Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Imperfect Satori for the Confused and Exasperated

Steelhead Adventures/Return to Fusang

(meta post)

A "Satori", in Buddhist terms, translates to a "moment of perfect clarity", or "insight". This is a term popular with Go-players; it is exclaimed when the player sees the entirety of the game, from start to finish, even in the midst of play. We realize that Steelhead Adventures bounce around quite a bit, at the moment between four blogs and sometimes five. A multi-author project can be amusing and quite a creative outlet for the participants, but sometimes confusing for people who jump in the middle and wonder at what's going on. So if the reader will accept a moment of "imperfect clarity", as it were, we'll take a short breather and explain the story thus far.

Cast (seen or referred to so far)

Adventurers, reluctant or otherwise

Hotspur O'Toole (first person voice, on this journal): A Soldier of Fortune of sorts, currently in service to the small independent nation of Caledon, but known to work far afield, hither and yon. Very close ties with Steelhead establishment and frequently found doing "odd jobs" in support of Steelhead (ref: Bloodwing Foundation) Originally from Ireland, served (very briefly) as subaltern in British Army of India. Recruited by F.T. Ward many years ago to serve as junior officer in the Ever Victorious Army, a populist force that was attempting to destroy the growing power of Warlords in the Celestial Kingdom (analogous to "China" in our world). Left Celestial Kingdom after Ward's death (refused to serve under Burgrevine- ed.), served elsewhere. Has returned once to rescue a comrade (failure: see "Journey to Fusang"). Kidnapped, at the start of this story cycle, and brought to China again, by his most implacable enemy, Liang aka "the Dragon who Waits"

Fuzzball Ortega (on the "Ortega Chronicles") congenial Sherrif of Steelhead City, also known as Ortegavich. Originally from a small country in the Balkans named Moldavia, became a naturalized citizen of the United States, around the time of his involvement with the legendary "Capper Brigade". At some point incurred the wrath of Jobias Barthelmess, former dictator and agent provocetur. Fuzz is a lycanthrope that can transform at will. Recently shot with silver and almost killed, rescued by his cousin Purdy. When O'Toole (above) was kidnapped at the end of the Silver Poison affair, organized a rescue team with two of his Capper Brigade fellow vets, Doctor Mason and Glitterach.

Purdie Uggla a Time Lord. He and his cousin Rasslonis were involved in the Last Great Time War and were trapped in the Medusa Cascade as it was sealed behind them. Both wound up in the parallel world where our story takes place, Rasslonis in 1390 AD in Moldovia, Purdie in the late 1880's in Caledon. Rasslonis used the powers of the TARDIS to rewrite his DNA, so that he would be human (reasons unknown, but possible to hide from enemies also trapped in this world). Rasslonis married, had children, and died an old man. Fuzzball Ortega is descended from Rasslonis on his mother's side. Despite the DNA being rewritten, some Time Lord DNA managed to be handed down from generation to generation, giving the descendants the ability to heal quickly, in most cases. Uggla pops into and out of adventures consistently. May be from the future. Has saved Fuzz's life recently by taking from this time period to heal in time-stasis. Enigmatic and terse, but quite committed. Currently taking a parallel course with Ortega, but with his colleague, Koen.

Angelica Trescothick (stage name). Sister to Fuzzball Ortega. Recently revealed to be an agent of Pinkerton Intelligence, a secret branch of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Unknown how much further the involvement would be at this point. Born without the Lycan gene.

Darien Mason (from the Blog of Darien Mason) Vivisectionist, Re-animator, Formerly possessed by a demon, killed and cloned. Has many, many, many relations. Former medical officer of the Capper Brigade. Good friend of Ortega.

Eva Bellambi (from The Red Rose of Caledon and this journal) Duchess, adventurer, scientist, the head of Caledon's notorious MI-5 branch for intelligence operations. Headed Caledon's intelligence network during the inglorious Neualtenburg War, where she recruited O'Toole as field operative. Somewhat exasperated with O'Toole, in a friendly way.

Shea LeFevre (from this journal) American, ex-CSA. recruited recently into MI5 service. On his first assignment in the Celestial Kingdom. Last seen in a dream vision by O'Toole. Redirected by MI5 to extricate Senior Agent O'Toole. They have never met.

The Celestial Kingdom

H'sieh Lieng, The Dragon who Waits: fictional character. Years ago, a student leading a "liberation party" in China, fell in with radicals and the warlords. From a proud and haughty family. No coward, he fought the younger O'Toole at Foo-King, during a disastrous retreat of the EVA. O'Toole's backhand slash cut his face to the bone, leaving a permanent livid scar. Sensitive to the literal "loss of face" after losing that combat, Lieng has demonstrated a consistent, implacable hatred of O'Toole that will not abate until one of them is dead. O'Toole does not return this, which only serves to infuriate him more. Having deposed the former Imperial Governor of Fusang, now holds the seat of Fusang as a warlord in his own right. Reputed to be a sorcerer of sorts, and known to be fascinated with modern military technology. In his youth he organized against "Demons of the West" invading China. Recently has quietly accepted the help of foreign military advisers for a railroad project stretching between Hanxian and Fusang. Evidence he is soliciting illegal arms shipments. He is very interested in obtaining access to the sea, to contend with "Great Powers".

Lien Bao, "The Clever Old Bastard": fictional character. 400 year old Wu-Jen ("wizard") in Lieng's service. Member of the Dark Ocean Society, which works for Lieng (although who works for whom is a matter of conjecture and comment). Chinese in appearance and dress, speaks perfect, Oxford accented English (he attended the university in the late 1600s). Cheerfully amoral and out for the main chance, will serve Lieng for as long as it serves the ends of the Dark Ocean Society. Reputed to have a far older, far more evil master that remains unseen.

