Title: A Slow Descent
Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognise.
You are born in a burst of (pain, surprise, betrayal) qi, thrust into the Middle Kingdom with the last of you Creator's strength.
You awaken in the valleys below the steep mountains, and as you stare up at the palace, you know that you will not see this place again. At least not until you have completed your task (and every part of you is screaming FIND THE SEEKER. RETURN THE STAFF. FIND THE SEEKER.) as you walk away, you know this is exile.
You do not have a name, a past, a childhood. You only have purpose. You have a quest that drives you on, step by step, into the small villages and untamed wilderness of the Kingdom. You do not eat, nor drink, nor rest. Why would you need to? You exist only as an extension of you Maker's willpower, infused with a hint of his qi. You are not alive. You do not live.
You wear white robes (white, the colour of death. But whose death?) and you ride a white horse like a vengeful spirit. People flee before you, lock their doors, hide their children, fill your way with red firecrackers to drive you off. You do not mind. They are nothing to you, mere distractions from your purpose.
Your horse dies underneath you after four days without rest. You leave its carcass to the scavenger beasts and walk on. You will find a new horse on the next village (and your essence begins to ache as it registers the strain of weeks of endless searching.)
The next village is nothing but a smouldering pile of ashes, filled with the corpses of the villagers ('avenge us' their wailing spirits cry to you 'find the ones who did this'.) You do not stop walking. You must not be distracted.
You find nine more villages similarly destroyed (and the ghosts behind you now number thousands. 'Help us' they plead, 'avenge us'.)
The Jade Warlord grows more and more confident as he seeks to subjugate the realm and install himself as the new Emperor. The Jade army destroys all it touches (and you are somewhat…troubles by this.)
In the tenth village, some of the Jade soldiers are still there. They run riot, torching and pillaging: destroying the secret places, defiling the holy shrines. They have separated the women from the men, and are engaging in their favourite sport.
You should pass them by; what do the fleeting lives of mortals matter to you? (The voice in you head drives you on, tells you to ignore the screams.)
But the soldiers see you as you walk steadily through the destruction. They laugh at your robes, the robes of a monk, and they move to attack you, leaving their more pleasurable pastime behind (Thank the Heavens, a small part of you thinks, a part that is not composed merely of purpose, a part that grows more each day.)
You sink easily into the familiar martial stances: you turn the soldier's swords against them, blocking sloppy thrusts (Brutes. They are mere brutes and butchers. Has the Celestial army fallen so low?)
In mere minutes they are defeated, and your hands are stained red with blood, and your robes are thick with dust(no longer pristine. You have stopped watching, and started acting.)
You resume your slow walk through the village. You feel…weak… in a way you have never experienced (fire coursing through you veins, your breath quickening, your hands shaking) but you must not stop. You must push onwards.
A tug on your robes. You look down at thee proffered cloth (a garment perhaps?) and further, to the solemn child who offers it. He looks up at you in awe, as though you have descended from the Heavens themselves to deliver him from evil spirits (and perhaps in his eyes you have.) You take the cloth and wipe your hands clean of the lifeblood that still stains them. The child takes it back with all due gravity, and bows. You look around, and all the villagers are kowtow-ing to you, as if you are some great lord. You do not know what to do (FIND THE SEEKER. RETURN THE STAFF.° so you pick your way through the crowd and continue on your way. Your steps contain more haste than before (the Jade Warlord must be stopped. He must not complete this blight.)
In the days and weeks and years that follow (the Middle Kingdom is vast. But you do not age nor tire, and continue on your quest) you destroy any Jade soldier that you find. You hone your skills at kung-fu, until none can defeat you, but bow down before your attacks as rice before the wind (and tales start spreading of the immortal monk who travels the Kingdom clothed in white, helping all those who cross his path, and destroying the enemies of the people. Some say he is the spirit of a warrior, killed dishonourably by the treachery of the Jade Warlord; others that he is one of the eight Immortals, sent by the Celestial Emperor himself to deliver justice; others that he is but a wronged man who seeks to avenge his murdered village. You know none of the rumours are true, but you do not seek to contradict them. They spread hope on a land that has all but forgotten it.)
