From the pages of Jadetech: Green Jade.
By Benjamin Feehan
Shen poured a bit of murky, green fluid into the rusted tin cups. The calloused hands holding each cup were hard, their fingers black with grit beneath thick and jagged nails. Some of them were missing fingers entirely, the penance of a Kaiyu gangster or a bloody offering to the grinding gears of some deep shaft-digging machine. On his left, a scowling Aerum seaman was still nursing the place where the guards had burned out his red jade knuckle tattoos. Shen doubted that the man’s fingers would ever be the same again. Not that anyone was ever the same after a stint in the Diyu Mountain Labor Camp.
Shen’s own hands were relatively clean next to those of these hard-bitten men. He was skinny and bespectacled, and the warden had immediately dismissed the little Túyangan to latrine duty with a sneer. “I need men with muscle. Nobody has time for reading on my mountain. Too bad you didn’t grow up on a farm.”
Foul smelling as it was, Shen could not have picked a better job for what he had planned. Surprise inspections and hawk-eyed Captain Jora ensured that anything vaguely resembling contraband was fairly distributed among the guards. However, nobody bothered to check the reeking wooden sheds at the edge of the camp where Shen spent his days, pail in hand.
It had taken three months, but the men had finally gotten him a suitable teapot. It was another month before quick-fingered Alistair had been able to sneak out a bottle of the night sergeant’s eye-watering Kinardbal whiskey. And then the herbs. These he acquired himself. Goat’s foot was plentiful on the mountain, but yellow tea grass only grew near clear water in the spring time. Convincing Corporal Kai that a few properly prepared handfuls would save his marriage solved that problem. After that it was a matter of getting enough of the pale green dust the men sometimes found in shallower diggings. A pinch here, an unexpected handshake there—Shen even found some in a rolled-up leaf beneath his blanket one night.
Sacrificing his only sock to contain the dust, Shen combined the ingredients over a tiny flame. Those months of waiting had given him the time he needed to construct a rudimentary system of chambers and vents beneath the latrines, with which he siphoned off the reeking, flammable gas produced by years of rotting sewage. For seven days he tended the fire, keeping the dust and whiskey and herbs as close to simmering as possible. On the eighth day it was finished.
Shen swirled the liquid in his cup. “Remember, this isn’t going to last long. As soon as you feel it starting, go.”
The sailor winced as he sniffed the contents of his mug. “This better work.”
There was a chorus of wheezing and gagging as they forced it down. Then, in the dark of the sagging bunkhouse, they waited. A minute later the thrumming started. Somewhere at the back of his skull, Shen felt it surging. It was primal and alive, like the smell of his father’s rice field in spring. He could feel it creeping down his spine, slow and strong like the ancient oak in the village shrine, its roots pushing up the granite slabs of the courtyard.
Match light flared. Shen turned toward it just in time to see a Naramel trader’s black eyes flicker, then change to a livid green. There was a crack as someone smashed a foot through the floor. Next to him the sailor growled. “Oh yeah…”
Moving like a jungle cat, Alistair was the first one out the door. A guardsman with a lantern blinked then died as the sailor put a fist through his chest. Shen bolted around the corner, making a beeline for the warden’s office and the camp armory. This would only last so long. Halfway across the field a guard threw up a revolver. There had always been a shoot first policy at Diyu Mountain. Shen took four rounds to the chest, looking down just in time to see them glance off his skin like thrown pebbles from a tree trunk. He sent a bone-crunching chop to the man’s neck as he went past. A moment later he kicked down the iron-banded command post door.
The warden was in his nightshirt, but the long, curved commander’s saber was already in hand, and it met Shen’s forearm with a clang. Shen wrapped both hands around the blade and twisted. The steel gave way with a groan, and a second later the warden was flung across his desk, kicked with the force of an angry qixiniu. The warden groaned. “What is this? What did you do?”
Shen scooped the warden’s keyring off of the desk. “Green jade, you ignorant ass. Too bad you didn’t grow up on a farm.”