Green Dragon Crescent Blade

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TUMB 02/6 The weapon of the legendary ancient Chinese general Guan Yu—a man who could probably take a dragon or two. There is an enchanted jade in the base that legend says powers it. Taoist priests sailing in the treasure fleet of Admiral Zheng had the weapon with them. They were worried about encountering demons on their travels that might be beyond the ability of their magic to handle.” According to at least some recent translations of the Lost Navigation Records of Admiral Zheng He, a small group of his men were detached in 1421, with the priests in tow, to continue on when the rest of the fleet turned around because he had some sort of vision. They allegedly reached what we now call Mexico, though that’s debatable because they were never heard from again.”Some claimed the blade would destroy anyone who lacked the spiritual strength to wield it. Shay continued to research the blade in her "Ancient Chinese Legends Reevaluated in Light of Post-Oriceran Contact." In a world of returned magic, a stray piece of information might be the difference between an artifact destroying a person and that person controlling it. She also addressed her favorite bookmarks, Archaeology Plus and Archaeology Source. Each was a massive database of academic articles on archaeology and related fields. She also opened a database of articles on historical and applied extra-dimensional engineering.

TUMB 02/14, 15 Baja, California, Mexico There were caves in the distance, obscured by dust, but the faint semi-translucent shimmer in the air worried her as well. Magic. When they had parked close to the caves, they watched an iguana cross the shimmer, and come out on other side OK, so they guessed it was OK to cross, Only cloaking magic, not deadly. This might not be the final site. Some of the background research suggests this might only lead to another place. Three different caves confronted her now. If she’d had any doubts about being in the right spot, the faded classical Chinese characters carved above the caves erased them. Despite the dry climate, the centuries of wind and dust had taken their toll. Shay wore her augmented-reality interface goggles, translators. Words overlaid some of the ancient Chinese characters inside the goggles, though most remained unintelligible. ... blade… honorable and strong…Pass… find… noble…Stand… speak… Mandate of the Heavens. Now she just needed to figure out which cave contained either the treasure or the information she needed for the next leg of her journey. Something else caught her eye, though; something much smaller.

Shay closed on the first cave mouth and looked up. There were light scratches next to each character; intricate series of lines. Shay tried to think like a Budhist or Taoist priest. The men had landed in a strange and foreign land, an area they were sure that no one like them had ever visited. They’d gone through the trouble of erecting a powerful concealment barrier, but they couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t stop locals from stumbling upon the caves if they already knew about them. The priests would have wanted to make sure that they could recover the ancient relic, though…or at least that someone else could. Burying the entire complex would have made that impossible, since they wouldn’t have been so deluded as to think a huge imperial force could be sent across the ocean. That suggested traps and magical means of hiding the artifact. The resurgence of magic on Earth meant their mystical defenses might even be stronger than when the priests set them up. A careful examination of the hexagrams revealed three sets of twenty-two, for a total of sixty-six. Shay frowned. Something was wrong. There should have been only sixty-four hexagrams. The I Ching was far older than the fifteenth century, so she was sure this wasn’t an issue of lost hexagrams. The minutes passed as she painstakingly checked each hexagram with the help of an app on her phone. The hexagrams on the first two caves were normal, but over the right-hand cave, she found duplicates of the patterns for radiance and force. Either the priests had gotten sloppy, or they had been trying to leave a clue that they thought only an educated Taoist priest could decipher. Good enough. she stepped to the cave on her right. Her light caught site of a skeleton about thirty feet in, an iron spearhead embedded deep in its skull and a rib. The clothes had long ago rotted, but the poor bastard provided proof that she wasn’t the first person to try and recover the treasure. Her preliminary readings had suggested the place was likely trapped, meaning she needed to exercise far more caution than she had when collecting the Rod of Supay. She grabbed a handful of small but dense weights from her utility belt, tossing the weights in a wide arc. One landed with a soft clunk, as if metal met metal. Shay pulled a tiny drone from her backpack. A few quick taps sent her drone aloft and interfaced it with her goggles, which detected density differentials on the ground’s surface. There were some sort of metal plates underneath the dirt, and a series of them continued deeper into the cave. Not stepping on them would probably help keep her alive.

02/15 Shay managed to finish her game of ancient deathtrap hopscotch far quicker than she would have ever guessed. Her tech helped; she couldn’t see how someone without her equipment would have been able to avoid the traps. A couple more skeletons entangled with spearheads provided proof of her hypothesis. The cave narrowed and split off in two directions. No skeletons or traps were obvious in either, so Shay held her breath and listened. A quiet hum and the faint sound of running water reached her ears from one of the paths and she stalked that way slowly, searching for any sign of traps or angry-Taoist-priest ghosts. Her path opened into a large cavern with a huge drop into an inky darkness. The sound of running water had increased, swallowing the earlier hum, so she suspected an underground river lay at the bottom of the cavern. The barest hints of rotted rope and wood suggested there’d once been a bridge stretching across the cavern to a stalagmite-covered ledge on other side. A little feeling around inside her backpack netted her a coil of kernmantle rope with a hook already attached. She selected a good place to aim her hook. Hanging onto one end, she started twirling the rope and attached hook to build up speed, and after a quick release the rope and hook sailed through the air and landed on her rock of choice. The tomb raider pulled on the rope to make sure the hook was secure, and then backed up, the other end of the rope securely clutched in her hands. She darted forward and leapt from her side of the precipice, her momentum carrying her forward and her rope preventing gravity from sending her to her death. Panic replaced the exhilaration of leaping through the darkened cavern when she spotted a thin, almost invisible line stretched across the space in front of her only a second before she hit it. The line snapped with no effort, and she wasn’t surprised when a loud boom shook the cavern a moment later.

