Chapter Forty One
The next days are spent in leisure. We do enough exercise between martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, swimming and diving between Manhattan and Prescott. We hike in Canada, but primarily simple stuff. We did go up the mountain several times, just to the falls. Then, as promised, Daria, Dasha, Janah, Oceane and I took Sloane all the way up and spent the night stargazing until after midnight. It's just too beautiful to sleep. There is no ancillary or city light, shooting stars and comets blaze in the night sky. Celestial fireworks. Light reaching us from a billion years ago, the star may no longer exist by the time we see it.
Our summer winds down, fishing, burgers and steaks on the grill, laughter in abundance as the everyday world fades into deep background. Oceane talking to fish and flowers, Sloane racing and jumping everything in sight, Amaya typing away on the porch, Chloe at her side when she isn't out catching walleye, crappie and trout.
My family was clearly in need of a wilderness break, the clean, simple purity of nature, not forgetting the clean simple purity of vodka, wine and beer. Creatures require creature comforts. Zi and I, non-drinkers, take pleasure in the others' enjoyment. Vows is vows.
At breakfast today, I announce, "We have one more round of steak, ribs actually. Then Chloe and Zi need to feed us on fish. Breakfast will deteriorate to biscuits and bacon, oatmeal or grits. We have demolished the pantry."
Janah, "I'll do another pass through the meadow, we can find plenty of food."
Amaya, "More to the point, how's the vodka holding out?"
"Dasha keeps that overstocked all year, wine and beer too. Parents and friends come up, we have an entire liquor store in the basement."
Amaya, "I am relieved to hear it."
They set out on the mission. Dasha pilots the houseboat while Chloe and Zi fish, Amaya rides with them. She would never fool with an actual live fish, but she can enjoy the sun and fresh mountain air. Oceane goes along, the water is too cold for swimming, but it's still water and she's content to be on it if she can't be in it.
Daria and Eloise monitor all the mechanicals, generators, electrical circuits, the home monitoring system, smoke alarms, the sprinkler system, the solar panels. They replaced all the fluorescent bulbs with LED lights, they don't burn hot, use eighty percent less juice and last for years.
Sloane is in the bathroom, "Mom, check this out."
I go to see, she's got her mouth wide open, examining her teeth in the mirror, "This is cool."
She turns to show me, she has pointed incisors, upper and lower.
"Janah, you need to see this."
She looks through my eyes, "Holy Moley, wolf teeth."
And so they are, two upper and two lower, half again as big as her other teeth. I look more closely, she's developing pointed molars along with the incisors.
"Well, if you grab onto something, you aren't letting go."
Sloane, "I'm wolf girl. I hope it doesn't freak out my friends."
"If it bothers you, we can do dental alterations. I suggest we see how things go first."
She grins at herself, "I don't mind, I like it, different is my calling," she growls at herself and giggles.
"Hope you don't grow hair all over."
She stares at me, "No! You think....?"
I laugh, "No, I don't. If your teeth are already changing, you'd have some indication by now. You won't be a werewolf, you don't have any impulse to howl, do you?"
Sloane, "Geez, I never thought of that, no, not so far."
Our grocery gatherers return mid-afternoon, there are a sufficiency of herbs, root vegetables and berries to carry on for three or four days. Chloe caught enough fish for a dinner or two, she and Dasha filet them on the bench out back.
I make afternoon tea, we take it on the porch as the sun begins to touch the mountain. Sloane is in the yard, lying on her side sunning herself.
She rolls to her knees, I see her nose up, head twists from side to side, she's caught the scent of something. I go to her, sniff the air, something, just a whisper. A guttural growl from Sloane's throat, her face contorts, mouth open with bared teeth.
"What is it?"
Sloane, "In the woods, not near, not yet. Headed this way."
"What is the scent?"
"I can't describe it, smoke, burnt maybe, evil."
On the porch, I tell them what Sloane said, turn to Zi, "You and I are going for a walk in the woods, everybody else inside, Chloe, keep your antennae tuned in. Eloise and Oceane, fly the drones, circle the house then widen out a couple of miles. Locked and loaded, half tranquilizer, half Oblivion. Everybody else, fire up IPads and follow the drones. You're looking for anything that isn't forest familiar."
