Episode Twenty Nine - Temple of the Baya
“We must head to the temple at the Peak of Pearl Sky Mountain. That is where I need to be,” Vetus Fei says.
When Fortune City was still vastly developing in its earlier days, the pioneer builders found Pearl Sky Mountain to be an enormous obstacle. A majority of the builders decided to expand around the obstructing landform, and only the few desperate for a new home traversed the mountain.
As time continued and the surrounding city flourished into a vast urban mosaic, the mountain remained a rural home to several hundred residents. The peak would become a seldom-visited sightseeing location.
“It’s going to be a long day, we should probably stock up on food,” suggests Kitsune at the wheel of the truck. Since Vetus Fei sits comfortably in the passenger seat, Renzo joins Zylo and Juniper in the truck bed on this rare occasion.
“Yes, food, puh-leaze,” agrees Juniper. “Let’s grab a bunch of sandwiches and chips or somethin’.”
Kitsune stops the truck at ‘Lucky Mart’ and the crew quickly storms past the doors for supplies. Rummaging through the aisles, Juniper rushes for the food and Zylo charges to the toiletries.
With lightning speed, Juniper reaches for sandwiches, rice balls, and boxed lunches with the frenzied hands of a starving animal.
“Um, need any help ma’am?” a store clerk stands nervously beside her.
“Get outta the way! I’m shopping here!” Juniper mercilessly pushes him aside to reach for the sponge cake.
Like a blur, Renzo storms the cold foods section and yanks open the refrigerator door for a carton of orange juice. One after another, he ruthlessly tosses them into his basket.
Kitsune leaps toward the beverage aisle, scanning row after row of inferior alcohol until tearing a bottle of Sinder scotch off the shelf. He stares with stern eyes like looking upon an old enemy. Then, a smile emerges, “I am so glad they have you here!”
While the crew is vigorously shopping, Vetus Fei walks casually around the store, slowly admiring the ceramic cups and bowls for their interesting patterns. She calmly rummages through a pile of miscellaneous clearance items, but finds nothing she likes.
Throughout the rest of the store, the other customers gasp in awe at the New Pirates before quickly moving away from their violent shopping stampede.
Collecting enough necessities, Renzo and Juniper head to the checkout, pouring their gathered contents onto the conveyor belt to the cashier.
Suddenly, Kitsune shouts, “Hey, get this too!”
From across the aisle, Kitsune viciously hurls a bottle of rice wine called ‘Ogre Slayer’. The wine soars over the heads of the people in line, past Juniper’s fast dodge and straight into Renzo’s hand, effortlessly catching it before placing the bottle next to their pile.
“Um, Kitsune, this is 190 proof... Why not get a bottle of rubbing alcohol?” Juniper comments sarcastically.
Kitsune walks over, sliding through the row of impatient shoppers behind Renzo and Juniper. “It’s fine, I’m sure it’ll disinfect our wounds the same.”
The crew loads the supplies onto the truck and immediately continues their way toward the mountain.
The bright sun is just starting to set over the horizon, outlining the articulate features of the mountainside in beautiful light. The peak is where they need to go, but the height surpasses even the tallest skyscrapers of the city.
The entrance at the base of the mountain is marked with a welcoming red archway with the words, ‘Pearl Sky’, etched into the wooden banner.
Scattered beside the mountain road is an abundance of local houses and buildings. With a community of their own, numerous residents ride on bikes and modestly small cars through the peaceful neighborhood.
People and residential houses become scarcer further up the mountain, replaced with refreshing masses of trees and woodland.
Today is definitely a nature day.
The truck follows the winding path around the mountain, and below sits the vast greatness that is Fortune City. The articulate shapes but undefined colors of the buildings stand in the far distance like a resplendent water painting.
Zylo sits up and peers into the city, astounded by the magnificent view. If only he was an artist or a musician, he would certainly find inspiration for some creative masterpiece. Instead, he wonders what it’d be like to leap off the top of this mountain and soar to the city below.
He could do it too, only it’d hurt. A lot.
Kitsune calls from the front, “We’re almost there.”
