Originally published at: https://gemsofwar.com/lorekeeper-i-chapter-9-straight-as-an-arrow/
Be wise. Be calm.
Never shoot the messenger.
Unless his message is “I hate you, and I’m going to kill you, and steal your turnips.’
Then shooting him is fine.
Shoot him three or four times even.
Traveling involves three parts - where you currently are, where you’re eventually going, and whatever path you’ve decided on to get you there. If a couple of those things are a bit fuzzy, it’s likely you’re lost. If all three are fuzzy, then you’re not lost, you’re just an idiot, and should never have gone out in the first place.
Take Dimetraxia, for example - she’d had no idea where she was going. She’d flown around for days, all the while knowing exactly where she was, but having no idea where to find Halfgrim Halfgiant. She’d been lost. Luther, Amira, and Brian, on the other hand, knew they were headed to Shentang, to talk with the Diviners… They just had no idea how to get there. Also lost.
It had all started four days ago.
After Luther had helped the Tauros with their battle plans, they had escorted the party to the Spine of Maraj, as promised, It turned out, this was the easy bit. The problem they now faced was more complex - the Tauros seldom needed to go into the mountains, and the Sky Elves of Shentang almost never travelled into the plains. And such an amazing and enthusiastic level of collective antisocial apathy does not result in roads, paths, or even overgrown goat trails.
In short, there was no way, apart from trial and error, of navigating the mountains.
So they climbed paths that ended in dead ends, followed trails that turned the wrong direction, and once almost died when the track they were following gave way and slid smugly down a cliff face. For the last day, Luther had been tired and grumpy, Amira had been quiet, and Brian had been an earthy shade of green, with not a single toast to a single God.
This made it all the more surprising, when an arrow thunked into the ground at Luther’s feet.
The three companions looked up from the trail, and saw a strange creature standing in their path. It was tiny - barely up to Luther’s waist… At first glance it looked like a bear and a rabbit had a few drinks too many, had gone home to the bear’s place, and… Well, you get the rest. Looking closer though, the creature was like a smaller version of a Shentang Pandurska - the black and white bear-folk of the mountains - only this little fellow was red. More importantly though, he had a bow trained on the travellers with not one, but three, arrows nocked and ready to fire. The whole situation would have been comical, if the look on his face had not been one of ultimate savagery. Actually, strike that, the look on his face made it more comical.
Luther reached for his sword, but Amira laid a hand on his arm, and stepped in front of him.
“I presume you’re going to tell us to turn back,” she said smoothly. “Yes?”
“I might be going to kill you!” The little creature snarled.
“Then you would have hit the knight in the eye with the first arrow,” she smiled. Luther shot her a sour glance. “And if you’re a bandit, this is possibly the worst path I’ve ever seen for ambushes. I mean nobody has travelled this way for weeks.”
“I am the Crimson Arrow,” the creature said dramatically, his voice deeper and more gruff than seemed possible given his small stature. “I am the Protector of Shentang. You will turn back now, or face the consequences.”
Luther growled - he didn’t like being threatened. Amira held out a hand though, trying to calm the situation.
“Look,” she began. “Crimson Arrow. I understand that you-”
There was a twang, and the three nocked arrows thudded intro the gravel path at their feet. Brian let out a yelp, and looked around frantically for cover. Amira took a step backwards. She’d never seen anyone fire like that before - three arrows at once! The creature was comical it seemed, but also just a little bit deadly. When she looked back, he already had another three arrows nocked.
“I’m warning you,” he growled.
“Okay,” she said calmly. “Okay. We understand. You’re the protector, and you have us at a disadvantage. There’s really nothing we can do to get past you if you don’t allow it, but please hear me out.”
“Why should I?” he replied.
“Because by sending us away, I believe you are putting your kingdom in greater danger.”
“What do you mean?” His red brow furrowed.
“We came in search of answers from the Diviners,” Amira explained. “Think about it. You’re here to stop the Tauros getting to Shentang, right?”
The little red bear squinted at her curiously.
“But we’re obviously not Tauros. We’ve traveled a long way to get here, and we would have approached by a more conventional path if we had the time. But our questions are urgent.”
“Questions?” the creature asked.
“There’s a Blight coming,” Amira continued. “We need to know where it will be, if we’re to have any chance of stopping it.”
The creature pulled a face, like it was thinking. Finally it motioned with the bow.
