LOOG Chapter – 54

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Chapter 54: Council Meeting

Sunan and Bao entertained Gongye Zheng for three full days. He told many stories, both events which had occurred in Yu Zhing during the years in which Bao had been gone, as well as rumors and tales of the martial heroes who were rising up in different parts of the empire.

Most such heroes were declared outlaws by the Demon Emperor, and had huge bounties placed on their heads. There was the Purple Cavern Killer, who lurked in the shadow of Mount Rong. Rumors swirled about the Twin Giants of the Zhaoze Swamp. And far, far to the southwest was Hua Pi the Skin Dancer. Those were the most famous of the martial heroes, but there were others.

Sunan was shocked to learn that copies of his Wu-Sunan fighting manual were proliferating throughout the empire. Supposedly, many of the martial heroes were using it as the basis of their newfound fighting skills. Because of the rigorous training involved in this new way of fighting, many had taken to calling it “kung fu,” based on a Classical Fei word that meant “hard work.”

On the morning of the fourth day, they saw Gongye Zheng off as he made his way west toward the Kushen Basin, and beyond it, Naqan.

The dinner that evening was much simpler now that they weren’t entertaining important guests.

At one point, Li Runfa said, “Sect Leader, Chieftess, I wonder if we should start reaching out to these martial heroes. In times like these, we could use as many allies as we could get.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Liu Jiahui added.

“It’s worth considering,” Sunan said. “Perhaps after we move camp?”

“And when will that be, Sect Leader?”

“As soon as Sun Mai and Mao Yun return.”

After dinner, Sunan and Bao decided to personally check in on the guard tower which had been erected high up on the mountain. They set out alone into the crisp night air, taking their time as they hiked up the mountain.

At one point as they scrambled to the top of a tilted boulder, Sunan asked, “What do you think of this Li Buwei character?”

“The so-called Timeless Master?” Bao replied. “Hard to say. You know just as well as I how quickly tales can become distorted over time. Who knows what really happened in Xuanlu…. However, I’d be interested in meeting him.”

“Li Runfa is right. We could use allies.”

“Perhaps more than even we realize.” They stopped to rest for a moment at the top of the boulder. From this vantage point, they could see down to the entrance of the cave, where some of the disciples of the two sects were taking advantage of the coolness of evening to do some sparring. “Sunan, remember how we were almost killed by the Golden Immortal?”

“Of course.”

“It was a desperate fight. But….”

“But…?”

Bao crossed her arms and sighed. “But… that was nothing. When I faced the Ogre Generals, I felt like I was a fly attacking a tiger. My most powerful move, the Phoenix Palm, did absolutely nothing to the Love General. All of the power disappeared like a rock thrown into the ocean.”

Sunan looked over, disbelief flickering in his eyes. “Perhaps you just missed?”

“I didn’t miss. The strike landed true.” Bao closed her eyes. “I used to mention a lot how I killed an Orge, and I did, but… it really was just a stroke of luck. Short of crushing them with rocks, or maybe filling them full of arrows from a distance, I don’t know how we could kill them.”

Sunan didn’t say anything at first. A long moment passed. “Bao, I’m sorry for going so hard on you that night….”

“You don’t need to apologize. I made a mistake. A huge mistake. I understand that.” She opened her eyes and looked over at him. “But I won’t ever make a mistake like that again! I learned my lesson. In fact, I should be the one apologizing. Both of our friends died because of me.”

Sunan took a deep breath. “What’s done is done, and we can’t change it. But we can make sure things like that don’t happen again. I’m starting to really think we should contact this Timeless Master, and maybe some of the other martial heroes. I don’t think the Demon Emperor and the Bone General are going to give up until the both of us are dead. They’ll keep sending people after us. Whether it’s assassins or armies, we need to be ready.”

Suddenly a shadow flashed by on the ground. Sunan and Bao looked up to see a bird flying by overhead.

“That must be the Zhen Bird I’ve heard people talking about,” Bao said. “People say it’s a good omen.”

The Zhen Bird circled around and then landed on a nearby rock outcropping.

“I’m not much of a believer in that kind of thing,” Sunan said. “Come on, let’s keep going. The guard tower is just up ahead.”

**

As was his custom, An Jian was taking a nightly stroll out of the cave. At one point, he stopped and sat down on a tree stump. Looking up the mountain, he could barely make out Sunan and Bao standing on a boulder further up the mountain. A cold flicker passed through his eyes.

“So close and yet so far,” he murmured.

With that he pulled out a fan and then placed his palm down onto its surface. Then he closed his eyes. Moments later images and sounds appeared in his mind.

He saw Dragon Lieutenant Zhou, seated at a table with some of the other Dragon Lieutenants and soldiers. In the middle of the table, a tiny arena had been set up with pieces of wood, in the middle of which were two crickets. The table was also littered with peanut shells and cups of sorghum wine.

