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Keepsakes – 3


“So when were you with the Eldest?” Taz asked.

“We were there for the Peach Harvest, and for about two months after that,” Renyi said.

“How was she?” Taz said.

“She was Great-grandmother,” Junxin said.

“Same as always,” Ruiman said.

“And the staff? The rest of the Household? Were they happy? Busy?” Taz asked.

“Great-grandmother’s place always runs smoothly,” Renyi said. “Why do you ask?”

“Weird rumors,” Taz said.

“Nothing weird there,” Guangjing said. “New cook, but he’s really good.”

“Honeyed pecans and alligator pears,” Renyi said.

“Oh,” Fangxian said. “When we ride the roller coasters, we get some of the pink fluffy stuff.”


On the way back to San Francisco, Taz detoured to a desert island. It was small, sunny and empty. There were no humans around; in fact, there were no people, human or otherwise, around. It even lacked the clichéd palm tree. He relaxed in the absence of Jingwu and of Feng Tailin. He didn’t want to lie again to the first or re-argue the same grounds with the second. Still in his dragon form, he set a ward around the island, then stretched out on the hot sand, and rolled over onto his back, exposing his underbelly to the sun.

The problem was, Taz thought, he had no male role model. His current teachers didn’t know what he really was; neither did any of his fellow students. He was reluctant to go to Martin, the other male he had been in contact with recently, for counsel. He didn’t know the vampire that well. He was Jingwu’s lover certainly, but Taz was unsure what she might have told Martin. Since most of his own former teachers and Jingwu’s lovers and students in the past had been mortals, and were now either dead or otherwise out of touch, the most capable males he still knew, other than Martin, were the Sea Kings, the Innkeeper and Dai. These were even more peripheral to his current life than Martin was. Moreover, the Sea Kings were roughly his own age, and although absolute in their own realm, here they were just as much in awe of their grandmother-in-law as everyone else in the family.

Which meant taking advice from someone he trusted, even if she was a woman.

Which meant accruing another debt. Although in this case, he might be able to do a direct trade. He took the sharkskin pouch from its private universe and sorted through the pearls. He owed Dai fifteen colored pearls, but there were thirty times that many pearls, of various sizes, shapes, and colors. Ah, that one was nice: baroque, yes; large, also yes; but of a cool gleaming white. Since he had already bought the bag of pearls with the promise of roller coaster rides, he could spend this pearl where it would do him the most good.


“I’d like to see Ms Polias.”


“My name is Long Dianchi. I want to consult Ms Polias.”

The receptionist assumed her professional face. “One moment,” she said, and rose and departed the lobby. Shortly, she returned: “Please wait.”


“You may want to smile at the staff when you leave,” Nancy said.

“Is that appropriate even if I’m a client?”

“Possibly not.” Nancy turned away from the small table overlooking the city and sat at her desk.

Taz took the client’s chair. He took out of the sharkskin pouch a baroque white pearl. “I need a consultation,” he told Nancy, placing the pearl before her.

Nancy eyed the pretty thing on her desk. “It’s not that simple,” she said. “As long as you are a minor, and here, Anna says what happens to you. If you are in difficulty, she is the one you should go to. If your problem is with her, the Eldest, as the senior of your nearest in blood, should be the one to hear your complaint.”

“I’m not sure how hypothetical I can keep this, but let’s assume for the moment I can’t take either of those actions,” Taz started.


“So, since, for a time in the last century, you were my day-to-day guardian, an arrangement apparently acceptable to both Jingwu and Grandmother, I came to you. That seems logical to me,” Taz ended.

“I am one of your accepted advisers. Yes, that will work, but in that case, take back the pearl,” Nancy said.

“OK.” Taz slipped it back into the pouch, and waited.

“If this is a conversation between two members of an extended family, pearls are not exchanged for counsel. Do you have your grandmother’s edict with you?”

“These orders were spoken.”

“By the yunü,” Nancy said.


“Was she chosen carefully for this task? Is she known to reliably relay messages?”

“Not to me. I haven’t met her before. She,” Taz hesitated. “She does not know what the yunü who visit Jingwu know, or act the way they do. Jingwu likes….”

“Competent people,” Nancy said.

“I don’t think Tailin is as competent as Jiding or Xiulin, but she just may be nervous around humans.”

“Which makes her a strange choice for this task.” Nancy shook her head. “I dislike depending on positive vetting, but I think that is a way to proceed. We will inquire about the yunü‘s reliability as a messenger, which a careful grandson may legitimately do, and I hope to garner some of her history in the process. “


“No, not you yourself. That’s what we say if we are questioned. I will ask one of the associates to talk to a friend of hers, as she often does. Have you met Cheng Shenwei?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“I may introduce you after this is over. How soon do you need some reassurance about the yunü?”

“I’d like it soon,” Taz said. “I’d like it tonight, in fact, but I can stall awhile longer. Nancy,” he continued. “Anna….”

