Duncan Howard

For those of you that enjoyed the novel here is a deleted chapter that I really enjoyed writing. It is set just after Agnes has been kidnapped by the Shadows of the Void. Major Flintstaff believes travelling to China and meeting with the legendary Bai Ze will help them in their struggle against the Shadows. As you will see, Sergeant Cramp is wasting no time...!

‘Well, we’ve done everything we can here,’ said Flintstaff sitting at his desk. ‘The house and our affairs are in order. Now, if the Shadows think we’re going to walk straight into their little set-up, they’ve got another thing coming. However, Cramp, I do agree with you that the safety of Agnes is paramount. What we have to remember is that a sacrifice will most likely have to be made, be it with our lives or the sovereignty of the case. I would suggest that, if possible, we find a way to lessen the rewards they are so keen to obtain.’

    ‘Yes. I agree, major.’

    ‘I think we should visit a friend, sergeant. It will involve another journey but I think we should be able to get some jolly decent advice from the fellow.’

    ‘Won’t we need the map to get the right co-ordinates?’

    ‘Actually, this one I remember off by heart. We’re going for a quick jaunt to China. It will be rather chilly by the sea, so we should wrap up warm.’

    ‘Ah, yes. I think I know where you mean – Chenshantou?’

    ‘Correct. We need advice and supplies.’

    ‘And rather a large gun, I would surmise,’ said the sergeant hefting his steam-fed elephant gun.

    The two gentlemen stood side-by-side in the basement of No. 35 Chepstow Villas, Cramp’s left hand clasped tightly to Flintstaff’s right. Major Flintstaff held the case in his left hand while Cramp hefted the elephant gun onto his shoulder; his clavicle creaked under the weight. The glyphs glowed with a cold blue light at their feet. In the blink of an eye they disappeared.

    Cool mountain air greeted them as they appeared amongst a dense stand of bamboo. Cramp glanced around, shook his head and let go of Major Flintstaff’s hand. Cramp could never and would never understand how their method of transportation always managed to avoid them arriving inside another object, like a wall or a tree. Perhaps it was best to put your trust in the thing and leave any sticky questions well alone.

    The major was already opening the case to retrieve a well-honed machete and proceeded to hack his way through the undergrowth. They trudged uphill, taking it in turns to cut a path while the other carried the case and the elephant gun. The bamboo stands eventually petered out leaving the way clear as the men continued their ascent. Sergeant Cramp huffed and puffed his way upwards with a look of grim determination set upon his sweating brow. His hedge-like sideburns twitched from side to side as he muttered to himself. Major Flintstaff had never seen Cramp this way and decided to remain silent.

    After a half day of climbing they cleared the last of the trees and caught sight of the mountain peak. Before them a great wall of impassable cliffs circled the mountain top. Only a single path led straight through the cliff-face.

    ‘Telescope,’ said Cramp holding out his hand.

    ‘I say!’ wheezed Major Flintstaff in shock. He was still trying to get his breath back from the forced march Sergeant Cramp had set. However, upon looking into Cramps close set eyes he saw only steel and murder there and rapidly determined that mentioning rank at this point in time might be an unhealthy decision. He popped the top off the leather tube holding the telescope and handed it to Cramp.

    ‘Thank-you, sir,’ said Cramp. ‘Don’t mean to be abrupt, sir. But till I get Agnes back to the house I’ll not dilly-daddle in my duty to find her.’ Cramp extended the telescope, focused and pressed an enamel button that hissed quietly. Twenty seconds later he removed a glass plate from the back of the telescope and passed it to the major.

    ‘Hmm,’ said Flintstaff as he lifted the glass into the light. ‘That’s certainly a demon guarding the entrance… we’ll need guile to pass the beast. It will probably ask an unanswerable riddle of some sort, or ask for an impossible present. They love that sort of thing.’

    ‘It doesn’t seem to have a head, sir.’

    ‘No, it doesn’t. I think it has eyes instead of nipples and a mouth for a belly-button. All the same it does seem to be holding a rather large axe and sword.’

    ‘My duck, sir. If you will,’ said Cramp retying his boot laces.

    ‘Guile, Sergeant, guile,’ advised Flintstaff as he sat upon the case and watched Cramp march up the path.

    Major Flintstaff watched Cramp’s advance through the telescope. It was not long before the demon noticed him approaching. The demon had been sat against a rock when Cramp had captured a picture of it, and it had done little to impress Flintstaff of its size. Even without a head the demon was at least fourteen feet in height. The blade of the sword it held was taller than Cramp and the weight of the axe looked like it could fell a tree in one clean sweep. The stump of its neck had been lacquered and the bronze armour it wore on its legs and arms gleamed with a dizzying array of battle spells and protective wards. As Cramp faced the demon Flintstaff had a sudden terrible fear that clenched his heart – Cramp was about to bite off more than he could chew and Flintstaff was too far away to do anything about it. He watched as the demon spoke from its belly-button.

