In a forgotten, puddle-laden, narrow alleyway littered with empty wicker baskets, leaning pallets and chicken crates layered in tattered feathers, a coarse raspy voice leads us around a corner. Behind the corner and further down the dark alleyway, the seemingly abandoned path widens into a spacious junction. In the wide enclosure outside the back entrance of the Soup Dragon restaurant, a twenty-foot long, black-scaled beast lies almost wedged between two brick walls with its long snout resting beside a short flight of steps leading up to the back door of the restaurant. Its thick, scaled tail disappears into a manhole leading to the sewers beneath. The dragon lies on its belly sucking from a long lead drain pipe leading to a rusty oil drum filled with Sake. The enclosure trails off to a dead end. A high brick wall, where a tall Bonsai tree spreads its branches out in every direction, partially covers its thick green canopy of leaves over the rectangular black space of bright blinking stars.
At the base of the restaurant steps, a dark-skinned man with a fresh black eye, wearing a dirty, grass-stained, smart silver suit sits on an upturned crate. The Mexican, sat beside the dragon’s long, sleek, horned head, sits in a depressed state as he contemplates the events from the past twenty-four hours. The two beings stare into the fuzzy screen of an old TV set, watching six handsome youngsters splashing and dancing around a fountain to an upbeat and catchy song. The sides of the dragon's mouth rise as his favourite show plays out the musical introduction, and all seems right and normal with the world as he imagines his life as carefree as theirs. The Mexican appears lost as he stares longingly at the out-of-contrast, flickering and partially static screen. The unhappy Mexican appears indifferent to the sitcom as his thoughts rest firmly on his beloved Anna. The dragon thuds the side of the antique TV set with his heavy tongue, hard enough to be certain that a few knocks will fix the extremely bad reception, if only for a while. As the screen clears off its crackling and buzzing static, the dragon's mouth rises higher, like a dog grinning at the sight of its kind master returning home.
“We used to watch this show all the time, Anna and I,” says the forlorn man, lost in a sad state of nostalgia.
The dragon's smile drops slightly as he senses his guest's lack of joy, and so averts his attention to the solemn man.
“How did this begin?” asks Pedro, gazing at the TV set.
“I could not say, I have not yet seen the first season,” replies the dragon, completely misunderstanding the Mexican's question.
“No. I mean this… you… How did all of this… madness begin?” asks Pedro, staring hopelessly at the intoxicated beast.
“Drink,” bellows the dragon merrily.
The dragon's front slattern eyes widen and narrow as it tilts its head towards the Mexican whilst attempting to focus on him. The intoxicated Mexican takes the bottle of Sake next to him and refills his glass again.
“Salut,” slurs Pedro knocking back his ninth shot of Sake. “No puedo mas,” he adds, holding up his hand in protest and retching slightly.
The dragon wheezes a laugh at Pedro’s inability to keep up with him.
“Ahh,” the dragon exhaled, dredging the sound from the depths of his throat, “Pedro you are good man for keeping me company, it has been long time since someone has sat and had a drink with me,” says the dragon with gratitude in his coarse booming voice.
“You don't need to thank me, not after what all you people have done,” says Pedro, placating the beast with a drunken smile. “So, are you going to tell me where you people come from?” asks Pedro suddenly.
“The Yù Xīng Dynasty,” replies the dragon, hoping to quickly end his curiosity.
“Yù Xīng Dynasty?” muses Pedro. “I have never heard of it, I have degrees in both Geography and History and there is no record of a Yù Xīng Dynasty,” continues Pedro.
“Nor will there ever be. Were the population of Earth to discover what lies beyond the boundaries of your realities, you would surely self-destruct,” replies the dragon.
“I am handling knowledge of what I have seen,” replies Pedro, in disagreement.
“A few Demi-gods and a talking dragon,” snorts the dragon condescendingly, “you have seen nothing,” he adds sternly.
“Then tell me, help me understand. Dragon, I deserve to know,” slurs Pedro.
The dragon sighs at Pedro’s request to explain those things that have kept him in this lonely and secluded place, eons away from his true home.
The dragon had been moved from one location to the next. Each place was some out of sight shithole with no space to roam, or any view to admire. And with no contact with his own kind, the dragon's only escape from his existence were the barrels of Sake prepared for him by the current keeper of the Soup Dragon Restaurant. It didn't matter where the dragon went; each place was like some run-down slum, but anything more upmarket than his current residence would make it easier for his enemies to locate him. The dragon hadn’t been able to move since what felt like the beginning of the Yù Xīng Dynasty, so what else was there for an old, battle scarred dragon to do, but wait, watch sitcoms, sleep, eat and (his personal favourite) drink?
The dragon's black, heavily scaled eye lid slowly rises to reveal its centre-focused, elongated black pupil, and his top lip rises from the corners of his jagged mouth as he adjusts the drainpipe between his side incisors. The dragon sucks hard on the drainpipe until loud slurping sounds echo from the bottom of the barrel. Realising that Sake is running low, the dragon’s red-forked tongue flops out to the side in complete desertion of energy or interest. The dragon snorts loudly whilst flaring its large rubbery diamond-shaped nostrils and twitching its leathery and tough loose hanging whiskers. A hot mist escapes the dragon's nostrils and it fills the back alley of the restaurant swirling with vapour. The heavy smog hits the multiple dead ends of endless brick walls and churns continuously around Pedro as it seeks an exit. Pedro fans the haze away as it finally escapes with the steam billowing from the industrial, wall mounted steam extractor duct above. The dragon observes the Sake tinged cloud blowing and swaying into a circular dance as the unpredictable rickety fan discards it over the high roofs. The rough, deep, echoing voice from this all-too-real giant lizard adds a mystical feeling to a starry night. Away from all the noise, deep into the unknown, deep into the heart of down town Tokyo. Away from the traffic, away from civilisation, away from everything that betrays reality. The dragon blinks a few times to acknowledge the Mexican's earlier question.
“Pedro, refill that barrel of Sake....and I will tell you the whole story,” says the dragon in a drunken raspy voice.
“In a time of calm in ancient Earth, a tale of old orient begins, in a world of misty planes where death is bestowed upon honour and shame. Those days are now long gone. Only memories exist. Gravity held no bounds to the warriors who trained swift with steel foot and iron fist.
Those of worth and great power watched over the village. Sacred bloodlines protected the sacred ground against those who burn and pillage.
Wanderers are welcome, but are often hooded Demons. They hunger forever, hiding in disguise. If you get close enough to one, be sure to keep your distance. They toy with their food and they like to surprise.
In the Red Sun Village, Master Samurais and Warriors of Wushu, offer the service of wisdom and blade for those passing through.
Wells in the cobbled square echo faintly, for the fresh springs travel light from the sky climbing mountains, as Demon blood washes the badlands in red jets of everlasting fountains.
Jasmine grows in bunches of sweet perfume that lingers in the air, long tailed swifts nest on the curved tiled roofs and fly amidst the dying day without a care.
Children fly kites that hover and swerve high, like sky born elegant beasts. Though violent wind carries screams of pain across the ocean, in the birthplace of Yu-Huang, we are safe and at peace.
A tiny bricked bridge curves over a trickling river where youths hunt for knowledge of body and soul. They train intensely balancing the world on their toes, manipulating every which way the howling wind whistles and blows.
They leap upward with grace, higher than they ever did in their dreams, then relax in karma, soaking up the last of the day’s sunbeams.
In the dusk, lit lanterns swing a graceful glow, casting warm shadows in the breeze. The Guardian Samurai, Kamui Li remains mindful of his surroundings with his mind centred on the calming sound of the dormant Portals, the rustling soothing sound of the Bonsai trees.
Fire Swifts arrive in the village with crackling wings flapping urgent news. The fifty darting flames fly a circle round the Watchman, forming calligraphy with their flaring tails screeching with burning yellow beaks screaming a story of terror with red lined streaks.
Warming the crisp morning air, with a message of dread, they warn the Watchman about an enemy they share.
Their chirpings become tired. The children of the Phoenix are weak and frail
for their journey was long and their frightened message ends as they ignite into nothing from a distant dying song.
Silence is golden but one Dragon is silver, and as its scales flicker and coil, Kamui Li sees the peace being stolen.
Rushing against the violet morning sky and into a plane of pink haze, the rushing sparkles disappear. The warriors hear its distant roars, the archers mount horses and the guard’s ready spear.”
The Black Dragon stops his fable to repeat his request for another barrel-shot of Sake…
“Pedro, Sake, more Sake my friend,” bellows the dragon.
Pedro stands and staggers over to the barrel with unsure feet and spends the next half hour refilling the barrel with bottles of Sake from the stacks of crates lined up and against the wall. Pedro fills the drum to the brim and drunkenly climbs over the dragon's front legs and staggers back to the steps.
“Continue,” says Pedro, who was clearly enjoying the tale in his drunken stupor.
“Drink,” bellows the dragon once again.
Pedro fills his glass and raises it to the dragon.
“Salut,” says Pedro, knocking his shot back. “Continua,” adds the interested Mexican.
