Friday, July 24, 2009

"The Tiger and the Hare" -- Act II

And now for Act II of "The Tiger and the Hare"!


~ Charles


"The Tiger and the Hare" copyright 2009 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


THE ECSTASY OF THE BLOOD MOON: Wherein Ketsueki Retains a Loyal Servant; Ketsueki Makes a Weapon for The Empress' Champion; Elkhorn Tries His New Bow; Mabo Runs in Fear



In the southernmost region of Bizo there lived a brother and sister, Jiang and Qiu Gang. Came they from a close family and quite different were they in disposition. Wherein Qui Gang was powerful, outgoing, protective and trusting her brother was secretive, diminutive, shy and lonely. Qiu Gang was beautiful. So bitter was Jiang his body contorted with vinegar soul until he a hump grew on his back and he scowled at even the blue jay's song.

Together they had saved all their money since childhood and the passing of their parents to purchase a small mill in Bizo. There they ground wheat and oats for local farmers to be taken to markets all over the world. They made for themselves a happy home in Bizo, growing up and growing old together.

The people of Bizo, in turn, learned to love the newcomers Jiang and Qiu Gang. As the brother and sister adopted Bizo as their home, so the people of Bizo adopted them as neighbors and friends. Many men fell in love with Qiu Gang and pursued her only to be gently beaten away with kind smiles and soft gestures. Many men grew angry at this. One such man was a nearby farmer named Xue Xun that had recently inherited his farm after his father's passing. Xue Xun soon found himself plotting to capture the attentions of Qie Gang despite herself.

Still others grew haggard with worry for Qiu Gang. Whenever others met with Qiu Gang they would praise her charm, honesty and hospitality. And when they met Jiang, they scowled and spat his name in whispers.

"A dark man," they would say, "filled with sorrow, so much sorrow he torments his sister and keeps her from wedded life."

Time passed, friends and neighbors grew closer to Qiu Gang and evermore distant from her brother. Once, when asked by a neighbor why her brother was so foul in mood and demeanor, Qiu Gang explained, "He was tormented horribly as a child. He tried love many times with many girls, but all treated his disrespectfully and a few ran off with much of his money. He is bitter at the roots with all creatures, I am afraid to admit, but he is my brother and I love him and he trusts me so I will never part from his side until one of us dies."

Word spread of Qiu Gang's tale and her selflessness made her more adored by all that knew her.

Qiu Gang urged Jiang to seek out the friendship of others, but he refused. At last she said, "In the very least, when you take your daily nap do so outside in the sun or in the shade of a tree. Do not squander your every hour indoors, locked away from the world."

Jiang took this advice, though moreso to avoid confrontation with his sister. He soon was seen by many to be sleeping in the shade of a white oak. One such person was Xue Xun.

One day, while sleeping under the oak, Xue Xun when to a local elder known as a mystic and named Zhen. He was an old man of long, white beard and hair, His eyes were forever squinting. He never wore clothing over his torso, merely wrapping the purest white cloths about his waist and strapping leather sandals to his feet. Master Zhen glowed with wisdom.

"Please aid me in winning the love of the beautiful Qiu Gang," pleaded Xue Xun. "My life is nothing without her. When she passes my farm I can smell lilacs for hours. She does not bathe in flower water, or least I do not believe so. She is too simple a woman to take on such extravagance. She is merely beautiful to the point of being flower of her own accord. I must have her, Master Zhen! I must have her! I beg for your help!"

At this Zhen threw himself before Master Zhen.

Master Zhen eyed the young farmer. "Get up, you damned fool," he commanded. As Xue Xun did as he was told, Master Zhen said, "I do not think I'll dissuade you from taking certain courses of action to gain Qiu Gang's love, but I must issue this warning: my help will come at a hefty price."

"I'll pay you anything you ask of me!" cried Xue Xun.

Master Zhen shook his head. "I will ask for no payment. I will help you without fee and I will help you only because I am an old man and if I am to suffer it is no matter. But if I let you run off to find some other way to win Qiu Gang's love you will certainly make another suffer and I cannot allow that."

"Then what is this payment you speak of?" asked Xue Xun.

Master Zhen eyed Xue Xun closely. He said, "You will gain Qiu Gang's love, but blood will have to flow, starting with your own. You must make a sacrifice of your blood into my bowl and this first bloodletting shall only be followed by more of the same."

"What do you mean by this?" asked Xue Xun. "What kind of bloodletting will follow mine own?"

