Chapter 12 – I, Audacious Jin

I rode. The wind made my eyes tear, but I rode. The sun made my lips chap, but I rode. The rain soaked me, but I rode. There was little time.

Hours turned into days, as I sat upon the back of my horse. I detested riding horseback; it was the common way of transport for the Horselords of the Plains of Barren Hope. A people that had never accepted the formation of the Jade Empire, and one of the few that had been able to resist the conquering armies of Sagacious Tien and The Outlander. They revered no dragons, only heathen Gods, and the horse was their most beloved symbol. I had no choice however; I had to move swiftly, and lest an ox grew wings, a horse was the fastest manner of travel.

I passed little villages and big cities on my way. I paid them little heed. I barely had time to rest, and only paused for a couple hours of sleep at night or to exchange horses. Luckily for me, my journey was quite uneventful. Bandits and commoners alike were smart enough to know that it is unwise to seek trouble with a nearly seven foot tall muscled young warrior carrying a masterfully smithed longsword. Whenever I set foot in a town to quickly restock on supplies, people seemed intimidated by me. Scared, even. It was unnecessary, for I meant them no harm; but I welcomed the peace.

My goal was Lang The Barbaric's castle. The pirate lord resided near the western mouth of the Grandfather river. I had been told it was near the border of the Realm of the Mad Monkey King, the country to the South of the Jade Empire. I didn't know anyone who had ever ventured beyond the Southern border. Tales spoke of enormous woods as far as the eye could see, inhabited by the strangest of creatures; a land where only one rule applied: eat or be eaten. A land of savages where the strong ruled the weak; where a warrior's renown and skill was measured by the amount of heads he had swinging from his belt. I wasn't sure if I believed those old-man's tales. But my uncle's lust for conquest and victory had stopped at the edges of the forests. That had to mean something, knowing that he had stopped his armies at the borders of the Land of Howling Spirits, The Plains of Barren Hope and The Great Desert as well.

But in the end, it mattered little, for I had no need to cross over into the Monkey King's realm; nor had I any desire to. I needed to find the Holy Scrolls, and all the rest was irrelevant. I did wonder how the neighbouring countries would react to the news of my uncle's Tien's sickness, if it had reached them. No doubt Zeng Sai, both the Horselord's sovereign and grand general, would welcome the news with joy. If word of the Empire's weakness reached his ear, I feared that they would even dare to strike at the Jade Empire, attempting to take back some of their lands taken from them during the Jade Empire's formation, and even invade further.
I wasn't sure if we had anything to fear from the Monkey King. It was said he was an unstoppable warrior, more beast than man, and more demon than beast. But also one that was content to rest on his laurels and with little taste for conquest. Someone who only moved when threatened. Perhaps that was why uncle Tien hadn't burnt down his forests and tried to expand the Empire beyond. If the stories of the Monkey King were true, that had been wise.

As for the Land of Howling Spirits, nobody could say. Whereas the Great Desert, to the Empire's North-West, was nothing but lifeless plains of sand that no man could cross, the Land of Howling Spirits was a cesspit, full of marshes and labyrinths of razor-sharp rocks where death and danger lurked behind every corner and under every stone. To the East, near the Empire's western border, there were mountains where the snow never stopped falling from the sky. It was said the dead dwelt there before moving on to the afterlife and the Great Wheel, but that was another part of the stories I had a lot of trouble believing. I had killed before, and never had I seen anyone ever get up after having their life taken from them. Spirits had no place in this realm, that was the way of things. Maybe it was another entity that lived there, one that wasn't human. But dead people? No, it didn't seem possible. In any case, I expected we had little to fear from them as well, somehow. Even if the dead resided there, why would they seek to rule over the living? They were going to the Great Wheel and their souls would be restored to life, as was the order of things. It made no sense to fear them.

My mind was filled with such thoughts throughout my journey. It put me at ease, knowing that the Empire was safe from neighbouring countries for now. But the true threats didn't come from the outside, but from within. I still needed those scrolls. And I could only hope that Tiang and Linmei were going to be successful. Still, their successes would mean nothing if I failed.

