Act V — A Lost Generation
Chapter 1: The Famous Hongmoon School
Junghado strolled along Zaiwei's once prestigious streets, now cluttered with broken bricks and makeshift memorials. He walked alone, only accompanied by a chorus of owls and crickets. Zaiwei would recover one day, but the memory of the Divine Mandate was still too fresh and real for business as usual.
A rat crossed Junghado's moonlit path, only to climb the wall of a nearby home and disappear through a dark window. Junghado waited for a startled scream. Instead, a deep and mournful sigh escaped into the air.
Junghado followed the sound and opened the unlocked door. He found Dochun hunched over his desk with his face in his hands. The rat munched on his untouched dinner from two days prior.
"Dochun, sir," Junghado said. "You must rest."
Dochun raised his head. His beard was wild and unkempt.
Junghado took him by the arm and led him to the untouched bed. The once-great warrior had become a thin husk of a man in the month since Jinsoyun attacked.
"I had her," Dochun whispered in a voice as soft as the wind. "I could have saved her. Soyoo..."
"I know, Dochun," Junghado said. "I too had a princess to protect, and I too nearly lost her. Keep hope in your heart and strength in your body. We will find her. For now, you must rest."
Dochun collapsed in the bed. He stared at Junghado with heavy weary eyes.
"Tomorrow," he said.
"Tomorrow," Junghado repeated.
Dochun smiled faintly and finally fell asleep.
Chapter 2: An Uninvited Guess
"Thanks for keeping the place clean," Bunyang said to the Bamboo Guard as he passed by. "We'll take over from here, bud."
"Hey!" Gwak Chil called out as Bunyang and Bunah dashed up the steps, "You can't go in there!"
"No, we have permission," Bunah said with a smile.
"Permission?" Gwak Chil tilted his head in confusion, shrugged it off, and continued sweeping the steps.
Bunyang let out a low whistle as he regarded the ancient tomes left in the Master's Quarters. He couldn't believe that the Hongmoon Hero and the Earthbreaker himself once lived in such a small, miserable hovel.
Bunah pulled a book off a lower shelf and read the cover.
"Secret Technique! This must be it!" She cracked the book open and pointed at a crude self-portrait of a smiling warrior. "And this must be him!"
"I knew he'd be a Lyn!" Bunyang said with a laugh. He clapped excitedly. "Who needs Grandpa Cho? We'll teach ourselves to fight!"
Bunah flipped through the pages and scanned the dozens of handwritten notes and tips. This writer had left behind a trove of knowledge regarding fighting styles, survival techniques, and insults.
"Why stop with us, brother?"
Chapter 3: Oh Master, My Master
Word spread as quickly as the pigeons could carry it. Within weeks, warriors from each region of the Earthen Realm gathered at Heaven's Reach with eager minds and full wallets. Bunyang and Bunah welcomed them with open arms.
"We taught the Hongmoon Hero everything they knew!" Buyang announced proudly to the warriors at the gates.
"About Windwalking," Bunah whispered under her breath.
"With our thirty-six step program, you too can be a Hero! Guaranteed! Now, who wants to make a mandatory donation?"
"Remember," Bunah added, "No one gets into Heaven's Reach without a donation!"
Bunyang held out an empty pillowcase and watched with wide eyes as the warriors reached into their pockets. Almost all gave everything they had. After all, you couldn't put a price on the Path to Enlightenment.
Chapter 4: The Kidnapping Case
"We should split into several teams. We'll cover more ground that way." Taviin cracked his knuckles and pointed his giant finger in Namgun's face. "Sunjay, you and I'll petition Yunma Fei in Zaiwei for support. Unak, Wolyong: I want you to cover Silverfrost. If that doesn't work, we'll double back and try the Cinderlands. Come on, everyone! Let's find those kids!"
Namgun sighed and rolled his eyes. He turned to see the other members of their motley crew, all in various stages of sleep. Unak, pride of The Twisted Serpent, lounged on the couch with her arm over her eyes. She couldn't be bothered unless a reward or ransom was on the table, Wolvong rested face-first on the kitchen counter He peeled the sticky newspaper from his forehead and yawned so loudly that the room shook. Poor, simple Wolyong was undoubtedly the smartest and most articulate of the lowly Uzu "School." Namgun wondered what it must be like to have so little to live up to.
