Chrístõ looked at the temporal clock, the one that told them what the time and date was when they materialised. May 3rd, 1800. Most of his Earth friends would place that in the ‘Georgian era’. But that only applied in England.

This time the TARDIS was in the Henan province of China, on the side of Shaoshi peak on Mount Song or Songshan as he had always known it, and the monarch that defined the era was the Jiaqing Emperor Gia Khánh of the Qing Dynasty, who was in the fifth year of his rule.

Bo looked at him and he knew what she was thinking. This was her home once. A place of happiness and love before it was destroyed by the slavers who kidnapped her and almost broke her body and spirit. Her heart was torn between joy of being in her home again, on the side of the very mountain that overshadowed her village, and reluctance to face the bad memories.

“We can none of us run from the past,” Chrístõ told her as he reached out and took her in his arms. “You have nothing to fear from it. You have a wonderful future ahead of you.” He touched her stomach beneath the dress she wore and felt the new life growing inside her, though not yet visible. “When this journey is over you will return to your husband and your new life, as a mother and a wife, and you will be happy. But first… let us prepare to revisit the past, both of us. Songshan is a place we both have good memories of.”

“Yes,” she said. “I went to the monks as a child. I became a Shaolin master even before I became a woman.”

“The monastery was a place where I knew happiness, too. Li Tuo was a master here some years before now. He sent me here with his recommendation when I first visited Earth. It is for Master Li’s memory that we return. But first we must change our clothes.”

They both emerged from the wardrobe a few minutes later in Shaolin gear, loose trousers and a wrap around shirt, tied with a belt, and sandals that crossed around the calves, holding the bottom of the trouser fabric. Then Chrístõ went to a room that was usually kept locked and returned with a casket, no bigger than a small sewing basket, made of black lacquered wood and silver.

“The left heart of Master Li Tuo,” Chrístõ said as he placed it reverently into a canvas bag and put it over his shoulder. “To rest with the monks for whom he had such love and respect he chose to live as one of their race in the last of his incarnations.”

 

They stepped from the TARDIS in its disguise today as a small shrine to Buddha on the path up to the entrance to the monastery.

“Why did you both come to Songshan in THIS time?” Bo asked. “Li Tuo lived in Liverpool in the 21st century and you come from another time and place entirely. So why…?”

“Neither of us would set foot here in the 21st century,” Chrístõ replied. “This is a time of peace and true learning here. In the time Li Tuo chose to live in England, among the expatriate Chinese community there, Shaolin is a mere simulacrum of itself. The Communists ejected the real monks in the 1960s and used it to train their own soldiers, and then, when they found out how fascinated the west was by the Shaolin, how Holywood churned out fictional accounts of it to AMUSE people, they turned it into a tourist attraction. Those who can afford to PAY come and learn martial arts, which is just cynically and disgustingly inconsistent with the once NOBLE ideals of those who first conceived the idea of communism as a way of achieving an equal society.”

Bo looked rather startled at his vehemence and sad to hear the fate of her beloved monastery in the century she now lived in.

“Ok, no more political lessons today, I promise.” They walked quietly together up to the great door of the beautiful temple entrance. He struck the brass gong that was fixed by the side of the door, then they both knelt with heads bowed. They were returning disciples of Wushu Gung Fu, and they knelt in meditation in remembrance of Da Mo, who was refused entry because the monks thought he was not worthy of them, and spent nine years in meditation to prove them wrong.

They did not have to wait so long. Very soon the door opened and a shaven headed monk in a yellow-orange robe came out. He stood before Chrístõ and Bo and bowed to them. They rose together and bowed in return.

“I am Liu Shang Hui, a former master of this temple’s discipline,” Chrístõ announced. “This is Hui Ying Bo Juan, a child disciple who also attained the rank of master. We return with a holy task to perform and beg entry.”

“Liu Shang Hui, Hui Ying Bo Juan, you are both most welcome,” the monk told them. “Come within.” They both bowed again and followed. As they came through the entry, past the great library of Shaolin containing the written account of the wisdom of Chan Buddhism, they emerged into a place equally familiar to them both, the great, wide courtyard, adorned with steles that commemorated the founders of the monastery.

In the centre of the yard a group of monks were going through their evening gung-fu training session. Chrístõ smiled as he remembered the years he had spent here, learning and perfecting his fighting skills. Although he was already a master of Malvorian Sun Ko Du, the martial arts that all Time Lords learnt from the monks on that dominion planet, he came here knowing he would have to start from the beginning, as a novice, and learn again the humility of being the lowest of rank.

