Inside of the envelope, there was a letter. The letter told San-Yao to return to the old White Fox Brothel if he wanted his revenge. San-Yao indeed wanted vengeance, and he would have it. He grabbed his sword and jumped on his horse, galloping for town.

Outside of the brothel stood the two men he had met on his first arrival into town. It was hard for him to think that it had been almost a year since he had come. But that did not matter. The bald thug and the emaciated thug would be the first to fall. They were both dead before San-Yao's feet had hit the ground. He sheathed his sword and entered the building. Waiting for him in the lobby were ten men, all armed. They circled him, attacking all at once, but San-Yao's speed was so great that he was able to take them one at a time, almost to his own leisure.

He tied his sword to his back and took them all on with the Dischord Palm. One man had his internal organs ruptured with a palm to a belly while another man, simultaneously, had his testicles kicked into his lower intestine. San-Yao shoved his hand through a third man's chest; a fourth had the top of his skull smashed. And yet, the fools continued to attack. San-Yao took a sabre from a man whose wrist he'd broken and decapitated the same man. He took a thug's knife and carved the ideogram for "vengeance" into the knife-fighter's chest. The last man had both arms broken in three places after having his jaw shattered and his knees and ankles destroyed.

Those he had mercilessly left alive would not walk away, and it was for certain that they would be both crippled and horribly disfigured for the rest of their lives. San-Yao continued into the hall, walking to the back office. He was occasionally met by some foolish henchmen who, by trying to attack him, unknowingly walked into their near-immediate death. At the end of the hall, he could hear soft music playing, men laughing heartily, and the demure giggle of the call girls. He parted the bead curtain that served as the door and stepped inside.

Seated in what was almost a throne at the center of the room was The Jade Eagle with a woman feeding him grapes to the left and a man wielding double-sabres on his right. He clapped his hands on making it so far and introduced his best fighter, Tang Zhi-Xiang, who nodded and smirked. San-Yao asked the warlord why he'd done it and he was more than happy to reply. Jade Eagle had been in hiding for the past six months, letting his abject humiliation at San-Yao's hands fester and twist into a raw, primal hatred. It had festered enough for him to break into the Wen home, hoping to find San-Yao and kill him there. But he had no such luck. Luckily for him, Zhong-Liu was deep in slumber, an obstacle easily overcome. After killing him, the warlord headed to the bedroom.

It was there that he found Bei-bei, alone and defenseless. He made several advances, but when she resisted, he gave her a blow to her stomach. When he asked her again, she spit the blood that had come up from her internal injuries into his face. Enraged, the warlord punched her in the temple. He took what pleasure he could in first raping and then murdering the girl in cold blood. It chilled San-Yao's blood to hear the act described so casually. The warlord told him that if he wished to play the Ying-Xiong, hero, he would have to first fight Zhi-Xiang, a challenge San-Yao answered by drawing his sword.

Zhi-Xiang was magnificent. San-Yao had barely drawn when Zhi-Xiang was already nearly on top of him. His double sabers created a deadly, bladed whirlwind that not only kept San-Yao at bay, but created a nigh-impenetrable circular defense around his body. Zhi-Xiang set upon him, as fiercely rabid as a wild dog and just as ruthlessly bloodthirsty. San-Yao could hardly dodge every slash, each one coming ever closer. The bodyguard would block every piercing strike San-Yao attempted, and every physical attack that he tried, he was in danger of becoming an amputee.

San-Yao realized that his mind was clouded by emotion. He had to detach himself, empty his mind. He jumped backwards to give himself distance, clearing out his thoughts as he did so and entering a meditative state. His mind and his body were one. His master's teachings and his hand and sword and body and universe were all one, the Primordial Breath, the qi flowing. San-Yao became a being of shining, well-trained instinct. He felt Zhi-Xiang's weaknesses, he felt his flaws, he felt his emptiness. He dodged and blocked every vicious slash from the sabres until he felt that flash, that moment of intuition that told him to strike, and he did. San-Yao's sword flashed, and when it fell, so, too, did the Zhi-Xiang's hands from his wrists, still clutching the blades.

Zhi-Xiang fell to his knees, screaming in pain. The Jade Eagle silenced him through decapitation as he jumped from his throne, his own sabre in hand. The warlord lunged and slashed, viciously chopping through the air, determined to avenge his humiliation; he had become a more formidable adversary, his intense desire to kill and restore his reputation making him push himself past his limits. In his world, reputation was what earned a man a living, what earned him respect, and he had lost it all to Zhang San-Yao. He was after vengeance for his broken dignity, trying to reclaim what he thought was rightfully his.

San-Yao, too, was fighting for revenge, but his motivation was far more precious than a reputation. Facing the man who had raped and murdered his wife-to-be, the woman he loved with all of his heart, made it difficult for him to keep a level head. He kept slipping into fits of anger, of sadness and of twisted joy that he would kill this man. The emotion blinded him, weakened him, and the warlord was able to knock the sword from San-Yao's hands, sending it sliding across the tiled floor. San-Yao dropped to pick up one of Zhi-Xiang's fallen sabres, prying the severed hand loose. He heard Jade Eagle approach from behind and turned around in less time than it took to blink to slash him across the chest. The warlord staggered backwards, clutching his wound. San-Yao took the moment to catch his breath. He wiped the sweat from his brow and saw his hand: stained crimson with caked-on dried blood. He looked down at his robes: ripped, torn and soaked life that he had taken away. He looked around at the carnage: almost thirty men, most of whom were dead, the rest begging for it. He, Zhang San-Yao, "Heroic Young Lord of Wudan", had shed this blood. It was on his hands. But did heroes kill so freely?

Six months ago, Zhang San-Yao had been a freewheeling, devil-may-care youth with everything to live for. He had been out to prove himself to the world after leaving Wudan and had done so. But at what cost? He had tried to stamp out evil, only to have his good intentions reciprocated with death. It was a cycle. Here he was, a young man not even twenty-three, with the blood of countless men on his hands. It didn't matter the nature of the men. But it wasn't only such "evil men" who he had killed. It made him sick to think it. He had to admit it, he had to take responsibility. He had killed Zhong-Liu. He had killed Bei-Bei. Were he not so brash, so arrogant, they would not have needlessly fallen. The blood could be washed away, but one cannot so easily wash away guilt or or shame or regret. He knelt down and picked up his sword, stared at its once-beautiful blade, now tarnished by death. He shook his head in disgust, tears coursing down his cheeks. Slowly, he rose to his feet and began to walk away. As he did, Jade Eagle attempted one last charge; San-Yao heard him coming, turned his sword around and stabbed behind him, running the warlord through.


Zhang San-Yao rose from his table, finished with his meal, and walked past the men harassing the waitress. He'd been down this road before, and there was nothing at the end of it but suffering.