Realm of Beasts Chapter 10


The Magpie Bridge

Sun checked his spirit sense. There was a flood of hostiles incoming. There were too many of them. And they were all converging on his position.

“Barrier up!” Sun boomed.

Infernal screeching and chattering drowned out his voice. Xiaohou bashed in the windows and leapt themselves into the room. All at once they charged at the duo—and smashed against a dome-shaped barrier.

“FOLLOW ME!” Sun shouted.

Sun blasted away, cutting down a group of xiaohou between him and the exit. The survivors of the barrage recoiled from the radiant heat and light. Running to the door, Sun kicked it open, revealing a narrow hallway.

And four gunmen.

He obliterated the first. Destroyed the second. The third fired, and his bolts splashed off Liu’s barrier. Sun gunned him down. Turned—

The last man swatted down Sun’s weapon and raised a pistol to his face.

Sun ducked. The pistol fired, scorching his hair. He released his weapon and seized the man’s crotch. Twisted. Ripped.
The gunman shrieked, doubling over. Sun captured his throat in the crook of his elbow, swept out his leg and slammed his head into the floor. Stepped aside and shot him in the face.

“Sun Yao!” Liu yelled. “Behind us!”

She had blocked off the door with a barrier. The xiaohou screamed, trying to break through.

“Fang Fang! Get behind me!” Sun shouted. “Keep left!”

She turned and ran, clearing a line of fire to the door. Sun held down the trigger, walking bolts back and forth across the fatal funnel. The infinity gun gulped down his qi and turned it into thunderbolts. Flesh exploded, fur ignited, and blood spattered.

No more xiaohou remained.

“Follow me!” Sun said.

Down the corridor, he found a door to the stairs. Entering the stairwell, he heard muffled voices and bootsteps. He looked down.

Men. Guns.

He stepped back just as the gunmen opened fire. Blinding bolts slashed the air, slamming into the stone all around them. Reaching into his interspatial storage, he drew a fragmentation grenade, pulled the pin, and bounced it down the steps.

“Grenade!” a man yelled.

“Upstairs!” Sun whispered.

Sun and Liu flew up the stairs. He halted at the landing, opened his storage again, and produced another sticky bomb. The grenade exploded, eliciting screams and cries of pain. Sun armed the bomb, pasted it against the wall, and dashed to the roof.

The outside air was cool and sweet and refreshing. Sun staggered to a stop, gasping for breath. He had expended most of his qi reserves, and without his gloves he was only barely more powerful as a normal man. Liu wasn’t doing much better.

The sticky bomb exploded. Liu gave him a thumbs-up. He laughed. Once. And forced down more oxygen.

“Fang Fang…” Sun gasped. “We need to… use qinggong… to escape. I need my gloves back.”

She nodded. Reached for the left glove—

The door to the roof burst open, revealing a gunman with a pistol.

Liu raised a barrier. The newcomer fired, his bolts splashing against the barrier. Sun dropped to a knee and loosed a long burst. Squinting through the light show he saw—

His own bolts shattering against an invisible forcefield.

The enemy could use a barrier too.

Sun’s infinity gun beeped angrily and shut down. The barrel was glowing red and billowing smoke.

At the same time, the enemy ceased firing, his pistol red hot.


“The Defenders are on their way,” Sun said. “If you surrender now—”

“I can’t do that. You destroyed my sect.”

His qi flared. He was strong, stronger than Sun, stronger than Fu, stronger than any cultivator he had seen. This must be the sect leader.

“You’re finished!” Sun shouted. “You can’t break the barrier!”


The rogue cultivator swung his right foot forward, revealing a sword. He smiled.

And blurred.

“Fang Fang!”

She raised her barrier. The enemy materialized, his sword meeting the barrier—

And shattering it.

Growling, Sun drew his pistol from storage, aimed—

The enemy fired.

A colossal blow slammed him to the ground. His pistol clattered away. Sun coughed. He’d taken the shot on his chest plate, but it still hurt.

The rogue cultivator loomed over him and aimed his handgun at his face.

“Still alive?” the sect leader asked.

Qu si,” Sun retorted. Die.


A white wall sent the sect leader flying.

Sun got up. Liu was back on her feet, her hands outstretched. She must have slammed a barrier into the cultivator. The enemy was reeling, shaking his head.

Sun’s infinity gun was still overheated, and his pistol nowhere in sight. He drew his jian.

And lunged.

The sect leader recovered, deflecting the jian with his own sword, then sprang into a thrust. Sun swerved aside, parrying the thrust, and cut at the enemy’s head. The cultivator danced out of reach, then stepped back in and windmilled his arms, clearing Sun’s sword arm and plunging his blade at his throat.

Sun sprang away, safely out of range. He was exhausted, but the enemy was fresh. He had to end this now. Assuming his guard, he leaned back and lowered his jian, exposing his head.

The enemy blurred.

Sun thrust.

And struck a barrier.

His sword slid off.

“Hah!” the sect leader yelled, and slashed—

And his arm bounced off a barrier.


Sun cut at the exposed arm. The hand fell off. He flowed into a double-handed slash. The cultivator’s head flew away.
Blood gushed all over Sun. Stepping back, he wiped off the sword on the cultivator’s clothes and checked his spirit sense.

“All clear,” he said. “Thanks.”

She smiled. “Thanks for saving me.”

There was nothing more to say. Sun stowed his sword and held her in a warm, sweaty, weary embrace. He was done. It took all his willpower just to stand.

In the distance, sirens wailed.

Now they arrive,” Sun said.

Liu laughed. “What’s the date?”

Sun checked his utility band. “It’s the seventh day of the seventh month.”

“Ah?” Stepping away, she tilted her head and pointed. “Look!”

High in the skies above, a triangle of stars glittered in the infinite heavens.

“It’s the Magpie Bridge,” she said.

Legend held that long ago, the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven married a mortal cowherder. Furious at the union, the Goddess snatched her daughter back into the heavenly realm and scratched a river in the sky to separate them. But one night every year, all the magpies in the world took to the skies and formed a bridge, allowing the couple to meet again.

Tonight was that night.

It was now or never.

“Fang Fang.”

“Yes?” she asked.

He took her hands in his.

“We’ve known each other for a long time.”

“Yes,” she said.

“We make a great team, don’t we?”

She squeezed his hands tightly.


He licked his lips. “Before we were interrupted at the airport…”

“You had something to say to me back then.”

He nodded.

“After we graduated from high school, I asked you a question. Before we left Hongcun, I asked the same question. Both times I didn’t receive an answer. Just a promise we’ll meet again. And here we are.

Now I’m going to ask again: Do you still choose me?”

“Always,” she said.

She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and parted her lips.

Leaning in, he kissed her.

They stayed that way until the Defenders came.

The End

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Realm of Beasts Chapter 9


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.”

“Can’t… breathe…”

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.

“Sun Yao!”

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.

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Realm of Beasts Chapter 8


Night Market

By day Danan Street was a sleepy strip of road, home only to shophouses offering bargain-bin wares. But when night fell, as youths and families flocked to Danan Street, the city block transformed into the Danan Night Market.

Brightly-lit carts packed the streets, selling dumplings, omelets, sausages, rice cakes, spring rolls, and other snacks. The shophouses locked up their daytime inventory, exchanging them for cold soups, jellies, sit-down meals, clothing, gray market electronics, more. Anything and everything a man could ever want, he could find it in Danan Night Market.

The odor of fried oil assaulted Sun’s nose. After the sewers it was a heavenly fragrance. Merchants shouted the night’s promotions at the top of their voices, while customers yelled back their orders and counteroffers. A thousand lanterns and signs glared all around.

Bracing himself, Sun swam through the ocean of people before him, exploiting the tiniest gaps he could find. The Night Market was infamous for its pickpockets, but everything he needed he stored in his interspatial storage, and in the unlikely event a thief stole his utility band he would discover only Sun could activate it.

Sun was more concerned about an assassin. A hatchet man could sneak up on him and cut his throat before he could react. But he had no choice: Du Yang was present only at night.

Sun jostled and weaved and snaked his way through the crowd, sometimes stopping at a stall to inspect its wares, taking every chance he could to check his back.

Finally, he arrived at his destination: the Red Phoenix Total Health Club.

Signs outside shouted the club’s services. Meridian massages and acupuncture to revitalize yourself and clear qi blockages. Chiropractic services to realign your joints. Customized herbal supplement therapy to suit your health goals. And for cultivators, a tailored regimen of elixirs, potions, and treatments to maximize your potential.

Before Sun left the station, Luo had delivered a half-hour lecture on Du Yang. As far as the police knew, the Red Phoenix was completely legitimate. The owner even paid taxes. Which meant it was a front.

