Continuing Readers: Now, things are slowly coming together.
I stare out the window at the vast garden of the Yuwen manor. Everything had gone surprisingly smoothly at the gates and the guards let us into the capital with minimal holding time. The Yuwens wield even more power than I had expected. I have sent the mercenaries out to gather information, and Tiexin has left to check on Qiuhuo, with his excuse Meiyu in tow. I have also sent two of the mercenary children to follow them as a precaution, although not because I do not trust Tiexin. He did not betray us at the gates while pretending to be innocently sleeping with the other children in the cart, and in my heart, I do not expect him to betray me now. Still. I can never be too careful here, in the enemy camp.
As I am pondering the days’ events, I hear them in the distance, the wheels. They get closer and closer and I sigh. Finally, when a confrontation appears inevitable, I turn my back to the window and stand facing the room as he comes in.
He’s grown much older since I last saw him, those years ago. His hair has grown longer, his face has those lines of maturity that didn’t exist back then. Still, the years were kind to him. He still retains that sheepish, boyish look that I remember so clearly, even when I don’t want to. We stare at each other in silence, measuring each other, deciding what would be right to say and what would be taboo in this reunion. I don’t know, so I wait for him to make the first move.
Finally, he says, “I thought I’d never see you again.”
I shrug as nonchalantly as I can and fight the urge to turn away. “Well, I’m here now, aren’t I?
He smiles sadly at me, eyes still lingering on that old scar of mine. It was annoying how he always did that then, and it isn’t any less annoying now, years later. “Does it still-” he begins, but I cut him off.
“It’s fine,” I say tersely. “It’s been years after all.”
He sighs and looks away from me. “So, what brings you here?”
“Do you really want to know?”
He shrugs to nothing in particular and says, “I should know what kind of trouble I invited in, shouldn’t I?”
“But what if I don’t want to say?”
“Then I won’t force you. I promised then and I don’t intend to take that back now. I’d do anything, absolutely anything within my power, to help you. Always. No questions asked.”
“You were naïve then and you’re still naïve now,” I say softly, looking closely at the side profile of his handsome face. My heart twinges with regret, but I ruthlessly stamp out these ancient feelings of mine.
“Only with you,” he retorts, turning back to me with a small smile. “So, what do you need me to do?”
“Nothing specific,” I say, averting my eyes again. “We just needed a place to stay.”
“What’s mine is yours, Chunfeng. Always.”
I look back and smile at him, but it’s painful. I don’t want to be here, looking at him. I just want to go home and never have come here. Let this be a dream. But it’s too real to be a dream. He’s too real to be a dream. This impending battle… is too real to be a dream.
“I have a guess as to why you’re here,” he says, approaching the window next to me. If he notices me flinch at his approach, he wisely does not comment on it. “Would you like to entertain my theory?”
“Go ahead,” I say as evenly as I can, leaning back against the sill and looking back out the window as well.
“I heard what happened in Dong Ying. It seems the imperial guards were searching for someone, someone with a specific “trait” to open a “gate.” They slaughtered many civilians, even officials, searching for this someone. They brought prisoners back, jailed in the highest security jails in the palace itself. The xianzhang. Several officials and their families. And… women, meant to be sold as sex slaves in that ever-robust underground market. If you didn’t announce my name at the gates, you probably would have been charged with some minor crime and been subjected to the same fate. That’s how far the capital has fallen.”
I close my eyes, listening to the voice that I haven’t heard in years speak of indescribable evils. I hear the helplessness in that voice, a helplessness that I remember well and wish I didn’t. I hate it, that tone of voice. I hate it in everyone, but especially in him. He doesn’t deserve it, especially not after everything he’s been through.
“If you’re here for revenge, I’d advise against it. You can’t win against these people. It’s you versus the Kingdom itself. They’ll crush you with little effort. I… I don’t want to see that.”
“I’m not here for revenge,” I assure him, opening my eyes to look straight at him. He looks scared, a look unbecoming of a high-ranking official’s son. “I’m here to take my sister back.”
