"I feel like I'm ready to take on the whole world," Cord said after playing a song with the flute. He couldn't help the smile that threatened to take over his face.
The blind man said drily, "Despite knowing everything, you're still a man who leaps before taking a look and has no patience at all." However, his eyes were full of amusement. "What's your plan now?"
"I am going to a island west of here where Great Wizard Rizen wrote down all his life’s research. Will you join me?" Cord asked, nervous for the blind man's answer more than he expected and marvelled at how he had changed during the journey. Not long ago he would have gone alone, refusing to admit that he might have needed companionship or assistance.
"Fuhl Chain?" the blind man looked as if he was reminded of something but didn't say more. "You have my flute, so I guess I'm stuck with you."
"Deal," Cord said before the blind man changed his mind. "By the way, how should I call you?"
"What's the point of names? Can a name really name things?"
Cord rolled his eyes. While he had learnt to appreciate the blind man's riddles, he still wished that he could get more straight forward answers. "One day I'll know your name."
"Let's not waste time standing here," the blind man started to leave. "We have a tide to catch."
"Wait for me!" Cord said in pursuit of him.
"I advise you two to stay off Fuhl Chain. It’s a death trap and no one has returned from there before,” the boatman said.
“What do you know about the place?” Cord asked.
“You’re after Great Wizard Rizen’s writing, are you? Many great martial artists and wizards have gone there for the same thing, and they were all mighty on their own, but my family has lived here for six decades and we never see anyone return. Listen to me. Don’t go there”
“What do you think?” Cord asked the blind man. The place sounded dangerous, but the boatman’s words also intrigued him. What might they find there?.
“Some people say you have to risk going to a tiger cave to get a tiger’s cubs, but others also say that it’s better to avoid a hornet’s nest, so you should ask yourself if you really want to go and why.”
Cord pondered the blind man’s words. He knew that he would regret it if he gave up now, forever wondering what might have happened. Besides, together with the blind man he was confident that they could take it. However, it would be stupid of him if he didn’t plan ahead.
“Can we borrow your boat until we return? I will pay you well for that.”
“No way! My boat will be as well as gone if I leave it to you both.”
Finally Cord struck a deal with the boatman and set sail with the blind man. On the boat he said, “I hope you don’t have any vision that requires you to sink our boat.”
“Isn’t it too late to ask when we’re already in the sea?” the blind man said. “I don’t habitually destroy our only means of transport. Besides, I hate swimming.”
“Good to know.”
It was getting late when they arrived at the island, so they decided to settle down for the night and start exploration the next morning. Going inland, they found a piece of flat land with a stream nearby. Cord built a shelter with branches and leaves, while the blind man collected firewood and built a fire.
“How come you catch more than me?” Cord asked when they were catching fish from the stream.
“If you become one with the water, you can feel the disturbance and current.”
Is it possible? Cord wondered. He tried to keep very still and watched the water, imagining that he was one with it.
Success! He laughed when he caught a big silver fish.
“It’s a big one. We’ll have a full stomach tonight.”
After dinner, Cord felt completely relaxed and leaned on a tree, while the blind man started playing his flute. The song reminded Cord so much of gentle spring rain that he kept thinking that he should smell wet grass instead of smoke from the burning fire.
The blind man seemed to be completely lost in his music and Cord enjoyed the performance. In the past when he was about to lose the fight with Chang-Sha, the blind man had encouraged him with his music. It warmed him that the blind man cared for him enough to come, and he would always remember it.
The next morning, they continued their journey and entered a forest.
Then the ambush began.
“Watch out!” Cord shouted when a throwing star shot was aimed at the blind man’s head. Realizing how useless the warning was, he pounced forward to get him out of the way. Fortunately the blind man moved fast enough to escape from it.
Several masked man ran towards Cord and one threw a right hook at Cord, who stepped away from the attack and kicked another on the knee. Meanwhile the blind man was surrounded by six others but able to hold his own, so Cord focused on his fight.
Cord threw one of his opponents to the ground and hit another with a head butt when there was a loud sound
“Thump!” The blind man disappeared right before Cord’s eyes.
Redness filled Cord’s eyes as he grabbed a strong branch from the ground as a spear. He struck the one on his left directly at his eyes, jumped out of range to give himself space while he stabbed another repeatedly. He was hurt everywhere when he finally defeated his opponents, but the only thing he cared about was the blind man. Where was he?
