The shrine's nave had survived the fire if by survived one meant that the walls still stood even though soot stained them and blackness gaped where the outbuildings had collapsed and the statue of Jun, fire breather and the shrine's protector, wobbled in the breeze, flames extinguished. Along with the other congregants, Peifeng held a fistful of petals of the lily, petals to signify Jun's tears, and with his other hand he pulled his wife through the crowd. She had wanted to stay home. Or better, had wanted to flee to Three Swans Village where her brother's wife's family lived. Peifeng knew one could not flee these troubles. Once the flames had fired, they would burn in men's hearts. He placed his petals. The white of new beginnings laid over the ashes of what had been, laid over the hate of the foreigners.
Dark-skinned foreigners had climbed the water pipes and gas lines of the houses on the far side of the square to a position where they could leer at the crowds of Jun's congregants. One threw a stone into the crowd. The man who was hit cried out like the stray dogs on the edge of town, hungry and laced with pain.
"We should go." She pulled Peifeng away from the nave. "Crowd ugly."
"Men like them burned Jun's shrine. We must stay and show them we are not scared." Yet, although he thought his words captured the strength he wanted to show, he felt the crowd quivering just like he was inside, like plum leaves in late August, brittle, about to fall.
"The police failed to find evidence of arson."
"Liars. All of them."
"There is nothing left here. We must leave." She pulled her hand from his.
"I will not flee this town." Peifeng would not flee Jun, would face the foreigners if necessary.
"You must think of our child. Our future."
"There is no future in Three Swans Village."
"More future than here." She turned and squeezed through the crowd.
Peifeng spat into the space where she'd been. The crowd around them paid them little notice as he watched her runaway. He loved her, he loved the child, but he loved Jun too. What kind of love asked you to abandon a part of youself? "The flames will chase you even to Three Swans Village!"
The crowd's shouts accompanied a loud screeching that came from beyond his wife, but Peifeng couldn't see the source. He knew something was happening by the way the foreigners stopped their chants from the far side of the square.
An SUV painted the color of scummy water careened through the crowd, plowing through people, its windshield splashed with blood, a lily petal stuck to the gore. Unable to move, Peifeng watched. It collided with his wife. She flew forward from the collision, landing against the ground as the SUV hit her a second time and then careening onwards to crash into the nave's wall.
Peifeng ran to his wife. Her blood coated the side of her head. He collapsed to the brick paving and placed her head on his thighs. Her breath rasped and he leaned forward, but could not make out her words.
Her soul left her eyes to leave her vacant, empty. In the process, heat and something more than heat filled him, his face flushing, scalp sweating, lungs tingling. Jun's power entered him.
Three teenaged boys, their faces dark with foreigner blood, stared out from the SUV. The crowd moved towards the vehicle. The SUV hiccuped, but the wheels spun unable to get traction, the body teetering on the edge of the wall's rubble.
Peifeng coughed into the air, breathing fire. The crowd backed away. He breathed in deep. His lungs cooled for a second before igniting the fresh fuel in the air and he breathed out, over the SUV and it exploded in a fireball, knocking him to the ground, peppering him with debris.
Jun's statue breathed, its fire reigniting.
Scene seed from a news article in 8sidor regarding Christians who protested around their church that had been burned down and a car driven into the crowd fast enough to kill more than a dozen people.