Act II — A Fistful of Sand
Chapter 1: Stranger in a Strange Land
General Han Sirang convulsed as the poison spread through his body. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply in an attempt to slow his heart rate, but he knew that he was just delaying the inevitable.
Without Han's leadership, the Tyrian Cult now had free rein to terrorize Oakshade Village. A chilling scream and a crash came from through the open window. With a grimace, Han Sirang instinctively reached for his sword. He collapsed immediately from the pain.
Han woke in a panic. Baymu put her palm to his cheek and promised that she would find a way to save him. He didn't believe her, but being in her arms was comfort enough.
Chapter 2: You and What Army?
Ah Rogan sighed as he stared at his pile of paperwork. Every day meant more requests from ambitious generals and corrupt bureaucrats. The local forces always claimed to have some sort of urgent emergency for the Royal Court, but this war seemed perfectly dull from Captain Rogan's desk.
Captain Rogan never thought of himself as an unreasonable man. After all, he was willing to grant a request if the right incentive presented itself. Because General Han never seemed to understand that, Rogan always placed his supply and reinforcement requests where they belonged: in the garbage.
Chapter 3: Who Left Him in Charge?
Gil was standing on high ground, recalling what happened at the Greenwood Thieves' Lair.
Boss So Yangsang's daughter, So Yeonhwa disappeared from time to time and his job was to follow her and clean up her mess. This was not new, he was used to it.
But this time, things were different.
She claimed she would return after proving herself worthy by stealing the most precious treasure of all: Mushin's Heirloom. For Gil, it was the perfect chance because he couldn't go find her himself as his body wasn't what it used to be.
It was obvious that she would never make it, however. Someone had to help. And... Gil knew just the right someone.
Chapter 4: The Cult and the Lone Warrior
Bengchan ran to the screaming children and gasped once he saw the shriveled corpse. He told the children to run home and play inside for the day. He would take care of all of this.
Bengchan adjusted his glasses as he leaned over the body. It was hard to believe that this husk was once a person. What evil could have done this?
Chapter 5: The Trail of Dead
Few things in the world could bring the old rivals Hansu and Sansu together, but they each wanted to see this warrior firsthand. Madun had prophesized that the warrior before them would be the one to stop Jinsoyun, to decide the fate of the Earthen Realm. Hansu and Sansu tried to hide their doubts as they encouraged the warrior.
Soon after, the two leaders of the Warring Factions ventured out into the arid Cinderlands. Time was running out, and there was still one rumor left to investigate...
Chapter 6: Desperate Priestesses
Baymu held firm. General Han tried asking, pleading, and even ordering her to evacuate the Hermitage. She shook her head as she lit the ceremonial candles--she couldn't leave as long as a soul needed saving.
She traced the minor nicks and scars on Han's face as she studied his desperate eyes. Baymu knew how he longed to be with her, and how he wouldn't be able to leave her behind. He never said the words, but she knew that he loved her.
Part of her wished she could abandon her duties and spend the rest of her Earthen days with him. Perhaps, she thought with a mournful smile, the next life would be kinder to their union than this one.
Chapter 7: The Dark Glimpse
Jihei instinctively turned away from the cavern, but she knew her duty. With each step, the Dark Chi grew thicker around her, burning her eyes and choking her lungs. She pushed through the wild demonic apparitions, reminding herself that she was the Bulwark's only hope.
Dark voices whispered to her that there was no hope, that she would be dead by the morning, that this whole world was doomed. A younger Earthseer let out a chilling wail and rushed at Jihei with a knife. The acolyte was crazed, possessed. Jihei did what she had to do.
As Jihei buried her cohorts and sent their spirits to rest, she let herself cry for a few moments. She was glad Baymu couldn't see her now. Baymu had always taught them one thing above all else: close kinship only breeds sorrow.
Chapter 8: Agents of the Stratus Empire
Sojun struggled to stay awake, to focus on anything in the small hut. The doctor said something to her, but she couldn't hear him over the pounding of her own blood in her eardrums. She screamed as her stomach turned.
