Take two men, both accomplished martial artists. Presume that they have the same amount of training, have worked equally hard, had similar experiences and an equal motivation. If those two men were to have a battle, which man would hold an advantage over the other?
Naturally, it would be the man with the larger body.
The larger man would have longer reach, and heavier strikes. His punches would be more difficult to parry, his kicks would land with more violence. He would be harder to move, and harder to throw.
Now, if the difference in size was only slight, the smaller man would only have to be slightly more skillful to redress the balance and make the contest even; but the bigger the difference in size, the harder it became to make up the pure, physical gap. Entire styles of martial arts, especially those designed for women, were dedicated to fighting opponents who were larger and stronger; but even when perfected, these arts all had their limits.
No amount of skill, for example, will allow one to fight a giant, four times the height of a man, with simply one’s bare fists; and even swords and spears were of limited utility. And thus the highly trained guards of the Fan clan, feared throughout North Pine City, were little more than pebbles in the road to the man known as Growth Master Sun Din. He towered over his opponents, taller than seven meters, broader than a carriage, and each swing of his arms sent armed and armored men hurtling through the air.
Even worse, Sun Din was a Core Reinforcer; and his former teacher had been someone of significance in the outside world. She had taught Sun Din on little more than a whim; but she had instilled in him techniques and abilities that far outstripped those available to a small clan of a backwater city, and the Fan were learning that they had grossly underestimated the secretive patriarch of the Sun.
The worst part was the sheer pressure he exerted on his enemies. His martial aura lay like a blanket on the Fan estate, choking and heavy. Those who actually laid eyes on the gigantic practitioner felt smothered, and weaker men and women felt as if they had been entombed in stone, unable to escape. Even the stonger echelons of the Fan clan fled, rather than face this disaster of rage and martial power.
And so, though Sun Din attacked the stronghold of his enemies all by himself, his advance was nearly unhindered by any resistance. From the very front gate, through grounds he tore up and buildings he smashed down, he drew a straight line of destruction all the way to the great hall where Fan Bin’s wedding was being held. With a frightening, nonchalant ease, he tore the roof of the edifice off with his bare hands, and glared down at the figures within. He quickly passed over Fan Gen and Sun Ba, and barely acknowledged Fan Danal and the other elders with even a glance. His focus fell immediately upon the two seats atop the dais, where Sun Lan sat gaping in shock, and Fan Bin looked up at him with a placid smile.
If the elders of the Fan had more time to consider matters, they might have wondered how Sun Din had managed to approach without them noticing either his aura, which currently beat down on them like an angry sun, or the sounds of the destruction he left behind him; but they had no time for that question now. And the one person who did know… was Fan Bin.
That same Fan Bin stood up, and bowed respectfully before the angry giant glaring at him. “Elder Sun Din, I believe this is our first meeting. I am very pleased that you could attend my wedding today–”
“Ha!” Sun Din’s voice boomed out like the crack of doom, vibrating the pillars of the badly damaged hall. “You have the audacity to say that to me? To me!? After holding me prisoner, and murdering my clan!?”
Nearly a year ago, Sun Din had been on his way to visit an old friend in Spirit Depths City, when he was ambushed by a group of men wearing the symbol and colors of the Fan clan. He had repelled the attack with ease, but when he attempted to pursue his attackers, they led him into a second trap: a powerful sealing formation that had been concealed in a hidden canyon. The men who he had been chasing turned on him, and sacrificed their lives to hold him in place while the formation closed around him.
The trap itself had been perfect; but Sun Din soon understood that the formation that held him was flawed. He could not move, or strengthen himself to break free; but he could contest the strength of sealing formation directly, by constantly unleashing his martial aura against it. A rotating team of martial practitioners, all dressed in the colors of the Fan, were required to reinforce the formation at all times, lest Sun Din break the seal and free himself.
And then, several days ago, the men reinforcing Sun Din’s prison all retreated at once. From that moment on, it was only a matter of time before the undaunted Core Reinforcer’s will cracked the structure of the formation, releasing him into the world once more. Once free, he immediately returned to North Pine City at a terrifying rate, only to find nothing at the Sun estate except a single note left for him by Sun Tzi, explaining what had happened to the clan in his absence. At which point, Sun Din did not hesitate to assault the Fan directly, all by himself — an assault that proved completely possible for him!
Several of the elders had flinched back from Sun Din’s palpable rage, while Fan Gen let out an inappropriate cackle of laughter, eyes glistening with spite. But Fan Bin did not recoil at Sun Din’s audible malice, and tilted his head slightly to the side. “I admit,” he said clearly and loudly, “that the Fan clan has benefitted from the Sun clan’s misfortunes. I confess that the Fan clan has persecuted the Sun clan in its weakness — as is right and proper; the strong have the right to claim what they want. That is the fate of the weak: to have the things they value snatched away from them.
“But I will swear this upon my family’s name: it was not the Fan who plotted to destroy the Sun.” Sun Lan and Sun Ba both grimaced at these words, and even the Fan clan elders could not quite hide their disbelief at Fan Bin’s bold lie. After all, the elders had all been present when Fan Gen had learned that Sun Din had disappeared. The head of the Fan had immediately given the orders to eliminate the Sun, and to pursue them to death and destruction. The elders had barely been able to restrain him long enough to confirm that Sun Din was actually, truly, nowhere to be found, before Fan Gen tossed aside all restraint and began hunting the Sun in force.
