Well this is a day I doubt any of you would ever expect out of me. This story is unlike pretty much any of mine in the past. There is no porn, it does not take place in the world of Dalon (where all my other stories take place), and it has no link to my characters.
This story also kicks off what I am calling the "Month of Conflict." Stories that I intend to write and post this month include this one, another with combat as the primary theme, one with some sexual violence and gore, another chapter in Melvar's story, and one about a blossoming romance in the midst of battle.
Yet there is something serene and beautiful about this story. it's about personal growth, of maturity, and self realization.
In this tale, Wairu - an aspiring monk lives in The Temple of the Whispering Spirits - must travel north through the mountains to meditate at the Whispering Cliffs, where the spirits of the world will talk to him and help him forge his own path to zen.
There, he will reflect on his life, his history, and his time in the valley to find what truly matters most to him. He will hear the Whisper of the Mountains, and when he does, he will be a new beast.
Whisper of the Mountains
Wairu always knew his time at the Temple of the Whispering Spirits was precious, but he didn't truly realize that until it was time to depart on a journey that would irrevocably change him.
He wasn't planning on leaving forever; the temple was his home and he intended for it to be his home for as long as he lived, but it was time for him to embarl on a spiritual journey. His training had taken him as far as he could go, and now he had to find his inner peace in the Whispering Cliffs. There, monks would meditate for days, months, or even years on end until they found the calm that would liberate their soul. Once Wairu had mastered all that the Whispering Cliffs had to offer, he knew that he would return and ascend to the highest level, revered as he deserved. For now, he was packing for his trip.
His personal quarters were simple, with only a bed, a fireplace for warmth at night, a dresser for clothes, and a few personal belongings including paintings of himself with his master Bouzhung and his friend Zephyrue. An aspiring monk should keep his possessions limited, to focus on self actualization and improvement, not selfishness; material goods were only useful in the waking world and were a distraction in that focus. He couldn't be without his tea and incense, though. That was one thing he collected for his own serenity and consumed for pleasure as well as meditation.
If he was going to be going on a trip north to the Whispering Cliffs, he needed to pack all he could, since he had no idea how long he would be gone. Naturally, he filled a rucksack with a few changes of clothes and a single blanket for the nights, many of his teas and incense sticks, and a single picture of his best friend Zephyrue as a reminder of what it means to have companionship. He would also pick up some veggies and pressed, dried fruit strips for eating on the trip, but beyond that he was taking only himself and his spirit to those Whispering Cliffs. Anything else would be a distraction.
Once his sack was fully packed, he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, enjoying his final moments in the shrine as long as he could before bravely turning and leaving his personal quarters, stepping out into the valley where the Temple of the Whispering Spirits had been erected. Before him, the entire valley with dozens of monks and apprentices milling about, going from hut to hut, tending to crops, meditating, and travelling up and down the central pathway.
The valley was pretty simple, in a crescent shape around a high plateau in the mountains. The entire valley was on a steady incline, with the southern end of the crescent leading down the mountain toward the village, and the northern end at higher altitude with the prime temple built right in the side of the cliffs. If one followed the path beyond the prime temple, it would lead them further around the bend to the highest plateau that the village surrounded, where the monks did most of their training. That plateau was adorned with simple architecture – much like the temples and huts of the Shrine of The Whispering Spirits – and surrounded by meditation altars for monks to relax in when not training.
Wairu's home was nearest the bottom of the valley, closest to the path that would lead him to the village, so he couldn't actually see the prime temple from his personal doorstep. In between many of the huts that were built opposite the high plateau were dozens of trails and paths through the mountains that would lead to other clearings and steppes that the monks could grow their crops or meditate in peace and quiet. Wairu didn't have his own yard nestled in the mountains for his own meditation, so he did most of his at the prime temple or on the high plateau watching the other monks train.
A part of him wanted to travel north first to talk to Bouzhung for spiritual guidance, but he felt that it was time for him to advance on his own. All he needed was himself, his two feet, and a desire for betterment.
He nodded slowly and smiled, glancing up the valley before turning and following the path toward the village. That was where Zephyrue lived with her family and other friends. The path leading around from the south of the valley led to the village, then north of the village was the pass that would lead to the Whispering Cliffs, where Wairu would do his meditation. With any luck, Wairu would see Zephyrue before heading north through the pass. It would start his journey on a positive, upbeat foot.
