The River Between Heaven and Hell (Part Two)

dark water

The Eighteenth Story in the Adventures of the Ambrosial Dragon: A Children’s Fantasy Series

Yao Jin stood on the rocky shore of a nameless island on the River Styx facing the demon. Her sword Demonslayer was drawn and at the ready, and she was desperate to see if the blade would live up to its name.

Demonslayer was a gift from her Grandfather Xun Qin, the most powerful sorcerer in the East for the past twenty generations, and he said it was the sister sword of Stormbringer the soul drinker, both having been forged in the furnaces of Arioch, Lord of Chaos and Duke of Hell.

As the young magician raised her blade, she could feel it vibrate in her hands and it moaned and wailed like a wraith in torment.

“Let me pass demon or I’ll send you back to Hell in pieces!”

She was yelling, though she didn’t need to. She was no coward, but if demons were powerful in the land of the living, how much more so on the River of the Dead and in close proximity to the flames of Hell. Seemingly undaunted by her formidable weapon, the demon advanced on the young wizard, but it looked worried.

In the cave, Landon finally realized that the tiny magic lantern he wore on a chain around his neck was glowing brightly. As he turned this way and that, the glow waxed and waned as if signaling him which way to go. He followed the path which led further underground because the lamp glowed brightest when he faced that direction. If this was the way out, it was an odd one, because the tunnel kept going downward.

The dragon Landon calls Buddy, now a gigantic golden ambrosial dragon, circled in the air above the bare, rocky island in the middle of the River Styx. It was far away from the waters used to ferry the souls of the dead to the shores of Heaven or Hell, the perfect place for demons to spirit away a pair of souls without interference. At the command of the Lord of Hell, the seven demons were charged with torturing the souls of Yao Jin’s grandfather, the great magician Xun Qin, and his nameless master for the magic that would give evil control of the world. It was only a matter of time before they succumbed. What could Buddy do to rescue them?

Unlike the fictional heroines in the comic books and movies, Yao Jin wore full body armor impervious to the demon’s claws or fangs, so thus far, she was uninjured. Only her face and hair were exposed, and she was skilled enough with the blade to prevent her demonic adversary from getting near her head with its attacks.

Demons don’t bleed, but something dark and smelly was oozing from a dozen wounds Demonslayer inflicted on the creature.

“I told you to let me pass, demon! You cannot defeat me.”

“If not me, then one of my brothers, or all of my brothers when they attack.” The creature hissed like a cursed serpent. “I only have to delay you long enough for them to complete their mission.”

Her rage at the thought of her grandfather’s soul being tortured renewed the young woman’s vigor, and she beat back the demon with a series of thrusts and strokes until it fell backward onto the rocky ground. Then Yao Jin stood over it, Demonslayer poised for the finale of their battle.

“Mercy,” it begged.

“Like you showed my grandfather and his master mercy?”

She plunged the sword into where should have been the demon’s black heart. The sword moaned and shivered as it drank…what? Do demon’s have souls? If not, then whatever life force animates such a being was greedily consumed by the blade forged by the Duke of Hell.

As Yao Jin withdrew the blade, she noticed that there was no blood or other residue remaining on it. She also felt a surge of strength, as if some of what Demonslayer had absorbed had been passed on to her as well.

She advanced up the trail toward the distant cave opening at the top of the island. One down. Six to go.

Above her, the dragon continued to circle. With no other demons in sight, he had no enemy to target. It was up to the lone warrior on the ground to lure them out.

Deep in the heart of the island, Landon slowed his walk down to a crawl as he heard horrible screaming just ahead. Up until now, the only light he had was produced by the lamp around his neck, but now there was the glow of fire just in front and around the corner.

He peeked around the corner and in a pit below him, he saw what looked like two chinese men, each shackled to a table of stone. Each man was being presided over by a demon, creatures that looked like the one that had kidnapped the eight-year-old boy from his home.

Landon was terrified. He had fought evil at Buddy’s side before, including dark wizards from another dimension and even a cursed mummy, but this was something else entirely. He had only been studying magic as Buddy’s apprentice for months. The boy was years, perhaps decades away from facing this sort of menace with any hope of escape let alone victory.