“Suddenly, two sparkling wings drop out from the morning sky; wings fold back on the still faraway beast and with its long tail held straight, the screeching beast looks like a shimmering Sai.
The Watchman leaps backwards onto the tallest hut as the villagers open out doors leading to under hill shelters to find cover from fire.
The Diamond Dragon roars with hate and as it swoops further down, it sees its target in the open, and it vows to leave nothing, not even bones for a pyre.
Flying level towards the Watchman at great speed, its fierce red eyes level with his, snarling at its feed.
Drooling great long sparkles of saliva, the dragon opens its mouth. This creature was feral and bribed, lusting for carnage. It can only be a beast sent from the South.
With only seconds to spare, the master of Shuriken flicks two stars from his wrist. Both fly parallel delivering much plight, peril and pain to the dragon’s sight. Screaming shrill with pain, unable to see, the Watchman unsheathes his Katana by the name of Xan Li, a soul he swears one day he’ll find a way to free.
With one swift movement as the beast passes by, he slices off its head and is showered in sparkling blood. Calmly he wipes the red glitter from his face, balanced by a strong high knee as a gem-layered head lands with a thud.
This was the work of a Sorcerer; a strong and evil wizard. Only those trained in the arts of black magic have the power to summon and command a treasure-guarding lizard.
One winter night, the Watchman meditates hard and senses the evil doer close; he meditates harder and begs for the strength of the 'Watchmen' of old and his father the ghost.
His eyes snap open knowing this twisted illusionist spreads fear to those who embrace life the most.
A few days pass and the villagers look upon the tall embodiment of evil atop a distant snow covered hill. Cloaked and hooded in purple and black, he glides through the fog. "Evil approaches," says the frothing deep snarl of a fat, flat faced dog.
The figure stops and feels strength in the air; it slowly turns back his hood, and livestock scatter as he shows his white face, empty of blood.
Wing Shin's dim yellow eyes look down upon the village without sign of remorse and the Watchman meditates by candles and sword, angry in waiting at this evil rising force.
He is stirred by the vision of an ear-to-ear grin; his ancestors speak in whispers that gently blow the candles “take heed, there is old evil in him.”
Gliding slowly forward, the demon's cloak blows violently in the wind. Grey clouds cover the last hopeful rays of light as the day is dimmed.
From under his tattered and draping bloody sleeves, curved nails grow and cut through the ends of his long sleek fingers, and the Katana sheathed by his waist glows bright like an effervescent stinger.
The points of his two long twisted horns cleave branches as he floats below a naked cherry blossom tree, and his breath reeks of death as he vows to kill his old friend, Kamui Li.
Kamui Li holds his eyes closed as he runs his fingers across the Katana resting across his knees. His eyes look into folded sharp steel, and curse the reflection he sees. It was an old katana, stained with an eternity of souls, good and bad, young and old.
The Sorcerer whispers a message to the frosty air to take to the village, and as his chilling voice infiltrates their ears, they are too frozen to move, and can only look on and stare.
He tells the hearts of all those that are near, “I will feed on your good, I feel it strong, stronger than fear. Give me the blade, or pay with your lives... I know it is here.”
No longer a shape, Wing Shin disappears into mist. Into the village he reappears as smoke and ready to die outside the steps of the temple below the dark sky.
The tall gaunt entity stands motionless awaiting his foe, but for his clawed feet adjusting to solid ground, crunching and compressing the deep white snow.
He remembers when he was a child. He'd always loved the sound that it made. Alerted by the presence of his childhood friend, he quickly turns to find him standing at a lit doorway showered by endless patterns of drifting snowflakes.
Kamui stands ready to live and die, embracing what will be.
He smoothly draws his Katana from the Saya tucked in his Obi as his eyes remain fixed on the demon Sorcerer.
Kamui Li the Watchman and Wing Shin the Sorcerer slowly advance with caution, bowing their heads whilst maintaining eye contact. The wind moans in exhaustion. Their civil gestures meet as they circle each other in the square. The demon drools and smiles. The Samurai is still and unaffected and simply holds his stare.
Kamui Li is ready in his mind, ready to kill with blade, hands and feet.
His steps are slight and steady; he carefully adjusts his footing and controls his racing heartbeat.
Wing Shin grins as he clicks his steel and slides it up an inch from the hilt. Kamui Li draws his Katana and races to death, to die with honour, for his family. For his people, he’ll fight to the end; for the village that his old friend the Emperor had long since built.”
A young man in black and red lacquered Kikou and Kabuto Samurai armour walks from under the shadow of the trapped Bonsai tree. A Daisho, Wakizashi and Katana hang neatly by his side and tucked in his Obi. The young Japanese man exposes his eyes to the beams of moonlight sneaking through the gaps of the high crowded branches, and they glint red for a second as his demonic Mengu faceplate is uncovered to the light. Carrying two large plastic shopping bags over his shoulder he keeps his distance and listens to the dragon’s old fictitious tale. He has heard this made up story a thousand times, and as inaccurate as the story is, he never tires of hearing it. The dragon cuts his fabricated story short as his concentration is broken by the presence of the eavesdropping visitor. The visitor shakes his head in annoyance as he looks at the endless stacks of crates containing empty Sake bottles. The Samurai removes his domed and crested Kabuto helmet and approaches the dragon.
“Kamui Li, back so soon. Is that what I think it is?” asks the dragon, hopefully.
“This is the last time I run one of your ridiculous errands,” says Kamui Li, pulling a brand new DVD player out of a bag.
“We both know that isn't true,” says the dragon indirectly.
“Compliments of the Sicilian,” says Kamui Li, ignoring his remark whilst showing him the front of the box.
“Perfect! The three Pure Ones smile upon you,” says the dragon.
“I am sure they do,” says Kamui Li.
“All I need now is a new TV. A flat screen should do just fine,” says the dragon assumingly.
“Will it? Good luck with that. What is wrong with the TV you already have?” asks Kamui Li.
“‘Tis older than you and I combined. Besides, I cannot use my new DVD player with a TV that has no scart socket. What is in the other bag?” asks the dragon.
“Friends, season one, as requested. Breaking Bad season one and Lost, season five. Happy?” says Kamui Li, none too pleased.
“You know, I saw a trailer for a new zombie TV show. I think the mortals may be onto us. It's about a group of survivors...”
“I don't care. Dragon, we need to talk,” says Kamui Li sternly whilst stacking the towering collection of DVDs onto on the steps.
“The Demi-god Skyver, is he safe?” asks the dragon, hoping to avoid a lecture.
“His guardians are upset. They have not taken this well, and his mind is troubled as a result of this,” says the Japanese man.
“ ‘Tis to be expected, but he is safe, yes?” replies the dragon sensing something amiss. “What did you do?” asks the dragon suspiciously.
“The boy would not cooperate during his training, so I sent him on a journey of self discovery,” replies the Samurai.
“Like you did with the Don, Gunn, the Duke, Octane and Limbo?” drills the dragon.
“It works does it not?” replies the Samurai uncaringly.
The dragon sighs in disdain and disappointment before shooting the Samurai a slightly angered look.
“Not if they distrust you as a result of your methods,” replies the dragon.
“I am sick and tired of these people. Skyver is arrogant and lazy. He is just like all the other insolent gaijin. He assumes everything is going to be easy,” replies the Samurai.
“Of course he does, he is young. He also assumed you his friend. He trusted you,” says the dragon,
“He can trust me to do the right thing by him. What kind of a friend would I be if I were to send him into war ill-prepared for combat?” replies the Samurai.
“You need be more patient,” says the dragon.
“I have been patient long enough. We don't have time to fuck around!” snaps the Samurai.
“Where did you send him?” replies the dragon.
“I do not know, I just opened a portal, and threw him in,” replies Kamui Li.
“Where?” replies the dragon strongly.
“One of the nests,” replies Kamui Li, “The boy needs a healthy dose of reality,” says Kamui Li irritably.
“Skyver is a Demi-god, a powerful being capable of...who yet knows. But he is also half-mortal. Chris Cartwright is nothing more than an ordinary boy torn from his existence, his family and everything he knows. He is just a scaffolder, and you sent him into a dragon's nest,” says the dragon strongly.
“I do not care what he is, I am not a counsellor, nor am I his babysitter. I cannot hold their hands through every single one of their trials and tribulations. This not the way to make them strong... and your love for them has made you soft,” says Kamui Li.
“What did you say?” says the dragon calmly and threateningly whilst releasing the lead straw from the grip of its retracting teeth.
“I'm saying you are being overly lenient, a little,” replies the Samurai, heeding the dragon's latent fury. “Skyver will find his way back, of that I am certain,” assures Kamui Li.
“As far as he knows, you sent him to oblivion,” says the dragon.
“Don't be so dramatic. This challenge will only make him stronger. Until he learns balance he is vulnerable, regardless of his youth or his ability to manipulate and glide upon his many tubes of steel. The sooner he learns to balance his mind the sooner he will be able to harness his powers, locate his dragon and begin construction on his army and Empire. When next he sees me, he will thank me for my “harsh” methods,” says Kamui Li, squeezing past the dragon to sit beside the sleeping Mexican.
