The Captain of Chi Lung--part seven

Fiction By LoriAnn // 11/13/2009

 

Lei took nothing from the priests but a warm, hooded cloak; a little food and a skin of water. Light would be useless to her, and she wouldn’t need sleeping gear or real meals – if she were down here that long, she might as well give up on getting out.
“Keep a hand on one wall at all times,” the old priest had advised her. “You may take wrong turns and go down dead ends, but if you keep to one wall, you’ll always double back until you get labyrinth’s center. As far as I know, there are no pitfalls or traps, but no one has explored the labyrinth in years – and never very deeply.”
So now she walked, her left hand brushing the wall with every step. The cold clamminess of the place was eating its way into her very bones, and she could feel goose-pimples on her arms and neck. But there was no going back now – she had come too far.
For hours she felt her way deeper into the depths of the labyrinth, with only the sounds of her own footsteps and dully-beating heart breaking the inky silence. Once, she started to sing softly, just to nudge the quiet aside – but a sudden feeling like someone was watching made her fall silent again. The feeling dissipated, but the chill it left kept her from making any more noise than she absolutely had to – as though she had to keep from being noticed.
Time soon meant nothing, as she continued slogging down, ever down into the deep places of the mountain. One foot in front of the next, one step at a time; and all the while, one hand stayed on the wall. Her fingers trailed through cold rivulets of water and small warm places, as though some living thing had only just moved out of her way. The walls were rough and damp with mold, often more earth than stone. Lei’s fingers were soon rubbed sore and tender to the touch.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years – who could know how long she wandered? Tracking and backtracking without even knowing for sure that she wasn’t just going in circles; turning back on herself in neck-wrenchingly thin tunnels, desperately praying that she hadn’t missed a vital turn off. It was a living nightmare – and then, it happened.
A noise! Just the barest whisper of sound, but Lei’s ears latched onto it like a lifeline. She strained after it, pleading silently for more.
There! As though someone said something in a sharp voice.
Eagerly, Lei moved her feet faster over the uneven stone floor. She nearly tripped. But caught herself in time – and her next step landed on carpet! She was on the right track.
Never before – not even when she was lost in the desert – had the loss of her sight dismayed Lei so much as it did right then. She knew – to her very core – that her dream had been true: Chu Min had tricked her evilly, and Feng was in grave danger. But she couldn’t even see to find her way to him! All she could do was fumble along in unrelenting blackness and hope that the voices came again.
And then, they did.
“…Had enough…you.” It was the woman’s voice from Lei’s dream – Chu Min, without a doubt. Lei held her breath, trying to pinpoint the sound.
“My minions…glad to hand you over…masters,” Chu Min said, her voice clearer as Lei moved closer, silently as a cat on the velvety carpet. “Have you given up….saving…kin, then?”
Lei stopped, as her hand touched wood. A door! She pressed her ear to it, grasping at each word that seeped through.
“Well, boy?” Chu Min demanded. “Have you lost your ability to speak along with your ability to amuse?”
“I will…never give up.” Feng’s voice was hoarse and thick. “One day you’ll be beaten…and the longer I can hold you off, that’s one less…boy who will have to…suffer under you.”
A sound like the slap of a hand cracked sharply.
“No one will ever defeat me,” Chu Min said in a voice so hard and cold that Lei shrank back from the door. “And I can see that I was right – you are of no more use to me. Enjoy your last hours, General Hatuka, for I can guarantee that they will not be long enough.”
Sharp footsteps echoed in the room beyond the door, and Lei darted back down the tunnel and around a corner, fearing that at any moment, Chu Min would shout out in discovery. But apparently the witch had left the room Feng was imprisoned in through another way, and Lei ventured back to the wooden door. She felt about until she found the door handle, and slowly turned it. The door opened with a creak.
Lei slipped inside, feeling with her feet for any obstacles, her ears pricked for suspicious noises.
“Who’s there?” Feng’s voice came weakly.
“Where are you? Keep talking.” Lei turned toward his voice. “Tell me if there’s anything in the way.”
“Lei? Is that you? Watch out – table there,” Feng sounded befuddled. “I had a dream that you were here once before…am I dreaming now?”
“No,” Lei felt her way around the small, square table. “And you weren’t dreaming then – at least, I don’t think you were.”
“It had to have been a dream,” he protested, and Lei heard the sound of chains rattling heavily. “You were see-through, like a ghost.”
She was almost to him now. “I know – I was the one who was dreaming. I’ll prove it – there’s a couch in front of me, isn’t there?”
“Um…no.”
She stopped. “There isn’t?”
“No.. Chu Min had it moved yesterday.” Feng paused. “Wait – if that wasn’t a dream the other night…” he lowered his voice. “Lei, let me see your face.”
Lei sighed, and reached up to pull away the hood. She heard Feng inhale sharply. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” she said lamely, running her fingers over the thick, ropey scars that snaked down her forehead and cheeks.
“Your eyes…” he said disbelievingly.
She nodded, swallowing back a lump in her throat. “Chu Min said that she thought I didn’t have enough pain already. She had already told me that you were her son – Kuichi the goblin prince – but she wanted even more pain. She said that goblins liked to make others suffer.”
He groaned. “I’m so sorry, Lei…if only I had known.”
She shrugged. “What would you have done? And I might never have found you otherwise. Speaking of which, we need to get you out of here.”
“No – remember the boy in the tree? I won’t have your death on my conscience. Get out of here now.” Feng’s tone was firm, but Lei ignored him.
“We won’t leave until Chu Min is defeated,” she said, just as firmly. “Remember the old legend about her mirror? That the wraiths keep her soul inside of it? What if we could find it – if we broke it, I think it would rout her. At the very least, it might break her power over you.”
“What about the…the one who was willing to go?”
