And so it happens that on this day, exactly 500 years ago, Master Po died.
At 5am, after morning exercises, Master Po addressed the adepts regarding a mission to eradicate the Hyarushi Clan. They were masters in the art of poisons, a cowardly, yet highly effective skill.
Death delivered in such sneaky ways, with no hope for the unaware targets angered Po. He decided to destroy their clan absolutely.
Po warned us that the mission was so dangerous, as to be deemed impossible with no hope of return.
Upon this announcement most students left the courtyard without shame. The concept of shame was not recognised atop Wudan, only action or inaction.
I’m not entirely sure why I raised my hand, but it was raised - and along with 1 other adept I agreed to accompany Master Po on a mission of murder.
Total annihilation was the only acceptable outcome.
I packed my things and said goodbye to everybody I had trained with, I bowed to each and every student. Po’s words were golden - if he deemed this a suicide mission; I believed him. The walk was many weeks, in silence.
Nobody spoke. We simply followed Po in a straight line. One behind the other. Through forest and across mountain ranges.
When we laid eyes on the Hyarushi encampment there was no pause for thought or tactics, we simply continued our march. Following Pos steps in perfect unison. Left. Right. Left. Met by over 500 warriors, the killing was very personal.
Avoiding blades and poison darts, I even had the bad fortune of staining my shirt with my dying enemies blood, not once but twice.
My finger techniques to the eye were lethal, but I had yet to make them bloodless as per Po’s command.
Atop Wudan we were taught to kill bloodlessly. Blood on my shirt was unacceptable. Even in the heat of battle, I feared Po would spot my stained shirt and later reprimand me, so I drifted slightly further from him and continued to fight.
As bodies fell the final hurdle drew closer, to penetrate the personal tent of the Hyarushi Master Yiho. Not only a master of 77 existing styles, from Tiger to Rat, he was also a poison expert.
Before the mission, Master Po had only one instruction. He made it clear - an adept stood no chance at all against Yiho. Yiho must be engaged by Po and Po alone.
As we fought our way toward the Masters tent, deep inside the encampment, I felt a twinge of emotion as I saw my fellow adept drop hard from a poison dart, never to rise again.
The dart entered his ankle as he retracted a head high kick - which had crushed the skull of his adversary. For my momentary emotion, empty handed, I felt the brush of a katana.
Afraid to once again lose focus, I did not look at the adepts body again. I heard them stabbing him ferociously as he laid unconscious on the ground - mocking Wudan with howls.
Besides those killed for disobedience by Po himself, this was the first known death of an adept. And as fate would have it, the howls are exactly what convinced Yiho, the Master of Poison, to leave his tent and join the battle. Yiho came without visible weapon, and walked slowly and calmly into the fray.
His back was turned to me as he walked into the battle field. Directly towards Po himself. I briefly considered killing my two hot opponents and charging to strike him by surprise, but I remembered Master Po’s command.
Do not engage Yiho.
Po had 8 clan members attacking him at once, and as if practicing Kata was striking them one by one, in a circle, in order. Over and over.
However, as soon as Po and Yiho locked eyes, he ended the lives of all 8 clansmen instantly. A single flash of his left hand, one movement, ripped all of their throats out simultaneously.
It seemed impossible - how one upward hand movement could disable 8 different warriors, yet I was wise enough to know that my eyes were not sophisticated enough to see the true nature of the movement.
The results spoke for themselves. Yiho came empty handed, yet his flowing robes and hooded face presented an unknown challenge. Legend held that he had single-handedly killed 600 spearmen from a Shogunate, sent with the sole purpose of eradicating him and his followers.
Upon the moment of contact, army vs army, he had summarily dismissed all his kind, and stood alone against the spearmen.
Details become vague, as there were no living witnesses, but Yiho had clearly prevailed. For the first time in my time atop Wudan, I was scared. I was scared for Po’s safety. I never before believed he might lose.
There were few clansmen left. I snapped necks, as Yiho and Po locked eyes. I didn’t want to repeat my mistake from before - so I focused on the task at hand. Staying alive. I only caught their showdown out of the corner of my eye.
