Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (3)

Tiao Fish

Physical Description:

A fish that looks like a four-headed chicken with red feathers, six feet and three tails. Its call sounds like that of the magpie.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat is a cure for anxiety.


Heng Gong Fish

Physical Description:

A 1.5-1.6m long fish that looks like a carp that is red throughout.

Special Properties:

Consuming its meat is a cure for illnesses created by evil or the supernatural.

Lore:

It lives in a frozen lake by day and becomes human at night. Its flesh cannot be penetrated by conventional weaponry nor can it be killed by boiling. However, it will die instantly if you cook it in a pot with two dark plums.


Huan

Physical Description:

A creature that looks like a wild cat except for only having one eye and three tails.

Special Properties:

Its call can beat that of one hundred other species of animals. Adopting it as a pet can protect against villainy. Consuming its meat is a cure for jaundice.


Ru Pi

Physical Description:

A fish that looks like an upside-down pot, with a bird’s head.

Special Properties:

Its call sounds like the sound of striking rock. It can spit out gems from its mouth.

This is what life does

I had started doing a form of free writing called Wild Writing, using prompts from poetry. Below is the piece that emerged from the particular line that this post is titled. Enjoy.

This is what life does. It lets you alone most of the time. It does. Until you screw yourself big time. And then you feel like life is in your way. Life is your biggest enemy. Life is out to get you. But no. Really no. You are out to get yourself. You wish for the never been. You wish to undo things. Undo the past. Undo your mistakes. Undo the many opportunities lost to caution, lost to fear, lost to disbelief.

This is what life does. It lets you speed along or crawl along. Everyone at their own pace. Really, it does. Occasionally, you feel out of sync, out of whack. Then you wish for a different life, or life as quite different as it is right now. A time in years past most likely. That’s when we wistful, longing for a different, better time. Always we look backwards, seldom forwards. I wonder why that is. Is it because we were happiest when we were simple, naive and ignorant? Ignorance is bliss, they say. Ignorance is bliss, I’ve said before.

This is what life does. It walks with you, shoulder to shoulder. It is your companion. Oh, treat it like one and it will be exactly that. But it is an odd one, you know. Or it’s a bit of a Libra or a mimic. The point is that it will treat you how you treat it. If you think of it as a companion, companion it be to you. If you think of it as your enemy, then enemy it be. If you think of it as an other sentience, an in between, a power with no power, none except what you imbue it with, then it will be all those also. Believe what it is as you like. But believe in yourself foremost.

P.S. For those curious, the prompt came from a poem titled Starfish by Eleanor Lerman.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- March 2021

I seem to have mostly split my time between fantasy and mystery this quarter. So I might as well split it by genre in this post so you can only read the relevant genres for you. 

Fantasy 

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier
I do think this is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy even though I was expecting the ending to provide more emotional release for the main plot tying the series together. Still, I like that the main mystery this time is not romance-related else there will be too much romance for my taste. I also like the ending for Blackthorn and Grim and the sense of openness for further adventures.

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
I finally picked up the conclusion to this trilogy starring a character that I’m quite fond of. I find it a satisfying conclusion as far as Beka’s ultimate fate goes.

One thing to note is that I read this series out of order (I read Bloodhound first years ago and then Terrier last year) so this might be why I was not really hit by the twist so much. To be honest, I seem to have no response to the twist whatsoever. Like none. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Let me start by saying this is actually pushing towards a 4 star for me. I enjoyed the voice- it’s got a kind of children tale ring to it that just makes you relax. And if I read it a bit younger, like in my 20s, I probably would have given it a 4 star. It came to me one day while reading this book that I was very much like a rabbit in my 20s- prone to startle and run.

A good light reading for those who want a break from epic fantasy but still appreciate adventure and thrills now and then.

A Telling of Stars By Caitlin Sweet
This reads a lot of an odyssey of a young girl after severe loss. I like the author’s prose, the dreamy quality of the story that is consistent with my conception of the disorienting effect of sudden, overwhelming grief. I think I am onto reading the other book by this author set in the same world but with another character. Not sure whether this year but it’s on my TBR list.

Nemeton by Christopher Lee
I DNF’ed this in January. I got up to Chap 15 which is roughly the half way mark and then it fizzed out. It’s meant to be an epic and I’m used to epics and their necessary large cast of characters and I’m usually okay if I don’t warm up to characters. But I think my enthusiasm for this book waned because I don’t get enough cohesion between the myriad cast of characters and their storylines, I mean I can see there are different angles to this one story but it’s like from chapter to chapter, I’m just sampling all these myriad sides and no one side actually sticks to me.

