The Good Fight
In which Dodger battles someone else’s demons
Dodger yanked on the ladder that led to the hatch in the roof, pulling it down and securing it to the latches in the floor. The storm was almost upon them, with the wind howling loud enough to overpower the sound-dampening system of the Sleipnir, seeping into the car in eerie gusts. It wouldn’t be long now. Dodger was glad of it, anxious to get started so they could be done. It was a rushed preparation, but he supposed they were as ready as they could be, considering the circumstances. Dodger had barked orders at the crew for five straight minutes, making sure everyone understood his or her role in all of this.
The doc tried to get Dodger to take on a plethora of new weapons, but Dodger turned down each one in favor of the beauties on his hips. The doc then retreated to hide in what he called his ‘panic box.’ He explained to Dodger that it was like a panic room, only much smaller. Dodger had no idea what either of those things was, and he didn’t care to learn. At least, not right now.
Mr. Torque accompanied the doc, claiming he was too delicate for combat situations. Considering the potential amount of electricity bound to hit the air tonight, Dodger couldn’t blame the mechanical man.
As for Lelanea, Dodger requested that she stick to the lab, her main duty being to keep the doc safe. To Dodger’s surprise, she grumbled and fussed about the task. He figured she wouldn’t mind hanging back to protect her uncle, but no, she wanted to be in the thick of things. It wasn’t that he didn’t think she could handle herself. He had no doubt about that. He just didn’t want her in the path of danger any more than he wanted the doc in harm’s way. That and there was the fact that if anyone could keep the boss man safe against a couple of demonic assassins, it was Lelanea.
Per Dodger’s request, Ched manned the helm, holding the train tight on her route, ready for any sudden order to shift speed or direction, should the combatants require.
That only left Feng to worry about, and Dodger set to worrying right away.
“You sure you don’t want to stay with the doc?” Dodger asked. “I may not have fought demons before, but I’ve come damn close.”
“No, sir,” Feng said. “This is my fight. Speaking of which, you never did explain your plan.”
“Truth be told, I don’t really have one. I thought if the doc’s dampening system kept the lightning under control, I would wing the rest.”
“I can’t argue with that. The best-laid plans have a habit of going awry when dealing with Lei Gong. You might reconsider the doc’s other weapons, though. I fear those guns won’t be much help.”
Dodger shrugged. “I am hoping the silver will have some effect.”
“I can’t help but notice you haven’t taken on any of the doc’s offerings either. If I had that many demons after me, I’d pack as much firepower as my hips could hold. And then some.”
“I don’t need guns.” Feng waggled his fingers. “I have all the firepower I need, my friend.”
Dodger opened his mouth to ask what in the heck the old man was talking about, but then snapped his maw shut when he thought better of it. “You know what? I don’t think I want to know. I don’t think I would understand it anyway.”
“You would understand better than most. Suffice it to say, I don’t need a gun.”
“I can’t imagine what you did to piss someone off so badly.”
“Sarcasm? Nice. You know, I would tell you what I did, but you already said you didn’t want to know.”
“Then color me morbidly curious. If I’m gonna lay my life on the line, I reckon I’d like an inkling as to why.”
Feng chewed his lip a moment, then asked, “You ever heard the expression ‘love is blind’?”
“Who hasn’t?” Dodger checked each of his guns once again, just to make sure they were locked and loaded. “I hear that, on occasion, it is deaf and dumb too.”
“And stupid. And likes to take risks that haunt it for years.”
“Enough said. You know, when this is done, you have to tell me who in the hell you really are. And don’t try to feed me some line about being a wise old Chinaman, because I didn’t buy that the first time.”
Feng gave a tired sigh as he looked out the window to the clouds again. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but who I am is not important. But these people? This train? They are important. And that includes you, Rodger Dodger.”
This made Dodger start in surprise. “Why? Why me?”
The Celestial winked. “Eight ball says, ‘Ask again later.’”
“You see? I don’t understand half the things you say. It’s like you’re not speaking English. But it ain’t Chinese either, ‘cause I speak that too. Yet every question I ask, you block with some kind of verbal tomfoolery.”
“Then maybe you just aren’t asking the right questions.”
“Okay, here is a question for you, and tell me the honest truth. What can I expect out there?”
