War in the Far East had left many children orphaned. The lucky ones found their ways to small towns and villages where they would be adopted by a loving family. The unlucky ones would find themselves homeless on the streets of the capital city. The authorities treated them like rats, and they would often scutter into the shadows whenever they even sniffed a guard.
One young girl earned a reputation for her incredible pickpocketing skills. She often targeted foreigners to the city, who were easily identifiable with their different colored hair and eyes. She knew that they would not be around long enough to file a report, and definitely not long enough for the guards to shake down all the street children to recover the goods. She lived well enough for a street rat, and would often share her goods with the less fortunate. The fight for survival was rough.
A fateful spring evening changed her life. She stalked her mark for quite some time, and when she went to take his coin purse found herself surrounded by 3 guards. Without much thought, she quickly grabbed a broom resting against the wall and held it as a weapon. The guards chuckled at the sight of a young child raising a weapon at them. But the chuckles didn’t last long as she almost expertly wielded the broomstick, jabbing and smacking them until they dropped to the floor in pain. As she went to make her escape, she felt a hand grab hers. She had not seen the gentleman approach her, and as he picked her up by the wrists, he smiled.
The man was dressed in military dress, with all the markers of a high ranking officer. He made her an offer; train with him and become his adopted daughter, or spend time in one of the city’s jails. Immediately she accepted the offer of a new life.
Training began almost immediately. The discipline the officer instilled in the young girl took root, and she eventually grew to be a lady of noble standing. Unlike her peers, she had fighting skills that outmatched even the most competent of her adopted father’s soldiers. She planned to follow his footsteps, and take the state exams to join the ranks and rise alongside the man she admired. The state however had other ideas. Although she was adopted by an officer, she was still an orphan from the war. The law only allowed those noble at birth to take the exam, and thus she was snubbed. To honor the family name she adopted, she joined the Hwasun Valley.
It was an institution for young martial artists. Bihwasun founded the Hwasun Valley, and was renowned for his skills, but a rumor often spread about him being a woman due to his natural beauty. Of course, this was quickly dispelled as Bihwasun was Lord of the Valley, a title that can only be held by a man.
The Hwasun Valley was one of a few organizations that did not discriminate against people based on their heritage and background, and allowed even the lowliest of members to rise through the ranks and take a state office if skilled enough. The girl quickly got to work, showed the full extent of her skills, and even outshone some of the more established warriors in the institution. It was a surprise to no one that she graduated from her apprenticeship after a year. The following year she was granted the title of ‘Maehwa’, a title given to the leader of the female members of the order, which qualified her to enter the state military service.
While she was out in the valley training alone one day, preparing to leave the order, an old lady approached her with a tall tale. The lady told her of a cold and beautiful blue flame that the greatest warriors of the past could use. The ‘Hawol’ as she called it, had not been wielded since the establishment of the order. Before leaving the Maehwa with her story, the old lady told her that the secrets of the Hawol are only available to the generals of the order, and few have ever seen the secrets, let alone understood them enough to wield it. This gave the young Maehwa a spring in her step, as she had a new goal in life.
Three years under the Hwasun Valley, and the girl finally got a chance to prove her worth. The madness of war had taken over the whole continent once again. For the warriors of the group, war was a chance to carve a name for themselves, and many tried to take advantage of it. The Maehwa’s reputation grew during this war, and it was not long before she was considered an exemplary warrior for the order. But to truly stand a chance of becoming the general, she would need to overcome all the odds. Most of the generals throughout the order’s history were pulled from the elitist Chungwol group, a strictly male group that served as the order’s command center.
As war raged, so did the casualties. While many enemies laid slain at her feet, many friends also perished. She began to lose the optimism and hope that had driven her all these years. With each battle, the strife of war killed off what little was left of the young girl that once resided inside the Maehwa. She became unrecognizable even to her closest allies. As a leader, she began to stop counting battles by body count, and instead focussed on the result. A battle that she won losing 40 soldiers meant the same as winning a battle after losing 4000. The numbness to human life consumed her.
A month after the war, the day had finally come, and she was to become the general of the Hwasun Valley, the first ever Maehwa to be chosen for the position. The ceremony was grandiose. The music, the cheering crowds and waving flags. Her father was a military guest of honor, and although his face was stoic, you could see the pride in his eyes. She looked down at the general’s sword in her hand. A beautiful, ornate piece that was everything she wanted years ago. She raised it up above her head to the cheers of the soldiers below. The noise was near deafening, everyone was there to celebrate her promotion. Yet despite the grandeur, despite the starry eyed recruits in attendance and the proud looks of her father, she was numb. At that moment her life's greatest accomplishment was void.
As soon as the ceremony had finished, she took leave and headed towards the cave which only the general was allowed to enter. The old lady many years ago had assured her that this would be where the secrets of the Hawol would be revealed. She explored deep into the cave, and stumbled upon an old spear and a book laying on top of a rock. Immediately she realized the old lady had been telling the truth, and by studying the book she would unlock the ‘Hawol’.
A year of training went by, and she still could not draw the blue flame on her spear. Progress did not come as easy as it did for the sword, yet she refused to give up on this one last goal. That year would have been one of her worst years yet. She lost her parents, and she was beginning to lose herself. The ghosts of war began to creep into her dreams. Visions of the dead began to eat away at her, until she was sitting at the head of the dais with nothing but an empty stare.
Five years had passed since she first learned of the Hawol. She decided that it was time to search the cave once more. As she reached the cave, the old woman who told her about the Hawol waited.
As soon as their eyes locked, the old woman charged with a spear. Surprised, the general managed to parry as a blue flame engulfed the old lady’s spear. The Hawol was real, and being wielded by an old lady. Blow after blow, the old lady scolded the general with demeaning remarks. The general was amazed at the grace and the power of the Hawol in the hands of this old lady, yet she still fought back.
But no matter the general's strength, it was nothing compared to the old lady who stood victorious as the blue flames subsided. The old lady introduced herself as Bihwasun, the founder of the Hwasun Valley. The general looked deeply into the eyes of Bihwasun, and was shocked to find that she was who she said she was. All those rumors so long ago were true.
The old lady asked the general to sit for a while and listen to her advice.
“Improvement is like water, the tighter you hold on the more that spills. Allow the water to flow freely and replenish your empty vessel.”
Shortly after they exchanged blows again, each time Bihwasun would teach her a new lesson, a new teaching on how to improve. Throughout the night they traded blows. The old lady was clearly the winner, yet the general was not upset. She began absorbing the teachings, and for the first time in her life, began to accept the losses of battle.
The sun rose as they finished their training. Stories passed from one to the other, as they discussed a great many things. The general once again felt alive. It was that day that she retired from her position, and went on a journey of self-discovery. The only possession that she took with her were the lessons taught to her by Bihwasun.
“Refresh the water of your vessel often, and once the vessel breaks, the Hawol will answer your call.”