Searching the area where the blind man disappeared, Cord saw something shiny on the ground and heard a faint sound from below. He circled the place and finally found that the blind man was caught in a hole.
“Are you all right?” Cord shouted, trying to find a way to save him.
The blind man replied in a voice fainter than usual. “I’m not dying.”
“Great. There are some roots lining the edges on top of you. Do you think you can use them as handholds?”
The blind man started to climb. When he was close enough Cord grabbed his biceps and pulled him out of the hole.
The blind man groaned when Cord helped him up. Then Cord noticed the blood staining his clothes.
“You’re hurt,” Cord said. It was unsettling to see the blind man hurt as he was always so strong and independent. However, somehow he felt the distance between them shortened.
“If you land on sharp spikes, you’ll bleed too. It’s no big deal.”
“What kind of nasty people set up a death trap like that?” Cord said. “Lean on me. We should take care of your injury soon.”
“Excuse me?” The blind man asked. However, Cord ignored his words and supported him until they settled in a cave for night.
To Cord’s delight, he found some herbs good for healing wounds. He crushed and mixed them with oil together and put them on the blind man’s wounds
“Where do you find something so stinky?” The blind man asked, but he stayed still to let Cord treat him.
“You’re in luck. I always got into fights as a kid and my mother taught me how to find herbs to treat my wounds. She told me that if I kept looking for trouble, I should at least know how to deal with them.”
“Your mother is a wise woman.”
“She is very tough too, running a shop on her own and no one dared to cross her.” Cord felt a sense of homesickness. His family must have missed him too. “Do you feel better now?”
“As well as I can be, with the smell of your ointment turning my stomach,” the blind man said.
Cord laughed, unsurprised about the blind man’s lack of gratitude. Between them, it was new for him to take the role of protector. However, while he hoped that it would not be necessary, he felt closer with the blind man as he treated his injury.
“I wonder who sent our attackers, and why they targeted us. There must be some truth in the rumour after all if they’re this aggressive to get rid of us,” Cord said.
“Greed, hatred, and ignorance are the three major human vices. Even those supposed in pursuit of knowledge are not immune from them,” the blind man replied. “I think it’s time for you to learn to fight with a weapon. Bare fists are good and well, but long weapons can give you a lot of advantage in group fight.”
“So you’ll really teach me. Great!” Cord said with a splitting grin.
“Fighting revolves around maintaining optimum distance for attack and retreat, reading your opponent’s strategy, and striking when they’re the weakest," the blind man said as Cord picked up a sturdy long branch for practise. “A staff is versaille, lethal and excellent at keeping your enemies out of reach. However, if you lack knowledge of the principles or techniques, you’ll be at your enemies’ mercy.”
The blind man stood behind Cord and held his arm to correct the way Cord held his staff. Standing this close Cord noticed how deceptively strong the blind man was, and wondered how he trained to fight so well. They spent time practising different holds of the staff and basic defense.
Cord found it delightful to watch the blind man’s demonstration as he moved confidently and gracefully. He wondered how the blind man trained to be such a great fighter.
At dinnertime, Cord asked the blind man over a bowl of soup with leafy vegetables and clams, “How did you learn to fight?”
The blind man remained silent and sipped from his soup. When a fly flew towards him, he stabbed it dead and asked, “How does anyone learn to live?”
“It’s hardly an adequate answer to my question.”
“A musician hears rhythm and melody in everything he or she hears. An artist shapes every material he can get hold of to reveal its true form. A true master transcends techniques, because his presence of mind fills every aspect of his life.”
Cord remained silent to ponder the words before asking, “Do you think I can be a master one day?”
He was confident about his skill to the point of arrogance at the beginning of his journey, but his experiences showed him how deluded he was. Anxiety rose when he waited for an answer.
The blind man smiled. “Why not? As you have learnt, the best teacher is one’s own self.”
Cord broke out into a grin and felt his heart lightened. Despite their initial disagreement and arguments, he took the blind man’s words very seriously and was glad of his encouragement.
At night Cord and the blind man were ambushed.
Both of them fought to the best of their ability, but the limited space constricted their movements, and the attackers were numerous. As Cord fought against several of them, the blind man pushed him away and fell, with a dart on his chest.
The blind man started to shake. As Cord was still in shock, the attackers easily subdued and captured them.
“Who’re you? What’re you doing? Let us go!” Cord struggled to get free, but the man holding him didn’t yield.
