Dragon Sword: Chapter 12

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A new chapter is available every Wednesday at Noon, CST. Begin with Chapter 1

Mr. Hatchet face put his hand into what had been sort of greenish white fur a couple of minutes ago and was now a black suit coat. He pulled out a gun.

The gun was almost an anti-climax. I put my hands up. I thought about pulling out the sword but I didn’t want to bring a knife to a gunfight. “What are you?” I said when I could remember enough Chinese to ask. All the dragons speak every language as far as I know, but who knew what flesh-eating demons spoke?

He pulled out a tiny cell phone and thumbed buttons. “Taotie,” he said. Was that his name? His species? Was it demon-speak for “shut the hell up”? I didn’t ask. I should have paid more attention to the gun, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the blood smeared around his mouth. I couldn’t bring myself to look down at the prime minister again. There was really no good place to look in that room.

He held the phone up to his ear and waited. “We have a problem,” he said.

I had a feeling that problem would be me.

“It’s the woman,” he continued. He listened. “Yes … yes… yes, I have it here.” He flicked a glance at me. “Very well,” he said and switched off the phone.

He dropped the phone in his pocket. I flinched when he picked up the pearl. He still had blood all over his hands which meant he was getting it on the pearl. It was a clean and pure thing. He was getting it dirty by touching it.

He gestured me out the door and I went, hands still up. I thought again about the sword hanging heavy at my back. I could pull it out and … probably only take two or three bullets before I could cut him with it.

The rest of the house was as dark and deserted as what I’d seen already. He had me lead him out to the front door. A big black official limo was parked out there with Mr. Humvee behind the wheel. He didn’t act surprised to see me or … it. Mr. Hatchet Face tore my bag of burglar tools off my shoulder and tossed it into the front seat with Humvee. Then I was pushed in the back seat and Mr. Hatchet Face climbed in after me. He smelled of blood. I hadn’t noticed it until we were in the enclosed space of the car. I’d recovered from the Twizzler-induced nausea. Now they felt a little wormy in my stomach. I was afraid I was going to erp them back up. I tried some deep breathing. If the blood smelled bad, blood and vomit would not be an improvement.

Before we reached the waterfront — and that was definitely where we were going — it started to rain in earnest. The humidity was suffocating and now we had thunder rattling the world and lightning ripping the black sky. Drama. Just what my life needed was more drama. My nerves jumped and I gasped with each lightning flash.

We streaked past the fishing docks with their battered old boats. Working boats owned by people who pulled fish out of the ocean for a living. This was a good harbor. The trawlers gently heaved up and down in the swells. That’s about as bad as it would get in the shelter of the two fingers of land that held the harbor.

I cursed the luck that it had started raining now. The rainy season wasn’t supposed to start for two or three weeks. It was early and that was always annoying. Just as annoying when it lasted a few weeks past when it was supposed to end. I like Asia a lot, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Philippines, even Shanghai and Hong Kong, though technically they were Red Chinese. Anyway, I loved these places and the only thing I didn’t like about them was the goddamn rainy friggin’ season.

I thought about all that on the ride to the wharf. It kept my mind distracted from the fresh and present memory of those teeth and that blood. We streaked past the working fishing boats and in the direction of the nicer, more expensive pleasure crafts. The PM and most of his rich buddies had private yachts. Well, the PM used to have one. Now it belonged to his heirs.

Mr. Humvee pulled up on the dock beside an especially nice cabin cruiser. Hatchet Face yanked me out of the limo. He seemed unconcerned by the driving rain. That was a good thing because it got some of the blood off his face. He still had a kind of hell-hound look, but it made him less barf-worthy. He dragged me up a set of steps and onto the deck. The deck was rising and falling with the swells, and I staggered.

The boat was big enough for a saloon and that’s where they dragged me. I stood there dripping rainwater onto the polished hardwood floor while trying not to fall as the boat heaved in rhythm with my stomach. The ambassador, who had returned to looking like an ordinary fat man, was spread out on the built-in couch. He took up most of it.

“Well, it is you,” he said. He wasn’t as amused as he’d seemed earlier in the day.

“Yeah, it’s me all over,” I said.

“Mr. Chen-li assured me you would spend the rest of your life in prison.”

“They thought better of it and let me go.”