A gentle tap tickles Zylo’s cheek, only to realize a cherry blossom petal had softly landed on his face. He turns toward the front and his eyes widen at the sight.
Across the entire stretch of road are bright blooming pink and white petals dancing through the air guided by the tender wind. The leaf thickened branches hover over the pavement like a sheltering roof, containing the calm storm of delicate petals within the path.
Passing the comforting shelter of the cherry blossom trees emerges another archway with the word, ‘Sky’, gorgeously colored in gold and red.
“This is it, the temple grounds,” Vetus Fei says.
The truck slowly drives into an open dirt field surrounded by old temple houses and a three story pagoda at the center. Following each tier of the tower is a curved rooftop colored black with every corner marked by a small golden figure of a bird.
Zylo hops out of the truck and stares up the entire height of the pagoda. Through the dimming light, he makes out the figure of a blue phoenix sitting at the very top.
Juniper grabs a few bags from the truck bed and follows Vetus Fei toward the pagoda. “Wonder if anyone’s here, ‘cause they’d better get the hell out.”
“This temple has been empty for a long time,” says Vetus Fei. She slowly walks up the steps and gently places her frail, wrinkled hands against the worn wooden doors. Slowly and unexpectedly, the doors open inward from her light touch, and she eagerly steps inside.
The New Pirates haul the supplies into the temple, calmly pacing across the tatami floor of the wide empty room. Sitting on one end is a large statue of a graceful woman lying on her side. The giant stone woman covers nearly a third of the room with her height reaching halfway to the high ceiling.
The ribbons of her dress hover magically in the air, circling around her single raised hand with a lotus flower sitting in her open palm. Settled around her feet are large discs the size of coffee tables shaped like gold coins.
She is the goddess of Fortune, a deity well known to the residents of the city. Not many people believe in the goddess anymore, though many elderly folk still pray to her for the sake of tradition.
Juniper rests the grocery bags on the floor and stands in front of the statue, closing her eyes and gently clasping her hands together. She mumbles something under her breath, then opens her eyes again.
“Didn’t know you were the religious type.” Renzo places his bag neatly beside hers.
“I’m not, but I’ll take anything,” she admits.
Vetus Fei strolls across the room, heading to the back section of the tower.
Curious, Zylo trails her out of the back door and finds himself in a tightly enclosed garden. A high wall lines the perimeter accompanied by trees, rounded hedges, and colorful flower beds. Winding around the garden is a stone path that cuts through the soft grass, leading to a mysteriously deep pond filled with koi fish. At the center of this pond is a round, grassy island.
Vetus Fei walks delicately across the stone steps onto the soft grass of the island. She sits down at the center, legs crossed and hands gently placed above her knees, and closes her eyes.
Zylo watches from the doorway, uncertain and even skeptical of her plans. There is a lot at stake, and none of them can afford to lose.
‘I’m trusting you, Fei. We’re all trusting you.’
Within the main room, the crew eats and drinks beside the statue. The room is dimly lit from the lanterns placed along the walls with the light barely reaching the ceiling. The flames flicker like tiny campfires while the wind outside howls in the night.
“Catch.” Juniper tosses Zylo a salmon rice ball.
“Salmon? Lucky me,” he smiles.
“Take all the fish ones, I don’t want any of those,” she says before stuffing her mouth with a grilled chicken sandwich.
Kitsune twists open the bottle of scotch and slowly takes a sip. He closes his eyes and exhales a breath to savor the taste. “It’s gonna be a long day tomorrow,” he sighs. “Mo ichido, thank you guys.”
With her mouth stuffed with food, Juniper says, “You don’t haff to keep thanking ush.”
“Yeah, we’re not gonna run out on you,” Zylo adds. “Just make sure Vetus Fei’s plan actually works.”
Kitsune takes another swig. “To be honest, I don’t even know what her plan is! But!” Before the crew can react in violent disappointment, he adds, “But if she says she has a plan, I’m gonna trust her.”
“You don’t leave us with much of a choice but to follow along, Kitsune.” Renzo’s diffidence is rare.
“I’m sorry, I am. But if you trust me, then please trust her. Here, drink some of this Ogre Slayer.” Kitsune passes the bottle of almost pure alcohol to Zylo. “That ought to calm your nerves.”
