Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chapter 56: Relics of the Past

Delaney and Jillyan camped out together on their first night in Shang Simla. As they roast some breakfast over their campfire the next morning they discuss their plans for the day.

"I'm meeting with Liang Yat Sen at the martial arts academy," Delaney tells her daughter, "You can come along if you're  really serious about wanting to learn Sim Fu."

They arrive at the academy early, giving Delaney time to give Jilly some pointers on using the training dummy.

Jilly soon has the basics down and has earned her first belt.

Liang finally arrives and Delaney leaves Jilly to train on her own while she goes inside the academy building to speak with him. 

He greets her with a formal bow, "Welcome to our village, dragon's daughter. Our mutual friend Rory has told me you've been training on your own. Would you care to spar with me?"

Rory had told her she would be tested before he'd be accepted into the community of dragon descendants who lived here, so she came prepared. Confident in her abilities, she believed her superior level skill would give her an easy win, but, despite only wearing a green bely, Liang moved faster than she could imagine, blocking each of her hits and managing to get past her own blocks, and bested her in two out of three rounds.

"You did better than I expected," he says with a smile after the final bow.

Delaney frowns, "I expected to do much better."

"Your skill surpasses ordinary humans," Liang says, "But you and I are both not just human, after all. We are descended from dragons. While you have only recently learned of your heritage and are learning to tap into your power, I have been raised since birth in a community that honors our ancestry with vigorous training."

Liang invited Delaney and Jillyan to spend the night in the Yat Sen's guest room. After a family dinner, Liang takes Delaney aside for a private conversation.

"We are alike, in that we are the descendants of dragons who mated with mortals. But we are also different. My dragon ancestor is a mighty Shenlong, a spirit dragon who gives us the rains that sustain our village. His mortal descendants, my family, live in service to him so that he might continue to bless us with good weather and fertile fields. I understand that your kind have no such relationship with your ancestors."

"I couldn't even tell you tell the name of the dragon in my ancestry," Delaney says with a wry smile, refraining from adding that she still has a hard time even accepting Rory's story as actual fact, "I didn't even know about any of this until Rory told me about it."

Liang proudly shows Delaney the history of his family, their long geneaology stretching back into a distant past, the stories all of his ancestors and extended family who served the dragon who protect has village.

"I showed all this to Rory, too," Liang finishes,  "And I told him how he might speak with Shenlong. I could do the same for you, if you wish to meet the dragon."

Shit is getting real, Delaney thinks. At least, Liang seems very serious about all this. "I guess that's what I came for," Delaney answers hesitantly, finding that she doesn't really know why she took this trip, and just wishing she was back home with Jack, living some kind of normal life. At least, normal by the standards she and Jack were used to.

Sensing her hesitation, Liang frowns slightly and says, "The Shenlong will see into your soul and the reflection his mirror shows might surprise you. You should be sure you are ready to see it."

"I am sure," Delaney says with more confidence this time, an instinctive response to the challenge Liang presented. She didn't come all this way just to back out now.

After Liang gives her careful instructions about how to meet Shenlong, Delaney joins Jilly, already asleep, in the guest room. So far, she's told her daughter nothing of this dragon business, not sure how to go about it. It would only be right for her to know, but until she can get a better grasp on what it all means, there's not much Delaney ca say that would make any sense.

At dawn, Jilly's mother leaves her to her own devices while she goes on some sort for pilgrimage, something to do with the Academy as far as she can tell. Jilly happily takes the opportunity to do some excavating in the hills, something she's sure her mother would have no patience to join her in, carefully digging, searching for interesting bits of history, relics of the past.

Wandering the outskirts of the village, Jilly also finds bits of jade and lapis lazuli to take home with her. While she out in the hills, she also takes several photographs of the beautiful scenery.

As instructed, Delaney makes the long climb to the highest spot in the village, on the mountain peak above the Temple of Heaven. Liang told he she would find a platform there, a place to practice her skill in martial arts. She must do this until she is too fatigued to continue.

