“Don’t kill him,” someone said. A woman judging by the voice but I couldn’t see her.
My organs demanded air but none of them could agree on how to get it. Everything hurt and the room was spinning.
Hong grabbed me by the coat and yanked me up off the floor. He sat me on a couch and smacked my face. The gagging and the coughing subsided and I managed, at last, a few shallow gasps of air.
“He’ll live,” Hong said. He didn’t sound too enthusiastic about it.
I felt rope around my ankles and wrists. Very coarse, low grade. Too stiff to be bound tightly, but then it didn’t need to be. There wasn’t much risk that I could fight my way out.
Tornado Hong pat me on the head, roughly, and got up. I could see the woman who spoke earlier. She leaned against a staircase going up. Was I in a basement? She held a pipe in one hand. A curl of lazy smoke crawled out of her mouth. She possessed a serpentine elegance without moving a muscle.
She looked directly into my eyes as she spoke. “He’s no good to us dead.” She puffed at her pipe. “Not yet, anyway.”
Hong huffed. “The reward for Sword Witch ain’t worth half what we’re doin’.”
One of her eyebrows arched ever so slightly. “Thinking is dangerous, Hong,” she said. “It’s why I give the orders. So you don’t to get yourself in trouble.”
Hong bristled. He tried to hide it but I noticed straight away.
“We’re doing this for more than the reward,” she said. “Don’t forget that.”
Hong took a deep breath, let it out in a huff, and nodded.