Dante looks up at the Dragon and his mouth compresses for a moment before he shakes his head and smiles. “So one of the positions is filled already. No matter.”
Unfurling a reed mat on the ground, he settles on it cross-legged, smoothing the skirts of his robe out around him, hands trembling. The fabric is soft from years of washing, so threadbare it’s more gauze than cloth, but without patches or tears. He balances his qin across his thighs and exhales slowly. In a perfect world he would have incense to burn, but since it wasn’t, the light fragrance of the sweet-grass used in his mat will have to do.
Dante flexes his left hand, then his right, stretching out the kinks in preparation. Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath, places his hands on the zither, and plucks his first note. The sound, pure and high, pierces through the clouds and soars.
Melody flows like water from beneath his fingers, the light tinkling notes of a stream giving way to the lower, sonorous tones of a river. Magic and qi rises, strong and unrelenting as the Long River, graceful as a dragon soaring through the clouds.
The face of a girl flits at the edge of his mind and he pushes her away, just as he pushed her away that morning so he could leave the shabby apartment. This is for her. For Liliana.
His body sways, long black hair fluttering with the gathering of power, his expression one of longing pain. The music curls around him, a warm wind that caresses him before rising toward the sky.
Gradually his magic coalesces into the sinuous body of a dragon, five clawed, with scales of iridescent pearl and a mane of ocean green fire. Long body curving around the dome, the dragon nuzzles up against the golden shimmer of the shield, its tail lightly wagging to the beat.
His fingers dance across the strings, his qi and magic rippling forth in ever increasing waves. The zither’s song pulsates out the passion of the headlong rush of the Long River to the sea and the melancholy embrace of autumn rain, hinting at wars fought and loves lost. He exhales into the music, weaving in his yearning and his spirit. When he becomes Guardian, Liliana would never have to worry again. They would have food, shelter, protection… all the things that his Liliana should have had but he wasn’t able to provide. Until now.
The notes come faster and faster, building upon each other, the corresponding magic hanging in the air and turning from mere humidity to mist to fog. The air shimmers with power, heavy with promise, but he doesn’t gather it, content for it to surround him like a lover’s embrace.
“Aspirant!” The deep voice rings out like a bell, slicing a path through the fog.
His shoulders loosen as he relaxes, a small smile flitting around his mouth. The arrival of the Gatekeeper can only mean one thing. He’s close to his goal, so close he can almost taste the meat buns he will buy for Liliana on his way home after he took the Seat.
“Why forth do you hesitate, Aspirant? Are you uncertain of your power?”
Hardly. He holds back a snort of derision. If there is one thing he is certain of in this world, it is his power and his determination to wield it to protect the one he loves.
The man comes at him, swords slicing the fog into ribbons.
Dante bends his head over his qin and lends his voice to the zither’s song. His deep baritone winds around the sweeping tones, twisting and twining into glimmering cords that weave into a net and binds the Gatekeeper’s swords. The Gatekeeper curses, his words muffled by the ever-deepening haze.
The haze becomes impenetrable, the shimmer now blinding.
Dante raises his voice, driving his power into the shield, infusing its magic with his own. Close, so close. A few more notes and he would have it. Safety and power and the ability to…
A gleaming sword slashes through, shaving off a lock of his hair. He leans forward, ducking the next blow, and sings out one last imperative note.
The dome shatters with a sound like broken crystal and the Gatekeeper’s sword stops a hairsbreadth away from the skin of Dante’s neck.
“Lords above and below,” he mutters. “The test is for you to break the shield, not annihilate it.”
Dante rises, hands trembling, light-headed from giddy relief and the after effects of having gone two days without food. He stumbles forward, catches himself and gives the Gatekeeper a fierce grin.
“Not so fast, boy. You’re not quite done yet.”
He nods. “I know. I need to harmonize with the first guardian.”
The Gatekeeper smiles in response and bows, indicating the doorway of the Dragon.
Hrm. I feel like this entry has gone more into the fantasy side of things that I truly like. I might need to pull it back a bit, see how to tweak it. Smoke fights with her bachi, but I think Dante needs a secondary weapon to his zither. Of course, he could probably music people into unconsciousness, but I think I’d like to see him with some more martial moves as well. The thing is, traditionally written wuxia strikes me as heavily fantastical anyway — you have people shooting needles out that can kill you by sealing your meridian points; you have people killing one another through sheer force of their reserve of qi; there’s the people who are so skilled at what I’m choosing to translate as feather-craft that they can run on snow without leaving a single footprint and dance over water. So I guess it depends on personal interpretation and likes/dislikes.
So, let me know — what do you think?