Rivers and Lakes
Sun Yao knew he didn’t have much time. As soon as he stepped out of the club, Du Yang would be on the phone with his Dragon Head to confess what he had done. If only so the rest of the secret society could be ready for the sudden destruction of the Beast King Sect.
Jumping into his car, he raced to the Old District. Sirens screamed in the distance. As he approached the Xin Hong Industrial building, he slowed and peered out the window.
The five-story building was old, but still in good shape. Its neighbors overshadowed it considerably. Though the paint had faded long ago, the tinted windows were intact. Surrounded by a head-high wall topped with razor wire, the only way in and out was through the front gate.
For normal humans.
With his spirit sense, he detected a man seated near the front gate. His qi was unusually powerful—the mark of a cultivator. There was another man patrolling the inner perimeter. A third man stood guard on the roof. There were lots of energy signatures nestled within the first floor of the building, so many clumped so tightly together he couldn’t distinguish numbers or types.
And on the top floor, there was a huge energy spike.
And then he was past.
He couldn’t come back. Not openly. He had no doubt that guards would have sensed his passage, sensed his qi. If he doubled back now, they would be ready for him. Better to let them think he was hunting a beast and just happened to drive by.
There were no other people around him. Not on the street. All around him were ancient factories and warehouses and workshops, either abandoned or closed for the night. Built before the days of standardized civil planning, the buildings were packed unusually close to each other.
He could work with that.
He parked his vehicle. Donned his tactical suit. Focused.
Breathing deeply, he withdrew his qi into himself. Then, grabbing the subtle energies around him, he fashioned a cloak of pure qi and wrapped itself around him. If he did it right, he wouldn’t show up on spirit sense.
The closest building called itself the Dilong Paint Factory. Igniting his muscles, he leapt over the wall, sprinted across the courtyard, and sprinted to the factory.
Supercharging his qi, he altered reality. His body grew lighter, his muscles stronger. Planting his boot on the wall, he sprinted up the side of the building, defying gravity itself. With a final jump, he grabbed the parapet and pulled himself up.
The roof was clear of people. The target was five blocks down. No sign of the enemy.
Here we go.
He sprinted. Reaching the parapet, he leapt to the adjacent building and kept on running. He bounded from roof to roof, his rubber soles absorbing what little sound he made. One building away from his target, he pressed himself to the hard concrete, crawled to the far side and peered down.
The guard was still there, patrolling the edge of the roof. He looked down on the road below, oblivious to Sun’s presence. By the light of the moon he saw the man was cradling an infinity gun.
Backing up, he opened his messaging app on his utility band and laboriously tapped out a text message, summarizing his findings for Fu.
Fu replied immediately.
Assembling the team. ETA 15 minutes. Stay put.
Sun stayed put. It would be madness to go in alone. Best to do it with backup. For now, he could observe—
Qi bloomed from the factory. The energy was soft and pale and gentle and…
It was Fang Fang’s.
He clenched his fists. Whatever they were doing down there, it was nothing good.
Can’t wait, he texted. Energy spike detected. Going in.
The guard was still manning his post, still looking down. Sun dashed to the parapet. Jumped.
And landed behind the guard.
Sun kicked out the back of his leg. Seized his skull with his right hand. Wrapped his left arm around his throat, grabbed his right biceps and sank in a figure four choke. Sun held the pressure for a few moments, just enough to establish his dominance, then released. Slightly.
“I have questions. You will answer. Understand?” Sun whispered.
“Yes,” he gasped.
“What are you doing on the fifth floor?”
“I don’t know—”
Sun deepened the choke. “Don’t lie to me.”
Sun eased up. “Well?”
The guard sucked in a deep breath.
Cursing, Sun squeezed. Hard. The guard bucked and writhed, but Sun was too strong, too stable, and in moments he was out.
Men yelled. Metal clashed on metal. Looking down, he saw the gate guard pop out of his hut. The man he had captured was beginning to revive. Shifting his grip, Sun tossed him off the roof.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” the man screamed.
The gate guard rushed to his friend. Sun drew his infinity gun. The gate guard flared his qi, extended his arms, and caught his friend. Sun activated his weapon light and saw that the gate guard was also armed with an infinity gun.
Sun cut them down in a single burst.
