Thursday, November 13, 2008

The First Report from the Celestial Kingdom

Steelhead Adventures/Return to Fusang

Personal Journal Entry - Head MI-5:

After a very long and dark day, I was sitting in the Conservatory in Loch Avie when I saw some lights go on in the Keep. One of my staffers was still working. I decided I had better pull myself up and go see what was happening.

As I walked into the offices, I found one of my most senior agents sitting at the desk pouring over maps, a small dossier tucked under his thumb.

"Your Grace." he nodded. " Report from our man on perimeter security. He found this morning: 'hoofprints in the mud around the Loch....a recent arrow fletching recognized as Sir Tele's nearby.' We realize that TS is abandoned but there are rumors of a rider who moves silently in Caledon...usually in the Loch itself, watching."

I smiled softly. "Yes. I have seen this rider on occasion in the dark of the evening, or when I am awake in the middle of the night."

He handed me the folder. "This was found near the spring where the campfire was located."

"Thank you. I will retire to my offices in the manse. Keep alert tonight. There are strange things afoot."

He nodded silently and stood as I walked out of the Keep.

I called to Bucephalus, who followed me up the hill to the manse. My groom was awaiting us and took the horse to his well-earned rest.

Once inside the house, I opened the sealed envelope.

Eyes Only - Head MI-5

Report directly to you, Rose. Your message and gift of the Steam Lemur was received. I have made contact with Dau as per your instructions and we have successfully infiltrated the exotic animal show that is traveling through the region.

We have heard rumors - as you have - of movement among the Dragon and his minions and now something about an Iron Dragon or a Land Dragon. Reports vary. We had been following the most recent rumors of a white male in the company of known agents of H'sieh Lieng, when we found ourselves in Hangxian.

The poor peoples of the region, who are now essentially slaves, were talking non-stop about a steaming metal beast and a small, but evil, Russian-speaking man. Upon our arrival in the village, we were greeted with some level of suspicion, but the moment we pulled out the animals - snakes, exotic birds, a large Bengal tiger, and my lemur - the blank eyes began to brighten. We had a large group of both villagers, and soon thereafter, soldiers around us for quite some time. This was the opportunity we needed to begin talking to some of the people and to see the area.

I was able to pull away from the soldiers bringing the lemur with me as they were much more interested in the power of the tiger. Dau and her Bengal kept them well occupied. I gathered a small group of children around me and began trotting through the village staying near the river. A small woman approached us and readily followed along our path. She seemed to physically examine me as her eyes passed over my face shoulders, neck. It seemed to me that she was looking for a way to speak to me. I sat the Steam Lemur down on the ground and the children promptly scampered along the river's edge with it. As soon as they were occupied, the woman said, "You come with Dau. She knows people from outside the Celestial Kingdom. Do you?"

I acknowledged that I did and that I had been born in the Americas. She seemed to understand me and smiled carefully. She told me that a Land Dragon had just roared through the city along with many of the Dragon Who Waits' closest companions. 5 hours ago - or less, she estimated. She took me to the tracks of the beast.

Your Grace, they are enormous! This iron beast is larger than I believe our scientists imagined possible. The woman spoke swiftly now as the lemur approached taking pictures as instructed and the children not far behind. She made it known that she and her entire village had either become the slaves for the Dragon Who Waits, or they were killed. Having no particular affection for H'sieh Lieng given her current circumstance, she described the white man who was injured and then loaded onto the steam tank. Her description fits that of O'Toole. She was sure he was headed to his death.

The rest of the entry described how he and Dau would follow the tracks of the beast and monitor for any course changes. Looking for any opportunity to free the prisoner.

I sat the dossier on the seat beside me as I began to think of what my response would be. The lag time on this message had not been too bad - but time is definitely of the essence.

Suddenly I had odd visions before me:
Shea and Dau questioning villagers in a southern port city....The Dragon was not nearby.
Hotspur injured, but running, calling out to someone.

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

Ah - the visions were entirely replaced by this snippet of a spell. Again. Over and over it ran in my mind.

I pulled out my fountain pen and began to write my instructions.

Agent LeFevre - Mark me well, do not fail.....

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