“Assuming he returns to you. They will eat him alive if they get the chance,” says the dragon, revealing his wingless arms.
The dragon extends two black stumps from his back; void of any membrane that will gift him with the power of flight, the extended stumpy spikes bend, shift and move as he gestures toward the near fatal injuries he'd suffered eons ago at the hands of his partner.
“So what, ‘tis only mortal death, he will simply rise again in the nearest Trail of Light,” replies Kamui Li.
“Push them too hard and they may just turn against you,” says the dragon.
“Whatever, I’ll take my chances, and so will Skyver, just as we all have,” says Kamui Li, waving off the dragon's naive lecture.
There is a long pause from Kamui Li and his face turns stern as he looks at Pedro slumped against the railings of the steps with his mouth wide open and snoring loudly.
“If you were going to send him to sleep by reciting one of your tales, then why not tell him something closer to the truth,” suggests Kamui Li.
“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” says the dragon proudly.
“Why not focus on telling stories that will happen? You’d be making my mission of locating the other Demi-gods a lot easier. When was the last time you even had a prediction?” asks Kamui Li.
“Ah lighten up Kamui, get off my back,” replies the dragon, tiredly.
“Maybe if you didn’t drink so much…”
“Drink emphasises my range. Sit, drink with me,” says the dragon.
Kamui pauses, giving his surrogate brother a disapproving look and takes Pedro’s shot glass and pours in some Sake.
“One, then we talk,” says Kamui Li, reasoning with the huge beast.
“Just the one old friend. You look tired,” observes the dragon.
“Thank you,” quips Kamui Li.
“What is the real cause of your troubled mind?” asks the dragon.
“Long day,” gripes the Samurai before pausing in puzzlement, “haven't you been watching TV?” asks Kamui Li knocking back the shot of Sake.
“Yes, all day,” replies the dragon.
“The news channel?” asks the Samurai.
The dragon hesitates to answer and Kamui Li expels a short laugh whilst shaking his head, irritated at having his patience tested.
“No of course not. Which of the one million TV shows have you been wasting time watching, instead of focussing on your sole task in this realm? Lost, Desperate Housewives, The Sopranos'?” says Kamui Li trailing off into a semi-furious rant.
“I watch these shows to better understand this generation of mortals. Perhaps if you did the same you might find cooperating with them that much easier,” says the dragon.
“We have not the time for games. Your time here should not consist solely of drinking Sake and watching daytime Television,” says Kamui Li, storming over to the dated and cracked cable dial.
“Ooh, ooh, wait a minute,” says the dragon smiling, “This is my favourite part. This one becomes stuck in his leather pants and he calls his friend to...” says the dragon chuckling.
Kamui Li's eyes turn a deep glowing red as his pupils burn a bright blue, daring the dragon to finish his sentence.
“What channel is the news?” asks Kamui Li surfing through the infinite channels on the knackered second-hand box.
Kamui Li gives up and switches the TV back to the comedy channel before turning to the dragon with an expression of severity.
“What? What have I missed?” asks the dragon curiously.
“It is happening again. There has been another outbreak. The mortals are running out of time.” says Kamui Li.
“Where?” asks the dragon, concerned.
“A small town in Poland,” replies the Samurai.
“Is it contained?” asks the dragon.
“Barely. The Sicilian managed to contain it. The Government has quarantined the area. They believe it to be a virus of some kind,” says the Samurai. “The undead are rising again. I fear the Gates of Diyu will rise too late,” adds Kamui Li.
“Wing Shin will not allow that to happen, you know this. He wants this world untarnished for the day he ends mankind. Word will reach his ear of this latest rising of the undead, and he will release more demons into Purgatory to ease the walls of Diyu,” adds the dragon.
“The occurrences were few to begin with, but are happening more frequently now. The gates of hell will soon rise into Purgatory, and there is still so much to do,” says Kamui Li in dismay.
“Hell is over flowing with evil souls, and the damned are returning to life as a result of this. Wing Shin will use this as a distraction. Send word to the city to prepare for an attack. Let the others handle this, and focus on your mission at hand,” advises the dragon.
“I cannot depend on them to defend the Trail of Light in my absence. They have no honour. Others are afraid, and all but a handful are actually skilled with a blade,” mutters Kamui Li.
“How often need I remind you Kamui Li, they hail from a time much different to ours. So blinded by your disdain for your fellow Demi-gods you are, that you cannot see that even you yourself have changed,” says the dragon.
“But my mission has not,” replies the headstrong Samurai.
“Take a chance, let them handle this,” says the dragon, casually.
Kamui stares at the dragon in weary disbelief.
“We are talking about the safe keeping of the Trail of Light. I am doing all I can. Why don't you follow my lead for once?” argues the Samurai.
“What would you have me do? Go door to door telling...”
“...No of course not...”
“...the mortals to be 'kind' to one another, what am I...a Mormon?” says in the dragon in a tranquil ramble.
Kamui Li stares at the dragon with a vacant expression as he analyses the dragon's glib remark.
“It used to be that you came here to speak to me of good times past and share dear memories of old friends lost. There was a time you would visit often and we would marvel at the vast possibilities of a prosperous future in Purgatoria. Now I am fortunate to receive a single kind word during your few flying visits,” says the dragon sadly.
“I stopped by last week brother, but you were… how can I put this... busy,” says Kamui Li avoiding eye contact.
“Busy?” asks the dragon.
“You were watching the adult channel, so I left you to your business,” says Kamui Li awkwardly.
“You were watching me?!” says the dragon in disgust.
“No! As I said, I left. I have no wish to see you pleasuring yourself,” says Kamui Li in slight revulsion.
“I am in season. I am not going to apologise for indulging in one of life's few simple pleasures,” says the dragon.
“I am not saying you should, but you could at least pleasure yourself to your own kind. You watching people engage in human erotica is like me... indulging in the sight of two dragons in the middle of a mating ritu- no, no, no, I am sorry but it's strange and wrong my friend, wrong,” says Kamui Li shamed of his warped suggestion.
“Do you know what channel the dragon porn is on? For I do not,” says the dragon.
“Christ meets Raijin,” says Kamui Li in disbelief. “It's one stupid problem after the next,” he adds hysterically whilst scraping the back of his neck in agitation. “I don't know I'll err, I'll... bring you some Godzilla movies,” says Kamui Li off the top of his head.
“Godzilla is a male, what are you implying?” says the dragon severely.
“Nothing,” says Kamui Li defensively. “How can you tell he's a male?” he asks suddenly.
“How can you tell he's not?” retorts the dragon. “In any case, even if the Godzilla suit were that of female design, which it isn't, it is a man inside it,” he adds plainly.
“So Godzilla is transgendered, like a frog?” asks Kamui Li jestfully. “If it’s frog porn you seek all you need do is put it on the list,” says Kamui Li with a straight face.
“I not seek frog porn and Godzilla is not transgendered, you are transgendered. I merely...”
“Hey I'm not judging, I think it’s great that you’re... ‘expanding your horizons’,” says Kamui Li.
“Frog porn?” says the dragon ridiculously. “And you wonder why you are still single,” says the dragon.
Kamui Li sniggers and realises how much he has missed his old friend, and how unfairly he had behaved towards the loyal beast.
“I know, forgive me. I meant not to cause you any grievance, I will make more of an effort to visit you,” says Kamui Li tiredly and kindly whilst rubbing the beast’s neck.
“You always seem angry when you cross back over to this realm,” says the dragon, sucking the last of the sake from the barrel with loud slurping sounds.
“Despite my complaints I have grown to like it here. These mortals, I can appreciate their... blissful ignorance, I envy them. But it just doesn’t…’
“Feel like home anymore,” says the dragon.
“‘Tis too difficult to believe that we too hail from this world. Japan is barely recognisable anymore. What I'd give for one year, just one year back in my homeland, the way it used to be, how things used to be,” says Kamui Li.
“Do not torture yourself with false illusions and pipe dreams. The sooner the portals close for good, the sooner we can all go home to Purgatory, where we truly belong. Our time here will one day be at an end, and with it, all of your confusions. Stay the course. Do not tarnish your memories, cherish them and what good memories you have left,” says the dragon.
“Did you read that in a fortune cookie?” says Kamui Li with a confused, wry grin.
“No, I did not,” replies the dragon without a hint of mockery.
“Maybe I don't want my time here to end. If you could see these mortals in the Trail of Light, their innocence, then you would know. You would know that these people are not built to be Demi-Gods. Even the mere thought of killing reduces some of them to tears. For those truly innocent, ‘tis endearing to watch them go about their lives, knowing what they do not, knowing they will be rewarded with forever peace. But warriors they are not. This era, this age, should be exempt from the selection process,” sighs Kamui, pouring himself another shot.
“The souls you speak of have earned their place within the Trail of Light; but I need not remind you there is more than one trail for the passing, and it is not for the kind of heart. Damned Canyon or Trail of Light, it matters not, those passing souls have had their time. The Demi-gods under your charge now know they have just as much to lose as those they left behind. They now know what they are fighting for. It does not matter if they wish to fight or not. When the Flood Gates of Diyu rises unto Purgatory, they will have little choice,” says the dragon.
