For the next series of passages of Se-Lim they attended the School. And in Se-Lim’s absence, Lu Mīn would use a straight Ki-Mera branch in his hand, silently acting out a strange dance, more often simply staring at the wood wakat without moving at all.
His time in the School did not get easier. Ginse became more and more cruel, finding ways to inflict pain on Lu Mīn or humiliate him in front of other students of the School. Lu Mīn did not respond to these attacks, but neither did he smile.
Dun fi continued to excel in the War Arts, bringing down multiple combatants in fighting bouts specially organized for the advanced. Lu Mīn remained with the less skilled and the young ones.
When again the Na-Shime met to practice against the Na-Shizu, it gave Lu Mīn pleasure to see Lim Ki was again to be his match.
—You have greatly improved.—she said to him once they had knocked wakats several times.
—There is much left to learn.—Lu Mīn responded.
Lim Ki then let loose a flurried attack that caught Lu Mīn’s lower limbs, throwing him to the ground.
—You speak truth.—Lim Ki spoke over the hooting and laughing, where Ginse watched with the other Na-Shime.
But the hooting soon subsided.
—So long you have been in the School of the Wakat and you have so little to show for it.—the Gokhan approached Lu Mīn, Lim Ki bowing her head so as not to look in his face.
Lu Mīn did not give answer, but neither did he bow his head.
—I took you in as a kindness for a friend.—continued the Gokhan.—but I see I am failing to challenge those whose proper calling is to this School. You may no longer practice with the other students.—
The Gokhan then took Lu Mīn’s practice Wakat and with a loud snap, broke it into two pieces across his knee. He then handed the pieces to Lu Mīn, and, with his wooden staff, prodded the young Na-shime like a common Fan-di out of the hall. Wide eyed students watched in a hushed silence of shame, but Lu Mīn stood straight and seemed not to notice.
—You will practice here, by yourself.—the Gokhan pointed to the stench-filled lot behind the cooking place, where the School dumped its left over meals. –Until you have proven yourself worthy of the other students in this School, or my term of obligation runs out.—
Without another utterance, the Gokhan turned and walked back to the Hall. Only then did Lu Mīn make his bow.
Dun fi found Lu Mīn where he was accustomed to finding him in the absence of Se-Lim, a straight Ki-mera branch in his hand, silently staring, sometimes moving it in sweeping gestures.
Dun fi stared at the preoccupied form for a long while, a cloud of flies attracted to the sweet-smelling rot that hung to his clothes.
-You would do well to distance yourself from that one.— The Elder Na-Shime had silently approached Dun fi, and placed a skeletal arm affectionately upon his brawny shoulder.—He is too caught up in the things that are not. These will never overcome the things that are. Look, he smells like a pile of rubbish, and does he heed this? Look at the flies gather upon his limbs and crawl around his hair!—
Dun fi looked at the ground, but said nothing.
The Elder Na-Shime sighed, then spoke.
Believe too much
In each other.
They have not seen Time
Betray and corrupt
When they do
They are no longer young.
Dun fi remained outside watching Lu Mīn, till Se-Lim had sunk below the horizon. Then he left him there to take his rest.
Over the next passages, Lu Mīn did not enter the dwelling of the Elder Na-Shime , nor did he remove his garments or lift a hand to clean himself.
A great cloud of insects gathered around him. Beady eyed Loosu were never far away. Even Dun fi found it difficult to come near him for the smell. Any passerby curled his or her nose in horror and spat obscenities at Lu Mīn when he walked about.
But, without fail, Lu Mīn arrived at the school of the Wakat, making his way to the place the Gokhan had appointed for him.
—Where do you find nourishment?—Dun fi asked, choking upon the stink as he spoke with Lu Mīn one passage.
Lu Mīn looked sadly at him.—It is pitiable that you should ask such questions of me, Dun fi. I am surrounded by food all the time! I have never eaten so well in my whole life.—
Dun fi and Lu Mīn spoke less and less with one another. Other students of the School surrounded Dun fi, admiring his skill, asking him for help with their methods, or to invite him to enjoy in gatherings.
At first Dun fi was loathe to accept these invitations when his friend Lu Mīn was in such a lowly position, less welcome than the Loosu that followed him. But Lu Mīn did not even glance in his way when Dun fi waited upon him, at a distance.
So Dun fi eventually did accept, and was the loudest shouting for joy, splashing in the shallows of the Great Water under one of Ku-Na-Zem’s Golden Towers, where the other Na-Shime and Na-Shizu of the Schools gathered when free from obligations.
—You are the one who came here with the one called Lu Mīn?—A Na-Shizu approached Dun fi in his revelry.
Dun fi turned white from shock and shame.—Yes, that is me. I am called Dun fi.—
The Na-Shizu came closer bowing many times.—I have seen you fight. You are the greatest in the Schools. I am called Lim Ki. I know Lu Mīn from the practice. It was me who had him exiled. I wanted to know how it goes with him.—
—This is the first time I had completely forgotten about him.—Dun fi sighed and looked at his cup of Lai-se with self loathing—but it is right to remember him, for without his guidance I would yet remain in the community we came from, far from here. Far from the Schools.—
—Tell me.—Lim Ki’s eyes sparkled.—I wish to hear all.—
It took Dun fi many hours to relate to Lim Ki the story from its beginning to their arrival in the schools. The young ones had all left to take their rest, and the Lesser Authorities shone across the Great Water, making the Golden Tower shimmer with a softened brilliance that reflected itself in the eyes of the two as they spoke.
