Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The Land Went up in Fire and Curdled Smoke"

The Advance of General Ying-Tse and the Fusang Field Force, and Ambush

Shea lay prone in the Kunai grass, as still as he could be, with the burlap wrapped spyglass propped up on a rotting log to steady it. All along the ridge, his small command were steadying their rifles to make their shots count. Pan Bao Long, the best shot in the Army of the Progressives, lay next to him, a long rifle with brass scope mounted on top trained down the slope. Both Long and Shea were interested in one thing at the moment, and that was a young Mongolian officer in Fusang green, leading a vanguard of the Fusang Field Force. The officer sat easy in the saddle, as only a natural horseman can, laughing and joking with a taller native Fusang captain and his subordinate bannermen. Shea spoke quietly.. "Huo."

Long's gun barked, and a second later the Mongolian officer's epaulette flew off his shoulder. The officer stared, thunderstruck for a moment..

Shea quickly said "Dao, pinyin" and Long corrected aim down and to the left. "Huo" and he fired again.

A small red carnation blossomed in the officer's chest as he fell backwards, amidst general consternation among the troops. Shea raised up on his elbows and shouted "HUO!"

The small brick red of the Progressive force unleashed a ragged volley from concealment. Down the slope on the dirt road, the Fusang force recoiled in fear, horses running hither and yon as cavalrymen fell right and left. The greenclad troops were having a hard time of it, but they weren't panicking. Once again, Shea shouted "HUO!!" and the ragged volley crash into the horse patrol, sending it scattering and then back into a formless mass.

Shea turned to the bannerman, standing expectantly. He gestured... "Qi!!". At that the Brick Red colored banner of the Army of Progressive Peace unfurled in the air over Shea's position. The Mongolians appeared puzzled by this development, but the native Fusang captain was decisive. She (whose Mandarin was problematic at the best of times) could not make out the orders but could see that the flag was recognized.

Very Good. Now if they only would take the rest of it, Shea thought.

Sure enough, the native Fusang officer had assessed the situation correctly and was ordering his men into a line abreast. Exactly as we planned, thought Shea excitedly.

Further down the reverse slope, he gazed at the specially rigged PomPom gun. The traces were still on the gun, and it was propped up to fire in a short arc (hopefully) and land on the advancing column. This was the theory, in any event. Pompoms were not designed to be abused like this. Nearby, a Progressive soldier stood by with the mule team for a quick on-the-fly hookup. Shea raised his sword so the team could see him, then he dropped it. "Calling all Angels..." he thought to himself.

"HUO!" The shell arced over the hill, flip flopped in mid air and landed just to the right of the hastily forming cavalry formation. A Pom Pom round isn't even much of a door knocker (as was being discovered at that moment, miles away in Fusang Castle, but that is another story). However, pom pom rounds CAN make a very satisfying bang, and was routinely used in India to spook horses in an enemy cavalry charge. Shea scoped in on the Fusang formation. The Pom had done an adequate, not optimal, job of disruption. The cavalry formation had dispersed into panicky semi circle, arcing away from the explosion, but it was still under control. The Mongolians were good horsemen, which is why the Lord of Fusang bought their services in such vast numbers. These troops, at least, had been under fire before.

Shea made the see-saw Reload motion with his sword. Then he waved the sword in a broad circle, which meant, "choose your targets, fire at will up and down the line".

At the next "HUO!", the entire thinly dispersed line spat out rifle fire on the nose and flank of the Fusang vanguard. To their credit, they acted like soldiers, immediately breaking ranks and searching out cover. As the soldiers in the Fusang line anxiously scanned the ridge line for targets, Shea looked back at them and marveled, recalling General Feng's words from the saddle only hours before. "And thus, the small force pins down the larger force, allowing the army a chance to fight on ground of its own choosing." So it was proving to be. Another Pom Pom round tumbled end over end, landing with a crash about twenty feet from the Fusang positions-- harming nobody, but raising the excitement level a few notches. Shea wanted the Fusang army to stop in its tracks, and it had done so. Soon, orders would be flying down the Fusang column..

"What is the meaning of the delay? Report at once!" and
"Enemy column
(which would be magnified in the telling, of course) sighted. Deploying to counterattack".

The chain of commands, orders, verifications and counter verifications would significantly slow things up while the main Progressive force won valuable time ahead to set up defensive positions. Shea nodded at Pan Bao Long.

"Time to go, I think. We've gained ourselves a half hour here. Let's get the men to the next ambush position."

Long signaled the ambush force by bugle. Silently, the men cleared their positions and sneaked down the reverse side of the hill where the horses were being held. The Pom Pom gun was already saddled up to the mule team. Shea waved his sword in the onward pose, and they were off again.

Title from "Dies Irae" by Willoughby Weaving, 1917

Monday, June 15, 2009

Steppes of Thoth cancelled

Due to copyright claims by the publisher, we can no longer publish the Serial Steppes of Thoth here. Sorry!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Return to Fusang: An End to Dark Magic

Follows directly from here and here.

I opened my eyes again and saw the red warrior below me as though he were running into battle with Queen Boudicca against the Romans. In that moment I felt the Queen's anger rushing through me as though I were there with her invoking Andraste to assist her and her people in the uprising against the sassenachs so very long ago. Her elite guard touched by the gods of the ancients, sent into a firey rage giving them strength beyond anything known to man poured forth ahead of her chariot as the Roman line ran to their certain deaths.

Snapping myself out of this vision, I again turned my attention to the battle below. I saw the large gun that I heard only moments earlier. I allowed myself to take in the entire scene below my position on the balcony of the laboratory. There were hundreds of soldiers all milling about with no sense of purpose. I saw a man laying on the ground just behind (the thing that had been) Hotspur - and a large kilted man standing over him. It was Dr. Mason on the ground! Yes - I was certain it was him, and there appeared to be blood coming from wounds somewhere in his head. I could not see clearly from here.

Then IT came into my view as I followed Hotspur's run. A large dragon. A very angry dragon hissing and tearing at this son of Cúchulainn, which Hotspur had become. I watched as they battled.

The Dragon Who Waits was waiting no more. His full rage was focused solely on one man.

Hotspur attempted to seize the Dragon by the neck; however, it has already grown too large for him to have any real effect. Hotspur hacked at the raking claws with his sword.

One, twice, the sword bounced off the dragon scales.

The two yelled, cursed, and tore at each other for a long while before the Dragon felt the sting of the large sword as it found purchase deep in his front foot. He roared and fire shot upwards in my direction. I fell backwards onto the stones of the balcony with the force of his pain and anger. When I pulled myself up again and returned to the battlement to look at the scene once again I saw Hotspur standing there dumbly looking at a broken sword - hilt still in his hand. The blade was still in the Dragon's foot. I heard the rumbling angry voice of the Dragon - though not aloud. It was in my mind.

"You WILL join me and bend to my will."

