Friday, March 25, 2022

Angel of Blades Part 5


Shallow Focus Photo Of Crocodile On Body Of Water


A perfect darkness engulfed Sabaia’s arena. Striding through the stairwell door, Luisa saw nothing but pitch blackness, heard nothing but total silence, sensed nothing but complete emptiness.

Her mental map spanned the entirety of the circular hall. The walls were smooth, the floor level, all traces of the previous battle completely erased. The fissures blown into the ground had been sealed and smoothened. There were no bodies, no blood, not even a lingering scent of war.

How much time had passed since her fall? She didn’t know. She had lost all track of time by the shores of the scarlet sea. She had marked the passage of hours only by her breathing, her heartbeat, and the never-ending cycles of burning and Leveling. Surely it couldn’t have been more than a day.

Sabaia or its minions must have repaired the damage. Red Dust was the obvious material for the task. It could fill in a gap completely, then by the ancient sorceries of the Ancients, it could transform into a substance similar to, if not the same as, any other element in existence—and many more that did not exist in nature.

As for the dead…

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Angel of Blades Part 4

Shallow Focus Photo Of Crocodile On Body Of Water

Flight after flight, floor after floor, she climbed the stairs. She thought of nothing, she felt nothing, she focused solely on putting one boot in front of the other, over and over and over.

Round and round and round she went, forever turning clockwise. She kept her hand on the handle of her sword, ready for instant action, keeping to the outer edge of the stairs. The higher she climbed, the darker it grew, taking her further and further from the glow of the sea of Dust.

It didn’t matter. With her mental map, she could navigate the world even with her eyes closed. Indeed, she did just that, resting her mind and body, using only enough muscle and energy to keep her going, navigating solely by her mental map.

How long had she climbed? It didn’t matter. She wasn’t where she wanted to be, so she kept climbing. Onward, onward, always onward, heading to whatever awaited her at the top of the stairs.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Angel of Blades Part 3

 Shallow Focus Photo Of Crocodile On Body Of Water

Crimson Twilight

She burned.

She Leveled.

She burned again.

Over and over and over again, so many times she had lost count. Her muscles ached, her bones throbbed, her nerves smoldered, and still she continued.

Sweat poured off her in great sheets. Her eyes, temples and great veins throbbed in time with her heart. Her vision swam, cycling between shades of red. Red was her world, red was her reality, there was nothing in the universe but her and the Red Dust.

She sucked in Energy and Red Dust. She burned. She absorbed some more. She burned even more. She felt herself melting away, becoming less—and, at the same time, becoming more. Her clothes loosened around her chest and hips, and tightened around her shoulders and arms and legs. Her cheeks sunk. When she pulled her cap off her head, she saw clumps of fallen hair.

Heat was the enemy. The air was stale and hot here, offering little relief. She hoarded her water the way a miser would hoard diamonds, drinking sparingly from her canteen. She unbuttoned her sweat-soaked clothes, letting the heat pour off her naked skin. She sat still, trying not to move.

And still she wasn’t done yet.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Angel of Blades Part 2

 Shallow Focus Photo Of Crocodile On Body Of Water


She fell.

The wind whistled past her ears. War cries and furious howls carried from above. Cannon fire and blasts passed through the gash in the ceiling.

She fell.

By the dimming light of the dying flares, she saw nothing but darkness. Darkness yawned before her. Darkness encircled her. Darkness embraced her.

She fell.

Twisting side to side, extending her arms and legs, she reached for something, anything, she could hold on to. But there was nothing. Nothing she could grab to arrest her fall. She was too far away from the walls, and she lacked the Power of Flight. She was going to hit the ground at terminal velocity, and there was nothing that would—


Red light winked at her, rushing to greet her.

In her mental map, she sensed a sudden softness, a sea of softness, at the very bottom of the shaft. Whatever it was, even if she struck at such speeds, it would be like striking concrete.

But she had a chance.

A slim one, but a chance.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Angel of Blades Part 1

 We have now come to the last of the three webserials I've prepared for March. As a quick recap, I am looking to gather feedback on which story concept you enjoy the most so I can develop the idea into a full-fledged series.

In the first story, ROAD TO CHEQUN, we have a tale of cultivators in powered armor defending humanity from endless hordes of Lovecraftian horrors in a world gripped in the deeps of an endless winter. The second story, A QUIET NIGHT IN WAI YUEN, focuses on a pair of private policemen dealing with a crime spree in the heart of a quiet neighbourhood. This is the last: ANGEL OF BLADES.

Unlike the previous stories, ANGEL OF BLADES follows a character who is not the main character of the story universe. While she is an important character, she is only secondary to the series. At least, at first. As for why, well, you'll have to read the story to find out.

Strap in: it's a LitRPG adventure like you've never seen before.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

A Quiet Night in Wai Yuen Part 4

 Blade Runner, Cyberpunk, Neon Lights, Neon, Lights


I’d never ridden in a Hung Syun before. I didn’t care to repeat the experience.

The driver and the team leader sat up front. The rest of the team sat on the benches in the back of the flying truck. Without room for additional passengers, that left Jackie and I seated on the hard metal floor. At least the operators attached straps to the benches for us to hang on to.

Naughty Cherry was just a short hop away. As we took off into the air, the radio blared. I couldn’t make out half of what Dispatch said, but it sounded urgent. I did manage to pick up Station Inspector Low’s end of the conversation.

“Hercules 9 is moving out for immediate action rapid deployment, Naughty Cherry nightclub. Request Spectre support. Be advised, we have two pax from the jianghu. They’re assisting in the operation.”

Outraged chatter filled the net. I couldn’t begin to imagine what kind of flak he was taking for letting us tag along. They were the vaunted SOC. They were the ones who handled almost every emergency in the city. For all the talk about fostering strong bonds between law enforcement and the jianghu, cops openly admitting that they needed help from the rivers and lakes would be a blow to their pride.

The second the flying truck landed, the operators swung into action. The rear doors popped open. In pairs, the operators disembarked, with the smooth speed that came from many hours of hard drills. Jackie got out ahead of me. As my boots touched the asphalt, I oriented myself towards the objective.

A converted two-story shophouse, Naughty Cherry was a downscale establishment, just like the rest of the nightlife in Wa Yuen. A pair of neon cherries flashed in red and green, drawing the eye to the signboard. Dark glass doors and tinted windows hid the interior from view. Deep within the club, blazing white qi spiked high and heavy.

The tiger demon was in play.

Passers-by stared as the SOC team deployed. Civilians spilled out the entrance of the nightclub, scrambling down either side of the five-foot way. The Hung Syun trained its spotlights on the facade of the building, chasing away the growing shadows.

“This is the police!” Low declared over the truck’s loudspeakers. “For your safety, please evacuate the area!”

More screams resounded inside the club. The SOC operators made a beeline for the door. Jackie and I moved to follow them.

“Not you! Not yet!” Low shouted.

He was standing by the truck, taking cover behind the open front passenger door.

“Make entry only when I say so!” he continued.

“Come on!” Jackie muttered.

The SOC operators stacked up in two teams by the open door, urging the civilians to leave. Jackie and I waited beside Low.

Inside the nightclub, a tiger roared.

“Entry team! Go!” Low ordered.

The point man pulled out a final civilian. An assaulter stepped out and tossed in a stun grenade. The device went off with a deafening bang and a blinding flash, then kept flashing and banging. Under cover of chaos, the operators rushed in.

“We gotta go!” Jackie urged.

“If something happens to you, it’ll become my problem!” Low retorted.

Gunfire echoed inside the nightclub.

The tiger howled.


Low murmured into his mic, then turned to us.

“Entry team needs you two inside. Staff Sergeant Hafiz will meet you at the entrance. Go!”

As Jackie and I sprinted to the door, a heavyset operator stepped out, waving us over.

“What’s the situation?” I asked.

“When we made entry, we found the targets on the VIP deck on the second floor. The tiger demon was attacking a civilian. The summoner was watching them. We ordered them to surrender. The summoner pointed his parang at us and ordered the tiger to kill us. We fired in self-defense and neutralised the summoner.

“The tiger jumped down to the ground floor. When we reoriented towards it, we saw it pinning down a civilian. It looks angry, but it is not actively posing a lethal force threat.”

“You didn’t shoot it?” Jackie asked.

“Everyone knows bullets don’t work well against demons. Besides, it’s your job to deal with it.”

“I’ll take point,” I said. “Jackie, back me up. Staff Sergeant, I need you and your team to stand down.”

“Stand down? Why?” he demanded.

“Think of it as a… crisis negotiation. We need to de-escalate before we can negotiate with it.”

“Wait, what? Aren’t you here to exorcise it?”

Jackie laughed.

“His idea of exorcism isn’t like what you see in the movies.”

Past the entrance, a wave of hard, heavy qi buffeted my body. It was like walking in front of a blast furnace. Perfume, sweet and cloying, hung in the air. Scarlet spotlights tinted the club the shade of fresh blood. Disco lights played along the walls in dazzling patterns. A line of SOC operators stood between me and the rest of the room.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Coming through.”

Shouldering my way past the cops, I took in the nightclub.

