After another edit and some advice from reviewers and friends I decided to take out a chapter from The Bathory Curse in which Nea and Sabine spend some time in China. I wrote it to show what Nea did during the time she spends waiting for her granddaughter to turn 18.
I feel the chapter is a fun one and a decent read and gives small insight to the characters. However several people mentioned that they found the chapter unnecessary, not bad, just not needed for the progression of the plot. So here for your enjoyment is the deleted scene, so to speak.
Copy Right Renee Travis, Renee Lake.
No part of this may be re printed, copied or used without my written consent.
1909- Qiao Pingyao, China
“Is that another letter to your granddaughter?”
Nea glanced up at the woman talking to her. She was a small beautiful Asian woman, with tightly wound black hair, deep brown almond shaped eyes, and skin like honey.
“Yes, I am telling her all about my visit here in China.” Nea said, dipping a quill into ink she drew several Chinese symbols to show Ella the progress she was making in learning to write and speak Chinese.
“You will be leaving soon I think.”
“Yes. In less than two years Daniela turns 18.”
“I wish you would tell me what is so important.”
“It would put you in danger.” Nea signed her name and sealed the envelope, handing it to a young girl who bowed low and darted off to see that it was mailed.
“I have enjoyed the last few years in your company, Ah Kum, but it is time for me to be going.” Nea stood, she was much taller than the other woman, but Ah Kum had a formidable presence that made up for it.
“I, too, have enjoyed your company and showing you the beautiful sights of our city. I am thankful that you came to help when I asked.” They began walking, they were in a courtyard of Ah Kum’s home, her girls spent their free time making it a lovely retreat, full of lush flowers and plants.
Two years ago Bendis had come to Nea and Sabine because a fellow Strega was in trouble and needed assistance. Qiao Pingyao was a lovely and historic city surrounded by large walls, with six gates, so that the city resembled a turtle. The people there had been trapped by half a dozen Strigoi that had gone bad and slaughtered two other Stregas in China. Ah Kum was the last, the Strigoi thought to eliminate her and reign free in China.
“It was the least Sabine and I could do, besides, I had never been to China. I only wish we could have saved your sisters,” Nea said sadly.
“I know they fought well.” Ah Kum’s grief was all over her face. She and the two other Stregas had been concubines together. They had been caught trying to run away and beaten to death. Bendis, or as Ah Kum called her, Sheng Mu, had offered them revenge if they became Stregas. Nea often felt resentment that she had not gotten a similar deal.
“Now that it is just me, Sheng Mu will have to find new Stregas. I hope she puts them into my sisters’ homes.” Ah Kum’s eyes were tight with pain and concern. All three had opened secret homes throughout China taking in runaway concubines and prostitutes, helping women when they were not doing their Strega duties.
“There is still one Strigoi left to find before we can leave,” Nea said.
“Yes, he preys on the children here, I cannot help but think he means to stay here permanently now that the others are all dead. I cannot protect every child from this monster.” Ah Kum looked worried.
“We will find and destroy him before Sabine and I have to leave.” Nea glanced around hearing a giggle and saw Sabine sitting rather closely with one of Ah Kum’s girls, their heads bent together as Sabine opened a box of pastries.
“Sabine may not want to leave as soon as you do,” Ah Kum laughed.
“Sabine could get into trouble in the middle of the ocean.” Nea rolled her eyes, “I will miss wearing this clothing, such a difference from Europe.” Women in the Qing Dynasty wore a one piece a line dress called a qipao, it had a tight collar and long sleeves. Nea wore one made of silk with pink cherry blossoms on it that formed stylized bats for good luck.
“You shall take your wardrobe with you, a gift for the help you have brought me,” Ah Kum said.
“That will make Sabine even happier, though the hairstyles I could do without.” Both women laughed. Nea hated how severely her hair had to be pulled back and some of the ornate things she had to wear on top of her head in public.
“Zhufu, Zhufu!” A man’s voice rang out, Nea startled, a slight blush on her face as a awkward young man came running over to her. He was almost her height, tall compared to the other men Nea had met the past few years. His hair was black and cut close to his head covered by a black velvet hat with white crystal pearls.
“Lok, calm down, what’s wrong?” Nea put out a steadying hand.
“I have found the Strigoi, I know where he hides!” Excitement flushed the young man’s face.
“Go get my whip and tell Sabine, quickly,” Nea told him and he darted off.
“He is like a puppy, ever wanting your attention.” Ah Kum was amused. Lok was the son of one of her girls who had passed away. She employed him and had sent him to school; he was 18, but his mind was that of a child’s most of the time.
“He is too young and innocent.”
“Lok will be broken hearted if you don’t take him with you when you leave. He calls you mistress, he thinks you are his path, what he is supposed to do with his life, serve you.”
“I hate that.”
“Do no fight fate, Nea, we all have it. For Lok, it is being loyal to one person his whole life. At first it was his mother and for a time, me, now he has chosen you.”
“I don’t want a servant nor a slave; for him to base his whole life around me. Even Marina and Ruxandra don’t do that,” Nea argued.
“Things are different here.” Ah Kum went to get her weapon of choice.
“Lok told me! Let’s hunt and then get out of here and back home!” Sabine bounded up to Nea, she looked too happy for their current task.
“In a second. We will get him this time Sabine.” Nea glanced around and saw Lok coming with Sabine’s sword and her whip, “though I thought you were happy here.”
