About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Thirteen-year-old Long limped along the Shanghai Fight Club tunnel, a river of blood flowing down his right thigh, the weight of a nation on his shoulders. He glanced at the crimson liquid oozing from his bandaged leg, and the steady stream leaking from his upper left arm.
So much for winning the Fight Club Grand Championship. Previous champions had earned themselves prime positions within the Emperor’s military ranks. Long had earned himself a target on his head.
Balanced across Long’s powerful shoulders was the unconscious giant of a man known as Xie—the Scorpion. Xie had been the Emperor’s personal bodyguard, but as of a quarter of an hour ago, he was, like Long, a fugitive.
Long had to keep moving. Soldiers would surely be racing after them, following the directions of the new Southern Warlord—Tonglong, the Mantis. However, Long had no time to consider them or their whereabouts. He had a more pressing matter to deal with. He needed to lower his pulse. If he kept going at this pace, his racing heart would soon pump his body dry.
Long—the Dragon—began a breathing sequence that would decrease his heart rate in order to slow his blood flow. Two short breaths in, one long one out. He felt a difference immediately.
He continued along the tunnel’s dirt floor, but a stirring sensation in his dan tien—his chi center—brought a sudden sense of dread. His lower abdomen began to warm and his intestines started writhing like a ball of snakes. Someone was coming.
“Golden Dragon?” a tiny voice whispered from down the dark corridor behind him. “Long? Are you there?”
Long stopped and frowned. It was ShaoShu—Little Mouse. ShaoShu had used Long’s fight club name: Golden Dragon. Long turned and watched the small boy with the unusually limber body scamper toward him from the direction he had come from.
“Turn back, ShaoShu,” Long whispered. “Return to Tonglong. You will not be safe with me.”
“I don’t care,” ShaoShu replied. “I want to help. You’re injured and— Hey!” he squeaked, pointing at Xie. “Xie is alive! His arm just moved. How can that be? I watched Tonglong shoot him in the chest.”
“Xie is wearing battle armor beneath his robe,” Long said. “The shock from Tonglong’s bullet just knocked him out. He probably has a cracked rib or two, but that’s it. He should be fine once he wakes up.”
ShaoShu stared at Long’s bulging arms and thick chest. “You’re carrying him and battle armor? You’re barely a man. How did you get so strong?”
“Exercise,” Long replied. “Now shoo.”
“But I can help,” ShaoShu said. “Did you see what happened back there with the Emperor and Tonglong? You can’t do this alone.”
“I saw,” Long said. “Tonglong killed Xie’s father—the Western Warlord. He also killed his own mother, AnGangseh. He’s crazy, but he has managed to put himself in a position to kidnap the Emperor, and that makes him dangerous and powerful.”
“Crazy is right,” ShaoShu said. “He will kill you, too, if you’re caught. Why are you carrying Xie around? Just leave him. He’s always been mean to you.”
“If my temple brothers and sisters are to have any chance of stopping Tonglong from taking over the country, we are going to need Xie’s help. He is still a very powerful man. In fact, he is the Western Warlord now. He—”
Long stopped in midsentence as he saw ShaoShu’s body go rigid and his nose twitch.
“Uh-oh,” ShaoShu said.
Long focused his attention down the dark fight club tunnel beyond ShaoShu, and his dan tien began to twist and turn. More people were coming.
“Listen,” Long whispered to ShaoShu. “You must either return to Tonglong right now or escape on your own. You can’t stay with me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I will get Xie to safety, then I will rendezvous with my brothers and sister far to the north. Now go.”
Long whirled around to leave, but his foot slipped in a pool of his own blood. He lost his balance, and Xie’s gigantic body shifted across his shoulders, dragging him to one side. His injured leg collapsed, and he went down. Xie’s head bounced off the tunnel wall, the impact waking him instantly.
Xie sat up, fully alert, like a seasoned fighter who had been knocked out only to wake up swinging.
“What is going on?” Xie demanded, staggering to his feet. He tottered, then centered himself and stood solid as a mountain. He rubbed his head with one hand and felt the dent in his chest plate with the other.
“We’re being hunted,” Long said. He watched as first recognition and then memory flowed behind Xie’s eyes.
Xie growled and glared back up the tunnel.
Long spun around to see two soldiers approaching, one tall and one short. Each held a cocked pistol. The soldiers stopped just out of Long’s and Xie’s reach. The taller of the two cleared his throat.
“Our apologies, sir,” the taller soldier said to Xie, “but you are under arrest. Southern Warlord Tonglong has ordered us to capture you, as well as Golden Dragon. Both of you, please come with us and maintain a reasonable distance. Our orders are to take you dead or alive. We will not hesitate to shoot either of you if you come too close or attempt to flee.”
Long’s heart sank. In a traditional scuffle they might stand a chance, but against firearms combined with a short distance, all the kung fu skills on the planet would not help. He looked over to see ShaoShu’s reaction, but ShaoShu was gone.