As I approached the 12th day of my journey, I knew that I had crossed most of the Golden Delta. The Grandfather river had two springs. I had crossed its western spring two days ago, meaning that it couldn't be much further to the Southern border, where the river ended in the Glass Ocean. The Grandfather River stretched out from the westernmost to the easternmost part of the Jade Empire, which caused it to effectively cut off the southern region of the Golden Delta from the main land since it had a western and an eastern estuary; much like the Silkworm River was the natural border for the Seat of Heaven and the Golden Delta, save that its spring lay in the Smoking Mountains. Bridges were the only way to get across the Silkworm and the Grandfather River, unless you found a ferryman or a pond that could get you across. If you didn't like a good swim, that is. Luckily for me, I would need to cross no rivers. I had been told in a village where I had resupplied that Lang's castle was situated at the northern bank of the river, right where it ran into the sea. That was good news, since I would have no trouble finding it. As people in markets told me stories, it appeared that Lang was a very powerful and influential man, who had a great amount of men at his command. From their base, they sailed all over the Grandfather River, often extracting illegal tolls at bridges and robbing travelling merchants or fishermen. They rarely ventured on solid ground save to whore and drink.

I was hoping that the castle would be relatively empty. It was said that Lang himself barely left his hideout any more, which played in my favour, for I suspected he always kept the Scrolls close to him. Undoubtedly there would still be a solid defensive line at the castle itself to protect their leader; there always was. There was no way this was going to be easy, and I had never expected it would be. Infiltration wasn't one of my strengths, but I did have one great asset: sheer power and muscular strength. My mother, Harmonious Jien, sister to Sagacious Tien, had married one of the fiercest and bravest warriors . It was said he had fought side by side with The Outlander, even. Courageous Pin had been his name, and people believed he was one of the last descendants of a line of ancient Giants, mythical creatures that had served the dragons in the beginning of the world. My father had been well over seven feet, a ripped monster of a man who despite his brute strength was honourable, brave and kind-hearted. People often said I took after him, which was an incredible compliment. I regretted never having known him. He had robbed himself of life after my mother had given birth to me. Stricken with grief, he had fallen upon his own sword. His weapon, Pin's Needle, had been passed down to me, but after hearing the stories, I had never used it. It was lying in my bedroom chambers in the Imperial Palace, a relic that stirred too much negative thought. I couldn't look at it without doubting the name my father had worn in life. Anyone who didn't have the strength to raise his own son by himself hardly deserved the title 'Courageous' in my book...

Shaking away such negative thoughts, I left the fisherman's village beyond me. I had left my horse behind at a teahouse, telling them I would come back for it later. Horses were a rare sight this far away from the Imperial City, so the innkeeper had happily agreed to stall it in front of his teahouse, in hopes of attracting more people. Trusting that he wouldn't just sell it to the highest bidder, I had made my way across the dunes. The air was nice here, it felt fresh and healthy. Much different than the stench of the city, which smelled of sweat, blood, fornication and manure. The day was coming to a close, and I could see the sun starting to set. It was a beautiful sight: the crystal clear azure water of the Glass Ocean reflecting the golden sun, as a gentle breeze waved the dune grass. My long, black ponytail waved happily along. It was a rare moment of peace and tranquillity. The calm before the storm, no doubt. My feet sunk down in the loose sand with every step I made. It made walking more tiresome than usual. I could already see the castle in the distance. It looked very outlandish, but it was a magnificent structure: the outer walls were of granite, yards thick. It was built in layers, so that the defensive line could always fall back to a higher level, giving them the strategical advantage. Almost like a terraced rice field I had seen in paintings. It was built over the sea, as if it was being held up by magic. On the other side of the castle was a port, which the higher levels of the castle loomed over, and it was undoubtedly the place where the pirates kept their ships. It was inaccessible unless you went through the castle or had a boat. But it seemed folly to try and attack it from the sea. Wooden spikes and beams rose up from the water, and I suspected they had created banks upon which most ships would strand. Undoubtedly the pirates had special maps to navigate the waters, allowing them to sail into open sea, as well as upstream into the Grandfather River.
The uppermost level of the castle didn't seem to be much bigger than a large room. I immediately presumed they were Lang's quarters. In terms of architecture, height meant power. That was also the reason why the Imperial Palace dwarfed every other structure in the Empire, this castle included. The higher up you were in the chain of authority, the higher your room was situated. Lackeys at the bottom, chiefs on top. Lawful or outlaw, that seemed to be the unwritten rule.

