Hidden 5 mos ago Post by OwO
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Shrine of an Forgotten God, Henan

Despite it being early spring, warmth had still not come to the central province. The barren outskirts were no different. The gentle breeze rustled the trees and grass. A chorus of nature filled the air. The setting sun coloured the forest with a warm orange glow.

A long set of stairs led up a hill. Each step was weathered to the point of becoming uneven. Overgrown grass and roots battled what remained of the steps. At the top was a single temple. The wooden building would have rot long ago if they hadn't been created with care. Though, nature did seem eager to reclaim it. Vines covered half of the one-story temple. While there had been signs of pruning, it had not been cut for a long time. It was easier to let the vines stay fully grown that constantly fight over who the temple belonged to, after all. It wasn't a shrine for Buddha nor was it a place of worship for Taoists. The only clue to what the shrine had been built for was a statuette of an unknown figure in the middle of the courtyard. Despite the disrepair the shrine faced, the statuette had been swept clean and protected from the encroaching wilds.



A man wearing a red-peaked straw hat climbed the uneven steps. A dog of the martial alliance, as the recusant would call those who wore that hat. Those within the martial alliance knew them as the hands of the current head. To call them elite warriors wouldn't be correct. No, the most notable thing about them were their loyalty. Even so, he certainly had the aura of a master. Despite his ragged eyes and exhaustion, he carried himself nobly with each step. What was most strange about him was the book he was carrying. It was strange for someone to have a book with them considering how valuable they usually were.

It was strange that someone like him would be at the outskirts of civilization. Nothing happened in a place like this. Despite that, the man seemed to have been travelling for a long time with little time to recuperate at civilization.

"Hello?" The man said with a whistle. "Anyone out here?"

Xincai, Henan

A thin haze of smoke covered the streets of Xincai. Incense was in the air as the dense streets were filled with warrior and townsfolk alike. Vendors hawked whatever they could sell. What once had been a humble town had evolved into a bustling city thanks to the war. Xincai had been relatively untouched for Henan. With so much trade being disrupted around it, it was only natural that goods began to flow through Xincai.

With trade came prosperity and with prosperity came growth. Though, not all of the growth had been healthy for the new city. Bandits had quickly moved in to capitalize on whatever they could. With bandits came warriors to protect the merchants. Brothels, restaurants, and inns were built to separate the newly wealthy from their coins. Intoxicating smoke filled the streets as businesses and citizen alike burnt incense not for prayer but for leisure.

Xincai was a city where the only ruler was wealth.

As it stood, the city was home to those of every faction. Under the watchful eyes of the merchant king, the city's functions remained independent from any faction. Anyone was welcome as long as they had coin. Those who didn't? Well, there was sure to be work in the city. There was always someone who needed some hired muscle.



"This is 'bout as far as we can take you." A large, rough-looking warrior said.

"What do you mean? I still need to get to Sichuan!" Replied a small scholar.

"Little lady, we aren't exactly the most welcome in the west. And... I'll be honest. The pay was practically us doing you a favour since we were heading 'ere anyways." The rough-looking warrior and his companions had already began to walk away.

"But we had-" The young scholar tried to follow the warriors.

Before she had a chance to complete her sentence, the young scholar dropped her scrolls as she collided with a busy-looking man. The set of warriors with her had already vanished into the crowds of Xincai. Thankfully, the man she had bumped into was too busy to pay her any mind.

The young scholar pouted as tears welled in her eyes. Her face was blush with anger, stress, or embarrassment. It was difficult to tell which. She was out of place, even for someone in Xincai. Her clothes were covered in dirt and dust, yet they were still of noticeable quality. The silk of her dress had been woven into an unusual design of golden clouds. Even though her clothes were high quality, the young scholar didn't seem to care about them judging by her desperation in recollecting her scrolls. She looked more like a rat than a creature of elegance as she crawled around to pick up her scattered scrolls.



The Golden River inn was a place where most martial artists congregated in Xincai. Though, it mostly had to do with the large portions of food the inn served. It helped that there was a large board pinned with various jobs and offers for warriors.

One of the most noticeable boards was a poster of a woman in the middle of a board. It was an offer asking for help in finding someone. Attached was a name and portrait. Tang Yuying. It was a familiar name for those who paid attention to those within the jianghu. The Madwoman of Sichuan. Rather than being known for her martial talents, she was known for her eccentric behaviour. Either she wasn't a great martial artist or her eccentricity eclipsed her talent. Most people couldn't tell which. It was fairly easy to tell that she was a strange person even if they didn't know her. Most people didn't have an abundance of red ink smudged across their eyes on their portraits.

Most important was her presumed location. Northwest of Xincai. The wilds outside any path someone would usually take.
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Xincai, Henan

New Sights


The warm, fruity, pepper-and-vanilla scent of cinnamon swirled with the soft florals and woody musk of agarwood. The incense couldn’t quite cover the horse dung, fire smoke, and other smells, but it made it much easier to ignore them. But the sounds were even harder to filter: people talking, sometimes in raised and angry voices, stubborn mules braying as they hauled creaking carts, and footsteps of a thousand different weights and strides. Rustling clothes, clinking armor, jingling coins…a girlish giggle and squeal, somewhere further down an alleyway. Yi Hyun-Woo felt warmth rise to his face, and turned his focus elsewhere.

The cobblestones under his feet were mostly even, save for a line he occasionally stepped across that had been worn further down. Wagon tracks. The sheathed tip of his sword absently tapped a pattern across the square bricks, noting the different sounds between fired clay, calcified mortar, and occasionally, simple packed earth. He shifted his weight slightly to one side, and felt the wind ripple against his sleeve as the person he’d sensed passed him. His head tilted to better gauge the sounds in front of him, and he breathed deeply through his nose. Baked goods, fresh fabrics, and occasionally even oiled metal. A marketplace.

Hyun-Woo opened his eyes for the second time since arriving in Xincai. The second time, because the first time at the gate had nearly overwhelmed him. Even though his sight had been restored, and he had traveled quite far by this point…it still felt like his mind could barely process everything at once. Especially in a place as bustling as the Middle Kingdom–the bright colors of silks, the artistry of buildings and banners, and the made-up faces of beautiful women, all of it and a thousand other things made him feel as if he were catching fever right behind his eyes. Perhaps the worst thing to get used to–especially once he started training–had been what he now knew as depth perception. Looking at the mountains and rivers of his homeland, and now the ever-grander Middle Plains, had been enough to bring him to tears. When he had embarked on this quest, riding across the ocean from Jeju-Do to Shanghai had nearly sent him into shock. And the trip overland afterward had been a new surprise every step of the way.

