Entry Point: HERE | Meanwhile...
On a Slow Boat To China again.
For a long time, I fell in my mind. Oh, I had some foggy notion of actions transpiring without participating in them, at least physically.. repeated beatings of increasing fury and impotence. Questions asked, none that were answered. I suspect the dart whatsit was more strongly dosed then was required for a man of my size. This only served to increase the impotent fury of my captors. Meanwhile, my mind wandered, as I visited the past.. and possibly the future?
"It pains me to say this, Major, but the faculty despair of turning young Hotspur into a gentleman. Might we suggest taking him out to India with you? Perhaps a clerking position, in the East India Company? One hears good things, sir.."
"O'Toole, it fills me with sadness to inform you of a letter concerning your father's fate in India..."
"You young beast! With my downstairs chambermaid?! How DARE you!"
"Some candidates simply do not have the calling of holy orders, no matter how often their devotions are beaten into them. However, we will educate him as you request..."
"Mr. O'Toole, it pains me to return your ring to you, but my father has grown firmly against the match, due to your slender prospects of making a living.."
Some memories are best not revisited...
Some years later, crouching near a campfire in China.. Ward, miraculously alive again, walks up with two cups of coffee made by Jie. He is somber faced, as I stare into the fire morosely. I am in a blue funk, thinking back on Captain Somme's advice in Hyderabad: never get involved in China. Perhaps he was right. Ward hands me a steaming cup. Mmmm. This Changkuo fellow makes an impressive cuppa.
"You think you failed today."
"Isn't it obvious, sir? We lost Lieutenant Forrester and four men. Not to mention a dozen of the villagers we came here to protect!"
Ward nods, sipping his coffee. "O'Toole, you're still new at this. Look at the other side of things. 80 villagers were evacuated. As for your friend Forrester-- you are learning the hard truth of command. The truth is, sometimes you will have to order the men you lead to die. They don't tell you this at Sandhurst, but we all have to learn this hard lesson. Take it to heart, and use it, but don't sit here wallowing in self pity. I need officers, not blubbery. Let me tell you what *I* saw today. I saw a young officer turn and stand over poor collapsed Bertie Forrester, haul out his Malay chopper, and wade into a crowd of dozens of heathens, kill two and send the rest into flight. The MEN saw that. Here's a secret: They will follow an officer like that anywhere. Now, let's talk about your future."
"Yes SIR! What are my orders?"
He grins. I feel myself coming out of a funk immediately. Ward could do this with his men. The Chinese call him a wizard. I haven't seen this, yet, but I know he has a certain something I've never seen before-- that sheer, effortless influence on the men he leads.
"Let's talk shop for a second. Walk with me."
As we stroll among the campfires, Ward visits the clusters of men-- rather than being despondent from today's loss, they seem absurdly buoyant and willing to have another go at the Warlords. Oh, the magic of this man. I see it again and again.
"O'Toole, I'm concerned. You made a terrible enemy today.. that young student leader, H'sieh Lieng. You slew his elder brother... yes, yes, I know it was a fair fight and you were just acting as a rear guard. But you also marked Lieng *himself* across his face. The Chinee are sensitive about 'face', both literally and figuratively. Worse-- the Liengs, they are a prideful bunch. with long memories and long arms. I fear there will soon be no safe place for you in China."
"I can take care of myself, sir!"
"I know this.. but you will place our efforts here in jeopardy if you involve yourself in a local vendetta. So I am going to do two things for you. You are hereby ordered to take a recruitment and foraging detail back to Singapore, forthwith, to start building the second battalion of the EVA under Colonel Burgrevine"
"But sir! I protest! I did not come to China to be a drill master!"
He turned on me sharply.
"Then why DID you come, O'Toole? To learn to be a soldier, did you not tell me this when you were recruited? You will learn the less glamorous element of soldiering-- it's not all cavalry charges and dances, you young pup! No protestations, Lieutenant. Follow your orders or face insubordination charges. Now, I did mention TWO things. Here is the second. Repeat this charm after me.. "
"This WHAT, sir?"
"It is, for lack of a better term, a spell. Or cantrip, or formula for altering reality, if you will. It will summon aid."
"What kind of aid?"
"That which is most needed the moment it is pronounced. I can't give you any more details, as I don't know much more myself. Now follow along and remember this. It may save your life someday... Imperiequeritis, tria pendent corpora ramis dis meus et gestas in media et divina potestas dimeas clanator sed jetas as astra levarut..."
"Sir, Latin is not my strong suit..."
"LEARN this.. Again, with me, now.."
"Imperiequeritis, tria pendent....."
The memory fades..
I come to lying on the steel floor of a small room.. I feel the floor moving underneath me; I am on a ship of some sort, that much is obvious.
I painfully raise my head up and look at the wall, opening up my crusty, blood covered eyes. I wish I hadn't. The sign on the wall reads: THE DARK OCEAN SOCIETY. Across time, over thousands of miles, Lieng had found me again. I would not be lucky a third time.
At this point, I heard people approaching in the hallway. I feigned unconsciousness. The door opened, and I felt a presence enter the room.
"There is no use in feigning indisposition, Colonel. The reviving medication I gave you would suffice to bring you back from the dead, at this appointed hour, were I to wish it" said a soft, educated voice.
I looked up, and my fears were confirmed.
It was Lien Bao, the old sorcerer himself. I had merited some high level attention, it turned out. I suppose I should have been flattered.
"Colonel, allow me to apologize for the excessive zeal of my underlings... you may rest assured that the minion who was questioning you is now making the acquaintance of certain aquatic creatures in an intimate manner. You may also rest assured that we will take good care of you during the duration of our journey..
For, you see, my Master, the Dragon who Waits, Supreme Lord of Fusang, has a part for you to play in upcoming events. And he is a very, very patient man. It would not do to have you show up harmed in any way, no, not at all.."
Smiling unpleasantly, he departed the room, and I sunk back down into a merciful blackness.