(Co-writing project with Sindy and odie mama)
My writing plain text
odie mama writing Italics
Shanzen had never left the monastery in all of her seventeen years. Often she would walk out to the Tree of dreams. Where she would wonder what the world was like beyond the valley below. She was an orphan and had been taken in by the monks as a baby. They had found her bundled and crying in the stable. It was assumed an unwed mother had left her in their care. The wind gusted and she felt she would lift up and fly to the valley below. The sun was setting and Master Wu was calling her to meditation.
What would tomorrow bring? …she wondered.
when shanzen returned to the monastary she was especially surprised to see that there was a new student in the entryway being greeted by master wu. who was this new person, shanzen wondered to herself?
this was a rare sight indeed. the monastary rarely allowed new students to join because of its strict adhearance to the traditions of scholary and spirtual perfection. new students had to be vetted through an interesting process akin to discovering the reincarnated soul of a monk in a baby child. in the case of reincarnated monks, first, signs of the reincarnation from the deceased himself had to be found, e.g. footprints in his cremation ashes. secondly, a “star master”, or a monk who could read the star charts for supreme divination, had to be consulted so find out exactly when the monks soul would take root in a new body, and in which body the soul would go. and in the final stages an apprentice monk loyal to the deceased would start the long process of finding the old souls new body. similarly, a new student went through a vigorous process of star charting, spiritual confirmation, and soul analysis, before being accepted.
shanzen looked closer at this foreign sight. though she was supposed to be in the meditation room already, she could not contain her curiosity. the new student was of slight build and wore a dark brown tunic signifying he was probably a peasant farmer from a surrounding village. shanzen looked closer at the new students aquiline features, and graceful manner in front of master wu. the new student was a woman!
Master Wu turned and saw Shanzen and gave her a stern look. The doors to the meditation room were being closed, missing meditation had severe consequences. Shanzen could see her future scrubbing the stone floors of the monastery until her knees were bruised and her hands were cracked from the strong lye. She dashed the short distance sliding into the room, accompanied by a stern look as well as whack from the stick of Master Li. As Shanzen sat in meditation her mind was not still, she had images and thoughts regarding the young girl outside with Master Wu. Her mind wandered even further back to her memories as a young child in the monastery. She remembered being told stories on snowy winter nights, of the Shaolin Masters, like Bodhidharma. The old monk pointed out the location of the cave in the mountain to the young ones. Shanzen recalls dreaming of standing outside the cave like the disciple, Shen Guang. When the dream was recounted to master Wu, he turned and walked away. A loud bang shocked Shanzen from her unconscious dreaming, as Master Lee had slammed his stick on the floor beside her. “Stand-up” he demanded and she took a posture of the crane, where she would remain until dismissed, just another reason to remain centered in meditation.
It was almost an hour before the gong sounded ending meditation; Shanzen had sweat pouring down her face and neck. Master li approached her and stood in front of her, “What has you so distracted> Your kung fu will suffer from such a lack of mindfulness.” The young monk bowed her head, looking up she said hesitantly, “Yes Master. It is just I noticed a new student, a girl about my age talking with Master Wu.” She was cut off by the master, “Distractions are practice in mindfulness young one.” Shanzen bowed deeply and answered, “Yes Master.” “Go now, and do your dharma.” When she left the meditation room, Master Wu and the girl were nowhere to be seen, she headed toward the kitchen to work.
shanzens arms,back neck legs ached as she walked. even the small parts of her toes seemed to ache from having stood in the form of an obedient, meditating crane for the last hour. she was careful to hide her discomfort from anyone else who might be watching as she rubbed the soreness of her arms and entered the kitchen. “another 2 hours of work before i can go quietly to my room for rest”, she thought unhappily.
the smells of the rich food cooking in the monastaries kitchen instantly lightened shanzen’s spirits. she forgot a little of her aches and pains as her senses were overwhelmed with what seemed to be thousands of delicious flavors that swirled in the kitchens hot air. she was familiar with many and noted them. a rich vegetable stew broiled in a pot so large a man much larger than the venerable master wu could have bathed in it. another large pot had the distinct smell of a traditional tofu dish. and another was most certainly cooking the monastaries special sauce. Its recipe was a closely guarded secret for millenia. even shanzen, who worked in the kitchen many days of the week, did not know its ingredients.
“well goodmorning shanzen! so nice to see you!”. it was master chan, the monastaries head cook. his round belly protruded under his long robes, his big hands were covered in grease and his hair was damp from the labor of cooking. a large smile crossed his face. master chan was always in a pleasant mood no matter how hot the kitchen was, how much he sweat from the work, or how many hours he stood with his face being blasted with the steam of the boiling pots on the large stoves.
But no matter how cheerful his nature, master chan was very strict and demanded hard work and obedience. shanzen bowed low to master chan to show her full respect. her back ached terribly as she did so, but she managed a cheerful “and hello to you master” greeting as she reached an acceptable angle of servitude. she stood back up again as slowly as she could without showing suffering.
“i have plenty of work for you to do today shanzen, so come quickly to the table to begin cutting the vegetables and other items we will need for tonights dinner. we are celebrating the arrival of a new student to our monastary and master wu would like to have the special….”
….celebration. “Go and string some prayer flags in the dinner hall Shanzen” says Master Chan. She had to hide her expression of frustration as her limbs ached so terribly. Shanzen bowed as she left the kitchen with the prayer flags. The dinner hall was just across from the kitchen down a winding stone corridor, sound echoed off the ancient walls and Shanzen heard voices, so she stopped.
“We were lucky to get Wei Lin when we did. If it were not for the merchant Wei Zhong, she would be on the slave ship to America.” Shanzen heard Master Li Dong say. She stood still frozen in disbelief,” America, slave ship?” They must be talking about the new arrival. She wasn’t sure where America was but their tone made it sound very ominous and frightening. Master Wu they sell these girls as young as eleven into prostitution. I will make extra offerings of incense to the ancestors for these lost ones.” Shanzen stayed motionless, she did not want to get caught ease dropping after being in trouble earlier today. Then Master Wu said “Put Wei Lin in the upper chambers, I do not want anyone asking her questions, she needs to feel secure before she begins her training. The child has been through enough. We will introduce her tonight at dinner, but keep her with us.” Certainly Master Wu, I will have her bathed and robed by Shesun, the old woman has nurturing ways,” answered Li Dong. “Yes, yes, she does,” replies Master Wu. They head away from where Shanzen was hiding allowing her way clear to the hall.
“wei lin..a-mer-i-ca. wei-lin. a-mer-ica.” shanzen rolled the unfamiliar sounding words on the tip of her tongue as discreetly as she could while she strung the paper lanterns in the great dinner hall. Fortunately she had done this task every full moon since she had grown taller than a pigs shoulder, and she was able to think about the days surprising events while she hung each light above the large tables using a stick with a metal hook on its end.
“who is she? why is she here? and how did she get here at all?”, Shanzens curiousity burned in her as brightly as a lit lantern’s wick. Shanzen’s thoughts moved quickly along to new questions about the mysterious arrival as she hung the remaining half of the lanterns.
“will they train wei lin in the arts of karate like myself, or will she become a scholar lady, painting tapestries like all the other girls at the monastary do?”.
shanzen was in fact the only female among 10 students training in the martial art of style of the crane.
“If she does train what will her elemental spirit be?”
wei lins features, shanzen surmised from the glances shed stolen of the new girl earlier, favored the elements of water and ice; Her facial features was graceful and fluid like summer rain, yet the manner in which she had greeted master wu belied a strength like a mountain river, water bold enough to cut through any stone.
Shanzens element was the exact opposite of what she supposed wei lins might be. shanzen’s element was fire.
She had been assigned the element when she turned 5 years old. “Your temper and emotions are impulsive and spontaneous like fire on kindle,” her masters told her.
“Your wit and judgment are quick like a grasshopper jumping over a flame”, they continued.
“And your laughter is contagious like fire among a pile of dry bamboo stalks.”, they finished as they put a red stone amulet with a fire symbol around her neck that fifth birthday. Shed worn it ever since, and never taken it off.
Just as Her masters continually praised her for possessing such a strong element in her female body, they continually cautioned her that fire is dangerous when not controlled. She’d spent many extra hours in deep meditation for her “outbursts” after her fire spirit had gotten the best of her.
Thinking about controlling fire made shanzen think about the element of water again, and then about wei lins first preparation bath ceremony that the old medicine lady Shesun would give her.
“what if she became a nurse to mistress Shesun?” Shesun was certainly getting old and it only seemed natural that she would need to begin training an apprentice soon. The healing lady’s once nimble hands now worked slowly at their tasks and were gnarled like the roots of the ancient pine trees depicted in the monasteries tapestries. Shesun often needed help reaching her medicines and special healing balms that she kept in the tall wooden cabinets. “Maybe that’s why wei lin was rescued. To help MIstress Shesun? But what was she rescued from?”
Every time Shanzen guessed a likely answer once question about the mysterious girl another rose to the surface. She hoped she would get some answers soon so that her mind could rest. But first she had to finish all of the days chores.
Finally Shanzen finished the task of stringing all the bright red lanterns and returned to the kitchen to finish cutting the vegetables for the special soup. The special sauce that made the soup was probably ready by now and Shanzen would need to help Master Chan with its…..
….extraction from the gigantic pot that hung in the hearth. That pot was as heavy as a boulder, and once it was taken off the hook they had to ladle it out of the pot into serving size pots for the dinner hall. Master Chan and Shanzen had done this time and time again, but not being in a state of mindfulness, she almost tripped, nearly spilling the soup. “Shanzen!” Master Chan shouted at her, “What has you so distracted today?” “I am very sorry master, please forgive me.” She bowed very deeply to him. “OK, Ok but you had better clear your mind and maintain your focus, working at dharma, walking, making soup, gardening, kung fu, all requires mindfulness to become enlightened like the Buddha.” He looked at her to see if she was actually listening with mindfulness, she had a lonesome tear rolling down her cheek. “Stop crying girl. Go rest before dinner, wash and put on your finest robe.” Shanzen straightened up “Yes Master Chan.” Shanzen bowed again and left to go to her chamber in the east tower. The masters were in the west tower and the stairs were not connected. Shanzen wanted to clear her thoughts and be mindful but she could not get this this girl and what she had overheard out of her thoughts.
