Chapter 8.12 – Lesson

I apologize ahead of time. This post is significantly longer than my typical offering. The whole thing kind of flows together, and it just didn’t read the same way split up. Sorry!
 —
Shang Simla occupies a special place inside the hearts and minds of the Barimen family.
 
Luke’s trip here was not planned. Well, not entirely planned anyway. The idea had come to him after Desiree McAllister’s ghost suggested he speak with one of his ancestors. It is probably safe to assume that the arrangement did not actually require him travelling to China. The honest truth is that Luke has become very restless since his birthday, and needs time away from Sunset Valley.
 
The supernatural being that has “attached” itself to Luke, also had similar relationships with every Barimen heir and heiress beginning with David. One side-effect of this unusual symbiosis, is that Luke is able to draw upon the life experiences of his ancestors. Mark’s memories of Shang Simla are particularly vivid and moving. Luke finds himself visiting some of the places that were most memorable, even before taking one step into his family vacation home inside the village square.
 
It’s been nearly two weeks since his birthday, and he still has not heard from Sandi. Luke has played the exchange over and over again in his mind, trying to figure out what it was that set her off. Maybe it wasn’t just the words, I love you that spooked her, but the manner in which he said them. He had been thinking about it all night, and for some reason just blurted it out while caught up in the emotion of the moment.
 
Judging by her reaction, you’d think he had slapped her, then insulted her family. He’s tried to get in touch with her numerous times, since then. But his calls always go directly to her voice mail. It just doesn’t make sense. Luke unpacks and tidies up the house. It’s been a long time since anybody has lived here. Luke does some shopping, buys food, then fully relaxes with a book about Shang Simla folklore. Best of all, there are other no sims to bother him.
 
But Luke is not the kind of sim to do nothing for too long, and enjoy it. He decides to acquire the services of a highly recommended tour guide to lead him on a week-long wilderness hike. Honestly, he’d expected a withered, old, bark-skinned mountain-man. But when the guide arrives at his door, he is surprised to see that she is an attractive young woman. Her name is Ying. And she clearly has a passion for adventure and the outdoors.
 
Luke’s unnatural stamina allows him to keep up with Ying easily, as they begin their trek into the wilds. In fact, he can see that she she has probably been pushing herself harder than normal just to prove some unspoken point. Luke laughs when she finally sits to take a breather, after sprinting for nearly an entire mile uphill. Giving Luke a dirty look, she comments on his superior stamina, asking what he does to stay in such peak physical condition. He allows himself some measure of smugness and comments that he goes rock climbing quite often in Sunset Valley.
 
Ying continues at a curiously fast pace; nearly the same pace he would use hiking by himself. They set up camp at dusk and sit together by the fire, going over the plan for tomorrow’s hike. When she digs into her pack and offers Luke some kind of dehydrated jerky as a meal, he smirks and asks if she is serious. The absent look on her face makes him wonder how she survives out here without taking advantage of the resources all around her. But his stomach is growling with pangs of hunger. So he grimaces, takes the rations, and chews through the unpleasant stuff. When finished, he raises an eyebrow and tells her that he’s been camping his entire life, and has never eaten anything so foul. Then he insists on cooking tomorrow’s meal. Ying responds with a sideways laugh, stating that she does not cook, clean, or do windows.
 
As nighttime sets in, Luke can feel the effects of being away from home. Something about the land where the estate was built, allows him to go without sleep. But when he is away, his body’s natural need for rest returns. Today’s physical exertion has probably exasperated this condition. Having already set up their tents, Luke and Ying sit together by the fire and talk about the history of Shang Simla. He studies her youthful face as she dramatically spins tales about the spirits of lost souls who have died, either by trap, curse, or starvation, while seeking adventure in these woods. Ying does an excellent job of portraying an expert woodsman and guide. But in reality, she couldn’t be any older than mid-twenties or possibly thirty years old. She catches him staring at her a number of times before finally smiling and blushing in response.
 
Ying reaches for his hand and asks if there is a woman for him. Luke breathes a sigh, answers yes, immediately changes it to no, then settles for I don’t know. Ying raises her eyebrows and laughs at his unintelligible response. Then she levels her gaze and challenges his answer with a throaty chuckle, asking which one it is. Luke smiles and squeezes her hand, admitting that it was yes just over a week ago. But she ended it on his birthday. Ying lets loose with a few Chinese words he can only assume are uncomplimentary, and he finds that he can’t help but join her contagious laughter.
 