Faint footsteps pounded against stone. Air whooshed. Sun leapt away and spun around, just as a dark figure climbed on the roof.
Sun lit up his face. Saw the pistol in the man’s hand. Sun stroked the trigger, and the man’s head disappeared in pink steam.
A chorus of diabolic hooting filled the world. Sun peered back down.
A troop of huge apes boiled out from the ground floor, climbing up the walls. These were giants among apes, with massive forearms and sharp horns and deep brown fur.
They were xiaohou. And there were too many of them.
He unleashed a long burst at the swarm, burning them down as they came. But for every xiaohou he shot down, two more appeared to take its place.
He sprinted away from the parapet. Refreshed his cloak. Stepped off the western edge of the roof.
Twisting in mid-air, he ran down the wall. Past the fifth floor, past the fourth, then jumped and smashed through a window on the third floor.
He spun around and landed in a crouch. He was in some kind of workshop. Large wooden tables surrounded him. Tools rested on shelves and racks.
Slinging his weapon, he reached into his interspatial storage and removed a palm sized cylinder. Peeling off the plastic backing, he adhered it to the wall. Yanked the safety clip free. Rotated the arming handle. Pulled.
He ran to a corner of the room. Dropped his cloak and flared his qi, exactly the way a cultivator would when gathering his strength.
A fresh round of whoops and hollers filled the air.
He discharged the qi, shaping it into a man-sized form, and stepped away. Raising his cloak, he sprinted for the window and climbed out.
The proximity mine beeped once. Its motion detector was now armed. Anyone who entered the room would receive a nasty surprise.
Running across the wall, he took the long away around, avoiding the horde of beast monkeys charging for his former position. In his spirit sense he felt a number of auras wink out. Cultivators hiding their signature.
The energy spike was growing increasingly powerful. He ran up to the fifth floor, found the window closest to the energy source, and jumped.
The window shattered under his boots. Contorting in flight, he dropped into a crouch and scanned.
In front of him was a woman strapped to a table. A man stood at a console attached to the table. At the far end of the room, a gunman stood by a door—and a mound of corpses.
Sun shot the gunman. Crouched and sidestepped right. The survivor turned and fired. A handgun bolt ripped the past his ear. Sun blasted the other man’s face.
Dressed in a short white skirt, the woman struggled helplessly against the bonds. Rushing over, he saw thick metal bands covering her face, her chest and her belly. Her three dantian. Smaller straps fastened her in place. White qi bloomed from her body. The table hummed ominously, and he realized it wasn’t merely a table; it was a machine.
He strode to the console. A dialog window screamed ‘Extraction in Progress’. At the bottom of the box, there was a small button labeled ‘Cancel’.
There were no physical controls. He touched the cancel button. The table went silent. The dialog window closed, and a plethora of options covered the screen. One of them was ‘Release’. He pressed the button and the bonds sprang open.
The woman sat up, looking wildly around.
“Fang Fang!” Sun shouted.
She leapt to him, arms outstretched. He caught her in a massive hug and set her on her bare feet.
“Sun Yao! You came!” she said. “I was so scared! I thought, I thought…”
“Sh. I’m here. Everything will be fine.”
“They were killing people!” she shouted, pointing at the bodies. “They used this machine to rip the empowerments out of our bodies and they killed a bunch of cultivators and I was the last one and—”
He held her tightly against his chest. “You’re safe now.”
At last he understood the Beast Kings’ scheme. Under the cover of the Ghost Month, when beasts roamed the city, they sought out and kidnapped Barrier Technicians, and perhaps other cultivators with rare skills. The beast attack at the airport must have been a diversion, to draw attention away from the operations room. And the police and the Defenders would be too busy to investigate the kidnappings.
Truly, this world was a realm of beasts.
“The Defenders are on their way. We have to—”
A loud explosion rocked the floor.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Proximity mine. But that won’t slow them down for long. Can you walk?”
“I think so.”
He peeled off his gloves and handed them to her. She blinked.
“Don’t you need them?” she asked.
“Be my shield. I shall be your sword.”
She smiled. Slipped them on.
“Let’s go,” he said.
And a chorus of demonic screams filled the air.
For more fiction combining magic, monsters, martial arts and mayhem, check out my latest novel Hammer of the Witches.