I saw the fierce red warrior smirk as he growled,

"Titim gan éirí ort. You hold no sway over anyone now, Beast. Least of all me."

And then he leaped toward the great powerful beast. Lieng's Dragon form was enormously strong despite the black pearl lying broken on the ground nearby. Where was his power coming from?

Suddenly I heard both of them yelling fiercely and in a flash the Dragon had flung Hotspur against the wall of the great fortress. Those of us nearby were helpless at this point to do anything to help our friend. His great red bulk fell to the ground and in one fail swoop the Dragon was on top of him. The cavalry sword laying at his side was broken, smashed, utterly useless. Then I felt, more than saw, the Dragon crush Hotspur's left leg with one step. Just as in the tales of old, the red man seemed to feel no pain as he remained in his Berzerkgegang. He continued cursing his enemy and attempting to rise up.

Cúchulainn and Boudicca must have been standing nearby him - keeping the rage in his blood. But despite that, it was clear to me that the massive beast was ready to come in for the kill.

The Dragon leaned forward to rip the life out of him along with his heart. I summoned my grandmother's voice to me; my father's voice.

It was my father that I first heard.

Pick my sword up, mo nighean - the sword of your forefathers. Claidheamh Flath forged by the ancient chieftain, Simon of Oliver, himself.... Forged of the star iron found in the fields around his home in Aberdeenshire....This sword has protected our family from attacks and dangers at many times in the history of our clan...both from physical, human enemies, and fae or demon intruders."

I raised myself up on the battlement above them and shouted,

"Caisg caraid! Cion-omhaill!"

He did not seem to hear me. Louder I shouted again,

"Cion-omhaill! Cion-omhaill! Caisg caraid!"

He recognized the ancient Gælic of his name and came out of his rage long enough to turn his burning eyes in my direction. I saw questions and confusion there. And then suddenly recognition. At that moment I threw
Claidheamh Flath, the Sword of the Chief, to him. His great hand caught it and despite his injuries, he jumped onto the Dragon - onto Lieng - as the beast swung his awful toothed mouth toward Hotspur's chest.

Hotspur could feel the cold iron of the Frasers in his hands and he knew that this would be the end of The Dragon Who Waits. He lifted his arms over his head an cleaved the mighty beast's head from his neck as he yelled,

"Titim gan éirí ort!!" May you fall and never rise up!!

Both men fell viloently to the ground. Hotspur was right back up stopping only a moment to see that the head was in fact severed from the dragon's body.

As he lept around still in his rage, longing to take more lives....the blood thirst still on him, I watched as Lieng began the transformation back into his first form. The man. The man he must have been 20 years ago. Small. Younger, but certainly showing the signs of one who has used dark magic for so long that part of his soul and body have been withered. He did not move. He was dead.

Suddenly I heard howling. Lieng was dead. I was certain. Where? What?

Then a chorus of howls...coming from the hills behind us.

Fuzzball! It had to be. And it sounds as though he has brought help.

My eye caught movement again below me. The kilted man came forward to look at Lieng and then seemed to be trying to calm Hotspur who was moving about enraged - killing the dazed soldiers around him. I heard him speaking to Hotspur in Gælic, but to no avail.

Then I felt my grandmother's hand on my shoulder.

"Child, you must always remember the spell for calming and the song of recall. These will serve you in times of dire need."

In as clear and strong a voice as I could summon, I began the Latin song

"Totus super ira mos iam vado , ex penitus ut externus , planto is sic. Totus super ira mos iam vado , ex penitus ut externus , planto is sic. Totus super ira mos iam vado , ex penitus ut externus , planto is sic."

Hotspur turned his face up in my direction. The rage was ceasing. I saw him drop
Claidheamh Flath to the ground, and the pain began to show on his face. Suddenly he looked smaller, more like my friend. He seemed to form a twisted smile at me as he collapsed onto the stones his broken leg and torn body finally giving way. In seconds several of his men were there beside him, and I then climbed down to the ground to help as I could.

"Lieng is dead. Your mission has been accomplished, mo caraid. Now don't you die on me, ye great Irish ninny!"

SPACE 1889: The Steppes of Thoth Parts IV and V

Just to break up the story bits before our grand finale, I thought it might be time to catch up with the audio serial, SPACE 1889: Steps of Thoth. Here's episodes IV and V.

Part IV

Part V

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Return to Fusang: Ancient Magic and a Long Delayed Visit

Follows directly from this post

I've been fumbling with the sash for the last minute or so, we are losing time. The men had made up grey tunic for me, somehow, out of castoffs and with quick tailoring. And now the old green officer's sash (really just a rag, but it will suit). I laugh quietly.. Burgrevine would have flogged a trooper for looking this slovenly, but it looks reasonably well at a distance. Doctor Mason had offered me Western clothing, which I declined, as the men had made me this old raggedy version of an EVA officer's uniform-- if I'm to die today, it will be best to die wearing this, instead of the uniform of another Western interloper.

Striding out of the cabin, I yell for my gun belt.. Chen, as usual, has it loaded and ready. A Mauser, that newfangled German Automatic gun, a lovely little killing toy. As I walk out to where the men lay hiding, they all look up and recognition dawns on their faces. There is much nodding and grinning. The uniform is a very Chinese gesture, and I can see they appreciate it. I refrain from the turban; only my batman could tie it right over my giant head, so I just wear a green headband to accentuate command.

With a finger to my lips, I motion to the attack force to stay concealed and quiet behind the deck squalor and return to the bridge. I can already see the dark, brooding heights of the Fusang Palace over the bend in the river, and we will have only one chance at this deception. The men look very nervous, and why should they not? Counting noses, I have about 120 men with me here, about to stage a coup against.. what? Will there be an army to greet us at Fusang?

The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.

"Thank you, Sun Tzu"
, I breath, as I climb up to the Texas deck and walk in on a very frightened former captain of the Iron River Dragon. As ever, the resourceful Sergeant Chen has him covered. I flamboyantly take out the newfangled German automatic pistol and press it into his back.

"Captain, I am not in the least interested in taking your life. But I will do it, without a qualm, if you don't stay on script. Do you understand?"

He is sweating. "Y-y-y-esssir!" Poor chap. Considering what the price of failure is in the Fusang Military, I rather understand the fix he's in.

I crouch behind him, keeping him covered all the while. All over the ship, the men are behind bulwarks, hidden behind deck litter, in hatchways, ready to spring. I confess it, my hands are shaking. What will we be walking in to?

Silently, the River Dragon chuffs into the port.. I hear harsh words in Mandarin, inquiring of the Captain... Chen, in a Fusang Marine hat, stands next to the captain, and speaks out of the side of his mouth to me.

"The harbor master is yelling at the Captain, wondering why he is back early, and inquiring why he has left his duty station guarding the bridge"

I whisper: "Stay on script, Captain, and this will all be over soon"

The Captain rises to the occasion... and harangues with the Harbor master like a fish wife..

