“Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.” ― Lauren Oliver, Delirium
In the Lair of the Dragons
The plane out of Singapore delivered Domi and Eo-Jin to Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Eo-Jin wedged the rental car in heavy traffic and headed for Seoul. Domi looked out at the blue-gray tidal flats that blended into the same blue-gray sky. Intermittent clouds, islands, and mountains dotted the horizon.
Women slogged in the mud of low tide that seemed to stretch for miles. They dressed in loose clothes rolled up to their hips with broad hats tied down with a scarf. They drug muddy pieces of plywood on a thick cord and piled clams dug from the mud in a goopy pile on the wood. Domi wondered where the women found the strength or the courage to venture so far in the mud.
After three hours in heavy traffic, they arrived at the Sofitel hotel near Namsan Mountain. From the window high above the busy streets, Domi thrilled at the city that spread in every direction, filling every crevice in the mountains. Red-tiled rooftops flowed over hills and emptied into the valleys of multi-storied buildings.
“Come and look at this, Eo-Jin!” Domi exclaimed from the bathroom.
The room had polished granite walls with matching tile floor and all the opulence one could imagine. A computerized toilet that provided a bidet brought a shy giggle. Domi looked up at Eo-Jin with a new sparkle in her eyes. “I want to take a shower and go out to look around.”
Stale clothes flew off and to the floor as Domi slipped into the glass encased shower. Eo-Jin laughed at his eager Filly’s reaction to marble and glass. He thought Domi’s lithe figure distorted behind the wet door was the crowning aesthetic appeal of the whole journey. He picked up her clothes, put them away, and departed to his room to get ready.
The enamored couple walked around through the nearby Gwangjang Market. Domi was aglow from the exotic smells of food from vendors and the colorful clothes of every fashion. Korean women fawned over her fair skin and blond hair holding clothes up for her to try on. She pressed the shirts, skirts, gowns, and pants to her body and looked at Eo-Jin who gave her the thumbs up or thumbs down. He laughed and told her she could spend the rest of her life here and never wear the same thing twice.
Later, they found an upscale restaurant and relaxed in the vibrant ambiance of European design with the sights and smells of Asia permeating the air. Eo-Jin ordered small dishes of fresh vegetables, Kimchee, and several sauces that covered the table. They ate fresh seafood with Korean cuisine until their stomachs were too full to take another bite.
The finished a cappuccino looking into each others eyes when Eo-Jin spoke up. “Now, let’s celebrate your new life. I have a surprise for you.” Neither was ready to quit yet.
They drove west along the fabled Han River. The quiet Guardian noticed his young Lotus flower was in full bloom as she moved from the backseat as a passenger to the front seat beside him. Her fingers stayed wrapped around his forearm as she swayed in the cabin looking at all the sights through the glass. She stole glances at him as he focused on the insane traffic and answered all of her questions of why this and why that.
Domi strained to look up at the massive domino-like Lotte apartment buildings; each capable of housing hundreds of people, complete with restaurants and shops for everyday needs. The city was alive with vibrant energy.
They caught a ferry to Seonyudo Island in the center of the Han River. Eo-Jin went to the visitor center, and purchased drinks and melon flavored Popsicles. They walked west along a path through the park that took them along the south bank to the western end.
Domi sucked her Popsicle like a wild-eyed child as they walked. She already liked the bounty and energy of Seoul. Domi saw several college girls ahead. The girls held on to each other and giggled as they strolled along.
“Eo-Jin, why do all the girls hold on to each other like that?”
Eo-Jin smiled and put his arm around Domi’s waist. The small surge of excitement that went through her body forced the Popsicle down Domi’s throat choking her. Domi laughed after she pulled it out of her mouth and looked at the grinning Eo-Jin with a green mustache on her upper lip.
The Guardian tried to explain. “Korean women are close and bond to each other in tight groups. They make friends for life starting in their pre-schools. You will often see them hold hands or walk in each other’s arms in public.”
Eo-Jin pulled Domi’s hip to him. Domi hugged Eo-Jin’s neck in return, feeling the comfort of his closeness in the unfamiliar surroundings. They walked down the path admiring the flowers and trees that bordered the tall grass and manicured lawns.
“They call each other sister and give honor and respect to the older sisters,” Eo-Jin explained.
“Oh, is that why Jade called me little sister?”
“Yes, but there is more to it.”
“Jade and I are members of an international society called the Black Dragons. The origins come from ancient Chinese roots. The society is now made up of all races, cultures, and nationalities. We work together for a common cause; protection of our people and their full integration into the society. We provide education and work for a lifetime.”
