After lunch I spent the afternoon in the training room with Master Que revising my forms and reviewing my combat strategies. We finished with a new set of forms, something that hadn’t happened for some time. I’d finished my third run through on my own when Master Que commented, “Very commendable for such an early effort, but enough for today. What were you humming just then?”
I stopped and thought. “The music that goes with those movements. It helps with timing some of the hand gestures.”
Master Que said, very formally, “Sung Nai, this is an advanced set of forms that I have never taught in your presence before. I have never taught it with music. I have never seen it done with music. Where do you know this music from?”
I heard myself say, “My sisters and I danced to it on the Great Lunar Plain as part of our duties in our father’s Court. Our Dance Mistress always said to listen to the music, because it would tell you what to do. I’ve found that to be very true of the most difficult pieces.” I shook my head, blinked my eyes hard, and asked, “Master Que, where did that come from?” I thought I sounded plaintive, even a little scared. “What was I talking about?”
He sighed. “I think I need alcohol, but why don’t we get a nice pot of tea? I think we managed to trigger a pre-incarnation memory of yours. Apparently, the daughters of the Lunar Rabbit don’t dance just to entertain their esteemed father. Jade Moon Lady indeed.”
“Does that mean that I really am an incarnated lunar jade spirit?” I wasn’t sure what to think. “It wasn’t just the spirit-talker being nice, and Mr Teng trying to twist me in knots somehow?”
“It seems so,” said Master Que soothingly. “If you are any sort of incarnated jade spirit it would explain your affinity for our school of gi, but lots of people are incarnated spirits. Generally, they’re just people. Although incarnated female crocodile spirits are said to be very good mothers; you see more of them up north where there are crocodiles.”
A thought occurred to me. “I’m not supposed to owe filial piety to the Lunar Rabbit as well as my parents, am I? I haven’t been a dutiful daughter to anyone recently.”
Master Que raised an eyebrow at me and said grandly, “I have no complaints, and as I am still your Master, I believe that is what matters. Your social life could use a little work, but that will come, now that you are based in one place with a large group of your peers. Let’s go get that tea.”
We took tea in the shade of the western verandah overlooking a garden room with exuberant wisteria. While we drank, Master Que discussed the uses and effects of the new forms, and I quietly boggled at the effect of a dance troupe of jade spirits performing them in unison. When Master Que asked me what I was thinking about, I told him, and he poured us some more tea. He commented, “I think that I am content not knowing why that is necessary. The Lunar Rabbit seems to have the matter in hand, and that is enough for me.” He drank some tea. “I recommend that you do something that is not gi for the rest of the afternoon. Study if you must, but I would suggest something that reminds you that you are in this life.” He drank some more tea. “Just to be on the safe side.”
I suggested wryly, “So I don’t start thinking that I’m some sort of Moon Princess?”
“It’s to be avoided,” agreed Master Que. “It may have been that you were, but now that you’re incarnated, you are someone else. The best advice I’ve heard handed out about that is to let your past inform you but be who you are now. Also, the faults of now need to be worked on now.” He finished the contents of his cup. “You will notice that my faults remain errors, but I like to think that I have reduced the harm I might inadvertently do to others.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, given what I’d heard about Master Que’s past from Master Que, so I kept my mouth shut and drank my tea. I also resolved to get a gardening book, so I could figure out whether the courtyard gardens were overrun with weeds or filled with plants that were supposed to be there.
After we finished our tea, I double checked that I had done all my readings and assignments for the next day’s classes, made a note to go to the campus store that sold art supplies tomorrow to be ready for my Geography lab the day after, and went for a walk to get to know the neighbourhood.
