“You should have let us remove this abomination, Priestess.”
“No. No matter where it came from, it is still a life.”
“You know your father will never allow…”
“He must. The goddess demands it.”
“Does the Elven Council always accede to the goddess’ demands? Besides, if the goddess is so concerned about every life, then what about the human who did this to you? You did not seem so thoughtful when we brought him to you.”
A small laugh. “Well. I am not as forgiving as the goddess. That’s why she’s the goddess.”
A sigh. “Very well. But you know it cannot live here. Allow me to take it to the monastery – they would not refuse such a burden.”
A long pause, and then an unhappy sigh. “Very well.
“You’re late. Again.” The old gnome sighs as Sun Li peeks around the door.
“Sorry, Master Toffen!” The ten year old boy bounds into the room, his face not quite that of true contrition.
“And Master Sin Fu tells me he caught you trying to get out of doing your chores. Again.”
“No! I would never do that! I was just a little late because I heard an animal crying in pain and went to help!”
“In the cloister.”
“What? Oh, no! Hahaha! No, I was on the south pasture. I…”
“The south pasture?”
“Yes, I was taking a morning stroll and…”
“How, pray tell, did you get to the south pasture so quickly after Master Ordin’s morning calisthenics?”
“I…um…oh, blast. Not the southern pasture, it was the…um…”
“Enough. Telling a lie is like shooting a bow backward – you harm no one but yourself.” The gnome sighs. “I do not understand you. No one in a hundred years has demonstrated the ability to manipulate their Ki the way you can. It is a rare gift, yet you squander it in idle play. Report to the kitchen after your lessons. You are on scullery duty.”
“Aww! That’s not fair!”
“No, it is not. You deserve latrine duty, but then I’d have to assign someone to watch you to make sure you didn’t wander off. Now, today we’re going over the Sylvan tongue. I don’t suppose you studied your words, as I asked? I thought not.”
Two hours later, a worn Sun Li meanders in the general direction of the kitchen with one thought on his mind: I need to get better at lying.
Sun Li stands on one foot on top of the twelve-foot high pole, arms above his head, other foot pressed against his opposite thigh.
“How much longer do we have to do this?”
The other students look at him as he breaks the silence, expressions ranging from mute agreement to cloying disapproval.
Master Ordin just laughs. “One day of training equals one day of improvement. One day without training equals ten days of lost improvement.”
Sun Li frowns. “I would like to see the research that went into that conclusion.”
“There is no written research on the subject. Merely the wisdom of hundreds of years of training.”
“Hundreds of years? I’ve been alive for fifteen and I can see that that is…”
He is interrupted by the student on the pole beside him, who suddenly windmills his arms and cries out as he falls. He lands with a loud thud and a groan.
“You see? Han Lo was sick last week and is now behind.”
Sun Li rolls his eyes but keeps his mouth shut, though he can’t keep the small smile from tweaking the edge of his lip as Han Lo scrambles to his feet with an embarrassed expression and hastily rescales the pole. If any of the other students had noticed the subtle kick the Master had given Han Lo’s pole, they didn’t show it. It takes all of Sun Li’s willpower not to burst into laughter as Han Lo resumes his stance.
Sun Li lays in the shade beside the field of grain, one arm over his eyes, the other loosely clutching his sickle. It’s too damn hot to be harvesting grain. Or to be doing anything else, for that matter. Maybe they could do their work at night, when it becomes cooler. But the thought of chopping grain instead of sleeping through the night gives him a chill that belies the heat.
He misses Master Toffen. The thought pops into his mind, and he is surprised by it. The ancient gnome had been gruff, a pure by-the-book monk. In a temple filled to the brim with monks, he had been the monkiest of the lot.
Sun Li snorts at the new word, which equates in his head to the mythical (at least, mythical to him, stuck as he is at the temple) creature he has read about in books. Tof…Master Toffen even kind of looked like the penciled illustration of the monkey.
As much as he misses Master Toffen, though, he misses Master Ordin the more. The Master of Body had not been as strictly monkish as Master Toffen, but in Sun Li’s eyes, Master Ordin had epitomized what being part of their order was supposed to be. He had been caring yet carefree. He had been quick with a laugh but when his eyes turned to steel, no one would dare go against him.
The two monks had seemed opposites in nearly every way. One a tiny, ancient, scowling gnome, the other a graceful, smiling, youthful-seeming elf. They had passed on the same day, possibly in the same hour (some even said at the same exact time, though that was impossible to determine). There were mumblings about them achieving enlightenment, of leaving their physical forms to become one with the cosmos.
To Sun Li, they are simply dead, the first people to die that he has personally known in his twenty years of life. He had been unprepared for the pain the deaths caused. One year later, the ache still persists, though it has dulled to the point that it only intrudes when his mind wanders in its direction.
He sighs and sits up, certain he hears Master Toffen growling in one ear at his laziness while Master Ordin laughs in the other before subtly cajoling him to do what he knows he is supposed to do. He stands and walks to the edge of the field and raises the sickle. It is just another day, like any other; like the thousands he has left to go before he, too, leaves this world.