The Scarlet Omen

Chapter 1

    Despite his large build and scales so thick they deflected the bright rays of the evening suns, Raja Naga, the ruby red dragon, soared effortlessly through the dark clouds, scanning the horizon. Below him, the Valley of the Hornbills, Lembah Kenyalang spread out to the East and West, bordered by two ancient mountain ranges. He glanced at Catfish Mountain to his left, where his good friend Raja Ikan--a once powerful member of the Gathering of the Elders--resided in his eternal prison. The merfolk and their Princess Salma guarded him and kept him company, accessing the mountain caves through their enchanted pools. The venerable catfish dejectedly spent the rest of his days trapped in his own dark pond, put there by forces so evil that even the red dragon shuddered at the thought of them.

    “How is the old Catfish?”

    The dragon had almost forgotten that Kayanya, the handsome prince of the Lake People was riding on his broad back. He often joined the dragon on his rounds in the cool night air. “He’s getting older and blinder each day. Maybe he’ll soon be put out of his misery.”

    He felt the prince go rigid. “Raja Naga, how can you say that?!”

    “Imagine, Prince. Lying in that pool for the rest of your days, never seeing another sunrise, never again breathing in fresh air.”

    “I’m sorry, Raja Naga. You’re right--death would be better. But isn’t it imperative that we not give up hope of rescuing him.”

    Raja Naga shook his large head as thin tendrils of smoke rose from his nostrils. “After three hundred years? I’m sorry to seem like a killjoy, but you know who the only person is that can save him now. We’ve tried everything.”

    The prince remained silent for awhile, probably thinking about the ancient prophecy.

    Still furtively watching the land where the thick rainforest gave way to the dreaded swamp land, Raja Naga glanced down at the Pygmy Village where he saw the little people scurrying around their long houses, their intricate ethnic tattoos only a deep green blur, preparing for nightfall.

    “I despise the nights of the dark moon. Look at them, frantically casting their protective spells, the poor things. Sri Cahaya must be there somewhere among them, working the hardest. They’re just so small and seem so vulnerable compared to those beasts that they fear,” said Kayanya through clenched teeth.

    The dragon sensed his despair. “Don’t fret, Kay. Sri Cahaya is the best medicine woman that ever walked the land. She’s protected the pygmies from the creatures of the night well and will continue to do so long after you and I are gone.”

     The creatures of the night, the dreaded Blood Drinkers, would soon emerge from their castle in Ghost Forest, glide over the swamp lands like ghost ships and arrive at their villages, as they did every dark moon. The red dragon shook his large, bejeweled head again and literally heard the piercing screams of the fallen, the cries of the mothers whose babies had been taken. The Pontianak had appeared long before like a plague that swept over the valley and left their once peaceful land in tatters, its inhabitants wrecked with fear and the magical heartbeat of the valley beating slower, coming to the end with every breath.

    Smoke rose thicker now from his large nostrils as Raja Naga fought to keep calm. He watched the animals in the forest below them hurry into their burrows, nests and caves as the Animal Kingdom, too, prepared for the inevitable menace. The dragon observed the webbed fingers of the merfolk disappear into their aquamarine ponds, which were strewn all across the valley. His fellow dragons, his subjects, were setting up guard outside their lair, close to the Great Lake to the North. He spotted his mate giving them orders at the mouth of their cave before looking up into the sky and nodding at him. She smiled sadly before retreating into the gigantic rock formation.

    The prince patted the dragon’s back companiably. “Now it’s your turn not to worry, Wise One. The Blood Drinkers can’t touch them.”

    “Yes, but they covet our precious eggs. I know, they rest safely in the underground tunnels deep below our lair, but I wouldn’t put it pass them to find a way in.”

    The dragons had not known, at first, why the vampires would be interested in their offspring, but as time passed, the inhabitants of the valley noticed the Pontianak stealing more of their magical properties and depleting in a matter of years what took centuries to mature. It was still a mystery what they used it for. Further to the north, Raja Naga watched cautiously how the silver winged fairies in Fairy Forest circled their borders, sprinkling their blessed golden sand around the perimeter, hoping that its magic would protect them yet again.

    As the suns set and the sky suddenly plunged into darkness, Raja Naga heard with his highly tuned ears that feared rush of robes billowing in the wind. He looked toward the swampland with his eagle like eyes and saw the cloaked figures glide at an eerie speed toward the lake. From that distance they looked like innocent ants gate-crashing a peaceful picnic, but he knew what they were capable of. Raja Naga picked up his pace, pounding his wings in the night air. Kayanya held on tightly, pressing his own body to the dragon’s back, as the wind rushed over his head. “I don’t see anything, Raja Naga.” The Pontianak were the most difficult to spot during Dark Moon, which was why they chose that particular time of month to go hunting.

    Raja Naga did not answer; he swooped and willed his wings to take them further, faster, but they were too far away. They heard the blood-curdling screams of the Lake People long before they could reach the fishermen’s village to warn them. The dragon could only watch, his ivory teeth barred, as the almost invisible flock of vampires retreated back to their castle, leaving broken hearts behind them. Kayanya bellowed with rage, his voice strangled with tears. When they finally reached the fisher settlement, the dragon opened his cave-like mouth and breathed violent red flames at the Pontianak’s retreating backs, but the blood drinkers were too swift. Kayanya made to leap off the dragon, but Raja Naga sensed his yearning to kill those wretched beings and pulled up into the air. Jumping into the middle of a hoard of vampires would be suicide.

    The vampires cackled at them like a group of hyenas, taunting the two proud leaders. “Are you going to catch us, Old Beast? Watch your brittle bones! Don’t drop your handsome package, now.”

    A cloaked woman floating effortlessly at the front of the entourage turned around and smiled cheekily at them. Raja Naga snorted and flew higher into the night sky. He knew that arrogant gait; the whole valley did. The Queen of the Vampires had taken yet more lives. Raja Naga closed his eyes and saw her pale complexion burn behind his lids. He thought how she must have been beautiful once, before she became the monster that haunted everyone’s dreams. As the vampires disappeared into the cover of the mangrove trees, he felt the prince sigh and relax his tight grip on the dragon’s back. The prince cursed, echoing the dragon’s own feelings. Raja Naga looked toward the Great Lake and pleaded to the wind, his long snout shining with pearl white tears that now flowed freely. “Where are you, our Nirupita? You’ve been appointed, so come as it has been written.”


End of Chapter One

© Cinthia Koeksal 2012