Friday, July 10, 2009

"Broken Steel" -- Act V

So, I'm a liar. I thought last week was the finale of "Broken Steel". I was wrong. I realized that many elements of the next tale could be far more easily dealt with as another act in "Broken Steel".

Here now, then, is the FIFTH and final act of "Broken Steel"!


~ Charles


"Broken Steel" copyright 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


RUNNING ON THE WIND: Wherein Jupkishi and the Butterflies Enter Taleisin; Comet Fox Seeks out Xiao-tep; Xiao-tep Shares with Comet Fox his Tale of the Broken Spear of Sorrows; A Band of Dark Hearts is Formed



Came to Taleisin in large droves clouds of butterflies of every kind, of every color. Came they to Taleisin on winds of rumors of demons. Came they to seek council with the passing Zingtai. Came they to carry to the world word of what they saw.

Xiao-tep flowed down the mountain to the vast plains flowing gold and purple, blue and white, bright orange and grays with the flickings, flutterings of thousands upon thousands of butterflies. He drew near one that flew higher than all the rest, saying, "Welcome, friends. Welcome to Taleisin. Have you come here for some great purpose? Or is this a simple visit? I can make tea. I'll mow down grass or nuture flowers into bloom as you wish. Welcome, welcome to Taleisin."

"Thank you, friend," spoke the butterfly. "By the glory of your colors, by your kindness, may I guess you are the one called Xiao-tep?"

"I am indeed," answered Xiao-tep.

"I am Jupkishi, Elder Butterfly of All the World. I am Zingtai's great-great-grandfather and have lead my people here for her council and, perhaps, for yours."

"What can I do for you, Jupkishi?" offered Xiao-tep.

"There comes to me word of a mighty demon crossing the face of all the many lands. With him follows death like a stallion running wild upon a plain. Everything the demon touches does not merely die, it withers first in agony and pain, is tortured and then is mercilessly left so life may bleed out. Many of my people, we that live upon the lands like no other, suffer because of this. Flowers wilt and dry. Branches are too weak to hold even the smallest of our cocoons. We are desperate and though I dare not admit it to my people, I had to grant them the wisdom that I am lost at the moment. I know not how to purge the world of the demon or reclaim our lands. Many of my people have already died, withering as I have said, their bodies turning to dust like that which graces the underside of our wings.

"I seek council, friend Xiao-tep. I seek your aide."

Xiao-tep's heart grew heavy for the butterflies. He said, "I will help you the best I can. Until you find the answers you seek, you may remain here on Taleisin as my guests. You are most safe here."

"Thank you, friend Xiao-tep."

That night Jupkishi flew near his great-great-granddaughter and told her his tale of desperation, of woe, of death, of the demon. Xiao-tep flew with them. So horrible was the news Jupkishi shared, Zingtai could not help but cry.

"What is the name of the demon?" asked Xiao-tep.

"He has many names and has been called many foul things, all of which I will not share but I would not argue with, either. The name I've most often heard, however, is Ketsueki Sato. He is a demon of wood resembling a demon of the Many Hells."

"Ketsueki Sato?" cried out Xiao-tep. "Are you certain of this name? Think with every wit, Jupkishi, is this demon truly named Ketsueki Sato?"

Confused by Xiao-tep's reaction, Jupkishi cautiously put forth, "It is as I have said. His name is Ketsueki Sato."

"What's the matter, Xiao-tep?" asked Zingtai.

"I know this demon."

"Do you?" asked Zingtai.

Xiao-tep nodded. His eyes grew wet with the distance of memory. As stars glimmered overhead, he remembered the Cottonwood Chamber, his fights with Wu Chan Chu and Comet Fox, the battle for their freedom. He nodded again and said, "I have fought him once before."

"Did you defeat him?" asked Jupkishi.

"I did, with the aid of my sister and many friends."

"Bless the gods!" exclaimed Jupkishi. "Then we are saved! You can go forth and defeat him once more!"

