The young sorceress Yao Jin, eight-year-old Landon, and the mighty Ambrosial Dragon stood on a ridge overlooking a valley in what they knew to be ancient China. By some mysterious magic, the trio had been taken backward in time rather than returning home after rescuing the souls of Yao Jin’s grandfather and his Nameless Master from demons on an unknown island in the River Styx.
“Buddy, do you think you can…”
The little boy had turned toward the now imposing and magnificent dragon only to find he was no longer there. In his place, there was a Chinese man. To the child, he seemed about the same age as Yao Jin. He was tall and dressed in what looked like old fashion Chinese clothes. At the same moment, Landon saw that Yao Jin’s clothes had changed, too.
“Hey, what happened to Buddy?”
“It’s me, Landon, but I thought I’d attract too much attention in my natural form so I changed it. I changed yours and Yao Jin’s as well. Now anyone looking at us will see a Chinese man, woman, and little boy, all dressed for this period.”
“And what period do you estimate we are in, Dragon?”
“Six thousand years in our past, Yao Jin. Sometime near 4,000 BCE. The time period known as the Bronze Age.”
“The sun will be setting in a few hours. We must find shelter.”
“Quite true, young magician. We can descend into the valley. There’s a trail leading to a bridge which crosses that river and then enters that rather imposing walled city.”
“Something so large and incredible shouldn’t exist in China’s Bronze Age, Dragon. Are you sure you are right about when we are?”
“Yes I am.” Historians of your world disagree about the nature of China’s Bronze Age, so we can expect to encounter the unexpected.”
“This entire journey is unexpected, Dragon.”
“Let’s start walking, Yao Jin. Also, for the duration of our time here, please address me as Bingwen Lóng.”
“Ha, Dragon. Interesting name. The first word means ‘Master of the Arts’ and the second means ‘Dragon’. Not much of a disguise.”
“It will suffice, Yao Jin.”
“Then let us descend into the valley, Bingwen Lóng.”
“Agreed. Come along Xia Jiuzhou.”
“You, Landon. You need a name while you’re here. I just gave you one. Xia means greatness or grandeur. You should be honored.”
“I’m just surprised I know what you’re saying.” The child finally realized that no one was speaking English. They were all speaking a dialect of Chinese as it existed 6,000 years ago, or rather as it exists now since they were living in this age.
The three began walking down the shallow slope to the road on the valley floor below.
As they walked down into the valley, the Sun also made its descent toward the western horizon. Soon, they had reached the road, actually a well-worn trail through the wilderness, and proceeded toward the river.
“Stop. I have no money. Please do not hurt me.”
They heard his cries from up ahead and around the bend.
“Stay here, I’ll take a look.”
“The hell we will, Bingwen Lóng. Xia and I won’t be left behind like helpless children.”
The disguised dragon was already running forward and called back, “He is a child, Yao Jin.”
Bingwen Lóng rounded the bend and saw four men standing over a youth who was on the ground. No one had noticed his presence yet, as the victim, apparently a teenager, continued to plead with his attackers.
“I have nothing anyone would want. Just let me go.”
“You were heading toward K’un-lun, the mystic city. We’ve heard great treasures are stored there. You take an offering to the immortals, don’t you? Where have you hidden it?”
“I swear I take nothing. I ate the last of my food three days ago. I only go there to study with the masters. I’ve been accepted as an apprentice.”
“Shut up, fool.”
The leader of the four bandits turned to his companions. “He’s telling the truth. He’s poorer than we are. What shall we do with him?”
“Beat him for causing us all this trouble, Qian. At least his cries will be entertaining.”
“I wouldn’t be entertained.” Bingwen Lóng spoke for the first time since arriving, startling the four thieves and the boy still lying at their feet. He’d been there long enough for the sorceress and the child to catch up with him.
“Witnesses. You look wealthy. What will you give us for letting you live?”
Yao Jin leapt forward, quickly parted her robe and unsheathed her sword Demonslayer. “A taste of my blade, criminals.”
The bandits were stunned, reacting as if they were one man, not only because a woman was wielding a sword, but because they had never seen a metal like it before.
She gave a loud cry and charged forward. The bandits scampered up the slope to the right screaming like terrified children.
Yao Jin re-sheathed Demonslayer while laughing. “And they thought they could frighten us.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself, Yao Jin.” Bingwen Lóng walked forward and offered his hand to the frightened youth. “Let me help you up, young man.”
“Thank you, thank you.” He stood and then bowed to the tall man before him, then to the woman, and even to Xia Jiuzhou. “Thank you. Thank you all for saving me. Thank you.” He kept thanking them and bowing until Bingwen Lóng gently took his shoulder to stop him.
