The Present: Nerima, Japan.
Kasumi was on her way to the market, alone. Lately, Shampoo refused to do anything other than hide in her room, even going so far as to make Kasumi deliver her meals there. The eldest Tendo might not have done it, save for fear that Shampoo would starve to death. Ranma wasn’t behaving much better, moping around the house in a depressed state that would have done Ryouga proud. His father had actually beaten him in some of the morning sparring sessions for the first time in months, which was the main reason the two fathers had managed to drag Ranma and Shampoo out of the house on a two-day training trip. At the last minute, Akane decided to go with them, striking the fear of god into the group when she proudly stated she would do all the cooking for the party. That left Kasumi and Nabiki with the house to themselves. Maybe forever, if Akane made good on her promise. With any luck, whatever problems existed between Shampoo and Ranma would be resolved by the time the duo returned.
As she walked down the street a new storefront caught her eye; Wayfinder’s Antiques. An unusual name. Kasumi suddenly became interested in antiques and walked up to the store. She didn’t have enough money to buy anything expensive, but it wouldn’t hurt to browse the shop. Perhaps she would see something nice for Shampoo that would cheer her up.
Once inside, she saw the interior of the store was brightly lit and the air quite clear. So much for the idea all such stores had to have the dank, musty feeling of antiquity to them. There were no other customers in the shop, allowing Kasumi free rein within. She perused the shelves, discovering old pots, wooden dolls, dishes with pleasant designs to them, and all sorts of paraphernalia one would expect in such a store. As she cleared a set of shelves she saw a gray haired gaijin gentleman that smiled at her from behind a glass counter.
“Is there anything I can help you with, Miss?” he politely inquired.
“No, thank you. I’m just browsing. Is the store new? I hadn’t noticed it before.” Kasumi asked as she walked up to the counter.
“Just opened it today. Have to admit, I’m a bit disappointed in the turnout, though. You’re only the fourth person to come in. Maybe I should have put up a ‘grand opening’ banner or something.” Wayfinder shrugged.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Once word gets around of how nice your shop is, I’m certain more people will come. It’s much nicer than the last antique store that was here.” Kasumi said as she examined the glass case the storeowner stood behind.
“Oh? What was its name?”
“’Needless Things’; it was run by a very odd man named Mr. Lean. It folded up quickly, though.” She remembered how that store had always given her the creeps as she continued looking at the objects in the case.
Noticing her interest, the owner started pointing out things to her. “This is where I keep my special objects. Many of the items have are very valuable, or have an unusual history to them. Take this, for instance.” He reached down and pulled an old scepter from the case. “This was said to have been used in one of the floating courts of a maharaja from India. I don’t have a certificate of authenticity to back up the claim, however.” He smiled at Kasumi.
She continued examining the contents of the case. A great many crowns, rings, and bracelets adorned the receptacle. One odd golden object in particular caught her eye. It was a small piece of gold with a particularly beautiful design to it. Again, her attention did not escape the eye of Wayfinder.
“That is an unusual piece. It’s part of an object, maybe a ring. Judging by the beautiful design, I would wager it was a signet ring. You would show it off to people to prove what family or clan you belonged to. What I know for certain about it, is that it’s from China, and it is very old. Over fifteen hundred years, easily. Want to see it more closely?” he reached in to show it before Kasumi could answer.
“Oh, I couldn’t. I’m sure it’s much too expensive.”
He forced the item into Kasumi’s hand over her protests. “Don’t be so sure. As I said, it’s damaged, which reduces the price greatly.”
She turned it over in her hand, looking at it from every angle. Even if she had a great deal of money, broken jewelry was not the sort of thing she would spend it on. Still, there was something eye-catching about the piece. “How much did you say it was?”
“How much do you think it’s worth?” he responded.
Ah. Haggling. That was why there were no prices on any of the items. Kasumi’s shopping expertise gave her fair negotiating skills, but she was unfamiliar with what she should open with. “I’m no judge of antiques. Perhaps if you gave me an idea of what you were thinking of selling it for you could tell me and we could work from there.”
The owner considered that. “Three hundred thousand yen.”
That was far out of Kasumi’s price range, just as she expected. And she had started to get her hopes up too. “I’ll think about it.” She turned to leave.
Wayfinder didn’t want to lose the sale. “Wait! The price is negotiable.”
Kasumi continued out. “Thanks anyway. So long.” And left the store, depressed. It would have been nice to splurge a little for herself. Lost in thought, she felt someone jostle her as she walked along the busy street. Kasumi turned to see a short figure, no higher than her chest, walk past.
“People really are becoming more rude nowadays,” Kasumi thought sadly to herself. She took notice of the figure. The person was wearing an odd set of azure robes, unlike those of a shrine maiden, or anyone else for that matter. The figure had the hood of the robes pulled over its head. The small one paused and turned in front of Wayfinder’s. Just as it was about to enter, it turned to face Kasumi. From where Kasumi stood, she could only see the bottom portion of the figure’s face, the upper portion covered in the shadows of the hood. At a distance, it appeared to be a young girl, no more than thirteen years of age. The oddest thing was that, despite not being able to see the girl’s eyes, she could feel her looking directly at Kasumi. That was when she was overcome by the feeling she had met this girl before. So certain, in fact, that it actually disturbed her.
She shook herself out of the reverie. The girl turned back to the store and entered. Kasumi changed her direction and followed the girl. Perhaps she was the younger sister of one of her friends from high school or something. That would explain the familiarity.
As she approached the store she saw movement next to the glass door. Wayfinder had grabbed the open sign that hung from inside the door and was turning it over to the closed side. He was just finishing up when Kasumi hurriedly walked over and stood in front of the door and knocked. The man turned to face her, the unmistakable look of fear in his eyes. It appeared he was going to turn away when he abruptly changed direction and opened the door.
“What is it, Kasumi Tendo?” There was a sheen of sweat along his forehead.
“I…” she trailed off for a moment. “How did you know my name?”
“You must have mentioned it to me when you first came in,” he said, the look of fear remaining in his eyes.
Kasumi was certain she did not state her name, but that was secondary to the question she wanted to ask. “I want to talk to that girl that just entered your store.” It was a simple enough request.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no girl here. Now if you’ll excuse me…” he went to close the door once again.
Kasumi didn’t know what to make of the man’s response. She had definitely seen the girl enter. Perhaps the storeowner was unaware of her presence. And why was he closing his store in the middle of the day? If Kasumi had been more aggressive she might have attempted to force her way in, but since she was not, she gave up and turned to go. That was when Wayfinder opened the door once again.
“Wait one moment!” He closed the door and rushed inside, then returned moments later bearing the piece of signet ring Kasumi had examined. “I asked you once how much you thought this was worth. I now ask you that same question again.”
Kasumi shook her head. “It’s much too expensive. I can’t afford it.”
Wayfinder appeared desperate. “That wasn’t the question I asked. Let me rephrase it. How much can you afford to pay for it?”
Kasumi hesitated. The man must really be in dire straits if he was that desperate to make a sale. She grabbed the money out of her purse and quickly estimated how much cash she could spare. “Only five thousand yen.”
“Sold!” he grabbed the amount from her hand and gave her the signet. He turned without another word and shut the door again, leaving the sign on the closed side.
Kasumi walked off, admiring the piece. She was so wrapped up in the bargain that she forgot the main reason she had stopped at the store. In fact, within moments she forgot about the young girl altogether.
Wayfinder slumped against his main case, grabbing the bottle of nitroglycerin pills for his heart. How had The Seer found him after all this time? It didn’t matter. Rumor had it if she wanted to find you, she found you. Of course, she still needed his transdimensional abilities to travel across the Great Divide, which meant she was not a god regardless of how it seemed sometimes. There were some that implied she could even be killed, not that he would ever do such a thing, even if it were in his nature. No, with any luck this would be the last occasion he would have to see her in this lifetime. Twice was quite enough, thank you very much.
The Seer had him so bent out of shape that he had almost blown it when he spoke Kasumi Tendo’s proper name without having actually “heard” it. How would she react if she knew that, within the confines of the store, he knew everyone’s name and understood who or what they were? No exceptions, save those that were unfathomable to his mind, like The Seer. There was also the fact The Seer wanted the youth to have the signet ring. Why she would take interest in such a mundane mortal was beyond Wayfinder, but there was no one, save Fate itself, that understood how The Seer’s mind worked. Being closed for several days might be a good idea. Then he could have a grand reopening. That was a good plan, one he would act on immediately.
