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Story: Session 1



Yang Si Tang - Art

Childhood I

I am Tang of Yang family. I am bravest warrior ever, except when I get bullied by the other kids. I will show them. I will become the wesh destroyer kung fu dragon god.

Childhood II

I learn now. I learn mind and body. I learn way of the warrior. I stand in Cold River for hours and strengthen body and mind. I freeze but I grow stronger. I hit Mefun. Mefun hit me . hard. I grow stronger. I sneak around and they don't see me (Mom does though and cousin Do). I practice punches.

Phase I

I am Focused. Focused. Focused. Focused. I spend a lot of time in freezing river and daring Mefun to hit me. Then I learn to heal myself. I practice meditation.

Phase II

I practice punches and kicks. I stand in River and swim in the cold. I learn to heal people, not just myself. I am warrior. I am fighter. I am quick. I am deadly. One day Mefun and Wesh will die.

Phase III

I got a bear cub. I keep him in woods. I name him "Xiong"/bear. I sneak away much to play and fight with him. I am warrior. I am bear man warrior who is free in woods and stream. Village life is boring and restrictive. I no like.

Phase IV

I met friend in woods. He lives in woods. Now I live in woods. We thrown things and fight. I am better fighter. He is better thrower. I am bear man warrior who lives in woods. Roar. "Xiong" has grown and is large now. He follows me. I teach him things. He shows me honey. He attacks where I say many times. Other times he just sits. I am ready to attack Wesh and Mefun.

Chao Shiko Bi - Josh

Childhood I

I was born Chao Shiko Bi, "Sake's Harvest", an inauspicious beginning at best. My grandfather was a slave from another village, brought here by the Wesh to "keep the seed clean". Perhaps they understand more of husbandry than they let on. He taught me many things before he died, some things that he had not even shown his daughter.

I dont think he liked my father much. That did not put him in the minority. But his status as an outsider in the clans, adopted into my mothers at the insistence of the Wesh, did not leave him much room to negotiate. It didn't stop him from dying to protect them both... and me... when they came for the Taking. I live with my mother alone now. She cries a lot and speaks little. I see my father and some of my aunts and uncles occassionally, on the other side of the fence where the Taken reside. They don't recognize me, though I am unsure if this is pretense or not.

I have spent many nights out in the village, mostly watching the Wesh. When they killed my grandfather it was not slowly. The Mefun overwhelmed him easily, and hoisted him up by the arms over a beam in the house. I ran to fight them, but they knocked me aside and laughed. One of the Mefun was about to kill me when the trio of Wesh stopped him. Their words follow me in my dreams, "Leave the fierce rabbit alone. His skin may prove useful when it has stretched out with age a bit." From that day forward, all of the Mefun call me "Fierce Rabbit" and it has caught on in the village.

It was while watching the Wesh that I met Yang si Yang. He watches them too. He's a troublemaker, but I like him. His cousins were the first to call me Fierce Rabbit. They thought it was an insult. But they learned otherwise when I used my weaver's bat on them.

I also like Chao Ih Bon. His family helped me cut down my grandfather, when no one else would. They also showed me how to build a pyre for him and taught me the words to pray. (I hope they did not notice that I made some other prayers as my Grandfather had taught me.) I made his tablet and every morning before I head off to the weaver's hut to bat out more rope or work the loom I visit it and offer a small portion of the previous evenings meal.

I think it is his voice I hear calling me out to the woods...

Childhood II

I get bored a lot. My mother and I still work in the weaving hut. Mostly I bat out the ropes. It's not bad, and Grandfather showed me how to spin the staff to get the most force from it. Sometimes when I do that the Mefun look at me funny, but the overseer likes to watch and laughs at me when that happens. He grunts something at the Mefun in their snorting language and laughs, and they generally look away or laugh back. I don't know what they are saying, but sometimes I think I understand what they mean.

Mother has gotten very strange, and I worry about her a lot. She seems always frightened, and it has gotten harder for me to sneak out at night. And then after what happened to Ih Bon's family, well that was sad. Mother should not have done what she did. But I play with Ih Bon and share my food with him. He's funny with his "magic stick", but I must say it really did hurt when he hit me. I wish I had a real magic stick. Then things might be different around here. I'd get my dad back, and my mom wouldn't have to be afraid any more.

Li Bo Pie made me mad today. He started by picking on Ih Bon, and when I got in his face he said my dad was a coward who went over to the Taken willingly. He said I was a coward too, and that I would be a Taken when I grew up just like my worthless father. He said he was going to have his father kick me and Ih Bon out of the village. I wanted to hit him, but he has 4 other boys that he uses like the Wesh use the Mefun. I said I wasn't a coward. He dared me to prove it.

So I did. In the upper part of town where the Mefun live there is a giant horn on one of their buildings. I've heard the old storyteller's song about when the Demon came down from the mountain. They say it was looking for something... One of it's bretheren had been imprisoned long ago by the Dragon of the Heavens. It spent 40 days searching the area around the villages and along the river. In old times it would never have done that for the river dragon would have slain it. But now with the river dragon gone there was none to stop it. Or so it thought. The Mefun and some of the Wesh from the local villages gathered a great war party and went after the beast. The song says that many were slain, whole clans of Taken were sacrificed in the initial attack, but in the end the demonkin was destroyed.

It's horn sticks out from their biggest building, the place where they gather to eat and make noise. It used to be that the boys in town would touch the horn when they became men, but that hasn't happened in a long time. I walked towards the horn, ignoring the whispers at my back.

The Mefun saw me coming. Humans weren't allowed in their part of town without permission, and one came up to me and cuffed me along the side of the head. I got up and kept walking, and he cuffed me again. Again I rose, and this time his hoof sent me flying into a wall. My side hurt bad, but I got up and ran towards the horn. He tried to follow, but I ducked under a railing and then dodged around the well. And he roared in frustration.

A whip snaked out and cut open the cloth at my shoulder. I almost fell again as it snapped across my back, but I kept running instead. The Mefun drew his arm back and the whip coiled like a serpernt, lashing forward and circling my boot. He yanked and i fell in the dirt. But he wasn't ready when I yanked back. The whip came out of his hand. I pulled it from my boot, but left it there. You never took hold of a weapon. That meant death.

I ran, and the overseer was waiting. He stood below the horn, a dozen Mefun gathered now around their part of the village. Some snorting, many hooting and grunting. I slowed to a walk and approached him. I reach up toward the horn.

His balled fist knocked me to the ground. Blood ran from my nose now. I stood and kept reaching for the horn. Again he hit me, and now my lip was bleeding as well. I stood and jumped for the horn, but I was too small.

Then Ih Bon was there. I guess no one had noticed him while I was running and such. He stood behind me as I rose the third time. The overseer moved towards him, but I stood in the way. We stared at each other a long long time. The adults say it was only a moment or three, but I know it was a lifetime for he and I. Somewhere inside I understood when he nodded that it wasn't that I won or even that I had earned respect. I owed him, and one day he would collect. (Hows that for a plot connection for you later Mark?) Then Ih Bon leaned against the wall of the building and I stood in his hands and reached up to touch the horn.

It felt funny under my fingers, almost like it was still alive. But that was probably the result of so many blows to the head. Ih Bon looked at me and I formed a finger lift for him.

We walked back to the human part of the village, and Mom tended my wound.

That night I went and followed Grandfather's spirit into the woods...

Phase I

It took me several weeks to follow the spirit. Well that's not really a good way to explain it. Apparently spirits move far faster than I can run.

Fortunately, the spirit took the same route every time. So it was after several days I got closer to where it was leading me.

It became clear though as I got into the eastern hills that I was going to need to stay throughout a day. So I spent a few days collecting water from the river. It was there that I saw Song Ting Lee. He was a fish catcher's boy, and he was chasing his sister. His sister was quite pretty, and I admit for a few minutes I watched her play. Ting Lee looked like he was playing for a time. The Mefun didn't seem to appreciate it, and when he got back towards the gate he got cuffed in the head. He needs to learn to get his workdone before he plays.

I had the water, I kept it in a waterbag which I hid under my pallatte. Then I went and visited my friend Yang Tao So. I liked Yang. He was a tough bugger, and he didn't like the Li brothers either. One time He'd gotten in a scuffle with them. I think it was Yang Si Yang's fault. He was always calling people names. Candidly they were usually pretty accurate and funny. Anyways the two of them were getting jumped on by the Li Five Oh. They were five cousins who acted like they owned the whole village. And they were giving the Yang cousins what for. That is not really a full picture, as the two yang cousins were giving as good as they were getitng. Naturally i jumped in. Maybe it was because I hated the Li brothers, maybe it was because I liked the Yangs, Maybe I was just in the mood for a fight that day. Maybe I had seen the broiken clay wolves that Tao So made. I don't really know why I jumped in, I just did.

Well let's just say I'm not a good fighter. And when lh Bon jumped on Li Gu Cho's back and was whirling around like some crazy living cape in the wind, it just became hysterical. In fact it was Song Ting Li's laughter that broke it up. The fishing boy rocked back and forth and laughed, and soon we were all laughing.

So it was that when I spoke with Yang Tao So, he was happy to spare me some jerky, without questions.


Today is the day. I hurried through my work. Giving an extra effort in beating out the rope. I made a big show of pushing extra hard and then being a little bit sick. Tomorrow is a rest day, and tonight everyone in the village will gather for the end of week meal. Usually a big stew and the hard bread and cheese from earlier in the week.

I curled up my extra clothes and put them under my blanket. No one should miss me, but a quick inspection would show me in my bunk. I told my mom I was tired and left the meal early. Then I snuck out of the camp.

I'm not a great sneaker. Not like the Yangs or lh Bon, but I can move quietly when I need to. And the Mefun aren't that vigilant. In fact I don't think they much care about where the humans go. There hasn't been much trouble in the village since I've been alive, and even my Grandfather said that things have been quiet for too long. Sometimes he'd look at me funny and say, "Perhaps you'll change that, boy." I don't know what that means, but that's what he used to say. I think I'm pretty quiet, it's Yang si Yang who's loud.

So I ran down the riverbank and crossed over, followed the game trails into the eastern hills, and made my way into the forest to a great stone. This wasn't the way that the spirit went, but I learned that the spirit could float up a rock wall that I could not climb, and pass over a gorge I could not jump. But this was a good place to pick up the trail.

It still took me most of the remaining daylight to get to the great stone.

I have to say at first I wasn't impressed. The spirit led me to this massive block of white granite laying on the ground. Sure it was bigger than the hut my whole Clan slept in. Well, at least until the lightning strike and the Taking... *sniff*

But seriously, this was it?

Then I noticed the markings. They were very similar to the "writing" that Grandfather had taught me when he was alive. I had spent a whole night by the full moon looking at them. I was punished for being lazy the next day by the Mefun, as I was exhausted.

As I looked over the markings, I remembered the lessons and stories Grandfather had told me. And one day I was humming the tune he taught me while tracing one of the letters. I nearly made water in my tunic when the marking began to glow.

It was another week as I figured out that they needed to be activated in order, and then 2 more days to figure out what the darn order was. But tonight I was pretty sure I could get through the whole thing.

It was dark, but I had brought a tallowed rope, mother called it a wick, and lit it in a small cup of oil. When i did I looked up to see my Grandfather before me. He looked funny, pale, colorless and glowing. I'd also never seen him floating before.

"If you choose this path, my boy, your road will be long and fraught with peril. It has been many cycles since an Initiate of the Dragons walked among the children of the gods."

I stood and bowed. "I am ready to walk the road, Grandfather. Though I do not know the way."

The spirit of my Grandfather smiled. "Well then, let me show you."

Then I began the process of outlining each of the symbols in order. And he told me of their deeper meaning.

As I finished the entire stone was bathed in the five colors of the lights from the symbols. In the center of the stone a great circle formed, and then gently fell away leaving a set of steps behind.

Glancing at my Grandfather I went down the steps and found myself eventually within a great chamber. Murals were on the wall, each depicting a scene I did not readily comprehend. In the center of the room were five great pillars, each made of solid jade, each of a different color. Within the center of them was a small dais made of white jade. A chunk of these pillars would let a man buy my entire village... well assuming the Mefun would not just take it from you.

"These are the 22 greater arcana my boy. Each provides a lesson for the neophyte and the master alike. These are the fundamental lessons of the world. You will begin here." He pointed at a great image of a young man, packed for traveling, the road winding behind him, as he stepped off a cliff.

"But first, and at each step along the way, you must be tested..." He pointed at the dais.

I approached the dais and found that there were several dark places on the jade. Something had stained the circle long long ago. There were also five jade circlets, one of each of the same type as the pillars. I looked at my Grandfather.

"You may leave now, and never return. Or you may take on the manacles of power and risk yourt own death."

I thought of my life so far, and what I had to look forward to. A life of slavery, a father who did not know me, a mother going insane, my best friend orphaned and virtually cast out of the village, and years of beating a big stick against another big stick to stretch out ropes...

I reached for the manacles.

They were loops, so I put my leg through one, and it shrunk until it was tight against my shin. Again on the other side, and then my wrists. I found the final loop would fit over my head, and it closed upon my neck tightly. I was worried I might be choked.

"Power must never be work lightly Shiko." Rarely had he used my name in life. This was the first time in death.

Suddenly the bands began to glow with a brilliant golden light, and I was wrenched off the ground spread eagle and each of my appendages being pulled as if by a great hand. They were ripping me apart, and i could hear my bones cracking. I cried out in pain.

"You must stretch to contain the power that awaits you. Your body..." There was a fresh burst of pulling and the bands kept me lifted and in pain as they drew me apart.

"Your mind..." Then the pain was nothing as my sight became a miasma of colors. Images flashed through my mind faster than I could comprehend... things I knew, things I dreampt of, and things that I had never conceived filled my vision.

... colors... .family... waterfalls... stars... metal... a mefun's private parts... the falling leaves...

At the same time my world was a cacophony of sounds. Somtimes related to the image, mostly not, ...bird calls.. speech. steam from a kettle... ... the crack of lightning... a scream... the roar of a great beast....

Smells... apple blossom... dung... the wet ropes... my mother's hair... the charred corpses of lh Bon's parents...

I felt mostly pain, but then ...smoothness... pricks against my skin... sandpaper... then a terrible softness that left me aroused...

My mouth awash in tastes... oranges... tea... dirt... blood...

"Your Soul" My grandfather called out.

Suddenly I felt the world, I WAS the world, and more beyond...

I lasted a few moments and then all who I was washed away and I simply became.

I don't know how long it lasted or when it stopped, but when I realized I was aware of myself and only myself again I found I was kneeling on the dais. The bands were gone. Blood was flowing from my nose, mouth, eyes, ears, and bowels. It pooled beneath me and was caught in the grooves of the dais.

"Quickly Boy!" My Grandfather's spirit was there. "Your own blood deserts you, you must now accept within you the blood of the Dragons."

