“It is fearful, yet magnificent, to behold how the arm and heart of one can triumph over hundreds.” ― Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
The Way of the Dragon
The sliding glass door moved aside, and the figure of a woman dressed in black pants and smock filled the opening. Behind the woman, the ground was dark and the sky revealed the first moments of daylight. Domi and Lee sat up with a start and looked on at the surreal scene as the shape closed in on them.
“Gather your belongings ladies. It’s time to turn your pussy into a tigress.” The pitch of the Black Dragon’s voice was sweet and high cutting the air like broken glass.
Lee was first to gather her wits and wasted no time obeying the Commandant of the School of Dragons. Domi froze unable to determine if she was dreaming or the imposing figure looming over her was real. Lee ran back and grabbed Domi’s arm.
“Sister, come. We must go.”
The first day of their four years of basic training began.
* * *
Faith’s demeanor struck fear in the young Dragons’ hearts. Her eyes cut through them like a cold steel blade as she ordered them into the boat that would take them to the remote school. The boat roared like some wild beast, leaped forward, and skimmed across the water slicing through the waves throwing water eight meters into the air. Lee buried her face in Domi’s stomach as her older sister held her so tight she couldn’t draw enough breath to scream.
Domi and Lee’s status in life never afforded them a ride in a jet boat. The indifference of the Dragons to their reaction left them alone to experience the adrenaline of life’s first flight across the water. Domi might have liked to grow accustomed to the thrill except for her overwhelming concentration on not wetting herself and Lee.
The Dragons and their young chattel raced across the ancient cauldron of the volcano passed the rectangular floating fish farms along the belly and then the tail of the stone dragon isle. The high cliffs of rock with frothy feet of crashing waves narrowed to a channel that reached for them as they whipped by the fingers of weathered ore. The water opened up into the East China Sea where the boat banked hard to the starboard like a bobsled and flew toward the stone walls.
The boat pulled up to a narrow strip of beach on the rugged coast of the southern tip of the island. The inlet, guarded by sheer walls of sentinel stone, appeared like an opening mouth intent on swallowing them as they approached. Faith jumped out and pulled the bow of the boat up on the sand and tossed the anchor behind some rocks. The driver turned to the cowering girls.
“Who do you think you are, tourists? Get off my boat, now!”
The terrified girls scrambled over the side into the knee deep water and ran ashore afraid of the driver and intimidated by Faith who waited, arms crossed with an impatient glare.
“Take your bags,” the man hollered after the girls, throwing their belongings into the water lapping at the shore. Domi went to retrieve their earthly possessions rolling in the surf.
“Leave it,” Faith barked. “You won’t need it anymore.”
Domi returned and held Lee to comfort her and shield her. The salty spray had drenched their hair and clothes. Nerves and the chill air pebbled their skin. The wet girls shook with fear and cold. Domi’s knees felt like they would give way as harsh memories of the orphanage flooded her eyes against the backdrop of Faith’s predator like stare. The Senior Sentinel walked up to Domi and looked down in her face.
“Strip off your clothes. You will enter the world of the Dragon with nothing from your past.” The angular Mongolian features of Faith’s face shaped by her menacing attitude struck fear in Domi. Her transition to a warrior was not starting well for her or Lee.
Domi backed away. Her past was not ready to release her. She watched, paralyzed as Faith turned to the cowering Lee and tore her shirt off, buttons and pieces of fabric flying away in slow motion. The light caught the flash of a blade as it plunged down the front of Lee’s bra. The Dragon Sentinel denuded the cowering girl before Domi could think to act. She watched detached from her body as Faith was now in front of her. Domi stripped as fast as she could and joined Lee covering their nakedness with arms and hands.
Faith threw two long linen cloths to each girl. “Put these on.”
Lee knew the purpose the bands of cloth. She looked at Domi still frozen except for the violent shaking of her limbs and shoulders. The look in her older sister’s eyes was vacant, and she looked unaware of where she was. Lee wrapped a cloth around her sister’s waist, pulled it up between her legs and tied it off then took the second cloth and bound Domi’s breasts tight to her chest. Lee fixed her wraps in place then held Domi’s hand under the silent stare of their Master.
Faith tied a coarse rope around Lee then Domi and finished by securing the rope around her waist. “Keep up with me. Do not fall or we all could die.” Faith turned and walked to the far corner of the escarpment to steps cut into the rock. A cable handhold ran alongside the steps. The Dragon mounted the stairs and started up. Her pace pulled Domi and Lee out of their stupor, and they struggled to keep up.
Domi looked up at Faith as she climbed. Her hips moved from side to side in a relaxed gait as powerful legs propelled her up the steps. Domi tried to sync her movements to the woman that moved like a sated tigress on the way back from a successful hunt. Lee followed behind with surprising agility. The trio made their way in the shadow of the cliff toward the clouds and the bright blue of the infinite morning sky.
Domi and Lee collapsed once they cleared the top. They lay in the wet grass and panted as their new Master unhitched the rope from their waists. Faith took her time allowing the girls a moment to recover then started the trek again. “Get up. We are almost there. Do not disgrace yourself by appearing weak before the Dragon Sisters.”
