By Dave Eber
To Be Number One
The meditation chamber was dark and silent. Illumination came from a weakly glowing rack of lights set into the wall. The only furniture was a massive, swiveling chair set in the center of the room.
"You summoned me?"
The chair turned with a muffled hiss. Rhys Engel regarded the woman standing before him. She was tall, lithe, and powerful. Her hair was the color of midnight, and tiny lights seemed to flicker behind her eyes.
"Have you read Dr. Oram's report on the monkey scientist and his device?"
"As you instructed."
"Good. I have a task for you now. I need you to go to Hong Kong, 2002 juncture. There's something I need you to retrieve, something that has been lost for a very long time. Something very important."
The corner of Kallisti's mouth curled upward into a smile.
"When do I depart?"
"The Purist agent departed this morning. We estimate some time between 0400 and 0800 hours, most likely using one of the New Sydney portals."
Johann Bonengel looked at the report before him. Ever since the Pacific Rim debacle earlier this year, reliable intelligence had become notoriously difficult to obtain from that region. As such, the details of the report were typically - and maddeningly - sparse. Still, the implications were not something that could be ignored. Bonengel looked up at the intelligence officer standing at attention before his desk.
"Have X report to my office immediately."
"The BuroMil operative, codenamed 'Ghengis X', was summoned to the BuroPresident's office this morning at approximately 1000 hours. Shortly thereafter, he took command of a detachment of soldiers, and entered the Netherworld. We're tracking his progress now."
Dr. Curtis Boatman looked at the report before him. Ever since the critical shift last summer, reliable intelligence on Bonengel's activities had become more and more difficult to obtain. Boatman knew that Bonengel would only send Ghengis X on a mission of extreme importance. He was too valuable to risk on anything less. So why had he suddenly sent him to the Netherworld, and where was he headed? Whatever the reason, Boatman knew he had to stop him.
"What are you up to, Johann?" Boatman muttered to himself.
"You're certain the divinations are correct?"
"Yes, master." The eunuch kept his head bowed, his eyes on the floor. "The astrologers consulted their charts thrice. The seers say all the portents are correct, and our spies among the Purists insist their information is accurate. There can be no mistake, my lord."
Gao Zhang sank back into his chair, his eyes distant as he considered the weight of the news. Then he turned his attention back to the eunuch. There would be time for contemplation later. Now was the time to act.
"Send messengers to Hong Kong, 2002. Contact Tsien. Tell him to gather his forces. He is to anticipate the arrival of the Purist agent, and eliminate her. More instructions will be forthcoming."
The eunuch bowed low, and then quickly departed. Gao Zhang once more stared off into space. His mind churned with a thousand different plots and schemes.
"So," he said to himself, his voice a whisper, "it has finally been found."
Lord Shi stared out the window of his tower, the gray expanse of the Netherworld stretched before him. Then he turned back to the servant waiting quietly behind him.
"See to it that Wing Chi is paid well for his services." The servant bowed, then departed. Shi knew that good intelligence was vital to success. That was why he had been careful to cultivate a network of informants over the last several years, and to make sure they were kept satisfied. Those seeds had borne fruit today, though scarcely in a way Shi had expected.
No one knew exactly what the Legacy was, only that it was old and powerful. It didn't even have a real name. The Monarchs' father had found it and had kept it secret from his children. Although he had been vague, he had hinted to Lord Shi that it could somehow be used as a way to cement the Monarchs' power for all time, or to undo it entirely. But then the Ascended had made that moot, and it had disappeared during the critical shift. Lord Shi had assumed that, like all the other trappings of that time, it had ceased to exist. Apparently, he had assumed wrong.
Lord Shi belted his sword to his waist and strode purposefully from his tower room. It was time for him to visit his old charges once again. No doubt, there would be fierce competition for the Legacy, and he needed their forces to obtain it for himself. Of course, it would be a delicate matter to convince them that he was acting in their best interests. Then again, he had been doing that for hundreds of years now. This time, he would be acting for himself.
Shih Ho Kuai re-read the scroll, and then frowned. The message was short and to the point.
"Our spies tell us that there is sudden movement among our enemies. Hong Kong is the point of their convergence. Information is scare, but we believe they seek the relic of the first Emperor. It is vital that it not fall into the hands of our enemies. You are the first line of defense. See to it that they do not obtain it. Nothing is more important than this."
The Perfect Master
Shih Ho Kuai regarded the figure who had brought him the message. In his time, he was known as the Iron Monkey. Kuai had never met him, but he knew him by reputation. That it was he who had delivered the message, and not a simple courier, made clear how grave the situation was.
"I will gather my students, and send out instructions to all our informants. They will watch for any activity among our enemies in the city. When they show themselves, we will know, and we will be ready."
"Are you sure you got it right?"
"Yes, of course," Hsu said, irritated. "I did all the divinations correctly. The Purists are going to appear at the waterfront tonight. I'm sure of it."
"You better be, sorcerer" Tsien replied. "If you're wrong, Gao Zhang will have my head, and I'll have yours." Hsu regarded Tsien with a look of disdain. Tsien glared back at him. Tommy Hsu was an arrogant whelp, a young pup with more attitude than talent. Eventually, Tsien would teach him some respect, but not today. Tsien pulled a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and dialed a number.
"Deng, round up the brothers. We've got a job to do."
Captain Liu picked up the phone on his desk. Reports had come in that the Poison Thorns were gathering. That meant that Big Brother Tsien was planning something big. It might just be triad business of some kind, but then again, it might not. It wasn't for him to decide. His job was to watch for this kind of thing, and to report. Tsien had kept a low profile for months. If he was showing himself now, well… Liu dialed a very private number. He'd just have to wait and see what happened next.
"So, Tsien is showing his ugly face again?"
"That's the word on the streets. They say that the Poison Thorns are mobilizing for something big at the harbor."
"I've been hearing the same thing. I wanted to make sure before I did anything. Now I know." Johnny Tso pulled a large duffel bag out from under his bed. Then he went to his closet and unlocked it. Inside was a small arsenal. Johnny began pulling weapons out of the closet, loading them, and putting them in the bag.
"What are you doing, Johnny?"
"What does it look like, Tricia? We haven't heard a thing about Tsien in months. Now that he's finally surfaced, you think I'm going to let him get away?"
"Are you crazy? You go down there tonight and you're going to get yourself killed."
"Maybe, but I'm going. You don't have to come if you don't want to."
"Damn it, when are you going to let this go?"
Johnny looked up from the shotgun on his lap. His eyes met Tricia's, and she looked away. She already knew his answer. Johnny went back to loading his gun.
"There's going to be too many of them, you know." Tricia said. "We can't take them all on ourselves."