"Oh woe! We have engine troubles! We cannot hold station! We need to put in for repair!"

Not bad, Captain, not bad... You should take up stagecraft..

The Dragon comes to a stop. I hear the hustle and bustle as lines are cast off (from Progressives wearing dead crewman's uniforms, of course)

The boat shudders to a stop. Again, I hear the imperious sounds of the Fusang Harbormaster.

"Sir, it's no good, he's sending a runner to the Palace to check on this." says Chen, worriedly.

Blast it, we can't let that happen.

"Call it Chen! Up and at 'em, it's ON!"

Chen leans outside the pilot house, pulls out his signaling bugle and gives the agreed three rising-and-falling blasts that is the signal for the attack.


The men have been instructed to scream like devils as they pour off the boat. the Chinese have a higher pitch than Westerners, usually, but this catches me by surprise.. a deep, throaty almost growl of rage as they pour out of their hiding places and leap ashore onto the wharf.

I zip down the stairs to the main deck, sliding down the railing without actually cracking my skull, on a sprint, I run to the gangplank to supervise the men filing off.

"Long Nose!"

I look up at Yao. His bandits are taking positions on the gun mounts, ready to cover our advance in the city.

'Yao! Success to you, my friend!"

"And to thee, Colonel O'Toole of the EVA! May fortune grant you victory!"

And he tosses something heavy at me. It's a long, straight and heavy , weighted on the forward edge, like a Western sword. I look up, quizzically. It is a Prussian style cavalry sword. Not exactly a beauty, this blade, but functional, and strong.

"Got it off a dead German! It's more your style than mine!"

I nod, grinning up at him. He's right.. this chopper will come in handy.

"Can you keep start shelling the walls of the Palace when we get up to the Gates? We'll send up a flare when we are in position."

"Aye Long Nose, we'll sweep the ramparts for you.. Just break through!"

"For God's sake, Yao, Hold this Spot. D'ye hear? If this goes to Hell in a hand basket, you're our only way home!"

He looks solemn. "Oh, aye, we will. We'll rake yonder square with bullets if the citizenry get too brave for their own good"

I salute him and charge up to the quayside.

The portside is a scene of mass confusion. We have arrived on market day, it would seem, and the peasants are all running and screaming as their carts are turned over, pigs and chickens running hither and yon... I laugh at the sorry spectacle. Where's the army? There's the harbormaster, a tall, cadaverous fellow whose normal dignified mien is somewhat spoilt by being held two feet in the air by Angus Glitterach. His knees are knocking so loud, I can hear them from six feet away.

"Angus, did you intercept the courier?"

"Och, Aye, you mean this fellow?" He motions to a body pincushioned with arrows at the edge of the square.

I grimace. That would be the one, yes.

I walk to the head of the column, where the two pom-poms are being dragged by mules. Doctor Mason is standing there, quietly, all pale and trembling.

"Are you ready, Doctor?"

"Yes, Hotspur, I am ready as I'll ever be " He looks somewhat downcast.

"You do recall how to work a field piece, sir? Has it been so long?"

"No, no, it's not that. I'm worried about Fuzz.. and.. the other thing-- the Song."

I speak to him quietly, so the others might not hear.

"Listen, Doctor.. if you don't think it advisable to use the Song of Osiris, don't take the chance. We may fight it through yet."

He looks up, brightening a bit. "Let's get into that castle first"

"Right!" I turn to the men, forming into a giant wedge formation.

"Form UP! ANGUS!!!! Will you take the point on this, please?"

Angus grins and whirls a pike over his head like a child's toy. The group of a dozen soldiers he had been training form up in a wedge in front of our company.


Our column marches out of the square and up the hill on the way to castle. Angus' men wield their pikes in an efficient pike drill, shoving anyone who would block our progress out of the way, where they get hacked at by the men in the main column. Directly behind Angus are the Doctor and myself, moving the small gun teams forward, then the rest of the company, in an ad-hoc box formation.

I can see the top of the Castle from here, a dull, black edged pagoda, painted the characteristic green of Fusang. Shots are starting to be fired from the high wall around the castle.

Forward, forward....

I'm a bit mystified.. if I were trying to stop a coup, the first thing I would do would be stage blocking forces in the narrow streets here.. but the opposition, such as it is, hasn't heard of this.. we encounter small forces of Fusang soldiers, forming mechanically in line, not taking advantage of any cover, and easily dispersed with pike-charges before they can even present arms to fire.

The rifle fire from the heights of the walls is increasing. We need to speed this up. Hsieh Lieng must know we are here, now.

Pulling the German blade out of its sheath, I wave it over my head.

"Men, on the quickstep, HARCH!!!!"

The pace doubles as we all lurch into a dog-trot, now the rifle first is a regular fusilade, joined in by the first shot from a cannon. Now we are two streets away from the gates.. Now one. I flourish my sword again..

"Men, CHARGE!!! CHARGE!!!"

Screaming like banshees, we enter the courtyard in front of the castle gates. In front of us is a hastily forming force of Fusang soldiers. Something isn't right. They aren't panicking. I don't expect them to run away, but I expect them to at least waver a bit. ALL armies will take a second against a charging foe, to mentally set themselves and brace against the charge. And yes, some run away. These troops aren't doing that. With blank expressions on their face, they are forming a battle line, maybe 300 strong, half that in width and two men deep. As they form up in sections, I could see them going through the rifle drill of reaching for cartridge, loading... Think fast, O'Toole!

"Into them! Into them, NOW! Before they can deliver a volley fire! CHARGE!"

Editorial note: See Darien Mason's Journal Return to Fusang: Crescendo to be read in parallel with this entry from about this point

Angus screams defiance and charges forward, I follow with the giant cleaver in my hand. The rest of the Progressives charge after, again with a satisfying ROOOAR of defiance... alas, we have no bayonets fixed, but we can't take the time to accomplish that. The gunfire from the walls ceases, then takes up again. I start to see Progressives and Fusang troops fall indiscriminately. The firing troops hardly care who they are hitting. Our line crashes into theirs.. and for the first second or two, things become even more odd. They continue trying to perform the arms drill of loading and firing, and then slowly adjust to attacking in melee.. it's as if they are being manipulated by a puppeteer who keeps missing his cues! I knock the rifle of one soldier aside with a right slash, then bring the blade down on his head, chopping his ear off and catching the blade in his jaw hinge.. I wretch it free and he falls to the ground, silently. What the devil? That was a painful wound, damn it all! He should be screaming his lungs out now! The second rank seems to be catching on to melee more than the first did, they are bringing their rifles up and trying to parry our polyglot attack of pikes, rifle butts, swords, parangs, and other melee weapons. Slow, too bloody SLOW.. who trained these men to fight in a melee? This is slaughter, not fighting!

