Ch 35 – Captured

Vincent awoke with a start, his mind suddenly coming into focus.

He was lying on something solid, but his sight was filled with black. He managed to sit up, and tried to take his bearings, but it was like being blind – he couldn't see a thing.

He tried to reach out with his chi, but found that there was a fog over his mind. He narrowed his eyes. "Mark?" he called out wearily. "Are you there?"

There was no immediate answer, but Vincent could feel that he was close by. "Mark…" He began. "Look, I'm sorry I yelled at you…but I had no choice! I had to go…Tao would have hunted us down otherwise…hunted us like animals…"

"Do you really believe that?" Mark asked coldly, as he materialised behind Vince.

Vincent wheeled round and stared at Mark. "Yes! Yes I do! And I was glad to go, to make sure he wouldn't hurt any more of my friends!"

Mark narrowed his eyes. "That's a load of crock and you know it."

"No!" Vincent yelled. "He would! You know he would!"

"So what?" Mark said dismissively.

"So what!?" Vincent echoed incredulously. "Would you like to live a life having to watch your back every waking moment?! To have to sit in a restaurant with your back in a corner, so you'd see people coming towards you?! To have to wonder wether or not your friends will be ok?!"

Mark shook his head and turned his back to Vincent, grabbing his ponytail and playing with it. "There would have been other ways…" He muttered. "You could have manipulated the seeds of the apple without turning the whole thing into apple sauce."

"Oh, come on…" Vincent said, his tone now dismissive. "And do what? Sneak in under the cover of darkness and kill Tao off?"

Mark shot Vincent a glance over his shoulder, before resuming his toying of his ponytail. Vincent's face was slapped with the shock of what the glance meant, and shook his finger at his alternate personality. "No way." He said. "We're not killers."

Mark turned to Vincent and looked at him sadly, before raising a hand. "I wanna show you something." He muttered, before dropping his hand.

The darkness seemed to blot away until the setting changed to the dojo. They were upstairs in the living quarters, and Vincent watched himself open the door and walk out of the living area. He turned his head to look at Mark, who was kneeling in front of a weeping Mei.

Mark didn't turn around, but his voice was like razor blades, slashing across Vincent's ears. "You made her cry. Even after she confessed what you could not, you still went ahead with it." Vincent took an uneasy step back, before turning away. A hand grasped his shoulder roughly, turning him around. "Don't you turn away from this!" Mark screamed, pulling him over to Mei's weeping form, shoving Vincent's face right in front of her. "What do you see?" He yelled at Vincent. "What do you see?!"

Vincent's voice was miniscule in comparison, the energy seeming to be sucked out of him. "A broken heart…"

Mark flung Vincent away, causing him to skid across the floor and collide with a coffee table. "That's right!" He screamed. "A broken, shattered, grinded to a paste, irreparable heart!" Veins stood out on Mark's red face, his anger so great, he could move mountains. "And all she wanted to do was care about you." He muttered, his finger pointing at Vincent like a guilty man being condoned.

Vincent said nothing. Mark's look bore into his body like a magnifying glass focusing the sunlight on a worm.

Mark snorted. "You think you're so great…but you're the most hopeless person in the history of the human race. You have reached a plateau that exceeds normal human aspects…but you can't even sort out your own emotions."

"That's easy for you to say…" Vince whispered in his defence. "…You didn't even need to sort out your emotions." He looked up at Mark. Tears welled in his leaf-green eyes. "You live in my head, in a fantasy world of your own creation. You have no idea what it feels like to be rejected, or accepted. You have no idea how to make friends, or how to admit that you love someone. You only know how to manipulate the world in which I lived in order to make yourself feel accepted, using situations I've been in, and using places I've visited."

Mark looked down at Vincent on the floor, his eyes full of contempt and disgust, before raising his hand high above his head. "Time to wake up, hero." He muttered, letting his hand drop.