Xiao-tep was once more awash with memory. Tears formed in his eyes. He shook his head violently, shaped his fins into clenched fists and said, "I cannot! And you cannot ask me to do this thing! I shall never fight again!"

At this Xiao-tep broke from their side and returned to Taleisin.

"What has happened?" asked Juokishi. "I meant no offense."

"You did not offend him, Great-Great-Grandfather," explained Zingtai. "You simply must not have heard that our dear Xiao-tep recently killed another fish like himself. So wracked was he with sorrow he has sworn off fighting for good. He has destroyed his famous Spear of Sorrows."

"I did not know," was all Jupkishi said.

Jupkishi returned to his people. He lead them in prayer to the gods, asking they rid the world of the demon. He then silently asked for help with Xiao-tep. He begged the gods for him to find peace and, if it be within his character to do so, to convince him to fight once more, just once more.

The butterflies slept upon the plains of Taleisin.

Xiao-tep spent the rest of the night perched near the edge of the mountain, his fins dangling over the edge as he gazed upon the sleeping world. Otti the Firefly came to him, saying, "It is not safe to be so close to the edge. Please remember the tale of Momoki's Fall."

"I know the tale well," answered Xiao-tep.

Otti landed on a blade of grass nearby and spent the night with Xiao-tep.

Xiao-tep mulled over many things in his mind. He realized how much fear, how much sorrow had plagued him for so long. And though much of it was well-suited to him as much of his sorrow was not brought on by his own actions, he realized the sorrow and fear remained with him because he allowed it. Xiao-tep closed his eyes for meditation. He controlled his breathing. He breathed in, then out, then in and held his breath, then out and held his breath and repeated this pattern until he could feel the beat of his heart. Slowly, slowly, silently Xiao-tep released the sorrows, released the pain, released the hatred for his father and fear of having to fight again.

Etain's head rose over the far horizon. The new day touched Xiao-tep's face with fingers of light. His scales glimmered brilliantly. His eyes opened. He rose from the edge of the mountain to greet the new day. He looked down upon the world; gazed upon the handiwork of the Cosmos; witnessed the clouds of the world and knew of Aowe, a boy, a mortal child and his wish for flight; he gazed upon Etain, turned to look over his shoulder at the tails of Kalavata and Zingtai. Every bit of this world he lived in, every bit of his world was alive and connected and each minute thing served its purpose. He felt the world as one, he felt all the interconnectedness of every living thing - he felt everything. He gazed into the distance and saw at the farthest reaches of all existence the Misty Hands of the Cosmos. He felt the world moving far below Taleisin, he felt Taleisin breathing and smiling at the butterflies, he heard songs in the wind, laughter in the air, life living everywhere.

His white scales grew shiny, more pearlescent. They glowed of themselves. The violet ankh upon his forehead shifted into gold and shone with a light of its own, shone like a jewel from Zingtai's wings.

He did not hate, he understood. He did not fear, he accepted death and failure. More than anything, he loved. Xiao-tep saw all things at once and, with his new understanding, he loved. Should death ever come for him, he would die. Should hatred ever mock him, he would laugh. Should anyone ever cast him out, he would hold them near.

Xiao-tep found his path, his purpose. He would not fight, could not fight, would never raise a hand or weapon again in anger or emotion or with logic. He would not allow the illness sorrow to infect him again, he would make himself too busy chasing smiles like a child chasing butterflies across an open plain.

The Heavens on high were moved, the many gods took notice.

All of Taleisin gazed upon Xiao-tep as he turned to gaze upon them. Not a single creature spoke, except little Otti who said, "By the gods, he's beautiful."

In the distance Xiao-tep saw the familiar form of Comet Fox break from a cloud, flying towards Taleisin. He went about preparing to receive his old friend.



Comet Fox came to Taleisin on swift wind and sparkling white light of a comet's tail. He flew hurriedly, eying the Mountain That Lives in the Sky, seeking out Xiao-tep. When he found his old friend, he landed softly near him.

