The Promise of a Thief


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Scene Title The Promise of a Thief
Synopsis Ancient Chinese Proverb — War does not determine who is right, war determine who is left.
Date November 27, 2010

The Limestone Forest

The primitive limestone landscape situated at the border of the kingdom of Zai Shangshang is a dangerous place to be at night. Aside from the feral animals that roam the forests in the dark, the trees are home to bandits and thieves. Antediluvian trees stretch up to exorbitant heights only surpassed by the column-like mountains that peak through the area, casting ominous shadows under the light of the full moon.

The tiny caravan that ambles along the dusky road travels blindly for fear of attack. Though light would help their passage, the drivers of the wagons dare not illuminate themselves for reasons simply surrounding the fact that they might draw unwanted attention. The ancient path that winds its way through if filled with ruts that cause the wooden wheels to creak and groan in protest. While they would normally never travel this way by night, the supplies they carry demand a timely arrival to their destination.

The mountains themselves are uniquely organized as though they are a stone forest and not a range. The arrangement gives their long shadows the appearance of gigantic beasts and human beings. The wild eyes of the oxen pulling the carts match those of their owners, unlike the merchants the animals bray and protest, trying to drag their burdens away from the roads.

The caravan trails its burden through the dark forest, a small speck of movement in a huge, quiet land. Yet, every creak, grunt or rumble from the caravan they make seems as extraordinary as the sunrise, overwhelming the subtle sounds of the night.

As they crest a small hill and turn a corner, a trees make way for the shape of a large, dark object blocking the caravan's path. It's another wagon, tilting heavily to one side, and with no oxen or horses to carry it. A figure is hefting something heavy up against the side of tilted cart, its back bent and shaking from the effort. As the merchants round the corner, the wagon wheel the figure is hauling thunks to the ground and it takes a step back, calling out in a fearful voice, "«Who's there??»"

"«The caravan of Li Chen,»" comes the answer in the dark. The dark shadows of the small collective of wagons slows, but does not halt to aid their fellow traveler. Such a venture is foolhardy and Chen is anything but a fool. Although he is not a man widely known, those who do know of him speak of his shrewd ability to haggle and barter. It is not often that the man has a business deal where he does not come out on top.

A few of the others driving the wagons glance forward, trying to see what the master of the oxless cart is doing. Unlike Chen himself, some of his family members are a little more charitable and one even jumps from his wagon as they get closer. The action receives an unseen glare from the merchant himself. "«Fool boy, get back up on the cart, it could be a trap.»"

"«Li Chen!»" The name is echoed with a certain amount of reverence and the figure stops retreating to offer a low bow. "«Please forgive me…but about sunset, I was set upon by bandits. I was able to run from them, but they attacked my cart and stole my wares and my oxen. I have been trying to fix the damage, but I fear it may be beyond my ability.»" A wagon wheel often can't be reattached with a little twine and a few wooden pegs, unfortunately.

As Li Chen gives the order to his family the order, the figure, still concealed behind the dark curtain of the night, bows deeply again. "«I have no weapons on me, good sir. Please, just allow me to move my cart off the road, so you may pass.»" That cart? It would easily take 3 strong men to move, at least. Especially with oxen gone.

The young man, torn between his father's command and his desire to aid the crippled traveler, finally lowers his head and with an apologetic glance toward the lead wagon, jogs the rest of the distance to help the man. "«I will help you change your wheel,»" he offers politely. Turning, he waves another two boys roughly aged at mid to late teens toward them. "«Come and help us!»"

The other two are a little more wary than their brother. While one stays with his cart, the other plods toward it with a fearful grimace on his face.

Chen lets out a grunt of frustration and moves the lead cart off to the side of the road, attempting to get around the broken wagon. The wet ground has him mired within seconds and the young man who wouldn't help move the other cart is barked at to push the lead back onto the road.

The wariest of the young men continues to stare dubiously at the stranded cart for a moment before rising to his feet and hopping off the wagon into the thick mud, churned up against the wheels of the lead wagon.

SSSSSTHUK! The boy's lifeless body crumples mid fall, and he falls with a splutch into the mud, face first. More arrows hiss through the air like wasps, many hitting their marks. Two of the boys going to help the stranded man fall without a further word, arrows through their throat or chest. The third spins around at the falling of his friends, and he's immediately set upon by the "helpless" man, drawn into a headlock with a sharp knife pressed against his jugular. "«Not very smart. A proverb says, if a son is uneducated, his father is to blame. Your father has taught you poorly.»"

The trees come alive with figures leaping out of bushes and from behind trunks, each of them levelling bows at the drivers and leads, or unsheathing swords as they approach the carts. Li Chen has no fewer than three swords and two arrows pointing at him in a matter of seconds. The man with the boy held hostage raises his voice, "«Honorable Li Chen! You can prevent any more deaths if you turn over your cargo to us, now!»"