Kasumi spent the rest of the day in normal fashion. She cooked a meal for herself and Nabiki, and cleaned up the house. Having only the two of them present made cleaning go quickly, so Kasumi used the extra time to watch television and defeat Nabiki in three straight games of Monopoly. It was beyond Kasumi why her sister got so worked up over the game. Nabiki would beat her someday. After all, she had only lost seventy-two times in a row, so she was due for a win.
It was late when Kasumi lay down to go to sleep. As she pulled the covers over body, she held the signet in her hand. A feeling of peace came over her as she quickly fell asleep and began to dream…
Chapter 14: Prophet and Loss
A Ranma ½ story
by D.B. Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
What’s gone on before (or what you really need to know to enjoy this fic) In the beginning the Saotomes traveled to Jusenkyou and began sparring, not realizing Shampoo and Mousse had already began a duel there. One mid-air collision and bath in Spring Of Young Drowned Man later, we have a male Shampoo as well as a female Ranma. (So Ranma-chan= female Ranma. Shampoo-kun= male Shampoo. Enjoy.) Shampoo elected to travel to Japan with Ranma and ended up briefly engaged to Kasumi. After that was cleared up, Ranma became engaged to Akane. During the course of the months it was learned that there are laws against becoming a man in Shampoo’s village. Subsequently Cologne has been trying to get Shampoo cured, or barring that, stand trial for becoming a man and most likely executed. Last chapter, it was revealed that an old rival of Shampoo’s, Perfume, has been trying to kill Shampoo for maiming her after a duel. Ranma defeated Tarou (with an assist from Kodachi) and discovered the truth about Perfume. Feeling betrayed by Shampoo’s actions and for her lying to him, the two have had a strained relationship ever since.
Author’s note: This one is a little different and pretty dark. It’s almost a side story, so be prepared.
One Thousand and Four Hundred and Twenty Nine Years Ago: China.
The two opposing forces met on the Plains of Kyan’Tal. The rain poured heavily, leaving the fields covered in mud. Four elders were at the forefront of the group of women that had come directly from the village. Their group numbered close to one hundred, as opposed to the group of eighty that stood across from them. Their composed features masked the fear they all felt. Things should never have deteriorated to this level. And the saddest thing of all was that all of this could have been avoided altogether. But how could anyone know the repercussions of using the Jusenkyou pools in the manner they were employed? Only now did they understand the true ramifications of their actions. Or at least some of them did. Others were not so convinced that they were a danger. Those others stood across the field watching the group that approached from the village.
A group of men watched the first group approach. They had elected to come to the plains first, as the elders had asked. The elders wanted to meet outside the village, resolving this matter away from the prying eyes of the males. The two groups faced off across from one another, ten meters apart. One man stood at the forefront of the group.
“<So, elders. Exactly why did you want us out here? Is it to preach further nonsense about Nanniichuan?>” Ji Kwan was not amused at being dragged all the way out here.
Feng Lu acted as spokesperson for the elders. “<It is not nonsense, you impudent pup! Your curses represent a threat to the Joketsuzoku.>”
One of the men behind Ji spoke up. “<You’re just being paranoid.>”
Ji waved a hand to cut the speaker off. “<I will speak for us,>” she stated to the man. “<You elders represent the old guard, unwilling to change with the times. Being able to turn into men has clear advantages to being a woman the entire time. Just because you lack the courage to change, does not mean we must accede to these senseless demands.>”
Feng scoffed at that. “<Many among our ranks are not elderly. Moreover, you are wrong. The curse does represent a threat. Have you not seen the way the males behave now? They are becoming more and more impudent and rebellious, thanks to you and your ‘friends’.>”
“<The males can be made to toe the line. Being able to change into one helps ensure that.>” Ji responded.
“<The lot of you turning into males is the problem!>” Feng’s frustration grew. “<They no longer see you as women. They see you more as males giving orders to other males. They think you want to be men, which undermines the idea that we women are superior to them. Why should they obey us if we want to be more like them?>”
“<I don’t give a damn what the males think,>” Ji scoffed. “<We’ll use force to keep them in line.>”
Feng shook her head sadly. “<The Joketsuzoku will never be able to last if we have to force the males to obey. There must be some willingness to go along with us, otherwise our society will fall apart.>”
Ji gave a look of burning intensity at Feng, “<Then maybe it’s time to create a new society.>”
Feng’s mouth dropped in shock. “<Are you preaching rebellion now, Ji Kwan?>”
“<All I say is it might be time for change.>” Ji turned to the group behind him. “<These others want to force us to use Nyanniichuan.>” Ji turned to Feng. “<Isn’t that right?>”
Feng did not like losing control of the discussion, but the weight of the events was keeping her from thinking clearly. “<Yes. We do.>”
Ji turned back to the men he was talking to. “<They want to force us into their tiny, simpleminded way of life. They believe we should obey them, like some kind of man. Well, despite outward appearances, we are not male. We are proud Amazon warriors of the Joketsuzoku, and will not prostrate ourselves before you if we have done no wrong.>”
Feng started to protest. “<But you have…>”
She was cut off by Ji. “<If we had done some kind of wrong, why hasn’t the matriarch said something?>” A smile slowly crept across his face. “<Oh. We know exactly why the matriarch hasn’t said anything, don’t we?>” Ji continued to smirk.
Feng had a very intense urge to use one of her daggers to cut the smirk off of Ji’s face. The intensity between the two groups was building, and without the matriarch to back up her words, ordering the others would be difficult; but things could not be allowed to continue the way they were. Something had to be done to resolve this matter. Today. Time to put it all on the line. “<You will uncurse yourselves using Nyanniichuan now, or else!>”
Ji’s smirk changed to a look of seriousness. “<You will try to force us to do this?>”
Feng allowed a chi aura to build up around her. “<If need be.>” Everyone behind her drew weapons, with a handful letting auras glow to back up her statement. The group of men drew their weapons and allowed a handful of auras to grow in return as the two forces started moving towards one another.
Feng was concerned about this fight. True, her people outnumbered Ji’s group, but many of the best warriors were amongst the group transformed by Nanniichuan, and a lot of them were very powerful. It would be a devastating battle for both sides no matter what, and the only loser would be the tribe.
Just as weapons and auras began to collide with one another a loud voice shouted out “HIRYUU SHOUTEN-HA!!!” causing a giant vortex of chi energy to suck up all the participants in the battle and unceremoniously drop them on their heads.
A huge man, with a giant two-handed sword strapped across his back, stood next to the woman who had launched the all-encompassing attack. A look of surprise was on his face as he turned towards her. “<That was impressive. When did you learn that?>”
The woman gave a wry little smile. “<I made it up. Just now.>”
The man gave a wide-eyed look of surprise. “<Sometimes you scare me.>”
“<As well I should, Matriarch.>” The woman continued to give her smile.
The man gave an exasperated sigh, “<You know, it’s all right for you to call me sister.>”
“<Of course. I understand,>” she paused, “<Matriarch.>”
Giving up, the man approached the fallen foes with his sister in tow. “<All of you listen to me and listen to me well. I am matriarch of the Joketsuzoku, Su Chiang. You will obey me! Do I make myself clear!>” The collected people nodded their heads in agreement, the pain from the chi attack still all too fresh in their memories.
“<The tribe faces a threat far more dire than the Gray Plague. Far greater than Thoth Amon and his serpent men,>” he allowed his voice to build up for dramatic effect. “<That threat is indeed Nanniichuan.>”
Voices of dissent that began from the men were quickly drowned out. “<Look at yourselves. We all sisters of the Joketsuzoku, yet we very nearly began killing one another. And for what? Over a curse. And a curse is exactly what it is!>”
Again voices claiming it was not a curse were overspoken again by Su, as he circulated amongst the crowd. “<Oh, you may not think it. I didn’t at first. But now,>” his voice became much quieter, “<Now I know the truth.>”
Su drew his giant sword. “<It was always my dream to be able to handle this weapon without difficulty. I worked hard. Building up muscle and sinew, until I was the strongest one in the village.>” No sounds of disagreement were heard from that statement. “<And when I got my curse,>” he emphasized that last word, “<I was delighted. I could now wield it with an ease I didn’t believe possible.>” He spun it around in his hand for effect. “<I thought it didn’t matter that I could turn into a man. I was wrong.>”
He spun and pointed the sword to indicate Feng. “<Our elder is right. The men are becoming unruly and noncompliant. They rightfully believe we are trying to be more like them, and are finding our,>” He paused, “<hypocrisy, hard to digest. And that alone is enough reason to discard the forms we now wear. But many of you would disagree with that rationale. Perhaps you would even be justified. But there is an even more compelling reason why we must discard these forms and never use Nanniichuan again.>” He turned towards his sister. “<Someone very close to me pointed out an obvious flaw in its use. One which will definitely destroy the tribe, if it is not too late already.>” He paused once again, not continuing. Finally one of the men spoke up.