*          *            *

A hand slapped Vince across the face, the sting of the attack bringing him back to consciousness. The smell of sweat, leather and blood filled his nostrils. An iron and salt mixture filled his mouth, staining his teeth. Blood.

His hands were bound behind his back, in chains. He was kneeling down, his head being held up by his hair. His assailant, a man with muscles that tiered from his shoulders, dressed only in pants, looked down at him with anger and disgust, his fist raised once more.

The ball of flesh, knuckles and bone smashed into Vince's face once more, his hair released from the man's grip, making Vince's head bounce as it hit wooden floor. He lay there for a few seconds, before looking up once more, stars dancing in his vision from the blow.

The man moved away, taking cautious steps back, before the shadows enveloped him.

Vince made to stand, staggering as the chains reduced his movement. Someone had removed all his weapons, as well as his shoes, jacket and t-shirt. His jeans were stained with his blood, but that didn't matter much. He needed to take in his surroundings, gather his wits, take a bearing.

He looked around a little. Darkness surrounded him, a solitary light shining from a Chinese lantern, the paper casting a red glow around him. The wall behind him was solid, the concrete rock-hard. The chains looked as if they had been used for this kind of thing before – chinks and kinks in the loops, stains on the metal, rust slowly forming around coagulated blood. Small cracks adorned the fixture in the wall, which had been cemented in.

Vincent coughed, and tried to concentrate. Why wasn't he healing like usual?

What's happening, Mark? He pulsed to his alternate. Why can't I heal?

My guess is that they have you in an anti chi field. Mark replied sullenly, still pissed off about the harsh reality that Vince bestowed upon him. Most probably created by the lantern above you.

Vince frown, before looking up at the red lantern once more. Now that he mentioned it, Mark had a point. The lantern, a simple paper Chinese lantern with a candle in the middle, was adorned with Chinese and Japanese symbols. The symbols were projected onto the walls very lightly, as shadows, and Vince realised that he was standing in the biggest one.

What should I do?

Put it out! Duh…

But how?!

How am I supposed to know?!

Vincent frowned and looked back at the chain at the wall. He walked forward a bit, testing out its range. He could only go a few steps. He walked as far as he could, then took a small step back, allowing some slack, before wrenching his body out. His enormous strength had been cut down to its original girth, but that had been considerable in itself. The stones around the chains cracked slightly. He pulled again, this time an audible snap emerging from the bedrock. One more pull, and the chains flew out of the stone, smacking him in the back.

He jumped up, pulling his legs up in mid air and flipping his arms out to be in front of him. He whipped his hands out in front of him, the loose chain swinging out and smashing the paper lantern to shreds, plunging him into darkness.

He felt his strength well back, filling his body, healing his wounds. His hands separated the now flimsy chains with ease, and he stood a little easier, albeit, now in darkness.

Suddenly the darkness was rudely taken away, the brightness of a thousand lights coming on at the same time, blinding Vincent momentarily. When his vision cleared however, it didn't help his thoughts on his current situation.

The room was like a palace. Rugs covered the floors; great tapestries hung from wall to wall, and at the end of the room, flanked by five of his greatest fighters, sat Master Tao, in a large, plush chair. Ten guards, each wielding a sword or a staff, were covering those. Not only that, but they seemed anxious, as if they were eager to slash or beat him to pieces. Their muscles jumped within their gi's, as if they were being held back somehow. Their eyes were yellow, a clear sign of steroid abuse. Vincent had seen it many times, in private fights, as well as tournaments.

"Very astute, Vincent." Master Tao called out, his withered voice creaking out of a dry voice box as he praised Vincent's strength, as well as his quick mind in destroying the lantern. He raised a pipe to his mouth and took a draw. The smell of opium assailed Vincent's hypersensitive nostrils.

Vincent didn't say anything at first. He simply stared at Tao, before speaking in lowered tones. "Who was the one who hit me?" he snarled.

Tao smiled, and raised a hand to one of the men. The man was holding a staff, and stepped forward. "Me." He smiled, the effort to talk seeming to take all of his drug-addled brain cells.

