Lan groaned. His body ached all over. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked around. He was currently lying in a large luxurious looking bed with a large purple blanket and giant fluffy pillows in the middle of a spacious and fully furnished room the likes of which one would expect to find in a royal palace. To the wall on his left there was a large open window with bamboo shutters that was letting in fresh morning air and to his left was a carved oak door. At first he thought he was completely alone, but then he noticed a red bundle at the foot of his bed. The little wolf pup was snoozing belly up with his tongue lolling out of his mouth, when suddenly he started whimpering and flailing his legs in the air, as if he was running from something. Lan smiled and sat up, ignoring his aching muscles.
“There there boy.” Said Lan, petting the little wolf “It’s only a dream.”
At the touch of Lan’s hand, Ignis’s body relaxed and the little wolf opened his eye slightly and wagged his tail. Lan smiled and leaned backwards onto the fluffy pillows behind him and closed his eyes to rest a little more.
“Bout time you woke up!” boomed a loud, crass voice.
Lan bolted up and began looking around, searching for the source of the all too familiar voice. He looked all around and even at the ceiling, but was unable to find it.
“Down here” it said. “Look over the edge of the right side of your bed.”
Confused, Lan did as instructed and peaked over the edge. Looking up at him, with a smile on his hairy face, was Byakko. All save for his head and his arms, which were nestled under his cranium, were under the bed.
“Uh, how long have you been down there?” asked Lan.
“Since last night.” Said Byakko, matter of factly.
“So you’ve been there since I passed out yesterday?”
“Yesterday?” said Byakko, chuckling “It’s been three days since you passed out boy!”
“Really?” said Lan, plopping back down onto his pillows, “I guess that explains why I’m so hungry.”
“Good to hear!” shouted Byakko, “Let’s get some food!”
The whole bed shook and nearly tilted over as Byakko came out from under it, startling poor little Ignis and causing the little wolf to fall onto the floor.
In what seemed like a split second, Byakko popped up beside the now fully awake Lan and grabbed the frightened little boy’s head.
“But first thing’s first” said Byakko, grinning “You need a bath.”
“I thought you didn’t like baths” said Lan, fear in his eyes.
“Not when there as fun as the ones in my house!” shouted Byakko “Come on Ignis” Byakko grabbed the startled little wolf and placed him under his arm.
Byakko burst out of the room, carrying the two struggling forms and proceeded to dash through the hallways and down the stairs until they reached a pair of large twin double doors in the depths of the palace. With a grunt, Byakko kicked the center of it and sent the doors flying open. Inside was a massive bath with three large pools side by side, the one on the far left was bubbling and steaming, the one in the middle appeared normal, and the one on the far right was releasing what appeared to be cold water vapor. In the back of the room there were three large waterfalls, each seeming to have the same type of water as the pool directly in front of them. The room was intricately decorated with tiger-themed stone carvings. The ground of the room was constructed of black stone, and the ceiling was constructed of white stone and contained a few hanging chandeliers which glowed to life the moment the two entered.
Within a few seconds, Byakko quickly stripped Lan of his clothes and was holding the little boy, who was covering his privates with his hands, upside down by the ankle.
“Grandpa” said Lan nervously “I don’t think I’ve recovered enough to use a bath!”
“Don’t worry.” Said Byakko, lifting Lan and Ignis above his head “I checked you out this morning, you’re good!”
With a grunt Byakko tossed Lan and Ignis into the air. The two yelped as they flew through the air. With a splash, both of them landed in the bubbling far left pool with a loud hiss.
“HOT!” screamed Lan, bursting out of the water and swimming for the nearby edge, closely followed by Ignis of course. However, the moment he grabbed the bank, he found himself face to face with a large hairy foot.
“Stay in a little longer boy” said Byakko, who was now wearing nothing but a bath towel. With a kick, Byakko sent Lan flying back into the middle of the pool. Ignis, however, was able to jump out of the hot pool and leap into the middle one without Byakko moving to stop him. Ignis gave a whine of relief as the cooler water enveloped him. He was glad to no longer be the main target of Byakko’s harassments.
“Gonna…die” thought Lan, as he struggled to maintain his breathe in the boiling pool.
“Okay that’s enough” said Byakko, appearing next to Lan in the pool and hoisting the now steaming boy out of the water.
“Oh, Oh thank—“started Lan.
“Next!” shouted Byakko who then threw the boy in the direction of the pool on the far right.
Lan crashed through the surface of the water and sank halfway to the bottom. Lan sighed in pleasure as his burning skin was soothed by the cool water around him, but after a few moments he realized that things were quickly becoming…
“Cold!” shouted Lan as he burst through the surface of the icy pool. He once again tried to swim to the edge but was once again met with the same response from Byakko. Ignis watched from the central pool as Lan was volleyed back and forth between the pools six times. Finally, with a loud splash, Lan fell into the central pool where he floated on his back, once again exhausted.
“Good soak huh?” said Byakko, climbing in, “Nothing quite like a hot and cold soak to give a person a nice start to the day.”
“W-Why?” said Lan, who was slowly recovering from the ordeal he had just gone through.
“Something about blood vessels” said Byakko with a shrug, “an old friend of mine introduced me to it.”
The two of them stayed like that for a little while, Ignis constantly swimming back and forth between them and giving each of them a lick, until Lan had finally recovered. Byakko then told the boy about the deal he had made with Kong three days ago and the massive role that Lan was to play.
“Oh man.” Said Lan, scratching his head “This is going to take a lot of planning.”
“And I’m going to need to give you a lot of aura speak infusions” said Byakko, who stretched out his arms in the bubbling pool. “Got to know what the animals are saying.”
“Hmmm, I should probably start on this right after breakfast and—“started Lan.
“Whoa Whoa Whoa” interrupted Byakko, “You’re not working on anything today. I’m going to be giving you a tour of the house and the valley. You can work on all that technical mumbo jumbo starting tomorrow.”
“But aren’t we on a limited time schedule with—“
“Time schedule?” said Byakko, scoffing “Unless you’d call a couple years too little, you’ll be fine. Besides we’re also going to be traveling more to get you more world experience.”
“Then who’s going to head all of this while I’m gone?” said Lan.
