LOOG Chapter – 58

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Chapter 58: An Ancient Character

As the days passed, Bao quickly regained her strength. A week later, orders were issued to both sects to begin packing for travel. The caves were to be abandoned.

The preparations took two full days, and emotions among the members of the two sects were mixed. Some people were glad to be out of the cold, dark caves. But for many, those caves had been their home for many months, the only semi-permanent place of dwelling they had possessed since abandoning Daolu.

On the eve of departure, a grand feast was held for the leadership of the sects. Bao and Sunan were present, as were the Dragon Lords, the Phoenix Generals, the Dragon Lieutenants, the Claws of the Phoenix, and other high-ranking officers. It was Bao’s first time appearing in public after being injured, and it was a happy occasion.

After the feast, Sunan returned to his quarters and fell into a deep sleep. When he woke up, it was raining.

“Raining?” he murmured, looking up into the sky. Sure enough, drops of water were plopping down onto his face. “That’s strange. The rain is hot.”

At this point, he realized that the clouds up above were the color of gold. Sticking his hand out, he let some of the rain water collect in his palm.

“The rain is golden too?” A sudden realization hit him. “I’m dreaming again, aren’t I?”

He watched as the hot, golden rain began to fall harder and harder. At the same time, wind began to batter at his hair and clothing, simultaneously sending the rain whipping about to form a vortex.

He suddenly remembered something. A line of poetry. “Golden droplets spin and howl.”

Sunan looked down and realized that he was floating in the air. Further down on the ground, a strange symbol was visible. As soon as his eyes took in the full shape of the symbol, they went wide.

That symbol….”

It was spinning in unison with the vortex, and was the source of the golden light.

“A shining pillar paints the sky.”

Rumbling sounds filled heaven and earth, and Sunan felt his innards vibrating in response.

He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, everything was dark. He was back in his sleeping chamber. He reached up and wiped his face with his hand, half expecting it to come away wet with rainwater.

The only thing he felt was a few beads of sweat on his forehead.

His first impulse was to hurry over to Bao’s quarters and tell her about the dream, but showing up outside her door in the middle of the night probably wouldn’t be appropriate, so he settled back down and calmed his breathing.

Closing his eyes, he mentally reviewed the images he had just seen, and began to ponder what they meant.

It wasn’t until the late hours of night that he finally fell back asleep again. This time, it was a dreamless sleep.

**

The following morning was a busy occasion as the sects formed ranks outside of the cave, and then began to make their way south, heading for the Banyan region. Ruan travelled with the group, as he had discussed with Sunan, and Du Qian chose to accompany them as well, saying that there was safety in numbers. Of course, the truth to Du Qian’s decision was a bit more complicated than that, and as the group headed out, he continuously fiddled with a withered tree branch that he usually kept secure in the wide sleeve of his scholar’s robes….

The current plan was to follow the mountain range south to where the mountains jutted out to the east. From there, they would make their way down into the Banyan Region itself. Although this route would bring them uncomfortably close to the rumored location of the Demon Emperor’s palace, there would be many intervening kilometers of rough and uninhabited mountain terrain. The likelihood that they would encounter any Demon Emperor forces would be very small. According to Du Qian, the inhospitable mountains in that part of the empire were viewed as little more than rock and scrub, and weren’t even patrolled.

Although Sunan burned to talk to Bao about his dreams, he waited until the sects took time to rest and eat a short noon meal.

Bringing Sun Mai with him, he found Bao underneath the shade of one of the towering redwood trees that peppered the foothills of the mountains. She sat there with Mao Yun, eating a simple meal of steamed buns.

When Sunan sat down across from Bao, she looked at him quizzically. “Something happen?”

“I had another dream,” he said. With that, he went on to explain everything he could remember, leaving out the details about what the symbol looked like for the moment. When he was finished with the description, he said, “Something struck me during the dream. When that golden-colored rain started falling, I remembered a line of poetry….”

Bao tilted her head to the side. “Golden droplets spin and howl….”

He nodded. “And that symbol sending golden light shining up into the sky.”

Bao’s face turned a bit paler. “A shining pillar paints the sky.”

“It could all be coincidence, except for the symbol itself. It looked like this.” Using his index finger, he traced an outline into the ground at his feet.

Sun Mai leaned over to look at it. “A circle with a curved line in the middle?”

“There’s more,” Sunan said. Picking up a twig, he traced a few more details onto each side.

“That looks like a dragon….” Sun Mai said. “And the other side is….”

“A phoenix,” Bao concluded. “That was the symbol you saw in your dream?”

“Yes,” Sunan replied. “I’m sure of it. And before you suggest that it appeared because of what we saw in the cave beneath Mount Fohe, let me point out that I saw the symbol in a previous dream. Back in Daolu. It wasn’t until last night that I connected the two.”

“So that’s the symbol which appeared in the cave?” Sun Mai asked. He looked over and studied it more closely.

“A crude version,” Sunan said with a wry grin.

Bao chuckled. “Li Runfa is somewhat of an artist. He told me that he made a more detailed sketch. I’m sure he’d be happy to show you, Chief Minister Sun.”

Sun Mai stroked his chin. “Interesting. Very interesting. So one of you dreams of dragons and phoenixes, and the other writes poems about them. Very, very interesting.”