“Lei Gong and his cronies travel much in the manner of a storm. The wind and rain will come first, Youn and Yoo. But they won’t be here by themselves for very long.”
“Then we will have to act fast if we want to isolate them. I’d rather not fight all four at once.”
“Agreed. Dian Wu, the lightning mother, will be tight on their heels. And of course, right behind them will be Lei Gong himself. His weapon of choice is sonic based.”
“Thunder. Right. How long between each wave?”
“Last time I tried to stand my ground, they were no more than a few minutes apart on arrival. But that was a long time ago. They are very old now. And hopefully very tired.”
“Aren’t you just as old?”
Feng shrugged instead of answering.
Dodger wasn’t impressed. “How come you look older than my grandpa but don’t act a day over twenty?”
“Good genes,” Feng said.
“Why can’t you just answer me straight?”
“That was a straight answer.”
“A straight answer is like an arrow. It pierces right to the heart, but before the brain can make sense of what is happening, you’ve bled out all over the place. Then what good are you? But I will extend a fair warning, from one coworker to another. If the professor offers to save your life with one of his fantastic inventions, you must be prepared to pay the price. And I mean the whole price. You dig?”
Dodger had a feeling the only thing they were digging here was their own grave, but he nodded anyway. Another roar of thunder ripped through the body of the train. “I suppose it’s time. You ready?”
“I was born ready. As were you.”
Dodger ignored the man’s strange words and pulled the SPECS over his eyes before he mounted the ladder. After he climbed to the top, he stopped to give the hatch handle a quick couple of turns, then flung the hatch open. The gust from the storm and the motion of the train almost knocked him off the ladder, but he hung on tight, pulling himself up until he was atop the train. He reached down to offer Feng a hand onto the roof of the Sleipnir, but the elder didn’t need help. The older man climbed out of the hatch and stood steady on his feet without so much as twisting in the wind. Meanwhile, Dodger crouched, keeping his center of gravity as low as he could and flexing muscles he’d forgotten he even had in order to keep from falling off.
All at once, he felt every bit of his forty years.
“Youn and Yoo should be here any moment,” Feng shouted over the howling wind. “They come with the rain. Are you prepared?”
“I thought I was born ready?” Dodger shouted. He pulled Hortense from her holster and lifted his face into the first lashings of rain. “What will they look like?”
“You and me. They prefer humanoid shapes.”
“Thank heaven for small favors.” Dodger peered across the rooftop, eyeing the occasional metal rod driven right into the backbone of the train, every few feet. “Those must be the lightning rods.”
“I believe so.” Feng looked down to Dodger and said, “I know you want to run in, guns blazing and fists swinging, but I ask that you stay down at first.”
“I’m not going to just wait for-”
“Stay down,” Feng commanded. “Stay low. Stay out of it. You will know when I need you. And I have no doubt that I will need you.”
Dodger didn’t like that one bit, but he supposed the elder had a better idea as to what was happening than he did, so he deferred to the man’s judgment. He hunkered down against the roof just as the sky flashed with what seemed a much-too-close lightning strike. Dodger winced at the bright light that overpowered the dark-vision setting on the SPECS and blinked away the blobs of swimming black from his vision. When his eyesight returned and he looked again across the rooftop, he and Feng had company.
One moment, there was just a rooftop dotted with the occasional lightning rod.
The next, two men stood waiting in the sudden pouring rain.
No. Not men, Dodger reminded himself.
And so it begins, Feng said.
Only he didn’t say it. Not with his mouth, anyway. Dodger wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the phenomenon of someone speaking but not saying anything, yet it wasn’t the same kind of mindspeak that Boon’s restless spirit used. No. Dodger heard it as clear as a bell in his ears, but he was fairly sure the Celestial never opened his mouth.
Youn and Yoo, Feng said, nodding to the demons in turn. Again, his lips never moved.
The demons were identical in every respect, dressed in matching black outfits that reminded Dodger of comfortable bedclothes. They wore angry snarls on their surprisingly young faces, and bore matching mops of wild white hair. They also sported identical eyes—red, glowing and fierce. Looking at the pair of them made Dodger’s head hurt, but that held nothing on the tooth-aching sound of their combined voices in his head.
Xiao Chen, the beasts said as one, in that same mindspeak that Feng used.
Been a long time, boys, Feng said.
Too long. Far, far too long.
