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A note from Mullayo

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Edited presently 15.11.19

 

 

TWO YEARS LATER


A winter chill runs its frosty fingers down Jian Cheng's spine. He shivers, ducking his head lower, down between his knees to stare glumly at the glaring holes in his homemade sheepskin boots.


"Ugh, yuck." He sniffs his feet, making a face. The frayed holes let out the fetid stench of musty wool, which mingles, - far too familiarly for his likiing - with the acrid smell already hemming him in - damn damp sheep droppings... Ahh, such is life...


Bleak Peak was, as the name implies, a dreary site. It has one solitary redeeming feature, he can see his sheep from it. All 13 of them. Unluckily for him... He can actually see a lot from here... All the countryside for miles around... Including the foothills of the Forbidden Forest.
He isn't supposed to stray this near to the demonic beast-filled forest - especially with his flock which are basically beast snacks - but he figures this was as close as he'd get to adventuring in this little lifetime. A little thrill from living dangerously... As much as a 12 year-old mortal boy and his 13 bleating sheep could handle...


In the sullen aftermath of the sect selection - two years ago now - it had been hard to face his father. Often Jian Cheng would catch him out of the corner of his eye ruefully shaking his head. His parents try to treat him the same, but a lot of their hopes had hinged on him and he knew it... Their dreams have died, burned to ashes within the cold ice-white crystal orb as did his...


The part that truly broke his heart however, was seeing little Fen Ling carted away, crying his name constantly...
"Jian ge-ge! Save me. I don't want to go. Li ge-ge! Jian ge-ge!"
Frantic she was, wailing like a little banshee. Her tiny clawed hands were clutching at him as she was carried away over an elder's shoulder... While he was powerless... Would forever remain powerless...
He learned later, from Fen Ling's parents, the details of what actually transpired. The Misty Cloud elders had discovered she had a rare twin affinity of wind and lightning. At the time of her initial testing, the first elder must have glimpsed it in the orb, but kept it to himself until afterwards. With a tier three twin affinity she is destined for a life in the inner court. Eventually, if her cultivation advances rapidly enough, Fen Ling can even become a core disciple...


At the time, she had no idea though. She didn't care either. Worse she has been given no choice. Even her parents were given no face, having no say in the affair... The three sect elders simply snatched her. It is called kidnapping in the mortal world. And it is a crime! In the martial world it is simply swept under the rug and becomes a taboo topic. Hushed up... Such events only matter to the little people directly affected. It matters to Jian Cheng...
She wanted to stay... And he didn't have the power to save her... Or even accompany her. He couldn't help... Fortunately Fatty stepped forward and signed up immediately... Still, the shame burned in Jian Cheng's belly like a forest fire.


He'd sulked for a week after that fateful day. Until one morning at dawn, his father burst into his room and yanked him out of bed. He'd been dragged into the courtyard and thrown a sword. Then before the boy could even open his mouth, his father launched attack after attack. He'd been soundly thrashed that day. And every day after. Zhao Cheng was no longer holding anything back.


After a painfully long fortnight, Jian Cheng finally figured out why. Without the luxury of a cultivation path to follow, he would have to become a much better technician to compete... With even the bottom rung cultivators. 
Also, stronger and fitter too. He has always had the smithy to literally forge his physique, but there is not enough work for two, so he tends sheep three days a week. Their rundown household needed the few coppers it brought in. Also, the up hill, down dale exercise is good for his leg strength and overall stamina.
It doesn't help with his depression though. Not for the first time, he wonders why he still bothers? He is basically a martial artist training for a future that is no longer there...
Jian Cheng remains lost in thought, until a sudden flash of bright light burst his eyelids and wool-gathering trance apart. A shooting star!? How about that! For once he'll have something to share with his mother when he gets home in the morning. Wow, it is such a bright one'too. Aren't you supposed to wish upon them? It is far too easy to guess his wish so he doesn't even bother making one.


He quickly counts his sheep - a good habit he has formed - although, for some reason it always makes him sleepy? But when he turns back towards the star it is even brighter... And getting bigger... Is it actually a meteor? Now he has a story his father will appreciate too. It appears to be getting nearer and nearer to Bleak Peak as well...
Then it occurs to him that meteors are often made of valuable materials, especially for forging! Jian Cheng feels his spirits rising... If he can grab a rock or two of rare ore, his family's fortunes can be restored overnight! It is actually doable... As long as it doesn't land in that damnable demonic beast forest!