The merchant stares in horror at the brutal murder of two of his sons. Ducking his shoulders, he raises his hands slightly as he hops down from his cart. "«Please spare the lives of the rest of my family.. You may take anything you wish.»" The loss of the boys will not go without tears shed for their passing, being murdered on the road is a fate left for beggars and thieves, not for the son of a successful man.

As Chen gives up their worldly possessions, one of the women climbs from the cart, letting out an anguished wail as she runs toward the first of the fallen boys. Like the call of a banshee, her cries into the night echo through the mountains, causing a flock of migratory birds to flit up into the sky and flap out of the area.

The cacophony of noise masks the approach of a galloping war panther. The giant beast, saddled and ridden by a flame haired woman carrying a sword, comes up silently behind the last wagon and rips one of the men apart while the other's head rolls to the ground. Their deaths aren't nearly as silent.

Not pausing in her assault, the young woman stands in the saddle and pushes herself up into the air, flying toward two of the archers. The song of her sword rings through the air as their weapons are bisected and rendered unusable. Sprinting toward one of the trees, she bounds off of it and does a high leap, nearly clearing the trees.

The wailing woman is saved a similar fate to her sons, as the bandit coming up behind her with a knife raised has his head liberated from his body to tumble off to freedom. The archers raise their bows urgently towards the galloping woman on her panther, their reflexes clearly combat trained. But they're not fast enough to stop the swing of her sword as it incapacitates them, and they stumble back, drawing their swords from their belts to slash at her.

Yet they only hit air. All heads turn upwards in amazement, watching the girl fly into their air, as if carried by a divine wind. The clouds part, as if pushed by a great force, and the heroine's majestic form, robes splaying out like wings and hair trailing behind her like fiery smoke, is framed from behind by the bright glow of the full moon.

Bandits are not known for being wowed by aesthetics, however. The philistines turn what bows they have towards the flying girl, loosing arrows after arrow at her, launching a flying wall of pointy, painful death directly at her as she falls.

The last of Chen's boys is released and tossed aside, choking and sobbing, as the bandit leader whips his robe open, hands going behind his back. His dark eyes glint up at the sight above him, and his lips quirk. Ohhhhh, a challenge. If she doesn't hit the ground as a human pincushion, that is.

The weapon's song hasn't nearly finished, not by far. With a wavering howl, the arrows are knocked from the air in a silver whirlwind in front of her. Shredded pieces of wood and feather rain down on the merchant and the bandits, followed by the soft landing of the young woman as she wheels in a warrior's stance to face her foes. With her sword held out to the side, it still rings with the last memories of the arrows that it dispatched, hungry for more.

The panther lopes up to another one of the bandits and pounces on him, crushing the man under its immense weight. The beast, finished with battle has begun the play of cats and has decided to toy with his food, rather than simply kill it. The screaming man is batted by the soft paws that end in sharp laws, his skin latching onto the white nails and shredding under their force.

Eyes the color of forbidden blue sweep over the bandits and when the first makes his running approach, she holds her position until the very last second. A spin and windmilling of the young woman's arms is accompanied by a leap as her blade runs deeply up the length of the man's torso and up through his skull. He lands (nearly bisected) before she does. When her feet touch down on the ground again, she is back in position with her sword held out to the side. Only this time there's a line of blood running to the end of the blade and dripping down to stain the soft grass.

The bandits don't charge in now, all of them in their night blue coverings keeping their distance, swords unsheathed and bows drawn. A few more of their numbers try to sneak up behind the deadly woman, with her head wreathed in hair like flames. They're cut down before they can raise their swords.

"«Stop!»" The ranks of the bandits part, and the bandit leader strides in with a slow saunter, chin tilted up. His face catches the moonlight, and his skin seems pale. His eyes are hooded and piercing, his frown deeply etched in his face. He is Not Happy. "«Enough of this toying around. Mystery woman, put down your blade and leave us, or your life will be forfeit. This isn't your concern.»" He stands straight, hands still tucked under his robe behind his back.

As though she didn’t understand his words, the young warrior turns to face the speaking man. There’s nothing on her face to suggest that she comprehended what he said at all as she gazes across at him. Her white cotton dress is stained with the blood of his soldiers that she’s already killed. Stark silent, she stares across at him with near luminous blue eyes that bore pinholes into him.

"«…she has the eyes of a wild animal,»" the bandit king remarks, and there’s a rustling of agreement from the bandits around him. Slowly, the bandit king approaches her, leaning down to come eye to eye with the blood-covered redhead. His dark eyes are piercing and sharp, like a polished blade reflecting the night sky.

Which earns him a quick sneer from her, and in a lightning fast movement, her blade whistles through the air like a song of death, right for the bandit king’s face.


The surrounding bandits can only flinch forward, in the space of the fraction of a second before the singing blade is stopped, caught between the blades of the bandit king’s kama’s. Everything is still, no one breathing save for the wind.

