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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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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