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Eternal Flame Mountain belonged entirely to the sect. From the highest point on the main peak to the lowest foothill and even the surrounding countryside, all the land had been claimed as their territory. The city was only allowed to exist because the residents provided services that the sect considered beneath their own action. One such service was the Earth’s Blood Mines.

The Earth’s Blood Mines were one of several mining operations pursued in the sect’s territory, but they were by far the largest and most lucrative. They exceeded other mining operations by such a degree that if you mentioned ‘the mines’, the listener would automatically assume you were talking about the Earth’s Blood Mines. This was because the mines were the primary source of the titular Earth’s Blood.

Earth’s Blood was a low-grade, Fire-aligned spirit stone found in the depths of the earth near magma flows. In terms of power, raw Earth’s Blood was barely Tier 1 but it was still heavily coveted because it was one of the only terrestrial sources of Yang Fire, and by far the most numerous and easy to acquire. Yang Fire spirit stones were otherwise only found by chance in unique situations or extracted in miniscule amounts over time from sunlight.

As could be guessed about a material that was found near magma flows, Earth’s Blood was not easy to harvest. Mining was a dangerous operation and a miner being cooked by accidentally breaking into a magma vein or getting caught in a cave-in was a common story. To be a successful miner one had to be confident enough in their Earth Spirit Arts to keep themselves alive.

When Zhang Wuli heard that this wild looking man and his brothers were Earth’s Blood miners, he saw him in a new light. Self-empowerment was a common Earth Art and one that was necessary for miners. No matter what this man looked like, he was probably way stronger than Zhang Wuli.

“That’s right! I am a miner, my brothers are miners, and everyone that eats here is a miner!” Chang Biren declared. “ Li Bo, I’ve overlooked your actions since you and your friends used to be like us but you can’t bring non-miners here.”

Li Bo rolled his eyes and scratched at his beard dismissively.

“Chang Biren, what is this really about? It has been six months since we parted ways and the first time we meet again you’re trying to start trouble?”

Chang Biren sprung to his feet and stalked over towards Wuli and the others menacingly, not bothering to hide his wrathful grin in the least.

“Ah! You got me Li Bo. I really am here to cause trouble. You see my brothers and I just lost a big vein to some idiot causing a collapse. It’s going to take weeks to dig down to our spot again and until we won’t be able to make any money. So we miners are going to monopolize this place.”

“Biren, don’t do anything rash!” Li Bo shouted.

“Oh you still have the guts to talk back? I’ll show you just how rash I am willing to be…”

Suddenly Chang Biren drew back his fist and threw a punch at Li Bo.

CLANG

Sizzle

Sizzle?

Chang Biren looked down in shock at the glowing red metal plate that had blocked his attack. Zhang Wuli held the cooking plate with a corner of his shirt, putting it between the two men.

“Kid, how could you!” Chang Biren cried out in pain.

Li Bo flashed a grin and cocked his fist back for a heavy punch. “Nice work, Brother Wuli!

SMACK

Li Bo’s fist sent Chang Biren stumbling backwards across the little restaurant into the arms of his brothers.

“It looks like your head is full of rocks Biren, can’t you count? There are three of you and four of us and you dare start a fight?” Li Bo shouted.

Chang Biren stood up with tears of pain and rage in his eyes, shaking his hands to banish the heat.

“It’s you who can’t count, Li Bo. I only count three.”

Li Bo turned in confusion to look at his colleagues. Zhang Wuli, Ding Da… at some point Wen Ai had disappeared.

“Get them!” Chang Biren shouted.

The Chang brothers charged across the space and Wuli quickly pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around his hands. He gripped the hot plate and brandished it ahead of him like a shield just in time to stop a fist from striking him.

CLANG

Sizzle

“AH! Why you!” His opponent, one of the other Chang brothers, shouted. He grimaced in pain and ducked to the right before swinging a wild haymaker at Zhang Wuli with his other hand.

