Originally, this update was supposed to be the second chapter of Dragon, Phoenix, and Flowers. Unfortunately, its first draft is yet to be completed. 😦 Therefore, I’ll will post this completed chapter for Lotus in the Wind instead. I apologize to DPF’s fans. It will be updated soon. I promise. 🙂
In regards to this update, I also want to apologize for this extremely long chapter. Unfortunately, during the editing process, I decided against breaking this chapter into two. So I hope you are not too frustrate with this long read. 😀
Chapter 3: The Mysterious Masked Man
The outskirt of Bianjiang, 10 miles from Lou Yang
Two weeks later.
Along the familiar path to Bianjiang, a small city not far from Lou Yang, a group of travelers made their way towards the city, hoping to pass the city gate by nightfall. A messenger had been sent ahead earlier that morning to reserve an inn for the weary travelers.
Leading the group was no other than the great general of the Great Dragon Legion, Miao Jiang Feng, several high ranked generals, and his newly adopted goddaughter. Behind them also included several elite soldiers who served under the generals directly.
At the beginning of the journey, there was a carriage that accompanied them. However, upon seeing his new daughter’s preference to horseback riding, General Miao had ordered it gone.
The news that he had adopted a new daughter were accepted with wariness and curiosity. His fellow comrades, who were also powerful military leaders, and the men working under him were astonished of the idea at first. They wondered what kind of woman could win the general over. But it didn’t take long for them to come to like and respect the young woman who was introduced to them. Not only was she beautiful, she was also graceful and sweet, her brightness making even the hardest men smile. Even more surprising, she was a skillful and gifted martial artist. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been able to rescue the general from the assassins. Hence, she easily won the heart of these rough and hardened men, giving Jiang Feng a sense of pride.
Originally, there had been many reservations on Lian’er’s side after Er Niang informed him that Lian’er had agreed. Unfortunately, for the next few days, Lian’er treated him with nothing but gentle politeness. Gone was her earlier cheerful spirit and her words to him seemed to be made with careful deliberations.
Feeling that something was not right, he request a meeting with her at the back pavilion. Watching the cherry blossom petals scattering in the winds, he pondered about what today to Miss Zhang. On one hand, he do not want to force a person when their heart was elsewhere. At the same time, he recognized a valuable pearl when he saw one and he was not willing to get it slip away. When she arrived, he quickly spoke of what was on his mind, continuing to watch the cherry blossoms.
“Miss Zhang, I’m getting old in my years. My days of being in His Majesty’s army will soon come to an end. I hoped that when I retired, I will have a happy and boisterous family to go back to. My Feng Niang and I are quiet individuals and my son is usually away from the capital with his troops.” He sighed and turned to looked at her. “When I saw you, I instantly knew that there is Fate between us. Don’t misunderstand, this is not because you saved my life. And I’m not bringing you into the family to repay my debts. The truth is, there are not many people in this world that I feel this way with. I trust my instincts. But if there is any reservations you feel towards me, you can always refuse. I’m not an unreasonable person.”
When she continued to be quiet, he gently smiled at her. “You don’t have to give me an answer now, but I hope that you consider what I said. In this old age, there’s nothing I want more but a happy family. When you come into my family, I hope that you will accept us in your heart and live happily with us. That’s all I want to say.” Giving her a pat on the shoulder, he left the pavilion.
They performed a small ceremony in front of Zhang Hong’s grave, where they had lit incense sticks and prayed to her father. After, Lian Hua got on her knees in front of him and kowtow three times as her mother looked on with a gentle smile, thereby accepting him as her new godfather. Carefully, she poured him a cup of tea and held it toward him. “Daughter Lian Hua presents godfather a cup of tea.”
With a smile, he accepted the cup and drank the tea. “Child, you may get up now.”1.
Lian Hua seemed to have other ideas. Still kneeling in front of him, she poured another cup of tea and held it in front of her, looking up at him. “Daughter Lian Hua is unfilial. During the last few days, I had worried godfather. Please forgive me. I am stupid. When godfather revealed your intentions, I was worried that if I accept with too much enthusiasm, I would make my father’s spirit unhappy. Now I know better. Not only will his spirit be happy, but he is very proud that he had raised this daughter well enough to catch the attention of a great general.”
Jiang Feng laughed. “Very well said! Your father spirit is proud indeed.” He accepted the tea. After he drained the cup, he looked at Madam Zhang. “Madam Zhang and Master Hong raised her well. She is a good daughter and is filial.”
