Sunday, April 17. 2011
“At the foot of the mountain sits the Shrine of Falling Blossoms. For as long as I remember it was tended to by a single monk.”
“Master you told this story already,” interjected Yllen.
“The young lord ain’t heard it!” Gundrea protested.
“I'm sure he wouldn't get it either,” Yllen switched to the other side of the path, knocking a stone down the hill.
“Get what?” asked Roderick. He was slightly more bearable out of his foppish garb.
Yllen still hadn't spoken to him since the fight though.
Gundrea shook his broom irritably, tramping up the road. “Alright so there was a demon see? He was trashing up the place and...”
They made good time, travelling the winding road into the foothills. The village was lost to the morning mists, where the crew busily repaired the airship. Gundrea's stories made the scenery roll by. Yllen secretly envied her master's knack for fabrication. Roderick too was engrossed. Weighed down by a heavy travelling pack he looked the odd one out. His clothes were a little too well-made, despite their drab disguise. Yllen's nose wrinkled and that accent. Far too rich.
“How many times must I say I’m just Roderick out here, master,” he said.
“I ain't your master young lord,” replied Gundrea.
“But you are Miss Hunter's?”
Gundrea gave Yllen a sly look. “That'd imply I control her,”
“Well was it you who taught her to fight like that?” Roderick glanced over his shoulder. Yllen had moved behind him, treading barely two paces behind.
Gundrea cackled. “Why don't you ask her?”
Roderick gave her an apologetic smile. She ignored him.
“What's the name of the monk we're going to see?” asked Yllen.
“Lu Zum? Cao Bei? I dunno. Been years since we met. He makes awful tea,”
“Most unlike you cooks then,” said Roderick, shifting the pack uncomfortably on his shoulders.
“Are you sure you don’t want any help with that?” Yllen was right behind him now, an unsettling glint in her eyes.
“No, just my shoulders getting bored,” Roderick sped up a little. He searched for something else to say. “Frankly I’m amazed you’re travelling so light,”
“All a sweeper needs is their broom,” Gundrea waved his cheerfully.
“So you're sweepers and cooks?” Roderick had a sly hint to his tone.
“Hey, we'll take whatever's going,”
Roderick sighed. “You're an odd pair,”
Gundrea nodded sagely. “He’s got us there, Sarah,”
He looked up sharply. “Sarah?”
Yllen rolled her eyes.
The shrine lay in a miniature valley nestled against the mountainside. Well tended peach trees littered the grass with blossoms. They gave way to a circle of raked stones and finally the shrine itself. It was an old wooden building, barely big enough to fit four people. The garden was very quiet, only the soft chiming of a brook that guarded its entrance. Gundrea led them across a tiny bridge and sandals crunched on gravel.
“Bit bleaker than I remember,” muttered Gundrea, limping towards the building.
Yllen let Roderick go ahead and tailed the rear. It seemed an awful lot for one monk to take care of by himself. Yet, the grass was trimmed and the trees had been pruned recently. She gently shook a carefully trimmed branch, disgorging more petals onto the ground.
“Hello?” called Roderick.
Yllen whapped him in the back of the head and hushed him.
Close up the shrine appeared abandoned. Its door was locked and the windows were boarded. The donations box did not jingle to Gundrea's rattling and there was dust upon the steps.
“Bit of a puzzler,”
“Didn't you say the old monk disappeared?” Yllen said, studying the ground for tracks.
“Oh I added that for drama. Old Lu Bu Chu always said he went for a nap after beating the demon. Bit of an anti-climax,”
“Perhaps he's gone for a nap now?” Roderick suggested.
Gundrea leaned on his broom. “Could be. Lass, could you check it out?”
Yllen nodded. She circled the shrine slowly, examining each window in turn. It took only a minute, in which she had to endure Roderick's curious stare.
“It'll have to be the door master,”
“Right,” Gundrea marched up the steps. He braced himself, shaking out his shoulders and stretching. Then he raised one fist high. He knocked on the door.
Roderick knelt to pick up a stone. “Could something have happened?”
Gundrea looked back at him. “He’s probably deep in meditations, contemplating the mystery of existence,”
“What’s that?” asked Roderick.
Gundrea looked put out. “What?”
“The mystery of existence. What is it?”
“Well it’s… well it's a mystery. That's why they call it the mystery of existence,” Gundrea nodded to himself.
Yllen shut them both out. Her eyes closed and she let the world fade away. The reedy voices. The press of gravel on her feet. The smell of peach blossom. Every sensation receded one by one. Then, when she existed alone in a void, she looked out with eye of her mind. The shrine glowed with shining lines. They criss-crossed amongst the trees, forming an eldritch web that thrummed with power. Nothing looked wrong with the picture. Nevertheless she knew there was something wrong. Slowly a pallor became apparent in the garden. She strained against her body, striving to capture something of its essence.
A hand on her shoulder jerked her back into the real world.
“What are you doing?” asked Roderick innocently.
“Concentrating.” Yllen snapped.
His hand withdrew hastily and he gave her that apologetic smile. “Sorry,”
“It's fine,” she said, anger receding.
The door to the shrine was open. Inside she could hear Gundrea bustling about.
“Master?” she called, anxious to have his insight on what she'd sensed.
The word didn't carry as much as she expected. She tried again.
“Master?” This time it sounded even quieter, as if something dampened her voice. Roderick was looking at her with a frown. His lips moved but she could barely hear him.
“I think there's something wrong with my ears,” she said.
Roderick's frown deepened and he stuck a finger in his ear.
Yllen delivered a sharp kick to the gravel. A spray of stone spewed into the air but Roderick and Yllen exchanged glances. Neither of them had heard it.
Yllen made towards the shrine. The wrongness she'd felt was present again. It thickened the air, making her limbs feel heavy and slow. Roderick struggled to follow her, resorting to wading like he was underwater. Yllen called out to Gundrea once more but of course she could not hear it. Roderick fell behind her, struggling on his knees. She turned back to help him, the cloying air like anchors dragging her down. It was all she could do to remain upright as the dark aura began to coalesce. Motes of purest black sparked from nothingness. They ran together, forming a blob of night upon the stairs of the shrine. Roderick's chest was heaving, the press of the air making it hard to breathe. Yllen managed to slip an arm around his and dragged him away from the shrine.
Those few meters took years to achieve. Yet that was all it took for the air to lighten and the lungs to labour no longer. Free of immediate concern Yllen and Roderick were able to watch as the blob took shape. It seemed in no hurry, limbs sprouting from the mass with lazy ease. Muscles slowly defined themselves, great ebony tendons that were far beyond any healthy mortal achievement. A head erupted from the body, becoming a savage snout with two eyes as black as its skin. Two horns completed the image, smooth and sharp like a bull's. The creature surveyed the pair.
Yllen swept a hand up, hiding her fears behind years of training. She'd never fought a demon before. She hoped they still died if you hit them enough. Roderick's jaw was slack, he had his sword half out but was probably going to be useless.
Then the demon bowed.
“Welcome,” its voice was an avalanche of the mind. “ to the Shrine of Falling Blossoms,”
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Pardon my long absence, the Leaving Cert and my own literary failures have been devouring my time.
It didn't actually look that good at first, but it got better. It would have been good if you'd finished it, I think (and f**k building up suspense. Stories are too short for that).
It's an ongoing. The next part is http://www.minds.nuim.ie/~darxide/serendipity/index.php?/archives/232-Late-Night-Tea-Bender.html
Thanks alot, that??™s a hell of a good theme. Decent work! This is great, thanks for sharing! =-=