-------------------Chapter Seven, As Told By Xiao Ping and Wen Hung-Lo---------------------

Aiko

I had pondered Lo’s words until very late. After a time I realized he was right. I began to write in my journal. My hand was cramped and sore when I saw the stripes of the morning light shining through the wagon’s slats. After reading what I had written I knew what I had to do. I had to address the group.

I scrawled out my speech on a slip of rice paper. After it was done, I read it and tore it up. I wrote it out a second time. I tore that one up too.

I resolved never to cry again. I got out of my wagon and admired the landscape.

The blackbird was up in the sky again watching us. I saw it going around in lazy circles.

“I wish I could shoot down that damn Crow, but it stays up there way too high,” Ochir said.

"I could put an invisibility and a fly spell on you,” I said.

“Sure!” Ochir said. “On top of that I’ll silence spell myself and that Crow will never know what hit him!”

I pulled my ring of feather falling off my finger and handed it to the Gnome. I didn’t want Ochir to fall to his death if my fly spell wore off while he was still high up in the sky.

He put on the ring, then stood still while I sang softly and put the spells on him. He popped out of sight.

“Woo-hoot!” we heard his voice yell as he flew up and away.

Marco leapt up from rolling up the tents and said, “I’m going too!” and he swilled down a potion and vanished.

I watched the bird above carefully. I had a magic missile ready to go, but somehow I knew I wouldn’t need it. I suppose that some would say I was crazy believing that. I could feel that Aki was tense. We were watching the bird soar languidly on thermals when we saw it lurch and wheel about.

We could just barely see Ochir appear near the bird. He was a tiny dot in the sky. He darted and dove around the winged beast.

Ochir later described the blackbird as larger than the sort of foul usually roasted for a feast. It had one long red feather in its right wing. He said it had been clutching several scrolls in its claws.

“I am Wodes and I rule the air in the name of Pazuzu!  Soon you will be a scattering of bones falling to the ground!” the blackbird taunted.

A horde of normal sized ravens flew up from the tree crowns and swarmed Ochir. They pecked him all about his face and all over his body. They were so thick and ferocious that Ochir had to shield his eyes. He squeezed them tightly shut while his hands mechanically worked his bow.

Ochir swept up, peeked with one eye, and fired an arrow. It sunk into the bird’s back.

The Crow whispered in a dark tongue and three air elementals appeared. They swirled and danced around Ochir like tiny white tornadoes.

The raven swarm pecked at Ochir without mercy; he began to bleed from everywhere.

Ochir fired more arrows at the bird. The elementals buffeted him back and forth in the sky.

The Crow vanished. Ochir heard it flapping its wings as it got away invisibly.

“Next time you won’t be so lucky!” Ochir yelled.

Ochir fired three more shots in vain trying to hit the bird, but it was gone. The air elementals withdrew and corkscrewed out of existence.

The cloud of ravens fluttered back down into the canopy.

Ochir flew down diving headfirst. He had his arms stuck out behind him as he cut through the air. He swooped upward in a little hook as he arrived at the ground level and landed neatly on his feet.

“Ah, the son of a bitch got away!” Ochir cried. “But that was no bird! I’ll tell you that!”

The pit of my stomach was uneasy.  Pazuzu?  The Family enemies all seemed to revere or worship the x winged demon Pazuzu.

I called everyone together. I knew what I had to do.

Everyone groaned and rolled their eyes, but it was time.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” I said, “My true name is Aiko Kaijitsu. I am blessed with the good fortune of having you all as my friends. I am grateful to you all for everything that you have done. You have all been very brave.

We have had some trouble of late with agreement on what course of action should be taken or on what the policy should be. These are dangerous times, and we cannot afford to be at odds for even a few moments. We go against the Frozen Shadows.

While my sister Pang Mei is the true heir to the Throne, and I will not likely ascend to it, there are times when we are apart from her. It has come to my attention that even though I am not first in line for the throne, I must be a leader in these times.

I can no longer ignore this duty.

I never wanted this for myself, but now I see that I must evolve. Fate holds that I am no longer the Xiao Ping you once knew. I will apologize for the mistakes of yesterday by not making the same mistakes today. From now on, I will no longer shrink from and will fulfill my role as leader of this group. I have tried hard to know your hearts, so I do not need your words. I do not ask for any oaths.

My first official act will be to address the problem of Lo, Wen, and Suishen.

I know that it has been a tradition in China for thousands of years for arranged marriages to forge alliances. In every case, it is an unwavering custom for the family of the groom to send gifts and a letter requesting the engagement to the family of the bride.

In my opinion, this has not precisely happened. I know that my worth is low, and I will not argue that; but I am not asking for any gift, only that my word be respected as it should have been from the beginning."

"It is hereby my edict and official order that Suishen will be wielded by the House Champion,” I paused.

“Currently, the House Champion is Lo.”

I turned to Wen, my Husband to be. He wore a brave face.

“Wen, you are important and intriguing to me, and I may in time come to love you as my Husband. You have already earned my respect, for I can see by your deeds that your conviction is strong. I will be lucky indeed to have an honorable man like you for a Husband.

As much as I wish I could in good conscious allow you to wield the blade, I cannot. Although I am sure of your Honor, Lo has spent what seems like years serving as my protector. He has never faltered, and he has shown a sense of right and good that cannot be denied. I think it is impossible that the sword would not have him as a wielder. His experience cannot be foolishly ignored.

In addition, there is this. Wen, I will tell you the truth.

Lo's original katana was traded away when we lost a fight to a Stone Giant, and Lo fought bravely near to death in order to defend us all. I was forced to give the sword to the Stone Giant in order to save Lo's life and the lives of the others you see around you. Such was a promise made under duress.

My promise to Lo was not made under duress, and I must now see it through.

It is only in this way that my promise to Lo can be fulfilled. This is a matter of Honor. 

Lo and Wen, both of you will travel with me, I will hear of no other solution. I will need all of you skilled warriors at my side."

"You may now honorably exchange swords.”

I held my breath. I heard Ochir unsnap his bow from his belt.

Wen stepped forward, knelt, and offered Suishen solemnly to Lo.

“The sword will not find you worthy,” he said.

Lo took the sword, unsheathed it, and held it aloft. It grew into a giant sized Katana. Flames sprang forth and licked the curved steel.

“I have a new wielder!” a booming voice broke from the katana.

Lo was finally content. He smiled broadly in the yellow light.

Wen hung his head.

My speech was far from being finished. I cleared my throat.

“Teamwork is important and we can and will have discussions on what the best course of action may be. We will not be foolish, and we will not delay,” I said.

“As for the policy of what to do with defeated enemies, as Ochir has advised, the need for the permanent destruction of true enemy combatants is crucial; and I must agree with his advice.

