Appendix N Review: Three Hearts and Three Lions

To Holger Carlsen, Dane by birth and engineer by trade, science rules all. The immutable laws of physics govern the universe, and there is no space in this rational world for the mysterious and the magical. Yet one fateful day, when fighting along the Resistance in the Second World War, he is knocked out in battle, and awakens naked in a strange forest. Nearby is a horse of startling intelligence, carrying arms and armour that fit him perfectly, including a shield that bears the device of three hearts and three lions.

Thus begins Poul Anderson’s seminal work Three Hearts and Three Lions. Coming from an era saturated with Japanese isekai stories and Western dark fantasy CRPGs, Three Hearts and Three Lions is simultaneously refreshing and inspiring. Both of these media owe their origins to Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game, and Gygax in turn drew inspiration from a list of stories, stories he listed in his famous Appendix N. Among them is Three Hearts and Three Lions.

Before the isekai boom, before the fad of Western dark fantasy, there was the traditional Western fantasy in all its glittering splendor. Three Hearts and Three Lions hails from that era, seamlessly weaving myth and religion into a tale of chivalry and romance.

Holger Carlsen is not on Earth anymore — and yet this Earth bears startling similarities to ours. There is talk of Charlemagne and Saracens and Jews, but there are also fairies, pagans, monsters, demons, and the Dark Powers that rule the forces of evil. Magic is accepted reality, but scientific principles also underline the world. Holger has no knowledge of the language of this world, yet when people speak he hears his own tongue, and when he speaks the words that emerge are those of this other world. Most curiously of all, Holger’s name is known far and wide across the land as a Champion of the Law.

As Holger attempts to understand how and why he was brought to this world, he joins forces with a beautiful swan maiden and a stout dwarf. Together, they embark on a journey to discover his identity, uncover the significance of the three hearts and three lions, and save both worlds from the forces of Chaos.

Fans ofD&D, Western fantasy and isekai can clearly identify the progenitor of many themes and tropes within this book. There are monsters taken from myth, the hero who applies modern-day knowledge in a fantasy setting, elves and dwarves and demons, the archetypal paladin who wanders the world doing good and smiting evil, and so on. Admiral Ironbombs does a commendable job here linking Three Hearts and Three Lions to D&D.

But there is one thing that many modern fantasies have not inherited from classical fantasy, something that is readily apparent in every page of Three Hearts and Three Lions: religion.

The world of Three Hearts and Three Lions is divided into Law and Chaos. As Jeffro Johnson discussed, they represent different polarities and different ways of life. Law is civilization, selflessness and predictability; Chaos is selfish, unpredictable and subversive. The lands of the Law belong to humans — religious humans — while the domain of Chaos belongs to the Fae and their vassals. Caught in between are the Middle Worlders who adopt a policy of neutrality.

In a direction confrontation with the forces of the Law, Chaos is impotent. The touch of silver or cold iron, the sight of a crucifix, or a sincere prayer will repel the forces of Chaos. Faith alone is the ultimate weapon against Chaos. Instead of direct confrontation, Chaos relies on a strategy of subversion, breaking the will of the inhabitants of the Law to spread their power. Chaos relies also on recruits from the neutral creatures of the Middle World. While lacking the magical powers of Chaos, Middle Worlders are not vulnerable to iron, silver or holy symbols, enabling them to battle the forces of the Law directly.

Such a conflict is reminiscent of Ephesians 6:12 (“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”), a battle of wills and faith instead of flesh and steel. When waging war on Chaos, you aren’t just placing your life at risk — you risk your soul.

In the world of Three Hearts and Three Lions, the Fae are cunning, seductive and manipulative beings who tempt their enemies into ruin. A prayer and a cross can ward you from demons in the dark, but a single impious thought will break the wards, and the tireless monsters of the night will fall upon you. Scenes like this resonate sharply with Christian readers, and yet it is presented as an organic aspect of the world, so non-Christians do not feel like they are being lectured to.

Contrast this with many modern fantasy stories, isekai or otherwise. The Church — or any kind of centralised religion — is usually nonexistent, a target of ridicule, or an evil and oppressive organization that must be destroyed. The forces of evil are powerful and innumerable, sweeping across the land like an infernal scourge. The enemy is known and readily identifiable. The hero is usually either a displaced shounen with overpowered cheat skills, a designated hero only slightly less evil than the Big Bad, or both.

Such a setting ignores or denounces the concept of a central moral authority. Morality thus stems from the characters’ personal code of conduct, or relies heavily on the perspective the consumer brings to the table. Lighter works like Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsodyhave the heroes act generally according to accepted modern moral norms, without exploring the moral dimension. Darker or more mature works attempts to undermine the notion of objective ethics altogether. For instance, in Tsuyokute New Saga, protagonist Kail will do anything — lie, cheat, manipulate and murder — to attain his goal of defeating the Demon King, and suffers no consequences or guilt from his deeds.

Stories that lack a moral dimension tend to become predictable. The main character begins by fighting small fry, and as he becomes more powerful, the bad guys become increasingly dangerous and the stakes ever higher. Past a threshold, there is no longer any excitement from fighting lesser scum, for the reader knows that the hero will steamroll them. The writer knows this too, so the only way to keep things interesting is to either expand the cast of characters or to shoot for the highest stakes: to defeat the Big Bad and save the world.

While there is nothing inherently wrong in escalating stakes, in one paragraph I’ve described nearly every major shounen and seinen fantasy story of the last twenty years.

Stories where morality has consequences and religion has weight carry a gravitas unknown to the previous category. Religious institutions and rituals meaningfully contribute to the world, adding layers to the setting and influencing the events of the story. Indeed, Christian rites and beliefs influence the inhabitants of the world of Three Hearts and Three Lions in ways minor and major. When faced with critical decisions, characters must weigh their options and act appropriately.

When good and evil both have costs and advantages, every decision has impact and significance. From a craft perspective, you don’t have to keep coming up with ever-more-exciting setpiece sequences to keep the audience interested; you can always switch things up by making the character make a difficult choice.

Stories in which an ever-increasingly powerful protagonist merely faces mortal peril must eventually fall back on spectacle and action extravaganzas to make continued conflict meaningful to the audience. Stories that place the hero in mortal and moral peril require the hero to guard his soul from corruption every step of the way. The latter doesn’t need a Demon King, a horde of cannibal barbarian warriors, or slavering eldritch abominations from Beyond to keep things exciting — when the hero must constantly struggle with his inner demons, a single misstep will leave him naked to the forces of Hell. Such a setting allows for fresh stories, meaningful drama and compelling arcs — and prevents the hero from being trapped into a never-ending loop of beating up foes, getting stronger, and beating up even stronger foes ad infinitum.

Most of all, in stories with a positive portrayal of religion, a skilled writer can drop the veil at the right moment, revealing exactly where the protagonist stands in the grand cosmic design and how he touches the lives of everybody and everything around him. It is a powerful moment that affirms the value of the good life and inspires awe and wonder in the reader. This is the moment of awe the Superversive movement strive for. And the climax of Three Hearts and Three Lions does this beautifully.

With the hero facing mortal and moral peril, Christianity as a powerful force for good, tireless evil that hunts patiently for souls, fantastic creatures and marvellous characterisation, Three Hearts and Three Lions is a worthy addition to any fantasy library. It is a seminal novel that upholds the pillars of Western civilization, yet speaks to readers of every creed. Quite simply, it is one of the finest fantasy stories of the twentieth century.

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My own stories also conspire to place the hero at mortal and moral peril. Check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES here.

The Last Post

The harsh scent of gunpowder tickled Michael’s nose. Boots stamped through the night. Whispered voices carried across the air. The weight of a hundred eyes fell on him. Squinting, Michael peered through the dark woods, down the hill, at the moonlit valley before him.

And saw no one.

“Halt!” a voice boomed.

Michael twitched.

“Advance to be recognized!”

Just in front of Michael, a man peered around a nearby tree—and aimed a rifle at him.

Michael took one step forward, slowly raising his hands.

“Easy there. I’m a friend,” Michael said.

“Sundown!”

“Are you asking for a password?”

“Yes! Sundown!”

“I don’t have the password of the day—”

“Then get out of here. Quickly. This ain’t no place for civilians.”

Another step. “Listen, friend, I’m not a civilian. You recognize my uniform jacket, don’t you?”

“Anyone can wear a uniform,” the man sneered.

“I’m not your enemy. I can prove it to you.”

“How?”

“Let me reach under my shirt.”

“Do it. Slowly,” the guard warned.

Michael deliberately brought his hand to his collar. Found the fine steel beads of his necklace. And the cross hanging from it.

He held the cross up to the pale moonlight.

“See this?” Michael said. “I’m not one of them.”

The guard heaved a sigh of relief, lowering his weapon.

“Thank God.”

“It’s been hard on you, huh?” Michael said.

“Yeah. There’s no end of them.”

“But you held the line.”

“It’s what we do.”

“Your dedication to duty is commendable. What’s your rank and name?”

“Corporal Tom Lee. And yours?”

“Just call me Michael.”

“No rank?”

“I don’t need one.”

Lee pointed at Michael’s hip. “Is that a sword? Not exactly standard issue, is it?”

Michael laughed. “It’s served me well. Listen, it’s kind of hard to talk like this. Would you mind stepping around that tree?”

Lee stepped out. Under the moon he glowed a faint, spectral blue. His uniform was torn and faded. A ragged wound consumed his belly. His mangled jaw hung loosely from his face, and his left eye socket was empty. The faint moonlight pierced his translucent skin, illuminating the tree behind him.

“I’m a mess, aren’t I?” the ghost asked, his voice issuing from an open mouth that could never close again.

“Don’t worry. We can fix you right up.”

“I’m dead. I can’t exactly be fixed.”

Michael’s eyes twinkled. “Never say never. Tell me, how long have you been here?”

“I don’t know, sir. Time gets kinda… fuzzy. I… we’ve been standing post here since… well, you know. I only remember the seasons. The sun, the rains, the occasional snow…”

“You’ve been here for seven years.”

