A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 12byTaLtos6©
***This chapter spans about 20 years or so and just a few thousand miles. It'll make sense later, I kept telling myself that when I wrote it. 0_o
Book of the Dragon Part 1
Near the top of a mountain in a river gorge in China, there is an opening from the living rock to the sky. It occurs near what might be called the 'end' of the mountain, for it is where the stone ends and beyond that, it was a sheer drop of two hundred-odd feet to the river below. There are other openings, but they are smaller in size and situated in a long row of the rock face at right angles to the large opening.
If one could stand at the opening and look in, one would see a smooth stone floor, ancient, but still sound with the light of the day coming in through the smaller openings. No animal could get to this place, and so the whole 'gallery' would have been taken over by birds if it weren't for the actions of one human over the centuries. That human changed now and then as the duties exceeded the abilities of the people keeping the birds out and the 'hall' swept and clean.
As one became too old for the task, another would come, mostly from the same small group of families. The birds were relentless however, and always tried to nest there in springtime. They even hung around the rest of the year, for it was a place where they felt safe.
They lived below, those families, right inside the mountain, or -- on the lower face in dwellings carved from the rock. It was part of an old arrangement. The people had a safe place to live in an age where making a living as a river fisherman was a challenge, and the providers of the place received care in the form of humans who would do their bidding whenever they asked, which was seldom. That was the cause of the present difficulties.
Many things had changed over the last millennium or so. There hadn't been any of the threats which had caused the families to want to live there for hundreds of years, and while their homes offered safety, not everyone wished for the life of a fisherman or a fisherman's wife. They hadn't in a long time.
There were many chambers in the rock above the homes of the people there. The knowledge of what was there had passed from the minds of the people generations before, but there was still one middle-aged couple - a man and his wife who knew all of the legends still. They knew what was there, and they used several of the large chambers for their one needs and told none of the others.
It was decided one day at a meeting to leave the place where they and their ancestors had lived for so long. Plans were drawn up and many things argued over and finally agreed to. When the vote was taken, every adult in the 'village' inside the mountain agreed but two.
"We will stay, "they said, "Someone must look after the tombs of our ancestor once you have all gone. We have no children and few ties to everyone here. There is nowhere for us to go or even to want to go. No one but us cares about the old agreements anymore, but we two still keep to the old ways."
When the day of the first large leaving was to take place, several of the larger boats were pressed into service and loaded with the belongings of a few of the families. But as they pulled away and many took their last looks at what they were leaving, there was a sound from the mountain which caused them all to look back, suddenly believing the old legends after all. Thousands of terrified birds exploded from the opening high above and one after another of the older generations in the boats nodded to each other and they all said the same thing.
"She is awake."
After a hurried conference of shouts passed from one boat to the next, they turned back. If what they'd sought to forget or ignore was a fact, there was no point endangering many lives. They waited while the couple who had elected to stay went to learn what they could.
They were surprised to see a pair of doors open which had not been seen to be in that state in many, many lives of men, and a voice beckoned them to stand in the doorway. What they felt as they stood on trembling knees defied description for the severity and awe of it all.
"Where are the people going?" she asked, "What of the agreements?"
The couple looked at each other for a moment. This dialect of the speech was largely gone now.
"Forgotten." The man said, "You have passed into tales and legends."
"Nevertheless, "she said, "the agreements are still in place. No one approached me to ask that they be ended." She held up one claw in thought for a moment, seeking and feeling a little of the world around her, now that she was awake. Many things were an uncertainty now. She thought of herself and made a decision.
"I will remain awake," she said, "and that means that I must either be brought food or I hunt it myself. Where the people who would leave the accords in the dust behind them would go is over a day's trip on the river, and there are many trips to make.
I will allow it," she said, "for there are none who remember or care what was done for them so long ago. But I have conditions and they must be met -- or I hunt what is easiest for me, and that is forgetful and ungrateful humans in boats.