Hours earlier, Sojun was kneeling in the Wraithbloom field, hidden behind a tree. She had been studying the Tyrian Cult for weeks and was finally ready to strike. With deft precision, she silently stalked the overseer and readied her weapon. Just as she came behind him, he threw Wraithbloom powder into her eyes. She screamed and waved her knife blindly as she stumbled through the field.
When she opened her eyes, she was surrounded by demons and the ghosts of her past. She flung her arms wildly to hit them, only for them to reappear and scream even louder. Sojun fell to her knees and collapsed into the soil.
Chapter 9: Where There is Smoke
Choi Jina got nervous. That's because Empress Dowager Tayhu had called her secretly to her place. A few years ago, after 20 years regency by the empress Dowager had ended, the emperor declared his rule, but the Empress Dowager was still holding power. The bureaucrats in the royal court were still reporting all national matters to the empress Dowager and obeyed her rather than a dummy emperor who only indulged himself in parties and pleasure.
Over the partition, Empress Tayhu's voice was heard. "I heard that you are investigating Phantom Herb smuggling in Gunwon City. You are doing a great service to us as the Inspector Chief." Choi Jina responded very politely. The empress started talking solemnly, "The reason I have called you here is because..."
Chapter 10: The Burning Fields
Yura glared at the warrior with an insatiable bloodlust. She had waited so long to kill this pathetic whelp. But once again, Jinsoyun held her back. The Mark of the Black Rose was already gradually and painfully killing the warrior, so why wait any longer?
Perhaps Jinsoyun was more sadistic that Yura could imagine. Even before they had all arrived at Heaven's Reach, Jinsoyun had waxed poetic about the beautiful cruelty of slowly killing someone with the Mark of the Black Rose. She said that it had been far too long, and that she looked forward to inflicting the Mark on one of Master Hong's students. Yura was impressed. Even Lady Blackrose liked to have a little fun.
Chapter 11: Doctor's Orders
Dokdan barely hid his revulsion upon seeing his new patient. However, as a doctor, he couldn't resist examining further. This wound was rare, powerful, and expertly inflicted. The warrior's chi twisted and festered inside their body, spreading poison with every breath. It was a miracle that the warrior was still alive, let alone standing in Dokdan's office. Still, Dokdan knew that not even he could heal this warrior completely.
The Mark was lethal. The warrior wouldn't last long.
Chapter 12: A History of Violence
Miryung rushed over as soon as she saw a figure approach Lusung's old home. The other villagers continuously threatened to tear the place down, thinking that would appease Yonkai. Miryung didn't know what she would do once she confronted the trespasser, but she knew she had to try to do the right thing.
Miryung steeled herself and approached the doorway to Lusung's home. She regarded the intruder's weapons and stifled a gasp. However, once the warrior turned, she sensed that this person meant well. The look Miryung received wasn't one of blind hatred; it was one of kindness.
Miryung still remembered seeing Lusung standing that in that exact spot, his face splattered with the blood of Yonkai's soldiers. Lusung wiped his face and whispered that he killed all the soldiers he could find, and that he would return one day to come after Yonkai himself. He made Miryung promise to take care of his parents' bodies. She agreed, though most days she wished she hadn't. But a promise was a promise. No one would further desecrate the bodies.
Chapter 13: Into the Mines
Miryung knew that the villagers would come for her. The only thing she regretted was not having the courage to move the bodies herself earlier. Miryung kept a stoic face as her neighbors grabbed and dragged her through town, screaming at her the entire way. They threw her to the Yonkai Brigade and blamed her for everything. Miryung didn't speak a word.
Enough was enough. No matter what happened to her now, Miryung knew that she did the right thing. Miryung felt at peace now that she knew Lusung's parents were finally free.
Chapter 14: The Sand and the Fury
Dokdan shouted at the warrior to stop, but it was already too late. The warrior had finally given into the Mark of the Black Rose and to the hatred festering within.
The warrior cut a path through the village, screaming about vengeance while furiously attacking the air. A few villagers tried to subdue the maddened warrior and were quickly battered into submission. The fervor only stopped when the warrior fell to the ground, letting out a scream of pain and anger and collapsing under the weight of the Dark Chi.
