I was very excited when I checked my e-mail tonight. Ula has written a new installment in our on-going story about Capt. Neriena Wordsmith and Blaze aboard their airship, the Aeolus. My middle child, Nika, has been added to the crew, as Catfish, a nickname given to her by a high school friend.
Blaze in the old west....
The moment they had unloaded their cargo in San Francisco, Neriena insisted that they head into the Chinese part of town. This was not the first time and so no one on the crew expressed any surprise. It was general knowledge in the crew that Neriena had spent some time living in China and that she would like to go back to visit some time. She seemed to view the Chinese part of San Francisco as a substitute until she could visit the real thing again someday. She even changed into a kimono, which she knew got stares, but she did not mind. A couple of men standing outside of a building that offered rooms to Chinese immigrants made a couple of rude comments about her and were shocked to find she was able to respond with equally rude comments in the same language.
A man who had been walking in front of them turned quickly at the sound of Neriena's voice and stared at her, eyes wide. It was a different look than the other men had given Neriena, it was a look of recognition. This was a new experience for the crew, none of the Chinese men in San Francisco had ever recognized Neriena before, the type of people that she had known in China were not the sort that came to America. Neriena was looking at the man with equal surprise and recognition however.
“Neriena?” asked the man in English that only had a slight accent, and that was British.
“So that is you Su Jing,” said Neriena, sounding confused and happy at the same time.
“I had heard that you had died in this country,” said Su Jing. “I thought at first that you might be a ghost, or a look alike, but ghosts do not use such words that I have ever heard.”
“Speaking of this country, what are you doing here?” asked Neriena. “There should have been nothing to tempt you away from your job as a customs official, your chances of promotion were high. I thought it was only those with nothing in China who came here, or those who were kidnapped of course.”
“These are not things to talk about on the street. If you will come with me to my rooms, though they are not fit to entertain you, we will be able to speak in more detail.”
“I will not strain your hospitality with my entire crew,” said Neriena. “Officers, come with me, the rest of you are free to do what you want for the remainder of the day. We will meet tonight at the hotel.”
The three officers of the crew stepped forward. Blaze as the gunner and weapons expert, as well as the nominal first mate, though that position was not a formal one. Frank, as the navigator, was also accepted to be an officer, no one would argue with him on the point certainly, they depended on him to keep them alive. Then there was Catfish, as she was known to the crew, or Dan to the outside world, their head mechanic and as strange a figure as Neriena. While Neriena was content to dress as a proper lady when they were in public, Dan chose the opposite path and in public went convincingly as a young man. She had once explained to Neriena that while it was easy for a young boy to get a job in a factory, it was more difficult for a young girl, and that now she was so accustomed to dressing like a boy that she could no longer grow accustomed to dresses and skirts. Small hands that had once reached into the depths of factory machinery to fix it when larger hands could not get to it, had now been put to work in the engine room of their ship to great effect.
Catfish had joined their crew without being invited, they had found her in their engine room after raiding a ship back in their pirate days. Somehow the girl had managed to slip on board during all of the confusion. After threatening to throw her off over a misunderstanding, they thought she was trying to sabotage their ship when they walked in and found her tinkering with the engine, they adopted her. For the first several months Catfish had successfully managed to never have to answer for anything she did or have anything to do with the crew, by convincing them that she only spoke Russian, and language that none of the rest of the crew spoke. It was a great shock to everyone when one day, having apparently decided that they were friends after all, she suddenly started speaking in perfect, American accented English, and she now only spoke Russian when she was being difficult and did not want to have to deal with something. She had once told Neriena that she had chosen Russian because she thought it was a language of exceptional beauty. Neriena, who made it a point not to pry into her crew's pasts, suspected that Catfish had had a difficult life, but could not be sure about the details. What she did know was that it was difficult to remove Catfish from the engine room of their dirigible, and it had only been the temptation of the Chinese section of San Francisco that had lured her out of the ship this time.
The four followed Su Jing down streets that none of them would have ventured down otherwise, not for fear, bur rather because there was no reason to needlessly get into a fight, which was the likely outcome of entering this neighborhood, especially since none of them were Chinese. They were no longer on the main streets, instead they were in the area where people really lived, and it was not pretty. The people who came from China to America were those who had nothing to lose in China and hoped to earn money in a new country. From the looks of it, that had not happened. The entire air was filled with bitterness. Su Jing led them to a building that looked much like the others in the neighborhood and up some stairs to an attic room. It had been kept clean and neat, and it was nicely furnished, but it could not hide how unpleasant the building was.