"That I cannot say. What we tamper with is the will of the Cosmos themselves and they will do as needed to set things right for our tampering."

Xue Xun thought on this moment, then thought of his beloved Qiu Gang. "I will pay any price," he told Master Zhen.

And so a ceremony was done. Xue Xun cut himself at the wrist and let his blood spill forth into Master Zhen's bowl. Master Zhen then mixed a poultice with the blood and gave it to Xue Xun, saying, "The matter with Qiu Gang, I am told, is that she is so very loyal to her brother. Remove the brother from her life and she will be open to marriage. Take this poultice to him, rub it onto his skin. I know not how you'll accomplish this, but it is no longer a matter to me. Do so and in a day's time Qiu Gang will be free from her familial bondage."

Xue Xun thanked Master Zhen greatly and promised him many fortunes before running from the old man's home. As Xue Xun ran, he hoped Jiang was yet asleep beneath the white oak and, much to his pleasure, found that he was.

Xue Xun crept up on the slumbering Jiang. As the fouled brother snored heavily, Xue Xun softly rubbed the poultice, all of it, onto Jiang's arms and cheeks before running away.

Xue Xun, knowing not else what to do, returned to his farming for the rest of the day.

The twittering fife of Teo, a foul little fairy, woke Jiang.

Jiang roared angrily, "Who is there? Who dares disturb my slumber? I shall kill whosoever plays their foul pipe upon my land!"

Teo laughed maniacally. He appeared before Jiang as a mound of moss. Only his dark face, gnarled yellowed teeth and green eyes outlined by white gave his location away.

"You dare threaten me?" Teo laughed and taunted. "But you are so big! Only fools and mortals allows themselves to be so big. Only the gods are bigger but they're so important they deserve their size. But look at you! How would you catch me? Or, wait... yes, yes, I know! This is all in jest! Ohh! Hahaha! Your jest quite amuses me! You are a good teller of jokes, big one!"

"Stop that laughing!" Jiang scowled. "I make no jokes! This is my land my sleep that you disturb, fly! Off with yourself or I'll rid myself of you with violence!"

Again Teo laughed. "Ohhhh! Please, please, dear man, please stop! Your hilarity is so immense I am in tears!"

Jiang punched at the ground where Teo stood, but when he lifted his hand he could find Teo nowhere.

"I am here, fool!" Teo called from his side, this time his voice was angry and serious. "You don't jest! You meant me harm!"

"Of course I did! And I still do!" shouted Jiang. Again he punched. Again Teo disappeared only to reappear at Jiang's side.

"Who are you! Why have you come to disturb my slumber?" demanded Jiang.

"I have come because I was called. Rather, it was my master that was summoned for help."

"What help? What master? Who are you?"

"I am Teo. My master is Masabakes, Demoness of Lust."

"What matter would a Demoness of Lust have with me?"

Teo lied, "She hasn't business with you, rather your sister. She seeks great fortune.Your sister seeks your fortune."

"Lies! My sister is the only person I can trust!"

"Very well then," Teo huffed. "If you do not wish to hear my explanation fo my presence, then you tell me my reason for being here."

Jiang thought it over only to realize the fairy's tale made sense.

"I'll kill her!" cried out Jiang.

Teo smiled and disappeared, this time never to reappear again.

Jiang grew jealous and stormed to the mill, confronting her as she prepared their supper and accused her of plotting to run off with their savings.

"All the money we've made," said he, "all the efforts we've put into this mill and you wish to destroy me to keep everything for yourself!"

"How dare you?" Qiu Gang was appalled. "I've been everso loyal to you and this is how I am to be repaid? With suspicion and accusation?"

"If this not be true," issued Jiang, "then sell me your half of the mill while you remain here to continue working with me. If you remain without any fortune to be gained, then your love and honesty will be proven!"

"But I've worked as hard as you to run this mill!"

"Sell it to me or prove yourself a liar!"

In the hour of heat, when days run long overhead and shine down with angry warmth, one often is not of their own mind. Such was this day for Qiu Gang. Her temper flared, her loyalties wounded, she cried out, "Rather would I sell my half of the mill to a demon than you!"

Outside the mill, Etain descended, Kalavata climbed high. Moonlight dappled the landscape of the southern regions of Bizo as the demon Ketsueki Sato came to them atop the flying beast Neboshazaar. Together they flew betwixt clouds, over fields growing with crops, above trickling streams until they came near a mill and, lifted on the night air, Ketsueki heard the sounds of an argument. He smiled at the anger in the voices, smiled at the suspicion and hatred in the tones.

