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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.
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.
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
POM, POM, POM, POM, POM, POM POM POM POM POM
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!"
POM POM POM POM POM POM POM POM
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).
"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.
"There" 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.
"Right! ALL OF YOU!! EARPLUGS! NOW!"
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.
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.