With his usual scowl, Dokdan healed and treated the injured villagers. Part of him thought that they deserved the punishment. However, reason finally came to Dokdan. He regretfully told the warrior to leave Sandstone Refuge and try to make amends with Colonel Yonkai. Fair or not, Yonkai held the village on the edge of his knife.
Chapter 15: Once Upon a Time in the Cinderlands
Most men wouldn't fight for a post in the arid Cinderlands, but Colonel Yonkai wasn't like most men. According to the legends, Mushin's Legacy was hidden somewhere in these sands, and Yonkai was determined to have it for himself.
The Legacy was said to hold the power of Mushin himself. Yonkai laughed as he daydreamed about the power promised by such a relic. He could conquer the four continents with that kind of power. He could even live out the rest of his days as Emperor. Surely he deserved it, and the people surely deserved him.
Yonkai crushed a handful of sand in his fist. So far, this operation had been a disaster. However, he smiled once he laid eyes on the warrior. Yonkai knew a good opportunity when he saw it. Perhaps the Legacy would not elude him for long.
Chapter 16: The Gunslinger
Soha scanned the horizon, never taking her eyes too far from the sight of her rifle. Most treasure hunters came to the Cinderlands searching for Mushin's Legacy, but Soha had been taught to seek more than the simple, fleeting joy of material possessions. For her, the wide expanses of the desert represented freedom
However, even the most independent of warriors needs money to survive. Food and shelter are rarely offered for free, and with the price of ammunition soaring, Soha had little choice but to accept a job offer from Colonel Yonkai. It came as little surprise that Yonkai wanted her to find Mushin's Legacy. Soha soon found herself searching for the same thing that had lured so many other treasure hunters to the Cinderlands.
Colonel Yonkai's reasons for hiring Soha were simple. He no longer trusted his own soldiers. Soha was a mercenary, an outsider free from the internal politics of the Yonkai Brigade, and a veteran treasure hunter with a successful track record. What the colonel didn't know was that Soha was also one of the best sharpshooters in the Realm, a gunslinger with deadly accuracy.
Chapter 17: Everything's Coming up Lotuses
As Soha observed the warrior's skills, she recognized the distinct style of Master Hong. She also recognized something deeper, hints of a burning anger fueled by sadness. The warrior was walking the path of revenge.
Soha was much too familiar with the all-consuming fire of vengeance. As a child, she watched helplessly as a group of hired agents broke into her home and murdered her parents. Soha barely escaped with her life. She soon discovered that her father, a decorated soldier and respected member of the Stratus Royal Court, had been betrayed by a fellow officer. From that moment on, Soha devoted herself to the rifle and the revolver, the same weapons her father had mastered in life, determined to stop at nothing to avenge the death of her parents.
Soha's resolve helped her become one of the most successful sharpshooters in the Stratus Empire. She finally tracked down her parents' killer, but found that he was surrounded by bodyguards and soldiers. Blinded by her drive for vengeance, Soha took on an entire platoon of fighters by herself, shooting anyone that stood between her and her father's betrayer. She was quickly defeated and left for dead, watching helplessly as the one who destroyed her family walked away unscathed. Just as the she thought the last of her dwindling energy was leaving her, she heard a voice call out to her, the voice of Master Hong.
Chapter 18: The Book Thieves
The desert was as hot as a furnace. Gil felt all his energy evaporate into the blinding sunlight. Even the simple act of rubbing his dry eyes and adjusting his glasses felt exhausting.
He saw something in the distance, a figure or perhaps only a mirage. It appeared to be the warrior, the one who had rescued Yunwa from the Tyrian Cult. Perhaps things weren't as dire as they seemed. There was more to the warrior than that which was immediately apparent. The question was: how long would the warrior survive?
