The Shadow of Kyoshi - F.C. Yee
Yun clawed at his own neck until he drew blood. The feeling of slime and teeth lingered on his skin.
“Boy! Stop your sniveling!”
He remembered Jianzhu lighting the incense. He remembered the sticky-sweet smell and the deadness it created in his limbs. Stingjelly venom, his training told him. He’d only just started his doses with Sifu Amak.
Yun blinked and tried to make sense of his surroundings. His hands clawed into wet, porous moss when it should have been the dust of the mining town under his fingernails. He was in a mangrove forest. The sky was the color of acid.
He crawled around, the juices of a swamp sucking at his knees. The trunks of the leafless trees twisted and gnarled as high as hills, barely lighter in color than silhouettes. Screened by the loose weave of branches, a great glowing eye stared at him.
It was the eye that had spoken. The eye that told him he wasn’t the—
A pain, terrible and familiar, wracked his stomach and folded him in two. His forearms splashed into the swamp water. The landscape around him began to shake, not from earthbending but from something rawer and more uncontrollable.
He wasn’t. End of sentence. He was nothing.
The shallow water danced, raindrops on a drum, spiking into geysers. The shoreline swayed, rattling the trees, bucking and clashing them together like the antlers of beasts locked in combat. Yun dashed his head against the ground in a frenzied corruption of a student bowing to their master.
Jianzhu. His entire mind was a screamed name, a single screeching tone on a broken flute. His skull thudded against the brackish mud. Jianzhu.
“Stop it, you miserable little brat!” the eye roared. Despite its anger it shrank back from him, afraid of his throes of agony. The ground squeezed and fluttered, the heartbeat of a man falling to his death, pounding louder and louder before the final impact.
Yun wanted it to stop. He wanted the anguish to end. It hurt so much, to see everything he’d worked for shredded to sparks and dust. It was destroying him from the inside.
So let it out.
The whisper came to him in his own voice. Not the eye’s. Not Jianzhu’s.
Put the pain outside. Put it somewhere else.
On someone else.
The rip started at his feet, a pinprick in overstretched silk. The tear birthed itself in the water and raced into the banks of the earth like lightning cracking the sky. The ground split apart, releasing all its quaking tension in one swift cataclysmic burst.
And then . . . stillness.
Yun could breathe again. He could see. The trembling had worn itself out, spent its energy in the creation of a long lesion in the ground, an unnatural wound upon the landscape. Swamp water poured into the injury, masking a depth he knew he shouldn’t explore.
Things were so much clearer when there was relief. Yun used this moment of respite to look around. The musty grove resembled no forest he’d ever seen. The dim light in the sky came from no discernible sun. This place was a hazy reflection of a real landscape, painted with ink that had been thinned too much.
I’m in the Spirit World.
He backed away from the ravine that lay before him, not wanting to be dragged in by the force of the water’s flow. Turning around, he pulled himself to drier footing using the exposed roots of a leathery tree. The air smelled like sulfur and rot.
Master Kelsang had told him about the Spirit World. It was supposed to be a beautiful, wild place, full of creatures beyond imagining. The realm of the spirits was a mirror held up to its visitors, a reflection of your emotions, a reality that shaped around your own spirit’s intangible projection.
Yun flexed his fingers, finding them as solid as they could be. He wondered if the gentle monk had ever explored a nightmarish bog like this one. They’d never talked about what happened if you entered the Spirit World while you were still in your body.
The rustle of branches gave him a start and reminded him he wasn’t alone. The eye. It watched carefully from the darkness of the forest, circling him on translucent appendages studded with what he knew to be human teeth. He’d felt its bite back in the mountains when it had sampled his blood.
A pulsing panic rushed through the chambers of his heart. Yun knew he was on borrowed time. He tried to remember what Jianzhu had called the spirit. “Father . . . Glowworm?”
The eye suddenly rushed