A pair of goons in cheap suits guarded the door. Both of them wore utility bands. They bowed as he approached, and as Sun passed through the door one of them whispered into his band.

Activating his spirit sense, Sun scanned the reception room. It was an oasis of calm. Patrons dressed in soft robes lounged in plush sofas, drinking herbal teas and reading magazines. Soft music piped in from overhead speakers. A pretty young woman circulated throughout the room, tending to the customer’s needs.

There was a reception desk to his left. At the far left corner, a staircase of fine black wood spiraled to the upper floor. Opposite the stairs, a middle-aged man stood behind a counter stocked with herbs and incense and tonics.

Everyone here looked like regular people, but their qi told a different story. Their auras glowed in vivid hues. An abundance of life energy washed over Sun. He sensed many similar auras in the upper floors. Many of these people weren’t cultivators, but they were all in the pink of health.

The woman manning the reception desk smiled at him.

“Welcome! Do you have an appointment?”

Sun produced his badge. “I wish to see Mr Du Yang. The owner of this fine establishment… and Red Pole of the Danan Street branch of the Yong Hai Clan.”

Her face grew pale.

“I… I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

The air shifted subtly. Someone had just stepped in behind Sun.

“Who’s that in the office on the fifth floor?”

“How did you—”

“I’m a Defender. And I need to see him. Now.”

“That’s enough,” a voice boomed to his right.

A heavy hand reached for Sun. He pivoted away, neatly dodging the grab.

The two guards from outside had stepped in. Both of them looked at Sun in surprise.

“Please don’t touch me,” Sun said mildly.

Heavy footsteps pounded down the stairs. Two more goons rushed towards Sun.

“Honored guest, I must ask you to leave,” the beefiest of the four said.

“I will, after I speak to your boss.”

“Come with us. You are leaving now.”

The four men closed on him.

Sun smiled.

“All of you are four-nines, yes?” Sun said. “If you touch me, I will personally haul you before the judge. Or the Ten Judges of the Underworld.”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?” the youngest of the Clan foot soldiers blustered.

“Small vegetables. If you don’t wish to be fried vegetables, take me to your Red Pole.”

“You dare—!”

Da ge,” the receptionist interrupted. “Mr Du said he wants to see our guest.”

The heavyset one pursed his lips. “Defender, come with us. But don’t do anything stupid.”

Sun put his badge away. The gangsters boxed him in and escorted him upstairs.

The top floor was Du’s personal office. The floor was made of gleaming marble. Wall-length cabinets boasted trophies, medals, certificates, ceramic pottery, and books. Sofas and chairs surrounded a conference table in the middle of the room. A potted plant stood next to the window. Behind an imposing wooden work desk, dressed in a sharp gray suit and red tie, Du Yang awaited.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” Du said. “Please wait outside.”

“Don’t do anything stupid,” the beefy gangster growled.

The foot soldiers left the room, leaving the two men alone.

“Defender,” Du said. “We don’t normally entertain your kind here.”

“Even within the jianghu, there exist separate worlds.”

“Indeed.” Du gestured at a chair in front of him. “Please, sit. Would you like something to drink? We have an excellent selection of teas.”

Sun sat. “No thanks. I won’t take long.”

Du poured himself a cup of steaming tea from an expensive-looking pot and eased into his chair.

“What brings you here, Mr Sun?” Du asked.

“I don’t recall giving my name.”

Du smiled. “You didn’t.”

It was a power play. Sun ignored it.

“Mr Du, I heard three of your men were hospitalized. You have my sympathies.”

“It’s a rough business.”

“Indeed. But if you kidnap a Barrier Technician, many unpleasant things will happen.”

“Excuse me?”

“Last night, a pair of cultivators kidnapped a Barrier Technician. I was in hot pursuit. Your men tried to stop me. Explain their actions.”

Du’s nostrils flared.

“You can’t just walk in here and accuse me of a crime I didn’t commit. Leave.”

“I didn’t accuse you of anything. I merely asked you to explain your men’s actions.”

“Leave. Now.”

“The sooner you tell me what you know, the sooner I’ll leave.”

“Come back with a warrant.”

“This is not an arrest. Just an interview.”

“This interview is over.”

“It’s over when I say it’s over.”

“I can have you removed.”

Sun laughed. “You don’t enough have men to touch me.”

“I could call the police.”

“Mr Du, I’m a Defender. Who do you think they’ll side with?”

“Weren’t you suspended?”

“I didn’t stop being a Defender.”

Du glared at Sun. “Your arrogance is unbelievable.”

He was losing his cool. Excellent.

“Thank you,” Sun said. “We don’t have to like each other, but we do have to coexist. As it happens, I’m not interested in your business. Only in the kidnappers.”

“I know nothing about the kidnappers.”

“Then why were your men watching the sewer tunnel?”

“I do not involve myself with the daily affairs of my employees.”

“Are your men idiots?”


“They were guarding a cache. In your line of work, you’d know that the best way to protect a cache is to not draw attention to it. But they stepped out and challenged me anyway. That meant they’re idiots, or someone ordered them to. And you don’t become this successful by hiring fools.”

“I have no knowledge of—”

“What are you afraid of?”

“Me? Afraid?” His face hardened. “You are treading on dangerous ground.”

“No. The Yong Hai Clan is on dangerous ground because of you.”


“Rogue cultivators kidnapped a Barrier Technician. That makes it the business of the Defenders’ Guild. Your men obstructed me while I was chasing the criminals, in a manner that suggested you ordered them to.”


“Listen. You may have plenty of experience dealing with the police, but the Defenders are not the police. We are not bound by their regulations. You are our only lead. If you won’t tell me what I want to know, I will personally burn down your domain.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No. Just a fact. I’m here as a courtesy. If we can’t reach an agreement, there will be bloodshed.”

“Not if I remove you first.”

“You are speaking to a Defender, Mr Du. Even if you succeed, you’d make an enemy of the entire Guild. Is it worth waging a war you can’t win for the sake of one girl?”


Sun cut him off.

“You’re obviously protecting someone. We both know you specialize in selling contraband through the Night Market. Not kidnap. You’re not protecting the Yong Hai Clan. No secret society under heaven would be stupid enough to mess with the Defenders. That means you’re protecting someone outside your clan. Someone you’re deathly afraid of. Am I right?”

Du said nothing.

“That’s a yes, isn’t it?” Sun leaned forward. “I’m not interested in the business of your clan. Only in rescuing the girl. But if you stand in my way I will destroy you. Once again: is it worth going to war with us over an outsider who scares you?”

Du stayed silent for a while. Sun waited. Du sipped his tea. Sun waited. Du tapped his fingers against the desk. Sun waited.

“The Beast King Sect,” Du said, finally.

“Who are they?”

“The most fearsome killers you’ve never heard of.”

“Tell me more.”

“They are contract killers. High-level cultivators as powerful as Defenders. They can make deaths look like beast attacks. My men personally witnessed them taming and controlling beasts with special qi techniques.”

That explained the jiaolong in the sewer.

“What do they want with Barrier Technicians?”

“I don’t know. Last month, their representative approached our Dragon Head. They wanted to hire guides familiar with the sewer system, and guards who could run interference for them. The Dragon Head referred them to me.”

“What did they offer?”

“High-grade beast parts and rare medicinal ingredients.”

“Like the ones in the cache I found.”


“Did they tell you why they needed guides?”

“No. They made it clear I was not to probe into their affairs.”

“Why did you accept the deal?”

“Our Dragon Head wanted to be on their good side. We don’t need them giving preferential treatment to our rivals.”

“Where can I find the Beast Kings?”

“My contacts told me an unknown group bought and renovated the derelict Xin Hong Industrial Building in the Old District two months ago. My men said they picked up and dropped off the Beast Kings within three blocks of Xin Hong.”

Three blocks. If he had just left his post…

“How many Beast Kings are there?” Sun asked.

“I don’t know. But my men reported dealing with at least six separate individuals. And we have no knowledge of any beasts they may or may not have.”

“Do they have weapons?”

“They didn’t show any to us.”

Sun stood. “Thank you for the information.”

“This conversation never happened.”

“Of course.”

Sun turned to go.

“Wait,” Du asked.


“What are you planning to do with the Beast Kings?”

“What happens within the jianghu stays in the jianghu.”

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Realm of Beasts Chapter 7



“You can’t be serious,” Sun said.

“It’s official policy,” the bureaucrat said. “If a Defender uses force against a regular human, the Defender is suspended from active duty and placed on no-pay leave until the Oversight Committee clears him.”

“Ms Song, it’s the Ghost Month,” Fu insisted. “You know how busy it gets. I need every man available—”

“The guidelines are clear. Not even the gods can break the rules.”

The conference room grew cold and close and quiet. The three people seated around the table studied each other, waiting for a move.