"Don't know, whatever it is, it isn't friendly."
Chapter Forty Two
Zi and I move out, twenty yards apart, in sight of each other. About a half mile in, Janah mentals me.
"We have four, walking together, camo outfits, one woman, three men, wait.....Daria spotted four more, west of here, not east where you are."
"How far away from us, the ones on my side?"
"Not far, less than a half mile. If you just stop and wait, they will come to you."
"I want to put distance between them and the house, we'll go halfway, see what's what."
I pass the message along to Zi, we spread apart another fifteen yards, walk maybe a quarter mile, I wave her to me.
"I hear them, dead ahead. Stay put, I'm calling a friend."
A minute later, a male bald eagle swoops down to a branch above me, "I've been following you human."
"Yes, I saw you circling when we went to the mountain top. I have a pressing problem."
"You have humans coming after you, pure evil, you call them Shadows."
"Four near, four approaching your nest from the sun side, four more are camped up the mountain."
"Our people, at the guesthouse across the lake, are they okay?"
"The ones seeking you here do not know of them. The Shadows came from the east."
"I wonder how they know of us."
Eagle, "Unknown. I was coming to tell you, but your young caught the scent. They are coming, they have killed an owl, a wolf and moose. For no reason, they did not eat, just laughed."
"Can you recruit some distractions, don’t get yourself killed, just annoy them."
The eagle's wings rise, then a powerful thrust down, he's off to the sky. I hope that was a yes.
"Janah, the eagle tells me they are Shadows, eight nearby, four up the mountain. The fishing camp is undisturbed, they came from elsewhere. Tell Eloise and Oceane to pick them off, Oblivion, no tranquilizers."
I flag Zi, "Let's get back, they are Shadows."
Just then, "We come for you Shaolin, your stink pervades the atmosphere."
"Funny, that's how we picked you up. Out of curiosity, why here?"
"It's quieter. One of us sensed you while cruising the lake. Came to see the boats parked that weren't here a month ago. She thought there might be some fun people to play with, fuck over, maybe even children. Imagine her pleasant surprise when she got priests in the mix."
"What took you so long?"
"Bring in friends, to share the adventure. Two are priest killers and have vast experience. We will be legend, two priests, their friends. In the end, you will also give us your big house, and the boats. And everything else you have."
"Good luck with that."
A drone appears over my head, thwip, thwip, two darts, two dead Shadows, one the guy with all the mouth. One of the others manages to dodge a dart, the other scrambles back the way he came. The drone is out of Oblivion, nothing but tranquilizer darts left.
"Tell them to follow the one running and at least tranquilize him. I'm going to deal with the remaining woman."
I see the drone race through the trees, Zi is already on the woman, and having a hard time of it. I see her thrown against a tree trunk, then gut slammed from a qi blow. I go airborne, slam the Shadow with a heel, twist her head hard. She staggers, turns to zap me, I dislocate her jaw with a snap kick, then break her nose with a second.
She's a tough bitch, I see her gear up to get me square in the face, duck, feel the energy sail by, like the sound a fastball makes. I hear it snap a branch behind me. Dang.
Zi flies in and cracks her sternum, I follow up with Dim Mak to her heart. I hear it pop, her eyes wide, in shock, blood fills her mouth, trickles down her jaw. She falls forward, dead.
Janah, “The one that ran is down about fifty yards further along.”
“I’m sending Zi back to you.”
I turn to her, "Get back to the house, I’ll deal with the one that got away."
We’re a little beat up, but we've trained hard for years, we’ve worked a lot more beat up than this.
I follow the tracks, he’d run straight, didn’t outrun the drone. I see the dart in the back of his neck, take it and two quick slices along each carotid, he’ll be dead in seconds. On the return I pluck the darts from the bodies and find the errant one stuck in a tree trunk.
At the house, "The others?"
Janah, "Oceane took out two, the others dodged and zig zagged through the trees, no clear shot yet."
"Follow with one drone, bring the other back and load Oblivion in all the syringes. The eagle says there are twelve. We have five down, seven out there. Swap the drones, reload, that's gives us twelve shots for seven Shadows."