You start travelling to the pockets of resistance hidden within the Kingdom, teaching young warriors and carrying messages (and searching. Always searching.)
You make acquaintances, allies, friends. You relax in their company and even the voice driving you onwards (FIND THE SEEKER. RETURN THE STAFF) seems to dim.
The years pass like the Great River: unrelenting and unstoppable. Your friends die, and turn to dust, and you survive, unchanged by the sands of time. (You learn to guard you heart. The mortal lives pass so fleetingly that you cannot afford to care.)
You still travel, and fight against the vicious rules of the Jade Warlord, but you are no closer to reaching your goal (as the decades and centuries pass, you fade into myth and legend.)
You begin to have the seeds of doubt as a half millennium passes since your creation (as time goes by, you find yourself feeling more and more. It is…not unpleasant.)
You still defeat all soldiers you can find. But slowly the people forget what their land was once like, forget the prosperity under the rule of the Celestial Emperor. They are timid now, hiding their faces, and freely offering their meagre possessions to Jade soldiers without fuss. They have lost their fighting spirit, the memories of their proud ancestors.
Yet, you still help them.
You are cursed, run out of villages, hunted by the very people you seek to protect. You don't stop fighting. In memory of your shield brothers, you protect their descendants (and if you cannot fulfil your true purpose, here is one that seems just as worthy.)
You save a small boy. He fights the soldiers, attacking them with a sword that is taller than he is (his father's perhaps?)
He screams at you when you rescue him.
"I want to fight them!" he says, "I need to kill them!"
You deposit him at a temple where resistance is not just a forgotten word, but an active value that they practice daily against the tyrannies of the Jade Warlord.
You hope he will channel that passions (that anger) into martial arts. You don't want to see him burn out before his time, a brief star in the endless night of the Jade Warlord's reign.
When you feel a pull (your entire being dragging you to the staff, your reason for existence) you can hardly believe it. You immediately purchase a horse (agony. Agony every minute you linger. 'FIND ME' the staff screams. 'FIND ME!)
You ride without stopping, purchasing a new hose every time the old one dies (and it feels like the first few heady days of your existence, when all you knew and all you were was purpose.)
You find the staff grasped in the hands of a foreigner (its glory hidden by the wrappings around it, but it doesn't matter. You can hear it sing to you.)
You take it easily (has this youngling no martial training at all?) and you bring it to an old temple ('WAIT' hums the staff, 'WAIT FOR THE SEEKER')
You close your eyes and bask in its power, feeling contented for the first time in centuries. The Seeker will be drawn to the staff. This is inevitable. All you have to do is wait.
When you open your eyes it is to find a drunken lout trying to steal the staff. He has long hair that looks as if it has never seen a comb, old dirty robes, and stinks of spirits as if he has been completely soaked in wine.
This person is not the Seeker. You know this as you know your purpose. He must be a bounty hunter sent by the Jade Warlord to steal the staff for himself.
It is only when you begin to fight that you recognise him. His qi burns with the same fiery passion of that boy (I'LL KILL THEM! LET ME KILL THEM!) that he saved.
That young boy has grown to be a formidable opponent, a tiger.
And you are angry. Angry that he has chosen life as a mercenary, angry that he buries his fire underneath enough wine to stock an inn, angry at the resigned look in his eyes.
But you are proud as well when you see the passion in his kung-fu.
When you discover that he is on a mission to destroy the Jade Warlord, you know that you must follow him (and your heart is glad that life not destroyed him completely.)
Being with them (the Seeker, the Golden Sparrow, and the Tiger) feels like comradeship.