Science Fiction

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I am still reading this. For those not familiar with the book, this is basically comprised of six short stories that are nestled within one another such that story 1 dips into story 2…. into story 6 and then back again all the way to story 1. As of the time of writing, I’m up to story 4 in the first half of the book. So far, I’m liking the way that it moves from one story to the next and the way each story is connected. It doesn’t feel much like a short story collection at all but more like a novel. But as with all other books, I’m going to reserve my judgement until I’ve finished the book. So check back with the June Book Discoveries of this year for a full verdict.

Mystery/Thriller 

The Game by Laurie R. King
Up to maybe half way, I was actually feeling like this book is a letdown, with too slow a pace sacrificed to describing India and the Indian life as travelling magicians. But the story came around nicely. And it got me interested in the book Kim which I had never read before.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
For unknown reason, I’ve been a bit reluctant to pick up the Miss Marple series (even though I remember reading one mystery of her already but that one didn’t really stay in my mind), perhaps due to the influence of Poirot which I never quite liked as a character. Then again, I like Christie’s books because they are more plot-centric than character-centric as a rule. But I’m finding that I actually enjoy Miss Marple more than Poirot. I mean, what’s there not to like about an old woman like that? So yes, I’m pleasantly surprised by this first book of her series.

Other than this observation about the character, though, I would say this is typical solid work from Christie but not above her cut.

As Long as She Lives by Darcy Conroy
A solid work which pace really picks towards the end. I’m a slow to warm up kind of person with characters so while I sometimes like the humour of Cait she mostly remains at arms length.

Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (2)

Ri Ji

Physical Description:

A normal cow

Special Properties:

Its meat (up to 2-3 Chinese pounds in weight) will grow back fully the day after being cut off with a knife.

Lore:

A species supposedly local to the area now known as the province of Gan Su


Dan Prawn

Physical Description:

A giant prawn as long as ten zhang (equivalent to 32m) and whose whiskers are as long as eight Chinese feet (equivalent to 2.56m). It is a pair of wings and its nose is like a saw.

Lore:

Ma Dan (someone’s name but I have no idea who this person is) had broken off one of its whiskers to use as a walking stick. When he abandoned the stick for flying, the whisker tuned into a round pill.

Translation Quirk:

The Dan character here can refer to a round pill that is often associated with magical/supernatural/divine properties or origins. Sometimes, it also a synonym for the colour red.


Bo Yi

Physical Description:

A goat with nine tails and four ears and whose eyes grow on its back.

Lore:

It is reputedly that wearing its hide or wool would make one courageous.


Guan Guan

Physical Description:

A dove-like bird.

Special Properties:

Its call sounds like humans yelling at each other. Wearing its feathers helps you tell right from wrong.

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 3


Jake had a weasley voice, making his words hard to hear. I had to read his lips at some places. He was talking to H squared. “You see, Mr Fixit man, I don’t really need you. I just need you to not fix any converters, you see? So tell me why I shouldn’t just have Eddie here put some holes in you and dump your corpse out in the middle of the street?”

Mumbling from H squared. It made Jake’s face turn red in annoyance. 

“Any ideas for a rescue?” Estella whispered in my ear. “My best idea is we start shooting from the shadows and surprise them, then try to flee with Hue in the chaos? I’m more of a pilot that a brawler.” She added the last sentence in an uncertain note. 

I was thinking aloud to myself. “Can we distract some of them away somehow? But these tunnels are too tight.”

Estella supplied the solution in the next beat. Trust that girl’s brains to work so fast. “If we fill the glow stick with sugar and throw it, it’ll spray everywhere and the glow flies will form into a cloud trying to eat up all the sugar.” 

I gave her my verbal thumbs up. A minute later, she passed me her glow stick to throw. I tossed it down below. The makeshift grenade flew into the cavern and exploded in a puff of blue mist and buzzing, flying things. 

I descended into the cavern, hurrying towards the spot where I last saw H squared.

“Get me out, quick, before they grab me!” “Shoot something!” Jake was telling his lackeys. 

“I’ll save Hue, you put the hurt on Jake?” Estella suggested as we moved amidst the fray of bodies. My eyes scanned around and saw him quickly. He was down on his knees cowering. I gave Estella brief directions before taking an aim at the pathetic sight on the ground. 

The shot flew true but at the last moment, someone stumbled in the way of the energy bolt and took it in the knee, going down with a scream that reverberated in the cavern. 

