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PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, '10, 5:32 pm
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It felt like an eternity to Kaire as she climbed the seemingly endless flight of stairs that clung to the side of Wudan Mountain to the master’s sanctuary, a building separate from the others that made up the Wudan School. It was still morning, and the mist that blanketed the brilliant green mountain had not yet descended to the valley below. Kaire could feel the little droplets of water brush up against her face as she made her way up the stairs. About every twenty steps, Kaire would stop to catch her breath; the air was quite thin so high up on the mountain and she wasn’t used to having to run up the stairs in a hurry. Finally arriving at the top, she wiped the sweat from her brow with the hem of her beige robe and composed herself, assuming a more dignified walk as she entered the temple to talk to her father.

Inside the temple, she saw that there were five other people inside, waiting her arrival. Four of them she recognized. The first three were the “terrible trio”—as Kaire called them— Xie A’Tou, Li Fa-Gan, and Gi Le-Fa. Xie was decked in his purple Taoist cloak and cap, both of which sported a large Yin-Yang symbol embroidered into them. Li and Gi wore similar clothing, although the former’s was a dark forest green and the latter wore red. The three of them faked their smiles as they bowed their heads slightly at Kaire, whom, fighting the desire to roll her eyes at them, showed them the same respect. Kaire giggled inside when she glimpsed the remnants of the cut on Xie A’Tou’s face that she had given him in practice the day before.

Next to her father stood, Zi-Ou, the top magic student of the school. Zi-Ou was dressed in all black, which mingled with his long black hair in such a way that his clothing appeared to Kaire to be an extension of his entire being. Zi-Ou never tied his hair into a bun or into a ponytail like the other students at the school. There was a defiance of tradition that burned in Zi-Ou’s eyes that made Kaire think of her own self. After all, she was different from most young women of her age and stubbornly refused to submit herself to whatever tradition would have required her to do, like marry at age sixteen and abandon the martial arts in favor of starting a family.

Zi-Ou stared at Kaire as she paid obeisance to both him and her father. She shuttered under his gaze, although she did her best to hide her feelings—now was definitely not the time or place for their rivalry. Whereas Xie A’Tou and the others were arrogant but definitely Kaire’s inferiors, Zi-Ou was arrogant and just as talented, at least in magic, as Kaire was. This often angered her to no end, although she could never figure out why. Maybe it was because she felt threatened by her father’s occasional doting on Zi-Ou, him being the sort of proverbial “son he never had.” Kaire scrutinized Zi-Ou at every possible opportunity, and came to the conclusion that while that may be part of the reason, there was something else, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, that unnerved her about him, his handsomeness notwithstanding.

The last person, whom she didn’t recognize, was dressed in set of robes made of red and baby blue silk, the sign of royalty. The miter the man wore gave away his position as a court official, Kaire snuck in a glimpse of the scroll the official carried and saw the Emperor’s seal. “Why would the government want anything to do with us?” Kyra thought. “We’ve always been removed from politics of any sort.”

With a quick nod from her father, Kaire kowtowed to the official and then rose to await instructions.

“Kaire, this official has come here from the capitol on the most urgent of business,” her father said gravely. Master Ti’Er motioned for the official to speak.

The official nodded and unrolled the scroll and began to read in a nasally voice, “It has been decreed by the Emperor that the Wudan School join forces with the government in the extermination of all non-human entities living within the confines of the empire. It has been discovered that they are conspiring against His Holiness, in direct contradiction to the Mandate from Heaven, and thus present a danger to the stability of this great empire. All entities that have gone beyond their sphere to dwell in this world must be forcibly destroyed if the empire is to continue.

“The Wudan School, based on their reputation in the Empire as a reputable school in training students in both the martial arts and the tenants of Taoist alchemy, is hereby convoked by the government to the front lines of this battle against those spirits who would deprive the Empire of its glory. The success of this venture, by order of the Emperor, shall result in favors and honors to be bestowed upon the school. On the other hand, failure to comply with this decree will result in the forcible closure of the school and the declaration of its members as enemies of the State.”

