The War Going On Beneath Us

Ice was a train runner, the first I’d ever known. She’d picked her own name. We dated for a while, and that was when she showed me the wars.

It was because I asked her about the train disruptions.  Because- it’s not like they’re overseeing the bloody London Underground, so how hard can it be? Okay, maybe one major disruption is okay, but three in a month? Seriously? What were you guys doing, I asked.

And her response was, “Do you want to see?”

Like the fool I was, I said yes. Hindsight, 20/20, all that jazz.

There was a hazmat suit involved, markings from the SCDF still on it. “Borrowed,” she said, and insisted I put it on before we reached the tunnels.

Marching. I remember the sound of marching. She held my hand in the darkness of the empty-station-at-3AM as we stepped over the yellow line and she touched the glass of the barrier doors. The entire row vanished, all down the length of the station, hundreds of metres of it. I looked into the cavern that opened in front of me, over the lip of the chasm, and held back a breath.

Faces hidden, clad in battle-scarred armour and purple livery, they trooped past in columns. Measured, almost mechanical movements, like CGI from one of the Star Wars movies–almost convincing enough to be real, but not quite, hovering at the edge of uncanny valley, about to tip over. I looked down the platform, and saw nothing but endless lines of soldiers coming towards us, marching down the tunnel and out of the station. “Who are they?” I asked.

“Soldiers of the purple line,” she said.

“Soldiers of the purple line,” I repeated, as if that would magically give it meaning.  Continue reading

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#fridayflash: The Siege Of Katong

The buses are running ragged. She feels it in the heat that rises from the floor of her aging Scania and smothers her legs, in the stuttering whine of its engine as it struggles over the pitted surface of the Causeway. The refugees are grimly quiet, white-knuckled on the handgrips and railings. The crying has petered out to the occasional sniffle of a child’s still-running nose.

The first thing she does once they hit the disembarkation terminal is to run for a washroom break, threading between the murmuring, empty-eyed refugees weighed down by possessions and grime and shell-shock. Then a cup of kopi, tasteless and scalding hot, while the Scania’s engine cooled in a series of pinging noises. A twenty minute break, and then they’d be back, across the closed border and into the beseiged East. Her shift doesn’t end until eight hours later.

In the crush of bodies filling the terminal she nearly knocked over one of the new drivers-John? Jacob? She can’t remember all their names. In the past weeks there had been a boom of drivers turning up with buses in tow. Many were kids, not even old enough to make the legal driving age, back when those things still mattered. Some of them showed up just days after their ride had came to them, before they had even properly bonded with the passenger vehicles.

Funny. Back in the day riders had mostly had fast flashy rides, million-dollar cars they otherwise would never have dreamt of owning. These days, it was all about the buses, the heavy vehicles, the big movers. And armoured vehicles. There were rumours, she heard, of a girl who had bonded with a Soviet-era T-34. A Russian tank? Why not, she had thought, when she heard. Why not? Yesterday she had seen the remains of a HDB block of flats in southern Mountbatten, a charred gutted wreck with a few fragments of glass clinging to twisted windowframes. An old schoolfriend had lived there once, she thought, or maybe she was remembering wrongly. She wondered if the interim Town Council had managed to evacuate the block before it was shelled.

Why not?

The worst part, she thinks, is having to close the doors, having to drive away with the lucky last few on the steps plastered against the doors, while those left behind run after her, slapping on the sides of the bus, screaming. Her Scania knows not to run over the ones who jump in front, trying to stop it from leaving, but she still sees their desperate, pleading faces when she closes her eyes at night. Once a mother pushed her young son into the last gap just as the doors were closing, and the boy screamed for her all the way back to the terminal until he had no tears left, just empty, hoarse sobbing. One of the terminal staff took him to the shelter; she didn’t know what happened to him after that.

Her Scania has a war-wound down its side, a big grey gouge left by the angry paw of a roadside mine. It worries her deeply because spirit-rides are supposed to be immune to that. It’s the only way they can get in and out of the blockade, and across the closed border to Malaysia, through metres’ worth of solid concrete walls. But having to fend off the constant attacks have been wearing them thin. She knows the qi holding these things together is not inexhaustible, and she doesn’t know what will happen when that runs out. Her baby is becoming mortal, just like the rest of them.

She drains the last of the flat, torrid coffee and swallows away the bitter aftertaste. Time’s up. She gets in, turns the ignition key, and prepares to head back into the hell she once called home.

