A QUICK NOTE: PLEASE READ!!!!
Prior to setting down a single word for the tale of Xiao-tep, my intention was to tell a simple tale of a mystical fish. It was meant to be a one-shot deal, a short story of ten pages at most.
When I began writing I realized the tale needed more than ten pages to tell. I decided to post the tale on my blog in Acts, with each Act divided into three Parts. Even after I had made this decision, I was unsure if three Acts would be enough, yet fearful of choosing a four-Act goal because I did not want to wind up with a tale that had 'filler'... fluff that could easily be done away with as it serves no real purpose to a story. Publishers often require filler from their writers to meet some page quota. I think that's despicable. A tale should be told in however many pages is NEEDED, not REQUIRED.
With that in mind, after weeks of working towards my goal I sat down to write the fourth and final Act. I soon realized this fairy tale simply would not be held within the confines of four Acts.
So, to either your dismay or joy, I announce today's posting to be the fourth Act of a now FIVE-ACT FAIRY TALE! Apologies to those wishing to see an end to the tale today. To those who requested more: you're welcome.
What's more: all previous Acts have had three Parts. Act IV has SIX Parts! I considered breaking this Act up so as to contain fewer Parts and make this ultimately a Six-Act tale, but after careful deliberation I felt all the Parts herein were so closely tied together they needed to remain together and not torn apart.
Today's Act is somewhat non-linear as it has three 'flashbacks'. As we last read, the demon Ketsueki Sato had just ordered Wu Chan Chu to attack Xiao-tep. Today's Act picks up with one of these flashbacks and tells how Wu Chan Chu was trained for fighting.
Here is this week's offering of a short story or essay. This short story is number 11 of 13 weekly essay or short story posts.
Entitled "The Children of Gods", this tale appears here on my blog for the first time anywhere as a 5-Act fairy tale. Act 1, 2 and 3 have already been posted and Act 4 will be posted today.
The Children of Gods
(C) 2007 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author(s) and/or artist(s).
Act IV of V: Wu Chan Chu and Comet Fox Receive Training
TWO RABBITS WATCHING THE HAWK: Wu Chan Chu Seeks Hermit Snow; Comet Fox is Taught Drunken Style; Three Stand Together in Defiance
Wu Chan Chu grew fat from the many foods and sweet liquors of the Cottonwood Chamber. She spent many hours within, lounging in a sleeping quarters especially provided to her by the demon Ketsueki Sato. She had been made a captain in his army and as a gift of that status Ketsueki bequeathed to her her own sleeping quarters remade, remodeled to be as a little pond. In the pond surrounded by walls of rice paper and gold finery was a lily pad that had grown large and was buoyant enough to hold Wu Chan Chu's weight, even as she grew fat.
She quickly grew bored with her new life, waiting and occasionally mock fighting for practice against Ketsueki's amassing army of demon toads. Many tried to woo her, starved for female affections, but after she broke the arm of such an offender so badly the bone protruded from his arm these affronts to her stopped.
Wu Chan Chu spent many days after that alone in her quarters, sleeping and eating there.
Finally the demon Ketsueki came to her and said, "You are fat and sloth-like. You are making yourself useless to me. I must send you on a quest."
Impatient, Wu Chan Chu demanded, "When will we fight? Real fights and not these mock battles where I cannot harm the demons? When will I be allowed to fulfill my obligation to you so that you may fulfill your obligation to me?"
"What obligation have I to you?" Ketsueki raged.
"You promised to arrange a meeting with me and my father, Hapi the River God!" Wu Chan Chu reminded.
Ketsueki only smiled and said, softly, "A good captain needs a proper weapon."
Witnessing Ketsueki's purposeful disregard and ignorance of their agreement, hope grew small within Wu Chan Chu. She knew then she had little chance of meeting her father as Ketsueki had promised, though the desire remained.
"Go to the Mountain of the Moon," Ketsueki commanded. "There find an old man, a hermit by the name of Snow. He makes fine things. Ask him to make for you a proper weapon."
Wu Chan Chu was allowed to leave the Cottonwood Chamber.
For four days she battled within herself as she traveled alone to the Mountain of the Moon, struggling with thoughts of escaping while on her quest. She was well outside the chamber now and could do so easily, though if she did not return within a reasonable time she knew Ketsueki would send his army of demon toads to kill her. She would be hunted and a hunter being hunted, she surmised, could not properly hunt. How would she concentrate on finding her father with an army from Hell chasing after her?
Soon a plot grew in her heart. She would remain at Ketsueki's side, training day and night, learning all she could about fighting and then one day, when the opportunity presented itself, she would kill the demon Ketsueki Sato. Then, and only then, could she flee from the Cottonwood Chamber without fear of being chased from behind. She only hoped she could have the patience.
She came to the base of the Mountain of the Moon in a land where day had ceased to visit long ago, covering the lands with perpetual night. The mountain reached high. No matter what angle she attempted to view it from the moon was always directly behind it, enshrouding the mountain with an eerie luminescence bouncing off mists made from warm air and snow on the very top of the mountain.
Wu Chan Chu climbed the massive mountain, jumping again and again, until she came to a ledge and heard the soft tone of a nose flute. She followed the sound and found an old man sitting on a rock of ice playing the instrument.
He was bathed in a multi-layered white, flowing gown. His hair matched the pearlescent glow of the moon upon the snow and was long and flowing like his clothing. His facial hair had grown quite long, as well, especially at the tips of his mustache and eyebrows. He was as a spirit in the witching hour.
"Excuse me," said Wu Chan Chu to the man. He paused only long enough to start his song from the beginning.
"Excuse me," Wu Chan Chu said.
Again the man restarted the song.
"Does this flute player not hear me? If so, how can he enjoy his own music?" Wu Chan Chu pondered. "No, he must be able to hear me for he hears his music, thus he plays, and thus he reacts when I speak.