A shot came at me. I ducked out of the way. Looking around for Jake, I saw him trying to hide behind a pile of trash but his crown was a dead give-away. I took a last shot at his direction and ran towards Estella and H squared. 

***

I made a big stretch once I climbed out of the trash pile back onto the surface. Estella breathed a sigh of relief next to me. “Remind me to scratch cramped tunnels off my list of vacation spots.” She said with a grin. H squared was panting on my other side and looked white as flour. 

“How’d it go?” Aurora asked us. 

“Cramped but otherwise okay. H squared, you need more exercise. Now you go and sit down and rewind yourself.”

Estella briefed Aurora on what transpired down in the tunnel, then glanced around curiously. “Where’s Guppy? She gives you the slip?”

“I strung her up in the garden,” Aurora said with a wink. “I’ll fill you in on the details later over a drink.” She gave H squared a friendly grasp on the shoulder in greeting. “I’m glad you’re okay, I can finish up here if you want some time to recover, or you can get back at making this converter purr if you’d rather, your call.”

I pulled a sour face as I reflected on how I did. “Didn’t hit any of them that I intended to. But I was mostly shooting to buy us time.”

H-squared and Aurora exchanged some technical jargon over Aurora’s work on the converter and then he moved off. 

“Unless anyone objects I’m of a mind to move the ship, land us on the other side of town, maybe near Roland’s place of business.” Estella decided. “I’m not super comfy with a tunnel to Jake’s lair being on our doorstep, and him knowing right where we’re parked.”

Roland looked confused. “Who’s this Jake fellow?”

“Jake Comdon, he’s a thug, uses his brawn to force people to pay for protection from him and whoever he browbeats into working for him. He’s the kind of man that values life about as much as you value an empty beer can.”

His face brightened with recognition. “Well, I dunno if he’s called Jake, but sounds a lot like the feller we was talking about earlier. Never really used his name.”

“Yeah, that’s him all right, not using his name is probably his idea of keeping a low profile.” Aurora shook her head. 

“Them gutter rats does jobs fer him a lot.”

“Used to, I think we broke up his rat ring when we rescued Hue.” Estella corrected him and looked over at me, “Any objections to relocating the ship?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll be on the bridge then prepping for dust off.” 

Roland looked a little thoughtful. “Ya know, that feller does a lot more harm and just tryin ta get money off us. He busted up this here converter and I don think he’s done causin trouble. You want some extra cash, I think my boss’d be more’n happy ta pay ya fer haulin in that Jake feller. I dunno, he got papers on him somewhere, ya might just be able ta make some takin him in all legal like too.”

Aurora gave me a sly smile, “Sam, how do you feel about a little hunting trip before we resupply and head back out into the black? Maybe set Jake up with a nice little prison cell suite and deliver him to Scorsby?”

“Sure, I would love that.”

“Count me in too, putting that guy behind bars, or penning him in the dead book, would make the entire fringe a better place.” Estella said before heading back into the ship, humming a cheerful tune.

“Sounds like your boss just found himself a willing group of head hunters, let’s get this converter back to him and then Sam can suss out the details for the job?” Aurora told Roland.

Roland rubbed his hands. “Yeah, let’s get this converter back in. Boss man’ll be real happy ta know yer a bunch what does what they say.”

Aurora and Roland worked out a deal to be settled tomorrow. He drove back happily. 

***

“How did you and the kid get along? I think we need her to get to Jake, you know how slippery he is.” I asked Aurora, leaning back against the wall. I was planning to go straight to shower but the two gals called a little meeting so here we all were on the bridge. 

“She’s a little rough around the edges, but warmed up once she found out we weren’t slavers and my promise of cake was more than an empty offer. She’s plenty scared of Jake though, and some kid called knife boy, getting her to help might take some doing.  But you’re not wrong, she might know how to find him.” She paused. “I don’t want her put in any danger if we can help it though, she’s been through enough.”

“Strung her up in the garden huh?” Estella teased Aurora with a chuckle.

“I was more thinking get her to tell us where to find him.” I assured Aurora. 

“Your hammock turned out to be a nice sleeping spot for her, when she wakes up later I’ll see about finding her an actual room, and maybe a bath.” Aurora told Estella with a wink. “Yeah, I think pancakes and bacon for breakfast will help show our good intentions, and help her open up to us.” 

“Actual room? Did she sign up as part of the crew while we were gone?” Estella shot me a grin. I told you, it said. I groaned.

