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.”

No comments:

Post a Comment