Part Two: Hui Lai
The priest wasn't alarmed to see the absent child. Well he was rather ashamed the night previous. Most likely he had gotten up early to begin work simultaneously pleasing anyone angry with him still as well as to avoid an angry Master.
Koumyou shook his head as he rolled up the hastily left mat. He didn't think he could remain angry with the boy for very long. Especially for defending himself which was what Kouryu no doubt thought he was doing.
For now at least, he would give the child the space he wanted.
Koumyou knelt to perform his morning meditations, and perhaps sneak in a pipe, before breakfast.
He'd just entered the first level of serenity when his door opened swiftly, an irate Baitu coming in. Seeing the Sanzo priest kneeling and starting up at him, the elderly monk suddenly remembered himself and bowed.
"Forgive my intrustion, Sanzo-sama," he apologized.
"Quite alright," Koumyou smiled. "Is there something you are looking for?"
"It's young Kouyu," the monk answered, still looking around the room as though he might find him hiding.
"Is he alright? Did something happen?" Koumyou asked standing up in concern. The boy's work wasn't too difficult as he was still just a child. But sometimes he did have to do a lot of lifting and it was still so hot out…
"He never arrived," Baitu responded. "I had assumed he was still sleeping."
"He isn't here," Koumyou Sanzo shook his head. Where could the boy be? So afraid of being kicked out for good, the one thing Kouryu never shirked was his daily chores as a Porter.
Together the priest and monk searched the grounds for their wayward Porter. He was not found at any of his usual spots. Not doing his duties. Not raiding the kitchen. Not shadowing the Charms Master. Not hiding in any of the closets like he used to when he was younger. No one had seen him nor did they have any idea where he might be.
An hour passed. Then two. Still no sign of young Kouryu.
Thoroughly distraught at this point, Koumyou returned to the boy's room, hoping that the foolhardy boy hadn't done as he feared. To his distress, the priest found that Kouryu had indeed taken his precious few possessions and left on his own.
"What could that boy be thinking?" he hissed, as furious as he'd ever been.
What had possessed Kouryu to run away from the protection of the Kinzan Temple and its Sanzo priest? Didn't he have any idea just how dangerous it was out there, especially for a helpless 9-year old? He wouldn't last a day out there on his own.
Forcing himself to calm down, Koumyou Sanzo considered where Kouryu might be, assuming he'd run into no trouble thus far.
The closest place was the village just down the road. Kouryu couldn't have gone anywhere else as he rarely left the temple and would want some supplies first. He wasn't a stupid boy by any means and would now that he wouldn't last long without going into town. It wasn't the most friendly of villages, and there were quite a few reasons why the Sanzo never took his charge along when he performed lectures there.
He would have to hurry if he wanted to reach the boy in time.
Kouryu had always hated all the restrictions placed in him by the temple. Not knowing any other life, he'd never known greed or evil before. Rich, material lives never appealed to him, yet he'd known there had to be something better than the strict temple life.
Having just finished begging for his first meal, the 9-year old decided he missed that harsh humble life. If there was one thing he hated more than anything, it was begging. Buddhists should not know pride, but it was a vice he couldn't rid himself of. He was his own person with his own worth. If others would not acknowledge it and respect him for it, it was his duty to take their respect. By force if necessary. Yuezi and the other Acolytes had taught him much about self-worth.
And he'd had to sacrifice all that in order to eat a meal.
Kouryu nibbled unhappily at the stale loaf of bread his efforts had won. There had to be another way to feed and clothe himself. Some job or task he could perform to earn his keep. But what? Well, it didn't matter now, he wasn't going to be staying long. He had to leave this village quickly and head to the next if he wanted to avoid any searching monks. Not that they would be trying very hard to recover a trouble-making Porter anyway.
He was so deep in thought that he wasn't looking where he was walking. He'd run into the man before he'd even known there was a man there to run into.
Not especially tall for his age, Kouryu found himself dwarfed by this giant of a man.
"Woah there," the man laughed at the child who'd fallen from the collision. He helped him up, still laughing. "Didn't see you there, kid. You ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Kouryu replied, eyeing the man warily. "Thank you. Um, I'm sorry for bumping into you."
"Don't worry about it, kid. My name's Yanlei. What about you?"
He had dark, scarred skin from leading an obvious hard life. His shaggy black hair was unkempt and fell over sharp coal eyes. Yanlei's voice was light and friendly, but Kouryu sensed nothing of the sort from the man himself.
"Oh, come on," Yanlei chuckled. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm perfectly harmless. I just wanna know your name."
"Kouryu," the boy finally answered, seeing no harm in saying just his name. For all his independence and love for solitude, even Kouryu enjoyed companionship. He could always keep an eye on Yanlei who couldn't do anything to him now anyway. Not in the middle of a busy street.
"Where's your parents, Kouryu?" Yanlei asked, looking around for anyone with similar golden hair and violet eyes. "Don't tell me you're all alone?"
