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!

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