It goes against every fiber of my being that I do not order the prisoners held in the prison wagon executed at once. I am afraid that reality dictates that these adult foes have demonstrated how truly dangerous they are, and that they are not apt to change.

It is only by the concern and respect I have for Dipaka and Aki that I do not order them executed. Make no mistake however, if they escape, they are to be killed. If anyone is ever hurt by a prisoner, we will begin slaying dangerous enemies regardless, and the prison wagon will then rust in peace.

This is the way it will be.

On the battlefield, when the time comes for you to decide what to do with true enemies that have been reduced to helplessness, they must be destroyed for good. If there is anyone in this situation, look to me for the final say. If in doubt, the foe must be rendered inert forever. There WILL be exceptions to this, especially for children, so not all those who surrender to us or fall will be killed, but most will be.

Prisoners can provide useful information, but we will not torture prisoners to get it.

Furthermore, if there is an enemy unit that has charmed one of our own or is otherwise controlling them, destroy this enemy. All efforts should be made by all combatants to cause harm to the charmer as soon as is possible, except for Dipaka, who will be expected to say prayers that will shield our warriors.

I will allow poison under fair combat conditions. No digestives planted in food or drink for the unwary.

If someone cannot abide by these rules in actual practice, those individuals can arrange to carry forward safely on their own.

We go now against the Frozen Shadows! They are to all be killed, no exceptions! They are the enemies of our Family!

Oh, and one more thing: the House Champion is to remain sober at all times unless I am drinking too.”

Everyone burst into laughter. 

Thankfully, almost everyone had an “it was about time” look on his or her faces.

I felt bad for Wen. I shuddered.

Everyone prepared to depart.

Dipaka later looked at me, shook his head sadly, and said, “Your flowery speech has changed nothing.”

Maybe not, I thought, but the Mongols weren’t really going to stop until they had conquered all of China and Japan. It was inevitable they would try. Turning the other cheek wasn’t going to get the job done. The Healer couldn’t know.

Lo hauled out several cases of sake from his wagon's stash and placed them before me on the ground.

“I will drink no more,” he said.

Wen came over and threw a bottle up into the air and chopped it on its way down. It shattered and sprayed sake everywhere. I could tell that he was angry.

I turned and left them alone.

I noticed that Wang Chung had been absent when I gave my speech. It was time for him to come back into the fold. My new rope trick could camp eight people. This was going to be the number of attackers in our strike force. I needed to talk to Pang Mei.

I walked down the length of the Caravan to the command wagon. The Jade Archer was on top of the wagon with her eyes bright and alert. Her hair was luxurious.

Wang Chung was strumming a meandering ballad with a five-piece band, and he was singing the vocal part in a rich and beautiful voice.

I sat down and listened to them play. Pang Mei sat down next to me after a few songs and I reported that Ochir had gone up to destroy the Raven spy. I told her of our plan to attack the Frozen Shadows in their base.

“Yes, good job,” she said, “and there is more news. We met a merchant yesterday. He said that they had their caravan confiscated by the Mongols twenty miles outside of Hangzhou, about a week up the road. As they surrendered peacefully, the Mongols let them all go,” Pang Mei said. 

“I want Wang Chung to come back to us,” I said.

Wang Chung bowed at the end of the show. Everyone was applauding.

I clapped too; the songs had been quite good. “Bravo!” I yelled.

After a few more minutes, the handlers and tradesmen who had clumped to congratulate him had dispersed. I went over and hugged him.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure,” he said, and he looked across at Pang Mei. My heart sank when I saw she was talking to Wen.

“What is it?” he asked, with a slight smile.

“We are going to go against the Frozen Shadows at their base, and we need your help. We have come to rely on your songs to cheer us up. This mission is of critical importance, we can stop them here in China.”

“If you need me, and Pang Mei says it’s ok, I’ll gladly go with you and cheer you up,” he said, smiling.

“Pang Mei has granted her permission,” I said, “I asked her about this already.”

“Sure, I’ll come along,” he said, and he slung his Sitar over his shoulder. 

“Alright, let’s go,” I said, and we started to walk back down the length of the caravan.

“Wait a minute!” I heard Pang Mei call from behind me. I froze.

“Chung,” I said, “you go ahead, I have something to answer for.”

I turned to face my Sister.

“I’m assuming you are going to Ravenscrag, and we’ll just stay back and guard the caravan, is that it?” she asked.

“Well, I guess so.” I said.

Pang Mei thought and rubbed her chin for a moment. 

“The Jade Archer thinks this should be a two-pronged attack,” she said.

The Spiritfolk woman appeared at Pang Mei’s side.

“There are two ways into this Crag. A set of rickety old stairs that goes up to the front door and a long valley road up the back way filled with Trolls,” she explained.

“We’ll take the Troll road, and we’ll leave the Polos behind to guard the caravan,” Pang Mei said.

“Except for Marco,” I said.

Pang Mei nodded.

“Wen wants to join our group. We need another fighter,” Pang Mei said.

“No, he must come with me,” I said. He was going to be my Husband.

“Well, in truth, you have broken his heart. You have taken his rite. He doesn’t think he can carry on with you,” she revealed.

No!  I had to explain.

“This was about far more than my promise to Lo! You must understand that. This is also a test for Wen. If he turns his back on me now over a stupid sword then he has failed the test!”

Pang Mei’s face wrinkled in frustration. She was silent for a while.

“I’ll not wipe the nose of this Governor’s Grandbaby,” the Jade Archer said. “You should send him to go with his Bride.

“Fine,” she said, and looked to me, “but you should be extra nice to Wen, he’s doing you a favor.”

“I’ll be nice to him, don’t you worry,” I said.

I walked back to my wagon in the dark. I was beginning to like the dark.

When I got back to the end of the column Dipaka explained that one of the Frozen Shadows in the prison wagon had turned. He had admitted to Dipaka that they had surrendered intentionally, under orders to do so. They were to have let us find the map to their “secret” lair.  We were walking into a trap.

Dipaka had done a nice job. He had worn the man down and made him see reason.

Late that night we heard the prisoner screaming. We ran down to the prison wagon to see him having a seizure. Dipaka was there with him. He was raving about a curse, and his hands gripped the bars tightly as smoke came out of his ears. His eyes bulged out horribly and he fell down dead. The other prisoners stood staring from the corners of the wagon.

“We are all cursed,” they said.

Dipaka said he would find a way to remove the curses. He was upset with himself for what had happened, although he could not have known.

Ochir was amazed by Dipaka’s apparent power. “You’re gonna have to teach me that,” he joked.


