Fiction: The Butterfly Dragon I: Heroes Of Our Own - Prologue: Two Little Butterflies by Brian Joseph Johns

Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Prologue: Two Little Butterflies

The flight of a butterfly is rarely direct and one must wonder at times if they really have a destination at all. Perhaps they are just following the wind. Destiny is the idea that some things are meant to be and guaranteed to happen. When two hearts exist in the right place and the right time even destiny can be superseded by those who want something to be more so than it is guaranteed not to be. Such as the path of two little butterflies who arrive at the same flower. One from the East and one from the West.


Most who saw her would say they found their hearts warmed and that was before she'd even spoke. She had silky hair, a tiny little nose and sparkling eyes so full of wonder for the world. She was delicately inquisitive yet had a great reverence for everything around her. She'd not speak often but when she did, most would do best to be ready for an onslaught of questions from a young mind trying to understand the inner workings of the world. She was fearless in asking, just as she was in seeking and that sometimes worried her Mother for Ai was only four years old. Though the world was a beautiful place it was not always like Ai's namesake. It could be cold and dangerous to match the ponderous little heart of a young and curious little girl.

Ai's Mother Zhi, a beautiful lady who worked as a seamstress in a garment factory had given birth to Ai four years earlier in Guangzhou, China. Zhi's Mother Su, Ai's Grand Mother had given birth to Zhi forty-six years earlier in the same city hospital where Ai was born. Her Mother, in turn, had given birth to Su in a hut in a rice farming community before the turn of the century. Before her and for nine generations prior, their family had worked the rice patties farming rice for the Imperial Chinese Empire. The six generations before those generations had produced a variety of beautiful daughters and sons who'd intermingled with a wealthy Vietnamese family in Southern China. One of their sons had married into an illustrious marriage with a powerful figure of Thai origins and had a sprawling little family of their own. These lines led all the way back to the time of the Ming Dynasty and yet still much further back. During the Ming Dynasty, the reigning Emperor had fathered a child, with a beautiful and talented dancer and poet who'd heralded from Korea. Shijeoni was her name and she too had come from a line that had emerged from Korea. She herself had been given as a gift to the Chinese Emperor for his marriage during a deal to procure an open trade treaty and a lasting peace with the Ming Dynasty. She had studied drama, dance, and poetry since her youth and had become the pearl of Korea. The legend was that one day she'd give birth to the gem.

A gem she'd been called when her Mother, one of the Korean Emperor’s sisters in the court of Joseon had given birth to her. Generations before she'd nearly lost her entire family during a time of war between Korea and Japan when Toyotomi Hideyoshi had launched an invasion intending to capture both Korea and China. Taking part in the invasion was a relative of the Emperor Go-Yōzei, the ruling Emperor of Japan. During the invasion, the brother of Emperor Go-Yōzei fathered a child with a beautiful mistress he'd taken in Korea. Shijeoni was thus born and the secret of the origins of her father was kept from her and hidden from the Joseon Empire. Knowledge of an illegitimate child between a reigning Japanese Emperor and a relative of the ruling Korean Joseon Dynasty would have led to turmoil between the Ming Dynasty, the Joseon Dynasty and the Emperor Go-Yōzei of Japan. Hence the secret was kept and the weight of the burden of that secret was tremendous, for it bore enough significance to bring about total war in the Far East should it become revealed.

A thousand years earlier when the descendants of Shijeoni and her Chinese and Japanese relatives gave birth, a great Sage gave an omen to the reigning Emperor that a child would arise from the ashes of war who would give birth to the gem. The gem was the ancient legend that would one day deliver the world from the Dragon of War and Darkness. From the chaos of destruction. The gem would heal the Dragon of Love and Peace and together they would restore order and become something different altogether for the generations that followed. It had already happened once and it would happen again and was told in both the skies and the seas but it was often the deep red moon that spoke to the Sage in the clearest voice. The great Sage had carried that knowledge for years for he'd been taught by the descendants of those who'd been on guard for this Dragon of War and Darkness since the beginning of time. They'd been the first to fight it off and had saved all the Dynasties of the East in doing so and perhaps even the world. This tale was kept a secret for thousands of years and told generation to generation as a child's tale. A fairy tale for it was the tale of the Butterfly Dragon.

It would be a mistake to assume that Ai's optimistic and protective nature heralded from her heritage for it was just part of Ai's good nature. As far as the merit of her unique heritage was concerned, Ai had already earned herself. There were many who believed that a privileged heritage was merely an excuse for them to do little and to charge others a price for the protection of their association. Ai's attitude was that if she could do good she would. She would never sit on her laurels biding time just because of the merit her hidden heritage had purchased for her. It was not an excuse to do nothing but rather a great responsibility to do something. She enjoyed being her creative and adventurous self and there would be no free ride on her heritage because *she* intended to make her own path. She was as much a child of the entire Far East as much as she was that of her parents. She bore the responsibility that entailed for she was not only responsible to her parents and her country of birth, but to the entire Far East of Asia and for that matter in her eyes, the world. Ai's Mother had from her birth referred to her as the Butterfly. It was now the Butterfly Ai who pranced through the tall grass looking for her way to *there*. The place where she'd find the secrets of her Grand Mother's tale. Where she might even find herself and her own place in this strange and wonderful world. A place she'd often find during her imaginative dreams.

The Field

It was neither dark nor light. The air held no tension and there was almost no wind. The air did move but only enough to lightly tickle the hairs of one's skin. The horizon itself was light and grew darker the further up she craned her head. When she looked up as far as she could, she saw a small patch of sky dark enough to house stars. They twinkled within their retreat from the full light of day or the full dark of night. They sat perched in their own island in the sky and she giggled when she thought about them each one.

She was alone and her head barely peered over the grass which lined the land. She was not afraid of what was hidden beneath the grass or what she couldn't see because she'd never been afraid. She looked back down again through the tall foliage which seemed to part as she progressed on her path through it. *No obstacle was ever so difficult as the one you imagined* her Grandmother would say to her. For a little girl of her young age, she'd never encountered an obstacle which she could not overcome by her own creativity and persistence. This tall grass was no different and seemed to part for her as she made her way to *there*. Where ever there was.

She'd never been there before but she'd heard of there enough. Her Grandmother had told her the stories of there and she so desperately wanted to see it. The unknown. The treasures that secrets held for the mind to keep. Her Grandmother had hinted at them, the hidden mysteries of a land that none had seen. No person had ever set foot upon except to take from it for their own. For it was where there was peace amongst the creatures and all who lived within it. It was their place and it was their freedom for it was the *there*. The field. It had been secret all along except that her Grandmother had hinted at its location. One night, when it was dark and quiet enough, a very young Ai Yuanlin Ying waited until there was no sound in the house. The moment when the quiet peace of night had enveloped the small house within the community that her family called home. When it was quiet and still, she closed her eyes and went into the unknown following her Grandmother's directions carefully. Only moments later she opened her eyes and she was in a different land. The place that her Grandmother's tale had begun and all through the wonder of Ai's imagination.

At the top of a hill a short distance away she spied something or someone moving. As she got closer she realized that it was a group of somethings or more precisely; a group of people. She crouched down watching them a short run from them, listening to their conversation.

"I think that we've got an opening. They won't even suspect that we're here. I say that we just run down there and grab them while they don't expect it." one of them said.

"Let's at least wait for the others. I saw a troop of them run off into the trees by the clearing. They'll be a good take!" another with a fuzzy beard and a gravelly voice spoke.

"Shhh! I heard something." one of the men with a tight cap turned slightly trying to hear a bit better.

"Naaah. Its probably nothing." he feigned as he backed up reaching into the tall grass of the field just behind him and pulling a little girl from it.

"Ahhhhhhhh!" Ai screamed at the top of her lungs.

"Got her! Quick! They heard her scream! Go get them before they get away!" the man with the tight cap ordered the remaining four men.

They got up and ran down a tiny hill down into the short grass of a beautiful field of flowers and vegetation lightly brushed by the twilight from the horizon.

Ai turned her head remembering her Grandmother's story. She feared for the creatures there for she was looking at the flower-filled clearing. The great secret her Grandmother had saved for her and these men were about to destroy it.

"Run! They're coming to get you! Go! Run! They're going to get you!" Ai screamed as loud as she could before the man put his big hand to her face, muffling her screams.

In the field the men threw their nets and set upon their prey, catching many of the creatures of the field in a sack they'd prepared just for the purpose of catching these creatures. Inside the sack, they writhed and screamed though they were mostly small and could do little against their captors but scream and cry. Ai heard their screams from where she was and she struggled to get free of the man holding her. She kicked at him then punched a few times and when he removed his hand from her mouth to defend himself, she screamed again.

"Run! Run! They're coming to get you!" she yelled again at the top of her lungs.

The man went to silence her again with his hand and she bit down on his hand with her first teeth. 

This time it was him that screamed.

"Arrrrrrrgh! You little...!" this time instead of putting his hand to her mouth, he picked up his sack and threw her into it, tightening the end up and tying it tightly closed.

He then threw the sack over his shoulders and led the rest of the men away from the field and back to their camp.

Ai had tried to sleep for the trip having tired herself during her attempts to escape. Still in the burlap sack, she felt herself being hefted to the ground.

"Ow! That hurt!" she said through the sack.

"That's enough out of you!" the man with the cap ordered her.

"Meanie!" she replied sharply pouting from inside the sack.

"You got that right! I think that you're being a little too kind. I would have called them feather-free finks!" Ai heard from one of the other sacks the men had been carrying.

"I think that they're whisker-less whelps, myself!" said a tiny voice from another sack.

"Noooo! They're sssssside ssssstepping sssstompers!" another voice said from one of the sacks.

"<zzzzzzt> You're all wrong! <zzzt> They're stinger-impaired stinkies! <zzzzzt>" Ai heard yet another tiny voice angrily buzzing.

"Alright. That's enough out of all of you. Pirkens, put them in the pit for the night. We'll sort them out in the morning." the man with the cap ordered the one with the beard.

"The pit. That sounds horrible! I'll never see the sky again!" one of the voices spoke from the other sack.

The men grabbed the sacks and untied them untied them throwing them one by one into the pit. They threw Ai in first so that she didn't crush the others. They heaved the sacks over into the pit on top of her. She ran her hands around the edges of the sack trying to find the opening. Once having found the opening she pushed her head out and screamed at what she saw. There beside her in the pit was a large bird, with beautiful colored feathers. A large bumble bee, who'd landed on the bird's head. A big field mouse scurrying to and fro and a large garter snake slithering after the mouse.

"You leave him alone!" Ai yelled at the snake.

"Sssstop! Ssssstop! I'm only helping him sssssssmell and ssssniff for food you know. I need a sssssnack too." the garter snake replied to her.

"Besides, with these whiskers, I can tell if he's coming for a mile away." the field mouse assured her confidently.

"Ssssssure you could. Sssssure you could. You'd never even sssssussssspect a thing if I wasssss hunting you. Besssssides, thosssse whissssskerssss of yourssss did a lot of good when they caught you!" the garter snake goaded the field mouse.

"I was sleeping. They snuck up on me and caught me off guard. No help from you by the way." the field mouse responded to the garter snake.

Ai looked at the snake, then the mouse then to the bird quizzically and in disbelief. The creatures of her world did not talk like these ones did. But the creatures in the tale her Grandmother told her had spoken amongst one another and often.

"Why don't you tell bird brain and busy bee there to fly out of here and get us some help if you don't like it here." a worm slithered its way out of the sack and spoke.

"They covered the pit, so there's no way we can get out. Why don't you just burrow out of here and get us some help?" the bird said.

"Good idea. I'll get right to that and..." the worm stopped in dread when he saw that the walls of the pit were lined with large stones which were interlocked into a cylindrical wall encompassing the pit.

"Those slimy snakes!" the worm exclaimed.

"Watch it! You're one to talk!" the garter snake retorted to the worm.

"I was talking about our captors. They lined the walls of the pit with a solid stone wall. I can't burrow through it." the worm told them.

