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Fire Bird

The Immortals Collection

By Victoria CagePublished 7 months ago 43 min read
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Drawing by @victoria.cage.3056 on Instagram

“Did you bring everything?” A dark haired man growled with one hand on the steering wheel. He looked through the rearview mirror at his son, who leaned against the back car door and stared out at the passing trees.

The man turned to his wife who looked just as tense as he felt. “It will not be too far, now.”

She nodded, although his words didn’t ease her. “Today is a day we have all been waiting for…” She muttered. “Today will go down in history. I just wish my mother could see it.”

“Yes.” The man looked back at his son. “Our family has been waiting for this Trial for many years.”

“Yeah, I get it. No pressure or anything.” His son retorted without removing his gaze from the passing forest.

His father barked an order in his native language, causing his son to tense and look up.

“Alright, alright, no need to pull the Cantanese out on me. I get it. It’s important…” He slumped back in his seat. “But did you seriously have to take me out of Finals? I—”

“Jian, enough.” His mother ordered, slamming a fist on her knee.

Her husband gave her a sympathetic look. “We are stressed already, Jian. We do not need your snarky remarks.”

Jian crossed his arms and fell into silence. Although he tried to hide it, he was terrified. His heart beat against his rib cage like a prisoner willing to be free. His whole life had been leading up to that day, the Trial of the Flame. His family had been training for decades to prepare him for the fight of his life.

The Trial of the Flame was an event that anyone apart of the Lóng Huoyàn had been looking forward to for a century. A fight between every child in the community would happen during the Trial. Last one standing becomes the next Holder of the Dragon Flame.

Jian felt his hands tremble but he quickly curled them into fists and prayed his father didn’t see his brief sign of fear. His whole life his parents trained him until his bones broke and his knuckles bled. They taught him that nothing was more important than the Trial, especially not unnecessary distractions like friends, pets, and even family. Who was he kidding? The people who sat in the front of the car driving him to his possible death weren’t his parents. They were his mentors. His trainers.

Nothing was more important than today. And what frightened him the most was—after today, if he lived, he had nothing left to train for. If training was his life, then he wouldn’t have one after the Trial, one way or another.

He lightly kicked his backpack which held all of the few essential belongings he owned. He took nothing but clothes, water, a GPS, some granola bars, and an extra pair of shoes.

“You have been prepared, Jian.” His father suddenly said.

Jian frowned as he examined his father’s face in the rear view mirror. He had cold black eyes and an old scar on his bottom lip.

Jian placed his hands in his jacket pockets. “You wish I was older. More experienced.” He guessed.

“Yes.” His father admitted. “But who does not? We have done all we could to guide you. Now it is the test of if you will prevail or fall.”

They pulled to a stop at the base of a mountain.

“Did we hit a dead end?” Jian questioned as his parents shut off the car and slid out. His heart sank when he saw his mother mouth the words, ‘we are here.’

He hopped out of the car with one backpack strap slung around his shoulder. “What do you mean? We’re in the middle of the forest—”

“Jungle.” His mother interrupted. “And The Trial starts at the top of this mountain.”

He looked up at the massive mountain and held back a shiver. This was his last walk with his mentors; the last few steps he would take before his life would change.

“Come, Jian,” his father called as he started up the grassy path that circled up the mountain like a spiraling staircase, “take the Last Journey.”

Pink and white flowers sprung from the side of the trail. Jian almost picked one up as they walked, but his mother gave him a harsh lecture in their native language. So, don’t touch the traditional flowers, was what he learned. He inspected the footprints on the bright green grass and tried to count how many different sets there were.

Butterflies fluttered more and more violently in his stomach the closer they got to the top. He constantly adjusted his backpack and clenched his fists. As a kid, he would pester his mentors with questions about how The Trial would be like, and all they would say was: ‘you will see.’ That wasn’t exactly comforting for a child to hear, but as the years went on, he realized that they didn’t even know what was going to happen either.

“Look, Jian, we are here.”

He glanced up at his father’s voice as they came to the end of the path. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped at the sight before him.

The mountain opened up into a huge valley, where hundreds of families filed about carrying dragon flags and fireworks. A few traveling shops which sold Trial souvenirs were parked in rows, decorated with red, golden, and white banners.

Jian’s father had to drag him through the mess to get him to move. He nearly collided with three women dressed in one giant dragon costume, and a man spitting out gasoline into a lit torch. The blue flames from the torch ascended into the air to form the shape of a wyrm.

“Did you see that?” Jian asked into his father’s ear over the noise of the celebration. “How did he do that?”

“Do not become distracted. You are here to fight. Everyone here is your enemy. Do you understand?” He turned to face his son once they found a spot away from the crowd. His eyes dug into his apprentice’s.

“Yeah…” Jian muttered in disappointment.

“You will have plenty of time to celebrate once you win.” His father headed toward a set of chairs with a white sign labeled ‘Takahashi,’ their family name.