“<What reason is that?>” And Su told them.
The shock to everyone was evident. Such an obvious thing, which everyone had mysteriously overlooked. All that is, save one.
Su whispered to his sister, “<It’s just like you said, Hu. It must be the curse. To miss something so obvious…>” Su trailed off in disgust as he watched the others react to the new information. Looks of pity were on the faces of many of the women, but the features of the men were almost uniform: shock.
Su listened to many voices mix together, “<…We have to change… …I didn’t know… …None of us did… …I want some. I can’t go on like this… …if I had known, I would never have done it…>”
As though some sort of consensus was reached, the majority of men set off, only a handful were not in such a great shock that they had enough sense to bow before their leader before leaving. There was a small group that remained behind. Thirteen men, still led by Ji Kwon.
They huddled together in discussion, and after coming to an agreement, broke up and confronted the matriarch. Ji acted as spokesman once again.
“<We have no desire to change back.>”
Su was stunned, “<Didn’t you hear what I said?>”
“<Of course. We don’t care. None of us have those interests, or are willing to make the sacrifice. We will remain as males.>” Ji looked Su in the eye in defiance.
Su returned the glare. “<There can be no one cursed by Nanniichuan in the tribe. It is too disruptive.>”
“<I disagree.>” Ji retorted. “<As I said, I neither have interests like that, nor will I sacrifice my newfound abilities because some men don’t care for it.>”
“<I order you to!>” Su responded.
“<You are wrong. Your reasons don’t apply to any of us. Besides, I’m not the one that started this, am I?>” she smirked.
A dangerous gleam entered Su’s eyes. “<So, you wish to change the rules so they conform to your desires. Is that it?>”
Ji nodded. “<They are wrong.>”
“<Then you openly defy your matriarch.>” The gleam became more dangerous. “<You always did want to rule. Didn’t you Ji-Ji?>”
“<Don’t call me that.>” Ji growled in response.
“<Oh, come now. I always called you that when we were growing up, Ji-Ji.>”
“<I said stop calling me that!>” Ji became more and more angry.
Su ignored the declaration, “<You always were jealous of my becoming matriarch. Took it away from your family and now you want it back. Is that it, Ji-Ji?>”
“<Shut up!>” Ji began to tremble in rage, but Su continued on, ignoring it.
“<An attempt at rebellion? How far you have fallen, Ji-Ji. Why go about this in such an underhanded manner?>” A wild look entered Su’s eyes. “<You don’t want to move behind the scenes like some spineless schemer. That’s not your style. You want to stick that sword in me,>” He indicated Ji’s falchion. “<Don’t you, Ji-Ji?>”
“<I SAID STOP CALLING ME THAT!!!>”
Su’s voice remained calm, despite the increasing wildness in his eyes. “<All you have to do is shut me up. Tell you what, why don’t we make this interesting?>” Su turned towards the elders that were looking upon the situation with growing alarm. “<If Ji-Ji defeats me in battle, she becomes matriarch.>” He turned back towards Ji, “<That’s what you want. Then you can change everything just the way you like it.>” Su wielded her monstrous two handed sword, holding the serrated edge so Ji could be certain to see what fate awaited him. “<That’s assuming I don’t send your guts spraying all over the ground. But then again, you always did bleed well, Ji-Ji.>” An unmistakable psychotic gleam entered Su’s eyes as he continued speaking softly,
“<Come play with me, Ji-Ji.>”
Ji Kwon answered with a drawn sword and a wild yell as he ran across the mud, intent on impaling his matriarch on the end of his falchion. Su ran forward, sword held back to strike.
Hu shook her head sadly as the two warriors met one another. For the briefest of moments, she envisioned someone else running across the field at her sister, and remembered exactly why she had removed herself from the tribe so many years ago.
One weapon moved with blinding speed as it embedded itself in the chest of the person across from it. The remaining warriors looked on impressed. Few could match the speed of Su Chiang, two-handed sword or not. Ji Kwon was not one of them.
Ji looked down at the sword buried in his chest, then turned his head far enough to look at the man who had put it there. All he managed to gurgle out was, “<How…>” before trailing off.
Su whispered in his ear, “<Too slow by far, Ji-Ji. As always.>” and with that, Ji Kwon died.
As Su Chiang removed his sword from the corpse, the body shifted from that of a male to a female. Su allowed a smile to form on his lips for the briefest of moments. “<You see, you did give up the curse in the end.>” He turned to the rest of the men. “<All if you who are unrepentant! Return to the Hall of Judgment and await your fate. And do not try to escape.>” He turned to the elders. “<See to it they do not flee.>” They bowed before one another and turned, each on their way. Su returned to Hu’s side as the two of them took a separate path back to the village.
Hu spoke first. “<You allowed the ‘warrior’s madness’ to overcome you.>”
Su smiled at his sister, “<It’s useful in situations like that.>”
“<It’s sick, senseless violence. You are more akin to an animal than a human being when in that state.>” Hu responded.
Su looked over his sister in an odd way. “<Some of us lack your skills with the sword, sister, but perhaps you are right. The gods know it’s gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. Especially without you around.>” He chided his sister.
“<I had my reasons for leaving.>” she answered while looking off in the distance.
“<You told me a pack of lies so I wouldn’t harass you about why you were leaving.>” He was rewarded by a surprised look from his sister. “<I respected your choice. No matter how much it pained me. And now, you’re back. I’ve missed you, sister.>” He gave a soft look to Hu who returned the gaze.
“<What will you do now?>” Hu asked.
“<If any of them can cure themselves, there won’t be any problems. But I suspect very few will be able to remove the curse.>”
Hu’s eyebrows shot up. “<What do you mean? Why won’t they get cured?>”
Su’s expression became one of depression. “<Once you explained to me the drawbacks of the curse, I set out to cure myself. I tried traveling to Jusenkyou, but couldn’t find it.>”
“<Impossible,>” Hu said in disbelief. “<We grew up around Jusenkyou. Either one of us could find it in our sleep.>”
“<And yet, I still couldn’t find it. So I sent a warrior to retrieve some for me. She fell into Spring of Drowned Octopus.>” Su shook her head. “<I will send no others to become cursed in some attempt to cure me. If the magic won’t leave me, then it won’t leave me.>”
“<Perhaps I could…>” Hu began when she was cut off.
“<NO! I forbid it! Both as matriarch and as your older sister!>”
“<But you need to be cured.>” Hu protested.
“<I’ve already got that figured out. Don’t worry.>” The look he gave Hu informed her he was telling the truth. Su always had been a poor liar, that’s why he never played games in which you had to bluff. Anyone could read his face.
The two quickly arrived at the family home it was the first time in years Hu had at long last returned to the place where she had grown up. As Su went in back while his sister examined the belongings. So few things were different. It still looked much the way she had left it. Maybe not so surprising, since Su was the only one living here. As Hu was caught up in the feeling of nostalgia, her eyes fell upon the griffin’s head.
How long had it been? Twenty, no, thirty years since four young, foolish warriors set out to destroy a mythical beast that had been terrorizing lands to the south of the village. Those four made a great deal out of the quest, vowing to bring back the creature’s head or not come back at all. The stupid promises only the young ever made. Still, the four of them did have many grand adventures on the journey. Nothing so impressive as to become legends spoken of among others, but they were important to the young warriors. And when they at last confronted the griffin in its lair, a climactic battle did occur. The creature proved far more intelligent than they gave it credit for, and would have killed Su if it hadn’t been for Hu’s sudden manifestation of her chi abilities. She used a pure blast of chi energy drawn from herself to destroy the creature’s torso, and in the process was sick as a dog for a week for drawing too much of her energy in the blast. After the fight, (and the beheading) Hu had even received a gift from Su’s best friend, in appreciation for saving Su’s life.
Hu drew her falchion from its scabbard. It was one of a pair of family heirlooms she had been given. Now its twin lay somewhere in the mud, unless someone was thoughtful enough to pick up Ji Kwon’s weapon. Tears fell from her eyes as she remembered the events from earlier in the day. Kar Yau, the other girl on the journey, died during the Serpent Men Wars, leaving only herself and Su of those that had slain the griffin.
How much things had changed, and not for the better.
Su came out from the back, after having bathed and changed into clothing appropriate for the matriarch to stand for the trial. The only thing that was unusual was that Su was still in a male’s body.
“<Why haven’t you changed back?>”
Su smiled at his sister, “<I have my reasons. Get yourself cleaned up and get ready for the trial. It’s important to look your best.>”
Hu did as indicated and returned, dressed in much better finery. The two of them set off for the trial.
