The Captain of Chi Lung - part Four

Fiction By LoriAnn // 9/11/2009

 

Part IV
 
Three nights later was the night of the full moon. Lei hadn’t been to see Feng that day, because of the chance of running into Chu Min. But his words filled her head all day, and her dreams were full of him at night – only in her dreams could she see his face.
Near midnight, she was suddenly awakened by a long, anguished scream that rent the night air and jerked her from her dreams. She sat up in bed with a gasp.
The night was silent. Too silent, as if all the birds and insects held their breath.
The cry came again, the sound of someone shrieking out in extreme pain, far away. The sound echoed up and down the mountainside, faint and hollow.
“Feng!” Lei gasped, knowing deep in her bones that it was his voice. She looked outside the window at the dark sky, lit only by a few sullen stars. She leaped from her bed and dressed quickly; ignoring the common sense that told her it’s not him. You imagined it. Go back to sleep. And more loudly; you can’t go out there! Chu Min will kill you!
Slipping silently out of the house, Lei crossed the dark courtyard as soundlessly as a wraith. She followed the now well-known path out the gate and into the woods, never making so much as a whisper of sound, but hurrying as fast as she could lift her feet and set them down again.
Soon – all too soon, and yet not nearly fast enough – Feng’s clearing came into view. Lei halted just in the deeper shadows of the trees, straining her eyes for any sign of life.
She saw nothing. Perhaps Chu Min wasn’t here yet, or perhaps she had already been and gone. Or – horror! What if she had been here already, and had killed Feng?
The sudden fear was enough to propel Lei into the clearing and across its mossy floor to the large rock in the center. “Feng!” she called, barely loud enough to break the thick silence. “Feng, answer me!”
A sudden, hideous cackle exploded from under the rock, and it lifted of its own accord into the air. Lei scrabbled back, screaming soundlessly as a horrible, ragged, squat figure rose from the ground, lit from the underside by a hellish red light.
“So…” a shrill, gravelly, and yet cultured voice screeched. “It’s true than!”
Lei shielded her face with her hands, but couldn’t keep from staring in horror through her fingers at the ghastly apparition.
The figure stooped down to rake her with its eyes, and Lei shrank back from the appraising gaze.
“What a worthless thing you are,” the monster clucked in disapproval. “My son seemed to find you sporting.”
The creature’s words opened Lei’s mouth against her will. “Your son?”
The monster cackled again. “I believe you know him as Feng. Hatuka Feng, perhaps?”
“What are you talking about?” tears of fear stung at Lei’s eyes, but she refused to let them fall, even finding the strength to climb to her feet and face the creature head on.
She wished she hadn’t.
It was an old woman – or at least, it might have been at one time. Now, however, any semblance of humanity was hidden under layers of filth and grime, ragged clothes that had once been splendid, and wild hair that frizzed like an unholy halo around its warty and scarred face.
“Who are you?”
The creature – the woman – waved her clawed hand dismissively. “It matters not who I am. But who are you? My son seems to think that you are one of the villager’s daughters, but who knows what you might have told him to make him like you? You look more akin to a beggar or a slave to me.”
Insulted, Lei shot back “And you look more like a creature of the grave than a mother!”
The woman reared back and slapped Lei – hard – on her cheek. “No one speaks to me that way, scum!” she snarled. “Not even my son speaks to me like that.”
“Stop saying “your son”!” Lei cried, cradling her stinging cheek in her hand. “Feng is not your son!”
She nodded smugly. “You are correct. I have no son named Feng – I have a son named Kuichi, who has told me much about you, Fa Lei. He has gloated many a night at retelling some childish dream you recounted, or laughed over how enthralled you were at one of his made-up tales of Chi Lung. A clever one, is my Kuichi. How he caught you, and reeled you in like a colorful, tasty fish! I had to see you for myself, to see if his tales were true. And now I find that the truth far outweighs his stories. You came running at the sound of his pain, even knowing that the dreaded “Chu Min ” was to visit tonight. Ha!” the hag laughed long and loud, and Lei stumbled back, collapsing to the ground.
“It’s not true!” she shouted. “You lie!”
The hag abruptly sobered. “And why would I lie, little fish? What would I gain from telling you anything but the truth, which is more painful to you than any lie I could concoct? To think that you believed he loved you! You – a common, mortal woman, and Kuichi, prince of the goblins!”
Goblins? Lei’s head was spinning in fear and doubt. “It cannot be…” she moaned, her mind racing. “It cannot be true!”
“Ah, but it is…and that makes it all the sweeter, regardless of how we goblins love deception.” The hag shook her head in dark mirth. “Still, I think I will drive this pain a little closer to your heart, little fish. Doubtless, the mortals you live amongst find your pale, pasty skin and fine, skinny limbs lovely. Well – not any longer.”
With a flash of blinding flame, the hag threw her arms into the air. Instantly, a feeling like a thousand knives ripped across Lei’s skin. She cried out, and saw that she was completely enshrouded in a thick odori bush, whose arrow-lie thorns were filled with a noxious poison.
“Help!” Lei shouted, trying not to move, but unable to keep from writhing as the thorns’ poison entered her blood like liquid fire. “H’su help me!”
The goblin hag shrieked with laughter. “Squirm, little fish! Wriggle in my net!”
“Please!” Lei begged, her vision beginning to swim. “Please…”
“Oh, alright.” The hag waved her arm again, and the thorns fell away. “But you can’t stay here you know – not looking like that. Let’s see – I’ll send you to…the Shung Desert is nice this time of year, I’ve been told. Of course, you won’t see it.”
Lei staggered to her feet, tears running down her face from fear and fury.
Too late, she saw the clawed hand ripping down toward her face – too late did she try to duck and avoid the slash of pain that tore through her eyes.
She screamed and fell to her knees again, clutching at her face in agony. Dimly, she heard the goblin cackling in mad ecstasy –
Then all was silent and dark.
 
