Lao and the Legend of the Sun: Part Four
In a puff of black smoke, the checkered Draik was gone, and Lao was left panting on the empty beach. It took several minutes for the Shoyru to compose himself. After all, the Draik had just informed him that in order to deliver the Morning Arrow, he had to somehow throw himself into a heart of fire.
“It must have been Yang,” Lao decided. Only the evil Draik would ever suggest such a frightening prospect. But Lao remained uncertain. The Draik had known the words of the haiku Rorru had given, and Lao was nearly positive that Ying had been the one to lead him toward Rorru’s dwelling. These uncertainties clawed at Lao’s mind, and he felt a wave of hopelessness wash over him. There was no way to tell which Draik was which, and therefore there was no way to tell what to do next.
After sitting helplessly for a few minutes on the beach, watching the starlight reflect off the waves, Lao decided that he couldn’t wait any longer. He knew, either way, that he had to find a “heart of fire,” so the least he could do was at least find that.
The Shoyru recited the haiku again. “Unknown young hero, by faith, throw your greatest prize into the heart of fire.” He sighed. “Well, if I’m the hero, and my prize is...” He paused. “The Morning Arrow,” he continued with a nervous flutter in his belly, “then all I need to do is figure out where this heart of fire is.”
It wasn’t that easy. Lao pondered the idea. Where on Mystery Island could he possibly find a heart of fire? He thought of his sister, Lin. She was always good at puzzles; if only she were here. Lao’s heart sank as he thought of home. He had been so eager to leave, so eager to go on an adventure. All he had ever wanted to do was travel the world by ship, and look where it had gotten him. Nowhere, that’s where. Now he would never get home; the sun would not rise if he didn’t deliver the Morning Arrow. A tear formed in the Shoyru’s eye, but suddenly, all of his thoughts rushed together into one conclusion. In a flash, Lao was taken back to that day before he left Shenkuu, and he could hear Lin say, “The rising sun always reminds me of the heart of a volcano.”
“Of course,” breathed Lao, his heart pounding. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. The volcano must be the heart of fire.”
He turned and faced the jungle again. From his spot on the beach, Lao could see a trail of smoke rising above the tall trees. Not far off, there was an orange glow that could only be coming from the immense volcano.
Lao suddenly became conscious of the time. “It must be nearly morning,” he said worriedly. The volcano was still quite a ways off, and there was no discernible path that led directly to it. He’d have to travel through the jungle again.
Wasting no time, Lao began to run through the trees as fast as he could. He remembered how long it had taken him to walk this far, but he also remembered how slowly he had been going. Perhaps, if he was quick enough, he might make it to the volcano in time to save the sun.
His journey through the jungle was difficult, but at last Lao broke through the trees to find himself at the foot of a tall mountain. The sight was breathtaking. Lao’s eyes traveled from the wide base up a flight of steep stairs that led all the way to the volcano’s rim, where a red glow emanated. The smoke puffed silently up into the night sky. Morning would soon arrive, but it was not here yet. Lao still had time.
Without thinking of what he would do when he got there, the small yellow Shoyru began to ascend the steep flight of stairs that were carved into the side of the volcano. His heart pounding, Lao knew that this journey would be perhaps the most important one he would ever make. Everything that had happened that night was coming together; everything had brought him to this final culmination.
The stairs were steep and long, but when Lao at last reached the top of the volcano, he was nearly knocked back down by the force of the heat from the basin. He was standing at the very edge of an enormous lake of lava that was bubbling and smoking like nothing Lao had ever seen. He had to take a step back to shield himself from the unbearable heat. Suddenly, he remembered the haiku. Now was the time. Lao had to throw his greatest prize to the pit of fire. But what was the prize?
Lao had concluded that the prize was the Morning Arrow. It only made sense. But either Ying or Yang had told him that the prize was he himself, the hero, and this was a thought that gave Lao the chills even amidst the fiery heat. Lao glanced around him. From the volcano, he could see the entire island around him. The jungle stretched far, and in the distance, Lao could see the harbour, where the Destiny was waiting for him. But in his heart, Lao knew that there was a chance he would never return.
Lao looked past the harbor and saw the open sea. And there, on the horizon, was a sight that made Lao’s heart stop.
The edge of the sun was just peeking over the horizon. And it was a dark, deep red.