Madam Zhang smiled. “General Miao speaks very highly of us. We were just lucky to that our daughter is a good person. Now that Lian’er is your daughter too, please call me Er Niang.”
“Great! You may also call me Jiang Feng,” he informed her joyously.
“This lowly servant would not be so disrespectful,” she rejected.
“Preposterous! What lowly servant?” He interjected. “We are now one family. There is no status between us. Please call me Jiang Feng.”
Er Niang nodded. “As you wish.”
Seeing Lian Hua was still kneeling no the ground, he frowned. “Why are you still kneeling? Get up, child.”
“Thank you, godfather,” Lian Hua said before she stood up.
His brows furrowed. “What godfather? Call me father.”
Lian Hua smiled. “Father.”
He laughed joyously and boasted, “Good child! I, Miao Jiang Feng, must have done good deeds in my previous life to have deserve such a filial child.”
Recalling these previous events brought joy to his heart. This military expedition brought him many victories. Not only did he managed to suppress an attack from invaders, but he also gained a daughter. The Miao family was fortuitous indeed!
Suddenly, he was pulled from his reverie as he espied a tall blue-robed man blocking their path about 10 yards away. His face was covered with a white cloth and he held a sword in his hand.
Jiang Feng pulled the horse’s rein and halted in his tracks. Lian’er and his men followed his lead and did the same. Yuan Jun, an elite soldier who served one of Jiang Feng’s strategist advisor, called out to the mysterious man. “How dare you block general Miao Jiang Feng’s path? Are you not afraid of death?”
The man didn’t answer. Instead, he turned his head to look at the young woman to Jiang Feng’s right.
Yuan Jun tried again. “Are you deaf? Can’t you hear me asking you? Reveal your identity and speak your intentions!”
Instead of answering, the man slowly unsheathed his sword, his eyes staring directly into Lian Hua.
Jiang Feng frowned. Something was off about his character and he couldn’t put his finger on it. Why was he so focus on Lian Hua?
Lian Hua assessed at the man in front of her. While he seemed to be solely intent on her, she knew she had not met him before. He did not look familiar to her and on the rare occasions that she was able to venture far from her home and the abby, there was no one in her memories that fit this description.
Yuan Jun ge ge2 was getting agitated with the man’s silence. “General, what shall we do? The man is deliberately creating trouble.”
Her godfather continued to stare at the man. “Wait a moment. For someone brave enough to stop His Majesty’s troops in their path already expects death or to walk away in victory. Be careful, this may be an ambush.” As he said this, his eyes carefully and expertly scanned the surround area.
At his words, everyone except for her godfather stilled and became alert. Their hands went immediately to their weapons, mentally prepared for battle at a moment’s notice.
Suddenly, the man leapt up into the air with a powerful kick into the ground and using his qinggong3, he charged directly at Lian Hua. “Father, stay back!” she yelled to her godfather and she quickly unscathed her sword. Not willing to let the masked man have the upper hand, she used her own to fly from atop the horse and somersaulted over the man’s head, landing a few feet behind him.
The other generals and elite soldiers, seeing the attack, quickly pulled their swords to rush into battle. Before they taken a step, General Miao, spying a white jade pendant upon the masked man’s robe, halted them with a quick wave of his hand. His eyes narrowed at he watched the fight before him, ignoring his men’s questioning glances and the other general’s questions.
Lian Hua turned to face the man who attacked her and quickly parried his coming thrust, using her sword to sweep his sword to the side. When he quickly pulled back and swept the sword a crossed her upper body, she allowed her body to fall back toward the ground, her qinggong helping to keep her balance on her heal of her left foot. Seeing the tip of the sword crossed her face, she swiftly bounced back into her feet and thrusted her sword straight at him.
The man parried her attack by quickly stepping back a few steps, his lips curving into a smile under the mask. Quickly, he came at her again and she met him halfway to engage him in swordplay, the meetings of their weapons echoed loudly as her father and his men watched on.
As they fought, Lian Hua realized that this man was a formidable opponent. They were both equal in strengths, their move powerful and the levels of their quinggong equal, allowing them to avoid each other’s thrusts and kicks easily. However, his martial art was focused on strength. Thus, every kicks and thrusts of his swords forced her to fall back a few steps to avoid taking in injury.