“<Let’s take our time.>” Su asked his sister. “<After all, it’s not like they’ll start without me.>” He gave a smile as the duo’s pace slowed. “<Thank you for returning.>”
“<It’s the least I could do. You are my sister.>” she said. “<Look. We’ll beat the curse. Don’t worry about it.>”
“<I’m not.>” Su took on a more serious tone. “<You love me. Don’t you?>”
“<Of course.>” What was she getting at?
“<And you love the village?>”
Hu had her reasons for leaving, but the citizens within Joketsuzoku were still her most cherished people. “<Of course.>”
“<Then promise me something,>” Su’s eyes took on an almost pleading quality. “<Promise me you’ll stay and do whatever it takes to help the tribe. They need you. They need your wisdom and abilities.>”
Hu was taken aback. “<You overrate me badly.>”
Su shook his head, “<You play at being underrated. You were always better than me. You were always the best, even when holding back. Why did you never try to become matriarch?>”
Hu looked down at the ground, “<I did not desire the position.>” That was only part of the reason, but she couldn’t tell him the whole truth.
“<I was always jealous of you,>” Su’s chuckled. “<Jealous of my younger sister. Imagine that. Why did you have to be so good? Answer me truthfully. How many of your fights would have gone longer than a minute if you had really tried?>”
“<I don’t know what you mean.>” Hu answered, evading the answer.
“<You know exactly what I mean. None of them, I’d wager.>” He shrugged. “<It doesn’t really matter how good you are. I am what I am regardless of that.>”
They continued walking a little farther when Su spoke again. “<Why did you leave?>”
Hu hesitated. She couldn’t tell him that, either.
“<It had to do with me, didn’t it?>” Su continued prodding.
“<Don’t be absurd!>”
“<You know something?>” Su continued, “<I may be a terrible liar, but when you get worked up, you’re worse.>” Su paused then changed the talk back to the direction it was in before. “<Will you swear to me that you will do everything in your power to help the tribe?>” he softly added. “<Please.>”
Hu could not deny him, as much as she wanted to. Being here for a prolonged period of time was the last thing in the world she needed. “<I swear,>” she softly said.
Su’s face erupted in a smile. “<Good. Now here we are.>” The two of them had arrived at their destination without Hu realizing it. The Hall of Judgment.
The doors parted for the matriarch and her sister. It appeared every member of the tribe was present. The warriors that had been changed and accepted their curse, like Ji Kwon, were in shackles before the elders. Su did not take his seat amongst the elders, but remained on the floor.
“<My first order,>” he began, “<is to ban all males from the hall.>” A rumble began from the male population about staying, but that was quickly silenced by the next order. “<Any male that is within this hall after three minutes will be executed.>” The men rushed out.
Su took on a tone of command. “<I am going to tell you what will be done with Nanniichuan. How we shall deal with it now, and how we shall deal with it in the future.>”
Hu shook her head. Technically Su could do this, but it would alienate the matriarch from the council, an unwise move.
“<First, those of you that are unrepentant about your curses and sided with Ji Kwon in defiance of the law, will be executed.>” That brought a murmur of approval from the crowd. Disobeying a direct order from the matriarch frequently was as good as a death sentence.
“<Secondly, those that cannot be cured of the curse will be banished from the tribe.>” That brought a series of shouts from the crowd, causing Su to shout at the top of his lungs. “<Listen to me, citizens of the Joketsuzoku. This curse is too disruptive to ever allow anyone to have it.>” His speech became more impassioned, “<Look at what happened today. We were at each other’s throats. If Hu, who really saved the day, had not arrived when she did, there would been nothing left but a field of bodies. Once word got out that the majority of our warriors were dead, we would have been destroyed. Is that what you want, the destruction if the tribe?>” No one could agree with that.
“<This must never be allowed to happen again. Never! You may not realize it yet, but today was the closest we have ever been to total destruction. We were almost consumed by the greatest enemy we will ever have: ourselves.>” Su continued, “<Those that were cursed now did not understand what being afflicted with the malady truly means. Therefore, they will be allowed to leave with honor. But from this day forward, Anyone.>” contempt flowed into his voice, “<ANYONE, who dares become tainted by Nanniichuan, for any reason, and cannot be cured immediately, will either choose an honorable death, which I strongly approve of, or exile, and have their family accorded the dishonor.>” That brought another eruption from the crowd.
“<LISTEN TO ME!!!>” The crowd quieted down. “<What happened today must never happen again. All traces of this curse must be wiped out. Immediately! And it must never be allowed to happen again. Which brings us to the person responsible for this entire mess.>”
“<For the one that first became cursed. For the one that embraced, rather than rejected the form they were given. For the one that so persuasively led so many others down this horrible path. For the one that nearly destroyed the tribe single-handed. There can be only one punishment!>”
Hu looked on, confused.
“<Death.>” Su finished.
“<What are you talking about?!>” Hu erupted.
Su turned and faced his sister. “<An example must be made.>”
“<YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF!!!>”
“<Why, yes,>” Su calmly stated, “<I am.>” He turned back to the crowd, “<Moreover, since you will be without leadership, at least temporarily, I recommend Hu Chiang to fill the role until a tournament can be held. Believe me when I say, even if it’s only temporary, Hu will make a fine leader. She is smarter, more powerful, and far wiser than myself. Perhaps she will even be the leader for a long time to come.>”
Hu rushed over to Su’s side. “<You aren’t thinking clearly. Take a step back.>”
Su used force to bring his sister closer to himself and began whispering in her ear, “<It is the only way. You have always been smarter and wiser than me. You should have been matriarch.>”
“<I don’t want to lead…>” Hu began but was cut off.
“<Then I should have made you lead. If I cared about the tribe half as much as I professed, than I would have done everything in my power to see to it you stayed. Did you know I was a little happy you left?>” That was a surprise to Hu. “<I knew you could take the leadership from me if you tried. So if you were gone, you couldn’t. But now I realize I am a poor leader. I allow the warriors madness to overcome me. I am violent. I always try to solve problems with a sword. My judgment is frequently… bad. You will be the leader. Promise me you will do this.>”
“<I c… c… can’t.>” She was cut off by Su.
“<Yes, you can. You don’t want to. For some reason, all of your life you’ve run away from responsibility. Ever since you were nine. I don’t know what it was that changed you then, but something did. You began behaving differently around me. Before, you always tried to one-up me. But after that you never competed against me in anything, including going so far as throwing fights. That ends today. You promised me you would stay with the tribe and do everything you could to help it. Well, now you know what you can do.>”
Hu had been tricked. Su had known from the beginning this was the course he would take. That was why he referred to everything in the past tense earlier. “<But I d… don’t want you to die.>” Hu tried to protest.
Su’s voice became even quieter. “<I can’t live with what I’ve done. I love the Joketsuzoku, and I nearly destroyed it through my thoughtless actions. Besides, everything I said today will ring hollow if I don’t do this. And these laws must be in place if the tribe is to continue. It was our ancestors that founded the tribe. Our clan had the first matriarch. I am the first one to reclaim that title since then. Now it is your turn.>”
Tears filled Hu’s eyes as she whispered back. “<I’ll be all alone.>” It was true. Hu’s mother and two cousins fell in the Serpent Men wars. The Gray Plague consumed her aunt and brother, and her father fell victim to pneumonia. She and Su were the last ones of the family clan. And now it would be just her.
“<Forgive me, sister. If there were some other way, I would do it. But there isn’t.>” Su looked at her caringly, “<Now there is one final thing I must ask of you.>” Hu just stared at him. “<I want you to be my second.>”
“<Please. I have never begged anything of you before, but I am now. I cannot bear the thought of someone else administering the final blow.>”
Hu nodded reluctantly, tears streaming down her face. She withdrew her falchion even as Su went to his knees and drew his short sword.
Hu threw herself into her new/old home, crying on the floor. She had no idea how long she remained there, thinking of the past, of what led up to today. It was then she stumbled upon the root of all these problems. Nanniichuan.
“<I WILL DESTROY NANNIICHUAN! IT WILL END FOREVER! TODAY!>” she railed towards the heavens.
“<You don’t want to do that.>” A voice quietly spoke from the doorway.
Hu turned to see her. The girl from her childhood. The girl she had met when she was nine. The azure robed thirteen-year-old whose face remained masked in shadow. The reason she went on to leave Joketsuzoku.
Hu grabbed a knife that had been sitting on one of the tables and rushed forward to the girl. The youth made no protest as she was thrown against the wall and the blade pressed against her throat.