Mr. Hatchet Face brushed past me and offered the pearl to the ambassador who flinched.

“Put it in there,” he said nodding to a built in cabinet on the wall — bulkhead? — beside the porthole. Hatchet Face did as he was told. The demon watched him with glittering hatred.

Then Hatchet Face tossed my bag of burglar tools onto a corner. I’d forgotten about them. Then I noticed that all-important ink stone Derkein had been so stressed about. It was on a table beside the couch. It was a little hollowed out hunk of rock. Big deal.

“Thank you for bringing me the pearl,” the demon said as if I’d given him a birthday present.

“Mr. Chen-li didn’t have a chance, did he?” I asked. I was thinking furiously. Now that the demon had the pearl we were all in deep shit. Even deeper shit than before, that is. Surely there was a way out of this. Surely. No, I mean, really. I needed a deus ex machina and I needed it sort of nowish.

I didn’t get one. Instead the ambassador answered my question.

“Chen-li was completely safe as long as he cooperated properly.” The big man shrugged. His eyes looked like they were made out of red cellophane.

“He stopped cooperating?”

“He thought once he had the pearl he could dictate terms. He refused to allow the peace keepers to land.”

“So he wasn’t a total traitor,” I said.

Again the big shrug. “He was an ambitious man in a petty way. He wanted the dragons eliminated, he wanted the pearl and he wanted to be prime minister for life with no more annoying elections or votes of confidence.”

“So you had him killed.”

“He got what he deserved.” He said this as if it were utterly self-evident. I thought about the gallons of blood and the ripped out throat. Nobody deserved that.

“So you’ve eliminated three of the dragons. How are you planning to get the rest?” I thought of them safe on Turtle Island. I wished hard that all of them had gone there. I was beginning to wish I’d got on the copter with the servants. I know everybody dies and nobody gets out alive in the end. But the dragons…don’t and should, if that makes any sense.

The ambassador, instead of doing the laughing, gloating villainous thing actually looked a little annoyed. “The dragons aren’t to be taken down — yet,” he said.

I blinked. Why not? “What are you going to do with them?”

The ambassador shrugged like he was brushing away a fly. “They are to be studied. Dragons have unique properties. That makes them valuable.” He sneered that last bit. He wasn’t happy about this.

“They will allow me to take only one of the dragons,” he said with a whiff of sadness.

“What does that mean?” The question exploded out of me. Suddenly there were implications here I needed to know more about. Mr. Jabba was a demon from hell. Who allowed and didn’t allow this asshole?

“I want them all,” he said, mostly to himself. “Alllllll….” Can a howl be both soft and cold? This one word made me shiver. His red eyes grew and sparked fire. Then after a few seconds they settled down again.

“Who knows? Take heart!” I said. “Your owners may let you kill them later.” I had a little bitterness of my own going on. But I think that last little snark may have pissed him off.

He roared. Lions would die of envy if they heard that roar. A force blasted out of that big fat mouth and knocked me backwards. The saloon was not large which meant an instant later I slammed against the wall, rebruising my preexisting police-administered bruises.

Mr. Humvee’s face appeared above me. I saw him in a sort of red haze. A red haze seems to be a theme in my life lately, but this time I think it was me, not him.

He hauled me to my feet which hurt almost as much as slamming into the wall.

“I am owned by no one!” growled the demon. He looked scarier than Jabba the Hutt ever could. Jabba was a big slug. This guy was also a slug, but with teeth and a non-jovial attitude. I thought fat people were supposed to be jolly. “Put her in with the others,” he said low and soft, looking directly into my eyes. “And when we are out to sea throw her over the side.”

I couldn’t think of anything snappy to say to that. I just stood there, gaping like a train was coming and I was tied to the tracks. Humvee jerked me toward the door.

“Wait,” the low growl wasn’t strong but Mr. Humvee stopped in his tracks and we both turned to face the ambassador. The demon’s eyes had grown larger again and now dominated his fat face. He held my gaze and my heart thumped in my chest. I wished he’d look somewhere else.

“I don’t kill them,” he said. “I take them.” Then he jerked his head and Humvee shoved me out the door.

Take them? I had a nagging, miserable feeling that taking them was worse than killing them.