Song was right, Sun knew. Nobody cared what happened to beasts. But if the Defenders were completely unaccountable to the people, the consequences would be unthinkable.

“For what it’s worth, I’m confident the investigation won’t take too long,” Song said. “Mr Sun has been completely cooperative and the circumstances are clear-cut. He will return to full duties soon.”

“How long will that be?” Sun asked.

“Four weeks,” Song said.

“Four weeks? We may not even have a city by then!” Fu said.

She shrugged haplessly. “It’s policy.”

Fu and Sun left the room in silence. They continued walking in silence until they stepped out the front door of the Defenders’ Guild. As the first rays of the morning sun warmed Sun’s skin, he strained his ears and listened for sirens.

All quiet. For now.

“What happens now?” Sun asked.

“You’ll get the bounty for the jiaolong,” Fu replied. “As for the criminals… you sent all of them into a coma. The public needs to be assured that you did the right thing.”

“I didn’t even use qi skills.”

“It doesn’t matter. Protocols must be observed.”

“I’m off the street, then?”

“Yes. And we can’t help you with your girlfriend. I’m sorry. But we’ve got nothing to work with.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Whatever. It’s the Ghost Month, and everybody—the police and us—busy. We get tens of missing people a week during the Ghost Month. Both the Defenders and the police will be too busy to investigate cases. And most of the missing will turn up in a beast’s belly sooner or later.”

“I can’t do anything, then?”

“Not as a Defender. Not until you are cleared for duty.” Fu paused. “However, the Defenders would not necessarily refuse to act if they receive an anonymous tip about the whereabouts of a girl who may have been kidnapped by rogue cultivators.”

Sun pursed his lips. “I suppose I’ll have to make the most of my present circumstances.”


From the Defenders’ Guild it was a short stroll to the police headquarters. Inside, Sun flashed his badge at the first policeman he saw, then asked for and received directions to the Secret Societies Wing. A few more questions pointed him to the office of Detective Luo Wang.

The detective himself was inside, frowning at a screen and mashing away at his keyboard. He looked up as Sun entered.
“Defender Sun,” Luo said. “Do you have anything to add?”

“No, but I have a few questions.”

Luo wrinkled his nose in disgust. The first time they’d met was in the interview room on the first floor, where Luo had endured the self-imposed trial of questioning Sun.

“Hey, I took a second shower earlier,” Sun said.

Not to mention an intense qi healing meditation session to flush out the surviving germs.

Luo snorted. “Are you here to ask about the men you put down?”

“Yes. Who were they?”

“That information is part of an ongoing investigation. I can’t help you.”

“Do you still remember I was running my own investigation? Those men are part of it now.”

Luo leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms. “Really.”

“You sound skeptical.”

“I don’t doubt your story, but I don’t see the connection.”

“Did you really think I randomly ran into three criminals in the sewer? What were they doing there anyway? It looked like they were guarding a storeroom of illegal goods.”

“If you hadn’t hospitalized them we might have answers.”

“They were armed.”

“Regardless, there is nothing on them that connects them to the alleged kidnapping.”

Actual kidnapping.”

“We only have your testimony that there were qi pearls.”

“Only because by the time your cultivators showed up, the pearls had dissipated.”

“Bad luck. And you still haven’t explained the connection between your criminals and mine.”

“If you told me who they were I might have answers for you.”

“Look at it from my perspective, Defender. All I have to go on is that you claim that the kidnapped woman—Ms Liu—left a trail for you to follow in the sewer, that this trail included a single finger-sized groove in the wall, that this groove pointed to a tunnel in which those three men were allegedly guarding. I can’t build a case on that.”

“Explain the camera and the guards, then.”

“Secret societies always keep an eye their contraband. We know they have hidden caches in the sewers. You simply stumbled upon one of them.”

“Why did they challenge me then? I wasn’t interested in their cache. I was climbing up the ladder when they decided to pick a fight with me. If they’d let me go, I wouldn’t have bothered them. I think someone ordered them to stop anybody who passed that way. And I need to know who that someone is.”

“You’re asking me to divulge information about an active investigation to someone outside the police.”

“I’m a Defender.”

“Currently suspended. And you asking for information about the men you fought with. The Oversight Committee isn’t going to look kindly on it.”

“I’m not interested in your investigation. I just need a couple of facts and I’ll be on my way.”

“If word gets out that I leaked confidential information to someone with a vested interest in my case—”

“Nobody here but us.”

“And the detectives who saw you coming in.”

Sun sighed. “Detective, what exactly is your issue with me?”

“What are you going to do with the information?”

“Under normal circumstances the police handles secret societies. Defenders step in only when cultivators are involved. Yes?”

“Yes,” Luo said guardedly. “And?”

“Suppose someone discovered that a secret society was complicit in kidnapping Barrier Technicians. If so, it would be a matter of national security. The Defenders would be obliged to help the police crush the secret society responsible for such an act. If the Defenders were allowed to unleash their full power, the secret society would be destroyed overnight. I’m sure that’s an outcome you can live with.”

Luo frowned mightily. “I can’t give you any information that affects my investigation into your case.”

“I don’t want it either. Just tell me: who did the criminals work for?”

Luo pondered the question for a moment.

“Du Yang.”

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For more magic, monsters and martial arts, check out my new novel Hammer of the Witches.

Realm of Beasts Chapter 6



Stop. Breathe. Think.

Qi was a delicate, transient substance. The slightest of disturbances would dissipate it. If Fang Fang had left a pearl for him in this tunnel, the jiaolong’s passage would have destroyed it.

But there may be other tracks.

Sun Yao walked down the length of the storm drain again, this time scrutinizing every square inch of his surroundings. He peered at the walls, studying patterns of moss growth. He inspected the stalactites of sludge hanging from the ceilings. He studied the many leaking holes all around him. He surveyed the tons of dead beast-flesh sprawled across the sewer.

There was something… wrong about the jiaolong. Why hadn’t he detected it? Was it truly the noxious energy? Or had the beast been camouflaged?

The thought froze him in its tracks. Granted, the waste qi of the sewers was overwhelming, but he could still sense something as tiny and subtle as a qi pearl. How, then, had he missed the beast?

In the Academy he had learned of beasts which could render themselves undetectable. But a jiaolong usually wasn’t one of them. Not unless it was old and powerful, and if it were he wouldn’t have survived the encounter. But if someone had used a camouflage skill on it…

His prey were cultivators. They knew how to erase their tracks. They had snatched Fang Fang cleanly and quietly, and navigated the sewers with an ease that spoke of determined preparation. They were pros.

They couldn’t have missed her laying down pearls.

But they let her do it anyway.

Which meant they came here specifically to lure would-be pursuers into the jaws of the beast.

He swore. In hindsight it was blindingly obvious. He’d been too caught up in the chase to think about what the enemy would do to anyone trying to rescue her. He had to be more careful. Had to pay more attention.

And yet…

If they were so professional, why would they count on a beast to take out a rescue party? Beasts had neither the discipline nor intelligence of men. The jiaolong could just as easily turn on the cultivators while they were passing through its territory, or it could wander away from the ambush site before the rescuers arrived.

It didn’t make sense.

He shook his head. He had wasted enough time. He had to keep moving.

The jiaolong’s passage would have destroyed tracks in the storm drain. This time, he turned his flashlight to the side tunnels, looking for something, anything, that would lead him to her. There would always be a sign. It was an ironclad rule of investigations: the criminal always left something behind; it was up to the investigator to probe the scene, to discover that one thing that could make or break the case…

Like this side tunnel.

The walls of the tunnel were caked in rich, moist gunk. On the left-hand wall, there were five long streaks carved into the soft sludge.

Finger marks.

He ran to the body of the jiaolong and inspected the paws. They had four digits, not five, and the claws would have left uglier, broader tracks.

He smiled. Fang Fang must have caught on to what they were doing. Smart girl.

He sprinted down the tunnel. It led to a T-junction. And at elbow height, there was a tiny dark streak that led to the right.

He turned right.

More bends, more tunnels. Two openings down, he discovered another sign of her passage: a finger-sized line of sludge that followed the bend.

At the end of this new tunnel, there was a ladder.

He paused. There was one ambush early. Maybe there was another.

There was a door on the left-hand wall. Behind it, he sensed three qi sources. Humans sitting in a circle on the floor. Regular humans, not cultivators. Not the men he was looking for. He’d heard that homeless people lived in colonies in the sewers of the city; perhaps this was one such outpost.

Briefly he thought about questioning them. Then he discarded the thought. He had no time to waste, and people like this would be more likely to mind their own business than interfere with others’.

He swept his light back and forth, looking for tripwires, sensors, alarms, anything that the kidnappers might have left to inconvenience a rescuer. Satisfied he was safe, he clipped the flashlight to his pocket, put the sword away, and climbed the ladder.