“You are welcome, but the Sun is setting and we need to seek shelter.”
“Yes, I go to the legendary city K’un-lun. I have a letter of introduction sewn into my robes so I will be allowed entry, but only those so invited may pass inside.”
“We’ll see about that. What is your name?” Yao Jin was still using a commanding voice. She found the youth annoyed her.
“Chi Peng.” He bowed again feeling confused. The women in his world did not speak forcefully to men, at least in public. For that matter, he had never known a woman to possess a sword, especially one so impressive.
“We’d better go, Chi Peng,” Bingwen Lóng said, interrupting his impetuous partner. “We’ll find a way in somehow.”
The four made it across the bridge and stood at the majestic and imposing gates of the legendary walled city (though of course neither the dragon nor the eight-year-old had ever heard of it before) just as twilight fell.
“Please, my Master. These people saved me from bandits. Can they not shelter in the sacred city for just one night?”
The monk at the gate held what looked to Yao Jin to be an earlier version of a Hoko Yari but it was longer than she expected. What surprised her even more was that the blade appeared to be iron and not bronze or stone. Had iron working come to this part of China so early?
“You are here by invitation, apprentice. Not so these ones. Strangers are not welcome in the sacred city as you should well know. Now come inside. It is getting dark and the gates must be closed.”
“Please, Master,” Chi Peng begged, “For the sake of their child if you will.” The young Chinese man had assumed the three of them were a family. Yao Jin said nothing but felt startled at the thought of being a dragon’s mate.
Landon hadn’t said anything for most of their journey. He understood everything that was being spoken, but the world around him was so unfamiliar and he felt so uncomfortable. Even his friend Buddy was completely unrecognizable, whether in human or dragon form. Was he ever going to get back to his regular life again?
Bingwen Lóng bowed to the guard at the gate. “Honored Monk. Please allow my family entrance to the sacred city. We bring with us no harm and perhaps a boon. We do not come without gifts.”
“Gifts?” The monk was obviously curious at the audacity of the stranger. What could this common man offer the mysterious inhabitants of K’un-lun? Then, as Bingwen Lóng rose from his bow and made eye contact with the monk, something strange happened.
“Very well. You may stay the night.” The monk stepped aside and allowed all four of them to pass through the gates.
Yao Jin whispered to the dragon, “What just happened?”
“Later,” he replied in a hushed tone.
Landon, or Xia Jiuzhou in this case, followed his “parents” into the city.
Past the gates and the walls was a large courtyard. A massive, ornate fountain was just ahead of them. Landon looked closer and there were fish swimming in the fountain’s water. Some of them were jumping up into the air and splashing through the liquid spouts before diving into the depths again. He couldn’t see the bottom so it could be below street level.
They heard the gates slam shut behind them and a strange singing begin to issue forth from the top of the walls.
“The monks sing the night blessing,” their guide said by way of explanation.
There were a number of buildings, great and small on either side, in front and behind, forming a sort of maze. Landon was glad he was with Buddy and Yao Jin. The city seemed strange and scary and he’d be terrified if he got lost here.
The monk led them into one of the buildings. There was a small gathering area with a fire pit in the middle. They walked through this common room and then into a corridor. “The apprentice will stay here for the night.” The monk pointed toward a door on the left. “The family will stay in rooms across the hall. When the gong is sounded, come to the common area for the evening meal.”
Chi Peng bowed to the monk and entered his room. Bingwen Lóng and his “wife” and “son” also bowed and opened the door to their quarters.
Once they were alone, Yao Jin could no longer contain herself. “What the heck happened? Why did that monk let us in? For that matter, what are we doing here anyway?”
“Calm down, Yao Jin. We’re safe for the night. That’s a start.”
“It was a simple matter to allow the monk to sense a small part of my true nature. He understood that I am no ordinary person and also that I am inherently good. This city, this K’un-lun seems to emanate a sense of justice and kindness and also a very great mystic power, though that’s all I know of it. I imagine the monk will inform someone in authority of our presence. After that, I do not know what will happen.”
“Buddy, are we ever going to go home?”
“Yes, of course we will Landon.” The child was seated on a large pillow and Bingwen Lóng sat down beside him and hugged him. Landon buried his face against his friend’s now human chest and wanted to cry.
“It’s going to be okay, Landon. We’ll go home, but we need to do something here first.”
Landon looked up into Bingwen Lóng’s face while still holding him tightly. “What?”
“I don’t know yet, but I suspect we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Yao Jin was pacing the floor. “This is ridiculous. We are not married. How can we sleep together?”
“You were so much calmer and more refined when you spoke to Landon’s Grandpa the other day.”