“Seven years? So long?”

“It’s all right, corporal. Your job’s done. You can go home now.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Lee pointed downhill.

“Look.”

Faint blue figures meandered across the valley floor. Some were tiny balls of light, others resolved into the shape of men with shouldered rifles. By their light Michael saw blackened grass and salted fields, burnt-out husks of war machines, broken and discarded weapons, and bones. Miles of old bones, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Michael saw enormous ribs, larger than elephants. Crumbling skulls of strange beasts that sprouted massive horns and tusks. Femurs as massive as oaks, wickedly curved claws twice the height of a man, piles of too-large hands and feet with too many digits, skeletons of neither men nor beasts.

And, at the far end of the boneyard, was a closed door leaking infernal red light.

“We have to stand watch,” Lee said. “When that door opens…”

“Don’t worry. We’re ready for them.”

“‘We’, sir?”

Michael thumbed behind his shoulder.

“Look.”

Behind Michael, a brilliant white light blazed to life. Lee squinted, peering into the second sun. And gasped.

“Are they…?”

“Yes.”

“Are you…?”

Michael nodded. “You kept the faith and stayed true to your duty, Corporal Lee. Your work is done. We’re here to relieve you.”

Tears trickled down his cheeks.

“I…”

Michael patted Lee’s shoulder. “It’s time to go home.”

Lee’s throat bobbed. He looked at Michael. Looked behind him. Looked back at Michael.

“I stand relieved,” Lee said.

“Good man.”

A pillar of starlight cut through the sea of clouds above, bathing Lee in gentle light. His stomach wound closed over. His jaw closed, returning to its proper place. Light issued from his empty eye socket. A moment later, it subsided, revealing a fresh eye.

Lee blinked. Worked his jaw.

“Thank you,” Lee whispered.

“Go into the light,” Michael said.

Lee looked up. And floated.

The light drew him up, higher and higher, lifting him into the skies. Lesser lights ascended from the valley and the forest, following Lee’s flight. By the ones and twos, then dozens and hundreds, the lingering ghosts left their posts and patrols and soared to the source of the light.

The smell of gunpowder gave way to fresh grass. The sound of boots faded. There were no more voices, only silence. Michael’s jacket and cross vanished in a puff of ethereal smoke, revealing a suit of glowing plates. He drew his sword and turned around.

Before him, a great host of warriors awaited in formation, armed with brilliant blades and clad in radiant plate. They stood at attention, awaiting his command.

“It is time,” Michael said.

Two wings of dazzling flame unfurled from Michael’s back, extending to their full length. Flapping his wings, he took to the sky, rising above the forest, above the valley, above the boneyard.

The army spread their wings and followed him, arraying themselves in a massive flying armada. Their light banished the darkness below, laying bare the valley of death. The last of the lost souls had departed. Now there was only dust and decay and the red door.

And the door cracked open.

“Brothers, to war!” Michael commanded.

Raising his sword, he swooped down on the red door.

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For more long form fiction by yours truly, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

Unreview: The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang

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When I first heard of The Tensorate Series, alarm bells rang in my head. The core concepts sound cool: A crypto-Asian continent-spanning nation fracturing at the seams, exotic monsters roaming the wilds of a strange world, Tensors who use magic based on the classic Chinese elements and the Force, a pair of children who will shape the destiny of the nation. And the writer is Singaporean. Then I saw the publisher.

Tor.

For the uninitiated, Tor allegedly publishes science fiction and fantasy, but its offerings are mired in social justice messaging. At best, its works are merely uninspired hack jobs — think everything by John Scalzi, which is essentially rehashed fan fiction of more popular franchises. At its worst, we have The Tensorate Series.

The Tensorate Series is composed of two novellas, The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune. Having picked up the latter first, I’ll break it down in this post — and if I find a copy of the former, I’ll post another unreview. The Red Threads of Fortune can be summed up in one word.

Unreadable.

Two Broken Women and a Monster

The first chapter opens with protagonist Sanao Mokoya staring at the remains of her voice transmitter (not-radio), trying and failing to repair the damage with magic. The remains of the voice transmitter she just broke.

When she is alone.

In a desert.

Hunting a naga.

Mokoya is too dumb to live. She destroyed a vital piece of equipment in the middle of a mission to locate the nest of an allegedly dangerous monster. She even acknowledges that it was a mistake. And why did she break the transmitter? In her words:

Could she admit she had been startled by Adi’s voice coming out of nowhere and had lashed out like a frightened animal?

Here I see an impetuous, self-destructive idiot on a hair trigger without the emotional self-control to reign in her temper and exercise the discipline necessary for a solo mission. This isn’t the kind of character who will survive an action-heavy story, much less a character with whom I can identify.

But that’s not all: Adi, her boss, is also an idiot.

Why was Mokoya alone? She even acknowledges that ‘scouting alone was a mistake’. Yet she went and convinced Adi, the leader of her crew, to let her go alone, because…reasons.

Mokoya justified her decision to go alone by saying, ‘I trained as a pugilist in the Grand Monastery. I can handle a naga, no matter how big. I’m the only one on this crew who can.’

Later on, it is revealed that ‘Naga hunting was a specialty of Adi’s crew’.

Mokoya is the only person on the crew who can handle a naga, but the crew specialises in hunting naga? That makes no sense. A crew that specialises in hunting naga will have every combatant skilled in the art of handling naga. A naga-hunting crew reliant on a sole naga wrangler will be forced to close down when the specialist goes down. Or perhaps Mokoya simply meant that she was the only one in the crew who can handle a naga of any size.

Either Adi is an idiot who placed the livelihoods of the crew in Mokoya’s hands, or Mokoya can’t communicate properly. I’m betting the former, because Adi allowed Mokoya to go gallivanting in the desert to hunt a monster with nothing but a voice transmitter and a pack of raptors.

It’s implied that Adi sees this as a favor, to be collected upon later, but if you’re hunting a super-predator (or any kind of hostile creature), a solo mission is the height of lunacy. The buddy rule exists to ensure complete situational awareness (a point unknowingly reinforced later). Further, Mokoya is a Tensor, the equivalent of a magician, and a skilled martial artist; if she dies in the desert, the crew would lose a valuable asset, and a competent boss would do everything to prevent that.

Only, it doesn’t matter in this case, for the naga is a veritable idiot.

Mokoya spends most of the chapter woolgathering, spending the time dumping information on the reader. Then the naga appears, swooping down from behind her, so close the wind of its passage startled her raptor and threw her off her mount–

–and flies down into a nearby canyon to roost in its nest.

Up to this point, a naga is treated in-universe as an terrible monster, so dangerous that a single naga can destroy villages and rip up the countryside. Mokoya suspects that this particular naga was unnaturally modified. And Mokoya and her raptors was in the middle of open desert, with neither cover nor concealment, easily visible to anyone from the air.

So why did the naga ignore her?

Yang chose to allow Mokoya to survive the encounter by having the naga ignore her. This defangs the naga and undercuts the reader’s expectation of a deadly predator. There is no sense of threat from the creature, and with it Mokoya’s mission lacks urgency and peril.

Thus, the first chapter is about an idiot working for an idiot to hunt an idiot.

Language and Its Discontents

After breaking her not-radio, Mokoya shouts the word ‘Cheebye‘ over and over again. It is a derogatory term for the female sexual organ, usually appended by ‘chao‘ (‘smelly’), and highly favored by Singaporean men.

It is also a Hokkien word. A dialect hitherto unseen up to this point.

Adi also uses the same profanity a lot. In fact, she doesn’t even speak the same language as Mokoya. Here are some quotes:

“Ha nah ha nah, you go lah, not my pasal whether you die or not.”
“Mokoya! Kanina–is that you or a ghost?”
“Eh, hello, I let you go by yourself doesn’t mean you can ignore me, okay?”

Adi speaks Singlish. A language that shouldn’t exist in this world.

Singlish is a modern tongue that arose from peculiar and specific circumstances. When the British arrived in Singapore in 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles found an island dominated by Malays with a small Chinese minority. After establishing a colony here, the British used English as the language of administration, and imported huge numbers of labourers from China and India. So many Chinese settled in Singapore that they outnumbered the indigenous Malays and became the new majority. English bridged the four peoples, but these cultures quickly left their mark.

Singlish is built on British English but obeys Chinese grammatical rules, and indeed it reads as a near-literal translation of spoken Chinese. Its pronunciation is based on Chinese, Hokkien and Malay. Singlish also borrows heavily from Singapore’s four major languages, including Hokkien (hence cheebye and kanina) and Malay (pasal, which might also be a Tagalog or Indonesian word).

Singlish is a creole that could only be born under unique circumstances. Circumstances like a major trade city in a Malay-majority region with an English-speaking coloniser so powerful that it could bring in subjects from faraway lands.

As far as I can tell, there is no equivalent city in the world of the Tensorate. The main characters of the Tensorate series sport quasi-East Asian names. Not Chinese, closer to Japanese. During a mental soliloquy (read: infodump) in the middle of the chapter, there are allusions to a Chinese-speaking society, a Mongolian-esque nation and an Indian analog. All of them are widely separated by thousands of li, and there is no mention of any special place where peoples of all nations live and congregate.

In other words, the worldbuilding doesn’t support the existence of Singlish.

But even if it does, the jarring use of Hokkien and Singlish points to a deeper issue with the story: its refusal of the mythic.

The planet of the Tensorate series is a strange world. It has low-gravity areas where monsters breed and roam. Suns cross the sky six times a day. The Slack underpins all creation, granting untold power to the gifted few who can touch it. It is a world that exists only in fantasies.

Mythic language reinforces the element of the fantastic. Unusual vocabulary and measured cadence draws in the reader, sucking him into the world and keeping him there, reminding him always that this is not our world. Mythic language paints the fictitious world in vivid colours, prickles the senses, and teases the reader with possibilities of what could be and what might have been.