“Please, have a seat,” said Su Jing. “I will go get some tea and things to eat.” Once the four were seated at the low table in the middle of the room, it was only natural that the officers start questioning their captain about Su Jing.
“He speaks good English,” commented Blaze.
“Of course he does,” said Neriena. “Like I said, he was a customs officer, he worked on the docks where American and English ships came. China might not like it, but they do have use for people who can speak both Chinese and English well, Su Jing took advantage of that. With such a post, there is no reason for him to be here.”
“So are you just going to wait for him to spit out why he brought us here, or are you going to ask so we can get back to the hotel?” asked Catfish.
“I think I'd rather let him get to it on his own,” said Neriena. “If you want to go back to the hotel you can.”
“I wouldn't be able to find my way back,” said Catfish. She leaned back without another word, though the others continued to gossip. They admired the furniture, talked about what Su Jing might want, and finally started bragging about the various things they had done over the years, which was a sort of default entertainment. Everyone lied a little but it was considered poor manners to point it out. Finally Su Jing came back with a pot of tea, cups, and a steamer that proved to be full of dumplings.
“So what are you doing here?” asked Neriena. She had poured tea for everyone, even though Su Jing had protested that as the host he should. “You haven't said yet why you left China. And living in a house like this seems a painful reversal of fortune for you.”
“I could afford a better place to live, except there is none,” said Su Jing bitterly. “I do not mean to live here long, so I was not willing to buy a house, but none of the better boarding houses would take me because I am Chinese. I was told to stay where I belonged. People are not kind.”
“So you mean to go back to China soon then?” asked Neriena.
“Yes, I am only in this country on business,” explained Su Jing.
“Business? I wouldn't think your business would take you far from the docks in Hong Kong,” said Neriena, sounding surprised.
“Ah, my official business, no. This business is personal. I am looking for my older brother, Su Jiang. I have heard that he has come to this country. He was always adventurous and had no patience for books, and so he and my father did not agree and he left home when I was young. Now my father is dead however, and I would like to bring my brother home to live with me and share the family estate.”
“It might be hard to find him if you don't know where he came in this country. Are you sure he came to this country at all?” added Neriena. “If rumors have it that I am dead, then can you count on rumors that say that your brother came to America?”
“I know he is here,” said Su Jing. “He was taken by a man after he got drunk in a bar, and made a sailor. The ship that took him was an American one.”
“A crimp,” said Neriena, giving the person who had grabbed Su Jiang their proper name and with a old sailor's scorn for the men who preyed on the drunk. She herself had once woken up on a ship headed to South America, with no memory of coming on board.
“I have found people here who have met him,” said Su Jing. “The problem is that it seems that he is no longer in the city. They said that he went into the gold fields, looking to make his fortune and come back to rub it in the faces of our family. A stupid idea.”
“So are you going to go out into the gold fields next then? Be careful, there are less laws there, you might have trouble,” Blaze advised. Gold seemed to have attracted half of the nation to California and it had made people greedy enough to do horrible things to one another. Blaze did not think that Su Jing looked like the sort of person who could take care of himself in such a situation.
“Actually,” said Su Jing, looking uncomfortable, “I was wondering if I could hire you and your crew to find him for me Neriena. They always said that if you were looking for a man you would find him.”
“They said that about me being a debt collector,” Neriena reminded him.
“I will pay you, and your crew, for your time,” said Su Jing, he was clearly pleading.
“Let's do it,” said Catfish, startling everyone. Su Jing had not heard her speak before even once and was surprised at how much attention the others paid to her very quiet voice. The crew found her willingness to do the job surprising since normally she would never agree to take a job that would involve leaving the ship frequently. That Catfish wanted to do the job decided the matter, none of the crew could object when the normally most reluctant figure of the crew to do any job had said she wanted to do it.
The ship was left at the airship dock in San Francisco bay with a few members of the crew to protect it. Both Blaze and Catfish had been reluctant to leave it, but Neriena had pointed out that they were looking for someone and that meant talking to people, floating over their heads was not going to do them any good. Instead Neriena bought them each a horse, a sign of her incredible wealth because horses were in high demand and therefore at a high price. Most people these days rode mules to save money, but Neriena had not even considered it. The horses made both Blaze and Catfish happier, Catfish because she loved animals, Blaze because he could load most of his guns on the back of his horse, even one of the large light guns that he had made for the airship, though he had to take it apart to pack it. Neriena asked him if he thought they were going into war, but he did not even blink, he just shrugged and pointed out that you never knew. Neriena could not argue with that, she had been in a lot of unexpected situations in her life.