“Are you kidding? I was just being polite. I’d have thought you’d gotten to know me by now, Dragon.”
“Yes, I think I have. You are a person who serves good Yao Jin, but you aren’t always very patient.”
The young sorceress stopped pacing and looked at Bingwen Lóng. “You have changed too, and I don’t mean just your appearance. As the small dragon the boy calls ‘Buddy,’ you are what might be called cute and sometimes even comical, at least in your speech. Now you seem more mature, calmer, almost serene.”
“Will I ever get my old Buddy back?” The boy was murmuring into Bingwen Lóng’s chest.
“I can’t say for sure, Landon. I’ve gone through some unexpected changes. I don’t know yet if they’re permanent.”
The little boy was terrified that he’d lose his best friend forever.
“To answer your question Yao Jin, as ‘Buddy,’ I was in a transitional form, slowly growing in power and stature toward my final self. I believe the dragon you saw in the world of the dead was that final form, though I’m unclear why I changed.”
Presently, they heard the gong they’d seen in the common area sound. The trio from the future met Chi Peng in the corridor and walked with him. They saw others coming out of nearby rooms who they assumed were also novice apprentices.
The monk they met at the gate was there directing servants who were bringing in a large pot. They suspended it over a fire pit in the middle of the room. Other servants were offering bowls and large spoons to everyone filing in.
“You may now eat your evening meal. There will be no talking among the apprentices and guests. Once you have finished your stew, you will return to your rooms and remain there until the gong sounds for the morning meal.”
They all formed a line and one by one they received a generous helping of some form of spiced stew into their bowls.
The dragon, the woman, and the boy found seats together and ate in silence. Landon saw Chi Peng and he wanted to go over and say “hi,” but Bingwen Lóng looked at him and quietly shook his head. They were supposed to take the monk’s orders seriously.
That night, Landon couldn’t sleep. His bed was as comfortable as the one he had at home, but he wasn’t at home. He was far, far away and in another time. Yao Jin was sleeping in a larger bed in their bedroom while Buddy slept on one of the pillows in the outer room.
Landon didn’t know that Yao Jin was having a hard time sleeping, too. There were so many questions racing through her mind. She couldn’t get over the feeling that this place seemed familiar. Of course, she’d heard the legends about K’un-lun or Kunlun as it’s pronounced in modern times, but in mythology, it was supposed to be a mountain or mountain range, not a city.
The Kunlun legend says that it is the dwelling place of gods and goddesses, where fabled plants and mythical creatures reside. So far, it looked more like a monastery than anything else. She had told all this to Landon and the Dragon when they returned to these rooms after dinner, so they could be at least somewhat prepared for tomorrow. But when the Sun rose again, what exactly should they be prepared for?
Landon woke up, startled by the sounding of the gong. He realized he must have fallen asleep. After relieving himself in the pot in the corner which was placed there for that purpose, he joined Yao Jin and Bingwen Lóng for breakfast, which this morning was a thick vegetable soup.
The monk from the previous night was there and after everyone finished eating, he addressed the group. “You will all return to your rooms until individually summoned. You will meet your Shamans today. Guests will stay in their rooms until also summoned.”
He turned and walked away. Yao Jin wanted to pin him down and question him, but the Dragon’s speech last night about patience suggested she practice it, at least sometimes.
They could hear occasional knocks on other doors, muffled speech, and the sound of footsteps. The apprentices were leaving one by one to be taken in by their masters, the Shamans. Presently, they heard the knock on Chi Peng’s door, directly across from theirs. Yao Jin silently wished the young man good luck with his training.
No one had a watch, but it must have been over an hour after the last novice left before a knock came to their door.
Bingwen Lóng answered it. Yao Jin was disappointed that it wasn’t the monk they were familiar with. Who was this stranger and where was their guide?
The monk bowed and Bingwen Lóng responded in kind. “Please come with me,” the new monk said. He then turned and walked back down the hall.
“Let’s go,” Bingwen Lóng said, and the three of them followed the monk.
They were led out of the building and through another maze. There were several more courtyards, fountains, and Landon saw that some of the fish in them had wings and weren’t leaping so much as flying around the tops of the fountains.
There were hanging gardens with beautiful flowering vines. They saw Pearl and Jade trees, trees that grew what looked like precious jewels, and among all that, common looking peach trees.
The courtyards grew progressively larger and wider as did the buildings around them. Then, after what seemed like forever to Landon, they walked into an incredibly large space, much, much larger than the field behind Grandpa’s house.
Off in the distance was a huge structure, bigger than all the buildings they’d seen so far combined. The building extended upward beyond the clouds. The monk turned to them. “Behold, the foundation of the Palace of Heaven.”
