"CAN'T FIND A RATIONAL EXPLANATION TO A MYSTERY? CALL IN THE QUIET COUNCIL."
The mysterious and glamorous Lady De Winter is one of their most valuable agents. A despicable murder inside a locked and bolted room on the Rue Morgue in Paris is just the start. This whirlwind adventure will take Milady to the highest and lowest parts of that great city - and cause her to question the very nature of reality itself.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it – for the first time, also includes "Titanic", a short story from the Lost Files of the Bookman Histories.
I couldn't resist including this early trilogy of mine in the bundle, a sort of love letter to 19th century popular literature! – Lavie Tidhar
"Readers will enjoy watching Tidhar's imagination throwing off sparks like a Roman candle."– Publishers Weekly
"Tidhar's book gives readers airships, pirates, automatons, cannons to launch people to Mars, and giant lizards; in short, everything but the kitchen sink... Tidhar ushers readers along from one situation to the next with a deft touch."– John Klima, Library Journal
THE EMERALD BUDDHA MASSACRE
The young boy huddled in one corner of the house, half-reading a wuxia novel and half-keeping watch on the night. The night was very still. Outside only the barest hint of wind rustled in the coconut trees, and the air was thick with humidity and the promise of rain.
There were few lights.
Mr Wu's Celestial Dry Cleaning Emporium stood on the very edge of Chiang Rai, stooping like an aged uncle on the border between city and jungle. Mr Wu was standing behind the counter, rolling a cigarette. His hands were liver-spotted and shook a little, dropping bits of loose tobacco on the counter. It took him three tries before he managed to light the match. The cigarette glowed like a firefly in the dark.
On his stool, the boy was reading about heroes and villains. There was a girl, a beautiful assassin, and a man she had to kill, travelling a great distance to find him. There were others like her, all seeking the man they had to kill. The boy's name was Kai. He was reading by the light of a fat, half-melted candle. He put down the book and listened. Somewhere in the distance thunder sounded. The light from Mr Wu's cigarette traced unpredictable orbits in the darkness. "You stay here," he said to the boy. Then he went to the open door and stepped outside, into the night.
Kai listened but could hear nothing. He put down the book, assassins and chases abandoned for the moment, and stood up. Quietly, he too went to the door. He peered outside.
A thin yellow moon cast strips of light and shade on the street, bands of yellow light cut in stark relief with hard lines of darkness. Kai could see Mr Wu standing just outside, looking up and down the street, waiting–
Mr Wu dropped his cigarette and ground it with the heel of his shoe, the dying smoke expiring in a shower of embers. Kai's head snapped up. A line of shadowed figures was coming slowly down the abandoned street.
They made no sound. He could not see their faces, could discern nothing about them but their being there, as suddenly as if they had materialised out of nowhere. Kai's heart beat hard and fast inside his chest, and his palms felt sweaty. Mr Wu, framed by the moon, a small, slight figure, was motionless outside. The dark figures approached slowly, walking a single file. Lightning streaked the sky far overhead, for just a moment, and Kai counted the seconds until the thunder erupted. The storm was still far, but was coming closer. He watched the approaching figures. In that one brief moment of illumination he saw they were cowled.
He would have thought them monks, but no monk he knew wore black. Their robes stole the night and made it their own. He could tell nothing about them, could see no faces or eyes, nothing to tell him who or what they were.
He had noticed one thing, though: they did not come empty-handed.
When the cowled figures came close they halted. Above their heads the sign for Mr Wu's Celestial Dry Cleaning Emporium stood dark. They halted before Mr Wu and Mr Wu made a stiff bow in their direction, his hands joining together before his chest: a mark of respect. To Kai's surprise, the monks – if that's what they were – returned the gesture, their hands rising higher than Mr Wu's had, showing him the greater respect. Why?
The monks spread out before Mr Wu. Four of them came forward then. They were carrying a heavy-looking crate suspended between them on thick poles of bamboo.
They lowered the crate to the ground. There was another strike of jagged lightning high above, and the thunder came much quicker this time. The storm was approaching fast.
Mr Wu made a jerking movement with his head, aimed at the crate. He said, "Open it." His voice sounded raw.
Two of the monks brought out wrenches. The others fanned out around them, facing the street. The crate made keening sounds as it was opened, nails groaning, wood splintering. Mr Wu said, "Careful, now."
There was another flash of lightning and in its light Kai thought he'd seen, for just a moment, another figure moving in the distance, between the trees. Then the crate was fully opened and he turned to look and forgot everything else.
