Author's note: To make this chapter easier to understand, Chinese speech will be in and English in the regular quote marks. Ta for listening, and keep reading!

The young man bounced quickly upon the balls of his feet, his braided jet-black ponytail bouncing in rhythm as he moved with light steps around a thick old tree, whose cherry blossoms were swaying in the cooling breeze. The young man, Wang Tang by name, sprang into action and delivered a shatteringly powerful palm strike, which flowed lightly into a medium height kick, which in turn became a roundhouse kick. Wang Tang slipped back away from the tree, which now displayed cracked bark where the youth's blows had landed.

A cloud of loosened blossoms floated gently around him. A shuddering crash rang through the forest suddenly, surprising him.

What happened there? He said aloud. I hope he's okay. He left in that direction a while ago. Maybe I should go check it out. No. I said I'd guard the campsite while he went to fetch breakfast.

He'd been travelling with the older man for a while now. They'd met each other in a tavern in one of the numerous little villages around this area, got to talking and realised that they had similar goals. They both wanted to become stronger.

The older man had recently obtained a life ambition, a sword. A 'legendary' sword called Tosa Arashi. He had told him that this sword could cleave light in half and detect evil wherever it was, whatever it presented itself as. It could do these things only if the person who wielded was strong enough. It seemed his companion was not at this point at the level that the sword deemed strong enough.

So, it came down to that they were both seeking the same thing. The Hyper Stone. It was apparently somewhere in Shun Fou Mountain, the foot of which they were camped at currently. They'd both heard the stories, that it could boost the strength of any man much more than any regular Power Stone could.

Wang Tang's sensei had been getting old, and though he'd never admit it, ill. Nevertheless he still insisted on training Wang Tang, although with his age he was finding it hard going training such an energetic boy.

However, he had promised when the boy, an orphan of five at the time, that he would train him until he became strong enough to find whoever had killed his mother and father. And since he had resigned himself to the fate that he would die before the boy had learnt what he could teach him, he would at least try and help the boy along as best he could, by telling him to seek the Hyper Stone and boost his power. This quest would be his final lesson and gift to his pupil.

Wang Tang's hurriedly shook the misty eyes of nostalgia away from his eye and jumped to his feet, assuming the mantis stance as he heard a faint rustling within the trees.

A man stumbled through and collapsed at his feet, clad in red, a white scarf around his neck, and a shock of blonde hair. His hands were tied behind his back and he was gagged.

A second later, Wang Tang's companion stepped lightly into the small clearing where the two travellers were camped. He was clad in ragged dark blue samurai robes, and had his hair pulled into a scruffy topknot. His skin was sun-darkened, and rough stubble attacked his chin. At his hip was slung a sheathed katana.

Wang Tang relaxed instantly. Ryoma! He grinned. Been hunting?

Ryoma scratched his chin. His plane made that crashing sound you probably heard earlier.

Why truss him up then? He probably got his brains shook out of his ears by the crash, I bet he wouldn't have a clue what to do if we even released him. Wang Tang regarded the stranger quizzically. A westerner.

Well spotted. Ryoma said sarcastically. He pointed at the patch on the blonde man's flight suit. He's from England, look.

Ryoma reached down and pulled down the pilot's gag.

Why'd you crash? A blank look was the reply.

Ah right. Ahem. Ryoma then began to speak English, thickly accented though it was. "Why'd you crash?" The bilingual samurai asked again.

Comprehension dawned upon the pilot's face, followed quickly by annoyance. "I didn't do it on purpose. I was shot down. Would you mind untying me? I am unarmed."

"Why?" Ryoma straightened up. "We don't want you to escape, now do we?"

Wang Tang clapped a hand to his face. Why not, for God's sake. We're not slave traders are we? Let him go. If he tries anything to hurt us, you can smack him down with Tosa Arashi, right?

Ryoma considered this, and then knelt again and cut Falcon's bonds.

Falcon stood, rubbing his wrists.

"Now, Any idea who'd shoot you down like that?"

"No, but when I find out, I'm going to tear them a new arsehole."

Wang Tang leant over and whispered into Ryoma's ear in Cantonese. Hey, Ryoma. What does 'arsehole' mean?

Not a clue. Probably an English slang word.

"Look, chaps. If we're going to have a conversation, let's keep it in a language we can all understand, eh?"

The samurai and fighter looked at each other and shrugged.

"Sorry." Ryoma smiled at Falcon. "But you'll have to excuse my friend. He understands English well enough but can't speak it at all because he's awkward, basically"

"That's fine. Whereabouts is the nearest village?" Falcon started to look around, surveying his surroundings.

"There's not a village for miles around here." Ryoma replied.

"Well then, point me in the direction of the nearest one then."

"Stranger could get lost real easy round here, you know. It'd be far better if you came with us. We're on a little quest right now. What if you came with us, then after we find what we're after, we take you to the nearest village then?"

Ryoma, what are you doing? Wang Tang was agitated. What if this white guy tries to get the Hyper Stone for himself?

Then I'll smack him down with Tosa Arashi, remember? was the reply. Then the samurai turned to the downed pilot and once again in English asked: "What do you say, then?"

"I really need to get to Peking." Falcon was becoming unsettled. How could he mess up like this? It never happened like this before. He'd never failed a mission before! And now he was forced to rely on two complete strangers who no less than five minutes ago looked set to slit him from gullet to gizzard! On the other hand, better the devil you know, than the devil you don't. It was looking to be a better prospect to tag along with these two guys than to wander blindly through bandit infested jungles.

