Drea and alcohol had separated due to irreconcilable differences. Training to fight had been tough enough, Ronnie had bounced other fighters for coming to train with the merest whiff of alcohol on them, adhering to an asceticism that appealed to her. It had cost her relationship with ??? after all, but the sensation of victory and even the aches that spread through her after one more set of anaerobic drills, one more round past the three rounds that made up a standard fight cleared away the doubts and insecurities that she carried.
However, to cope with this kaleidoscope apocalypse of a dream, she had managed to sink enough of the mineral-tasting orange drinks to make her liver consult a lawyer and start to look at apartments in the want ads. Gloria was sat there staring into space and stabbing at the air with her fingers, giggling and sighing with a wonder that Drea felt vaguely jealous of. Olivia and Cara had disappeared off somewhere, and there wasn’t anyone to talk to, that would not have made her brain leap from her skull and seek the warm refuge of John’s arms. She knew how he would react, calm and gentle with her when he needed to be, and capable of using his relative strength to playfully dominate her when she really needed it. The alcohol teased that sullen spark of arousal into life but she sighed, knowing that most of the science fiction she had watched and endured seldom dealt with anything so prosaic as female arousal. It was all as she feared here, fruity drinks, talking clouds and no one to talk to that didn’t sound the lyric from Karma Police by Radiohead, buzzing like a fridge and talks in math. The music that floated through the air was felt more than heard. There was one track she experienced as an especially poignant memory, a birthday party when she was ten years old, stood there and watching her father talk up a recent real estate opportunity whilst she stood there, a prop to his ambitions rather than her own person.
It made her want to punch things.
Which was when Cara gazed at her with a curious narrow-eyed expression. Olivia sat down with an expression commonly reserved for first time MDMA users and the newly converted.
‘So, are you ready?’ Cara said.
Drea sat back in the chair. Her thoughts had grown sluggish and obese, the easy warm buzz of alcohol had grown a little too thick to aspire to any degree of social skills so she went for a raise of her eyebrows and a smirk that aimed for ironic but landed in the embassy of brain damaged but happy with it, with full diplomatic privileges.
‘I’ll take that as a yes. Don’t worry, Chiu will have something to sober you up.’
Cara touched the back of her hand, Drea sensed the hum of the rings on her fingers travelling up her forearms, conducted through bones and veins before it exploded in her head like a balloon bursting. It was a lucky punch in it’s impact, but with the pain removed.
She came to, cross legged. The air had a barely perceptible chill to it and she was sat, experiencing a sudden and not unwelcome sobriety. Beneath her thighs, she felt the rough order of warm hardwood and in the first breath, caught the piquant aroma of fresh green tea. She opened her eyes, looked into the delicate, amused features of the middle aged Chinese lady with her black hair falling either side of her face in perfect waves and eyes that exuded a calm that Drea knew only in three places.
The ring just before the opening bell.
The gym when she was training.
In bed with John.
The woman laughed, a polite ring of a laugh that communicated great amusement.
‘You’re thinking of your man, aren’t you?’
Drea snorted and looked around.
‘Where’s Crazy Ring Lady?’
The woman shook her head.
‘Cara does not need to be here. She works with the material, which is not what I am going to give you.’
Drea shifted with unease. Gloria had got something, Olivia had experienced something and what was she getting?
A fucking montage.
Chiu turned to her right and poured them both tea.
‘The tea ceremony is useful for our purposes.’
Drea put her hands up.
‘Woah, the other two got shiny, science fiction shit because we’re supposed to be fighting a fucking god that eats reality and I get what? A tea party?’
Chiu set the cup down.
‘Do you think that such a thing could be destroyed by something so prosaic as a weapon?’
There had been a ring of meaty jocks and effete pseudo-mystics who had laughed at her earnest desire to fight, and Chiu appeared to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Drea started to get to her feet.
‘Answer my question.’ Chiu said.
Her voice had grown sharp, pinning Drea to the mat with it’s quiet power.
‘It is an expression. There are parts to be observed and performed, and it has many functions within society. Much like a kata or a form.’
Drea relaxed. Chiu rewarded her with a slight smile and poured the tea.
‘Do you know the origins of the martial art Wing Chun?’
Yim Wing Chun had sent the warlord’s emissary away with her proposal. Once he had left, she allowed herself the luxury of a single tear. The warlord, much like most of his ilk, had secured his reputation with a propensity and skill for violence, personal and military, and Yim’s offer was meant to delay his advances enough for her to formulate a plan to avoid the worst fate possible.
She had seen the shallow graves of his last three wives enough to know that his displeasure was swift, and oftentimes fatal. She had a month, which he would agree to, simply because the novelty of her proposal would allow him time to boast to his peers and subordinates.
