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Cosmic horror, fantasy, sci-fi, wuxia/xianxia
Stolen Peaches
During the Great Martial Arts Meet, Grand Elder Lufu of the Azure Blade Sect was murdered by a mysterious shadowy assassin. In the chaos of the murder, the assassin took the opportunity to steal the miraculous Peach of Immortality intended to be presented to the winner of the meet.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Azure Blade Sect has chosen to seal off their mountain with their grand array, preventing anyone or anything from entering or leaving. It has been over a week since, and no further victims of the assassin have appeared. Nobody has found so much as a lead, and the Azure Blade Sect is beginning to grow worried.

After much discussion, the Azure Blade Sect's council of elders has chosen to briefly open the mountain to invite great investigators and martial artists to aid them in their investigations.

Stolen Peaches is a followup to The Great Martial Arts Meet. It carries forwards the xianxia setting created for the setting and picks up where the previous charp ended. Stolen Peaches will be an episodic series of cascading events arising from the murder of Grand Elder Lufu. You are free to decide what role you want to play, whether that be an elder of a sect, a rogue cultivator, or just a simple investigator visiting to attempt to solve the mystery of an incredibly high-profile murder.

The first episode will focus on the investigation of Grand Elder Lufu's murder, with the result of the investigation carrying forward to influence subsequent episodes. The plots of further episodes will be announced both here and in the OOC thread on the discord following the conclusion of each episode. Focuses on each episode will vary. Some episodes will be almost solely focused on supernatural action similar to The Great Martial Arts Meet, while others will be more focused on investigation or intrigue.

Stolen Peaches is intended to run Saturdays from 1:00-4:00PM CST, starting February 3rd.

In the Iwaku Discord, under the Roleplaying - Fantasy section.

Characters do not need to be vetted, and people are free to jump in and out as availability and interest dictate. If you have questions and/or want to chat or share characters, feel free to do so either here or on the Iwaku discord! If you're not familiar with the Xianxia genre but think you may be interested anyways, please feel free to reach out to me! I'm always more than happy to help explain and/or help to put together characters! My username on discord is "kookyboy9".

The following post or two will contain a synopsis of the story so far.
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A week after the assassination of Grand Elder Lufu, the Azure Blade Sect Protecting Formation was temporarily lifted to allow outside talent to enter the sect to aid in the investigation. Attempting to take advantage of the chaos, the assassin slipped into the gathering, attempting to use a shadow movement technique to slip out under the eyes of the elders. Unfortunately for them, Elder Cheng spotted the suspicious shadow and moved swiftly, forcing the assassin to flee back into the sect, leaving behind a pair of sect tokens. One token belonged to an inner disciple of the Azure Blade Sect by the name of Xiao Lifeng, while nobody present could identify the other token.

After a swift examination of the tokens, Zi Dian, Yu Xuan, and Shen Jian chased after the lingering aura of the culprit while Xiao Dan stayed behind to inform the elders of the Azure Blade Sect of the group's findings.

In their chase, pursuit group came upon a clearing where Shen Jian used a blood dowsing technique to track the culprit to Xiao Lifang's abode, unfortunately finding that the disciple was long since dead, his essence drained through a demonic technique with the true culprit nowhere to be seen!

Shortly after, the investigators are briefed by the Azure Blade Sect Elders. As they split up to search for the disguised culprit, Shen Jian notices that the unidentified token was attempting to shadow travel somewhere. With the help of Yu Xuan, she is able to stop it, and they are able to use the token to travel directly to the culprit while the Azure Blade Sect Elders rally to provide support.

Now at the culprit's location, the group finds themselves before three other investigators. Yu Xuan is able to use his imperial training to determine which of the investigators is the thief, and he retaliates in a desperate bid to escape. Unfortunately for him, the group ties him up for long enough for the Azure Blade Sect Elders to close in on their flying swords. Realizing that he is in a dead end, the assassin uses a secret art to use the power of the Peach of Immortality to bring forth a black hole!
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Helpful Terms
Sect - A gathering of otherwise unrelated martial artists around a central ideal or set of teachings. Many schools qualify as sects, but are run more as an educational institution rather than an organization.

Clan - A family of blood-related martial artists. Generally less powerful than a sect, although great clans often have resources and techniques as good as or better than sects due to the sheer depth of their inheritance.

Elder - A martial artist of the previous generation belonging to a sect or clan. They're typically awarded positions of high standing in sects due to their great power.

Grand Elder - A martial artist of the generation prior to the current elders belonging to a sect or clan. They're the absolute peak of the martial arts world, and many have partially transcended mortality to live far longer than the average human.

Core Disciple - The direct disciple of an elder or grand elder of a sect.

Inner Disciple - A true member of a sect or school of a sect.

Outer Disciple - A member of a sect or school not important or skilled enough to be taught the true inheritances of the school or sect.

Rogue Martial Artist/Cultivator - A martial artist not belonging to a sect, clan, or school.

