LOOG Chapter – 57

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Chapter 57: The Shan

Bao woke to find a strange man staring deep into her eyes. It was a bizarre moment. Although she didn’t know the man, she didn’t feel threatened or fearful. A moment later, she realized that he was feeling her pulse at her wrist. Then he blinked and retracted his gaze, simultaneously pulling his hand away before stepping back from her.

“She’ll be fine,” he said to someone behind him.

Bao turned her head slightly and caught sight of Sunan, Sun Mai, and Mao Yun.

Sunan stepped around the man to stand at the bedside. “How do you feel?”

Bao took a moment to decide how to answer the question. “Weak.”

Sunan nodded. “Allow me to introduce Master Du Qian. It was his antidote that saved you. That poison was very nasty.”

Du Qian clasped hands formally. “Greetings, Heroine Bao.”

“Greetings, Master Du Qian.”

“You drew cathartically on your Qi, Heroine. It almost damaged your soul.”

Bao tried to sit up in the bed but failed. “My soul? How can you tell that?”

“I’ve been studying the way that Qi flows through the body, and I’ve come to realize that every person has five souls inside of them. From what Sun Mai has told me of this cathartic method of drawing on Qi, it has the potential to damage or even destroy those souls. Please be careful in the future. I’ll take my leave now. Please let me know if there’s any other way I can be of help.” He looked Bao in the eyes once more as he turned to leave.

Something about the way he looked at her pierced all the way into her heart, although she wasn’t sure exactly why or how that could be. Then he was gone.

“How long have I been asleep this time?”

“This time?” Sunan asked.

She smiled weakly. “I once went unconscious for a few months straight.”

“You were only out for three days.”

Bao’s thoughts drifted back to the events which had led to her recent state, and she asked, “What happened to Chang Peng and the others?”

“They’re all fine. It was Chang Peng who brought you back.”

She thought for another moment. “Tie Gangwen?”

“He’s alive and recovering.”

“Did I miss anything else important?”

“We’ve decided to move camp. Sunan and Mao Yun are back as you can see. Plus, your encounter with the Bone General’s men confirms our suspicion that the Demon Emperor is watching us. Once you’ve recovered, we’ll make preparations to leave.”

“I’m recovered,” she said, struggling again to rise to a sitting position. Unfortunately, she only got up onto her elbows before falling back down.

“Rest, Bao. There are no armies marching on us. We can afford to wait a bit longer.”

**

Bao recovered much more slowly than she would have liked. It took four days before she was able to even sit up for any length of time. For her, those four days were like an eternity. For everyone else though, they sped by.

In accord with decrees passed down by the leaders of both sects, training intensified. More rigorous forms of sparring were introduced, and while there were more injuries, the fighters in both sects made even greater progress. Alchemist Yang and the other doctors were busier than ever, and even Smiling Luo provided help with some newly invented techniques that drew upon magic to be a bit more effective.

Thanks to the intensive investigations into the backgrounds of all members of the sects, two spies were identified. Upon the advice of Li Runfa, though, nothing was done about them. “As soon as you know who the spies are,” he said, “they start working for you.”

Tie Gangwen had awoken from his coma. He would live, but the loss of his arm was a heavy blow to his psyche.

One of the most important events to occur during Bao’s short convalescence was that Sunan had a meeting with Ruan the Flamingo.

The rooms which had been Ruan’s quarters had been left untouched after the caves were occupied by the two sects, and that was the location of the meeting.

Sunan and Ruan were the only ones present. Currently, they sat together at a table, atop which sat a solitary box.

Ruan eyed the box. “A Wind Stone, you say?”

“That’s what we’ve been calling it. Bao said that you have experience working with things like this.”

“That’s true. I’ve never seen a rock that makes wind, but I’ve seen other powerful objects like this. Most of them fell from the heavens above.”

“From the Upper Realms?”

“If that’s what you call them, then yes.” Ruan reached out and pulled the box closer to examine it in detail.

“Don’t open it….” Sunan warned again.

Ruan nodded. After examining the box physically, he produced various tools of his trade which he used to perform measurements and other readings. The entire process lasted for about the time it takes an incense stick to burn.

When it was over, Ruan sat there quietly for a moment. “I need to perform a ritual,” he said. “It will take some time to prepare. Stay if you wish.”

With that, he began to prepare paper talismans which he used to seal all of the entrances to his chambers. Then he set to work inscribing a large circular sheet of paper with numerous complex designs and magical symbols. In the very middle of the piece of paper was a blank area the size of the box. Having accomplished these tasks, Ruan lit several sticks of incense.

Then he slowly placed the box down into the blank spot on the large piece of paper.

“You’re going to open it?” Sunan asked.

“Yes. Don’t worry, the ritual will keep us safe.”

Sunan swallowed and looked around for something to hold onto. Unfortunately, nothing sturdy was nearby.

Before he could say anything, Ruan slowly opened the lid of the box. Instantly, visible streams of wind exploded out from the rock, and yet, they were contained in a sphere roughly the same diameter as the piece of paper under the box. The wind streams lashed back and forth violently, but were powerless to escape the barrier which had been erected.

Ruan went on to make further investigations into the rock and the wind.

Upon finishing, he used his crutch to reach in and close the lid of the box. The wind died down immediately.

