I like this.
Book 5, Chapter 9: Fathers and Children
Three kung fu warriors against two, now three teen superheroes. It was a very crowded balcony. Bruce was back-to-back with Billy Tatum, wielding his batons against a big guy with two flaming axes. Charlotte recognised him as Golden Axe, the muscle of Dr. Yin Wu’s Four Sons of the Dragon.
Of whom there were four in sight. Weird.
As Copper Spear dived over the balcony edge to recover his spear –El Professore’s briefing said that wasn’t very much of a hand-to-hand fighter without it-- Iron Whirlwind whirled on her from Billy Tatum. Well, half whirled, because now he as engaged with Billy’s bone dagger with one sword, while blocking the Pearl Harmony Sword with the other.
Okay, Charlotte thought, you think you are one tough hombre, taking on two kids at once, one sword on each. Now let me see if you can do that thing. She deflected, struck high, made to stamp forward
--Except that as her foot came down, she adjusted a bit, headed for Iron Whirlwind’s arch. Charlotte had no idea what kind of briefing the Sons had come in on. If they knew they were facing Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu, they knew to expect a foot sweep. So what, so sad, Charlotte thought, as Iron Whirlwind took his foot out of action—
Just in time to meet the Pearl Harmony Sword, deflecting off his sword, and coming in on an arcing cut.
Charlotte didn’t like drawing blood, but she wasn’t dumb. Where there were three Sons, there would be Four soon, if the Silver Hand wasn’t already manoeuvring to strike. And he was one of the killers of the group, too.
Blood spurted in the autumn cold, as Charlotte spun to clear Iron Whirlwind’s counterstroke, bouncing off the rough-finished stone of the building wall to come up, shoulder to shoulder, with Billy.
“You guys hogging the fight?” She asked. “You need to call for help!”
“Check your messages!” Bruce grunted. Charlotte peaked at her phone, saw alerts to her and the ret of the team, all of whom were minutes out, and to the community, from whom no-one had responded except Uncle Henry, who would be there in five, and the Liberty League’s out-of-office automated reply. And she was also realising that she was vaguely bothered by something as she did. Something half remembered? Something she’d forgotten? The kind of thing you worried about when you couldn’t sleep, because you were trying to find a comfortable position in the back of an old Cadillac, and your mind was full of kissing Scout.
Like last night, in other words. Not much of a metaphor, she thought, doing her best to ward the Iron Whirlwind’s blows, as Billy pivoted in place to launch two daggers at Golden Axe. What was it? What was going on? And it wasn’t just Copper Spear, appearing on the balcony to bring the odds back to three-on-three.
Something about the smell… Charlotte realised. And gagged. “The blood is wrong!”
Copper Spear looked at her. Oh, yeah. Language. In her best Mandarin (still a work in progress), Charlotte repeated herself, looking straight at Copper Spear. “Your brother’s blood smells wrong.”
Without a word, Copper Spear lunged straight at her. Charlotte deflected desperately, realising as she did so that she was leaving herself open to Iron Whirlwind’s blow, and that Billy was leaning back to take the blow.
Billy was obviously depending on his quick healing, but Charlotte wasn’t exactly eager to find out if he could heal back from being dead. That was the kind of thing that mainly happened in comic books, so while still twisting around Copper Spear’s thrust, she did her best to extend her Eight Spirit Dragon Shield over Billy.
She had no idea if it worked, but at least the Iron Whirlwind’s blade went through the flesh of Billy’s left arm. Blood, real blood this time, sprayed the air.
“Oof,” Billy grunted.
“Yeah, that looked like it hurt,” Charlotte said, as Billy clamped his skewered arm between the wall and his body, clamping Iron Whirlwind’s sword.
“Finish them, brother!” Iron Whirlwind snarled, in Mandarin.
“Calm yourself, brother,” Copper Spear answered. “They’re just children.”
“Not this one! He smells like a hundred years!”
“A hundred years a child, brother.” The spear twisted in as Charlotte backpedalled desperately, engaging one of Golden Axe’s flaming blades over her shoulder before it could cleave Bruce.
“Thanks for the assist, Char Char,” he grunted.
Charlotte got a pommel on the spear and deflected its thrust. Darn it! Sword against spear was a lot harder than you’d think it would be. The spear always had the angle. Charlotte braced, then jumped on the shaft, but Copper Spear was too canny for that, drawing the spear back and thrusting it at her, trying to spear her in mid air. It would have been ugly had Ginger not darted at his face at just that moment, spoiling his aim.
Charlotte landed. “Been a while since we’ve fought back to back.”
It was true, and as their butts touched, Charlotte was reminded once again of Bruce’s buns of steel. Which, for one, she shouldn’t be thinking about, because Scout, and, for two, Scout’s were just as steely, and, three, he’d had his chance.
“Been busy trying to crack this case,” Bruce said. And then, “Goddamnit, watch where you swing that thing.”
Golden Axe replied, in Mandarin, “Children are meant to be hewed, not seen.”
