a tale of Mythic Qin
I arrived at the temple when I was just a child of eleven summers. The bandits that killed my family were the remnants of an enemy army that had been routed by the Clockwork King during the early part of his reign. At that time, we had been told he was the best thing for the land and would reunite our people under a single leader.
I was an orphan, it was decided, since I could read and write I would be sent to live with the priests near Mount Hakaurai. The priests who took me up the mountain led several other children with us, but they cried all the time and could not be comforted. Eventually they were given to me to lead as the priests walked out in front of us and told us to follow, but not too close.
The trail was dusty and hard. The priests kept up a pace that was difficult and I had a hard time keeping up. The two younger children were even less able. I carried the smaller one for a time. Whenever we would stop for the night, I would have to take them to the woods to relieve themselves while the priests foraged for food. I had never been more than a day or two from home, so the approach to the mountains seemed miraculous to me. There were waving forests of bamboo grass blowing in the wind, the air was filled with the drone of insects, and the breeze was sweet and cool, even a bit chilled in the first part of the day, but it always warmed up later and became pleasant.
Gruff but not cruel, when we came around a particular pass, the priests stopped and pointed ahead. The appearance of the surrounding mountains was that of a jagged row of bottom teeth. Mount Hakaurai was one of a dozen spearlike mountains covered with trees near top. At the very tips of each mountain was a dusting of snow like a tiny hat. As we approached we could see the winding road that would lead to the top and it would take at least two more days to get there.
“Master, who made this road to the temple?” I asked because it appeared to be made of a strange rock I had never seen before, it had a quality that made it glow in the evening light.
“Let us set up camp, acolyte-to-be and we will share with you the tale of the Scaled Road of Mount Hakaurai.” The priests seemed to be in better spirits once they got closer to home, so I put off their apparent earlier rudeness to their fear of the recent bandit attacks. As we were getting the camp ready, as the sun set, the Scaled Road flashed with a ripple of fire that moved quickly up the mountain. It was a marvelous effect and quieted the two younger boys for the first time on the trip. Chikamasa, the younger had been sick for the first few days and the monks took him with them to the river, and promised that Jiro and I would be allowed to go and clean up, once they got back.
Chikamasa and the priests came back to the camp, and the boy was looking much better. He said they had been giving him some leaves to eat and others to drink in tea and it was helping. We got our chance to go to the river and cleaned our clothes and our selves. This was the first time in days we had been really able to clean up and it was wonderful. I thought this time with the priests might not be such a terrible thing. Not as good as home, but not as terrible as I first thought.
When we got back to the camp, the priests were preparing a rabbit they caught near the road. The area at the foot of the mountains was so green and forested, there were plants and animals everywhere. Master Gen, the second oldest of the priests, was tending the rabbit, having rubbed it in exotic salts and spices, it smelled so good, I could barely wait to eat.
“While the rabbit is cooking, let’s tell that tale,” said Master Shikamaru, who was the oldest of the three priests. There was once a celestial dragon, Akira the wise, who was said to be the cleverest of the Celestial King of Heaven’s court. It is said when there was a need of an answer to a question or riddle, Lord Akira was always the first consulted. When Lord Akira did not know the answer he would fly to the Earth and quest until he found the answer he sought. It was said he knew every flower, every tree, every animal and could speak the language of every creature.” He paused to take a sip of his tea and looked into our faces in the firelight. We were eager to hear more of his tale, and he paused dramatically before continuing.
“One afternoon, after a great argument in the Celestial Heaven, Lord Akira flew to Earth greatly perturbed by the arguments of the celestial named Akum, dark lord of the Underworld. Akum, while unloved by many in the Court was a renowned and miraculous seer. He predicted the end of the Celestial Heavens and that a great sorcerer-priest would lead an army of demons against them. When he was asked from whence that Sorcerer-priest would be born, he was unable to divine the answer. Lord Akira volunteered to find the answer to the question of the Sorcerer-Priest and flew to the Earth.
“Celestial dragons did not fly with wings, they undulated their bodies like giant snakes in the sky. So as he approached anywhere, he was a giant ribbon of light. So whenever he came near villages, people were always terrified of him and fled or fainted until he left. He swept the land seeking the answer to the question of the greatest sorcerer-priest until he heard tell of a priest of our Order. He flew to our mountain and landed, draping himself around the mountain from the top where his head stood at the gates to our temple to the bottom of the mountain.
“He called out to the temple and at the time, Master Po was the greatest of our Order and he came out to confront him.