"It is good to see you once more, old friend," said Xiao-tep.

Comet Fox cocked his head sideways with wonder. He studied Xiao-tep a moment, questioning his newly golden ankh, his whitened scales.

"A change has come to you," said Comet Fox, the quickly added, "I'm sorry, Xiao-tep. I forgot my greetings. It is good to see you once more, as well."

The two embraced as brothers might after years apart.

"Would you have tea with me?" asked Xiao-tep.

"I would, but I cannot stall too long," Comet Fox looked about at the mass of collected butterflies. "There are so many butterflies here. Is it always this way on Taleisin? I think I could get dizzy with all their flutterings."

"They seek the refuge of Taleisin," said Xiao-tep as he sat upon a stone and pour hot tea for first Comet Fox, then himself.

Comet Fox took the tea and nodded a thanks to Xiao-tep. "Refuge from what?"

"From the demon Ketsueki Sato," Xiao-tep explained.

Comet Fox ceased sipping at his tea. He set the cup down on the ground. He asked, "What do you mean by this? We killed Ketsueki Sato long ago."

"That I do not know, but these butterflies are here for that very reason. They seek refuge from Ketsueki Sato."

"Could he have been resurrected?" asked Comet Fox. "Could we have failed in putting him down before we fled the Cottonwood Chamber?"

"Perhaps, but anything I tell you would be speculation. I just learned of this myself the day before today."

They sat in silence a moment. At last Comet Fox said, "Those were dark days for me. I was sick with drunkenness at every hour and the demon's willing pawn as long as he fed me him enchanted fruits and wines."

"It was dark times for me, as well. I had just learned of my father's hatred and hatred filled me," Xiao-tep let memories flash across his mind. "It seems an age ago now, the day we met."

"The day we fought," added Comet Fox.

Xiao-tep smiled. "I am glad you became a friend instead of remaining an enemy."

"I am glad for it, also. And I come to you to ask for your aid, friend."

"What is it?" asked Xiao-tep. "You may ask anything of me."

"As we speak, the Eternal Empress is committing dastardly acts. She hunts her own daughter, murder is the intent. Alecto has come of age and the Eternal Empress will not have another challenge her throne, even her own daughter, though Alecto has yet to formally challenge it."

"The Eternal Empress' actions, it would seem, are destined to be foul."


"How can I aid in this?"

"I have taken Alecto as my charge, I am her guardian. But the Empress' men are many. We have defeated them once, but I am uncertain if it can be done again and again. Our flight takes it toll on the mortal Alecto and her handmaiden. Truly, it takes it toll on us all. If I can but have you at her side, when the fight comes once more, I would rest well in the knowledge you are there with your Spear of Sorrows."

Xiao-tep eyed Comet Fox. He stood, asking, "Would you follow me a ways?"

Comet Fox agreed to do so. They crossed the plain of Taleisin, the massed butterflies fluttering madly and parting before them, taking flight around them, speaking to one another on how blessed they were to have gods walking amongst them.

"I think we should have put down the Eternal Empress long ago," said Comet Fox as they walked.

"Perhaps," was all that Xiao-tep gave.

When they came beneath a cherry tree, Xiao-tep looked down, gracefully waved a hand at the thirteen pieces of the Spear of Sorrows laying amidst the grass.

Comet Fox looked on. He bent low, asking, "Is it truly the Spear of Sorrows?"

"It is," confirmed Xiao-tep. "It was last used to kill Fei Li Mi when he came here with rage in his heart. His was such a sad tale. I could not let his passing go without being felt. He was, after all, as my darker self. Ii ripped from my waist my willow branch and felt the full effect of his demise, every bit of it. SO horrible was it that I determined to never fight again and thus broke the spear in its current thirteen pieces against this cherry blossom. Aleis was freed by this and I have left the pieces. I cannot bring myself to pick them up yet."

