Flight, part one

From the Story Arc: The Touch of the Orchid Phoenix (mature readers only)

Previous Story in the Arc: Respite by People's Blade (Friday, October 29, 2004)

Next Story in the Arc: Flight, part two by People's Blade (Sunday, October 31, 2004)

(posted Saturday, October 30, 2004)

The dawn light woke Fei Li from the deepest sleep she had enjoyed in years. No dreams, no half-conscious musing, just relaxation. Tucked against her was Qing, snoring softly. Fei Li’s arm draped across the woman’s stomach, and Qing held her hand lightly. The feel of her skin against Fei Li’s soothed her, and thrilled her.

She pushed a lock of Qing’s hair out of her eyes. Qing stirred and murmured something.

Fei Li shushed her, nestling her head against Qing’s. Qing sighed.

“That’s nice,” she whispered.

“Wan zaoshang,” Fei Li greeted her. “It is still early.”

“Mmmmm…then let’s not get up. I think the ghosts are sleeping.”

Shen Xue seemed to be silent. “I think you’re right.”

Qing rolled onto her back to meet Fei Li’s gaze with sleepy eyes. “Weird night, ne?”

“Dui, dui. I learned many things.”

“Me too.” Qing grinned. “Are you okay?”

Fei Li blinked. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Qing shrugged in response. She played with Fei Li’s fingers. “So…what do you do in the morning? Tea?”

“Training,” Fei Li said. “Tai chi, then calisthenics. Then more stretching. Sword training, some strikes against the dummy…then tea.”

“Aiyah, Fei Li! That’s hardly restful!”

Fei Li squeezed her hand. “I am the Blade of the People. I cannot be lax.”

“So you can’t make time for me?”

The distant roar of morning traffic filled the silence between them. Fei Li held Qing’s hand as though it were a lifeline to a different world. I will have to leave her soon, she thought, and return to duty. Can I be accepting?

“I will try.” She managed a smile. “I…it will be very hard, but I want to.”

Qing kissed the palm of Fei Li’s hand. “Xie xie, general. But,” she grinned at Fei Li, “must you go now?”

“Bu shi.” Fei Li’s heart raced.

Qing moved Fei Li’s hand to her stomach. Fei Li felt muscles flutter under her touch. Without thinking, she leaned over and kissed Qing’s lips. Qing wrapped arms around her, and they embraced.

While she had shied away from the stirrings last night, now Fei Li welcomed them. She wanted Qing, wanted to please her. She ran her hand up Qing’s hip and stomach, catching briefly on her underwear.

Qing smiled, her eyes welcoming Fei Li’s caress. Fei Li giggled.

“I like that, it feels nice,” Qing assured her. “We can take our time. I feel safe with you, Fei Li.” She closed her eyes and pursed her lips for another kiss. Fei Li felt a rush of affection for this trusting, lovely woman…

Then her heart sank, and she knew total fear.

“Safe?” She cried. “I’m a fool!”

“What’s wrong? What did I do?”

Fei Li leapt from the bed and ran into the living room, to her armor rack. “Get dressed! We’re in danger!”

Qing followed her out, still undressed. The bed sheets had left fold marks on her tender skin. “What do you mean? I’m safe, you saved me.”

Fei Li buckled on her breastplate. “The Tsoo do not forget so easily. It would take no time at all to determine you were here with me.” She skipped the last buckle. “I was stupid! I let my desire for you interfere with my common sense.”

Qing pulled a sweatshirt over her head while Fei Li zipped up her own skirt, forgoing the cloth belt and leg wraps.

“I’ll get my jeans.” Qing dashed into the bedroom. It was obvious she now understood her predicament. “How long until they get here?”

A tiny shuffling sound caught Fei Li’s ear. Shadows moved beyond the crack under the door.

Too late, she thought. I’ve doomed us both.

She seized Jade Emperor’s Whisper and jumped into her bedroom, springing off the wall to land on the unmade bed. Qing fumbled with the buttons her jeans.

Fei Li silenced her with a finger to her lips. Qing’s face registered the gravity of the situation. They were not alone.

Fei Li drew Jade Emperor’s Whisper from its sheath without a sound. She stepped over to Qing and turned her back to her.

“Hold on to my back. Do not let go no matter what happens.” Qing wrapped her arms around Fei Li’s neck, locking her fingers together.

With four swift strokes, Fei Li cut deep into the floor around them in a square. The sword bit into the wood with little thuds, so sharp was the edge. Qing could sense the power in each cut.

On the fourth cut, the section of the floor gave way. Qing gasped as they fell through to the floor below. The wood and plaster square smashed to pieces on a dining room table. Glassware shattered. Fei Li absorbed the impact of both bodies with bent knees.

From above, shouts in Chinese resounded. They heard their front door explode into splinters.

Fei Li jumped on the edge of the table farthest from the window, tilting it up. She landed on one foot and kicked the table with the other. It sailed through the window, smashing the frame and glass. Debris clattered seven stories to the street below.

A dozen throwing daggers slammed into the floor before them. Qing looked up and saw four masked men, bare arms covered in demonic tattoos.

“Hang on,” Fei Li said. She took a single step and launched them both through the window.

In the street, on the fire escape, on the window ledges, scattered like red drops of spilled blood, were dozens of Tsoo Enforcers. A cry went up as the women burst into view. Those that had arrows nocked to their bows let fly.