"I know you hear me well!" Challenged Wu Chan Chu. "Speak to me, I beseech you!"
Again the main restarted the song.
"All I desire is your name. Are you the hermit called Snow?"
Again the man restarted his song.
Wu Chan Chu screamed in frustration.
Again the song was restarted.
Wu Chan Chu sat, ruminating on whether or not to move on or continue to deal with this man that refused her. She thought of attacking the old man, but if she attacked and hurt him and he turned out to be the one she sought, perhaps he would not fulfill her wish of a weapon. Perhaps he would not be able to, perhaps she would accidentally kill him. The man was old and frail, after all.
She sat thinking so long that, finally, the man finished his song and put down the flute. "You wish to speak with me?" his voice cracked.
"Old man, you have angered me!"
"No, your impatience has angered you."
"I would not be impatient if you had not restarted that fool song so many times!"
"I would not have restarted so many times if you had not been seen impatient."
The old man looked at her and smiled. His eyes were pure white, each without pupil or iris. Wu Chan Chu wondered if he were blind.
"All I wish to know is your name, old man," said Wu Chan Chu.
"That is not all you wish," he smiled at her.
"What is your name?" she demanded.
"I am Hermit Snow."
"Finally!" Anger and impatience left her. "Will you make for me a weapon?"
Hermit Snow sighed and scowled. "Every decade someone new comes to me. Each time it is the same: a weapon is asked of me. When will the world outside this realm calm itself? Why not ask of me to make jewelry or some other finery? Or a mystic instrument? Do you play a musical instrument?"
Wu Chan Chu became furious at his pondering. "No! Just make me a weapon!"
Again the old hermit sighed. "Show me your fighting."
"Show me how you fight. In order for me to know what weapon will be best suited for you, I must know how you fight."
Wu Chan Chu began a kata she had learned from the toad demons of the Cottonwood Chamber.
Hermit Snow shook his head. "That is not fighting. You might as well be playing as a child in a schoolyard."
"What is it you wish of me?" Wu Chan Chu demanded.
"It would be my pleasure! Stand, old man, and receive your beating."
Hermit Moon shook his head. "I'll stand if I need to."
Wu Chan Chu, slighted by the insult, attacked. She threw a massive webbed-hand downward at Hermit Snow, her body leaning forward to reach down and execute the strike.
Hermit Snow leaned back, almost lying on the ground, allowing the fist to pass over him. At the same time, he lifted his flute into the air at the descending face of Wu Chan Chu. The nose caught her by a nostril. She realized she had shifted all her weight forward, over and beyond her hips and was in danger of losing her balance and falling.
But Hermit Snow had caught her by the nostril with his flute and held her there, suspended over him. He looked up at her.
"You are no fighter," he said.
She pulled her legs under her belly and lifted herself from Hermit Snow's flute.
Hermit Snow sat up straight, flicked the snot from the flute, wiped it clean with his gown that remained white even as he cleaned the flute, and began to play it again.
"You'll play no more!" Wu Chan Chu yelled, swinging a heavy haymaker punch at the old man.
Hermit Snow removed the flute from his nose and used it to easily parry the wild punch.
Wu Chan Chu looked at the flute and said, "My punch is strong! Your flute should have been destroyed!"
Hermit Snow nodded. "Your punch is strong, but you are not a fighter and therefore know not how to properly punch. A punch without destiny is no punch at all."
Wu Chan Chu heard the words. Her breathing was labored, her heart and lungs working harder to support the life held within the larger body she now had. She pulled her fist away.
Hermit Snow put the flute to his nose.
Before he could play, Wu Chan Chu asked, "Teach me."
"I am no fighter," Hermit Snow said.
"You obviously know more than I. Please."
Hermit Snow put down his flute and sighed. "Present your fist to me."
Wu Chan Chu bent low and did as the hermit asked.
Hermit Snow put his flute into an unseen pocket of his gown. He grasped her fist, feeling it. "This... this here is the first weapon. When all manner of creatures first began to struggle, to fight, they first used their bodies. The tiger has claws. The wolf his bite. It was only later that leverage, power and the abilities external weapons was discovered. The fist... the fist is the first weapon... and most often the angriest.
"No matter where you go, this weapon will always be with you.
"You seek a weapon, yet no weapon makes a fighter. If a swordsman loses his sword, he often loses the fight. He is no fighter. He is a swordsman.
"A fighter, a True Fighter, is not bound by external objects. A fighter fights no matter the situation, even if his head is severed from his body will he dive into the fray.
"A fighter is not the duality of one and a weapon like others would suggest. It is a triumvirate. A fighter and his weapon merely express the spirit of the fighter. Both are tools to the fighting spirit. Only when you have all three will you be a fighter.
"Your hands are strong. You are strong... but..."
Hermit Snow caressed Wu Chan Chu's fist until she opened it. With swift, pointed fingers he jabbed at each of her knuckles and dislocated each digit from the hand. He then pulled on the arm, spinning Wu Chan Chu on her feet. As her other arm spun round near him, he reached up and wrapped his body about that arm and pulled until the bone within came free from its socket. He let go.
Wu Chan Chu cried in pain, her fingers twisted, her arm hanging limply and useless.
Hermit Snow stood and stared at her. He said, "Now what will you do? You've no more weapons."
Confused, Wu Chan Chu stared at Hermit Snow. "Heal me!" she demanded.
Hermit Snow smiled. "I will... when the time is right. For now sit upon this rock here where once I sat."
Wu Chan Chu looked at him in confusion.
"Do it or remain that way."
Unsure what else to do, Wu Chan Chu obeyed.
"I will return," Hermit Snow said.
"Where do you go?"
"Hunting. I'm hungry."
Hermit Snow disappeared around the side of the mountain.
