Excerpt – All the Gates of Hell

This is from a novel with the working title Kuan Yin in Hell. (Edited to note–the final title is All the Gates of Hell. Inviting, no?) The premise is that the Buddhist bodhisattva of Mercy, Kuan Shi Yin, is undergoing a mortal incarnation as Jin Hannigan for reasons she can’t remember, and those who know, refuse to say. While she’s trying to figure that bit out, she still has to fulfill her function as the “Goddess of Mercy,” which is to release suffering souls from hell. She’s just met the first of her divine helpers–who she also doesn’t remember–currently a mortal called “Frank” because his real name takes too long to say. She’s about to meet the second.

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Jin sighed. “I think before now I’ve really been more pointed and led than called,” she said, “but if I understand your meaning, then yes — I think I have definitely been called.”

The only questions remaining so far as Jin could tell were “where” and “who.” She already knew why. If she didn’t yet know “where,” she did know which direction to go, and for the moment that was enough, though she did wonder why she also felt an extreme sense of urgency.

“What’s the hurry?” she asked aloud.

“You’re setting the pace,” Frank said. “Or was that question rhetorical?”

“Not exactly. I feel we need to hurry.”

“Then I suggest we do so,” Frank said, maddeningly calm as usual.

Jin gave up her brisk walk and broke into a run. She didn’t like the direction her running was taking her. Pepper Street wasn’t exactly upscale, but compared to some parts of Medias it was downright posh. Just a few blocks from the legal aid offices Medias became a war zone. They ran through garbage littered streets, past boarded up windows and derelict cars. She sensed many pairs of eyes following them, and the intelligences behind those eyes were not friendly. She ignored them; the sense of urgency that had driven her to this place was getting stronger by the moment and didn’t allow room for caution. If she didn’t hurry they would be too late.

A young man dressed in what looked like some sort of gang costume ran past them, going in the opposite direction. He was screaming, a look of absolute terror on his face. Jin barely had time to take this in when, a bare second later, two more young men streaked past them in a much similar state as the first, but only the third one was making any noise; the second one’s mouth was frozen open like a stuffed bass. The third kept up a rapid and repetitive monologue as he flashed past them.

“OhGodohGodohGodohGod….”

Jin turned the corner and skidded to a stop. There, lying half in and half out of a gutted storefront, was a shabby old black man. Jin thought he was dead at first, but no, he was struggling feebly against what pinned him to the ground ‑‑ a green dragon.

Jin couldn’t tell how large it was. The creature was coiled twice around the old man’s body but most of the rest of it disappeared into the empty building behind it. It was about three times as thick as the largest python Jin had ever seen, and covered with iridescent green scales. Two green whiskers flowed back past the head as if blown by a high wind, and the head itself was crowned with a pair of stag-like antlers. The shock and surprise of it sent Jin immediately into her demon form, but Frank called out to the creature.

“I was wondering when I’d see you,” he said.

The dragon vanished. Where the dragon had been there was now a young girl of about fifteen who kneeled protectively beside the old man. Her hair was as black as Jin’s and much longer. She was dressed in retro fashion hip‑hugger jeans and a red blouse with long, trailing sleeves.

“About time you two got here,” she severely. “We almost lost him.”

“We almost lost…?” Jin resumed her normal form. “Who’s we… I mean, you?”

Frank sighed. “My apologies, I should have realized you didn’t recognize her. Jin Lee Hannigan, Mortal Incarnation of Her Immanence Kuan Yin, may I present your other servant–Lung Nu, sometimes called the Dragon Maiden.”

“I prefer ‘Dragon Princess,’ you oaf. My father is a king after all,” the girl said.

Jin just stared. She did remember what the other Kuan Yin had said about the person known as “Dragon Maiden,” but she hadn’t expected such a literal rendering of the name. She thought of many things she wanted to say, most of them questions, but what came out first was, “Wow, you can turn into a dragon! That is so cool!”

The girl frowned and shook her head. “Your pardon, Immanent One, but you are mistaken ‑‑ I don’t ‘turn into’ a dragon. I am a dragon.”

“Okay, fine,” Jin said, “but I still think it’s cool.”

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