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To the direct east of the Azure Hills lay the Howling Fang Mountains. They were a stark contrast to gentle hills and rolling grass, standing tall and proud, stabbing up into the heavens defiantly, and biting directly into the Sea of Snow. The northern ranges were wind-blown and barren. Slashing winds could tear a man’s skin from his bones, or have him impaled on whirling ice shards the size of spears. Many Spirit Beasts and dangerous, savage tribes lurked in the veil of snow and icy Qi. It was for these northern peaks that the province was named. The wind screamed through a hundred thousand crags and crevices, sounding like the howling war-cry of some savage beast.

As one went south, the Crimson Phoenix Empire began to flourish. They lived in isolated pockets in the valleys, with the occasional outpost high up in the passes. It was a hard life, confined to little stretches of green land in a sea of stone teeth. The jaws were always hungry for unwary travellers.

As the trek south continued, the valleys got wider, and the peoples more populace. From frigid, hard frontiersmen, to the merchants of towns, to the artisans of the cities. Though the fangs jutted proudly, and one could never really see the horizon at their base, they thinned. In their protective embrace, the Empire flourished. Expeditions to the northern mountains for rare resources, or mining in the giant teeth fueled their growth.

Of all the Teeth in the Howling Fang Mountains, one was famous. The Shrouded Mountain. It was not the tallest of the fangs. It was not the grandest. It was rather short, and yet it stood alone, jutting up almost unnaturally from the center of the valley it resided in. Once, it was the home of a savage and cruel spirit beast, who cast befuddling illusions and preyed upon the righteous. It enslaved and consumed as it pleased, inflicting heinous cruelties upon the populace.

To the Great Founder of the Shrouded Mountain Sect, this was intolerable. With the strength of his Dao, he flew to the mountain, carried upon the fulmination of the heavens. For three days and three nights, the thunder rumbled, cleansing light tearing through illusions, and laying bare the wicked to the light of the day. The Spirit Beast, and it’s foul spawn shrieked with agony, and were slain, their cores becoming the foundation upon which the sect was laid. There are even rumors that some of these cores, from this ancient age, still remain, locked in the halls of the Shrouded Mountain.

Instead of mist and illusions, The Great Founder shrouded the mountain with clouds of stormy wrath, and the light mist of rains. From high upon their hidden, forested mountain, the Shrouded Mountain Sect rules.

The sect, known for piercing through illusions, are blind to a parasite in their midst.

The last of the competitors fell, twitching from a bolt of lightning. The last one standing, the winner of the Shrouded Mountain’s Disciple’s Tournament raised his head high and closed his eyes, basking in the shouting of the crowds.

The sect elders, watching on, stroked their beards, and nodded their heads, giving each other profound glances, and communicating with their eyes alone.

“Zang Li.” A voice cut through the shouting, and the howling of the crowds with but a whisper. The elders never needed to raise their voices to be heard. “A great victory has been won today. We, the Elders of this Shrouded Mountain Sect, Declare you the Victor. These Spiritual Grade Qi Refining Pills are your prize.”

The crowds cheered again, and a voice, meant only for his ears, came to him.

“You are to convene with the Elders, to discuss this further.”

Zang Li bowed his head in acknowledgement. He claimed his reward, and departed the arena. A servant was waiting for him.

“You are to change, Young Master.” The man said respectfully, holding out new clothes. Zang Li’s lips twitched into a smile.

He took them without a word, cleansed himself of his exertions, and donned his new garb. Then he strode forth into the building he was directed to. The doors were opened, and Zang Li entered, bowing to the single Elder in attendance.

“Rise, Disciple.” The man commanded. Zang Li did as he was bid, standing perfectly still under the judging gaze.

The Elder broke into a smile, and retrieved a scroll, unrolling it, and reading.

“For this meritorious achievement, Victory in this Shrouded Mountain Sect’s Disciple’s tournament, Zang Li’s restrictions are lifted in their entirety. Return to your previous post and station, Young Master. There will be the resources you have rightfully earned. Ascend as is your right, and claim the power of our Shrouded Mountain.”

