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11 Chapter 10: The Martial Library

    The dream was glorious. I was laying a bed of clouds, listening to faint harp music as a light breeze played over me. The beautiful face of a giggling angel looked down at me, her golden hair cascading down over her shoulders and her long dress of purest white. She smiled sweetly as she placed a juicy grape against my lips.

    The fruit burst as my teeth broke it's skin and the sweet juice ran into into my mouth and all over my lips. The angel's expression took on an air of mischievousness and she licked her lips and her head bent towards mine. I smiled a wolf's smile and reached for her as her body moved closer. Then something hit my cloud and it vanished into a puff of mist. Then I was falling, but I dropped only a few short feet before I hit the ground and my eyes flew open.

    "What was that mom? He's injured." A small voice said from somewhere near me.

    "Judging by that look on his face, not nearly injured enough. The last person I saw smile like that was your grandpa when he was watching the laundry girls. "  A more mature female voice added.

    I opened my eyes to see an ornate room tilted at an oblique angle. Confused, I tried to turn and noticed too late my position. I apparently had been in a bed but my upper-body had slid-off and hit the floor,  while my feet and legs were still tangled in the sheets. Trying to move overbalanced me and I flipped completely and landed hard on the floor, face down.

    Sighing, I just laid there, taking note of the polished dark wood my nose was smashed against. It was quality stuff, although I didn't recognize it's type. Maybe an oak of some sort? I was just starting to wonder how they managed to sand the stuff so smooth with primitive tools when someone grabbed the back of the pants I was wearing, lifted me bodily into the air, and tossed me unceremoniously back onto the bed.

    I bounced once, then finally rolled over and sat up. The room was gorgeous, all woods and earth tones. Impressive tapestries hung from the walls and an honest to god glass door offered an incredible view of a thriving garden. I hadn't slept in a real bed for more than a year and wanted nothing more than to nod back off for a day or two. Instead, my eyes turned further and met the glowering face of He'sha Hunan, her arms crossed over her impressive chest.

    "Good Morning." I said cheerfully as I looked up at her. It was a rather pleasant face to wake up to. She wasn't really beautiful but instead had a striking sort of sensuality. I gave her my best boyish grin.

    "Well, talk." She said without ceremony, her gaze as flat as an anvil.

    I looked at her confused. "About the fight? Or.....'" I started but she cut me off.

    "About anything..... Last night my daughter comes running to me in a panic saying someone tried to kill her and makes me run into the village. There I find a scrawny boy squaring off with a cultivator after he apparently beat seven men. That by itself would need an explanation from you but once I get you back here.  My daughter begs me to send for a healer to fix you, and when the healer takes off your shirt,  low and behold, I find a boy who works in the pins with the most intricate beast tattoo I've ever seen." She growled, literally growled, and the vibrations of it shook the very air and rattled my teeth.

    Ahhhhh, that. Well, that's a bit of a story." I said. The temperature in the room started to rise so I hurriedly continued. "Not that I'm not willing to tell you but it really was mostly an accident."  So I talked. I told her about my plan to kill a beast, leaving out Shimak's involvement. Then the story of how I bound Rupert, and finally of how I stumbled onto Nessa and the ensuing fight. I finished with my ignominious defeat and finally watching as He'sha finished off the lead assassin.

    "Hmmmph." She grunted as she looked down at me. Her gaze was measuring and I made sure to infuse my look with as much sincerity as I could. I hadn't really done anything wrong and I did NOT want to offend this woman.

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    "I told you he was nice." Nessa said, finally speaking up. "You're always mean every time I talk about him, but he gave me Quillen and saved my life."

    He'sha finally looked away from me with a snort. "You and that damn bird. You've caused me no amount of headaches boy, and you'll no doubt cause me a great deal more , but I'm in your debt. And He'sha Hannan pays her debts." Said said seriously. "Still, you're going to run into a world of trouble once word gets out you can cultivate."

    "Yeah well, that's why I've been hiding that I can for months." I said as I climbed out of bed and stood up. I was feeling surprisingly good, amazingly good really. I twisted my torso a bit then tried out my arms and legs experimentally.  "Wow, healers do good work." I said amazed.

