Written by Miniorchid
Consulting by Juls
Edited by kakashi
As he moved closer to the mountain, Die Feng could feel waves of malevolent energy coming from the forest ahead. The Yellow Demon Princess had told him to wait, but he felt in his bones that Zi Lan was in danger, there was no time to spare.
Dread he hadn't felt in years had resurfaced the moment he saw the shattered mirror. As First disciple of Kunlun, it was his responsibility to look after his juniors. He had failed to watch over 9th and 17th when they were captured by the Ghost King. This had ignited the Ghost War, which had led not only to the death of 9th junior, but also to scattering of Shifu's soul. Though he had made the effort to search for Shifu and Si Yin all those years, it was 17th who had borne the heavy burden of bringing Shifu back to them.
Now he had failed those who depended upon him again. Although he knew Zi Lan had not been himself ever since coming back to Kunlun, and his intensive training had become a distraction to the point of obsession, Die Feng had not taken the time to look further into the matter like a good leader would have. Because he had not, his junior was now facing grave danger alone.
Silently praying it was not too late, Die Feng rushed ahead. He saw immediately that 16th was alive when he arrived - though surrounded by a multitude of black clad, masked assassins. Heart racing, Die Feng cloud jumped between three of them and 16th, just in time to parry the deathly blow away from his junior, high kick them to the ground and then blast them away with his magic. This bought them some time.
"Senior?" 16th coughed, "I-".
"16th, are you alright?" Die Feng asked. But 16th was not, as he saw immediately - he had sustained injuries, his shoulder and back were slashed and bloody and he was breathing heavily.
Nodding, 16th said, "I am fine, don't worry - it's not me they're after, the targets are the Ghost Princess and her child! Please help me to protect them!"
Although Die Feng had a lot of battle experience, assassins were a league of their own. They tended to fight dirty and were often specifically trained to reach their mission goal upon cost of their own lives, which made them far more dangerous than the normal soldier. Nearby, the Ghost Princess was fending off a new attack with her bow and arrows, a small, blindfolded child strapped to her back. Without another word, the two Kunlun disciples raced to her aide and thrust their swords into the assassins backs and then moved to either side of her. They were immediately surrounded by twenty men.
"I have killed a good amount already," 16th informed Die Feng, and pointed his chin in the direction of some black-clad bodies, "but new ones keep appearing out of thin air!"
They were too vulnerable, Die Feng realized. The sheer number of the opponents was a big problem. He would have to weaken them, now, to create an opening for 16th and his charge to retreat. "Shield them," he ordered 16th, "stay put!"
Die Feng cloud jumped outside the circle of assassins, taking down two from behind, clashing swords with a third. Die Feng turned to his side, grabbed the opponent's arm with his right hand, and hit his neck with his left elbow, knocking him out. Sensing attackers behind him, he quickly bent forward, narrowly avoiding the blades that were thrust at him, then backflipped, kicked the assailants shins and slashed their chests upon his landing. He was drawing enough attention to himself to slowly move the assassins away, just enough for that opening 16th and the Ghost Princess needed.
The brothers made eye contact and 16th started to usher the Ghost Princess away, hacking at the enemy while retreating. Die Feng kept attacking the assassins from behind, feeling increasingly uneasy. Unlike the dark magic puppets from the Ghost realm they had fought before, who had been devoid of any emotions, these assassins were filled with unsettling blood lust. Their aura was expertly hidden, so it was impossible to say what tribe they came from, but even in the moment of their deaths, they wanted more. They had no fear whatsoever, the perfect killing tools.
Together, the two brothers managed to cut down ten more assassins, and Die Feng allowed himself to hope for the first time since his arrival that they would make it out alive, when ten additional assassins manifested in front of 16th and the Princess. She shot arrows at them, while 16th used his swords to fend them off - however, when he kicked away the assassin in front, another assassin threw a dagger at his leg from behind, hitting him square in the calf. Zhi Lan fell to the ground with a shout of pain. Before another assassin could pierce him with his sword, an arrow, delivered by the Ghost Princess, hit him in his chest and threw him backwards.
"Zi Lan!" the Ghost Princess called out and wanted to rush towards 16th, but her path was blocked by another black-clad warrior. She shot an arrow, but he parried it away; giving her the opportunity to jump forward, kick away the sword in his hand, then stab him in the chest with another arrow. She would soon be out of arrows entirely, Die Feng noticed.
The Ghost Princess ran to 16th's side to shield him and the assassins closed in on them again immediately. Panic crept up on Die Feng. No....he wouldn't allow himself any weakness. Die Feng cloud jumped in front of his junior, stabbing, slashing, killing. And yet, they were surrounded again, and 16th was heavily injured.
"16th, get up!" Die Feng ordered, "we need to get out of here."
16th shook his head, "I cannot. Leave me, take them to safety."
"No!" Both Die Feng and the Ghost Princess shouted.
"Senior, you have no choice, leave me!"
"Kunlun disciples do not leave anyone behind."
Die Feng threw his sword up, like Shifu had taught him, and it multiplied into four - he had never before managed more than three in less desperate situations. The swords spun in the air, creating a strong wind. Die Feng commanded them against the assassins, killing several instantly. But that too wasn't enough, other assassins blocked and one attacked Die Feng, who had no time to summon his sword back to him. Luckily, he managed to dodge the opponent's sword, then grabbed his wrist and shoulder and smashed him to the ground. Now calling back his sword, Die Feng stabbed his opponent in the chest. Sensing danger from behind, Die Feng pulled the blade out, and spun around just in time to embed the blade into another assassin's abdomen.
