Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Wind Blows From the West


you can move.”

Lee helped Cheung out of the wagon and on his feet. Cheung walked a little, wobbling, but quickly gained strength.

“Thank—thank you,” Cheung said.

Lanterns appeared behind them, followed by shouts.

“We’re not done yet,” he said. “Come on.”

“Where’s Ayan?”

“Dead. We have to go.”

They ran for the steam car of the Imperial Guard. Lee got the driver’s seat. Cheung rode shotgun.

“Where are we going?” Cheung muttered.

“Someplace that’s not here.”


Lee drove and drove until he found himself in a seedy-looking neighbourhood. He parked in a secluded alley and changed his clothes. He left his bloodsoaked clothes in the backseat and ignited them. He didn’t want to give a ritualist blood to track with. Not if he could help it.

The adrenaline wore off and a cacophony of aches and pains emerged. Lee kept going, urging Cheung along. They halted, near a secluded alley, only when it became clear that the old man was losing his sense of direction. They waited until dawn, not quite sleeping, not quite resting. Lee meditated, restoring his chi as best as he could and channelling the excess to the old man.

Lee shook Cheung awake and they set off again. Cheung recovered enough sense to find the main road, where they flagged down a horse-drawn taxicab. The driver dropped them off at a bus station at the edge of town. From there it was a ten-hour journey to T’aip’ing.

They sat side-by-side, dirty and scuffed and shunned by the other passengers. Which was, for now, fine by Lee. Lee continued meditating, while Cheung stared out the window.

“Why did you kill Ms Tung?” Cheung asked, finally, in Liangtunghua.

“She wasn’t going to listen,” Lee said, “and the Guard were coming.”

“You shot her.”

“When two tigers fight, one dies, the other is crippled.”

Cheung pondered that in silence for a few hours. When the noon sun came and went, he asked, “Why help us escape?”

Ethan Thomas Lee inhaled. Exhaled. “The Boxers killed my father in the early days of the Uprising. After the Uprising, the Imperial Guard executed my mother for being a ‘collaborator’. You know what they had in common? Closed-mindedness.”

“That’s it?”

“Yemaitai is coming. The only question is how to discourage or defeat them. Discarding something because it is Western is the height of foolishness. Did we not defeat the Westerners with their own technology?”

Cheung smiled at that.


They went their separate ways at T’aip’ing. With no cargo to guard, and the Imperial Guard looking for an old man and a young mixed-blood man travelling together, going separately was the only choice. Cheung boarded the evening train, Lee left in the morning.

Occasionally Lee got out at random stops, spending a day or evening in a strange town or city. He kept his ears out for word of an Imperial Guard manhunt and heard nothing. Once in a stopover he sent a coded telegram to the Risk Taker’s Guild in Sum Kong, to Lam. The next day, Lam told him everything was calm in the city.

Lee returned to the city four days later. He stopped in at the International Quarter. Cheung’s office was shuttered, the signboards removed. The bank told him he had been paid in full, plus a three-peso bonus. He returned to his apartment, inventoried his equipment, cleaned what could be cleaned and made a list of what he needed to replace. Then a long bath and a short walk to his bed. That night, he awoke in the dark only five times.

In the morning, he left his bed, changed into something presentable and returned to the Risk taker’s Guild. In the tea hall found a chair next to the radio and ordered a bowl of pork porridge. He ate slowly. Carefully. No need to rush.

At eight o’clock precisely, the music faded away and the radio announcer came back on.

“This is Sum Kong Radio, with breaking news. Two days ago, at one in the morning, saboteurs from Yematai were caught in the Northeast Province near the cross-border railway with Chüsenkuo. They were armed with dynamite, pistols and rifles and dressed like civilians.

“They were discovered by Imperial Guardsmen patrolling the border. Our forces heroically killed all five saboteurs with no loss to themselves. Shortly after this incursion, Yemai forces were observed massing at the border. Our glorious army is moving to protect our sovereignty against the Yemai imperialists. More news to follow.”

Lee finished his breakfast quickly. Paid the bill, walked out. He had equipment to replace, new items to buy, experts and contacts to talk to.

More jobs would be coming. And soon.

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Friday, August 27, 2021

The Wind Blows From the West Part 9


As Lee left the inn, he heard a low metal growl. The steam engine was warmed up and ready to go. There was only one undertype steam wagon in the inn’s parking lot, and Tung was leaning against the cab waiting for him.

