Dragon Sword: Chapter 8
The way that is bright seems dull; the way that leans forward, seems to lead backward … the way that is even seems rough.
A new chapter is available every Wednesday at Noon, CST. Begin with Chapter 1
The dragons were talking softly to each other in their private language. Derkein’s handsome face reflected his disapproval of the plan, such as it was. Long-ju seemed to be not as interested in the conversation. His eyes had become sleepy and distant. I think he wanted to go back to his cave. Daiyu crackled with energy. She gave every indication that she was ready to kick some major butt.
The conversation among the dragons gradually got more heated. Derkein was a take-charge kind of guy. I don’t think he was adjusting to being overruled by Daiyu very well. If that’s what was going on.
I fingered the book which was still covered by the sheet. I wanted to look at it again, but Daiyu would know that it was stolen and probably demand that I give it to her so she could return it to the museum. I wasn’t done looking at it. Besides, possession is nine-tenths of the law. Or something.
They came to some kind of impasse because they stopped talking. The tension between Daiyu and Derkein was so thick I could have sliced it with grandfather’s sword.
“So where is the Ambassador right now?” I asked. “He would have had to go to another hotel. Do you know which one?”
Derkein’s gaze glittered. He wasn’t as intense as Daiyu but he was still a dragon. Those glitters were shards of glass. “He is at the Prime Minister’s residence,” he said.
“Well, that’s cozy,” I said.
Derkein shrugged. Suddenly I had Daiyu’s full attention, which is considerable. Long-ju didn’t seem to be listening at all any more.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “The only reason they feel it’s okay to send those peace keepers is because they think they’ve eliminated the dragons. Correct?”
Derkein didn’t answer. For about the count of three I didn’t think Daiyu was going to answer either.
“It is the official policy of the Chinese government that the Kindred are a myth,” Daiyu said. “Clearly they are not in unanimous agreement about our existence.”
“So if we can get rid of the demon and bring the dragons back that may stop the peace keepers.”
“Perhaps,” said Derkein grudgingly. “Perhaps not. Once they land they are committed. If they withdraw after they land they will become victims of their own fabrications. It will look as if the terrorists repelled them.”
There was only one way that story could end and it would be pretty horrible. The Chinese would make war on this tiny island with all the modern weapons at their command. The dragons would survive, of course, but Shaolong would be a smoking ruin.
“What’s that there on the bed beside you?” Daiyu was looking past me. I still had my hand on the book under the sheet. So sue me. I liked touching it.
I pulled my hand out from under the sheet and stood. “That’s settled then. The demon is a dead man walking.” I brushed past the dragons and headed for the door.
Daiyu ignored me and pushed back the sheet exposing the book. It really was a beautiful thing.
“That’s the Book of Evil Tales,” said Derkein in shocked tones. “It’s been lost for centuries. Where did you get it?” He lifted the book as if it were toxic.
“It’s mine, okay? You can’t have it!” I can’t learn. I really am stupid sometimes. I should have been scared to death. I wasn’t. I was so mad I thought I would grow my own fangs. We had a demon dragon killer on the island, the Chinese army was on its way and Daiyu had reconfiscated my sword. I had problems with hair on them and I was stressing over a book I’d owned for a little over 24 hours.
Then it all got worse.
I noticed that Long-ju was turning into smoke. About a split second after I noticed it the other two dragons noticed it. Long-ju’s silver hair dissolved and evaporated into mist until it was a nimbus around his head. Then the rest of him became insubstantial and the room was full of silver gray smoke. Then he blew out the window. I don’t mean an explosion. I mean he wafted out the window like it was open. He streamed up into the sky and then the room was clear and our Chinese Gandalf was gone.
In his place, stood Poppy. “Angie!” she exclaimed. “There you are!” She giggled, jumped up and down and clapped her hands.
Suddenly I was blinded by swirling red and black smoke and my room disappeared.
When I woke up, I had a feeling quite a bit of time had passed. All I could see was a wall of glittering obsidian scales. My own face was reflected back to me hundreds of times. I really needed to comb my hair.
Daiyu was coiled like a giant cobra, her dragon head was nearly two meters long and she had eyes I could have climbed into with room to spare. She was reading the evil fairy tale book, delicately turning the pages with prehensile whiskers.
“Tea?” she said. She gestured to a pot and cups set on the stone floor in front of her. I almost didn’t see them. Grandfather’s sword lay on the cold stones beside the teapot. Visible, even though nobody was touching it.