Most of the interior walls and floors of the interior structure had been knocked down, leaving behind a narrow but long room. Load-bearing pillars formed nooks where patrons could mingle. Leather couches and glass tables along the walls gave party-goers a place to rest their feet. A staircase to my left led up to the VIP deck. The bar, small but well-stocked, was right beneath it.

Dead ahead, at the far end of the room, was the tiger and its hostage.

Twice the size of a man, snowy fur speckled in crimson gore, it crouched on all fours, snarling at me. Raw power poured off its being, a veritable flood of heat and light, the kind of power most cultivators only dreamed of possessing. In that qi tsunami, I sensed an insatiable rage, as deep and unfathomable as the ocean.

 Powerful jaws fell open to reveal rows of razer teeth and a pair of enormous tusks curving down past its mouth. Its limbs were as thick as tree trunks, its torso as wide as a beer barrel. Its tail flickered back and forth in agitation. In place of paws, it had true hands, five enormous fingers ending in scythe-like claws.

It held down a hapless woman with its front hands. Claws threatening her delicate neck, it evenly spread out the pressure along the entirety of her chest. I sensed it could squash her if it wanted to. That it hadn’t done so already, that it hadn’t attempted to fight its way loose, was a good sign.

Stepping forward, I steadied myself with a breath, cycling energy through my body. As I exhaled, I opened my heart chakra and set my intent.

May you be liberated from suffering.

Qi spilled from my heart. Compassion. Kindness. Agape. Manifesting as pure waves of clear green energies, they washed over the tiger. My bracelet tingled, amplifying and accelerating the process. A fine emerald mist filled the room, visible even in the hot red lights.

I took one more breath, recharging myself, and spoke.

“Hi. My name is Mark.”

The tiger gawked at me, visible confusion in its face. Its outer aura softened, just a little, but the rage remained intact.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

It narrowed its eyes.

“Why do you wish to know?”

Its voice was a low rumbling from deep within its chest. It was the voice of a savage era, evoking primordial memories of a time before history, when men were meat to monsters forgotten by time but not by blood.

“It’ll be easier to converse with you that way,” I said.

The tiger growled.

“I know your kind! You use every scrap of information you have to twist and dominate all living souls! I will not give my name to you!”

“I think it’s rude to think of you as ‘it’ and ‘tiger’ all the time. Don’t you?”

It blinked. Blinked again.

“If you don’t want to give me your name, what should I call you?” I asked.

As I spoke, I continued to allow the energy to flow from my heart and over the spirit. I continued to breathe deeply, recharging my qi as best as I could.

“You are manipulating me!” it said.

I spread out my empty hands.

“Can you not feel my sincerity? My intention? My bodhicitta?”

Once again, the tiger blinked and said nothing.

I let the silence hang in the air, allowing it to reach its conclusions.

“What are you?” it asked.

“A living soul. Just like you. And I’m here so that no one else gets hurt.”

“You’re wearing your bracelet. You can turn on me in an instant. How can I trust you? Take it off.”

“Can you remove your teeth and claws?”

It growled.

The operators ratcheted up a notch. I sensed the tension roiling off them. I didn’t have to look to know they had fractionally raised their carbines.

“Don’t be ridiculous, human!”

“My bracelet is as indispensable to me as your teeth and claws are to you. Besides, when I wear it, you can read my intention in my energies, yes?”

“Yes,” it admitted.

“What do you sense from me?”

As I spoke, I breathed again, reinforcing the energy wave.

“I sense… magic,” it said.

“And what do you sense behind it?” I probed.

It said nothing.

I said nothing.

It blinked.

I blinked.

“Sincerity,” it admitted.

“There you go,” I said. “You don’t have to give me your name if you don’t want to, but I would like to call you by a name. Would you like that?”

It chuffed.

And locked eyes with me.

An alien consciousness blasted into my psyche. Proud, primal, predatory, it stalked the halls of my surface mind, seeking common concepts, language, words. I allowed the process to continue—but blocked off access to my deeper consciousness.

A thought bubbled from the depths of my soul.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright / in the forests of the night / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

“Tyger,” it said at last. “You may call me Tyger.”

Spirits do not communicate the way men do. More than words, they emanated intention, emotion, energy, carrying subtle nuances of meaning. In that word, I knew that the spirit insisted on the idiosyncratic spelling, and that Tyger was a male.

“Tyger. Thank you,” I said. “What brings you to this realm?”

Tyger cocked his head at the VIP deck above me.

“That… man bound me.”


“With the aid of a summoning circle, he compelled me to cross over. I tried to lash out, to punish him for such impudence, but he was too strong. He had reinforced the circle with his secret arts, preventing me from breaking loose, or from returning home. He imposed his will upon me, overpowering my own, and bound me to his pendant.”

“When was that”

“Seven days ago.”

“What did he want you to do?”

“To kill his enemies.”

“Who did he order you to kill?”

“He started with a stray dog. He wanted to test my power. I tried to resist, but his will was harder than diamonds. He ruthlessly stamped out all thoughts of rebellion. Any thought that was not related to his orders, he crushed as well, leaving me no path but compliance. So I did it.

“Earlier tonight, he brought me out again. He planned to draw his enemies into an ambush. He wanted to meet the chief of a rival gang, then assassinate him. But the chief sent his subordinate in his stead. Enraged, he ordered me to kill him.

“Again, I resisted. Again, he took away my will. Again, I had to do it.

“Later, he took me to the headquarters of his enemy. Once more, he unleashed me upon his foes. When they saw me, they tried to fight back. This time, killing them was necessary. It did not make it easier.

“Just now, in the moments before you arrived, he took me here. He found his enemy at last, relaxing with his harem on the upper floor. He called me forth to kill him.

“I struggled. I fought. But again, he broke all resistance. Again I killed the man he bade me to kill.

“That was when you, all of you, came in.”

Rage spilled from every word. His muscles bunched into tight knots. His qi flared, and for a moment I wondered if it would ignite everything in sight. The hostage whimpered as claws dug into his soft flesh.

I breathed. I emanated the essence of bodhicitta, a universal loving kindness that embraced all things. My energy mingled with his, soothing it, cooling it, preventing a catastrophic escalation.

He had to know what I was doing. He allowed it anyway. Better that than to bring down the wrath of men on his head.

“The police shot the summoner. Is he still alive?” I asked.

Tyger shook his head.

“No. His body is dead, his soul bound for the deepest hells.”

“Why are you still here?”

“I cannot leave. My essence is still bound to his pendant.”

“Would you like us to help you?”


“I can undo the binding spell the summoner placed on you. You will then be free to depart. How does that sound?”

Tyger nodded.

“It is acceptable.”

I glanced over my shoulder. “Jackie!”


“Go upstairs and retrieve the summoner’s pendant. Bring it to me.”


Jackie brushed past me and rushed up the stairs.

“Tyger, there is something I need you to do for me.”

His eyes narrowed.

“What is it?”

“Please let the woman go.”

He growled. His hand flattened against his captive’s chest. The woman coughed, writhing under his grip.


The operators lifted their carbines.

Stepping forward, I raised my open hands.

“Do you know her?”


“Has she done anything to you?”


“You can at least let her breathe, yes?”

He paused for a moment.

And lifted his hand.

She sucked in a huge breath. And another. And whimpered.

“Why are you holding on to her?” I asked.

“I need a guarantee that you will not harm me.”

“I don’t have any reason to harm you. But if you hurt her, I cannot stop the police from firing. Do you understand?”

He chuffed.

“I can kill everyone here without suffering significant injury.”

“True, but how does that help you return home?”

He growled. His teeth flashed. But his hands remained still.

“If you let her go, it’s a sign of good faith. The police can stand down.”

“Then I will have nothing. No.”

I breathed again, deep and calm, caressing him with my intent and my energy.

“You don’t want to stay here. I can help you go. There’s no need to maintain this standoff.”

“Your comrades do not trust me. Even as we speak, your man Jackie is gathering power, preparing to unleash his wrath.”

“Jackie! Stop it!” I shouted.


“Do it! He’s not an enemy!”

Jackie sighed so loudly, I could hear him from where I was.

“Better?” I asked.

“Better,” Tyger agreed.

“Can you let her go?”

“I will let her go when you free me from the spell. We can do this simultaneously.”

“I understand where you are coming from. But when the binding spell is released, there could be backlash. We don’t want accidents.”

“What kind of backlash?”

I shrugged. “I can’t predict it. I’ve seen bursts of energy, explosions, meltdowns… We don’t need an innocent person getting caught up in that.”

He growled.

“If this is a trick, know that I will take your life first.”

I stepped forward, spread my arms, and lifted my chin to bare my throat.

“I accept your terms. Please let her go.”

A strange sound escaped Tyger’s lips, one part confusion, one part admiration. Seizing the woman by the collar, he rose to his feet, hauling her up.

“I am sending her to you,” Tyger said.

He shoved her roughly towards me. With a surprised cry, she tottered on unsteady feet. Her legs wobbled. I rushed up to her and took her by the shoulders.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

“Yes!” she gasped. “Thank you! Thank you!”

I gently spun her around, moving her towards the operators.