Only two men had a different reaction to Fan Bin’s words. The first was Fan Danal, who watched Fan Bin with suspicious eyes. He had oversight of many of the Fan’s scouts and spies, and unlike the other elders, he had noticed… discrepancies… in many of the accounts he had received; conflicting stories, mismatched accounts, and other oddities that seemed especially to surround the actions of Fan Bin.
What raised his suspicions even further were the casualties taken by the Fan clan in their war with the Sun: in Fan Danal’s private opinion, their losses were far too light. The Sun were in a fight for their very survival, and though they did not have as many powerful experts as the Fan, they were not completely helpless. Yet, they seemed to have the worst luck possible, with every powerful Sun expert neutralized by a stronger Fan rival, or overwhelmed by numbers before they could properly resist, or killed in ambush.
Fan Gen was pleased at every positive report, and the other elders were relieved that the clan’s strength hadn’t been badly compromised. But Fan Danal wasn’t convinced — and he suspected that Fan Bin had been behind the discrepancies.
In that, he was completely correct.
The other man who treated Fan Bin’s words with any credence was the very man they were directed at — Growth Master Sun Din. This was not because he believed that Fan Bin would not lie to him, of course; no one was that naive. Nor did he trust the sincerity in the younger man’s voice and eyes. Sun Din had a better reason for accepting Fan Bin’s words.
“Besides,” added Fan Bin, “the Fan clan does not have the strength, or the resources, to capture and hold a man such as yourself.”
That was precisely the reason Sun Din judged that Fan Bin’s words were reasonable. Certainly the men who had held him had portrayed themselves as men of the Fan clan; but Sun Din had a very good grasp of what the Fan were and were not capable of, and the formation he was trapped inside was well outside their capabilities. Being a canny man, Sun Din naturally suspected that another party had imprisoned him and cast the blame on the Fan clan; a suspicion that was only reinforced when he was all but openly released. However…
“And what of it?” boomed Sun Din. “You have openly admitted to taking advantage of my clan in my absence — does it really matter if you caused that absence or not? By your own words,” he finished with a sneer, “since I am stronger than you, I am justified in taking back my apprentice — and your lives, if you try to interfere!”
“Master…” whispered Sun Lan, tears of relief in her eyes. Even more than having him intercede on her behalf, she was overjoyed to see him safe. Not only had Sun Din been her martial master, he had acted as something of a second father to her. Privately, he had promised her that she would never marry Fan Bin while he, Sun Din, still lived; and having him reappear to fulfill his promise gave her hope for the first time in a long, long time.
“My, how troubling…” murmured Fan Bin, but his amiable smile didn’t change. Instead, Fan Danal stepped forward to address Sun Din. Fan Chia, who had been standing in her great-uncle’s shadow, took advantage of the distraction of everyone else to walk quietly over to where Sun Ba stood. Husband and wife looked into each other’s face, ignoring everything happening around them; but neither spoke.
“Sun Din,” Fan Danal said, a pensive frown on his face, “I regret that we should meet again in such circumstances. I understand your anger over the destruction of your clan, but I must agree with Fan Bin — the responsibility for that destruction cannot be wholly laid upon the Fan. In fact,” he glanced briefly at Fan Bin, “there is some evidence that both the Fan and the Sun are being played with by an outside opponent. If that is the case, we should sit down and discuss–”
“NEVER!” shouted an enraged, bloodthirsty voice. This voice was not that of Sun Din, however — but that of Fan Gen!
The very air around the head of the Fan began to heat and distort, as he screamed at Fan Danal, “WE, the Fan, are the rulers of North Pine City! And I, I alone, rule the Fan! I will not stand aside while you try to make peace with this Sun scum! Kill him! Kill him now! And Sun Ba, and the girl! Kill them all!” Spittle flew wildly from his lips as he raged, and his expensive ceremonial robes began to char from the heat of his own martial aura.
Sun Din snickered grimly, and took a step forward through what remained of the front of the great hall, causing more of the building to come crashing down in reaction. Several of the elders needed to scramble to get out of the way; Sun Ba grabbed Fan Chia and pulled her beneath him, shielding her from the flying debris at the cost of several new wounds to himself. A few chunks of masonry flew at Sun Lan and Fan Bin as well, but Fan Bin knocked them aside with a few thrown coins he drew idly from within his sleeve. Several pieces nearly struck Fan Gen as well, but he seemed not to notice as he glared unflinchingly up at the gigantic Sun Din.
“Very well,” growled Sun Din. “I had no reason to negotiate in the first place… There is no more Sun clan in this city. And now… there will be no more Fan clan, either.”