When she became too fatigued to practice any further, she must hike down to the place the locals call the Pearl of the Dragon, the place where Liang told her the Shenlong first appeared to the mortal who he'd made his wife, and who was Liang's distant ancestor, the foundress of this village.

The people had erected a fountain there in honor of Shenlong, and Delaney must sit in meditation in front of it, until Shenlong would deign to speak to her.

"He will not speak to just anyone," Liang had explained, "But you bear the blood of dragons, even if it is not of his family, Shenlong will wish to speak to you."

In truth, Delaney didn't hold much faith in this story, or believe she was actually going to meet a dragon. But she still welcomed the opportunity for some peaceful meditation. As skilled as she had become in martial arts, she had yet to master the art of stilling her mind. Up here, far from the flow of the village, there were no distractions to vie for her attention, and after some hours of meditation, Delaney suddenly felt herself being lifted from the ground.

She opened her eyes in surprise, and saw that the color of the stone fountain had changed to a blue, watery hue.

"No distractions," she said to herself, and closed her eyes, refusing to think about what was happening to her body, to the stone.

She couldn't say how long she sat there, because time had ceased to exist.

He promised to protect her, always. Her father's embrace had made her feel safe, even when imaginary monsters threatened.

In his eyes, Jack was a monster that she needed to be protected from. In his eyes, he'd failed her when she, a pregnant teenager, ran off with the father of her child.

"I only wanted to protect you," he had said, when he tried to kick Jack out out of her life, out of their son's life. But the innocence he'd been trying to protect was long gone, and he'd been blind to the real monster, the one inside herself. No matter what she did, what trouble she got into, her father never saw it, shielding his eyes from the truth even as he'd cover for her, using his money and influence to spare her from the school's disciplinary actions. He had protected her, not from monsters, but from the consequences of her own actions.

"Because I love you and would do anything to protect you," Jack had said, when he let himself get expelled for her crime. 

"Everything will be okay, as long as we're together," he'd promised when she told him she was pregnant.

After he got out of jail, all he wanted was to get himself out of the criminal life, and take care of his family. But she craved the excitement, and she held him there, where he didn't want to be.

He would do anything for her, and she knew it, used it to her advantage.

"I should have protected you," she says out loud, "I was the strong one, I was the leader. And I made such a mess of your life."

She realizes as she opens her eyes that she's sitting on the ground, not floating above it, and the fountain is the same color it was when she arrived. The sun has moved along in the sky, but the world itself is still the same as it ever was, and yet somehow, everything seems different.

Delaney walks out to the old monastery where she was to meet up with Jilly in the evening to spend the night. Still in a daze, she wonders, did she truly meet Shenlong on the mountain? Or was it all only in her mind?

Jilly, who'd arrived earlier and was waiting for her, excitedly tells her about her finds, digging in the old ruins in the hills. "I showed some vases  found to the relics merchant in the village, and he said my estimates for their age and value were right on. I think I might want to study art, at university," she concludes, breathless after her long story about her day.

"I talked to Liang, too," she continues on after a nod and smile of encouragement from her slightly overwhelmed mother, "He says I can enter the Academy officially and take lessons. While we're here at least. Then maybe I can come back and compete in the tournament when I'm good enough."

Delaney chuckles, "You want to be an art historian and a martial artist, too?"

"Sure, why not?" Jilly answers, "I can be more than one thing, can't I?"

"You can be anything you want to be," Delaney answers, proud of her daughter, and more than a little amazed that she and Jack had produced this brilliant, beautiful young woman together, "And you'll be awesome at anything you choose to do."

Despite the strong hail the next morning, Liang insisted Jilly take her first lesson with him outdoors.

"You must be able to ignore everything but your opponent, even the weather," Liang instructs her.

Delaney spends her day relaxing in the spa with some of the locals.

For her second day of instruction, Liang sends Jillyan to the Scholar' garden to meditate.

