Chapter 24 ∞ Movement
We were led to the path of the monastery where the monks resided. While the city was still busily buzzing outside the tall walls of the place, the towering trees and the wide breadth of land seemed to block out all the sounds. We were left in the peaceful sanctuary of nature’s song—birds tweeting, the trees rustling, and our feet in a fleeting chorus across the pavement.
I stayed quiet for the most part, letting the adults converse as I sank into the embrace of my own thoughts. The energy in this place was so pure and overflowing that I was tempted to sing. I stopped myself, even so, knowing what sort of consequences doing so could bring. I grounded myself by listening in on the conversation that the monk was having with my mistress, but was just too lost at the topic that I eventually zoned out again.
Before long, we found ourselves passing by a prayer hall. Hums were coming from inside followed by incoherent mutterings I could barely understand. As we went further, within a few steps, I heard cries of willpower and determination echoing from a distance. Out of curiosity, I left my mistress’s side for a bit and leaned over the fences to see a couple of monks training on their stances like something out of a kung-fu movie. My mistress was totally clueless about my leaving that she entered the building ahead of us without me by her side.
I doubted she needed me at all. It was kind of strange seeing her in so much ease that she actually forgot about me. One minute she was fussing, the next she’s forgetting.
The stances they practiced harnessed a great deal of energy, I realized. As a Conduit, I was more sensitive to the movement of the domains around me. I suspected these guys were Conduits too. There was a small vacuum that funneled the energy straight into them, supplying their fists with power and agility to name some traits. With each stance came with either defense or offense—or both. I could tell with how the energy expanded or contracted around their bodies. The complexity made my eyes spin as their movements utilized the polished wisdom of their predecessors. Each sway, each flick—it all bore a significance and purpose, whether to attack or to defend. Some, however, were more suited to offenses and defenses as they better realized the fierceness of one attack or the stability of the other.
Man, I don’t have that kind of talent. If I did, I would at least have a little more improvement with the sword my mistress had been teaching me for six years now.
Eh. That guy seemed to be favoring his ankle. Did he have an injury or something?
“Tell me your thoughts, young one,” rumbled a deep voice.
I looked up, a little startled. I hadn’t felt anyone creep to my side. Were his footsteps that light?
It was, of course, an old man. But he looked particularly young for an old man. He had some greying wire-y noodle beard that extended to his chest with a bald, cleanly shaved head and a fluffy brow. His face was round, a little on the pudgy side, but he carried an air of wisdom about him and an undeniable presence.
I straightened my back unwittingly and said, “I’m not skilled enough to comment on what they do. I don’t have a talent for it.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked, laughter rumbling in his chest.
“I’ve been taught for six years. I’m just not cut out for it.”
“Dear child, it’s not a matter of being ‘cut out’ for it,” he told me. “It’s all if you’re willing to trim yourself and pursue the discipline. Some children are born with a better shape that fits the boxes they try to put themselves in, but what you don’t see is that the box itself changes its shape as well. A wise man would allow himself to be like water—whatever shape, wherever—it adapts.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Then there’s no forcing it,” he said.
“Then that’s the end of the discussion.”
He laughed. “Perhaps you just don’t really want to. And you’re using the issue of talent to not do it.”
“I suppose I’m just stubborn like that.”
“Oh, but I think children your age should be greedy,” he told me.
Right. I was supposed to be twelve something—or thirteen. Not too young. Not too old either.
“There is much knowledge in the world. If I was any younger, I’d go out there and soak up all the things I can see. Unfortunately, my knees are here to weigh me down. It makes me regret a little that I took up monkhood so soon, but I suppose this is the box I chose.”
There was silence between us. Only the cries of the kung fu group downstairs were piercing it loose.
The old man gave a sigh and gazed at me with a small smile. “Would you walk with me?” he asked.
“Oh, but um…my mistress…”
He didn’t answer me. He just kept on going, turning shortly to smile over his shoulder, giving me a knowing look, then ignoring me completely.
Way to go upholding the stereotype. Why did all wise monks do this? He sort of reminded me of Master Oogway—that wise old turtle from Kung Fu Panda. But this man was kind of flabbier. Actually, this old monk looked more like…the Kung Fu Panda that got a little older. He was like a Master Po.
“Master Po—eh…” I blurted. “Dayum, okay.” I scratched my head and tailed him closely. “I’m sorry. Do I know your name?”
“No, of course, you do not. Why would you be asking for it otherwise?” he shot at me.
“Oh, come on…”
He laughed again. “To pay you back for your sarcasm.” He knifed his forefinger down several times at me with a jesting smile.