“Take care of her,” I said.

Two operators took her by the arms and led her away.

“It is time for you to hold up your end of the bargain,” Tyger said.

I turned to the remaining operators.

“Go outside and wait,” I said.

By the door, Hafiz shook his head.

“Come on. We can’t do that.”

“I made a deal. Your men have to stand down.”

He sucked in a breath.

“I can send my men out. But I have to stay and observe the scene on my helmet camera. Regulations.”

“Tyger, what do you say?” I asked.

His eyes narrowed.

“Very well. But you will keep your hands visible at all times. Do not reach for your weapon.”

Hafiz held out his hands. “Fine by me.”

The rest of the SOC operators trooped out, leaving Hafiz at his post.

“Jackie!” I called.


Hand on the railing, he carefully headed down the steps, holding up a resealable plastic bag.

“The pendant is in the ziploc,” he said. “Be careful. Don’t touch it with your bare hands.”

We found an empty cup at a nearby table. With great care, he unsealed the bag and dumped the pendant into the glass.

It was a teardrop of oxidised brass, engraved with a small seated figurine surrounded by tiny words. In the core of the pendant lay a thick knot of dark, chaotic energies, oppressing and binding all it touched. Looking at it made my skin crawl. Nonetheless, I peered more closely, looking deeper into the design.

Abruptly I grew aware of a dark thread shooting from the heart of the knot, arching through the air, and sinking deep into Tyger’s crown.

The binding spell.

“I’m going to undo the binding,” I declared.

“At last,” Tyger said.

I closed my eyes, feeling for the energy in my dantian. There wasn’t much qi left. Maybe a quarter of its usual capacity. It had to be enough.

Pressing my palms together, I drew out my qi, willing it to expand and fill the entire universe. I paused for a breath, then imagined every mote of energy transforming into boundless offerings. Bright flowers, sweet incense, butter lamps, perfumes, food, music, every sense-pleasure in creation. I unwound my mala from my wrist, placed my thumb on the largest bead, and spoke.

Om tare tuttare ture soha!

Chanting the mantra, I rotated the mala, keeping track of the recitations. My mind quested to the realm beyond the words, calling forth she whose essence was summed in the mantra.

Green light filled the space behind my eyeballs. A gentle warmth sank into my skin. Hafiz gasped. I continued the chant. On the twenty-first recital, I opened my eyes.

She floated in the empty space between Tyger and I. Her face was like a full autumn moon, blazing with the light of a thousand stars. Her heavy golden crown, her fine gold necklace, and her multitude of bangles radiated pure light. Lotuses adorned her hands, left over her breast, right outstretched and lowered so her palm faced out and her fingertips pointed down. A blue robe covered her thighs. Right leg extended, left leg folded, she assumed the half-lotus position, her right sole touching the floor.

I pressed myself to the ground, legs held together, arms extended, face down.

“I prostrate to you, Arya Tara, the quick and the heroic, the protector of the three worlds, the Mother of Buddhas.”

A soft, gentle voice filled my ears.


I stood.

There were twenty-one emanations of Tara. This was Green Tara, Bodhisattva of Action and protector from fear and obscurations.

“Green Tara, Tyger is bound to this pendant. Please show us the originator of the spell.”

She lifted her right hand.

A portal the size of a large dinner plate opened above her palm. Through it I saw a naked man running through darkness. Burning spears and fiery tridents jabbed at his exposed flesh, burning his skin even as they ripped open great wounds.

“Hi,” I said.

The damned soul froze. The weapons hung back. Blinking, he stared through the portal.

“Are you talking to me?” he asked.

“Yes. Are you the one who placed the binding on Tyger?”

I emanated my intention to him, clarifying who among us was Tyger.

“Yes,” he admitted.

“Do you understand where you are?”

A shriek passed through the portal.

“Get me out of here!”

“Understandable. You’re in a hell realm. No one wants to stay there. But there is a way out.”

“What? Why?” Tyger demanded.

Green Tara raised her hand.



She shook her head.

“Patience. You will see.”

Loving kindness radiated from her heart, similar to what I did earlier, but a thousand times more powerful. She was the sun, and I a mere candle. Tyger relaxed, his jaw going slack.

“How can I get out of here?” the damned soul demanded.

“You have placed a binding on Tyger. It is one of the reasons why you are in hell. By lifting it, you can erase some of the karma that brought you there.”

“No!” Tyger yelled. “Let him suffer!”

Tara shook her head again.

“You are angry at him for what he did to you. Your rage ties your karma to his. The longer you remain angry, the more you will suffer,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“The curse entwined your karma and his. Your anger further strengthens it. Do you wish to be dragged into hell too?”


“Then allow us to help. In helping him, we help you too.”

He gritted his fangs, and remained silent.

“How do I lift the curse?” the summoner interjected.

“Can you undo it?”

“I… this place… I lost my powers. My abilities. I don’t… I can’t…”

“Do you need help?”

His eyes flickered back and forth. Then his head bowed in defeat.

“Yes,” he admitted.

“Green Tara, could you please help him?”

“Certainly,” she said.

Through the portal, I saw a copy of Green Tara appear. She split into two, those copies split into two more, which again each split into two, until suddenly a multitude of Green Taras filled the space beyond the portal.

She whispered something to him that I didn’t quite catch. He nodded, then pressed his hands together.

In my mind’s ear, I heard a soft pop.

The thread joining Tyger to the curse broke. All at once, the knot undid itself, liquefying into dark goo. Green light washed over the pendant, and just like that, the dark energies disintegrated.

Tyger howled.

Black energies bubbled from deep within, staining his bloodsoaked fur. Brown froth bubbled from his mouth, dripping onto the floor. Fists clenched, back arched, he howled his rage at the universe.

“Peace,” Green Tara whispered. “You are now releasing the built-up negativity inside you. Let it flow out of you. Let us help you.”

Tyger growled, and nodded.

Healing green energies radiated from the Bodhisattva, illuminating him. The darkness softened and faded in the light.

Through the portal, I heard Green Tara speak.

“You must release all your bindings and all the beings you have dominated. Only then can you purify the karma that brought you here.”

More darkness bubbled from within Tyger. Brown fluids geysered from his mouth. Black tears flowed from his eyes. Still he continued to howl, and in the sonic discharge he expelled a great wave of dark, heavy qi. Warm, green light flashed, healing the spirit and neutralising the toxic energies.

Bit by bit, his fur returned to white. But not completely. A deep red splotch spread across his chest, darker than blood, a rot of the soul.

“What is this?” Tyger muttered, pointing at the red patch.

“Anger,” Green Tara said.

“Were you angry at the summoner?” I asked.

“Of course I was angry! He forced me to kill for him!”

“And you got angrier with every kill.”

“Naturally! Who wouldn’t?”

“Your anger binds you as surely as the spell,” Green Tara said.

“What do you mean?”

“You have swallowed the poison of anger, yet you expect him to suffer. It cannot possibly come to pass. This desire can never be fulfilled. Thus, it keeps you bound to this realm. Let it go and you will be free.”

“He must suffer for what he’s done!”

“He has tasted hell. Is that not enough?”


“How much more is enough? Does his suffering reduce your own by even the slightest drop?”

“It makes me happy.”

She shook her head once more. “Taking enjoyment in suffering further binds you. It adds to the weight of your existing karma. It cannot possibly free you from the causes and conditions of your suffering. Thus, you are still bound.”

A frustrated growl escaped Tyger’s throat.

“What must I do?”

“Forgive him.”

“Forgive him?! Even after what he’s done?”

“You were angry at a man who did you great evil. But is he still the same man?”

The summoner was on his knees, hands pressed together, head bowed in prayer. A multitude of Green Taras surrounded him, shielding him from further harm.

“He’s… not,” Tyger admitted.

“You are now grasping burning coals. They will burn you for as long as you hold on to them. Let them go, and you will be free,” she said.

Tyger inhaled. His chest heaved. He squashed his eyes shut.

On the other side of the portal, Green Tara asked, “Do you regret what you have done?”

“I do,” the damned soul whispered.

“Do you ask for forgiveness?”

“I do.”

The Green Tara next to me said, “Do you have what it takes to forgive him?”

Tyger exhaled.


The red bled from his chest, streaming down his arms and legs. Dark red qi spilled from his fur, from his fingers, from his feet, dispersing into a red fog. Green Tara sent another wave of healing energies, and when the light cleared, his fur was pure again.

“You are free,” Green Tara said.

Tyger heaved a sigh of relief.

“Thank you.”

“Is it done?” the summoner asked.

His eyes were open now, though he was still on his knees.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“Can I leave hell now?”

Green Tara, all of them, shook their heads.

“Not yet.”

“But you said I could go!”

“You have purified the karma of the deeds you have atoned for, yes. In so doing you have shortened your sentence in hell considerably. But not enough to bring you to liberation.”

“What must I do?”

“Confess and atone for all the wrongdoings you have committed, in all previous lifetimes,” I replied.

His face paled. His jaw dropped.

“But… there’s… so… much…”

“Do you wish to stay in hell?”


“Then you must do the work. It’s not easy, but the alternative is to stay where you are.”

He groaned.

