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The God of the Valley

Prologue: Demons & Yaoguai

By andy liliesPublished 2 years ago 17 min read

There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. For a time, there was only war.

Ruo Zhi huddled closer to his mother, fingers curling into a tight fist in her robes. When he was a mere babe in his home village, he could not differentiate what was peace, and what was chaos. All he knew was this: he was hungry, he was thirsty, he was tired, or he was all three.

Later, he came to know the tinkering laughter of his mother; the sounds of busy vendors on the streets selling their goods; the storms and winds howling through the holes and cracks through their small hut at night— to him, that was chaos. But after, that was comfort. As the years tip-toed by, he grew used to the sounds of home, the street lit with bright lanterns and the merry laughter and joy of his village despite the fierce storms that plagued them. The upbeat tempo of sounds and music always seemed to carry his feet back to his village if he was lost; a calling and a place of belonging all in one.

For a time, he understood that was peace.

Now, the only comfort was the enclosing warmth of his mother’s arms wrapped around him; the steady, rhythmic beat of her heart against his ear; the soothing lull of her voice as she rocked him. Around him, some of the members of his village huddled to squeeze into the tight carriage, the tiny bumps and shifts of the wheels moving along the dirt road jostling them together. Outside the carriage walls, the steady march of footsteps surrounded them, the beat of hooves on the dirt matching their quick pace forward through the Valley. If Ruo Zhi strained to hear, he could pick out the sounds of other carriages in front and behind them. Carrying all of his village onward. He buried his face into his mother’s shoulder.

His home was gone.

“Don’t be sad, Bao-bei— the immortal of the Valley will protect us,” his mother’s voice whispered against his ear. He looked up at her in question.

Wisps of hair framed his mother’s beautiful face; the rest of her inky dark hair falling down her thin shoulders, past her waist. She smiled at him.

“Have I not told you the legend? An immortal protects this forest and his Valley, all those who cross must pray to him to receive his blessings.” His mother hugged him closer as she spoke, “Our village has been praying to him for years. We are as safe as can be.”

“Even if he hasn’t shown up in as many years,” a nearby voice interrupted. Comb Aunty, who opened her store in the early mornings selling beaded bracelets, trinkets and rings, always had her hair bunned up and slotted into place with a jade comb. She wore a thin smile now; dirt-stained face gentle.

“Little boy, have you not been listening to your mother’s stories?” Comb Aunty asked him mock-sternly. Her hair was in a mussed bun, her jade comb glinting slightly in the sunset. “You should listen to your elders more,” she reminded him. Ruo Zhi lowered his gaze shyly.

“It’s alright, Shu A-yi, he is a good boy,” his mother said, carding a hand gently through his hair, “He always listens to me at home, and I will always tell stories to him.”

In the village, his mother was the best storyteller to the children, and they would sit at her feet in awe as she recounted tales of mythical beasts and great battles. In the closeness of their little hut, his mother would boil herself hot tea to drink, while Ruo Zhi would sprawl in their shared blankets and bed. He would wait as she settled down behind him and wrapped her arms around. She would tell him bedtime stories every night, and he would fall asleep to the sound of his mother’s voice and soft lips pressed onto his forehead.

Now his mother, the greatest storyteller Ruo Zhi has ever known, wrapped her arms gently from behind him, and started her story.

“Before you were born, there was a great battle between the Emperor and a neighbouring empire. It lasted for three long years, before the tides turned.” His mother brushed long, elegant fingers through his hair, in rhythm to her voice. “Back then, I was only fifteen when it started, and the opposing forces were seizing innocent people from our villages.”

“Why did they do that?” Ruo Zhi asked, gazing up at his mother. She paused, eyes soft and sad.

“When men have greed in their hearts and promises of power in their minds, they can do very evil things. The people taken were like us— only young children, women, senior men, the ill and disabled, because all those capable had travelled to help the Emperor. After being transported here, in this Valley, they crossed through to the opposing empire, and worked under the enemy with no choice. They were never seen again.” Light from the window slowly dimmed around them, casting shadows on the creaky carriage floor that grew in size, seemingly forming hands to grab at their feet.

