Siege, Part Two

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

Previous Story in the Arc: Siege, Part One by People's Blade (Sunday, October 31, 2004)

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

(posted Sunday, October 31, 2004)

Kostyak propped up the bleeding Grandmaster Te. He’d jumped back into the fray, only to find that his knife wound slowed him enough to make him a target for three more. Even with People’s Blade’s intense training, Te had not yet learned to defeat his pain responses. His body was shutting down.

“He’s in bad shape, General.”

“I am merely tired,” Te murmured. “Tired. I need to refocus my…my…”

“Save your breath, buddy,” Kostyak said.

People’s Blade was covering their retreat. If anything, she was even more ferocious on the defensive. The Tsoo pushed forward, but fear of the supernaturally sharp Jade Emperor’s Whisper now discouraged all out assaults. She had left forty of their comrades dead on the stairs.

They rounded a corner…and found Hoax struggling with a dozen Tsoo. Two held her arms, but the others, trying to stab her, found their brains on fire. Still, with her arms pinned and twisted back, she was losing concentration.

“Cass!” Kostyak shouted. He let go of Te, who caught himself against a wall. Kostyak barreled into the Tsoo holding his girlfriend. The Enforcer who caught the brunt of his attack staggered; Kostyak, with his fourth dimensional manipulations, had the strength of a dozen men. The other held on to Hoax’s arm but had to dance out of the way.

Te pulled himself off the wall and jabbed the man in the throat with a stiff fingered jab. Hoax shook herself free then caught the tipsy monk. “Thanks,” she said. Te responded with a weak smile.

The other Tsoo backed away at the sight of People’s Blade and her flashing, bloody sword. She turned from their pursuers and saw the group blocking their progress.

“Kostyak! Switch positions!”

Kostyak charged the Tsoo behind them while People’s Blade jumped over his head. Hoax’s attackers attempted to parry, but People’s Blade was too full of fury; knives split open and bodies spurted blood.

Hoax’s eyes widened. She’d known Fei Li for a long time, but she’d never seen the sweet woman fight with such viciousness. She almost pitied her attackers.

“Forward,” People’s Blade commanded. “I’ll cut a path!”

“Tengri’s down the hall,” Hoax said. “We have to reach her.”

Without turning, People’s Blade said: “We will. Where is my wife?”

“I don’t know!”

A Tsoo screamed as People’s Blade beheaded him in fury. Hoax blanched. “We must find her!” Two more Tsoo fell before her whirling blade. She was moving too fast to follow.

Hoax blasted three enemy minds behind them, taking the pressure off Kostyak. “Run, baby!” she called to him. He did, jumping over bodies of Enforcers. Te had recovered some breath and kept up, despite his bleeding wounds.

The Tsoo facing People’s Blade retreated. She kept at their heels, swinging not so much to strike them as to keep them running. They passed the point where Tengri had last been. There were unconscious forms but no brave Russian teenager.

“Down the hall,” Hoax said. “She’s gotta be.”

“Where is Lan Feng?” People’s Blade snarled at Hoax. “I cannot let her be taken.”

Kostyak grabbed her shoulder. “General, we have to find Tengri first. She’s just a kid.”

“She’s a soldier! As are you! Do not question me!”

“General!” He was nose to nose with her. “We will find your wife, but I won’t abandon that girl! Neither will you!”

People’s Blade blinked, then closed her eyes. Hoax watched the advancing Tsoo.

“We don’t have time for this, guys,” she said. “We have to run, now!”

They bolted again. Kostyak watched the General’s face. He sensed that Fei Li was present again.

“Cyriss isn’t a fool. He would have gone to an interior room. That means the break room or the bathroom,” he assured her.

“Dui, dui. You’re right. Cass, can you find her mentally?”

Hoax nodded. “It will take time.”

People’s Blade faced the onrushing Tsoo. “You have it. Find her.”

Kostyak, Te and Hoax dashed down the hallway. The Tsoo ahead had disappeared, a sign that they were close to a larger group.

“I thought you could only sense minds you could see,” Kostyak said.

Hoax shrugged. “Yeah.” She gasped for breath as they ran. “But I had to tell her something.”

He grinned.

