Niu sighed. “Oh cruel fate.”
“How are you feeling?” Junjie asked.
“Like the fates have conspired to give me a throbbing headache,” Niu said as he winced.
“Do you still have a hunger for brains, my son?” the master asked.
“That’s ridiculous,” Niu said.
Junjie picked a zombie brain up off of the courtyard floor.
“Why would anyone have a hunger for…”
Junjie held the brain in front of Niu’s face. The giant’s eyes widened. “…brains? Brain! Give me the…”
The hero hid the brain behind his back. Niu’s calm demeanor returned.
“…brain. Don’t be absurd. Who’d want to eat a brain?”
“You,” Junjie said. “You fought me over one.”
“I did?” Niu asked
“You don’t remember?” Junjie asked.
“Brain addicts often suffer from memory loss,” the master said. “Their minds block out the terrible acts they commit in search of brains.”
“Please,” Niu said. “I’m not a brain addict. I have never even eaten a…”
Junjie held the brain out in front of the big man’s face. “Brain!” Niu shouted. “Give it here!”
The hero tossed the brain over his shoulder. It fell to the courtyard floor with a splat.
“Aww,” Niu said. “Wait. What was I saying?”
“That you don’t want to eat a brain,” Junjie said. “Although clearly you do.”
“Right,” Niu said. “Although I do remember that I avoided the temptation earlier.”
“How?” the master asked.
“The children,” Niu said.
“Oh no,” Junjie said.
“Niu,” the master said. “Please tell me you did not eat the children’s brains!”
“Of course not,” Niu said. “But when I ripped out the brain of one of Dragonhand’s warriors, I became enamored with it. I believe I would have devoured it had the children not divided my attention. I dropped the brain and got the young ones out through the passage but once I came to the courtyard I…”
“…went mad for brains,” Junjie said.
“I am thankful you have yet to eat a brain,” the master said. “And we must keep it that way, lest you go the way of Dragonhand.”
“I pray that is not my fate,” Niu said.
“Master,” Niu said. “How are you…”
“A ghost?” the master asked. “Astral projection.”
“Oh,” Niu said. “The Fourth Infallible Master was able to that. I surely enjoyed my one day of being keeper of the library before it was burnt to the ground.”
“Disciples,” the master said. “We must not waste time with further idle chatter.”
“I agree,” Junjie said. “We must attack Dragonhand head on.”
The master shook his head. “No. You must travel south.”
“South?” Junjie asked. “But that’s not the way to the Emperor’s palace.”
“No,” the master said. “And Niu, you must travel west.”
“If it is my fate to do so, then so be it,” Niu said.
“We’re just going to let the brain addict go?” Junjie asked.
“He appears to have his condition under control, for now,” the master said. “Get him out of here quickly,” the master said.
“I will,” Junjie replied as he began untying the knots around Niu’s arms.
“And nunchuk his face if he submits to brain lust,” the master said.
“I will,” Junjie repeated.
“Is it my fate that everyone will speak about me as if I’m not right here now?” Niu asked.
“Begin your travels,” the master said. “I will reconvene with both of you as soon as possible.”
“Where will you go?” Junjie asked.
“To the Imperial Palace,” the master said. “To warn Captain Tsang.”
Poof! The master disappeared.
Soon, Niu was free. He stood up and towered over Junjie. He looked down at his fellow disciple.
“No hard feelings?” Junjie asked as he looked up at Niu.
“Ow,” Niu said as he rubbed his head. “I doubt the fates would allow it.”
Niu noticed Mei-Ling. “What in the…”
“Cast in stone by Dragonhand,” Junjie said. “The master said she still lives.”
“Now I regret complaining about my fate,” Niu said.
Junjie wrapped his arms around Mei-Ling’s waist. He gritted his teeth as he strained to lift his love, but she wouldn’t budge.
Niu brushed Junjie aside, then picked up Mei-Ling and heaved her over his shoulder as if she were a light bundle.
“Fear not, brother,” Niu said. “I shall protect your woman and leave her with the people of the village nearby. It will give me a chance to check on the children.”
“Thank you,” Junjie said. He looked up at his love’s stone face. “Goodbye, Mei-Ling.”
Niu waited a moment. “I do not think she will be saying goodbye to you.”
Junjie rolled his eyes. “I know. Just don’t…you’re ruining the moment.”
“Oh,” Niu said.
The big man waited another moment as Junjie stared at Mei-Ling’s cold eyes.
“Do you wish me to put your petrified lover down and leave for a while so that you may defile her?”
Junjie shook his head. “And now you ruined it.”
“I am sorry,” Niu said.
“It’s fine,” Junjie said. “Just go.”