We landed in Seitung Harbor, a pretty little town. The walls surrounding the town were built of brick, edged with red along the top and small turrets painted red and gold had been placed every hundred metres. The town had been built against a cliff, high on the hill stood a huge bronze bell and underneath also made out of bronze was a statue of a large horse like creature.
Cynn peered at it, lines crinkling around her blue eyes. “A jinn.” She said softly and turned to look at Mhenlo, she sighed contentedly, hooking an arm through his to lay hand on him possessively. “I’m surprised your little ‘friend’ didn’t want to accompany us.” Cynn smiled at him and Mhenlo smiled back, I was beginning to wonder if he heard the veiled venom in her voice, but he laughed softly and patted her hand, leaning over to kiss her cheek.
“Cynn, do not be jealous.” He sighed and shook his head. “Emi is as a sister to me – truly. We grew up together at the orphanage. Master Togo oversaw our education personally. I would not be here with you if it were not for her.”
The Elementalist flushed almost as bright red as her firestaff, and her glance towards me made me silent.
“I think you will like Shing Jea Island.” Mhenlo smiled softly, “It is a lot like Ascalon before the invasion.” He reached down with a hand and broke off a silvery purple flower, pressing it against Cynn’s cheek in a lovers caress.
I turned away, leaving the lovers alone. The island was beautiful, the sun was warm and the birds were singing. Everything here seemed so remote, quiet and provincial. It was similar – and yet different at the same time. Closing my eyes, I listened to the noises around me. Gulls from the harbour, the bell at the temple, the laughter of children playing. Shing Jea island seemed idyllic. So what was wrong that Master Togo sent us here to explore?
Brother Mhenlo led the way up the hill, past the bustling marketplace and towards the white painted brick walls, the wooden palisade gate was open leading out onto a winding trail that led up towards the mountains.
“Saoshang Trail.” Mhenlo pointed out the old wooden painted sign post. “It’s not far, we are only a mile from the monestary where I grew up. It is very beautiful countryside. And there are dozens of little temples.” He pointed up where another signpost stood. “That way to Jaya Bluffs and the lagoon. There’s a cave of Ettins you might like to see. But another day, come.” He stepped through the gateway.
I followed a few steps behind, and drew a deep breath. It really was beautiful here. Tall thick bamboo grew on the sea side of the cliff face, creating dapples of shadow across the path. We had not gone very far when a large shriek filled the air and a giant bat like creature descended from the bamboo, blocking the path before us. It’s great black wings extended and sharp beak hissed at us.
“Mantids.” Mhenlo explained, his eyes examining the winding path ahead as if searching for more of the creatures. “We’d best tread carefully, the guards normally make sure the roads are clear, especially this close to the monestary.”
“Perhaps they are overrun with other issues.” I said with a smile, mentally I took stock of the clumps of bamboo. There was one on the corner a few feet away, and another overhanging from the cliff face directly above it. The path appeared to curve around under this clump and then back around again – where, yes there was yet another clump of bamboo right on the corner, and another by the gateway to I presumed was the monastery gardens.
Approximately 40 feet above us, the mountain rose and I could just see a wooden fence and gate way, it was also painted the same red as we had seen edging the wall in Seitung Harbour.
The country side was indeed beautiful, and reminded me of parts of my homeland. Tunnels had been dug through the cliff faces, allowing for easier travel. Every few feet, the track would change direction so that one moment we were looking out over the expanse of Soajing Harbor with the ships being loaded and unloaded, while further out to see others travelled in directions westwards towards the Cantha mainland, or East towards Orr and the Fire Islands. The view changed again as we moved up the mountain trail, a small cluster of huts and buildings indicated human life, but so far we had seen none. Next to the largest hut was a beautiful shrine. This shrine made out of wood was decorated in murals of the same horse like creature, painted in gold and red against a backdrop of whitewash.
Mantids were everywhere, this was an infestation. I wondered what had happened to the people who lived in the pretty house as yet another group of the insects roamed the path in front of us. They were quickly dispatched and I turned, checking on my companions. Cynn’s face was tight, she was quickly draining her manna with battle after battle in quick succession.
We turned once more and the view opened up to a glorious waterfall cascading down the cliff face. Sprays of water filled the air as we passed close to it. The coolness was refreshing. A wooden bridge to our right led over the flowing water that moved swiftly down the mountain side towards the sea a hundred feet below. It had been quite a climb.
Crossing the bridge, we could see the white washed walls of the monestary gardens on our left and yet another shrine on our right. The shrine was also made out of wood, painted and carved to resemble the goddess of nature, Melandru. Half woman and half tree, she spread her arms above her head in a provocative dance. We knelt before her for a moment and felt blessed.
The gate to the monastery was guarded, Mhenlo gave them a nod but we were not challenged. It seemed entry was open to all. The brick walls of Linnock Courtyard were also painted with white wash, and decorated with the same bright red tiles we had seen earlier. Flecks of gold paint shone here and there.
In the centre of the garden was a huge statue, perhaps fifteen foot high in the shape of a temple guardian. A stocky dog like creature with the mane of a lion. White washed stone stairs led the way down into the monastery proper between huge pink and white cherry blossom trees and an expanse of lawn.
The stairs led down into a central courtyard that was cobbled rather than hard packed dirt. Stairs went off into different directions. To our left was a huge wooden building with an open area some twenty feet across in the shape of a hexagon. Inside this building were priests and their apprentices undertaking training in many art forms. To the right from the central courtyard was a market place and ahead on the hill was another lawned area. I could see a group of monks performing some ritualistic dance while others, warriors, rangers and still others stood around watching the performance.
Brother Mhenlo spoke quietly to one of the city guards and then returned to us. “Minister Cho has returned to his estate in the North. It seems there has been trouble.”
“What sort of trouble?” Koss asked, warily.
“Something is stirring the animals.” Mhenlo replied with a half smile. “Have you ever seen a black moa bird Cynn? The mister keeps a menagerie of animals on his estate.”