The first rays of the morning sun reached over the high jagged mountaintops, attempting to penetrate the heavy morning fog blanketing the mountain sides. The air was cold but not harsh and there was a moderately strong breeze flowing through the trees, typical weather for the start of spring. Small patches of hardened snow were glittering in the morning sunlight, like small diamonds encrusted into the scenery. Snow covered pine trees and maples trees covered the mountain sides, only broken up by the handful of streams and small rivers that flowed down and through the mountains and a dozen or so clearings. Giant plumes of slowly rotating fog reaching up hundreds of meters were drawing up the morning fog into the sky.
A pure note of a bamboo flute resonated around the valley, echoing around the mountains. The note led onto another note, which in turn played out into a slow and peaceful melody. Standing at the source of the sound was a girl no older than 14. She had long black hair down to the length of her waist which was blowing around her face in the wind. She was wearing plain black loose sleeved clothing with white and golden lacing around the edges which fluttered around her in the breeze. Feint grey symbols and runes could be seen either embedded or painted onto the black fabric around most of the seams. A dark brown lacquered bamboo flute was held up to her lips by both her hands, letting her sleeves slip down to her elbows, exposing on her right hand a gold tattoo of a legendary bird of fire, a phoenix, with its head facing down her thumb and its tail wrapping around her wrist.
She swayed with the tempo of her music, eyes closed, letting herself get caught in the magic of the song. She was standing in the middle of a rocky outcrop which penetrated out of the dense forest below, as if she was on a stage where the trees in the forest were the audience. Dark shadows were flowing in between the dense trees packed around a rocky outcrop, carefully keeping out of the morning light but helplessly attracted to the source of the sound, like insects to a light. The outcrop was surrounded by a column of fog which lazily spiralled into the sky.
The whole world seemed to have paused to listen to the music, not a living creature stirred. After a few minutes, the song came to an end and the shadows dispersed back into the dense parts of the forest, the parts which almost never see the light of day. The girl opened her jet black eyes to see the sun now fully clear of the horizon. She took a few deep breaths, watching the fog float from her into the now almost non-existent upward spiral of air.
‘Another beautiful morning’ she thought as she gazed into the light, letting the sun illuminate her face.
She tucked the flute away into a fold in her shirt and started making her way down a small animal trial leading up the side of the majestic granite mountain. She climbed the trail for about 45 minutes before reaching a small temple, her home since she was brought here 6 years ago.
The temple consisted of 3 buildings; A prayer hall, a Do Jang (tr: school/place of training), and a living quarters, the latter being the smaller of the 3 buildings. The buildings were arranged so they all faced into a stone floored courtyard with a single old oak tree seemingly growing out of the rock. Its knotted branches seemed to struggle to reach for the sky, attempting to find sunlight that the steep mountainside deprives it off.
Just next to the tree in the center of the courtyard was an old monk garbed in grey robes. A polished steel sword glittered as it swung in great arcs, wielded by the monk as if he was fighting and invisible foe. His eyes were closed and his face wore a calm and collected look. His movements were athletic but graceful despite looking over 60 years old. The girl passed under the old wooden gateway into the courtyard, bowing slightly as she walked through.
“I am back master” she said. The monk stopped.
“Mmm… welcome back” he replied. Pointing at a pile of sacks and bags stacked beside the living quarters, he said “The villagers brought food again. They wouldn’t stop thanking me for your work.”
Without taking much notice of the food, the girl walked over to a small stone water fountain and splashed some water on her face. Feeling refreshed, she walked towards the stack of food and picked up a bag containing some green vegetables and a heap of potatoes.
“I’ll make us breakfast now” she said.
She walked around the back of the living quarters and retrieved a small iron pot before filling it up with water from the fountain. She then set up some small pebbles in a circle.
“Make enough for 3 people this time. We have an important guest here today, he arrived whilst you were out” the monk said.
The girl’s stomach tensed up a little and her shoulders stiffened.
Shit! A stranger!
She forced herself to take a deep breath and calm herself down.
“It’s unusual we get visitors” she replied, trying to supress the slight uneasiness in her voice.
The monk looked at her with a stern expression, and said
“Our visitor is someone important to me. He can be trusted… YOU can trust him. I know you still get nervous around strangers given your past. He’s…”
The monk paused and picked up a sheath which was lying down in the roots of the courtyard tree. Twirling the sword around once more, he soundlessly sheathed the weapon before turning towards the girl.
“I understand” the girl said. “So who is this person?”
“I’ll let him introduce himself. For now, I’m getting hungry!” the monk replied.
Placing a hand over the stones, she closed her eyes, letting herself focus completely on the stones in front of her.