“Green Tara, will you help him?” I asked.

“Of course,” all of them said at once.

“Alright,” he said. “I’ll carry on.”

“The formula is simple. Confess your wrongdoings, pay homage to the Buddhas, and take refuge in the Triple Gem. Take any instructions they may have for you. Then stick to it.”

He sighed. “Okay...”

“It’s a long journey. But it’ll be worth it.”

“What about me?” Tyger asked. “Am I going to Hell too?”

“You committed those murders under compulsion. The karmic impact is minimal—but not nonexistent. Furthermore, you were in a state of rage. Between that and any other crimes you may have committed, and there is the possibility that you’re hellbound too,” I replied.

He groaned. “What must I do?”

“You are still alive. That means you have the opportunity to follow the teachings and purify your karma. With sincerity and dedication, you can escape the jaws of hell, and perhaps even find liberation in this lifetime.”

“How do I do that?”

A portal appeared behind Tyger. Through the opening, I saw a verdant jungle. Cool mist shrouded the crowns of massive trees. Birds chirped in songs I have never heard. An unseen river bubbled in the distance.

The colors were so… vivid. So real. More real than anything I had ever seen. Maybe it was because the only jungle I had ever seen was cast from concrete but… No. This was a different realm. A higher realm. A realm realer and deeper and truer than this.

Perhaps a realm of gods.

I blinked.

Was Tyger a god?

Green Tara’s voice floated into my mind.

In human terms, yes.

Images flashed through my head. Tyger standing tall and proud on a craggy mountain peak, the master of its domain. Tyger pouncing upon some strange four-legged animal I had never seen before, claws tearing into flesh, teeth ripping into its neck. Tyger swiping across the face of some gargantuan saurian, large as an elephant and infinitely more dangerous, smashing and slashing in a single blow. He was an explorer, a predator, a conqueror, a being who had seen and done more than any man would ever do in ten lifetimes.

The realm beyond the portal was his home. A realm where only souls as powerful and majestic as Tyger could inhabit.

“Is that your home?” I asked.

Tyger smiled. “Yes. Finally.”

Amid the trees, more Green Taras appeared. Behind her were more Buddhas and Bodhisattvas—but they had all assumed the form of anthropomorphic tigers, garbed in the robes of monks, seated in the lotus position.

“We can show you the way to liberation, if you wish,” the assembled divinities said.

Tyger gaped.

“You… how… where did you come from?”

“We are everywhere,” they replied.

“All my life, in all the lands I have explored, I have never seen you!”

“You never sought us out, until now.”

“Why would you help me?”

“We have vowed to liberate all beings. And so, if you present offerings to us and request for the teachings with a sincere heart, we will help you too.”

He gulped. Licked his lips. Breathed.

Then pressed his hands together and bowed to them.

“Thank you. I accept your help.”

He turned to me, to Green Tara, and bowed also.

“Thank you.”

I mirrored the gesture.

“Be at peace.”

He stepped through the portal. It closed behind him, leaving no trace. An instant later, the portal to hell winked out too.

Bowing to Green Tara, I said, “Thank you.”

She smiled.

“You are most welcome.”

In a flash of light, she vanished.

My strength fled me. I was a can drained to the final drop. My legs gave out. My butt plopped into a nearby chair.

Jackie patted my shoulder.

“Good work.”

I nodded. I didn’t have any energy left to say anything else.

So of course Hafiz had to come to me.

“Was that an exorcism?” he asked, disbelief in his voice.

“Purification,” I said.

“But they got away!”

The laws of Singyeung were designed to compel, to coerce, to condemn without possibility of forgiveness and redemption. The law of the cosmos was the way to truth. To choose compliance with the former was to choose a set of light shackles; to choose conformity with the latter was to choose liberation. But to say that out loud to an agent of mortal law was to invite the punishment of sovereign algorithms.

Instead, I said, “The tiger was a victim. He was compelled to commit murders against his will. As for the summoner, isn’t death and a trip to hell punishment enough? Now that they have chosen a new path, they will no longer harm others. Further punishment is no longer necessary.”

Hafiz shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” 

“Stick around him and you’ll see even weirder things,” Jackie said.

“You guys do that all the time?”

“Him, yes. Me, I’m just the saikang warrior.”

Jackie and I cracked up. I wouldn’t say what he did was unpleasant or even difficult, but I appreciated the support all the same.

Hafiz looked nervously at the door, then leaned in and whispered into my ear.

“I have to ask… Is Allah… you know… real?”

I closed my eyes.

How could I answer that? I’m no theologian. I’m not even a priest. I just happened to have a set of abilities different and far weirder than most cultivators. How could I begin to address what might just be the most profound existential question in the cop’s life.

A soft female voice whispered into my heart. I spoke her words out loud.

“There is truth in your faith. If you wish to stick to your path, then follow that truth all the way to the end.”

Hafiz nodded. “Thanks.”

Footsteps tapped behind me. I spent a second gathering what was left of my strength, then spun around to find SI Low and ASP Tang.

“Is it over?” Low asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Finally!” Tang exclaimed.

“More exciting than what you’re used to, eh?” Jackie said.

“My job is to investigate crimes. I’ll leave the high-speed stuff to you guys,” Tang said.

“So what happens now?” I asked.

“My men and I have to hang around for the post-shooting investigation,” Low said.

“We’ll write the two of you up for a commendation,” Tang promised. “You’ll be rewarded with fifty Sing Score points each.”

“Oh, come on!” Jackie exclaimed. “You can’t eat Sing Score points! You can’t even trade them for cash. Look, you can at least give us hazard pay, right?”

“Cannot. Rules and regulations.”

“Oh, man. We’re paid by the hour. You know how much time we spent helping you with this? That’s money out of our pockets!”

Tang scratched his head. “We’ll… uh… speak to your boss.”

“You’d better. If there’s nothing else, we gotta get back to work.”

“Hold on.”

“What is it this time?”

“We still need to go down to the station to take your statements. For all three incidents earlier.”

“Statements? What the shit? By the time we’re done, our shift will be long over! We won’t get paid!”

“Sorry. But we gotta do it.”

Pok gai! At least let us call the boss so we can explain what’s going on and get replacements.”

“Alright. No need to rush.”

Jackie grumbled under his breath. I rose to my feet and patted his shoulder.

“Come on. This night ain’t over yet.”

Still grumbling, he followed me out the door.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A Quiet Night in Wai Yuen Part 3

 Blade Runner, Cyberpunk, Neon Lights, Neon, Lights


With a tap on their screens, the cops summoned their vehicles. The Hung Syun was a man-made mammoth, a tiltrotor crossed with an armored truck, its martial purpose undeniable. Next to it, Tang’s flying wagon was a child’s toy.

There were twelve SOC operators, laden with tactical gear, and the Hung Syun needed time to rev up the rotors. Tang, Jackie and I were airborne in the lighter vehicle long before the SOC squad got off the ground.

“SOC goes in first,” Tang said. “We will stay behind. Move in only when the building is clear, or if SOC calls for your help. We have guns, you don’t.”

“We’re cultivators. We don’t need guns,” Jackie said.

Tang snorted. “Yeah, yeah, tell that to the cultivators who got shot over the years.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Quiet Night in Wai Yuen Part 2


Blade Runner, Cyberpunk, Neon Lights, Neon, Lights


When someone fires a gun in Singyeung, the police send everyone.

Patrol officers sealed off the scene. Rapid Deployment Force cruisers swooped down from the skies, forming the inner cordon. Right behind them, a Hung Syun descended in stately majesty. Equipped with long guns and tactical gear, a squad of SOC operators poured out the armored transport, forming up for immediate action. Flying ambulances followed to tend to the unconscious gangsters. Vans carried a crew of crime scene technicians.

Last of all was the Criminal Investigation Department.

A green flying car set itself down next to the gangsters’ vehicle. A middle-aged man in a blue polo shirt and dark pants stepped out. His warrant card hung on a lanyard around his neck.

“Assistant Superintendent James Tang, CID,” the newcomer said.

“Mark Woo and Jackie Lee,” Jackie replied. “Hap haak.”

Tang furrowed his eyebrows. “What happened here?”

As we explained the situation, the paramedics loaded the unconscious men aboard their ambulances. They tried to take Murali too, but Jackie stopped them.

“We still need him,” Jackie said. “He can lead us to the crime scene.”

“You’ve worked hard today,” Tang said. “Well done. We’ll take things from here.”

“The park isn’t secure,” Jackie said.

“Don’t worry. SOC will sweep the park.”

I held up a hand. “Hold off on that.”

“Why not? It’s not safe.”

“The primary suspect is a powerful cultivator. I can track the murderer’s qi trail. But if SOC goes in now, they’ll mess up the trail.”

Tang crossed his arms. “This is police business now.”

“I can tell you’re not a cultivator. What about everyone else? Is there a cultivator among them?”

“We received reports of multiple gunshots. We didn’t hear anything about cultivators. SIS wasn’t activated.”

If the cops had known or suspected a cultivator was involved, they wouldn’t have sent CID. They’d send the Special Investigations Section, and their cadre of martial cultivators. Since there weren’t any other cultivators around us…

“There are two hap haak in front of you,” Jackie said.