The world was getting smaller and darker. I was cold and very tired. I could not hear my grandfather any more, but I saw a chalice before me. It contained a liquid of some sort. I reached for it, but my arm would not move. I tried again and again. There, I saw my arm before me, though I felt it not at all. I grapsed the chalic in both hands, surprised as I had only thought I was moving one, and raised it to my lips and drank...

FIRE!!!!! It Burns... It freezes... My mouth could not stop drinking and my throut was raw from the power I drank inside. The chalice fell to the floor as my body spasmed and jerked. I must have hit my head as the world faded from my vision.

I awoke, lying upon the dais. My peasents garb soaked in my own blood. Yet I felt more alive than ever. I had energy and strenght. I leapt to my feet, hands balled as fists. I WAS ALIVE!

"Easy there, boy. There is yet one more aspect to the Initiation."

I looked at my Grandfather. He seemed pleased.

"Call out the names of the Dragons you will serve."

I stood, and called out, "Ne-Long". A great wind arose and lifted me from my feet. The wind tore my clothes form my body. Spinning so fast I could barely breathe I was suddenly struck by lightning. Underground the bolt speaked It seared my skin and marked it, and when it passed over my skin the wind froze the charred marking. In a moment it was over and I was dropped. My skin tattooed with the glyphs of the Dragon of the heavens.

"Qi-Long" I called out when my breath had returned. The chamber flooded, yet I could breath. Water filled my lungs my stomach my everything. Sharp edged tides within the pool marked my flesh and as the waters receded I was now marked with the glyphs of the Dragon of the Seas. Where they touched those of Ne-Long they formed the images of ice and rain.

"Ma Long" Came forth next, and my body was on fire. All of my hair burned away in every part of my body, and I was branded with the glyph of the Dragon of Mountain Fires. Where it crossed those of Qi long it took the form of steam and where it tuched Ne Long it caused images of smoke.

"Fu-Long" buried me in rubble then sand then talc, yet I lived, his glyph chalked onto my body and forming images of mud, and metal and dust storms where it passed through those of his brothers.

"We-Long" surprised me, as I had not expected the ivy to grow out from within me. His vines tattooed all the other dragons glyphs upon my in the vibrant colors of the forest, his needles the thorns of his Ivy and his own glyph rising up the back of my neck and tattooing my scalp.

"Now you may rest." Grandfather said as I passed out yet again.


I returned home, but not before Grandfather showed me a hollow that contained a compound I could rub over my skin. He explained that the tattoos were permenant, but the dragons did not want their first initiate in years to be slain out of hand. Thus the compound would cover and hide my markings. My hair was going to be another story, but then the Dragons were not there to do everything fo their adepts.

When i returned home, Lh Bon was gone. He had run away during the hard freeze that had hit the village during my short absence.

I was beaten for being away, but the villagers and the Mefun accepted my story of having gone to look for my cousin. They also had much laughing about my baldness.

The village was locked down tight for many days, and it was some time before I could again get away to begin my training. Yet the Dragons and Grandfather were patient, and learn i did.

I also sought out my wayward cousin when I could and when i found him I was in for asurprise...

Phase II

The village was falling apart. No wonder the Li's were in control of everything. After my Clan was shattered, and lhBon's parents were killed, then the Herb Lady died, lh Bon ran away, and now Yang Tao So has been crippled. Next Yand Si Ting is going to go crazy or something.

I have been sneaking off to the Crucible every night. That is what I call the shrine to the dragons. Grandfather is frequently there, he is a harsh teacher.

First I study the Arcana. I have spent much time on the Fool. Grandfather says he is the most important of all. For if one does not start a journey one may never get anywhere. The first lesson of the fool is to be aware of the world around you. For without awareness you too might walk off a cliff. So I sat outside and looked. Grandfather watched me for a while then asked what I was doing.

Shiko: I am being aware of the world.

Grandfather (chuckling): Really? How?

Shiko: I am looking around.

Grandfather: And is that enough?

Shiko: Well, I am listening too.

Grandfather: Oh you are? What do you hear?

Shiko: Nothing, the sound of the night.

Grandfather: Really, and what are the sounds of the night?

Shiko: Well i hear a stream off over there. And the crack of the trees in the cold wind.

Grandfather: And do those sounds stop when the night isdone?

Shiko: Well no...

Grandfather: Then how do you attribute to them an aspect such as "of the night"? Hmmm?

Shiko: Well I guess that was wrong.

Grandfather: And what do you see?

Shiko: OK, I see rocks and trees and this great stone, and the sky and stars and...

Grandfather: And do you think seeing all these things makes you aware of them?

Shiko: Well yes, i mean i know where they are and what is happening with them and how they might threaten me.

Grandfather: Reall? Come here.

I stood and walked over to the rock he was floating over.

Grandfather: Pick it up.

I reached down. It was a wide flat rock, not overly heavy... Underneath were a dozen beetles and some worms and black earth.

Grandfather: Do you see now?

Shiko: Yes

Grandfather: What do you see?

Shiko: (I began to say worms and bugs, but instead i thought for a moment. What was the lesson here?) I see that seeing it not enough. Hearing is not enough. Touching and tasting is not enough is it?

Grandfather smiled and shook his head. "Excellent, you made that leap faster than I expected. No, none of your senses are enough, but there are two more things to glean from lifting the rock related to sensing the world around you. Can you tell me yet what they are?"

I sat for a time and thought.

Shiko: I had to move the rock to see what was beneath it. So many things may be hidden from my senses.

Grandfather: Good. That is one. Close your eyes.

I closed my eyes.

Grandfather: Shiko, don't be foolish. Open your eyes and put the rock down. Then close your eyes.

I smiled sheepishly.

Grandfather: Now feel inside. Your blood connects you in a way to the entire world and everything within it now. Feel the blood and the power, feel the connection.

It took time, a lot of time. I think Grandfather grew inpatient because he faded away for a time. However finally i found it. It was there all the while, but I did not understand that it was a feeling. It was like listening to your heart beat or feeling your breath through your body. Only this was tinted with the power of the elements. I felt the warmpth of fire throughout my body, I had thought it was simply my body heat, I smelled the earth in my skin, the echo of wood was in my bones and water fliied every aspect of my body. Air flowed through more than my lungs.

Grandfather: Excellent, now in the same way, and without opening your eyes, reach outwards and "feel" the world around you.

I did and it was glorious. I felt trees and stone. Water was in the sky and beneath the ground, and flowing through everything. I opened my eyes and no longer did I see the world, but rather everything was a mixture of elements. And i could see how they joined and fought and flowed and grew within and between and among each other. I saw how they connected and touched one another.

Grandfather nodded: You should be aware that when you look at the world like this your eyes glow with the glory of the dragons. It will allow people to know you for what you really are. The power of the dragons is formidable, yet it is not subtle. and THAT is why the initiates of the dragons have been hunted down and slain with ease. All but a few bloodlines are gone now.

Grandfather: come back to the stone. What is the second lesson here.

Shiko: I had to move the stone to see. I have to be IN the world to know OF it.

Grandfather smiled: Good, reach your hand into the soil. What do your new senses show you?

I reached in and felt a whole world beneath my hand.

Grandfather: Do you feel the water?

I nodded.

Grandfather: Bring it forth.

It took almost the rest of the night for me to understand how. It was not a willful thing. As grandfather explained i had plenty of will, what I needed to do was FEEL. It came slowly, but come it did, and when I found it, a great geyser of water leapt up from that spot.

Grandfather: Good. Bathe and drink, it is nearly time for you to return home.

I went to see Tao So. There is something strange going on there. I tried to move the dragons to aid his body, but though they may bolster his form, they do not seem capable of healing his injuries. I don't think he cared for the way the earth covered him or the vines grew over him. I tried to calm him down, but he wasn't very happy. I didn't even try the fire, he threw something at me when I suggested it. I think he doen't want to risk that glorious head of hair. We laughed at that.

The others in the village spoke of the old priest who lived in a hidden shrine well away from the villages. Yang Si Tang expressed interest in going there. I don't know if he hoped to find something to help his cousin, but it occured to me that understanding the ways of healing would be a powerful tool alongside my access to the elemental blood.

So it was we went together.

I was glad he came, as i don't know if I could have found the place myself. When we enetered the lonesome Dell, we came upon the old man.

He asked us why we came, and i told him I sought to learn the ways of healing. He looked at me deeply. "I sense much fear in you."

Yet in the end, he agreed to teach me. He said he had other students. And thus was i reunited with lh Bon.

I admit the lessons with the priest were not very exciting, and I grew bored after a time. My understanding of the Way was imperfect and did not come as easily as my mastery over the elements. I could perform the basic feats, but lh Bon quickly showed a greater aptitude and perhaps that small taste of envy made my decision to depart easier.

I thanked the master and left. There was more of the world to see, and i had been away from the village long enough.

Phase III

The elders discussions came to me again and again. There were others. Now that I had met the priest I knew this to be true. The priest was not alone.

But if this were true then how many might there be? It meant that there were more people, more... humans, than those in the villages. My world was no longer my own. Other humans, dragons, spirits of the ancestors, and other things.

The Srin-ga ruled from their positions of strength, but now I had power. The Mefun were soldiers, the Wesh their masters, and the Sring-Ga were few and far between.

Perhaps it was time. Time for the humans of this world to reclaim their place.

I had been experimenting with my powers. Learning to shape the elements, learning to attune to the locale I was in. The power was incredible. But I was not strong enough to challenge them alone. I would need others, colleagues, friends, companions.

I used my power only once in the village. It was enough, when I used my power the Wesh knew. I don't know how or why, but they came surging out of their great building. I didn't wait to see if they could find me, I snuck out of the village quickly and quietly.

I went into the woods, and sang to the trees. After a time, there was a rustle in the trees. I ceased singing.

"It has been a long time since I heard that song, oh manling. A long time we elementals have been left alone. Where did you learn that song? And how did you make it call to me?"

I looked up and saw the great wood spider above me.

"I need your assistance Great Elemental."

"Oh I think not, manling. I think instead you'll get my fangs." It leapt towards me, but I was ready. Grandfather had warned me that even when the Initiates of the Dragons were powerful the elementals routinely challenged them for dominance. Those weak or young or foolish enough to summon an elemental without proper supplication or power died.

I was not unaware, I had the power. And I was no longer young.

Power surged, and a stroke of lightning fell from the sky and blasted a hole in it's abdomen and knocking it aside. It's pedipalb slashed open my side, but as it landed it ceased to move.

After a moment, we both rose. The hole in the spider had mended, but so had my own wound.

"MMmmm... Intriguing. Perhaps we were mistaken. What is it you need, Prince of the Earth?"

"I need power. I need companions. I need resources to wage war against the Sring-Ga."

"You need what... HA!" The wood spider rose up on it's hind legs shivering and laughing. It fell over onto its back.

"Ah ha ha ha" It lay on it's back shaking its legs in the air.

Shiko sat back and waited, "Perhaps more lightning?"

The spider waved a leg... "No.." "No wait." "That will not be necessary."

The spider resumed it's sitting position.

"You do not understand what you ask Human."

"Initiate" I responded.

"It matters little what you call yourself. In the centuries past there were many initiates, masters of the elemental paths and mighty in their control of essence. They failed, and were killed one by one. What possibly makes you think that you can succeed where they did not?"

"Because dear Spider..."

"I am one!"

The spider looked at Me quizzically. But I did not elaborate.

"As you wish. But there is little in the locality that I am aware of. The great river dragon was slain, as were the human rebellions, the old priest was a source of power yet now he is also dead."

"No!" I cried out.

"Yes, you see, none can stand against them."

"Until now. Is there nothing I can use?"

"No... unless..."


"The swamp, holds... mysteries. Things dark and old. Within resides... well, resides is the wrong word. In times of old there was a thing of darkness, great power it had, it was bound, and left in the sswamp. Over time it's taint leaked from it's binding. The Initiates fonf the swamp removed from their control and withdrew. Some say that there were many items of power left there, out of reach when the Sring-ga came. Perhaps there you will find something."

I nodded. But for such a journey I would again need supplies. And So I returned to the village, singing an ancient song:

Every Year it's the same

And I feel it again

I'm a loser

No chance to win

Leaves start fallin'

Come down is callin'


starts sinkin' in

But I'm ONE


And I can see

that this is me

and I will be

You'll all see I'm the one


Phase IV

This was a long time in coming...

Shiko had tested the edges of the Swamp. It was not a good place. His powers waned there, and he would rely on himself. He was ill prepared for a physical test, yet it was likely that was exactly what was before him.

As he prepared a pack to seek out a way into the swamp again he heard screaming.

It sounded like his mother.

He came out of the hut, and there she was, crumpled on the ground, the old one eyed cow "Busteye" stood over her snorting, breath hot and moist in the cold air. A long whip with sharp talons was in her hand it's end bloodied.

As Shiko watched the Mefun gave the crumpled human form a swift kick, but it elicited no response. Another snort came form the mefun as she turned to walk away.

"MOTHER!" Shiko screamed as he ran to her broken body. He checked her over and when he found he battered and beaten with no pulse he held her close. "NOOO!" He cried out, rocking and holding her corpse to his chest. He saw his sister with Song Lee. She turned and buried her face in his chest.

Busteye snorted again, "Move along, and take the refuse to the dung pile."

Shiko stood and turned, looking the Mefun in her one eye.

"No," He said "The end begins here, now."

"What?" The old cow said.

Shiko raised his arm and the world grew colder around him. The winds picked up and a mist seemed to be forming. Suddenly his entire body flashed, the makeup burning away as he drew the power from the elements around him. His dragon glyph tattoos leapt forward on his body alive as he channeled the essence around him.

He called out the names of the seven slyphs and the water in the air around him froze into cresents of ice, razor thin and sharp they whirled and leapt forward at his command. They slashed and struck again and again, and when they were done the mefun before him was nothing more than a bloody pile of parts.

He turned towards the mefun part of the village. A group of five mefun raced down the hill towards him. His hands held before him he spread his fingers and shaped the essence into shackles that froze around the charging mefun's feet. They fell face forward as their feet were encased in blocks of hardened ice.

Shiko did not wait, nor did he hold back. Raising his arms to the heavens a dark rain began to fall. It only fell upon the mefun drenching them quickly, yet as they looked to the heavens, the rain froze becoming long nails of pure ice that drove into their upward looking eyes, their flesh, and they died screaming or trying to break the ice on their feet.

Essence flowe around him, but Shiko knew he could not face the entire village's mefun population alone. Even now he could somehow feel the Wesh were coming as well. They still frightened him.

He grabbed his pack, and headed towards the main gate. He would not slink away as lh Bon had. His exit would be a pronouncement. A challenge.

Two Taken stood at the gate with spears leveled at him. He walked calmly forward. One broke and ran. The other gazed at him oddly, and as Shiko closed he understood why.

It was his father.

The Taken barred the way and advanced on Shiko.

"Father don't..." But it was in vain. His father struck him and a bloody crease appeared on his upper arm. "So be it."

Shiko brought his full power to bear. It was difficult at best what he was attempting, but his anger, his pain, his love and his fear demanded no less.

