The Shadow of Takeryuu:Part Two
The first couple of days of Eunji's journey were peaceful. These mountains were covered in thick, ancient woodland, very sparsely populated save for the occasional temple, but she was not headed close to any of them. She was aiming for the farmlands to the west—and to the Imperial City, if need be. If that was where darkness festered, that was where she would probably find her answers.
But that seemed very far away as she hiked through the forest, breathing in the abundant life there. Plants and Petpets all lived harmoniously in this place, and there was a voiceless hush that came with being the only Neopet around for possibly leagues. Eunji supposed she could feel very small and alone, but it was difficult to feel that way when she instead felt that Neopia was looking out for her.
By the morning of the third day, she had begun to notice signs of civilisation. Sometimes she would see smoke from fires far off in the hills, or would come across a patch of trees that had been felled by a woodspet. It reminded her that all of her journey would not be a leisurely communion with nature.
As she passed among the shadows of enormous old pines, her faerie antennae quivered and Eunji stopped short. Something was disharmonious about this place.
Before she could begin to discern what, out of the bushes leaped an enormous furry creature with the face of a monster.
Eunji let out a squawk of alarm and leaped aside. The beast hit the forest floor where she had stood and swerved around to swipe a paw at her.
The Vandagyre thrust out her paws and the earth beneath him tilted sharply, flinging him away. Master Cheol said to only block energy flow in self-defence or defence of others, and Eunji thought that this probably was one of those times.
The creature barked in surprise and scrambled to get back on his paws. For a moment he seemed confused, and then he turned and rushed at the geomancer again.
Eunji was ready for him. Tugging and pushing at the energy of the area, she pulled a bush into his path and he ran into it. As he fought to free himself from the tangle of branches, Eunji moved the earth around him into a very disharmonious arrangement and she could feel it sapping his energy.
His struggling slowed and then ceased. Clutching her staff tightly, Eunji edged toward him. Now she could see that he was an enormous Tyrannian Lupe dressed in skins, and his monstrous face was really an elaborate mask that swirled with energy, although right now that energy was frazzled as Eunji's geomancy had interfered so badly with it.
"Why did you attack me?" Eunji asked.
The Lupe looked up at her from his position still stuck in the bush. Lethargically, he moved a few leaves out of his view. Eunji knew he was having trouble moving because of how severely she had impeded the flow of energy around him. "What—what are you?" he sputtered.
"I'm a geomancer," Eunji said. "But why did you attack me?" Master Cheol had taught her to ask that question. Every life was valuable, he said, and Neopets who chose to be aggressive toward other Neopets were in need of help restoring their inner harmony. Discerning the nature of the problem would be the first step to solving it.
The Lupe's head drooped. "I was hungry…" he muttered. "I smelled your food."
"Oh—you can have my food," Eunji said, reaching into her bag.
The Lupe tilted his head. "What?" he asked.
"You must need it more than I do," Eunji said. She took out a pawful of buns and rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. "If… if I let you go, you won't attack me again, will you?"
"No, I won't," the Lupe said. "What did you do to me?"
"I blocked your energy," Eunji said. "And now I'll unblock it." She swept out her staff and the terrain returned to the way it had been previously.
The Lupe dislodged from the bush and plopped onto the ground with a grunt. Sitting up, he took off his mask and inspected it, running his paw pads over the intricate carving. "Good, it's still okay," he muttered under his breath.
Eunji crouched down beside him. "Here," she said, giving him the food. "It's fine—I can find some roots and seeds to eat. And I've been taught how to survive on very little food."
"Thank you..." the Lupe said as he took the food. He stared at it for a moment and then nudged it back toward her. "I can't take this," he said. "I can't take advantage of your kindness."
"I'll eat some too, if that makes you feel any better," Eunji said, plucking one of the rice balls from his paw. She smiled up at him. "See? Now we're sharing."
The Lupe studied the food still in his paws and shook his head. "No one has ever been so kind to me before," he said.
Eunji's smile faded. "Oh… I'm sorry," she said. "Well, I'll have to make up for that, then. I didn't hurt you earlier, did I?"
"Just bruised my pride," the Lupe said with a laugh. "My Biyako mask has always worked before." He pointed to the mask that now sat on his knee before biting into a bun.
"What do you mean?" Eunji asked.
"It's supposed to grant me stealth and strength," the Lupe said through a mouthful of bread. "It's a… talent that I have. My other masks work the same way." He pointed to the set of masks that were tied around his waist.
"That's incredible," Eunji said. "I did not know such abilities existed."
"I'm sorry I attacked you," the Lupe said. "I wasn't trying to hurt you, just scare you."
Eunji patted his arm. "I forgive you," she said. "Oh—please excuse my impoliteness. I forgot to introduce myself. I am Eunji of the Lotus Mountain Temple." She bowed.