***

In order to get me to the hold, Mr. Humvee had to drag me out onto the deck. The rain pounded down and the wind blew hard, driving the rain sideways into my face. His too, probably, but I didn’t care about that. The storm looked like it was going great guns out at sea. I didn’t envy anybody on a boat out there. I knew what a storm at sea was like.

I was soaked to the skin and probably looked like a drowned rat, by the time Humvee got me down a gangway, unbarred a thick door and threw me into what must have been a small cargo hold. For about three seconds the barred door gave me some hope. Nothing like that would hold a dragon. Surely. I wasn’t prepared for what was in the hold.

A single dim bulb showed me that the only one of them sitting up was Derkein. He seemed dazed and dejected, but otherwise in good shape. Mr. Long-ju lay curled up on his side. His eyes were open and he stared into bottomless, limitless nothing. Daiyu lay in the middle of a ground fog, eyes closed, expression blank. I went to her first. I didn’t want to touch her because I know that fog was made up of her molecules. The sleeve of her jacket had been ripped open and she had a red scratch down one arm. She looked like she’d been about to turn into her dragon self and got stopped before she finished. Either that or she was disintegrating. That didn’t seem like a good thing.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked Derkein. Long-ju didn’t look like he would be interested in a quiz.

“The demon touched her, marked her as his own,” Derkein said indicating the scratch on her arm.

“That’s all? That scratch doesn’t look like enough to …”

“His touch is poison. The very fact of his foul feet on the soil of Shaolong weakens us, but that mark is a more specific poison.”

“Oh.” I looked down at Daiyu. Her face was indistinct. The dragon tattoo looked like a black stain. “He said he doesn’t kill you, though. Is that a lie?”

Derkein shuddered. “No,” he said. “It’s true. All the Kindred he has taken through history are still technically live.”

My shudder echoed his. My stomach heaved and twisted. “They’re in hell,” I whispered.

“Yes, they are in torment.”

“It’s like they are in the volcano.” Dragons can’t be killed by red hot lava, but they can be hurt by it. There was a dragon in the volcano right now, suffering, put there by the others for his crimes. I happened to have intimate knowledge of what that unbroken agony felt like. How I acquired that knowledge is a long story I’ll tell sometime. Right now I shuddered again at the thought of it.

I tried to put my hand on Daiyu’s forehead. I don’t know why. You’re supposed to do that when people are sick to check for a fever or something. Anyway, my hand went through her like she was just thick mist which is creepier than I can explain. I wanted really hard to curl up into a ball, but I didn’t.

“There has to be a way out of this. That asshole needs to go back to hell where he belongs,” I said. I wanted to cry and run away. It was all simply too much. Peace keepers, demons, throat-ripping monsters … dying dragons. It was just way bigger than I am. I was flesh. Anything will kill a human. You don’t need red hot lava or a demon. A sturdy stick would do it.

“Since you failed to get the ink stone, the brush is nearly useless,” said Derkein bitterly. “Two of us will go to Beijing University to be studied; one will go down to hell with the demon.” He nodded at Daiyu. “He has clearly chosen which one he wants.”

“How would a fucking paint brush stop this?” He was accusing me of causing all this, or failing to stop it. It wouldn’t have stung so much if I didn’t almost agree with him.

“It opens a gate to the Hell Realm.”

“Well, that’s groovy. We open a gate and then ask him to jump in.” I know, I know. Nobody says “groovy” any more. Sometimes you need to go with the classics.

Derkein actually sneered. It spoiled his noble and handsome face. “You are a fool.”

“Screw you.”

We were silent. It was a stand off.

Derkein seemed to struggle to get hold of himself.

“Where is the brush now? Is it still in your room over the tea shop?”

“Yes,” I said. “Chen-li is dead and they have the pearl.”

He rolled his eyes and then his face congealed into granite. “Of course,” he said with heavy sarcasm.

Those two words felt like a one-two punch. How was that my fault? It wasn’t fair. I jumped to my feet and looked back down at Daiyu. “I’ll get the pearl and the friggin ink stone,” I said through my teeth, mostly to him but partly to her.

I took some deep breaths to calm myself down. I couldn’t operate with the shitty emotional chaos that was raging through me. Once I could focus my eyes, I took careful stock of the hold. The bare electric bulb only lit the room in theory rather than in actuality. There was a hatch in the middle of the ceiling, but it wouldn’t budge as if something heavy had been piled on top of it.