“All of the South village people were taken. Our battle generals had thought the enemy would attack from the West, where most of our royal sections are, except for one. He was our best strategist and general. He had said they would attack from the South. Unfortunately, his words were proven true,” his mother said. “The people fighting for the Emperor grew tired and devastated, and our empire fell under ruin. The Emperor, who was fighting alongside his men, was gravely injured. To spark a final bit of hope, he ordered his best general to station himself right here in this valley, and hoped to ambush the enemy while setting the villagers free. In doing so, he cut himself off from his greatest strategist and fighter, in order to protect his people from being captured—”

— A scrape of wood against the door; a harsh knock— then a gruff voice muttered, “Keep it down in there, we don’t want anything to hear us.” A soldier had spoken through the carriage walls; Ruo Zhi glanced at the tension in his mother’s shoulders. The downturn in her lips. For a moment, Ruo Zhi’s mother kept her silence, until they heard footsteps quicken once again— the soldier was further away.

She continued, softer now. “But the enemy had been waiting for the general to arrive. They set a trap, and lured him into the forest to be captured. There, he was forced to make a choice: serve the new empire willingly and be rewarded handsomely, or have the villagers killed off one by one till he agreed.” But the general had made a third choice. As his mother continued, he tried to imagine the great general facing down his opponents, cornered from all sides. Ruo Zhi tried and failed to imagine the battle the general lost that day. He tried to imagine the general, in his dying breath, vowing to protect and avenge his empire in his next life.

“It is said when that happened, a thunderclap sounded so loud it was heard throughout the Valley, as though the Heavens were listening to that very promise. Within the crack formed between the mountains, Yaoguai, spirits and creatures, came tumbling forth to attack our adversaries.” Ruo Zhi’s mother waved a hand, “They came in droves, pushing back the enemy a few hundred li, but it was still not enough. The Yaoguai and mythical beasts were disorganised, feral and wild, and nobody could control them. The enemy could sneak past them with our own villagers as bait, and managed to storm through to the palace. The Emperor was about to order his troops to fight through one last battle— when the dragons came to the Valley.”

“There was the banging of drums heard in the distance! A wild beat entirely unheard of, but it controlled the dragons,” Comb Aunty interrupted again, shifting her position to face Ruo Zhi and his mother fully. “They said it was so loud, it could be felt through the ground and shook the earth. It put the foreign empire in utter disarray, and the dragons knew magically who to attack, and wiped the whole army with one swoop!”

“Are you sure, Shu A-yi? Surely it could not have been one swoop,” his mother teased, eyes glinting.

“I’m sure! Aiyah, Li Xiao-jie, that is what the villagers say,” Comb Aunty insisted.

“Don’t listen to her,” an old man’s voice said cheekily from the back of the carriage. It sounded like Wok Uncle. “Keep going, Li Gu-niang.”

“Ahhh, it’s ‘Li Gu-niang’ now, is it? What happened to ‘Li Xiao-jie’?”

“She is Li Gu-niang as long as she’s the best storyteller in our village,” Wok Uncle replied.

“If you know so much, why don’t you finish the story, hmm?”

“Li Gu-niang can finish the story herself if you weren’t so insistent on interrupting her, Shu A-yi.”

“Why, you—”

“Be quiet!” A soldier’s jarring voice ordered through the carriage walls. The carriage plunged into a hushed silence; the mood cooling in its temperature once again. Ruo Zhi heard the crickets chirping outside as the cool evening air wafted into the carriage. The sun must be behind the mountains now, for night had fallen.

The blazing fire torches outside illuminated Ruo Zhi’s village members. Twenty-four, he counted. One of the soldiers, while ordering the villagers to evacuate, had squatted down and told him that, where his village was going, there would be far better teachers to guide him. Ruo Zhi was still young, but he highly doubted the teaching skills of anyone in comparison to his mother.

In the warm embers of light filtering into the carriage, his mother whispered. “The dragons were controlled by the general, now reincarnated as an immortal forest spirit. The Heavens had granted his wish. He had come back to avenge the villages and his Emperor, just like he said.” His mother tucked a strand of hair behind his ear, “The immortal was revered by everyone, and after the war he went back to his source of power, the Valley, to keep guard and shelter all those who cross through it, especially those incapable of defending themselves. His temple is higher up near the mountain He Shu, and many of the villages, including ours, climb up once a month to place our offerings. However, as his influence and powers grew, the Heavens grew worried and feared he’d turn their back on them. He was not yet a god among their ranks, only a powerful immortal. Hence, they tricked him into a deep slumber, and there he slept for many years.” His mother grew quiet.

