Classified private note, attached to official Admiralty Report XC-V regarding the loss of HMS Warspite
As you know, sir, sometimes in our line of work – that being subterfuge and dancing with all manner of rogue – one must think on their feet. The moment the noise resonated above, the Chinaman moved with startling alacrity, a great noise bellowing from his back. It confirmed my suspicions that the Taipangs had attempted some form of interface with…
Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, and should refer you to my reports on the Chinese interior. We live in an age of invention and wonder, and in doing so we have uncovered mysteries we never thought possible. Lord Kelvin’s assertions are astonishing, as are the moves of Dr Lister and Mr Swan. But of all the devices singular to the world, there are few things so miraculous as the blood wheel.
The Taipang believe blood to be sacred. It is the river of the body, and while they acknowledge the self-evident truths of circulation (as discovered by an Englishman several hundred years ago), they believe this can be altered by the divine. Simply put, they believe their bowels can turn blue if they are blessed by an angel. This is folly, for I have sliced open many a gizzard in my time, and am yet to discover a blue one, but the cult is widespread enough to encourage men, women and, though I find it pitiable, children to attempt to alter their circulation. The worshippers insert a brooch to their back, which creates a bypass between veins. This flow of blood in turn spins a water wheel, painted to mimic gold, which they are told functions much like a prayer wheel of ancient Tibet. The process is, alas, far more nefarious.
I know you grasp kinetics, but your superiors may not. Simply put this wheel acts as a dynamo, which charges and sparks, allowing a great injection of energy when the body’s stresses and distempers reach critical mass. Such was the action I saw on the Chinaman, and thus I knew with no small certantiy what lay behind the door through the opium den.
Sir, I knew then what this operation was about. I told you I believed the Taipangs were up to rum in the heart of the Smoke, and here was their base, where they were inserting converts with little devices. The elderly attendant gone, I dashed out, toward the door, all pretence of stupor vanished from my body. Skaldon looked stunned by this can called out, but I paid him no heed, throwing my bonnet aside as I rushed forth and swung open the door.
It was precisely as I imagined. A circular chamber, with a grate in the corner that no doubt led to some sewage outlet, where blood and wasted flesh could be discarded unseen. Tools, gleaming in the gaslight, showing vicious edges of sterile steel. Some were tainted blue, dyed I suspect with Prussian or the like, so as to give the impression of the Taipang blue bowels. And, at the centre of it, a desk with mounds of papers, all with the vermillion seal.
Sir, you may not be familiar with Chinese seals. Let me simply say that only two men in China use the vermillion, to the point that the very word means their authority. The first is the rightful Emperor of China, the ghastly fellow who tormented Elgin in the Opium Wars. The second is the Taipang Heavenly Emperor himself. I made motion to the papers in an instant… and I regret it cost me caution.
I failed to check the corner of the room, sir, and let that blind spot remain in my vision. It was this folly that led to my wound, for in a second I had been struck by a mighty blow, and I knew at once another agent of the Taipangs, strength augmented by their queer machinations, was upon me.