London Bridge

Jen Yong looked left and right at the thready reams of traffic and balled her hands into fists inside her jumper. “Do I have to do this?”

“Come on man, a promise is a promise. Don’t pull out on me like this,” Jay said.

She blew out a breath, and then sighed, shrugging into the massiveness of her outer clothes. Whatever.

They jogged across the bridge. Not because they were in any particular hurry, but because it was 3AM and it was cold, breaths almost-but-not-quite fogging in the damp air. Tarmac-hugging traffic occasionally made its way across, and the roll of its wheels sent tremors across the entire bridge structure. It looked like proper pavement under their feet, nice solid and grained, but wear and tear at the places they joined betrayed the wooden paneling underneath. Like onionskin, peeling the surface away to uncover the reality underneath. The world under us is much less solid than we’d like to believe, she thought.

Jay crouched over the fissure where the bridge split in half, and looked downwards, right down the sandwich of wood and metal beams, to where the Thames rushed below. “This is it,” he said, and pulled the small pouch out of his jacket pocket. Penny. Penknife.

She looked over her shoulder at the guardpost, where she imagined strange men in uniforms were closely monitoring their every move from hidden CCTV cameras that were undoubtedly hidden all over the bridge. “Don’t you worry,” he said, without looking up.

“I don’t want to get deported from this country,” she said. “It’d be a bit hard to finish my degree, if I get deported.”

Continue reading

All Of The Lights

Chase had to stop for breath at the mouth of the subway exit, sucking in air as though he had forgotten how to do it automatically. Breathe in. Breathe out. His heart felt like some untameable thing in his chest, struggling for its own freedom, but he knew it wasn’t because he had very nearly run all the way here.

He had come by train, underground, and it had emptied into a station liberally and shockingly coated with advertising over every available surface, bodies darting between walls, pillars, seats and floors plastered with printed vinyl, screaming pictures of fast cars and superstars and all of the lights. A thousand insects singing in his ears. Skin itching, he had hurried upwards, towards station control, opting to leap the stairs three at a time to get away from the melee. He would not have felt more soiled if they had spread out pictures of naked women instead.

Then, at the moment he’d crossed the ticket gantries, he’d been hit in the shoulder by an irate guardian spirit.

The City Hall Interchange was always sharply dressed, pressed shirt and pressed pants and shiny shoes, yet for all the decorum there always seemed to be something off-kilter with him: The pants not fitted right, the shirt too loose and dots of perspiration beginning to betray themselves through the back. He kept his hair trendy, always in the latest style, and if you passed him by while commuting—if you could actually see him—you might have bought into his lie and thought he was a fresh graduate. But in actual association he looked like those men who would dress young and act hip but ended up looking exactly what they were: forty year olds who had smoked one cigarette too many.

Chase could not have avoided him. It would have been absolutely impossible to avoid him. So he had let himself be stopped.

“Well? What are you guys going to do about it?” A question, without pre-empt. But Chase knew exactly what he was talking about. Even someone like him—who had spent a great deal of effort to keep out of the loop without actually resorting to blocking calls and unsubscribing from feeds—knew about it, fragmentarily: in pieces of alerts and newsflashes that somehow stuck in his head. Guardian missing, unexplained, geomancic pancaking, unprecedented, possible peril, unknown. He should have paid more attention, but he didn’t.

He had shrugged in response. “Don’t know. That’s beyond my pay grade.”

“Don’t lie. You all are such a small group. You must have heard something.”

“Not me. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t hang around the others much.” A girl had passed him by, then, and they had made a brief, fleeting moment of eye contact.

The City Hall Interchange made a sound that could have been mistaken for a laugh. “Yeah, we all noticed. Still cannot get over the break-up, huh?”

He had wondered, then, what the passing girl had seen, a crazy guy talking to himself and shuffling his feet in the middle of the MRT station, and he had felt a sudden stab of anger. “Shut up,” he had said, and stepped around the City Hall Interchange. “Don’t you have a job to do?”

He had hurried off into the depths of the mall, and behind him the City Hall Interchange had laughed and called out, “So you try avoid everybody, but the moment your boss calls you come running back, huh? Like a little bitch.”

“Shut up,” he had mumbled and threaded his way through the Friday lunch crowds, down subterranean mall corridors that twisted like coils of intestines, infested with storefronts like insect hives, everything blending into one anonymous eye-burning smear of places that he no longer recognised. Fast cars, superstars. All of the lights.

