Dharma the Limbless Warrior
The cloaked figure stepped off the train and made its way toward the baggage car. There, waiting on the platform, was a particularly large duffel bag. It was five feet long, a foot wide and a foot tall. After turning over the claim ticket to the baggage handlers, the figure deftly hefted the bag over its shoulder. The handler who had unloaded the bag from the luggage car looked at her with surprise. It was, generally speaking, quite heavy and took all his effort to drag it onto the platform.
"I work out a lot," grumbled the dark recesses of the cloak. The voice was distinctly feminine.
"Oh," was all the dumbfounded baggage handler could manage. "Okay."
The cloaked woman proceeded to move toward the station's exit. She had somewhere to be and quickly. They didn't like it when she took jobs for hire, but they never said she couldn't. After all, she wasn't exactly living high off the artichoke (she wasn't allowed to eat the flesh of animals). All of her money was being used to travel to distant locales, and let's face it, Buddhist monks aren't well known for their financial largess. She had to pay for these trips somehow.
* * *
One of the tricks Dai Tze learned in the Assassin's Guild was to wear the shadows like a cloak. The absence of light was the new black. Dai loved working at night. It made things so much simpler. Not to mention the really interesting people came out at this time of the day. Her current mission was to, for reasons she did not know about nor cared to, kill the head of a munitions corporation. Dai was never one for politics. In any event, the less one knew the reasons behind a job, the less likely one was going to do something stupidly noble and graduate prematurely from the Assassin's Guild. One generally graduated from the Guild when the many pieces of their dismembered corpse were discovered by whatever local constabulary had the misfortune of cleaning up after Guild enforcers. Dai had dreams of becoming an enforcer someday.
In the movies, assassins moved stealthily through the night, masked against recognition, leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Since most city streets were much wider than even the most accomplished long jumper could cross, this seemed like a pretty silly means of getting around. The Guild taught its students that there were two basic ways to disappear; into the shadows and in plain sight. Which explained the black denim jacket and jeans, black baby doll t-shirt, and matching pumps Dai wore as she walked down the entertainment district like she owned the place. As far as anyone was concerned, she was another reckless night going party hopper.
Once she reached her destination, however, the other form of hiding took over. Dai melded with the looming shadows of night despite the many street lamps around the executive building of the munitions corporation. This was scarcely odd since the more lights there are, the stronger the shadows. Dai always carried specialized equipment with her. Finding a large window leading to an empty ground floor office, she made short work of cutting through the glass. Next, she located the stairs and hurriedly ascended to the floor where her quarry spent most of his evenings. It wasn't difficult to find his office. It was the largest one on the floor. Mostly because it was the only one on the floor. Dai silently edged her way into the office. She saw a figure sitting at the desk, halfway in shadow, halfway in light. This wasn't right. Alarms of danger rang out in Dai's head. Whoever was sitting at the desk, was not her intended mark.
"You always were good at moving silently," said a voice that made Dai's blood run cold. She hadn't heard that voice in years, and thought she never would again in her lifetime. "Honestly, if I had known one of the Guild was involved in this, I wouldn't have taken this job."
A hand moved and the office's full overhead lighting erased all signs of shadow. Dai was fully exposed to the light, a feeling that left her uncomfortable, but no less dangerous. In the chair behind a massive glass and steel desk sat someone in a heavy cloak. The cloaked figure stood. "It's good to see you, Dai."
The cloaked figure reached up with both hands and pulled back the hood. Silverish black hair fell loose from the confines of the hood, and a face was revealed to the light. It was a familiar face, and yet there were differences. A long, puckered scar ran down the left side of the face and across the left eye. The eye was damaged and covered in white scar tissue. It could no longer function. Dai's eyes widened in shock. Her mouth opened to speak, but not a sound emanated from her throat. Eventually, she closed her mouth, swallowed, and rallied once more at another attempt to speak.
"It's not possible," she managed. "The Master told us you failed your test of ascension to leadership. You're supposed to be dead."