The Seeker is a young man who is out of time. He is naïve, and stares wild-eyed at the countryside. He has no manners, no sense of decorum. His kung-fu is pitiful. Yet, he is nice, and he desperately wants to learn, trailing both him and the Tiger and nattering on about nonsensical fighting styles.
The Tiger is full of anger at the world and life, hidden under layers of cynicism and alcohol. He sways on his horse, half-drunk most of the time, yet when he fights his spirit shines through and you can see a glimpse of the idealistic boy he must once have been.
And the Golden Sparrow is silent, withdrawn. She sits apart from the rest of the group every evening as you make camp, strumming her instrument. She has old eyes, eyes that have seen too much, and she is always practising with a jade tipped dart. Yet as you watch over the camp in the late hours of the night, haunting music lifts you up and transports you to depths of emotions that you could have never dreamt of.
You relax with them as you never have before: the fights with the Tiger make you feel more alive than ever, and as you impart your lessons to the Seeker it feels as if a heavy load is lifted with every successful lesson.
You start smiling, laughing more (the first time you laugh is when you discover the identity of the Seeker. It is the first time you have done so in your life, and you find it exhilarating.)
You play small practical jokes around the camp: wine replaced by fruit juice, made-up katas that don't exist and force the Seeker into crazy stunts more befitting of a circus performer.
And the Tiger becomes a brother. They drink together, fight together, and discuss lesson plans together (the Tiger egging you on, each trying to top each other as you think up weirder and weirder stunts for him to perform)
But despite lapses (mostly on the Tiger's part) the Seeker becomes stronger, absorbing new routines eagerly. He becomes stronger and stronger.
For the first time in centuries you have hope (that your mission is finally over.)
It takes months to reach the mountains, and in that time you become family.
And as you stare up at the Palace you know that you will succeed.
It all comes crashing down when you are attacked, when the Tiger is shot; mortally wounded (by the witch with hair the colour of death. She wishes for immortality, and you hope fervently with all your qi that she gets it. Let her experience the pain and loss as the years stretch endlessly on.)
You thought (hoped) that the Jade Warlord had not taken notice of your quest, that he would not monitor all suspicious activity. You know now that this was stupid. You should have been more vigilant, should have hurried the group along, should have drilled the katas into the Seeker, have hurried into the Palace.
You know that you ought to go on, to start the final showdown that will end in your death. But instead you bring the Tiger to a monastery that will at least ease his final hours.
The Seeker wants to run ahead, to acquire the elixir of immortality, but you would not wish that on anyone. You want to stay by his side (your brother, your family) to comfort him so he will not be alone. You have sat by the bedsides of hundreds of friends as they died, but you never thought that you would have to watch family die. You never thought that you would have a family.
The final showdown has waited for more than five centuries. It can wait a little longer.
When the Seeker asks to push on ahead, you stall him. You know that there is little chance of success, and you know that no man should die alone. You make a plausible plan to attack on a few days' time, after the funeral rites should be over.
Of course, it doesn't go as planned, and you end up fighting the Jade Warlord after a fear fraught ride to the Palace to save the Seeker (impatient, impertinent brat. Yet, can you blame him?)
You know that you will never be able to defeat him: he is one of the eight immortals and you are nothing but qi (and you're tired, so very tired.) He is older than you by millennia, and he has a breadth of experience that you will never hope to match. You know you have only one choice; to buy the Seeker enough time to free your Maker.
As you lie bleeding (you have never bled before. It is…disconcerting you know that this will lead to your death as the qi maintaining your life re-enters your Maker. You don't care.
Constructs are never meant to last more than a few hours, and you have lived a long and lonely life.
As you feel yourself fade, you can't help but think that it is unfair. For all your life you have strived to fulfil you purpose, and now that it's complete you are being tossed away.
And you do want to see you family one last time.
You stare at your Creator with accusing eyes.
Constructs are not meant to last more than a few hours. They become far too human.