    "Yes, yes, Ge'ta is quite the accomplished healer." He'sha said bitterly. I opened my mouth to ask who Ge'ta was but decided not to. One did not try to pry answers out of one of the martial nobility.

    "Now come along boy." She said as she turned towards the door. I started to follow before she turned back to me. "And put on ad shirt."

    I followed her through the house, taking in all the decorations and expensive furniture with a greedy eye. After a year of nothing but hard wood to set on I'd have killed someone for a comfortable chair. She lead us out the back of the house and we ended up in a large courtyard that sat behind several of the large mansions. A large pagoda sat in the middle of an ornamental lake, while paths of cobblestones wound between flower beds and planters containing fruit trees. It must have taken a monumental effort to maintain it all up here.

    He'sha finally stopped walking and gestured Nessa and I up next to her. Then she grabbed us both and RAN. It was honestly one of the oddest experiences of my life. I'm not sure if she used her Qi to stop the wind or stabilize my body somehow but one moment we were standing outside of her house then the world blurred and two heartbeats later we were standing outside of a old stone building I'd never seen before.

    The building was small and rather dilapidated looking, out of place among the grand mansions and pristine gardens of the upper-caste. I looked up to He'sha with a question on my lips but she spoke before I got to voice it.

    "The Sun-Mountain Martial Library." She said with a gesture at the structure. "My husband said we should just give you a thousand ration tokens and send you on your way, but I have a different gift in mind."

    Under normal circumstances I would have loved a crack at the library. This was exactly the sort of chance I'd been hoping for. A chance to choose a real Martial Art, to read about the world and cultivation and finally get a source of insight outside of Shimak. I loved the girl to death, but she was thirteen and, although talented, had learned everything she knew from her father. There was one small problem however.

    "Uhhhh... I can't actually read." I said embarrassed. It was something I intended to rectify at some point, but then again I'd been here for a year and hadn't even seen a book.  He'sha stared at me oddly for a few moments then barked out a laugh. She had good laugh, loud and unrestrained. She'd be quite the woman if she wasn't so damn terrifying.

    "You really have no idea about anything do you?" She asked with the patient exasperation that only a mother can truly feel. Then her face changed to a more thoughtful expression. "Although, how did you manage to figure out how to cultivate? I can buy that you bound your beast on accident, but that still doesn't explain how you knew how to purify essence or complete your cultivation path."

    I started to sweat under her gaze but she picked up on my expression easily and smiled. "It's ok. You don't have to tell me who your mysterious master is. You saved my daughter's life, that's good enough."

    He'sha pulled an amulet on a long chain from under her shirt as we walked towards the closed door. She waved it at door and a flash of light appeared before the heavy stone door slid upwards and we went inside.

    I was expecting the smell of dust and paper, but instead the place just smelled old. There entire place consisted of three double sided shelves with room to walk between. Each shelf was filled with cubby-holes and each cubby contained a piece of green jade. Honestly, it was pretty underwhelming. It seemed run-down and shabby like most of the town.

    I stood there unsure where to begin. Then finally asked. "Is there any sort of organization here or do I just start picking up random stones?"

    "The first shelf contains Martial Styles. That's what you'll want to start with. The middle shelf are Martial Arts and the last shelf are Beast Arts. "

    "What's the difference between an Art and a Style?" I asked, confused.

    "A Style is a series of basic stances, attacks, counters, and philosophies. It's a general sort of outline for how a cultivator fights. An Art is a single attack, or combination of attacks." She explained patiently. Then added before I could ask another question. "And before you ask, to read one you'll need a drop of blood. Normally you'd just use a bit of Qi, but since you can't manifest Qi yet you'll need to push essence into your finger then extract a bit of blood from it."

    Shrugging I picked up the first piece of jade and did as she instructed. I pushed essence out of my dantain and into my thumb then bit the edge until it bled. I smeared the blood onto the jade, there was a flash of light, and suddenly I just knew. It was bizarre. One second nothing, then poof, knowledge.

    (Raging Bull Style)

    A powerful unarmed style focused around charging attacks and powerful kicks.