“Is out of this loop. Yes, I know. Young dragon, I may not know your grandmother as well as your Jingwu does, but I do know her well enough to think what has been set before you may very well be of her sending; not necessarily everything, but certainly parts of your problem remind me strongly of her. However, I cannot tell what is definitely hers and what we may term a mistake in translations.”

“So what do you advise?”

“Find out what you can and be ready to fulfill the letter of what you have been told to do.”

“Theoretically that means waiting until the cup shows up in an exhibit at the Museum,” Taz said.

“Possibility not that literally,” Nancy said. “Since we are already worried that the yunü may not be a reliable conveyer of messages.”

“She keeps worrying about delays.”

“There is no point in hurrying into a scandal,” Nancy said. “Your grandmother’s position as a patron involves some personal investment in the well-being of the Museum. That well-being will be compromised if the Museum is seen as a careless guardian, and that might be considered to reflect badly on your grandmother.”

Taz nodded. That was a good point. He could use that.


Feng Tailin frowned. “That doesn’t matter. This Museum is only a human thing.”

“But Grandmother is their patron,” Taz said. “Her reputation is tied up with theirs.”

“But they’re only humans!”

“You didn’t take a good look around when you were there. She is not their only important patron: there’s more than one other Immortal on the Founder’s Council.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s not something we can be mistaken about,” Taz said. “I haven’t been introduced to all the members, but I do know there are others.”

“Oh,” the yunü said.

Taz considered her. His grandmother knew about the other members, and there was no reason, as far as he could see, for her not to tell the yunü about them. Either his grandmother was forgetful, which would be very bad, or the yunü had not, for one reason or another, been thoroughly briefed by her. He was uncertain how to interpret that. He said: “So I must go carefully enough to avoid any scandal.”

“I guess that’s a proper filial concern,” Tailin said.

“It seems that way to me.”

“I have a spa appointment,” the yunü said. “If it’s all right with you?”

“Go ahead. I’m still looking where all the cases from the basement ended up. There’s still a few places to check out.” That was a lie. He knew where all the cases were, and he had a good idea where the Museum’s collections were kept. He did not want the yunü to know how far along in locating the cup he actually was.


Taz was sprawled on another deserted sunny beach. He stretched, scratching his back scales on the sand. He enjoyed the solitude. Oh, there were dolphin minds around, but they were busy with dolphin doings; shark minds were deeper and slower, and not as intrusive as the dolphins; the great whales were far off and very faint. He rolled over, letting the sun heat his back, and continued mulling over his problems. A quote from The Art of War popped into his mind:

Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer

and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men,

is foreknowledge.

Right, Taz thought. Easier said than done. Foreknowledge is in short supply here in the physical world. I should assume a worst case scenario, because that’s where all plans start, but what is it? What is the worst that can develop from this situation? Will I be arrested? Expelled? Making grandmother lose face? With whom? How? Making Jingwu lose face? Again, with whom? What’s the purpose here? All of them? How would that work? If this were just a prank, what would I do? And how would I stop me? That depends on the ultimate purpose…and that gets me back to the unspecified worst case. What do I do now?

Consider the terrain.

Another quote from The Art of War. This one was actually somewhat to the point. If he had the cup, what would happen? He didn’t know. Where would it happen? That he might be able to discover. He stood up and shook all over, dislodging the sand that tended to cling to his scales. He would catch Feng Tailin at breakfast.

“Look, once I get the cup, do I just give it to you?” he asked.

“No! No, you take it to the Eldest,” the yunü said.

“Damn,” Taz said. “I was hoping to get in some surfing before I went back to school.”

“Surfing isn’t as important as delivering the cup to your grandmother.”

“Well, crossing off all the embassies, there are two places of interest, both warehouses.” He didn’t tell her he had decided the larger warehouse, which wasn’t completely climate controlled, probably held stone work and pottery. The more delicate ephemeral works, involving silk, reed, wood and paper and the like, probably could be found in the climate conditioned facility.

“The cup is in one of them?”

“Probably. They’re unlabeled and patrolled.”

“What does that mean?”

“Whoever is guarding them doesn’t want outsiders to know what’s inside,” Taz explained. “There are no signs, no doors labeled ‘Office’, no cars in the parking lot, yet there are humans inside. Outside, there are a lot of cameras and apparently random patrols of other humans. Getting in will not be easy, but it can be done. I need to see if there’s a pattern I haven’t detected yet. Being interrupted might alert the humans and make everything harder.”

“Once we get inside, can you find it?” the yunü said.

“Probably, but I may have to wait until the cup is displayed at the museum.” He had no intention of waiting, but he was wary of telling Feng Tailin his plans. Having seen Dai’s original, he could find the cup; if the Museum had more than one object of Dai’s making, he might have to examine them one after the other until he found the cup, but that would not be difficult, it would just time consuming.

“That would not be good,” Feng Tailin said. “Ideally, you should bring the cup to the Spring Moon wine tasting.”

“And you can’t take it?”

“No. That wouldn’t do.”