“Oh my God!” shouted Qing next to Fei Li’s ear.

Jade Emperor’s Whisper blurred in her hand as she intercepted the best aimed of the arrows. Ten arrows fell to the ground in pieces. Yet two glanced past her legs, leaving red trails. Gritting her teeth, she twisted her body to reach a telephone line strung between her building and the next. She swung them both around the line and used the momentum to hurl them onto the rooftop across the street.

It was empty.

“Do not let go,” she said as she felt Qing’s grip loosen.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Qing choked out. She staggered to her knees and vomited.

“Hurry,” Fei Li said, watching the side of the building between her and the Enforcers. She did not want to stop and fight here.

She sprinted to the edge of the building and looked down to see the mob of Enforcers scaling the side of the building. Ducking a swiftly thrown knife, she ran to the corner of the building and slashed at the bolts holding the fire escape in place. A roll under the first of the invading Tsoo placed her at the other set of bolts. Another slash and the fire escape sagged.

“The woman is ours, Blade of the People! Your interference will cost you your life!” Three Enforcers advanced on her with drawn knives. Fei Li threw her metal sheath like a javelin into the throat of the first, shattering bone and cartilage. The remaining two struck as one. A parry caught both blades on Jade Emperor’s Whisper. Twisting on her foot, she rammed them back over the side of the building, onto the iron grate of the fire escape.

Fei Li took four steps back. She summoned her qi into her right foot, sprinted for the ladder rising over the lip of the building, and shot forward in an arc. Her foot connected with the ladder with an ear-splitting ring, followed by the grating sound of the fire escape coming loose from its moorings. Enforcers cried out in alarm as the massive iron stairwell clattered down on their heads.

Fei Li recovered her sheath and lifted Qing to her feet. “We cannot stay here! We are surrounded.” Qing nodded, eyes brimming with tears of terror. “Are you strong enough to hold on this time?” She nodded again, throwing her arms around Fei Li, who squirmed from the embrace so that Qing was firmly on her back again.

Tsoo mounted the roof as Fei Li jumped off. With enough of a running start, she was able to leap across a parking lot and intersection, landing on a telephone pole. Qing gasped but held her grip. An arrow thudded into the pole at her feet.

“Where are we going?”

Fei Li jumped onto the cables and used their elasticity to throw them into the air towards the roof of a bank. “Headquarters,” she managed. Qing was a heavy burden for this kind of travel.

Qing looked back and cried out in alarm. The fire escape had only caught a handful of Tsoo. The rest swarmed over the roofs and street like angry locusts.

Through King’s Row, Fei Li and her pursuers played an aerial game of tag. Her ability to move through the air seemed supernatural; the merest footfall was enough to begin a hundred foot jump. She regulated her breathing with each flex of her legs. They landed on poles, stop lights, car hoods, signs…even a tree branch. The Tsoo were nimble enough to follow and shoot arrows, but few arrows touched them. Qing saw one Enforcer draw a bead on her and lower his bow.

“They’re not shooting at us!”

“They’re not shooting at you.” Fei Li said. “They need you alive, or they pay with their lives.”

Fei Li pushed off from the top of a semi towards an aging office building. The windows were open enough for them to fit through. Inside, they could lose the Tsoo in the maze of corridors and offices.

Thirty feet over the street, at the apex of their arc, they watched in horror as tattooed Tsoo poured forth like savage ants from the open windows of their destination. Their course would land them in the center of the knife and bow-laden warriors. There were at least fifty of them.

“Fei Li!”

“I cannot stop! Don’t let go!”

She hit the building feet first and used her momentum to run a sloping diagonal down the wall like a spider. Enforcers and Green Ink Men lashed out at her and Qing as they skittered down the side of the building. Fei Li’s legs were exposed, unprotected; knives bit deep into her calf and thigh. She bit back an outcry.

Ten feet from the sidewalk, she pushed off the wall towards a delivery truck. Qing was too heavy a burden to break her fall with a roll. Instead, she smashed into the roof of the truck face first, arms out to protect her and Qing as much as possible.

The truck lurched but did not stop. Qing fell off Fei Li’s back. Fei Li laid motionless, breathing heavily. Blood seeped out of her leg.

“Hey, Fei Li! Come on!” Qing prodded her. “The truck is taking us past the Tsoo!”

“Aiyah…” The world was a blur to Fei Li. She struggled to rise to face the next challenge.

It came swiftly: the singing of bowstrings. Without her human shield, she was an easy target for the Tsoo archers. Before she could move, an arrow pinned her left hand to the metal roof of the truck.

She screamed.

The Tsoo Enforcers not firing at the truck jumped from their windows, swords and knives drawn. The driver of the truck swerved in a panic from the onrush of red-clad assassins and the flight of arrows. Not meant for rapid maneuvering, the truck tilted on its wheels and toppled away from the Tsoo. Qing was dashed to the pavement. Fei Li hung unconscious from her trapped hand as muscles and tendons ripped.

The Tsoo gathered around the flipped truck. They hauled the driver from the cab and beat him senseless. A sorcerer checked Qing for serious injuries and concluded that she was bruised and stunned, but otherwise unhurt.

The rest waited to see if People’s Blade would stir.

She did not.