Friday, April 30, 2010

"Seven Jade Doors" -- Act V

"Seven Jade Doors" is copyright 2010 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.



THE SCURRYING ANIMALS: Wherein Zom Loa Receives Training at the Temple of the Frosted Moon; Zom Loa is Trained with His New Weapons; Sarut's Anger Leads to a Betrayal; Ketsueki Sato Lays a Trap Within the Town of Liu-wal


Part 1

Zom Loa stayed within the Temple of the Frosted Moon a few days. He watched as the students meditated, practiced their martial skills and as White Lotus acted as orator, speaking of Xiao-tep's tales. He admired the uniforms of the students, their snow white cloth made in the village below with orange and gold lapels and an orange belt. Only Butik wore a bright gold belt and Zom Loa recognized it as an signifier of some higher order above theother students, yet below Master White Lotus.

One day, whilst speaking of the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration, White Lotus said, "As Fei Li Mi and Xiao-tep fought, the battle below took notice."

Zom Loa had to interrupt. He said, "That is not entirely true. Many took notice, truthfully, but not all. Some were so steeped in the acts of battle they knew only the enemy before them."

"I suppose the one that caused the falling of the stars should know the tale of the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration best," White Lotus scolded Zom Loa for the interruption. "Come," he said, "tell us what you saw."

Afraid to deny the Master his wishes in his own temple, Zom Loa told of what he saw, what he witnessed, what he did to aid in the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. And, as he was sitting in a temple dedicated to Xiao-tep, he made certain to speak of the fish-god often.

"I've a question, if I may ask it," said Butik.

White Lotus nodded to his student.

"Why is it that Xiao-tep then fought. I would assume he fought because it was the proper course of action to take against Yaska Selith. He has also fought and previously defeated the demon Ketsueki Sato. Now Ketsueki reigns with new terrors in the world. Why does Xiao-tep refuse to fight at this hour?"

"As he felt it was the proper course of action previously, he feels it is not the proper course of action now," answered White Lotus. "We must respect his wisdom in this."

"But he's defeated the demon before," argued Butik. "Surely he could once more. And once he has rid the world of Ketsueki again, then he could follow the path of peace."

"We must trust in his wisdom," said White Lotus again.

"But so many die and suffer as we speak!" Butik became angered. "He could end this suffering!"

White Lotus said, "We must trust in his wisdom."

Butik bit his lipless mouth in fury, bringing himself to silence.

"If I may," said Zom Loa, "I might be able to speculate on the matter."

"Speak your mind," allowed White Lotus.

"Xiao-tep is definitely wise. I doubt I could find many that would argue this point. But I've had the opportunity to meet with him, though minimally. He struck me as wise in a way that wisdom comes through compassion. He fought at the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration to end suffering, this is true. And as a collector of tales, I know he fought Ketsueki Sato once before, but to free himself from the Cottonwood Chamber. But know you Xiao-tep fought at least once before this? He fought and did slay the troll Been Eter.

"If we are to examine his purpose, if we examine the calls he answered to the specific fights, we learn much about Xiao-tep. He fought and killed Been Eter as a matter of survival, this is true. Been Eter came upon him to eat him as Xiao-tep's father had wanted to eat him upon his birth. Therefore, in a sense, Xiao-tep was fighting his father. He was fighting with furious passion and anger and, dare I speculate, with incredible hatred and contempt. And when he struck down the troll, Xiao-tep laid himself in the snow to weep for the loss. This fight was steeped with emotion in every respect.

"Then came his fight with Ketsueki Sato within the Cottonwood Chamber. It could be argued Xiao-tep fought merely to free himself; he was indeed fighting for his freedom and his life. He fought for no other certain purpose. We could argue he fought for the freedom of the imps and his sister Wu Chan Chu and friend Comet Fox, but he did not yet know his sister nor was he yet friends with Comet Fox. They merely happened to be fighting each for their freedom against a common enemy. It could be said, then, Xiao-tep's purpose then was selfish."

At this the students stirred and accused Zom Loa of contempt for their chosen god.

White Lotus raised a hand to quiet his students and when he received silence, he said to Zom Loa, "Carry on with your thoughts, but be careful how you express them."

Zom Loa swallowed hard, nervous, but he continued to speak. "If we then examine the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration, Xiao-tep was called to action because a great evil had entered the world in the form of Yaska Selith the Demon-dog. This, it could be said, was the first time he fought selflessly. It may be true he wished to know more of Fei Li Mi; it may be true he wanted to help his sister Wu Chan Chu whom he had grown to love and help his friend Comet Fox whom he had grown to respect, but I think the strongest argument lies with his selflessness. He foguth at the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration because he felt it the right course of action despite the ramifications, good or bad, that would come unto himself.

"Now," said Zom Loa in a low tone, more thoughtful than before, "Now an old enemy rears its head once more. Ketsueki Sato has been brought forth once more. And I am ashamed to confess to you now, but I feel I must confess this sin against the world, that it was I who raised Ketsueki from his grave this time. As I was once foolish and stole the jewel of Zingtai, so now I was foolish and placed the Ruby Bug that brought life to Yaska Selith within the maw of a wooden idol and gave life to the demon once more. Woe be the shame I feel. Woe be the heart that sinks, beating with difficutly, within my breast. I am sorry, Master White Lotus. And as I sit before you I apologize to the world for this."

White Lotus watched Zom Loa come nearly to tears and felt the sorrow of the Immortal. Hoping to distract Zom Loa from himself he said, "Have you reason for Xiao-tep's choices now?"

Zom Loa wiped tears from his eyes and nodded. "That I have. Xiao-tep is a most beautiful god and wish that I could have grown as he has. Now he refuses the fight, I suspect, because, it must be remembered, he is the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows. I can only suspect he refuses the fight because he has recognized that he cannot persuade sorrow from the world if he cannot first chase it from his own heart. How might a blacksmith make a shoe for a horse if first he cannot know to fire and bend steel? He does not give up the fight against indignity and injustice, nor does he abandon the people that have come to love him. Rather, he fights a battle now none of us can see. He seeks the opposite of sorrow. He seeks the root of love, of healing, of compassion. For if he can find this root within himself, he can return to the world with this root and teach us each to plant it in our own garden. Though he may appear selfish refusing the fight, what he does now is his most selfless act. To fight to save the lives of his loved ones would be the truly selfish course of action for him to take at this moment."

White Lotus and his students considered this. Master White Lotus commanded his student to meditate upon this and then, late in the night, called Zom Loa to his side into privacy in the commissary.

Together White Lotus and Zom Loa sat in the dark, only a small fire made for their warmth.

Said White Lotus, "Zom Loa, you are our guest here. You are welcome here for as long as you need, but I must ask, where will you go from here?"

"Demons haunt me, Master White Lotus," said Zom Loa. "I fear my next destination. If I lie in the wrong bed, I fear they may grip me a final time and drag me to the depths of the Many Hells."

White Lotus said, "You have shown great wisdom and understanding of gods, demons and important tales. Would you accept a permanent place here as a student at the Temple of the Frost Moon?"

"Me? A worshipper of Xiao-tep?" asked Zom Loa, shocked and honored at once.

White Lotus nodded.

"I must confess I've felt safer here than any previous place since my resurrecting Ketsueki," said Zom Loa.

"If you accept," warned White Lotus, "you must give up your garments. You must rid yourself of the grisly skull you wear upon your head. You must take on the uniform of a student. I will have one made to fit your form. And you must give up all matters outside this temple. You cannot fight, much as Xiao-tep now refuses to fight. When one becomes a student at the Temple of the Frosted Moon, it is a dedication for life. You can never leave. And should you leave, you may never return. It is an oath each of us has made in turn, including myself."

Zom Loa considered this. He was uncertain he could make such a dedication for he had never been presented with such an opportunity. He asked, "May I have time to consider this matter?"

"You may," said White Lotus.

That night, while Zom Loa lie on his small mat in the bedchamber with the others students, everyone sleeping but himself, he thought over White Lotus' offer to join the temple. He slept little, but when he arose the next morning, he went straight away to White Lotus and asked to see him.

Zom Loa bowed deeply before White Lotus as he had seen the other students conduct themselves. he said, "I should like to accept your offer, Master White Lotus. I should like to find peace within the Temple of the Frosted Moon. I should like to become your student."

White Lotus smiled and agreed to Zom Loa's acceptance. A message was sent to have a new uniform made for Zom Loa and when it came later that day, Zom Loa packed away all his other articles and donned the new uniform.

And so Zom Loa joined the Temple of the Frosted Moon.


Part 2

Zom Loa was placed as an aide to Ada in the task of cleaning the commissary. He went to this work at first with great enthusiasm, using his tentacles to benefit himself and speed up the process. The duty of caring for the statues of Xiao-tep within the courtyard was then added to his list of duties. He was not allowed into the hall for White Lotus' orations. He soon tired of the work, his body growing stiff and his mind numb with the repetition. Yet he did not complain. When night came to the mountains he would lie awake, rubbing away the pain from his knuckles. Soon, though, he wondered why White Lotus would disallow his presence during the orations. He grew cantankerous, even argumentative with his fellow students. He rarely spoke to White Lotus as doubts of his own worth plagued him.

At last, whilst having lunch with the other students and White Lotus, the Master of the temple asked of Zom Loa for more curry powder. Zom Loa, irritated by own his thoughts, said wickedly, "Does the Master find himself without feet? Does he no longer have hands? Can he, this sage-child, not fend for himself?"

The commissary grew silent with the accusation. Said White Lotus, "It was a simple request, Zom Loa. If you do not wish to show me respect enough to merely bring forth a pinch of curry powder for my noodles, how then should I expect you to respect me in a class?"

"How can I respect a child that uses me to keep his temple clean?"

Ada leaned in towards Zom Loa and whispered in his ear, "Zom Loa, your words are offensive. Do not think to chastise the Master."

"Rise, Zom Loa," White Lotus commanded.

Zom Loa did this.

White Lotus rose and gripped his hands in the shape of a mantis'.

"What is this?" asked Zom Loa. "You wish to fight me?"

"No," answered White Lotus. "You wish to fight me."

White Lotus leaped across the length of a long table and came crashing down on Zom Loa's head with a quick, hard jab to his forehead.

Zom Loa backed away in horror, grimaced with contempt, then raised his own fists against his master.

The other students scattered to the far walls of the commissary. Butik called for Zom Loa to cease his aggression. Ada called upon White Lotus to have mercy.

Zom Loa moved swiftly, bringing his dark tentacles up under White Lotus to grab at him.

Once more White Lotus leaped at Zom Loa, dodging the grasping tentacles and smashing his palm into Zom Loa's nose, breaking it and causing blood to spurt from his nostrils. His fellow students cried in horror at this.

Shock absorbed Zom Loa and he backed away.

White Lotus leaped a third time, yet now Zom Loa caught his master mid-leap and squeezed at him. White Lotus struck downward with pointed fingers to jab intense pain into Zom Loa's tentacles, causing him to cry out and release White Lotus from his grasp.

Zom Loa stumbled backward into a wall. White Lotus ran at him a final time, making his way between the tangle of black tentacles and jumping at the last possible moment, raising his knee to strike Zom Loa under his chin and knock the Blessed One's head into the wall. Zom Loa's field of vision fell into darkness then erupted with thousands of exploding stars. He fell to the floor of the commissary incapable of fighting any further. He gasped for air, blinking to see. Bllod ran over his new white uniform.

White Lotus knelt near him, bending low to bring his mouth to Zom Loa's ear. He spoke so all could hear. Said Master White Lotus, "I do not condone fighting any more than Xiao-tep, but your experiences are far beyond my own, Zom Loa. With your history of demonic dealings, of battles, of tales both told and lived, how could you respect a child such as I? I knew the moment I thought to invite you to join this temple I would have to command respect from you in ways I otherwise would not allow myself with other students. You needed a demonstration of my skills. I apologize to you, your fellow students and to all that shall ever gather within this temple for spilling blood within these walls. But now that you have been allowed this demonstration of my skills, you may join us for the orations and take in my wisdom."

