Act I — Into the Woods
Chapter 1: From the Water
Namsoyoo had been raised by Dochun since infancy. She used to call him "Father," but Dochun wouldn't allow it; eventually, "Papa" or "Uncle" became the acceptable nicknames. Regardless of the titles, Dochun raised Namsoyoo with all the love of a father. And yet, as time went on and Namsoyoo became a young woman, Dochun's heart became heavy, weighed down with a deep uncertainty. Namsoyoo never felt like a part of the village. She was a bird who resented her cage.
Could she ever be happy with village life? Dochun wasn't sure. But the stranger who came from the ocean, from a place far away, might spur Namsoyoo's wanderlust once more. The thought troubled Dochun, deeply.
Chapter 2: Captain Dochun
Dochun spied the stranger from across the beach, through the tangle of isolated battles raging between the Bamboo Guard and the Blackram Marauders. For someone who was dragged from the sea half-drowned and half-dead, the stranger showed tremendous skill against the pirates. Raw skill, but tremendous skill nonetheless. Certainly more than enough to handle a few sea dogs.
But what struck Dochun most were the techniques on display. The stranger's style was unmistakable. This was one of Master Hong Sokyun's pupils, just as Dochun had been long ago.
Chapter 3: Dodan the Hero
Dodan the Hero Dodan was definitely Bamboo Village's biggest troublemaker. It didn't help that he was the son of Captain Dochun, the head of the Bamboo Guard. The guards put up with his mischief to please their boss, but that didn't stop the rumors. Was Dochun's wayward son so uncontrollable that he was actually spying for the Blackram?
Dodan knew about the rumors. And despite his flash and arrogance, the gossip hurt him. Didn't they understand he was just trying to be a hero, to be the kind of man his father would be proud of? That's why he journeyed close to Blackram territory. And that's how he ended up a captive of the pirates.
Chapter 4: The Bamboo Blossom
Dodan remembered it so clearly, even so many years later. His father Dochun, who was the Stratus Empire's captain of the guard, came home late that night. Dodan crept to the doorway to find his father covered in blood and holding a bundle tightly to his chest. It was a baby! The little girl's face was white as snow, and she looked up at Dodan with the largest, clearest eyes he had ever seen.
Dodan asked his father what the infant's name was. Dochun hesitated, grimacing, and then finally said, "Namsoyoo. It's Namsoyoo." And from that day on, no matter where they went or which village they stopped in, Dodan and Namsoyoo were inseparable.
Chapter 5: The Recovery
Dochun visited Mayor Daygu's house, but the mayor wasn't there, Lately, it seemed Daygu was never quite around when you needed him. The recent Blackram activity was making everyone act a little strangely. The townspeople even suspected his own son, Dodan, of colluding with the enemy. Impossible, Dochun thought. Still, Dodan was frankly a headache for the village, even before the Blackram incursions. Who did Dochun have to blame but himself? Dodan was his child, and his responsibility.
Chapter 6: The Honorable Mayor
Be careful what you wish for. Dodan, ever the would-be hero, had pestered his father for weeks for an assignment that would prove his worth. But when he finally received the task, he practically fainted, Assist the Bamboo Guard at Foshi Pyres? That place was crawling with Jiangshi and who knows what else! Why did the Pyres have to be next to Moonshade Cemetery of all places?
Dodan agonized over his new "urgent mission." Secretly, he was terrified of the cemetery. But he couldn't let it show. He couldn't let Father or the villagers know he was weak. And to show Namsoyoo any weakness was completely out of the question.
Chapter 7: Endless Dusk
The lump on Yigan's forehead hurt plenty, but the damage to his pride stung even worse. He tried to remember what happened. He had been attacked from behind on the road, knocked out cold. When he woke up, the gunpowder he was transporting was gone as was Um Soji, that insufferable gravekeeper. Captain Dochun was not going to like this. That gunpowder was crucial to the Blackram operation, and Yigan had let himself be clobbered like a rookie, guardsman.
Chapter 8: Pirates and Thieves
The Dusk Adders were a group of bandits, a local branch of the Lumang Syndicate. While the Dusk Adders had been terrorizing the Everdusk region for years, the Lumang Syndicate was a realm-wide menace. Under their original leader, Yunsang, the Lumang Syndicate had noble aims--stealing from the rich to give to the poor. But after Yunsang disappeared on a quest to find his daughter, the Syndicate turned into a band of petty thieves, leaderless and lawless.
With the Blackram Marauders swarming the sea and the Dusk Adders controlling the forests, the Viridian Coast was a dangerous place. Local Stratus officials were either too preoccupied or too corrupted to care. The situation was at its worst when Dochun first arrived in Bamboo Village. He planned only to stay for a short time, but he realized the villagers needed his help, badly. Dochun almost singlehandedly created the Bamboo Guard, training Bamboo villagers to defend themselves and drive out the bandits. Dochun realized the villagers could not depend on the Stratus Empire to help them. He knew all too well the depraved depths to which the empire had plummeted.
