“Everyone sees what you seem to be; few know what you are.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Faith and I rested on the Yo; a thick bed mat rolled out on the tatami-covered floor. We shared pieces of our lives in strings of disconnected conversation. The lure of Faith’s essence pulled my heavy eyelids open. Her questions lifted me from the haze of exhaustion brought on by the day’s activities. Words mingled with the edges of dreams until I wasn’t sure if I heard us speaking or dreamed of voices.
“Tell me why you came to Korea after you got out of the Army,” Faith’s birdsong voice drifted to my ears.
“Master Lee invited me to work as a bounty hunter. I needed the money, and my life was stuck in neutral back in the States. Too many ghosts, I guess.”
“You have ghosts from the Army or your ancestors?”
Faith’s question brought a smile to my tired face. “Both, Yobo. I like my Greek ancestor ghosts. The Spartans have guarded my life since I can remember. It’s my teammates that make me sad because they’re dead, and I can’t bring them back.”
“Nae Yong, do not mourn them. They are bound to your spirit now. They will never grow old and will always be active and healthy as long as you keep them bound to you. They will give you strength and comfort as your ancestors will give you their wisdom if you honor them.”
I hugged my angel as her voice warmed my face and heart. Her hair flowed over my skin as her lips touched mine. She tasted like a piece of heaven at that moment. I knew I would love her for as long as she allowed. I felt compelled to reveal my long-held secrets under her careful questioning.
“Tell me about that day.”
“Which day? The day Master Lee called me?” I asked
“I want to hear about your last mission. I want to know about your teammates. Their story will help me understand something about you.”
“What do you need to know?” The surprise in my question sounded odd to me. I felt myself shutting down.
“The way of the Dragons is not easy, Nae Yong. The Masters do not make this choice without knowledge. Something happened on that last mission that opened the Dragon’s eyes.”
I realized if Faith was correct my meeting her was also planned. A chill went through me. I wondered if her love was a charade to gain my trust and loyalty or if somehow she did love me as much as I loved her. I decided I had nothing left to lose. If this was all a trap, I threw myself on it without regret.
“What happened? I disobeyed orders and got my teammates killed.”
I looked up into the black ceiling and let the visions I locked away flood into my mind. Faith lay her head on my chest. I let my hands wander over her shoulder, arm, hip, and back. Feeling her body kept me grounded in the present.
“Tell me, please. I hold nothing of my life away from you. Don’t shut me out. I need to know.”
The whispered plea cut the iron bands of my will.
“We dropped in close to a village in Nigeria. A suspected terror cell had set up an arms smuggling operation from Africa to South America to arm the drug lords. The destabilization of South America was a spear aimed at the heart of America. Our orders were to observe the village and identify any suspects for a later snatch operation. Our team would get the layout and routines and pass that to a snatch team.”
“Intelligence agents would get the information they needed to help interdict the weapons. The Nigerian government didn’t know about the mission. We couldn’t let anyone know why we were there or draw attention to ourselves. The team had to avoid any contact unless compromised and had to fight our way out.”
“What went wrong?”
Faith kept me talking with simple questions.
“I observed a large gathering of villagers on the path that lead to the village. Several of the men had an elderly man, his wife, and a younger woman that could have been their daughter. They sat them on the ground and interrogated them. The agitated men began to beat the three on the ground with long branches they cut from the brush.”
“The beatings got more severe. One of the men began to kick and stomp the man and two women. They were pleading with the villagers for help, but the crowd ignored their pleas for mercy. It got worse until they set them on fire and burned them alive. They beat the old man senseless. He sat on the ground and burned unable to help himself. The two women tried to escape the flames. The men beat them and threw them back on the fire and their clothes and skin burned off. They were still alive, and the torture continued. I lost it and decided I would take the bastards out.”
“Why did these people do such a thing?” Faith asked with a touch of anger in her voice.
“The old man was the wrong religion. They wanted to make an example out of him and his family.”
“What could you do to stop it? You had your orders and your duty was to obey.”
“Watching that destroyed my sense of humanity. I hated all humankind, especially those religious fanatics who committed the worst atrocities. I disavowed my code of honor to obey and sought a personal solution.”
“That night I told the team I was going in close to observe which huts the suspects occupied. I went alone. I watched until I had all the information I needed. I waited until everyone was asleep except a few guards. I killed the guards then went into the first hut. I knifed all the occupants and moved on. Someone saw me coming out of the third cabin and sounded the alarm. I shot him and headed back to the jungle.”
“The whole village was crawling like an ant bed after that first shot rang out. They were shooting in every direction. The team heard the commotion and came to assist. We killed a few of them, but it didn’t run them off. When they discovered the bodies, it enraged them. There was just too many of them, and we had to escape under fire.”
“What happened next? How did you escape their bloodlust?” The soft voice in the dark implored me to continue as the blurred gray and red scene flooded out of my mind into my vision.
“We headed for a predetermined extraction point on a sandbar in the middle of a shallow river. The terrorists had a much better communication network than we knew. Their spotters saw the chopper coming up the river and called it in. They had waited in the jungle without us knowing it. The ambush started when we entered the helicopter. We took heavy fire which damaged the chopper and killed the pilot.”