Master Chan had told her many times, “See that cat. His curiosity is about to get his whiskers burned by the fire. Like you my little Shanzen.” She knew her curious nature and her fire element was not like the soup. There was no fire spicy element in the soup.
Shanzen fell into sleep after lying on the mat in her chamber. Walking along the steep ridge of the mountains a dark and ominous day, her bare feet gripping the earth, she see a lone figure approaching, crouching like a cat. Her awareness senses the energy of the predator, she takes her defensive pose in readiness to strike, and all the while the most haunting sound is heard. Drifting into another time and space a fierce battle surrounds her. Something hit, a large booming sound awakes Shanzen from her dream, it is the gong for dinner.
“Who are you??!!”, she yelled, her quaking voice was filled with exasperation. Shanzens throat felt dry and her head was dizzy.
“Concentrate Shanzen. Do not let the enemy know your fear”, she said to herself. Even the voice inside her head was unsteady and belied her vulnerable energy. She struggled to maintain a well balanced attack position, to fool her enemy, but could feel her arms shaking despite her effort.
To make matters worse she could no longer see the monster. Somehow the darkness of the dream had filled in all of the space around her like fog drifts down into the valleys around the monastery on spring mornings. She searched instinctively using senses other than sight for any trace of her enemy’s presence. There was nothing.
Had the catlike creature somehow crept up behind her using the stealth of the monkey? Maybe the creature and used a disappearing aura maneuver to completely hide its soul energy? Shanzen knew that only supremely advanced fighters were able to use such high level techniques. The fear that was in her stomach now welled up and flooded her heart with anxiety. It appeared she was facing an opponent much larger than herself and also of greater kung fu ability.
“Where are you!!!?” Shanzen yelled out.
This time her voice was hoarse. She thought it sounded like the noise brittle logs make after being thrown down a deep well and splitting apart at the bottom. There was no answer. Silence surrounded her.
Slowly light began to return to her eyes. It took her a few seconds, a lifetime for a person as experienced in kung fu as herself, to realize that she wasn’t facing an edge of a dark cliff. Instead she was facing the stone wall of her sleeping chamber. She became conscious that she was sitting bolt upright in her bed with her arms in the crane attack position. The cliff, the darkness, the catlike creature had thankfully all been a dream.
She lowered her arms into a defensive crane position as she swiveled her head around quickly with the agility of the owl, checking for familiar signs of her room at the monastery room. Everything was as shed left it. A small window overlooked the monastery garden to the south. her robe was hanging over a wooden chair near hear bed. A small desk held a small bouquet of local field flowers atop it, and her cat Bo looked at her with his big round eyes from the corner of the room.
Reassured, she dropped her arms to her side. Though her upper body had moved many degrees into the exaggerated positions of the crane, her legs were still tucked neatly under the sheet of her bed.
“You think I’m silly for being so scared?,” she asked to Bo. He blinked at her but otherwise made no movement. “That means yes.” Shanzen said.
“Well you’d be hiding under that bed right now if you’d had the nightmare i just had”.
She instinctively knew that there were tiny beads of sweat crowning her forehead and face, as many as if she’d been sleeping in a field and used dew laden grass for a pillow. “Focus Shanzhen focus. You’re okay”…she said to calm herself.
The young student put both her hands to her racing heart and continued to take the deep slow breaths that her years of training had taught her in order to slow its rapid pace. She closed her eyes and inhaled only through her nose and exhaled slowly only through her mouth. It worked a bit. Her heart was only beating twice as fast as normal now. “That’s better, right Bo?”, she said to her cat to encouraged herself. she hoped that her breathing and heart rate would return to normal quickly, as her training required.
Shanzen relaxed back into a fully reclining position on the bed, wiped her brow again with the sleeves of her sleeping robe, and let out a final deep exhale to rid herself of any vestiges of negative anxiety that the nightmare had filled her consciousness with. She forced herself to think on the Wu Ji, or nothingness that only the unfettered mind attains. She failed. “it was only a dream….only a dream after all?”, she thought.
She knew she was lying to herself. What she had just envisioned was more than a bad dream. It was the same nightmare she been having for years. It was the same nightmare that put the fear of death in her heart. It was the same nightmare that made her break into a feverish sweat even in the dead of winter when her small stone room felt as cold as the snow itself. It was the same nightmare that made her yell out loud in the middle of the night. but One thing had been different this time. The monster had gotten closer to her than it ever had in any of the previous encounters. and she had seen its eyes for the first time. They were…
There was a knock on Shanzens door.
“Shanzen?? Are you okay?”
“Shanzen, open the door it is Xiao Yi,” The youngest and smallest monk apprentice was Xiao Yi, he was about seven years of age now and an orphan like Shanzen. She had always been like a big sister to him.
“Xiao Yi, I am OK, go away, I have to get ready for dinner” she yelled through the door. The door cracked and he stuck his sweet face in the crack. “Sister you were making a lot of noise in here, I thought something was harming you. It sounded like you were in a fight.” Shanzen had been in a fight, a very dangerous fight, someone was trying to steal her Shen, her spirit chi. “No Xiao Yi, I was just having a bad dream.” This seemed to trouble Xiao Yi as even he knew the implications of dream attacks. He shook his head, rushing and throwing his arms tight around her waist, “Sister, you must tell Master Wu! You must!” Pulling him gently away she took his head in her hands, kissing me on his forehead. “No, no little one,” which is how he came by his name, “Do not say anything, I have already been in trouble today. Do not worry the Masters.” He nodded his head and bowed to her, “OK sister…” He looked as though he wanted to protest but instead went to the door, “I will see you at dinner.”
The dinner looked like Buddha’s Birthday, with all the prayer flags and lanterns. “What was so special about this new arrival” thought Shanzen a bit agitated by the pomp and her disturbing dream. As she headed to the low table on the right where she normally sat with Xiao Yi, Master Wu signals her to the upper table where the new girl is sitting to his right, now she was even more disturbed at this breach of protocol.
“Come Shanzen” says Master Wu, I want you to meet someone. This is Wei Lin.” The girl looked timidly up to Shanzen, she did not look like she felt like an honored guest but like she was going to break into tears. Shanzen bowed with her hands in prayer mudra. “Amituofo Wei Lin” the girl replied the same.
“Come and sit here beside Wei Lin” Master Wu indicated the seat on the floor next to Wei Lin. This is highly unusual and almost as disturbing as the dream she thought. She half expected she was still in the dream. As Shanzen sat on the cushion she looked down at the monks and students below, they were all looking at her then at Wei Lin and then at her. She looked to Xiao Yi and his jaw was dropped. Shanzen looks to see what has caused such a reaction, about this time Master Wu raises his hands, which indicated he was going to speak, the already quiet hall became even more quiet and still.
“As you have most likely noticed we have a new novice, her name is Wei Lin. As you have also noticed she looks remarkably like our Shanzen.” He paused and looked at the girls to his right. Shanzen knew that she was still asleep and dreaming, as the room started to spin and then went dark
Moments later she was being shaken with Master Wu, Master Chan and Wei Lin looking down on her. She had fainted. “Child maybe I should have told you earlier this is my wrong decision. Are you alright now?” Shanzen was embarrassed warriors did not faint, warriors did not cry……… They raised her up as she was still in a sitting position at the table. “I am fine. But….”
“Master Wu handed her something to drink. He then speaks to everyone in the hall. “Yes this is the great joining of twins who have been separated much as the story in our legends of the Holy Whole Double and it is a Shaolin legend of the uniting of Fire and Ice,” At hearing this Shanzen felt light headed again and gripped the table. She knew of this story of two great Kung Fu warriors emerging. She looked to her left at Wei Lin. Wei Lin looks at Shanzen, “Sister I will need your help, I fear my training is much behind yours.” Shanzen was so confused and had such a difficult day, she wanted to run from the hall but did not, instead she bowed from her waist again and said “Amituofo, Amituofo, Amituofo.”
As Shanzen rose a final time she forced herself to smile broadly so that even those sitting in the back of the hall could see the whites of her teeth.
“Look how happy I am for the special surprise of a lifetime!” she tried to portray with her mouth.
she forced her smile to be as radiant as she could. She held the rest of her face still like a porcelain dolls. Inside her waged a quiet war. She felt the imaginary weight of her kabuki mask covering the taught flesh of her face, pushing down on it with an incredible pressure . And then its serene white facade began to crack.
Turmoil boiled just beneath her surface. Shanzen felt as if the corners of her mouth would break apart and crumble into dust from the falseness of her expression. She could feel the eyes of the others in the great hall piercing her skin like the 4 pointed shurikens that the famed ninja throws with lightning speed at his enemies. She could see that each part of her face was being analyzed by her peers for the slightest twitch of emotion. If she smiled any less, she feared, they would know how scared, confused, and shocked she was. She knew that her teachers were also scrutinizing each blink of her eyes for the telltale reactions of stress or delight that their slightest twitch might reveal. Whichever they discovered they would punish her for during tomorrows meditations. She could sense that the calligrapher women seated off to the sides of the great hall wanted to know exactly another woman felt about having discovered she had a sister, and a twin, at the ripe old age of seventeen.
The confluence of events, the surreal nature of her new reality, and the public setting of the surprise lent itself not to joy, but to deep shock and embarrassment.
“Embarrassment”, she thought, “that’s all i feel and nothing more. Oh please let this fade away.”
How could emotions and vulnerability so overwhelm a student of the crane who had trained most of her life to control the fire within her.
Shanzen reacted as anyone might when faced with similar situations. The heat of her quickened blood began to rush back to her head. The flesh colored apples of her cheeks became a hot and flushed deep rose. Feeling overwhelmed and unbalanced by such heat she decided it would be best to put both her hands down at her sides. That way no one would notice, she hoped.
“Whenever you feel unsteady, join with the ground”, she remembered Master Wu instructed the students when they were just three years old. This was her first lesson and shed never forgotten it. She slowly opened her palms and pressed them to the simple mat that she sat on.
Instead of the rough paper-like texture of woven bamboo Shanzen felt the soft flesh of a small, cool palm. It was Wei lin’s hand. To shanzen it felt like ten thousand year old arctic ice, calm, stable, resolute and immovable. Wonderful.
Wei Lin had instinctively felt her sister losing her emotional balance in, and with the prescience of the Delphic oracle had placed her left hand at her sister’s side, palm up just before Shanzen moved to steady herself.
When wei lin felt Shanzens hot hand in her own she grabbed it tightly before her twin had the chance to grab it away again. Wei Lin turned to her sister and whispered something in her ear while she continued to grasp her hand firmly.