The strong, poisonous scent burns Zylo’s nostrils before upper-cutting his face, throwing him back with a sense of nausea. “Oh god, I don’t need this yet. Here,” Zylo passes the bottle.
Renzo hastily declines with a wave of his hand. “No thank you, I’ll stick with this. Pure vitamin C.” and he drinks his orange juice.
“Gimme that.” Juniper leans over and snatches the Ogre Slayer. “Tomorrow, we see how our lives turn out. Let fortune favor the bold Pirates!” She closes her eyes and takes a large gulp.
The liquid enters her mouth but takes a second to swallow. In fact, she nearly coughs it back out before forcing herself to ingest the burning, torturous fluid.
A normal human would be halfway done with their night after a drink like that. Luckily, Juniper’s a hunter who likes to party.
“You’re right, pass it.” Zylo retrieves the bottle and takes a deep breath, “Tomorrow, we face the world, but at least it’s with you guys,” and he takes a large chug equal to Juniper’s. Even with his more resilient hunter tolerances, the sake burns excruciatingly toxic on his tongue.
Renzo finishes his quart of orange juice, and unexpectedly mutters, “I love you guys.”
The crew is silent for a moment before simultaneously bursting into laughter.
“Oh, Renzo.” Juniper walks behind him and leans over his head, draping her arms around his chest. “Glad you guys are part of the New Pirates.”
The crew relaxes and runs through most of the food.
Zylo, still grasping the bottle of sake, pulls open the temple doors for a breath of air. The beautiful night sky is sparkling with stars and the enormous moon glowing pristine white. He sits on the lowest step and embraces the view.
Juniper comes out behind him and closes the temple doors. “Weird day, eh?” she lightly places her hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah…suddenly our lives are so different. Didn’t even have time to take it all in.”
She gently sits beside him, leaning her warm body against his.
Zylo is quick to place an arm around her shoulder to pull her close. Her beautiful purple eyes reflect the moonlight and her sweet smile arouses his imagination.
Without words, like an instinct through a greater spiritual connection, the two lean toward each other. Their breaths warm the cold air between them and their soft lips delicately touch. A light peck, enough to express their affection, and the two separate again.
“Oh, kawaii da na, you two lovebirds,” says Kitsune’s abrupt voice.
The couple turns to find him standing behind them, still holding his scotch in one hand and a piece of sponge cake in the other.
Juniper pecks Zylo’s cheek once more before getting up from the step, then walks toward the temple door beside Kitsune. “You’ve done a lot, Kitsune. Don’t keep everything to yourself next time. We’re a crew.”
“I’ll try,” he smiles. “Oyasumi,” then takes a bite of cake.
“Night.” Juniper kisses the air at Zylo before stepping back into the temple.
“I’ve always trusted you, Kitsune, even when I hated you,” Zylo never looks away from the sky. A chilly mountain breeze cuts through him and he almost shivers in the wind.
Kitsune sits down beside him, “Even that time when Bull attacked us and you ditched me?”
Zylo takes a moment to recall the event, then laughs. “Yeah, I trusted you were going to kill me no matter what I did. I knew you’d be okay.”
Kitsune laughs too. “I know.” He offers a piece of cake to Zylo, who eagerly snips off a piece. “I’m sorry again, for that. Seems like I’m always owing you something.”
“You promised you’d get me my life, so that’s that.” He holds the bottle of sake up to his mouth but the smell is repulsive, and he quickly places it back down. “Man, I need something normal to drink,” and he gets up from the seat.
“Get some juice from Renzo. He’s got another quart,” says Kitsune.
Zylo slowly makes his way back toward the doors but glances back, “Hey, is it true Renzo was a cop and you were a criminal he was chasing?”
Kitsune chuckles and turns halfway to face him, “He told you the story? Yeah, it’s true. We died in the explosion together.”
“Oh…so, why’d you guys become such good friends?”
Exhaling a breath, Kitsune tries to think of the best response, “Times change…and lives change. What we were in the past didn’t matter anymore. We accepted that and moved on.”Zylo pushes the door open, “I see. Oyasumi.”