The humans got up and rushed to the door.

Sun planted his boots against the handrail and slid down, spinning around just in time to see the door fly open. Light spilled from the room, silhouetting the men. He drew his flashlight in his left hand and lit up the newcomers.

“Do you have business with me?” Sun asked.

The three men hesitated, taken aback by his bold approach. They were dressed in dull overalls and sturdy cotton gloves. Sweet perfume and energetic dialogue floated out from the open door.

And they were hiding their right hands behind their backs.

“Who are you?” the man in the middle demanded.

“A passer-by,” Sun said, bringing his right palm up. “Please show me your hands.”

The other two fanned out, closing off the space behind them.

“Why are you here?” the leader asked. “No one’s supposed to be here.”

“I’m a Defender. Now show me your hands!” Sun boomed.

The leader advanced, bringing his left side forward. “You—”


Sun shone his light into the leader’s eyes. The man winced, backing off.

The left-hand threat grabbed Sun’s left arm.

Sun cammed his light, capturing the man’s arm. Spiraled into him and slammed his right palm into his temple. Pulled him down into an elbow strike, bouncing his head off the wall.

Grabbing his shoulder, Sun flung him at the other two thugs and moved to flank them. The leader pushed the first man away and turned to face Sun. A knife gleamed in his right hand.

The leader reached for Sun with his left hand. Sun parried the arm and smashed his right knuckles into his bicep. The blow spun the leader into Sun. Sun hacked his left forearm into the man’s neck. As the man staggered away, Sun clotheslined him in the throat, slamming the back of his head against the wall.

The last one screamed a war cry and charged, his knife held low. Sun spun around into a back kick and struck his knee.

His leg collapsed. He dropped, hitting the ground head-first, and went still.

Taking long, deep breaths, Sun looked over the bodies. They weren’t moving any more. Kneeling down, he checked their vital signs. They were all out cold. The one he’d struck in the throat was barely breathing. The other two weren’t much better.

He patted himself down, finding a shallow slice across his triceps. The second man must have nicked him. He slapped on a bandage and sent qi coursing into the wound to disinfect it.

He patted down the bodies, looking for weapons and tools, and gathered up their knives in his interspatial storage. Then he drew a bundle of zip-ties, tied their hands and ankles together in a jumbled mess they couldn’t hope to free themselves from, and rolled them on their sides to prevent asphyxiation.

Sun entered the room. Shelves lined the walls, packed with cardboard boxes. A cheap tablet rested on a flimsy work table. At the far wall, there were two televisions. One played a cheap gongfu movie, the other showed the feed from a camera. A camera pointing at a heavy plastic sheet.

Peeling away the sheet, he discovered a series of tiny holes bored into the wall. He shook his head. The sheet prevented light from escaping the holes. Without pressing his face up against the wall, he couldn’t have seen them.

Whoever the attackers were, they weren’t amateurs.

He pored over every square inch of the room, probing for trapdoors, hidden doors, passages. But he found nothing.

Labels hung from the shelves: gold, electronics, jewels. And, at the far end, he saw the words ‘beast parts’. Producing a utility knife, he opened a box of beast parts. It was filled with dried beast horns, packaged in shrink wrap and drowned in packing peanuts.

Who were these people? Were they connected to the cultivators?

So many questions, so little time. Fang Fang was still out there.

Climbing up the ladder, he hoisted the manhole cover aside and hauled himself up. He found himself in the middle of an empty street. Night had fallen, and the streetlights lit the world in amber.

He pulled the gas mask off his face and took a deep breath.


Put it back on.

He looked around. The pavement was narrow and cracked. Derelict buildings lined the roads, obscene graffiti painted and re-painted over the peeling facades. Qi glowed all around him. People, and pets.

A pair of faces peered out from a nearby alley. He approached them.

“Hello! I’m a Defender. I’ve got a couple of—”

They ran off.

He sighed.

Tapping his utility band, he called Fu.

“Are you done yet?” Fu demanded.

“No. I slew a beast in the sewers. A xianglong. And I had to defend myself against three thugs.”

“What happened?”

Sun summarized his subterranean encounters as quickly as he could.

“I leave you out of sight and this happens…” Fu sighed. “Well, that’s one less beast to worry about. Where are you now?”

Sun illuminated the nearest street sign.

“Heping Avenue. I’m still looking for the victim.”

Wei, we’re not paying you to look for your girlfriend.”

“The criminals are skilled cultivators who anticipated my every move. This isn’t an ordinary kidnap. There’s something else going on here. I’m continuing my pursuit.”

“Negative! Stay put.”

“She’s still out there—”

“Stay put,” Fu repeated. “You’ve got a dead beast and three downed suspects in the sewers. Your must preserve the scene for the police.”


“Do you have a visual on her? Any more clues?”

Sun reached for his spirit sense. Expanded it as far as he could. Probed every square inch he could sense.


“No,” he admitted.

“There you go. Preserve the scene.” Fu’s voice softened. “You have my sympathies, but the city takes priority over one woman. Once we can, we will look for her. But right now, you have your duty. Understood?”


Sun swore and paced the street. If he could just find something, anything, he could leave the scene.

But there were no more pearls, and no one else wanted to speak to him.

Police sirens howled. Returning to the manhole, he arrived just in time for police cars to come screeching to a halt. He readied his badge as a powerful flashlight shone into his face.

“Police! Show me your ID!”

Sun raised his badge. “I’m a Defender!”

The light quickly lowered, revealing a fresh-faced cop. “Sorry, sir.”

“No worries. Are you my backup?”

“Yes sir.”

A grizzled sergeant muscled past the cop.

“You the one who beat down the bad guys down the hole?” the sergeant asked.

“Yes,” Sun said.

“Come with us. We need your statement at the station.”

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Realm of Beasts Chapter 5


Hot on Her Trail

He needed a full-body protective suit, complete with self-contained breathing apparatus. He made do with his suit, helmet, and a gas mask.

Drawing a crowbar from interspatial storage, he lifted the manhole cover and set it aside. Sucking in a deep breath, he inhaled only the heavy odor of stiff rubber.

He returned the crowbar to his storage and prepared to descend…


The sirens were still screaming. The Defenders were still out there. And the last thing he needed was to be declared absent without official leave. Bringing his utility band to his face, he called Fu Da Hai.

“What the devil are you doing? Where are you?” Fu shouted.

“The missing person I told you about has been kidnapped.”

“Leave it to the police!”

“She’s a Barrier Technician, and she was kidnapped by two cultivators with the ability to erase their presence. That makes it our business.”

Fu pondered his words for a moment.

“How do you know she’s been kidnapped?”

“She’s left a trail for me to follow. Including a qi pearl that showed me what happened to her.”

Fu grunted. “Where is she?”

“The sewers.”

“The sewers? It’s a no-go zone. Beasts infiltrate the city through the sewers. We do not enter the sewers during the Ghost Month.”

“We can’t let the kidnappers get away.”

“You could run into high-level beasts down there. Nobody will save you.”

“I’m not asking for permission. I’m going in.”

“You…” Fu sighed. “I can’t spare any backup. You’ll be on your own.”

“I understand.”

“Keep me updated.”

Sun grabbed the ladder and gingerly climbed down. It was hot. Dark. Sweat built up under his mask. Water gushed nearby.

He drew his flashlight, holding it in his left hand and clicked it on. Now he saw that he was standing on a narrow concrete platform. Dirty brown fluid gushed through an outfall by his side. Up ahead, a tunnel lead to who knew where.

A warning flashed across the eyepiece of his gas mask. High concentration of methane. A shot could ignite the gas.

He drew his jian and ventured into the darkness. He held his flashlight high above his head, angling it down and ahead of him. With the gas mask in play, he couldn’t hear much and smelled nothing.

He fired up his spirit sense.

There was so much noxious energy here, his effective range was reduced to barely fifty meters. Even so, dozens, hundreds of tiny creatures scampered about at the edge of his detection field. Rats and cockroaches and maggots and worms.

And a glowing pearl.

He found the pearl at a T-junction. Touching it, the pearl unfolded into an arrow pointing left.

Deeper and deeper he went, following the pearls. No more compressed memories, only arrows pointing the way ahead. She couldn’t afford to get caught.

He checked every corner he encountered, sword at the ready. Every few minutes, he paused and peeked over his shoulder. All he saw was the occasional rat. He kept his ears pricked, but he only heard his own heavy breathing.

His throat grew dry, but his suit’s hydration bladder was empty and he didn’t dare open his water canteen. Stupid, he should have refilled the bladder when he had a chance. He licked his lips, kept his now-warm flashlight, and followed her trail.