When Aragon addresses the men of the West, he addresses their fears and encourages them to push on, he acknowledges great evil and ignites the spark of defiance, he speaks to their shared identity and history as Men of the West and inspires them to victory and glory. When Palpatine lies to the Galactic Senate, he presents the image of the eternal tyrant taking the reigns of power. These speeches point to mythic archetypes long buried in the human consciousness, roused to roaring life, transporting the audience deeper into the world of the story.

When Adi speaks, I am transported to my living room.

The world of the Tensorate is not Singapore. There is no reason characters should speak Singlish or any kind of mundane English. The use of everyday English in a fantastic setting tears the reader away from the book and the characters. It makes the characters feel as though they were abducted from our world instead of fully-fleshed inhabitants of theirs.

Consider Mokoya. She was raised and trained by warrior monks as a pugilist, she has the power of prophecy, and she can manipulate the elements. But, as the quotes above show, she speaks exactly like a Singaporean Chinese woman lifted from the streets of modern-day Singapore. Her cadence is Singaporean, her word choices are Singaporean, even her profanity is Singaporean. In her voice I hear an echo of modern Singapore, not the echo of a religious, martial and magical upbringing in an exotic land.

The few concessions to the exotic are laughable. A radio is called a ‘voice transmitter’ — never mind that it can receive voices as well. The naga of this universe seem like Western dragons with wings that don’t breathe fire — not the half-human half-snake water-dwelling creatures from Asian myth. The one unusual word that stood out was the word ‘gravesent’, used as a pejorative. That it stands out at all points to the distinct lack of the mythic.

The language of a fantasy story should ground the reader in a sense of place. The language of this story tears me out of it.

Place Without A Place

I’ve read the first chapter a half-dozen times. I can’t tell if Mokoya were traversing a desert, flying through a fogbank, or wading through a wasteland of pink slime.

There is no sense of place here. Words like ‘desert’ and ‘bluff’ and ‘cliff’ and ‘mountain’ appear, but there is no veracity to these words, no sense of scale or context. They are just there, as though they came into being only when Mokoya observed them.

The closest the reader has to a sense of place is an infodump in the middle of the chapter as Mokoya works out a puzzle. Mokoya thinks of nearby nations and peoples and cultures as she ponders the naga’s behaviour. That infodump is both boring and irrelevant at that point in the story. But it does show Mokoya woolgathering in the middle of a solo hunt for a dangerous monster — but that’s all right, because the naga ignored her, because reasons.

I don’t see a sense of place here. Only a sense that the writer’s craft is sorely lacking.

Everything Has Consequences

The chapter began with a Strong Female Character who places herself in mortal peril twice. It ends with the naga ignoring her, and with her using a different gadget to talk to Adi.

This chapter has no sense of consequences. Mokoya breaks her not-radio when she is hunting solo in the desert, but that’s okay because she can use another kind of not-radio with her magic, which she had conveniently brought with her and forgotten about until the end of the chapter. Mokoya goes on a dangerous quest solo, but that’s okay because she knows what she is doing. Only, she shows that she doesn’t know what she is doing by daydreaming in the middle of a hunt, but that’s okay because the naga pays even less attention to its surroundings than she does.

If the effects of Mokoya’s actions can be undone by the end of the chapter, if nothing she does has any grave consequences, then why does the chapter even exist? Far better to have Mokoya regret her stupidity by being forced to flee from a raging naga that she failed to detect, or better yet, open the story with Mokoya and the rest of the crew taking down the naga and discovering something unusual about it.

The chapter is just barely-disguised exposition. It exists to introduce the obligatory Strong But Flawed Female Character, the Overbearing Boss who is differentiated through her unique speech patterns, how the magic works, hint at the Machinists and some ominous enemy faction, some nearby nations, a dangerous monster and Mokoya’s mission. It doesn’t advance the story one bit. If this chapter were cut, the story loses nothing.

I couldn’t get past the first chapter of the story. It demonstrates poor writing craft and even poorer publishing strategy. I have no doubt that Tor chose to publish this story primarily because it features a Strong Female Character written by a genderqueer Person of Color from an exotic but modern country. Not because it tells a compelling story.

Social justice and bad writing has consequences. I refuse to read the rest of the story, and urge you to ignore it.

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Unlike The Red Threads of Fortune, my novel No Gods, Only Daimons features a female main character who overcomes her enemies through skill, cunning, wits and sheer ruthlessness. You can pick up the book on Amazon.

Publishing Announcement: INVINCIBLE

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In an Empire beset by internal rebellion and ferocious yaomo, the elite Shenwujun stand ready to defend human civilization. Among the Shenwujun there is none finer than Ensign Zhang Tianyou, who earned the nickname Zhang the Invincible. During a mission to quash a nascent rebellion, a Shenwujun detachment discovers evidence that the Grand Union is supporting the rebels. Zhang is tasked to investigate and destroy this new threat.

But will Zhang the Invincible meet his match at the hands of the rebel called Han the Demon Sword?

I’m pleased to announce the publication of INVINCIBLE, a historical xianxia novella which won an Honorable Mention at the Q1 2017 Writers of the Future Contest. First published on Steemit, it has now been formatted into an ebook for easy reading.

INVINCIBLE can be purchased on Amazon, Smashwords and Payhip for just USD $2.99.

To enjoy a 30% discount, be sure to share my Payhip page on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Thanks for your support, and please look forward to my next story.

Night Demons Part 6 of 6

Knife

Dozens, hundreds, thousands of minor parasites swarm all over me. They are gnats and centipedes and biting worms, landing all over my aura. They crawl and wriggle and bite and chew and tear. My skin begins to itch, and my eyes flutter involuntarily.

Easiest option is to run them through with cold steel. But there’s too many people around. If they saw me do that, they’d call the cops on me. That’s how demons fought, by turning people against each other.

Instead, I step aside, whip out my phone and pretend to stare at the map. I want to call down the Light, to burn off the things crawling over me. But that is an inefficient use of limited energy.

And there are better ways to do this.

In my mind, I reach up to the heavens.

‘Archangel Michael, please open the gate to the Light.’

A pair of gates appears in my mind’s eye. They swing open into pure dazzling light.

Addressing the entities feasting on me, I say, ‘Why are you here?’

A chorus of tinny voices reply immediately.

‘Food!’

‘Because we were forced to!’

‘Reshazak says so!’

Voices are a good sign. It meant I didn’t have to slaughter them all.

‘Do you want plenty of food?’ I ask.

‘YES!’

‘Do want to keep working for Reshazak?’

‘NO!’ a voice says.

Other voices drown it out.

‘We have to!’

‘No choice! He hurts us if he does!’

‘He sounds like a bad guy,’ I say. ‘But listen, you don’t have to work for him any more. There’s a place where you can free of him, and where you can find plenty of food.’

‘Where?’ they chime.

‘Do you see the White Light before me?’

‘Yes…’

‘Just step through.’

‘But we’re not of the Light! It burns! It hates us!’

‘That’s not true,’ I say. ‘Look inside yourselves. Do you see a light?’

The chewing stops. Finally. This time, they chatter among themselves.

‘I see it!’

‘Look, look, so bright!’

‘Is that light? Why is there light?’

‘You carry the Divine Spark,’ I say. ‘You will always be welcome in the Light. You just have to step through.’

‘But it’s scary!’

‘The Archangel Michael will help you. There is nothing to be afraid of.’

Michael steps through the portal in his full regalia He extends one arm to the gates, and another at the entities.

‘Everything will be all right,’ he says. ‘Just come to me and we’ll take care of the rest.’

A brave soul jumps off me, flying to the Light. Another, a third, then a thick scream of them. Michael whispers reassurances, gathering up a few recalcitrants in his hands, and guides the rest through the gates. As they fade into the light, I hear cries of joy.

‘Well done,’ Michael says. ‘That takes care of the lesser spirits. Now Reshazak will have to contend with you himself.’

‘Where is he?’

He points down the road at a tall structure, a quartet of obelisks reaching for the sky. The Civilian War Memorial.

‘Thanks,’ I reply.

‘Be wary. He is deploying servitors. Prepare your steel.’

Servitors were mindless beings created to serve the will of its master. In this case, they must be designed for combat.

‘Understood.’

The world darkens as I approach the War Memorial Park. Strange whispers fill the air. The streetlights illuminate crooked trees and stone benches. Black things dance in the shadows between the pools of amber light. There’s an underpass leading to the Esplanade MRT station in front of me, and I’ve no doubt there’s a camera nearby.

I didn’t have to like this. I just have to do this. At least there are no civilians nearby.

I cross the road.

The shadowy things coalesce, growing into snakes and eels. I run to the Memorial, but they slither across the ground and pounce on me. A bitter brown taste floods my mouth. Cold venom punches into my shields.

A fresh wave of energy hits me. Eleanor’s energy. I drink deep and flush my aura with pure White Light. The servitors dissolve. I pop my knife open, hold it in a reverse grip and dash for the monument.

The four columns of the Memorial looms solemnly over me. A shallow pool of water marks every corner. The benches are all occupied.

By dark humanoid spirits.

They get up and charge at me. The closest swings a right hook. I cover with my left elbow and peck at its arm. The blade passes clean through it, but dark energy stings my face. I stab at its throat, go for its thigh, and it dissipates.

A second one leaps at me. Sidestepping left, I slash down, catching its arm. I stab it in the neck, arc around and stitch down its body and it dissolves.

A pair of servitors rush me. Air whooshes past my ear, and suddenly a lion and a wolf leap over my head, pounce on the beings and tear out their throats.

‘We’ve got your back,’ Lupin says.

‘Thanks.’

My spirit guides break off, hunting down individual targets. Anther servitor runs towards me. I lunge in, thrusting the knife into its crown and power-stroking through. It bursts apart, and another jumps on my left arm. I cycle my Griptilian, shearing and tearing, until it disintegrates.

Three servitors surround Leonhard and Lupin. The spirit guides take one each. I lunge for the last and split it in half.

The air darkens. My throat dries. A huge black column blasts down from the sky, down the center of the Memorial. As I dash over, a tall dark figure descends the stairs.

‘Reshazak,’ I say.