For eight days Wu Chan Chu sat on the rock in pain. The ice froze her flesh. She wanted to weep for he crippled form. Her stomach growled and she lost weight, returning almost to her former size.
When Hermit Snow returned, he had two rabbits slung at his belt. He looked at his pupil sitting in agony on the icy stone and removed one of the rabbits. He threw the rabbit down the side of the mountain, just barely within sight.
"What am I to do now? I can't retrieve that!" Wu Chan Chu roared.
"You are not supposed to," replied Hermit Snow.
The hermit brushed snow away from the mountain to reveal a hidden cave.
"Remain watching on that rock," Hermit Snow instructed before he entered the cave. The cave once more closed itself off with snow.
For two more days Wu Chan Chu watched the rabbit carcass freeze and rot slowly. Black birds she had never seen before pecked away at the corpse. A hawk hovered, circling, watching overhead. The hawk circled for a full day. Wu Chan Chu wondered why the hawk didn't fight for its portion. Finally, with great fury and speed, the hawk dived, flying between the collected black birds. His talons outstretched, the hawk swooped in and carried off the rabbit carcass. The black birds cried in anger after it, but none followed. The hawk was much faster.
Hermit Snow returned, looked down the side of the mountain and saw no rabbit there.
"Did you watch as I had instructed?" Hermit Snow asked.
"Yes," said Wu Chan Chu.
"Tell me what happened."
"There was a hawk and many black birds, maybe a hundred or more. For a day the hawk circled and waited. I wondered why he didn't fight like the others for his morsel and worried that if he did not do so soon, nothing would be left of the rabbit and he would starve."
"Did he starve?"
"No, he watched. I can only guess that when he saw the opportunity, something I did not see, he folded his wings, sending himself into a dive. He grabbed the rabbit and flew off with the whole thing for himself. The black birds could only watch as he flew away, screaming after him."
Hermit Snow nodded. He healed Wu Chan Chu and invited her into the cave with him. There beside a fire and a large boulder he fed her rabbit and instructed her on proper diet. He also taught her how to maintain her balance, centering all her movement over her hips.
In the firelight, he said, "I have something for you. I have been working on it while you were watching."
Hermit Snow produced from his hidden pockets two wide, flat, brass knuckles. Wu Chan Chu placed them on her fingers. They fit perfectly.
Hermit Snow then taught her how to properly punch, providing force through the shoulder and down into the knuckles. She practiced day after day on the boulder. Besides basic punches, he also taught her a two-fisted punching technique. She punched over and over again until she punched so perfectly the boulder shattered into millions of tiny pebbles.
"Now fight me," Hermit Snow said.
Unsure if she should question his motives, Wu Chan Chu simply attacked.
They fought for three days and Wu Chan Chu began to feel the fingers of frustration grasping at her. Then she thought of the hawk and the frustration flew from her.
They fought for three days more and each time she grew weary or frustrated she thought of the hawk.
Both fought well and neither one gained any ground over the other. No one was more hurt than the other. Finally, after days of watching her opponent, Wu Chan Chu saw a small opening in Hermit Snow's defense. She lunged forward with both fists and placed them deep into his chest.
The old hermit exploded into ten thousand tiny snowflakes. As they floated, falling, swaying in the air towards the floor of the cave each of them laughed in Hermit Snow's voice.
They spoke in unison to Wu Chan Chu and said, "Now you are a fighter!"
The Cottonwood Chamber was ethereal, mystical. It was a chamber-within-a-chamber, a sub-chamber located in a corner of The Chamber of Dismemberment by Sawing.
Cottonwood trees surrounded the majestic white palace, perpetually blossoming. Winds swept, carrying on unseen fingers falling seedlings. The courtyard of the palace had a constant ground cover of the white fluff.
The walls of the courtyard were elaborately decorated and lined with ancient vases.
Hidden somewhere behind the palace were two trees. Neither were cottonwoods. One blossomed and bore plums, the other peaches. They were the pride of Ketsueki Sato, the master of the Cottonwood Chamber.
Few visitors ever came to this chamber, yet this is where Xiao-tep found himself after years of searching for a demon accepting of his quest for vengeance. It did not seem to Xiao-tep that demons, while intrigued by his tale, were truly concerned with matters beyond their own schemes. Only Ketsueki Sato deemed his quest worthy.
Yet now Xiao-tep found himself facing off unknowingly against his own half-sister, Wu Chan Chu.
Xiao-tep circled Wu Chan Chu in the courtyard of the Cottonwood Palace. Soft puffs fell about them. Wu Chan Chu jumped.
He hadn't expected the massive frog to be as quick as she was. Her leap placed her well behind the range of Xiao-tep's spear and close to him. He could not react in time.
She delivered onto his chest a double-fisted punch, pushing all the air from his gut. Xiao-tep flew backwards from the force and into one of the splendidly decorated walls of the courtyard. His body smashed the wall into pieces that fell to the ground.
Wu Chan Chu jumped once more at Xiao-tep, but the fish-god flew into the air and out of her reach. Her fists hit the wall instead, shattering it into a thousand stones that sprayed first high above and then rained down upon her like hail.
Xiao-tep floated down into the center of the courtyard. He took a moment to study his environment, to think on the fight at hand. He looked for Ketsueki Sato, but could find him nowhere. The demon had disappeared and left brother and sister to battle.
He leveled his spear, ready.
"Stand still, fish!" Wu Chan Chu cried out.
"The name is Xiao-tep!"
"I don't care."
Wu Chan Chu jumped again, her fists extending. Xiao-tep spun the tip of his spear in circles, catching Wu Chan Chu's arms in the tinkling rings. Wu Chan Chu used her great strength to lift the spear and Xiao-tep with it.
Xiao-tep flew away, pulling the rings of the spear from Wu Chan Chu's arms. He descended to the courtyard once more.
"Your leaping, though strong, places you at a disadvantage. You are still grounded. My flight gives me greater movement. You will lose this fight and soon." Xiao-tep said.