“Your sister? Was she one of the women kidnapped?”
I shake my head slowly, wondering if I should tell him. But why not? He’s already taking a risk by letting us into the capital. And he’s right; it’s only fair that he knows what trouble he’s invited into his home. “She’s the trait that they were looking for.”
He looks startled at that. “Then… then it’ll be impossible. She’s bound to be the most tightly guarded of all!”
I shake my head again. “When we were approaching the city, Tiexin said that there were only three trait-holders in the capital at the moment, my sister included. One of them works with the imperial guards, so he is free to roam the capital. He is the one that we have to be the most cautious of, in case he decides to investigate why Tiexin is roaming the capital by himself. And the other one… he is a minor merchant and it seems, for whatever reason, Qiuhuo is confined to the manor that was offered to him by the Emperor.”
“Tiexin…” he mutters thoughtfully. “You mean… Li Tiexin?”
“You know of him?”
“I’ve heard the name. He’s a distant relative of His Majesty. The Chengxiang took him under his wing when he was young. I heard he’s very loyal to the Kingdom. He’d give his life for it, and almost did, several times. Why would you be with a man like him?”
I shrug. “He seemed like a good kid.” He takes a deep breath and hesitates for a moment. I already know what he’s going to say, so I save him the trouble. “I know his background doesn’t make him seem like the most trustworthy of allies but… I think I trust him as much as I trust you.”
He smiles wryly at that. “Now I can’t tell if you’re praising him or suspecting me.”
I grin at him. “That’s up to your interpretation.”
“Well,” he says, turning back towards the door. “I’ll go see how I can best assist in getting you back out of the capital alive after all this.”
He waves a hand airily behind him and I watch him go with a heavy feeling in my heart. Suddenly, though, he halts at the door and turns his head back around to look at me. I swiftly look away, embarrassed to be caught staring, but I figure he probably already knows. “Those clothes suit you. Maybe, one day, we could take a trip to the west for real, once all of this is over.”
I don’t say anything as he turns back around and wheels out of the room. I wonder, at that moment, exactly how much more the dashaoye of the Yuwen household already knows.
“Chun-jie!” Jiedao comes storming up to me in the garden paths after not even two hours of our arrival. “What is taking them so long!? As I thought, we should-”
“Jiedao. Our faces are likely known among the soldiers. We cannot move recklessly.”
“And you’re just content to leave the information gathering to those mercenaries!?”
“Content? I’m never content with anything. But I endure. Because patience is something that I’ve learned. It’s something that you still need to learn.”
“She’s got you there,” Jianning joins in with a laugh. “There’s only so much we can do. If we go out there, we’ll potentially do more harm than good. We were lucky enough that the soldiers at the gate were so easily fooled.”
“Do you sense that other trait-holder anywhere, Jianning?” I ask.
Jianning shakes his head. “I wouldn’t forget his qi after that flooding stunt he pulled. I’d recognize him in a heartbeat if he approaches us.”
I frown and continue down the garden path. The other two follow wordlessly. We only manage to walk a few paces before one of the Yuwen manor guardsmen appears saying that one of the children I had sent with Tiexin has returned. The words have barely left his mouth when the child comes barreling over to us, screaming something. My heart almost stops. From the corner of my eye, I see Xiaolong appear, probably attracted by the commotion. Once she finishes speaking, I whip around and head quickly towards the front gate.
“Mask your faces, we’re going out,” I order.
The four of us run lightly across the rooftops of the buildings, qi suppressed to the maximum lest we attract any unwanted attention. It isn’t long before I’m struck with a strange feeling. A feeling of… wrongness? No, it’s a feeling of…
There is an evil aura thick in the air.
Evil. Evilevilevilevilevilevil. The air itself suddenly stank of it.
“Jiejie!” Xiaolong whispers, running alongside me. I look over at him, then over to the other two, who wore utterly bewildered expressions. Why? Again, why is it only Xiaolong and me?