“I wasn’t being sarcastic…”
He didn’t hear me. “In this world, the names of the entities are our convenience of calling them—but what they are called is far above the language we have and know. To truly summon their power, we must know their song.”
I looked at him, eyebrows raised with interest this time.
“But at times, it doesn’t have to be a song,” he added. “Did you see what it was back there?” he asked, pointing to the kung fu group still belting out their voice boxes. We weren’t really cleared of their yells just yet. “We call it the Movement of the Seven Dragons. They are based on the constellations and, of course, the seven dragons themselves.”
“Sounds so kung fu,” I commented under my breath.
He didn’t hear me again and continued. Or maybe he did but decided to just ignore me. “The Movement of the Seven Dragons is a complete set of stances that speak the language of the universe, therefore naturally drawing the energy and the domains to be harnessed by the user. It is more effective than actually using words to summon one’s power. It also instills balance and raises the physical ability and mental focus of its doer. It is the prized foundation of martial arts.”
We stopped in the garden. He looked me seriously.
“Are you willing to learn?” he inquired.
I looked back at him.
“No, not really.”
The smile he had on his lips faltered. “After all the trouble I went to explain to you, you’re just going to flat-out refuse me without even thinking about it?”
“I don’t have to think about it. I’ve been doing it for the past six years,” I told him dejectedly.
“What did I just say about being greedy for knowledge!”
“That you would go out there if not for your bad knees?”
His frustration tinted his face purple. “Stubborn child! This isn’t about my knees!”
“It was a while ago.”
His fingers twitched to the direction of his face, and I reckoned he wanted to do a facepalm that moment were it not for his self-control and discipline. He remained calm after taking a deep breath and gazed at me with a different light.
The monk moved away from me, and I finally thought he was going to leave me alone. However, after a few steps, he began executing the Movement—whatever thing—and with prowess, power, and smoothness that those kung fu guys from a while ago so severely lacked. The energy he gathered was quite massive too, nearly sucking up all the essence in the air and gathering it around him to form a ball that breathed with his movements. Faintly, I thought I saw it form scales, claws extending. It began to take shape.
He then took a crane-like stance, one knee bending a little as he lightly kicked his other forward. His right fist, cupped, snapped forward like a viper and the left extending out to the back—CRACK! “Ahhhh—yowwwww! Oh, my knees!”
The energy ball was ruined and burst like a bubble. Whatever it was that he had gathered spilled like water freed from a balloon, dispersing into all directions while the poor, old monk fell to the ground in pain.
I gaped in shock before snorting out a laugh. I didn’t know why—but there was just something about this man that made me unable to take him seriously.
“Why, you! Child, help me up!” he exclaimed.
“You knew you had bad knees! Why did you even have to force yourself!” I told him, stooping forward to help the old man back to his feet. “My mistress is gonna kill me if she saw me like this…she’d think I was bullying you.”
“Well, she’s right!” the old monk said. “I’ll make sure to tell her!”
I nearly rolled my eyes. I was tempted to let go of him and have him fall back flat on his face, but that would be rude and blatant disrespect. Besides, even if this old man had terrible knees, considering what he did just now—he could still crush me with a fist. Better not risk it then. Still, it was not me to back down, so I decided to use threatening words. “I really can’t let an old man fall. I’d be very heartless if I did and my mother would be cursing me to my grave,” I told him.
I only laughed.
A young monk who wore grey robes rushed toward us when he saw what happened and came to help me bring the old one back to his feet. We didn’t go to such an isolated place, after all—in fact, we were somewhere near the walkway.
“Master Myrrh! Why are you even out and about like this!” the young monk exclaimed.
“Agh! Leave me be! I can’t stay sitting in the room all the time!” He dismissed the young monk’s assistance and got up to his feet steadily by himself. He then floundered his way to the nearest stone bench and collapsed. He tipped back his head and took several breaths, perhaps to ease the pain he was feeling.
My shoulders sagged when I heard the call. “Uh-oh.”
“Where have you been?!” my mistress nearly shrieked. “I thought I lost my heart when I realized you were gone! Where did you go?”
I scratched my nape. “I was just planning on watching those kids back there, but this old man here dragged me here to show me his Movement of the Seven something, and now he’s blaming me because he hurt his knees!” I ranted without taking a breath in between, watching the old monk from my peripheral vision go speechless.
“Master Myrrh?” Mistress Veronika fingered the crease between her brows when he saw the old monk beside me.
She hit my head. I registered the pain too late. I didn’t even see her hand move!
“Ow!” I exclaimed.
Then, unexpectedly, her hand flew and smacked the old monk’s head as well.
