted by the emotional depths from which they arose. He nodded vaguely in response, then master and disciple continued their slow return to the temple under the moonlight.

Master Cheng Yin and Xialin had been impatiently waiting in the temple’s Cinnabar Chamber. Cheng Yin had been hoping to pepper Yi Yang Zi with questions as soon as he arrived, but seeing the aging Daoist entering the hall—his face solemn and pained—the words caught in his throat. Cheng Yin gave Xialin a stern glance to warn her against speaking, then stood silently in a corner of the room watching unfamiliar emotions play across his old friend’s face.

Menghuan stood to one side, and watched his master move to the center table, open a drawer and pull out a red lacquer box. The abbot placed the box on the table, then knelt and bowed once before opening it. Inside was a scroll, which the abbot unrolled and hung on the back wall to reveal a portrait of an elderly man in Daoist garb. Menghuan marveled at the image limned in white paint on yellow satin, noting the sword strapped across the figure’s back and the masterly technique that made it seem the old Daoist might step from the painting living and whole. The spell of wonderment was broken by his master’s voice: “Disciple Menghuan, pay your respects to the founder of the Kunlun Sect, and the originator of the Garrison Mountain sword method.”

Master Cheng Yin’s heart stood still. He briskly brought fist to palm and bowed to the painting, then gently ushered Xialin out of the room. Menghuan remained and knelt down before the painting, bringing his forehead to the floor three times. He stood, then repeated the complete obeisance twice more. Yi Yang Zi rolled the painting and returned it to the lacquer box before speaking.

“The various schools of martial arts all believe that the Kunlun Sect’s Spectral Light sword technique consists of 96 movements, but they are mistaken. In truth, there are 108, twelve of which embody the essence of the entire set. These last twelve are known as Chasing the Twelve Spirits, and they span an extraordinary range of moves marked by rapid and unpredictable strikes.

“By custom, they cannot be taught to a disciple unless all three heads of the sect agree. Just now I had you bow to the founding ancestor of the sect because I have decided to break with this tradition and teach you Chasing the Twelve Spirits without the consent of my peers. Starting tomorrow you will begin learning the sequence, one move per day.”

The master paused; a shade of sorrow passed across his solemn visage. Sighing, he continued, “Go now, and invite master Cheng Yin to see me. In the meantime, take advantage of the full moon to practice with sister Xialin. The two of you are not permitted to return to the Cinnabar Chamber until you are called.”

Menghuan’s head swam with questions accumulated over a long day of strange events—questions he dared not ask. Resigned to his confusion, he bowed to his master and exited.

He found master Cheng Yin in the courtyard critiquing Xialin’s empty-hand technique. Menghuan relayed the abbot’s invitation, then told Xialin he would take her outside the temple to practice swordsmanship. She responded with a dimpled smile that suddenly unburdened him of worries better suited to the minds of aging monks.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Translation Commentary

As I'm translating, there are a lot of things that pop up that I'd like to share with readers. Occasionally, I'll be posting little commentaries like this one to keep readers abreast of what is happening behind the scenes, in the translator's mind, or in the world of wuxia fiction in general.

What is Wuxia?
Strictly speaking, "Swallow and Dragon" belongs to the genre known in China as wuxia. The quickest way to explain the genre is to point to the most famous example of this genre in the west: Ang Lee's movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". It has all of the elements that define the genre in the public's mind: martial arts, clandestine sects, Buddhist and Daoist philosophy, superhuman powers that are cultivated through internal training, a bit of romance, themes of loyalty and vengeance, and, of course, a pseudo-historical Chinese setting. However, If you dig deeper into the roots of the genre, you'll see that the modern perception of wuxia has strayed somewhat from the original roots. The key to understanding these roots lies in understanding the concept of the xia (俠), the second of the two characters used to write wuxia (武俠). The use of xia as a label for someone who forgoes the norms of society to whole-heartedly devote themselves serving the ideal of justice dates back to some of the earliest historical records in China. In a feudal society where class and clan defined your position, power, and loyalties in society, the notion of rejecting these structures in favor of viewing all members of society equally was quite radical. Many Confucians even condemned them for their willingness to abandon their own families in order to avenge an injustice done to a complete stranger. While the flying kung fu kicks and power struggles between vying sects are what define many modern examples of wuxia, you will still find that the original spirit of the xia lives on in many of these works.

