The Jewel of Jiāngzhōu

Calm Before the Storm
Thunder Rumbles in the Distance

One month before the confrontation with the butchers, a promise sworn on Liu Zhi’s warriors honor to give Golden Rat Ban the scroll.

Liu Zhi sought allies for the fight. Reaching out to the Hidden Princess, the Demon Slaying Sword Sect, and the Glorious Kingfishers.

Mo Jun also reached out, only to find his onetime allies embroiled in a gang war between the 38 Dragons and the 9413 Hungry Devils and unable to offer help. Undaunted Mo sought power through other means. Stealing the scroll, Mo studied it many nights seeking to integrate the lessons without succumbing to the Record’s malignant wisdom.

At the meeting of the Demon Slaying Sword Sect, one of the elder members recognized the scroll as the infamous Record of the Devil General. Written on flayed human skin, the scroll contained secret battle sutras of a demonic army banished by the first Emperor of Shénzhōu long ago.

Hearing this, Mo swore to never read the scroll again, but his Awakened Po would not give up the scroll easily. It lashed out at all around him, striking down Jin in a Black Rage. At any other time the Raging Demon would have made off with the scroll, but here surrounded by 8 Taoist exorcists there was little the nascent demon could do but be torn screaming and bleeding from Mo Jun, bisecting his soul as a consequence of rejecting this part of himself.

The Demon Slaying Sword Sect sought to take the scroll for safe keeping but relented when they discovered Liu swore on his honor to return it. None of these exorcists were willing to violate the honor of the jianghu, even to contain a dangerous demonic relic of overwhelming power.

Meili took to life as a Butcher with ease. Falling into a new rhythm as #9 Brass Monkey. Extorting “toll” money from traveling merchants. Her new social club drew in each Butcher at least once; strengthening bonds among the group. Under her guidance the ruins of Two Thunders Academy have begun to be rebuilt as a school.

Yuki woke in the forest with blood in her mouth, a dead man with throat torn out lay next to her. Following the trail of devastation back to a small logging camp. Only one gravely wounded young boy survived. He spoke of a wolf and fox demon that tore apart the camp.

Unable to abandon the wounded child, Yuki took him to the monastery. They walked for 3 days, the boy never slept overwhelmed with trauma and continually muttering “can’t sleep, demons will eat me”

At the temple, a well-meaning brother gave the young boy a soporific. As he fell asleep, bones splintered and muscles tore; transforming into the demon-wolf that tore apart the camp.

Clever Yuki conjured illusions upon illusions to confuse and lure the demon-wolf into the root cellar. There it stayed until Liu Zhi returned.

Liu exorcised the demon ridden boy only to discover as with the Jade-Eyed-Demon, it was a corrupted god, the Wood Wolf Star. Who had been warped into a demon by a Bodhist monk in the northern province of Huángzhōu.

The First Among Butchers
The Rat is Revealed

Seconds pass like hours and Mo Jun collapses from the strain of the Raging Demon. For a long moment all is still and silent in the ruins.

To be pierced the next moment with a high-pitched giggle and joyful clapping “That was so cool!” a young voice chimes.

Meili spots her first. Sitting on the rooftop across the street, a young girl of barely 12 years dressed all in green with a gold medallion etched with a dog and the number 11.

“You really showed the fat pig what for!”

“Who are you?” Meili questioned.

The young girl stands with a flourish of her guan dao “Chang-Chan, Green Dog, #11 of the 12 Golden Butchers” Finishing with a bow, “Stick around, my big brothers and sisters will want to talk with you.”

The monks all shared a worried look, except for Mo Jun unconscious on the stone floor.

“We split up, lose her and met up at the tea shop.” Liu whispered. All nod in agreement.

While nimble Yuki darted from sight, Liu shouldered Mo Jun, and Meili bore the massive weight of the Bronze Boar Butcher, Bloody Wei. Each running in a different direction.

“No fair!” Chang-Chan shouted. Taking chase, leaping from rooftop to rooftop after Meili who was darting from alley to alley.

They raced like this for some time, Meili slowed by Wei’s bulk made the best of tight spaces and obscured vision. While Chang-Chan kept easy pace across the tile roofs; until Meili ran into a blind alley.

Chang-Chan giggled again looking down from the roof “I’ve tricked you; you’ve got nowhere to go now.”

Quick thinking Meili plucked the medallion from Bloody Wei and tossed it behind herself out of the blind alley. “Go fetch!”

“Aww, you’re mean big sister” Chang-Chan pouted, jumping down behind the alley to search for the boar medallion.

“And you’re adorable” Meili shouted back and with all the speed she had, left her burdens back in the alley for the Green Dog.

The Lucky Badger, the large teahouse and inn was once the second most impressive building in Red Jade. With the burning of Two Thunders Academy, it now dominated the town center.

Liu and Yuki entered; everyone went silent. Taking a space in the back, Mo Jun was propped up in a chair with Lui and Yuki on each side.

Pao Tan, the Cheerful Innkeeper and Proprietor of the Lucky Badger came over with a pot of green tea and 3 cups. “That was pretty impressive, what you did.” Pouring tea for each monk. “Really showed that Bloody Wei what for. Bastard Deserved it and more.”

“Thank you for the tea” Lui Zhi said, lost in thought and grief.

“He was the worst of them you know” the elderly Pao Tan went on “Needlessly cruel, threw his weight around like the biggest man there was, but even that little green puppy was stronger than him.”

With the cups filled Pao stayed for a moment in silence then went back to his other customers.

Every so often a group of which would come up. Try and talk with the monks. Lui was in no mood to talk, Mo still unconscious, and Yuki in her demon fox form left all the villagers uneasy. Those that did approach did not stay and try long, only bringing drinks, food, and thanks for standing up to the butchers.

Meili returned sometime later.

Sitting down with the rest, “I think the medallions are something more than they seem. The Butchers place more value in them than the lives of those who wear them.”

Liu nodded; the Rooster medallion that was taken from the Yi assassin had disappeared the same day it was acquired. With all that was going on he did not notice when it had happened only that it had disappeared by that night.

Villagers stopped trickling by the table long ago. The only one who would approach now was Pao Lin the innkeeper’s wife and Hostess of the Lucky Badger, with more tea and a cup for Meili.

“How long ago did the academy burn down?” Meili asked her.

“That tragedy happened barely a week ago.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know, we found Lei’s body in the aftermath. He was too badly burnt to tell how he died. But I would bet my last yuan it was the butchers” Tears running down her checks “We buried him behind the temple, in the garden he loved. With tokens of our thanks.”

After a moment to compose herself, Lin continued “He was the only one who stood up to them, the only one they couldn’t push around. And they killed him for it.” Then the old woman walked away.

It was late at that point, the monks resolved to leave town in the morning.

Mo Jun rose with the sun, Lui Zhi was waiting for him.

“We need to talk brother” Lui began.

“We can talk over breakfast” and they went downstairs.

The Pao’s provided eggs, fried pork belly, and congee along with green tea.

“What his happening with you, you’re seething with dark chi and I exorcised you from the area like a demon yesterday. What happened to you?”

“The wounds from the demon tiger, I bear some of its chi now.”

“We have to exorcise it from you”

“I know brother” as he spoke a whisper stirred in Mo Jun’s mind.

I am you, there is no separating us now.

With the speed of though Mo Jun replied in his mind:

I know but this man wants hope to save the past me if I tell him we are one he will seek to purge us.

Good, Now get us that scroll.

I will try but it will be easier to let them think it is safe with someone else then take it, blaming it on the hungry devils or the butchers.

“I have a new master now” Mo spoke aloud “I’m learning how to control it”

“And who is this new master?”