This time I headed south to Zhong Tao Road, then east. I already knew that the street blocks over that way and south of the park I’d found on my first weekend shopping expedition were longer than seemed normal for the area, but the long block along Zhong Tao Road was at least twice the length of anything else in the area. Its entire length on the northern side was all tiny arcades and tenement buildings of flats over small stores. The signage was a mixture of normal characters, northern writing, and Zanji glyphs. The people on the street were mixed, being Khem, northerners, Zanji, the more typical Tang-jian of my background, families of obviously mixed blood lines, and some small-boned people I’d never seen before. They had darker skin than mine, in warm tones, with hazel eyes, and black hair, and most of those I saw were wearing a brightly striped silk scarf with their blacks. Small tables set beside shop doorways carried burning incense sticks in strange-to-me scents, and there were conversations going on around me that I couldn’t understand a word of.
The southern side of the street was the same at either end, but the centre of the block was occupied by the adjoining frontages of the Temple of Heavenly Harmony, with lion statues and Fu detail work, and Xuexing Primary School. The eastern end of the block was the four lanes of Zhouzhang Boulevard. By the time I reached the boulevard I was torn between retracing my steps down the block to window shop, and continuing with my original plan to walk north to Heng Mien Street then make my way home.
“Excuse me!” I paid no attention to the call behind me at first because I wasn’t in anyone’s way where I was on the corner, so it couldn’t be me they were trying to talk to. “Excuse me! Sorry, ma’am, my apologies. Excuse me, you on the corner! Aren’t you Sung Nai?”
I turned around. There was a young man bowing to me who I recognised from my Introductory Geology tutorials. He was Ang Shen’s lab partner and his name was, “Gou Jian, isn’t it?” I bowed back to him.
“I didn’t know that you would recognise me,” he admitted. “We haven’t had anything to do with each other, other than being in the same room three times. However, it seemed rude to ignore a classmate when she walked past my doorstep in a place she doesn’t belong.” He added much more quietly, “Do you realise that you’re being tailed by two pickpockets and a thug? Miss Sung, you’re wearing silk, and this is not a nice area.”
“Thank you for your protection, Mr Gou,” I replied gravely. “I’ve moved into a house a few blocks away, and I was just out on a walk to get to know where everything is.”
“Well, you shouldn’t walk down this street dressed like that!” Gou Jian sounded exasperated. “The wrong people will assume you’re carrying money.”
I felt the gi barrier go up just after he finished speaking, and I said, “You didn’t do that, did you?”
“What? Assume you’re carrying money?” He looked confused.
“No, not that.” He was in front of me. The road was on my left and behind me, so I turned to my right to face the third person inside the gi barrier. As I did so I notice that the world looked fuzzy and sounded muted. I bowed. “My apologies, sir, if I have offended. I was just out for a walk.”
“Oh, you haven’t offended me at all, lovie.” His face and figure looked like a caricature of a peasant farmer from the newspaper editorial cartoons. “Just give me the money out of your nice fat purse, and we’ll be done here.”
“I’m afraid it’s not very fat right now,” I told him, “because I did my household’s grocery shopping yesterday. Is this barrier your waijin? What does it do?”
Both men looked at me like I had two heads. The farmer lookalike said, “Lovie, you’re being held up here. Give me your money without the chat. I mean, who do you think you are?”
I pulled out my wallet, took out all the notes which came to about twenty standard taels, and held them out to him. “I’m the student of Master Que Tzu, also known as Shui Tzu Dan. May I enquire, on behalf of my master and myself, what your charges for a gi lesson might be?”
I heard Guo Jian muttering swear words to himself and the thief said, “What are you playing at, lovie?”
“I’m being nice,” I practically hissed back at him. “If I pay you a demonstration fee for showing me your waijin, then Master Que won’t come looking for you. He might just chalk being robbed up to a learning experience for me, but he might not. Also, there are two people coming down the boulevard towards us, and I think one of them has noticed this barrier of yours. It’s a lovely piece of work, by the way.”
“And what makes you think that, lovie?” The man looked at the money I’d given him, “Not as much as I’d hoped for, but not to be sneezed at. I’ll just walk off now, then I’ll drop the barrier, so you can’t embarrass young Gou here by trying to follow me.”
Master Dang Shui, accompanied by a disgruntled looking younger man, stepped through the barrier behind the man who kept calling me lovie, and asked calmly, “Why would she want to follow you?”
I bowed respectfully, “Master Dang.”