For a fantastic discussion of this original concept of wuxia, and how it relates to the new Donny Yen film "Wuxia", take a look at this blog by English wuxia author, Albert Dalia.

Is it Wo Longsheng or Wolong Sheng?

I was recently asked this question by a reader on the spcnet forums, which forced the realization that I may have made an error in representing this author's name in English! For the majority of Chinese names, the first character represents the family name, and the following one or two represent the given name. Thus, I get in the habit of placing a space after the first syllable of their romanized name to separate the two (I like to preserve the convention of family name first because that is what most readers are familiar with, whether they know it or not, from reading names like Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong in history books and newspapers). Also note that spaces are not used between Chinese characters, so they can't be used as a guide to where to place spaces in English.

The problem is that Wo Long Sheng is actually a pen name, so the parsing of the name into family name and given name simply doesn't make sense! The story I heard is that the author attended the "Wolong" Academy as a child (literally the "Crouching Dragon Academy"), and the word "Sheng" indicates that he is a student. Thus, his pen name means, "Student of the Wolong Academy". If I were to correctly parse the name then, I suppose it really should be "Wolong Sheng". A quick internet search reveals that "Wolong Sheng" is, indeed, the more commonly used form.

I hate global edits on my blog, but it looks like I'll have to update this very soon!

Kung Fu Technique/Nickname Overload!!!
One of the tough decision points is approaching for this blog, and I would love some reader assistance on this one. The question is: have we reached proper noun overload?

In the world of wuxia writing, everyone has a nickname or two ("The Twin Jiangnan Fiends", "The Ying-Yang Judge"...), every martial technique has a designated name ("Swallow Piercing the Clouds Gongfu", "Heavenly Airs Palm"...), and on top of that we have all of the sect names ("Kunlun Sect", "Dragon League"...), proper names ("Xialin", "Cheng Yin", "Yi Yang Zi"...). Before you know it, readers are going nuts trying to sort it all out.

My approach so far has been fairly hands off. My goal has been to get the story rolling and see how it looks in English. However, every book needs a good edit, and the time has come to cut away some of the fat. My thinking is that techniques that are often referenced ("Heavenly Air Palm", "Spectral Light Sword") can stay, particularly since they are written into the plot. Techniques that are simply mentioned to add atmosphere to a fight, but which don't reappear with any frequency should probably be cut out. Then again, perhaps that little touch of atmosphere is desirable? Let's hear some feedback, dear readers!

We've hardly gotten started on sect names yet, and there isn't much that can be done with those, since they are central to the plot. However, I will try to translate sect names into English and simplify them when it is appropriate (ie: "Dragon League", instead of "Tianlong League"). Same goes for character names that read more like titles or nicknames, hence the "Soulstealer" and the "Yin-Yang Judge"). This should reduce the frequency of exotic Chinese names that are difficult to remember.

But one question remains: for characters that have both a proper name and a nickname, should I eliminate one of them in favor of reducing the total name load? This would particularly apply to minor characters. Thus, the "Soulstealer" would always be the "Soulstealer" and never "Li Tong", or maybe the other way around. Reader feedback would be great!

Thanks for reading, everyone! Watching those reader stats slowly climb is a great motivation to keep translating!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chapter 1: The Girl In White (5)

Neither of the two masters pursued; Cheng Yin’s anger had subsided, and the abbot’s mind had already turned to the condition of his disciple Menghuan. A quick glance told him that the young man had already regained his color and should make a full recovery. His worries eased, the abbot turned to Cai Bangxiong. The body lay still, face covered in open wounds, clothes soaked with blood. Suppressed affection and remorse clutched at the abbot’s heart as he lowered his head and sighed. Slowly, he knelt by the fallen man.