"Okay, I'll come along. But I definitely need to get going to Peking afterwards."

Ryoma sheathed Tosa Arashi and grinned. "Excellent. We set off tomorrow at first light."

Meanwhile in India…

A pair of shapely hands with skin the colour of burnt caramel swept in circular patterns over a polished ball of crystal filled with smoke in the incense laden atmosphere of a red silken tent. Deep, chocolate brown eyes narrowed in concentration, trying to discern the rhythm of time, to gain a glimpse of the future. Dressed in exotically alluring clothes of gauze and gold, her long luxurious hair tied up in a waving ponytail. Her name was Rouge.

Despite her youth (she was only 22), Rouge was a formidable fortune teller. This was unusual because most fortune tellers didn't reach that level of skill until they were old and frail. She was selling her services currently to a rajah by the name of Harun Al-Muktar, who was at present trying to divine the future success of his business deals. No amateur businesswoman herself, Rouge was taking advantage of her position and drawing things out as long as possible to drain as much money as possible. Not that she was being greedy or anything, it was just that good incense didn't come cheap.

There was a rustle and a breeze as the tent door was drawn aside. "Back so soon, Excellency?" Rouge said, not looking up. There was no answer. Tearing her gaze off the crystal ball, she focused on her visitor. She took in the massive body with gargantuan muscles rippling under an orange poncho slightly too small for the person, the large round head with it's pencil thin moustache and pointed beard topped by a blue bandanna, and the dirty, green cargo trousers tucked into a pair of sturdy leather combat boots of a size that could only be described as ridiculous. Lastly, she took in the long, strange staff in the intruder's hand, carved of wood with what looked like a model of a panda in a coolie hat stuck on the end. "What on earth…" was the last thing she said before a flash of light jumped from the staff and everything went black.

Accel was awakened by the burly elbow of Galuda as the train's brakes hissed while it pulled into the remote outpost station. They had been forced to sneak onto a cargo carriage because of lack of funds. Accel made a sound like "wstfgl" as he roused himself and pulled his hat up to look at his Native American companion. "What?"

"We're here." Was the reply from Galuda, his pipe clenched between his teeth.

"I don't see nothin'."

"It's about six miles walk from here to my tribe's campground."

"You're kidding. Right?"

"No." Galuda swung the sack containing his supplies and the power stone over his shoulder. "I thought that you cowboys were supposed to be able to tough out distances of that length like it was walking across the street." He started to move off.

Accel spat, grumbled, hoisted his own knapsack and trudged after his giant friend.

Accel had halted and refused to walk past a perfectly good horse corral until they got themselves some form of transport because in his own words; "A tough and trailworn gunslinger I may be, but any idiot can blister his feet beyond recognition by refusing a perfectly good horse. It takes real intelligence to trek six miles in relative comfort", and so the two were now idly trotting through the prairies. On occasion, eager to get back to his people as soon as possible, Galuda would speed up to a gallop before Accel caught up with him and reminded him that there was no point exhausting the horse and having it die halfway through the journey.

Ryoma's sword cut a swathe through the jungle plants as he moved through the wood. Wang Tang followed close behind, a tattered map clutched in his hands. Stumbling along at the rear, Falcon struggled to manipulate the packed tent and hammocks into a comfortable position on his back.

"Why do I get landed with carrying the equipment?"

"Cause Wang Tang and myself are holding all the cards." Replied Ryoma, without looking back. "If you want to get to Peking, then we've got to show you, or you'll get lost. Which means you gotta help us first. If you don't pull your weight and help us out with little things like carrying our equipment, then you're dead weight, and we leave you behind, get it?"

Falcon fell to grumbling bad-temperedly, and the samurai turned to the martial artist. How much further?

Wang Tang squinted at the map. The map says to bear Northeast past the ruined hut, which we just passed until we get to the Foo dog statue in a clearing. Then we go north and we should find the cave where the locals at the last village said the Hyper Stone rests.

Ah. Well there's the Foo dog. Ryoma gestured with his sword to a statue of a stylised sitting dog, with his right forepaw raised. So I guess we just keep going north for how long?

No clue. Just gotta keep going, I guess.

Damn.

Meanwhile, half a world away…

Whitepearl Manor sat dead centre of a lush expanse of gardens and paths with groves of trees. Off to the west was a large lake framed with willow trees, swaying gently in the cool England breeze. Moored on a small jetty were some simple rowboats painted red and white, the colours of the Whitepearl Family. It was along this lakeshore that a figure walked.

She was dressed in a long white gown trimmed with red. Her chin length, a white and red bonnet crowned her curly blonde hair. A parasol was hanging from her arm, and her hands were clasped together in front of her in a demure fashion. The vision of bright blue eyes as reflective and glimmering as the lake surface itself was cast downwards. Julia Whitepearl chewed on her perfect cupid's-bow lips, lost in pensive thought:

The dreams are getting stronger… It's like there's something inside me, buried under the surface, clawing to get free, but I don't know what it is. If I were to tell someone, they might think me insane. I wouldn't even know what to tell them anyway. All I know is that I'm feeling such an urge to go into father's study. But I can't. That's Father's unshakeable rule, that I may never enter his study by myself. But I know there's nothing in there special. Except… Yes, of course! The heirloom! But father keeps it under lock and key! I don't think even mother has seen it. I don't know, but it feels that if I don't see this "forbidden fruit", as it is, that I might well go out of my mind altogether! That settles it. I must do this.

Somewhere in Julia's subconscious, something long buried began to stir…