Continue reading

100 Word Fiction #15: Taxi Fare

“Call a cab,” the woman said.

He looked. It was a number on a scrap of paper. “That’s it? You’re not going to help me?”

The witch patiently rubbed her papery fingers together. “Taxis are my eyes and ears. They prowl the streets everywhere, all the time, even in the night when the buses are asleep and the trains rest in their lairs. And they’re cheap, too: they don’t require much in return. Just the occasional sacrifice, the passenger who boards and is never seen again. I handle that, you don’t have to do anything. Much easier than cats.” She gestured at the piece of paper. “You want to find the girl? They’re your best bet.”

Microfic: The Proper Use of Phraseology

Happy 2011! This year, I resolve to write & post more fiction on this blog. Let’s start here with something small, and perhaps a little silly.

***

The coffee cup banged so hard on the desk its contents sloshed out and liberally splattered over her keyboard. She swore a lot louder than necessary.

Alice peered over the cubicle wall. “Something wrong?”

“It’s that Angus from Accounting! He’s been impersonating me all day. I can’t take it. Some of us actually have work to do!”

Alice rolled her headful of eyes. “Ignore him. Just let the little turn waste his time on pranks.”

“He told my supervisor that the polytechnic project would be done by the end of the week. How am I supposed to tell him that it’s actually going to take a month?”

“Just tell him? Your sup should know better than to take unverified stuff when there’s a shifter in the office.”

“I can’t work like this, Alice. I just can’t.”

“Then talk to HR, they deal with shit like this. Or quit. It’s better than suffering.”

“Oh come on, darling, there’s really no need to talk to those sticks in the mud over a harmless prank, is there? And quitting, oh, that’s such a silly notion.”

She and Alice both looked up in shock. Dan was standing over the cubicle partition, wearing a lizardy expression that did not belong on his face, as whole and corporeal as he had been when they’d first met him. But Dan was gone. He had sublimed back to his own dimension, some weeks past.

“Angus,” she said very slowly as memories threatened her inner calm and an indescribable coldness boiled within her, “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but–

“For the love of the gods. Please revert back to me.”

Dragonfly Wings

“You know, I was just wondering, when did you get yours?”

The receptionist’s question startled Yan; the clinic’s waiting room was silent and empty save for the two of them. The room was cold and smelt like most clinics do: the tang of disinfectant, air-conditioning, and a professional sense of despondency. Yan rubbed her calves together to generate warmth, not sure what exactly the receptionist was asking. “When did I get my what?”

“Your fangs.”

Of course. Yan folded her fingers together and tried to remember. “Um.”

The receptionist held up a hand. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. It’s a very personal question. I just wanted to ask.”

“No, no–it’s okay. Um. It’s just that I can’t remember exactly. I think I was about eleven, maybe? I was an early bloomer. Sort of.”

“Oh, that’s not so early,” the receptionist chirped. The placard on the table, Yan noticed, said that her name was Maria. “These days we have kids manifesting as early as nine. It’s just a sign of the times.”

Yan automatically smiled in return, the corners of her lips going up like a reflex. She hesitated before replying: that part of her life was really fuzzy, and she had difficulties talking about it sometimes. “I’m really not that sure of how young I was when the fangs erupted, actually. I didn’t tell anyone at that time. I was too scared.”

“Well, that’s perfectly normal,” Maria said. Her eyes were warm and human and had crow’s feet decorating the edges, not something that Yan had expected. “I flipped out when mine erupted, and I was a lot older than you, plus my big brother was already moulting away, making the transition to full vamp. I still found it terrifying. Are you the oldest child in your family, dear?”

Yan nodded. When she volunteered no other information Maria pressed on: “I noticed that you came alone. Do you live alone?

“Oh. No, I don’t. The friend I live with has some other appointment.”

“You don’t live with your family?”

Yan shook her head.

Maria nodded. “I see.” There wasn’t much else to say, not even for her. Awkward silence settled.

The nurse came out at that moment to rescue Yan by saying that the doctor would see her now. Yan gave an apologetic smile to Maria, and wished that she had half the confidence in the smile Maria gave back.

#

Dr. Shankar was middle-aged, soft-spoken and neatly kept. Every bit a doctor, except that he gestured a lot with his hands as he spoke, a habit Yan found unsettling. Right now they were making small unconscious circles in the air as he said, “You understand that there is no turning back from this, right?”