The first few days out of San Francisco they could find nothing. So close to the city was a relatively peaceful, with few gold prospectors other than those who had made their roll and were heading to the city to spend it on more supplies. Neriena was dressed as a man again, and so their group received little notice as they headed deeper into the gold fields, farther into prospecting country. This was still a wild country, though not like it had been when the rush had started about fifty years before. Now at least there were prospecting towns, rather than the individual and spread out shanties that had originally peppered the landscape. Still, things also were not exactly as civilized as they were in the east. The entire crew, well experienced in dangerous situations, knew that the county they were walking through was not safe, and they were on their guard. One visible sign of this was that day or night someone was always awake and watching the horses to make sure that no one stole them.
Once they were away from the city Neriena started to ask the people that they met about whether or not they had seen any Chinese men, most of them had, at one place or another, but they were spread out enough to dash hope rather than to foster it. It was clear that Su Jiang was not the only man of Chinese origin who was wandering the gold fields in hope of money and they now had a lot of leads to sort through. Neriena decided to take the faster approach, the crew split up into groups of three and each went off in a direction that Su Jiang might be. Blaze, Neriena, and Catfish formed one group, but for a few days they were able to travel with Frank's group until he reached the road that would take him to one mining community and Neriena's group took another. They all knew that they were to meet back on the ship in a month's time, no matter what stood in their way, and if they did not find Su Jiang in that time they were to assume that another group had already found him.
Neriena had intentionally chosen what was reputed to be the most difficult of the mining communities for herself and her group. As the officers, Neriena trusted their ability to deal with any situation and from what she had heard the community they were heading towards was a situation, but she did not feel that it could be entirely overlooked in their search. The main problem, was that there was a highway man. The stagecoach company had offered a bounty some time ago for his apprehension but the locals were frightened of him, and the professional bounty hunters had failed to find him, for which Neriena had some respect for him. Neriena could admire a fellow crook and thief who was doing his job well, even if it now stood in her way.
The best option of course would be for the highwayman to ignore them and let them go on their way, that way there would be no confrontation and everyone could remain happy. That was what they were hoping for but none of them were actually so foolish as to count on it. It seemed like everyone in this part of the country had a gun and Neriena, admitting that her beloved knives were not distance weapons, had adopted a shotgun, loaded with rock salt, saying that she had no interest in being the downfall of such a successful criminal. The others, taking the hint that their weapons also were not to cause anything worse than extreme discomfort, armed themselves accordingly. Blaze had several small pistols hidden in various pockets that he had played with so that they would shoot cork bullets, which when well aimed could knock someone out, and certainly caused pain, but which were unlikely to kill. They had the added benefit that usually the cork fell apart on impact causing anyone who latter investigated without a weapon that had been used. Catfish however, flat out refused to abandon close range fighting, Blaze had the vague idea that she thought that anything other than close range was somehow playing dirty. Her choice of weapon also somewhat unnerved Blaze, she had chosen a rather long spanner which hung from her saddle, within hands reach, she had informed them, quietly and without fuss that it was the weapon she was most accustomed to. Since Catfish never left the engine during a fight, neither Blaze or Neriena had ever seen her fight and had no way of knowing if her confidence was realistic or not.
The first that they knew of the highwayman's presence was when a tree thudded down in their path, blocking their progression since the path was raised on either side. Since the trio was far more accustomed to sea and air than land, none of them had recognized the prime ambush spot that this area made. There was no spot like this in the air, the closest Neriena could think of was a bay or inlet, with a warship in front of the only escape, something that had happily only happened to her once. It did not help that they only saw the man who had caused the tree to fall when he emerged laying on the top of the raised ground, with a rifle pointed at them.
“Gimme your money,” he shouted down to them. Neriena, who had always liked a bit more of a dramatic effect than the blunt demand, wrinkled her nose and decided the man had no style. Blaze was too busy admiring the man's gun, which had been modified in a way that, from a distance in any case, looked like it was in his own style. Then again what that meant was that it was an efficient killing machine, and it was pointed at him, so he was not exactly thinking kindly of it, though he admired it.