“Can’t bring myself to send her back to that pack of ferals, she’ll come to a bad end or turn into a mini Jake in a few years if I did.” Aurora gave me her Virgin Mary smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep her from pestering you, she gets on your nerves you can just threaten her with a bar of soap.” 

I was feeling all clammy by then. I told them I needed a bath right away. I could hear the girls still talking as I walked off. 

“There’s some left over cake and stew in the galley if you’re hungry.” Aurora called after me. I gave a little finger-wave over my back to signify I had heard.

***

I sat myself down next to Aurora in the lounge and grabbed a piece of cake. There were small fingerprints on it in the frosting. “Hmm… Guppy saved herself another piece, it seems.” I put the piece back down and chose another with no fingerprint on it.

“While you two were playing tunnel rat and rescuing Hue, I managed to get some useful intel out of Roland after putting Guppy to bed.” Aurora slid a rewritten copy of her notes across the table for me to look at.

Estella joined us. “Hey, cake!” She said cheerfully, helping herself to the piece I set aside, oblivious to the finger prints.

“It’s the last of it until we get the rest of our pay from Roland’s boss and restock the pantry.” Aurora reminded us. “Though if we secure a good contract for bringing Jake in, we should be able to stockpile a nice reserve of quality foods for the road ahead.”

I nodded.

“You okay?” Estella asked me, “You seem lost in thought.”

“I just feel lazy after a nice hot bath.”

“It is one of life’s best luxuries.” Aurora agreed with me, “So how many thugs did Jake have working for him? Besides the pack of ferals.”

Estella looked over at me. “Three? Maybe four? I didn’t get a real good look, Sam was in the lead on our way in.”

“I got one down and besides the boss, perhaps five more. I couldn’t be sure with the distraction we made going in.” I praised Estella on her glowstick distraction trick. 

Estella smiled at the compliment and filled Aurora in on our adventure. “You should of been there! Sam threw the vial perfectly and pow!” She slapped the counter for emphasis. “Complete and utter chaos!”

“You both seemed to do just fine without me.” Aurora said with a note of approval in her voice. “The one you took down, how bad was he hit? If he survived he might go somewhere to get patched up, we find the guy and lean on him a bit, we might get some extra intel beyond what Guppy knows.”

“I heard a scream but he could be a big baby for all we knew.” I shrugged. 

“Big babies run to the doctor over the smallest scratches too, don’t they?” Estella asked around a mouthful of cake.

“Depends on the baby, and how charitable the local saw bones is.” Aurora shrugged, looking over her notes from her talk with Roland about the mention of any local doctors. “Roland mentioned a company doc, he might be moonlighting at the local doc while in the area too, when Sam speaks with his boss tomorrow I’ll press Roland for the guy’s location, if nothing else he’ll know about any other healers in the local area.”

“Right, we might also want to find out if the Boss has anyone within his ring that mends his thugs up. I guess we hit up Old Scorby for that.” The Boss was the local mafia boss, the Frontier might be a busy hub but it was a surprisingly small world where the law and lawless co-resided. 

Aurora nodded. “Any objections to me stringing a second hammock in the garden tonight, Estella? I don’t want the Guppy waking up in the morning and giving us the slip.”

Estella shrugged. “Go for it if you want, but string it across the door way, kids her age are awfully quiet.” 

After that, we bid each other good night. I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow. The next thing I knew was the sensation of lift up. “What on earth?” I jumped up out of my bed. 

New Horizon Outreach

I attended a free writing summit in January. No groundbreaking knowledge came to me but I did pick up a few useful knowledge and I’m now doing a free mini writing course that is helping to get me into touch with my emotions. Anyway, one of the useful knowledge that came via the summit was the idea to try other creative endeavours and new experiences as potential ‘research’ into characters or just to get into a different mindset. So I’ve dubbed my attempts at new experiences the new horizon outreach program. 

To be honest, this is not the first I heard of this idea. After the set of writing courses I did, I founded a Facebook group for my fellow students and someone mentioned in passing about new experiences, though not in immediate context to writing. But somehow something just clicked in my brain this time around and I decided to give this a try. So in essence, every Saturday I am going to devote at least half an hour to doing something that I haven’t tried or done for a very long time. 

I started with easy things. The first week, it was drawing. I had watched a commercial about children drawing kits and it had octopus among seaweeds. I thought it would be easy to replicate from the mental image I had from that- just a small circle (the mouth) within a big circle (the head) and then eight tentacles. The result I got was more like some kind of robot or evil monster. So I resorted to Googling how to draw an octopus and surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I don’t remember enjoying drawing as a child but somehow drawing brought back a short burst of child-like joy. 