“<You are the one responsible for this! It’s all your fault!>” At that moment, Hu’s eyes bore the same anger Su’s had before the fight with Ji Kwon.
“<I did nothing but tell you what would happen.>” the girl’s voice remained steady and neutral.
“<Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you.>” Hu pressed the blade against the skin. Any more pressure would break it.
“<Because it would change nothing. If I fall another would take my place. And if he falls, then another, and another. I am nothing more than a messenger. The message will travel on without me. So go ahead, do it.>” she began goading some more, “<Do it.>
Hu gave a little whimper, then threw the blade into a wall and slumped into a chair. “<I knew I couldn’t do it. I’m weak.>”
The girl straightened herself out. “<I knew you wouldn’t do it as well. You aren’t a stone-cold murderer. Just a magnificent killer. As to your weakness; remember, you are flesh. And all flesh is weak.>”
Hu just sat there, staring off into space. “<Why did you do it?>”
“<I did nothing but tell you the truth.>” The Seer stated, “<I told you that you would rule the Joketsuzoku over your sister’s dead body, and I was right.>” The Seer noticed Hu shudder at the declaration.
“<Why did she have to die?>” Hu began weeping some more.
“<Because she was born. All things that are born die.>” She paused for a moment. “<Most things.>” She shook her head, “<Be thankful. This was the pleasant way things turned out. If I hadn’t informed you of what would happen, you would have been the leader and your sister would have taken Ji Kwon’s place. The result would have been you killing Su in combat.>”
“<I would never do something like that,>” Hu said quietly.
“<You would be surprised what the burden of leadership can force people to do.>”
Hu looked up at her. “<Are you telling me the future again?>”
“<The future is a hard thing to predict. It’s like a road. Most of it is smooth with only one long course to travel down; that is, until you come upon a fork in the road. Then one of two things is likely to happen. Sometimes the road swings back onto the course it was on earlier. Or sometimes it goes down a totally different path from the original. The farther away you are from the beginning of one path, the more difficult it is to predict where it will take you. There are likelihoods, but no definite answers. I shall be generous and give you an example.>”
“<In the far off distant future, I see a woman sitting upon a brightly colored throne made of crystal, ruling over a Utopia called Crystal Tokyo. All is good in this world. Her name is Queen Serenity.>”
“<At the same time I see a woman sitting upon a dark throne made of skulls, ruling over a Hell called Obsidian Tokyo. All is evil in this world. Her name is Queen Pandemonium.>”
“<Both are the same woman, Usagi Tsukino. Either future is equally likely to occur. Or neither one. It depends on what path fate takes.>” The Seer paused. “<Your path is much nearer and has few forks in the road. So here is what I will tell you. If you try to destroy Nanniichuan, you will fail and the Joketsuzoku will be destroyed within the next ninety years. If you try to destroy Nanniichuan, your sister’s sacrifice will be for nothing. That is the definite future.>”
Hu stared at her through tear filled eyes. “<Why is Nanniichuan so important to you?>”
“<Nanniichuan means nothing to me, but understand this. Jusenkyou is far greater than you could possibly imagine. It dwarfs you and your village. Never doubt that.>” and with that The Seer departed, leaving Hu Chiang in mourning.
Interlude: Two Devils
The present: Japan.
The man covered in black approached the remains of the ancient temple. An eight-foot massive stone giant trailed behind him, looking over the remains of what was once a building. The man in black began speaking.
“People have been complaining for centuries about the number of snakes that live in this area. How surprised they would be to discover the cause of it.”
Snakes began to pour into the remains of the ancient temple. The man in black continued. “Your loyalty to your mistress serves you well, reptiles. Even if it was your ancestors long past that obeyed her commands.”
Snakes by the hundreds poured into the temple. “Which of you are willing to sacrifice yourselves for your ancient mistress?” His hand pointed to a snake. “You!” The snake obeyed and slithered over to the spot where the man in black indicated.
“Now you.” A second snake now went to the same spot. As it came into contact with the first snake, the two merged becoming one larger snake. Others began to make their way over and melded with the original two. Hundreds of snakes merged, becoming one huge ten-foot snake, wider than a man.
“You are ready.” The robed man raised his hand and two streams of energy, red from the right and blue from the left, emitted from his fingertips. The blue stream gripped the snake’s head, while the red shot up and down the snake, causing it immense pain. As the red streams moved up and down the snake’s body, it would become slightly transparent during bright flashes. At first nothing could be seen. But as the seconds passed a figure began to form within the images.
“What is that?” The stone man asked.
“Your old associate, from a time long since past.” The man responded.
The energy cascaded the snake for another minute, then stopped. The reptile had long since ceased moving, and was now charred black on the outside. Suddenly, there was movement from under the snake’s skin. It undulated back and forth, until at last part of the skin ripped away. A human hand reached through the opening and forced itself through the rent in the exterior. Another hand emerged, and the two pried open the skin, allowing a beautiful Japanese woman, quite naked, to pull herself out of its reptilian womb and into the night air.
“It is her.” The giant confirmed.
The woman turned to the sound of the voices.
“Welcome back, mistress of the snakes,” the man in black proclaimed.
One Thousand, Three Hundred, and Forty Nine Years Ago: Eighty Years after Su Chaing’s death.
The Amazons watched as the massive pillar of blue energy dissipated in the night air. Hu lowered her arms and moved back from the edge of the mountainside the Amazon troops had been entrenched on. It had been the ideal ground from which to defend themselves against the T’ang’s army.
It had been an unnecessary precaution.
All of the warriors paled at the event they just saw occur before their eyes. None would forget it as long as they lived. Many of them moved away from the matriarch in fear as she strode back to her tent. Some remained giving prayers to the dead, while one of the younger ones even went so far as to run away. Another had the courage to speak in awe directly to Hu.
“<What was that?>”
The Matriarch stared at her curiously for a moment, then answered. “<I call it Doom. I made it up just now.>” As Hu left, the warrior took note of the fact the matriarch’s arms were now covered in blood, despite never having been attacked.
The honor guards around her tent parted as Hu entered her temporary home and slumped in a wooden chair. A flimsy thing; not surprising, considering all of the material had to be transported so high in the mountains. She at last took notice of the blood on her arms. No cut produced that, at least not a visible one. Perhaps it was a sign of the wound her soul now bore, but more likely it was a side effect of the chi attack she had just used. Even as she moved to grab a towel to wipe off her arms, she was wracked by the first feeling of pain. So intense was it that she was knocked to the ground and writhed in silent agony. All perception of time was lost until the pain passed. But even as it did, Hu felt it still hovering there, almost as though it were a snake waiting to strike. As she got shakily to her feet, she felt the urge to drink. That had been her crutch for so many years, ever since Su’s death. She began scanning the tent when her eyes fell upon the new occupant standing before her. She hadn’t appeared in eighty years, but one would not be able to tell from her appearance. She had not changed at all. The matriarch showed no shock at that fact. There were no surprises left for Hu Chiang.
“<It has not been long enough, Seer.>” If The Seer took notice of the comment she didn’t acknowledge it. Hu continued, “<Have you come to celebrate with me and the Amazons for our great victory just now? It was a tremendous battle. Nearly twenty-five thousand deaths, by my reckoning.>”
“<Twenty-nine thousand, nine hundred and twenty-two.>” The Seer informed her.
Hu paled. “<That many. Even more than I thought.>” Some color returned to her face after a few moments. “<It is one for the records to be certain. Perhaps I could write a book like Sun-Tzu. Yes?>”
“<You will write no books.>” The Seer informed her.
“<Too bad.>” No regret was in the voice. At least not regret about that. “<Have you come to take my soul to hell?>”
“<I lack the keys to the gates of either Heaven or Hell. I can neither damn nor elevate anyone.>” The Seer said
“<It was just a joke,>” Hu said. “<Forgive my manners. I am being a poor hostess. Perhaps some wine…>” White hot shards of agony lanced through Hu once again as she went to the ground. There was too much pain to even scream, so she simply lay there in silent agony. Eventually the feeling passed as Hu managed to shakily regain her footing.
“<Too much power. Either that, or it is the souls of the damned trying to claim my own soul. There are enough of them to do it now, I think.>” Hu finally managed to grab a bottle of wine and pour some of the liquid into a glass, downing it in one gulp.
“<You will not live to see the next sunrise.>” The Seer informed her.
Hu’s eyes were distant. “<Well, good. It’s about damn time.>” The bitterness was thick in her voice. “<I only wish this day would have come sooner. Say, eighty years ago.>” She poured herself another glass and repeated her earlier action.