Comet Fox reached out to touch the legendary spear. One of its four blades pricked his fingertip and he bled. "Though broken," he said, "it is as sharp as ever."

Comet Fox stood. He eyed Xiao-tep. "Does this explain your change in appearance?"

"To a degree. They are all symptoms of a far greater change."

Comet Fox looked at the broken spear once more, then to Xiao-tep, saying, "You won't help me, will you?"

Xiao-tep sighed. "If I were to aid you in your present task, I would most certainly be placed into situations where I would be forced to fight." His eyes leveled and he peered into Comet Fox's eyes. "I will never fight again, dear friend."

"The Little Empress needs you, I need you. Great injustices will occur unto her if something is not done."

"I understand the possibilities in all things, in every choice. I wish to help you, but I cannot."

"Then at least let me bring her here, to Taleisin."

Xiao-tep shook his head, "I cannot allow that, either."

"But this land is pure and safe and you've always kept Taleisin's borders open for refugees! You've thousands of them flitting about currently! Why not Alecto?"

"For I intend to keep this land pure and safe. If you were to bring her here, her mother, I know, would chase after her. Armies of wicked men would find ways to climb to and conquer Taleisin."

"Perhaps I'll bring her here despite you," Comet Fox growled.

Xiao-tep sighed. "I will not stop you, though it would displease me."

Comet Fox was angry with his friend, but felt Xiao-tep was on some new path he simply could not yet understand. He knew Xiao-tep to be good and wise and caring. He also knew Xiao-tep would not dissuade him from doing anything unless he truly felt it the right thing to do.

"I trust in you," said Comet Fox, "though I do not understand you."

"Thank you, Comet Fox."

"I suppose I should be leaving. I'll need to return to Alecto's side as swiftly as I can."

"Can you wait a moment longer so that I may prepare for you a satchel of supplies?"

Comet Fox thought it over. "We could certainly use a few supplies," he agreed.

Xiao-tep called upon all the creatures of Taleisin to gather items for Comet Fox. Bark was peeled from trees and stamped down into cloth to make the satchel. Vines were dried and braided to make rope to tie the satchel and for other various uses. Foods were brought forth. Xiao-tep harvest many teas and vegetables. When the satchel was made and filled, Xiao-tep handed it to Comet Fox.

"I love you, Comet Fox. You are as a brother to me," said Xiao-tep as Comet Fox took the satchel.

These words surprised and confused Comet Fox, though he felt they were spoken with truth. He searched within himself and there found words and feelings to express to Xiao-tep, "Whatever my words may be worth, I love you as a brother, as well, Xiao-tep."

They embraced.

"Be careful, Comet Fox."

Comet Fox nodded and said his thanks to everyone. He then added, "Momoki once said we should stick to our paths. I urge that to you now. I know not what happens with you, Xiao-tep, but whatever it may be, may it be peaceful and good."

"Thank you," Xiao-tep bow low at the waist.

Comet Fox pulled the satchel on over his shoulder. He lifted to the sky and flew away. All of Taleisin watched him go and waved goodbye, wishing him luck and blessings.



Comet Fox had left Alecto and the others under Stavros' watchful near a small, flowing stream. Yele Prin Prin and Alecto sat in the stream, the water caressing their legs as Yele braided the young lady's hair. Gullnir drank deeply from the stream as Faryad and Snow Fox both lounged in the sun, enjoying the warmth of the day. Stavros sat in the shade of a large oak, Eloqua nearby. She eyed the rat, wondering. He caught her watching him and said, "What is it? I've had people stare at me many times before, I know when someone wants something from me."

Eloqua was startled by Stavros' accurate read of her. She said, "It is your sword. It's quite the deadly-looking weapon. Has it killed before?"

"Many times before," he said, then warning, "And it will again if I continue to be pestered."

Eloqua ignored the threat. She said, "Have you taught others to fight?"