Crab on the Beach

The next day our group set out on foot. We needed to travel along the coast for a while in order to get to a gap that would eventually lead up to the crag. The wind was colder and I wore a heavy frock. Pang Mei’s group had left to attend to their mission an hour earlier.

We tramped through alternately rocky and sandy coastal runs for most of the day.

We were crossing a white beach when we heard a long low cry rise up over the surf.

My watchful spirit tugged my sleeve. Something was wrong.

We stopped moving and looked out over the waves. We saw a series of dark spikes break the water. These grew taller as they came nearer and the tops of huge carapaces appeared. They were brownish orange and the water sprayed up as they went, and they left giant wakes.

Two five thousand pound shark eating crab spiders emerged from the surf, each with two giant pinching claws. They had eight long multi-jointed legs, and they scuttled with amazing speed. Seawater ran down their armored limbs and sprayed everywhere. Their huge mandibles snapped open and shut with loud cracks. Their eyes waggled on top of short stalks.

I cast my haste spell right away, and everyone sprang into action.

As the crab spiders came across the sand towards us, Wen ran out to meet one with Lo’s old katana gripped in both hands. The beast’s huge claw caught him at the waist before he could get close enough to attack. It yanked him off his feet, and he struggled to get free.

The other one grabbed Lo and it whisked even the Giant off the ground. His big feet kicked uselessly. He pulled out Suishen and the flames left long fiery trails in the air.

Ochir rapidly fired arrows at the beast that had hold of Lo. The creature shielded itself with Lo and now the Goliath had two of Ochir’s arrows sticking out of his chest. “Hey! Shoot the monster, not me!” he yelled.

Allegro dashed over and used his momentum to throw a stone at the crab that was crushing Wen. It ricocheted clean from the creatures hard shell.

Istanoval cried, “What are you doing? Don’t throw measly stones! Get in there! Your friends need your help! They’re being crushed!”

I fired the lightning wand at the crab spider holding Wen. The beast tried to block the crackling bolt with Wen’s body, but he spread his legs at the last instant and it hit the creature anyway.

“Hey! Watch it! Aim a little lower next time!” Wen cried.

Aki’s Wasp went buzzing behind Wen’s attacker. Aki leapt forward and tried a stunning attack complete with a flanking advantage, but the creature’s armor was too thick. Aki jabbed the creature once in the eye. The beast clacked loudly in response and threw Wen into the air. He landed roughly on the beach about thirty feet away. His katana was sticking up out of the sand.

The crab turned to destroy Aki. The Monk managed to duck one pincher as it snapped shut around him, but a second pincher seized him.

Lo bellowed loudly as the crab that had him tried to pinch him in half. Blood began to ooze out of his armor. Unsatisfied with having only Lo for dinner, the giant crab snatched Allegro too. The Halfling swore as he was hauled up twenty feet into the air.

Wen got up and yanked his sword out of the sand. He charged in to help Aki. He swung the unfamiliar weapon wildly, but he managed to cut a leg off the beast.

Wang Chung ran over and tapped the monster with a wand, and it drained the very life force from the crab. The area the wand had touched turned gray with the pallor of death, and the crab shrank back.

Allegro squirmed fiercely trying to escape the crab’s claw. He stabbed and stabbed at the creature with Istanoval, but it could not penetrate the beast’s hide.

I fired the wand of enlargement at Aki, and he grew to the size of a giant. The shark eating spider crab lowered Aki within a few feet of the ground. Dipaka was waiting there to grab hold of Aki’s belt and heal him with a strong prayer.

Ochir fired his arrows repeatedly, moving around on the beach and aiming for strategic weaknesses in the crab monster’s armor. Each time an arrow lodged itself in a moving joint the creature slowed down and stumbled more often.

Aki shouted his Ki shout and slammed his fist down right between the creature’s eyes. The beast’s claws both rose up into the sky and shook violently. It shook Aki like a ragdoll. Finally, the kraken collapsed and lay still. Aki pushed apart the crab’s claw and broke free. He moved immediately to block the retreat path of the remaining crab monster. His Wasp flew over with him.

The other spider crab retreated into the water, holding Lo in one claw and Allegro in the other. It went to run right over Aki. Aki slammed it at just the right moment with his fist, but this time the beast scuttled into the Sea. Aki had to duck down beneath the creatures’ body and go face down in the surf as it went over him.

“Hold your breath boys!” I yelled at them.

We could see Lo’s head and his arm sticking up with Suishen flaming above the water.

We could see Allegro’s purple hat floating on the waves. The crab was holding him under.

I heard Lo give a great battle cry, and I saw him chop right through the clawed arm that was holding him. He was free.

Suishen declared, “Be brave Goliath, and do not forget that I am also a piercing weapon!”

Lo took a deep breath and disappeared.

We saw the crab’s body rise up from the water with Lo’s sword stuck into its underbelly. Lo lifted and held the creature up out of the water by the hilt of the sword. The beast’s carapace began to glow orange red, burning inside with the power of Suishen. All of the creature’s legs thrashed violently, and Allegro was tossed free with a splash.

Slowly, the beast’s legs stopped flailing and drooped into the water. The smell of steamed crab filled the air.

Allegro came out of the water and crawled up the beach. He coughed and sputtered and swore. He clutched Istanoval in his right hand, and he used it to stab the sand and pull himself along. After a time he stood and found his hat riding a low wave.

“Wielder,” Suishen said, “if you had not attacked the beast and saved your friend, you would have failed my test! Well done!”

Lo put the sword away. The monsters were both dead.

“Hey! It’s a talking sword!” Istanoval yelled. “Can I get with that?”

Lo waded up out of the water, and looked like a giant drowned rat. His features were grim. Suishen was silent.

We considered setting up camp for an hour or so when a whispering wind from Pang Mei spoke: “We attack at Sun down…your band must attack as well…”

The Sun was at the edge of the sky and long shadows stretched out over the sand. I had no way to return her message. We had to attack the compound that night.

Wen’s hands glowed as he healed himself with his religious power, true holy power not unlike Dipaka’s. Servants of Heaven were granted lesser prayer powers if they were devout enough, and Wen prayed hard every day.

Dipaka healed everyone to full health. The problem was that he couldn’t do so again until the next day and after a long rest. We would have to rely on our potions.

We pressed on as darkness slowly enveloped us. Twinkling stars began to fill the sky.

We came at last upon a ninety-foot tall escarpment, and we could see a rickety wooden switchback stair that meandered up it's rocky face. 

It was the lair of the Frozen Shadows. 

We had arrived.


