A foreign man, called simply The Vagabond, was seen one day wandering the streets of Shenxiang Village, long hair hanging unbound to his shoulders, dressed in beggar’s garb and a torn, wide-brimmed hat made of straw to block the blistering mid-day sun. He questioned a local peddler for the best way to ascend Mount Song Shan. He climbed all day, choosing his way carefully, and arrived finally at the gates of Shaolin Temple. He knocked at the door and a monk slid back the grate and regarded him suspiciously. “I wish entrance to your temple,” The Vagabond said. “I wish to speak to your master, Facheng.”
The monk observed the garb The Vagabond wore, his long unkempt hair, and his lack of visible gifts of donation. “Shave your head,” the monk instructed.
The Vagabond did as instructed, and later found himself seated in lotus before Facheng. “I see you’ve recently shaved your head,” Facheng observed.
“It is but a temporary state,” The Vagabond replied, and he shook his shaven head, allowing his straggly hair to fall miraculously back into place. “Ah, an illusionist,” Fachang said. “I see.” “Yes,” The Vagabond replied, “After all, all is illusion, is it not?”
Before Fachang could reply, he continued. “Now let me tell you why I have come. I am here to beg your assistance in ending The War of Nine Dragons.”
Fachang listened long and hard to The Vagabond’s plan, than offered him a room for the night, so that the clan master might meditate upon it. The next morning Facheng sent word to The Immoral Monk, requesting his presence.
When The Immoral Monk arrived, Facheng spoke with him at length, then presented him to The Vagabond with the proclamation, “This is my strongest warrior — the only disciple to master each one of our 72 arts. In battle, he is worth an entire division. Take him as an emissary to Shaolin, and may The Buddha smile upon your endeavor.”
To understand this great gesture made by Facheng, you may wish to hear the tale “The Legend of The Immoral Monk of Shaolin”.
That night, The Vagabond and The Immoral Monk set out on a journey to Wudan Shan, and by sunrise had arrived at the gates to Wu-Tang clan’s stronghold. The Vagabond presented a letter of introduction from Facheng, and the two guests were admitted and brought before Master Tianxing, who sat sharpening a simple sword.
“Already aligned with Shaolin, I now seek your assistance in ending The War,” The Vagabond explained. Master Tianxing was moved by the plan, and impressed by the appearance of The Immoral Monk. So, not to be outdone, he sent a messenger to retrieve his most revered disciple from a secret location. It took three days for the messenger to return, and when he did, Tianxing presented The Vagabond with his greatest swordsman, Master Lingyun. “This young man is quite impetuous, but his sword knows no equal. He has agreed to represent Wu-Tang in your service.”
Upon their departure, Tianxing offered them his blessing. “May The Tao itself be your guide upon this quest.”
To understand the great sacrifice made by Tianxing, you may wish to hear the tale of “The Legend Of Lingyun, His Divine Sword, And The Arrow That Pierced Him”.
The three men arrived in Tianjin City two days later, and visited the clan stronghold of The League of Beggars, bearing letters of introduction from both Facheng and Tianxing. They were surprised to be greeted not by the King of Beggars, but by the League’s beautiful Queen, Hu Shanshan, who had been recently elected their leader. The Vagabond explained his plan to end The War, but Hu Shanshan was leery and asked for greater detail.
Later, alone in her quarters, The Vagabond is said to have revealed certain issues regarding Hu Shanshan’s past and future. Apparently she believed his words, for she herself agreed to accompany the men on their quest, leaving charge of her clan to her second in command, Drunken Moon.
To understand Hu Shanshan’s willingness to personally accompany these men, you may wish to hear the tale of “A Clever Girl Betrothed Beneath A Full Moon Claims Revenge”.
Next stop was at the house of a local nobleman, known to Hu Shanshan, where The Vagabond composed a letter. The letter was a request for Nangong Hui, the leader of The Union of Noble Families, to send the greatest warrior of his clan as a representative to meet them at a place called The Bloody Plain. “He will come himself,” Hu Shanshan predicted. “His ego is great, he perceives himself his clan’s greatest warrior, and when he sees my name, he will not allow himself to be outdone by a beggar.”
To understand why Nangong Hui would not dare to be excluded, you may wish to hear the tale of “A Male in The House of Nangong”.
Gifted by the nobleman with four horses, the group’s next encounter came a day later, as they traversed the outskirts of Death Valley, a desolate wasteland which borders both White and Black clan territory. “Who in his right mind would establish his clan here?” Master Lingyun asked The Vagabond. “A man who is no longer allied with his right mind,” The Vagabond replied.
In answer to the others’ puzzled looks, The Vagabond urged his horse forward. And, no sooner had his steed placed a hoof upon the crossroads, then the sounds of a dozen other horses were heard in the distance.
“It seems our quarry has sought us out,” The Vagabond said, with a devilish grin.