This questions surprised Stavros for it was not a thing he had ever been asked. "No, I haven't."

"Would you?"

"Why do you ask this? Are you interested in learning how to fight?"

Eloqua moved closer so that she could speak without being heard by anyone but Stavros. She said, "Every day for more than a week now we have been on the run from Alecto's mother. The other day these good people that now surround us, along with your friend Comet Fox, had to fight the Empress' men. On that occasion Alecto and I were fortunate enough to have been hidden prior to the fight, but I fear more fights to come and there may be a time when we cannot hide. I feel I must learn how to fight for the sake of Alecto. If I do not and should be surrounded, if I do not and we should be challenged, then doom will wash over us. To learn to fight would give us a greater chance at surviving the Eternal Empress' wrath."

"And you would have me teach you?"

Eloqua nodded. "The others have many great tales of battles they've had and won. But Comet Fox, the one I trust most, trusts you most. He said your sword and friendship can be trusted. If that be so, then I wish to learn to fight from you."

Stavros breathed deep. He considered the handmaiden before him.

Snow Fox eyed the sky overhead. He was the first to see the streaking tail of his brother. "Here comes Comet Fox!" he heralded.

Everyone stood, waiting, as Comet Fox landed near them, a new satchel of supplies about his form.

"Well?" advanced Eloqua. "Will the fish-god Xiao-tep help us? What news do you bring?"

Comet Fox sighed. He said, "I bring supplies and nothing more."

"What? Where is Xiao-tep?" asked Stavros.

Comet Fox stored the satchel across Gullnir's back, thanking him for carrying the heavy loads without complaint. He then turned to Stavros and explained, "He will not come. He cannot help us."

"Why? What reason has he given you for turning his back on a helpless girl?" demanded Stavros.

"He says he can no longer fight and he knows our task will force him to do so."

"He is a coward, our Xiao-tep? After the blades I've seen lashing out upon his spear, creating lightning in the sky, fighting like no other, our friend is a coward?" Stavros was angry by the possibility.

"No, Stavros," Comet Fox soothed. "Xiao-tep is many things, but he is no coward. What he does, what he needs to do now, is a righteous thing, I feel. But cowardice, fear, lethargy have nothing to do with this. He simply cannot help us at this time."

Stavros spat. "To the Many Hells with him! When you brought him forth, I was going to let you run off with him and return to my village. But if he will not, then I will stand in his spot."

"I thank you, Stavros. We could use your sword and your company, but I say again: Xiao-tep is no coward."

"If the fish-god will not help," questioned Eloqua, "then who will? Where do we go to from here?"

"Balori!" cried out Alecto as she rose from the stream. "I have said from the very beginning that he would help us. We must seek him out."

"I agree, Little Empress, that Balori would be a strong ally, but he is as yet far off. After the Battle for the Plain of Adoration, he remained with Xiao-tep a time before leaving for Ife and Ife is yet too far," Comet Fox did his best to calm the young lady.

"Then what do we do?" cried out Eloqua. "Woe, mercy upon us!"

Comet Fox turned to Stavros. He judged his thoughts against his friend. "We will be fighting once more. It is safe to assume the Empress will soon dispatch a new band of men after us and these new men, perhaps, will be far more fierce, far hungrier for death than the first."

Stavros nodded in agreement. "She will find a man so hungry for battle he will lay to waste all that he touches from her land of Bizo to us."

"He would be a wicked man," added Eloqua. "A man with a wickedness to match her own."

This made Comet Fox think upon Xiao-tep's mention of Ketsueki Sato. "And what's more, Xiao-tep has told me of a demon that has entered the world, a demon he and I fought once before. Thought we he to be dead."

"Let us pray the demon is not the one the Empress recruits to hunt us," said Eloqua as she grasped Alecto and hugged her closely.

Comet Fox shook his head. "I doubt that to happen. I know this demon and Ketsueki Sato is not one to enter into the service of another," he let his thoughts wander on the matter a bit before adding, "Though I would not be surprised by a union between the two, himself and the Eternal Empress."

