Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of short fiction based on Dark Trails RPG classes by Pete Spahn. As part of separate project Pete and his partner Brandon Goeringer stat out the story for gaming.
Mystic Monk: Trained in the sacred art of martial arts and schooled by master philosophers, the mystic monk is a humble warrior wandering the weird West in search of enlightenment. In addition to being a master of martial arts, the mystic monk can summon his inner chi, a virtual battery of spiritual energy used to perform superhuman feats.1
Utah, Salt Barrens, 1870
Xiao-ping knelt with eyes closed on the bamboo mat, but was unable to find peace in his daily meditation. Conflict was coming to their little village and he could see no way to resolve it without violence. There must be another way!
Tiny footsteps rushed up the steps and into the pagoda.
“Master,” the boy said, breathless. “The railroad men are back. And they’ve brought guns!”
Xiao-ping nodded. Steeling himself, he stood and went to meet them.
The sun was high in the Utah sky and a blistering heat hung over the crop fields. His people worked tirelessly, heads bowed low, protected from the sun by conical straw hats. They did not stop to watch him pass, but he could sense they were tense and aware, and looking to him for leadership, as always.
It had been his idea to settle here. The land had been barren then. Waterless, hardpacked earth and salt flats that no one else had wanted. They had toiled away for weeks, irrigating the dry ground, planting crops, cultivating bamboo stands, and sinking rice paddies. Inside the sprawling walled compound, they had turned the desert into an oasis of green, but it seemed as if the peace they had found had finally come to an end.
Three men stood waiting for him inside the gates. He recognized their leader as the railroad man Bill Standsby. His companions were a big, bearded brute with a wild look in his eye and a slender, pockmarked teenager with a pair of tied-down pistols slung low on his hips. Other men waited on horseback outside—hard, hired guns, ready and willing to deal death without remorse.
Xiao-ping stopped before Standsby and bowed. “Greetings, gentlemen. Will you join me for a cup of afternoon tea?”
“You can stuff yer tea right up yer pretty little dress, princess,” the bearded man said, spitting a wad of tobacco on the ground. The gun on his hip was an Army Colt, but the sweat stained hilt of the Bowie knife at his belt was worn from use. That was his weapon of choice, Xiao-ping was sure. He could almost see the blood on its blade.
The teenager with him grinned, lightly fingering the curved handles of his guns. “That’s a good one, Dan,” he said. “It does look like a dress he’s wearin’, don’t it? Mister, why you wearin’ a dress?”
Bill Standsby raised a hand to silence them. “Enough, you two. Xiao, you and your people were supposed to be off this land by winter’s end. You better have a good excuse as to why your still here.”
Xiao-ping paused a moment before speaking. “Five years ago, in the Year of the Ox, when the sun turned its back on the world and demons flooded the land, my people could have returned to our homeland. Instead, we chose to stay. And we joined together with the Utes, the blue soldiers and the grey, and the men of broken chains to fight the evil plaguing the world. Together we faced down the darkness, and in the end, we prevailed. Afterward, we stayed on and completed the Great Railroad, linking this nation from one coast to the other. As payment, John Haverty gave us this land so that we might live in peace. This is our home now. We have brought our families from across the sea. We have nowhere else to go.”
“Well, that there’s the problem,” Standsby said. “Haverty don’t work for the railroad no more, which means all deals he made are off. Understand?”
“No. I do not.”
“Then let me put it to you this way. You’ve got nigh on a thousand green acres here that some local cattlemen can put to better use. The U.S. Army needs beef along the frontier, not bamboo and rice. I told you before, we’re willing to pay you a little something to relocate, but you gotta leave now.”
“This is our home,” Xiao-ping said again.
Standsby sighed and shook his head. He took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his brow, then looked tiredly at the men by his side. On cue, the big man stepped forward to tower over Xiao-ping while the teenage gunman sidled off to cover his flank.
“You stupid or something?” the big man said. “Mr. Standsby said pack your stuff and get to stepping. Now move it!”