Pu Ying, Small Shang, and Kasukalan Tauhan: fictional characters. Members of the old Ever Victorious Army in years past, recently recruited to the forces of Army of Fusang to help train Fusang's infantry. Outwardly hostile to O'Toole, whom they seem to think betrayed their cause years ago, at least one of them has not lost faith and secretly gave Hotspur a knife to assist with escape.


Frederick Townsend Ward (dead, seen in flashbacks) and the Ever Victorious Army. Historical character, seen in a very different form in this story-- as a wizard and general of great power. Hotspur's mentor and commanding officer in the EVA days, he teaches H. a secret that inexplicably becomes important years later. Ward was killed years ago, and succeeded by Henry Burgrevine (American, ex-CSA), a traitor that H. would not serve under. Eventually, James Gordon took over the EVA after Burgrevine attempted a defection and was executed. Under Gordon, the EVA smashed the power of the Warlords in central China, but was eventually expatriated due to protests from Russia and France. In their absence, the Celestial Kingdom has slid back into the old ways of seizing power with the rifle and bayonet, mixed with Chinese sorcery.

Dogg Food, the Intelligent Cat from the Future is a pet of Tensai Hilra of Steelhead City. Pretty much what the name sounds like, he is an intelligent cat from the future, and pretty good in a scrap.

Koen, son of Darien Mason. Of the Nekko breed, or perhaps half-nekko. Companion to Purdie. Loves adventures. Outwardly simple, but perhaps he hides much.

Thus Far...

Hotspur was captured in Steelhead while investigating the appearance of a known thug at the docks. Spends an agonizing two weeks in the hold of a freighter, returning him to the Celestial Kingdom. Tortured, ineptly, on the way, discovers his captors are a very old enemy indeed. Wavering between conscious and unconscious during the journey, has dream visions of the past that prove helpful. Landed at Hangxian, instead of the expected Kowloon, very suspicous.

Fuzzball, Doc Mason and Dog the Intelligent Cat from the future have taken an airship from San Franciso to the Celestial Kingdom. Attacked by the air pirates of Iron Paw on the way, they take some damage but survive the engagement. Currently landing somewhere in the Celestial Kingdom.

Purdie and Koen have taken a Tardis to make the same trip, but have taken a TARDIS, and appear to have landed in the imperial palace at Fusang.

Eva B. is still in Caledon, but directing an agent already in place (Shea) to investigate the O'Toole disappearance.

A very generalized idea of what is where in relation to what

This Celestial Kingdom is vaguely related to our RL Chinese Geography, and has several place names and geographic features in common, re: Peking, Yalu, Kowloon. However, these locations are not identical to our RL China locations. Many of the characters in the Celestial Kingdom are either lifted straight from 19th Century Chinese history or are based strongly upon it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sent By Rapid Courier - MI-5 to Field


The Secret Steam Lemur...A gift from Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to Caledon's MI-5.

Lemur image from Steampunk Wallpaper
used under Creative Commons agreement

Monday, October 27, 2008

Return to Fusang: In Which The March of Progress Shows its Flaw


ENTRY POINT | Meanwhile... | Meanwhile...

I shake my head in disbelief. Here are three old Ever Victorious Army comrades-in-arms from almost twenty years ago. Have I gone back in time, then? Pu Ying, in particular, had been a banner leader (roughly equivalent to a Western Captain, with two companies under his command). Small Shang had never risen above what we would call a "Top Sergeant" but he was a demon for drilling. The Filipino.. the name finally came to me.. "Kasukalan Tauhan" had always been a mouthful. I recall him being a demon in a fight, disdaining musketry and charging into a brawl with his Malay Chopper out, screaming in Tagalog, chopping away. All of them were wearing what appeared to be the dull green field uniform of the Fusang Infantry these days, with strange insignia on the sleeves. Behind them is a man I don't know, clearly a high officer in the Fusang Field Force.

"What brings you here, bannerman Ying?" I ask, respectfully.

Ying's eyes widens, and his eyes goggle in theatrical fury. I am not expecting a backhand slap that rattles my teeth in my head.

"The Prisoner will not speak! The Prisoner will ONLY LISTEN!" he barks, mechanically. Small Shang and Kasuk keep their eyes lowered in deference.

"It pains me to converse with you, foreign long-nose devil," he continues. "The pollution of the Western Ways will not be undone in a day or a night, as our glorious Dragon who Waits reminds us. My Superior Officer, Colonel Po, has no knowledge of your tongue, so he instructs us, who knew you once and know your language, to communicate details of your fate. Listen, for this will be so. Tomorrow, you will be escorted Northward along the rail line to Fusang. A seat on the Land Dragon is being prepared for you, as well as an escort fitting for your station. Until then, we will make every effort to avoid foreign devils and their devil's lies! "

I splutter a bit at that last. "Devil's Lies? Pu Ying, you were a Bannerman in the Devil Soldier's Army, commanding the respect of the corps, how is this lies?"

He raises his fist, threateningly. I gaze up, placidly. I can take this... he's not hitting very hard for some reason.

"Oh Princes of the West! You make a grand noise of modernization, and bettering the lot of the peasants, and ending repression, and you gave us the knowledge of walking in straight lines and shooting many times prodigiously, and the rifle that fires many bullets... but in the end, as always happens, where were you when your moneyed masters called you home? Where was the Celestial Kingdom? A mere afterthought. The Dragon who Waits means to be a strong leader.. to stride boldly on the world stage, and to treat with you foreign devils as the inferior beings you are!"

I shake my head up at him, pulling at my chains.

"Nonsense, Ying. This Dragon Who Waits is a Slave commanding an army of Slaves. He has no notion of true Power, which derives from the people-- he can only feel the corruption of force. Lieng wishes to set himself above all other men. I spit on this tyrant's chair-- I would not wipe my arse on the throne of Fusang! At least in Ward's Army you held you heads up as free men! Look at you now! Fighting for money, then? Can you truly call yourselves anything but slaves any longer?"