“A good man, I learned much in my time with him and I have much more to learn.”

“I am worried about you brother. You are walking a razors edge over the red and blue lotus hells. I would not see you fall off of it.”

“With your help I’m sure I can make it to the other side. I don’t want to fall into temptation again, I need you to keep the scroll away from me.”

“I will make sure of that.”

What is in that scroll anyway? Mo Jun thought.

Power, power enough for revenge, power to destroy the hungry ghosts. Cutting a bloody justice for our suffering and our love.

Meili and Yuki came down the stairs, to begin breakfast as well.

“Is the plan still to head out after we eat?” Yuki asked.

“Before leaving, I want to perform funeral rites for the departed Master Lei. The last thing anyone needed was for Lei to return as an èguǐ or jiangshi.” Zhi began “Lei was a Bodhist and I a Taoist, not sure if my rites will hold”

“I can show you what is to be done” Meili offered “I’m not ordained myself, I trained as a warrior monk not a priest.”

“Thank you, we leave after the funeral then. Let’s go before anything else happens”

“Leaving so soon mes amies?” came a voice by the door, “that would be tres rude. Come sit and drink with me for a moment.” It was the same yi man who had made an attempt on the life of the princess. Tall and lanky dressed in strange red clothes and feathered hat.

Meili audibly groans in annoyance, as he picks up a tea pot, sits down with the monks and begins to pour.

“What do you want foreigner?” Meili says through gritted teeth.

“Well mon chéri, I came to inquire about the strangers in our town. To see what brought them here.”

“We came to see a friend, found a tragedy and were just about to leave, satisfied?” Zhi declared.

“Your friend was Master Si?” the yi began, with an exaggerated and insincere look of sadness “Mon Dieu, that was a true tragedy.” Only to end with a grin “Such a tragedy that the master set fire to his own school and fled like a coward.”

“You would know about cowardice wouldn’t you, last I saw you; you were scurrying through the walls in fear of me.” Mo growled, “Now scurry back to your hole little rat before I give you more reasons to be afraid.”

The yi only laughed and leaned back “A, yes I remember you now. That was an interesting day.”

“It’s not everyday you fail to kill a princess” Mo said, unnerved and anger rising.

“Mon amie, if I really tried to end la petite princesse, the nation would still be in morning.” Again, he said it with such an obscene grin. This yi truly had no manners.

Meili had had enough “Just go, you filthy foreigner, do not further despoil our air with your breath. Go back among the rats and snakes to whatever dung-heap you crawled from.”

“Very well, bonne journée mes chers, garçons.” And with a tip of his hat, the Red Rooster took is leave, though redder than he entered.

The only thing left was the bill, as Meili went to pay, Pao Tan rebuffed the attempt “Heroes eat and drink free” he said and waved the monks off.

In the back of the gardens beneath a blackened peach tree was the shallow grave of Lei Si the Master of Two Thunders. Unearthing the corpse, Zhi was stunned, his body shook, and fists clenched in fury.

On Master Lei’s chest, glittering in the sunlight was a golden medallion emblazoned with the #9 and a dancing monkey.

“No, no, no” a white-hot tear slid down Zhi’s face. How could this righteous man be one of the 12? How could the butchers kill one of their own? Anger, shame, sadness, fury, all these things mingled in his mind, threatening to overwhelm him.

His grief only pierced by the voice of Master Jin Wei, dead for years, his words echoed on: Go within and retreat from the world. Blunt your sharpness, separate your entanglements, soften your light. Zhi let out his breath, how long he held it he could not say, but at this moment he let it go. “I have a job to do here. Bury a friend.”

“Abide in stillness.
The ten thousand beings rise and flourish
While the sage watches their return.
Though all beings exist in profusion
They all end up returning to their source.
Returning to their source is called tranquility.”

And so Lui Zhi performed the rites and reburied Master Lei Si.

“It looks like we are going to have company” Meili said.

She pointed to the gates out of the city a few hundred meters away was a group of 20. Conspicuous in their stillness, they did not move with the rest of the town. One tall figure in red another short one in green, and a heavily bandaged but unmistakable Bloody Wei, said this group of 20 was trouble.

“What are we going to do?” Zhi pondered.

“Maybe there is a basement” Meili said, beginning her search.

No secret doors were found but she uncovered unmistakable signs of violence. Though the fire and the rubble destroyed most of the evidence, there’s too much blood soaked into the wood and ground. People fought and died here. Near a bloody patch beneath the rubble a blackened throwing dart was found under one of the overturned braziers.

“Think it’s a message that we can’t escape?” Meili asked.

While they were searching, Mo Jun simply walked over to the group of 20. “Excuse me, could you please move, we’re trying to leave.”

A middle-aged man with graying hair in the center of the 20 came forward. “Ah, just the man we’re hoping to meet” As he came to the front, his medallion gleamed in the sun, a rat and the #1.

“Please come let’s talk with all your friends” the #1 Butcher continued, waving over the other monks. He had a broad smile across his face, his somewhat handsome features marred by a brand on his left cheek that marks him as a condemned criminal.

Once the monks regrouped, the man continued “I am Golden Rat Ban, leader of the 12 Golden Butchers. I am impressed with your skill, restraint and charm.” Ban slightly bowed his head, a polite gesture not returned by the monks. “I want to talk peacefully, I’m more than happy to exchange pleasantries but out of respect for you all I offer to be direct with what I want.” For a brief moment, Meili felt the rhythm of the universe synch with the Golden Rat’s stride.

“Very well” Lui Zhi said through gritted teeth. “Let’s go to the tea shop.

“Bring me your finest tea Lao Pan” Ban said as he entered.

The thugs cleared a large table of its prior patrons and enough seats for their leader, the monks and all the other Butchers present but the Bronze Boar. Bloody Wei was left out of the table, made to stand with the rest of the thugs.

It was a large round table, Golden Rat Ban sat followed by young Chang-Chang the Green Dog on his left, to his right sat a comely middle-aged woman dressed in violet noble finery; she too wore a golden medallion with a dragon and the #5. The Red Rooster took the seat closet to the standing thugs and Bloody Wei, who despite his disgrace still wore the boar medallion.

Lao Pan did as he was instructed, brought tea to all at the table. The look of confusion and shame evident in his eyes as he poured tea for his oppressors and the wandering monks he thought his heroes.

“As I said, I am pleased to exchange pleasantries for a time, but out of respect, I offer to be direct in what I want from you.” Ban spoke.

“Please be direct, it would be a refreshing change” Lui said.

“First” Meili interrupted “Why is that flaming cock here?” pointing at the yi.

“Lao Bo?” Ban said, looking to the Red Rooster Butcher. “He’s useful, there are places the rest of us cannot go, that he can. He’s also shockingly competent with his exotic yi fighting arts.”

“Now back to the reason we are all here.” Ban began. “Master Lei Si had a scroll with certain valuable knowledge”

“And so, you killed him to get it?” Lui said, sipping tea.

“That was a terrible tragedy, Master Lei misunderstood me.” Ban spoke sincerely “I offered a small fortune to him in exchange for the scroll”

“What of his killer?”

“Dead, Pearl Monkey and Master Lei were the end of each other.” Ban breathed deeply of the jasmine in his cup. “So now I make the same offer to you, an emperors ransom in exchange for the scroll.”

“And you are certain we have it?” Liu countered.

“I have it on very good authority” Ban said, placing a hand on Chang-Chan’s shoulder “That you have the scroll.” Chang-Chan’s face beamed with pride.

“We do have the scroll, but we are humble monks uninterested in riches” Liu said.

“How about power then? We have a few vacant positions among The Butchers” Ban offered.

“What do you mean? No…” Bloody Wei began, only to fall over dead with a dart piercing his throat.