They took a seat silently and watched as the crowd slowly dispersed into their own sections. Families like the Cheongs and Rens were packed in their own sections. They had cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents fill the chairs to the point where most had to stand.

Jian felt more alone than ever. To see so many supporters for their Chosen, the child they chose to fight in The Trial, made him feel small. He knew only one family would be proud to say their son or daughter became the Holder. Everyone else would leave in sorrow and defeat.

His heart skipped a beat when he saw the last remaining member of the family Wong step forward in the middle of the mountain where everyone could see him. The crowd instantly became silent. The house of Wong was the last family to have a Flame Holder. They won twice in the last two hundred years. If you looked up the word ‘honor’ in the Lóng Huǒyàn dictionary, a picture of the Wong family would show up.

“It is my pleasure to announce the day of The Trial,” Ji Wong boomed as the audience cheered. He waited for them to calm down before he started again, “every family here has trained for a hundred long years. Today is the day that training is put to use.” Ji slicked back his gelled black hair and straightened out his traditional red Wong family suit. “My family, as you all know, has won two Trials in a row. This year will be no different. I proudly present my son, Sheng Wong,” he motioned to an almost empty section with the ‘Wongs’ written on a sign next to it.

A tall, muscular young man, a year or two older than Jian, stood proudly. He had short, spiky black hair and small, coal-like eyes. His right arm was draped in two golden bands, one of each Trial his family had won. His bicep was so huge, the bands looked as if they were going to rip if he dared to flex.

Jian leaned next to his father’s ear, “I thought the Wongs didn’t have a Chosen for this Trial.”

“That is what Ji said,” his father growled. He clearly wasn’t happy about the arrangement.

The entire atmosphere of the audience died down to shock, concern, and pure fear. These people thought they actually had a chance, Jian thought. He tried to guess what his mentors were thinking, but they hid whatever it was with a poker face.

“What’s going to happen now?” He dared to ask.

“Nothing has changed. Just one more enemy to fight.” His father whispered without looking at him.

Jian nodded and leaned back in his chair. He watched as Sheng sat back down in his seat. The audience was deathly silent. Some had even dropped their banners. This is exactly what he wants. Jian frowned. He’s getting into their heads. He’s trying to win before the Trial even starts.

Ji kept a smile. “Now, send your Chosen to the center of the mountain and I will lead them to the weapon room. When you hear the Horn, that will be the start of The Trial. Whoever finds the Heart of the Dragon first is the next Holder. Remember: some have lasted for weeks, so sit tight, camp out here, and the Champion will appear to us.”

Slowly, one person from each family stood and filed into the middle of the mountain where Ji waited.

As Jian stood, he felt his mother grip his wrist.

“Remember what we’ve taught you, Jian-Long.” Her hold on him tightened and her face was pale. She hadn’t spoken his full name in years.

“I will.” Jian assured her. He waited for her to release him when he turned and dipped his head in respect to his mentors, “thank you for being my teachers.” With that, he turned and joined the other Chosen.

They followed Ji through the mountain pass. The families disappeared out of view. A woman in her 20’s bumped her shoulder into Jian’s as she passed and gave him a glare. He just returned her cold stare with his own until she turned away from him.

At some point, he ended up in the back of the group. He muttered, “wish they let us take our packs with us…” under his breath.

“You wouldn’t need a pack if you really were meant to be the Holder.”

Jian looked up to see someone else trailing in the back with him. “Ah, Sheng.” He greeted grimly. “I thought you would’ve been in the front.”

“Why? The leader of a pack of wolves always travels in the back.” His voice was surprisingly deep and scratchy for his age.

“Guess I’m right where I belong, then.”

“You’ve got some nerve. Because of my family’s training, we’ve been the Holders for two hundred years.”

Jian could feel his hands itching to punch Sheng’s perfect jaw. “I think it’s time that changed.” He held his glare once they stopped at the Weapon House.

“You’re no threat to me, gāo yáng.” Sheng curled his lip. Gāo yáng meant ‘lamb’ in their native language, and it was one of the biggest insults to give to a warrior in training. “I have everything I need to win, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.” With that, he maneuvered his way to the front of the group with his father.

“You have five minutes to go in and grab a weapon. You can only choose one. Whatever you grab, you can not return. When the timer runs out, I will blow the Horn, and that’s your cue to make your way down. You may not touch each other until you’re off the mountain, are we clear?” Ji explained.

“Yes, sir!” The group yelled simultaneously.

“The timer starts…”

Everyone in the crowd tensed and got ready to run as Sheng joined them. Jian caught Sheng smirking at him for a moment before he turned and prepared himself.

“Now!”

They burst into the Weapon House, pushing and shoving their way forward. There were two levels filled with staffs, knives, swords, spears, bows and arrows, and axes, but no one seemed to notice the staircase at the end of the first room.

As the first floor was being cleaned out by shouting Chosens, Jian sprinted to the stairs, praying there were better weapons there.

He skipped two steps at a time and examined the room he had entered. Spears were set on the table in the center, bows were hung on walls, arrows were stuffed in quivers, but the thing that instantly caught Jian’s eye was the glass case at the end of the room. A long silver broadsword glinted in the lantern light and practically begged him to take it.

