Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Don't Read While You Eat: Part XV

The Master was sitting crossed legged on a low platform. Massive in heavy silk robes, his hair in a topknot, Ma Huang thought he looked like a pagoda. Xing Ren knew his size belied a true physical prowess, subtle and powerful. Beneath the great robes was a body that could, at will, move any square inch of skin as a horse shivers off a fly; Xing Ren had witnessed him move across the practice courtyard as easily as a dog shakes himself and as fast as an arrow leaves a bowstring. His hands long, curved and plump seemed only suited for teasing fish out of a stream, but could likewise break a man’s leg. Although his face had softened with time and care and a white streak ascended into his topknot from his left temple, even in his advanced years the man carried the look of ageless middle age.

The Master greeted the two disciples with a nod and a questioning “Yes?”
Xing Ren appeared flustered, the Master was unsure why. Usually the Master felt flustered in the presence of Xing Ren for here was the only man left who had a memory of the Old Master, though Xing Ren had been a very young man at the time of the transition.

The Old Master had come from the Age of Miracles, when monks flickered from mountain top to mountain top; when dragons were called down from the sky and up from the sea; when men and immortals mixed. The Old Master had been one of those dazzling men who could perform miracles, not just the odd parlor trick here and there, but actual miracles. The more powerful he grew, the more he mixed with dragons, immortals and fairies, and the less present he was on earth. The monastery fell into disrepair and the students forgot, and then were never taught. People would come from many li to camp outside the monastery gates hoping to see the Old Master emerge, preferably attended by a hundred diaphanous fairies.

One day the Old Master called upon a dragon that swooped down into the crowd and gathered up a beautiful young woman. The crowd became so excited they chased after the dragon and his captive, tracking him by the glittering trail he left in the sky, for many li. Trampling brush, fences and farm land, they finally could go no further and collapsed, en masse, all dead. When told of the incident the Old Master replied they got what they wanted. It was this dragon incident that changed Fu Shou, charging him with a destiny he hadn’t suspected.

Fu Shou, for that was the Master’s name before everyone forgot it and simply referred to him as “Master”, was not a brilliant disciple, it took him several tries to get his lessons right, but once he had learned a thing he knew it like his own hand. And this served him well when the lessons had stopped and all the naturally talented adepts forgot most of what they were supposed to have learned. As the Old Master had become more and more absent, more and more concerned with magic and fairies and less and less with the education of the monks at the Monastery, Fu Shou had taken it upon himself to secretly give lessons to some of the youngest monks, one of whom was, predictably, Xing Ren. When the aforementioned dragon incident occurred Fu Shou decided the Old Master would have to be replaced, he had become too dangerous, and the best man for the job was Fu Shou himself.