"I'd sssssay that we're sssssstuck here." the garter snake replied.

"What about you? Why don't you make yourself useful?" the bird said to Ai.

"Hey. She's really big. Maybe she could jump up and get the edges of the pit and climb out!" the mouse suggested.

Ai looked up at the edges of the pit and assessed whether she could reach the sides of the top of the pit.

"I don't think that I could reach them. I can't jump that high." Ai told the mouse.

"Are you kidding? If I was as big as you I'd be able to jump that far no problem! Maybe its because you don't have a tail." the mouse said to her.

"Nawww. Its not the tail. Now if she had wings, then we'd be home free. She could just hover up there and find the top and push her way past the barrier." the said.

"Are you kidding? There'd be feathers all over the place and you know I'm allergic to down!" said the worm.

"You've definitely got that wrong. I think that you're allergic to up." the bird shot back at the worm sarcastically.

"Then I'd say that we're sssssstuck. Letssss just get usssssed to it." the garter snake told them feeling a decline in it's hope for a chance to escape.

"I've got an idea! But we need to wait until they go to sleep for it to work." Ai suggested as they gathered around.

"Really? What's your plan?" asked the mouse intense with curiosity.

"Sssspeak up!" the garter snake pressed Ai.

"Well. Here's what we need to do..." Ai started to tell them the plan and when they finished, they all lay down to sleep in the bottom of the pit.

The mouse and the bird snuggled up with Ai while the snake, the worm and the bee took turns keeping watch. After the snake heard the men in the camp go to bed it waited another two hours before it work up Ai.

"Sssssleepy head! Wake up! Itsssss time to ssssssneak out!" the garter snake whispered into Ai's ear.

She awoke with a start to see the bird and the mouse nuzzled in her arms. She carefully woke them and the six of them got started on Ai's plan. First the bird flew the snake up to the top of the pit. The bird hovered near the top just under the barrier and the snake stretched it's head out and caught hold of the edge, just under the barrier. The snake dug its head between the barrier and the top of the pit then turned its head sideways to prevent himself from slipping back in. The bird then flew down and grabbed the mouse while the bee struggled to grab the worm.

"<zzzzt>You could stand to lose a little <zzzt>weight you know!<zzzzt>" the bee exclaimed as it struggled to get the worm off the ground.

"Ai. I'm ready!" the garter snake yelled down to the little girl.

"Alright. I'm going to try to climb now. Hang on. OK?" Ai checked with the garter snake.

"Take it sssssslow. Don't sssssss ssssssssl.... fall. Don't fall." the snake said as she grabbed hold of his tail.

Ai grabbed hold of the snakes tail as it hung down like a rope. The snake immediately felt her weight as its head was sandwiched between the barrier and the rock wall of the pit.

"Owww! I thought you were ssssssupposed to be light!" the snake grunted as he bore her full weight.

She kept climbing trusting that he would not let go and let her fall. She put one hand over the other and kept pulling herself up a little bit at a time.

"<zzzt> You mind picking up the pace! <zzzzzt> he's not getting any lighter you know! <zzzzt>" the bee struggled to stay in flight against the weight of the worm.

"I'm going as fast as I can!" Ai replied to the bee.

"Put down near the top!" the mouse told the bird.

"Ten four! ETA... uhhhh three seconds." the bird said as it flew over to the edge of the pit near the top of the snake.

The mouse jumped off onto the snake and scurried his way up. The snake grunted at the additional weight.

"You could have warned me!" the snake exclaimed.

When the mouse got the where the snake's head was wedged between the barrier and the edge of the pit, the mouse grabbed hold of the snake's head with his tail and pulled him up.

"I can't tell if I'm coming or going!" the snake protested.

"Almost there!" Ai yelled up to the snake and the mouse as she struggled to get her hand on the edge of the pit.

The rock she chose to grab hold of fell free under her weight and she slipped nearly falling back into the pit. Meanwhile outside in the camp one of the men woke up when he heard the racket of the rock falling into the pit.

"What was that?!" the man said aloud as he got out of his sleeping bag.

The bird flew to Ai and caught the top of her blouse flapping its wings furiously trying to prevent her from slipping back into the pit. She threw her hand up again and caught the lip of the pit once again, grabbing hold of a sturdier edge. She pulled herself up with all of the effort that she could muster hauling herself over the edge of the pit. She then turned back to the pit and the barrier and hefted it aside just as one of the men from the camp caught her.

She kicked and screamed trying to get away.

The bird saw what had transpired and immediately flew at the man's face, pecking at it furiously.

"Take that you big bully! Trying picking someone your own... with feathers!" the bird pecked as his face furiously.

He dropped Ai and she immediately grabbed the snake from the edge of the pit.

"Ahhhh. Thankssssss. What a relief!" the snake thanked her elated to be free of the pit and of the little girl's weight.

"We've got to run for it!" the mouse urged them.

"Where's the bee and the worm?" Ai asked the mouse.

"<zzzzzt>Go on without us! <zzzzt>We're not going to make it!<zzzzt>" the bee said as it struggled against the weight of the worm.

"Hold on!" Ai yelled reaching down into the pit once again and holding her hand out. The bee landed with the worm atop her hand and she pulled them out and ran trying to follow the mouse.

"This way!" the mouse yelled waiting for her to catch up.

"Haha! See what you get when you mess with a catbird! No really. I'm part cat you know. The part that doesn't need a cat litter. The best part." the bird quickly took off into the forest after Ai.

Ai ran through the brush with the other animals until she was out of breath and then some more until she no longer could.

"Only a little further. You can do it! We made it this far!" the bird urged Ai.

"I'm so tired," Ai replied.

The worm and the bee found their way out of the pocket of her blouse.

"Thank you, Ai. You could have left without us and instead you risked yourself for us. We'll never forget you." the worm exclaimed.

"<zzzzt> Thanks <zzzzt> a <zzzzzt> lot!" the bee told her flying close to her cheek and giving her a light kiss.

"I'm missing you already...<sniff>" the mouse started to ball and cry.

"Sssssssleep ssssssnugly sssssssssweetheart." the garter snake told her before slithering towards the clearing and its home.

Ai fell asleep having helped the creatures of the field to escape from their captors. She'd awaken briefly only to drift back into a state of dreamless sleep, leaving her at peace until the morning. She awoke the next day barely remembering the night's events. She recalled her Grandmother's story and that it was somehow related to her newfound friends. She remembered that there were still mysteries there in the field. Mysteries and something of great importance and urgency. She decided that she would try and find her way back into the field another night. She slept for many nights soundly in the quiet and the dark as the moon peeked between her curtains to kiss her good night.

The Butterflies

For the next month, Ai had spent a lot of time observing the creatures from her back yard. They seemed pretty inattentive to her presence and were often engaged in various activities most of which seemed to be related to food and eating. At one point she held her ear close to a small anthill and listened carefully to see if they were speaking. A moment later she leaned up carefully brushing her ears and hair off when a few had climbed onto her. She tried the same experiment with a squirrel and a chipmunk that lived in the large oak tree in her backyard. The squirrel was a bit nervous about getting close to her but it perched on its hind legs occasionally and even seemed to be rubbing its front paws together as if in anticipation. She quickly ran inside and asked her Mother for some food for the squirrel and the chipmunk.

"Mom. Can I have something for the squirrel... and the chipmunk?" she asked.

Her mother looked out of the sliding back door to of their modest home and then back to her daughter.

"Are you playing with the squirrel? Be careful. They might think your nose is a little nut and run away with it!" her mother said to her in jest.

Ai quickly grabbed her nose checking to make sure the squirrel hadn't already made off with it.

Her mother then went into the cupboard and pulled out a bag of unsalted peanuts still in the shell.

"Here. You can eat these but make sure that you share with your squirrel friend and remember what I said." her Mother tweaked her nose playfully and Ai giggled, stepping out of the sliding door with the bag of peanuts.

The squirrel had turned and was on its way back into the tree when she returned. She quickly opened the bag and tossed a peanut as far as she could throw it with her tiny arm. The squirrel stopped halfway up the tree quickly turning to see the gift that Ai had brought from her Mother. It then quickly dismounted the tree and hopped through the grass to the peanut.

She watched it carefully as it picked up the peanut and carefully broke the shell open using its mouth and front paws almost like a person would.

"Can you talk? Because then you could just ask me for some more," she asked the squirrel.

The squirrel finished the nuts from the shell and looked at her rubbing its front paws together. Then it grabbed one of the discarded empty shells and jumped in the air with it, throwing it. Ai took this as the squirrel trying to tell her to throw another and she did just that. It landed just in front of the squirrel and the squirrel broke the shell open and collected the nuts then ran back up the tree.

"Hey! You didn't even say thank you!" she yelled after the squirrel, a little disappointed not noticing that a small chipmunk had snuck up beside her.

She nearly jumped when she saw it trying to sneak a peanut from the bag that lay on the grass. She grabbed up the bag quickly and waved her index finger.

"You wait your turn," she said to the chipmunk who looked up at her expectantly.

"I guess you can't talk either, so I'll try to guess what you would say if you could talk. OK?" Ai asked the chipmunk who looked back to her still keeping its focus on the peanut bag.

"Aha! You want a peanut!" Ai said aloud.

The chipmunk held its ground wiggling its nose and whiskers slightly.

Ai took a peanut from the bag and held it out to the chipmunk. The chipmunk carefully came closer to her hand and with its front paws and mouth took the peanut from her. She withdrew her hand quickly making sure she still had all her fingers. The chipmunk sat beside her and broke the shell open much like the squirrel had, except that it had stuffed the peanuts into its cheeks. Once it had done so it ran off back to its burrow hidden near the back corner of the yard.

She laughed as the chipmunk ran because its path meandered but it eventually ended up in its hole in the ground just the same as the squirrel had found its way back to the tree. She looked up the big trunk of the tree and up into the branches where a couple of birds were perched a few hand widths apart from one another. They had taken interest in the scene with the squirrel and the chipmunk and during that time some other birds had perched on the branch beside them. The birds squawked at one another for a moment dancing back and forth on the branch as they did. One of them eventually flew from the tree and over to another smaller tree just off the property then back again to the same tree but a different branch. From there it squawked at the others for some time then sat quietly on its haunches.

For the rest of the morning, Ai watched the wildlife in her backyard learning much about it. The most important thing that she noticed is that the animals didn't talk in voices like they had in her dream. They spoke but most often without voices or words and not like people at all.

When she went back to sleep that night, she found herself once again on the bottom of the hill on the other side of the clearing. The other side of the field to where she'd fled with the creatures on that fateful night a month earlier. The weather and the air were much the same as they had been that night as she ran excitedly up the hill and down the other side into the field.

"Hi! I'm back!" she said happily as soon as she saw the bird that she'd recognized from that night.

"Oh. Hello." the bird said sadly and without interest.

"What's the matter? Aren't you happy to see me? I'm happy to see you." she said waiting for an answer from the bird.

"Many of my friends are gone. The bad people came back to the field a few nights ago. They took many of my friends away. We'll never see them again." the bird said looking glum.

"Well maybe we can do something like last time?" Ai asked the little bird.

"What's a little bird going to do against them?" the bird replied.

"Or a ssssssssnake like myssssssself? They're too big. They'll just squash us." the snake asked her.

"Or a mouse like me?" the mouse said nervously looking about for any trouble.

"Or a worm like me?" the worm asked her slithering up on its body and sitting up like the squirrel had done earlier.

"<zzzt> Or <zzzt> a bee like <zzzt> me? They could just squash us all?" the bee asked her.

"You can't just give up. I mean this is your home!" Ai said to them.

"Let's face it. They're too much for us. We're done for." the bird answered her turning its back away from her.

From out in the middle of the field out of the corner of her eye Ai spied a group of the most colorful and beautiful butterflies that she'd ever seen flutter their way over to the gathering of her animal friends. She watched in amazement as they approached gracefully and delicately through the air. They hovered just above her for a moment and she could smell the fragrance of the flowers upon them. They then set down on her shoulder where they perched, slowly opening and closing their wings.

