LOOG – Chapter 23

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Chapter 23: We’ve Got Company

Over the months, Sunan’s students made excellent progress in Wu-Sunan. Three of them had already experienced at least one breakthrough.

Despite their sudden access to a level of wealth that would formerly have been incomprehensible, Sunan and Sun Mai continued to live much the same as they had before, except that they now resided in the former mansion of Iron Awl Hu.

They even continued to frequent the Heavenly Meat Palace.

Of course, Sunan was quite famous in Daolu now, therefore, his patronage of the Heavenly Meat Palace made its popularity grow by tenfold. Mysteriously, the quality of the meat seemed to increase, and the wine became more potent. The entire establishment even closed for an entire month for renovations.

When it re-opened it was twice as large and ten times as luxurious.

However, the premise remained the same: unending piles of meat for a cheap price.

The restaurant created a private room for use by the Golden Dragon Sect, although most of the time, Sunan and Sun Mai preferred to eat in the common room.

On one particular evening, the two of them were there in their usual spot, consuming massive quantities of meat with their disciples, when Sun Mai began to expound on his philosophies. The discussion quickly turned lively. Although the disciples respected Sun Mai, none of them took him very seriously when it came to philosophy. Truth be told, neither did Sunan.

On this particular night, Sun Mai was ranting about the Perfect Realm, which was supposedly a higher level of existence, a Heaven to which many people hoped to reach by means of enlightenment over the course of many lives. Belief in the Perfect Realm had existed in the culture of Qi Xien for countless years, even before the arrival of the Demon King. However, after his invasion, it became the subject of much discussion among philosophers and religious figures.

At one point when Sun Mai took a short break to wolf down some “lamb” skewers, a young man appeared next to their table. Clasping hands, he bowed to Sun Mai and said, “Greetings, Senior. I am a humble student of Dehua, and I have a few questions I wish to ask. You are the Heavenly Scholar everyone is talking about, correct?”

Sunan rolled his eyes. People had indeed taken to calling Sun Mai the “Heavenly Scholar” in recent days. Although he hadn’t completed his “classic scripture,” people had even begun to repeat some the things he said most commonly. For example, “seek the truth and pursue the actual” was already a common saying in Daolu.

“Why yes, there are some who have called me the Heavenly Scholar. However, to a true scholar, humility is the greatest virtue. Please, just call me Sun Mai. You are…?”

The young man clasped hands and bowed again. “Just call me Little Mao.”

“Little Mao…. Very well. So, you are a student of Dehua?”

“Yes, Master Sun.”

“I see. And what are these questions of which you speak?”

Little Mao hesitated for a moment, giving Sunan a moment to study him more closely. He wore simple robes, and had his hair bound at the top of his head in the common fashion. He was slender, with a face that was less handsome and more… beautiful. He had delicate, pursed lips and piercing eyes that seemed to radiate thoughtfulness.

Finally, Little Mao spoke. “I’m wondering about the Perfect Realm. You were just speaking about it, and you said… it’s not real. But… how could you claim to be a follower of Dehua if you don’t believe in the Perfect Realm?”

“My young friend, before answering your question, I must first ask you a question. How closely were you listening to my speech just now?”

Little Mao’s brow furrowed slightly. “Quite closely, actually.”

“I see. Then please explain which part of my speech indicated that I don’t believe in the Perfect Realm?”

Little Mao shrugged. “The entire speech really. At one point you said, and I quote, ‘Kong Zhi’s belief that the Perfect Realm is real couldn’t be farther from the truth.’ If you believe Kong Zhi is wrong, that means you believe the Perfect Realm is not real. Therefore, you don’t believe in it.”

Sun Mai chuckled. “My young friend, are you familiar with the Harqa people?”

“Of course. Nomads who live in the Kushen Basin. They’re the greatest horsemen in the world, and their horses are the finest to gallop under the skies of Qi Xien.”

“Do you know what is the most important celebration among the Harqa?”

“Of course. In their language, it’s called Chul’kashar, which means Birth of the Great Horse. They believe that the world was created, not by Xian Nu Shen, but by the Great Horse, who was born on the winter solstice. They commemorate his birth by racing horses all day, drinking all night, and exchanging hats woven from grass.”

“Let me ask you, Little Mao, do you think the world was created by the Great Horse, or by the Enlightened Goddess, Xian Nu Shen?”

“By Xian Nu Shen, of course.”

“Suppose you were traveling in the Kushen Basin during the winter solstice, and happened to be there during Chul’kashar. Would you participate in the festival? Would you watch the horse races? Would you drink with the Harqa people? Would you wear a grass hat?”

Little Mao shrugged. “I suppose so. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t you? And yet, do you believe that participating in that festival would please the Great Horse?”

“Of course not!”

“So you don’t believe in their festival, correct?”

“I suppose I don’t.”

“And yet, their festival exists, does it not? It is real, is it not?”

Little Mao frowned, but didn’t respond.

Sun Mai chuckled again. “Do you see my point?”

“I don’t believe in their festival, and yet, it exists. It is real. The festival is real, but I don’t believe in it.”

“Exactly. You do not believe in something that is, in fact, real. The Harqa people, on the other hand, do believe in the festival, and the festival is just as real. Belief in something has nothing to do with whether or not it is real.”

Little Mao’s expression flickered. “Therefore, a statement about something being real, or not real, cannot be used to extrapolate whether or not you believe in it.”

