Chapter 1: Wind-Cloud Inn
A palace of white jade in heaven,
Has pavilions five and castles a dozen,
Where the deity stroked my pate and coiled up my hair,
And blessed me longevity as my welfare.
It was dusk.
Nine eccentric looking men suddenly appeared on the stone slated street, all wearing yellow hessian tunics, hemp shoes, and a bowl-sized golden ring hung from each man’s left earlobe. All of them had a head full of disheveled hair in bright red that spread across their shoulders like burning flames. Among the nine were people of various heights and ages. Though they had different body features, their faces all carried the same emotionless countenance, the kind normally found on dead corpses. And the way they walked, without ever moving their shoulders or bending their knees, closely resembled zombies.
They slowly marched along the long street, silencing the surroundings wherever they passed through. Even the sounds of crying children halted abruptly from because of fear.
At the end of the street, four giant lanterns sat atop a thirty feet long flagpole.
Bright red lanterns with pitch-black words that read, “Wind-Cloud Inn.”
The nine red-haired weirdoes walked all the way to the front door of the inn and then halted. The leading man took off the golden ring from his ear and waved his hand. With a loud thump, the golden ring shot into the stone wall next to the pitch-black painted gate.
Sparks flashed everywhere as the golden ring actually wedged into the stone.
The second man grabbed a bundle of red hair from his shoulder with his left hand and then swiftly chopped using his right palm, which easily cut thorough the hair as if it were a sharp blade.
After tying the bundle of hair to the golden ring, the nine men marched on, their bright red hairs fluttered in the wind like blazes, and soon faded into the boundless twilight.
Right at that moment, eight sturdy horses came galloping out of the twilight. The sounds of hooves hitting the stone slated street echoed like raindrops hitting the window and battle drum beating like thunders.
All the riders uniformly wore green arrow suits with green handkerchiefs on their foreheads, flat toe Kung Fu shoes, and puttees wrapped around their calves, looking bold, vigorous and nimble.
As the eight horses sprinted pass the gate of the Wind-Cloud Inn, the eight riders waved their hands in unison.
Reflections of blades flashed like lightning. Another loud thump resonated as eight shinning steel sabers embedded into the large-bowl-sized flagpole.
The handles of the sabers still vibrated as the red silk piece attached to the handles puffed from the throw. Moments later, the eight riders vanished into the dark horizon.
The darkness of the evening had thickened when more hoof beats suddenly rose in the street, only faster and more intense than the previous eight riders.
But this time there was only one horse, a pure white horse without a single strand of colored hair from head to toe.
When the horse approached the gate of the inn, it suddenly let out a loud neigh and halted, rearing up on its hind legs.
Only by then could people distinguish the rider on horseback, a shirtless brawny man with wild curly beard whose dark-skinned muscles were as study as steel.
After the hefty man reined in the horse, he spotted the red hair tied to the golden ring by the gate and the eight sabers embedded in the flagpole. The man suddenly sneered and quickly jumped off the horse. Holding a horse leg with each hand, he let out a thundering roar and raised the horse high in the air until it reached the eaves of the gate.
The white horse let out another loud neigh. Although its manes danced in the wind, its four legs seemed to have been nailed into the eaves above the gate, not moving the slightest bit!
The bearded man laughed loudly and then strode away. Only moments later, he was already gone, leaving the white horse standing in the west winds under the nightfall sky all alone, making up an eerie scene with ineffable oddity.
The long street was completely desolate by now. All households and shops had shut their doors.
The Wind-Cloud Inn was completely silent. Inn guests had quickly slipped away through the back door when they saw the golden ring and the eight sabers by the gate.
The white horse, however, remained still in the west winds as though it had turned into a stone statue.
On the silent long street, a middle-aged, lean-faced scholar suddenly appeared. Wearing a blue long robe and white pants, he slowly strolled by. His face appeared to be very relaxed, but his pupils shined with wits.
Folding his hands behind his back, he slowly walked to the front of the inn gate, and cast a glance up.
“What an excellent horse! Excellent indeed! It’s a pity that your owner is so ruthless and brought grievance upon you,” he sighed.
He suddenly waved an arm behind his back, and the flying long sleeve swiftly created a wave of strong wind.
The white horse was startled. Letting out a long neigh, it sprang off the gate eaves.
The middle-aged scholar reached out his hands and somehow caught the falling horse by its stomach. He gently placed the horse on the ground and gave it a light pat in the stomach.
“Go back to carry your owner here. Just say a good friend of his is waiting here.”
The white horse seemed to actually understand these words, and immediately galloped away.
The middle-aged scholar casually pulled the golden ring out of the stone wall by the gate and began entering the inn. He gave a gentle smack to the flagpole as he walked by. The eight sabers immediately fell down at the same time.
The middle-aged scholar swept his long sleeve again, which caught and wrapped around the eight sabers.
“Where’s the Flag-Master?” he asked solemnly.
All of a sudden, a thin and small figure darted out from inside the inn and climbed atop the flagpole like a monkey, reaching the top of the flagpole within seconds.
A large flag suddenly spread out from the tip of the flagpole.
On the snow white flag embroidered a rampant jet-black dragon, so lively as if it would break through the clouds and fly away any moment.
 The first four lines in a long poem written by Li Bai (701-762), a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty.
 Wind-Cloud implies unpredictable and unstable situation. It is often used to describe the trend of the times.
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