The moonlight hit the figure inside the crate. The two monks with the wrenches moved back. Mr Wu came forward and knelt down beside the broken crate. A scaly, inhuman face – the face of a giant lizard – stared out of the crate. It was made entirely of jade, apart from its eyes, which were giant emeralds. Mr Wu reached into the crate–
The silence was broken, too quickly, the sound foreign and unexpected. Kai had heard it only once before, but he knew it instinctively.
One of the monks dropped to the ground. His robes seemed to grow even darker. Mr Wu turned his head, startled. He saw Kai and his eyes opened wide. The monks shot out across the street, dark shapes moving without sound, like characters in Kai's wuxia novel, like Shaolin monks or other kung-fu secret masters, only the sound of gunfire was growing more intense now and it was coming from the forest and the invisible shooters were finding their targets with deadly accuracy.
Mr Wu, sheltered by the monks, reached into the crate and pulled out the statue. Kai stared at it, fear momentarily forgotten. It was beautiful – though perhaps that was not quite the right word.
A lizard carved in jade, with shining emerald eyes. Sitting cross-legged, like the Buddha. For just a moment he thought he could hear it whispering, a tiny voice in his head, then it was gone and his father was carrying the statue in his arms, back into the relative safety of the Emporium. Kai watched the monks – and now there were people coming out of the jungle, several figures the colour of foliage, and they carried guns. The black-clad monks attacked them. He watched them, mesmerised – they seemed to almost fly through the air, jump off walls and onto the attackers. The fight spread out across the street. One of the green-clad men killed two monks before a third sailed above his head, landing softly behind him and twisting the man's neck – almost gently, it seemed to Kai – and the man dropped down to the ground, a leaf falling from a tree, the gun tumbling out of his lifeless hands.
A slap shook him out of it. The jade statue was inside the shop and so was Kai's father, who grabbed him by his shirt and dragged him away from the doorway. He said, "I told you to stay inside."
Kai said, "I did." His father shook his head. He said, "You must leave. I didn't know–"
"What is it?" Kai said. His eyes were on the statue. The statue seemed to be regarding him, perhaps with amusement, perhaps with indifference.
Another burst of fire from outside, and it was followed by an explosion of thunder. Rain began to fall outside, great billowing sheets of it, and lightning flashed again and in the light all Kai could see, like a series of frozen tableaux, were the two groups of men fighting, hand-to-hand, in a street full of unmoving figures lying on the ground, the pavement slick and red with blood and rain. He felt sick, for just a moment. Then there was another sound, so soft he almost didn't hear it, a surprised sound, air escaping a throat, and his father went down on his knees before the jade figure. Kai screamed. His father looked up at him, and blinked. A dark stain was spreading over his crisply ironed shirt. Kai fell down beside him, holding him. His father's voice was soft, the hiss of escaping air. He said, "Kai…"
Kai said, "No." He may have said it several times. His father's lips moved, though no sound came. Then, "Go."
There was nothing else. Kai shouted but his voice was swallowed by the storm. When he let go his father was lying on the floor. His hand was resting on Kai's wuxia novel, the cheap yellow pages growing dark with blood.
Kai looked outside and the green-clad figures seemed to be winning, and they were coming closer and closer, and the few remaining monks were now standing before the entrance to the shop, holding them back – but for how long?
Go. The voice had been his father's. Now it echoed in his mind, and he looked up and for a moment it seemed to him the jade statue was staring at him, no longer amused or indifferent, speaking in his father's voice. Go.
Kai looked down at his father and knew he was dead. There were gunshots outside and another monk dropped down. Kai screamed again, defiant or afraid he didn't know, and stood up and with the same motion grabbed the jade statue. It was surprisingly light.
He headed for the back of the shop. Through rustling clothes and the silence where steam had, until recently, been, through the silent presses toward the back door. They might be waiting there too but he didn't care; his mind was filled with rain and thunder and blood and he burst out of the back door into the narrow alleyway beyond. Then he ran, the statue held in his arms, the rain dripping down his black hair, making his clothes heavy. There were more gunshots behind him but he never looked back. He ran out of the alleyway and down the road toward the trees. He knew the men would come after him. He ran until the forest was there and then he ran through the trees, no longer thinking, the thick canopy holding back the rain, his feet sinking into dead leaves and mud. Running, falling, rising, going deeper and deeper into the forest, until the sounds all died behind him.