Bam! The bright light is sucked into a dark void and extinguished.
Damn! It has landed fair square in the Forbidden Forest... Not that far in though... Jian Cheng girds his loins. He doesn't have any prospects, so doesn't have anything to lose. He will gamble regardless. Sheep forgotten he stands up. The cold wind whips around his legs but he ignores the physical and mental shivers slithering about inside. Determined, he begins jogging towards the treeline in the general direction of the impact...


Has an angel fallen from the heavens? Jian Chen warily approaches the area of the meteor landing. Surprisingly, a frustrated voice rises out from the still smoking tomb-sized crater. As he nears the crash site itself, the voice becomes more coherent...


"...Dammit! I've lost my ring."


Hmm, maybe not an angel... Jian Cheng creeps forward to investigate further, his boot clips a small stone that skitters across the rocky ground emitting a clinking metallic chime. He leans forward and can see it isn't a stone at all, but a small silver signet ring, with a scowling turtle design at its centre. Intrigued, he bends to pick it up. After all the disappointments he has experienced in recent years, the boy knows all too well that pies don't fall from the skies. This calibre of treasure is clearly the ring the Demon of the Pit is seeking.


He summons up his courage to approach the smoky hole, desperately hoping it won't become his shallow grave.
"Um, esteemed senior are you well?"
"Ahh, hail young hero, greetings unto you." 
A dishevelled yet muscle-bound teen gazes up at him with a pale face, but friendly eyes. "Actually I'm not well at all, I'm injured from battle and now my confounded ring has gone missing. Yet again..."
Encouraged by the response, Jian Cheng holds out his hand. "This one has coincidentally found a ring, could it perhaps be the one senior seeks?"


"Aha, how excellent." In a trice, a thin stream of water shoots out from his hand. Somehow the water sucks the ring right out of Jian Cheng's palm, then deposits it on the teen titian's ring-finger before disappearing. In another breath of time, the senior is crunching on a bunch of pills, which are - judging by the sound and his sour expression - the approximate texture and taste of chalk. Where they had came from was beyond Jian Cheng... It was awesome!
He will never wash this hand again! No wait, that isn't right... Ahh?... He wipes his already wet hand on his leggings. Best forgotten.
After swallowing the tablets with an audible gulp, not to mention a noticeable retch, the thickset teenager hauls himself out of the shoulder-height hole with a groan, lurching unsteadily to his feet. Clutching at his side, he stumbles awkwardly towards a small rise and sits down on a waist-high ledge with a grimace.


After a minute of ragged breathing, he looks up and ruefully smiles at smaller boy still waiting back by the smoking hole. Then the smile freezes, soon turning into a frown, as his thick brow furrows in anger. Jian Cheng feels the fear of god come over him. This expert was at least at the jidan stage, far above the Misty Sect elders he'd previously met. It seems he has offended this senior somehow and was a dead man. A dead ant more like... The teen's steely gaze locks on to him and the stern mouth below moves. Only one word comes out:"Run!"


Jian Cheng runs. He runs hell for leather, up the nearest hill, never looking back once.
His frantic fingers scrabble for holds as he scrambles desperately up the cliff-face towards the relative safety of the clifftop. Seconds later, chest heaving he's laying on his back, staring at the stars in the heavens blinking back at him... All the while sucking in throat-scarring frosty gasps of air. After few breaths of time, he has recovered enough to roll onto his side to survey the strange scene below.


In the interim of his flight, a second elder has arrived out of thin air and the two are clearly not on friendly terms In fact, they appear to be mortal - or maybe immortal - enemies, as an epic battle ensues before Jian Cheng's unbelieving eyes.
The elder elder holds up his hand and golden lightning spews forth like a gigantic fistful of straw stabbing toward the already injured teen. An ice wall appears to block the golden bolts, then the teen replies in kind with a hail of jagged ice daggers. 
Walls of sheet lightning, suddenly spring forth surrounding the second expert's body stymieing the ice assault.


To and fro the two exchange immortal blows, sparking a sparkling but deadly fireworks display. For an incense stick of time, energetic attacks meet sturdy defence. Back and forth they go wearing each other down, until finally the youth collapses in a tangled heap on his original rock ledge. The elder elder is clearly exhausted too, but seems to be summoning up enough energy to deliver a killing stroke.


High above, Jian Cheng realises he is so far below the capacities of these two titanic talents that it isn't funny. indeed he feels like crying...
He also feels sorry for the expert facing imminent extinction. The teen seems to be a good person. He even deemed to save Jian Cheng's little life by sending him fleeing away... If he were stronger, he would definitely help this elder brother.... Sigh. A lack of power is the bane of his pitiful existence...


Unwilling, he clenches his fists, maybe he can still do something?

 

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Mullayo

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