I approached the gate, which went against all rules of conflict. I was out in the open, and they could see me coming from miles off. Which they probably had. No doubt many strangers wandered past the castle from time to time, but kept their distance. Anyone to come this close was either very stupid, or very ignorant. Or extremely powerful, but that was one thought that didn't seem to pop up in the minds of the guards. There were three of them, all armed to the teeth with a spear in their hands and two sabres hanging from their waists. I could see they had excellent equipment for mere pirates: black plate armour, decorated with patterns and symbols that held little significance where I came from; grey scale helmets that covered their eyes but left their mouths free; ebony boots with sharp tips;... And the one in the centre, presumably their leader, wore a maroon cape, embroidered with a burning ship. It was he who shouted at me the moment he felt I was coming too close.
"Hey peasant!" he yelled. I could see a slight moustache move underneath his helmet. Little hair crept over his lips as his mouth moved. "How many of you do we have to kill before you get the message? Stay away!"
"Peasant"? I thought. I was a Prince of the Jade Empire! They couldn't possibly know I was, but I was still used to being treated with more respect. Every villager I had come across had been friendly, some even charming. That was probably the reason they had become fishermen, not criminal scum.

"Eh... Captain Sung?" the guard to his left said, clutching his spear a bit more tightly as my pace didn't slow, "I don't think this is an ordinary... guy." There were only a couple of yards between us now, and the guards simultaneously aimed their weapons at me.

"You will back off if you want to live," Captain Sung snarled. I did nothing. I merely smiled.

"A Captain without a ship?" I said mockingly. "And yet I'm the peasant in your eyes?" My comment infuriated him. In a blind rage, he attacked me, thrusting his spear at me. I dashed it effortlessly. As it went past, I grabbed the wood and broke it with my fingers as if it was a twig. The Captain seemed frightened by my little display of physical strength. Despite being much younger than them, I towered above the pirates, and now that I was close to them, they finally saw how big I really was.

"Attack, you fools! I will not suffer this peasant. Skewer him!" I jerked what remained of his spear out of the Captain's hands, swung it around my neck and smashed it against his scale helmet with all of my strength. The wood shattered, sending splinters flying all over the place. They couldn't pierce the helmet or the plate armour, but tiny fragments of wood flew through the Captain's eye holes. He shrieked in pain, clutching at his face with both of his hands. "My eyes!" He took his helmet off with one hand, flinging it in my direction. I could see blood trickling out of his eye sockets. As he clutched his face, it started to seep through his fingers. I wouldn't have to worry about him anymore.

It had all happened so fast that the other two only now seemed to realize what they had to do. They attacked me as well, the one on the left tried to hit me with a side swing of his spear while the other thrust at my head. I ducked and sidestepped at the same time, clutching both of their weapons with my massive hands. They tried to wrest it free from my grasp, but they were unsuccessful. I looked at them. While their helmets concealed much of their emotion, their contorted mouths betrayed fear and desperation. I yanked the spears out of their hands. I was by no means a master of the spear, that had always been Tang's weapon, but I knew some of the basics. The guards tried to draw their dual sabres, but before they could do so, I reverse my grip, and launched the spears in their directions. They were hit right in the stomach. The tips of the spear pierced their black armour as if it had been an origami model. The spears stuck in the gate, effectively nailing both of them to it.

The captain was still letting out painful moans. I grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up with one hand, slamming him against the thick steel-reinforced wooden gate. The blood was pouring out of his eyes. His face was a crimson mask, and his moustache was clotted with dried-up blood. "Lang The Barbaric," I said in my most menacing tone. It should have been simply enough for him to understand what my goal was. But to my surprise, he started laughing. Not loudly, it was more like a grin. As he smiled, I could see his crooked teeth. They were still white, but as he opened his mouth to speak, blood dripped on his lips and before his sentence was finished, they were as maroon as his cape.

"You won't get in," he uttered. "The gate only opens from the inside." He smiled again. I wondered if he could still see me.

"We'll see about that," I replied, and took a few steps backward, never releasing him.


As I had expected, the wood shattered. A well-aimed chi-enforced throw to the middle of the gate using Captain Sung's body as a projectile had done the trick. Now would come the tricky part. I had no idea how many men were going to be on the inside and if they were ready for me. Anyway, it was too late to turn back now. Surely Tiang would've chastised me for my reckless behaviour. He was always more the thinking type. This was something Tang would do. Meet a challenge head-on, and if something stands in your way, obliterate it. Quite honestly, I had always preferred that tactic. I wasn't the thinking type either. I preferred to rely on my instincts. And I felt this was not the time for carefulness. Besides, there was no time to lose. I couldn't afford two days of scouting, three days to come up with a solid fail-proof plan, and at least another to execute it. No, I had to rely on my strength. Of which I had plenty.