But he returned as a master, now. He watched the session from under the eaves of the open pavilion that flanked the courtyard. There, beside a great mural depicting how the fighting skills of the monks brought victory to their emperor and therefore favour to the monastery, they, as honoured guests, were given tea and rice cakes as refreshment after their journey. They didn’t mention that the TARDIS brought them to within yards of the temple.

Chrístõ ate of the ascetic meal gratefully and watched the training session, wondering if his title of master was still justified. Practice against a hologram in the TARDIS dojo was nowhere near as effective as being here, where the discipline was complete. Tomorrow, he thought, he would spend the day in practice and meditation.

But first there was a solemn duty to perform. When the training session was over he went to the Martial Abbot and bowed deeply to him. It was the same abbot who had been in charge of the teaching of the discipline when he came as a novice and he greeted him warmly.

“Your hair has grown long,” the abbot told him. Chrístõ smiled as he remembered having his head shorn. He had not realised until he saw his thick, dark curls cut away how vain he had been of his own appearance and it was more than just a symbolic reminder of what really mattered.

 

“I have travelled in the outside world for a long time,” he answered.

“What is this you bring to Shaolin, Liu Shang Hui,” a voice said behind him as the Abbot of Meditation came to the side of the Martial Abbot. Chrístõ smiled as he remembered that they were twin brothers who represented in themselves the two halves of the ying-yang that was at the heart of much of the teaching. The meditations of the one stored the Chi in the body, the positive energy. The fighting of the other released the Chi.

“I bring a relic of one who was honoured here of old, who died in peace at the end of a long, good life, and asked that his heart should lie within this monastery.” He brought the casket from the bag and held it reverently.

“And the name of this good man?” the Martial Abbot asked.

“His name was Mai Li Tuo,” he answered and he was not surprised when both Abbots knelt and bowed in supplication to the relic he held.

“He will lie within the Forest of Stupas with the other great monks of Shaolin,” the Meditation Abbot said. “Master Li Tuo was our teacher. We were his humblest apprentices.”

“As was I,” Chrístõ said. “I honour his memory.”

“It will be done in the first light of dawn. Meanwhile let the relic be brought to the meditation hall where we will all pay him homage in a vigil through the night.”

“My companion will wish to join us. Master Li was a good friend to her, also. But she must be given comforts. She has retired now from the discipline and is to be a mother in the course of time.”

“Motherhood is a noble and honourable thing,” the Abbot of Meditations admitted. “She is your wife, Master Hui?”

“No,” Chrístõ replied. “She is the wife of an honourable man who is, himself, a former warrior. She is under my protection on this journey.”

“I see,” the Abbot of Meditations answered. There was no impropriety in the arrangement. A Shaolin of honour was perfectly fitting as the escort of another man’s wife.

Bo walked beside him as they went to the meditation hall. They were both surprised to find it already full of monks who intended to keep the vigil. They all knelt on thin mats on the floor. Chrístõ and the Abbots would do the sane, but a low bed was placed near the front of the hall for Bo. She protested that she was capable of keeping the vigil along with them, but Chrístõ was adamant, and the Abbots backed him up.

“You are keeper of a precious flame of life,” the Abbot of Meditations told her. “That is your own vigil until the time is come. If you wish to remain awake through the night, do so, but please do so in comfort.”

Bo lay on her side on the bed, where she could see the relic of her beloved Master Li Tuo placed on a pedestal. Chrístõ and the Abbots took their places among the silent monks, kneeling in vigil through the night. They took neither food nor drink. For the most part they did not move. When a warm monsoon rain burst upon the temple roof with an eerie noise they did not blink.

Slowly the night passed. Dawn was just after four o’clock in this region at this time of year. As it approached the monks rose from their places. They formed a solemn line and made their way to the Forest of Stupas just beyond the walls of the monastery. There, hundreds of pagodas and towers contained the relics of venerable monks from years gone by. Chrístõ and Bo walked behind the monks as they came to a place where a new Stupa was built – or half built at least. While one group of the monks had kept vigil inside, another group had been working through the night to build the first stage of the Stupa, with the recess for placing the relic inside. They all stood aside while Chrístõ stepped up and placed the casket there before the Abbot of Meditations put a brick in place.

