The Dragon Tongue War Part II

by Paul Davis

The Dragon Tongue War Part II: The Missing City of Lu Tan

Part I

Zu housed nearly a thousand souls, the population growing quickly once food was no longer an issue due to fishing. Families once limited to a handful of children, half of them doomed to never reach adulthood, could now sire as many children as desired, expecting a good portion of those children to reach adulthood. Many tribes away from the river also came to settle in the city when news of a softer life reached the people. Other tribes scoffed at the weak lifestyle.

Meng Hua sat in his office, rubbing his forehead. The river to the north, anything above the village of Lu Tan, had seemingly disappeared. There were no warnings of raiders taking the city, yet any trade vessel going that way hadn’t returned. No trade vessels had come from Lu Tan, Bai Ding, or Ta Ning. While two weeks could happen, three was unheard of. Four was most certainly an inauspicious omen.

Southern trade continued, though, and those not watching the books thought all was well, if the work was a little lighter than usual. However, with trade from the north drying up, it meant there was some malevolence obstructing trade, and eventually the force could invade Zu. If nothing else, Zu was very dependent on some goods produced in Ta Ning.

“Meng Hua,” the large trader was snapped out of his worry when a strong, older man walked in. Tai Shi was a strong man, despite the graying hair. “You had need of me and my men?”

“Yes, Tai Shi. There is some alarming news.”

Ta Shi nodded, “The docks.”

There was a moment of astonishment, “Why yes, the docks, how did you….”

“My men pay attention. Scouting parties stand at my order.”

“Send them to Lu Tan, then. Curses, captain, perhaps next time you’ll just send the men instead of waiting for my fat hide to go into action.” Meng Hua waved the captain on, “Get them moving now. I went them gone tonight.”

“Within the hour.” Tai Shi put a hand over his heard and bowed, then left the building. Meng Hua cursed him a few more times before looking back at the books again.

***

Tai Shi went into the barracks, “Spring of Jun Shao, you know your orders.” He didn’t look at the men. Every soldier in the barracks stood at attention, but Tai Shi hastily walked past the men and went into his quarters.

Spring was the first unit into any situation. Jun Shao led four men, a stealth squad meant to only gather information. Jun pounded his chest, along with the others in his squad. Each was already dressed in their garbs, being warned that morning mobility was a possibility.

Jun nodded to his men, each picking up a pack, and soon they were out the door and into the fields, moving north along the river to Lu Tan. The journey would take three days.

Shu, a young soldier newly recruited spoke up on the second day, “What do you think happened?” The child’s eyes were still bright as he neared his twentieth year.

Ling snickered, “Is the child scared of something?”

“It could be those spirits.” Shu looked to the ground as the rest of his squad, aside from Jun, chuckled lightly.

Ling said, “Doubt it, kid. Lu Tan has no defense. It’s bandits, and maybe good ones.”

Jun’s voice didn’t carry well as he spoke, “Ling, do not discount the child. He might be young, but wive’s tales originate from somewhere. We should prepare for anything.”

“But, sir,” Shu looked up, “none of us use the elements.”

“We are the spring, Shu.”

The words held weight in the unit. Intelligence was their purpose, to see what needed to be known and return with the information. Other units in Spring focused on assassination, insurgence, and other acts which paved the path for conquest. Spring of Jun Shao would never gain such glory.

By the third day the village was in sight. Ling crawled alongside Jun, the only two to approach the village. Jun mumbled, “It looks strange.” People roamed the streets. Chores were being done. Considering the time of day it seemed there were more drunks than in most villages, numerous people stumbling down the streets and stumbling down.

“It looks normal, sir. Nothing strange about it.” Ling scratched his chin, stubble starting to come in and itch.

“What do you make of it? Should we approach?”

“No bandits there. No threats. Ships docked. Send the child and Ming.”

“Is that your assessment?”

“Kid’s no big loss. Ming knows his way around a crowd.”

A smile flickered on Jun’s face, “I think you underestimate Shu, though I agree. Ming will take lead. Inform them. You and I will watch here with Cai.”

Ling nodded and went back to report the orders.

***

Shu’s eyes went wide at the news, “I get to go in? Thank you for your confidence in me, sir.” He bowed over and over again until Ling grabbed his shoulder, gripping painfully.

“Kid, you’re going because you’re no loss. Ming’s going because he deserves it.” He pushed Shu back, and the boy remained silent, though he continued to smile.

Ming was a scraggly man, though his few muscles were toned. He gave out a sigh, “Truly, this is what I’m left with? I get to do training and you get to watch.” He picked up his pack and kicked the dirt, “Let’s go, Shu. Time to learn how to talk to people.”

“I can do that!” Shu’s eyes went wide as he blurted out the words.

Ming turned to him, “From what I’ve seen the last three days, no you can’t.” The others smirked and Ming took off to the village with Shu in tow.

The sun was on its descent, though it would be some time before evening. There was a cool breeze that made the summer months more tolerable. Nothing could make the humidity better. Ming walked ahead of Shu, speaking to him, “Just follow my lead. From the looks of it, the people are okay. We just need to find out what happened. Maybe it’s a worker shortage or something.”

“That doesn’t make sense, though.” Shu watched the people closely, squinting to make them out at that distance. “We would still get shipments from Bai Ding and Ta Ning. Most of Ta Ning refuses to even stop here. And those people aren’t walking right, are they? Maybe it’s cultural?”

Ming stopped, squinting, “You’re not bad, Shu. And you’re right. Some people are running and what have you, while others seem unable to keep their footing. What’s with that? Anyway, keep moving, we still need to talk to them.”

When they approached the town, a small child approached them. He moved with a strange grace, his movements mimicking waves. However, he had no issues walking, and even ran to the two men. “Good day!” There was a sick sound in the voice, a slight hint of gurgling water.

Ming knelt down, a smile plastered across his face, “Hey there. Where are your parents? We’d like to speak with them.”

“My parents? I’m not quite sure, sir. Why?”

“You speak well, child. You must have a good school here.”

“School? I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

It was difficult for Ming to control his breathing. Something was wrong, but nothing looked or sounded wrong enough to be alarmed. “I suppose a village like this wouldn’t have one. But you sure are a bright child.”

“Thank you again. You and your friend are welcome in the village. Are there others with you?”

“No. Just us. Where’s the food and rooms?”

“Down the street and to the right. There is a sign. You will know by the sign.”

“Of course we will.” Ming nodded to Shu, “Let’s go eat.”

Shu nodded and the two men walked carefully down the path. Every person on the road seemed to turn at the two, eyeing them. More than a few licked their lips. For a moment, Ming could have sworn they had forked tongues, but it couldn’t be. Everyone in the village was normal. There was no threat. Tomorrow Ming and Shu would return to Jun with news that the village is a boring place lacking work ethic.

Soon they were at the small tavern.

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2 Responses to “The Dragon Tongue War Part II”

  1. Reblogged this on Paul Davis and commented:

    Here is my writing piece for Undying this week. Enjoy it!

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