I heard excited voices on the other side of the gate. I rammed it all the way open with my foot, and I saw at least a dozen men scrambling towards their weapons. Another five were already armed and prepared, and they charged at me the moment I set foot in the courtyard. I took a quick glance at my surroundings, just to get a feel of the environment. It was a courtyard consisting of nothing of bare rock, save the pirate banners hanging on the entrance to the first level. They had a few horses and some stalls set up, and I saw abandoned little tables where some of them had been playing dice. There were two other large gates: one that led to the harbour behind the castle, and one that went higher up. The men who had earlier been running for their weapons now started to form a defensive line in front of both gates. I had only need to use one of them. But it was clear that the only way to get to Lang The Barbaric would be to cut down every single man who didn't run away. And the longer I waited, the more organized they would strike.

I took the longsword from my back, It was big, almost like a broadsword, but light as a feather. A direct consequence from both my superior physical strength and the superior craftsmanship of the Imperial City's smiths. All pirates used the same, standard longsword and wore the same outfit as the guards in front of the castle. That told me one thing: they were standardized and organized, which made them dangerous, but also predictable. I had expected more opposition, but my earlier hopes had come true: the castle was probably relatively empty due to ongoing piracy on the Grandfather River and the Glass Ocean. It pained me to realize that my task was made easier by the blood of innocent fishermen, merchants and other sailors. I used that mental image to boost my spirit, and infuse each of my strikes with chi.

The five men charging me were not without skill, but they were too hasty, which made them blind. They tried to encircle me, but I swung my sword around my head, unleashing an area attack that drove them back several yards. I leapt to the nearest one, lifting my sword and bringing it down. He tried to block, but he wasn't nearly powerful enough to stop the impact from being lethal. His sword shattered in his hands, and my sword was driven into his neck. Another approached me from behind, but I gave him a heel kick to the gut. He bent over, and I stuck my blade right in his neck. The other three came at me simultaneously, but I blocked their incoming strikes. The impact made their swords bounce back, rendering them defenceless and in one giant sweep, I opened their throats. Blood spurted from their dying bodies, and the defensive lines near the two sets of gates looked at each other worryingly. They expected me to charge at them, so that's exactly what I didn't do. Taking on a dozen men in close quarters was reckless, even in this situation.

I planted my sword in the ground, and held up my arms. I called forth the magic power of Ice Shard, and my forearms became encased in ice. With flicks of my wrists, I shot forth sharp spikes and solid rocks of ice at my enemies, who had lined up to defend the gate, making them very easy targets. Some managed to dodge, but most were too slow, and had their limbs pierced or their heads shattered. Others were lucky enough to receive a lump on their breastplate, knocking them over and having their breath taken away, but surviving. After my barrage was over, five of them were still alive. Throwing any notion of combat tactics out of the window, they rushed at me in blind rage with their swords held high above their heads. The fools. Two others I managed to shoot in the head with Ice Shard, almost decapitating them. The three others that had come closer almost managed to hit me, but I took two of them by the collar and smashed their heads against each other. They survived, but were knocked out. That was good enough for me. I threw them to the side. Only one man was lucky enough to remain standing. He realized he was alone and that there was no way he could win this fight. I saw the longsword shake in his hands as he defiantly pointed it at me; but I sensed his last remannts of courage had been knocked out along with his last two companions. I swatted the sword out of his hands. It clattered to the floor several yards away. He fell backwards, and crawled away. He eventually got up on his feet, and without looking back, he ran away. I took up a sword of one of the knocked down guards, and hurled it at him. It caught him right in the shoulder blades. He hit the floor squirming and crawled forward about half a yard before his head hit the floor and his spirit was sent to the Wheel. I would've liked to let him live, but I couldn't risk him calling reinforcements.

I looked at the carnage in the courtyard. Over a dozen bodies were dead on the floor, their blood colouring the stone crimson. Making sure nobody was still alive or twitching, I walked over to the gate. To my satisfaction, these ones could be opened from the outside. Surely the worst was behind me now. I swung the wooden doors open, and started climbing the steps to the next level...