“Look at me”, Shanzen thought she heard her sister say in her whisper.
Shanzen was afraid, but she turned her head to look at her sister clearly for the first time. Something in her sister’s voice had allowed her this action.
“Is this is the sister I lost so many years ago?” she questioned herself.
What Shanzen discovered when she saw her sister for the first time she would never forget. Wei Lins face was beautifully heart shaped. The sides of her face swept down in clean lines to form a square, yet balanced chin, with an ever so slight dimple that accented its femininity perfectly. Her skin glowed with youthful color of young birch. Its tan was a mellow, warm beige. Not a mark or blemish could be found upon its entirety. Her almond shaped eyes were set with the perfect measure of the golden ratio of beauty. The hues of her irises shone crystal brown like agate gemstone mined from the most fertile mountainside of India. Wei lins bridge of her nose was pronounced like that of a foreigner from the West, but matched the rest of her graceful face with its soft, round tip that her Asian ancestry was famous for. Her mouth sat sweetly upon her face. Her lips were a healthy pink, and turned up slightly at the corners, as if in a perpetual, sweet smile.
“You’re beautiful”,Wei lin told Shanzen.
Shanzen paused. Then blurted out “Is this how I really look. Just like you?” Shanzen asked Wei Lin. “is it true?”
She had never seen her reflection before. Not clearly at least. True, she had seen her wavering image in the brooks and streams flowing abundantly about the monastery. She had seen her broken image in small pools of water brought by the rains. But her image had never been still enough to genuinely examine. Drops of rains always fell into the rain pools and created ripples across her face. The streams and brooks always flowed over the cool stones and seemed to erase her image as they did so. But she had never really seen herself. There were no mirrors in the monastery. Mirrors sent good sunlight energy back out of the monastery, and allowed evil spirits clear passage through the sacred building. Worse, the reflection of ones face from silvered glass, when viewed for by its bearer, disrupted the positive energy of the bearers soul forever.
Shanzen wasn’t sure about these first two reasons for now having mirrors, however, she did believe a reason never mentioned. That forbidding mirrors in the sanctuary was the best way for all of its followers to avoid the pitfalls of vanity and hubris that pray on the trained and untrained mind alike.
“Yes, Shanzen. We do look alike. You and I are one. But only in appearance.” Wei lin said.
“But i don’t understand. How could this be?” Shanzen stammered.
Did she really look as beautiful as Wei Lin? How was this powerful beauty possible a possession both she and her long lost sister possessed? Why had no one told her of this magic? The wise women of the monastery had told her that she had the face like the famed goddess of the lake. And she had been teased by the boy students more than the other girls. But she thought that had just been because she was the only girl studying the kung fu arts. Shanzens thoughts were interrupted by her sister wei lins calm voice.
“I will tell you everything i know sister, Ive been searching for you my whole life and i know exactly what I need to say. I just hope I have the time to tell you before its too late”, she said.
“Please tell me. Tell me now” Shanzen pressed her new found twin.
Even though Shanzen felt herself urging Wei Lin’s to answer quickly, she knew deep down that she wanted to freeze time itself. Shanzen wanted this moment, of her facing herself and her long lost sister and the only family she had ever known, to last forever. She wanted her sisters’ ice spirit hand to hold her fire hot hand in its firm grasp and reassure her that everything would be okay from now on. She wanted this all because she knew that a hole in her forlorn heart had begun to mend at that very moment. She knew that Fire and Ice had never enjoyed such a perfect bond. She knew for the first time in her life that she was not alone, and that she belonged in the world after all.
Master Wu leaned over to the girls, “I know you both have many questions, but now is not the time; I need you both to go into meditation for true knowing prior to getting acquainted. Your mind will play tricks and tricksters will play tricks, “with that he turned his attention to the monks seated below, “All of you spend time in meditation and clear your mind.” Master Wu signaled to Wei Lin to follow him.
Shanzen had to stop the frown from reaching her face as the room was quietly clearing; Xiao Yi was waiting near the door watching her. She signaled him with a bow and a slight movement of her head to go, he bowed and left the hall. She walked toward the meditation room all the monks were siting, she scanned for Wei Lin and Master Wu but they were not there. She sat on down on the mat and got as comfortable as possible as no movement was allowed.
When the gong sounded Shanzen focused on her breath to clear all thoughts and achieve a deep meditative state. Thoughts and images from the day, Wei Lin, fighting on a mountain top, the festive hall, a ghost spirit, smoke, clouds moving rapidly across the sky as time was accelerated and then a quiet peaceful stillness, no images, no thought, the wuji.
Time had ceased to exist, the monastery did not exist, and she did not exist. The gong was struck ending the meditation; it came like a river, reality rushing over her, pulling her from the void. The monks left the temple silently as if they were not even there. She walked through the garden under the moon and the stars, the mountains were glowing with a bluish tint. She was going to the Nuns shrine to Quan Yin, an alcove shrouded by jasmine, a lantern illuminating the statue of Quan Yin.
Shanzen knelt on the mat in front of the statue and drops her head. “Mother please protect me from the ghost spirits trying to steal my shen.” She could hear soft voices, a light was bobbing down the path, she sat quietly and waited. Chanting could be heard coming from an upper chamber as Shanzen saw three figure illuminated by the light moving toward the shrine. Shesun was carrying tea, followed by Wei Lin and Master Wu.
“Ah you are here,” says master Wu taking the tea from Shesun who bows deeply and departs. “Shesun,” master Wu stops her with the calling of her name, the old woman turns and bows again to her Master. He reaches and breaks a branch off the jasmine and hands it to her, “Let the fragrance of the jasmine and Quan Yin be with you in your dreams, “she smiles and bows again with a slight smile and heads back up the path. It would probably be several hours more work before Shesun got to her sleep. Master Wu turns to look at Wei Lin and Shanzen. “Please be seated.” He says to Wei Lin.
Master Wu leans on his walking stick and slowly sits beside the two girls in the alcove of Quan Yin. “I am going to tell you a story. “First let us drink some tea.” The drinking of the tea is done with complete mindfulness. Shanzen pours the tea delicately the movement of the liquid into the cup like a river, the smell of the jasmine permeating the air now from the blooms and the tea. She turns the cup clockwise three turns and lifts it with two hands raising it as an offering to her master who is to her right, master Wu repeats the action and presents Wei Lin who is to his right, Wei Lin prepares the tea for Shanzen who is to her right. The three of them hold their tea feeling the warmth and inhaling its fragrance and with total awareness sip. Each in turn looks up to greet the eyes of their companions. Sipping their tea in unison, this continues for a few more minutes until the tea is drunk, they sit their cups down.
“You both know of the legends of the immortal twins who bring union and happiness to families?” Both girls nodded in agreement, “In Shaolin history there is a similar story of twin girls born to a great Kung Fu Master who had to flee the monastery and go into hiding for he was in great danger. The Emperor had been his student as a boy and had a dream in which the Master came to him on a dragon and destroyed his palace. The Emperor was sure his Master wanted to kill him and possessed great power, so soldiers were sent to assassinate the monk. A counselor of the Emperor was friend to the Shaolin and sent a pigeon with a message of warning, at which the monk was instructed to flee and go to be under the protection of a tea farmer Mao Li. Mao Li had a very beautiful daughter Mei Li, she adored the monk who has so strong and handsome and she fell quickly in love with him. The Master had vowed celibacy and had a very difficult time rebuffing the beautiful Mei’s affections. He meditated and practiced in earnest, finally he sent a message to his master at the monastery asking what to do. That night Mei Li brought him tea and performed the ceremony as we just did. What the monk did not know is that Mei Li had put opium in the tea. He fell into a sleep and dreamt of a beautiful crane landing upon him caressing him to an ecstatic state. The following morning he felt shame for not being mindful in his dreams. In reality, Mei Li had copulated with the monk. Months later she was with child and the tea farmer comes to the monk and tells him of his daughter deception. “It is my great sorrow that my daughter has done this thing to you honorable sir, but she is strong of mind and will not be refused. What can a father do? I love her, she is my only child and even though I expect no dowry from you, will you marry her and be my son?” The old tea farmer had a tear rolling down his cheek and he reached out and grasped the hand of the monk. “Honorable father I do want to grant your request and be your son but I took a vow, I will have to seek council from the order.” The old man nodded his head, “I understand” says he.
A message was sent and in mere days a message was returned. The monk was in the tea field with the farmer when Mei came running with the rice paper bound in a scroll and tied with a red string. The farmer wiped his damp hands on his robes and removed the string which Mei grasped and held tight, the monk wiped sweat from his forehead with his hand removing his douli. A broad grin broke out on the face of Mao Li, come lets have tea. Once back the farmer sat with the monk and Mei Li and began to read. “My most humble son, Confucius says “The superior man…does not set his mind either for anything, or against anything; what is right he will follow.” In this we held a gathering, we chanted and we meditated, a message came to two us in a shared dream. Quan Yin came on the back of a crane and she carried to us two female babes, we were instructed to give you our blessing. The twins have a great destiny to fulfill. This is what came to us in the dream. There is one condition, the girls must return to us at age five for training.
Mao Li stands up and places his hand on the right shoulder of the monk, “From this day on you are my son, Jang Dong Li!” he says with great pride. The couple was married and as the dream prophesized twin girls were born. The girl had a beautiful grace of face like their mother Mei Li. Many nights were spent under the moon the young girls watching their father Jang practicing Kung Fu and meditating.”
Master Wu paused; both girls were gazing into their tea cups. “The story gets more difficult from here.” he says to the pair. “Mei Li had become addicted to opium; she had never liked the life of a farmer’s daughter and preferred the city. It is said that she was a concubine to a wealthy and powerful merchant. Jang loved his father in law and his daughters and worked hard to protect them and their interest. A short time before the girls fifth birthday Mei returned and kidnapped her daughters. She planned to hold them for ransom or to sell them into slavery to support her habit, as the merchant had grown tired of, and abandoned her. Her small caravan was hit by a group of bandits on the journey, one child escaped and ran, the other child was taken, Mei Li was raped and murdered. Mao was very old and the news broke his heart and he died. Jang was shattered but went looking and found the girl and brought her here to us.” Shanzen looks up her eyes are full of warm tears. “Yes Shanzen, you are that girl and Wei Lin you know the other side to the story which I will allow you tell your sister, but it has been a long day for us all, might I suggest tomorrow after meditation.”
