“Oh-ho-ho, who do we have here?” Uninvited, a hateful face has shown itself, intruding into Fen Ling's dreamy recollections.
With the glaring sun at his back, a lanky figure swaggers up the path towards their sword circle. While the three friends can only see a dark shadowy shape, they know that voice and tone only too well: Liu Tong!
A moment later, the mayor’s son and his four cronies strut across the lines drawn in the sand, like the clearing is the council hall and they are the five elected officials rather than their fathers. Always acting as if they were are hegemons of some big city, not a bunch of hairless hillbilly brats - it really gets Fen Ling’s goat.
These five dandies may be dressed somewhat better than the three friends. but are clearly still only of the younger generation of the nearby village... Although two of them appeared to be 11 or 12 already.
The infamous five fan out, forming a human wall, that just happens to block off the pathway home. This wasn’t the five bullies first run in with the three 10 year-olds and they knew the drill...
Fen Ling’s eyes, which are normally full of life, were now angrily staring at the figures in front of her. Her tiny and grimy fist tightly grips the handle of her wooden sword. She glances behind her at her equally bedraggled brother, Jian Cheng... He is standing calmly, clutching his own sword, inhaling deeply to recover as much energy as possible...
Hah! They will definitely be fighting today... But first Fen Ling will stall for a little time... Not that she fears a beating. As Jian ge-ge says “pain is fleeting, only glory and honour are forever!”
Brother Cheng actually has a lot of sayings... Strangely, almost all of them mention either pain or glory... Or both at once!
“Liu Tong, don’t be too overbearing!”
Fen Ling glares at the dashing figure, traces of anger darken her normally sunny voice.
“Heh heh, we had already discovered this secret fishing spot a some time ago... It’s just that we waited until today to come use it... You’ve taken what is ours, yet you have the face to say that I’m being overbearing?”
Grinning, Liu Tong gazes smugly at the angry girl with his arms folded across his chest... Such a poseur!
“Hey let’s not get ahead of ourselves... ” Fatty steps forward to play the peacemaker, palms face-down patting the air at his sides,... “We all come from Rusty Creek Village let’s--”
“Utter nonsense!” Fen Ling was having none of it.
Hearing Liu Tong trying to twist the facts, Fen Ling’s round face had reddened so much it resembled a ripe tomato. The three friends had been coming here for several years now, how could that scoundrel have found it first?
So incensed is she, Fen Ling almost forgets she is supposed to be stalling for time...
“I’m not speaking nonsense...” Rebuttal is not Liu Tong’s strong point... But apparently he is unaware of his shortcoming because he is gazing almost grazing contentedly at Fen Ling, who appears especially adorable to him when angry. He is still all smiles as he says: “Little sister Ling, give me five fish and I will let you go.”
“Aaargh! Don’t even think of it!” Buddha Li Feng has done an about turn. They have touched his reverse scale. Fen Ling knows full-well what Liu Tong doesn’t, that Brother Feng would never surrender food from out of his own mouth, or those of his family and friends. He will fight now too!
“Our fish are ours.” the big boy states with menacingly narrowed eyes.
“Oh-ho-ho, since that is your attitude, it looks like you can only spend the night out here.” Liu Tong chuckles. “Because we aren’t leaving until I have five fish.”
“Good... Good...,” Jian Cheng speaks for the first time. “Because we aren’t leaving until you have five teeth.”
Fen Ling snorts in delight, while Fatty’s heavy sigh covers both his appreciation of the insult and his reluctance to get hurt...
“Good then, because I’m still not satisfied from that beating I gave you last time.”
Liu Tong’s reply is not only average at best, it was clutching at straws. While they had definitely lost the four other fights between their two groups, it was only because they have always been grossly outnumbered, three against five...
Man for man they more than measure up.. Fatty Li Feng is a lot larger than even the two 11 year-olds, while Jian Cheng is just ruthlessly efficient.
Fen Ling’s self-appointed role, is to run around the outside and kick people in the behind when they aren’t watching... She has to protect her delicate face after all... Fen Ling isn’t afraid of fighting or even getting injured... Just that her mother will find out. And kill her... That would really be taking a loss from a childish scuffle!
Today they’ll win for sure though.. For today they have two wooden swords! Fen Ling wasn’t giving hers up and she knew you’d have to cut Brother Cheng’s blade out of his cold, dead hands...
Speaking of Brother Cheng, at that moment he arrives at her side, his dark eyes sparkling with various sword sequences and schemes... This is going to be such fun...
“Little Tong, you’re courting death !” Fen Ling cries, getting set to charge, her blade raised in basic Tiger Claw first position.
Liu Tong gulps, having only now noticed the two wooden swords... Desperately he begin looking about for a way out . This battle is suddenly way too even for his tastes... He can clearly tell that that while the blades themselves are blunt, the wielders appear very keen indeed...
“Oi! What are you stinking brats up to over there!”
Ahh, an adult. With a flick of his eyes, Liu Tong’s gang scarper, evaporating into thin air as only guilty children can...
Fen Ling is slightly disappointed, while Brother Chen seems truly frustrated and fuming. His eyes are turned inward thinking dark thoughts... There is no talking to him when he gets like this.
“Whew,” Brother Feng however, is obviously relieved he won’t have to fight. The grown up was actually his grandfather, out collecting various herbs for his business...
He goes over to pay his respects and Fen Ling joins him, going as far as handing him two of their six fish to take home for dinner. When they get back to the clearing, Jian Cheng has returned to himself as well.
“Again,” he simply says, holding out his sword. Fen Ling smiles. Ahh! Such fun!
