This story is by Auric Dralos and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Icy darkness retreated, awareness returned via small pricks. Stirring eyelids open to darkness, as ears strove to hear beyond inhaled air. Cognition returned via aches and pains, enough time passed for the body to rebel. Raising senses detect nothing, only sounds from internal functions. Unease sharpen and strengthen reaching to assess the situation. Strange thoughts coalesced elements missing. All memories end.
“There’s nothing better”, thought Han as the vista of mountains swept into view. The mass exodus to the beaches due to a heatwave made the mountains Han’s choice. Given humanity’s tendency to devolve in crowds.
By noon Han made it to the waterfall that emerged from the crag two hundred feet above. He found this isolated icy pool five years ago, ever since he came to recuperate from daily life. Fauna did not approach the area, even birds avoided flying overhead. Being an avid trekker, Han enjoyed communing with Gaia.
Last month, Han discovered a small stone ledge offset to the waterfall. A set of holds led up fifty feet to a cavern under the overhang behind the waterfall. Today he climbed the algae free surface, prepared to explore after a meal he walked towards the back. Three sigils appeared over the cavern entrance before vanishing after blinking thrice.
A stone bridge led towards a stone walled courtyard with granite tables and stools. A pair of fifteen foot tall armoured primate onyx statues stood with pole arms guarding a door. Their eyes track his progress towards them.
Stepping forward, the door opened as he neared, over the threshold. Two hundred yards in a single forty foot primate statue stood. Unlike the door guardians, it’s armoured slim built looking outwards. Holding a sixty foot long gold banded capped black cudgel. Its fiery golden eyes set in a sharp angular face, a mischievous tilt to its features.
Looking in wonder at a sudden feeling of something wanting unity. Standing before the statue, he felt the cudgel as a row of sigils gleamed along the length. The glowing symbols rotated with joy emanating from its core washing over him.
A slow glow encompassed itself and began shrinking to proportion. Like a pet it began spinning and cavorting around him. Startled by the change, he reached towards the golden banded black rod. Which darted away before flying into his hand. Warmth pulsed down his arm and he started to glow.
“主人，您来了！”, confusion swept from his mind towards the cudgel. Causing it’s glow to start pulsing a few times, before returning up his arm.
“Master, can you comprehend me now?”
“Master, I’m your Ruyi Jingu Bang (As You Will Golden Cudgel), part of your soul is within me.”
“Wait, part of ???”, Han paled.
“Master don’t panic, you’re safe, complete this tribulation, your soul will reunite.”
“Master, I’m unable to tell, only protect.”
“Master……. Bodhisattva GuanYin, disallowed assaulting mortals.”
“…………..”, the statue started glowing, “You have arrived, decide your path, turn around or move ahead.”
A gateway appeared as Ruyi flashed into his body. A memory fragment appeared. “Water Curtain Cave; Flowers and Fruits Mountain; home of Great Sage Equalling Heaven”.
Past, Present or Future, Han had to decide, his loneliness at cusp point. Warmth radiated from within towards the gateway. From which a cloud emanating joy flew out hugging him before coalescing at his feet.
“Cloud Somersault greets Master,” followed by a childish, “Master’s too heavy!”
“Silly Cloud, Master is mortal.” chided Ruyi.
Han smiled stepping through. The cave and its environments faded away. Leaving an empty spot where it once stood, with only nature as witness.
Three figures sitting on lotus thrones looked on the images in the lotus pond
“Will he pass?” asked the only female.
“Only he can choose, the last time he spent five hundred years under my palm.” stated Tathāgata.
“Without part of his memory, my disciple…….” replied the last. “Buddha is it wise to isolate him like this?”
“The others can’t help WuKong,” replied Tathāgata.
“Tripitaka, fear not, the three leaves I gifted are still on him.” noted GuanYin.
“Master, Wretched Monkey is facing tribulation on the mortal plane.”
“Are you sure!?”
Gleeful laughter filled the chamber. “Send for the others!”
Long hooded robe flowing, moving out of the crevice, Han looked up to see twin Suns rising. His attire change was a surprise. “Master made Cloudy, inside is a pocket dimension with everything that Master needs.”