The world was so big now, compared to the dark void he had once wandered. Sometimes, it was still easier to travel that way…but he had to get used to it. Just like martial arts, he had to train the eyes he had not used for so many years…

He registered the sound of two bodies colliding, and turned to see a young woman fumbling with a pile of scrolls. A few rough men were moving in the other direction–was she trying to follow them? Or had they pushed her? No, wait, that man hurrying in the other direction, maybe that was what he’d sensed?

Hyun-Woo heard someone snicker. He closed his eyes and raised his eyebrows as the muscles around his ears twitched.

“Is she supposed to be some sort of scribe, or a street urchin?” “Stupid woman, out of my way! I’m going to be late…” “That’s what you get for associating with thugs like that…”

The young swordsman opened his eyes, and held his sheathed blade against his belt as he walked towards the girl. His boot gently stopped a runaway scroll, and he held out his hand to her.

“Are you alright, Miss?” he said, in a soft tenor. His pale, amber eyes were wide like a child’s, as he found it much easier to focus on a single person. He wondered what all the different expressions she was making meant–he hadn’t gotten used to navigating by those yet, either. "Did those men do something unchivalrous?"
Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Kidd
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Shrine of a Forgotten God
Luo Yifang
From the opposite side of the hill ascended the temple’s keeper. Luo Yifang’s body was tired, pointed where her bones pushed at her skin as if trying to escape—surely too thin against the cool weather even with her layers of dark clothes. Dark bags tugged at lower eyelids, and only the pink on her nose and cheeks hinted at life. And the fact that she was trudging up the hill, of course, a bucket of water tilting her body aside as she used all her strength to stay upright.

As she reached the temple from its back, she heard a whistle. Her thin brows furrowed toward each other in annoyance. Was she a dog? Maybe not, but she would answer the call all the same.

With a dramatic exhale, she set the bucket down and the water stirred, splashing over the side. Free of its weight, she walked quickly around the small structure to meet the man who called for assistance. Usually members of the Luo clan only visited when they were injured, so haste came naturally to the woman. Mere moments could mean the difference between life and death. Though, now, she paused when she stepped into his sight.

Her dark eyes were drawn first to the red that topped his hat. As her hand raised to brush strands of stray hair away from her face, her gaze dropped with curiosity to the book in his hand, and then finally back up to his tired face.
“Good evening,” she exhaled, the weariness from trudging up the hill suddenly catching up to her. “How can I help you?”

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Golden River inn

Xiao Shan


Within Xincai, the hustle and bustling city, the Golden River Inn was full of martial artist of various backgrounds. Each of them was here for jobs, celebrating their success or drowning whatever misfortunes that they had in their task.

Strong incense filled the air, clanking of plates and chopsticks, and wine bowls repeatedly slammed on wooden tables by boisterous hands before being refilled.

At the corner of the inn at the first floor, a square table meant for four currently housed only one occupant. Not many are willing to share the same table due to their foreign appearance and warclub that rested against the wall, tall and large as they slowly sipped their own wine bowl, alongside a variety of dishes.

Adding to that, the blue hair and mask denoting a demonic face alongside the dominating presence along would have scared most people off, but those that do recognize the clothes and mask gave the owner a wider berth. Especially those of the orthodox martial artists that mingled here, giving a sharp glare from the corner of their eyes.

The young master of the Broken Mountain sect didn't show any inclination, opting to focus on their meal instead as they placed the cup down and continued to pick at the famous dishes in Xincai province.

For her, all this chaos and constant activity was just like home.

Hmm, a bit bland. Xiao Shan thought as she popped a piece of chicken with chili paste sauce. It was a much sharper flavor than what she usually tasted but she supposed this was expected. The spiciness wasn't close to what they serve in Hunan as she chase it away with another mouthful of wine.

At least the portion was generous enough that she can get her money's worth.

Picking the last portion down into her stomach, she wiped her mouth exposed from the mask. She slowly stood up and grabbed her warclub, sending some of the patrons to rest their hands on their weapons as she walked past them and down to the ground floor. Her far eastern style of clogs thumped on the floor lightly with each step before Xiao Shan looked at the board of jobs available.

Idly, she came across the one that requested for help in looking for someone. A Tang Yuying, the madwoman of Sichuan. More known for her odd behavior rather than her affinity for martial arts.

Sparks of curiosity came, wondering just how one would be known for her personality in the Jianghu than martial arts.

With that, Xiao Shan headed out northwest. Wondering just how this mad woman will be.
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Golden River Inn

Sheng Qingling

It had been a few days since Qingling arrived at Xincai. he knew he had to get away from the place where his family's crime had been discovered so he wouldn't get caught, but he had no idea where his parents went. His father didn't really have a place to call home, and his mother had only mentioned the Immortal Tools in passing; it hadn't occurred to her to tell him a place to go should he ever get lost. After all, both of his parents were great martial artists, and would be able to find him. But now they believed he was dead, and he had no way of locating them.

From the moment he arrived in the city, he began plying his trade, performing in the streets for coin and keeping his ears open for gossip. it wasn't long until rumors brought him to the Golden River Inn, a place where martial artists gathered. It would be the perfect location to keep his ear to the ground for any news of his parents. If they were on the vengeance warpath, he was sure he'd hear news of them resurface sooner or later. He had approached the innkeeper with his musical talent, offering to entertain the guests in exchange for room, board, and a small income; a few songs later, and he had the job.

Everyday since, Qingling would check the board for news of his parents, but so far there was nothing. Currently, he sat at the north wall of the ground floor were he had been given a stage from which to play. As he strummed his guqin, Qingling sang about a soldier whose contingent had suffered a grave defeat. Behind enemy lines, the soldier needed to find a way back to his homeland. His motivation being the fact that news of his defeat would reach his parents and that they would presume him dead. He blamed himself for his filial impiety at allowing his parents to suffer the grief of losing a child when he was actually well and alive.

