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It was important to be well-rested before a raid.

That was the one thing that he always insisted on. You needed your energy to do what needed to be done, and being fresh meant that if there was a fight, then the boys were raring to go, instead of being tired and distracted.

Sure, it made them a little antsy and aggressive, but he liked them mean. Not too mean, because then they tended to burn, then try to pillage, but just a little raw.

It was going to go smooth. He and his boys could have a bit of a sponsored party, have some fun with the girl, kill the men, and then be gone. They were obviously rich, and stupid.

He didn’t expect much in the way of fighting. Three men and a girl, against thirty bandits? Three of whom were cultivators? One was on the first step, while the other two were bare Initiates.

And what of he, Sun Ken, the Whirling Demon Sword himself?

He would have had a fourth cultivator if that whore of a Young Mistress hadn’t slain him. He would mourn his brother later. That they had to flee from the Verdant Blade Sect stoked his rage.

His fist clenched, and he growled. His boys might not get a turn, if he kept being this angry. Mortal girls were so fragile.

Still, his boys were as rested as they could be, and they had some food in them.

It was a good night for raiding too, with clouds covering the moon. Darkness always made bandits feel at home.

There were some things one had to do as leader, to maintain order. These speeches were one of them. He knew there had been grumbling about leaving the wounded behind, for even men like these misliked abandoning their comrades.

But soon, soon everything would be in the back of their minds.

“Gather up, you worthless bastards! Gather up!” he commanded, his voice booming through their camp.

His boys staggered to their feet, with hungry looks in their eyes. Oh yes, they were definitely ready.

“I know what you want, so I’ll keep this short. We got a bunch of rich bastards an hour’s walk that way. They have generously decided to add their wealth to the Whirling Demon Sword Gang.”

At this, his men laughed. The mood was getting good.

“I know we’ve been through hell these last couple of days. Those Verdant Blade bastards thought they were hot shit, and we still managed to kill a bunch of ‘em! But today is the turning point. Today, we get what we need, and what we’re owed. A night beneath a good solid roof, and all the grub you can eat!”

Some of his men started to cheer.

“This is what I promised all of you, when you joined underneath my banner! A life to live, instead of just exist! A life without the sects of the officials breathing down our necks! A life of freedom!”

The cheers got louder.

“Now, lets have a good night! A wild night! A Whirling, Demonic night!”

The men roared their approval, when a voice cut through the night. Most of his men seemed deaf to it, but a small voice said to them:

This is not a good-wise course of action, interloper. You approach the border of Fa Ram.

He froze, at the voice that drifted in on the wind. “Who dares?! Who dares approach the camp of the Whirling Demon Sword Gang?” He demanded.

We are of Fa Ram. Thy scouts have die-perished, for attempting to assault-kill it’s disciples, and Interloping.

His hackles raised at the statement, the voice drifting on the wind. His Brothers formed up around him, their swords drawn.

Our Great Master is a kind-generous soul, and you are not yet upon his land, so the First Disciple instructs you thus:

That you do not know the strength-power of Fa Ram is forgivable. Attempting to strike at it anyways is not. To continue upon this course-path is to end thy lives.

“Show yourself, you coward! Show yourself, and this daddy will kill you swiftly for daring to dictate terms to him!”

You shall see the First Disciple then, and Fa Ram shall instruct-teach you..

There was a burst of snow, as something landed at the entrance of their camp. The men, confused by their leader’s shouting, had drawn weapons, and flinched back from the puff of chilling white powder.

The men shifted nervously, as footfalls echoed out, stepping assuredly through the snow.

Sun Ken’s grip tightened on the hilt of his sword.

The snow was abruptly blown away, wind howling from an unknown source. Sun Ken’s blade inched out of his sheath, ready to strike--

When he paused, incredulous at what he was seeing.

He started laughing. A rooster? With a vest on? Who dared to precipitate this absurd farce?

“You little shit!” One of his men barked at the rooster, and stepped forwards to strike it with his blade.

And then he felt it. The laugh died in his throat, and sweat beaded on his brow as he felt qi.

Spirit Beast.

“No, wait--!” The Whirling Demon Sword tried to shout, but it was too late.

The man’s body hurled through the air, his chest caved in by the mighty kick. He slammed into a tree and fell, dead before he hit the ground.

One could hear the hearts of the men, hammering away in their chests, but their breaths were silent. They dared not breathe, in light of what had happened.

The rooster cocked its head to the side, and lowered it’s leg. It walked into the bandit camp, uncaring that he was surrounded.

The voice whispered again.

The First Disciple wishes to tell-inform you that your disciples are very ill disciplined, but he shall forgive you this time.

The rooster gestured to him.

You sniff-slink around the Great Master’s land like rodents. The First Disciple demands to know why.