She slid off the metal. She stared at him, then beyond him. She clenched her fists. Her chi spiked, red and hot.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Wind Blows From the West Part 8


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.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Wind Blows From the West Part 7


They made good time on the road, arriving in the next town by late afternoon. Instead of checking in at an inn, Cheung insisted on going straight to his local contact. Ayan parked the wagon outside a short, squat building. The sign above the door read ‘New World Printers’.  

As Lee leapt off the back, he heard faint mechanical clanking drift through the air. He wrinkled his nose. There was…something…in the air. A moment later, he detected a faint whiff of hot, freshly-printed paper.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Wind Blows From the West Part 6


The shootout had left Cheung shaken. When they rolled into town they discovered the nearest inn had closed for the night. After a brief debate, they passed the hours before sunup parked outside the inn. The risk takers took turns to guard the wagon, while the civilians tried to rest. Tung and Lee had more luck getting some sleep than Ayan and Cheung.

In the morning, Cheung haggled with the inn owner and passed her a handful of chiao. In exchange, she allowed them to park the wagon without checking in. Cheung’s local contact lived near the town market, so the four of them set off together, goods in tow.

They ran into the procession exactly four minutes later.

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Wind Blows From The West Part 5


The sun fell quickly in this part of the world. Cheung blew on his hands in a vain attempt to keep them warm. Lee willed chi to heat up his hands. Lee still felt the drop in temperature, but his fingers would be able to pull a trigger.

Cheung ignited the wagon’s acetylene lamps. The light was weak, illuminating maybe ten feet beyond them, just enough to watch the road. The road wound and twisted unpredictably through the forest and around the hills, and Cheung slowed further.

The night was quiet. No birds, no nocturnal animals, not even insects. Or maybe Lee just couldn’t hear them over the steam engine’s growl. All the same, he checked his Volition rifle by feel, ensuring its safety was still on, and patted his cartridge pouches, verifying the flaps were still closed. It didn’t hurt to be careful, and animals only go quiet when there’s a predator around.

The Volition rifle was a long gun, just a bit too long to handle comfortably inside the cab of the wagon. Keeping it slung around his neck, Lee twisted in his seat, slowly easing out his Webster revolver and placing it on his lap.

“Expecting trouble?” Cheung asked.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Wind Blows from The West Part 4


A rogue wind delayed the landing for a little over an hour. When the trio finally left the airship and picked up their luggage, Cheung led them through the sprawling, sparkling new aerodrome. A hired porter handled the trade goods, ten heavy chests, on a pushcart. At the exit, a short, dark man with bulging arms and a sagging gut met them.

“This is Ayan, our local guide,” Cheung said.

The indigenous Manche people didn’t have surnames, just given names and clan names. After a quick exchange of greetings, Ayan walked them to the parking lot outside the aerodrome, to a steam wagon, a deep blue Zephyr from Anglia.

The wagon was a licensed-produced copy of an Anglian design. It was an undertype, the engine and exhaust pipe placed under the chassis, so the driver and passenger didn’t have to lean out the window to look what was in front of them—and didn’t need a scarf and goggles for long-term travel. Best of all, the rear actually had a thin metal roof to keep out the sun and rain. Cheung climbed in and fed the boiler while the other three assisted the porter to load up the cargo. When that was done, Ayan paid off the local porter and whispered in his ear. The boy disappeared like the wind.

“Are you ready?” Cheung asked.

“Not yet,” Lee said. “Need to get dressed for the occasion.”


By way of answer, Lee popped his trunk open. Inside were the tools of the trade. His trade.

“You don’t need all that in the city,” Cheung said.

“Does the city ban the open carry of firearms and ammo?”


“Then we need it. Who knows who the porter is friends with.”

Reaching into the trunk, Lee strapped on his war belt. A lifetime ago, it was simply a broad leather belt. He had a tailor sew on suspenders and cartridge pouches. A sheathed knife swung on his left hip. On his right hip was a holster, and in it his Webster Mk IV revolver.

Tung grinned. “That’s a huge gun.”

“Utterly reliable too.”

He broke it open. He always transported his guns unloaded; there was no telling how roughly his weapons would be handled. He grabbed a box of bullets from the trunk and filled the cylinder with six .455 hollowpoints. Manstoppers, they were called. He closed the gun and put it away and glanced at Tung. There was an odd-looking box in her hands.

“Is that a hetzup’ao?” He asked.

“Yes.” She flipped the box around, revealing the pistol nestled in its internal holster. The Sachsen Empire called it the Roster C86. Here, it was called a box cannon, because the pistol’s stock doubled as a holster.