Chapter 9: Caught off Guard
The Blackram Marauders controlled the oceans. This fearsome army of pirates were once just petty thieves, but as the Stratus Empire waned in power, an admiral named Chul Mugo emerged to unite the roving bands into a formidable coalition, Chul Mugo named his new group after his flagship, the Black Ram, and history was made,
The Blackram graduated from pillaging merchant vessels and raiding coastal villages to full-on espionage, smuggling, and slavery. Even worse, they forged uneasy alliances with some of the bandit groups on land, further expanding their reach and influence.
Admiral Chul Mugo was not a dumb man. When it came to his cutthroat mercenaries, he knew a leash held too tightly would break. As long as his groups paid regular tribute, they were free to operate, independently. And unlike the empire bureaucracies, Chul Mugo promoted men and women based on merit and not on family background or social standing. In a realm sick of corruption and the constant in-fighting between the Warring Factions, the Blackram Marauders attracted members from far and wide. Among them were two infamous outlaw brothers: Gwon and Wungsam.
Chapter 10: South Anchor's Away!
Wungsam shouted at his men until he was hoarse. On the heels of their failure to raid Bamboo Village, some warrior had beaten the Dusk Adders to a pulp, and now crucial Blackram intelligence was in the hands of the Bamboo Guard. Gwon's bid to become Admiral, not to mention Wungsam's own ambition, were at serious risk.
Wungsam's mood brightened considerably when he saw a full spread of food on the table in his quarters. At least somebody didn't screw up today, he thought. He hungrily devoured the meal, grabbing anything he could. Only when he woke up after a very sound sleep did he realize he had been drugged. Someone was going to pay!
Chapter 11: Gone Fishing
Lusung awoke to a bone-chilling energy sweeping over his body. He opened his eyes, but darkness was all he could see. His thoughts took him back to Sandstone Village. He had run from that rat bastard Yonkai and his soldiers. He had run from everything. But they caught him, tortured him, and threw him in a cave. After that, hate was the only thing keeping Lusung alive.
"Power is the only cure for injustice," said the darkness to Lusung. It taunted and encouraged him, over and over.
With his family dead, Lusung wandered outside of Sandstone, a lost soul. The darkness was his only companion. And when Lusung killed the first Yonkai Brigade soldier, it was the darkness who urged him on as his plunged the knife.
"Strength is power, Power is survival," said the darkness. Lusung knew the darkness had the power he needed. Willingly, he embraced it. Yonkai would pay for what he did, in blood. They would all pay.
Chapter 12: Deep in the Gloomdross
The image was seared into Dochun's mind, even after three long decades. He was in his third year at the Hongmoon School, and was traveling with Master Hong as part of an apprenticeship the master reserved for his most promising students. In a desolate forest, a day's walk from the nearest village, they found a bizarre, desiccated corpse. The body had been completely drained of chi; or rather, it was swirling with a twisted, evil mockery of chi: Dark Chi. And that meant someone had been practicing the Dark Arts.
Master Hong would not let Dochun near the corpse; alone, Hong burned the body after uttering a brief prayer. Their journey continued in silence. Dochun had never seen his master look so downcast.
Soon after the incident, Master Hong left for Moonwater Plains. Dochun remembered the clouds that day. They looked strangely foreboding.
Chapter 13: A Bridge Too Far Gone
Old Man Cho was a curiosity, that's for sure. Barely as tall as a tree stump, Cho's beard hung to his knees and his glasses were as thick as gnarlox hide. He didn't look like much. But in fact, he was a renowned martial arts practitioner, and one of the last true masters of the Dragon Pulse.
Streams of energy coursed through the Earthen Realm like invisible rivers--invisible, at least, to those who could not see. Masters of these "Dragon Pulses" could harness their power in order to travel vast distances in the blink of an eye. Such Dragon Pulse masters were exceedingly rare, and they were often loathe to share their secrets. Old Man Cho took particular pleasure in humiliating would-be students instead of teaching them anything useful. Cho was known across the continent as a bully and a crank, but Cho didn't mind. In fact, he reveled in it.
Chapter 14: Drinking Problems
Bomani had been Old Man Cho's "pupil" for weeks. Pupil? Hah! More like whipping boy. Now Cho had ordered Bomani into some foulsmelling cave. "Stand there, shut up, and wait," Cho said. How long had it been? Bomani had grown delirious. But for the chance to be able to Windwalk... to be able to ride the Dragon Pulses! That made it all worth it... right?