The smile was wiped out by a load of chain, which was flung at tremendous speed by Vincent, who felt a mite better about himself when the burly freak hit the floor. This troubled him a little…but that didn't worry him right now.

Master Tao stood, walking forward slowly, his old frame needing a walking stick as he descended the steps slowly. One of the five helped him, and Vincent recognised the woman – Destiny. Three others he didn't recognise, but he saw Jude, standing just to the back, boring holes into Vincent with dead eyes.

Vincent, smugly, ignored him. It took all his energy, but he ignored him.

Master Tao managed to move to a safe distance towards Vincent, stopping and leaning on is cane with both hands. "Remarkable…" He wheezed. "Absolutely astounding…even without the chi power, you are still way above the normal man in the manner of strength." Vincent didn't answer, so Master Tao continued. "I cannot say that I am sorry for what I have put you through, Vincent. You're immaculate record of being undefeated has shaved more then a few years off my life, worrying about what to do about you."

"Whatever." Vincent spat. "Why did you ask for my help?"

"Simple." Tao said, smiling sweetly. "To help me in defeating the tanuki."

"Why? It's clear that you have more then capable fighters that you can use." He looked up at Jude, who continued to stare.

Tao nodded. "Yes…" He looked at Destiny, running a finger through her dark, shiny hair. "These fighters are the best of my whole school…" He looked up at Vincent. "But I need the best in the world, if I wish to capture and destroy this creature." He dropped his hand and walked towards Vincent, standing just a few feet away from him. "Even with his chi powers, Jude couldn't defeat you. You are blessed by the gods with an unnatural ability to survive, to rise further then no other."

"That's funny…" Vincent said. "He had no trouble knocking me out before."

Master Tao smirked. "You had just defeated a hundred of my most able students, as well as my female agility team and my swordsman team. You must have been tired." Master Tao turned to look up at Jude. "And besides…there was Chinese magic involved, which were there to hamper your chi abilities."

"Like the lantern?"

"Exactly." Master Tao walked slowly back to his chair wit the aid of Destiny, where he sat gratefully down. "And now, Vincent, we will wait."

"Wait?" Vincent asked? "Wait for what?"

"Wait for the tanuki to come to us." Master Tao watched as Vincent rolled his eyes and cross his arms.

"What makes you think I'm here to help you?" He asked. "Maybe I came here to kill you. What do you think of that?"

Master Tao smiled. "One hundred and ten people attack you almost all at once – and yet you kill not even one. Maim, yes. But kill?" A small chuckle escaped his ancient lips. "No, Vincent. Believe it or not, I know you too well." Master Tao's smile widened, his eyes growing stern. "Maybe a little too well. Maybe I know more about you, then you know about yourself."

Vincent narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"

Master Tao's eyes remained stern. "Oh…nothing…" He raised a stick-like hand, and snapped his fingers. A young boy and a young girl, dressed in Chinese servant clothing, suddenly appeared from behind his chair, and bent close as he whispered into their ears. Then, as suddenly as they were there, they were gone. "I must meditate now." Tao whispered, pulling himself from his chair, and moving to the side of the room slowly. "Destiny will take care of you, Vincent. She's…very capable."

All the people in the room turned and followed Master Tao at a snails pace, filing single file out a solitary door. The only people remaining were Destiny and Vincent. Destiny walked slowly forward, stopping just in front of Vincent, arms behind her back. She bent forward a little, and looked into his eyes. "Which one are you?" she whispered, mostly to herself. "You're eyes a shiny…"

"I'm Vincent." Vincent stated firmly, looking down at her evenly. "That's all."

She looked at him with a kind of mistrust, before nodding and straightening up. "Ok." She said. "You are the hero." She turned, walking towards the door, before pausing and throwing a look over her shoulder.

"Come with me, Vincent…" She whispered playfully, beckoning with a finger in the classic 'come hither' way.