He shoved Xiao-ping with both hands, intending to send him sprawling in the dirt. The man was strong, but clumsy. Xiao-ping could have easily dodged the assault, but instead let himself be pushed a step backward.
A rumble of disapproval washed over the villagers who had drifted up to hear the talk. They were farmers all, but they were trained warriors as well. Xiao-ping had spent countless hours preparing them for this moment—a moment he had always feared would come. They bore no weapons, but the tools of farming were in their hands, ready to transform into tools of war, as they had in ancient times past.
“Please do not touch me again,” Xiao-ping said. “I do not wish to fight you. Violence is not our way.”
The big man’s eyes blazed. “Violence? You threatenin’ me, or somethin’? My name’s Dan McGill. This here’s my partner Lucky Stevens. You heard of us?”
“I have,” said Xiao-ping, trying to keep his voice emotionless.
With effort, he fought down the flicker of anger that flared to life inside him. McGill and Stevens were railroad enforcers who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Chinese men, women, and even children. They were known to flog workers to death or burn them alive at the stake for minor infractions such as laziness or disobedience. Now they were here, trying to force Xiao-ping and his people from their land. To disobey them meant death or worse.
“I see by that look in yer eye you have heard of us,” McGill said. “I’ve worked the railroad for fifteen years; Lucky for ten. You ain’t the first Big Boss we had to put the boots to. Once I make an example, the others always fall into line. Always.”
Lucky grinned and cackled. “That’s a nice fancy braid he’s got there, Dan. I bet it’ll look good hangin’ ‘round yer belt.”
“I bet you’re right, Luck,” McGill said. “‘Sides, he already said he ain’t gonna fight us.”
The big man drew his Bowie knife and stepped eagerly forward, reaching for Xiao-ping’s hair. Xiao-ping felt a great sadness wash over him. He had hoped to resolve this peaceably, but the fight was unavoidable.
Xia-ping’s hands lashed out, moving faster than the eye could follow, and broke McGill’s arm in three places. McGill stared wide-eyed at his mangled arm. Then he dropped to both knees and started to scream.
“I said I do not wish to fight you,” Xiao-ping said. “I did not say I would not.”
“Son of bitch!” Lucky Stevens shouted. He drew his pistols, but a thrown hatchet from one of the farmers split his skull before he could raise them up and fire.
Beyond the walls, horses scrambled, kicking up dust, as the railroad men shouted and drew guns.
“Now just hold on a minute!” Bill Standsby said, backpedaling toward the gate. “Hold on!”
A weighted chain wrapped around his legs, tripping him up and he hit the ground hard. Another farmer raised a bo staff over his head to brain him. A shot rang out as the gunmen rode into the compound, and part of the farmer’s head disappeared in a red spray.
Xiao-ping charged the riders. He bounded forward, reaching deep within himself to focus his inner power—his chi. This was his gift, bestowed upon him by the spirits of warrior ancestors who had died fighting against tyranny. With their power, he could not fail.
His footsteps became light as a feather as he moved, and with two great strides he leaped into the air, delivering a flying kick to the chest of the lead rider. The blow shattered the man’s ribcage, forcing his horse to rear and topple onto its side.
This startled the other horses, causing them to draw up and mill about in confusion. Xiao-ping stood still in their midst and closed his eyes as a dozen guns were leveled in his direction. He channeled the breath of the mighty spirit dragon and felt chi flow through his body. His right fist burst into flame as it struck his left palm.
The presence of the dragon spirit was too much for the horses. They snorted and bucked causing rifles and pistols to clatter to the ground as their riders furiously tried to regain control of their mounts. Some men were thrown clear of their saddles. Others held onto the reins for dear life.
The village farmers fell into a fighting formation around them. In unison, they advanced on the hapless gunmen, shouting k’ihaps from deep within to give strength to their blows.
The slaughter that followed gave Xiao-ping no joy. He lost good men and women to the hired guns. They had won the battle, but the war was far from over. The railroad men would be back and with greater numbers, and Xiao-ping could not replace his own people so easily. He would need to recruit help if there was any hope of being left in peace. But where would he find help in this hostile, faraway land?
Included for those not familiar with the Class ↩