Zang Li bowed to his “father”. The Man’s face was filled with pride at his “Son’s” accomplishments.

Inside the skin of the Young Master, Lu Ban mocked the man. He now lavished affection upon his son’s killer. Lu Ban thanked him for his generous donation.

“Thank you, father. This one apologies for the inconvenience he placed upon you.” He said respectfully, as if he had been chastised by his time treated as an outcast. No, he cared nothing for it. He was merely inconvenienced, and yet his true power had shone through. Killing a profound realm cultivator, when he was but an initiate, claiming his body, and stealing right from under his sect’s nose.

His “father” waved it away.

“Victory washes away all sins.” His father declared. A statement Lu Ban was happy to agree with. “Now go, and celebrate this victory.”

Lu Ban bowed again.

He exited the hall, and was immediately flanked by his new servants. He never failed to relish in his power. To make other men bow before him, and do his bidding. It was intoxicating. That a man like he now could command, and be obeyed without question.

How Magical, the words “Young Master of The Shrouded Mountain” were. Though those words did bring up unpleasant memories. The time they hadn’t worked.. He had been suppressed. He shook the ugly feeling away, as he strode to what was now his pavilion. Gone was the single room of an ascetic, meant to shame him for his defeat in the Azure Hills. His clothes were fine silk from spirit beasts, and his gold addorments, simple at first glance, were intricately worked. His pavilion was large, almost a palace in its own right. A mighty outpost upon the mighty mountain. Lacquered wood from a thousand year old trees. Jade lanterns from spirit stone mines. Enough wealth to buy a city, in a single, low level pavilion.

For a man who had come from the streets, who had known the hunger of starvation, it was almost too much. And yet, it was not. This was simply proof of his might. That he was no longer a dirty, filthy street rat, begging to survive. He was the master of his own destiny.

Already, the others awaited him, in the pavilion’s main hall. They cheered when he entered or bowed their head in respect. In the ones he had suppressed, he saw anger and humiliation. In those he had aided, he saw the gleam of those happy that his star was rising.

“We pay our respects to the Young Master!” the chorused, as he took his place at the head of the table.

He gave them his acknowledgement, and the food was served. Delicacies that he once could have never dreamed of filled his plates, and it took some modicum of self control not to tear into the feast like a savage beast at the sheer amount of it all. Instead, he savoured. He took little bites of each dish, and allowed whatever he wanted to go to waste. The outer disciples approached his table, and begged to pour him a drink, or offer their services. He disregarded most of them, for they were beneath his notice.

“Please think kindly of me, Young Master.” the outer disciple crooned, her robe practically falling off one shoulder. Lu Ban was amused. He would indeed, think kindly of her. She would pleasure him tonight, and he would do her the courtesy of not consuming her soul.

Though he made no promises against a stunted cultivation.

Truly, he was on top of the world at this moment, and the heavens would only allow him to rise higher.

He took the woman. He added some of her strength to his own, without destroying her. Now, with him being given free reign, it would not be too difficult to find a proper meal.

He left the girl exhausted and unconscious. To the back room he went, where the Qi was the best for cultivation, and took one of his new pills. He disregarded the new technique scrolls, gifted by the sect, for now.

Instead, in darkness, he cultivated.

Oil and blood bubbled most pleasantly under lightning and clouds.

/////////////

He exited the room the next morning. The girl had been removed, as per his orders to the servants. Good. He didn’t have to deal with her whining.

He approached the main table, where documents lay from the elders. Deciding these could be spared some of his time, he began to read, and grimaced.

An Itinerary? He supposed Young Masters must do something other than cultivate, though this was an annoying revelation. More tournaments, some duties from the Elders, but nothing too--

Well, it appeared his enemies were not as suppressed as he thought. They dared to insult him like this?!

He calmed himself. Perhaps they wished for him to complain.

To stay silent was an insult. To speak out against this was an insult as well.

He sneered, and tossed the paper aside. He turned on his heel, and re-entered the cultivation room.

Scout for talented individuals at the Dueling--

 

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