With this White Lotus took his leave from the commissary. He went into the meditation room and prayed to Xiao-tep to forgive him his transgression, to forgive him his violent act. There he remained until late into the night.

Zom Loa was helped by his fellow students. Though Zom Loa had been the receiver of the brutal beating, all felt the might of White Lotus' skill and they each respected him moreso for his abilities.

Zom Loa cleaned himself up and set his nose. That night, as his fellow students slept, he found himself unable to sleep. He rose from his sleeping mat and went into the meditation room where he found White Lotus meditating before a single candle and three sticks of burning incense. Zom Loa, seeing his master, came to kneel at his side before the candle and incense. He spoke, "Master, I am truly sorry for my selfish ways. But the wrath you delivered unto me was needed. I am humbled in your presence and, in truth, in the presence of the all things. Long did I desire to be immortal. I achieved this. Yet I continue to search for things outside of myself. Perhaps I should be more like Xiao-tep. Perhaps I should look inward for my answers instead of choosing to take offense to real or imagined transgressions. I apologize, Master. Please forgive me."

White Lotus breathed deep. He said, "The path of the teacher is to learn and then teach, then learn again. I suspect we've both learned something this day."

Zom Loa said, "I have, Master. I've learned I only wish to know my place in the course of matters and I should not place value upon sole desire."

White Lotus nodded. "Good. Tomorrow you will begin your lessons."

So began Zom Loa's training with White Lotus. His fighting skills increased. His knowledge and understanding of all matter opened up. White Lotus even began to create a curriculum specific to Zom Loa's form, teaching him to strike out with all his tentacles at once, to entangle as a the vines of a climbing rose might. Zom Loa meditated. He cleaned the commissary and took great care of the statues, often speaking with them as though they were Xiao-tep himself. He them began to carry stones and wood with which to make repairs to the temple and snow in buckets to be melted for water. White Lotus began training his students to ignore pain by having them spar and, on occasion, throwing fiery coals at them to either catch, knock away or be pelted with. Indeed, the Master of the Temple of the Frosted Moon even had his students spar atop a bed of hot coals.

Soon all the students, Zom Loa included, found their bodies changing with the efforts of their lessons. Their backs grew strong, their arms wide with muscles. And as each student progressed, White Lotus chose for them a weapon with which to train. He chose a weapon specific to each student's abilities. For Butik, for instance, White Lotus chose for him a five-clawed bagh-nakh. Combined with Butik's strength and slowness to counterattack, White Lotus felt the five-clawed weapon would do the most damage according to Butik's personal style.

For Zom Loa, White Lotus chose the katara and with it he learned to stab, to slash and to strike down in a killing blow. So in love was Zom Loa with his katara that he took on a job in the village below late at night. He slept little as he worked all day at the temple then worked cleaning a public stable for traveling merchants at night. He saved his money, made a few donations to the temple and eventually was able to commission the village smith to make for him two more of the weapons so that he had three in all. He did not fight with the kataras in his hands. Rather, he left his hands free and wielded the three blades with his tentacles.

White Lotus looked upon Zom Loa and, though he worried over his student's love of the weapons as a possible sign for a lust for fighting, he was proud.


Part 3

Ketsueki Sato, Elkhorn and the Eternal Empress' soldiers came to rest outside the city Liu-wal, a grand port city specializing in fishing and shipping. It overlooked the southern oceans and bristled with life at all hours except in the earliest morning when ghosts and uglies are said to roam the land. The soldiers set up camp and prepared an evening meal of rice and the meat of a pig they had previously stolen from a farmer. They threw raw pork to Neboshazzar and offered the same to Ketsueki Sato. As they ate, Elkhorn broke the silence of the night by asking, "Ketsueki Sato - your fury is unmatched. Why is it then you do not return to the Many Hells but instead remain here in the realm of mortals?"

Ketsueki scowled at this as he ate the pork, his portion raw and unprepared in any way. He said, "You know the reason by now more than any."

"I do, but I cannot understand it. You aide the Eternal Empress in her quest, which may be beneficial to your own desires. But as a demon you need not do this. Why, then, do you carry on with us at your side?"

Ketsueki Sato put aside his raw pork and said, "I do not appreciate your questions, Elkhorn. You are a foul, useless man like so many others. But I will entertain your question as a matter of my own grace. And," he added, seeing a wonderment and awe in Elkhorn's eyes for him, "your knowing may be beneficial to me.

"I have returned to this world with the intention of destroying the fish-god Xiao-tep and, if I feel the need, his friends. But that end will come soon enough, perhaps too soon, and then I will no longer have purpose in this or any other world. Think you that I might be allowed to return to the Many Hells? Not after my disgraceful defeat within the Cottonwood Chamber, not after I foretold of my desires to usurp the Yama Kings. I would not be allowed even to stand at the entrance to the Many Hells. Therefore, once my task is complete and Xiao-tep is dead, I will have no place to go. But if I make a friend in the Eternal Empress, then one day perhaps I can rule here where the mortals are weak and the pains they feel are deep. I would never die of hunger of torment whilst living with and ruling over mortals."

"Then you position yourself to take power here," Elkhorn wondered.

"I do," answered the demon Ketsueki. "And when I do, I shall need a general for my armies. I must admit, I've thought of you for that position. Your ways are both wicked and effective. You would do well at my side."

Elkhorn felt greed and love for the demon grow within his heart. He felt within himself a shift of loyalty to the now distant Eternal Empress Sulia Laree and the far nearer and more gruesome demon Ketsueki Sato. "I would follow you," said Elkhorn to Ketsueki Sato.

Ketsueki nodded his pleasure at this. He picked up his raw meat once more and suckled at the remaining droplets of blood there. He said, "Until the hour of our reign comes nigh, Elkhorn, we shall have some fun. We shall hunt gods and the Empress' daughter and leave a wake of destruction and pain wherever our forms flow over the land."

After their meal, a caravan of merchants came upon their campsite. The merchants had heard of the demon Ketsueki and his band of villains, but dared press on to Liu-wal despite the rumors. When they came upon the campsite of wickedness, they were set upon by the demon and his followers. The merchants were slain and the blood offered to Ketsueki Sato who drank deeply. Their goods were plundered and their carts smashed for firewood. But this was not to be the final visit upon the evil encampment. At the next day's dawning same a second visitor.

With incredible anger, with a hatred so foul it left bitterness within his mouth, Sarut the Ladybug flew aimlessly away from his former companions. He wished he was larger so that he could have, in the past, fought Faryad the Exploding Sword when he killed Sarut's family. He wished he was far larger so that he may do grave acts of destruction upon the world. Tiring, he stopped a moment upon a branch of a wild cherry tree and there allowed his anger to force him to tear apart a leaf.

Thought Sarut, "If only I could harm Exploding Sword and his friends. If only I could kill his lovely Yele Prin Prin, I could cause him the anguish I have felt as a result of his terrible fists." Sarut thought on this, thought of ways he could cause damage unto the world. He said to himself, "Perhaps I could make a friend in one willing to cause such destruction."

And then a vile idea did come into his mind. He thought on his former companions' destinations and desires. He turned south, took off from the tree and flew as swiftly as he could.

He came to Ketsueki's encampment as they were readying to leave for the city of Liu-wal. He spied the wooden demon from afar at first, afraid of his horrible form. But his hatred overpowered his fear and soon he lighted upon one of Ketsueki's long tentacle0like vines. The demon swatted him away, missing Sarut entirely. Sarut called out, "Demon! I have come for you! I have brought to you news of a shared enemy."

This small voice intrigued Ketsueki Sato. He raised a vine before his face and said, "Come to me, little one."

Sarut once more landed upon the demon's vine and looked upon him. He shook with fear and hatred. He said, "Know you that at this hour the warriors Stavros and Exploding Sword and Yele Prin Prin seek you out? They come for the city of Liu-wal where they plan to lay in waiting before they spring a trap upon you, your destruction on their minds."

Ketsueki squinted at the small bug. He felt a kinship with the tiny creature and said, "Who are you? What are you called?"

"I am Sarut and once I was friend to Faryad the Exploding Sword. The warriors come for you as we speak!"

Elkhorn said, "What he speaks may be lies."

"I speak no lies!" argued Sarut. "As I have said, once I was friends with Exploding Sword, but our friendship was folly for he was the murderer of my family. I come to you to tell you of their plans so that I may bear witness to their destruction!

"And what of the trickster, Comet Fox? Would you call him a friend, also? If so, perhaps you are here as part of his treachery and guile!" Elkorn accused as he drew nearer.

"I care nothing for the fox-god!" yelled Sarut as loudly as he could. "Besides, he flies north to the Peony Teahouse to find some other friend. He has taken with him the Eternal Empress' daughter."

"The gods be damned!" cursed the demon upon hearing this.

"I must admit," said Elkhorn, "he knows too much to not be in some way connected with our current ventures."

Ketsueki said to Elkhorn, "If what he speaks be true, then it is not a matter to us. We want the girl and the fox-god only. What care should we have for these others?"

Ketsueki said, "True, these others are not our desired fight, but it is a fight just the same. We must revel in their destruction for it shall cause Comet Fox and Xiao-tep all the more agony. We will fight these audacious warriors."

"Then we must first lay our own trap within Liu-wal before these others arrive," suggested Elkhorn. "We've little time. yet, how shall we do this thing?"

Ketsueki considered the wreckage of the merchant caravan and said, "You will dispose of your trappings as soldiers and men of the Eternal Empress. You will don the clothing of the dead merchants and enter the city in their stead, making no more noise than one innocently passing through the town."

Elkhorn found wisdom in this and said, "You are quite wise, my new Lord and Master Ketsueki Sato."

To hear such esteem from Elkhorn pleased Ketsueki and he smiled as he had not smiled in half his lifetime.

"But," added Elkhorn, "what of you, Master? How would you gain entrance into the town? You will be recognized immediately as a demon."

Ketsueki once more thought. He then said, "I will come into the town swathed in the robes and rags of the ill. I shall pose as a leper so that none shall wish to touch or draw near me. If asked why I am in Liu-wal, I shall say I seek an alchemist. And should no alchemist be present within Liu-wal, I shall say I am passing through in search of one."

Both Sarut and Elkhorn smiled wickedly at this plan.

Ketsueki Sato looked upon Sarut and smiled. He said, "Sarut the Ladybug, what a beautifully small creature you are. Yet your true beauty comes from within. I can feel the ill-will within you. I hunger for it yet feel a kinship with it. I could not allow such anger to remain in such beauty. That is the place of the Eternal Empress. If you speak lies to me, it matters not, for I've a remedy for such a thing." At this Ketsueki twisted a bit of another of his vines and bit it. From the vine came forth the tiniest droplet of blood. He presented this to Sarut and said, "Drink, little one. Drink of a demon's blood and discover the power within. Learn why we demons rule all the Many Hells and increase your love for pain. Become anew. be born anew. And with this drop of blood, you shall be made horrible and mighty."

Sarut did this thing. He approached and drank of the blood until the entire droplet was gone. He soon cringed in pain and fell from Ketsueki's vine as he grew. He grew and grew to incredible size until his back arched over the head of Elkhorn. His face distorted and broke free with two wicked mandible claws capable of severing limbs from mortals, Gods and Blessed Ones alike. He was made immortal himself, a creature of demonic origins and powers. And he found that when he belched, he spewed forth a stream of flames like liquid fire. He felt the demon's blood flowing within himself and knew at once he was bound to Ketsueki's demands, but cared not. He growled in his new voice, "Thank you, Master Ketsueki! I shall be able to destroy all who oppose me!"

"He could not possibly join us in Liu-wal," said Elkhorn. "And neither could Neboshazzar."

"No, they cannot," agreed Ketsueki. "But they both feel the pull of my command. Sarut and Neboshazzar, you two shall wait here in hiding amidst the woods and behind the hills, far from this merchant's path. When the hour comes for our battle with Comet Fox's friends, I shall urge you to my side and you shall feel my command within your hearts. Come then and destroy all who stand against us."

Sarut and Neboshazzar both nodded and happily made their way into the nearby woods to hide.