I want some cattle kept here for me, so that I may eat. There was a monastery here. When I last closed my eyes, there were fighting monks training against the day that they and I would be needed. What of them?"
The woman shifted a little uncomfortably on her feet and looked up after a moment, "The day never came, Wise One. The order fell apart after holding to their vigil for over a thousand years."
She opened her reptilian eyes a little wider and took a moment to feel with her mind. "And how is it that you would know this, woman?"
"I am the last descendant of the last monk's family," she said, "I will stay with my husband -- if you would allow it. It was our plan anyway. We know no one in the world outside. We still train," she said, "The threat is long past, but in my family, it has been the way of things forever."
The beast nodded, "Then you have my gratitude, you and your man. It seems that I have awakened just before the end. I am the last, and yet I feel that there is a storm coming. Not soon for your kind, but to one like me, too soon and I am too old now, a little past my prime."
She thought a little more and smiled, "But there is still a way that this may be met, and I do not even know yet if this storm concerns us at all. I will prepare a way, if I can."
She looked at the pair for a moment, "I suppose that if there are no monks anymore and you are all that I have here, that things will need to be changed. It was always done so that each one of my kind had a human rider, but though I can see that you are fit, I am looking a little ahead as I must. I am the last, I think. I cannot feel any others.
Tell me, when the agreement was forged, there were three families who were to provide the ones who would train to ride. Are they still here?"
The man shook his head, "Only a few of one family remain, and they are leaving or wish to. I know what you would ask. None have been prepared as riders for many centuries. There are the parents, and now there are only two children. Sickness took the first. The boy is as any other, but the girl, ... she is one who was born with little in the way of ... I do not know how to say it. She is a little simple."
The old one sat up with a great deal of interest, "Simple, you say? Tell me, would you call her simple, or would you say that she is ... always a little preoccupied in her thoughts?"
He nodded, "I think that is what it is."
"You wish to stay, you said, if I can help with her thoughts, would you raise her and teach her the way? You would still serve in this way and I would call it ended when you pass, ... or I do."
The couple nodded, a little hopeful to think that they might have found a way to raise a child after all.
"Bring me the girl and her parents, and I will see if this may be mended - before my hunger overtakes me and my anger at the forgetfulness and impertinence of the ones who have enjoyed the protection of my kind for countless centuries takes me beyond caring as well."
The parents stood in abject fear, but the object of that fear only smiled at the little girl who stood looking around herself. When her gaze fell on the old one, she laughed a little and began to toddle over.
"Please, do not eat her." The mother said, lacking the courage to go and reach for the child herself.
"I know what is in your thoughts, woman," the beast said, "I know what you would seek to do and where you would take her to sell. I offer something different. You will stay here with me, or, ... you will leave this girl in the care of the pair standing outside the door. You have grown tired of a child who cannot learn what you would teach her. I know the reason for it, and I will give her a much better life."
She looked at the toddler who stood playing with her leathery wing, amazed at the colors there. "Ah, but there is the gold that you hoped to get for her, isn't there?" She moved a little and produced a small bag from somewhere. After a brief look inside, she extended her arm, holding it out.
"Take it, and you are free of your burden. Go and raise your son. There is more than enough here for a good life if you are careful," she said.
"What will happen to Yuan?" the mother asked.
"What do you care?" the old one smiled, "She will have a life, a good one, if I can manage it. Take the gold and she will forget you faster than you seek to forget her. She has a mind, but it is locked.
I have the key, knowing more of you than you know yourselves. She is not the first like this born to your mother's family. Every third or fourth generation, one like this one comes, a boy or a girl. You think them idiots, but your families were chosen for this, to provide riders while mine was chosen to provide mounts. Take the gold and leave, oathbreakers, before I change my mind."
Not long after the last of the boats slid away down the river, the old one looked down as little Yuan slept in her bed, and she motioned the new parents to join her in the stone hallway.