Ketsueki Sato and Neboshazaar descended from the sky to land nearby the mill. Slowly he entered the home, opening wide the door on a world of suspicion and venom. He reveled in the sound, cackled loudly at the sight.

Jiang and Qiu Gang turned on him.

Qiu Gang screamed at the sight of the wooden demon, his lava eyes. "Who are you?" she demanded. "Rid us of yourself, demon!"

"A demon I be," spoke Ketsueki with charming tones. "But mine is not the hatred found here."

"I knew it!" Jiang broke into the conversation. "You consort with demons! You lying trollop!"

"He is not my demon to contend with!" defended Qiu Gang.

"Oh, ho-ho! But I am your demon to contend with now, young ones."

"What is it you wish here? Nevermind! I'll not know your business! Leave us, demon!" Qiu Gang spat.

Ketsueki smiled. He further entered the mill, running his woody fingers along the mill's wheel to feel the strength and weight there. He spoke slowly, baitingly, "I've come to proffer unto you a game of chance. Win and you shall live, lose and you shall die. Refuse to play and you'll both be horribly killed. Now, who's to die? Who's to die?"

"We'll not play any of your games, demon!" Qiu Gang was angry, disturbed, frightened by the appearance of Ketsueki Sato and yet shivering from anger with her brother. "Leave us now! Go back to whichever of the Hells you sprang from."

Ketsueki frowned. "If only I could." His frown turned to a wicked, gnarly smile once more. "But that is another matter entirely. Now we must play or you shall both die. Allow me a moment to consider... I know! I shall kill the weaker of the two."

Ketsueki drew near Jiang. A long vine moved out from Ketsueki's feet, up Jiang's thigh and back to caress his hunch.

"Yes," hissed the demon. "This one is incredibly weak with illness and despair. I shall take this one. Does this seem proper? But then, this other is so very pretty. It would be such a loss for the world if she were to die. Oh, to choose! I cannot make myself choose."

Ketsueki came to stand between brother and sister. He eyed them both slowly, maliciously. At last he said, "If I cannot choose, then you must choose for me. Choose now which of you will die or shall you both be rendered into the grave."

Neither brother nor sister spoke.

"Very well, then. I will kill this weak one, this hunchback, this ugly fiend of a man." Ketsueki's vines whipped out to latch onto Jiang's body.

Jiang cried out in fear.

"Stop it!" demanded Qiu Gang. "If you must take one of us, then take me!"

Ketsueki smiled. He let go of Jiang and moved closer to Qiu Gang, his vines wrapping about her waist, binding her legs and wrists. She whimpered in fear, tears waterfalling from eyes down her cheeks. Ketsueki looked to Jiang, hoping to prolong the agony he felt on the air, to feed off the terror of these weak mortals.

"Shall I do this wicked thing?" he asked.

Jiang did not look at the demon of wood, did not look to his sister. He thought of Qiu Gang's demon-consorting, of her betrayal and knew neither from the truth. Pain filled his world, broke as a wave against a shore, smashing inside him with fury.

Jiang looked up, to his sister, gazing into her tear-filled eyes.

"Kill her," he said.

Ketsueki threw the woman against a stone wall of the mill and there pinned her with his vines as his hand reached out to grasp the spinning miller's wheel and lift it some distance while the wind mill outside caught wind and turned it. Standing, the wheel grinding against his hands, filing them, splintering them, he threw Qiu Gang beneath the wheel and let the wheel drop atop her, crushing her, grinding her, breaking her down into a mulch of blood and flesh and ground bone. Ketsueki then placed a bucket by the wheel's edge to allow blood to collect within. When it was half full, Ketsueki pricked up the bucket and drank deeply the blood of the dead Qiu Gang.

Covered in carnage, his ever-drying wood body now limber once more, Ketsueki dropped the bucket and approached Jiang. He said, "Some day in the future you may want your revenge. Should that day arrive, come to me and I will kill you then."

The demon Ketsueki Sato left the mill. As he mounted Neboshazaar he spied Jiang stepping from the mill's door.

"What's this? Has the day come already? Am I to kill you now?" Ketsueki smiled a bloody smile of pleasure.

Jiang approached the two vile creatures, eyed them, said, "My mill is nothing without my sister. I cannot possibly work it alone."

"This is not a problem for me, mortal. Cry to another in your country," growled Ketsueki.