On his end, he seemed to be surprised with her skills as she was able to dodge and parry with swiftness. He also seemed impressed with her usage of the agility and precision of her Silver Lotus Swordplay to force him to retract his moves the few times when she thrusted at him with her sword.
Unfortunately, while Lian Hua was trained in the art of patience, swiftness, and endurance, the man had more experience than her. About an hour into the battle, he was slowly learning her tactics and gaining the upper hand, despite the sweat that were dripping from his forehead.
She knew if she made any careless moves, victory would be his. Not knowing if he was friend or foe, she cannot afford to lose. At the moment, it made sense that the man was foe as he had attacked her without warning or reason. However, while she made no mistake in her movements in case he saw it, she had pretended to leave some weaknesses here and there to trick him into a trap. Yet, he didn’t take it. This meant he was either clever enough to see it and did not fall into the trap or he had fallen for the ploy but choose to fight fairly. If it was the former, then he was a powerful opponent. If it was the latter, then he was an honorable opponent. And if he was the latter, then why did he attacked her without reason? It didn’t make sense!
Determined to bring to battle to an end, Lian Hua balanced herself on her left toe and spun around in circle, forcing her opponent to step back a few steps. As she kept on spinning, her speed gradually increased to the point that one could only see a small tornado from where she was. Using that as a distraction, Lian Hua channeled her chi into her sword and sent it flying straight toward the masked man’s chest.
Seeing the sword swiftly flying straight at him, he had no choice jump back even further and swung to the side, letting the weapon fly sped passed him, it’s blade just inches from cutting into his cheek. Just as he managed to avoid the sword, he suddenly heard the sound of bells right before he was assaulted by two small silver balls flying at him. Each of the balls were attached to the ends of two long white-silk sashes that seemed to grow longer and longer from the sleeves of Lian Hua’s robe. Her hand gripping the sashes as she used to her chi to control the silver balls to attack his pressure points.
A small twitch on his brows indicated that he was astonished to see that she was capable of using such a weapon. This form of martial art was rare as mastering it required a tremendous amount of chi and concentrations. Hence, the few who managed to master this art took years to learn and were usually in their late prime by that time. For a young woman to master it at this age…He quickly pulled out of his thought and consider how to break this predicaments. With quick precisions, he used his sword to deflect the balls every time it came at from certain angels. Then, he spun the blades in a circle to cut at the sashes.
Predicting this move, Lian Hua retracted and maneuvered her sashes and silver balls away from the sharp edges before sending it back attack other parts of his body. Finally, the sashes were able to wrap itself tightly around each of his arms, preventing him to make any further movements.
Pulling tautly on her end of the silks, Lian Hua fixed her gaze at the man. “Will you finally admit now what your intentions are?” she asked.
Instead of answering, he tilted his head slightly, as if in acknowledgement of her skills, and suddenly, he let go of his sword. As it was falling down next to him, he used the heel of his foot to kick it up into the air before he swiftly jumping into horizontal position and spun his body around midair using his qinggong. This caused the sashes on each arms to tangle into one, which he pulled toward now still falling sword.
In shock, Lian Hua watched as the blade easily cut through the fabrics as if it was water. As soon as the sashes were cut, he grabbed his sword while he was still in mid-air and stabbed it into the ground, his horizontal body using it for balance. With an extreme amount of strength that Lian Hua didn’t see before, he propelled his sword further into the ground, bending the blade into a curving form. Instantly, the blade straightened again and he used its momentum to leapt towards Lian Hua, who was just coming out of her daze after seeing him cut through her sashes.
Now that her weapon was useless, she instantly dropped to the ground and rolled away from his sword just as it stabbed into ground, next to where she was just a moment ago. Spying her sword about fifteen feet away, she turned onto her stomach gathered her chi and retrieved the sword. The instant her sword touched her hand, she noted the masked man was coming at her left, swinging his sword down at her since she was still laying on the ground. To deflect it, she did a 90 degree turn with her body towards her assailant, swinging her sword to cut his legs. In order to prevent that, he had to halt his attack and somersaulted over her head.
Quickly rolling onto her back, she saw him coming down at her vertically from the air above her head, his sword once again going straight at her upper body. Thinking quickly, she raised her sword to block, sending off a spark as the two swords collided with each other. In that same moment, she kicked her right leg up towards his upper body. As she expected, when he moved his body to the side, she kicked with her left leg. This time, she met her target and he fell to the ground beside her as his sword slipped from his hand.