Before they set out, Ketsueki said this to the men, "When the fight begins, kill all who draw near. Show no mercy. Let not a single limb remain attached to our enemies. Do not pull your weapons from out their breast until their breathing has stopped completely. Kill everyone and everything and continue to kill until I command you to stop." This was agreed upon by all.

The soldiers dressed as merchants, stripping themselves of any large weapons and keeping on them only easily hidden daggers. Ketsueki wrapped himself in rags and two robes until he looked like a proper beggar and leper.

The soldiers were allowed first to enter Liu-wal. Some time later came Elkhorn on his own. Lastly came Ketsueki Sato and, upon seeing him, the people in the town avoided him, refusing eye contact and did not see his true form or identity.

The soldiers dressed as merchants went carousing within the nearest tavern, but remained near the door to keep a watchful eye upon the town.

Elkhorn entered the market to browse the goods there and sell a few things he had stolen from the merchants they had killed.

Ketsueki Sato sat in the center of town, near the road, a bowl he had taken from the merchants set before him in askance of alms.

The trap was set. Only the scurrying animals need now come by.


The sixth and final act is nigh! Come back next week for Act VI of "Seven Jade Doors"!

Friday, April 23, 2010

"Seven Jade Doors" -- Act IV


"Seven Jade Doors" is copyright 2010 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.



THE TEMPLE OF THE FROSTED MOON: Wherein the Temple of the Frosted Moon is Founded; Xiao-tep Visits the Heavenly Court of the Seven Jade Doors; Lei-zi Offers Up Her Life for That of Her Son's; Zom Loa is Haunted by Demons


Part 1

Xiao-tep descended slowly from the realm of Taleisin, the clouds caressing his form, the glow of his ankh brightening their whiteness to a golden sheen. Floated he through the clouds and mists of the world. A small cloud came to him playfully, swiping at his tail and giggling at his. Xiao-tep smiled and put out a fin, cupping up the cloud before it wriggled away and escaped. Xiao-tep smiled as his form pierced the bottom of the clouds and caw below him the purple-gray mountains, his eyes searching, seeking for the temple built in his honor. When he had found it, he bent over and flew to it.

Xiao-tep came to the temple as a light snow fell and the winds puffed softly. He saw no one in the courtyard, nor did he see any activity. He decided to come to the wide, large doors and there knock. White Lotus answered his call and opened the doors for him. Entered Xiao-tep into his first temple.

"Welcome, Xiao-tep," said White Lotus as the fish-god floated gracefully in. "It is an honor to have your presence here. I am White Lotus, founder of this, the First Temple of Xiao-tep."

Xiao-tep bowed low and at the waist in a diligent sign of respect.

White Lotus mimicked this gesture, making note in his mind to forever adapt the habit.

"The honor is mine," spoke Xiao-tep as flakes of snow grabbed at his scales and tumbled away with glee.

Stood Xiao-tep and White Lotus within the courtyard as snow fell, the mortal studying the god as the god studied the mortal. Together they smiled.

"Would you have some tea?" asked White Lotus.

"I would love some," answered Xiao-tep.

White Lotus lead Xiao-tep into the commissary where he introduced Butik to Xiao-tep and asked him to retrieve for them some hot tea to warm themselves. As Butik did so, White Lotus stoked the flames of a fire in a kiln. The mortal and god then sat upon great crimson pillows lined with gold filagree and piping. Butik returned with the tea, then left to return to his quarters to allow the fish-god and the temple's founder to speak in privacy.

Xiao-tep sipped at his tea and said, "It is a green tea, a fine one at that. But do I taste a subtle hint of mint and something else?"

"You are correct about the mint," answered White Lotus. "The other ingredient is the smallest pinch of cinnamon. I hope you find it to your liking?"

"I well enjoy it," said Xiao-tep.

"Would you like a tour of the temple?" asked White Lotus.

"I would love one, but I must admit I've a few questions for you about its founding. In addition, I assume you are perhaps in need of my help?"

"In a way," said White Lotus. "I should like you to give our meager temple your blessings. It would not do to have a temple dedicated to a god only to lack the god's sponsorship - or worse, to have the god ignore its existence entirely."

"I suppose there is sense in that," said Xiao-tep. He quaffed another swallow of tea and enjoyed it. "But may I first ask something of you, White Lotus?"

"You may ask anything of me, Xiao-tep."

"The gods are multitudinous and many and each serves a particular purpose for particular people, often at particular times. Why have you come to found a temple in my honor?"

White Lotus thought on this. He said, "Because your purpose has come nigh."

"But what might that purpose be exactly? To you? To anyone? Why have you put forth so much effort in my regard?" Xiao-tep questioned.

White Lotus contemplated Xiao-tep's questions, then said, "You bring hope to others. Wish that I could expound upon it moreso, but that is the best I can offer. Please forgive me, Xiao-tep. I fear while my deeds are great for one young as myself, my intellect at times is yet that of a child. My limitations appear to bind any further answers to your questions."

Xiao-tep sat back on his pillow and thought this over. At last he soothed White Lotus with these words, "It is perhaps not a limitation of your mind, White Lotus, nor of your age. Rather, it may be a limitation upon us all to not have answers to every question. I, for instance, cannot tell you the dealings or meanings, the destinations or the ideas driving the Misty Hands of the Cosmos. I, a god as I sit here before you, knows not everything."

White Lotus saw the wisdom in Xiao-tep's words and nodded.

"Tell me, then, White Lotus, why it is you have taken a particular interest in me. Give me your own tale."

White Lotus told his short life's story to Xiao-tep as the fish-god enjoyed his tea and poured more for the both of them.

"That is amazing," White Lotus said of this.

"What is so amazing?" asked Xiao-tep.

"You poured the tea for me. I should've done this for you. Yet you did so without complaint."

"The pouring and drinking of tea should be for enjoyment, not for status nor servitude. It is my happiness to pour more tea for you, almost as much as it is my happiness to drink this delicious tea."

At this, White Lotus could not help himself but to laugh. Xiao-tep joined him in the laughter and the two felt, for the first time, a small bond growing there between them.

At last, their laughter subsided, White Lotus said, "I've yet much to learn."

"As long as you keep learning," answered Xiao-tep. "Growth and learning is the key to all things."

This struck White Lotus and he said, "Then I truly serve a purpose here as the teacher of the temple?"

Xiao-tep sipped his tea and nodded. "That you do. To teach and learn, to learn and teach. It is the very cycle plants find themselves in every year. Old plants wither and die but fertilize the soil. New life sprouts the next Spring, stronger and better armed."

"Hmmm," said White Lotus. "It would seem I've brought you hear for a blessing and you've already blessed me by finding my purpose for me."

"Could you return the favor? Tell me why you wish to dedicate this temple to me?" asked Xiao-tep.

White Lotus adjusted himself upon his pillow and spoke in a most serious tone. "My family shared in some misery, Xiao-tep. When that misery was most volatile, most present, your tales attracted me so very much. It would seem at times you were born for sorrow, as you are the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows. Your father hated you before knowing you; Loki's treachery; the Spear of Sorrow's thirst for death's despair; the willow branch; Ketsueki's desire to misuse you and, when refuse, his attempt to kill you; your bravery in the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration where my family holds annual vigils to this day; and now the death of Fei Li Mi and your casting of the Spear of Sorrows and the Willow. We mortals have heard this all and some of us can only come to the conclusion you've cast aside these things, cast aside sorrow and despair, because you've found another way. We cannot say this be true, but it gives us hope where hope otherwise does not lie. Hope against pain and grief and anger. Hope against the 100,000 Sorrows. Hope for Beauty."

Xiao-tep felt the weight of White Lotus' words. He felt the weight of those that looked to him and became afraid. He wanted to reject the temple at this moment. Said Xiao-tep, "But, I haven't any answers to these things. I do not know that I have another way. I haven't any magical wisdom against the realities of pain. I'm trying to find something, anything, but the whole world or whoever turns to me to find answers will find I have none. Not yet, anyways. Not yet. And perhaps never."

White Lotus gazed upon his god and said, "That rests well with many. We do not expect you to know everything or answer every prayer. We simply want our prayers heard, not always to be answered. Most of all, you learn as we all must learn and relearn. And as you learn we all grow stronger and better armed."

So the teacher taught his teacher.

Xiao-tep's fear subsided some. He drank down the last of his tea and asked, "May I have that tour now?"

White Lotus took Xiao-tep around the temple and pointed out its various aspects. When Xiao-tep passed by the two statues of koi that were meant to represent him, he patted one on the head and, smiling, said, "These are cute."

The tour complete, Butik joined them in the courtyard. Snow continued to fall slowly, silently, as though going about its own task without regard to anyone or anything else as snow often does. The air had grown colder. The three stood watching the beauty of the nature in its course.

"Will you, too, reject the life of fighting?" asked Xiao-tep.

"Of that I am uncertain," stated White Lotus. "I have fought only once and it ended in an enemy's life." He avoided Butik's eye, though Butik did not gaze upon him upon hearing this.

"It is difficult now for me to brand anyone my enemy," said Xiao-tep. "And the path of peace is beleaguered by another kind of conflict. Know you my friend Comet Fox now needs the help of others to save a life? But should I aid him, I may have to fight. And should I fight, I may have to take a life. No, it is not an easy path, White Lotus. It is one of severe internal conflict. It is as though the demons of the Many Hells have taken residence within me."

White Lotus listened and feared a life without fighting. He asked, "And if, through inaction, evil reigns? And if, through inaction, this life Comet Fox is attempting to save dies? And if, through inaction, sorrow is caused?"

Xiao-tep sighed. "That is a thought that remains with me throughout meditations, throughout both night and day. I cannot halt the ill will of all, I can only cease my own. And to kill again is one action I cannot do."

White Lotus looked upon the fish-god and saw in him both a sage and a small creature, a lord and a slave - this caused feelings of further kinship within White Lotus for Xiao-tep.

Xiao-tep moved the conversation elsewhere. "Tell me," he said, "What would you call this temple?"

"The First Temple of Xiao-tep, of course," answered White Lotus.

Xiao-tep thought on this, then shook his head. "I do not care for that. The 'first' is too hopeful, perhaps even a little pretentious. And though I appreciate the temple's dedication to me, I'm uncertain I care to have my name used."

"Are you saying you do not wish us to use your name? Do you not give us your blessings?" asked White Lotus, fearful that all his work on teh temple was for naught.

"I plan to bless this temple," explained Xiao-tep, "but I think a different name would better suit the place. Why not, if you're to name it after anyone, name it after its founder?"

"The Temple of White Lotus," Butik tried the name. "It's a pretty name."

White Lotus shook his head. "Whatever wisdom is planted and grows here shall remain long after I'm gone. And what should happen when I pass on? If someone were to take over the temple they would have the troubles of renaming it for I will no longer be here. No, my name will never do. This temple should not be about me, but rather the teachings within these walls."

The three remained in silent contemplation for a while. Xiao-tep watched the snow, eyed the mountains outside the wall, watched the moon oncoming. he said, "Why not name it for its place? The moon, the mountain, the stones used to build the temple were all here before the temple. Why not honor them in the naming?"

White Lotus liked this thought. He rolled over many names in his mind. At last he said, "The Temple of the Frosted Moon. How does that sound?"

"It certainly is frosty here," Butik agreed.

"I'm certain the moon and the winds would be happy," said Xiao-tep.

"The Temple of the Frosted Moon it is, then," said White Lotus.

At this Xiao-tep said, "I do hereby bless this ground, this mountain, the Four Winds, the falling snows and the Temple of the Frosted Moon. May wisdom and well-being be cultivated here."

White Lotus bowed low and at the waist. Butik mimicked him. Said White Lotus, "Thank you, Xiao-tep."

"Thank you for the honor, White Lotus. Teach well."

Xiao-tep lifted into the air.

White Lotus called, "You'll forever be welcomed here!"

Xiao-tep smiled and waved before his form entered the clouds overhead.

Within the days to follow, upon hearing of Xiao-tep's blessing the temple, more students came counting five in all, including one woman.

