Thud! Xiao Hei’s metal fist collided with the beast midair, and a loud noise was heard. Xiao Hei took a step backward while the beast twisted its limbs for a renewed leap after barely touching the ground. Xiao Hei lifted his fist again and attempted to smash the animal, but his attack was dodged by a nimble twist of the body, and a crater appeared on the ground.
“Leave.” Bai Ze said in a low voice and pulled Li Yiming and Liu Meng out of the alleyway.
“Look! Over there!” They had barely returned to the street when Liu Meng cried out in horror and pointed at the green belt on the other end of the street; another dog, with golden pelt this time, waited there, and it seemed just as menacing as the husky earlier.
“Another one?” Li Yiming was shocked. ‘If this one’s the same as the previous one, then there’s no way I can handle it.’ He suddenly noticed the patrol car parked in front of the hotel’s entrance. It belonged to the officers who had come to the hotel for interrogation. He knew that officers had the habit of not locking their car doors when they were on duty. After all, who would dare to steal a police car? 1
“Get in!” Li Yiming yelled as he dashed toward the passenger seat of the patrol car with Bai Ze in his arms. Liu Meng quickly followed him, only she made it for the driver’s seat: Li Yiming did not know how to drive.
‘God bless, the keys are there.’
“Quick.” Li Yiming threw Bai Ze onto the back seat and tapped at the front windshield. Liu Meng did not have much time to think. She started the engine and the vehicle bolted out onto the road. Li Yiming turned his head around to look at the enraged golden dog they left behind and saw it jump on a jogger, leaving a scream of terror that weakened as they drove away.
“What is that?” Liu Meng finally had the opportunity to ask in a panicked voice.
“They’re Dragondogs,” Bai Ze’s voice came from the backseat.
“A mythical beast. I think I know what the will of this domain is.”
“What exactly are you talking about?” Liu Meng did not understand any of these crazy words.
“I’ll explain to you later. Bai Ze, continue your story.”
“According to legends, there used to be an emperor called Gao Xin in the past. His queen had a pain in her ear, and, after three years, a bug crawled out of her ear. The insect was golden and shone light around it, so the queen liked it very much, and asked the servants to put it in a golden basin and feed it. After a while, the bug slowly grew into a puppy. Only, instead of fur, its body was covered with scales. The emperor also liked the animal, so he gave it a name: Dragondog.” 2
“That’s the Dragondog you’re talking about? But the ones we saw…” Liu Meng interrupted.
“Their metamorphosis hasn’t been completed yet.” Bai Ze crawled up from her seat and looked through the car window.
“Continue, we have to know more about them.” Li Yiming pressed on.
“Later, enemies of the empire invaded, and the emperor proclaimed that whoever that could help defeat the enemies would be married to the princess. The Dragondog went to the task alone, sneaked into the enemy camp during the night and tore the neck of the enemy general apart. Without a leader, the enemies were quickly vanquished. However, when the Dragondog returned to the imperial palace, the emperor didn’t like the way it looked and wanted to go back on his promise. The Dragondog told him that he would be able to transform into a human if given seven days. The emperor decreed that seven days should be given to him, and the Dragondog asked the servant of the palace to cover him with a gold basin so that he could begin his transformation. However, on the seventh day, the princess, who had been worried about the Dragondog starving, lifted the basin open to feed him food. Due to the interruption, the Dragondog now had a human’s body, but his head remained that of a dog. The princess, true to her kindness, agreed to marry the Dragondog regardless. The people of the kingdom came to view the Dragondog as an ancestral protector, and called themselves the “descendants of the Dragondog”. The place where those people used to live is here, in Ning Village, Jing Prefecture.” Bai Ze tried her best to condense the knowledge she had of the mythical tale.
“Then this domain…” Even after hearing the story, Li Yiming still found it hard to connect the dots.
“Since the Dragondog appeared, the will of this domain should be “protection”.”
“Protection…” Li Yiming quickly went over the sequence of events inside his head. “Okay, I get it. Guo Xiang wants to forcefully purchase the land, so he’s considered the enemy. Lei San’er set fire to the mountains, so the Dragondogs killed him. He was bitten into pieces.”
“This should be right.”
“But Guo Xiang’s already dead, so this domain should be…”
“Remember what Xiao Hei said earlier?”
“They must have something else in mind, and they altered the nature of the domain…” The situation became lucid to Li Yiming. “With the Dragondogs killing people… They must have done something terrible.”
The patrol car came to a sudden halt with a screech of the tires. Li Yiming almost crashed into the windshield while Bai Ze collided against the front seat with a thud. Li Yiming pushed himself back and was about to ask for an explanation when he noticed the terrified look on Liu Meng’s face. He followed her eyes and saw three… No, four Dragondogs on the street in front of him. They were not as big as the two earlier, but their hair had receded and one could see shining golden scales beneath the pelt. The four Dragondogs walked with their heads lowered, staring at the front coldly, in a rhythmic cadence and with their tails still behind them.