"We could help you if you ask nicely." one of the butterflies said aloud somewhat shy and quiet.

None of the animals budged for they hadn't heard her.

"Ahem. I said that we could help you out if you ask us nicely." the butterfly repeated with a little more presence before her brothers and sisters of the field.

It started slowly at first then grew in volume as each of the creatures turned to look and see who'd spoken. When they saw that it was one of the butterflies that had offered their help, they one by one burst out laughing. The butterfly held her ground poignantly watching though not letting the laughter churn her heart or her spirits.

"Ahhhahhhahhhaaa! What are you going to do? Are you going to batter them with your wings? Ahhhahhhaaa!" the mouse laughed rolling on its back.

"Har har har... No. They're going to get them with their antennas. Tickle them to death! Ahar har har har!" the bird laughed barely able to contain itself.

"Maybe they could paint all of them up pretty too! Then they'd have friends and they wouldn't bother us! Ahhhh Haaaaa Haaaaaa!" the worm got in on the joke.

Only the snake and the bee didn't laugh for they'd often hang out by the flowers together with the butterflies.

"Have you had your laugh?" the butterfly on Ai's shoulder asked the bunch of them.

The creatures stopped laughing and looked at her and tried to contain themselves. The mouse broke out in chuckles a few times before the snake had to nudge him.

"Because if you are done and you don't need us, we'll leave the field and never return. If you want us to help you then we all work together and you listen to our plan and together we'll save the field. Do you understand?" she addressed them confidently and without reservation.

Each of the creatures nodded in agreement to her and of course, the mouse had one more giggle before the snake bumped him again to quiet down. Others from the field gathered and all of them listened to the butterfly's plan.

"Do you think that's going to work? I mean really? A giant butterfly?" the mouse asked fighting the urge to laugh.

"Hey. It works in Japan you know." the bird joked nudging the mouse for approval and they laughed together.

"No! Don't you understand? We could do this together and make it even better!" Ai said to the animals and looking to the butterfly who'd perched on her index finger.

"What do you mean little Ai?" the butterfly asked her listening carefully.

"Instead of thinking that making one of you big is enough to go against them all, why not use the best thing from each of you?" Ai asked the creatures of the field and the butterfly.

"The butterfly is right. We need to make a big one. But why not make a big one with the best of all of you?" Ai explained to her.

"I think I understand! So you mean that we take the whiskers from the mouse?" the butterfly asked her.

"It's alright. they'll grow back. I mean I already gotta shave every two weeks as it is..." the mouse was about to start laughing again when the snake stepped in.

"Maybe you should take hissssss mouth too." the snake suggested getting a laugh from the others.

The butterfly waited for them to settle down before continuing.

"We'll take some scales from the snake too." the butterfly confirmed again.

"I shed my scalessss anywaysssss. Sssso you can take as many assss you need." the snake replied.

"We'll take the feathers from the bird too." the butterfly looked over to her avian counterpart.

"Yeah well you can take some but careful. The worm's allergic you know." the bird reminded her.

"From the worm, we'll take some of his rings." the butterfly said awaiting the worms approval.

"Rings? I'm sorry but I'm not married. Oh. You mean these things? Yeah well, you can have some of them. I mean I'll only heal back what you take." the worm replied pointing his nose toward the rings on his body.

"From the bee, we'll take a stinger." the butterfly looked to her friend the bee.

"One problem. If I remove my stinger, I will die because it's attached to my insides. That's why I only sting if I or my hive is in mortal danger because it will cost me my life." the bee told them.

"I've got an idea. We could cut the stinger partway so it won't kill you, but you won't be able to sting anyone ever again." the bird suggested.

"I guess I could live with that. Besides, I'd only want to sting one of those nasty meanies anyway!" the bee said with a little irony.

"That's everybody. So are we all in agreement?" the butterfly asked the group.

"Wait. We forgot one. From the butterfly." Ai reminded them.

"Oh yes! I can give you my wings. I mean I live through several stages you know so I grow them back several times anyway." the butterfly said to Ai and the creatures.

"Then we're set!" Ai said to the creatures.

"Lets look for a place then and get started." the butterfly told Ai and the creatures as they searched the field for the best place for their project.

The butterflies set to work building the cocoon and in the cocoon, they put the gifts that had come from each of the creatures of the field in the cocoon. The whiskers from the mouse who winced as he plucked them. Scales from the snake who shed them easily. The feathers from the bird which he plucked with his beak carefully. The rings from the worm which he carefully slipped off of his body and gave to the butterflies. The bird helped the bee cut his stinger and when they were done the bee was unhurt. Finally, the butterfly took her wings and placed them gently in the cocoon before she sealed it.

"That's it! We're ready for them! We hope..." the bird said indeterminately.

"Wait! There's one more left. You Ai. We need something from you." the butterfly asked the little girl.

She thought for a moment wondering what a little girl like herself could ever contribute to such a thing as this and then it came to her.

"I know!" she said excitedly.

"What is it?" the butterfly asked her.

"The only thing I have to give. Just like my name. My love." she said and she leaned over and delicately kissed the cocoon then wiped her mouth in slight disgust.

"That might have been exactly what it needs." the butterfly assured her as Ai put her safely on a nearby branch to perch on without her wings.

"So what do we do now?" asked the bird.

"We wait. We simply wait." the butterfly responded.

Ai drifted in her dreams and the field disappeared and she awoke in her bed before drifting off quietly to sleep again.

The Dragon

Ai had spent the weeks following her encounter in the field exploring her backyard in detail. It had become her obsession much to her Mother's amusement and Grandmother's amusement. Her Father was usually busy during the day and especially during the summer with his job in the city and often worked long days. He'd always make time to spend an hour with Ai, her Mother and her Grandmother where they'd play a game together or even draw pictures for the family fridge. He'd then eat dinner and be off to bed to do the same thing again the following day. Ai's Mother worked part-time in real estate as it was a career that left her the flexibility to both be available for Ai and her Mother during the day. Occasionally she'd whisk out to show a property or spend a half-day in her home office sorting out the business and finances that accompanied her work. Ai's Grandmother would most often keep watch over Ai and her wanderings in the backyard while she read. She'd prepare snacks and meals for the trio during the day and between them, they did very well together.

Ai when she was not outside would spend the majority of her time drawing with her pencil and coloring pencils. Most of her time was focused on drawing elaborate dresses and clothing she'd design for her dolls. Sometimes her Grandmother or her Mother would take her designs and make a pattern from them based upon Ai's pictures. Then together they'd make the design into an article of tiny sized clothing for her collection of toys and dolls. When Ai was doing this she was most at peace and most certainly in her element. Between her active life out of doors and her life designing these costumes for her toys she found balance.

On this particular day, Ai had ventured to the very limits of the backyard noticing a branch that protruded outward and over their property line out into the parklands behind it. She followed the branch which dipped low enough for her to follow with her eyes and came to an odd-shaped bump on it. It was semi-translucent and within it there could be seen movement. She watched it careful not to touch it as it shook from the resultant motion inside.

"Hey! Whatcha doin'?" two little kids, a little girl, and boy from one of the other houses approached her.

"Nothing," Ai said innocently trying to stand in front of what she spied a moment ago.

"I want to see. You were looking at something. I want to see too!" the little boy said.

"There's nothing there. Just a bump." Ai told him.

"What kind of bump? Lemme see!" he pushed her out of the way.

Ai stumbled backward and fell to the ground.

"Hey! It's a cocoon! Let's break it open and see what's inside!" the little boy said grabbing a stick which he broke in half using the pointed end for the task.

Ai got up immediately and pushed the little boy down.

"No! You leave it alone!" Ai said aloud pointing her finger at the little boy.

"Hey! Just for that, I'm going to kill it!" the little boy said.

"No you're not!" Ai said firmly positioning herself between the branch and the boy.

"You leave my brother alone!" the little girl then pushed Ai.

She fell backward with enough force to hit the branch with her head. She felt the impact and then she felt a little dreamy as the world spun and she fell to the ground unmoving.

There she was back just outside of the field on the bottom of the hill that crested to the plateau that housed the field. From up on the field she heard screams from the familiar voices of her friends. She ran up the hill as quickly as she could and when she crested its peak what she saw horrified her. The field was being raided again by the men from the camp. They'd returned with more people this time and certainly enough to finish rounding up all the creatures and laying waste to the field. She saw they'd already rounded up most of the field mice and snakes. Another man was capturing the birds with a large net quickly pocketing them to the sack he carried. She heard their cries from inside the sack and her heart dropped as panic set it. That was when she remembered the cocoon the butterflies had made.

She ran as fast as she could in the direction of the cocoon remembering the night they'd made it in detail.

"Hey! There's the little girl!" one of the men yelled having spotted Ai.

"Grab her!" the man with the tight cap ordered.

She ran as fast as she could for the cocoon tripping once and quickly getting up just as one of the men pursuing her dove for her foot. She dodged his reach just barely and continued running for the cocoon as fast as she could. She struggled to pull a loose dead trunk across the path she'd taken and continued just as the men rounded the tree and stumbled over her trap. As she pushed on she passed through a bush and into the opening. There before her stood the cocoon which had become enormous encompassing and consuming most of the tree it had been built against. She ran towards it looking to see if there was any motion from within. When she touched it the cocoon started to glow with an eerie iridescent light. When she released it the glowing ceased and she was in the dark once again by herself. She turned around just as the men crashed through the bush and were upon her. The man with the tight cap reached out and with his strong grip grabbed her little arm and yanked her upward into his.

"Haha! Gotcha!" he held her tight as she struggled.

"No getting away this time!" another man yelled at her a sinister look on his face.

They'd turned to return to the field and gather the rest of the creatures when the ground began to tremor. They stumbled to keep their balance as the ground shook around them. The air around them grew dark and they closed their ranks to remain in sight of one another.

"What's going on?!" one of the men asked.

"It's just an..." the ground shook and he stumbled backward into the darkness and disappeared from their sight screaming as he ran.

"What happened to him?" another man said quickly looking around him.

They heard a deep growling coming from the direction of the cocoon and when their view returned to that direction they saw that it had begun to glow and shake violently as something tore at its walls from the inside. The cocoon bounced back and forth as parts of it were pushed with immense for then all at once it exploded sending bits of cocoon for a distance around them and enshrouding the area in a mist.

"What in the world was that?" one of the men shrank as he spoke.

"It's nothing that we can't handle." the man holding Ai spoke in defiance.

"Let me go!" Ai said kicking and screaming.

A tremendous face emerged from the dust that was not human at all. It appeared to be part lizard, snake, insect and bird all at once. Its eyes peered through the man and into his soul. He felt it scrying the depths of his innards as it peered into him and his heart.

"You are holding a friend of mine, and for that, I'd likely not be too kind to a fool who bore one in restraint such as a little girl!" it spoke and the ground tremored.

He just stared in amazement and utter terror at the tremendous creature before him. It floated effortlessly as if surfing the wind and as it emerged further from the darkness he could see that it was as a serpent and a butterfly with enormous feathered wings and a scaled and ringed body. It glowed as it floated before them though to the men who bore ill to the creatures of the field, terrible darkness enveloped the wyrm and the air around them.

The man with the tight cap slowly put Ai down on the ground and she turned to see the butterflies' creation. When she looked with her eyes, she saw beauty and an aura vibrant with all the colors of the rainbow. Its light was a playful sense of love and compassion and she at once felt comfortable it. Without fear, she approached it and stood beside it and spoke.

"Thank you," she said to it.

"Why you're most certainly welcome and for this, I ask nothing more than a kiss and the friendship of one such as yourself," it spoke to her a compassionate and unpretentious tone to its voice.

"You're beautiful. Just like the butterflies," she said to it admiringly.