I reached the top level before long. I hadn't had much resistance. Most levels had been poorly defended. Every level had its own guards, but they became fewer in number the higher I went. I found this strange. If properly defended, this castle could become impenetrable but for heavy siege weapons and an overwhelming force of skilled warriors. It was obvious that they had had battle plans and had prepared to fend off any kind of assault, but they obviously had never expected anyone would be foolish enough to actually try and attack them. I couldn't blame them. Any lesser man than myself wouldn't even have made it past the surrounding walls. I had caught them by surprise, and they had panicked, intimidated by my strength and unsure of what to do. Their lines had fallen into disarray, making it easy for me to tear them apart. Sometimes literally. I had never tasted combat as brutal as this before. Not at my hands.

After having dealt with the last of Lang's men, I knocked on the door of The Barbaric's private quarters. I didn't know why, and it seemed silly the moment I did it. I carefully opened the door. I was on my guard. His forces hadn't been that much of a challenge, but a leader of men tended to be powerful. There was no telling what kind of martial prowess or magic Lang The Barbaric possessed. The wooden door creaked in its hinges. It wasn't anything like the sliding doors we had at the Imperial Palace. These doors swung open instead of going sideways, like a gate. It seemed a bit strange and impractical to me, but then again the entire castle had a bit of an outlandish feel to it. Undoubtedly it was heavily influenced by the many different cultures that passed through these parts. It was located by the sea and the Southern border after all... And among the pirates I had dealt with on the way I had noticed some pale-skinned fighters as well. They were extremely rare in the Imperial City. In fact, apart from Tang and his father, I had never seen one before.

"I know why you have come," a voice greeted me the moment I stepped inside. As soon as I laid eyes on the man, I knew who he was. He was dressed in an elegant maroon robe, with the burning black ship across it. He was big and broad-shouldered. His robes hid much of his figure, but I was certain he was very muscular, too. It was strange, meeting a man who was as tall as me. I had become used to looking down at people. And yet, despite his shape and size, he looked old. Long grey hairs formed an impressive moustache, and the colour had faded from his black hair too. It was combed back, held in place by a massive braid. My eyes wandered to his hands, and my heart skipped a beat. He was holding two scrolls. They could only be one thing.

"The scrolls," I said, and he nodded.

"I know, Jin, son of Pin the Courageous. Do you think I'm blind? Do you take me for a fool? I have received word not long ago. Zao the Abated has betrayed us, and Zong the Wicked lies dead in his castle, which has been occupied by farmers and peasants." I looked at him. What was he talking about? He knew I was coming? Did that mean Tiang and Linmei had been successful? It gave me reason to rejoice and worry. "I have been waiting for you, Prince Jin. And you walked right into my trap." He grinned. I heard footsteps coming from the levels below. "I wanted you to know you failed," Lang continued, "to know how stupid you were to think that you could outsmart and overpower Lang the Barbaric and his forces." The footsteps became louder, and more numerous. "I drained my castle of its forces, lying in wait for you to arrive, and follow you the moment you stepped inside... And kill you the moment you believed you had achieved success." My heart was racing. This couldn't be!

"Give me the Scrolls," I said. I was surprised by how weak my voice sounded. There were probably dozens upon dozens of men coming right after me. In this little room, numbers meant little, but I could still be overwhelmed. And there was no way out.

"I think not," Lang the Barbaric grinned. "Sagacious Tien's time has come, and he must go. After I finish with you here, I will deal with that young princeling and his little whore, and reclaim the Scrolls they stole. After that, the Empire will fall into disarray. And who better to rule the Jade Empire than Lang, the man who possesses the Six Holy Scrolls, chosen by the Dragons themselves?" He smiled.

"You're delusional," I replied, shaking my head. "Mad with power and ambition. You think the Dragons will tolerate you? It was Sagacious Tien who built this Empire, and even then only through their blessings. It is his bloodline that must rule."

"Not if it ends," Lang replied. "Not if Prince Tiang lies dead. If the bloodline of Sagacious Tien ends, only the strongest can rise up and claim power! And with no one to command the Imperial Army with The Outlander gone, no one will be able to oppose me and have any hopes of victory." Armed men appeared at the door. Three of them aimed spears at me. I looked behind them. There were warriors at the ready, as far as I could see. I knew my own strengths. I knew my limits. This was not a fight I could win. And I could not escape. "There is no way out," Lang said as if he could read my mind, "surrender, and your life might be spared. You can live your life in shame, going by title of Jin The Fearful. But a life of shame is still better than no life at all, wouldn't you say?" He smiled. Again. It made my blood boil.

"Even if you succeed, you will never become Emperor," I said defiantly. "There are those who can oppose you, those who are much stronger than you." The first man to pop up in my mind was Tang. His father had led the Imperial Army for decades. He could take over and beat this Pirate Lord and his band of crooks back. "The son of The Outlander can..."