Wei Lin stands and reaches out her hand to Shanzen, “Our journey begins new sister, our chi is strong.” Master Wu says, “Come girls I will walk you inside, much training, much training.” He says as he shakes his head.
“Twin Lin, Twin Shanzen, follow me”, Master Wu instructed.
The twins held hands as Master Wu led to them inside the monastery and down a series of winding hallways. Visitors to the temple were never allowed to make this labyrinthian journey from the main entryway to the back of the temple without a guide. The disorienting walk took fifteen minutes even for those familiar with the twisting hallways. When the students were children and told each other ghost stories these halls were often the setting. The tale that frightened Shanzen the most was about a student that got lost while trying to find his way through these halls. No one could find him and after a week trapped with no way to escape he died. The poor boy’s soul became a ghost that haunted the monastery and tricked those who walked the hallways alone into getting lost and becoming ghosts themselves. She was glad that she was holding Wei lins hand and that master wu was there to guide them.
But where were they going?” thought Shanzen. She half suspected the guru was leading them to an extra special prayer room that students had only heard about. It was located near the back meditation rooms of the great temple section of the building. The grand masters went there when the most important issues pressed upon their collective consciousness. Supposedly the light from the all knowing gods was able to penetrate this sacred room more easily so that their divine messages were better received in that room. The divination and return of the twins would certainly be one of these moments, Shanzen thought. The urge to speak to her sister Wei Lin, to explain all of these thoughts rose in her. “remain silent!” Master Wu said, having sensed her desire to speak.
Instead of leading the girls down a the left leaning hallway towards the rooms that hid the sacred room among them, the old monk stopped before an alcove with a five foot state of the buddha in his infinite state of understanding.
“What i am about to show you has been kept a monastery secret for millenia.” He placed his hands upon the buddhas’ shoulders and pressed inward on them with a steady force. The statue slid back into the alcove and a small doorway opened behind it. The newly revealed pathway was dark. cool air rushed out into the hallway and the girls could feel it gathering by their feet.
“Follow me closely. Never stray. Do not speak. No matter what your eyes see. Copy my movements exactly. And most important. Step as quietly as the crane steps upon the river while he fishes”, Master Wu said.
The old monk instructions to the twins was said in a voice barely audible. As his last words whispered in her ears Shanzen was filled with a spiritual and kinetic energy she couldnt explain. The hair on her arms and legs raised as if a chill had run over her. She knew she was in the midst of something powerful. She welcomed it.
Wei Lin felt the same chill take a hold of her as she listened to Master Wu’s words. The tiny hairs on her entire body pricked up. The hair on scalp became taught at the roots and pulled at her ponytail as if she had touched a mild current with her bare hands. The wave of energy she felt filled her with uncertainty. She thought about turning back, running away down the winding pathways back to the others, not caring if she got lost along the way. The clanging of dishes and gongs mixed with the loud chatter and endless music of the great hall all seemed a safe haven compared to the dark, quiet pathway before her. Even the unwanted attention from the critical eyes of the other students, monks, and lady scholars as they examined her and her sister meeting for the first time had been more comforting than her present situation.
“Do not be afraid. You are capable. Step quietly. Like this, Twin Lin”, he said as he looked into the depths of Wei Lins eyes. Into her frightened soul. She looked back at him. Into his eyes. And recognized a confidence and peace she had never seen in a human. She had seen it in a raven’s eyes once. She had woken one morning to the sight of it peering of her escape journey through the mountains.
He pointed down to his feet covered in black silk slippers to show Wei Lin how to walk without making a whisper of a sound. He pointed his toes let the weight of his next step down slowly upon the ball of his foot. He took another silent step in the same manner. Shanzen observed the delicate manner of his feet. Master wu never allowed his heels to make contact with the ground. The usually creaky wooden floor made not a peep.
“Like this” he said to Wei Lin.
Wei Lin did her best to imitate Master Wu’s delicate step. The wood of the floor creaked slightly, but noticeably ,beneath the novice’s weight. Wei lin instantly realized it was much harder to copy him than the grand master had made it look. The three continued on their journey none the less. Master Wu entered the dark pathway first. Shanzen followed him silently. Wei lin followed last.
For Shanzen the skilled technique was easy to mimic perfectly. She had practiced the fishing crane walk every morning when she went down to the monastery’s river to bathe her feet for meditation. But for her untrained twin Wei Lin, the method took unimaginable concentration and tested muscles she had not had to use during any of her hard years or labor on the farm. It tried all of the balancing skills she had just learned while running miles along the precarious rocky hillside of the Chinese mountains when she escape from her captors. Wei Lin tried again to step toe first and to never let her heels touch the wooden floor of the hallway. The floor boards whined again with her next step. She felt more like a clumsy raccoon splashing about noisily in the water, scaring away the fish he hopes to catch, than a majestic crane whose feet glide stealthily into a river as he hunts with a graceful success.
Shanzen looked back at Wei Lin and nodded. “You’re doing fine my sister”, she conveyed through the simple motion. Wei Lin nodded back with understanding.
Master wu made his way silently down the narrow dark pathway. The two girls followed behind him as closely as they could. He moved swiftly and assuredly as he led the. The tunnel they now traveled was no taller than five feet and no wider than three and seemed to pitch downwards, leading them under the monastery itself. The two twins stooped and held their arms at their sides to avoid making contact with the cold stones that enclosed them. They maintained their careful catlike steps and posture as they traveled what seemed like 500 feet or more through the tomb-like darkness. Their senses began to take on a predatory nature, like the feline. Their pupils opened wide to receive any visible light. They felt their ears anticipating the slightest sound. At this moment they could have heard a leaf falling in the forest or seen an owl returning home to its nest during the pitch black night of the new moon.
Just as the two had found a sort of harmony in the sensory deprived tunnel, the darkness began to fade. A dim orange light flickered and bounced off the moisture laden stones of the pathway. The smell of candles and incense filled the twins noses. The tunnel ended and an opening was revealed.
Master Wu stepped lighting into a large open room with 50 foot tall ceilings and continued to its middle. The twins followed using the silent crane steps, copying him exactly as he had told them to.
The next room they entered was a towering square lit with hundreds of candles. The votives were set out on stone tiers that ran along all four walls. The heat from the flames was noticeable in this room and stood in stark contrast to the damp, cool pathway and the antechamber room they had led them there. The candles’ warmth bathed their three faces with a radiant heat. The light matched the heat in intensity. Twenty foot tall tapestries hung on each wall. These were the largest tapestries Shanzen had ever seen and must have taken years to sew. They held intricately detailed portraits of the great wu tang masters Shanzen had read about in her studies. There was another stone opening opposite the pathway they had just come from and nothing more. Master Wu remained silent as he bowed deeply towards each wall hanging. The twins bowed to each silk representation of the grand masters as well. Then Master Wu rose and walked into the next room. The twins followed silently and obediently.
In the next room pale blue and red candles provided the only light. This room was half the size of the large candle and tapestry room. The twins watched as Master Wu turned up the sleeve on the right arm of his robe, and walked silently to a large stone statue of a tiger-like creature stood at the rooms north end. At least Shanzen thought it was north. The only thing she knew for certain was that she and her sister must have followed Master Wu hundreds of feet below the monastery to a place she had never known existed. Now the three of them were somewhere in the bowels of the stone mountain that the great monastery stood upon. Shanzen examined the statue more closely as her wise teacher stealthily approached it. It somehow looked familiar to her. Where the blue and red light mixed they bathed the statue in a purple hue they created. Indiogo bathed master wu as well.
Sickening horror washed over Shanzen. The statue had been familiar because it was a depiction of the tiger monster that had stalked her in her dreams as long as she could remember, The only difference was that the tigers eyes were closed as if it were asleep, instead of glowing bright red like dangerously hot coals like in her dreams.
“Dont go any closer” she wanted to yell at Master Wu but she couldnt. She dared not break the silence. Besides, it was too late to save him. He was already at the statue’s side, reaching toward its mouth. Shanzen struggled to remain quiet as she tried the last option to save him. She walked like the fastest crane she had ever seen to her master to touch him somehow to warn him. Two arms grabbed her and held her back before she took a third step. It was wei lin, her novice twin, who stopped her. “But why?”, she wondered. “why are you stopping me?”. Shanzen felt anger rise within her.
Wei Lin responded by smiling and bringing a finger to her own lips, signaling for Shanzen to remain quiet, and dissipating her twin sisters fears. Then Wei Lin pointed to her two eyes and then to the statue. She wanted Shanzen to watch something.
Somehow, as if by magic, the tigers stone mouth opened slowly. Master wu’s robe free arm reached down into the tigers open mouth, grabbed something, and brought it back up out of the depths of statue. The mouth on the stone statue closed again as if by its own power. The statues eyes remained closed the whole time. Despite wanted to yell out and express her amazement she held her tongue. She had promised master wu she would remain silent, and so she did.
Master Wu took the newly acquired object and walked quietly to a door the twins noticed for the first time. In his hand an ornately gilded key. “He must have pulled this from the statue”, Shanzen thought. Wu used this key to carefully unlock the door, and then proceeded into the next chamber. The girls followed him silently. Master Wu closed the door behind them and locked it. For the first time he began to walk normally. Shanzen and Wei lin relaxed their stance and began to walk regularly again as well. They joined Master Wu in the room’s middle.
The two girls looked around and found themselves in another candle lit room that was even bigger than the towering great tapestry room had been. Perhaps 3 times as large. But where the other room was tall, this room was long. The two lengthwise walls of the rooms were lined with goblets too numerous to count. They filled the whole length of the room. Master Wu stood and motioned to Wei lin to choose a goblet from the right side of the chamber where a gigantic length of expensive blue silk covered the wall, and for Shanzen to pick a goblet of her own from the opposite wall, covered with a what must have been the kingdoms entire supply of blood red silk. The twins were unsure which cup to pick for there were so many. “Where to start….?” they thought.
Each felt a gentle push from Master Wu that helped them to step forward. Shanzen approached the fire colored side of the room and Wei lin approached the side filled with the hue of ice blue. The twins forced all remaining fears and anxiety out of their minds and began the important task of goblet picking.
