Warren Murphy: Master's Challenge

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    Master's Challenge
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Buying Time... An ancient legend comes to life when assassins from three great tribes of warriors set up shop in the village of Sinanju, with the wholesale destruction of Remo Williams on their minds. For a guy like Remo, a little mortal combat's no big deal, but this time, a day's work only buys him trouble. A powerful old enemy is back in business, determined to close out Remo's account, and even with all the skills of Sinanju, Remo keeps coming up short. To make matters worse, Harold W. Smith, director of CURE, is sitting on the deadliest threat to U.S. security he's ever encountered, and no one's minding the store. If Remo and Chiun don't turn up soon, the free enterprise system will be out of business, and Smith will have hell to pay - with his life and the future of his country.

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DESTROYER #55: MASTER'S CHALLENGE Copyright (c) 1984 by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Prologue

The Legend

It came to pass that the great assassin Wang, first Master of the glorious house of Sinanju, came to be known and admired the world over for his feats of strength and agility and discipline of mind. But there were those, far away among the wild peoples of the earth, who questioned the Master's power and challenged him to test his strength against their own.

The Master, in his wisdom, knew that these peoples, whose diverse civilizations were as ancient as his own, were not his enemies, but his equals. For amid all the timid hordes of men who lived lives of sloth and insignificance, only these few remained from the ancient days of glory and kept the traditions and secrets of their ancestors. Thus deeming them to be worthy opponents, the Master accepted their challenge.

He traveled to each of their lands in succession, carrying neither arms nor food, and met with the best among them in mortal combat. Although his opponents fought with honor and courage, the Master vanquished them all, bowing after each death and commending to the gods the departed spirits of his fallen adversaries.

When he had slain the last of his opponents, the family and friends of the dead man fell upon Wang in anger. But the Master spoke, saying, "Do not seek to make war on me, for we are not among those people who annihilate without thought. We are few in the world, we of valor and faith in the ancient ways. Let us leave one another in peace."

"My son will be avenged," spoke the father of the slain warrior.

The Master of Sinanju answered him, saying, "Then prepare your son's son to do battle with my successor. And for each generation after, let our best meet together in blood for the ultimate test of their powers. We shall be enemies but once in a lifetime. For all the rest of our days, may we leave one another in privacy and peace."

Thus was the beginning of the secret ritual known as the Master's Trial.

MASTER'S CHALLENGE

Chapter One

Ancion paused at the end of Kwasha Challa, the sacred rope bridge that separated his domain from the rest of Peru. Kwasha Challa had been built just for him, specifically for this crossing, as an identical bridge had been built a generation ago for his father.

Twelve hundred feet below, the Apurimac river boiled with white rapids. Beyond it lay the green Peruvian highlands dotted with the ancient burial towers of Ancion's ancestors. It would be, he knew, some time before he saw them again.

The oracle had predicted a safe journey for him. Still, it was one he did not look forward to making. He would have to cross most of the known world, alone and penniless as tradition decreed, to reach the place his people called the Land at the End of the World. From the accounts given by his father and grandfather, it was a desolate place, cold and inhospitable, with rocks in place of the lush and startling contrasts of his native land.

He mounted the white llama that had been left for him. His father had done the same. And his grandfather, dressed

1

2

in the same kind of garments that Ancion now wore, the woven wincha wound around his head for warmth, the silver pin holding his cloak together, and the large gold discs pierced into his ears that communicated to those who understood that Ancion was an Inca, the Inca, reigning king of a people believed by the world to be long extinguished.

For when Pizarro looted the Inca Empire in 1532 and murdered Atahualpa, the "last" Inca, his band of bloodthirsty Spaniards missed an enclave in the mountains where Ancion's ancestors ruled. Since then, Ancion's people had lived, hidden and secret, away from the ways of other men. Only one Inca in each generation, the Inca, was permitted to leave, and then only on two occasions. The first was a stay in the outside world to leam its ways in order to better protect his people from them. The second time was to make the journey Ancion was embarking on now, the journey to meet the most powerful being on earth. It was a tradition not to be questioned.

In his pockets were some dried potatoes, the precious papa that had sustained his people for 5,000 years, and his weapon. It was a bola, a cord weighted by a rock encrusted with sharp stones. Used properly, it was deadly enough to kill a cougar in flight. The bola and a small sharp knife at his waist were Ancion's only defenses against the white and black and yellow men who stood between him and his destiny. They would be enough.

Unwinding the cord carefully, he whirled the bola over his head until it sang. Then he lowered it, still vibrating in his hands, and snapped the two thick ropes that bound the bridge to the land. Kwasha Challa fell, destroying the only entrance into his country until his return. It was done. His journey had begun.

The journey to Sinanju. The Land at the End of the World.

3

Emrys ap Llewellyn fastened his knapsack around his huge, square shoulders. "Griffith!" he called.

"Up here, Da," a small voice rang from the top of a tall pine. It echoed through the green hills surrounding the valley. The boy laughed as the big man made a show of stalking the tree like a bear. With both hands gripping the pine's trunk, Emrys shook it. The boy fell out of the branches into his arms, shrieking with delight.

"Got you now," Emrys said, hugging his son. The boy's hair smelled of pine and deep woods.

"Do it again, Da."

"That I cannot." Emrys hitched up his knapsack again. "It's time I'll be going, son."

Griffith's face fell. His large, soft eyes welled with tears.

"Now, none of your caterwauling. It's time, and that's that. Go on to home, you shameful baby."

"But Da, your eyes-"

"Don't you be talking back to me, scamp!" He swatted the boy across the bottom.

"Don't go, Da," Griffith wailed. "You'll not see well enough to fight the Chinee. He'll kill you sure."

Emrys turned on him fiercely. "I'll not have you speaking so to your old father."

His eyes were different from his son's. For all their understanding, they were warrior's eyes, and Griffith's words stopped at the sight of them. But he couldn't stop the tears. "It ain't right, so it's not," the boy said miserably.

"You've just got to understand. This is something I've got to do. It's the way of our kin. One day you'll be going, too."

"I don't want to fight the damned Chinee," the boy protested.

"Watch your mouth!"

4

"I want to stay here, in these woods, with the Old Ones, the spirits. And I want you to stay with me. Now that Ma's gone, we're all we have, you and me."

Emrys cleared his throat. Sometimes Griffith sounded as if he were a hundred years old. "Well, what a man wants and what he's got to do are two different things," he said gruffly. "Besides, your Ma made you promise on the day she died to mind me. Did you not promise her?"

The boy stared at the ground.

"Did you na?"

"Yes. I promised."

"Then go home. And not another word.''

Emrys stomped off toward the hills, following the winding stream that bisected the valley. It had been a raging river once, in the days when all of Wales was as wild and unknown as the valley and its surrounding woods.

There were no roads here, no electricity, no running water. No taxes, no trolleys, no army. Instead, there were the hills, still dotted with the ancient shrines of gods who had been worshiped before the Romans came. Mryddin, oldest among the dieties, still ruled in the valley. There was the forest, still populated with the wild, savvy people who had dwelled there since the beginning of time, where the great magician Merlin himself had hidden while he waited for young King Arthur to come of age.

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