And just as simple as it is to say it, we have fought our way to the other side of the line. Casualties are somewhat minimal.. only 7 dead and 10 wounded, mostly from the fire from the wall. We are now somewhat sheltered from the snipers, as we are under the wall over hang. Doctor Mason brings up the mule teams, a grin on his face and a bloody gurkha knife in his hand.

"now, Doctor, no experimenting until we're done here, no?"

He smiles back, somewhat wistfully. The shakes he had earlier appear to be gone.

"I think I have discovered something of interest... these men are showing every sign of not behaving under their own free will. They were far too easy to kill."

"I noticed that.. I attributed it to poor training at first, but now I'm not too sure. Any rat will fight when cornered. These lads have hardly any fight at all."

"No, Colonel, far from that.. I suspect this group is being ensorceled by a wide-area spell of control of some sort.. my word, imagine the concentration this would take!"

"That would explain why they act like automatons, instead of real soldiers.. they didn't even fix bayonets!"

"It must be quite a feat to even get them all to do the same thing at once, much less use any decent tactics.. it's a poor way to run an Army, Colonel".

"And I can just bet who is behind this, Doctor. Lien Bao, you may rely on it."

"Hmmm, perhaps. Or someone far greater."

I set up the first pom-pom gun as we keep up the fire on the ramparts. The troops up there, at least, appear busy and animated running hither and yon to try to find a good shot, and occasionally falling back when wounded.. Sergeant Chen and a few other soldiers are detailed to find another entrance if possible. Dr. Mason is still assembling his pom pom gun and cursing a blue streak at his own mistakes when the first shell slides into place on my piece.

Already I have my doubts. The main gate is sheathed in lead, it appears, and quite thick. I pull the gun team back and run the lanyard out. Mason is just finishing his piece. He flashes the ready sign.




The gates shake a bit, but nothing happens. One shell had glanced off; the other was buried about three inches deep into the wood.

Switch to Quick FIRE!

Then, the "ratch-clack" of the quickfire mechanism engaging as the magazine


With each hit, we chew more decorative lead sheathing off of the gate, but this is going to slow. We can't give them time to think, and we are losing precious time.

Sergeant Chen comes running up at this moment, tugging my sleeve.

"Colonel! This way! I have found the way in!"

Dodging bullets, we run alongside the wall. This will go bad soon. We just don't have the artillery. I notice the Doctor at my side, puffing and huffing.

And there it is...

A Postern gate. Of course. They wouldn't want to go to all the trouble of opening the big gate constantly, for mundane tasks like grocery delivery, messengers and routine comings and goings. They would have built this for the daily errands.

I motion to the a crowd of Progressives hiding under the wall overhang, and yell in Mandarin: "Come along, fellows, shift these guns with me! Why are you cowering?" They spring forward help us push the guns into position aiming at the postern.



A large hole appears in the center of the gate. I shout over to Darien.

"That's it, Doctor! Quick Fire now! We're in!"


The smaller gate bursts off its hinges and falls to the ground. I peer inside at a gaggle of shocked Fusang soldiers. Immediately, they run out with their hands up. No charm here, these lads are acting naturally enough. There is a lull in the firing and all the Progressives stare at the gate for several seconds. I pull out a flare and shoot it into the sky. The light goes up, up, up and bursts red over the castle.

"Don't stand there gawking, let's GO!!!!!"

The entire command surges forward as the first shells from the Iron River Dragon start to land, just beyond the wall and into the unseen inner courtyard beyond the gate. I run into the dark maw of the tunnel leading into the castle, hoping this isn't a dead end. I spill out into inner courtyard to see a sight that stops me dead in my tracks. Rank after Rank of men in the black pajama outfits of the Dark Ocean Society, all staring blankly ahead. As I walk out into the courtyard, I see a shell land in their midst. They neither flinch nor run, they just fall over when shot. Beyond them midway up the stairs to the main palace, is a small platform for addressing troops. On the platform, his arms raised, is a familiar and impressive figure.

I stand blinking in the sunlight, gazing up at the Hsieh Lieng, Lord of Fusang for the first time in twenty years.

I suppose I should feel something more than wonder at a moment like this. Should I leap forward with a manly "ha HA! There you are, villain! Have at you!?" That is what the penny dreadfuls would have the gentle reader think happens at a moment like this.

All I can think of is: "Good lord, I'm two years OLDER then him, do I look that wretched?"

I'm staring hard, and I can't see the face of the youthful student leader I had crossed swords with, all those years ago. The scar is there, to be sure, malforming his rather puffy face from the hinge of the jaw line to his cheek. Otherwise, his flesh is rather droopy, as if it does not fit the person within.. and he has a sickly, greenish cast to his features. Gone is the youthful slenderness, speed and agility.. instead, a rather jowly middle aged (although still heavily muscled) man confronts me, a sardonic smile on his face. His raiment is splendid, however, and the odd black pearl ornament on his neck, looking something like a black jade officer's gorget, is striking. He fingers it nervously as he strides down the stairs.

I walk out into the courtyard, and the rest of the Strike Force trails in behind me in a straggly line, attempting to form up into formation. Aside from one of its members occasionally dropping from shell fragments coming from the bombardment of the walls (courtesy of the Iron River Dragon), the Dark Ocean society silently stands in formation ranks, awaiting the pleasure of the Lord of Fusang. We are outnumbered here, by a factor of three to one. I should have known he would have this ace up his sleeve, but who could have predicted it? Lieng is no wizard! What is the source of his power?

I decide to take the initiative. It will buy us time.

"Hsieh Lieng, Lord of Fusang, styled the Dragon who Waits in these lands, I am Lieutenant Colonel Hotspur O'Toole, First Caledon Lancers, and I have come to you at last. You have waged war against me and mine, and you have many deaths to answer for, in this life and the next. Will you treat with me?"

Lieng smiles, half-charming, half-snarl. Is he actually trying to negotiate? What in the world for? We both know he has the upper hand here.

"Colonel O'Toole, I will observe the ancient forms and treat with you in the language of nobility, although you have no claim to any such elevation, unlike your former master, Ward"

(he spits, twice, which is a stylized insult-- many Warlords were outraged when the Imperial Court approved Ward's elevation to Mandarin, fourth class).

I continue.

"My personal list of grievances is long: the death of my friend and manservant, my own kidnapping from the Western Lands, the condition of my travels to your lands, attempted murder, many times over, torture, and the death of many companions-- your wound, honorably received in combat, hardly serves as justification for vendetta. I will forgo any claim to revenge for myself, but you needs must be brought to answer for the crimes against your own people."

Lieng laughs.. pleasantly at first, then with rising sibilants, Chinese style.. so his laughter ends as a sort of reptilian hissss

"Colonel O'Toole, did you think I had the Honorable Lien Bao bring you here for petty revenge, for THIS, alone?" He gestures to the scar on his cheek, still livid after all these years.