His laughing turns into a yawn as he releases Ying’s hand and sits back, reclining into his chair. The very unfamiliar haze of sleep feels unbelievably welcome. But falling asleep now would be exceedingly rude, so Luke asks Ying about herself. Is there a man? She scoffs sarcastically, then announces that she has not found the man who can keep up with her. Ying holds Luke’s eye contact with her own piercing gaze; which Luke finds to be filled with intent. She stands and moves to Luke’s side, then bends to place a soft and passionate kiss onto his lips. Afterwards, she glides sensually to her tent leaving a trail of clothes behind her.
 
Luke’s mind races. What about Sandi? He still loves her, and wants desperately to find out what happened that night. Would it be so bad just to have a little bit of fun with Ying? Sandi would never even know…
 
This idea remains incomplete, as his conscious thoughts become engulfed by a deep and dreamless sleep, from which he does not awake until morning. He wakes feeling sore, but well rested. Sometime during the night, Ying had covered him with a blanket and propped his head on an a rolled up jacket to spare his neck from the pain of sleeping on a chair all night.
 
Luke stands, stretches, and yawns, then looks for Ying. Even though he has known her only a day, Luke realizes they are more alike than different. She is accustomed to being alone, and probably prefers it most of the time. He searches for the place where he would go in this situation. He spots a challenging rock face and stares up at it’s summit, some thirty feet above. Picturing the hand and toe holds in his mind, he easily scales it to the top.
 
He finds her sitting, looking out over the landscape. Ying turns her head slightly and muses that he sleeps like the dead. He walks next to her and offers his hand. After a moment, she takes it and uses him as leverage to stand. He smiles and observes how she still hasn’t found the man who can keep up with her. Her laugh is natural, almost reflexive, and she smiles to show her appreciation for his humility. They enjoy the view together for a short time before Ying speaks, apologizing for her unprofessional behavior. She has never done anything like this before. Luke smiles and expresses his appreciation for her regret, but insists she has no reason to apologize. He should be the one begging forgiveness for leaving her in such an awkward situation. Ying smiles sweetly and bows her head to show her own appreciation.
 
They spend the next couple days and nights sleeping alone in their prospective tents. Luke prepares the meals using fish caught in the mountain fed streams, and fruits and vegetables found in the wild. He wraps them inside large palm fronds, and cooks them over the fire. Ying eats in an almost trance-like state, seemingly detached and distant. He quietly attempts to start conversation during these times, but she seems completely unaware that he is even present. She returns to her normal, jovial self after the meal is cleaned up, however. And oddly, she never mentions anything about his cooking, the quality of the food, or that hey had even eaten at all. It concerns him, but he says nothing.
 
Knowing that Luke is more capable than most of her clients, she leads the way to remote locations where the wilderness has overtaken ancient ruins, and waterfalls flow into crystalline ponds. The trail is difficult, but well worth the effort.
 
They visit ancient temples (many of which are still used to this day) and mediate with monks for a short time. It leaves them both with a profound sense of reverence. And what else can be said about the Dragon’s Maw or the Terracotta Army, other than they invoke a sense of awe inspiring wonderment and the feeling that they’ve somehow travelled through time.
 
They return back to the village square with the appearance of a pair of grungy adventurers who had attempted to tame the wild, and lost. Ying sees Luke to his door and thanks him for the memorable hike. Ying’s monetary payment had been made in advance, so they stand expectantly on his doorstep for several moments, waiting for the other to speak.
 
Luke has been thinking about a rare artifact he found inside the vacation home before embarking on the hike with Ying. Luke would have completely overlooked it, had it not been for the memories shared through Mark. Luke invites Ying inside, then shows her the unremarkable coin. It is rumored to give adventurers luck and good fortune during their travels. Luke places it in her hand and tells her he wants her to have it.
 
Ying smiles her contagious smile and whispers, seductively telling Luke that she believes it is already working. Being sims of few words and decisive action, Luke and Ying stumble into the bedroom while undressing. They fall together into bed, where they share in each other’s deepest desires until the soft and sensual sounds of their intimate affair are joined by the gentle hum of the evening insects; who have come alive to sing their eerie song bidding the day farewell.
 
Luke wakes before sunrise and smiles when he feels Ying’s warmth beside him. Sensing that he is awake, she stirs and turns to face him. They kiss, woohoo, then share breakfast in the kitchen. When Ying refuses to eat, Luke asks her why she becomes so distant at mealtime.
 
Ying blinks and snaps out of her trance, then smiles at Luke and stands, beckoning him to follow. They stand together in silence, embracing on the patio facing the garden, until Ying speaks again. But it is a far away voice that seems most un-Ying-like.
 
