Damn, but he hated having allies. As long as he was alone, he had nothing to lose.
Maybe the attackers were guys he knew, like J.L. Wang and Rajiv, and in that case, vampire J.L. would have teleported his were-tiger buddy out of danger. But knife throwing was not J.L.’s style. He would have used a rifle or handgun. And he would have wounded the soldiers instead of killing them.
If the attackers were mortal, they wouldn’t stand a chance against ten supersoldiers. An old vestige of Marine honor pricked at Russell’s undead heart. You don’t leave men behind.
“Dammit,” he muttered, hitching the leather sling of the crossbow onto his shoulder.
He levitated to the top of the tree. The soldiers were easy to spot, since four of them were still carrying torches. The four flames of light were weaving through the forest at a speed faster than any mortal could achieve.
He focused on the tree line ahead of the lights, then teleported there. Perched high in a tree, he searched the ground below for movement. Even though the sky was dark and overcast, his superior night vision spotted a runner, lean and lithe, maintaining a fast pace, but not quick enough to outdistance the soldiers.
Only one? He scanned a wide area in case the attackers had fanned out. No, only one was running. Had the others hidden themselves, leaving this one to draw away the heat? A quick glance back verified that the soldiers were gaining on him. Ten against one. It would be a slaughter.
He teleported again to get a closer look at the runner and nearly fell off the tree branch. It was a woman. Her tunic-length top was cinched tightly around her narrow waist. A thick braid of long black hair swayed back and forth as she ran.
Was she one of the warrior women of Beyul-La? They all possessed long black hair and were lean and athletic, like this woman. The warriors of Beyul-La were the guardians of the dragon shifters and had kept them hidden for centuries in a secret valley in the Himalayas. After a battle with Master Han, their valley had been destroyed. Fortunately, the remaining dragon children and eggs had been safely whisked away before the battle. No doubt the women were eager to rescue the captured boy, Xiao Fang. Russell had fought alongside the women before, so he knew how fierce they could be. This one definitely had balls, for it looked like she’d attacked Han single-handedly.
He glanced back. The ten supersoldiers were closing in. Time to slow them down. He shot an arrow at one holding a torch, and the soldier let out a yelp and fell over, his torch tumbling to the ground.
The flames quickly spread, drawing the attention of the other guards. One of them kicked the fallen soldier into the flames to smother them.
What a shithead. Russell notched another arrow into his crossbow as the fallen soldier thrashed and screamed. A second later, his arrow put the burning soldier out of his misery, and three seconds later, another arrow took out the shithead.
“It’s an ambush!” one of the supersoldiers yelled as he dove behind a tree.
The other soldiers scrambled for cover and quickly extinguished the torches. A dark, tense silence fell over the forest.
Russell readied another arrow, waiting for one of the eight remaining soldiers to venture out. A quick glance toward the woman, and he groaned inwardly. Instead of running, she’d crouched behind some bushes. His sudden appearance must have confused her. She was breathing heavily, twisting this way and that in a frantic attempt to discern his location.
Just run away, he pleaded with her silently. I have this covered.
From her belt, she pulled out a knife. Apparently she was afraid to trust him. He couldn’t blame her. If you trusted no one, you tended to live longer.
He turned his attention back to the eight soldiers. On the far left, one darted to the cover of another tree, too quickly for Russell to take him out. He aimed an arrow at him, waiting for him to make another move. Meanwhile, to the right, another soldier dashed to a tree. The group was obviously trying to surround the woman, and eventually they would if she didn’t make a run for it.
The guy to the far left made another move, and this time, Russell wounded him in the shoulder. He was still alive, but his sword arm would be useless.
Rustling sounds emanated from bushes and trees as the remaining seven soldiers attempted to encircle their prey. The woman slipped her knife back into its sheath, then leaped from her crouch into a full sprint. Russell paused a second, amazed by her speed and grace, but quickly came to when he realized the soldiers were dashing after her. He shot one with an arrow, then noticed another aiming a pistol in his direction. Just as the sound of gunfire echoed through the woods, he teleported away and landed in a tree ahead of the woman.
The six remaining soldiers were gaining on her fast. Enough of this nonsense. Just get her out of here.
He jumped down to the base of the tree. Hidden behind it, he could hear her approaching. Her steps were light, as if she barely needed the ground, but her breathing was louder and tinged with panic. He stepped out, directly into her path.
Her night vision was excellent, for she spotted him immediately and skidded to a stop so fast that she fell back onto her rump.
Russell lifted his empty hands to show her he meant no harm, but within a second, she was back on her feet with her knife drawn and pointed at him. Once again, he was amazed by her speed and gracefulness.
“Friend,” he whispered in Chinese. Her face was partially blocked by her raised knife, and he tilted his head to get a better look.
She pivoted to check on the soldiers behind her. When Russell stepped closer, she whipped around to face him.
He blinked. She was stunning. And not one of the warrior women of Beyul-La. If he’d ever met this woman before, he would have remembered her.