Last time on Tales of the Great Beasts, a Godlike Ape convinced a young boy to declare war on the rest of the world. What will come of this? Find out after the cut.
About the Author:
I couldn’t find much on Billy Merrell, author of this story and “Ninani’s Nectar”. Goodreads shows that he has some short stories published in anthologies, and a “poetry memoir” about growing up as a gay teen. So if any of you are interested in LGBT fiction, I guess you can check his stuff out.
Every night for weeks, Yin’s little brother, Yu, had gotten worse. His mysterious illness had started as a sore throat, but lately the coughs were loud and painful sounding. Enough so that Yin couldn’t sleep, afraid for her brother.
Poor Yin. Her brother Yu is sick with a bad case of Incurable Cough of Death, and her spirit animal (Luan the pied starling) can’t sleep. Things take a turn for the worst when Yu starts coughing up blood. Yin decides to accompany Yu and their father to the village healer.
All together, they traveled through the dark, carrying Yu in a wooden cart. Luan slept nestled at Yu’s side, where Yin would have been if she were allowed in the cart. The road was bumpy, but by sunrise they were knocking on the healer’s door.
Yin’s parents are pissed at Kuan, the local healer, because none of her cures have helped Yu. Kuan takes Yin’s parents aside to discuss other options, leaving Yin to hang out with Yu. Tired of being left out, Yin summons Luan so she can use her enhanced hearing to eavesdrop on Kuan. This is how she learns that Kuan has one last, expensive remedy available for Yu’s Incurable Cough of Death. Yin’s parents balk at the price. Their only other option is to find Jhi the Godlike Panda, but nobody’s been able to find her in the Great Bamboo Maze in a dozen years.
Neither of Yin’s parents said a word until they could no longer see Kuan’s house.
On the way home, Yin’s parents decide that they can’t afford to buy Kuan’s cure for Yu. Selling the Sword of Tang, their last possession from their days as a well-off Zhongese family, is out of the question. Yin is pissed that her family is just going to let Yu die.
That night, Yin listened with Luan for her parents to go to sleep. They waited until T’ien was on the other side of the house, rooting out mice. Then, when they were sure everything was quiet, Yin rose from her bed and crept out of her room, with Luan balanced on her shoulder.
In the middle of the night, Yin sneaks over to Kuan’s house and procures the expensive (and potentially ineffectual) cure for Yu in exchange for the Sword of Tang. Kuan promises to keep the sword safe until Yin needs it again. What a buddy.
Yin was soaked to the bone when she arrived home, the vial hot in her hand. She rushed into her brother’s room and woke him, her hair still dripping down her face.
Once at home, Yin gives Yu the medicine, then goes to sleep.
The next morning, Yin woke to the sound of T’ien snarling. It was a high-pitched sound the binturong usually made when he was hungry. But she soon realized what had really upset T’ien.
The morning brings bad tidings: Yin’s dad is pissed because he can’t find the Sword of Tang, and Yu’s condition has worsened. So Yin has the bright idea of taking Yu to the Great Bamboo Maze to visit Jhi. Granted, nobody’s seen Jhi in years, but Yin has the advantage of owning a map of the maze. Yin runs off toward the maze with Yu.
The Maze was an incredible thing to behold from the inside. Ancient bamboo stalks stood twice as tall as Yin’s house, filling the path in front of the girl with rustling shadows. Almost as soon as Yin had entered, all sound seemed muted against the gentle swaying of the thick stalks and their high, distant leaves.
Yin and Yu travel through the Great Bamboo Maze, following their map. At one point, Yin summons Luan, who unravels part of the map, much to Yin’s dismay. Yin then realizes that Luan is trying to show her a shortcut through the bamboo. She tries to break through, but almost falls into a bear trap.
At the end of the day, Yin discovers that Luan fixed her map earlier. An entire wall of bamboo had been cut down, and Luan unraveled parts of the map to reflect that change. Luan makes further edits to the map as the sun goes down.
Things don’t get any better at night: rats come out in force to eat the bamboo. Yin fights them off before going to sleep. Right as she’s about to doze off, she realizes that the maze is changing because Jhi is eating the bamboo.