I don’t have time to think about it, though, because I hear screaming before us. I see some people fleeing, and a crowd gathered around something that I cannot yet see, but can clearly feel. Something that is emitting an evil aura.
Yaoguai. That was what the child had said. And they seem to be after Tiexin and Meiyu.
I halt at the edge of the crowd and signal for the others to stop as well. I crouch down and survey the scene below me.
Meiyu is clutching the back of Tiexin’s shirt and he is brandishing a sword that he must have picked up from the nearby blacksmith stand. Back to the wall of a building, they are surrounded by five yaoguai which, for whatever reason, are only taking swipes at them. It is as if they can’t get any closer. Periodically, one of them will shriek and run towards the crowd, sending idiotic civilians scattering. I hesitate. If I go down, I risk exposing myself to those said idiots; who knows if there are imperial guards disguised in plain clothing? But if I don’t go… I scan the crowd spotting Qingyu and the other child also taking stock of the situation. They aren’t moving either, lest their cover be blown as well. Not good. I don’t know how long Tiexin and Meiyu can hold off the yaoguai by themselves. I continue scanning the crowd and someone else catches my eye.
At that same moment, though, I feel Jianning stiffen next to me and I automatically reach out a hand to prevent him from blowing our cover. I shoot him a questioningly look, but a moment later, I know exactly why he did what he did.
A blast of water shoots through the suddenly loudly screaming crowd and drenches the yaoguai, which shriek out and start scampering away. A second, stronger burst of water hits each of them squarely on the back and, shrieking, they dissolve into the ground in a puddle of black.
My heart is beating rapidly as I witness this and I shrink further down, hiding behind the eaves of the building. I pull at Jianning to get him to conceal himself better and he shoots me an angry look. I challenge him with a frustrated look of my own. After a silent battle of wills, he finally acquiesces and I can breathe again. I peer over and see a monk, followed by a train of other monks. This close, I know that he is the User who tried to drown Xiaolong and me.
“Amituofo,” he intones gravely, and his deep voice seems to seep down into my bones. I shiver. I don’t like that voice. “May those possessed souls rest in peace.”
“Z-Zhenkang-dashu…” Tiexin stammers, and I groan in my head. Kong Zhenkang, just great. So he really is the other trait-holder. There’s no way Tiexin will be able to keep up appearances around this guy, with how scared of him he had sounded on our way here. Heavens, even I can feel the force of that man’s glare from up here and he’s not even looking my way!
“Kong-zhuchi,” one of the monks interrupts, drawing Zhenkang’s attention away from Tiexin for the moment. “I think these are the same type of yaoguai that had invaded our monastery, the same type that we saw just outside the city walls!”
“Are they now?” he says in that same booming monotone that carries with little to no effort. I shiver again. Someone make him stop talking.
“Yes… How is it that they’re inside the city as well!?”
“We will investigate. In the meantime, Tiexin, shouldn’t you let the Chengxiang know that you have returned? I am sure that he has been worried.”
“I… I was just on my way.”
“It will be best… if you do not lose your way.”
I can’t help it. That tone and those words really send a shiver down my spine. Xiaolong has glued himself to my side and I can feel him shivering too. This man is not normal, that’s for sure. I carefully watch him and his train of monks leave and breathe out a sigh of relief. The whole time, he never spared us a glance up here. Safe… for now.
The arrival of that trait-holder very nearly makes me forget the other familiar face that I had seen in the crowd. Very nearly. But I don’t forget. I scan the crowd again and locate her, with little difficulty. Strangely, she isn’t dressed in her fancy clothes this time. If anything… those clothes look like those of a slave slated to be sold at an auction. Someone else, perhaps? I don’t sense much qi from her, either because of her battered state or because she is hiding it, but it seems the same as that time. I watch as a rough-looking man grabs her by the arm and hauls her away from the crowd. Another woman follows them, trailing a horse behind her. Interest piqued, I turn to the others and say, “I’m going to follow a lead. You guys can head back first.”
