Lao and the Legend of the Sun: Part Three
The fire in the Island Mystic’s hut had burned down to a few glowing embers, and Lao still had not moved. The night continued to grow darker, and a few shafts of starlight filtered down from a moonless sky. The creatures of the jungle were silent. Lao sat on the hard ground, still unable to decide what to do next. The yellow Shoyru still clutched the Morning Arrow, which the Mystic had told him must be delivered to the Great Archer before sunrise, but Lao had received no further instruction.
Nearly an hour passed before Lao decided that he had to do something. He stood up and stretched, then looked around. The thick jungle was suffocating. He had no idea where to go or what to do. The Mystic had told him nothing of how the arrow was to be delivered. All the Kyrii had said was that the two magical Draiks of good and evil – Ying and Yang – would be there to try to help and hinder him, respectively.
But with no Draiks in sight, Lao had to make a decision alone. In the end, the Shoyru simply started walking. Where to, he knew not, but he decided that he had a better chance of delivering the arrow if he found someone else who could help him. Lao braced himself for a long nighttime hike, but he had only been walking for a few short minutes when something unexpected happened.
Right before his eyes, there was a puff of thick black smoke that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Lao jumped back and held the arrow out in front of him, as if it were a spear. As the smoke began to fade, it revealed a mysterious creature. Standing right in front of Lao was a checkered Draik. The alternating pattern of black and white was dazzling in the darkness, and the Draik’s features were difficult to distinguish. Lao immediately understood what the Island Mystic had said earlier. “In dark times such as these, they can often be confused,” the Mystic had said, and it was true. In the darkness, Lao had no idea whether this Draik was the light dragon Ying, or his shadow brother Yang.
“My name is Ying,” said the Draik. “I am here to help you on your mission.”
Lao immediately knew that the Draik could be lying, of course, but it was very difficult to tell. He tried to look the pet in its eyes, but its face was covered in the clashing black and white checkered pattern, and it was difficult to tell if the Draik was sincere. Its voice was smooth and mysterious, and this did not reveal its intentions either. Lao felt a feeling of helplessness wash over him as he realized that there was no way to tell whether this creature was here to help or harm him.
“You have been entrusted with a great burden,” said the Draik, still waiting for a response from Lao.
“Yes,” was all the Shoyru could manage.
The Draik gave him a look that was either annoyed or understanding; Lao couldn’t tell. “I am here only to point you in the right direction,” continued the Draik. “The outcome of this mission is up to you, but I can help in small ways.” It stepped forward and grabbed Lao’s shoulders. The grip was firm, and Lao didn’t know whether to feel protected or overpowered. With a smooth movement, the checkered Neopet turned Lao’s body to face a different direction. “If you walk this way,” it said, releasing him, “you will learn what you must do to deliver the Morning Arrow.”
Lao finally mustered up the courage to say, “How do I know that you are Ying, and not Yang?”
The Draik smiled. “You can’t. You just have to believe me.” And then, in a puff of thick black smoke, it was gone.
Lao remained rooted to the ground, careful not to lose his sense of direction. The encounter had left him confused and flustered. He had absolutely no idea if the Draik had been Ying or Yang, and he had absolutely no idea what to do now. “I suppose,” he said, “that I really have only one option. If that was Ying, walking this way will guide me on my mission. If it was Yang, then I have no idea where to go, and this direction is as good as any.” With a confident nod, Lao began to walk in as straight of a line as he could manage. The trees of the jungle were very thick, and it was difficult to see in the darkness, but he did his best to remain on a consistent path.
After he had been walking for a while, Lao began to wonder if the Draik he had seen had been Yang after all. The Shoyru had seen no sign whatsoever of anything other than the dense trees that clustered around him. He had been very careful to walk in as straight a line as possible, and he had been on the lookout for anything that might help him on his mission, but all he had seen was tree after tree after identical tree. As the night continued to wear on, Lao felt a new wave of helplessness wash over him, but it was short-lived. Just as the Shoyru was beginning to become homesick again, he suddenly found himself stepping into a small clearing in the forest.
Immediately, Lao stopped in his tracks. This must have been the place that the Draik had been directing him towards. “So it was Ying,” Lao thought to himself, looking around. Situated in the center of the clearing was a small structure made of sticks and leaves, and he could see a shadowy shape lying underneath its awning. The rest of the clearing was empty, except for a small pit of ashes that had recently been a fire. Lao crept forward, not wanting to frighten whatever creature was inside the shack, but eager to see what sort of help it would offer. As he drew closer, the Shoyru could see that the creature was a green Kougra, decorated with shining gold earrings and bands. It was covered in flowing stripes of blue paint. The Kougra was asleep. It did not look harmful.
Lao gingerly leaned forward and tapped it on the shoulder. It immediately opened one eye and glanced at Lao.
“Young yellow Shoyru
Wakes me in the darkest night
To learn of the sun.”
“Um, yes,” said Lao. “How did you know? I need to deliver the Morning Arrow to the Great Archer before sunrise. Did Ying tell you I was coming?”
“No,” said the Kougra, opening its other eye and standing up. It yawned, stretched, and turned to face Lao. “I noticed that the sun has been growing increasingly red these past weeks, which means that the time of reigniting is here.”