They found Tengri in a dorm room, fighting seven Tsoo. Ten more sprawled on the floor. She bled from several wounds, and the vacant look on her face spoke of sheer exhaustion. Hoax blasted the Enforcer swinging his blade at the girl, while Kostyak closed his eyes and focused. A charge filled the air, and the Tsoo staggered with sudden fatigue. Tengri shook herself, feeling a massive rush of adrenaline.

“Privyet, tovarischii!” she said. “How happy I am being on seeing you!”

“No problem, kid.” Kostyak picked up a broken chair and used it as a club on the weakened Tsoo. Te found the strength to slam another into the wall. Within seconds, no Tsoo stood in the room.

Tengri looked alarmed. “Where is being General?”

“Covering our escape, little sister,” said Grandmaster Te. “She is tireless!”

“She’d better be.” Kostyak threw down the makeshift club. “By my guess, we’ve only taken out a fifth of their forces, and we’re not in great shape.” He helped Te sit down next to Tengri. “I’ll do what I can for you two, but you need to rest.”

“I am feeling horosho good, Commissar! Let me go help General!” Tengri brushed hair out of her eyes, a look of fanaticism on her face.

“That’s a big nyet, kid. You need patching. Sit.”

Grumbling, Tengri folded onto the floor, pushing an Enforcer’s limp hand out of the way.

Hoax peeked out the door. “I see her, Kos. She’s parrying, not attacking at all. Wait, there’s a jab…ouch. Okay, attacking some. I think she’s trying to get them stuck out there.” She gave him a pleading look. “Let me go help her. How long can she last?”

“Pretty damn long. The best thing you can do is look for her, ah, wife and Cyriss. Here.” He pointed two fingers at her, flexed just slightly. Suddenly it became hard for the Red Brigadiers to focus on her. “That won’t last long, but you can scout without being spotted. Go, baby.”

“I’ll be right back.” She dashed out of the room.

She took a left down a small side corridor lined by converted dorm rooms and closets. Bathroom must be close, she thought. Assuming these Communists do things sensibly. She saw a stout door with a men’s sign on it, in English and Russian. Down the hall, the women’s room.

Both were empty.

That leaves the break room, Hoax decided. She remembered Kos mentioning that Fei Li had bought a used ping-pong table, in a moment of enthusiasm for a favorite sport in her country. No one would play with her after she conscripted half the team to play against her, beating them brutally. The room sat unused after that fiasco. But during the ping-pong marathon, Kos complained to her that the incessant tap-tap-tap of the game came through the thin walls of his office.

His office! Cyriss and Qing had holed up right next door to Tengri and Hoax. She checked her watch: she had about two minutes left before Kostyak’s unnoticability wore off. She spun on her heels and raced back the way she came. Kos’ office was the one room she knew how to find in this run-down tenement.

She came up short twenty feet from her goal. A crowd of Tsoo (eleven, she immediately registered) stood guard, while others dragged bloody bodies out of the break room. Her heart sank. She edged along the wall, being careful not to brush against the warriors. Kostyak’s manipulations hid her from sight.

The break room resembled an abattoir. Blood covered the walls in abstract sprays, and stank like a butcher shop. Bodies, Tsoo bodies, littered the floor, along with a smashed ping-pong table. In the corner, beneath a hole smashed in the wall, she saw a body not swathed in red cotton, but rather in blue body armor: Cyriss.

Motionless.

Hoax bit back a curse. She reached out with her mind, taking as much care not to brush against the Tsoo minds (angry, triumphant, pained) as she did to creep into the room unseen. If she could detect Cyriss’ mind, he was still alive, and she could accelerate his healing process.

The Tsoo chattered in Chinese, but the tone was clear: they had won the fight here, and a look of gloating in their eyes suggested to her that Qing had been captured and a reward was forthcoming. Fei Li had to know, now. But she couldn’t leave Cyriss to die.

Like finding a fish in a pond, she caught a familiar flicker of sentience within the living and dying minds in the room. She grabbed at it, and it was Cyriss. His gut was ripped open; he was bleeding out his life surrounded by enemies.

She gingerly stepped over the bodies and around the bearers to position herself behind him. Close up, he looked even worse. Without her psychic abilities she’d have left him for dead. Placing a finger at his temple, she willed his body into activity. It was weak from blood loss and shock. His mind was retreating deep into a dying brain.