Hermit - A rogue martial artist who has reached a level of mastery similar to a grand elder.
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kookyboy9OPToday at 12:03 PM

A crowd had gathered at the Azure Blade Sect's gate at the base of Shattered Sword Mountain. The crowd was bisected in two by the gate, with a large dome of energy crackling around the mountain. Dozens of symbols floated across the barrier, spelling out wards and restrictions. Outside the gate, a throng of martial artists and investigators had gathered. On the inside of the gate, the elders of the Azure Blade Sect sat in meditation, waiting for the appointed moment.The moment was short to arrive, as all nine elders simultaneously stood, brandishing glowing tokens. The gate slowly swung open, creating a path through the formation guarding the rest of the mountain.

One of the elders stepped forward and addressed the crowd outside."Welcome, all of you. I am Elder Cheng of the Azure Blade Sect. While I would normally like to offer you our hospitality, I'm afraid that the reason for our request is far too urgent. Please, step inside before the culprit manages to slip out." (If your character would not have been present at the Great Martial Arts meet, they begin outside the gate. If they would have been present, they would already be present on the mountain, as nobody has been permitted to leave for the week that the mountain has been sealed.)

Zarko StraadiToday at 12:22 PM

Zi Dian watched the ceremony in silence along with the contestants and the other martial artists who had been inside the mountain when it was sealed. Her ire burned. Her Clan Elders had determined that her one win in the interrupted tournament was not sufficient to earn her a full Initiation into the Clan. Instead, they had instructed her to seek out and join the most promising-looking investigation into the theft of the Peach, and report to them on its progress. Her instructions offered no indication of any knowledge the Scarlet Spider Clan might have of the affair, or whether they might be involved.

The "most promising-looking investigation" had to be the one being conducted by the Azure Blade Elders themselves, and they had politely turned down her offers of assistance. That left her with the second-best choice: a group of warriors who would otherwise have been her competitors..

Yu Xuan hadn't had any better luck. He had, in fact, ended up in the same group. Which left him straining to avoid giving hostile glances toward the member he liked least, a woman named Shen Jian, and the one he trusted least, the Spider Clan Apprentice. Worst of all, he was nowhere closer to finding the Peach of Immortality. Did it even still exist? The thief could have simply eaten the evidence of their crime by now. And perhaps, if they'd actually planned their theft properly, they'd have had a way to escape the Mountain before Azure Blade could seal it, so they could be far away, living their best immortal life..

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:05 PM

The crowd began to slowly funnel in through the gate under the watch of the Elders. However, roughly halfway through, a shift occurred in the stances of the elders. Elder Cheng drew his blade, stabbing it deep into the shadow of the gate as a shadowy figure rocketed out. The remaining elders gathered inside the gate, blocking the path of the shadow, forcing them to come to a halt. Elder Chen's followup strike with his blade forced the figure to fall back, a pair of tokens falling from the now-severed cord that had been holding them.The figure exchanged a few more blows with Elder Chen before suddenly dissipating into shadows that surged backwards into the mountain, apparently giving up on escaping for now.

The Elder turned to face the rest of the crowd."As you can see, this is the reason for our calling you here today. We sincerely hope that one of you are able to unmask whoever this shadowy figure is. Any clues towards their identity will be rewarded. If you somehow manage to capture the culprit, you will receive a much greater reward."The rest of the crowd was able to move through the gate without issue, following which the elders once more sealed the sect. The two tokens were left on the ground, nobody allowed to touch them in fear that any lingering traces of the culprit would dissipate if disturbed. Investigators were, however, allowed to look and use clairvoyant abilities on the tokens. The first token was a token belonging to an inner disciple of the Azure Blade Sect's alchemy peak. The second was an unknown token depicting shadowy clouds overtaking the sun.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:30 PM

Shen Jian watched the Azure Blade ritual with interest. Their magic was powerful--not subtle at all, but not ostentatious and flashy either. She had not had good fortune in her quest either. For one thing, it was difficult to investigate when she had no trust for two of her "compatriots." Their dark auras alone made them the sort of fellow contestants she would have wanted to keep away from the Peach in the first place. Elder Xiao had reminded her that half of the Yin-Yang was dark, and the greatest extent of darkness held a point of light. Yet, they weren't exactly open and forthcoming with her either. On the other hand, they hadn't done anything to give her just reason to refuse cooperation. Find the Peach. Sail the river; face the rapids when I reach them, she thought.

Further contemplation was interrupted by an escape attempt by a shadowy figure, but thankfully it seemed that Elder Chen had been able to prevent their escape. Seeing the technique they used, she cast a glance toward the Prince, Yu Xuan. He was standing a little more stiffly than before. He knows something, she thought. "Would you like to join me in examining the Tokens?" she asked, casting her eyes to include the Prince, the young assassin, and the Elemental Cloud Elder. The others nodded, and walked with her toward the Tokens. "Please do not touch them," she said, then crouched and held her hand over each one, concentrating and letting her eyes go out of focus so she could concentrate on sensing their auras. The Prince and the Elder each took turns sensing the Tokens, while the Scarlet Spider assassin watched with arms folded..

Aside from taking an opportunity to sense the auras of the Tokens, Xiao Dan held his tongue. So long as there was no need to overshadow the young contestants, he would give them a free hand, and assist as needed.

