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The first sense that something was wrong was the itching down my back.

 

I had been in fairly good spirits when I departed the town. My belly was full of good food and there was the possibility of making it, of managing to congratulate Xiulan and Tigu. Something nice instead of days of sitting still and feeding energy to a crystal.

 

Each step had made me more energised. Each moment had washed away some of the exhaustion. But.. it also started to seem urgent. My excitement transitioned to nervousness.

 

My stride ate the ground beneath me. It was said that the Dueling Peaks was a week and a half away, but I must have poured on more speed than I thought because I saw two mountains rising up into the sky..

 

Or maybe I hadn’t really been paying attention—because the sky was glowing with the light of the dawn—

 

That wasn’t the light of the dawn.

 

It was smoke. Smoke and fire, an enormous amount, to the west of the town.

 

I heard the noise. At first what seemed to just be shouts of partying and the pops of firecrackers was the roll of thunder and screams of the populace.

 

I skidded to a halt.

 

Combat.

 

A waft of air flowed from the town. The smell was unmistakable. Blood. Sweat. Ash. Screams. The tournament was over. But there was still fighting. Unorganized fighting.

 

My first thought was an incredulous and hysterical ‘of course the tournament arc always goes to shit.’

 

There was another rumble, from deeper in the town. The snarling roll of thunder. The screams got louder.

 

The sounds of battle filled my ears. They made my heart spasm in my chest.

 

A real cultivator fight. Real stakes. Blood and death and crippling—

 

A fist pounding into my face. Another strike to the solar plexus.

 

The world shuddered as another peal of thunder boomed out. I flinched.

 

One to my chest, right over my heart. The ugly feeling of something stopping. The feeling of my blood sloshing and settling in my veins. The sudden lack of a familiar rhythm in my chest.

 

I swallowed thickly. I could feel the sweat bead on my forehead. My foot lifted involuntarily as I started to take a step backwards.

 

The darkness that started to overtake my vision. The feeling of being torn to pieces. I didn't want to go, I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to die—

 

My foot stomped down, a little harder than I meant it to. A step not backwards, but towards the town. I bit my lip. For a brief moment the thought of running overtook me. But my friends were in there. Yun Ren. Gou Ren. Tigu. Xiulan. Ri Zu.

 

And… “Great Master, what would we do?” Big D asked through the small piece of crystal behind his silver necklace.

 

His eyes were focused on the town in front of us, stern and uncompromising.

 

I had promised myself, no more running away. I straightened my back. I took a breath and drew on my Qi.

 

Yin and Noodle gasped. Hutton—er, Huo Ten, chittered, the monkey sliding off my back. I considered the situation as Yin leapt out of my shirt and Noodle slithered off to join them. The fire in the distance was concerning, but it was ultimately outside the town. I didn’t know if it was important yet, but there was one guy who could check it out then come back quickly.

 

“Big D, investigate the fire, then come back and get me if it's a fight and somebody we know. Yin, go with Noodle and find Tigu, Ri Zu and the Xonng Brothers. If they’re in trouble, come get me. Huo Ten… find someplace to hide. This battle is not for you.”

 

My voice was short and sharp. Commanding. I can’t say I liked my tone, but the disciples perked up like they were electrified.

 

“Yes, Master!” the animals choroused, bowing as one.

 

“Go.”

 

We burst into motion. Beyond running fast, I never really used much “cultivator” movement. No standing on stalks of grass or ninja-leaping through the trees.

 

This time, I jumped.

 

A single leap took me above the houses and onto a rooftop. My landing was a bit gentler than I imagined. I half expected to shatter roof tiles, but instead they didn’t make a sound as I alighted on them. As I stood on the roof, and gazed out over the town. I could see the flashes of techniques, the fires, the smoke, the yells, everything seeming to expand before me. I could hear it. I could taste it. My eyes were immediately drawn to the closest sounds of battle.

 

“Fox!” A voice boomed. A giant of a man lifted his sword high, pointing it at—

 

I accidentally kicked the roof off the house. The entire structure crumbled beneath my feet. I slammed into the road and grabbed the asshole out of the air.

 

He looked surprised for a brief moment, eyes widening in shock.

 

I immediately punched him in the jaw. A part of me said that cultivators should be slightly harder to knock out than a tap to the chin. My two methods of KOing somebody were punching somebody in the head and a chokehold.

 

Chokeholds don’t tend to put people under for too long unless you know what you’re doing, or are willing to risk killing the person. And really?