“O-ow, ow! This isn’t how you treat your elders!” he yelled. “Why do I keep being beaten around likes this! I am not a sandbag! I am of flesh and blood!”
“And creaky bones,” I added.
“You—” he glared at me piercingly “—you and this girl are the same!” Master Myrrh pointed at Mistress Veronika and me indignantly.
“I helped raise her, after all,” Mistress Veronika retaliated, crossing her arms. “And stop pretending to be so fragile! Even with those creaky bones, you can bring down the Lovaskan Ranges with just a stomp!”
“Agh…” The old monk rubbed his nape. “I am not even that impressi—VERONIKA!” he yelled.
So they knew each other? It seemed to me that Mistress Veronika’s connection with this place was deeper than she made it look.
“Why are you yelling?” she calmly asked.
“What did you teach this child?!” he asked, finger once again knifing through the air—this time, in the direction of my mistress and with a lot of anger too.
“I am teaching her what you taught me,” she told him.
“Nonsense! You were one of my best students, but as a teacher—you can’t even be considered for teaching! You have impeded the growth of this young one due to your inability! And now you plan on teaching her something you’re not even an ounce familiar with!” He nodded at the box my mistress was carrying.
How did he know what’s inside?
“You? You are lecturing me on being a teacher! You weren’t as half decent as me!”
To my surprise, Master Myrrh got up to both his legs and began to argue fervently with my mistress. The young monk who I now stood beside was scratching his head cluelessly, seemingly unaware of what to do next. Finally, the abbot who my mistress was having a conversation with just now saw the two of them together and approached with a confused smile on his face.
“Master Myrrh…Veronika…” he began. “Seriously. Please stop arguing. This is the first time you’ve seen each other in years. Is this really how you—”
The argument continued between them.
Finally, the abbot sighed. “Very well. Let’s leave them like this,” he said. “Little one, would you come with me and drink some tea? Leave this woman and that old man to settle this themselves.”
“Y-you’re just going to give in like that?” I asked.
“When they get into a fight, they take a whole day. I’ve tried many methods before to break them up, but they ought to settle it by themselves otherwise…it will never end. Some things don’t really change.” He beckoned me forward. “Why don’t you and I just have some leisurely stroll? We don’t have to drink tea.”
I scratched my head cluelessly but, looking at how this old man and my mistress was arguing, even a calamity wouldn’t be able to come between them. I took up the abbot on his offer for a stroll and resumed savoring the pure energy in the surroundings. As we put distance between ourselves and the bickering, silence finally settled down.
“Do pardon those two,” the abbot told me. “Veronika told me it was you who insisted on coming here. Why is that?”
“I was just curious. Mistress told me she came here years ago. Was the old monk Myrrh her teacher?”
“I suppose you can say that. Veronika was a lot younger when she came…I reckon a little older than you are now.” The abbot gazed at me, and I looked up at him. “She came very far, actually. She then spent the next nine years with us before leaving for Venerya. She is a very talented young lady, but we haven’t heard from her for the last fourteen years or so.” The abbot sighed. “Alas, time passes by so swiftly. She is still that girl back then, though I sensed something had changed.”
My mind suddenly lapsed into thought.
My mistresses did not take any ‘apprentices’ save for myself, so there was no one to continue their profession should they decide on retiring. They turned away all the children that were offered up to them to learn the trade because they didn’t condone the practice any longer.
My Mistress Veronika was among the youngest few while Mistress Lamia was arguably the oldest. Still, for some reason, people here didn’t seem to age as they did back in my old world.
“How old are you, Abbot?” I asked, curious.
“I would be turning eighty this year.”
My eyes bulged. “Eighty?!”
“Why are you so shocked?” He chuckled.
It couldn’t be, right? He only looked around forty to fifty years old at best. EIGHTY? That would be like comparing how Jennifer Lopez looked like at forty-nine years old! That hot mama hardly looked a day older from twenty-three!
I scratched my head. My encounters with other people have been limited at best, and my mistresses hardly ever discussed matters of aging. They would celebrate birthdays, but they never advertised the years they had in their life. Now that I thought about it, I’ve been with them at least a decade. Women back in my old world would have probably turned into old hags at this point, way past their prime—but my mistresses were still going strong with the courtesans thing.
“I do not know what confuses you, child,” he told me.
“How old are old people usually when they die?”
“Are you talking about life expectancy?” he asked with raised brows.
“I assume…a hundred and eighty at most—the most optimistic number.”
My fingers flew to my scalp when I felt an unbearable itch. I realized I was correct. People here lived twice longer than people in my old world. Was it due to the differences in the energy thing?
As if sensing my question, the abbot said, “You can live longer if you practice harnessing the domains. People in Vertvalden could live beyond our years too.”
