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Fantasy, Myth, Legend

Billy Wong is an avid fan of heroic fantasy, with a special love for hardcore warriors of the fairer sex. His fiction has appeared in Literal Translations, Blazing Adventures Magazine, Afterburn SF, Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine, Wanderings, Sorcerous Signals, The Written Word, Tower of Light Fantasy Magazine, and Golden Visions Magazine.

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Unwelcome Admirations

Xue Lanfa jerked her sword free of the gangly elder, allowing his body to slump to the bloodied grass. Beyond it, the wounded master of the Demon Ghost cult halted his staggering retreat and smiled grimly. “Your swordsmanship truly is without peer, Lady Xue. I would not regret dying at your hand.”

She lunged, sword pointed straight ahead. “But our battle is not decided yet!” her enemy said, as he blew poisonous gas at her with a double-handed palm strike. She spun her sword in a conical motion, dispersing the fumes, and powered forward. The Demon Ghost master caught her blade between his hands, its tip inches from his face as the momentum of her charge bore him back. She twisted the double-edged weapon and yanked it away, slicing his palms to the bone. Then she thrust, transfixing his heart.

Lanfa glanced over the quiet, corpse-strewn hillside and sank wearily to her rear. She had finally taken revenge for her master and peers, but felt more uncertainty than satisfaction. She had not even enjoyed the responsibilities of being a senior disciple in her school, yet would be its new head once she got back. How had her humble desire to learn self-defense led her to this? Though her few wounds were not serious, she took her time wrapping them. She almost wished they were worse, so she could have an excuse for more time to rest and think.

Using her teeth to tighten a rag around a last cut on her arm, Lanfa sheathed her sword and stood. What use were prodigious fighting skills, if all they could do was avenge wrongs already done? She would have rather had the persuasive ability to convince her comrades of their danger before it was too late.

“Master, master!” she heard a high voice cry as she started away. “Wait for me, master!”

She looked to see, crawling towards her, a young boy with a painted face and ritual scarring on his bare chest. Though no more than nine or ten, he had all the trappings of a vicious Demon Ghost member. She remembered when she had, reluctant to kill him, knocked him unconscious early during the battle. “Who are you calling master?” she asked, frowning warily.

“You, of course. My master said whoever killed him would get everything he had, and since you did, you have me.”

“Are you serious?” His serious expression told her he was. “I free you, then.” She hardly needed another young disciple to take care of, never mind one from his background.

“Free me? I’m not a slave. My master taught me martial arts and rules of life.” Not very good ones in the latter case, she was sure. “Now that he’s dead, you get to take his place.”

She blinked. “Do you actually want me to? Aren’t you angry at all that I killed your master?”

“Maybe I should be, but I’m really not. He always hurt me.”

Lanfa put hands on her hips and nodded. “All right. My first command as your master is . . . you’re dismissed.”

“What?!” he asked in a voice shrill with panic. “You can’t do that! Where am I supposed to go?”

“What about your parents? Can’t you go home to them?”

“My master told me they were dead.”

Knowing what she did about the Demon Ghost cult, he might well have killed them himself. “What about other family? Do you know if you have any living?”

“I don’t know.” He dropped his gaze, as if to hide the moisture in his eyes. “All I have right now is you.”

Lanfa fell silent, looking skyward. She could lose him easily, but would feel bad about abandoning even a cultist child. “What if I helped you find your family?” She was not ready to go home yet, anyway. “Would you agree to leave me then?”

He pouted. “I don’t want to find my family. I want to learn martial arts!”

“I don’t . . . have any room to take on new students.” She was not even sure she was qualified to keep the ones she would have. “But your family could get you a teacher, right?”

“Not as good as you. Don’t they say you’re the best swordsman in the world?”

“I don’t know, there are a lot of swordsmen in the world. The best swordswoman, perhaps. In any case, I’m not accepting students. So do you want my help or not?”

“All right, I guess, if I can’t change your mind.”

She let him fume a bit, then asked, “What’s your name? Seems you already know mine.”

“I think my parents called me Fengshan, but I haven’t heard that in years. Most of the brothers called me Little Scab.”

“Fengshan it is, then.” Cautiously, she shook his extended hand. “Can you walk?” Still unsure of his motives, she did not want to carry him and risk tempting him to sneak attack her with that little dagger in his belt.

Fengshan recalled his village’s name as Spring Valley, and once they got to town Lanfa began researching its whereabouts. People were generally quick to answer her questions, thanks to her reputation. “It is Lady Xue the Cold-Hearted!” she overheard a waitress whisper to a colleague at the first tavern they visited. “The one who massacred thirty-nine seniors of the Gray Mountain clan.”

“Why did you do it?” Fengshan asked. “You don’t seem like you’d kill for no reason, but that’s what they say.”

Lanfa exhaled. “I found out they were plotting to murder my master, but couldn’t get any hard evidence. So of course I had to act anyway, and now people think it was unprovoked . . .”

“But didn’t your master die soon after that anyway?” His tone was not critical, but genuinely curious. “Do you think it was worth it?”

“I don’t regret it. What else could I have done, sat around knowing what I did and done nothing?”

Investigation revealed that Spring Valley was located near the desert to the west, which made sense considering Fengshan’s darkish skin. When she tried to head out, though, she found him rather uncooperative. “I don’t want to go!” he said, clinging to her leg and refusing to budge. “It’s too hot over there, and I doubt anybody wants me back after all this time. Why can’t I just stay with you?”

