With a stiff puff from her chapped lips she blows the hair out of her face before answering, “does it matter where the meat comes from?” Her dark brown eyes glisten with sadness, but behind a hard edge. An edge that could cut. An edge, he decides, filled with anger and maybe a bit of regret like a prostitute forced to do what she has to, to survive, to stave off punishment, to make it to another day because death is too permanent and not yet the only option.
Dao wants to reach out and touch her face and tell her it will be okay.
Life is not everything.
That he knows she does not have choice in the harm she does, but instead he simply gives her a patient smile and steps past her and attempts to walk into the store.
As he expects this is not allowed. Maybe it is how he is dressed. As a member of the clan. Black simple robes and a golden silk sash around his waist decorated with the swirling serpent and its forked smoky tongue and four clawed legs. He wears soft black slippers on his feet and a simple grey top knot in the middle of his mostly shaved head.
He arches a grey eyebrow sensing what comes next. Seventy-eight years is a old enough to have the right to some assumptions.
As expected she attacks him with the scream of a conscripted unwilling soldier. A soldier with a metaphorical gun at the back of her head.
He knew she would have no choice. Too much was at stake now for this small group. They risked too much for what they have done. He closes his eyes and forgives her of her crimes before turning to face combat.
She is small but capable. The wind behind her pushes her scent against his nose. It reminds him of his mother. He hopes he won’t have to hurt her.
She wields the small paring knife deftly and punctures the meat of his shoulder. The wound stings. He manages to defend himself against much more than a small cut that will require a couple of stitches. He is surprised. She must have some training at the very least. Otherwise she never would have gotten even that much of the blade in him. He turns his arm and she flies off balance into a stand of leafy greens.
He practices minimum effort maximum reward.
She stands with the small knife raised in a shaking fist.
Off to his right her co-workers also stand ready now to join the fight.
One is armed with a meat cleaver and the bespectacled one has a old rust streaked forty-four.
Dao sighs and crouches ready.
The woman with glasses and the old hand-gun fires a shot, but Dao was already moving as if he knew before the trigger was pulled which way this fight was going to go.
He flips the nearest metal table over, deeply marbled red meat goes flying as the steel deflects the projectile from the pistol. It ricochets off and smashes into a stack of chili sauce jars near the woman’s face. She screams in pain as the liquid splatters getting in her eyes.
She runs blind into the cleaver wielding woman. They go down in a tangle. Chinese lady arms and legs flailing.
He makes eye contact with the woman whose smell reminds him of his mother.
She looks confused.
He makes a feint towards her and she throws the paring knife at him with a squeal of fear turns and runs away.
His smile deepens and he offers a prayer to the sun to light the world’s darkest corners for her.
Free to enter the grocery he does so passing the normal fare of boxed snacks and cellophane packaged noodles and what-nots.
He can smell them before he sees them.
They smell like rotten eggs and deeply burnt toast. Like breakfast gone bad. He follows the odor to the rear of the store.
He nears a door he guesses goes down to the basement and just as he is about to push through he is interrupted by a high pitch wail from behind.
He turns to find a man in his sixties with yellow streaked nicotine stained white hair sprinting towards him with a cheap flea market purchased katana gripped with two hands over his head posed to strike.
Dao waits and at the last moment as the cheap aluminum blade begins its descent he raises his slipper clad foot and crushes the man’s sternum with a deep powerful front kick.
The grocery owner goes down hard.
Dao squats down to look into the man’s fear filled eyes. He is going to die without medical care. There will be no such care given to this person today. The monk presses his index finger lightly in the middle of the broken bones of the shop owner’s chest and says, “Slavery is wrong. Butchery of sentient beings is far worse. This painful death is a mercy you will not find in the afterlife. Enjoy your last moment of peace.”
Dao touches two fingers into the center of the grocery owners scrunched forehead and the old-mans face smooths instantly all pain flushing out as if a plug were pulled. He’s body is still broken but at least he will know peace until his life on this plane ends.
He stands and turns without another look and walks through the rear door of the shop and descends the cement steps into the dank basement.
His eyes adjust to the darkness and he sees there aren’t many left.
Which is sad.
A whole generations almost gone.
A green scaled creature of maybe three hundred pounds lays on a large table. Its belly is sliced open and its innards lay on the floor. The shop owner probably had plans for them. If he was smart. Which he probably wasn’t.
Dao doesn’t want to know which one lays there in front of him, but he does, Ailùhng she was his favorite. So sweet and smart. And only fifty years old. The first hatched out of her generation. She would have done much. Gone far. But no longer.
The monk turns at his name and sees the others. The three left. One green, Bailùhng and two red, Chenglùhng and Fanlùhng. They look broken. Their eyes sad. They had to watch this. The massacre. Their brothers and sisters being killed and cut up into pieces. They were pressed into cages too small. Their great serpent bodies painful squashed like they weren’t the last of the greatest things ever to have lived. Things of the Gods. Things of a another time and place, of another plane, or another realm.
He goes to the first cage and tries to get it open but can’t work what at first glance seems to be a simple clasp mechanism.
He looks up and Fanlùhng is panting as if the very act of staying alive is getting too hard, “Dao, be careful he has magic.”
Dao hears a scraping from behind him and turns. The body of Ailùhng has risen and stares at him with white lifeless eyes. His heart begins to panic in his chest. He wills it to settle. He practices his chi. He sets his feet. He prepares for battle, but he isn’t prepared for a flurry of loose dragon scales to strike him in the chest. The stinging rebuke brings blood and pain and tears to his eyes and also a flying attack by the dead but animated dragon corpse. Dao knows that killing something that is already dead is a worthless activity and simply defends himself from the attack.
“Coward! Show yourself!” he screams but doubtful the butcher will. Powerful but weak, magicians usually dont dare face one in physical combat preferring shadows and dark corners to fight from.
But it doesn’t matter, Dao just needs a few moments of concentration to pray and to keep the children at his back.
He grabs the dead avatar and tries not make it more then just deceased flesh. It struggles mightily. The dead flesh still wield great strength. Its long sharp nails rake the flesh up and down his forearms. One great strike slices through the muscle of his chest. He does not spare the energy to look down but knows the wound is deep and mortal. He is not going to see his friends free and last last moments are futile and few.
It doesn’t matter. He has finished the last prayer he will say on this plane.
The power builds. He feels the blessing reach critical mass. The warmth of the explosion feels good and he is gone and everything that once matters to him no longer does.
Detective Choi stands on the official side of the yellow tape. He stares at the collapsed building. Three walls are down in a giant pile of smoking rubble as if something huge pulled the whole thing over. The fourth wall still stands, four large cat creates stand empty not even a mote of dust touching them.
“What do think?” his partner asks.
She is new and he lets her have one rhetorical a day. He let’s this be it. Honestly he has no clue. In twenty-five years he has never seen explosion act like this. He steps away from her with a, “hmmm,” as if she had just made a salient point and replaces the pen in his mouth to continue working on the masticated cap.