“The co-pilot managed to pull away from the landing zone. The chopper was too damaged and crashed a kilometer from the extraction point. The team got shot up and was too injured to be effective. I moved everyone to a hiding place in the jungle. We needed to get out of there before the enemy found us but I was the only one able to walk. I hiked up river about 20 kilometers to a friendly village. I hired some litter bearers and a doctor to help us get everyone out.”
“The enemy discovered the team and butchered them before we got back. They fought well to the last man. There were blood trails everywhere from the enemy dragging off their dead and wounded. The villagers helping me were afraid and left. I didn’t blame them.”
“I decided to take the war to the terrorists and began hunting them down. It took me three weeks, but I killed many of them along with half the villagers. It was hunting them and killing them one by one wherever they went that changed who I was. It turned me into a beast, and I liked it. I enjoyed shooting them. I felt obsessed with killing. I could see the terror in their eyes never knowing who was next and when or where death would grab them.
“What happened then, Nae Yong?”
“I went back to the friendly village and arranged to get a message out for a pickup.”
“What did your commander do when he learned of your battle in the jungle?”
“I was discharged. The Army didn’t want to create an international incident. They did damage control by sweeping everything under the carpet. They threw me out on my ass and here I am.”
Faith could feel the pain and anger in my voice. She tried to soothe me, but she wasn’t through asking questions.
“How did you come to know Master Lee?”
I thought for a moment before continuing. This part lead me to Faith. The more I learned about Faith and the Dragons the more I felt myself sinking back into that man I was before. The man I missed and wanted to be was the Warrior, and it seemed Faith was leading me back to the Warrior Ethos. She was my love and my guide back to something I cherished more than life. She was giving me a chance to win back my honor. I accepted her offer and damned the consequences.
“One of the guys on Team 2 was Korean. Pak was like a fire hydrant, short and solid as steel. He was a master at Hapkido and trained the company in hand to hand combat and knife fighting. Pak was an animal that always seemed serene and emotionless until it was time to fight. He was a stone cold killer in battle. We got along well. When he heard I was leaving, he told me to call him and gave me his number.”
“I didn’t want anything to do with my past. I left it all behind and drifted around doing whatever I wanted. I’d work just to afford a chance to move on to something else. Later, after a three-day binge of drinking and whoring I woke up broke and disgusted with myself. I was tearing my wallet apart looking for a dollar for coffee, and the slip of paper with Pak’s number fell out.”
“How did he convince you to come to Korea?” She asked, the interest in her voice deepening.
“It wasn’t hard. We met at Pak’s house for dinner and his wife fixed a feast of Korean dishes. That dude could pack away the groceries. I was so full my stomach hurt. It was the first good meal I had in over a year. His wife poured Bac Se Ju. . .”
“Oh, that is a high honor to you for her to serve the pear wine. Pear wine is for special guests. He must have respected you.”
The excitement in Faith’s voice emphasized something I hadn’t paid attention to before. The pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. Pak was likely a Black Dragon, a conduit to recruit people like me for the nebulous society of Dragons.
I saw a pattern of employment of people disconnected from family and friends. Orphans, Outcasts, and others looking to belong to something embraced the Dragons. I wondered if we were people no one would miss. Did it mean we had a mindset the Dragons could exploit for their secret objectives?
“He was more than willing to help me. But that wasn’t unusual. We were tight on the teams, like brothers.” I explained.
“Did Pak offer to help you get to Korea?” Faith continued.
“He told me about Master Lee and his bounty hunter business. He said it could lead me to other work if I were good enough. Master Lee would take care of my education and training as well as housing. That sounded like a sweet deal. Pak had contacts at the embassy. All I had to do was take a health exam, and he would take care of all the paperwork. He even let me stay at his house while I waited for approval.”
When I mentioned the health exam, I felt Faith’s body stiffen. Her fingers massaging my chest stopped, and her hand went to her mouth.
“Are you okay? Is something wrong? I asked more than a little concerned at the surprise in her reaction.
“You took a blood test?”
“Were you told the purpose of the blood test,” she asked. Her fingers touched my breast, and her thumb played with the hair on my chest. She was trying to soothe me as her hand drifted down my side and across my groin and thighs. She was working up to something, but she wanted me calm before she asked.
“It was routine they said. The Koreans don’t like foreigners bringing in contagious diseases,” I replied.
“Nae Yong, they also checked your DNA.”
“Why would they do that?” I asked with more than a little concern.
“To find out if you can become a Dragon and to find your bonded mate. Our meeting was no accident of fate, Nae Yong.” Her voice was steady and strong almost demanding of my understanding.
Her face loomed over mine. The ambient light shone like stars in her wet black eyes. I felt the supple inside of her thigh slide across the top of my leg as she rotated on top of me. Her leg pressed down between mine. The soft hair between her legs slid across the ridge of my hip then her stomach rested on mine. The feel of her breasts settling on my chest and her arms diving under my armpits had a hypnotic effect. I felt flooded with soothing energy coming from her and coursing through my body. My muscles tensed with an aching pleasure.
“Yobo, are you with me because of some duty and fealty to the Masters or do you want to be with me?” I had to ask. I couldn’t go on if what we had together was nothing more than an assignment.
“Both,” she said as her mouth closed over mine. Soft caressing lips and flooding pleasure afforded a moment to hear her reply. I submerged myself in the elixir of her lovemaking.
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