The Lupe did not bow in return, but considering his appearance, Eunji guessed he was probably not one for etiquette. "My name is Ganzorig," he said. "It is… nice to meet you, Eunji." He looked up to the thick forest canopy as though he could see the mountains beyond. "You're from the temples up there? What are you doing all the way down here?"
Eunji wiped a few grains of rice off of her beak. "Ah… my teacher has been having nightmares about darkness spreading over the land from the Imperial City," she said. "He has sent me to investigate. Might you know anything about this?"
Ganzorig shook his head. "I've lived alone in these mountains for years," he said. "I care nothing for whatever might be going on in the rest of Shenkuu, so I don't know anything about any darkness." He looked down at the Vandagyre. "You're traveling alone? It's an awfully dangerous world out there."
"I know," Eunji said. "But I must help my master help Shenkuu."
Ganzorig popped the rest of the bun in his mouth. "Then I'm coming with you," he said. "You showed me kindness even after I tried to rob you. I cannot let that go unrepaid. Let me fight by your side. Your powers are strong, but I worry you may come across something stronger." His ears tilted back. "That is—if you want me along."
Eunji felt bad for the Lupe. He likely did not have any friends, but she felt he must have a good heart if he felt the need to protect her. "I would love to have you along," she said with a smile. "I could use any help I can get in on this mission."
The enormous Lupe perked up and his tail wagged lazily. "Then I will offer all the help I have to give," he said.
And although neither of them outright said it, Eunji felt that they both thought each other friends from that point.
"So you make all of these masks yourself?" Eunji asked after supper that night. Ganzorig had helped her set up camp with a proper campfire – he was surprised to find out that she knew how to sleep out in the open with no fire or blankets – and had even found them dinner, although Eunji had to politely explain to him that she did not eat meat. He gathered plenty of fruits for her to feast on.
Ganzorig nodded as he gnawed on a leftover bone. "Each one grants different powers," he said. "The Blurgah is the strongest of them all. The Quintilc makes me more agile. And the Razumi gives me the constitution to withstand any blow."
Eunji pointed to another mask that seemed half-finished. "That's a Naleap, right?" she asked. "What does that one do?"
Ganzorig lifted the mask with a grimace. "It's supposed to make me fly," he said. "But I haven't quite gotten the patterns to work right yet." With a claw, he traced the curves and spirals in the wood. "It does make me jump higher, but… I really want to fly."
"Why?" Eunji asked, suddenly feeling a little guilty about her own faerie wings.
Ganzorig looked over at her. "Because then maybe I'll find someplace where I belong," he said. "I was driven into the forest long ago because of my talent. The villagers didn't understand—they were afraid of me, of what I could do with my masks." He sighed and stared up at the stars. "So someday, I'll fly away to Tyrannia. Maybe I'll fit in better there."
"I'm sorry," Eunji said. "That was wrong of them to do that to you. My master told me that power only corrupts if you let it. They didn't even give you a chance, did they."
Ganzorig shook his head, a growl rising in his throat. "Neopets can be so small-minded and ignorant," he said.
"Yes, they can be," Eunji said. "But they can also be selfless and kind and create beautiful and useful things. Every life is valuable, no matter how it might have been squandered."
"I think you give Neopets too much credit," Ganzorig said with a bit of a smile. "But I know you are a good Neopet. You are someone worth protecting."
"Thank you," Eunji said. "I think I know how your masks work, by the way. They channel energy through your designs. It works much the same as my geomancy, you just access it in a different way. If you like, I can help you with your Naleap mask. I think together, we could figure out an effective design."
Ganzorig flipped the mask between his finger and thumb. "I would appreciate that," he said.
They ended up making a little progress on the mask that evening, but they both agreed Eunji's mission was more important, and thus so was getting some good sleep to start out early the next day. Ganzorig did not know anything about the geography of Shenkuu past the nearest villages, but Eunji had a map, so she led the way as the two continued down the mountains, toward the west.
Over the next few days, signs of civilisation increased. The two passed through small villages, widely separated by long stretches of forest, and although Ganzorig was reluctant to enter the settlements, they needed information. Eunji was quick to defend him from other Neopets, assuring the villagers that he meant them no harm. Although they still looked less than pleased to have the infamous Ganzorig in their midst, no one made any attempts to run them out of town, at least.
But these encounters with society were in vain, because no one knew of any suspicious dealings at the capital. Taxes were high and military conscriptions compulsory, but the way Neopets talked about it, these things seemed like a normal part of their lives. Although things were bad, nothing showed any signs of getting worse, at least that Eunji could see.
"I suppose we may end up having to go all the way to the Imperial City," she said to Ganzorig as they made their way through the woods one cloudy afternoon. "It seems many leagues away yet."
"I hope we don't have to go that far," Ganzorig grumbled. "I'm not sure I could stand a whole city full of Neopets. And we'd probably be thrown in prison the moment we reached the gates. This emperor sounds rotten."
Eunji opened her beak to reply, but a shrill scream rang in the distance.To be continued…