Chapter 26: The Vault Under the Mountain

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We have left remnants. Clues to our past, to the marvels we had made. One day, I pray a generation arises with the knowledge of our faults and the curiosity we need. They need to dig up our remnants. Then, our redemption is to be complete.


Eleven Years Ago


Dai Lan threw a punch at his son.

Normally, this would be a cause for alarm. But there was a tradition between father and son. The people of Ten-Zuan were normally nice and kind, God-fearing people. But banditry and godlessness existed, and when they combined, they birthed bandits who would stoop low enough to attack monks. Monks, of all people!

So the fathers taught their sons to fight. As did the mothers to their daughters. And Laidu was an excellent study. And now, he was looking much better. The scales and horns didn't go away; if anything, the horns got sharper, the scales shinier. But his form was starting to fill out. Not fat, of course. Now, Laidu had the lean muscle that came from mountain life. He was getting stronger.

Now, when Dai Lan checked on his son as he slept, he didn't see the tiny nubs of his spine sticking out. He didn't see scaled flesh clinging to thin ribs. Laidu was healthy. And strong. The boy was already packing some muscle onto his frame, and his punches were starting to hurt.

Still, Dai Lan wasn't sleeping well. They had been chosen to host one of the Vesperati trainees for two years. The child would sleep in Laidu's room. But Laidu was fiercely protective of his own space.

It was these thoughts that distracted. It was these thoughts that clouded Dai Lan's observation. Ultimately, it was the tiny worries that snowballed into bigger worries, and that meant he missed the root his son was about to trip on.

His son lurched froward, slamming into Dai Lan's fist. A wave of fear, ice cold, passed from Dai Lan's head to his feet. "Son!" he shouted, attempting to catch him. A burning gash of fire opened up on his arm as his son's horn tore the skin. "Gah!"

"Ow!" Laidu said. He clutched his right eye as he sat down. "Ow!" he moaned, gritting his teeth. Dai Lan hissed at the pain, before grabbing his cloak, which had been sitting on a lichen-covered rock, and wound it around the wound. Even so, he felt the trails of hot blood course down the side of his arm. "Ow," Laidu stood up. "Can we call it a day?"

Dai Lan nodded. "Yes. You've done well," he said. "Though, wipe the blood off your horns." Laidu grabbed a leaf from one of the trees and began to scrape the blood off his horn. "Oh dear, I hit you hard."

Laidu's eyes widened. "What? Why?"

"You have a black eye." Dai Lan scooped up some snow and handed it to Laidu. "Put this on your eye. And don't fire yourself up." Laidu nodded. "Lets get back."

Firing up, they called it. The burning power inside their son. First, they taught him to control it at the crudest levels. Switching it on and off. Then they worked on control. Making it hotter, then colder. He had enough control not to burn someone. And he could defend himself. That much was evident.

Janyin saw them as they exited the forest. As usual, she was frowning. "This again?" she asked. "Come over here," she ordered, yanking her husband and son in the house. "Can't you go a week without hurting each other?" The fire was blazing, and there was an odd smell in the house.

"Mom!" Laidu said as she fussed with the scratches on his arm. He still held up the snow to his face, although his body heat was melting it rather fast. Water was coursing down his arm. "Stop!" He didn't fight back, of course; never once had he even tried to hit his mother.

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