As Bohai came to, the sound of a steady drumbeat filled his ears. His arms and legs were bound to a long tree branch that the zombified warriors used to carry the young man as though he were a bundle.
Lickspittle led the procession into the clearing, where zombified warriors danced and growled like wildebeests, bathing in blood and guts that they tossed at one another, feasting on the limbs and organs of the fallen members of the mystifying monkey slap clan.
“Ooof!” Bohai found himself face first in the dirt when the warriors dropped him. Next came Lickspittle’s voice.
“I hope this offering pleases you master,” the lackey said.
“It better,” Dragonhand replied.
“This human was feisty and fought like a lion,” Lickspittle said. “Hot, delicious blood courses through his veins, oh mighty Dragonhand.”
“Dragonhand.” Bohai’s spine tingled upon hearing the name.
The zombified warriors cut Bohai free then wrenched him to his feet and held him before their master.
“Hmm,” Dragonhand said as he looked over the specimen. “Strong…sturdy…and what’s this?”
The fiend tapped on Bohai’s shoulder, where the claw of an actual tiger had been emblazoned on his robe.
“It appears we have a disciple of the Infallible Master,” Dragonhand said as he backhanded Lickspittle. “You fool! Was he followed?”
Lickspittle cowered and hid his face behind his forearms. “No, master! He was all alone! Surely no one would dare attack a camp held by the glorious Dragonhand!”
“Dragonhand.” That name again. Bohai’s mind raced.
The fiend grabbed his prey by the face, forcing Bohai to look upon his captor’s blank eyes.
“You’re a long way from home.”
“What have you got to say for yourself?” Dragonhand asked.
“What’s your name?” Dragonhand asked.
Bohai refused to speak. Lickspittle struck the captive but was instantly pushed aside by Dragonhand.
“Do not come between me and a brain, insolent wretch!”
“A thousand apologies, master,” Lickspittle said.
Dragonhand leaned in and sniffed Bohai’s hair, a move that the young man was not expecting at all.
“Umm,” Bohai muttered.
“Shh,” Dragonhand said as he pressed a gray finger against Bohai’s lips. Dragonhand opened his mouth, produced his slimy tongue and licked the captive’s head.
“Sir?” Bohai said. “I do believe there’s been a mistake…”
Dragonhand ran his tongue up and down Bohai’s cranium, coating every single strand of the fighter’s hair with sticky spit.
“…it’s just that I fancy females is all and so I am not well-suited for…whatever this is…”
“Your brain speaks to me,” Dragonhand said as he stepped back. “I can smell it. Taste it. Your skull attempts to hide it from me but I know the thoughts on your mind at present.”
“Your name is Bohai,” Dragonhand said.
Bohai stopped laughing.
“You were one of the Infallible Master’s top four students,” Dragonhand said. “Yesterday, there was a competition over the Staff of Ages. You bested a female student and thus, you believe you are, by right, the Twentieth Master of the Clan of the Sacred Yet Inscrutable Tiger Claw.”
Bohai scoffed. “That uh…you could have heard that from anyone. People talk.”
“Your fellow disciple, a young man by the name of Junjie, was awarded the staff,” Dragonhand said. “During the battle, you told him that you would gladly kill him and the remaining members of the tiger claw clan and step over their graves in order to rule.”
“Well,” Bohai said. “When you put it that way…”
“You regret saying that,” Dragonhand said. “But you should not.”
“I shouldn’t?” Bohai asked.
“No,” Dragonhand replied. “The Infallible Master was a bumbling old fool when I studied under him years ago and I am certain he remains a bumbling old fool today.”
“I…I don’t know if he’s that bad,” Bohai said.
“He is,” Dragonhand said. “You think it. You’ve said it to him. You’ve said it to your fellow students. You are reluctant to say it to me as a slight trace of loyalty towards the Infallible Master remains in you and you know I am the Infallible Master’s enemy.”
“Do I?” Bohai said. “I…I don’t know you.”
Dragonhand grinned. “Do not lie. The master has long warned you that if you do not mend your so-called evil ways, that you will end up like me. You thought I was a fairy tale.”
“I might have said something like that,” Bohai said.
The fiend nodded to his subordinates. They released the captive but within seconds, Dragonhand was lifting Bohai up into the air by his throat.
“Do I look like a fairy tale to you?” Dragon asked.
“Ack,” Bohai said as he pawed at his throat. His eyes bulged. His face turned purple.
Wham! Dragonhand threw his new plaything to the ground. Bohai gasped and wheezed. “I never knew it was possible to learn so much about a person by licking their head!”
“Oh,” Dragonhand said with a chuckle. “That’s a skill that is only learned through years of being a connoisseur of head meat. Stand up. You look pathetic just lying there.”
Bohai stood up.
“You remind me of my younger self,” Dragonhand said. “Do you know why?”
Without skipping a beat, Bohai gave his answer. “You used to look this good as well?”
“Ha,” Dragonhand said. “Indeed I did, but that’s not why. Like you, the Infallible Master held me back. He knew I was the best student of my generation but he kept me from pursuing the power I deserved, so I left the tiger claw clan, raised my own group of warriors and look at me now.”
“What are you?” Bohai asked.
Dragonhand glared at Bohai. “The next Emperor. Serve me, and you will be the Twentieth Infallible Master of the Clan of the Sacred Yet Inscrutable Tiger Claw.”
Bohai gulped. “And if I refuse?”
“Then I’ll enjoy your screams as I feast on your flesh,” Dragonhand said. “But I know you won’t refuse.”
“You do?” Bohai asked.
“Yes,” Dragonhand answered. “Because your brain tells me that you wish to be the tiger claw clan’s next master more than anything in the world.”
Bohai shrugged his shoulders. “I do but…I’m not without honor. I suppose a part of me still cares for those morons.”
Dragonhand snapped his fingers. Lickspittle hurried over and handed his boss a bag, the bottom of which was dripping with blood. The fiend reached inside and pulled out a disgusting brain.
“Is that what I think it is?” Bohai asked.
“Yes,” Dragonhand said as he held the brain out towards his captive. “It belonged to Changpu, the trusted right hand of the Vengeful Master.”
“This is meant to frighten me?” Bohai asked.
“No,” Dragonhand said. “This is meant to nourish you.”
“I’m good, thanks,” Bohai said. “I had a big bowl of brains just before I got here and I’m feeling a little bloated.”
Dragonhand pushed the brain closer until it was less than an inch from Bohai’s face.
“Knowledge is power,” Dragonhand said. “Taste this brain and you will never again be held back by cowards who are too afraid to allow you to realize your full potential.”
Bohai turned away and shut his eyes, refusing to even look at the gruesome meal. “You’ll just have to kill me.”
Dragonhand nodded to his henchmen. They grabbed the captive by the arms and held them. Bohai struggled wildly, but it was no use.
The fiend yanked Bohai’s jaw downward, gripped the young fighter’s tongue and rubbed the brain against it.
Bohai stopped fighting. He felt a spike of adrenaline, a rush that made him feel like an unstoppable juggernaut. He held the palms of his hands out flat in front of him.
“The mystifying monkey slap!” Bohai said.
“The same,” Dragonhand replied. “Devour this brain and you will be unstoppable.”
Bohai snarled like a wild dog and ripped the brain out of Dragonhand’s grip. He dove to the ground and buried his teeth into it, tearing and ripping and chewing away.
Dragonhand laughed at the sight of his new disciple.
“Young one,” Dragonhand said. “Your new master has a favor to ask of you.”
Bohai looked up from his feast. His lips were soaked in blood. His eyes were blank. Only the whites remained.