"In the eye of the beholder and from one such as yourself. Are you not seeing your own beauty? So you could say that you are beautiful because you're really seeing the goodness of yourself in others. Now if you'll excuse me I must deal with those who feel much less for the world than yourself and conspire to make others miserable by such abduction and abuse. In numbers too and against those who are solitary? I imagine that I'll have to shelf their ambitions and perhaps their tradition in favor of payment for the damage they've caused." it finished addressing Ai and turned back to the men who were rooted in place with fear.

"Now I see you've gathered many of her friends and its time to make amends for the harm you've caused. Though you could always keep them for a price that I suspect might be too high?" it queried them looking into each one of them as deep as one can see another.

"Please... don't kill us!" one of the men fell to his knees crying.

"Bartholomew. Open the sacks. Now! Let them go! Quick!" the man with the tight cap ordered the rest of them.

One by one they opened the sacks emptying them onto the ground. The creatures fell out of the sacks and all beheld the enormous flying serpent for the first time with awe.

"...It's just like the butterflies... It's beautiful! Look! Look, everyone! It's my feathers!" the bird flew in circles towards it overjoyed to be free.

"I'll say it certainly is most handsome. It's even got my whiskers! Look!" the mouse scurried towards it joyfully.

"Hey big fella, maybe you should get busy with that stinger of yours and start doing some stinging!" the bee said as it flew to join the other bees with the serpent.

"Sssssssee! I told you the butterfliessssss could help ussssss! Look! It'sssss my big brother! It's got my scales!" the garter snake slithered over to take its side beside the other snakes and beside the flying serpent.

"...those rings look sooooo good! I'm so very proud!" the worm said as it slithered over to join the other creatures.

The butterflies emerged from the final sack and flew over to their mutual creation in admiration of its beauty.

"You really turned out to be such a beautiful creature!" one of the butterflies exclaimed.

"Why thank you but I'm merely a product of my best qualities: you. My friends and those who see beyond to pursue the expression of beauty, struggle, betterment and to protect the innocence in us all rather than to gang up on and abuse those in desperate need of affection and confidence," it spoke eloquently.

"Now I think that its time that we consider for their crimes what fate should befall these cruel men who forestall their own appointment with their future. I ask of you now the creatures of the field, what should be their fate?" the serpent asked them as it floated above them.

The creatures then gathered and considered what the fate of these men who invaded their field should be and while they did Ai spoke with the butterflies.

"Where is the butterfly who gave her wings?" Ai asked the butterflies.

"She's cocooned again. She'll be back soon we hope if they didn't damage it." one of the butterflies explained.

"We'd better go make sure she's alright!" Ai said following one of the butterflies who led the way to the cocoon.

Ai ran as fast as her legs could carry her already feeling a little sore from her earlier sprint. Ai followed behind the butterfly who despite her meandering mode of travel managed to stay ahead. As Ai ran she spied the butterfly land upon a branch her wings fluttering and fanning out. There was the tiny cocoon. The butterfly who'd donated her wings had built it for herself, though it looked damaged as if someone had hit it. Ai cried as she ran towards it and it seemed to move farther and farther away from her. Despite her best efforts the tree, butterfly and the cocoon were disappearing into the distance as the world spun.

She fell forward to the ground feeling a sharp pain in her head. She turned over onto her back as her vision blurred and the field around her disappeared. When she opened her eyes a boy was shaking her gently awake. She could not recognize him and he held onto her head delicately.

"You're going to be alright," he said to her having chased away the other little boy who'd pushed her.

"Where's..." Ai asked the boy struggling to speak.

As her Mother arrived from the house she looked her daughter over examining the wound on her head. Ai looked up to see her Mother's beautiful face and smiled.

"You're going to be alright sweetie." her Mother assured her with a slight look of doubt on her face.

Ai looked around and her eyes once again found the branch. There she spied the most incredible thing. The cocoon had just opened and the folded wings of a delicate and beautiful butterfly emerged from it. The butterfly stepped out from it poignantly slowing flexing its wings as they unfolded and took their familiar curved shape.

"It's so beautiful..." she said as she drifted off into unconsciousness.


Ai sat nervously against the wall of the dojo unsure of what to expect. This was her first day and she was alone in this class as her parents had arranged for a special teacher. One to do with a history and tradition of which few knew. Fortunately, even in the city, they'd emigrated to from the Far East there had been few practitioners of the ancient style. Part of a tight-knit group throughout the world they maintained the teachings though they'd broken the teachings up between the three mandatory schools required for mastery. Because throughout the time they'd become hunted, they'd broken up the constituent teachings to their three schools of origin though in the original form. There were three mandatory and up to nine optional areas of mastery to attain one's wings. Ai sat in the Dojo of the first school on her path to mastery.

She'd never attended martial arts training and she was not sure of what to expect. She was even more startled when the man stepped over to the edge of the Dojo before entering it and bowed before proceeding. He then walked over to the center of the room, bowed once to her and sat in the middle, his legs crossed as he looked on to little Ai. He was a man perhaps in his mid-fifties and a descendant of the Far East like Ai though he'd come from Japan. A generous nature, an abundant peace was worn on his face while his pudgy body was hardened as rock and hidden beneath his kimono and an elaborate hakama.

"Hello. I'm here for the class?" Ai said to the man.

"In this class, we've dispensed with the word hello in favor of a more formal way of acknowledging one another. Did you not see it?" the man asked the little girl.

"You mean your bow?" Ai asked him.

"That I do. So may I ask why you have not returned my hello to you?" the man asked her.

Ai looked around a little confused unsure of what to do before she finally stood and carefully bowed for the man.

"I am most honored student. You've learned your first lesson. How to say hello in a respectful and honorable manner. Did you notice that I said hello in this way twice?" the man said to Ai.

"You bowed when you first entered the teaching area?" Ai replied in question.

"Yes. For the Dojo is our ancestors. The dead and the living teachers and students. We keep their spirit alive by honoring them by remembering them when we say hello to the Dojo by respectfully bowing. Perhaps you'd like to say hello to our ancestors?" the man suggested to Ai.

Once again Ai looked around a little bit confused before she acted. She stepped over to the entryway of the Dojo and bowed as she'd seen the man do before he entered.

"You've learned your second lesson. If you learn all of these teachings at this rate you'll be a master in no time. Most lessons not practiced are easily forgotten so from this day forward well will say hello to our ancestors of the school when we enter and to each other and most of all, to our ancestors again when we leave. In this way, we learn to remember and respect them and each other. Someday we will join them and I hope that the future students also honor us as well. This is the lesson of tradition. Remember it for there are many traditions." the man told Ai.

"Who are you?" Ai asked the man.

"Why I am your teacher. The traditional way you'd refer to me or another teacher you did not know by name is Sensei, though I am a bit of a special teacher whom you may call Kyoshi." the man replied.

"Kyoshi. I am Ai Yuanlin Ying." she bowed again to Kyoshi.

"I am humbled by your show of respect Ai, Yuanlin Ying. Most honored student." Kyoshi replied.

A little smile crossed Ai's face.

"Kyoshi. May I return to the dojo?" Ai asked Kyoshi.

"You may return. Please take a seat across from me near the wall but not against it." Kyoshi instructed her.

Ai walked over to a spot across from him and sat cross-legged as he did.

"I can trace the lineage of my teachers all the way back to a time long before the Edo era of Japan, through Goryeo and the Tiger and back to the Song Dynasty of China. Where our specialized form actually began. Many have been practicing our form of Karate and Bujutsu since the twelfth century in Japan. These are our ancestors both teachers and students of this school What we will be learning will one day become one of your wings. There is another school that will become the other and yet another school which will bring it all together for you. So even upon mastery, you've only entered the beginning of a long journey that continues when you've graduated. Through me you will learn and understand the importance of tradition and form. I am most honored to be your instructor and when you graduate you will next meet the Tiger." Kyoshi told Ai.

Ai sat before Kyoshi as he began his class with her.

First we will learn to limber ourselves with exercise for we need to be strong and secure in every technique. Then we will learn how to fall because knowing how to fall often means knowing how to get back up. Knowing how to get back is useful in many aspects of life that aren't related to fighting. When you know how to fall and you know how to get up, falling is not so nearly a devastating experience is it?

"Kyoshi, Why don't we study how to avoid being pushed down?" Ai asked Kyoshi.

"Because no matter how sturdy our stance and how strong our best technique is, we will always be susceptible to being overwhelmed or bested by a well-practiced opponent. The more you practice falling and getting up, the more familiar you are with this territory. You are not suddenly lost when you find yourself in such an experience. Therefore it is best to be learned in everything that you might experience when competing against and adversary. Even being bested. Especially, for how you behave after being bested often says as much about you as it does your opponent's behavior when they have bested you. The more familiar you are with every situation that comes from such a martial encounter frees you from behavior that may not be you but might be based in fear or ego. The more you know how to deal with each, the more adaptable that knowledge is to situations you've never experienced." Kyoshi explained.

"I don't get it?" Ai asked Kyoshi with a puzzled look on her face.

"Go look in that corner. Up near the ceiling." Kyoshi pointed towards a dark corner of the dojo.

Ai did as Kyoshi instructed and walked towards the corner. When she arrived she looked up searching for whatever he'd indicated.

"Ewwww! It's a big hairy spider!" Ai exclaimed jumping back a little perhaps in fear that it might drop onto her from its elaborate web.

"That's Soki. Soki has been in that corner for a long time. Soki was the daughter of another spider and so on. Many spiders have lived in that corner and for many years. You first see Soki and think a big hairy spider because seeing a spider web that has not been quashed is a rarity. You experience fear of it the first time and you might not go near it again for some time. I suspect in a month or two that you'll have no fear of going near Soki and in fact, you might even get curious about her. In three or four months you'll have no fear of Soki but you still may fear other spiders. In a year from now, you'll have no fear of spiders at all. This is why we practice falling and getting up. Because when you fall and you've never fallen it is a fearful experience. Yet you must still get over that fear and learn to get up. When it is not new territory to you to fall, it will pose no obstacle because most of our obstacles come from fear. Practice. Even falling. Practice. I will show you." Kyoshi lectured Ai.

Kyoshi stood and instructed Ai to help him ready the mats in the center of the class. They had covered some of the dojo floors with blue mats and Kyoshi stood in the middle.

"Now I want you to push me Ai. Right in the center of my chest." Kyoshi instructed her.

"But I'm little," Ai said to Kyoshi.

"You have a big heart. So push me!" Kyoshi instructed her.

"Alright," Ai replied giving him a push.

Kyoshi fell onto his backstopping his fall with his hands at each side. He then rolled over onto his shoulders and flipped back up onto his feet unharmed.

"You see. I was not stuck on my back lost and not knowing what to do. I stopped my fall then I got back to my feet." Kyoshi replied to her.

"But what if I push you from behind?" Ai asked Kyoshi.

"Ahhhh! Let's see what happens. Push me from behind." Kyoshi instructed her taking his position.

She pushed him with some force and he rolled forward into a summersault keeping his momentum which propelled him back up and onto his feet.

Ai clapped for him.

"Even if you do the same thing from the sides or any direction, I will be back on my feet before any damage can be done. That is because I've fallen many, many times. It is nothing new to me. This is the essence of practice and experience. Learning how to get up requires us to know how to fall." Kyoshi explained to Ai.

"So the beginning for you will be about becoming strong enough to practice techniques. Then to practice falling. We must also learn to overcome our fears. So every day that you come to class you will greet the dojo, myself and you will also greet Soki. Now let's begin." Kyoshi told AI.

From that moment on their friendship became stronger and in the course of two years and much hard work, Ai had achieved first dan. She'd achieved her black belt.


Ai now nine years old had achieved her first dan under the instruction of Kyoshi Takumi and had even progressed further before he'd directed her to the next step. 

"You've attained mastery and this is the first step and you're hungry for more but you must learn not to eat the same meal daily. You must progress to the next step. You must go see the Tiger. There you will receive your other wing. You are not a helicopter or an airplane so remember that it takes two wings to fly." Kyoshi instructed Ai on her final day.