In the week that just went past, I did origami. Again, I had done origami before as a child but all that really stuck with me (besides the paper plane or paper boat, neither of which I can guarantee I still can fold) was this flower that looked nothing like its real-life equivalent. I only had rectangular A4 paper at home so I picked the only one I could do from Googled folding instructions which was those for making an envelope. I think I did moderately okay except that I could not complete the last step which required me to tuck in a triangle. I was reminded that origami was an art requiring precision in folded corners which I often fell short at as a child and apparently still do. But as an adult, I wondered about how potentially different this art is for an origami master. Like, for them, is it more about ability to replicate patterns via manipulating papers via folding? 

Now, to bring this rambling post to an end, I have two other activities on my to-try list but then I think I’m running short of ideas:

  • I am going to try being a Game Master (GM) in the dice rolling role-playing gaming that I do instead of just being a player. Instead of having a fixed GM, we are taking turns this time being the GM. But for starters, I’ve sold part of my fantasy ancient China setting to my gaming group and we are shortly going to start a game in it. 
  • Maybe I will try making a Chinese knot? I haven’t got the materials though so I might try calligraphy instead. 

Reader vs Writer (1): Elements of the Fantasy Genre

I just thought it would be fun to compare myself as a reader and writer. And where better to start than the genre of my main staple in both reading and writing? So here we go.

Sub Genre

Reader Moonlake: Epic fantasy by hands-down and mainly adult, some YA occasionally. Sword & sorcery as light reading. High magic fantasy please. Continue to not quite understand and not really read urban fantasy. 

Writer Moonlake: I want to write epic high magic fantasy. My WIP is definitely fantasy but what sub-genre is it? No idea. 

Character names

Reader Moonlake: I don’t care, especially about pronunciation. It’s not as if I’m actually reading out loud to myself in my head when I’m reading. Reading to me is more about consuming words and being soaked into the literary images and atmosphere. And even if the author provides a page of how character names are supposed to be pronounced, sorry no guarantee that I will take it into my head. 

Writer Moonlake: Hmmm… let me think about it. I want a name that will fit the character. Well, I do for my main characters at least . 

Made-up Language

Reader Moonlake: I enjoy it in general. It’s something different to experience once in a while. As long as I don’t get too obsessive in flicking over to the back to read the glossary provided every time a made-up word crops up. 

Writer Moonlake: It comes and goes as an ‘obsession’. I don’t actually set out to create a language ala Tolkien but for some earlier projects, I just end up creating a bunch of made-up language as I write the story or brainstorm on world building

Magic

Reader Moonlake: I like the old-school magic ala Tolkienesque magic fine. I’m not averse to different conceptions of magic once in a while but I don’t think I’m interested in magic realism. I don’t actually really know what that is but it’s something akin to Sandersen’s exposition through action with the metal magic in Mistborn, then no thanks. Reminds me too much of physics. 

Writer Moonlake: Magic is lurking in the background to the WIP. But it is there. Does this mean I’m writing high magic fantasy or not? 

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 2

When we arrived back at the Xing, Roland pointed at it and said “You’re… uh… sure you can fix the converter?” Couldn’t blame him, I might have thought the same if I saw a ship cobbled up together like that. What could we do when the only materials came from a junkyard? 

“It’s a long story- how we put together this ship- but it is running beautifully.” I assured him. Estella did the same. 

Roland looked skeptical. “If ya say so…”

“So what happened to the original converter again?” Estella asked him with a conspiratorial smile.

“Uh… Sam… you said something ’bout a story?”

“How about we tell it over a drink?” I exchanged a glance with Estella before leading the way into the ship.

“I’ll let Hue know what’s going on,” Aurora said before walking off. I nodded. 

At the lounge, I hopped on over to the mini-bar. “What do you fancy? A beer or something stronger? A Chen Xing special perhaps?” I was clenching my hands under the counter where no one could see, trying to reign in my temper over Roland’s shifty talk. Turned out the guy was way smarter than he looked. He must have picked up on my feelings nevertheless. “I do somethin wrong?” He asked. 

“No, what makes you say that?” I tried to sound casual.

Roland paused over the choice of beverages and then seized a beer. “You sure you ain’t mad or somethin? Ya look sour.”

“Oh, that’s just my norm. Isn’t that right, Estella?”

