The Wolf, the Leopard and the Mask

Chapter 1

Jin Li, Iron Doctor Meng, and Min are walking down a mountain road, intent on reaching the home and trading hub of Merchant Ling. Iron Doctor Meng is hopeful that he will be able to find there some medicine that may help his daughter recover. However, as they get closer to the house, they smell smoke! Rounding the bend, they find that Merchant Ling’s house is on fire!

Outside in the forest behind Merchant Ling’s house, Echo is awoken by the howling of her wolves. She sees that the house she has been waiting outside of, the house that her charge, Starless Leopard, is staying in, is on fire. She moves to the house quickly, in time to see the 3 companions rush in to the house from the courtyard: Jin runs into the servants’ quarters along one wing of the house, waking people and helping them outside where he can. Min jumps up to the second floor and in to a bedroom window, to look for others within the house. And Iron Doctor Meng rushes straight in through the front doors, grasping a pillar that is about to collapse, and holding it (and the floor above him!) up.

Starless Leopard is awoken suddenly as a 10 year old girl comes bounding through his window, smashing the shutters open, and lands next to his bed. Min calmly tells him, “You should get out,” and then bolts out the door.

Starless: “Huh.”

Starless gets up, grabs his gear and his sword, and steps into the hallway, where he sees Jin running towards him down the hall. They lock eyes, briefly recalling the last time they met. Jin quickly rushes toward Starless, grabbing his arm and shoulder and saying, “the house is on fire…” Starless brushes free of Jin’s grab, pushing him past and then pulling his arm behind his back. Jin quickly runs up the wall in front of him, twisting out of Starless’ grasp.

Min leaves behind the two foolish enough to fight in a burning building, and continues down the hall. She finds Merchant Ling’s daughters in a room at the end of the building, crying over their mother, who has been knocked unconscious. She quickly knots spare robes and bedclothes into a rope, and helps them down to the ground, where they are suddenly confronted by a white-haired woman flanked by wolves.

Min: “Oh…hello.”

Back inside the building, Iron Doctor Meng shouts upstairs to see if everyone is out, as he’s starting to get tired from holding up half of the building. Also, his robe is on fire. Starless and Jin, upstairs from him, continue their fight, shifting feet inside each other’s guard, and swiftly exchanging who is in control of the grapple, in a high-speed Yuen Wo Ping inspired fight. Finally, Starless gets the upper hand, managing to solidly plant his feet and with a swift push from his palm, launching Jin out the window. He swiftly follows, jumping out of the building and landing in the courtyard below. Min yells from the back of the house that she thinks everyone is out, and Iron Doctor Meng finally dives out of the room as the front of the building collapses behind him. Swiftly beating out the fires that have singed his robes, he looks around for Min, who is leading a small group of Merchant Ling’s family members around to the front of the house. She tells them that “the wolf-girl” helped her get everyone out of the house. Jin (remembering his previous meeting with her) and Starless (used to hearing people talk of this “mysterious spirit”) both nod.

As the group recovers, and makes sure that the family and servants are okay, they quickly realize that Merchant Ling himself is missing. After speaking to an old woman who is a relative of his (and the only one who was awake), they discover that she saw a group of bandits attack the house. They took the merchant and a small package that came with one of his recent shipments, and then set fire to the building as they fled. The group quickly decides to track these bandits down.

With a little subtle help from Echoe and her wolves, Min and Jin swiftly find the trail of the bandits. However, a group of the bandits has stayed behind, and set up an ambush!

Min swiftly jumps in to the middle of the crowd of bandits, cutting many of them down, as a barrage of arrows comes out of the trees from Echo! As Jin and Starless charge at the leader of the group of bandits, Iron Doctor Meng kicks over a large tree, crashing it down between the bandits and their leader, forcing him to fight on his own.

As Min, Meng, and Echo clean up the bandits, Starless and Jin exchange a few blows with their leader. Which ends when Jin grabs him by his feet and attempts to throw him across the clearing…and instead throws him headfirst into tree that Doctor Meng knocked down earlier. With talking to the leader no longer an option, Jin makes sure that Min doesn’t kill ALL of the bandits.

There is a sudden rustle in the trees, as someone up in the branches, who was observing the fight, takes off. Starless tries to follow (and, incidentally, to find out who was shooting those arrows), but he loses the trail and finds only a wolf pup, holding an arrow in his mouth.

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