 
The present Lei felt her way along the desert path, avoiding the rough stones and treacherous sandy places that threatened to trip her up. The Shun Desert wasn’t a plain, endless expanse of sand, she knew. It was more like a barren plain, where little grew and few creatures lived. What did thrive there was tough and hardy, usually protected by stiff spines and stingers. She had to be careful where she sat or lay down, and had to keep a watchful ear out for the warning rattle of a chi-nu’s spines, or the hiss of a striking baka snake. Not that it really mattered – she’d probably die of thirst long before she found someone to lead her back to Hang Po.
And then the question entered her mind: did she really want to go back? With her eyes ruined by the hag’s claws, and her face and arms forever welted by the odori, she was worthless as a bride. Who would care for her after her father was gone? Perhaps she was better off here, if she could only find a town, a village where no one knew her, and she could beg without shame.
Or maybe she could make her way to one of the temples of H’su – she knew, even with her small amount of training in the Law – that the priests were required to provide work for anyone willing to do it, and to pay the workers well in food and shelter. H’su’s Law was a hard one, many times; full of requirements and regulations and demands. But it was also a kind one, providing for the poor and homeless. The priests called the Law a schoolmaster, showing the way to holiness, but also proving that man couldn’t be holy on his own – proving that all men needed H’su.
A distant jingle of a bell caught Lei’s ear, distracting her from her heavy thoughts. She cocked her head toward the sound. “Hello?” she called into the desert night.
”Camu ting?” A young voice answered her.
Lei caught her breath. There was someone here! That must mean that there was a village or a town not too far off!
“Hello!” she shouted again. “Please – I need help!”
The maaing of a goat sounded from her right, and the bell rang again. It sounded small, like the bell you might tie around a cat’s neck, to keep it from catching songbirds. “Please,” Lei repeated, holding out a hand. “I won’t hurt you.”
A small, rough hand took her own. “Hagi tomokama arondu soki,” the voice said. It sounded like a young girl, maybe eight or nine years old – but Lei couldn’t understand her.
“Can you take me to your home?” Lei asked slowly, as though speaking the words at a slower pace would enable the desert girl to understand her.
The child rattled off another lengthy sentence in her own tongue, tugging gently on Lei’s arm.
Lei hesitated only a second. What did she have to lose? Surrendering herself to the girl’s pull, Lei let herself be led along with what seemed to be a small herd of goats.
It wasn’t long before Lei began to hear the sound of voices. The girl seemed to be excited by this, and dragged her along more quickly. As they approached, the voices died out, until they stood close enough that Lei could smell smoke from cooking fires, and hear the sounds of a group of people – perhaps as many as fifty – breathing.
“Ho torku, somino na kimochina?” a man’s gruff voice asked – not unkindly, but not particularly friendly either.
The girl who had led Lei there began to chatter in their strange language, rapidly explaining…whatever it was that she was explaining. Lei stood still, her left hand still grasped in the child’s small hot one. She felt awkward and clumsy, standing there, leaning on her staff for balance, and her head seemed to spin with a thousand bright colors.
“Please…” she said, suddenly hoarse. “Do you have water?” She took her hand from the child’s grip and touched her swollen lips, silently begging them to understand.
A woman hummed, and called out, as though over her shoulder: “Kima! Locori tomisana ip farinan argun!”
A metal dipper, dripping with cool water, was pressed to Lei’s lips, and she drank thirstily, feeling the water soak into her parched tissues like oil into paper.
“Thank you,” she said gratefully, even knowing that they could not understand her.
“You are welcome,” said a thickly accented woman’s voice. Lei nearly fell again in shock.
“You can understand me?” she asked.
“Yes,” the woman answered. A cool hand touched Lei’s cheek. “But tellings-how can wait – you need healing, and He who Lights the Stars has given me healing knowledge.”
“He who lights the stars?” Lei had never heard the phrase.
There was a smile in the woman’s voice. “I will say all I know to you, if you are wanting to hear. Follow me.”
 