"Senior! Take them to safety, please!!" 16th begged.
"16th, we are going to get out of this together," he told him, "I promise."
He would not bury another junior. Not ever again.
At that moment, two assassins came flying from above. Die Feng kicked the ground to propel himself up and managed to clash sword with one - but the second flew right past him. Seeing his own way barred by several opponents, he could only helplessly watch as 16th pulled the reluctant Ghost Princess behind him to await the inevitable. All was lost. They would die here. He had failed again. He had never imagined his death to be so pointless and unheroic.
Die Feng was about to launch forward for a last, desperate attack when suddenly, the assassin above 16th was pulled away by a chain whip around his waist and thrown into a group of assassins down below.
The Yellow Demon Princess had arrived.
"Die Feng!" she called out when she landed on her feet, sounding ... upset? Two assassins swung their swords at her, but she backflipped away from their blades.
"Princess!" Die Feng never thought the day would come he would be so delighted to see her unannounced arrival.
She whipped the chain around another assassins neck, pulled him towards her, and kicked him away. "Didn't I tell you to wait," she accused him. Yes, she was indeed angry.
Die Feng dodged an attack, spun around, and slashed another opponent on his back. "Princess, my apologies, but could we talk later?" he asked.
"You left without me," she said as she swung the blade of her chain whip into an assassin's neck, the chain glowing white. When she pulled her weapon back, the assassin flipped forward and was instantly dead.
Die Feng kicked the opponent behind him and impaled his blade into the one in front. "This is not the best time to debate about my failure to bring you along," he tried to reason.
Four assassins thought they could attack her all at once, but the Demon Princess spun her body upwards, her chain whip propelling around her. Her whip glowing again upon her landing, she looked at Die Feng and pouted: "I was worried."
"It was not my intention to make you worry, Princess." Die Feng dodged two more blows, before he punched the assassin in the face, knocking him out.
She swung her chain whip behind her and it wrapped around another assassin's neck. "Stop calling me Princess! I have a name, and it's Li Ying!"
Pulling on her chain, she lifted the assassin over her head and slammed him into the ground in front of her, sending a wave of unprecedented white energy in all directions, knocking back the assassins in close proximity.
Die Feng froze, speechless. Equally the assassins: There was a moment of indecision when all of them froze and looked at each other... before they all cloud jumped away. By some silent magical command, all the bodies around them dissolved, including all the weapons, leaving no trace or clue.
There was no time to ponder this hasty retreat of a force that had had the upper hand. 16th was heavily injured, he might even lose the command of his leg if they did not head back to Kunlun and got the right treatment. Die Feng rushed towards 16th, but a fuming Yellow Demon Princess blocked his way.
"Zi Lan is injured," he informed her with a scowl, "he needs my immediate assistance."
He must have looked frightful or worried, because her anger quickly diminished. "Oh." She stepped aside to let him pass and followed him.
The Ghost Princess had tied a handkerchief around 16th's leg wound after stopping the bleeding with her magic. The dagger had dissolved like everything else - they had no possibility to trace these assassins now. 16th face was white as a sheet - he had lost a lot of blood.
"I'm alright," he claimed as he removed the white blindfold from the child's face on Yan Zhi's back with magic.
"En Gong," the little girl cried. She tried to reach for him.
"You're safe now little one, don't cry," he wiped away the child's tears with shaking hands and looked at the Ghost Princess. "Please, I beg you, come to Kunlun with us, you too are wounded. We will protect you."
They looked at each other in silence. The Ghost Princess closed her eyes briefly, and finally nodded, bringing relief to 16th's pained face.
"16th, how are your injuries?" Die Feng asked, but he got jabbed in the stomach by the Yellow Demon Princess. He looked at her perplexed, was she still mad?
She pulled at his arm, lowering his ears to her lips. "They're having a moment," she whispered.
"Moment?" Die Feng asked in confusion.
"I'm alright, Senior." 16th dragged himself up with support of his sword and the assistance of the Ghost Princess, who was bleeding herself from a wound at her arm. "Let's return immediately, we don't know when the next party will arrive."
"Tell me everything."
Zi Lan did. Unknown assassins had kept attacking the last living descendants of Qing Cang's royal bloodline. For months, 16th had helped to fend off their attacks in the mortal realm. But the number of assassins had increased each time and when they had ambushed them at the teahouse, they had been completely outnumbered. So they had run to the forest.
Listening to 16th, Die Feng realized this had to be reported to Shifu immediately. Whoever was behind it, this attempt to assassinate the royal descendants of the Ghost Clan was most likely connected to the impending war Shifu was preparing for.
"Let's retreat," he said, "the God of War needs to know about this."
"I've heard so many stories, I've always wanted to see Kunlun! And I can't wait to see the Demon High Goddess again, I admire her so!" The Yellow Demon Princess excitedly announced.
Die Feng felt a new sort of panic rise. Impending war or not, he still had his own trial to deal with. The smiling Demon Princess had just invited herself to Kunlun - and they owed her multiple life-debts. He dreaded to find out how Shifu would take the news.
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