Chapter 19: A Mirage in the Desert
Yunwa heard the door open, Gil must have finally caught up with her. She turned, but it wasn't Gil who entered the room. It was the warrior, the one who had blown her cover at the Sacrificial Chamber. Was the warrior after the Naryu Sarasva as well? Yunwa couldn't let anyone else get to her prize before her, but how could she handle a skilled warrior? Her father's words echoed in her head: "If one side has the advantage, initiative and surprise can level the playing field." Before the warrior could speak, Yunwa attacked.
The warrior quickly countered Yunwa's strikes, Yunwa backed away, clearly outmatched. "Don't fight a battle you can't win." That was another of her father's sayings, one that clearly made sense here. Thankfully, the warrior was willing to talk, apparently unphased by the assault.
As Yunwa caught her breath and faced the warrior, her father's voice returned yet again. "Work smarter, not harder, and never work alone." Perhaps this warrior wasn't a rival so much as a potential partner. The only thing better than defeating a rival was convincing a rival to work for you.
Chapter 20: The Three Sages
Ruins were all that remained of the illustrious Naryu Temple. Dokdan was one of the few who remembered the temple's former glory. In its prime, the courtyard of the Naryu Temple was filled with magistrates and peasants, priests and soldiers, people from every corner of the four continents that made up the Naryu Empire.
Dokdan was one of the Three Sages, those whom the Heavens had tasked with finding and mentoring great warriors to defend the people against the gathering darkness. He and his companions believed they found a worthy candidate in the form of a Naryu boy named Mushin. Impressed by his courage and devotion, they taught him secret techniques not known to mortal men and guided his training as he became the most formidable fighter in the Realm.
Hundreds of years had passed since the day the Three Sages chose Mushin as a defender of the people. Could they now atone for the mistakes of the past? Or was everything falling apart into ruin, crumbling into dust like the once great Naryu Temple? Dokdan sensed two people approaching, their auras shining like twin beams of light. Light represented hope, but where there was light there was always a shadow.
Chapter 21: Mushin's Army
Soha poured another drink as she waited for the warrior she met in the desert--the last, living disciple of Master Hong. Was Master Hong truly dead? How could anyone defeat the great Master Hong? Hong was one of the Four Guardians, a fighter so powerful that he was given the name "Earthbreaker." More importantly for Soha, Master Hong was the one who saved her life and set her on a new path.
In the warrior, Soha saw the same burning anger that had once consumed her. Soha took a drink, contemplating the tragic irony that Master Hong's last disciple was now so determined to walk the path of vengeance, the same destructive path that Master Hong had freed Soha from years ago. If they found Mushin's Legacy, would the warrior try to use it for revenge? Master Hong would never have allowed such power to be used for vengeance, even to defeat his own killer. He had shown Soha that vengeance was a blade that cut both ways. At best, it ends one life and ruins another.
Soha raised her cup in Master Hong's honor. She glanced at the three empty bottles on the table. Master Hong would not have approved of her lack of self-control. Perhaps she should cut back. Then again, perhaps she would start tomorrow.
Chapter 22: Wings of Mushin, Silver and Gold
"At its feet place gold and silver..." Yunwa tried to remember the exact words of Dokdan's riddle, frustrated that the next step of her search was so unclear, lost somewhere in the mysterious words of the sage. According to Yehara, gold and silver probably referred to a Golden Crest and a Silver Crest, but what were they and where could she find them?
"The Silver Crest? I think I can help with that." It was Gil. Sometimes Yunwa forgot that Gil had spent years traveling the Realm with her father. Behind his thick goggles and whimsical smile was a wealth of information. Perhaps she could find Mushin's Legacy after all.
Chapter 23: The Problem with Ploggles
As with all things, a pot could only be crafted when the basic elements worked together in harmony, a union of earth, water, wood, and fire coming together to create a vessel. That is why the potters of the Great Kiln prayed to the Heavens every year, recognizing that everything they crafted could only be created when the basic elements united themselves in proper balance.
Chunsam woke early. The day was still dark, as the sun had not yet risen to share its light and bake the earth. Like the rest of the potters of the Great Kiin, he was busy making preparations for the annual Kiln Festival. There was still much to do, and little time to do it.