Minutes later, Lei sat on a thin mat on the floor of a low house. The walls were smooth and cool, but softer than stone. Outside, the village had quieted down for the night.
The strange woman who knew Lei’s language smoothed a thick, fresh-smelling ointment over the thorn marks in Lei’s face, clucking softly to herself. When she came to the claw-cuts across her eyes, the woman paused.
“These were…not done without purpose,” she said, struggling a bit with the unfamiliar words. “Someone hurt you with pain in their plan.”
Lei nodded, blinking her unseeing eyes stiffly. “Yes,” she said softly. “Much pain.”
The woman sighed, and spread the medicine over the goblin-hag’s cuts too. “Is it permissible to ask…why?”
“She thought that the pain that had already been done was not enough,” Lei explained slowly, trying to use simple words that the healer knew.
The woman gave a hum of understanding, and was sympathetically silent for a moment. “I am called Ranu,” she said, breaking the silence.
“Ranu,” Lei repeated, trying out the word. “And I am called…Ti-Ling. Once I was another, but that is past.” She swallowed back a lump of sadness. “I am Ti-Ling now.”
Ranu patted her hand solicitously. “You are welcome in my home, Ti-Ling, to stay for as long as you must be healing.”
“Thank you,” Lei – now Ti-Ling – said sincerely. “Thank you so much.”
 
 

Comments

A Note!

If you can manage it, go back and re-read the first three parts of this story - I've edited a bit, and it will make more sense: you're missing a part if you've only read the old stuff!

LoriAnn | Fri, 09/11/2009

Cool--keep going! See you

Cool--keep going!

See you tomorrow!

Heather | Thu, 09/17/2009

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

Thank you!

I'm really glad that Mr. Ben told me to edit.

LoriAnn | Fri, 09/18/2009

Excellent

Sad... so very sad. I can't wait for more...Very good description and plot lines.

Julie | Fri, 09/18/2009

Formerly Kestrel

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