The streets were black, and the mausoleum stood out on its hill like a beacon, illuminated by paper lamps. I tied my hair in a black cloth and stepped over sleeping servants into the darkness.
Guards patrolled the main road carrying lamps on long poles, occasionally prodding them into the shadows. I shifted through alleyways, timing my movements with their inspections, throwing dried meat to the dogs for their silence. As I progressed the buildings became more densely packed, and the alleys were too narrow to traverse. I went upward instead, scaling an obtuse home and hopping between rooftops until I was close enough to the main road that I could disappear into the fields, only pausing to rest on my belly when I sensed a patrol nearby.
On my way to cross the main road, I stumbled over an awkwardly placed brass pot and cursed. A patrolling guard approached me, so I fell to the ground, imitating a layabout, and he kicked me hard in the ribs. “Off to your home, you degenerate!”
I mumbled incoherently and escaped his sight, moving deep into the fields. Crops provided cover as I edged closer to the mausoleum steps. A guard stood at the base, and I could see no other way up. He was vigilant, affording me no possibility of sneaking by. My hands formed into mudras and I pushed them into the Mud, forming a circle of depressions. I scooped the dirt from the center with my left hand and placed it to my mouth, then pointed my right palm to the empty night and spoke.
“Help! I need help!” I heard in the distance. My own voice, altered enough that nobody would recognize it. Samehki 109th Method: Cicada Whisper.
The guard sprung to action, sprinting off to assist. The moment I could no longer hear his shuffling, I covered the mud-sign and crept up the steps. They were taller than I realized and seemed to stretch further as I ascended, a feeling of dread welling up within me as I inched closer to my goal. I looked behind, expecting to see the guard returning, but only found dogs. I tossed more meat down the steps, but they ignored it, shambling after me with eerie focus. I took a moment to realign my senses, then hurried my ascent. Dogs awaited me at the entrance of the mausoleum with their noses pointed at me, their stares not of this world. I pushed through the entrance with urgency but a shriek brought me to my knees.
The dogs were howling like no howl I had ever heard. It was cannons roaring, sinking ships, a son going off to war and never coming back—his mother weeping, babies wailing, a thousand funerals attended by armies of insects, hearts breaking and their contents spilling out into a whirlpool in which I was drowning. Everything went numb. My hands clapped to my ears but the sound only swelled in my head. I struggled inward but they followed. Around me were images carved into the walls and roof, like some I had seen before, created by those beholden to a Vora.
Images flashed in my mind of the times before human agency, when we were slaves to Vora emperors fighting over scraps of livable dirt.
My senses flickered in and out, and there was burning behind my eyes, smoke billowing out of my ears. The last things I saw before I fell were guards rushing into the building with dogs adhered to their backs like parasites.
I made King of Punching. I write too.