Estella nodded. “Yeah, once you get to know her she’s really easy to get along with, so long as you’re an honest sort.” I caught the emphasis on the word honest and was sure that Roland would too. I looked over to him. He choked on his beer and then tried to pretend nothing happened. I grinned at that. Time to bare my fangs. 

“Why the big reaction? Do you have something to hide?” I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Hide? What? No. Um, I’m just a worker, doing my job like the boss wants. And I don’t want the boss getting mad. He hur… um, he puts a write-up in yer file, I mean.”

Estella let out a deliberately noisy and dramatic sigh, shaking her head. “Treating Sam like she’s stupid never ends well for anyone, last guy who did that….” She let her voice trail off with a regretful look. I gave her an appreciative nod. 

Time to ease up a bit. “If we keep it amongst us like buddies, then the boss ain’t gonna know, you know? So what’s with the blast marks? Anyone with eyes can tell what they are.” 

Roland looked across to Estella to get her promise of silence and then continued fidgeting some more before he let out a sigh, took a big swig of the beer, and looked towards the side, stubbornly avoiding eye contact with us. “There’s folks who don’t want no illium plant on this world. Say it brings in unkindly types.”

“Hell, I’ve lost control before and damaged stuff in a fit of rage.” Estella lied with a shrug meant to convey nonchalance. “If that’s what happened, it happens to everyone once in a while.” I figured that was her way of getting him to elaborate. 

“I’m no techie so I don’t know what an illium plant does. What types of unkindly types?” I figured I would go the direct way, plus what I said also happened to be 100% genuine. 

“It’s some kinda thing to do with refuelin deep explorer ships tryin to find somethin out there. But ya know, once ya got a illium plant, regular folks gonna come settlin and takin up space. But I don’t care about none of that. Just doing my job, ya know?”

I nodded, pretending that I understood. 

Estella seemed to have read my mind or perhaps she really understood. “He likes the quiet life, a plant like that comes on line and pretty soon you got families, kids, industry and cities springing up around your ears. Gets to the point a fella can’t throw a stone without hitting someone else’s home, or hear’em self think over the racket from people bein people.

“Yeah, that’s the talk. You musta heard ’em cause that’s what they’re sayin. Me, I don’t mind. There’s always more work somewhere and people don’t bother me none.”

I replied with a noncommittal “Right”. A pistol shot rang outside. I rushed towards the noise. Aurora had a slip of girl pinned down not far from the ship. Our little ‘hostage’ was screaming and struggling against Aurora like a wild cat, looking ready to scratch Aurora’s eyes out. 

“What’s going on? Where’s H squared?”

“This kid and her pals grabbed him when I ducked inside to get some wire for the converter.” Aurora gestured to the trash pile, “They dragged him in there.”

I called out for H squared but got no response. 

“How many were there?” Estella walked up, pulled a flashlight from her hip pouch and passed it over to me. I accepted it and started moving over to the trash pile. 

“About five or six?” Aurora replied, “Didn’t get a real accurate count, they had him mostly in the pile by the time I got out here.” She indicated the girl she had pinned down with a movement of the head. “Except for this straggler.”

Roland trailed over after Estella. “Ugh, stupid gutter rats. Just drown it. Do us all a favor.”

“They’re not armed with anything but trash, so go easy on them.” I heard Aurora raising her voice.

“He’s hardly serious.” Estella tried to smooth over the tension, “Though a bath might not be a horrible idea.” 

I turned back momentarily to give my stance. “Yeah, we will do no such thing. It’s just a kid.”

“You even try to put me in water and I’ll gut every last one of you.” The girl screeched her defiance. 

“Now what’s the big idea of hating water? A hot bath is the best thing in the world, well, after getting to sleep in in winter.” I said. 

“Then get talking, or I’m giving you a full on bath, with soap and everything.” Aurora threatened her while frisking her over for hidden weapons. I could see a smile that she was trying hard to suppress. “Why’d you take our pal, and where’d you take him?”

“I ain’t a snitch,” she replied with as haughty a tone as she could manage, which did not amount to much. 

“I’ll wash her clothes too. Maybe even give her a hair cut.” Estella chimed in. The gal knew her timing. 

“And you can’t threaten me, cause I’ll take you all out if you even try it. I can hold my breath for a long time. Like 30 seconds, or even longer.”

I shone a flashlight at the trash pile. There was actually a ‘tunnel’ into the trash that went underground. I groaned. “We have a tunnel crawl ahead.”

“Oh, go ahead. Try to find them. They’ll gut you in the dark before you even know they’re there. We’re fierce.”