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:42 PM

Many of the investigators also joined the group in examining the tokens. The Azure Blade Sect token was clearly just a normal token of the sect. The second token, however, was much more of a mystery. It clearly did something, but what exactly was difficult to ascertain without thorough analysis of the item. When examined with clairvoyant abilities, however, the tokens revealed something new. The Azure Blade Token had two separate auras on it. One was much stronger, clearly the long-time owner of the token. The second was a much weaker aura that was clearly attempting to closely mimic the energy of the original. Furthermore, the weaker aura closely matched that of the aura on the second. This same aura could be vaguely felt in a thin stream where the assassin had escaped from the Azure Blade Sect elders.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:52 PM

"Can you sense the trace?" Xiao Dan asked Shen Jian. She nodded. "Good. You three, follow it. I will join you shortly," he said, then went to one of the other Azure Blade Elders, so that Elder Chen would not be distracted from being ready to stop another escape attempt should the Shadow Walker try again. "Excuse me," he said, then explained the Tokens' auras. "If I may ask, which of you has the most contact with other members of your Sect? Could you have them sense the aura of the Azure Blade Token, to see if they can identify its proper owner? Is anyone from your Sect missing?"

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:04 PM

Shen Jian hurried away with the other two, moving as quickly as she could while still being able to sense and follow the aural trace. "With respect, Your Highness," she said to Yu Xuan, "the power used by the killer seems similar to what you used in the Arena. Do you know of anyone who could have done what we have seen? Or anything about the Token with the shadow clouds?"

The Prince gave her a cross look and remained silent for a few moments, but finally he huffed, and spoke. "The Token can be used by anyone who wields Shadow. As for the power, it is called Shadow Walk. It too can be used by any Shadow wielder who knows it, and has sufficient training and mental discipline. It allows the user to step into a shadow and emerge from another. The more skilled the wielder, the farther they can Walk. It cannot bypass powerful Light wards, such as the ones Azure Blade is using to seal the Mountain, so as long as they are able to maintain them, the thief cannot escape."

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:12 PM

Zi Dian followed in silence. What should I do? she thought. Those two will probably fight over the Peach if we find it. Should I try to take it for myself? That thought felt more than a little dangerous. As tempting as the prospect of immortality was (especially if it came with everlasting youth and beauty!), it had a serious downside, given that the more advanced members of her Clan were well-known for the ability to administer fates worse than death. Her Elders had not told her to retrieve the Peach, only to assist the investigation and keep them apprised of events. Was that because one of them already had it, or simply because they did not consider her capable or worthy of the task?

kookyboy9OPToday at 2:19 PM

The elder turned to face Xiao Dan, eventually waving a disciple of the sect over. "Unfortunately, there're far too many disciples for us elders to be well-acquainted with many of them. However, this is Yu Ling, the manager of the alchemy peak."He turns to face Yu Ling. "Yu Ling, please answer the elder's questions."

Yu Ling paused for a moment to investigate the token before turning back to Xiao Dan. "This token appears to belong to Xiao Lifang. It's somewhat difficult to determine if someone from the peak has gone missing, however, given that they often leave on sect missions without informing me. Would you like me to look into that?"The group following the trace, on the other hand, found themselves in a clearing in the woods where the trail stopped. A few drops of blood had fallen to the ground, evidently some sort of injury sustained by the suspect during their exchange with Elder Cheng. A trail of footprints lead out of the clearing, but left little trail as they soon reached a cobblestone path.

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:33 PM

"Please do, Elder Ling," Xiao Dan said. "While the thief may have simply stolen the Token from Xiao Lifang, I am concerned that worse may have befallen them. If Xiao Lifang is safe, and I pray that it is so, they may have seen the thief, or otherwise have clues to their identity."

Spotting the drops of blood, Shen Jian crouched beside it, clapped her hands together to show respect to the spirits of the land, then held her right hand over the blood, opening herself to sense the subtle currents that flowed in the present moment.

"What are we waiting for?" Zi Dian said. "They're getting away!"

"The obvious path is not necessarily the right path. All things are connected, but the bond of blood and body is strong enough to stand out against lesser ties," Jian replied as she sought out the skein of connection between the thief's blood and their body, in hopes of being able to follow that aural trace to them.

  • kookyboy9OPToday at 2:36 PM

    Elder Ling nods and gestures for Yu Ling to go. Yu Ling rushes off down one of the paths as the elder focuses his attention back on Xia Dan.

  • "Very well. Is there anything else that you've noticed in your examination?"

  • Shen Jian's examination of the blood yields good results. Although it takes a few moments to establish the connection, she can feel the owner of the blood fleeing eastward towards the nearby peak at a swift pace. However, the footprints lead west.

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:52 PM

"The aural trace leads east," Shian Jian said, casting a glance toward the footprints heading in the other direction. "Pfft. Follow the aura," Zi Dian said. "That's just Vanishing Steps. It creates footprints to throw off pursuit." An Assassin's move, but that was hardly a surprise. The thief was clearly an Assassin, and a good one at that, being able to bring down an Elder with such speed and ease.

"Thank you," Jian replied, and started leading them eastward along the aural trace. "Your Highness, you will be more attuned to Shadow than either of us. Could you please remain vigilant? You may be able to sense the enemy's presence before we can.

"You think I am doing otherwise?" Yu Xuan snapped.

"I meant no offense."

Yu Xuan rolled his eyes, but returned his focus to seeking out any trace of Shadow qi.