“I’m sure you can train some of the animals to take care of it during the time you’re here.” said Byakko, digging his nose.
Lan wanted to object, but judging from what he knew about his grandpa’s personality, any more questioning would result in something painful. Sighing, Lan sank deeper into the bubbling water.
“Alrighty boy.” Said Byakko smiling, “Time for the shower!”
“Shower?” said Lan, “I don’t see any—“
That was when he realized what his grandpa was talking about; he slowly turned his head and looked at the pounding waterfalls behind him.
“Oh no,” said Lan slowly shaking his head “no no no.”
“Come on Lan!” said Byakko standing up, “I even got soap! I know how much you like that stuff!”
Lan was about to say how ridiculous that was when he noticed something. The pool they were in had stopped bubbling. Confused, Lan looked for some kind of switch around the pool that could have been an activating mechanism, but he found none. Then, the truth struck him as he noticed that the water they were bathing in had taken on a slightly brownish hinge. Yelping in disgust, Lan jumped out of the water…and into Byakko’s outstretched hand.
“That’s the spirit!” said Byakko, pulling back the arm that held the now terrified Lan, “Let’s start with cold this time!”
With a splash, Lan crashed into the large waterfall on the right and was slammed to the ground by the pressure of the falling water. It felt as though he was being bombarded by large ice cubes. He quickly struggled to his feet, his teeth chattering, and tried to get out, but a large muscular hand covered in something slippery quickly grabbed his wrist.
Right next to him and, amazingly, covered in soap was Byakko, holding a giant bar of soap with his pits and what appeared to be a large clump of steel wool with his hand.
“Let grandpa wash your back for ya!” he said with an evil smile. “Ah heck, grandpa will wash all over ya for that matter!”
Lan watched in horror as his grandpa lathered the steel wool with the soap that he was holding under his armpit.
“No, Grandpa!” shouted Lan, who desperately tried to pull away “I’m still injured!”
“Which means a good washing will be good for ya!” shouted Byakko, pulling Lan towards him.
The bath was soon filled was screams as Lan was washed in the hot and cold waterfalls over and over again.
After the ordeal in the bath, which Lan was able to survive thanks to the aura he replenished over three days of rest, Lan wearily made his way up to the dining hall. When he arrived he was pleasantly surprised by what he found. The table was filled to the bursting point with many different dishes made from the local fruits, vegetables, and fish. There was of course no meat of the more sentient animals since the meal was prepared by those creatures. Lan was more than happy to settle with the meal that was already there, Ignis as well. However, Byakko, who had arrived at the table long before Lan, had left to gather ingredients, more specifically meat. A man of Byakko’s size and energy needed much more animal protein than the local fish supply was able to satiate, since the only fish in the valley came from the lagoon at the foot of the waterfall and the river at the top.
This made many of the animals in the area very nervous, because even though they respected the strong eat the weak principle of nature, they all felt rather perturbed that they could possibly end up in the old man’s gut the next day. Lan knew that this would make it very difficult to set up the promised civilization, which he had dubbed ‘animal town’, and made a mental note to try and find a way to fix this problem. A few minutes later, Byakko returned with the meat, gave it to the animals in charge of cooking, and sat down at the opposite side of the table, quickly polishing off most of the dishes.
After the three finished their meal, Byakko placed Lan, who had Ignis stuck on his head, on his shoulders and began to show them the palace. It was an enormous place with hundreds of guestrooms, numerous hallways, and dozens of rooms that you would expect to find in a palace of this size. The entire palace was very well ordered when Lan was taking his tour, leading him to believe that it had been recently cleaned by the many animalian servants that were wandering the halls.
Of all the sights that Lan saw in the palace, the ones that made the biggest impacts on Lan were the treasury at the bottom floor of the palace, the kitchen, the armory, the grand banquet hall, and the atrium at the very top of the palace.
The treasury was a massive room filled with treasures that Byakko had collected over his many years of adventuring. The room was locked by a massive rare metal door that could only be opened by using special key and turning it with a great deal of force. Lan had walked through the mounds of gold, silver, and precious gems and wondered what Byakko actually planned to do with all the wealth.
“I dunno!” Byakko had responded “It’s pretty much all rainy day funds, but if you have a better idea on what to do with it all, I’d be more than happy to try it out!”
So as a result, money management and investing were added onto Lan’s mental to do list.
The kitchen was an enormous room filled hundreds of cooking utensils and dozens of cooking ranges and fire pits. There was also what appeared to be an enormous sink where the dishes were washed. As Lan walked through, his mind was filled with the many dishes he could prepare using this room. Lan really did have a knack for cooking. Not only did his lessons with Anna stick with him, but he also had tons of practice since he had to cook all of Byakko’s food most of the time. And at that moment his culinary spirit was burning with the desire to make something out of the many exotic ingredients found in this valley. However, Byakko, impatient as always, had quickly taken Lan out of the room and sped him along to the next destination.
The armory was, of course, filled with weaponry. It was all more classic weaponry however, none of the hybrids and specialized weaponry that were becoming more prominent in the world. But Lan was still ecstatic as he whizzed through the room, looking at the many swords, guns, axes, and other weaponry that lined the walls. At the end of that specific tour, Byakko had allowed Lan to pick out four weapons to use. Lan had chosen a pair of rare metal nunchaku, a banded iron staff, a bow made of ironwood and steel arrow, and a pair of iron gauntlets.
The grand banquet hall was where Lan and Kong had fought three days ago, and after the filth the monkeys had spread about the room was cleaned up and the room was returned to its former glory was Lan able to see how truly magnificent it was with its shining chandeliers, smooth floors, and beautiful decorations. However, being there also brought on a strangely bittersweet sensation. It reminded him very much of the ballroom that he had danced in with Alayna back in Little Root. After Byakko saw that melancholy that was began to form on Lan’s face, he quickly moved onto the next destination.
The atrium had been the final stop on Byakko’s tour and was by far the most magnificent. At the very top of the palace, there was a large well-kept garden. It was filled with fruit trees that soared towards the sun shining through the hole above, grasses that were as soft as quilts, and relaxing lawn paraphernalia such as hammocks and lawn chairs. With the early afternoon sunlight pouring in and the birds flitting through the trees, it was truly a beautiful and peaceful place for a person to lay down their burdens.