I reply: "You have tried to lure me here once, and the second time by I arrived by force. I rather doubt you brought me halfway around the world to exchange pleasantries. Now, if you mean to attempt to kill me, I am at your disposal, but I warn you, I will NOT go easily..."

Looking round, I gesture at the ranks of the Dark Ocean Society.

"you appear to have brought enough men for the job. Let us commence, then."

I'm trying to goad him; he knows it, so do I. I was expecting ANYTHING but more laughter.

"Colonel, Colonel, Colonel.. you of the enormous ego! You really thought this was all about you, didn't you?? You do make me laugh!"

He laughs more, this time with a spiteful edge to it.

"No, no, sir.." he wheezes.. giggling, his belly shaking. "I brought you all the way from the ends of the earth to offer you a JOB."

My father, bless his memory, used to tell me to keep my mouth shut when I'm surprised.. or I would let the flies in. This must have been one of those times.

"A job? ME? What in God's green earth?"

"Look around Fusang, Colonel. Everything is changing. We are harnessing the power of coal and steam. Our railroad through the mountains will soon be completed. We are building factories, forges, telegraphs.. Soon we will be able to hold our head up high against the arrogant lords of the West that pollute the Celestial Kingdom so. Our friends the Kaiser and the Tsar have their own interests in removing the arrogant English, Americans and even smaller nations such as yours from any influence over trade with the Celestial Kingdom. That is all very well; I will accept their guns and steam tanks and river monitors and other weapons of war, in return for an objective I was pursuing myself. We can use each other, you see."

"Where do I fit in all this?"

Hsien Lieng fidgeted with that odd black pearl neck ornament again, his face darkening..

"You must have noticed, Colonel. You see the Fusang Field Force.. the men of the Dark Ocean society. They can be led, forcibly, but they are no match for the Ever Victorious Army of old. I seek to recreate the discipline and spirit of that older army with the weapons of a modern industrial kingdom, MY kingdom. You are the last officer of the EVA Headquarters staff left alive, sir. In the absence of Frederick Ward or Charles Gordon, you, my dear Colonel, will achieve my aims for me. YOU will be the new Generalissimo of the Modern Armed Forces of The Kingdom of Fusang.. and perhaps, some day, of all of China. What say you to that, Field Marshall O'Toole?"

I stare at him blankly.. trying to keep a straight face. I can't help it.. the big belly laugh comes up out of nowhere and convulses me.

"ME? Work for YOU?" His face looks dangerously purple now. "Oh, Lieng.. oh my.. No, that isn't high on my list of stable employment opportunities. I don't think so."

Lieng blinks twice, fury growing in his face.

"You misunderstand me, Colonel O'Toole. I do not "ask" barbarians to do the bidding of Fusang. I command them!"

He gestures, wildly and presses the black pearl breastplate again.

"THUS! You will bend to my will, as the willow bends to the tempest. NOW!"

And with that.. a sickly green nimbus grows around his head and shoulders, seemingly emanating from the breastplate. I take a quick step forward, blustering a bit in anger. and.. I can scarcely describe what happens next.

A queer lassitude grips my limbs... they feel rubbery..

My vision fades and the visage of Lieng grows large in my eyes.. he chants. It is like Mandarin, but not.. older, more guttural. Professor Nicholas would have a field day with this dialect.. pops into my mind. I shake my head staring, and the voice of Lieng penetrates the fog in my brain, again.. this time in clear, modern English.

"So, O'Toole..." he hisses. "You will learn the way of the servant, and justice will be done for the indignity you visited upon me years ago. I cannot take away this (he points to his scar), but I can take away that Devil's pride you bear. YOU will be my Field Marshal, the Generalissimo of all my Armies in Fusang.. you will swear fealty and devotion unto me, and your children, and children's children, until the stars fade...."

the voice drones on..

I feel my sense of reality.. of 'being here' start to slip suddenly. as if the courtyard is at the end of a long dark tunnel, with that cursed Chinese Doggerel going on and on and on.. my sense of, of.. SELF fades... and again, in Mandarin.

"NOW, Colonel.. NOW.. Kow Tow before your new master!"

As if my feet are not obeying me.. slowly I walk forward. Step by reluctant step.. I am confused... it will be so easy to do this. To knock my head on the floor.. to rest.. no more confusion, no more doubt.. no more worry.

Yet, a tickle in the back of my brain begins to annoy my sense of lassitude. I somehow know that if I performed the kowtow, that would be it for my free will, forever. The tickle is getting louder.. spiraling upward. It is the meory of Ward again, crouched next to me, having coffee by the fire. "Repeat this after me, young O'Toole. It will bring that help which is needed. No, you young idiot, didn't the Brothers teach you the genitive case? REPEAT! LEARN! .. what was this again.. and suddenly the vision comes to me, and a voice, that I can almost hear..

"Imperiequeritis, tria pendent corpora ramis dis meus et gestas in media et divina potestas dimeas clanator sed jetas as astra levarut"

Again and again, I hear this bit of bastardized Latin.. chanted. in the voice of the Lady Bellambi? I speak the words in tempo with the voice in my head. First as a croak, then louder.. then louder.. and I find myself returning to this world.. an odd, white light seems to be coming from within my chest as a sharp clarity comes back to me-- the green glow almost appears to be in abeyance, pushed back by the white light of ancient magick.

The white glow, itself, appears to move expand out from me, encompassing those men around me.

I catch myself descending to one knee.. I had almost done it.

I roar out "What the devil? NOT IN THIS LIFETIME, OR THE NEXT!" and straighten up quickly. Hsieh Lieng leaps backwards as if struck, falling to the ground. He is not used to such bald-faced rejection, I think.

I turn to face the rest of the strike force. With the exception of the men in the cone of the white light with me, they are all staring ahead blankly, as are the doubly glassy eyed unfortunates in the Dark Ocean Society. Focus is coming back.

He can't control them all! He can't! I see it! He needs natural leaders because he can only extend this hell-power so far. I was right all along! Lieng is no sorcerer, any more than I am. Whatever he is wielding, it's a toy.. a trinket.. he has stolen this power to ensorcle the unwitting. It has to be that breastplate ornament he keeps fingering so obsessively.

And this tool he uses, it is finite. Which suggests.. that it can be destroyed. I turn towards Darien. He is stumbling from the blanket effects of the jade charm, but recovering. He had been close to me when the old Ward defensive spell had gone off. I grab him and shake him.

Lieng starts to rise, shaking his head in anger, cursing gutturally in Mandarin. There's something.. WRONG about his features.. as if he is swelling.. adapting an even greener coutnenance..

"Doctor Mason. It's now, or never. Do you see the black pearl in his breastplate?"

"Whaaaaaa???.. Pearl? What?"

He shakes his head, clearing. He nods.

he whispers.

"DOCTOR!! The Song of Osiris! Now! Now or we're all doomed!"