“Later, we will seal it,” the Master of Work told Chrístõ. “And in due course a great pagoda worthy of his remembrance will be placed over the simple Stupa. Master Li Tuo will be remembered as long as the Shaolin monks remain at Songshan.”

Chrístõ tried not to remember that the monks would be ejected by the Communists in a little over a century and a half and that the Red Army used the Stupas for target practice. Li Tuo’s soul did not reside in the monument anyway. It was within him, and all who revered and loved him. The Stupa was just a brick and mortar representation of that reverence and love.

When that was done, the sun was up and there were the ordinary duties of the day. Chrístõ went with the masters to the dojo where before they would even take breakfast they would work an hour of practice at the Gung Fu art. Bo went with them too, but she was not to be permitted to fight. She sat and witnessed it all.

He was slower than he used to be, he realised straight away when he faced a shaven headed opponent in a saffron gi. He barely managed to block the first, relatively easy, punch, and he had to put in every inch of effort and fight until he was truly exhausted in a way he couldn’t remember being exhausted in a very long time. A Human, albeit a highly trained Human, was holding his own against a Time Lord. It shouldn’t happen. And Chrístõ knew he only had himself to blame for it.

He managed not to lose his match. But he was exhausted afterwards. And he looked it. When he walked with Bo to the room where the monks took their meals together she could not help but notice that he was weary.

“You stayed awake all night and then fought a hard match,” she told him as they ate their simple meal with the monks. “Little wonder.”

“My opponent kept the vigil, too,” he said. “And he is less tired than I am. I have allowed myself to become slack. I must reprogramme the holograms in the TARDIS so that I work harder. I cannot let Master Li Tuo down.”

“You could never do that, Chrístõ,” Bo assured him.

“I will if I don’t strive to be my best in all things. He abhorred slackness. Especially in me. I was his….”

“You were like a son to him. He said so many times. Maestro said the same. You made them both proud. And me. When the Abbot asked if I was your wife, I almost wished it was so.”

“Bo, precious,” he answered her. “That was never to be. Julia…”

“Yes, I know. Julia is your true love. Sammie is mine. And we are here in the Monastery of the woods of Shaoshi peak, where such things should not be spoken of anyway.” She looked around and sighed, but not unhappily. “It is good to be here. It looks just as it did in my own time. This is… this is before my time, in fact. Some of the people who are young here, will be old when I come here as a child novitiate in thirty three years time.” She looked around the room and recognised faces that she would know in the future. “That man will be Martial Abbot then. He will be my teacher of the disciplines.” Others she recognised, too. But one she did not see.

“Lady Song Xie Chenguang,” she whispered. “She took care of me when I first arrived here, when I was just a frightened child, overwhelmed by it all. She was mistress of the child novitiates and she was so kind. She taught me many songs. She must not have come here yet.”

“I’m glad you find it pleasant to be here,” Chrístõ told him.

“I am VERY glad to be here,” she answered. “I owed Master Li Tuo no less. But now that he is at rest, I am glad to see the temple again. Do you think we could stay a few days? I should like to, very much.”

“So would I,” Chrístõ said. “I see no reason why not. But we must find a way to be of use to the monks during our stay, and not merely be guests.”

“I know what I can do,” Bo answered, looking towards the young woman in Shaolin clothes who was sitting with a group of female novices. “I shall teach the young as I was taught by my elders.”

And so she did. Chrístõ meanwhile found himself a niche easily enough. He spent the rest of the morning in meditation with the masters and the afternoon in practicing with sword and fighting stick. Perhaps because the meditation had renewed his Chi, he found his skills at the sword and stick less rusty, and when he was invited to teach a class of novices in the late afternoon he was delighted.

Teacher, it was a job he liked nearly as much as Natalie did. It was good to see young people look at him uncertainly as he put them through their paces, teaching them new skills and seeing them master them in their own time. He worked them hard, as hard as he was ever worked when he was a student. Neither he nor they even noticed the sun going down and the stars coming out in the sky above them until it really was too dark to see.

“They are beautiful,” Chrístõ said to himself as he looked up at the stars in the still pale sky.

“Master Hui,” one of his students said. “Will you tell us, where have you been since you left the monastery. We heard that you were trained here and went away… Did you travel widely?”

“Oh yes,” he answered with a smile. “I travelled very widely. But I was just as glad to seek the peace of Shaolin once more.”

“I should like to travel,” one of the young men said. “When I am a master, I should like to go out into the world as you have, Master Hui, and see the world.”