With the sun at his back, Jun Weiming, “The Iron Fist”, and a dozen of his disciples raced out from a canyon to meet them, weapons held high. When Jun arrived, however, he found the group dismounted, weapons sheathed but hands well-prepared to draw them. Jun dismounted his horse in a bound, and signaled his men with a wave. They began to circle the group, clearly eager for combat.
Before The Vagabond could speak, Jun Weiming strode up to The Immoral Monk and struck him hard across the face with his mailed fist. The Immoral Monk took the strike, but merely smiled and crossed his arms in defiance. “You’ll have to do better than that, traitor,” he said.
“I hear your Praying Mantis is quite good,” Jun Weiming said. “But let’s see how it fares against my Iron Fist technique.”
The Iron Fist disciples, as well as the clans’ emissaries, watched in amazement as The Immoral Monk and Jun Weiming revealed dazzling displays of Kung Fu mastery. The fight lasted for hours, with neither able to gain the upper hand. The Vagabond seemed entirely disinterested in the fight, and sat carving a large twig into a stylus. Eventually, when he was done, he looked up and cried, “Enough!”
Near exhaustion, the two combatants looked at him. “Jun Weiming,” The Vagabond continued, “poet warrior, keeper of the twin faiths, I must speak with you.”
The Immoral Monk stepped away and took a canteen of water offered by Hu Shanshan. Jun Weiming made several signals to his men, and they cocked their crossbows. The Vagabond told Jun Weiming of his plan, and invited him to participate. Jun looked at his enemies, each from White Clans, and decided it must be a trap, as the odds were not at all equal. So he refused.
The Vagabond nodded, as if he had expected this, and said, “Let me approach. You can easily kill me with your bare hands, the risk is mine.” Jun Weiming considered, and allowed The Vagabond to step up to him. The Vagabond whispered something to Jun that made him react as if poleaxed and reconsider his decision. “I will be there,” he said. Then he remounted his horse and rode back into the sunset with his disciples.
“What did you tell him?” Hu Shanshan asked. “I whispered the word, ‘Angulimala,’ The Vagabond replied. Hu Shanshan and Master Lingyun looked at each other in confusion, but The Immoral Monk nodded his understanding, and, as they rode on, he told them the story.
“Angulimala was an impressionable young student who was commanded by a wrongful teacher to offer him one thousand human fingers. So the youth hid near a roadside and began murdering passersby and cutting off their fingers. Many men sought to stop him, but all who tried fell to his blade. By the time had murdered 999 people, he had gone without proper food, shelter or comfort for a long time. So the Buddha himself appeared, and the boy ran at him with his sword. Buddha walked slowly away and the boy ran and ran but was unable to catch him, and at last became so weak from the exertion that he collapsed. He shouted at the Buddha, “Please stop!” to which the Buddha replied, “I have stopped; would you care to stop as well?” The boy threw down his sword and knelt before the Buddha. The Buddha blessed him and took him to the monastery, where Angulimala became first a monk, then later a Saint.”
The Vagabond, Hu Shanshan, Master Lingyun and The Immoral Monk traveled on until they reached Shanxi Province, and there The Vagabond led them to a place no living male was expected to know of… The Lair of Sacred Flower Clan. The Vagabond’s plan was to capture Sacred Flower’s leader, the deadly seductress called The Mistress of Chaos.
Now, Sacred Flower is but a clan of women, true enough, but even these brave, powerful men knew they would be immediately slaughtered upon entry, and so The Vagabond tasked Hu Shanshan’s bravery with a solo mission. She was to enter the lair, display her Kung Fu abilities and modestly request to become a disciple. Upon acceptance, she would be tested with a deadly initiation called The Trial Of The Mistress, in which she would have to choose between two pills, one harmless, one fatal. Based on Hu Shanshan’s great prowess, The Mistress of Chaos herself would come to oversee this test. The Vagabond told Hu Shanshan that, when The Mistress presented the pills, to choose the one offered in her left hand, and she would be safe. Afterward, when her entrance appeared divinely granted, The Mistress would council her privately…
“And when she does, hold up this amulet bearing the sacred symbol of Yin and Yang, and she shall become instantly entranced. Then you will lead her outside the cave, to us.” Hu Shanshan agreed to the solo mission, and succeeded in capturing The Mistress of Chaos, whom The Vagabond kept entranced.
To understand the great strategic value of taking The Mistress of Chaos prisoner, you may wish to hear the tale of “The Girl With A Deadly Charm”.
On the trail leading up to Mount Tai Shan, carrying their prisoner in tow, the group found themselves suddenly surrounded by the archers and spearmen of The Brotherhood of Thieves. The Vagabond requested of his fellows that they not fight, but surrender their weapons and allow themselves to be taken prisoner. This they did, albeit reluctantly.