“Good place to relax ain’t it?” said Byakko, pulling fruit from a tree.
“Yeah” said Lan, plopping down on the grass and looking around. “and a really nice way to end the tour.”
“End?” said Byakko, chuckling slightly “This is only the end of the castle tour! I was planning on showing you the entire valley. I mean look, it’s still noon. Our day’s still going on strong!”
“Oh, Alright” said Lan, who bit into a sweet orange fruit, “Where do we start?”
“You finished resting up?” asked Byakko, smiling.
“I…guess so?” said Lan, slightly perturbed.
“Great!” shouted Byakko, leaping to his feet “The valley tour starts now, and it’s going to be tons more fun than the castle tour!”
Shooting his arm out, Byakko seized Lan by the front of his clothes and threw the boy upwards. Lan screamed as he shot like a bullet towards the center of the giant hole in the center of the cavern ceiling. With a boom, Byakko leapt upwards, quickly caught up to Lan, and caught the boy in a bear hug. The two of them shot through the hole, high into the air where they were able to see the entire valley and the area that surrounded it. Lan of course was still screaming at this time, but was quickly shut up by Byakko who clamped his strong, and of course dirty, hands across Lan’s mouth as they began to descend. As they fell through the air, Lan saw the amazing scenery of the valley, the surrounding mountains, and the areas beyond spread out around him, illuminated by the bright rays of the sun which shone high in the sky.
“Brace for impact!” shouted Byakko, tightening his arms and nearly suffocating Lan. The two of them were barreling towards the river that split before reaching the hole in the mountain, and then reformed after passing it and finally forming the giant waterfall once it reached the cliff.
“Grandpa!” shouted Lan as Byakko released his mouth, “We need to reduce our speed!”
“Nonsense!” shouted Byakko, “You should always go full force in anything you do! Now let’s cannonball.”
With an enormous splash that created a column of water fifty feet high, Lan and Byakko crashed through the surface of the river and were quickly swept towards the waterfall by the flow. Even underwater, Lan could hear his grandpa’s booming laughter resounding all around him.
The two of them burst through the surface of the water a few seconds later and were greeted by the sight of the river falling off towards a deep abyss. As always, Lan was scared out of his wits while Byakko was enjoying the moment and Lan’s fear.
“Well, at least there’s no sharp rocks at the bottom” said Lan, swallowing.
“Who says?!” shouted Byakko “It wouldn’t be any fun to just fall into a normal lagoon, so I had some animals fill it with sharp pointy rocks while I was giving you the tour!”
“You what!?” screamed Lan, now struggling futilely to free himself from Byakko’s grasp “What the heck is wrong with you-hoo-hoo” Lan cried out the last word.
The two of them were now nearing the edge of the waterfall and were increasing in speed.
“Bring it on!” shouted Byakko.
The two of them plummeted over the edge. As the two began their long descent to the bottom, the valley was filled with the combined sounds of Lan’s screams and Byakko’s outbursts of exhilaration. Many of the animals in the forest stopped and watched as the black speck that was the two of them slowly fell down the parallel to the waterfall. Luckily for Lan, halfway down an enormous fish the size of a full grown cow burst out of the waterfall.
“Oooooh, I see an afternoon snack!” shouted Byakko, who quickly seized the fish with his left hand and pulled it towards him.
Taking advantage of his grandfather’s lapse in attention, Lan slipped out of Byakko’s right hand and attempted to leap towards a rock free area of the deep portion of the lagoon.
“Oh no you don’t!” shouted Byakko, who quickly stuck the fish between his legs and seized Lan with both his hands. “Now let’s ride the fish to the bottom!”
“Ahhhhh!” screamed Lan as he struggled in his grandpa’s unbreakable grip.
The two of them were then falling down to the bottom just like before, only this time Byakko was riding on a giant flailing fish.
“Countdown to impact!” shouted Byakko happily, “5!”
Lan continued to struggle.
Lan had given up struggling and had begun despairing.
Lan slowly had come to terms with his impending doom.
Lan prayed to whatever being that controlled the universe.
Lan closed his eyes, awaiting his end.
Lan expected to feel the sting of sharp stones impaling his body, but strangely he felt just fine. Lan slowly opened his eyes and found himself staring at a stone spike 5 inches from his face. Confused as to why it hadn’t gone through his skull, Lan looked down and found his answer. The fish that they had been riding on had landed on the sharp stones first, became impaled, and slowed their momentum. Lan, luckily, had been held up just high enough by Byakko to avoid being impaled any of the stones. Byakko of course had been struck by the stones, but each of the sharp points had shattered upon coming in contact with his skin.
“Aw, darn” said Byakko, dropping Lan (who then fell a much less devastating distance onto the rocks below) “this fish took away the fun.” The fish currently had its eyes rolled back into its head and was leaking blood. “We didn’t get temper ourselves by smashing into the rocks.”
“Temper ourselves?” said Lan, who had climbed back onto the fish after clawing his way back up from the stones below. “I would have died!”
“Aw you would’ve been fine” said Byakko “You’re aura and training would’ve shielded you from the damage…probably.”
Sighing, Lan rubbed the part of his skull that had crashed onto the rocks and patted the giant dead fish in thanks for saving him.
“Well, Anyway” said Byakko as he leapt onto a nearby flat rock and pulled the fish off the spikes “Let’s eat.”
The two then swam their way to the edge of the lagoon where Lan constructed a large fire by throwing one of his bombs onto the dry sticks and leaves they collected. Lan then butterflied and filleted the fish so that it could cook faster. While the fish roasted, Lan and Byakko sat on the sandy beach. No sand stuck to their clothes because the wind force from falling off the waterfall had already dried their clothes. Once it finished cooking Byakko immediately began stuffing the food into his mouth. Lan however, placed his hands together and thanked the fish for saving his life before he began his meal. Within a few minutes they had finished. Hoisting Lan onto his shoulder, Byakko then began to show the rest of the valley to Lan in a way that, thankfully, exposed Lan to much less bodily harm than initially.