Shanzen chose her goblet first at Master Wus urging; another gentle push. She made her way quickly down the row. She was only 9 paces away from Wu and LIn when her hand shot out seemingly of its own volition and grasped a cup. “This is the one!” she whispered as her own voice jumped out of her. She wasnt sure how it had all happened, but there was a doubtless certainty to her own voice and the swift movement of her hand as shed done so.
With her delicate fingers wrapped tightly around the large goblet she returned to master Wus side. For the first time she gave her decision a genuine look. She had chosen a chalice of unusual shape. It was only rounded and bejeweled on three sides. The fourth was flat except for a few strange jagged points and had no ornamentation or gold, as if it had fallen on its side or on the ground while it was being made. Shanzen prayed that she her unconscious self had chosen wisely, bur her fully aware self was worried . Why she had picked such a lopsided object from the infinite number of perfectly shaped, beautifully ornamented choices before her?
“Ive failed” she thought. She wanted to cry, but bit her lower lip instead as she handed the goblet to Master Wu. He showed no reaction to her choice. He simply pointed to Wei Lin that it was her turn to choose. Would her twin fail as well Shanzen thought. “Please be our redemption”
Twin Lin took much longer to choose her cup. She went up and down the blue silk covered wall several times before stopping suddenly, turning as if possessed by an unseen power, and reaching her hand out to a cup on a shelf some forty steps from her sister Shanzen and grand master Wu.
Wei Lin returned to master Wu and handed him her goblet. The twins watched with anticipation as he took the two cups and brought them together before him. They fit perfectly. wei Lins cup was also flat and plain on its fourth side. Master Wu smiled broadly.
“You both have chosen wisely.” Master Wu assured them. Joy filled their beating hearts. “Now for the next task, my divine twins”.
They followed Master Wu obediently down the long pathway. He pressed against a statue that was an exactly like the buddha that had been at the entryway to the underground chambers. As expected, the statue moved back and sideways to reveal another path. Cool air rushed into the Goblet filled chamber and blew out the candles nearest the doorway. The twins’ ears filled with the sound of rushing water. They followed Wu out of the doorway and into the open air. A beautiful waterfall cascaded into a serene pool to their left. Shanzen recognized that they were at a sacred alcove below the monastery, some 1000 feet from where the main building was located.The girls were overcome with awe and wanted to break their silence they had forced themselves to hold for so long. but they dared not until master Wu gave the signal.
“What could this next task be”, the twins wondered.
Master Wu stood near the entrance, “You have just passed through the first element in the Purification of the Elements, that of fire. If you had not stepped lightly as I instructed,” he paused, “now Shanzen you know what to do and may instruct your sister.” Shanzen turned pale as all of the chi followed from her head to her feet. “Master Wu, honorable teacher…I do not think I am ready?” She showed unusual vulnerability. “You are ready and it is destined.” Upon his last words he turned and left the cave. Wei Lin looked to her sister with a peaceful calm countenance filled with an inner confidence. Shanzen marveled at the difference in her twins’ reaction, how is it that she who knows what they are to do looked so uncertain, and yet Wei Lin was clueless yet composed. “Sister are you not afraid?” asked Shanzen. “Not at all my sister, I am with you and under your tutelage. As a matter, I have never felt safer.” Shanzen knew that she herself had much to learn from Wei Lin and knew that there would be an opportunity in their purification process.
The Purification of the Elements meant that the adherent was preparing to embark on a quest. It involved being tested in various ways by the elements. She herself had overcome surmountable fear in the Temple of Fire when she faced the tiger. Her fear had wanted to shout but did not, nor did Wei Lin proving that element passed. Now they were at Wei Lin’s element that of water, it did not look at all dangerous here but they should proceed with caution.
“What now sister?” asked Wei Lin in a serene tone. “Shanzen scans the cave for a clue to her next move. Near the entrance she sees two woven knapsacks, one woven in reds and oranges and the other in blues and greens. It was clear whose was whose. Shanzen indicates the bags to her twin, they take them and sit on the stone ground by the pool. Wei Lin says softly “You first.” Shanzen opens the bag which is quite heavy; there is a bag of small candles, a flint and striking stone, some incense, a scroll, an extra robe, dried nuts and berries and two butterfly swords, concealable defensive weapons, used to disable rather than kill, which was prohibited by the monk’s code of conduct. “Your turn” says Shanzen. Mei Lin fingers the woven fabric as it is silk to her touch. This bag contained similar items additionally herbs and the pair of goblets they had chosen, and the key that Master Wu had taken from the mouth of the tiger.
Shanzen holds up the scroll, “I know the basics of the Elements Purification Ceremony, but maybe the scroll tells us about the goblets and the key?” The twins sitting by the side of the pool look into the eyes of one another with the artifacts between them. They just sat there for a while silent.
Shanzen slowly and carefully unrolled the scroll. The characters, some in gold danced around the paper. Shanzen blinked and thought something was wrong with her eyes. “Wei Lin, here you read it?” She thrust the scroll at her sister. “Why? What’s the matter?” Wei Lin looked down at the scroll and what she saw she could not understand the characters were moving around the scroll, she dropped it on the ground. “What kind of magic is this sister?” she asked. Shanzen looked up at her,
“I do not know sister. Things have gotten strange lately, ever since you arrived….” She saw a dejected look on Wei Lin’s face, “No sister, I am so sorry, I did not mean your arrival displeases me! I am so full of joy to know you, to know you exist and to know my father was a great Kung Fu master and that he loved us.” Shanzen had spoken so quickly and without breathing that when she was finished she took a deep inhale.
“Tell me what you know of the ceremony sister,” Wei Lin said in a soft lyrical tone. “The element of fire is the one that I am most familiar with. It is usually done by walking on burning embers to show a shaolin has mastered his mind. I have been the only female to ever train to be a Kung Fu master and I thought I had some time to prepare. It has become clear that I do not, that we do not. The water purification would involve bathing. I guess we are to immerse ourselves in the sacred pool.” Her twins face was illuminated in a blue glow from the water and the light from the touches on the cave wall. The pair stood and removed their robes, standing naked in front of one another. Cat like muscles cut the skin tautly on their young bodies. Holding hands the twins stepped into the pool. A mist rose from nowhere out of the pool enshrouding them. Shanzen wasn’t at all sure what to make of this? They were still holding hands the water swirling around their limbs, their waist and breast. The mist in the center began to form into a shape, like shapes in clouds, a favorite childhood pastime of Shanzen’s. “Do you see this?” she whispered to Wei Lin who squeezed her hand in reply not speaking.
The form now had taken on a pale pink glow, a detailed shape of the goddess Quan Yin was materializing from the mist. Wei Lin flung her arms around Shanzen’s neck. The form of Quan Yin pulsated pink, indigo and violet; a voice issued from it, “My daughters you have come together at last and now you are whole. You embody my essence of compassion and for all the sisters of the world. You are about to embark on a quest, a great journey. Prepare yourselves, teach one another, be strong, and nourish your compassion.” The manifestation of Quan Yin dissipated as the mist rapidly swirled away leaving the twins standing naked and entwined in the sacred pool. The girls dove beneath the water, with eyes opened observed the mirror image of themselves in each other.
The morning sunlight was filtering into the grotto. Shadows from the flames in the torches and ripples from the pool undulated on the cave walls. The girls dressed in silence, it was as if they did not need words to communicate, they shared thoughts. Shanzen was having flashes of a journey she hadn’t taken, she was unsure if it was the journey she was about to embark on, or her sisters journey.
“I believe we need to climb the mountain to the cave, we will meet wind there.” Her sister placed the lovely woven knapsack on her shoulder. The sun rays struck through the opening a short distance from the grotto creating a curtain of light at the exit to the waterfall outside. Shanzen led the way, she knew the falls although the grotto had been off-limits to her before. They walked carefully so not to slip on the wet rocks, the sound of the waterfall intensified the closer they got. Wei Lin turned and smiled when they emerged into the open and she saw the magnificent waterfall. “I wish we could spend some time here but it is far to the cave, so we must continue” Wei Lin just nodded her head.
They scrambled up the stone wall to the mountainside and headed up a mountain path lined with trees. The trees that lined the trail were old, Shanzen wondered how many monks they had witnessed on this path. The twins didn’t talk as Shanzen kept a very fast pace. After a couple of hours the path ended and they climbed boulders to a rocky path which was very steep. The sun was high in the sky and the path got steeper and narrower. It became more of a climb at this point and Shanzen turned to check on her sister who was right behind her. “We are almost there, are you ok?” Wei Lin says “Yes sister I am fine continue.” As the climb became almost vertical Shanzen popped out of Wei Lin’s sight “I am here sister.” There was an out hang, or ledge almost like a shelf on the mountain. Shanzen was standing as Wei Lin pulled herself up. The view was even more beautiful up here than from the monastery, which Wei Lin could not see. “The cave is right up here, we have to check and make sure it is empty, so I need to make a fire and a torch. Will you gather me some dried twigs or straw from around the trees over there?” She points to a couple trees growing out from the ledge. There was a small stack of twigs and branches that had been left there by previous monks. With the flint and striking stone Shanzen made quick work making fire using the dried kindling Wei Lin had gathered, adding the twigs and branches. She took a large branch and wrapped some cloth used to bundle the berries and stuck it into her fire. Once the torch was lite Shanzen took it, and turned to Wei Lin who was right behind her with the butterfly swords in both hands as if she had mastered them. “I will protect you sister.” Shanzen smiled and entered the cave waving the torch around. The cave was free from wild life and actually looked rather cozy. There were mats for sleeping and a lantern, the cave had an end and did not go further into the mountain, which was reassuring to Wei Lin. “I came up here with Master Lu to bring some fire wood and water with the monks once last year, but we returned right away. I think Master Wu was seeing if I could past the test. He does that with me often.” It was late afternoon and the sky was clear of clouds you could see the valley and the river below and it was if they were in Nirvana.
The girls sat by their fire and ate the berries. “We just completed the Purification of the Earth element, now all that is left is the Wind. Images are moving through Wei Lin’s mind of her journey, her family that raised her and the slavers. The colors of the sky were turning deeper shades of blue and purple as the sun began to dip into the distant mountaintops.
“Sister” Wei Lin softly says, “tell me about the purification of the wind, we are high up is that all there is to it?” Shanzen looks as the sun hides behind the mountain, “No we will go into meditation and in the early morning hours we will call the wind and stand on the very edge of this ledge. When a strong wind blows a shaolin monk will wonder who has called the wind and what was its purpose? One can either be a friend or an enemy of the wind. We will show the wind we are strong, we show the wind that we trust it and make of it a friend.” No perceivable fear showed on Wei Lin’s face, she maintained the most serene countenance, Shanzen had not seen her show any fear beyond that of the mist in the pool. Shanzen knew that she had a great respect for the wind and a little fear.