Kamui says nothing, and his heart sinks for his earth realm Demi-God companions as he imagines them facing all the monsters of Hell. Centuries and centuries' worth of accumulated demons spawned from their own kind. It was inevitable. The gates will rise, for if they do not, the over populated primordial realm of damnation will reach max capacity, causing an undead apocalypse on Earth. It has happened before, due to a much more malevolent force. But this time is different, and they have been warned. For as much as Kamui Li's Demi-god brethren infuriate him, he shudders at the prospect of what they must, and will face in due time.
“Why must they choose these people?” says Kamui, taking the bottle of Sake and taking a hefty swig, “they're just kids: Skyver, the Crenshaw Serpent, Quito, they are just kids,” says Kamui Li solemnly.
“They are not much younger than you were when you were first chosen,” says the dragon.
“That is different. We hail from an age of steel and magic. These children only learn about these qualities from videogames and TV,” says Kamui Li.
“It is not for you or I or anyone else to decide who should or should not be chosen. Only they have the honour,” says the dragon, offering security in his words of wisdom whilst tilting his chin to the sky in reference to the gods of old. "Immortality Kamui, this is the curse the chosen must learn to live with. A curse you embraced many years before you were first chosen. You were chosen for a reason, just as others were throughout various periods in time. The Gods do not persecute. They do not care if your deaths are an accident, or how you know how to wield a blade. They do not decide by age, star sign or favourite colour. They just... choose, without prejudice, or persecution,” says the dragon.
“Yes they do,” says Kamui Li, hopelessly.
“You have not yet made mention of Mexico, even though the mission was a success. Did all go as planned?” asks the dragon, hoping to distract his mind.
“Yes, but a few complications,” replies Kamui Li.
“Stena?” chuckles the dragon, already knowing the answer.
“Yes, but for what he lacks in intelligence he makes up for in strength. Kinsov Leonov's sense of loyalty is stronger than your iron-clad scales,” smiles Kamui, feeling the need to defend the simple-minded young Russian riot officer.
“What of Doc?” asks the dragon,
“Ray Rawal? A true warrior, but he refuses to let go of his mortal life. He, just like all the others, still blames me, holds me responsible for their idiotic deaths,” laughs Kamui, “He just goes on and on, 'I lost my life, my mortgage, my practice, my pension' and so forth,” says Kamui Li in a whiny voice, “Yes, it's all my fault. It is my fault Doc was struck by lightning, my fault Scorch cannot work a microwave. Yes, it's all my fault,” says Kamui Li dryly. “It was when Ray discovered he was not only rescuing one of the President's children, but also the Yakuza gangster San Hanshu: that's when he lost it,” says Kamui Li.
“He truly is the son of Raijin,” says the dragon, proudly. “And Mettaliga, any progress?” he asks.
“He fell to pieces in the heat of battle,” replies Kamui, bluntly. “He's of no use to us, not until he grows a pair,” adds Kamui Li.
“Where is he now?” asks the concerned dragon.
“He began the great pilgrimage to the Mercury Mountain to build his army and begin construction on his Empire,” says Kamui Li.
“At least he is skilled with a blade,” says the dragon.
“At least,” replies Kamui Li.
“Did the other Demi-gods aid you in your mission as you requested?” asks the dragon.
“A few were kind enough to grace us with their presence, the Don, Skippy, Scorch and the Iron Maiden,” says Kamui Li.
“The Crenshaw Serpent did not aid you?” asks the dragon, taken aback. “The Sicilian did send word to the Selva city requesting his aid?” adds the dragon.
“I don't know if he got that message. I do not know what that boy is up to; he keeps to himself,” replies Kamui Li.
The dragon’s voice becomes more serious, filled with caution for his friend of old.
“Even without the Serpent, they did well out there, but they were lucky. The Sicilian is playing a dangerous game, much could have gone wrong,” says the dragon.
“Nothing did go wrong, and what choice did we have? You failed to predict the choosing of the President's children until it was too late,” says Kamui Li.
“Seven Samurai chosen simultaneously; impossible for me to tune in to such power at once,” replies the dragon.
“You have done it before,” says Kamui Li.
“That was different,” says the dragon. “Kamui Li, take heed of the unhinged President. Should Calacas discover that you, Snooze and the Sicilian have betrayed him, there is no telling what he will do, maybe even turn against us,” says the dragon.
“We did not betray him, you know that,” says Kamui Li defensively.
“He will not see it that way, regardless of what I know,” states the dragon.
“When the dust has settled and the time is right, we'll tell him everything. Until then, his brother Santa Muerta will help control Calacas,” assures Kamui Li.
“Santa Muerta, the Priest? Calacas has more to lose than any of the Demi-Gods. Make no mistake he is out for blood now. It will take much more than Santa Muerta to control him. Not even Snooze can ease his lust for vengeance,” says the dragon.
“Calacas has just reasons for wanting revenge, but I should have been there to help Snooze. It was not fair to lay such a burden upon him,” says the Samurai.
“I would have been more concerned about having Snooze out in the open. Nobody must discover where the Seer lives. ‘Tis most unfortunate and regrettable that his wisdom was needed in order to retrieve all seven of the Demi-gods,” says the dragon.
“As wise as he is… in his own way,” says Kamui, awkwardly, “his eccentricities confuse the others. The Seer refuses to accept the level of danger he is in. If his location is discovered, 'the dormant unaware man', the man who wakes under the belief that he has been dreaming all this time, has no way of defending himself,” says Kamui Li anxiously.
“The seer will wake once he has been chosen,” says the dragon.
“The sooner the better. I can't depend on a warrior that disappears when his physical self is awoken,” says Kamui Li.
“Snooze is a man of pure conscience, a man of morality, but the real man, whoever he may be, is none the wiser to the events surrounding him. But despite his eccentric ways, he has brought us many powerful Demi-gods. Our arrangement has proved effective for thousands of years. The Seer and I will continue to bring you Demi-gods, all you need do is lead them,” says the dragon.
“They need a leader of their own realm, not me. They need Calacas, a master and commander from their own era. Who better than a President? He will lead them. He is the finest example of a Demi-God. Calacas understands more than anyone else the true meaning of sacrifice, strategy, leadership…”
“…anger, hate and revenge,” says the dragon, reminding him of the Mexican President's imperfections.
“I didn't say he was perfect, but should I fall in battle, Calacas will prove to be an adequate replacement,” says Kamui Li nodding in approval.
“I pray to the Three Pure Ones that day never comes. Wing Shin is gathering power. He has already claimed many of the most powerful, savage, cruel and disciplined of Demi-Gods. Nightfall, Bloodshed, Wolfgang, the Crimson Knight...” says the dragon.
“Bloodshed… did you just namedrop Bloodshed in that ridiculous line up of so-called ‘threats’?” sneers Kamui Li. “Bloodshed is batshit crazy and doesn't know his tongue from his chin. The rest of them belong in a sticker album,” jeers Kamui Li.
“My point is your enemies are becoming too many, and your latest gives me great cause for concern,” says the dragon.
“Crypt? You’re certain he has joined Wing Shin?” asks Kamui.
“This man will reign more terror upon you than you can possibly imagine, and he will stop at nothing for revenge against Pedro,” says the dragon.
“Does he know how much danger he is in?” asks Kamui Li, looking at the simple-faced man beside him.
“No, this one is not spirited in the ways of battle,” says the dragon.
“Your intentions are noble dragon, but he deserves to know the truth,” says Kamui Li.
Pedro snorts in his sleep at the mention of his name and he shifts his weight to the side before suddenly waking in a great panic.
“Welcome back sleeping beauty. Feel better?” asks the dragon.
“How long have I been asleep?” says Pedro, looking around in confusion.
“Not lo-” says the dragon as his eyes turn pale.
Kamui Li and Pedro are suddenly alerted to the dragon as he begins hissing wildly and his forked tongue flickers and lashes from side to side as his head twitches. As small bouts of flame escape the sides of his convulsing jagged mouth, Pedro runs up the steps to gain safe distance from the leaping flames, and Kamui Li steps closer into the walls of fire. The dragon’s scales raise on edge as if they were human hairs standing on end, and his claws extend and dig drag lines into the concrete as his wingless stumps bend in all directions. Observing his brother’s erratic movements, Kamui Li steps beside the dragon's head and awaits his prophecy. As the dragon begins to calm, his head jerks slightly and his top lip trembles as dribbling fire escapes the corners of his mouth. Engulfed in short bursts of gentle blue flame, Kamui looks into the dragon's white eye…
“Tell me brother, what do you see?” asks Kamui Li, gently stroking his solid curved eyebrow.
The dragon settles his gaze, and keeps it fixed on Kamui Li…
“In a valley of death, in a desert of lights and fortune, strings of metal clash with sticks of bone and blood, they are the warriors of sound, fighters of the dune.