He bowed in return, “Miss Sung. Pray allow me to make known to you my third son, Dang Wan.”
The younger man gave his father an incredulous look but bowed to me and murmured, “It’s an honour, Miss Sung, particularly after the other night.”
I indicated Gou Jian and said, “Master Dang, Mr Dang, this is my university classmate, Mr Gou Jian. This other gentleman,” I indicate the man who looked like a farmer-caricature, “has not given me his name but he was just demonstrating his waijin to us.” Mr Gou bowed politely to the Dangs, albeit with a slightly stunned expression.
“Indeed,” replied Master Dang, as the waijin-user looked him up and down, growing increasingly appalled. “It is a very interesting waijin. Tell me, Miss Sung, if this talented gentleman is trying to take money from you by force, why didn’t you stop him? We both know that you’re capable of it.”
There was a muttered, “Heaven!,” from the waijin user.
I answered Master Dang with, “This struck me as a very bad place for a public brawl – this barrier doesn’t seem to have an actual shield component. Also, after something that happened in training this afternoon, Master Que suggested that I avoid using gi for the rest of the day. Besides, I didn’t want this to turn into a thing that Master Que would feel it necessary to do something about.”
“Good points,” acknowledged Master Dang. “I agree that my old opponent and colleague has probably done enough bone breaking this week already.”
“Who are you people?” The waijin-user was looking appalled.
“Professional gi fighters,” replied Dang Wan. “My father’s retired from the circuit these days and teaches, but Miss Sung is the current professional national champion. In her place I’d be a lot more upfront about that, even if I were still a student.”
“You lack refined manners,” his father told him drily, “and any need for discretion. Miss Sung is not in your circumstances.”
“We could just agree that this gentleman and I were discussing his willingness to give Master Que and myself a gi lesson,” I suggested to no-one in particular, “and his possible fees for the lesson.”
Master Dang looked at me and commented, “That sounds very like your master, young lady. This gentleman might, of course, be constrained by oaths not to reveal his group or family secrets to outsiders, but there is nothing to stop you asking whether he might be willing to teach.”
Guo Jian, looking confused, asked, “But why?”
In a resigned voice the waijin -user answered, “Because she could swat me if she wanted, but she doesn’t want to, and she doesn’t want to involve the police, for some reason.”
I thought about that for a half beat and replied, “Paperwork. Besides, I’ve also been firmly spoken to once by the police this week, after having spent time giving them statements. I’m sure they’re happy not to have me bothering them again so soon.”
Mr Dang looked astonished, and asked, “Why would they give you a warning?” Master Dang merely appeared calm, but the other two men looked at me with questioning looks.
“They were warning me off mind control using gi.” I shrugged, “That wasn’t what I did, but I would prefer not to provoke another discussion just yet.”
Mr Guo looked slightly less like a stunned fish than Mr Dang. Master Dang looked like he was trying not to laugh. The waijin-user looked like he just wanted to sink into the ground. Mr Dang said, “But, but you stopped those bullets, and held the gunman, and they’re worried about you doing something wrong?”
The waijin-user said, “Oh, this is about that business at The Riverside Terrace?” He bowed very respectfully to me. “My honour, Miss Sung. My name is Li Zi, and I am…professionally acquainted with Ling Tau. He speaks well of your actions on that night.”
I bowed back. “Mr Ling’s support on the night in question was most welcome.”
Guo Jian said, generally to the group, “I read about that in the paper.” Then he turned to me and added, “And you came to eight o’clock class the next day, after that?”
“Well, yes. Why wouldn’t I?” I was confused now. “I’m here to learn, and if I don’t turn up to class I’ll miss things.”
“You weren’t upset?” He looked surprised.
“I beat people up for a living,” I told him. “Admittedly under controlled conditions. Although I may need to know more about guns and how they work.”
“We could,” suggested Master Dang calmly, “move this discussion to a tea shop. I find that mind expansion works best with appropriate support to the body. Besides, my knees have just chosen to remind me that they are not what they once were, and I would like to sit down.”
This is now followed by Social Business.