Hoax prayed the sorcerers in the room didn’t notice the psychic energy she was about to expend. Then she channeled everything she had into Cyriss.

He twitched.

Alarmed, she watched the Tsoo. They were too busy with their fallen to notice.

Cyriss stirred. His eyelids flickered. Hoax felt herself weakening as he grew strong. Another minute and he’d be stable. Her watch told her Kostyak’s spell would wear off by then. She needed to summon the others somehow.

Cyriss’ sword lay near his hand. She could start a fight, yell, scream, but then she had over a dozen Tsoo to contend with before they arrived. They’d kill her in no time, and she and Cyriss would be dead, and Qing gone.

Then she noticed the boombox.

Hoax tiptoed over to the dusty little stereo. It had survived the fight undamaged and bloodless. The power cord was plugged in.

She grinned, turned the volume all the way up, and hit “tuner.”

The speakers roared to life in the chorus of “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees.



Then I saw her face

Now I’m a believer

Without a trace of doubt in my mind.



The Tsoo in the room erupted in action. The music was so unexpected that the chorus nearly completed before an Enforcer ripped the stereo off the wall and smashed it.

Hoax snuck back to Cyriss’ limp form and hoped her comrades heard Mickey Dolenz call for help.





Te looked up from his meditative trance. “Comrades, I hear American pop music. There!”

Kostyak listened in wonder. “The Monkees. I hate the Monkees. What the hell?”

The music ended abruptly. Te and Kostyak looked at each other.

“The breakroom,” they both said.

Kostyak bolted out of the room, followed by Tengri and Grandmaster Te. “General! They’re in the breakroom!”

Down the corrider, People’s Blade sparred with Enforcers that looked identical, in their hoods, to the ones she fought minutes ago, who were in fact dead under a pile of their comrades’ bodies. Yet Kostyak could see his tireless chief was wearing out. Her movements were guarded and deliberate.

“Go! I will follow you when I can.”

They ran down the hall towards the breakroom. “This is it, guys. When we see ‘em, hit and don’t stop.”

“Da! I am ready for revenging!” Tengri’s fervor made him nervous. But Te echoed her sentiment.

“There is no recourse but to end their bad habits,” he said, which for him amounted to a battle cry.

Outside the breakroom, the Tsoo were on alert. They braced themselves for the onrush of heroes. Summoning his will, Kostyak again reached for their lifeforce. There were too many Tsoo to incapacitate the entire mob, but he sensed a dissipation. It would give them the edge they needed.

“Take ‘em, Brigade!” he roared.

The three smashed into the Tsoo like cannonballs. They fought hard and fierce, fatigue making them desperate. The Tsoo at the door fell before their fists.

Aching with fear, Hoax watched her man dodge knives and kick faces. She couldn’t help him yet without losing Cyriss. Her invisibility had worn off, and her rescuers provided enough distraction that no Tsoo had looked her way. Yet.

It was a short lived victory. A Tsoo stumbling back landed right in front of her. His surprise lasted only a moment, long enough for her to grab the hilt of Cyriss’ sword. He launched himself at her as she swung in a wide arc.

Steel bit into bone. He screamed and died at Cyriss’ feet.

“Cass!” Kostyak spotted her in the room. “We need backup here!”

“I can’t yet!” Just seconds more. Seconds…

A Tsoo stabbed Kostyak in the back, just above his belt. He lurched forward, his face aghast.

Hoax lashed out at the Tsoo’s mind. His eyes rolled up and blood spurted from his nose.

Te and Tengri became whirlwinds of fists and feet. Within moments the remaining Tsoo were unconscious. Te caught Kostyak before he fell over.

“Commissar, now it is my turn to hold you up.” Te unceremoniously yanked the knife out of his back. “Comrade Hoax, perhaps you would heal him?”

Hoax had tears in her eyes. “Bring him here.” In her lap, Cyriss moaned.

Te helped Kostyak sit down next to Hoax. “Wasn’t lookin’…stupid…” he muttered.

“Shut up,” she said. “I need help for this. Damn,” she looked at the exhausted Te, the panting Tengri. No one could lend the vitality Kostyak needed to shrug off the wound he’d taken. Hope drained out of her.

“We’re not going to make it,” she said. Kostyak took her hand. “Damn it, this sucks.”