Lei shrugged. “I don’t know. The desert people seem to think that H’su will come among us one day - that He’s the willing one. But I’m not sure how that helps us now.”
She began to fumble with the chains that held him to the wall. “Where’s the lock on this thing?”
He guided her hands. “There. You have a key?”
“Something better.” She pulled a pin from her hair. “Ming-Na taught me this when we were little.” Inserting the pin into the lock, she twisted and bent it searchingly, biting her tongue. Soon, there was a satisfying click, and the chain fell from Feng’s arm. “Where are the others?”
Soon, all the locks were undone, and Feng stood free, grumbling in pain as he stretched. “I feel human again anyway,” he said wryly. “Not like some pet animal of Chu Min’s. Now – you said something about a mirror?”
She nodded, tossing aside the bent and now-useless pin. “My father told me that when Chu Min made her deal with the wraiths, they gave her a mirror, where they keep her soul. That’s part of the reason she kidnaps young men – to feed to the—“
“To the wraiths.” Feng finished. “It makes sense now – she kept saying things like “give you to the masters” and “the masters will be pleased with you”. I wondered what she was talking about, but at that point, I didn’t really care.”
“The wraiths are her masters,” Lei mused. “I wonder if she’s doing things under their orders then? That would explain why she has kept this up for so long – you’d think that after a few hundred years, the desire for vengeance would die out. But if these wraiths are keeping her at it, trying to destroy the Court—“
“And therefore the country, and those who follow H’su,” interjected Feng.
“—then it would all fit together. Especially since her original plot was centered on the court women. She murdered them right off, but as soon as the wraiths got their claws into her, she started on the highborn men.” Lei felt the loose ends of the legend looping into place in her mind. It made more sense now – Chu Min had probably made her deal with the wraiths thinking that she would have her revenge on the court women and be satisfied. But the wraiths had their own agenda – and as soon as she thought she was done, they had started Chu Min on kidnapping the young men; but to feed the wraiths, not her own desire for vengeance. Doubtless, she still thought it was all her idea, but if the wraiths had been controlling her all this time—
“We have to find that mirror. You be my eyes, I’ll be your ears.”
“No need to go far,” Feng said, a tight little bit of amusement in his voice. “I think it’s right here.”
“What do you mean?” Lei froze in mid-step.
“There’s a big, ornate mirror hanging on the wall here,” Feng explained. “It’s enormous, twice as tall as me, at least; and wider than I can reach across – though not by much. The frame’s as thick as my arm, and carved all over with little snakes and flames and other ugly thing I can’t name. There – how’s that for your eyes?”
Lei squeezed his arm, and reached out a hand. Her fingers brushed the unnaturally cold surface of the mirror. “It’s huge,” she said, despair edging at her resolve. “How on earth could we ever destroy it?”
“We could throw things at it,” suggested Feng. “There are all sorts of heavy little knickknacks around. Here – stand back.”
Lei took several steps away from the mirror. Feng moved away from her, and she heard him pick something up. Grunting, he threw it at the mirror.
She braced herself for a thunderous crash – but all that came was a dull thunk, and then the sound of something heavy clattering to the floor.
“What happened?” she asked.
“It didn’t break,” Feng reported. “Either the glass is too thick, or else it’s magically reinforced.”
Lei ran a hand through her hair and groaned. “Great. Now what?”
A cold, mirthless chuckle rippled through the chamber. “Now what, indeed. I seem to have caught an extra little bird in my snare – ah!” Lei and Feng whirled to meet this new threat, and Chu Min’s delighted laugh rang out. “No! It is not a bird, but a little fish! Have you not suffered enough, little fish?”
Lei couldn’t stop the hand that went automatically to her face.
“What horribly ugly scars you have, my dear,” Chu Min said in mock sympathy, the sound of her footsteps coming nearer. “However did that happen?”
Feng stepped protectively in front of Lei. “You know perfectly well how it happened, witch,” he snarled. “I ought to rip your eyes out, in payment for hers.”
Chu Min sighed dramatically. “Oh, young love. It’s so tiresome.” She paused, and Lei pulled her nerves together.
The hag’s toying with us, she thought angrily.
“You will pay, Chu Min,” she snapped, hoping her fear didn’t leak into her voice.
“I’m sure,” the witch said dryly. “But if I paid whatever was demanded of me every time someone said that, I’d be begging in the streets by now. A lady pays full-price as infrequently as possible. I believe I interrupted you however; you were working out a way to defeat me?” She sounded genuinely interested.
“It’s hard to think with you standing right there,” Feng pointed out.
“Sorry to inconvenience you,” Chu Min retorted in a sardonic tone. “I doubt you’ll get very far anyway – the masters don’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Why do you call them your masters?” Lei asked suddenly. “I thought you had made a deal – that would make you partners, not masters and servant.”
“I am no ones’ servant!” Chu Min snapped. “But the wraiths are powerful – they deserve the title of master.”
Master…another name the desert people had given to H’su, He Who Lights the Stars.
“No…” Lei said aloud. “There is only one Master. And even your wraiths will one day acknowledge Him.”
“Shut up!” snarled Chu Min, taking another step toward them. Feng pulled Lei a step closer to the mirror. “You know not of what you speak.”
Lei took Feng’s hand in her own. “No—“ she retorted, as the realization crystallized in her mind. “I do know. Willingness to go into the heart of evil and bring light – this is what will defeat you and your kind.” She tugged on Feng’s arm. “Step into the mirror,” she said in a low voice.
She heard Chu Min’s sharp intake of air. “Stay away!” the witch shouted.
“What?” demanded Feng. “Step into the mirror? What about the wraiths?”
“Trust me - trust H’su!” Lei pleaded. There was a rustle, as Chu Min gathered up her skirts and lunged toward them.
“I—“ Feng hesitated.
“Please, Feng!”
He took a deep breath. “Very well.”
Just as Chu Min clawed at their faces, Feng and Lei stepped backward into the mirror. The witch screamed in agony.
            “Nooooo!”