Daria, "We have five more vials, the rest will have to be tranquilizer."
"Okay, the tranquilizer will stop a runaway diesel. No big deal. Let's do this with a little direct contact as we can. Zap them at their camp or, if you can, before the three headed back even get there."
Daria, "Do not know where the camp is."
"Back in a sec."
I request my pal, the eagle lands on the porch, "Not bad, I watched the show, you are efficient killers."
"I need to know where they camp. We can fly our machine if you will lead us to it."
A screech, a flap, she's aloft.
"Eloise, follow the eagle when you have the drone reloaded."
Nikko, "It will be dark soon."
"Not a problem for the drone, they have infrared night vision. I have a different concern."
Amaya, "Which is?"
"Now that they know we have drones, they can use energy to block the satellite signal. If it works, the drone will fall out of the sky."
Amaya, "Will they think of that?"
Janah, "Generally, Shadows aren't tech savvy, but we know nothing of this group. It will still occur to them to fire energy at the drones. Oceane, Eloise, keep them at twenty five or thirty yards out. Shadows can't do much of anything over that distance. It's a trickier shot for the dart, but right now, we want to know where they are. Keep an eye on them and keep your distance."
"If necessary, some of us can create distractions while the drones zoom in, I can even get some of our forest friends to help."
Daria, "Found the camp, two miles northeast. A cave, have a fire going at the mouth, they are deep in the interior. the drone will lose the satellite connection more than fifteen or twenty feet in."
"Good enough, we have them on monitor. Swap drones all night and make sure they don't get on the move, you get a shot, take it."
Going to be a long night.
Chapter Forty Three
Around two a.m., there's a blip on the infrared, a moment later a second.
"Janah, wake up."
She blinks, "Not much asleep, just in the haze. I take it Shadows are leaving the cave."
"Yes, and it's only a blip on the infrared. They don't know we have infrared cams, they are masking themselves from the regular video."
"Work even better if they help mask each other, I don't know if they think that cooperatively."
"I put the other drone out, going to try and track their movements. There's a lot of tree canopy and flying under the trees is iffy in the dark. Can't use the drone light, it's a giveaway."
Eloise, "Rest of the Shadows have abandoned the cave."
"Follow them if you can get a read, Daria is searching for the others."
Daria, "No need, they all met up, they are walking together, towards the house."
Janah, "They don't know we see them. If either of you get a clear shot, take it."
"I'm going proactive, I can see them in the dark, maybe I get a chance to pick off one."
Zi, "They may sense you. I can be a distraction."
"Okay, Daria and Dasha, take the air rifles, keep an eye on the perimeter. They may split up to approach, see them, shoot them."
"The Oblivion is in the drone, we have tranquilizer but only four shots."
"Work with what you have. If they get this far, they have to cross open ground to get to the house, the drones will be ready."
Nikko straps on her katana, "I'm backing Zi, they can't sense me, if she gets one after her, I'm the nasty surprise."
"Chloe, keep your katana ready, and tune in, the ones Zi and I dealt with were good. Janah, Sloane, Amaya, Eloise and Oceane upstairs, no lights. Chloe, Dasha and Daria patrol down here.
Sloane, "Four sides to the house, three people, I should stay down here."
My heart says no, my head knows she makes sense, she's faster than any Shadow, and she can catch their scent.
"Stay alert, you get targeted, run, even into woods, they'll never catch you in there."
Five go upstairs, four walk the windows. Right now, there's nothing to see, the Shadows still coming towards the house, still in a group. Nikko, Zi and I head towards them, I go south, Nikko and Zi north. We want to get Zi close enough to create a disturbance, to get a couple of them to go for her. I look for an opportunity without getting myself dead in the process.
Janah is in my brain, "Quarter mile to your north. A couple hundred yards from Nikko and Zi."
Nikko, "Got it. We're staying put until Daphne gets closer."
"Tell Zi to lead them to me. You put yourself someplace along the way."
I hear a drone.
"Janah, tell Eloise and Oceane not to fire any darts. It's too dark and infrared only shows heat, not who is generating it."