The heroes hung their heads in the silence. The next wave would come in moments, and they were too weak to put up a fight.

People’s Blade skidded to a stop outside the room. She was breathing curiously – one of her techniques for recovering strength. Small cuts laced her exposed arms and legs. Her blood mingled with that of her fallen enemies.

“They retreated. Too quickly. What is happening here?” She surveyed the room. “Where is Qing?”

“Lost her,” Kostyak said.

People’s Blade’s shoulders sagged. The sternness fell from her face, replaced with anguish. “Aiyah, no…”

“Sorry, General,” Kostyak said, wincing. “Kid nearly died to save her. We’re just outgunned.”

“If I may, General,” Te said. “I would suggest that the cessation of the attacks is a very bad omen. Why not finish us off?”

“They are,” she said. Her sword hung loose in her hand. “They have had control of the bottom floors for long enough. I expect they have planted explosives to destroy the building when they had their prize.” She wiped a tear from her eyes. “Qing was the only thing protecting us.”

The gravity of their situation struck them. They couldn’t escape through the army, and by staying they were doomed.

Kostyak and Cass held each other. Te patted Tengri’s shoulder as the girl sobbed.

“Wait.” A weak voice spoke from the floor.

Cyriss levered himself up. “There’s a chance…” He coughed.

People’s Blade crouched by him, supporting his back. “Tell me, xuesheng.”

“Overheard them. They were talking in Chinese to her, she couldn’t understand. So they said ‘Zuo Kan and the council of Woo await you outside.’”

People’s Blade’s eyebrows rose. “Woo? You mean ‘wu’?”

Cyriss shook his head. “I dunno, I just heard it ‘cuz you were disguising yourself as Kelly Wu. Thought they’d captured you…or were mangling English. Sorry.” He coughed again.

“Wu…” She turned to Kostyak. “What does it take to cast a cloaking spell?”

“Like this one? A hell of a lot of juice. I don’t know the ritual, but it’s the magic equivalent of a power plant. Can’t just leave it either, have to maintain it.”

“Something a group of master sorcerers could accomplish?” He shrugged, nodded. People’s Blade looked more determined. “A council of wu is a council of wizards. It is likely that Zuo Kan would stay with his inner circle to protect the one thing allowing them to mount this brazen attack in the open.”

Kostyak’s face lit up. “Hit the wizards? A surgical strike? It could work.” Hoax helped him to his feet. “I’ll come with you.”

“No. I go alone.”

“General,” he began, but she cut him off.

“It is my fight now. I won’t sacrifice your lives for my own happiness.”

“That’s not what you told us before,” Te said. “We’re soldiers. We sacrifice for our duty.”

She smiled. “Fei Li’s opinion on sacrifice is a little different. She won’t accept the death of her friends if it can be avoided.”

“What about the bombs?” Cass asked.

“Go to the roof. Disarm what you find, and your chances of survival are best.”

She stood. “I am going to my wife.” Clasping her hands, she bowed deeply to them all. “I thank you for your service to me. You made me very proud. Especially you, Cyriss.”

“Spasibo,” Tengri said, saluting weakly. Cyriss just grinned through his pain.

“Chief, I can point the way, at least. The lines of power have to converge on them.” He closed his eyes. His jaw twitched, as if he were throwing his voice. A minute passed.

Hoax’s concern showed on her face. “How much time do we have, anyway?”

“Very little,” People’s Blade said. “Kostyak?”

“They’re weaving something intricate. Its form changes…but…I think you need to go that way.” He pointed towards a wall. “And it ain’t close. Almost a block away. I can make you invisible for about thirty seconds at best. It’s all I got…”

“Hao. Give me a comm unit. If I succeed, I will summon help at once. But do not hesitate to escape however you can. Hide in the rubble if you must.”

He handed over his comm unit. She tucked it under her shoulder protector. “Xie xie.”

“General. Um…I…” She gave him a quick hug. He squeezed her back.

“Take care of them, Commissar,” she whispered.





The view from the rooftop confirmed her fears. The Tsoo army had backed up, leaving a fifty-foot gap. She was surprised they hadn’t set off the explosives already. Zuo Kan had to give the word, as the leader, and he was no doubt gloating over his victory, and planning their departure. To move five hundred – now four hundred – gang members without drawing attention takes skill.

