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'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny' excerpt and photo

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On Feb. 26, 2016, the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny — comes to Netflix, nearly 16 years after the original film premiered in theaters. This sequel, directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, sees Michelle Yeoh returning to the role of Yu Shu Lien, while Donnie Yen will play Silent Wolf.

To help prepare for Sword of Destiny’s release, EW presents an exclusive excerpt from author Justin Hill’s companion novel, which shares the film’s title. Like the film, the novel is based on the Crane Iron Pentalogy, a five-part martial arts book series by Chinese author Wang Du-Lu, whose works have never been translated into English. According to the publisher, Hill’s Sword of Destiny is primarily based on Iron Knight, Silver Vase, the fifth book of the series. Justin Hill’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny hits shelves Jan. 26, 2016.

That’s not all: We’re also delighted to reveal an exclusive photo from the film. Check them both out below.

Rico Torres/Netflix

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON 2: SWORD OF DESTINY by Justin Hill

Prologue

Shulien stopped as she reached the top of the path, and looked down the mountain gorge. She had come to the hermitage on a day just like this, seventeen years before, heavy with grief.

She had been going in the other direction then. As she stood for a moment she thought she could see her younger self, dressed in a simple black padded jacket with a conical straw hat, plodding up the path, stick in hand, searching ever higher into the narrowing way.

She had come in winter, in the twelfth moon of the year. Snow was falling then too. Scarves of mist trailed from crag to crag. The air was still except for the sloppy gurgling of stream water as it tumbled over sharp rocks, frosted the leaning rushes in heavy coats of white ice, eddied in fat mountain pools, and then tumbled downhill again.

All she could hear was water and the light intake and exhalation of her own breath, just cold enough to catch at the back of the throat. She had thought she would end her days a hermit, here in the mountains; practicing her arts, preserving her qi, sallying out, if necessary, to fight injustice. But fate had been kind to her and despite the lines that life had worn into her face, she was very much still lean and strong, and handsome too, with hardly a single gray hair. Seventeen years of solitude, martial practice, learning to slowly conquer her feelings. She laughed. It had proved an impossible task. Solitude was too empty; the dragon could not hide even here; emotions could not be conquered.

And now she was leaving. News was an arrow to those for whom it was destined, and despite the distance and the inconvenience word had come, even to Shulien, that in the far-off capital her patron, Duke Te—a nobleman who had used his position as a nephew of the Qing Emperor to protect both her father and herself from persecution by corrupt officials—had finally died.

Shulien had learned the tidings of Duke Te’s death the day before in the local town of Wenxia. She came here once a month—for rice, for news, and, after so many years of isolation, she had started to come for company.

“Asking for a husband?”

She was standing with three sticks of incense before the statue of Guanyu, the gentleman god, the warrior, whose sandalwood effigy stood erect, dignified, unbroken. Shulien turned to the priest. He looked younger than he was: a smooth, intelligent face, long walrus moustaches, a fuzzy beard from his chin, his black hair beginning to be shot through with gray.

“It is a bit late for that.”

Her initial reaction was that he was a little too self-assured. His eyes brightened at her words. It was as if she were a challenge.

“Is it ever too late?”

“Yes,” she said. “I had one love, but he is dead.”

“Ah,” the priest said, stepping closer. He lingered. His small eyes had a gentle look. They seemed to draw Shulien out. Her thoughts spilled almost like a confession.

“His name was Mubai. He was a wushu warrior as well. We loved each other from the moment we first met. But I had been betrothed to his best friend. When his best friend died, I hoped that our moment had come. But the Heavens are not so kind to us, are they? Mubai blamed himself for his friend’s death. He said he could not marry me for shame. ‘People might say I let him die to marry you.’ I understood his fears. He always tried to do what was right. It is a narrow and rocky path. And so we lived out our days, pining. When he changed his mind, it was too late . ⁠. ⁠.”

Most people shied away from revelation, but the priest drew closer, his small eyes intent. “How did he die, if he was a great warrior?”

“Did you ever hear of Jade Fox?”

The priest nodded and shivered at the same time. Jade Fox was a woman whose name had once been used to scare children.

“She and her disciple stole a great treasure from Mubai. He fought her and beat her, but in the battle he was poisoned. I came, but too late. All I could do was soothe his last hours.” She smiled at the priest, but in her eyes was a far-off light, as she gazed back into the past.

“He told me then that he had been mistaken. He wished he had married me.”

“What was the treasure?”

“A sword,” Shulien said, and her gaze moved to his face. “Named Green Destiny.”

“It’s real?”

“Green Destiny? Oh yes. It still exists, though it is hidden.”

The priest looked around. “Here?”

Shulien laughed. “No. Far away.” Safe in the capital, she thought. With Duke Te.

The priest was about to ask another question when a young girl with a large head came around the corner. Her face was almost as wide as her hips. She was an odd-looking child, self-important, bossy. “Da,” she said, picking her nose as she waited for her father’s attention. “Da! Ma’s constipated.”

A look on the priest’s face seemed to say, not again, but he tried to hide his reaction as he bowed to Shulien. “Excuse me.”

In the market Shulien looked for familiar faces and went to buy from them. The old woman with the sickly grandchild; the blood sausage saleswoman with the mole on her cheek; the rice salesman with the consumptive wife who smiled from her seat and waved.

“I tell her to stay inside but she said you would come today. Would you mind?” he said.