“I hope you do,” Chrístõ said. “I hope you find it a rewarding experience.”

He wished he could tell them the truth. That he had travelled far beyond the world as they knew it. Few of them, even if they did travel, would ever leave China. That was enough of the world for them. But he, even at his young age, had already visited a great many of those stars. How rapt they would be if he told them some of the stories he could tell them. But he couldn’t. He would frighten them.

The days quickly made a pattern, beginning with the dawn and consisting of practice, meditation, simple meals, and more of the same, either as a master, honing his skills with other masters, or as a teacher, drawing out the skills of others. He was happy.

So was Bo, working with the mistress of female novitiates. Many of them were very young. The job was as much that of surrogate mother as teacher. Bo, soon to be a mother herself, found contentment among them, and in the monastery she had come to as a child herself, destined from birth to be a Shaolin.

They could both be happy here, Chrístõ thought. But of course this was just a visit, a respite. Their real lives lay beyond this place. When he took her away from here, Bo would have to say goodbye forever to this life. So would he. There were other tasks for him.

He contemplated that future quietly by the newly completed Stupa of Mai Li Tuo, one time master of the Shaolin Temple. He wasn’t unhappy. There were great excitements still in store for him. Wonderful adventures, dangerous assignments, as well as love and friendship. But he was glad of this respite before he faced up to those responsibilities again.

“I will miss you, Mai Li Tuo,” he whispered to the Stupa. Of course, he knew Li Tuo’s real name, now. But he would never even whisper it in a silent place where he knew he was alone.

“I will never really be dead as long as you draw breath, Shang Hui.”

The words were on the edge of his perception but they were clear enough. Li Tuo had spoken from that piece of his soul lodged in his own.

“I know that, my friend,” he answered.

 

The next morning as they ate breakfast a shadow came over the peace and tranquillity of the monastery. It came in the form of a young novice who had been away overnight visiting his friends in the valley. He had run from the village and was hot and sweating, and shaking with fear as well. The Abbot of Meditations himself took him in hand and made him drink some cooled buttermilk before they could get any sense out of him.

“Dead… in the valley. People are dead. It’s the Geong Si.”

Horrified murmurs rippled through the room, most especially from some of the youngest novices. Bo and the Lady Teng Tian Bao gathered the VERY young and took them to their classroom where they were set some calligraphy lessons to take their mind off such sinister developments. Meanwhile Chrístõ joined the Abbot in trying to get more information out of the terrified young man.

“Geong Si,” he insisted. “I saw them with my own eyes, sucking the life from people.”

“You saw the hopping ghosts?” Chrístõ said, just to verify his story.

“Not hopping,” the young man insisted. “They moved across the land smoothly, as if carried on the air itself. They killed all they could find. Fed on them.”

“All right,” the Abbot said. “Either you are telling the truth, or suffering a delusion of some kind. We shall discover which by going to the village.” He looked at Chrístõ. “You are the only TESTED warrior among us, who has fought real evil in the world beyond these walls. Will you choose those among the masters here best fitted for this, should it prove that supernatural beings are responsible for cold death in the valley below.”

“I will do so,” Chrístõ said. He turned and found Bo standing there.

“Lady Teng and I will accompany you,” she said. “We will tend to the survivors. You may look for the ghosts.”

Chrístõ began to protest but she insisted that such a task was not beyond her. She was not, she reminded him, a wilting flower that needed protection.

“Very well,” he said and went to pick the rest of the monks who would come with them.

Geong Si, he thought as he and the Martial Abbot led the band of monks, along with the two very determined women down the mountain to the village where disaster had struck.

There WERE, indeed, dead people here. A lot of dead people. Chrístõ crouched by one of them and made a cursory examination of the body. The bodies had been sucked dry of all bodily fluids. They were mere husks.

Geong Si were reputed to do that. They were the Chinese equivalent of vampires in other cultures. Yet, at the same time, there were legends that said they were merely the remnant of those who had died far away, trying to reach their homes to be at peace. In that, they were more like zombies, with one fixed idea in the remnant of their consciousness.

They were not supposed to snack on the living as they made their way home.

But this lot seemed to have done so.

“Is there anyone left alive in this place?” Lady Teng asked mournfully. Chrístõ stood up and closed his eyes. He concentrated hard, reaching out to feel for living consciousnesses in the area.

“That house…” he pointed to a small dwelling that seemed no different from the rest, except that he had felt a life within it. A small, frightened life. He ran to the open door. Bo followed him, before Lady Teng and the Abbot followed.