“Okay then, walk, but I’ll be right behind you. No funny business, or I shoot. I’m taking you to see Sifu Yuan. He’ll know what to do with you.”
“Thank you,” Amira replied, inclining her head politely.
It must have pained Luther greatly to do so, but he leaned towards Amira and gave a grunt that sounded suspiciously like “Well done.”--------- o ---------
They traveled the rest of the day, following the Crimson Arrow, mostly uphill. Although Amira handled the climb well, Luther was breathing hard, and Brian struggled to keep up, frequently gasping for breath, and taking any chance he could for a small break.
Nevertheless, the little red creature was a fierce taskmaster, and kept them moving at a steady pace.
As the sun finally set in the western mountains they came out on a small plateau, with a single elegant building set in its center, next to a quaint rock-spring. Tiny trees, not much bigger than their little guide formed a dainty garden around the building.
The Crimson Arrow motioned them towards the building and yelled in his gravelly voice, “Sifu Yuan! Master, I’m sorry to bother your meditations, but I have an urgent matter.”
Moments later a figure appeared in the doorway. It was difficult to gauge its age - Elves are like that. His head was shaved, highlighting his pointed ears, and in the fading light, white wings could still clearly be seen tucked neatly together on his back.
He bowed deeply.
“Thank you, Arrow. You can put your bow away. I’ve been expecting this,” he said, smiling.--------- o ---------
A short time later, after the sun had set, the three companions sat inside Sifu Yuan’s small house. It was plain, simple and utilitarian, much like the Elf who owned it. He said little. Most of his instructions were simple gestures - polite but minimal - as if any more would be an extravagance
Yuan had made them herbal tea. It was unusual - relaxing and strangely filling. Brian had drunk half his cup, then fallen over backwards and gone to sleep. He started snoring at one point, but Luther reached over and hit him in the side, which caused him to shuffle around, snort once or twice, and then fall quietly back to sleep.
Luther finally broke the silence. When it came to matters of patience, he wasn’t always the greatest example.
“You said you’d been expecting us?” he began.
Sifu Yuan raised an eyebrow, and considered his response for a moment.
“Expecting you in particular? No. Expecting you in general, yes.”
Luther scowled, and Amira jumped in before the old knight could make a typically caustic remark.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“What it says,” the Elven monk smiled cryptically. “I am, you would say in your tongue, a Master Diviner. But it does not mean I see particular futures, only general ones. Unless the issue is that I have run out of turnips then wisdom dictates I pick more turnips.”
“So you knew someone was coming, but not the details?” Amira pressed.
“I know something is coming,” Yuan replied. “I know it is evil. I know you are not. The universe speaks to us three things at a time. We take those three truths and divine the future.”
“Do you know what this evil is?” Amira asked. “Or where it will occur? Or where I can find Emperor Khorvash? I have so many questions.”
“Details,” the Elf shook his head. “Details are best left for those intimately involved in the world. They are not our concern… Unless they involve a lack of turnips.” He smiled.
Amira pursed her lips, dissatisfied, and rather confused by the Monk’s obsession with root vegetables.
“But I can tell you three things,” Sifu Yuan continued, smiling at Amira’s confusion. “Like the universe, you should listen, and then divine your own future.”
Amira and Luther both nodded. The conversation may have been frustrating, but they both had a sense they would learn something here tonight.
“Very well,” the Elf nodded once. “Listen carefully. The universe tells me this. Far to the east, something stirs. It will take the power of three to stop it, but here you only have two. And much like the craft of divination, your task will only be complete when three become one.”
“Far to the east?” Luther asked. “Grosh-Nak? Darkstone? The Blighted Lands? Where-”
“Turnips,” Sifu Yuan smiled.
“We have two?” Amira asked. “Luther and the Dragon? What about Kho-”
“Turnips,” Yuan interrupted again, shaking his head.
“We’re not going to get any more answers are we?” Luther scowled.
“The universe provides you with what you need,” Sifu Yuan bowed his head. “We must all pick our own turnips. And carrots.”
Luther shook his head and gave a dissatisfied grunt.
“Now, you are welcome to stay here as long as you wish,” the Elf continued politely, “but for tonight, the discussion is over.”
And with that, he stood up, bowed, and went outside.
“He can shove his turnips up his-” Luther began, but was cut off abruptly as Amira punched him in the ribs.