The child couldn’t see what the demons were doing to the souls of the two men, but the hideous howling of those souls told him they must be in terrible torment.

High above the island, Buddy could sense Landon was here. “The lamp. The one he wears. Yes, it is here. He is here, but how? Of course. The demons. This was part of their plan to keep me at bay.”

“Landon.” The boy could faintly hear the dragon’s voice coming from the lamp.

“Buddy?”

In an instant, the dragon experienced everything that happened which resulted in Landon being on the island.

“You must do exactly what I say, when I say it. The demons are too preoccupied to sense your presence, but that won’t last long. There’s a chance to rescue these two souls and you are that chance.”

Landon was trembling but he trusted the dragon more than just about anyone. “Oh…okay, Buddy. Whatever you say.” The child huddled in the darkness waiting for his master’s next command.

Yao Jin was nearly to the crest of the island when three demons attacked from different directions. She felt strong, confident, and the sword was singing at the opportunity to take more demon victims.

yao jin sword

Permission: Creative Commons

But while the magician felt she could defeat the three demons, the dragon was not so sure. He yelled from above her, Your cloak, Yao Jin. Cover up!”

Instantly her cloak surrounded her. She crouched down and covered her head and body so nothing of her was exposed.

Believing they had been offered an easy victory, the demon closest to the girl cried out, “Take her my brothers.” All three leapt at the seemingly defenseless Yao Jin.

Demons bask in the fires of Hell, but a dragon’s flame is something else. What in Hell burns on the fuel of evil, is emitted from a dragon as a force for good.

Good and evil cannot co-exist in their pure forms.

An inferno of torment consumed the trio as layers of their horrid substance was incinerated and then vaporized. What was left when the dragon’s flame ceased was barely living ash.

Yao Jin stood unharmed and let her cloak fall across her back, but it was Demonslayer that all but pulled her forward to drink the remaining dark life essence, first out of the nearest demon, and then from the two others.

“Now, Landon!” the dragon cried out. “Rush into the pit!”

The boy was acting out of reflex and adrenaline as he sprang out of hiding and ran down the stone steps into the pit. The demons turned from the souls they were torturing to face him, and it was just then that the light from the boy’s lantern shone brilliantly upon them.

The light carried with it the pain and horror of the death of their three brothers, the agony of being ignited by a dragon’s fiery breath, and then the terror invoked as their lives were sucked from their charred bodies by the cursed blade of the Lord of Chaos.

“Dark Prince, help us. We cannot endure. Save us.” But begging is something their master never heeded, not even from his minions.

The demons crouched in a dark corner of the pit unable to stand the images and feelings they were experiencing, fearing that they too were moral after all. The lamp’s light caused the bonds holding the two souls to vanish and they stood and followed Landon back up the stairs.

Yao Jin faced the final demon who was guarding the entrance of the cave. Demonslayer had absorbed four of his brothers and the strength being emitted by woman and blade made the last cursed being easy prey. It was destroyed and the young wizard’s sword chuckled and shivered at it ate.

The lamp’s light led Landon and the two souls unerringly to the surface to face a victorious Yao Jin.

“Grandfather!” She almost ran forward to embrace him.

“No,” cried the spirit of Xun Qin. “It is not seemly to touch the spirits of the dead.

The dragon landed on a large, flat stone near the two living and two dead souls.

“There are still two demons left. We must escape.”

“Let them come, dragon. Demonslayer and I shall dispatch them with an appropriate message to Hell.”

“No, child.” Xun Qin implored her. “We must escape. The Prince of Lies has many traps. Staying too long makes us vulnerable to them, and above all else, the boy child must not stay in this realm too long. None of you should.”

“He’s right, Yao Jin. Remember, the longer the living are in the realm of death, they too may join them forever. We are in danger.”

“The sword. It’s affecting my mind, dragon. It lusts for more demons.”

While all this was happening, Landon was staring at the enormous dragon who was speaking with Buddy’s voice but not Buddy’s voice.

