The Fallen Hero (The Dragon Warrior #2) by Katie Zhao


CHAPTER

1

“Ba,” I whispered.

The man I could’ve sworn was my father blinked and squinted. Confusion darkened his features. “Who are you?”

My stomach dropped. “Faryn Liu. I’m … I’m … I’m your daughter?” The daughter you left behind at the Jade Society in San Francisco’s Chinatown eight years ago. Remember?

I hadn’t imagined reuniting with Ba this way. We stood among rubble and ruins, the remains of Manhattan’s Chinatown. Torn red paper lanterns scattered across the streets and hung limply from buildings. Nearby, produce stands had toppled over, spilling fruits and vegetables onto the road. And instead of welcoming me into his warm embrace, apologizing for abandoning me and promising we’d stay together forever, my long-lost father stared at me with no recognition in his eyes.

Something awful had happened to Ba along his journey, costing him his memories. That was the only explanation. He couldn’t have really forgotten his daughter. Right?

“I’m sorry, girl,” Ba said, shrugging helplessly. “I’m not your father. I-I’m afraid I don’t have any children. Would you like me to help you find him?”

“I … N-no. That’s okay.” Embarrassment burning my cheeks, I turned away. My heart sank into my stomach with dread. A nightmare. This had to be a nightmare.

“I’m sorry, Faryn,” came a quiet voice.

I turned toward my friend Ren. The wind ruffled his white hair. His eyes, one green and one black, flickered from me to Ba and widened with sympathy.

Great. Why did Ren have to witness this shameful scene—my own father not remembering me? I shook my head to indicate that this conversation was over. This wasn’t the time or place to explain to Ren all my family-related troubles anyway. Around us, the battle had died down, but the threat of danger still hung in the smoky air. I turned my gaze to the crowd of warriors behind Ren. Dirt-smeared men, women, and children stood before me amid rubble that layered the street. Some of the warriors held swords and shields in their hands, and others held bows and arrows. One confused kid had a Nerf gun. The warriors stared at Ren and me in near-silent awe.

No, not at just Ren and me. At us. The deities of legends surrounded me—Nezha, the boy god; Guanyin, goddess of mercy; Erlang Shen, warrior god.

We’d just landed in Manhattan’s Chinatown after fleeing the gods’ banquet on Peng Lai Island, where we’d learned about the Jade Emperor’s plans to destroy disloyal humans. It looked like we’d come a little late. The demons had already destroyed much of Chinatown.

“Warriors of the New Order,” Guanyin said with a grim smile, “you’ve fought bravely today to protect the people of Chinatown.”

“It’s the gods,” gasped a silver-bearded old man. He dropped his sword and shield and knelt. Weapons clattered to the ground as everyone behind him did the same. “Help is here. We’re saved.”

“You may rise,” said Guanyin. In a scattered, clumsy motion, the crowd obeyed. “I’m afraid we come bearing bad news, brave New Order warriors. The Jade Emperor will not be sending reinforcements.”

“What? Why not?” demanded a tall, beefy-looking man.

“Mr. Wan! Show respect for the gods,” hissed the short man beside him. Slowly and reluctantly, Mr. Wan inclined his head toward the three gods in a display of respect.

An old man stepped out from the crowd, carrying himself with the confidence and poise of a god. His long white beard flowed down to his belly. He wore a gray robe, and a sword dangled from its belt on his waist as he bowed. “My name is Xiong,” he said in a deep, soothing voice. “I am the master of the New Order. What brings you to our society, gods?”

I thought the reason was obvious, but maybe Xiong wanted to be polite. Like, “I’m pretty sure you’ve come to help us win the war but maybe you’re just dropping by to say hi” polite.

Guanyin, Nezha, and Erlang Shen exchanged glances.

Erlang Shen spoke next. “We three—I, Erlang Shen, along with Guanyin and Nezha—will help you vanquish these demons. Our combined forces are enough to stop the demons from rampaging. We need not involve the Jade Emperor himself.”

Ren twitched and turned toward me, his eyes full of confusion. I knew why: the gods were withholding important information—the Jade Emperor wasn’t only not sending reinforcements, but he was also actively using the demons to get rid of all the pesky, “disloyal” humans. I guess the gods figured sharing this information with the warriors right now wouldn’t exactly boost morale.