"It is a beginning," White Lotus said to Butik. "I shall name you Butik the Stoker. It shall be your job, seeing as you are affected most by the cold, to remain inside and tend to the fires in the different buildings - within the sleeping quarters at night, the commissary and classes at day. These duties are necessary as you'll be watching over the well-being of your fellow students. Take to it with seriousness. These duties will also be in addition to your own studies."

Butik bowed low and said, "Thank you, Master White Lotus."


Part 2

"What say you? How is it that Xiao-tep's not coming?" Freyr raged at Lie-zi.

"There's no reason to yell at the goddess," said Odr.

"Quiet!" demanded Freyr.

The three gods stood outside the Courtyard of Seven Jade Doors. Clouds roiled about them and flowers eternally bloomed.

Said Lei-zi, "He was called by a follower to his side. He went to aid the mortal and said he would be here as quickly as possible, should he yet be allowed within the courtyard for your council."

"Damn that Xiao-tep!" Freyr cursed.

"Do not damn another god," warned Odr. "Do not foul the Many Heavens with arbitrary bannings and hatred."

"Silence yourself," said Freyr to Odr, "or you'll next be damned."

Odr fell silent.

Hapi, who had been eavesdropping nearby, drew nearer. He said, "The fish-god, my bastard son, refused you, Freyr. He must be punished for this. Not in all the course of time, not since all thing were first created by the Misty Hands of the Cosmos, never has the council of the Many Gods within the Heavenly Court of the Seven Jade Doors been refused - nor must it be tolerated. Seek out Xiao-tep, send forth servants and vassals, assassins and swords of Heavenly Doom to punish my son. My permission, not that it would be needed, is granted for this venture."

Freyr looked upon Hapi's wicked smile. He then asked Odr, "What shall we do? Never has this happened, as Hapi has said. No mortal sage nor fellow god has refused the Heavenly Court of the Seven Jade Doors."

Odr, ever the meter of Heavenly Dealings, considered all he had heard. He said, "We must first discover Xiao-tep's purpose. We must ask of ourselves, 'Why has this god chosen to be the first to have refused the council of the Heavenly Courtyard?' And his reasoning, so says his mother, whom we may assume is an authority - authoritative enough the rest of us had sent her on the mission to retrieve Xiao-tep - states Xiao-tep has gone to the side of a mortal. We do not yet know the condition of this mortal, but it tells us the story of Xiao-tep's state. He is one dedicated to mortals and to followers. It shows a kindness that must be considered. We should not be too harsh toward him in light of this. Kindness is a respectable virtue, after all."

"My son did not say he would not come," added Lei-zi, "merely that he would first attend to the mortal's needs before coming to the Heavenly Court of Seven Jade Doors."

Freyr listened and, though contempt for Xiao-tep still lingered, understood the wisdom of Odr. He said, "We will remain waiting. Our invitation to Xiao-tep stands open. When he comes nigh, we will meet with him."

This angered Hapi. He said, "Xiao-tep must be punished!"

Freyr nodded agreement. "And he will be. His impudence will be weighed when he stands before us all in full measure."

Freyr departed the Many Heavens to tend to the needs of his people, leaving Odr, Lei-zi and Hapi together.

Said Lei-zi to Hapi, "Once was a time you would lie with me in expressions of love. Why must you only show hatred now? Why can you not also love your son?"

Hapi grimaced. He huffed, jiggling his great rotund belly with disgust. He said, "Because my wishes have been disobeyed and the laws of the Many Heavens rolled through so much muck."

At this, Hapi also took his leave for the lands of his people, leaving Lei-zi and Odr.

"Xiao-tep sounds a virtuous god," soothed Odr.

Lei-zi smiled sweetly, "Pride swells within for him."

"I will do what I can to assure his weight is measured fairly," said Odr.

Lei-zi at first gave no response, then said, "I wish him only to be what he must be and be judged as such. But I know the council of the Many Gods is not always fair. If my son is to die without true measure first being applied, I am prepared to take my own life as an act of rebellion against the entirety of the Many Heavens."

"That would not do," gasped Odr.

"Nor would the unfair demise of Xiao-tep," answered Lei-zi.

Xiao-tep returned briefly to Taleisin. There he found the millions of butterflies taking refuge and spoke with them assuring their safety. He then visited with Aglina, asking of her well-being. He stayed long enough on Taleisin only to wave and say his hellos to Etain, Kalavata and Zing-tai. As Etain crested the far horizon to bring forth a new dawn, Xiao-tep took his leave.

He ascended slowly from the realm of Taleisin, the clouds spiraling away below him, the glow of his ankh growing dim against the brightness of the Many Heavens. As he broke the mists to come to rest within the realm of the Many Gods, he was greeted by gasps, a few cries and many whispers. He nodded and bowed respectfully to everyone.

Lei-zi was near enough to witness her son's ascension into the Many HEavens and she came to him, Odr following closely.

"Hello, mother," smiled Xiao-tep.

"Hello, son. How was your meeting with the mortal?"

"He has established a temple in my honor. I gave him my full blessings."

Lei-zi was happy to hear this and said so. She then introduced Xiao-tep and Odr to one another.

"It is fine to meet you," Xiao-tep bowed.

Odr looked upon the fish god with gaped mouth. Said he in honest confession, "Never have I seen a more beautiful god."

"That is most kind of you to say," said Xiao-tep, embarrassed.

Word was quickly sent that Xiao-tep was within the Many Heavens and ready to meet with the Many Gods. Freyr came quickly, greeting Xiao-tep outside the Heavenly Court of Seven Jade Doors.

"We've heard much of you," said Freyr rather noncommittally.

"It is an honor to be here," answered Xiao-tep.

The Many Gods first entered the Heavenly Court, leaving Xiao-tep, Lei-zi and Odr outside as Freyr made a speech to prepare the gods for their business of judging Xiao-tep. Then Freyr returned and said, "Follow me inside, if you can pass through the mist, Xiao-tep."

"Is my father here?" Xiao-tep wondered.

Freyr frowned. "I've not yet seen him. He has a tendency to be late at such gatherings. Now, no more questions. You are to be questioned, not to ask questions. Follow me."

Xiao-tep entered the clouds surrounding the mystic Heavenly Courtyard, following Freyr, with his mother at his side and Odr directly behind him. Xiao-tep could see nothing but the clouds. It was as if the Many Heavens fell away beneath him and he was once more descending through the clouds to meet with White Lotus at the Temple of the Frosted Moon. But Xiao-tep carried on his untoward journey through the clouds and soon came to a large door made of green jade. Freyr stood by the door, waiting. He frowned a little as he saw Xiao-tep break through the clouds, then opened the door and lead them in to the courtyard.

Xiao-tep was taking aback by the number of gods and goddesses present in the courtyard. Gods both old and new, beautiful and ugly; gods with few followers and gods with a network of temples - it seemed to Xiao-tep every god and goddess in to have ever or would ever exist had filled the outside rim of the courtyard, surrounding its center in a circled crowd.

"Xiao-tep," said Freyr, "stand in the center of the courtyard."

Xiao-tep did so.

Lei-zi and Odr found a place to stand near the door they had come through.

Freyr came before Xiao-tep. He looked upon the gathered gods and said, "We've come together to meet with this god, to find his full weight and measure." He looked at Stork the Keeper of Records and said, "Make record of this hour for we determine the fate of the god called Xiao-tep."

Stork nodded and produced a new slab of slate to record the memory of Xiao-tep's tale.

"At this hour, we will put to Xiao-tep our questions. He will answer them each in turn and, should he refuse, his corpse shall be dragged from this courtyard. If he complies and, should we deem him unworthy of the Many Heavens, we will reserve the right to drag his corpse from this courtyard."

While this came as a surprise to Xiao-tep, he gave no reaction. Said he to himself, "It is their way."

"Should we judge Xiao-tep and find him fit to live, yet unworthy to maintain visitations to the Many Heavens," continued Freyr, "he shall be banished from here for all time much in the same fashion we have banished Loki and the few others."

The Many Gods viciously whispered as Freyr spoke.

"And what if we judge him worthy in all ways?" asked Odr.

Freyr scowled at Odr and said, "Then we will decide his fate at that time." He then turned to Xiao-tep and asked, "Do you understand these things?"

Xiao-tep nodded.

"And you would answer our questions openly and without refute? Lest you be mercilessly put down here within the courtyard?"

Xiao-tep nodded once more.

"Then let us begin."

The Many Gods rumbled in agreement.

"How came you to be?" asked Freyr.

"I was born of the love between Lei-zi, Goddess of Thunder and Lightning, and of Hapi, God of the River Nile."

"You say love. Do these two truly love one another?" asked Freyr.

Xiao-tep looked to his mother. He said, "I believe my mother once loved my father, and perhaps he in turn loved her. Now, however, due to my father's hatred of his son, he appears to have cast her aside."

"Hapi has many children, as have we all. This son you speak of, the son that Hapi so hates, would that son be you?"

Xiao-tep nodded, saying, "Of course."

Then Hapi entered the Heavenly Court of Seven Jade Doors. he did so with effort to conceal his arrival, but failed. Whispers breeze over the lips of the gods gathered. Seeing he was found out, Hapi moved towards the center's edge and sat next to sit beside Sedna upon a marble bench.

Freyr allowed this moment, then returned to his questioning of Xiao-tep. He asked next, "Why would a god, capable of any small thing, hate his son?"

"It is because he feared reciprocity against him for having fathered a new god," explained Xiao-tep.

"Is that true?" Freyr asked Hapi.

Hapi shifted his weight uncomfortably and said, "It is, to a degree. But if you would allow me to explain-"

"I'll not allow it," said Freyr. "Not out of any contempt for you, Hapi, but because this hour is not for your judgment. Rather, it is for the judgment of your son."

Hapi nodded, relieved to hear this.

"Xiao-tep," said Freyr. "Did your father take any actions against your birth?"

Xiao-tep nodded. "he demanded of my mother to bring me to him upon my birth. He intended to eat me alive."

"Hapi, then, is absolved of all accusations of wrongdoings. Yet, here we are, Xiao-tep, you and I. Now we stand together within the Heavenly Courtyard. How is this when Hapi had meant to eat you?"

"We've gone over this!" decried Qailertetang.

"We have," said Freyr, "but in the interest of fairness, Xiao-tep should be allowed to tell the story himself. Please answer the question, Xiao-tep."

"My mother asked of a fisherman to bring to her a large fish. She placed this fish in my stead. Hapi thought he had eaten his son. He had not and I was allowed to grow and live in secrecy until Hapi discovered the truth. he hunted me at first. Since our initial meeting, my father and I have had no further contact."

"Should what you tell us be true," Freyr circled Xiao-tep, then came to stand before Lei-si standing with Odr, "then your mother is the true villain here. Perhaps we should quarter her for her treachery and lies!"

"She was protecting her son!" cried Xiao-tep in defense.

Freyr turned on Xiao-tep. "You deign to yell at another god within the Heavenly Courtyard?"

"Forgive me my trespass," said Xiao-tep, "but a mother can never be judged immoral in her quest to provide life to her children."

Freyr laughed at this. "How very noble and generous of you. But should a mother sell herself to feed her child she is no less of a whore."

Xiao-tep gave no reply. He was merely content he had turned Freyr's anger away from his mother.

Freyr looked to the crowded gods and asked, "Has anyone any questions for this fish-god?"

Mictlantecuhtli raised a hand and Freyr recognized him. Asked Mictlantecuhtli, "Tell me, what damages have you caused in the world, Xiao-tep?"

Xiao-tep answered without delay, "I have taken quite a few lives, starting with troll Been Eter and ending with the Blessed One Fei Li Mi."

"And what have you done to heal the world?" asked Makemake.

"I can only hope my fighting has lead to the saving of some lives while admittedly ending others. I have also recently cast of the trappings of the fighting life, destroyed my Spear of Sorrows and refuse any path by a peaceful one," said Xiao-tep.

"You have killed, yet you preach not to kill? Are you a treacherous god?" asked Ulanji. "How are we to know he's not a Trickster god?"