The only real exit would be the door. I slowly went over every inch.

“I’ve already tried the door, it’s useless,” Derkein said.

“Shut the fuck up.” I said without looking back at him.

The door was nicely fitted in the frame. I mean really well. I’d hoped for a little gap so I could slide the sword blade between the door and the jam and lift the bar. Well, that would have been too easy.

I glanced back at Derkein. “Do you have a credit card on you?”

He shook his head.

“Any kind of plastic card?”

Derkein looked thoughtful then reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out his police badge. Behind the badge was a police warrant card. He handed that to me.

“Thanks.” I said. The door was even tighter fitting than I thought. I cracked the card trying to push it between the door and the jam and when I did get it in, it snapped when I tried to lift the iron bar with it. “Shit,” I said with great feeling.

“What are you trying to do?” Long-ju said. Both Derkein and I turned to him. The Silver Dragon still seemed very distant but he was looking a little more present than he had been a few minutes ago.

“We’re trying to get the door open,” I said. “I need to get out of here so I can get the pearl back from that fat bastard. And I’m going to steal a friggin’ ink stone so we can send that demon back down to hell — without one of you guys.” It all sounded so simple when you put it like that.

Long-ju seemed to take my pronouncements in stride. “The door is locked?” He looked at it as if he hadn’t seen it before. Hell, maybe he hadn’t. He’d seemed pretty out of it.

“No, it’s only barred which isn’t quite as bad. If I had something thin I might be able to lift it.” I gestured to Derkein’s broken police ID.

“Allow me to try,” Long-ju said. He stepped forward and put his hands against the door. I heard a metallic scraping sound and my spirits soared with hope. Then a thunk when the bar dropped back into place and my spirits did the same thing.

Long-ju shook his head. “If I had the pearl. If the demon was in his own realm….”

“Well, as if,” I said with a little more nastiness than was probably called for. “The pearl is upstairs with the demon. First we have to get through this door.”

Long-ju raised his white eyebrows. “The pearl is upstairs? Is Chen-li here?”

“No. Chen-li is dead. The demon had one of his minions … kill him.” In order to go into more detail, I’d have to remember what I saw. I could remember it, but I’d rather not.

Long-ju took the news of Chen-li’s death in stride, but Derkein seemed to go a little pale.

“Chen-li was a fool,” Derkein said. “I had hoped the demon would let him keep the pearl and his life, but it was only a hope.”

I sighed. The pearl always seemed to be in the big middle of everything. I turned to study the door. Then an idea popped up and offered itself to me. I snatched it.

“Derkein?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Can you do that thing Long-ju just did? I mean he made the bar wiggle.”

“Of course.”

I turned and looked at the two of them. “Can you both do it at the same time?”

It didn’t take them long to think it over and neither of them answered. They both simply put their hands on the door.

Nothing happened for what seemed like a long time. When I heard the metallic scraping sound I realized I’d been holding my breath. In a few seconds the faint scraping noise stopped. I pushed on the door and it swung open. The iron bar swung down like a guillotine blade. The whoosh of its passing brushed my nose. Yikes!

I drew the sword. Having it in my hand lent me much-needed courage. I wasn’t sure anything alive on this boat could be killed with it, other than me, that is, but if I found the monster or his minions I was going to give it the old college try.

It was difficult to climb up the ladder to the deck with the sword in my hand, but I coped. To my surprise Derkein followed me. The thunder and lightning was still off in the distance out at sea but the rain still pounded down hard. It didn’t matter. I was already wet.

The harbor would shelter us from most of the storm, but it still wasn’t great. If the rain hadn’t been coming down so hard, I would have noticed Hatchet Face coming at us in his disguise as a flesh-eating monster. It was Derkein who saw him first. He yelled something in a language nobody but dragons know. A yell was good enough.

I looked up in time to see a whitish-yellow demon all teeth and claws leaping through the air at me. I swung the sword at him like a base ball bat. The monster vanished and the two halves of Hatchet Face hit the deck with a wet, sloppy splat. Blood and intestines flew everywhere. The pounding rain washed the blood away pretty fast, but it didn’t really help.