Xiao Dan
nodded, stroking his beard. I have sensed certain currents of emotion among the young contestants I have been working with. The Prince is tense, guarded. He may be concerned that some rival of his, perhaps a member of the Qin Royal Family, or a noble with similar training to his own, is responsible. His misgivings are diffuse, so he does not have a particular individual in mind. My intuition tells me that the Scarlet Spider Clan Apprentice suspects her own Clan, and is confused about what role she is expected to play, though she also has no certainty.

"If you have no further need of me, I should follow the others, so that I may assist them if they find the thief."

kookyboy9OPToday at 3:06 PM

The investigation group follows the aura of the blood to a residence on the Alchemy peak, just in time to find Yu Ling opening the door. A wave of stench rolls out of the now-opened door, revealing the desiccated corpse of a dead disciple of the Azure Blade Sect. He has quite obviously been dead for days at least, but the blood connection leads back to his corpse.

Yu Ling seems saddened by the revelation, and leaves to inform the elders of what had occurred. Although it is unclear exactly what technique may have been used to fool the blood dowsing performed by Shen Jian, it is clear that they had been outwitted, and the culprit had slipped their pursuit.

Meanwhile, Elder Cheng nods as Xiao Dan explains his suspicions. "I see. The young prince's worries are well-founded, although we've ascertained through our own investigation that none of the experts of the Qin Empire with sufficient skill to assassinate the Grand Elder are in attendance."

As he finishes speaking, Yu Ling runs back into the gate clearing. He skids to a stop and offers a bow to the elder.

"Elder Cheng, Xiao Lifang has been found dead in his residence. It appears that he has been dead for some time. His essence has been drained, and considering that I spoke to him just the morning, it appears likely that the assassin has been masquerading as him for some time."The elder's face darkens at the news as he speaks to Xiao Dan. "I do believe that would be all for now. I shall be engaging in a search of the surroundings. If you desire to investigate the disciple's corpse, Yu Ling will bring you to the residence."
This week's story will continue where last week's left off.

The assassin has managed to elude pursuit, but it has been revealed that they are using a demonic disguise technique to hide in plain sight. The Azure Blade Sect Elders have mandated that all disciples are to travel in pairs, and have begun searching the houses on the mountain for more dead disciples that the assassin could be disguising themself as. The investigators and martial artists have been briefed, and now the clock is ticking to be the first to locate the culprit!
Logs, courtesy of @Zarko Straadi
The Elders of the Azure Blade Sect called a short meeting with the investigators to share the information on the assassin's transformation ability, urging the investigators to double check the identity of anyone they come into contact with after a period of separation. They also begin a sect-wide tally of all disciples remaining within the barrier in an attempt to flush the imposter out of their hiding.As the sect elders conduct their search, the investigators slowly disperse to search for additional clues around the sect, many now focused on searching abodes for dead disciples that may now be the assassin's new identity.

Zarko StraadiToday at 12:20 PM

Just before the group was about to depart, Shen Jian had an idea. She hurried over to Elder Cheng and bowed. "Excuse me, Elder Cheng. "While we pursue the assassin, it would be wise to also wait in front of them. Are there any other items, besides the Peach, that they might wish to steal? Especially any that might help them escape the barrier? Also, are there any individuals who are important to maintaining the barrier, who are not doing so or presently under the best protection? Or anyone who could be used to breach it in one way or another, such as a scholar who teaches the skill of creating such a barrier, or someone who knows counter-sigils? If so, such people should be brought to a defensible location so that they can be protected."If there is anything I can do to assist, I am at your service."

kookyboy9OPToday at 12:24 PM

Elder Cheng pauses for a moment to think before nodding."The barrier formation is safe. For security reasons, I hope you can understand that I cannot explain our precautions. As for other items that the thief may desire..."He stops to think again. "They will likely desire to retrieve their token that they lost alongside Xiao Lifeng's Azure Blade Token. Also, and though I doubt this, they may be interested in the late Grand Elder's peach tree, although even we have yet to breach the formations he had on his personal abode."

Zarko StraadiToday at 12:34 PM

"Of course Elder, your precautions must be kept secret," Shen Jian replied. Her expression turned thoughtful for a moment. "Is there anyone here who might know anything about the Grand Elder's formations that you do not, such as an old friend in another Sect, or an Elder who could have helped him create them?"

"What's taking her so long?!* Zi Dian said. "Maybe we should go without her and let her catch up if she can," she snapped.

kookyboy9OPToday at 12:36 PM

Elder Cheng shook his head."Unfortunately, the Grand Elder designed the formations himself, and they're entirely sustained by the spiritual vein beneath his abode. He did have a few friends outside the sect, but all are hermits living in danger zones, and as such virtually impossible to contact without advanced notice."

Zarko StraadiToday at 12:38 PM

"Patience, child," Xiao Dan said. "In a hunt such as this, wisdom is more important than swiftness of foot."

."Is there any way to disrupt or destroy this spiritual vein? You would never think to do so, but the assassin might." Shen Jian said.

Zi Dian huffed, but said nothing more, leaving it to her tapping foot to express her ire.Yu Xuan remained silent through the drama. I wonder which of the women is going to be the more irritating? It is a close contest thus far, he thought.

kookyboy9OPToday at 12:43 PM

Elder Cheng shook his head."If the assassin had the capability of severing spiritual veins, then they would already be home free and the sect's defensive formation would have long since fallen."