The string of pearls led him from narrow claustrophobic tubes to maintenance catwalks to sludge-caked channels. With so much filth and waste qi in the air, the enemy’s energy trail would be smothered. What little of it they hadn’t cleaned up. All he had to go on was her pearls.

There was no backtracking, no circling around. Whoever the perpetrators were, they were either intimately familiar with the underground or had planned and prepared for this job for a long time. They weren’t average criminals. They must have wanted something from Fang Fang.

Whatever it was, he would make sure they wouldn’t—

In his spirit sense, he saw the sewer’s inhabitants scatter.

He gripped his sword tightly. Prey always knew when predators were nearby.

He found the next pearl. Small and dim, it turned into an arrow pointing down a tunnel. The sound of rushing water filtered through his mask.

Past the tunnel, he found a storm drain. Another pearl, tinier than the first, guided him to his left. The tunnel was massive, easily large enough to fit a train and then some. Filthy water spewed from a multitude of cracks in the walls and ceiling. Sewage overflowed the central channel. There was no way to stay dry.

Sighing, he cautiously stepped into the sewage. His boot touched something soft and slippery. The wastewater came up to his ankles. He winced and forced himself to keep going. At least his boots were waterproof.

Gingerly maneuvering around the leaks, he kept going forward, looking for a sign of her passage. Smaller tunnels branched off to his left and right, but there were no pearls pointing that way. The walls were uniformly dirty, with no sign of recent passage. He kept going, sweeping the waters ahead, consulting his spirit sense.

Nothing. No signs of life anywhere. It didn’t feel right. It felt as if…

At the edge of his flashlight’s throw, ripples spread through the water.

He squinted. Angled the light down the tunnel.

Something heavy sloshed through the wastewater. Something huge.

He checked his spirit sense. Nothing.

Nothing? Or was the creature simply indistinguishable from the foul qi of the sewers?

As he framed that thought, an enormous serpentine bulk slithered into view. Muck sluiced off and around it, revealing a mass of dull white scales. Its sinuous body coiled round and round, clinging to the walls and ceiling and floor. The creature had the girth of a stout oak tree. Thickly-muscled legs ran down the length of its body, ending in ham-sized paws digging into the eroded brick. The beast’s head curled down from the ceiling, staring at him with amber reptilian eyes. It opened its long, thin jaws, revealing long rows of stained yellow teeth, and loosed a deafening bellow.

It was a jiaolong.

And it pounced.

Sun stepped aside, barely dodging its enormous jaws, and slashed. His blade slid off the pale scales. The beast roared. Out the corner of his eye, a dark mass fell on him. He turned into it, weapon ready. A heavy paw slammed into his steel. His boot slipped. He swiftly compensated, dropping into low and wide stance.

The jiaolong raised its paw for another blow. Leaping away, he slashed. The jiaolong’s scales turned his jian aside.

The creature undulated. It was turning around, trying to cut him off and crush him. He jumped into clear space. And ran.

The giant snake bellowed again, chasing him.

The textbook response was gun, grenade, or mine. He had all three in storage, but there was still too much methane. All he could use was his jian.

It would have to do.

The jiaolong had twisted round and round the tunnel, sticking to the walls. If he evaded its jaws and tried to strike it from the rear, he would expose himself to its claws—or it could simply fall and crush him under its mass. It was large, but not so large it wouldn’t fit in the side tunnels.

He had to make a stand.

The jiaolong pounced again. Sun jumped aside. Sewage splashed all over his suit. Grimacing, he wiped his eyepiece and ran. The beast chased him, winding round and round the tunnel, its claws scraping against stone and sludge.

And the end of the storm drain loomed dead ahead.

He faced the creature. Raised his flashlight to his temple. Held his jian low. Sent a wave of qisurging through his body and into his sword.

He waited.

The creature stalked towards him, winding round and round and round, closing in for the kill. It took his time, its tongue darting in and out, its head swaying from side to side.

He waited.

The jiaolong slinked closer, making its final approach, judging the distance between them.

He lit up its eyes.

The beast hissed once more, rearing its head back.

Keeping the light exactly where it was, he stepped to his right.

The jiaolong lunged for the light.

Sun thrust.

The jian pierced the beast’s eye, penetrated bone, and sank deep into its brain.

The beast spasmed, its limbs flailing in every direction, its body twitching. It crashed into the sewage, spattering sludge all over Sun. Shuddering, he withdrew his sword and stabbed it in the other eye.

The creature went still. It was most definitely dead.

He gingerly stepped over the beast and checked his utility band. He had no reception here. He’d have to call it in once he was on the surface.

He headed back down the storm drain, retracing his footsteps. Calming down with deep, regular breaths, he turned to his spirit sense again, seeking out signs of life.


He trudged through the sewage, heading to the far end of the tunnel. He sensed the rats returning, saw mold growing on the walls, edged around the leaking walls as best as he could. But, at the far end of the storm drain, he didn’t sense a pearl.

Fang Fang was gone.

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Previous parts: 1234

If you enjoy martial arts, magic and monsters, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

Realm of Beasts Chapter 4



Sun Yao called the Central District Barrier Station. After suffering through multiple transfers, he finally reached the duty manager, where he enjoyed the privilege of asking one question.

“Has Liu Fang Fang left the building?”

“Yes,” the manager said. “She completed her shift and left the building at six thirty-seven.”

Something must have happened to her. Either on the way home or inside her apartment. Sun contacted the front desk at the Defenders’ Guild.

“This is Defender Sun Yao. Do we have any incidents today related to a Liu Fang Fang?”

“How do you write her name?”

“‘Liu’ is ‘flow’ from ‘flowing water’, ‘Fang’ means ‘fragrance’.”

“One moment… No records.”

“Any beast activity in the Central District?”

“No. The barrier kept them out.”

Sun hung up. He had to investigate her apartment. But he had to assume the worst. If someone knew who she was, if that someone had left a trap behind…

Drawing his infinity pistol, he cracked the door open. No security bolt. No tripwire. No signs of life.

Slowly, slowly, he continued pushing the door, ready to ease off the moment he felt even the slightest hint of resistance.

No tripwire.

He stepped into the hallway past the door. The faint scent of sandalwood smoke tickled his nose. The final rays of the setting sun played through the windows. Slowly, methodically, he searched the apartment.

The closet next to the door was filled with nothing more nefarious than coats, shoes and bags. The modest kitchen opposite the closet was small but adequately equipped, but there was no sign that she was preparing a meal. The living room was spick and span, and the store room packed with all kinds of odds and ends.

In a corner of the living room, an altar to the Goddess of Mercy faced the door. A porcelain statuette of the goddess, seated on a lotus blossom with her right hand raised, took pride of place. In front of the goddess there was a bowl of incense, a cup of fresh water, and an oil lamp.

The bronze bowl was filled with ashes, the incense consumed long ago. The oil lamp was empty. He touched the cup of water and discovered it was at room temperature.

In the bathroom he found nothing more suspicious than hair products, makeup and toiletries. And at the balcony he found nothing.

With slight trepidation, he entered her bedroom. The last time he’d been in her room was five years ago, when they were still in high school and still studied at each other’s homes.

The bedroom was… neat. Clean. The bed was made and the dressing table spotless. An alarm clock and a lamp rested on a nightstand, while a potted plant sat on the other. Her closet was overflowing with clothes and bags.

No sign of her.

He thought about everything he had observed. The refrigerator was stocked. The closets were stuffed. The apartment was neat and tidy. The offerings to the Goddess of Mercy had yet to be changed. The windows were all closed, but the air didn’t feel stagnant.

She hadn’t planned for a long absence. Which meant she had to leave without advance warning, and without time to pack.


He sniffed the air.

A faint floral scent filled the air, sweet and subtle. It was the fragrance he had always associated with her. She’d lived here for so long her scent permeated the room.

But why hadn’t he sensed her qi?

His glasses vibrated against his skull. Incoming call.

“Sun Yao, you done with dinner?” Fu Hai Long asked.

“Haven’t even started. What’s wrong?”

“There’s a callout.”

Civil defense sirens wailed in the distance. A robotic voice warbled a prerecorded announcement, too muffled for him to make out.

“I can’t respond to this one.”

“Why not?” Fu demanded.

“I’m handling a potential missing persons case.”

“Leave it to the police,” Fu snapped. “We have reports of multiple beasts terrorizing the city. We need all hands on deck.”

“I don’t think it’s a missing person. It looks like a kidnap.”

“So? People are dying!”

“The missing person is a Barrier Technician. She’s a critical defense asset—”

“Is she the girl you’re meeting?”

“I’m busy investigating. I’ll call you back.”


Sun hung up.

Sitting on the floor, he took a deep breath, tuned out the sirens, and called up his spirit sense. He expanded his senses as far as they would go, maximizing his reach, feeling for every scrap of qi in the apartment.


