“Pine trees rise through the clouds and soar up into the blue skies, bush clover spangled with dew drops sways in the autumn breeze; as I dip cold, pure water at the edge of the stream, a solitary white crane comes lolloping my way.” ― Baisao, The Old Tea Seller: Life and Zen Poetry in 18th Century Kyoto
Legs and arms arched in elliptical patterns of illusion like a ballerina’s Black Swan to my ugly duckling. The attack crashes through my arm block hammering my chest and pushing me backward. The buzz saw legs disappear and reappear behind my ankles in a sweep that swings my feet up and over my head. I hear the wind rush from my lungs before I feel the crush of breathlessness and pain from my unceremonious drop to the mat.
“Dear God, Girl. How did you develop such speed and strength in that sweet little body of yours?” I spoke to the stoic face offering me a hand up off the mat.
My pride was ignoring the fact that someone sixty pounds lighter and seven inches shorter just whipped my ass in less than three seconds. My senses whispered there was more to my lovely Sentinel than she told me. The more I improved during our endless training sessions, the more she raised the bar, and the more pain I felt as she drilled me into the ground.
“You try to plan, to see, to act. This slows you down and distracts your subconscious. I move in the moments of your blinded thoughts. Empty your mind and let the Dragon fight.” Faith spoke with confidence like one accustomed to winning her battles.
“Come, Nae Yong, I have something to show you.”
“Is this going to hurt, Yobo?”
“Yes,” she said with a certainty that ran a chill down my back.
* * *
We hiked up to the peak of the mountain behind the house on a narrow path of crushed rock. The trail wound passed small statues that represented the twenty-eight Chinese astrological mansions. Stone gardens along the way marked the imaginary passage of time through the centuries of the Black Dragons.
We made a turn out from under the trees into the vast expanse of the pale blue sky diving down like a bird of prey into the dark sea at the edge of the horizon. Around the corner was a stone wall with a substantial timber-framed opening. The timbers were painted red with gold calligraphy representing the seven virtues of the warrior. An imposing Dragon statue guarded the entrance. Faith stopped to read the virtues to me.
“Nae Yong, tied to the virtues is the number seven buried deep in the psyche of every person. It is a lucky number in the east and the west. Seven is Yang and represents togetherness and the essence of life. The Warrior lives not as a single entity but as a team. Each person shares the nature of their life with their comrades.”
“Over here,” she pointed, “is rectitude followed by courage and benevolence. At the top, is respect and on this side is honesty, honor, and loyalty.” Faith turned to me and paused as I took it all in before she continued.
“This is our noble code that sets us apart from the citizens of the Black Dragons. Sentinels are like the old knights of western history. The Dragon Emperor is our King Arthur, and we are the knights of the round table. Our duty, our honor is to serve the Emperor and his Dragon Masters. To die in the service of our Masters and the Emperor is the highest honor we can achieve. We dedicate our life to the noble act of selfless service.”
Faith’s dark eyes cut through me with a predatory gaze. She had this air of confidence and strength that was alluring in the depth of my subconscious. Still, there was a pause in my thoughts as I considered whether I was her Dragon mate or her prey.
“Do you accept the challenge of our noble way of life, Nae Yong?”
“Yes, Yes I do, Yobo. I haven’t wanted anything more in my life,” I replied with every bit of courage left in me. I felt I was about to step through a portal to a way of life that would lift me out of the dark pit I’d thrown myself into. To cleanse the dirty disgrace of my actions from my soul in those last days in Africa would free me to live, love, and fight again.
“Then you must learn the way of the Dragon and take his blood in your body. Once you do that, you can never return to your old life,” She said in a firm tone.
“I’m ready,” I replied.
Faith nodded and turned toward the entrance and stopped beneath the gaze of the obsidian dragon. It looked down on the path like a wise old wizard, its eyes were yellow agates that glowed from the light of the sun.
My spiritual guide kneeled at the feet of the dragon and placed her head on her hands. After a moment, she rose and bowed again in a time-honored ritual of respect for the symbol of her society of Dragons.
I repeated the task with a sense of following the steps of many great fighters that went before me. I felt connected to this shrine and to the Black Dragons. It had the feel of coming home after a long journey.
We passed through the gate to a circular pad of grass. The seaside plunged into the water more than a thousand feet below. The breeze blowing off the water rushed up the cliff creating a sound like the hum of monks in a temple. Faith’s hair lifted in the breeze that swirled around us and danced in beckoning waves.
On the backside, pines with twisted trunks and limbs grew like spirits frozen in distorted poses. They stood there for hundreds of years emoting their last moment before the constant wind and rain locked them in their submissive shape.
