The smell of pork and dumplings fill my nostrils and make me audibly groan in hunger. The rice is steaming in the corner of the small kitchen covered in beige walls and family photos. Even after 19 years I am still just as eager to allow the rich scent of traditional China to surround and comfort me. I have to remember this solace every evening when the rush starts.
Working in a restaurant in Hong Kong is not for the weak. My parents own it and one day it will be mine, so I am hard at work now to ensure I can carry on the trade. On top of the regulars we serve each day we have many tourists who roam into the dining area, half drunk usually and commenting on “how cute this little place is”, they call me Sean. This also makes me audibly groan but in annoyance instead of hunger.
I stay in the kitchen, and since the weather tonight is nice and warm we can expect a big crowd. “Sheng!”, my mother calls as she bustles in with fresh produce and meat from the markets she had just come from. I run over to help her in and unpack all of the ingredients that will soon fill up the bamboo steamer and be served to the hungry guests.
She rattles off the menu to me as my father walks in and kisses her forehead. He puts his arm around my shoulders, even though I tower over him, and the three of us make our way to one of the family photos. Each of us kisses the tips of our fingers and reaches out to touch the photo of Ming Yue, my sister. We lost her when she was just three years old. The illness ran through her body so quickly. I made more dumplings than I have ever made in that short time. We thought she could be healed and she loved my pork dumplings so I made them until my hands were sore. But no amount of food could have cured her. So here we are, four years later, in the same kitchen with a new tradition. We gather and kiss her photo before we start cooking. The translation of my sister's name could not be more fitting, “bright moon”. She is my family's bright moon.
My parents leave the kitchen so that I can start my work. As I start to get together my first batch of ingredients I feel my foot slip out from under me. All of a sudden I am laying in old oil that must have spilled from last night's clean up. I started to sit up when I noticed an icy cold chill throughout my legs which had slid under one of the many metal racks we have throughout the kitchen. The base of the rack is tall enough that my legs could slip under it without being crushed. I know this because when I was little I would hide under the racks and scare the adults in the kitchen. I was banned from that game long ago and have not been allowed near any hiding spaces since.
The chill is turning into weightlessness and I suddenly realize that I must have broken or sprained something. As I shuffle my legs out from under the rack I notice snow is attached to my pants. I brush it off as if it were fire in the utter shock of having snow on my pants, on a warm day, emanating from under a rack in my kitchen. Getting up to my knees slowly, I start to wedge myself under the metal to see what in the world could be the source of this. As soon as I get my top half wedged in the space that I just pulled my legs from I feel my hand plummet as if I had just reached into a false bottom cup. The ice crystals starting to immediately form on my skin suddenly cease when I feel a large, warm hand grab my own and pull me into the frozen portal before I could even scream for help.
“Where is your coat and boots, my friend?”, a booming voice asks me as I land on the soft snow. My basketball shorts and anime t-shirt are providing nothing at this point to my long, lanky arms and legs in what looks to be a blizzard. The tall, dark man is covered in furs and layers of light, gauzy material underneath alternating chained armor. His ebony skin reflects the snow flakes falling on his brow. He has a long, black ponytail that reaches the ground and is as straight as the arrows he carries on his back and boots with steel toes and spiked heels. “You cannot be out here long like this Sheng, you will not make it and we need you.”, he says as he picks me up and tucks me under his arm as if I'm no bigger than a purse to him. The man starts walking to some sort of shelter that has smoke rising from the top. The last thing I remember is being set by the fire on a rug made of some beast that I can only imagine he caught himself.
I woke up to the smell of spices and meats and warm tea steeping all mingling together in the small kitchen that the man stood in. “Put your proper garb on and eat up, my friend. We will need to leave soon.” I nodded swiftly and started putting on a much smaller version of what he was wearing when I suddenly stopped and said in a surprised tone, “Wait! What am I doing? What is going on and who are you and where are we?”. My voice cracked embarrassingly as I tried to get all of my questions out in one breath. I remain looking at the floor and breathing heavily as the man stands and plants his feet to the stone ground of his home. “I am called Kamari.”, he said with great pride. And although this told me very little about who he was, I suddenly felt a peace come over me. The enormous stars in the night sky shone brightly through his window and the light fell upon him and I knew everything I needed to know.