‘Michael Chang,’ the demon says. His words are knives scraping against my soul. ‘I will enjoy destroying you.’

My breath comes and goes in ragged spurts. Sweat soaks my clothes. My muscles burn. No time for a protracted engagement. Have to end this fast.

‘We don’t have to do this,’ I say. ‘All you have to do is go into the Light.’

‘No.’

He dissolves into a thick dark cloud.

‘Watch out!’ Leonhard urges.

The cloud whooshes towards me. I ready myself, gauge the distance, sneak my foot forward, lunge, thrust down—

Reshazak splits in half, avoiding the blade.

Pure darkness engulfs me. Inky choking burning acid burns into my skin, my bones, my soul. Harsh guttural cries and high-pitched screams tear through my ears. I cycle my blade back and forth, but it’s like slicing air, it’s no use nothing works—

‘The light!’ Lupin yells.

‘The water!’ Leonhard shouts.

I call on the Light. The blackness parts just a little, revealing a bright yellow spot. I stagger towards it, flailing the knife about. My legs feel like they are moving through molten concrete, but it’s an illusion, I just need to go smoothly and carefully and—

My shoe drops.

Cold water splashes against my pants leg.

I take a few steps forward. More light surrounds me, burning through the dark. The water works its magic, disrupting the demon and his magic. Fires ignite across my skin, but it’s too late. A crack appears in the thing’s presence. Pure energy floods in. Again, Eleanor’s. I drink it in, compose myself, and reach for the Light.

“MICHAEL!”

White Light blasts down from the heavens, burning through Reshazak. It screams, thrashes, writhes, but between the water, the light and the White Light it doesn’t stand a chance. The murk dissolves.

What’s left of Reshazak resembles a naked, shriveled elderly man. He drags himself out of the water and onto dry concrete. I approach it, knife at the ready. This thing has harmed enough people. He damn near tried to kill me. I ought to—

‘No,’ Leonhard says.

‘It’s not worth it,’ Lupin adds.

Reshazak turns around, sitting on the ground and staring at me. He unleashes a long string of obscenities, concluding with, ‘Finish it already, damn you!’

I’m tempted to. But he’s… small. Weak. He can’t harm anyone any more, not in this state.

White lights dance before me. A warm hand touches my shoulder.

‘What do you plan to do?’ Michael asks.

I draw in a deep breath. The threat is defeated. The Law, mortal and divine, would not justify future violence. And if there is one thing I must always do, it is to stay true to the will of the Cosmos.

‘Archangel Michael, please surround this being in a bubble of Light. Carry him away, that he may be transformed.’

A great white sphere engulfs the demon. He pounds and scratches, but it’s no use. The ball floats into the sky, disappearing through a portal of White Light.

‘Well done,’ Michael says.

There are no more threats around, but I think I see a few people staring at me from across the park. I fold my knife, clip it to my pants, and wipe the sweat from my face.

‘Thanks for the assist everyone,’ I say.

The hand squeezes my shoulder. It doesn’t hurt.

‘Be well.’

The warmth vanishes. Leonhard and Lupin look expectantly at me.

‘Let’s go home,’ I say.


I walk aimlessly for the next ten minutes. When I’m sure I’m not being followed, I cab home.

I indulge in a long, cold shower, with plenty of sea salt. There’s a number of black marks on my face and arms and legs, but with Reshazak gone they rub off easily, and the salt and water takes care of the remaining negativity.

I stumble out of the shower, yawning. I’m exhausted. Drained. I had to rest, recharge, get as much sleep as I could. Only way to heal a battered soul. And it’s well past one in the morning. Well past bedtime.

But first…

I message Eleanor. Thanks for the help. Everything’s fine now.

Thank God, she says. What happened just now?

I check the time. Glance at my bed. Pat my still-wet hair. Think about Eleanor Wang, my best friend, the woman who’d quite likely carried the day for me. She’s still on the line, still waiting for a reply.

Sleep can wait a little longer.

PSX_20170918_044151

Previous chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

For a fresh take on gods and demons, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Night Demons Part 5 of 6

Knife

It’s too bright and too crowded for me to act. A hostile entity wouldn’t feel constrained by people, but if things went dynamic and if I had to perform an exorcism… I don’t need the attention.

 

I make a sharp right turn, heading down a narrow alley between a 7-Eleven and Ramen Bar Suzuki. It ends in a fork: straight ahead or to the right.

 

I go right.

 

Bikes and streetlights cram the road. There’s barely enough light to see. No people in sight, not yet. I cast a wary gaze on the doors on either side; the last thing I need was for some innocent night shift worker to step out into a fight.

 

Sprinting silently down the alley, I draw my flashlight. Place like this, I need illumination more than an edge. Behind me, I hear animalistic breathing and heavy footsteps.

 

A bend to my left. I look. A group of citizens gather around a group of tall, narrow tables, chatting and drinking. No go.

 

To my right, an opening to the main street. Two men lean against the walls, smoking and chatting.

 

No place for an ambush.

 

An incoherent roar reverberates down the alley.

 

Too late. I spin around just in time to see the threat barrelling down towards me.

 

I get my hands up.

 

“Stay back, stay back!” I shout. “I’m not looking for a fight!”

 

Closing in, the man brings up his hands.

 

I light up his face. He pauses, covering his eyes. In that light, I see dark, twisting smoke engulf his face, rearing up like a snake.

 

“Back off! Back off now!” I yell.

 

He roars.

 

Charges.

 

I step in. Snap my foot into his groin. He just keeps coming. With my light I hook his left hand down, and hack his other arm up and away with my left forearm. Closing in, I seize his skull and ram my elbow into his jaw. Something cracks. I smash my right forearm into his neck, shoving him aside. Cocking my left hand, I slam my palm into his temple, bouncing his head off against a wall.

 

He shrugs off the blow. Pushes himself off, grabs my shirt with his left hand, and cocks his right hand back.

 

 

Trapping his grabbing hand with my flashlight, I slam my forearm into his broken jaw. The blow unbalances him. Reaching around his arm, I grab the pinky side of his grabbing hand. Peel it off, torque anticlockwise and take a big step.

 

My inverted wristlock sends him crashing into another wall. Despite the damage, the sonofabitch still keeps fighting, flailing and snarling and thrashing. I extend my left leg, brace the locked arm against my thigh, and drive my right forearm against his upper arm.

 

With my entire bodyweight on him, he’s not going anywhere. He must be in terrible pain, but the demonic strength keeps him going. Glancing around, I see witnesses on their phones, gawking, filming the encounter, doing everything but helping out.

 

The great black cloud washes over me, infiltrating my nostrils and stinging my eyes. I have to finish this. Taking a deep breath, I find the essential stillness in my centre and bring it out into the world. I connect with the White Light and call it down. The possessed man pauses for a second. I begin my litany.

 

“Archangel Michael,” I whisper, “I call on you now in this time of need. Protect me and those around me from the forces of evil.”

 

A blazing blue light burns down from the heavens, clearing away the darkness. An inhuman howl escapes the man’s lips. A glowing yellow poker skewers my ears and brain. I grit my teeth and carry on.

 

“Free this man from the darkness. Surround the evil being in a bubble of White Light, that it may harm none, and carry it off to be transformed.”

 

A glowing masculine hand touches the back of the man’s head. I look up and see Archangel Michael with his glowing blue armour and burning sword. A large white bubble grows from Michael’s hand, encapsulating the possessed man’s skull. Michael lifts his hand away, taking the bubble with him. Inside the bubble there is a angry black cloud.

 

Michael looks at me in the eye.

 

‘This is only a small part of Reshazak. It’s not over yet.’

 

I nod. ‘Understood.’

 

A rectangle of light opens behind him. He steps back, and the portal swallows him and the captured spirit. I blink, and there is no longer any trace of the astral.

 

The formerly-possessed man goes limp. Gently, I set him on the ground and roll him into the recovery position.

 

“Hey, are you okay?” a man asks.

 

I check him out in my peripheral vision. The passers-by have stopped gawking, and now one of them is babbling into her phone.

 

“Yeah,” I say.

 

“What happen just now?”

 

I shrug, clipping my flashlight, still looking away from him.

 

“Dunno. This guy just started chasing me out of the blue. I tried to run, but he caught up and attacked me.”

 

“We call the police now. Just rest here, okay?”

 

Police. Damn it. I still have my knife on me. If they found that, there’d be too many uncomfortable questions. They’d accuse me of carrying a weapon and I wouldn’t have a good answer. In the eyes of the law, that was automatically proof of guilt.

 

I turn and run.

 

“Hey, wait! Where you going?”

 

I don’t look back.

 

****

 

A couple of minutes later, I’m clear of the alleys. Slowing down, I breathe hard through my nose and make my way towards the waterfront.

 

Fatigue sinks in. The adrenaline dump has passed. My limbs turn rubbery and my eyelids begin to droop. A dull cold ache sinks into my body, and darkness slips across my eyes.

 

Must have picked up some of the crap from the threat. I flush my aura with White Light and reinforce my shields. It helps, a little. But there is still a lingering, sticky, greasy sensation that clings to my hands and thighs and face. I pat myself down. No blood. But the gunk is still there, and I’d have to wash it off later.

 

I think about the formerly possessed man I’d fought. Christ, that was a screw-up and then some. The ambush hadn’t worked. More than that, I had to whale into him, pound him, break him. I’d hurt him. Bad. But he wasn’t acting of his own free will. Did he deserve so much punishment?

 

Probably not.

 

I sigh. I have to get better at this martial arts stuff. If I have to fight possessed people again, I really didn’t want to break them.

 

But first, I had to get home. Whipping out my iPhone, I check my map. Closest MRT station was Raffles Place, but the police would check it out later. I’d have to make distance, get far away from the fight, before I could think about faster forms of transport. Just had to…

 

Motes of bright blue and white light sparkle before my eyes. The passers-by don’t notice them. Archangel Michael is near.

 

‘Look up,’ Michael says.