“<If you seek pity from me you will not receive it,>” The Seer told her, voice remaining neutral. “<Your actions this day have ensured the survival of the tribe for the next one thousand years, at least.>”
Hu seemed to soften a bit at that. “<Well, that’s good. At least someone got something out of this.>” She poured herself another glass, but as she raised it to her mouth she began to shake uncontrollably. The glass fell to the floor as she was wracked with sobs. “<Oh, Deity. I killed them. All of them.>”
“<They would have killed you and forced you to prostrate yourselves before them.>” The Seer explained. “<They were here to conquer you.>”
“<You didn’t kill them! I DID!!!>” Hu continued trembling. “<Believe me, you have no idea what it’s like! I watched them die by my hand! I am responsible! I snuffed out twenty-nine thousand lives in the blink of an eye!>” Her own life seemed to leave her as she stopped shaking and sagged into her chair. “<You once called me a ‘magnificent killer’. I hated you for that, but you were right. Who could have done what I did today?>” She stood up and stormed over to The Seer “<NO ONE! THAT’S WHO! JUST ME! HU CHIANG! THE GREATEST KILLER THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN!!!>”
She calmed down again. “<There’s a saying ‘May you live in interesting times’. Well I certainly have. I only wish I hadn’t. People will sing about me for ages for what I did to all our enemies. So many of them. > Her voice drifted off in memory. “<The surrounding villages that tried to conquer us. The Blood Weeper and his minions. The Titans and their insane plan to destroy all of China. The Musk and their failure.>” That one in particular struck her. “<How long do you think it will be before they forgive me for sticking the heads of their royal family on a pike outside their castle?>” She answered for herself. “<Probably never. Who would blame them? Oh, I know it was in self-defense. It was always in self-defense. It doesn’t matter. I’ll always be known as a ‘magnificent killer’ to the world. And you know what the most ironic thing is?>”
“<Yes.>” The Seer said.
“<I’m going to say it out loud anyway, for my own benefit,> she retorted as she downed another glass of wine. “<I never wanted any of it. I abhor violence. I hated the fact I was born in a village that put such importance on combat. I was an aberration, not just to my family, but to my people. All I ever wanted was to raise a family and study the art. I never wanted to use the art to hurt anyone, I just wanted to master it.>” Her eyes took on a far off cast. “<It can be so beautiful, especially manipulating the chi. It’s so,>” She trailed off, “<I can’t describe it, but it is elegance.>”
Her words began filling with self-loathing. “<And what do I use it for? Killing, killing, and more killing. I have literally made rivers of blood flow using my abilities. Fist! Sword! Chi! Words! All instruments of death in my hands. That was why I ran away from the village, to flee from the violence and bloodshed as much as to avoid killing Su, and now I find myself waist deep in it.>” She turned toward the heavens as tears filled her eyes again. “<Was it so much to wish for? Peace. A family. Happiness. That was all I wanted.>” she knew what the answer was. “<Instead, I have no family. No peace. No happiness. I have become that which I hated the most.>”
Her voice became faint. “<It’s not my fault I’m so talented at killing. I was just born that way.>” Her form was once again wracked by even more intense pain. It took everything she had not to throw up.
“<Is this the pain of dying?>” she asked The Seer as she recovered. “<Is it from calling to much chi from myself to destroy them?>”
The Seer let a smile come to her lips. “<You think you did all that by yourself? I didn’t realize you were that arrogant.>”
Hu was confused. “<What do you mean? I’m the one that killed them. With the power I was wielding I could have destroyed an army three times that size.>”
“<And when were you ever able to summon that much power?>”
Hu thought about it. “<The nature of the attack draws from the wielder, the victims, and even the latent power in the land. That was why…>” and that was when she realized what point The Seer was making. She manipulated enough power to level an army three times that size. The majority of the chi was from the army itself, but the size of the effect would have been directly proportional to the size of the army. Only those that had the ability to control their chi could keep the attack from drawing any from them. Even if there were many soldiers that could control their chi, (an impossibility. Very few knew how to do it and they mostly kept that knowledge from others) it would have lessened the effect, not added to it.
Where had the extra come from? Some of the additional amount would have come from her, and she was the most powerful chi channeler she had ever known. Still, it would have added no more than a fiftieth to the total effect. At most. Which meant the additional energy would have come from the land itself. She had done it many times in small amounts, but it was always risky. It had to go directly through the summoned, which sort of acted like a sluice for the energy, and could easily overload you if you lost control, even for a second. The more you drew the more difficult it was to control, and the more likely you would destroy yourself. And at certain high amounts it would destroy you no matter how effectively you manipulated it.
She knew the amount of chi she drew from the land should not have produced the effect that had happened. Nowhere near that. It was just not possible. It was difficult to remember just how much she had received. There was such a tremendous amount she was using that she knew she might kill herself anyway. That was one of the reasons she never practiced the technique. She knew from the beginning it was likely to kill her. Hu was not even certain it would have worked until it did.
The amount of chi one could get off the land was directly proportional to how much you could control. The better the control, the more area you could use. And the amount in the land had always been uniform. There were no hot spots she had ever discovered. Yet. She forced her mind to go over in minute detail every moment of the attack, as much as it pained her. Her mind searched for the time she summoned the land itself to lend its latent energy…
And that was when she remembered it. A chill ran down her spine as she realized what had happened. There was a source.
“<And that source is displeased that you interfered with it.>” The Seer spoke, as though reading Hu’s mind. “<It will come seeking you. But I believe you will be dead by then. Fortunately. You used too much chi, Hu. The amount you manipulated would have consumed you anyway, even if you hadn’t tapped into the source. It will just happen more quickly. That attack will always kill a mortal that tries to use it, even a ‘magnificent killer’ such as yourself. So rest easy Hu, for tonight you die.>” The Seer left the same way she came in.
Hu’s mind reeled. It was the end. That was certain, and she had much to do. A plan formed itself immediately. She emerged from the tent and spoke to a guard. “<Summon everyone to the center of the encampment. Quickly!>”
It took only a matter of moments to gather everyone up into the center. No one wanted to risk angering the matriarch after what she displayed this night. Hu stood atop several boxes and spoke to the almost two hundred of warriors present. She paused to take the scene up. It would be the last time she would see them, the people she led for so long. After the Nanniichuan fiasco, she had actively recruited women to take the place of those missing; all but twelve of the original woman had remained cursed and ended up exiled. So few that were recruited actually managed to fill the roles that were lost. It would take at least another generation to recover from the damned curse of the spring.
She had led them on so many campaigns. It really was a miracle that any were here at all. Each challenge she had met as matriarch could have doomed the tribe. And their foes became more and more powerful each time. Yet she had prevailed, fighting for every one of her warriors. Every time one fell, a small piece of her died with them. She was so happy when fewer and fewer of them died. True, she would burden herself more and more with each new foe; with each new battle, she would be the one doing most of the killing. But it was worth it if it kept even one more of her warriors alive. She may have despised warfare, but she cared for those that she was responsible for. In a way, they were her family. If only it had been her own instead of one foisted upon her. Now she would be dying, and the “family” would have to take care of itself. She prayed they could.
She brought herself back to the present and told the Amazons what she wanted. “<Listen to me, my sisters. You will never speak a word of what happened tonight.>” That caused a commotion, which Hu quickly cut off. “<If anyone asks you, a Mongol horde swept in from the north and ravaged the army. We attacked as well, but the majority of the day was carried by those foreigners.>” She cut of further sounds again. “<DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR? SWEAR IT TO ME, OR ELSE!!!>” Every warrior, right down to the elders that were present, assented. “<Very well. Elder Yang. Come to my tent. And bring your bag with you. I have need of your magic. The rest of you, depart. There is nothing for us here, so we set off at dawn.>” and with that she jumped off the box and returned to her tent followed by her bodyguards. They had to keep quiet about the attack. If any powerful person learned it was a chi attack they would come to the village to seek it. And without Hu there they would never be able to find it.
She looked over her guards as she departed, searching for one in particular. Her eyes settled upon Rianna del Silva, the daughter of a woman from a far off land called Italy. The Amazons had rescued the mother from a caravan that had been attacked by raiders. Apparently some traders from those lands had believed there was great treasure to the East and set a course for China. Things had gone perfectly until the raiders attacked, leaving Rianna’s mother the only one alive. The woman was pregnant with Rianna at the time and the tribe adopted both as full-fledged members of the Joketsuzoku. The mother was intelligent and enjoyed living in the tribe, helping anyway she could, though a warrior she was not. Rianna grew up knowing only the tribe as her own. Despite her obviously foreign appearance she was never treated differently from any other of the members. In many ways, she felt like a daughter to everyone, and Hu had overheard Rianna mentioning how she might set off to see her mother’s homeland. A very good idea. Rianna was bright enough that she just might make it.