"It's not your problem, that much is true. But this mill and this land have nothing more for me. I am in need of a new life and am willing to submit to a life of service."

"What is it that you are saying, mortal? Out with your desires."

Jiang was hesitant at first, but then worked his words with the greatest of confidence. "I wish to come with you. Wherever you may go, I shall follow. If you're in need of more blood, I shall find it for you." At this Jiang went to one knee and said, "I shall promise my services to you in full and for a lifetime."

Ketsueki looked down on Jiang. "What is your name, hunchback?"

"I am called Jiang."

"Jiang the Hunched One, welcome into the service of a demon." Ketsueki put out his wooden hand to clasp that of Jiang's and pull him up on Neboshazaar's back to ride behind him. Together, the three took to the air, scudding across the moon as shadows haunting the night.

"Where do we go, master?" asked Jiang.

"We seek the Eternal Empress, boy! We seek her out for fortune and greater chances at bringing destruction into this world! We seek her out so that I may amass an army to kill the gods themselves, namely the one called Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish!"

"I have heard of such a god," spoke Jiang, loudly over the din of passing wind. "I must confess, I never liked his tales. His courage and beauty and luck are a disgrace upon us mortals. This makes me far happier to be in your service, my lord!"

Ketsueki cackled, driving Neboshazaar higher into the clouds as Jiang clung tightly to them both.



Came Ketsueki and Jiang upon Neboshazaar into the great city surrounding the palace of the Eternal Empresss. Came they at night, at an early hour when the moon had yet to rise to its apex, when many were bedding down yet few were asleep. Came Ketsueki to the palace and demanded an audience with the Empress.

An imperial servant in the Empress' army ran to his liege's side where he delivered this message, "My Empress, a demon has visited our fair land this evening He stands as we speak at the doorway to the palace and demands an audience with my Empress. I forbade this, but he insists. As he is a Blessed One, I've come to you for counsel on the matter. Shall I turn the demon away?"

The Eternal Empress had been preparing herself for slumber when her loyal servant came to her bedchamber. Her great flowing turquoise gown embellishments and embroidery of finely spun silver lifted on every current of air as she considered him, as she considered the demon that visited her palace.

"Bring him hence," she commanded. "I will see him while I sit upon my throne."

And so the demon Ketsueki Sato and his servant Jiang was ushered to the throne of the Eternal Empress. She sat upon her throne lifted high above them and surrounded by a series of arching steps of white marble. She looked down on them as though they were her servants, looked down on them as if she herself a goddess. Her movements were fine, thought Ketsueki, her presence demanding and powerful. He was impressed with this mortal-turned-Blessed One. Her beauty, most of all, impressed him, made him desire her, made him hate and envy her. He stood a wooden shell of his former self, a mighty demon, while she sat upon a throne of gold resting upon the finest marble with all the beauty of the world in her face though she had begun life mortal.

He shook aside his envy and said, "Empress Sulia Laree, I am the demon Ketsueki Sato and I've come seeking an alliance. I am told you currently hunt the fox-god Comet Fox for he has taken off with your daughter, acting as her guardian. I found truth in this when not more than a mere few hours ago I met your commander called Elkhorn. He has sent me your way."

"Has he now?" she asked, eying her own beautiful garments in hopes of showing no interest in the demon.

"He has, but I first came here of my own accord."

"What alliance do you suggest?" the Empress yawned mockingly.

Ketsueki scowled, his vines working wildly with anger and impatience. He said, "Let it be known that once I was the mighty ruler of the Cottonwood Chamber in the Many Hells, but I was tricked, betrayed and usurped by three foul creatures: two gods and one demi-goddess. One of those gods was none other than the very fox-god you now hunt."

The Empress at last looked to Ketsueki, though she played at her eyes being heavy with weariness from the day and a lack of interest in the demon.

Feeling slighted, Ketsueki said, "Empress, I ask that you look at me." When the Empress closed her eyes in defiance, he growled with thunderous tone, "Look at me!"

So sharp was Ketsueki's tone, his words, that the Empress could not help but look upon him. All her feigns ceased and she quietly admitted to herself a certain fear in having a demon in her palace.

"Your gazing suits me," said Ketsueki Sato. "I will not be ignored, not by any god and certainly not by any self-important, self-righteous mortal-turned-immortal!"

"How dare you?" gasped the Empress. "I should have your head for speaking to me thusly!"

