After a fierce debate with the guards, which she had exquisitely won through her special combination of intelligent rationalization and persistent annoyance, Ling had been granted access to the temple. She passed through the towering, solid-wooden doors into the buildings main space. She felt even smaller than she normally did, dwarfed by the imposingly high ceilings and larger than life sculptures.
All around her, ancient soldiers stood guard over this sacred space. Crafted from metal, jade, and marble, they watched. Ling had the unsettling feeling that these inanimate objects were judging her, and doing so harshly.
The feeling of inadequacy subsided when she realized it was all designed to do just that. The immense room, the stoic statues, all intended to humble those braved this place. To remind the visitors that they are mere children compared to the great monk.
Removing the cower from her stance, she advanced with confidence. A narrow, red carpet ran the length of the grand room. She followed it along until she reached the steps at the base of the platform where the great monk resided.
She began to ascend, when she noticed movement from her periphery. Sentries dressed as samurai began to rush at her. She took a step back onto the landing, and they ceased. Another man, dressed in robes, and nearly as petite as she, came to her.
“Apologies, but no one is allowed to ascend the staircase. Above is a space where only purity and knowledge live. No one but the great monk is allowed there,” the monastic said.
“Then how do I talk to him?” she asked.
“No one speaks with him. He does not speak.”
“Then how do I?” she was interrupted.
“He does not speak, but that does not mean that he does not listen. His senses are vast. You may speak from here, he will hear you. If he chooses to answer, you will know.”
At first, this thought was absurd to Ling. As she rolled her eyes, she studied the arches above. This place was a far cry in design and décor than the university that had been her home for the last six years. She applied her mathematical skills and the architecture changed. She no longer saw simple bends. She could see the angels and formulas behind them. Like a chalk board in her mind, she worked the problems out, and realized that the space was designed so that sound would travel upwards, through the arc, and fall near the monk. She could whisper, and he would hear.
And so she did.
“Great monk,” she said with false humility, “I seek your help. My sister was taken by the Ra. We discovered something. Something amazing. A mathematical expression that, when properly utilized, could control reality as we know it. I know it sounds fantastic, but it’s the truth. We tested it, and for a moment in the bubble that we created, it was as if the laws of physics no longer applied. I narrowly escaped with my life when they came for us. I don’t know how they even knew. But they took her. Please, as their sworn enemy, help me find her.”
She did not have to wait for his response. He moved swiftly down the stairs, holding a plain, wooden, walking stick. However, while hurried, every step was taken with a sense of control that allowed him to nearly glide. She resisted the urge to shrink away from him as he approached, as did the friar.
His presence was far greater than his size, though he was not slight. She couldn’t tell his age. He could have been forty or four hundred. She didn’t know. His eyes sparkled with the wisdom of ages. They were deep pools of coffee that ached her to stare into.
He said not a word, and made no expression, but immediately approached Ling, and tripped her with his stick. She fell hard against the carpet, which offered little padding from the hardness of the stone below.
“Ow!” she said, struggling to her feet. “Why did you do that?”
Before she could regain her footing, he once again tripped her. She fell harder this time. A quick student, she did not attempt to stand where she had before. She rolled backwards, beyond the reach of his stick, then got to her feet.
He smiled slightly. Her body still stinging where it had hit, she couldn’t help but feel warmed by his grin, as if she had pleased an otherwise unimpressed parent.
“Does this mean you will help me?” she asked.
“He will help,” the brother said. “The Ra are more than our enemy. We have protected this secret that you have stumbled upon for eons. No one should have this knowledge. If he is successful, you must promise to keep it safe.”
“I will.” She turned to the great monk. “Can you save her?”
Instead of responding, he walked past her. He gave no indication that she should follow, but she did instinctively. They went through the great room, past a mass of bowing servants and holy men, and out of the temple. She stayed several steps behind him as they adjourned down the sweeping hillside that led to the nearby town.
