‘You dare defy us?!’ the naga roars.
I stride over to it and clear my throat.
“Naga, your work is done here,” I say out loud. “You have delivered your message and you have fulfilled your duty. I bid you now to return to your home in peace.”
The naga laughs, its sibilant voice filling my head with buzzing bees.
‘I’m not done here. My work has only begun!’
“Leave now, naga, and we may yet conclude this peacefully,” I say, filling my voice with intent.
‘Who are you to tell me what to do? You cannot order me around!’
He swings a sword. I send a surge of energy through my belly and into my aura, dropping my camouflage layer and revealing a shield of blazing white light. The shield pulses and expands, intercepting the blade and shattering it.
The naga blinks.
“I stand as an agent of the Universe, as a vessel of the Divine. Naga, I have no wish for further aggression this day. Return now to your home plane, and all will be forgiven and forgotten.”
‘You insolent human!’ the naga scowls.
Bright golden light flashes from the creature’s hand. The broken sword becomes whole again.
‘You raise your hand against us?!’ the naga continues. ‘So be it! I pronounce our curse on you! You shall—’
I dip my right hand into my waistband. Close my fingers around the hard plastic handle of my Benchmade Griptilian. Draw the knife. Pop it open.
“Naga!” I boom. “I have in my hand a blade of cold steel! Depart at once, or I will destroy you here and now!”
The naga blinks. His eyes harden. His lips peel back, revealing rows of razor teeth.
‘This isn’t over! I’ll be back! You will regret crossing us, Michael Chang! We will have our revenge!’
The naga continues barking at me, but behind it opens a golden circle. The portal expands to accommodate the creature’s bulk. With a final hiss, it slithers into the light. The portal closes behind it.
“Is he gone?” Eleanor asks.
“For now,” I reply.
She beams. Diana stares at the Benchmade.
“Michael, why do you carry a knife?”
“You saw the reason why,” I reply.
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“It’s a tool, not a weapon.”
She looks at me skeptically. I sigh.
“Well, the naga is gone now,” I say. “Let’s begin.”
“How do you want to do this?” Diana asks, still fixated on the blade.
“We begin with cleansing.”
I close the knife and set it on the table. I rummage through my backpack and pull out packing cubes filled with kit. Opening the largest, I remove a small singing bowl and a wooden dowel.
Holding the small brass bowl at chest height, I strike its sides four times with the dowel. Then, running the dowl against the outer wall, I walk the length and breadth of the living room. A pure amber note reverberates within her home, a three-story semi-detached house.
“Do you need to clear the whole house?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say.
Just as well that everybody was out. Her parents ran a general contracting business, while her siblings held a variety of office jobs. She was the only one among them without a regular job, floating between teaching English tuition and copy editing and volunteer work. In another life, I might have been the one in her shoes, and she would be in my place.
Diana walks me through her home. The cramped kitchen, the dim dining room, up the wooden stairs, through the bedrooms and home offices upstairs. The energy here is cold and dull and sticky, clinging to the walls and floor and ceiling, draining life from everything they touch.
The pure sound resonates with the sticky energies, transforming them into brilliant bursts of colour, of turquoise and yellow and royal blue and the odd hint of magenta. I hold space and ring the bowl, infusing the sound with my intent, accelerating the process of transmutation.
This isn’t a happy family. Not by a long shot. Back in the dining room, a crucified Jesus stared woefully down at me from across the table. The family is Christian, and she a crypto-Buddhist. She never told me about her relationship with her family, but the energy alone told me everything I needed to know. This isn’t a place where she could be herself. Here, the opinions and expectations of everyone oppress her, driving her to find the truth in strange and more dangerous places.
Places like Somchai’s temple.
Places like Somchai’s temple.
Eleanor passes me a bundle of white sage smudge sticks, tied together in red and white cord. I light them up, and together we filled the house with smoke. The thick, smothering fragrance blazes bright white in my mind, driving out the negativity. In minutes, the smell of sage permeates the building.
We open the windows and let the house air out. The smoke drifts away, carrying the expelled negativity with it. Soon, the smudge sticks self-extinguish.
“It’s much brighter now,” Eleanor says.
It is. Once dark and gloomy, the white-painted walls now carry the mild yellow of an early Singaporean sunset. White clouds dance across my third eye. It’s only a temporary respite, but it’s good enough for what we have in mind.
