Dark Serpent

1

Zhenwu

John pushed more of the blasted papers to the side of the desk, then realised that he didn’t have anywhere to put the keyboard, so he added the papers to the pile of student files on a cabinet to his left. The stack was in danger of toppling so he bound it together with a thread of energy. He’d sort them out later.

There was a window above the cabinet, looking out over the western wall of the Wudang Mountain complex. The green hills of the Celestial countryside spread before him, dotted with the occasional small residence of those Shen who chose to live a more rural lifestyle. He took a moment to enjoy the outlook. It had been a long time — he had married Michelle and moved permanently to the Earthly Plane in 1995 — and the sense of being home, back where he belonged, filled him with satisfaction.

Emma was safe within his Mountain walls, Simone was strong and well able to take care of herself even without her yin, and his family was harmonious. His Mountain, although weakened by recent attacks, stood strong in the face of the demon menace. A few hundred more Disciples would bring it up to full strength, and his son’s husband-to-be was doing a fine job searching the world for them.

He resisted the urge to go outside and do a sword set and turned back to the paperwork, then changed his mind and decided to do a sword set anyway. His personal assistant, Zara, would let him know if anything major happened.

Lord Venus is here to see you, Zara said.

Typical. Just as he was enjoying some respite the Jade Emperor had to send his most senior emissary.

Escort him in, then take stone form and record from your stand, John said.

He quickly grabbed all the papers off his desk, spun in his chair and dropped them onto the floor behind him as Zara opened the door. He rose and stood behind the desk as Venus floated into the room, slightly above the floor. Venus was in full Celestial regalia, with a Tang-style robe of many layers of transparent violet silk over his human form of a slim mid-thirties gentleman. He had his hair long and tied on top in traditional fashion and carried — John nearly sighed with exasperation when he saw it — a red lacquered box containing an Edict from the Jade Emperor.

Zara was in its androgynous human form with golden skin and gleaming white hair. It changed to its stone form, a fist-sized diamond, and took its place in its decorative platinum stand on John’s desk, ready to record the proceedings.

John saluted Venus. ‘Honoured Lord Venus, Emissary of the Celestial, Carrier of the Way. Welcome to Wudang Mountain.’

Venus bowed in return, still holding the box in front of him with both hands. ‘Honoured Emperor Xuan Wu, Celestial Master of the Nine Mysteries. I thank you for your warm hospitality.’

John put his hand out, palm up, towards one of the chairs on the other side of the desk. ‘Please sit.’

Venus bowed slightly again, placed the box carefully on John’s desk, and flicked his robe before sitting, pulling his long sleeves out of the way.

John sat as well and eyed Venus across the desk. ‘What brings your honoured self to my humble facility?’

‘I am here in my capacity as emissary to present you with an Edict from the Celestial One Himself, may he live ten thousand years,’ Venus said.

‘Ten thousand years,’ John echoed. He leaned back in his executive chair and waited.

‘And it’s been far too long, you ugly bastard,’ Venus said. ‘Fucking leave