Suddenly the taken that was Shiko's father slowed, his body seeming to crakle with movement. Gasping for breath it dropped the spear it held and clutched at its chest, then it turned a deep purplely blue as every liquid inside it's body froze solid. Shiko pushed him over and there was a crash.

He was at the gate when there was a great snort of challenge.

He turned. There before him was the great Mefun warrior himself. Yi Ji Jiao. The overseer.

"I marked you well once little Rabbit." It growled. "Now I will skin you."

Shiko had one trick left today, he clapped his hands together and a great block of ice formed around Yi Ji Jiao. It would not hold the mefun for long.

"I could kill you now, Mefun." Shiko lied. "But I owe you a debt. Consider it repaid. When next we meet I'll claim all the debts you owe me."

More mefun and Wesh were coming. Shiko turned and walked through the gates. He could not retun again until he was ready to take the village. That was fine. For he had a new destination in mind. Tonight he would sleep in the swamp.

(ooc: Mark and I have a little something going on with Shiko in the swamp, and then he'll drop Shiko off with the rest of you, so gather up together, and I'll be there soon.)

Yang Tao So - Kelan

Childhood I

I am Yang Tao So. My father and brothers are Ji'an's greatest hunters. I know this because they tell me so. I want to go and hunt too but they say I'm not old enough. Just wait and see. I'll be the greatest hunter of them all! But for now I dig the clay for the pottery. When nobody is watching I form it into animals that I crush with my bare hands! But I only do this when I have enough clay to take back home. That way if someone sees me playing, I scoop the clay up and ruuuuuuuuuuun back to the village as fast as I can. Did I tell you that I'm a fast runner? Yang Si told on me the other day. If he doesn't watch out I'm going to pelt him with clay balls! He shouldn't say bad things about people ... even if they are true.

Childhood II

Now I am a hunter! I can shoot a piku bird before he can bob his tail in warning. And if he can still fly, I run and follow him until he lands and runs for the bushes, and then I finish him off. In the woods I can do what I want to do. No more clay to dig, or haul, or shape, or fire in the kiln. Ok, playing with the fire is fun. In the woods I can take a bamboo pole and practice fighting with my cousin Yang Si Yang. "Trouble maker, trouble maker", whack! Got your fingers! "Trouble maker, trouble maker", whack! Hey that hurts! Or I race Li Fa Pu until he throws up again on the forest floor. He really thinks his family is superior! What a jerk. The Yang are the hunters of Ji'an. The Li just follow us and talk big.

But it doesn't matter. Ji'an is just one village. I hear that there are villages with 200 families! One day I'll see them for myself. If I can bring home enough meat from the hunt I won't have to stay at home. I can run, and explore in the woods, and see new things and new places. I have found a glade in the woods that is perfect. It has a spring that disappears down a hole in the earth. It is hidden by thickets and has room for half a dozen to practice fighting. I found it while chasing that piku bird. I was so surprised to find it that the bird got away. I think I'll show it to Yang Si Yang. But we'll keep it a secret in the family. I don't want any of the Li's to disturb my sanctuary. Maybe I'll scout out other areas to hide and play. But for the moment I'll lay here and watch the clouds through the hole in the canopy. Ahhh, life can be good.

I wish the other boys would stop taking about the Demonkin's horn. When I'm ready I will touch it, you'll see. When I'm good and ready. Tomorrow is another day, maybe tomorrow will be the day. I wonder what kind of plant this is with the little white pedals and the long stems coming out of the flower? It looks sticky. And why does it only grow around the hole where the water disappears? Never mind, it just looks different.

I hear another piku bird. Let's track it down.

Phase I

It's getting harder and harder to get away from Li Fa Pu! He keeps following me. And sometimes he spoils my hunt. The other day I thought I had finally lost him. I was targeting another piku bird when I realized that I wasn't the only hunter. There he was. A male sparrow hawk and he too had the piku bird in his sights. A challenge! Who would get the piku bird first? Which mighty hunter was the swiftest? Which had the skills? I saw the sparrow hawk alight from his branch and drop towards the underbrush. He was going to attack with a sweeping rising attack from below. I drew back my bow string and focused on the piku. And just as I was easing my grasp, Li Fa Pu came stumbling through the woods looking for me. I was only distracted for a moment but it was too late. My arrow was loosed and the aim was off. The sparrow hawk was as surprised as I was when it clipped his wing. Neither hunter achieved his goal. And both went limping off in disgrace. I think the sparrow hawk will live. I hope he does.

Tomorrow I'll go after bigger game!

I cannot run! I cannot walk! The Mefun have broken me up bad! I hate them! I was out hunting. Hunting a pig. But my first arrow did not kill him. It ran off with me chasing behind. I could tell I was getting close by the wetness of the blood trail when I heard it squeal its death gasp. And there were the Mefun, holding MY pig! I told them to give me my pig, I had blooded it first! But I didn't drop my bow. Not at first. And not fast enough. Not until they grabbed me and beat me, beat me and kicked me, and kept on kicking me! And left me to die. But I didn't. I don't know how I survived.

I drifted in and out of consciousness for a period of time only to wake up fitful, thirsty and hungry. I heard some crows or other carrion and made my way in their direction. The Mefun had gutted and dressed the pig before leaving. They must have done so with me within sight. I should be glad that they didn't include me in the process. I dragged myself to the bloody remains and ate what I could. Drank what I could. Choking it down for the sustenance that I would need. And I prayed for the strength to survive. And I slept. And I dreamt.

I dreamt there was a man. He was at peace. At peace within himself and the world. His head was quite bald, with eyes of mirth and a hint of laugh lines at the corners. And he stood on one leg, his other foot resting on his kneecap. His arms outstretched to the sides at shoulder height with his fingers pointing into the distance. And then he sat up.

Sat up?

Yes, he sat up; and raised his legs, crossing them without a movement of his torso or arms. There he sat, and sat, then turned his head and looked through me. I looked up at his eyes and then down through his eyes to see my crumpled body on the ground. He/I, for I no longer could distinguish the difference in us, picked me up in our arms and drifted off through the canopies of the trees. And I hurt no more.

Sanctuary. I awoke in my sanctuary. My legs were straight and bound with bamboo. My ribs wrapped in some cloth. I plucked the flower that is always in bloom by the water hole to comfort me. And that is where my cousin Yang Si Yang and Ting Lee Song found me. Beside my stream. Hungry, broken, but alive.

"What happened? What happened?" They clamored at my crippled form. I told them of the pig, of the Mefun, of the dream. And then I remembered the rest.

We arrived at Sanctuary, and we put us down. Then sat beside ourself and waited. With the rising of the sun the crippled me woke up. "Do you want to live?" I asked myself. "I want REVENGE!" I cried and broke into wracking tears until the pain of my broken bones sent me back to deep sleep. "How do you want to live?" I asked when next I came to. "Standing. Fighting" I replied. "The way to life is wrought in pain, bore in pain, and lived in pain", he said.

"I can feel it -- I gasped. And he smiled and said, "The art of standing is not in how we raise ourselves off the ground, but in how me allow the earth to fall away... "Let go of the earth... And I released to find myself floating. My feet tied by ropes to nearby trees. My wrists wrapped around ropes tied to others. And my cripple self pulled with my arms, stretching my legs, hearing and feeling my bones grind back into a semblance of myself. And the stretching had lifted me from off of the ground. And my otherself bound my legs. And the pain was all that was in the world to feel. And I knew that I was going to live. And it filled me with peace. Painful blistering peace. And I slept.

Si Yang and Lee Song dragged and carried me back to the village. I was expecting excitement and joy at my return. But a cripple is of little use to the village. Even less useful to the Mefun. The town council has given me until harvest time to mend or be outcast (or killed) and with only half rations until I'm useful again. No one seems to think that I can make a recovery. Only the old Herb Lady takes an interest in my welfare. She speaks nice and is gentle and tends my bandages. She seems unusually interested in my flower but I won't tell her where I got it. Sanctuary is mine. I may have to flee there one day.

And why does Chao Ih Bon keep poking his nose around. I wish he'd just go away. Why does he need to stare at my broken legs? They are broke! Broken! No good! Go away! Eat your rats, rat boy. I wonder how rat tastes? Maybe I should kill me one to find out. I am a little hungry. "Hey, rat boy! Come back... He is gone.

And now they tell me that the Herb Lady is dead. And Ih Bon isn't around either. Strange things are happening. The world seems ready to fall apart. I can't lay here feeling sorry for myself. If I move it hurts. If it hurts I'm alive.

I will move. I will hurt. I will live. I will mend. I will heal. I will find the way to the peace in my dream. Or was it a dream? How did I get back to sanctuary? For now it is enough that I did. In time I will seek the answers. In the meantime I'll focus on moving, hurting, healing. In time I will stand. When I stand I'll learn balance.

And I did. Long before harvest time I could stand. And if I can stand, I can FIGHT!

I find my way back to Sanctuary whenever I can. And my master is there to teach me.

I'll learn to use my opponent's mobility against him. I'll strike back with finger and palm, fist and elbow. I will toss him down where one day I can kick my foe. Kick the Mefun! Beat the Mefun! One day I may run again, but I'm done with running away. I will move, I will hurt, I will heal, I will fight, I will ...

Phase II

In time I could stand. In time I could walk.

In many ways I am better than whole. I still cannot run, but when stalking game it is patience that brings the reward. The same is true for the warrior. Why was I always running before? Rushing here, rushing there, always rushing to see new things, but not looking, not listening, not smelling the full measure of my surroundings.

My master, accomplished scholar Cheng Ru, can be kind as well as cruel. His teachings at Sanctuary are fraught with pain and forbearance.

Your opponent comes! Why rush to meet him? He is coming. Take your time. Get his measure, judge his balance, sense his aura, and then GRAB, TWIST, THROW, and STRIKE! And wait. If you have won, he stays down. If there is to be more, he'll get up. Patience. There is time for the last blow.

One day it will be Master Ru who will be lying down while I wait. Soon, . WHOP! But, not today.

Only with the bamboo pole arm am I unable to hold back. Its reach is long and the temptation is too great. The result is often the same. CRACK! I'll not be able to grip my rice bowl tonight!

My master Ru, well, Cheng Ru is not his real name. It is just what I call him. He lives in the village. And I never would have guessed that he would be the one to teach me these things. I don't know how I could have not realized it was he in my dreams who must have found and bound me. And why he couldn't bring me back to the village. It seems so clear now. And yet he is the last person I'd have picked. How do we manage to find time to meet in Sanctuary? The telling of that tale will have to wait for I can not jeopardize his identity.

But, don't think that my life is all practice and pain. I have my chores. I scrub and scrape the hides to be tanned for the family. I clean off the fat then stretch and smoke the skins. And then I hunt to get some more. But this is just more learning. I just need more patience and it will all make sense. Revenge is in the future. I will wait. There is time.


Phase III

Tao So: "Si Tang! Slow down, don't talk so fast! Find out what things? What are the elders not telling us? What outsiders? What stories? What will we find out in the wilds? And who is this Dao and why is he not telling how many people are really out there?"

Si Tang: "I don't know! I think I'll sneak around a bit more to find out. What are you going to do?

Tao So: "If they won't tell us then we should find out for ourselves. If they're afraid we'll find out by searching in the wilds, then that is what we should do. I'll just have to keep a close eye out for outsiders while I'm at it. I'm going to have a look around for these outsiders. Talk to the others and see what they can find out. When I come back we can arrange to meet at Sanctuary. Bring those you trust like Ting Lee and Shiko Bi. I'll see you in a couple of days."

But to himself, Tao So knew that he'd first consult with his master, Cheng Ru.

Three days later Tao So returns but with little meat to show for his hunting. He is punished with long hours working on the hides to make up for his failing as a hunter.

The day came when the tanned hides where piled high, ready to go to the Srin-ga and Tao So is still not in favor with the elders was told the task of delivery was his.

When I was told that my duties included delivering the hides to the Srin-ga I knew I had my chance to touch the Demonkin's horn. I was nervous. I had things to tell the others, things that they would be interested in hearing. Now was not the time to tempt fate. But the opportunity may not come again for a long time. I walked into the compound, the pole over my shoulders bent and creaking under the load. It was all I could do to keep the leather from dragging the ground as I struggle with the load. I kept my eyes down, no need to hide my nervous sweat as it added little compared to my exertions. I saw the Mefun barracks with the horn out of my left eye, the weirdly conical Wesh tower beside it further to the left and my destination, the granary ahead.

Inside the granary, the Mefun on duty glance up then ignored me. A slight upturn of his mouth appeared as my legs began to quiver with the strain. "There" he said, pointing down the aisle to an empty shelf that was nearly at shoulder level. "Don't set the hides on the dirt floor", I'd been told when I left the village. Now it became obvious why the warning, and why the evil smile. Lifting one side without letting the other touch the ground I deposited the first half of the load. But countering the still burdened half-load on the other end of the pole was almost my undoing. At the last second I managed to get the empty pole end under the shelf to take the weight and allow me to work my way closer to the remaining pile of hides. There was little satisfaction having accomplished the delivery with the knowledge that I was exhausted and my personal challenge not done.

As I came out of the granary, back into the bright light, I put my plan into action. The pole slipped from my shoulder, sliding forward until it dug into the ground just as the pole cleared my shoulder. The impact of the pole in my chest stopped my forward motion and I spun to the ground pushing the pole up away from me only to have it drop on my head. The lingering Mefun turned to chuckle at my misfortune. I stood up dazed and confused turning and stumbling off in the general direction of the barracks. Closer and closer I came, my head in my hands shaking to clear the cobwebs and still weaving crookedly.

A Mefun strolled out from the shadows of the barracks in my direction. I altered my path towards him, keeping his attention more on me than my possible destination. He stopped and I pulled up short before him looking quizzically as though I wasn't sure what he was, and took a sideways step putting myself between him and the barracks. WHOP! The blow to the side of the head was what I was expecting, what I was hoping, and its sting sent me spinning. I didn't completely fall down and managed to turn away from the Mefun and stagger further towards the barracks still bent over. Next came a kick to my backside and this time I couldn't avoid sprawling on my face. But I was there.

I stood up. I was under the horn. And another Mefun was standing in the doorway. I steadfastly looked him in the eye and reached up -- the tingling sensation of the horn was acute but short lived for it was then that the fist of the Mefun struck my face. POW! I was down. Flat on my back, blood welling in my mouth. The original Mefun was stepping closer as I sat up and spit a tooth into my hand. As I regained my feet I put the tooth under my thumbnail and flicked it at the Mefun who had relieved me of it.

I looked at the first Mefun and took a slow step backwards towards the gate, no longer looking dazed or confused. After three or four such steps both Mefun took one towards me with menace in their eyes. I stopped. They stopped. And before they could decide what I was up to I turned towards the granary and the forgotten pole on the ground. I marched to the pole and picked it up then turned again to look at the Mefun briefly before turning towards the gate and marching out.

