Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Emperor's First Peculiar Request

The Emperor was looking for a Cynidicean concubine and Beatriss agreed to help him find one.  Not immediately, but after she heard the whole story.  One of his newest concubines, name Jiaohu, purchased from the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path perhaps noticing the Khan’s interest in Beatriss, had told him, that “The Monks have another pale one like her, but younger and prettier, but they are holding her for someone special.  And did I mention she had strong thighs, too?”

Jiaohu repeated her account to Beatriss while the Khan implied that if Beatriss could rescue this girl from the monastery (which sounded like a miserable place for anyone), then he would allow Beatriss to leave Khanbaliq and build her castle in the south.  He had sent messengers to the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path, offering thousands of taels for the “pale girl,” but none in the parade of women they offered him was a Cynidicean.  The explanation that Jiaohu repeated was that the monks were keeping the pale girl hidden as a prize for someone they thought more important the great Khan Kublai.
Here was what Beatriss needed to know to find the Cynidicean: According to Jiaohu, the pale girl spoke a strange language and had been named Ciuciu by the other slaves.  Jiaohu’s friend Xing was still held by the monks in the cells beneath the monastery.  If Beatriss could find Xing, then Xing could help her Ciuciu and if Beatriss found Ciuciu, she could convince her to come out with her.  Jiaohu taught Beatriss to say a password by which she would identify herself as a friend to Xing.

Beatriss gathered four other adventurers to assist her.  These included Naron the warrior and Jumay the priest, both companions from her expedition to Tempat Larang.  Feng Feng the magician she had met before in Khanbaliq.  Finally, there was Bayan, a servant woman whom, after being rejected by the princess she’d been hired to serve, had been how to fight by Beatriss herself.
The group of five entered the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path through a postern gate into the ruined half of the compound. The collapsing walls and unstable floor provided the most serious danger until they encountered a sickly-sweet smelling and tentacled compost pile.   Beatriss, with uncharacteristic bravado, rushed at the strange monster with her sword, handily slashing it into pieces—but not before getting slapped across the face with one of the sticky tentacles.  Writhing on the floor, she struggled to breathe—the quick-thinking Bayan supplied an acidic liquid to dissolve the cloying syrup.

The party found their way out of the ruins and into one of the out-buildings, meeting a group of monks who attacked them on sight.  The fortunate ones were paralyzed by Ju-May, the others were cut down by Beatriss and Naron.  After the short battle, a woman peered out from under some straw in the loft area above.  She identified herself as a slave, and asked if they would take her away from the Monks.  Beatriss used Jiaohu and the woman identified herself as Xing.  She knew of Ciuciu and offered to lead the party there.  There was one way that led through a dangerous overgrown garden and another way that led directly down, but through the lair of the antmen.  Beatriss asked Xing to lead them by the second path.
Xing led them to the dungeons below the monastery and, as she had warned them, as they explored the narrow tunnels dug through crumbling clay soil, they were attack by three bipedal ant creatures, each carrying two shields and wielding two swords.  They were fearless fighters, and also crafty, using a weighted net to ensnare Beatriss while attacking her friends.  Naron stood in the passage to protect the others from melee, shielded by Jumay’s call for divine protection.  Feng Feng used his magic to kill one of the antmen and when Beatriss freed herself from the net, she and Naron killed the other two.  At some point during the battle, Xing had disappeared.  From the darkness behind them, they heard a female cry and then a thud and sound of crunching bones.

Beatriss, surmising that neither she nor Xing could be of any further help to each other, pushed onward.  The party passed through chambers seemingly shewed out of the earth and filled with rotting vegetation.  In time they came to a chamber seemingly filled with warm mud.  Beatriss waded into it, and was attacked by what looked like huge, fat white worms—giant ant larvae.  Fighting them off, Beatriss retreated and agreed with her companions that they had been overly bold in their quest.  They resolved to retreated to the Khan’s palace, rest and tend their wounds, and return another day.
On their way out of the subterranean tunnels, they were startled by the noise of two crocodiles, fighting listlessly over what appeared to be a human corpse.  The croc abandoned their humdrum meal in favor of fresh meat.  The party killed the crocodiles.  Before returning to the ground level of the Monastery, Beatriss and Jumay took a look at the corpse, wondering if they would recognize Xing.  The body was naked, hairless, and featureless.  Though damaged by the crocodiles, little blood flowed from its wounds.
Beatriss and the others returned to Forbidden City and gave a full report to the Emperor.  While disappointed in their failure, he was mollified by Beatriss’s clear commitment to returning to the monastery within the week.

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