"Get in touch with the Prof, let her know something big is going down. Maybe she can send some help, though I doubt it."
"What are you going to do?" Tricia asked.
"I've got a call to make myself. I think I know someone who can help."
City On Fire
Big Brother Tsien dropped his cigar onto the dock and angrily ground it out beneath his feet. It was 10:15, and the full moon cast a ghostly glow over the waters of Victoria Harbor. An assortment of fire-red sports cars and gleaming midnight-black sedans lay scattered in an irregular semi-circle around a dark warehouse. Small knots of tattooed thugs, some in cheap suits, others in gang colors, milled about the various cars, all of them trying to look both threatening and nonchalant at the same time. Mostly, they just looked bored.
Tsien reached over and grabbed Hsu, who looked both nonchalant and bored, and shoved him roughly up against the side of one of the sedans.
"You said they would be here an hour ago! Where the hell are they?" Tsien's voice was a low growl.
"Easy," Hsu said, brushing off Tsien's hands and straightening his jacket. "They'll be here. So I was a little off on the time. Telling the future isn't an exact thing. Sometimes you have to wait a little is all." Hsu lit a cigarette, took a drag, and let the smoke drift listlessly from his lips.
Suddenly, the night was broken by the staccato burst of machinegun fire. One of the cars erupted into a fiery orange blossom; the triad goons around it scattering like ants. Gunfire echoed like rolling thunder across the dock as a hailstorm of bullets descended upon the Poison Thorns, cutting them down as they tried to run for cover. Tsien crouched behind his car and looked around wildly. Dozens of figures with automatic rifles were perched on the warehouse rooftops surrounding the cars. Tsien picked one out, then darted up from behind the car and fired off a short burst from his MP5. The figure staggered backwards slightly, and then turned his gun on Tsien. The gangster swore and ducked down as automatic weapons fire punched holes in the hood of his car. He reached over and grabbed Hsu again, his eyes bulging with anger.
"You idiot! They aren't Purists! They're Architects!"
Ghengis X coolly surveyed the battlefield below him. The enemy forces which had tried to ambush his team - probably Ascended, though he couldn't be sure - had been caught off guard and were now being decimated. His men had taken up positions on the rooftops, and with the advantage of higher ground, it was like shooting chimps in a barrel. Actually, it was so easy it was disappointing. Ghengis sighed. He would have liked more of a fight. He'd have to remember to leave a few of them alive for questioning. He wanted to know who employed troops this incompetent.
Suddenly the sound of screaming from the rooftops cut through the din of gunfire. Ghengis looked over to the endmost building, where he had stationed a squad. There was some kind of struggle going on up there. He picked up a pair of low-light binoculars and looked again. He saw what looked like a trio of women, pale and corpselike, tearing into his men with their claws and teeth, leaving a pile of bloody chunks in their wake. The squad on the next building over turned and opened fire on the new attackers. Then the roof exploded in a shower of splinters, and a monstrous creature, sinewy and chitinous with talons like scimitars, clawed its way out of the warehouse and began ripping the soldiers apart.
"Fall back! Fall back! Unit 6 and 7 provide defensive fire." Ghengis barked orders into his comlink. Then he was flung backwards as the roof erupted beneath his feet. He managed to stop himself from sliding off the roof, and then rolled over to face his attacker. A gray, hulking mass of muscle, ten feet high, was striding toward him on metallic legs. The thing held a Hellharrower rifle, and Ghengis could see it bring the weapon to bear on his head. As the abomination approached, Ghengis couldn't help but notice that it was smiling.
Magog loved his job. He really did. He didn't miss his old life back in the forests of ancient China. Sure he had put up a fight when the monster hunters had captured him, and at first he was none too pleased about having a bunch of stuff poked, grafted, and wired into his body, but once he had come to accept it, he found he actually liked it. He was even stronger, faster, and tougher than he was before, and what's more, he had a really, really big gun. And while, given the chance, he would have happily eaten the Architect goons that had enslaved him; he had to admit that working for them wasn't too bad. He got to kill a lot of people. Like the guy he was about to kill now. He was supposed to be some hotshot Buro supersoldier. In a second, he'd be protein paste.
Magog heard the rockets about a moment before they exploded around him. There was a blinding flash of light and a wave of searing heat. The roof disappeared beneath him, and he slammed into the concrete floor below. Magog shook his head and looked up. Racing out of the sky toward him was a gorilla with massive jet turbines and helicopter blades on its back. It had robotic arms and legs, rocket launchers, a variety of cybernetic implants, and a really, really big minigun. The gorilla opened fire, and Magog narrowly rolled aside as the shells tore huge chunks out of the concrete floor. Magog brought his Hellharrower up and grinned. There was something new for him to kill.
"What the hell is going on there?"
Tricia glanced over at Johnny even as she kept her eyes on the carnage unfolding before her. She and Tso were parked behind a warehouse, less than a hundred yards away from the firefight. They had arrived before the fight started, and had watched everything spiral rapidly out of control.
"I don't know," Johnny replied. "Let's go find out."
"Johnny!" Tricia hissed. But it was too late. He had already started creeping along the dock toward the firefight. Tricia cursed softly. The Prof couldn't promise to send anyone to help them out, and Johnny's backup had never shown up. Not only were they on their own, but World War III had broken out on the docks, and now Johnny was heading straight into it.
Tricia sighed, picked up her Mossberg, and set off after him.
Big Brother Tsien emptied the clip of his MP5 into a Buro soldier, making sure to aim for the head. Tsien ejected the clip from his gun, and then felt around his pockets for a reload. He was empty. Next to him, Tommy Hsu was crouched behind the car. He would occasionally stick his head out and fire a few ineffectual shots with his Beretta. The sorcerer would be lucky, Tsien thought, if he didn't live through this.
Suddenly, there was a blast as the back window of Tsien's sedan shattered. Tsien looked up to see Johnny Tso rushing down the dock toward him, shotgun in hand.
"That's it!" Tsien roared. "I have had enough of this!" As he spoke, his skin began to turn purple and warty. His features twisted into something hideous and inhuman, and horns sprouted out of his head. Tsien ripped open the trunk, reached in, and pulled out a machinegun. Grabbing the ammo belt in his other hand, he turned toward Johnny and opened fire.
Johnny dove to the ground amid a shower of splinters as the machinegun tore up the warehouse behind him. Tricia took cover behind a corner as the shooting started, then darted out and unloaded with her Desert Eagle. Tsien was momentarily distracted, and Johnny opened fire with his shotgun. Tsien let out a yelp of pain as the machinegun was shot from his hands. He growled, then turned and ran. As Tsien fled, Tommy Hsu darted off in the other direction down a narrow alley between two warehouses.
