The General And The Monk
Xu pulled out his sword and picked one up left on the ground. He took three deep breaths, then braced himself as the wraiths descended. Shun hit the stage and covered his head. The one woman he freed ran; the other two screamed. Tian jumped toward Xu; at first, he thought she was going to kick him. Instead, she lifted into the air and landed on Xu's shoulders.
The first of the winged creatures swooped down with a hiss toward them. Tian swung her sword. With the boost from her height, she reached its wing with one of her blades. The wraith spun out as it screamed. Tian swung at a second wraith as she heard the first slam into the stage. Xu swung his sword, but the wraith moved unnaturally fast. It slammed into Tian's stomach and bear-hugged her. She dropped her weapons as the beast lifted her into the air.
Xu put up his hands, fearing a rain of sharpened swordblades. A wraith flew through and grabbed at the swords. Xu felt his feet leave the ground as the wraith that grabbed him knocked out his wind. A crowd had gathered, and gasped as the flying beasts attacked.
Shun tried to grasp ahold of the stage, as one one of the beasts grabbed on to him. Xu looked back at the crowd and saw people laughing and cheering the wraiths on. One face he knew. In the middle of the crowd, one person stood in stunned silence: Kui.
Once in the air, they moved so fast, it was a blur. Xu saw the moon, it looked close enough to touch, and the lights of Venara moved below him. He heard Shun's hysterical screams, Tian's angry shouts. Xu felt like he was drugged, he missed the out-of-body feeling that had been common for him, less than a week ago. He relaxed and laid back. The only thing he felt was the wind as it blew through his hair.
The night air was cold. He had fooled himself into thinking he could make a difference, that he could change the course of events. Xu heard Jiang, the long dead governor's daughter's voice. She prayed for help. Begged for a warrior to free her soul.
I must be dead, Xu thought.
Xu felt an embrace tighten. He looked up, wondering which of his many lovers was in heaven to greet him. The face was the color of silver-tinged coal, teeth sharp like a mouth full of screw-heads. The wraith stared down at Xu with disgust, and screamed.
The scream pulled Xu right out of the trance. Xu realized suddenly that he was inside a large room. The wraith threw him instantly. Xu didn't have time to put out his hands, and landed hard on a stone surface. He heard great rounds of laughter. When Xu looked up, he saw another wraith swooping into the room, lined with a cheering crowd of people. The wraith dropped Tian with a thud beside him, and she, too, semed to be coming out of a haze. A third wraith dropped Shun, and sped away over their heads.
Xu turned to watch them. They landed at the bottom of a short marble stair case. At the top of which, was a throne. A man, naked except for the crown of golden leaves on his head, laid upon a goldplated couch. A naked woman fanned him with a giant feather, and another naked man was rubbing oil on his feet. His skin was white, and his european features were unmistakable. This was the mayor of Venara. If Chi Zhen was correct, it was Horatius.
Tian tried to lift herself up. Xu admired her strength. He just wanted to lay there and watch her. Xu offered her a hand. They both stood up.
“Welcome to the general's palace, the seat of government for Venara,” said Horatius.
“Interesting welcome,” Xu said, as he stretched his sore back.
Shun held out an eyeball.
Horatius snapped his finger, and a slave brought him a robe. He stood long enough to put it on, then sat back down on his throne.
“What is this place?” asked Tian. “It's not just a city.”
Shun reached back into his bag. Archers came out of the shadows from four different directions. Xu tensed at the sound of their bows stretching; both he and Tian put their hands up.
“It's just a scroll,” Shun said, his hand still in his pack. Horatius signaled his archers to allow him. Shun unrolled it, holding it up. He looked at the drawing of a face, and compared it.
“Horatius–-the Roman general. The tales of his brutality...”
Horatius put a finger up, and and the archers stretched their bows again. Shun stopped talking, and bowed his head.
“I don't deny the tales, but I wish to tell them myself.”
Shun had heard that about him. He rolled the scroll shut.
“I would love to hear them,” Xu put on the fakest smile he could muster. “We don't intend to fight, so perhaps your archers could rest.”
Horatius's eyes bounced a few times between his archers and Tian.
“No, they will stay. You may have a seat.”
The General pointed to pillows at the bottom of the stairs.
Tian walked behind Xu.
“What are you doing?”
Xu ignored her and sat down.
Shun quickly followed.
Tian sighed deeply, and sat down.
“I had ordered your execution...but I wanted to meet the great demon slayer myself.”
Tian rolled her eyes. “Perhaps I didn't want to meet you.”
Horatius laughed and pointed at her. “You thought I meant you. Oh dear, my darling...I meant Xu.”
Tian looked at Xu and became white as a ghost. Even after fighting at his side, she had not thought to ask the monk what his name was. Xu the demon slayer had long ago left the temple, so she never imagined that this man was him.
“What makes you think that I am Xu?”
“Is there another hungover-looking individual dressed as a monk and traveling with a blind man who carries magic eyeballs? I have lived seventeen centuries on this earth. I have drunk the blood of your elders and built a palace of pleasure in each corner of this world. Venara is but one of my homes.”
Xu groaned inside. He didn't want to listen, but knew it was something about evil that made these maniacs have to brag about everything.
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