“Under the previous king’s reign — or it should already be the reign of the king before that — there were regular skirmishes and wars with the demons despite the long stretches of peace that he also managed to secure. Anyway, it was still a time of unrest and while people could hardly notice that in the capital city of the dragon realm, it was a different matter altogether in the regions further away.
“Especially those that were closer to the borders were often the goals of these attacks. While the king did station soldiers there, it was hardly predictable when and where an attack would happen so the dragons were not always victorious and often even suffered grievous setbacks.
“This is something that cannot be blamed on the dragon king. Depending on who ruled in our realm and who ruled in the demon realm, there were always different strategies implemented. In fact, the king that ruled back then was a very good monarch and one that the dragons cherished very much. He was also very distressed about what was happening in the border region so he tried to think of something to help his people out.
“He thought to himself that it would be for the best to find out more about the situation first and then act. Because he was needed in the capital city to rule over everything and maybe go to the battlefield if it was required because of a large scale attack, he sent one of his disciples to investigate the situation. This disciple was supposed to bring back anything he could find out about the situation of the villages along the border region and the situation of the demons, as well as anything else he discovered that might help them with solving the situation.
“Since it was his Master’s order, he naturally went out and did as he was told. Unfortunately, the situation turned out to be more grave than he had expected. Not only were the demons close by, lying in ambush for their next attack, no, there was also something else that was making the situation more difficult.” Qiu Ling fell silent, and the two of them walked on in silence for a few steps.
Jing He glanced at Qiu Ling, wondering if he was waiting for him to say anything. “That’s … What could’ve been the reason things were more difficult than expected?”
Qiu Ling gave a slight smile. “Well, as it turned out, the reason while so many had fallen victim to the demons’ attacks was because they had no way to flee. Very close by was a forest. Because of the layout of the region, it was a place that they definitely would have to cross if they wanted to flee in the direction of the capital, where the demons wouldn’t be able to reach them and they would be able to acquire help.
“Unfortunately, there was something in these woods that made it almost impossible for them to cross them without having to fear for their life: A mythical creature had made them its home. Thus, their only way to freedom was blocked. In other words, the dragons were trapped in their villages, forced to wait for death.”
“That sounds horrible.”
Qiu Ling nodded. “It certainly does. One doesn’t even want to imagine what it must feel like to be in that situation. Anyway, this at least told the king’s disciple what he needed to know. As long as he was able to get the information that this creature was living there back to the capital city, then his Master could send somebody to take care of this. After all, wasn’t it just a matter of exterminating the creature or making it leave the woods and go somewhere else? That could certainly be done.
“As it turned out, things were not that easy. Just when he was asking around to inquire for some more information, there was another attack by the demons. The dragons were his own kind, so naturally, he couldn’t just watch as they were killed off. He didn’t have it in him to hold back and do nothing so he got involved in the fight.
“While he fought valiantly, he was but one person added to their side. He and the villagers naturally weren’t able to resist against an army of demons that even had an easier time getting reinforcements.
“Badly hurt, he finally led them into the forest, not bothering about the danger waiting for them. Anyway, it was but one creature. That still seemed to be easier to deal with than a whole army even though it was more dangerous than any of the demons by itself.
“The demons did not follow them. In that regard, his decision might’ve been the right one. At the very least, they did not have to watch their backs so much anymore. Now, all that was left was to either find a way through the forest without meeting the creature or to somehow defeat it and free the villagers from it once and for all.
“For a while, it seemed as if everything was going well. They had yet to encounter the creature and the demons were still not following them. Unfortunately, things didn’t stay that way for long.
“Soon enough, the king’s disciple could hear sounds not far from them. His expression turned dark but what was he supposed to do? He pointed the villagers in another direction and then went to confront the creature alone. From what he had heard, the villagers were unable to defeat the thing even with all of them together. Thus, he could only hope that he would be enough to stall it for a while because of the training he had received from his Master. At least, he needed to hold on until the villagers were able to alert someone else who could render their help.” Qiu Ling made another pause and turned to look at Jing He. “I guess you can imagine what happened then?”