CLANG

Sizzle

“Stop doing that!” He shouted, tears in his eyes.

“Why? You stop trying to punch me!” Zhang Wuli declared

The man stood back, shaking the pain from his hands while looking for a way around Zhang Wuli. Everywhere he looked, Zhang Wuli moved the hot plate in the way before he could move.

Zhang Wuli’s opponent snorted and grabbed two nearby chairs, holding them up with an evil grin. With a shout he swung them at Zhang Wuli.

CLANG

CLANG

Zhang Wuli desperately blocked the swinging chairs with the hot plate, but the thin and cheap metal was already beginning to bend after just two strikes. The third strike wrenched it from his hands and the fourth smashed into his side and sent him staggering across the restaurant to crash into the bar.

Zhang Wuli hissed in pain and reached over the bar blindly, trying to find a weapon as the Chang brother stalked across the small space towards him. He felt something get thrust into his hand and threw it at the man immediately.

The thrown bottle of lukewarm liquor smacked his opponent right in the face, knocking him out cold and buying Zhang Wuli some time to think. Across the room, Li Bo and Chang Biren were slugging each other in the face and chest with wild abandon, neither willing to back down. Ding Da held the last brother away from him with one hand, the giant of a man easily treating his opponent like a toddler.

“Nice throw, Zhang Wuli. That should take him out for a bit.”

Zhang Wuli turned at the voice and saw Wen Ai crouched behind the small bar counter. The round man was sipping on his cup of kumis idly as he peeped at the ongoing scuffle through a hole in the wood.

“Wen Ai!” he hissed angrily, “Why are you hiding back here!”

Wen Ai only glanced at him with disdain, taking a moment to sip his kumis before answering.

“This senior is carrying plenty of expensive ingredients, do you think I can afford to get into a fight? Besides, just these three can’t overcome Li Bo.”

Wen AI gestured at the fight vaguely before taking another sip.

SMASH

Chang Biren made a beautiful arc through the air as he flew back from Li Bo’s uppercut and crashed into his remaining brother. Ding Da grabbed them both and tossed them in a heap with easy motions. It looked like Wen Ai hadn’t been needed after all.

Li Bo was covered in bruises, but he still had a smile on his face as he dusted himself off.

“Hmph, next time you decide to start something bring some more men with you. I couldn’t even get a good warm up.”

A groan from the pile on the floor was his only answer.

“Li Bo, we should leave before the city guard shows up.” Ding Da rumbled.

“Right, right. Let’s head back.”

Zhang Wuli rose to a standing position and immediately hissed in pain and grabbed his side. Even without using any spiritual energy, the miner had a way higher physical cultivation than he did.

“Brother Wuli, are you injured? Ding Da go take a look.”

Before Zhang Wuli could say anything Ding Da had already come over and placed a hand on his side. Zhang Wuli hissed in pain once more as his nerves lit up like fireworks.

“Mmh, fractured rib. Not too bad, but this will interfere with his work if we leave it be, we should bring him to Madame Ming’s for healing.” Ding Da rumbled.

“Ah, no. I’m pretty tough. I should be fine after a rest.” Zhang Wuli quickly replied. He couldn’t even pay for a meal, how would he pay to be healed?

“Brother Wuli,” Li Bo interrupted, “I asked Ding Da to take a look because he’s training to become a physician. If he says it will interfere with your work, you should believe him. Come now, we will pay for a session, it won’t take long to complete.”

The two argued back and forth for a short while, but eventually Li Bo won out and Zhang Wuli agreed to get healed.

With that settled, the group left the restaurant and headed out into the night.

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A note from Falconis

Apologies for the long wait. I spent a long time in writer paralysis trying to fight the urge to scrap everything and rewrite. I promised myself I wouldn't do that until the first draft was entirely written, and I finally managed to push past the block and start writing again.

The time for the challenge is long over now, but I still have many chapters left to post and I mean to post them all.

Thanks for reading.


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Falconis

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