The next morning, Yu’s illness was worse. It was just as Yin had feared. She was certain her brother would not make it through another night. They were out of time. She had to track down Jhi today if there was any hope for Yu.
Lucky for Yin, Luan discovered a new break in the bamboo that wasn’t there yesterday. That should mean that Jhi is nearby! Instead of a giant Godlike Panda, though, Yin finds foreign soldiers searching for Jhi, and they don’t seem like they have the best intentions for her.
The soldiers spot Yin, but she manages to escape with Luan’s help. Unfortunately, she’s captured by Nao, the leader of the soldiers, and her Eastern tarantula spirit animal. Yin is immediately set to work making bear traps so Nao can obtain Jhi’s amulet before an invasion force arrives.
Yin was forced to set up traps in the bamboo for the rest of the afternoon, metal jaws that sprang closed when triggered. Since her arms were long and slender, the old woman had insisted the girl would be better at maneuvering around the trigger. But Yin knew it was the most dangerous job. That was why Nao had her do it.
Well, that day sucked. Yin spent most of it setting bear traps, and there’s been no sign on Jhi. She’s even depressed when she tells Yu his favorite bedtime story, because he’s probably going to die.
But Yin won’t accept that Yu’s dying! No, she’s going to find Jhi and reset all the bear traps so they’ll harm the soldiers instead! This ends up being a Good Idea, because Jhi shows up the moment Yin resets the last trap.
Suddenly, the soldiers surround Jhi! Jhi casts Sleep on the soldiers, but Nao manages to steal Jhi’s talisman and escape, complete with an Evil Cackle.
Jhi doesn’t bother going after her talisman. Instead, she heals Yin and asks for a Status Update. After recapping the entire story so far, Yin realizes that Jhi has been following her ever since her first day in the maze, and is royally pissed that the Godlike Panda didn’t bother healing Yu. But it turns out that Yin has nothing to be angry about, because Yu is alive and well. And Jhi didn’t reveal this until after the Status Update because Yin had to “prove herself”.
Yin offers to help Jhi in exchange for healing her brother. Jhi agrees to escort Yin and Yu home, and invites Yin to join her in a week’s time to help her fight against a new threat.
Zhong soon fell to a surprise attack from its neighbor, Stetriol — an act that began the first great war with the Devourer. In the years after Feliandor was finally defeated, Yu grew up to become a renowned storyteller. He spent his life recounting the exploits of the green-cloaked heroes who fought to liberate Zhong from the Devourer’s army. But his favorite story was always of his older sister, Yin. Though the armies of Zhong forbade women from fighting, she had wielded the mighty Sword of Tang countless times defending her home. She was the finest spy the green-cloaked resistance had in occupied Zhong, and the bravest woman he’d ever known.
And in case you were wondering, we’ll see Yin again in another story. But it’s nice to know that she gets her family’s sword back.
Stuff I Forgot to Mention Above:
So far, characters in Spirit Animals are bonded to animals native to their homelands. Why is Yin bonded to a pied starling, then? Yin’s obviously from not!Asia, and pied starlings are native to southern Africa.
Yin’s father has a pet binturong named T’ien.
Yu’s favorite bedtime story is one Yin made up about an epic storm that blew through their village. It’s mentioned several times in the story.
Kuan is bonded to a red panda named Tzu.
Jhi is also known as Healthbringer.
Yin’s father used to be associated with the Zhongese military, which explains why he owns a map of the Great Bamboo Maze.
The Sword of Tang has been in Yin’s family for thousands of years. Which makes me wonder: how long has humanity existed on Erdas?
One of the soldiers, a young boy, is bonded to a dhole. Another is bonded to a wild boar, which should be impossible because spirit animals can’t be the same species as the Great Beasts. (See also in Fire and Ice, where a Conqueror is shown with a lion spirit animal. Perhaps the Bile bypasses natural bonding restrictions?)
The Bamboo Panda is made of green bamboo, not bamboo wood. This disappoints me somewhat, because I was hoping that Jhi was running around with a panda-shaped bamboo cutting board around her neck.
Next time: “The First Greencloak,” in which a Godlike Leopard learns how to deal with people.