Lanfa looked away. “I wouldn’t be a good caretaker for you.” She had too much waiting for her to do already. “You’d be better off with family.”

“But what if nobody takes me? Will I end up in an orphanage?”

Even if he did, they would probably both be better off. “I’m sure we can find someone more qualified to raise you than me.”

“I’m scared,” he whined, hugging her leg tighter. “Promise me you won’t leave me in an orphanage.”

“Fine,” she said with a sigh. “If we can’t find your family, I’ll still make sure you end up with a good couple willing to be your parents.”

They set off for Spring Valley, and hours later came to an old wood bridge over a dried up stream. Lanfa heard heavy breathing close by, but pretended she did not. They had made it halfway across when the expected ambushers climbed up from the sides of the bridge, surrounding them. “We have been waiting for you, Xue Lanfa,” rasped a tattoo-faced speaker, who she recognized as elder Yan Shendook of Demon Ghost. Among his cohorts stood several cult veterans, but none of those left would present a great challenge. His eyes fixed on Fengshan. “And what are you doing with her, little brother?”

“She’s my master,” he said too proudly, “and should be yours, too.” Was he that obsessed with fighting ability? “She did kill Master, and he said whoever did that would win all he had.”

“Silly child. He didn’t mean that literally. Demon Ghost lives on!”

“You should accept her. She could teach you the skills that beat Master.”

Lanfa would certainly not have welcomed a bunch of adult cultists to join her Moonlight Sword school, even had they wanted to. As things stood, she was almost relieved to hear Shendook say, “Enough nonsense. Get her!”

No cultist moved. “Should we really do this?” a stocky warrior asked. “It might be suicide. She killed Master.”

Fengshan grinned widely. “Surrender and call my master Master, and maybe she’ll spare you.”

Lanfa might spare those who surrendered, but had no desire for anyone to call her Master. “Get on my back,” she told Fengshan, now trusting him more knowing his admiration for her, “and hold tight.” He did so, and with a yell of “Run or die!” she charged.

The mob before her wavered, their front line bending back as she charged its center. “Kill her,” Yan Shendook said then, “and prove your right to lead us.” At that, two of Demon Ghost’s boldest fighters leapt over their comrades’ heads to meet her. She dodged several swings of sword and axe, then slashed one foe down the length of his torso. Before he could even fall, she sidestepped the other man’s chopping blow and gutted him.

Cries of “Brother Tong!” and “Brother Yip!” went up among the cultists, and several made to flee. “Are you all cowards?” Shendook demanded from behind a tenuous wall of followers. “Fine, we’ll change plans then. Now, swordsman!”

Lanfa jumped back as a tall figure erupted through the bridge at her feet, flying straight up before reversing into a dive. She parried rapid jabs from a flexible sword, which flicked from side to side as its masked wielder hovered above her. A powerful opponent, who she might not easily handle with a child on her back. As he bore no obvious cult markings, she figured him to be outside help.

Shendook’s shout made things worse, as he urged his companions to “Get her now, while she’s distracted!” She knocked her airborne assailant up and away with a hard parry, then made a mighty spinning slash which sent energy ripping outward through the nearest men. Bodies thumped down around her. The masked swordsman dove at her again, shaking the bridge as he landed before her. She blocked his lunging slice, then kicked backwards into a cultist’s midriff. Elbowing the swordsman aside, she ducked a slash from behind and reversed her blade to impale another attacker.

More foes moved in. Lanfa dashed forward, cutting down man after man. Hearing footsteps close behind, she turned and threw a low energy wave which tore the legs out from underneath a trio of pursuers. The masked swordsman returned to the attack, pressing her with repeated thrusts. Cultists took advantage of her full hands, their weapons striking at her from all sides.

She weaved desperately among the blades, but could not avoid taking several hits. Wet warmth tickling her skin, she screamed and lashed out wildly. “Yes, kill them, kill them!” Fengshan whooped as blood sprayed over her face. The swordsman stabbed into her upper chest, forcing a gasp from her lips. She punched him with her hilt, throwing him from the bridge. As he splashed into the water, she caught five weapons on her sword and jerked them all aside. Her next swipe dropped an equal number of men.

The remaining enemies stopped, hesitating as Lanfa leveled her sword at them. Fengshan was growing heavy on her back as she continued to bleed, but she blinked to clear clouding eyes and smirked. “So . . . which of you wants to die next?”

Her words had the intended effect on those cultists who turned and fled, but a handful committed themselves to a last offense. She leapt into the air as they approached, smashing faces one by one with a series of bone-crushing kicks, and landed before most of their corpses did. Looking around, she saw that she and Fengshan were now alone with the dead. Shendook, not surprisingly, was not among them.

“You can get off now,” she gasped as she collapsed to one knee. She pressed a hand to her gushing wound and winced, blood dripping over her lower lip. The masked swordsman had made what should have been an easy battle costly to her body, and she hoped he was dead. “Sorry you had to see that.”

Fengshan slid off her back and knelt to check a cultist for loot. “No problem,” he said without a hint of distress. “You were awesome!” At a loss as to how to fix his corrupt mind, she gave a helpless sigh and turned her attention to herself.

He later offered to share what he had found; at least he showed her that much respect. She took the more suspicious weapons and vials, if only to keep poison out of his young hands.


(continued on page 2)



Unwelcome Admirations by Billy Wong 1 2
originally published February 9, 2009

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