Servant of the Heavens

Wen Hung-Lo, a Journal of a Servant of the Heavens

By Bahamut’s Bidding

Chrysanthemum 11, 3966
We leave the country inn and get back on the road, such as it is. I stay away from my bride, the Princess. I definitely stay away from Lo-Saki. He drinks a lot of rice wine and often mutters dark words in his sleep.

I spend most of my time keeping guard on the prisoners. Men who attack at night with poison while their foes are asleep deserve no mercy. Women are running this caravan.

Chrysanthemum 14, 3966
A big raven is shadowing the caravan high overhead. More ninja shenanigans I suspect. By Wujenic sorcery, Ochir flies up invisibly to check out the spying bird. He comes back with many tiny wounds and claims victory. The raven is gone. He is a resourceful little buggering Mongol. 

Chrysanthemum 16, 3966
Xiao Ping summons our team to a meeting. She declares her name, Aiko Kaijitsu, a Princess of Japan. As she speaks, I find she has new strength; she accepts her destiny and will now lead us. My chest swells with pride for her until she orders that I give Suishen to Lo-Saki, the drunk.

I take the ten calming breaths of Bahamut. Wisdom comes to me in that one moment. I must honor my bride. I have sworn an oath to her family seal by Suishen to serve the Amatatsu unto death and even beyond. The Katana has it’s own will, the ancestors of Aiko. It’s Suishen choice, not mine. I give Him to Lo believing He will reject the goliath.

Suishen accepts the giant warrior, the House Champion of my betrothed. I am now nothing more than a bastard henchman. I can only hope for an honorable death.

Aiko says more, but I don’t remember what.

Chrysanthemum 22, 3966
Dipaka has gotten through to one of the ninja prisoners. He has counseled the prisoners with his kooky philosophy since they surrendered. Today, one of them gives up the location of their hideout. It’s called Ravenscrag, the secret lair of the Frozen Shadows. He said they were ordered to surrender to lead us into a trap. He tells us of a back way in. He now realizes that killing a person in their sleep is wrong. What in hell do they teach their children in Japan?  He says he no longer want to be a ninja but to live out the remainder of his days tending to those little trees that their people like. Then his innards boil and he bleeds from every orifice and dies in the most gruesome manner. Even Dipaka can’t save him. He was cursed to be ever faithful to his masters and he broke that faith. I doubt that any more of the ninjas will want to be gardeners. Yet, for a while, his aura was not dark.

Chrysanthemum 23, 3966
I speak to Pang Mei. Her real name is Ameiko Kaijitsu. She says she can add the title Amatatsu when she reclaims the Jade Throne of Japan. She is very beautiful and easy to talk to, not like any royalty I’ve seen. I ask to join her team. I tell her that Aiko’s team already has several good fighters and an artifact sword. The Jade Archer asks if I’m implying that their team doesn’t have any good fighters. I say that’s not it. Then she asks if I meant that there are not enough men on their team. No! She then asks if I had a problem with women not doing what I want. Sheesh!

Ameiko takes me aside and talks to me for a long time. I feel better afterwards. She encourages me to write what I’m feeling in this journal and not to be afraid to cry. I think I’ll just hold everything inside from now on. I know now why Aki doesn’t speak. General Dan never told me about any of this mushy stuff.

Chrysanthemum 25, 3966
We continue north on the Coastal Road. We enter rocky hills. It’s getting colder, especially at night; however, the Princess keeps me warm.

Good Month 2, 3966
We will attack Ravenscrag. Aiko’s team will approach on the beach and assault from the front. Ameiko’s team will go through the hills and attack from the rear. The royal sisters decide that I will go with Aiko. Also with us are Ochir, Aki, Dipaka, Allegro, Wang Chung, Lo-Saki and Suishen.

Good Month 3, 3966
Finally, combat. It has been 24 days since the Frozen Shadows attacked us at the inn. As we walk along the beach, two giant crabs come out of the sea. They are huge, as big as an armored wagon and with a thicker carapace. Aki and I fight the first one. Once again, Aki is as fast as lightning with his Kungfu fighting. The pincers grab us both. I’m held helpless but being up close only allows the Jap monk to pound the crab over and over. I have a perfect view as the shell cracks and splinters under the hammer fists of the martial artist. Aiko adds a Wujenic lightning bolt that nearly fries my manhood but shocks the crab into letting me go. I manage to recover and get one blow in with Lo’s hand-me-down blade. 

Suishen kills the other crab. Everyone else does what he or she can like me. We eat fresh seafood that night, steamed crab courtesy of the flaming ginsu blade from Japan.

Good Month 4, 3966
We come to Ravenscrag. The entrance is high up on a cliff side with switch back stairs leading up to it. Two giant vermin attack us. They are monstrous insectile beasts the size of horses with the heads of spiders, a giant stinger and two long arms tipped with wickedly sharp pincers. The first one blocks the stairs in front of us. I shoulder past Lo and hold the front line. I am stung. Bahamut protects me from the poison. Ninjas pop out of nowhere and attack. They wound me severely and pin Lo’s sword arm to the rail. He struggles to free the artifact. I stand to hold back the Ninjas alone. Lo is still struggling with Suishen. The giant and the Sword are not a team. Aiko’s repeated lightning bolts and Ochir’s arrows bring down the first vermin. I’m forced off the stairs and plunge down to a landing below. I’m done for. I hear my heart break. Dipaka is there. His touch is life. I get back up and kill the other giant vermin. Aki defeats the ninjas. Aiko smiles at me. I smile back like a schoolboy. It feels good. 

Aiko makes us climb up a rope to nowhere. There is a weird nether space up in mid-air and somehow no one can see us while we rest. In the morning, we climb back down the rope.

Aiko uses her magic to open the doors to the Frozen Shadow’s fortress. In their great hall, a great battle takes place. Dozens of thugs, ninjas, tengus and a werebear challenge us. They see the hulking Goliath and focus on him. The ninjas pop in and out, attacking unseen, and with flank. Suishen does not make them visible for Lo-Saki like he did for me. Lo-Saki goes down like a log. His liver is a colander, his spleen is ruptured, and his bowel empties. He allows Suishen to clatter on the floor along with his entrails.

I fight my way to the Blade. I seize it. I’m the House Champion now!

We defeat them. I drop three thugs and two ninjas. We clean out the upper fortress.

Bahamut’s blessing is upon us. Suishen and I are together again as it should be.

The Goliath regains his feet! He is alive? I saw him die!? What the duck!? Apparently, he has another artifact, a ring of regeneration. The first thing he does is demand Suishen. I hesitate. Aiko nods. I return the blade.

General Dan said life is a test. One just has to persevere to pass. I have lost much but I still have my honor. Is it enough?