“Oh, Jia is a great girl, but a distraction, nothing more…think I will give her a nice present before I leave…” Sabine trailed off as Lok came up to them holding out their weapons.
“He is past the East Gate, I will show you!” Lok exclaimed.
“Go wait for us, we’ll be right there,” Nea requested, Lok nodded and ran off.
“You really should change Lok and get it over with, he’s been following you around for over a year now.”
“And have him become another Costica, no way….I only change girls now you know that,” Nea sighed.
“He’s not got the magic or mental capability to do what Costica did, he is faithful and handy.” Sabine admired Lok’s way with wood work, weapons and machinery.
“I’ll think about it.” Nea said, begrudgingly.
“Are we ready?” Ah Kum came back with her Gong, an ancient Chinese bow she favored as her weapon of choice.
They ran off into the twilight and met up with Lok by the gate. Because of the recent horror everyone was already tucked into their houses and double the guards were out patrolling.
“I don’t like to see my city like we are in a battle,” Ah Kum growled.
“After tonight you won’t have to worry about it.” Sabine gripped her sword and they followed Lok into the trees towards the mountains that surrounded Qiao Pingyao.
“How did you find him?” Ah Kum asked, quietly.
“I asked the Penghou.” Lok said simply, like it was no big deal he had asked a dog shaped tree spirit.
“Lok, you didn’t.” Ah Kum sounded disappointed.
“Had to, we needed to know and I knew the Penghou would answer my summons,” Lok shrugged.
“Am I missing something?” Nea whispered her question as they passed into some dense foliage and Lok began leading them up a narrow path.
“Four years ago Lok traded money I had given him for the grocery shopping for the life of a tree in the woods. A man was going to chop it down and instead Lok bought it. I was angry with him, but then he told me a Penghou appeared and offered him a boon for saving his home,” Ah Kum explained.
“I had hoped he would use it to find a wife, but apparently he chose a different path,” she said the rest under her breath so Lok wouldn’t hear.
As they came up to a cliff they saw a cave, it was dark but Nea could smell fresh blood and death as they neared.
“The Penghou says it is inside, that it doesn’t come out until the moon is high.” Lok grinned in the dark.
“Stay here Lok and hide; you did such a good job!” Sabine patted the boy’s head and the three women disappeared inside the cave.
“Screw surprise. I’ll block the exit and you two go forth and kill,” Sabine wiggled her eyes brows and took up stance.
Ah Kum and Nea went deeper into the cave, their preternatural eyesight giving them an upper hand, they found a doused fire and a sleeping roll, as well as what looked like several birds and rabbits, raw and gnawed on.
“Feral Strigoi are the worse,” Nea complained. She had half a second to respond as suddenly something leapt at her from the dark, a crazed watery looking Strigoi with flashing teeth and rank stench.
“I will kill you!” it screeched, nails digging into the skin in Nea’s neck. It howled and sprung off her, Nea eyes found Ah Kum’s, she was holding her bow, having wounded the Strigoi.
“I doubt that you shall succeed,” Ah Kum taunted.
“I helped kill your sisters,” it hissed from farther back in the dank cave. Nea could see its eyes, red and murderous tracking them.
“Fight like the man you once were.” Nea demanded. “Behind you!” She shouted at Ah Kum, Ah Kum didn’t have time to turn, the thing was on her, it bit into her shoulder, gnawing at the wound. Ah Kum tried to shake it off but she couldn’t. Nea flicked her wrist and her whip snaked out and wrapped around the thing’s neck, strangling it, she snapped back, dragging it off of Ah Kum.
The Strigoi fought the leather around his throat, he tore at it with his dirty broken nails, but to no avail. Ah Kum straddled his hips, pinning him to the ground.
“Sabine!” Nea called out, her friend came running.
“Goodie, the best part.” She unsheathed her sword and raised it above her head right as Ah Kum nocked her bow and pulled her arm back. Nea struggled to contain the Strigoi, holding tight to the handle of her whip she wrapped it around her arm a few times to help steady herself.
“Hurry, he’s strong.” The words had barely left Nea’s lips when Sabine swung her sword and Ah Kum let her arrow fly. The things’ head went rolling, the tension on her whip lessened and the arrow pierced the heart. It was dead.
“Now we burn it.” Ah Kum stood up.
“Damn thing stinks up the place, doesn’t it?” Sabine wrinkled her nose. They dragged the corpse and head outside, all pleased that Lok had already created a pyre.
“Congratulations on a good hunt my friends.” Ah Kum bowed to them after they had put the Strigoi into the flames.
“We will come back and see you soon,” Sabine said holding out her hands towards the fire, in a mock search for warmth.
As they watched the burning body, Lok came up to Nea, “I want to come to Europe with you.”
“I know.” Nea prepared to turn him down.
“As a Strigoi” Lok said, surprising her.
“I don’t let my normal Strigoi stay with me Lok, I let them be who they were meant to be, go where they want to go.”
Nea turned to him, even more surprised, “you do?”
“I want to serve you, forever…but I know I’m….not right….being a Strigoi will make me…right.” He was focusing very hard on his words.
“Yes, it will,” Nea said
“Then I can go do whatever I want and still serve you!” He said, beaming like a small child.
“Okay Lok, you can come home with me,” Nea agreed and she put an arm around his waist as they finished watching the pyre burn out.
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