Vincent shrugged in a 'whatever' kind of way and followed her out, trying not to let his sight stray down to her seductive walk.

*          *            *

"So…" Vincent asked as he caught up to her, looking around at the Tope-coloured corridors – why are all corridors painted in Tope? He asked himself. "Where are you taking me? Ambush? Torture? Five star dungeon?"

She didn't stop, instead throwing a look over her shoulder at him. "As amusing as your dry wit is, no. I'm going to get you some clean clothes." She looked him up and down, before running her fingertips down his chest. "Although if I had my way, you wouldn't be wearing anything at all."

Vincent smiled. "You're very forward about what you want, aren't you?"

She winked at him. "Always, hero…" She turned and continued to walk down the corridor, turning to a door. "In here." She opened it and walked inside. Vincent looked left and right down the corridors, before following her.

Inside the doorway was what seemed like a small apartment; a bed in one corner, a small bar/counter in the other, dresser and closet in another, and a doorway, most probably to a bathroom, in the last corner. Vincent looked around with a critical eye. "Very Spartan." He said, looking at the bare walls, the drab coverings on the bed, the lack of human emotion anywhere in the room, before finally looking down at Destiny, who stood in the middle with a hand on a hip. "Did you decorate it yourself?"

"I would appreciate it if you wouldn't diss my living quarters, Vincent." Destiny said, her voice filled with mock-hurt. "We all live a very regimented life when we come to train with Master Tao."

"Well, I wouldn't expect anything less from the old sadist." Vincent placed his hands in his pockets and looked at her, waiting for her to continue. They stared at each other for a few seconds, before he shrugged. "So…what now?"

Destiny seemed to suddenly remember something, and walked over to the bar/counter, reaching behind it to pull out something. His black gi. "I figured you would have wanted this back." She said, giving it to him. "Sorry, but we can't trust you with your weapons just yet."

"Obviously…" He muttered sarcastically as he took the clothing with a nod of thanks. "What about my other stuff?" He asked, craning his head to look behind the bar/counter. Destiny smiled sweetly and walked in front of his view.

"After we've eaten." She pointed to the bathroom. "There's a shower and things in there…it would be wise to clean up. Believe it or not, Master Tao is a stickler for things being clean."

Vincent looked down at his chest. Bronzed almost golden by the hours and hours of outside training, it was caked with sweat and blood, some of which was his. He looked back at the girl. "Good idea." He walked into the bathroom, closing the door and putting his back to it.

Need to gather my thoughts… he thought, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. His heart was beating wildly, his senses going into overdrive. You're really in the belly of the beast now, Vince.

Tell me about it, you silly bitch. Mark said. Talk about you're all time backfires, huh?

Well, it seems to be going well so far…apart from the capture and beating thing…

I don't care about that crap anymore! Mark exclaimed suddenly. Do you reckon she's single?

Who? Destiny?! Oh, come on, we're here for a reason!!

Well, every reason has its fringe benefits, dude! And since you don't seem to care about Mei anymore, I thought it would be best to have a good old screw, get your rocks off, relieve some tension!

What? Oh, the Mei thing…

…That was low, dude…

A small tap suddenly reported from the door. "Vincent? Are you alright?" Destiny asked, her voice tinny from the wooden door.

"Yeah…just thinking about something…" He called back, taking his jeans off and tossing them into a corner of the tiny bathroom. It had a mirror and a shower cubicle, which also doubled as a bath. Vincent looked himself over in the mirror. Blood caked around his mouth, and he scratched a bit off. It was still in it's liquid phase, and it stained his fingers. He reminded himself not to touch anything in the tiny room, lest he get blood everywhere.

"About what?"

He looked himself in the eyes. They seemed to shine, like someone had spilled oil in them. They reflected the green brightly. "About…stuff…"

"Come on. You can tell me."

Vincent smirked and wiped his hand down his face. "No thanks." He removed his underwear and stepped into the shower cubicle, turning the water on and allowing it to stream over his body. He didn't hear the door to the bathroom open, nor did he see Destiny step into the room.