"We would catch him committing his treachery," said Freyr, "as we did with Loki."

"We did not discover the truth of Loki's motives until long after much damage had been done!" cried out Laran.

"We will deal with Xiao-tep's treachery as it comes," Freyr calmed the gods, the realized his words and looked to Xiao-tep to say, "should he prove treacherous."

Endovelicus stood from where he was seated and asked, "Xiao-tep, what followers do you have? Who can you claim as your people?"

"I do not know that I can claim many," admitted Xiao-tep, "though I have just come from the side of White Lotus and his friend Butik who have recently built a temple in my honor."

This caused the gods to rumble with emotion.

"He religion has rooted! He is a threat!" one goddess cried out.

"His people will be devastated if you kill him in the courtyard upon this day! We cannot touch him!" cried out another.

Freyr raised his hand to call for general calm. When the gathered gods had grown quiet, he asked of them, "I believe we have heard more than enough from this fish-god. Any further questions would only enlighten us to his details that would not persuade our opinions one way or another. What say you, fellows and ladies? What action shall we take against Xiao-tep?"

Not one of the Many Gods wished to speak one way or another, for or against Xiao-tep. They both feared and were in awe of him. It was Chi You who at last stood from his three-legged seat and proclaimed, "I find this new god, this Xiao-tep, in no way a threat. I say we allow him to live."

It was then that Garuda ventured forth, coming as a inquisitively, to Xiao-tep's side. He lifted Xiao-tep's fins, sniffed at him, poked at his scales. Garuda then straightened his back and looked Xiao-tep in the eye. He wings ruffled a little. He then proclaimed, "I like this one! Let him live." Then Garuda returned to the crowded gods.

Tenjin stood to say, "With change comes conflict and though we may assume much of the conflict will be at the feet - or rather fins - of Xiao-tep and never affect the rest of us, the conflict yet may still affect us. If we allow Xiao-tep his life, which I concur with, we must at least banish him and his coming troubles from the Many Heavens."

Hapi spoke as he rose, "Freyr, I beg of you, allow me my initial desire. Kill the fish-god and I will do away with all traces of him by consuming his flesh to the last."

Freyr rubbed his chin with thought. He asked Odr, the wisest of even the wise gods, "How might you cast your voice, Odr?"

Odr stood reluctantly but respectfully. He said, "I see no harm coming onto the Many Heavens from Xiao-tep. His life has proven him noble. I say he lives and allow him full access to the Many Heavens."

Freyr turned to Xiao-tep. He said, "Fortune smiles upon you this day, Xiao-tep. While your fate remains uncertain, your life is to be spared. Leave us now and do not return until you hear from the Many Heavens again. And do not run from our call, nor hide form our hounds. We would send out riders of war to come for you should the need arise."

"I have postponed our meeting," Xiao-tep admitted, "but neither have I run nor hidden. I plan on remaining on Taleisin. I'll await your call."

Xiao-tep was given leave of the Heavenly Court of Seven Jade Doors and the Many Gods convened over his fate. They escorted Lei-zi from the Heavenly Courtyard, fearing her defensive over her son from interfering with their thoughts.

Many days later, Freyr came to Lei-zi and said, "Lei-zi, many of the gods are angry with Xiao-tep. They fear what he represents; they fear he may take away followers. Many would be appeased if there were not so many of us gods and goddesses. Talk of his demise remains, including talk of rogue assassination attempts. Xiao-tep's life may be in danger. While I cannot argue I've not been harsh against your son, I do not wish rogue agents of rebellious gods to be allowed, so I suggested Xiao-tep be brought here to join us in the Many Heavens - in part for his own protection. Yet there are some gods whose fear remains. They're even asking, should Xiao-tep live, another god be slain in his stead. Loki's name has come up more than once, but that would require great effort for Loki is a formid-"

Lei-zi interrupted Freyr, "They would have no need to put forth any effort if they merely accepted my son."

"Agreed," Freyr said.

"Would any god suffice?" asked Lei-zi.

"I suppose, though there is a special quality in Loki the others desire gone from the world."

"Would a goddess suffice?" asked Lei-zi.

Freyr squinted at her. "What do you suggest, Lei-zi?"

"You know well."

Freyr breathed deep. "I suppose if you offered your life for Xiao-tep's, that would satisfy many's thirst for a death."

"Then it is so offered," said Lei-zi. "Shall I take news of your offer to Xiao-tep to join the Many Heavens?"

"Yes," said Freyr and he outlined the plan proposed for Xiao-tep.

Lei-zi then returned to Taleisin to deliver the message.

"The gods have fully invited you to join them in the Many Heavens," Lei-zi told her son. "They wish to build for you your own chamber there. They will call it The Chamber of Beauty."

"This wonderful news!" exclaimed Xiao-tep. "I have been accepted into the Many Heavens and with the endorsement I can perhaps aid more people in their hours of weakness and with their sorrows."

"Perhaps," lamented Lei-zi.

Noting his mother's tone, Xiao-tep asked, "You would not be pleased by my presence within the Many Heavens?"

"Of course I would, but I fear the motives of the Many Gods are not ideal. They desire you nearby so they may watch over you," she explained her worries.

"Oh," said Xiao-tep. "They do not accept me, rather they wish to spy on me?"


Xiao-tep thought on this, then said, "It is not a matter. I'll go and I'll do good if I am allowed. Will I be allowed to return to Taleisin to keep up its state?"

Lei-zi shook her head, "Of that, I am uncertain. They would not allow me to overhear their discussions for fear I may taint objectivity with my maternal bias."

"Oh," said Xiao-tep. "They would surely allow me to return to Taleisin, though. And to White Lotus' side should he call upon me once more."

Again Lei-zi shook her head. "This I cannot say. There are times when I find it difficult to discover the motives of my own desires, Xiao-tep. I certainly cannot assume to know the desires of all the gods at once."

"Of course," said Xiao-tep. "How did father take this news?"

"Not very well. He stormed from the Many Heavens a day ago, before the Many Gods came to me to have me deliver this message to you."

"He most likely finds this decision as another afront," said Xiao-tep.

Lei-zi gave no answer.

"What is the matter, mother?" asked Xiao-tep.

"These are trying times, Xiao-tep. They wear on me so," was all she gave.

"Matters will improve, mother," consoled Xiao-tep.

"One can only hope," said lei-zi. "You should prepare your ascension into the Many Heavens. I'll let you be for now."

"Thank you, mother." Xiao-tep watched his mother rise high overhead, disappearing into the Many Heavens, wondering why she appeared so troubled by the message she had just delivered.


Part 3

Zom Loa the Black Tentacle had been on the run since the day he had resurrected Ketsueki Sato in his new form. Each night came to him with some measure of ugliness and fear; each night came to him with a new horrid dream; dreams wherein demons whipped and maimed him; dreams wherein he was made a slave to evil; dreams wherein his actions caused the deaths and pain of others. And more than once did the same demon's voice speak to him in his dream. Never did he see a face. Never did he see a form. Always was he returned to the land of the lighted night sky, its dancing colors and, beyond, sparkling jeweled stars. He would stand amidst a field of stars and dancing colors as the demon spoke to him, floating as though flying upon the wing of Zingtai.

"Come to me," spoke the demon.

"Who are you?" Zom Loa asked in fear, the sky slipping from beneath him. He reached out to grasp at a star to cease his fall, but his fear of tearing Zingtai's wing stopped him short and sent his hand running. He stood amidst a field of stars once again.

"I would not give you that power over me," said the demonic voice.

Zom Loa then knew, as one knows things within a dream that otherwise cannot be known. Zom Loa knew the demon knew his name. "I'll not let you have me!" cried Zom Loa and his cry echoed through all time.

Zom Loa, knowing this a dream, searched for knowledge as he struggled against unseen forces. Knowledge did come to him and, once obtained, he wished he had not sought it; he wished he could un-known that which was known. His eyes turned to blood and streamed down his face. His brain caught fire. His tongue was as lead and immovable. His breath became choked. Zom Loa, with his new knowledge, was dying under its weight. As the stars became darkness and Zom Loa felt death's creep, the demon released him from his end, but kept him whole with his knowledge.

Said Zom Loa of what he now knew, "You are not but one demon, but all of them. You are not any chamber servant, but the Yama Kings and Rulers of All the Hells."

Zom Loa clapped his hands to his ears and armies of demons laughed riotously at him.

"If only it were that simple, though it is not far from the truth," said the voice.

Zom Loa let his hands fall to his sides. He said, "You once trained one called Motharus."

"That, also, is true. We are both here," said the voice.

"Now you want something of me," Zom Loa realized with grave horror. Again, without the true knowledge of having seen or experienced the matter, Zom Loa felt the demon smile at him.

"Of course I do, Demon Father."

"I do not father demons!" screamed Zom Loa. Again the sky slipped from under him and he tumbled through darkness.

The demon returned him upright and said, "Do not yell at your betters. You took away the night's beauty. You resurrected Ketsueki Sato. You spoke with the demon to the north. So much pain, so much agony, so much fear has been introduced into the world because of your desires."

The demon cackled.

Zom Loa wept.

"Remember Tarn?" asked the demon. "Your first friend? The first one to show you kindness on your quest for immortality? Well do you remember the walrus that delivered you onto the Devourer despite the danger of the journey? He remained for you, waiting, until he died. Now you wear his skull in some mock ceremonial honor. He died for you, Zom Loa! Do you feel the pain he felt when he realized he was going to die, never to see you again? Never to see you fulfill your desires?"

Zom Loa fell once more, crying blood, sobbing as a child.

Zom Loa was made to stand. Said the demon, "Feel that pain. Find it in your heart. Find the fire of burning anger. Flesh it out and manifest it!"

Zom Loa felt the fire, touched the raging anger within himself for himself. He reached out and from his hands came forth a bursting ball of flame that flew across the night sky of his dream.

The world around him went black and, just before waking, the demon's voice gave him these last words to remember: "Use it well, Demon Father, to destroy your son."

Zom Loa awoke, freezing. Snows had come to his small cave where he had taken residency as a hermit. He knew of a village on the far side of the mountain and wished to be there, to find warm food and hot fires. Hot fires especially called to him.

Black tentacles whipped out, pulling him across the frozen mountain as he climbed higher and higher. As he crested the peak, he looked to the east and there found a wondrous sight. Below him was the walls of the Temple of the Frosted Moon and the black smoke of a warm fire.

Zom Loa descended the mountain. He eyed the temple as he drew nearer. He came to the doors as the storm picked up. He knocked upon them but no answer came. He cried out and finally one of White Lotus' student answered him. She opened the doors and let him in.

Said she, "Welcome to the Temple of the Frosted Moon. Do you come to join us in our studies?"

"I come seeking refuge from the coming storm," explained Zom Loa.

"Are you a Blessed One?" she asked.

"I am," said Zom Loa speaking of his immortality.

"We would be happy to have you as our guest," the young student bowed low and at the waist. As they walked through the courtyard, Zom Loa eyed the statues of a koi fish. He asked, "This is a temple?"

"It is," answered teh student.

"Which god do you worship?"

"Xiao-tep the Fish-god of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty."

Zom Loa smiled a little at this. "Good for him," he said.

"Come this way into the commisarry, we are all having our meal now and you will be able to meet with Master White Lotus."

"I should like that," Zom Loa said as he followed the young student.


Thus ends ACT IV of Seven Jade Doors! I hope you're enjoying it so far!!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Gate

I'm taking this week off from "Seven Jade Doors" as I don't want the material to become stale and a forced effort for me. So I'm taking a break.

In lieu of Act IV, here's a trailer for the classic 1987 horror film, The Gate.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Seven Jade Doors" -- Act III


"Seven Jade Doors" is copyright 2010 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.