The temperature dropped in the carriage. Ruo Zhi shivered, snuggling closer to his mother. He suddenly had a thought.

“How is he able to protect us then, A-niang?” Ruo Zhi asked in a small voice, afraid.

“Bao-bei, can’t you hear him at night? He has woken to save us all,” his mother assured him, once again pulling him closer to her, “You can hear him and his dragons in the storm that grows heavy over our village, preparing to protect our village from harm and intruders.”

“But then where are we going?” Ruo Zhi whispered.

His mother’s brows furrowed slightly. “I think we’re going towards the palace.”

“But won’t he be angry? Won’t he attack us?”

Ruo Zhi’s mother turned him gently by the shoulders to face her. “When you hear the cries of animals, and the roar of mythical beasts and creatures, you should not be afraid. The immortal would not harm any of us, for we have been faithful to him.” The cadence of her voice sounded off. Ruo Zhi frowned; his mother looked and sounded in a daze, her hands smoothly running up and down his arms and shoulders. Her voice was still soft, but her eyes suddenly focused into the distance. Her back straightened.

She smiled.

“A-niang?”

“Hush now, can’t you hear? You have to be quiet, Bao-bei.”

“Halt!” A soldier’s voice echoed through the woods. The horses were pulled to a stop. Muttering and orders mixed and combined outside their carriage as more soldiers congregated.

“A-niang, what’s happening?” Ruo Zhi whispered, holding his mother’s arm tightly.

“Don’t worry, child,” she whispered. His mother’s eyes were not soft anymore, when she looked at him. She did not pull him closer. “He will protect us,” she sighed.

“There’s something there!” Another soldier shouted. Ruo Zhi heard footsteps striding past their carriage. A few more shouts sounded out, and the sound of swords being unsheathed and the crackle of talismans activating followed. Ruo Zhi turned back to his mother.

“A-niang? A-niang, please, you’re scaring me,” Ruo Zhi begged, shaking his mother’s arm. His mother only let him, body swaying slightly.

“I should have brought you to the temple,” his mother sing-songed softly. “The music, the drums; it is very much like outside.” Ruo Zhi did not hear any drums or music, only the eerie silence that followed. The crickets had stopped chirping for a long time.

“You would not be so afraid,” his mother said, then went silent and still.

Ruo Zhi turned to Comb Aunty, only to be met with calm silence. In the blazing light of the fire torches left outside their carriage, he saw her face relaxed and blank; eyes round and staring into nothing. She didn’t make a sound. He turned to other village members, only to be met with the same dazed staring. They did not respond to his calls or trembling. Terrified and overwhelmed, he began to cry.

He tried to be quiet— his mother had told him to be quiet— but he had nowhere to run and hide. Furthermore, he couldn’t leave without his mother. He couldn’t leave without Comb Aunty or Wok Uncle. The soldiers had gazed at them with concern as they loaded his village into carriages, though his mother and the rest of the villagers had resented it. They had tried to put up a fight, and still the soldiers had not punished them. Trying to muster up the courage to seek their help, Ruo Zhi, still sniffling, inched forward towards the window and peered out into the night.

Soldiers’ backs faced him as he glimpsed through. They stared laser-focused up ahead, swords raised. Ruo Zhi tried to see past the soldier’s heads, but it was too dark to make out anything on the road. Lying still and waiting, Ruo Zhi strained to hear. The night was deathly quiet.

Suddenly there was a noise. A faint whisper in the wind. Ruo Zhi heard it; he muffled a tiny squeak. A soldier turned to look behind him, distracted momentarily.

A moment was enough.

What Ruo Zhi saw next, he did not comprehend. He felt a gust of wind; a ripping sound tore through the air. One moment the soldier’s face was there, the next it was gone.

The body slumped forward with a heavy thud. A howl broke the silence.

Beside him, a soldier screamed, and was immediately yanked off into the woods by something huge and grey-furred.

