Fate : Destiny :: Karma : Fortune
Book 1: The Anubai Hero
“Move aside!” a harsh voice sounded across the crowded road. Many people hurriedly cleared the road, whether they were poorly dressed commoner or rich merchant. No one wanted to draw the ire of the nobles riding in the carriage marked with the sign of the Sun clan! It would be worth their lives to raise even a single word of protest.
And yet, one young man somehow failed to hear the words of the Sun clan guards, and completely ignored the carriage rattling down the street towards him. The faces of the guards darkened at this blatant disrespect, and one of them shouted at the man.
“You! Boy! Are you looking to die!?” The guard turned to the coachman, and urged him forward with a hand gesture. They would run this pitiful fool down, without hesitation! Only then would the honor of the Sun clan be upheld.
The young man finally turned around, and gazed at the oncoming carriage. The Sun clan guards caught their breaths and gripped their weapons, while the coachman reined in almost by instinct. In this city, known as North Pine City to it’s inhabitants, the guards had encountered many men. Some had eyes filled with fear, especially in front of the Sun clan, who were the second most powerful clan in the city. Some had eyes filled with arrogance, those who could compete against the Sun either with connections or their own personal power.
But in the eyes of this youth, these experienced men saw… nothing!
No fear! No anger! No confidence! No uneasiness!
This young man gazed at them with eyes… that were already dead!
The guards felt a supernatural chill go down their spines, as they gazed at this dead-eyed youth. The four men were all at the sixth level of the Qi Gathering stage of mortal cultivation, making them significant powers in this North Pine City where the average martial artist never made it to the third level. Even the coachman was at the fourth level, as befit a servant of the Sun clan. But these martial experts were dumbfounded by the nihilistic gaze of the young man in front of them.
On the surface, the youth was no different from anyone else in the city. Actually, his clothes might be a little more worn than average, a little dirtier than even the most base peasant would accept. He had a sword strapped to his waist, but the sheath was battered and cracked. His shoulder-length black hair was unkempt, and his sandals may have just as well not existed, for all the protection they gave his feet. To be completely honest, he looked exactly like a beggar.
Furthermore, the four guards could not sense any Qi about him at all! Normally, a martial artist would exert a constant pressure on his surroundings, naturally suppressing those weaker than himself. This was very difficult to control, and most people would never bother to learn how. Especially at the Qi Gathering stage, where a martial artist’s Qi aura was extraordinarily weak, no one would learn how to completely hide their aura.
Could this young man… have actually exceeded Qi Gathering, and reached the stage of Core Reinforcement? It seemed completely unlikely, but the four Sun clan guards did not dare to be incautious.
While these thoughts flashed through the minds of the guards, and indeed the minds of every passerby watching the scene, the young man gazed at the carriage with no change of expression. No one, guard, commoner, or merchant, could guess at the thoughts passing through his head. Then, to the shock of everyone present, the young man–
With an unhurried step, the youth moved off the road. The nearest people immediately drew back, leaving him room to continue on his solitary way towards the town gate. No one wanted to be anywhere close to this crazy man, who had incited the Sun clan. It would be courting death, with no benefit!
Seeing the dead-eyed youth move aside, the servants of the Sun immediately became relieved. If the youth had truly been a powerful martial artist, he would have had no need to back down; he was obviously just as he appeared, a powerless beggar. Ashamed of their self-perceived cowardice, the four guards quickly became furious. If they did not take revenge on this boy, they would never be content.
“Stop right there!” one guard shouted, while two others immediately leapt forth. In a moment, they had blocked the path of the dead-eyed youth, and their agitated Qi shook the area, causing the nearby people to pale in reaction.
The young man paled as well, and a trickle of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. Seeing this, the guards became even more convinced that the youth in front of them had no martial cultivation, as even their Qi could cause him internal injuries. They could kill this boy simply by turning over their hands.
And yet, even now, their was not the slightest expression of fear in the young man’s face or bearing. For all the reaction he had, he might as well have already been a corpse! It confused the Sun clan guards; how could this young man be so indifferent to death?