“What do you mean?” Bao asked.

Sun Mai looked over at her. “What do you mean, what do I mean?”

“What do you mean that I ‘write poems about dragons and phoenixes’?”

“You know. The wyrm and the bird in your poem. They’re obviously a dragon and a phoenix.”

Bao’s eyes narrowed. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“Oh, I figured that out a long time ago. Didn’t I tell the two of you?”

Bao and Sunan stared at him, and even Mao Yun cocked an eyebrow.

“I didn’t, huh? Hmm. Well I’m pretty sure I already put the information in my notes for my scripture. I guess it slipped my mind to say anything. That happens sometimes, you know. I tend to think of things and then after–”

“Sun Mai,” Sunan interrupted. “Get on with the explanation!”

“Right. Well, in your poem, Heroine Bao, you have this character: 龒.” He traced it into the ground. “You pronounce it ‘wyrm’. Back in Daolu I was doing some research into the ancient practice of talking to the moon, and I came across that very character in a dictionary from the Era of the Great Emperor.”

“The Era of the Great Emperor?” Bao said, sounding surprised. “The Hao Dynasty? That’s 900 years ago, isn’t it?”

“The dynasty was founded about 900 years ago, yes, but this dictionary was more recent. Probably about 400 years old. Even in that dictionary, the character 龒 was listed as archaic. However, it seemed to be used synonymously with the character we use today for ‘dragon.’ They even look alike.” He traced the character 龍 into the ground. “See? The top half of 龒 is 龍.”

Bao and Sunan looked down at the characters, and then looked back up into each other’s eyes.

“What does it mean?” Mao Yun asked.

Sun Mai shook his head. “You seem to be having dreams and writing poems about the same thing. Perhaps you two knew each other in a past life, and are recalling ancient memories?”

“Or what if they’re messages from Xian Nu Shen?” Mao Yun asked.

Sun Mai’s expression darkened. “Mao Yun, you know how I feel about that. The Perfect Realm–”

“I know,” Mao Yun said. He tapped his temple. “The Perfect Realm is up here.”

Sun Mai smiled. “Exactly.”

Mao Yun rolled his eyes.

They continued to discuss the poem and the dreams, but didn’t reach any concrete conclusions. Before long, it was time to begin marching again.

Slowly but surely, the two sects were putting Mount Fohe behind them.

**

A Zhen Bird soared gracefully through the air high above the two sects, flying to and fro almost like an escort. After the noontime break, the sects continued south until evening began to fall, whereupon they set up camp.

The Zhen Bird took that opportunity to alight onto the branch of a redwood sapling some distance away from the camp.

Mere moments after landing, a voice spoke out into the air. “It took me a while to deduce your identity, Love General.”

The Zhen Bird turned to see a woman in a gray robe standing a few meters away. Her long black hair was bound at the top of her head and she held a sheathed jian sword in her left hand.

The Zhen Bird cocked its head and adjusted its wings.

“There’s no need for any further deception,” the woman in gray said. “I should kill you on the spot, but instead I’ll give you a chance to explain yourself. You’ve been following Bao and Sunan for some time now. Why? What tricks are you up to?”

A moment passed, and then the Zhen Bird hopped off of the branch. As it did, its body flowed into a different form, and by the time it landed on the ground, it looked like a beautiful woman with fiery red hair bound above her head with an ebony hairpin.

“Why should I tell you anything about what I’m doing?” the Love General asked. “Who are you anyway?”

“You don’t know me,” the woman said. “But I’m here to protect and guide Bao and Sunan. I’m a bit concerned by the fact that one of the Demon Emperor’s Ogre Generals is trailing them.” She took a step forward and extended her sword. “You have three breaths of time to give me an answer.”

The Love General’s eyes narrowed as she studied the woman further. “You’re powerful. More powerful than any human I’ve encountered.”

“That’s right. And I’m not afraid of you, Ogre. Where I come from, there are no Ogre Generals. They were all killed by people like me.”

The Love General’s eyes widened for a moment, but then just as quickly, narrowed. “You might be the most powerful human fighter in this world, but I’ve faced people even more powerful than you. If you’re a friend of Sunan’s, then I mean you no harm. I’m here to watch over him.”

“Not likely,” said the woman. “I know all about you, Love General. Never a greater liar existed in Qi Xian. I think I’ll be doing the world a favor by getting rid of you this day.”

The Love General’s eyes flickered with a gleam of anger. “Try your best, swordswoman. I haven’t killed anyone in quite a while. They might call me the Love General, but I’m no stranger to a fight.” She waved her hand, and the long ebony hairpin flew out, allowing her hair to tumble down around her shoulders. As for the hairpin, it arced through the air around her, rapidly growing in size until it was a long spear, which she grabbed out of the air and pointed out in front of her. “I don’t know who you are, but if you push things too far this day, you’ll die.”

“I’m Hui from the Dragon-Phoenix Sect. Allow me to show you a technique that hasn’t even been invented yet. One of the most powerful sword strikes ever created. The Perfect Strike of the Phoenix.”

The Love General grinned and brandished her spear. “I’ve seen a lot more techniques than you might think.”

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