 

I was just angry.

 

I felt vaguely disappointed when the big guy’s eyes rolled up into his head after the first punch and he went completely limp.

 

As his sword clattered to the ground, I turned to Yun Ren, who was gaping at me.

 

“Hey brother.” I said as calmly as I could. “Sorry I’m late.”

 

His face, streaked with grime, sweat, and splattered with bits of blood lit up. Amber eyes, wide with terror and desperation froze, as he looked at me. Relief. Assurance. His face faded back to his normal cheeky grin.

 

“Hey brother.” Yun Ren gasped out as he collapsed to a knee, giggling hysterically. “Well, better late than never.”

 

I eyed the magical girl mascot-looking fox-thing on his shoulder, and the shining, pure white sword in his hand. The fox was staring at me, its mouth open.

 

I put it out of my mind and crouched down, putting my hand on Yun Ren’s shoulder.

 

“What's going on?” I asked. “Why was this guy attacking you?”

 

He shook his head. “I’ve got no fucking clue. This guy just started going after me! He spouted something off about the Shrouded Mountain Sect, then just started swinging!” He glared viciously at the downed guy, before his amber eyes widened. “And somebody shouted earlier that they took Tigu!”

 

Yun Ren winced, as my grip tightened on his shoulder.

 

I took a deep breath.

 

“Find some place to lay low. I’ll take care of everything.” I promised him.

 

Amber eyes stared into my own. We were in the middle of a busted up alleyway. He looked at the defeated cultivator, and shook his head.

 

“I’m coming,” he stated simply.

 

I closed my eyes and nodded. I… I wanted him somewhere safer, but… just like Big D, Yun Ren had the right to make his own decisions.

 

“Let's go then.”

 

I let go of his shoulder and stood. There was a rapid tap tap tap and a silver rabbit landed near us. She looked frustrated.

 

Master, Sister Tigu and Gou Ren are this way!’ Yin shouted down at me from a nearby rooftop. ‘They’re fighting but Shifu always said I gotta obey orders in a fight and you said come back and tell ya and can I kick the bastard’s who are attacking them’s asses?

 

I took a breath,. And stared down at the cultivator. “We’ll see Yin. We may not have to fight at all, but if we do…well.”

 

The rabbit thumped her food in anticipation. WeI nodded and picked up the downed guy. First an imposter, now the actual Shrouded Mountain Sect. The same guys both times. The sect was supposed to be pretty strong. Enough so that Rou had heard a few stories about them in their youth, so why was this kind of stuff happening?

 

I threw the asshole over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and followed after Yin.

 

My free hand clenched into a fist.

 

===============================

 

Bi De stood proud before the Interloper. He gazed imperiously at this foul creature who dared to assault his Junior.

 

He kept his breathing calm even as his Qi roiled. This creature’s blow had been beyond anything that he had ever received before. The full strength of the Aegis of the Moon had been brought to bear, and even then it was nearly not enough. The holy light had been scorched and blackened by the beast’s mighty blow.

 

He had originally meant to merely observe, as his master ordered. Observe, and return to his Lord so that he may render judgement on the combatants. But upon discovering it was Xiulan locked in mortal combat and about to perish, he had to intervene. His Great Master would surely forgive him.

 

He was lucky his Great Master’s name seemed to be a talisman against this creature. He had merely meant to stall for a few moments longer, to collect himself completely, but the utterance of his Great Master’s name sent the wicked thing recoiling. His eyes widened and his body spasmed.

 

“Really? Really? The Heavens mock me with this!” The man snarled as he glanced back at the town. His eyes flicked to the ground, where the little shoots of grass grew.

 

Bi De took the moment of reprieve to glance out of the corner of his eye at Xiulan. She had collapsed to one knee, panting.

 

It was only by her Qi that he recognised her. Her clothes had been mostly burned off her body. Her skin was flushed red from the head and cauterized wounds littered her arms and legs.

 

“He took Tigu.” She whispered, “He is a man who was defeated by Master Jin—” She cut off with a wracking cough. Little sparks of fiery Qi and flecks of blood drifted out of her mouth. Her Cultivation seemed to be under fiery deviation.

 

But her eyes were still defiant.

 

While he wished to have Xiulan be seen to by Ri Zu as soon as possible, Bi De returned his attention to his enemy. This wicked foe would not give them the opportunity to seek aid.