"«You’re quick. But I’m quicker.»" the bandit king mutters, a smile slowly spreading over his face. But it falls a moment later, as a trickle of blood runs from a microscopic cut under his cheek. There’s a snarl and her sword is yanked down, pinned to the ground as a kama is swung at her, aiming to slash open her neck.

A few strands of red hair float free at the cut of the bandit leader’s weapons, with forbidden blue eyes glinting up at him as the girl ducks down. The moment is in slow motion as his eyes widen, trailing her down…and he lets out a whoof of breath as her striking foot catches him in stomach.

Hand tightening on his weapon, the girl’s immaculate countenance is marred by the haft of his kama slamming into her face, splitting her lip open and knocking her to the ground on her back. She’s dazed by the hit, leaving her open…and the bandit king makes his strike.

Whereas her sword sung like a pure note, the kama blades hiss through the air like twin serpents, down at her chest and stomach, ready to rend her open. She gasps and rolls away, leaving the ground where she’d been moments before perforated by his blow. Again and again the crimson warrior woman rolls away, trailed by a fraction of a second by the strike of the bandit king’s weapons, scouring the sod and sending up sparks when they hit rocks. All around him, his followers drift quickly away, not wanting to be within range as their leader launches into an all-out assault.

The night sky flashes before her eyes. Light, dark, light, dark, light—uh oh. She stops her rolling, a strike grazing her ear where her head would have been a moment later. The bandit king sneers, frustrated as he yanks his weapons down, slashing over her front to cut open her shirt, making a fresh, bright red line across her chest.

The cry of a woman screaming in pain fills the night, and the bandit king gets another kick to the gut before the warrior woman somersaults backwards, rising as lightly to her feet as if she were steam lifting from the ground. She hops from foot to foot, jumping back again and again as those kamas swing in dangerous arcs, just barely missing the chance to split her open.

A few of the bolder bandits hold up their swords, ready to impale her. And it would work, if she didn’t rise off the ground from one of those hops like she were flying into the air. Her toes touch featherlight to the flat of the blades, twirling in a way that makes her garb spin out in red-and-white swirls of colors, made briefly transparent in the moonlight as she pirouettes up and over the bandit king’s head. She lands with barely a sound, tumbling past her sword to snatch it up, and stops in a fighter’s crouch, arm extended behind her and sword pointing to the bandit king’s throat.

The caravan merchants let out a collective breath of relief. The bandits are stunned.

The bandit king is furious. Froth flecks off his lips as he bellows out, "«KILL HER!»"

The rush of bodies towards the swordswoman is like an oncoming wave of glinting steel and dark wool garb. In a graceful swirl, she rises up, her blade spinning about like a ring of death to cut through the front ranks, and she rises into the air again. She flies in a slow arc, slashing at the bandits under her feet, splitting open necks and heads like she were harvesting wheat, until she lands atop the lead caravan wagon, balancing precariously on the edge. She turns about to look at the carnage behind her, dead and dying bandits littering the ground and moaning in pain. But where’s the bandit king??

Behind her, the bandit king falls gently to the wooden edge, arms held out like the wings of a swooping hawk. And he looks pissed. "«You have done more to kill my men, my brothers, than any I’ve come across. You have my respect, warrior woman,»" he growls, making Delia gasp and spin about, sword raised towards him. He doesn’t flinch as it points at his throat, instead just curling his lip in contempt, "«So it saddens me that I must kill you.»"

For those watching, the ensuing fight is nearly incomprehensible. Blades fly, the wagon rattles as it’s used as a staging ground for a fight that the human eye can barely follow. Death and life are balanced on the head of a pin, blades felt millimeters from skin, tearing open clothing and sending splatters of blood on the wagon’s merchandise. Suddenly, their blurred forms rise into the air, disappearing into the treetops in a burst of falling leaves and branches that shower down on those below. Metal blades clang loudly, echoing over the treetops.

Until they’re suddenly silenced, and the world seems to hold its breath.

In a rustling and cracking of branches, a figure plummets out of the trees and lands with a crack and crunch in one of the wagons, drawing a startled cry from the merchants. Slowly, a hand raises out of the hole…clutching a kama. The bandit king hauls himself up with a pained groan, trying to stand…but only manages to tumble out onto the grass, clutching at the deep gouge in his stomach. A short ways off, the bloody and battered woman, her hair like a slow flame about her head, and her blue eyes glinting in contemptuous triumph, alights on the driver’s seat of the lead wagon.

Quickly, the remaining living bandits gather up their leader, hefting his arms onto their shoulders and carrying him quickly away. Still, despite his injuries, he has enough strength to lift his head, spouting bile at the foe who had bested him. "«Luck favors you tonight, mystery woman! But if you stay in these woods, you’ll not live to bear children! I will find you and best you, and make your death agonizing!»" His voice fades as they disappear into the trees, leaving the merchants to do what they will with the corpses littered about the road.

"«I’ll find you! Do you hear me?? I’LL FIND YOU, YOU RED-HEADED DEVIL! AND YOU’LL BE MINE!!»"

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