Though the subject matter hit close to home, Qingling did not allow his voice to waver, delivering the music impeccably. Expression through song was his own way of lamenting his situation and confronting the worry that plagued him. In a way, he was screaming out to the world in a vain attempt to reach his parents to let them know that he was alive and for them not to grieve. He knew it was pointless, but it was cathartic in its own way.

Qingling had considered journeying out to search for them himself, but not only did he not know where to start or what direction to head in, he was also in poor health. Qingling had died, or nearly died, he wasn't sure which, and years of drugs and having his meridians tweaked had taken a tremendous toll on his body. He didn't blame his mother for trying to hone him but he had to admit that it had come at a great cost. If he was to travel out, he would almost certainly need an escort. But who could he trust to take him? Who could he rely on?
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Golden River Inn

Song Shi


A ceramic plate of antiquity was the only thing that could be seen. Not circular, but instead had round edges, four to be exact. The shape of a flower and lacquered on the edges and petal were floral designs etched with golden flakes. The plate was rather intricate and seemed quite expensive, but in reality it was just handed down to her. The plate was met with a cup that matched perfectly with the plate in design and pattern. Inside of it was a light green liquid, tea by the looks of it. The steam had all but left and there was maybe a sips worth left with a few minuscule chunks of dark green powder at the bottom. What was important was the hand attached to the cup, gentle and soft in appearance and grasp. Song Shi had been enjoying her morning tea in her chair waiting for her session to be over. Incense burners had littered the room and the distinct smell wafted through the air along with the smoke it produced.

Her internal clock trembled as it was time for her to finish what she started. Rising from her chair she turned to face her patient who was decorated head to toe with needles. The needles were placed precariously eliciting no pain nor harm despite’s several being in orifices that would scare away the average novice. Like a machine she plucked every single one of the needles out of the human pin cushion with poise and grace. The last needle awoke the man lying before her in nothing but a towel, in a euphoric groan.

“I trust everything went well then?”

“Yes Shui Shan, I feel 20 years younger. Maybe if that were the case I would surely be one of your many suitors.”

While she was used to the compliments and shallow attempts at flirting from her patients she still detested it somewhat.

“Oh that’s kind of you, but I’m sure your wife was prettier than me at my age.”

With that the man’s demeanor shifted quite immediately. He placed his clothing back on and left the approximate sum on the table. “I look forward to our next appointment.”

Song shi nodded, eyes still shut, hearing the door close before her. She spent the next few minutes cleaning her station and closing down her tools and table her patients lied on. She left her clinic and walked the streets of Xincai, feeling and sensing all kind of people in this crowded street. Laughter, anger, the sound of youth stealing produce. Even the sound of scrolls falling with shuffling and a hint of sadness following it. Her eyebrows furrowed in response. Before she could walk over she heard another already on the scene to help. Comfortable in knowing whoever dropped their items was being helped allowed her to press on to the Golden River inn.

The board inside had many a mission, sometimes even those that led her to unscrupulous people left over from the war. That was her main get, but it was very far and few between. Upon entering she would have made her normal stride to the board if it were not for the soft sounds of melodic notes touching upon her ears. This soothing falsetto tempted her away from her mission and had her walk to the front of the stage. She stood silently taking in every aspect of the somber and sorrow filled story, until it was over.

“What beauty you play despite being so full of sadness. What do you call this one?”
Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Feyblue
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Shrine of a Forgotten God, Henan



Xiáyīng wasn't lost.

Being lost, after all, required a destination which one intended to reach. A goal. Some sort of purpose. At the very least, a rudimentary grasp of geography was necessary.

Well, maybe that wasn't quite right. One could be lost in ways other than a purely physical sense. To be cast adrift from one's home, one's past, one's very way of being -- surely that could be called "lost" also, right?

The very word "lost" did seem to fit her quite aptly. After all, few could probably claim to have ever possessed half of all that had been taken from her. Even so, thinking about that "loss" could no longer even bring tears to her eyes. Instead, it only carried with it a sense of numbness, and a sort of aimless resolve -- a strong drive to leave all that behind her, which in turn sputtered out within her the moment she turned her thoughts on where, instead, to go.

Either way, she didn't like to think about it more than she had to. It was better to leave such empty feelings in the dark place where they had first been born. The tears she couldn't cry now had already been shed yesterday, and to mourn the loss of one's very ability to mourn would be so laughably piteous that it could only be seen as farce comedy.

...Hm. Yes. That was quite profound. Perhaps it would have made a good poem, if she still remembered any of the education she had received in such pure and elegant pursuits. Unfortunately, no words, however sweet, could fill the yawning void in her stomach, nor would the deepest ocean of philosophical preponderance slake her thirst.

Oh. And she also hadn't the faintest clue where she even was. There was also that.

Even before her... fall from grace, she had seen little and heard less of the world beyond the Severed Peak. Even discussing the affairs of the outside had been a forbidden subject since the heirs were born. To think of leaving -- why, the very idea had been laughable. As a child, she never could have dreamed that she would ever willfully defy that taboo.

But there were a great many things under heaven which she could not have imagined as a child, and compared to the path that had led her down the mountain's slopes, the first steps she had taken into the world beyond it had been wholly unremarkable by comparison. No... perhaps "unremarkable" wasn't the right word. "Disappointing," maybe? Perhaps "sobering..."

Sad. It was sad.

She had walked for days before she found a village. Her hopes had soared at the familiar sight of houses, only to fall again when she got closer and saw their sorry state. Anything taller than one story had long since collapsed, and the rest more resembled charred toothpicks than functional masonry. There hadn't been a single soul alive in the entire place.

"Alive" being the operative word. It had taken her almost three whole days to bury all of the bodies, and by the time she was done she had exhausted all the water she had carried with her from the Dragonspring. That was around when she remembered what "hunger" felt like, and it finally occurred to her that she hadn't eaten in... in...

...Huh. That was strange. She couldn't even remember how long it had been anymore. She'd kept a tally, back in the shrine, but the marks she had stubbornly clawed into the rotten wood weren't something she would have wanted to carry with her even had she been able to, and their number had long since grown beyond any hope of counting.

At any rate, her conscience had gotten the better of her. She hadn't been able to bear the thought of leaving the desolate town's former inhabitants to be picked over by the birds and dogs, and so she had done her best to give them as proper a funeral as she could. They were not so different, after all -- she had simply had the fortune to climb from her grave, whereas they...