"Tricia! Get him!" Tso pointed toward the alley, and then took off after Tsien.
"Johnny!" Tricia yelled. But again, it was too late. Tricia swore under her breath, and then headed down the alley after Hsu.
Things were not going well for Ghengis X. He barked orders into his comlink, trying to rally his troops, but there was too much noise and chaos around him. Over half his command had been wiped out by the abominations, and his only option was to pull back into the Netherworld. In fact, if it hadn't been for the Jammers, they would have all been dead by now. Ghengis couldn't help but notice the irony.
A crude grenade exploded a few feet away, forcing him to dive for cover. He retreated around the corner into a narrow alleyway between two warehouses. He heard someone running toward him. Ghengis turned and came face to face with Tommy Hsu. The two froze for a moment, and then Ghengis brought his Godhammer up. Hsu uttered a short, harsh syllable, and a fireball shot out from his open palm. It caught Genghis squarely in the chest, hurling him to the ground.
Hsu turned toward the voice behind him and unleashed another fireball. Tricia dove to the ground as the crates next to her head exploded in flames. She tried to bring her gun to bear, but Hsu launched another fireball at her. This one struck the ground next to her, and Tricia was flung backwards, dropping her gun. She coughed and looked up, only to see Hsu standing above her, his fist surrounded by a nimbus of flame. Hsu smirked, and then there was a dull thud. Hsu's eyes rolled back in his head as he dropped to the ground. Genghis X stood behind him, blood on the hilt of his Godhammer. He and Tricia looked at each other, then Genghis X pointed his gun directly at her head.
Then the wall next to him exploded, and Ghengis X disappeared beneath Magog and Furious George, both locked in hand-to-hand combat, as they smashed through the side of one warehouse and into another.
Johnny ducked behind one of the few remaining cars and reloaded his Browning as the car windows disintegrated beneath a hail of gunfire. He popped up and squeezed off a few shots, then ducked again as the car was peppered with bullets. One of these days, he thought, he was going to have to learn to be a little less impulsive.
Johnny had followed Tsien, only to run into a firefight between a group of Poison Thorns and a squad of Buro soldiers. Naturally, as soon as he arrived, they had started shooting at him instead of each other. Normally, Johnny would have been able to handle one group or the other, but with so much lead flying, it was tough for him to raise his head, much less get off a shot. Meanwhile, Tsien had disappeared into the darkness.
As Johnny tried to figure out his next move, he heard the sound of submachine gun fire. At first he thought more Thorns had shown up, but then he noticed that the bullets were no longer flying in his direction. Johnny looked up over the hood. Striding through the smoke was a man in a long, dark coat with long brown hair and vaguely Asian features. He had a MAC-10 in each hand, and although he seemed to be randomly spraying bullets, he hit each target with perfect precision. The guns emptied, and the man dropped them, reached into his coat, and spun around, dodging the gunfire that erupted around him. He pulled out a pair of Berettas and opened fire, moving through the combatants with a fluid and seemingly effortless grace. In moments, it was all over. He walked over to Johnny, who rose to meet him.
"Steven, What took you so long?"
Tsien crouched in the shadows and watched the firefight, his face twisted into an angry grimace. Things had gone very, very wrong, and Gao Zhang was going to be furious. It was all that idiot sorcerer's fault. Tsien imagined all the things he would do to him when he next got a hold of him. It wouldn't be pretty. For now, he was going to have to regroup and call for reinforcements. That also wouldn't be pretty.
Tsien happened to glance up at the sign on the warehouse next to him. It read "Ah Long Fireworks." Tsien smirked, then kicked open the door and ducked into the building. Maybe there would be a way to salvage the situation after all.
The first thing Tommy Hsu felt when he came to was a throbbing pain in the back of his head. The next thing he noticed was that his wrists were bound behind him, and that he was sitting on the dock. The third thing he noticed was Johnny Tso, Tricia Kwok, and Steven Wu all standing over him. Johnny knelt down so that they were face to face.
"Why don't we start with what you were doing here tonight?"
"Go to hell."
Johnny lowered his eyes for a moment, his expression thoughtful. Then he smashed Tommy's nose with the butt of his pistol. The sorcerer screamed as blood poured down his face.
"Now," Johnny said, "as I was saying…"
Suddenly, on the other side of the dock, one of the warehouses exploded in a huge, multicolored fireball, followed by skyrockets that shot in all directions into the night sky.
Kallisti watched the explosion on the waterfront from a quarter-mile away, a satisfied smile on her face. The Buro spies were getting easier and easier to fool, and even for the Lotus, the sorcerer had been a rank amateur. It had been a simple matter to alter his divination to her own ends. As a final touch, she had allowed the Jammers to get wind of the Architects' impending arrival. Their response had been entirely predictable.
Kallisti turned her attention across the harbor, in the direction of Tsimshatsui. She had performed her own divinations, and had determined that the key to finding the artifact lay somewhere within. Deeper research had revealed that the Hong Kong Museum of History was holding a special exhibition, borrowed from the mainland, of early Chin dynasty relics, including a collection of records from the court of the first Emperor. After a series of complex statistical analyses and arcane computations, she knew for certain that the answer she sought was in those records. With her opposition now neutralized, retrieving them would be a simple matter.
It was all too easy.
Captain Liu walked along the dockside, surveying the destruction. The waterfront was crammed with fire engines, squad cars, and ambulances, while helicopters circled overhead. It looked like every cop and EMT in the city had converged on the harbor, along with the media, of course. The only thing there weren't any of was survivors. There was, however, a lot of evidence that what Liu had suspected was, in fact, true. He didn't know how they were going to cover it up this time, and he really didn't care. Liu pulled out his cell phone, sighed, and dialed the number again.
It was going to be a long night.
To Live And Die In Tsimshatsui
Lord Shi strode through the darkened hallways of the Hong Kong Museum of History. Following him was a motley group who looked as if they had stepped out of the display cases. Aztec warriors, Inuit shamans, Arabian sorcerers, and medieval knights walked shoulder to shoulder, eyeing their surroundings - and each other - with suspicion. Dressed as they were, they were hardly the discreet force Shi had hoped for, but it had been difficult enough to convince the Monarchs to agree to give him these troops this quickly as it was. There was no time for subtlety. Instead, they had relied on sorcery to get them to the museum undetected. It was also sorcery that had told him where to go, and what to look for. With any luck, he thought, he had arrived first.
"This place is strange and uncertain. We had best be wary before advancing, lest we fall prey to ambush."
Shi frowned and glanced sideways at the hulking warrior standing beside him. The others were used to taking orders without question, but Lord Hawksmoor was used to leading. Huan Ken had "magnanimously" insisted that Lord Shi take him along, and although the thunder champion had pledged his service, Shi could tell Hawksmoor thought that he should be in charge. Unfortunately, it was another thing Shi didn't have time to deal with.
"Move forward, quietly," Shi whispered. According to the map of the museum, the exhibit he was looking for should be in the room just around the corner. But as they approached the hall, several dozen figures suddenly entered the room and blocked their path. The men before them were an odd assortment of monks in traditional garb mixed with rough-looking martial artists in modern dress. Standing in the center of them was a small, wrinkled old man with wispy hair, flanked by a tattooed warrior holding a sword. Lord Shi raised his hand, and his followers came to a halt.
"Who are you, and why do you interfere with our business?" Lord Shi asked.
"We know why you are here. You are not welcome. Go back to your masters and tell them you failed."
"We will not. Stand aside."
"You will not pass."
The two groups faced each other, both waiting for the other to act first. Then Lord Hawksmoor stepped forward.
"You defy the will of Huan Ken, King of the Thunder Pagoda and rightful emperor of the world. If you will not yield, you will be destroyed." Lord Hawksmoor raised his sword, and the tattooed warrior stepped forward to meet him, his sword also raised.
"You want some? Come get it." The warrior let out a yell, and the martial artists behind him echoed his cry. Lord Hawksmoor yelled a battle cry in response, and chaos erupted as the two sides joined in battle.
Kallisti surveyed the darkened room before her. It was long, with three exits, and there were several large display cases lining the walls. A series of smaller cases of varying sizes, each holding bits of jewelry or pottery or other relics, were also scattered around the room. On the right-hand wall, about halfway through the room, she found what she was looking for. Kallisti approached the case. It held a collection of moldy scrolls that would otherwise hold no interest to anyone but historians and scholars. She could hear the sounds of battle from beyond the far exit, but she paid them no heed. Once again, it was a simple matter to allow her enemies to neutralize each other noisily, while she slipped by unnoticed. Within seconds she would have what she needed, and she would be away.
Just as she was about to take the scrolls, Kallisti hesitated. She caught a glimmer of movement out from the opposite side of the room, and then threw herself to the ground as a burst of submachine gun fire rang out. As a line of bullet holes appeared in the case, she rolled and came up into a crouch. Behind her, she saw a dark figure bringing a shotgun to bear. She rolled again, and another display case exploded in a shower of glass as the shotgun roared.
Kallisti scurried across the room into the corner, crouching low behind a display case. The sounds of fighting from the next room echoed through the wall behind her. She quickly began reciting an incantation under her breath, even as the two gunmen moved to flank her. The air around her began to grow hazy as she finished speaking, like asphalt under a summer sun. Then she sprang across the room, out into the open.
The two figures locked onto her as she darted across the floor. Suddenly, a second figure, dark yet hazy, rushed across the room and slammed into the first gunman, sending both of them crashing into a display case. The second gunman was distracted for a moment, and then turned to see several wispy forms rushing toward him. His shotgun blast passed through the phantoms with no effect, and then they swarmed around him, hitting his chest like a battering ram as they dragged him out of the room.
Kallisti dashed for the display case, ignoring the fighting around her. She smashed the glass with a kick, and then reached down to grab the scrolls. Suddenly a loud crack echoed throughout the museum. The floor beneath her feet buckled, and Kallisti was thrown to the ground. As she picked herself up, her legs wobbly, the tip of a walking stick smashed into the side of her head, sending her sprawling across the floor. She staggered backwards as a small man wearing dark glasses and an immaculately tailored suit walked toward her. He rammed the head of the stick into her stomach, causing her to double over, and then brought it sharply into her chin, snapping her head back. He then spun around and smashed the stick into the side of her jaw, hurling her backwards onto a display case, which shattered beneath her.
Bleys Fontaine walked toward Kallisti, preparing to finish her off. Then he stopped suddenly. Although he was blind, he could sense someone moving behind him. The intruder's footfalls were like snowflakes on a river, but nothing that moved across the ground escaped Bleys' notice. He turned slowly to face this new adversary. The Iron Monkey stood before him, his sword held ready.
The two faced each other for a few moments, unmoving. Then they nodded to each other almost imperceptibly, a sign of respect between warriors. Then the Iron Monkey rushed forward, letting out a yell as he attacked.
Tricia Kwok carefully poked her head around the edge of the wall and surveyed the battle before her. In the room beyond, martial artists and monks leapt through the air, dodging fireballs and clashing swords with a bizarre mix of warriors from all throughout history and from all over the world. Both sides were evenly matched, and the fighting was thick and furious. She ducked back behind the wall again and turned to her two companions.
"Well, now what?"
"I don't know," Johnny replied. He turned to the bound form of Tommy Hsu, who was slumped up against the wall, his nose bruised and swollen. "You're sure that we need the records in the room beyond?"
"Yes," Hsu replied peevishly. "That's what everyone is going after."
"I already told you, I don't know. Our instructions were to get the scrolls. I wasn't told why."
"He's lying," Tricia said. "Or at least, he's not telling the whole truth."
"It doesn't matter," Johnny replied. "There's no way we can make it through that mess."
"Maybe, maybe not." Steven said softly. "If you provided a distraction, I might be able to make it through."
"You don't sound too sure of yourself," Tricia replied.
"I don't think we have another option."
Suddenly, there was a loud boom, like a thunderclap, and the whole building shook. Tricia steadied herself, then looked around the corner again. All the combatants were on the ground, stunned. She turned back around, but Steven was already on his feet.
"We have another option," he said, moving. "Quickly, keep me covered." He dashed into the room with Tricia and Johnny right behind him, firing at anyone who got in the gunman's way. Tommy Hsu, forgotten and left behind, crawled off into the darkness.
Rachel McShane picked herself up out of the broken display case. Her attacker lay dead at her feet, a shard of broken glass stuck in its side. Rachel stared at it in morbid fascination. It was somehow indistinct, somehow not quite there. It was like staring through the blades of a ceiling fan. Her eyes couldn't quite focus on it.
Suddenly, she snapped out of her reverie. Fontaine and the Iron Monkey were locked in combat, and the dark-haired woman was unconscious on the floor. But there was someone new in the room. He was wearing a long, dark coat, and rushing for the display case with the scrolls. Even as she saw Phillipe Benoit run into the room from the side entrance, shotgun in hand, she brought her MP5K up to fire. The man dove sideways into a somersault as both she and Benoit fired, and then came up with his arms extended in opposite directions, a MAC-10 in each hand. She hit the floor as he started shooting, then rolled and came up in a crouch. As she did, her eyes locked with the Iron Monkey. She opened fire instinctively, and he cartwheeled across the room, dodging her gunfire. He then leapt into the air and spun around, snapping out a long silver chain. It snaked around her gun, and he pulled it from her hands and flung it across the room. Before she could draw a new weapon, the Iron Monkey spun around again and kicked her square in the chest, flinging her backwards into one of the few remaining unbroken display cases.
Tricia rushed into the exhibit hall with Johnny behind her, covering their rear. The place was a war zone, with bullet holes and broken glass everywhere. Then she saw Steven diving for cover as he traded gunfire with Benoit. She opened fire with her Mossberg, but not quickly enough. Benoit ducked and aimed his shotgun at her, but then had to dive for cover as Steven sent a hail of bullets in his direction.
"Tricia," Johnny said, "The scrolls."
Tricia looked across the room, saw the display case, and began running toward it. Then the Iron Monkey leapt into the air before her, flinging a handful of metal objects before him. Tricia cried out in pain and dropped to the ground, clutching her right leg. A metal caltrop was embedded in her foot.
There was a second loud crack, and the ground shook once again.
Lord Shi backhanded one of the monks, sending him sprawling, then whipped his blade around and brought it down into the monk's stomach. The monk made a strangled gurgle as he died. Then a thunderclap echoed through the room, driving everyone to the ground a second time.
Shi picked himself and looked around wildly. Half the combatants on both sides had fallen. The battle was not yet finished, but the prize was about to slip out of his grasp. He had no choice. Shi gripped his sword, and then ran out of the room.
Steven Wu saw everything as if it were happening in slow motion.
He saw Bleys raise his foot, and he knew what would happen next. Steven braced himself as Bleys stomped on the ground. The building shook, and everyone else fell to the ground. He dropped his empty MAC-10's, drew a pair of Berettas, and opened fire. Three bullets struck Bleys, one in the arm, one in the chest by his shoulder, and one on the left side of his stomach. Bleys staggered backwards as the first two bullets hit him, a look of surprise on his face. With the third one, he dropped to the ground.
Steven saw Tricia drag herself back from the case as the Iron Monkey staggered to his feet, then saw Phillipe drop his empty SPAS-12 and draw a pair of 9mms. Steven leapt sideways in the air, shooting. He felt the recoil with each pull of the trigger, smelled the acrid scent of gunpowder, heard the sound of each empty bullet casing hit the ground, like quarters spilling from a slot machine. He felt Benoit's bullets whiz by his head like angry hornets. He saw Benoit yell and drop his gun as a bullet struck him in the arm, saw him swear and then turn tail and run.
Then Steven hit the ground, and everything seemed to snap back into normal time. He rolled over, dropping the empty clips out of his pistols. Then he felt a hot, stinging pain in his left arm. He looked up and saw Rachel McShane coming toward him, bruised and bloody, with a pistol in each hand. Steven stumbled backwards as Rachel fired, shards of glass and concrete and hot metal flying all around him. He backed into a wall, and Rachel stood above him, her guns pointed at his head.
Steven turned and saw Johnny Tso. Johnny tossed a pistol to Steven, then staggered backwards and dropped to his knees as Rachel's bullet slammed into his chest. Steven caught the pistol, pointed it between Rachel's eyes, and pulled the trigger.
Derek Han ducked as Lord Hawksmoor swung his great sword at Derek's head. Derek spun and kicked him in the chest. Hawkmoor's armor absorbed the blow, but he staggered back nonetheless, and Derek followed with a kick to the jaw, causing him to stumble backwards and drop his guard. Derek swung his sword, but somehow Hawksmoor brought his own sword up to block just in time. The man was as strong as an ox, and Derek was amazed that he could move as fast as he did, considering the weight of his armor and his enormous sword. But it didn't matter. Hawksmoor swung again, and Derek turned aside the strike, kicked him in the head again, and then spun low and swept his legs out from under him. Derek sprung up and raised his sword overhead for the kill.
"Look out! Cops!"
Derek turned to see men with submachine guns swarming toward the room. They were dressed all in black, with Kevlar flak jackets and visored helmets. Derek glanced down at his foe, and then turned and ran. There would be another day.
Everything was happening just a little too fast. Even as Tricia pulled the caltrop out of her foot, she saw Johnny drop to the ground. Then Lord Shi rushed by her. He leapt over the caltrops and attacked the Iron Monkey, whipping his sword so rapidly that the blade moved as if it were light and flexible, rather than solid steel. Tricia crawled over to Johnny, who lay slumped against the wall, and cradled him in her arms. She felt a hot surge of anger rise out of her gut. Not again. Not like it was with Jim.
"Tricia," Johnny said weakly, "I'm ok. Get the scrolls."
Tricia set Johnny down gently and picked herself up, only to feel something slam into her from behind, sending her sprawling to the ground again. She looked up to see Shi Ho Kuai kick the pistol out of Steven's hand, then deliver a series of rapid strikes to his head and abdomen, dropping him to the ground. Then there was a flash of light, and Kuai yelled as his robes burst into flames. Tricia looked up to see that Kallisti was now standing up, her outstretched arm pointed at Kuai.
"Tricia," Johnny said from behind her. "The scrolls."
Tricia and Kallisti looked at the scrolls, and then at each other, and then they both dived for them. They grabbed each other and rolled across the floor. Kallisti screamed as a caltrop stuck into her back. Tricia rolled on top of her, and belted her in the jaw. Kallisti's head snapped back, and she uttered a short, sharp word in a language that Tricia didn't recognize. Tricia punched her again, and then fell backwards, clutching her head as searing pain shot through her skull. Kallisti disentangled herself from Tricia, then reached into the case and grabbed the scrolls. Then she screamed in pain as Lord Shi's sword sliced her hand off at the wrist. As she fell to her knees, the Scrolls rolled toward Tricia. Shi shoved the woman aside and raised his sword above his head. Then he stopped. The barrel of a Tricia's Desert Eagle was pointed right between his eyes. Tricia cocked the hammer, and slowly got to her feet. Her eyes never left his.
"Tricia," Johnny said, "the cops are on the way. We gotta go."
Lord Shi's gaze flicked over Tricia's shoulder. Then he lowered his sword.
"Another time," he said, and fled.
Tricia watched him go, as Steven came over to her. The two of them picked up Johnny, slinging one arm each over their shoulders, and then they took off.
Behind them, Shi Ho Kuai and the Iron Monkey, both wounded, supported each other as they departed. Bleys Fontaine shook his head and opened his eyes in time to see Kallisti open a shimmering portal in midair, step through, and disappear. Bleys heard the sound of the police rushing through the museum, and he began pawing at the ground. Within moments, he had dug a tunnel through the concrete floor, and by the time the police arrived, he was gone.
Captain Liu stood outside the Hong Kong Museum of History, surrounded by dozens of police cars and uniformed officers, listening to reports from the SWAT team inside the building. For the second time tonight there were a pile of bodies and a hell of a lot of destruction, but no suspects and no survivors. Liu worried that it wouldn't be the last before the night was through. Then his cell phone rang.
"Captain, there are three individuals - two men and a woman - in the vicinity of the museum. They are carrying a series of scrolls they stole from the museum. Find them at all costs, but make sure the scrolls remain undamaged."
Then there was the loud roar of an engine being gunned, and a fiery-red sports car rocketed down the street, scattering cops in its wake.
Tricia whipped the steering wheel hard, the back end of the car fishtailing as she made a hard right. Half the cop cars in Hong Kong were on her tail, sirens blaring. Tricia cursed loudly as she swerved to avoid another car.
"We need to get Johnny some help, Tricia," Steven said softly. "He's lost a lot of blood." Tricia cursed as she dodged through traffic. The nearest portal she knew of was in a tenement basement in Mongkok. The problem was that Mongkok was the most crowded place in the whole damn colony. It was not a good place for a high-speed chase.
"What the hell is on those scrolls that's so important?"
"I don't know. It's written in an ancient form of Chinese. I can't read it."
"It doesn't matter, Once we get to the Netherworld we…"
"Tricia!" Steven cut her off. Tricia looked over to see Tommy Hsu heading straight for them in a black sports car. The sorcerer leaned out the window and extended his arm, and a ball of fire shot out of his hand. Tricia spun the wheel hard and turned down a side street, the fireball missing them by inches. It hit the lead cop car, which burst into flames and spun out. Several other cop cars collided with it and each other as they tried to avoid plowing into the flaming car. Then Hsu's car smashed into them at high speed, and for the second time that night, a brilliant fireball lit up the night sky.
Interlude - The Junkyard
"How is he?"
"He's stable," the Prof replied. "The bullet didn't hit any vital organs. He'll be ok, but it's a good thing you got here when you did. He just needs some rest" The Prof walked over to her worktable, where the scrolls were spread out. A young, lean Asian woman, her long dark hair piled into a braid on her head, was poring over them.
"What have you found?"
Ting Ting frowned. "It's a collection of old court records, dating back to the Chin dynasty, over two hundred years before my own time. It's mostly a collection of imperial decrees, proclamations, and so on."
"Why would anyone care about this stuff, much less kill for it?" Johnny asked. "If this dates from before the earliest open juncture, then there's no way to use any of this information to change anything. What's the point?"
"I'm not sure," Ting Ting replied, "but there is something."
"What is it?" Tricia asked. Ting Ting pointed to one of the scrolls.
"This passage here talks about… well, there isn't really a modern translation. The closest description would be "an item of great mystical power." Apparently it was given as some kind of tribute to the Emperor. Only it was too powerful, or dangerous, for him to keep at the imperial court."
"What was it, and what did it do?"
"I'm not sure. The whole passage is pretty vague. All it says for certain is that the Emperor ordered it to be taken to a place called the Temple of Celestial Mercy, where it would be kept safe."
"Do you know where that is?" The Prof asked. Ting Ting frowned again.
"No. I've never heard of it."
"I have." Steven said quietly. "It's in a very remote location. Few people ever go there."
"Do you think this is why everyone was after these scrolls?" Tricia asked.
"I don't know," Ting Ting replied, "but I can't think of any other reason that anyone would want them."
"Then we'll have to get this thing, whatever it is, before anyone else does."
"How do we know it's even still there?" Steven asked.
"We don't," the Prof said, "but it's all we have to go on. We have to assume that if everyone wanted these scrolls, it's because they believed it would lead them to this artifact. You'll have to move quickly. Everyone will be coming after these scrolls, which means that you're going to have to get to the temple before they get to you." The Prof walked over to a workstation and began typing. "I've got a database that contains the locations of various portals throughout the Netherworld. Needless to say, it's not complete, but I'll try to find a portal that opens as close to the temple as possible."
"But without these scrolls, how is anyone going to find us?" Tricia asked. "They don't know about this temple, so they won't know where we're going."
The Prof turned around in her chair to face Tricia. "They'll know. Mark my words. Just as they knew where to search for the scrolls, they'll eventually home in on you. It won't be hard for them to guess that you came here. The Netherworld is full of spies, and you won't be able to move unnoticed. The rest of them will figure out where you're going, and they'll follow you until you get there. The question isn't whether or not they'll come after you, it's whether you can get away with this artifact before they catch up with you."
Tricia, Johnny, Steven, and Ting Ting stood on a craggy ridge, overlooking the wooded valley below them. The Temple of Celestial Mercy rose up from a tiled courtyard; its painted walls and darkly lacquered tiles standing out in stark contrast to the crisp blue sky. Despite traveling with little rest, it had taken them two weeks to get here. They had proceeded warily, watching out for military and police patrols, as well as for other, less obvious, hazards. Now that they had arrived, the tranquility of the temple seemed strangely unnerving.
Big Brother Tsien watched the Dragons approach the Temple with an unpleasant smirk on his face. He had followed these miserable bastards for almost two weeks now through this godforsaken country, and the trip hadn't been pleasant. Needless to say, Gao Zhang had not been pleased with his failure. Only the fact that Tsien was still his best operative in 2002, and, truth be told, the fact that he and Gao were in different junctures, had saved his skin. However, Gao had decided that Tsien wasn't up to the task on his own, so he had sent along reinforcements: a bunch of hollow-eyed, pasty-skinned eunuchs leading a procession of walking corpses, a gang of sword-wielding thugs, and the demon; a red-skinned, four-armed, monstrosity known as Four Burning Fists. Between the constant smell of sulfur and rotting flesh, it had not been a fun road trip.
Tsien hefted his newest weapon, a squat, black, combat shotgun with a bulky, cylindrical clip. Not only would he take care of things for Gao Zhang today, but he would also settle matters with Johnny Tso once and for all.
The interior of the temple was a cavernous octagon, ringed by evenly spaced, red-painted pillars that supported a second-floor walkway which ran around the inside perimeter of the temple. Paper lanterns provided dim illumination, casting long shadows over dozens of yellow and orange-robed monks who sat in silent meditation. The monks paid no heed to the four strangers who now stood at the end of a path that led to a shrine on the other side of the room. The shrine itself was made of heavy stone, and featured intricate carvings that depicted images of dragons and other mythological creatures. Various figurines were clustered atop the shrine. The largest of them, representing Guanyin, the goddess of compassion, seemed to look down on the strangers in her temple.
The four dragons looked at each other uncomfortably. They had come ready to fight demons and abominations, not to steal a religious relic from a bunch of monks. The fact that no one was trying to stop them was disconcerting. Finally, Johnny started walking toward the shrine, and the others followed behind him. Before they could reach the shrine, an ancient, white-haired monk stood up and blocked their path.
"You may go no further."
Johnny bowed his head. "Revered father, we mean no disrespect. We come with a warning. You protect an ancient relic. There are others coming who wish to steal it."
"That is none of your concern. You are not welcome here. Leave now."
"You don't understand," Tricia said, cutting in. "These people coming won't take no for an answer. They're powerful, and they can't be allowed to get this…thing, whatever it is. We came here to stop them."
"You mean you came here to steal it yourselves." All four of them turned as Derek Han stepped out of the shadows, sword in hand.
"Who are… you were at the museum!" Johnny said. A scowl crossed Derek's face.
"You managed to get away with the scrolls. I knew you'd eventually be coming here."
"Then you also know who's coming after us," Tricia said. "There's no way you're going to be able to protect this thing by yourself, and we can't let the others get a hold of it. We have to move it somewhere else."
"Lies," Derek spat. "You think I'm going to let you anywhere near it? Think again."
"You think you're going to stop us?" Johnny stepped forward, and instantly, all the monks stood as one. They were all armed with a variety of weapons. Johnny froze in place.
"Now," Derek said, "you die."
"That's the best idea I've heard all day." Everyone turned to see Big Brother Tsien standing in the doorway, surrounded by a phalanx of priests, warriors, and walking corpses.
"You first, Johnny." Everyone dove for cover as Tsien opened fire. The figurines on the shrine disintegrated as the shotgun boomed, and then the monks leapt into combat with the walking corpses. Johnny came up in a roll, a pistol in each hand, but the melee was so thick it blocked his line of sight to Tsien. Then he ducked as one of the priests threw a lightning bolt at his head. The blast tore a chunk out of the wall behind him, and then Johnny snapped off a shot, hitting the priest right between the eyes.
There was a loud scream, and then one of the monks came flying through the air, slamming into Johnny and knocking him to the ground. Johnny got up and looked over the monk. Not only was he dead, but his corpse was charred and smoldering as well. Johnny looked up to see Four Burning Fists bounding through the crowd toward the shrine. Two monks tried to block his way, only to be flung aside. Four Burning Fists leapt up to the Shrine. He drove a massive, flaming fist into its base. The stone crumbled, revealing a hollow chamber inside. Four Burning Fists smashed it again, and a polished wooden box, engraved with the Chinese characters for fire, darkness, thunder, and ice, tumbled out onto the floor.
Four Burning Fists reached down for the box, and then stumbled backwards as a shotgun blast slammed into him. Tricia walked towards him, methodically pumping and firing her Mossberg. The demon stumbled backwards as each blast hit him squarely in the chest. When the shotgun was empty, Tricia dropped it and drew her Desert Eagle. She fired on Four Burning Fist's head at point-blank range repeatedly, and the demon dropped to the ground with a loud crash. Trisha stepped over to where his head lay and pointed her weapon between his eyes. Suddenly, one of his arms shot up and grabbed her by the throat. Tricia let out a strangled gasp and dropped her pistol as the Demon rose to his feet.
"Foolish girl. That didn't work last time either, did it?" Four Burning Fists said with an infernal bellow as he raised one of his arms to strike. Then he let out an inhuman roar as Ting Ting appeared behind him and chopped his arm off. Ting Ting drove her sword into the demon's side, and Four Burning Fists dropped Tricia and roared. Staggering, he backhanded Ting Ting, sending her flying across the room. Four Burning Fists roared again and brought another arm up to crush Tricia, who was skittering backwards across the floor. Then Derek Han leapt through the air and kicked the demon in the chest, sending him flying backwards into the wall, which cracked under the impact.
Suddenly, tendrils of fire whipped through the combatants, burning monk and priest alike. The crowd by the entryway parted, and a throng of butterfly-winged knights, Aztec assassins, and fire-throwing Arabian mystics came pouring into the temple. As they rushed into the fray, Lord Shi strode into the temple, ignoring the chaos around him, and spied the wooden box on the ground.
"The Legacy," he whispered in awe.
Shi walked toward the wooden box, but stopped as he saw Tricia scrabbling around on the ground nearby. He smiled, and drew his sword.
"I told you there would be another time."
"I've heard that before, jerk." Tricia scissored her legs between Shi's and twisted, knocking him to the ground. She kicked him in the jaw, rolled sideways, and grabbed her Desert Eagle. She brought it up to fire, but Shi lashed out with his sword. Tricia let out a yell of pain as the blade sliced her hand and sent the gun flying. Lord Shi got up, his face a mask of rage, and raised his sword to strike. He brought it down, only to have it blocked by Derek's sword. Derek twisted the blade aside, elbowed Shi in the face, spun around, and kicked him in the gut, sending him flying.
Derek turned to see Lord Hawksmoor facing him from ten paces away, sword in hand. Derek almost smiled, and then he rushed toward the armored warrior with a mighty yell. Hawksmoor waited, his muscles tensed, and lightning began to crackle along the blade of the sword. Then, just as Derek reached him, he let out a mighty yell and swung his sword with all his strength. There was a loud thunderclap that momentarily deafened everyone nearby, and Derek was flung to the ground.
Lord Shi picked himself up and wiped the blood away from his nose. He spotted the Legacy lying on the ground nearby. Shi darted for it, and nearly had it in his hands when he heard a loud yell off to his side. He ducked and rolled instinctively, and Ting Ting went flying over his head. She landed, and their swords clashed. Meanwhile, Tricia somersaulted forward and grabbed her Desert Eagle. She came up and blasted a thug at point-blank range, and then backed up toward one of the pillars where Steven was standing, shooting anything that got too close.
"Where's Johnny?" Tricia yelled over the din of gunfire and swords clashing as she reloaded her shotgun.
"Over there," Steven replied. Tricia looked over to see Johnny and Tsien weaving between the pillars, trading gunfire. She looked up to the dark recesses of the second floor walkway as something caught her eye. For a moment, she could swear she had seen a tiny glint of light within the shadows.
Phillipe Benoit peered out cautiously from behind the pillar. The woman's attention was once again focused on the battle raging around her. That had been too close. He had gotten careless. It was important to maintain his focus. Benoit hefted his sniper rifle and took aim once again, making sure to stay back in the shadows. His crosshairs settled squarely on Steven's head. Benoit steadied himself, made sure his aim was perfect, and suppressed his anger. This was the gunman who had bested him at the museum. No one had ever done that. No one had ever shamed him like that. Benoit could not live with that. The stain on his honor had to be erased. Benoit exhaled and tightened his finger on the trigger.