So it’s not going to be a simple human-style mugging, Taz thought. I don’t have to worry about being ambushed and hit over the head. It’s going to be subtler. I should have expected that; after all, we are longs. There’s something about the cup, me and Grandmother together, in front of a crowd, because there’s always a crowd for Spring Moon wine tasting, that’s bad. Or dangerous. Or potentially embarrassing. Grandmother and I are the same as we were last year, at least I think we are, at least I am, as far as I know, so it’s the cup that changes things. The variable is the cup. I need to take a close look at the damn thing.


In his bedroom at Jingwu’s house, he took out the rosewood box from its temporary place in his scholar’s cabinet and opened it. His bedroom faced south, and when he carried the new cup over to the window, the sunlight played over the glaze, highlighting the specks of color and the fine cracks. He turned it over, examining the join at the base of the cup, inspecting the interior of the hollow pedestal, searching for a pattern in the cracks, a code in the colors. As far as he could see, it was a wine cup; oh, it was beautiful, with a profound, quiet air of perfection and tranquility, but it was only a wine cup. If Dai said this was a copy of the original, it was an exact copy, just as both his grandmother’s and her lover’s had been.

I leave an identical copy in the museum and take the ancient cup to grandmother. No human will ever know….

His thoughts came to an abrupt halt. What if there was a crack in the lover’s cup? His grandmother’s cup had broken, so the copies out in the world were subject to the wear and tear of daily life, unlike Dai’s file copy, the original, which was not breakable or even damageable. The Museum pictures would show that.

Oh, hell, Taz thought. I don’t need a perfect copy of the original. I need a perfect copy of the Museum’s cup. Revised plan: Get the Museum’s cup, bring it here. Compare the two. If they’re identical, except for their auras, slip the new copy in the old copy’s place. If I need a worn new copy, go to Dai. Put the worn new copy into the old copy’s place. And I don’t need Feng Tailin along while I’m doing all this. She probably would riffle through everything, setting off alarms all over the warehouse and getting the humans to run around like disturbed ants. It’ll be simpler if I do this alone.


Nine hours later Taz had the cup.

The search hadn’t been dangerous or difficult, only delicate and long.

By himself, he had had no problems avoiding all the humans, all the detectors and all the alarms. What had taken the time was the huge number of items in the warehouse. While most crates could be dismissed immediately, the Museum did have other works by Dai. One was a life sized wooden statue of Ganesha, which was easy to find and easy to rule out. Another was a folding screen, which was concealed in nine flat cases; each case had to be opened, the contents examined, and the cases resealed. The third was a bronze bell, with dragons and tigers in bas relief around the circumference. That one was interesting. It was only a little bigger than the cup, and for several moments as he gently opened its crate he thought he had found what he was after. He found the cup next. It was in a large metal case which was approximately a cube, 18 inches on a side. He opened the latches and removed the padded lid. The rosewood box was surrounded by contoured foam cushions. He lifted it out, put the lid back, replaced the empty metal case in its spot on the shelf, and returned to Russian Hill with the rosewood box.


Telling the two cups apart was no problem: Dai was right, their auras were very different. Taz arranged some lights around his desk and shifted to his dragon form.

Humans would need to use mechanical aids, digital photographs or comparison microscopes. Dragons had much better vision and memory than humans did.

He inspected the cups. Yes, they were identical, down to the dots of color and the pattern of the cracks. However, the color of the cracks was darker on the older cup. He touched its bowl with his tongue.

Fruit, but not grapes, not plum…. Peach wine. What the cup held last was peach wine. Let’s see if I can do this, he thought. No reason to disturb Dai if I can manage a little manipulation.

He took the new cup and moved to Jingwu’s wine cellar where he filled the cup with whiskey from the kilderkin. The liquid grew darker, with a smokey-peaty aroma. Remembering the complex flavors of a ripe peach, he slowly shifted contents of the cup away from his favorite Islay whiskey to a peach wine. The task required concentration. The result was a faintly peaty-peachy scented pale amber liquid. He swirled the wine around the cup a last time, poured it into one of the crystal glasses beside the kilderkin on the counter, shifted it back to whiskey and carried the full glass and the empty cup back to his room.

The cups’ crackalure were now the same shade. He drank from the crystal glass and considered the rosewood boxes. Ah, the Museum had stuck a tiny inventory label on the bottom. Other than that, the boxes resembled each other in all respects save the slight wear on the sliding lid. He took the new lid and gently ran his scaled finger along the edges of the lid and of the groove in which it rested. He slipped the lid back in its box, and nodded. The way the lids moved in their grooves felt the same. He moved the label to the new box, taking care to firmly affix it in the same position with the same orientation, put the cups in their proper boxes, and closed the lids.

He shifted to human, tossed back the rest of the whiskey. He put both boxes in the upper sections of the scholar’s cabinet and locked them away.

Now what? he thought. A night out, he decided. No, better yet, it’s only early afternoon in Maui. Between the beach and the casino at the Inn there, I’ll find something to do, and maybe even someone to do it with. Preferably a complete stranger. One who had no relatives and no agenda.

He told Zomas he wouldn’t be in for dinner that night and probably not in at all the next day, gathered his gear, and went to Peahi.


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