"I'll destroy you!" cried Wu Chan Chu.
Xiao-tep spun and spun, twisting his body as on an axis. His mighty Spear of Sorrows dipped to the ground and swung up over his head again and again, Aelis screaming the whole time. The whirlwind created by the spinning Xiao-tep picked the fluff from the downy ground, raising it high as it chased after the tip of the spear. At an apex above Xiao-tep's head, the seedlings flung free and flew into the face of Wu Chan Chu.
The frog demi-goddess retreated, flinging her arms, waving down the fluff and wiping it from her face.
Xiao-tep spun once more, this time with tremendous force as he floated closer to his foe. His spear came round and bit deep into the belly of Wu Chan Chu, slicing it open.
Blood spilled forth and her webbed hands went to the cut.
Angered, she charged in on Xiao-tep. The fish-god stood his ground, spear ready.
Wu Chan Chu threw multiple punches, but to no avail. Every punch she threw, Xiao-tep parried with his spear. The volley was a continuing stalemate. Xiao-tep arched backwards and flipped, flying in a swirling fashion away from Wu Chan Chu.
Her tongue flicked out and caught the unsuspecting Xiao-tep by the head. She pulled him back to her, his head and body half in her great, gaping maw. Her throat muscles contracted, widening as she attempted to swallow the struggling fish-god. Her webbed hands reached up, one grabbing the spear and pushing it aside while the other grabbed the wiggling Xiao-tep and forced him deeper.
Xiao-tep arched his back and swung his tail fins forward, slamming them onto the wound in Wu Chan Chu's belly. She coughed, gurgled and heaved.
Xiao-tep half fell out and was half spat out onto the ground. He recovered himself, floating before Wu Chan Chu who was now doubled over and vomiting. His tail fins dripped with her blood. He could have easily killed her then, but chose not to.
When she had recovered, Wu Chan Chu looked up at her foe. Her face was a pale green and the watery weeds adorning her head were dry with illness.
"Strike me down," she pleaded.
"No," Xiao-tep answered. "Not now. You are in no condition to defend yourself. Claim yourself defeated so that I may leave this chamber."
Wu Chan Chu shook her head. "Ketsueki does not mean to let you go."
"I've been here for some time, but it does not take long to discover his truth and motives. I have no other choice but to serve and hope."
Color slowly filled Wu Chan Chu's face. She stood.
"I thank you for your mercy and ask your forgiveness. I must now serve and hope," she squared her feet in a defensive stance.
Xiao-tep thought of further arguing with her, but was unsure if her faith in Ketsueki could be swayed.
She jumped forward and he dodged.
"At least," Xiao-tep said as she charged after him. "Allow us the formality of exchanging names, of knowing who we kill or will be killed by."
Her wide-swinging fist landed below his arm and in his side. He buckled under its force and flew backwards to escape.
"What does it matter?" Wu Chan Chu asked as she gave chase, her fist missing Xiao-tep and shattering an ancient vase.
Xiao-tep did not want to educate her in courtesy as he had been by his mother, knowing she would not grant the time. He simply blurted out, "I am Xiao-tep, Son of Lei-zi the Goddess of Thunder and Hapi the River God!" then flew away in retreat, plotting his next move.
He turned and pulled up his spear in defense.
The frog demi-goddess ceased her attack. She stood, unmoving and staring.
"What did you say?" she asked.
Xiao-tep composed himself and bowed formally as he had been taught. "I am Xiao-tep, Son of Lei-zi the Thunder Goddess and Hapi the River God."
"Hapi?" her voiced was demanding.
Wu Chan Chu backed away, much to Xiao-tep's confusion.
"Are you in league with Ketsueki?" she asked.
"Are you mad? I'm trying to escape from here."
"Then how do you know of Hapi the River God?"
"I told you, he is my father."
Xiao-tep returned to a defensive position, the Spear of Sorrows before him. He was confused, uncertain of how this frog demi-goddess was now acting. Thinking upon it, Xiao-tep concluded this creature he fought must know his father.
"What business have you with Hapi?" he asked.
Still in a stupor, Wu Chan Chu's answer came stumbling from her mouth, "He is my father."
"Or so I was told."
"No, by another man I once trusted."
"Perhaps he lied."
"Perhaps, but I had his life in my hands. I can see no reason for him to have lied. Not then. Not at the moment I was choking the life from him."
Slow realization came to Xiao-tep. "Ketsueki must be mad to create such bitter irony for us."
"Then... we are brother and sister?"
Xiao-tep nodded. "I would suppose, if it's true you're the daughter of Hapi. We're half-brother and half-sister."
Rage filled Wu Chan Chu's heart. "I'll murder Ketsueki! If only..."
Xiao-tep's mind worked quickly. "Join me," he said. "Declare defeat and together we will walk from here. I have beaten his fighter and surely he'll no longer want you. Come with me and leave this chamber."
"He will not allow it, but I'll not fight you. I'll accept whatever fate Ketsueki has for me, even those fates worse than death."
Xiao-tep floated closer, though he remained cautious lest Wu Chan Chu's actions were a trap.
"May I know the name of my sister?" Xiao-tep asked.
"Wu Chan Chu. It means 'Warrior Toad', but I am a frog. I was called that by some mortals before Ketsueki found me. I have another name, but I answer to Wu Chan Chu for now."
Xiao-tep thought he glimpsed a movement out of the corner of his eye as he had once before. He turned his head to look.
"Do you see them?" Wu Chan Chu asked.
"Spriggans. They're trapped here, too, forever caught in the blossoming cottonwoods. Though they don't seem to mind. In fact, they're the only ones besides the toads that seem to enjoy it here."
Wu Chan Chu nodded. "Demon toads to be more precise. They make up most of Ketsueki's army."
"Ketsueki truly means to overthrow the Yama King of this chamber?"