Emotions struggled against one another for dominance on the stranger's face. She managed to regain her composure. "I did fail," she said flatly. "The Master was too strong, too quick."
"That's not true!" cried Dai. "The Master himself said that you could easily have beaten him. That was why you were chosen for the test."
Anger crossed the cloaked stranger's features. "No one told me that to become a master, I had to kill the current master! How could I do that? I owed him my life! He raised me! He was like a father to me!"
"You know as well as I that emotional attachment is the death of an assassin," cried Dai angrily. "Your failure to kill the Master was his shame." Dai paused for a moment in thought. "But, if you are alive, then the test must continue. You can complete it." A surge of hope filled her heart.
The woman in the cloak closed her eyes and heaved a heavy sigh. "No. I can not."
Dai's anger flared. She drew her weapons, a pair of sai. "Coward! Why can't you?"
The woman opened her eyes, and Dai was taken aback when the damaged left eye began to glow with an intense yellow light. "I can never again take the life of another."
"What has happened to you?" asked Dai. "Jian, I don't understand."
"Do not call me that," said the woman with a pained expression. "Jian is dead. I go by a new name. I am Dharma."
Dharma opened the front of her cloak and removed it from her shoulders. The heavy fabric slipped easily down to the floor revealing a bright red Cheongsam dress. Dai's gasp off horror made Dharma smirk. She stepped out from behind the massive desk showing the full extent of her loss. Below both shoulders, Dharma's arms ended in stumps halfway down the humerus and just below the deltoid muscles. Both were wrapped in cloth bandage wrap. Blow the empty space that had been occupied by the remainder of her arms in her former life, were a pair of gloves. Mysterious blue energy spilled forth from the gloves' openings like incandescent fog. The gloves seemed to move of their own accord, like phantom hands. Below Dharma's hips, Dai could make out that her legs were in a similar condition. Her thighs ended at midpoint with bandage wrapping coverings the stumps. Yet, it seemed as if Dharma was standing standing on legs that were there all along, only invisible. At the floor was a pair of low cuffed boots that matched the gloves in both design and mysterious power.
"I don't understand," said Dai in a low whisper. "How is this possible?"
"After the Master defeated me, he cut off both my arms and legs," said Dharma. "The eye I lost during the course of the battle. I almost died, then. In some ways, I think I did. Before my spirit left this plane of existence, I was rescued by a group of monks. The did what they could to salvage my worthless body. They nursed me back to full strength, but for what? No arms? No legs? I was merely a tree stump made of living flesh. Of use to no one. That was when they gave me these."
The gloves rose into the air in front of Dharma. That was when Dai noticed that they responded to the position of Dharma's shoulders. They were moving in the same way as real hands would were Dharma's arms intact. They were, in fact, Dharma's hands.
"I...don't know what to say," said Dai.
"Neither do I, since it seems I must stop you from carrying out your mission," said Dharma.
Dai's sharp intake of breath had signaled to Dharma that she had forgotten all about her mission. "You've come here to kill him before me!"
Dharma shook her head. "You haven't been listening. I am no longer an assassin. I am a protector. I'm here to keep him alive."
"So, you would kill me, then?" said Dai narrowing her eyes.
"I can't do that either," said Dharma. "Nor would I want to."
"What?" asked Dai a trifle puzzled. "Why are you smiling like that?"
"You were my sister in arms at the Assassin Guild," said Dharma. "I love you as much as I did the Master." Dai opened her mouth to respond, but Dharma held up a forestalling hand. "I know. Attachment is death to an assassin, but I'm not an assassin anymore. Perhaps, I was never meant to be."
Dharma stooped down to pick up her cloak, slipped into the heavy garment and pulled the hood over her head once more. "Good-bye, Dai. Take good care of yourself."
Dai Tze stood speechless as her childhood comrade silently walked out of the office. She didn't know what to make of the events that had just occurred. What was worse, she didn't know what she was going to tell the Master.
T H E E N D
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