"It is time," she said, "Long ago, I had a male and we danced in the sky for days on end in our joy. I was the youngest and my male did not live through the last battle. I still have eggs, though they are too old now to hatch. There is still life in them, however.
What I will do this night is place the essence of the smallest one next to Yuan's heart. She will know nothing of this and feel nothing, but we will all gain, Yuan most of all. Her mind will unlock for she was made for the way that a rider and a mount can join their spirits. What is different is that the joining will be a lasting one. Yuan will not be a rider. I gain a child who is partly like me. You gain a child with an open mind to raise and teach, and Yuan gains everything that we can give to her."
"You said that she will not be a rider," the woman said, "I do not understand. Who is to ride you?"
"No one," the beast smiled, "And Yuan will need no dragon."
Lozenjellis, over twenty years later.
Well, it was easier said than done just to find him, Monnie supposed. It had taken her weeks to find somebody who knew much more than their own name, and weeks to learn how to get around. Gradually however, she did find a few people who knew something of a man who had lived ages beyond his normal span of years and one or two of them even had a clue as to why.
"He's the undead," was what she'd heard one night in a tavern from an old geezer at a table in a dark corner.
"I don't know what that means," Monnie had replied, "but I mean to fix that for him. I'll make him dead."
"You don't understand, "the man said, "I can tell you a bit more if you'd like, but it's late and I'd best be going. I'm about out of money."
Monnie knew what was being inferred and she called the barman over, "We'll need another two each," she said. "Now, kind sir," she smiled, "I'm hoping that my offering will keep the dust in your throat from bothering you too much for a little while. Can you tell me more?"
"Thanks," the wheezing old man smiled. "There's not many these days who care to know much of what an old feller like me carries around in his skull."
He leaned forward, as though what he was about to say was explosive in some regard, "He's been here forever in these parts. He don't come around all that much, really. If he did, none of us would be living here, I can tell you. We'd all be gone, either dead from him, or just moved on, looking for a place with a bit more safety.
I don't know the name for what he is, but I do know that he don't need to eat much of anything, that's fer sure. Folks say that he drinks people's blood right out of them. He lives on that -- needs it, too. Only he don't bother with us too much around here. "
"How can I find him?" Monnie asked.
"Now what the hell would ya want to do that for?" her companion asked, "You don't look stupid, most folks with a brain want to get as far from him as they can. Like I said, he don't bother with us much, but if the mood takes him and there's somebody close enough by, well there's enough dead folks around here and he just adds to the count."
"I need to find him, is all." Monnie said, "But I don't even know where to start looking, now that I'm here."
"I've heard tell that he has a place here somewhere, but I sure don't know where that would be," the man said. "He spends a lot more time out near old Rogers Lake at the old base there, Edwurs, or something. It's a long ways north of here, but that'd likely be a better place to look.
Listen, I maybe know somebody who does know. You want me to ask around?"
Monnie pulled a silver out of her pocket and handed it over. "Do that for me, if you can," she said, "This is for your trouble."
That took almost ten days. At last, Monnie met another older man at the table in the corner one night, and her previous companion left them alone.
This man didn't ask Monnie why it was that she wanted to find the man. He appeared not to care about reasons, which suited her just fine, though in retrospect, she later thought that perhaps she should have asked him why. But that evening, he passed her some instructions on where to be in the city two nights from then. Apparently the one she sought was expected.
From the stranger that night, she also gleaned a name. Elkington. Purcell Elkington. The bit of history which went along with that was also a little intriguing. Elkington had been born in Liberty, Texas, not far from midway between Beaumont and San Antonio hundreds of years before, in the mid 1940s. He grew up and joined the old United States Air Force -- whatever that had been, Monnie surmised, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Somewhere in that rise, Purcell Elkington had ceased to be a regular human being and had become what amounted to another new word for her.
That was about all that she got, her new informant leaving soon after that. But Monnie found the place and made sure to be there on the right night.