    ‘Come on, Sergeant. Think man, think!’ said Flintstaff with his eye glued to the telescope. He could see Cramp scratching his head which was never a good sign and then the sergeant and the demon both disappeared in a huge cloud of smoke. Flintstaff was up and running with the case banging against his leg as he sped up the slope before a dull ‘boom’ and a shock wave almost knocked him off his feet. Major Flintstaff reached the entrance to the path between the cliffs just as the smoke was clearing. Cramp was busy dusting off his tweeds, the barrel of the elephant gun was still glowing red-hot, and most of the demon was plastered across the face of the cliff. To either side of the bloody mass was an arm; one holding a sword, the other an axe and between the two was a single war-sandal with a size 38 foot still inside it. It fizzled and turned to ash.

    ‘What on earth happened?’ asked Flintstaff, unaware of the stupidity of the question.

    ‘It asked me a question,’ said Cramp. ‘It wanted to know what the time was…’

    ‘And?’

    ‘I can never remember how far ahead China is from Greenwich Mean Time…’

    ‘Eight,’ said Flintstaff automatically.

    ‘Well, there you go,’ said Cramp as a matter of fact as he slung the elephant gun upon his shoulder.

    The gentlemen followed the narrow path between the cliffs until they reached the mouth of a cave. Lichen grew across the surrounding walls and hung across the entrance, a spring bubbled merrily with a gnarled maple overhanging a brook before the water disappeared into the rock-face. Flintstaff walked up to the cave entrance and raised his hand as if to knock and then dropped it again.

    ‘Hello?’ he called. ‘Anybody there?’

    A mighty roar knocked the major’s hat from his head and had Cramp desperately reloading the smouldering elephant gun. They heard the sound of large padded feet getting closer and closer. A pungent animal smell invaded their nostrils before the strands of lichen parted to reveal a living Chinese legend. The creature had the face of an old bearded man with three eyes and two horns upon his head. His body was that of a massive male lion with a shaggy mane that swept the ground, upon his back were three more pairs of eyes and four horns sticking out from his spine.

    ‘Baí Zé,’ said Flintstaff picking up his hat.

    ‘Ah, the venerable warriors from the Land of Eternal Rain,’ replied Baí Zé.

    ‘Well, we do get a couple of sunny days in June… sometimes,’ replied Cramp as he simultaneously wondered why he had to defend his country’s climatic conditions.

    ‘To speak plainly,’ said Flintstaff, ‘we’re looking for help.’

    ‘Many moons have passed since last we spoke,’ said Baí Zé, ‘and I fear the trees will grow old before I see your faces again. There is a great darkness that has spread its arms around the world. The Void approaches, gathering strength and influence among the people. They see it not but feed it still. With every innovation comes a blood-price and it will be paid ten-fold. The Shadows’ power has transformed. Once they held sway over small populations and areas; they were isolated from eachother… but no longer is it so. The Shadows were easier to confront and control as well you know…’

    ‘So what has changed?’ asked Flintstaff.

    ‘They have begun to unify,’ stated Baí Zé sadly. ‘This new religion called ‘Science’ has opened many fresh paths, and not all are of a benevolent nature.’

    ‘That answers many questions,’ said Flintstaff. He glanced at Cramp before continuing. ‘Someone dear to us has been taken by the Shadows and we fear a trap is set.’

    ‘I have two gifts to help you. One is a book of the ultimate knowledge. The other may be seen as a blade that cuts both ways,’ said Baí Zé. The creature disappeared into his cave and returned with a book between his teeth. He placed it gently on the ground at Sergeant Cramp’s feet. ‘The second gift grows at the base of the maple. It is the Linghzi mushroom. Properly prepared, it will grant immortality to those that consume its flesh.’

    Cramp picked up the book and opened it onto the first page as the major walked to the base of the tree and plucked a rather phallic-looking fungus from the trunk. Cramp read the characters and flicked through a few pages.

    ‘It is called the Baí Zé Tǘ,’ explained the creature. ‘It grants the reader knowledge of the 11,520 Shadows that exist on this plane and the methods of their destruction.’

    Cramp walked over to the case and flicked the catches. He placed the book reverentially within and then took out the notebook clasped to the inside of the lid. He flicked through the pages, muttering under his breath, eyes half-closed, head nodding.

    ‘I make that 11,317 left then, sir,’ he said.

    ‘Huh?’ grunted Baí Zé raising nine eyebrows quizzically.

    ‘Actually it’s 11,316, Cramp. Remember, you have just atomized the demon Yin Tian,’ said Flintstaff.

    ‘You just killed Yin Tian?’ gasped Baí Zé. ‘Bloody Hell!’ he added, forgetting his Chinese.