Ketsueki placed a wooden foot upon the first step leading to her throne. The Empress' men drew their weapons as he spoke, "I would like you to try my fury, Empress."

The Empress looked to her soldiers and nodded. They lunged at Ketsueki Sato.

Jiang made a weak attempt to fight for his master, but was tripped and put down by a soldier that then lead a charge at the demon.

Out shot the thorny vines of Ketsueki's form, clasping and stabbing at the soldiers. He strangled, entangled and tore apart six men at once. Blood poured over the stark white marble. The rest of the soldiers stood, hesitant.

The Empress smiled. "You're ways are cruel and unique, Ketsueki Sato. I will dismiss your earlier rudeness to hear more of your proposed alliance."

Ketsueki let fall the dead bodies and body parts around him.

Jiang stood, closing the already small distance between himself and his master.

Ketsueki said, "And I will ignore your rudeness for now. What I propose is this: we join together our minds, our efforts to hunt and destroy those that have wronged us."

"I seek only my daughter and, should Comet Fox get in the way of this matter, I will also seek him."

"But Comet Fox will most assuredly not be alone."

"What do you mean by this?"

"Comet Fox is well-liked amongst many gods and mortals. Among those that may lend their services to him and his quest to keep your daughter from you are the two others that have befouled, befuddled and besmirched me."

"And these other two are? You spoke of a god and a demi-goddess?"

"Indeed," said Ketsueki. "A brother and sister, as well, for the god is Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish and demi-goddess be his sister Wu Chan Chu. Where Comet Fox travels and fights and is in need of help, these other two are likely to follow."

"Elkhorn could not possibly take on all three," the Empress realized aloud.

"Hence my proposed alliance," spoke Ketsueki as he mounted another step towards the Empress.

"A demon would be a valuable ally against gods. What could you do for me?"

Again the demon placed a foot upon the next step. Jiang stood at the base of the steps, afraid to advance.

Said Ketsueki, "Allow me to ride out with your commander, allow me to guide your Elkhorn; allow me to aid him in amassing a far larger army, an army so vast it would overwhelm every god in the Heavens." Ketsueki stepped up upon the final step to stand before the Eternal Empress upon the throne. He said, "Allow me to be your general in this war that comes to these lands. Together we shall shake the gods loose from the Heavens."

Impressed by Ketsueki's size, his power, his mind and thoughts and proposition, she nodded in agreement. She stood. She confirmed their alliance by saying, "Together we shall retrieve my daughter and kill everything that stands in our way, including Comet Fox, Xiao-tep and Wu Chan Chu."

To this day it is said the smile that Ketsueki then smiled was his first genuine smile.

"First, if Elkhorn is to do battle with gods, he must have a proper weapon," suggested the Empress.

Ketsueki nodded. "I will make for him the finest god-killer."



The Eternal Empress gave full command of her court over to Ketsueki Sato for the purpose of making Elkhorn a weapon. Soldiers and blacksmiths and craftsmen were roused from sleep to be brought before him. As the demon paced at the foot of the throne, his long vines working slowly in the air with thought, he spoke aloud.

"Elkhorn is mortal, yes? And we must equip him for the purpose of killing gods. To do so, let us consider the gods he must kill: Comet Fox, Xiao-tep and Wu Chan Chu. The first two can fly, fleeing the world-bound Elkhorn easily. Wu Chan Chu can jump great distances so as to appear in flight. What is needed for Elkhorn, then, is a weapon of range."

"A bow," suggested a bowyer.

"Elkhorn is known as a fine hunter," said the Empress from her throne.

"A bow would make a fine weapon," Ketsueki agreed. "A bow it will be, then. Let us begin."

Ketsueki called for a sacrifice and an ibex was brought forth and slaughtered. Ketsueki commanded the blacksmiths to take up their chisels and knives and carve the horns of the beast away from the skull. He then commanded the soldiers to collect the spilled blood with many buckets and set aside in a large tub made of gold. The Empress happened to have a large tub made entirely of solid gold and it was brought forth at Ketsueki's request. The tubw as then set outside for the blood to be kissed by the moonlight. He called for a butcher and when a butcher was brought before him, Ketsueki commanded him to cut finely at the animal's carcass to remove in whole the sinews of the ibex and dry them and to render the fat of the animal for a hide glue.

One of the horns was chosen for the bow.

The sinews were dried and braided for the string.

The hide glue was made to bind everything together.