He found the girl in a box meant for storing linen. The lid was held closed by a heavy stone statue of a dog. One of the Dogs of Fo, Chrístõ recognised. They guard temples and shrines and legend had it, would come alive to protect the same from any thief trying his luck.

It had protected the girl from the Geong Si, but whoever had done it bought her life with their own.

“You’re safe now, child,” Chrístõ said as he lifted her from her hiding place. “What is your name?”

“Song Xie Chenguan,” she answered. Chrístõ smiled at her.

“The Morning light,” he said, translating the meaning of her name and wondering why he thought he had done that once before recently. He turned with the girl in his arms. Bo was staring at them both.

“Lady Song Xie Chenguan,” she said with a catch in her voice. “The Mistress of junior novices who cared for me when I came to Shaolin not much older than she is.”

“Ah,” Chrístõ said, understanding. “Well, what goes around, comes around. Take the child. She is the only soul left alive here. You and Lady Teng and….” He detailed four men of the group he had picked out. “Go back to the temple. Take care of the child. She belongs to Shaolin now.”

“Yes,” Bo answered, in a quiet, steady voice. “Yes, she does. She will grow to be a well-loved and respected member of the Shaolin community.”

She held the girl in her arms as she turned and set off back up the mountain to the safety of the monastery. Meantime Chrístõ turned to the Martial Abbot.

“We must find those who did this. Supernatural or not, they must be stopped.”

“How shall we do that? And where? They have moved on from this deed already.”

“It is several hours since daylight. This was done in darkness. It may be that they have found a nest to hide in until nightfall.” He looked about him. “I recall this village. Are there not some natural caves nearby?”

“There are,” the Abbot answered him. “But my people are trained to fight flesh and blood, not demons capable of doing THIS. What CAN we do?”

“Good Abbot,” Chrístõ answered him gently. “Nothing is invincible. The Geong Si has a weak spot. We will find it.”

“Later these bodies must be made decent,” the Abbot said. “But first we will pursue the killers.”

These were not famous caves such as the one Da Mo was said to have spent his nine years of meditation in, moving his limbs from time to time in a way that copied the movement of animals, and in the process inventing Gun Fu. Nor was it a great Holy place such as the Longman Grottoes at Luoyang. These were just caves, occasionally used by those hoping to be accepted by the Shaolin Temple as places of retreat and meditation. The outer caves contained some statues of Buddha and a few relics of lesser monks who did not warrant a place among the forest of Stupas, but nothing of great historical significance.

“Master Hui,” a young monk said as they walked towards that goal. “I am Tang Pei Mei. I am a scholar-warrior. I read the scrolls in the library. There ARE some weaknesses in the creatures we seek…”

Chrístõ knew that. He, too, had read the scrolls. In his case it took one night. But it was enough for him to internalise all of the great wisdom of a rich and beautiful culture.

And he learnt all about Geong Si.

They were not evil in themselves. They began as what seemed a slightly macabre death ritual but for the rural Chinese people was quite normal. When a person died far from home, it was essential for their body to come home and rest in their native soil. But there was a tradition that they could not just be carried home. It had to be on their own two feet, as it were. So Taoist priests would literally ‘walk’ the stiffened, embalmed and wrapped body along the road. Sometimes there would be whole groups of such ‘walkers’.

That was all very well, and in a country which was far from the tourist trail few strangers were shocked by it.

But somewhere along the line came a more sinister idea. A dark form of Taoism could, it was believed, invoke a spell that reanimated the corpse so it could, indeed, hop or glide along by its own volition. These mindless corpses, with the soul long departed, were then under the control of the one who had cast the spell. And he could use them to any evil means. That was when they became murderous, draining the lifeforce from victims.

“Yes,” Chrístõ said. Though he knew what the young man was going to tell him, he was not looking to be the sole hero here, with all the answers. “Please, tell me anything that can help.”

“The individual Geong Si can be put to rest by decapitation of the body,” Teng told him. “But if there are as many of them as destroyed a whole village, then our best chance is to find the one who is controlling them. Killing him breaks the spell. The Geong Si cannot SEE people. Their eyes are dead. They detect life through the breath of the body. A warrior who can hold his breath and fight may kill many Geong Si at once.”

“Well done,” he told the young man, for he had, indeed, got to the kernel of useful information in the scrolls.

