The dragonblood tree had been there longer than any living man or tale could tell. It's timeless boughs reaching up to the sky had done so for centuries untold yet were unbent in it's age. Everyone knew of the tree, though, for it stood as if a signpost at the center of Yanggok Valley, the deep ravine serving as a crossroads to all civilized lands of men. No other tree stood near it, and, indeed, the trees were sparse in this region as it were. Yanggok is a dry place with no rivers or tributaries within a day's run, but the vale had been lush in its youth. The place, since, had changed little.
The blood against the dry bark of the dragonblood tree, however, was new.
Lothur stood studying the blood for some time. Slowly he walked around the tree and surveyed the area, trying to discern what had happened there and when. The blood had sprayed in a thin arch up, then down the trunk of the tree and pooled at its base. The body was missing, but signs of where it fell remained. Patterns in the dust and small stones near the old tree's roots were there and told a tale of battle. Nothing else could he detect. Lothur completed his circuit and stood for a moment piecing together all of the facts in his head. He decided it must have been a single warrior ambushed by 3 others, all on foot, though he could not tell from whence they came or where they went, so difficult was this terrain to track. "This is a puzzle for another time", he thought. "I am in haste already". With this thought, he turned and sped in the direction of Migong Valley, neighbor to Yanggok, and toward Ling Chi Fortress.
When he reached the pass to Migong, he stopped. The guardians of the valley were sundered. 5 stones normally stood here, suspended in the air with magics imbued upon them by the elders of the Fujin, to defend the entrance to Fujin lands, but they were hewed apart by heavy weaponry and cast down to the ground.
"Jinong spears did this? But why? Is our alliance broken?", asked Lothur to himself. These revelations troubled him, but he did not stay to look around as he did at the tree. If the Jinong had invaded past the entrance to Migong Valley, he would be needed to thwart this invasion. He focused his will as he ran, and achieved even greater speed. His feet and legs were not the only thing making him move. His need and strength of will aided and urged quickness out of them. He moved as fast as a sparrow flies across the uneven ground and cut the shortest path he could through the vale.
Suddenly he lurched to his left, for his focused chi lent him not only speed, but perception, and he dodged narrowly the blue-glowing blade of a spear that lashed out from behind a boulder as he passed. The blow was aimed to cut his chest in two, as it very well would have had he not dodged, and was expertly timed. Lothur spun as he recovered and drew his katana at the same instant, ready to engage this hidden foe. But the enemy did not give him time to prepare, dashing wildly around the boulder swirling his spear in a deadly spiraling dance. Now did Lothur see that this was not a Jinong, but a Nangin formerly from Ronyan Fortress, stronghold of the Jinong. This soldier of the cursed clan fought strangely, not even seeming to look at his foe as he advanced, his face hidden under his horned hat. Rage filled Lothur's eyes and he leapt forward to meet the oncoming spear. They dodged and parried one another's blows for perhaps a second and then the blades came against each other and buckled. Only at this did the Nangin look up from under his hat. A mask he wore, also, and his eyes shone through it, devoid of all emotion. Lothur the Fair met this gaze fearlessly and smirked. He had stopped the dance cold and could tell that it had unsettled the Nangin. He broke the clench with a strong shove and spun backwards focusing his inner strength for a deadly strike and the Nangin did the same.
For 5 full breaths they faced each other unmoving. Then, as quickly as a striking snake, Lothur dashed forward with his katana behind him held low. The former Jinong had acted a heartbeat slower and so had given up first strike. He prepared to parry the blow, but underestimated the skill his foe possessed.
Lothur brought his blade on high from behind and with crushing force dropped it downward toward his enemy's head, just right of center. The Nan warrior raised his spear horizontally to deflect the attack, but it was in vain. Lothur's heavily enchanted katana sliced cleanly through the spear haft and then into the face of the defender. He fell like a stone, instantly lifeless, and the two broken halves of his weapon fell upon him.
The Fair one gazed upon his cowardly foe for a breath and then flung his blade out wide to his right to discard the blood on it, flicking it to the ground, when another opponent seemingly appeared out of nowhere and harried his left side. Lothur was immediately on the defensive, dancing desperately backward and away from the ferocious onslaught of this new fighter.
"This one has me", he thought, "Too well-timed was his attack". He struggled to maintain his balance across the broken ground, and prevailed to a degree, but on pushed his foe.
"To the Abyss with this cur! If he takes me, so shall I take him!" he thought and readied what was to be his last strike and took what was to be his last breath. Suddenly the Nangin paused and the fatal blow he was preparing faltered, for he, himself, was now suddenly being flanked. Lothur could not see this new combatant, for she was standing behind the Nangin warrior, but he didn't need to at that moment. He finished focusing himself and drew his weapon back, blade forward, and prepared a skewering lunge. Just as he was about to release, the Nangin offered him an opening, provided, no doubt, by the other Fujin behind him. He did not hesitate. He pierced his enemy just below the ribcage on his left side and up through his back; a killing blow, but not an instant one. This is exactly what Lothur desired. He straightened from his attack stance as the Nangin dropped his curved blade to the earth. Lothur waited until the fool lifted his head and, with confusion on his face, looked him in the eyes. Then, with a malice held only for such traitors as the Nan, he began slowly and cruelly twisting his sword. The once-Guanyin's face turned from bafflement into unbearable agony and he howled a gurgling cry of anguish. Then he died and only then did Lothur pull free his blade.
"He might have had you, you know" said the newcomer. "I'm glad I found you here when I did and not a few moments later".
"As am I, though no Nangin will ever have me while I wake" said Lothur in reply and smirked again, "though you might".
"Ah, but now is not the time", she laughed, "for I came to bring you word of an incursion. Nangin have poured from Taitu and are bent on destroying our holy stone. Great, indeed, is their anger with us."
"Greater still is mine on them. The traitorous scum deserve all they get from us". He turned and looked at his first foe. The man's head had been nearly cloven in two by his slash, and his left eye was destroyed utterly. The old scar on Lothur's face seemed to itch at the sight of a wound so similar. "They deserve it all".