"Hai Kyoshi. I will do as you instruct. I will miss you." Ai bowed low to Kyoshi.

"And I, you, student." Kyoshi returned her bow and then she left bowing low to the dojo and its history with a tear in her eye.

Though she was still a little girl, she'd gained a level of poise and confidence on the way along her journey. Her school teachers had first noticed this in her attentiveness in class and her focus as well. She still found time for her ever more elaborate drawings and designs though she kept them for herself. Like the day she'd spied the butterfly emerging from the cocoon. It had gotten free of its shell allowing one of its magnificent wings to spread while the other remained lodged in the discarded husk. She herself had gained her first wing from Kyoshi and though she felt realized, she still would be unable to fly. Several months after her last class at the dojo her parents brought her to the lair of the Tiger.

"Why do they call it the Tiger?" she asked her father who drove the car on the way to her first class.

"A tiger is a majestic creature. Much like a lion however, unlike a lion it often travels alone." her father answered.

"Does that mean it's dangerous?" she asked her father.

"No. Maybe. I don't know. I think it means that the symbol commands respect. You'll have to ask your instructor my little jumping flower." her father answered her behind his spectacled eyes.

Thirty minutes beyond that and she walked into the class her chin up and her self esteem high. She bowed before she set foot on the classroom floor which she strode across in her bare feet. Her curiosity still found her looking through the corners of her eyes in the class which sported a hardwood panel floor and a variety of decorative embellishments on three walls. The embellishments contained a variety of inscriptions carved into wooden paneling written in modern Korean as Ai had recognized. The fourth wall was essentially one big mirror through which the student could observe their own form and technique whether they were studying martial arts or dancing. The class had been used both by the Tiger for training and by a number of dance classes as well.

Another girl of about fourteen stretched her legs and limbered her body for class. Ai observed her for a moment noting that she had experience judging by her stretching technique. Her body was toned, her limbs long and limber. Ai approached her carefully and bowed to her.

"I am Ai Yuanlin Ying. I noticed your stretching. You're very good." Ai introduced herself with a compliment.

"Thanks. I studied as a dancer here in this class so I know the ropes. One of my instructors suggested I study the Tiger's Tai Kwon Do class so I signed up." she stretched extending her leg against the wall above her head leaning her forehead against her thigh.

"Is this your first class too?" Ai asked the girl.

"No. I've been here for about a year now. Sorry, I'm Myung. Myung Chung-Ae." the girl answered dropped her leg and bowing for Ai.

"I was told I was going to be the only student," Ai responded.

"So was I. I arrived for my first class and studied beside a guy named Graham. He was a cute one. He was here up until a month ago when I heard he took a leave of absence. School exams or something like that. He was a good sparring partner." Myung told Ai letting her in on class gossip.

"You spar here?" asked Ai.

"Why? You looking to test yourself here? We can if you want?" Myung asked Ai sizing her up.

"Shouldn't we wait for our instructor first. This is my first class. Maybe we need protective gear or something?" Ai asked Myung.

"Why? Are you afraid of me?" Myung asked AI perhaps pushing her to respond defensively.

"Afraid? No. I think I could handle you in a match." Ai said letting her confidence get the best of her.

"Let's go. I'll go easy on you." Myung said as they moved to the center of the floor facing each other.

Ai bowed as did Myung before she advanced with a front punch. Just as she extended her fist there was a shout.

"Stop!" a voice pierced the classroom echoing.

Both Ai and Myung stopped looking to the source of the intrusion. The man wore black-trimmed pants and an orange and black tank top, his black belt hidden partially under his shirt. His short hair was peppered with black, grey and streaks of silver crowning a friendly face marked with a smile and stress lines at the eyes. At just over five feet and nine inches, his impressive physique was imposing but he held himself confidently and firmly.

He bowed before entering the class and then proceeded directly over to where Ai and Myung stood across from one another.

"I did not give permission for this. Myung! This is Ai's first class and you should know better. Ai! You do Kyoshi a great dishonor by disregarding our rules here!" Tiger spoke with disdain and distaste for their choice.

"I am very sorry Tiger. It will not happen again!" Myung bowed backing up keeping her head low.

"I am too. So sorry. I did not mean to." Ai followed Myung's lead backing up keeping her head down.

"Yet you did! Both of you! I did not expect a student of Kyoshi, one I'd heard so much about to fumble so quickly!" Tiger's brows furrowed meeting in a pressed point above his eye line.

Tiger kept his hands folded behind his back as he paced around the two girls. They kept their heads low as he walked a complete circle around them.

"That is enough. There is no need to keep your heads low. You made a mistake. There will be plenty of time for sparring later but despite your prior experience in this class you are still juniors. You have a long way to go before you're able to do what you just tried. Remember that when you spar without protective gear that you must be skilled enough to protect both yourself and your opponent from harm. Until then you will only spar with protective gear." Tiger told the two of them.

Ai and Myung looked to each other and slowly raised their heads.

"I am Hoon Kwang Tiger. Your instructor. I apologize that you have not been given a class as a solitary student but I do things differently here. Students learn from one another as much as they learn from their instructor. I teach. You watch. You practice. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with each other. I test. You pass or fail. Whichever you do, you do together. So it pays to help your fellow student for progression in this world is about doing so together. Even the solitary help others whom they might never see. To be mindful and conscious of this is fundamental in our teachings. In this sense, they are never truly alone and our efforts should help others in one way or another should such persons have earned the merit to deserve it. Those who scheme ways to take such efforts from others will not be tolerated or accepted. If you progress by such means then the door is there. I suggest you leave now and come back when you've learned that when fooling others by such schemes you have only fooled yourself. You progress together but you also much each qualify as individuals. That means helping one another so that you may pass as individuals and as a team." Tiger said looking to them each in turn.

There was a moment of silence as he let what he'd said sink in. There were no questions so he proceeded.

"In our class, we expect certain duties of you because not only do you represent yourselves here in this class, but you represent the class in the community. As such you will be expected to every week take the time to do something for the community of some good manner. It might be helping a fellow member of the community. It might be helping an elderly person of the community with their yard cleaning. It might be helping an elderly person across the road. It might be helping a pregnant woman with her daily activities. Use your imagination but it must occur once per week and you do not need to tell others of it. Nobody will try to take it from you. I have ways of knowing and if someone does so they will pay the price. Remember that imitation is the highest form of flattery. So if you see others doing the same thing short of mocking you, then your influence was good and maybe inspired others to do the same or similar. If someone tries to take credit for what you do, I'll know and I'll deal with it. That goes for either of you or others in the community. That is how we represent ourselves within our community. Never do we use what we learn for attack or to do harm to others for their words against us. As Kyoshi already taught you Ai, you must use your own skills first to prevent violence by coming to a solution by words. If violence is unavoidable then to protect others from a violent person and a violent person from themselves. Remember that what you learn puts a responsibility upon your shoulders. Uphold that responsibility and you will earn your other wing. Myung for you that means earning stripes towards your blue Kup." Tiger finished his lecture.

"Let me begin our class with the most important basics. We're going to start at the bottom literally by learning how to fall." Tiger began their first lesson together.

"I hope you mean fall in love." Myung joked.

"No. Unfortunately, that is something I cannot teach you nor is it something that can be taught. That is something that you will learn in due course from that great teacher, life itself." he replied amused by her enthusiasm.

Myung worked with Ai to learn the basics and before long Ai had adapted much of what she'd learned from Kyoshi to the falling techniques taught by Tiger. Through the months they'd worked through basic blocks and some of the response techniques. Throughout their work together they grew close and their learning was mutual. It was upon Ai`s progression to blue Kup that they were first allowed to spar, something Myung had been waiting for at brown Kup, two belts ahead of Ai. Ai was now nearly ten and a half years old and had worked long and hard at perfecting the style Tiger taught them.

"I want to remind you both that the goal is not to hurt your opponent but to limit their options for attack to none. We will progress through three rounds. Whoever wins two rounds is the match-winner." Tiger told them as he sat on his knees on the sideline. 

Mats had been placed around the floor to prevent injury upon the hardened floor and each of the girls wore protective gloves and headgear. They stood face to face against one another.

"Round one. Begin." Tiger instructed them and the match began.

They first bowed to one another starting the first round and then they each took up a differing defensive stance. It was Myung who saw the first opening and she struck at it never realizing that Ai had purposely exposed herself to lure Myung's attack. Ai yelled catching Myung's fist mid-flight twisting her arm directing the momentum upward while forcing her body down.

Myung acted quick and reversed the position of her arm falling into a roll releasing herself from Ai's grip. In the next moment, her momentum carried her onto her feet again in a defensive stance. Ai did not waste any time in moving in for a foot sweep attempting to use Myung's momentum against her. Myung managed to jump the first sweep and the one that followed it knocking Ai to the mat with a single blow as she stood. Ai rolled over from her back over her shoulders and back up onto her feet Myung's kick just missing her abdomen. She wasted no time in striking at Myung's one supporting leg (her other still in mid-kick). Ai short swept her foot knocking Myung onto the mat and before Myung had a chance to get to her feet Ai was upon her holding Myung's arm across her chest effectively preventing any further attacks.

"Round! Point! Ai." Tiger announced watching the two combatants carefully.

Ai stood extending her hand to Myung who accepted it pulling herself up.

"Good sportswomanship! That's good! Remember both winning and losing are opportunities to learn." Tiger yelled to them in approval.

The girls caught their breath for a moment stretching waiting for Tiger.

"Round two. Begin!" Tiger's voice pierced the classroom and the girls once again faced one another bowing to each other first.

This time is was Ai who moved first throwing several fast punches in succession backing Myung up before she managed to catch Ai's arm, twisting it while pressing her to the mat and into submission.

"Round! Point! Myung!" Tiger yelled signaling the end of the round.

Ai lay on the mat for a moment to catch her breath having excessively exerted herself during her forceful attack.

"Sometimes the fastest and hardest attack is the hardest to sustain and the shortest-lived. Ration your energy." Tiger suggested to Ai.

Ai rolled over waiting for Myung's hand. Myung stood over Ai for a moment a mischievous smile on her face. Ai looked up batting her eyelashes at Myung.

"All right. I guess I can help you. I was holding back. I'm going to kick your butt in this round girl." she extended her hand and Ai accepted it hefting herself up.

They stretched again in preparation for the last round and Ai summoned what energy she could with some breathing exercises.

"Round three. Begin!" Tiger yelled in anticipation.

The girls bowed to one another once again before advancing to arm's length. Both were at full alert and looking into each others' eyes. Myung tended to use one-shot attacks while Ai often relied on a combination or trap style attack. In the first two rounds, each girl had a chance to analyze their opponent's tactics making the third round a very competitive match. They circled each other neither advancing nor retreating. When they'd finished two complete circles of each other it was Myung who first moved with a spinning bladed fist directing it at Ai's head. She ducted quickly using the opening for a punch at Myung's abdomen. The punch connected and Myung withdrew defensively while Ai stood once again.

Ai now confident advanced while Myung feigned a spinning kick. Ai set up her defense expecting Myung's leg to come around and her foot to impact her block. Instead, Myung had launched herself into a flying punch, striking downward at the top of Ai's mask. Myung's gloved fist connected stunning Ai sending her backward. Ai corrected her stance and got her bearings finding Myung once again in attack with the same flying fists she'd tried in the second round. Ai sidestepped the attack inserting her foot between Myung's legs striking at her back as she passed. Myung fell forward onto the mat and Ai wasted no time in jumping onto her back. It was in that moment that she'd realized that she'd failed. Myung looked back at her desperately and her eyes meeting Ai's pleadingly. Tiger had not called the match yet and Ai leaped off her back allowing her to roll over. Ai's hands locked with Myung's and they found themselves on their knees in a grasping stand-off. 

"Round! Point! Ai and Myung! Congratulations. You passed." Tiger applauded the girls.

"I told you I was going to beat you." Myung smiled at Ai messing her hair up under her mask.

"And I beat you too!" Ai said messing Myung's hair up.