“Right, kiddo, you are as fierce as kittens to full-grown tigers.”

“Oh, well in that case-” Aurora took out a candy bar from her pocket. “I guess we’ll have to do things the easy way.” She tore the wrapper off with her teeth and held the candy bar where the girl could see it. “Let’s start off with something simple then, what name do your friends call you?”

Defiant silence. Aurora passed the candy bar to Estella with a wink.

“They call me ‘I’m gonna gut you.'” The girl tried to ignore the candy bar but her eyes kept travelling back to it. 

Aurora gave the girl a temporary cold treatment by enquiring about the size of the ‘tunnel’. 

“Several feet and then it turns. That’s why I was groaning.” I replied.

Estella played the bad cop part well. She broke off a piece of the candy bar and started eating it slowly. “Oh hey, nice, chocolate nut, my favorite. You want a bite?” She offered the kid. “I’m gonna gut you? I.G.G.Y. Iggy, I like it.” She smiled happily.

“I’m telling ya, yer wastin time. Them gutter rats a useless bunch.” Roland interjected. 

“How far does it look to go down?” Estella asked me. 

The girl made a frustrated noise. “That’s not my name. It’s what I’m gonna do to all of you. You’re so stupid.” She kept eyeing the chocolate. 

Estella dangled the candy bar so close to her that she could take a bite of it. “Well, unless you tell us your real name, it’s going to be Iggy from now on.”

The kid snapped at the bar like a snake and smirked at Estella. “See, I can bite all of you that fast.” She announced triumphantly with chocolate smearing her teeth. 

Aurora continued letting Estella have the limelight by starting a theory about why H squared was taken. “Someone wants him, guessing they paid the local rat patrol to bring him to them, probably to fix something.” She glanced over at Roland. “We were a bit open about Hue doing the actual repair work, then again one of those kids was the one from the bar…” Looking down at the girl, she continued, “Wherever they took him I doubt they’ll hurt him once they realize how useful he is as a mechanic, so we got a little time, unless you want to rush the tunnels and over take’em? Kids will move slow hauling Hue’s unconscious butt along.”

“Maybe we’ll call you Nipper.” Estella made it sound like this was a result of deep thought and her subsequent gesture- patting the girl’s filthy hair- was entirely unconscious. “Up to you Sam, I trust your judgement.”

“Nipper is dumb. Iggy is dumb. You’re all dumb. Where’s more chocolate?”

“Or Bitesy. Your choice.” I told our little captive. “So who volunteers to stay behind and look after Bitesy?”

Estella smirked at my comment. “Chocolate is for people with names,” She held the candy bar up in offer. “So what’ll it be? Nipper? Iggy? Or?” She let the sentence dangle tantalizingly alongside the candy.

The kid made an exaggerated sigh. “It doesn’t matter, my friends are just gonna kill you all anyway”. Looking keenly at the chocolate, she finally said. “It’s Guppy. Don’t laugh, or I’ll gut you.”

“I’ll hang back and watch the girl, get her cleaned up a bit, see what I can learn about the situation.” Aurora smiled at the girl. “Guppy is pretty.”

“I’m not pretty. I’m dangerous.” The girl glared back at Aurora. 

“All right, me and Estella will go do the tunnel crawl then. Roland, what are you doing?” I didn’t want him unaccounted for and running amok on our ship. 

“I’m gonna sit here and look after the converter. You can waste yer time with them.”

Satisfied, I let Estella know it’s time to get a move on. 

Estella nodded her assent. “I can probably sense them down in the tunnels with my talent, might help us pick our way through the maze.” She smiled warmly at Guppy. “I have a plant in my garden called a Magenta Guppy. It has this beautiful purple and gold flowers shaped like a bird’s eye, most beautiful thing when it blooms in the moonlight.”

A tear formed in the corner of Guppy’s eye and she snuffled. Then she went on to describe exactly how her friends were going to kill everyone in that strangled voice. I did not quite know how to react. Children were confusing to me. 

Estella passed the remainder of the candy bar to Aurora. “We’ll be back, stay alert, whoever hired these kids may come sniffing around again.”

I started heading towards the tunnel, impatient for action. But Aurora stopped me so I could hand her the advance pay and also told us where to find her and Guppy when we came back. The girl made another retort. 

Estella snickered as she followed me into the tunnel. “Knowing Aurora, she’s probably going to wind up adopting the kid,” A pause for reflection. “She seems to have a soft spot for the down-trodden.”