“Yes. Old Myrrh is close to a hundred and forty. He is one of the oldest monks we have here.”
I never really thought about it so much because I was busy with other matters regarding my reincarnation and trying to act like my age. It turned out I had a big misconception about ages in the first place. I might have become even more of an oddball that I previously realized.
“I hope you don’t mind me pointing out,” the abbot began. “I assume from your appearance that you are a halfling, born of parents from each continent. It is simply peculiar and exotic. The combination is rarely seen,” the abbot told me.
“Should be true,” I told him. “Is it bad?”
“People can be…quite particular about blood, but Vertvaldenians are fearsome for their combat ability and resistance, so they are not to be messed with. There is, at least, respect. The relationship between the continents is neutral at best, anyhow. There is no war of any sort save for minor conflicts that can easily be mediated. There were wars a few hundred years back, but we got over it. Nevertheless, save for trade and other diplomatic matters, they don’t prefer to mix,” he told me.
I gazed at him questioningly.
“Children born of the serpent and a dragon, well…” He cleared his throat. “I assume you know of the constitution of those from the West, right? They have inherited a physique different from our own. Most children born of two continents is quite unusual. Though not exactly rare, they tend to stand more on one side of the spectrum. In particular, they inherit the physically-dominant traits of Vertvaldenians, and any Erindalian blood becomes nearly invisible. You happen to stand in the very middle of that spectrum—something bizarre.”
Back in my old world, being biracial was not exactly uncommon. Many stood in the middle of the spectrum as I did now, but it seemed it was more unusual in this world considering the blood of Vertvaldenians did indeed have physically strong manifestations. There would be halflings—just that they wouldn’t be obvious.
“Over this way,” he said, motioning me to walk on a particular path when we came upon a fork. The other side we had veered away from led to a small set of stairs and a wide field where tattered tents have been raised. That place was more of a meditative ground repurposed into an evacuation center.
“What’s there?” I asked.
“It’s where we house as many refugees as we can. They come from the more ravaged areas of Vertvalden. The other nations in their continent have already accommodated as many as they could, so the others came to Erindal in hopes of some more place to stay. In the past few hundred years combined, we haven’t had as many Vertvaldenians in our lands as we did now.”
It seemed as though people in this place really favored having their own personal bubbles. Meanwhile, back in my old world, conquering other countries and expanding their own empires was the thing—they hungered after so much territory that they often had trouble managing it. No empires so vast ever lasted so long. Even if they did, their colonies would have eventually declared independence over the years.
“That doesn’t seem very comfortable,” I commented.
“Ah, we aren’t so heavily funded to support them enough, and our living space is already small as it is.” The abbot sighed. “We house as many as we can and help those we can, but there are still troubles. The language they speak is much too different to be understood by our people. Those who know their tongues are numbered very few—particularly the royal envoys sent to the other continent. Learning the language is much too demanding, both concerning time and finance.”
I looked at the abbot, my brows twisting in concern. I swallowed a little, realizing the consequences of my rebirth might have done this. People were suffering from a mishap during my reincarnation. Even though Amber mentioned it might’ve been a consequence of a more significant event and that I was not necessarily at fault, I could not help but feel a little responsible.
“The best would be to have them return to where they came from,” he told me, sensing my distress at their situation. “But they don’t have anything to return to at the moment. It pains me to see them suffer, but our nation is already troubled with their own affairs to care for others’.”
I spoke nothing, my stomach twisting in discomfort as I realized the situation was far bigger than I imagined. I seriously needed to talk to Amber. However, I didn’t know when he would appear next. My biggest guess was the next new moon.
“You have a big heart,” the abbot said. “Tell me…Evyionne was it?”
“What has kept your mistress busy this entire time?” he asked.
“It’s really none of my business,” I told him, hesitant.
A smile popped on his lips. “She didn’t lie when she said you spoke like an adult,” he told me. “Very well, I will ask her myself. Forgive me for that.” The abbot rolled his shoulders and lifted his eyes to look around us, breath leaving his nose noisily. “I sense the air changing around us…the wheels of fate are at work. I feel as though we are in an era that will be commemorated heavily in history, recounted in legends in a very distant future. A change is upon us…so great the face of this world will never be the same.”
I looked at him and found myself breathing out the tension that had accumulated in my heart. He wasn’t entirely wrong about that prediction. Considering how big the trouble had already escalated into, this definitely would no longer be something that could be fixed by just calling a plumber. Twelve years was quite a long time. By the looks of it, a whole nation had suffered.
I had to take matters seriously if I was to put a stop to it. These Veils must no longer be allowed to do whatever they pleased.
The question was…how?