The Infallible Master reunited with Junjie and led his disciple into the deepest, darkest reaches of the forest, a place where the trees grew so tall and lush that they barely allowed any sunlight to peak through their leaves.
“There,” the master said as he pointed to a stone.
“We’ve come for a rock?” Junjie asked.
“For what is under the rock,” the master replied.
Junjie picked up the rock and cast it aside. “What now?”
A hole in the earth opened up and Junjie immediately plummeted down into a vast cavern of nothingness. “Gahhhh!”
The master floated steadily downward next to Junjie, but remained calm. As for Junjie? Not so much.
“Ahhhhhhh!” Junjie cried. “Ahhhhhhh! Ahhhhhhh!”
“Take a deep breath, my son,” the master said.
Junjie did so, then exhaled. He looked down. There was no end in sight. He looked back at the master. “Ahhhh!”
“You’ll want to take another deep breath now,” the master said. “And hold it…”
Sploosh! The cavern ended in a tank of water and Junjie had no choice but to barrel right into it. The hero swam downward, squinting just enough to catch a feint glimpse of the master.
The old man pointed to the bottom of the tank, where the tiger claw clan’s insignia was etched. Junjie pressed the design, causing three holes to open up. The water rushed out. As soon as the tank was drained, Junjie fell back onto the floor and caught his breath.
“A warning might have been in order,” Junjie said.
“Would you have come if I had given you one?” the master asked.
“Probably not,” Junjie answered.
A loud, deafening voice echoed up from underneath the tank.
“Who is the lowly, insignificant pig who dares wake me from my slumber by pouring water on me?”
Junjie blinked in a dumbfounded manner.
“Something else I would not have come for had I been warned about it?” Junjie asked.
“Yes,” the master replied.
The master stepped into the hole and fell a few feet before landing on a concrete slab. Though it was pitch black, Junjie trusted the master and followed.
“Or, to put it more precisely…”
“Rargh!” the voice shouted. “Yaozu, is that you?”
The master led Junjie down a winding staircase.
“It is I,” the master said.
“Brought your whelp with you, have you?” the voice asked.
“My disciple,” the master said. “And the Twentieth Infallible Master of the Clan of the Sacred Yet Inscrutable Tiger Claw.”
“Ooo!” the voice said in a mocking tone. “How impressive. Has there really been twenty of you buffoons already?”
“Time flies,” the master said.
“Bah,” the voice said. “Time drags.”
Junjie descended slowly, feeling out each step in the darkness, fearful that he might fall at any moment.
“Might we trouble you for a light?” the master asked.
A brief pause. “Sure. Why don’t I just cook you a feast and throw you a party while I’m at it?”
The master chuckled. “Just the light will do.”
A fireball rose out of the dark depths and found the two travelers. It followed them and lit the way as they descended the staircase.
“Who is this man?” Junjie asked.
“He is no man,” the master replied. “He is a demon.”
“Don’t be rude, Yaozu,” the voice said. “Introduce me, already. You may call me Shaoshang, boy. And you are?”
Startled, Junjie stammered out his reply. “Jah-jah-Junjie.”
“Jah-jah-Junjie?” Shaoshang asked. “Stupidest name I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s just Junjie,” Junjie said.
“Ignore his tricks,” the master said. “He will play with your mind.”
“Oh,” Shaoshang said. “‘Just Junjie’ is it? You’ll forgive me if I grow just a might impatient with your intrusion, seeing as I how I’ve been locked up down here as a falsely accused political prisoner since…since…how long has it been? I lost count after the twenty thousandth year.”
Junjie and the master continued down the winding staircase. The fireball hovered overhead.
“Many, many years ago,” the master said. “When the world was new, Shaoshang escaped from Diyu and sought to reign supreme over Earth. The First Infallible Master, the greatest warrior our clan has ever known, defeated him.”
“A lousy cheater if you ask me,” Shaoshang said.
“No one asked you,” the master said before returning his attention to his student. “Our clan’s founder was fierce but kind. He pitied his opponent so instead of killing him, he chained him up in this pit.”
“Bah,” Shaoshang said. “Wish he had killed me, even just for the change of scenery.”
“It has been the duty of every Infallible Master ever since to act as Shaoshang’s jailer,” the master said. “I would have told you about this task sooner, had Dragonhand not intervened.”
“I swear, Yaozu,” Shaoshang said. “You are like an old woman. Stop mothering the boy and bring him to me already.”
“My son?” the master asked.
“Yes?” Junjie answered.
The duo reached the last step. They walked out onto a brick floor. They pressed onward for a while until they spotted a pair of glowing eyes.
“Remember that warning you’ve been asking for?” the master asked.
The fireball zoomed through the air and landed in Shaoshang’s clutches. It grew larger and brighter until it illuminated the beast.
“Consider yourself warned,” the master said.
Junjie’s stepped back and looked up to find himself staring at a ten foot tall devil. Shaoshang’s face was blood red with streaks of blue and black throughout. A pair of ram’s horns twisted and curled their way out of his head. His red body was lean and muscular. His claws and teeth were razor sharp.
“Well now,” Shaoshang said as he stepped forward, only to be snapped back by a chain attached to an iron collar around his neck. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”