Chapter 24: Lighting the Fire
When the warrior mentioned the Silver Crest, Pochung could barely hide his annoyance. Few knew about the sacred artifact and even fewer knew that it had been created at the Great Kiln so many years ago, forged by the potters for the great Mushin himself. The head potter could not simply reveal the secrets of his guild to a complete stranger.
Yet, the warrior listened with patience, displaying a steady determination and an almost nave innocence, Pochung sensed that there was more going on behind the stranger's innocent exterior. All people were like earthen vessels, carrying secrets within them. Perhaps Pochung could make use of this warrior. There was still much to be done in preparation for the Kiln Festival.
Chapter 25: An Overabundance of Spirits
Jakdan poured another cup of soju, Alcohol was the one of the few things that made this realm bearable. Jakdan drank alone, unable to tolerate the pride and insatiable greed of the people he encountered. Even the Kiln Festival had been ruined. What was once a ceremony of humble artisans praying to the Heavens with gratitude had degraded into little more than a tourist attraction. The once sacred traditions were now treated like novelties, parlor tricks to lure people to the Great Kiln where they would quickly be swarmed by potters selling their wares.
Jakdan guzzled another cupful and felt the familiar fire burn within him. There may have been some that honored the ancient traditions, but most were too consumed by greed or personal ambition. With selfishness came suffering. Perhaps that was the true reason that Jakdan drank with such reckless abandon. It was one of the only ways to escape the suffering he saw all around him.
Chapter 26: The Mu Family
When Yesana and Muyong were married, the entire village was overjoyed. Jang Jongwon attended the ceremony alongside everyone else, his smile masking his jealousy as he watched the happy couple laugh and revel.
Jang Jongwon fell for Yesana the first moment he saw her. He had tried to find the courage to share his feelings more times than he could remember, but never got the words out of his mouth. Eventually, Muyong arrived and proved to be more courageous when it came to courting Yesana. Jang Jongwon had squandered his opportunity, and now the love of his life was married to someone else.
Yesana's sister, Yehara, smiled and poured Jang Jongwon a drink. He nodded with gratitude and watched the couple mingle with their guests. He had to admit, in spite of his feelings, that the two did look striking together. Muyong was an educated man, a decorated military officer, and a member of the respected Mu family, supposedly linked to the great emperors of the past. Compared to him, Jang Jongwon was little more than a common peasant, the son of a poor country widow. Perhaps the best way to truly love Yesana was to bear the pain of his envy and accept the fact that she loved someone else.
Chapter 27: Sacrifices Must Be Made
The water was dark and unsettled, its surface reflecting a distorted mirror image of Yehara as she approached the lotus flower. There was a time when her tears would have mingled with the water of the lake, but that time had passed. Yehara had no more tears to shed.
Fifteen years had passed since the day when everything fell apart. Yehara had returned to Clear Sky Village with gifts for her sister and brother-in-law. She arrived at an empty house. A neighbor shared the news. Yehara's brother-in-law had been killed in battle, another victim of the Talus-Stratus War. Even more tragically, Yesana had been murdered by the Grimhorn Tribe while passing through the swamps outside of town.
The enormous lotus had grown even larger since Yehara's last visit. The villagers claimed it had been planted over the place where her sister was buried and Yehara had no reason to doubt them. For reasons she couldn't entirely explain, the flower reminded her of her sister. Its beauty stood in contrast to the dark waters and tangled overgrowth that surrounded it. Yehara closed her eyes and inhaled the bittersweet aroma. Mingled with the heavy sadness was a desperate sense of hope, a hope that she had clung to for fifteen years. There was something else the villagers had told her on that tragic day so long ago. Before she was killed, Yehara's sister had given birth to a daughter. The infant had never been found.
Chapter 28: The Cost of War
Muyong slipped the document into his pocket and watched as Yesana put their baby girl to bed, the two of them bathed in the soft moonlight that came in through the window. The infant had her mother's eyes and her father's stubbornness. How much would she have grown by the time he returned? Would he return? Would this be the final time he saw the two of them? Tomorrow, Muyong would go off to war, leaving his home for a world of uncertainty.