“Guns beat magic most of the time. We don’t know if there are any more suspects hiding in the area,” Tang said.

“SOC can escort us. We just need to make sure they don’t disturb the crime scene,” I said.

“You know we’re not paying you to do extra work, right?”

“This is our work,” I replied.

Tang threw his hands up. “Alright. But just so you know, the police are in charge now. Understand?”

“Yes sir!” Jackie and I responded.

Surrounded by the SOC operators, Murali showed us the way to the scene of the crime. This time of night, the park was utterly deserted. The only signs of life came from the insects flitting around light bulbs. As we followed the winding footpath, the operators lit up the darkness with their weapon lights, hunting for hidden threats.

The trek ended at a pavilion, just off the main trail. Grey pillars rose from a patch of stark concrete to hold up a gently arched roof of sun-hardened tiles. Beside the pillars were rows of benches and tables. Spotlights in the rafters cast the scene in a soft glow, drawing the eye to the dead.

The body lay sprawled in a sticky lake of blood. The scent of blood and iron hung in the air, mixed with body waste. His T-shirt and jeans, completely soaked through, had been shredded to pieces. Long, ugly gashes ran down his arms and inner thighs, suggesting sharp claws and powerful paws. White bone peeked through the deep wounds.

His head was gone.

Murali blanched. I sucked down a breath, calming myself. Jackie looked away. Tang pursed his lips, but stared unflinchingly at the scene.

“Where’s the head?” I asked.

Tang pointed with his thumb.

“Under the table at the far end.”

A spray of blood tracked towards a column. Partially hidden by the table, the head of the deceased lay face down, the vertebra exposed.

The tiger, I decided. It had pounced on the victim, bit on his throat, and decapitated him. Then it tossed the severed head into the corner.


There were all kinds of aggressive spirits out there. Some were precise and professional, inflicting no more than the minimum amount of damage needed to get the job done. At the other extreme, there were savages that delighted in brutality. Between the grievous wounds and the head toss, I suspected the spirit occupied the latter end of the spectrum.

“Murali, is this the body?” Tang asked formally.

Murali nodded. “Yes.”

“Can you identify him?”

“Johnny Lim.”

“What is your relationship to him?”

“He’s my… friend.”

“Not your headman?” Jackie probed.

Murali shook his head. “No. The headman couldn’t come today. That’s why he asked Johnny to settle on his behalf.”

For a half-second I’d been tempted to assume the victim was the headman of the crew. This was why you never made any assumptions during an investigation.

“What rank does Johnny hold?” Tang asked.

Murali blinked. “No rank.”

Tang shook his head.

“Please, lah. If he has no rank, why your headman ask him to settle for him? You wanna lie, be more believable, can?”

As he spoke, Tang changed his cadence, matching Murali’s Singyenglish accent, adding a touch of humour to soften the accusation.

“He’s the assistant headman,” Murali admitted.

“Why couldn’t your headman come?”

“Because he’s busy. But he never say why.”

“Where were you standing when the settlement talks started?”

Murali nodded at the floor. “There. On Johnny’s left.”

“And your two friends?”

“They were on his other side.”

“What about the Shiba crew?”

“Opposite us.”

“Where was their headman?”

“Right in front of Johnny.”

“What happened during the settlement talks?”

“When we met, their headman asked if Johnny was our headman. Johnny said no. He said our headman couldn’t make it. Their headman got angry and said that we didn’t respect him. Johnny said he could negotiate for us. Their headman said if he could take a message to our boss. Johnny said yes. Their headman reached under his shirt, pulled out his pendant, and… that tiger jumped out and…”

Murali shuddered.

“The tiger killed Johnny,” Tang said.

“What happened after that?”

“We ran. We had to. We couldn’t fight that thing.”

“Then Tom drew his gun and started shooting.”


“You ran back to your car, and ran into the hap haak.”

Murali sighed. “Ya…”

Tang looked at me. “You got everything you need to get started?”

I nodded. “Stay clear.”

My body was coming down from the fight. Adrenaline pulsed through me. My qi redistributed throughout my body, returning to my lower dantian. The fight-or-flight reflex delivered strength and speed when it was needed, but it also degraded cognitive skills and higher cultivation abilities. It took me a long time to learn how to remain steady enough to conduct a field interview after a violent encounter, and even then I wasn’t performing anywhere near my peak.

With slow, gentle breaths, I gathered my qi. On the inhale, I drew energy from the cosmos, absorbing through my skin, bringing it to my lower dantian. As I exhaled, I sent the energy up my spin, around the curve of my head, and into my upper dantian, the energy centre located in the forehead. It was a slow trickle of qi, just enough to reactivate my metaphysical senses without giving me a headache.

And then I saw.

A diffuse cloud of chaotic energies floated in the pavilion. The qi of life and death, desperation and despair, fear and agony, mingled together in a toxic brew. In my mind’s ear I heard the screaming once again, the echoes of the dead man infused into the concrete.

With eight people gathered here for such an intense event, it was little wonder that there was so much energy here. But they were all jumbled up, difficult to separate into individual strands.

Except for the ghost.

Johnny Lim stood over his body. Dressed as he was in his final moments in life, he looked down at his spectral hands, at his corporal remains, at the pool of drying blood. His jaw hung open in a silent scream, his eyes were wide, as if still unable to comprehend his fate.

His neck was gone.

His head floated in empty space. Red fluid rimmed the edges of the enormous wound. More blood covered his hands. Separated from his body, his consciousness reconstructed his appearance from his last memories, from what he thought he looked like even as he lay dying, from the energies that remained in the area. He appeared almost solid, but I sensed he was concentrating to hold himself together. I had the feeling that if I stared at him too hard, he might fall apart.

He was also our best witness.

“Opening channel,” I said. “Cover me.”

“Roger,” Jackie said.

“What does that mean?” Tang asked.

“It means everyone keeps quiet while Mark-gor does his thing,” Jackie said.

Closing my eyes, I breathed deep, setting into the centre of my being, grounding my body into the earth. From this state of stillness, I expanded my awareness, touching the remains of Johnny Lim.

His soul was in turmoil. Fear, anger, horror, sorrow, a swirling smog of negative emotions boiled from him. Having been violently separated from his body, his consciousness was violently disturbed. Left alone, he might go mad and haunt this place, or disperse completely without ever knowing peace.

I drew my forth my qi, linking it to the essence of water. Deep, pure, calm, cleansing. My bracelet and my mala cooled as the qi transformed into healing mist. Extending my hand, I sprinkled fine droplets of blue energy over him, like oil sprayed on troubled waters, willing the energies to settle his own.

A soft, frightened voice penetrated my consciousness.

Who are you?

I infused my response into my spell, letting it fill his own.

I am here to help. Do you remember your name?

He shook his head. No.

Do you remember what happened?

He twitched. His hands clenched. Torment crossed his face.


I increased the flow of qi by a smidgen.

Easy now. Relax. Let the energy heal you and take away your pain.

He closed his eyes. Opened his fingers. And heaved a sigh of relief.

Thank you.

I dipped my head. No problem. Would you like to share with me what happened?

Sound and colour smashed into my mind.

Now I was seeing through the victim’s own eyes, a memory of his final moments, colored by trauma. I looked out upon a blood-red world tinted in shadow. Four hazy forms stood before me, radiating hostility and anger. Next to me, my brothers tensed, readying for action.

The figure in front of me glowed a sudden white light. He reached under his shirt and pulled out his pendant. A monster leapt forth, fur and fangs and killer claws, too huge for such a tiny talisman, a predator from another plane come to feast. It seized my shoulders, ramming me to the ground, clawing my arms and legs, and as I tried to fight back, to reach my weapons at my waist, it lunged for my throat and snapped its jaws and ripped out my flesh and bone—

I paused. Breathed. Exhaled.

That was not me. That was him. He had died. I had come to speak for him.

Bracing myself, I dove into his memories again.

With a powerful swipe, the tiger batted my head aside. Suddenly I was seeing two images at once, the feed from my eyes, staring into the corner, and the view from where the rest of my body lay on the floor. Gunshots rang out. The hazy figures ducked for cover. Holding out his pendant, the summoner shouted, and the tiger jumped back into its vessel.

When the shooting stopped, the four men turned and ran. I wanted to get up, to chase them, to kill them, but I was stuck. I was stuck on the floor and I could not move and I could not breathe and I could not scream and—

I exhaled.

Opening my eyes, I saw Johnny Lim standing at the edge of the pavilion, his face twisted in fury and agony. He burned for revenge, and so long as he burned, he could not move on.

Thank you, I sent.

Catch the one who killed me. Make him pay.

I cast the healing magic again, seeking to soothe what was left of his soul.

We’ll take care of the rest. As for you, I see you are still suffering. Do you need help to move on?

How? He wondered.

Just listen.

I unclasped my mala and grasped it in my left hand. Pressing my palms together, I dipped my head.

Em a ho!” I began.

“Are you… praying?” Tang wondered.

“Quiet!” Jackie shushed.

Ignoring them, I continued the prayer.