Zarko StraadiToday at 12:45 PM

"Ah. Thank you, Elder Cheng," Shen Jian said, then bowed. "Is there anything you wish of me?"

kookyboy9OPToday at 12:51 PM

Elder Cheng gave Shen Jian a small, tired smile."Go see if you can find the culprit."

  • Zarko StraadiToday at 12:52 PM

    "Yes, Elder Cheng, I will do my--oh, my apologies, one more question," Shen Jian said. "Is there anyone whom you send through the barrier, such as to procure supplies or relay messages?"

  • kookyboy9OPToday at 12:53 PM

    He shakes his head."No, the sect is self-sufficient, even with the formation active. If we need to transmit a message outside, we have contacts outside of the barrier to serve as go-betweens."

  • Off to the side of the pair, the mystery token begins to sink into its own shadow.

  • Zarko StraadiToday at 12:58 PM

    Sensing the current of magic, Shen Jian's head snapped to the token. She lunged to snatch it in a blur of motion.

  • kookyboy9OPToday at 12:59 PM

    Shen Jian attempts to grab at the token, but finds the shadow it is sinking into to be entirely impermeable to her hand. It sinks slightly further, now more than halfway submerged.

  • Zarko StraadiToday at 1:04 PM

    "Yu Xuan, help!" she cried. Yu Xuan turned toward her, considering the idea of being reluctant about it, until he saw what she needed help with. With a swirl of his hands, he sank into a deep dragon stance, whorls of shadow trailing from his hands. Thrusting a hand forcefully toward the token with his fingers bent into claws, he launched a stream of shadow that formed a reptilian claw, grasped the token, and sought to pull it free.

  • kookyboy9OPToday at 1:05 PM

    The stream of shadow mixed with the puddle below the token, allowing his shadowy claw to gain purchase on the token, jerking it free. The token sails into the air before landing on the ground once again.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:07 PM

Yu Xuan quickly made the same gesture with his other hand to send another shadow claw to grab the token from the ground.

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:08 PM

The claw scoops up the token, delivering it to Yu Xuan's hand. At some point, the token appears to have activated some sort of built-in mechanism, and now is wreathed in an aura of shadow.

  • Zarko StraadiToday at 1:12 PM

    "Let's find out what this thing does, shall we?" Yu Xuan said, holding his other hand over the token and turning his focus toward sensing the shadow aura and the token beyond.Shen Jian hurried to his side. Zi Dian opened her mouth to offer a snide comment, but Shen Jian held up her hand to silence her, flicking her eyes toward the prince: do nothing to disrupt his concentration.

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:14 PM

The shadow aura appears to be some sort of shadow travel technique embedded into the token. If Yu Xuan's mastery of shadow techniques is good enough, he may be able to either track the technique to its destination or even just simply hijack the technique to bring himself and anyone else he desires along for the ride.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:26 PM

Yu Xuan's lips curled into a cocky smirk. "I can trace the Shadow Path to the assassin...or carry us along it.""Let's go then!" Zi Dian said, bristling for a fight."It could be a trap," Shen Jian said. "They have deceived us before." "Very well, I shall trace it then. Go ask the Elder if he has any other means of instantaneous transport we can use that can get us there undetected.""I can get us there with great speed," Xiao Dan said. "Not instantaneously, but far faster than walking," he said with a twinkle in his eye.Jian nodded, and hurried back to Elder Cheng. "Please excuse me again, Elder," she said. "The prince is able to trace the direction of the 'Shadow Path' the assassin was using to try to take the token. Do you have a means of instantaneous transport?"

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:28 PM

"Instantaneous? No. I have my own movement technique for short distances, or we can use flying swords to send you somewhere quickly."

As Shen Jian spoke to Elder Cheng, however, the technique began to disperse, the shadows growing thinner and bits of the token beneath beginning to show through.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:40 PM

"We're running out of time!" Yu Xuan said. If he tried to sustain the connection with his own Shadow power, he would very likely alert the assassin.Shen Jian hastily bowed to the Elder and rushed back to the others."Let's gooooo," Zi Dian said before Jian or anyone else could try to offer any words of patience or wisdom."Better to act in battle than hesitate," Xiao Dan said. Jian tried to hide her surprise, but...he had a point. She nodded."Come close, quickly!" Yu Xuan said. The others gathered, and he formed the mudra to bring them along the Shadow Path to confront whatever awaited on the other side...

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:45 PM

As Shen Jian rushed away from Elder Chen, he threw a token with his name written on it to her."Carry this on you and I'll be able to track where you come out the other side and come to assist as long as it's within the Sect-Protecting Formation."Yu Xuan and the other sink into their shadows as though they are water. A current in the inky blackness seizes the group, dragging them along. After a few moment of travel, a light appears ahead of them as they are ejected from the shadows, landing in front of a group of three investigators. A panicked look briefly shot across one of the investigator's faces as the group shot out of the shadow, but was quickly replaced by a more neutral expression."Can we help all of you?"

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:48 PM

"We need to speak with you, alone," Yu Xuan said to the one who had given the brief flash of fear.

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:50 PM

The investigator nods."Alright, then." He turns to the other two investigators before continuing, "Hopefully that should be enough for you to work off of. We can meet back up later to share our findings when I've finished speaking to these four."