Ameiko and her companions come up from the rear. They fought the leaders of the fort and were victorious as well. I feel like I’m missing something by not being with them. I can’t wait to hear the true Princess tell the tale of their adventure. I still have yet to find my place, but wherever I am, it is better than where I was at Xul-Jarak.


The Stairs

as written by Xiao Ping

We talked as a group about how we were going to storm the lair of the Frozen Shadows. We discussed using the rings of flying that we each had gotten from Lyan's father so we could all fly up and reach the top of the escarpment without using the stairs. We decided that using the rings in advance would likely just waste them. We knew that we could use them at any time to fly out of danger. In the end we decided that we would just walk up the stairs.

 

We decided to use the wand of enlargement on both Aki and Wen. We had a front that was made up of three giant warriors.

 

Lo went up the stairs first, followed by Wen and Aki. I was right behind Aki, and the rest of the group followed. Ochir stayed down on the ground level with his bow ready to cover us. We had made it a little over halfway up the stairs, when we heard a very loud buzzing. Two horrid insectile beasts the size of camels slowly hove into view above us. Their heads were like those of spiders, they had central clusters of beady black eyes. Each had a long sharp stinger protruding from its segmented tail. They had long barbed arms too. They exuded a strong odor like rotting meat. One of them hovered in front of us on a landing. The second one decided to fly down and try to get at us from the landing below.  

 

In a show of bravado, Wen decided to shoulder past Lo and face the first beast by himself. He stabbed the beast with Lo's old katana with a forward thrust. The blade pierced the creature’s natural armor and blood sprayed out all over Wen’s hands and arms. The creature made a screaming noise and pressed its attack. Its tail whipped out and stung Wen’s chest. The poison from the stinger began to spread through Wen right away. I could see his veins turning blue. He pressed his eyes shut and I saw a holy light spring up around him and suppress the poison. His color returned to normal. The feeling of the presence of a good spirit was in the air. The creature bit Wen too, and then tried to scratch him with its clawed arms. He ducked to avoid the claw attacks.

 

I fired the wand of lighting at the monster hovering over the lower landing. The huge white blue arc blew a hole in one of the creatures wings. It quickly turned its attention to me, and swooped in to sting me. It swept into Dipaka’s holy aura but ignored it; it was now far too intent. I snuggled up behind Aki on the catwalk in an attempt to hide from the beast. Its stinger whipped by within inches of my face and I saw it send splinters from the stone cliff face. Aki used his reach over me to strike the creature and it reeled back.

 

Suddenly, six ninjas appeared out of nowhere. They had been waiting for us invisibly. They popped into view as they attacked us with their short swords. They were Tengu, black feathered crow men dressed in black ninja garb. Three of them were literally clinging to the side of the sheer cliff face above us. They dropped down to the staircase with their blades at the ready. Three more leapt up over the railing from below and two of them confronted Wen the Giant. One swing got through Wen’s defenses and sliced his arm open.

 

Two Tengu Ninjas attacked Lo, and one missed. The other by some miracle stabbed through Lo’s sword arm and pinned it to the railing. The relentless assassin kept leaning on the sword, pushing the blade into the wood, holding Lo’s arm and Suishen down. Angry flames rose from the katana. Lo didn’t let go of it. Lo roared and tried to pull his arm free, but the Ninja's wakizashi was stuck between his arm bones, and for all his great strength, he could not. He bashed the ninja with his shield.

 

One Ninja stabbed Aki through his shoulder and blood began running down his arm and chest. Aki responded with a Kiai shout attack. He had hoped to stun one of the two ninjas he was fighting and focus on the other alone during the split second the first Ninja was reeling. Aki had learned this favored tactic from the Monks in his Dojo back in Japan. They had been feuding with the Frozen Shadows for thousands of years. The first Ninja was not stunned though, and Aki had to punch him again to knock him out.    

 

Allegro threw his stones at the beast that was bent on killing me and they cracked off its body. The creature buzzed angrily. Ochir's arrows thudded into the beast.

 

Wang Chung told a joke about a Japanese person with no arms or legs, and it was quite offensive. I would have to remind him that I wasn’t Chinese anymore.

 

Dipaka moved up the staircase to the lower landing in an attempt to calm the Ninjas, but it was too late.

 

I fired the wand of lighting again at the insectile beast attacking me. The creature screamed and shook as the lightning coursed through it. It glared at me.

 

Ochir shot the flying beast that was fighting Wen in the eye. The beast instantly turned from Wen to Ochir. The Gnome fired several more arrows, but the alert creature dodged them. It suddenly swooped down to ground level and stung Ochir in the chest. The terrible creature then hovered and buzzed over the Gnome.

 

Wen’s hands glowed blue as he used his healing power on himself. He was watching Ochir being attacked below and was himself close to collapsing from his injuries. As soon as he finished healing himself, he put one hand on the ledge next to him and vaulted over the side. He dropped forty feet and my heart skipped a beat. He splintered the wooden landing with his feet and rolled backward with a grunt.  

 

Dipaka dashed over to Wen and healed him with a prayer.

 

“A man can’t be killed around you Healer!” Wen yelled, smiling at Dipaka. Dipaka’s halo gleamed.

 

The Tengu Ninjas attacking Lo tried to battle past his shield, but they could not. Lo thrust it into their faces. Lo tried to shield bash the Ninja that was pinning his sword arm, but the tenacious Tengu would not let go.

 

Wang Chung rushed over to heal Aki from behind. Aki was now pounding the second Ninja attacking him; and his flurry of blows dropped the goon.   

 

The large insectile creature was still hovering over Ochir and trying to kill him. The Gnome nimbly dodged a bite and some claw attacks as he fired arrows repeatedly into the beast’s underbelly.

 

I fired a third lightning bolt at the one still buzzing over me; I shot it right in the face. It flew back shrieking, curled up, and crashed to the ground below. A smelly thin white smoke rose from its corpse, now just a mass of tangled wings and legs.  

 

Allegro moved up and threw a rock that knocked out a Frozen Shadow and then ricocheted into another. He quickly threw a second stone that hit three different Ninjas. It was amazing.

 

Wen leapt to his feet and headed over to help the Gnome.

 

The horrid Spider Eater over Ochir tried to get away from the Gnome's deadly stream of arrows. As it fled, it dipped a little too low over Wen, for he jumped up and hacked the beast open. It rolled up into a ball as it crashed into the ground. Green goo oozed out of it.

 

"Yay Wen!" I cheered aloud with Allegro. Wen was my hero.

 

Suddenly, the ninjas vanished.

 

We stood still and waited. There was only the sound of the night wind. What seemed like an eternity went by. Finally, I let out my breath.

 

Lo yanked out the wakizashi that penetrated and pinned his sword arm to the railing. Freed, he grimaced and tested his grip on Suishen’s hilt. Blood was dripping from his arm.

