“You mean killed, right?” asked Tao.

Zhi held Tao’s gaze for a moment before breaking into a large yawn. “Killed, murdered – we buried him all the same. Even the Master Sage isn’t all powerful. In the end, he’s mortal just like everyone else. So there’s your dragon for you, kid. Dead. Now go home. There’s nothing in Xiangbala for you here.”

Tao thought back to all his sleepless nights, the sound of the dying dragon’s scream ringing in his ears. Part of him knew it was dead. Tao saw it fall, blood streaming from its side. But then Tao would remember its face – the glowing pits where its eyes should have been. It was almost as if it was searching for something. Someone.

“Whose spear was that?”

As soon as Tao asked the question, the fire died. Blown out in an instant. Tao couldn’t see anything, but he was already on his feet. Fu jumped in front of him, her fur on edge, a low growl shaking her small frame. Tao was in danger, he could feel it in every fiber of his body. Real danger. And the worst thing was there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Across the campsite, Tao heard Zhi’s voice drift through the mist. “Who told you that, kid?”

Tao had two options. The first was another failed escape. The second… “No one,” said Tao. “No one told me anything. I saw it in my dreams. Black and gold, right? Buried right into its side. I saw it die.”

Tao prepared himself. The mist gave him zero visibility. Worse, with the fire gone, he could feel its affects on his mind again. But he had to stay alert. There was only one thing he could think of. Tao bit his tongue – hard – his mouth filling with blood, the pain snapping him back into focus.

From the corner of his eye, Tao saw the mist part. Zhi came rushing forward, but Tao was prepared. Fire wrapped itself around his fist. He threw a right hook towards Zhi but the man spun away. Tao tried to retreat, but he felt a series the quick jabs – almost like needles – on his arm. Before Tao knew what was happening, his flames sputtered and died. Zhi took a step into Tao’s guard.

But Fu was there, lunging at Zhi with the full force of her small frame. Zhi jumped nimbly away, floating several feet in the air as he did so. Tao saw the opening and struck. He leaned back, breathed in, and with all his might let loose a mighty roar of fire. The blast parted the mist and hit Zhi straight on.

Tao sank to his knees, all his energy spent. His legs were heavy, his fingers cold. He couldn’t run now even if he wanted to. He looked up. The fire consumed Zhi, but only for a moment. It shrank – condensing itself into a tiny ball in Zhi’s hand. With the clenching of his fist, the ball burst, shooting flames to the left and right of the man.

He continued towards Tao, moving with the silky precision of a panther stalking its prey. Fu came bounding back, but the man never looked at her. With a gesture, he sent her flying into the air – held aloft in a ball of wind. Tao tried to stand, but looked to his feet. The earth had buried his ankles. Tao smiled a bloody smile. End of the line.

Zhi stood inches away from Tao, his grey eyes flat, emotionless. Tao could feel the cold weight behind his presence. He was a force of nature. Unmovable and unmoved. He extended a finger towards Tao’s face. In the dull light of the mist, Tao thought he could see it pulsate, almost crackling with energy.

“Talk.”

Tao looked up at the man and smiled. Blood poured from his mouth.

“I think that might be a little difficult. I kind of bit my tongue earlier.”

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MORE CHAPTERS

Chapter 15

Chapter 14

Chapter 13

Chapter 12

Chapter 11

Chapter 09 & 10

Chapter 08

Chapter 07

Chapter 06

Chapter 05