Chapter 22: Wu-Sunan
Ritual Master Zhen calmly placed the blade of the bronze dagger across his left palm, then closed his hand around it and pulled the dagger out. Blood immediately oozed out, which he poured onto the ground in front of him. Then he began to speak in what Sunan now recognized to be Classical Fei.
“Ren xue wei di, shu shi wei yu, shu yu zhan di, shu li tao tian!”
Then, he slammed his hand down onto the table next to him.
Sunan was picking up speed, and considering he had no idea what the words meant, they didn’t distract him at all. However, before he could get even a meter closer to Ritual Master Zhen, a clicking sound could be heard, and Sunan saw something fall from the ceiling.
More clicking sounds followed, and more objects fell from the ceiling, to land on the ground with muffled thuds.
Before Sunan could take another step, a clicking sound could be heard from directly above his head, and then something dropped down onto him. It tumbled down across his face to fall to the ground at his feet.
He looked down at… the corpse of a rat!
More clicking and thumping sounds could be heard constantly as panels in the ceiling opened up, and rat corpses fell like rain!
Some of the corpses were fresh, others were little more than skeletons!
The grisly sight left Sunan completely astonished.
Ritual Master Zhen began to laugh maniacally. “And now, I shall draw upon the power of the rats to cut you down!”
Slicing himself again with the bronze knife, he waved his hand violently, sending droplets of blood flying out in all directions. In response, black mist began to rise up from the corpses of the rats, forming into tendrils that shot through the air toward Ritual Master Zhen.
Now was not the time for shock. Sunan steeled himself, suppressing the urge to vomit as he took another step forward.
I REFUSE! I REFUSE! I REFUSE!
The more he rejected whatever force it was that Ritual Master Zhen had used to lock him in place, the easier it became to move. Even as his foot touched down onto the ground after taking another step, the black tendrils of mist began to pour into Ritual Master Zhen’s eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
Instantly, Ritual Master Zhen began to transform. Hair popped out all over his skin, and his fingernails grew long and sharp. His face began to stretch out, and his ears grew larger. Apparently, he was in the process of transforming into an enormous rat!
Lips twisting with disgust, Sunan planted his foot and unleashed Rebuke of the Dragon, which slammed into the rat-like Ritual Master Zhen, sending him tumbling backward.
Moments later, Sun Mai’s Sword of the Scholar sliced through the air. Apparently, Sun Mai had also managed to free himself from the initial trap. The illusory blade slashed Ritual Master Zhen across the throat, sending blood spraying out in a fountain.
Sunan unleashed one more Rebuke of the Dragon, ensuring that Ritual Master Zhen was well and truly dead. By this point, there was no force at all trying to lock him in place.
Before the man could complete his grisly transformation, he was cut down.
Rats were still dropping down from the ceiling.
The bizarreness of the scene was such that Sunan almost wondered if it were all real.
He slowly turned to find Sun Mai approaching.
“You were right,” Sunan said. “We should have just killed him. A few more seconds, and who knows what would have happened.”
Sun Mai stepped past Sunan and squatted down over the corpse of Ritual Master Zhen. Taking an iron knife out of the nearby box, he prodded the corpse a few times before turning to look up at Sunan.
“This is problematic,” he said.
“What do you mean? Getting rid of all the corpses?”
“No.” Sun Mai rose to his feet, a grave expression on his face. “It appears my entire theory about the Heavenly Meat Palace is invalid.”
Other than Iron Awl Hu and Ritual Master Zhen, there was no one else in the criminal organization who could use Qi, which made it very easy for Sunan and Sun Mai to take control.
Originally, Sunan had no wish to be in a leadership position, but Sun Mai somehow convinced him. They renamed the organization as the Golden Dragon Sect, with Sunan as the Sect Leader and Sun Mai as the Chief Minister.
They quickly found that, exactly as the rumors stated, Iron Awl Hu controlled virtually the entire city. Sunan was also relieved to find that, although much of their activities were less than legal, for the most part, their income came from legitimate business. As such, few changes needed to be made to the general operations.
However, Sun Mai and Sunan both agreed to immediately end any trafficking in addictive herbal powders and liquids. Other arrangements of the less-than-moral type were also eradicated. The only disagreement they had was when it came to the brothels. Sunan wanted them banned completely, whereas Sun Mai said that to do such a thing would earn too much ill will from the people, and especially the soldiers. In the end, Sunan begrudgingly agreed to let the brothels stay.
Another area in which they disagreed was regarding the local Sheriff and constables. Sunan wanted to end the “gift” payments that Iron Awl Hu had sent them on a regular basis, which were really just bribes. Sun Mai was of the opinion that controlling the policing of the city was a good thing. Sunan wouldn’t budge, though, and thus, the local constable force finally became an autonomous force after years of what had essentially been servitude.
