I slew two demons today, one of them real and one of them metaphorical. The latter, somehow, was the more important of the two. So I’ll talk about the former first.
Somewhere within the scorched and shifting sands of a desert which seems to contain a never-ending series of riddles and fabrications I found at last the Song of the Sentinels, an ancient hymn designed to break the seal on the Black Pyramid in the City of the Sun God and allow me access to the inner sanctum where the Black Pharaoh Akhenaten until recently spent his days in a fit of metabolic pique. When I entered his chamber, he was swaying to and fro as if in some kind of melodic trance. I gained his attention and found in short order that doing so came at the cost of one’s life. This would normally be problematic; however, being made of anima confers the advantage of having the capacity to operate within the spirit realm until one’s body has been recovered or an anima well has been found.
I had mentioned previously that statues and statuettes could be found throughout the city and that Ptahmose’s children, the Sentinels as they are called, channeled their spirits into them at will. They no longer possess living corporeal forms but are able to travel throughout the city by inhabiting these ancient vessels. It just so happened that Akhenaten’s chamber of solitude was filled with life-sized statues of the Sentintels who were thus able to aid me by immediately reinstantiating my physical form whenever the Black Pharaoh sent me hurtling into dark oblivion. It didn’t take long for me to prevail.
As the Pharaoh fell, so too did his scepter. I bent over to pick it up and felt a dull thud on the back of my head before the world went black. I had a strange dream, one I’ll talk about later. (I still haven’t figured out what it means.) I woke in front of the Black Pyramid with nary a soul in sight. Not five minutes had passed when Bong Cha called and congratulated me on the primacy of my variability in their model; she then informed me that I needed to come to Seoul after I had finished with my disruptions in Egypt so that we could talk about the next Big Bad Thing I was going to have to “disrupt.”
She also informed me that I had been knocked unconscious by an Orochi agent. Orochi. The organization whose airplanes, laptops, and employee corpses litter quarantine zones all over the world. I’ve killed hundreds of their filth-infected operatives and yet all it takes is for one of them to walk up to me after I’ve killed an ancient god and swat me with his weapon to completely unravel my accomplishments. I guess the plot called for it.
If this were an American drama movie, at this point the plot would probably also call for me to break down and telephone my parents, confessing all of my sins in a solemn and pensive tone of voice. They’d forget everything they’d ever learned and experienced and forgive me unconditionally. We’re just glad you’re alive, my darling daughter.
Nope, that’s not the way it went. I had shattered the ancient contract of filial piety that binds child to parents. The gift of life is a debt I owe to them which can never be repaid. My disobedience caused my figurative death in their eyes. It is my fate. I earned it. I deserve it. I accept it.
Until the Dragon sent me a mission response in which they lectured me on my mother tongue. My eyes dried up immediately and my spine snapped back into place. “Did you know that the Chinese word for crisis (危机 ‘wéijī’) is made up of the characters for danger (危 ‘wéi’) and opportunity (机 ‘jī’)?” You called my parents to tell them that I was dead and now you’re giving me language lessons?
I figured it out. Bong Cha was trying to piss me off to give me the anger I needed to bring the mission in Egypt to an end. It worked. Bong Cha is a fucking bitch, but it worked. It pissed me off so much, in fact, that I broke my own self-imposed isolation in a world of unsurpassed technological connectivity and called my parents using a new phone I bought from a market in Seoul. I knew the Dragon would be listening and I didn’t care.
An interminable series of rings. Brief static.
“Hello? Who is this?” My heart jumped. My mother, in English. I hadn’t heard her voice anywhere outside my head for two years.
“Mother. It’s Liling.”
“Liling?! Where have you been?” In Chinese. “What are you doing? Someone called us and told us you were dead!”
“They’re lying,” I responded, also in Chinese. I was angry. I could suddenly speak Chinese quite well.
“Yes, we know. Your uncle Xiao (Frank) called your friend Mei Ling. She told him everything. We know what kind of work you are doing.”
Holy shit. Mei Ling, my first agent-level point of contact with the Dragon. And they knew….?
“Yes. Why didn’t you call us for two years?! Do I have a daughter? Maybe she really is dead! ….”
I sat down on the sidewalk against the polished brick facade of the mobile phone store and half-smiled as I settled in for my mother’s tirade. I was being chastised and cherishing every word of it.