Eo-Jin continued after a pause to let Domi think on what he said. “When your father and mother died, we planned to bring you back to us and care for you. We honor your father and mother for their dedication to our society of Dragons.”
Domi remained silent, letting Eo-Jin talk. If not for the comfort of Eo-Jin’s arm around her, she felt she might come apart at learning her father’s connection to her benefactors for the first time.
Eo-Jin continued. “We survive well by keeping ourselves secret. We hide in plain sight.”
“Jasmine is going to teach you how we live in our world. She will be at your side, always guiding and protecting you. Your mentor will give her life for you, Domi. It is her duty, and she will not fail at her duty. If you dishonor her with bad behavior, the master can cast her out. It’s a fate worse than death.”
“I don’t misbehave,” Domi replied.
“Good. You will learn much about the Dragons and why we want you to join our family. The first lesson is respect. Never disrespect Jasmine’s duty or your honor to obey her.” Eo-Jin looked at Domi to make sure she understood.
“I’m so confused Eo-Jin. I don’t know why I feel the way I do about anything. I’m a stranger to myself.”
Eo-Jin stopped and threw their empty sodas and Popsicle sticks in the trash and took Domi’s hand. They found a bench and sat down looking across the water. Eo-Jin looked around and saw they were alone. He held Domi to comfort her. She looked down at her hands in her lap. This time, she didn’t reach out.
“Please don’t worry. I tell you these things because I know how stressful the unknown is. You won’t be asked to do anything you can’t do. The struggle is the mastery of new things. Some things will come fast and others slow but through it all, respect for each other keeps the bond of mentor and student open and unlimited.” Eo-jin ran a finger through the hair falling in front of her face. He waited for Domi to look into his face and when she did, he touched her cheek then lifted her chin.
“Have courage and know that your sisters and the new family of Dragons love you. You will feel that love whenever you are near a Dragon Sister or Brother. Know that they feel the same. Love finds you in many layers. Only one is missing. That layer comes and goes with time while others remain. It is the layer that only your soulmate can reveal. You will have this love whenever you are willing and for as long as you can nurture it.”
Eo-Jin saw the love he spoke of deep in the wet eyes of the long mistreated orphan. He sensed her need for real love, not just the inebriation of physical pleasure. She needed to feel the desire for her in her heart, in her spirit, and across the sensitive landscape of her body. His heart wanted to grant that wish. His duty said otherwise.
The sun began to set where the river disappeared in the cityscape and distant mountains toward the coast. The orange and yellow reflections from the clouds danced and shimmered in the currents of the river giving it the life of a giant, bright-colored serpent, making its way to devour the setting sun.
Eo-Jin turned to Domi and put his arms around her neck, touching his forehead to Domi’s. Domi glanced down, afraid to look into Eo-Jin’s searching eyes again. She feared the growing urges, the clinging need to feel his love in that way she had dreamed of since she was a young girl trapped in the claws of abuse at the orphanage.
Eo-Jin spoke to Domi in a soft voice. “You have nothing to worry about. Just listen to Jasmine. She will teach, and you will come to know yourself in infinite and beautiful ways. It takes time, Domi. You have to allow yourself the time to grow into this new life.”
“I know what those men did to you. Jade told me about the scars and the bruises, so I could understand your pain. We’ve healed your body, Domi. Only you can heal your mind and spirit. You won’t ever be alone or lonely again. Some day, you will have a family if you wish. Until that time, your sisters will take care of all your needs, and you will return that honor to your sisters.”
The eyes Domi cast down lifted up. Eo-Jin continued. “In our world, we take care of each other. You and I are in a small group of Dragon Sentinels with unique gifts of sensitivity and intellect. We are precious to our people, and they will spare nothing to protect you and all they ask is your loyalty.”
“Will you do it for me, Domi?”
Their lips brushed together as Domi looked up. Two pairs of eyes closed as his mouth covered hers. Domi pulled back. The rose flush of their brief exchange and reflection of sunset colors framed their faces in pleasure mixed with surprise.
“You had some Popsicle on your lips. I couldn’t stand it anymore.” Domi licked her lips, looked at Eo-Jin, and smiled.
“They’re delicious,” Domi added.
The Dragon and the Filly burst into laughter as the lights along the path flickered on.
Domi smiled and hugged Eo-Jin, “Thank you, for understanding.”
They walked along the path to catch the ferry back across the river. Arm-in-arm, the entwined figures flashed between long shadows and the glow of the lighted path as the serpent swallowed the sun and turned black.