Let the energy flow through the palms… control the pattern…
The small pebbles started glow red, like smouldering coals, heated up by a basic elemental technique. She placed the iron pot on the pebbles, and waited until the water started boiling. She threw in a few ingredients from the village plus a few mountain herbs of her own. Within minutes, the smells of her cooking dominated the air around the temple.
The girl lifted the pot off the rocks and put it aside, grunting as the pot landed touched down on the floor.
Oh… didn’t realise how hungry I was. It’s been 2 days since I’ve last had a proper meal!
She set down 3 bowls and began filling each of the up with a portion of the soup.
“Mmm… something smells goods!” boomed a voice from behind the paper screen door to the living quarters. Without warning the door slammed open, exposing a giant of a man, at least 2 meters tall, and muscles rippling out from every part of his body. He was topless and wore tight fitting shorts which moulded around his huge quadriceps. “Oh WOW! What a nice morning! It’s been a while since I’ve woken up to fine mountain air!”
Keeping her composure, the girl stood up and bowed slightly towards this newcomer.
“Good Morning. I’m Yoora.” She said calmly, supressing any anxiety she might have been feeling.
“Oh! Good morning Yoora, and you old man Jumong!” the man replied enthusiastically.
“Watch who you’re calling an old man you geezer…” Jumong replied with a dangerous glint in his voice. The air seemed to freeze as tension quickly rose around them.
“AH HAHAHAHAHAHA!” Jumong exploded into laughter, “You look better than last night. You looked like shit when you rolled through the gates!”
“4 days travel, night and day! I’d like to see you do that and still have the strength to fight off an overcautious monk!” the giant of a man responded.
“You know though, I bet Yoora would give you a run for your pride on that feat of yours” Jumong said, pointing at Yoora at the same time.
“About that, Yoora…” the man began.
“Ehem! We’ll do that later, for now let’s eat.” Jumong interrupted.
It was mid-morning by the time all 3 people had eaten breakfast and everything had been cleaned and put away. The sun was slowly warming up the air around the mountains, and there were only a scarce scattering of clouds in the sky. The valleys were alive with the calls of birds, with a few small brightly coloured birds flittering around the branches of the trees surrounding the temple grounds.
Despite being such a fine day, all 3 people headed into the Do Jang.
The Do Jang was a stone floored hall with a large array of bladed and ranged weapons line along the walls. There were air and light gaps in the upper parts of the walls allowing thing beams of light to shine through, barely illuminating the inside of the hall.
“I’m sorry I haven’t introduced myself yet. My name is Ahn Tek Ho, headmaster of the Hwan-Sae Private Academy of Magic, Alchemy and Education.” Tek’s voice resonated around the hall, “I’ll make this as simple and as quick as I can make it. You’re approaching the age of 14. You’ve spent most of your life in these mountains, in isolation from the outside world. Both Jumong and I have decided that it would be best for you to attend the academy; to see the outside world.”
The headmaster paused for a bit, seeing Yoora’s face pale slightly, and continued
“I know you fear to be with people, not because of what they might do to you, but what you might do to them. This is an opportunity for you to regain confidence in yourself. You’ve come a long way since you’ve lived here. You can only learn to forgive yourself by facing your fears. You’ve done well in learning to live with yourself up until now, and from now on you will have my full support as well.”
The headmaster walked up to Yoora and squatted down to be at her eye level. He placed a hand on her shoulder and said
“This is a chance for you to make friends of your age. Learn about the outside world. Experience the life a normal teenage girl…”
Yoora started to laugh, a kind of slow, creepy laugh that sent shivers down the headmasters spine.
“A normal life… ha ha ha… what bullshit! How can I live a normal life after what I’ve done. I see the ghosts of hundreds of people in my dreams; I’m trampling on all their corpses… my hands are soaked in their blood!”
Her eyes started to fade into a deep crimson colour that gave off a feint glow in the gloominess of the hall.
“Don’t shit with me!” She screamed, emitting a shock wave which knocked the headmaster off his feet and forced Jumong to erect a barrier to protect himself.
“Do you know what I see when I look at my reflection in the eyes of those I’ve killed?! I see death, the very depths of darkness found only on those god forsaken moonless nights.”
Streams of silvery tears were rolling down her face, quivering with her uncontrolled shivering.
Red and black. That’s all she could see looking at the 2 figures standing before her. Thousands of small interweaved red threads were wrapped around and through the silhouettes, pulsating in sync with their hearts.
Thud thud thud thud thud thud…
Her heart was pounding in her chest, the rhythmical beat flooding out any coherent that might have formed in her mind. She had the urge to kill them, slice them apart, feast on them.
NO! No no no no! I don’t want this! Calm… calm… calm… I need to stop… stop…
Her vision started fading, the last thing she saw was the world tipped sidewards and both the headmaster and her master running towards her.