The majority of the tour was spent in the forest which was bursting from the seams with all matter of flora and fauna. Byakko brought the boy to visit the territories of all major animal packs in the area. The areas they lived in varied immensely from the depths of dark underground caves to the tops of the highest trees. All of them greeted Byakko with fear and reverence before giving Lan the tour on how they lived their lives. On each of these visits, Lan talked to the leaders about the plan for bringing about an animal civilization in the valley. Most of the leaders showed interest in this matter, but at the same time most believed that it would be difficult to work with unless something could be done about Byakko, none of them wanted to end up as a snack on his dinner table. Luckily, during Lan’s conversations with the primates and the birds, he discovered a possible solution to the dilemma. After they had finished meeting with the animal packs, Byakko decided to use his favorite morning walking trail to show Lan the rest of the major places in the valley forest. It was a splendid route illuminated by the sunlight that slipped through the hanging foliage and during this time, Lan recognized and gathered many medicinal and poisonous plants that he had read about in books or had learned from people in his village. Many of them could be used in medicine and potentially poison making.
At each stop on the trail, Byakko showed Lan a unique part of the forest. Large bubbling hot springs, relaxing emerald glades (where Lan considered starting the first agricultural operations), and beautiful one-of-a kind plants that only grew in the valley just to name a few. After a little while the trail went inside of the mountain and ended up leading to the cavern where Byakko’s palace dwelled. When Lan inquired why they didn’t use this passage originally, Byakko burst out laughing and patted Lan on the back so hard that the boy fell onto his face.
At this time Ignis, who was angry over being left behind, burst from the front of the castle and made a beeline for Lan and Byakko, determined not to get left behind again.
“I don’t know what to say” said Lan, patting the disgruntled Ignis on the head “You missed some fun stuff, but you also missed a lot of pain.”
After adding Ignis to the group, Byakko began to show the two through the various tunnels and cavities of the cavern. The cave was filled with hundreds of sparkling natural crystal formations formed from the raw dust ore (many of which Ignis “marked” with disastrous results). From what he read about in current dust energy usage, Lan realized that the amount of raw dust in the cavern would be able to equip an entire army, power a large city for years, and still have enough to sell for a massive profit. Once they had finished looking around the cavern Byakko punched another hole in the waterfall and threw Lan and Ignis out of it. The two of them flew through the air and crashed into the side of the great tree in front of the lagoon. As he peeled his face off the tree side, Lan realized that the sun had begun setting. Suddenly he felt a large hand on his back and he turned around to see Byakko holding Ignis in one hand and was amazingly standing perpendicular to the tree by digging his toes into the bark.
“Come on boy” he said, pointing upwards. “Time for the last stop.”
Byakko threw the now mentally-prepared-to-be-thrown Lan to the tree leaves above and dashed upwards, passing Lan by, and caught the boy halfway through the leaves of the tree. Built inside this part of the tree was a large treehouse that had apparently grown out of the tree. Byakko carried Lan and Ignis through the door and inside. The inside was fully furnished and contained everything you would expect to find in a log cabin, with the exception of a fireplace of course. Byakko set Lan and Ignis down on some chairs in front of a table near the large window that faced the valley and took a seat on the opposite side. Sitting on the table was a pitcher of fresh fruit juice, a large bowl of water, and a keg that smelled strongly of alcohol.
“Ah, I see them monkeys set it all up well.” Said Byakko, uncorking the keg and taking a deep whiff of its contents. “The best way to end a tour is truly to watch the sunset with a drink in hand.”
“Nice tree house” said Lan, sipping some juice from the pitcher.
“Yes it is!” said Byakko happily “It ,along with my palace, was constructed with my own two hands” Lan raised his eyebrow “along with the assistance of many of my friends and people that owed me for things!” Lan lowered his eyebrow.
Byakko tipped the keg backwards and took a long chug out of it after which he let out a long sigh into Lan’s face, causing the boy’s eye to twitch.
“Good!” said Byakko, “Especially after 40 years of aging!”
Lan didn’t pay attention to this and instead looked out the window at the valley bathed in golden sunshine.
“It’s beautiful” thought Lan, as Byakko took another long chug from the keg. His gaze traveled over the whole valley, noting the locations of each and every important area they had traveled to that day, but as his gaze began to slip past the surrounding mountain range he noticed something.
“Hey grandpa” said Lan, standing on the chair and poking his head out of the window.
“Hmmm?” said Byakko, as he finished the large keg and uncorked another one that was lying nearby.
“What’s that spot of green over there?”
Lan pointed in its direction and Byakko stuck his head out the window as well to get a better look. After scrutinizing for a few moments, Byakko’s eyes lit up in recognition.
“Ah” he said, sitting back down on the chair “That would be the emerald forest. If I remember correctly it’s often used for the Beacon Academy initiation.”
“Beacon academy?” said Lan whipping around “Isn’t that one of the best hunter academy’s there is? And—wait!” Lan suddenly realized something else. “That means we’re near the city of Vale! One of the four kingdoms on Remnant! Oh grandpa” Lan threw himself onto the table, avoiding the drinks of course, and clasped his hands in a begging gesture “can we go? Oh please please can we go there?”
Byakko burst out laughing, shook his head, and ruffled Lan’s hair.
“You can go anytime you want” said Byakko, smiling, “but I’m afraid this old tiger won’t be coming with you.”
“Why not?” said Lan, disgruntled “I can’t go there if you don’t come with me.”
“Sorry boy” said Byakko, starting his third keg (and at this point his face was beginning to grow red from intoxication). “It’s a promise I made with my team a long long time ago. We promised that none of us would ever get to close to any of the major cities of the four kingdoms. Too much attention. Sure being a famous hero is fun in the beginning, but then you get into all those political situations and get weird people knocking on your door at night.” Byakko shuddered as he remembered it “It’s way better to be unsung heroes, changing the world from where people can’t see us.”
Lan was a bit miffed over not being able to go, but he was also curious and surprised to hear that his grandfather had a team.
“You had a team?” asked Lan, leaping back onto his chair.
“Yep” said Byakko, chucking an empty keg out the window which, from the squawking that came from below, hit a bird “Team BAMT (battlement), back then we were called the invincible bulwark of mankind against the Grimm.”
“Who was in it?” asked Lan.
