Story-A-Day May #13: Immortal Stone

Another day, another challenge prompt! This time, it’s to write from the perspective of a character who’s not human or animal (but vegetable and mineral are acceptable, or any sort of inanimate object).

In order to keep mixing up genres, and experimenting, I decided to attempt a Wuxia story. Apologies in advance to any fans of the genre!

***

Immortal Stone

Atop a remote mountain, above a mist-shrouded forest, anyone brave enough to climb the 10,000 steps would find the Green Viper Temple. And in this temple’s courtyard stood an immense boulder.

The boulder was unremarkable, gray and rough, except on one side, where a river of fists had smoothed its surface over a thousand years. The only mystery was how it had arrived upon the mountaintop, since no force could now move it.

Some mistakenly said it was a meteor fallen from the heavens. Others claimed that in the old days, Invincible Lightning had trained by climbing the 10,000 steps with the boulder upon his back. The boulder did not care to boast, but this was so.

Cold stone was slow to change, and perhaps slower to notice a change around it. But that fact only made the boulder more confident in what it now observed.

Of late, the initiates were slothful and cruel, the elder monks distracted by pouches of gold and silver that purchased their instruction. Naturally, these gleaming metals were distant relatives to stone, and strongly disapproved of. They whispered promises to men they could never fulfill, delighting in every time they changed hands — by peaceful trade or bloody conquest —  seeking to reach the far corners of the world.

The boulder had chosen a place to be, and here it remained. Content. And so by its very stillness encouraged the monks to self-improvement.

One day, it witnessed the arrival of a girl from the small village that lay in the mountain’s shadow. She bore a heavy yoke with four buckets hanging from its sides. The temple had no wells, and water had to be carried from the bottom of the 10,000 steps each day. But the pampered initiates, who purchased instruction, had grown steadily more rebellious about their strenuous duties. For this reason, their daily efforts were now supplemented by the laypeople below.

At the time the girl entered the temple’s courtyard, a group of these young monks were busy beating on the boulder with punches and kicks, elbows and headbutts. It dutifully instructed them by remaining silent, and still. They were not as powerful as monks once were, but who could ever compare to the heroes of old?

When they saw her, they abandoned their training for an argument, trying to steal the yoke from her shoulders. They each wanted to take credit for accomplishing their daily chores, but the girl would not give up her burden. In the scuffle, all the buckets were spilled. The monks decided this was a fair enough result, laughing and mocking her misfortune.

Tears in her eyes, the girl ran back through the courtyard, stopping only to take a swing at the boulder with her tiny fist. Unable to soften the blow, it felt her knuckles bruise and scrape upon its surface. She let out a loud wail.

The monks laughed more loudly.

The boulder grew more quiet to say, Here I am. Implacable.

Time passed, though years were like minutes to stone. Even at its most corrupt, the temple cultivated great power. The boulder felt the shadow of monks flying through the bamboo above. The tremor of their chi. It tasted sword, spear, and halberd upon its back, releasing sparks and tiny pebbles in approval of worthy blows.

The girl was larger each time the boulder took note of her. The monks, too. They taunted her for lack of gold and silver. They filled her buckets with stones, ordering her not to spill them on her way back down the mountain.

Having learned her lesson, each visit, she waited until the monks had grown bored and left her alone in the courtyard.

The boulder waited, too.

Each time, her fist struck it once, and then she departed. Soon, she didn’t cry. Soon, she didn’t bruise.

Years later, the boulder felt a more gentle, familiar hand upon its surface. The elderly monk was once known as Whispering Viper, The Blade of the West, for deeds that stone would not understand. They had not spoken like this in many decades. Like the other senior monks, he too accepted gold and silver, but always with an embarrassed expression.

“I have made unforgivable mistakes, my old friend. Sometimes, I think it is inevitable, if one lives long enough. But then I remember you, your many thousands of years. I wonder if you have also made grievous mistakes.”

The boulder had not, but didn’t care to boast.

“All things must change, even you. And sooner than we ever expect.”

The boulder knew that silence was the right word of reply. It remained firmly here. Present.

“Your lessons are much appreciated, even if this foolish old man has squandered them.”

On the following evening, distant fire consumed the horizon. Shadows danced through the treetops, blades ringing out with deadly chimes. Flaming arrows fell upon the temple roof and set it ablaze. Initiates ran through the corridors screaming.

A man with a black beard confronted Whispering Viper in the courtyard, while the boulder could only watch. The air reverberated from their furious blows. For the first time in centuries, the boulder shook.

It knew the elderly monk’s every technique by heart, but could not decipher his opponent’s movements. Nor could it decipher what blow mercifully took the monk’s life, at last. He collapsed to the rocky ground with his fists still clenched.

By dawn, the ruins of the temple smoldered in heaps of ash, which the wind swept along the boulder’s face. The girl from the village — a woman, now — arrived shortly after., covered in blood and soot.

She barely spared a glance for all the fallen monks, but instead fixed her gaze up on the boulder. “My village was destroyed last night. These monks couldn’t protect us. I couldn’t protect us. And I think you’re to blame.”

The boulder did not agree, but stoically bore her accusation.

“What did you teach them, how to be heartless? To never extend kindness, but always withhold it. Whatever you taught, it did not prevent their doom, and ours.”

Was the failure not with the students, rather than the instructor? The boulder had never erred.

Her fingers curled into a fist. “It’s my turn to share a lesson with you.” She took aim for its smooth surface, worn down by a blow for every star in the sky.

The boulder prepared to judge her strength against the monks. Would she fare any better in her journeys? It, of course, would remain here and wait.

The air screamed with unbridled chi. A sound like thunder shook the earth. An indescribable sensation struck the boulder as it split down the middle. Two smooth halves crashed to the ground, staring at one another.

The woman walked between them and left the courtyard.

Certainty had fled. The boulder sat beside itself, now of two minds.

It had much to learn.

***

Thanks for reading!

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