...They had died in agony. She had seen it -- or rather, had been forced to see it. Every day as she toiled, the visions wouldn't stop. There, a house now in ruins. There, the site where a beloved child had been crushed beneath the body of a helpless mother. There, where a man fell before the broken gates, his blood spilled in vain for a home he couldn't protect. Blood. Death. Darkness. Even when she refused to look, it surrounded her.

It wasn't their fault. What happened here wasn't fair. It was only right that someone should remember a tragedy -- because if she didn't, then who would? Yet even so, that didn't make the things she saw any easier to bear. By the time the last scraps of dirt had been laid upon the shallow mound, all she could bring herself to feel was relief that finally, it was over.

The last one she buried was the man outside the gates. It felt only right. He must have been the first to fall -- standing proudly against whatever force had wreaked this carnage. The soil all around where he had lain had been baked by the sun, bearing a reddish tinge from the blood that had soaked into it. She could still see the footprints, preserved by the drought, showing where his body had been trampled over, his face stomped into the mud and the filth by the advancing enemy.

As she had extricated his crumbling body from the rubble of the gate, it had struck her that even in death, the sword in his hand was gripped so tightly that she could hardly remove it. When she finally extricated it from his grasp, the hand that had held it crumbled to dust, as though its purpose was at last fulfilled.

"You did well," She had said without thinking. The stillness that followed was almost deafening, and for the first night since her arrival in the ruined village, her sleep had been sound, filled only with dreams too fleeting to remember. When she had awakened, she had found herself crying.

She only realized after the burial was done that, after years of isolation, her own attire was little more than rags. By comparison, even the bloodstained and soiled robes of the gatekeeper seemed almost pristine by comparison. His sword, too, though dented and chipped, remained unrusted and unbroken.

She tore up what little remained of her own robes, and used the cloth to mend the nameless warrior's garb. She had expected to feel guilty for her robbery, but strangely, all she felt was an odd sort of peace. He, too, had been like her in a way. Forced to fight a futile battle he did not want, he had not shied away from the inevitable result -- even unto the bitter end. She admired that. If only she herself had possessed that kind of resolve, then surely...

So it was that she now found herself upon an unknown road. It had been many days since then. Weeks, perhaps. Months, even. She didn't really care anymore. She had seen more towns since then. She'd been welcomed in some, and shunned in others. Yet no matter how far she roamed, the visions she saw while she was awake, and the dreams she saw when she was asleep -- those never went away. Nor could she lose the feeling that the old sword now strapped by her side yet had some purpose to fulfill.

But she was hungry, and thirsty, and tired. A town lay ahead, but she could not find it in herself to hope that she would be welcomed there. So it was that she turned instead to a small, decrepit shrine by the side of the road, long overgrown with kudzu and seemingly left abandoned. By the time she realized that it wasn't... well, there was already a visitor in the courtyard behind her, and someone else was coming out from behind the old building, and... and, on instinct, she had hidden herself away before she knew it. She had little pride left to lose, but to be mistaken for a thief come to plunder a holy place would shame even her.

Thankfully, she was well-used to avoiding notice. She tucked herself behind the frame of the temple's door, curled up, and prayed the people outside would leave. Her already miniscule presence faded to almost nothing, and her breathing became so faint that even she could hardly perceive it. Yes, if they would just leave, she would hastily depart and trouble them no longer. She didn't come to take anything, she just wanted a place to rest... But no one would see things that way, and if they met, there would only be conflict. She didn't want any trouble, so if they'd just give her a chance, she'd leave. She was sorry. She'd just been so tired, and so thirsty -- so far from home, and so... so...

Lost.

Without realizing, Xiáyīng had become lost upon the road of life.
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Bin Myung-Suk
Xincai, Henan
Golden River Inn


"Tang Yuying."

The young warrior repeated that name to himself as he sipped his small cup of tea. It was a ritual he had practiced to himself every time he'd set out on these bounties. Under normal circumstances, it would usually help. After all, to build up a grudge against a certain target was paramount to his technique. However, this target wasn't like the ones he was trained to find. It was simply to help find a specific person, one that would easily stand out at that. If all goes well, he may not even need to take another life.

Myung-Suk took a moment to sink into the somber music playing in the inn, taking in the aroma of his tea and having a brief moment of retrospection. It had been about a year since the final battle, a year since he had fought alongside the Great Demonic Sage... and yet, he could not remember a thing about that moment. To have fought so close to Heaven and not have any recollection of the events that took place was just part of the great shame that hung over Myung-Suk's head. It served as evidence to his weakness, a reminder of how far he truly was from Heaven. It also served to further ignite the flame that was the young warrior's resolve.

To kill a Master of the Devil Arts with his own fists. To prove himself as a worthy Disciple of the Wilted Lotus.

Myung-Suk knew he could not return home until he completed this daunting task.

It was why he had spent the last year honing his killer instinct. Finding outlaws and brigands of the Jianghu and bringing them in to whoever desired their heads. It was a daunting and bloody task, but Myung-Suk knew that this alone would not hone his skills any further than they already are. He needed to stop acting as a killer, a role he was far too familiar with. No, the young warrior instead needed to adopt the role of a Hunter. He needed to hone his senses, his skills at searching and tracking. It was only then that he'd be able to root out the dastardly Devil Clansman, the sworn enemies of his sect.

Downing the last of his tea, Myung-Suk made his way to the bounty board, his shoulders raised and his chest puffed. There was no time to meander around, to dwell in his past failings, or his current misgivings. The time to hunt was no-

"W-waaaa-!"

With a heavy thud, the young warrior fell to the ground as a rather sizeable pebble rolled out of his slippers. A rock in his footwear... it was no wonder that he'd lose balance.

"Oh, brother..."
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Shrine of an Forgotten God, Henan
Vanished @Kidd@Feyblue
It was easier to get a view of the man with the red-peaked straw hat when coming face to face with him. The man certainly wasn't attractive. No, rugged would be a better way of describing him. His face was square with rough and unevenly cut stubble. He adorned himself in thick clothes with large sleeves that hid his figure, but it was still easy to tell that he was quite muscular. While tired, he seemed pretty easy-going considering that he didn't have a sword on him. Though, his hands felt like weapons considering how brutish and calloused they were.

"Ah..." The man said as he seemed to think for a moment. "You must be the one from the Luo clan."

He paused for a moment as he flipped through the pages.

