Home > The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #2)

The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #2)
Author: Kerrigan Byrne

PROLOGUE

Newgate Prison, London 1855

This was nothing short of torture.

Christopher Argent’s muscles shook with uncontrollable strain. Sweat mingled with the freezing rain and made infuriating trails of moisture, mirroring the sensation of small vermin crawling down his twitching flesh. He’d have given his soul to scratch them away. Teeth clenched until his jaw ached, Christopher dared not show anything but relaxed features, for fear of the consequences.

Sliding his gaze to the man next to him, he mimicked his Sifu’s actions accurately, in a desperate attempt to keep up. Or, rather, to match the impossibly slow pace of the flowing movements Master Wu Ping guided him through with unnatural precision.

“You understand why we drilling the siu lim tao in the rain, boy?” Master Ping inquired in his thickly accented English, never once breaking form or pace. They were the first words he’d spoken to Christopher since they’d begun their lessons for the day.

It was more difficult for Christopher to speak and move correctly at the same time, such utter focus did the forms require, but he made a valiant effort.

“I am being punished,” he ventured. “For beating John and Harry…”

“And?”

Christopher heaved a breath, hoping to unburden himself from the yoke of shame, but it interrupted his actions so that he had to recover and concentrate to get back in rhythm with his sifu.

“And Hugh,” he mumbled.

Master Ping was silent for the breaths it took to move his bladed hand from an extension in front of his chest back into the protection of his body. “I am your Sifu, boy. What does that word mean in your language?”

Christopher knew this. “It means teacher.”

Wu Ping gave a short jerk of his chin in acknowledgment. “Then, it not my place to punish. It my responsibility to teach.”

Silence stretched on for what seemed like an eternity as they performed the physical drills of precision and line work Christopher had been learning for the better part of two years. Now, at eleven, he was almost as tall as the teacher who had taken him under his wing.

“Today, I teach you, boy, to be like the water.” Master Ping had always called him “boy.”

Staring ahead at the gray, wet stone of the courtyard of Newgate Prison, he listened intently. The old man had lectured on water before, but Christopher had to admit, he hadn’t listened. He would certainly listen now. Drenched as he was in the aforementioned substance, shivering, suffering, and exhaustion made a more distinctive impression.

“Water is adaptable and fluid,” Ping began. “It soft; conforming to the shape of whatever contains it, finding the lowest places and the path of least resistance. It sustains life. It easily redirected for the benefit of others. You understand?”

“Yes, Sifu.” He didn’t really, but knew he would once Master Ping made his point.

“But water also most deadly,” Master Ping continued. “It crashes with a force that not even stone can withstand. It floods. It drowns. It destroys everything in chosen path without thought. Without mercy. Without remorse.”

The old man ceased his movement, turning to face Christopher, who also dropped his trembling arms in relief. He stood looking at the small Chinaman, remembering that he once thought Master Ping looked like a sausage, round and bent and encased in tough skin. The small, gentle foreigner was simply the most dangerous, lethal man housed at Newgate Prison.

“What are the five responses to conflict?” Ping asked.

Christopher listed them from memory. “Avoidance, accommodation, collaboration, compromise, and aggression.”

Ping gave another of his short nods. “Notice that fists and force are needed only once in five times. Do you know why that is?”

Christopher looked down at the filthy stones of the yard, following a dark ribbon of grime with his eyes as it oozed toward the sewage drain. “Because I shouldn’t fight,” he mumbled.

“Wrong,” Ping snapped, but his hand was gentle as it lifted Christopher’s chin so they were eye to eye. “Because the kung fu I practice not for fighting. It for killing. And you shouldn’t use it, except to take a life, defend yourself, or protect another.”

Christopher’s teeth clenched for a reason other than cold and exertion, a familiar heat compressing his organs against his rib cage. He couldn’t keep the defiance from his eyes. “You didn’t hear the disgusting things those others said about my mother.”

“Was it true what they say?” Ping asked.

“No.”

“Then why it matter?” The Sifu shrugged.

It mattered for so many reasons, but Christopher couldn’t identify them by name, and so he kept silent and fumed.

Ping’s black eyes softened and crinkled a bit at the corners, the closest he ever came to smiling. “You already much like water, but your emotion run too deep. Too strong. Like ocean. You must learn to quiet feelings like anger, hatred, fear…” Ping put his hand on Christopher’s shoulder, an unprecedented gesture of affection. “Love.”

“How?” Christopher breathed.

“You redirect them, like a farmer would redirect a river to feed crops. Turn them into patience, logic, ruthlessness, and power. Only then can death flow from your hands with all the destructive force of raging flood.” Master Ping turned from him, set his hips, grounding his feet to the stones, and slapped the walls of Newgate Prison with an open palm. The stone crumbled beneath the blow and cracks branched from his hand in the mortar.

   
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