 

I do. Dark energies swirl and gather in the air above me, shredding the clouds to form a black vortex. It’s a portal, bridging this world to wherever the demon came from.

 

‘You made Reshazak angry,’ the archangel continues. ‘He’s coming for you.’

 

‘Could you shut down the portal?’

 

‘Ye, but it won’t keep him out forever.’

 

‘What should I do? Take the fight to him?’

 

‘No. He is strongest in his home plane… but comparatively weak here. When he crosses over, finish him.’

 

‘I’m not exactly fit for combat right now.’

 

‘Stand and fight. You started this, now you must end it.’

 

‘I’m going to need help.’

 

‘Ask, and the Almighty shall provide.’

 

I draw myself to my full height, and suck in a deep breath.

 

‘Archangel Michael, we go forth to battle evil. Please help me stay strong and win through. Protect me from harm, and together, we shall restore light and goodness to this world.’

 

I sense a smile.

 

‘Very well. To arms, Michael Chang. This night is not yet done.’

 

The lights vanish. Bitter cold sears into my flesh where I’d touched the man. A curse. And it would give Reshazak a chance to find me.

 

I just had to be ready.

 

Opening Whatsapp, I messaged Eleanor.

 

Need help. Send healing energy and shield up. Rough night ahead.

 

Her reply is instant.

 

Okay.

 

A soft, gentle warmth descends on me. Her energy. I drink it in and direct it into the corrosive energy, taking off the edge, preventing it from sinking deeper, and cross Cavenagh Bridge. The running water acts as a natural barrier, disrupting any hostile spells or negative spirits still around me. The curse falters, fading into a background ache.

 

Past the river, I draw my Benchmade Griptilian and hold it by my leg in a reverse grip. Nobody notices.

 

I need room and privacy for the final showdown. I didn’t know how or where it was going to come for me; I had to pick a spot where I could see possessed humans or other creatures coming for me. A place where I could deploy light and steel without being interrupted.

 

I head north to Esplanade Park. The streets are deserted. The only people I see are clustered near the solitary bus stop. Their spirit guides watch me as I approach, and shrink away. They do not betray me to their humans and I return the favour.

 

Darkness crowds the world around me. Living shadows sneak across the ground, latching on to me. My shields hold, but already I feel a chill creeping across my body. I call down the White Light, burning it through, replenishing myself with Eleanor’s donated energy.

 

Glancing up at the dark whirling mass of malevolence, I send a thought.

 

‘You’re going to have to do better than that.’

 

Sinister laughter fills my mind. The vortex flattens into a flat circle of pure darkness, becoming a portal into an alien realm. A realm of near complete darkness, broken by swarms of iridescent lights tearing through the deeps. The lights grow larger, brighter, and race for the mouth of the portal.

 

And a horde of unclean spirits rains down on me.

 

PSX_20170918_044151

Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

For a fresh take on gods and demons, check out my Hugo and Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Night Demons Part 4 of 6

Knife

When fighting the forces of darkness, it pays to have bright powers on your side.

 

At dawn, I dress in bright, clean and comfortable clothing. I ring my singing bowl and clear out the remaining negativity. Light three sticks of incense and place them in a brazier on my work table.

 

Lower my head and clasp my hands.

 

“Gods and buddhas and angels and friendly spirits, I am under attack by an evil spirit. Grant me the strength to protect myself, my friends, and my clients. Please enjoy this offering of incense, and come to my aid when I call on you.”

 

I was raised a Buddhist, was exposed to Christianity in school, and studied world religions throughout my childhood. My faith is more eclectic and universal than most people, but I received no complaints so far. None from the only ones who matter.

 

I spend an hour training. Empty hand, knife, flashlight. Footwork and strikes and cuts and kicks and grappling, taken from Pekiti Tirsia Kali. I maneuver around my bed and furniture, adapting my moves to take advantage of the surfaces around me. I finish with breathwork and wash up with cold water and salt.

 

For breakfast I boil four eggs. As I wait, I repair my wards and pile on my shields. This time, I throw on a cloak of shadowy energy over my shield, rendering me effectively invisible to hostile entities. Then I fire up Google Earth and zoom to Clarke Quay. Astral tracking was a two-way street. The creature might have found me by following my energies, but I could do the same to it.

 

I think of the demonic assault, replaying it in my head. I skip through the opening sequence and pause at the moment the creature unmasked itself. I study its aura. Deep brown shot through with filthy blacks, red sparks dancing through it. I knew what it truly looked like. I could find it.

 

With my second sight, I scan the area, using the digital map as an anchor for my psychic senses. In my mind’s eye, I see streams of energy rushing down roads, solid blocks that indicated long-established buildings, pillars where high-energy events occurred, blank spaces where no one lived or worked. They come in a rush of colours and textures: smooth royal purples, deep wet blues, springy reds, prickly browns.

 

Brown. Similar to the demon’s energy. I redouble my efforts, slowing down and zooming in. A huge brown cloud blooms over a building. Brown with black, with sparks of red. The demon.

 

I look up the address. A nightclub called Blackout. Figures. Pubs and bars and clubs were the feasting grounds of negs. Lots of easy prey, plenty of opportunities to jump on to a fresh target. Small wonder the demon had chosen it as a base of operations.

 

After breakfast I tend to more mundane affairs. Life won’t wait just because you have a feud with an unclean spirit. I finish up my freelance work—an article about the benefits of enterprise planning software—and send it off. I hit the crypto markets, sell some Litecoin, place a couple of limit orders on Bitcoin, and buy a bit of Dash. I plan my next blog post on Steemit. I arrange a couple of appointments—in-person tarot readings, easy yet rewarding—and answer some queries.

 

With work done, I can get back to my real job. On Blackout’s website, I study the photos, note the dress code, and prepare my clothing. Long-sleeved white shirt, smart pants, thick-soled shoes. I clean my earplugs, slip them into my breast pocket, and prep the rest of my gear. Finally, I message Eleanor and tell her what I plan to do.

 

Good luck, she says.

 

She wasn’t a fighter. Never would be one. But at least she had my back.

 

Dinner is light. Chicken and assorted vegetables wrapped in lettuce. Nutritious, but not so rich that it would slow me down. I spend an hour meditating, waiting for the night life to really get underway. Then, I hit the street.

 

Taking the train to Clarke Quay, I emerge at Hong Lim Park. This is the site of Singapore’s famous Speakers’ Corner, which is probably why there is a police post nearby and the Attorney-General’s Chambers are right across the street.

 

I head in the opposite direction, towards the Singapore River. Here, at South Bridge Road, I see the surviving fragments of Singapore’s past. Shophouses and low-rise office buildings flank the road, rebuilt with modern materials while retaining their old-time designs. The daytime businesses are closed, and the night-time companies are coming to life. Hostesses in skimpy clothing and high heels linger outside lounges and discos and bars, smoking and chatting with patrons and passers-by. Every time a door opens I hear frenetic music blast forth. A tiny 7-Eleven stands near the bus stop, the sole bridge between the day and night worlds.

 

My kit digs uncomfortably into my flesh. My tongue registers hard bitter curves. Annoying, but I’ll have to live with it. Can’t go empty-handed against a demon.

 

Down the street, I cut into Circular Road. Now the night world hits me with full force. Old-school rock and roll, slow and melodic, plays from a nearby eatery. It is packed with young adults, chatting loudly to be heard over the background noise. I seek temporary relief at the building across the road, closed for the night, but it lasts only until I reach the Indian-themed pub next door. Past that was a cake decoration store, painted an incongruous pink, utterly out of place here.

 

Sticking to the narrow sidewalk, I keep walking. I pass by the Quarters Hostel and sidestep around a couple of tourists emerging from the front door. Then I weave my way around the patrons and staff of more pubs.

 

The further I go down the road, the narrower the street becomes. Furniture spills out into the sidewalk, forcing me to squeeze past narrow walkways to chance walking the road. The denizens of the night form static knots and slow-moving clumps. A river of cars roll down the one-way street, narrowly avoiding the vehicles parked alongside the road. Lights flash and music blares, but I only have eyes and ears for traffic and warning signs. There was so much motion, so much sound, so much everything I have to shut down and focus.

 

Once, a Thai hostess makes the mistake of tugging at my sleeve. My hand flies to hers and peels it off. She gasps, withdrawing. I wag my finger and her and slide through the night.

 

Finally—finally—I reach my destination. A small shophouse with ‘BLACKOUT’ in thin bold white words plastered across an all-black signboard. There is a small queue outside, with a heavyset bouncer at the door. Donning my earplugs, I join the queue.

 

When it’s my turn, the bouncer says, “Show me your IC please.”

 

Great thing about Flare Audio’s earplugs, they cut out unwanted sound while leaving you the ability to hear conversations around you. All the same, I read his lips to verify what I hear.

 

I show the bouncer my identity card. He nods and pats me down. I endure the feel of foreign flesh against me, flaring my shield so his energies slide off.

 

His hands stop at my waist.

 

“What’s this?” he demands.

 

“My flashlight.”

 

“Show me.”

 

Slowly and carefully, I withdraw it from my waistband. It’s a Nitecore MT2A. In the low light it’s hard to tell it’s a mil-grade light.

 

He nods and carries down. He moves down my legs and ankles, and stands up.

 

“Okay, boss. You can come in,” he says.

 

I stow the flashlight and pay the cover charge. Fifteen dollars. He hands me a ticket and I enter the club.

 

Light and sound assault me. Iridescent lasers slash across my eyes. Ever-changing spotlights slide across the walls and floors, barely illuminating the dark. A synthesized techno beat screams through the crowded room, so loud my earplugs barely reduce it to tolerable levels. People dance all around me, flinging their arms and shaking their bodies to the beat. I keep my hands close to my chest, ready to ward off dancers who get too close.

 

Underneath the mad, frenetic energy, something lurks in a lower realm. Something brown and dark and predatory.

 

The target.

 

The ticket entitles me to a free drink at the bar. Browsing the menu, I select a cranberry juice. I’m not here to party. I’m here to work. The fruit juice is ice cold when it arrives, and goes down as a shock of white. Good. I need to clear my head.

