As it turned out, everybody did seem to be okay, once I got up. The monkeys were quick to reassure me, Master Gen bowing low, and said that everything was in order. We stayed down in the tunnels for just long enough for Master Gen to confirm that the memories had been transferred perfectly to the crystal before climbing out back into the surface. I felt like shit though, so I wasn’t really in any mood to really be happy about it, so I just wearily nodded my head.
Mission accomplished, I guess.
Having to trek out of a cave and a tunnel system when you had a pounding headache sucked. I was pretty nauseous, and having to squeeze through narrow passageways that were already too small for me really didn’t help matters. I ended up hurling a second time on the way back up. Of course, all this was compounded by the fact that I was feeling something I hadn’t felt in a very, very long time.
Qi exhaustion. Real Qi exhaustion.
I may have dumped my Qi into the earth every day to the point of tiredness, but a good night’s sleep fixed that right up.
This? This was the day after running a marathon with no training, while somehow managing to have an eighteen-wheeler run over every single one of my organs. Everything hurt. My muscles, my bones, my guts and even my soul was bruised. I could feel the mystical ache every time I focused.
I barely managed to drag myself into the bed that was provided to me and collapsed into it, grimacing as some of the flashes of memory invaded my mind. They were indistinct things. Bits and pieces. A murky mess that only renewed my resolve to stay away from all this crap.
One of the memories was clear though, a vivid one of a dog.
Hell, it was an odd looking thing. Definitely something native to this word, with horns, and tusks, and almost looked familiar. Like a carving from the outside of a temple, come to life. But it was a dog, there was no doubt about that. I knew those eager eyes by heart, and the feelings that came to me from the crystal. The amusement. The love, and the fondness.
I did sympathise with those memories.
I remembered my own dog, in the Before, that had long since passed. The boy who I had grown up with. Who had been by my side, going on adventures, until his old bones finally failed him.
Until he finally had to go to that final sleep.
So when the vision, the memory, changed to the pitiful thing. The broken, old dog, whimpering and nuzzling into my hand… well. There was only one thing I could do.
Maybe it had been the lingering feelings that had prompted me to comfort it, maybe my own, but it didn’t matter. Nothing so loyal deserved to die like that. Alone and in the dark.
Exhausted, my eyes drooped closed and I fell asleep.
Bi De thought that the crystal mountain would be in an uproar after the events in the cavern.
He would be wrong though. Apparently, the Awakening was far less drastic for the monkeys of the mountain than it had been for Bi De and his companions. They had already been halfway there already, by most standards, and taking that last step was merely the completion of a journey, rather than a sudden start. They had emerged from the caverns and despite their sudden change in status set themselves to their duties almost as if little had changed.
Master Gen had to place the newly formed crystal within a stabilizing formation for the memories within were still so chaotic and it was in a delicate stage. There was little chance of the crystal breaking, if properly tended to—the transfer had been completely successful despite the disruptions. It just had to be calmed before it could be used.
Bi De acknowledged it, but inside, his mind was whirling. He stayed awake all night as he watched over his Great Master’s sleeping form with Yin and Miantiao.
His mind kept returning to the crystal. To what he had seen in it. The parallel.
The fragmented memories of the man in the crystal had painted a picture with too many similarities for Bi De’s comfort.
Because the man in the crystal was like his Great Master.
One who gathered many Spirit Breasts to his cause. A mighty Lord who protected all under his shield. Who cheerfully played with the children, and drank with his lessers.
The world moved in cycles.
Bi De shook his head, banishing the thoughts. He didn’t have all the information yet. He only had conjecture. He didn’t truly know.
Despite the logic of that thought, a part of him lingered on dark thoughts that whispered of fears unspoken, shaking him.
The next morning, he called the sun… but his Great Master only grumbled, waking to relieve himself before stumbling back into bed and falling asleep again. His Lord looked ill, though he insisted he was only tired.
“Just a little nap, and then we gotta head to the Dueling Peaks.” his Great Master assured them before once more falling asleep.
At mid-day,, they were called upon by Master Gen. The crystal miner entered slowly, still looking quite tired himself, with several of his awakened kin coming in behind him. They met him in the entryway to the small house, his Great Master slumbering behind them.
“We pay our respects to you, Master Jin, Bi De, Liang Yin, Miantiao.” The old spirit beast said, a fresh crystal around his throat. “For aiding my Clan and for revealing to us more secrets of our Honoured Ancestor, I name you friends. Our humble hill is open to you, always.”
The arrayed group of monkeys all bowed, and Master Gen lowered himself to his knees and placed a lacquered box on the floor between them.
He opened it, revealing a circular crystal, like the one around his neck that allowed him to truly speak. “It is one of the last two we possess, after the other shattered in the cave.”
Bi De examined the crystal. He did not truly need it, but it was a gift that showed their sincerity—to reject it would be rude.