Kallisti looked down on the Temple of Celestial Mercy, a paradox cube floating beside her. She looked pale and drawn. Her face was devoid of emotion, but her eyes were dark pits, seething with malice. There was an ugly stump where her right hand had been. She uttered a sharp command, and the cube sped toward the temple and began to circle overhead. The air grew thick as Kallisti spoke words of power, and the cube began to circle the temple ever faster, each revolution tighter than the last. As the cube spun it began to glow more and more brightly, until finally it was too painful to look at. Kallisti's eyes never wavered.
Inside the temple, there was a low humming sound that rapidly increased in pitch until it was a high, shrieking whine, and everyone stopped fighting as the hairs on their arms stood on end. Suddenly the floor exploded as a huge shaft of light erupted from the ground, instantly vaporizing everyone caught within it. Benoit jerked back as he pulled the trigger, momentarily blinded. Electricity arced out of the column, and Benoit had no time to scream before he disintegrated.
Johnny ducked behind a pillar as the shaft of light began to move around the temple. Panic broke out as chunks of the ceiling came crashing down, and lightning lashed out from the column, destroying everything it touched. Johnny looked over and saw Tricia and Ting Ting crouched below the walkway. Tricia was cradling Steven in her arms, and there were bloodstains on his jacket. Johnny scurried around the perimeter of the temple, dodging fleeing monks and swordsmen, until he had rejoined his companions.
"Steven?" Johnny said.
"I'll be ok," Steven said weakly. His breathing was quick and shallow.
"He was hit in the shoulder," Tricia said. "Johnny, what the hell is that?"
"I don't know, but I think we need to get the hell out of here." Johnny scanned the temple, looking for a way out. The only exit was choked with combatants, all trying to escape the temple simultaneously. Then he saw the Legacy, lying forgotten amidst the rubble. Johnny looked at the column of light, and then at the box again. He turned back to Tricia.
"Keep him safe."
"I'll be right back."
Johnny darted out toward the Legacy. He reached down and felt the polished wood beneath his fingertips, Then Tsien slammed into him. He and the demon went rolling across the temple floor, and the Legacy skidded off in the opposite direction. Johnny got a brief glimpse of Lord Shi running toward it before Tsien punched him in the gut, knocking him to the floor. Tsien turned to run, but Johnny grabbed his ankle and pulled the demon off his feet. Tsien lashed out with his other leg, kicking Johnny in the face. Johnny let go of Tsien's leg, and Tsien scrabbled to his feet and ran for the Legacy.
Just as Lord Shi grabbed it, Derek Han leapt through the air, spun around, and kicked him in the jaw. Shi hit the ground, and the box went flying out of his grasp. Without warning, Lord Hawksmoor slammed into Derek from behind, sending him sprawling. Hawksmoor reached down to grab the Legacy, but Ting Ting appeared and kicked it out of his reach. He swung his sword at her, but Ting Ting blocked it, then smashed him in the face with the hilt of her sword. He staggered back, and Ting Ting snapped a kick into his stomach, bowling him over.
"Look out!" Johnny yelled.
Tsien brought a chunk of stone down on Ting Ting's skull, and she crumpled to the ground. Johnny looked around frantically, and then spotted Tricia's Mossberg lying nearby. As Tsien again raised the rock above his head, Johnny rolled, grabbed the shotgun, and brought it to bear.
The demon turned to look at Johnny, a snarl on his face.
Johnny pulled the trigger, and the blast hit Tsien squarely in the chest, flinging him across the room. Tsien let out a howl as he flew into the shaft of light and was incinerated.
Johnny ran over to Ting Ting and rolled her over gently. There was blood in her hair, and she was moaning weakly, but she was still alive. Her eyes fluttered weakly, then widened. Johnny looked up to see Lord Hawksmoor standing over him, sword poised to strike. Suddenly, Hawksmoor looked up, and he forgot about Johnny as Derek came barreling toward him.
Johnny watched as Hawksmoor and Derek moved away from him, both of them intent on killing each other. Then he looked over and spied the Legacy, lying just within his reach. He reached over for it, when an armored foot stepped down on his fingers. Johnny cried out in pain, and reached for the shotgun, but Lord Shi backhanded him. Johnny rolled over, dazed, and Lord Shi reached down and picked up the Legacy. His eyes were wide, and there was the hint of a smile on his lips as he held it over his head.
"It is mine!"
Suddenly, a lightning bolt lashed out from the shaft of light. Lord Shi screamed as it pitched him across the temple and into the shrine, which was engulfed in a fireball. When the smoke and dust cleared, there was no trace left of him, or of the Legacy.
Johnny shook his head, and then helped Ting Ting to her feet as Tricia came over to them, half-carrying Steven with her. "This way," she said, motioning toward the gaping hole in the wall where the shrine once stood. Tricia climbed up the pile of debris and stepped through the hole. Johnny passed Steven and Ting Ting off to her, and then climbed through it himself. The last thing he saw before leaving was Derek Han and Lord Hawksmoor still battling it out, even as the Temple collapsed around them.
The four of them ran from the temple into the surrounding hills. When they were finally far enough away, they turned back to look at the temple. The roof was gone, and the shaft of light shot straight through the ceiling and up into the heavens. They watched as it grew wider and brighter. There was again a high-pitched whine, and the four of them had to avert their eyes as the shaft became too painful to look at. There was a loud boom, and when the four of them looked back, the shaft of light was gone. Where the temple once stood, only scattered piles of charred rubble remained.
Epilogue - China, A.D. 75
Kallisti looked down on the Temple of Celestial Mercy. It was quiet and tranquil in the moonlight. All she had needed to know was where the Legacy had been hidden, and the Dragons had answered that question for her. Naturally, they had used the first portal they could find. Fortunately, it had led to 2002, and not here. Once they had led her to the temple, it had been none too difficult to find a portal to A.D. 75. Of course, she had to make sure that all the agents of the Lotus at the Temple were dead first, lest one of them make it back to Gao Zhang and tell him where the Legacy was located. Fortunately, the primal chaos she had summoned had mostly taken care of that for her, and so Zhang would never know. A few of the others had survived, and Kallisti supposed that they might eventually think to come here, but by then, they would be too late.
Kallisti looked at the Legacy with a grim sense of satisfaction. The monks had been vigilant guardians, and retrieving it - without killing any of them - had not been easy. Not that killing them would have mattered to her, but it was essential that she leave no trace of her passing. After all, if they suspected someone had intruded in the temple, they would no doubt check on the Legacy and in doing so, they would discover a box of polished wood, engraved with the Chinese characters for fire, darkness, thunder, and ice, and containing nothing. And while the paradoxes that would create were fascinating to contemplate, there was work to be done.