“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” ― Ben Okri
“You mean it was here the Dragon Sisters trained to become the elite guards?” I asked Faith as I looked out over the estate.
“Yes, Nae Yong. Here is where I earned my Black Dragon Brocade. Here also, is where the others trained and where you train now to serve the Emperor. Maybe more Dragon Sentinels will come someday, but I sense the time of the Sisters draws to a close.”
“Why do you think that?” I sensed the melancholy in my Yobo’s voice.
“The world has changed. Technology does most of the work we did just a few years ago with our mind and hands. Healthy young men and women can equal the power of the Sisters using new technologies from the Dragons’ research labs in America. We learned many things from the Dragon’s blood. Pain, suffering, and humility transformed us. Now we achieve the same objectives with intellectual power, physical strength, and technology,” Faith said.
“I identify more with the old way of blood, sweat, and tears. We had an old saying in the Army; the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. Dominika and Lee didn’t leave that long ago. How did you transform them without the pain like you had to go through as a child?”
Faith had that faraway look as she recalled her young recruits. “The seasons came and went in a tireless cycle of training and education. Through it all, the girls transformed into women of strong mind and body. The Dragon’s blood washed away the stench of weakness and fear, replacing it with a ferocity that lived just beneath the surface of refined feminine grace.”
Yobo continued her story as we entered the same gate the girls walked through in the past. I felt a chill looking at the well where Faith performed the ritual cleansing before letting her young charges enter the world of the Dragon.
“Domi and Lee embraced the warrior ethos and poured their heart and soul into becoming members of the elite Praetorian Guards of the Black Dragon Emperor. It was never easy, but with growing skill came knowledge and confidence. It was a long and arduous journey for them,” Faith explained.
* * *
Domi wound her way up the mountain path to the construction site of the new temple. The quarried stone she carried rubbed her thighs and hips raw. The sun baked her skin as she struggled to hold the stone against her cloth waistband. She was too tired to think or lift her head. The stone slipped down, scraped her leg and thin red lines appeared. Another step, more blood, and pain sapped her strength and her will to continue.
Domi met Lee coming down the path. Her younger sister saw she was near her end. “Give me your stone, sister. I’ll take it the rest of the way.” Domi lets go, too tired to offer any resistance. The stone fell to the path. Domi followed it down.
Lee unwrapped her sister’s top band and walked off the path into the trees by the rocks, soaking the cloth in the water that seeped out of the cracks in the cliff. She returned and wiped Domi’s face and back to cool her down. “Come, sit in the shade and rest. I’ll go with you to the quarry when I return.”
Domi watched as Lee removed her top banding, tied the ends, and looped the cloth around the stone. She slung it on her back letting the weight of the stone settle over her waistband with the cloth across her forehead. She reached behind her back with both hands to hold the stone steady. Domi shook her head as Lee took off up the path like a damned goat. The wiry little Korean just taught her another lesson.
After weeks of laboring to help the stonemasons build the Dragon Temple on the mountain overlooking the sea, Domi and Lee returned to Khulan’s iron-fisted training. The old Dragon Sister was unforgiving of the smallest mistake. To her, every careless move, every inattentive moment was the moment her Sentinels would fall to their enemies.
The students practiced in step with Khulan’s commands. She turned them loose to practice with their partners as she walked around and observed each student. One girl failed to please Khulan after three tries. The Dragon demonstrated the attack by knocking the student down. The stunned girl lay on the ground unable to get up.
The dazed student’s partner moved to help her sister. The Dragon stopped the girl. “You will fight men twice your size. You will fight women twice your skill. Do you think they will wait for you to think your way through your attack?”
The terrified trainee paused for Khulan to allow her to attend to her sister hunched over in pain on the ground. Khulan used the incident to reinforce discipline in her group. “You owe your allegiance to the Black Dragons. You are the elite guards of the Emperor and the Dragon Masters. You must learn to kill your enemies without hesitation or mercy and protect your sisters. You cannot achieve this without discipline and hard training.” Khulan’s face was red with anger. Her eyes glowed the golden yellow of the beast that owned her body and fought for her mind.
The Dragon paced before the group, stopped in front of a student, and continued her hard lesson on the need for mastery. “Some of you will become fighters, like me.” Domi felt her knees shake as the yellow eyes cut into her face. “Some of you will serve the Emperor’s science.” Khulan stopped in front of Lee who held her ground yet offered no insult to pride. The Dragon Sister spoke in a kinder tone to Lee. “Some of you will devote your life to the Emperor’s future lineage.” The other girls stared at Lee. Khulan instructed the Senior Sentinel to continue the class then lifted the injured girl and took her to the infirmary. Training continued with each girl determined not to let her Dragon Sisters down.
* * *
Domi’s 21st birthday passed like all her other days except for Lee’s gift of an origami dragon for breakfast and the teasing hugs from her group sisters. She continued with morning training, afternoon schooling, and evening study.
After evening study hour, the girls in Domi’s group all went to the bath as usual. All bathrooms were communal. The girls washed each other’s clothes, hair, and backs in a ritual that was as efficient as it was pleasurable. The loss of privacy and the deprivation of luxury bound the sisters to each other in a tight-knit group that ensured their love and devotion for one another would also keep them together in the harsh realities of conflict.
As they chattered and splashed in the water, a man slipped through the gate escorted by a member of the cadre. They kept to the shadows on the garden path. Lee was brushing Domi’s hair on a bench by the bathhouse when both got a sudden chill. Two heads snapped around to view shadows drift across the path and disappear on the other side of the main building.
“Where is she now,” the male Dragon asked.
“They are all bathing so do not go to the bathhouse until they are all in their rooms. If Kulan sees you, she will attack you before she asks who you are. She is very protective of her girls, especially around Dragon males,” Faith replied.
“Can you arrange for me to see her after I visit with Lee?” The Dragon whispered.
“Eo-Jin. Be careful. Domi may not be happy to see you. When a woman lets go of a man, she doesn’t want him back.” The caution in Faith’s voice troubled Eo-Jin.
“I would appreciate a chance to see her, and I’ll leave it up to her to decide if I leave on good terms with her or not. I owe her my explanation and apology for my quick departure while she was at the Dragon Master’s estate. At least, I hope for closure. It’s been an agonizing three years.”
“I’ll do what I can, little brother.” Faith slipped her arm around Eo-Jin’s, and they made their way to Faith’s office.
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