He felt her, however, when she stepped into the shower with him. He jumped slightly when she grabbed a bar of soap and began rubbing it onto his back. "Hey!" He exclaimed. "What the…"

She reached a hand around and clamped it over his mouth, shushing him. "Shhh…" She whispered into his ear, over the noise of the thundering water. "This is the only place where I can be certain we can talk."

Vincent's shock suddenly subsided into grim realisation. They were keeping tabs on him. "Why?"

"Because…" Destiny said, before placing her head on his shoulder. "Because I like you. I've always liked you. Even when we fought, I adored you. Admired your strength. The way you let nothing get in your way. How nothing could faze you."

Interesting… Mark muttered. This could be useful, Vince. Don't blow this.

I'm not going to manipulate her. Vincent pulsed back violently.

I didn't say anything about manipulation! I just said keep you're feet on the ground, that's all. Use your head, not your heart.

"I admired you from afar…" Destiny continued. "…And I want to help in any way possible." She sighed audibly, pressing her naked body against his. "I'm tired of this life, Vincent. I'm tired of training every single day, I'm tried of wearing the same drab clothing, and I'm tired of living in such a lifeless box of a room." She began to weep quietly, the tears mingling with the water cascading down.

"So why don't you just leave?" Vincent asked quietly. "There would be at least a hundred people who could have use of your talents."

"That's the thing!" She exclaimed through the sobs. "You can't leave! Master Tao isn't the kind of guy who simply trains you in his art then gives you the opportunity to escape!"

Vincent turned slowly and wrapped her up in his arms, her naked form cuddling into his as she whimpered pathetically. We need to get her out of here. Vincent pulsed to Mark.

Check. I agree completely.

And add this to the list of 'kick the crap out of Tao' reasons. Vincent pulsed as he looked down at her, his heart audibly tearing as he watched her weep.

Way ahead of you. Mark pulsed back, as she kissed Vincent suddenly and ferociously through the tears. Just keep you're head on your objective, man.

But Mark's words were lost to Vincent as he and Destiny lowered to the shower's floor.

*          *            *

In an small room, just down the hall of Destiny's room, sat Master Tao and Jude Resect. Jude sat cross-legged, his hands balled into sweaty fists on his knees, his eyes closed. He concentrated ferociously, his brow sweating with the emotional energies flowing from Destiny's room.

"They are fucking." He stated, choking on the words as if they were burnt meat.

Master Tao looked at Jude.

"I mean, they're life forces are mingling as one."

Master Tao nodded. "I have known of Destiny's aspires to have Vincent…known for a long time…" He looked at Jude once more. "And I have known about you're aspires for her, Jude. How does it feel to know that she has chosen Vincent over you?"

Jude opened his eyes. Sweat dripped down his brow as the hatred clouded his vision. "It makes me…makes me…" He faltered, as if he didn't know what to say.

"Yes?" Master Tao coaxed.

Jude stood suddenly. "It makes me ablaze!!" He screamed, his chi fluxing as it fed off his white-hot anger. The concrete floor seemed to burst around him, a small crater appearing as he screamed his outrage.

Master Tao smiled.

*          *            *

Back in the shower, Vincent paused, feeling something white-hot enter his mind, before suddenly disappearing, as if masked or shrouded.

"What's wrong?" Destiny asked.

Vincent shook his head. "Nothing…"

*          *            *

The policeman finally pulled into the driveway of the Dojo, Mei sitting in the back.

She suddenly felt something brush past her mind – a furious anger, as if someone had been betrayed – but she brushed it aside, dismissing it as some emotion that had been wheeling around in her brain.

She didn't know why she had said what she had said back at the dojo. Her heart was contradicting her head, making her suddenly blurt out her feelings for him in order to hold him back. But she had failed. It had been shouting at an out-of-control train – it wants to stop, but just keeps on going on a single set of tracks.