On the left, another soldier screamed, fell and disappeared into the woods. And then another. And another.

Ruo Zhi was too terrified to scream. He stumbled back from the window as cacophony ensued around him. He shrieked as he heard frantic shouts and yells in the din as the soldiers scattered, trying to pinpoint what was attacking them. Guttural inhuman screams sounded, followed by the gnashing of teeth and bodies dropping to the ground. He cupped his hands around his ears to try and muffle the noise.

A crash, and the sound of panicked breaths followed— Ruo Zhi looked up, seeing a soldier, trembling and frightened, attempting to scramble into their carriage. The villagers didn’t even seem to notice his presence, and Ruo Zhi stayed still, terrified, until the soldier locked eyes with him.

His forehead was dripping with blood and sweat. “We need to go! You are unsafe here, grab my hand and—” his breath was cut short.

A huge white muzzle locked itself across the man’s chest, and Ruo Zhi saw what his six year old mind could put together— gleaming yellow slits for eyes; the sharp glint of teeth; the tearing of fabric and something else much wetter. Before the man could scream, the monstrous creature tore him off the carriage door, breaking half of its hinges clean off. It disappeared into the blaze, waves of fiery tails following it.

Ruo Zhi crawled back to his mother, huddling back into her lap and burying his face into her chest. She seemed frozen, unaware of the noise outside. The warm light of the fire outside glowed brighter and brighter, and then Ruo Zhi heard it.

A deafening echo of thunder, no, a roar— resounded through the Valley. From what Ruo Zhi heard from the storms outside his home, and from what his mother had told him, it could only mean one thing— the dragons have arrived.

Activity paused for a moment outside, before starting up again, more frantic than ever before. Wind swept past, and Ruo Zhi saw a huge serpentine shadow loom over the carriage, before disappearing just as fast. Animal cries and human screams shrilled, then was cut short by the crash of something huge rushing by. In the distance, a faint drum beat began to sound, getting louder and louder as the sound approached the carriages. The rhythm was manic, crazed, a twisted version of the festival drums Ruo Zhi had heard before in his village. It started and stopped erratically, its crescendos unpredictable in its haste, filling his eardrums and making his hairs stand on end. The carriage walls and doors reverberated with the drum, the broken carriage door creaking in its wake. The beat drowned out his sobs and the screams outside, the crash of carriages and the billowing of fire.

Ruo Zhi grabbed on tightly to his mother’s sleeve and shut his eyes. The music crescendoed even further; Ruo Zhi couldn’t hear anything else but the heavy beating of the drum, could not feel the beat of his heart, could barely even breathe—

— The sound stopped. A broken hush descended. The crackling of fire torches thrown on the ground could be heard in the quiet of the night. For those few seconds, all was still.

Then the drum beat started again, slow and ominous. The stark difference in tempo echoed in his ears, and Ruo Zhi opened his eyes.

Around him in the broken carriage, the villagers started to stand up all at once, including his mother. He grappled the sleeve of her arm, and hung on tightly to her hand. To his horror, the villagers started shuffling out, and soon, Ruo Zhi stood at the broken doorway with his mother. He kept his eyes trained to the ground.

“A-niang, I don’t want to go—” Ruo Zhi was suddenly pulled, no, dragged, by his mother— out into the dirt path. His mother, who would only look at him softly and touch him kindly. His mother, who now looked as blank and as still as a doll as she gripped him by the arm and walked forward, steadily into the forest with the rest of the villagers.

“A-niang, please! You’re hurting me!” He tried to free her iron grip, but to no avail. Leaves rustled aside as he was dragged deeper into the woods, crying. Through blurry eyes, he saw Comb Aunty first break off and disappear to the left, seemingly guided away and swallowed into the night. One by one, they split off, guided by an unseen force. The pattern continued, until Ruo Zhi was left walking alone with his mother. His crying had turned back into quiet sniffles and hiccups, as his mother led him deeper still, taking unpredictable turns and ducks through the brambles, following her own rhythm. He couldn’t hear any of the other villagers.

They walked for what seemed like hours in the moon-lit darkness of the night. Thick branches and tree trunks casted strange shadows; the ground seemed to writhe beneath their feet.