"You both won and lost," Tiger said to the girls.

"Well, I guess that means we learned twice as much then?" Myung threw her arm around Ai and laughed.

"You did. I said that you pass no lesson unless you pass it together. You both listened and more importantly, you applied what I taught you." Tiger congratulated them on their competition.

In another year and a half, Ai had earned her Black belt, now a master in two arts.

At that point, she had both of her wings and she very much intended to fly.

The Nine Steps

Ai waited somewhat nervously on the bare floor of the class like she had done before with her previous teachers. She was alone, the solitary student in the midst of an old-world hardwood floored instruction hall. A light smell of incense hung in the air while the room itself was bordered by elaborate artisanship and beadwork depicting ancient Chinese, Japanese and Gojoseon writings. Various symbols some of which she recognized as the ancient traditional Chinese iconic set interspersed with those native to Japan and ancient Korea were spread across the wall upon scrolls. She began first with a set of exercises she'd learned in her Karate classes, progressing gently into her katas as a warm-up. When she was limbered up she dropped to the floor and began a set of stretches vital to her Tae Kwon-Do classes to develop her form. When she was loose and ready she once again stood and with ease lifted her legs to nearly twice her height. She picked up her pace throwing her fists in successive jabs careful to maintain balance and energy. The instruction hall echoed as she directed her energy with each strike. She paused when she felt a presence. Someone skirted the class just on the other side of the beads slowly and deliberately perhaps observing the twelve-year-old Ai Yuanlin Ying through her warm-up.

“That is much effort for this fine day. Saturday. Are you planning on doing something? Preparing for something perhaps?” a sultry voice came from the shadows as the lady skirted the room.

“I'm preparing for class. My instructors sent me here. They recommended that I come here to continue my studies.” Ai replied as she returned to exercises.

“What class is it that you prepare for by spending all of your energy before you've even started to learn?” the lady asked her somewhat rhetorically.

“Why this class. I was recommended by my instructors, Kyoshi and Tiger. Its part of my studies of Goju Karate and Tae Kwon-Do. I am warming up.” Ai replied to the voice just a little bit put off by her questions.

“Kyoshi Morgan and Hoon Kwang Tiger are two whose opinions that I value. Have you ever studied here? In this… place of learning?” the lady returned to her inquiry of young Ai.

“No. But I know what I'm doing.” Ai replied abruptly.

“If you know what you're doing then why are you here?” the lady stepped into view through the beads.

She was a beautiful woman in her mid to late forties though it was impossible to tell for sure. She wore a comfortably fitting black and white robe, embellished with a golden threaded weave of flowers and butterflies which swept almost all the way down to the floor. She appeared to float with each hidden step beneath its patterned floral weave of silk and cotton. Her hair was artistically bundled into a ball which was held in place by a series of long wooden pegs. Ai paused to to acknowledge her presence and admire her attire.

“I am here to learn from a special teacher. Do you work here?” Ai replied to her a small bead of sweat upon her brow.

“This is my favorite one. This one right here.” the lady said as she floated in step over to one of the scrolls that dangled from the wall.

“You obviously want me to ask you what it says. Right?” Ai asked her quickly losing her patience.

“No. I merely said that it is my favorite. You'll learn to read it and more importantly understand it in time.” the lady responded looking to Ai with a piercing gaze.

“They're glyphs of the old world. There are some other glyphs too. Korean? Japanese? Perhaps a bit of text from the Khmer? Thai? Siam and perhaps a little bit of ancient Burmese?” Ai said a hint of sharp impatience in her voice.

“They are memories of lost time. Words of wisdom written by many who learned and lived by them. They are history. You are astute for a little girl of twelve. Perhaps someday you will write words and gems of wisdom that another future generation might look upon and ignore because they presume that they know it all. Many lives have been lived and perished before we've had this time together though I think that deep inside you are already aware of this. Perhaps that is why you were recommended?” the lady crossed the floor to stand beneath another one of the scrolls, an iconic sigil scribed thereupon.

“Are you a teacher here? You're a girl. My other teachers were men.” Ai said to the lady.

“Yes. I'm a woman but more importantly, I am a teacher. A bringer of wisdom though it takes more than just listening to a lesson to learn. Your other teachers were men and of course, you naturally learned that you could play a role imposed upon you by values you barely understand. Like jumping right into your part and playing them just by your difference from them. Women and men. They, of course, are beyond that sort of manipulation and because I am your new teacher and a woman much like yourself, so am I. We are here to teach and you are here to learn. The emphasis though is not on teaching. It is placed upon your learning because that's the goal. It makes no difference what I say or do so long as you learn and more importantly understand what I am trying to impart upon you. The most important thing of all is that you can apply it when nobody is around to hold your hand. Nobody is around to tell you what is right or wrong. Because in this world you eventually will be all alone. When you understand that, your decisions will be much different as will you. Impressing your teacher with your prowess of martial skill will be of little importance. Nor will impressing yourself. A little girl named Ai Yuanlin Ying. Perhaps at that time, you will try to impart that knowledge to preserve it for someone in the future who will ignore what you`ve written because they think they know it all. Their loss I`d say. Wouldn't you?” the lady paused looking directly at Ai.

“I know so much already. I can do things that other students can only dream of. Maybe they see it on television or on the internet. In movies. I can really do those things.” Ai said confidently to the lady.

“The most learned are the first to admit of how little they are aware of. Truly knowing means being aware that your little piece of understanding is but a small piece of a much larger whole. You have learned and achieved some things about which to be confident in your effort and progression but nothing more. More importantly, it is imperative to understand that you had the peaceful circumstances in which to learn rather than the turmoil that might be faced by others elsewhere.” the lady turned in a circle raising her arms above her head.

“You're my teacher?” Ai asked the lady.

“The knowledge is all around us. It falls from the sky and wells up from the earth each and every day. It is life and the world breaths of it. Can you not taste it? When you can you will realize how little you do know. You will savor it for it is the truth.” the lady turned to smile.

“I am here to learn a special form of Kung Fu. I don't think there's anything more to it than that.” Ai said to the lady.

“Kung Fu? What do you know? You are not here to learn Kung Fu. You are here to learn of the last three steps in your journey. You've already taken your first six steps. Three with each of your first teachers. A beginning, a middle and an end with each. The sun comes up and the flower opens. The beauty and light come in. The night comes and the flower closes. You've received that beauty and light from your teachers, three steps in each making it six. You have come here and the sun is now coming up. Are you ready for beauty and light? Are you worthy of it?” the lady looked to Ai once again a smile upon her face.

“Of course I'm ready. I've practiced so much for this! You're trying to take it away from me!” Ai said a tinge of anger in her.

“And that is where you are wrong. I am your teacher! How can I be wrong!” the lady replied.

Ai stood fuming for a moment as she thought about what was happening. This was unfair and if this lady was indeed her teacher then what she was doing was wrong.

“You're using what you know and keeping it for power to make me feel small!” Ai yelled to the lady suddenly feeling conscious that she'd raised her voice to an elder.

“You are small! You're a little girl. You'll grow to be a small woman where you'll be forced to give up what you believe to be right for yourself and others just to fit in.” the lady told her a cold tone to her voice.

“You are wrong. You're using what you know and keeping it to have power over me. Its not right even if you're older than me!” Ai told the lady.

“Oh Ai. You are so very right and yet so few would make such a statement as that. To stand in defiance of someone who they've been told is right. Age and wisdom are a license to be treated with dignity and respect but never a license to be impervious to being wrong. It is respectful to listen as it is to convey insightful conjecture to your elders. Am I right just because I am older? I am deserving of your respect and fair treatment as are you as you grow with time. Am I right just because I am your teacher? I am worthy of your ears for the portion of time that I speak but I am also responsible for hearing your words as well. I am as fallible as are you and therefore I can be just as wrong and just as right. If you'd have said nothing then we both lose as people. I don't learn from what you might have taught me and you failed to speak up against what is clearly wrong.” the lady assured Ai.

“Then is this a lesson?” Ai asked the lady.

“Yes. No. The answer to a complete lesson is much more than you just saying what is necessary for me to think that you've learned what I have to teach you. Otherwise, a clever person such as yourself could just waltz around saying what you thought I wanted to hear you say, couldn't you? Like the arts. Your martial skills. In Goju Karate you developed a respect for the history of our ancestors while physically you learned of both a hard technique and a soft technique both of which you can apply to life in many ways. In Tae Kwon-Do you built up endurance to persevere in both martial skill and the world and a strong sense of responsibility as a person. Techniques are much more than a response to a given attack. That would make you a puppet if that were the case and the situations that you encountered in society could potentially be puppet strings. If this happens then do that. Techniques are much more. They can apply to many situations and can be employed creatively to overcome obstacles in martial combat and in life itself. Knowing how to creatively and effectively apply those techniques given possible situations, both known and unknown is the one true art. Therefore my task as your teacher is to make sure that you understand that you must use your own head, your creativity and ingenuity to use the techniques that I show you in the situations that you might encounter in life and to expand upon them. Ultimately though it is up to you. You can either choose to fool me or to really learn from me.” the lady arrived before Ai.

“Then you are a martial artist? You can fight too?” asked Ai.

“I am what I am. Nothing more or less. You are not just here to learn to fight. You are here to learn and to save lives. Sometimes that life will be the life of those being harmed by others. Sometimes that life will be your own. You will often not need to fight at all and that is the harmonious way but not so much as to compromise the goodness of all and what you stand for.” the lady spoke.

“Then what may I call you? Sensai? Kyoshi? Sah Boo Nim?” Ai asked the lady.

“Neither. You may call me Jin Hua or just Jin for short. How should I address you, my learned student? Heylyn Yates? Ai Yuanlin Ying?” asked Jin Hua.

“I am Ai, but my Mother and Father told me to use the name Heylyn. I trust them and that is my name here. Please call me Heylyn.” Heylyn replied.

“Very well beautiful little Heylyn. You've already progressed well. The sun is coming up and the flower is opening. Let the beauty and light in.” Jin Hua folded her hands and bowed to Heylyn.

Heylyn bowed to Jin Hua and their mentor-ship and friendship were thus born.

Light And Beauty

Heylyn moved the brush delicately across the vellum finishing the last brush stroke to finish her scroll. During her time under instruction, she'd learned much and one of her favorite classes was of ancient calligraphy and iconic expression. It was when she found the most peace within herself and often it was the only time when she felt truly in tune with the world. Most of her lessons in the martial arts were prefixed with lessons drawing from other arts. For instance, to progress in the study of a particular combat style, she was required to read and write an essay on an author or philosopher. Jin Hua would then read her essay and take its content and teach her the style based upon her interpretation of the subject. It was as if her style would become one with an actual form of philosophy or art.

For another, she was required to learn one song on an instrument called the Guzheng. She studied and practiced her piece for two months perfecting it in every way before performing it for Jin Hua. Upon hearing the piece Jin Hua performed a dance which in itself was a secretly embedded combat style though she'd used Heylyn's performance interpretively to shape the style of the dance and hence the embedded combat style. Heylyn's piece drew a smile and even a tear from Jin Hua who wiped her eye delicately when she was done.

"The piece you selected was a piece of music I'd first heard performed before I'd started my training at the age of twenty-one. It was played by my instructor whom I'd fallen madly in love with. It was forbidden for a student to form such a relationship with an instructor and so I'd kept it secret for a long time. Then one day when I'd arrived for class in the old world, he was not there. They'd replaced the instructor much to my heartache. When I left the class that day the instructor for whom I`d fallen was waiting for me outside of the school. He told me that he had resigned so that he could be with me. I was shocked and completely unaware that he`d held such desires for me. We spent the night together though we only cuddled and touched noses. The next day after my classes when I`d returned I found that he`d been killed by another skilled warrior. The warrior had been sent to deal with the instructor for becoming romantically involved with one of my ancestry and causing grief for his family. I was not of his privileged heritage and hence not worthy of his company. When his Uncle had found out about our secret desires he'd hired an assassin to deal with him. When he was laid to rest the family hired a musician to play that very piece you played. As if to torment my soul. It took many years to get overhearing it at that time. The sun rises. The flower opens and the light and beauty may come. The night comes, the moon rises and the flower closes so it may digest that light into wisdom.