He dashed toward it and opened the glass case. He reached out with his hand, but right before he touched it, he saw a movement in the corner of his eye. He instinctively twisted out of the way to avoid a fist.

Sheng grinned at him. “You’re quick. I’ll give you that.” He reached into the case and grabbed the sword. “But you’re awfully stupid.”

“Hey, I saw that first!” Jian snapped as he took a step toward him.

“Yeah, and I took it first. Rules are rules.”

Jian’s nails dug into his palms as he watched Sheng saunter towards the staircase.

“I don’t need a big ass sword to beat you!” He called as Sheng started down the steps. He growled irritatingly under his breath.

From outside, he heard Ji blow the Horn. Time was up. “Shit!” Jian raced toward the door, grabbing a spear on the way out.

By the time he exited the House, everyone was already climbing down the mountain. Ji raised an eyebrow and looked down his nose at him. “You better hurry, kid.”

“I know!” Jian snapped. He ran to the side of the mountain and looked down. There was a branch that stuck out not too far, but farther than the rest of the Chosen.

He leaped off the edge and fell toward the thick branch. He briefly saw shocked and annoyed expressions as he passed them before he stuck out his free hand and caught hold of the branch. He braced himself so he wouldn’t feel the pull on his shoulders once he grabbed it.

He looked up to see the rest of the group picking up their pace as they descended down the mountain side.

He smiled in his small victory and quickly started climbing down as well. He still had a long way to go, and there wasn’t anywhere else safe enough to fall to.

As he found footholds in moments, he kept an eye out for his competitors. Climbing was strongly emphasized in his training, and now he knew why. His mentors knew that he had to descend the mountain, and they wanted him to have a good start to The Trial.

“Some trick you got!”

Jian would look up to see who the voice belonged to, but he already knew. Sheng.

“You can’t touch me, Sheng. Not until we reach the bottom.” Jian called over the wind.

“You’re right. With your climbing skills you’ll reach the bottom very quickly.”

While Jian looked down for another foothold, he felt a sharp pain in his free hand. He glanced up abruptly to see Sheng raise his leg for another kick to his hand.

“See you on the ground!” He shouted as he brought his foot down on his opponent’s hand.

Jian yelped loudly as his hand instinctively let go and he tumbled down the mountain side. The air screamed in his ear as he looked around for something to grab onto while he neared the jungle.

A large tree with long arms stretched toward him. He quickly grabbed his spear with his left hand. With his right, he reached out and grabbed onto the branch, only his hand slipped as a bolt of pain went through his entire arm.

He then dug his spear into the tree’s bark to slow his descent. As he sped to the ground, he lost his grip on his weapon and it fell to the ground with him.

He shouted out in pain once his back slammed against the jungle floor. The air was sucked out of his lungs and black dots edged his vision.

I’m alive. I need to get up. They’re coming. He gasped for air and forced himself to sit up. He felt dizzy and numb for a few minutes as he caught his breath. Once his adrenaline drained out of his system, he felt the sting in his swollen fingers, the scratches on his face and arms, the soreness of his right shoulder and back.

“I’m alive, I can fight.” He breathed the phrase his mentors had programmed into his head. He reached up and grabbed hold of a low branch for support to stand. An intense pain shot up his leg from his ankle when he put pressure on it.

“Shit…” He groaned. Just shake it off. Where’s the damn spear?? He turned in a full circle until he found his only weapon lying a few feet ahead of him, broken.

“No!” He complained as he limped over to it. The sharp end had snapped off from the fall. He picked up the blade, shoved it in his pocket, and held the staff for support. The others will be coming down soon. He had to start moving.

He hurriedly stumbled away from the mountain. His top priority was the Heart of the Dragon. Fighting was his last resort. If his mentors taught him anything, it was to use his surroundings to his advantage.

“Look around,” his mother would say, “what do you see?”

He stopped and listened. Not too far from him was a stream.

“Good. Now what do you know?”

People need water. Most of the competitors would head in that direction. But he needed water too. If he went downstream, there would most likely be a waterfall, and he didn’t need that kind of inconvenience, especially in the state he was in. The water was coming from somewhere so his only option would to be to go upstream and hope to find the source.

He slid silently through the underbrush and swatted at swarms of bugs on the way all the while keeping a distance between him and the stream. A few times he had to stop and crouch behind a fallen tree when he heard the clumsy feet of the other Chosen crashing through the jungle.

There were occasional, short screams that echoed and caused the birds in trees to scatter into the air, honking. He kept his cool and focused on anything directly around him.

Every so often he would have mini panic attacks when the thought of someone else finding The Heart already crept into his mind. He shook his head to clear it. Some of the Trials had gone on for weeks in the past. This wasn’t supposed to be an easy test. The shortest Trial lasted for three days. Which was why he needed to find a water source safe from everyone else. He needed to plan like he was going to be in the jungle for a long time.