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:00 PM

Once the others had left, Xuan turned to Shen and said, "I presume you have some kind of illumination mudra? Use it."Shen Jian sank into a cat stance and put her hands in front of her sternum, wrists touching, hands aimed up and down. Her fingers shaped into that created a warm globe of brilliant light, almost like a miniature sun, banishing shadows from around the group. Xuan tensed with discomfort, but kept his face a stoic mask. "We are taking you into custody as a suspect in the murder of the Grand Elder." Zi Dian's expression turned even more fierce than usual, a lopsided grin on her blood-red lips. Go ahead, fight us, I dare you! she thought.

kookyboy9OPToday at 2:01 PM

The investigator pauses as a flash of alarm passes through his eyes again, but attempts to play off the pause as being taken aback. "...I'm sorry? That's absolutely absurd."

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:07 PM

Yu Xuan turned to Dian. "You're from what is it, the Red Spider Clan?"Zi Dian's eyes narrowed. "Scarlet Spider Clan.""Good. Bind him." Dian bristled at the prince's commanding tone, but she shifted to a front stance and shaped her hands into the mudra of a spider Westerners would one day call the Darwin's Bark Spider. She thrust her hands toward the suspect and cast a stream of magically-infused webbing of immense tensile strength at the man.

kookyboy9OPToday at 2:10 PM

As Yu Xuan turned away, the investigator's hand was enveloped by shadow and shot forward as a spear, devouring anything the shadows came into contact with. As the webbing shot at him, the man sunk into the shadow beneath him before reappearing somehow both behind Shen Jian and Xiao Dan to strike them with roundhouse kicks delivered by shadow-encased legs.

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:40 PM

With a grunt of annoyance, Xiao Dan shifted to a cloud form that allowed the assassin's leg to pass through. Then lighting flashed within him and struck toward his attacker.With her focus on her illumination mudra, Shen Jian did not sense the new attacker until it was almost too late. She leaned to fall away from the kick, swinging an arm to block. His leg struck with a twinge of pain, but she dispersed most of its force by rolling away from him and into a back stance, hand sweeping into a mudra that caused her hanfu to begin shimmering with blue-white light. Then she reached for the token Elder Cheng had given her, took it and thought, We've found him, please come quickly!"Aiiii't--HA!" Zi Dian shouted, striking toward Jian's attacker with a flat hand, fingers held slightly apart. Shafts of blood-red light shot from her fingers that would cut like the sharpest sword.Yu Xuan let the others have their fun for the moment. He was focused mainly on being ready to prevent the assassin from creating a new Shadow Path to escape, but he also extended his senses toward the two figures to sort out which was man and which was shadow.

kookyboy9OPToday at 2:43 PM

The figure attacking Xiao Dan burst, releasing a cloud of shadow around the elder. The one that had struck Shen Jian, on the other hand, unleashed his shadow spear technique once more, clashing directly against Zi Dian's finger technique. He used the resulting recoil from the clash to launch himself into the sky, his eyes seizing on something in the distance.He glowered, beginning to form hand signs as he slowly floated towards the ground, his energy growing greater and greater as a jade box from within his robes floats out in front of him.

Zarko StraadiToday at 3:00 PM

Zi Dian formed the Trap Door Mudra just in time to vanish into the ground as shards of the assassin's spear hissed through the air where she'd been. One of them had managed to graze her cheekbone with a small cut, the sting of it only fueling her will. As with her opponent in the arena, she surged from under a trap door of earth, with two sets of extra arms reaching to grab him while she thrust at him with twin daggers in her natural hands.Yu Xuan thrust two Shadow Dragon Claws at him, one aiming to seize the box as he had the token, the other reaching for the man's face.Shen Jian swished her arms out to the side, rising into the air with a flying jump spinning kick aimed at the assassin, followed up with a backfist at his temple to use the rest of her angular momentum, and a straight punch toward his sternum.Xiao Dan's cloud form began to rain, but the downpour swirled into a thick ribbon of swirling water as he returned to human form, and with a smooth, sweeping movement sent the water flying toward the assassin.

kookyboy9OPToday at 3:06 PM

The assassin makes no effort to block or dodge any of the attacks, simply taking them as he completes his hand signs. Yu Xuan's attempt to seize the box with his dragon claws fails when the sheer energy surrounding the box causes the claw to destabilize and disintegrate. As the final hand sign is completed, the thief pauses for a moment, wheezing out a final few words."If I cannot escape, neither shall you!"His hands begin to glow an ominous purple-black as he slams them together, the box opening to reveal the Peach of Immortality. Before the group's eyes, the peach quickly rots, collapsing into a single droplet of black energy that phases through the jade box."Heaven-Shrouding Secret Art; First Movement: Devour the Eternal"As the droplet of energy strikes the ground below the culprit, his energy scatters and he falls towards the ground, a smile on his face. Just before he hits, however, a black sphere of nothingness expands, completely absorbing him. Gravity itself bends around the group, yanking them towards the hole in space itself as it grows, steadily absorbing the mountainside around it.

