LRF Contest | The Mark of the Dragon

He had been wandering the ancient ruins for a while. He didn't know how long it had been. He couldn't even remember his name. He could only barely recall that he needed to find something that was lost. The days and weeks swiftly blurred together until he had no recognition of time except the daily cycle of sunrise and sunset. He wandered the ancient maze of cracked stone pillars until he reached a dusty and long since deserted tomb. It was there he saw it. Lying on top of a slab of cracked rock. A pendant made of jade in the shape of a dragon in battle, hanging on a green silk cord. Reverently, he picked it up before looping it around his neck. As the cool gemstone brushed his skin, he felt a jolt of energy run through his body. A swirling mist of green emanated from the stone, and when his vision cleared, he felt another presence within him infusing him with strength and power. As the head-splitting pain of a flood of memories returning hit him, Wukong couldn't contain a scream. A few months later... The light of the full moon gazed upon the peaceful village in Ionia and its inhabitants. Crack! Pow! Fireworks shattered the stillness of the night, reflecting the joyfulness of the townsfolk revelling in their celebrations. Rainbows of blues, yellows, greens and a multitude of other colours flooded the night sky, able to be seen from miles away. A river of laughter and cheer swept through the town, deafening all the villagers and doing its best to block out the noise of the outside world. Wukong could sense the otherworldly presence emanating from the jade pendant on his chest lurking in many of the dark and shadowed corners of his mind. Poisoning his thoughts and emotions. The inky, oily feeling of the demon-like creature in his head. He could only barely remember what it had been like before. Before he had unleashed the demon that had discovered his deepest fears and dreams. He never used to have this relentless pressure pounding on the inside of his head, wanting out. He had caved in once. The struggle to re-leash the demon had lasted an hour. It didn't want to be constrained. It longed to feed on the fear and despair of others. The immortal listened to the sounds of revelry outside with scorn, belittling all those who were cheerful and filled with delight. It was a chilly morning. Tinges of frost lined the blades of green grass. Discarded lanterns lay on their sides among the streets. Almost the entire village slept in, tired from the entertainment of the night before. As usual, Wukong had risen with the sun, and made his way to the small forest glade where he first started his training and continued to train. The fiery yet tranquil nature of combat was the only way to ease the demanding presence of the demon in him, as it was an outlet for both of them to express their pent-up emotions. A set of heavy hoofbeats thudded on the dewy fields. Then another set and another, until the ground was reverberating from the force. Hearing the quiet snorting of horses, a young girl stumbled out of the door of her home, barely awake and rubbing the drowsiness out of her eyes. Amidst a yawn, she glanced at the gates that marked the entrance to the village and let out a shocked noise that was half whimper, half cry for help. Mounted bandits grouped outside the open gate, with some in the process of dismounting to loot their wares. Wukong sat cross-legged in a meditation pose, reminiscing about the series of events that had led him to seek shelter at the village. At first, he'd only planned to stay for a few days to tend to his injuries but days somehow melted into weeks, then months. They hadn't initially been welcoming of him, but after a few days they had tolerated his presence and soon after that, they called out occasional greetings to him. Rejection and abandonment by others was a constant fear of his, even in a village on the border of Ionia. The worry that one day they'd find out about the curse he had unknowingly bestowed upon himself always lingered. Deep amidst his meditation, Wukong heard a high pitched shriek emanating from the village. He fluidly sprung to his feet, sprinting towards it before slowing and stopping behind a copse of trees. He peered out to observe the bandits slowly filing into the village, filled with a cold dread for his fellow town inhabitants. A rough count numbered almost thirty. He knew that he could take a few of them on, but with so many, he'd be overwhelmed sooner or later. His demon, taking an interest in the predicament let out a cold laugh, scoffing at his hesitation before filling him with fearlessness. Wukong knew he could tap into the demon's power, but he couldn't sense if the creature would honour the agreement to return to a passive state afterward. Sharp cries of fright punctured the air as a tall bandit yanked a young girl by the arm out the gate with the others looking on and jeering. Without thinking twice, Wukong leapt out from behind the trees and into the gathering of people, swinging his staff and killing two of the enemy before they'd registered his presence. Nimbly dodging weak blows, he ducked and twisted towards the tall bandit who was slowly turning around with a smirk on his face that soon vanished when a fist slammed his throat, seemingly from nowhere. Gagging and choking, he crumpled to the ground. Seeing their leader fall, the other bandits galloped towards Wukong on their mounts, brandishing rusty shortswords and stiff bows. Wukong flipped and twirled with ease, the long range of his staff combined with his enhanced strength meaning he could reach his mounted opponents from the ground while delivering death blows. Despite his immense skill he was soon overwhelmed, the sheer number of enemies meaning that when one fell, another would take their place. It was now or never. With a silent prayer to any deity listening, Wukong swept his staff in a large circle around him, clearing out the immediate area surrounding him. Dropping to his knees, he yanked the jade pendant off his neck and slammed it onto the ground. A bright flash of green light enveloped the battlefield and when it cleared, it was Wukong. And yet not. A row of spikes lined his tail, his ears lengthened, silvery claws had emerged from the tips of his fingers, and his pupils had turned slitted and the deep hue of imperial jade. To save the village he had offered up his body to become the vessel for the demon to control. Whether out of sheer courage or recklessness, the bandits didn't hesitate before riding back into the fray. Wukong let out a fierce roar before leaping high - so high he seemed to possess wings - and lashing out, dealing powerful blows to the closest enemies and instantly killing them. With the balance of a dragon, he vaulted on to a nearby mount, dodged the weak swipes of the rider and gashed his chest open with sharp claws before knocking him off the horse with his staff, letting the frightened horses stampede him. The demon rejoiced at all the death and destruction. Like watching from behind another pair of eyes, Wukong witnessed the massacre of the bandits. He could feel the delight of the demon bathing in the pain and fear of those he fought. It was like a stream of pleasure he never wanted to lose. All too soon, it ended as the last bandit died. The demon was satiated and barely protested when Wukong made the swift shift back into his own body, feeling his tail, ears and hands return to normal and the exhaustion of the battle he had just waged settle on his all too mortal self. He picked up the pendant from where he had started the change and surveyed the scene. Bodies lay scattered around him, the horses either dead or gone. He let out a sigh of relief, then jerked his head up as the sound of applause filled the air. The entire village was gathered around the entrance of the gate, cheering. The young girl he had saved was at the front of the crowd, tear-streaked face smiling at him in gratitude. It had been so long. So long since he'd felt welcomed or accepted by anyone for who he was. As he limped through the gates of his home, his fingers lightly brushed the jade stone on the silk cord around his neck. The mark of the Jade Dragon - a blessing but also a curse.

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