I meant, he really threw me on the ground. He lifted me, as if I was light like a feather, and threw me.
“What the heck, old man!?” I shrieked, but he pushed me, as I tried to get up.
Only now I realized that he saved me from being grilled. Some idiot was playing with fire!
I was sitting dumbfounded on the floor, while Master Hong went quickly to the center of small dining room, where we were. I thought we were going into that big hall, but we entered the smaller room next to it. Everywhere were tables for four people and on a platform there were cozy sofas, certainly not for newbie like me. I looked to the left and saw the rules, written on a stone tablet.
Dear Scourers, guests, and other creatures. We’d like you to respect the following rules in dining room:
1. Keep the order. We do not need unnecessary deaths.
2. Do not speak with full mouth. You may enrage food spirits.
3. Please play with fire and your other hobbies, or abilities, somewhere else. If it is possible, use it only to fight the Ghouls.
4. Do not throw away leftovers. Our Puppy will be pleased to have them.
5. Do not fight with each other, although you want to meet your doom and see our charming Chief.
Enjoy your stay.
I didn’t know if I should take these rules seriously, but number five worried me a little. Was the Chief also some monster? And what was a food spirit?
As for number three, someone was already breaking it. Master Hong caught something similar to a fire dragon and squashed it. I wondered if he burned himself, because the smoke was coming out of his hand. He looked grimly at a young boy, who was awkwardly trying to hide some instrument behind his back. Master Hong scolded him and came back to me.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“Regular stuff. Don’t bother and go eat the breakfast. Then we’ll start your training.”
“My training? And didn’t that kid just broke the rule number three? What’ll happen to him?”
“Oooh. I’m glad you’ve read the rules. However, the rule number three applies to everyone, excluding him.”
“He’s our inventor, Max Hwang. There’re a lot of... accidents during his experiments and test, so get used to it as well.”
“I swear that nothing will surprise me here anymore.”
Suddenly something exploded near me and a ghost-pirate came out of the floor, screaming at me. I jumped surprised, almost stepping on tiny Master Hong.
“Okay, I take it back...” I groaned, holding my chest again. “This place will kill me soon...”
Master Hong giggled.
“Don’t worry, this ghost will be transported to the Hell after the breakfast.”
“You’re taking care of ghosts even from the past? Or... can we time travel too?”
“Don’t be silly, we’re not psychics! There’re a lot of ghosts, that wander in the world not judged yet, not only recently deceased.”
I ate the breakfast hurriedly, so nothing would explode next to me again. After that I followed Master Hong to his room. It was a nice and home-feeling place, with fireplace and a big framed photograph.
“Sit down,” Master Hong ordered.
I sat on the rocking chair, but still interested in that photograph. Master Hong gave me some papers.
“Sign it,” he said. “It’s a confirmation ending the registration process.”
I signed it.
“Who’re they?” I asked, pointing to the photograph.
There was an elder man with a young man, who on first sight was around my age. He was smiling and hugging the elder man, as they were father and son. The youngster had nice smile. I was sure that he had kind personality as well. The elder man seemed familiar, but I couldn’t guess who he was.
“The man in a hat is me, you stupid brat,” Master Hong answered.
“Seriously!? Damn, you’ve aged, old geezer.”
Master Hong snorted with disgust.
“And that young one?”
Master Hong suddenly became gloomier and seemed to age another hundred years. I thought that I asked some delicate matter and wanted to change the topic, but he replied anyway.
“He was my pupil. His name was Jackson Wang. He was brought up by foster parents in China, when I found him three years ago. He was very ambitious and bright young man. He learned fast and with great pleasure.”
“Why are you talking in the past tense? He died?”
“I’m not sure. I hope not. But... we’ll have to kill him anyway, if we ever meet him.”
Master Hong looked at me strictly. Did I again say something wrong?
“Have you heard... Ah, never mind. If it’s you, you surely didn’t hear about that. You see, there are people like us, Scourers, Reapers and Guardians, who have certain abilities and so called Seeing. The Seeing refers to seeing the other world, such as ghosts, Ghouls, etc. We can fight them, or defend ourselves against them. But there are also people, who don’t have any abilities but only Seeing. They’re as rare as Scourers, but it’s corporations’ duty to protect such people. So when we get an information about new Eye – someone who has Seeing curse – we’re taking them under our care, until their eyes are healed.”
“I don’t get it at all,” I stated confused. “And have a lot of questions, for a change.”
“Ask. I’ll survive it somehow.”
“First: why are you’re taking them under your care? Is Seeing that bad?”
“Seeing attracts Ghouls as much as our abilities as protectors. The Eye, who can’t fight Ghouls, obviously dies. Or worse.”
“I’ll ask about the ‘worse’ part later. Second: is Seeing some kind of disease? You said ‘until their eyes are healed’.”
“Yes. And no. The Eye isn’t born with Seeing, only we have it from the beginning, but it appears when we’re accepted by our abilities and corporations. The Eye gets so called Ghoul Mark. It’s some kind of a scar because of which the Eye gets the Seeing. It’s curable, but only under protector’s guide and training. If the Ghoul Mark is gone, Seeing fades away too and the victim is no longer affected by underworld’s matters. Ghouls usually don’t attack humans physically, only impact on their psyche or emotions, so humans would destroy themselves.”
“Okay. Now we can get to the ‘worse’ part.” Why didn’t I take a notebook, or something?
“Although the Eye isn’t recognized as protector, he/she is easily affected by the other world, especially darkness. The Eye can sign a pact with Ghouls. Then he/she becomes Ghouls’ pawn and endangers all humanity.”
We were silent for a minute. I looked at the photograph with hesitation.
“So...” I swallowed hard. “It happened to Jackson? He became... Ghouls’ pawn?”
“Yes.” Master Hong touched his forehead with anxiety. “And it’s my fault. I didn’t teach him properly. I saw him for the last time two years ago. I don’t know if he survived till now, there wasn’t any report.” Suddenly he grabbed my arms and looked into my eyes. “But beware. Not only Eyes are vulnerable to darkness. There’re a lot of cases of Scourers becoming Ghouls’ pawns, because we’re on the border of darkness and light. Guardians and Reapers are the least affected, because they have light and their own darkness to protect them. This is another reason why there’re so few Scourers.”
“You’re scaring me, geezer,” I muttered. “I would think that you’re afraid that I’ll become like Jackson.”
“That’s right. That’s my fear and should be yours too. This is the most important rule of being the Scourer: DON’T LET DARKNESS TO CONTROL YOUR MIND.”