Keen eyed Meili was the only one who saw Lao Bo flick his wrist. It was the same style of dart she found in the ruins of Two Thunders Academy.

“Wei was a deeply regrettable mistake and constant disappointment.” Golden Rat Ban offered. “As I said, we have some openings. If you won’t trade it for money, how about power?”

“What about the destruction of the 9413?” Mo Jun interjected. “Are you powerful enough to end the 3 motherless killers?”

“For the scroll, I will send every last Hungry Devil to Diyu.” Ban said.

“No.” Lui Zhi stood. “I am the Last Student of Master Jin Wei” He brought up the staff in both hands. “I bear his Xīzhàng that has passed from master to student for 10,000 years.” He entered into Ghost Phoenix’s opening form “I have fought evil men, sorcerers, and demons from hell all my life both as a Glorious Kingfisher and as a Devil Slaying Sword Monk” Lui Zhi stared daggers into Ban’s eyes. “You are a wretched thug, a lowly bandit, we are not handing over the scroll!”

Golden Rat smiled “I was going to offer to fight for it next.” Leaning forward, gripping the table with both hands. “Let’s meet in 3 days for a fair duel, it would be dishonorable to fight you outnumbered like this.”

“Whenever you’re ready” Liu offered, still in his stance.

None knew it, but the #1 Butcher was about to split the table and gut Lui Zhi where he stood, Meili again sensing the rhythm of the world following the Golden Rat’s lead, interrupted the flow of violence.

“We still need to deliver the scroll; we cannot wager it without the consent of our superiors. I offer to stay as a hostage.” Meili took a sip of tea. “You’ve certainly heard the story of the princess run away from her betrothal; I am that princess. I would make a valuable hostage to ensure the scrolls safe return.”

“Princess?” Liu uttered in shock.

Golden Rat stared in disbelief for a moment, “Of course; I didn’t recognize you at first, you shaved your head, but your face still matches the picture.” Ban laughed “Your father hired us to find you, fate is mysterious indeed.”

“It is” Meili continued, “I will stay here with you until they return with the scroll. We need time to deliver it to our superiors and have it examined. Then it can be returned back to you.”

“I know a freebooter when I see one, you march to no man’s drum.”

“This is true” Meili smiled into her cup “But my friends do, they need to return the scroll for a time, and I am free to stay. A hostage to ensure they return the scroll to you.”

Ban paused for a moment to consider. “One month, if they are not back with the scroll in one month, I will give you back to your father.”

Meili agreed, “I will join the butchers until then.”

“Regrettably, all I have to offer is the boar medallion. I do not have the dancing monkey anymore.”

“I do” Liu stated, standing up from his stance, pulling the golden disk from his robes. “Here, take a rank more fitting for your skills.” Tossing the medallion to Meili.

She grabbed from the air without looking and in one fluid motion brought it to her neck. Never taking her eyes of off Ban.

“How do you have that? It wasn’t on Pearl Monkey” Ban wondered aloud as Meili tied it around her neck.

Liu stood dumbstruck. Was the Master of Two Thunders not Pearl Monkey after all?

Golden Rat Ban stood up “Do you swear to return with the scroll within 1 month? Swear it on your honor as a member of the jianghu.” he said, extending closed right fist covered in left open hand.

“I do” Liu said after a moment of recovery, returning the gesture.

The oath was now sealed with the ritual of Bao Quan. To break such an oath would bring grave dishonor and invite every wandering warrior in the province the oath-breaker’s door, determined to teach them a lesson.

“We are done then, until we meet again in one month.” Ban intoned.

Chang-Chan took hold of Meili’s arm “It’s so wonderful to have you with us big sister! Now we have the same number as the boys.”

And so, the #1 butcher left with all his subordinates following him out. Meili, wearing the Dancing Monkey Medallion, fell in rhythm behind and to the left of Golden Rat Ban.

Return to Red Jade.
The Tragedy of Two Thunders.

The next 3 months pass in relative peace.

Mo Disappeared the same night he arrived in the temple. Departing to train with the Devil Doctor, but not before saying goodbye to Jin. She was grateful for the rescue but did not know Mo was responsible for her predicament. She only knew that he saved her. Mo left without contradicting that impression.

Lui Zhi searched for him but could not find him, searching only the countryside for signs of destruction or demonic activity.

The seal was returned to Xi Feng, she did not even realize it had gone missing during the confusion of that day and thanked Zhi for remembering it. Zhi left without contradicting that impression.

At Mo Jun’s urging Jin stayed at the temple and began training. She wanted to learn to defend herself. Lui Zhi also began to train her in the ways of the exorcist.

After a month, Jin Yong was back on his feet. It was at this point Zhi revealed it was one of the 12 Golden Butchers who made an attempt on the princess’s life. A Yi man who bore the number 10 medallion embossed with w rooster. But the medallion itself had since gone missing. Xi Feng thanked him, declaring she would officially report the matter and ordered Zhi to secrecy on his honor as a Kingfisher.

2 Days later Jin Yong left the temple. No one asked where he went.

Meili followed where the rhythms lead, occasionally stopping back to train with Xi Feng. Whose skill improved with leaps and bounds. Even managing, under Abbot Ping’s guidance, to land a solid blow that knocked Meili off balance once. Meili was secretly proud of her cousins’ progress.

In the third peaceful month a letter arrived for Liu Zhi:

_Dear Fellow Brother of the Jianghu,

I hope this message finds you well and entreat you to consider the request contained within. There is a powerful artifact in my possession that I wish to see properly dealt with.

This object is of considerable value, but it also carries a dark destiny. I have shepherded this item for some years ever since my days on the Northern Mountains, but it has recently become clear to me that it is no longer safe for me to keep.

I have come to the difficult conclusion that I must pass this responsibility on, and after much consideration I realize you are the best candidate to take up this responsibility.

If you are agreeable to at least discussing this matter, please find me at my Two Thunders Academy in Red Jade Center.

With Respect,

Lei Si._

As Lui, Meili and Yuki set out the next day for Red Jade, Mo Jun came strolling through the Tiger Dragon gate. He was a different man now, thickly muscled, covered in strange scars.

Meili noticed his rhythm was off from before but could discern no more than that.

“Brother Mo, where have you been?” Liu asked, he could no longer sense the demon chi, but a heavy aura hung about him all the same.

“Training for the battle ahead”

“Jun, before you left, I saw you were tainted with corrupt Chi”

“It could have been the Devil Doctor’s treatment to keep me alive.”

“Maybe, but I would like to examine you to be sure.”

“No need. I am fine”

It was two days travel to along the Jade road to reach Red Jade Center. Those days also passed without issue. Save for Mo constantly avoiding Liu.

The smell of old smoke hung in the air in the final approach to Red Jade. Liu sped on ahead. Last they were here, 3 buildings dominated the town: The Lucky Badger, a tea house and inn; the Butcher’s compound on the plateau overlooking the town; the final one was Master Lei Si’s Two Thunders Academy, now only the burned out skeleton remained.

Liu and the rest head there immediately. The one remaining place of defiance to the Butchers is now gutted by fire and mostly collapsed. Overcome with grief they cannot bear to stay and search through the ruins of this once noble place.

As they turn to leave a stocky, sloppy looking man with leering eyes meets them with 12 armed thugs. Around his neck is a golden medallion can be seen embossed with an image of a wild boar and the number 12. The thugs spread out to trap everyone in the ruins.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” The 12th Butcher shouts, “Thieves going through our town?”

“We are but simple wandering monks” Zhi responded.

“Nay, I saw you all skulking through here. How about my boys hold you all down and I make sure you’re not stealing from me?” He says hands on the twin foot long brass rods at his hip. He stands stunned for a moment, before coughing violently, gasping for breath.