So he bowed his head and accepted it. Master Gen picked up the crystal, tying it around Bi De’s neck before he pressed a small amount of his Qi into the crystal.
“Thank you, for your gift.” Bi De truly said, for the first time. His voice sounded a bit different from his Qi Speech. Deeper and more powerful. It shook the air like his morning greetings. Yin perked up, interested, and stared at the crystal.
He would have to give her a chance to try it, at some point.
Master Gen nodded, satisfied. “Now, the Memory Crystal is nearly done with its preliminary stabilization. It should be safe to move within a week.”
“A week?” Bi De asked. “I see. We shall have to take it with us when we come back.”
Gen blinked. “You’re leaving?”
“My Great Master wishes to leave soon. We’re already running behind as it is.” Bi De stated simply. It was no hard thing to leave it here for a few weeks.
“You’re leaving it here, without supervision?” The monkey asked again, his voice a deadpan.
“I have faith in your abilities and trust your sense of honour,Master Gen. I would say the artifact is in safe hands.”
The monkey responded by bowing his head before saying “You honour us with your faith in our capabilities. Rest assured, we shall guard it with our lives.”
Bi De inclined his head a second time.
“I know you will keep it safe. Is there anything else?”
“No, no, nothing important. We shall leave you to tend to your Master.” Master Gen stood, signaling to those who had accompanied him. “Should you need anything, we shall do our utmost to provide it. Come along, little ones.”
The rest of the monkeys of Gen’s clan bowed as one and turned to exit except one. Bi De recognised the first monkey he had rescued, Huo Ten.Then Huo Ten’s eyes firmed and he turned back around to face Bi De, and fully dropped to his knees, bowing.
“This Huo Ten humbly requests to join your company.” The monkey asked. His voice was rough and gravely. Bi De raised an eyebrow at the sudden request before looking to Master Gen who had paused to turn around and stare at Huo Ten in astonishment.
“Why do you wish to come, Huo Ten?” He asked. The Monkey kept his head lowered.
‘You saved my family. That is a debt I can never repay. It demands something from me.’ The monkey responded, his eyes pure and clear. ’I would aid you in any way that I can so that I might pay back even a single drop of what you’ve done for us.’
Bi De observed this Huo Ten. His eyes were clear as he stood in front of his Kin. Newly awakened and already he knew of honour. He had put his clan above himself despite knowing nothing of what such a path would lead him to.
“Are you certain, Huo Ten?” Master Gen asked, moving to grip the shoulder of the younger monkey. Huo Ten nodded.
After a moment of staring at the earnest Huo Ten, Master Gen took a breath and said. “Then, if it pleases your Master, Huo Ten shall be our formal representative. I shall grant him the secrets of the clan and prepare for him materials for study, that he may be of use to you and your Master.”
“The final decision is as always my Master’s.” Bi De stated simply.
The next day, they were on the road, a newly awakened monkey with them, as they made their way towards the Dueling Peaks.
Be De stared into the crystal, at its pristine contours and facets as the memories faded. They glinted in the morning light, sparkling and clear, basking in the light of a new cycle.
A cycle. A new year, a new repetition.
A cycle. He glanced at his Great Master, standing at the head of the village with both Hong Xians. The men had to look up to look him in the eye, as he clapped both of their shoulders.
Bi De returned his attention to the crystal. The thoughts of the past weighed on his mind along with the memories of the Temple Dog.
The Temple Dog, trapped for so long in the crystal. He had felt kinship with the great guardian. Bi De knew its thoughts, its desire to please its Master.
He could admit he admired it. Its devotion and its sacrifice. To endure suffering for untold millennia.
But... was that supposed to be his fate too? Would he be a Temple Dog for his own Master?
Bi De did not know.
He could see himself becoming like that easily enough. A shade, caring only for the past days of glory. Lost in hope that the master he served would return one day.
He did not think it would be such a bad fate. If his Great Master asked it of him, despite the tragedy of its end. He didn’t think he would have any regrets. He would devote himself like the Temple Dog. He could be his Great Master’s Beast.
If his Master asked it of him. But he knew better. He knew, if he asked his Great Master, what he wished for Bi De’s future to be. He knew the answer. He could hear the words accompanied by a soft smile and a gentle hand on Bi De’s Head.
“Whatever you want your future to be.”
The rooster turned his face towards the Sun. He jumped high into the air.
He sucked in a breath and greeted the new year with all his might.
“You Tell ‘em, Bi De!” his master shouted with good cheer.
“Come, my Brothers and Sisters. Lay the Crystal to rest, at least for today. There are celebrations to attend!” Ri Zu, Yin, Miantiao and Huo Ten nodded.
Bi De descended back into the village, landing upon his Lord’s shoulder. The man turned and grinned at him, offering a spoonful of soup.
Bi De took it gratefully, staring around at the peaceful little village.
He hoped he was wrong, about the cycles. But if he wasn’t and the years and times did repeat themselves… he would prove himself equal to the challenge.