That was it. There was no qi here. That was wrong. This was Fang Fang’s home, and she was a cultivator. Her apartment would be filled with her energy. It wouldn’t be empty.

Unless someone else had cleared it out.

He strode to the balcony. From here he had a clear line of sight to the street. He closed his eyes. Stuffed his fingers into his ears. Tried to tune out the sirens howling in the distance. And focused on feeling the world.

There were people in the apartments above, below and around him. Pedestrians scurried for cover. Shutters slammed shut, cars screeched to a halt, guns shouted in the distance. He ignored them all, focusing on…


At the edge of his perception, he detected a tiny pearl of glowing white qi. Almost imperceptible, but he was as familiar with that specific qi signature as his own.

He closed the balcony door, activated qinggong, and leapt down to the sidewalk. Sprinted down the empty streets, made a left turn, a right turn, and found the qi pearl. It was floating above a manhole.

Reaching out, he touched the pearl, absorbing it into his body, feeling it with his heart—

A huge man hauled her over her shoulder. She kicked and flailed but her hands and feet were cuffed.

“Stop it!” the man shouted.

She kept resisting, she kept fighting, she had to fight—

Electricity tore through her body. White-hot pain fried her nerves, locked her muscles, froze her joints.

And the pain stopped.

“Keep fighting and it’ll get worse.”

She slumped, defeated.

A second man lifted the manhole cover. Hot, stinking gas wafted from the opening. She wrinkled her nose.

She couldn’t fight them. Not like this. She wasn’t a fighter, and they’d stripped her of the bangles she needed to cast her barrier.

But she could leave a trace.

The first man was wearing some kind of harness. The second man strapped her in. She focused her energies, creating a tiny ball. Filled with subtle energy, it was undetectable to anyone who wasn’t looking for it. Certainly not these men, too distracted with the logistics of kidnapping her. She floated the ball into the air, filling it with her thoughts and memories.

Sun Yao, help me! I don’t know who these men are. They were waiting for me at home and took me by force. I don’t know what they want. I’ll leave a trail for you to follow. Please, help—

She fell.

Reality snapped back into focus. Sun’s mind cleared. He gritted his teeth. Clenched his fists. Sucked a breath.

“Hang on, Fang Fang. I’m coming.”

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For more stories that combine mysteries, magic and monsters, check out my novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

Realm of Beasts Chapter 3


A Day in the Life

Six days. Eighty-three incidents. Twenty-two Defenders.

This city was insane. The second he received his issue gear and vehicle from the Defenders’ Guild, he hit the street running and never stopped. Day became night became day became night again. Sleep was the period of non-wakefulness between callouts.

At the border of the wildlands, this city was one of the most dangerous places for a Defender. Beast attacks were commonplace. Many Defenders were never assigned here. Those who did didn’t always survive their tour. It was almost unheard of for rookies to be deployed here.

But Sun had insisted. And he worked triply hard in the Academy to prove he was worthy.

After all, she was here.

And so, for his efforts, he had the honor of handling the eighty-fourth incident.

A xiangliu.

The massive serpent wound sinuously across the river’s surface, cutting swiftly through the water. Its nine heads fanned out in every direction, seeking prey. Oily streaks and shattered planks floated in its wake, the remains of boats too slow or too unfortunate to get out of its way.

Circulating qi through his body, he supercharged his limbs and pounded the pavement. Sirens howled all around him. Shutters slammed shut over windows and doors. Civilians ran in every direction. Some pounded uselessly on the barricades. Others curled up and pretended to be dead. Still more ran about like headless chickens, fleeing the beast.

“Defenders! Make way!” Sun shouted.

His infinity gun held high across his chest, he followed the beast’s trail. It was fast, but so was he. Utilizing the art of qinggong, he was as light as a feather, his limbs the match of a purebred stallion.

The gigantic beast was headed upriver, racing for the Bund. Great white domes loomed in the distance, protecting the city’s heart. There was no risk a single xiangliu would breach the barriers, but that was cold comfort to everyone caught outside.

Out the corner of his eye, Sun saw Fu sprinting up alongside him.

“Hey!” Sun yelled. “Will the police help us?”

“They won’t!” Fu replied. “They’re not trained for this! We have to slay the beast ourselves!”

“How? It’s huge!

The xiangliu reared its heads. Its enormous torso rose above the two- and three-story shophouses that lined the waterfront. Hissing, the serpent struck. Heads battered against shutters, smashed furniture, gobbled down unlucky humans.

“Shoot it until it dies!” Fu advised.

The xiangliu weaved back and forth across the green river, never staying still, its heads dancing in every direction. And right in front of the xiangliu were even more shophouses.

Shooting was easy. Not hitting a civilian was beyond him.

“I don’t have a clear shot!” he yelled.

As his words left his mouth, the xiangliu swerved around a river bend, leaving his line of sight.

“Keep up with me, rookie!” Fu ordered.

Qi emanated from the senior Defender. Subtle energies warped the world around him. He blurred.


And reappeared down the street.

“What the devil…?”

Fu blurred again. Now he saw Fu, a swiftly-moving shadow cutting through the air. Fu rematerialized at the bend.
Sun’s smartglasses transmitted Fu’s voice into his skull.

“Over here, Sun Yao!”

“I don’t have that technique!” Sun replied, still sprinting.

“If you don’t keep up, I’m claiming the bounty!”

Sun didn’t waste his breath replying. He just kept running.

Higher-level Defenders had access to a staggering array of skills. With proper cultivation, they could develop their powers however they liked, suiting their unique personalities and preferences. Sun, fresh from the Academy, only had foundational skills. He couldn’t hope to keep up with Fu. He didn’t even know what Fu had done.

Rounding the bend, he caught sight of the xiangliu again. A barrage of bolts slammed into its back. The creature howled, all nine heads searching for the source of the gunfire.

“Rookie, shoot the water around it! Force it out on land!” Fu ordered.

Taking careful aim, Sun set his weapon to full auto and triggered a long burst. Geysers erupted around the creature. It writhed in agony. Coiling up, it leapt out of the river, slamming heavily on the pavement.

Muzzle flashes winked from the roof of a shophouse. More bolts lashed the creature’s back. Squinting, Sun saw Fu perched on the roof of the building.

Four snake heads turned to glare at Fu. The other five twisted around to face Sun. Forked tongues darted in and out, tasting the air. No shot. A xianglu was armored all over—except its underside.

“Cover me!” Sun shouted.

He charged the beast. The nine-headed snake hissed. Fu blasted away at it, but the beast didn’t seem to care. Sun had the complete attention if the five heads eyeing him.

Sun dropped to a knee. Aimed up. Now, even if he missed, the bolt would soar harmlessly into the sky. He locked on the nearest head and pressed the trigger.

Star-bright bolts blew through its neck. The head splashed into the river. Screeching, four heads plunged down on him.

Sun rocketed off the ground, pushing off with all his qi-augmented might. The heads crashed into the pavement, smashing the weathered stone. Shrapnel struck Sun’s combat suit, bouncing off his chest plate. A head curved up, staring at him.

He shot its eyes.

The xiulong hissed, rearing up in pain—and exposing its soft belly.

Sun dropped to the prone. Planted his crosshair on the soft white flesh. And held down the trigger.

Red steam. Gray dust. The snake convulsed and screeched and went limp. As its heads came crashing down, Sun rolled to his feet and sprang away.

The heads slammed into the ground with a bone-shaking BOOM. Sun counted four… well, three and a half intact heads. Somewhere in the chaos, Fu had blown off the other heads.

The air parted next to him. Fu popped out into the real world.

“Good job, rookie.”

Sun wiped the sweat off his brow. “Thanks. What technique did you use to move around so fast?”

“Spatial manipulation, fifth degree.”

Fifth? Fu must have been a cultivator for a decade.

“Must be nice to have a specialization,” Sun said.

“You don’t have one? Oh, of course you don’t have one. This isn’t even your first week on the job.”

“Yeah. I only have the basic Three Dantian Empowerment.”

They inspected the corpse, prodding the cooling flesh and examining the wounds. No heart, no breath, most definitively dead. Sun stepped aside and worked his glasses.

“Dispatch, this is Defender Sun Yao. Our target has been eliminated. Requesting coroner team at…” he looked around. “Spark House.”

“Roger. Coroner team is on the way,” Dispatch replied.

“Ask if there are any more jobs!” Fu shouted.

“Do you have anything else for us?” Sun added.

“Negative. Board is clear.”

Sun heaved a sigh of relief. “Thanks.” He hung up and added, “Defender Fu, there’s nothing for us now.”

“Enjoy the calm while it lasts,” Fu said.