They are the destructors of all and bringers of peace,
Two there are, the sisters of sand. Raw noise powers each spirit, of claw and wing they unleash powers with heavy head bangs.
Their choosing will be loud; their passing in panic and screams, no song is finer than their final moments and wildest dreams. Explosions of heavy winged metal in a concert of fire, death comes to those who embrace green walls of living nails/
They rise as immortals, reborn for their carnal cravings of killer tunes hidden by the drapes of eagle eyed veils.
The Emperor’s twin heart beats will cease with a rhythm of sticks, they are samurai of the lost oasis, destroying everything. They are the bringers of sound and madness, the destructors and peace bringers of death… they are the Apache Rock Chix,” says the Black Dragon, collapsing on his belly.
“Where brother? Tell me where,” urges Kamui Li.
“Las Vegassssss,” hisses the dragon.
“When?” asks Kamui Li.
As the dragon loses consciousness, Kamui Li gives the beast some peace. The out-cold lizard rises up and down on its belly as deep and peaceful exhalations whistle through the narrow gaps of his teeth.
“Rest now, my old drunken friend, rest,” says Kamui, rubbing his coarse scaled nose.
“Kamui, is he okay? What is wrong with him?” asks Pedro, quietly and concerned.
“It takes it out of him,” says Kamui Li with a pained expression. “He does not belong here,” he adds sadly.
“No disrespect but I have seen better looking shitholes in Tijuana; I'd go crazy as well if I was stuck here,” says Pedro, looking around.
“I like Tijuana,” says Kamui Li staring down the Mexican. “I go there sometimes, to think,” says Kamui Li.
“My mistake. I'm sure there are lots of... nice areas in Tijuana,” says Pedro, lying awkwardly.
“The dragon is not safe in the realm of Chi,” continues Kamui, ignoring his bad recovery. “Wing Shin's powers are limited in this delicate realm. If I brought him back to the war bound world of Chi, Wing Shin would try to recapture him: I won't let that happen again,” says Kamui Li, looking at the low supply of Sake stacked by the base of the steps. “I'd better put another order in,” he sighs.
“You told him you didn't like him drinking,” says Pedro,
“I should count myself fortunate he's not a full blown crack addict. Of course I understand his pain, and why all he does is drink, but I am not going to tell him that,” says Kamui Li.
“What was he talking about? Who are these Apache Rock Chix?” asks Pedro.
“Somewhere in Las Vegas two people are going to die and be reborn as deities that are too powerful to exist in this world,” says Kamui Li.
“Demi-gods? Like Orlando, Señor Presidente. What happened to Orlando, what I saw, what I have seen... defies everything I believe, everything I know,” says Pedro.
“President Orlando has been chosen to defend the Trail of Light within the realm of Purgatoria, as have his seven children, including your beloved Anna, and myself and many others,” replies Kamui Li.
“How? Why was he chosen?” asks Pedro.
“It’s complicated,” states Kamui Li, content with his brief explanation.
Pedro beckons him to continue, displeased with the Samurai's vague inadequate reply.
“Give me something: you people dragged us into this,” says Pedro.
“We, the guardians of the gates, were all chosen at the point of our death. All I know is, those who possess some ability to wield a blade are somehow deemed worthy of being chosen. Men, women, children, they are all chosen at random. I do not why, who or when a ‘great warrior’ or some... ‘clumsy housemaid’ or a ‘lazy scaffolder’ is chosen to prevent the damnation of the souls of earth; I wish I did. When President Orlando Gonzalez died, he was fused with the surroundings that hold some relevance to what caused his death,” explains Kamui Li.
“Died?! He didn't die, he was killed. How is he even still breathing? I was there; I saw him die,” says Pedro frantically.
“You saw only his mortal death, not his resurrection,” says Kamui Li.
“Resurrection? I don't...” exhales Pedro. “I don't understand,” he adds.
“All will be revealed in time Pedro. You will go now to the Zuìhòu (last) city in the realm of Chi; there you await the return of your beloved Anna,” says Kamui Li.
“What is this world of Chi?” says Pedro.
“You people originally know it as Purgatory,” says Kamui Li.
“Purgatorio? Purgatoria is Purgatory?! I am going to Purgatory?!” yells Pedro in horror whilst mimicking the sign of the cross against his chest.
“Relax, ‘tis not as you believe it to be. Pedro, once you arrive there you can never again return to Earth; you know too much and Wing Shin will surely see you dead. Can you live with that?” asks Kamui Li.
Kamui Li cannot decide what causes the pain in Pedro's eyes as they menacingly stare back at him. Perhaps it was the reality of never again returning to all that he has ever known, or the idea of journeying into the unknown land of Purgatory, or maybe he just didn't appreciate being asked if there was nothing he'd be willing to do for his beloved Anna, the Mexican President's daughter.
“Do not be surprised if your beloved Anna has changed in appearance since she was chosen,” says Kamui Li reservedly.
“I don't care, I have learned to live with many things over the years, things I am not proud of, but I cannot live without Anna. Everything I have done, I did to get her back; I will leave this place forever if that's what it takes,” says Pedro.
“Very well. Anna may look different: just remember she is still half-mortal. You are mortal Pedro, she is eternal. Trust me when I tell you to enjoy what little time you have left together,” says Kamui Li.
“The dragon told me that Anna is to be an Empress in the realm of Chi, and she'll be fighting in the biggest war in the history of time and space. What can I do?” asks Pedro.
“Do not get in her way, and do not allow yourself to be captured by the enemy. Stay as far away from Crypt as possible, and stay within the walls of the Zuìhòu city - you will be safe there,” says Kamui Li.
“Crypt? You mean the Australian, Will Bronson? This has all been one big misunderstanding,” says Pedro. “I did not send him that virus,” he adds.
“The evidence suggests otherwise. He is bankrupt, shamed and wanted by the authorities; he is ruined; and he believes you are responsible,” says Kamui Li.
“I didn't do anything. Occasionally he gives me access to his network security program, but I swear I did not use it against him,” says Pedro defensively.
“You need not convince me Pedro. Wing Shin has used your allegiance with Calacas to recruit Crypt, Will is with Wing Shin now, and is surely corrupted. He wants you dead Pedro, and Wing Shin will aid him in his quest for revenge,” warns Kamui Li.
Pedro looks at Kamui Li as if he is crazy and his stomach begins doing cartwheels as he feels himself getting further and further out of his depth.
“No, no, no, I know him, he wouldn't kill me. I know him - well I don't know him know him but he's not a killer - he’s an okay guy,” says Pedro, ludicrously.
“There are things about Will Bronson you do not know. Crypt is a pure-bred killer, former soldier in the Australian forces, and ex-mercenary. Don't let his résumé fool you, he is much more than a software programmer,” says Kamui Li.
“Anti-virus software tech-”
“Whatever,” replies Kamui Li. “Crypt will kill you,” he adds.
“Crypt, Calacas, Santa Muerta, Snooze, Skyver, Doc, Scorch, Jennycide, Skippy, Trench, Mac… what’s with all the code names?” asks Pedro.
“They are not code names. One day we will forget the names we were given on the day of our mortal birth, but at some point during our short lives, we each of us chose an alias, or were branded with one. A name to be reborn by, to retain our identities as mortals and Demi-gods,” says Kamui Li.
“Just how old are you?” asks Pedro curiously.
“I can't remember. It doesn't matter anymore,” says Kamui Li.
“You do not die? You actually live forever?” asks Pedro.
“Yes,” says Kamui Li abruptly whilst picking up his Kabuto helmet.
“And my Anna?” asks Pedro, needing final clarification.
“Immortal. Only a Katana blade through our hearts will end our unnatural long lives,” says Kamui bluntly.
“This pendejo Wing Shin, the man that killed my Anna using the Breed 77 Strain, he will be where you are going yes?” asks Pedro.
“His Empire resides far from our domain. Do not try anything foolish to save your wounded pride; he could destroy you in the blink of an eye, or drag you to Diyu, and if you are cast unto Diyu, there is no coming back,” says Kamui Li.
“Diyu?” asks Pedro.
“Pedro once you arrive in the Zuìhòu city you will encounter many historians, soldiers and local people, who will be more than glad to answer your fifty questions,” says Kamui Li.
“No, I want to hear it from you. What is this Diyu?” asks Pedro.
“Diyu is the place you people call Hell; ‘tis another plain. You can see the inter-dimensional gates from the Damned Canyon in Purgatoria,” says Kamui Li rapidly.
“So it is as I feared, dios mio,” says Pedro in shock.
Pedro begins to feel light-headed as he listens to the tirade of overwhelming information and he places his hand flat on the nearest wall to prop himself up.
“I don't feel...” says Pedro in between breaths, “I don't feel well, I don't believe it, I don't believe you,” says Pedro, spitting excess drool from his mouth.
“It doesn't matter if you believe me or not, it doesn't change anything. You people have been, how can I put this kindly... ‘dumbed down’. You people no longer believe in the concept of the divine, the power of Chi, or the possibility of magic. You no longer see the lonely ghosts wandering the quiet country lanes in the midst of night,” says Kamui Li.
