The Captain of Chi Lung: part five

Fiction By LoriAnn // 10/9/2009

 

Ti-Ling tried as hard as she could to put her past behind her. She learned to help Ranu in her shop, sorting herbs by feel and memorizing the shapes of various jars and containers; learned to count the money of the desert people, and bargain for a fair price. In exchange, Ranu allowed her to live in a small room above the shop. The room had no window, but Ti-Ling didn’t care – it was cool and quiet, a place of rest in the hot, bustling village.
It took her some time, but under Ranu’s patient tutelage, Ti-Ling learned how to speak the desert people’s language. She became well-liked in the village – which was called Hagi – though she never told them her story. When asked, all she would say was “I am Ti-Ling now.”
   But at night, when Hagi had settled down into its star-lit slumber, Ti-Ling would lie on her mat and remember her father’s face, and the village of Hang Po, and her garden, and her talks with Feng – no, with Kuichi. She couldn’t understand why the goblin prince had tricked her, except that the goblins loved pain. Even in her hatred of him, though, she had to admit that he was a wonderful actor. Sometimes she wondered if maybe it hadn’t been an act – what if the hag had lied? But if she allowed herself to dwell on those thoughts, she would never be able to move on.
The winter months came and went, and Ti-Ling was soon a part of Hagi. During the thick blizzards that blanketed the plains, often for weeks at a time, she would sit with the other village women and create delicate needlework under their watchful eyes. At first, her attempts were shoddy and loose, more like a rough fishnet than lace or fabric. But as the winter progressed, she became more adept at it, and eventually was making her own patterns and pieces.
Ranu kept her promise as well, and told Ti-Ling many tales of He who Lights the Stars. She said that He was all-powerful, ruling everything from the moon and the mountains to the deeps of the sea and the wraiths of the underworld.
“But He still cares for the children of Hagi,” she would say, and Ti-Ling struggled to understand both the foreign words. “He keeps the seasons turning, and the sun rising and falling, and lights the stars every night.” Ranu waved to the sky when she said this – the desert people had a special love of the stars, so clear and bright in the hard desert sky.  “And one day,” she would always conclude, “One day He will come, as the Book has foretold, and His willingness to come will overpower all.”
Ti-Ling wasn’t sure what to think of these ideas, but she loved the idea of someone placing every star, one by one in the winter sky; and the same Person caring intimately for every child of the Hagi. As for the willingness part – that someone so great would come willingly to such a poor and poverty-stricken world…she shook her head to clear the confusing thoughts. And then she would wonder if this “He Who Lights the Stars” was the one who was willing to go – the phrases seemed too similar to be a coincidence, but she didn’t ask Ranu about it, not wanting to have to explain about Chu Min and Feng and her old home.
Then one night, deep in the dead of winter, while the snow blew outside and the wind howled like a beaten dog, Ti-Ling’s new life came to an end.
She was lying on her mat, tossing and turning in her sleep. Dreams were the only places where she still had her sight, but right now, she was wishing that she were blind there too.
Flames licked up the high sides of cavern walls, though there was no fire. Instead, rich woven tapestries hung over the rough stone, and small golden lamps set on marble pedestals flickered dully. Thick rugs of bearskin and skilled weavings covered the floors, and if Ti-Ling hadn’t been able to see the stone walls and roof, she might have thought that she was inside a luxuriant palace, perhaps in Chi Lung itself.
She walked along the opulent corridors, her feet moving of their own accord. She was looking for something, she knew, but she wasn’t sure what. Whatever it was, it was important. She had to find it, or all would be lost.
A cry like a wounded animal suddenly echoed down the hall, and she jumped. Her dream-self was excited though, and moved forward more quickly, following the sound.
She came into a larger room, where the ceiling was so high that only the barest reflection of the wall-flickers shone off it. Here, the decorations were even finer than in the rest of the underground palace, with silken wall hangings and gold-cloth on the furniture.
Ti-Ling hardly noticed this, however. Her eyes were drawn to the opposite, end of the long room, where a half-naked figure hung chained from the stone wall. His arms were manacled above his head, and as Ti-Ling came closer, she saw that his hands were swollen and purple. His head hung down, so that she couldn’t see his face behind the thick curtain of black hair, but his form was lanky and well-muscled, and he might have been good-looking if it weren’t for the dozens of scrapes and welts that disfigured his back and stomach.
Two hideous figures stood on either side of him, holding short whips and grinning evilly. They reminded Ti-Ling of the hag who had blinded her – warty and thick-featured, with dumpy, bow-legs and tawdry clothes.
In front of the chained man, sitting on a plush couch with her back to Ti-Ling, was a tall, proud woman. Her long black hair flowed down her back like silken water, and she wore a robe of expensive embroidered silk, with golden slippers on her dainty feet.
“I’ll give you this,” she was saying to the prisoner “You have been far more entertaining than many of your predecessors. It is only your wit, to be honest, that has kept you alive this long. But you are becoming tiresome. What do you say to that?”
The young man looked up as Ti-Ling moved closer. His eyes were dark with pain and despair, and her heart went out to him. He was breathing hard, in either anger or hurt, and a small trickle of blood dripped from a cut above his eyebrow.
“I am sorry to disappoint,” he said in a hoarse voice that hardly seemed human. “After a while, pain tends to dull the wit.”
The woman shook her head in mock pity. “Ah, well.” She said. “I suppose I can always get a new jester for my court. Your people tend to have an abundance to choose from.” She gave a sinister chuckle that seemed dead and lifeless to Ti-Ling. Waving her hand at the two goblins standing beside the prisoner; she added “You may go. I am finished with him for now.”
The monsters bowed low and scuttled out of the room. Ti-Ling shrank back as they passed, but they ignored her.
The woman stood from her couch. “I advise you to recover your humor quickly, Captain,” she said, tipping his chin up with her long-nailed fingers. “Or else I shall have to dispose of you and find a replacement. The funniest thing with your sort is, I think you’ll last as long as you possibly can, in hopes of sparing one of your comrades. That’s what makes you so amusing.” She laughed again, and turned to go, facing Ti-Ling.