"Already done, safety switch is on, they can't even fire accidentally."
We've also taken the antidote, but never actually tested it. David Li says it definitely counters the toxin, still rather not have to prove it out here. We're hours from doctors and medical facilities.
I follow Nikko's mind, she's moving in my direction, the Shadows are in a near direct line to Zi, they haven't sensed her yet. Her job is to let them spot her, then do a Shaolin disappearing act until she wants them to sense her again. Ideally, at least a couple chase her.
Janah, "Nikko is a hundred yards from you. The Shadows have stopped, Zi is thirty yards from them, working her way now towards Nikko. Two Shadows have broken off and are headed in Zi's general direction."
"What of the others?"
"Just standing there....no, on the move again, towards us."
I use owl hearing, Nikko is stone still, but I can just pick up Zi's soft steps, the Shadows are crunching around making no attempt to be quiet. It's dark, moon to the east, partly cloudy. The average person could see maybe ten feet, then vague outlines of trees, then black. I've got Nikko on my infrared, see Zi approaching, then two blips of heat behind her to the left. Zi moves along, out of their range, then back into it, but from a different direction.
A man's voice, "Evasion won't work Shaolin, we are coming. You could run, save yourself."
Zi doesn't reply, Shadows know we vow to kill them, but most Shaolin can't tell a Shadow from any distance. The Shadow has the advantage and monks wind up dead without any idea of who killed them or why. Most often, Shadows like to taunt the monk, play with them first. The monks we train are aware that Shadows exist. Not many monks have qi skills strong enough to deal with them, and there is no honor in being killed, nor dishonor in living. Only priests, like Zi and I, are required to confront Shadows, to kill or be killed.
The two Shadows remain side by side. I wished they'd split up. Live in hope, die in despair.
"Nikko, the two are sticking together, I'm doing a quick circle, we need to jump these chumps at the same time. The other three are moving to the house."
Zi stops, she senses Nikko near, it's game time.
The man again, "We have you priest."
Zi says nothing, she senses more than sees the two, the woman with him takes a shot, it the dark, the blast of energy is close, but not a hit. There's a whack of energy hitting a tree trunk somewhere behind her.
The man, "There's another fucking one, to the left."
The woman peers into the darkness, both looking in my direction. I step close, they do a dual burst, the energy catches me in the shoulder and gut, I'm twisted left and doubled over at the same time. I crash into a tree and sink to my knees. As I look up, they are gearing up for a death blow, a flash of steel, Nikko removes both heads in one strike.
She rushes to me, "Can you move?"
"Slowly, go to the house, Janah knows where the three are. I'll deal, be along in a minute."
Nikko, "Don’t want to leave you here."
"Go, nothing here will hurt me, I'll catch a lift from a moose or something, now move it."
They take off towards the house, Janah will get them positioned behind the three remaining Shadows, then we see what happens.
Janah, "Tough shot, two at once. Are you mobile?"
"Yeah, sort of. I need to qi up, don't waste yours sending it to me, you may need all you can muster."
Janah could give me a qi boost, but it's not an infinite source of energy. Like a battery, it has to be recharged. I can qi myself for now.
"They're good Janah, powerful anyway. If they’re like most Shadows, the weakest ones are most expendable. That means the three left are the best worst."
Janah, "If Daria, Dasha and I, plus two samurai and Zi can't handle three Shadows, we deserve what we get. The Shadows are dead, it may be messy, but they aren’t making it to breakfast."
Chapter Forty Four
I can barely rotate my shoulder, my gut feels like it's been run through a sausage maker. I stand, grimace and sit again. Better to sit here and focus internal qi on the injuries.
Dasha, "Dahfoney, you are okay. You will stay there, I will keel Shadow and come for you soon."
She clicks off, good enough, I can follow through her eyes. Shift to one of the others if I need to, Janah, Nikko, Amaya or Daria.
I see Sloane patrolling the front windows, pacing like her wolf guru. There's not much point, the drones have the Shadows located for now, but it keeps her alert, looking.
Janah, "Shadows are just outside the lighted perimeter, if they split up we can follow two with drones, one's going to be a wild card. Sun's creeping up, there's light over the mountain."