Now I did vomit. I emptied my stomach of a huge wad of half-digested Twizzlers and a lot of bile. Sorry to be so gross, but the sight of all those flopping internal organs was also pretty gross. How did my grandfather do it all those years? He killed hundreds of bad guys, killers, sadists, career criminals. He was a one man vigilante mob. My father took up the sword after Grandfather died. He only killed a few before I stole the sword and ran. I had wanted to make it stop.

And now here I was with somebody’s liver flopped against the toe of my tennis shoe. I had to stop looking at the remains or I was going to ralph again. I took a shuddering breath and stepped over what used to be the top half of Hatchet Face.

When I got to the saloon door, I could hear the ambassador shouting. “No! By dawn, do you understand?” A pause. “I don’t care. You just get here!”

I realized he had to be talking to the troop ship. If there was a God in Heaven, that ship would sink. If the world were a fair place, they’d go down with all hands in the storm. If justice existed anywhere those Chinese bastards would sleep with the fishes.

Damn. It’s a pity life is nothing like that. I took a deep breath and opened the saloon door. “Hello, big, dark and ugly,” I said. “Did you miss me?”

His meaty fist held a ship-to-ship phone. He threw it at me. I dodged and it smashed against the door jam.

His chin dropped and I knew he was going to try that roaring thing on me again. I ran toward him. I figured I’d run him through. I wasn’t going to do that messy guts thing twice in a row. Dry heaves aren’t any fun.

I didn’t get that far. The demon ambassador grabbed the blade. It should have instantly lost some fingers. He didn’t. He jerked the sword out of my hands.

Derkein flew past me, landing a foot in the ambassador’s considerable gut. The fat man whoofed and stepped back. He didn’t turn loose of the sword. Derkein whirled and aimed another kick at the Ambassador’s head. I’d seen Daiyu do kung-fu on bad guys but not Derkein. He didn’t have her beautiful style but he was getting the job done. He snapped another kick and landed it solidly in the demon ambassador’s chin. It should have taken his head off, but it just dazed him a little. He staggered. Derkein stepped back and did it again. This time the demon went down. Derkein jumped after him.

The demon’s eyes, which had been black when we’d busted in, were turning red. I had a feeling that wasn’t a good sign. When the ambassador went down I took that opportunity to grab the sword back.

Derkein pounded the watermelon sized head on the floor. Deck, whatever. This would have pulped a regular head. It wasn’t having much effect except that red mist was pouring out of his ears. That wasn’t a good sign either. Then I noticed that Derkein was the color of cheese. He was sick and getting weaker. Only an iron will could have kept his hands on that thing. Derkein was beginning to evaporate too. He was the red dragon and so his fog was red but it was a healthy red, not like the dried blood red of the demon.

The deck heaved and I nearly lost my balance. I had to do something. I couldn’t stand here and watch this like a spectator. I stepped forward and stomped on the demon’s flailing hand. I felt something grab my throat. There was nothing there to do the grabbing, but the feeling was intense and real. I could even feel individual fingers.

I fell backward and landed almost on the couch. The pearl. The demon had dodged the pearl before, I hoped that wasn’t meaningless.

I jumped to my feet, got it out of the cabinet, whirled and tossed it at the roiling red smoke like a bowling ball.

Derkein resolidified. The bloody red demon smoke emitted a shriek loud enough to pierce steel. Derkein dove for the pearl as it rolled away, grabbed it and tucked it in his elbow like a football.

I staggered back. The demon had again become a big fat man who now had blood pouring out of his ears and nose. Except the face was all wrong. It was like a pig — if pigs had teeth like a piranha.

“Come on!” Derkein shouted.

I hesitated. I wasn’t going to screw up this time. My bag of burglar tools was still crumpled in the corner where Humvee had thrown it earlier. I raked the friggin’ ink stone into it. An evil brush requires an evil ink stone. Even that little bit of contact with the artifact from hell made me, for just a tiny instant, feel like a junkie with the flu.

It was time to beat it.

I should have wondered where Mr. Humvee could have been hiding himself. I’d been a bit too busy to make sure all the bad guys were present and accounted for.

Mr. Humvee suddenly blocked the door, big as life and twice as ugly, and he didn’t look happy. I figured he’d turn into something nasty, but apparently he didn’t need to. He was nasty enough all by himself just as he was.

Jump to chapter 13

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