Authors: Kylie Chan
Leo and I sat on the mats across from eachâ¦
We took the glass lift up to the hotel andâ¦
Gold held Amy's hand and smiled down at her whileâ¦
Simone was standing outside the entrance to the Grotto, stillâ¦
We made our way back up in the lift toâ¦
I came around in my own bed in the servants'â¦
Later I went into the Celestial Armoury to try againâ¦
I sat with Mum and Dad on the back terraceâ¦
We went back down to the office and I guidedâ¦
As Leo and I worked through the Wu set, studentsâ¦
LK brought Ronnie up to my office and we closedâ¦
Clarissa and Michael held their engagement party in a functionâ¦
âAnd it hit the middle of the target,' Martin said,â¦
âThis will be the first night in a while it'llâ¦
Liu, Meredith and Gold were already in the conference roomâ¦
Meredith, Liu and Gold were waiting for us in John'sâ¦
Meet in the Throne Room, John said in broadcast mode.
I excused myself shortly after dinner and left them toâ¦
Late that afternoon we met up with the Tiger atâ¦
The kindergarten had a tiny garden with a lawn andâ¦
The next morning the police provided me with prisoner's whiteâ¦
I woke and stared, confused, at the sheer curtains aroundâ¦
The Jade Emperor, John and Er Lang were waiting forâ¦
It took me about ten minutes to go through allâ¦
We rode a cloud together to the Eastern Palace, whichâ¦
The dinner was subdued; almost painful. On the one hand,â¦
They returned through the hole John had made, again passingâ¦
The Tiger showed us to the suite we'd be sharing;â¦
The Tiger drove us to his research facility on theâ¦
Leo didn't join us for dinner that evening; he'd beenâ¦
Simone was cheerful over breakfast the next morning. âI've hadâ¦
I was in one of the training rooms doing swordâ¦
We moved carefully as a group to the doors andâ¦
I was weak, but still able to walk. I headedâ¦
My head hurt more than it had ever hurt inâ¦
Gold, John and I were in John's office discussing theâ¦
The Serpent lies on the carpet, alone.
The city lights shine through the windows.
It raises its head and tastes things gone;
it drops its head and returns to the sea.
The Turtle raises its head from the water;
the lake stretches around it.
People point and talk, excited.
It goes to the bottom and settles in the mud.
eo and I sat on the mats across from each other in the Fragrant Lotus training room. His dark face was rigid with concentration as he held the chi on his outstretched hands.
I held one hand on his forearm, watching as the energy flowed through him. âFloat it to the other hand.'
He lost it and it snapped back, hitting him in the middle of the chest. He bounced backwards but didn't fall; then sagged, leaning on the floor. âThis is so damn hard.'
âThat was a pathetically small amount of chi for anybody to generate, especially an Immortal,' I said. âYou ate meat, didn't you?'
He didn't reply but his face said it all.
âAlcohol too?' I said.
I felt the answer through his arm. âWell, I'm glad you've forgiven him.'
He pulled his arm away. âThat is none of your business and you're not supposed to be able to do that.'
I didn't pursue it. âYou have a choice here, Leo. Either give up trying to do energy work or give up meat, alcohol and sex. You can't do both.'
âBut I'm a Shen,' he said, softly protesting.
âShiny new and green as grass,' I said.
The door flew open and my secretary, Chang, charged in and planted himself in front of us. âThey're taking away my job!'
Leo waved one hand and his wheelchair rolled to him. He pulled himself into it. âYou salute your Master when you enter. Where is your respect?'
Chang fell to one knee and saluted me and Leo. âLord. Lady.' He rose and gestured impatiently. âThey say I am no longer to serve you, ma'am. Stop them!'
Yi Hao came in, her expression desperate. âI'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't expect him to react like this. I thought he'd be happy not to have to do it any more.'
I pulled myself to my feet and Leo held one arm out to steady me. âYi Hao was my secretary before you were, Chang. You had the job on a temporary basis; I explained it to you before.'
âI thought she couldn't be trusted.'
âThat's why we're going down to the Earthly this afternoon. I'll find out one way or the other if she's trustworthy, and if she is she can resume her post.'
âLet him do it, ma'am,' Yi Hao said. âI'll do something else.'
That stopped Chang and he stared at her.
âShe's a tame demon, she doesn't have free will,' I said. âIf a human or Shen orders her, she must obey. She's seen that you want the job, so she's ceding to you, even though it'll make her miserable.'
âAnd the fact that you're making such a fuss about it proves that you're not worthy to do it,' Leo said. âYou need to release your attachments and accept circumstances with serenity and grace.' His face went strange. âWhere did that come from?'
âYou were just connected to the universe while we were doing chi gong,' I said. âWell, that's what it feels like anyway. Some of it rubbed off.'
âI think I'll spend more time connected to it then,' Leo said, musing. He glared at Chang. âCede the position. You deserve to be moved back in with Lok.'