“Not at all.” Shulien put her hands onto the woman’s head, closed her eyes, used her energy, her qi, to feel for the blockage that was causing the woman’s sickness, and slowly forced a way through or around it. “Sorry,” she said afterwards, as the woman looked up, her face bright with hope as much as improvement. “I am not a healer. There is only so much I can do.”

But the rice trader poured an extra scoop of rice into the paper bundle, neatly folded the end closed, and placed it into the bottom of her sack with elaborate care.

“Thank you,” he said.

She found the crowds and people and voices and demands overwhelming, and she was glad when at last she took a side road toward the north gate. The late winter sky was clear, a pale, scrubbed blue, the mild sun was bright enough to cast dark shadows, and in the spots where it seldom shone the snow lay in melted lumps and angles. Solid-wheeled carts lurched from rut to rut—she pushed ahead of them, and their peasant drivers, bulbous in their wadded cotton jackets. Old women with bound feet hobbled around the puddles, hair smoothed back and glossy as beetles. Along the side of the road two men in thick felt shoes were winnowing last autumn’s grain in rhythmic showers of golden seed. The sunlight caught in the drifting chaff, and slowly faded, and three shaven-headed children watched with wonder, and one of them rubbed his nose with the heel of his palm.

When they saw her, the children fell silent, gazing from under their eyebrows, their noses running clear in the cold. Her passing always had this effect. She stopped and searched in the depths of her padded black cotton jacket and found a sesame cracker, stuck to the wrapper of rice paper, and gave it to one of the ­children.

“Share it,” she said, and smiled softly.

The children stared in open-mouthed silence, then, once she had passed, she heard the usual Ya! Ha! noises as they held their hands out, kung-fu style, and leaped about like kicking monkeys, and one of them said, ‘What did she give you?”

The walls of the gateway were smooth adobe, long used for pasting handwritten bulletins from local magistrates, officials and scholars. They had been recently scraped clean of the leprous tatters of old news, and now there were just three sheets papered there. Before it an old Muslim sat on a three-legged stool behind a stall selling spices. He had a narrow hawk-face, held a brass pipe between his front teeth, and puffed gently on the thick bung of rolled tobacco. One booted foot was drawn up onto his knee. His parrot looked out from its black wooden cage.

“News!” the parrot said. “News!”

Shulien paused to read the one titled Capital News. She scanned quickly through the lists of scandal and rumor—the Emperor’s concubines appeared to have slept with half the Empire—but it was at the bottom, almost lost amongst the minor news, that she read that Duke Te had died.

“News!” the parrot squawked. “No news!”

Duke Te was one of the last emperor’s sons, by a minor wife, but he was old and old men died. There was little scandal. Hundreds had read of the duke’s death. A few score even knew who he was. But the news of his death meant nothing to the townsfolk of far Wenxia. Most folk had no idea that he was Master of the Iron Way, the world of wushu fighters who traveled and drank and battled injustice wherever they found it. They just knew him as a member of the Imperial Family.

The news hit Shulien hard, though. She gasped for breath, even though she rarely thought of the old friend, or even of the treasure that he had hidden. But now it all came back like a torrent of dirty flood water that overtops the dike, despite the efforts of the farmers.

Once the first defense breaks there is no stopping it. She had to leave. She had to go to Beijing. She felt a stab of panic. The Green Destiny: who was protecting it now?

Shulien’s hut was too small to contain her frustrations as she searched for what she needed for this journey. Felt shoes, a rush jacket, silver coin, her swords.

As she searched she felt Mubai in the room with her. His ghost haunted her, and all the incense she had burned did nothing to quieten it.

The duke is dead, she imagined him telling her. His ghost stood over her. He was quiet, calm, impassive. She imagined him standing in his scholar’s gown. He liked the casual air it gave him, even when fighting for his life. He had been nonchalant about his safety; his brilliance and talent got him killed. She had loved and admired him as a man, but his ghost had a detached and patronizing air. I gave him the Green Destiny. It must be taken and hidden. You know the power of the sword. You know the power it has . ⁠. ⁠. She ignored him and his voice became reprimanding. Shulien, you must protect the sword. How could you let the duke die without securing the sword? Shulien, you must go and protect the sword.

“Yes!” she said suddenly. Her voice was short and impatient. The ghost hushed.

She was angry at the voice for nagging her, and angry at it for going silent now. Ghosts! she thought. She imagined the ghost was still with her. “I know. I was there. Remember? You died defending that sword.”

We had to. I had to.

Yes, she thought. Whoever held Green Destiny could hold the martial world in their fist.

The sun was setting as Shulien turned to take a last look at her mountain retreat.

A month or two, she thought. No more. Like a crouching tiger, the saying went, or a hidden dragon: she would slip silently back into the world of men and hide her true nature, unless imperative demanded.

“When I return, spring will be here, the first leaves will be unfolding, the birds will return.” She spoke aloud, as if her thatched hut was an old friend, who would look out each sunset, and hope for a glimpse of her.

“I have to go. I have to protect Green Destiny. It and I will retire here. Then the kingdom will be safe at last.”

Shulien turned her back; the hut was silent. It had a bedraggled air. Melting snow had soaked the roof thatch. A gray droplet fell from the end of a stray straw. It sparkled as it fell and disappeared into the winter mud.

She held that image in her mind, and turned and walked back into the world. She could not know it then, but every reassurance she had given her hut was wrong. She would never return. The sword would never remain hidden. The world, despite all her efforts, could not be safe.

Excerpted from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny by Justin Hill, © 2016 by Justin Hill, with permission of the publisher, Weinstein Books.