"Allow me to introduce myself. People call me Sima. It ain't my name, but my parents called me something strange. Unfortunately, I'm here for business."

Another brief pause as he stopped flipping. A look came over him: realization about the confusion that he could create.

"Business not about you, thankfully. Though, I should say that it involves you thanks to your clan head."

He pulled out a loose paper wedged between the pages of his book and held it in front of him.

"There's a writ with your clan head promising your help. The main deal is that I need a guide familiar 'round these parts. An isolated village a few hours out seemed to have up and vanished. Not too strange to happen during the war, but a peddler seemed to have traded with 'em 3 months ago."

He placed the writ back in the book.

"I'm not really one to wave authority 'round so if you would rather point me in the right direction from here, you can. I was supposed to get here this morning but uh, I'm not the greatest with directions.

He paused one last time before looking at the dilapidated shrine.

"I know that you're lookin' after someone here already, so I'd understand if you'd want to stay."

Xincai, Henan
The Little Scholar That Could @Zeroth
"Am I alright...?" The little scholar thought deeply before replying. "No... I'm stuck in this city, I have to deliver these scrolls to someone in Sichuan and all I have left are a few days worth of coin and this stupid promissory note!"

The young scholar took a note out of her pocket before almost throwing it away in her brief moment of anger. She held the note out behind her. Hyun-Woo could read its brief words as the scholar went to put the note back into her pocket. The scrawl seemed to be written with enough anger for the ink to bleed a considerable amount.

One favour. Don't you dare give this note to someone else, you old bastard.
The Promissory Note


"And no..." The little scholar looked dejected once again. "It was expected... Can't expect someone to escort me west when the pay would barely cover food expenses."

She fumbled around some more to collect the rest of her scrolls. Thankfully, the scroll that was going to roll out of sight had been stopped by Hyun-Woo's foot. With all of her scrolls back in hand, she stood up again. She was covered in dirt, but it wasn't like she had enough hands to brush herself off and hold the scrolls at the same time.

She took a deep breath. Her eyes were still red from tearing up, but she seemed to calm herself down.

"Thank you," she said with a bow. "I'm sure I'll find a way out of this predicament, but I shan't take more of your time mister martial artist."

With one last deep breath, the young scholar began to walk away. Though, she was in no rush to go anywhere.


The Hunt for the Madwoman @Restalaan

City turned to roads. Roads turned to paths. Paths lead to nowhere but the wilds. It was apparent that Xiao Shan was going northwest. After all, it was quite easy to figure out which way was which. Such were the basics of any warrior within the jianghu. If one could not navigate and forage on their own, how could they hope to live?

She didn't quite find anything of interest in the woods. There were some berries that looked inedible. Tasting them would reveal a putrid sour flavour and seeds as large as the berries. There were trees, bushes, flowers, and grass. Lots of grass. It was pretty easy to figure out why the Yang Yuying hadn't immediately been found. It was just plain boring to look for her.

It was actually quite peaceful. The sounds of nature were pleasant to anyone who could hear them. Birds were chirping. Wind was rustling leaves. A man was gasping for air. Wait, what was that last one?

A man came barrelling out of a bush in front of Xiao Shan. He was covered in scratches with leaves and branches sticking out of his clothes. He looked exactly like a thug. Large, bulging muscles. A fur vest. No sleeves. Scars on his face. Extremely bald. Rather than a menacing figure, he seemed more like a panicking mess.

"You have to help me!" He immediately began to beg. If the man had known how to prostrate, he would have been sliding on his knees with his arms outstretched. "This woman is insane! She..."

It was quite apparent that the man was completely out of breath as he could barely wheeze out the rest of his words.
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Xincai, Henan

A Xia's Duty...



Hyun-Woo slipped his thumb into the sash at his waist, nudging it just enough to push his sheathed jian through. With both arms free, though he almost felt naked without a "cane," he approached the young lady again. Being taller and generally more fit, he caught up with her stride easily.

@OwO "Please, let me help you carry all that." he offered. Sichuan was too far out of the way for him at the moment, but it would be remiss of him as a martial artist not to help someone clearly struggling. At the very least he could make sure she got to her lodgings for the night without being run over by more people or damaging her scrolls. "I am afraid my own quest does not go as far as Sichuan, as I am seeking the Mountain Ravine Fist School here in Henan Province. But I would gladly accompany you to an inn. This is my first time in Xincai, you see, and I hardly know where to look myself."

If he were to go to Sichuan, how many more weeks or months would that add to his trip? Nonetheless, it wouldn't be right--as a man, as a martial artist, or just as a good person--to completely ignore this plight. Maybe one the stronger martial artists at the Mountain Ravine's school would be willing to take her? Or maybe there was something he could do to help her with her funds--even on the relatively short journey here (in the grand scheme of things) he had seen and heard of martial artists doing various tasks for those with need. In the time after such a long and grueling war, there were many fighters whose purpose for training now seemed to be gone. For some of them, without a war to fight, a life as a mercenary was the only job that could make use of their skills.

Hyun-Woo's task was merely to deliver a letter from his father, which he wasn't doing for payment. He had wanted to see the world, after becoming more proficient with his own Cultivation, and his father had always regretted never visiting or staying in touch with the school he once trained with in the Middle Kingdom. So the son had offered to carry on that duty, and a month-and-some later here he was. It might be longer than that again before he could return home. He had given the sailors who brought him to Shanghai a letter to take back home, assuring his family that he had made at least that leg of the journey safely, but if he took too long--or jumped into a situation that got him killed--he couldn't imagine their grief. But in a way, this trip was also meant as a test--his father would never hear of him taking off into the wild blue yonder without some assurance that he could take care of himself. And if he couldn't go as far as his father once had, then he had no business stating some lofty desire as "seeing all of the Jianghu with his own eyes..."
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Xiao Shan

The Hunt for the Madwoman

Xiao Shan was nearly out of the inn before his ears caught music being played. Stopping to look behind, there was a musician playing.

Taking it in, Xiao Shan closed her eyes for a moment. Letting imagination take place as the lyrics play out.

Then once it's over and she was deeplysatisfied. The musician had some chops to their skills it seems.

Grinning, she reached to the sides and produce a coin before concentrating. Estimating the distance, reach and power needed before she flicked the coin towards the musician. The coin soared through the air before landing perfectly on the lap, all of this without Xiao Shan ever turning back.