‘Ho Lord Akira, Celestial Dragon of the Heavens, what brings you to our humble temple?’
‘I am told the greatest sorcerer-priest in the world resides here and I would question him.’
‘You do us great honor, Lord Akira, but no such person dwells within. He is but a legend to us as well. It is said that one day, we will house within our walls, the greatest sorcerer to ever live. He shall have the power to turn day into night, his spiritual power shall give him dominion over the very stuff of life itself. But today, he does not exist.’
‘Then perhaps it would be best if your temple were to cease to exist. For such a force might one day rival the heavens themselves.’
‘And what would be wrong with that Lord Akira?’
Akira tried to take flight in that moment and found he could not rise. Mount Hakaurai had been covered with hikaru dorodango, spheres of elemental mud, created from the Nine Realms, each capable of holding the spiritual essence of the nine chakras. Once Lord Akira landed, his powers were being drained away without his knowledge.
Master Po, used his Chi to try and subdue the great dragon and their battle of wills took place. It was said they struggled for nine days and nine nights, locked in place. So great was the struggle, nothing could move near them. Priests who tried were struck dead. At the end of the nine days, the great dragon won his freedom. But his thrashings left the scales upon what would become the road to our mountain temple.”
“What happened to Master Po? Jiro asked.”
“Master Po’s chi entered into the temple gate and protects us to this day. He determines who is worthy to enter the temple and removes those who would harm us.” This came from the least friendly of the priests, Sasume the Grim. “Master Po was my master many years ago and I was saddened by his loss to us.”
Jiro piped up, “But Master, you said he became part of the great temple gate. Doesn’t that mean he is still there?
“Yes, child, in a way. But his body passed on a few days later and we are only able to see him when new acolytes come to the temple.”
I noticed they did not answer the most important question, so I thought I would ask it. “What happened to Lord Akira and his quest to find the greatest sorcerer-priest?”
“That is a story for another day, children. It is late. Eat your supper. Tomorrow’s climb will be hard. We must reach the halfway point to get to the shelter or sleep again in the open. Mount Hakaurai is not kind if you sleep in the open at night.”
The next morning was cold and overcast, there was a low-lying fog which reduced our ability to see more than a few miles and Mount Hakaurai was obscured from view. The priests were up early and packed the camp while we slept. They woke us last and hurried us along. They did their best to hide their furtive glances but I saw they were agitated and distressed. We all but ran up the path toward the mountain.
As we approached, I found it harder to breathe. It was as if there were something squeezing me. My head felt heavy and my shoulders felt as if there was a weight upon them.
“Do you feel it, boy? Sasume whispered? Do you feel the spiritual pressure of the mountain? I told you, he was touched, Gen. The seer was right. He feels the pressure this far from the mountain.”
“Shut up, Sasume. You will frighten the boy unduly. There is nothing to be afraid of. What you are feeling is called spiritual pressure. Those of us with naturally high chakras can sense the energy of the mountain and until you are properly trained, it will feel as if you are bearing a great weight. It will not harm you. When you learn to understand spiritual pressure, you will be able to sense the power and capabilities of your opponents if they possess chi abilities equal or better than your own.”
“Yes, Master,” was all I could get out. Sasume grabbed me by the arm and dragged me along the path. The two little ones kept up best they could. When we reached the foot of the mountain, the day was half gone. Master Gen, looking at me, made a series of hand-signs, his hands moving in a variety of unusual shapes and then pressed them against my chest.
“This will help a little as we climb. You must concentrate and silence your inner thoughts. The mountain feeds upon your inner fears. Now hurry.” He grabbed up Jiro and put him on his back, Master Shikamaru, picked up Chikamasa, and the three priests moved as quickly as I had ever seen them. As we approached the path, my vision began to blur and I could swear I saw a shimmering coming from the road itself. Then Sasume shook me and continued to drag me up the road. I could feel a heat from the road as well, something that made my feet tingle.
We moved up the mountain and while we climbed we passed several large spheres. Perfectly round, shiny and each was a different color. There were smaller ones spaced around them and they too were comprised of different colors and possibly different materials. We rushed past the first one so quickly, I hardly noticed it. But when we reached the second, I could see it with my blurred vision as a luminous sphere connected to the smaller ones near it and to the very road itself. When I looked at the road, suddenly I could sense something else. “Someone is following us.” I blurted out before realizing what I was saying.
“Yes, I have felt it for some time now. How could you have known?” Master Sasume looked at me. “You felt it? You can feel the Road?”