Jing He shook his head. “It is not that easy. I think that the idea that he might be able to defeat the creature based on the fact that he is the king’s disciple does have some merit. After all, he should be stronger than the average dragon, shouldn’t he? But then again, this creature sounded very vicious. Maybe just one person alone wouldn’t be able to do anything about it regardless of their skill level.”
Qiu Ling nodded again. “That is right. He was stronger than most people. Unfortunately, what he had to fight that day was a mythical creature which isn’t easy to kill either. And he had already been tired out by the fight with the demons. So soon enough, he reached his limit.
“He was unable to fight any longer and could only try to flee. So far, quite a bit of time had gone by, so he was hopeful that the others would have been able to make it out of the forest by now. After all, they had known that he would not necessarily be able to hold on. He could only hope that this was the case and then go off in yet another direction. After all, the mythical being would either follow him and try to finish him off or go where the others had just disappeared to and try to hunt them down. After all, this forest was its turf and the demons were far outside. So they, out of all the people involved, were the only ones safe.
“The disciple’s thoughts had been quite right. Soon enough, he found himself trapped by that beast yet again. He did not want to die but he also knew that there did not seem to be any other way. Thus, he took on his other form that he had been avoiding previously because he wanted more room to judge the creature’s attacks. Now though, he was already tired out from the fight before and not as nimble anymore. Dodging any longer wouldn’t be possible so he could only try to use his last strength.
“He continued to hold on for a while but finally, he could not go any further. His limbs refused his command and he fell down. He lay on the ground, staring up at the creature and waiting for the last hit that would end his life.”
Jing He looked at Qiu Ling with some worry as if this wasn’t a story that had happened so maybe millennia ago. “He didn’t die, did he?” What kind of story would this be if the hero died? Why would the dragons remember it if that was the end of his fight?
Qiu Ling shook his head. “That’s true. I probably wouldn’t have dared to tell you the story of that was what happened anyway.”
“Then how did he get out of that situation? He had already used the form he was strongest in. Was there anything else he could have done?”
“There was not. He really was in a grave situation looking at it from that way. Thankfully, there was somebody very worried about him. Unbeknown to him, his Master’s other disciple had followed him to this place. Just when the creature was trying to finish him off, this other disciple finally showed his hand and got involved in the fight. He did not manage to kill it but he was at least able to push it back for a moment. That was long enough to grab his fellow disciple and then run off with him, hiding at a place he had found previously.”
“Did the two of them manage to make it out of the forest?”
Qiu Ling glanced at Jing He and gave him a sly smile. “Eventually. But until then … The first disciple’s wounds were grievous so they needed to stay there for a while. His fellow brother took care of him. He tended to his wounds, found food for him, helping him to slowly get back to health while he guarded him at all times.”
Jing He requited Qiu Ling’s smile with one of his own. “Who would’ve thought? The story actually turned out to be a love story.”
“I guess I figured that was what you wanted to hear. After all, wasn’t Tian’s story one as well?”
Jing He nodded. “That is true. I guess the stories of our races aren’t that different in that regard. Maybe just the way they begin is different because of our races’ differences.”
“That may very well be.” Qiu Ling stopped and then motioned forward. “That over there looks like a Lake. It seems very nice in the dark, doesn’t it?”
Jing He looked from Qiu Ling over to the lake. He didn’t quite know what to say. The lake was indeed beautiful, the surface shimmering with the light of the stars that it reflected. But … he really didn’t dare to think about just what Qiu Ling had meant when he mentioned it. He couldn’t want to go over and then … do what?
Jing He really did not dare to think of any option. Because regardless of what it would be, he knew if his father heard, he would definitely be against it. It couldn’t be any other way.