Ketsueki then commanded the soldier to start a bonfire right in the throne room and for the bones of the animal to be ground into grist. These things were done and as Jiang set about tossing the grist about the fire, Ketsueki began chanting to the Yama Kings, the supreme rulers of the Many Hells. So perturbed were the Yama Kings by Ketsueki's audacity to have once tried to overthrow their rule but now chanted for their blessings that they at first refused. But Ketsueki continued to chant. He chanted through the night and after the next morning's first light, the blessings were granted. The bow was dipped in the blood within the tub. As the weapon was given life, it drank deeply from the moon-kissed blood until only half the blood remained.

Ketsueki reached into the tub, his hand wet with thickening blood, and pulled forth the Blood Moon Bow -- a living weapon capable of spearing the gods.

A similar ceremony was held as a fletcher was called forth to carve the ibex's bones into arrows. Cherts was used for the arrowheads and they were fastened to the bone arrows with sinew string and hide glue. The fletcher was able to make eight arrows in all in this manner and these were dipped in the ibex blood to be enchanted. The fletcher then made twelve more arrows of cherts and carved wood to be used for practical purposes and these were not ceremoniously enchanted.

When at last the bow and its arrows were completed, Ketsueki looked on them. He grabbed them up and raised them above his head in praise. He handed them to Jiang with a warning to care for them and then drank down the last of the ibex blood. He then stood before the Eternal Empress and said, "I will go now to seek out your Elkhorn. I will gift unto him this fine weapon and these arrows and with them he will be able to harvest gods from a great distance."

The Eternal Empress nodded with wonder and glee.

Ketsueki and Jiang mounted Neboshazaar, taking to the air, chasing Elkhorn southward.

Ketsueki rode on violent winds to get to Elkhorn's side. It took him a mere day on Neboshazaar to find the Eternal Empress' captain and when he found him, Ketsueki gave him the Blood Moon Bow.

Elkhorn looked over the bow, in awe of its beauty and ferocity. "It is a fine piece of craftsmanship," he said. "It looks as though it could truly kill a god."

"Try its deadliness," Ketsueki urged.

Elkhorn grabbed up one of the enchanted arrows. Ketsueki was unnerved by this. He raised a hand and said, "Put that one away. Save those for our prey. Use now one of the other arrows and do not waste the Blood Moon Arrows."

Elkhorn agreed to this and nocked one of the other arrows. He looked about for a target and saw in the near distance a small mound of grass and upon that grass a leveret. Elkhorn pulled back the bow's string, aimed and shot the small hare down.

Dismounting, Ketsueki and Elkhorn went to confirm the kill. They strode up the side of the grassy mound and looked down upon the dead hare. It was Ketsueki that picked up the carcass by the arrow yet stuck in the animal's body. He spied it and said, "You've pierced the heart at some distance. That is a fine shot."

"I can do it many times over without fail," bragged Elkhorn.

Blood trickled onto Ketsueki's hand. He removed the leveret from the arrow and drank its blood. When the animal was dry, he said, "Then do so. Practice with your bow and provide me with a meal. Kill another hare and many more besides."

This was done much to Ketsueki's and Elkhorn's delight and amusement. Arrow after arrow pierced hare after hare as Jiang was set forth to rouse them from their holes and brush. The hares ran madly, afraid. Though they had been hunted before, they had never been hunted so viciously and in so many numbers. They could not understand this thing happening to them, so they ran for their lives.

When Ketsueki filled his appetite and Elkhorn grew bored of the hunt, they left. Scattered across a small area was nearly one hundred hare bodies. All that had made their home here had been killed, all but one. The lone survivor was a leveret named Mabozay, often called simply Mabo.

Eying the field of dead kith and kin, Mabo shook with fear. He ran, afraid the hunter would return. He ran all day until he was starving. He stopped at dusk to nibble upon some wild clover. Mabo was soft gray with patches of warm brown showing through. The top edge of his tail was lined in black and the bottom of his tail was pure white. His eyes darted, his chest pounded, he breathing slowed but remained shallow and labored. His tail, nose and fur twitched with nerves. Having eaten, Mabo continued on his run until he came to a stream where he stumbled in the mud and nearly drowned at the water's edge.



The skies roiled with the ugliness of the Many Hells. Little Gogi the Grasshopper diligently worked his small garden before growing tired and returning to the small home he had made for himself and for his love Szu Ri out of dried plants and leaves. He entered their home to find Szu Ri lying in the bed they had made. He went to her and said, "Szu Ri, my love, are you unwell?"