Eleanor sits her down at a sofa, and I take the knife.
“You’re going to use that?” Diana asks.
“Not our first time, remember?” I reply.
She looks uneasily at the tool. “Um…”
“Close your eyes and relax,” I say.
She shuts her eyes and tenses. I fire the blade. She twitches. Eleanor wears an amused smile. In one smooth motion, I pass the knife through the empty space above her crown.
“You heard that?” I ask.
“I felt something pop,” she replies.
“I’ve just cut a negative attachment,” I say.
“Is that all?”
“Only the start.”
Thick ropes of black ichor are anchored in her skull, her arms, her hands, her legs, every place where her skin rebels against her. Every one of them is linked to someone or something that harms or drains her on the astral plane. With the knife, I cut through the cords, occasionally making multiple passes. She winces and squirms with every stroke, but she endures.
I cut the last of the cords and put the knife away.
“The attachments are separated,” I say.
“Is it over?” she asks.
Her face falls. “What else?”
“Close your eyes.”
“Eleanor, could you keep watch?” I ask.
“Okay,” Eleanor says.
I close my eyes too, and concentrate.
With deep, rhythmic breaths, I fill my lungs with fresh air, and draw energy from the cosmos. Through my nose, my fingers, my skin, my feet, I inhale the subtle metaphysical energies that compose reality itself, and exhale the waste energy accumulated in my body. My hands grow warm and heavy, and an electric tingling creeps across my soles. I continue breathing, charging myself up, feeling the energy crackly down my fingers and palms and calves and thighs. I breathe again, taking in more and more fresh energy, excreting more and more expended energy, until at last I am filled completely with energy, a buzzing, humming, brilliant vessel of the universal force. I feed the energy to my third eye, the chakra in between my eyes.
And I see.
In the astral realm, barely adjacent and almost imperceptible to this one, a magic circle floats above Diana, covering the ceiling. It glows a malicious red, oozing intent. Within the circle is an enormously complicated geometrical design, an intricately detailed mesh of lines and sharp angles and multi-dimensional shapes. As I study the object, I sense it is staring back at me.
It is a curse.
It isn’t a sentient creature, but it is intelligent enough to identify its target and carry out its orders, much like a robot or a computer. Nobody would get annoyed if I dispelled it.
“Archangel Michael, I call upon you now,” I say. “Diana Ho is suffering under the effects of a curse. Lend me your sword and destroy the spell.”
In the astral, a white cross blazes high above the curse. The cross grows larger and brighter, emanating bluish white light, taking the form of a long sword, and spears through the heart of the curse.
When my sight recovers, I see the blade embedded in the curse, sending divine light blasting through the body of the curse. The malignant shapes dissolve in the light of the heavens. I reach for the Heavens and call down the Light, augmenting the sword and blasting the curse. The hateful energies break apart before me. I stay put, maintain frame, keep up the power, and the curse melts into nothingness.
‘Thank you,’ I send.
‘You’re most welcome,” a familiar voice replies.
The sword winks out. I call down the Light again, just enough to wipe away the residual negativity.
“Is it done?” Diana asks.
“Wah lau eh…” she gripes.
“We need to do this right. You of all people should know that.”
“I’m going to read your aura,” I say, and feed energy to my third eye.
Dark, swirling clouds drift through her body’s energy field. The remnants of the curse. Small astral beings the size of gnats and flies hop from cloud to cloud, biting and chewing away at her essence. Most of them were lesser nagas, shaped like tiny snakes. Individually they were nowhere near as large as the naga I’d confronted, but in large numbers they were still annoying, and likely responsible for Diana’s disease. The knife and the white sage had removed most of them; the remainder would need a bit more persuasion to dislodge.
I explain my findings to Diana. She frowns again.
“I can’t feel the nagas leh,” she says.
“You aren’t exactly skilled with astral perception to begin with,” I reply.
“It’s not like that. I attended a puja at the temple once. After that… I don’t know, I started feeling like I was blocked, somehow, like I couldn’t quite feel metaphysical stuff as much as before.”
“Then it’s not a puja,” Eleanor opines. “It’s not supposed to do that.”
“We have a lot more work to do,” I say.