She smiles sadly, calling him qíngrén, then tells him that she must leave now. She wishes desperately that she could stay. But it is the way of things. She touches his cheek and states that he came here searching for answers and found her instead. And for this, she will be eternally thankful. Ying pauses, then relents. Luke’s future is not here with her. She breathes a yielding sigh,  reminding him that he has already found his future. But he needs to understand how to reach her.
 
Ying steps backward and thanks Luke, before telling him that his future has already been forged with a woman who loves him more than he can know. Luke’s mind spins, and his feet become unstable. Or is the floor that has become unstable? Luke tries to reach out for Ying, who is now retreating into some kind of strange vortex. He shouts, asking if it is Sandi; and why Ying thinks she loves him. Ying’s voice echoes in his mind. She can see Sandi’s fate intertwined within his. Then she adds, with a decidedly sad tone, that Sandi’s future has already been forged as well.
 
Now yelling in his loudest, most desperate voice, Luke asks how she knows these things. Her voice is distant but clear. She knows these things because she is not real; and he is dreaming. It was a beautiful dream, and she doesn’t want it to end. But he is presently in grave danger and he must wake up… NOW!!
 
 
Luke wakes abruptly and completely alone. He glances at his watch and frowns. He had fallen asleep while reading. It is still just the first night of his vacation. Beautiful Ying; she was nothing more than a vivid dream. He silently gets out of bed and stands perfectly still in the dark bedroom suite. Something here is not right. He feels his nerves igniting like a network of black powder fuses. Details that would ordinarily seem mundane, unimportant, or nearly imperceptible, stand out abruptly and scream that there is in intruder in the house. He has reason to suspect that this is no ordinary intruder, too. Luke had sensed the tattered remnants of evil radiating from both Corwin and Reid. But whatever has come here, has the full-on stink of corruption and hatred; and it fills the house with its foul presence.
 
Luke’s awareness comes alive in a manner he had never imagined possible. His mother had told him how she possessed an almost supernatural level of focus and perception. But never in his wildest dreams did he believe it would be like this. He moves with the silence of a ghost, and manages to barely disturb the air he travels through. Both his mother and Mark Barimen had been marital artists. Mark had been recognised as the best in the world during his life. Luke draws upon these shared memories and skills to prepare himself. Luke can sense it, just on the other side of the bedroom door. No matter how prepared he is, going through it would be suicide.
 
Luke imposes his will onto the door leading from the bedroom to the patio. It obeys, and remains soundless while he opens it and slips through; then to the open door (used by the intruder) leading into the main living space. He passes through the door without producing as much noise a feather would make striking the floor.
 
He is there, stalking the bedroom door. The blade of a long knife he is carrying shines malevolently in the moonlight, hovering at throat-level. Luke moves swiftly, silently, and decisively into the room; delivering an impossibly destructive strike that breaks or fractures numerous bones in the man’s arm and shoulder. A few centimeters more, and it would have been his spine.
 
The bones yield easily while making loud and distinctive CRACK! sounds. But to Luke’s dismay, the man does not scream. The long knife he was carrying, however, does drop from the hand on his now-useless arm.
 
Recognition is immediate upon looking into the man’s cold eyes. It is Sandi’s father. Or is it? He spits toward Luke, and in a mocking tone, questions his wisdom for leaving the safety of his estate, given the value of his very precious cargo.
 
 Luke eyes Sandi’s father and takes a cautious step backward. He continues in a hissing whisper, asking if Luke really thought he would be permitted to just waltz away from the walls of his fortress without being hunted. Luke fights against the urge to panic. This man… this THING… he has been using Sandi to get at Luke.
 
The awareness he sensed earlier has now kicked into high gear, straining his mind with sensory overload. He staggers back another step and attempts to make sense of the flood of information. How long has it been planning this? Has it been grooming Sandi for Luke since the beginning? Sorrow mixed with outrage surges, and forces Luke’s voice to break with emotion when he considers the possibility that that Sandi’s mother may have been killed just to orchestrate the scenario at church. Did he know Sandi would run to Luke? Did he predict that Luke would take her to the one place his family has always gone for comfort and prayer? But why lead her to Luke only to rip her away? What purpose could that possibly serve? To create doubt? confusion?
 
Subservience! Sandi’s father spits the word out before Luke can finish speaking. Sandi’s father continues in a mocking, hissing voice, telling Luke that he has been sewing seeds in the girl’s mind since childhood.
 
ENOUGH! The booming voice instantly silences the vile hissing from Sandi’s father; or rather, the evil that has consumed him. The powerful and commanding word resonates through Luke’s his mind. Obviously, Sandi’s father heard it as well. Luke does not need to hear any more than one syllable of one word to know who spoke it.
 