At this point, placed in cells adjacent to each other, the three clansman began to doubt The Vagabond’s true allegiance. Their only solace was that their mysterious leader was languishing in the next cell over. A messenger was dispatched that three high-ranking White Clan disciples had been captured, and less than a day later Ji Longfeng, The Brotherhood’s leader, arrived to survey his catch. “Here I’ve been fighting The Imperial Emperor’s troops,” he marveled, “and three of its prized warriors suddenly surrender – how fortunate!”
“Ji Longfeng,” The Vagabond called out, “you who were once called The Divine Spear. I know you were noble once, and your fortune could double if you will but heed my words.”
Always a man willing to negotiate, Ji Longfeng listened to The Vagabond’s plan. Looking at the unconscious form of The Mistress of Chaos, he smiled, nodded, and had to admit the plan seemed plausible. It would seem a difficult decision: whether to play the hand he now held, or gamble upon greater gains. However, Ji Longfeng had always been a gambler, and, despite appearances, he was still of noble heart. He agreed to accompany his sworn enemies on their quest.
To understand why Ji Longfeng, a wanted criminal, agreed to help, you may wish to hear the tale “Divine Spear Answers The Cry Of His Brothers”.
Once set free and fed, the White Clansmens’ faith in The Vagabond returned. Ji Longfeng dispatched four messengers, each bearing a letter that revealed he had captured The Mistress of Chaos, and that, should The Emperor Heavenly Demon, leader of Heavenly Demon Clan, want to trade something of value for her, to meet him at Bloody Plain two days hence. Curious, the group wished to know what this would accomplish. And so The Vagabond told them the story of Heavenly Demon’s origin, a tale called “A Boy With Bloody Hands And Fire In His Eyes”.
“I believe you may draw him out to capture her,” The Master Lingyun offered at the tale’s conclusion. “He is a man possessed, after all. However, that still leaves one more, and how will you gain the attendance of The Thunder Emperor? Surely not with such trivial entreaties.”
The Vagabond nodded. “Surely not,” he replied. “But you see, with the eight of you as bait, and information leaked to him regarding your location, he will surely travel day and night like a shark to fresh kill.”
As the clansman looked to each other in wonder, Ji Longfeng laughed raucously. “Tonight, you are our guests,” he told them. “Let us feast as if this were our last night on earth, for it may well be.”
So it came to pass that, two days hence, The Vagabond and the eight representatives of each clan arrived at the place called Bloody Plain. The Mistress of Chaos was revived and awakened amidst her enemies. She immediately drew her daggers. “Though I slept, it was an enchanted sleep, and I heard all you said. I shall not participate in this game.”
The Vagabond ignored her, and instead began chanting a strange incantation while drawing a large circle in the dirt with his carved stylus, “This marks the dueling ground. None shall leave until one is declared The Ultimate Dragon. So be it.”
And, much to the surprise of each of The Dragons, they could not leave that circle, try as they might. “By the power vested in you by your clans,” The Vagabond told them, “each of you is to swear that whoever loses this contest, or is slain, shall compel his clan to seal itself off from The Land, and desist from further warfare.”
At this, The Vagabond removed a smooth Jade Tablet from his pack, along with a small Jade Vial. “On this tablet I have inscribed each of your true names. Now, when you drink of this elixir, and place your palms against the tablet, your oath is sworn. If you do not do this thing, none of you shall ever again leave this circle.”
One by one, each for their own reasons, the eight Dragons stepped forward, consumed the bitter contents of the Jade Vial, and placed their palms upon The Jade Tablet. When it was done, The Vagabond smashed the tablet against a stone and it broke into nine perfect pieces. He handed to each Dragon the piece whose name was inscribed upon. “This is your bond, the bond of your clan, and the essence of all that you are. Should you survive this duel, these artifacts will stand as testament to all that is about to occur.”
“A question,” Hu Shanshan of The League of Beggars asked. “We are still only eight. Where is The Thunder Emperor?”
As if in response, the sound of thundering hoofbeats was heard in the distance. The Vagabond chuckled. “And so we begin our series of duels. I suggest you ready your weapons, my Dragon Lords and Ladies.”
I can see that your mind is quite busy with questions, my friend. Foremost among them, I suspect, is: What happened during The Duel of Nine Dragons? Well, that is a tale in itself, and I see that your bottle of spirits has run dry. But this I shall tell you: when The Duel was over, some Dragons were dead, and the rest have not been heard from these past ten years. As promised, each of those who were defeated had the clans they represented seal their doors to new disciples. As you know, no war may continue without new soldiers to replace those fallen, and thus The War did end.
However, after ten years of relative peace, it is rumored that a piece of The Jade Tablet was recently uncovered by The Imperial Emperor, and the clans have opened their gates to once more accept new disciples. What this means for The Land we must wait and see, but if you would choose a clan and enter this ongoing story, I hope my tale will be instructive to you.
Perhaps we shall meet again. But for now, I’ll wish you safe travels, wherever The Road to The Dragon may lead you.