The only parent Kouryu had was one Sanzo priest left far behind. "Er… yeah. I am."
Yanlei suddenly looked much more interested. "All alone? You poor kid."
"I can do fine by myself," Kouryu's violet eyes hardened. He might be a failure at the temple, but that didn't mean he was completely useless. He'd find a way to survive.
"Oh yeah?" the man saw right through the 9-year old's bravado. "I'll bet you had to beg for that." He indicated to the half-eaten bread, now dirty from the fall. "How long do you think you can last without a decent job or family?"
Now Kouryu was getting interested. Was this what Yanlei was offering? Was that the reason for his questions? "Why do you care?" he asked, cutting to the chase. Either the tall dark man was going to make this meeting worthwhile or he wasn't.
"You come to the point pretty fast, Kouryu," Yanlei chuckled. "I happen to deal in both family and employment. You see, I take in little runaways, like you, and make sure they're fed and housed. In return, they work for me to pay their expenses."
"What kind of job?" he cocked his head to the side. Other children like him? Could he possibly belong with them where he'd never belong at the Kinzan Temple?
"Hm, that depends," Yanlei eyed him critically.
"On you." The man circled him, appraising his possible new employee. "You seem well-built for it. You any good with your hands?"
Kouryu had been a Porter for quite a number of years. Most of his work involved some form of hand precision and strength. "I've done a lot of work with my hands," he replied confidently. "I was a servant at my last home." He showed his small callused hands.
"But you're still young. Your hands could soften back up in no time," the older man murmured to himself, hand under his chin.
Wait, didn't he want a laborer?
"Well, it's up to you, kid," Yanlei said at last. "Do you want the job or not?"
"Follow me then." He turned his back and swiftly walked away.
Kouryu, now firmly confused but curious, had to nearly run to keep up with the long swift strides. They were heading down the road, away from the crowded marketplace.
Wait, this was the wrong direction! They were getting closer to the temple!
"We can't go this way!" Kouryu tried to warn him. By now his absence would be noticed. "This is…"
"You're very pretty," Yanlei interrupted. "For a boy, I mean. Did anyone ever tell you that?"
"What?" Kouryu stopped, lavender eyes going wide. What an odd thing to say, especially coming from this man. His Master had once told him, last year, how sorry so many girls in the future would be that he led a temple life. Not that he really understood what that meant, but Koumyou had been laughing at the time, so he'd assumed it was just one of those 'adult' things he'd understand when he was older. But this? No, he'd never heard anything like that before.
"Come here, Kouryu. I'm going to show you what kind of job I want you to do."
"Get away from him!"
Suddenly the bruising lips and hurting hands were gone from his quivering body.
Kouryu fell in a heap, clutching his loosened tunic where it had come undone. Teeth gritted, he felt his jaw ache from the desire to cry out.
But he made no sound, just as he was instructed.
A flash of shimmering gold made his wide amethyst eyes rise from their position at his bruised wrist. What he saw made him wish he hadn't looked at all.
In front of the frightened child was a curtain of white and gold robes. Koumyou Sanzo stood in front of him, arms outstretched to block Kouryu from all view.
"Who the hell are you?" Yanlei demanded, bringing a hand to feel his cut lip from where the priest had punched him. "What do you want?"
"Stay away from him, you filth," the Sanzo hissed, normally gentle eyes a hard unforgiving pair of agates. Nothing about him was soft and Kouryu was sure he was seeing a true god descended.
"He's mine, baldy," the child-dealer smirked, not as awed by the priest as Kouryu. "I suggest you get the fuck outta here before I send you to meet your Buddha a little bit ahead of schedule." He cracked a knuckle and stepped forward.
Kouryu tried to cry out to his Master to get away, but no sound would come out.
The priest moved so fast that neither Kouryu nor Yanlei saw it happen. One moment the priest was being threatened and the next, Yanlei was crouched on the ground, clutching his broken nose which was bleeding heavily.
Deep red blood, Yanlei's blood, dripped down the priest's clenched fist and stained his beautiful robes. "I am a Sanzo priest," Koumyou growled. "And as such I am a personal friend of 'my Buddha.' I doubt he'd be cross with me if I removed one more piece of scum from this Earth. Leave before I do so."
Yanlei, like all men of his caliber, fled. No boy, no matter how pretty, was worth a skirmish with the insane holy man.
Koumyou watched him go, stiff and taut. Ready to strike out at whatever dared to challenge him. A Buddhist priest he might be, but even a priest is not without his defenses.
Then Kouryou's shaking body finally gave in to the sudden assault it had experienced. He leaned on his arms, breathing heavily and fighting the intense nausea filling his self. Everywhere he could feel that… that man's touch, his lips, hear his gruff voice in his ear…
All aggressiveness left the Sanzo's being as he turned to face his young charge. The child the gods entrusted to him for protection. How could he have failed so horribly in that task?