The limb Daiyu had used to gesture at the teapot was four-fingered and had claws that rivaled my sword blade. The pot and cups looked really tiny in front of her. As I crept a little closer to the sword, I realized the tea things were an ordinary size, they just look like a child’s toys in proportion to her.
My hands were shaking so hard I knew if I touched that pot I’d break it. My palms itched to grab the katana.
Daiyu casually turned a page of the book, with one whisker. The other whiskers were in constant motion, slowly curling and unfurling and seemed to have a mind of their own when she wasn’t directing them.
I couldn’t keep standing. My knees were weak. I sat. “What’s going on?” I knew my voice was as weak as my knees but I figured she could hear me.
“Remember when I said you’d awakened something that should have remained sleeping?”
“Yes. Poppy,” I said.
“Poppy,” she said. Her dragon voice was like her regular voice only bigger and, of course, louder. “I thought the golden seal you stole was the key. I had hoped it, anyway. I knew I was wrong when she reappeared in my house.”
She couldn’t have known about that. Poppy and I were in the kitchen and she was in the middle of her dragon confab. Couldn’t know, but did, of course.
“Therefore I knew there was something else. When I searched your room I could find nothing. Obviously you’d hidden it.”
I didn’t say anything. I could deny it all, but what a waste of breath that would be.
One of her whiskers seemed to notice the teapot. It poured a cup and then offered it to me.
I took it and drank a little. The hot liquid steadied me.
“We have bigger fish to fry than this stupid book,” I said. All I could think, really, was “mine!” And I wasn’t sure if I meant the sword or the book. No, that’s silly. I meant the sword. I scooted closer, almost close enough to lean over and touch it.
“We have some very big fish indeed,” she said. She turned another page.
“I couldn’t read the book. What does it say?”
She shrugged, a massive gesture and yet graceful. “It’s a collection of tales for children. Poppy is attached to it because her mother read the tales to her.”
I took another sip of the tea. If I grabbed the sword and ran, I doubted I’d get to the door before she was on top of me. She could move blindingly fast. The laws of inertia apparently don’t apply to dragons.
“Can you read a little of it to me?”
“Yes.” Her whisker flicked back through the pages and she began.
“The Middle Kingdom had become a great nation, ruling over all others in the world. But the Great Empress wished to rule the stars as well. She sent her sorcerer to discover how she could do that. He traveled all over the world, seeking a way to accomplish to this task.
She paused. “Much of the book recounts his adventures. I’ll skip over those parts.”
“Thanks,” I said. I leaned forward and refreshed my tea and hers. If my arm would grow another six inches for some reason I would have been able to lay my hand on the sword. I didn’t really expect sudden arm growth.
“When the sorcerer returned from his many voyages, he had learned that the dragons that lived in the land could fly to the stars. He reported this to the Empress and she ordered the dragons to attack the stars on her behalf.”
“That worked well, I’m assuming,” I said.
“Not as well as the Empress hoped. They refused.”
I nodded. The dragons I knew would refuse a stupid request like that.
“She became very angry and declared that any head that rose above hers in the kingdom would be cut off. The dragons would not allow her soldiers to carry out such a bloody order. This made her even more angry.”
I had a feeling I knew how she would deal with disobedient dragons. The Demon.
“So the Empress ordered the sorcerer to find out how to slay the dragons. Again the sorcerer traveled throughout the world and even through the heaven and hell realms. There in the bottom of the blackest hell realm he found the Death of Dragons.”
I wanted to comment that I saw that coming, but I kept my mouth shut and just listened.
“So the empress, her armies and the demon made war on the dragons. A great war went on for a long time and many dragons died. Meanwhile any who defended the dragons were killed and entire provinces of the kingdom were laid waste. Eventually the white dragon gathered up all the remaining humans who had been loyal to the Kindred and carried them far away to safety.
“That day a great warrior was born. All the time the great warrior was growing up, the Empress thought the threat to her power had been eliminated. The land was filled with famine, but she did not go hungry, so she didn’t mind. Warlords appeared to challenge her rule, but her army destroyed them every time or drove them out. Meanwhile the great warrior was growing into manhood.
