Chapter 41: First Night Away

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The Eight were truly terrifying because they were a potential outcome. They were the dark shadow we saw in the mirror, the reflection that became the monster. They were what we could have become if we were not careful.


Ten Years Ago


Wulan entered the building, relishing the warmth of the braziers that heated the Hall of Words. She stayed closer to the edge, careful not to disturb the lesson.

There, on the other end of the hall, a motley collection of boys sat on old, faded cushions, and Hanshen paced in front of them, his words inaudible. Wulan quietly walked closer to the group, stepping past some of Hanshen's old calligraphy. Verses of the Luminous Doctrines here, some poems artistically rendered so that the words were pleasing to both the eye and ear over there. Wulan stopped a good distance from them, listening.

"...and please, Po Shun, can you tell me what one does when one is wounded, and they are recovering," Hanshen asked in Ten-Zuani.

Her younger brother stroked his chin thoughtfully, eliciting a giggle from some of his other classmates. " eel?" he answered in the Common tongue

Hanshen shook his head. "That's the animal. Heal is the word."

"I thought that was part of your foot," Po Shun said.

"They sound the same. But they're spelled differently," Hanshen said. He was quiet as others began to write down the word. "Now, Laidu, what's the word that means to repair something."

The dragon Changed closed his eyes. He was an odd one, sitting right next to Wulan's brother. He looked twelve or thirteen, the age of her brother. But he was tall. Taller than her brother, almost taller than her. " it fix?" he answered. But that odd accent came through. And Laidu was the only one to have it.

"Yes." Hanshen had long given up on trying to correct that horrendous accent of his. Laidu smiled, and wrote something down on his note scroll. He had claws, but they were barely noticeable, and they didn't seem to impede on his writing skills. He almost seemed to draw the characters out, instead of scrawling them like her brother. "Now, Kaixan," he said to another student, "how would you say the word that means the produce of a chicken?"

"Leg." Kaixen was nice enough, Wulan knew. His brother had tried to court her when they were younger, but Wulan didn't appreciate him, but she also didn't want her mother to flip out and attack the poor kid out of some suspected offense. There had been something about the older brother that had bothered her. Of course, Kaixen was fine enough.

"No, it's egg," Hanshen corrected.

"Um, I'm pretty sure it's leg. We kill a chicken and eat its leg."

"Well, yes, we do," Hanshen said, "but we can eat eggs as well. Chickens have legs. They produce eggs."

Wulan smiled. She had a fluent grasp of the Common tongue, as her teachers had said. But that had come with years of study and work. When she went down to the towns below, she could hold conversations with foreigners. Of course, some words were still foreign to her. But, seeing as many of her conversation partners were sailors, Wulan had the suspicion that most of the foreign words were curses.

Hanshen sighed, and went through everyone else, making sure that everyone could define at least one Common word. Anxious, the boys started fidgeting.

Finally, Zunlai, the last boy, answered that the little four-legged creature that jumped was called a frog, not a crog. "Alright, the rest of you, I can see it in your eyes. Go! Leave! Just be here at the same time tomorrow."

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