Dragon Sword

A blind swordswoman in China seeks revenge on the cunning and deadly Manchu general who killed her parents.


29. clan of the tattooed assassins



Zu halts suddenly. Edward Savage stops just an instant later.




Silence. They are both listening. Intent.




They hear the wind rushing in the treetops. And then maybe something more.




Zu murmurs: You should go. This fight doesn't concern you.




Edward shakes his head.




If there's going to be a fight. I'll stay.




Zu listens with her ears and her whole body and there is only sussing wind in the pines and otherwise a cold silence and the moon shining on the dark path. Gripping the sword cane with both hands and Edward touching the grip of his Spanish rapier.




They wait. They wait. Edward's heart is beating faster. He feels it throb in his eardrums. His saliva tastes thin and metallic.




 Then he hears a clink of metal and rushing barefootsteps and Zu spins and strikes away a metal object that shrieks. Another such object whips out of the darkness. It's a kind of dagger attached to a long thin chain and Zu strikes it away, whirling.




Edward has his rapier out in one hand and his dagger in the other and now such an object flies at him and he ducks it. They are in the midst of a storm of whipping chains and flying daggers and Zu is spinning like an ethereal dancer, her sword in such constant motion so that it seems to be writing with streaks of moonlight.




Edward feels a chain snake his ankle and the dagger cut his leg and he slashes through the chain with his rapier. He drops and rolls in the dust and takes the dagger out of his skin and throws it into the darkness beneath the pine trees. He shouts hoarse-voiced at Zu to get off the path. More chains are whipping and snaking at them both and Edward is cut again and then he hears human cries and he sees that Zu is throwing little blurs. Steel throwing stars. With each hissing throw there is an outcry or a gasp and now the chains and daggers stop coming.




Edward gets up soaked in dust and bleeding from ten or more cuts.




Come and fight me, cowards, Zu shouts.




Then torches flare up and Edward sees that he and Zu are ringed by about twenty men naked but for loincloths and skull-shaven, their sweat glistening bodies lurid with colored inks. They are all holding those daggers attached to long thin lengths of steel chain.




There are five corpses on the ground -- fighters brought down by Zu's lethal aim.




We are of the Clan of Tattooed Assassins one says. You killed the former head of our clan in Kabul last year. We've come to repay you.




Get ready to join him, Zu says.




You have no more throwing darts I think. Your friend is losing blood. So. How will you fight off our next attack?




 Just come. All at once if you want.




The man hesitates. As he begins to shout, Att -- Zu hurls her sword.




The spinning steel blade cuts the head from his shoulders. Zu's Dragon Sword keeps flying ten more feet and sticks into the dark trunk of a pine tree.




She runs straight for it even as the tattooed men converge on her screaming, and blood fountains from the neck of the decapitated leader. She strikes them aside with the iron hard bamboo sword-scabbard. With each quick blow to the head or the neck a tattooed assassin falls. They cannot use the dagger and chain trick at this short distance so they merely slash and stab at her but Zu is spinning like a dervish and she knocks them down one after another as they rush and Edward sees brains and blood splatter.




Edward is right on her heels striking with his rapier wildly now at the frenzied men. He feels the cutting edge whip through flesh and bone. A dagger sticks in his shoulderblade and he spins and cuts down the man who stabbed him. Blood pulsing out of his wounds makes him lightheaded and he is drenched in sweat. 




Then Zu reaches the pine tree and jerks out her sword. Edward joins her and with their backs to the tree they face the few killers still standing. Only three men, now crouched and whirling their daggers with hypnotic slowness.




Zu laughs. When a dagger flies at her she catches it and jerks so hard on the chain that the man holding it sprawls on his face. Edward leaps at him and jabs him through the neck. Freeing the rapier he rushes the other two as they let fly with daggers. He ducks one missile and strikes aside the other in a brief blue spark-halo. Then his Spanish steel is buried in the heart of the nearest man. The last living tattooed assassin of the group turns and flees howling maniacally into the pine woods. Edward kicks his man in the stomach to free the point of his rapier. Zu throws a dagger after the running killer and he cries out and falls dying with a long rattling sordid gasp.




Zu is laughing softly like a crazy woman. She steps close to Edward and her hand finds the dagger stuck in Edward's back and she yanks it out and throws it aside. He's wobbling now from loss of blood and looks at her dreamily. Sit she says. You won't die of these cuts if we bind them up fast.




He sits against the pine trunk his chest heaving. She touches something to his lips. A gourd. Water. He drinks swallowing hugely. It's good he says when she takes the gourd away. You are beautiful girl, Zu. You're raving she tells him. You've lost a lot of blood. Shut up and drink more. Ssh.


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