—I knew there was something about his Way.—Lim Ki spoke when Dun fi had finished.—His Way is not a common one.—
—I have never heard it said so perfectly.—Dun fi’s response scarcely covered his astonishment.—Or as generously. Many would say he is a Run-Fing and be done with it.—
—Take me to him.—responded Li Ki.—and let us see what he is doing, now.—
Dun fi sighed and stood to carry out the request, the Lai-se and the sparkling lights having gone to his head.
The two walked quickly through Ku-Na-Zem, saying nothing, Dun fi from a sudden worry.
They heard the shouts long before they reached the Elder Na-Shime ’s dwelling. Dun fi hurried his pace when he recognized the voice of Lu Mīn. He reached the yard just as the sparkling blade was sliced at Lu Mīn’s throat, the dark cloaked assailant gripping him from behind. Dun fi launched himself at the attacker, uttering the sharp cry of one trained in the War Arts.
The blade whistled as it carried on through the air where Lu Mīn had been, just as Dun fi struck. His heavy form made a crunching sound as he reached the ground, the assailant hissing and wheezing with pain. But Dun fi did not wait. Rolling to the left, his left limb and the assailant’s head connected with a thud.
The assailant sighed and collapsed, unconscious.
Lim ki grasped Dun fi to help him up, but he too fell back struggling to regain his inner wind.
—What happened?—she looked around with anticipation.
Dun fi coughed.—I do not know. He was here, and then…—
He suddenly groaned in pain.
—what is it?—Lim ki tightened her grip on Dun fi’s limb.
—It’s the smell.—Dun fi spluttered and suddenly voided his stomach on the ground.—Do you not mark it?—
Lim ki’s nose curled in sudden recognition and she too began to cough.
—Yes, and it seems to be getting worse.—
At that moment, a purple flame lit the yard, revealing the form of Lu Mīn.
Lu Mīn opened his eyes and calmly surveyed the two suffering forms of Dun fi and Lim ki, before smiling silently.
—Did he flee?—Lu Mīn pointed to the place the assailant had been.
Dun fi whipped to his feet, wiped the tears of pain from his eyes and looked at the spot the assailant had moments before occupied. Then he looked at Lu Mīn.
—Do you know who that was?—Lim ki had also stood.
—I am uncertain. But his intention was to send me to Go-na.—Lu Mīn bowed low towards Lim ki.—it is good to see you again, teacher.—
—The honour is mine.—She responded with a bow of her own.
—Lu Mīn, I must humbly beg for your pardon.—Dun fi had returned to the ground, an outstretched arm reaching towards Lu Mīn’s soiled slipper.—I deserted you precisely when you needed me most.—
—I think it is more likely that the attacker chose any opportune time.—Lu Mīn bent and grasped Dun fi’s hand.—Do not repeat any grovelling.—
—I am afraid I must insist.—Lim ki interrupted her hand covering her mouth.—that we clean you up, right now.—
The Elder Na-Shime ’s dwelling lay dark and quiet, an odd affair for the hour, though late for most in Ku-Na-Zem, was not usually so for him. Quickly Dun fi and Lim ki made the preparations to wash Lu Mīn in the yard with hot water and lye.
—Now tell us what happened.—Dun fi spoke in earnest.
—It is no great mystery.—Lu Mīn responded. –I was studying the Signs for my training in the Schools, when I was suddenly attacked. Then you arrived.—
—That work you accomplished.—Lim ki interrupted Lu Mīn.—How was it done?—
For you were here
And then you were not.
Then there were Flames
And you returned.
Lu Mīn smiled, bowed, and spoke.
I follow the Way
I see the Signs
It is by the Signs
That what you saw became so.
But I assure you
What I saw was very different.
—He was about to dispatch you.—Dun fi’s face became hard like a stone.—That is what I saw.—
—I respect your abilities. It is no doubt you who saved me from the fight.—Lu Mīn nodded.—But having seen what I have seen, I am more prepared for what may come.—
Lu Mīn then stood, grasped his Ki-mera branch that lay forgotten nearby, and turned to Lim ki.
—With respect teacher, may I challenge you to a turn?—
Lim ki smiled.—Of course.—
Dun fi watched with astonishment as the two squared off. Lim ki drew the wooden Wakat, which was always by her side.
—Your footing is still wrong.—Lim ki made a feint to one side then stepped forward and swung at Lu Mīn’s unprotected back.
The blow ought to have knocked Lu Mīn to his knees. However, when the blade struck where he was supposed to be, it struck empty space. Lim ki had enough time to look at Dun fi in shock before she felt the blow from behind, causing her to fall onto her knees.
Lu Mīn held the branch at her throat for a moment, before letting it fall to his side.
—Gonakhan .—Dun fi spoke quietly and reverently.—you have the power to unmake the world.—
—I am not the first to find the Way to the Things Behind.— Lu Mīn responded.—But I regret that it is a Way that has only begun to become dangerous.—