Mark Barimen was relentless in his quest for justice. He was dreaded throughout the criminal underworld as a loose cannon with a perfect record for taking down his foes. Mark had never been a rigid authoritarian, but possessed an unmistakable leadership quality that few could ignore. Seeing Mark now invokes equal measures of respect and fear in the young Barimen.
 
 —
 
Mark looks at Luke squarely in the eyes and grumbles that he should not have come here. Nor should he have risked bringing the seed. Sandi’s father squints its eyes and begins speak, but Mark issues a withering reprimand; causing him to wince instinctively and return to nursing his ruined shoulder.
 
Mark continues, asking if he would be allowed to view the seed. Luke hesitates, but only for a moment, then produces the alien-looking artifact. Mark just nods and tells Luke that it is as important as the entity itself, perhaps more so.
 
If it were to fall into the wrong hands, and the algorithm unlocked, it could very well mean the end of everything. Luke’s eyebrows furl to give away his confusion. Mark explains that he had had two sisters. Each was a genius without peer in her own right. Together, they could have changed the world. Deirdre had discovered the algorithm while working at the science lab. She also learned that a military man named Buford had intended to exploit it. Both Deidre and Claire were murdered because of their understanding of the algorithm. More specifically, for refusing to share their unique insights with Buford. Luke shakes his head in frustration and asks what is so important about this algorithm?
 
The algorithm is a mathematical expression that attempts to articulate the relationship between time and space; the two governing forces that keep the universe and everything in it, balanced.
 
Jiang Xi’s calming voice is a sharp contrast to Mark’s commanding tone. For those who are capable of understanding such a thing, and likewise possess the means to act upon it; the algorithm could be used to deal unthinkable harm. Luke asks why it even exists if it is so dangerous. Jiang Xi smiles and tells him that it was the innocent product of a charming but gullible, young woman. Having no intellectual equal with whom to discuss her profound understanding of the universe, she scribed the thing onto paper while writing in her diary. Her intent was harmless, but the consequences of her action are not. Still, it is not too late to correct it.
 
But to do so, Luke must be very careful to stay where he is protected from those who would stop him. Jiang Xi frowns, regarding Sandi’s father. And from men who chose corruption over virtue. Although he was defeated today, he will continue to pose a serious threat. And so will others who still remain hidden.
 
Luke instinctively grabs Sandi’s father by his good arm and expels him from the home, warning him not to return. Mark and Jiang Xi have already departed, but he can hear the elder instructor’s gentle voice in his head.
 
This is your lesson. Consider it carefully.
You sacrifice balance in your life so that others may possess it in theirs.
 
Your actions are noble.  But your efforts to protect may only result in hiding the truth from those who need to hear it most. And more importantly, it may not afford them the opportunity to choose whether they accept it as the truth, or not.
 
Ask yourself this: can you ever achieve real balance in the absence of real truth?
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5 thoughts on “Chapter 8.12 – Lesson

  1. WAIT WAIT WAIT
    Around the beginning, when Ying and Luke are around the campfire, there’s a picture with her hat, and then followed by a picture without the hat. YES! I HAVE CAUGHT EA >=] (Or…possibly…she took it off? Hm yea…that seems more reasonable)
    ….WAAA? Whoa! What? Dream? No! I was hoping for half siblings here!
    AH! Sandi’s Dad! Well isnt that unexpected..
    YES!! Ello there, Mark. I missed him. His story was always so cool and one of my favorites. Next to Faith and Hope of course
    Aww…Ying’s ghost! It’s purple! No wonder she went through such a lapse when she ate
    Psh, I don’t mind if the chapter was long, it was cool 😀 ooh, will there be a ghost baby? o.o

    Like

  2. Haha! I love reading your comments. I always get such a laugh out of them! 😉
    Yeah, the idea for Ying came to me while driving home about a week ago. I had to fit it in! 🙂

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter, and the length was fine! I can’t get enough of your story (well, the stuff that I understand). So wait, Ying was basically a ghost that came into Luke’s dreams, and then in real life, she steals the artifact? hmm… I wonder why.

    Ps. I have a new chapter done, a poll as well, and I was wondering if you could check it out, and vote.

    Like

    • Thanks! I’ll definitely head on over to your blog and check it out.
      Now that I look at the last couple of frames again, I can see where you think she might have stolen the coin. I had been trying to connect Luke’s dream to the real world by using the coin. In his dream, he gave Ying the coin. And in the real world, I wanted to show that her ghost has some knowledge of this.

      Like

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