He crouched down low and edged his way forward when he didn’t hear the stream anymore. Maybe he had gone too far away. Crap, that would suck if he lost his water source. He held his spear tightly in his left hand. He silently thanked his mentors for training him to be ambidextrous. He didn’t know what he would do if he was right handed dominant with the state he was in.

He peered through the large jungle leaves to see a dark blue lake with mini waterfalls dripping down into it. Streams drained from the lake in two directions.

Jian grinned in triumph. He edged toward the water and bent down on his knees. His hands sunk into the cool water, which felt good on his hot skin. He splashed his face and felt the burning cuts on his cheeks sizzle. He watched the water stop rippling to examine his reflection.

His eyes were widened from the fall, but otherwise he looked like his normal self. He frowned when he saw something else in the water’s reflection. He leaned forward to examine it closer, when he realized it was a—

He rolled out of the way of an incoming arrow. He heard it splash into the water as he jumped to his feet to find his opponent.

Nothing was in front of him besides the bright green trees with their massive leaves and ferns. He narrowed his eyes and slightly leaned on his spear to ignore the pain in his ankle.

“Going to fight me without showing your face? Coward.” He called loud enough for his attacker to hear but quiet enough to not alert anyone passing by.

Another arrow whizzed past his cheek.

“Get on your knees and drop your weapon!” A voice called from one of the trees.

He instantly turned toward the noise.

“I said get on your—!”

Jian threw his pointless spear expertly in the direction he heard the voice. As soon as it disappeared into the leaves, he heard a crash. Someone fell from the branches, unconscious.

He limped over to where the man landed and retrieved his spear. That was easy enough. He pulled vines down from the tree the man was originally purched upon, and tied him to it.

He made his way back to the lake with a few big leaves. He folded them together and tied them with thin vines to make a pouch to hold water, then he filled it.

His eyes drifted up to the tiny waterfalls. They were coming from a lake above him. It would probably be a good idea to get to a higher point of view and figure out where I want to go next. He thought as he tied his water pouch to his belt loop.

It was going to be a tough climb with one foot and hand. But hey, he had to train with both tied before. He just needed to think it was training.

He jogged as best he could with his ankle and walking stick. Thankfully, he wouldn’t have to try too hard to climb to the next lake. It was mostly path with the exception of a few boulders in the way.

Soon he was where he wanted to be. This lake was bigger, and the jungle was denser around it. He looked up at the sky, to examine where the sun was placed. He had taken a plane here last night, and they arrived at the mountain at 10am or so. The Trial started in the afternoon. So it must’ve been a few hours already, according to the sun’s position. His main concern was nighttime. How could he find some safe place to rest if there were nearly 15 Chosen, excluding the dead ones, looking to kill him in his sleep?

The people weren’t his only concern. There were wild animals as well. He had to figure out a sleeping situation fast.

He scaled a tree in a matter of moments, even with the sting in his fingers and ankle. It was one of the tallest trees he could see around him. When he got to the top, he peered through the leaves to see the vast miles of green. Birds of different colors flew into the air, and back down to their nests. It was quiet enough to hear the buzzing of insects, chirping, and water pouring into new lakes and streams.

He took a long breath and stood up to see more. A warm breeze drifted past his face and rustled through the leaves. The sky was darkening, and the weather was cooling down. He shut his eyes for just a second to take it all in. He wondered what it would be like to fly.

His heart ached at the thought of just flying away from there. He tore his gaze away from the sky when a scream cut through the air. It sounded close.

He crouched down to blend in with the trees. Down below, where Jian was a while ago, were two competitors covered in mud and holding spears, slowly backing up into the lake. Something was stalking out of the jungle...on all fours.

The two yelled at the thing to scare it away, but it was relentless. It let out a thundering snarl and crawled out of the ferns.

Jian’s heart jumped into his throat. He’d heard of this animal before, but he’d never seen it up close before, not even in zoos.

The panther crouched down and bared its teeth at the competitors. They must’ve done something to piss it off.

It leaped forward. One managed to dodge it while it attacked the other. The Chosen that wasn’t being mauled leaped at it with daggers.

Jian couldn’t watch. He had to get out of there. He stood back up and balanced on the branch. He walked across to the next tree, which was close, and jumped onto its arm. He stuck the landing and continued through the jungle like that, hopping from tree to tree with the help of his spear.

It was probably safer off the ground, anyway. He made a little too much noise than he liked. He couldn’t think about it. He had to get somewhere safe, and he didn’t feel so safe near a panther. But that was just his opinion.

He took a moment to catch his breath once he had gotten a satisfying distance between him and the animal. Crouching, he took a moment to examine his surroundings. Nothing but swarms of insects and miles of green.

He hopped over to another tree and peered through. He tilted his head and edged forward. There was a clearing before him. Old, gray pillars had mostly toppled over. They had markings on them. He slowly pushed a leaf out of the way to see better.

He silently hopped down onto the mossy ground with a small grunt. His ankle didn’t like that jump. He ignored it and leaned on his walking stick as he started forward.