Szu Ri looked up at him and smiled. She reached out to caress his face and say, "I am well, Gogi. Do not worry. I grow tired of things here, though. There is so much death in the Chamber of Despair and it can wear on one's mind."

Gogi nodded, understanding. Though they had made a good life for themselves within the chamber, though they were near their beloved friends Momoki and Twila, he, too, often felt the tug of despair upon his heart.

They made for themselves a light supper and ate it in silence. When supper was over, Gogi took his hat, a new hat that Szu Ri had made for him, and said, "I'll be going to visit with Momoki."

"Oh, let me come with you," said Szu Ri, a hint of desperation in her voice. "I would like to spend time with Twila."

Gogi nodded, "Of course."

Together they walked, hand-in-hand, to the courtyard of the chamber where they found Momoki finishing up his kata. While he was not training or riding out upon great black steeds with his warriors that passed through his chamber, Momoki was often practicing his fighting arts. This was the case when Gogi and Szu Ri found him. Twila sat nearby, watching the marmoset.

Szu Ri went to Twila.

Gogi approached his friend Momoki. Together they walked the courtyard.

"What is the matter, dear friend?" asked Momoki.

"The m-matter? Why, nothing is the matter," lied Gogi.

"Come out with it, Gogi. You cannot hide your emotions from me after all the time we've spent together."

Gogi sighed. He knew lying to his friend was a terrible thing to do and lying to himself was worse. He said, "Momoki, friend, I fear our time here in the Chamber of Despair draws to an end. The constant presence of death and fighting we watch you ride out to do wears on us and I fear it making Szu Ri ill."

Momoki considered this. "It makes sense a living creature would be made ill by living in the Many Hells."

Gogi sighed, forlorn.

"You should leave us," said Momoki.

"I-I couldn't possibly," answered Gogi.

"And if you don't what will happen to Szu Ri? I fear saying it myself, but you and I both know an illness of the mind and soul is far worse than an illness of the body. Do not keep her nor yourself here, Gogi. Ride out and make a good life somewhere in the living world."

"But," said Gogi softly, "I do not wish to leave you."

"I enjoy your company here, friend, but do not wish you to remain if it will harm you or Szu Ri. What are you afraid of, Gogi? Are you frightened our something will change between us? Listen, dear friend, we are forever friends, no matter the distance between us or how often we visit with one another. Nothing will change. You must do what is right. You've done so before, I know you can do so now."

Gogi nodded.

And so plans were made, things packed, crops harvested for the long journey. Momoki conjured a black horse and lifted himself, Twila, Szu Ri and Gogi upon its back and rode out from the Chamber of Despair. As they went, Momoki reminded, "Close your eyes, little ones."

Though Szu Ri covered her eyes and clasped hands with Gogi, Gogi remained wide-eyed and seeing as they left the Many Hells.

Ghastly faces and ghosts, demons and furies and wickedness came before him in all its forms. Some made him tremble, he admitted, but so sorrowful was he for having to leave his friends, so confident was he that he and Szu Ri needed to leave the Chamber of Despair to have a good life, that he did not cringe at the horrors the Many Hells had to offer.

Seeing this, Momoki said, "Cover your eyes, Gogi."

Gogi shook his head. "There is no need for a fear of death when one rides towards life," said he.

Hearing this, Szu Ri removed her hand from her eyes. She looked about. And though she was afraid, though she cringed and winced, she remained looking.

The world was vibrant and alive. Butterflies fluttered in the air, clouds rolled by overhead, birds floated on unseen currents of air, grass bent and spoke with a passing breeze, the trees chortled in their own language and dancing with life. Everything was alive here and Szu Ri and Gogi both felt more alive than ever. They quietly squeezed one anothers' hands and knew their choice was the right choice.

When they had reached the world of the living, Momoki slowed his steed and asked, "Where to? Is there a particular place you wish to go?"

Gogi shrugged. He said, "I suppose this is as good a place as any. We can wander on our own for some time if need be to find a proper home."

Twila wept, hugged her dear friend.

Gogi jumped to Momoki's shoulder and hugged his face, whispering in his ear, "I love you, Momoki."

"I love you, friend," said Momoki. "We will give you time to settle down here and then come to visit some day."

"That would be nice," said Szu Ri.

Friends parted.

The dead returned to their chamber.

The living breathed in the air and watched their world.