Sun Mai slapped the table. “Exactly!” He turned to Sunan, and said, “Isn’t that right Brother Sunan!?”

By this point Sunan’s eyes had glazed over a bit, and he had virtually no idea what was being discussed. “Of course,” he said, quickly laying into a slab of meat to avoid having to say anything further.

“Following this line of reasoning,” Little Mao went on, “it would be possible to say that you think the Perfect Realm is not real, and yet you believe in it? But why would you believe in something that isn’t real?”

“Because,” Sun Mai replied, tapping his temple, “it’s here.”

“In your mind?”

“Yes, according to Kong Zhi, the Perfect Realm is another world beyond our own, a perfect world that we imperfect men should emulate. But does that really sound plausible to you? Do you really think that there could be some other magical world that has always existed, and yet throughout the thousands of years of recorded history of Qi Xien, we don’t have even a scrap of evidence of anyone visiting that world, or anyone from that world visiting ours?”

At this point, Sunan couldn’t help but interrupt. “Little Mao, please join us. Sit here next to Sun Mai and discuss your ideas… somewhat more privately. What do you say?”

Little Mao clasped hands respectfully, and soon he and Sun Mai were engaged in an animated discussion, leaving Sunan free to interact with his disciples.

From that day on, Sun Mai took Little Mao under his wing. Although Little Mao didn’t agree with everything Sun Mai said, the fact that there was now someone who seemed to understand Sun Mai’s way of thinking completely changed him. With Little Mao’s encouragement and help, Sun Mai even began compiling and organizing his notes, and declared that he would soon begin work on his classic scripture. He also began to personally instruct Little Mao regarding Qi manipulation and Wu-Sunan.

More months passed, during which time Sunan grew increasingly bored, until finally, a momentous event occurred. During the eighth lunar month, the Phoenix month, on the first day of the first cycle, a star fell from the sky.

Sunan didn’t witness the matter. He was in the courtyard sparring with one of his most talented disciples, Yuwen Huo, when Sun Mai rushed in.

“Sunan, I was just talking with the moon and you wouldn’t believe what I saw! A falling star!”

Sunan continued to exchanged fluid punches and kicks with Yuwen Huo. “So? Shooting stars aren’t that rare.”

“Not a shooting star. A falling star, pure white!I actually saw it fall from the sky down to the earth. It landed somewhere to the south.”

Sunan’s ear perked up, and he stopped sparring to look over at Sun Mai. Yuwen Huo also looked over.

“What do you think it means?” Sunan asked.

“I don’t know, I think we should go consult our astrologer.”

And that is how they found themselves leaving Daolu the following day on horseback.

According to their astrologer, a white star falling to the earth on the first day of the first cycle of the eighth lunar month, which was the Phoenix Moon, was a rare sign. He told them that if they could find where exactly that star fell, it would surely lead them to incredible good fortune.

Frankly, Sunan was somewhat skeptical of matters pertaining to astrology, but Sun Mai was enthusiastic about the matter, and Sunan had been getting bored anyway. A jaunt out of the city to search for a fallen star seemed like just the break from monotony that he had been hoping for.

They left the Golden Dragon Sect in the hands of Tie Gangwen and Yuwen Huo, and took a group consisting of 3 disciples and 7 soldiers on what would surely be a journey of less than a week total.

Time flew. After crossing the Chezou River south of Daolu, they headed in the general direction of the fallen star’s supposed final resting place, as calculated by the astrologer based on information from Sun Mai and several other eyewitnesses.

The terrain was mostly flat plains, but the further south they got, the more hills and trees appeared, until they were clearly in mountainous foothills.

On morning of the fourth day, they found themselves at the top of a hill that sloped downward so steeply that it might almost count as a cliff. Only someone in the most desperate of circumstances would even consider riding a horse down such a hill.

Down below was a ravine-like valley that stretched roughly east and west. Not too long ago, the valley had clearly been filled with lush vegetation, but not any longer. Almost the entire valley was nothing more than ash, including a long furrow-like ditch that ran down almost the very center of the valley, ending in front of a crater, which they were perched almost directly above.

“That must be it!” Sun Mai said excitedly.

Sunan nodded, and was just about to start riding to the east, toward an area a few kilometers away where the steep angle of the hill turned into more of a slope, making it possible to enter the valley, when a flicker of motion caught his attention. He looked up to see a group of people emerging from the trees on the other side of the valley. After spotting the crater, they began pointing excitedly, and in fact, their loud exclamations were just barely audible from across the valley.

“We’ve got company,” Sunan said.

Even as he studied the group, one of their number looked up, and their eyes met. It was a young woman, quite beautiful, with eyes that, even at this distance, seemed sharp enough to pierce into the soul and stab at the heart.

As soon as she spotted Sunan, her eyes narrowed, and she turned to speak to a tall, muscular man who rode at her side. He looked over at Sunan and Sun Mai’s group, and then a moment later, shouted out a command. The entire group turned their horses and sent them galloping to the east.

“Dammit!” growled Sunan. “Come on men, don’t let this trip be a waste. Let’s get to that crater!”

Hey everyone, it’s great to be back after such a long break. Good news. I’ve been working with Brendan from Bedrock Games over the past few months to prepare an incredible expansion for the game Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate that features an adventure connected to the Daolu portions of Legends of Ogre Gate. We have tons of beautiful original art, maps, character stats, background information, etc. that you will enjoy even if you don’t play the game. The expansion will be available for purchase sometime in the next month or two. I’ll provide more details as they become available!

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