A slender gold and red dragon with fire and smoke shooting behind it zipped past. The creature slammed into the wall on the other side and exploded, and debris showered Shay as she landed on a ledge under her target rock. She clutched the rope tighter, worried that the hook had been knocked loose by the explosion. She really didn’t want to lose the rope. No, not a dragon, but an ancient rocket. She wasn’t sure if the trap had still worked because of luck, good design, magic, or some combination of all three. She kind of doubted gunpowder and explosives would have lasted that long without a little magic, but she wasn’t a chemist. Shay suspected the trap had originally been designed to kill someone walking along the old bridge, and only the absence of the walkway had saved her from an explosively bad day. Shay secured the other end of her rope by tying it around a large rock far from the edge of the ledge, just in case of tremors. It’d still be a little bit of a stunt to get back over.

Her light highlighted a man’s form at the end of the tunnel. She jerked her gun out of its holster, her heart rate kicking up.The gun was returned to its home a few seconds later when the field archaeologist realized she was looking not a human but at a stylized mural of a huge bearded man in armor wielding a bladed polearm, a guandao, which was most likely the Green Dragon Crescent Blade. She’d seen enough representations of Guan Yu to recognize him. She stepped closer to examine the mural. Something seemed slightly off about the color. She lowered her light to point at the floor and realized the image glowed with a soft green light. Magical painting? It did not attack her.

She stopped at the sight of yet another skeleton when the tunnel dead-ended in a chamber that opened up at the top. Now that she’d moved farther away from the cavern with the ledge, the sound of running water had receded and the hum had returned. This chamber seemed to be its source. Unlike the skeletons she’d seen before this one still had clothes, even if the outfit was covered with dust. A black and gray robe with a golden fringe enshrouded the bones. The skeleton sat in a cross-legged position with its skull facing down. Shay tilted her head as she moved closer. A barely discernable blue glow surrounded the robe. She suspected it might be related to the concealment barrier, but she was less interested in finding the truth behind the magic than finding the Green Dragon Crescent Blade and getting the hell out of there. The bodies and traps all suggested the cave was guarding something of importance, rather than just additional directions or a map.

She lifted her flashlight. The cave’s ceiling continued off at an angle, and the stalactites were even thicker and denser there. The flashlight’s beam caught a glimmer of something on the cave ceiling, but whatever it was vanished as soon as she concentrated on it. Shay pulled a small spherical camera drone from a pouch on her belt, set it on the ground, and pulled out her phone. After entering a few commands, four slots opened in the sphere and the rotor extended. The drone lifted off and an image appeared on her phone screen. She guided it toward the location of the vanishing glimmer. Her video feed revealed a soft green glow that she couldn’t see from where she was. he moved the drone to get a wider view of the ceiling. Even though she couldn’t see it with her eyes, the drone’s video feed on the phone clearly depicted two hexagrams carved into the stalactites. She examined the hexagrams for a moment. One was the pattern for radiance and the other appeared to be force, but there were outlines for single segments in both, whereas the rest of the segments were filled in and surrounded by thick borders. Using the drone as a guide, she determined that the remains of the priest lay directly under one empty segment. She took a deep breath and moved directly under the other empty segment. A warm sensation passed through her body, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. “Stand…speak, Mandate of Heaven,” Shay murmured, remembering some of the translated words from the front of the cave. The Mandate of Heaven was the ancient Chinese idea that a proper emperor had the support of the gods and the universe itself. Mandate of Heaven equals emperor, maybe? Time to stand and speak then. Shay stood and pulled out her phone. She couldn’t pronounce classical Chinese worth a damn, but she did have an app containing information on the Chinese emperors. She swept her finger to highlight a phrase and then tapped so it’d be read aloud. “Zhu Di, Yongle Huangdi.” Zhu Di, the Perpetual Happiness Emperor. The entire cave shook, and the tingle in Shay’s body exploded into an inferno of pain. She cried out and fell to the ground. Fuck. One final trap, huh? Damn it. Guess I should have brought Brownstone after all. The agony increased, and she screamed. Then it was gone. Shay took several deep breaths, flexing her muscles in her arms and legs. No residual discomfort or pain remained. It was like she hadn’t been on fire from the inside out seconds before. She pushed herself up and shook her head. “That sucked.” Her eyes widened when she saw what was now lying directly between her and the skeleton. A long, curved, bladed polearm lay on the ground. It was clearly a guandao. An ornately carved golden dragon surrounded the joint where the blade and the pole met, its eyes made from carved jade. Another piece of jade had been inlaid into the end.

As she prepared to leave, she heard gunshots echoing through the cave. “Oh, Brownstone, who are you shooting at now?”