The two sides stared at each other for a few moments, before the youth finally spoke.
“Do you intend to kill me?” His voice was strong, but cold and passionless. The two guards in front of him felt another involuntary shiver go down their spines. It seemed like the young man could have been inquiring about the weather, for all he cared about their answer.
“Hmph!” snorted the guard on the right. “For daring to stand in the path of the Sun clan’s Young Master, death is the least you deserve! Bow down right now and beg for forgiveness, and perhaps we will simply take an arm in compensation.”
To the shock of everyone watching the scene, the dead-eyed youth said, “Stop wasting time. If you are going to kill me, kill me. If not, don’t stand in my way.”
The Sun clan guards nearly died of apoplexy. This was completely stepping on the face of the Sun clan! How could this weak-looking beggar be so arrogant? The guard on the right choked out, “You-! How dare you! If we were to torture you for a hundred years, it would be no less than you deserve!”
The youth’s expression did not change in the slightest. “Deserve, is it? But do you really want to waste your efforts?” Before the guard could respond, the young man continued. “I am walking towards my death right now. If you want me to die, I will die before long. If you want me to suffer, I will no doubt undergo suffering before I die. If you want to kill me, go ahead; but know that it is a complete waste of your efforts.”
The guards stared at the dead-eyed youth, completely baffled. They wanted to see this arrogant, meaningless boy beg for mercy before he died; but according to him, he would die without them doing a single thing! Why would he beg under such circumstances?
The talkative guard felt cold sweat on the back of his neck, but he still maintained a belligerent tone. “Ha! It’s your bad luck to die early, then. The price of offending the Sun clan will be taken from your hide.”
“One moment, So Tan,” came a calm male voice from inside the carriage. “Bring him here, so that I may speak to him first.”
“Of course, Young Master,” the guard exclaimed. Immediately, he grabbed the youth by the arm, and with a flick of the wrist, tossed him toward the carriage. Another guard caught the young man in the air, and forced him to his knees beside the carriage’s door.
The door opened, and an elegant young man stepped forth. The difference between this youth and the dead-eyed young man was like day and night. He wore a beautiful, richly embroidered blue robe, and his waist-length black hair was gathered meticulously behind his head. He moved with an unconscious grace, which indicated his noble background and strong martial arts.
This was Sun Tzi, fourth young master of the Sun clan!
Sun Tzi looked down at the youth before him, and smiled gently. However, anyone standing near to him would absolutely notice the cruel glint in his eyes. Because the youth was bent forward by his guards, Sun Tzi could not see his expression. But he could see the man’s patched and threadbare appearance, and he had instantly made his own judgement about his worth.
“Tell me your name,” Sun Tzi said, with only the slightest hint of arrogance tainting his voice.
“Gan Zhu,” the youth replied, without bothering to look up.
There was a sudden boom, and Gan Zhu was slammed into the ground. Pain shot through his body, and he spat out a mouthful of blood. Above him, Sun Tzi sneered. It was obvious that this Gan Zhu had no cultivation whatsoever.
“Do you know why I struck you, Gan Zhu?” he said. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “It is because my name is Sun, and your name is not Fan. Within this city, only those surnamed Fan have the right to be arrogant in front of those surnamed Sun. Do you know why that is?”
“Because the Sun clan is weaker than the Fan clan, of course,” replied the injured youth, as he pushed himself to his feet. Sun Tzi’s eyes widened at this peasant’s rudeness, only to widen further as he saw Gan Zhu’s gaze for the first time.
Even after having been injured, even after having his worthlessness rubbed in his face, this man’s eyes were completely emotionless. Sun Tzi’s blow might have landed on someone else entirely, for all Gan Zhu seemed to care. Sun Tzi began to wonder if this peasant was not just trash, but an actual madman!
The Sun clan guards accompanying Sun Tzi glared at the young man pulling himself laboriously to his feet, and one of them reached over to force Gan Zhu to kneel once more. A slight movement from Sun Tzi, however, caused him to pause. Everyone watched silently as Gan Zhu finally staggered to an upright position, and focused his dead eyes on Sun Tzi.