“Let us sleep awhile we are both tired and will need to be alert for our final test.” They pulled the bamboo mats over near the fire and facing one another fell fast asleep. On the edge of a steep precipice they stood, a deep purple mist surrounded them and back to back the watched alertly in warrior mode for the danger behind the ferocious sound. The wind pulsated and roared pushing at them and pulling threatening to blow them off the mountaintop. As the wind ripped the monstrous claws came out from the wind and struck, badly wounding Shanzen she fell, Wei Lin screams…the sisters bolted upright simultaneously from the shared dream. The sky was a deep purple and the wind was present.
“To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders” Wei Lin says to her sister. “The family that raised me studied the philosopher Chuang Tzu. Let us go deep into meditation and clear our, minds and dissolve any fears or doubts. Let us recall the Goddess Quan Yin and her words tonight when we meet the wind…and let us make it our friend.” Wei Lin stood up and reached her hand out to Shanzen.
Shanzen prepared the cave, she lite the lantern and some candles as Wei Lin pulled the mats inside. They added some wood to the fire and Wei Lin offered a gift of incense to the wind dropping it into the fire.
The both sat and went into a deep meditation, rested but troubled. Shanzen focused on her breath and cleared her mind. When she came out of meditation the fire had burned down to embers indicating some time had passed, Wei Lin was still deep in meditation and Shanzen sat quietly looking at her own serenity in the flesh. Wei Lin had mentioned a family that raised her, she wanted to know everything about Wei Lin’s life. Shanzen was mesmerized by her sisters’ face, her face, the face of their mother, of the Goddess. Wei Lin opened her eyes, “Sister let’s call the wind.”
Wei lin moved into a kneeling position and placed her hands in front of her, palms up, inches from the edge of the fire pit. Its embers gave off a faint red and orange glow that painted Wei Lins paleness with the color of a rich sunset. To Shanzen, her twin’s appearance called to mind the serene high priestesses of her favorite childhood legends; shockingly beautiful, with a wisdom far surpassing their youth.
“Yes, let’s call the wind. ” said Shanzen over the crackle of the burning embers. “Im ready sister.”
Shanzen knew she was lying of course, and felt tiny tinges of guilt invade her center chi as she spoke. How could anyone, let alone these two small women filled with the inexperience of youth be prepared for a wind purification ceremony? Master wu had only warned that it was the most difficult element to be tested by and little more, before he’d left them to face the trials by themselves the day before.
Master Wu. His name conjured unpleasant thoughts in Shanzens mind.
“Why did master wu send us to do this without so much as scroll with instructions, or an escape plan in case the trial became impossible”, she thought to herself. “Wouldnt it not then be his fault if the twins failed? And what about the scroll he did deem fit to give them at the beginning of their journey?”
Shanzen recalled its golden dancing words and signs that neither twin could decode. Had their movement been real or a trick conjured by their minds from fear and inexperience?
“How was that disillusion supposed to help us?” Shanzen pondered with a sullen attitude. Her heart rate raised palpably. Its quickened beating resonated like a large ceremonial drum inside her tiny chest. Her center chi began to lose its aligning balance.
Shanzen wisely took a deep breath and exhaled it in a long, audible sigh before the undesireable feeling of regret fully set in. Regret, she knew from her teachings, led to anger. Anger, unchecked, led to anxiety. Anxiety of course only led to fear. And Fear conquered all harmony and good feeling in ones soul. The end of the dark pathway led to by fear was a place that Shanzen knew she must not venture, for it would destroy any hope of the twins passing the final task of the wind. Once fear was truly embraced no purity of the elements could penetrate it.
“Besides”, Shanzen told herself to ease her unassuredness, “Im not ready for lack of truly trying.”
In fact shed spent much of her strength the last hours in that cave with Wei lin preparing herself as best she could for the next trial, with some success. Wasnt it true that she had finally gotten her breathing to a slower meditative rate that the monk masters would have been satisfied with on even the most lightning and thunder filled day? Hadnt she had finally been able to remove the chill from her legs by redirecting her lower body blood flow using her subconscious, just as they’d instructed? Hadn’t she also rebalanced the chi in her arms at the same time? That was certainly hard to do,but she’d managed it. As proof of her last success, her palms were no longer clammy to the touch. Nor did her fingers shake when she held her hand out in front of her with her fingers pointed in the position of the biting snake. Could she not take some solace in knowing that she alone had been the force that had buried the startling amount of anxiety that had filled her tiny body just hours before? Earlier, the nervous energy in her blood flowed so greatly she felt that if she had barreled it like shaolin sake she could have filled the aquifer the twins bathed during the water purification. The bottomless pool held all the waters from the large stream and waterfall that flowed the length of the mountain. All the wise monks she knew could have bathed in the pool at once and still had enough space to stretch out their bodies into the most expressive fighting monkey shapes. Shanzen couldnt help but grin widely at the thought of the old men wearing just their underwear making their weathered bodies into shapes like starfish.
“Therefore”, she concluded her inner dialogue with an outward smile, “I must be calm enough to perform the next part of the unfamiliar ceremony.” And if not, she knew that he was as ready as she’d ever be. She could take comfort in knowing deep down that she had done her best, just as wise Master Wu had asked.
Shanzen copied her twin sister’s pose. She placed her two hands before her kneeling body with her palm ups, as if to receive something. Though she had no idea what that might be.
“But we can’t call the wind just yet.” Wei Lin said matter of factly, to Shanzens surprise.
How could it be that Wei Lin was not fully prepared herself?”, Shanzen wondered. She looked at Wei Lins face for an answer as to why.
The look in Wei Lins eyes told a different story. Wei Lin was more than prepared. Her countenance was the perfect vision of balance, beauty, and fortitude. She possessed a magnetic attraction that shanzen had not yet grown accustomed to. Though she shared her twins features she could hardly believe her twin’s beauty. She was drawn in by it. Yet something was remiss about her mirrored embodiment that sat across from her. Wei lins eyes’ honey light brown color had somehow darkened like the sapling pine they’d use for their fire. Her twin’s pupils seemed sharper now too. They gave her sister the sense that Wei lin was more alert. More certain.
Shanzen focused on Wei lin’s expression free face. It was as polished as the carved marble dedication of Quan Yin, the eternal goddess. Her twin’s unflinching pose was the physical embodiment of eternity itself. To shanzen Wei lin was rooted to the stone of the cave much like one of the sacred 3000 year old trees that dotted the mountain. Millenia of typhoons could not have shaken her in that moment.
The perfection of her own sister rivaled her uneasiness. Wei lin gazed directly into Shanzens eyes. Surely wei lin could see the unmistakble tremors of uncertainty that now began to creep across her own face.
Wei lin had noticed. “Do not be alarmed Sister Shanzen. Everything is as destiny has planned. Even your uncertainty at this moment. Let me assure you that this break before the trial of the wind ensures our continued survival.” Wei lin spoke.
“We will return to our shared ceremony of destiny soon. But first i must reveal the most important thing ive been meaning to tell you since i arrived at the monastery. Our lives depend up your knowing it. In our deep meditations I recognized that the time to tell you, to show you the secret you must know is upon as. Just as Master Wu predicted.”
“Yes you must” Shanzen interjected without thought. But what did Wei Lin and Master Wu know that Shanzen was competely unaware of?
She had been eagerly awaiting Wei Lins secret revelation since the evening they had been introduced to each other in the great hall. That night under the crimson glow of the many red lanterns Wei Lin had whispered to shanzen and told her that she had something of unbelievable importance to share. That was just before the twins been brought in front of the others for a great feast, then led through a meditation and offering to the goddess Quan yin under the watchful eye of master wu, and journeyed below the monastery into the belly of the great mountain to face the daunting tests of purification. Now was truly the first time the two girls had a moment to speak to each other without master wu watching and without the pressures of their divine birth interrupting.
“I am as anxious as you to tell this story. Its the message ive carried for you, dearest twin, for what seems like my whole existence. Oh how i have longed for this very moment to share this news. it has weighed upon both my conscious and subconscious mind for all that time. When i slept i dreamt of your image before me, listening to this secret. When I woke i felt Its importance on my mind. No matter the many seasons that passed as i toiled in the fields, a lowly farmer under the sun, under the rain. I kept the secret hidden. This secret was so powerful it became unbearable in its state of silence, like the legendary stone in the shoe of the holy monk that walked from end to end of the Great Wall. And like the monk I could not speak of its presence. This secret has been my shadow. And my salvation. And it shall be yours as well.
For shanzen she could bear the wait to hear this missing piece of her life’s story no longer. The looming elemental purfication test with the wind lost all importance. The mountain, the night starts, and breeze of the evening, the call of distant birds, all faded into a black nothingness. The light of the secret was all Shanzen could see.
“please sister i beg you. delay no longer in telling me our shared secret. I must know what you know.” Shanzen said as she got up from her kneeling position and went over to her sisters side She grabbed wei lin in a tight embrace.
“tell me. I must know sister. Im right here..”
“shanzen! Please! Control yourself sister! I will tell you everything, i promise, but first you must return to your side of the hearth for me to do so. For what I’m about to show you is told in the way of the ancients.” Wei Lin said. Shanzen remembered herself, patted down the front of her tunic, and rose to walk back to the other side of the fire. When she was directly across from Wei Llin she resumed her kneeling position. She placed her weight directly upon her legs with her feet folded neatly inwards as a seat. The position was painful for those unused to it, but comfortable enough for those trained in it. She placed her hands before her with their palms facing the sky.
“Now no matter you experience stay strong. Promise me this my twin” Wei lin said as she stared directly into Shanzens eyes. Her steely expression was haunting, and spectacularly stunning. shanzen recalled master wu’s eerily similar warning when he led them into the secret mountain chambers.
“I promise. I so very promise” Shanzen said.
“And so it begins”….said wei lin.
(TO BE Continued….by odie mama)
wei lin began to chant in a low melodic voice that resonated throughout the night air and seemed to surround the twins with its rhythm. Shanzen couldnt make out any of the words her twin said. They sounded as foreign to her as the dialects far flung visitors to the monastery spoke in. Shanzen listened fully, letting the steady waterfall of sounds fill her ears. She wondered how her sisters chanting would serve to reveal her big secret. If anything she felt even more confused by it, but she held her tongue.