As I walked proudly into the village, Si Tang joined me in step. "How did it go?" he asked. I smiled and replied, "What does a man need with so many teeth?"

"And now that I am a man, I'm ready to talk about things of men. Have you told the others of Sanctuary? Are they ready to meet? Tell them to meet me in three nights when the moon is hiding. I have a story to tell."

--- Three nights later, at Sanctuary ---

Tao So: "As Si Tang and Ting Lee have told you I have some news. I've done some searching in wild and there are traces of others. I found this," and he holds up an arrow with a metal tip not in the style of the village and a shaft that is almost half again as long as those in use by the hunters. "I have found signs of others in a secluded campsite. The campfire was well covered but not quite good enough. Two maybe three had been there for some time but they've moved on but that's not all. I have spoken with my master Cheng Ru and he told me a tale. Let me tell it as it happened."

Tao So: "Before I went out looking for the others I met Cheng Ru here in Sanctuary and asked him...

(fade out to Tao So and Cheng Ru in Sanctuary)

"Master, there are rumors among the boys of outsiders in our woods and of secrets being whispered by the elders that they won't tell to us. We are anxious to understand the threat to the village and do our part but the elders think us too young. What do you suggest we do?"

"I told Song Lin and Yang Gui their words would spread. Too many mice loose in the village at night. Mice with large ears." He shakes his head "Or perhaps rabbits. Come." Cheng Ru gestures for Tao So to follow and he leads him off to the side of Sanctuary where the food is tucked away. "We may as well eat as we talk."

"There are many things in this world that are no longer known, but legend only. Some of these things are stories, tales of legends of myths. Some are... different. I am not a story teller, but I have heard the stories. The creation of the world, the death of Xian, the coming of the dragons, the shattering of the heartstone. These and many others. Stories."

"You and your friends are bold. Bolder perhaps than even Lin and Gui and I were when we were young. It is time you know at least some of the stories are true." Cheng Ru's voice drops, and Tao So inches closer. "It was fall, and harvest was done" he whispers. "There were four of us. Gui, Lin, and Chen Shai, who..." he pauses "We were a year or more older than you are now. We were brave and bold. We too had heard of the outsiders, and the secrets held by the elders." Cheng Ru looks at you with a twinkle in his eye "We too found the tunnel under the great hall in the village."

"Our elders were less tolerant, or perhaps wiser. When we asked about what we had heard, we were beaten. We decided to see for ourselves. We left one morning, early, said we were going hunting. But we were going east, east to find the outsiders. We never did find them, not then." He stares at you and nods. "Yes my young pupil, there are outsiders. More than the Mefun would like. But we didn't find them that day. No we turned north eventually reaching a great branch of the Ji'an. We followed it into the hills. At the time I remember thinking how bad it would be when we came back after being gone for so long, three days, but we decided we would say we got lost. And indeed we did."

"Up the river then. Mile upon mile. Finally we came to a great cliff. The river, much smaller there, poured down the cliff face from a great cavern above our heads. Gui and Lin wanted to go back home, but Shai wanted to see what was in the cave. In the end, we went, Shai in the lead, the rest of us trailing behind. It was a hard climb, but we made it."

"It was dark in the cave, and the sound of rushing water drowned out our talk. We lit a torch and wound our way in along the river's bank. It grew smaller and the cave twisted like a great serpent. It became warmer and the smell of sulfur and burning grass filled the air. We realized we could see light ahead, just around the next bend. We stuck our torch in the floor and crept forward, scarcely daring to breathe."

"We looked around that last bend upon a massive room. A great rent in the floor gave rise to vile fumes and dancing flame. Our heads spun from the stench of that place and Gui threw up because of it. The chasm cut across the entire cave, save for one narrow finger of stone. The far side was higher, but we could see something through the fume, something blue and sparkling."

"Lin thought it was gems, and said we had to go see. Gui didn't want to go, so I stayed with him, and Lin and Shai crept across the floor to the bridge. Up and across, then they stopped... They stood staring for the longest time. I was about to call out to them, when I saw it. The shadow creeping between the pillars of stone. The shadow with flickering red eyes." Cheng Ru stops for several seconds, then draws a deep breath and continues "I tried to call out, but it was too late. The shadow thing was too close. Finally I gave a strangled yell and Shia and Lin saw it. They turned and ran across the bridge. The shadow slithered forward between the stones, moving like black flame. Lin was in the lead when Shia fell. He didn't even see... He just kept running. 'RUN!' he screamed, 'RUN!'"

"We ran, half dragging Gui. Lin kicked our torch as he ran and it went out. Then we were tearing through the cave, half falling down the hill and into the woods beyond. The others didn't understand me when I told them what happened to Shia. I didn't understand it myself. The shadow touched him and he... melted. We asked Lin what he saw across the bridge. 'A dragon' he said. 'a sleeping dragon.'"

Cheng Ru looks long at Tao So, searching for comprehension. "Do you see it?" he asks, "Do you understand? The Srin-ga could not kill him, so they trapped him there, and left their demon to guard him. But the demon is hungry. That's what happened to Shia. The demon ate him. The dragon is still there. Ji'an-lung. Guarded by a demon, sleeping."

Cheng Ru rose suddenly. "And that, is one story. I'm sure you will tell your friends soon enough, just as you will tell them that outsiders are real. But for now," his voice takes on the tone of command, "back to work! First position!"

(fade back to present day)

Tao So looks at the others and says, "That is my tale, what have you found out?"

Phase IV

Recent events were becoming too upsetting for Tao So to remain complacent any longer. Shrines defiled, holy men murdered, outsiders attacking Mefun caravans killing villagers, Shinko Bi's death of his parents and subsequent departure from the village. Signs of unrest not only within the village but within the Srin-ga compound were obviously going to precipitate more of the same. And the unrest within the Srin-ga complex will only lead to further retribution with the Ji'an villagers paying the price.

What to do? What to do?

"Master, I am troubled?" Tao So asked of Cheng Ru at the next opportunity. "That is obvious. Your moves are ill-focused today." Cheng Ru replied. "Let us talk about it while we have some of Ting Lee's smoked carp." out of character, I'm sure glad I spelled carp correctly

"It seems to me as though the village is heading towards bad times. I do not know if I can continue to watch without interference. I do not want my actions in the village to bring down more grief and suffering to our people yet I fear that with my growing skills that I will be unable to bow under the rule of the Mefun. I feel that there will come a time when it is proper to throw off the rule of the Srin-ga and their minions but I do not think that this is the day. I wish it were, for when it does occur I will be a part of it. But I fear that my premature actions will only set back that day and bring more days, months, or even years of suffering for our people. I humbly ask your guidance in this matter. I wonder if I should leave the village for the time being, for its sake."

Cheng Ru stood up and nibbled a bit more on the smoked carp until slowly the tail disappeared in his mouth. "What will you do? Where will you go?" he asked as he paced back and forth.

"For the time being I'll stay here and continue my studies when I'm not out exploring. I'll seek others of like mind so we can become organized. We will find and observe these outsiders and determine their intent. As our journeys take us further a field we will come back at intervals to converse with you and determine what further action to take. In this way we will still keep our connection with the village and not forget our family and friends".

Cheng Ru paced some more and paused stroking his chin in thought, "This may be for the best. The rashness and vigor of youth is a powerful force and if left undirected can be as destructive a force as it can be for good. . Yes, . Yes, . (his mumblings became indistinct as he pondered) Shiko Bi has already followed part of your path. Perhaps you should seek him out. I believe he has hidden himself in the Swamp. Who else will you seek?"

"If you will forgive my taking you source of smoked carp, I will seek Ting Lee. I think my cousin Si Tang will also be interested. And if we did not include Si Tang he will just follow us on his own accord so there's no point in not including him."

Over the next few weeks the coordination was begun in earnest. Tao So, Ting Lee, and Si Tang worked harder than ever to stockpile the village and remove any suspicion that they might be up to something as they planned and prepared. The date was set, the meeting place established, just one last hunting trip to complete.

Tao So was returning with a wild goat when he smelled the rotting meat. He sniffed the goat he was carrying. That wasn't it. He hung the goat on a tree along the trail and went off in search. The aroma was pungently sharp and while it was strong enough for Tao So to have detected it, it wasn't the smell of meat left to bake in its own juices in the open air. No, this had an earthy smell to it and the reason became obvious only after Tao So had walked over the earth mound.

This was odd. The meat was buried. But not buried with loose dirt cast over the carcass. It was more as though the ground had been lifted to allow the carcass to be inserted into the ground and then gently laid back down. There was a seam in the earth where the beast must have been inserted in addition to cracks in the soil where it had broken with the stress of being laid down and stretched over the carcass inside.

Tao So was about to investigate further and dig to determine what kind of creature it was when he heard noises of something approaching. He fled back into the brush to wait. He witnessed a villager approach and kneel beside the mound. The villager seemed to be humming to himself, a low slow droning hum, and the flap of the earth lifted to allow him access to the meat. The smell of the meat became appreciably stronger, not yet the full rotting smell of meat gone bad but meat on the verge of being inedible.

The villager stopped his harvesting and looked up. Then slowly turned his head to look at Tao So in the foliage. "You not be hiding from me" said the man. "You hungry?"

Tao So stood up to get a better look at the stranger. "Chen Si Bodi? Is that you?"

Odd, thought Tao So, I never knew Si Bodi ever left the village. He couldn't have killed whatever is in there could he? It has to be as large as a wild boar, a large one at that. This doesn't make sense. What if he does have such power? Look at the earth he's holding up. Maybe he would make another candidate for our group? We don't know enough about him to risk it. We'll be leaving the village for good in two nights anyway.

"Wild boar" Si Bodi pondered. "Yes, wild boar. And I asked if you hungry hunter?"

"I'm well fed at the moment. Do you need help taking this back to the village? It doesn't smell as though it will last much longer left out here."

"Suit your self" said Si Bodi, as he cut off a large haunch. "I have all I need but I won't hold up the earth forever." He stood and stepped back indicating with a sweeping arm that the meat was accessable.

Tao So hesitantly reached in and dragged out the wild boar carcass. The earth came down with a WHOOSH of expelled air. And Si Bodi turned and left, leaving Tao So struggle with the boar.

The escape from the village went off without a major hitch. The three escapees slunk off into the woods to find Shiko Bi waiting at the designated spot and from there they made their way to Sanctuary. But Sanctuary was not unoccupied.

We descended into the cave one by one. Barely enough light entered the cave to make out the silhouettes of each other. But then there was movement and a fifth silhouette came forward. It took a moment to realize that this was not Cheng Ru, an intruder!

Tao So flipped back to gain some distance and entered the Dragon Stance as the others took up their defensive postures. The intruder stood, leaning heavily on a staff, giving strong preference to one leg, the other obviously contorted and damaged.

"Well," said the intruder, "Go on and kill me Shiko Bi, if you think that is your familial duty. And is that you, Tao So? You've grown supple and quick since last we met. And who are these other two? A couple of Yang and Song boys, grown into young men? I am Yax K'uk Mo. My days alone are at an end. My path begins here and there is a great task ahead. Let us begin that journey"

Then Yax K'uk Mo called up the powers of the earth and his leg reshaped itself, cured. He took up a fighting stance and called forth for a sparring opponent.

We were well met. We were well matched. And we were five.

But then, at the cave's entrance, another intruder appeared, ..

Chen Si Bodi (Marvin)

Childhood I

From the early days Bodi always was a weird little thing. He always had strange dreams that no one could understand nor help him see the truth.

The small lad had this strange calm almost eerie look in his eyes like he knew something no one else could see or understand.

At age 4 he told his mother about a dream of a quick almost abnormal firing that would cause this other kid so much pain. His mother was scared that her baby would be killed if anyone else knew this and kept the secret.

At age 9 1/2 little Bodi asked his mother what is a spirit walk? His mother Chen Si Kai was terrified that her kid knew of such things and once again told him to never mention such a thing again.

Bodi never understand why his mother always quiet him for asking so many question and seeing what was not there.

Childhood II

Bodi has not gone unnoticed by his grand father Chen Si Tangi a seer that has help keep his family safe from many prying eyes and the mefun. The family gifts go back many generations and each generation brings new talents. The gifts usually are pass down to the woman but like him his grandchild Bodi has been blessed as well.

Tangi has quietly been helping young Bodi with relaxation techniques and increasing breathing and such to help him maintain control and develop along the natural course.

After a long day helping his mother with various chorus and then a rigorous mind / body exercises with his grandfather, Bodi ask his grandfather "Why are always doing these workouts? Although I love spending time with you I really never get much time to be a kid -- even though most kids seem slow to me..."

Tangi had to smile at that comment but he griped his youngling arm and pull him in close so no one could hear and revealed that he knew of his dreams and his nightmares. Bodi froze for a second then he smiled and through his arms around his grandfather. It was one of his best days in his young life to know the one person that truly understood him really understood him. Out of nowhere a near by vase bolted across the room and smashed bring a shocked look from his sleeping father and little sister Chen Si Lili .

After that incident Tangi made sure to increase Bodi training and to make sure one day soon they find a way to visit the shrine that has been hidden for generations.

Phase I

Journey to the shrine

The Chen are a stubborn but well thought as clan with many generations of scholars, healers, holy men and women. They know the land and the ways of the mind as there great strengths. Tangi was taking his grandson on a great quest now that he was of age 13 1/2 in which this quest will test the boy on the skills he has learned over the years in his grandfather's care.

The first test was to see how well Bodi was able to identify some of the system elements of illusion or sense manipulation. Tangi made this big bush seem to disappear and thought of how funny it would be for his youngling to be shock and fall in the mud puddle seemly some distance away easily avoided.

Bodi tracked along and saw the puddle and had a weird feeling but he proceeded to avoid the puddle but as he move around it he tripped and fell in -- Grandfather just laugh and Bodi realize what had happen. He was trick by a 10 year old's camouflage illusion that he should have seen coming a mile away. Well deciding, that if grandfather wanted to test him two can play that game.

As the pair continues along the path a sudden rush a thunderous noise was coming along the path, Tangi signaled to Bodi to hide and with out thought both appear to drift off into the shadows of the surrounding forest. As they watch they saw Mefun dressed a recently killed pig and also about to kill a boy. Bodi was about to move to help the kid but before he could do anything Tangi had rescued the kid without any injury to himself and gave him something to drink that slowed his breathing and watch the Mefun try to find them but they could not.

Bodi just sat there for long moments trying to figure out how his grandfather did that but thought I will know when it's the right time. After they left the kid they continued to the shrine. Upon reaching the shrine, theyd bathe, prayed and did a few new lesson for his youngling and told him of many stories of past family members.

At the shrine Bodi felt at peace and he sense his abilities were growing and he knew for a moment it would be soon for his grandfather to move on to the next plane. It saddened him but he saw such joy and peace there in his glimpse that he knew all would be ok.