“There was me of course, the dashing leader and powerhouse” said Byakko, swaying slightly now that he was on his 10th keg. “Then there was Agni Chutuoc, funny guy who specialized in fighting large numbers of enemies, Meng Zhang, the guy who going to train you in a few years and the brains in our team, and Teo Hyunmu, tough lady who was our defense specialist. And you know what they look like boy.”
“I do?” said Lan.
“Yep” replied Byakko “The four of us are on that giant painting back in the dining hall.”
Lan did remember that giant piece of artwork, hanging above the banister. On the far right there was a black-haired women wearing heavy black armor and had two giant black metal shields on her back. Next to her was a black-haired man wearing blue and tan cloth robes and had on a pair of shimmering metal gauntlets. Next to him was a red-headed shirtless man wearing a pair of baggy pants and had two large red chakram at his sides that had flame-like designs. Finally at the far left was a younger version of Byakko who was wearing his trademark gi and was carrying a giant katana on his back.
“Hey, you had a sword back then!” said Lan “I thought you didn’t use weapons?”
“I don’t ushe it anymore” said Byakko belching and downing another keg “Got to eashy to beat meh enemies so I hid it away shomwhere ‘belch’. But that’s after I stopped traveling together with those guys. Got lot more…boring after we shplit up ‘yawn’”
“I wonder if I’ll ever get a team.” said Lan softly as he stared off into the bright evening sky. “Do you think I’ll ever find one grandpa?”
Lan turned to Byakko to receive some confirmation but found the large man slumped back into his chair, snoring and hugging a large half-empty keg of spirits. Lan sniffed the top and wrinkled his nose.
“90% alcohol” said Lan scooting away from the table “He’ll be out for the rest of the night.”
Lan looked around the cabin and found that there was only one bed in the house, so it was actually lucky that Byakko fell asleep in the chair. After all Lan didn’t want to sleep while being pressed against his grandfather’s smelly armpits.
After tossing a large green blanket onto Byakko, Lan chugged the rest of the juice then filled the pitcher with clean water from a large urn. He then placed the pitcher on the bedside table and then searched around the cabin until he found a pen and a stack of paper which he then placed on the bedside as well.
“Good thing I always keep these with me” said Lan, pulling out a toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, and soap. Another stroke of fortune was that there was also a bathroom in the house that, although had no running water, had a washbasin filled with crystal clear liquid and a toilet, which Lan discovered lead to the outside of the cabin and ,ironically, a sheer drop to the flowers down below.
After finishing up with the bedtime preparations, Lan went back to check on Byakko. The situation on his return was just as he had expected it. Byakko was snoring and still covered with the blanket while his clothes lay in piles around him. Byakko had the habit of sleeping in the nude you see and always woke up in the morning wearing what he was born with…absolutely nothing. This was also the main reason Lan covered him up with the large blanket, he didn’t want to see his grandfather sprawled but naked on the chair, after all the man’s natural body heat and hair were more than enough to keep him warm throughout the night.
Lan found Ignis curled up on Byakko’s lap, drawn by the heater like warmth that was given off the drunken man’s drooling form. Ignis usually moved around here and there over the whole night, he never spent the night in a single place. Good thing too, otherwise he would have been subject to Byakko’s cheerful awakening, which was often quite painful for those around him.
Lan peered out the window and found that the sun had just set and its golden light was beginning to disappear. Lighting a candle, Lan walked into the bedroom. He hopped onto the bed took a long chug of water, and then began to make plans for the animal civilization, writing down everything on the pieces of paper. Since he had already gotten information and opinions from all of the forest leaders, he was quickly able to finish a rough draft of the plan, only taking one to two hours to finish it. Nodding in satisfaction, Lan reached into his gi and pulled out a small watch, setting it for early the next morning. He needed to experiment on a special something bright and early tomorrow, and if it wasn’t successful the rest of his plans would never be able to succeed. Luckily, he had read a book on exotic foods that had given him a lot of insight into the matter.
Yawning, Lan blew out the candle on the desk and slipped under the blankets. Within a few minutes he had fallen asleep, and within a few more minutes he had unconsciously removed all of his clothing and continued to sleep under the blankets in the buff. What can I say? A child always becomes a bit like those who raised them whether they want to or not.
Byakko sat at the giant meal table in his palace, eyeing the new exotic dishes that sat in front of his eyes.
“So, what are these again?” he said.
Lan, who was wearing a toque and apron and was standing in front of a nervous group of animals, timidly stepped forward.
“Your animal protein alternatives.” he said nervously. “The other animals are concerned that they might end up on your menu and since there isn’t enough fish to sustain you—“
“I know boy you told me already” interrupted Byakko. “I’m asking what these are specifically.”
“Right.” Said Lan. The boy walked forwards and pointed to a pot of yellow curry that seemed perfectly normal with the exception of it containing
“Crickets” said Byakko, eyeing the pot.
“Y-yes” said Lan, his throat suddenly dry. “a-and we also have” he pointed to each dish as he named them “crunchy fried spiders with a slight chili dusting, grilled beetles with garlic sauce, roasted ants with assorted spices, and a bunch of other t-tasty bug dishes.”
Byakko looked over the spread for a few minutes and then nodded.
“Well, let’s give it a try.” Byakko pulled a plate of spiders towards him, grabbed a large handful, sniffed them, and then shoved the lot into his mouth. While he chewed, he closed his eyes and exhibited a thoughtful expression. Lan was sweating buckets while this took place and wished that Byakko would just get on with his verdict. Byakko noticed this and continued chewing for longer than necessary; he enjoyed making his grandson nervous after all. A few moments later Byakko swallowed, smacked his lips a few times and then, after a long pause, smiled.
“Mmmm” said Byakko, his mouth smeared with arachnid debris “tastes like soft-shelled crab.”
Lan, as well as the animals behind him, let out a sigh of relief. Byakko pulled the curry towards him this time and ladled it onto a large bed of rice.
“Mmmm” he said, shoving a large spoonful of it into his mouth “the crickets complement the curry quite well.”
After a few more minutes Byakko finished all of the food on the table, all the while Lan and the animals celebrated inwardly. After polishing off the last of them, he turned to Lan and smiled.
“Well boy, you have successfully added bugs to my meat menu” said Byakko, picking his teeth with one of his nails.