“Come down and talk about it,” Neriena shouted back up at him. A bullet flew over her head, it was with great effort that she stopped herself from ducking, she prided herself on her bravery, but a bullet was a bullet and at a certain point instinct demanded a response that might be deemed cowardice.
“You're not going to scare me with that,” Neriena shouted up, hoping that this was indeed the case. “I've been threatened by worse.”
“How about I shoot you?” said the voice of the highwayman.
“I'd rather you not,” admitted Neriena, still showing the boldness that had made her reputation, to show fear was not something that went over well among pirates in general.
“Well then hand over your money,” said the voice.
“Come down here, I'm not surrendering to a disembodied voice,” Neriena shot back. “You'll have to reload now because of that warning shot and in that time I've got a shot gun, so I suggest you keep this friendly.”
“I've got another,” said the voice, and the muzzle of the rifle ducked over the edge for a moment and was soon replaced with the muzzle of what looked like an ancient Baker gun, Blaze was decidedly less impressed. Neriena was somewhat scornful as well, during the time that no loaded gun had been pointed at them Catfish had pressed herself up against the wall of the gully and was edging her way up, where she could not be seen, and more importantly could not be shot. Both Neriena and Blaze knew they just had to keep the highwayman busy for long enough that Catfish could reach him.
“Can that thing even fire?” asked Blaze sceptically. “Your grandad give you that to remember the revolutionary war by?”
“It was my father's,” admitted the man. “But I've made some changes and unless you want to find out what they are, I suggest you hand over that money of yours already.”
Catfish was behind him then, and both of them disappeared behind the ledge with the sound of a struggle, Blaze and Neriena rushed up the embankment to help her. Both of them were shocked to find Catfish had the bandit pinned to a tree with the wrench at his throat, his guns were thrown to the side. The wrench seemed mostly a threat, there was the option of pressure, but Catfish seemed unwilling to do anything else and even expressed some relief when the reached the summit of the embankment. Neriena tied the man's hands behind his back while Blaze looked at the Baker rifle.
“I knew he was lying,” said Blaze, “this gun is full of rust, it wouldn't be able to shoot a pea, let alone the lead ball he shoved in here.”
“Now, why'd you waste your one shot as a warning?” asked Neriena, patting the man on the shoulder, once she had firmly knotted the twine securing his hands.
“It's always worked before,” said the man, shrugging. He seemed to take his capture philosophically.
“Now this is a beauty,” said Blaze, from where he was examining the modified gun that the man had first pointed at them. “You're lucky he wasted that shot Neriena,” he added. “This far away from any doctors, even if he'd not aimed to kill you, this thing would do permanent damage, and from the look of this scope, he could hit you wherever he aimed. I hadn't heard of anyone doing work like this.”
“I did it myself,” said the bandit, confirming Blaze's suspicions.
“I'll buy it off you,” Blaze offered.
“It's not for sale,” said the bandit firmly.
“Well at least let me study it then,” pleaded Blaze. “I've never seen anything like it, though you might consider a reloading mechanism.”
“I don't have much choice do I?” said the bandit, jerking with his head to indicate his pinioned arms. “I suppose you'll be handing me over to the law?”
“Nope,” said Neriena. “Though we will be treating you to dinner if you promise not to try to rob us again. It's about time to camp for the night.”
“There's a reward you know,” said the bandit, clearly feeling that the world had somehow gone wrong if he had been captured and his captors intended to do nothing about his crimes.
“I don't need the money. I do need dinner,” said Neriena.
“I'm not going to tell you where I camp, it's a secret,” said the man, still clearly feeling the world had gone very wrong.
“That's fine, we're not asking,” said Neriena, who was already unloading her horse of packs. “Not the first time we've made our own camp. In any case Blaze will need time to look at your gun.” The highwayman followed her gaze and he saw with dismay that Blaze had begged a screwdriver off Catfish, and he had already began dismantling the highwayman's gun.
“What do you think?” asked Catfish, looking over his shoulder.
“Clever work, for an amateur, but see this spring here? Too much stress is placed on it, sure the gun fires fine now, but that'll be right up until it doesn't. One day he's going to go to fire it, and that spring is going to go on him, and then he'll be standing around looking mighty foolish. If it was me, I'd change the firing mechanism, so it worked with a lever rather than a spring, though some people say a spring is faster. Is that why you chose it,” added Blaze, turning to speak to the bandit.