Tayjin was clearly the worst of the bunch, and had just cemented his title by opening up all the drapes and barking orders at them. He thought that just because he inherited the Namdo School from his father that he had the right to assert leadership and wake everyone up at dawn.
Of course, Tayjin was still in denial. He wasn't anything like his dad, and titles didn't mean anything here. He was a loser, just like everyone else in the room.
Namgun rubbed his face and winced from his hangover. His whole body ached from sleeping on the hardwood.
"Sir, yes sir," he muttered sarcastically. He wrapped the rug around his body and drifted back to sleep.
Chapter 5: The Uncovered Culprit
To My Brothers and Sisters of the Twisted Serpent,
There have been several new developments in the case of the missing children.
First, I can confirm that the rest of the Eight Clans have joined us in our search. The clan representatives seem especially eager to rebuild trust with the public and demonstrate allegiance to the Talus Dominion and the new Empress, Yunma Fei. While it's true that a cloud of doubt and discontent continues to tarnish the reputation of the young Empress, I remain confident that it is in our best interest to remain loyal to her, at least for now. Should we manage to find the children and return them to their families, her reputation and ours will grow ten-fold.
Second, we have reason to believe that the Ebondrake Cult is involved with the kidnappings. Junghado's agents discovered that the Ebondrake have spread their influence to the Tyrian Cult and certain factions of the Lumang Syndicate. They appear to be using members of these groups to kidnap children and recruit new members while, simultaneously diverting the attention of the public. When children go missing, families blame the Red Vipers or the Tyrian Cult, unaware that the Ebondrake may in truth be behind it all. I fear that, the influence of the Ebondrake runs deep. I would not be surprised if some of Yunma Fei's advisors have secretly sold their souls to the Ebondrake Cult.
There is one more development that I want to share with you. The warrior from the Hongmoon Clan has recently joined us in our Search for the missing children. The warrior still carries the chi of the Eight Masters, including the strength of my sister, Myo. No one is worthy to hold such an honor. We shall see how helpful this warrior proves to be. I have my doubts.
I will continue to update you as our search continues.
Chapter 6: The Pain of the Past
The Pain of the Past To My Brothers and Sisters,
The Hongmoon Warrior remains shrouded in mystery. I have made contact with several sources, but none have been able to provide information on where the warrior came from prior to joining the Hongmoon School. The lack of details is disturbing, as if someone is trying to hide something. I will share any new information that emerges and I ask that you do the same.
I am increasingly convinced that this individual is dangerous. While outwardly the warrior displays an attitude of calm and humility, I fear this is only a facade hiding a deep inner turmoil that will eventually manifest itself in some sort of senseless, erratic action. With the amount of power this person holds, any volatile situation could quickly escalate into a disaster of catastrophic proportions. We're dealing with a bomb that could go off at any moment.
For this reason, the Hongmoon disciple must be monitored at all times. Any available members should assist in this effort. At the first sign of eminent danger, the warrior must be stopped by any means necessary. Failure to stop this single person could have grave consequences for countless more. We must honor the teachings of the Twisted Serpent and keep any and all threats contained. I will write again once I am able.
Chapter 7: A Wicked Melody
In her adventures alongside the hero of the Hongmoon School, Yunma Fei had faced war, demons, and had nearly died on several occasions. But as she sat at the head of the delagate's table, listening to the bickering of Zaiwei's politicians and nobles, she found the memory of almost being slain by monsters somewhat appealing. How had her father ever managed to put up with the insufferable, upper crust that claimed to run the country?
The young Empress did her best to maintain a passive expression as she listened to the politicians try to shout each other down. They were all more worried about their own wealth and investments than Zaiwei itself. She knew for certain that some were capitalizing on the lingering chaos that remained in the wake of Jinsoyun's defeat. Some even dared to try and undermine her authority, questioning her right to rule without the Divine Mandate. As much as she hoped to drive out corruption from the government, there was still rot hiding in the corners.
She was thankful for her friends. Junghado, Yu Chun, Dochun, and even the Hongmoon Hero -- they were all invaluable to her efforts. They had their own battles to fight, both literally and figuratively. For the time being, her battlefield was at the negotiation table.... though some monster hunting sounded pretty good right about then.