Mo Jun had whipped a rock faster than the eye can see into the 12th Butchers throat.

Meili spun low, with an arcing leg sweep kicking up a cloud of chocking ash. The butcher and his gang swung wildly. Yuki caught a glancing blow from a thug’s club while Liu was solidly hit by one of the brass rods. The Iron Tiger style of the 12th Butcher cleaving through Zhi’s Chi Armor.

Drawing upon the lessons of the Ghost Phoenix Liu weaved through and around the untrained thugs spiraling around to bring his xīzhàng crashing into the 12th Butcher’s head, cracking his skull.

Sensing blood in the water, Mo Jun tore through the ash cloud, it clung around him a demonic silhouette echoing his own fury. He grabbed one nameless thug by the throat to hurl that doomed fool into one of his fellows, with the sound of shattering bones as they both collide with standing pillar.

Following it with another burst of speed through the ash, directly at the 12th Butcher, grabbing 2 bricks from the ruins as he went, to crash them together against his already broken skull.

The ash cloud fell, the butcher had fallen as well. His head caved in, coughing up blood, barely clinging to life.

Then they all felt it this time. That seething Demon Chi radiating from Mo Jun. Bloody tears mixed with ash caked his face. His eyes the same green, with neither pupil nor iris, as the Jade Eyed Demon that nearly killed him not so long ago in that forest along the Trade Road.

The ash now caught in his terrible aura was whipped up into a dust devil, as what was once Mo, turned with leaping roar at the half-melted iron statue of the Bodhisattva. Tearing it apart with his bare hands. Ripping open its chest, his retrieves a small black octagonal rod.

Lui Zhi has seen enough, he mutters a prayer to the 8 Immortals and strikes his xīzhàng into the marble floor, sanctifying the area as a holy place for as long as his staff is imbedded. The Raging Demon howls and drops the case, fleeing to the edge of the sacred space. Lui retrieves the object, a scroll case made of a bizarre black metal, engraved with scenes of demons and monsters fighting a vast army led by a great dragon.

The Devil Doctor of Feng Street
Darkness Takes Root

Pulling the carriage up the mountains the little fox Yuki passed out after finally crossing the Tiger Dragon Gate of the temple. Monks ended their training early today to help. Thinking quickly Meili announced the arrival of the Royal Jade Merchant seeking help from a bandit attack. Doctors were summoned to take the grievously wounded Jin Yong to the infirmary.

Alone in the carriage princess Yu sobbed for the loss of the only people she could remotely call friends. Meili accompanied her grief on the flute. Tired Yuki tried to comfort the princess, but the touch of the huli jing provoked a panic in the princess, who started screaming and flailing about with a hidden dagger.

“Sui Yu, Imperial Cousin of Shangdi, Calm yourself at once!” Meili shocked with the authority of her own voice stood still for a moment. So did the princess, only to collapse into Meili’s arms.

“Everyone I cared for is gone, I’ve lost them all to my own weakness” Yu sobbed. “I can’t stand by anymore. You’re one of the strongest fighters I’ve seen, Meili please teach me to fight.”

Shocked further still Meili gently hugged her cousin “I don’t know if I can”. Nothing more was uttered in the carriage, save for a gentle soothing hum.

Time passed, word spread, and the few monks who knew what the title Royal Jade Merchant meant informed the abbot. Abbot Ping and the 5 senior masters of the temple came knocking on the carriage door, inviting their visitors to tea and give an official welcome.

Yu spoke, her voice calm and unwavering. “I shall be there shortly”. Dressing and fixing her makeup with the help of Meili and Yuki.

“I hope you will understand when I say that I can’t teach you cousin” Meili said while braiding Yu’s hair.

“I do understand; your style is unique. I could hardly keep meeting you a secret if I’m fighting just like you”.

Princess Yu slipped back into her role with a practiced ease. The turmoil of her heart hidden behind the mask of her station.

Upon arriving at the Great Hall, the Abbot and the master’s kowtowed once to the imperial cousin. “It is an honor to take tea with you” the kindly old abbot said. Giving up his seat at the masters table to the Princess.

Yuki sat at the princess’s left, regal in her nine-tailed fox form. Meili to the Princess’s right, in a silk gown borrowed from the princess; her own robes stained with Yu’s makeup.

The Abbot and the master’s took it in turns to pour tea for the princess and make pleasant conversation. After the formalities were done, the topic changed to what had occurred. Yu, Meili and Yuki shared their parts of the tale.

“So that is what brought us here” Yu finished, “So many deaths because of my weakness” Though her heart broke in the telling the princess’s composure never wavered. “I need to become stronger; I demand you teach me kung-fu.”

Abbot Ping knew an imperial demand is not something that can be easily refused. He also knew the honor of teaching an Imperial and heard the steel in the young girls’ voice. “I would be honored to personally instruct you.” Ping said with a bow of his bald head. “I will send a message to your family to let them know what is occurring”

“No, absolutely not. I will send word to my family.” Yu said, there was a sharpness to her words that would brook no debate.

“As you command Princess” the abbot intoned. “We will have the induction ceremony tonight, but too many people know you are here, and we do not need Lin Kuei infiltrating the temple again.”

“What do you propose then?”

“The Princess needs to be seen leaving in her carriage, Yuki we need you to impersonate the princess and take her carriage down the mountain. It can be stored in the back of the stables at the first mountain waystation.”

Yuki arched her back, fur receding and flesh flowing into a simulacrum of the young girl. “This I can do.” A vulpine grin spread across her face “Cousin Meili, help me with my clothes and makeup.”

Mo Jun bore the dying love of his life across his back. Moving with speed only attainable by a master of Lightning Serpent, bursting into the humble shop of Devil Doctor Wong, gasping for breath “Help! she’s poisoned.” Liu Zhi followed behind with the bloody purse.

In a moment of restraint Dr. Wong only bent 1 of the acupuncture needles in his hand from frustration at the interruption. But only for a moment as he took in the medical emergency before him. “My apologies yéye” dr. Wong said to the old man on his table, silver needles sticking out of his bare back “but I’m needed” handing the old man an opium pipe “here, relax.”

Dr. Wong came over and began to examine the unconscious Jin “Tell me what happened?”

“She was poisoned by Poison Fox and they cut off her hand.”

“Do you have the hand” Wong asked, as he began to apply strangle knots to the veins and arteries with silver needles and silk thread.

“I do” said Lui

“Pack it in the ice cabinet over there” Wong gestured, the shop was small, cramped, beneath shelves packed with exotic medicines and herbs was a waist high chest. Lui opened it to place the hand in. It was lined with ice and filled with vials.

Everyone knew the rumors of the Devil Doctor of Feng street, the cantankerous medical miracle man who could reattach limbs. That his prodigious skill and fierce temper came from supernatural sources.

It was a hot day in Bao Jiang, Lui quickly pushed aside the thought of why there was no water puddled around or inside the ice chest.

“She’s lost a lot of blood” Wong began.

Only to be quickly interrupted by Mo Jun “Then give her mine” as he tore off his shirt.

The Devil Doctor smiled, “Most people are not so quick to offer that up” he brought out hollow silver needles connected by a thin oilcloth tube. Out of politeness Liu ignored the strange symbols carved in the needles and painted on the tube as dr. Wong began the transfusion.

Once the color returned to Jin’s cheeks, dr. Wong retrieved the hand and began to suture veins and arteries back together. At one point producing something akin to knitting needles to bring the nerves back together.

As the last stitch was set to bring the wrist back together, he pulled out the silken thread binding the blood vessels shut. Color slowly trickled back into Jin’s hand.