Ti-Ling gasped. She had never seen anyone so lovely. The cruel woman’s skin was paler than the moon, and her eyes were as dark as the sky behind the stars. Her cheekbones were high and haughty above a slender nose that tilted ever-so-slightly upward. Her lips were as perfect as rosebuds, and her neck was white and arched like a swan’s. For a moment, Ti-Ling forgot to be afraid of her.
Then she came to herself and tore her eyes away, suddenly terrified of what the woman would do with an intruder.
“I—I was just…” she stammered uncertainly.
But the queenly woman swept past her as though she didn’t exist, and Ti-Ling looked up in befuddlement. Somewhere, deep in her mind, she realized that she was dreaming. And dreams could act however they wanted, couldn’t they?
More curious than afraid now, Ti-Ling followed the woman back the way she had come only moments before – or was it hours? In dreams, one never knew.
The woman halted just outside the door to the large room, where her two goblin-like minions waited. “I tire of him,” she said in a low voice. “If his temper hasn’t improved within the next few days, you may give him to the masters.”
The two goblins looked at each other with hunger in their yellow eyes. “Yes, Mistress,” they said in unison.
The woman nodded cursorily to them, and strode on, her silken skirts rustling softly over the carpeted floor.
Ti-Ling started to go after her, but looked back at the slumped form of the chained young man. She glanced at the leaving woman, and shook her head, stepping back into the long room as the goblins closed the heavy doors. She tread silently down the center of the room’s length, until she again stood behind the couch in front of the young man.
He was hanging limp in his chains, sagging heavily against the cold wall. His head was bowed over his chest, and Ti-Ling could now see that his arms and chest were scarred from old wounds as well as recent ones.
She wasn’t sure what to do. Should she try to get his attention? Leave and go after the queenly woman? She took a small step forward, uncertainly.
The young man’s head jerked up suddenly, and he peered around the dimly lit room, scouring the shadows with his eyes. “Who’s there?” he asked in his raspy voice.
Ti-Ling froze. “I am Ti-Ling,” she said.
He cocked his head, as though he had heard a faint noise. “Show yourself!”
He couldn’t see her either, Ti-Ling realized. “I won’t hurt you,” she said, moving closer to him. Reaching out a slightly-shaking hand, she touched his shoulder.
The young man flinched back, his dark eyes darting around the room. “Who are you?” he demanded. “I order you to show yourself!”
Ti-Ling put her face in front of his own, staring directly into his eyes. “I will not hurt you,” she said again, slowly.
He seemed to look straight through her, but he squinted, like he couldn’t see clearly. Ti-Ling watched his gaze refocus, and knew that he had finally seen her.
He reared back, chains rattling stiffly. “Are you a ghost?” he demanded. “I see you, but I can also see through you. What is this?”
Ti-Ling shook her head. “This is my dream. I don’t know what you think you see, but this is the only place where I can see. I can’t help you. Where are we?”
“Under Chi Lung, I think,” the young man struggled to keep her in focus. “Come closer,” he said, staring at her face. “It’s easier when you are close.”
Ti-Ling leaned in again, until her eyes were mere inches from his.
He drew in a sharp breath. “Lei?”
Now it was her turn to stumble back. “Who are you?” she demanded, her heart thudding painfully in her chest.
“What are you doing here?” he growled in return. “Have you come to gloat?”
“Who are you?” she repeated, desperation making her sleeping body stir restlessly back in Ranu’s house.
He pulled himself painfully to his full height. “I am Captain Hatuka Feng,” he bit out. “Son of Hatuka Li, high general of the emperor’s elite guard. What did you gain from betraying me, woman?”
Ti-Ming spat in his face, half surprised when he actually flinched back. Anger seemed to make her more solid.
“If I had any doubt that this was a dream before,” she hissed in his face, “Now I am sure. Hatuka Feng never existed.”
He glared at her. “And Fa Lei is dead to me. I thought I could trust you, but when Chu Min came to me, she laughed in my face, and told me of your duplicity.”
Ti-Ling rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe I’m dreaming this. How could I even imagine such a ridiculous scene?”
Feng yanked on his chains, and reached for her. Ti-Ling stepped back, just out of his range. “You might as well have murdered me yourself,” he spat at her. “What did she give you?”
“What did Chu Min give me?” Ti-Ling laughed hollowly. “Chu Min gave me nothing – she never existed! No – but the goblin hag gave me something all right – she gave me this!” Ti-Ling willed her dream to show him her true face. For a moment, her vision dimmed, and the dream-Feng saw her scarred and torn features. He hissed out a long, horrified breath.
“Lei…” he said, and she almost wept at the caring in his voice.
“Don’t call me that!” she snapped, her dream-restored face returning. “I am Ti-Ling now – Fa Lei died when the hag revealed “Hatuka Feng” to me for who he really was – the goblin prince Kuichi!”
Feng shook his head. “No.” His eyes met hers solidly. “I don’t know what has happened to you, Lei, and I don’t know how you are here now. But whether you are real, or a figment of my imagination, or some specter sent by Chu Min to torment me – I vow that all I said to Fa Lei was true, and that there never was a…a prince Kuichi tricking you. It was me – and even if you have betrayed me, I can’t take back what I said to you.”
Ti-Ling sank onto the couch as he spoke. “I wish I could believe you,” she said sadly. “But this is only a dream, and as soon as I wake up, I will be blind again, and you will be only fog in the morning.”
Feng closed his eyes, sagging back into his chains. “And you are probably only a phantom created by Chu Min.”
They were silent for a moment. Then Feng looked up, a faint light of hope in his once-bright eyes. “Come here, Lei.”
She stood listlessly, and obeyed.
“Closer.”
Ti-Ling was only inches from him now. Feng leaned forward, drawing his chains taut.
He kissed her.
For the barest of seconds, Lei sank into the feeling of that kiss – then, with a gasp, she broke away.
Feng looked amazed, and he smiled sadly. “I may never see you again, Lei. I know you aren’t really here – and I think Chu Min is tiring of me. But let me say this – I am real, I am here, and I love you.”
Lei was trembling. “Feng?”
But the room was fading, like mist in the sun. “Feng!”
“Good-bye, Lei…”
“Feng!”
 