Flashback conversation with Bodi Aunt MiaJen concerning family history

Si Tangi, your grandfather, was actually from another village. He was brought to Ji'an and grandma Ning was forced to marry him. Luckily he was a good man and she was an accepting wife. She is one of the most respected elders of the village now. Si Tangi, as an outsider has lesser status, but he is an expert carpenter, and is valued because of it.

Your own father Rong is the son of Si Tangi and Ning. Your mother is Quiao originally of the Chang clan in the local village.

People say you have your grandfather's eyes. You suspect you have much more of your grandfather in you and often ask about his clan. She says little other than many of them were killed when one of his brothers opposed the Mefun overseers one spring long ago.

End of flashback

Phase II

I am tired of people always staring at me and talking about how weird I am. What makes people think I should be who they think I should be or not be. It is my choice to _____? "To what" Rong Si asks? Boy you better stop listening to that grandfather so much and get with the program before this little love fest comes down on your head.

The hard lesson is, these are not easy time in this village we are only bless because of the status of our family but that can change in a dime and you acting all weird only gets us closer to outcast. Bodi was floored by his father attitude and how he has always thought the man as a hero and never imagines him to just go along with the ever growing cowering villagers.

Father, Tangi is wise and a loving teacher he has shown me much in my short life he has given parts of his life to me that he can never retrieve and due to that sacrifice I doubt he will be with us much longer.

Bodi had a very rough night sleep he saw much death, but he also saw hope. He saw a great wave of heroic fellow younglings determined to set them free and reunited the clans. It calmed him in his sleep.

Then he felt it -- the spirit of his grandfather was leaving this plane. He jolted upright in his bed and watched at a figure hovering above him blessing him and telling him of this great adventure before him.

Tangi phasing:

Youngling, although our time has been short on this plane you must feel the link we have and that link surpasses planes and time. Know this you are not alone.. That in your greatness need help and a guide will be watching. Remember your teaching continue to move forward and know that I love you with all me being.

Time is short and I wanted to give you a gift -- Rest well and let it blossom in your being. Goodbye for now my youngling...

Bodi felt warm and loved beyond words.

Phase III

In a deep state of relaxation Bodi summoned forth the internal energy of the his Si-chi to form an imagine of the shrine of the Holy. I seek the knowledge of how I am able to see things not there and moving objects with thought.

Although Tangi has instructed me in many of these patterns of the mind, my spirit is restless and my mind grows with all sought of feelings and emotions that are not my own.

How can I feel my sister's emotions? How can I hear things from others? Why am I so different?

A Holy flame erupts and Bodi sits back as he hears, at first, a whisper of a familiar voice but then it growns to a level that he thinks he knows whom the voice belongs to:


Tangi? Bodi thinks but hears his voice as well...

It has come to age that you should know more of whom you are becoming...

For eons our family has been bless from the gods with the abilities of the mindbenders through the power of virtue..

Over the eons some of these abilities included:

Telekinesis - moving things with the power of your mind

Empathy - reading emotion and feeling of those around you

Telepathy - reading and projecting thoughts

Altering senses - illusion and perception

Altering thoughts - charms and mind control

Altering body - polymorph, self-change

Some of rarer yet abilities are:

Aura Reading- Perception of aspects of others not perceivable by most people

Psychometry is said to be able to obtain information about an individual through paranormal means by making physical contact with an object that belongs to them

Youngling know this the path of the virtue is not easy but it is in your blood and through some of the gifts I left you and the ones your have development through training and family inheritance you will be a great mind bender.

I see a great future for you and remember you are never alone.

Bodi collapsed in a deeper sleep and through it worked through his knowledge of the benders from ages past, doing various new and much improve skills under the watchful eyes of Tangi and a few pass benders.

Phase IV

Chen Home' Bodi hide away in a back closet of his family home -- The Chen family has kept there secrets for many generation one of such is the elaborate tunnels and secrets of escape and disguise.

Bodi's many little practice areas and small shrine for meditation and mind bending has helped him fine tune his craft and learn more about his ancestor's many other unique talents.

Bodi is shock of what he is able to do with the crushing of rocks and the floating of objects throughout his oasis.

Deep in thought and meditation he does not realize what he has begun to do until he feels his right hands gets very warm.

In an instant he is plunged in a deep trance and is approached by someone he never met- Greeting young one... I am Chen-Si-Quinn and I come to warn you of the power that could kill you if used without the right training or ability to control. For many years our families powers resided in the development of the mind and all aspects of disguise and blocking of the senses.

Over the course of generations there been a few that had the power to cause death by a single thought or could roast a person alive with pushing their abilities to the limit. These benders became outcast even to us because they pursued the greed of their heart or revenge on others.

This is not a good path young one and you must be very careful as you continue using your abilities. Many of us sense a great power in you but it could be turned against you if you are not careful.

Remember always that no matter how angry you get that lost control of emotions of one such as you could kill both the thing you angry against and have dire results for you as well.

Keep practicing and developing our families unique skills. The pathway's of Virtue is long and hard but with enlightenment also leads to great rewards.

Bodi decides to take the day and his sister on a little hike through the woods to gather some herbs and fruits and berries. They are having a great time, the suns warm the breeze is calming and life is good for this moment.

As in all good things a shriek was heard and another and a loud thud, when out of no where a giant beastie tried to get what it thought was a nice size meal of the little girl.

Frighten the girl froze and could not move and at the same time Bodi for the first time in his life let lose his full force of bending an killed the beastie with a single thought. Upon the death of the beastie he collapsed to the ground and his sister ran to him holding him while she cried.

Bodi you can not die ... Do not leave me... Wake up... Please Pleaseeeee! her tears kept falling for some time then a slight glow flowed back into Bodi and he open his eyes and smile at his sister and she hugged him tight. He did not forget the beastie would make a good meal and packed up hid the rest and headed home...

* Flash to other plane * Youngling, did not Quinn tell you of what could happen using that much power?

/sniff.. sniff Yes, Grandfather, but I could not think of another solution that would have saved my sister in the time of the attack.. Youngling I understand but you must double your efforts in your training and that begins now..

Although, Bodi has only been gone 10 minutes he has been here for 10 months learning and advancing his abilities in the time space with other benders... end flash...

Bodi return to the village with his sister and could not shake the feelings of something big was about to happen.

All though the night his mind raced with anticipation of a great deal of worry for the life of his family and the strange dreams he has been having over the course of some time.

Deciding sleep is not going to help he went off to his hidden solitude place and mind bended. Floating stones and concentrating deeply on the matters of life and seeing glimpses of approaching changes.

Bodi decided to return to the woods where his lasts manifestation of bending to retrieve more of the beastie meat that turned out to be quite good. As he approached his sensed a familiar mind close to his current location but did not sense any danger or malice.

He dug into the well of his power and opens the illusion/ burial mound of his stash. Quickly turning around when he notice who that mind belong Tao So? But he did not say it he projected that thoughts and he heard a voice say yes.

Tao So why are you lurking out here and then Bodi realize he revealed two much of his hidden abilities, but did not sense any danger he relaxed and listen to one of the few people over time in the village was no danger to him.


After Tao So providing some information Bodi decided that he will do all he can to find out more about what Tao So was doing and follow in hidden and mind scape for more information.

Bodi realizing things from his dreams are coming to bare one night he observe Tao So and a few others leaving the village. He decides to follow and continue to observe and mind scape this band.

As they approach this cave he continues to sense an even great presence and he turns even more of his abilities to see if this is the moment when more of his dreams are becoming reality.

Yax K'uk Mo - Micah

Childhood I

My name is Chao Ih Bon. I am the only child of Chao Ih Tah, my father, and Chao Chin, my mother. My father is very kind and my mother is the most beautiful lady in the whole village. They tell me I used to have a sister and a brother but they died before I was born. Now it's just me and my parents...and Chao Shiko Bi. He's my cousin, the one who likes to call himself Fierce Rabbit


Shiko Bi is very silly and makes me laugh. He wants me to call him Fierce Rabbit, too, but usually I call him Shiko Bi. He's older than me. Only 4 months older but he thinks that makes him a big man compared to me. I guess maybe he is. Ever since my parents cut down his grandfather where the Wesh had the Mefun kill him Shiko Bi has been my only friend. I don't like the other boys in the village much. They all play act like they are great hunters and warriors. But I know the Wesh can kill them, too. I stay away from the other boys unless Shiko Bi is with me. When I'm by myself and don't have chores to do, I like to look at plants in the hills or in the swamps or beside the road. And I like to follow the old herb lady around the house as she makes salves and ointments and compresses. She calls me a nuisance, but she smiles when she says it. I think she likes me really and sometimes I go and fetch plants for her. I can see them better than she can, and smell them better. A lot of times you can smell herbs before you even see them. Not the old herb lady. She says her old nose don't work no more.

When I'm with Shiko Bi and the other boys I act brave and carry my big stick with me. It's taller than I am and I can hit things with it really good. I like the sound of it going WHACK! on things. The other boys don't know it, but it's a magic stick. I watched herb lady use a compress made of galangal root wrapped in wakani leaf tied up in swamp grass on an injured villager's wound. "What does that do?" I asked. And she said "It gives his body extra strength to heal itself." So after she was done, I took the compress and put it on the whacking end of my stick. It had the villagers blood on it! That means the compress gave my stick extra strength to make blood when I whack with it! I told Shiko Bi about it and he said "No it doesn't" and I said, "Yes it does!" and he said "Nuh-uh!" and I said "Nuh-HUH!" and I whacked him.

I think Shiko Bi is mad at me now **frowns**

Anyway, don't tell anyone, but sometimes I'll sneak into a house of one of the other clans and steal a pinch of food or some herbs from them. One time I stole a live frog they had caught and put in a cage. It had really pretty colors. At first I wanted it for my own, but then I felt sorry for it being in a cage so I took it to the swamp and let it go. That night I got really really sick and almost died. The herb lady told me the pretty frog was poisonous. Hows come something pretty can make you sick? And if something pretty can make you sick, can something ugly make you well?

I don't tell anyone this at all...but a lot of times I think the Mefun are sad. They're ugly and dumb and they hurt people, but mostly because the Wesh make them sad and keep them in cages just like that pretty frog. I'm sad a lot, too. I wonder if I'm ugly like the Mefun.

Childhood II

No one wants to hear my side of the story. Everyone says that my family is cursed, and that I brought the judgment of the gods down upon my parents. Well, the mother of Shiko Bi says that mainly. She's my loudest accuser. All I did was ask my mother and father if I would ever have another sister or brother. And now Shiko Bi's mother claims I goaded them into "sinful union" during the day when they should have been working.

It wasn't storming the afternoon it happened, but there had been rain. It was the wet season and everyone else was out working as usual. My parents, for reasons unknown to me, tarried back in the clan house. I was down by the forest edge near the clay pits hunting for hed hunu, the black fungus that grows on the side of fallen trees. Herb Lady needed to replenish her supplies, for it quickens the blood and improves the circulation. Hed hunu is a fire herb, feeding on wood just as flames do. And it was fire that took my parents.

I heard the lightning strike as did everyone in the village. The strike was so loud that it was probably heard in all the villages around Ji'an as well. Clan Chao's house was on fire almost instantly, despite it being water soaked. Everyone in the village came running and before you knew it the fire was out . . . only my parents had been inside. I watched, unable to move or think as their charred bodies were hauled out from the house. I didn't cry. I didn't feel anything at all.

And then She was in my face, hovering over top me, yelling and screaming that I was to blame. She, Shiko Bi's mother, the sister of my own father, claimed I had hounded my parents into copulating during the work time. The gods, she said, had looked down on their sinful desire to spoil me with a playmate and had cursed them. I was tainted, she said . . . and must be cast aside.

There was a lot of mumbling among the others of the clan. Shiko Bi wasn't close by or I'm sure he would have argued in my favor (and gotten a thrashing for it). But only Herb Lady spoke up. I was surprised at the weight her words carried, for when she spoke, the clan quieted and gave heed. But Shiko Bi's mother was louder and spoke not to reason, but to the fears and emotions of the clan. Look at me, she said, both my parents had been burned alive and yet not a single tear of sorrow or remorse did I shed. Ultimately, the clan yielded to their fears.

They spared me banishment from the village, though it might have been better if I had been cast out completely. I now spend my time sneaking around the village living off scavenged scraps, pitiful handouts and, yes, even rats. I kill them with my staff, crush their little heads and cook them on the glowing embers I steal from the hearths of the clans. Rat isn't so bad once the hair is burned off. As I kill them, I picture Shiko Bi's mother. I picture my clan's chief. I picture the fear in all their eyes as they wait for the Mefun and Wesh to haul them off. Just like the rats I eat, they are nothing but food for scavengers.

The other boys taunt me. Some of the adults kick at me, insult me and chase me away. Sneak thief, they call me, scoundrel, beggar, dirty little rat boy, and worse. I don't care. I learn to survive. I have yet to cry for my dead parents. Tears are for people with food to eat, family to sing with and a roof over their heads, not for the rat boy.

Herb Lady and Shiko Bi are the only two who remain kindly toward me, though even they must do so in secret for fear of scorn of others. Shiko Bi defends my honor with the other boys, but dares say nothing around the adults. If I were in his place, I wonder if I could be so kind.

I continue to hunt herbs for Herb Lady, for she provides me things I often cannot scavenge: scraps of clothing, new rice mat sandals, fresh fish, rice balls and the like. She leaves these items in small baskets outside the village with samples of the herbs she needs. In return, I hunt the herbs and medicinal ingredients and leave them in the same basket. It is a fair exchange. And as I hunt, I venture farther away from the village, learning what the forest can provide.

I helped Shiko Bi touch the great horn above the Mefun house. He did the same for me. And so, as the old tales say, we passed into manhood. But can one be a man in a pen? For I see clearly now that Ji'an is a pen and its residents are nothing but tame animals. The structure of life, you see, is like a series of farms. Farmers tame animals and raise them for their own gain. The Srin-ga tame the Wesh. The Wesh tame the Mefun. The Mefun tame we humans.

I used to feel sorry for the Mefun, so dumb, so crude, so brutish and so used by their masters. But seeing the way of the world as I do now, what does that say about we humans if we are the tamed animals for farmers such as these creatures?

No. One cannot be a real man in a pen.

Phase I

Real men cannot live in a pen.

The last winter I spent in Ji'an was a hard one and even late in its cycle there came a night with a very hard freeze. By then the villagers had become accustomed to my slinking and they cared little for where I slept (as long as it wasn't in one of their clan buildings or the village hall).

I had been making my camp in a hole under an outbuilding near the village's outer wall; I think it had been dug out by a hog some years ago; hens used to make nest there when I was younger. But nothing had lived in it for a while so I lined the hole with dried reeds and insulated it against the worst of the cold with a covering of discarded woven bamboo and rice stalk. When I was inside the hole--like a grub awaiting the springtime--no one could tell if I was alive or dead. No one could tell if I was inside at all.

