The Seven Jewels

by Rev. Joe Kelly
read from the beginning

part six.

“How’s the leg?”

Luo glanced up from the glow of the campfire to glare at Alruf. “Still numb.”

“Of course it’s still numb. I mean, is the numbness going away at all?”

Luo massaged the stretched out leg, worked at the tender, swollen flesh. “Seems like the feeling is coming back a little.”

Alruf nodded. “Good.” He took a big bite of cured goat and spoke as he chewed: “You should be able to use it just fine by tomorrow morning. Then we finish it.”

Luo watched the Wose curiously. A small smile crept over his lips. “You’re really dead set on throwing your life away over some girl, aren’t you?”

Alruf brooded for a moment, his face growing dark. “A boy like you wouldn’t understand.”

“Eh? Try me. I think I understand perfectly.” Luo leaned over a little. “I’ve been jealous myself.”

His snicker drew a glare from Alruf. The Wose spat, “I told you, you wouldn’t understand. I’m not killing you for the girl’s sake.”

“Then why?”

Alruf leaned closer and snarled, “I’m going to kill you because I don’t like you. Because you’re a loudmouthed, braggart son of a bitch, and the world will be better off when you’re gone.”

Luo stared at him a moment, dumbfounded. He barked a laugh. “And what the hell are you, but a greedy, jealous bastard who can’t let go of a woman? She came to me because you bored her, and you can’t stand that fact.”

“I told you, it’s not about the woman.”

“Oh, sure.” Luo leaned back and chuckled. “It’s a matter of pride and honor. Sure. Keep telling yourself that.”

Alruf sat back as well. “You’re a fool, boy. And you’re not going to live long enough to learn why.”

Luo grinned back at him, and chuckled.

After a moment, Alruf grew a nasty smirk. “Yes… you’re a fool, all right. All blunder and bluster. No substance.” He lay back on his blanket with a sigh. “The dreams of fools… castles in the sky. And then a strong breeze passes by and blows their dreams and their empires into oblivion.” He poked his head up. “That’s all you are, boy. An emperor of clouds.” He lay his head back, and chuckled. “And that’s all you’ll ever live to be.”

Luo had stopped smiling. He peered through the darkness, examined the cliff face. With the glare of the fire in his eyes the temple facade was completely invisible, yet he could still picture it clearly. It had made quite an impression on him.

He muttered to Alruf, “Barbarian…”

Alruf muttered back, in a sleepy voice, “Who the hell are you calling barbarian, barbarian?”

Luo ignored his clumsy goad. “A thought occurs to me. You must have seen that big temple when you climbed over the walls, yes?”

“What of it?”

“Well, before you showed up, I had been thinking, idly, of seeing what might be found there.” Luo shrugged. “Chances are, it’s nothing, completely empty. But who knows? This place is long forgotten. Something valuable might have been left behind. And, I was thinking… two men would stand a better chance of gaining a difficult treasure than one.”

Alruf glanced up at him and grinned. “Trying to weasel your way out of the fight?”

Luo scoffed. “Hardly. We’d fight after we explored the temple, and the man who lived might walk away a very wealthy man.”

Alruf considered this a moment, then nodded as he lay his head down. “Yeah… I suppose that sounds like a plan. A little adventure, a duel in the courtyard… just know, barbarian, I’ll be watching you the whole time.”

Luo shrugged. “And I, you. But we’re honorable enough men, eh?”

Alruf chuckled quietly. “One of us is, anyway.” His voice grew heavy and indistinct as he drifted off. “You know, it’s funny… as soon as I saw the temple… I could picture us fighting to the death there. I had a feeling I’d meet you there… funny.”

Luo frowned to himself as the Wose fell silent. His shamanic training had told him there were no such things as coincidences. When one man was fixated on a thing, it was obsession. Two or more, warned of mesmerism, deviltry.

He peered through the dark, focused on the spot where he knew the temple facade to be. Nothing. There was no power there to stir his blood. Of course, they were far away, and he was not as well trained in the mystic arts of the Kan clan as he was the martial. But for a spell to be entrapping them, at such a distance, he was sure he would have felt some stirring of his blood.

He shrugged, and lay down to sleep.

And as he slept, he had strange dreams. Glorious visions, but all muddled, confused. Fleeting glimpses of castles in the sky. Of pleasure houses and courtesans.

He saw her face, as well. The girl he had shared a forbidden love with, the girl who the shamans had burned alive on the sacrificial pyre after they found them together. She was alive, and smiling. And she seemed to beckon him towards something…

But whatever it was, he had forgotten by the time he awoke. Alruf was already up as he stretched his leg. The Wose tossed him his sword. “I’ve been waiting for you near an hour now. Lazy bastard. Let’s get that leg of yours stretched out.” He grinned savagely. “You’ll need it when we’re done with the temple.”

On to part seven

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