Again Wu Chan Chu nodded. "So it would seem."
Xiao-tep asked, "What do we do, now?"
"I concede to you, brother Xiao-tep. You have won this battle."
"What?" Ketsueki's voice was booming, angry. He appeared in a flurry of red smoke near the doors of the palace. "Defeated? You ungrateful, useless frog-wench! I'll have you murdered a thousand times over!"
"Bring to me any fate you choose, demon." Wu Chan Chu stood defiant. "But allow Xiao-tep to leave this chamber."
"No!" raged Ketsueki. "You'll both meet your ends! In this courtyard!"
As he had once before, Ketsueki clapped his clawed hands together. With a rush of billowing smoke the palace doors opened. From out of the palace stepped the wily Comet Fox, an ulu in each hand.
"Comet Fox!" Ketsueki commanded. "Kill them both!"
It was difficult to find the peach and plum trees that grew behind the palace, but Ketsueki, being the master of the Cottonwood Chamber, knew the way. Each day he made the trek to the plum tree to pick a new plum and return to the palace with it. There he would place the plum in a jar filled with rum while removing the plum already placed there the day before. He would then replace the jar in its hiding spot before he would take the rum-soaked plum to Comet Fox.
Each day Comet Fox would castigate himself, promising himself to savor that day's plum. Each day, when Ketsueki brought him the plum, Comet Fox would eat it voraciously before filling with sorrows once more at having to wait another day before he could receive another.
Quietly Comet Fox plotted against Ketsueki, but rarely did he take his own plans seriously for the rum the plums were soaked in was an elixir that swelled within Comet Fox feelings of loyalty and devotion towards the demon Ketsueki Sato.
One day Ketsueki Sato brought Comet Fox, much to his delight, eight plums! Comet Fox ate them all at once, slobbering with elation. Juices flowed from his mouth, staining his fur. When he was done and as sorrow was filling him once more, Ketsueki said, "Dear friend Comet Fox, it is time for you to go find Master Liu in the Valley of Tears."
"Who'sss thfffat?" a drunken Comet Fox asked.
"He will be your master for a time. He will teach you to fight and upon your return I will make of you a captain in my army."
"Will he hafff plumsss?"
Ketsueki lied, "He has more than I do."
Comet Fox rushed off to find Master Liu.
The Valley of Tears, though large, was well hidden. It rained constantly there, with mud and muck a permanent obstacle. The drunken Comet Fox found it difficult to navigate the lands, but pressed on with his thoughts on plums, ignoring his need to pee.
By the time he reached a small shanty built at the back of the valley he was becoming sober, though still under the affects of the elixir.
The shanty was small and mishmashed together with various woods. I was raised off the ground on poles and old. It had a small wooden porch. Butting up to either side of the porch were two large stones that had been carved into dragons.
Comet Fox knew this had to be where Master Liu lived as there was no other building to be found in the valley.
He climbed the porch and admired the dragons. He then thought he should finally pee before he called on Master Liu. Comet Fox walked over to one of the dragons.
As he peed Comet Fox let out a long, audible sigh, "Ahhh!"
Hearing this, Master Liu came to the door and opened it to find a mud-covered Comet Fox relieving himself on one of the statues.
Looking over his shoulder, Comet Fox called back, "Sometimes it feels so good." He leaned forward, placing a paw-like hand against the stone and propped himself there.
Age had slowed Master Liu and he walked with great difficulty, but he approached Comet Fox. "What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Don't talk to me," said Comet Fox. "I can't go when others are talking to me. I know I spoke to you, but that was a simple comment, not an invitation to a conversation. Don't be rude. Don't talk to me."
"I didn't invite you to pee on my statue!" cried Master Liu. "I carved that myself! By hand! And I don't mean with tools, I mean using actual hands to actually sculpt the stone! Now you pee on it! What have I done for such a disgrace?"
"Shut your mouth long enough for me to finish!"
"No! Why are you here? Get away from my statue!"
With some difficulty Comet Fox finished the last few squirts of his urinating and turned to face the old man dressed in a faded black robe and carrying a long walking stick.
"Why are you here?" Master Liu demanded again.
"I came searching for Master Liu."
Master Liu looked the muddy Comet Fox up and down.
"What sort of business would a creature as rude as you have with him?"
"I'm here to be trained by him."
Master Liu shook his head and waved his hands before himself. "No! He will not train you!"
"How do you know?"
"Because I'm Master Liu, you fool!"
Realization was slow for Comet Fox, but when it came he pleaded with Master Liu, "Please! O, please teach me!"
"I was told you would teach me!"
"Who told you?"
"My master, Ketsueki Sato."
Master Liu paused in thought. "The demon Ketsueki?"
"You know him! Great! You'll train me!"
"No I won't! He's asked me to train him several times and I have refused. Now he sends his disrespectful followers! Tell him I said 'no'! I will not help him in his cause to imbalance the Cosmos!" Master Liu turned to go back inside, rain pattering off the top of his bald head.
"Can I at least have some plums?" Comet Fox called after him.
"Plums? What plums? There are no plums here!"
"What? I was promised plums! That bastard Ketsueki lied to me! I'll kill him!"
Master Liu turned round. He studied Comet Fox for a moment. "You'll do what?"
"No! Please, don't tell him!" Comet Fox fell to his knees and crawled over to Master Liu. "I'm completely devoted to him!" Comet Fox prostrated himself before Master Liu.
Master Liu thought more. "I will not speak of this. And I will train you."
Comet Fox jumped up and danced. "Thank you! Thank you! But what about plums?"
"I have no plums. I like peaches better."
Comet Fox shook his head. "Bleh!"
"You don't like peaches?"
"I've never had one, but how could they be better than plums?"
"Watermelons are good, though you have to spit out the seeds, but that's half the fun!" Master Liu smiled.