“And?” said Lan.
“I know I know” said Byakko chuckling “I now promise that I will eat no animal that lives in this valley as long as there is a stable supply of bugs to keep me fed…unless of course one of them is dumb enough to attack me.”
“That okay with you guys?” asked Lan, turning to the animals behind him, and from the cries that followed, Lan was sure that they agreed, even though he didn’t have an aura speaker on.
“Well, now that’s over with, I think I need a quick nap” said Lan letting out a large yawn “Wake me up when its training time.”
Lan then left the room, ignoring Byakko as the old man ordered some more, dare I say it, ‘grub’. The boy then climbed the stairs to his room, clambered into bed, and after taking of his clothes, fell into a deep sleep. His dreams were filled with the plans of building up the animal civilization and now that the biggest problem was out of his way, his grandfather’s appetite of course, the visions soothed him instead of giving him further mental pain.
Over the next few months the valley changed drastically. With the help of the many animal groups interested in improving their ways of life, Lan was able to enact key architectural and agricultural plans. Most of the animals in the valley weren’t intelligent enough to understand Lan’s plans, however the leaders of each group were able to break down the responsibilities given to them into basic commands that they issued to their less intelligent brethren.
Large homes were built for different animals were built from fallen trees and other spare materials in the valley, each built with Lan’s supervision since his engineering skills were better than any other creature in the valley. These homes were placed at the top of or bottom of trees depending on the animals they were built for and were placed in areas where they wouldn’t be in the way of other animals. This took care of the shelter problem that many animal leaders had complained about and helped clear up much of the ground area for other uses.
With the permission of the animals that lived in the glades scattered throughout the forest and ½ of the flower field that Lan’s group controlled, those areas were tilled and used as the first fields and were used to grow plants that the many different animals ate. This involved a complex process that involved the teamwork of multiple different animal species. It usually started with the hoofed animals pulling the plows that cut through the grounds, while smaller animals followed behind and planted seeds. Simple irrigation networks were also constructed from what Lan remembered about primitive farming methods, and were used to distribute water from the lagoon to each field, and there were never any water supplies since the waterfall constantly dumped more water than they could possibly use.
They also began the cultivation of many different kinds of bugs, including crickets, spiders, mealworms, and beetles. The insects were raised in controlled environments where their population growth could be monitored. The chances of a large amount them escaping was small in their respective farming site (for example inside of 100% stone caves or areas covered with thick netting.), and the herbivorous insects were fed by throwing in plant matter that the other animals didn’t want to eat. The carnivorous bugs were of course fed using the herbivorous ones. This soon established a productive source of insects for many of the insectivorous and omnivorous animals to eat, and most importantly supplied Byakko with his protein needs.
Slowly but surely, many of the animals living on the side of the forest controlled by Kong’s faction slowly left and joined Lan’s due to the higher chance of survival offered to them by the increased food supply, guaranteed living space, and reduction in the aggressiveness of meat-eating animals due to the insect and fish harvests providing enough food for the carnivorous animals to survive without hunting.
The animals also continued their vigil on the borders of the valley to prevent any Grimm from piercing into their borders. Organized by Lan, many patrol schedules were produced and given to the animals that exhibited the highest combat ability. Along with the tactics taught to them by Lan, the regular patrolling schedules allowed the animals to more effectively prevent any Grimm from entering.
Through the lessons that Lan gave to the more intelligent leaders of each species, different forms of knowledge began to form and it wasn’t long before animals with more innovative ways of thinking began to appear, mostly consisting of primates, rats, dogs, ravens, crows, and elephants. Although not quite as intelligent as the average human, they were able to absorb Lan’s lessons on law, economy, and other important factors related to the establishment of a civilization. Their intellectual superiority to others of their species gave rise to a new title that was given to them in each of their animal societies: scholars.
Strangely however, none of the animals, including the scholars, were interested in spreading their knowledge to other animals outside the valley nor were they interested in expanding their borders. You see, most animals have a great fear of the unknown and often will not transgress beyond their normal habits unless they are forced too and the added fear of having a higher chance of Grimm attacking them also made the idea of isolation appealing to them. I also don’t have to mention what kind of chaos would result from humans meeting sentient animals.
On a side note, for clarification’s sake, the reason that the animals in the valley were able to achieve the level of awareness required to achieve the many accomplishments stated above is because of the training of aura that Byakko imposed on their ancestors and was subsequently passed down to the leaders of each animal clan by their ancestors.
All these developments bring us to present time, the morning of a very special day…
The morning sunlight poured through the window, reflected into the room by a large dust crystal. However, Lan never noticed its soothing rays. After all, who can feel the rays of the sun while buried under 2 feet of parchment. Lan had been working late into the night, sorting through the reports that had been brought to him by his simian scribes and sending out orders where they were needed. He had fallen asleep while reading through another complaint about the monkey feces flinging habits. Collapsing onto the table, he had knocked over the giant stack of unfinished reports and had buried himself. Serendipitously, the papers proved to be an effective blanket and kept him warm throughout the night.
So deep was his sleep that he never noticed the door creak open nor heard the scuffling that filled the room for a few minutes. Sadly, the boy was quite unprepared when:
The blaring sound of an air horn pierced through the room, shocking Lan out of his slumber and causing him to bolt into a sitting position, which sent numerous reports flying.
“Wassa-huh?” gurgled Lan, whose mind was numb from sleep.
He felt a hand touch his forehead and felt an infusion of aura enter him.
“Alright he’s ready!” came painfully a familiar voice. “Are you guys ready?”
The room was filled with the sound of animal cries that Lan was able to understand as shouts of agreement.
“One, two, three.” Counted Byakko.
“Happy Birthday Lan!” shouted every creature, which consisted of the leaders of each animal tribe, in the room.
Rubbing his eyes, Lan smiled as his mind began to register the events taking place. That’s right, today was his 7th birthday.
“And what’s a birthday party” said Byakko, smiling “Without a giant cake!”
The crowd parted and revealed a massive colorful birthday cake that seemed to consist of multiple different flavors.
“Turned out pretty well” said Byakko, “It’s made from some of our most recent wheat crop, sweetened with fruit sugar, and given consistency by the milk and eggs of our friends here.”