It had taken them a good two hours to get to the dojo – it was so secluded – but they had finally made it, and Mei stepped out of the car wearily, walking over to the smashed remnants of the giant door. One of the policemen, who said his name was Cid, pointed at a car parked just outside the pathway into the giant fortress. "Hey…" He said to his colleague. "Isn't that Detective Farrow's car?"

"Yeah…it is…" A noise blurted over the radio, and he picked up the receiver. "Say again, over." The noise was repeated, and Cid swore.

"Miss Ling…" He called out to her, and she walked back to the car. "We've got to get back to the station. Will you be alright here?"

She nodded, and he smiled at her, before pushing the car into gear and speeding away, siren blaring.

Mei sighed and turned – to see Farrow standing in the giant doorway, gun in hand. He squinted at her in the setting sun, before a slow look of realisation came over him. "Miss Ling?!"

"Detective Farrow!" She said, waving to him, forcing a smile. "Hi." She walked forward to him, going through the doorway – then stopped dead when she saw all the bodies. "What the hell happened here?!" she exclaimed.

"I have no friggin idea." He muttered, holstering the weapon and turning to walk back through all the unconscious Taos. A few had risen from their brutal slumber, and were sitting up, dazed but lucky to be alive. Most were out cold. "When I got here, they were all tapped out. I've been walking around trying to revive most of them."

"Shouldn't you…you know…call for backup, or something like that?"

"I have! A tactical unit will be making its way here soon, as well as a medical unit…but this place is so recluse…" The silver-haired detective shook his head. "It might take them until nightfall to get here." He looked at her, a confused look on his face. "What are you doing here?"

She looked down at a Tao, fighting back the urge to kick him. "Looking for Vincent." She replied hesitantly. "I thought he might have made his way here…"

"Well, it looks like he beat us to it." Farrow muttered.


Farrow waved a hand at the destruction. "Look at this. This is defiantly the strength I saw at the hospital…although he is a hell of a lot more stronger then I thought."

Mei frowned, not wanting to believe it. "You think that this is…you think that Vincent did this?" She asked in wide-eyed shock.

Farrow looked at her with a critical eye. "You've been living with him for the past few days. Haven't you recognised the dramatic changes in his appearance? His strength, speed, his uncanny knack for healing?" Farrow smirked, looking over the devastation once more. "He's a modern day Jesus Christ. Kicks your ass then heals you over, to prove a point."

Mei didn't say anything.

"I was just about to go and check the main building up ahead." Farrow said. "I was about to ask you to wait here, but you probably wont listen to me anyways…" He drew his gun. "I can't promise you anything…but I'll do my best to protect you."

Mei waved him off dismissively and walked towards the building.

*          *            *

Vincent emerged from Destiny's quarters first, dressed in his black gi. His bare feet padded quietly along the corridor floor as he walked in the direction that Destiny instructed him to go.

He had just gone through the door at the end of the corridor and up the stairs to the next floor when Destiny emerged, rearranging her clothes guiltily. She didn't know why she had down what she had just done – it had been against all her teachings and discipline – but she did know that a weight had been lifted off her heart now. She felt like she could take on anybody, even a tanuki.

She followed Vincent's footsteps, walking quietly down the corridor, when another door at the end of the corridor opened. From it walked Master Tao, who looked at her with his dead eyes for a second, then Jude, who looked at her with something unidentifiable in his eyes. Master Tao then turned, painfully making his way up the stairs, his wooden cane's clack echoing down the corridor. Destiny tried to follow, but was barred by Jude's long arm across the doorframe.

"What happened in there?" He asked her coldly, his voice, as usual, a cold slab of ice that smashed you across the face whenever he felt disgusted enough to ask you something.

"He wanted to have a shower. He took his clothes. That's all." She replied, just as coldly.

His eyes narrowed. "You know our rules about celibacy."