That last statement probably is a mistake. Yes, definitely. The results are predictable, graphic, and quite visual. I have only myself to blame. "O'Toole, ye great brawling lout!" the Duchess said to me repeatedly during training. "False heroics are the enemy of good analysis! Shut that mouth of yours and open your eyes and EARS!"

Yet, somehow, it was not as severe nor damaging a pummeling as the clumsy beating administered on shipboard. When they are finished, the officer with them hisses a command, and they walk out sullenly. The officer, whom I assume to be Colonel Po, walks over to examine me. I am still sitting up, hands behind back. He leans in close, letting out a tuneless, sibilant hissss between his teeth... "He's examining for damage" I think to myself. What in the world are they so spun up about? Why is it so important to deliver undamaged goods, as it were? As he examines me, I become aware of an object in my lap, which hadn't been there before. I hide this by keeping my knees together. Apparently, he is satisfied that my face is not too badly bruised, and abruptly leaves without having uttered a word. I look down in my lap. There, in the folds of my peasant's jacket, is a clasp-knife with a black handle and 7 inch blade. One of my comrades in arms had dropped it there. They have not lost faith after all! Sure, they had worked me over, but I have to commend them for playing it smart. And the knife was fast thinking. It will come in handy. For now, I will hide it in my boot.. if I limp, well, that can be explained away easily enough..

That night, the lady entrusted with my care comes to me again with a simple meal of fish, rice buns and tea. I eat greedily. Afterward, she cleans my much abused face with a hot towel, and applies some herbal concoction that quickly coagulates the surface cuts and alleviates the swelling to a prodigious degree. "A healer," I think, "probably the village healer.. and a damned fine one. The Duchess would be interested in this herbal concoction" I try to speak to her in Mandarin, but she shakes her head and refuses to be drawn out. I ask her for the name of the herb, and she readily tells me. I mentally make a note..

"What is the Land Dragon, little Miss?" I ask. Her eyes are wide with fear. "It shakes the earth! You will see it soon enough!"

I realize there probably aren't words to describe the Land Dragon in her experience, so gratefully take a straw mattress and go to sleep. Again, I am no seer, not given to prophecy and certainly not a far-seer like the Baroness. Yet my dreams, which were so vague before, grow increasingly sharp and fraught with meaning and portent. I see the Sheriff, a large flamboyantly dressed man wearing a kilt, and Doc Mason in a small enclosed space, firing wildly out of a porthole at a group of smaller, black airships that are attacking them in... an airship of their own! What could this mean? The scene is quite vivid.. I sense this is not potential, but real. As the vision fades, it is replaced with a scene of a complete stranger.. a man of my own age, stocky and well-muscled, with the steady hand of a soldier and man of action, asking questions in the stalls and dives of Kowloon. "YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! I'M UP HEEERE!" I shout at him in my dream.. but he does not appear to hear me.

I am awakened the next day by shaking. The little go-down's walls are shaking, rumbling and rattling as a I hear a distantly approaching roar. The healing lady runs in.. she gestures wildly in the direction of the noise. "Land Dragon!" she says again and again, urgently. Shortly thereafter, Fusang soldiers enter the room, unshackle the chain from the hasp in the wall, and unceremoniously drag me to my feet, and out into the sunlight. Once again, I blink.. as an apparition enters the remains of the town square of Hangxian. Later generations will not be shocked and amazed by them, but in my time.. these beasts are only whispered about in military circles.. the amazing Landships that are just now coming out of Woolwich, Edinburgh, Pittsburgh and Cinncinati. So my jaw drops about as low as many of those of the soldiers present, who are showing a disconcerting desire to break ranks and run as far from this beast as possible. This is impossible!! They are only in prototype! Yet, here is one, chugging up to me flying the flag of Fusang. The beast is escorted by a small troop of gaudily dressed Mongol cavalry, spearpoints and carbines at high port. It rumbles to a stop in front of the Go-Down, and emits a hugh hissing sigh. A small metal door on the top of the beast opens, and small man of European origin hops up and stands on the roof, staring down at me, his hands on his waist in a jaunty and confident manner.

"I say, old man" I venture, convivially enough "Are you my pre-arranged transportation? I shan't be a second to pack my valise."

He grins, and says "Я думаю, возможно, Вы должны быть тихими и позволить мне делать разговор." Which is "If I were you, I'd shut up and let ME do the talking", in flawless Russian.

My consternation can only be imagined.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

meta-post: Concerning an Irishman who talks to much..

YHK in Storytelling Rig

... so said the good fathers at Saint Trinians. In this instance, however, a talkative Irishman was actually a good thing.

I hosted a themed storytelling event last night, at Caer Blanco, a gothically themed sim. Our objective was to raise money for the Phelisanong Clinic II in Lesotho. The current establishment is so poor it actually has dirt floors. In the words of the sim owner, Rascal Blanco:

Lesotho is a small country in southern Africa; mountainous and stunningly beautiful, the country is home to the Basotho people. AIDS is taking a devastating toll on the country, with people in their productive years, i.e., parents, farmers, teachers and health workers, dying in alarming numbers. Left behind are children and the elderly, who struggle to survive.
In the foothills of the Maluti mountians, a remarkable community is providing a home for disabled children and those whose parents have died of AIDS. Founder Mamello Lehlotha has a wonderful strength of spirit, a sense of humor and a clear picture of what she wants to accomplish. The Phelisanong Disabled HIV-AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children Community Project provides a resource center for disabled adults and children, a primary school with over 300 students, several HIV-AIDS support groups, a farm, a pre-school, a handicraft cooperative and an outreach program that serves 14 villages in the area.
Recently a small clinic has been established at Phelisanong. This clinic is housed in a tiny rondeval which has an army cot for examinations, a small locking cupboard and a desk and table for the nursing assistant. There is a great need for basic medical supplies and equipment. Since our visit this spring, we have learned that the community around Phelisanong has begun to rely on the clinic thus putting an additional strain on their already meager resources. Partners for Others will be shipping a container of donated medical equipment and furnishings for the clinic and school in early 2009. We are working on raising the funding for a new clinic building that will give patients some privacy and enable waiting patients to be inside rather than out in the weather. Thank you so much for helping us with this project.