One pillar that was mostly intact caught his attention. There was a spiral etched into it. He lightly traced the marking with his fingers and frowned. He didn’t know what it was. His mentors never mentioned any pillars. Unless they didn’t know either…

He made his way around the pillar to get the whole picture, when he nearly tripped over something soft.

He drew backwards instantly and held his weapon at the ready. He stared at what he had nearly fell onto in horror. A collection of three bodies were thrown on the ground, their eyes glassy, and their chests open with the similar wounds.

A quiet whoosh caused him to turn. An axe sped toward his face, still covered in the blood of its recent kills. “Shit—!”

Jian leaped out of the way as it stabbed into the dirt he was standing in a moment ago. He whipped around to see a six foot something, 30 year old man.

Jian made a grab toward the axe, but the man was faster than he thought. He was there in a matter of seconds, ripped his weapon out of Jian’s hands, and wasted no time to smack him in the forehead with the handle.

Jian stumbled back into a toppled over pillar. He rolled out of the way as the man brought down the axe on where he used to be standing.

“Shit, dude!” He couldn’t help but growl in anger. He whipped his staff across the man’s face as he turned.

It didn’t do much. The other Chosen turned on him like a bull and raced to grab him. Jian ducked out of his grasp and rammed his elbow into his side as he passed. The bull-like man let out a shout of pain and stumbled to face him again.

Jian was a little dizzy from the blow to the head, but he was determined to win the fight. He didn’t react as fast the next time the axe went to slice his head off. He dove forward with all his strength and threw the weapon out of his opponent’s hand.

His move only managed to make the other Chosen stumble back a few steps. Jian was almost knocked down as a giant fist slammed into his cheek. Then a foot drove into the side of his ribs.

Jian ate a faceful of dirt and grass as he toppled down. He gagged and spat it out before rolling to the side to avoid a stomp. He got onto his back and flung himself off the ground toward the guy’s head. He rammed his own shoe into his nose and watched in satisfaction as he fell backwards.

Jian landed on his bad ankle and let out an accidental yelp as he fell again. This dude just doesn’t give up. He thought in irritation as the man stood back up. He realized, in the struggle, he dropped his spear somewhere. Crap.

He scrambled to his feet, but suddenly he was lifted off the ground. The man held Jian by the throat and pressed down.

“You just don’t die, do you?” He growled as he pressed down on Jian’s windpipe.

Jian struggled in his grasp and nearly went into panic mode when he remembered something. He had another weapon.

He snatch the blade he had kept in his pocket and shoved it into the man’s eye. Jian was immediately dropped as his opponent screeched in pain.

Jian gasped for air as he struggled to get back up. The fight wasn’t over. The man ripped the blade out and looked around for something to pull himself off the ground with, cursing and groaning the whole time. He paused when his one eye caught sight of the axe Jian had thrown.

Before he reached it, Jian leaped on top of him and slammed his elbow down on his kneecap.

The Chosen howled in pain and rolled away from the axe. Jian stood on shaky legs and eyed him cautiously to make sure he didn’t get back up. After a few moments, the man was silent. He covered his bleeding eye and looked up as Jian slowly went to pick up the axe for himself.

“Th-thank you…” He whispered.

Jian stared at him. What the hell?

“I now know I am not meant to be the Holder. My whole life I-I’ve wondered…”

Jian nodded awkwardly as he slowly bent down to take the axe.

“Tell the Rens I, Biming, fought honorably.”

Jian gave him a quizzical look. “You could still live—,” He cut short when he realized Biming wasn’t planning on leaving this jungle alive. “I will.”

I don’t even know if I’m getting out of here alive, either. He didn’t speak those words out loud.

He limped toward his staff and watched as Biming gingerly took hold of the broken blade he was stabbed with. Jian edged cautiously out of the clearing with the pillars, incase Biming was planning on taking him out with him.

After walking in silence for what seemed forever, he stopped to take a break and hydrate himself. He wiped the sweat of his forehead with the back of his hand, but when he brought it down, it was covered in blood.

“Crap…” He muttered grimly as he poked at the wound he had received from the fight. He placed his weapons down and leaned against a trunk of a tree. He ripped one of his sleeves with his teeth and tied it as a bandage around his forehead. He sighed and looked up. It was nearly impossible to see the sky through the trees, but he could tell the sun was close to going down.

He decided to walk around for a little longer to see if there was some better place to camp out, and if not, he would sleep in the trees.

The light was almost gone by the time he heard crashing water from a distance. He had drank the rest of his makeshift jug and he was dying of thirst. He raced over fallen trunks and roots. He tripped through the ferns and not so gracefully stumbled upon a massive lake and waterfall. He grinned and scrambled over to it. He filled his leaf pouch and cleaned out his forehead wound. He rubbed the cool water on his neck. Thankfully, he didn’t have to be so quiet with the waterfall next to him.

He listened to the crashing noises, until he picked out something odd. There was a small echo behind it. His heart leaped in excitement. If he was lucky, there was a cave behind it.