That was how she met Elkington in person. The man who took her money to point her toward Elkington also accepted money from old Purcell himself. Before she could say or do much of anything, he stood behind her and had her arms pinned behind her back. It amazed the heck out of Monnie, since she wasn't exactly a weakling of any sort. He said a few words into her ear, and Monnie fell into a stupor.
As much as she wanted to kill him, Monnie did nothing when he released her, and even allowed herself to be led deeper into the building where she was tied very securely and left for a time.
When she awoke, she was in total darkness. From the way that things felt to her, she surmised that she was naked. After a while, she heard the approach of some individuals and recognized Elkington's voice as he told someone else to light a candle so that she could see. In the dim glow of the light across the room she saw him smile as he looked at her a little curiously.
"Now surely this is a mystery," he smiled, "It happens now and then, but usually women don't try to hunt me down much by askin' around after me. I'd tell you that you're stupid as well as ugly, but then you've probably already had time to come to the first notion, and I'd imagine that you've known about the second one all your life."
He squatted down and reached out to touch her leg. "Damn," he said, "green skin. You're one ugly thing, aren'tcha?"
Standing up again, he smiled, "So what is it that brings you out here from whatever filth pit you crawled out of, Sunshine? You wanted to meet me, I was told, so consider yourself met. What's on your little mind?"
Monnie tried to speak clearly, but whatever haze she was working through in her mind left her far from the witty conversationalist that she normally was -- not that she considered herself to be anything like that. She usually called things as they were, pretty much. "You -- you bring demons, ..."
He laughed, "Is that all? Hell yes, I bring demons, and you oughtta be glad I do. Y'see, I've found that I can get more and better mileage out of the blood of female demons than out of humans. They're a whole lot more fun in the sack too, once you take enough blood out of them to keep them docile. They last a good long while before I need to get me another one.
The only trouble -- and it's no trouble for me -- is that I always drag a few extra along, not that I mean to, but I don't really give a rat's ass, you know? I just ditch those ones. Like I said, it's a good thing for most humans that I've got such discriminating tastes. I wouldn't bother with the likes of you though."
He chuckled as he looked between her trussed legs, "I do have some minimum standards. You might be a little fun to fuck over, but I've got no desire to dick a red-haired, green-skinned rhinoceros, or whatever the fuck you are.."
Monnie had looked as he spoke, and she realized that she wasn't where she'd first been, so not wanting to hear much more of his noise, she asked. He looked mildly offended.
"You're a long way from where you were last night," he said, "Your stage-coach, or whatever that was that you hauled your big ass around in had a few interesting trinkets that oughta fetch a bit of coin. Oh, and don't you bother yourself about them horses none, either."
He winked, "Already dead and slaughtered. My pal, who was your guide by the way, took care of that and sold the meat to a market. I've got expenses."
While Monnie struggled with the loss of her horses as well as everything else that she'd owned, he stood up and stepped closer to lean down, "Don't waste your breath. I know your next stupid question already. I'm not going to do a thing to you. You've got nothing to waste my time or sweat over. I'll take my leave of you now and leave you to the tender caresses of these two twerps, Mutt and Jeff here."
Monnie struggled to refocus and noticed the others in the room for the first time. There were a pair of male demons with him. They didn't look very interested or enthusiastic about much of anything at the moment, though in her stupor, Monnie couldn't tell that it was really a facade. They were doing their very best not to stare. They'd learned long ago not to appear to be too interested in anything around the Colonel because he always took it away from them at some point, whatever it was.
"I read her stuff," one of them said. "What's heaven?" he asked. The other one looked very interested in that as well.
Elkington laughed. "Heaven. You want to know about Heaven? Well, don't worry your pointy little heads over that concept too much, Pixie and Dixie, Y'all just do your little thing to your new girlfriend here, and you'll maybe learn a little 'bout it before she dies. Just do her. She'd probably thank you for it. I don't imagine that she gets much dick of any sort, the way she looks."