Chapter 8: In Search of the Innocents
"Hello, Ryu. May I speak with you?"
The boy squirmed to avoid Junghado's gaze. All the other children had been identified and returned to their parents. Ryu was the only one left, and it was clear now that he had nowhere else to go.
"He's a rat, a waste!" the official said loudly. "He's probably an orphan, or some thief that snuck through our borders. He would have been better off with the Ebondrake than draining our resources and--"
"Enough," Junghado said firmly. "I'll take care of it. You're done here."
Junghado knelt down and smiled at the boy. Ryu trembled with fear as he eyed Junghado's sword.
"I lost my parents too, once," Junghado whispered. "And I was scared, but some nice monks let me join their family." Junghado reached out his hand. "May I take you to meet them?"
Ryu took Junghado's hand.
Chapter 9: The One Who Came Back to Life
"Zulia, I--" Gwihan started, "Is now a good time?"
Zulia hummed to herself as she danced in a gentle circle. She waved her fans and stared in the distance. Finally, she focused her wide, eyes on Gwihan.
She snapped a fan closed and tapped it against her lip. "Always. You finished the job, right?" She flashed him a sinister grin. "We'll have so much fun, Gwihan. Kids love me!"
"Yes, Zulia. They are ready. But, why children?"
Zulia whacked Gwihan with her other fan. "The Black Rose can't grow in someone old and gross like you. You'd die! But kids are so innocent and dumb and easily... persuaded into the darkness. Just look at what happened to Jinsoyun! Remember her?" Zulia giggled. "You gotta get them when they're young!"
Chapter 10: Should Have Seen This Coming
Namgun Sunjay wasn't shocked when his father picked Onmyung over him to represent the Dohyun Clan in the Eight Masters. He didn't need to say that Namgun lost the implied position because he was a failure, a punk who skipped training to focus on poetry and music. Namgun felt his father's judgment in every dismissive comment, disappointed sigh, and shrug that ended a conversation.
Then, the pigeon came in with the news-- the Eight Masters had sacrificed themselves for the Hongmoon Hero.
"Good thing you stayed home," Namgun's father whispered as they lit incense at Onmyung's altar. "Heroes only get themselves killed."
Namgun ran away that night. No, he wasn't a Master. He wasn't worthy of standing in Onmyung's shadow- everyone could see that. He wasn't even worthy of his father's name. Not yet.
He first met the others at the Losers' Table after the Royal Martial Arts Championship. As they drowned themselves in the open bar, they realized that they all had trained under a different member of the Eight Masters. They failed to make a name for themselves as individuals, so they decided to try as a team.
They rescued the kidnapped children. And Yunma Fei granted them the highest honors in the Talus Dominion. Still, it wasn't enough. The public still believed the Hongmoon Hero did most of the work, and they weren't wrong.
Finally, after another round at Granny's Inn, Unak loudly clunked her shotglass upside down on the table. Everyone turned to her.
"Now that we're sufficiently hydrated, I'd like to bring up a proposition," she said with a sly smile. "If, that is, you losers are, ready to be real heroes. Remember, there's one evil our dear Masters never vanquished. If we were to kill her, well... maybe we'd be the ones worth remembering."
"Jinsoyun's dead," Namgun said. Unak laughed. "Not anymore. And I know just where she's hiding."
Chapter 11: The New Hongmoon School
The cool breeze that rose up off the ocean never failed to bring a smile to insoyun's face. Every day at Heaven's Reach seemed bright and exciting, full of new discoveries yet to be made. While she did miss iwan and Grandpa Dochun from time to time, it was hard to feel lonesome when the school was so busy with her fellow students.
Jinsoyun looked out over the Duel Hall and couldn't help but giggle at the sight of the others "training." Bunah and Bunyang had convinced Jinbin to do some kind of weird exercise, balancing a stack of buckets on his head while he walked around like a duck. Even Ryu cracked a smile despite being so dedicated to his own training at the moment. It had been a while since their Master left to handle other matters... being an important hero seemed like busy work.
"C'mon Jinsoyun! Let's finish up here and get lunch!" Bunyang shouted. His call snapped the girl out of her thoughts, but she was quick to hurry and join the rest. At first she had considered them friends... but the longer they all lived together, the more she knew they were truly a family.