In 2006, Partners For Others, owners of Better World in Second Life partnered with SOLID to bring a bit of Lesotho to the virtual world. We raised awareness with a beautiful exhibit for Gardens of Hope. This project linked five communites in Lesotho through the construction and maintenance of tree nurseries , gardens and greenhouses. Gardens of Hope project assisted in the production of tree, vegetable, medicinal herb and fruit seedlings and crops. We are thrilled to announce that these projects have been successful and have reached the point of being self-sustaining. We can't thank the community of Second Life enough for their generous support of Gardens of Hope.

Our combined efforts and donation raised more than 8 thousand lindens last night, which may seem like not much compared to RFL dollars, but that's not bad for an hour's work, I must say!

The audience seemed to enjoy the evening; at least the laughed in the places they should laugh, and clapped sometimes. :-D

I had prepared 20 stories, honestly not knowing what to expect. I managed, i think, to tell four:

The Foundations of Our Traditions: a zombie invasion short story
The Tell Tale Heart: Poe's story of obsession and murder
The Bowmen: a story about a supernatural salvation that I love to tell
Dey Ain't No Ghosts: done in dialect,and edited for PC reasons (whew!)

I greatly enjoyed participating in this event, and will happily volunteer for another, if called upon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Return to Fusang: Comrades in Arms

Steelhead Adventures/Return to Fusang

Entry Point | Meanwhile... | Meanwhile...

Blinking in the sun, I stand on the dock at Hangxian, surveying the landscape with mounting horror. This village had stood for time immemorial, long before there was a Warlord of Fusang, or even the Emperor himself. At 300 li from Fusang's capital, they had never had any dealings with the people from the highlands. Entire generations of families had been born, fished the banks of the Pei-Yang in peace, and nobody had ever even heard of Fusang before. Now, they were vanished. My look of disgust and loathing must be palpable, for Lien Bao somehow feels inclined to comment.

"See how the Dragon who Waits now has access to the wider ocean, Colonel. You Lords of the West have taught China an important lesson-- we shall not ignore the wider world any longer. The conquest of Hangxiang is the first step towards that wider world-- what you see will be rebuilt into a modern port city, servicing the Fusang Highlands! Impressive, is it not?"

"Impressive? What happened to the Villagers who once lived here? This isn't Fusang! It's hundreds of li from Fusang! What is your master up to?"

"My master?" Lien Bao laughs. "You are droll, Colonel. Pray you do NOT make acquaintance of my true master. As for the Dragon who waits, He desires a river port and a navy, perhaps a merchant fleet in time, so he may hold His head up amongst other Lords of China, perhaps the Emperor himself. "

"But why here on the Pei-Yang, Bao? We both know this is no great river of commerce, like the Yalu to the south. You will have to extensively dredge and reengineer what's left of Hangxiang to even begin to have the proper sort of harbor for this effort. Why not go to the Yalu? It's less than half the distance, over flatter ground. Hangxiang will require an army of men months to complete!"

Bao grins strangely. "Time and manpower, Colonel, are both resources the Celestial Kingdom posesses in abundance. As for the Yalu, it will eventually provide a waterway for Fusang to reach Kowloon and beyond. But for now, the Dragon who Waits had set his eye on the Pei-Yang."

I smirk. "Would Feng Yü-hsiang factor into that decision, perhaps??"

Lien Bao glowers... (Aha!, I think.. that's close to home!). "It is not for us to question the will of the Dragon who Waits, Colonel. The Progressive Army of Heavenly Peace hardly factors into His will at this juncture".

I ponder that, while keeping an outward mask of calm. The guards lead me, half dragged, to the small go-down (warehouse) at the pier edge. The Progressive Army of Heavenly Peace must be the latest grandiloquent name for the army of Liang's southern rival, Feng Yü-hsiang. The fact that Liang didn't start expanding towards the easier target speaks volumes. Perhaps he fears a confrontation with Feng, at least until he builds his army up.

Once again, I'm chained to the wall in the go-down. I'm laughing to myself, now. Musn't smirk. These are the same chains I have been testing in a state of berserkergegang for the last week. The guards seem oblivious to weak points developing in some of the links.

Bao enters with a small woman of middle years. Her eyes are downcast and filled with fear and sorrow, and perhaps.. rage?

Bao says, in Mandarin: "You will see to the Long-nose's comforts, including food, a bath, and such of our clothing that might fit him".

"Yes, Worshipful One." She bows, and departs.

(in his flawless, Oxford English) "Now, Colonel, I must leave you for a time, and report to my Master at Fusang, so He might prepare for your arrival. He greatly looks forward to your meeting."

"I must say I relish the meeting somewhat less, but I cannot fault your wonderful hospitality."

Lien Bao bows. "The next step of your journey shall arrive tomorrow. We have arranged for an escort fit for a prince, Colonel. You should be honored!" he exits. I hear a rush of wind outside the warehouse, and the diminishing laughter of Bao, heading.. Upward? Crafty old bastard.

The woman arrives presently. I ask her: "What is your sorrow, child?"