The abbot placed a hand on the man’s barrel chest and found that it was cold; Cai Bangxiong’s soul had fled beyond the reach of even the abbot’s substantial powers. Just as the abbot thought to stand again, he remembered Bangxiong’s final words, “the Monadic Codex…” His heart raced as he reached down again to search the body. There, over his disciple’s heart, hidden beneath the folds of his blood-soaked shirt, the abbot discovered a small intricately carved jade box. The undamaged box dripped with fresh blood. The abbot opened it and removed a square sheet of white silk on which was painted a landscape in ink. The otherworldly scene depicted three mountains—two in front, the third centered above and behind. A long white strip of waterfall spilled down from the crest of the lofty central peak.

Yi Yang Zi stared for a time in bewilderment, then flipped the painting over. Traces of stitching were visible on the back. After picking out some of the thread with a fingernail, the abbot gently pulled apart what originally had been two separate sheets of silk. A glimpse of what lay inside shook the abbot to his core, and tears tumbled down his cheeks. Overcome, with lowered head, he stared blankly at the body of his fallen disciple. After another long sigh, he spoke: “How arduous the trials, my student, by which you have returned to the gates of the temple. Know, in death, that your transgressions are forgiven, and that the name of Cai Bangxiong shall be restored to the roster of the Kunlun Sect!”

* * *
Before being caught by the double palm strikes of the Twin Fiends, Yang Menghuan had had a brief window in which to circulate his internal energies to protect the vital points of his body, and thereby avoided serious injury. After Xialin assisted him by stimulating a vital point in his chest, normal circulation was restored and he regained consciousness. Opening his eyes to find the upper half of his body cradled in Xialin’s arms, Menghuan leapt to his feet, spurred by a mixture of gratitude and embarassment.

Xialin was overjoyed by the sight of his apparently instantaneous recovery. “Brother Menghuan, were you not injured?”

Menghuan shook his head. “I lost consciousness for a moment, but I think I’m all right. Thank you for your help, sister.”

Smiling, Xialin replied, “I suppose that means I should stop worrying now.”

As soon as the words were uttered, Xialin intuited that they revealed too much. She lowered her head and began fiddling with a corner of her gown.

Menghuan was both touched and troubled by Xialin’s obvious concern. He turned his head to see his master lifting the blood-stained body of the large barrel-chested man.

Menguan rushed over to offer his help, asking, “Master, who is this man?”
Yi Yang Zi took some comfort in seeing that his younger disciple was back on his feet. “He was your sect-brother, Cai Bangxiong.”

Menghuan was momentarily taken aback. For all Menghuan knew, he was Yi Yang Zi’s sole disciple. His master had never mentioned any others, and yet, here, on this day, one had seemingly dropped from the sky. He only recovered when his master scolded him sharply, saying “Quickly, bow to your elder brother!”

Menghuan decided that it was best not to ask any further questions. He dropped to his knees and bowed deeply to the bloody corpse, pressing his forehead all the way to the ground. He then rose and took the body from his master’s arms.

Yi Yang Zi turned to master Cheng Yin and said, “Please allow me the time to bury my disciple. However, when evening comes, I would be grateful for your company. There are many things I would like to discuss with you, brother of the Path. In the meantime, I apologize that you and Xialin must to proceed to the temple unescorted. Please make yourselves at home there.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chapter 1: The Girl in White (4)

Menghuan withdrew his energies at the sound of his master’s voice, and directed them into an evasive maneuver called the 18 Turns of Yanqing. He wrenched his qi energy upward from his dantian, the energetic reservoir located below the navel, and flipped about in mid-air. Though he changed course with astonishing speed, the warning had come too late. He felt an immense wave of force overtake him, and his body jerked toward the sky like a kite suddenly cut from its string. His finely tuned senses felt blood and qi momentarily reverse in their channels, then his perceptions clouded. Some time passed, and he became vaguely aware that someone was propping him up, and a fragrant breeze was blowing against his face. Then, a hand began pressing at vital points in his chest.

