Hidden In Darkness
Shun held his eyeball out between the bars on the window and scanned the area. Xu mumbled as he tried to wake up. Tian looked over Shun's shoulder.
The Sun lit the horizon. Xu sat up and looked around. His body was sore in a dozen places from the battle he survived. They were in a stone room with a hay and straw floor, he would have thought it was a barn, if not for the steel that made up the fourth wall. He rubbed his sore head and looked out the bars that let in the fresh air.
“We're on an upper level,” said Shun.
Xu pushed him out of the way and held on to the bars. Out in the courtyard, the people and monsters of Venara ran in every direction. They shouted hysterically, looking like roaches running under lantern light. Doors slammed, the gates to the city were tied shut. It wasn't long before the last of them went inside and emptied the streets. In a very short order, it looked like a ghost town.
The sun shined across the courtyards and stages of Venara.
“Dawn...hold on to something.” A weary prisoner in the next cell spoke in a throaty, destroyed voice.
Everything began to rumble. The earth, the buildings, the walls. Shun put his eye away and covered his head. Tian tipped a cot and hid under it. Xu held on to the bars and watched. The city shook violently...and then it moved. It was like the whole city was a bucket going down a well; the dirt and earth rose beside the buildings. It didn't take long before the sun was gone, and the city of Venara was buried.
“Fascinating,” Xu said before he laid down on a cot. Shun reached out and felt the dirt that had sealed up around the outside of the building. He stepped back expecting the dirt to come in and suffocate them. He didn't know what held it back, but he was thankful it did. Tian looked at the window.
“It's a huge coffin, and we're buried alive.”
“Don't be so dramatic. When the sun goes down, we'll escape.”
Xu closed his eyes. Tian sighed. Xu opened one eye, and saw her staring.
“Who the hell are you anyways?” Xu asked, and closed his eyes again.
“I said my name is Tian.”
“Ok, how do you know Occult style kungfu?”
“It's Wudong style, from the Demon Wheel Manual.”
Xu sat up.
“Ha! Zhou Lai was the only student alive of the Demon Wheel, and he died five years ago.”
Tian's rage bubbled under the surface. The mention of the once great Wudong master was affecting her. Xu watched as she lost her inner struggle. Signs of her sorrow and frustration slowly broke out across her face.
Xu once fought a demon alongside Zhou Lai. They tracked him over a month. Zhou had taught him many of the skills that had made him a famous demon slayer. Zhou Lai was like the father he had always wanted, and when the mission was over, Zhou returned home to his family. It had been Xu's first time away from the temple, alone. A lot of the things he learned about the world, he learned from Zhou.
Tian was too young be his wife.
“Was he your father?”
It had been five years, and it still hurt Tian to think about him. Five years since her father, mother and brother were taken from their home. The monsters had waited until the Wudong kungfu master was ill. Perhaps they had poisoned him. They took them, one by one. Zhou Lai was made to suffer, to listen, as he lay helpless in a bed, to the screams of his dying wife. Tian had held his father's hand through it all. He told her to leave, told her where his kungfu and Demon Wheel manuals were hidden.
“Return after the sun is in the sky. Take the manual and finish your studies.”
“But father, I am not strong enough.”
“You must find the scroll of Spirit Disposal, take these skills to the master of darkness, and avenge your family.”
Tian looked away from Xu. She walked to the bars and shook them violently.
“Huh...” Xu shook his head. “Zhou Tian.”
“I need to get out of here.”
“Well, that is not going to help. Why don't you rest?”
Tian turned over a cot and laid down.
“Get some sleep, and we'll talk about your father later.”
Kui looked out from the back room at the Ill-Begotten. Creatures that looked almost human, some that barely had shape or form, and a few normal looking people continued to drink unaffected while the earth rumbled. Su-Yee put her hands over her ears. She looked ready to scream. Chi Zhen had walked into the bar, and was already out of sight.
Kui wanted to hold Su-Yee and comfort her, but he knew that was not appropriate. Instead, he rubbed his prayer beads and chanted Buddha's name. The rumbling stopped. Kui looked around, and thought it best to continue chanting.