She does not reply, only passing me a bundle of clothing, bathing accountrements and a hot bowl of rice with fish. I eat, greedily and quickly, feeling strength return. She stands with her eyes downcast as I bathe, then change from the filthy rags of a Wrath Commodore undress uniform and into the padded, shapeless chinese garment, not much different from the dress affected by about 300 million other citizens of the Highland region. I wouldn't pass for a native (ever), but at least I would be warm and comfortable, now reasonably clean. The woman watches the process with dull fascination, her eyes lingering on many of the marks of recent encounter with Bao's questioners. I am a fast healer, but the whip marks are still quite livid, and the multiple bruises are transitioning from sickly purple to puffy yellow/green now, which must have been a sight to see.

She seems to wish to say something. Again, I ask: "What is your sorrow, child? You needn't tell me if you don't desire to."

She looks at the whip marks, the chain, and tears fill her eyes. Choking, she leaves.

It occurs to me. She is a citizen of Hangxian. What she must have seen!

Yawning, my head droops. This is hardly a point to relax, but I the warm food in the belly was always a trigger to get sleep while I could.. or was it drugged again? I couldn't tell, for once again, I found myself spiraling into blackness.

This time, my dreams are more incoherent visually, but more acute aurally. I hear, again, and again, Ward reciting "Imperiequeritis, tria pendent corpora ramis dis meus et gestas in media et divina potestas dimeas clanator sed jetas as astra levarut..." with me.. like the impatient Brothers of Saint Trinians trying to drill Latin into my resistant brain. I see him by the fire, laughing, eyes crinkling up, and he turns to me.. "Are you slacking on your lessons, O'Toole?" Then, other voices, without faces, but I can recognize them. A woman's voice.. the Duchess? She is dictating a telegram. "Do not fail me in this assignment, Shea..." and then, again, the faint voice of the Sherrif of Steelhead. "I ... saw... Hotspur" and another voice I don't recognize... "far greater danger than..." and then blessed blackness again.

I awake to a rough shaking. It takes a minute or two to recognize them, but before me were Pu Ying, Small Shang, and the Filipino whose name I couldn't ever pronounce but means "Wild Man". From the old days! My eyes widen. "Good Lord, am I dreaming still? This IS a pleasant surprise.. how the DEVIL did you find me here? It's been years!"

"Be quiet, Running Dog Lackey of the West!" snaps Pu Ying.

I stop short at the expression on their faces, which are filled with anger and sorrow. It was at that point the sleep cobwebs clear, and I realize they are not in EVA uniforms any longer, it is twenty years later, and they are now wearing the uniform of Fusang.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Storytelling Meta-Post: Storytelling for African Clinics

The Inner Fright!
NOTE: Date Change on Poster.. typo, sorry!

Join us at the gothic sim of Caer Blanco for a charitable evening of storytelling and Inner Fright. The beneficiary will be a fund to build a new medical clinic in the African country of Lesotho, courtesy of the charity Partners for Others in Canada

October 23rd at 7pm SLT
~ Story-Telling Event On Grounds of the Monestary in Caer Blanco

Caer Blanco is a special sim, created specially for Halloween by some of Second Life’s top designers. There is a fully furnished haunted castle, a crooked cottage, a ghostly ship, and a ruined monastery to explore. There are also silent auction items avaialable and many special events planned. All this will raise funds for a small medical clinic in Lesotho, Southern Africa, through the charity Partners for Others.

YOUR HUMBLE NARRATOR has been asked to lead the group in a story-telling session whose theme is Inner Fright. I will tell 4-6 stories based upon the theme (depending on participation) and then I hope there will be enough hams stalwart tale spinners present to declaim upon the notion of what frightens them.

Come prepared to listen to several short-stories in this theme - and perhaps to share your own.
What scares YOU? Vampires? Spiders? The economy? Success? Evil Clown Armies? Pie?

Friday, October 17, 2008

On The Trail Of A Missing Agent

Steelhead Adventure

entry point: here

Note in the personal journal of Eva Bellambi, Duchess Loch Avie.
Director MI-5: that was some interesting body language... I thought to myself as I headed back to the Constant, now docked in Steelhead for the last week or so.

The Sheriff's Office had been quite well lit and I had seen the men talking as I began my inquiries about Agent O'Toole around Steelhead City. Likely most folks felt the same way Sheriff Ortega did. Hotspur was just off on "one of his adventures". Nothing to worry about. I, however, was beginning to get some intelligence traffic about him from various places across the globe. What was true? What was not?

They had all been quite polite as usual, however, the normally easy-going manner with which my friends, Fuzzball, Lunar, and Darien, generally conversed was not there this evening. They were hiding something, and they were trying to ensure that I did not pick up on any of it. Although, I honestly think that they do not know anything about Hotspur's location or situation. What is going on then?

Looking around me I noted that the streets in Steelhead seemed awfully quiet. People were inside their homes. There was none of the usual friendly calls from front porch swings as I strolled down the lanes. I could feel tension all around me. It was nearly sparking in the air.

All those years of training with my grandmother and mother in the ways of the White Ladies - the healers of our clan - were valuable to me. While we have not be able to see great distances, those of us in my family have always had an ability to "sense", which sometimes involves visions. For me it has always been more of an impression. (You have to admit that this would be a very handy tool for an intelligence officer.) Over the years, this skill has been a great benefit to me as friends or family have needed assistance - physical or emotional; grave danger from others or from within themselves.

I shook off the personal reflection as I neared the pier.

The fog rolled in off the inlet, and there at the docks the Constant was moored. The Dockmaster and I were old acquaintances given the close ties of Steelhead and Caledon. We spoke for a time. He told me that he had not seen Mr. O'Toole for at least a week...maybe 10 days. When pressed as to whether anyone else had been seen near the Constant, he told me that he had not taken note of anyone in particular. Had he inspected her at all? "No," he said. He was used to vessels often sitting in port for days on end and had paid her very little attention, actually.