Lao’s heart began to pound again. His time was up. He had to act now, or else the sun would never be saved. The world would be cast into an eternal darkness. But what could he do? Lao had no idea whether to throw the arrow or himself into the fire. Both seemed possible, and although Lao preferred one over the other, he just wasn’t sure which was the right choice.
Suddenly, in a familiar puff of black smoke, a checkered Draik appeared. Lao gasped. “Ying?” he asked. “Yang?”
“It is I, Ying,” said the Draik. “And I have come in your final time of need. Now is the time for you to sacrifice yourself in order to save the sun. Leap into the fire, and save the world.”
Lao’s stomach turned. He still wasn’t sure if this Draik was Ying, but as the red sun continued to rise, there was no more time for doubt. Lao had to make a decision. He had to act. But before he could do this, another puff of smoke appeared, revealing a second checkered Draik.
Lao now realized why it had been so hard for him to tell the two Draiks apart. They really were identical. Everything about them was exactly the same, even the look in their eyes. The Shoyru knew that one was good and one was evil, but how could he tell?
“I am Ying,” said the second Draik, “and this is my brother Yang.”
“Liar!” cried the first. “I am Ying!”
“Throw the Arrow into the flame,” continued the second Draik. “And fulfill your destiny.”
“No!” said the first Draik. “The Morning Arrow is not the prize!”
“Liar!” cried the second. The twins leapt at each other and began to fight and shout as Lao stood helplessly on the rim of the volcano.
Never had the Shoyru been so confused. Good and evil were there before him, physically manifested, and yet he still could not tell the difference between them. Why did it have to be so hard? Why couldn’t the right choice be clear? Lao looked around him for any sign of help, but all he saw was the sun, now almost halfway over the horizon. The sun was rising, but it was not giving light and hope. Lao began to despair. As Ying and Yang, Good and Evil, continued to fight behind him, he gave one last look of hopelessness up into the starry sky.
The smoke from the volcano obscured the stars slightly, but when he looked up, Lao could see a few of them shining more brightly than the rest. Seven bright stars formed a gentle curve, an arc in the heavens. Lao recognized the shape. It was a bow. He looked down at his hands, which still held tightly onto the Morning Arrow, and he at last knew what to do.
Lao raised the ancient arrow above his head. Ying and Yang turned to look at him. They gasped, but before they could speak, Lao closed his eyes and threw the arrow into the heart of the volcano.
“No!” cried one Draik.
“Yes!” cried the other.
Lao said nothing. He waited tensely as the arrow sank into the bubbling lava. The few seconds dragged by like hours as the red sun continued to rise. Then, with a splash of lava that nearly scalded Lao and the Draiks, the arrow shot up out of the volcano at an amazing speed. It shone orange and yellow and burst up toward the sky. It quickly faded away in the distance, looking like just another star. As Lao watched in awe, it landed right next to the bow in the sky. The arc of stars bent as the Great Archer pulled the bow back, and then released it. The Morning Arrow flew down towards the horizon like a shooting star, and then struck the red sun right in its center.
The sun burst into vibrant red, orange, and yellow light, brightening the ocean instantly. The island was bathed in the red orange light of the sunrise and when the light illuminated the two Draiks, their checkered patterns faded away. Lao could at last see one Draik of shining white, and one Draik of shadow. A smile crept across the Shoyru’s face. He had completed his task.
Ying and Yang smiled and breathed deeply. They both looked at Lao and said, “We are at peace.” They drifted towards each other, and to Lao’s surprise, they began to swirl and mold together, at last restoring the balance of good and evil to the world. Then, in one last puff of black smoke, they were gone.
Lao stood staring at the horizon. Sunrise: how he had waited for this moment. He had thought it would never come. After such a long night, Lao had never been so happy to see the sun. Then, he noticed the Destiny docked in the harbour. Captain Eran had ordered him to be at the ship by sunrise. Lao had nearly forgotten. He smiled. It was time to go home.
Lao stood at the crest of one of the many hills of Shenkuu. It was his first morning back at home, and he watched the sun creep over the green horizon. A small yellow Shoyru came up behind him. He put his arm around her shoulders.
“The rising sun looks like the heart of a volcano,” said Lao.
Lin smiled and looked up at him. “It looks just like a splash of lava spreading across the sky.” They stood together, brother and sister, gazing at the fiery light bathing the world. “I’m glad you’re home,” Lin said.
“So am I,” said Lao. “And wow, do I have a story to tell you.”