The Great Warrior had vanity and selfishness that equaled that of the Empress but he also had cunning and wisdom equal to that of the dragons.” Daiyu looked up. “Here there is a long section that tells in detail how the Great Warrior destroyed the rule of the Empress. She died old and alone, all supporters and worshipers were dead. The Great Warrior was cruel and brutal but with his strength the Middle Kingdom rose out of the ashes and became great again. The dragons would not return and serve him because he was too much like the old empress so they stayed in their own land and their people grew in peace and prosperity.”
She fell silent.
“Is that how the book ends?”
“Yes, though the story is not over.”
“How does the story end? That sounds like the end.”
“The story never ends.”
I had a feeling she’d say that.
“Somebody is hoping to repeat history,” I said. My teacup was dry and I couldn’t take my eyes off my sword. “Except now there’s no place for the dragons to go.”
“That story sounds like it could be Empress Cixi and Mao Zedong, but the she died when he was a teenager and the book is too old to be telling twentieth century history.”
She closed the book delicately with a whisker and placed it on the stone floor beside the tea and my sword. “The flight of the Kindred took place a very long time ago.” She shrugged. “Cruel and foolish rulers arise on the earth like fleas on a dog.”
I had some exceptions to that analogy but otherwise I pretty much agreed.
“So why send the dragon slayer after you? You aren’t a problem for them. The new Chinese regime isn’t stupid enough to want to rule the stars. What do they need this island for? It’s a nice size, but compared to Taiwan it’s a blip on the radar screen.”
“I do not know. I suspect, but I cannot say right now.” Daiyu’s big dragon voice rumbled softly. Almost subsonic.
My glance had alighted on the sword and I couldn’t peel my eyes off it. The island was beginning to feel like home. That was dangerous, I knew. I couldn’t have a home. Ever. My father was out there hunting and if I stayed in one place very long it improved his chances of finding me. Whatever sense of home I would ever have would be in that sword. I know that doesn’t make any sense at all. So sue me. I can’t think of a better way to put it.
“Your longing is a prison,” Daiyu said, apropos of nothing. “Your desires are links in the chains that bind you.”
I looked up at her. Here eyes were so big and so far apart that I couldn’t look into both of them at once.
“And in what way is that your business?” I said. “Are you going to try to drag me kicking and screaming into enlightenment? For people like me Nirvana is just a band.”
Her giant mouth stretched and opened a bit. I swear to God I think it was an actual smile. I’d seen her smile before, but it was pretty freekin’ rare.
“I can try,” she said.
“Give me the sword back.”
To my astonishment one of her prehensile whiskers agilely picked up the sword and laid it in front of my knees. Another whisker laid the book beside it.
“I get them both?”
“Links in the chains that bind you. Yes.”
With the sword hanging off my back and the book tucked into my waistband and covered by my tee shirt, I took off on my motorbike. Daiyu had extracted a promise that I go home and stay there. I agreed but I hope she realized that I was lying. Humans can’t lie to dragons. Dragons can be deceived by other dragons, but not by humans. I’d actually managed it before because, well, I’m pretty good at lying, but I don’t even know why she bothered to try to get me to agree to something that was so not me. So I fixed the idea in mind that I’d go home after I ran my little errands.
First I went to Silver Mountain to check on Long-ju. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t in his cave or anywhere else that I could find. On the other hand, he could have been there somewhere. Since dragons can disassemble their molecules, they can get into the darnedest places. But he didn’t seem to be interested in visitors, so I took off.
The prime minister’s residence was not on one of the mountains. Only dragons live up there. But since he was a mucky-muck he lived near the top of one of the lesser hills above the town. He was a member of one of the wealthiest families on the island so he’d always lived above the town. The transfer to the PM’s residence was lateral, but he got to wear nifty uniforms.
There were about a dozen limos out front of the residence. A young man in a red jacket was parking cars. I recognized the dark SUV that Derkein used as his official cop car. So he was there, somewhere, schmoozing. Obviously there was some kind of official function going on.
I circled the block. That’s not easy on the side of a hill. I worked my bike up the incline to the street above the residence and had a good look. The PM’s garden was covered with trees but I could see enough to know at least part of the reception was out there. I wished I’d studied the garden in more detail during yesterday’s tea party but it couldn’t be helped. I was going to have to assume there was some way to get into that garden from the rear. I might have to wait until dark.
Suddenly I was intensely hungry. I had a couple of hours to kill before the sun set. Maybe I would go down into town and find a noodle stand. I hooked a U-turn and nearly smacked into Poppy.
“Angie!” She looked as sweet and cute as always, except she was a bit transparent in the sunlight and she was hovering a couple of feet above the ground.