I was banished by my family for dishonoring them and making trouble between a family of privileged heritage and my own family who were not considered as esteemed as his family. I'd fled the old world and came here to seek a new life. Many years later someone from the old world had contacted me. It was a historian who'd heard the plight of my story. He'd come from the old world just to seek me to deliver the news that it had been discovered in an ancient court document that my descendants had been chief council members and advisors to six generations of Emperors in the ancient dynasty. Word had traveled and a wise philosopher and spokesperson had taken up my case before a tribunal. He spoke in my defense and the defense of the people. He'd said that such an incident was a travesty of pride and hubris elicited by those whose belief that their heritage allows them special privileges in society and even control over punishments associated with a family's honor. Even death. In his words, he'd stated that such heritage is not a license to visit such ills upon others but indeed a great responsibility to recognize the value of all citizens alike. Where love flourishes between those of such heritage and the oft wrongly referred to "common people", family honor has no place within and most certainly no reign over life and death where matters of love and the heart are concerned. Some of the greatest dynasties were forged on such marriages and ideas, though they are seldom revealed as such. It is possible by way of virtue to earn one's place amongst the dynasty by way of their efforts for if they stand as one with such special heritage by their words and deeds then they must be of the equal. It is something that is not given. It is not an entitlement. It is earned." Jin Hua's eyes seemed distant as she recalled the scholar's words.

Heylyn looked on amazed to see such a display of emotion from her instructor whom she'd deified since her first lesson.

"The family wrote me a letter begging my forgiveness and they were for some years beyond his speech, met with disdain by the public. I never replied. Instead, I established this school here and continued teaching the ways I'd been taught by my fallen love. The lost ways." Jin Hua looked once again to her favorite scroll on the wall as it dangled slightly in rhyme with the breeze.

"It says... A meandering path through the air does it often take yet it always arrives safely to its flower thereupon to perch. When it does become tossed by the air and foe alike it becomes more fierce than the wind and as unstoppable as time itself. It is my heart and even when it withers to dust from this life will it live on forever. For I am the Butterfly Dragon." another tear crawled down Jin Hua's cheek before she delicately dabbed it with her silk kerchief.

"Remember that even your teachers are people too. More focused and persevering perhaps. Thicker armor on the outside but at our core, we are as flawed and delicate as our students may feel sometimes. We have our own past and our struggles to deal with. To learn from. That is something that life will never take away from anyone and those who fail to recognize this are already stranded in their travels and learning. There is no end to this journey. All the progress you make and every milestone that you achieve is just another point along the way. The path, no matter the nature of your beliefs." Jin Hua's tears subsided and she once again became the Master.

"I will now teach you his favorite style. One he'd been taught by the descendant of a line of instructors that goes all the way back to a time before the Song dynasty. It even passed through one of the greatest defenders of peace and love of the history of this school. It is the style of the Butterfly Dragon. Listen Ai, and I will show you and you will learn what you've already known for so long. For you are a part of this everlasting heart as well, young Ai Yuanlin Ying." Jin Hua looked to Heylyn directly and gesturing to her to stow the Guzheng back in its case so they could commence her lesson. Once she'd stowed the Guzheng in its case she took her place on her knees before Jin Hua and watched intently.

The form and style were deceptively simple. Beautiful. Deadly yet merciful. Misleading yet direct but never deceitful. Heylyn grasped it immediately as if she'd known the style from the start. While Jin Hua taught her its elegant moves, Heylyn remembered her Mother and her Grandmother's story about the field, the cocoon and that night long ago in her childhood when she'd protected the cocoon.

The Butterfly Dragon had emerged and young Ai Yuanlin Ying of the old world had become Heylyn Yates of the new world. The Butterfly Dragon reborn. She once again felt the dragon inside of her stir as it peered out through her eyes.

She finished the day with Jin Hua painting with watercolors. She pushed the brush delicately and the ink-stained the rice cloth leaving curves and sharp angles to form the iconic writing she'd been taught by Jin Hua. She'd written the text in the language of the three forms that made up the Butterfly Dragon style. In Japanese and its hard-soft style and elegance. In Korean and its enduring perseverance and stamina. In Chinese for its ancient wisdom and tradition. She thanked Thailand, Burma, Korea, and Vietnam who were amongst the first who'd given a home to these schools. She affixed the names of the instructors to the end of her scroll who'd made sure the style was passed on from generation to generation for the last thousand years and those names spanned the entirety of the globe with the earliest originating from the old world of the East. Hidden. Beautiful. Deadly yet preserving.

"There will come a time when you too will show this to your own student and they might struggle against you but they too will learn in time. Perhaps then you will tell them the story upon your scroll though that story is only just beginning." Jin Hua looked over Heylyn's scroll admiring its form.

Moon Rises - Flower Closes

Heylyn sat across from Jin Hua upon the floor her legs crossed. Both sat still in concentration as they cooled down after a vigorous workout. Heylyn had grown two years since their first meeting and in that time she'd learned and retained much from Jin Hua. In that time they'd formed a bond that is common to most teachers and their students, one that Jin Hua was careful of for a student must be independent of their teacher and learn to act on their own. Heylyn had progressed through the various techniques Jin Hua instructed her upon having spent three nights a week each week for the past two years in her studies.

In that time she'd been instructed in various schools and techniques of martial arts as known by Jin Hua and as well she'd developed as a growing lady on her way to becoming a grown woman. Heylyn often reveled in Jin Hua's love of life, beauty, and mystery. She never ceased to bring some form of poetic illumination to some undiscovered corner of being in her surroundings both known and unfamiliar. A spark that once lit had never ceased and had lit many more in the young minds of her students over the years. Heylyn had calmed over the course of the two years and her form had become enduring and bold without confrontation. Her confidence had become both enticing and engaging and Jin Hua was at least as proud of her as Heylyn's own parents were.

“Jin. May I ask you a question?” Heylyn asked Jin opening her eyes just slightly.

“Only if I may give you an answer?” Jin Hua asked Heylyn.

“I'd say yes. But only for you Jin.” Heylyn replied getting her right away.

“Then yes, you may ask me a question.” Jin Hua said a smile growing on her face.

“When I first arrived here, you said that there were three steps in each path I'd taken. In Goju Karate. In Tae Kwon-Do. And now, here, with you in this form of ancient Kung Fu though you still refrain from calling it that. The nine steps you said. Where do the nine steps lead?” Heylyn asked Jin Hua.

“The sun comes up and the flower opens. The flower accepts light and beauty. The moon rises and the flower closes. You have asked the question and the night must be coming soon. You have come to me through a path of many teachers. Like the caterpillar, you spied upon the tree that day. It too made many steps in its life before it arrived upon the branch it chose to begin its becoming. You arrived here and like the flower, you opened and accepted the light and beauty. Like the caterpillar, you also made your cocoon. The night comes and the flower closes and the cocoon opens soon. What comes next you ask?” Jin Hua asked Heylyn somewhat rhetorically.

“Why the Butterfly of course,” Heylyn answered Jin Hua.

“Yes. The Butterfly. Much like the flower ever-growing in light and beauty to begin each new day again. Becoming. You then are becoming. You are both the flower upon which the Butterfly does perch as you are the Butterfly itself. You one day will leave here. Leave your home too. To spread that beauty upon the world how you choose and that is so very important. In the first three steps, you learned to that you are capable of achieving what you set your mind to. In the second three steps, you learned that you can contribute to the world in a way that accomplishes more than just looking after yourself alone. When you came here you arrived at the last three steps and here you both opened as a flower and also you began making your cocoon. Now that you've asked the question and the night comes and the flower closes, will you emerge from your cocoon as a Butterfly and spread that beauty upon the world and ultimately affect it as such? You not only must look after yourself but you must protect the innocence there is in the world for it is precious. You have the confidence to know what is right and what is wrong. You know that when you have friends that try to pressure you into something with which you do not agree that you do not have to go along. Independence of thought and confidence enough to know not to sacrifice your own integrity just to keep the friendship of those who value integrity so little. Teach them and protect innocence above all else. Make others confident in themselves and they too will learn independence and none who are as much can be pressured by one or a thousand or a million. This my little Heylyn is what you have the potential to bring to the world and remember that everyone that you can help to find confidence in themselves is yet another Butterfly who may yet bring confidence and esteem to every person. You, however, have the help of an ally of which you are not even aware as of yet. In learning the nine steps and ascending you've acquired the help of the most staunch ally. One that will never leave you or abandon you for any reason. Even if you so wish for it is the Dragon. Through your prowess as a martial artist in three forms you have earned the trust of the Dragon and that will never be gone. Ever. It is a great responsibility and you must be of its worth. Some take longer to arrive at this doorstep. I myself arrived here a decade ago having endured much turmoil before I found the path. You are only fourteen now Heylyn. You have so much ahead of you and you have a great responsibility too. You will ride the waves of life which will carry you to extreme highs and to the depths of despair itself. Regardless you must persist and remain true. Protect that which needs protecting. Innocence above all else.” Jin Hua looked compassionately upon Heylyn.

“But I don't want to leave you Jin. I still want to learn.” Heylyn said to Jin in urgency.

“You will still learn but I have taken you as far as I can. You are well on your way to becoming.” Jin replied to Heylyn a smile stretched across her face.

“Becoming? What?” Heylyn asked her.

“As you have emerged from the cocoon full of light and beauty you are a Butterfly. As you have learned the three paths and the nine steps you are as a Dragon. You have become the Butterfly Dragon.” Jin Hua answered Heylyn's initial question.

“There's still so much to learn,” Heylyn asked Jin desperately.

“Yet you've learned so much. Give yourself the credit that you deserve. As you already know, fighting is not always the answer. Remember this, that your techniques are adaptable. There is no one technique to fit every situation and that is where you must be quick on your wits and attentive of those with whom you deal. Your Butterfly instinct will help you to gravitate towards those who need you. Who need your creativity, beauty, and wisdom as will you prosper from theirs. Your Dragon instinct will help protect you from the treacherous and deceitful and ill of intent. Together with your Dragon, you will find the path though it will not be easy. Heylyn. Remember to be love. Always. Like your namesake. Don't let the malice of others bring you down.” Jin Hua paused looking to Heylyn.

“But...” Heylyn's eyes started to tear up.

“Let us finish with a test. It is customary to proceed to this test after you've studied and practiced the techniques and asked the last question. You will feel better and I am very confident in you but you must be confident in yourself. Always. So that you never give up.” Jin Hua stood taking a new stance that Heylyn had not seen.

“What stance is this?” Heylyn asked.

“It is the stance of the ancient Dragon Butterfly. You must best me while using the Dragon Butterfly style with what you know.” Jin Hua stood her stance surprisingly loose and lax leaving many openings for Heylyn.

“An ancient style? I am only fourteen years old!” Heylyn said to Jin.

“That is no excuse for the Butterfly Dragon!” said Jin taunting her.

Heylyn stood back examining Jin's stance and apparent openings. When she'd spied an opening in Jin's lower abdomen she advanced for it quickly and aptly. Jin stepped with little effort to the side avoiding the blow and delivering a slap to the back of Heylyn's head before returning to the same stance.

Heylyn backed away a little bit set back by the fact that Jin had so easily avoided the blow and still delivered a counter-attack. Heylyn decided to try something a little more simple this time and approached quickly attempting a full foot sweep upon arriving in position. Jin lifted her legs in succession easily and completely dodging the attack. While Heylyn was still low retracting her leg Jin placed her palm on the top of the child's head and cartwheeled over Heylyn with ease to land behind her. Heylyn rolled forward as quickly as she could to avoid the impending attack that would surely come her at her exposed back but one never did. It was enough for Heylyn to know that an attacker could have waylaid her easily after such a situation. Heylyn turned to face Jin once again.