The trip down the winding mountain path to the village lasted only a couple hours, but every step felt drawn out and weighed on Wairu's heart. The realization that he was leaving his home and didn't know when he would return was crushing to his soul. He had spend his entire life in the valley, training under Bouzhung and growing under his tutelage, this was the first time he was out on his own and the loneliness was already creeping over him.
But no, Wairu was Ha'Dareash, the only of his kind in the valley training among the monks. He needed to prove himself and he needed to show his strength. He wasn't weak, he wasn't soft, and he wouldn't let his emotions get the better of him. Every step may have weighed on his heart, but every step forward was a step towards enlightenment. In his mind, no progress came without pain. No growth came without sacrifice. If he needed to abandon the monks of the Shrine of the Whispering Spirits – even if only for a few weeks – he could do it. He had to do it. If he failed to live up to his potential, he would bring dishonor not only to his dragon-feline hybrid race, but also to the monks that he called his family.
Pressing forward, he soon arrived at the outskirts of the village, passing through the farmland that connected the entrance to the path to the valley and into the village. As he walked down the path, farmers paused to bow to him in respect. He wore the colors of the monks, and the people of the village revered them. In respect, he bowed back and smiled, relishing the admiration he was getting before continuing.
As he kept on his journey through the village, he had a sense of insecurity building up in him. Would he seek out Zephyrue before continuing to his destination or would that be too much of a distraction. He enjoyed her companionship, but really, it would be a heavy reminder of what he was going to be away from, what he would be missing in his absence. In his moment of insecurity, he overcompensated by reminding himself how good he was at what he did. “No, I won't be away for too long. I will master the art of zen in the Whispering Cliffs faster than anyone and I'll be back within days!”
Arrogant or not, his self esteem needed that boost. With that thought in mind, he quickly diverged from the main path through the village to seek out Zephyrue's home. It was a small hut in the foothills of the mountain, nestled in the northeast end of the village, surrounded by farmland on both sides. Small, simple, but nice.
He puffed out his chest and walked to the front door, barely raising his hand to knock when it swung open and Zephyrue pounced out at him, squeezing him tight in a hug.
“Wairu!” She squealed, holding him close. She nuzzled up into him, squeezing him and rocking back and forth. She was a similar species as Wairu was, called an orient chimera, and she was the only one in the village; perhaps that was why they became such good friends. She was the only one of her species in the village and he was the only one of his species in the Shrine of the Whispering Mountains, both with similar horns and a similar blend of feline and draconic features. When he visited the village, people kept telling them they should hook up, to mate, but neither were interested in that sort of a relationship. Cuddles and companionship was plenty for both Wairu and Zephyrue. “I thought you left already!”
“N-no Zeph, that was today. I just thought I would stop by and say my goodbyes since I don't know how long I will be away. Are you well?” He tried to pull away from her, but she kept her squeezing grip on him.
“Oh, well I hope your trip is good! What did Master Bouzhung say?”
Wairu lowered his gaze a bit and shook his head. “I didn't talk to him. I woke up this morning, packed my things, and left.”
Zephyrue gasped. “You naughty kitty! You should always say goodbye to your master before setting out on a spiritual journey. Psh. You would think I haven't taught you anything at all!” She let go of him and wagged a finger, tsking at him.
“Well, I came to visit you, my friend. I thought....I figured Bouzhung would understand, but you would never forgive me if I walked by and didn't say hi!” He smiled, showing his teeth a bit and squinting his eyes.
“That's my boy! Come in, come in! Have a tea with me!” She invited, opening her door and waving him in.
But Wairu didn't have time for chatting and tea, much as he would have enjoyed that. “My dear, I would love to spend some time with you, I really would, but I have a long journey ahead of me and if I don't leave now, then I might not make it to the Whispering Cliffs by sundown.”
She shrugged, then gave a comical thumbs up while sticking her tongue out “Well, all the better reason to come in and have a drink. Tea cleanses the body and soul, and it gives you the energy you need to go about your daily routine!”
Wairu couldn't stop himself from laughing and giving her a big, deep hug. With her enthusiastic endorsement, he was happy to come in and share a tea with her. She was right, and he had no idea how long it would be before he could do this again so he might as well make this day special in more ways than one. Naturally, the tea was delicious – Zephyrue made it better than anyone else Wairu Knew. They talked of his progress, his training, and her time in the village tending to the tea-leaves that she sold in the marketplace. Again, she expressed her desire to train under Bouzhung, but Wairu told her that for now only he could help her learn the ways of the monks.