“I’m not sure what I am feeling but its as if I can hear them talking. They are coming fast up the road. They mean us harm.”
“Then I shall stay.” Master Gen puts down Chikamasa, and turns to sit on the road. Take them to the refuge. You will be safe once you get there. I will entertain our guests. Come here boy.” He looked at me. You cannot afford to fall into their hands. I will teach you something now, you will need to know, but it will be painful and you will regret learning it this way. Give me your hands.”
I was terrified. His eyes had turned completely black and his hands had turned purple with a power I had never seen before. When my vision blurred, he was not just a man, he was a series of spheres, some brighter than others, and this flesh was just a tiny portion of what he was. He took my hands and I could see my own spheres, they were inside me glowing, each equally, until he took my hands, then I could feel my rage growing, my internal chakras flashed with new lights and then it burned, like I was on fire. I could not see, could not hear, all my senses were lost in an explosion so bright, the world turned white, the color of death. He let go and I was free. I could breath again and the pressure of the mountain was gone. I was light like air and knew things. Strange things, I had never known before. “Run, boy.” I ran. I ran like the wind. I caught up to the priests who had gone ahead and they were moving fast, incredibly fast, their sandals slapping the road with a powerful rhythm. I matched them easily. The road melted away.
When night was falling, we approached a small building. It was surrounded with the tiny spheres in the same number, nine, spaced equally around it. As we entered, I could feel the pulse of pressure and realized this was not just an ordinary shelter. As we entered we saw the road shimmer in the weak sunlight and it glowed again, just before sunset.
“Whatever you see outside that door, you are not to set foot out there again until morning. You can affect nothing and no one.” Master Sasume went to to the back of the building to make dinner. I felt compelled to stand in the doorway. It was open but I could not feel the wind from the road. I could see down the mountain and the evening fog had hidden the roots from view. It was then that I saw them leaping out of the fog. They were armored but not like the bandits who wore scraps of different armors stolen from battlefields of the dead. These were complete armors, beautiful and shining softly with their own light. The men were fighting someone, a priest from the robes. As he retreated up the mountain, his kung fu was masterful. He fought the entire group of at least twenty and as he retreated, each hundred steps they took, they paid for it with another man.
They were approaching the shelter and darkness was falling. I could still see him and their battle was slowing down. He was being struck, a nick here, a cut there and then their mighty spear thrusts caught him. Before he died, he released his red chakra and the five who held him with their spears burst into flames and died with him. He landed on the ground and turned toward me. I could see him looking at me and then he closed his eyes.
The last ten of the ghostly warriors continued up the path, but they looked around as if they were expecting attack. As they approached the orb, they did not seem to be able to see us, but they kept coming. As they grew closer, I could see the glowing sigil of a great dragon on their chests, the sigil of Lord Akira.
“Step away from the door, boy. You should not see what will happen to them.” Sasume was grinning while eating some cold bread and smoked fish he had found in the pantry. Jiro and Chikamasa were so hungry they did not even look up from their plates. I could not help myself. I stayed at the door and watched as the orb we were somehow inside of began to draw their life essence into itself. They tried to resist, they used magics, but this only seem to hasten the process. The more they struggled the faster they died. They screamed while they died; an endless thing. Eventually, they lay still. The light from their magical armor was consumed and then, their very flesh. I could not sleep after that.
Come morning, there was little to indicate anything had happened out there at all. The priests did not seem relieve however and we continued to run up the mountain until we reached the final staircase. I could see the gates at the top of the stairs. Sasume pushed Jiro and Chikamasa ahead of Master Shikamaru and he looked at me. “You must get to the gate, no matter what. This is where we part ways. You had better be worth this. Don’t look back.”
Master Shikamaru made a series of handsigns and then grab Jiro and put him on his back and Chikamasa in his arms, he started leaping up the stairwell. When I looked back at Sasume, he was standing at the foot of the stairs and more of the armored men appeared, this time many of them with beautiful bows with wickedly-tipped arrows that shimmered in the morning light.
Sasume stood at the ready, in a horse stance, legs bowed and arms at his side as the archers aimed and fired. He radiated power and the arrows struck him but did no damaged, each broken as if it had struck a wall. The archers fired several times and then retreated. We continued to climb the stairs and halfway to the top, we looked back. Swordsmen had engaged Sasume and he was holding them at bay. But his iron skin was not as strong as their swords and each hit took a bit of his armor away. But every time he struck one of them, they exploded with the force of his attacks. But the end was near for him. When we were within a few feet of the top of the stairs, he fell for the last time.