 

The Ninjas all suddenly appeared again, all concentrating on Lo and Aki. Lo used Suishen to parry a rain of blows.

 

Aki dodged most of the blows aimed at him, but he was cut and injured badly.

 

Wang Chung threw his daze spell at one of the Ninjas. For possibly the first time ever, it worked. The Frozen Shadow froze. Ochir immediately began firing at the dazed Ninja, filling him with arrows. Allegro hit him with a rock. The Ninja pitched over the railing and smashed into the landing below.  

 

I threw a magic missile at another Frozen Shadow; Aki dropped that one too with a fist to the mask. Aki was like one of the whirling dervish of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, only he dispensed devastating blows.  

 

Lo fought back against two Ninjas. He chopped right through one of them.  

 

Aki kicked the last one in the side of the knee, then karate chopped him in the neck. 

 

The combat was over.

 

Dipaka ran over and checked Ochir’s wound, looking for eggs laid by the beast. He found a few slimy white orbs and removed them. He wrapped a bandage around Ochir’s chest. Ochir said he would be fine.

 

We laid the bodies of the dead Frozen Shadows at the base of the escarpment. We removed their Ninja suits and gear. We found that they had badges. We found a Jade Raven necklace on one that was a nice piece of jewelry. I wondered what it could mean.

 

I slipped into a Ninja suit and put on a badge, while Dipaka healed everyone with the very last healing prayers he had left. I handed out some of the healing potions I had been carrying from the parties stash.  

 

Probably only a minute or two after the last Ninja went down we were gathered at the top of the stairs on a wide but shallow landing.

 

Lo tried to open the door. He grunted. Nothing happened. He scrunched his eyes shut and his neck bulged in another mighty attempt, but the door held. Aki tried to help Lo push the door open. Try as they might, they could not open it. After two minutes of this, they were standing there sweating.

 

"Step aside boys," Allegro said. The Halfling pulled a slim case of tools from his belt and peered into the lock. He took out a long slender wire and inserted it into the keyhole. He wiggled it for a few seconds and there was a click. Allegro pushed the door and it swung open. "Try turning the doorknob,” Allegro said with a smirk.

 

We entered a great feasting chamber. Two rows of mighty pillars supported the forty foot high roof of the long hall that stretched out before us. Torches burned in high sconces, and two burning fire pits at the center of the rush strewn floor gave the room a red orange glow. Several doors opened into rooms on either side. A ten foot high balcony lined with feasting tables ran along each side. At the far end of the hall, there was a fifteen foot high balcony and high table where a Lord could preside over a feast.  We saw smoke holes in the roof that would let in more light during the day and allow ravens to roost in the roof rafters. There was a line of white spattered droppings on the floor directly below each rafter.

 

We didn’t see anyone. It was dead quiet. Something was wrong.

 

I signaled for everyone to back out onto the landing. We had taken too much time opening the door and they were in there waiting for us. We had to do something unexpected.

 

I asked Allegro for his rope. He handed it to me with a questioning look on his face. I took the rope in one hand and cast my spell. The rope came to life and one end rose into the air. It was now quite rigid. I started to climb up it.

 

"I've seen this trick before, in my homeland," Dipaka said.

 

When I got to the top, there was a pocket of extra-dimensional space, large enough to sleep eight. Once we were all safely hidden in the space, I pulled the rope up inside. We were effectively gone.

 

About a half hour later, I received a whispering wind spirit message from Pang Mei. "We were thrown back by the Trolls and the Oni...  we have retreated will attack again tomorrow..."

 

We bedded down and went to sleep. 

 


The Great Hall of the Frozen Shadows

We piled out of the rope trick the next morning. We deployed to the landing at the top of the escarpment one at a time. I enlarged Aki and Wen again with the wand.

 

Allegro got out his lockpick and tried to open the door again. The lock made a clicking noise, but the door wouldn’t budge. “They musta barred it,” he said, looking up at it with knitted brows.

 

I cast my knock spell on the door. I didn’t want any long delays this time. My knock spirit went in through the crack underneath the door and lifted the bar on the other side. The door opened into the same deserted great hall we had seen the night before. We moved cautiously into the smelly space. The torches and large pit fires burned, but nothing else moved. “Lo, I want to you to go as fast as you can until you find something to kill. We’ll be right behind you,” I said. Lo ran forward and leapt over the first fire pit. Flames licked his boots as he sailed across. I went close behind Wen as he moved forward.

 

Wang Chung went in the middle of the group. Dipaka waited outside the door; he wanted to block any attack that might come at us from the rear. 

 

All six side doors sprang open at once, and we saw the contorted and painted faces of human thugs. They appeared to be from a sundry of different races. They bore melee weapons of various types. They howled and jeered at us.

 

Wang Chung looked around and said, “A Chinaman goes into an exchange and asks an Indian exchequer why the rate of exchange yesterday was higher than it is today. 'Fluctuations!' answered the exchequer. 'Well screw you Indians too!' said the Chinaman."  

 

It was so funny I forgot to laugh. I popped the haste spell on everyone except for Dipaka and myself. They began moving at much faster speeds.

 

Ochir dropped to one knee and fired off four arrows in rapid succession. He hit a brown skinned thug standing in a doorway twice and he went down. The Gnome hit another one before the goon could shrink back around the corner.

 

Allegro was armed with Istanoval in one hand and his rapier in the other. He leapt forward and double-jabbed a thug and killed him. “Ha ha!” Istanoval cheered.

 

Aki punched one thug twice and dropped him, and then did the same to another.

 

Lo leapt over the second fire pit and roared. He held Suishen in one hand. Flames flickered around the steel. I fired the wand of enlargement at him. He grew to be even bigger; he was now absolutely huge, about sixteen feet tall. Even Suishen grew. He brought the massive blade up and down and hacked through two thugs with one chop each.

 

Scads of Frozen Shadows on the second level appeared out of nowhere, positioned on the balconies. They all fired their bows at us.

 

An arrow hit Lo and he screamed, “Poison! They’re using poison!” One hit Wen and he turned a little green. Ochir was hit and turned green too.  

 

The Frozen Shadows turned back invisible as soon as they were done shooting. Assholes.

 

Wang Chung summoned his mirror images. There was suddenly a phalanx of Wang Chung’s. A couple of goons saw the easy pickings, ran over, and bashed away two of his images.

 

Five thugs gathered themselves and decided to charge Lo. Lo chopped off one’s head with Suishen and clowned another with his shield before they even got to him. The remaining three goons hacked at Lo’s legs and cut them open. Lo began leaving giant bloody boot prints on the floor.