“If you are not going to kill me on the spot, then do you mind if I continue on my way? I have a long walk ahead of me.” Everyone in the vicinity gaped at Gan Zhu. It had reached this point, and he still showed no respect to Sun Tzi? This young man was truly looking to die!
Sun Tzi narrowed his eyes. “Is that so? And where, I wonder, are you off to in such a hurry?”
“I intend to enter the Cerulean Abyss,” announced Gan Zhu firmly.
The surroundings burst into tumultuous noise, as onlookers cried out in amazement and ridicule. Sun Tzi stared at the dead-eyed Gan Zhu in shock, and even his guards couldn’t help but take a step back.
What was the Cerulean Abyss? Simply put, it was a death trap! A series of deadly caverns, precipitous drops, and dangerous monsters, spiraling forever into a blue darkness. The danger only increased the further in one travelled, and it was said that no one had ever reached its deepest floor. Those in the Qi Gathering stage, no matter how many they were, could never pass from the fifth floor down to the sixth; they would be wiped out without a doubt. Those in the Core Reinforcement stage would do better, but the fifteenth floor would definitely become their limit, or their grave. As for the mythical Void Transcending stage… perhaps such a legendary figure could fight their way to the very bottom. But if one ever had, they had never admitted to the deed.
And this powerless wretch named Gan Zhu intended to enter that very Cerulean Abyss? Wouldn’t he die within moments of setting a foot inside? Truly, the young man was insane!
Irregardless of the stares of disbelief and mockery, Gan Zhu turned away once more. But before he could take a single step, Sun Tzi’s voice came from behind him. “Wait.”
Sun Tzi stared at Gan Zhu with a strange expression, and said, “Very well. Since you intend to throw yourself into the Cerulean Abyss, why should I stop you? In fact… I shall make sure you arrive there as quickly as possible!”
“Is this truly necessary, cousin?” spoke a cold female voice.
The carriage had long since left North Pine City, and was quietly moving along the well-maintained road towards the Cerulean Abyss. There were four people inside that carriage. The first was Sun Tzi. The second was Gan Zhu, who was seated across from him. Initially, he had been watching Sun Tzi intently, but his dead eyes had disturbed the fourth young master, and he had been coldly told not to look directly at Sun Tzi in the future. Therefore, his expressionless face was currently watching the passing scenery with a distinct lack of interest.
Seated next to Gan Zhu was one of the Sun clan guards, the one named So Tan. His palpable hostility towards Gan Zhu never abated, and he even had a bare dagger currently pressed against Gan Zhu’s side. Every so often, the carriage would hit a larger bump, and the tip of the dagger would draw blood. However, the dead-eyed youth failed to react to these injuries; indeed, he failed to even acknowledge the existence of So Tan sitting next to him. Even Sun Tzi was amazed by this peasant youth’s thick skin.
There was a fourth person in the carriage with them. This person had said nothing, even when Sun Tzi had forcefully kidnapped Gan Zhu off the streets, and she had completely ignored the dead-eyed youth. She wore a beautiful blue dress, and her face was hidden behind a veil. However, one could sense that she was a graceful and beautiful young woman. Furthermore, her martial cultivation was even stronger than that of her cousin, Sun Tzi.
This woman was named Sun Lan, and she was the brightest flower of the Sun family. Unlike her cousin, she was not a direct descendant of the clan head. But she was a daughter of the strongest branch family, and moreover was a rare genius of martial cultivation. At the age of fourteen, she had already reached the fourth level of Qi Gathering; now, three years later, she was already at the sixth level, and had nearly broken through to the seventh. This was an amazing speed, almost unheard of in North Pine City, and Sun Lan was proud of her accomplishments.
Initially, she had no opinion on the destitute Gan Zhu, and assumed that her cousin was just venting his annoyance on the weak. However, as the miles passed by, she began to get a disturbing feeling from the youth. He was certainly weak; she could detect no Qi from him at all, which should be impossible no matter what his level of cultivation; but somehow, he still carried himself like a warrior. This dichotomy gave birth to an uneasy feeling within her, and this uneasy feeling had eventually caused her to openly question Sun Tzi about his presence.