And yet…

“That must be the Linghsi variant.”

She raised a delicate eyebrow. “You do know your weapons, Mr Lee.”

The warlord of Linghsi had ordered his arsenal to produce custom C86s, with an expanded magazine as long as the grip, to supplement a lack of rifles and for use in urban combat.

It hadn’t done the warlord any good.

Lee’s long gun was a weathered Volition Arms 1876 lever-action rifle. The rifle that won the Columbian West, and was now conquering the continent’s northern frontiers. He fed in seven .30-30 Browen softpoint rounds, cranked the lever to chamber a bullet, and topped off the magazine.

“You ready?” Tung asked.

She was cradling a gun from another time and place. A side-by-side double-barrelled shotgun, what the Columbians called a coach gun. Lee approved. There were few anti-bandit measures as effective as a cloud of buckshot travelling at high velocity.

“I’m ready.”


Before leaving the city, Cheung stopped in at the telegraph office to contact his customers. Tung and Lee took the time to discuss security arrangements. At any one time, one of them would ride shotgun while the other waited in the back. They discussed signals, communications, the little details that would make or break an expedition.

Lee took the first shift, riding next to Cheung. The wagon ambled along at fifteen miles per hour, quickly overtaking the other merchants and their bullock carts on the road out of the city. Cheung tried making small talk. Lee indulged him with short, noncommittal answers, his attention solely on the road and the environs.

They ate lunch on the road. It was a long way to the first stop and Cheung didn’t want to stop for anything if he could. Bandits preferred the dark, and it would take a while to safely halt a steam wagon—and even longer to start it up again. Lee grazed from the contents of his haversack, a piece of oatcake softened in water with a mix of nuts and oats and dried fruit. It’d been a while since he’d lived rough, and his stomach complained. He felt for the unwanted chi accumulating in his gut, and dispersed it through his feet as a cold, grey cloud. His belly settled contentedly soon after.

They entered the next town shortly after sunset, checking into a traveller’s inn. Tung guarded the wagon until the boiler ran out of steam, while Lee helped the merchant and the guide carry their goods to their rooms. They had dinner together and dispersed to their rooms. Lee helped himself to a bath before lying down to bed with his revolver under his pillow. It would become their routine.

In the morning, Ayan went to the market to purchase supplies. Lee, leaving his rifle behind, volunteered to escort him—and the trader’s money with him. Most of the people in the market—merchants and customers—were men. The few women shopkeepers Lee saw sold baskets, clothes, or simple staples. The female customers were dressed in rich robes and platform shoes imperiously inspecting the wares, or wrapped in rags and begging for alms.

The men, every single one of them, wore queues. That hairstyle had gone the way of the Ch’in Dynasty. The first edict of the new Hsia Dynasty overturned the Queue Order that forced the Manche hairstyle on the nation. Lee had cut his own hair short in the Western fashion. But that couldn’t be the only reason every single person shot him hostile looks.

“They don’t seem to like me,” Lee said.

Ayan chuckled sadly. “You are an armed barbarian in their land.”

Lee shrugged. “I didn’t choose my parents. Somehow that makes me a barbarian wherever I go.”

Ayan’s eyes twinkled. “Of course. Half your blood is from the West, the other half from the south. Your hair is not from the Northeast and neither are your clothes. Therefore, you are a full-blooded barbarian.”

“Excuse me? The south? You mean the rest of the country?”

“Yes. They see you as a foreigner.”


“After the Long Hair Rebellion, you regained your country, but we lost an empire.”

“I don’t understand how that makes me a barbarian.”

“Southerners generally don’t.”

Ayan stopped at a produce store, where he haggled with the merchant over a catty of dried foodstuffs. Lee didn’t understand the local dialect, but he gathered the main point of contention had something to do with the measures the merchant was using.

Lee waited until they reached a mutual agreement. Ayan carried the paper-wrapped package himself, leaving Lee’s hands free.

Lee asked, “Why does being a southerner make me a barbarian?”

“Because you are civilised.”


Ayan chuckled. “Inside joke. The current dynasty uses the ideogram for ‘civilised’.” He shook his head. “We weren’t always the Northeast Province. We were called Manchetai. Land of the Manche people. We were a nation before you were a people. You southerners? You name yourself after the dynasty of the times. You have no people, only masters.”

Lee raised an eyebrow and smiled gently. “I understand what you mean.”


“I’m from Sum Kong.”

“Ah, yes, the first of the Treaty Ports. Exactly my point. We’ve never had foreigners conquer and hold any part of Manchetai.”