 

I lumber to the upper floor, staying well clear of the dancers. Keeping to the walls, I scan the crowds, looking for something, anything out of place. Someone lingering too long in a corner and watching the crowd, someone moving aggressively on a vulnerable person and sucking in energy, someone slipping drugs into an unattended drink, male or female, doesn’t matter.

 

No signs of predators here. Nobody takes any interest in me either. With drink in hand, stuffy clothes and a guardedly neutral expression, nobody will.

 

I finish my drink and head down the ground floor toilet. In the cubicle, I do my business, then pop off my left shoe and pull out my knife. I’d been walking on my Benchmade Griptilian for the whole evening, and it dug uncomfortably into my sole with every step.

 

At least that unpleasantness was over now. Sitting on the toilet bowl, I slowly and silently open the blade and close my eyes.

 

In my second sight, I assess the dark mass I’d seen. Reshazak, or a significant fraction of it. Long, thick ropes of negative energy anchor it to the world. Through these anchors, it feeds off the energy of everyone here and assesses patrons as prey. Unfortunately for it, my cloak is still intact.

 

I reach out with my mind. Gather the ropes into a thick, squirming bundle before me.

 

Cut.

 

Energy rushes through the air. Something howls in my head, cutting through the deafening music. Malevolence radiates from the dark mass, and now I feel the full weight of its attention.

 

‘This place is MINE!’

 

Not any more,’ I reply.

 

I imagine the creature floating before me, a writhing, seething mass of naked evil. I cut the image, and through the image I transmit the space-ripping force of cold steel.

 

How dare you!’ it screams. ‘You will pay for this! I will eat your soul! I will feed on everyone you—’

 

I cut again.

 

‘Shut up.’

 

I cut and cut and cut, dividing it into ever-smaller pieces. It grows tentacles and lashes out at me, but most of them slide off my shield. I cut off those that don’t and continue slashing away at the being. It continues screaming, promising to exact vengeance over a thousand lifetimes, eternal torture in its domain, utter annihilation.

 

I’d heard it all before. I didn’t care. Make war on me and pay the price.

 

One last thrust. Light flashes through the world. For a moment, there’s a brief sense of dislocation. Then Reshazak is gone.

 

I close the blade, put it away and leave. Once outside the nightclub, I stow my earbuds and yawn. It’s been a long, long night. I have no idea how normies can stand so much noise and touching, and really, I don’t care. They can keep to their world, and I’ll stay in mine. Just like it’s always been.

 

Heading down the street, I dodge a few more passers-by, scanning the world like I always do. I breathe through my fatigue, forcing myself to stay alert. The night isn’t over yet. Not until I’m home.

 

Belatedly I realize I’m going the wrong way. Doesn’t matter, I can always turn around, and anyway the Raffles Place MRT station is nearby. I keep going anyway, keeping an eye for—

 

‘Look left,’ Lupin urges.

 

I do. Out the corner of my eye, a gangly Chinese man rounds a bend. By the amber street light I see long, thick, unkempt hair and a rounded back. A huge black cloud of negative energy looms over him. Reshazak’s energy.

 

His eyes lock on my face.

 

Threat.

PSX_20170918_044151

Previous parts: 1, 2, 3

For a different take on gods and demons, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

Night Demons Part 3 of 6

 

When going to war, first build an invincible defence. And I am strongest at my home.

 

Home is a studio apartment a few minutes away from the Farrer Park MRT station. Unlike most single Singaporeans my age, I live alone, well away from my parents. It’s for their safety. They’re normies, and given my lifestyle, the last thing I need is for demons to show up at the doorstep of my family home.

 

It’s happened more than once.

 

To the naked eye, it’s an open concept one-room flat. In my mind’s eye, I see multiple reinforced layers of shields, shimmering white and blue and gold, ready to repel intruders. Crystals stationed near the door and windows anchor the shields in place. The wards are intact, and there are no signs of forced entry.

 

Setting my backpack down, I don a pair of Flare Audio titanium earplugs and pick up the crystal singing bowl in the corner. It’s less a bowl and more like a cylinder, half the size of my torso. I cradle it to my hip and strike the rim with a wooden dowel.

 

A pure note fills the room with white sound. Rubbing the dowel against the outer rim, I circle my home, carrying the sound to every corner. The walls are thick enough that I don’t disturb the neighbours. The high-pitched tone sweeps through me, clearing any stray negativity I might have picked up.

 

I put the bowl aside and sit on the floor. Draw my Benchmade Griptilian from my waistband and pop it open. Closing my eyes, I open my mind’s eye and hunt for negative attachments.

 

There. A cluster of black cords extending from my crown. I swipe my knife through them, severing the connections.

 

Vanessa would have left those attachments, of course. She couldn’t help it; where intention goes, energy flows. She desires intimacy and seeks it in mere flesh. I can’t help her with her issues. Not today. All I can do is help myself.

 

Passing the knife over my body, I clear all other unhealthy attachments in my aura. It’s a staple practice in Western occult practices, but it’s not something I do for people who aren’t read into them. Singapore doesn’t have a knife culture, and the first time I brought out the knife the client freaked out there and then. Since then, I resorted to sage.

 

I didn’t make this world. I just have to live in it.

 

When I’m done, I hit the shower. Cold running water with plenty of sea salt. Can’t ever be too careful. I change into a green shirt and comfortable pants, and dump the laundry just in time to hear the doorbell.

 

I check the peephole. See a woman. Open the door.

 

Eleanor Wang stands at the doorstep. Dressed in a bright yellow dress, she carries a sling bag over her left shoulder, another bag on her right, and a smaller carrier in her left hand.

 

“Hello!” she sings.

 

“Hi,” I reply. “Just in time.”

 

I let her in. Dumping her bags next to the door, she plops herself on the sofa and hugs a cushion to her chest. Her spirit guide, a small tabby cat named Blazer, shows himself, sprawling all over her crown.

 

“So coooooooooold,” she says.

 

“Monsoon season’s starting.”

 

“Mm. Is it cold here?”

 

“I’m good.”

 

Blazer climbs down. Lupin and Leonhard reveal themselves, and the trio hold a conference in a corner of the room. As I sit next to her, she says, “How was your client today?”

 

For the next ten minutes, I recount the events at Bedok. Eleanor listens intently, chiming in with questions where appropriate.

 

“It sounds like a powerful neg,” she says.

 

“We’ve dealt with worse before,” I reply.

 

There are a handful of people in the world who know who I am and what I do. Eleanor is one of them. The first among them. We met in secondary school, and she was the only friend I retained from those days. When I stumbled upon the hidden world of gods and demons, she was the first person I confided in, and the first person who followed me down the rabbit hole. It helped that she had no small amount of talent herself.

 

“It feels like a spirit of lust,” she says. “It is attracted to carnal desires, but it feeds directly on life energy. But it’s also powerful and dangerous enough to protect itself.”

 

“Michael says he’s gunning for me now.”

 

She sigh, shaking her head. “As expected.”

 

“It’s what I do.”

 

Another sigh.

 

“I need to prepare for round two,” I say. “Can you help?”

 

“Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay…”

 

We reinforce my home. More shields, more wards, more blessings, concluding with a prayer for help.

 

“Archangel Michael, General of the Armies of Light, watch over and protect us from the forces of evil. Safeguard this place and ensure it remains a sanctuary from darkness. Thank you.”

 

Short and simple, as the best workings usually were. Eleanor favoured other divinities, but it’s usually best to concentrate your energies on a single celestial being than to spread them out over multiple ones. More so if they don’t get along.

 

A quarter of an hour later, we’re done. Eleanor chugs down a glass of water and declares, “Time for dinner!”

 

We have dinner twice or thrice a week. Sometimes she visits me, sometimes I go to her workplace in Toa Payoh, other times we meet somewhere in between. Her way of keeping track of me, I suppose.

 

I’d left two packets of salmon fillets and another of potatoes out to thaw. I don’t normally prepare those, but with Eleanor around I made the exception. We rummage around the fridge and produce a bunch of French beans, cherry tomatoes and peas. Together, we prepare dinner. There was so little room in the tiny kitchen we had to work hip-to-hip.

 

The kitchenette has a tiny cooking hob. Just about adequate for what the real estate agent had called ‘light cooking’. Today, that meant pan-seared salmon with helpings of assorted vegetables.

 

Laying out the food on the dining table, we lower our heads, clasp our hands and bless the meal. I draw down divine energy into the real world, into this tiny spot in space-time, and infuse it into the food, willing the energy to bring health, wealth, and good fortune. In my second sight, the edibles glow softly.

 

We make small talk over dinner. She does most of the talking, complaining about the latest round of office politicking, venting about the people she had to deal with, commiserating about the stresses of the job. Her voice, a sweet, melodious mix of green and yellow and indigo, makes listening to the litany barely tolerable.

 

In the grand tradition of countless Singaporeans before her, she’d joined the civil service after graduating from university. It paid much better than what I did, as she liked to remind me, but I wasn’t sure if the job was worth my soul.

 

I suppose we who are called to serve the Divine have different priorities.

 

“How are you doing these days?” she asks. “Can you still cope?”

 

“Sure. I’m making enough to get by.”

 

“How much do you save a month?”

 

I shrug. “Five, six hundred.”

 

“Only?”

 

“Still a lot more than you.”

 

She chuckles. Much of her income went to servicing her education loans. Most of mine went to paying the bills. We all have our crosses to bear.

 

“Is your magic business working out?” she asks.

 

I nod. “I can cover the utilities.”

 

I offer a multitude services. Tarot, palm reading and graphology are my most successful offerings, and those I’m obliged to charge for. I have to, to keep myself afloat. Healing, only if the client can afford it. Exorcism is a donations-only endeavour. It’s not a money-making business; in a good month I can cover my expenses, in a bad month there’s nothing to do but dip into my savings. But this job isn’t about the money – and if I needed cash, there were other ways.

 

“And cryptocurrency leh?

 

Now I grin.

