Chapter 25: Protect Daolu!
The fire burning in Bao’s eyes seemed to contain a rage that left Sunan immediately unsettled. It was at this same moment that it also dawned on him that he wasn’t armed. He had an Ox-Tail Dao strapped to his horse a several meters away, but Bao was much closer than that.
Normally speaking, a strong young man probably wouldn’t have anything to fear from a young woman much shorter and lighter than him, even if she did have some knives. But Sunan was no fool.
He knew how much of a difference Qi could make when it came to fighting. Some of the disciples of the Golden Dragon Sect were women, and over the months of training, it had become apparent to everyone that Qi was like a great equalizer. Generally speaking, size and weight didn’t matter once you mastered the flow and manipulation of that internal energy.
Furthermore, over the past months, Sunan had taken a fondness to the Ox-Tail Dao and other saber-like weapons. It was true that he and Sun Mai had taken down Iron Awl Hu without a single weapon in hand. However, that didn’t make him feel any less nervous facing up against an opponent with two knives.
Besides, he had no idea of her level. Considering the ease with which she had flipped off of the horse earlier, she might even be in the same fourth level as himself. Or even higher.
Clenching his teeth, Sunan took a step back and barked, “Sun Mai, back down!”
Sun Mai landed nimbly on the balls of his feet, a frown on his face as he held his two fingers out in front of him.
Sunan looked back at Bao and said, “Chieftess Bao, I’m afraid things are escalating too quickly. Let’s all just calm down for a moment.”
Bao spit onto the ground off to the side, then snorted coldly. “I’ll back down when you people get on your horses and ride back to Daolu. This is my territory, and it’s my fallen star.”
Sunan frowned. “Now hold on a moment, I think --”
“No discussions,” Bao interrupted. “I’ll give you to the count of five to get back on your horses and leave. One.”
Sunan’s face darkened. “Listen, girl, I’m not just going to leave after coming all the way here. At least we can--”
Anger flared in Sunan’s eyes. “You know, I really don’t like it when people count to five on me….”
“Fine.” His hands twisted into the claws of dragons. “If you really want to do it the hard way, then so be it. Just don’t--”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“FIVE!” Even as the words left her mouth, Bao’s left hand flashed through the air, and one of her knives shot toward Sunan.
To a spectator, the knife might seem to be moving with blinding speed, but to Sunan, that wasn’t the case. The first time he had faced a sharp metal object flying toward him was when he had fought Iron Awl Hu, and even back then he had managed to counter the attack. Since then, he had perfected and practice that very same technique.
Based on the trajectory of the knife Bao had thrown at him, he could tell that she most likely hadn’t intended it to be a deadly attack. Either she had intentionally aimed the knife too far to the left to really hit him, or she was a horrifically bad shot. Regardless, countering the move was a simple thing.
“Dragon Cleaves the Clouds!” he roared, kicking out with his foot and simultaneously flipping backward. A blast of air slammed into Bao’s knife, sending it flying off into the distance. Sunan landed on his feet and clenched his hands back into dragon claws.
Already, fighting had broken out around them. Sun Mai was fighting Mao Yun, who was in a berserk rage after having been slashed by Sun Mai’s Sword of the Scholar. The way he swung his axe made him seem like a god descended from the skies, and yet Sun Mai danced away from his blows with apparent ease. However, now that Mao Yun had already been struck once by Sun Mai, he was on the lookout, and was able to counter the move when it was used again.
Fighting had broken out among the members of both groups; hoarse shouts, muffled curses, and the clash of weaponry instantly began to echo out in the valley. Clearly, Bao’s followers also had some training when it came to Qi fighting.
However, Sunan had no time to observe or analyze any of that. As soon as he landed, he looked up at Bao, simultaneously preparing to unleash a technique of his own. However, just as he was about to unleash Rebuke of the Dragon, even as he had expected to find his opponent glaring at him angrily like she had been moments before, he was surprised to find her staring at him with a quizzical expression on her face.
“What did you just say?” she asked.
“You just yelled something. What was it?”
“Um… Dragon Cleaves the Clouds?”
“Yes, that was it. Dragon Cleaves the Clouds? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Uh, that’s the name of the move. The technique I just used.”
“You name your moves? Your man Sun Mai did the same thing, didn’t he?”
“You don’t name your moves? But… doesn’t everybody do that?”
Bao chuckled. “You name your moves? What are you, a child?”
Sunan’s lips twisted into a snarl. “We’ll see who’s the child! Rebuke of the Dragon!”
Two illusory dragons snaked out toward Bao, moving with indescribable speed. Her eyes widened, and before she could do anything to defend herself, the dragons slammed into her, shredding her right sleeve and sending her spinning backward through the air.