In a flash, she rolled to a sitting position and at the same time, aimed the tip of her sword at his neck just as he got to his knees. He paused instantly and looked across the blade at her. The both of them panted in their exertions.
A light breeze slept softly passed them, sweeping their hair into light dance. Silence descended as the onlookers watched. “You lost,” she said, pleased with the outcome.
He quirked his brow at her, his eyes glittering with amusement. She frowned, unsure why he was still arrogant in his defeat. Sensing her confusion, he quickly glanced at her lower body, quirked his brow twice and then looked at her again.
Brows furrowed in question, she looking down and was shocked. Against her lower body, he held a dagger pointed to her heart.
His eyes sparkled as he watched her reaction. “You are skilled martial artist, but your impulsiveness leave you wide open and defenseless. But don’t be sad. This is a draw.”
She was speechless as she heard his words. Then was further surprised when he pulled the dagger away. When he noticed that she still had not retraced her sword, he raised his brow again, his eyes gesturing to her sword, which still pointed at his neck.
Lian Hua stared at him in perplex. Who is this person?
“Enough. Stop playing.” Her godfather suddenly said, breaking her trance. He spoke to the man. “Ah Feng, had enough fun yet?”
She frowned. Ah Feng? Godfather knew this man?
The man in front of her chuckled and carefully pushed the blade away from his neck with a touch it flat side. Still in a daze, Lian Hua lowered her arm, the sword still tightly grip in her hand. Standing up, he finally pulled the white cloth away from his face.
Lian Hua mouth almost dropped as she stared at the tall man in front of her. Now that he was right in front of her, she could take a closer look at him. At a glance, the blue robe he wore was simple, but at closer inspection, the material was of excellent quality and the design was intricate. Except for a white jade pendant hanging from his waist, there was no other accessories on him besides the scabbard for his sword. The top of his long back hair was pulled into a neat bun tied securely with a long white ribbon while the bottom half flow freely with the wind. There was also a hint of scented spice emanating from him, musky and unique but very calming. With thick brows, dark brown eyes, and a handsome face that will have women fall at his feet, she couldn’t help but blink a few times to make sure he was real. In her short life, she had never seen a man like him before.
The general shook his head with a sigh as everyone else besides him gasped in surprised. “Ge—General Miao Tien Feng!” someone stuttered shockingly.
The identified man smile. “It is me.”
The general narrowed his eyes. “What are you doing? Scaring your sister like that, do you think it is fun? Hurry and help your sister get up.”
Unfazed by this father’s scolding tone, he bent down to help Lian Hua up. Smiling gently at her, he grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. He chuckled as he saw her blinked at in a daze. Brother? This is godfather’s son?
“It’s not everyday I meet a formidable opponent. You certainly made this family proud,” he informed her.
Before Lian Hua could say anything in return, he grabbed her hand and pulled her with him until they reached her godfather. Or rather, his father. Her brows furrowed at the though. There could have been thousands of ways to meet but fighting each other at the first meet was something she could never imagine!
When he stopped in front of their audience, he smiled at his father. “When I received the news that father had taken a goddaughter, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of girl she could be. Furthermore, when I heard that she is a skilled martial artist and had even rescued you from assassins, I became intrigued. Thus I became more curious and wanted to test myself how powerful her martial arts is.”
“You—” Lian Hua interjected, feeling a spark of anger. “If you want to test our skills, why ambushed me?”
He gave her a wry smile. “If I ask you after we were introduced, I won’t know for sure if you will hold back on me.”
Frowning, she opened her mouth to say dispute his claims but then realized that he was right. Even if she agree to the duel, due to their relationships, she would still hold back. She bit her lips. Still, it wasn’t right that he ambushed her.
He laughed. “Okay, okay,” he said. “As a gentleman and fellow pugilist, I, Miao Tien Feng, beg Miss Zhang Lian Hua’s forgiveness. I acted thoughtlessly. Please forgive me.” He clasped his knuckle with his right hand and kowtowed to her.
She narrowed her eyes at him. Even though his words was sincere, there was a spark in his eyes that indicated his humor at her expense. As if sensing the direction of her thought, he looked up and winked at her, an amused smile on his face.
This knave! First he ambushed her and now he poked fun at her. Unforgivable!