Faith led them up a path until they came to a high stone wall. Domi could see the sway-backed tile roof of a large building with dragon endcaps at the two corners facing them. They walked along the wall until they came to a gate. Two females dressed in the same pants and smock as their Master guarded the entrance. Their stoic faces made them appear like statues.
Faith stopped at a well next to the gate and handed Lee a cup made of bamboo filled with water. Lee took a long sip and offered the rest to Domi. Their Master watched them share the water. Faith’s eyes softened at the devotion Lee showed to her older sister. She took the cup from Domi and refilled it. Faith placed her hand on the back of Domi’s neck and indicated Domi bow at the waist. The cold water poured over her head and back.
The Dragon Sentinel showed an uncharacteristic gentleness as she continued to rinse the morning dirt and sweat from Domi’s body. Next, she repeated the bathing ritual on Lee.
“Follow behind me and keep your eyes on the front. Do not look around or challenge any person with your eyes. You are not to talk unless spoken to by cadre.”
Faith led the girls through the gate. When they were inside, the guards shut the gate, locked it, and followed behind. The Dragons presented a fine spectacle to the subdued and exhausted girls. The difference between a Black Dragon Sentinel and a trainee was reinforced in every step they took.
The parade marched through the training area where a few other girls in the same cloth wrap as Domi and Lee exercised to the commands of another Sentinel. The harsh discipline the other girls exuded as the morning sun glinted off the oily sweat on their tan bodies and the subtle grace of their movements further isolated Domi. The procession continued past another Older Sentinel who walked toward the girls and glared at them with utter disdain.
“Good morning Khulan, I’ve brought you fresh meat for breakfast,” Faith hailed the Elder Dragon in a pleased tone. Khulan licked her lips lasciviously and bared her teeth exposing fangs that reminded Domi of vampire stories she read as a child. Domi shuddered at the sight of the Dragon’s glowing eyes.
She thought of the warnings from Jade and Eo-Jin to obey and act according to her orders, to not question her superiors, only judge them by the quality of her life. At this point, she felt her life had reached its lowest position in the hell of her existence. At the first opportunity, she would throw her worthless life into the sea from the cliff she just climbed. Her mind made up, she lifted her eyes, set her jaw, squared her shoulders and said to herself, “fuck it. It doesn’t matter anymore.” With that, Domi surrendered to her fate.
Khulan’s fresh meat walked through a garden maintained with care. The winding path led to secluded areas with benches; rocks artfully arranged all nestled among flowers, shrubs, and trees. When they rounded a turn in the trail, Domi caught her breath at the beauty of the lavender Wisteria hanging over benches and tables.
Several girls sat together studying and exchanging notes and ideas. Another girl sat alone. The cloth that bound the breasts of all the sisters was removed and wrapped around the girl’s forehead holding back her hair as she poured herself into her work. She sat with a brush and ink writing stylized calligraphy on a parchment. Next to her was the same type of blade Faith used to cut Lee out of her clothes. The idea of having such a knife appealed to Domi. A sense of spiritual protection filled her mind as she pictured the blade slid through the waistband of her wrappings.
Domi followed Faith through a covered walkway made of timber and plaster. The shade gave instant relief from the burning sun that assaulted Domi’s skin like leather belts wielded in anger. The walkway opened up to a courtyard. The four walls lined with doors and rice paper covered windows with an overhanging roof had a warm community feel. The sidewalk went all the way around and gave the appearance of a pier over a sea of pea-sized gravel raked to perfection.
Faith led the hapless sisters to a room in the far corner. “Here is your quarters. The two of you will share a room together. The Senior Dragon of this quadrant will explain everything to you. For now, rest. It is your last luxurious day. You will start your training tomorrow at sunrise with Master Khulan. Don’t anger her or you will be her next meal.” With the ominous hint of their future at the school imparted, Faith left the girls alone to sort themselves out.
Domi and Lee looked around too tired and stunned to speak. Three-drawer nightstands filled two corners. In the center of the back wall was a bare wooden display cabinet used to store a warrior’s armor and weapons. On a small serving table, next to the empty stand was a pitcher of water, a basin, two towels, and a bar of soap. Lee opened the bottom drawer of the display stand and found a single bedroll the two would share for the next four years.
Domi sat down on the floor and wept as pent up tension and fear overwhelmed her. Lee went to her and wrapped her arms around her older sister. She knew Domi feared the spartan style of a Dragon Warrior. Lee held her sister and promised her; she would take care of her, and nothing would harm them. They were safe, and all they had to do was grow strong together. Domi looked up in the innocent face of her younger Dragon Sister. The determination in her eyes calmed Domi and gave her a new respect for Lee.
“This is one of the finest places I’ve ever lived,” Lee lied with false hope radiating from her face. “I shall feel the greatest sorrow when I leave. But now, I feel a part of something I’ve never had before. I have you, and we will make friends quickly, you’ll see, older sister.” Lee’s attempt to sooth her sister had the desired effect. Domi believed Lee.
Domi returned Lee’s embrace. She loved her little sister and promised herself never harm her with the dark secret of her transgression with Lee’s brother. Lee deserved an older sister worthy of her strength and spirit. In the deprivation and stress of their experience, the Dragon’s blood bound them tighter. Both knew in the back of their minds that one would not survive the mental anguish of their life without the other. The two orphaned girls from different cultures closed the gaps between them.
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