Comet Fox shook his head again. "No, only plums."
"We don't have any!"
Comet Fox filled with sadness.
"Come in, out of the rain," Master Liu said.
Days passed and the rain never stopped. With each passing day Comet Fox grew hungrier for plums, but also more sober. All Master Liu had to eat was millet.
Master Liu trained Comet Fox, teaching him how to trick, how to trap his opponents in various ways. He taught Comet Fox how to stagger, stumble and fall; how to act weaker than he was and how to play dead.
One night, as the rains continued their ceaseless deluge, Master Liu told Comet Fox this story:
"When I was young and impetuous like you are now, Comet Fox, I liked gaming. I also had a passion for fighting sports of all kinds. It was only natural that I would gamble at such events. I was not very good at choosing a winner most times.
"But I remember one such event. It was a fight in a back alley... between a mongoose and a cobra..."
The back alley crowded with people screaming and waving coins and placing bets. Young Liu waved his coins like the rest and placed his bet.
The people screamed as baskets were lifted to reveal a mongoose and a snake. Referees armed with sticks poked at the animals to ensure rage and a fight. Young Liu was certain the venomous cobra would be the winner. He watched intently as the mongoose and cobra felt each other out.
The mongoose stood on its haunches, increasing it's apparent size over the cobra.
The cobra's hood flared.
Young Liu watched.
The cobra's head swayed.
The mongoose stood its ground.
The people began to voice their discontent for an uneventful match-up, but no amount of prodding with sticks could make the two contenders stand down or fight furiously.
The sun fell asleep and night yawned into existence.
Young Liu watched.
The mongoose started to sway under its own weight, tired and tense. Young Liu knew then the fight would soon be over and the cobra would win.
The mongoose swayed more and more, almost stumbling.
The cobra struck, lashing out with it's long, coiled body.
The mongoose jumped. It was suddenly out of the way of the attacking cobra, jumping high and falling down on top of its foe, teeth biting at the hood and neck of the snake.
The cobra twisted about until it was dead. The mongoose moved easily and was not tired.
"I stared in amazement," Master Liu said. "It was all a ruse. The mongoose only faked his weariness. Then when the cobra felt sure enough to attack, the mongoose countered with all the strength of a fresh fighter. The cobra was left defenseless.
"I walked home that night a loser, but ruminating on the mentality of the mongoose. It is that single fight between those two animals I have dedicated my life to in developing my fighting style. Now I pass it on to you."
Comet Fox was quiet.
The rains fell.
Days later Master Liu told Comet Fox that summer would be coming soon and the rains would stop.
"Good," replied Comet Fox. "I miss the sun." He was now sober but still under the sway of the elixir.
"There will be no sun," Master Liu informed him. "Only three days and nights without rain."
On the first day without rain they trained as before, but that night master Liu snuck out of the shanty and traveled deep into the valley. There he found a small clearing and looked up at the moon hiding behind clouds.
"O, Moon Maiden," he called, "Do you hear me?"
The clouds before the moon and swirled to form the image of a woman against the lighted crescent moon.
"I am here," she said. "How are you, Master Liu?"
"I am well. I hope you are the same."
"I am," she said.
"Know you the demon Ketsueki Sato?" Master Liu asked.
"Only by reputation."
"Well, though I am one to accept the way of things in the ordered reality of the Cosmos, I also trust that good must fight evil. I've a plan in action that may rid us of the demon Ketsueki. I come tonight to ask for your help in this matter."
"You have always come to say hello to me the few times I am here over the Valley of Tears. I shall return the kindness by aiding you."
"I've a fighter that I am training and I trust he is not truly devoted to Ketsueki as he appears. In fact, I suspect he is ensorcelled. When his desires break free of Ketsueki's control, I hope to have trained him so strongly he will be able to destroy the demon, but I fear my fighter may need a weapon. Can you make one for him?"
The Moon Maiden thought a moment before speaking. "Indeed I can, though such things are a rare gift from me. As I said, however, I am dedicated to returning your kindness. Please tell me of your fighter. Has he any special abilities a specific weapon may be best suited for?"
"I have learned he is a god. A fox-god, specifically. He can fly and I suspect him under the powers of Ketsueki."
The Moon Maiden nodded. "Send your fighter forth tomorrow night at the same hour with a plank of wood. A small hole must be drilled into this plank of wood. I will chase the clouds from me. He must then hold the plank up and allow my light to pass through the hole and touch the ground. He must remain holding the board thusly for an hour and I will make for him one weapon. If he comes the final night that I am here in the Valley of Tears and does the same, I will make one more."
"Thank you, Moon Maiden!"
Master Liu returned to the shanty and the next day told Comet Fox of his sojourn. Master Liu took a loose plank from the porch and with his finger bored a hole into it. He gave it to Comet Fox, relaying the instructions the Moon Maiden had given him.
The following night Comet Fox did as he was instructed. He raised the plank over his head. The clouds moved from in front of the moon. A small replica of the crescent moon high above appeared on the ground near Comet Fox. He remained unmoving for an hour. At the end of the hour, the small crescent on the ground formed into a solid, curved blade.
Comet Fox picked up the blade, looked to the moon and gave his thanks.
The next night he repeated the process and received a second blade.
The following day it began to rain again.
Master Liu found more wood and shaped it with his hands into two handles for the blades, he fit them for Comet Fox's hands. Comet Fox gripped them in his fists. A small bit of the wood protruded between his second and third fingers so that the blades hung over his fists.
He smiled at Master Liu.
Master Liu smiled at the long-gone Moon Maiden.
Comet Fox finished his training and returned to the Cottonwood Chamber where, each day, Ketsueki Sato gave him a single plum.
Comet Fox stumbled on the steps and fell into the courtyard. A puff of white exploded around him as cottonwood seedlings flew into the air.
Xiao-tep and Wu Chan Chu looked at each other in confusion.