“The foreigners never bothered us until the final decades of the Ch’in Dynasty.”

“Yes, I recall that was why the Long Hair Rebels got their act together. Before they came, we united the land and gave you a country. When you overthrew the Empress, the name ‘Manchetai’ was struck from the records and replaced with ‘Northeast Province’. We were the heart of the Empire, once. Now, we’re just a backwater, useful only as a strategic buffer against Chüsenkuo and their Yemai masters.”

“Old grudges must run deep.”

“Yes. This is why the bandits are attacking southern traders, you know. They see it as attacking the Hsia Dynasty by denying the Emperor tax monies. The Yemai understand that, and use it in their propaganda.”

“Will my presence be a problem?”

“Well, the merchants might try to overcharge. But don’t worry. I know their ways.”

“Should I have asked Ms Tung to accompany you instead?”

Ayan shook his head vigorously. “No. We northeasterners are very traditional. She might attract the wrong kind of attention.”



The party settled into a kind of routine. They would leave a town shortly after dawn and drive on to the next. Cheung aimed to travel only in the day and reach the next town by sunset. Every six hours, they switched drivers and guards. They stopped only to relieve themselves, to refuel the wagon, and for simple meals if time allowed. But they always made time for tea. It was safer to consume than local water, and more palatable.

When they arrived in the next stop, they would check into an inn, maybe have a decent meal. Ayan, accompanied by either Lee or Tung, would go to the market to top up their supplies. Cheung, against the guards’ advice, always met his contacts alone to trade his goods. They tolerated it only because Ayan had assured them the towns and cities were free of robbers. Mostly.

So of course the wagon had to break down halfway to their fourth stop.

Lee was riding shotgun, bouncing along with the potholes and scanning out the window when he heard a loud BANG. He ducked, and it seemed like the wagon ducked with him. He rose his head, searching for damage. No blood, no shattered glass, no bullet holes.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Sounds like a tyre burst,” Cheung said, stomping the brake.

The wagon rolled to a stop. Jumping out, he looked around. The road behind him was pitted and the road ahead no better. The road bordered a floodplain. In the distance, farmers laboured in their millet fields in the sweltering heat. He scanned the tall stalks warily. There was little to no cover available, but plenty of concealment for ambushers. He’d launched many an ambush from similar terrain. Countered more than a few, too. The latter was…significantly harder than the former.

It used to be a common tactic in the agricultural regions during the Uprising. Effective, too. Then the Western firemen learned how to set fire to the fields with their science and sorceries without burning themselves. When they were ambushed, the Westerners simply induced the fields to burn and shot down the retreating fighters. Waiwuchi, the brand of wuchi that focused on manipulating the external environment, had no defence as elegant as the Westerners’ counter. Only the students of neiwuchi, the branch of wuchi that strengthened the body, could survive being set alight. But never unscathed. There were too many nights when his ears remembered the wet snaps of impossible flames and his nose the greasy smell of burning flesh.

He shook his head. That was a long time ago, in another life.

The party gathered around the errant wheel. It had deflated, causing the vehicle to list a few degrees.

“There’s no damage to the chassis,” Ayan pronounced. “We’ve got a spare wheel and a jack in the back, but I’m not sure the jack will support a fully-laden wagon.”

“Why?” Lee asked.

“It was made in a local factory.”

Someday, someone would invent a tyre that could be easily replaced in the field, without needing a full wheel replacement. Until then…

“Time to get our hands dirty,” Lee said.

They waited until the boiler went completely silent. No sense risking things. Then they formed a human chain. Tung stationed herself in the back of the wagon, passing the cargo to Lee, who in turn gave them to Cheung and Ayan to position by the side of the road. First out was everybody’s luggage, and food and water. Then the steam wagon’s supplies, the heavy containers of coke and water needed to power the engine. After that came the trade goods in their heavy trunks. Last up was the money, in locked strongboxes of varying designs.

As Lee worked, he planted his feet deep into the ground, drawing chi from the air and the earth into his tant’ien. The chi sustained his muscles, keeping them going and going and going. He broke into streams of sweat, but his arms and legs and hips went well past what Cheung’s and Ayan’s could stand. Twice the civilians had to rest, but they were of advanced age, and Lee took over from them.

Tung was hunched over in a compact space. The chi gathering around her told him she was doing a similar trick. Squatted as she was though, she couldn’t be utilising as much chi as he did. But like him, she worked without stopping. With the last of the cargo unloaded, she jumped out and stretched, then wandered out to the roadside to replenish her chi. And, he noticed, she was watching the road too.