At sunset, she goes back to the Academy to meet with Li Yuan, who gives her her assignment for the next day.

He told her she'd need to retrieve some documents for study from a chamber beneath the old monastery. What Li didn't tell her was that she'd literally have to go through fire to get to them. With some experimenting Jilly discovers the secret to the puzzle, and finds the triggers to disarm the fire traps in the first passage easily enough.

Delaney spends her day in the spa again.

The next passage has no convenient triggers to disarm the blazing traps.

Jillyan is undaunted, and times her jumps to avoid the flames.

Obstacles are only difficult if you let them get in your way, and Jilly has no intention of failing this test. She finds the documents she was instructed to retrieve, and brings them up to the Academy for study.

The manuscript she was sent to find detailed the history of the monastic order founded, so their legends said, by the son of a dragon by a mortal woman. Jilly spends her evening, their last in Shang Simla, reading these tales, and the images follow her into her dreams.

Bake in Drake's Hollow, Delaney peruses the collection of gems Jillyan has displayed in her bedroom. The moonstone was a birthday gift from Shadow, and the rest were found in China.

Jilly's bedroom has become almost a museum exhibit, showcasing the collection of vases she brought home, as well as her photographs and other relics.

Jillyan happily distributes some of the excess bounty she brought home to her various family members. To Shadow and Iola she gives books she she picked up in the village bookstore, to Aouregan she gives some unidentified seeds she picked up, as well as a fossilized apple. Her cousins all get pieces from her relics collection. To Farrell she gives samples of metal she picked up, mercury and platinum.

Jilly doesn't know what her great-uncle is doing up in the attic, but he's always looking for metal samples to analyze.

Pleased with her find, Farrell extracts a sample to experiment with.

Delaney had cut off most ties with her father after he moved out and married Claire. That stunt he pulled, getting Jack arrested, had pretty much killed their father-daughter bond. Whatever it was that she experienced in China, Delaney hates to call it a vision, because that's so Shadow and definitely not her, it left her with a desire to reconnect with Elliot, and put all the animosity behind them.

"I just wanted to tell you, when Jack gets backs from his latest deployment, we're going to get married," she tells him as soon as he lets her in the door. Delaney doesn't mean to be confrontational, but, as much as she longs for reunion, it will only happen if he can accept her choices.

"Congratulations, Laney," Elliot says, "I'm happy for you."

"Really?" Delaney asks, dropping the defensive stance she'd unconsciously been building up as she prepared for argument with him.

Eliot gestures for his daughter to take a seat beside him. "Really," he answers once they are both seated,  "He was never my first choice for you," he continues, smiling at the understatement, "Maybe not even my last choice. But he was your choice, and you've had two children with him. He didn't turn out half as bad as I expected. It's about time you finally settled down."

"Dad, Jack is a much better man than you give him credit for," Delaney says, "All you ever saw was a juvenile delinquent. But even then, he wasn't what you thought. He acted out a bit, yeah, but when you blamed him for the stuff I wasn't him. It was me. I'm the one that stole those test papers. He took the blame to cover for me, and he got expelled for it. For me," Delaney sighs in relief at finally making her confession, even though, now, it hardly matters anymore.

"I...don't remember test papers being stolen," Elliot admits. 

All the fire of what she was burning to say to him went out as Delaney realizes that none of it matters anymore, the past is water under the bridge, gone.

"I love you, Daddy," she whispers as she hugs him goodbye, "I hope you'll come to my wedding."

"Of course I will, sweetheart," Elliot promises, " I wouldn't miss it for anything."

Delaney is waylaid by her half-sister Danica before she can get to the door.

Elliot's daughters forget what they were tking abut as their father begins to glow.

"What's--what's happening?" Danica whispers.

Delaney knows, but she doesn't have to answer.

After grieving with her sisters and step=mother, Delaney reluctantly gets on her bike, knowing she's going to have to be the one that brings this sad news to her uncle Farrell, and to her sister Cassidy.