“I copied it from another gun,” said the man, looking hunted now.
“Oh,” said Blaze, looking disappointed. He had hoped for a better reason than that, but then he brightened up again. “Then would you mind me changing it for you? It won't be any trouble and while it might be just a little slower, it will make your gun far less likely to misfire. I should have all the parts in my pack. While I'm at it, I could add a reloading feature,” muttered Blaze, already digging through his bag for the parts and a file to make them the right size for the gun.
“Better let him,” said Neriena. She had started building a fire, and had taken off her hat so it wouldn't fall into the fire when she bent down to her work, it revealed her carefully done hair, which she had wrapped around in a bun so it would fit under her hat. “You won't regret it.”
“You're a woman,” said the highwayman, looking shocked. It was fairly clear without her hat.
“That's right, so's Catfish, so remember, there are ladies present,” said Neriena, grinning at him. “And you haven't even introduced yourself to us yet.”
“So the stagecoach company will have a name to put on the posters,” said the highwayman suspiciously.
“They wouldn't have to put up posters if we were on their side,” said Neriena. “You're our prisoner, we could give you to them. In any case, this is Blaze, and Catfish, and I'm a woman dressing as a man, so if you haven't gathered, honesty is not required in the name department. I'd just like something to call you over dinner.”
“Jack will do,” said the man, after a moment to pause and think.
“It will indeed,” agreed Neriena. “Blaze, pass me a couple of matches before you get too wrapped up in that gun.” Blaze barely looked up, he just dug in his pocket until he found a box of the requested item and tossed it to her. Neriena lit the fire on the second try and soon had a pot of potatoes going over it.
Blaze ignored the boiling pot next to him, and Neriena fussing over the package of bacon which had gotten slightly crushed in her pack. He was happily absorbed in the world of guns. Without even realizing he was doing it, he disassembled the Baker Riffle as well, and absentmindedly began cleaning it, muttering to himself about a lack of oil. Catfish, meanwhile, had began brewing a pot of tea with some of the tea leaves that Su Jing had given them as a gift before they had parted. Catfish had developed a great fondness for them, and had already began fussing about where they could get more once they ran out of the ones that Su Jing had given them. Jack looked at the three, and it occurred to him that he could probably run now, and none of them would realize that he had even gone. On the other hand, with his guns disassembled and scattered across a cloth that Blaze had lain out, it would mean that he would be leaving unarmed. It would be the end of his career as a bandit. He was contemplating the pros and cons of this decision when he felt his hands released from behind his back. Catfish shoved a cup of tea under his nose.
“Drink,” she ordered. “I'm not helping you with it.”
“Where's mine?” asked Neriena.
“Get it yourself,” said Catfish. “You're not a guest.”
“Speaking of being a guest,” said Neriena, looking sheepish, “I suppose I should have asked what you wanted for dinner. I hope potatoes and bacon is fine. We don't have that many rations, didn't want to overload the horses.”
“Can I leave?” asked the man called Jack, rubbing his wrists from where the rope had rubbed.
“If you don't mind leaving your guns,” said Blaze, not even looking up from his work. “Or you could drink your tea, eat dinner, and leave with guns that work better and fire faster, your choice.”
“Don't worry,” said Neriena, seeing that the highwayman was still tense and nervous. “We're crooks too. Right now we're looking for a man. I don't suppose you've seen any Chinese men around have you?”
“What do you mean by crooks?” asked Jack.
“Much the same line of work as you,” said Neriena, who decided that she would rather not admit to piracy. There were too few pirates in the world, it would make her exact crimes to easy to track down. “Now, are there any Chinese men around?”
“There's one. Mines on the outskirts of town. People in town won't have anything to do with him,” said Jack, shrugging.
“Su Jiang?” asked Neriena.
“I don't know his name,” said Jack.
“Well it's another lead anyway,” sighed Neriena.
“What's he done?” asked Jack.
“You still seem under the impression that we're bounty hunters,” said Neriena, She placed a plate of bacon in front of him. “We're doing a favor for his brother, if it is Su Jiang, that's all.” She settled into her own seat on a log, and pulled her plate onto her lap. Catfish came and got her own food, but Blaze looked too absorbed in the world of gun powder to feed himself. After waiting for a moment to see if he was going to do anything, Neriena put her plate down, and set about making him one.