“Very interesting,” he said. He rubbed his chin with his thumb for a while, then looked over at Sunan. “I have an idea of how to work the Wind Stone into an object of power.”

“An idea…?”

“I won’t get into the boring magical aspects. Suffice to say that the power in this stone is something that requires special… tools to work with. Tools that I don’t have.”

“And who has such tools?”

“Wait here a moment.” Ruan hopped over to a nearby shelf, which contained a sizeable collection of books and scrolls. After picking through them, he pulled out a large, leather-bound book which he carried back and plopped down onto the table next to the box. “Have you heard of this?”

Sunan looked at the book. Inscribed on the cover in bold calligraphy were the words, Classic of Mountains and Rivers. “Yes,” he said. “There was a copy in the village where I grew up. I read most of it as a child.”

Ruan raised his eyebrow. “You actually read the Classic of Mountains and Rivers?”

Sunan smiled wryly. “Well. I was mostly interested in the pictures.”

Ruan chuckled. “That makes sense. This book is certainly full of fantastic beasts.” He opened the book and began to leaf through the pages. “As you probably know, according to the legends, it was more than 10,000 years ago that Xian Nu Shen created Qi Xian. In the early days, the lands did not look as they do now. They were filled with 5,000 mountains and 5,000 rivers, which were arranged into eastern, southern, western, northern, and central regions.

“The part of the world we live in now was once the Eastern Mountain and River Region. One of the ancient tribes that lived in that region was called the Shan.”

“The Shan?” Sunan thought for a moment. “In Classical Fei, Shan means–”

“No. It’s not Classical Fei. Their name comes from a language much older than that.”

“I thought Classical Fei was the oldest language in the world.”

Ruan looked up from the book. “That’s what people think who don’t know much about the world.” He looked back down and continued leafing through the book. “The Shan were a people who were supposedly born of the wind, and worshipped it as their god.

“Gushan?”

“Gushan is the wind god, yes, so perhaps the Shan are connected to him. I’m not sure.” At this point, he found the page he was looking for. “Here.”

After reaching a certain page in the book, he flipped it around for Sunan to look at. The Classic of Mountains and Rivers was essentially a bestiary of the ancient world, and somewhat of an almanac. This entry was devoted to a tribe of creatures called the Shan. Sunan recognized the picture, which he had seen when looking through the book as a child. It depicted a strange creature with no head. Its facial features were part of its torso, and it wielded an axe and a shield.

“As you can read there, the Shan believed that the wind of the world was created by the breath of Xian Nu Shen, and that by worshipping it, they could hear her words. The most interesting part is right here. Look.” He pointed at a passage toward the end of the entry for the Shan people.

Sunan began to read aloud, “The Shan beasts were learned of the craft of winds. The smite of their… what’s this character?”

Ruan looked over. “Empyral. It basically means ‘heavenly’.”

Sunan continued: “The smite of their Empyral Hammer did shatter the Tempest Crag, and thus formed the Tempest Stones of the Era of Creation.” He looked up. “Hmm…. According to Bao, the people who originally possessed this stone called it a Tempest Stone.”

Ruan reached out and tapped the Classic of Mountains and Rivers. “Our best bet is to try to find that Empyral Hammer.”

Sunan sighed. “But where would we even begin? Is the Classic of Mountains and Rivers even to be trusted? I mean, if a race of headless people existed in the world, wouldn’t everyone know about them?”

Ruan pulled the book back over and looked down at the information about the Shan. “You might be surprised what exists in the Banyan region. It’s right in the Demon Emperor’s own backyard, and yet he hesitates to send troops into those forests and jungles. Many of the beasts and peoples described in this book still lurk in the shadowy valleys of the Banyan.” He closed the book. “I’ve heard rumors that you plan to leave these caves. Is that true?”

“It is.”

“If you plan to stay within the borders of the empire, I can think of few better, or safer, places than the Banyan. If you go there to find the Empyral Hammer, perhaps I could tag along….”

**

The Golden Immortal was in a foul mood. “I thought you were supposed to be a top Bone Slicer, Geng Long? You let Bao walk right into you and even kill Xie Song? Dammit.”

Geng Long spat onto the ground and started twirling a knife through his fingers. “Shut the fuck up, Geng Jin.”

“That’s Golden Immortal to you, cousin. Nobody knows my real name, and I’d prefer to keep it that way….”

Geng Long snorted coldly. “Whatever. They lost my trail. They’ll never find us. What’s our next move?”

The Golden Immortal closed his eyes to think for a moment. “We don’t have enough men for an all-out assault, so we wait.”

“More waiting.”

“Yes, more waiting. Until the Bone General gets back, we don’t do anything unless we’re absolutely sure nothing like this will happen. And that includes scouting their perimeter. If I’m not mistaken, they’ll be moving camp soon. Even they can’t be so stupid as to stay in one place for very long.”

Geng Long grinned and threw his knife into a nearby tree. “We can strike them on the road. An ambush.”

The Golden Immortal nodded. “The only question is where they’ll head. Probably Naqan, through the Kushen Basin. Either way, we wait. How much more poison do you have?”

Geng Long pulled out another knife and started playing with it. “Plenty. I definitely hit Bao, so that bitch is probably dead already. Half of our job is done.” He chuckled coldly.

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