She stared at him for a long moment and finally sighed. Her shifu always said, Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong and an act of the heart. What we could forgive should be forgiven. While she was angry that he had used such tactics, she knew that there was no reason to keep a grudge. Still, that doesn’t mean he could get away with it either.
“Forgiveness is easy,” she said. “But what will you do about my Heavenly Jade Silk Sash? Because of this, my sash is now destroyed. If you don’t take care of it, how will I face my shifu again? She gave it to me for safekeeping.”
He frowned and straightened up. “Heavenly Jade Silk Sash?”
She nodded. “Heavenly Jade Silk Sash is a sacred weapon of Moon Lake Abby. It is made of a rare form of silk that could only be produce once every twenty years as its threads required long processes of cultivation and top secret skills.”
Nodding at this information, he considered her words. “I will have it repaired and return to you.”
Lian Hua shook her head. “In this world, there are very few people who know how to repair it.” She thought for a moment and frowned. “In fact, these techniques are undisclosed because the most unique quality about Heavenly Jade Silk Sash is that it cannot be cut or tear by any weapons in this world. It is why it’s a sacred weapon of our abby. How was your blade able cut through it?”
He considered her words. “Nothing in this world is without weakness. Have your shifu mentioned it?”
“Shifu mentioned that there was only one weapon in this world that could slice through it. It was said that the creator of the sword used similar techniques to cultivate and developed the silk threads for this sash. Thus, only the sword could destroy the silk. But from all accounts, the sword was destroyed in a savage battle a few decades ago. It was called the Blade of Fire and Ice.”
Miao Tien Feng laughed. “If that’s the case, then it made sense that I was able to slice through your sash.” At her puzzlement, he explained. “My sword is called the Blade of Fire and Ice.”
She was puzzled. “Then it was not destroyed?”
He shook his head. “No, it was. Your shifu was correct that the Blade of Fire and Ice was destroyed.”
“Then your sword…”
He smiled. “Your shifu must not be aware that originally, the Blade of Fire and Ice was not one weapon. It was the name of a pair of twin swords he created. They were wedding presents to his wife on the day of their nuptials. Alas, soon after marriage, his wife succumbed to a fever that later weakened her body for the rest of her life so she wasn’t able to use it. Thus, the Blade of Ice was put away as a family heirloom, not to be mentioned again. However, the creator continued to carry around his blade and referred to it as the Blade of Fire and Ice, in memory of its counterpart. Over the years, not many people remember that there was originally two blades.”
Lian Hua frowned. “How did you know this?”
In front of them, her godfather laughed. “Lian’er, the creator was called Liu Zhang. He was my deceased wife’s grandfather.”
Understanding dawned. “The Blade of Ice was put away and became a family heirloom. That means you are the creator’s grandson.”
He winked at her. “Do you believe me now? That I can repair your sash?”
She laughed. “I do not dare to refute the descendant of Liu Zhang,” she replied teasingly to Miao Tien Feng, clasping her hand to her right palm.
“Then will you accept my apology?”
“If I don’t accept, then I’m too blackhearted.”
“Blackhearted?” her godfather laughed. “Impossible! Enough. Now that this is settled, let’s us continue this conversation at the inn. Our men are tired and the day is getting older. Let’s be on our way.”
She nodded and turned to Miao Tien Feng. “God brother.”
He shook his head at her. “What god brother? You can call me Feng ge ge just as I will call you Lian mei. From now on, we’re one family. There is no need to be formal.” As he said this, he tap his finger on her nose with a teasing wink and jumped onto her horse, holding its reins in his hand.
“Hey! That’s my hors—” Before she could finish her sentence, he held out a hand to her.
“Come. Lian mei,” he said softly, his eyes gentled.
She stared at his hand for a moment in surprised. A smile curved up her lips and she put her hand in his, allowing him to pull her onto the horse behind him.
1 I’m not familiar with the ancient Chinese custom of accepting a godparent, so I’m gonna go by my memories of how they do it in wuxia drama. Please feel free to correct me.
2 Ge ge: means brother. An endearment term used by a woman to address an older male she is close to.
3 Qinggong: Literally means “light skills,” aka light kung fu/martial arts. In wuxia fiction, it is the ability in which martial artists use to move swiftly and lightly at superhuman speed, and perform gravity-defying moves such as gliding on water surfaces, scaling high walls and mounting trees.