They were headed for Bingshui Road, a street famous for its traditional food and a tourist hotspot in Jing Prefecture. 10 PM was the peak time for an evening snack. On the bustling street stood noisy crowds whose chatter was occasionally broken by the clangor of the food stand nearby and the loud sizzling of meat being cooked on a grill. It was the liveliness of a small town at its finest, especially at an hour where everyone could enjoy, in an attitude typical to the slow lifestyle of the countryside, the refreshing night wind carrying away with it the sultriness of the day. No one had noticed the four animals who were coming closer and closer.
“We have to warn them…” Li Yiming said with urgency, but it was too late: the four pairs of eyes suddenly lit up with a bloodthirsty lust and the Dragondogs jumped into the crowd with a low roar.
One of them landed on a grill stand and sunk its teeth into a little girl who was looking at her food with anticipation. Just a moment before, the little girl was thinking about how delicious the grilled duck neck would be, only to have blood gush out of her own neck the next moment. 3
The four beasts ravaged through the crowd, biting whomever they came across. Every swing of their fangs and every gnawing of their teeth brought forth spurts of blood and the loss of another life. The crowd quickly dispersed, and it became a race with one’s life at stake. Who would have thought that something this terrible would happen on a simple night out for food? Some thought about fighting back, but how could they stop the Dragondogs with their limbs made of flesh and foldable chairs as their weapon? More and more fell to the ground, and two other dogs emerged from another street corner. It was a living hell; broken bodies, torn limbs, a pool of blood and bones. Fewer and fewer people were able to run, and more and more Dragondogs joined the massacre silently.
Li Yiming could not hear the shrieks and yells of pain through the car window. He thought that he ought to do something, but he was powerless.
“Quick, leave!” Bai Ze yelled. She noticed one special Dragondog across the street, whose size was smaller than the others, but whose entire body shone with a golden light, staring at their car with crimson eyes that hid a predatory ferocity.
Liu Meng was completely aghast, she stepped on the gas pedal instinctively upon hearing Bai Ze’s urging, and the car made for the opposite end of the street.
“What exactly did they do?” Li Yiming clenched his teeth and veins appeared beneath the skin on his forehead. ‘These people are dying…’
A van driving on the opposite side of the road suddenly lost control and rammed toward the patrol car. With last-second maneuver, Liu Meng barely avoided the collision, and the van struck an electric pole on the side of the street.
“Where are we going?” Liu Meng shook her head helplessly, and her finger joints whitened as she held the steering wheel as tightly as she could. Through the speakers of the radio transmitter in the patrol car came an incessant string of shrieks, yells, and cries from different parts of the city.
The window on Li Yiming’s side suddenly shattered. An opened jaw dove into the car. Li Yiming ducked to dodge the attack while Liu Meng shrieked in horror. The Dragondog twisted its body outside the car in an effort to get in. Li Yiming grabbed a police baton on and jabbed the chin of the beast with all his strength. The Dragondog was pushed out of the window and rolled several times before it resumed its chase at a limping pace.
“Are you okay?” Bai Ze did not even have time to intervene before the animal was ejected from the car.
Li Yiming looked at the three streaks of blood on his right arm with a barely settled heart and shook his head with a look of ferocity. ‘A true man only after seeing blood.’ He firmed his resolution.“Ning village. No matter what it is, it has to be at Ning Village.”
“We’re going to Ning Village?” Liu Meng asked in a panicked voice. No matter how daring she seemed usually, with something like this happening, although she was much better most people of her age, she had completely lost her composure.
“Yes, now.” Li Yiming answered confidently.
Little Bai Ze stayed quiet. She looked at Li Yiming’s face approvingly. ‘Finally, that’s more like a guardian.’
Liu Meng made a U-turn and drove toward Ning Village with a speed she had never dared to reach in her life. Li Yiming looked outside; Dragondogs running through the crowd with screams left and right; someone falling from a residential building with a long cry, with a Dragondog landing right next to the corpse an instant later and seeking for another prey following the trail of blood. Behind that corpse, an LED panel with “People’s Bank” written on it flashed in the darkness. Li Yiming laughed in self-derision as he thought about his bank-robbing plan and tightened his grip on the baton.
‘Baton…’ Li Yiming suddenly thought. He had no weapons. He searched the patrol car for a firearm, but could not find any. ‘Not surprising. In this small city, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have a single gun.’
“Hey, can we make a stop there?” As Li Yiming sought an alternative, he suddenly noticed a shop ahead. “Long Quan’s Swords”: a shop that specializes in decorative blades.
Liu Meng obeyed whatever Li Yiming said and slowly parked the car in front of the shop. Instead of disembarking, the trio observed their surroundings carefully. “It’s safe for now,” Bai Ze remarked with a sniff.
“Let’s go inside. Keep the engine running.” Li Yiming opened the door on his side.
Soon we will find out the truth behind what happened at Ning Village!
1. Can’t tell if this is an urban myth.
2. This is another creature found in the Classic of Mountain and Sea.
3. Duck necks sound like a weird kind of food but it’s really good.
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