I shuddered at the idea of having Guppy on board with us every day. “That will be fun indeed.”

Me and Estella squeezed into the opening one after the other, trying not to get snagged on bits of protruding metal. The tunnel was so narrow that we had to crawl. It turned dark not very far in. 

From behind me, there was a sort of cluckly sound and a soft blue tinted light came on. “Glow stick, should work well enough in here.” Estella explained. 

“Thanks, saves me from putting a spotlight in my mouth to light the way.” 

After worming our way through somewhat regular bends and twists, we came to a fork in the tunnel. “Which way?” I asked Estella, hoping that she could sense H squared somewhere ahead. 

“Dragging Hue, they probably left some marks.” She offered, by which I assumed her power did not work here. I crawled down the left fork which seemed more well-used. Then a feeling came over me that perhaps the right was the correct path. Too late to go back so I just noted it to Estella. 

“Good idea, if we start back tracking now we’ll lose them for sure, and I trust your judgement, let’s see where this leads.”

The tunnel continued on. I thought I heard the distinctive mumbling nonsense of H squared somewhere ahead. I felt my entire body go back into relax mode, a subtle but important difference. A few more twists and turns and then there’s a faint light visible, reflecting off of the next corner. 

“See, I knew you picked right the first time.” Estella whispered eagerly.

I smiled. “We should hurry up.”

Estella put a hand on my leg and squeezed it briefly. “I heard something around the corner.” She whispered.

I inched forward on my stomach and peeked around the corner. A piece of metal was jammed between the floor and ceiling of the tunnel. It would have been easy for the unsuspected to knock into it. 

We carefully negotiated our way around the trap. An opening stood in the tunnel around the next corner, with a ladder going down. A head of unruly hair was in our vision for a moment before it got swallowed by the ladder. 

“The trap’ll stop ’em. They won’t be able to make it in here when the whole top caves in.” A voice drifted up from below. I signaled Estella to hurry.

We looked down the ladder onto a large cave, where the kids all gathered around a confused looking H squared. On one side stood a small man in large clothes with an iron crown surrounded by a few armed toughs. Jake Camden, our long lost ‘friend’. 

Writing Updates- February 2021

So this is an ad hoc writing update because I already changed my writing goals after one month in 2021. 

So basically I’m still continuing (being plagued) by the decimal draft process where I just cannot create even a full rough draft but have to proceed via partial outline, partial draft form for a block of scenes. And so given this, I’m still going through chapters much quicker than if I can do an actual draft. So the new goal for this year is to finish draft 0.8 by June. After that, I will take a one month’s cool-down period to outline my tentative next project. Then in August, I will go back to the WIP. 

That’s it, short and sweet for today. Come back next week for the second chapter of my science fantasy novella. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (8)- Xu Zhao Pei

Who is she:

  • The first divorced wife of a royalty (in death)
  • Was associated with the idiom “Mistress Xu was half-old” referring to a woman past her prime but still charming

Notable Life Events:

  • Born to a line of prominent officials (her grandfather was the Prime Minister and her father was also a high ranking official) under the Southern Qi kingdom in the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties around 420-589 AD
  • Married Xiao Yi, the would-be second Emperor of the Southern Qi kingdom, when he was the Crown Prince (a thoroughly political marriage, apparently the Crown Prince was only 9 when they married) 
  • Was ordered to commit suicide by her husband for reputedly murdering his favoured concubine
  • After she killed herself by drowning in a well, Xiao Yi sent her body back to her family as a divorced wife. This happened three years before he ascended the throne as Emperor.

Why is she remarkable:

  • She probably wins hands down on ‘most discourteous royal wife’. Not only did was she boldly jealous while cheating on him with multiple men- that idiom of hers came about due to the praise of one of her lovers, she would also only make up half of her face (see the pic for potential effects) whenever her husband visited her (which was seldom) in order to mock the fact that he was blind in one eye.  

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

In a way, she tickles my fancy in a karmic justice sense. I mean, here is this woman who is unhappily married and she will just do anything that pleases herself to get back at her husband. And she had the power to do so, which was not how dramas and movies starring Court women in ancient China usually made me believe (although I have to say with this series, I’m starting to learn that’s not always true. There are a number of exceptions but that doesn’t shake the overall impression). Not that I condone this kind of vicious revenge cycle that she had with her husband but I understand this is a way of her coping with her fate in a feudal society. In some ways, she reminds me of the first woman I blogged about in this series, except not as smart but equally willful in others’ eyes. 

English reference on her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xu_Zhaopei