“I don't want to see a lonely ghost wandering a quiet country lane; I want my life with Anna back. I want things back the way they were when things made sense,” replies Pedro, struggling to soak in his new reality, “and now you're telling me there is a Planet Hell,” says Pedro, clutching the top of his head.
“An entire universe actually, a closed dimension. Do not be so concerned, I looked into your soul the minute I arrived; you will not go there when your body gives up,” replies Kamui Li casually.
“You looked into my soul?” says Pedro in disturbed disbelief.
“Yes, ‘tis the gift of all Demi-gods, even the rogues that keep the Floods of Diyu,” replies Kamui Li.
“How is this possible, how is it decided?” asks Pedro desperately.
“From the very moment you entered this world, you, just like every other self-aware organism in this world, were synchronized,” says Kamui Li.
“Synchronized with what?” asks Pedro.
“From day one, your blank, untarnished souls are synchronized with the Earth's Essence Core,” says Kamui Li.
“You are talking about the Earth's core?” says Pedro.
“Yes,” replies Kamui Li.
“You are saying the Earth's core decides my fate?” says Pedro, puzzled.
“No, you decide that. The Essence Core merely sorts you people into the relevant after-realm upon your deaths,” replies Kamui Li.
“Bullshit, we would know this! That is not... possible! The planet is rock and metal, land, water, not some... A.I. computer. You are suggesting the Earth is alive on a conscious level. How would we not know that?” says Pedro, ridiculing his own rant.
“The Earth has the ability to act, and react on an evolutionary scale,” says Kamui Li.
“How?” asks Pedro.
“Through the most powerful, reliable and primitive of senses: instinct,” says Kamui Li.
“That isn't possible, I don't... Prove it! Explain it to me, give me an example…tu eres loco!” says Pedro close to having a meltdown,
“An example?” muses Kamui Li boringly. “65 million years ago the earth created a race of Reptoidian creatures...” says Kamui Li.
“You mean dinosaurs?” says Pedro.
“Yes, and although simple, they grazed upon a lush ecosystem and terraformed the surface of the planet to the point where life thrived on every square mile. A single rock from space destroyed everything, causing the earth to hit the reset button. What do you imagine would happen in the event of a repeat occurrence?” asks Kamui Li.
“It wouldn't, not with our nuclear deterrents, satellite imagery and...” says Pedro, suddenly realizing his point, “what are you saying Kamui, that we are the Earth's artificial intelligence?”
“Yes, the Earth created an artificial intelligence designed to prevent another asteroid from hitting,” concludes the strange warrior, “the Essence Core has the ability to learn, to survive on a level incomprehensible to your current science. We call it self-preservation,” adds Kamui Li.
“And the Trail of Light, what is it, why is it so important?” asks Pedro.
“It is the passageway to heaven, or Paradise, Eden, whatever you choose to call it. Every Demi-god has the power to raise a Trail of Light from their Empire should they pledge their allegiance to it. When a demon is released from Diyu into Purgatoria, the first thing they seek out is peace. Should just one demon be allowed to enter the Trail of Light, it will corrupt and destroy it,” says Kamui Li.
Kamui Li studies the Mexican curiously, judging his lack of knowledge regarding the events surrounding him.
“I promised to keep you safe. Go now to the portal,” says Kamui Li abruptly.
“Portal?” asks Pedro.
“The Bonsai tree. Walk into the shadow of the Bonsai tree. How do you think you got here?” says Kamui Li.
“I was unconscious when I arrived. I go into the tree, what then?” asks Pedro.
“There is no instruction manual required Pedro. You walk into the shadow of the tree, journey across time and space and you will arrive in Zuìhòu city. My people are anticipating your arrival; go with them,” says Kamui Li.
“What about the dragon? We can't just leave him alone?” asks Pedro,
“He isn't alone, the keeper of the Soup dragon restaurant will watch over him. Come now, time is short and I must leave,” says Kamui Li.
“Into the tree?” says Pedro staring at it apprehensively.
“Into the tree,” repeats Kamui Li firmly.
“Does it hurt?” asks Pedro.
“For mortals and first-timers, yes,” replies Kamui Li.
Pedro cautiously approaches the edge of the shadow of the tree, watched closely by the immortal as he studies his expressions of doubt. The suited man outstretches his arm into the shadow and yanks it back with a grunt, pained at the crushing sensation with the darkness. With time working against the Samurai, he considers pushing him in before deciding on a more tactful approach.
“I will go first. Follow my lead and you will see there is nothing to fear,” says Kamui Li, stepping forward.
Pedro nods, although his unsure expression does not concur with his reply as he clenches his forearm in discomfort.
“I'll see you on the other side,” says the Samurai as he steps into the clustered swaying shadow of the tree leaves.
Pedro slowly strides one leg into the shadow and feels a crushing sensation and so pulls it back out. Pedro closes his eyes and pictures the smiling face of his beloved fiancée Anna. Pedro opens his eyes and prepares to step forward, but stops short as he sees the dragon staring at him with a half-open eye. The dragon speaks quietly, leaving Pedro with a dire warning.
“Beware of Crypt, he will stop at nothing to find you and seek his revenge against you,” says the dragon in a low coarse voice.
“I am not worried about him,” says Pedro.
“You should be,” replies the dragon.
“He's just a man,” replies Pedro.
“Not anymore,” replies the dragon.
“I am more interested in hearing the rest of your story... even if it was fabricated, or completely made up,” says Pedro.
“In and out of sleep were you?” says the dragon.
“Something like that. Next time, you can tell me the real story, the truth,” says Pedro.
“Agreed, but next time you had best keep up,” says the dragon smiling tiredly.
“Next time I am bringing Tequila,” quips Pedro.
The whiskered corners of the dragon’s mouth rise as the beast smiles at Pedro’s candour.
“It all began with the giver of light and peace, but that is a story for another day,” says the dragon indirectly. “Farewell my Mexican friend.”
“Adios dragon,” replies Pedro before stepping completely into the shadow of the Bonsai tree.
“The truth,” says the dragon silently, “the truth is, we knew too much, yet far too little,” he adds before laughing in self-mockery and spluttering out a mouthful of Sake.
The giant black reptile continues to chuckle at his own ramblings and the drainpipe drops from his mouth with a clang. The dragon's face eventually turns grave as he ponders on the actual happenings that had seen him live through countless ages, and he thinks long and hard on the actual events that had set the selection process in motion. The dragon begins speaking to an imaginary crowd of people; he imagines them sat around him peacefully, just like they used to around sunset on Xīngzhī yè kāihuā (Star Night Blossom) Hill. The dragon tells one of his most famous and most important stories, a story that maintains his sanity in this strange world of Sake, walls and labyrinths and lonely alleyways. He tells the story of how it all began; a story that began in a time so different that it may as well have come from a different world. A tale of honour, blood and steel. Tales of dragons, the undead, demons, trolls and magic. Legends of love, evil, hatred and bravery. Legends of the Red Sun Village…
100,000 ACE (After Creation of the Earth)
The second age of the Yù Xīng Dynasty
Inside the white mist of the sky, high above a silver spire, a circular cloud holds ground to a young barefooted man harnessing his flow of Chi through guided meditation. He smoothly whisks and wraps white wisps of vapour around his exercise zone with his fingers poised in a rigid pose. His legs move swiftly as they twist and turn, as if his very knees were possessed by that of a steady winding snake.
The green-eyed Buddhist, lower clothed in jade-coloured slacks, manipulates the high winds using Tai-Chi to centre his karma. He breathes steady in the stone cold chill of the sky whilst basking in the warm rays of the yellow sun. Using the surrounding clouds in a display of acrobatic kicks and thrusts, the Buddhist trains in the sacred art of Wushu. Upon landing from a combination of aerial kicks he performs a backflip off the edge of the cloud, landing perfectly on the edge of a thin stretch of cloud above. The bald-headed teen flips effortlessly between the clouds surrounding the mist-covered peak of the Tower of Guāng (Light). Emperor Yu-Huang bounds in vertical strides as he climbs higher into the sky, and the clouds support every pushing step like firm soft cushions until he pushes himself into a vast leap across a great gap of sheer blue. The Emperor remembers his lessons, and all his Mother's training, and he trains hard, and pushes himself until perfecting his exercise. Satisfied with his day’s training, the bare-chested man collects his robe and walks to the edge of the cloud. Upon the highest cloud he looks out and over in contentment as sees his great city in complete view. He closes his eyes and smiles as he listens to the thousands of peaceful voices in and beyond the Huanghua city and outer territories. All is right with his rule, and there is little discord to speak of, crime is minimal, the Liumang prison had never been emptier, even the Pits of Guàiwù remain free from marauders and scavenger dragons. The peace of mind is calming, and the concord of continuing voices quietens his soul after his hard day’s training. The Emperor extends his sight beyond the realm of China, and believes he can sense the same joyous emotion all over the world in all its foreign wonder. Yu-Huang's eyes curiously divert to a section of his kingdom, a long stretch of neatly rowed trees. He scans the area looking for her, but perhaps she has been and gone already. Suddenly his senses return to the here and now as he's alerted to a faint scream. Unafraid, he looks to the sky as a sword-shaped cloud coats him in darkness. The tip of the fluffy dagger turns red as it floats in front of the sun, and a wavy stream of cloud breaks from the tip of the long blade to create the illusion of running blood. The cloud then turns as dark as possible before dispersing outwards and coating him and his Empire in darkness.
