OMF V1C29 Might Be a Dragon

The next days passed without any incidents. If any dark clouds neared the path of the Zhongs, Qiu Ling waved a hand and sent them away. Like this, one and a half week passed and they reached the forest, that bordered the foothill of the Long mountain range.
Mister Zhong excitedly pointed in front and turned to his son. „Look there! Do you see there, behind the forest? That’s a dragon, that rested there and fell asleep. Maybe it’ll wake up, when we go there?“
Jing Yi froze. A dragon? He looked at his mother. He had never heard of dragons before, but it sounded just as dangerous as a rabbit.
Madam Zhong shook her head exasperatedly. „It’s only a mountain, Jing’er. It’s not alive. No need to be afraid.“ She was a little sorry for having tricked him into being afraid of all kinds of animals. She had just wanted to keep him save, but now her son didn’t dare to step outside. And she didn’t have a good way to let him believe otherwise now.
Sure, she could tell him, that she had lied and that not all animals were dangerous. But what then? Wouldn’t her son lose trust in her? She selfishly didn’t want to risk that. She wasn’t any different from Qiu Ling in that regard. The best would probably be to slowly ease him into being near animals. She just needed a good idea how to do that.
„What are you saying? Afraid?“ Mister Zhong didn’t like, what his wife said. „Let me tell you, Jing’er: Dragons are good creatures! You know, when our empire was founded, the mighty dragon king helped our emperor.“
Qiu Ling lifted his eyebrows. Did I? Why can’t I remember ever helping an emperor?
But Mister Zhong hadn’t even finished: „That is why other countries don’t dare invade. They are all afraid, the dragon might wake up and help us defeat them.“
Jing Yi, too, wasn’t so sure about the story his father told. He looked at his mother for confirmation. Madam Zhong smiled and patted his head. „It’s been a long time since then. Who knows what really happened? But if there are daoists, then there might be dragons, too.“
Qiu Ling nodded and smiled. Indeed. Why shouldn’t there be dragons? Pay them a little attention. Your future husband is one of them!
But unfortunately, Jing Yi didn’t seem that interested in dragons. He just nodded and then trailed along beside his parents.
The three of them entered the forest, Qiu Ling right behind them. The foliage blocked the sun, shrouding them in hazy twilight. Jing Yi looked around, but just noticed, that compared to the forest near their village there was more underbrush, that was rustling here and there, as if wild animals would leap out at any moment. Furthermore, the trees stood so close, that you couldn’t see anything but the trunks around you. There were no paths, except for the one they were walking on.
This forest seems even more dangerous than the one at home! Jing Yi grabbed his mother’s hand and walked a little closer to her.
Qiu Ling smiled indulgently. Ah, I certainly wouldn’t mind, if you were still like that, when you’ve come of age. I’ve always felt it to be a little regretful, that nothing dangerous ever happened in the nine heavens. How am I to show you my might, if you never need my protection? This would be just nice, if it was me by your side. Mn … There’ll be opportunities.
The Zhongs followed the forest track for several days, trying to go on for as long as they could, while still finding a good place to rest for the night. They moved at a slower pace here compared to out on the plain, but still made way steadily.
After another four days, the path started to slowly climb up and slope down again. Again and again. The Zhongs advanced even slower and each day, it got harder to find a good place to rest. It got even worse in the following days. The hills grew higher and higher, until Madam Zhong and her son were out of breath, when they reached the top. Mister Zhong wasn’t faring much better.
It wasn’t just the greater height. The path wasn’t as well defined anymore: Small stones littered the ground and weeds ran riot at the edge. The further they came, the harder it got to find places to put their feet. Mister and Madam Zhong took their son by the hands to help him along, but the three of them still stumbled more along than that they walked.
Finally, they reached the top of a hill, that rose in the middle of a clearing and overlooked the forest in all directions. They hadn’t managed to make much progress this day. In fact, most of it had been spent with climbing this hill. Maybe it should even be called a small mountain.
Looking from there in the western direction, the hills grew even higher, towering over the forest. The jugged stonewalls had indeed a lot in common with the scaly skin of a dragon.
Thankfully, the Zhongs didn’t have to go that way. Their goal lay in the northern direction, where the hills stayed more or less the same, before growing smaller again and yielding to the forest and, finally, the plain.
Seeing this, Mister Zhong sighed. „We’ll most probably still need another two or three days, to get out of these hills, and then another half a week to pass the forest on that side.“
Madam Zhong looked at her son. Jing Yi hadn’t complained even once on their journey, but he was still just a child of seven years and even one, that hadn’t spent much of its time outside. This part of the journey wouldn’t be easy for him. „Let’s stop here for the day, alright?“
Her husband nodded. „Yes. It’s going to be dark soon anyway. We wouldn’t make it down anyway.“
The Zhongs sat down. Madam Zhong retrieved the food, they had brought in the last town, while Mister Zhong took out the blankets, he carried, passing one to his wife and son each.
The air around them grew colder as it got later, but it still wasn’t as cold as it should have been. Of course, this was once again Qiu Ling’s doing. He just couldn’t stand his beloved having to bear the cold winds. He wanted him to be as comfortable as possible even on this journey.
The family ate and the last light vanished. They then lay down to sleep, intending on getting up early the next morning and continuing onward with their journey. They fell asleep, as soon as they covered themselves with the blankets.
Unfortunately for them, before they woke up the next day, the trees at the foot of the hill rustled and soon, steps could be heard. When Mister Zhong opened his eyes, he found himself looking at a foreign man, who had just reached the top of the hill. The man sneered and Mister Zhong’s gaze fell onto the sword, that hung on his waist.
Fate had once again caught up to Zhong Jing Yi and his family.

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