Act Four: the Ghost Dance
Word of the ascension of General Dok and rumors of the establishment of a rebel stronghold in the southern outskirts were the talk of the neighboring hamlets, who communicated their desire to join the resistance. “What resistance?” the men and the two lords were wondering. Was there any truth to the rumors?
“What experience have you in combat, seer?” Marshal Koen asked Dao Rong as he leaned on his halberd to walk.
“I’ve been chased by men on horses- with maces!” he sheepishly replied.
“Ah, so you are light on your feet and can carry on for long distances!” he interpreted. “I’ll spare you an old dirk and see if you can hold your ground against me…” Koen suggested.
“I can’t fight!” Dao protested. “I can barely stand as it is!”
“Seeing as how you are technically a captive, a foreign captive no less, we have no real obligation to keep you safe- to keep you alive, moreover!” but even Koen realized the cruelty of that sentence. “Here is your chance at a better otehrwise: best me in a duel and you will be spared. Lose this duel and consider it your execution for the crimes of espionage and trespassing on a military camp.”
“You can’t do this to me…” Dao Rong’s voice warbled. “I revealed to the general his father’s fate, I saved him from the assassin…” he reasoned.
“Tis’ really not my choice to make boy…” Koen sighed, pulling a piece of scrap parchment from his breastplate: “we need all the muscle the men here can spare to pull this off, and in turn need to cut off as much of the fat as possible. General Dok asked a favor of me, and that is why I brought you here…”
For a seer, Dao Rong was rather unobservant. As they were walking, he looked around and realized they were already a way’s away from the village: in a clearing that would serve as either his final resting place or first battlefield. Suddenly, a thud fell before of him. It was Sir Koen’s dirk dagger, with strap and scabbard. He took it and looked back at Sir Koen as he drew his own dirk.
A cadence that held firm like dogma animated the way the old marshal moved. His wobbling, creaking gait suddenly flowed into a graceful, yet disciplined movement. Decades of marching to this same beat- in and out of war- had imprinted itself into his bones. And so even as he danced this martial dance that was the nimble footing required to fight with a dagger, this rigid, yet graceful military cadence sang in every step he took. The old marshal said nothing, but his eyes met with Dao Rong’s and he understood: follow my feet. Dao Rong looked him in the eye, then followed suite.
Then a specter, as if the old man had died by his hand and came back to haunt him, lunged forward at him. His lunge landed, but Dao Rong fell back anyways. Then all of a sudden-
“Smashing footwork, old bean!” the marshal congratulated. Dao Rong however, stood confused.
It was as if Dao Rong was seeing double: a specter of the marshal struck him, but then the marshal himself- the real marshal- had in reality, missed! He then noticed the rattling silvers in his pocket. Every time they moved around as he did, the movements of others where telegraphed- as if by an illusory specter or mirror perfect copy.
Dao Rong raised his dirk towards the marshal. “have… have at you…” the first streaks of confidence broke through his cowardly warble. The marshal’s whiskers perked up, and the old overweight man dashed with the speed of a kingfisher in mid-dive towards Dao- or at least his specter did.
Dao Rong kept on his feet, to keep the silvers in his pocket moving and revealing the specter that would betray the marshal’s next move. But even with this newfound power, the marshal was demonically quick. Each lunge and dash were followed by a clap of thunder, with venom at the end of every slash and jab of his imperial dirk. But he feigned how fast he really could’ve been: rubbing joints and faking aches and pains where there were none.
Even with his specter foretelling each move, all under the gaze of the untrained Dao Rong, it was clear to him that the marshal had been missing on purpose. The marshal had no intent to kill, but to teach Dao Rong: “The ghost dance!” the marshal proclaimed. “Weave through two opponents: the enemy you face now and the enemy your enemy chooses to become with his next move: know which is which, and you’ll have a dead man!” he talked as he spoke, and as he finished the sentence, he lurched away from Dao Rong- exposing his side to him. The specter betrayed the marshal’s next move to Dao Rong, and the marshal soon followed suite. He went in to strike…
Then, a stinging pain. Dao Rong fell from the shock, but after a few seconds, felt it not to be but a slight graze on the back. “You’ve a good eye in reading moves, but I make fools with my foils any day, old bean!” the marshal chuckled. He showed his side to bait him, then pivoted sharply to strike Dao Rong’s overextended and overexposed back. “Beat some oil into water and apply it upon the wound.” The marshal approached Dao Rong. “We’ll need you in good enough shape to finally crush those pathetic mercenaries…” he said, retrieving the parchment he had in breastplate earlier and handing it to Dao Rong:
“Congratulations on your enlistment!”