 

“I made fifteen hundred dollars off trading Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dash and Litecoin this month.”

 

She smiles too. “That’s awesome.”

 

Okay, I exaggerate. A little. Most of those were paper gains. I’d jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon early in the game, early enough that when I finally remembered I had a Bitcoin wallet I realized I was sitting on a small fortune.

 

I wasn’t a millionaire. Not by a long shot. But I could afford to stay here for ten years, if I made my trades carefully and if the crypto market continued to remain favourable.

 

Of course, the main problem was ensuring my bank account had real money in it. Singapore still ran on fiat, and most of my savings were locked up in crypto. I supplement my income with freelancing and other mundane work—but talking about that would bore the both of us.

 

We keep conversation light over the rest of dinner. It’d been a long day and I didn’t have much energy for anything else. We put away the dishes and she stays a little longer, sitting next to me on my sofabed. We’re so close our shoulders touch. She is soft and warm and it only took me a full year—the entirety of my last year in secondary school—to acclimatize myself to this much contact.

 

A pleasant hour passes in conversation, tarot reading, and meditation. At least, she tries to meditate.

 

“I can’t really meditate as long as you do,” she complains.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Can’t sit still lah.

 

I nudge her side. Lightly. The sensory recoil sends shockwaves through my body.

 

“Maybe I should tie you up.”

 

WHAT?!

 

“I read somewhere that people do that to keep their minds and bodies still…”

 

“No! Pervert!”

 

But she giggles. And she keeps her tone light.

 

“Well, if you’re ever interested—”

 

“Go away! I don’t know you!”

 

And again she laughs, lightly shoving me away.

 

We turn to less sensitive topics for a few more minutes. Then she breaks out a tube of cream and squirts out a small amount on her palm, as large as a twenty-cent coin. Rubbing her hands together, she runs them down her face, her neck, her arms, her legs.

 

Her skin is a battered wasteland of dry flakes and dull red patches. Full-body eczema, co-morbid with lichen amyloidosis. With a careful diet and rigorous skincare regime, she’s kept it under control for the past decade and a half. Despite my best efforts I haven’t found a way to help her. But I’m not giving up.

 

As she speaks, she gushes about her latest skin care products and skin-friendly makeup. Most of it flies over my head—all I comprehend is a daily infusion of aloe vera—but I smile and nod anyway. It’s the best I can do for her. At least, for now.

 

She stays for another half hour, and then it’s time to go. Donning my knife and flashlight, I escort her to the MRT station. She’d long ago given up any hope of persuading me to disarm myself, but she lives in a different world. Cold iron and white light are the most effective tools against spirits, second only to blessed and enchanted holy objects.

 

I have also been reliably informed that knives and flashlights tend to useful against human threats. Not that I plan to use mine on humans, of course. After all, as every law-abiding citizen can tell you, weapons are illegal in Singapore, and self-defence is no excuse to carry one.

 

I return home and stifle a yawn. All the socialising had sapped my energy reserves. No point doing any more work tonight. I wash the dishes and brush my teeth. Fire up my laptop, check my Exodus wallet and my accounts on various cryptocurrency exchanges, record my income, and spend the next half hour relaxing with videos and some light reading.

 

When I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, I unfold my sofa into a bed, stash my flashlight and knife under my pillow, turn off the lights and dive under the covers.

 

It is warm and soft and clean and comfortable and soothing. After so many hours of sensory contact with other humans it was just the thing to recover. It’s a weekend too; I could sleep in if I wanted to, not that it was going to happen, I had work to do and work never ended. I close my eyes and turn on my side and sink into the mattress.

 

There is a new pressure next to me. Soft and warm and human. I sit up and Eleanor is lying next to me, smiling an invitation, peeling off the blanket to reveal an expanse of smooth fresh skin and in her right hand is a coil of rope and the rope unfurls into a hangman’s noose and she is smiling like a tigress and she crawls over with noose in hand and that is not Eleanor’s skin that is not Eleanor wake up wake up WAKE UP!

 

My physical body is frozen. My soul is not. I visualize a pentragram. Five blazing white lines burn into existence, forming a barrier between me and not-her. She hisses and her face warps into an malformed spotted thing.

 

“I banish you! By the most holy names of God—Yahweh, Agla, Adonai, Ehyeh Asher Ahyeh—I banish you and command you never to return!”

 

The pentagram burns white, drowning out the world.

 

I shoot up into a standing position. Hot electricity crackles through every fiber of my being. To my right, just past the bed, I see a large brown blob the shape and size of a man. It scowls at me, growing massive fangs and a pair of clawed arms.

 

Reaching under my pillow, I grab the first thing I can find. Heavy, plastic, textured. Knife. I snap the knife open and pounce on the entity.

 

“MICHAEL!” I scream.

 

Angel lights flash into existence. The knife punches clean through astral matter. A demonic howl fills my head. The lights frame and illuminate the neg, holding it in place, burning off the darkness. I slash and thrust and cut and stab and the spirit is gone.

 

I turn on the lights.

 

All clear.

 

My heart pounds in my chest. Sweat spills down my skin. My steel is steady in my hand. And there are no more threats.

 

It is just after three in the morning. There are great, gaping holes over the windows and door. I’d have to repair them later. I put my Benchmade away. Wipe the sweat from my face. Sit. Breathe.

 

Lupin and Leonhard materialize before me. Their bodies are covered in scratches. The angel lights flit over them, concentrating at their wounds.

 

‘Are you okay?’ Leonhard asks.

 

I nod. ‘I should ask you that.’

 

Lupin growls. ‘Reshazak brought many friends. They tore down your shields and created an opening for him. Sorry we couldn’t hold them off.’

 

‘We won. That’s all that matters. Michael?’

 

‘Here I am,’ the archangel says, his voice emanating from the lights. As he speaks, the guides’ wounds close over.

 

‘Thanks for the assist.’

 

I’d rather not fight at all, but winning was second-best.

 

‘You’re most welcome. Reshazak read your mind and exploited your weaknesses. You did well to detect his presence and drive him off, but he will come back. His pride demands it. And if he can’t reach you, he’ll target Eleanor.’

 

I exhale sharply. I’d expect nothing less of a demon. There’s only one thing we could do.

 

‘We’ll hunt him first,’ I declare.

 

 

Previous parts: 1 and 2.

 

For more long-form fiction by yours truly, check out NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon.

Night Demons Part 2 of 6

 

I glance around the room. The miasma redoubles in strength. The Lums’ spirit guides are fleeing to different realms for cover. But there is no overt sign of the evil spirit.

 

I’d have to flush it out.

 

“Vanessa, please let me see your hand,” I say.

 

She holds out her arm. Examining the streaks, I peer beyond the material realm. Every black line is a deep cut in her aura, filled with dark festering energy, consuming her life energy.

 

“Do the marks feel odd? Are they warm, cold, numb…?”

 

“A bit cold, actually.”

 

The curse was devouring her life force to fuel itself.

 

“Have you washed the marks?”

 

“Yes. With soap and water. I keep scrubbing them, but no matter what, they don’t go away.”

 

The boy snorts. I ignore him, listening instead to Leonhard and Lupin. The spirit guides whisper into my mind’s ear, and I repeat them.

 

“This is a powerful curse,” I say. “It is eating away at your life energy and your luck. I think there is a negative spirit possessing the man you described, and you were unfortunate enough to run into it. But don’t worry: I can handle this.”

 

“What do you need to do?”

 

“Are you ready to be healed?” I ask formally.

 

No healing, magic or other working can be performed without a patient’s consent. It was an ironclad rule in this business, one to be broken at your peril.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Excellent. Please wait here a moment. I’m going to cleanse your home.”

 

“‘Cleanse’?” the boy asks.

 

“Yes,” I reply. “I will cleanse the home of negative energies and create a sacred space. It is the first step of the working.”

 

The black ball of negativity whirls round and round his head. “It’s really going to work meh?”

 

This is how negs work their will in the real world, through pawns and useful idiots. John’s trying to provoke me into an outburst, or to convince the family to throw me out. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he doesn’t exist.

 

“I won’t guarantee results,” I say slowly, “only that I will do my best.”

 

“So you can’t do anything lah!

 

“John!” the mother snaps. “Don’t talk to Mr Chang like that!”

 

Aiyah, what can he do?” he says. “He’s not a doctor, he’s not some sort of priest or what, he’s just a quack lah. Why you even listen to him?”

 

Leonhard chuckles and whispers a single sentence into my mind.

 

“How is your ankle?” I ask.

 

“My what?”

 

I point. “Your left ankle. It’s an old injury. Does it still hurt?”

 

There is a throbbing brown ball in his ankle. Electric streaks of red pain radiate through his foot and leg. He’s leaning against the wall because his injured foot can’t take his weight. The neg orbiting his head is probably interfering with the healing process too.

 

He blinks. “How did you… Someone must have told you, right? Who?”

 

“I never told him anything about you,” Vanessa insisted.

 

“Then? How did you know?” John demanded.

 

I smile.

 

“John, as I said, I will do my best. You may observe, but do not interrupt.”

 

Lupin growls at the neg dancing about John’s face. It shrinks away and melts into the miasma.

 

“Can you help him?” Vanessa asks.

 

I turn to John. “Do you want to be healed?”

 

He crosses his arms. “We’ll see how first.”

 

I unzip my bag and lay it flat on the floor, revealing several smaller ziploc bags. I retrieve the one containing a bundle of white sage smudge sticks and grab a lighter.

 

Igniting a smudge stick, I hold it high and let the purifying smoke rise into the ceiling.

 

“The smell is pretty powerful,” I say. “If you have breathing difficulties, please stay clear.”

 

With even, measured steps, I walk throughout the house, filling it with smoke. The scent is thick and herbal, like burning tobacco but brighter and cleaner. The miasma retreats before it, pouring out of the doors and windows.

 

Smudging is a Native American practice, but most Singaporeans are familiar with burning incense or other offerings. They are conceptually similar enough that people don’t ask me questions about it. I swirl the smoke in the corners of every room, letting it clear out the miasma.