“Thanks,” said Blaze, but he didn't even look at the plate. He alternated between reaching blindly for the bacon on the plate and cleaning out the rust from the Baker Rifle.
Neriena ate her food and then pulled a book out of her pack. Jack tried to see the title, but the light from the fire was too dim. It was a pretty, delicate, little volume, not what he would have expected the self confessed criminal to be reading. Finally his curiosity got the better of him.
“A book of poetry?” he asked. It did look like that sort of book.
“Etiquette,” said Neriena, turning a page. Catfish brightened up, and Blaze even looked up from the guns, which he had began reassembling.
“Read about chaperones again,” pleaded Catfish. “That's the funniest.”
“You only think so because you have never been asked to be one,” said Neriena, her voice peevish. It had been a great shock for her to discover that she was now considered old enough, though unmarried, to accompany young women to parties. The two did not press the point, and Jack was forced to wonder just what sort of people he was now dealing with. They had said they were in the same business as him, but they acted all together too casual about it. The only other criminals he had met were the sort of shifty men in San Francisco he sometimes sold stolen goods and gold dust to. Jack was just about to ask why it was that Neriena was reading a book on etiquette, when Blaze tapped him on the shoulder.
“I'm done with the Baker,” he said, handing Jack the gun. “I'm almost done with the other one. Trying out the Baker now though, make sure you still like it. Anything you want me to change, tell me now, while I've got all of the stuff out.”
“Has it occurred to you that I might test this gun out on you?” asked Jack, a question that had been bothering him for some time. He had never been armed by someone he had held up before.
“That would be very ungrateful of you,” said Blaze, calmly. “In any case, I bet I'm a faster draw than you are, so I wouldn't suggest you try it.” He sat down and went back to work on the more modern rifle.
“Try that tree over there,” said Neriena, pointing to one on the edge of clearing they were camping in. “I always like to see Blaze's work.”
For the moment Jack conveniently forgot that the gun had not fired for years, and he had the vague idea that Blaze might have ruined it out of spite. Mentally promising himself that he would get revenge if they had sabotaged his gun, Jack pulled out a cartridge and ripped it open, spilling the contents into the muzzle of the gun, and tamping it down with the ramming rod. He raised it to his shoulder and fired, it kicked into his shoulder, and wood splintered out of the tree.
“It works,” he said, voicing his surprise.
“Of course it does,” said Blaze, with some injured dignity, “I worked on it.” He was reassembling the other gun now, muttering excitedly to himself as he did so. Some of it sounded like math formulas to Jack, who had only made it to the fifth grade, and was somewhat intimidated by numbers. Finally he snapped it together, and the two women leaned forward in anticipation.
“Can I fire it,” pleaded Blaze to Jack.
“You have it,” snapped Jack.
“But it's yours,” said Blaze, his voice reasonable. For a moment Jack felt ashamed, ashamed enough to nod his assent. Blaze grinned, loaded the gun, and fired it, in a fluid and practiced motion that sent shivers down Jack's spine. The thought that he had threatened the boy suddenly occurred to him as a very foolish thing to have done.
“It's a lovely piece of work,” said Neriena approvingly.
“Jack did most of the work,” said Blaze modestly, tossing the bandit the remolded gun. “I just made a few changes.”
“I'll be leaving now?” asked Jack, his voice doubtful. His confidence was completely shaken now.
“If you want,” said Neriena. “Good luck, don't get caught, and make sure you know when it's time to retire,” she added. It was the advice that she herself had lived by. Jack nodded, gathered up his guns, and ran into the darkness. When he looked back, for only a moment, the group had already started to bed down for the night.
The cabin that Su Jiang was found in the next morning was a dilapidated shanty more than any thing else. Su Jiang himself seemed terrified of them, he had taken one look at the armed strangers heading towards his cabin and he had dropped his panning equipment and run into his home. Neriena had not forced her way into his cabin, though it was what Catfish recommended. Instead she had stood outside his door and said things in Chinese that the other two did not understand, until finally the door was opened and Su Jiang came out.
Unlike Su Jing, Su Jiang could not speak English well, and what he did speak was broken. Most of what passed between the group therefore was through Neriena who acted as translator. When she told him that they had been sent by Su Jing to bring him home, back to China, Su Jiang had actually started crying. Catfish and Blaze turned away, made embarrassed and awkward by his emotion, but Neriena had comforted him, and soon he had collected himself, and his possessions, and they were able to set off back to the city, with a happy reunion to look forward to.