The small stop at his friend's home didn't last long – it really couldn't – before he packed up once again. However, as he was about to leave, Zephyrue stopped him and gave him another deep hug. “You be safe up there, Wairu. It's a dangerous place to be, in the whispering cliffs. Remember, there's a reason only the monks of your shrine make that trek, for it is quite treacherous.” Before she let him, go, she gave him a gentle kiss on the snout followed by a cheeky wink. “You go get 'em, kitty!”
Filled with happiness and a renewed vigor, Wairu smiled and gave her a gentle bow before leaving. She stayed on her front porch to watch him leave, waving intermittently before he turned to walk back towards the main pathway through the village.
There was still some stress in his heart, since the anxiety of the task before him was still an obstacle he was yet to overcome, but his confidence was bolstered and his time with Zephyrue and the tea she shared added a bounce to his step. He kept his head held high and his chest puffed out as he trekked northbound around the village.
On a map, the mountain range that housed the village, the mountain plateau, the Whispering Cliffs, and the Village all looked like the yin and a yang of the cultures of past. The black half being the valley and Whispering Cliffs, and the white half being the village and the plateau. That peculiar series of crescents and winding pathways and mountain trails actually meant that, despite heading south out of the valley, Wairu actually went around to go north through the village to reach his destination in a mountain range that the village surrounded.
This also meant that he would have to climb thousands of steps, scale cliffs, and trek through the most dangerous mountain trails north west of the village. He could do it. He was Wairu, the great Ha'Dareash of the Whispering Spirits! No earthly terrain would stop him!
Onward he pressed, leaving the village behind to emerge in the valley pass where the path diverged. To the west, a simple path down the mountains to lead to the plains and most of civilization. To the north, a path heading back up the mountains to the Whispering Cliffs. One was sunny and clear and cheerful, the other surrounded by thick clouds and gray tinted omen. Wairu chuckled as he thought about the dichotomy, as though it were told by one of the elders or illustrated in tales on a scroll.
Of course, he took the high road through the depressing grays of the path to the cliffs. The sign pointing northbound even warned, 'extreme danger, do not travel without a will'. Humorous, but apt.
Across the many generations of monks that walked this path, Wairu was blessed with a series o well-kept steps carved into the rock for ease of traversal, and the path was lined with broken, worn down chalices for fires that had long since been overgrown with vines and moss. No cinders had pulsed with heat or flame on this path for many years. Solitude and adversity built the character the monks worked so tirelessly for.
The farther up Wairu trekked, the poorer the steps remained kept, and the clearer it became that so few people had made it this far on their trek. At this point in his journey, Wairu was met with a puzzle as the steps seemed to lead right into a nearly vertical rocky wall. Only the ordained monks would make it past the first real obstacle: a steep cliff face. Dozens of meters above him, a small outcropping punctuated the top of this cliff face with another one of the crumbling chalices there to show him where to go next.
Well, that was easy enough. Wairu was part dragon and part feline, both were adept climbers so this would be easy. He stepped forward to the final steps in the path to grab at the nearest jagged edge of the cliff face, followed by sticking his foot in one of the cracks. The wind was howling above him and he could see the dust swirling between him and the plateau above him, but he knew he would be fine.
Up he climbed, one paw over one claw, back and forth until he was half way up, with a dozen meters above and a dozen meters below. The cold mountain winds whipped his fur and made his horns sore, but he persevered, kicking at the rock and digging his talons into every crack and crevice, ascending one step at a time.
A few steps later, he reached up to grab at the soft moss of the platform, wrapping his arm about the lip of the ledge and hoisting himself up. Once safe and off the edge of the cliff, he rolled to his back, leaning on the rucksack that he carried. His chest was heaving with slow, deliberate breaths to match the wind that kept battering him. He made it, and it wasn't difficult at all. Not yet, anyway. That was only one cliff to scale, and he predicted he would have many more.
Once he rolled to his feet, he quickly discovered just how powerful the wind was getting this high in the mountain path. He had to raise his arm to shield his eyes from the dust and debris that pelted him every second of his trip as he ascended hundreds of stairs to get to the next cliff. This time, it was a bit more dangerous since he felt the wind was actually throwing him off balance even when just walking up steps.
Wairu was immensely careful to not let his claws slip as he scaled this clif. This time, he had to keep his belly pressed tight to the rock face since the wind was so strong he felt it rocking his body and tugging at his talons. He knew if he wasn't careful, a powerful gust could grab him and toss him into the abyss on the other side of the path.
With that thought in mind, he took in a long, deep breath and sped up, gripping tight and kicking at the rock wall with every motion. The feeling of his talons on rock was unpleasant, but it kept him anchored and he quickly made it to the top.
In the safety of the new plateau, he was met with another branching path. He had to pause to think back to his training and reading about the Whispering Cliffs, and that's when he remembered that the ascension to zen was not just one location, but a series of well worn platforms at the end of a dozen different branching trails. That way one's internal guidance would lead them to the proper place of meditation, and also that multiple monks could achieve zen at the same time.
He took it into his heart before choosing the path that looked best to him. He happily padded his way down the trail, wind whipping at his fur still, but no dist or debris. His trip was nearly complete, and he would soon be rising above the canopy of gray clouds and emerge at his destination. He had the elements at his disposal – most notably the ability to control the gusts and bursts of wind that battered him every step of the way – but he made a point to not contest the land, for fear that it would defeat the purpose of accomplishment. A cheat to reach zen would not have the same sense of accomplishment if he fought to resist the forces that might draw character from him.
The steps kept going up, and he met with a half dozen other branches in the path before finally reaching what he hoped was the final cliff face. The mountains were growing thin, the peaks coming to a point soon, and he couldn't see the valley below him for the cloud that smothered the many peaks and valleys. The wind was dying down, since it seemed the most powerful of the gusts were right in the middle. Now that he was high enough, the air was thin and dry, so it wasn't having too much of an effect on him aside from leaving him breathless and a little lightheaded.
One more cliff to scale. He could do this. Actually, he could do it quite well and with ease. It was almost like this final cliff face wasn't vertical, but on a half-degree angle. He practically was able to run up it with ease, kicking off the rock, gripping the tiny little ledges, and eventually bursting up onto the final plateau.
His chest was heaving deep and heavy, a gentle mist escaping his lips every time he exhaled. He had finally reached his destination above the clouds on the peak of the Whispering cliffs. All he could see in all direction was the green of a hundred mountain peaks, with moss and grass coating them. In this distance, tall trees pieced the cover of the clouds and even the plateau he was on had a few small bushes and ferns dotting it.
A tiny little rivulet of water trickled down the cliff face opposite the one he scaled to get to this location, and there was even a small puddle formed in a rock pool. Perfect.
Wairu's eyes were wide as he stepped out onto the edge of the cliff, overlooking the mountains and valleys and pillars of rock that dotted the horizon. His talons dug into the grass and dirt, relishing the moisture and softness of it. This was nirvana. He had ascended. It was time.
He took in a long, deep breath before realizing that, under the small vine-like tree that scaled the side of the mountain, there was a tiny little cave opening. Also perfect. He quickly ducked into it to investigate more. To his delight, it was perfect for a monk seeking zen. On one side, a small bed carved into the rock shelf, and on the other side a small shelf covered in candles of the monks that had been here before. To his surprise, a small bowl in the middle of the shelf with a tiny rivulet of water filling it and another trickling out into a small hole; no idea where that would leave, but it allowed this little room, these accommodations, to care for him during his meditation.
Wairu laid his rucksack against the opposite wall and took out some of his belongings, placing them on the shelf next to the bowl-sink, then laid out his blanket and clothes on the bed. He was ready.
With anticipation in his heart and adrenaline cooling his veins, Wairu stepped out onto the grassy outcropping and crossed his legs as he sat. He closed his eyes and took in a long, deep breath as he focused his mind on the whispering spirits that bellowed up from the valley below.
Though many hours passed as the sun set, Wairu found himself unable to relax enough to find his zen. He remained still with legs crossed and elbows on his knees as he sat up straight, taking in the environment, listening to the whisper of the wind, and relaxing on the soft grass of the plateau. Minutes passed into hours, and before he knew it the sky was dark and filled with stars, only the moon shining blue light across the mountainous landscape.
Eventually, he gave in and retired to the small cave nestled in the cliff face. He knew he wasn't going to make progress in his meditation and he had a long arduous journey to the summit, so he earned himself a good night's sleep. Even if it was on a hard rock surface with only a blanket and folded fabric for a pillow.
Wairu laid on his back with arms crossed over his chest, half the blanket below him and the other half on top of him. Before passing out, he raised a palm and bent some wind to blow the candle out, leaving him in darkness, at peace until his dreams would take him.
An errant gust of wind slipped into the cave and tickled at Wairu's feet, waking him from his slumber. He was still laying on his back with his hands folded on his chest, having barely moved all night. The moment he felt the cool air reach under his blankets and grab him, he opened his eyes and took in a deep breath of the thin mountain air.
It was time to get to work. Work at meditating.
In his most serene manner, he stood tall in the cave and grabbed the things he would need to start his day, such as Tea-leaves, a couple of sticks of incense, and a tiny cup of water with a saucer. He used the rivulet of water in the sink to fill the tea cup, then put the tea bag in the water, then used his elemental control to heat the cup to the perfect temperature. Once that was done, he used his claw to stir and press the tea bag, extracting as much flavor as he could before tugging the teabag out of the cup and leaving it on the saucer next to the sink.
Out he went to the plateau, where he stabbed a single stick of incense into the ground, the tip of it pointing straight up. He snapped his fingers to ignite it and sat down, smiling as he took in the aroma of the wispy smoke that danced before him in between sips of his tea. His head was still a little woozy from the altitude, so he felt the effects of the incense and tea faster than usual.
As he laid back, he thought he heard whispers from behind him. He jerked around to not see anything, only the cliff face that he'd scaled as well as the winding path below. Nobody was here, yet he was sure he was hearing something that he couldn't quite decipher. Eager to learn more, to hear more, he closed his eyes and held his breath.
Yes, whispers of random words in sequences all at once, like a never-ending sentence. He heard the voices of man and woman, monkey and dragon, all overlapping. Silence, peace, serenity, truth, honesty, past, present, growth, recession, love, music, play, life, game, and self were all words that he was sure he could make out in the miasma of whispers that tickled his ears. The sounds were slight and nearly drowned out by the howling of the wind through the many peaks, valleys, and pillars of the Whispering Cliffs.
The Whispering Cliffs were speaking to him in a gentle whisper. Whispering. Of course they were whispering. That's what they did, that's why they were called the Whispering cliffs. A revelation of sorts.
Wairu smiled and leaned back on his hand, fingers and toes digging into the dirt as he relished in the wisps of voices that surrounded him. The early morning sun washed over him as he glanced down to the village below and around the summit he was on as he felt himself drift off into a fantastical, nearly dreamlike state.
When Wairu opened his eyes again, he was back home and the world around him seemed larger, towering high above him. It was the Temple of the Whispering Spirits, but it was different. The colors on the archways were more crisp and vibrant, and it was filled with people he didn't seem to remember at all walking up and down the valley towards and away from the prime temple.
There were monkey men, goats and rams, as well as a few tiger ladies and crane hens in the valley, all of them wearing the colors of the temple. No matter how much Wairu tried to strain his mind, he could not remember who any of these monks were.
He wanted to protest, to run, to reach out to ask questions, but he seemed frozen in place. His vision stirred as he looked around, eventually turning to see Bouzhung standing over him with a smile, arms crossed over his chest and holding a ragged staff.
“Wairu, my apprentice, due to your actions this morning, I think it's time we teach you the zen of meditation.” He said with a warm grin.
Suddenly, Wairu remembered this. It wasn't an hallucination or spiritual journey, it was a memory. His earliest memory of the first time he ever was pushed into meditation. At the time, he was belligerent, but he was also young and rebellious so that was to be expected, and his master Bouzhung was patiently urging him towards learning the value and benefits of meditation despite his unwillingness to comply. No, he just wanted to learn how to fight and to manipulate the air with finesse and panache, not just the unfocused gusts he could create at that point.
“Boooring.” Wairu had said, growling a bit before crossing his arms over his chest and letting out a long, deep sigh. “What a waste of time. I could be learning how to punch the air or knock people over like a true master, not learn how not to do anything!”
Ever patient, Bouzhung slowly shook his head. “No, it's not about nothingness, it's about being at one with everything. You cannot learn self control and inner strength if your only skills are external. Before you learn to control the world around you, control yourself.”
“But I can control myself! You have seen me training with the others, I have more self control than any of them! My stances are solid, my focus is intense, and my movement is perfect!” He was walking sideways, keeping up with Bouzhung as the two walked up towards the prime temple.
“Physical control, Wairu. You have control of your body, but your spirit is still energetic and rambunctious. I know if I put you in a sparring match with any of the other apprentices you would most certainly come out the victor, but you wouldn't be graceful about it. I'm sure in time you will come to understand the value in inner peace, and I truly hope that time will come sooner rather than later. I am going to retire to the temple for the afternoon. If you would like to join me, you may.” With that, he turned and walked up the path, leaving Wairu behind.
That small scene was so vivid in Wairu's mind as he looked back to his early days in the Temple. It was his first clear memory, and it was one of the most important in his many years training there. He was still young, but full of vigor and energy, and back then the very idea of meditation seemed wasteful. Why sit and do nothing when he could be out training.
Rather than join master Bouzhung in the prime temple that afternoon, Wairu walked up the path and past the steps to end up on the plateau in the mountains that the crescent valley wrapped around. There, dozens of apprentices, monks, and masters were all training or conversing, and that's where he would train as well.
The entire plateau was lined with flat rock tiles, with pillars and archways in every direction, many of which leading to tiny shrines for medidation and overlooking the valley below. There were no seats for onlookers, since the valley and the temple were for monks or apprentives only, not for villagers. It wasn't for fun or for entertainment, the temple was for mastering the elemental arts.
Wairu had some frustration in his heart, which affected his ability to concentrate. He shuffled his way towards a clear area on the arena and started practicing his poses, kicks, punches, and chops. He used his palm force moves to blow wind and dust over the side of the cliff to the valley below, laughing a bit as the tiny pebbles rolled down the rocky incline towards the village.
No matter how long he worked on his power, speed, and control, he couldn't get his mind to focus enough to maximize the effectiveness of his moves. He had skill, he had power, and his wind-manipulation skills were already better than most even though he was still a young boy.
As a joke, he leaned over in a power-pose, blowing a brief gust to someone who was balancing on their staff, knocking them down to their feet. Naturally, the monkey who he had antagonized just shrugged it off and hopped back up onto the staff. It was impossible to get any sort of negative reaction out of the monks of the Temple of the Whispering Spirits.
Frustrated, Wairu tried to scream at himself in the memory, but of course the past could not be changed, only the future could. No amount of regret or hindsight would make his younger self realize that, yes, that inner peace was thanks to the meditation that others had already mastered.
Still, the young version of him did pick up on the serenity of the other monks, so he quickly grew bored of what he was doing and returned to the valley, sluggishly making his way down the ornate steps to end up in front of the prime temple where Bouzhung said he would be waiting. He stared up at the gold and green archways before getting distracted by a few other children, whom he followed into the mountains to play.
The vision swirled into clouds before finally reforming into another image, this time of young Wairu practicing with the other cubs on the plateau above the valley. He had his own makeshift staff in hand that he was swinging around to blow gusts of wind, as well as practice defense. He jabbed, he twirled, and he swept it around in wide arcs in a distinct pattern as the others around him did the same. It was a dozen monkeys, cranes, tigers, and rams doing the same thing as he was in a choreographed display of self control.
Bouzhung was pacing in front of each of them, using his staff to help him walk. “Stance three!” he called out to the cubs, all of which then rotated their staves, slammed one end to the ground, and hopped up so that their feet were resting on the wood, one hand on the opposite end and the other in the air for balance. Not a single paw was on the ground.
This worked for a moment, until Wairu heard a snap and a crackle followed by an unpleasant thud as he felt to the ground, the staff having snapped in half under his weight. His scales and horns added extra density to him so he was heavier for his size than most of the others. While cubs would usually laugh and idly smirk behind people in this situation, the young apprentices of the valley held their positions.
Though the others were all kind and respectful, the young cub frustration of Wairu burst out and he angrily kicked at the staff, making it fly over to one of the many shrines for meditation. Bouzhung caught it with one outstretched hand with ease.
“Young Wairu here is even stronger than he thought, eh?” He smirked and nodded. “I can't wait to see him put that to good use, building homes or repairing the temple!”
But Wairu wouldn't accept his subtle, playful compliment. Instead he growled and pushed his way through the group of other trainees to once again disappear down the path that curved around the plateau towards the valley.
“Class is dismissed, my apprentices.” Bouzhung instructed before deftly chasing after Wairu.
That's strange, I couldn't have seen that. Wairu thought to himself as he witnessed the memory from afar. I was already gone from the training area when he said that, I couldn't possibly have seen him. Though he had his apprehension about the validity of that memory, he watched with intent as he saw his master catch up to the young, cub-version of him, reaching forth with the staff to pin Wairu against the wall of rock.
“Wairu, you can't just leave in the middle of training.”
“Why not? I can't learn anything, I keep breaking everything.” Wairu protested. In a way, it was true. His strength was deeply rooted and powerful, and he was having a hard time controlling it without causing damage.
Bouzhung nodded. “This is true, you are quite the destructive force, aren't you?” He smiled before continuing. “Just learn to control it, and you can put that power to good use. I wasn't kidding about helping with repairs, maybe I should punish you for this outburst by making you work on maintenance and cleaning of the temple.”
“Aw, come on Master Bouzhung, you know that I'd just wreck something.”
“Exactly. If you were to make a mess, that's just more mess for you to clean up. The only way I will convince you of the value of the value of self control is to force you to deal with the consequences of your own actions, hm? Everybody wins, you experience personal growth and I get a clean temple!” He offered a belly laugh to show he was being facetious.
But Wairu knew fully well that he was serious. Angered, he pushed the staff away from his chest and stormed his way down the rock steps, stomping his feet in an attempt to wreck something.
“Tsk.” Bouzhung chided as his student walked away. He gently laid the end of his staff to the rock before continuing. “Or you could join me in a bout of meditation.”
That offer stopped Wairu mid stomp.
“Yeah, you can either be put to cleaning duty using your wind skills, or you can take a moment and relax with me next to the pool of serenity in the prime temple.” He bleated a bit; he was a goat, after all.
Wairu turned and stomped his way back up the stairs again, this time a little gentler than when he was trying to get away. “So I come to meditate with you, and I don't have to do cleaning duty?” HE clarified.
“That is entirely up to you, my son. I won't stop you from cleaning, but I won't make you if you chose to follow me. Whichever you chose, someone benefits.” With that, he hopped his way down the steps past Wairu, his form gliding down the pathway like it was hovering on a cloud.
Reluctant but unwilling to relegate himself to degrading cleaning duty, young Wairu slumped his way after his master until both of them were again at the foot of the steps that would lead up into the archway at the entrance of the prime temple. A series of wide steps connecting a series of plaforms spread out before them both, the final steps underneath the grand archway of yellow, green, and blue. Beyond it, a series of pillars holding up the cliff face.
The prime temple was carved into the side of the mountain; inside, the temple was made of what looked like gold and jade, stretching out in a grand hall with the pool of serenity underneath the back under a dragon-feline hybrid beast statue. The grand cavern was lined with ornate statues of past masters down either side, with the names of hundreds of monks carved into the pillars lining in between the statues; each statue had a tiny shrine before it with candles illuminating the entire temple hall.
Wairu had been here before so he wasn't in awe, but he wasn't often invited inside without good reason, like when he was first accepted as an apprentice to master Bouzhung, or when there was an event happening where everyone from the valley heard a speech from one of the masters.
Or he was invited in if he was being punished.
In retrospect, as Wairu watched the memory play out before him, he couldn't help but think of the irony of his master both insisting that meditation was a liberating experience, while also using it as punishment.
“Please follow me.” Bouzhung instructed as he walked slowly down the grand hall, the statues of the masters of the past smiling down at him.
Wairu slunk down and made himself look small and unassuming in this holy place. He went from frustrated to obedient with every step until the both of them were standing right in front of the pool of serenity. The surface of the pool was silent as could be, not a single ripple or ridge dashing across. The water was perfectly clear, and at the bottom was an intricate and beautiful mural of a dragon and tiger fighting, with lilies made of jade and rubies lining them, the entire image set up like the yin and the yang with the eyes of each beast an opposing color of a gem.
It was beautiful, and it perfectly captured the majesty of the temple.
“Tell me, Wairu, what do you think would happen if I threw a pebble into this pool.”
“I-I don't know. Would it ruin the picture?”
“I don't know either, so let's find out.” Bouzhung reached out with the end of his staff to kick up a tiny smooth stone, flicking it up so that it landed with a plop in the middle of the pool, creating tiny waves and distorting the image of the warring beasts. “See? The mural is obstructed, if you didn't know what the picture was of the dragon and the tiger, you would be confused and never find the beauty in the art. You would see only colors. That is what is happening inside you.” He brought the end of the staff up to smack Wairu in the chest hard enough that he had to step back and regain his breath.
“H-hey!” Wairu protested, only to be ignored as Bouzhung continued his lecture.
“But the ripples will not last forever. Already, the tiny waves are growing weaker, and you can see the image with growing clarity every second. That is what meditation can do for you. It calms your soul, it relaxes your mind and settles your heart. In time your frustration will dissipate on its own, but if you master the art of meditation, you can control the waves to that even when a pebble is thrown into your life, you will always be in control.” He then flipped his staff up around and smacked the surface of the pool, making a series of powerful, loud splashes. Rather than leave it to calm on its own, Bouzhung then used the blunt end of the staff to tap at certain locations around the epicenter of the waves, each point forming a circle around. Within seconds, the top of the pool was once again completely serene and still, the image at the bottom as clear as it had been when they first came in.
“Whoah, how did you do that?” Wairu whispered under his breath.