She saddled a horse once she had word that the emissary had left the province. It was an hours walk to the lake, but she knew that time was of the essence in this matter.
Now all she had to do was talk to the nun.
She would not leave the hut except to beg alms each day, otherwise Yim had seen her watching the wildlife with her legs crossed or performing a set of exercises designed to alleviate the injuries incurred by surviving the purge of the Southern Shaolin. Yim had need of someone who had survived, and if the cost were a few scars, then she was willing to pay it.
She got off the horse and tethered it to a tree. The nun was sat at the base of a tree, cross legged and watching a crane darting it’s beak at a snake which sent ripples across the shallow water. She would dip a quill into a small pot of ink and make small logograms on a scroll without taking her eyes from the scene before her.
‘Tread quietly, I would not have my subjects disturbed.’ The nun said.
Her voice was rough, uncultured and Yim was unused to being spoken too in such a manner but her need was greater than her station.
‘I have seen you begging alms.’ she said.
The nun chuckled without turning her head.
‘Did you fill my bowl?’
Yim lowered her head and folded her hands in front of her. She had the decency to flush with shame and the nun gestured her over with a wave of her scarred, callused hand.
‘But you would have me do something for you?’ the nun said.
Yim told her and the nun laughed for a full minute. Her eyes were awash with a mischievous light that torture and survival had not diminished, she took hold of Yim’s hands, turned them as though examining a fine piece of art, then pushed and pulled them to check her flexibility before nodding and looking up at her.
The warlord was carried away by two of his men. He had sustained a broken nose, a fractured cheekbone and the damage her blows had done to his ribs meant that in the winter of that year, he would catch a chill that denied him another summer. Yim bowed to the nun and then looked at the young man, an artist from a neighbouring province with high cheekbones and a gentle smile who had watched her fight with a profound awe.
They would be married in the spring. She would teach him what the nun had taught her He would name the art after her, and it would live for a thousand years.
Drea drank two more cups of the tea, mesmerised by the telling.
‘So, you’re going to teach me wing chun? Shit, they teach that at the Y.’
Chiuh sighed and shook her head.
‘You are not your body, Drea. You are here, as what the monks of Shamballah call a tulpa. A thought form. That means you are capable of something more than can be accomplished with decades of training.’
Drea frowned, looked at the cup in her hands.
‘So, this is a dream?’
Chiuh frowned and shook her head.
‘No, you are an idea. And that means your training will be the weapon that you wield against the Zhayu.’
Drea gathered that Chiuh was referring to the Leviathan in her own frame of reference and remained silent. This made Chiuh smile and set her cup down.
‘So, we shall begin?’ she said.
‘What are you going to show me?’ Drea said.
They trained for a thousand years and a single second.
The Sting of Ta-Bijet, the egyptian martial arts move that turned the Sphinx to stone.
The Ghost Limb Palm, invented by the one armed samurai to avenge his shogun’s murder by his brother. An etheric punch that destroyed the soul of the opponent.
The Five Point Exploding Heart Palm Strike.
The Night’s Forest Shadow Kick.
The Mermaid’s Song.
The Fortunate Kiss.
The Blinded Toad Leaping Kick, available only to the Ascended Masters of Manchester.
The Iron Monkey’s Tail
Drea stood in the stone circle. She ached from the roots of her hair to the soles of her feet. If anyone were to stand across from her in the octagon, they would quit before the first bell rang.
The men entered the circle, scarred and vicious descendents of a strain of humanity devoted to power and destruction. They were not the Leviathan but they understood its intentions and practised them in philosophy and action. They reproduced by force and grew wise by torture.
Drea’s final test had begun.
The first of them to enter her range had his neck broken with a elbow strike and his cooling corpse used to bludgeon his approaching companions. Drea understood that her limits here were arbitrary, self imposed and subject to the limits of her own will.
Cara watched from the shadows as Drea punched a man in the left side with enough force to make his ribs turn to powder with no more effort than it took to open a bottle of water. Her face was serene, and Cara marvelled at how beautiful she looked. At peace.
The idea that she had become, was one that existed deep within the roots of the collective consciousness. The small against the large.
David against Goliath.
Bilbo against Smaug.
St George against the dragon.
Cara’s most effective weapon in her arsenal was not the mineral intelligences on her fingers or the Pocket Square of Dimension X. It was not the Hair of Bontide that had been taken from its head at terrible personal cost. It was the ability to project confidence at a level most considered to approach pathological levels. So, in the shadows, as she watched Drea destroy an army of evil, skilled men without breaking a sweat, she allowed herself a moment of luxury.
She allowed herself the luxury of being afraid.
TO BE CONTINUED