"Comet Fox," Snow Fox approached to stand by his brother.

"Yes, little brother?"

"What will we do then? We've traveled this far to find Stavros and then Xiao-tep. Now that we've done so and Xiao-tep will not help us, where do we go from here?"

"I still say we must go to Balori," spoke out Alecto.

"Quiet, girl," scolded Eloqua. "We know your feelings on the matter."

Again Comet Fox looked to Stavros, to have him confirm the validity of his thoughts as he spoke them, "It would be wise to assume we will be fighting again, perhaps many more times. We did well against the Empress' firs group of men, but as we've determines she will most likely send fiercer fighters after us. Our options, then, as I see them are thus: we disband and I carry on with the Little Empress to some safe hiding place while the rest of you remain behind to deter the oncoming fighters. Or, alternatively, we can remain together, but not only remain together, but grow our numbers with fighters of our own."

"We could build our own small army," said Stavros, "we did once before against the demon-dog Yaska Selith, we can do so against the Eternal Empress."

Comet Fox nodded in agreement.

The small group gathered closer, each thinking over the options, each remaining silent for a brief moment.

It was Snow Fox that spoke first. "I, for one, would not leave. I've come this far to see my brother, I would enjoy more time with him, even if in that time we are under duress. Perhaps that is selfish of me, but as long as my brother is dedicated to the life of our Alecto here, then so is my life dedicated to her."

Alecto smiled, looked at her feet. She said, "Thank you, Snow Fox."

Faryad and Yele looked to one another. Faryad then said, "We would like to right the injustice being done here. We will stay with you, if you'll have us."

"I suppose that means I'll have to be going along, as well," grumbled Sarut.

"And you already know you've my sword," said Stavros.

Comet Fox nodded. "Then we will remain together and find others to help us."

"But who?" asked Alecto.

"There is another and, the last I heard, she is closer. She is perhaps a day's ride from here. She is quite possibly the best fighter in all the world and will most likely be sitting upon the throne of championship at the Peony Teahouse.

"She is Wu Chan Chu the Frog Demi-goddess, sister to Xiao-tep. And we will go to her."

All were in agreement on this. They stalled not another moment longer. Eloqua and Alecto mounted Gullnir, the others gathered their things. Soon they were heading north towards the Peony Teahouse.

Stavros came to walk beside Gullnir. He said, "Eloqua, if you still wish to be trained, I will teach you all that I can."

Eloqua thanked him.

On they went, across plains and farmers' fields, over hills and through both day and night. They rested where they could, begged for food at many homes. They were met with much kindness. And as they went across the world, as they traveled, they quietly feared the coming of the Eternal Empress, they each were secretly dismayed by the presence of Ketsueki Sato in the world.

On went Faryad and Yele Prin Prin, both hunted by Sharif.

On went Sarut, ladybug without a home or family.

On went Stavros, leaving behind once more his beloved village.

On went Comet Fox and Snow Fox, brothers desperately trying to enjoy their brotherhood.

On went Eloqua and Gullnir, afraid for Alecto's life.

On went Alecto, hunted by her own mother.

And as they went; as they begged for food and were met with kindness; as people greeted them, spoke with them, learned of their harrowing trials, people spoke of them to one another. People spoke of their lives, of their curses, of their frantic flight. People watched for them, wishing to help. And as the small group traveled across the world the people called them Dark Hearts, for here was a band that knew sorrow, that knew betrayal, that was fighting against great and desperate odds for justice, righteousness.

To the east, an empress chose a murderous madman for her general.

To the south, a demon entered the home of a family to terrorize and slay them all, drinking their blood to grow stronger.

And on ran the band of Dark Hearts.


All right, folks! There was your fifth and final act of "Broken Steel"! I hope you enjoyed it. Check back next week for Act I of "Tournament at the Peony"!

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