Xiaolong, still slightly shivering, shakes his head vehemently against my arm and the other two look at me as if I were insane to suggest that we go our separate ways. I shrug and say, “Just don’t do anything unless I explicitly give you an order, okay?”
Jiedao grins at me and Jianning rolls his eyes. We set out again, following the three until they reach a household. I narrow my eyes at the sign. The Liang family. They knock at the door multiple times and, after a very long time, it creaks open. The slave woman says something, gesturing wildly. She pauses as the other person says something, and then bursts out more loudly. I hear fragments of “fake,” “framed,” “help.” I think I can put together what happened with just those phrases. The door slams in their faces and the slave woman wails piteously. After a while, the rough-looking man grabs her arm again and forces her to her feet. He says something to her angrily, but the other woman stops him with a hand on his arm. He shrugs it off and stomps away. The other two look at each other and scurry after him.
“Who are they?” Jianning asks when they’re well out of earshot. We set off again after them, barely keeping them in sight. Above, a bird calls and I look up at it suspiciously before answering.
“They’re related to Zhang Huizhong, I think.”
“Why would they be here?”
I shrug. “Revenge?”
“Then why are we following them?”
“… I don’t know yet.”
I don’t doubt that Jianning is rolling his eyes at me right now, but I ignore him. The three look like they are headed to the city temple and sure enough, as they approach, a young monk runs up to them excitedly. I vaguely remember seeing him earlier, and after a moment, he disappears back into the temple. The other three retreat a few stands away and wait. The rough-looking man looks around suspiciously and, after a moment, looks up. I duck, and then curse at Jiedao, who, being the idiot that he is, remains standing. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but after a moment, Jiedao rips off his mask and hops downs from the roof. I groan. This is not going to end well.
I motion to the other two to get to the other side of the building and hop off. They nod and we do so. I rip the mask off of my face and hiss, “Jiedao, that idiot!”
“We’d better go check on him,” Jianning says grimly, doing the same.
“But won’t we be recognized?” Xiaolong whispers worriedly.
“It’s less suspicious without masks,” I say, running my hand through the braids restlessly. “Still, the fewer people we run into, the better.”
We circle quickly around the building and through an empty alley into the main road, but the group and Jiedao are nowhere to be seen.
“Where do you think they went?” Xiaolong asks anxiously.
“We’ll find them where there’s a fight,” I say, walking around and listening closely. Sure enough, I hear sounds of fists hitting flesh and I veer off in the direction of another alley.
“Ganzorig, wait, we don’t even know who he is!” the woman says. The man ignores her, pounding at Jiedao, who pounds back like the street urchin he is.
I march over to them, grab Jiedao by his shoulder, and fling him out of the reach of the other man’s punch before saying, “Behave!”
Jiedao stops, looking at me with a wounded expression on his face. The other man hesitates at the interference, but decides to go for a punch anyway before the other woman scolds, “Ganzorig!” He flinches, stops mid-swing, and looks abashedly at the other woman.
I look at the other group with an inward groan. I didn’t want to do this, but I sigh and say, “Ah, long time no see… Wei, wasn’t it?”
The other two turn and stare at the slave woman, who looks like she has seen a ghost. The silence is starting to get a bit awkward by the time she stammers, “W-What are you doing here, you… you…”
“Chunfeng. Or did you forget already?”
“Chunfeng?” the man muses. “Chun… as in Meat Shield?”
“Oh, so she told you guys about that,” I say, a bit surprised. “At least now I know you actually got my letter.”
“Letter? That was like chicken scratch.”
I shrug. “Details.”
There is some commotion at the mouth of the alley, and we all turn to look at it. The young monk from before is there, gaping at us. With him is that monk who was speaking to Kong Zhenkang. I narrow my eyes suspiciously.
“Uh… what’s going on?” the young monk asks hesitantly.
“These people were following us,” the rough-looking man Ganzorig says. “I demand to know why.”