The soldiers then began to climb the stairwell and would be all over us in a few minutes. When we reached the top of the stairs, we could see the Great Gate of the Temple. It was an archway that stood twenty meters high made of black stone that had been worked to perfection. Even in the morning light, it did not shimmer, rather it absorbed the light, and seemed to harness it to create more darkness. Then it spoke. “Bring them to me.”
Master Shikamaru moved the two boys to the gate and beckoned me as well. I could hear the voice of Master Po and did not know which would be worse, to approach the gate or to wait for the soldiers. I went to the gate. Two men had already died to get me this far. When Master Shikamaru took the children to the gate, both seemed asleep until they cross the threshold. Then they bolted upright and fell to the ground right out of Master Shikamaru arms. And they lay there, unmoving. “They were…” The pause was long. “Unworthy.”
“Come boy, are you the stuff of legend?”
I looked over at Jiro and Chikamasa and my vision blurred. I could see their spheres going out one after another. I could see them, sense them struggling to hold on to life. I ran to them and touched them as they lay under the gate. I could feel this power, this terrible power as they poured into me, as if I were a refuge for their spirits.
“Boy, what have you done? They were mine to consume. How dare you interfere? Ah, look, you have the mark. I can see it on you. The darkness dwells within you. You are the one.”
All I could see was Jiro and Chikamasa on the ground and hear the voice of Master Po above me. I felt the fire of Master Gen inside of me, burning and I could hear the sounds of the warriors as they crested the stairs. Master Shikamaru stood next to me and plucked two arrows from the air right before they struck me in the back.
I turned around and felt the well of power of the Celestial Dragon, Lord Akira, in the air, in the ground, bound tightly inside of the Gate of Hakaurai. I could sense the energy of Lord Akira inside of these soldiers and I realized they wanted me dead. Me. I did not know them, had never done anything to them, and they wanted to kill me. I reached down to the earth and touched the power of Lord Akira bound there by the dark magics of Master Po. and I reached up and grabbed Master Po, I could feel him trying to take control of me, trying to make my body his. I pulled the dark and the light together.
Master Shikamaru was blown off the mountain when those two forces came together. His was the only death I regret that day.
The soldiers of Lord Akira were, no matter where they were on the mountain, destroyed and absorbed into the defenses of the mountain itself. Their arms and armor were the only sign they were ever there. The Great Gate exploded and the temple walls nearest to the gate were destroyed as if a bomb had been released there. The Black Gate was no more. I stood in the center of the explosion clutching the bodies of two small boys to my chest.
The priests climbed over the wreckage of the walls and got down on one knee before me. Then they led me into the temple and I slept for twenty days. When I awoke, they had cleaned me, dressed my injuries and told me I was the one foretold of by Akuma. I was the one who would cast down the unrighteous oppression of the gods upon man. They made this pronouncement to me as if it was the most normal thing in the world. They stood stoically looking at me waiting for my response. “I do not want that.”
“It does not matter what you want. It is fated to be this way.”
“What if I defy my fate?”
“Then you doom the world to whatever would take the place of your great work. No seer can see beyond that point.”
“How will I take over the world when the Clockwork King has already destroyed any who oppose him?”
“Look within you. Feel inside yourself.” The Priest who addressed me was old, far older than Master Gen. I could see his age upon him like a cloak.
I closed my eyes and could feel my chakra. I could feel the power of four beings within me. And four lifetimes.
“We will train you, Dark One. And when you have outlived petty kings and even their kingdoms, you will be ready to topple Heaven itself.
“And if I chose to destroy the Clockwork King myself?” He murdered my family and my friends, everyone and everything I knew.
“Then we shall make you ready for that, as well. Rest, tomorrow we begin your training.”
And we did. The next forty years would see me gather power and skills as no man had ever had. Grandmaster Yinre, the priest who saw to all of my training would die as I became the ruler of Mount Hakaurai and its temple. As my power grew, my sense of Master Gen faded as his life energies left me. I could still feel Jiro and Chikamasa’s energy searing within me. I could also feel oily evil that was Master Po searching for a way to make my power his. Who knew a lifetime would fly by so quickly?
The lands of the Clockwork King grew and eventually bordered my own. I knew my time had come. I set out that morning, the temple bustling with the young monks who would one day become my army. But first, I had to see the land for myself. I set off to view my enemy firsthand.
Hikaru Dorodango © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved