Description: At the Wu Shi Academy on the coasts of China, two warriors touched by the supposed hand of destiny connect and discuss how the King of Fighters tournament might help open the way forward on their respective journeys through life.
If one were to pick a random stranger off of the street and ask them where the lost places of the world were, it's likely the answer would involve the deep jungles of South America, or the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. But even now, lost within this age of smart phones and super highways, ancient traditions thrive mere miles off of the beaten path. One must simply have the necessary will to seek them out.
A cool spring wind rises from the gentle swells of the East China sea, carrying with it the rush and crash of the waves and the salty tang of the ocean. Playfully, the breeze dances along an empty stretch of coastline, rustling long blades of grass, swaying thin saplings, and nudging tangled chutes of bamboo so that they scrape quietly against one another. Free and uninhibited, the wind rolls over a thin bridge of grassy land with a dirt path worn into its center, following it out into the sea where it connects to a small island.
Upon the island rests a small fortress pulled straight from another era, its ancient stone walls rising 20 feet above the surrounding landscape. The large stone arch in its west wall stands open, metal gate flung wide, and no warriors patrol the thin path built along its top. But even still, this fortress is no ruin. Within its walls are well-tended expanses of lush green grass, crossed here and there by curving paths of neat white gravel. The paths lead between four simple structures built into the corners of the square fort, one low and wooden with a simple red roof, while another 2 are tall and constructed solidly from fitted blocks of stone. The fourth is a towering temple with a slanted roof, a long line of steps leading up to a wide round entrance flanked on either side by columns and carved statues of lions.
The soft 'ssshhwif, sshhhwif' of a broom drifts quietly from between the open doors of the temple, soon joined by the shadowy outline of a man. A couple more scrapes and a few seconds later sees a small pile of dust puffing out onto the walkway, per sued by the straw tines of a simple wooden broom.
Stepping out onto the walkway, an average-sized man in an open black vest and loose blue pants sends the dust out into the air and waves it away with a casual gesture of one cloth-wrapped hand, a playful wind arriving to scatter it out across the grass in a light cloud. That done, the man plants his broom upon the stone walk and leans his weight against it, face hidden behind the forward tilt of a broad metal hat as he gazes down across the courtyard spread out below.
Here and there, men and women in simple robes walk the neatly tended paths, going about their business with quiet serenity. The silvery ring of a blacksmith's hammer rises from one corner, before being overwhelmed by the fierce battle cries of 2 men locked in combat.
At the center of the fortress, suspended just above a large round pool of crystal clear water, hangs a 20 foot square of smooth grey stone. Thick ropes rise from each corner of the platform, held taught in the grasp of giant stone statues of men long dead. It is upon the platform that 2 bare-chested young men now fight, their arms and legs a blur of strike and counter strike, parry and twist.
The Wu Shi Academy. Home to a sect of warrior monks devoted to the defense of Earth above all else. A place that time has forgotten.
For the last two weeks, the secluded fortress academy of the Wu Shi has been haunted. Not by a poltergeist or vengeful shade, but by a wisp of a girl. The places and times she might be observed by those dutifully going about their chores or training would vary.
At times, the young woman in white had been seen crouched upon the walls, one hand resting against a sentry tower in one of the corners as she watched the activities of the compound with silent curiosity. Others reported catching sight of her standing on one of the larger structure rooftops, gazing out over a moonlit sea with a quiet, forlorn look in her eyes. Sometimes she was less distant, standing before the temple, hands clasped behind her back as she gazed up at the guardian lions or kneeling in the solemn halls of meditation.
She wouldn't ignore the disciples that chose to approach her, offering a nod of acknowledgment, a friendly if fleeting smile, and rarely more than a word or two before she fall quiet. When questioned about the presence of this elusive visitor, the Academy masters would merely advise the disciples to not concern themselves with the young woman. Those curious would be assured that the stranger would cause them no harm, but also instruct that she wasn't to be disturbed.
A times in the academy's long history, there had been those who claimed to have witness manifestations of ancient warriors. Perhaps, some naturally reasoned, this so-called ghost was something akin to that. The masters would know better even if they seemed to keep the truth of this visit to themselves. Attempts to question her, even politely so, often yielded cryptic answers that left the disciples no more sure than before they asked.
Over the large pond she sits now, perched on a thin branch growing out over the water from an adjacent tree. A closer look at her would show that she isn't clothed all in white as some witnesses had claimed in their accounts, for the borders of her white, ankle length robe are formed by decorative crimson and blue geometric patterns. The ankles of the pants she wears beneath the robe are similarly decorated.
Her hair, however, is as long and raven black as the rumors claimed, allowed to rest freely against her back but for a red ribbon tied into a large bow behind the back of her head. Straight bangs and locks of hair frame her face, hiding her steel blue eyes from sight unless one catches her attention long enough for her focus on them.
On the shore of the pool are a pair of leather moccasins dyed as red as the bow in her hair. The young woman's focus seems to be on the two dueling on the stone platform, watching from the shade of the tree while occasionally dipping her toes in the water beneath her. Her hands are pressed against the branch itself, no doubt for balance.
The sea wind plays with her hair, splaying it out from behind her back on occasion and tousling the long ends of her ribbon, causing them to whip about in a lively dance while she seems to remain so still and perfectly balanced on the branch that almost seems too small to support a person. Now and then, her right hand lifts to brush some of her hair out of her face, back over her shoulder, as she continues to focus on the training taking place.
A few branches above the girl in the tree sits a large, golden brown bird of prey, its head pivoting about, sharp eyes seeming to scrutinize the academy with all the attention to detail the young woman lacks.
Upon the platform, the young men continue their ferocious battle. The smaller and darker of the 2 is forced back beneath a barrage of windmilling fists, giving ground even as his hands lash out to strike at his larger opponent's wrists in sharp, aggressive blocks. Managing to knock one blow widely off course, he reverses course and darts into the gap, pounding one, two quick hooks into the bigger man's ribs before receiving a hard knee to the chest for his efforts that sends him tumbling sideways across the platform.
As the shorter man springs back to his feet, the mysterious man in the hat lifts his broom and begins making his way down the steps of the temple, sandaled feet clacking softly against stone. He doesn't seem to be in any particular hurry, meandering along while Short takes a flying leap at Tall, whirling his body through a 180 degree turn that brings his out thrust heel around in a spinning kick straight out of some low budget wire-fu film. Tall ducks, and short flies on by, landing in a low crouch with his back to the bigger man.
Wood-soled sandals crunch over gravel, then pad quietly through grass, creating much less of a spectacle than the dueling monks. Having rounded on Short, Tall lunges forward and manages to catch the smaller man by one arm, dragging him into a clinch . Clearly the stronger of the pair, Tall bares down on Short, forcing him to the ground and, with a steady application of pressure, twisting the smaller man's arm up behind his back until the joint threatens to dislocate.
"I trust that your time has been well spent among the Wu Shi?" asks the hatted man, stepping up to stand beside the tree in which Nakoruru currently sits. He is not a big man, shorter than Tall but taller than Short, though his loose black vest hangs open to show off a leanly muscular chest and well-defined arms. In fact, with the way his broad black hat is angled, more of his torso is exposed than his face, only a bit of lips and chin visible in the shadow cast by the razor-rimmed brim. Resting the end of the broom between his feet, he folds his hands atop the shaft, both of them bound from knuckles to elbows in strips of clean white cloth.
The wind picks up again, gently swaying Nakoruru's perch and carrying the sound of Short's slapping palm across the water as he finally submits. Unlike every other monk she has seen so far, the new arrival does not have a shaved head. In fact, his hair is quite long, swaying behind him in a loose ponytail as the wind attempts to catch it much like it has her own.
With the direction her head is turned, it is clear that the visitor from across the narrow sea finds the ongoing sparring session something worth watching. The successes, the failures, the harsh lessons, and the experiences honing, even if one small step, the progress the warriors are making.
The question is posed from the young man, his face mostly hidden by the hat as the low branch serving as the young woman's branch lends her no particular advantage in terms of height over him. "That depends," she replies before falling quiet while the off sea breeze kicks up. When it dies back down, she continues, "By what metric it could be measured." Her hand lifts from off the branch again, still looking away to observe the waning moments of the intense duel among brothers in arms as she brushes her back from the side of her face again. "Some say the gods have afforded us our allotment of time to benefit others. By that measure, I fear I have spent my time poorly."
The bird in the branches above studies the youth intently, eyes unblinking as she tilts her head to one side. "Others reason that time spent in learning is the time best spent of all." She looks away from the fighting platform as the smaller of the two taps out, the exchange having run its course. Eyes take in Kung Lao as she leaves her hand at the side of her head, fingers holding back her hair from the breeze as it moves once more across the courtyard.
"By that standard, I feel perhaps a touch more justified."
Her expression bears the same quiet smile she had offered to others who drew near to the observer. This close, the weapon at her back is more noticeable. A short sword of Japanese make sheathed at her waist, angled just north of horizontal. A ruby red gemstone, smoothed round, adorns the end of the grip itself. The backs of her hands, her wrists, and much of her forearms are covered by white cloth arm guards, thickest around the forearm. There is an almost ethereal quality about her, as if she is in the world yet not of it. But he can also see as plain as day that she certainly is no ghost, appearing as solid and alive as anyone else who walks among the academy.
"And how would you rate your time among the Wu Shi?" she asks in return.
In contrast to the oddly spiritual aspects of the apparently young Japanese girl across from him, Kung Lao's own presence is very grounded. Power does not radiate from him in waves, nor does his presence demand attention. But the way he holds himself, the comfortable confidence with which he exists in the world, hints at the power of the spirit within.
A spirit that grows slightly troubled, weight shifting, as this strange girl turns his question around upon him in a way that he was not prepared for. One hand comes up in an unconscious gesture, 2 fingers running lightly along the edge of his hat while he considers his response. His other hand continues to rest atop the upright broom, fingers relaxed. It is not a tense posture, but even still it is easy to see that something in the question has struck home.
"Some say that the gods live atop a great mountain and fight endlessly amongst themselves. Not all that is said is wisdom." Kung Lao states after a moment, tone just a touch chiding in the face of Nakoruru's enigmatic calm. Even as he speaks he forces his body to still, doing his best to hide the signs of bother that showed so clearly in his neck and shoulders. "But," he adds, tone edging back toward respectful, "I think it is more a measure of You that helping someone is how your time might have been spent."
Across the rippling surface of the water, the shorter of the two fighters is being helped to his feet. Turning his attention toward the pair, Kung Lao's hidden gaze sweeps briefly across them in silent inspection.
"It is surprising to me that one such as you could learn anything from watching Li and Zhang flail their fists at one another," The hatted man offers, "but perhaps your powers of perception are beyond mine. I am Kung Lao, and my time here has been...Long."
The words are offered aside in way of introduction, followed by a shallow bow at the waste that is pointed more toward the platform than his guest. Meanwhile, the Shorter man pauses, back going stiff as the taunt bounces its way over the open water and into his ears. He does not look their way, but the sudden angry stiffness of his walk in the other direction makes his unhappiness clear. A fact that Kung Lao either does not notice, or cares not to address.
"Mn," Nakoruru makes an amused sound at the mention of the gods fighting endlessly amongst themselves, her focus slipping for a moment as if thinking of something distant from this tranquil monastery setting. "Perhaps they do."
Her hand lowers from the side of her head to rest in her lap, allowing her hair to blow against her cheek once more as she watches the young man wrestle with her question. She blinks twice as he turns her statements around to point out what they reflect of her, her focus returning to him then, her smile lingering but not entirely matched by the hint of sadness in her eyes.
She follows his attention then, turning her face back toward the sparring partners. "One such as I?" she replies, the question sounding almost rhetorical given her tone. Her focus lingers on the platform even as the two duelists begin to move from it. "In observing, I saw two engaged in the important task of self improvement. The same exercise conducted in solitude would afford only a fraction the growth as those minutes spent in conflict."
Her face lowers though still facing away, attention seeming to come to rest on the surface of the water instead, the blue sky reflected in its still surface. "Their training demonstrated the truth that the path toward mastery requires application of skill. Study, listening to a mentor, and watching the art performed are all facets of growth... but without actually using it, without the trial of action, mastery will remain forever out of reach."
She moves then, her right hand shifting to press against the branch along with her left as she slips from the bough while seeming to barely jostle it, landing on her bare feet next to where her red moccasins had been left in the grass. She continues while slipping her feet into the leather footwear.
"I saw how Li did not hold back, using his advantages in strength and reach to secure a victory over Zhang. Such harshness may seem cruel... but the brotherhood that exists between them made it clear that Li did not hold back so that Zhang might learn." Her feet now in her moccasins, she turns toward Kung Lao, hands at her sides. Now more of his face is visible to her from her smaller height. "It was cause to reflect on the trials the gods have placed along my path... Perhaps the harshness of them was for my benefit."
Her arms at her side, her hands closed in fists, she bows forward slightly at the waist, dipping her head before straightening up.
"I am Nakoruru."
Head canting slightly to the right, she regards the young man curiously, "I'm curious... to what end have you trained for your long time within these walls?"
In the lull of words between explanation and Nakoruru's departure from the branch, Kung Lao lifts the broom just high enough that it will not drag through the grass and takes 2 smooth steps away from the red leather shoes beside him. Having opened up a bit more space between himself and the white-clad girl, he turns his full attention upon her, looking down even as she looks up. There is nothing particularly remarkable about his features. No great secret that would deserve the mystery of the shadows that so often cloak them. Chinese, with the slightly upswept eyes and flattish features. Handsome in a simple, vigorous way. Older than her by a few years, perhaps, but not much over twenty.
"One who has been Set Upon a Path, and who seems to look outward to discover internal truths. I have lived my entire life in the presence of divine champions. They are not so difficult to spot. Nakoruru is a name that I have heard. You too must bare the name of a great ancestor."
The response is delivered with a certain light confidence, matched by an expression that isn't quite a smile, or a smirk, but something around the eyes and nose suggests it could become one. Who among the defenders of Earthrealm would not recognize the name of Kung Lao, once defender of Earth, celebrated champion of Mortal Kombat.
The light expression slides from Lao's face as the thought joins Nakoruru's question, brows wrinkling and jaw going firm. Eyes that had looked into Nakoruru's face with easy confidence slide away to one side, chin angling down in a defensive tilt. Just as before a seemingly innocent question strikes a nerve with the monk, and he is forced to take a moment to consider his position.
"I was trained," Kung Lao states, tone kept carefully direct in an attempt to mask whatever emotion might be burning within him, "to follow in the footsteps of my ancient ancestor, the Great Kung Lao. I was to fight in Mortal Kombat, and defeat Goro to reclaim our lost honor." For a moment, he leaves it at that, lips pressed together and gaze refusing to lift toward the small woman. It is only once a solid hand full of seconds go by that the shame of it has faded enough for him to turn his face toward her, set and controlled, and add with a touch more humility than he has shown thus far, "There is a lot of truth in what you say."
Cloth-wrapped hands grip the broom handle more tightly, both having returned to its solid surface, and he stares somberly down at her, looking sad, ashamed, and frustrated all rolled into one. The sea breeze shifts chaotically around them, tossing his ponytail up over one shoulder, but he shakes it off and lets out a breath.
"That is why I have come to speak to you. I know who you are. The statue of the warrior Nakoruru looks a lot like you. You must understand what it is like to walk in the shadow of an ancestor greater than yourself. You have fought alongside the new Champion. You have met the person who claimed the destiny I abandoned."
There is the slightest hint of recoil when Kung Lao declares that the young woman before carries the name of an ancestor, a brief flinch, there then gone in an instant. Her eyes, not the dark hues of the Japanese, but instead a steely blue characteristic of the Ainu tribes, flick to the side, breaking contact for a moment.
"Of course..." she murmurs softly to herself, her tone suggesting perhaps some level of realization before she returns her focus back to the young man. Her soft smile warms slightly but it is accompanied by a look in her eyes that borders on melancholy.
Her hands come together in front of her as she continues to look up into the face of one who avoids looking back while wrestling with the feelings her seemingly innocently asked question evokes. At last he speaks, citing the course his life was supposed to have taken as if repeating a line spoken often enough to him in the past. A recipe broken, a plan lost, a destiny missed. She isstill watching him when he looks back toward her at last, her own expression showing a distinct lack in judgment or recrimination for the transgressions he reflects on in those painful, silent moments.
Her own right hand lifts to keep the locks of her wind-tossed hair in check as he begins to explain further his reason for approaching the curious wanderer. He speaks of the great warrior she must have descended from once more and it is her turn to glance to the side, eyes coming to rest on the adjacent tree now providing the duo with shade not entirely necessary given the cool sea breeze.
"Those of the past can cast shadows of legacy that seem to stretch across the land... but get close enough and you will find that those who cast them aren't so different from you after all..."
He touches on the events of the last tournament, the battle of life, death, soul, and blood on the hellish island of the Mad Sorcerer, and Nakoruru's eyes flick back to him. "I have," she replies, confirming his assertion of her chance to fight alongside the champion's side. Her voice is strained, tense. She swallows and dips her head at the idea of having met the one who claimed his destiny.
"That particular obligation of this world was fulfilled in another. But that will not be the last time Earth requires a champion..." She leans her head to the side slightly, her left hand idly closing a finger in the length of her hair ribbon as the breeze blows one end of it around her slender waist. Her voice is steady now, strong once more. "You have felt destiny's guiding hand, yet... already have proof for yourself that it is not all powerful. I can see you have experienced regret... But acknowledging that you have lived to feel remorse is the first step in learning to let go the idea that your fate is fixed."
Her finger releases the end of her ribbon, allowing it to once again dance in the breeze behind her. "There will always be need of those willing to be champions in the most trying of times. But preparedness can not come from staying within closed walls," she continues, turning to the side to gaze toward the great gates at the entrance, no longer looking at Kung Lao. "Where peril and crisis are theories. The true hall of study is out there..."
Her head lowers then as she turns one more quarter to face the pool itself, her hands clasped in front of her, her eyes half closed. "You do not travel your path a singular moment in time. Life is hardly so simple. You must live for all of the other times you will also be needed." Her shoulders fall slightly as she shakes her head. "A lesson I continue to learn, myself."
Let it never be said that Kung Lao is a stupid man. At times opinionated, even impetuous, he is still able to read a situation when it unfolds before him. It is visible in the young girls' eyes, wizened beyond her years. Read in the set of her shoulders and the way her gaze shy's away, entire body turning away from him by slow degrees.
The frown that creases Kung Lao's brow remains, mind puzzling over the tenseness in her tone, eyes dropping to slide across her narrow shoulders. And then, he understands. At least in part.
"This tournament. It was not your first."
A bit of the scowl smoothes itself from Lao's brow, dark eyes mulling over what that could possibly mean. That she was there, the repeated mentions of missed opportunities, of direct guidance from the gods. The steadily closing nature of her posture. Such a familiar face, the Hawk, the ribbons that flutter in the breeze, one now dancing in the air a little over a foot from his face. His eyes track to the ribbon, following the tip as it flutters out behind the small girl's head, trailed by tendrils of inky black hair.
%T "I sense there is much about you I have mistaken." Kung Lao says, features softening into a look of respectful concern. "The truth now unfolds before my eyes." Hinging at the waist, the long-haired man delivers a much deeper bow than before, head bowed, before straightening with a flick of his ponytail and snapping out a hand to snatch the end of Nakoruru's ribbon cleanly out of the air. As he does so, the wind in their immediate vicinity seems to calm, though ripples still dance across the surface of the pond and the nearby tree continues to sway.
Sandals pad quietly through the grass as Lao steps up beside the well-preserved warrior, draping the now still ribbon over in a motion that might be a touch too familiar. Glancing over and down, he scrutinizes the visible side of her face, chin tilted forward to shadow his own contemplative expression.
"What the future holds has not yet been decided, but my own heart is." he admits softly, "I can not stay here. You speak only the truth. If my skills are to be put to use, it will be outside of these walls."
There is a slight bit of hesitation then, one eye continuing to study her in profile.
"You should come with me. It is clear to me that the gods have placed many trials before you, but to hide here from them...You should not make my mistake. I know the fear and hopelessness that can come when others expect too much of you. But I have discovered that the disappointment in myself for avoiding my destiny is worse than the fear ever was. If it is the same for you, come with me. Perhaps that is what lead you here ."
Lips quirking into the faintest of smirks, a ghost of an expression projected as much by the confident gleam in his eyes as the arrangement of his features, he continues...
"The King of Fighters tournament will start soon. I must go there. I must prove to myself that a champion dwells somewhere within. It would be an honor if you would join me. A great ancient, and an even greater descendant. We would make a formidable team."
She doesn't respond immediately to his verbal realization that she has bore witness to the atrocities of more than one Mortal Kombat for some time. Seconds tick by, the wind rushing through the leaves and rustling clothing, the light snap of the crimson ribbon that catches the Wi Shi disciple's eye. But she finally nods, still looking away, confirming his assessment softly.
"It was not."
He connects the dots. It is no mortal descendant that has haunted the academy these last few weeks, but a wandering soul perhaps looking for a calm refuge to wile away the time away from the rest of the world.She doesn't respond as he continues, nor seem to acknowledge the second, deeper bow offered now. Nor is there a reaction when he first catches the whipping ribbon tail between his fingers.
Only when he draws near, draping the ribbon back over her shoulder, does she finally react, head turning, body tensing, chin lifted slightly. There is a warning look in her eyes, her mouth pressed into a thin line. Not hostile, but it would be easy to sense his gesture has brushed against a threshold of familiarity that it might be dangerous to cross over. The moment passes without incident soon enough, her eyes glancing over Kung Lao from head to toe then back to head as if considering him. Finally, she resumes looking out over the pool without a word spoken of the incident.
He speaks of the growth only available beyond the seaside compound's walls and she nods slightly, the response easily observed from his profile view of her face. But then he turns the focus of his idea toward the historical warrior at his side, extending an invitation to leave the remote academy with him. Quickly, she looks up, glancing toward Kung Lao along her shoulder, an expression of surprise on her features. The appearance of having been caught off guard melts away after a moment, however, replaced with a faint smile.
"I see," she replies, turning to face him directly then, studying the young man as if seeing him anew. "I cannot take another along the path I must travel. That road is for me alone. But... I suppose I could walk the path of another, if but for a little while. I would see the potential for which you have been trained. Your journey is perhaps an echo of my own. There may be something learned in the observing of it."
Her smile warms slightly more, thoughts straying to the King of Fighters tournament itself. To ply their training for sport may seem at first to profane the Kamui's gifts. But just as the two disciples sparring before demonstrated, only by real experience can one grow beyond the limits of theory.
"I enjoyed facing the warriors that walk the world today the last time I participated..." She dips her head, hands unclasping, arms resting against her sides, fingers curled into fists. "Affording me that opportunity again is a gift I shall accept. Thank you, Kung Lao."
And just like that, 2 strands of fate lost to a chaotic wind are twined together, their respective paths altered.
The warmth of Nakoruru's smile provokes an answering curve of Kung Lao's lips, the Asian man offering her a close-mouthed grin full of quiet self-assurance.
"Perhaps, during our travels, you can tell me of this path. The burden of the chosen rests heavier still when there are none who might understand, and it has been said that I am almost as good at listening as I am at talking."
Unfolding his hands from around the broom handle, Lao swings it up onto one shoulder and dips forward into a final sweeping bow. While stooped, he slinks back a step and deftly avoids a low-hanging branch from the nearby tree, straightening on the other side with an easy gesture off to his right toward the temple steps.
"It will be an honor to fight beside you. You should gather what belongings you have and be ready to travel by dawn. We will have much to speak about tomorrow. There are roads to walk, and a third team member to be found. "
That said, the hat-wearing monk turns away, still smiling to himself, and begins to pace back toward the temple he had so recently been sweeping. Once he has gone five or six steps, the wind around Nakoruru gusts back to life, tugging at her hair and playing with the hem of her robe.
Log created on 16:18:43 05/19/2019 by Nakoruru, and last modified on 01:26:59 06/22/2019.