He threw a worried glance at the blind man, who had taken a poison dart for him during the previous ambush. He’d better be all right, or I’ll make you all pay, he though.
“I’m Master Ripley, and It’ll be easier if you two work with us,” Master Ripley said while stroking a small bottle hung at his belt. “Only I have the antidote to the poison he took.”
Cord’s heart stricken as the blind man grew paler and started to shake. “Fine, do it your way, but you’d better heal him.”
“Only if you can help us,” Master Ripley replied, gesturing his hired thugs to shove them into a smaller room.
The room was small, but every spot of the wall was painted with symbols and marks. There was already a crowd of people of men and women, young and old, but these people were so busy studying the wall that they ignored Cord and his company.
Master Ripley stared at the walls and said, “Everything of Great Wizard Rizen’s knowledge is written on the wall. However, no one can agree on its meaning. My friend and I came first to this island and found this room. However, the meaning we got was completely different and neither could convince the other who was right, so we invited people who passed our trials to study the text of the walls, but so far no one could get its actual meaning. I’ll only let you two go if you can help solve this problem.”
Cord frowned. The blind man could be of no help here, and he himself could hardly read any words. How could he succeed when so many failed, but more importantly, can he afford to fail?
I have to solve this riddle, Cord thought. I can’t let him die.
The blind man coughed violently enough to sway, so Cord moved as close as he could to support him. He stiffened his lips and focused on the marks of the wall.
The symbols and marks looked somewhat familiar so Cord leaned closer to watch them better. Then he realized why: one of the drawings on the wall was an abstract illustrated guide of the fighting positions and moves the blind man had taught him.
With a lightened heart, Cord observed the other drawings and tested his theory by following the illustrated instruction. His heart rate increased as the drawing showed him new moves and opportunities in fights.
“What’re you doing?” Master Ripley asked. “I’ve never seen these moves before.”
“You must all be blind,” Cord said. “It’s drawn all over.”
“Drawing? But… the text is written in Hyperion font, which is…” Suddenly Master Ripley laughed. “We’re such fools! We’re so fixated on our old notion that we’ve never thought of the calligraphy as the actual answer. How can you figure it out?”
“I can read nothing here, but I have eyes to observe, and I also have a good teacher.”
“So this is the answer. Both of us are wrong, or both of us are right,” Master Ripley murmured. “All right. I’ll keep my word and give the antidote to you. Now everyone is free to go.”
Cord grabbed the bottle and fed the potion to the blind man, glad when his face seemed to gain colour. Despite Master Ripley's words, only the blind man and he left the room, because all the other people kept staring at the wall and scribbling notes, as if they were ready to spend their whole lives here.
Cord shivered. What a horrible way to live a life! If given a choice, he would prefer to travel with the person he cared most to explore the world and continue his adventure, although he would like to spend some time with his family and introduce the blind man to them before starting another journey.
Then he realized that he took it for granted that the blind man would be with him for the future, and he couldn’t think of anyone else whose company he would want more.
He pondered the implication of his realization and laughed.
Zetan told him that enlightenment could only be found inside himself. Now what he needed to do was to face the blind man to see if their paths continued to meet.
The blind man recovered his strength with good sleep and food so they decided to return to the mainland at the next high tide.
Cord’s hands started sweating when he confronted the blind man. He once asked Tara sincerely to stay with him forever, but now he had a higher stake at risk.
“I am going to visit family. Will you come with me?” Cord asked.
“Will your family welcome a guest like me?”
“They are good people and you are as much my family as one with my blood. If fate is willing, I would like you to be by my side in all my life’s adventure.”
The blind man stared at him incredulously. “It's a tall order.”
“Is it a no?” Cord’s mouth felt as dry as a desert.
The blind man suddenly laughed. “Why not? My life will surely be more interesting.”
Cord hugged the blind man, his lips brushing the cheeks in a chaste kiss. He started his adventure for knowledge and power, but now he realised that what he got now was more precious.
“Will you finally tell me your name?” Cord asked.
The blind man continued to walk and didn't answer his question. When Cord was about to ask again, the blind man replied, “Lynn”.
“Cord and Lynn… I really like how our names sound together. Someone should write a good song about us.”
“I’m starting to regret telling you,” Lynn said while slowing down for Cord to catch up with him.
Cord only grinned and walked side by side with him. He couldn’t wait to start another adventure with Lynn by his side as always.