Sun Tzi smiled indulgently back at his pretty cousin. “You need not worry, dearest cousin. I merely placed this wretch inside the carriage so that he couldn’t run off. Just a little while longer, and we will be permanently rid of him.”
“Hmph,” said Sun Lan, unconvinced. “I had my doubts at first, but this boy seems to have no interest at avoiding death in the first place. Why not simply kill him, if you want him dead?”
“Ah, but he was right in at least one respect, dearest cousin. If he intends to die anyway, lifting my hand to kill him myself is simply wasted effort. On the contrary, we were on our way to Red Rock City to buy your cultivation materials, and the Cerulean Abyss is only a short distance out of our way. His fate will not change, and I will not have to so much as lift my finger.”
“Hmph,” Sun Lan said again. For the first time, she looked directly at the youth Gan Zhu. For his part, he continued to ignore everyone in the carriage, as if they had been talking about someone else the whole time, rather than discussing his own fate. She pursed her lips, feeling disagreeable about his lack of attention to her. For Sun Lan’s entire life, she had been a high ranking member of the Sun clan, and even her great-uncle, the clan head, had never completely ignored her like this man. Irritated, she finally spoke out. “You. Gan Zhu.”
For the first time, Gan Zhu turned his face towards her. His expression, however, did not change in the slightest; rather than a pretty girl, he might as well have been staring at a blank wall. Sun Lan frowned, and asked him a question. “Why do you want to die so badly?”
“I did not say I wanted to die,” replied the youth immediately, without inflection. “I said I was going to die. I have less than three months to live, in fact.”
“So you decided to jump into the Abyss, and save your family the trouble of burying you,” remarked Sun Tzi with a sneer. “How filial of you.”
“My family is already dead,” Gan Zhu said absently.
Sun Lan’s eyes widened slightly. “Oh? How did that happen?”
“They were killed. Executed, by the Fan clan.” Gan Zhu turned to face back out the window, apparently done with the conversation. Sun Lan’s expression darkened, but before she could say anything, he surprised her by continuing. “My family were tenant farmers for the Fan clan. My father was in charge of a plantation north-east of North Pine City. We weren’t the most prosperous, but we paid our taxes, and tithes to the Fan clan, and we survived.
“Until six months ago, we survived. And then Fan Bin came.” At the name ‘Fan Bin,’ both Sun Lan and Sun Tzi jumped slightly, but Gan Zhu was looking out the window and didn’t notice. “He led a group of soldiers to our plantation. He called everyone out, and accused father of betraying the Fan clan. When father tried to deny it, he was struck down with a single blow, and then the soldiers began to kill everyone. My mother, my sisters, all died that day. I tried to fight back, of course, but I was merely at the second level of Qi Gathering. How could I possibly succeed against the pride of the Fan clan, Fan Bin, and all his soldiers?
“I had expected to die. But it seems that Fan Bin had wanted to test a certain poison, and since I had a little cultivation, he decided that I was an appropriate person to test it upon. I was forcefed a pill that severed my meridians, and damaged my dantian. I guess Fan Bin was content with that, because he took his soldiers and left me there to die on my own.”
Silence fell in the carriage. Sun Tzi and Sun Lan looked at Gan Zhu with complicated expressions, and even So Tan seemed less aggressive. Gan Zhu, on the other hand, simply stared out the window. Evidently, he had said everything he wanted to say.
After a while, Sun Lan spoke up. “Give me your hand.”
Sun Tzi and So Tan looked at the young woman in disbelief. Gan Zhu turned back, and though his face and eyes remained expressionless, Sun Lan seemed to detect a question in his posture. Calmly, she explained, “I know a certain art that can detect the exact state of a body’s organs and meridians. I want to see the extent of what Fan Bin has purportedly done to you.”