 

Comments

FENG!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why must

FENG!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why must you torture me so, Lori Ann? This was an AWESOME chapter. The part were he kissed her *sighs with delight over this amazingly romantic and wonderful scene* I'm speechless!!!

Ariel | Fri, 10/23/2009

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"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

Oh my...

LoriAnn, I am throughly and completely amazed. So many influences are wound together into an amazing tapestry of story. Neither maudlin nor cold, the emotional balance is striking.  I can't wait for the next installment of Lei's story.

*P.S. I suspect He who Lights the Stars is the Christ-figure.

Julie | Fri, 10/23/2009

Formerly Kestrel

*loves people...*

I love Feng...actually, anyone who has seen Disney's Mulan might notice my not-so-sneaky impersonation of General Shang--in my mind, Feng looks just like him. Only not so...cartoon. LOL

And yes--He Who Lights the Stars is God, though in this particular realm/history, Christ hasn't come yet.

LoriAnn | Sat, 10/24/2009

YES!!

I am loving this story, LoriAnn!!! This chapter had to be the best one yet!

Heather | Sun, 10/25/2009

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And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Loving this story too! Write

Loving this story too! Write more. :)

Kay J Fields | Mon, 10/26/2009

Visit my writing/book review blog at http://transcribingthesedreams.blogspot.com/

 Alright, so I don't know how

 Alright, so I don't know how I missed this when it first came up, but anyway I've read it now and it is stupendous!!!!!  I know you're busy with NaNoWriMo and all, but please, please, pleeease post the next piece soon!

Mary | Wed, 11/04/2009

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Brother: Your character should drive a motorcycle.
Me: He can't. He's in the wilderness.
Brother: Then make it a four-wheel-drive motorcycle!

Why must she

To Ariel: Why must she torture you? Why must she torture Feng? That's just cruel!

Arya Animarus | Sat, 06/19/2010

Oh for the times when I felt invincible.

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