I thanked him, and told him that I would be performing my own inspection, as I now considered that my agent had either gone AWOL or there was some foul play involved.

The Dockmaster nodded and smirked just a little as he added, "Careful now, Your Ladyship. I don't reckon if I know whether O'Toole there had 'im any lady friends what paid him some visits. Not sure what or who you might find in there, ma'am."

"I shall take your warning into account, my good man. I am not a woman easily shocked. I cannot afford to be." And I left it at that.

I had examined the exterior of the gunboat as best as I could in the waning light of the late evening. There seemed to be no new dents in the 6 inch steel casemate. The smokestacks and pilothouse were intact. Of course the ship was outfitted with the full complement of 15 cannons, but the variation that MrBunwah, Justinian, and Hotspur had discussed sometime last year was placement of forward facing cannon. Most boats in this class tended to have all the guns in broadside positions.

Nothing seemed amiss as I walked through the hatch. But as my eyes adjusted, I could see that I was not the first person to come aboard the Constant in the last week. Charts, plans, and letters were all over the deck. I found the cabin lantern, lit it, and began a more thorough look through the items on the floor.

Suddenly I had the distinct impression that something was VERY wrong. The tension that I had been feeling suddenly grew into something more terrible and the words of an old Latin spell that I was taught at a very young age came to mind.

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

I stood still and listened and remembered. My grandmother told me that this was a spell that was to be used to alleviate pain and suffering particularly after someone was tortured. An odd thought floated through my mind...something about how my father and I had discussed that this spell did not use the appropriate Latin forms. He made some joke about the Latin language as the thing being tortured in this instance. My mother and grandmother simply rolled their eyes and went on with the lessons. Grandmother mentioned that the last known use of this in our family was just after the Battle of Culloden.

I was snapped back to the present state as the impression of pain and suffering grew stronger and the words louder.

Clearly Hotspur is in great danger. This is not simply an unplanned leave from MI-5.

Just then a flash of light from the floor caught my eye.

I walked over to the corner of the chart table and found a small leather pouch, the letters SW scratched in with a knife, and a coin poking out. That's what caught my eye. On closer examination the coin was small and copper with a square hole cut in the center. Four Chinese characters surrounded the edges of the square.

The Dark Ocean Society

That has to be it. They must be behind this feeling of dread, pain, and suffering. I knew that O'Toole had made enemies in the realm years ago, but it had never been an issue for the agency...until now. This would also explain why reports of his whereabouts have been coming in from port cities en route to China. Of course I have to know be sure that my theory is correct.

A plan began to formulate:

1- Get the small pouch of coins to Professor Krogstad in the Royal Society for study and forensic examination. Is there anything else this can tell us?
2- Alert our agents in the field along what is the likely path of travel. I believe that Amplebeak Tinlegs is just off an assignment. He'll have to stay out of country a bit longer.
3 - Contact one of my newer agents, now stationed in the east, Mr. Shea LeFevre.

Shea had grown up in New Orleans. His mother was an Irish immigrant and his father, Creole. When he came to me he was looking for occupation of any sort. He had been drifting around since the end of the Civil War. As he worked around the Loch, he told me of his injury in Petersburg early in 1865, and that he had been captured for a time. He seemed to enjoy learning about Caledon and her allies. His intellect was clear, though he claims himself to be nothing more than a simple, world-weary drifter. He was clearly well-read, and had healed well from his injuries. He gained my trust (after a thorough background check) and seeing his potential, I sent him on to training for MI-5.

Don't let me down in this first large task, Shea, I thought to myself as I composed the briefing to him and prepared to send across our secure communication. channel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In which a predicted journey upriver ends in an unpleasant surprise

Steelhead Adventures: Silver Poison/Return to Fusang

(No entry point) | Meanwhile... | Meanwhile...

After the affair with the carpenter's nail lockpick (I should have spotted this-- a carpenter's nail in a metal cell? Really?), I continue to regain strength and test the boundaries of the predicament I find myself. The ship is approaching land, this much I know. Lien Bao has visited several times and even enticed me into a game of Go twice (he trounced me). Bao is more of an enigma then his master. He's old-- far older than Lieng, and clearly seems to desire a civilized exchange. He even laughed when I joked that if he'd just provide some darts, I could show him a contest where I might provide a challenge. Bao seems quite talkative, almost edgy, for someone 200 years old. I suspect he might be nervous.

I have kept a calendar, of sorts.. from the first wakeful meal I received, I make a scratch in the wall for every evening meal provided. So far, 15 scratches. That does not account for time unconscious or drugged with the poppy. Fifteen days, plus a little extra, in a fast steam powered ship-- we should make landfall soon. I can even sense it.. nothing set in stone yet, just a different smell in the air, and dust on the porthole in the gangway. How well I recall that yellow dust from 20 years ago! The Ever-Victorious Army had marched through it, dust getting into everything from our eyes to our teacups. That fine, gritty dust that blew off of the Gobi, far to the North. The North. The implication is clear enough, if my memory serves. They are circumventing Kowloon City entirely, heading North along the coast, and possibly up the Pei-Yang River, which feeds into the Yalu about 100 kilometers southeast of Fusang. The Pei-Yang can't handle even a moderately deep draft vessel, such as this, beyond a certain point. Maybe.. Hangxian? Nothing but a glorified fishing village, but it has a dock on the river. If they have a good pilot, they could manage it. Why would they make the switch? It seems like a lot of bother and far less direct. Perhaps...Were they afraid of an altercation? Had the Duchess arranged to activate some of our
contacts at Kowloon? That seemed unlikely-- our contacts there were of the commercial sort, in the main. Surely I'd been missed by this stage. Hell, the Constant should still be tied up at Steelhead Harbor, probably rusting by now-- someone must have noticed. She knows of the Dark Ocean Society, and my involuntary connection to it these many years. But MI-5 can only reach so far-- she would not risk a breach between Caledon and the Celestial Kingdom, not openly, anyway. Governor Shang is a bit shy about extraterritorial issues, a point he drove home to me on a regular basis during my time in the Middlesea Fleet. There would be no overt threat of a Caledonian nature at Kowloon. Besides, I had not been scried-- not by the Baroness at least, who has gone into seclusion after the last incident, when Lin Bao had almost come through the connection in Astral form to do battle with her. Does MI-5 have any other far-seekers on the payroll? The Duchess doesn't tell me everything. I know Doc Mason could have scried in the old demon infestation days, I have no doubt. Not any more.