I have thirty seconds to traverse an army, she thought. When I find Zuo Kan, I will be surrounded. Even if I stop the cloaking spell ritual, it won’t save me.

She remembered Shen Xue’s dying moments, body shredded by dozens of blades. The excruciating pain, the coldness. The fear.

Now I learn the true lesson of war.

People’s Blade backed up ten paces. Drawing a deep breath, she focused her qi. It moved through her like electricity, as if it recognized the end of her life. She ran and launched two steps from the edge.

It was a magnificent leap. The power of her and Laoshi’s qi seemed to defy gravity.

Scores of warriors slipped past below, unaware of her presence. They were quiet for an army, expectantly so. Ahead she spied a hastily erected tent. Zuo Kan’s vanity again proved to be a weakness. Had he mingled with his troops, she could never find him.

She would land short of the tent by a hundred yards.

There was nowhere to land that did not contain a Tsoo warrior. At best she’d knock some over, alerting them to her invisibility. She was so tired, aching, blurry… the ground approached and she could not clear her head enough to act.

A sword is not only meant for cutting, Shen Xue whispered.

Twenty feet up and falling fast, Fei Li grasped what he meant. She flipped head over heels. Jade Emperor’s Whisper became an extension of her arm, pointing at the ground. She visualized a leaf wafting in the breeze, a falling snowflake, a moth. The sword point was the tip of a finger dipped in a pond.

Unseen by the Tsoo warriors, she touched the sword point to the concrete and vaulted over them, towards the tent.

It was a tiny leap compared to her first jump, but it carried her into the space cleared out to make respectful room for the Tsoo leader’s entourage. She landed silently. Before her, the tent fabric rippled in the wind, stretched over poles hammered into the sidewalk. A line of Ancestor Ghosts, seven feet tall with furnaces of mystic fire in their bellies, guarded the Tsoo masters from just such an intrusion as hers. The tableau was visible through the transparent Ghosts.

Zuo Kan’s white robes matched his tent. Two Tsoo Green Ink Men held Qing’s arms, while Zuo Kan mopped her face with a cloth. She was limp with resignation. At his side were his field lieutenants: a Death Moon, Brass Dragon, Fire Lion and an Ice Wind. All of them leered at Qing with sinister intentions. Fei Li gripped her sword tighter.

Then she noticed, beyond Zuo Kan’s tent, a circle of five elderly men in robes, sitting cross-legged on silk cushions. They surrounded a brazier filled with sand and incense sticks. Eyes closed, they were locked in meditation.

The detonator for the explosives was nowhere in sight. Could she be wrong about them?

She only had seconds left before Kostyak’s spell of invisibility wore off. Any fight she started would draw the attention of the entire army, not to mention the powerful lieutenants. At most she had ten seconds of uninterrupted action. Seeing Qing in Zuo Kan’s clutches tore at her, yet her duty called on her to interrupt the wizards.

Save Lan Feng! Shen Xue’s shout resounded in her head. Why do you hesitate?

Laoshi, is it our duty to sacrifice for the greater good of the collective. Is Qing’s life worth that of my soldiers?

Dui, of course! Shen Xue said. It is their duty to sacrifice for the sake of innocents.

But would not Qing say the same thing for herself, as the wife of a general? That she too must attend to the duty of those who lead?

Aiyah, Fei Li, you waste time with debates. I cannot control your body again. You must decide for our wife or for your friends. His anger was palpable.

Gritting her teeth, Fei Li maneuvered past the tent to the wizard’s circle. As she did so, she heard Zuo Kan’s voice.

“Prepare our prize for transportation. We are finished here.” The chuckles that comment elicited from the lieutenants chilled Fei Li’s blood.

A nightmarish howl filled the air. The Ghosts had spotted her.

Foolish girl! You’ve lost it all!

She sprang forward, Jade Emperor’s Whisper singing through the air. It cut into the neck of the closest wizard and severed his head. The others opened their eyes.

Alarms sounded. Cries were raised. The entire army roared at her invasion, drowning out Zuo Kan’s orders. His lieutenants dashed at her with weapons drawn. Flame licked at her heels from the Fire Lion’s fingers. Ignoring them all, she slew the remaining wizards with short, brutal strokes of her blade.

The air shimmered and changed: the world seemed to settle back over them.