Ngotsar sangye nangwa taye dang / ye su jowo tukje chenpo dang / yon du sempa tuchentop nam la / sangye yangsem pakme khor gyi kor…

It was the Dechen Monlam, the prayer for rebirth in the Pure Land of Sukhavati. Reciting it from memory, I emanated my qi in all directions, willing it to fill all space. I visualised the energies transforming into a superabundance of offerings: fruit, flowers, torma, water, butter lamps, incense, perfumes, music, all the wonders and pleasures of the universe.

As I chanted, brilliant scarlet light filled my mind’s eye, radiating from a figure seated in the lotus position. His skin was as red as the setting sun, his black hair tied into a topknot. Garbed in golden robes, he held a blue begging bowl on his lap, his soles turned upwards to the heavens.

Amitabha Buddha. The Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life, the creator of Sukhavati, he who vowed to bring all who call upon him to be reborn in his realm. There, all beings would be freed from all suffering, and receive instruction from the Buddhas until they themselves attain complete enlightenment.

To Amitabha’s left stood a blue-skinned figure blazing in crimson flames. Right leg bent, left leg extended, he held a vajra over his breast with his left hand, and his outstretched right hand made the refuge-giving mudra. Fangs bared, his three eyes glared at the world around. A crown of skulls, a cloak made from elephant hide, and a hip wrap of tiger skin completed his wrathful appearance.

Bodhisattva Vajrapani, wrathful protector of the Buddha, he who frightens the wicked and induces sentient beings to let go of their delusions and mental grasping.

To Amitabha’s right, also seated in the lotus position, was a figure of purest white with a thousand arms and eleven heads. His heads were stacked like a tower, three rows of three looking forward and the sides, then two smaller ones placed one atop the other. Upon his heads rested splendid crowns of purest gold, and gold bedecked his ears, his biceps, his wrists and his neck. He folded two hands over his heart, holding a blue cintamani. A right hand held aloft a crystal mala, while a left grasped a lotus flower. More arms fanned out from his sides, extending in all directions.

In Chinese he is called Guanyin, in Sanskrit he was named Avalokitesvara, I knew him as Chenrezig. The Lotus Lord, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, he who perceives the cries of the world and aids all who suffer.

Jangchup top ne jisi du / trulpe drowa drenpar shok!” I concluded.

And Chenrezig shook his head.

I blinked.

Blinked again.

Why? I sent.

The voice of Chenrezig filled my head, warm and gentle and soothing, yet also filled with sorrow.

His mind is too disturbed. He cannot see nor comprehend Amitabha, much less the Pure Land. He is still too attached to his suffering to cross over. You have comforted him and soothed his pains, but it is not enough for complete purification.

Vajrapani spoke, a fiery roar with a heart of compassion.

He still grasps too tightly to his sins. He still does not see how they have contributed to his sorrow and suffering. He does not know why he is destined for hell unless he turns back and returns to the path of Enlightenment. His mind is caught by his anguish and his pain, and sees little beyond it.

Then came a third voice, serene and loving, resonant and pervasive, the voice of Amitabha.

He cannot pass through the gate into the Pure Land until he is fully liberated from suffering.

What must I do? I asked.

Chenrezig replied.

Seek out a priest to pray for his soul and the souls of all whose lives he has touched, and to pray for the purification of this tainted land. Of course, you could do it yourself, but you are busy now.

I sighed. And nodded.

I’m not a priest. My cultivation abilities merely manifested in an unusual way, even for inhabitants of the jianghu.

“Thank you,” I said out loud.

I extended my hand, and sprinkled Johnny Lim one last time. He smiled, slightly, but his huge wound remained. With a flash of red light, Amitabha vanished. Vajrapani and Chenrizig followed him into the astral realms.

I focused my attention on Lim and sent, This is all I can do for you right now, but I will make sure the ritual is complete.

He pressed his palms together and bowed to me.

Thank you.

I bowed back, then turned to the others.

“It’s done,” I said.

“Were you praying for the dead?” Superintendent Tang wondered.

“Yes,” I replied. “Talked to him too. He showed me where the suspects went.”

Dredging up the memory he had shown me, I scanned in the direction the killer had fled. Soon, I picked up a faint white thread cutting through the park. It was a qi trail, left behind by the summoner and his spirit.

“Over there,” I said, pointing with my thumb.

A team of operators brought Murali back to the main entrance. The others formed a protective circle around me. I followed the qi trail on a parallel course, keeping my distance, preventing the operators from blundering into it. Behind me, I overheard Tang talking into his phone, calling up the technicians and coordinating the rest of the cordon.

The trail led us to the other side of the park and abruptly terminated at the sidewalk. I closed my eyes again and extended my awareness, reading the energies imprinted into the world, and the memories of the very recent past. 

“I see a group of four men. The primary suspect is among them. Tall, lean, looks Chinese. Red shirt, blue jeans. He has a pendant around his neck. The pendant is glowing white.

“The four men are boarding a car. It’s too dark. I can’t make out the colour, model or licence plate. There is a fifth individual. Male. He’s in the driver’s seat.

“The primary suspect climbed into the front passenger seat. The others are in the rear. The driver is pulling out and heading off… that way.”

I pointed to my ten o’clock, where a side road led deeper into Wa Yuen.

“Do you see where they went?” Jackie asked.

“No. Traffic was too heavy. It muddied the trail.”

It would take a cultivator more powerful than me to pick up what was left of it. With their rare talents, such cultivators were too specialised and too highly-priced to walk a beat.

“I got them,” Tang said.

Opening my eyes, I saw Tang holding up his phone, unfurled to the size of a tablet. The screen showed the feed from one of the city’s countless surveillance cameras. I checked the angle, did a double take, and looked up.

I was standing under a streetlight. Just past the lightbulb housing, partially hidden in shadows, an unblinking camera dome looked back at me.

“Is this them?” Tang asked.

I turned my attention back to the screen. In colour night vision, four men sprinted towards a gray sedan. Among them was a tall man in a red shirt and blue jeans. The angle couldn’t quite catch the entirety of their faces. But as the car pulled out, the camera caught the rear half of the front licence plate and the front half of the rear plate.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

Tang’s fingers played across the screen.

“I’ve flagged them on the system. We’ve got their licence plates, their gait signatures, partials on their faces. Once we can confirm their identities, we’ll suspend their passports and bank accounts. When they reappear on the cameras, the system will send a city-wide alert. Good job.”

I exhaled sharply. No one, no one, escapes the law in Singyeung. And the system is always right.

Anyone who says otherwise risks his Sing Score.

“Do you still need us?” Jackie asked.

“Nope. I’ve alerted Special Investigations. They’ll send their own cultivators. In the meantime, I’m going to need your statements—”

The tablet buzzed. Tang blinked.

“Huh. We’ve got a hit.”

“So soon?” I asked.

“They’re on Tong Lup Street, about ten minutes from here. And… shit.”

“What?” Jackie demanded.

Tang flipped the tablet around.

“This is the real-time feed from the street camera.”

Mounted on a streetlight, the camera gazed down on the sidewalk. Cars lined the roads, their licence plates highlighted in blue boxes. The vehicle of interest was marked with a red box. At the bottom of the frame, a panicking mob rushed out an unseen door, fleeing down the streets. With every step, the system tracked and analysed their movements, matching them against its gait signature databases, and marked them with green and yellow crosses.

I had no idea what the symbols meant, but I could guess what was happening now.

“The crew launched another attack,” Jackie said.

“Ng Yong Noodle House,” Tang confirmed. “Suspected 108 front business.”

“We’ve got to go.”

“Woah, woah, woah. It’s police business now. You’re not going anywhere.”

“How long will it take for SIS to reach the scene?”

Tang shrugged. “Fifteen, thirty minutes?”

“We don’t have that long,” I said.

“Let SOC handle them.”

I spun around, facing the SOC operators.

“Do you have any cultivators among you?”

“No,” Station Inspector Low, their team leader, said.

I turned back to Tang. “They can’t handle the tiger spirit. We can. We have to come with you.”

Tang swore. Ran his fingers through his hair. Sighed.

“Fine. But you take orders from me, understand?”

“Got it,” Jackie said.

Tang turned to the operators. “Mount up. We’re making an immediate action rapid deployment.”

“Roger that,” Low said.

“As for you two…”

“Yeah?” I asked.

Tang glared at me.

“Don’t fuck up.”

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Monday, March 14, 2022

A Quiet Night in Wai Yuen Part 1

 Last week, I mentioned that I would be publishing 3 webserials this month to gather reader feedback and decide my next series. This is the first chapter of the second story, A Quiet Night in Wai Yuen.

Set in the universe of Illusion City, the story takes place in the floating arcology of Singyeung, drifting not-so-peacefully along the Equator, somewhere in Southeast Asia. In an age where cultivation and technology collide, a brave new world of magic and cybernetics is upon us. It is the story of Mark Woo, a bottom-tier cultivator with a singularly unique power, and his adventures as a private policy officer in a city fraught with fault lines.

A Quiet Night in Wai Yuen has Mark and his partner, Jackie Lee, patrolling the neighbourhood of Wai Yuen at night. A quiet night, until the shooting starts.