"Kouryu," he sighed, kneeling before the gasping child. "Stupid stupid child. Why did you ever run away?"
"Master," Kouryu sniffled, shivering violently.
Wrapping the boy in his arms, the priest whispered soothing things to him, hoping he'd been able to prevent the worst of the damage.
"It's alright, my Kouryu," Koumyou shushed him. "It's over. I'm here now, Kouryu."
The Porter clung to his Master's robes tightly like he was a small child again.
"I'm sorry, Master," the boy whispered, violet eyes overflowing against his will. "I'm sorry."
"Why did you run from me, Kouryu?" Koumyou had to ask. What could drive the boy away into so much danger?
"I didn't want you to send me away," Kouryu cried harder, hating himself for showing such weakness.
"Why on earth would I send you away, my boy?" He gathered Kouryu closer so that all one could see of the boy was a mop of golden hair sticking up over enormous sleeves. The child was not making any sense.
"I'm too much trouble. I get into fights and when you get a Disciple I have to leave my room. Yuezi said that…"
"Do you honestly believe anything Yuezi says, Kouryu? You are no trouble at all and I would never force you away. Don't you know that?"
Unconvinced, Kouryu shook his head. "I'm in the way. I have to leave. Your Disciple…"
"My Disciple, when I choose him, will not take your room away. Listen to me, Kouryu," he lifted his charge's chin so violet eyes could meet soft brown. "When you called to me as a baby, you asked me to take care of you. That is what I intend to do. You being 9 doesn't change that, nor will it change when you are 19 or 29. No Disciple will mean more to me than you. Never run away from me, Kouryu. I was so afraid I'd never see you again."
"B-but the others," the boy argued, tears starting to dry. "They want me to leave. They want you me to get rid of me."
"Of course they do," cried the Sanzo priest, a twinkle in his eye. "They're afraid you'll prove them wrong. You shine like the sun, my boy! They think you make them look like silly old monks. And you know what?"
"What?" Kouryu asked, his eyes wide with curiosity. He stopped trembling.
Koumyou leaned in closer and whispered conspiratorially, "they are silly old monks!" He grinned at the boy who couldn't help but smile back tentatively. "Now then, come back with me and let's show those silly old monks that no one can force you away."
The smile faded and Kouryu glanced in the direction that Yanlei had gone. The priest saw this and frowned. "He can't hurt you anymore, Kouryu. The world is full of filth like him who try to dampen bright souls like yours. Don't think of him anymore."
"But Master, he…"
Koumyou Sanzo put a gentle hand on the boy's head to silence him. "I know, Kouryu, I know. He has taken much of your innocence from you, and Buddha will punish him gravely for it. Be strong, Kouryu. Do not let yourself be deceived by kind words or promises." He stood up slowly, helping the young boy rise as well. "Come home with me."
It only took a moment's consideration before the little Porter reached for his Master's offered hand. Together they retrieved the fallen bundle of clothes, blanket, and beads and headed toward the Kinzan Temple.
"Master Sanzo," Kouryu asked hesitantly. "Last night, why didn't you come after classes?" He knew he was out of place. That his Master didn't not have to explain anything to him. But he had to know. It was such a long tradition with them.
As he did with anything asked by his young charge, Koumyou Sanzo answered completely and honestly. "I admit that the pressure placed on me by the other monks to choose a Disciple has gotten to me. I decided to consult the Bodhisattvas in my meditation as to which child would be the best choice. I was so deep in my meditation that the hours flew by without my noticing. I'm sorry, Kouryu, I always look forward to hearing about your day in the courtyard."
"Did the Bodhisattvas answer you?" He dreaded the answer, but couldn't stop himself from asking.
"I believe they did," the priest gave a secretive smile. "I will not declare who it is for some time however. He shall know in his own due time."
The walk continued in silence until the peaceful Kinzan Temple came into sight. Home.
"May I make a confession, Kouryu?" Koumyou asked quietly.
Kouryu looked at him questioningly. "Master?"
"When I first took you in, I was inclined to believe the other monks who saw you as a burden." Before his charge could take this too much to heart, he went on. "This did not last long I assure you. I discovered that much like a monkey, you would not allow anyone to release you."
"A monkey?" Kouryu asked, struggling to understand.
"The harder one tries to dislodge a monkey from their back, the tighter the monkey will cling," the Sanzo smiled and shook his head in amusement. "And you, my boy… it seems you are the worst of monkeys. I could not leave you behind if I wished it. You are wrapped too tightly around me."
The 9-year old still didn't comprehend entirely. Perhaps it was another one of those 'adult' things he would understand later. His Master cared for him, and that's all he needed to know.
"Perhaps one day you will have your own monkey clinging to your back."
Kouryu sincerely hoped not.
A/N: There we go, all done. The title of this chapter is pronounced 'Hwey Lie' and it means 'to return'. Yanlei is the Chinese word for 'tears'. Um… I think that's about it. I hope you enjoyed this, I know I did!