A voice chimed clear out of the din: Qing, calling her name.

She looked past the Ghosts, the killers and the sorcerers to see her wife struggling against her captors. Zuo Kan laughed before her, holding up a small device. He pressed a button. Qing screamed.

The Red Brigade headquarters exploded.

The blast’s concussion blew flames and smoke out of the windows before shattering the brick walls of the building. The first and second story disintegrated in a massive cloud of dust. The third floor, where they had fought so hard, collapsed in stages.

The Tsoo army bellowed in triumph. Fists raised into the air.

Around People’s Blade, her foes gathered to finish the job. The Ghosts solidified into massive piles of armored muscle. The Fire Lion juggled fireballs, the Ice Wind formed icy spears in the air before him. Swords, arrows and daggers bristled on all sides.

“Yi ta!” Zuo Kan commanded. Kill her.

Acceptance washed over her. She had reached her end. There was time for a single act. She wished it could be to hold Qing once more, but more practical matters took precedence. She reached under her shoulder armor and fingered the comm unit. She pressed the small red distress button. It made no sound.

She dropped Jade Emperor’s Whisper, placed her palms together, and closed her eyes.

“I am ready,” she told them.

Fei Li heard creak of bows bending, the whisk of blades slicing the air. Familiar sounds from Laoshi’s passing. His sadness for Lan Feng filled her heart as well.

An explosion knocked her flat on her back. Looking up, she saw a glowing blue trail of energy. Where were the arrows, the knives.

“Svinyas!”

A string of Russian curses found her ears. Red Saviour cast another ball of energy into the midst of Fei Li’s closest attackers. The blast bowled them over. Flames and ice shot through the air. Red Saviour swooped down towards the tent. Her hands glowed with blue mystical energy.

Fei Li surged forward, over the disoriented Ghosts and Tsoo, and tackled Qing. She held her close and rolled them away as the tent was immolated in blue flame.

Zuo Kan pushed through the army, shouting orders. A hundred bows raised to the sky and released their deadly projectiles.

A bubble of force surrounded Red Saviour, deflecting the arrows. Without pausing she rained destruction down on the Tsoo army. From the direction of the CCCP headquarters, on the next block over, heroes appeared in the sky: the elegant robot Faberge Gulag, who shielded Red Saviour from damage; the armored Petrograd and Iron Soviet, blasting away at the Tsoo; Reaktsiya and Svarog, pulsing with radiation; Trans-Siberian, tossing web grenades to snare fleeing Enforcers; Mosca, Red Saviour’s lover, burning the Tsoo with napalm bombs. And on the ground, cutting a swath of destruction, Carpathia and Siberian Maid, Chug and Mojiotok, their blows hurling Tsoo away like a tornado. They all centered in on People’s Blade’s comm unit, which still sent out the distress beacon.

Faberge Gulag landed next to People’s Blade and enveloped her and Qing in a protective force field.

“Distress call received – click – beacon located. Commissar People’s Blade, are you functional?”

“Dui, dui, thank you, sister. Take my wife to a place of safety and guard her.” She helped Qing to her feet. “We will need more troops.”

“Request for aid sent – whirr – to Freedom Corps. Acknowledgement received. Reinforcements are on the way, Commissar.”

“Hao. Now go!” Faberge grasped Qing in a bear hug and lifted her into the air. Fei Li turned away before she could meet her anguished eyes.

She summoned Jade Emperor’s Whisper to her hand. The Tsoo were not long routed by the surprise attack. Their advantage in numbers and power still overwhelmed hers, even with the CCCP present. In the open, they were still doomed.

Red Saviour smashed three Tsoo out of her way and found Fei Li. “Sestra, what is this? HQ blowed up, Tsoo everywhere? We saw none of happening.” She took a random blast at a Tsoo.

“A cloaking spell. Zuo Kan laid siege to us to kidnap my wife.”

Red Saviour stopped shooting. “Wife? You are making nyet sense.”

“It doesn’t matter now. We need to close up ranks and wait for reinforcements.”

“Should not be long. The rest of CCCP and Red Brigade is being on patrol, but received your distress call. Plus Amerikantski heroes cannot resist big fight like this. These svinyas are like target practice.”

Fei Li hefted her sword. “Then let us take our due from them before the others arrive. I have something to discuss with their leader.”