Charlotte tapped butt to butt, then wiggled: one, one, two. Was it hot, sexy, cheating flirting when you were sending battle code? She wondered who she could even ask.
Bruce tapped back. Oh, boy, yes, battle code could be hot. Darnit, keep your mind on the fight, Char Char, she thought to herself. That was a yes, and trying not to think about anything else, Charlotte was right through Bruce’s legs as he pivoted to trap Copper Spear’s haft between his bo sticks.
Hopefully. Charlotte had her hands full coming up from below in a Snake-style takedown, both legs wrapping around Golden Axe’s neck, a twist, and Charlotte went down, while the Golden Axe hit the edge of the balcony hip-height and went tipping over, two flaming axes spinning in the air.
Another gasp from behind, as Bruce went down. Charlotte whirled. She wasn’t the only one who could misdirect. Copper Spear had thrust his spear between Bruce’s legs and brought him down. Good thing Bruce had been able to get a handful of spear on the way down, or he’d been Shish-ka-Detective.
Charlotte slashed, and Iron Whirlwind, predictably, blocked with one weapon while reaching around with the other, forcing Charlotte to block and parry, instead of taking the haft of Copper Spear’s weapon off with the backswing, as she’d planned.
Not that that would have likely worked. Frankly, with Billy still fighting one-armed for the moment and Bruce on his back, all Charlotte wanted was to get her team back. This was going downhill quickly.
“Your feet are awfully hairy, Son of the Dragon,” Bruce said, from below. In pretty good Mandarin.
“What?” Iron Whirlwind demanded.
“How many toes do you have? Are the nails black?”
“Shut up, gweilo.” Instead of striking at her, Iron Whirlwind cut down, at Bruce.
Touchy, Charlotte thought, kicking the sword just so, so that its tip wedged in the space between the top rail and the concrete of the balcony wall, thrusting directly, at Iron Whirlwind at the same time.
Copper Spear interposed, but Bruce scrambled to his feet while Charlotte and Copper Spear clinched. A tiny little crossbow appeared in his hand, and Iron Whirlwind stiffened and dropped both of his swords as a bolt hit him.
“Taser warhead. Figured he was well grounded,” Bruce said.
“What? You don’t have a boxing glove arrow?” Charlotte asked.
“Quarrels. They’re called quarrels.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Hey! There’s Dora.”
The golden arc in the sky to the west was obvious now, and the fighting from below was presumably Rose against Golden Axe.
The team was here, Charlotte just had a second to think before Brian materialised from nowhere to put a finger on Iron Whirlwind’s neck. The pony-tailed Asian warrior’s eyes rolled up in his head, and he sagged for a moment before Copper Spear reached out to steady him. And they disappeared.
“Hey! Come back!” Twelve slammed to the floor of the balcony as he spoke, falling from the roof above.
Charlotte looked down at him. “I thought you could fly.”
“I was focussing on something else. Specifically, not getting my ass handed to me, kung fu style. That Silver Hand’s seriously tough.”
“Or you’re not as tough as you think you are, right now. He’s got strength-draining effect,” Bruce said. “Probably why he was waiting up there. To ambush any bricks that showed up. Like you.”
“Could be,” Twelve answered. “Now that I think about it, I’d really like to lie here for a bit. You don’t think they’re really coming back, do you?”
Charlotte thought about it. “Maybe, maybe not. How’d you piss them off so bad, Bruce?”
Bruce shrugged. “Strange blood. Yin Wu has lived since Tang days, and in all that time has kept the sons of only one wife in his house. Daji. The boys take after her.”
“The fox-spirit woman? The one who brought down the Shang and Song dynasties?”
“It was, what do you call it, one of them deductions a guy has? I think I might be one of those detectivamawhosits.”
“What’d I miss?” Dora asked as she landed, arm around a just-risen Twelve.
“Just a fight against Yin Wu’s four toughest enforces, who are totally half-elven.” Rose announced.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Brian objected.
Bruce looked at him until Brian wilted. “We don’t talk about that branch of the family.”
“Hunh,” Rose said. “Drindrish.”
“Even weirder and uglier, for not leaving Earth when they could. Miss Grey didn’t even think there were any still alive.” Brian shrugged. “Makes sense that Yin Wu would be mixed up with any that were left.”
“Yeah, he’s a jerk, all right,” Charlotte summarised. “Now, what happened to our investigation?”
“I don’t know, let’s ask her,” Bruce said, pushing a door open and sliding into the room next to the one Charlotte had come out of. A student in a nice v-pattern black and white blouse, and black shorts, was cowering as far from the window and sliding door to the balcony as she could, wedged between a table and a wall. Charlotte waited until half the team had walked in to follow. Being in the middle of the gang would make the unsheathed Pearl Harmony seem less threatening, and she was not going to sheathe her sword until it stopped tingling with the threat of unwholesome magic, dark like rotting blood.
“Where are those kids who wanted to talk with me, earlier?” She asked.
“Bruce and Billy went to get help, Miss Bayh,” Bruce explained. Tatammy costume and mask besides, Charlotte wasn’t sure that would actually fly, but the woman nodded her head, uncertainly.
