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

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

(posted Sunday, October 31, 2004)

Zuo Kan closed the box on the scrolls. Two weeks since the Red Brigade fiasco, and he still did not see the magic in them that would grant eternal life. The Tsoo council of elders were brutal in punishment, stripping him of powers, but allowed him to retain his rank. The demolition of the Red Brigade headquarters had allowed him to save enough face that he could continue. It would be years before he regained their trust and respect.

Unless he could solve this riddle. Then they’d beg from his hands.

He blew out the candles and retired to his bedchamber. Here in the Tsoo secret compound, he had sent away his bedmaidens. It was best to maintain an appearance of propriety while in disgrace. It also helped him to remain focused on his goal, which he had to conceal from everyone now.

People’s Blade had humbled him before the world, and that he would not accept gracefully. His revenge would be slow, precise, and unstoppable.

He changed to silk pajamas embroidered with an intricate dragon and settled into bed. The silence comforted him. Closing his eyes, he began to clear his mind of all thoughts.

Something small fell onto the sheets next to him.

He jerked up, holding the dagger he kept under his pillow. The room was empty. He felt around the bed for what had aroused him. A rat? Disgusting!

It was a teddy bear.

“What the hell.” The bear looked familiar. It was white and fluffy, with a red ribbon.

“He’ll be disappointed if he finds out you’ve forgotten what you gave him for Chinese New Year,” a cold female voice said from the shadows.

Zuo Kan’s stomach tightened. It was People’s Blade.

She stepped from behind a tapestry, holding a paper grocery bag. Her deadly sword hung at her side. Even in the darkness, he could see that she had healed completely.

“You might want to get him a reward for this. His handwriting is quite good already.” She reached into the bag and tossed a paper on his bed.

He switched on his reading lamp. The yellow light filled the dark room.

It was a handwriting practice worksheet. His young grandson’s name was written in a careful hand across the top.

“Where did you get this?”

“Down the hall from where I found this.” She tossed a baseball glove on his bed. “And this.” A Harry Potter book. “Or even this.” A driver’s license. His son’s.

Zuo Kan gripped the knife with white-knuckled fury. “You dare? You invaded my family’s home?”

People’s Blade stepped forward. Her eyes burned into his. “More than that, old man. I know where they live, where they work, where the school bus picks them up. I know when the Dragonboat club meets and the soccer practice schedule for the rest of the year. I know where your son keeps his mistress. I know everything.”

“So now you come to kill me. I will not die so easily,” he said with a snarl, though he knew she could defeat him.

“Incorrect. I come to warn you.” She walked over to the bed and picked up the teddy bear, ignoring his knife. He flushed with anger at the slight.

“In kidnapping Kuo Qing, you have crossed the line and attacked my family. I will not allow this, from you or from any Tsoo.” She wiggled the bear’s arms.

He shook his head. “What do you mean, family? Make sense.”

“She’s my wife, Zuo Kan. She is Lan Feng, second wife of Shen Xue.” She adjusted the teddy bear’s ribbon. “In a sense, I am grateful to you. Your selfish quest for immortality awakened my wife from her slumber, her spirit trapped in those scrolls. Perhaps that is why I do not run my sword through your fat stomach right now.”

“I don’t understand. The scrolls were enchanted?”

People’s Blade turned on him angrily. “That is the problem with all Tsoo. You don’t understand! Lan Feng’s spirit was in her art. Those scrolls are the culmination of a lifetime of study and hard work. Something you thugs have no concept of.”

“The scrolls –”

“— are worthless to you, except for treasuring Lan Feng’s glorious workmanship.”

He sat down on the bed. She wasn’t lying, he knew.

“So, Blade of the People, what are you going to do to me?”

“Nothing, Zuo Kan. You really don’t pay attention, do you?” She dropped the grocery bag on the floor. “I am a creature of ancient laws. If you leave my family alone, I will spare yours.

“But,” she lowered her voice. “If I get the merest whiff of Tsoo around my wife, just a scent on the wind, I will enact our traditional punishments on you and your family. They will pay for your transgressions.”

He thought of his son and daughter-in-law, and their boys. Boys who carried on his name, boys he had bounced on his knee.

“Think on that, old man. Think about your chance at immortality.” She tossed the teddy bear into his lap. “And know that I will be doing the same.”

She left by his door without looking back. She would leave his compound as quietly as she arrived.

Zuo Kan held his grandson’s teddy bear and listened for the alarms he knew would never sound.