    Recommended Cultivation Type: Strength

    Elemental Affinity: Neutral

    The knowledge seemed to fan out in my brain with diagrams of stances, explanations about proper form, and various bits of knowledge. It wasn't like reading a book at all. The information didn't scroll through my mind and wasn't in any order, it was just there. True as life. I could feel the information in my mind like a ball of energy. I could tap into it but it never actually soaked into my mind.

    "If you want to try a different one, just force the knowledge out. Always remember to force the knowledge out after a couple of days. It can cause problems if you keep one in there too long."

    "Noted." I said dryly. This was just too weird. Still, it was a chance I wasn't likely to get again, so I might as well make the most of it. Knowing that 'Raging Bull Style' wasn't going to be of much benefit to me I pressed the little ball of knowledge out of my head. Then the knowledge, which I'd been sifting through a moment before, simply vanished like smoke. I could remember parts of it, but didn't have in instant certain recall I'd had before. It was like a book I'd skimmed through in a book-shop.

    Shrugging, I started sorting through various styles, trying and discarding each in turn. Tiger Fang Style, Golden Ape Style, Seven-Sword Style, and the list went on. Time stretched but as much as I searched I couldn't find any that really suited me. Most of the styles were for weapons, which I didn't have, or were based around speed or strength.

    He-sha was getting impatient as I discarded yet another piece of jade. "Would you just pick one already. You acting like a maiden deciding on her first lover."

    "What about this one?" Nessa asked holding a piece of jade in her small hands. "It's the one dad wanted me to practice when I was starting out."

    He-sha glanced at it and snorted. "That's just because the motions are elegant looking. He was more worried about making you look good than teaching you to fight. Lots of young girls practice it and they are all useless twits." She grumbled.

    I took the jade from Nessa and examined it. Then touched a drop of my blood to it.

    (Gentle Wave Style)

    An unarmed style focused on flexibility, defense, and turning your opponent's power against them.

    Recommended Cultivation Type: Flexibility

    Elemental Affinity: Water/Plant

    It appeared to be suitable on the surface but my face took on a look of horror as I looked at the diagrams. Most of the movements looked like a cross between interpretive dance and ballet. Still, it did seem to be a solid, if ridiculous looking, fighting style. It even had some advanced sections that dealt with Qi manipulation and a contained some compatible Martial Arts. It really was a decent starting style. My frown deepened with my indecision.  Was I really going throw aside a good Martial Style because it looked ridiculous? Then again, did I really want to decimate my enemies prancing about like a girl?

    I pulled a ration token from my pocket and flicked it into the air. It spun end-over-end then landed in my palm showing the face of the Grand-Elder.

    Sighing, I looked up to He'sha. "I'll take this one." I said, resigned.  It looked like my male pride was going to need to take one for the team.

    **********************************************

    "AHAHAHHAHAHHHAHHHHAA!" Shimak rolled on the ground, her face nearly purple as tears streamed down her cheeks. She gasped for air, wheezing under the strain of her mirth. Her breath sounded like a donkey's bray as she tried to suck in air, only to lose it a moment later to more laughter.

    "I cant.... I can't.... I.... AAHHHAHAHHA. No... I'm ok." She gasped as she stood up, then took an exaggerated pose that made mock of Gentle Wave Style's first position. Then she stood up on tip-toe and twirled around fluttering her fingers before she collapsed to the ground in another fit of laughter.

    He'sha had let me take away the Gentle Wave Style jade with an amused expression. Then she provided me with a pair of cultivation elixirs and told me to come to her if something serious happened to me again. I'd left and headed back home only to run into Shimak whom put me in a head-lock until I'd told her the entire story. She'd wheedled me until I let her examine the Martial Style I'd chosen, which had lead to the current situation.

    "Are you done?" I asked, smiling despite myself. I had to admit, it was pretty damn funny. Still, she didn't have to rub it in. Shimak merely shook her head in denial as she curled into a ball and her shoulders continued to shake in silent laughter.

    "It's so hard to find good friends." I said, exasperated. "Now stop laughing and get up or I'm not giving you this elixir." I threatened, as I stuck out a hand to help her to her feet.
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