As Wong pricked her fingers each one twitched in turn.

“What about the poison?” Mo Jun asked.

“What was she poisoned with?”

“Poison Fox Fen gave her something, I don’t know what”

“That will be hard, Poison Fox uses complex blends. I’ve never had enough time to save one of her victims before”

“There has to be something you can do.” Mo Pleaded.

“Maybe, you were quick to give her your blood, do you love her?”

“I do”

“Does she love you?”

“I, I don’t know”

“It’s ok, I can work with that”

“Excuse me” Liu interjected, “You can work with that?”

“I think it would be best if you took a walk” Devil Doctor Wong said, there was a predatory gleam in his otherwise gentle face.

Choosing to ignore the teachings of his late Master Jin Wei; Liu Zhi did just that. Walking 108 paces away from the Devil Doctor’s door to sit down and set his begging bowl.

The old doctor began to move with a speed and vigor of a man half his age.

“Time to sleep yeye” Wong said, as he picked up the bent and charred silver needle to gently place it in the base of his patient’s head. Picking up the elderly, now unconscious man, delicately placing down him in a corner.

Wong’s skin flushed red “There” flame licked from his mouth as he spoke “now to really begin”. The Devil Doctor flung hidden sheets across the 4 walls of his shop. They were adorned with symbols Mo Jun had never seen before, they hurt to look at.

Devil Doctor Wong sliced open Jin’s tongue with an obsidian razor, repeating the process with Mo Jun.

“Grip her hands and start sucking the poison out.”

Golden needles pierced Mo and Jin’s hands, binding them together. Wong began chanting in the Hell Sorcerer’s dread tongue drawing a circle around the pair with a metallic black powder.

The circle complete, the Devil Doctor performed the thunderbolt mudras and breathed fire into the powder, igniting with violet flames.

At the burst of light Mo Jun felt something oily flow down is throat. He felt cold and ill. Weakness overtook him and he fell.

Mo awoke on the floor, unpinned from Jin. Dr. Wong sitting next to him.

“Your lady-friend is going to be fine, now let’s talk about you.”

“I know, the poison is in me now. I felt it.”

“Believe it or not, that’s the lesser problem right now.” Wong mused “You’re also seething with demon chi at the moment. It’ll eat you alive if we don’t deal with it”.

“Will it make me stronger, strong enough to wipe out the 9413 before the end?”

“Maybe, after it devours your body and soul and you’re just a mindless beast.”

“Can you teach me to control it?”

“You are just full of surprises for a monk” Wong sighed “I gave up teaching a long time ago but if you’re looking to take out the Hungry Devils and the 3 Motherless Killers, I’d be happy to teach you. Come back when you’re ready.

Mo took Jin on his back again, all the way up the mountains to the Wu-Dang temple.

Mo Jun and Lui Zhi arrived just in time to witness the final part of the initiation ceremony. Abbot Ping ritually shaving the head of Princess Yu. When that was over, he handed her the robes of a warrior monk initiate.

“Everyone, welcome your new sister: Xi Feng, home.”

Amidst clapping, Meili can over to Mo and Lui, “I have important news, the Imperial Jade Merchant has left this afternoon and we have a new arrival Xi Feng. Understand?”

Mo laid down Jin next to him. With his burden set down, “Tell me again in the morning, I need to sleep.” Mo relaxed, just a bit, and was overcome by weariness, from emotion as much as blood loss.

“No, it’s really important that we talk about this now.” Meili urged “The royal jade merchant has left the temple.”

Mo’s world turned sideways, he started to stumble and fall. Until a surge of demon chi stiffened his legs giving him strength to stand and walk away.

Lui Zhi, the last student of renowned Master Exorcist Jin Wei, felt this swirl of demon chi around Mo; “I understand” he said, picking up Jin, taking her to the infirmary.

A New Master Emerges
Everyone is Disappointed

Mo Jun and Lui Zhi leave the depths of Diyu for the House of Soft Sighs. One of the premiere courtesan houses in the city, a sprawling 3 story building and calm gardens.

“I shouldn’t go in there, they’ll recognize me” Mo Jun said.

“I’ll go and ask for Jin”

Lui, inquired about Madame Lì Lì Húa, seeking an audience to ask about Jin. The Madame, she was busy entertaining city magistrates and guard captains and would be some time.
Outside, Mo recognized a friendly face, Golden Chrysanthemum one of the courtesans and a friend of Jin’s.

“Chrysi, it’s Mo, I need to talk to you”

“Mo, it’s been awhile. You look…” he looked Mo, still covered in the filth of Diyu, up and down. “Good?”

“Have you seen Jin, I think she might be on trouble?”

Pulling Mo in close, he whispered “What the hell have you done now?”

“It’s the Hungry Devils, they’re threatening Jin to get to me”

“Goddammit Mo!”

“I know, I know, it’s my fault” Mo sighed, “Have you seen her?”

“No, no one has seen her in two days” If looks could kill, Mo would be on the ground right now

“I checked her apartment, and Madame Li is doing everything she can to find her.”

“I know what I need to do know, could you do me a favor. My friend is inside. An older Taoist monk, could you tell him to come outside?”

“I can do that, you better bring her home safe Mo; if anything happens to her, I’m gonna take your balls.” Then he was off, to inform Lui his friend needed him outside. The two monks were off to Hell Market.

Back at the crossroad before the market, Mo turned to Zhi. “I need to borrow the seal.”

“Are you really planning to give it over?”

“No, I have a plan to buy some time.” Mo produced a small jade statue from a pocket. “I’m going to give them a part of it”

Zhi Recognized the statue “How long have you been stealing from the princess?” His disappointment was palpable. “How long have you been robbing the people who try to help you?” Zhi asked, handing over the seal.

“Old habits.” Mo took the seal and pressed the image to the bottom of the statue and wiped part of it away. “This will be the last time” Mo said, giving the seal back. “Keep it safe from me.”

“Don’t worry, I will.”

The Hell Market, the infamous and one semi-permanent fixture of Diyu. Nearly anything can be had for the right price here. Today it occupied one of the larger caverns beneath the city. It was crowded and cramped with people and goods, the air thick with opium smoke, and with all the torches and lanterns there were flickering shadows everywhere.

Mo knew where to go, the Hungry Devils tent was much larger now, but it was still in place he remembered. Mo was taken inside, Zhi sat down outside, set his begging bowl, and began to mediate. The occasional coin clinked, tossed by a killer or thief seeking good luck.

Mo was sat down on silk pillows in front of a low table. One thug handed him an opium pipe another poured a shot of baijiu. Across from him was the “little brother” of the 3 Motherless Killers. The least subtle and most volatile of them all, but who needed subtlety when you stood 7’ and rippled with muscles the way Iron Shark Kong did.

“The Prince of Pockets comes through again" Iron Shark said smiling. “I was worried I would have to do something unkind to that woman.” He took a puff from his own pipe. “Word is the princess has already left the city” He took a shot of baijiu and slammed the glass down. “but here you are!” He poured another shot. "I knew we could count on you, I’d love to hear the tale of your daring heist.”

“That’s the thing” Mo said, reaching into his robes “I only have a part of the seal.” Mo noticed the thugs around him were gripping their knives. “I got a partial imprint.”

“You know what Poison Fox said, get the seal or you never see Jin again. The imprint is useless”

“Stealing from Imperials is tricky business.” Mo said, “I just need more time; you can have this half for now.”

“Sure thing, I can take this trinket now, and I can give you half of Jin” Kong said, smiling like his namesake “Then you can have the other half of her when I get the other half of the seal.”

“I just need a little more time, just take this in good faith” Mo said, sliding the statuette to Iron Shark.