RISE OF THE WHITE LOTUS: Wherein White Lotus Learns of the Spring Adoration and the Many Gods; Chinyere is Lost; White Lotus Takes on Two New Masters; A Duel in Moonflower Village; White Lotus Establishes the First Temple Dedicated to Xiao-tep


Part 1

Every spring, after the heavy storms subsided and the sun came forth to warm the lands, the people of the Kingdom of Aniabas would step from their homes, their faces outstretched towards the sun, gather the last of their foodstuffs and walk barefoot or - for those young and strong enough in body - to crawl upon their knees towards the Plain of Adoration where they would erect shrines of carefully balanced stones and lay out their offerings. They adorned some shrines with the first flowers to bloom and they prayed at each shrine to their personal gods. Even King Aniabas, now old and gray with not only children but a grandchild, would make the trek upon his knees and in full armor to the plain. Often he was joined by his faithful soldiers.

Of the names spoken during prayer, the names most often softly called were Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish, Balori the Towering Elephant and Gogi the Grasshopper for it was these three that that made the greatest efforts during the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. Xiao-tep and his sister Wu Chan Chu had lead the forces of good against the evil that had staked claim to the plain. Balori, after the battle, had returned to Taleisin to restore the stars into the nighttime sky. And Gogi the Grasshopper, the smallest creature present for the battle, little Gogi had been the one to tpple the demon-dog Yaska Selith. The people did not much pray to him, rather they prayed for him to have a good and blessed life for their lives were now peaceful because of his efforts.

White Lotus was a child of five years when the first such pilgrimage took place, the Spring after the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. Son to Madara and Fedir, White Lotus could not understand the new rite. He made the pilgrimage silently most of the way, but feeling his feet uncomfortable without his hauraches and much too warm in the noonday sun, he eventually complained to his father as they stacked stones to make a shrine.

"Shut your mouth, boy," said Fedir. "And respect the gods."

"He does not know," said mother Madara.

"Then he will learn," answered Fedir. "But for now, keep quiet and pray."

White Lotus did as he was told and when they returned to their home and as they ate a meager meal of bread and curd, father Fedir told his son the tale of the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration. White Lotus listened attentively as his father told him of the fury of Stavros the Red, of the cunning of Comet Fox, of the might of Wu Chan Chu. They boy's eyes grew wide with wonder and fear at the devilry of Yaska Selith, Renorio and Raiju Yu. He marveled at the heroism of their own king. Most of all, he cried out for joy when he was told of Gogi's bravery. And of all those that battled that day, the one that captured White Lotus' soul was the fish that could fight and fly, the god called Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty.

Two Springs later, when White Lotus was seven, his family met with a clergyman in dark blue silk robes that had heard of the rite of Spring within the Kingdom of Aniabas and traveled to witness and partake in the act. White Lotus soon forgot the man's name and asked his father who he was.

"He is a priest," explained Fedir. "His name is Je."

"What is a priest?" asked White Lotus.

"A priest studies the wisdom handed down by the gods and gives council to mortals," said his father.

White Lotus thought on Priest Je a long time and wished that he too could study the wisdom of the gods. Before the following Spring and his own eighth year, White Lotus declared to his family that he would like to become a priest.

"It is a fine ambition," encouraged his mother.

His family was soon blessed with a little sister for White Lotus named Chinyere and together they grew, White Lotus the protector and Chinyere the wild, adventurous child. While White Lotus was learning to read and studied from books, Chinyere showed little interest in reading and instead enjoyed wandering off. Many was the time that White Lotus' little sister would come up missing and the family would panic until she was found imagining some grand adventure at sea or in battle while walking the length of a ditch or playing in a creak.

Of their many shared interests, White Lotus and Chinyere were most passionate about tales and especially about tales of heroes and gods. It was often that White Lotus would remain awake late into the night reading books to his sister and the two discussing their own planned adventures.

When White Lotus was eight, Priest Je returned for the Spring Adoration - as the ritual pilgrimage had come to be known. The priest met once more with White Lotus and his family. As White Lotus had the ambition to be a priest himself, Madara invited the priest to stay with them and eat of their food. Priest Je happily accepted and in returned blessed the family's meager home and their futures. While at supper, White Lotus announced to Priest Je that he should like to become a holy man.

"It is a fine ambition," said Priest Je, "but a difficult path. One must endure intense suffering and counsel others in their suffering while suffering themselves. Many's the night that I travel hungry and bored, lonely and lost. The path of studying the gods is not a glamorous one."

At this, White Lotus was dismayed. He frowned, poked at his food and asked, "Then why do you follow this path?"

"It is not a glamorous path, as I've said," explained Priest Je, "but it can be a fulfilling one. When others are suffering, often I am called upon to ease their pain. Sometimes I fail, but many is the time I succeed and it is in this success, this shared bliss between myself and those I aid, that makes all the difficulties of priesthood worthwhile.

"Each person must weigh the values and shortcomings of priesthood with their own scales. I have met many who have done this and been discouraged or have turned away from the path. It is, plainly put, a difficult life."

White Lotus nodded with understanding. He silently agreed that helping others was a cherished duty and made up his mind then he would not falter on his path. He then asked of Priest Je, "Of the Many Wisdoms, which god is it that you follow?"

"I listen to them all," said Priest Je. "I follow the correct one depending upon my current situation."

This was an incredible revelation for White Lotus. Though he studied the tales of the Many Gods, the one god he enjoyed studying most was Xiao-tep. He said, "I've an affinity for the fish-god."

"Oh, do you now?" Priest Je smiled. "How curious, very curious."

"What can be so curious about the boy's interest in Xiao-tep?" asked Fedir.

Priest Je looked to the father and said, "Of the children I meet in my travels, most show an affinity for Wu Chan Chu or Thor or the antics of Coyote or Comet Fox. It is rare to find a child interested in such a thought-provoking god as Xiao-tep. Additionally, Xiao-tep is not an Ascended God. He is not largely accepted, let alone known, within the circles of Heavenly Knowledge. He is oft times regarded as an abomination against the Heavens."

"Why is that?" asked White Lotus defensively.

"He has never been allowed into the Courtyard of the Seven Jade Doors. As such, he is not a member of the Heavenly Council of Gods and is not recognized as a True God. He is rather a Rogue God, the un-sponsored son of two other gods. He is often seen in no greater light than a Blessed One - and, as we know, a Blessed One may be good or evil."

This further discouraged White Lotus.

Priest Je sat back upon the pillow he had been provided as a seat. He considered White Lotus and said, "This may be a passing interest, your affinity for gods. Mayhaps you'll instead become a learned scholar. But if, in a year's time, you should still show interest in priesthood when I return for the next Spring Adoration, I shall take you as my pupil."

This made White Lotus happy and the family ate in peace.

White Lotus studied diligently on the tales of gods for the next year. Yet, when the following Spring Adoration came, Priest Je did not appear from the West as he had the year previous. After the day's praying, White Lotus remained by the shrine his family had built. No urging could persuade him home. As Kalavata flew overhead that night, White Lotus crossed his legs and sat before the shrine, softly reciting the tale of the Battle Upon the Plain of Adoration to himself. So he sat for three days. When his mother came to make certain he was well, White Lotus said, "I will not leave this spot until Priest Je comes for me."

White Lotus did not eat, nor did he drink for ninety-eight days, remaining seated and meditating on the gods and praying Priest Je would come to him. On the ninety-ninth day, White Lotus determined Priest Je was not coming for him, that the priest may be hurt or dead or showed no real interest in White Lotus. White Lotus then determined that he should seek out Priest Je. He rose from his seated position and walked home to announce his leave-taking.

"You are very young," said Fedir. "This world would eat you as a demon might. You cannot leave."

"But I must," explained White Lotus in a calm manner.

"You will remain home," ordered his mother.

This angered White Lotus. He screamed, "I want to leave!"

His father punished him for yelling at his mother by making him crouch in the corner, his many books resting on his upward-turned palms. "Now hold them there," ordered Fedir. "And should the books fall below the level of your shoulders, I will strike you with this cherry branch."

Every time the books descended below White Lotus' shoulder, his father would keep his promise and whip the boy with a cherry branch across the back and bottom. And so White Lotus remained this way for three days. His father asked him again, "Do you wish to leave your home?"

Said White Lotus, "Yes, I but I will not do so in honor of your wishes."

Thus ended White Lotus' punishment.

A day later, while White Lotus was helping his mother clean the home and Fedir was selling goods in the local market, a neighbor came into their home screaming, "She's dead! Your daughter Chinyere is dead!"

Madara ran from the home, following the neighbor. White Lotus ran to the market to retrieve his father. Together, the family learned the neighbor's words were true for they found the young Chinyere drowned in the nearby creak after she had slipped on a wet rock, was knock unconscious and rested face-down in the waters until she slowly drowned.

The death hurt the family and their neighbors and friends deeply. The aged King Aniabas heard of the death and sent the family money and food and his heartfelt sorrows. He also made an offering to the gods in honor of the dead Chinyere.

Three days after Chinyere's death and burial, Priest Je appeared in the West. He came late at night when most of the kingdom was asleep. He went directly to the home of White Lotus. He gently roused Fedir and Madara and said, "I am sorry for your loss. I heard about Chinyere's accidental death yesterday and traveled until I reached your home. I thought you might be in need of consolation and prayer."

"Thank you, dear priest," wept Fedir.

Together the three prayed.

Before dawn, Priest Je asked, "Has White Lotus kept with his studies?"

Fedir nodded.

"Would you allow me to take him on as a pupil?"

Madara and Fedir looked to one another. Said Madara, "When would you take him?"

"In a few days time," answered Priest Je.

"To lose both children so swiftly," mourned Madara.

"But it is a righteous path," consoled Fedir.

White Lotus awoke and greeted Priest Je with a smile. He said, "I've waited for you."

Priest Je smiled and explained, "I was busy helping others with their woes. I am sorry I've come to you so late in the year."

Priest Je gave White Lotus white pants and a white jacket to wear. The jacket had a black belt to tie it closed and with these he was given black tabis to wear. "These are the clothing of monks at the beginning of their journey into priesthood," explained Priest Je. "You will gain more colorful clothing as you gain more colorful wisdom."

White Lotus donned his new clothes and sat patiently as Priest Je shaved his head. Then the four paid homage to Chinyere's grave later that day.

Three days more and Fedir and Madara watched as White Lotus followed Priest Je from the Kingdom of Aniabas, occasionally looking back at them over his shoulder.


Part 2

White Lotus was ten when Priest Je was stricken with pneumonia and, in ailing health, felt his time nearing an end. By then they had traveled extensively, counseling others and paying homage to shrines of gods.

It rained heavily the night Priest Je died. They had found a kindly old farmer that hadn't much more room than a spare stall in his stable. Priest Je lie coughing on a bed of fresh straw. White Lotus stayed at his side, watching him, studying his teacher, trying to understand the changing in death.

Priest Je coughed. He said, "Do not fear death. Do not fear my dying. It is a part of all things. Even gods may die. We mortals must die. It is our pleasure and our pain, our blessing and curse. With death, we cannot see the end of many of our ambitions. Without death, our lives are not so precious."

"Your tale ends here," related White Lotus. "And I do not wish to be so selfish, but I am uncertain what is to happen to me."

"Your next act begins," coughed Priest Je. "You will find another master, perhaps. Or perhaps another path entirely. Whatever is next for you is in your choosing."

White Lotus cried for he felt the loss of his family, of his sister and parents, with the new loss of his master.

Priest Je coughed, breathed heavily, then did not breathe another breath again.

White Lotus cried as the skies rained heavily upon the dilapidated stable.

The next day, the old farmer helped White Lotus bury Priest Je under a knotty pine on the hill in a grove of trees looking out over the peaceful lands not far from his final resting place. The old farmer promised to visit the grave once a year. White Lotus bowed to the old farmer, thanked him and blessed him, then left the grave of Priest Je forever.

White Lotus wandered for many months. He bemused himself with the idea of returning home, but felt the pull of adventure and of tales of gods far too strong to do so.

He then came to a small village called Moonflower, having taken its name from the many plants that blossomed only at night there. White Lotus was by then near starving as he wandered from home to home asking for alms.

He finally came to the home of an elderly, decrepit man named Shanxi Som Hakka. When Elder Hakka answered the door, White Lotus held out a small bowl he had carved from maple on his journeys with Priest Je and asked, "Alms for the poor?"

