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.”


  1. I'm riveted. Looking forward to more updates. How close are we to the end of the first chapter?