“Alright, alright” Iron Shark said, rising. “You can have more time, I’ll be right back.”

He stepped out the back of the tent where Mo heard the rattling of chains, muffled cries, a sickening thwack, and shrill screams.

Bursting over the table and out the back Mo was stunned for a moment to see Jin, chained to the ground. Iron Shark putting her severed right hand in a silk purse.

“Here” Iron Shark said with a smile, tossing the purse to Mo. “A gesture of good faith”

“Zhi! Help!” Mo yelled, snatching the bloody purse out of the air, tossing it back into Iron Shark’s face while lunging forward with a snap kick to Iron Shark’s knee with enough force to shatter an oak tree.

But Iron Shark did not break. Instead lashing out with one giant arm. Though it was dark, and he was fast, Mo lacked the room to easily move in the confined space and his reflexes were dulled by opium in the air. Mo Jun came crashing down to the stone floor, pinned in place by one massive hand with a death grip on the back of his neck.

“I want you to know, I’m not angry; I’m just disappointed” Iron Shark said. Looking up at his lackey “kill her” he said with a resigned sigh.

Mo Jun would latter recount how this moment crystalized all his training; to channel his mind and body to deliver a blow so quickly even thoughts cannot beat it. This blow has no flourish or extra motion, everything is a perfect line between attacker and defender at maximum speed. The Serpent Struck Like Lightning directly into the nerve cluster of Iron Shark’s arm. As Lightning Splits the Tree, so did that strike break Iron Shark’s mighty grip.

Mo looked up just in time to see a xīzhàng soar through the air, nailing a hungry devil to the cavern wall. The devil’s knife clatters to the ground as a bead of crimson falls down Jin’s ashen throat. Lui Zhi springboards over Iron Shark to tourniquet Jin’s bleeding stump.

It was here, Iron Shark picked up his weapon. It was too big to be called a dao. Massive, thick, heavy, and far too rough. 18 rings clacked along its spine as Iron Shark raised it up into the majestic and powerful opening stance of the Iron Dragon master: Scales and Teeth Unto Like Iron, and brought it crashing down to split Mo in half.

When the dust cleared, it had only split the stone floor, Mo kipped up faster than thought, ran up the spine of the dao to drive a knee into Iron Shark’s face.

Unfazed, the behemoth swung in a wide arc. Mo faded out of range of the swing only to rush in with a lightning fast jab. The dao rang like a bell and Mo’s knuckles cracked as the flat of the blade intercepted his strike. Flesh Breaks on Iron after all.

Lui moved behind Iron Shark, with a low sweep to the legs and thrust into his chest. Such a practiced technique could have knocked a wild northern stallion prone, but Iron Shark did not bend.


The fighters turned to see Poison Fox Fen gripping Jin’s throat from behind, wedging open her jaws with one hand, a clear liquid dripping from a glass applicator into Jin’s mouth in the other. “Enough fucking around.” Poison Fox shoved Jin to the ground. “_Just a few drops_ are all it takes. Let’s see, guessing her weight, you have until sunrise before she dies screaming.”

Looking at Iron Shark, “I’m disappointed little brother, broken meat isn’t worth anything.” Poison Fox chides.

“Sorry Fox” Iron Shark sounded mildly embarrassed.

“I forgive you,” Poison Fox said with a loving kindness. To then strike down barehanded, shattering the last chain binding Jin. “You have until sunrise to exchange the seal for my antidote. Take her to the Devil Doc, rumor is he can reattach the hand." Staring Mo dead in the eyes "Now get out of my sight and don’t comeback without my fucking seal!”

And so, they did.

The Newest Temptation of Mo Jun.
Once A Thief Always a Thief?

The night before leaving Red Jade, Meili draws out a simple bamboo flute and takes up lotus position in a dark corner of the Drunken Badger Inn. Closing her eyes and disregarding the rest of the world for a time as she plays a simple but moving song. The inn quiets and the murmurs come to a stop for a time, listening in rapt attention. As the melody ends, as silently as she entered Meili walks away, several patrons wipe tears from their eyes and pass coins into her hands. Alms for the monk and payment for the song.

In the hours before arrival at the governor’s palace, baths are drawn to prepare. Princess Yu invited Meili and Yuki to her private bath. Mo Jun and Liu Zhi were left to join the common bath shared by the rest of the caravan.

The private bath of the princess was a great luxury on the long dusty road. The smell of lavender, chrysanthemum and rose was heavy in the air, and an attendant played softly on a guzheng.

“Now that we are alone, I want to thank you for saving my life.” The princess said “I know why you left, and I’m going to have to tell your father I found you eventually…”

At these words Meili began to sink under the waters, suppressing a sense of foreboding.

“but” the princess continued “my brother and your father are both bores. I would take pleasure in tormenting them with news of your location.” Meili halted, her eyes just above the water. “I can drag it out for maybe a year.”

“Th-thank you princess” Meili whispered sitting up in the bath again.

Meili fell once again into the familiar rhythm of serving the princess. Washing her hair and braiding it into a magnificent coiffure.

In the common bath Mo was so unused to bathing, soap in the eyes was mistaken for a surprise attack. Flailing about until Jin-Yong grabbed ahold of him with his one remaining arm and taking a bucket of water in his teeth dumped it over Mo Jun’s head.

The rest of the time was spent dressing, preparing, and Yuki instructing Mo Jun how not to embarrass himself.

Located on the outskirts of Băo Jiāng, the governor’s palace is a sprawling estate. Home to the provincial governor of Jiāngzhōu, a nobleman appointed by the empire to govern and protect the area. The current governor is Meng Gouzhi, sometimes called Tenth Tael Meng due to his habit of pocketing a percentage of all taxes, tariffs, tithes, and tributes for himself (though not to his face).

Warmly receiving the princess Yu and her entourage, Meng Gouzhi and all attendants kowtow once to the imperial cousin. They are brought to a lavish banquet, sharing pleasantries and stories. Jin-Yong relates the tale of how the monks they are traveling with saved the princess’s life. Upon taking true notice of his other guests, a subtle change came over the smiling and charming Governor Gouzhi; though the smile never left his face, it certainly left his eyes when he recognized the 3 Taoist monks. If there was anything more, it was restrained by imperial decorum.

The monks acquitted themselves well in this minor game of nobles. Even poor Yuki, who was sickened by the choked shengtong of the governor’s palace. After the feast, each guest was shown to a private room.

Sensing death approach, Mo Jun awoke to see a woman in a porcelain fox mask sitting on his open window. Her posture was relaxed, arms on the sill while her legs gently kicked. But Mo Jun knew even in this harmless pose, Poison Fox Fen was still one of the deadliest people he knew.

“I hope your skills are still sharp o’ Prince of Pockets.” She spoke softly, “I need an encore of your greatest theft. Steal the princess’s imperial seal. Deliver it to Iron Shark at the Hell Market. Or the next time you see your dear Jin will be at her funeral.”.

His heart sunk into the pit of his stomach, but managed to choke out, “As you say Sister Fox, Brother Shark will have the seal.”

“Good, you have until the princess leaves the city, then…” Poison Fox drew a finger across her throat, spread her arms wide and gracefully tipped backwards out the window, disappearing into the misty night.

Mo Jun returned to an uneasy sleep.

In the morning Mo Jun, while avoiding brother Liu Zhi, sought out his temple sister Yuki, inquiring about the imperial seal.

“Why do you want to know?” Yuki asked.

“I keep a collection of stamps" Mo Jun lied "The imperial seal would be the height of my collection. I’d just like to see it.”

“I’m not sure if I believe you.” Yuki replied.