Gogi and Szu Ri traveled for some time. They went slowly as they were getting older now and age slows a body. They finally came to a small stream that reminded them of the home they had once before. Gogi immediately set about crafting a home of dried clay he dug from the mud in the small cliff near the stream. A bed of perpetual mud lay all around, but the way Gogi had built the home with warming fire inside dried their home and kept it safe. Above the cliff he plotted a small row and planted seeds. Szu Ri spun her silk and made for them a new bed and blankets. They were happy and alive and content once more.

Then, one night, came the thunderous sound of a stumbling hare drowing in the nearby stream. Gogi rushed out of their home to see the source of the racket and came to the hare's side to help him, lifting his nose and clearing it of mud so that the creature could breathe.

"Thank you," said Mabo hesitantly. He eyed the grasshopper and decided such a small creature could do him no amount of harm.

"You're welcome," said Gogi. "Are you well?"

Mabo shook his head. "There is a hunter after me, or so I think. It's been a great deal of time since I last saw him, though. He murdered my whole clan."

Gogi frowned. He said, "You're dirty and wet and tired. I've not room in my home, but I can build you a fire outside to warm yourself by and bring you food."

"Clover!" gasped Mabo. "I'm starving and I love clover, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all," Gogi smiled. He built for the leveret a raging fire, though he knew a raging fire was not always a warming fire. But he did so to put the leveret at ease. As the fire died, Gogi stoked it well into blazing, quiet embers that truly warmed them.

Szu Ri came out and gathered clover for their guest. As she placed them before the leveret she said, "I am Szu Ri and this is Gogi."

The leveret munched at the clover and through a mouthful said, "I am Mabozay." He gulped and added, "But my friends call me Mabo."

"It's nice to meet you Mabo."

So Mabo came to stay with Gogi and Szu Ri. He could not live in their home, for it was far too small for him, but he burrowed a hole of his own some distance from their home and packed it with dried foliage to warm him at night against the cold mud.

One night, as they sat around a fire after having eaten a fine meal together, Mabo said to Gogi, "Sometimes I feel as though I should seek out the one that murdered my people and bring him to justice."

"I can understand this," said Gogi.

"But what can I do? I am so very small and unimportant. He was so large, so angry, so good with his bow."

"Your size does not relate to your importance," spoke Gogi. "It is the will that defines purpose, destiny and importance."

Mabo saw wisdom in this. He said, "You sound as though you know of such things."

"That I do, Mabo." And Gogi spun the tale of the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration.

"It is unbelievable!" gasped Mabo when he had heard the whole tale. "Such a small one, and yet..."

"It is the will, Mabo, the will that defines purpose."

Mabo nodded. He said, "It all seems ludicrous to me, but I feel I must follow after the hunter. But I know not how to do so."

"Merely go," suggested Gogi.

"Go? And leave my home and food here behind?"

Gogi nodded.

Mabo firmed himself.

Gogi and Szu Ri stood from the twig they had been using as a bench and they watched as Mabo hopped once, then again. Mabo looked back at them only to see Gogi urge him onward with another nod. He turned round and broke into a fast sprint. He knew he could not keep up the pace for long, but it was a beginning for his travels. He ran through the night, leaving behind the warming fire and his warming home, darting from shadow to shadow, between trees, chasing the moonlight without knowledge of pursuit or direction. Mabo ran swiftly, death on his mind and justice in his heart. Mabo ran swiftly, death riding far from him. Mabo ran swiftly, chasing his purpose, afraid the hunter was yet chasing him, afraid of his potential failure, afraid of death, running from memories of a green field gone red with the blood of his clan. Angered by this memory, Mabo ran swiftly.

Watching him go, losing sight of him in the shadows of a dark night, Szu Ri asked Gogi, "Think you he shall fare well?"

"If he stays true to his purpose, he will."

"How desperate and sad was that hare," remarked Szu Ri.

Gogi felt the tinge of sorrow within his heart. He thought of his friends Momoki and Twila and wished they would visit soon. He thought of how ugly the Many Hells had been and how they had made him and Szu Ri ill. He said, "How desperate and sad are we all; running from death, chasing after purpose. But we must not allow the sadness to swell within and drown us, Szu Ri. We must not allow the demons of the sea to pull us under. We must must break our sorrows with hope and love and chase our purpose joyously and unafraid. If our friend Mabo learns this, he will have a fine life, as fine a life as you and I have now."

Szu Ri hugged Gogi and he returned the hug. They loved one another and stood together, unafraid.


Well, we've been introduced to the hare! Check back next Friday the 31st to discover the origins of the tiger!

No comments: