More useful, if you can find it.
Book 4, 38: And Devil Doctor
Crap, Charlotte thought. Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap. Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu had pretty good technique for swearing to yourself while twisting and dodging and blocking one punch and kick after another in mid-air. Charlotte was just trying to get to the ground. It was Li Chun the Destroyer who was trying to turn it into a speed punching contest.
Thing about the dude was, he was way stronger than Charlotte, and way faster, even when she was boosting her speed with her qi. All she could do was block, block, block, crap.
Yeah. You know, the whole world? Pain. That was what it was. The punch had landed clean to her face, and as Charlotte reached through the haze for the focus she needed to tuck in her body and swing around to get her feet under her, all she could think of—
Was not that much, come down to it. She slammed, body-first, hard into something scaly, or maybe bark-y. A tree. Yeah, that it was it, Charlotte thought, trying to focus. The scientific word.
Next in the ongoing list of impacts was her butt hitting something solid and cold and wet far too hard. The ground, maybe? That’s what you’d think you’d hit next in a situation like this. She’d have a bruise on her butt. All the other dead people would make jokes about her, now.
Because she’d be dead. Totally dead. That’s what happens when there’s someone dressed like a Taoist monk, but with blue skin, and crackling with malign energy was standing over you.
Wah wah, he said. Something. Not Mandarin anymore, so she should understand what he was saying. No excuse there. It was just the fogginess in her head, like she was listening through a cloud or something. Blankly, Charlotte stared up at the fire-eyed being. Somewhere behind that face, she could see the ghost of a kindly expression that reminded her of Uncle Henry or Father Asplin or Mr. Vezina, and, on top of it, an evil anger that, somehow, reminded her of someone else. Someone she knew very well. Someone she should be able to put a name to right now.
No! NO! She didn’t know what she was thinking about, but she didn’t know that expression. No. She also, she realised, really ought to be getting into a fighting stance and blocking, but even the thought made her dizzy. Dead. That was what she’d been thinking about a moment ago, before she was distracted by—
A flurry of motion as Scout landed on Li Chun’s back and plunged his flashing, silver Bowie knife into the creature’s back.
Li Chun did not even flinch, just reached back and flicked Scout off his shoulder. Scout flipped in the air, with a surprisingly familiar and kung fu-ish move, landing in Monkey posture, just like Charlotte would have told him to do had she been able to talk just now.
From his posture, Scout was fast enough to block Li Chun’s side kick. Unfortunately, while he was stronger than Charlotte, he wasn’t nearly as strong as Li Chun, and he lacked an Eight Spirit Shield to cushion the blow. Long story short, Scout went flying just like Charlotte had a moment ago.
Fortunately, the incredibly hot off-worlder’s luck hadn’t run out, and he landed smack in the hedge that lined the garden of the abandoned house. It looked scratchy, but not serious, as he bounced out of it to land in three-down Tiger posture, ready for a counter-attack, with his silver dagger once more at the ready. His smouldering eyes flashed green and brown, and even on his hand, muscles clenched on muscles. “Get away from her, you big jerk!” Scout shouted.
Li Chun stared at Scout for a long moment, than pulled himself up from his fighting stance, and, incredibly, face-palmed. “Boy, boy. The threat has no credibility. That’s why it’s traditional to at least try to be funny in situations like this. You know? Spit at danger? Show your defiance to the last? That way, when I kill you and eat your bones, at least you can go out with your spirit unbroken.”
“Actions,” Scout answered, as his rifle dropped into his hand and unloaded its full magazine right into the Destroyer in a split-second blaze of fire.
Not a single bullet hit. Li Chun didn’t even flinch. “Fair enough. Unfortunately, my Demon Hand magic has more than enough power behind it to deflect your rounds. But, come, boy. You have the stink of the xian on you. Where is your ascended wisdom?” Li Chun gestured, and Scout collapsed to the ground, writhing.
Charlotte looked inside herself, gathering the discipline of Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu. She could feel her mind clearing, and the nausea that gripped her when she tried to focus was giving way to a numbing headache. Given a few minutes, she was beginning to think, and she could even return to the fight.
Too bad that this wasn’t going to last a few minutes.
Li Chun glided over to Scout. “Xian indeed. Will you instruct me on the Virtue that rides in the clouds, oh wise one?”
“Don’t know—“ Scout gritted out.
“Ah, yes. Your mind is clear and open. The ignorance you profess is real. But you are minded, and by your nature. Out of emptiness and mindedness, Virtue will arise. If your ancestors have not shared this with you, it is because it is not your time. Your bones will be sweet, indeed.”
Li Chun crouched down, so that even from a distance Charlotte could feel the menace of that grimacing blue face pushed to within inches of Scout’s pain-squeezed eyes. “Where. Is. Your. Wisdom?” The demon monk yelled it so loud that the buildings shook, and the cloud of insects that had been Father Asplin a moment before darted in and out of itself in agitation.
A voice came from the shadows. “If you truly sought wisdom, Yaoguai, the Eighteen Hells would not hold you. To achieve virtue, seek benevolence.” A tall, Asian man in Hanfu gown, hair pulled back and beard long, stepped from the shadows.
Charlotte gasped, recognising Dr. Yin Wu, the Devil Doctor. Dr. Yin nodded his head slightly in her direction, as though to acknowledge the recognition.
Li Chun whirled. “Ah. My tormenter makes himself known. The abomination who counts himself wise.”
“There is but one abomination here.”
“You, a Yin, says that!”
“I honour my ancestors in all that I do.”
“Master Kong looks down from all-seeing Heaven in shame at you and your works.”
“I do not come to bandy words with you, Yaoguai. I told you when I put you away in the Yama Lands that your time was not yet. Why are you here?”
“A name was whispered through the chthonic stillness: Astroth. It stirred the fabric, and I rose. Do you know the name? Ah, I see you do not, oh Ascended Sage. Would that I had not eaten the man whose body I wear. I am sure that he would be more helpful.”
Dr. Yin Wu shrugged. “That simpleton Wayist knew nothing of the world, Middle Kingom or barbarian, as this Astroth is. Or, rather, the thing which is given this Laowei name. I am sure that a consultation of the classics will rectify the name and resolve this matter. In any case, be gone again to the Yama Lands, until I have need of you.”
Dr. Yin Wu threw something down, and a flash and silent concussion filled the space. In its wake, Li Chun was gone.
“I had rather suspected that you had collected that thing, Guru Yin.” Another stirring of the shadows, another familiar, threatening figure, this one a tall, bare-chested Indian man, multiple-armed like an Indian god and painted, wearing only a dhoti with cloak over his left shoulder. Him, too, Charlotte recognised: Rashindar, the Indian sorcerer-superhero.
“A useful tool, when the time is right. But I would not expect you to understand that. What brings you here, now, fakir?”
“You stand on foreign soil, and ask me that?”
“Far more familiar to me than to you. At least I will own Philadelphia to be part of the Pure Land.”
“Everywhere that the faithful consecrate with Vedic sacrifice is true enough land for me.”
“Your religion is a myth and a farce! You will find no believers here, a few . . . hippies aside.” Dr. Yin Wu spat the last word, that sounded so strange coming from him.
“Not so,” Rashindar answered. He reached out into the cloud of insects, and, somehow, drew Father Asplin out of it. “Once this man honoured the gods.”
Father Asplin put his hands to his head, mace and shield dropping around his head. After a long moment, speaking, muffled through his hands, he said, “Not to sound ungrateful, but I have to go with Dr. Yin on this.”
Rashindar’s eyes blazed. “Ungrateful indeed! There are many calls on my time, and out of all of them, I came here to save you, out of the love I bear you. And yet, even now, I am to hear this tired old theological disputation?” Rashindar’s hands folded around him, and he vanished.
“So brittle, so fragile for all of his power,” Yin Wu said. “And so obnoxious. Now I shall have to deal with all the misconceptions that will arise in the wake of this unfortunate episode.”
Father Asplin put his hands down, and looked Yin Wu in the face. “You have Li Chun the Destroyer stashed away, Dr. Yin, like an extra ace in a poker game. I don’t think that it’s possible to have many misconceptions about what you mean to do with that monster. He is not called the Destroyer for nothing.”
As he spoke, Father Asplin stepped over to Charlotte, bent down, and thumbed her eyelid back. It was uncomfortable, and maybe a little gross, but whatever Father Asplin saw, his expression looked relieved.
“Bah, you do not understand the issues at play. The Middle Kingdom suffers under the communists!”
“Better the Reds than feudalism!”
“What you call feudalism is nothing but filial piety! King is true king. . “
“Save it, Doctor,” Father Asplin snapped. “I’ve heard the Analects propounded by people with the heart to read them. The Yaozui may be a demon out of the Eighteen Hells, but he reads your heart aright.”
“You need to learn to show more respect to your betters, priest.”
A searchlight probed the space from a familiar aircraft, hovering above. Now the Liberty League was on the scene.
“But not tonight.” Father Asplin reached under Charlotte and lifted her, gently, into his arms. “But not tonight.”
“Soon enough,” Yin Wu answered. And vanished.
“Well,” Father Asplin muttered. “Why shake the pillars of the Heaven here, tonight?”
And Charlotte whispered, “Astroth.”