Cloudy granted him a full inventory, whistling as he looked around the azure sea before him, Ruyi appeared in his hand as a walking staff. “Master we are not alone here, better keep me in hand.”
“This area seems empty but I can sense everything within Cloudy’s 33,541 mile travel range.”
“All creations have consciousness, Cloudy and I evolved over time. We will help you Master, unfortunately Cloudy cannot carry mortals.”
Han took a bearing before heading away, as the Suns reached its peak. He took a break eating and drinking from supplies. Under strictures about the situation, he heard both their histories with him. It was an epic tale of wonders and humour, wishing he could remember it all. None of the local fauna or flora had bothered them, unlike what he heard in the tales.
“Ruyi didn’t you say we are not alone?”
“Master, Cloudy is keeping you out of planar phase as we travel across this land to get to the other gateway array.”
Han felt a warm hug from Cloudy floating around him.
Three beings appeared a thousand miles west, “where is the wretched ape?” the eldest fumed. As its siblings fumbled with an Eight Trigrams Compass. “Elder he should be in the east.”
“Master! We need to move, some demons have arrived.”
Moving towards his destination Han heard shouts of excitement from the east.
“Cloudy go with Master!” Ruyi flew eastwards gaining size and speed engaging them in battle. Flashes and roars from the clash lasted only a blink before Ruyi returned.
“That fast?” Han asked without stopping.
“Those were scouts.”
A day later Han noticed in the skies, a group of demons, without another word Ruyi flashed ahead. The ground shook as roars reverberated through the air. Flashes of lights amid shock waves rolled outwards. Soon it started raining bloody bits, before long Ruyi returned. Amazed Han heard Ruyi laughter,
“Master, this is nothing in your hands within a meal, a million strong demonic army is nothing”
“Lord, we lost the vanguard.” grovelled a minion.
“What!” roared a demon lord. “The wretched ape has no immortal power!”
“It’s his mourning staff!” answered another demon lord.
“Impossible! He cannot wield it.” roared the first demon lord.
“Lord, we need to advance with our strongest.”
“Gather the troops!”
A golden column broke through the skies. Enshrouding all the demons amid monastic chants and floating lotus flowers. A solemn voice sounded out, “By Buddha’s order, we Eighteen Arhats are here to arrest you.”
The demons resisted with weapons and spells, attacking the formation array enclosing them. A cup of tea later, the entire group shrank to reveal their true form as a colony of giant ants. The whole colony disappeared into a gourd as a seal “By Order of Buddha” appeared on it. The Arhats returned to western heaven with it under guard.
Han reached the gateway three days later without further ado and stepped through.
“Hanuman?? why are you here?” asked an elephant headed being.
“Master Ganesha, master is on his tribulation.” replied Ruyi while Han gaped.
“Ha! Monkey you did it again.” laughed Ganesha shaking his head and flapping ears.
With a rueful look Han could only smile, hurrying towards the next gateway.
Han appeared in a room with a cinnabar furnace sitting on a Eight Trigrams TaiJi symbol inlaid floor.
“Master! The elixir pill thief is back!” shouted one of two small Taoist boys, as the second stood blocking access to the furnace.
“WuKong, why are you here?” queried an elderly Taoist, striding into the room.
“Patriarch Lao Zi, my master, is on his tribulation.” replied Ruyi.
“Ah…, go on” smiled Patriarch Lao Zi.
Han could only smile in return.
“Finally Master.” Ruyi indicating the TaiJi symbol on the wall.
Touching it Han passed through, a circlet lay on a pedestal. A female image appeared.
“WuKong, make your choice.”
“What am I choosing?”
“Many life times ago, you rashly wiped out a clan in your tantrum. In your resulting grief. You asked Buddha to reincarnate and live an isolated life for each innocent you killed. Buddha granted your penance and you have lived the life span of each innocent.” GuanYin smiled benevolently. “Only you can decide your fate, return to your place or reincarnate again.”
At this point a glow from both the circlet and Ruyi touched him. Releasing all the reincarnation memories and his soul fragment flowing into him. For only whole can he then decide.
Past, Present and Future.
The Handsome Monkey King, Sun WuKong stood in the room regally and solemnly made his choice.