I would not be surprised to find that when the last hard freeze came and I crept forth in the middle of the night, ladened with a fresh stock of purloined food and several layers of old clothing the Herb Lady had given me before her sad death, no one noticed my departure until well into the next afternoon. I can only imagine what they said; how they cursed me and wished I had left sooner . . . especially after the Wesh locked down the village looking for co-conspirators in my escape. I know Shiko Bi will understand why I couldn't tell him of my plans. Failure to report an escape is a crucifying offense and I could not jeopardize the life of my dear Tame Rabbit after all he had done for me.

The Ji'an river, as I expected, was frozen enough to bear my slight weight that night. I could have just crossed at the river ford, but the Mefun would surely have spotted me. Instead, I traveled four miles north, keeping the road on my right hand side. Then, at the point where the road is farthest from the river, I lay watching and waiting until I had nerve enough to venture across the road. I tried to leave no trace, but it was a dark night and I could barely see my own feet, let alone the tracks they left behind.

Had I waited longer, I would have seen them, the Mefun patrol marching brazenly up the road. Had my ears been better attuned to the noises of night, I might have heard them. But my eyes were turned toward escape and my ears were full of nothing but the pounding of my blood and the gasping of my breath as I sprinted away from the road toward the river, perhaps a mile to the east. It seemed a hellish distance. Maybe I panicked and lost my bearings in the dark, heading north east instead of due east, thus increasing the distance between me and the river.

The Mefun caught wind of my scent, spotted my tracks or heard my flight, though, for soon enough I heard them coming after me, crashing through the brush and croaking in their harsh language. They split into three groups, one group hot on my heels and the other two attempting to encircle me. But I was traveling light and I was scared. The sound of pursuit drew nearer and then suddenly the river rose up before me and I bounded toward it, hitting the ice at full tilt and nearly losing my footing on the slippery ice.

I slid what seemed like halfway across the river, spinning round and round, coming to a stop at last, facing west and the three Mefun who had followed directly after me. I could hear several more Mefun making their way toward the river upstream of my position and several more that had already come to the river's icy edge downstream to my left. They were already working their way up the rocky shore, calling to their friends.

The Mefun facing me laughed and came out on the ice. I was so scared I didn't move. Part of me was watching the scene from a detached angle, as if my spirit had jumped out of my body and was looking back at me from a distance. Run! My spirit said. But my body refused to move. I just stood there trembling like a dumb animal waiting to be slaughtered.

The biggest Mefun strode out without hesitation, its two great horns sharpened to needle points and its hooves making sharp clacking noises on the ice. The two smaller ones followed him onto the frozen river a few steps and then inched forward, testing the ice with some trepidation. The big one stopped, grimaced and looked back at his underlings. He grunted and growled at them, waving them on impatiently. They whimpered a bit, but finally obeyed his command. And there they were, three of them not more than two arms lengths away from my quaking self, a tight little triangle spearheaded by the largest brute of all.

I took a step back and nearly tripped. A large flat-topped rock protruding above the ice had caught my feet. The Mefun came forward; I stepped onto the rock, holding my bundle of possessions under my arm and my staff in both hands more out of fear than any thought of protection or violence.

Then I heard it . . . CRACK . . . The Mefun stopped . . . SNICK, POP . . . Their great yellow-green eyes opened in surprise, heads wagging back and forth looking for the source of those sickening sounds . . . CHINK . . . something bright and alive awoke inside my breast and I dropped my bag of possessions, taking up my rat killing stance, staff raised over my head, knees bent, ready for the lunge. The lead Mefun looked up at me and snarled. Weapons = Death to humans. He lunged forward, or would have, but . . . CRACK!

Now we all know the Mefun ignore cold temperatures, but either the icy cold of the river was too much even for them, or they feared drowning, for I swear there came a shriek of terror from the two Mefun behind the leader as they crashed into the Ji'an. One went all the way under, the other was up to his neck, spluttering and thrashing wildly. His movements only caused more ice to crack and fall into the hole. The lead Mefun looked up at me with terror in his eyes. The ice below his feet tilted backwards just as my staff came down on his skull . . . WHACK! CRASH! SPLASH!

There were howls from the Mefun downstream to my left, more from those upstream on my right. They quickly converged on the bank closest to me but, seeing their companions floundering in the dark waters, seemed remiss to join them. I laughed. I admit it, I laughed at the poor stupid creatures. It was the first joy I had felt in years. I stooped, grabbed up my things and then lightly flitted away across the ice to the other shore.

A short time later, exhausted and delirious with my escape, I wandered up into the hills and forest for a while. I paid little attention to how much noise I made or how obvious my trail was. I was alive! Finally, I flopped down in a hollow and lay panting, hungry and cold, but happy.

"Now what?" came an unexpected voice from out of the darkness. In a flash I was in a fighting crouch with staff in hand.

"Who are you?" I hissed.

"I'm not the Mefun, that's for sure," the voice said.

"Mefun or Wesh, Srin-ga or villager, I'll kill you if I have to!" I called back fiercely (or so I thought).

I was repaid with soft laughter. Then a man walked into view. A man I had never seen before. "Who are you? What village and what clan?" I demanded, not ready to let down my guard.

"I am a man," he said. "I have no village and no clan and no name that I readily give out to strangers on the run. I won't live in a pen like your type does. This is my village," he held his arms wide, indicating the forest. "I am my own clan."

Finally, I lowered my staff. "Me, too," I said. "A real man cannot live in a pen."

"A real man cannot live out here making the noise you do," he answered in a whisper. "Especially not after a scene like the one you made on the river tonight." He came down into the hollow and sat noiselessly. "Oh, yes, I was watching. Lucky break, that." He almost chuckled at his pun. "Out here, lad, one must learn to live like the Yax K'uk Mo, the Green Quetzal Macaw: smart, alert, unseen and unheard."

"Yax K'uk Mo," I repeated. "I will become Yax K'uk Mo."

And that is now my name.

I lived in the wild with the Unnamed One as my guide at first. He helped me throw off the pursuit of the Mefun and Wesh, and he showed me many things. I learned new herbs from him--lichen, mushroom and bark--plants and roots to help sustain the body and give you strength to endure hardship and ward off disease. I ate forest squirrel, snake and lizard, frog and rabbit.

And then the Unnamed One left me one day, speaking of a hidden place. A human place removed from our enemies. He told me that one day I might come with him to that place, but he said I was not yet ready.

Alone I wandered through spring and summer. He found me once again, months later, and he showed me the forbidden things he had brought from that land apart: weapons and clothing made for war, constructed not of wood or stone or bone, but metals. And he gave me his name. And he taught me a way to summon him.

A I listened to him and looked at the things he had brought, I grew afraid. The world, it turns out, is not simply a series of farmers and tame animals, but also of warriors who dream of freedom. This idea scared me more than anything else I have ever known, for I understood the danger that came with it.

I am still afraid and have not dared summon the Unnamed One, whose name I now know. For he was right: I am not yet ready.

*Yax K'uk Mo is pronounced Yahsh Kook Moe, the Green Quetzal Macaw, an almost mythical bird known for its stunning green-feathered mane and its ability to be present, but not seen or heard.

Phase II

A series of calamities beset me after the Unnamed One disappeared again. He had not shown me all there was to know about survival alone in the wild. And when the forest squirrels, snakes, lizards, frogs and even rabbit became scarce and the weather turned foul, I was reduced to eating fall berries, nuts, seeds and even pine needles. Lichen there was aplenty, but it turns bitter in the cold and sustains only the body, not the mind. I wandered for the better part of a year. Slowly, ever slowly my condition degraded until my mind was that of an animal's and my body was nearly that of a wraith's.

I lost my staff in the snow the winter after I turned fourteen and never found it again. I lived in hollow places and deep in dark caves that winter, places I could catch small blind fish by touch or spiders and cave crickets to eat. I dug through rotted logs with sticks and stones in search of grubs; I searched the secret dens for the laying places of snakes and ate their eggs.

I barely survived.

Early the next spring, after eating the flesh of a discarded deer carcass, stinking in its decay, a great sickness overcame me and I stumbled blindly through the forest, over hills and rough craggy rock, mad and wracked with the fever of poisoned meat. I drank from cold springs to fill my belly, only to wretch it all up again and stumble on. I passed out from exhaustion and illness and lay as dead for unknown hours or days. When I awoke from the mad dreams--dreams in which my cousin Shiko Bi was shackled and tormented by Dragon magic, his life blood draining from his body--it was to the sounds of snuffling and grunting and scratching and splintering.

I opened my eyes and looked up from the leaves beneath me to see a huge black shape attacking an old tree stump. There was a droning buzz in my head, which I took to be my own illness, but which manifest itself near the hulking black shape in a cloud of swirling gold and black . . . bees! The black shape was a monstrous black bear, of course, and the tree stump was alive with bees: honey!

Possessed suddenly with a madness born of all-consuming hunger, I leapt to my feet, grabbing two rocks as I did. I rushed forward toward the bear, screaming and banging the rocks together! At first the bear looked at me with an idle curiosity, then its eyes widened and it bolted! The cloud of bees--most of them--took off after the beast, leaving their precious stash of honey practically unguarded. I threw one rock at the bear, the other at the honey stump. I missed the bear, but managed to hit the stump dead on, just where the bear had begun tearing it open. A golden ooze issued forth, sweet amber of bees, life-giving energy!

Before I had time to think, my fists were buried in the honey, grasping for comb. I stuffed my face, oblivious to the remaining bees that now attacked me from all sides. I had a mouthful of honey and a wad of torn comb in both fists, my arms coated in the sticky goo up to their wrists, when I heard the bear stop, turn, snarl and charge back fiercely toward me, trailing the enraged swarm in its wake.

As mad as I was--my first thought had been to stand and fight for this prize--something in my mind yet wanted me to live, though, for I found myself high tailing it away from the honey stump as fast as my legs would carry me, stuffing more of the sweet goo into my already full mouth as I ran.

I sprinted; I jumped and dodged as best I could. The bear's first two paw swipes missed me as I imitated the rabbits I had stalked in the forest: fake to the left, dodge to the right, sprint on! But I was running blindly and though smaller and more agile, the bear was faster. I felt the bear's paw hit my back with a weight and power like the flat side of Yi Ji Jiao's (the Mefun overseer) huge halberd.

I went down, but I rolled up and darted off in another direction only to feel two more tearing paws rake across my back before the full weight of the bear's body crashed into me, throwing me several body lengths ahead. I skidded to a stop, lying on my face . . . only my face was in mid air, staring down a steep and muddy incline. I turned quickly around, sitting up as I did. The bear was standing quite still, looking at me with death in its dark eyes. Then its head twisted back toward the honey stump. Then it swung back again to me and the bear stared me in the face. It growled a low rumbling noise and held its ground.

Whether it would have attacked, I don't know. For at that moment the cloud of angry bees descended upon me from out of nowhere. And though the pain of the bear's attack had yet to be recognized by my shocked body, I felt the thousand pin pricks of the bees' stingers and screamed as their poison entered my flesh. I fell over backwards, swatting desperately at targets too numerous to be reckoned with.

Tipped over the edge of the muddy incline, I plummeted, rolling over and over, gaining speed as I went. I hit a wall of vegetation the bottom and felt the bees' stingers dig deeper into my flesh and somehow they hauled me to a rapid stop. My eyes were closed but I felt them, the bees, their stingers cutting through the tattered rags and furs that I called my clothes. I could not believe how quickly and with what strength they were able to stop me . . . and then I passed out.

I woke slowly this time. It was a cool, damp, gray dawn ripe with fog and filled with the muffled cries of morning birds. I hurt so badly all over. My back was on fire and covered with a stiff crust. I was covered from head to toe in mud. The bees still clung to my body, digging their stingers deeper the more I struggled to move. But that didn't make sense. Looking around I realized: it hadn't been the bees that had slowed my careening progress, but a bramble of thorn bushes that lay thick and impenetrable at the base of the incline, each thorn a clasping needle half the size of my little finger.

With great effort, I tore my way out, emerging lacerated, swollen, bruised and naked, my long and untamed locks of hair caked in mud and blood and honey, thorns and bracken.

There was nothing to do but wander on. I was weak and shivering. Whether that was from the cold, sickness, bee stings, blood loss or the raw bear-raked flesh of my back, I do not know. All I know is that I walked, stumbled and crawled for the best of a day with little idea where I was or where I was going. This, it seemed, was the end.

But late that evening, my mind a befuddled fog, I realized I had been following the faint odor of wood smoke for several miles. I saw no smoke on the horizon. I saw no fire light. But the smell came to me on the wind as the scent of herbs had when I was a much younger boy.

Yes, I was still a boy. I was no man. I had run away thinking I was a man. But I ended up living as a beast and it was a miracle I had survived as long as I had. Yax K'uk Mo was still a child.

I stumbled out of the hills and forest into a hidden dell, cleared of trees, a stone shrine in the middle ringed by standing stones; I felt as if I was being reborn. This was the source of the smoke I had smelled, of course. It was a familiar place: a secret and familiar place. This was the hidden shrine to the north east of Ji'an village, the one my mother had whispered about with the Herb Lady, the one I had visited with my father when I was a boy of eight. My father had brought me here with offerings to the ancestors and herbal invocations to the gods. The old priest living there, Bing Wen, had scared me at the time. He seemed like a savior to me now as he stepped out of his little hut nearby.

"By the gods of the ancestors, what wild demonkin are you?" he asked, eyes wide, his crotchety old voice full of suspicious. "And why didn't I hear you enter the sacred circle?"

"I am . . . Yax K'uk Mo," I stammered in a rasping croak, barely able to speak.

"Yax K'uk . . . " the old man began, then let out a mocking guffaw. "Well, you're quiet enough to be the fabled Green Quetzal Macaw. But I fear your feathers have dimmed since last we met." And then he laughed.

I heard him say no more, for I collapsed.

The next week was a blur. The old man healed and tended my wounds. He washed me, fed me and nursed me back to life. I still wear the bear's claw marks on my back, as well as the razor thin scars left by the long-needled fleshbane thorns. Most of my body was (and remains) scarred, but I was healed.

When finally I was well enough to speak and to sit up in bed, Bing Wen asked me to tell him my tale, of which you already know so much. We spent three long days going over my story in great detail, the old man constantly interrupting to asking questions. He was particularly interested in my knowledge of herbs, and in news of the Unnamed One (whose name, curiously enough, the old man never asked).

When finally I concluded my tale, I told Bing Wen what I had learned: that real men cannot live in a pen, and that I am not yet a man. He asked if I wanted to return to my pen in the village. No, I said. I wanted to stay here and learn from him what it meant to be a human: to learn his art, to reconcile myself with the gods, to elevate myself above the beasts.

He thought about this in silence for a while, and told me to wait. He asked me to meditate for three days, partaking of only water, remaining alone in his hut. In three days he would come back and see if my mind were truly made up.