They burned the former workshop of Ritual Master Zhen, leaving the shell of the room empty for the time being.
The Golden Immortal disappeared the very night in which Iron Awl Hu was killed. Sunan and Sun Mai investigated the matter, but turned up few clues.
The forces of the Demon Emperor also disappeared. However, theirs was apparently less of a vanishing act and more of a calculated retreat. A message was left behind for Sunan, written in elegant calligraphy.
To Your Excellency Sunan, Sect Leader of the Golden Dragons:
The news of the death of Master Hu is unfortunate but not entirely unexpected. Things such as this are known to happen to men in such lines of work. Sadly, many plans have now gone awry because of the sudden change. As such, we will be leaving Daolu for the time being. When we return, I hope that you will be as willing to work with us as the late Master Hu.
Huang Dayang, Third Lieutenant to the Love General
“Love General?” Sunan asked of Sun Mai.
“The Demon Emperor has five Ogre Demon Generals. The Hate General, the Bone General, the Fire General, the Love General, and the Skin General. They’re quite mysterious, really, some more than others. For example, the Bone General is very famous. People say that he is the hammer the Demon Emperor uses to crush any and all plots against him.
“The Fire General is the spear which slashes across the battlefield. He trains the troops in the ways of killing. Supposedly the Love General is the dove of peace which the Demon Emperor sends to allies.
“As far as the Skin General and the Hate General….” He shrugged. “I haven’t heard any rumors about them at all.”
Sunan looked down at the message. “The dove of peace to send to allies, huh?” He frowned. “I’d rather drink a cup of nails than be an ally of the Demon Emperor. What do you think we should do?”
Sun Mai took a deep breath, but didn’t say anything for a long moment. “The Demon Emperor has long since allowed this part of Qi Xien to rule itself. Perhaps an alliance would be nothing more than a formality.”
“It probably wouldn’t hurt to prepare to defend ourselves….”
Daolu had a Sheriff and the city constables, but no standing army. Neither did its sister city of Nansun, the other major city in the Hen-Shi Empire. It was commonly held that the lack of said army was one reason the Demon Emperor had mostly ignored this part of Qi Xien for so many decades.
After some debate, Sunan agreed that they needed to start training fighters, although they would do it mostly in secret, to avoid attracting unwanted attention from the Demon Emperor. It was with that goal in mind that Sunan agreed to allow the underground platform fights to continue, although he did away with the practice of fixing the fights, and also standardized the rules to make the fights safer. However, he increased the prizes, which made the contests even more popular than they had been before.
It also enabled him and Sun Mai to begin to identify the talented fighters in Daolu.
They also spent time with the soldiers who were already part of Iron Awl Hu’s organization, identifying the good men among the bad, both in terms of fighting ability, as well as moral character.
As they had planned to do some time before, they began to identify and codify the moves and stances that they used in their fighting and practicing. The process took a full month, but in the end, they perfected 27 stances, which they linked together into one form that could be practiced within a few minutes. After they were both satisfied with the results, Sun Mai created an illustrated version on a bamboo scroll, complete with detailed text descriptions.
“What about your Rebuke of the Dragon?” he asked of Sunan.
Sunan thought about the question for a moment. “That will come later. I’ll wait until I find someone worthy of being able to unleash power like that.”
Sun Mai nodded. After having put the final touches into the contents of Sunan’s fighting methods, he rolled the bamboo scroll up and said, “So, what do we call it?”
“Come on Sun Mai, you’re the scholar….”
“Right.” Sun Mai thought for a moment and then wrote down some characters onto the cover of the bamboo scroll, then handed it over to Sunan.
“What’s this first character?” he asked.
“That’s Classical Fei, of course. An archaic character that means ‘martial’ or ‘war.’ It’s pronounced Wu.”
With that, Sunan read the title: “Wu-Sunan, the ultimate fighting system.” He looked at Sun Mai. “Sounds a little pretentious.”
“People will love it, trust me.”
They eventually picked a group of ten men, five from Iron Awl Hu’s organization, and five from the platform competition, whom they began to train in the ways of the newly dubbed Wu-Sunan fighting system.
More months passed.
Deep in the Banyan Mountains was a legendary location that most people had only heard of in whispered stories.
Yao Gong Palace.
The headquarters of the Demon Emperor.
In a tall tower in Yao Gong Palace was a room filled with books and scrolls. Seated behind a desk in that room was an Ogre dressed in red and pink robes. Even someone who had never seen an Ogre before would likely be able to discern that this Ogre was a female.
She sat there, leafing through a stack of what were clearly reports.
Suddenly, her eyes went wide as she read the contents of one particular report from the north.
“Iron Awl Hu is dead? The Golden Dragon Sect? Hmm….”
With that, she rang a bell. A moment later, a servant appeared in the doorway.
“I need to speak with his excellency the Emperor,” she said, a slight frown on her face.