The entirety of the Azure Blade Sect shook as a tremor erupted across the mountain. Each of the sect elders stopped what they were doing before jumping on various flying artifacts to investigate the source of the tremors. Meanwhile, in the woods of the sect, a small black hole had begun to form, sucking in nearby matter and people. Elder Chen alighted nearby from his flying sword, inspecting the abyss of darkness cautiously.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:03 PM

Shen Jian tried to jump and fly away from the new menace, but her flight slowed, then reversed as she was drawn inexorably back toward the hole in reality. She shifted direction and landed in the Wu Chi First Position stance, feet shoulder width apart, arms at her sides, but not touching. The tree is still. It stands alone and quiet... she thought, rooting herself to the ground with her chi. But the ground itself trembled as the hole gathered strength. "What is that thing? How do we stop it?"

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:15 PM

Having been closest to the assassin, Zi Dian was very nearly pulled in with him. Her daggers were torn from her hands, sinking through the hole's surface, from existence into non-existence. She tried to use her extra arms to hold herself against the pull, but the earth and rock beneath her began to slide into the maw. Her grip failed, and she was pulled through the air--to hit a curved wall of ice. Xiao Dan had conjured a massive sphere of ice around it with a Glacier Mudra. The ice began to crack and shift despite his best efforts to hold it in place. However, it muted the hole's effects long enough for Dian to shape a Darwin's Bark Mudra, cast a dragline to a spit of rock and, mustering all her strength, pull herself away.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:26 PM

Yu Xuan shifted to his Shadow Dragon form, its masslessness allowing him to float away to a safer distance."It is a violation of the Will of Heaven!" Xiao Dan said. "An abyss to devour the world itself! Immortality reversed into its opposite, an abyss of nothingness!" he said as the ice sphere cracked, crumbled, and sank into the hole.

kookyboy9OPToday at 1:34 PM

Elder Chen's frown deepened."Yes. It truly is a terrifyingly heretical art."He drew his blade, its blade beginning to glow intensely as he unleashed a wave of blade energy across the clearing between the group and the black hole. The slash seemed to linger in the air where it passed as the hole's pull significantly decreased for the remaining three still caught up in its pull. The elder sheathes his blade once more, his skill pale as he pops a pill into his mouth."We'll need to combine our power to penetrate the annihilation protecting the core of the technique. All of you, prepare your most powerful techniques. I will weave them into a single attack." As he spoke, the remaining elders of the Azure Blade Sect began to arrive onboard their flying artifacts, each leaping off to join Elder Chen on the ground.

Zarko StraadiToday at 1:58 PM

Shen Jian took advantage of the temporary weakening of the abyssal power to bound to a safer distance. She drew her dao and, eyes toward the heavens, entered a meditative state. She began to twirl the sword into a series of flourishes with graceful, dancelike footwork, punctuating her slashes with kiais. At the sound of each kiai, the sword's slash formed a calligraphic arc or line of light that remained in the air, glowing brightly. "Will of Heaven! Establishment of Justice! Restoration of Balance!" she said, completing her form as the shards of light formed into the characters for her words. The light swirled into her blade, causing it to glow brilliantly, like a shard cut from the Sun. She raised it to the sky and let it float above her. Ordinarily she could have wielded it or sent it to attack her enemies, but in this case she held it in place, making its power available to Elder Chen.

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:16 PM

Zi Dian and Yu Xuan flinched at the power the sword was radiating, but each closed their eyes to gather their full focus. Dian began a dance of jerking motions, the hands of her conjured extra arms forming mudras or conjuring ceremonial items. With one of her natural hands, she drew a hairpin from her hair that turned out to be a slender stiletto blade. As her dance continued, she sliced the wrist of each natural and conjured hand.Blood flowed from the wounds in streams that wove themselves into a web. "Scarlet blood! Scarlet Spider! Clan Totem! I call upon you now!" As the echoes of her words faded, a jointed leg set itself upon the web, a carapace the color of dried blood. More legs appeared, forming joint by joint from the air until they connected at the thorax of a giant spider with a shiny black hourglass on the bottom of its abdomen.The spider crawled down from the web, which faded. Dian's wounds sealed, but her skin was as pale as spider's silk, and she wove unsteadily on her feet, her conjured arms fading away.

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:29 PM

Yu Xuan sank into a deep dragon stance as black flames and smoke began to gather around him. He leaped into the air with a jump spinning kick that trailed billowing smoke from his kicking foot. He landed in another dragon stance, facing the opposite way, then jumped into another spinning kick in the other direction. He landed in a horse stance at the base of the helix of shadow smoke, taking a deep breath. His arms slowly swept up, outward, and down, gathering chi from his surroundings. It seemed that the area was shaded, then in deep shadow, then in an eerie localized night. Air hissed from his throat in a constricted out-breath as his fingers formed the Double Dragon Mudra with each hand. Raising his hands in front of his chest he formed a black pearl of energy, which he then thrust upward with a loud kiai. The pearl shot up through the helix, which became a pair of shadow dragons much larger than the one he'd used in the arena. Entwining their tails, they formed a circle with their jaws clutching the pearl, which surrounded itself in a black corona of shadow force, ready to lash out in a beam of destruction.