The sirens went silent. The shutters began to rise. Civilians crawled out of their hiding places. They whipped out their phones and glasses, taking snapshots of the body and whispering among themselves.

“Is anybody injured? Does anyone need medical attention?” Fu yelled.

No one responded. They were too busy taking photos and videos.

The police popped up out of the holes they had hidden in and circulated the area. As Sun moved to join them, Fu laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Let them do their jobs,” Fu said. “We’ll guard the body.”

“Guard the body? There’s plenty of wounded around here.”

“If the police need us, they’ll call us. Until then, conserve your qi. The day isn’t over yet.”

Cultivator he may be, but he didn’t have unlimited stores of qi. Sun retrieved a bottle of energy tonic from interspatial storage and gulped it down. Fresh blood and qi pumped through his body. His skin flushed, his face warmed, his dantian recharged.

“Why do we need to guard the body anyway?” Sun asked.

“Scavengers,” Fu said. “Leave a dead monster alone and they’ll pick the beast apart like vultures. They’ll take the skin, meat, bones and organs and sell them on the black market. Black doctors would buy them, grind them up, mix them with all kinds of rubbish, and sell them as ‘elixirs’.”

Sun sighed. A Defender’s bounty was calculated by the weight and quality of flesh, bone and organs harvested from slain beasts. Scavengers were thieves. And there was no telling what poisons went into black market elixirs.

“Every day we descend deeper into the Realm of Beasts,” Sun said.

“You’re religious?”

“I try to be.”

Fu shrugged. “So long as it keeps you sane.”

“Yes, this place is insane. I’ve never seen so many beasts in one place in my life.”

“It’s the seventh month. The gates of Hell are open, ghosts walk the land, and the beasts of the world follow them.”

“I thought it was a rumor.”

“It’s reality for us.”

“Why isn’t the City Barrier online?”

“If we kept it raised all the time, we’d starve. Planes, ships and trucks won’t be able to enter the city. It’s only ever raised during an emergency. For individual beasts like this, there’s the local Barriers.”

“Which sucks for the seventy percent of the population who can’t afford one.”

“On the bright side, we’ll always have a job.”

A dozen men in white hazmat suits approached the Defenders. Their leader waved.

“Defender Fu!” he called.

“Mr Shen. Took you look enough.”

Shen shrugged apologetically. “You know how busy it gets during the Ghost Month.”

The coroner team laid out series of gigantic plastic sheets on the pavement. Sun stepped out of their way. They must be planning to wrap up the corpse in plastic. But… how were they planning to move it?

“How do you handle massive corpses like that?” Sun asked.

“We’ve got a transporter just around the corner,” Shen replied.

Qi surged around Sun. The coroner team glowed. Six men grabbed a head each. Five more latched on to the body. Together, they hauled it across the pavement. Shen shouted instructions, guiding his men along.

“You want to take a break?” Fu asked.

“I can?” Sun asked.

“This job’s a marathon, not a sprint. You need downtime whenever you can take it. Besides, didn’t you promise to see your girlfriend?”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

Fu laughed. “Go on, get going. If we need you, we’ll call you.”

The car was still where he’d parked it. Nobody messed with any vehicle that bore the red-and-blue stripes of the Defenders’ Guild. Nobody sane, anyway.

Inside the relative privacy of his vehicle, Sun called Liu. She picked up after the first ring.

“It’s me,” he said.

“‘It’s me’?” she echoed. “But I’m me. Who are you?”

“Very funny.”

She giggled. “You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t visit…”

“I’m calling you now. Are you busy?”

“My shift ends in fifteen minutes. What’s up?”

“I’ve got some free time. Want to have dinner?”

“Sure! Where do you want to go?”

“I’m still trying to find my way around this city. Any recommendations?”

“We could have dinner at my place.”

“Great. Where is it?”

“Seventy-seven Hanzhou Street. Unit five-eighteen. Could you be there in an hour?”

“Sure. See you then.”

In the relative privacy of his car, he changed into the only set of civilian clothing he owned, a plain white shirt and gray slacks. He applied fresh bandages on his cuts—he’d picked up a dozen over the past six days—and washed up in a public toilet before heading to Liu’s home.

The apartment blocks of Hanzhou Street loomed over him. Fifteen, twenty, thirty stories tall, so tall he had to crane his neck just to see the top. He’d spent most of his life living in a cramped single-story home in Hongcun and a succession of tents and dorms after joining the Defenders; he still didn’t know how people could live so high in the air.

He made his way to her door. A little early, but he supposed she wouldn’t mind. He rang the doorbell.

Nothing happened.

He knocked on the door.

No response.

He called her. The phone rang and rang and rang. Then:

“The number you have dialed is currently not available. Please try again later.”

He activated his spirit sense. No one was in.

Odd. If she were running late, she would have called him. She wouldn’t flake out on him like that.

He tested the doorknob. It turned.

She wouldn’t leave the door unlocked.

Something was wrong.

Cheah Git San Red

Previous chapters: 12

For more stories that blend magic, swords, guns and martial arts, check out my latest novel Hammer of the Witches.

Realm of Beasts Chapter 2


Defender and Barrier

“RUN!” the cop yelled.

Quick as a flash, the winged tiger bounced on the policeman, pinning him to the ground. The cop screamed, struggling under its enormous bulk. Sun raised his pistol. And the beast tore out his throat.

Sun fired.

A brilliant blue bolt slammed into the creature’s torso. Fire and smoke erupted from its fur.

Roaring in pain, the tiger spread its wings, covering its face and body. Sun ran the gun hard, dumping bolts as fast as he could fire. The power crystal siphoned his qi through his gloves, keeping the gun going.

But as the bolts crashed into the wings, they dissipated.

Turning to Sun, the winged tiger crouched.


And slammed into a crackling white wall.

Dropping to the ground, it shook his head, momentarily confused. It was so close, Sun saw the blood dripping from his teeth and paws, the meat caught between its canines.

Liu stood her ground, her feet planted solidly on the floor. Her arms were extended straight out, her bangles glowing white. The creature snarled, pawing at the barrier, but she stood firm and maintained the force field.

Guns howled. A barrage of bolts crashed into the beast’s flank. Distracted, it turned to face the new threat, and Sun retreated behind a nearby pillar. A team of armed police had arrived, firing from across the hall. But the bolts crashed uselessly against the beast’s wings.

The winged tiger poked its head out between its wings, turning to the cops. And its horn glowed.

“TAKE COVER!” Sun shouted.

A beam of blinding light blasted from the horn.

Liu screamed, throwing her will against the world.

The beam crashed against a fresh barrier. The barrier took everything the winged tiger could throw at it and scattered the infernal energy into harmless rays of multihued light.

The assault ceased. The cops were unscratched. But Liu swooned.

“Fang Fang!”

She caught herself before she fell.

“I’m okay,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”

The tiger chuffed. The policemen continued firing, but none of their shots penetrated its wings.


But Sun was a cultivator.

Switching his smoking pistol to his left hand, he called upon his interspatial ring. Another wormhole opened. He reached in, found a firm handle, and drew.

Out came a jian. A straight sword with two keen edges and a needle tip. Holding it low, he circled around the beast.

“Cover me!” Sun shouted.

“Go!” Liu replied.

Summoning his qi from all three dantian, he supercharged his muscles. Filled his blade with qi.


Gravity fell away. The air parted before him. Wind pushed at his back. In a single bound, he flew to the beast’s flank. And cut.

Steel bit into hardened bone and sinewy muscle. A moment of resistance, and the wing snapped off.

Howling, the creature trashed about. Another barrier materialized, shielding Sun from its iron teeth and claws. Leaping aside, Sun extended his pistol, placed it against the beast’s exposed temple, and fired.

Its head erupted in pink steam. The winged tiger slumped to the ground, finally dead.

Scanning, Sun saw no more threats. He flicked the blood off his jian and returned to Liu.

She had propped herself against a pillar, her hands massaging her temples.

“Sun Yao…” she said.

“It’s over.”

She smiled. “Good job.”

“Couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I…” She frowned, pointing at the skylight. “Where’s the barrier? It should be up by now.”

He looked. Through the broken glass he saw clear blue sky and bright sunlight. But there was no barrier. The civil defense sirens continued screaming. And, high in the sky, he saw black dots. Lots of them.

“We need to get to the operations center,” she said.

He nodded. Turning to the cops, he yelled, “Cover the skylight! We have more beasts incoming!”

As the policemen scrambled into position, he pointed at the nearest.

“You! Take us to the operations center!”

The three of them trooped down empty halls and deserted corridors. The civilians had evacuated by now. He sensed no qi around him beyond Liu and the policeman. But just in case, Sun kept his head on a swivel and his weapon at the ready.

The door to the operations center was wide open. The lock had been blasted open. And blood spilled out the open door.