I did as he asked. And each day I saw it more and more clearly. A healer. A mender. Perhaps I could mend not only bodies, but minds, and with them whole lives. My people had rejected me, but that was out of ignorance and fear. The Unnamed One had rejected me, but that was out of disappointment that I was not full grown, unready for the tasks of a man. The hills and forest had rejected me because I was too poor a beast, too tame perhaps because of my upbringing, not wild enough to embrace the spirit of the Green Quetzal Macaw. Yes, I would do it. I would learn the old man's arts and heal my people. Become a man myself, then bring other humans out of their pens and make men and women--true humans--out of them.

When the old man returned and heard my decision, he smiled and shook his head. It was too dangerous for me to return to my village anyway. I would keep my new name. I would wear my hair wild and in long bramble locks. I would live here with the old man and learn his ways.

But there was to be another student, he said, and he walked over to the hut's entrance. He beaconed with his hand to someone unseen and then walked away. A figure came into the hut, silhouetted against the daylight outside. It was a young man about my age with a totally bald head. He smelled of the village, of Ji'an village, a scent I didn't even know that the village had until he walked in. The young man rushed over to me laughing and clasped my shoulder. He started talking excitedly and I felt my head swim in a cloud of confusion . . .

"Shiko Bi?" I finally asked, astounded to see the change in my cousin. "Shiko Bi? Is that really you?"

It was then that tears finally came to my eyes. I don't even know why.

So now the two of us study together. Shiko Bi finds the study dull, though I am fascinated, diligent and enthusiastic. To my surprise, the instruction is not all healing and herbs, but control of body and mind. I made a new staff under the old priest's instructions. I practice with it, the staff becoming a focus for meditation, a weapon and a means of defense. I feel energy throughout my body and mind. I learn to channel it. I become stronger and surer.

At odd times of day and night, people come to the shrine with food and offerings, receiving medications, healing and prayers in return. And here they no longer find only the solitary Bing Wen, they also find me, Yax K'uk Mo . . . and sometimes young Shiko Bi as well. Visitors from my village recognize me but say nothing about it. No one mentions my old name. No one calls me rat boy. They may treat me with suspicion, but the acts of healing and reciting the ancient rites soothes even the worst of those . . . except perhaps our last visitor, that Li boy. What was his full name? I must ask Shiko Bi. I hadn't expected him to show up with his uncle. But as they left, that boy had looked back at me with a look in his eye I didn't like. That one might be trouble.

Be that as it may, I think I have found what my life is supposed to be.

Phase III -- Vindictive!

Part I, The Crazed Preacher

The crazed preacher perches up on the rock before you with staff in hand, naked except for a loin cloth made of a foul and tattered fleece. His body is streaked with mud, his hair hangs down to his back in long dirty locks. The sign of a bloody hand is painted on his chest, no doubt in the preacher's own blood. Scars cover his body, long thin scars all over, huge scars left by the paws of an enormous bear across his back. The preacher has three green feathers sticking out of his mangy hair, held in place by a leather thong that also ties in place two wooden rings that encircle the preacher's eyes, giving him the appearance of some insane woodland owl.

The preacher peers over the few strangers who dared come today, farmers and strapping youths from several of the villages nearby. No one dares look the others in the face. All hide their heads in hoods or cover their faces with rags and skins so that no name can be attached to them. All had come to see the sacred shrine of Bing Wen . . . what they found instead was the crazed preacher.

All is silent for a while, then the preacher speaks, his voice coming up harsh and gravely from deep in his chest:

"I have found what my life is supposed to be.

"Oh, yes, I have found it: I have found hate.

"Who have I found hatred for? And why? Have you not heard the latest news, you who come in search of the great healer Bing Wen?

"I will tell you what has become of that great man. I will teach you! I will teach you hate!

"I was away from the shrine on errand when it happened; this errand, that errand, some errand, it doesn't matter what it was: herbs, food, water, meditation, observation, practice . . . it doesn't matter!

"It was autumn, an appropriate season for death: an appropriate season for loss, for anger, for hatred and violence. Don't you think?

"Pah! What does it matter what you think? Fools! By the time you awaken to what needs to be done, the Ji'an river will run red! Rrrrrrred with the blood of living creatures! Human creatures! Human animals! Just like you and all those other mindless, docile chickens: growing your meager crops, performing your menial tasks, eating, breeding, sh*tting, living only for your masters, the brutish Mefun and the wraithlike Mesh!

"I tell you, my friends, a time is coming! Yes a time is coming from which you cannot run! Or hide! Or turn your heads and pretend you cannot see! For in the time to come, a Great One will rise up and descend upon you riding the Three-Headed Beast! And the heads of that serpent will be the Srin-ga, the Wesh and the Mefun! And the Great One will be the Death's-head, the Destroyer, riding forth from the Cracks of Chaos, that rift between the lower realms and the middle kingdom!

"For look what the servants of Chaos have done! Look! Visit the hidden shrine! See how it has been defiled by Nemesis: Yi Ji Jiao, chief overseer of the Mefun at Ji'an!

"He came with his brutes and a triumvirate of Wesh whilst I was away. They descended upon Bing Wen, my teacher and my mentor, for they knew he was not of the village and they had been told where the shrine lay hidden!

"Yes, they had been told. Told by on of you! By a human! And they tore Bing Wen limb from limb and crucified his arms and legs, his head and torso, trailing his entrails between his bloodied, ragged remains! Then they threw down the standing stones and cracked the shrine and ruined the dwelling place of our priest! All that remains now is the rot of his flesh and his cracked and splintered bones!

"So listen to me, all you pious devotees who so privately and secretly paid homage to the gods and the ancestors in your midnight visits to the temple . . . You can ALLOW our oppressors to defile our men and women by killing them or Taking them at their leisure; You can ALLOW them to spirit our loved ones away to other villages to satisfy their human husbandry . . . You can even ALLOW them to kill and terrorize your own children!

"Go ahead! Allow them! For all these things serve to do is make your people tamed animals--DOMESTIC animals--not humans!

"But when you ALLOW them to destroy your religion; when you ALLOW them to defile the gods and your ancestors; when you ALLOW them to rob us of history and everything the first humans bequeathed to us . . . It is not THEY who insult the gods . . . it is YOU!

"You, dear friends . . . not they. For the Three-Headed Beast is already damned by the things they do and by whom they serve: the Death's-head, the Destroyer. And by allowing them to get away with it, YOU have become complicit with their deeds!

"But there is an answer. There is hope. There is a way.

"The answer is VENGEANCE!

"The hope is RESISTANCE!

"The way is WAR!"

And with that, the preacher stepped down from the rock and faded into the woods. The audience quickly dispersed, though several of the bravest investigated the shrine only to find it was as the crazed preacher had said. There was no shrine any longer. Bing Wen was dead.

Of course, I was that crazed preacher.

Some of you have heard me preach this way before, those of you who pray to the gods, those of you who grow weary of oppression. And to that latter group, I say, do not let my appearance of madness dissuade your resolve. Caked in mud, wild and living naked in the wilderness, my sight is clearer than most. And my sight says that we are not alone. There is help we might have, if we are ready. If we are prepared to look danger in the eye and parlay for freedom, then I know someone who can help us.

Help me, my friends. Help me save the race. Help me put us right with the gods and with our ancestors. Some of you are brave enough. Some of you are ready.

Are you?

Are . . . you?

Part II, Vindictive Me

After Bing Wen's horrible death, it became clear to me that the Mefun had acted on information provided to them by human traitors, or rather one human traitor in particular. True, there is always a chance the Mefun patrol had stumbled across the shrine by accident, but after so many years of it remaining hidden? And the destruction coming but days after Li Bo Pie visited the shrine with his uncle? And the fact that it was none other than Yi Ji Jiao who led the attack? What cause would the chief overseer of the Ji'an Mefun have to be so far afield with a random patrol? That made no sense, and soon enough I understood.

Li Bo Pie, so pompous, so infatuated with his family's perceived stature within the Ji'an community, had been the ringleader of the kids that used to bully me. And no one can sniff out a rat like the dirty rat boy who used to hunt them with his supposed magic staff.

Li Bo Pie, he is the traitor. And understanding that led me to take my first small strikes against the Three-Headed Beast. I crept down from the mountains and late at night, I would steal up to the river banks and find the village's traps. They were easy to destroy. Too easy. It left me with no great sense of accomplishment. So I lay in watch and I grew more brave, or brazen, or even foolish depending on how you look at it.

I considered some acts of sabotage against the rice paddies. It would be so easy to destroy a dike or ruin a canal, drain some fields too early and wreck a crop or two. But the village would suffer most from that, and I was already hurting them in small ways by destroying fish traps.

No, I needed to do something less damaging to the villagers, and yet more dramatic: something that would leave a clear signal.

Alone I could not make an outright attack against the Mefun's main compound, it being walled by brick and mortar with the ever present watchtower. But the Mefun huts scattered around the fields were wide open to attack. And attack them I did.

My first action came after I heard a lightning strike in the forest. It was, I think, a sign from the gods, for the sky was merely overcast. No thunderstorms were about. Yet a single lightning strike smote the forest ground, hitting neither tree nor rock. I heard it from the other side of a hill and when I went to investigate, I found nothing but a smoldering patch of ground. Nearby there was a pool of odd blood, like the goo inside a spider, only much larger than what you would find in even the biggest forest spider. I ignored it, though, for the smoldering earth was ringed by some old dry bracken which glowed red like the embers in a hearth. And that's when I remembered how I used to steal burning coals from clan huts to start fires and roast rats . . . roast rats!

I quickly fed the embers with tiny dried twigs and soon had a crackling fire going. I nurtured it until I had a bed of fine long-lasting coals. I took green branches and made a bed for the coals, wrapping them in thick broad leaves to contain their heat and limit their smoke. I quickly gathered more kindling and made my way hastily toward my target.

That night a bright light lit up the fields. The Mefun hut burned with a satisfying heat, even though it proved to be unoccupied and no rats were roasted that night. Near the hut I left my name, the feather of a Green Quetzal Macaw, one of the dozen or so I had in my possession (I found a dead one deep in the forest one day, which I took for an ill omen, but now realize was but a gift from the gods).

The next hut I hit was occupied. But it was not with fire that I hit it. Keeping an eye on the hut, hidden in the woods and safely far away from Mefun eyes, I happened to notice a wasp nest of monumental size in a tree nearby. Knowing the ways of these creatures, I waited until the cool and dark of night drove the wasps back into the nest. I climbed up the tree and with some difficulty, managed to break away the branch upon which the nest had grown.

I can't believe the Mefun sleep so soundly, for I made no little noise preparing my trap. Yet they did not awaken. Early the next morning, but after the rays of the early morning sun had warmed my little present, the Mefun came out of their hut. Upon opening the door, though, the wasp nest fell from above, where it had precariously been balanced, placed so as to drop just as it did.

The ensuing madness was almost more than I could stand. I had to quickly retreat into the woods far enough that my laughter did not draw the enraged Mefun to me.

But again, I had left my name: sticking out of the nest was another Green Quetzal Macaw feather.

Now I contemplate yet more dangerous tasks. A tree fall triggered to drop on one of the caravans that come and go on the roads north and south?

One thing is sure, though, I will have my revenge upon the Mefun. And upon Li Bo Pie.

Phase IV

Word spread throughout the villages that the shrine had been defiled. It was known to the Mefun and Wesh. Bing Wen was dead.

Word, too, I suppose, went out that a wild-eyed ascetic now haunted the woods around the old shrine, spewing a message of vengeance, hatred and war. I can only imagine the reaction this caused: the fear, the whispered but desperate words of caution from parent to child. Such thoughts are dangerous! Don't you ever go near those woods again! That crazed preacher is a rebel and a lunatic! The Mefun will surely have his hide one day...and YOURS TOO if you get caught there!

But words to that effect always titillate the impish and mischievous young men: those out for adventure, those geared for trouble and revolt against their parents' will. So just as the elders and the mature villagers stopped coming to the old shrine of Bing Wen, an unhealthy number of stray youths sought out those woods. Some came individually, others in pairs and small groups. But always they were too eager, too green, too young. I hid from them. I watched from unseen places as they blundered through the forest making noise enough for a troop of drunk Mefun.

Eventually I had to abandon those woods. My lone raids against the Three-Headed Beast had brought me more and more out of those woods anyway. I had some successes. But I had even more failures. My attempts at traps were useless. I needed a teacher. I have not the skill for it.

The best I did, and the worst, was when I tried to rig up a tree fall against a caravan. I had a dozen good solid logs set to hurtle down a steep slope, but the trigger mechanism failed. And then it was discovered. The caravan halted as several Mefun and even more Taken climbed the slope to investigate. I panicked and set the fall off manually. The trees came down alright, but they came down on top the Taken, leaving the Mefun unharmed. I know some curse the Taken for giving aid to the Three-Headed Beast, but I do not know. I sense something in their minds, something in their bodies, that is amiss. I fear they are controlled against their will. Six of them died by my hand, and I had to flee the scene or be caught by the Mefun. I could not save the Taken and I barely saved myself.

Though I did get away, the episode taught me how desperately I needed help. But how could I get it? I could call the Unnamed One. But something always stopped me.

If only I had a way to contact Shiko Bi, perhaps he could gather people our age, ones who were ready, not like those young saplings who came looking for the mad Green Quetzal Macaw in the woods around the old shrine.

I suspended my raids on the Mefun while I contemplated my next move and practiced my healing arts in solitude, keeping an ever vigilant eye open for herbs to replenish my supply.

One day I happened upon an odd scene: a doe was resting on the forest floor with her back turned toward me. I looked around but spotted no other deer. Not a buck, doe or fawn was to be seen. Her ears were twitching to ward off flies, so obviously she was alive, but otherwise she made no move. Strange. She should be foraging.

I crept up on her as silent as my namesake--I had yet to see a Green Quetzal Macaw alive. I was nearly on top of her when she twitched, and turned her head around to stare into my eyes. She still did not move. I went softly down on one knee and calmly brushed her coat with one hand. She twitched when first I touched her, but she did not bolt.

Growing braver, I moved up alongside her, petting her gently as I did so. It was only when I patted her neck that she attempted to stand and I realized her ill; her front left leg was broken badly. She limped up but did not try to run. I calmed her with my hand and breathed the way I had been taught, calling forth the fire of my life force, sensing my patient's pulse, feeling and becoming one with the doe's fire-driven elements. I incanted and rites and called for the Touch the Flame...the doe's injury unfolded in my mind.

"Yes, my sweet," I whispered softly. "I know. I know. I feel your pain. Now let me take it." And to my surprise, the doe moved her face closer to mine, her breath coming to me as a warm wind from her glistening nose. Languid though her breaths seemed, I could feel her patient suffering underneath, and I continued my rites, taking the Breath of Pain.

The doe started as if to run, then looked at me with a startled and confused gaze. How many times had she been hunted by my people? And yet here I was, drawing her hurt and pain from out of her body.

A dull and insufferable ache swelled up in my leg and I groaned, sinking down to the forest floor. It was a bad break, a very bad break indeed.