This damn spirit beast. An upjumped cock dared to threaten him? Calling itself “First Disciple?!” Fury burned in his gut at the thought. His boys were no match for spirit beasts, but he had slain many.

This one would be no different. He would consume it’s core, and put it’s flesh in his cooking pot!

Sun Ken drew his sword, and pointed it at the outnumbered avian.

“I am the Whirling Demon Blade, Sun Ken! What I do is what I desire to do! I take what I please from your Great Master! I shall slay his brothers, and rape his wife! I will burn down his home, eat his flesh, drink his blood, and sleep in his skin for daring to mock me so! Sending a spirit beast, a chicken, against me instead of facing me himself?! A more worthless “Great Master” I can’t imagine!”

The rooster’s eyes were wide in shock. Sun Ken grinned. The thing had probably never been truly challenged before.

So you have chosen...death.

The little voice sounded angry, and slightly fearful.

The chicken screeched with fury. It was a shockwave of noise. Several men staggered backwards from the force of the rooster’s cry, their ears bleeding.

Twin blades of moonlight sprung from the rooster’s spurs, and the snow seemed to explode around him as he moved.

The Whirling Demon Blade rushed to meet him along with his lieutenants--

And that was when all hell broke loose.

From the right, an enormous boar slammed into their encampment with a joyous squeal. Bones shattered. Organs ruptured. Skulls split. It’s mighty tusks gored and savaged as it flung its head from side to side, intent on spearing and trampling everything before it. Where it strode, bare earth was revealed, trampled flat and wet with the blood of the wicked.

The beast’s presence demanded attention, for his grunts of happiness, and squeals of joy forced all eyes to him.

Men swung swords and spears with strength fueled by terror, trying desperately to halt it’s advance, but the mundane weapons simply bounced off its skin as it forged ever deeper into their ranks.

From the left, a more measured threat came. It’s trotters struck and kicked. It’s bulk carefully crushed and smashed. Its maw opened and shut politely, reliving men of their limbs, before the offending objects were spat back out in disgust.

The pig for all its mass, fought with purpose. While the boar accepted blows, uncaring and unheeding of them, the pig gently dodged, or daintily pirouetted between strikes, and struck back with it’s own, never stopping its own thrust into the enemy’s ranks.

A tiny rat was upon it’s back, and occasionally, the little beast would throw pepper powder into eyes, or leap off to bite into fingers, before retreating back to safety.

These three were bad enough. But there was one more.

From the back came death.

Mere mortals could not perceive it’s passing.

Throats split open. Thighs were flayed through the arteries. Eyes were blinded in a blur of orange.

Some were merely crippled, falling down and wailing in pain and terror, while some tried to run, limping off into the forest, and reeking of fear.

But death’s eyes were upon a more powerful prize. One of the Whirling Demon Sword’s lieutenants leapt back from a mighty blow from the rooster, his sword nearly flying from his hand, when it was upon him.

He nearly died in the first three exchanges.

He could not believe his eyes, as his sword desperately parried qi infused claws. The beast bounced, springing off trees, and the bodies of his men, claws scoring great furrows wherever it landed on flesh, and leaving no trace upon the wood or earth..

The man could feel it, the sheer bloodlust and glee the beast had, the predatory grace, and savage fury.

It was a tiger in the body of a cat.

Three more strikes were exchanged, and he threw the beast backwards, coming into a stance. He ignored the scream of one of his brothers, as an arm and blood arced through the air. He sharpened his intent, and focused his breathing, as the beast stalked towards him.

“Go!” he heard his leader yell, “take the boar, and return to me!”

One of the other cultivators split off, bleeding from a cut on his head, while the least of their number fell, struck down by the rooster.

He moved into the first Step of the Whirling Demon Sword.

[Whirling Dance of Blood]

Bloody red energy collected around his blade, and his heart squeezed painfully in his chest as he forced out the incomplete technique.The beast’s eyes widened.

What came forth was the mad dance of a demon, his sword flew into befuddling patterns as she struck with crazed abandon. Each strike chained into the next as he spun, leapt and smashed. Each strike got closer and closer to ending the beast. He started laughing, red creeping into the edges of his vision, as he embraced the power of the demon.

Orange fur drifted on the breeze. Tiny drops of red fell.

The cat landed, and took a breath. Qi gathered as he surged towards it.

[Claw Art: Fivefold Blades]

A technique created from observing and comprehending the blades of Holy Moonlight. Blades of pure cutting force bit into the ground, extending as long as a sword. The cat’s form blurred, as it raised a paw, and brought down the technique. His blade rose in defence.

One blade was blocked.

Then two.

The third he dodged by a hair’s breadth.

The fourth scraped along his ribs.

The fifth cut deep into his arm, but he was through, his sword thirsty for blood.

