Lee led Tung to his room. It was just large enough to fit a cot, his luggage, and a wardrobe. She leaned against a wall, and he stood opposite her.
“I peeked inside Cheung’s trade goods,” she said. “They were Bibles.”
Lee breathed sharply, and exhaled just as hard. “Explains a lot.”
“Yes. He’s a smuggler and a traitor.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Does it matter? You fought in the Uprising. You saw what happened when the Abrahamites were allowed to spread their beliefs unchecked.”
“The cause of the Uprising is a lot more complicated than—”
“The imperialists were engaged in cultural warfare, with their missionaries and their converts. They were carving us up like a watermelon, and now they’re doing it again.” She sighed, shaking her head. “Fuhsia miehyang, remember?”
Support the Hsia, destroy the Westerner.
“I wasn’t part of the I Chuan Tui,” Lee said.
She shook her head. “Look, regardless of how you feel, our client committed a capital crime. If we’re caught with him, they’ll expel us from the Risk Takers’ Guild at best. At worst, they chop our heads off right next to him.”
“Let’s go confront him, see what he has to say for himself.”
“There’s no time for that. The Imperial Guard is on their way.”
His heart stilled. An eternity later it restarted with an audible DUB-dub.
“You tipped them off.”
“Yes. I borrowed the telephone before dinner. The Imperial Guard is sending men to arrest Cheung. Come with me and we’ll leave before they get here.”
“Why did you come to me then?”
“We fought the foreigners together. We have to stick together.”
She bit her lip. “I respect you. You chose to fight the foreigner when your skin would have made you welcome in their ranks. Now we have to go. Unless you want to take your chances with the Guardsmen.”
He sighed. Nodded. “Fine. Give me a few minutes to get packed. In the meantime, go downstairs and warm up the boiler.”
She smiled. “I knew you’d see things my way.”
The moment the door closed, Lee swung into action. He snapped on his belt and hurriedly patted down the pouches and holster and sheath, checking that everything was where they were supposed to go. He withdrew his rifle from his scabbard, rolling up the cloth and tucking it under his knapsack’s straps. He shouldered the bag and slung the rifle and left. Everything else was replaceable, and therefore dead weight.
He crossed the narrow hallway to Cheung’s room. He pounded on the door. Twice.
The door opened immediately. “Yes?” the merchant said.
Lee pushed his way through. The smuggler fell on his ass. “What—”
“Ms Tung told me about your goods,” Lee said in Liangkuanghua, pointing at a trunk next to Cheung’s bed. “Open that trunk. I want to see for myself.”
Lee rested his hand on the butt of his revolver. “See this hand? If it moves, you die. Now open the trunk.” His voice was as clear and sharp as a knife of ice.
The merchant opened the trunk. Inside were neat stacks of black leather-bound books with Anglian titles. Lee squinted.
The Testimony of King Solomon. The Book of Abra-Mellin the Mage. Conversations with the Magus Constantine.
He blinked. “She told me they were Bibles.”
Cheung chuckled, and switched to Anglian. “Did she say shengching? It means ‘holy script’. The Emperor said these include the textbooks the Westerners use to train elementalists and ritualists.”
“Why did you smuggle them here?” Lee didn’t realise he had switched to Anglian until the words left his mouth.
Cheung stood up. Straightened. “I wasn’t lying when I said ‘textbooks’. The Yemai are coming, Mr Lee. They nearly conquered the Northeast during the I Chuan Uprising. Give them half a chance and they’ll come back to finish the job. I’ve seen their magic first hand; it’s similar to what we use. You’ve said so yourself that Western magic is superior to ours, and doesn’t take as long to learn.”
Lee shook his head. Took a deep breath. Switched to Kuoyü. “Tung called the Imperial Guard. They’re coming to arrest you. Take your backpack and grab Mr Ayan. Meet me downstairs at the wagon.”
“The Imperial Guard are coming,” he repeated, very slowly. “Come with me if you want to live. And leave the books; they’re no use to you now.”
Want more free stories like this? Sign up for my newsletter here!