 

A bunch of them converged on Aki, and he stepped, whirled, danced, and struck. Two of the thugs were down in seconds.

 

More thugs charged Wen but they found him an adroit opponent. He dodged and turned their petty thrusts. “By Bahamut’s Bidding!” he cried, as he held aloft his masterwork sword. He stabbed one thug through the chest and sliced open another’s neck in two easy moves. They both fell dead.

 

I fired my wand of sleep at the goons. Only one fell asleep. It was the last charge in the wand of sleep from Lord Sywan’s Tower. I ran back outside and stood by Dipaka. I stuck the dead wand in my belt. 

 

Ochir started up the back stair that was just to the right of the entrance. He was going quietly trying to listen for the invisible Ninjas. He had his bow at the ready for the moment they might appear again. Aki and then Allegro went up the steps carefully behind him. 


Lo hacked down two more goons with Suishen and dispatched the sleeping one with a down thrust.

 

Wang Chung tried a daze spell at the thugs attacking him and it had no effect on them. The bandits toyed with him; they knocked off two more mirror images while cackling at him leisurely. One came up from behind him and stabbed him in the ribcage. Wang Chung yelped and jumped away.

 

A wave of kitchen help burst in to the room from two doors that were at either end of the head table. They were armed with cleavers, knives, and rolling pins. They arrayed themselves in real combat stances, so they were clearly not just plain old cooks.

 

The Frozen Shadows appeared again on the balconies.  

 

Two of them appeared around Ochir. They jabbed him with Sianghams; they are like thick arrows with handles on the end for thrusting. Ochir began bleeding and leapt back and shot one of the Ninjas in the gut, scrambling his organs, killing him instantly with one shot. “A one shot kill!” he cried. Ochir had now killed thirty of our opponents since we had met on the bridge long ago.  

 

Aki had been waiting for just the moment when the Ninjas would reappear. He stunned a Ninja with a Ki fist strike. Allegro stuck the Ninja in the back and he fell down face first over the balcony.

 

It was then that we heard a terrible roar. We could hear the clacking of great claws on stone. We saw a bear, no; it was a bear-man, come into the room and stop before Lo. He had huge thick limbs, and his body was like a barrel. He was covered in sparse red-brown fur. He had a large mouth filled with great bear teeth. “I am Jo-Go the Axe! I crave Human blood! Goliath! Get with the program and join the winning side!” the werebear yelled at Lo. “What’s a good monster like you doing with these idiots?”

 

“I’m sorry, but somewhere along the line I forgot to be impressed,” Lo said in perfect Chinese.

 

The werebear took a running jump at Lo and hacked the side of his head with a vicious axe chop. He kicked off Lo and bounded backward. “Are you impressed now?” he asked. Lo grunted, and blood ran down his face. Lo swung Suishen in answer. The sword master Tanaka that had forged Suishen would have been proud. The flaming blade opened the werebear’s thick hide and entrails began to ooze out of the gash. “Aaaaaaagh!  You bastard Goliath!” the were beast cried.

 

Wen engaged a very tall and toothy thug, and dropped him with a few expert katana swings.

 

I saw Wang Chung pull out a long sword and run a thug straight through the heart with it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He pulled the sword out of the man and looked at the blood as if he was seeing it for the first time. The goon moaned and died on the floor at his feet. The remaining thugs pressed Wang Chung in return, so the Bard had to use the sword to parry as well.

 

I heard Ochir call out the killing of two more Ninjas above me on the balcony. “I got two more while they were visible, but now they’re invisible again!” he warned.

 

I ran back into the hall and fired a magic missile at the werebear. I almost shit myself when I saw that I was standing in front of an open door and there were thugs inside that particular room. They made guttural noises and licked their lips when they saw me. One grabbed his crotch.

 

“Hey little girl!  Here comes Pappy! The things I'm going to do with you!” he said. He licked his lips again and took a run through the door at me while his friends cheered him on. I raised my spear. He filled me with so much disgust I jabbed him in the chest with all my strength and I sat him back down on his ass. His friend’s jaws dropped open. They looked up at me with wide eyes. 

 

They wouldn’t like what was next. I was good and mad. It was finally time. I puffed out my cheeks and blew out a tiny little fiery orb. It sailed slowly through the air. The four men's heads turned to follow the orb as they watched it go by them. When it hit the far wall, there was a huge explosion and the room was filled with fire. The men screamed, their skin blackened, and their hair burned away. The man on the floor died; his face melted and ran down his skull.

 

I took a split second to check on Lo and I saw the giant werebear hack the Goliath with his axe again. The were beast was so fast it seemed like Lo was in slow motion. He clawed Lo too, blood flew, and the House Champion stumbled and fell. The werebear looked me in the eye, smiled, knelt down, and tore out Lo’s throat. He stepped back and chewed up Lo’s adams apple and swallowed it. He grinned a bloody grin.

 

“No!” I yelled.

 

Dipaka dashed over to Lo and uttered a prayer over his throat and I saw the flesh knit itself back together.

 

Suddenly everything in my life changed. A blinding pain like nothing ever before exploded in my breast. I looked down and saw an arrow sticking out of me. It was stuck all the way through my body. I screamed. I felt blood rise in my throat. There was a burning pain inside me. The arrow was poisoned.

 

I was enraged. I wasn’t going to die here. No fucking way. I saw through my watery eyes three blackened thugs coming after me with their swords. I jabbed one of them in the face with my spear and he went down dead. The others hesitated for a split second.

 

“Back the fuck up!” I yelled at them.

 

Wen was battling the thugs fighting Wang Chung, but after Lo fell, he fought his way over to Lo’s body.

 

“Where are you going?” Wang Chung yelled at Wen. The Bard had dropped his long sword and instead touched one of the thugs with his death wand. Just like with the crab creature, the victim’s flesh all visibly decayed. The goon dropped down dead. He looked like he was only a skin shrunk tightly around a skeleton.

 

“Someone’s got to fight the Werebear! Did anyone bring any silver? Doesn’t anybody read any books?” Wen asked. Dipaka healed Wen and closed his wounds. 

 

“They are invisible up here but I know where they are!” I heard Ochir yell. I could hear the twang and snap of his bowstring.

 

“Aye, a bing and a bang a boom! A little help up here!” Allegro cried from above us. 

 

Dipaka said to Wen, “Go upstairs and help your freinds on the balcony! I’ll hold the peace down here.”  

 

Two arrows from above sliced by me just as Dipaka said that. The arrow in my chest throbbed.

 

“I’m sorry father but I’m not leaving you here,” Wen said. He bent down and picked up Suishen. For some reason, the werebear didn’t kill him when he did it.