Just as the two monstrosities had unleashed their deadly palm strikes on Menghuan, Masters Yi Yang Zi and Cheng Yin had descended from the tops of the peach trees, with palms extended to meet the blow. The collision of the two streams of energy had whipped up a whirlwind that stripped the peach trees of blossoms and leaves alike. The paired Buddhist and Daoist monks felt a minor tremor, while the two ghoulish figures were jolted upward and sent skittering back, only regaining their footing after three our four desperate sliding steps. Yi Yang Zi, abbot of the Temple of the Unseen City, looked back at the fallen body of his cherished disciple, and anger involuntarily flared in his chest. With eyebrows arched, he addressed his foes:

“The Temple of the Unseen City has never interfered in the affairs of the Twin Fiends of Tiannan. What right have you to come here and deal such a cruel blow—to strike down my beloved disciple? Though my sword has lain sheathed these many years, and I have refrained from taking sides in the feuds of the Rivers and Lakes, your wicked deeds this day leave me no choice but to draw my blade anew!”

Before the Twin Fiends of Tiannan could respond, the prone bleeding figure on the path suddenly sat up and shouted while pointing to his barrel chest, “Master! The Monadic Codex—”

A nine-inch double bladed-dagger flew from the hand of the white-faced fiend, and entered the injured man’s chest faster than a bolt of lightening, cutting off his words. Yi Yang Zi hadn’t imagined that the Twin Fiends would act so boldly in his presence. He was unprepared for the blow and could do nothing to stop it. The large man cried out and fell back to the ground. Pierced clean through by the dragon whisker dart, organs shattered by the esoteric forces that propelled it, the man marshaled the iron will he had tempered in long years of internal training, and held fast to the spider-thin traces of life that still stirred in his body that he might fulfill a final desperate wish.

Yi Yang Zi stared at the dying man, and a pain stabbed at his chest as recognition dawned. It was Cai Bangxiong, his own disciple, aged 20 years since the day he had been expelled from the Kunlun Sect. An unfamiliar anger raged in the otherworldly heart of the abbot. A cold laugh was building under his breath as he turned his gaze back to the yin-yang faced fiend. He shifted his weight slightly, then soared to the side of his former disciple. No further harm would come to Cai Bangxiong. With a roar he unleashed his Wind and Lightning Strike.

Master Cheng Yin also felt an unaccustomed rage building within him, ignited by the sight of an injured man being so cruelly felled. Impelled by his sense of righteousness, he flicked his long sleeves forward and launched himself at the pale-faced man, using a technique called Fireflies Dancing in Emptiness.

The yin-yang faced Tiannan Fiend had only thought to make off with the body of Cai Bangxiong; he wasn’t prepared to engage in a fight with a renowned martial artist of Yi Yang Zi’s caliber, much less cope with the rare eruption of fury that rushed to meet him. Violent emotion had overridden the abbot’s habitual restraint, and unchecked forces poured into the attack. By the time the yin-yang faced man perceived the danger, it was too late. He had barely raised his right palm to deflect the blow when it caught him. A thunderclap shook the air; the right arm shattered, and the man’s body was rocketed into the trunk of a peach tree some seven yards distant. The tree splintered and folded in half amidst an eruption of peach blossom petals.

Master Cheng Yin similarly gave no quarter, though the true strength of his attack was concealed in the wake of his billowing sleeves. His corpse-like foe engaged, only to feel the energy of his counterstrike turning against him. Knowing there was no good in it for him, the man, too late, attempted to fall back. A thousand-pound mallet blow struck his chest and he sat hard on the ground, blood spurting from between his lips.

The Soulstealer, Li Tong, and the Yin-Yang Judge, Wang Xuan, jointly known as the Twin Fiends of Tiannnan, each had been dealt a blow that would have mortally wounded a normal man. However, the two monstrous men had undergone years of esoteric training that had toughened bodily tissues and enabled them to direct energies to absorb impacts and speed recovery from wounds. Despite the devastating force of the blows dealt by Master Cheng Yin and Yi Yang Zi, the Twin Fiends quickly leapt to their feet again. The Yin-Yang Judge lifted his chin to the sky and roared with laughter.

“Abott Yi Yang Zi, Master Cheng Yin, we will not soon forget the gifts you have bestowed on this day. So long as the Twin Fiends of Tiannan still breathe, you can expect a full return on your generosity, repaid in kind!”

With that, the Twin Fiends fled, wailing like condemned souls. Their ghostly forms flashed briefly between the peach trees before disappearing from sight.