Ta ma de,” Sun whispered. “Fang Fang, stay behind me.”

He sensed no qi. Only death. Taking a deep breath, he stepped in.

Lao tian nah!” the cop exclaimed. By Heaven!

Bodies. Bodies everywhere. Seated, lying down, slumped against the walls. A lake of blood covered the floor.

Sun inspected a corpse. Her throat had been cut, almost decapitating her. Another one had been blasted in the chest. A third had been slashed in half. He couldn’t tell if the wounds were made by man or beast. Or both.

Liu pointed at a door. “We need to check the barrier control room.”

“Right.” Looking at the cop, Sun said, “Watch this room. Preserve the crime scene.”

Liu and Sun stepped around the bodies, careful to avoid disturbing anything they saw. The door to the barrier control room was unlocked. As Sun grasped the doorknob the door fell off its hinges.

“Not a good sign,” Sun said.

The barrier control room stretched out before them. Rows of computers and consoles glowed by the sides of the room. Dead ahead was a transparent panel of safety glass. Behind that was the enormous crystal that powered the airport’s barrier.

The crystal was dull.

And the room was empty.

“Where did everyone go?” Liu asked. “This is an emergency. There must be a Barrier Technician manning the room at all times.”

“Maybe they’re dead,” Sun said.

Zao gao,” she said. This is terrible. “We need to get the barrier online before the beasts attack again.”

“Anything I can do?” Sun asked.

She strode to a console. And heaved a sigh of relief. “This console is unlocked. I can activate the barrier from here. Just watch the door and make sure the beasts don’t come in.”

“You can raise the airport barrier?”

Her hands flew across the keys.

“Yes. I can do this. Just… watch the door.”

Heavy footsteps reverberated outside. Voices floated into the room.

“Defenders! Over here!”

Sun opened his ring, stowed his weapons, and drew his badge. Stepping away from the door, he kept his hands low.
A pair of armed men burst into the room, long guns ready.

“Defenders!” the leader shouted. “Who are you?”

Sun raised his badge. “Defender Class One Sun Yao. She’s Barrier Technician Liu Fang Fang.”

The senior Defender squinted at the badge. Nodded.

“I heard a Defender slew the winged tiger in the lobby. Was that you?”

“Yes,” Sun Yao said.

“Not bad. Ms Liu, what are you doing?”

“Bringing the barrier back online,” she replied.

“You’re authorized to do that?”

“I’m the only Barrier Technician available,” she replied.

“I see.” Looking at Sun, he said, “You… Sun Yao. You were supposed to report for duty today, yes?”

“Yes. This whole mess started right after I stepped off the airship.”

“Hell of a first day at work, isn’t it?” Shaking his head, he said, “I’m Fu Hai Long. This is Yang Guo An. And that’s all the introductions you’re going to get. The city is in a state of emergency. Beasts are everywhere, and we need every Defender on duty.”

Sun nodded. “I’m ready. Fang Fang…”

“I understand,” she said.

“I’ll meet you when I can.”



Cheah Git San Red.jpg

You can find the previous chapter here.

For more stories that blend magic, swords, guns and martial arts, check out my latest novel Hammer of the Witches.

Realm of Beasts Chapter 1

Reunion, Interrupted

Crowds annoyed him. From the moment he received his first empowerment at the Academy, he could no longer tolerate crowds. Their qi was overwhelming. It was a flood of random energy that crackled and flowed and combined and crashed into him all at once from every direction.

And there was the small matter of not having time and space to react to an incoming threat.

Focus. Let the qi flow through you.

Breathing deeply and regularly, he allowed the qi to pass into and through him, fully and completely, leaving nothing behind.

He scanned the crowd in his peripheral vision. The terminal was packed. He saw a team of flight crew in smart blue uniforms pushing company-issue luggage; business people in sharp suits and pressed clothing lining up at ticket counters; tourists and travelers, marked by their huge backpacks and casual dress; a giggling, chatting, noisy mass of schoolchildren in crumpled uniforms, herded by a half-dozen worn-looking teachers.

And there was her.

She was a beacon of focused flame in a blizzard, her qi radiating from her like wings. Her aura was a gentle white blanket of soothing light, covered by a thin but hard shell, her energy warm and soothing and calming. Exactly as he remembered.

Breaking into a brilliant smile, she waved at him. He smiled back and approached her.

“Mr Sun, it’s been a long time,” she said.

“Only five years, Ms Liu,” he replied.

She sniffed. “Five years and eight months.”

“Three weeks.”

“Six days.”

“Twenty hours.”

She giggled, covering her mouth. “Did you count the minutes too?”

“I’m not as obsessive as you.”

They broke into laughter.

“You’ve grown,” she said, patting his biceps. “You’ve put on a lot more muscle since we last met.”

Her touch was soft and warm and gentle, and just a little longer than necessary.

“The job demands it,” he said, looking her over. “You’ve grown too.”

Raven hair ran down her shoulder, framing her almond-shaped face and high cheeks. Large, limpid eyes glittered in the light, as warm as chocolate and as deep as the sea. Exactly as he’d remembered her.

But in his memories he saw a tomboy. Today she wore a qipao the colour of snow. The one-piece dress clung to her curves and ended at her ankles. Long side slits allowed freedom of movement. A pair of smartglasses perched on her forehead, and she wore a jadeite bangle on each wrist.

And she was taller than he remembered her.

She crossed her arms over her not-insignificant bust. “Wei, what are you looking at?”

He gestured at her feet. “High heels? You?”

She pouted. “I can’t wear them?”

“You used to hate them.”

“People change.”

“Absolutely. You’ve finally developed a fashion sense.”

She humphed. “What do you mean?”

“You don’t look like a boy anymore.”

Tao yan!” Annoying!

“You don’t enjoy compliments?”

“You still enjoy teasing me?”

“Well, it’s fun, isn’t it?”

Zhen shi de!” Unbelievable!

Humphing again, she spun on her heel, presenting her back to him. Sun leaned over her shoulder and whispered into her ear.

“It’s good to see you again, Fang Fang.”

Smiling, she craned her neck and looked up at him.

“Same here, Sun Yao. Now that you finally graduated.”

He shrugged. “Empowerment takes far longer in my profession.”

“You made me wait. Any longer and I might have given up.”

“I’m here now. Do you still—”

A thunderous two-tone siren wailed from the loudspeakers, steadily growing in volume. A thousand rings and chimes and beeps issued from glasses and bands and pads.

“Code black,” the public broadcast system intoned. “Code black. Security personnel, please report to your assigned stations. Guests and passengers, please proceed to the civil defense shelter.”

Civilians paused in their tracks, listening to the announcement. The teachers gathered their children and led them deeper into the building, scolding and cajoling as they went. Nearby, a blue-uniformed cop stiffened, and rested his hand on his holster.

Sun touched the steel utility band on his left wrist and pressed a quick access button. A list of items and images popped into his head. The contents of his interspatial storage.

He selected an item. A flat black circle appeared, hovering above the band. It was a two-dimensional hole in space-time, so thin it seemed invisible from the side. He reached into the hole, wrapping his fingers around a solid plastic frame, and drew his infinity pistol.

Sun’s amplifier gloves warmed. Intricate designs woven into the black leather glowed in his mind’s eye, tracing the meridians and energy pathways of his hands. Circuitry in the palms of his gloves meshed with the weapon’s grip, feeding the infinity gun with his qi.

He needed a full combat loadout. His personal gear was nowhere near enough. But he had to do with what he had. Gripping his gun in both hands, he said, “Fang Fang…”

She was already in motion. Her jadeite bangles glowing brightly, she kicked off her heels and lowered her glasses into place.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Time to work.”

All around them, civilians dashed for cover. Airport staff directed them to the civil defense shelter with shouts and gestures. Armed and armored policemen raced into position, taking cover behind whatever they could find.

In the distance, monstrous roars filled the air.

The cop Sun had spotted earlier rushed over to them, weapon drawn.

“Sir, ma’am, you need to take cover.”

“We’re cultivators,” he said. “We can help.”

The cop visibly relaxed.

“Thank you. We’re facing—”

Glass shattered. Shards rained down from above.

A sleek, muscular beast crashed through the skylights. Flapping its huge crimson wings, it landed gently on the floor. Covered in blazing orange fur and black stripes, it boasted a set of wicked claws on every paw and a horn that tapered into a fine point. The creature curled its tail and bared its fangs. A deep growl issued from its powerful chest.

It was a winged tiger. Apex predator of the wildlands.

And it glared at Sun, bloodlust in its eyes.

Cheah Git San Red.jpg

If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy or both, check out my supernatural military science fiction thriller HAMMER OF THE WITCHES, featuring magic, mayhem, martial arts, and a sinister conspiracy to enslave the world.