Qiu Ling recoiled but it was already too late. He had seen. He had seen it again.
He closed his eyes and coiled his body but the image haunted him. Those scales that were of the same beautiful black as his hair … and the markings that blemished them. Those markings that no dragon should ever have.
And even worse … Qiu Ling extended his head from under his tail and took another look at the pearl. A pair of eyes stared back at him that wasn’t of the beautiful black color he was so proud of. At least one of his eyes wasn’t. Instead, it was a deep crimson.
As bloody as the scene he had tried to forget all those years.
He shivered, blinking his eyes in rapid succession as if he could make it go away. But he couldn’t. He still saw the blade flash in the sun, still saw her widening her eyes in disbelief, still saw the blood dripping down onto the already crimson ground.
Qiu Ling shuddered, opening his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see these images anymore. He stared at the shimmering pearl instead, that red eye reflecting back at him. Qiu Ling’s brows furrowed and he gave an angry yelp. He rammed his tail against the pearl, shattering it into hundreds of small shards that glinted in the light.
Qiu Ling watched them drift in the water, some of them being washed away several meters before they slowly drifted to the ground. Sand covered them, making sure the smooth surface couldn’t reflect any longer.
Qiu Ling still stared at the ground, his tail uneasily swishing from side to side. There wouldn’t be more than that one around, right? He glanced around only to stop the next moment.
There! Wasn’t that the herb he had so desperately searched for? It looked just like in the book: Kind of like seaweed just that it was of a silvery-white color and glowed gently. It also gave off a sweet scent just like the book of the Grandelder had said.
The herb must have been hidden below the shell before. That was why he hadn’t been able to find it. Qiu Ling heaved a sigh of relief, making herbs sway in the current. He held his breath when he saw and carefully curled his body around the spot. He couldn’t let anything happen to it! He had had that much trouble finding this single stalk of herb, he definitely couldn’t let anything happen to it.
Qiu Ling carefully concentrated his spiritual energy on the herb, pushing the sand around its roots away and lifting it out of the ground. He stared at the herb, wondering what to do with it. In this form, he couldn’t use his spatial ring to keep it safe. Holding it in his claws might hurt it though. After all, this thing was really delicate.
Qiu Ling stared at it and finally opened his maw, carefully placing the thing on his tongue. Then … he turned tail and fled.
This Glowing Sea or whatever, he couldn’t stay in there for even a moment longer. He had to get out. He had to get back to the surface and take on his other form again. He waved his tail, propelling him further and further through the water but the fluorescent herbs down below him were still the only light source around. They shrouded his figure in twilight, making the stretch of water before him seem ink-black as if there would never be an end to it.
Qiu Ling’s brows furrowed, his claws curled and scratched over his scales, leaving deep lines. He didn’t even notice. He wound his body, trying to advance forward. The lights behind him finally died out and he was swapped up in complete darkness.
He wanted to heave a sigh of relief but from far away, a faint voice called out to him.
“Ah Ling, what are you doing? Come with me, home to my family, home to your family. We can start a new life! I promise you will love it there!”
Qiu Ling’s tail stopped moving and he paused in the darkness, staring straight ahead. Home … What home did he have? The one he had known had been taken from him. The one he had got used to had been burned down. Nothing was left. Nothing. So where should he go to?
The voice didn’t stop though. “Don’t think too much. This … This is what I had to do. You shouldn’t mind it too much.”
Ah, what a thing to say! Was there really anything anyone had to do? Wasn’t there always another choice? But then again … Which choice had he himself had?
Qiu Ling pressed his eyes shut and shook his head. You’re dead. So why don’t you stay dead? Nobody cares about your opinion!
Unfortunately, he couldn’t say that thought out loud if he didn’t want to risk the herb. Well, even if he said it, what would it change? Nothing. Nothing at all.
He puffed out a deep breath through his nostrils and his body started to shrink, the claws turning into nails again, the scales receding until only skin remained. He hurried to take the herb out of his mouth and threw it into his spatial ring.
The water tugged at him, making him sway from left to right, back and forth, trying to make him transform back. Qiu Ling furrowed his brows, kicked out with his feet and once again shot toward the surface of the water. The herb was safe. Now, he only had to save himself. If he could do that without having to hear that voice again …
He rushed as fast as he could but the water called out to him, trying to entice him. Half his strength was zapped resisting and the darkness around him still hadn’t receded.
He forced himself to go forward and finally, faint lights appeared above him. Qiu Ling almost heaved a sigh of relief. He pushed on but his last strength ran out. He extended his arms but couldn’t do anything. He lacked the energy to go on.
The waves toyed with him, throwing him around, letting him tumble from one side to the other until he was finally washed ashore.