Sigh... Those boisterous seventh day play sessions with her two brothers, just boys being boys - and tomboys respectively - had been her weekly release... Freedom from her mother’s suffocating dreams of Fen Ling’s finicky and frustrating future... Sadly, like a stone skipping across a stream, they had flown away so fast... Halcyon days that will never return... Precious times now literally stolen moments hat her kidnappers had snatched away and denied her...
Fen Ling dried her last tears two years ago. Since then she’d thrown herself body and soul into a brutal cultivation regime. Today is her twelfth birthday, not that she cares any longer. It will be spent in bitter training just like any other day.
However, that traumatic episode has carved scars across her heart and still haunts her nightmares.
Screaming and struggling as she was, Fen Ling had still seen the shame darkening her cherished brothers’ faces... Her childhood heroes were reduced to hapless bystanders... Even now, the shame her brothers felt back then hurts her more than her own uncertain future...
While the two aren’t here to guide her, their words remained writ forever in her mind. Brother Cheng constantly said that in the jianghu, only power is important. Given sufficient power she can even flee this hateful sect and return to their village. She misses her doting father, and even her domineering mother, dreadfully. And her dear brothers of course... Unfortunately, true power is surprisingly hard to come by. Even after two gruelling years she finds herself still somewhere near the bottom rung.
She arrived in the Misty Cloud Sect amidst much fanfare - one of only 20 new inner court inductees that year. She’d been officially presented with the secret sect cultivation method, then later with several specific techniques, tailored to either her wind or lightning affinity.
Her Dragon’s Breath wind technique, while very basic, had proved to be a lot better than the Diamond Infusion Lightning method, which only allowed her to temporarily store small lightning shocks in certain metallic objects. This discrepancy between the effectivity of techniques was only natural, as the Misty Cloud Sect has been founded on wind and earth methods and is not a lightning specialist sect.
A month ago, Fen Ling broke through to tier-five and her progress is widely-considered to be pretty steady. To her dismay, she discovered her lightning attacks still can’t kill, only injure or stun an average adult.. So disappointing. She has a goal of heading home as soon as humanly possible, with her powers striking fear into any potential gainsayer. Sadly her erstwhile escape plan has become a long-term plan...
Her wind power, while eminently useful, doesn’t have a killing stroke either. At most she can lift several small objects or restrict an opponents movement... Somewhat. Mainly she uses it to dry her washing... Or smash vases when she is in a sulk... Suffice to say she only buy’s the cheapest vases with her sect allowance...
The sole saving grace is, Fen Ling no longer has to learn letters, numbers or musical instruments, allowing her to focus solely on intense training. Her dedication has been duly noted by the higher ups and consequently, many cultivation resources are shunted her way.
Fortunately, due to her shut-in status, her seething resentment has not been noted, nor even noticed at all. In fact, within the inner court, according to her maid, she has somehow garnered a mysterious erratic genius reputation. The upper echelons never suspect she is a malcontent, as the actual details of her induction have long since been glossed over. Those three elders in the know, all assumed she would come around anyway. After all, thousands of youngsters would give an arm or leg to be sitting in her stead. A pampered inner court disciple with everything handed to her on a silver platter, which cultivator doesn’t want that? Thus, how could the Misty Cloud Sect possibly know they have a disgruntled unicorn on their hands?
Sigh. It is all such a far cry from what Fen Ling wants from life. Decisively, she stands up and goes to the cupboard to fetch her short wooden sword, the one she’d demanded upon arrival. She will practice her sword-work and get a good sweat going. These days sword forms were the only thing that calmed her unsettled heart.
“Though Brother Cheng and Brother Feng would be no match for me now - I’m too quick for the likes of them! Especially if I push myself with my wind at my back... Or push them back with it...”
Hmm, maybe she can incorporate her affinity skills into her Slash and Dash sword form. That will be super fun! If she has a metal sword she can add a shock attack too! Brilliant!
Fen Ling knows her family and friends regard her as being impulsive and even a bit ditsy at times. But every now and then, like a bolt out of the blue she has these strokes of sheer brilliance. She also has enough horse sense to realise that this is one such moment. - Slash and Dash is about to evolve into Push and Shock!... No Shove and Shock!
Hmm... She pauses a moment more.
“Shi-mei Ma, come quickly,” she calls out in her most imperious tone.
A few breaths of time later, an 11 year-old girl rushes into the room. She is none other than Xiao Ma, the only other girl accepted at the Rusty Creek qi testing ceremony. She was only a tier-two water affinity at that time and destined for outer court subsistence, but Fen Ling vehemently insisted she become her inner court maid.
The maid has thrived within the vastly superior qi of the inner court too. Little Xiao is now closing in on tier-four and a breakthrough is imminent. She has also been taught many sword forms, so she can accompany her mistress in training. Sadly, in this whole Stinking Cloud sect, Fen Ling can only trust this one girl from her own small village...
“Xiao-Xiao, run and tell Elder Zhu I require a metal sword,” she says. “Ooh, and also a top-notch quigong agility technique... Or I’ll cripple my cultivation!”
Fen Ling stamps her foot to show what a little madam she is.
“En, except you used ‘cripple your cultivation’ last time, you should threaten to flee into the demonic beast forests... You haven’t used that one for a while.”
“Fine...” Fen Ling grins ruefully. “Shi-mei knows me too well.”
“Oh little Xiao, one more thing. Be sure to tell Supervisor Zhu that I know my swords, so don’t skimp on materials or be stingy with the price... Also, I don’t particularly care if it’s pretty, just effective!”