Yao Jin remembered that this was supposed to be the residence or representation of the Supreme Deity Taidi. K’un-lun is sometimes thought of as a pillar holding up the sky, and from this point of view, the sorceress could easily believe it.
Landon had been walking so much, his feet were starting to hurt, and they still had a long way to go before they got to the Palace.
Just when Landon thought they were finally there, the monk led them into a smaller building right before they arrived at the Palace’s massive steps.
“You will take the midday meal here,” the monk announced as they entered. There was a small common room and a pot had already been placed above the fire pit in the center. The monk himself served the three of them but did not partake.
Landon didn’t really like trying out new foods, but this was all they had to eat and he was so hungry. It really wasn’t so bad. It tasted a little like fish, which he didn’t really like, but he finished his bowl anyway. All they had to drink was water, but it had a strange taste, a little like oranges.
When they were done, the monk stood, having watched them eat, and said, “We will continue now.”
He walked out and they followed.
“When do you think we’ll find out what this is all about?” Yao Jin was once again whispering her displeasure to Bingwen Lóng.
“I imagine whenever we arrive at where ever the monk is taking us.”
“That’s not a helpful answer, Bingwen Lóng.” She refrained from calling him “Dragon” under the circumstances.
Bingwen Lóng didn’t reply, and they began their long climb up the steps to the opening of the Palace that was still far in the distance.
Landon felt pretty worn out by the time they finally reached the top step and even Yao Jin looked tired. Bingwen Lóng didn’t seem to be affected at all, but then again, his human appearance was only an illusion. The monk also seemed to tolerate the climb easily.
The opening to the Palace was wider than ten houses just like Grandpa’s and inside was a huge courtyard bigger than a football field. They saw men and women in beautiful, shining clothes. They saw deer and cranes walking about. There were more trees and ponds. They also saw blue and green birds flying, and far off to the right, Landon even thought he saw tigers.
It seemed to take hours to cross to the middle of the expanse, and that’s where the monk stopped. He turned and said, “You will wait here.”
Landon looked up. Instead of a ceiling, he saw what looked like a big, big tunnel or tube going up into the sky. He saw birds flying up there in the clouds and it looked blue beyond, as if the tube had the sky inside it.
A breeze blew across the vast chamber. It felt warm and even comforting to the boy. On the breeze they all heard a voice, that was deep, soft, resonant.
“We know why you’re here. We’ve been waiting for you. We brought you here to help us. A darkness threatens the Palace of Heaven and all of K’un-lun. If the darkness succeeds not only will our world be destroyed but yours as well. We know you serve the good as we do, and we ask for your help.”
“Yes, we are Taidi, Yao Jin,” replied the voice.
“How do you know me?”
“We know all of you, child.”
“How can we help?” It was Bingwen Lóng asking.
“Look!” The boy Xia Jiuzhou was still staring up. Among the light in the sky, something dark was descending. It was falling rapidly. No, it was flying. There were wings. The tiny railroad lantern that Landon wore on a chain around his neck burst into brilliant light and signaled danger.
The voice of Taidi murmured to them. “It is Xian, the darkness, the invader. He threatens to destroy what is light and good. Only you can defeat him, Bingwen Lóng.
The dragon who looked like a man suddenly shrieked as his human form exploded, expanded, transformed. He was no longer a man. He became something astonishingly beautiful. Longer than the height of eight men with a wingspan half again as long. He was covered with large, gold scales. His eyes were sapphire blue, and his cry would frighten the Lord of Hell himself. He somewhat resembled the legendary Lingzhi, the Ten Thousand Years dragon, though Chinese dragons typically don’t have wings.
Landon, called Xia Jiuzhou in this world, finally recognized the dark intruder above and froze in terror. It was a Shadow Dragon, the biggest one he’d ever seen.
“Xian,” said the dragon Bingwen Lóng. “The Shadow Dragon. The King.”
“It is I, Bingwen Lóng. I am glad you are here. I have wanted to kill you for a long time.”
Xian the King of all Shadow Dragons opened his mouth and roared! The battle of titans had begun.
This is a direct continuation of the story The River Between Heaven and Hell, Part Two in my “Ambrosial Dragon” children’s fantasy series. I’ve been writing this series for almost a year now and my grandson Landon loves it.
To read the series from the beginning, go to The Day a Dragon Came to Live with Us. At the end of the story is a link to the next. Each subsequent tale contains a link to what follows. Keep reading and clicking and you’ll get back here.
Yes, this is another “two-parter”. Too much going on to create a single tale. Get ready for more excitement.
The next story is The Palace of Heaven, Part Two.