Zarko StraadiToday at 2:36 PM

Xiao Dan began a slow twirl like a whirling deervish, hands out, sleeves billowing in the wind. Each footfall hit with a thud that grew progressively louder as he gradually sped up. Dark clouds began to gather on the horizon, spreading inward to darken the sky except for a circle of sunlight directly above him. Lightning flashed, and wind began to howl as the storm gathered force. The clouds churned and swirled into a mighty vortex. He stopped spinning suddenly, holding his right hand stretched to the sky. Rain, sleet, hail, and lightning poured down, gathering into a roaring funnel that ended at his palm, the force of a hurricane, thunderstorm, and tornado in one. He looked to Elder Chen and gave him a nod.

kookyboy9OPToday at 2:43 PM

The elders surrounding Elder Chen each draw out their own swords, manifesting spectral copies above themselves made of pure sword chi. Elder Chen, on the other hand, seats himself in a meditative position as a titanic blade forms above him. The blade continues to grow, drawing in all of the chi present in the clearing. As it reaches each prepared technique, the technique dissolves, weaving itself into the sword to create a fusion. As the final technique is absorbed by the spectral blade, Elder Chen claps his hands together. The spectral blade above his head slowly rotates to face the black hole, tip first, then rockets forwards. A blinding series of flashes and deafening roar fills the clearing as the blade clashes against the annihilating abyss. Elder Chen's face grows increasingly pale as the blade begins to shrink until suddenly something gives. The edge of the hole rips open, revealing a tiny world within. At the center of the world is the glowing pit of the Peach of Immortality, still radiating an aura of eternity. Elder Chen collapses as his blade finally dissipates just short of the pit, the other elders rushing over to check on him.

Zarko StraadiToday at 3:21 PM

As the chi was drawn from Shen Jian's blade. She grabbed its hilt and returned it to its scabbard with a flourish. Did we stop it? she thought, then saw to her horror that the broken edges of the sphere of blackness were slowly starting to grow back together, fed by the power of the pit."We must destroy it, or return it to this world!" Xiao Dan said."Help me!" Jian said, heading toward the shattered sphere. It contained another realm within it, an embryonic universe seeking to displace her own world with its birth. The pull if its gravity tugged and shifted as she got closer, causing her feet to skid on the ground.Zi Dian shook her head to fend off unconsciousness, then formed the Darwin's Bark Mudra and shot a dragline at Jian to wrap around her waist. She set her feet and tried to pull.The Peach! Yu Xuan thought. Unfortunately, there were far too many Elders and rivals around for him to have any hope of seizing the pit for himself. Resigning himself to...cooperation, he stepped over to Dian, then cast a pair of Dragon Claws to follow her dragline and wrap around Jian's waist so he too could join in the effort.Elder Dan settled into a back stance, making a sweeping circular gesture with his forward hand. A vortex of air swirled from the center of the motion, reaching out as a twisting tunnel of air that pulled at Jian as she reached in and grabbed the Pit with both hands, pulling with all her might.

Zarko StraadiToday at 3:34 PM

The four strained, groaning with effort, but the Pit refused to budge. "I can't move it!" Shen Jian said."So you will have to destroy it!" Elder Dan replied. "Everyone! Angle yourselves to attack the Pit without hitting her! Attack when I say!"Each of the four positioned themselves to have an angle to the Pit. Jian let go and drew her sword, charging it with chi. Zi Dian let go of her dragline so she could draw a pair of throwing spikes from concealment on her person.Yu Xuan moved closer to Jian so he could shift to his Shadow Dragon form, dispersing his Dragon Claws and wrapping his tail around her waist instead. He then opened his mouth, prepared to unleash his Shadow Breath on the pit.Elder Dan waited for each to signal their readiness, then shouted "Now!" as he hurled a lightning bolt at the Pit.Jian twirled her dao to gather speed, then slashed at the Pit with a two-handed downward strike. Dian charged her throwing spikes with the last of her available chi, then threw them at it. Xuan unleashed the necrotic breath weapon he'd used in the Arena in a long, hissing exhale.

kookyboy9OPToday at 3:43 PM

The groups attacks strike the peach pit. For a long moment, nothing happens. Then a crack appears in the pit, and a pulse of repulsive force ripples through the tiny world, launching the group out and away into the forest. Above the block hole, angry thunderclouds begin to form, massive rivers of lightning flowing between them. Once the clouds cover the entire sky, a draconic roar echoes from them as a stream of white, draconic lightning streams down to strike the black hole. Although it does little more than cause ripples to form in the black hole, the clouds don't let up, striking down with bolt after bolt of lightning until the pit lies exposed. With a final strike, the heavenly lightning obliterates the peach pit as the tiny world dissipates around it.As the group watches on in shock, the remaining rivulets of lightning dissolve into heavenly light that flows into each of the those who had aided in the destruction of the Immortal Peach Pit. Each of them feel the acknowledgement of the heavenly will as the light directly upgrades their powers by a whole step each. Those of the new generation found their internal power swelling to that of an elder, while the elders particularly close to stepping over to the grand elder stage found themselves skipping past their heavenly tribulation to directly have the power of a grand elder. Furthermore, those elders who did not find themselves directly taking the step up felt an assurance that they too would not be troubled by tribulation when the time came for them to cross that step.The light's ministrations also healed the newly-ascended Grand Elder Chen, allowing him to sit back up weakly and stagger to his feet. "Thank you, all of you. I'm afraid that I must rest for now, but following my recovery, I will see to it that each of you is well-rewarded. For now, please feel free to rest in the rooms provided for your stay thus far."