Jian tucked his axe into his shorts and held onto his staff before he dove into the lake and swam around the waterfall.

Just as he thought, there was a cave. He grinned and made his way closer. There were smooth rocks that jutted out like broken stairs. He gladly used them to pull himself into the cave. He took out his axe in case there were any living creatures around him.

He shivered from the breeze outside and ventured forward into the dark. The deeper he traveled, the warmer it became. It felt nice and homey. He continued forward, slowly, one step at a time.

The rock beneath his feet shifted to sand. A stone jutted sharply up and caught Jian’s toe. He cursed as he tripped. Instead of landing flat on the ground, he fell into a sandy pit. He let out a shout of alarm that no one would hear.

Luckily, it wasn’t too deep, but it was deep enough for him to see his life flash before his eyes for a moment.

He pulled himself to his feet when his shoulder bumped into something burning hot. He looked up to see a pillar suddenly light up in yellow, orange, and red.

A large crystal sat on the pillar. It was the one emitting the heat. Jian’s eyes widened in amazement as a hot wind blew through his face. A voice seemed to whisper to him, softly calling him to touch it.

Jian took a hesitant step forward, his eyes reflecting the light the crystal emitted. The crystal looked like fire, and in it, an outline of a red dragon flew in lazy circles.

“The Heart of the Dragon.” Jian breathed in awe. He found it. His journey was over. Doubt filled him. Was he really meant to be the Holder?

He slowly extended his hand and reached forward. He could feel its heat the closer his fingertips stretched toward it.

Something curled around his bad ankle and yanked him to the ground. Jian cursed and scrambled to his feet to meet his attacker, but a foot slammed down on his back to pin him there.

“God, you haven’t gotten any smarter.”

Jian felt his blood boil when he recognized the voice. It seemed like forever since he heard it. Sheng.

Sheng crouched down and placed more pressure on Jian’s back. “You’re not meant to be the Holder. The Wongs won twice for a reason. We have the dragon’s blood in our veins.” He leaned forward, “I can’t wait to tell your mentors how you let the Heart slip out of your hands. You were just so close.”

Jian let out a raging war cry and tossed him off. Sheng grinned and beckoned him forward. He had a whip on his hip and the broadsword in his right hand. Jian could only snatch his staff before he had to block the huge blade.

Sheng pushed forward easily and smirked when he saw Jian’s arms quiver with the effort to push back. He released the pressure and stomp-kicked Jian in the chest.

He was flung back into the side of the pit. He almost stumbled back onto the ground. Sheng swiped his sword through the air and nearly cut Jian’s head off.

Jian held his staff at the ready as he backed to the other end of the pit while Sheng advanced on him. He glanced around for something he could use to his advantage, when he realized they were nearing where he dropped his axe.

“You know, I’ve had the most pressure on me. Two Trials in a row is a hard reputation to uphold.” Sheng muttered.

Jian bumped into an object he instantly recognized. “Must suck to be you.” He replied.

“You have no—,” Sheng quickly dodged the axe that was thrown at his face. Before he could turn back, Jian leaped forward and slammed the butt end of his staff as hard as he could into Sheng’s jaw. It sliced Sheng’s face from his jaw to the bridge of his nose. It was the most satisfying thing Jian done in his whole life. The impact caused Sheng to drop the blade he was holding.

Jian leaped and twisted in the air before he brought a hard kick down on Sheng’s face. Stupidly of him, it was his bad foot. He stumbled to the ground with his enemy. Before he recovered, Sheng was on top of him.

He slammed his fists down on Jian’s face in a flurry. Each strike was harder and more painful than the last. Jian held his hands out to block, but Sheng twisted his wrists and made him shout out.

Once the anger left Sheng’s system, he stood and kicked him hard in the ribs. He breathed heavily and wiped the blood from his nose.

“Pest.” He growled before he turned back to the Heart.

Jian watched him reach forward. “Don’t…” He spluttered. Blood dripped from his mouth and he felt like he couldn’t move.

Sheng ignored him and thrust his hand forward. He grabbed onto the crystal. He grinned like a madman as his veins lit up in an orange light. “Yes!” He shouted.

Jian felt tears sting his eyes as he fought through the pain to sit up.

Sheng’s smile fell. Something was wrong. He didn’t feel powerful, he felt...as if he were burning from the inside. He tried to let go, but his hand was stuck. His skin lit up as he screamed.

Jian watched in horror as Sheng exploded in light. He shut his eyes until the light died down. Sheng was nowhere to be seen, and the crystal sat perfectly still as if nothing happened.

Jian crawled to the pillar when the whispers came back. It was now or never. He grabbed onto it.

Instantly, the Heart let out a booming roar that carried over the jungle. It melted into his skin and filled his body. He felt his strength come back to him, and a new power filled him. Wings made of fire sprouted from his back, and his eyes glowed with a white light. He was engulfed in flames, but they didn’t hurt him. He grinned as his wounds healed.