I fear I may be handling him a bit roughly, but I manage to rattle sense in his head. Already I see the white nimbus from Warding spell dissipate; the green glow will seep back in again, and then it will be all up. I sense, I do not KNOW, that I cannot pull the same trick of counterspell twice. This thing had been buried in me for twenty years.

Once released, I cannot put it back. I'm no wizard.

Darien has regained his wits.


Darien begins to intone the Song of Osiris.. I cannot relate what happens next in any detail.. a sound more than a vision.. as if every voice in a doomed choir released a wail of anguish at the same time. The men who are rousing from the spell gasp and fall to their knees, myself included.

Darien arches backward, the Song arching out like a bolt of black thunderbolt of pain, arcing around crazily.. going out of control, dangerously, then Darien wrests control of it and flings it into the face of Hsieh Lieng. The black bolt of ... sound... smashes into Lieng, now just getting on to his feet. His face is contorted with fury, then absolute terror.

Lieng crumples, as if punched with a giant fist, and there is a rending, tearing sound. The breastplate is cracked in two. The ranks of the Dark Ocean Society collapse in a tumbled heap, released from control.

Darien is barely standing, grey in the face, blood seeping from his nose and ears.

"You did it! Well done, Doctor!"

He nods, smiling weakly, and proceeds to retch repeatedly. I look away, to give him his privacy.

All throughout the courtyard, there is a mass of unconscious, semi-conscious and reeling humanity, either the Dark Ocean society or the Progressives, recovering from the effects of the mass hypnosis effect of Lieng's breastplate.

I see that Lieng is on his feet again, incredibly.. swelling even larger, his skin starting to grow greenish in color.

There's something wrong with his skin.. scales! Suddenly I understand the real meaning of the phrase "The Dragon who waits".

Lieng grows larger, cursing and hurling imprecations in my direction.. all of them quite colorful and sadly unprintable-- the least profane of which suggesting I would spend an eternity in the Seven Hells being sodomized by demons.

An angry opponent is an opponent off-base, O'Toole, my fencing instructor used to tell me.

If I were facing a normal man, I'd be gloating inwardly, for an angry man is certainly easy to tempt into mistakes. But Lieng is no normal man, now... he is rapidly changing into something else. His mandarin robes grow tight, then split at the seams.. his skin is getting scalier, his eyes glowing red, his face elongating... a pity he wasn't a normal, angry man with a sword right now, I think.

Wait. Anger.

I turn to Darien again.


Darien stares at me, blankly, panting from his exertions. , eyes wide with shock at the horrific transformation in the center of the courtyard, confuse.

"What... in the world.. are you talking about?"

"HIT ME, damn you.. as hard as you can!"

He tries. In his weakened state, it's hardly a slap. It just won't do.

"Harder, dammit!" I groan, and punch myself in the face. It's not working.

Suddenly a giant hand grabs my shoulder spins me around and a fist the size of a
cantaloupe doubles me over, then an uppercut sends me flying against the courtyard wall. ANGUS! I had forgotten him. Good Gael that he is, I think he has some faint inkling of what will happen next.

I roll on the ground, out of breath.. nodding. yep, that's going to do it.. I'm angry...

I leap up, snarling.

INCREDIBLY angry, as it turns out.. I feel the old THING rise up out of nowhere.. the fire of rage in my veins.. and for the first time in my life, I don't seek to contain it any more, but let myself become a sacred vessel for it.. to fill me up with the bright rage, the red, killing anger, to be truly touched by the Gods.... I also feel my self changing.. my clothes tighter.. taller.. nails growing out..

I am here in this courtyard of death, and not here at the same time... I am back in another time, when I and my red brothers came across the sea to serve the Grim Unsmiling Queen who had raised her standard in revolt against the small men of the south. She rides on her chariot into battle, and her red bodyguard flies before her, leaping over the solid line of metalskins with their pilae and rectangular shields, to land behind them, to rip and rend and tear and kill and kill and kill and until called back by the Song of Recall.. I scream with pleasure as another Roman's head leaps from its shoulders in a shower of blood, its face a contorted mask of surprise and anger. And then...

I am back in the courtyard of Fusang... my skin is reddening, I am grown to a foot taller than normal.. my clothes are in rags... I feel the last tickle of consciousness as I raise my heavy German sword and charge the large green beast that is my enemy. I scream in the ancient tongue of my forefathers, so much older than Gaelic. Why? Why had I denied myself .. THIS.. all my life? I sing as I run foward. I would taste his blood this day, or he mine... and the last thing I remember as I closed with the green beast is the sound of wolves baying.. Wolf howls and screaming... and coming closer..

In two more bounds, I am across the courtyard, and I reach for the hated lizard-thing, to smash, to kill, and the element of me who can remember, and record.. flies away for a while.

Editorial note: Eva Bellambi's Cold Iron of the Chief intersects at about this point in the narrative. Fuzzball Ortega's Journey to Fusang part 29 also intersects almost exactly at the tail end of this post, and will continue in part 32, after Eva's next post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Return to Fusang: The Danger Forward

Continued from HERE | Dovetails with THIS POST at the end

The engineering detail fixing the rudder housing is making a fine din below; I can hear the great sledgehammer blows as Angus attempts to true the rudder shaft the old fashioned way; by bludgeoning it back in place. He's a dab hand with a claymore or a hammer, I've found.. taking natural charge of the Chinese engineers despite not knowing a lick of Mandarin. The rest of the River Dragon is rapidly coming together-- bullet holes filled with putty, a quick white wash of the burnt spots and a mopping up of the blood on the decks, and she'll be ready to go within two hours.

Leaning against the taffrail, I watch solemnly as the last of Feng -hsiang's Army files over the ridge on an interception course with The Fusang Field Force under General Yang in the North.

Earlier, I had expressed my worries to General Feng about the upcoming clash. It will be a true test of a general, and we both know it will make or break the Army of Progressive Peace.

"You are outnumbered almost three to one, sir... I would advise extreme caution"..

Feng smiled. "Then I shall instruct my men to kill three men a piece, Colonel. How do you put it.. A piece of pie?"

"No sir, that would be cake".

"No matter. We shall scout ahead, Colonel, and look for the main chance. If he is moving this large of a force on these roads, I cannot see how he can move a compact force anywhere swiftly. My hope is to smash into Yang's front columns, hold him there and move the rest around the right flank."

Shea (now Major Lefevre, Army of Progressive Peace!) threw in eagerly: "Much like General Lee did at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Colonel! We shall stop him in his tracks, and deliver the hammer blow!"

I nodded, saluting General Feng. "Success to you, sir. May your men move swiftly, strike decisively, and retreat before counterattacks like feathers in the wind".

He smiled, returning the salute. "And success to YOU, sir. Much relies on your effort!" As he galloped away, he shouted "Who knows, Colonel? Perhaps we shall rename this army the Second Ever Victorious Army yet!" I noted the look of bitter disdain in Smith's face as he hears that. What the devil is the matter with that fellow?

