In a circular chamber constructed of white marble and white diamonds, built on future-fractal principles to make it both intimate and cavernous in size, a million individual martial arts fights were in progress. Bald headed monks were locked in battle with their identical twins, a flurry of well-practiced blows constantly being parried and deflected, each combatant knew intimately and instinctively their opponent's moves. The entire chamber echoed short staccato shouts of mortal combat.
In a clearing at the center, a nine-foot lizards bowed respectfully to his duplicate. He dressed the same way. He moved with the same simple grace. He stood with the same relaxed posture. And he looked back at him with the same calculating eyes, measuring the short distance between them, judging the smallest of movements.
"A hundred respectful welcomes, Andy," said Brody Dharma.
"A hundred appreciative returns, brother," he replied.
"It was not my intention to bring you or the other duplicates into existence by way of the Gong Ago."
"No, but it was a possibility you were intrinsically aware of."
"I could not allow Sharkasaurus Rex to continue his rampage across the surface of planet Amity. The people under the mist would never have recovered from such catastrophic loss of life."
"I am not in a position to argue your decision. After all, in every perspective, I made the same choice under the same circumstances."
"I would never wish... all of this upon this holy grounds. Upon the sacred order my family has cultivated over hundreds of generations."
"Our family," Andy corrected with a bit more of a snarl than he intended.
"Our family," Brody agreed.
Andy took the pose of the Ape Toe with a sliding step to his right, and watched his brother match it with a step of his own. A bit of a slide forward into the Drunken Sage Stance, and he slide a bit back into its natural counter, the Fierce Trip. He was measuring him as much as he was measuring himself. It was a near match. But not a perfect one.
Brody narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "I must admit, I was not expecting you to be so... cordial, given the small war around us."
Andy smiled and waved an arm toward the battles around them. The circle that surrounded them was slowly widening as one group of monks were clearly pressing a small advantage of numbers. "I have given my echoed monks the upper hand, and left to their own devices they will overwhelm their brothers. But the pendulum swings the other way now that you've arrived."
"I wear the cosmic crown." Brody acknowledged.
"This entire conflict is over the moment you want it to be. Despite my obvious mastery of space-kung-fu, I cannot defeat you while you have the added forces of that powerful helm." Andy saw the expected twitch in his brother's lips.
"Surely you are not implying that you could defeat me in fair combat? We are the same! Your training is my training, your skill is exactly my own skill."
He did not reply, only shrugging with a mock disappointment. Brody was under no obligation to balance the odds... but Andy suspected that his other felt the same longing to test himself against an equal.
"Opportunity has provided the rarest of opponents," Brody admitted finally, "I would be cruel to deny us this winter-blossom of a chance. I will build a dam of mental discipline, shoring up the incredible forces that would prevent a level field."
"You swear to not use the cosmic crown?"
"Upon the good names of our honorable ancestors, yes."
"Excellent!" Andy said bending his knees, immediately taking an aggressive Cricket And Cruel Wolf pose, slipping up into the hotter meditative states of infra-zen. Brody spread his feet apart, hands in front in a superior Ghastly Lock defensive position, dropping into the cooler flatter planes of ultra-zen.
The air around them spread in a stiff wind as they both pushed the outside world away from their calm, warping their immediate vicinity with the sheer force of their chis. The crowd of monks spread farther from them, instinctively sensing their masters strength and giving them room.
He opened with the Avalanche Of The Religious Dragon, a flurry of fast pushing strikes, licks of flame danced on his knuckles!
Brody countered perfectly with the Immortal Pose Of Books, sheets of opening arm movements that brushed the attacks to the sides!
An upward arc of a foot, the Priestess' Northern Kick! So quick the air cracked like wood behind it!
Arms locked around his leg, the Pig's Unholy Grab, Brody followed up with Rat Ghastly Whirlwind, flinging him over his shoulder!
He recovered himself in mid-air, landing gracefully in the Cat's Press Of Wild Skulls position!
Brody pushed his advantage, holding his hands open in claws, the Rake Of The Thirty Bears! The air compressed around his fingers, solidifying to long clear daggers! Massive gouges tore in the marble walls and ceilings as he moved forward!
He blocked with the Jade Spirits Palm, his will shielding him visibly with a ghostly gem wall that absorbed the attack! Then, from a lower angle, he swooped a leg to catch Brody in the Golden Snare!