Elder Hakka eyed the boy's clothing. He said, "I haven't much, but I can share my rice and vegetables with you if you wish to join me for supper, young monk."

White Lotus blessed Elder Hakka and his home as he entered to share supper with the old man.

As they ate, Elder Hakka asked, "Where do you wander to, young monk?"

"Wherever I wish for now," explained White Lotus as he ate rice and stir-fried ginger and sweet potato.

"Where is your master?" asked Elder Hakka.

"He died some months ago," frowned White Lotus.

"A masterless monk?" inquired Elder Hakka. "And one so young? The gods have certainly stacked the odds against you."

White Lotus shrugged. "Perhaps, but I will not waver on my path."

"Good! Good!" cried Elder Hakka with some laughter. "Have you any idea where you go from here?"

White Lotus shook his head.

"Why don't you stay here, then? In return for tending to my house, I will feed you and you can sleep on the spare mat I have. It's a bit old and dirty, but you can clean it, I'm sure."

White Lotus considered this, then nodded. "I would be honored. I am called White Lotus."

Elder Hakka smiled at this. "A fine name! I am Shanxi Som Hakka, but most everyone calls me Elder Hakka."

"How do you earn your money, Elder Hakka? Do you farm?" asked White Lotus.

Elder Hakka giggled. "Oh, by the gods, no. I've never been one for growing things. I... well, I... let me show you."

Elder Hakka quickly swallowed the last of his rice and vegetables and set the bowl before White Lotus. He said through a mouthful of food, "You'll take care of that won't you?"

White Lotus looked at the bowl and nodded.

Elder Hakka smiled and chewed. He got up from the table at which they were seated and walked to the back of the home. There he picked up a bamboo cage and brought it to set it upon the table between himself and White Lotus. Elder Hakka swallowed the last of his food and smiled. He said, "His name is Fenrir. I've named him for the terrible wolf-child of Loki."

White Lotus peered into the cage.

Elder Hakka unraveled the bit of leather that tied the cage closed and let the small door swing open. Out stepped a large and strong Leaf Mantis. Fenrir raised up to spy White Lotus, then lowered itself low to the table to mimic a broad, flat leaf.

Elder Hakka tapped lightly at the table to draw Fenrir's attention and set out from his pocket a dead fly. Fenrir scurried to the fly, caught it up with his hooked, spiked forelegs and began tearing at its body, eating it.

Elder Hakka looked to White Lotus. He said, "I provide food and shelter for Fenrir and he, in turn, fights the mantises of others and with the winnings I support this home and now I will support you. But you must clean and care for my home."

White Lotus blinked. He ate the last of his meal and said, "I will do this, Elder Hakka."

White Lotus spent many hard days' labor at Elder Hakka's. He carried buckets of water across his shoulder from the village well to the home. He swept and cleared the floors. He washed the dishes. But soon he realized he was exerting less effort and made a game of his duties. When he would wash the dishes, he would juggle them and throw them into place. He would carry not two but four buckets as his strength grew. And he danced as he swept the floors.

Elder Hakka would leave with the cage Fenrir nearly each day and nearly each time he left, he would return with a handful of money.

One morning, Elder Hakka did not leave the home. White Lotus made for them their usual morning meal and when he went to find Elder Hakka, he found teh old man with the freed Fenrir practicing kata in the garden.

"What is this that you do?" asked White Lotus. "It appears as slow dancing."

Elder Hakka smiled. "It is, in a way."

White Lotus attempted to mimic their movements and, with some small coaching by Elder Hakka, soon joined them for these occasional morning rituals. White Lotus was surprised at first to learn it was Fenrir who appeared to lead the dance. Elder Hakka mimicked Fenrir and White Lotus had been mimicking Elder Hakka. He soon learned to mimic Fenrir in unison with Elder Hakka.

One such morning, while the three sat eating at the table in the home after they had practiced the kata of the day, White Lotus said, "It is a peculiar thing, but I can see why you do this. When we dance so, I feel calm."

Elder Hakka smiled. "Good," was all he said.

As White Lotus took his first bite of food, which was always after both Elder Hakka and Fenrir had taken their first bite as a show of respect to them, he thought of something. He looked to Elder Hakka, chewed and swallowed. He thought of his body growing strong, of his mind learning new things. He said with some surprise, and somewhat in a questioning way, "You've become my new masters."

Elder Hakka smiled and said, "Eat your meal, little monk."


Part 3

It was a day for fighting and Elder Hakka brought his companion Fenrir to the small den within which the mantis fights were held. The den was run by a man named Gama, but called himself and forced others to call him The Great Gama. He always wore black shirts and pants, dusty sandals and a black turban.

Forever at his side, forever his pet, his friend and, ultimately, forever his loyal servant and the son of a mystic lizard born of a rock on a southern island and his lover, a mortal woman. He stood squat and thin, had the shape of a man standing with a lizard's head with multicolored feathers sprouting from the jawline and atop the skull. His flesh was scaly and brightly colored and speckled with yellow spots. His tail had yellow stripes. His name was Butik and he was never seen without Great Gama.

Came Elder Hakka as he always did on days of fights.

"Here enters that foul winner," spat the Great Gama.

Butik hissed. "I suspect he cheats."

"Of course he does," added Great Gama. "How else would his damned mantis win so often? He must feed the mantis something, or perhaps get him blessed."

"To the credit of the mantis," ventured Butik, "he is quite large."

"Shut your mouth!" Great Gama glowered at Butik.

The Great Gama and Butik watched they mantis fights, collecting wagers from those gathered in his den. When Fenrir won his fight, Great Gama stepped to Elder Hakka, handed him his winnings and said, "You win again, old man."

"Fenrir is a great fighter," Elder Hakka shared the jubilation with his little insect friend.

"Watch over your mantis closely, old man," warned Great Gama. "Someone might wish to steal him... or worse."

Butik nearly laughed at this.

Elder Hakka frowned. He placed Fenrir in his cage and left for home.

The Great Gama watched the old man go.

Butik asked, "What plans have you lolling about in your head, Great Gama?"

The Great Gama smiled. He said only, "Perhaps... perhaps."

Late into that very night, The Great Gama hired three thieves to break into Elder Hakka's home to steal the mantis Fenrir.

"Do not harm the mantis," he instructed, then with a smile added, "unless it is truly necessary. Return him to me and I shall pay you the remaining monies I've promised."

The three thieves donned their black pants, shirts and hoods and melted into the shadowy night. The emerged from the darkness a moment later outside the home of Elder Hakka. They made no knock, they gave no warning. They found an opened window and slipped inside the home without much sound.

Yet a sound they did make once inside for they knew not where the mantis was kept. White Lotus awoke to this sound and called out, "Elder Hakka, is that you? Are you awake at this hour?"

One of the thieves quickly grasped at White Lotus' mouth and whispered, "Make another sound or hinder us in any way and we'll kill you!"

White Lotus remained silent, his eyes trying to pierce the dark room to watch what was happening while the thief kept his mouth covered.

Another thief found Fenrir in his caged and called to the others before exiting through the same window they had entered.

The thief holding White Lotus whispered once more, "Should the old man ever wish to see his mantis again, tell him to publicly renounce mantis fighting and never show his face at the great Gama's den again. If he does so, his mantis shall be returned to him."

The thief let go of White Lotus and exited through the window.

The thieves gone, White Lotus ran to the yet slumbering Elder Hakka's side. He shook Elder Hakka awake and explained the occurrence of the theft to him.

Elder Hakka wept for he feared Fenrir may be harmed. He said through sobs, "This si the work of the Great Gama himself! I know it is!"

White Lotus looked out the window but could find no trace of the thieves. He determined then and said, "We should raid the Great Gama's den and retrieve Fenrir."

Elder Hakka shook his head. "I don't know if that would be the thing to do. We don't know if Fenrir will be kept in the den or elsewhere within the village. We should get the Great Gama to bring forth Fenrir first."

"How could we do that?" asked White Lotus.

"At noon tomorrow I will renounce mantis fighting as they have demanded."

"How will that aid in our search for Fenrir?" asked White Lotus.

"It will force Great Gama's hand. He will have to respond in some way. I can only hope he will respond by returning Fenrir safely to me."

White Lotus eyed his master, wondering but not entirely certain he understood Elder Hakka.

At noon that day, Elder Hakka came to the center of the village. White Lotus helped him to call the villagers to him to hear his announcement. The Great Gama and Butik joined the gathered crowd.

Said Elder Hakka, "Today I wish to renounce fighting in the mantis den from now until the end of my life. Never again shall I allow my mantis, Fenrir, to fight ever in the Great Gama's den ever again."

Several of the peopler were shocked to hear this. Others were uninterested. The Great Gama spoke up and said, "How generous of you, Elder Hakka, to step aside and allow others a chance to win some money at my den. It has been an honor to have known you. It is unfortunate, however, for I had heard of the thieves that stole into the night with your Fenrir and, much to my surprise, they came to me wishing to fence the little creature into my hands. I paid a handsome price for Fenrir and in honor of you. I knew you would be worried about him. But I paid the price nonetheless with the intent to gift him back to you... with the understanding you would pay me back in the near future for my lost money."

Elder Hakka glowered at Great Gama upon hearing this. he knew then not only did Great Gama intend to rid himself of Elder Hakka and Fenrir, but to make him literally pay for the matter.

"I had thought I'd merely take the money out of your winnings. But now that I hear this, I understand you're most likely to have difficulty returning to me my money."

The Great Gama looked to the gathered crowd and continued, "But let it be known the Great Gama is not an ungenerous man. If Elder Hakka thinks he could find another means to fund my losses, then that is no cause of concern for me. Or, as I am also a fair man, I would not refute the Elder Hakka's services as a personal attendant for, say, the period of three years."

Elder Hakka frowned at this.

The Great Gama smiled at him, "Or, again in the interest of fairness, I could, at your agreement, dear Hakka, simply keep the mantis Fenrir as my own."

"Where is Fenrir?" asked Elder Hakka.

"He is quite well," asured Great Gama.

"I should like to see him," said Elder Hakka.

The Great Gama smiled wider. He bowed a little in mock respect and called for Butik to retrieve Fenrir. Butik went to a clay jar sitting outside the den and pulled from it the cage and Fenrir within.

Elder Hakka leaned close to White Lotus and whispered, "He is clever to have hidden Fenrir in public in this manner."

Butik handed teh caged Fenrir to Great Gama and the Great Gama brought the cage before Elder Hakka, though he did not offer the cage nor Fenrir to Elder Hakka. He allowed only that all may see a healthy and well Fenrir.

Satisfied with Fenrir's safety, Elder Hakka said, "I would take him."

Great Gama smiled again and nodded. "Very well. And when might I expect my payment?"

Elder Hakka breathed deep but did not answer.

"I will allow you to take Fenrir from me if you can get me one thousand baht."

"What?" cried Elder Hakka. "That's an outrageous amount!"

Great Gama smiled. "It is what I had to pay... with only a small fee settled on top for my services."

"The farmers in these parts don't make a thousand baht in a full year!" proclaimed an angered White Lotus.

"The farmers in these parts don't have mantis fighters as great as Fenrir, little boy," mocked Great Gama.

"We know it was you!" cried White Lotus.

Elder Hakka slapped White Lotus across the face. "Show your respects, young monk," scolded his master.

"What is that he was going to say?" Great Gama growled.

"He said nothing," issued Elder Hakka. "I have your money. I can pay your price."

This piqued Great Gama's interests. "Oh, have you now? And how would you come by a thousand baht?"

"I've been saving my winnings from your den," explained Elder Hakka. He turned to White Lotus and whispered the location of the money into his ear. "Go now, boy. Go and get the money so we may retrieve our friend Fenrir."

White Lotus did as he was told and soon returned carry the thousand baht in his hands.

Elder Hakka pointed White Lotus to Great Gama.

White Lotus handed the money to Great Gama. Great Gama then handed the money to Butik and waited for his servant to count it.

"What he says is true," spoke Butik a moment later. "The money is here. He can pay us now."