Yihos flowing robes made it near impossible to see exactly what he was doing. How he was moving. Where his hands were.
Hidden pockets, throwing backwards over his shoulders as he spun in a whirlwind. Weapons revealed for a single strike, concealed and replaced.
Po used the same movements I had seen atop the meadow, darting between butterflies, to avoid strike after strike. Hidden projectile after another. And even as hidden darts flew past the cheek of Po, the distance had been closed.
Po landed the forbidden Hibiyashi, breaking his own collarbone to prevent spinal collapse. However it was not Po’s bone that made the loudest noise. Yiho dropped in a heap. Po had executed a perfect kill.
Cervical spine rupture, exploding all of today and all of his tomorrows.
And yet the story is not over, for on Master Po’s cheek was a red welt. A dart had punctured his skin. I had seen the dart damage the adept, the poison thinned the blood - and even from a tiny puncture, the fallen adept had squirted blood all over the battlefield.
However Po was not bleeding. Masters body had deflected all available blood from surface skin, deep into internal uses, for that last scintilla of strength, endurance and fortitude in the fight.
Only now, that the deed was done, and Yiho lie dead, did nature take its course, and Master Po began to bleed.
Po sat in lotus position and let himself bleed, making no attempt to address his wound. Silently I came to his aid, but he presented his palm suddenly, his last active movement... stopping me in my tracks.
He did not want me too close to the toxins coursing through his cut face, fearing that some might be airborne, and so he protected me with his last moment.
As an adept, I obeyed. I stood back, and took the herbal mixture from my pocket.
With a broken spear, I used the calloused portion of my hand to cause fire, scarring myself for a lifetime. I added water to the herbs and heated the mixture, all the while Po sat still. I was panicking.
This tea had been given to injured adepts for millennia. I had packed it for myself. I didn’t know what else to do. I focused on making the tea as quickly as I could. Po had died. In front of me.
He wasn’t moving. I disobeyed. I had to TRY and help him. I came in slowly, not wanting to startle him. I did not want to die by an accidental gesture of his hand.
Such things have happened, among adepts and Masters. When I was close, I realized that it was worse than I could have imagined.
His eyes had glazed over, and he wasn’t breathing. And so it happens that on this day, exactly 500 years ago, Master Po died. I could not be certain that he could hear, but I tested the air with my voice... and I said, “Master, I bring healing tea.”
I placed it in his open palm. He didn’t move. He did not reply. I stepped back and sat next to the fire. I stared at Po as the sun went down. And into the darkness.
All night I listened to the silence, but there was no movement. I stared into the stillness, but there was no movement of Master’s chest.
I suppressed a deep cry, the effort ripping an important abdominal muscle. What matter. The fight was over. I do not remember falling asleep - my handmade fire had gone dead, and the cold had awakened me.
The second I was conscious, I whipped my head to where Po had been sitting, he had not moved.
Frost upon his face. The cold night was enough to kill a man. With or without the poison.
I stood up. Suppressing tears. I understand that now it was time to say goodbye, to leave, to return to Wudan and tell the story of the Hyarushi clans eradication at the cost of Po’s life.
I picked a weapon for the long walk back. A sword. And as I admired it for strength, I noticed something in the reflection of the blade... The frost on Po’s brow had begun to melt.
At first, I thought it was the action of a rising sun - but all around the frost kept her grip. Water began to flow, like sweat, dripping down Po’s face.
I impulsively rushed to touch him, to embrace and share my bodily warmth, but, slowly and effectively he extended the same palm I knew well.
And he spoke one word. “Stop.”
The cup of herbal tea I prepared the night before was still sitting in his other palm. It had frozen to ice in the night, but his body was now so hot, the tea was melted and steaming hot.
He lifted the cup and finished it in one gulp.
He ushered for me to come close. I walked up. Crying tears of joy, and sat down in front of him.
In a full voice, if a bit hushed, he asked. “Why is there blood on your shirt?”
Upon return to Wudan, he punished me severely.
Such is the way of Wudan.