The cat’s other paw rose from beneath.

Five blades struck true, biting up into his gut. One ruptured his liver. One punctured his kidney. One burst his stomach. One penetrated his lungs. One tore through his spine.

Blood erupted from his mouth. His sword stopped, inches from striking the beast. He fell.

The cat nearly collapsed, but caught itself, panting.

Her eyes turned to the true fight.

She could intervene and slay the pathetic thing that dared to look like the Master whenever she felt like it.

Her limbs shook.

Whenever she felt like it.

///////////

Bi De chastised himself. His recklessness had not been fully tempered. He had dared to preach to Sister Tigu, when he was still so lacking. It was shameful.

This wretched thing’s words had driven him to near folly. It was bad enough that he was an interloper. He dared to threaten the Great Master’s disciples, and his woman, the Great Healing Sage!

He knew in his heart that the Great Master could slay all of the interlopers with but a glance, and flick of his fingers, but the words most foul had driven him to wroth.

He had charged into four of those wicked men, and barely survived the first few moments. It was not their strength that was nearly his undoing.

It was their skill. No wonder Chow Ji had sought to corrupt his form into one that resembled this. Their bodies were optimized for fighting, and wielding spurs made of iron.

But he had trained greatly. His Holy Lunar Blades were nearly completely refreshed, with only a few minor blemishes. His enemy’s arrogance had prevented them from capitalizing on his mistake.

And the timely intervention of his fellow disciples had given him the ability to fight only the leader. Tigu had slain her opponent, while the last one flailed, assaulted with Sister Ri Zu’s concoctions, Brother Chun Ke’s overpowering might, and Sister Pi Pa’s fearsome-- beautiful maw.

His intent was now completely focused. This Sun Ken’s strikes were befuddling, a mad dance that he needed to use every inch of his ability to see through and comprehend. If he had started the fight with such a technique, he surely would have fallen.

Holy silver clashed with demonic red as they leapt off the trees. It was a dance in the air, as they fought for dominance. The man was spewing bile and vitriol, but he had centered himself now. His words were as rain upon his back.

But he was tiring. Sun Ken’s blows were mighty, and his skill undeniable. He would have to redouble his efforts. Small nicks accumulated on his form, and his spurs protested every time he directly clashed with the man.

He drove forwards, dodging a blow that would have decapitated him, and landed a kick to Sun Ken’s ribs. The strike made something crack, and the man leapt up into the air.

[Rising of the Crescent Moon!]

Bi De rose to meet him, as surely as the moon. The man’s iron spur intercepted the blow, demonic red clashing with holy silver.

Sun Ken roared with fury. His Qi thickened. His sword burned with unnatural light.

[Whirling Demon Slash!]

Bi De’s eyes widened. The spur struck three times in quick succession, hammering into his legs, and sending him falling back down to earth.

Sun Ken appeared in instant later, his spur screaming for blood. Bi De’s wings flapped, and wind howled, propelling him back out of the way.

He glared around the silent clearing filled with corpses, and started laughing.

“The great terror of the Azure Hills, Sun Ken the Whirling Demon Blade, defeated not by the Verdant Blade Sect, but by farm animals! How bad a joke this is!”

The smile fell off his face. “Come then. One last blow, “First Disciple.””

Red surged around the man as he focused his intent.

Bi De panted. This was not working. The man gripped his blade with two hands, blood leaking out of his mouth. Madness and fury contorted his face into a demonic visage.

Bi De closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He was nearly spent.

Above him, the clouds parted. The Half Moon hung above their heads, shedding it’s light upon the world.

The half moon. It had its own lessons. Like the Taijitu, it was half dark and half light, but unlike that symbol, the separation was perfect. No light stained the dark, and no dark stained the light.

His feathers drank in the holy light, armoring his body in the purest argent.

[Spiraling Demonic Whirlwind!]

Red roared out, forming a ravening twister of destruction. Like demonic teeth, it consumed everything in its path.

Bi De Charged to meet it, racing into the jaws of death.

Bi De howled as it struck him. He drove through it, as Sun Ken spat blood, burning his vital energy in his last attack. The luminescent feathers faltered.

His pure armor began to fail. Little red cracks formed. Like the fangs of a demon, the whirlwind bit deep, offering no mercy. It bit into silvery flesh, and tore it to pieces.

Bi De screamed.

The silver light guttered out.

/////

Sun Ken stood, panting. He couldn’t believe it. It was the strongest spirit beast he had ever encountered.

He opened his mouth to shout his victory, when blood poured out of his mouth.

“Sneaky little bastard.” The man sounded almost impressed.

A black, nearly invisible spur was embedded in his heart. Red bled into black, as Bi De revealed himself.

A second rooster formed for an instant, made out of silvery light.

[Split Faces of the Half Moon]

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