Dodger wasn’t surprised that the things spoke English. Or rather, that he heard them in English.
We knew we would find you, the demons said in unison. You cannot run forever.
I have no intention of running forever, Feng said as he squared his feet and shoulders into a fighter’s stance. The rain came in torrents, soaking the elder’s robes as he held his pose and stared hard at the pair of demons. I am done running. This ends. Now.
Then you are ready to die?
Why not? Today is a good day to die.
W will not disappoint you.
Nor I you. “En garde!” This last bit, Feng shouted aloud.
Once Feng announced his attack, the pair of demons leaped at the Celestial, and the three fell into a well-practiced dance. Dodger recognized several forms of Eastern martial arts in their combined movements. The heavy-handed blows of Wing Chun. The forceful kicks of Karate. The grappling holds of Aikido and Judo. None of the combatants seemed bothered by the momentum of the Sleipnir, nor the river of water washing over the sides of the rooftop. They fought with sure and steady steps, up and down the length of the Sleipnir, serving blows and blocks as if they battled in a meadow and not atop a moving train in the pouring rain. Watching them fight between the flashes of lightning was like witnessing a robust back lit ballet, or a flight of birds passing across the setting sun. Dodger was positively mesmerized by the simple beauty of it.
That was, until the magic started to fly.
The demons were the first to fire, working as one to sling a shower of driving rain at Feng. One demon rotated his arms in a windmill fashion, kicking up a hell of a whirlwind, while the other held his glowing hands forth to funnel the rushing rain right into the path of the pressurized air.
Feng sidestepped the first blast just in time. The edges of his robe fell into tatters, torn to shreds by the driven raindrops. Over and over they fired upon him, and each time, the man was far too nimble and quick for their slow-moving discharges. It was a very powerful attack, yet it seemed difficult for the pair to control.
Is that the best you can do? Feng asked as he sidestepped yet another onslaught. My, but you two have gotten old. Last time we danced like this, you almost took my arm off.
You have aged also, the demon brothers said. It is insulting that we have to fight such an old man.
Feng ducked and swerved away from their blasts with ease. Old man, you say? How’s this for old? The elder came to a halt and flicked his wrist. Bright bands of colored light flew from his spread fingertips, striking the pair of demons in the chests and knocking them onto their backs. The Celestial stepped forward, flinging burst after burst of light upon the pair as they struggled to stand. All the while, Feng screamed at the beasts.
“You cannot best me!” he yelled aloud. He threw a colorful burst for each word he hollered at the pair. “You! Will! Never! Best! Me!”
Then it was done. Well, not quite done. The rain still fell, the lightning still flashed, and the thunder still rumbled. But the demon brothers lay in an unmoving heap at Feng’s feet. The elder stooped over the silent pair, bent double, clutching his knees as he gasped for a much-needed breath.
“Never … best … me …” he said between gulps of air.
The demons groaned, and one even tried to move, but it was a fruitless effort. The most the thing could do was writhe a bit before he fell motionless again.
“Never,” Feng said once more, for good measure.
The twins didn’t respond.
Two to go.
The rain had slowed, thankfully, but the wind continued to whip and howl.
That seemed almost easy, Dodger thought, but he heard his words in his head as clearly as he’d heard Feng’s. Dodger covered his mouth, as if the gesture could stop his thoughts from being projected aloud.
Feng laughed between wheezes, and said into Dodger’s mind, Yeah. Easy peasy, short and squeezy.
How come we can talk without speaking?
Let me catch my breath first.
The man was obviously tuckered out. He continued to wheeze and gasp, his breathing loud enough to hear over the rain. Watching the Celestial struggle to inhale, Dodger got the impression that whatever trick the magician had used on the twins was the limit of his power. Dodger began to get to his feet, to go to Feng’s aid and help him back into the cab, but the older man held out a hand in warning.
“Keep your head down!” he shouted. And turn those damnable SPECS off!
At his words, the sky lit with a terrible flash of lightning, most likely bright enough to completely blind a man wearing night-vision SPECS. Thankfully, Dodger only caught the edge of it, for he had taken the Celestial’s advice, snapping the SPECS to the off position and dropping his head mere moments before the sky lit up like a Catholic altar during Mass. There he cowered, keeping his head covered as he could do nothing more than listen with his mind.
What he heard was mighty strange.