The official paused and popped his little head out from behind the scroll, looking at those present with his beady eyes. They all stared at him, waiting for him to say something else. He narrowed his eyes for a moment and then rolled up the scroll. “Master Ti’Er, may I then count on your assistance in this endeavor?” The official’s sinister smile sent a chill through Kaire’s spine.

Master Ti’Er stroked his long, white beard for a few moments and then nodded. “You know that here at Wudan, we strive to keep ourselves out of politics as much as possible. But given the circumstances, it seems that there is really no alternative. I shall send my best students to the capitol to begin an investigation there.”

The official sneered. “Very well, then. Have them report to the capitol in one week.” The official turned and left the building without saying anything else. Kaire made a face at him as he walked out the door.

Master Ti’Er spoke up, “Zi-Ou, I want you to take Xie, Li, and Gi with you to the capitol. I suspect that there is more to the story than the official said, but the decree puts our school in a precarious position. The four of you are the among the most talented the school has to offer—“ Xie looked at his two cohorts and grinned. “You know the rituals associated with fighting evil spirits. You’ve been trained quite well for this. If there is any danger, I trust that the four of you will be able to handle yourselves.”

Xie, Li, and Gi bowed to Master Ti’Er. “Yes, sifu,” they said in unison. Zi-Ou remained silent, but nodded quietly in agreement.

Master Ti’Er lifted his hand and flicked it in the direction of the door. “The four of you are excused.” Xie and his two colleagues slunk out of the temple and started down the stairs. Zi-Ou followed behind them and, before passing through the doorway, paused and turned to Kaire with a lingering smile. He then turned again and continued down the steps.

Kaire looked at her father and shook her head. “So father, why did you want to hear all that if you’re sending the others?” Kaire asked rather snidely.

Master Ti’Er simply chuckled and shook his head. “My dear Kaire, you’re just as involved in this mission as the others are. I do not trust the government at this point, although not for any of the emperor’s doing. I suspect that someone else is behind the scenes in this matter. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is connected to the same decree that was made against the Hunter’s Guild a couple of years ago.”

“Why would anyone want to do something like this,” asked Kaire, now confused. “The Hunter’s Guild was loyal to the government and the spirits, for the most part, have stayed on their side.”

“That’s the problem, my dear. Somebody at the court may feel threatened by that, especially if he has any ulterior motives. And the spirits are quite good indeed at finding things like that out, be it for good or evil. If there is indeed anything happening behind the scenes, the Hunter’s Guild and the spirits would surely be opposed to it.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Kaire, falling to her knees and bowing.

Master Ti’Er bent over forward and placed his aging hands on Kaire’s shoulder, helping her up. “My dear, I want you to go in secret to the capitol. Find out the truth. If the decree is in fact, based on the truth, you are more than ready to do battle with whatever supernatural forces that may oppose you. However, if the situation is what I fear, than a lot of innocent beings will be in danger, and not just the spirits.”

Kaire bit down on her lips, trying to process everything that her father had said.

“Kaire,” said her father, gently. “I trust you more than anyone in this world. I cannot tell you everything that you have to do. You have to use what you’ve learned and the good that I know is inside you to make your own decisions.”

“I will not let you down,” Kaire said humbly, bowing her head again.

“You will always be my pride and joy, daughter. It is not me whom you must worry about letting down. Now go and get ready. You have a long voyage ahead of you.”

Kaire turned and started toward the staircase that went down the side of the mountain to the rest of the school. “Kaire,” her father called.

Kaire paused, looking back to her father.

“Remember, nobody must know you’re leaving. I can stall the others for about another day, tops. It’s best if you leave tonight.”

Kaire nodded and started down the endless flight of stairs. At least the trip down would be easier than the trip up, she thought to herself.
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