He raised a fist the size of a cow above Fan Gen, clenched tight and pulsing with Qi. Shockingly, Fan Gen took no action to protect himself; instead, his martial aura caught fire around him, and he took a stance as though to receive Sun Din’s blow with his own body. Several of the Fan elders gasped, and one, a third-level Core Reinforcer, prepared to protect Fan Gen from the terrifying strike. But before anyone could move… the situation changed again.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a red-colored line whipped out and wrapped around Sun Din’s wrist. “Wha–” he gasped, with a sudden wince of pain, before more lines emerged from the ground and wrapped around him. Ten lines… twenty… fourty… sixty-five lines in total, each one restraining the gigantic practitioner, until with a low groan he toppled over and landed heavily on the tiled floor. With a crow of triumph, Fan Gen jumped forward to deliver a fierce kick to the fallen giant’s head — but a sixty-sixth line suddenly appeared and snatched him out of the air, flinging him against a broken pillar where a number of the red lines bound him firmly.
“Act two: guests bearing red flowers,” murmured Fan Bin so only Sun Lan could hear him. Then he spoke aloud to greet the figures in red armor who had suddenly appeared atop the broken walls: “Ah, if it isn’t Kharis Vahn of the illustrious Red Reaver Sect. This humble Fan Bin is happy that you saw fit to attend my wedding this day.”
Down in the darkness, a huge chunk of rock that had been gouged out of the ground flipped in a lazy arc through the air. With jarring suddenness, it changed directions and sped downwards at speed, as though it had been slapped by a giant palm. There was a screeching wail as the last two-tailed phantom scorpion tried to get out from beneath it, and failed. The rock itself shattered into pieces, but not before crushing the monstrous construct to dust.
A blur of motion fell out of the air to land atop the broken rubble. Gan Zhu panted softly, and paused a moment to examine his wounds. He had been cut and stabbed by his opponents a number of times, and deep crystal-filled scars littered his torso. Fortunately, whatever venom existed in the scorpion’s stings hadn’t noticeably affected him; and now that he had a moment to rest, he could redirect his personal Breath to assist in closing the physical wounds. It seemed… inefficient, for some reason, as though he were misusing his Breath, but it proved effective nevertheless.
He had come up with his plan to defeat the scorpions after analyzing the limitations of their mist-changing ability. It activated quickly and reflexively, so that even Gan Zhu’s speed couldn’t catch up to it; but he realized that it’s movement range was strictly limited, before the scorpions would have to at least partially reform themselves. An attack that hits a wide area, then, would most likely be effective.
Of course, Gan Zhu did not have any attack wider than the size of his fist, making the observation useless to him — until he had a sudden inspiration. A close dodge had caused one scorpion tail to crack the ground they fought upon, gouging out a number of small stones; and Gan Zhu watched them drift past his eyes, almost in slow motion, as a brilliant plan flashed through his mind. His next attack was not aimed at the scorpions, but at the ground itself!
The two-tailed scorpions took the opportunity to press him on all sides, but Gan Zhu merely dodged their attacks and continued his downward assault as though excavating with his bare hands. Cracks and protrusions began to spread throughout the area, and eventually Gan Zhu started lifting giant boulders out of the ground, nearly 100 meters across, and flipping them into the air like children’s toys.
If the scorpion monsters had anything like imagination, they might have wondered what Gan Zhu was planning, and behaved more cautiously. But they were, in truth, not even real creatures; they were constructs, created millenia ago, and they had neither true cogitation nor survival instincts. And so, when Gan Zhu leapt into the air, they leapt after him in pursuit, and when he grabbed a boulder and hurled it at them, they automatically tried to escape by changing into mist again — but, not all of them could get clear of the gigantic boulder, and Gan Zhu grinned viciously as two of the scorpions were crushed between his impromptu hammer and the broken ground beneath.
From then, it was just a matter of time.
Having caught his breath after finishing off the last scorpion construct, Gan Zhu looked around carefully. The ground beneath his feet had changed greatly from when he first entered this space, and it was now shattered and broken for nearly a kilometer in each direction. The Breath of the area had changed too; instead of circling like a low wind, it was now drawn in a direction that could only be defined as ‘inward,’ towards the heart of the Underworks formation.
Brief spurts of red light fizzled from the broken ground, and Gan Zhu watched it curiously for a moment. The light had a Breath of its own, and seemed to have once moved unseen beneath the surface; but now its path was disrupted, and it spilled out randomly, to be absorbed by the surrounding Breath instead. Gan Zhu watched the phenomenon carefully, but he was unable to come to any conclusion, and eventually he shrugged. At a loss for a better option, he started moving in the direction he had decided was ‘inward,’ following the Breath in the air.
It was unfortunate, but Gan Zhu was ignorant of many things. He didn’t know what it meant, that several powerful constructs had been left to guard this place. He didn’t recognize the signs that the gigantic sealing formation he had been investigating was now on the verge of breaking down due to his own actions. And he had absolutely no idea what a sealing formation the size of the Underworks was meant to contain.
But, he would soon learn the magnitude of his error.
- Thanks for reading! I always say that at the end, but let me say it at the beginning this time, since I really appreciate it. 😉
- I think I forgot to mention how many Core Reinforcers belonged to the Fan, but I’m not sure… did I give that detail anywhere? I want to ask before I contradict myself…
- I’m starting to have trouble juggling all the balls I have in the air for this scene — can you tell? ^^;