He met with his friend Chulu later that night near the statue of General Gubong. He handed over the document, his final will and testament. Chulu protested, but Muyong insisted, Muyong was the final male descendant of the Mu Family. His will contained information that many were willing to kill for, which is why he wanted his friend-- a battle-tested warrior--to safeguard the will as opposed to his wife.
"And what should I do if I'm conscripted?" asked Chulu. "You go off to war tomorrow. I may not be too far behind you."
"Well," replied Muyong. "I suppose we'll just have to win the war tomorrow, so that you can stay at home."
Chulu forced a chuckle. An hour later he left with the document in hand. Muyong stood alone for a while, taking in a final moonlit view of the village he and his wife had grown to love. He looked up at the statue of Gubong.
"General Gubong, please watch over us."
The stone General made no reply. Even under the soft light of the moon, the angular face of the great General Gubong looked harsh and cold.
Chapter 29: Shadows of the Past
Jakdan wouldn't listen. Instead, he did what he always did: he drank. Dokdan had come to the conclusion that they could put their hope in Hong Sokyun's last disciple, but Jakdan wasn't convinced.
Jakdan had seen too many supposedly honorable warriors succumb to the ravenous greed of the world. Hong's disciple carried a deeply rooted desire for vengeance, as well as the heavy burden of the Mark of the Black Rose. How could Dokdan be so convinced that such a warrior could be trusted? Had he forgotten the tragic mistake they had made so many years ago when they shared the secret techniques with a warrior they deemed worthy of the gift? In Jakdan's opinion, the warrior was too overwhelmed by a desire to avenge Hong Sokyun to actually honor the deceased master's teachings.
Jakdan got to the bottom of one bottle and opened a second. He looked up as the door to the chamber opened. The warrior in question approached. Here was the one who Hong and Dokdan had deemed worthy. But Jakdan still wasn't convinced.
Chapter 30: The Traitor Returns
Yehara heard a yell and the sounds of something breaking. Why did so many guests come to her inn to fight? She hurried down the hallway. She could sense the withering power of Dark Chi before she opened the door.
Inside, an intruder stood over the body of the warrior from the Hongmoon Clan. She struck before the intruder had time to turn, knocking him across the room. The intruder recovered. His eyes narrowed with surprise and anger. Dark energy emanated from his body. Yehara noticed that Yunwa was also on the ground, nearly unconscious from the intruder's attack.
Yehara sensed the counter attack before it came. The intruder was powerful, but far too slow. She evaded his barrage and threw him into the wall. Something rolled onto the floor. A small metal octagon came to a stop next to Yunwa. Yehara's eyes widened in disbelief. This device was Mushin's compass, an instrument built to track the blood of Mushin. The compass' small needle circled and stopped, pointing in the direction of Yunwa.
Chapter 31: The Wisdom of Wolves
Juwol fell to her knees as pain shot through her face. She could see Yunsang's towering form somewhere in her periphery. Soon her vision turned blurry and red. A torrent of blood rained to the ground. She reached to her face and was horrified to discover that her right eye was bleeding. She pressed her palm into her face, desperately trying to stop the flow of blood. She felt the last remnants of strength, pour out of her as everything turned red and then finally, black.
Juwol woke up covered in sweat, as if she had just been roused from a nightmare. She put her hand to her face. Her fingers found a rough eye patch where her eye had once been. She clenched her teeth in frustration. She couldn't decide which bothered her more, losing her eye or losing the battle.
A burning desire for vengeance mingled with the pain, Juwol had no choice but to accept her new reality. Her eye was gone, and Yunsang was gone as well.
Chapter 32: To Build A Compass
The stars were still visible through the branches of the Elderbark when Gieomul woke from his slumber. He had received a premonition. A stranger would come to the village and help him build a new compass, an instrument which could smell the blood of Mushin's heir.
The prospect of finally completing a new compass was a welcome one, but something troubled the old machinist. He knew that the stranger would be a flat tooth, an ignorant human. How could that be possible? Gieomul had lived long enough to see the consequences of human greed and apathy. Humans fought over land and riches while ignoring the poorest members of their pack. They destroyed the same environment that gave them life. They were almost always unbalanced and, on top of that, they didn't smell right.