Shanzen watched as Wei lins delicate hands grabbed one of master Wu’s items hed left for their journey from her nearby napsack. The young woman held it before her in her right hand, tapping it with her the first finger of her left. After a series of 9 taps wei lin set the item into center of the fire pit’s dying embers. Wei lins hands began to move quickly, faster than the spiders did when they ran from Shesuns’, the old medicine woman’s, sweeping straw broom. The twin seemed to be building something before her, stacking invisible items in the air in the space that lay between hear and the fire. All the while she maintained her strange chanting and her unblinking eyes. When her spider quick hands reached height roughly a foot above the cave floor their motion changed.
Wei lin began to spread her arms in a much wider range of motion as if adding a structure to surround the invisible base shed created. As the pantomime creation grew in size Wei lins chanting intensified. Then just as unexpectedly as she had begun chanting she stopped. Her creation was complete. The item shed taken from her knapsack and placed in the fire had melted down into a glowing ooze.
Wei Lin lifted her creation from the ground to a point above her head, rather she appeared to do so. Though completely invisible the large “nothing” was visibly heavy in her arms. She seemed to strain under the weight of it. When she had used tremendous strength to lift the object to the space directly above her head she tossed the pantomime thing down into the fire pit.
“Transform!” wei Lin cried with a command as forceful as a crack of thunder announcing the onset of a gigantic storm.
Instantaneously the smoldering embers of the campfire exploded into an immense blue flame that shot straight up into the darkness of the cave and rolled along the caves ceiling out into the night sky. The impressive flame blasted the twins with an ice cold wave of air and showered them with a fluorescent blue glow that left azure sparks that shimmered upon their bodies and all around them. The sound of the blast bore the familiar boom and crackle of the new years firecrackers that Shanzen loved. Their pop and fizzle echoed throughout the cave. Shanzen’s mind was filled with confusion but she was certain she felt the freeze of ice crystals on skin precisely where the blue sparks had upon her. She instinctively brushed their icy cool tingle away from her face. Their coldness melted on her palms and turned to water.
Shanzen now knew an incredible truth about her long lost twin sister. Wei line was indeed a powerful entity. Wei lin possessed the all powerful knowledge of magic!
“The ice crystals! They’re real Wei lin!” Shanzen stammered with disbelief. “what in the holy name of all the gods have you done?”
How could Wei lin have done such a thing? No one in the monastery knew magic. The monks knew it was dangerous, strictly forbidden. Practitioners were banished for life, never to return. Some especially powerful mages had been thrown from the cliffs to their deaths.
“Keep quiet sister. Not a word.” Wei lin instructed Shanzen, her form not more than a blue blur.
The brightness of the explosion had shocked Shanzens eyes and left an indigo aura in them that tinted her vision. In the quickness of a second Shanzen thought of how thankful she was that the fireball had contained Wei lins element of water and ice, rather than her own. Surely the two of them would have burst completely into flame and died horrible, painful deaths if it had. It would have been days before the master monks found the devestating site of the twins charred remains clinging to each other in that cave high atop the mounts. By that time their souls would have passed to a place beyond the reach of blessed reincarnation.
The cave was still and dark. In that stillness Shanzen made out a faint noise, like the sound of an animals growl. Or was it a bark? Somehow it was both yet not quite either. What would make such a sound? And how was it that it was just outside the cave entrance and at the back of the cave at the same time. How could this be? shanzen had no answer. She dared not ask Wei Lin.
“Focus Shanzen! Your acuity is what fuels the flame. It must not die.” Wei Lin ordered her sister.
Her sharp tone reminded shanzen of her most trusted kung fu instructor master lee’s barking voice when he instructed Shanzen and the other students on how to perform the dancing crane death kick, the most formidable of the fighting kicks.
Shanzen gathered herself and concentrated all her spirit energy on the fire pit, summoning it to stay lit. The dying blue embers in the hearth responded and began to glow a little brighter.
Wei lin began to chant again in a quieter and softer tone, as if coaxing the embers the way a mother bird might encourage a nestling to take its first flight.
The young woman’s hands started to dance over a medium sized blue flame that now burned at the fire pits center. A rich blue smoke began to rise from the smoldering sapphire embers. It swirled and danced among the two kneeling twins. It took specific shapes that smoke could never have formed if rising naturally….perfect circles and dynamic zig zags appeared and dissipated in synchronized routines that filled the cave with a dizzying blanket of haze. Its movements made whispers about the cave that tickled shanzens ears.
“Open your eyes Shanzen!” Wei lin called. “And your mind..”
“My eyes are open! What am i supposed to see? I only see smoke!” called Shanzen to her twin. But the pleasant whisper of the smoke had grown to a roaring rush louder than all the monks calling for meditation at once had filled the cave and drowned out her questioning voice before it had a chance to reach wei lins ears.
“Transform!” Wei lin yelled again, loud enough to be heard over the roaring sound in the cave.
The blue smoke’s hue began to fade like deep black calligraphy ink fades to grey when water is added to it. but unlike the black ink changing to a lesser shade of itself, the blue smoke ranged the color spectrum of the rainbow as it changed. First it assumed a green as brilliant as any emerald upon the ring of the dowager empress, then a rich red like the crimson lanterns in the great hall when lit. Next it turned purple like the silk robes taoists priest word during special ceremonies during dynasties past, and finally its melted into a warm shapeless yellow that faded magically into a fuzzy orange brown, all the while swirling around the girls in the cave.
Black dots appeared about the length of the coloured smoke as it began to descend from the cave ceiling down onto the twins. Shanzen observed with awe as the burnt orange cloak enveloping them collapsed like a blanket of morning mist on her and wei lins body. The black dots lengthened and became horizontal lines, outlined by a brilliant white in certain places.
“Its…. Embrace.. it…!” Wei lin cried through the roar.
Shanzen only heard parts of what her sister was trying to say. As wei lin spoke she seemed to be inhaling large quantities of the smoke into her mouth and nose, quantities that might kill her.
Wei Lins face appeared to change into a different form under the blanket of the colorful smoke. Her aquiline features took on feline shapes; wide set almond eyes, a broad flat nose and mouth, dagger sharp white teeth, and big round ears..then her body followed. Within the span of a minute shanzen’s twin looked perfectly like a tiger, a tiger wearing Wei lin’s shreded brown tunic and pants. Her deep orange with jet bladck striped fur with beautiful white highlight peaked through what remained of the too small human clothes.
“Sister! Is that you! Shanzen cried through the roar “you’re a…tiger!”..
Those were shanzen’s last words. The mysterious orange, black and white smoke fill her nose and mouth and force its way down into the deepest parts of her lungs she only used for meditative breathing. It had the taste of smoke, but it did not make her cough…She inhaled deeply a few times before she was gripped by a new feeling, an intense itching so powerful it began to hurt her skin. Before she had time to scratch any part of it for relief, the sensation was replaced by unbearable pain. Shanzen felt as if her spirit element of fire was burning through her skin and into the core of all her chi centers. The pain had started first on the top of her forehead and then rapidly moved down her entire face and neck. Soon it had overtaken her entire body from end to end. Shanzen was paralyzed. The roaring sound like a thousand angry winds had somehow concentrated itself deep in her inner ears but was no longer anywhere else in the cave. She felt her brain began to beat like her heart. As the pain began to fluctuate with rhythmic pulsations Shanzen felt like her whole body was being stretched to its very limits and was going to explode.
“Ahh” she yelled as loud as she could trying to expel the pain through the ancient stress technique of yelling.
“Youll be fine Shanzen…..it will be over in a moment. Stay still and be strong! It only hurts the first time!” Wei lin said.
Wei Lin voice was recognizable though she was speaking from her new tiger form. Shanzen was of strong enough mind to recognize the absurdity of this all, even as she suffered through the last, torturous stages of her transformation.
No sooner than the pain ceased to overtake Shanzens body she heard Wei lins calm instructions to her. “Now you have taken the form. Follow me”, wei lin said. The only thing that was familiar to shanzen about wei lin were her twins beautiful light brown eyes, and mysteriously her human voice, and the shredded brown tunic whose bottoms were left behind as the big tiger ambled out of the cave.
“Sister!” Shanzen called,
“yes Shanzen” her catlike sister called back to her in her human voice.
“Dont leave me here alone I beg you!”
“Youre quite capable of walking. Follow me my twin.
“But where are you going?”
“Follow me Shanzen, and you shall find out”..
In truth wei lins voice had changed, shanzen thought. Its crystal clear quality had adopted a sultry rich vibrato to it like a tigers throaty purr. And even more confident than it had been in the cave.
As shanzen stood up to walk she felt herself rise on four legs. She looked down and saw orange fur striped with jet black and white highlight covered her. She also saw she had huge paws the size of two of her hands put together, exactly like a tigers.
“Im a tiger too! This is beyond any realm of truth that can possibly exist!” She exclaimed, adding some choice slang words that would have earned her several lashes of the whip back at the monastery. She was excited and bewildered, but above all overjoyed by the change she had undertaken. She bounced out of the cave with a catlike jump and melted in to the darkness now made light by her catlike vision. “Sister wait for me. Im coming!”
Once outside the cave she quickly caught up with wei lin. Shanzen nuzzled her sister with her wet cat nose and took in her sisters scent. The smells of wei lin told her everything she had suspected. Her sister was healthy, agile, and had eaten 4 dumplings with garlic and garden vegetables before a handful of mountain berries. She could read her bodys inner workings completely. She had never been with child. she had never laid with a man. Her demeanor was calm and welcoming.
“Is this real sister? Please tell me!” shanzen asked Wei lin as she flicked her tail instinctively.
Making its large swooshing motion felt as natural as blinking and as pleasing as flexing her back muscles, but far more satisfying.
“Of course it is shanzen. Are you not real at this moment?”
“Yes. At least i think i am.” answered Shanzen. Still unsure as to the truth. She moved her whiskers about, sensing the air around her.
“You are. I assure you.” said Wei lin.
“But sister, how did you learn such powerful magic as peasant farmer?” said shanzen, flicking her tail and her left ear.
“Thats a story later.” Her tiger formed sister looked up at the star filled night for a moment. “Right now at this exact moment our fates are calling us to the mountain top”.
Wei lin shifting her weight about her four legs. “Now be quiet and follow me. We must travel cautiously. Stay close.”