“A-niang, where are we going?” Ruo Zhi whispered. His mother paid him no notice, and as if in time with a dance with the forest, ducked under a branch Ruo Zhi was sure wasn’t in their path seconds ago. He tried to keep up with her, but he was growing tired.

In one of her twists and turns, his mother suddenly stopped. Before them, the glint of the moonlight bounced off the brambles and leaves of the trees that seemingly parted for them; a huge mound of earth had been dug up from the ground. A giant circular chasm greeted them a few feet forward. The drum beat stopped the same time Ruo Zhi’s mother dropped his hand. Hypnotised, she swayed forward.

Ruo Zhi broke into sobs again. “A-niang, please— stop! A-niang, stop! Don’t go! Help! Stop! A-niang don’t go in there!” Ruo Zhi’s voice broke into a high shrill. He could only watch, frozen, as his mother shuffled right to the edge of the precipice; she stopped and turned her head. Above them, the moonlight illuminated her sharp profile— he saw her smile. And then she tumbled in.

Eyes streaked with tears, he sunk down to the ground, eyes glued to the spot where his mother just was seconds before. His thin, shallow breaths wheezed out of him as his feelings edged closer to blind pain, grief and animal terror—

— A shadow detached itself from the surrounding woods. Ruo Zhi froze, and slowly his eyes traced the shadow figure looming over the chasm opposite to him. It was hard to identify the misshapen mass. Wisps of dark smoke snaked around as it gathered to form a solid body. A pale, grinning face peered out through the smoke. Ruo Zhi’s breath stopped.

Its face was ghastly beautiful, features drained of colour. Its pale lips curled into a sharp smile, but that was not what Ruo Zhi saw. He looked deep into its red glowing eyes— and suddenly, Ruo Zhi felt all the noise, the drums, the panic, the fear and the anguish just stop.

He was washed with a wave of comfort and peace, as gentle as a blanket being laid over him by his mother. He felt himself detach from his body, could no longer feel the beat of his own heart, nor remember the sound of his own name. He didn’t feel himself stand back up.

“Hello little one,” the grinning face crooned. “Why don’t you join your A-niang?”

He saw rather than felt his legs shuffle forward, and he contentedly followed.

Below him, he thought he heard voices whisper amongst the forest floor. The wind whistled around him in a gentle caress. He had forgotten all but this: he wanted to feel his mother’s arms around him again; he wanted to hear his mother’s voice again. He wanted to listen to her stories.

A steady drum beat started and guided him, but now he knew this dance; he followed its steps. He looked into the chasm, and down below, he thinks he sees his mother.

Her thin face was streaked with dirt, and a line of blood from a thin gash on her forehead glistened in the moonlight. But she was still smiling up at him. She opened her mouth.

“Come down, Bao-bei. I will catch you,” she said, and raised her arms.

Ruo Zhi jumped down.

Above them, the shadow figure peered down. The wind picked up behind, rustling the leaves gently and twirling the dark hair of the figure. Its black robes lifted, illuminating the glistening blood on its pale hands under its sleeves. As if sensing something, it lifted its head, red eyes and milky face staring straight at the moon. Its grin widened, and it raised a single hand.

Around the Valley, the earth rumbled with the sounds of graves being filled.

Fantasy

About the Creator

andy lilies

I'm a young university student who has always loved creative writing, but never finds the time to write it. This is me trying to find time to write it.

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (5)

  • blue2 years ago

    I love it 😭😭😭 OMG the WORLDBUILDING wait so the legend is REAL??? 😳 what is going ON ISTG I NEED A SEQUEL is the immortal evil???? omg all the monsters I MUST KNOWWWWWW ,;-;, pls update i want moarrrrrr

  • san s.2 years ago

    what a creative reimagination of the theme, the unique ethnic twist has me hooked!! love the compelling motifs and lyrical syntax, i really wanna know what happens next 🥺 it's positively sinister.

  • Mark Lim2 years ago

    Enjoy the story. I was caught up in it and wondering what’s happening. Imagination is good

  • Adi Peony2 years ago

    Wanting more!

  • Alyssa lim2 years ago

    Loved the story!

andy liliesWritten by andy lilies

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