The abridged opening chapter to the novel – The Long Dragon
Her long snake like body was as supple and lithe as the day of her last reincarnation, and her yellow scales glistened in the sunshine, so that she seemed to be surrounded by an impenetrable halo of golden light.
The only adornment that she wore was a white pearl, set in a gold claw and held in place, under her chin, by a matching chain.
It was a gift from the river gods, at the time of her last re-birth, over a thousand years ago, during the rule of the Xia Dynasty and it had guided her successfully through many difficult and treacherous years.
The pearl had also told her when it was time for the Xia Dynasty to give way to the mighty Shang, nearly six hundred years earlier and it was the pearl that was telling her now that yet another major change was coming, both for her and her Shang masters.
Standing twice the height of a man and with a body five times longer, she was a formidable fighting ‘long’ dragon. Her red tongue flickered, snake like, over her white fangs, which curved outwards from her powerful jaws, and, as she stood silently, the muscles in her thighs flexed and bulged so that each of her legs seemed to pulse rhythmically. Almost in unison, the soft pads of her paws opened and closed, exposing black razor-sharp claws that gouged deep grooves in the hard-frozen earth. Her tail, which was longer than her body, swished from side to side, creating eddies of dust that floated silently upwards in the cold crisp autumn air.
Looking down from her vantage point high on the cliffs that overlooked the Muye valley, Kioh viewed the banks of the Yellow River and watched as the mighty Shang formed their battle lines against the opposing Zhou army. After several hours of manoeuvring and re-positioning the first advances were made by both sides and, as the hand to hand fighting started, so did the killing. She had seen this many time before, over countless years, and waited patiently for the signal that would be her instruction to create havoc amongst her masters enemies.
The pearl around her neck was becoming heavy and the body clock, buried deep inside her, was ticking louder and faster. Her ninth and final re-incarnation was coming and this feeling was making her tetchy and irritable. With each passing moment, the inexplicable urge to seek refuge in the high mountains in the West, was becoming stronger.
The only thing that kept her from leaving now was the knowledge that this would be her last battle. As soon as it was over, her obligations would be finished and she could start the long journey to her sanctuary and get ready for the change that was coming.
The process of rebirth was complex and would involve Kioh going into an almost deathlike sleep while her body transformed into a red fire breathing dragon lord. Once started, and depending upon the circumstances, it could take a year or a thousand years to complete. Given the fact that she would also become a shape shifter, the events that trigger the re-birth would also determine her final form.
The battle below her had progressed and the once orderly and colourful armies were now a thronging heaving mass of shouting soldiers gripped in the fever of bloody hand to hand fighting.
It seemed that both forces were equally matched and despite bodies piling high, no ground was being gained by either side, and Kioh instinctively knew that she would soon be called to break the stalemate.
From the corner of her eye she saw a rocket rise majestically into the sky from the rear of the Shang stronghold, and burst into a cloud of red smoke, that drifted languidly over the battlefield.
This was her signal and with a final swipe of her tail she launched herself down the cliff face, into an almost vertical dive towards the side of the advancing Zhou soldiers. As she hurtled down the slope something snapped in her mind and at the last minute, she changed direction and headed directly towards her master and the Shang army.
Her attack was both unexpected and brutal and it did not take long for the bewildered Shang forces to break up in disarray. Bows, arrows, spears and shields were thrown down in piles of discarded heaps as they retreated back along the valley floor.
The last of the remaining Shang soldiers attempted to surrender and, turning their spears point side down, knelt with bowed heads, to await their fate, which was swift and brutal.
Kioh watched with growing disgust as the Zhou soldiers advanced and, without mercy, systematically decapitated the defeated warriors, throwing their still twitching bodies into the Yellow River, which was now slowly turning as red as its banks.
With all resistance overcome, the Zhou’s king gathered his generals around him and Kioh listened to their raucous laughter and rowdy comments as they celebrated their victory and, for the first time, she felt a new emotion.
It was a sense of shame.
Having seen so many of these battles, there was, at last, a final realisation that war and killing achieved nothing.
Without a second glance, Kioh turned her back on the carnage and unnoticed she walked swiftly out of the valley, towards the open windswept plains of the west. Not stopping to feed, she continued for fourteen days and nights, following the contours or the river valley, pausing only long enough to get her bearings and a quick sip of water. Her body ached, not from the fatigue of her journey, but from the changes that were already beginning to take place inside her.
The sense of urgency to reach sanctuary dominated her every thought, so that as she started to climb higher, she missed the first warning tremor in the ground that sent a small shower of pebbles down the mountain slopes.
However, the further she climbed the more she became aware that there was something wrong. It was the unnatural silence, almost as if the world had stopped breathing. Nothing moved, no birds sang, and even the wind had disappeared. Pausing, she listened intently, with every sense on full alert.
Still hearing nothing, she took a moment to look up at the mountain peaks that surrounded her and was almost overwhelmed by their beauty. Silhouetted against the clear blue sky they were draped in cloaks of deep snow that sparkled in the sunlight, sending bursts of rainbow colours across the valleys below.
While she continued to gaze up in rapture, there was a deep rendering noise and the ground beneath her feet began to shake and shudder with increasing ferocity. Her claws instinctively extended but found nothing to hold onto so that she found it difficult to remain standing. Rocks and small boulders came hurtling down the path towards her and bounced off her steel like scales.
Then, just as quickly as it had started, the earthquake stopped and silence returned only to be replaced moments later by a new and deeper sound that emanated from much higher in the mountains.
Looking back up towards the source of this new sound, she could see a black line appearing at the base of one of the larger snow drifts that skirted the mountain peaks, and, as she continued to watch, it started to widen, like the mouth of a grinning giant.
The whole snow drift began to move. Slowly at first, but gradually picking up speed, millions of tons of snow and ice slid down the mountain side, directly towards her.
Kioh realised almost immediately that she could not escape the approaching avalanche that was sweeping all before it, and with a sense of finality, she closed her eyes and was instantly overcome by an overwhelming feeling of calmness. The pearl around her neck started to vibrate again and instinctively she knew what she had to do.
Almost in slow motion she circled a few times and then placing her armoured back towards the advancing wall of snow, she crouched down and curled into a tight ball, wrapping her long tail securely around her relaxed body.
With a roaring in her ears, the first wave reached her and she felt it flow over her like water. It crackled and groaned as it settled tightly over her coiled form, entombing her deeply beneath layer after layer of soft white crystals.
The light gradually faded to darkness and unable to move, Kioh deliberately slowed her breathing, until it appeared to stop completely.
High above her the snow drift settled into a quiet splendour. The sounds of nature returned and the sunlight reflected harshly from the surface of the new snow field. Days turned to weeks and autumn turned to winter. The seasons marched on in their natural cycles and over a millennium the story of Kioh faded from the history of man.
But now, under the deep blue ice, there was an awakening!
Mike Wall – 06/02/2019 – 1500 words