I shrug casually. “I can’t help it when I see a familiar face in a new town.”
“You guys were stalking us on the rooftops!”
I shrug again. “Details.”
“It’s fine,” Wei interrupts before Ganzorig can say anything else. “I guess that’s just the way they did things in the slums of Dong Ying.”
“You’re taking this rather lightly, considering your reaction the last time I met you,” I remark.
She mimics my shrug with one of her own. “Maybe I was too uptight back then. And maybe I just don’t know who to trust anymore.” The other woman gives Wei a sideways hug as she says that, and Wei flashes her a grateful smile. “At any rate, my xiaojie didn’t seem to think you were all that bad so… who am I to pass judgement?”
“Hm… fair enough. So, what’s your relationship with these monks?” I ask, tilting my head towards the entrance of the alley.
“They’re friends from Eagle Peak Monastery.”
“Friends, huh?” I say casually, striding up to Jianning and putting a lightly restraining hand on his arm. He flashes me an annoyed glare and I remind him, “Do nothing, alright? You promised.” He grits his teeth and the coiled tension eases slightly. It doesn’t seem like he’ll give me much time, so, cutting to the chase, I turn to the monks and ask them, “Well then, if I may ask, what is your relationship to Kong Zhenkang?”
“He’s the zhuchi of the capital’s main temple!” the younger monk pipes up eagerly. “So he’s letting us stay in this temple while we’re in the city!”
“That’s… your only relationship to him?”
The younger monk frowns slightly and bites his lip hesitantly. He seems like he wants to say something else, but before he can, the older one says, “I have met him on several occasions. He sets a good example for the rest of us.”
“He is generous, virtuous, and modest. He feeds the poor, heals the injured, and gives shelters to the homeless.”
“And he also happens to be a murderer,” Jiedao spits out and I shoot him a glare. He glares back at me, but shuts up.
“How dare you slander Kong-zhuchi! You will receive Heaven’s retribution on you for that!”
“I don’t think he cares,” I cut in before Jiedao can spit out something even worse. “We’re not monks after all.”
“You don’t have to be monks to-”
“Like I said,” I interrupt. “We don’t care. Not when it comes to him, because he might not be as ‘virtuous’ as you think.”
“And what do you people know about him?” he retorts, clearly insulted.
“I think we would know the man who tried to kill us,” Jianning hisses savagely and I don’t even bother to fight back the groan that escapes my lips. Such words are expected from Jiedao, but for Jianning to be this riled up is rare. Things are escalating way too quickly and it won’t be long before we’re detected by the very monk we’re trying so hard to hide from.
I slap Jianning forcefully on the arm and hiss, “Covert op, idiot.”
He glares at me, turns away from the monks, and sulks quietly in the corner. I turn back to the monks and say, “Look, I don’t really care if you don’t trust us. We don’t trust you either. I just want…” I pause. What, really, do I want from these people? “I…”
“I think they’re right,” the younger monk cuts in hesitantly and I can’t help but stare at him. The older monk does the same. “I… these last few days, I’ve been hearing strange rumors in the temple about the zhuchi. They… They say that there’s an imbalance in the zhuchi’s qi. They say that he sometimes disappears for days on end and comes back with a distinct smell of death.”
I raise my brows at the revelation and look back at the older monk, who stammers out, “F-Fuxin, what are you saying? You think that Kong-zhuchi would… would actually…”
Fuxin shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know. I’m just saying what I heard. And honestly, he does scare me a little.”
“He’s the zhuchi of the main temple, of course he’s going to scare you a little. You just haven’t had enough experience, that must be what it is.”
“But I never got that feeling with our zhuchi,” Fuxin protests.
“Fuxin!” the older monk scolds, and the younger monk falls silent. “Anyway, we are not going to talk about him, got it?” Fuxin nods silently.
“Okay, then let’s talk about something else,” I say, looking back to the rest of the group. “I take it you’re here trying to rescue the Zhang family from jail?”