“If you know where the pressure points are in a wave, you can cancel it out, just like in the real world. If you know how to counteract the effects of negative energies in your life, you can be as calm as this pool, here. If you know how to remain serene, you can show your true inner beauty. Now, Wairu, I cannot tell you how to achieve that sense of zen, but I found it through meditation, and I truly think you would do well to at least give it a shot. You are young still – the youngest of the trainees – but you are also full of rage and anger. If you could turn that frustration into calmness, then I am sure I could admire you, from one master to another.”
That endorsement made Wairu's fur stand on end, his chest plates pressing out to make him look bigger. It was rare for Bouzhung to speak with clarity and without even a hint of silliness, but his sincerity was certainly having an effect and that urged Wairu to gulp and nod. “Okay, master. I will happily try this, for you. For me.”
“You already are. The moment you laid eyes on the pool of serenity and came to see the beauty lying within, you began to calm yourself. That is meditation. When I threw the pebble into the water, it disturbed your zen a little, didn't it? When I smacked you with my staff, that was upsetting, wasn't it? When I made a splash, that was frustrating, wasn't it? But every time the water's surface returned to its calm state, your heart fluttered and your mind relaxed.” The last one was a statement, not a question.
Of course, a wise master like Bouzhung knew he was right on all three of his accounts. Wairu had grown perturbed every time he was prodded or poked, and every time the water was disrupted. It was frustrating, of course, but it was calming at the same time. Rather than answer, he just nodded.
“As I suspected. I am going to relax a moment, you may follow me if you'd like, or you can go back and train. I've taught you all I can for today.” He offered a respectful nod before turning to sit at the base of the nearest of the statues of the old masters – the ram.
Wairu was left with a heavy decision on his shoulders. He could have walked out the front door of the prime temple and returned to the hut he called his home with the other young trainees, or he could stay here. Deep down inside his mind, he still felt like sitting in place and doing nothing was a waste of time, but the demonstration at the pool of serenity – brisk as it was – had profoundly impacted him.
He remained in place, staring at the intricate mural of dragon and tiger swirling in a yin and a yang below the surface of the water, contemplating the effectiveness of the beauty he was witnessing. He took in a long, drawn out breath that fluttered gently, his lower lip quivering a bit. Though not on the verge of tears, he did feel moved at the scene around him. It was the grand hall, the gold and jade statues, the pool of serenity, and the empty feeling the hall of the prime temple made him feel.
After many minutes of self reflection, looking at his own visage in the surface of the pool, he reluctantly walked over and sat next to Bouzhung, crossing his legs as he leaned on his palms, elbows resting on his knees. He took note of the fact that his master's staff was laid out before both of them before closing his eyes and trying his best to meditate.
Bouzhung said not a word, nor did he acknowledge Wairu's presence.
The serenity didn't last for long. Though Wairu felt a touching and profound impact on his state of mind, he still couldn't shake the boredom and unrest that was inside him. He tried to stay still, but found his mind wandering to physical training or playing in the valley with his friends. He fantasized about graceful and imaginative sparring matches here in the grand hall, with two warriors jumping up and kicking off the statues, using wind bending to get extra height and flipping around.
Eventually, he just couldn't stand still anymore. Bouzhung had released him from mandatory meditation, so for at least now he was free to go and practice his skills.
He cracked open an eye and watched to see if his master's eyes were open. They weren't so he silently got to his feet and tiptoed out the grand hall, careful to not let his claws touch the hard surface of the floor.
Though he felt a deep sense of inner pride, having remembered that as his first – albeit brief – moment of true zen, the image of his memory blurred like the mural of the dragon and tiger, eventually dissipating before his eyes.
Wairu blinked and shook his head, finding himself back at the plateau atop the cliff. He was laying on his side, head resting on his arm and tail curled up between his legs. As he got up to a sitting position, he saw the incense had long since burned to the base and the teacup was toppled over behind him in the grass. His head was spinning, probably due to the altitude but at least partially thanks to the tea and incense.
“That was certainly a powerful vision.” He muttered to himself as he sat up straight, crossing his legs in place. He wanted to make himself understand why that vision was what came to him, and why it was so vivid. He had so many questions he needed answers, like wondering how accurate the events depicted in his vision of memory truly were, and how he possibly could have seen what happened on that plateau after he'd left and his master had informed the others that the lesson was over, at least for them. Was it the spirits telling him something about his importance? Was it a lingering piece of Bouzhung's spirit occupying his?
So many questions, and there was no way he would find them immediately. He needed more meditation, he needed to listen to the voices of the spirits howling in the mountains.