Gan Zhu looked at her silently for a few moments, before calmly extending his hand. Sun Lan took it in both of hers, and closed her eyes. Minutes passed, and Sun Lan’s face beneath her veil became progressively paler. Finally her eyes shot open, and she stared at Gan Zhu in shock and pity. “That…” She swallowed, then began again. “That is not on the level of simple damage.”
“What is it, cousin?” demanded Sun Tzi. “Was he lying to us?”
Sun Lan slowly shook her head. “No. No, he wasn’t lying. His meridians are a complete mess, his muscles and organs are entirely compromised, and his dantian…” She stopped, and shook her head again. “Why… why are you not already dead? How can you… possibly walk around like that?” She stared at Gan Zhu, as if she was staring at a terrible monster, or maybe a walking corpse.
Gan Zhu said nothing in return, and the silence stretched out. Sun Lan took a deep breath, before glancing at the guard sitting next to Gan Zhu. “So Tan, put the weapon away. There’s nothing you can do to him that’s worse than what’s already been done.”
So Tan frowned, but took the dagger away from Gan Zhu. The dead-eyed youth, for his part, didn’t seem to care one way or the other, which no longer surprised Sun Lan. She wasn’t sure if he would even feel pain, outside of the constant pain from his wrecked body.
“I understand now, why you are unafraid of death,” she said gently, unconsciously treating Gan Zhu with a great deal of respect. “Please tell me… Are you certain, that it was Fan Bin who killed your family?”
Gan Zhu looked at her for a moment, before replying in his usual expressionless tone, “A tall man, over six feet, unusual golden hair cut short, amber eyes, a small scar on his forehead. He carried a blue-green sword, and had a black whip at his belt. Finally, he introduced himself as Fan Bin, and his men all wore the sigil of the Fan clan. Of course, I had never met Fan Bin before, so if he was lying, I would have no way of knowing.”
Sun Lan and Sun Tzi exchanged meaningful glances, before turning to look at Gan Zhu once more. Sun Lan said, “Can you explain one more thing to me?”
Gan Zhu didn’t answer, but he continued to face the young woman. She looked calmly back and said, “I still don’t understand… why you are attempting to enter the Cerulean Abyss.”
“Because I am unresigned,” answered Gan Zhu firmly.
“Unresigned?” asked Sun Lan, confused. Next to her, Sun Tzi had look of understanding pass over his face, as he suddenly understood Gan Zhu’s intent.
“I have been left with no choice, except to die,” Gan Zhu said to Sun Lan. “Under normal conditions, no matter what I do, I will die in less than three months.
“But the conditions in the Cerulean Abyss — aren’t normal!”
Sun Tzi nodded. “The Cerulean Abyss is that sort of place. While there is overwhelming danger, there is also the possibility of ridiculous fortune for those who could grab it. Rare herbs and plants, mysterious monsters, even rumors of hidden experts; if one wants to find the limits of his fate, the Abyss is a place that will make it clear.”
Sun Lan stared at her cousin, then back at Gan Zhu, in disbelief. “But with your body, fighting even the weakest monster might be fatal! No, even before that, could you even survive the descent to the first floor? You might be blown off a cliff with even the slightest wind!”
Gan Zhu and Sun Tzi both nodded. “It seems quite likely,” admitted Gan Zhu.
“But I intend to go anyway,” the youth said firmly. “One death is exactly the same as another, but even now, I still wish to die fighting to live.”
Silence reigned in the carriage, and it was not broken until the travelers finally reached the entrance of the Cerulean Abyss.
- Let me say it again here. They might look kinda like Chinese names. They’re not. They are completely random. Don’t go looking too deeply for meaning there. 😐
- Please don’t expect me to go too deep into the cultivation system. I have no idea how many meridians a person is supposed to have, or what a dantian actually is. 😛
- The chapter I really, really want to write is chapter 3. I have no idea if I can continue too far after than. Just in case, I left a lot of room for me to expand into. So, don’t take the “Book 1” bit too seriously, OK?
- If you see any errors, please let me know. Thanks for reading! 😀
Update 7/28/2017: Modified word choice in a few places. No major changes.