Cho said that Bomani would be challenged soon, that his skills and dedication would be put to the test. Even in his stupor, Bomani steeled himself for the conflict. Cho doubted Bomani. He called him a pretender. But Bomani would face down whatever threat that insane old man threw his way. He would prove worthy of the Dragon Pulses.
Chapter 15: Grin and Bear it
Master Hong doesn't raise fools, thought Old Man Cho as he snacked on some particularly delicious bear gall. This newest-- and last?-- student of his had a special energy, an aura he couldn't quite place. Most misguided dunderheads came to Old Man Cho for the so-called "secrets" of the Dragon Pulses. Hmph! But not Hong's child. This one had other motivations. This one was pure of heart as far as Cho could figure, despite the specter of the Black Rose...
Very few understood that to learn the art of Windwalking, the heart and soul needed training, not the body. Fortune-seekers, powermongers, glory-hunters--none of these could ride the Pulses, though they sure tried. Hong's student was a different animal, and for this Old Man Cho was both surprised and relieved.
Chapter 16: The Eight Masters
The Eight Masters was a group comprised of martial arts masters from across all different disciplines, locations, and clans. Their stated purpose: to find and join with the Four Guardians in order to stop the Dark Lord from invading and enslaving the Earthen Realm.
The Eight Masters claimed they could stop the Dark Lord even without the Four Guardians' help--that finding the Guardians was just a bonus--but in reality, they couldn't even stop Jinsoyun, the Dark Lord's agent. They needed to find the Four Guardians, and fast. But where had they disappeared to?
After years of searching, the Eight Masters finally found one of the Guardians--Master Hong, the Earthbreaker. They traveled to Heaven's Reach to find him and beseech him to help. But they arrived only too late--the Hongmoon School had already been slaughtered by Jinsoyun, and Master Hong was apparently dead.
With heavy hearts, the Eight Masters prepared to leave. One among them, the prophet Madun, swore that a hero, a warrior, would rise to aid them where Master Hong could not. But even then, the situation felt hopeless. The Four Guardians were now only three, and perhaps even fewer.
Chapter 17: The Test of the Eight
In the beginning, the Dark Realm's foul lord gazed upon the Earthen Realm's beauty and became hateful and jealous. Four legendary and immortal warriors--the Four Guardians--were given divine power and entrusted to safeguard the Earthen Realm from the Dark Lord's wrath. They were Jiwan, the Righteous Blade; Mushin, the Divine Fist; Iksanun, the Realmwalker; and Hong Sokyun, the Earthbreaker.
Such was the legend. But at a time when Dark Chi poisoned the air and Dark Realm fiends threatened the land, the Four Guardians were nowhere to be found. It was up to the Warring Factions--the Cerulean Order and the Crimson Legion--to put aside their differences if there was to be any hope for the Earthen Realm. Clans would need to come together, to choose the very best martial artists amongst them, in a desperate bid to locate the Guardians and put an end to the Dark Lord's invasion. These chosen men and women would become known as the Eight Masters.
Chapter 18: Shroom to Grow
Dark Chi is a twisted form of the life essence, Chi, which flows through all beings of the Earthen Realm. Those corrupted by Dark Chi eventually turned into one of the Dark Lord's mindless slaves, fiends without conscience or will. The only escape from this fate was death, and those corrupted with Dark Chi faced a terrible choice-- end their own lives, or become a thrall to the darkness.
Or so went the conventional thinking. A precious few believed they could be stronger than the Dark Chi, that they could bend it to their will. These foolhardy individuals developed the Dark Arts, embracing the darkness in order to augment their powers. All of these "masters" eventually succumbed to the darkness, but for a time, their power was beyond measure.
Chapter 19: Unearthed Plot
Pundihay couldn't explain it, but something just felt strange in Jadestone Village. Off. He looked out the window. The sky was downcast and gloomy, much more than usual for this time of year. But even more than that, a dark cloud had descended on the village, enveloping everything in a sickly haze.
That's when the first scream echoed.
Fear gripped Pundihay's heart. The screams and yells multiplied, and they mixed with unearthly, monstrous moans. Pundihay stood and raced to the door. For a moment, the fog parted, and he caught sight of an undead abomination, a Jiangshi, stalking the path. The beauty of Jadestone had been replaced with a hellish nightmare.
Chapter 20: Abandoned Post
Songstone Bridge was in utter ruins, but a faint gold-green energy danced around its ruined timbers on one side of the gorge separating the mainland from Songshu Isle. The sheer size of the gorge would make it impassable for most--but not for practitioners of the Dragon Pulse.
The Hongmoon survivor flew like a kite in the wind as the Dragon Pulse flowed over the gorge and onto Songshu Isle. No one could control the flow of an individual Dragon Pulse, really; one simply surrendered to the raw power in humble deference to the larger forces at work. Such trust was essential in the path to Dragon Pulse mastery, and perhaps in the path to personal enlightenment as well.