Now, I exhale the last of the smoke from one of Doctor Mason's cigars. Much to do, much to do.

Folding the map, I look up at Dr. Mason. "Any idea of where Fuzz might be, Doctor?"

The doctor leans against the rail, stretching. It has been a long day. "Nary a clue. He went over the railing about five miles back, and hasn't been seen all day."

"You realize, we have to leave, and soon. I CAN'T wait here, or we're all dead" I gesture in the direction the army left in. "This.. all of this.. relies on US being fast.. reacting before they can communicate to the field army. This tub is going to give us the edge we need to get to Fusang in time. You savvy? We go whether Fuzz shows up or not."

Mason nods, gravely. "Fuzz has a way of showing up when needed. Have a little faith, Colonel!"

"Faith I have, in spades. What I NEED are soldiers. And maybe a little heavy artillery for the castle doors. Anything you can help with?"

Mason pulls out a well worn book out of his traveling bag. In old gilt letters, I read THE SONG OF OSIRIS in faded type. He grins apologetically. "Hard to find, and damnably expensive for a mere reprint. But I may have something in here that will at least clear a path to the door"
"How about that Staff of Ra thing? That was damnably impressive."

Mason suddenly looks even more tired. "I don't think so. To recharge that would drain me, and take a lot of time we don't possess. You have NO idea of what it takes from me... to make that whole". "Drat, I wish we had known.. well, it is of no matter, then. What will the Song of Osiris do?"

"It is a spell of advanced thaumatergical skill, resulting in a loud screech that debilitates a number of targets simultaneously.. To cast it, I must be in position, say the phrases, and point in the direction it will go, and then the targets will tumble like ninepins"

I nod, bemused. "I hope this will be enough"

"Is this Hsieh Lieng character a wizard in his own right?"

I shake my head "He never showed this kind of skill when he was a youngster... he was a fighting man, not a wizard. That's what puzzles me. How has he show such power? You either have it or you don't, am I not mistaken?"

"Not entirely so. He may be channeling power for another wizard, such as the Lien Bao fellow you mentioned, or.. someone else.."

"I've run into Lien Bao on many occasions. I would not have ascribed that skill to him, nor is he the type to share power with any other mortal. I sense something darker afoot"

I yawn, and stretch, myself.. I am damnably sore from assorted bashes and bangs.

Doctor Mason's eyes twinkle, as he offers a flask. "Now, in my medical capacity, Colonel, I strongly advise a hearty pull of this concoction, and perhaps an hour or so of rest. We both know what might be at the end of this excursion."

I nod, and return to the last stages of preparing for the trip upriver. The two pom-pom guns, and the unlucky mule teams that pull them, or loaded aboard on slings. The strike force is primarily soldiers from the Progressive Army, but there are a kernel of the bandit tribe along just for the mad fun of the adventure. They assemble on the fantail, and I say a few words.

"Comrades! we are heading into the heart of the devil's den. Our task is to bring the war to none other than the Dragon who Waits himself. Are you prepared to do so?"

The crowd of soldiers, bandits and ne'er do wells roar their approval.

"To accomplish this, General Feng has entrusted us with this fine vessel, which we have hastily repaired. We must rely on stealth for the first part of our journey! So I require most of you to stay in the hold below, with rifles and bayonet at the ready. The rest of you will find uniforms that are not too bloody, wash the gore out, and wear them so that we will deceive the enemy when we approach Fusang Port."

More cheers and raucous commentary.

"Now, alas... " I say, gesturing towards myself, Doctor Mason and Angus. "We three are at a disadvantage attempting to pass ourselves off as inhabitants of the Celestial Kingdom"

I rub my blond hair for emphasis, to general peels of high pitched laughter.

"So we will remain hidden until the time comes for us to spring into action and shoot our way into the palace. ARE YOU WITH ME, EVER VICTORIOUS ARMY???"

The Cheers and Hullabaloo are deafening.. I smile.. like old times.

"Then let us cast off! Our destiny is in the North!"

Grinning, the engineers ring for quarter speed on the screws, as dozens of helpful hands run to cast off lines and leap aboard. The Iron River Dragon noses about ponderously, but the rudder casing holds strong and true, and we start on the journey northward.. North to Fusang Castle itself. I give three long blasts on the steam whistle, and steer her clear for the center channel.

"A piece of.. cake" I murmur, and the helmsman stares at me with a blank smile. I had spoken in English.

"Oh, Nothing, nothing. Keep her on the steady center course at three quarters speed. I'm going to sleep for an hour, make sure I'm awakened one hour from now, on the dot, on pain of painful and humiliating death"

The helmsman gulps and bows his head, nodding...

"Relax, helmsman.. I'm joking. Just send someone to find me, please"

I nod at Angus Glitterach, who is cheerfully instructing the lads in a complicated five point pike drill on the fantail. I recognize a wedge formation, used by police to break up riots. Now that would be handy.

I collapse on the former first officer's cot, my eyes closing before my head hits the pillow-- rapidly spiraling downward into the black arms of sleep, as the steady *throb throb throb* of the engines knock me into the land of nod.

The vision comes upon me like a runaway freight train. Instantly, I recognize the setting. The Dock at Fooking again, where this journey started. Ward is standing there with Burgrevine, about to send me off downriver. We shake hands. Ward drawls in that Yankee accent of his.. "Well, O'Toole, be careful down in Shanghai, don't let the Mandarins befuddle you. We need the second Regiment ready within 8 months. You savvy?"

"Yessir, I won' t let you down!"

"Hmph. See you don't!"

Burgrevine snickers to himself. Had I known then what I know now, I would have killed him on the dock then and there.

"One last thing, boy.. take what I said to heart."
I nod, eyes wide.

"You're touched by the Gods, boy, I saw it in you back in India, and it's getting stronger every day. It will come in handy some day, but until then, you may find it a mixed blessing! You'll want to let that power out! Don't! Let it sleep within in you until the right time! Remember what I told you! Control! The secret lies within Control!"

I wave farewell at Colonel Ward and Major Burgrevine of the Ever Victorious Army. as the rowboat pulls out to the steamboat. I never saw Ward alive again. In two months, Burgrevine would betray Ward to the Warlords, and he would be killed. By the end of the year, Burgrevine himself would be dead, at the hands of Gordon himself.

I am awakened by Yao, shaking me awake, gruffly. The vision disappears as abruptly as it arrived. "Come along, Long Nose, there's a fight to plan"

In the stateroom, the Progressives have the old captain of the Iron River Dragon tied to a chair. The whites of his eyes are showing, and he babbles from fear. I don't have any time to persuade him, so I draw a pistol and point it directly into his face. "You understand me, yes?"

He nods, sweating.