Hu told the woman to enter the tent so they could speak in private. “<Rianna. Gather together a dozen of the most sensible good warriors you know. Every one of them must be honest. I want people that would sooner die than break their word. I want people that can think on their feet and feel like traveling for a long time. Make sure they aren’t married. Do you understand what sort of people I’m looking for?>” Rianna nodded, a smile growing on her face. She thought she knew exactly what the Matriarch meant, and excitedly rushed off. Just as she exited, Elder Yang appeared, her satchel of magical items in hand.
“<I require the scrying crystal. Leave it with me and depart. I will return it when I am finished.>” Yang set down the crystal and departed. As soon as she was out the door another attack paralyzed Hu for close to five minutes. The attacks were getting worse and there wasn’t much time left. She quickly sat down, pulled out several magical scrolls and a quill, and then placed the crystal before her eyes. The magic of the crystal would distort the writing so only a wielder of the crystal could decipher the text written under it. To others it would be meaningless gibberish. After it was used, the only way anyone could read it would be with the crystal.
Hu paused for a moment. Should she do this? There was so much risk to the world if the knowledge fell into the wrong hands. And what if the wrong hands belonged to the Joketsuzoku? She couldn’t refuse to do it. The knowledge should not be lost for all time. This would be her legacy to the world. She was the grandmaster of chi manipulation. No one had ever thought to use it the way she did, or if they did use it in the fashion she did, she could teach them how to refine the technique and use it better.
She had already taught the elders how to slow down their aging to the point where they could live hundreds of years. And the better the control they had, the longer they could live, although none of them had learned how to keep from shrinking as they got older. Hu had tried to educate them, but they never seemed to quite be able to grasp what she tried to teach them. She was a living example of what could be done. In eighty years she appeared to have aged five, at the most, and the majority of that was done early on. Now she had almost perfected it. By her approximation, she would have been able to live for eight hundred years. And that was not taking into consideration the fact that she got better with each year. There was no telling how long she would have been able to live, until today.
There were other techniques she had taught, but the majority of the most dangerous ones she had kept from the others, waiting until she had found the right people to teach. Now she had run out of time. She spent the better part of two hours writing, suffering through three more attacks. At last she finished the final scroll and bound them together. She then took some of the melted wax and used it to seal them together. She then placed her signet ring into the wax and spoke the words of power.
“<Let no one, save a true daughter of the Joketsuzoku or one of her direct descendants, be able to break the seal on these parchments. I bind this with a drop of my blood, to make the contract true.>” And with that, she cut her finger with a knife and let a drop of blood land on the ring, then observed it end up absorbed by the wax. The magic worked.
She placed the scrolls into an ornate case and ushered the Amazons that had been picked by Rianna inside. She looked them over. All of them, save one, were young. And all of them had demonstrated intelligence in the field. They would serve nicely.
“<Warriors. I have need of you to set out on a mission one last time for the tribe. One which will take you forever from your home.>” Everyone riveted their attention to Hu. “<This box contains within it information that must be stored away for safe keeping. It involves what happened tonight. So, you understand what information is within this box, and what a danger it could represent to the world?>” The warriors all nodded soberly. Good choices indeed. “<This knowledge must be far from our lands, lest someone try to strip these secrets from us. That is why I want you to take this information and carry it as far away from here as you can. You will travel to Rianna’s mother’s land, and from there, find a place far from prying eyes. Now do you understand why I tell you this is the last mission you will do for us?>” All of them nodded.
“<Good. You must destroy this box rather than allow it to fall into the wrong hands. Do you understand?>” The warriors nodded. “<You may not ever, under any circumstances, open this box. It must only be done from a member of the tribe that is from here. Swear to me neither you nor your descendents will try to open this box.>” The collected warriors swore an oath. “<Then take the box, what supplies you need, and set out tonight. And from this point onward, Rianna is in charge.>” Rianna bowed her head in gratitude at being given such an important task. “<Leave me.>” The Amazons departed as Hu sat back in her chair. She felt the next attack building, knowing it would be the last one.
In the heavens: At the same time.
“Father, isn’t there something we can do?” The beautiful white-haired kami asked.
“THAT CANNOT BE. YOU KNOW THE RULES. SHE HAS DONE TOO MUCH,” a voice from above replied.
“But she didn’t want to do it. If she hadn’t, her people would have been wiped out,” the kami said.
“SHE ALWAYS HAD A CHOICE.”
“She was just a victim of Fate,” the kami answered softly.
“WHY ARE YOU SO CONCERNED URD? COULD IT BE SHE REMINDS YOU OF SOMEONE?”
Urd remained silent as she gazed back upon the pool that was being used to watch the events at the scene below.
After a pause the voice spoke again. “VERY WELL. SHE WILL BE GRANTED A WISH, BUT NOT BY YOU.”
Urd began to smile. “Thank you, Father. Who will be chosen?”
“HER.” the scene within the pool shifted to reflect The Seer as she made her way down the mountain.
“You can’t be serious! She’ll never grant Hu a wish!”
“I HAVE SAID ALL THAT WILL BE DONE ON THE MATTER.”
“Father…” Urd began.
That was it. Urd knew when he spoke to her in that tone it was over. She stared helplessly at the pool, and with a sigh, entered the clear waters.
The Seer was journeying to the next destination when the kami slowly broke the surface of a nearby pool. She observed Urd fully leave the water and walk over to her.
“Well, Urd. This is a surprise. How many centuries has it been?” The Seer asked, the faintest hint of emotion leaking through her voice.
“I’ve come to ask you a favor.”
The Seer was startled by that, but quickly regained her composure. “A favor? From me? The kami must be desperate indeed.”
“It’s not like that,” Urd said. “It’s about Hu.”
“You’ve come to the wrong person then,” The Seer shook her head, “I’m just a messenger. Now if you’ll excuse me. I have somewhere I must get to and I’m not given much time to get between destinations.” She turned to go.
“You can grant Hu a wish.” Urd saw The Seer stop as though struck by a shot, then spun to confront Urd.
“Me? Grant a wish? HAHAHAHA! That’s the first laugh I’ve had in ages, Urd. Thank you.”
Urd wished she could look into the eyes of The Seer to see what she really thought, but that was denied even her. “It’s not a joke. It’s for real.”
“Then that makes it even more amusing.” She gave a derisive snort. “The idea that I would grant someone else a wish, that is irony at its highest form.”
Urd knew this would happen. “Have you forgotten what it means to be mortal, Shier…”
“DON’T CALL ME THAT! NEVER CALL ME BY THAT NAME!!!” Urd was shocked by the rage in the girl. “That person died the instant The Seer was born! If you just tried to appeal to my humanity, you failed miserably.” She paused for a moment, and then continued. “Not that I have any left, anyway. Don’t think I’m like you, Urd. I’m not. I am a mortal bound in immortal flesh, and we both know why!”
Urd dropped to her knees as tears began falling down her cheeks. She was failing Hu, and the memory of her time with The Seer pained her just as much. She wanted to say something, but nothing came to mind other than a plea. “Please.”
Urd was shocked to feel a finger gently play itself against her face. “The tears of a kami.” Urd looked up to see The Seer had one of the drops on her fingertips, examining it. The robed girl continued speaking softly. “Who would have thought I still had it in me?” She allowed the tear to fall to the ground.
The Seer turned to look back at the Amazon encampment, then pivoted to look at Urd. “Never ask me any favor again. Do you understand?”
Urd managed to shake out of her disbelief long enough to answer. “Yes.”
The Seer’s lips pursed ever so briefly. “Good.” She then turned back to the encampment. “I grant Hu Chiang the wish that, in the next life, she need never raise her hand in violence, nor have such a hand raised against her.” The Seer turned back to Urd. “I’m giving her the option of free choice. She has the ability to behave in a violent manner or get in the way of violence, but she will never be the target without provocation. And as far as a family is concerned, she’s on her own. Also,” she warned, “she can wait a millennium or two for it. Let her simmer for a while.”
A bright beam of light encircled The Seer as the wish was sent to the heavens for approval, and granted. Once the light disappeared, The Seer set off on her original path. Urd broke out of her happiness long enough to stare at The Seer’s departing form. “Thank you, Seer.” Sadness began taking the forefront as Urd realized how painful granting the wish must have been for the girl. “And I’m sorry for what happened so many years ago.”
The Seer turned her head towards Urd, the sound of irritation in her voice. “Oh, stop it with the self pity. It doesn’t suit you at all. You had nothing to do with what occurred. We were both victims of Fate.” She turned back in the direction she had been heading towards and began running. “I have to get going now. There was enough time wasted here, and I cannot be late.” The Seer hadn’t gone too far when she felt a pair of hands reach under her arms and lift her off the ground.