Chapter 21: Child's Slay
Despite losing his parents, the orphan boy Dondon was like a ray of sunshine that brightened Stillbrook Monastery. Carefree and curious to the point of mischief, Dondon was always getting into a new adventure. But lately, he had been sullen and silent, and was nowhere near the happy young boy who sung and did magic tricks for the monks.
Dondon was clearly frightened by something or someone. But what? He had witnessed something horrible during one of his little adventures, that much was clear. But he refused to tell anyone in the monastery what he had seen. Perhaps the stranger could coax the story out of Dondon where the overanxious monks had failed.
Chapter 22: The Informer
On the outside, Dochun tried to project his usual dignified demeanor But inside, his mind was racing. Bumbak was the spy? Dochun had never liked Bumbak, but for the guard to betray his village was something Dochun could never have imagined. Bumbak was a layabout, a shoddy guard who cut corners and slacked off. He wasn't a traitor!
The more Dochun thought about it, however, the more Bumbak's betrayal made sense. After all, Bumbak was the man on guard some months ago when Blackram Captain Gwon mysteriously "escaped" from his holding cell. Bumbak was the guard who kept leaving his post, sometimes for hours at a time. Dochun should have dismissed Bumbak years ago. Now they'd all have to deal with the fallout of that mistake.
Chapter 23: The Family Man
Dochun felt his blood run cold. First he had failed to recognize Bumbak as the spy. Now came the news he had dreaded ever since the first Blackram incursion: Namsoyoo had been abducted. He should never have left Bamboo Village to investigate Jadestone. It was all a ruse. He felt like a fool. An old, gullible fool.
As Dochun raced back home, his mind wandered back to the promise he had made to Namsoyoo's mother. It seemed like a lifetime ago, and yet it seemed also like yesterday. "I will protect your daughter with my life." he told her. How could he dishonor her memory by breaking that promise?
Chapter 24: Take a Message
Somunbu fidgeted as he tried to keep his composure. The Blackram had kidnapped Namsoyoo, and that changed everything. Namsoyoo was the village's "Bamboo Blossom," the kindest and sweetest girl this side of Everdusk. Whatever the Blackram scum were planning, their actions were unforgivable.
Even beyond Somunbu's initial shock, however, was the creeping dread of what would happen if Namsoyoo was hurt, or worse. Would it break the morale of the town? Could Captain Dochun rally the Guard after such a tragedy? Somunbu wasn't sure. And it was that uncertainty that cut him the most.
Chapter 25: Up in Arms
Somunbu's carrier crow idea had worked better than he dared to hope. Not only had he intercepted the exact location of where they were keeping Namsoyoo, he had also received the guard schedule. Now they could plan their assault when the least Blackram guards were on duty for maximum effect. The Blackram thought they were clever for using carrier crows instead of pigeons for their messages. They thought crows would never be suspected of transmitting messages. But Somunbu would make sure they would pay for their arrogance.
Chapter 26: The Rescue Party
Wungsam had proven... interesting. For a few nights, anyway. But the dumb gnarlox quickly became boring. Most of the Blackram men were like that--crass, uneducated, poor, and weak. Between the ignorant simpletons in Bamboo Village and the filthy thugs in the Blackram, Namsoyoo had never felt so lonely. Was there no one she could connect with?
For better or for worse, Namsoyoo did eventually find a man she could connect with: Gwon, Wungsam's brother and the captain of the Blackram South Fleet. Strangely enough, her first view of him was through a cage, after Papa had captured him. Despite his imprisonment, he was the most ruggedly handsome man she had ever seen. She became convinced that this man, the sworn enemy of her adoptive father, would be the one to rescue her from her bleak, boring life on the coast. The thought excited her, and her mind was made up. Gwon would be hers.
Chapter 27: Into the Fire
Dochun couldn't believe it. He wouldn't believe it. And yet the evidence was right there, etched in black ink. Namsoyoo's betrayal was as real as the dog-eared letter in his hand, which Dochun had read perhaps a hundred times. Bumbak the spy had written to Namsoyoo, thanking her for the part she played in the Blackram's invasion of Bamboo Village. She had betrayed them all. Dochun, and Bamboo Village, would never be the same.
The fire arrows which tore through the roofs had mostly been extinguished, and a convoy was already on its way from Jadestone with medicine and other supplies. But some kinds of damage can never be undone. Why did Namsoyoo do it? Where had Dochun failed the little girl with the smile that could light up a room? Dochun had to push such chaotic thoughts from his mind. His village needed him, as did his injured son. The stranger would pursue justice. For now, Dochun had to pursue peace.