“Go away,” I said. “I don’t have anything you want.” I thought guiltily about the book. It had been hers once.
She looked like the soul of sadness. “Angie, I need you!” she said. Need. It made me shiver. I gunned the engine of the motor bike and took off doing a little curve around her. It was like zipping past an open refrigerator door. My motor bike doesn’t have a lot of power but down is easy. I was so hungry my guts felt like an echoing cavern. If caverns can hurt. Something big and empty and painful.
I knew exactly where I was headed. A little noodle stand by the fruit market next door to a tourist trap tea shop. Tourists rarely bought the noodles, though they liked to have themselves photographed in front of the traditional-style wagon. Actually eating the noodles was usually a tad too ethnic for them. They probably went back to the hotel for a burger.
No matter how I tried to distract myself with thoughts of the big bowl of noodles, I could hear Poppy’s voice trailing back behind me. I didn’t look back. If she was still back there, I didn’t want to know.
Then I realized I was going to go right past the freekin’ dratted night soil eating Twelve Treasures Museum. If I’d thought about that I would have taken any number of other roads, this was just the shortest one to that particular noodle stand I had in mind.
And there she was. Poppy stood in the middle of the road. Suddenly, purely and completely solid. She was nearly hit by a produce truck that honked and shouted at her. I had to ditch the bike to keep from running into her. I managed to hit the road rolling so I didn’t take too much damage. I nearly lost the book of evil fairy tales which dislodged from the waistband of my jeans. I grabbed it before it was out of reach and then saw the bike hit a light pole and nearly split in two. Shit.
I shoved the book down more securely and then that and the bike became the least of my worries. Poppy ran up and grabbed my arm. Tight. And that was not even the worst thing. A big black sedan pulled up and Mr. Humvee got out followed by Mr. Hatchet face. Humvee grabbed my free arm and pulled me to my feet.
He dragged me over to the sedan like I didn’t weigh anything and threw me into the back seat. Poppy didn’t turn loose of my arm. Her tiny fingers dug into my flesh. Mr. Humvee seemed to be unconcerned that he was getting a two for one deal.
I scrambled for the door on the opposite side. I knew that was probably pointless, but I had to do something. I heard a “shlunck” sound and the back doors locked. Working the door handle got me nothing.
“Angie, oh, Angie, I’m so glad I found you!” Poppy seemed not to notice that I was crushing her to the seat. She also seemed to not have noticed that we’d just been kidnapped. “I need you. I need you!” she said in her piping little voice as Mr. Humvee and Hatchet Face got back into the front seats and the sedan roared off.
I made a hopeless attempt to push Poppy’s hand off my arm but it was like her fingers had become welded to my flesh. Pulling her loose was about as effective as pulling off one of my own fingers. She was solid and real. She had little girl clear skin and bright eyes. It made that glowing in the dark and hovering in the air thing seem unreal, or would have if I hadn’t seen it. And then there was the unnatural strength. I should be able to arm wrestle someone half my size and a third my age. Should be, but she wouldn’t let go and I wasn’t having any luck making her.
And she kept up a constant stream of chatter. “Where are we going? Can I have something to eat? Do you have more of those little wafers?”
Mr. Humvee was at the wheel of the car and wasn’t engaging in safe driving practices. He roared through town leaning on the horn whenever an inconvenient stop light or traffic jam got in his way. I struggled to sit up so I could see where we were going and twice I was thrown back down on the seat when the car turned abruptly.
“I’m so glad I found you,” Poppy babbled. “Can you read me a story?” I didn’t answer. In fact, I was trying to pretend she wasn’t talking to me. She didn’t seem to notice.
I expected we were going to the Prime Minister’s residence. That’s where the ambassador was supposed to be. That big mob of cars out front could only mean another state reception or something. Everybody would want to celebrate being sold out to the Chinese. They’d be wrestling each other for the opportunity to curry favor with the ambassador. This will astonish you but I do not trust either politicians or rich people. They are too often the same people.
But we didn’t go to the residence. The car wound up into the hills, but not to the posh houses on those hills. We went past all that, past the rice paddies and the little villages, past the papaya orchards and the tea farms. I knew where we had to be going before we passed the ancient, weathered lava beds and the tumbled black boulders. This was Black Jade Mountain. We were going to Daiyu’s house.
“I need a drink of water,” said Poppy in her sweet little voice. “Are we there yet?”
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