His first instinct told him: fly. He burst off the ground and zoomed out the cave, creating steam as he whipped through the waterfall. He cheered as he was greeted with the open sky. The jungle and all its hardships seemed so distant as he ducked under clouds and spun like a torpedo in the night.

He flew like he had his wings all along, he just hadn’t stretched them in a while. The mountain where everyone waited for him caught his eye. Leaving a trail of fire behind him like a comet, he flew toward it.

He landed in the grassy valley he started in, with a BOOM. The grass around him burned into black.

Mentors of the Chosen filed out of their tents to see who had retrieved the Heart. They stared in awe at the fiery figure, his wings extended toward the sky while he kneeled and pressed a knuckle to the ground. He slowly stood as everyone gathered around him.

“The Heart has been retrieved? That’s impossible! No one has found it in a day—,” Ji shoved his way towards the front of the crowd.

“Ji Wong,” Jian’s voice didn’t sound like his own. It rang with the voices of the past Holders and the Dragon within them.

“Y-yes?” Ji suddenly looked nervous.

“You’re son’s an asshole.”

Ji looked taken aback.

“But he fought well. I’m sorry for your loss.”

There was a loud laugh from the back of the crowd and a familiar voice shouted, “that is my son!”

Jian watched his mentors push their way forward and grin up at him. He smiled back, “hey.”

“You have given our family honor,” his father dipped his head in respect, “your training is over.”

Jian shut his hands and willed himself to return his flames. They reluctantly did as he asked. He felt his forehead, but the wound was gone. He suddenly remembered something. “Who are the Rens?”

A group stepped forward, anxiously, “we are.”

“Biming fought with honor.”

They smiled grimly and thanked him.

“You must learn how to control the Heart,” Jian’s father said. He couldn’t stop smiling.

“I will...humbly train you.” Ji stepped in. His face was contorted awkwardly, as if he were holding back anger and embarrassment.

“You know, I think I’m good.” Jian wrinkled his nose, “I’d actually like to figure this out on my own.”

“But you can not leave the Dragon Flame. Where will you go?” Jian’s mother protested.

“Dunno. I’ll make it up on the way,” Jian felt the dragon return to him. He lit up in flames, like an aura around him. His wings eagerly spread for him to take off. “I’ll see you again.” He burst into the night sky, and flew away from all his worries of the past and yearned for the excitement of the future.

Six years later…

New York

The streets were packed with umbrella-carrying citizens while it rained. Traffic was heavy and the air smelled of gasoline. Jian hid under his red hood and shivered in the cold. He was nearly there.

He let out a breath and watched as he created fog. He accidentally bumped into someone.

“Whoops, that was my fault.” He heard the man say.

Jian briefly glanced at him. He was a tall man with a black trench coat and a white dress shirt with the top button undone, and a thin scruff. He had jet black hair, mischievous clear green eyes, and tan skin. His muscles rippled under his clothes.

“Don’t worry about it,” Jian replied before they turned and parted ways. He turned a few more corners until he came across ‘The Dragon’s Tea Kettle’. Finally.

He pushed open the door with a ‘ding’. The shop was empty, besides short tables, mats, and tea kettles.

“Sorry, we are not open,” an old man walked around the counter. His eyes widened in surprise when he recognized the man standing before him. He slowly backed up and grabbed hold of a broom. “Where have you been? You were supposed to lead us into the dawn of a new age as the others did. You abandoned your position, your people, and your destiny.”

“Don’t give me that shit, I’ve been making my own destiny.” Jian snapped as he started forward.

“Why are you here?”

“I-I need answers.” He glanced at his reflection in the tea kettle. He had bags under his eyes and his face was pale. He looked back up at the old man’s untrusting face. “The Dragon Flames aren’t working. Not like they used to. I didn’t know where else to turn to.”

“I do not have answers for you. You abandoned us, I will do the same to you.”

Jian slammed his fist down on the counter and caused the old man to flinch. “I’ve been doing more than you know. You have no idea how many people I’ve helped. I’ve changed since The Trial—”

“You have not done nor changed enough. You are not welcome here, and there is nothing I can do for you. It is time for you to leave.” The old man gave him a hard look and turned his back on him.

Jian curled his hands into fists and exited. The clouds had completely blocked the sun and it was raining heavier than before. He heard the click of a lock behind him and he knew he had no chance of asking for cover from the weather.

He cut into an alley. At least it was drier there. Darker, but drier. He placed his hood down and dug out his phone. He scrolled through the few contacts he had:

Detective H

Shae

Mom

Dad

His thumb hesitated above his mentors’ contacts. He nearly pressed it when a movement caught his eye. He instantly looked up to see a figure vanish behind a corner. His heart dropped when he recognized the face. That couldn’t be… That’s impossible.

He leaped over the dumpster and turned the corner. He saw the figure swing itself onto the roof, and followed within seconds. The rain howled and pushed against him as he hopped from rooftop to rooftop. He saw himself back in the jungle, hopping from branch to branch. He cleared his head and pushed forward.

The figure jumped back down into an alleyway, and Jian followed.