“Yuànjǐng (a vision)... Xuè (of blood).... Sǐwáng (death)... Yǔ hēi'àn (and darkness),” says Emperor Yu-Huang, undeterred by the omen.
As the cloud disappears to leave Yu-Huang in a state of deep thought, he feels slight vibrations across the surface of his skin. His sense of hearing sharpens as he listens to every breed of dog whining and howling wildly in fear. The high-pitched sound actually hurts his ears as he squints slightly. The sight of birds suddenly flocking in the same direction distracts him from the extreme discomfort and he looks back as they continue flying over the distant Kunlun Mountains. The vibrations on the surface of his skin become stronger, and as he looks to the horizon of the Great Sea beyond the realm of Japan, he sees it. The blue horizon grows in height as it gradually rises, and in a matter of seconds, his countrymen see it too. The curved wall of rippling water reaches so high he tilts his head to see its white refreshing crest arching below the sun. The white crest sparkles and shimmers below the sunrays and as imposing as it seems, it just doesn't feel too bad a thing to be destroyed by something so beautiful. But as the sheer depth of rumbling rolling water blocks out the lovely light, its beauty is replaced by dark awe, and its vicious motives no longer appear majestic to the gawping spectators. The screams of his people tell him they do not appreciate its beauty as much as he, and he is powerless to save them from their fate and fear. The salt water spray touches his face as the wall of life and death draws closer. Chaos ensues in the cities, markets, hamlets and farmsteads below. Some grab their children’s arms and flee the thundering wave. Others are too petrified to move as they watch the reflective and rippling wave of green cast them in absolute shadow. Yu-Huang watches the suffering of his people as the base of the wave engulfs them in a ramp of white crashing water. The great wall, high-rise tiered pagodas, temples and garrisons, all are lifting or destroyed by the annihilating arch. Only the Tower of Guang stands strong and solid as the bottom of the wave crashes against it. The gigantic curve of water rises up the Tower of Guang until reaching the flush circular peak.
Yu-Huang watches the upward motions of water as time is slowed for him. It was incredible to look upon, like a lateral river of hypnotising calm. Slightly blue at its ascent, with an internal smooth jade due to all the nutrients being drawn from the sea bed. Yu-Huang reaches out to touch it as it slows to arm’s length, and as he drags his fingertips across its surface, he knows this is the end, and not even he can prevent it. As time returns to its natural pace, Yu-Huang disappears in a violent water clash. Yu-Huang suddenly opens his eyes and the bewildered man takes a second to realise that he had experienced a second vision. There is nothing on the horizon but a peaceful stretch of blue ocean, and all of his countrymen are still going about their daily business, yet he can still taste the salt on his tongue. The Emperor breathes slowly with controlled grunts of whistling exhalation as he calms himself.
“What was that?” he asks himself.
The Emperor suddenly looks down at the palms of his hands and notices a dim green light fading from the neat deep crevices. Yu-Huang dismisses the strange occurrence as he appears more concerned about something else. The Emperor stares at the dense circular domed cloud covering the flat peak of the tower one hundred feet below him, and he drops onto it. Whatever resides within the secure confines of that vaulted cloud is far too valuable and far too sacred to gain the trust of the solid security of the ground. Only a few know what lies behind the curtain of swirling cloud: the guardian Emperor Yu-Huang, his mother and father before him, his guardians the now departed five Elder Priests of the first Brotherhood, his friend the Japanese Emperor Tatsu Kazuko and the Black Dragon. Emperor Yu-Huang passes through the thick white mist and lands inside the domed room to ensure its contents are safe and at ease, for he is the closest thing they have to a mother. Yu-Huang knows not where they hail from, or how they came to be, but they are innocent, and believes the innocent must be defended. Yu-Huang smiles in relief at the dormant beings, after all, he's been minding them for so long he feels a paternal responsibility for their safety and well being. For as old as the Emperor is, he doesn't know everything, nor does he pretend to. For man is still fairly young, beyond Neolithic and capable of reason, but not so aged that remnants of the world had not yet forgotten their primordial origins. In a time deprived of technology, in a realm of time considered well recorded, time passes slowly without the aid of technology, as if the sundials were still and every cherished season seemed to last for an age. The people of the Huanghua territories know little of the outside world across the seas, yet there was little reason to.
The environment thrives with life as the people are gracious to live upon it, and the land gives much back to those that treat her with care and devotion. Every seed sowed maintains their simple lives with medicinal herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetation. Minerals and Ore run awash from the distant Kunlun Mountains and livestock breed in wealthy abundance, just as rapidly and healthily as the occupants who work hard daily to provide for their families. Though life is far from easy in an ever growing city; the growth was painful, and though they struggled, it made it more worthwhile to live every second in happiness as Yu-Huang the Emperor filled the Empire with light, warmth and security for the good people of his land in his rule of the Yù Xīng Dynasty. For as advanced as they had become, it’s a slow cycle of life that ensures the survival of the vast population, even though life was far from perfect for some. Yet the less fortunate held onto hope and find reason to endure, for everywhere was beautiful to look upon; remaining loved ones, the rivers, the magic of the four seasons, the hospitable earth accommodating every seed imaginable, the clear lakes and rushing fountains, even the simple open sky of night and day. For some it was their faith in the divine Emperor that gave them hope in this premature world. Yu-Huang treated his people well, and ruled with the highest standard of order without threat of tyranny, oppression or the temptation of greed. Life is simple, life is good, making each and every each day more precious than the last. In every direction, there was some sight to see, some picturesque view worth taking pleasure in; chits, cowrie shells and giant plump goldfish fill the wishing fountains; bright and colourful peacocks strut proudly through the market stalls and communal gardens fanning their tails out wide; huge bundles of black and white fluff sit human like on the soft grass enjoying their green sticks of breakfast. The giant Panda bears of the Chiharu forest love to battle after breakfast. The locals attending their everyday chores often make detours to see the ignorant and friendly bears wrestling and rolling atop each other. With their folded back wings and outstretched necks, juvenile dragons rush overhead the open moors if only to regain their bearings and sneakily snatch a stray cow or two. To the North and West, the Kunlun Mountains stand proudly and intimidatingly, shrouded in mist and mystery as they hide the birthplace of Yu-Huang among the highest of summits. The Lán Lóng (Blue Dragon) and Yīng Zhǎo (Eagle claw) waterfalls stand defiant in protest of those who might wander too far upstream the ever winding Yellow River. To the East, the distant ocean remains ever silent, or wild depending on which of the four seasons graces its unrivalled presence. Behind the great walls of the Huanghua territories, mutual needs form relationships based on trade and demand, and the working class had united for mutual advantage.
Fishermen, Weavers, Farmers, Masons, Woodworkers, Hunters, Musicians, Healers, Blacksmiths, Gardeners and Cooks, all worked together in trade. This was home, nobody knew anything for sure, but this was home, and it is far too difficult to imagine, for anyone to live out their lives anywhere else. The sky gliding stalks soaring beneath the hazy diagonal beams of light bursting through the clouds see the city in their aerial view. They see the endless wall rising and dipping, encasing a city filled with rolling hills, dense forestry, lakes of mirrors, courtyards and lofty Pagoda roofs that dip with endless rows of tiled eaves. The curved eaves grant home to hundreds of swifts travelling back and forth to feed their chirping young. The wall surrounding the outer territories remains guarded by the fifty foot high, strategically placed fortified watchtowers. Soldiers clothed in fawn and jade armour patrol the hundred foot high Huanghua wall; a wall that grows with yellow chrysanthemum flowers in the beginning of spring. The disciplined and battle ready soldiers watch for any form of attack, armed with bow and arrows, spears, and large Dao swords sheathed to their backs, they have never, and will never falter. Smaller forts, watchtowers and garrisons that house high-ranking officers and soldiers break the vast stretches of space. Atop one such watchtower, a clean-shaven soldier volleying a hide-skinned ball straps armour to his chest and relieves the soldier of the watch, an hour late.
The soldier grazes past the late arrival, and does well to hide his anger for the unpunctual and alert soldier. Liu Chan bounds to his post and looks around in paranoia whilst behaving as if he had been there the whole time. The Jade soldier looks to the East just as he always does at the beginning of his shift, hoping to catch a mere glance of the ocean. Just like always, he still cannot see even a mere glimpse of blue. The ocean will always be too far out of sight, regardless of how much he tries to stretch his vision. Liu Chan moves to the other side of the fort wall, and looks west to the Kunlun Mountains at the far-away 100ft stretch river of rapids rushing off the side. Liu Chan listens to the soothing sound of the rushing Yellow river driven by the colossal sized waterfall erupting from the mouth of mount Yīng zhǎo (Eagle claw). The soldier looks back to the East and can only imagine the sensation of ocean spray against his body on a hot summer’s day after a long game of Cuju, but all he has to go by are the tales told by travellers who had journeyed the coastal trail. All one need but do is to the follow the great Yellow River, and they would find themselves at the ocean, something that Liu Chan has long desired to look upon. The distracted soldier marches the fort wall in reverse formation to his more punctual counterpart.