Ling became almost hypnotized as they walked and she watched his flowing robes sway to and fro in the wind. Shaking it off, she realized they had been walking for nearly an hour. She couldn’t stand the silence.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
He gave her no regard.
“We are going to save my sister, right? Is she in that city? Hello? Monk? Or, Great Monk, whatever. Do you really never speak? This is going to be a long journey.”
Ling, understanding that the great monk would not respond, began to talk just to keep herself company. Before long, she was so involved in her one sided conversation that she did not notice the monk had stopped, and nearly ran into him. He simply put out his stick, and tripped her once more.
Lying on the dirt path, she began to protest his treatment. He approached her, placed the stick on her chest, and gave a look that suggested she should learn when not to speak. Swallowing hard, she held her tongue, though anger rose inside.
Once he was satisfied that she would be silent, he continued on. Pulling herself off the ground, she dusted the dirt from the backside of her pants, and trailed behind him. There would be no more conversation.
The sky began to dance with the swirling rays of dusk, and was painted with brilliant pinks and purples. A chill began to rise in the air, and Ling welcomed it, having had her fill of sun drenched sky. The sun began to melt on the horizon just as they reached the outer territory of the Ra.
“Where,” she started, but stopped as the great monk turned to her with fury and threatened the use of his stick. He returned his attention to the landscape in front of them. Ling saw nothing, but the monk seemed to be communing with nature. She began to roll her eyes out of habit, but then she glimpsed it.
This was not an empty hillside. Instead, there was a glimmer. In a moment, she perceived something that wobbled like a mirage. There was a temple. It was similar in design to the one they had come from, with different colors. This place had a darkness to it, both in hue and spirit. Somehow, it was there one minute, and gone the next.
Jin must have given them the formula, she thought, to gun-shy to speak it aloud. But she didn’t have to. The monk knew this already.
He began to walk towards the flickering building. She began to follow, but he turned back to her, with concern on his face. She was meant to stay put. Fearing for both her sister’s life, and that of this man who she had met only hours ago, but felt an allegiance to, she continued forward.
He threatened with the stick, but she continued. He blocked her way with his body, yet she kept trying to forge on. Unexpectedly, he threw his arms around her, and held her tightly. She was thinking this was a new kind of attack, but nearly went limp when she realized that it was a hug.
Her sister was the only person in many years who had offered her this kind of embrace. Coming from this great man, she allowed herself to be swallowed up by it, and was truly humbled for the first time. He released her, and walked away. He knew he wouldn’t be followed.
She waited in that spot, cold and alone, until the sun was long gone and the moon hung high in the heavens. She talked herself into, and just as many times out of, going in after the monk.
Why had she stayed here? She wondered. How did he do convince me? What’s he doing in there?
They were only a few of the many questions she agonized over while she sat idly by. Anxiety grew within her as the hours passed. Her body ached with confliction. She had been battling between mind and instinct. Ling rose to her feet. She was at an apex and could no longer wait. She took a few timid, but determined steps towards the wavering temple.
As she approached, a figure was coming towards her and grew solid. It moved fast. As it came into focus, she saw that it was the outline of a girl about her size. A moment after that, she realized it was her sister.
“Jin!” she cried.
“Ling!” she yelled back.
Their bodies slammed into each other, as they embraced and cried. Ling had never been so relieved to see anyone. This feeling was matched when from behind her sister, she saw the great monk. He was hobbling now, and making practical use of the walking stick. They were both ok.
Once free from the physic bending space around the temple, the portal between worlds disappeared, taking the sanctuary with it.
The monk, walking past the weepy women, started on the journey back to his home. A few steps forward, he looked back. Ling wanted to say thank you and express her gratitude. Instead, she simply smiled.
“You’re welcome,” the monk replied with quiet effort, and went on his way.
Ling lit up. Her life would never be the same. But, they were safe now, and she knew that the Ra would no longer be a threat.