“Sheng, stop!” Jian shouted above the wind.

The figure’s back faced him. It turned ever so slightly.

A bolt of lightning struck through the air and lit up his face for a brief moment. As the thunder clapped, Jian absorbed it all. He saw the scar across his face, the one he put there six years ago. Even the same smirk was there. As soon as the light faded, he disappeared.

Tears stung his eyes and his heart beat just as fast as it did back in the cave. The wind ruffled his hair. He lost his powers, and now Sheng was back. Alive. His whole life had been flipped upside down in an instant.

He didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself. 15 hooded figures dropped down from the darkness and surrounded him.

They lunged toward him like an army. Jian dodged the first one, but the second stomp kicked him right into the next. The third had a curved sword, and it held it at Jian’s throat. Jian threw it off at the fourth. Another pulled out two sais and threw one at him while three more held him down.

He got them off and dodged it in time, but didn’t expect the second. It sliced his arm. Before he turned to face the another, he was struck across his jaw.

They were way faster than they looked. Jian swung to kick one, but it dashed out of the way and slammed the butt end of a bow staff into his chest.

He fell backwards into the alley wall. Before he could stand, they threw him to the ground and buried him in a flurry of kicks and strikes.

He held his arms in front of his face and tried to figure out how to get out of his situation, but everything was happening so fast—I’m not going to win.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another figure leap down from the roof next to them. He felt a few of the men leave him to fight the stranger.

He heard a swarm of birds fly down to his left, on the opposite side of the other fighter.

“My great grandfather said he killed you.” A few more hooded ones broke away from Jian.

“Sono tornato, stronzetti.” A smooth voice replied. “That’s italian for: I’m back, bitches.”

There was the sound of struggling on all sides of Jian, and he was utterly confused.

He felt panic rise up into his chest, and he couldn’t push it down. A thought suddenly shook him to the core: he was going to die before he proved to everyone the Heart didn’t make a mistake. No. I’m going to show them. I am the Dragon Flame.

His eyes glowed white, and fire erupted from him. The hooded attackers leaped away. His wounds healed instantly. He felt warm again. He sprung to his feet with ease and his wings unfolded behind him.

A small smile curved his lips when he saw their hesitation. Now that he was up, he got the full picture of what the hell was happening.

The first figure that came to his aid had black and red kevlar armor with shoulder pads, a sword behind his back, and one handgun in each hand. A helmet lit up in blood red light.

The second had a black cloak draped over him, with a silver crow pendant. He looked similar to the ones he was fighting, except his hood had a silver trim and thin outlines of feathers that you could only see if the light hit them just right.

They both stared at Jian in awe. The hooded attackers paused for a moment. He took that moment to grab the two closest to him and throw them into three more.

As soon as he attacked, the other two figures jumped back in. The first shot three in the chest without hesitation, and whipped around to smack one behind him. The second leaped up and ran across the alley wall, before he twisted in the air and slammed a kick down into one’s face and he slid out of the way of a katana.

What the hell is going on? Jian couldn’t help but think as he struggled to catch a hold on his enemies. These guys are obviously trained.

He felt irritation boil in his blood when the ones he put down just jumped back up in seemingly perfect health.

The three were pressed back down the alley as more streamed in from the darkness. While staying on the defense, they were pushed out into the street.

Thank god for more space. He punched one and watched as it flew back into ‘The Dragon’s Tea Kettle’ wall.

Without realizing it, the three were forced into a giant ring. All the enemies surrounded them.

What are they going to do now?

Before any of the trio could make a move to break the circle, a flash of green light blinded them for a second.

When they turned to look again, a glowing green man stood with them. His face was so bright, no one could make it out.

Jian locked eyes with him for a moment, and suddenly a green laser beam was shot toward his head.

He instinctively flew up into the sky to avoid it, and heard car alarms go off when the beam hit one.

Okay so he’s not here to help us out. He thought as the new member followed him up into the rain clouds with him.

He swirled out of the way as the green flashlight tried for another shot at him. As he turned to face him again, the glowing man tackled him in the sky, held onto Jian tight, and used his energy to speed toward the ground.

Jian was shocked that he could hold on, but he kicked and punched as hard as he could to get him off. The best he could do was reverse the odds and spun him around.

They crashed into the streets with a CRACK-BOOM. A wave of green light and fire exploded into the streets. The hooded men and the others were knocked backwards as cars flipped and glass broke.

Jian had blacked out for a few minutes. He felt his fire retract back into his heart and his limbs became sore. His eyes fluttered open. He and the green dude had created a crater in the street.

“Ow…” he muttered as he struggled to sit up.

He froze when he saw the three men from before. The first, robo-ninja guy, the second cloaked man, and the annoying green flash light looked down at him.

Well…he thought. This just got 10 times more interesting.

Young Adult
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About the Creator

Victoria Cage

I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. Every chance I could get I was either writing, drawing, or telling anyone who’d listen my stories. Throughout high school I self published three books on Amazon. Enjoy my short stories!

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