“You know about that?” Ganzorig asks suspiciously.
“I may. And I might be able to help you break them out.”
“And why would we want to do that!?” Jiedao demands.
“Distraction,” I say with a shrug.
“Is everything just a distraction to you!?” Jianning asks incredulously.
“Pretty much? Ideally, we rescue Qiuhuo and destroy that accursed portal while their eyes are turned to the palace. What better way?”
“You’re insane! And besides, you had-”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ganzorig interrupts. “You said accursed portal?”
“You mean the Demonic Portal sealed by Yan Jun and the seven disciples?” Fuxin asks.
I cock my head to the side and look at them questioningly. Seven… Yan… hm… didn’t Tiexin say something about that? “… Maybe,” I finally answer.
“We need to talk,” the older monk says urgently, previous aggression completely dissipated.
“We are talking,” I state matter-of-factly, if for nothing else than to annoy the annoying monk.
He glares at me and I grin back at him. Before either of us can say anything, though, a scarily sweet voice says, “Now what are you doing here?”
Oops. Caught red handed.
We’re sitting in some restaurant that seems innocuous enough, but you never know. We’ve requested a private room and some of the mercenaries now stand guard outside. Still, we speak in whispers, sharing what information we’ve gathered.
The Dong Ying prisoners are still jailed in the palace pending processing. Qingyu had discovered the location of the jails rather easily: northeast corner of the palace, heavily guarded, but not impossible to get into. She spent a great deal of the day observing the guards and their shift changes and the other mercenaries listened in on the guards’ boring talks to find weaknesses and more detailed information. There are at least thirty Dong Ying prisoners confined in the various cells in the same area. Just with the sheer number that we’re dealing with, a violent, flashy break-out will be difficult. Sneaking in or quietly breaking an exit in the walls would be our best bet.
The merchant’s place, by contrast, is on the northwest side of the capital, just shy of the beginning of the desert – convenient for them, convenient for us. Surprisingly, the monks are somewhat familiar with the merchant Teeto Quispe. Fuxin reveals that that was actually where they were coming from when they encountered the yaoguai. From their description (and honestly, I trust Fuxin more than the older one, Yijian), he seems to be a meek, honest, small-time merchant. He had come to the Kingdom from a land far away, invited here by Kong Zhenkang, so they had a close relationship. Both monks note that there was a girl with the merchant who seemed lost and confused, but also downright hostile towards Kong Zhenkang. No doubt that that girl is Qiuhuo, and I can’t help but smile at the recounting of the trouble she caused during their visit.
As for the yaoguai, no one knows for certain why they’re appearing so suddenly. Prior to today, Qingyu had never seen a yaoguai before, and prior to these last dozen days, the monks say that there haven’t been reports of any yaoguai appearing in this region at all. The monks theorize, though, that the Demonic Portal has already been partially opened, allowing for yaoguai to pass through into our world and terrorize our citizens. Yaoguai, they say, can generally only be killed by monks’ spells, Users’ abilities, or blessed items. Fuxin has a book named Songs, which he had rescued out of Zhang’s confiscated luggage, that purportedly contains some incantations that may work on yaoguai, but given the rarity of such encounters in the past, no one can say for certain. Qingyu flips through the book doubtfully, but nevertheless reads a few of the more reliable-sounding ones out loud to us.
“Well, now we have some idea as to what we’re facing,” I say, folding my arms and leaning back against the wall. “But I have to ask. What’s with the slave woman’s outfit?”
Wei looks over at me with a mixture of frustration and shame on her face. “Because my xiaojie was captured, those guardsmen took me prisoner and tried to sell me at the slave market. Luckily, An and Ganzorig found and bought me, so I escaped that trial without much incident. We tried to establish a footing with Liang Mu, who is a relative of my master, but his household turned us away without even listening to us!”
“How much does this Liang Mu know?”
