Far away in the mortal world was a forest. A forest so deep that it was said as you moved deeper the shadows would whisper and a young man would grow wrinkled before he emerged on the other side.
And beside the forest was a small village. And in the village lived a ten year old girl called Mei Lin. Mei Lin had no father and no brother and no sister but she had a mother and Mei Lin’s mother was a healer. Everyday Mei Lin went with her mother into the forest to forage for herbs. Just a few yards in, they collected what they found and turned back.
“Never go into the forest alone,” Mei Lin’s mother used to tell her.
There were whispers about the place. Little girls and boys warned not to venture close. A monster lurked in the shadows, so it was said. A huge beast with vicious fangs and matted hair. And its eyes...its eyes were said to penetrate deep into your soul and steal life away. It was swifter than any arrow and stronger than all blades. The hellbeast of a fallen goddess howling for its mistress, it was said.
For centuries the stories about the beast had been told by the village elders and the elders before them and the elders before them, going as far back as anyone could remember. It was said that whosoever killed the beast would bring good fortune and prosperity upon their clan for generations to come. More to the point, it was said that armour made from the beast’s pelt would make the wearer invincible. Every several years a new hunter arrived to slay the beast. Yet no hunter had ever emerged from the forest after venturing inside.
That year the pickings from the forest had been thin. People came to Mei Lin’s mother for remedies and left empty handed. The rice in Mei Lin’s house was running low.
Mei Lin knew that if only they went a little further into the forest they would find the moondrop flower that would end their dry spell. Moondrops were auspicious, bringing with them blessings and fertility. Mei Lin’s mother had pointed out to her the signs leading to moondrops in the forest. Yarrow growing in clusters of nine, rabbit’s footprints near pine trees, the scent of the tan hua floating along the breeze, all meant that a moondrop was blooming. But Mei Lin’s mother never went inside the forest to seek it.
“To accept our life as it comes is the way, Mei Lin,” her mother said. “Going inside is too dangerous. Who will look after you if something happened to me?”
But Mei Lin could not accept life as it came. Not when the answer to their troubles was only a few steps away. It was in her nature to seek further. Her mother’s birthday was coming soon and she decided it was time to follow the signs and bring back the moondrop for her mother. It would end the period of hardship and bring healing to all. That morning, while her mother went to see about a commotion in the village square, Mei Lin set out.
In the village square, the first hunter seeking to kill the beast during Mei Lin’s lifetime had arrived. He was the best warrior of that age, big and brutal, clad in the fur of a bear he had slayed himself. The youths cheered after him as he entered the forest, while the elders shook their heads in resignation.
Mei Lin, however, was not present to witness this. She had followed the signs and was deeper in the forest than she had ever been before. The forest was dark and heavy with the scent of pine. ‘
There! There was the moondrop, glinting at the base of the cassia tree. Mei Lin ran forward and plucked it, putting it in her pouch. Yet, as she plucked the flower, the world seemed to realign. Suddenly, Mei Lin was not sure of which direction she had come from. She spun around, and the woods all looked the same to her.
And then she heard the sound of twigs breaking. Was it an animal? Was it the beast? Heart pounding, Meil Lin hid herself behind the tree roots, praying for the tree to protect her. The thing drew closer and closer. Mei Lin trembled, putting a hand over her mouth to prevent any sound from escaping.
And then the thing was next to the tree, almost upon her, and then it moved on. Mei Lin peered from between the roots. It was a man, huge, looking almost like a bear from the back. But he carried a crossbow. It was definitely a man.
Would he know the way out? In Mei Lin’s understanding, here there was only one way a person could be headed and that was out of the forest. It was unfathomable to her that anyone would seek to go in deeper.
So keeping her distance, careful not to make a sound, Mei Lin followed the man. The man walked and walked, sometimes stopping to observe a mark on the ground or on the trees and Mei Lin followed.
For a moment she lost sight of the man as he rounded a tree and she hurried after him until she heard a snarl. With a racing heart Mei Lin stumbled into a clearing. And there she found the man attacking the beast.
The beast was huge, larger than anything Mei Lin had ever imagined. It looked like a wolf but no wolf could be that big. A grey streak, it ran around the man, dodging his bolts. And then, in a matter of seconds, it was over. The beast leapt onto a rock and before the man could aim his bow the beast had leapt on his chest and torn his throat out. A shocked scream escaped Mei Lin.
The beast whipped its head in her direction and Mei Lin froze. The thing looked at Mei Lin and Mei Lin looked back in terror as it took one step and then two steps towards her. Its teeth were bared, gigantic fangs as long as Mei Lin’s arm. Power radiated from it and Mei Lin was rooted to the spot. The look in the beast’s eyes was angry, and yet, was there…was there pain in it? No, it was fear. The beast was afraid, of what Mei Lin knew not. Its nose twitched, catching her scent on the wind. It took another step closer. Mei Lin pressed her eyes closed, waiting for her end, wishing for the protection of her mother’s arms. Mei Lin waited and waited, and yet nothing happened. She opened her eyes to find the beast gone. She was alone in the clearing.
After that how Mei Lin found her way home, she could never tell but stumble home she did, shortly after dark, finding her mother half mad with worry. Mei Lin silently looked at her mother and her mother looked back as if she had seen a ghost before she burst into tears and clutched Mei Lin to her chest.
After that day, Mei Lin was never quite the same. She was quieter, less playful. The moondrop ended their woes but Mei Lin’s mother was never quite able to take her away from the village, though day after day she tried. For since that day, Mei Lin was drawn to the woods. She never ventured further than her mother when they went to pick herbs but stood at the edge and peered in, listening. And sometimes Mei Lin could hear a song her mother couldn’t. It was the weeping of a goddess she said and her mother looked at her queerly.
And then Mei Lin began asking the elders about the beast, asking them to tell her all they knew, all the stories. And years passed and Mei Lin grew up and she traveled and foraged for knowledge, as many legends as she could collect about the beast. And her name spread as the lady who knew more about the village and the forest and their history and, yes, about the beast than anyone alive.
And years later, when she was old and wizened, still living in that small village, a god visited Mei Lin and she told him of the wolf with the violet and brown eyes.
The Dragon and the Wolf - Chapter 1
Author's Note: Please Read Die Feng & Li Ying: The Dragon and the Wolf Vol.1 for reference