âI don't want to serve the dog again!' Chang said, desperate. âI'm better than that â¦' He stared at us for a long moment, then fell to one knee and lowered his head. âI will report to Master Lok immediately.' He rose, saluted us, and went out without looking back.
I exhaled a huge breath. âFinally!'
âWhat if Lok doesn't want him?' Leo said.
âThen I'll put him to work in the gardens,' I said.
âOh, good idea.' Leo concentrated, attempted to lift himself out of the wheelchair, and failed. âOkay, I give up. Meet up with me again after I've been vegetarian for a few days.' He spun his chair to leave.
âMartin will understand,' I said.
âMartin's been trying to make me abstain,' he said without looking back. âHe said the same thing you did.'
âDon't forget you're driving me to Kwun Tong in an hour to meet with the Demon King,' I called after him.
âDon't go, ma'am,' Yi Hao said. âDon't see the King. He's â¦' She searched for the words. âHe will hurt you again.'
âDon't you want to be sure that I can trust you? That you won't turn?' I said.
âNot if it puts you in danger.'
âI won't be in danger. Half a dozen Celestials are coming along. We'll be fine.'
She shuddered and dropped her voice. âProtect me, ma'am.'
I pulled her into a quick hug. âDon't worry, I will.'
Leo drove me through Hong Kong's industrial area in Kwun Tong to the meeting place. We had to meet on the Earthly; I refused to invite the Demon King onto the Celestial Plane, and I wouldn't travel to Hell if I could
avoid it. The streets were two lanes either way, passing between multi-storey factory buildings with the floor numbers painted in large letters on the sides, for easy lifting of objects up to the correct floor by crane.
Leo checked the building numbers carefully, and pulled into the right one. The entrance was large enough to allow two trucks to pass side by side. Just inside the ground floor on the left were three enormous lifts, large enough to hold the ubiquitous Hong Kong blue lorries. The ground floor was deserted, and the small grimy windows let in rays of sunshine that lit up the floating dust. Leo drove to the edge of the vast space of the ground floor area and parked the car next to the wall. Bricks were heaped against the back wall, strewn haphazardly on the concrete. Paint marked the floor, taking the shapes of the objects that had been sprayed with it.
The Tiger and several of the Wudang Mountain staff came into the building through the truck entrance, knelt to salute me, and waited quietly behind us.
âThis is a bad place to meet,' Leo said softly. He was in his wheelchair behind me to my right. âDifficult to defend.'
âHe'll stick to the protocol,' I said. âNot even the Tiger could teleport in. We're safe.'
âI wish I had your confidence.'
The noise of the traffic outside stopped and the only sound was the breeze whistling through the factory's broken windows. All ten floors of the building were empty.
Someone shouted and a red and gold palanquin appeared in the entrance. About twenty young men surrounded it: demons in human form. All of them appeared to be in their early twenties, of all races, tall and muscular and wearing only skin-tight black bike shorts. They were all impossibly handsome. Some carried the sedan chair and others flanked it.
âIs he insulting me?' Leo said.
âHe's probably insulting both of us,' I said.
The Demon King stepped out of the sedan chair in Celestial Form. His perfectly white, strikingly beautiful face was surrounded by a huge mane of red hair that stood up on his head then fell down his back past his waist. His scaled armour and boots were red and gold.
The Tiger summoned an outdoor table and chairs, and I stepped forward to talk to the Demon King. He saluted me and I saluted back, then I gestured for him to sit. He bowed slightly and gestured for me to sit first.
I had an uncomfortable feeling of dÃ©jÃ vu and wished that John was doing this. Now that I was clear of the demon essence, I felt the King's dark nature even more intensely. He was sinister and charismatic, and I just wanted this done and to get out of there.
I sat at the table, and my staff repositioned themselves to the optimal configuration. The King's men moved to stand behind him, mirroring my own Retainers. The Demon King sat and smiled across the table at me, his face alight with warmth.
âYou failed,' I said.
He raised one hand slightly. âI forgot for a moment it was you, and straight to the point as usual. You're alive, Emma, and clear of the demon essence. I didn't fail.'
âIf the Xuan Wu Serpent hadn't intervened I would have died.'
He dropped his head slightly and an expression of remorse swept across his face. âI acknowledge that I caused you a great deal of suffering and that you nearly died.' He raised his head and saluted me again. âI apologise most sincerely for my misjudgement, madam.'
âYou owe me one, George.'
He waved one hand to indicate the demons behind him. âThese are a gift to make up for it. Enjoy them until they expire, then dispose of them.'
I glanced at the handsome young men. âI think you underestimate me, Wong Mo.'
He shrugged. âOkay. Worth a shot. Come and live with me and you can have as many of these as you like.' He leaned over the table and grinned. âThree, four, at once, they're remarkable. You should try. How about I send you one or two just for a sample?'
âGive it up,' I said.