Gieomul groaned and tried to go back to sleep. Perhaps he had no choice but to work with a flat tooth. The original Mushin Compass had fallen into dark hands. Evil forces were determined to find the last-living survivor of the Mu Family and acquire Mushin's Legacy. Gieomul couldn't allow that to happen, even if it meant working with a flat tooth.
Chapter 33: Through the Eye of the Needle
Anything that was from the Dark Realm could not enter the Divine Realm. The reverse was true as well. This became clear when Mushin stepped into the Dark Gate, sacrificing himself to seal the Dark Lord from within the Dark Realm. The great Guardian could cross the boundary from one realm to the next, but his heavenly power could not. The power remained on the Earthen Realm, sealed and hidden by the Three Sages, and accessible only by those with Mushin's blood, the royal family of Mu.
Gieomul leaned on his cane and contemplated these things. Was this the reason why the Jaofang had built the original compass for Mushin? Perhaps Mushin wanted to ensure that only someone with his blood would be able unlock the power, power that could be used to conquer the world or even destroy it. Or perhaps he had foreseen his own return to the Earthen Realm.
The old machinist shook his head. Why was he trying to unravel the motivations of a flat tooth? There was no rhyme or reason to the human mind, even the mind of a Guardian.
Chapter 34: The Enemy of My Enemy
Juwol locked her eye onto the odd little man before her as he glanced around nervously at the Yes Men that surrounded him. Gil would be her key to finding Yunsang. If nothing else, Gil could lead her to Yunwa, and Juwol could use Yunwa to lure Yunsang out of hiding. If Yunsang had a weakness, it was his willingness to do anything for his daughter.
To Juwol's surprise, Gil offered her a deal. He informed her that Yunwa had in her possession the Silver Crest, one of the keys to finding Mushin's Legacy. Gil promised to give the crest to Juwol, asking only that she spare Yunwa's life in return. Juwol allowed a slight smile to cross her face. Revenge could wait. If she could obtain the power of Mushin's Legacy, she and the Yes Men would be unstoppable.
Chapter 35: The Blood of Mushin
From his place amongst the shadows, Mushin could sense the gate opening. He saw hints of light in the distance, the light of the Earthen Realm. His time had come at last.
Mushin was finally released from the endless darkness that had imprisoned him. When he first set foot in the Earthen Realm, even the faintest of lights was blinding. Soon, his eyes adjusted and he recognized the familiar forms of his friends: Iksanun, Jiwan, and Hong Sokyun. The Four Guardians were reunited once again,
Even so, the darkness had changed Mushin. The transformation was so deep and deceptive that no one was able to detect it, not even the other Guardians. Everything that had once made him a divinely appointed Guardian, his power, his unique skills, even his royal Naryu blood had been lost and left behind when he stepped through the Dark Gate so many years ago. Now, there was only one that could access his former power, the last-living member of the Mu family, Mushin's sole remaining heir.
Chapter 36: Rags and Riches
Podan listened while Dokdan and Jakdan debated. They were discussing whether or not Hong Sokyun's disciple would be a worthy recipient of Mushin's Legacy.
Dokdan argued in favor of the warrior, although he admitted that the Mark of the Black Rose was a reason for concern. Jakdan, on the other hand, was opposed to the idea, bringing up the warrior's appetite for vengeance and the violent outbreak in Sandstone Refuge.
Podan listened in silence as both sages made their points. Finally, during a pause in the conversation, he offered his wisdom. "I'm hungry," he said. Dokdan and Jakdan turned to him questioningly. "The heavens will decide this matter," continued Podan, "In the meantime, let's get something to eat."
Chapter 37: Masks of Bone
The Bonemask had lived in the Cinderlands long before it was a desert. Dismissing the Bonemask as simple, barbaric savages, the Naryu drove them to the periphery.