“Off the road!” Tung shouted.

Lee stepped back. Tung stepped forward. A horse-drawn wagon sped past. The rider didn’t pause to glance at the stopped vehicle. He just urged his horses on, slowing only when he was well ahead of them.

“That was rude,” Tung said.

“He’s a Manche,” Ayan replied. “People mind their own business here.”

Tung muttered something under her breath.

As Cheung and Ayan changed the wheel, Lee and Tung stood guard. There was no better target than a stationary one. When they were done, Ayan tossed the old wheel by the side of the road. Then they topped off the boiler and loaded up all their cargo in reverse order. Cheung fired up the wagon’s boiler and prepared tea. As they waited for steam pressure to build, the four gathered outside the wagon, stretching and drinking tea and munching on trail food.

“This is not good,” Cheung said.

“What’s wrong?” Lee asked.

“Past the floodplain, there’s some forested hills. Bandits like setting up ambushes there. I was hoping to cross the forest before nightfall, but we’ve lost almost two hours.”

A mankiller’s grin streaked across Tung’s face. “Good thing you hired us.”

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Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Wind Blows from The West Part 3


They met again the following week on the airship. Lee had boarded in the evening at nine, found his cabin, and passed the night in silence and solitude. Cheung said he would assemble the crew in the dining compartment to discuss the trip over breakfast.

Lee showed up in his trail clothing. White cotton tunic and brown oxhide shoes and grey trousers. None of it was Western. Out of deference to the airship crew, his weapons were stored in the luggage compartment. He felt naked without a weapon, but a wuchishu exponent was never defenceless.

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Wind Blows from the West Part 2

 Steam, Punk, Steampunk, Background, Gears, Time Machine

Opening the door, Lee was greeted by an unfamiliar sound. Harsh, brassy metal punching against something harder. The noise came from several ball-like contraptions on the desks in front of him. Young women hammered away at keys that sprouted across the balls on long spines.

They were Malling Writing Balls. He’d read about such things, but he’d never seen them before. The typists studiously ignored him, focused completely on their work. Walking past them, he noticed that the keys were solely for the Cumean alphabet, the foundation of every Western language. The staff was also dressed in Western business clothing, modified for Sum Kong’s climate.

At the far end of the room was a smaller office. The words on the glass door read ‘Cheung Bik, Managing Director’ in Kuowen and Anglian. He knocked and waited.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Wind Blows From The West Part 1

 Steam, Punk, Steampunk, Background, Gears, Time Machine

Since he’d last been in the city, reconstruction and urban development had overridden his memories. Now a citywide steam tram service plied the streets, alongside rickshaws and steam cars, all of them imported, all of them driven by locals. When he was a child, most road traffic was velocipedes and sedan chairs and bullock carts. Only foreigners ran anything with steam engines. Progress, he supposed.

He flipped up his jacket’s collar and dug his hands into his pockets. It was a cold day, but that was not the only reason. The bakgwai might be returning to the city, but he was neither white man nor yellow, and there were still people who thought people of his color were the younger brothers of the white devils. He wasn’t bored enough to start fights with such people over something so trivial.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Money Honey: A New Free Short Story From Pulp Legend J. Manfred Weichsel

Pulp legend J. Manfred Weichsel's Jungle Jitters is a hit! To show his appreciation to all his wonderful fans, Weichsel has released a free short story on all platforms! You can get Money Honey absolutely free on AmazonApple BooksBarnes & NobleGoogle PlayScribd, and Smashwords!

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If you have been thinking about experimenting with different digital bookstores then this is a great opportunity, because since the book is free you can get it at multiple retailers and compare your experience at each one! 

Money Honey is a comedic cosmic horror story with some surprising twists that tells the tale of a man with an unusual curse.

Check out Money Honey now absolutely free! If you enjoy it and haven't read Jungle Jitters yet, please give it a shot!

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Page is Not The Game


The video game is the defining entertainment medium of the times. Combining high-impact visuals, immersive sound and deep player engagement, all within the comfort of the player's home, the video game is the epitome of technological leisure. Its influence bleeds out into other media. In writing, we see this in the immensely popular LitRPG / gamelit genre: stories that incorporate video game tropes and mechanics.

But as described in my previous post, The Page is Not The Screen, the page is not the game. A prose story is not a video game. In this post, we will take a deep dive into the differences between a prose story and a video game, and why a writer must demarcate these media.