She smirked. "Yes, well, that's one of the rules that everybody breaks around here." She retorted sarcastically. "Especially Master Tao, with his 'initiation routine'. You know. You've done it too, you know…"

Jude batted the remark to the side with a glance that would shatter ice. "Master Tao is a great man."

Destiny smirked again. "Yeah. Right. A great old man, who's so scared of death that he's chasing a mythical creature in order to gather it's immortality for himself."

"That old man…" Jude said slowly. "Taught me this." He crushed the concrete and wood in the frame with a single squeeze, as if the solids were not solids at all. "He taught you this. He taught us many things." He leaned closer, so close that Destiny could smell his breath. "And I'd watch what you say about him, girl. The walls have ears now." With that he walked away, patting the dust from his left hand as if it was nothing.

Destiny just stood there, watching him go. It suddenly dawned on her on how much in her life at the dojo that Jude had been there for her. He had been there for the humiliations. He had been there for the beatings. And he had been there when things had gotten too much for the girl, silently allowing her to cling to him when she sobbed, then walking wordlessly from her quarters when she was finished.

She shook her head and followed him.

*          *            *

Vincent stepped through a door into what looked like a large communal dine room, much like an army mess hall. A large table held an insurmountable amount of food, ranging from rice, to pork, to pasta, and several other dishes. Two hundred Tao's all sat in long tables, eating quietly. There were no discussions, questions about your day, or talks about the better technique or fighter, only the undulating sound of chewing.

But even that stopped suddenly as soon as Vincent stepped into the mess hall, every single pair of eyes swivelling up from their food to look at him. Dressed in foreign gear. Standing in a foreign way.

Just plain foreign.

Vincent stared back with his own naked contempt, his eyes narrowing as he predicted another humongous battle.

He was just about to take his stance when all the eaters stood rigidly. He looked around confused, then suddenly twirling to see Master Tao standing behind him, hands behind his back, smiling politely.

I couldn't sense his approach… Vincent muttered to Mark.

Neither could I. Mark muttered back.

"Well, Vincent…" Master Tao said. "Let's eat."

Vincent watched as Master Tao walked painfully up the pathway made by the tables, and reluctantly followed. He watched as the Tao students sat down slowly, picking up their spoons or forks and resuming their meals. "How many students exactly do you have?" He asked the old man.

"In this dojo, just over three hundred." Master Tao replied politely.

"'In this dojo'?"

"There are several others, all around the world – China, obviously, as well as Japan, America, India, two in France and one more in England."

Vincent shook his head in amazement. "That's explains the cultural diversity in your students…" He said in awe, before smiling. "How have you managed to open up a plethora of dojo's all over the world? I can't see marital arts being very welcome in some of the countries you have listed. I mean, America and China maybe, but India? England? Two in France?!"

"You'd be amazed at how many people wish to live in the society that I have created for them."

"Don't you mean forced? Recruiting orphans and street people with the lure of food, a warm bed and the love of an accepting community, only to brainwash them to become your students, then train them to become your willing fighters?"

"If anybody doesn't like it, they a free to leave whenever they wish." Master Tao replied harshly, coming to his table. A number of seats were displayed along from the main seat, and the table looked down at all the other students as they ate. Master Tao shuffled along until he got to his large seat, red and silken, and sank into the plush ness.

Vincent absently realised that the Tao students sat on hard pews. He bit his bottom lip in impatient ness and looked down at the old man. "I'm not here to eat and argue with you. What do you want me to do for you?"

Master Tao looked up at the green-eyed boy, and spoke in hushed tones. "It would be wise to accept my hospitality whilst I am still allowing it to flow." His grey eyes narrowed, like little slits of granite in a white fog.

Vincent, unperturbed by the remark, sat down anyways. He looked down at the empty plate, a little on the large side, made of porcelain, which was suddenly whisked away by a servant girl, little black bangs bobbing up and down as she ran with the plate to the serving table.

Following her movement, Vincent watched her collide with a tall figure with red hair cut to military regulations, a dark dragon tattoo lacing it's way down the side of his face.

