The Wolf, the Leopard and the Mask

Chapter 2

Min and Jin have brief pep-talk with the lone remaining bandit. Min calls him a very badly behaved young man, and warns him that if he returns to his life of crime, things will go badly for him. Jin, on the other hand, points out that it is totally fine to be a bandit as long as you pick the right targets, and suggests that he go help the family of Merchant Ling as a way to atone for his sins. And then says that, if he does well at that, Jin may be willing to accept him as a member of HIS gang (which does not yet exist.)

Then the group as a whole sets out to try and track the mysterious figure that was watching the fight, hoping that he will lead them to the bandits. Again, Echo surreptitiously aids them in the tracking, and they head through the forest, the trail finally leading them to a cliff, overlooking a small valley. As the sun begins to set, they see a bonfire spring up on the far side…

Having crossed the valley, the companions find themselves in a small abandoned village. Up at the top of the slope, there is another largish house, and it is from there that the light and sound is coming. The group swiftly splits up: Min and Jin running around to the west side of the building and climbing up the outside, while Starless and Iron Doctor Meng simply stride directly toward the main entrance to the courtyard. Echo, still separated from the rest of the group, slips around the North side of the building. As they move in, Jin tries to sense if there are any truly practiced kung Fu users in the compound, and he gets a sense of someone with fairly strong reserves of chi within the courtyard…and also of a dark presence to the right hand side of the building (near where Echo is).

Reaching the top of the building, Jin and Min look down into the courtyard, and see Merchant Ling hanging by his writs from a crossbeam, dangling above a well. Milling around him are the bandits, and Jin recognizes their leader! It is Red Killer, one of the 48 disciples of Dark Master Wu!

As Iron Doctor Meng and Starless Leopard walk calmly up to the front door and challenge the guards, Min rushes forward, grabbing a woven mat, and slides it across the mouth of the well, so that Merchant Ling will not fall through. Red Killer turns and charges her, his axe taking a few locks of her hair as she barely rolls out of the way. Jin Li swiftly charges in as well dancing around Red Killer and harrying him with strikes, pushing him back under the overhanging wall at the south side of the courtyard.

Jin: “The school has certainly declined since I left, hasn’t it?”

One far side of the building, Echo sees a glint in the darkness as Shadow Duke prepares to strike! She swiftly lets loose a barrage of arrows, hemming him in and preventing him from joining the fight in the courtyard.

Out front, Starless and Iron Doctor Meng have almost finished mopping up the bandit guards. Seeing the sudden rain of arrows, and hearing the howling of the wolves on the east side of the building, Starless leaps up onto the wall in front of him, and runs along it toward that side of the house. As he leaves, another group of bandits, led by a particularly tough looking man with a saber, come around the screen of the house to engage Doctor Meng. Doctor Meng lets loose with a furious punch on the tough bandit…who simply backpedals with the blow, and finally stops with one foot braced against the stone behind him. Perhaps Doctor Meng will have a serious fight on his hands!

Or perhaps not, as the next thing we see is the bandit leader come flying through the stone screen at the door, and into the courtyard, followed by Iron Doctor Meng.

Jin and Min continue to duel Red Killer, using the limited space under the overhang that they have forced him into. Red Killer ends up with both his legs bleeding and weakened, unable to fully support him, as he lashes about with his axe.

Starless Leopard leaps into the fight with Shadow Duke, trading a series of blows. Throughout every fight he has been in thus far, Starless still has not drawn his sword! His stance is peaceful, almost lazy, as he turns Shadow Duke’s attacks back upon him, and strikes with lightning quick replies to each of Shadow Duke’s strikes. Even when Shadow Duke attempts to poison Starless with his corrupt chi, Starless Leopard’s own icy chi forces him back, leaving his hand numb and tingling.

Back in the courtyard, Iron Meng pulls up the posts that are holding Merchant Ling above the well. After laying the crossbeam that Merchant Ling is attached to down, he lays about him with large post, driving the bandits back. As Echo’s wolves come howling into the courtyard, the bandits’ will breaks completely, and they flee into the night.

Meanwhile, outmaneuvered, wounded, and goaded into rage, Red Killer moves to strike at Jin. However, he over-extends his strike, and, as Jin dodges aside, he goes tumbling down the well.

Seeing his allies down or fleeing, and unable to land even a single blow against the bastard son of the Yun clan, Shadow Duke turns to flee. A sudden barrage of arrows from Echo forces him back, however, and as he turns to flee the other way, Min rises up before him like a vengeful spirit. Her knives flash, and another disciple of Dark Master Wu falls to the ground, bleeding out his last.

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