Wei lin walked off quickly with silent cat steps towards the north.
Shanzen had all the while expected that her twin’s big secret would be to tell her where she had been all the years of the their seperation. Clearly Wei lin had no such plan. As to what the true secret was Wei lin had given no hints.
Shanzen followed wei lin towards a part of the mountain she had never known to exist. It was designated in the monastery’s many maps that shed studied as solid rock, inaccessible to humans. But as agile tigers the twins were able to climb the sheer rock walls. Still it took some 10 minutes of effort.
At the true top of the mountain the girls had unhindered view of the entire countryside. The night sky was a deep midnight blue filled with brilliant stars, forests grew on the mountains surrounding them. A stream that reflected the moon’s glow flowed through the gorge below. Shanzen recognized these as elements of her mountain, but she felt there was something different about them, and not just because of her tiger eyes.
Then she noticed something unusual. At the edge of a cliff appeared a lone tree. She began to climb fully onto the mountain top to walk towards it.
“No sister” Wei lin said in a hushed whisper. “We are here to observe closely and nothing more. Stay here with me behind these rocks.” wei lin said firmly.
Shanzen understood her sisters warning and dared not budge. She crouched down next to wei lin with her eyes level with the moutain top. She slowed her tiger breaths, and looked at the tree from their hidden vantage. Though they were some 200 feet away from the tree Shanzen could easily distinguish that six birds slept in its branches. Shanzen could hear the birds’ hearts beating steadily in their sleeping breasts. A mountain breeze blew past the lone tree and towards them, filling shanzens large tiger nostrils with scent and her large round ears with sound. Shanzen could count every leaf just by the way the tree shimmered in the wind. She knew the age of the tree and the mountain they stood on by its fragrance. It was much more ancient than even the wisest monks had believed. It was older than time itself. In the cool wind she smelled the deep aroma of the trees bark and the dampness underneath trees roots that clung to the mountain stone. She knew it had rained 2 days prior, in the late afternoon. She knew that tomorrow would be overcast until late evening, but that it would not rain next until two days had passed. All of this shanzen felt it in her tiger bones. Shed never been so certain of so many intangibles in her life. It was all she had ever wanted. rivers of unbridled knowledge flowing into her animal soul. It was marvelous to have such knowledge. Was this how her cat Bo felt all the time?
Before she had time to answer herself her eyes were drawn to the a cluster of rocks that lined the western edge of the cliffs and the dark shadows they cast in the moonlight. From those shadows it crept. The tiger monster from shanzens nightmares. The creature that had stolen her sleep since she had come to the monastery as a child. It had climbed up the opposite cliff side like they had, alone in the night. It crawled towards the tree, its dark form moving with a slow but steady gait. As the creature neared the tree it stood upright began a lurching walk on its two hind legs, as tigers do when balancing on two.
Shanzens tiger pupils widened with curiousity. Before their precision vision the shadow monster grew smaller and thinner, its limbs lengthened, and its head became round. Its furry outline became smooth. It two legs balanced forms entire weight as it walked easily to the tree at the cliffs edge as a human would. The tiger monster of her dreams had taken human form.
A wind so strong it seemed commanded by a hand from heaven blew over the mountain top and bent the tree to an angle that strained its trunk. The wood whined with the duress. The six sleeping birds panicked and flew from their treetop perch, shrieking into the night. A dark mass appeared in the branched of the suddenly crooked tree. It hung like a rain filled cloud among its leaves, and was just as opaque.
The tree began to emit a tangible evil. Shanzens fur stood up all over her tiger body. Out of the corner of her eye she could see wei lins fur also do the same. In the silence of the scared birds fading calls the dream monster began to speak.
“Master. I speak as your most humble and obedient servant. Our greatest fears are being realized. It seems that destiny has favored the two over any of our offerings and supplication. Yes, it is my fault. I will try harder. I will. He paused. “But master, it has been….”
The human form’s voice began to strain and rasp as if being cut off by some force. The human form raised off the ground bu half a meter and brought his hand to his throat as he struggled for air. Whatever was holding him was being lifted by his neck. the human form began to beg.
“Please master..let me down… Do not hurt me any more. I shall punish myself later as you command. First let me complete my task”. The human was released from the unseen grip and fell back to the ground, gasped for air. Coughing he fought for his breath on his knees.
“Yes, I understand.” The human form said bowing even lower than his penitant kneeling dictated.
The human form struggled to his feet to speak to the shadow in the bent tree, pausing occasionally as if to listen to a voice shanzen and Wei lin could not hear. “Your mercy is immense, Master. The next part of the plan is necessary now, just as you warned, wisest master. But they are under the protection of the goddess and are achieving the rites with her help. True, one rite remains, the most difficult. But if they attain this they will be even harder to stop. For some reason I have not gotten close enough yet in their dreams. Yes she is the weaker one, but something protects her all the same. The youngest child was there again at her door even before the twin that possesses powerful magic came. And now that they are together I fear it will be impossible. No, they do not know of this. I sense they are close, but they cannot possibly know. And if the plan succeeds no one ever will. Yes, it is time. I must return. Before the doorway has closed and your darkness is forever made light.”
The human bowed low again. The shadow dissipated into the night air. the lone tree snapped back into an upright position. Only when all the leaves of the tree were still again did the human figure walk back in the direction he had come from, resuming tiger form as he did so. Shanzen watched as he lept down the steep cliff side and disappeared. Was he going back to the monastery? For some reason he was familiar with it and even her room. A sickening feeling wrenched her gut. Her greatest fears were being realized. The tiger in her dreams was an unmistakeable threat with human form? But who’s from had it taken? She could not tell if the form had taken male or female form despite her tiger senses. Its voice gave no hints either as to an identity. She and her twin sister were facing an unknown enemy that wanted to destroy their very souls.
“Did you see and understand everything my twin.” wei lin turned to shanzen to speak. Her brown tiger eyes showed only understanding, but not a hint of any of the terrifying emotions shanzen was overwhelmed with.
“No I do not understand everything. All i know is we are in terrible danger sister and we must do something to save ourselves”, shanzen whispered. “Do you know how to save us? Do you know who they were?”
“So all of this magic? Its worthless? we are just supposed to let them destroy us and the monastery?!” She growled with anger.
“No sister. The magic is important. But it is merely the key to the doorway to our answers. The true power to save ourselves lies within.”
“What does that mean?! Stop speaking in tongues.” Shanzen hissed.
“You and I have had the same dream for all of these years. The tiger monster is very real and holds a form in our world as well as the dream world. It has powerful magic that we can only defeat together. This is all i could learn from my teachings. We shall have to discover the truth behind its identity and the identity of its master in time. That is our destiny”
“But how do you know all of this is true?” asked shanzen. overcome by grief. She collapsed onto her white belly, put her head between her front paws and flicked her tail about her angrily..
“Now i shall tell you my story, so you may understand.” Wei Lin said spreading her body out next to shanzen’s.”But then we must return to our original forms”
“The family that found me when we were separated on that fateful day our mother was attacked and killed by bandits while kidnapping us practiced magic. I ran just like you, but father never found me. I ended up running in the empty fields for days. I ate grass and drank from muddy pools of rain water to survive. I became too weak to walk any further and I passed out in empty field, knowing I would never see you or father or mother again. A farmer found me, dehydrated, starving, but still alive. I had the luck of passing out in one of his fields. The husband of the couple that took me in was just a humble farmer and had nothing to do with the arts, but the wife was a powerful witch. She had opened a gateway for both good and bad by the time she was our age, but had chosen to practice only dark magic by the time she found me. Being a curious child hungry for knowledge I absorbed all of her knowledge. I knew it would bring me my freedom from her one day. While she had practiced both black and white magic and had mastered neither, i chose to follow my heart and study only the white sacred magic of our ancenstors. Black magic gave her a way to make money as she would cast love and death spells on villagers enemies for the right price. But it also brought her misery. I wanted none of that. When i came in from toiling with the humble farmer in the fields and after the two of them went to bed i studied all of her magic books. Out in the fields i would work further and futher away and practice the conjuring techniques what i had learned on my own. It was a trial and error process of course since was on my own, but over time i mastered most of the books spells. I even cast a spell to find you and father. I was devestated to find out that our father died of grief from our mothers betrayal and my having gone missing. But i also discovered that you were alive and safe at a sacred monastery that lay on a mountain top by a gorge that flowed east, and a river that flowed west. That news gave me the hope to stay alive despite my neverending labor in the fields. It gave me the hope to learn enough magic to free myself and find you. One night, not long after i turned 17 and my conjuring had gotten very powerful even for a young woman, i nearly blew the roof of our small cabin practicing how to contain a high level luminary spell. Of course the farmer and the wife woke up to find light dancing about the room. The farmer had no idea what was going on and thought id added our most potent fertilizer to the oven like a fool.. But the wife knew better. When she found out i had attained white magic powers that far surpassed hers she immediately arranged to sell me to a person that would take me far away to america and lock me in a life of torture and slavery. She hoped I would be lost to the world forever. Of course i escaped with the help of a kind farmer down the road. And a sprinkle of a kindness potion that he found irrisistable. A wise raven helped guide me the rest of the way when I parted with half my rations and the one shiny object the witch had given me as a child as a bribe to keep her black magic secret from her husband; a tiny stone that shone pale blue in the right light. It was far more valuable than she had ever imagined it would be, for it bought my freedom. That is how i came to be at the monastery.
“Sister that is truly incredible. I am speechless. Your bravery. Your wisdowm… ” shanzen said before trailing off, overcome by wei lins cunning and story of survival she began to cry.
“Indeed A tiger crying is a funny sight.” Wei lin laughed and licked her tiger sisters face with a big pink tongue. Shanzen laughed too through the tears.
“Now,” said wei lin “Pleasantries aside,our next task awaits. We must attain the wind element. It is the hardest and will try us beyond anything imaginable, but it is the only way to face our true enemies. Are you ready?”
“as ready as i will ever be sister.” Shanzen assured wei lin.
They leaped back down the cliff on agile their tiger legs, while using their long powerful tails for balance. The twins returned to the cave and sat before the fire pit, directly across from one another. Its flame was so low now it could not have been seen by human eyes. Wei lin crouched down and blew out the flame with the big breath of her lungs.
The girls began to return to human form as the blue flame was snuffed out.
“now we shall call the wind.” Wei lin said.