The birds and cows squawked and mooed in response to this.
“It’s also breakfast for you!” said Byakko, quickly cutting the cake into pieces with a knife and placing a piece on a plate “Come on boy! Eat up so we can start our celebrations! It’s going to be a long day!”
Lan smiled and shoved the pastry into his mouth, his cheeks swelling like a chipmunk’s. After having a few more slices and sharing pieces with every creature in the room, Lan gave a nod to Byakko who grabbed the rest of the cake and crammed it into his mouth. Afterwards the groups marched out of the room and began Lan’s birthday party which would last the rest of the day.
The birthday party was quite exhilarating. Byakko had planned many fun and exciting games and events to commemorate Lan’s 7th birthday (albeit many of them involved him chasing things, Lan most of the time, around with a giant stick) and had made the cooking scholars of the animals prepare lots and lots of food and drinks (mostly alcohol of course) to be eaten and drunk during the celebration. With the celebration lasting from morning to noon, things got quite rowdy, especially after Byakko and many of the older animals had become thoroughly inebriated. The younger animals and Lan often had to hide away when their drunken elders started to become…too enthusiastic, especially when Byakko got caught up the monkeys’ game of…chocolate throwing. During this time, Lan constantly attempted to avoid getting caught up in the chaos by trying to sneak back to his work, which was never successful since Byakko always caught him. Lan was also horrified to discover that the violators of the few established laws of the civilized half of the forest had been packaged in confetti and hung from the ceiling by Byakko to act as the birthday party’s piñatas.
“Who wants first swing” said Byakko at the time, a large spiked bat in his hands. “I already packed candy into them! Let’s bash’em until sweets and red liquid rain down upon us!”
The animals packed into the piñatas began to cry and moan after that. Thankfully, Lan quickly put a stop to the act by distracting his grandfather with alcohol while other animals helped the bonded creatures down and returned them to their previous holding cells.
The party ended that evening in the giant tree in front of the waterfall. Along with the treehouse, it turns out that Byakko had built another structure there. It was a giant lookout terrace near the top of the tree that was large and sturdy enough for even the biggest of the forest leaders and scholars to move around and was shielded from the elements by a thick canopy of leaves. In the center of the platform was a giant table filled with food that all the animals partook from. Lan sat on a wooden chair next to his grandfather. Both of them were staring out at the orange sky.
“Well, that was a fun day” said Lan, a weary smile on his face “and a nice meal is always a good way to end a party.”
“Well, of course boy” said Byakko, who was holding his 40th bottle of whiskey “it’s you’re going away party as well.”
“Oh okay” said Lan, yawning “So it’s my going away—“ Lan’s eyes shot open and he sat up straight in his chair “Wait a second!” he yelled “Going away party? What do you mean by that?”
“It ain’t healthy for guys like us to stay in one place too long” said Byakko, emptying the whiskey bottle “and I think it’s about time we moved on.”
“But there’s too much work to be done now” said Lan “we’ve still got to develop more land, establish laws, and make sure the interspecies relationships go well just to name a few of our problems and without me—“
“They’ll do just fine” interrupted Byakko “you’ve already taught enough scholarly animals to fill a bureaucracy, and they’ve already told me that they’ll be able to handle things. Ain’t that right boys and girls” Byakko directed this last comment at the group of animal scholars that gave a roar of agreement.
“B-but I can’t just leave like this though” said Lan, getting shakily to his feet “there’s still so much that I have to—“
Lan was cut off as Byakko seized his face, squishing the boy’s cheeks until the boy’s lips puckered out.
“I’m just going to ask you one question boy” said Byakko, his eyes narrowed and his bottom lip sticking out “Do you really think you can convince me to let you stay.”
Lan thought for a moment and, being completely familiar with his grandfather’s obstinate and childish personality, shook his head.
“Right.” Said Byakko, patting Lan on the back “that means we got to make this party end with a bang! And what better way than with presents?!”
Byakko clapped his hands and a massive box filled with wrapped packages dropped down from the leaves above.
“A little something from everyone” said Byakko as he looked down at Lan’s wide-eyed expression. “Go on boy, open em up!”
As instructed Lan, tore through his presents and found a variety of gifts that varied from the strange to the useful. He appreciated the many natural dust crystals and raw materials that were given to him since they could be used in a variety of situations, he was a little bit of an engineer and these would provide him with extra options to work with. There were also an assortment of charms made from the feathers, fangs, and claws of many of the animals as a reminder of Lan’s stay there. Of course there were also many strange, disgusting, or just plain strange gifts including half-eaten pieces of fruit, insects, and even a box of what appeared to be excrement.
“And finally” said Byakko after Lan had opened the last box “It’s time for my present!”
From inside of his gi, Byakko removed a brown leather package and handed it to Lan. Feeling rather nervous, since you never know what Byakko might do, Lan opened it. Inside was a dark blue travel cloak, a white spider silk t-shirt, a pair of black shorts with multiple pockets, and a pair of black gloves.
“We’ll probably be heading into more towns and big cities pretty soon” said Byakko as he picked his nose. “This’ll attract a lot less attention than a gi. The gi’s something we wear to matches, training, and to just plain look cool. Gotta have some civilian clothes too.”
“Wow” said Lan as he held his new clothes in his hands “This is nice! What’ll you be wearing in the cities grandpa?”
“Why these of course” said Byakko, motioning to the gi he was wearing.
“But if you want to avoid attention—“ started Lan
“No, it’s you who wants to avoid some of the attention” said Byakko, “I however, revel in it!”
“Well…Okay.” Said Lan examining the cloak. “But what about what you said about being an unsung hero?”
“It’s fine as long as they don’t know that it was I that did the deed, that way I don’t get the credit” said Byakko, “which is why I have my special ninja outfit to change into when I don’t want people to know it’s me!”
“Uh-huh” said Lan, remembering the tattered and smelly attire that filled one of the chests in Byakko’s room.
“Oh look boy” said Byakko standing up, “the sun is setting. Do you know what that means?”
“No.” said Lan, overcome with the usual fear that filled him whenever Byakko asked a question.
“It’s time to greet the night!” shouted Byakko. Reaching behind his chair he grabbed an object and tossed it at Lan.