Comments

WOW! Awesome!

WOW!

Awesome!

Heather | Sun, 11/15/2009

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

Oh my!

I love this part. But if I paid whatever was demanded of me every time someone said that, I’d be begging in the streets by now. A lady pays full-price as infrequently as possible. I believe I interrupted you however; you were working out a way to defeat me?” She sounded genuinely interested.
:Into the mirror they go! Have you ever read...can't remember the title...it's a retelling of Snow White by Gail Carson Levine? Someone enters a mirror there too!

Julie | Sun, 11/15/2009

Formerly Kestrel

My dear, you really CAN'T

My dear, you really CAN'T KEEP DOING THIS TO ME!!!!!!!! Seriously, I'm not going to have a moments peace until I find out what happens.

Ariel | Sun, 11/15/2009

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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

It's "Fairest", and

It's "Fairest", and yes--I LOVE THAT BOOK. Levine is one of my fave authors ever. But...I'm honestly not sure if I was influenced by the mirror thing. Hadn't really thought about it, actually.

Next part is the last one!!!!

LoriAnn | Tue, 11/17/2009

 I'm going to pieces out

 I'm going to pieces out here!!  AWESOME chapter!  Can't wait for the end!

Mary | Tue, 11/17/2009

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
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!

I should have been reading

I should have been reading this ages ago!  I've just caught up.  I can kinda see four fairy tales here: The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, and Snow White.  This is an absolutely incredible story.  HURRY UP!!!!!!!!!

Bridget | Mon, 11/30/2009

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya

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