Blade Runner, Cyberpunk, Neon Lights, Neon, Lights


Neon forests blazed bright against the night sky. Light and sound poured from rows of narrow shophouses, a dazzling, disorienting mix of high-energy tunes in hopeless asynchrony with blinking signboards and flashing holograms. Hawkers crammed the five-foot ways, hectoring passers-by with special offers and discounts. The scent of sizzling meats and fried pastries wafted from food carts, their owners careful to display their hygiene certifications in plain view. Ground cars trundled along the congested roads, their electric engines totally silent. Loud whirs announced the presence of airborne drones and sky cars, racing for the illuminated high-rises beyond the borders of the district.

A quiet night, for Wa Yuen.

Flowing through the crowds, I allowed the energy of the neighbourhood to pass into and through me, feeling the pulse of the area. Popular with tourists and locals alike, this was where people went to experience the real Singyeung, where the real people lived and worked and played, far from the shadows of the arcology spires and their high-ses inhabitants.

For the working crowd, Wa Yuen was a garden of earthly delights. Cheap eats, cheap deals, cheap everything. In the unmarked shophouses and the back alleys, in the dead zones where the near-omnipresent cameras couldn’t yet see, a man could find dark pleasures illicit yet tolerated—for now.

Where humans go, desires follow. Where desires concentrate, wrongdoing emerges. It was the way of the universe. A man’s Sing Score was no match for his sin score, and Singyeung was one of the last places in the city where the hawkers and shopkeepers didn’t look too hard at a customer’s Scorecard.

The government allowed it, of course. Better to give the low-scorers and the low-sessers somewhere they could go to vent their energies than to risk them running amok in the places where the high-scorers lived. Naturally, that meant secret societies and professional thugs flocked to Wa Yuen.

Now and then the police make a big show about public safety. Uniformed cops show their faces in the five-foot ways, always in groups of four or more. Hung Syun from the Special Operations Command rolled heavy down the roads, their distinctive red-and-black colorations commanding respect from drivers. The Criminal Investigation Department conducts regular raids and spot-checks. But everyone knows how things really work.

The jianghu polices its own.

Three paces behind me, Jackie Lee strutted down the sidewalk. Lean and mean, he was a wolf in man’s clothing, and he wasn’t afraid to show it. His qi field burned hot and heavy, a burning beacon in a sea of fog. Every inch of him radiated animal aggression barely kept in check. Everyone gave him a wide berth.

Me? Barely anyone noticed me.

I was the point man, he was the muscle, a division of labour we had grown accustomed to over the past half-year. Early on, our roles were reversed, as he showed me the ins and outs of Wa Yuen. But now, when I was just one night away from completing my probationary period, we had reverted to the roles that suited us best.

Nature could not be denied.

Hawkers and shopkeepers called out to us as we passed. Those who were busy, we simply returned their greetings and went on our way. Those who were not, we stopped to chat for a bit, to better understand the ebb and flow of the neighbourhood. They had paid a pretty sum to guarantee two private police officers on the streets at all times. Not just any private PPOs either, but martial cultivators. When Jackie and I were on duty, we would give them their money’s worth.

It was the right thing to do.

“Mark-gor!” a voice cried out.

At the end of the five-foot way, a tiny food cart sold satay. Skewers of chicken, mutton and fishballs rested on the smoking grill, releasing delicious scents. The owner, a tiny Malay woman in a colourful dress and tudung, waved at me.

“Makcik Halimah!” I replied. “How are you doing?”

“Good, good.” Tiptoeing, she turned to Jackie. “Jackie, you’re here too! Every time I see you, you grow taller!”

Jackie laughed. He was well past puberty, but Halimah always made light of her stature.

“How’s business?” Jackie asked.

“Okay, lah.” She looked both ways down the street, then leaned in. “Are you busy now?”

Her dark eyes were wide open, stress lines popped across her face, her hands clenched into fists.

She was afraid.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She thumbed over her shoulder.

“Ten minutes ago, I saw some gangster types walk into the park. I dunno what they’re doing there. Can you check it out?”

The park was right across the road. Though popular in the day with local families, this late at night the deep shadows and rare cameras offered many opportunities for street animals and predators.

“How many of them were there?” I asked.

“Four, five, I think. They drove up in a red car and walked into the park. Strange, isn’t it?”

“Sounds like they had something to do here,” Jackie said.

“Yah, yah. Very strange, right? So late already, there’s nothing happening at the park,” Halimah said.

“Can you describe them? What were they wearing?” I asked.

“They were—”

Shouts drifted across the road, almost lost in the din.

Jackie cocked his head. “Heard that?”

I nodded. “That’s from the park.”

A tiger roared.

White light seared across my sight. A wave of heavy qi, raw and savage, washed over me, buffeting the outer edges of my aura.

“What’s going on?” Halimah asked.

“Trouble,” I replied.

Someone had just cast magic. The kind that rends the veil between realms and pulls otherworldly beings into this one. A summoner. More than that, a heavy hitter. Someone with the capacity to unleash the kind of power that can be felt from a block away.

A cultivator.

As I gathered my thoughts, a man screamed, his voice piercing the night, fading into a liquid gurgle. 

“Come on! We gotta go!” Jackie shouted.

A loud bang echoed.

Two, three, four more followed, a rapid string of unmistakable explosions.


Guns were rare in Singyeung. Out on the street, only three kinds of people held guns: cops, corpo cops, and well-connected gangsters.

I ducked, hands covering my head, qi rushing from my dantian to reinforce my defences. Civilians around me froze. Others turned to the sound. A couple walked on, totally oblivious. Halimah gaped.

“Get inside and stay down!” I yelled.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

I grabbed her by the shoulders and shoved her in the direction of the nearest shop.

“Shots fired! Take cover now!”

The spell broke. People screamed. Others ran. Jackie ran too—towards the shooting.

“Come on!”

I followed him, sparing a moment to look both ways before crossing the road. The traffic had paused for a moment, long enough for us to weave our way between the cars and vans. As my boot hit the pavement on the other side, I scanned the world.

Streetlights lined the outer perimeter of the park. Lonely pavilions and lines of light poles showed the way in the dark. Outside the pools of illumination, I saw nothing.

The white light was gone. The qi wave was gone. The gunman cracked off another string, faster and more desperate than before.

Jackie pointed to the left.

“There! That’s the red car!”

Past the street corner, a red SUV sat right in front of the entrance to the park. As we approached, Jackie drew a flashlight from his pocket and lit up the interior. Empty.

With at least one gun in play, and quite likely magic, we were exposed. We had tricks of our own, of course, but a gun was a superpower all by itself. The engine block of the SUV offered the closest piece of hard cover. Ducking low, we headed for the car.

Footsteps pounded against pavement. Someone panted loudly. A qi field closed in from the direction of the entrance, large and diffused. Three, four people bunched closely together.

At the last second, I veered right, rushing for the welcome sign. The thin wood wouldn’t stop a bullet, but maybe it could conceal me. I pressed myself up against it and quieted my breath.

Three men rushed past me, completely ignoring me, making a beeline for the red car. All three of them alerted on Jackie.

“Oi! What the fuck are you doing?” the man in the middle yelled.

Jackie rose to his feet, squaring off against the speaker.

“I heard gunshots. What’s going on?”

“None of your business!”

The men fanned out. The leader, dressed in dark clothing bladed off against Jackie, hiding his right hand. From where I was, I couldn’t see what he held either. But I could read their qi.

The leader and the wingman on his right were mortals. Their thin auras were faint and ragged, betraying a rough life with little self-care. The one on the left was a cultivator. His aura was a thin red field, dark and sticky, shot through with faint lines. A Tier Five, only slightly more powerful than a regular human.

Nowhere near powerful enough to have caused the spike I’d felt.

Stepping away from the leader, the cultivator glanced over his shoulder, a quick witness check, and keyed on me.

“What the fuck?” he exclaimed.

I stood.

Hap haak!” I declared. “Identify yourself!”

In Cantonese, the term meant ‘follower of the Xia’. In Singyeung slang, it meant—

“Martial cultivator! Fuck!”

The cultivator swivelled around, turning to face me completely. His boss looked over his shoulder at me, then at Jackie. Breathing deep, I gathered my qi in my dantian, keeping my hands in sight.

“We’re private police. Tell us what’s going on,” Jackie said.

“Corpo cops!” the boss yelled.

“We’re not—”

Stepping back, he swung up his right arm at Jackie, revealing—

“GUN!” I yelled.

Jackie roared.

His qi surged, pouring out of his dantian, flooding the bracelet he wore on his right wrist. The device transformed the qi, manifesting it as coruscating streams of fierce yellow light. Eyes blazing, his bared teeth gnashed in a ghastly grimace, his muscles bulged, his fingers formed hardened into claws of steel.

He called this technique Wrath of the Asura: the technique that turned a Tier Three cultivator into a god of war.

The leader recoiled, stunned by the force and the fury of his battle cry, his arm frozen in mid-air for a single, fatal moment.