"Than know this. We kept you alive because the dock master will expect to see your face on the Texas deck of this boat when you pull up at the quay. I will have this pointed at you from three feet away, the entire time we approach Fusang Dockyard. You will say EXACTLY what I tell you to say. You might try something heroic-- I'd certainly understand if you did. But understand for certain that if you do, the next thing you'll see is the back of your head, rapidly exiting the front of it. You understand THAT? No matter how fast you are, you're a dead man if you try something. They may kill me, but you will for certain sure be dead. Savvy?"

He nods, nervous, trying to kowtow. Disgusted, I tell him to get back on his feet.

I look at the assembled faces in the room. Yao, Doctor Mason, Sergeant Chen, Angus. Nieng Bandits and Soldiers of the Army of Progressive Peace, together.

"This will work if we move fast and strike hard. We have no real idea of who is in Fusang Palace other than Hsieh Lieng and Lien Bao. We don't know how many troops have been left behind. Sergeant Chen here knows the layout of the palace, having served in the Fusang Field Force. Chen nods. He will will draw us a picture of the palace, where the Household Guard might be, and where the throne room is. We don't have a lot of time to practice this. Our plan is to pull up to the quay with some made up excuse about having received battle damage, and then rush down the gangplank, across the plaza as fast as possible, up into the castle area. There are two dangers areas.. the plaza itself, and the courtyard of the palace. We can't get caught in a killing zone. We can't allow ourselves to be trapped in the streets. So we move out on the run, yes?"

A chorus of nods, and one rumbling "Aye, Laddie".
"Now, Sergeant Chen will be in charge of the riflemen. If we encounter knots of resistance, form three lines and perform volley fire once, then charge in with bayonets. Angus, take that squad of Pikemen you were playing with and position them out front to break up the crowd in front as a flying wedge. Darien and I will haul the mules with the pom pom gun teams with us. In front of the castle proper is a large Gatehouse with doors about a foot thick. We won't be able to get through, even with small artillery. However, there's a postern at the far end of the courtyard used by servants. That is not well guarded and not nearly as thick. Darien and I will blow the door to kindling. Then we need to get to the throne room to.. force the issue. Now, if things go to complete and utter ruin, we badly misjudge this effort, and have to fall back. We'll need someone covering us from the River Dragon. I'll need a small crew to work the secondaries here on the top deck to prevent soldiers from trying to take over the River Dragon. This is our only way home, gents. We need to keep the boilers stoked and engine running. Yao, will you take this on?"

Yao's face grows cold. "Aieeya, Long Nose.. I want to see Lieng's head on a platter as much as you do. Do you think you have the right to take this from me?"

I smiled, knowing this would be hard. "No, my friend, I don't. But can you run at a dead run for several blocks, fighting uphill for a portion of it? I know your ribs got stove in and you have a cracked pate. Do me this favor, will you? I will bring you Lieng's head to spit on today, or come back dead, this I promise"

The men nod, liking the high drama of that statement. It's a Chinese thing, we don't understand. Yao glowered, but relented. "It shall be as you say, Long Nose. I may kill many of them, in any case."

"I appreciate the honor of the kill, my friend..

Good, then. let's get to our stations. Remember, yell like madmen the entire time.. that will keep people off their fighting edge."

Gradually, the boat steam around the river bend, as the black towers of Fusang approach. The long line of Progressive soldiers and bandits crouch in the scuppers out of sight, waiting to spring into action.

Followed directly by this post

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Return to Fusang: The Cold Iron of the Chief

Follows directly from HERE

What in God's name just happened?

I looked around my new surroundings. Lien Bao was no more. All that remained of the 400 year old wu-jen were still smoking ashes. I am in his laboratory in what seems to be his palace. Quickly I grabbed Claidheamh Ghaidhealtaehd Flath (or Claidheamh Flath as it is generally called), the sword given me by my father upon his death, for I was not certain when the guards of the palace would be upon me.

It seemed oddly quiet to me. I could hear the hum of a busy palace, but could not hear any evidence that anyone was aware of my presence or the death of the old wizard.

I walked over to the window and tried to carefully get my bearings. And I started trying to piece together the events of the last half hour or so.

How had I traveled here? Lien Bao had been working his way through the rift that Amber had created with her incantations and there was no way that I could let that happen even if it meant my death. He would have killed Amber, who was there only at my request. And I certainly could not let his evil loose in Caledon.

I felt Claidheamh Flath in the snow at my side. I had trained with the Sword of the Highland Chief as soon as I was strong enough to wield it. James, my father and chieftain, insisted that I use his ancestral sword - passed down from the ancient chiefs of the Fraser line. Raising the sword I yelled out to Lien Bao to leave Amber alone - and then I struck him.

Pick my sword up, mo nighean - the sword of your forefathers. Claidheamh Flath forged by the ancient chieftain, Simon of Oliver, himself. It is the sword he carried to victory at the Battle of Roslin after Wallace's death. Forged of the star iron found in the fields around his home in Aberdeenshire. Many years before he had it made a star fell from the skies - large pieces of iron were uncovered in the fields as he built his keep. I picked the sword up from the sand practice field and held it with two hands as my father had shown me. Good stance, bheag. This sword has protected our family from attacks and dangers at many times in the history of our clan...both from physical, human enemies, and fae or demon intruders.

At my puzzled look he reminded me that the cold iron is especially effective against fairy folk...binding them, and even capable of killing them. This cold iron...the enchanted iron from the heavens holds power over the fairy folk and demons alike, Eva. Never forget that as you wield this weapon, nor as you hang the cold iron horse's shoe over your door.

That must have been it! Claidheamh Flath carried with it the ancient powers of my family and the stars, and it had carried me to Fusang along with Lien Bao. And it had killed the ancient wu-jen.

We fell through the rift into the laboratory in Lien Bao's palace.

The sword stayed true.

As we fell out of the realm of the spirits and into the real, I lost my grip on
Claidheamh Flath.

I was thrown backwards by the closing of the portal and Lien Bao fell to the floor.

The Ancient began to transform before me.

OK - this is good, I thought to myself, now I just need to get myself out of this lab and find Dau and LaFevre so we can extract Hotspur and get home. As I started out the door, I heard the noise of artillery coming from outside. I ran out to the balcony to see smoke rising from the river. I decided to watch from this location until I could determine who was attacking and what was going on. The firing kept up and suddenly I heard shouts emanating from just below me. Chinese, English, Gaelic.


Ancient Gaelic....shouted in a deep,
resonant voice. Strange, but somehow familiar. Who? I leaned over the railing of the balcony to get a better look.

Och! Is that Hotspur shouting in our ancient tongue? Whoever it is looks like Hotspur, but much taller and with claws at the ends of extremely long fingers. Sharp, jagged teeth. Red bristling, unkempt hair, and even redder skin.

I closed my eyes and looked again. I knew.

My God! What next?

This post follows directly