The doe leaned down and smelled my face, licked me once and walked a few paces away. I almost passed out, but continued to meditate on my task, eyes closed, breath short for the pain. I called forth Body Mending from the earth and felt the pain ease. I lay panting for a while. I had never broken a leg before. So this is what it felt like when I whacked a foe on the shin and split their bone? I memorized the pain and would later apply it to my foes with full knowledge of the toll I inflicted.

I could have continued my self-healing but sometimes pain brings clarity to the mind when nothing else can. The doe was still there, milling around, foraging, watching me, unsure of exactly what I had done or why. The sun filtered down through the trees above. I felt the elements around me; felt them infused in my body and mind. I could feel the natural order of things, and I knew that I had been absorbed at last into its matrix. I finally fit in. I knew my path. I had now only to find that path's beginning.

Looking up into the canopy at that moment I perceived what had been there throughout this scene in plain view, yet completely silent and unseen. Its resplendent green feathered mane encircled its magical face. Its two great eyes looked down on me with perfect serenity. How many times had I walked under such splendor totally unaware? How many times had a similar face observed me to my total ignorance? It was a Green Quetzal Macaw!

We spent several long minutes observing each other, and then the near-legendary creature let out its great cry, a sound I had never before heard, and it flew off, disappearing almost instantly from view.

The doe spooked and bolted off into the forest, leaving me there alone, happy but in pain.

I was loath to give up that pain, for it represented my passage into a new stage of self-attunement. Still, I could not lie there all day and finally I pried myself up and, using my staff as a walking stick, limped on in the direction of Ji'an. I could not return to the village, but if I waited long enough, hidden in the hills nearby, I might spot Shiko Bi. He would help me find the beginning of my path.

A few days later, traversing a broken and secretive land not far from Ji'an, I stopped to rest my aching leg. I had refused to heal myself and had pushed myself enough that I gained little natural healing. But as I attuned myself to my surroundings, the sound of distant water bubbled up in my awareness. It sounded like a small brook or spring and I was thirsty. As I stood to go find the water source, I smelled an unfamiliar scent. It wafted upon the breeze, an enticing and delicate aroma. Odd. I knew most of the herbs and flowers hereabouts. This one was new.

I moved toward the scent, more intrigued by it than by the thought of quenching my thirst, but as I did so, I realized they came from the same direction. As I drew nearer the scent grew ever stronger while remaining as delicate as that first whiff. I also heard that the water seemed to change tone, as if it were falling into a stone chamber...and almost before I knew it, there it was, a small spring bubbling and trickling down into a hidden cave! Around the cave's entrance, aside the spring, grew a pretty white flower. I stooped to inspect it, but was startled by what I saw: footprints. Several sets of human footprints, from different people, were scattered all around the cave's entrance, coming and going it seemed.

Carefully I investigated the area, but there seemed to be no one about at the moment. This, I thought, was odd. I had never heard of such a place near Ji'an. I had never stumbled upon it in my herb hunts for the old Herb Lady. Something secret was going on here, so carefully I entered the cave. It seemed a grotto of sorts. It was large enough for maybe a dozen people to assemble, or even practice the forbidden arts of combat. And so it seemed had been happening. The ground was well trampled and signs of struggle were everywhere, but not actual battle. No blood. No bodies. Only scuffling, shuffling footprints.

Perhaps, I thought, my path begins here. I picked a few handfuls of the flower near the spring and then I found an out of the way corner in the cave, one where the shadows lay most heavily, and I waited. As I waited I studied the curious flower that grew by the spring and came to know its properties.

I didn't even wait half a day. As the late afternoon sun came down and lit a large circle on the cave's floor, the sounds of hushed voices drifted to me from outside. The cave seemed to amplify the sound. The voices were hushed and the people approached quietly: a good sign. These didn't sound like the noisy adventuresome youth who had hounded after me in Bing Wen's forest. These came like hunters, like woodsmen, like those attuned to the world around them.

I worried they would find my tracks and trap me here. But their conversation kept them engrossed as they approached. Into the cave they came, one at a time, the others keeping watch above: another good sign. I heard one speak as if to a pet, then heard the cry of a sparrow hawk spiral away up into the trees.

When all four of them were down in the cave, I stepped forward, staff in hand.

I was about to introduce myself, when they sprang into leapt backwards, landed on hands and sprang up into a martial arts pose ready for an attack. Another made rapid movements in the air, drawing sigils of power, preparing a Dragon spell. The other two readied their weapons, bow and spear.

I limped out into the pool of light and planted myself there, leaning weakly against my staff, my leg obviously impaired by the fracture.

"Well," I said. "Go on and kill me Shiko Bi, if you think that is your familial duty." My cousin stopped his incantations and just stared at me, the sun playing off his still bald head. "And is that you, Tao So? You've grown supple and quick since last we met. And who are these other two? A couple of Yang and Song boys, grown into young men? I am Yax K'uk Mo. My days alone are at an end. My path begins here and there is a great task ahead. Let us begin that journey"

At that moment I called up the powers of the earth and my leg reshaped itself, its fibers re-forming, its muscles re-grouping; I was cured. I took up my fighting stance and called forth my first sparring opponent.

.........We studied hard. We trained hard. And when a year had nearly passed, I finally felt we were ready. Secretly I stole out into the night and marched through one night and on into the next until I reached the tumbled hillock of rocks the Unnamed One had shown me, the one with the lone hollow tree in its center. I waited until midnight and then with a long solid stick of oak I knocked with all my might against the old weather-blasted tree...DONK!...DONK!...DONK!...I waited the appointed time and repeated the call.

I stepped down into the forest and made my camp for the night. The next day at noon I would do the same. At midnight, the same. Day after day until the Unnamed One came or returned my call.

It was time to begin!

Song Ting Lee - Scott

Childhood I

Not again, not this time, why me? Always do I have to go chase down an errant brother or sister but duty first play later as father always says. Why can't my younger brothers and sisters stay back in the hut with mother cleaning the days catch? I will admit something to you if you can keep a secret, can you? Okay, Okay... I don't mind running after them on the banks of the river, it's all an act for my parents! Nothing feels better than skipping over the rocks at the little rapids or stalking my twin bother Lee Ting along the shore and pushing him in when he least expects it. Oh don't you worry about Lee all of us Songs can swim as well as fish as soon as we are born. We are the village fishermen of course it comes naturally to us. "Splash" HEHE I got Lee again silly never learns. Lee can never stay mad at me for long and he will get me back. Now we are going to go fishing but we have to be careful and avoid the creepy Taken who are watching the fishing parties, Lee and I have sharpened sticks to us as spears like the grown-ups do that Taken will break them if they catch us with them.

Just a bit further Lee, perfect this little pool off the rapids is just the place to spear us some fish... Careful make sure the fish do not detect the shadow refraction in the water. 1..2..3... and throw!!! Looks like another catch for the greatest fishermen in the village the Spear Twins (well Lee and I are the only ones who call ourselves that) Now for the best part a swim. Sometimes I float and dive in the water pretending to be a bird! I do so wish I could fly and catch fish like the mighty hawks. They are so fast and never miss a fish unlike Lee and I, if we were hawks we could catch enough to feed the whole village in a few hours... Another great thing about the hawks is how they they do not cut down trees to make there homes or rip up the forest with there smelly oxen to plant weeds like the Changs do!

WHAT?? OK dad. Looks like Lee and I have to go help pull in the nets on the slow water fishery... Oh a worm maybe I can us that to catch a fish BYE BYE

Childhood II

Today was a very great day well sort of, I was out near the river when I heard a screeching. I quickly ran towards the sound with my fishing spear in hand and was hit with quiet a shock a tiny Sparrowhawk had fallen and been injured. I could see the remains of it's mother being carried off and devoured by a Mufen, he must have missed this little one. Quickly I picked it up and put it in my jerkin before anyone could see... I carefully took it home with me along with one of the small bait fish, Oh bird what shall I call you I have it Shidai Nikuya or just Nikuya for short it means Butcher. yes that is a fitting name especially for what they did to your Mom... I know little Nikuya I cannot cut the fish as good as my brother could before they took him. Yes little birdy my brother has a skill with the fillet knife he can cut the Fugu fish and remove all the poison without it contaminating the sweet meat. Once the Mufen found out they took him as one of private cheifs. I miss him so much. Here Nikuya eat this you will grow strong and fast i will make sure of it.

Ahh the river, I used to only be able to spear the fish in slow ponds. NOW I am able to spear a fish any place if I am lucky and want to show off for the family I will leap from rock to rock and strike a leaping trout out of mid air. I don't always do this trick especially with the Mufen are around cause the will steal my fish and push me in the water. The like to do that because I leap from rock to rock and get many of the larger fish in the fast water. My family keeps getting bigger more duties at home and fish to catch.

Phase I

Song Lee Ting has been gone for over a year now, I now catch the rare Fugu fish for him to serve to the Wesh. It is for him that I strive to be the best fisherman in my family. As long as I can supply him with the fish to serve them they will keep him alive. It is a day when I take the days catch of Fugu to be left at the compound gates for him, I hear he is learning to prepare other dishes for them and his skill is growing everyday. I feel good that Lee is taking care of himself especially since.... Well maybe I should not say anything. Chao Shiko Bi has a sister named Chung Wei she is beautiful beyond any measure, skin like that dew on a morning glory, hair as black as the ravens feather, and a grace that only the mountian cat can compare to. We met right after Chao Shiko Bi and I got in a fight with some of the Yang boys, they were picking on Chao Shiko, tripping him and pushing him as they the do with everyone. He has been kind to me when I make trips into the main village and I did not take kindly to them picking on my friend. I happened to have my trusty fishing spear and a few twists and turns and bonks on some Yang heads had them running off. It was then that Chao Chung Wei came up to me and with a small bow she thanked me for helping her brother. I of course said it was nothing... he has been kind to me and I felt I should help him.

The next day Shidai Nikuya was flying over a pond we had recently made by daming a small stream and with subtle movements known only to me was pointing me in the direction of several fish schools. I spotted on the shore Chung Wei so I was quick to bring my canoe over to her and with several short whistles Nikuya was soon beside me feasting on a fish she had caught. Chung Wei was amazed by Nikuya the sparrow hawk and I could not resist showing her several of the tricks I had taught her. I throw a fish in the air and Nikuya quickly plucked it out of the air, then I pointed to a small mouse by the pond and with a whistle sent Nikuya to harrass the small creature. Chung Wei laughed with delight but I saved my best trick for last, I sent Nikuya into the air and she gave me a signal and I was quick in the water my spear in hand diving deep and up I came with a large Fugu fish. Chung Wei could not beleive it I said it was true I trained Nikuya since she was a babe and not finer hunting pair could you ever find... but I made her promise not to tell my secret or they may take my bird away.

For the next several month Chung Wei brought me lunch by the shores of the ponds and rivers and I in turn to care to show her the ways of the water. One night we snuck down to the stream and laid out under the stars I asked her to marry me and she said yes!! I am so excited our village has so few reasons to celebrate and this union is a great oppertunity for us to bring some happiness into our lives.

I have been spending more time in the wilds and learning the ways of the wetlands what fish will give me strengther and what frogs will steal the strength of others. I can track the muskrat and beaver, with Nikuya to guide me I am never lost in the wetlands. I am able to leave the village for days at a time and tend the fishing traps furthers up the river. I have even invented a carp trap. I have learned the tides on the big river and no adult in the village can out swim me. Last week I tied a knot so strong the even the Mufen could not break it. I was very proud but they still pushed me down. I feel a like my whole villiage is my brothers well except for the Changs they are more like crazy cousins who only visit around the new years and you are glad when they leave.

I must go now I have a wedding to prepare for and a dowry to raise....

The union was blessed by the Mufen and Wesh for in their twisted way they welcomed marrages. Not for the union of man and wife or families but for the promise of more strong workers for the village. It was under this guise that Chung Wei and I were married in a grand cermony that brought all the families together to celebrate, a rare feat indeed. I even heard rumors that someone was able to pass the news to my brother and in his captivity he prepared a grand dish for his masters that would make them grow sleepy so they would not intrude on the festivites. My few great friends where there Shiko Bi and even Tao So (even though they look truely tired) Tao So had mentioned to me of a mysterious man who wanted to meet me. This man, he said, had watched me fish and he even knew of my "Flying Friend". He was anxious to meet me and said my movements reminded him of a cat! I was very skeptical of this and asked Tao So it this was like the time they wanted me to touch the demonkin horn and I ended up limping for a week. He laughed and said it was important for me to meet him, I agreed mostly so I could get back to the festival. It was Shiko Bi's turn to next amaze me with a great toast to the union of his sister and myself of course he could not let the moment pass without saying if I fail to provide for her I would have to deal with him. That got a great laugh from the crowd I have always been able to run circles around him since we were guppies! Much music and dancing occured and many offerings to the great dragons and several fertility statues where made and all too soon the festival ended.

Chung Wei and I returned to our hut and it was upon entering that we knew something was wrong a Taken stood in the corner of the hut with an erie look on his gray face. "do you not know the custom of first night young fisherman?" he said to me in an acid like tone. My face hardened as I had heard rumors of this ancient practice but it had not been carried out in over a century. This was Dong We Lo and before he was taken we had expressed an unhealthy fancination with Chung Wei that she had always turned down. At that moment my arms where seized by a two Mufen guards and Dong We Lo moved toward my new bride. I struggled against my captors and was able to wrestle one of my arms free but dislocated it in the process. My usless arm hung at my side as I screamed at We Lo not to do this. It was then my love looked at me in the eyes with a serenity that to my dying day I will not forget, a smile and a tear on her face she took out a small carving knife and plunged it deep into her stomach. The last words she spoke were for my ears only and I will repeat them when my time to join her has arrived. Rage, hatred, power all boiled inside of me and I began to struggle against my captors We Lo looked at me and said "What a pity" then everything went black.

I awoke the next night in my families hut surrounded by them and Shiko Bi. Everyone was upset but none more than me. I had hoped it all a dream but the looks on the face told me it was not. My arm had been fixed and slowly I set up to see my wife set on a pyre just outside the door. I slowly got up and walked to her, she was as beautiful in death as in life. I turned to look at those behind me as I walked to the small torch in the door way picked it up and set the pyre a blaze. Several of the healers said a prayer to the gods. My world was gone and at the moment I bolted into the woods to find my blessed river. The water, my love, my god, she can never be taken from me, not like so many others, my brother and my wife. I let out a small whistle and Nikuya soon joined me, yes this is how it must be Nikuya and me no one else. Everyone I get close to is taken from me so we will be alone... I will never forget them and to their memory I shall remain loyal and to the memory of that gang of us Shiko Bi, Tao So, Si Bodi, Si Tan. But it is better if I have nothing to do with them.

It was at this moment my life changed as I heard someone playing against the water as I set in a rock in the middle of the river. Nikuya took flight as I turned to face this person. "Who are you?" I asked...

He responded "Cheng Ru and I have an offer to make you and your friend up in the skies. I offer you a purpose and a way to put your soul at rest." Intrigued I asked him to tell me more.


All material Copyright (C) Mark A. Thomas. All rights reserved.