 

“I have the Bear-man Wen,” Dipaka said. “He’s mine.” Dipaka was standing practically unarmed and unclothed in front of a towering werebear. He was holding his open hand motionless out in front of the bear. The bear appeared to be calm.

 

The bear looked down at Dipaka and inexplicably said, in a very deep voice, “Fine, Holy Man, you can pick up your fallen and leave this fortress.” 

 

“Your House Champion has fallen, and you need a new House Champion,” Wen said. I couldn’t believe it, I was fighting three goons with an arrow stuck through me and Wen was worried about his rank.

 

“You ARE the House Champion when Lo’s dead!” I yelled. He beamed with pride. “By the way, I’m fighting three guys back here!”

 

I stabbed another one with my spear. He went down like the others. I was now being overcome with a thrilling sensation. I had killed three of them so far. Wen’s eyes widened with surprise when he saw their smoking and speared bodies lying all around me.

 

“You’re killing them with your spear!” he cried.

 

Dipaka continued to stand before the werebear. “I am under a blood geas from the Oni and I must fight you or die. Release your power over me or you will have slain me!”  He had apparently gathered what Dipaka was all about in a few moments.

 

Wen ran over to help me at last. He killed one of the two goons left fighting me. Suishen flamed brightly in his hand. I could feel its heat.

 

Two more goons ran out from a side room and tried to drag Lo’s body away. Lo was too heavy, but it appeared that the werebear might not be good to his word after all.

 

Four Ninjas ran down the stairs from the far side of the room and headed towards Wen and me.

 

I turned invisible and I moved back out of the hall. Ochir, Aki and Allegro came running down the stairs ready for more after having dispatched all of the Ninjas on their side.

 

Wang Chung stepped back to bandage his wounds.

 

Ochir fired and killed one of the Ninja’s charging forward.

 

Allegro moved over to keep them from dragging Lo’s body away.

 

Aki drank a potion. He was now really, really green.

 

“Gentleman, I think it is time to reconsider your ways, now I think we all should stop and talk about your actions,” Dipaka said.

 

The Ninjas paused.

 

“You are a foul creature!” Wen yelled and charged over to the bear and attacked him with Suishen. The bear didn’t like that very much, and Dipaka’s mighty influence over the bear was gone. “No! He is neutral!” Dipaka cried.

 

The bear hacked Wen with his axe, and split his shoulder open. His arm was hanging lifelessly by his side. The bear swung his massive mitt and clawed Wen too, and blood sprayed all over. Wen stood firm and chopped the bear again with the flaming blade. 

 

Ochir shot the bear with an arrow coated with deathblade poison. Allegro moved around to get flank.

 

Aki tried to stun the bear but his massive head was too bony. He snapped the bear in the eye instead. The bear howled loudly and swatted at Aki.

 

Dipaka was calming the kitchen crew. “We work for those that give us rice and fish,” they said. “We can give you so much more than that.” Dipaka said. “Just return to your larders.” They all looked at each other, considering. They all ran away.

 

The bear attacked Wen. He clawed Wen once more and then bit him; he clamped his mouth around Wen’s shoulder and lifted him off the ground and shook him back and forth violently. Wen went limp as he fell unconscious. The bear slammed him down on the rushes. The beast roared at Dipaka now and moved forward, kicking Wen’s bloodied body out of the way.

 

Wang Chung cast a daze monster at the bear and it kept right on coming. I knew his spell had no chance of affecting such a beast.

 

I rushed invisibly over to Wen’s side and I poured a healing potion down his throat. He coughed and sputtered and I helped him sit up. “It’s me,” I whispered in his ear, “I’m invisible. I’m going to help you up.” Wen got to his feet.

 

Allegro stabbed the bear viciously in the back. “I’m not made of silver,” Istanoval cried. “I can’t really harm this were beast! Let's get out of here!”

 

More Ninjas showed up running down the stairs. My heart sank. We were done for. As I watched them come towards us, I saw the luxurious hair of the Jade Archer behind them. Marco was right behind her. I couldn't believe it. She started firing arrows at the werebear at once. They thudded into the bear and it screamed in agony. The arrows had silver arrowheads.

 

Now we had the upper hand, so Wen, Aki, and Ochir mopped up the rest of the ninjas and thugs.

 

The combat was finally over. 

 

“We found all the treasure downstairs,” Marco said.

 

It was just a few minutes later when Wen solemnly asked, “Who amongst us honorable men will help me carry Lo to his grave?”  

 

“Wen, I have to talk to you for a second, and we have to go outside." I moved to go out with Wen but Dipaka’s hand was on my shoulder. “You’re not going anywhere; you have an arrow in your chest.”

 

Suddenly the pain returned and I sat down with a thump and went into shock. Dipaka prayed for me and the shock went away. He broke the arrow and pulled it out while I bit on my frock. It hurt so bad I couldn't even cry. After the arrow was out I felt better. He treated Aki’s poisoned wound too.

 

After I had rested for a while, I went outside. Wen had placed Lo’s body on the ground and begun digging a grave. I went down the stairs to see him.

 

“Stop digging Wen,” I said.

 

“Why? I’m not going to carry this stinking drunk’s body back to the Caravan,” he said.

 

“The truth of the matter is that Lo has a very powerful magic ring and he’ll be back.”

 

“What? What ring? What are you talking about?”

 

“Lo has a ring of regeneration, like a ring of immortality. He really cannot die, unless his whole body is completely destroyed, or his head is chopped off.”

 

Wen hung his head. “I should have known,” he said. He threw down the shovel and walked off and kept his back to me. He was always going to be mad at me, I guess.

 

Ameiko told us about how they had discovered that the leader of the merchant’s guild was an evil Oni in disguise. He was the one that had put the blood geases on the werebear and the Frozen Shadows' slaves. He had been destroyed by Ameiko and the Jade Archer.

 

Ravenscrag had fallen. The fight against the Frozen Shadows in China was over.

 

We discovered a few interesting items in the compound including some rope trick grenades. These created clouds of smoke when dropped that screened the conjuror from view while a rope appeared immediately inside the cloud. Once up inside the extra-dimensional space, the rope was pulled up, leaving onlookers scratching their heads when the smoke cleared.

 

Wen returned Suishen to Lo when he recovered from his death later in the day. Wen didn't look very happy.

 

On the road again, I slept with Wen in his wagon every night. One moon tide while he was holding me I was thinking of the men I had killed with my spear. I thought of Wen’s bravery and his body while he was fighting. I thought of the arrow that had gone through me. I knew I would lose my spell powers for a day, but I could defend myself. I kissed him and did other things. He took my hand and moved it away. “No,” he said. “Not until we are married.”

 

Fine, I thought. Whatever.

 

 

 

 
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