“Oh,” said Lao, blinking.
The Kougra smiled. “And I saw the Morning Arrow in your hand,” it added with a laugh. “My name is Rorru, and I am a master at the art of haiku.”
“How interesting,” said Lao. He had met a few poets in Shenkuu, and enjoyed hearing haikus and other poems. “But I’m afraid I have no time for poetry. Ying the good dragon told me that you would help me find a way to deliver the Morning Arrow to the Great Archer.”
Rorru cocked an eyebrow and said, “And how did you know it was Ying who told you this?”
Lao was suddenly at a loss. “Well, he pointed me in this direction and said that I would find help on my quest. I thought you would be the help.”
Rorru said, “I do not know of anything that can aid you.” Lao felt an icy chill run down his spine. So the Draik he had seen was Yang? Had it led him in the wrong direction? “But I can give you this,” continued Rorru. “Today’s haiku might be the help you need. I composed it yesterday, but perhaps fate intended you to hear it at this time.” Then, Rorru recited:
“Unknown young hero
By faith, throw your greatest prize
To the heart of fire.”
Lao pondered the words, searching for some sort of hidden message, but he was unable to find one. “Do you think you could interpret that?” he asked Rorru. “That doesn’t tell me what I have to do with the arrow.”
“Does it not?” asked Rorru.
“I don’t think so,” said Lao. He paused. “Do you think that I am following the right direction? Do you think the Draik who told me to come here was Yang trying to deceive me?”
“I think nothing,” replied Rorru. “I am but a poet. You are the hero. It is your journey to make.” With those parting words, Rorru crept back into his shelter, closed his eyes, and spoke no more.
Lao watched him helplessly. The Draik had said that he would learn what he had to do to deliver the arrow, but all he had was a mysterious haiku. Hurriedly, Lao repeated it in his mind, making sure not to forget a single word. “Unknown young hero, by faith, throw your greatest prize to the heart of fire,” he whispered, relieved that he was able to remember it. As he repeated it to himself, however, he suddenly noticed something that Rorru had said.
“You are the hero,” the Kougra had said just before lying down. “It is your journey to make.” Hero. The hero in the haiku was Lao!
He was almost embarrassed not to have thought of it before. “So,” he said to himself, still standing awkwardly outside Rorru’s shelter, “the haiku is about me. ‘Throw your greatest prize to the heart of fire.’ That’s what I have to do.” The prize, Lao knew, was the Morning Arrow, but what was the heart of fire? It was a puzzle that he had to solve, and quickly.
Glancing one last time over his shoulder at the sleeping Kougra, Lao entered the dense jungle once more and began to walk. As the night continued to wear on, the yellow Shoyru desperately tried to make sense of the haiku. He repeated it over and over, but no matter how many times he tried, he still could not decipher it. “Now would be a good time for Ying to show up again,” Lao muttered.
However, no checkered Draik was to be seen. Lao wandered for what seemed like hours; he did not know the actual time. All he knew was that sunrise was not far away, and he still did not know how to deliver the all-important Morning Arrow. As luck would have it, however, after an unbearably long hike through the tiresome tropical jungle, Lao at last found the trees beginning to thin out. After only a few more minutes, they had disappeared entirely, and the Shoyru found himself on an empty beach.
Lao was so relieved to be out of the suffocating jungle that it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from him. The harbour and the Destiny were nowhere in sight, so Lao assumed that he was on some unknown part of the island, but at least he was out of the jungle. Looking up at the sky, it seemed as dark as ever, so Lao knew that he still had a few hours before the fateful sunrise.
He looked around for any sign of help; any clue that would help him continue on his mission. He saw nothing however, for several minutes. Then, just as he was about to simply start walking down the shoreline, there was a familiar puff of thick black smoke. Lao squinted at it, and it faded to reveal a checkered Draik.
This Draik looked exactly like the one Lao had encountered before, but he knew that Ying and Yang were identical, so there was no way to tell which was which. The Draik gave him an unfathomable smile and said, “Hello. My name is Ying, and I am here to tell you what to do next.”
“How do I know that it is you again?” asked Lao. “What if you’re really Yang?”
The Draik looked curiously at Lao for a moment. Then, it shook its head and said, “You will know that I am Ying because I know the haiku that you have just received.”
Lao gasped. Could this Draik really be Ying? After all, Lao was almost positive that Ying had been the one to point him toward Rorru’s dwelling. “Unknown young hero, by faith, throw your greatest prize into the heart of fire,” recited the Draik, giving Lao a look that he could not decipher. “It says,” continued the Draik, “that you, the hero, must throw your greatest prize to the heart of fire. Do you know what that means?”
“Sort of,” replied Lao. “The hero is me, I suppose, and the prize is the Morning Arrow. But what is the heart of fire?”
The Draik shook its head. It looked directly into Lao’s eyes, and the Shoyru searched deeply for some sign of either goodness or evil, but found none. All he saw were two deep eyes, and the Draik said, “You’re wrong. The hero is you, but the arrow is not your greatest prize.”
“Then… what is?” asked Lao.
“The greatest prize that anyone can have,” continued the Draik, still staring deep into Lao’s eyes, as if into his soul, “is himself,” and Lao experienced a swirling feeling of fear and confusion like he had never felt before.
To be continued...