The sky grew solemn as the sun fell low in the sea. I watched as light glinted off the stones that marked the boundary of earth and wind. My Sentinel motioned for me to come to her. At that moment, two white cranes sailed by with open wings. They drifted on the currents rising from the cliff on their way to rest for the night. In Faith’s Dragon culture, the white cranes represented immortality and strong bonds.
The scene and a thousand thoughts passed through my mind. I approached the person that was fast becoming a mythical creature in my subconscious. We put the pieces of our conversation away and sat in silence as the sky changed to a navy blue with a blaze of orange at the horizon.
The twisted pines trembled in their protest of the rising breeze that came as a cold breath across my goose-pimpled skin. We sat cross-legged together and looked out across the dark sea. The water glowed with the bioluminescent lines of white-capped waves that came to us on the trade winds. I thought of Faith’s Mongol ancestors traversing the steppes on their ponies as the shifting lines of foam moved toward us.
“Yobo, what was it like to accept the dragon’s blood?” I asked in a whisper as I sought the warmth of Faith’s body in the chill wind. Her hand reached under my chin to my cheek as she kissed my face. It felt like a request for forgiveness for what I was about to hear.
* * *
Rose stroked Faith’s hair with a brush into her manicured fingers. She made sure her thick hair was free of tangles. Deft fingers twisted the nervous child’s hair through a decorative hair tie. Rose stepped back with an approving smile.
“You are such a cutie-pie, my little Sparrow,” Rose cooed causing Faith to smile.
Jasmine wandered around the clinic behind Master Chingis’ house looking at all the buzzing equipment. A couple of women in white smocks and cloth masks busied themselves with their work as dark eyes above the masks followed Jasmine’s every move.
“Will it hurt, mother?”
“No, my Sparrow. You will only dream of another world, and when you wake, you will begin to feel stronger in a few days.”
“Jasmine and I are here with you. You can hold our hands, and we’ll sing to you while you take the treatment.”
Jasmine sauntered over and flipped Faith’s ponytail to tease her. “I can’t wait for you to join us, Little Sparrow. The Dragon’s blood is like honey in your veins. Everything will smell brighter and taste better especially a man’s flesh. You’ll see.”
Rose gave Jasmine a look that caused the older girl to move back from her Dragon Sister and drop her head. The corners of her mouth turned up in a disguised smile as some secret pleasure snaked through her mind.
A young man in a doctor’s smock walked in and went straight to Faith seated in an examination chair. He was kind to her and joked with her about school. He handed her a stuffed panda and told her it would keep her company and that it was a brave panda.
“Don’t worry,” He said with a disarming smile.
The women finished collecting their vials and equipment. They approached from behind the chair as Rose and Jasmine stepped aside. The courtesans knew what came next. The look on their faces was empathy for the child and the excited knowledge she would soon be one of them.
As the doctor entertained Faith, the women began to prep her. Faith looked on as they strapped her down. She was fine until the chair back lowered. Rose watched as the child she raised as her own whimpered. Her eyes looked wild with fright darting from one face to another seeking reassurance. Frantic fingers clutched the smiling panda.
What they didn’t know was Faith had watched the Dragon consume Rose and Jasmine over the years. She had no fairy tale illusions of what her fate was. Rose’s little Sparrow was only eleven years old. She was already aged and experienced beyond her years.
The doctor placed a mask over the frightened child’s mouth and nose. He held his face close to hers so she could see him. He smiled and talked while one of the technicians stroked her arms and hair to calm her. Within a few seconds, Faith’s eyes grew still and dull. The color drained from her face, and she took on the pallor of a corpse.
The doctor’s demeanor changed. He ordered Rose and Jasmine out of the lab. The doctor and his technicians stripped Faith’s clothes. They inserted a catheter and a breathing tube. Next came the intravenous drip that would deliver the DNA of the dragon. Other probes and wires were attached and inserted here and there in Faith’s sensitive body.
“Are we ready to start the IV?” The doctor asked with impatience.
“Yes, doctor, “ one of the technicians replied.
The deep red liquid eased down the tube toward the needle in Faith’s arm. The doctor watched with intense eyes. Within seconds, the young patient’s blood pressure skyrocketed. Her temperature elevated as her skin grew clammy.
“Apply the shock treatment,” barked the doctor.
Faith convulsed as the transformer hummed, cycled off, then hummed again. There was no turning back. Another Dragon Sister crossed the threshold into the way of the Black Dragon.
Image source: famille.ne.jp