“There is one more thing.” As the caves came in sight he halted the group of twenty monks. “I think it comes better from me, one who is from a foreign place and not tied to this land by anything other than deep love and affection. Yes, these reanimated bodies ARE most likely people from this province, and I fully understand that reverence for your ancestors is important to you. But for your own lives, and the lives of others like the people in that village, you must set that aside and see these only as an enemy that must be defeated. Strike swiftly. You swords are sharp. Your aim is true. Let not your resolve be confused by such thoughts.”

The Martial Abbot nodded his agreement with Chrístõ’s words.

“Your face is young, but you speak with the wisdom of one who is older even than I, Master Hui. It was ever so. You were a puzzle from the moment you came to our door the first time.”

“I have secrets that are not mine to tell,” Chrístõ answered. “But none that compromise Shaolin, you may be assured of that.”

“I trust in you, Master Hui. My brother, who has an instinct for the Chi, has always said that you walk in the light. And that is enough.”

“We must all venture into the dark now to finish this,” Chrístõ answered him. He looked at the cave entrance ahead of them. It looked dark and sinister. He noted that there were stone Fo Dogs at the entrance. But if he was right it had not been enough protection.

As he passed the dogs he drew his sword. Behind him, twenty Shaolins drew their weapons; straight swords like his own, with edges that could cut through metal or silk as easily, split swords, double butterfly swords, whichever was their preference. But they drew them all silently, with the precision of Shaolin warriors.

Chrístõ and the Martial Abbot took the lead. The others followed. They passed the Buddha and Bodhivista flanking a man-sized Stupa in the shape of an elongated dome. At the back of the outer cave was an entrance into a much bigger inner cave. There, he instinctively knew, the danger lay. But the entrance was a bottleneck. No more than two of them could get through it at once.

“Hold your breath,” Chrístõ told the Martial Abbot as they both stepped forward. He had already by-passed his own respiratory system and his voice sounded strange.

There was a natural phosphorescence that gave light of a kind to the inner cave. What it illuminated sent a cold shiver down his spine.

He expected a dozen or so, maybe twenty. But there were as many as two, maybe three hundred Geong Si all standing in stiff lines, their arms outstretched so that they seemed to be touching each other’s shoulders. They had white-grey-blue flesh that seemed of itself to be slightly phosphorescent. That line from Dickens about a bad lobster in a dark cellar occurred to Chrístõ. It was a reference that would not have occurred to anyone else, though.

As he wondered what his first move should be, Chrístõ heard a sound that echoed around the cavern. It was the Martial Abbot taking a breath. He could hold it no more. The one deep breath, though, sounded louder than a shout and in that moment, even as the other Shaolins poured through the entrance, the Geong Si began to move. Chrístõ stepped forward. His breath was still held and they were unaware of his presence. He was able to decapitate the first half dozen in one swing of his sword. As he ploughed through them the Abbot took his share and the other Shaolins began to fight, avoiding the strangling hands and the mouths that fixed on living flesh and turned it to husks. They held their breaths as much as they could. But when they were forced to breathe they were vulnerable.

“We must find the controller,” Chrístõ said to the Abbot as they fought side by side, dispatching Geong Si as fast as they could. “He will not be a mindless Zombie. He will be one with life and wit who we must fight and kill to set the rest of these poor wretches free of his spell.”

“He must be one of great power,” The Abbot said. “I have never heard – even in legend – of a Geong Si army as big as this one.”

“Army?” Chrístõ did not exactly question the word, but he realised that the Abbot was right. He had been thinking in terms of opportunist marauders who came upon the village. But this WAS an army.

And an army usually had a purpose.

“Who are they meant to be fighting?” he asked as he continued to dispatch them as quickly as his blade could take off their heads. He noted that the dead ones crumbled to dust beneath their feet as they fell. There was no re-animation of them once they were taken out. If they only had the durance, the stamina, they could prevail.

He didn’t know how many of the Shaolin had fallen. He doubted they would get through this unscathed. But Shaolin warriors did not fear death. It was the risk they took when they chose the Path.

“This army was raised to do more than feed off one poor, insignificant village,” The Abbot agreed. “But what is their true target?”

“YOU,” a voice answered. Chrístõ and the Abbot both turned. Both were trained to take in maximum detail in an eyeblink. They both took in the sight of a tall, square-jawed man with hair fixed in a top knot that seemed to add several more inches to his height. He was dressed in dark blue breeches and high boots that held the bottom of the fabric, and a belted tunic and gown in deep orange, adorned with a ying-yang symbol as if it was, in itself, a talisman.