Hearing the clack of the coin hitting where she intended, Xiao Shan made a small pump of her fist as she grinned triumphantly and proudly at that before continuing on her journey to seek this mad woman.

With that behind, Xiao Shan made their way into the wilderness. The developed roads slowly turned into little dirt paths as she looked around her surroundings. It was a very good weather as well, perfect for just walking around. Xiao Shan idly thought as she picked a berry from a low-hanging branch, looked over it once before tossing it to the side.

Idly, she wondered if no one took the job because of how simply far and boring this job was.

The moment she finished those thoughts, her ears twitched and caught echoes of footsteps before someone came barreling out from a nearby bush.

That had her on edge since she should've caught his presence long before he even came but the man's begging for help as he was out of breath had her put aside that for now.

"Take a breath already, brother." Xiao Shan rested a hand on the thug-like person as she squat down to his level. Her demon-looking mask greeted him directly when he raised his head to look at her. In his state, it might look like a demon from hell.

"I can't hear a damn thing of what you just said."

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Shrine of a Forgotten God
Luo Yifang
Yifang watched the other cooly, though cool quickly became icy as he spoke. He acted politely enough; but she couldn't help feeling uneasy as her gaze wandered over his figure. Her fingers fidgeted with the sleeves of her clothes--he was an unusual visitor and it seemed important to mind her tongue. Still, more than once, her lips parted to interupt as he paused in his speaking, but he had more to say each time. Her words were lost to an impatient exhale.

When he finally finished explaining, though, she found it was her turn to hesitate. She was torn: cautious about this stranger, but also curious about the missing village. Even though he politely gave her an out, there was little reason to argue against the Luo clan volunteering her help; it was true that Yifang knew the area well enough and was surely competent enough to assist Sima. In the moment, she was inclined to offer her help.

Then he spoke yet again. Yifang blinked and followed his gaze to the shrine. She had been so focused on Sima that she hadn't noticed a guest had made their way inside. Now that she stopped and listened, watched...Yes there was a stranger inside. Worshippers were welcomed, but rare. A large, worn painting of the goddess hung in the temple to greet her visitors. Beneath it a modest table for offerings--food, money, even incense--that lacked most of these things. There was also a simple cot sitting over her few belongings. It was Yifang's most of the time, but occasionally given up to a patient--that she didn't have in that moment. And a worshipper need not hide from the martial alliance.

"
Oh," she hummed before speaking loudly so there was no way the girl couldn't hear. "I assume they are just visiting, though I'd be happy to help if they need anything." Only after the passive aggressive invitiation did Yifang look back to Sima.

"
I am Yifang, by the way." She nodded her head, a lazy bow. "And I'm also happy to guide you to the village--or at least where it should be--after tending to my guest."

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Shrine of a Forgotten God, Henan




She hadn't intended to eavesdrop. Really, she hadn't.

Xiáyīng hadn't even thought about the conversation the two people outside might have been having at first, as she had been almost entirely preoccupied with self-concealment. But once she had erased her already meager presence, and had tucked herself nicely out of their line of sight, her mind had begun to wander away from the silence of her own quiet breathing, to the voices she could hear outside. And so it was that, without really meaning to, she heard what was being discussed.

"-- isolated village a few hours out seemed to have up and vanished. Not too strange to happen during the war, but a peddler seemed to have traded with 'em 3 months ago."

...So the village she had encountered before wasn't the only one to suffer such a fate? Her heart felt heavy, and her head drooped. Of course, it wasn't as though she expected that the only evils in the world were the ones which she had beheld with her own two eyes, but even so, the reminder and the remembrance that came with it weighed heavily upon her.

If they were investigating such things, though, then didn't that mean they were martial artists? Honorable and upstanding folk, like the man who... Well, at any rate, her curiosity was stirred, and so, against her better judgment, she peered meekly out around the fringe of the doorway when she thought nobody was looking, and --

The wind whistled between the mountain's twin crests. The boughs rustled, their petals plucked -- life strewn carelessly upon the surface of the water far below. Ripples formed around her where she lay, soaked and chilled to the bone, merely gazing up at the sky. She had always been here. She would never be able to leave. She clawed at the stone with bloodied fingers, trying in vain to rise, only to fall and sink deeper -- ever deeper into the dark water.

Silent and still. All was silent and still. Ever and always, silent and still. She was but a single droplet in a boundless spring. A single life within a vast world. A tiny and frail thing that could do naught but sink.

Yet even from within those soundless depths, she could still see the ones who stood above.


One was a warrior ascendant upon a steep and winding road, whose every stride carried him closer -- ever closer to the clouds. But though he bore a thousand blades upon his back, the way was so narrow and so treacherous that none could walk beside him to bear his steel, or share in his burden.

The other's burdens were of a different sort. The road ahead of her was easy, and well-traveled -- if only she could but walk it. Yet shadows hounded her -- their grasp stayed her feet, even as the tracks she followed faded into nothing before her eyes. As the sun began to set behind the mountain, the shadows in her wake grew long indeed -- like jaws opened wide to devour her, while she but stood, and waited for the journey's end.


Xiáyīng gasped, and drew back behind the threshold, shutting her aching eyes -- yet the echoes of the vision still seemed painted upon the insides of her eyelids, drifting phantasms and lingering silhouettes dancing across the darkness despite her attempts to blink and rub them away. Why had she dared to look, when she knew she wouldn't be able to control what she might see? Foolish, utterly foolish, and now --

"I know that you're lookin' after someone here already, so I'd understand if you'd want to stay."

Xiáyīng's heart sank. Now they knew she was here.

The woman called out to her a moment later -- or, rather, seemed to be addressing her indirectly, but nevertheless showed that she, too, had witnessed Xiáyīng's moment of indiscretion. But how much had they seen? Just her face, or had they even noticed her eyes? If they had, would they try to hurt her? She'd be able to tell if she looked at them again, but if she looked then they might see if they hadn't already, and if they saw then they definitely would, so should she just stay hidden? But she couldn't stay hidden because they'd already seen her. Should she say something? But what? Saying "I'm not a thief" would only make them think she was one, but if she asked permission to stay only after already entering the temple then -- then...

