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She went on to explain a bit about her history. She never told me the circumstances of her turning, that is a subject that vampires rarely share with each other. But I found out that the Emperor, and his predecessors were aware of her nature. She remained loyal to the Throne and they to her.

For some time the only result that I could tell of our mutual discovery was that Ling pushed me harder and longer than any human could have tolerated. That was why after practice that night I had elected to forego a visit to the city proper and instead satisfy myself s I had. Now all I wanted to do was sleep.

Had I not been what I was, I doubt that I would have heard the stealthy footsteps in my chamber. As quietly and as naturally as I could, I rolled onto my side, my hand questing for the sword tucked under my sleeping couch. My fingers curled around the hilt. I did not draw it from its sheath, but tensed myself, my eyes straining through the darkness.

This was an unsettled time in China. The Qing Dynasty of the invading Manchu's had just completed the conquest of the country. They had captured Beijing in 1644 and the last rebel Ming prince had been seized and executed only three years previously. K'ang Hsi had become Emperor that same year, following Shunzhi. Ling had told me he was consolidating the Manchu power throughout China and had his eye on conquering Tibet. He would eventually do that. At the same time, he was promoting science and the arts were beginning to flourish under his encouragement, stifled as they had been under the last Mings.

I felt more than heard the intruder draw nearer. I did hear a whisper of sound that I realized was a sword being stealthily drawn. I rolled from my sleeping couch, the hilt of my katana in both hands, poised to strike. Barely did I glimpse a shadowy figure dart across the room and out the door. I sprang to the window, ducking under the thick curtains that hung there, my eyes straining through the gloom. Was that someone or was it only a trick of my eyes that seemed to flow from the tree in the courtyard to the wall and into the night?

I carefully barred the door and waited until I knew the sun was up. Then I laid back down and returned to a fitful sleep. From that night on I slept all day as usual, but spent almost every waking moment practicing. Somehow, something was up. I was sure the intruder had been in my chamber because I was Ling's pupil.

Finally one night Ling was back. I could see exhaustion in her face. Even vampires can wear themselves out with lack of sleep and too much work and worry. As soon as possible I drew her to my side. She listened to my tale without comment until I finished. Then she sighed.

"Bridget, among other things, I serve as a bodyguard to the Emperor. I also prowl among the people at night, listening to them. Most of the populace doesn't care who occupies the throne, they simply want to be left alone to live their own lives. Of the remainder, the majority are in favor of the Manchus. But some are not. There is a group of Ming nobles that aches for their restoration to favor and power. I suspect they have hired a group of nin-sha assassins to kill the Emperor and the Manchu Royal Family. I am determined to prevent this."

She looked into the distance. "I am not Manchu but Han. Never-the-less, peace, safety and stability mixed with more freedom than generations have seen are spreading through my land. I will do whatever I must to keep things as they are."

She turned to me. "You are perceived as a threat because of your closeness to me. Perhaps you should go. I have no right to put you in danger."

"NO!" I exclaimed involuntarily. "I don't want to leave you."

Ling looked sharply at me. I stood firm under her gaze. Something flickered through her eyes and I felt my heart surge up in my chest for a moment.

"Then we must make you a match for them, Bridget. We must train."

So we trained.

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