Su-Yee sat down on the floor next to him. He should have told her it was inappropriate. He shouldn't be thinking anything but his mantra. Chi Zhen walked back into the room. Kui jumped up and Chi Zhen waved his hands.
“Quiet! Calm down!”
“What just happened?”
“This city is crawling with creatures,” Chi Zhen whispered. “Wraiths,demons, Jiangshi...”
“Ahh,” Su-Yee grabbed Kui's arm. “Jiangshi-–the hopping corpse.”
“They don't hop. They are deadly. In darkness, the city is open to all. The creatures of this city are powerful. In the light, they have no power.”
Kui nodded. Chi Zhen pulled out beads and sat on the floor, across from Kui.
“You're a Buddhist?”
Chi Zhen smiled at the young monk.
“Don't judge my life by the building I call home. I am not attached to this world.”
Kui bowed and they began to softly chant. Su-Yee stood up and looked out into the tavern. She gasped when she saw a giant snake with a human torso at the bar. She stepped back.
“And who are you?”
Su-Yee looked down at Chi Zhen.
“I don't think that matters.”
“She is with me,” said Kui.
Chi Zhen looked at Kui.
“Who is she?”
Kui looked at her and back at Chi Zhen. Kui had nothing to say. Su-Yee sat down across from Chi Zhen.
“I am not warrior, I have no kungfu, but I want to help in some way.”
The two monks looked at each other.
“Alright, I'll tell you.” Su-Yee pushed hair behind her ear exposing more of her face. Kui felt an uncomfortable yearning to touch the skin on her neck.
“When my father decided I was old enough to marry, he sold me to a farmer in Zhejiang. I was to marry his son...
…I walked into the house and bowed. The farmer was fat. His face was unshaven in splotches. His shirt was stained with dung from the field, and spilled food from meals. He looked at me like I was a meal. I kept my head low, and didn't look at him or his wife. She sat silent in the corner. She didn't look at me.
“I am very honored to be here. When do I meet your son?”
The farmer laughed. He told me to wait and grabbed his wife by the arm. He pulled her out through a back door. Then I hear a scream. She begged, screaming “No! No!” I couldn't wait there, bowing. I walked to the window and peeked.
The farmer raised chickens and pigs for slaughter. The man pulled his wife by her hair towards the barn. I knew then he had no son. And very soon I was going to be his wife. So I ran…
“...Before I could get home I was caught by a Venara slaver. Now I'm here.”
“When the city rises again, you should go home.” said Chi Zhen.
“To what? My father sold me, he'll send me back to that farmer, he won't believe my story.”
Chi Zhen stood up. He looked around the corner into the bar.
“I'm going to serve some drinks and get some information. Get some rest.”
Chi Zhen left, and Kui breathed a sigh of relief. He wanted to be alone with Su-Yee. No wonder she was so distrustful of men. They always tried to take and control her.
“I'm cold,” Su-yee wrapped her arms together tight. Kui took off his orange robe and wrapped it around her. She smiled back at him. “Won't you be cold?”
“Buddha keeps me warm.”
Su-Yee laughed, and smiled at him. He had not been making a joke, but she seemed to think he had. Best of all, she liked it. Kui smiled, and therefore took credit for the joke. How could he rest, with her looking at him that way? Kui turned away and looked at the prayer beads hung from his neck.
“Buddha be praised...Buddha be praised...” Kui chanted, and tried to get her out of his mind.
Jiang, the governor's daughter, laid on the bed next to Xu. He looked over and saw her young, beautiful face. She whispered, “Save me Master Xu.” He wanted to tell her that he would, but he knew she was lost long ago. He felt her blood soaking the bed under him, he wanted to jump up and run, but the blood thickened like hot wax and held him fast.
“Let me go!”
Xu's eyes snapped open. He leapt up off the cot, and swung his arm. Tian blocked the punch. In the distance, elsewhere in the palace--a gong rang.
“The Hour of the Rooster is at hand,” the otherwise silent prisoner in the next cell said.
Xu looked at Shun, who sat watching the window. The earth began to rumble.
“Time to escape...”