"He is a drunk," Wu Chan Chu explained. "He is well known throughout the palace for carousing and sobbing each day and night, though I've never had the pleasure of making his acquaintance before this hour. I was told of him by the imp that suckles at Ketsueki's pit."
"That very imp has shared secrets with me, as well" Xiao-tep nodded.
"What's more, Ketsueki keeps this Comet Fox drunk with rum-soaked plums."
"To what end?"
Wu Chan Chu shrugged."I suppose to keep him subservient."
Comet Fox struggled to stand.
"How would this Comet Fox fight us?" Xiao-tep asked.
"One can never tell," Wu Chan Chu replied.
Comet Fox stood erect with great strain and stumbled towards them.
"He cannot fight like this!" Xiao-tep exclaimed. He looked for Ketsueki to demand Comet Fox be removed for his own safety, but Ketsueki was gone.
Comet Fox charged in, his blades biting air wildly in attempts to stab at both his opponents at once. Wu Chan Chu and Xiao-tep easily dodged the offending blades.
Comet Fox kept coming, stumbling erratically and attacking both. Xiao-tep and Wu Chan Chu finally felt the need to counterattack and as they did Comet Fox fell back, tripping on his own feet and barely dodging every blow.
"His luck is immense!" Wu Chan Chu cried.
Xiao-tep pressed the attack, the tip of the Spear of Sorrows circling into the face of Comet Fox. Aelis screamed.
Comet Fox bent backwards, falling clumsily to the ground but the fall caused him to be missed by the spearhead.
Wu Chan Chu threw a punch at the grounded Comet Fox only to find her fist slamming into bare dirt and cottonwood fluff.
As the three moved with fury, winds whipped about their bodies and the cottonwood fluffs spun with them, flying under the currents created by their battle.
Each attack found Comet Fox pulling back and being missed.
"He is not so lucky!" said Xiao-tep, leveling his spear before him. "He dodges us."
"He stumbles like a drunk on purpose?" Wu Chan Chu asked.
"In part," Xiao-tep said. "Though I do smell sweet liquors on him."
Comet Fox laughed. His head bobbed as if too heavy for him to hold high. His arms moved, seemingly of their own accord.
"With such an erratic style," Xiao-tep said. "It will be difficult to defeat him." He flew high before swooping down on his opponent. Comet Fox once more fell below the biting blades of the Spear of Sorrows. Xiao-tep spun and lifted himself into the air. Looking back, he saw Comet Fox kick off the ground and giving chase, a white streak of light following behind him.
Xiao-tep fended off Comet Fox's confusing attacks with great difficulty as they flew over the palace.
Wu Chan Chu felt useless on the ground. Impatience grew in her until she thought of the diving hawk. Patience was planted and blossomed in her soul. She watched and waited in the courtyard. "If nothing more," she spoke to Xiao-tep though she knew he could not hear her, "I will be fresh when you are tired."
Comet Fox's blades gleamed with soft light. Each swing was wild and dangerous. Finally he caught Xiao-tep in the side. Though a glancing blow and a minor wound, Xiao-tep was stripped of a few scales.
"Xiao-tep!" Wu Chan Chu cried out. "Lower yourself!"
Xiao-tep did as she said, fending off a wilder and more pressing attack.
Wu Chan Chu jumped, grabbing Comet Fox about the waist and pulling him down to the courtyard. As she stood she grabbed the fox-god by the neck and lifted him high above her head, slamming him back down to the ground, making an imprint in the dirt below the cottonwood seedlings.
Xiao-tep stood nearby, watching and resting.
Brother and sister stared in awe as Comet Fox laughed, giggling and rolling on the ground like a child. He rolled to his feet.
"Yer ssstrong," Comet Fox said to Wu Chan Chu. He stumbled and almost fell but remained standing.
They continued their battle in the courtyard, Wu Chan Chu pressing the attack. Comet Fox backed away from every blow. Wu Chan Chu steered him towards the wall, hoping to trap him into a corner.
Comet Fox stepped backwards onto a vase. The vase fell sideways and rolled beneath his feet. He swayed with every step, but remained atop the rolling vase and fighting Wu Chan Chu.
The frog demi-goddess charged with a two-fisted punch. Comet Fox once more fell, but this time slipped his foot under the vase and kicked it up into the face of his oncoming foe. The vase shattered into thousands of pieces as it hit the face of Wu Chan Chu. Her helmet slipped from her head and she fell. Comet Fox rolled away, laughing.
Wu Chan Chu stood, embarrassed.
"Let me fight now," said Xiao-tep.
Wu Chan Chu stood, brushed her face clean and walked over to Xiao-tep's side.
"You're right: he plays the fool. He is a difficult fight."
Xiao-tep nodded. He spun the Spear of Sorrows around his body and leveled it, pointing the four-bladed spearhead at Comet Fox now rolling to his feet.
They took their fight to the air once more. They flew, falling, floating, swaying, fighting; Xiao-tep gracefully; Comet Fox clumsily and without rhythm or reason. They fought but neither gained an advantage on the other.
From within the sanctuary of the palace the demon Ketsueki Sato cried out, "Comet Fox! End this now and I will grant you the prize you seek!"
Still the warriors battled on as Wu Chan Chu thought of Ketsueki's words. "What prize could this drunkard want?" she contemplated. She thought of the imp, the one creature that appeared closer to Ketsueki than any other within the chamber. She cried out, "Xiao-tep! Return to my side and hear my words!"
Xiao-tep did as she said. Comet Fox fell from the sky after him.
Xiao-tep launched his spear sideways at Comet Fox. This confused the falling fox-god and he swatted the spear back at Xiao-tep. This gave Wu Chan Chu the chance to jump, fists forward, punching Comet Fox in the chest. The force drove him away and the fox-god fell into the courtyard.