“Why would your brother lie to you?” Liu Zhi interjected, coming from around a corner. Mo Jun suppressed a yelp at the sight of his brother. “We’ve trained with him, fought beside him. Our brother would never deceive us”.

“You’re right, he would never lie to us.” Yuki responded. “I haven’t seen any seal while I’ve been waiting on the princess. You’ll have to ask her yourself”.

Mo Jun took his leave, and the rest went to prepare for the return to Băo Jiāng.

At the city center the many shi of the city were in attendance including the magistrate who quickly convicted and sentenced the 3 monks. Along with many gong, nong, and shang who came to witness an imperial proclamation.

Striding up the dais, teenaged Yu doffed her robe, standing before the officials of the city in all her imperial splendor.

“I was sent here by the Son of Heaven, to mediate the recent troubles between the Wu-Dang temples and Băo Jiāng.” Her voice was warm and soft as summer rain “Upon arrival in Jiāngzhōu I was most disappointed to receive word the monks were already convicted and sentenced to die”. The magistrates withered under her gaze as baleful as the desert sun.

“Upon my arrival I was beset by assassins, poisoned, nearly dying.” The crowd began to writhe and murmur in outrage. “The very monks so quickly accused and convicted saved my life many times over, even at great risk to their own.” Reaching into her robes revealing the imperial seal from a silken purse around her neck.

She raided the seal above her head, “By the power invested in me as an emissary for the Emperor, by the laws of the empire and under the Eyes of Heaven; these death warrants…” Her voice is as firm as iron and terrible as thunder. “Are void, and the monks are innocent!” The seal crashes down with a flourish.

Liu Zhi, who senses trouble is coming, scans the crowd. The magistrate who sentenced him has fainted; Still standing only with the aid of his attendants to each side. The governor is shocked, and an anxious energy seethes through the crowd. There it is: a ye man; pale as alabaster with hair like buckwheat, flicks his hand.

Still blessed with the instincts of a Glorious Kingfisher, Zhi rushes to the side of the princess. His xīzhàng clashes down on the stage, the poison dart once aimed the princess’s throat trapped underneath.

The other monks follow suit, rushing to protect Yu. Mo Jun, the Prince of Pockets once again, seizes the opportunity, stealing the seal without notice.

Jin-Yong ushers the princess into their armored carriage. Taking the her to the safety of the Daoist temple, along with Yuki, Meili, and the two remaining imperial guards.

Mo and Zhi go after the ye assassin. Rushing through back alleys, down a drainage ditch into Diyu: the underworld of Băo Jiāng. A nearly impossible to navigate maze of collapsed tunnels and flooded chambers. Mo Jun: thanks to his misspent youth, knew the tunnels like the back of his hand; quickly closing the distance to the wretched ye dog.

This cur was not without tricks however, making obstacles and collapsing tunnels as he passed; but Mo Jun was a master of the light body technique who passed through the collapsed timbers and ruble with ease and with the unmatched speed of the Lightning Serpent style outpaced the tunnels collapse. Quickly closing what seemed an insurmountable distance.

With one last desperate gambit, the ye squeezed through cracks in the wall, but his necklace caught on a rusty nail. Mo grabbed the dog’s collar and with a desperate pull, ripped the necklace away. The ye slunk away into the shadows, but Mo Jun was left with a golden medallion engraved with a rooster and the #10.

The royal carriage was traveling to the mountains, the road narrowing with every li. Meili looking at just the right time at just the right place, saw a deadfall trap in the trees just before the bridge across the raging river below.

“Stop the carriage, we have an ambush coming”. Meili, Jin-Yong, and the two remaining guards readied themselves for oncoming storm. Yuki stayed inside to personally guard the princess, taking on her 9-tailed form.

20 men rushed the carriage. Meili, dancing to the drums of war, dipped and swayed through them, disrupting their careful formation. The foolhardiest among them rushed her with a spear.

Meili deflected its tip into the ground and pulled the shaft up in an arc, vaulting her attacker into the deadfall trap. The music of Meili’s bangles punctuated with the cymbal clash of the deadfall crushing the hapless fool.

Everyone paused for a moment as the guards rallied. Each was an imperial soldier, easily worth 5 regular men, but it was still 19 to 4.

The guards fought with valor, but it was still 11 to 3.

2 tried to catch Meili in a pincer movement, it did not work. She out maneuvered one, using him as springboard. Rising into the air only to descend, crushing the spine of the second with her landing.

The imperial guards fought with a fury that would make their ancestors proud, but it was still 7 to 2.

Meili struck out at the ambush leader, to shatter his sword and enemy morale with it. It was a massive 2-handed dao with 9 rings through the spine. Her Storm Phoenix Style beat a staccato rhythm against the blade, only to be punctuated with the steel crescendo of the dao biting into Meili’s shoulder.

The August Star of Heaven smiled down at the display of dedication to duty shown that day by the imperial guards, it was now 1 to 2.

One armed Jin Yong, lashed out with the dreaded secret technique of the Stone Tiger Style, a savage unexpected strike to catch the leader off guard and overwhelm his defenses. But it was to no avail, the leader caught The Tiger Coming Down the Mountain in the rings of his dao as the Serpent Struck the Hand, turning his defense into a powerful rising slash; splitting open Jin-Yong’s Chest.

It was now 1 to 1 as Hell smiled back.

Meili smiled too, rushing the leader. Tackling him over the edge into the raging river below.

The Princess screamed, bursting from the carriage, moving with a speed she never knew she had. Leaping over the edge to catch the hem of Meili’s simple cotton robe. Stopping with a jerk as her own silk sash caught in Yuki’s strong jaws. The little fox dragged them both back up the sheer cliff.

By some grace of the Jade Emperor, Meili found Jin’s heart still beating. Crying, princess Yu tore her silken clothes into bandages, to save the life of the only friend she had left.

The imperial stallion died in the attack; it was left to stout Yuki to pull the carriage up the Wu-Dang. The effort was exhausting but she made it to the temple’s Tiger-Dragon gates before passing out.

Mo Jun stood at a crossroads in Diyu, the Hell Market to his left, his temple brother and the way above ground to his right.

“Brother, I need to tell you something” Mo Jun turned to face Lui Zhi. Dropping to his knees in the muck of sewers.

“What’s going on brother?”

“The Demons of my past have returned to haunt me. Before we met, I was in the 9413, I stole a magistrate’s seal for them.” Mo Jun lowered his head and raised up the stolen Imperial Seal.

“Now the woman I love will be killed by the 9413 unless I deliver this imperial seal to them in the Hell Market.”

Zhi takes the seal from Mo “How did you get this?” It was such a simple thing of white marble and carved ivory, but in the wrong hands it could steal lives and fortunes.

“I took it while everyone was distracted by the attempt on Yu’s life. I had nothing to do with the attempt I swear. I just seized the moment.”

Mo Jun looks up with tears in his eyes “I can’t do it with you here next to me. You took me in, saved my life when everyone turned on me and I had nothing. Please save me once again brother.”

“Perhaps you should convert to Bodhism, shed your attachments to this woman and your past.” Lui Zhi said coldly.

“I can’t, I love her and she’s going to die!” Mo Jun fell to the ground in full prostration before his temple brother. Mo’s head now buried in Diyu’s filth. “Please! Please help me brother, I’m begging you.”

Lui Zhi knelt and took Mo by the shoulders “Alright Brother, let’s go save your love.” and helped Jun to his feet and into the sunlight above.

New friends. New Foes?
Enter the 12 Golden Butchers

The night of the fete Lui Zhi slept fitfully, visited by the Gold Tiger spirit. Along with heartfelt thanks the tiger god reveals he was cursed by a bodhist priest in the Tiānqiáo Mountains at the northern edge of the province. Departing the spirit said “In the village of Red Jade, seek out Lei Si, Master of the Two Thunders Academy. A skilled physician, among other things. He owes me a debt. Tell him, Hǔ yé jiāngjūn says the debt is cleared, if he helps you.”