Yan nodded.

He raised his eyebrows as his hands momentarily stilled. “You do know what that means?”

“I do, I do. No more daylight, I have to take daily blood supplements…” She waved her hands, suddenly flustered. “Look, Dr. Shankar, I’ve
done all the research on induced moulting. I know what I’m getting into.”

“That’s good, that’s good. I’m obliged to ask, you see, because of the nature of the procedure. It’s a big deal, and as a doctor, and a member of society, I need to make sure that you’re absolutely committed to this.”

“I am.”

“You’re not doing this for the money, are you?”

“Money?”

“Cures for the Blight go for five figures, sometimes six, depending on who’s buying. There’s a very large but profitable black market that sells moulting serum from nymphs to those who can afford it.” His index finger fluttered like a dragonfly’s wing even as he pointed it at her. “You’re not caught up in any of that, are you?”

“No, no. Absolutely not.” Yan nodded as firmly as she could. “Trust me, Doctor, I know what I’m doing. It’s for a good reason.”

“Well, good. If you’re sure, then we can start.” He gestured her towards the door at the back of his office, leading to the procedure room.

“Please. This way.”

As she got to the door, she hesitated. “I mean, this was going to happen naturally at some point anyway, right?”

The doctor stopped in his tracks, surprised. “No, not necessarily. It’s not uncommon for a nymph to never go through the full moulting process. It varies from person to person.” His stare turned into a frown. “Is that going to be a problem?”

“No,” she replied quickly, even though her heart was pounding in the doorway like a quake in her chest. “It makes no difference to me.” And she moved into the procedure room before he could say anything further.

She found the operating gown already prepared for her behind a green curtain. As she changed she could hear Dr. Shankar and his nurse-aide prepping outside, a sound of running water and metal on metal. It was colder here than in the waiting room.

Dr. Shankar was giving quiet instructions to the nurse as she emerged, his gloved hands still making those little endless circles in the air.

“Why do you do that?” she asked, nervousness overriding years of being told to keep her mouth shut.

The doctor laughed at this. “I like to keep my hands moving. Just the feeling keeps me tethered to the moment. Keeps me feeling alive. It’s very important to me, especially in this line of work.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I know that sounds like nonsense now, but you’ll understand better after the procedure. Don’t worry, my hands are very steady.” He gestured to the operating bed. “Please, lie down.”

The bed was warm, at least–padded with some sort of absorbent disposable foam. Yan laid her cheek on the headrest and closed her eyes, wishing she weren’t trembling. The doctor’s hands moving across her back raised goose pimples on her flesh, like they were the touch of a metal instrument, or an alcohol swab. Or maybe that was what those light, cold touches were: she couldn’t tell which was which. She shivered.

“Try to relax,” he said.

Yan suddenly found herself wondering if she would miss all this: the cold, the shivering and the goosepimpling, the adrenaline, and then she realized in a moment of sudden panic that she wasn’t ready for this at all–

The first needle pierced her skin.

#

The taxi driver had the late-night Chinese talk radio on, and two ladies were having a garrulous argument about vampirism in today’s youth. The older one was insisting, very vehemently, that it was the fault of all the Western movies that young people were watching, the trashy music they were listening to, the decadent books they were reading. Yan wished she could tune her out, but the new hearing she had was filling her head with sound at an impossibly loud volume. She couldn’t block it out. Defeated, Yan slid lower in the PVC-lined seat and close her eyes. The streetlamps made her eyes burn if she stared at them too long.

Beside her Lisa muttered, “This is the stupidest debate I’ve ever heard. I can feel my I.Q. points dropping just listening. If they start raving about the Blight being karmic payback for vamps, I might have to kill something.” Then she looked over at Yan, noticed her silence, and stopped talking.

The taxi stopped just shy of the sharp glittering lights flooding the hospital lobby. “Shall I wait here for you?” Lisa asked. Yan nodded. She was glad for her housemate’s company, but she needed to do this alone.

Visitor hours were over, but her sister’s ward was on the second floor, and her window directly faced the road. It was time to test out her new abilities, to check that the procedure had fully worked.

Yan crouched slightly, and leapt upwards.

Soo Ling was only half-asleep in her darkened room with all the empty beds. The whirring of the ceiling fans drowned out the electronic hum of her bed monitor and the slow drip of the saline bag hooked to her arm. “Yan?” She asked, staring at the window, trying to push herself upright. “Am I dreaming?”