"Brother Xiao-tep," she said. "Hidden behind the palace are two trees. I know not how to find them, having never been there myself, but they are there. One grows plums, the other peaches. The plums are what keeps Comet Fox in obeisance to Ketsueki. The peaches, I'm told, are the antidote."
"Who told you this?" Xiao-tep panted from exhaustion.
"The one that tells us secrets here."
Comet Fox rolled once more to his feet. He staggered about.
"Go," said Wu Chan Chu, "find the trees and retrieve a peach. Only then may we defeat Comet Fox. I fear we cannot beat him any other way."
Xiao-tep nodded and flew away over the white Cottonwood Palace.
"Hurry!" cried his sister as she attacked Comet Fox in an attempt to keep him from following the fish-god.
Behind the palace was a wall of mist and nothing more. "The trees must be within the mist," Xiao-tep surmised. "And I can only assume the mist is not what it seems." He turned downward and fell into the misty miasma.
For two days Xiao-tep searched.
For two days Wu Chan Chu battled Comet Fox.
For two days Comet Fox slowly sobered. He began making mistakes in combat, his skills in fighting weakened. With a clearing mind, he began to think too much of the battle at hand. Wu Chan Chu delivered unto him several punches which left bruises.
Comet Fox tried to remember Master Liu's training. He remembered the tale of the mongoose and the cobra.
Xiao-tep flew through the mist, twisting and turning. Ketsueki came to him as a voice and said, "Give up your search, fish-god. The battle is over. Comet Fox has defeated your sister and is now busily raping her corpse." His demonic laughter filled the mist. Xiao-tep did his best to ignore the demon, to continue searching for the trees.
The mists parted and he found them. Their fruits were fat with juices and rich with color. They appeared delicious to Xiao-tep. He plucked from a branch one of the peaches, then flew through the mist, climbing higher and higher with hopes that Ketsueki had lied.
Wu Chan Chu became the cobra in Comet Fox's mind: the definite favorite to win this fight as the rum's affects subsided. He had to become as the mongoose. He baited her with one move after another. He watched. He waited. He let show a small weakness in his defense over and over again.
When she was sure she could safely strike, Wu Chan Chu lowered her head, pushed her fists forward and lunged.
Comet Fox brought the edge of one of his blades up under her chin, slicing into the bottom of her maw. She screeched in surprise and pain. Catching the back of her jawbone with the blade, Comet Fox pulled her forward as he raised and extended a foot into her chest. She fell backwards, the blade slipping from her chin. She was deeply wounded and bloody.
"Now I will cut you into little pieces," Comet Fox said to Wu Chan Chu.
He massive hands grabbed at the fresh wound, blood pouring from there.
Xiao-tep came soaring over the palace. Looking down, he saw Comet Fox closing in for the kill. He dived, throwing the peach to his sister, the Spear of Sorrows swirling into the face of Comet Fox. Aelis screamed. Comet Fox backed away and smiled.
"You will die as will the frog," Comet Fox said.
Xiao-tep spun, lifting and lowering his spear at odd intervals. The white cottonwood seedlings rose off the ground and created a wall obfuscating Wu Chan Chu and Xiao-tep from Comet Fox. With a cry Xiao-tep came bursting through that wall, spear extended at full length, aiming for Comet Fox's heart.
Comet Fox fell backwards, but Xiao-tep had grown used to the defense. He turned the spear round and slipped the butt end into the ground below the falling Comet Fox. The fox-god fell on top of the spear.
Xiao-tep lifted with leverage and forcefully brought Comet Fox back to his feet.
Wu Chan Chu came running through the dying wall, peach in hand. Together, as brother and sister, they attacked the bewitched Comet Fox. He became confused with thought and backed away, not in technique but in true retreat.
Xiao-tep thrust repeatedly with his spear, distracting Comet Fox.
Wu Chan Chu jumped, landing behind Comet Fox. She grabbed him from behind and held fast. Her long legs wrapped themselves about his waist and she used her weight to pull him to the ground. Her blood smeared his fur as she forced the peach into the fox-god's mouth.
"No!" Comet Fox spat. "I don't like peaches!"
Wu Chan Chu again forced the peach into his mouth with one hand. With her other hand wrapped around his snout she forced his mouth to close down on the fruit. A hunk of the fruit came off in his mouth. Wu Chan Chu held the mouth closed with her great strength. She let the peach fall from her other hand and it to gently stroke the throat of the fox-god.
He struggled with her in groaning defiance. Tears fell from his clamped-shut eyes. Xiao-tep floated nearby, the Spear of Sorrows pointed at the struggling Comet Fox's heart.
The juice of the peach made Comet Fox salivate profusely. Finally, defeated, he swallowed the bit of fruit. He stopped struggling with Wu Chan Chu.
"Let him go," instructed Xiao-tep as he placed the spear's tip upon the fox-god's chest. "I have him."
Wu Chan Chu let go her grip and clasped her wounded chin once more, it's blood flowing more slowly now.
Comet Fox lay on the ground in the courtyard a long time before his eyes opened. He tried to stand. Xiao-tep pulled the spear away but left it aimed at the fox-god.
Grogginess made standing difficult, but Comet Fox did came up, his back full and straight. He looked at his one-time foes. They stood watching him.
"I want Ketsueki's blood," Comet Fox claimed.
"No!" Ketsueki Sato screamed and appeared at the palace doors. He shook his head. "Captains would bring order and organization, thought I." He sighed and looked at the three that were once his captains. "But what good are a mere few captains when one has an army?"
For a third and final time Ketsueki Sato clapped together his clawed hands. The doors of the palace burst open.
Through the palace doors came Ketsueki's army of demon toads in full... and they were legions strong.
Xiao-tep, Wu Chan Chu and Comet Fox stood side-by-side in defiance.
Be sure to check back next Friday (June 29th) for the FIFTH AND FINAL ACT!!!
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