“We have sat and watched our moon in agony as she remains held captive.” He conveyed with great sadness. “You have never been here but you will never feel more at home once you help us and lead us. We need our victory. We have waited for you for so long.” Kamari went on to explain that four years ago the many beings of this land finally gained their moon. She was pure and beautiful. She looked like everything and yet nothing recognizable at the same time. She spoke of sense and structure and yet she encouraged wistfulness and peace. “She united everything. She united the adults to their children. She united the leaves to their branches. She united the fish to the sea.”
He went on to tell me about the horrible seize of their moon two years ago. “Without her we are dissolving. We are shedding away from our own souls and losing those who make us make sense.”, his voice wavered as he finished. I pulled on the rest of the chained armor and furs and with all the confidence I never knew I had asked Kamari, “How do I help?”.
We traveled for what seemed like days on end. We traveled through bountiful snow that resisted every step we made and we slid carefully on ice that was so thin one of the snow elves peeped out his head from behind a tree to warn us of the mistake we had made. The other option was to attempt a leap over an icy canyon that cascaded to a certain death. We chose the thin ice. At one point we were crossing a bridge that was mostly being held together by old rotted rope and steel planks to step on. Oddly enough right below us was bubbling lava that created a steam so hot I’m surprised we didn't just melt into it.
Kamari had all of the composure of a ballerina while I was sweating profusely in our heavy layers that we had to keep on for the snowy mountain ahead. A creature that creeped throughout the lava underneath swam and leapt into the moving waves of fire as if it were a child playing in a swimming pool. I made the mistake of trying to get a good look at it even though it was thousands of feet below me. The scales and teeth that were dripping in lava are a sight I will never forget. This momentary lapse in judgment caused my sweat to increase and drop onto the steel-plated steps of the bridge which I then slipped on. I was caught swiftly by Kamari who pulled me up by one enormous arm and damn near threw me into a pile of snow at the end of the bridge. We laid there silently for a few moments. “You will get to know the ways of this world and the creatures and beings that inhabit it. But for now, my friend. You are to serve a purpose and a duty. As I told you, we need our victory.”
We suddenly find ourselves at the base of the snowy, jagged mountain and without a sound we begin to climb. “She should be held at the top.” Kamari calls downward to me from a few paces ahead. We are nearing the top and I suddenly have an overwhelming sense of home. I cannot contain the heat in my face that seems to produce tears on command. And then I suddenly see her. “Ming Yue?”, I barely seem to get the sounds out of my mouth. Her arms are chained behind her back and she remains suspended in the air encapsulated by a blue magnetic field.
Kamari begins a battle with a beast I cannot see. “I will hold them off but this will not be easy, I will not be able to see if they are near you or your sister. You must be quick”. And without any further instruction I know what to do. A sharp pain sears the side of my cheek and I know one of the invisible beasts would like nothing more than to slice me up rather than letting me get near her. But she is my sister and she is their moon. I will let nothing stop me.
I reach my hand into the magnetic field, spiraling with colors of blue and green and purple and flecks of gold reflecting the beauty in possessive things. I close my eyes and focus on nothing but freeing our “bright moon”.
I feel her hand holding tight onto mine and a sudden burst of bright light races into the dark sky. I see nothing but illumination searing from above me putting all of the stars to shame. “Our parents named us after our destiny, brother. Ming Yue, bright moon. And you, you are our victory, Sheng.” My sister's voice flows through my ears as she explains our history. Kamari picks up my now weakened body and whispers to me, “You will be back Sheng, but now is not your time. Our great moon will watch over us and when you come back we will never know a day without victory. Your family is destined to become our world.”
“He’s waking up”, I hear loudly in my right ear. There is a bright light shining in my face and I whisper “Ming Yue”, softly. The light moves around and then shuts off abruptly. I am surrounded by my parents’ worried faces and a doctor. I realize I have since switched out my fur and armor for a hospital gown and a few stitches across my cheek. “You slipped on some oil my son. You have a broken leg and a deep cut across your face from hitting the metal rack.”, my father says while squeezing my hand.
I watch them moving hurriedly around the hospital room and then pause when they hear me call them by their first names, “Lian, lotus and Bo, waves. You both are destined to create the landscape”. I begin to fall back asleep as I whisper, “We will all be reunited”.