“It’s hard to say,” Ganzorig cuts in. “I think they know more than they let on, given their attitude at the door. They probably know that Zhang-daren was framed, but they’re not willing to help, either because they were part of the scheme or they don’t want to be involved in it. We don’t need the help of such crooks and cowards anyway!”
Jiedao barks out a sharp laugh. “You’re a funny one, aren’t you?”
“I think I like you.”
“I don’t want you to like me.”
“Anyway,” I interrupt before Jiedao can retort back. “I need to know if you guys are willing to cooperate with us.”
“We are,” Wei and Yijian say together. They look at each other and Yijian continues. “We want the same thing in the end – the Portal’s resealing or destruction, if the latter is even possible.”
“And how many people do you have to help us?”
The small group look at each other uneasily. “Just us for now.”
“I might be able to recruit some monks from the city temple!” Fuxin pipes in.
“Without Kong Zhenkang knowing?”
“There are a lot of us who think that the zhuchi has more than a few screws loose,” Fuxin says abashedly.
I laugh. “I think the kid’s a good judge of character, so why not? Only the ones that you think can be trusted, okay?”
“Drop the xiaojie.”
“Yes, xiao- uh… I mean… jiejie…”
“So… if I understand your whole legend correctly,” Qingyu says slowly, “this Portal was merely sealed last time and not destroyed. Why was that? If it can only invite evil, why keep it around?”
“Even if it can only invite evil, it was still regarded as a sacred gateway. To destroy a sacred gateway… would go against our teachings,” Yijian replies hesitantly.
“What’s with the hesitation?” Qingyu demands.
“I think it means he doesn’t actually know why they didn’t destroy it,” Jianning supplies scornfully. Wow. I have never seen Jianning this angry or upset over anything.
“I think it has to do with balance,” Fuxin pipes up again. “Our zhuchi used to always talk about balance. This is a known evil, but there must always be evil in the world to balance out the good. At least if we know that it’s here, we can keep an eye on it.”
“You have some pretty good insight for a kid,” Jiedao marvels, and the kid positively beams.
“So if we do try to destroy it, you theorize another Portal will generate, which may cause even more disasters than this one because it will be in an unknown location?”
Fuxin shrugs. “Possibly. There are probably new portals appearing and old portals dying all of the time; we can’t keep track of all of them. This one is a large one that pretty much all of the sects keep an eye on, to make sure it doesn’t go berserk.”
“If all the sects are keeping an eye on it, how did the situation get so out of hand?”
“We… Our numbers have declined and even within our monastery, there are brothers who have fallen prey to the darkness in their hearts. Maybe… maybe with my earlier logic, that’s why you are all here! You are here to balance out the loss of Goodness in the world!”
“O… kay, the kid just stopped making sense,” Jiedao mutters in a stage-whisper, causing kid to blush.
“So, for the sake of preserving this balance between good and evil, you’re saying we shouldn’t destroy this thing? Well, we obviously can’t seal it either given the fact that, somehow, these trait-holders that are supposed to keep this thing sealed are actually trying to open it again. So what do you want us to do?” Qingyu asks.
“They’re not all trying to open it again,” I say, slightly affronted.
“There are more trying to open it than close it,” Qingyu needlessly reminds me.
I sigh. “Well, we’re faced with two choices. One is impossible; we can’t seal it because we don’t have the trait-holders. Period. The other is unsavory. But it’s possible. So, I vote for what’s possible over what’s impossible.”
“We never said that the trait-holders are the only way to seal the Portal…” Yijian says hesitantly.
“So you’re still hiding something from us. What happened to cooperation?”
“Well… it’s not really based in fact. It’s just a legend, after all. Supposedly, the relic that was stolen from my monastery has generations of qi stored in it, including that of Yan and his followers. There are, you know, various uses for that qi. One of them… theoretically… would be to temporarily seal the Portal in an emergency, in the event that the trait-holders cannot be found in time.”
“Wait… then doesn’t that mean, theoretically, it can open the Portal even in the absence of the trait-holders!?”
Yijian nods grimly.