The man picked the girl up by the back of her shirt, standing her up, before pushing her away violently. She skittered to the side like a marble, before scurrying back for the plate, as if nothing had happened.

Jude then resumed his slow walk towards the top table, his eyes not leaving Vincent's for a second, ice blue burning into leaf green. Vincent suddenly realised that Jude's eyes shined too, like someone had poisoned them with oil.

Destiny suddenly ran past Jude, to take the seat next to Vincent, plopping silently next to him. A small boy ran up, grabbed her plate, and ran towards the serving table, this servant boy wise enough to give Jude a wide berth.

Jude went the opposite way around the table, taking a seat next to Master Tao, like a faithful dog. A small girl ran up to grab his plate, yelped when she saw who it was, then quickly disappeared. Jude smiled wickedly.

The girl returned with the Vincent's plate. She struggled a little with the food, teetering slightly at one point of the trip, before finally dumping the heavy load onto the table with a small grunt.

"Thankyou." Vincent said to her, picking up his fork.

She looked at him with a mixture of complete horror and utter resentment, before backing away and disappearing from view.

Vincent was disturbed and confused by the reaction from simple politeness, until Master Tao leaned over to him and whisper in his ear. "At the dinner table, we Tao's usually never speak." He leaned back, accepting his plate with grace fit for a king. "The table is for eating, not for discussion."

Well, someone had a sheltered upbringing. Mark snorted.

They're ways are very different then our… Vincent replied, looking down at his food. They live a very regimented lifestyle – probably very organised, very tight. Like a wolf pack, or a lions pride.


Vincent decided to play along, eating quietly, chewing his food thoughtfully and looking over at the other people who were sitting at the same table, the same people who had flanked Master Tao when Vincent had awoken. Besides Destiny was the small man, wiry in the arms. He ate quickly, as if he had somewhere important to go, his hands whizzing with cutlery. His clothes clung to him tightly, as if he was wearing spandex.

The man next to Jude was large, hulking, muscular. He picked at his food with a beefy fist holding a miniscule fork by comparison, and Vincent felt a slight twinge of sorrow for the man. Everything seemed too small for him. The fork. His gi, which was stretching almost to breaking point. The chair in which he sat, which was dangerously bent inwards, threatening collapse at any moment.

The man who sat beside the larger man ate just as quietly as everybody else, but this guy had an air of etiquette about him. He held his knife and fork immaculately, spearing articles of food effortlessly, chewing his food for a long time before swallowing it, and had a napkin tucked into his shirt, which looked like imported silk. He had long blond hair pulled back into a ponytail, and sported a 'generation x' goatee.

Vincent smiled as he placed another mouthful of spaghetti into his mouth. Looks like Tao has brought out the big guns. He mused to Mark.

Too true. Most of these guys don't even look Australian. The blond guy has to be French, or something. Look at the way he eats!!

Vincent smothered a smile and continued to eat.

*          *            *

"Miss Ling…" Farrow protested as they neared the building. "Maybe I should take point…go in first, I mean."

Mei stopped suddenly and turned to look up at the old man. "Detective Farrow, how long exactly have you known Vincent Price for?"

Farrow stopped in his tracks, looking down at his shoes. "Not very long…"

"I've known him for a good part of my teenage years. We went to school together, we've fought together, and we've been best friends for as long as I can remember." She pointed at the bulky gun in Farrow's hands. "If you bust in there, waving that hand-cannon about, what do you think he's going to do?"

Farrow looked down at the gun in his hands. A .45 Smith and Wesson, it was the same gun that Dirty Harry was known to use. Farrow had a soft spot for Clint Eastwood. "You have a point there."

"Besides…" She said finally, turning and walking up to the sling door. "I can take care of myself."

She slid the door open and stepped through – to stared at the faces of twenty Tao's.

Each armed to the teeth with wazakashi's, Katanas and crescent blades.

"Ah, crap." She muttered as Farrow poked his head around the corner.