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