Red Saviour grinned. “Horosho! That is talk I understand!”

The two women charged into the fray.





Help soon arrived: CCCP members such as Captain Communism, Red Spectre, Khrushchev, People’s Hammer, the Soviette, Red Menace; and Bestla, Captain Russia, Thermos, Heavy Brother, Pablo Tiego, Ursa Minor and Gato Rojo from the Red Brigade. All were stunned to see the Red Brigade headquarters reduced to a pile of rubble, and took out their anger on the remaining Tsoo.

Help also arrived from allies of the two organizations: Dr. Night, Dude Entropy, and No. 9; Amy Zoller and Bestial Boy from the Mutant Liberation Front; and Kostyak’s haunting spirit, Ophelia Kelley. They launched into battle with ruthless efficiency. Other heroes in the vicinity heard the explosion and joined the counter-attack against the Tsoo. Within fifteen minutes, the Tsoo army was dispersed. Tsoo made their escape into the sewers, the streets, alleyways and rooftops. By the time the police arrived in force, two hundred and fifty Tsoo were unconscious or dead on the ground.

Zuo Kan had disappeared, using his lieutenants to cover his escape.

The search began for the Red Brigadiers trapped in the building when the explosives were detonated. Under a sheaf of tin roofing, their unconscious bodies were found, alive. Quick medical and psychic healing by Soviette brought them back to awareness. They had indeed made it to the roof and disarmed the four bombs planted there. Knowing that an explosion was imminent, Grandmaster Te suggested that Hoax use her mind control to place their bodies in a state of total relaxation. When the building collapsed, their limp forms rode the crumbling roof down and absorbed the impact with much less damage than if their bodies could react to the danger. Broken ribs, arms and legs resulted, but it was far better than the alternative. People’s Blade, on seeing them awake, gave a cry of relief.

The CCCP and the Red Brigade members, along with their allies, gathered at the base of the destroyed building. People’s Blade felt she owed them an explanation for the catastrophe. She held Qing’s hand as she spoke.

“Tongzhi, I humbly thank you for coming to my aid. Without my troops…my friends, I would have died today, and lost the one soul I have longed for all these thousands of years.”

She was greeted with perplexed looks.

“Let me explain. The ghost of Shen Xue, a great Chinese hero from the Zhou dynasty, shares my body and mind. Five days ago, Kuo Qing” – she squeezed Qing’s hand – “was imbued with the spirit of Lan Feng, my…our…second wife, by studying the scrolls Lan Feng had written for the emperor before her death. Zuo Kan believed these scrolls held the secret to immortality, and that Qing could translate them into a usable recipe to avoid death.”

She gestured at Kostyak, Tengri, Grandmaster Te, Cyriss and Hoax, gathered nearby with a cloud of paramedics. “These comrades were on hand to help me fight off the Tsoo when Qing and I escaped their custody. The Tsoo planted bombs throughout our headquarters. Their survival is a miracle for which I extend thanks to my ancestors.”

“Excusing me,” Mojiotok said. “What about scrolls? Zuo Kan is having of them still? Is this not problem?”

She shook her head. “The scrolls granted immortality, but only to my wife, whose spirit was embodied in the masterful calligraphy she used to create them. In Zuo Kan’s hands, they are but a historical artifact.”

“What about Zuo Kan?” Amy Zoller blurted out. “We just kicked his ass seven ways to Sunday. The Tsoo won’t take that lying down.”

People’s Blade paused, trying to grasp the idiom. “Ah…Oh, I see. Dui, they will be furious, but moreso with him, for wasting resources on his own personal agenda. And I do not think the Tsoo leadership is eager to have an immortal member of their council. Zuo Kan will be lucky if he retains his position.”

Amy Zoller shrugged. “Have it your way.”

“So, um,” Bestial Boy said. “This lady here is your wife? Or the ghost of your wife? Or what? I’m, ah, just asking.”

The two women regarded each other. Qing spoke. “We’re still working that out,” she said, grinning. Fei Li grinned back.

“Well, hell, I think that’s mighty nice,” drawled Duke Entropy. “You all deserve to be happy, after going through all that.”

“Xie xie. I think so too,” People’s Blade said, nodding thoughtfully. “It is good to put an end to things.”