He sighed theatrically, his shoulders moving with the sound. âGuess I'll just have to give them to the Mothers then. That's what they were originally bred for. I have to keep making them, they don't last long.'
I inhaled sharply. âI'll take them then.'
He waved me down. âNo, no, if you're not going to use them as sex toys then don't bother. That's all they're good for, they can't even speak.'
âI'll still take them.'
He shrugged. âSuit yourself.' He waved the young men forward. âServe the Dark Lady.'
The demons moved mechanically to stand behind my staff, seemingly unfazed by their fate.
âWill you still bring me Kitty Kwok?' he said. âShe needs to be stopped, and she's human. I can't do it.'
I nodded once. âWe made a deal. You cleared the essence from me; I agreed to bring her to you. You will have her.'
âIs there anything else I can do to atone for the pain I caused you, Emma?' he said, his face still warm and full of affection.
âYi Hao, Er Hao.' I waved my two demon servants forward without looking behind me. âThese are my demons from One Two Two's nest. I want you to tell me if they are the original demons or copies; and if they are programmed to turn. I want your assurance that I am safe with them, because I love them dearly.'
He turned his attention to them and his face lit up. âIf
you can love these two demons then maybe there is room in your heart for one more.'
âYou said you'd love me as snake broth,' I said.
He leaned back and his expression grew wry. âYou'll never let me forget that, will you? It was a spur of the moment thing, Emma, just competitive bullshit. You know I was talking out of my ass.'
âWill you check my demons for me?'
âI will.' He waved them closer. âCome here, little ones, I will not harm you.'
âOr hurt them,' I said.
He nodded acquiescence. âOf course.' He waved to them again and they sidled towards him. âI hear you were willing to sacrifice the Tiger's wives â one of whom is your own best friend â for these two tiny demons.'
âThe wives had the Tiger's whole army defending them. All these demons had was me,' I said. âAny creature that chooses to seek humanity and attain the Tao is worthy of protection.'
âYou need to concentrate on the bigger picture, sweetie. Ah Wu would have protected the humans before any demon.' He gestured towards the demons. âKneel.' They hesitated, and he spoke more brusquely. âDown!'
Yi Hao approached and knelt before him. He put one hand on the side of her head and concentrated; she remained rigid with fear as he studied her.
âDemons are demons and they don't have a real life at all,' he said. âEven if they choose to turn and pursue the Way, they're not worth anything.'
He snapped back, then waved Er Hao forward. She knelt and he touched her head as well, then released her. âThey're not copies. They're nothing special. No programming.' He glanced up at me. âHow were you identifying the copies if these ones were suspect?'
âTouch them loaded with shen energy â¦' I hesitated. Had I told him too much?
âDon't worry, Emma, I don't have access to shen energy. You can tell me.'
âTouch them loaded with shen energy and you get a similar effect to a Shen touching them without protecting them. They go black.'
âAnd these little ones go black in response to shen energy as well?' the King said, turning his attention back to my demons.
âThey shouldn't do that. They are probably the result of some of Simon's breeding experiments before his Mother was destroyed. Or â¦' He leaned hungrily towards them. âMaybe they're the spawn of that Mother he made himself.' He grinned at me. âThe one he made from your friend.' He put his hands on his knees. âI would love to tear these two apart and see what's inside. They're fascinating.'
Yi Hao and Er Hao jumped to their feet and scurried to hide behind me.
âDon't worry,' I said, putting my hands behind me to touch them without looking away from the King. âI won't let him hurt you.'
âWe trust you, ma'am,' Yi Hao said, but her voice quavered with fear.
âCan I trust them?' I said. âYou said they were probably specially bred by One Two Two. Are they agents for Kitty or the Death Mother? Are they spies?'
âThey are tame demons, and they are yours. They have been tamed with the Fire Essence Pill and cannot turn on you. You can trust them.'
âGo back to the others,' I said, and they ran back to my group. âTell the Tiger to summon tikuanyin tea for me.'
âAllow me,' the King said, and a pot and cups of priceless crackled green glaze appeared before us. He
poured for both of us and raised his cup. âWarn the Celestial about the demons those two have created, the ones that are programmed to explode. I never thought I'd see the like again, and here they are. So wrong. Probably just a small part of their arsenal, Emma, be very careful. They may have copies that are undetectable even with shen.'
âHow badly do you want the Death Mother and Kitty taken down?' I said.
He carefully replaced his cup on the table. âBadly enough to enlist your help. Particularly Kitty â she is an unknown quantity. I've never seen anyone do what she's done; she's well on the way to some sort of twisted Immortality. She can survive in Hell unassisted, but she's still human enough that I can't break my vow to Ah Wu and deal with her myself.' He lifted his teacup again and studied it. âTo be honest, she scares me. I think she has designs on my throne.' He gazed at me over the rim of the cup. âShe has links with the other Centres; being human, she has no limitations on her travel. She helped Six make those hybrid stone elementals using Western stones.'