For some reason, Sunan’s heart trembled when that happened. He hadn’t actually expected her to be hit so easily by Rebuke of the Dragon. Even novice disciples in the Golden Dragon Sect were trained in how to identify and counter moves like that.
Then she slammed down onto the ground in a cloud of dust, and Sunan’s heart thumped even harder. In the past, a single Rebuke of the Dragon had killed men much taller and stronger than this Chieftess Bao. He didn’t really want to even leave her with a bruise, let alone kill her. Especially not for a rock that fell out of the sky.
How did things escalate so quickly?
Even as Sunan took a nervous step forward toward Bao, his heart trembled again, and this time it wasn’t for fear of having hurt her.
Instead, it was because he saw her lifting her head up, whereupon a smile broke out across her face as she realized that she had landed directly in front of the fallen star.
Her eyes rose up to meet his, and they glittered with a mischievous arrogance as she slowly reached out to grab the rock.
Cursing inwardly, Sunan lunged forward, but it was too late. Bao’s hands closed over the silver rock, and at the same time, she struggled to her feet.
Even as Bao began to chuckle, Sunan lurched to a stop.
Bao quickly held the rock behind her back and then tilted her chin up and pointed the knife at Sunan. “Now what are you going to do, Sect Leader Sunan?”
He looked around and saw that in the past few seconds of fighting, neither side seemed to have gained an upper hand. In fact, other than the blow Sun Mai had landed on Mao Yun, no blood had been drawn. He looked back and Bao and took a deep breath. “Well, it seems that--”
Before he could finish speaking, his jaw dropped.
Bao’s eyes had gone wide, and not from shock or fear. They were bulging, almost out of her head!
Her left shoulder was trembling slightly, and most bizarre of all was that a tiny pinprick of white light could be seen in the very center of her pupil. Her head spasmed as she began to draw her left hand out from behind her back. Her entire arm was shaking, and the hand which gripped the silver rock was pale white, and white streaks were running up her arm.
“Wh-what…?” she muttered.
Sunan took a step forward. “Chieftess Bao, are you alright?”
As he watched, the whiteness in Bao’s pupils grew, spreading out to fill the irises of her eyes, and then the whites, removing any traces of color, until her eyes were pure masses of white that bordered on silver. Slowly the trembling in her arm stopped, and the ashen color faded away.
Bao stared at Sunan for a moment with those white eyes, and then she spoke. Her voice was different than before. It resonated with a strange timber, as though it were a voice speaking out from the most ancient of times, perhaps even from a different world. “I’m fine.”
Sunan’s eyes flickered. “Of course, you’re fine.”
Her head suddenly cocked to the side. “You don’t want this fallen star.”
Sunan felt slightly dizzy for a moment. “No, I don’t want it.”
A slight smile appeared on Bao’s face. She then looked around at the surrounding fighting. Raising her voice, she said, “Golden Dragon Sect disciples, there is no need to fight, we won’t hurt you.”
A moment later, all fighting ceased.
Even Sun Mai backed off and then simply stood there calmly. Bao’s followers looked around in confusion for a moment and then backed away from Sunan’s disciples.
Bao looked back at Sunan, her white eyes shining as she said, “Sect Leader Sunan, you and your people really need to get back to Daolu as soon as possible. A great threat is heading its way, and you need to defend it.”
Sunan shook his head as another wave of dizziness passed through him. “Yes, a great threat. I understand. Must defend Daolu.” He began to walk back to his force. “Come on, men, we need to get back to Daolu as soon as possible.”
Sun Mai looked over at him with a frown. “Sunan, something’s not--”
“All of you Golden Dragon Sect disciples must listen to me!” Bao said, raising her voice again. “Daolu is in peril! Ride back as quickly as possible!”
Sun Mai turned toward his horse. “You heard the Sect Leader, men. No delays, we have to get back to Daolu!”
Shuffling sounds could be heard as Sunan, Sun Mai, and all of the other disciples mounted their horses. Then, they galloped away at top speed.
Even as Sunan and Sun Mai disappeared into the distant trees, Mao Yun was approaching Bao. He was bleeding, but the wounds were superficial, and did little more than cause him to wince.
“Bao, what’s going on…?” he asked.
As Bao turned to look at him, she slowly lifted the silver rock up in front of her. Her hand began to tremble, and the silver-white of her eyes began to fade. “Th-this rock….” she muttered. “Don’t… don’t touch it.”
The white faded from her eyes, and her hand dropped to her side, although it maintained its grip on the rock.
As for Bao, her knees gave out from under her and she began to collapse. Mao Yun lurched forward and grabbed her arm, catching her just before she fell.