 

There is a tiny altar mounted in the kitchen near the ceiling. It is the only overt sign of religiosity in the household. John’s bedroom is humming with tense, conflicted energies. The energies of a teenager undergoing puberty. The parents’ room is flat and empty, mostly devoid of life.

 

Vanessa’s room swam with a toxic brew. Most of the energy here was hers, but there was much stagnant foreign energy too, no doubt the traces of strange men. The miasma was thickest here, and I spent extra time clearing it out.

 

The Lums weren’t particularly religious, much less spiritual. They would have been easy targets for a malevolent entity.

 

Returning to the kitchen, I extinguish the stick and settle in my chair. Half-closing my eyes, I take a series of deep, full breaths. On the inhale, I direct a glittering golden stream of life energy into my second chakra, two fingers below the navel. On the exhale, I discharge a cloud of waste energy into the universe to be renewed.

 

Opening my eyes, I see.

 

A swarm of beings crawl all over her. Some are as tiny as gnats, others are the size of my fist. Some are parasites, others are lost souls swept up in their wake. Underneath the mass of creatures, I see something larger swimming through her aura, like a shark among a school of lesser fish.

 

The chief of the negs.

 

“Archangel Michael, please come to us in our hour of need. Bless this space and open a gate to the Light.”

 

Above our heads, an astral gate opens. White light, pure and holy, floods the dining room, burning off the last of the miasma. The world brightens immediately. Framed in the portal, I see a man in sky-blue armour with a blazing sword in his right hand, spreading brilliant white wings from his back. My namesake.

 

Swooping down, he lands next to me. My spirit guides bow to him, and he bows also. I nod, and continue the ritual.

 

“We are now in the presence of the Light. Beings who wish to pass on, you are free to leave. Michael, please watch over them.”

 

A rainbow stream of souls unwind from her, ascending into the Light. As they depart, they flash through human forms—an elderly man, a little girl, a young woman—and vanish from sight.

 

“Do you see sparkling?” Mr Lum asks.

 

“Where?” John asks.

 

I ignore them.

 

“Beings who wish to harm Vanessa, know that your time here is done. You are free to pass into the Light. You are also free to leave. But you cannot stay.”

 

A gentle warmth radiates from the burning blade. Smaller entities leap off her and join the souls heading up. The horde thins out immediately, and in that gap something dark and ugly surfaces in her aura. It glares at me. I stare back.

 

‘This one is tough,’ Lupin says. ‘You gotta burn out its attachments.’

 

“Here we go,” I say.

 

I take her arm. It is smooth and cool and springy. A strange feeling passes through my kin, like the sensation of rubbing milk with your fingers crossed with clutching a lightning bolt. Cream white flashes across my eyes.

 

Breathing through the sensory intrusion, I touch the fingers of my right hand to the black thumb-sized streak and channel energy from the Universe. A river of hot, clean energy surges through me, down my crown, through my arm and fingers, and into her wound.

 

“Tell me if you feel anything,” I say.

 

The cosmic energy floods into the auric wound, transmuting into White Light, burning away the festering energy, leaving a gap behind. The energy turns into a golden liquid, filling up the hole and sealing it off. The being growls.

 

“It’s getting hot,” she whispers.

 

“It’s working,” I say.

 

More energy. More power. More heat. I step out of the way and allow the Universe work through me. First comes a stream of Light, burning away the last of the curse. Then a stream of life energy, filling out and sewing up the wound.

 

The creature shrieks.

 

“I think… I hear a voice,” Vanessa says.

 

The neg is now perched over her face, resembling an overlay of an ugly old man scowling at me.

 

“I want you to take a deep breath.”

 

She does.

 

“That is the being who cursed you,” I say.

 

“What? Really? I—”

 

“Shh. Breathe.”

 

She does. The deep breaths keep her from panicking.

 

“Can you hear what the being is saying?” I ask.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m going to talk to him now, but I want you to tell me what he says. Can you do that?”

 

By listening and speaking, she will regain control of her sovereign body.

 

“I… I don’t know…”

 

Smiling, Michael steps behind her and lays his hand on her shoulder. Her expression relaxes immediately.

 

“There is nothing to be afraid of,” I say reassuringly. “We are in the presence of the divine. It cannot hurt you.”

 

She nods. “I’ll try.”

 

“Okay. What is your name?”

 

“I don’t have a name.”

 

I shake my head. “All sentient beings have a name. What is yours?”

 

“I won’t tell you.”

 

“I ask you for your name, that I may address you with respect.”

 

“I’m not going to tell you.”

 

Michael looks at me. ‘His name is Reshazak.’

 

The archangel’s voice is a deep, commanding blue, rounded off with a melodic gentleness.

 

‘Thanks,’ I reply. Out loud, I say, “I hear your name is Reshazak. It shall be so. Reshazak, your time here is done. You are free to go—”

 

“No! The girl is mine!” Vanessa blinks and shivers. “I didn’t mean to—”

 

“It’s okay,” I say, feeding her more energy. “We know who said it. We’ll carry on. Reshazak, you may leave with our respect and gratitude.”

 

“No! She will always be a part of me!”

 

Michael rests his sword on her crowd. An agonised shriek fills my mind.

 

“Reshazak, it hurts, doesn’t it?” I say.

 

“Huh?”

 

“You are in the presence of Michael the archangel. You stand now exposed to the Light. You are suffering, aren’t you?”

 

“So?”

 

“Reshazak, if you stay and continue to harm Vanessa, you will suffer even more. But you can end it. All you have to do is leave.”

 

Her voice grows harsh. “You leave! You are a fake! You cannot do this—”

 

“No. I am staying. So is Archangel Michael. Your time in Vanessa’s body is done. If you continue to stay, you will suffer even more and receive even greater punishment.”

 

“Fuck off you piece of shit!”

 

The Lums recoil. Vanessa quickly shakes her head. “No, I didn’t mean to—”

 

“It’s fine. You’re just the messenger,” I say soothingly.

 

Ethereal flame leaps off the sword, pouring through her aura.

 

“He’s screaming,” she says. “He’s screaming and telling you to… well, you know.”

 

I nod. “Reshazak, you can stop the pain. All you have to do is leave.”

 

Vanessa tilts her head back and opens her mouth. An unearthly sigh fills the world. A male sigh.

 

And Reshazak is gone.

 

She slumps over. Releasing Vanessa, I take a deep breath and recharge myself. The portal closes. The miasma is gone. Michael steps aside, grins, and gives me a thumbs-up.

 

“Did you hear that?” John asks.

 

“That was the being departing,” I reply. “It won’t harm anyone again.”

 

Vanessa looks up at me. Her aura is free of negs. “Thank you.”

 

I dispense my usual post-exorcism advice. For the next seven days, shower with salt, preferably sea salt. Scatter more salt on the corners and at the windows and door. If the being comes back, if something else happens, let me know.

 

Vanessa shakes my hand. “Thank you so much.”

 

Her touch lingers longer than expected, her warmth burning and corrosive. Her eyes widen, a pair of black holes threatening to swallow me whole. It was the same behaviour that got her into this mess.

 

I slide my hand away as politely as I can. “You’re welcome.”

 

Her aura is still a mess, still polluted with the remains of who knew how many men. I honestly don’t know if I can clear them out, but I’m not going to compound the problem.

 

‘You did what you could,’ Leonhard says.

 

‘Now she must save herself,’ Michael adds.

 

You can’t win them all, I suppose.

 

Mrs Lum presents me with a red packet. I don’t charge a fee for higher-end magical services, but I do request a donation. I slide it into my breast pocket and pick up my backpack.

 

“Um, can you help me with my injury?” John asks.

 

“I could, but I have a policy of treating one client at a time,” I say. “Drop me an email and we can arrange for another appointment.”

 

“Okay,” he says.

 

At my feet, Lupin and the rabbit converse earnestly, no doubt plotting how to nudge John to contact me later.

 

I leave the flat. At the lift, I open the red packet and find two fifty-dollar notes. Not too bad for an hour’s work. I’d been paid much more before, but I’ve also received much less. Looking up, I see the archangel staring intensely at me.

 

‘Michael, this job isn’t over,’ he says.

 

‘What do you mean?’ I ask.

 

‘You’ve only dealt with a small portion of Reshazak. It was not taken into the Light; it fled to reintegrate itself with the whole. He knows now what you are capable of. He is a being of immense malevolence, and beings like that are not the forgiving type. You are his next target.’

 

Stand against the dwellers of the dark long enough and they will start hunting you. It’s the nature of the game.

 

Still, I grin.

 

‘I’ll be his last.’

Part 1 can be found here.

For more fiction by yours truly, check out the Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons.

SIGNAL BOOST: The City and the Dungeon by Matthew P. Schmidt

C&D.jpeg

Writer and fellow Steemian Matthew P. Schmidt has submitted his latest novel, The City and the Dungeon, and Those who Dwell and Delve Within, to Amazon’s traditional publishing arm, Kindle Scout. If he gathers enough nominations for the next thirty days, Amazon will (presumably) buy the rights to the novel, and everyone who nominated it for publication will receive a free copy. If you would like to see his official announcement, click here.

Set in a world that runs on RPG mechanics, C&D follows the adventures of Alex Kenderman, a new immigrant to the titular City who braves the Dungeon to remit money home to the family. Along the way, Alex makes firm friends, battles terrible monsters, navigates the legal system, plans and develops his character and party build, and almost accidentally crashes the world economy. Oh, and he falls in love in a girl who is way out of his league…and unlike trashy anime or manga protagonists, actually musters the courage to speak to her.

Schmidt is in my writer’s group, and I’ve had the great fortune of beta reading the manuscript. I can wholeheartedly recommend this story to everyone who enjoys Young Adult fantasy fiction and litrpg stories. It is a clean, tightly-written story suitable for all ages, brimming with adventure and fascinating characters and intriguing detail. If it’s right up your alley, and you’ve got an Amazon Kindle account, you can nominate the story here.

Oh, and Schmidt: Good luck!