“Buddy? Is that you?”

“I don’t have time to explain right now, Landon. Just get on my back and hang on. Hurry.”

The child was the first to mount the dragon and Yao Jin behind him. The souls of Xun Qin and his nameless master climbed on after them. The dragon could tolerate their touch, but not for long.

Instantly, Buddy launched himself into the ebony skies above the obsidian river. The two remaining demons, having recovered from the dragon’s spell, emerged from the cave entrance just in time to see golden wings retreat into the distance and darkness.

“The master will not be pleased,” hissed the first.

“Our own torments will be many, brother,” replied the second.

In minutes, the dragon had transported his four passengers to the island of the dead, the place where souls arrived on the river, the terminal where they boarded ferries for Heaven or Hell.

Buddy landed on the side facing Heaven. Xun Qin and his master quickly climbed off of the dragon and down to the shore. The nameless master said not a word but smiled and then bowed at the dragon, the magician, and the boy.

“My master conveys his many thanks as do I. We are safe but you are not. Go, lest an untimely death envelope you as well.”

“Grandfather.” Yao Jin, tears in her eyes, started to climb off of the dragon.

“No, Granddaughter. It is not your time. You have many years ahead. Use them wisely.”

She bowed and then secured her grip on the dragon’s neck right behind Landon.

“Farewell. May your souls find peace.”

“Farewell dragon, child…farewell my dearest.”

The dragon took flight again, soaring ever higher to the point where he and the magician had entered this realm, seeking the bridge back to the human world.

In a universe always dark, a sudden light surrounded and then swallowed them. They were going home.

Yao Jin, Landon, and a still large and imposing dragon stood on a ridge. The air was different from they expected. It was the chill of autumn, not a summer’s afternoon. In the distance there was a bridge across a river leading to a city, but it was not like a city in 21st century Idaho.

“China. My homeland, but not like it is today.”

Agreed, Yao Jin. This is the China of centuries, perhaps thousands of years in the past. We have left the River of the Dead, but we have traveled backward in time for an unknown purpose.”

“You mean you can’t get us home, Buddy?” Landon looked uncertainly up at his nearly unrecognizable friend and master.

“I’m saying we were brought here, Landon. I just don’t know how or why.

ancient china

This is a direct sequel to The River Between Heaven and Hell, Part One, and as you can see, Buddy, Landon, and Yao Jin aren’t out of the woods yet. What happened to them so that they can’t return to Earth in their own time? Why are they in ancient China and exactly when are they? Why has Buddy retained his perfected form as a forty-five foot long golden dragon? The answers are waiting in the next chapters of the adventures of the ambrosial dragon.

This is a series I’m writing for my grandson and so far, each story is a winner in his eyes.

To read the series from the beginning, go to The Day a Dragon Came to Live with Us. At the bottom of that story is the link to the next, and each story in the series has a link to the next one. Keep reading and clicking and eventually, you’ll get back here.

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3 thoughts on “The River Between Heaven and Hell (Part Two)

  1. Now that is a truly terrific sword, not to mention the enchanted cloak to protect Yao Jin. I am not too sure why Buddy became his adult self in the area of the River Styx while Landon did not, though I am sure it is a detail I have missed…the magical light around his neck, perhaps? The newly combined trio going back in time is going to be interesting…I’m just not sure if Buddy is still a full sized dragon, or not, and whether it will last, and whether it will affect Buddy’s maturity level, or just get in his way.. Landon will no doubt gain a good deal of experience in magic from observing Yao Jin, I am sure, while they figure out what got them where they went, and why they are there. It will be fun to see what comes next!

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    • I think Landon being an ordinary moral boy (for the most part) had something to do with it. Except for a few minor differences, Yao Jin didn’t change all that much.

      I’m going into a multi-part adventure where we’ll explore Yao Jin’s “grandfather” as well as the nameless master. We also still need to find out who betrayed and murdered the two ancient sorcerers.

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    • Oh, I forgot to mention, if you clicked on the links at the start of the story for “Arioch” and “Stormbringer,” you’ll see the fantasy series I was alluding to.

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