Her racing thoughts carried her completely away, and ultimately she became so preoccupied wondering what she should say or how she should say it that she said... nothing at all.
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Golden River Inn

Sheng Qingling

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When Qingling finished his song, a coin flew his way. His eyes traced the trajectory and saw a large woman leaving the inn. he thanked her silently for her patronage as another woman approached the stage and asked him what the song is called.

"'The Desperate Return'," Qingling replied, smiling up at Shi, trying to mask his own heartache, "Perhaps it is a bit too somber? After all, most people at an inn are travelers, so it may be inconsiderate to elicit homesickness. Additionally, for an inn with such...rambunctious clientele, maybe something more rowdy and rousing would be more appropriate? Do you have a request, Miss? I may not know every song, but if you hum a bit for me, or whistle, I will try to match the composition with what little skill I have."

As Qingling waited for Shi's request, he started making micro-adjustments to the individual bridges that held the strings taut, literally fine-tuning the instrument in preparation for whatever he might play next.
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Shrine of an Forgotten God, Henan
Vanished @Kidd@Feyblue
"That'd be great," Sima thanked Yifang, "I have a rough map there, but I can't read maps for the life of me."

He paused for a brief moment as he rubbed the back of his neck. While Sima lacked an internal compass, he wasn't daft. Something about what Yifang said didn't sit right with him. Like it was a surprise to both of them that someone was there. He gave Yifang a quick palm and fist salute as he walked past her. After all, it wouldn't be uncommon for a criminal to try to hide in a dilapidated shrine.

He entered the shrine and came face to face with the girl inside.

...

...

She didn't ring any bells.

Sure, she had a few distinctive things about her. Strange eyes. Dishevelled clothes. He would have immediately been reminded of a wanted poster if she was described on one. He did keep track of them, after all. Yet, none came to his mind. Whoever the girl was, Sima had no idea who.

Rubbing the back of his neck once more, he lowered himself to the same height as the girl. A smile uncharacteristic of his rugged face formed.

"You must have had a rough time, haven't you?"

Xincai, Henan
The Little Scholar That Could @Zeroth
The scholar sighed. Well, it was unfortunate but realistic. A warrior with shining blade coming to escort her across the country for essentially free was wishful thinking indeed. Well, at least the only person who came to help her was nice about it. The little scholar gave the man a smile.

"Then I shall take you up on your offer. But hmm..." The little scholar seemed to be lost in thought already as the tears in her eyes seemed to vanish. "Xincai does lack offices of governance, so your only hope here would be an information broker. While that information would likely be common if the sect is renowned, it would still cost a decent amount. Well, in that case, you could check with one of the beggar sect members--those with knotted rope-belts--or one of the merchant informants. Alternatively, you could ask around random people, but their willingness to help and quality of information would be a bit dubious..." The scholar paused. "That is to say, I don't know where they are either. They'd likely be west of the province if they are an orthodox clan and east if they're unorthodox. That's the extent of my knowledge without current access to my father's library."

Well, the scholar did turn out to be a touch long-winded when she wasn't on the verge of tears. With Hyun-Woo carrying some of the scrolls, the two left towards an inn. Preferably, one that kept rabble away. Golden River seemed like it wouldn't have too many roughnecks inside...


The Hunt for the Madwoman @Restalaan

"G-gwaa!" The bald man yelped. He certainly wasn't expecting help from a demon. He wasn't expecting a demon at all! Though, he did realize in some time that it was just someone in a mask rather than some sort of demonic entity. Even so, he was already at the point where he would have made a deal with an otherworldly entity to get out of his current predicament. To him, it didn't quite matter who he was asking. As long as it wasn't her.

"Well-" the bald man began to recall his story. "Me and the lads 'ere just going our own way between jobs, y'know? Then all of a sudden, this insane freak pops out of a tree and starts tossing around poison. I slipped away before she got me, but my boys..." The bald man clenched his fists. "She's probably torturing them as we speak!"
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Watching One's Step


@OwOThe young man listened intently as the scholar went on, though he didn’t look at her or engage the same expressions a person commonly made to show they were listening. Simply because such things were not yet a habit to him. Still, even though the pile of scrolls blocked his sight much like it had for the girl, he never missed a step–and even moved around other passerby on the street before they could bump into him, without seeing them.

The idea of going to an information broker was one he had not considered–was that naive of him, considering how important information must be in the jianghu? But so far as he knew, the Mountain Ravine Fist was not well known or especially famous–the way his father told the story, the founder had been a rather mundane bodyguard for merchants who developed a personal martial art based on his experiences. It had grown into an art with proper forms and a completed style, but was first and foremost a “school,” rather than a Sect or a Cult. Did that mean information about it would be cheap? Or would the brokers turn him away for wasting their time over a school that never produced any movers or shakers of the Jianghu?

“I see…they are too small to be considered part of any great faction, but they do follow the orthodox methods so far as I know. I shall turn my search to the west!” he answered the scholar, as they came to the Golden River Inn. Precariously balancing the scrolls, this time his head did turn. Drifting from the kitchens, and from several still-warm plates at the tables, rich scents filled his nose so thickly he could almost taste the dishes. Steamed dumplings stuffed to bursting with vegetables or meat, fresh white rice so thick it rose out of the bowls like a cloud, crunchy bread with a soft, fluffy interior, and numerous other smells reached his nostrils. His ears felt the thrum of several whispered conversations in various corners of the room–it was somehow a comforting sound, he thought, this reassurance that within this space one was surrounded by other human beings with the same needs for food and rest.

But there was another current that he could feel, beneath the homely energy of the Golden River. The slight prickle on his skin, a vibration that lingered with each step. Those who exuded power of many sorts gathered here as well. Hyun-Woo would not say that he could feel “the strength” of those around him–his sense for Qi was not yet that developed, to be able to gauge anyone at a glance–but he could simply feel that they had some measure of strength. Swords lay balanced against tables, or across laps while their masters dined. Cups of tea were held in hands that bore many callouses across the knuckles. Sharp eyes, ever ready for danger, occasionally darted to and fro. Yes, with every step Yi Hyun-Woo felt he had truly entered “the underworld,” the Jianghu–

@Cu ChulainnAnd then he almost stepped on someone. If he hadn’t felt a pebble with the edge of his foot, he wouldn’t have paid enough attention–but the pebble clattered on the floor, and something about the clarity of its sound drew his attention. He stopped, looked down…and saw a young man perhaps some years older than himself simply lying there, face down.