 

The man paused as he glared at the town. “Perhaps this may yet still be salvaged,” he mused. His eyes locked onto Xiulan, full of murderous intent. “I will finish things here. Alas, my compatriots were made martyrs by this vicious and unprovoked attack upon the Shrouded Mountain Sect. Only Zang Li managed to escape.”

 

He fingered a talisman he pulled out from his robes and glanced at it. The man was nervous. His eyes flicked to the ground again, before he took a deep breath.

 

The fires around him exploded in intensity. The whites of his eyes turned pitch black.

 

“That was a good trick, Fa Bi De. Let us see if you can replicate it.” His words were laced with absolute contempt. “A chicken. You are an ant, challenging the Heavens.”

 

Bi De stepped forward, his blades of moonlight forming. Six swords of Grass rose in support.

 

[Thunderous Steps]

 

And then their opponent was upon them.

 

A blade of fire swung for Xiulan. This interloper seemed intent upon her death, and Bi De could not abide by that.

 

His holy spurs interspersed themselves, halting the blow for just enough time for Disciple Xiulan to move out of the way.

 

The blow was mighty. As mighty as the fires that had scorched his shining aegis.

 

Even through his exhaustion, this man was more powerful a foe than Bi De had ever faced. A single blow would have slain Sun Ken. A single blast of fire would have torn the flesh from his bones and ended the bandit.

 

Bi De had not been idle. He was not the same as when he battled Sun Ken. He had ascended past his limits with understanding and skill, rather than brute force like this one.

 

Bi De armoured himself in moonlight. Copying Sister Yin’s style of Qi manifestation, Bi De clad himself in silver moonlight instead of the gold of the sun.

 

“Your breathing is off.” Bi De informed the wretch, keeping the strain out of his voice.. “A paltry blow.”

 

[Wheel of the Crescent Moon]

 

The man’s eyes widened as Bi De threw himself into a flip. The ring of silver light lashed for his throat, but struck an arm instead, as the man barely moved out of the way in time.

 

Silver cut lightly into the man’s arm. The Interloper screamed. The flesh hissed, as silver veins spread from the small injury.

 

The man stated at his arm in shock— and then two blades from Xiulan slashed against him.

 

The man grunted, but Xiulan was flagging, and the blows had not the energy behind them to properly cause damage.

 

“Inattention in a fight is lethal.” Bi De mused instead, attracting the man’s attention once more.

 

His face twisted, and his body shuddered.

 

A return strike nearly took Bi De’s leg. The man screamed, as the fires erupted around him, and his sword started to vibrate.

 

“You’re right. It is.” He snarled, as his eyes turned back to Xiulan.

 

His opponent was committed now. He was stronger and faster than Bi De. His blows were mighty. While normally Bi De would attempt to dance around his opponent’s blows, this fiend took every opportunity to strike at Disciple Xiulan. She was weakened by her previous efforts and could barely dodge his hungry, burning blade.

 

Holy spurs clashed with a blade made of an inferno. The impacts rattled up Bi De’s legs. When he was airborne they threw him aside, and he had to take precious moments to throw himself back into the battle, while Xiulan tried to keep him away.

 

“Poor posture.” Bi De intoned, as he managed another blow, raking across the man;’s back. A small chunk of flesh flipped off the man’s body.

 

The man howled.

 

Fire exploded off the interloper’s body, filling the sky and singing Bi Di’s feathers. A blow that nearly caught his entire body alight.

 

Instead, Bi De landed and stroked his wattles again.

 

“Hmph, your power is far below that of my Master’s.” Bi De snorted contemptuously. “You are beneath his notice. Look at you, struggling so greatly against just his chicken.”

 

The words made his opponent flinch, and the fires around him flared all the hotter. His eyes focused fully on Bi De. He gave him his undivided attention. His eyes started to weep oil.

 

“I’m going to stuff you into a soup pot the man howled, his voice becoming oddly two-toned, as if another man was speaking, just under the surface.

 

Yet his opponent's rage blinded him and distracted him.

 

He did not notice the small streak of black and silver rushing back to the town.

 

[Split Faces of the Half Moon]

 

Bi De was, after all, a diligent disciple. His Great Master had commanded he be warned. And warned he would be.

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A note from Casualfarmer

The first one I wrote after the break. its a bit short, but it got me back into the swing of writing again.

 

And As always, if you wish to read the next TWO chapters, I do have two advanced chapters on patreon


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