Jin stood in the same stance leaving the same opening for Heylyn to exploit should she choose though Heylyn knew better. Instead, Heylyn examined her options carefully and surmised Jin's only possible counter-attack should Heylyn attack that opening. Heylyn then knew she could block the attack and thought about the possible defense Jin might use. If Heylyn did this right she might actually find an exploitable opening in Jin's defense after about five or six rounds of attack and defense. Heylyn advanced to attempt her plan. Heylyn threw a punch which predictably Jin blocked exposing another opening that Heylyn immediately exploited. Jin once again blocked the attack as Heylyn had expected to step a little bit to the left and to sweep her arm across her front to deflect the wide arced blow. Heylyn spun delivering a bladed palm strike which again was deflected by Jin's experience and her proficiency with the Dragon Butterfly style.

Heylyn leaped into the air striking downward toward Jin's left shoulder. Jin turned slightly avoiding the blow altogether and as Heylyn landed Jin attempted an attack upon Heylyn's back. Heylyn had been expecting that move and had aptly prepared by landing on the opposite foot which gave her enough momentum to spin and catch Jin's hand in mid-attack. Heylyn yanked and pulled Jin forward attempting to flip her over her shoulder. Jin instead moved with the force and let Heylyn fall to the floor where she delivered a punch to Heylyn's solar plexus. The punch barely grazed her but it was enough to let Heylyn know that she'd have been done in a real encounter. Heylyn flipped back up and onto her feet cartwheeling backward several times before coming to stop on her feet. Heylyn was completely lost and furthermore frustrated by the situation.

Heylyn began advancing to attack out of desperation before finally coming to an epiphany. An intense understanding that had eluded her throughout all of her training.

“I'm not going to attack you,” Heylyn said to Jin defiantly.

“Oh really? Then I guess I'll just have to tear down your scroll from the wall so that none of the future students may read the wisdom of your words. The one you made last year. Your gift to our school.” Jin said advancing upon the dangling vellum parchment scroll which hung from the wall.

As soon as Jin had turned her attention to the scroll Heylyn moved. Heylyn stepped confidently forward knowing full well Jin could see her from her peripheral vision. Heylyn advanced as Jin's arm extended to the scroll. Heylyn's hand intercepted Jin's arm first and Heylyn twisted her arm guiding it around to Jin's back. Jin resisted though Heylyn had already a strong purchase of it not to mention that Jin's nerve was pressed within her elbow. Jin was forced to back up with Heylyn. Jin stepped right into Heylyn's extended leg and fell over backward. As Jin went down Heylyn tapped the back of her head lightly to let her know that she was victorious. When Jin was upon the floor Heylyn backflipped into position over Jin's stomach delivering a similar blow to the one Jin had given her. Jin made an attempt to get up to which Heylyn foot flew to Jin's Adam's apple. Jin lay still in place waiting for Heylyn's permission to move.

Heylyn had bested Jin's use of the Dragon Butterfly style though she doubted that it might be so easy in a real-life situation.

“Well done,” Jin said as Heylyn helped her back up and onto her feet.

“You've learned an important lesson today. Do you know what that lesson is?” Jin asked Heylyn.

“I think so,” Heylyn said mostly sure of herself but still with some doubt.

“Then say it for me young Butterfly!” Jin said a smile growing on her face.

“Where skill is equal or outmatched it is intent that can decide the outcome?” Heylyn said confidently though questioningly.

“Excellent. The defender almost always has the advantage so don't attack unless you absolutely have to. Instead, you chose the more peaceful path and left intent in my hands. I, of course, chose the worst intent and became the attacker as well throw away my advantage completely. Right and wrong often are woven into the fabric of such conflicts and their outcome. This is why action, reaction, and anger are so dangerous because they can be used to manipulate you into attacking. That gives the defender the advantage even though they manipulated you into doing so. Should you remain true to your intent you should rarely find difficulty in overcoming such foes. Such adversaries hide their intent from others and often hide their efforts to coerce you into attacking so they do not lose the illusion of good intent. Intent, therefore, should you remain virtuous and true to what is right will protect you unless of course you have become overwhelmed by many of ill intent. That is rare and even rarer that one such as the Butterfly Dragon will not find allies even amongst the lowliest of situations. There is always innocence and hope hidden amidst the turmoil. Those are your allies. Protect them, Butterfly. You have three of your staunchest allies. The adept Goju Karate originating from Okinawa Japan. The learned Tae Kwon-Do originating from the ancient Gojoseon, modern-day Korea. You have the ally of Wing Chun and Shaolin Kung Fu. You have graduated to combine all three to become the Butterfly Dragon having attained the nine steps. The moon has risen and you must close your petals for a time Ai Yuanlin Ying.” Jin Hua braced her hands before her and bowed before Heylyn who returned the gesture.

“Be wise. Be at peace. And most of all be true.” Jin said those words and departed the class.

“Jin?” Heylyn said as Jin left.

“Yes, Butterfly?” Jin responded.

“Thank you,” Heylyn said humbly and sincerely.

“You are most welcome. Now go!” Jin said impatiently turning again to leave.

Heylyn watched in disbelief as Jin departed. That would be the last time that young Heylyn Yates would ever see Jin Hua again.

A Precious Mind

Somewhere else far from the active imagination of Ai, there lived another little girl. Much like Ai her curiosity often overtook her sense of self-preservation or her awareness of her surroundings. Her mind was focused on many different things than those of Ai though not as different as one might think. Her days were often spent playing with puzzles and solving her book of tricks, a gift her parents had bought for her on her first day of summer school. She was a gifted little girl much like Ai and her mind was most certainly as busy but in a much different way both inside her little body and in the world around her. Every day since she'd received the book in which each page was a very simple pictogram depicting a little problem or ambiguity. Her parents had spotted it in an educational shop and had picked it up based upon their little girl's love of puzzles. When this particular little girl first saw the book she was herself quite puzzled. Her parents had read the first few puzzles and solved them easily up until the third page when they found a puzzle that had stumped them both. They'd spent a week discussing the possible solution to this particular puzzle. They'd also discussed whether such a book was too much for their little daughter. In the end, they decided to give it to her and much to their disbelief, she'd figured the whole book out in one afternoon. At the young age of six years old the little girl's capacity for comprehension and application was nearing that of an adult. Her name was Alicia.

Her naturally blonde hair and intense blue eyes were captivating though it was her shyness and silence that kept her abilities thinly veiled. When she'd started her summer classes she'd enjoyed school. She rarely talked with or was social with other students but instead reveled in whatever there was to learn. She saw it as a challenge, like her puzzles and the pictogram book her parents had bought for her. She liked the dolls her parents had bought for her though her parents would often find her playing science lab rather than a house. She had one particular doll that her parents had bought for her that came with a doctor's outfit. Alicia had quickly learned that doctors often dressed like scientists and that's how she'd play with her favorite doll. One of her other toys would come to the scientist with an incurable illness and the scientist would figure out a cure in her laboratory (which was her doll's kitchen). Her doll was really the only toy that she'd held onto past her fifth year as she'd become more interested in books and learning. Her doll would sometimes help her out with particularly difficult problems. That's precisely why she'd brought her to the first day of summer school.

At school that day she'd first learned about the rules they had in class. About putting your hand up to ask a question or if you needed to go to the bathroom. Like it was for many of the students it was much different than having the freedom she'd had at home. She learned about what they would be doing for the next month and the duration of the classes and how it would affect her first real school year the following September. They spent much of the rest of the class going over and learning the alphabet which Alicia had mostly known by that point though she remained impatiently quiet during the lesson. When the lesson was over, they had a bit of playtime and that's when Alicia brought out her doll.

The other students naturally were playing with their toys. Many of the boys had picked up one of the various cars or spaceships that were part of the school's toy inventory. Some had picked up some of the action figures while others built with building blocks. Many of the girls had picked up the various dolls and stuffed toys and were reenacting their impressions of adult life and their eventual adulthood. Alicia sat near the far end of the playmat with her doll having found a kitchen set to use as her laboratory. She then accepted her first "case" in the form of a dilapidated stuffed bunny who'd arrived with a terminal case of stuffing leak. Alicia's doll set about working on research to solve the case and when she'd come up with the solution she informed the bunny to which the bunny was overjoyed and excited. The bunny would only have to wait a day for her to formulate and develop this cure at home and bring it for the bunny the next day. Some of the other children noticed, especially when the bunny became excited about having heard that Alicia's doll had developed a cure. They watched for a moment perhaps trying to comprehend what had transpired between the bunny and Alicia's doll and then went back to their playing. They kept an eye on Alicia for the rest of the half-day of class curious about her and her doll.

When Alicia had finished class she left the school to find her Mother waiting just outside ready to walk her home and they did just that together. The first thing Alicia did when she got in the door was go to her room to discuss the bunny's cure with her doll. She went through her toy chest and found the little tinderbox her Father had given her on her prior birthday. She opened it and pulled from it what she'd need for the cure and put it in a little doctor's bag and went back to reading one of her puzzle books for the rest of the day.

Summer School Savior

Alicia arrived the next day at school just before class and most of the other students had forgotten about the bunny's antics from the prior day. Some were smiling, a few were grouchy and some were merely there in class and waiting to see what happened next. The day began again with a lesson about the alphabet and of course, Alicia sat through the lesson a little bit anxiously. When they were done they'd gone on to numbers and that had caught Alicia's attention as she'd had a propensity for math. She listened carefully quickly picking up on some of the simple elements of the lesson. She very readily grasped the concept of ordinality and the predecessor/successor relationship between numbers. By the end of class, she was confident enough to try counting to a hundred which she did readily though not knowing the names used to refer to the higher numbers. Some of the other students watched her quietly mouthing the numbers. Some smirked at her and one even stuck their tongue out at her. About halfway through the class, they arrived at snack and playtime and after Alicia had gobbled down her snack she went over to the kitchen/laboratory and sat down. The bunny with the terminal case of stuffing leakage was still there in a makeshift bed Alicia had put together for her.

Alicia then pulled out her bag and retrieved from it a safety needed with thick wool thread. Then she proceeded to sew the bunny's wound up sealing it tightly as some of the other children watched with intent interest. Alicia's doll worked diligently in her laboratory perhaps trying to surpass Alicia's count to a hundred from the prior day when one of the students approached Alicia with a doll in hand. She made the doll knock on Alicia's lab and Alicia's doll answered.

"Hello. Can I help you?" her doll spoke in a mature sounding voice.

"Hi. I'm hurting. My arm is broken off and I can't do anything anymore. Can you help me?" the other doll, that of a little girl spoke in a pain-ridden voice.

"Let me take a look." Alicia's doll welcomed the doll into her lab as Alicia stretched her hand out asking for the little girl doll.

The other student, a little girl herself handed it to Alicia somewhat reluctantly. Alicia took it and examined the doll immediately finding that the doll's arm had become dislodged from the socket but was dangling in place held there by an overly used spring. Alicia then moved the arm a bit and retrieved something from her bag which she used to return the spring back to its original form. She then pressed the socket firmly and it *popped* back in place. Alicia then handed the doll back to the little girl who looked at it smiling.

"Thank you!" she said happily.

Alicia looked at the girl puzzled and pointed to her doll.

"Thank you too." the girl said as she headed over to the other side of the mat where she began playing.

A little boy approached and knocked on the door to Alicia's makeshift laboratory and kitchen.

"Can I help you?" Alicia's doll answered.

"I hope. My paint is coming off and it really hurts." the little boy showed the action figure to Alicia.

She examined it carefully and pulled a marker from her bag and quickly colored the areas that needed a touch-up and handed it back to the boy.

"Thanks." he accepted it making his way over to a friend where they continued playing.

For the rest of the play time Alicia spent her day coming up with cures for the toys' ailments and fixing them where she could. After class she'd felt very satisfied that she was able to use her abilities to help the other students in class. For the first time in her young life she began to feel like she was a part of something much bigger than herself.