The eyeblink also took in the fearsome weapon he carried. It was almost as long as he was tall and made of bamboo reinforced with steel banding. At one end was a metal dragon’s head. As he lifted the staff there was a sound of metal on metal as the dragon’s nostrils sprouted deadly spikes three inches long and the other end of the staff became a razor sharp sword.

The man murmured something that must have been a command to the Geong Si, for at once they cleared a space around their master and Chrístõ and the Abbot. The other Shaolins continued to fight them as they squared up to a deadly final confrontation.

“You are the target. The Shaolins of Songshan. The village merely provided a feast to see my troops through to the sun going down and then they would have taken you all in the night.”

“Guo Mao Kai,” the Martial Abbot said in a hard tone that conveyed his contempt for the man. “You were expelled from Shaolin for being too much interested in killing with your martial skills than keeping peace with meditation and learning. So now you come with this unnatural army to have revenge on us?”

“He would go to such lengths just because he was rejected?” Chrístõ asked. “He should meet my cousin, Epsilon. They would get on famously. In JAIL. Or in HELL.” As Mao Kai lunged forward, the barbed end of the staff swung perilously close to Chrístõ’s face. He ducked and retaliated as the weapon moved almost as fast as the eye could see. He was fighting them both at once, the other end parrying the Abbot’s sword thrust. He was fast and furious. He had the skill and strength of a great Shaolin master.

“You have two, Shang Hui,” the voice from within his soul reminded him. “I was a master before you. And we are both Time Lords.”

“Give me your skill in my arm, Master Li,” Chrístõ whispered as the dragon head missed his face by a millimetre. “Guide me, my friend and mentor.”

“It must be from you, first of all,” Li Tuo’s spirit answered him. “My hand will strengthen your hand.”

He felt as if it was. True, the week of hard training and meditation had built his muscles that had been allowed to soften, but it was more than that. He performed both blocking and attacking moves that were unmistakably of Mai Li Tuo, not of himself. The old man’s spirit was lending him both strength and skill.

Even so, the strength of two Time Lords and one Martial Abbot was only holding its own against Mao Kai, and Chrístõ wondered what he had learnt since he left the Shaolin that gave him such superiority over the two of them. It was a hard battle and one he was by no means sure of winning even though they seemed to be numerically superior.

And the Abbot made a fatal error. Chrístõ almost made one, too, the barbs glancing off his shoulder, ripping his gi, as he saw from the corner of his eye the blade end slice short cuts into the chest of the Martial Abbot. His sword fell from his hand and the life went from his eyes a moment before his severed heart fell from his body. Chrístõ swallowed bile and forced himself to concentrate as Mao Kai stepped over the dead man and came at him with redoubled effort. He ducked once and grabbed the Abbot’s sword and held them both as the threeway fight became a duel.

A duel to the death, Chrístõ knew. He had to kill Mao Kai if he was to live and, more to the point, if the Shaolins were to live. For if he failed, he had little doubt the twenty here would be overwhelmed. Their bodies might even replace some of this undead army as it marched on the temple where Bo and Lady Teng, and the child who would be Lady Song Xie Chenguan, Bo’s own mentor and protector in the future, would all be victims of this evil.

And Bo’s unborn child, fathered by his dear friend, Sammie, who would never know how he had failed, only that he did.

For all of them, he had to beat Mao Kai. He had to kill him. He had to put his own pacifism aside and be a true Shaolin, knowing that his cause was honourable and the death would cause no stain on his soul.

But as yet he did not look like the victor. He was still fighting for his own life. He thought Mao Kai was slightly more tired than he was. And that was to be expected since he was merely Human. But only slightly. The use of deep magic and some extraordinary self-discipline made him a force to be reckoned with, still.

One thrust, at last, gave him an advantage. He brought his swords down vertically, and Mao Kai raised his staff horizontally, holding it with both hands. Both swords sliced through the staff near the knuckles of Mao Kai’s two hands, leaving him effectively with one short piece of staff with a barbed dragon head and one piece with the sword blade. Still fearsome weapons, but broken ones, and Chrístõ was able to get in closer and cut him more than once with the tip of each sword. He took some cuts himself, but of course they healed, something which caused Mao Kai to call him yao mó.

“You’re the demon,” Chrístõ replied and thrust with one sword coming down vertically and the other horizontally from the side. It felt almost like slow motion as both swords sliced through Mao Kai’s flesh, one cutting him in half at the waist, the other cleaving through his shoulder and splitting his ribcage as it sliced away one half of his torso. As he watched, Chrístõ felt a tugging in his own body. Mao Kai’s dead hand still held the sword that had thrust into him, missing by a fraction his left heart. It pulled back out as the three parts of the body fell to the ground. Chrístõ put his hand over his own wound and breathed through the right lung as the damage to the left side of his body repaired.

He looked around. The battle was over. The Geong Si crumbled to dust. The Shaolin monks cleaned and sheathed their swords and turned to their own dead and wounded.

“How many have we lost?” Chrístõ called out in a weary voice.

“Four dead, including the Abbot,” the young scholar warrior told him. “Three injured who should live if they make it up the mountain. Some minor injuries.”

“Let the dead and injured be carried,” Chrístõ said. “The injured will be nursed back to health within the walls of Shaolin. The dead shall have their own immortality in the Forest of Stupas.”

He himself bent over the body of the good Abbot. He turned him over and tried not to retch at the bloody hole in his chest. He picked up the stilled heart and put it back into the cavity then pulled off the ragged and bloody remnant of his own shirt and used it to tightly bind the chest, keeping it whole. Then he lifted the corpse into his own arms.

“I’m taking you home, good man,” he whispered.

Others offered to help, but Chrístõ carried the man himself, leading the way as the sad procession walked up the mountain. It was nearly nightfall before they got there. They were hungry and tired, but the needs of the dead and injured came first. The three worst cases HAD made it up the mountain, but they would need much care and attention yet.

“He died well,” Chrístõ assured the grieving Abbot of Meditations as they both knelt by the body of the Martial Abbot. “He helped to save us all.”

“But you completed his task,” the Abbot added. “I have been told already how you killed the evil one whose name shall not be uttered within these walls. My brother’s sword as well as your own dealt the final blow. In death, he was victorious through you.”

“Through me and Mai Li Tuo,” Chrístõ answered. The Abbot nodded as if he understood that cryptic comment. Perhaps he did.

Later, he was given permission to visit the female quarters and found Bo with the child survivor of the village massacre asleep in her arms as she sat in a chair by the moonlit window.

“I can see by your face it was terrible,” she told him, looking up. She reached out her hand to him and Chrístõ took it gratefully. “If I were not with child I should have fought beside you.”

“And our victory would have been that little bit easier,” he answered. “You WERE a fine warrior, Hui Ying Bo Juan.”

“This child, as a woman, taught me most of the skills I had before I met you. The martial ones, and the herbal skills, and the womanly skills. I don’t think she would be sorry that I am ready to give up being a warrior to be a mother.”

“No, I don’t think she will, either.” Chrístõ told her. “You will have a chance to get to know her a little. You can be your mentor’s first mentor. I will stay to see the funeral of my friend the Martial Abbot and the others who died. I will keep vigil and see their relics placed in new Stupas that will be built around the one that conceals the heart of Mai Li Tuo. After that, I shall take you home.”

“After that, I will be ready,” she promised.

And she was, though her parting from the Lady Teng and the future Lady Song was a tearful one with much hugging and kissing.

“I will see them again, of course,” she said as they stepped into the TARDIS. “When I come to live here as a novice.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ answered as he set their course for Liverpool in the 21st century, just two days after they left.

“But I will never see them again in my future, will I?” she added. She looked down at her feet, and then at Chrístõ as he came around the console and stood close to her. “This is my last journey by TARDIS into the past or future. When you leave this time, and I stay with Sammie in our home… I won’t see you again, will I? At Christmas you talked about it being nearly time to move on. Now… is it time?”

“Yes, I think it is,” he told her truthfully. “For now, at least. I hope you’ll all come to Gallifrey for my wedding to Julia. Until then, it would be better for everyone if we all lived our own lives. You and Sammie and the little one, Terry and Cassie and little Chrístõ. Penne and Cirena.”

“You and Julia.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you all. But it’s the right thing to do.”

“Sometimes the right thing isn’t the easiest thing,” Bo said. “But it IS the right thing.”

She looked at him and he looked at her. He reached and took her in his arms as he used to hold her. He kissed her as he used to kiss her when she was his own, when he had loved her for a short time. “Be happy, my precious Bo,” he said. “And always remember me and Mai Li Tuo.”