The Magpie Bridge
Sun checked his spirit sense. There was a flood of hostiles incoming. There were too many of them. And they were all converging on his position.
“Barrier up!” Sun boomed.
Infernal screeching and chattering drowned out his voice. Xiaohou bashed in the windows and leapt themselves into the room. All at once they charged at the duo—and smashed against a dome-shaped barrier.
“FOLLOW ME!” Sun shouted.
Sun blasted away, cutting down a group of xiaohou between him and the exit. The survivors of the barrage recoiled from the radiant heat and light. Running to the door, Sun kicked it open, revealing a narrow hallway.
And four gunmen.
He obliterated the first. Destroyed the second. The third fired, and his bolts splashed off Liu’s barrier. Sun gunned him down. Turned—
The last man swatted down Sun’s weapon and raised a pistol to his face.
Sun ducked. The pistol fired, scorching his hair. He released his weapon and seized the man’s crotch. Twisted. Ripped.
The gunman shrieked, doubling over. Sun captured his throat in the crook of his elbow, swept out his leg and slammed his head into the floor. Stepped aside and shot him in the face.
“Sun Yao!” Liu yelled. “Behind us!”
She had blocked off the door with a barrier. The xiaohou screamed, trying to break through.
“Fang Fang! Get behind me!” Sun shouted. “Keep left!”
She turned and ran, clearing a line of fire to the door. Sun held down the trigger, walking bolts back and forth across the fatal funnel. The infinity gun gulped down his qi and turned it into thunderbolts. Flesh exploded, fur ignited, and blood spattered.
No more xiaohou remained.
“Follow me!” Sun said.
Down the corridor, he found a door to the stairs. Entering the stairwell, he heard muffled voices and bootsteps. He looked down.
He stepped back just as the gunmen opened fire. Blinding bolts slashed the air, slamming into the stone all around them. Reaching into his interspatial storage, he drew a fragmentation grenade, pulled the pin, and bounced it down the steps.
“Grenade!” a man yelled.
“Upstairs!” Sun whispered.
Sun and Liu flew up the stairs. He halted at the landing, opened his storage again, and produced another sticky bomb. The grenade exploded, eliciting screams and cries of pain. Sun armed the bomb, pasted it against the wall, and dashed to the roof.
The outside air was cool and sweet and refreshing. Sun staggered to a stop, gasping for breath. He had expended most of his qi reserves, and without his gloves he was only barely more powerful as a normal man. Liu wasn’t doing much better.
The sticky bomb exploded. Liu gave him a thumbs-up. He laughed. Once. And forced down more oxygen.
“Fang Fang…” Sun gasped. “We need to… use qinggong… to escape. I need my gloves back.”
She nodded. Reached for the left glove—
The door to the roof burst open, revealing a gunman with a pistol.
Liu raised a barrier. The newcomer fired, his bolts splashing against the barrier. Sun dropped to a knee and loosed a long burst. Squinting through the light show he saw—
His own bolts shattering against an invisible forcefield.
The enemy could use a barrier too.
Sun’s infinity gun beeped angrily and shut down. The barrel was glowing red and billowing smoke.
At the same time, the enemy ceased firing, his pistol red hot.
“The Defenders are on their way,” Sun said. “If you surrender now—”
“I can’t do that. You destroyed my sect.”
His qi flared. He was strong, stronger than Sun, stronger than Fu, stronger than any cultivator he had seen. This must be the sect leader.
“You’re finished!” Sun shouted. “You can’t break the barrier!”
The rogue cultivator swung his right foot forward, revealing a sword. He smiled.
She raised her barrier. The enemy materialized, his sword meeting the barrier—
And shattering it.
Growling, Sun drew his pistol from storage, aimed—
The enemy fired.
A colossal blow slammed him to the ground. His pistol clattered away. Sun coughed. He’d taken the shot on his chest plate, but it still hurt.
The rogue cultivator loomed over him and aimed his handgun at his face.
“Still alive?” the sect leader asked.
“Qu si,” Sun retorted. Die.
A white wall sent the sect leader flying.
Sun got up. Liu was back on her feet, her hands outstretched. She must have slammed a barrier into the cultivator. The enemy was reeling, shaking his head.
Sun’s infinity gun was still overheated, and his pistol nowhere in sight. He drew his jian.
The sect leader recovered, deflecting the jian with his own sword, then sprang into a thrust. Sun swerved aside, parrying the thrust, and cut at the enemy’s head. The cultivator danced out of reach, then stepped back in and windmilled his arms, clearing Sun’s sword arm and plunging his blade at his throat.
Sun sprang away, safely out of range. He was exhausted, but the enemy was fresh. He had to end this now. Assuming his guard, he leaned back and lowered his jian, exposing his head.
The enemy blurred.
And struck a barrier.
His sword slid off.
“Hah!” the sect leader yelled, and slashed—
And his arm bounced off a barrier.
Sun cut at the exposed arm. The hand fell off. He flowed into a double-handed slash. The cultivator’s head flew away.
Blood gushed all over Sun. Stepping back, he wiped off the sword on the cultivator’s clothes and checked his spirit sense.
“All clear,” he said. “Thanks.”
She smiled. “Thanks for saving me.”
There was nothing more to say. Sun stowed his sword and held her in a warm, sweaty, weary embrace. He was done. It took all his willpower just to stand.
In the distance, sirens wailed.
“Now they arrive,” Sun said.
Liu laughed. “What’s the date?”
Sun checked his utility band. “It’s the seventh day of the seventh month.”
“Ah?” Stepping away, she tilted her head and pointed. “Look!”
High in the skies above, a triangle of stars glittered in the infinite heavens.
“It’s the Magpie Bridge,” she said.
Legend held that long ago, the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven married a mortal cowherder. Furious at the union, the Goddess snatched her daughter back into the heavenly realm and scratched a river in the sky to separate them. But one night every year, all the magpies in the world took to the skies and formed a bridge, allowing the couple to meet again.
Tonight was that night.
It was now or never.
“Yes?” she asked.
He took her hands in his.
“We’ve known each other for a long time.”
“Yes,” she said.
“We make a great team, don’t we?”
She squeezed his hands tightly.
He licked his lips. “Before we were interrupted at the airport…”
“You had something to say to me back then.”
“After we graduated from high school, I asked you a question. Before we left Hongcun, I asked the same question. Both times I didn’t receive an answer. Just a promise we’ll meet again. And here we are.
Now I’m going to ask again: Do you still choose me?”
“Always,” she said.
She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and parted her lips.
Leaning in, he kissed her.
They stayed that way until the Defenders came.
Special thanks to Jasmine, my Valentine once and always, for language, emotional and moral support.
For more magic, mayhem and monsters, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.