Brody leapt over the sweep, and struck the jade wall with an extended pinky, shattering it with the Bull Finger Of Unpredictable Wisdom! Then, with his other hand a fist above his head, he brought it down in the High Old Hammer!
Andy decided against the traditional defensive maneuver and instead struck back up with his own closed fist in the Sapphire Stream Hammer!
The blows met each other like two mountains striking one another. There was a cacophony of crashes, pillars were toppled, and everyone but was blasted clear off their feet!
Andy was knocked back again, to the far wall in a crumple. He couldn't help letting out a chuckle as he righted himself, trying to brush away the dust and fine debris kicked up by the massive shock.
He heard a light laugh that mirrored his own amusement. "Ho ho ho! It has been decades since that's happened!" said Brody cheerfully from somewhere in the confusion. "Do you remember the first time our father chastised us for countering one blacksmith-school move with another?"
Andy smiled at the memory. "Absolutely. Punishment was to scrub clean the stone stairs of the mountain. From the valley floor to the peak! It took forever! And eventually we learned it wasn't because he was angry but..."
"...but because he had broken his hand! And wanted the time to heal before facing us again!" Brody finished.
The two shared a laugh, unable to see each other in the settling dust. Only when the moment passed did they start moving purposefully again. Andy followed the wall until he was found a hallway. It wasn't the best spot, much too confined, but he didn't want to be backed with nowhere to go. "Ready?" called out his brother from somewhere.
"When you are," he assured him.
He heard quick padded footsteps preceded by a sudden warmth. The dust broke and Brody charged with a series of spins, the friction of his arms in the semi-opaque air pouring the heat of the Whirlwind Of Hot Volcanos!
Andy backed down the hallway, casting his thoughts out physically in the Phantom Submission Shield maneuver to suffer the blows!
Brody would be smart enough to see that he was trying for the balcony. Outside, there would be plenty of room for both. As expected, Brody tried to keep his edge by trapping Andy in the Dog Yield Trap, so he was ready to slip out through a clever use of the Monk's Slippery Elbow.
Within a couple of exchanges, they were out on one of the mountain monastery's many balconies. It was wide and spacious, long weathered wooden floorboards beneath their bare feet, open night sky above them, an enviable view of the moonlit valley.
They took a pause, the perfect moment demanding that they appreciate the surroundings.
Then the sky cracked open and vomits an unimaginable blackness.
It splattered out of a split in the folds of nowhere, like a viscous fluid with no shape of definition. It poured almost consciously, a sentience behind an ultimate darkness, threatening to flood the valley with a liquid void.
Then the sky cracked a second time, expelling a familiar shape. A massive circular disk a mile in diameter of perfect metal, still vibrating from a blunt strike to its center.
It crashed into the valley between the two mountains, the ricocheting sounds deafeningly harsh. It settled flat halfway down in a sudden booming stop. It shook the entire world.
The darkness vibrated with the sound, unable to resist the power of the magnificent instrument, and the monstrous darkness broke apart into a tidal wave of fine black sand.
"The Gong Ago!" Brody shouted with relief. "Our sacred chime has returned to us!"
Andy muttered an apology under his breath and struck while his brother was distracted. He stabbed at Brody's neck, rapidly apply pressure to two dozen unique pinpoints with the Twenty Bandits Pinch, paralyzing both his body and his mind. Then, before he could recover, Andy rose all his mental states into the multiple rooms of his infra-zen state and grabbed conical straw hat floating over his head.
A blast of pure light came from the cosmic crown, the seemingly simple hat suddenly dragging down into the infinite here of its place of the universe. It flung out gravity with abandon, the view of the planet warping concave around the two lizards. A white-hot anchor planted itself deep in everything. The crown was resisting.
Andy let go of Brody, gripped the shallow cone with both hands, and opened his mind to the full fury of the power. The cosmic crown's gravity and chains and entire resistance fell into Andy's instinctive meditative state, looking to strangle the interloper. Instead, it found a calm emotional nothingness, bottomless; it tumbled into the unexistence of the mind's now while Andy's consciousness watched safely in the upper echelons of the infra-zen spectrum.
The anchor fell away. The straw hat popped off Brody.
Flipping it over in his hands, Andy immediately donned it himself.