Great Gama lost his smile upon hearing this, but soon regained it as he thought of the fact he now had a promise Fenrir and Hakka would never return to his den and that he'd made money on the venture of stealing Fenrir. he opened the cage slowly and let Fenrir loose.

The mantis hopped, flew and climbed to Elder Hakka's side. He climbed to Elder Hakka's shoulder and perched there.

During this, Elder Hakka did not remove his gaze from Great Gama. Once Fenrir had climbed onto his shoulder, he said, "Young monk, ready yourself."

This surprised White Lotus. He wasn't certain what Elder Hakka meant for they had not discussed what to do beyond this moment. But when he saw his master's hands rise from his side, his fingers curled inward, his leg lifting slightly to balance on one toe, his eyes steady and remaining on the Great Gama, he understood his master's intentions fully.

White Lotus mimicked his master. He raised his hands in the shape of a mantis' forelegs, breathed deep to calm his now racing heart.

The fight was begun.

"What is this that you do?" asked great Gama. "Does the loss of your money, money that I rightly deserve and that I should not lose with regards to the loss of your mantis, anger you so that you would wish to fight me like your mantis might? Ha! You are fools! This must be a joke." Great Gama turned to Butik and said, "Look, they mimic the manners of Fenrir. They must truly be stupid!"

Butik and Great Gama laughed as one.

Elder Hakka said calmly, slowly and in a low, serious tone, "Prepare yourself Gama, or you will be caught unawares and will be killed."

"I am the Great Gama! How dare you disrespect me to call my name as though you were a friend!" raged Great Gama.

Elder Hakka and White Lotus remained silent, though White Lotus shook with nerves in anticipation of the fight.

"Hmph!" groaned Great Gama. He said to Butik, "Retrieve for me my sectional staff. It would seem I must beat some respect into this old man and his boy-child."

Butik ran into the den. While Butik was away, Great Gama removed his black shirt to reveal a deeply rippling chest and sinewed arms. Butik returned with a three-sectional staff and handed the weapon to Great Gama, then backed away.

The Great Gama prepared himself.

Elder Hakka and White Lotus remained statue-still.

Fenrir squinted at his one-time captor.

With an near imperceptible movement of his wrist, Great Gama's sectional staff flicked out first at White Lotus and caught him lightly at the top of his head, causing enough to sour the young monk off the fight for a moment.

Elder Hakka moved swiftly. He jumped closer to Great Gama, well within his range/ His left hand struck out, grasping Great Gama by the throat, choking the airway there. His right hand swung around with furious speed and his fingers slammed into Great Gama's temple, causing an instant headache. He foot then raised and stomped down on Great Gama's own, causing him to step backwards. But as he backed away, Great Gama regained himself and lifted the nearest end of his weapon up, thrusting it out from under his arm to slam into the nose of Elder Hakka and breaking it, until blood sprayed out from it, down the staff and onto the ground.

Great Gama backed away.

Elder Hakka backed away.

Great Gama spun around, his staff entwined in his extended arms like a windmill gone mad in torrential winds. One end of the weapon came crashing down on Elder Hakka's shoulder where Fenrir was sitting. Elder Hakka cried in pain, then looked for his mantis friend only feel he had jumped out of the way of the staff and was now climbing through the hair on his head.

Great Gama brought the staff around and held two sections while the third came down upon Elder Hakka's head. Again, Fenrir was able to jump away in time but the swinging weapon caused Elder Hakka's vision to go first black then explode into a field of exploding stars.

Seeing his masters hurt and in danger, White Lotus rallied himself to leap at Great Gama. Great Gama backed away. White Lotus swung wildly and Great Gama ducked under his fist. Seeing Great Gama's head now lowered next to him, White Lotus grabbed Great Gama around the back of the neck with his full arm and trapped him there. He raised his foot behind him to slap Great Gama in the face.

Great Gama spit dirt from his mouth and straightened, sending the much smaller White Lotus flipping up and over his form until he came crashing down onto the dirt behind Great Gama.

Elder Hakka blinked. His sight cleared and he attacked. He tried once more to grab at Great Gama's throat, but Great Gama batted this assault away with the end of his staff.

White Lotus, now on his back, reached up from the ground and pinched at the back of Great Gama's legs near the nerves to try to incapacitate him.

Great Gama swung his weapon downward between his legs and the end of the staff hit White Lotus atop the head. White Lotus jumped up, leaned his back against Great Gama's back and pushed him towards Elder Hakka who, in turn, struck out with punishing strikes to Great Gama's chest.

Great Gama over powered White Lotus and pushed back, sending the boy somersaulting away. He swung his weapon wide and Elder Hakka had to back away to retreat from the staff's range.

Great Gama did a small kata with his three-sectional staff and paused a moment, the middle section of the weapon across his back while the other two were held in his hands. He looked to Elder Hakka and said, "You cannot kill me! I am the Great Gama!"

White Lotus got up from the ground. He leaped through the air at Great Gama and came to land on his back, his feet resting upon Great Gama's hips, his pointed fingers twisting and punching into his kidneys. White Lotus remained on Great Gama's back as his enemy cried out in pain.

Elder Hakka then leaped through the air himself, bringing his feet down upon Great Gama's knees as his pointed fists were driven into Great Gama's neck where they drew blood at the artery.

Great Gama stood this way a moment, locked in a death throe, White Lotus upon his back and Elder Hakka upon his neck. The last thing Great Gama's eyes gazed upon was the mantis Fenrir resting on Elder Hakka's left shoulder.

Great Gama fell and with him fell White Lotus and Elder Hakka.

White Lotus and Elder Hakka stood. Great Gama did not. He remained locked in a state of horrible recognition for his demise.

White Lotus knelt before Great Gama and began to pray for him.

Elder Hakka panted.

Butik looked on in horror and wonder. He said softly to himself, "How I wish I could fight as these two do."

White Lotus presided over Great Gama's burial immediately, an honor Great Gama did not much deserve, or so thought the villagers of Moonflower, but they admired the young monk for his compassion.

That night, while looking at the stars outside his masters' home, White Lotus wondered why the gods had allowed things so gruesome and horrible as violence. Elder Hakka joined him, the two sitting atop a collection of freshly cut logs that White Lotus had attended to the day before. They sat quietly gazing at the stars for a long time.

Then White Lotus asked, "Do you remember when the stars were stolen away?"

"I do," nodded Elder Hakka.

"I come from the Kingdom of Aniabas. To the north was teh Plain of Adoration where the Jewel of Zingtai was won to be restored and with it all the stars, yet I do not remember a night without stars."

"You are fortunate."

"I do not think anyone should know a night without star," sighed White Lotus.

"And I do not think anyone should be allowed to know day with night," retorted Elder Hakka.

White Lotus considered this. He nodded and said, "I think I should be leaving you, Elder Hakka. But I want you to know it is not a sign of disrespect. I feel I must leave for my own purposes."

"I would not be offended," said Elder Hakka. "You came as you needed. Go as you need."

White Lotus ventured to hug his master.

Elder Hakka gladly hugged the boy in return with a deep, loving, trusting hug.

The next morning, Elder Hakka awoke and took Fenrir outside for their kata. White Lotus said good morning to the both of them and prepared for them a fine meal while they practiced. But when Elder Hakka grew suspicious why White Lotus hadn't joined them, he took Fenrir back into the home to find a full meal prepared, but White Lotus had already gone.


Part 4

On the eleventh birthday of White Lotus, he awoke under a pandanus tree with the ambition to build a temple for his most beloved god, Xiao-tep. He told many people about this ambition and got quite a few people to agree to help him. They followed him for seven months until he came to a peak within the northern mountains called The Mountain of the Misty Moon. So tall was this mountain that the moon, when it passed overhead at night, nearly touched the mountain's peak. It was here, exclaimed White Lotus, that the temple must be built. Of the many that followed him, nearly two-thirds abandoned him at this moment. There were not enough supplies and it was too far from the nearest town from which to get food and drink and tools. Of those that remained, they saw the wisdom within they young boy's choice. The harsh climes and the seclusion from the world made the Mountain of the Misty Moon a perfect location for meditation upon the gods. Construction was begun and it took a year to build the small stone temple. It was not adorned generously. A lone man named Michel carved two statues of Xiao-tep and that was all the decoration the temple required. Every stone was put into making a commissary and garden, a building in which White Lotus' disciples could sleep, a room for White Lotus alone, and a temple within which to pray and meditate and study. These were all enclosed and joined by an outer wall that was hoped would keep out predators and ill winds.

When the temple was complete, those that had helped build it, though they had agreed it was a fine place for a temple, could not imagine themselves living under such conditions. They left White Lotus alone in the temple, but before they went, he asked them to spread word of his temple and that he issued forth an invitation to Xiao-tep to come visit the temple and see that it was satisfactory.

White Lotus lived alone for two months before someone came to the large wooden doors of the temple. They called out for White Lotus by name and when White Lotus opened the doors, he recognized the one calling his name. It was Butik, the lizard demi-god and former servant to Great Gama.

"If you've come for your revenge," said White Lotus as Butik stood chilled in the falling snow, "you'll not be allowed to stain this temple with blood. Take your anger elsewhere and I will seek you out another time."

"You think I could fight in these climes?" issued Butik. "I can barely move. I do not want vengeance on you or anyone else. The day I witnessed you and your master fight Great Gama, I discovered what I had been missing in myself: control over my own destiny. I seek your counsel, your wisdom and your fighting skills."

"Do you mean to say you wish to become a student at my temple?" asked White Lotus.

Butik nodded. "Though, truthfully, I'd prefer a warm fire right now. This cold air is bringing death closer every minute for me."

White Lotus opened the temple doors wide and let in Butik. They warmed themselves by a fire and ate together. They spoke of the last day they had seen each other. Butik told how he tracked White Lotus to the temple. Slowly, very slowly, they came to trust one another.

And in the village at the base of the mountain, an orange butterfly by the name of Iulia overheard a conversation about White Lotus' invitation for Xiao-tep to the temple. Julia knew that nearly all the butterflies in the world had flown the ugliness of the demon now plaguing the world for the beautiful gardens of Taleisin, home to Xiao-tep. She took it upon herself to fly to Taleisin, flitting and fluttering up and away to above the clouds where Taleisin roamed the skies. Once there, she sought out Zyanya and told her of the invitation and Zyanya, in turn, sought out Xiao-tep.


Part 5

"The Many Gods would like to meet with you in the Courtyard of the Seven Jade Doors," Lei-zi explained to her son.

Xiao-tep considered this. He asked, "Why would they wish to see me?"

"I cannot lie to you, my dear son. They wish to weigh your worth and to possibly invite you to join us in the Many Heavens. it is a great honor."

"What a wonderful honor, indeed," agreed Xiao-tep. He thought it over, nodded and said, I will go with you to the Many heavens and there meet with the Many Gods within the Courtyard of Seven Jade Doors."

It was at this moment Zyanya came to Xiao-tep and told him of the invitation to the temple White Lotus had dreamed and had built.

"My son would seem quite popular these days," Lei-zi bragged to Zyanya.

"He has a good heart," said Zyanya.

Xiao-tep considered both invitations. He knew that ascending to the Many Heavens to meet with the Many Gods was an incredible offer and one that not everyone received. But he was also honored to hear a temple had been built in his honor and wished to see if the mortal called White Lotus needed him.

"The pull to go to both is strong," said Xiao-tep slowly, "but the pull to the temple is far stronger. The Many Gods do not need me, nor will they ever need me. But mortals might need me. I cannot turn my back on this White Lotus. I can only hope the Many Gods do not take this as a choice made in vanity."

Lei-zi smiled, but lowered her head in sadness. She said, "Perhaps the gods will agree to meet with you after you have visited with White Lotus."

"We can hope, but we cannot count on that," said Xiao-tep. "I must go, mother. Perhaps I'll see you when I return?"

Lei-zi smiled and wished her son a fair journey. As she watched her son fly away from Taleisin, she wondered if she could convince the Many Gods not to kill him for the choice he had made.


I hope everyone enjoyed Act III. Check back next week for Act IV!