During departure preparations, Little Sipping Water informed the princess that the assassin was a member of the Lin Kuei, a sect of deadly assassins known for never giving up on a contract. Along with more poultices to treat the Medicine Devouring Venom the assassins are infamous for.

After 3 days of travel the wagons roll into Red Jade, a small but fairly prosperous settlement tangential to the Jade Road. A one road town, side streets and alleys of various size stretch out on both sides, bordered by various shacks, shops, and the occasional inn.

Three buildings dominate the area. The first is a large teahouse and inn near the center of town. A well-worn but skillfully crafted sign identifies this as the Lucky Badger. Off to the north, beyond the main village, is a large compound on the top of a nearby plateau, its walls and position suggest it is well-defended. At the far end of the main road stands Master Lei’s Two Thunders Academy, a 3 tiered pagoda with wings; a shrine, a school, a clinic.

Liu Zhi finds the master instructing his students in Storm Dragon and Storm Phoenix. Zhi delivers the message over tea and Lei eagerly agrees to treat him. It is a grueling affair lasting from dusk till dawn; with bodhist sutras, purging elixirs, acupuncture, and surgery. As dawn broke, master Lei managed to draw out the corrupted chi; sealing the black bile in a Six Demon Jar.

During his time convalescing at the academy, Zhi formed a brief friendship with the master. Learning it was the Golden Tiger General, during one long winter at the Tiānqiáo Mountains, who taught Lei his skills in medicine along with The Tiger’s Roar technique . A winter that lasted 5 years, Lei discovered when he returned to civilization. “Though I still carry the mountain’s burden, hoping the lotus’ seed never sprout; I’m glad to be free of its debt.”.—

At the Lucky Badger, a stocky, sloppy looking man with leering eyes, as wide as he is tall extorts proprietor Pao Tan for protection money. Mo Jun falling back into old habits picks the man’s pockets so deftly he forgot he even brought his own coin purse. Mo Jun caught sight of strange medallion, a pig and the #12. This oaf, Mo Jun knew, was a member of the 12 Golden Butchers. A gang that was rising, just as he was leaving that life with the 9413 behind.

Ever loyal Yuki guards the princess from danger, though the princess treats the noble huli jing as more handmaiden than guard. Meili spends her time entertaining her cousin and training at the academy.

Catching the eye of Master Lei, he invites Meili to exhibit her unique style of Storm Phoenix. Literally dancing circles around her opponent, a senior disciple of the academy. Earning the Lei’s approval, and praise of her potential.

On the last day, Zhi witnessed master Lei taking tea with a stranger; his face bore the brand of a condemned criminal, dressed in fine silks and displaying a gold medallion embossed with a rat and the #1. They spoke in of mahjong and gardening. The golden rat seeking the “Black Lotus” all the while Lei claiming that garden burned to ash long ago. With the parting words “Perhaps another fire will bring any buried seeds to bloom?” the golden rat took his leave.

The Jade Eyed Demon
Danger and Salvation in the Forest

Princess Yu was gravely wounded by the assassin. Who was thorough enough to sabotage the caravan’s medical supplies and kill the doctor.

With time running out, Mo Jun ran ahead to a little village along the road. Cutting through the forest, he was ambushed by a massive green-eyed tiger. Reflexes honed by the Lightning Serpent style were all that saved Mo Jun, rolling away as soon as the tiger’s claws pierced his back. Turning a killing blow to merely devastating. Running for the village, with death at his heels, Mo Jun’s years spent dodging guards along the rooftops of Băo Jiāng kept him out of the tigers jaws. Only to crash into a young bodhist monk one clear of the forest.

The young monk, Meili brought the wounded Mo Jun to the apprentice healer of the village: Little Sipping Water. Here we heard the desperate tale of the village, 20 people have been taken by the tiger, a new victim every night. One of the first was the village wise woman; Little Sipping Water’s Grandmother.

With the caravan’s arrival shortly after, it was discovered that the Yu’s wound was poisoned too. Only with the help of Meili were the wounds; 5 deep slices, finally closed even as the poison was slowly eating through the sutures. The only cure for the poison were the glowing white mushrooms that grew in the tiger’s lair.

Having been here some time Meile knew the way. Marching through the jungle, the Jade Eyed Demon tried to ambush them, but Meile warned the hunting party just in time. Battle was joined, and the demon lived up to it’s name. It ripped through the guards and tore of Jinn Yong’s arm. Mo Jun kept it distracted and eventually pinned the tiger’s hind leg with a spear.

Seeing his opportunity Liu Zhi began an exorcism of the Jade Eyed Demon. It tore free of the spear and the monk did not falter in his chants even as he was eviscerated by the demon.

All the while, Yuki ran ahead to the tiger’s lair. With the skulls of the Tiger’s victims crunching under her paws, Yuki crept forward, following her nose to the glowing mushrooms. She found a miraculously intact turnip sack and filled it with mushrooms.

Meile stood between the tiger and it’s prey, Mo Jun began chanting as well. At the sight of this the remaining guards rallied a spear wall around them. Their combined efforts halted the tiger’s charge as moments later Liu Zhi completed his sutras. The Jade Eyed Demon burst into hellish green flames. At their feet lay a bloodied and broken man, above him floated a radiant tiger spirit.

It bowed to them all saying “Thank you for breaking my curse” as it ascended to the heavens in pillar of golden light.

Yuki returned with the mushrooms to find the group bandaging up and carrying the wounded and dead back to the little village.

Little Sipping Water created a mighty poultice from the mushrooms. The poison was purged, and as the princess opened her eyes. Seeing Meile for the first time, a moment of realization passed between them, before the princess could say anything, Meile excused herself.

The night was somber and celebratory with baijiu flowing like water. The dead were mourned, the bodies cremated, and the villagers celebrated their liberation from the Demon.

Arrival at Little Tiger Village
An Unexpected Friend

Arriving at Little Tiger Village, the wandering monks attempted to make their way to the tea shop unnoticed and find Jin Yong. But it was not to be.

A mysterious young woman ran up to Yuki and embraced her and invited the trio in for tea.
After revealing Yuki used to be her handmaiden, who disappeared the same night teh young woman’s father died.

The attendants odd behavior tipped of Liu Zhi that they were dealing with a member of the imperial family. Verbal cat and mouse with her bodyguard revealed this young woman was really Princess Yu; sent to resolve the conflict brewing between the Wu-Dang Temples and Jiangzhou province. This bodyguard was Jin Yong.

On the road back to Bao Jiang, the caravan was ambushed by bandits. They were no match for the monks but it was a trap. An assassin struck out at the princess. Leaping to defend the gravely wounded princess, Yuki’s human guise faltered, but the might of the hulijing was no match for the assassin’s kung-fu.

Yuki’s desperate desire to protect the princess awakened some something deep inside. Overcome by the beast within, Yuki tore out the assassin’s throat.

Framed for Murder
Monks on the Run

Deputy Mayor Da was murdered in his home. Several monks (The PC’s) from the Wu-Dang Mountains Temple were discovered next to the still warm body. Their quick arrest, easy conviction in a show trial, and death sentence shattered the uneasy peace between the semi-autonomous monks and regional government.

Bo Lin, a well-connected tea merchant aided the monks escape. With “official” traveling papers the monks were sent to Little Tiger Village; a waystation on the Jade Road at the eastern edge of Jiāngzhōu province. Bo’s parting words were: “Find Jin Yong and tell him you’re looking for work”.


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