Chapter 2, 50: The End, or, Mindfulness Over Pastries
Chris looked back for a long moment at the weird, swirling fur patterns that were the “eyes” of Fang/Old Man Sinclair. He pulled forward with his legs, but the Decurion, in spite of his unbalanced stance, seemed unmovable.
Chris didn’t mind. He wasn’t worried, or, he was surprised to realise, angry at the “fortune cookie” crack. Battle was for mindfulness, not for anger. How many times had he heard it said? Seek mindfulness, Master Lee had said, sadly, even if you never find it. With his last breath, Chris looked at Fang and said, “Saint Elizabeth, pray for those left behind; Holy Sangha, show me the path to wisdom.”
The weird, swirling eyes-above-fur looked, for just a second, worried. Then they relaxed. Fine, you stuck-up asshole, Chris thought. Let the moment pass. He would, not into anger, but into calm, with mind empty. Was this mindfulness? It was what it was, and it was with peaceful calm that Chris reached up and twisted Decurion’s wrist with a strength that no human or even superhuman joint could take. In the same movement, Chris went, shoulder down, head turning into the classic Water Snake Escape. At the other end of the pendulum move that his body was making to exploit momentum above and below, his legs went into the classic sweeping push that followed the strength of Decurion’s resistance to use his own leg muscles to power disarm and escape.
It was the beginning of wisdom, Master Lee had once told Chris, to have your own strength turned against you. Will you learn, Mario? Are you listening? Is telepathy one of your grab bag of powers? Will anyone learn, or do the Buddhas teach in vain?
This one time, though, the dharma teachings were in the world. The perfect life force, the qi, flowed into strength, but it was technique that mattered. Chris understood the stakes: for his world to live, there must be perfect execution.
And there was. Chris’s head popped free, and he pivoted into the trip, slamming the pommel of the Blue Tranquility into Decurion’s head as it was wrenched past, the whole weight of his body coming out from under him pulling into the twist on his wrist. Although the classic escape-and-trip move didn’t end with your enemy flying at the end of the move in the gym.
Literally flying, that is. Chris pulled into his follow-through as Decurion, his fancy helmet falling free, was driven by invisible forces straight into the silvery walls of the stasis bubble. “Fortune cookie that, Snagglepus!” He shouted.
Although he still managed to hold onto his short sword. The disarm had failed. Chris shook his head in disgust at his own execution. Uncle Henry would probably have ended up with Decurion hogtied.
“An ox’s strength still needs technique,” Chris pointed out, soaring after his enemy, the Blue Tranquility lifted for the final cut.
Desperately, without words, Decurion lifted his short sword to parry. Once again, the Blue Tranquility’s azure blade cut right through the metal of the faux Roman sword before glancing off his greaves to lay his biceps open. Red blood spurted. Chris holding to his mindfulness, looked through the veil of illusion to see that the wound was actually superficial.
“The sleeper is bound to the wheel of life in eons of cycles,” Chris pointed out. Then he realised that he was beginning to smirk. These bits of dharma-wisdom were directed at Fang, not poor Mario. The Blue Tranquility struck again, and this time it was the shield that came up to block, and the shield that was split in two with a stroke. For just a second, Chris was off balance, and Mario’s whole body lit up, a force blast smashing into Chris.
Now it was his turn to be thrown across the bubble. Chris twisted in mid-air, bringing his feet around to touch the bubble. Then, with speed that defied gravity, Chris ran across the top of the bubble, inverted, easily dodging Mario’s desperate follow-up blasts, until he was over his enemy. Then, with a final bound, Chris gave himself up to gravity, falling almost directly at Mario/Decurion’s head, striking and flipping as he fell.
Chris landed, sick to his stomach. That was a decapitating blow he had delivered. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Mario’s protective force field was holding up. A ghastly wound had blossomed across the back of Mario’s neck, but his head did not fly free. Again, Chris reached through illusion. This was real.
And, yet, somehow not the true reality. Chris looked again, deeper still. Below the gore, below the gouting blood, he could see Mario’s inhuman vitality, the pulsing flow of life forces that would mend even such a wound as this. Eventually.
Reaching over, Chris applied the Heavenly Python Grip for a long moment, until Mario went limp in his arms. And then, finally, he looked over at Fang. “See? That’s how it’s done.”
“And since we seem to have got off on the wrong foot here, let me just explain something to you. Fortune cookies are supposed to be corny. You know why? Master Kong is corny. I mean, seriously. ‘One word for life: shu.’ Do not onto others as you would not have done to yourself. How lame is that? Well, it’s not lame if you’ve ever been sitting at a table at the Golden Dynasty, with a full stomach and broken open your cookie and read it to your grandfather and your sister and your mother. Or maybe even the waitress that’s going to be your girlfriend, even if you don’t know it yet.”
“Because that’s life. Not your dreams of power. Those are just illusions. You want power? Power is when your super-strong ‘son’ get schooled by fortune cookie sayings. Guanxi says: I bring you teachings of the heart of great wisdom. This life you lead is empty. Embrace wisdom in your heart.”
The weird spirit face disappeared, and Fang looked at Chris directly, the great, baleful tiger eyes meeting his. Chris stared back evenly, because he knew perfectly well that cats lose staring contests all the time and never admit it. At the same time, he pulled a fold of his white t-shirt out of his jeans and wrapped it around the blade of the Blue Tranquility and drew the blade through, cleaning Mario’s blood off it.
At last, the tiger blinked, and its mouth opened, somehow twisting in some subtle way so that a familiar voice came out of it. “That almost sounded like a threat, Christopher.”
“It is. I left the ‘or else’ part off. It’s not really the way that the wisdom-teaching works.” Then Chris lifted his sword by the blade, the hilt presented vertically, like a crucifix, towards Fang. “More the way that a sword does. So I guess we’re saying that the Blue Tranquility is an Honest-to-God Holy Avenger. Wanna find out how Smite Evil works in this campaign?”
“You idiot. You don’t think that I’ve prepared for this. . .”
Chris interrupted. “Oh, I’ve got you figured out. I’m sure there’s a Uradionium bomb in a volcano somewhere that’ll be triggered when your heartbeat stops or some stupid stuff like that. But, hey, we’re in a stasis bubble here. You said so. Nothing that happens here will affect the outside world.”
Chris stepped forward, lifting the Blue Tranquility. “Whoops. Time’s up. Isn’t that how it always goes? A million years seems like enough time, and then it’s up, and you still haven’t seen an episode of Ren & Stimpy. Better get cable in your next life, dude.”
“No!” Fang shouted.
“Yeah, overrated, I agree,” Chris said. “My cousins turned me onto Futurama, instead.”
“Futurama? I love that show,” Kumi said.
“Good news, everybody,” Chris said, sagging in relief. “The stasis bubble is down.” For, behind him, he could hear the music and the noise of the dance. “But what are we going to do with this guy?”
Rose was on her knees, getting up. “Leave Fang alone!” And then, somehow out of nowhere, Py was standing on one side of her, and a tall, slim woman with flashing eyes and a carefully trimmed Afro on the other. The strange woman put her hand on Eve’s shoulder, and the girl’s mouth closed abruptly.
Fang spoke again. “Sister.”
“Do I know you?” The woman asked.
“That’s a question for your last day, which looks to be soon.”
“You’re Arvad, aren’t you?” She pressed.
At first, Fang’s answer was to twist the cat’s mouth behind his pendulous ivory fangs into a long, slow laughter. “No. Are you going to ask me if I’m the Crooked One, or the giant, now? Because the answer is the same. I’m the last one you will ever suspect, girl.”
“That will be enough of that,” Py said, as David Wong came up beside him from the crowd, which had gone silent and still, forming a circle around the combatants almost like the old stasis bubble.
Fang’s laugh cut off. “And what are you going to do about it, snake? Take my toy away? I have plenty of others.” He wriggled, was free of Kumi’s vines, and where the sabretooth had been, there was suddenly a towering, robot-like thing, build of banded grey metal, with a massive visor covering what might have been eyeholes on a featureless metallic face. Chris was reminded of The Destroyer, and he clenched inside. Those old comic book writers had to get their ideas from somewhere.
“No. I’m going to make it so that you can’t use it again. Say hello to tomorrow for me.” Py changed, now too, the tall, slim, Asian man with feathered, flowing hair in an equally flowing jacket just this side of feminine instantly transforming into Pyandur the Time Dragon, his weirdly blending, fractal scales taking on strange darknesses in the light of Lythrum. Around the confrontation of giants, Chris could hear gasps. Only the music went on. The band was rocking out.
The dragon breathed, a blast like heat shimmer in which every facet showed a different reality, and the giant disappeared. So did the dragon. Pyandur was gone, and Py was standing in his place, his arm now draped over David’s shoulder. “I’ve taken his engine away and anchored him six weeks in the future. Time enough to get your affairs in order, I would suggest. He doesn’t seem like a fellow that you should leave to plot in the shadows.
But David only sighed. “Yeah, him and Doctor Destroyer and Takofanes and Yin Wu and, who knows who else. We’ll do what we can. Thanks, Py.”
Eve stood up. She looked like she was going to cry, but, instead, she shook the strange woman’s hand from her shoulder, glared around the room, and said. “That’s it. I’ve had enough of this stupid class. I’m changing majors.” Then she looked directly at Chris. “And I’ve had enough of you stupid Wongs, too. I’m moving out.”
Chris shrugged. “Us Wongs will be sad to see you go. Have you considered drama?” From the ground, Mario groaned and stirred, coming to. “I hear there’s a seat open.”
Chris put his arm around Kumi’s shoulder and drew her close, and Kumi said, “Yeah, and you can have my textbooks. I won’t be needing them any more.”
Chris turned and looked at Kumi. “Say. Want to blow this joint and go for some bubble tea? I’ve got a crave on.”
“For what comes with it.”