The Bonemask demonstrated courage and fierce prowess in combat. When Mushin rose to prominence, he came to admire their spirit and ferocity. He took a new approach to the Bonemask and welcomed them as allies as opposed to enemies. Under his guidance, the Bonemask developed into an efficient army. They served Musnin with fierce loyalty, the first to follow him into battle when the demonic hordes of the Dark Realm attacked.
Mushin's great act of sacrifice closed the Dark Gate but left the Bonemask without a leader. They worshipped the fallen Guardian like a god, prophesying that a day would come when he would return to lead their people to a new place of prominence and prosperity. For centuries, the Bonemasks offered sacrifices in Mushin's honor. On this day, they would offer up a pair of human warriors: Juwol, the leader of the Yes Men; and a treasure hunter named Soha.
Chapter 38: The Gun, the Sword, and the Fan
Her search was finally over. Nearly everything Yehara had done over the past fifteen years, her study of the ancient Naryu language, her collection of ancient tomes, even her decision to build the Mirage in the middle of the Cinderlands, was all in one way or another driven by a singular overarching purpose. She had made a promise, both to herself and to her deceased sister. A promise to find her niece.
The final piece of the puzzle came to her in the form of Mushin's Compass. The needle had pointed to Yunwa. She was Mushin's Heir, the last-living member of the royal family of Mu. The intruder that Yehara had defeated was undoubtedly trying to kidnap her, knowing that she was the only one who could access Mushin's Legacy. To most of the world, it seemed, the girl was the key to fortune and power. To Yehara, however, Yunwa was simply her long-lost niece and the last-living reminder of her beloved sister, Yesana.
Yehara hurried through the desert. Her network of informants had informed her that Yunwa had been captured. Yehara would rescue the girl at any cost. She could not bear the thought of finally finding her niece only to lose her again.
Chapter 39: The Wings of Mushin
Jinsoyun spoke in her familiar, cold, deliberate tone, as if each word hinted at a threat. "You will find Mushin's heir," she told Lusung. "The heir must be killed. Only then will vengeance be complete." Lusung nodded in silence as Jinsoyun gave him Mushin's Compass. "Complete this task," she said, "and I will teach you secret arts, skills that no pupil of Master Hong has ever known."
Lusung watched the needle of the compass spin and stop. His direction was now clear. Even the secret arts promised by Jinsoyun paled in comparison to the nearly unstoppable force held within Mushin's Legacy. Why would he kill Mushin's heir and abandon the opportunity to unlock divine power? Lusung had already managed to betray Master Hong. The time had come to betray Jinsoyun.
Chapter 40: The Tomb and the Traitor
Great pieces of stone fell around them. The Three Sages watched as Mushin's Heir and the last of Hong Sokyun's disciples fled the tomb as it collapsed around them. In spite of their concerns, the disciple had put vengeance aside, sacrificing the opportunity to attain divine, power for the sake of saving a life. Hong's disciple was walking the true Path of Hongmoon, and the Three Sages had successfully completed the task that the Divine Realm had given to them.
As the rubble continued to fall and fill the air with dust, Dokdan, Jakdan, and Podan glanced at each other and shared uneasy smiles. They had helped guide two lost souls toward the light. Even so, they knew that deep shadows remained on the horizon, somewhere beyond the crumbling stones.
Chapter 41: Reunions and Revelations
Yehara opened her eyes. The air was heavy with smoke and the lingering smell of blood, Yonkai's soldiers littered the ground, their burnt corpses still smoldering. The Lady in Black had decimated them all with a single attack. She was now nowhere to be seen.
Soha and Juwol arrived beside Yehara, They rose to their feet slowly and caught their breath, three survivors in a cavern filled with corpses. A disturbance filled the air. Yehara turned in time to see Mushin's Wing descending, its massive wings fanning away the smoke and dust.
Two figures descended. One was the warrior, Master Hong's disciple. The other was Yunwa, the girl with wide, adventurous eyes, the same eyes that Yehara had seen once before. They were the eyes of her beloved sister, Yesana. The resemblance was undeniable. How had she not seen it before? Her heart pounded in her chest as she raced towards the girl that she had spent the last fifteen years looking for. Her search was finally over. Her sister could rest in peace. Yehara had found her niece.