Bursting towards his centreline, Jackie was a burning thunderbolt. He slapped the gun hand away, first with his right hand, then his left. He clicked on the flashlight in his right hand, blinding the threat, then whipped around to smash the strike bezel into the leader’s jaw. He followed through, continuing his spin, slamming his left elbow into the same spot he struck. Left arm crossed over his chest, Jackie seized the leader’s left shoulder with fingers like eagle claws, rammed the flashlight into his crotch, and drove the leader towards the wingman on his right.

Which left me to deal with the other threat.

Rushing in, I discharged my own qi, infusing it with my intent and driving it to my own bracelet. Rivers of liquid lightning swirled across limbs, soft on the outside, hard on the inside, glowing in cool blues. The steel mala wrapped around my left wrist crackled.

I do not name my magic. It is enough that it works.

“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck—”

Backing up, he raised his fists. His qi flared, covering his arms in swirling red clouds. Basic body hardening magic. Not bad, just irrelevant.

Leading with my left side, my arms formed a spearhead of bone. My hands shot towards his face. He covered up with his forearms, then cocked his right hand for a haymaker. I sank low and drilled my left fist into his solar plexus.

My qi blasted deep into him, shocking flesh, nerves, his own qi. He doubled over, gagging and coughing. I sidestepped and corkscrewed my right fist into his exposed liver.

He dropped on his ass and fell to the side, clearly out of the fight.

I looked back at Jackie, just in time to see him toss the leader at the wingman. Slipping aside, the wingman raised his hands to defend himself. Jackie seized his wrist with both hands and pulled him down into a groin kick. As the gangster bent over, Jackie clapped his ears with both hands. The stunned gangster quivered as the shockwave of energy, kinetic and ethereal, rolled through him. Jackie held on tight and cranked him down through a spiral, bringing him to the ground.

Glancing around me, I scanned the area.

“All threats down!” I called.

Jackie stepped back, fists clenched, then threw his head back and roared his victory at the heavens. Hot yang qi roiled off him, washing around me, slowly dissipating into the universe. The golden glow faded, leaving behind a regular man.

I drew my own qi into myself, returning it into my dantian. Breathing slowly and deeply, I cycled it through my meridians, returning the excess to the cosmos.

“What the hell was that all about?” Jackie asked.

The only response was a soft groan.

The cultivator I’d put down was curled up in the fetal position, clutching his injured flank. The other two thugs were concussed beyond unconsciousness.

“Securing suspect. Cover me,” I said.

I rolled the cultivator over on his belly and pinned my knee against the base of his spine. Jackie seized his left wrist, removed his transformation bracelet, and gave me the cultivator’s hand. I grabbed his other wrist, then brought both hands to the small of his back and kneed on them. I fished a pair of handcuffs from my belt pouch and cuffed him.

The cultivator didn’t have the strength to resist. The best he could do was wiggle about and moan some more.

Frisking him, I found a wallet, a bunch of keys, and a phone. No weapon. The other wingman was similarly unarmed. The leader’s handgun was a Type 192, cheap enough that it could be found everywhere on the black market, deadly enough that a self-respecting martial cultivator had to treat it with respect.

I sat the cultivator upright, supporting him against the wheel well of the car. He coughed, trying to summon the strength to speak. I produced my own phone from my pocket and touched the scroll button. The device unrolled on silent hinges, expanding to the size of a miniature tablet. I aimed the cameras at his face and took a picture.

With a flash and a click, the device captured his visage. I uploaded the photo into my facial recognition app. Connected to police and government databases, it was one of the minor perks that came with being a private police officer. Inside ten seconds, I was looking at the subject’s Scorecard.

Every Citizen and every Resident of Singyeung had one. It was a digital record of his life history, permanently stored on the government blockchain. It was a combination of national identity card, medical history, academic qualifications, and, most importantly, criminal record.

The first section of his Scorecard revealed his personal information. File photo, name, age, address, sex, blood type, Sing Score. I read it slowly, absorbing the information, preparing my approach.

“Murali Chawla,” I said out loud. “Is that you?”

Murali winced. “Who wants to know?”

Kneeling, I brought myself level with him, then brought out my badge case.

“My partner and I are Private Police Officers,” I said. “We heard gunshots and rushed over. Then you and your friends attacked me. You want to tell us what’s going on?”

Murali spat a curse in Hindi. I shook my head.

“When on duty, we hold the same powers as a regular cop. We can charge you with criminal offences. You want that?”

Another curse, this time in English.

“Using criminal force on a public servant, possession of a deadly weapon, criminal use of cultivation powers… You want me to go on?” I said.

He glared at me and sucked his teeth.

Ignoring him, I glanced at his Scorecard.

“You have an extensive criminal record too. Gang robbery, involvement in a secret society, possession of weapons… Even though you served in the SDF, you lost your citizenship. Now your Sing Score is just 138 points. You’re in a bad way.”

Everyone started with 500 points. As he committed infractions, major or minor, his score dropped, sometimes hundreds of points at once. Anyone who scored below 100 was deemed a threat to society—and permanently removed from the streets.

“So what?”

“Between this fight and your Sing Score, if you’re charged again with a major criminal offence, you are going to jail for life.”

He snorted. “Not your problem.”

I scrolled down, looking at his family information.

“Your mother is sixty-nine,” I said slowly. “If you go to jail again, who’s going to look after her?”


Murali shot up. I slammed my palm into his chest, using just enough force to hold him back. Then I gripped his collar and pushed him back against the wheel.

“Do you want to see your mother again?”

“You fucking piece of shit!”

“Do you want. To see. Your mother. Again?”

Baring his teeth, he glared at me. His silence was all the answer I needed.

“You have one shot to make this right,” I continued. “You can see her again, but only if you cooperate. Tell us what happened.”

“We never started anything!” Murali blurted. “They attacked us first!”

I raised my eyebrow.

“Who’s ‘they’?”


Chinese for ‘18’, it was the name of a secret society that operated in the region.

“Which number do you play?” I asked.

His eyes flicked to my screen. “You can read it on your phone, right?”

“You’re all part of 108?”

I took care to pronounce the numbers individually: one-zero-eight.

“Yeah,” he admitted.

A single number separated the names of the rival gangs. They thought it enough cause to wage a state of permanent low-level war all over Singyeung.

“What are you doing here?”

“One of their headmen called us here. He said he wanted to settle with us.”

“What did they want to settle?”

“Turf. They say that they own 9th Street. But we own it.”

“They wanted to fight you for it.”

“Ya. They didn’t even bother to talk. Once we all gathered at the park, their headman summoned a spirit to attack us.”

“What kind of spirit?”

“A white tiger. Big. Fierce. Like the kind you see in the zoo.”

“How did he summon it?”

“Dunno. Think he held up some kind of pendant. The tiger jumped out of it.”

“What did the tiger do?”

“It… It jumped on Johnny. Then it… it… it bit his throat. Took his head off.”

My blood chilled. A spirit that powerful could only be summoned by an even more powerful summoner. Or someone who had bought a spirit talisman from such a summoner.

“What did you do next?” I asked.

“We ran. What else could we do?”

“What about the gunshots?”

Murali looked at his unconscious buddy.

“That was Tom. I didn’t know about the gun, okay? Not until he pulled it out. While we were running away, he was laying covering fire for us.”

“You were defending yourselves.”

Murali nodded vigorously. “Yeah, yeah! That’s right! It was self-defense!”

The penalty for illegally possessing a firearm was ten years in prison and ten strokes of the neural scourge. Using a firearm in the commission of a crime guaranteed a life sentence—and twenty strokes of the scourge. Shooting someone was a one-way trip to death row. Anyone who consorts with someone who he knows was unlawfully carrying a weapon will receive the same sentence as the offender. Murali was probably hoping that this excuse would get them off the hook. Or at least himself.

But the law was as cold and uncompromising as the algorithms that govern Singyeung.

“Did Tom hit any of them?” I asked.

“Dunno. Too dark. Didn’t see.”

“How many Shiba members were there?”


“Can you describe them?”

Murali shook his head. “Too dark. Look, I don’t know any of them, okay? Never see them before. Headman says I come, I come. That’s all.”

“And your headman asked your buddies to come too.”


“Where did the Shiba members go?”

Murali cocked his head vaguely to the left.

“Around there. After we ran, they ran away too. Never saw what happened next.”

“You ran back to the entrance of the park. Is that right?”

“Yes. Then we ran into you.”

“Why did you attack us?”

Murali shrugged. “I don’t know… I thought you were here to catch us. I thought you were part of Shiba too.”

“A misunderstanding. Jesus Christ,” Jackie remarked.

Murali hung his head.

I sighed.

Fighting was bad enough. But fighting because they thought we were there to stop them? Insane.

Rotors whirred in the hot, muggy night. A chorus of police sirens filled the streets. Red and blue lights flashed in the skies above.

“At last,” Jackie muttered.

“Better late than never,” I agreed, then turned back to Murali. “You’ve been very cooperative so far. Thank you. Do you feel ready to help us some more?”

“But I help you already!”

“When the police come, they’re going to take you away. If you prove to them that you were cooperative, maybe they won’t reduce your Sing Score too much. Maybe they’ll even let you see your mother.”

Murali sighed.

“What do you want to know?”

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