“...Um…are you alright, sir?” he asked. He looked towards the little scholar to see if she had noticed anything as well, then back to the fellow on the ground. “Do you need some assistance?”

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"How did she look like?" Xiao Shan hummed as she placed a hand under her chin, listening to the man's words carefully and reading between the line.

She doubts whatever he did was actually legal nor righteous but it is what it is. Though what caught her attention the most was the usage of poison. That definitely fits the works of the Tang family, though whether this one was in isolation or exiled is outside of her knowledge. Patting both knees as she stood up, towering over the man and lifting him to his feet with barely any effort.

"Well," She looked to where he came from earlier. "Here? Lead the way back."

"You are coming for your boys, right?" Xiao Shan tilted her head to the opening of the bush, waiting for a moment before heading out. Not really caring if the person followed her or not, right now, finding this Tang mad woman is far more fun and interesting.

So with that, Xiao Shan traced back the steps. It wasn't particularly difficult either since he was more focused on running and thereby, left quite the trail. Getting closer and sniffing the air carefully, she adjusted the grip on her club and let it rest on her shoulder instead of it being used as a walking stick.
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Bin Myung-Suk
Xincai, Henan
Golden River Inn
@Zeroth

The floor. It was a very familiar place for Myung-Suk. The texture of the bamboo, the smell of spilled wine and tea seeped into the flooring... it was surely a realm that befit a cockroach such as himself. He lingered on the ground for a bit if only to wallow in his own misery. How could he do the job he wished to do if he was the failure he is now? How could he track such an elusive madwoman if he could not simply hold his balance? Perhaps this was another job he would need to regretfully pass up...

A simple query from above had brought Myung-Suk out of his self-loathing stupor, however.

"I'm... fine. Yeah, don't worry about me." Myung-Suk would squeak, to the concerned man who stood before him, sitting up and dusting himself off. He'd look on to the man, eyes darting quickly like a rodent in danger. A quick scan of him would reveal to Myung-Suk a few things. For one, he seemed to be carrying a handful of scrolls, yet he still offered his aide. A rather amiable fellow, especially in an establishment like this. He also seemed to carry a sword... was he also a warrior? It did make sense, given that they stood in the Golden River Inn.

What was most peculiar to Myung-Suk, however, was how this man seemed to absorb the world around him. There was a sense of wonder in his gaze, a freshness that even the cockroach has not seen in ages. It was refreshing, to say the least.

"I'm used to getting stepped on. Most warriors tend to do that when they run into a loser like myself wallowing on the ground. Your kindness is appreciated." Myung-Suk continued as he would steadily stand himself back up. "You're new here, then? I don't believe I recognize you." He would scratch his head as he continued to look the man up and down, before coming to an embarrassing realization.

"Ah, right, sorry! I should introduce myself..." Myung-Suk quickly bowed in respect, as if the young man stood in a station above his own.

"I am... Jin. Yes, just Jin. A fellow warrior... if you believe it fit to call me something like that."
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A Chance Meeting
@Cu Chulainn


“I’m...fine,” came the unconvincing reply from the floor. If the squeak had been any lower, even Hyun-Woo wouldn’t have been able to hear it. “Yeah, don’t worry about me.” The older young man had quick, darting eyes. Hyun-Woo wondered what that meant–he was used to changing pitches in voice, or the cadence of footsteps. And he had gathered a few basics of smiles, frowns, tense cheeks, and the like. But what did it mean, when a person’s eyes moved so quickly? Were his own just slow because he lacked practice?

"I’m used to getting stepped on. Most warriors tend to do that when they run into a loser like myself wallowing on the ground. Your kindness is appreciated.” Hyun-Woo tilted his head. He didn’t realize it, but one of his eyebrows made an unpracticed attempt to raise up.

“Ah...I’m sorry that others haven’t treated you well.” he said, as the baggy-eyed fellow dusted himself off–not that it did much good, given the state of his dress beforehand. A cloying, sour smell, with earthy undertones...Did this man often fall to the ground, or sleep on piles of leaves? That cloth around his neck...this weather wasn’t cold enough for scarves, so was it a traveling hood for rain? Was he...a beggar? The little scholar had mentioned the Beggar's Sect as a potent source of information. Or perhaps he was a refugee from the war--Hyun-Woo had heard tales of martial artists too crippled to keep going as a result of the many vicious battles. Maybe this man was one of those...although he seemed too young?

“You’re new here, then? I don’t believe I recognize you.” The man lifted a hand to scratch himself, and Hyun-Woo blinked. It might go unnoticed by those with sight, but Hyun-Woo had felt many people’s movements around him. Within an arm’s reach or so, the surface of his skin picked up the disturbances in the air if someone did something sudden–if they walked past him at a brisk pace, he felt the cool draft in their wake. If someone waved their hands in front of his eyes–which they had done surprisingly often, whenever he had to explain his disability to other children–he could follow the arc without needing to see the hand, because of the wind it created.

This young man’s movement barely disturbed his surroundings. It was the lack of motion that made it stand out to Hyun-Woo, whereas others would likely not notice for the same reason. Was he one of those martial artists who were skilled in stealth arts?

He introduced himself, with a bow, as...Jin. There was a halt to his voice, and a shift in his breathing.

“This one is Yi Hyun-Woo, of Goryeo. I am not worthy of recognition--My journey upon the Way has only just begun. It is a pleasure to meet you, Sir Jin.” He nodded his head, balancing the pile of scrolls as best he could. Luckily, it looked as if the scholar had secured her room, and he would soon be rid of this burden. “Being that this seems to be a gathering place of the Wulin, from what I can...see...Maybe you would be able to help me? I am in search, you see, of a small school known as the Mountain Ravine Fist. I have a letter to deliver to them, but only know that they are somewhere in Henan Province.”
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Golden River Inn

Song Shi





Despite not being able to see the look of worn pain on his face she could hear the somber hints in his intonation on her soft ears. Song shi was beguiling that much could be gathered from anyone, though some saw here in somewhat of an austere light. “No not at all, it reminded me of a time not too long go” her words lingered for a moment before the musician changed the conversation like a note on his instrument. “Something more upbeat might strike some more coin in your pocket and perhaps a drink to go along with it. Don’t worry I know the owner of this establishment.” “I don’t have much in the way of a request for song, but more on stories. Where are you headed?”


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