Lan caught it and quickly realized what it was.
“My clarinet?” said Lan puzzled. “What do you want me to do with—“
Before he finished his sentence, Byakko slapped a few sheets into his face. After peeling them off Lan discovered that they were sheet music. When he turned to asked Byakko about this, he found that the old man had donned a pair of sunglasses and a guitar. He also found that the music scholars had each pulled out their own custom instruments that were tailored to be used only by members of their respective species.
“You ready” said Byakko, his sunglasses sliding down to reveal his eyes “for some jazz?”
Lan sighed, placed the notes in a place where he could see them, and began to play. As he played the first few lines, he recognized the music as what the village band had played on the day he had killed his first Grimm. To many others it was an upbeat and happy tune that got them dancing with joy. But to Lan, it would always be a bittersweet melody that brought forth the memory of more innocent days. The rest of the animals cheered as the newly formed group played tune after tune, dragging the party on and on until the crack of dawn.
Three days later Lan and Byakko had fully packed and were ready to hit the road once again. Lan as always had packed a giant backpack full of tools, books, weapons, and travel necessities and Byakko, having grown fond of the house, decided to carry it on his back once again. Ignis, not wanting to be left out, had Lan tie a little bag onto him which contained a few bones, some dog toys, and his brush.
The three of them had already said their goodbyes to the many animal leaders and climbed up the slope leading out of the valley when they came upon an unexpected guest.
“Haven’t seen you for a little while” said Byakko “How’s it going Kong?”
The large black monkey stood there on the slope in front of them, a frown on his face and his arms folded.
“You want a rematch already?” Byakko scratched his chin while Lan dropped his bag and pulled out a staff. “I think the boy would be more than happy to oblige.”
Kong stared at them for a long moment and then sighed.
“It’s not a fight that I want.” He said “I’m just here to talk.”
“Oh, well then” said Byakko, looking slightly disappointed “I guess—“he stopped talking as Lan lifted his arm.
“Can I do the talking grandpa?” said Lan, “I think we need something more diplomatic this time.”
Byakko paused, smiled, and then nodded his head.
“What did you want to talk about Kong?” said Lan “Is it about the village we’re building?”
“Yes” said Kong calmly “although it has only been six months I have already seen the impact that it is having. Many of the animals that lived in my territory have moved to yours because of the easier life it grants them. But at the same time none of them seem to have lost their pride as creatures of nature. This has…left me slightly puzzled. I believed that if we animals attempted to emulate your society, we would be taken in by the same darkness that has taken root within men. However, even as we begin to advance more and more I find no greed, avarice, or any of the other poisons of the soul of mankind taking root. We live each day more orderly than we have done in the past, but still it is there: the pristine spirit of nature that I feared would forsake us.”
“Well that’s because you’re animals” said Lan “even if you all adopt the way that man has lived, you will still be different. Man was already separate from the circle of life and food chains to begin with. I’m not quite sure how animals came to be, but man was born from dust as a separate existence to you all. Even if animals and men we’re put under the same conditions, we would respond to it differently.”
Kong stared at Lan for a few moments and lowered his head, chuckling slightly.
“An interesting theory” said Kong “but perhaps the change to my kind comes slowly, so slow that it couldn’t be noticed in my lifetime. It is something that I must prevent at all costs, to preserve the purity that is our oneness with nature…However” he raised his head “in order to prevent such a thing from occurring one must be able to understand your people’s way of thinking. I am ill-equipped to do so however. I am already set in my ways and as a result would not have the ability to learn of it…that is why I need someone who can. Someone who possesses that knowledge so that we may know how to reap the benefits of civilization without losing ourselves to the darkness it could create. So, I have decided to send this young lad with you.”
Kong stepped aside and revealed a small brown monkey sitting behind him, who stared curiously at Lan.
“This is my son George” said Kong “he will be accompanying you to gather the knowledge that we need.”
The little monkey got up and walked on all fours until he stood in front of Lan.
“Hello” said Lan tentatively. The little monkey responded by smiling and revealing its full set of teeth.
“Dawww” said Byakko “How cute. I think it’s fine if we have another traveling buddy. Right Lan?”
“Yeah” said Lan, who was shaking the little monkey’s hand.
“I would say to make sure that you train him to be strong” said Kong “but knowing the white beast, my son will have no shortage of hardships.”
“You know it!” said Byakko smiling.
“Now go” said Kong, walking past the five “I will not keep you any longer…and George.”
The little monkey looked up at his father.
“Make me proud.”
The little monkey nodded.
Then with a new companion at their side, Lan and co. walked out of the valley and towards their next adventure. This time their hearts a little lighter, because now they had created a place that they could truly call home.
Tiger valley epilogue: In the coming years the valley began to resemble a small farming village with huts of varying sizes for the animals. Besides farming and other techniques to improve their likelihood of survival and provide entertainment, the animals in the valley were rather uninterested in the development in many forms of knowledge and as a result did not improve in them even when taught those subjects by Lan. Kong eventually opened up to the living in the area after he discovered that his fears of corruption being born in the now animal town were unfounded. And it truly was an animal town, although you could see the evidences of civilization, the way the animals lived their lives still stuck firm to the laws of nature. Predators still hunted prey, in moderation however due to the easier sources of food, nature grew mostly unregulated, and the populations were maintained under the maximum carrying capacity of the area. Most of the laws were also unneeded since there was rarely any unrest within the population.
Lan and Byakko’s good relationships with the local wildlife stayed amicable and friendly, especially since Byakko was the only “predator” that chose to only eat insects and fish while he was in the valley (he did however hunt for prey outside of the valley though). Strangely enough, the development of the civilization also eventually came to a halt and for a reason that we humans believe that we can understand, but in reality are unable to. The animals were content with how they lived their lives by that time and didn’t wish for any further change. So the place became the home for Byakko and Lan, a place where they could forget about their adventures for a little while, and rest peacefully in wild village. Also the spirit within Lan became more guarded afterwards. Due to its little outburst during Lan’s battle with Kong, the spirit’s presence had almost become known to the boy and that was something it couldn’t let the boy discover, not yet. So for many years after that, the spirit hid itself away deeper within the recesses of Lan’s soul, never revealing itself until a certain fateful day.