"Tell Chloe and Zi to focus on the third, in whatever direction he moved off to. Can't one of the drones heat seek from higher up? Catch all three?"
"Daria's working on it. For now, we have them all. They aren't doing much, just waiting. There's no clear shot from the drones."
"There isn't much they can do. Charge the house? They know about the darts, and they have to cover open ground to get to you. Probably having a strategy meeting, get one of the drones close enough to pick up their voices."
Eloise drops hers to the tree tops, then finds her way down inside the canopy, voices.
Man, "We need to get to the house."
Woman, "No shit genius. You wanna charge over thirty yards of open ground? Go ahead."
Second Man, "It's just far enough to make our qi useless. Where the fuck are the others?"
Woman, "Jesus you're stupid. They're dead asshole. That bitch priest had help. We want to kill the priests and take their shit, but the price so far has been nine of us dead."
Man, "Good, more for us."
Janah, "Geez, typical Shadow logic. The idea they could wind up like the others doesn't register."
"They're focused on the house. Nikko and Zi are behind them, out of their sensing range. I'm going to them, we can screw around with them from the rear, keep them confused."
"You okay to move?"
"Guess I'll find out."
I stand, gut's not too bad, I can stand straight, I rotate my shoulder, stab of pain but it moves. My qi isn't Janah's, but it isn't bad, all those years of qi dummies, playing the tennis ball game with the twins. I can move energy and blood where I need it. I take off.
Nikko, "You okay?"
Zi, "They are dithering, don't want to get in the open, let's jerk them around. I'll get in range on the right, can you take the left? Mobile enough?"
"Good, Nikko is the wild card. They can't sense her until she's close. We distract them until there's an opening."
"Let me check in with the twins. I think we can drive the Shadows insane."
"Daria, you and Dasha come outside at my signal. Walk directly to the Shadows. We're going to mess with their heads instead of the other way round."
I get a "Da and Da.'"I move to the left, Zi to the right, we flank the Shadows, Nikko is directly behind them. I move in close enough to arouse their attention.
Man, "Fucking Shaolin, to the left, wait, maybe not, I don’t sense her now."
Woman, "No, one to the right, practically fucking on top of us.
Second Man, "They're playing with you idiots."
Woman, "So? They're still out there with murder on their minds."
Second Man screams, points his hand to the house, a blast of energy, he's thirty five yards out, stupid, barely a thump against the exterior wall.
Man, "Bet you scared the shit out of them, moron. Use up your power getting pissed."
Second, "Fuck you, shield me."
He walks out of the woods, Eloise fires a dart, it bounces off what seems to be air."
"Janah, forget the darts, they’re blocking for him. Figure out what to do, we're going to deal with the two here."
Nikko leaps from behind, the Man spots her and fires qi, Nikko is blown back. Zi rushes to the Woman, leaps to flying side kick only to meet the invisible wall of qi. She thumps to the ground with a twisted ankle and the Woman is on her.
Enough of this crap, I'm airborne into the Man, he's distracted shielding Second and I catch him neck high and send him sprawling.
Woman is straddling Zi, her head snaps back and forth like she's being punched with an invisible hand. I try to get to her, but Man is doing his own damage to me and it’s all I can do to counter strike. I see Woman raise her hand for a death blow,
A screech and the eagle has her talons in Woman’s face. She stands to fight off the big bird, the eagle takes one eye and lifts off and up.
Woman staggers, hand to her face, blood drips between her fingers, Zi rolls away.
The twins come into view. Woman's hand comes up, points to the sisters, I see her hand shrivel, like burning plastic. She freezes uncomprehending at the Angels of Death. She sneers, her head implodes.
Man drops his shield, he has more pressing problems, me. We stare each other down, qi fights qi, the air is smoky crimson. He's good, really good, the ball of flame inches closer to me, I'm already weak, this isn't helping.
I see a streak across the perimeter, then Sloane leaps from ten feet away, her jaws lock on his throat. By the time he hits dirt, his head is hanging off his torso by a few ligaments. Sloane spits out a mouthful of neck, blood drips from her chin. She runs to me.