“Good God!” cried Sergeant Major General, after a pause that (again) seemed like several days but was in fact the merest of mere moments, though perhaps a little longer than the last mere moment because after all this was a very big shock to both men.
“My beloved!” Kirk Bill said, in a low voice both passionate and confounded. “How is it possible that you are here?”
“You idiot,” said Lady Larchmoor. “I am the High Priestess of the Temple of the Eye! This is my domain! My word is all! My will rules thousands! Plus, I have to say, I am pretty hot shit.”
“But I mean, physically, how did you actually get here? We travelled like the wind – alright, well not quite like the wind, but pretty fast! How could you be here before us? We left you resting comfortably on your divan, in your front parlour!” Kirk Bill’s noble brow creased in perturbation.
“I have been with you every step of your journey,” said Lady Larchmoor, or rather the Priestess. “It is through my design that you find yourself here in my temple, at the mercy of the Tiger Gods!”
“Every step of the way?!” Sergeant Major General was disbelieving. “I find that very hard to believe! We would have noticed!”
“Do you remember Madame Rostropovich, manager of the opium den?” the Priestess said, lazily inspecting her nails.
“Good God! Your employee? I knew it!”
“Fool!” The Priestess laughed at Sergeant Major General, a chilling laugh of both scorn and delight. “I AM Madame Rostropovich! I sold the den to Lord Worzleham and counseled his daughter in how the business should be run! It provided me with the perfect headquarters for my London operations. Now, Miss Lacewing, you remember her, also?”
“If any harm has come to her—” Sergeant Major General started, angrily.
This time her laughter was longer. “Your concern is touching,” she smiled, “but I am also Miss Lacewing. And Mybug too, for that matter. My eyes and ears in the courts and councils of England!”
“You fiend!” cried Sergeant Major General. Kirk Bill was still, intent on his fiance’s every word.
“But that’s not all,” said the Priestess, leaning forward and smiling wickedly. “The captain of your ship?”
“No!” said Sergeant Major General, his face turning ashen. “Dammit, I thought he looked too young to be a sea captain!”
The Priestess stood, stretching her arms above her luxuriantly. “And can you guess my last disguise, dear Sergeant Major?” She smiled sweetly, but in such a way that reminded Sergeant Major General uncomfortably of a cat observing a rather plump and delectable mouse. He racked his brains. Who else could have been Lady Larchmoor – the Priestess – in disguise?
“Good God!” His eyes widened in shock. “Not – the pandit!”
“The same!” Lady Larchmoor’s laughter began again, high, exultant, cascading! Echoing from the walls of the stone chamber and mingling with the sound of drums, which, Sergeant Major General realized, had not ceased for a single second! The tiger at her feet roared, as if in confirmation.
“I say, you must be able to run quite fast, wot?” said Sergeant Major General, suddenly pausing to consider the extraordinary logistics of Lady Larchmoor’s prolonged deception.
“So you have deceived us,” Kirk Bill said gravely, noble and proud in the face of Lady Larchmoor’s scorn. “You have gone to extraordinary lengths to bring us here. But why?”
“Oh, good question, Bill old chap,” said Sergeant Major General. “Yes, dash it all, Lady Larchmoor! What’s the meaning of all of this?”
Lady Larchmoor smiled at them. “To understand that, gentlemen,” she said, “I must show you the true Eye. Behold – the EYE OF THE TIGER!”
And at her words, flames erupted from the eyes of the stone tiger above.
TO BE CONTINUED