“They said you could tell us about the Campus Crusade for Kilburn?” Bruce prompted.
“Oh, well, I mean, I have some pamphlets here, somewhere. You know,” Miss Bayh said, laughing nervously, “This has been quite the day. First those two football players came to talk to me about forming a chapel at their high school, then those two student reporters, then I was attacked by some Chinese supervillains, and now you guys. I guess Kilburn really is a big deal.”
“You had your doubts?” Rose asked. Charlotte glared at Rose’s back, willing her not to bring up atheism, which would just set Twelve off. So not the way to do an investigation.
“Maybe, I, no. Look, my parents are old-fashioned German Baptists –Brethren. Triple baptism, dunking the head, whole thing. I’m used to being a bit out there. I just, look, Kilburn was around, like, seventy thousand years ago, and he’s still around today. Jesus is, like, a baby compared to him.”
As religious talks went, Charlotte had been more impressed the time the bag boy at the Price Rite tried to explain Jehovah’s Witnesses to her.
“So. Have you helped anyone else found a chapel, lately?” Bruce asked.
“Oh, yes. Professor Brown. At the Institute of Advanced Research.”
“Professor Brown. At the institute. Felt the need for his own altar of the Blue Gods in his lab. Let me guess. He’s setting up a time-travelling DeLorean to go back in time to the,” Bruce bit off his words, “—The Turakian Age.”
A sere chill came up from the floor through Charlotte’s feet, as Bruce said that name, as every bit of dust under her soles that had once been dead bone in a tomb thrilled to hear that name. But Miss Bayh nodded. “Actually, he has been doing research into the time dilating effects of exotic matter. Time travel in one direction, anyway. And he is a very religious man.” She shifted, back still wedged against the wall.
Unh-hunh, Charlotte thought. Everyone is time travelling in one direction. If you dilated time, you got there faster. Getting back, now that was the trick.
And speaking of tricks, ‘Bayh?’ How dumb did she think they were? With Brue edging forward on her right, Charlotte moved forward on the left. Her sword hand flexed, the Pearl Harmony out of nowhere. ‘Bayh.’
Bruce reached out a hand. “Maybe I can help you out of there, Miss Bayh.”
Charlotte flicked the Pearl Harmony with a sense of desperation. Too slow! That didn’t happen often, and she flinched, ready to see the head that had suddenly turned doglike, with an extended muzzle and ridges of muscle leading back over a head-turned wedge-shaped, half-human, half fox. To see that head take Bruce by the throat and bite the life out of him.
Except, outside, the autumn sun was suddenly dappled as a tree with the last threads of summer leaves on it was suddenly in front of its light without moving, and Billy Tatum was there, bone knifes crossed, edges meeting furred throat thrusting far out over the collar of the black-and-white blouse, throwing it back against the wall with a gout of blood.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Billy said.
“You,” Daji snarled. “Strong in the land. What are you?”
“I’m just a mutant,” Billy answered. “And you’re a fox spirit.”
“I am what I am,” Daiju answered, as she swept Billy aside with a blow. “And so are you. Deny your strength, and be denied it.”
Charlotte swung her sword into Against Tapana. Lances of pain, as she’d just learned, were faster than her, and she guessed that she was going to give up the edge on speed again. Bruce, beside her, imitated her move with his bo sticks.
A vulpine blow landed on Charlotte’s sword, and rotting blood spewed. The fox head thrust through the space left by their weapons, only to be met by a golden coruscation mixed with the sparkle of an Empyrean’s mighty will made –well, pulson energy, anyway.
Fixed, the fox-spirit’s head stared at Charlotte. “I had thought to bring your bones back to your father, and let him know the price for undermining me at the King’s court. Well, next time, child.”
The fox spirit was gone, back to the King of Ivory, and the dust was crying out in frustration, demanding to be taken to its lord. Somehow, the sun wasn’t reaching the room, and Charlotte was way colder than her fatigues should allow her to be.
And tired. Yama was in the room. Death. Charlotte thought of her grandfather, and her mother, the aunt she’d never known. Death.
She shivered, and, in front of her, Rose shivered. It might be a metaphysical cold, but it was a metaphysical cold that was catching. She reached inside of herself to find some willpower that didn’t want to shrivel up.. “Excellent interview, everyone. Looks like we’ve got a lead!”
A long pause. “Yeah,” Dora said. “Right after we decompress by cuddling up in electric blanket with popcorn and hot chocolate and watch the Original Trilogy.”
“Nah. John Carter.”
“Char Char,” Rose said, in an exasperated tone.
“Hey, at least it doesn’t have Ewoks,” Brian pointed out.
“I like the Ewoks. They’re politically sound,” Twelve said.
“You’re just saying that because you’ve got someone to cuddle with,” Rose answered.
“Uhm, well, I will defend the politics of the comment, but yeah, you’re right.”
Charlotte caught Bruce’s eye. He was smiling, for the first time since she’d seen him.