Yan clambered uneasily over the window ledge and landed on the floor with a complete lack of grace. She stood and dusted herself off. That jump hadn’t felt like anything at all– it reminded her of taking the standing broad jump tests years ago in school, just with a harsher landing. Nothing at all. “Maybe you are.”

“Why are you here?”

Yan reached into her pocket and retrieved the vial of serum. When she first saw it, she had been shocked at how small it was, but she’d gotten used to its tiny heft by now. “I brought a cure.”

Soo Ling’s brows knitted together. She was thin, so thin. “Are you here to kill me?”

“Why would I do that?”

Soo Ling watched Yan as she reached up to tap the half-empty saline bag. She had managed to convince Dr. Shankar to give her a sterile syringe head to use. Administering the cure wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’ve been talking a lot to my nurse,” Soo Ling said as Yan worked at the saline bag. “She comes in everyday to chat.”

“What did she say?”

“A lot of things.” Soo Ling sighed, and it sounded like a gale to Yan’s new ears. “Yan, you don’t have the Blight, do you? You didn’t give it to me.”

“No. I never got it. Still healthy.”

Soo Ling watched the serum swirl into the saline bag, spreading out in delicate curls, like new wings uncrumpling. “The nurse said I probably got it from the blood drugs.”

“I thought the same thing.”

“You knew I was taking them? How come you didn’t say anything? Ma and Pa blamed you for infecting me, you know.”

“I know.”

“I– I never told them that I was taking drugs. I didn’t want them to get angry. I didn’t know you could get the Blight from the drugs, if the vampire that made them was infected. I thought that wasn’t true.”

Yan sighed. “That’s because you never listen to anything I tell you.” She slid the needle out of the saline bag and sealed it with a transparent plaster. “You always don’t listen.”

“Is that really a cure?” Soo Ling asked, craning her neck to look at the saline bag, the liquid now a gentle shade of chrysanthemum tea.

Yan held her hand to the bag and squeezed it just the slightest bit, feeling the muscles move under her fingers. Dr. Shankar was right about the sensations. “It had better be.”

“Yan, the nurse told me that Ma and Pa were wrong. All the stories about vampires biting people are wrong. Vampires are born, not made. Not even taking blood drugs forever can turn you into one.” She hesitated. “She’s a nurse, so she should know everything, right?”

“Maybe not everything. But she’s right about that.” Yan started walking back to the window. It didn’t matter what her sister believed anymore. If the cure worked, it would work.

“Yan. I’m sorry I said all those bad things to you in the past. It’s okay if you are a vampire. Really.”

“I know.”

“Yan, are you coming home soon?”

Yan stopped at the window ledge. Maybe Soo Ling thought she was really dreaming, or maybe she didn’t understand the significance of seeing her older sister leap in through a window three meters in the air. Yan didn’t know if she would ever fully understand. “No. I’m not coming home anymore.” And she climbed over the ledge.

The landing wasn’t as difficult as she expected. Yan jogged back to the idling taxi, wondering if the taxi driver had seen what she did, and if so, what he thought of it. As she opened the door Lisa leaned forward over the seats to study her face. “Are you OK?”

Yan silently ran her tongue over the roof of her mouth, feeling the bumps of her fang canals. The sensation no longer felt strange to her. She nodded. “Yes. I am.”

FIN

***

Perhaps the start to something more, or a world I would like to explore.

#fridayflash: Groundskeepers

Finally, finally I get around to finishing a story in time  for #fridayflash! This one is specially dedicated to @jolantru, fellow urban fantasy geek– this was the story I was telling you about.

Comments, critiques and RTs very welcome. I love you too.

Groundskeepers

“Are you in charge of this building?” my boss asks.

The woman we’re interviewing responds with a roll of the shoulders, mouth busily working on gum, heavily-mascaraed eyelids opening, shutting, opening, shutting. She suits the building she guards perfectly, a stolid thing laid down in the seventies and slowly taken over by cheap hole-in-the-wall boutiques and tattoo parlors that draw chainsmoking teenagers in droves. Tobacco-stained and grime-encrusted, her clothes are a bewildering mishmash of torn lycra, faded tie-dyes and cheap faux leather.

My boss holds up her documentation. “I’m Inspector Lee. I come from the Locations department of the police force. You know what that is?”

She nods.

“I have a few questions I’d like to ask you.”

I hold my pen at the ready, waiting to take her statement.

“Did anything unusual happen in the building the night of the twenty-seventh July?”

“Twenty-seventh July.” I start scribbling as she recounts. “Let’s see… first floor. Kids fighting like dogs. Third floor ladies’. Girl and another girl. Her first time. Girl, not other girl.”

“Any disturbances?”

“They’re all disturbances.”

My boss shows her a photo of the victim. “Do you recognize this woman?”

She shakes her head. “Never seen her. Never been inside.”

“I see.”

The set line of my boss’ mouth means that she believes we’ve hit a dead end here. Another half hour wasted.

The girl spits out the gum she’s been chewing and I suddenly realize that it hasn’t been gum all along, but bones. Tiny little rat bones. She, catching my reaction, smirks. “New one?” she asks my boss.

My boss waves me towards her. “Come on, Hot Soup, we’re done here.”

__

It’s like this, every day, spending the days trawling through casefiles hoping a clue will come in, and spending the nights trawling the streets with our summonses, praying for a lead. I’m not sure if my boss even sleeps. She’s always in the office when I arrive and still in the office when I leave.

Right now she’s chewing pensively on a mouthful of bubble tea pearls. We’d covered all the buildings in the area with no luck. “They must be hiding something,” she says. “It’s not possible that no-one knows anything.”

“I thought you said they couldn’t lie.”

“They can’t.”

The standing-space tables around the bubble tea stall are crammed with loud pushy teens enjoying the Friday night. My boss puts the last vacuum-sealed summons packet on the table. “We haven’t spoken to the Parklane building yet.”

“Wasn’t there was a raid on the night of the murder? Wouldn’t Enforcement have seen something?”

“Enforcement? They wouldn’t notice an elephant’s ghost if it was shitting in front of them.” She puts down her drink resolutely. “No. We must talk to the Parklane building.”

“He knows nothing,” a whispery voice interjects, and when we turn there is a thin girl with round eyes, who doesn’t introduce herself even as our mouths start to gape.

“What are you doing here?” my boss demands to know. “You’re not supposed to leave your domicile.”

“I was summoned,” she says quietly. “By a dead spirit.”  I recognize her, I think: she’s from at least six blocks away. A brief memory of a diminutive building barely four storeys high, with one small convenience store on the ground floor.  What was her name? Stamford Court–?

“It’s the murder victim,” she says. “There’s something you need to know.”

Holy shit, I think. This has never happened to me before.

My boss glances quickly around as if we were about to do something illegal, and leans forward. “What is it?”

“She was killed someplace else and brought to where your people found her,” Stamford Court says. “Her killer was one of the shophouses in Chinatown.”

“A building guardian?” my boss asks at the same moment I blurt out “You’re joking!”

“We don’t joke,” she says.

“And you don’t kill people either,” I rebut. “Boss, this girl’s just taking us for a ride.”

My boss is silent for a long moment. “Guardians can go rogue,” she says, finally. “And they’ve killed before. Do you remember the Hotel New World collapse? No, you’re probably too young for that. It’s a bit extreme, for sure. But that is the extent of what a guardian can do.”

“But that was due to shoddy construction…”

“It was ruled as due to shoddy construction. Back then there was no Metaphysics Dept, no Locations, and even if there was the verdict would have been the same anyway. Nobody likes to think of the supernatural world as having that much power.” She shrugs. “Even if it’s true.”

Stamford Court unfolds her tightly-laced fingers. “That’s all she knows. She apologizes.”

“There’s no need to apologize,” my boss says, speaking to the air on the left side of the building guardian. “This is very helpful.” I realize she’s talking to the spirit of the dead woman, and the idea of there being a dead person standing there gives me the chills. Yes, I am new to this job.

My boss picks up the last summons package and holds it out to Stamford Court. “For your trouble,” she says.

The guardian shakes her head. “I don’t need your offerings. I was summoned by someone else, and I am also doing this for my own purposes. And I don’t really like the taste of mice.”

“Then I’ll just offer you my thanks.” She turns back to the space where the spirit should be. “I’m sorry, Alicia. I hope you find peace.”

Then they are both gone.

“A shophouse in Chinatown, that would be an Elder,” my boss muses, her forehead working as she speaks. How she can handle these things so fast, I have no idea– but then she’s been doing it for a lot longer than I have. “This goes much deeper than we thought.”

I don’t even know what to say.

“I think, Hot Stuff, that we are seeing the beginning of a war between the guardians.”