Chapter 16: The Pantry Demon

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We called ourselves great, when we had walked past starving children to get to our mansions. No. The great ones among us were the monks we spat at, the monks we laughed at for clinging to their "superstition," the ones who bandaged the wounded, healed the sick, and fed the hungry. They were the great ones.

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Thirteen Years Ago

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There was a demon in a pantry. Or at least, that's what the Enlightened Father had told Dai Lan.

And since those words came from the holy lips of the Enlightened Father, Dai Lan had had two Acolytes drag him out of bed. He had put on his monk's habit, kissed his sleeping wife goodbye, tied his cloak, and left his small home on the edge of the monastary.

The night's wind was cold, bitter and biting, every blow a lash of stinging cold air. Dai Lan wrapped the warm wool cloak closer to his form.

Xin Fan and Hanshen waited for him at the complex gate. Xin Fan carried a sputtering lantern whose tiny orange flame cast a hundred flickering shadows on their faces. Hanshen carried the traditional basket of prayer scrolls, incense, and a flagon of wine for the offended spirits. They, like Dai Lan, had dark circles under their eyes.

"Another demon?" Dai Lan asked in disbelief.

Hanshen nodded. "Why else would we be up this early?"

Right. Demons. Evil spirits. The foul, unclean specters that made stinks, propogated bad luck, and caused the Enlightened Father to drag hapless monks out of warm and comfortable beds to go perform an exorcism.

"I want to get back sooner rather than later. My kids don't like me being late." Xin Fan began to walk away with the lantern, carrying the only light they had away. Dai Lan and Hanshen followed.

The path down the mountain winded around the mountain, and the only thing that guided the three monks down the path were the fluttering prayer flags, offering praise to the Light Above, and asking His guidance for those who walked the path. Either way they walked it. 

Some walked up, seeking solace on the mountain peak to achieve enlightenment while meditating. The Enlightened Father said that the perilous journey and the elevated hights made the peaks of the mountains the closest earthly place -both physically and spiritually- to the Infinite Wisdom of the Glorious Light.

Some walked down, ready to spread the glorious wisdom they had gleaned. They wished for all to be rich, rich with the glorious and sublime wisdom of the Light Undying.

As they walked down, they were lashed again and again by another blast of wind. Dai Lan had heard the pilgrims call this wind the "Spirit's Scourge." Now he knew why. It felt like he was being scourged. And the only way to ward it off was to pull the cloak closer to his frame.

The three of them tried to cling closer to the flame. The lantern was their only guide as they made their way down the mountain. They stopped at a fork in the road. "Which way?" Hanshen asked Dai Lan.

Dai Lan paused. He had memorized all the wandering paths. The house the acolytes had told him about could be reached two ways. One was to go down the mountain and back up it. But the other one, while slightly riskier, was much faster.

"Right," Dai Lan ordered. The sun wasn't rising yet, but the sky was tinged with that cold blue that chilled him to the bones. Dai Lan's breath was a cloud in front of his mouth. The mountain might bring one closer to Truth, to God, but it was so cold.

The three of them headed down a thin walkway, their boots stomping down the old, age worn stone brick stairs. "Wait, isn't this the old path that got... you know, landslided?" Hanshen asked.

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