"Can what?" Lang interrupted me. "With his father dead, do you still trust he will come to the aid of those who did not help him? The Outlander's death has shattered his spirit, so my spies in the Imperial Palace tell me. He is no longer the man he was. He spends his days in his room, weeping, Not eating. Barely sleeping. A broken teenager is no Grand General, and certainly no threat to my power."

"That is a lie," I said. I did not believe what he was saying. He couldn't possibly know all that. I knew Tang, nothing could get to him. While I had last seen him, he had returned to the Imperial City to bury his father. But he had sworn revenge! Not... this.

"Believe what you will. It matters not." He looked past me, at the men standing in the doorway. "Kill him," he commanded with a wave of his arm, and the men rushed inside the room.

"NOOO!" I shouted, rushing forward at Lang. It was a move he had not anticipated. I rammed him, shoulder to his gut. He was elevated, and I slammed him against the outer wall of his chambers, near the small opening in the wall that looked out over the Glass Ocean. The room filled itself with enemies, but I pushed myself against the wall, using Lang as a human shield. I didn't know what to do. But I wasn't going to die. Not today. Not like this.

"Your survival instincts are to be commended," Lang said. I had no desire to hear him any more. I put my arm over his throat, choking him. But not too tightly. If he died, my only leverage died with him.

"Tell your men to back away. Quickly!" I released his throat a bit. Enough for him to whisper orders at his men, who didn't know what to do.

"You lose, little Princeling," Lang said, and he started pushing me against the wall with his back. He was incredibly strong. The pressure on my chest was more immense than anything I had ever felt. He knew I couldn't kill him now, not without his troops skewering me on their spears after. Instead, he was trying to squeeze the air out of me. I started fading, but I would not give up. This was too pathetic a way too die, to be killed by my human shield. So I started pushing the wall behind me, too. Much like Lang was trying to suffocate me between the wall and himself, I started pushing backwards. But the stone would not give. "What are you doing?" Lang said when he noticed what I was doing. "Even if you manage to break through the wall, we are hundreds of feet above the water. If we fall, we land in the Sea, and the Scrolls will perish. Fool!"

"I will not let you keep them!" I was thinking back of everything I had ever learned in training. Any technique or skill that could help me survive this and walk away with the Scrolls unscathed. I came up with something. It was desperate and reckless. But it was the only thing I could think of. "Heavenly Wave!" I shouted. It was a technique I had learned at a young age, but had barely ever used. I manipulated the chi in the area around my opponents with an area attack, slowing them to a crawl. That should've given me at least a two-second window. I pushed forward, using all of my focus. The enemies in the room had been slowed to a crawl, barely able to move. It wouldn't be long before the effects wore off. Channelling all my internal chi to my right shoulder, I charged at the thick granite. The stone burst, although I felt something crack in my shoulder. I feared I had cracked it severely, but I ignored it.

Lang was right. We were falling down, with nothing but water below us. We had mere seconds until we would hit the water and the Scrolls would be vanquished, their text washed away by the salt water. Nothing could prevent that, lest I grew wings. I had heard of transformation techniques that made it possible, but had never been taught those. Very few people could, and it required direct interaction with demonic forces to comprehend such a style. I closed my eyes, letting my instincts guide me, and hoped that somehow it would all turn out all right. I snatched the Scrolls from Lang's hands, and aimed my good arm at the sea. Ice enveloped my arm, and I sent forth a cone of icy wind that froze the sea underneath upon impact. A variation of Ice Shard's power, one that Tang had once taught me, created a small platform for me to safely land on. I channelled what little chi I had left to my lower legs and knees. I did not want to shatter them.

I landed safely, but the ice cracked. Lang fell into the water behind me, miraculously surviving the fall. I was exhausted, but I still had some energy left. I used the ice cone to create a path that would safely guide my back to the back, keeping the scrolls safe from harm.

"After him!" a voice behind me gargled. "Now!" I looked behind me, and saw Lang the Barbaric swimming, shouting orders at his forces that were all trying to catch a glimpse of what had transpired. Many of them stood in the opening in Lang's chambers, amazed by the display. They hurried down, but I had a big head start. Once reaching the beach, I ran towards the village. I had no doubt I would make it from there, although my shoulder started to ache severely. I just hoped the good people of Two Rivers hadn't eaten my horse yet...