“Place bets!” one of the Dragon Lieutenants said, instigating a flurry of activity as everyone present put down money on which cricket they thought would win the next fight.

This particular match was different than the others. Dragon Lieutenant Zhou was the only one to place his money on the smaller cricket, provoking jeers among his companions.

“Come on, big bro Zhou, there’s no way that baby cricket of yours can take out my Elephant Smiter!”

“Oh yes he can!” Dragon Lieutenant Zhou shot back. “My Young Dragon is destined for greatness.”

“You named your cricket after Sect Leader Sunan?!”

Laughter filled the room.

“Listen,” Dragon Lieutenant Zhou said, brandishing his fan, “ever since I got this magic fan, my luck has changed.”

“That’s a magic fan?”

“Absolutely! See this poem? The wind, snapping trees, dissolving mountains, serenity. Do any of you know what that means?” His question was met by quizzical looks. “I didn’t think so. But I know! It was written by a prophet-king in Naqan! After I started meditating about the true meaning behind the words, I’ve been able to see the world much more clearly!”

The other Dragon Lieutenant laughed, then reached out and grabbed his drinking vessel.

“Very well then,” he said. “Come on everyone, let’s drink to big bro Zhou and his Young Dragon cricket!” The soldiers lifted their cups high into the air.

“Ai, I can’t drink too much!” Dragon Lieutenant Zhou grumbled. “There’s a council session in the morning!”

An Jian was just about to sever the connection to the fan when he heard: “Oh come on! Sect Leader Sunan and Chieftess Bao never ask us Dragon Lieutenants to say anything. Drink. Drink! To your health!”

An Jian’s ears perked up. Bao and Sunan had been in secluded meditation deep in the heart of the mountain for months. Although that had given An Jian plenty of time to build up a sizeable stockpile of Divine Fire, it had left Bao and Sunan completely beyond his reach.

Everyone around the table drank, then began to cheer as the handlers provoked the crickets into fighting.

Severing the connection to the fan, An Jian murmured, “Time to make a move….”

**

Dragon Lieutenant Zhou stumbled bleary-eyed out of his cot the next morning and promptly rushed outside to empty the contents of his stomach. After trudging back into his room, he put on his Dragon Lieutenant robes, tucked his fan into his belt, and prepared to head to the council meeting. Just before leaving the room, he looked down and noticed an ornate box sitting at the foot of his cot. It was about the length of his forearm, relatively plain, with a complex design carved on the lid.

“Hmm? What’s that?” he muttered, rubbing his eyes.

Take the box to the council meeting.

“I guess I should take it to the council meeting,” he said. Picking up the box, he headed through the cave tunnels toward one of the central chambers that was being used as the command room. It was currently being guarded by two members of the Golden Dragon Sect.

“Greetings, Dragon Lieutenant!” they said in unison.

“What’s that box?” asked one.

Dragon Lieutenant looked at them in confusion. “Box?” Then he glanced down and realized that he was carrying a box.

It’s a gift for Sunan.

“Oh, it’s a gift for Sect Leader Sunan.”

Dragon Lieutenant Zhou passed the guards and entered the command room. To his surprise, there were only three other people present, two Dragon Lieutenants, and one of the Pure Pheonix Sect’s Claws of the Phoenix.

“I’m early?” he blurted.

One of the other Dragon Lieutenants chuckled. “You’re early, big bro Zhou. I thought you said you didn’t want to drink too much last night.”

Put the box on the table.

Groaning, Dragon Lieutenant Zhou put the box down onto a table at the side of the room, and then slumped down to the ground against the wall.

**

An Jian watched as Dragon Lieutenant Zhou sat down on the ground and closed his eyes.

“Drunken fool.”

Time passed. Based on how Dragon Lieutenant Zhou was seated, An Jian could only see about half of the room. More people arrived, all of whom An Jian recognized. A Dragon Lieutenant. One of the Claws of the Phoenix. Tie Gangwen. A few other lower-ranking members of both sects.

Suddenly, one of the Dragon Lieutenants whispered, “Big bro Zhou, wake up! The Sect Leader and the Chieftess are coming!”

An Jian watched as Dragon Lieutenant Zhou scrambled to his feet and looked in the direction of the door. Then he clasped hands and said, “Greetings Sect Leader! Greetings Chieftess!”

**

An Jian’s eyes glittered with cold light.

“Press the circular knob on the left corner of the lid,” he murmured.

**

Before Dragon Lieutenant Zhou could even look up, he felt something tugging at his heart and mind.

Press the circular knob on the left corner of the lid.

Without even thinking about it, he reached over and pushed a circular knob of wood that had been carved into the bottom left corner of the lid.

Get behind the scenes info and material for your Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate session at the Bedrock Blog. In this installment, we have a minor plot element that will probably not be mentioned in the narrative of the story. Check it out!

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