I knew when the Duchess recruited me, a day might come when I would become expendable. One has to make ones own luck at times like this.

Hangxian to Fusang: about 175 kilometers as the crow flies. About 230 overland by the easiest route. Hmmmm.. a thought strikes me. "The Dragon who Waits" was often contending with another warlord to his southeast, just across the Yalu a ways, by name of Feng Yü-hsiang. Feng was one of those pro-Western warlords that Lieng would despise as being running dog lackies, but he had profited greatly from his connection with foreign trade with Caledon, America, France, Babbage, Hibernia and England. Reports were muddled, but last time I read up on this neck of the woods, he had possessed a rather modern force-- steam tanks, at least one aeroplane, some dirigibles. Could Lieng be cut off from Kowloon, then, by Feng's army? Why had they ignored the straight and easy way up the Yalu, which placed them within easy march to Fusang, then? It was all so frustrating, having to guess. The last time I was here, I was far too concerned with keeping a low profile to adequately get a bead on how things stood around here between the warlords.

A plan begins to formulate-- I get excited as I realize the possibilities. Recent experience indicates I will not be breaking out of this iron cage until we hit land, in any event. Bao knows this, which accounts for his good mood these days. Once we are on land, however, if I can escape from my captors on the march overland from Hangxian, maybe get a horse under me, I could ride for three or four days to make it to Feng Yü-hsiang's lines. Perhaps I could be repatriated from there, or, who knows, maybe help will have arrived from another quarter.

Preparation. This I know how to do... I am no wizard, never have been. Oh, I know a few tricks that people far more clever than I have taught me over the years-- how to clear my mind and become a receiver for a scrying agent, like the Baroness. A charm here, a cantrip there. But I never had the talent, not like the Duchess has, or the Doc has, or Ward had, in spades. I can't turn myself into a were-beast like the Sherrif can. But I have one thing they don't-- and it was time to practice.. feel the fury come upon me... the Macha.. possession in battle. What the Vikings called the berserkergegang.. battle fury. My face turns red.. my eyes goggle.. have to try this without conscious thought.. without noise.. feel it hit me as in days of old... KILL! No, ride heard on it.. too soon, too SOON, dammit! My wrists chafe, my arms... PULL .. and slowly.. slowly.. I feel one link on the chain start to pull apart. This feels GOOD. I hear startled movement in the gangway outside.. I have alerted them after all.. slowly, slowly I call it back. The door is opening.. I collapse, hiding my red face. The guard calls out something in Cantonese. I reply, badly, that I had felt ill. They rush to get me a bucket and a dipper. I grin to myself. Progress. I shook off the fury.. I'm GOING TO KILL ALL OF YOU BASTARDS!.. no, no, musn't show my hand quite yet. They wouldn't know about me.. Lieng might. He saw it on the dock, briefly, all those years ago. But he wouldn't have told, and lose face by doing so.

The next morning, I hear tell tale signs of river traffic, and smell that odd mixture of spice, humanity, animals, fish, and "otherness" that is the Celestial Kingdom. For the third time, I was in China again.. this time entering the country chained to the wall in the cargo hold of a freighter. I inquire as to our whereabouts to one of the guards, a quite decent chap, really.

I get an angry cuff to the head. What made him so short tempered? The trip upriver takes another two days (me working on the chain links whenever I am ignored).. I hear other boats alongside from time to time, and at one point, our boat is stopped by what HAD to be a patrol boat of some sort. What the devil was that? Which great power had boats on this river?

Could one of the Warlords be handling customs duty on the Pei-Yang? I note there is no inspection of the hold.. just high pitched discussion (Bao's voice could be heard above it all), then laughter. Ah, bribes all around. Some things never change. The freighter continues up river, but seems to be going slower. The Pei-Yang silts up alarmingly in the highlands, and I suspect the channel is narrow. They had better have a decent pilot. I remember how hard the Yalu was to navigate for a flat bottomed steamer back in the day, and the Yalu is a much broader river than the Pei-Yang.

Suddenly, loud shouting, whistles and running about up top. Landfall. We offload.. there really IS freight in this freighter, then. My guards keep me in chains, but unshackle me from the wall. I keep the split links hidden from them as best I can. They seem far too nervous to be thorough. I am hauled out of the room, out into the passageway and up the ladder to the deck. I blink in the daylight, unaccustomed to the brightness. Below me lay Hangxian, exactly as predicted. Only Hangxian was now a burnt and blasted rubble, almost to the ground. And above a small cluster of intact buildings near the dock, flew the banner of the Warlord of Fusang.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dark Secret of Pondicherry Castle, Episode 6

Dark Secret of Pondicherry Castle #6

With apologies for the delay brought on by Burning Life, and The Wrath Fleet.

See the enfolding story, magick lantern fashion, by clicking HERE.

This week's episode: "Lost in a psychic miasma of evil..."

(Click the images to enlarge the webcomic page)

Page 21

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The conclusion is rapidly approaching! Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode of THE DARK SECRET OF PONDICHERRY CASTLE!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Unpleasant Journey

Steelhead Adventure: Silver Poison/Return to Fusang

Imperiequeritis, tria pendent...

I have to
think, have to clear the cobwebs.. what in the world was the source of this infernal lassitude that gripped me... a concussion? Perhaps.

corpora ramis dis meus...

They have me in chains, no joy there-- no quick dash for a porthole.

et gestas in media et divina

The food clearly had opium or some form of narcotic in it, that much was for certain.. otherwise I would not feel so.. docile.. when they bound my wounds and saw to bodily needs.

potestas dimeas clanator

So. They would keep me in this rathole for the entire trip, they couldn't afford not to. They suspect(and perhaps it is true) that I would rather leap over the side than take my chances on a happy reunion with old acquaintance.

In lucid moments, I start to make a plan.. this isn't the first time I've broken out of a jail. One starts with an inventory of what one knows to be true.

Manpower: one guard, maybe two, outside the door in the hallway. Rifles, more likely sidearms in a closed space. That meant in holsters, with flaps. Likely least alert at night, but who could tell what time it was in here?

Manacles: Stout steel. Impossible to thwart without tools.

Tools: none in sight.

The Itinerary: Docking at Kowloon, if they are in a hurry. Then a long trip upland in a junk, or steamer if they are in a big hurry, which they sound as if they are.

potestas dimeas clanator

Unless they've dredged the river, this route should get us within 100 miles of Fusang.

They aren't stupid, I've seen ample evidence of this. The Society would never risk placing me on a horse, even with my hands bound-- I could hardly blend in, but I can make an astonishing distance with a good horse under me. So I will likely be placed in some conveyance for the final leg of the journey. A wagon? Some form of aerial transport?

sed jetas as astra levarut..."

They will likely bring me before Lieng for a nice long gloat before I am executed. Or whatever it is they have in mind. I know him. He'll want to spit in my eye and strike me (safely tied up) before I provide the night's entertainment. He'll want to take his time with it, after all, he's spent a lot of treasure and time bringing me in front of him. Killing me outright won't be his style. At this point, he'll be as close to me physically as he has ever been, these last 20 years. THAT might prove my best chance.. if not to survive, then at least to drag him to hell with me. I grinned, in the darkness..

Imperiequeritis, tria pendent...

That might suffice... that might just work after all..

corpora ramis dis meus...

I close my eyes, letting sleep start to touch me.. puzzling, wondering why the shade of Ward persists in invading my dreams at night.. why would a man twenty years dead bother with me in a dream state?

et gestas in media et divina

Twenty years earlier, in a dreamstate...

We run down the dock at Fooking, feet pounding on the rickety dock, the dock hands running in panic as the mob from the mission runs ahead of me. Sergeant Buchanan, Forrester, and Holman, the engineer's mate, are with me, the militia had fled. Behind us, the Student Coalition run by Lieng and the Bandit troops are firing sporadically. "Thank you, whatever clod footed Frenchman taught YOU boys to shoot", I think, as the bullets whistle overhead harmlessly.
potestas dimeas clanator

Suddenly, a red star appears on Holman's white duck jumper, and he sits down with a grunt. "What happened?" He breathes... then his eyes roll back and he is dead. Forrester, shot through the calf, makes the mistake of stopping, and they are upon them, hacking and stabbing. I turn, firing the last two bullets, hitting one ugly customer for certain, then throwing the pistol. Buchanan does not stop, fleeing in panic, he makes the gangway, moving the crying and exhausted civvies ahead of him.

Oh well.

I pull the parang out of my belt and rush the crowd over Forrester's body, screaming in Gaelic as hard as I can manage, feeling the rage take hold of me.. GOOD.. STRONG! KILL! Chop, Chop, klang, klang.. one of them folds, then another... and there is Lieng in front of me, impossibly young now, his eyes dark and furious. He holds the Temple sword from the earlier altercation-- still red with gore. He leaps for me.. I counter. He is fast, and not unskilled, but he fights with the graceful, gliding cutting strokes the Orientals favor. I learned fencing with a heavy cavalry officer's sabre, and my wrist has never lost the strength.. a counter. a counter. a thrust. a counter. a counter... I come up under his guard, and slice him across his face.. deep, deep down to the bone. He screams, girlishly, and holds the wound, blood covering his hand. He steps back, and the look of hatred he gives me then was something I should have paid more attention to. I let him retreat, stupidly.

In the here and now, I muse on the suppression of pain for a bit as I hold the lump on my head the rifle butt left.
"One mustn't give them the satisfaction" I thought. But it hurts like the blazes. The attempt had gone awry from the start. I had found a metal object, a flat carpenter's nail, under the cot. It took an hour to get the manacles off-- I had not lost that skill at least. I had waited until what I judged was the early evening. Picking the lock was easy enough-- but as I charged out into the corridor, I discovered they had calmly been waiting for me. Even with four Tong guards on me, I made it to the gangway door at the end of the passage. Not bad. I call that a good start.

Later, Lien Bao visits me again. An evil smile plays across his face.

"You exceed our expectations, Colonel. The Dragon who Waits instructed me to establish this test for you to gauge whether you had lost your skills with the passing of the years. I am pleased to be able to report to him that you have not grown less lethal with age. Your cell had the nail planted in it in advance, of course. We have been observing you work on your escape attempt for hours now. Now, please to accept my assurances that you will not be allowed to make a second test. I regret that you find our hospitality lacking, but you must bear it for at least a week more."

My mouth works, trying to emit something more meaningful than a croak.

"Sod off, you great Chinese Goblin, ye! I won't provide your damned floor show, you mark my words!"

It's posturing, and we both know it. We both know it. He laughs, almost pleasantly, and bows himself out.

A week more? How much time has passed?