Both monitor the distance just as keenly as one another, but for entirely different reasons. Liu Chan nears the edge of the wall and chips up the discarded ball lying nearby. Toying with its movements in a blasé manner, he volleys the ball into the air then hears a sudden twang of coiled fibre as his ball disappears. Liu Chan looks down and around and eventually notices his ball impaled by an arrow and stapled to the wall. Liu Chan appears angered until his expression turns to one of surprise and sheepishness as he sees the General of the Jade army staring at him as he stands by the steps. General Arachie stands poised with the other shamefaced soldier's bow in his hands, and he stares at the insubordinate soldier with contempt. General Arachie shoves the bow back into the other soldier's chest and storms off to carry out his days inspective duties. The General's armoured boots chink as he continues to the South moat entrance to check on the century guards. Any who near the wide stretch of river are welcomed by the harmonious chiming of the giant cast iron bells lining the wall perimeter. Providing they relinquish any weaponry, caravans and travellers all, are granted refuge into the secured territories. At sunrise, fusions of violet and cerise linger on the horizon, and the city wakes to the sound of Roosters and tweeting sparrows.
Teenagers and children occupy the green and pink petal filled stone courtyards teaching wounded and discarded infant dragons how to fly. They run in circles and lead the winged baby runts to the blustery lush green moors, laughing with their dragon fashioned kites blowing high behind them in the morning wind. The infant winged beasts chase the paper tails of the kites with struggling wings and heavy smoking breaths and try their hardest to remain in flight. In the citadel, a towering, beige and grey bricked Pagoda reaches into the sky. Its girth decreases the higher it climbs with articulately crafted Jade tile roofs and curved overhanging eaves decorate its upward climb into the misty white clouds. The peak of the Tower of Guāng is always shrouded by clouds; one might even be forgiven for assuming that the tower even generates them. The tower is a sight to behold, especially at dawn, with the clouds spread thinly across the dark blue morning sky and the pale shine of the dotted stars. At the base of the segmented tower, a gold and green palace monastery houses the ancestors of Yu-Huang the Great. Pagodas, courtyards, training grounds smaller monasteries surround the long and broad Shinnen temple. At the front of the heavily guarded structure, a wide flight of shallow steps leads a mile down to a large court yard of 10,000 Jade soldiers training in the Eighteen Arms of Wushu. Outside the indestructible security of the giant yellow walls of the Huanghua territories, an extent of peace remains still in this undiscovered age; and to exist in its wonder is peace giving.
The smaller yet still imposing Twelve Temples of the Brotherhood stand erect with various wings protruding from the various tiers of golden curved roofs. Some of the temples are better maintained than others and poses a true reflection on their living conditions and state of wealth. The landscape of the distant and mammoth, brown and grey Kunlun Mountains adds a sense of adventure and awe to the pilgrims who make it safely to the city. Even beyond the mountains, more layers can be seen in the far of haze, with their summits graced with layers of wintery white and lush greenery. Civilians who lost their lands to famine, or had fallen foul of raiders and had lost their homes, all one need but do is make the long journey to the Huanghua city. Nobleman, Peasant, trader or mere drunkard, it matters not, all that pay homage to the Emperor and heed his rule are welcome to begin a new life under his reign. Many arrived under the impression Emperor Yu-Huang might bring them wealth and fortune, others are simply down on their luck and are looking for a second chance. Wanderers, warriors, farmers and great believers in the divine would make the long pilgrimage to the city well-known as "The Land of Pure Felicity and Majestic Heavenly Lights". Many bring gifts to honour their Emperor and lay them at the entrance of the golden flowered gates. But the journey to the Huanghua city is treacherous; to journey from the South often means a death at the hands of raiders, or hiding from scavenger dragons, but the trail from the North means traversing the deadly terrain of the Kunlun Mountains. But those who make it are welcomed with open arms regardless if they arrive empty handed. Many had adventurous stories to tell, sketches of unclassified beasts, dragons and demons they had fought. Others would arrive broken or injured, and had lost their earnings along the way and fallen deep into sorrow or the comfort of Baiju, wine and mead.
More recently, a handful had arrived that spoke of horrors so strange, it was just too difficult to imagine being real, or happened too far away to care or worry about. These less fortunate arrivals, although they had managed to survive the very threats they spoke so gravely of, appeared to have lost their sanity along the course of their journey. Haunted by their own tales, their ability to convey what they saw was limited, and was considered doubtful and who would want to believe such horrors are possible in such a perfect world. These latest rumours were of a disturbing nature and were carried by the mouths of every town gossip; heard by every eavesdropper; passed on by every busy tongued old lady carrying a wicker wash basket; every jolly ridiculing drunkard, and every wise old man that reminds the mocking sceptics that there is more in this world than "what they think they know". The latter are the superstitious folk, the kind of folk that your parents would warn you not to look at, even if they did offer an innocent well meaning smile in passing. But even the wise are fearful and weary, and they are not foolish enough to disregard their concerns for all things that affect their world, for if they did, their words of caution would hold no worth. They are the believers in folklore, the kind of old men and women you would prevent from reciting one fable to reach the innocence of your child's ears, regardless as to its authenticity. They believe in the danger of the unknown, and think nothing of voicing their cautions to those who find it difficult enough to fall asleep without a lantern glowing by their bed side or an incense stick burning by an open window.
The tales not only scared the young, but sent shivers down the spines of the spineless, and secretly crept up the necks of the brave of heart. The horrible tales ceased for a short period, and overtime they became nothing more than campfire stories; stories to frighten the mind of a child into attending to their chores, or to 'go to bed', or to 'play nicely with their brothers or sisters'. They were nothing more than parables of the bogeyman, just another reason for an insecure child not to walk down a dark alley alone. After a much enjoyed break from the unreal and nightmarish accounts, out of nowhere, they reoccurred, and became more and more frequent, to the point where each tale was fresh and recent. And this time, these more recent claims came not from the stuttered and incomprehensible ramblings of a few scared peasants, they were screamed in frantic gasps and tears of despair, from the mouths of mortally wounded noblemen and land owners. As usual, the stories were passed along, not in comical jest, but in worried whispers; tales of the dead. Many attempting a recital of these unique horror stories regarding a plague of “rising dead people” were often corrected at their first mistake... ‘not dead...undead’. Tales of folk awaking from their place of rest, but reawakening not in peace, but in a torment of some kind. The tales evolved as more and more broken families arrived, not only from their homeland, but also from the Islands of Japan.
Tales of crops and livestock dying in the spring season, and a plague that was mysteriously sweeping across the faraway land of Japan. Many still passed these stories of as crazy, insane talk from the mouth of a tired and delusional mind. Only Emperor Yu-Huang paid heed to they're severity when they were brought to his attention by the sceptical voices of his council of High Priest Ministers, and they're first ignorant question as a force was... “why had he not foreseen this?”, to which he did not reply. More rumours spread, of something dark, something evil taking a grip of the land of Japan. Dispatched messengers that had returned from the far ends of China had similar stories recount, of how they arrived at their destinations only to find flames, screams, blood and chaos. These messengers had no reason to lie; endurance was their life. Relaying news was in their blood. For although many chose to use cranes as a preferred method of communication, many still preferred to rely on the sturdy legs of a mounted horse. While some had only witnessed farms and homesteads feeding a wild burning fire, few were actually able to confirm these people rising beyond death without any credible proof. Just one was able to faithfully recreate the day in a frenzied state of terror before the cold clutches of death left his eyes in a widened state of shock before they reluctantly fell. He recounted in detail how the dead were reawakening in decay, trapped in their own walking rotting corpses, wandering aimlessly around in limbo; while others were cannibalistic, crazed, and carnal.
They craved for human flesh, and if any wise man were to believe these stories, then they would question the shaking and malnourished man. They would question as to why there were two variations in these wandering dead, and question they did, but received no explanation. Unable to conclude his tragic tale of horror and finish his warning, his eyes slipped and fell into the eternal silence, finally bringing him peace. The messenger had failed to deliver his warning, simply because he himself did not rise after his death. Yu-Huang's guards had recorded this occasion well, down to every stress of urgency expressed in the dead messenger's frightened stuttered words. Yu-Huang did not appreciate the irony of the messenger’s fate, or the question that remained without so much as a hint for an answer. Yu-Huang forever remained vigilant to the nature of these stories; while his red and green robed ministers remained sceptical, once again underestimating the powers they still, do not yet understand. These Ministers, these Royal High Ministers, loyal they were, but would never learn. Only in a dream would Yu-Huang vaguely remember a fable told by his father regarding the rising of the dead, but that was before he left on his travels to discover the rest of the undiscovered lands: or at least, that is what he was told by his five guardians.