I reach up, up, reaching for the celestial realms, the one I was most attuned to. Soothing white light floods my mind’s eye. Weaving my will into the fabric of the universe, I open a gateway to the Light and radiate my intent.
‘All beings attached to everyone in this house and to Diana, it is time for you to leave. Those of you who come from distant planes, go now with our benedictions. For those of who without homes, the Light beckons for you to return. There you shall find everything you desire: warmth, sustenance, safety. Go into the Light with our blessings.’
I call down the Light. The room brightens visibly, motes of white and blue dancing before my eyes. The essence of purification, the Light dispels what little negativity remains, gently dissolves the bonds holding the entities to Diana’s body, and illuminates the beings.
Dark streamers rise from her body, heading to the gateway. Bathed in the Light, they shed the dark, revealing a stream of glittering green and purple and pink and gold. The lesser nagas open portals of their own and retreat.
‘Thank you’, I hear.
The last of the nomad entities pass through the gate. I keep the portal open, training the Light on her.
“Open your aura,” I say. “I’m going to flush it.”
Diana nods, and relaxes. Her aura expands and softens. I allow myself to be a bridge, connecting the mundane and the divine, and channel the Light through her, trusting it to do what must be done.
The Light penetrates her being, breaking up hard nodules of negativity and purging nuggets and reservoirs of foul energies. I breathe and hold space, letting the universe work through me, until the last of the negativity is purged.
“It’s done,” I say.
“Thank you,” Diana says.
“You’re going to need time to heal the wounds in your aura,” I continue. “For the next seven days, bathe with salt. Sea salt is ideal, but table salt will do in a pinch. Drink lots of water, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and sleep as much as you need. Get some exercise if you can. Perform banishings and prayers regularly, at least once per day. If you experience any other strange effects, contact us immediately.”
“Most of it sounds like common sense health advice,” she remarks.
“The metaphysical is an extension of the physical; it is not separate from it.”
“I guess that makes sense.” She draws a breath and looks up at me. “What if the naga comes back?”
“If you can’t deal with him, call me. We’ll sort him out.”
Eleanor calls a Uber. We stay and make small talk as we wait. I answer what few questions I can, but the girls do most of the talking. Work like this takes a lot out of me. I sink into a sofa and breathe, gathering myself together, breathing slowly and deeply.
We make our goodbyes as the car comes. At the door, Diana presents me with a red packet.
“I don’t know if this is enough,” she says.
“It is,” I reply. “Thank you.”
I don’t set a price on my services. Not for this, anyway. Clients pay me however much they think it’s worth. It’s been the custom in this part of the world for decades, and far be it from me to upend tradition when I have neither a name nor paper qualifications.
Inside the car, Eleanor rests her head against my shoulder and closes her eyes. She smells of clean shampoo mixed with milky cream. Purple flashes pass before my eyes, warmth permeates my skin, and through my skin I feel her peeling face and the hard, familiar contours of her skull.
“Tired?” I ask.
“Mm,” she replies.
We stay where we are and say nothing during the ride.
The car drops us off at Kovan. After a quick dinner, we part at the MRT station. She takes the train northeast, I go southwest.
I alight at Farrer Park MRT station and trace the familiar route back to my home. Where most Singaporean children stay with their parents until marriage—and sometimes even after—I live far away from my family home. I’d told mine that I needed independence, and I’d made enough money from investments to live by myself.
The truth is, I didn’t need demons showing up at my family home. Again.
My palace is a one-room open-concept flat. Multiple layers of blue-white wards, hidden under a camouflage layer of smoky grey, surround my house. They are all materially intact, so I unlock the door and enter.
The flat isn’t much. Kitchen to my left, bathroom to my right, combined living and sleeping room dead ahead. But in land-scarce Singapore, it commands a rent of over twelve hundred dollars a month.
At least I could still cover my living expenses.
I set my things down, cleanse my home with my singing bowl, then retreat into the bathroom for a long cold shower. I sprinkle a packet of sea salt over me, letting the minerals carry away any negativity I might have absorbed, then wash and dry myself. I dress myself and—
Metal crashes in the living room.
If magic, sci fi and martial arts is up your alley, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES. Please nominate HAMMER OF THE WITCHES for the Dragon Awards here.
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