“Ever fly like a bird, Seer?” Urd said as she took off, bearing the girl in flight. “It’s the only way to travel.”
“Good.” The Seer hurmphed. “You cost me enough time as it is.”
The duo flew onward into morning.
That night every Amazon in the encampment that had managed sleep had a horrible nightmare of a cloud of darkness with red orbs, like eyes, descending upon them, searching for something. The last thing they felt before the cloud left was the sound of frustration, as though it had failed in its search.
Five months later: Peking.
Hwa Lau, chief advisor to the emperor, had had another busy day. Why the emperor insisted upon joining the army in its conquest of the western territories was beyond him. No, that wasn’t true. He bore some personal grudge against one of the villages out there, and wanted to witness it first hand. If only some word would come from the army. The last sets of messengers were a week overdue, and that worried Hwa. Long distance communication was so chancy, anything might have happened to the messengers. There was too much lawlessness between here and there. Unifying the empire was certainly what needed to be done. A small disruption in one of the entryways caught Hwa’s attention.
He approached the corridor and noticed several guards talking adamantly amongst themselves. There was a slender white haired man among them. The man set his eyes upon Hwa and rushed forward.
“<HWA! My friend. Praise to the Gods you are here. Some of my men don’t recognize me.>”
Hwa was outraged. How dare this wild-eyed man presume to be familiar with him and call him his friend? If he had a friend like the skinny man, then he would certainly remember him, and what was he saying about the guards being his men? They were the emperor’s…
And that’s when Hwa got a good look at the white haired man’s face. When he left, his hair had been black, and he had weighed a good twenty pounds heavier, and exuded a calm, controlled confidence. He had changed so much in such a short amount of time it was no wonder some of the emperor’s guards didn’t recognize their leader.
“<My god! What happened to you?>” Hwa was so surprised he forgot the proper way to address the emperor.
If the emperor noticed, he gave no indication of it. He clutched his advisor with the grip of a madman and spoke. “<I saw it, Hwa! I saw the demonfires the witches of the Joketsuzoku wield. They made a pact with the devil himself. They consumed my army with a blue fire of death. It only took a moment, and it destroyed my entire army. I saw their flesh burn away from my vantage point. It was horrible.>”
Hwa wasn’t quite sure what to make of the emperor’s ramblings. Nothing could destroy thirty thousand men in an instant. The emperor continued his rant.
“<And I felt their demon come at me in my dreams. It sought out my soul, I’m sure. But it didn’t find me. It was like a black cloud with burning red eyes that tried to consume me. It was pure malevolence and hatred.>” The emperor regained some of his composure. “<The Joketsuzoku must never be bothered again. There must be no dealings with them. No attempts at conquering. Nothing. They must be left alone, lest their powers destroy all of China. This is my command. Get the law writers now!>”
Hwa walked off, confused beyond measure. The emperor had returned alone. If what he said was true, as impossible as it seemed, perhaps the Amazons should be left alone. They really were very small and out of the way, and they never caused any problems that affected the empire. So maybe it would be best to leave such a law on the books, but quietly. Just so long as it didn’t become widespread common knowledge. No point in giving the world cause to believe the mighty T’ang Dynasty was afraid of one little village in the middle of nowhere. Hwa could word the law so some reason other than fear was why the Amazons should be left alone.
Nineteen Years Ago: Nerima, Japan.
The man walked down the hallway to see his beautiful child. The delivery had taken a while and his wife was resting, still under the effect of a sedative. He couldn’t wait to lay his eyes upon the darling daughter he had been blessed with. It was hard to say whether or not this or his wedding day was the more joyous occasion.
As he arrived at the viewing room, he saw a beautiful white haired woman with an odd style of clothing making faces against the observation glass. The clothing she wore was very revealing in certain spots, making him wonder if maybe it was somewhat inappropriate wear for visiting a hospital. The woman turned and looked at the man.
“Hi, there. Come to look at the babies?” Urd asked.
“Yes, I have.”
Urd ushered him over and pointed out a particular child to him. “All the babies are beautiful, but that one over there is the cutest.” She indicated a little girl in one of the beds.
The man’s joy tripled. “I couldn’t agree more. You see, that little girl is mine!” he beamed a smile at Urd, who suddenly had a look of concern on her face.
Urd began circling around the man, looking at him at every angle as though judging a thoroughbred racehorse. She even went so far as to pry open his mouth and examine his teeth. After releasing him she smiled. “You’ll do nicely. Congratulations!” She started slapping him on the back, hard.
He gasped as the wind got knocked out of him. “Thanks,” he managed to get out. “I think.”
“Well, I have to be going. Just wanted to check on a promise an old friend made. Good luck.” And with that, she turned and left.
“What an unusual girl,” he mumbled, then turned back and pressed his face against the glass. The woman was right. None of the children were as beautiful as little Kasumi.
The Present: Nerima, Japan.
Nabiki’s door burst open. She sat up bolt upright as the sound awakened her. She managed to make out Kasumi form through sleepy eyes as her elder sister rushed in and grasped her.
“Oh, Nabiki. I just had a terrible nightmare. I dreamt that I didn’t have a family and…” she paused, voice dropping to a whisper. “And I did some terrible things.”
Nabiki was more than a little startled by this. Never in her life could she remember her sister coming to her in an emotional uproar. It had always been the other way around. Even her father sometimes, well frequently, needed calming down by her sister. And here was Kasumi, hugging her in a near backbreaking embrace. Nabiki allowed a smile to come across her lips. Time to start repaying her old debts.
“It’ll be all right, Sis. It was only a dream.” Nabiki returned her sister’s embrace, much more lightly though.
“But it seemed so real. It was more detailed than any dream I’ve ever had.” Kasumi continued to shudder for a few moments until the dream started to drift away, buried by the present. Eventually, she calmed down enough to let go of Nabiki.
“Sorry I behaved that way. You must think I’m being silly. It’s just the dream made me realize how precious you all are to me.” Kasumi gave a caring look to Nabiki, which was returned by her sister.
“I love you, too. I know I don’t show it much, but you’re important to me as well.” Nabiki thought for a moment. “Want to sleep in here?”
Kasumi shook her head. “Oh, my! No. We’re much too old for that sort of thing.”
Nabiki waved off the protest. “We’re family. Besides, I remember right after Mom died I seemed to end up in your bed a lot. It always made me feel better. So now it’s my turn to comfort you. Just don’t tell anyone, okay? Wouldn’t want my reputation for ruthlessness to be tarnished, would we?”
Kasumi agreed and settled in next to Nabiki. It was odd, but comforting, just as Nabiki had said. Kasumi relaxed a little and drifted off to sleep, the piece of the ring bearing the crest of the Chiang clan still in hand.
The Present: Another dimension.
The Grand Hall was overflowing with three thousand spectators and guards. Rarely in the history of the Empire of the Five Comets had there been a spectacle such as this. The people needed it, especially considering how badly the war was going. The Baron Darzine and Lord Alderan were at the forefront of the giant opening, which would be where the access portal would open a rift in the Great Divide. She was coming, at least if the prophecy still held true, and many would be seeing her for the first time.
Darzine examined the open path that the Imperial Guards had left for the travel of the guest. A thousand members of the elite corps were hand picked to be guards today, leaving no chance anyone would get in the way. Once she arrived, the guest would be taken from here directly to the stone chambers of the Prophecy Room where she would reassure them the prophecy was still intact. It had to be intact. All the hopes of the Empire of the Five Comets rested almost solely on it. Without it, the Empire was dead.
A swirling luminescent glow highlighting a thousand galaxies came into focus in the middle of the empty space where the Great Divide opened up. Even as the swirling vortex grew to the size of a hundred feet before stabilizing, it was still quite a sight to behold. One never grew tired of looking into infinity. Darzine’s eyes fell upon the azure robed girl, face shrouded in shadow, as she emerged from the swirling vortex, unaffected by the travel. Even after all the years she remained unchanged, still appearing as a thirteen-year-old girl.
There was a collective gasp as The Seer came fully into the Grand Hall. Darzine and Alderan bowed before her in respect. She acknowledged their presence and indicated they should rise. Both did so.
The trio began their journey to the chambers when Alderan spoke up. Darzine tried to explain to the man why it would be better for them to wait until they arrived at chambers, but the lord could not delay.
“The prophecy, Seer?” He asked.
“The prophecy is in jeopardy. An unlikely event has occurred, and the Shogun has not only survived, but begun to move. It is now unlikely that the Protector will come into existence, which means the savior is doomed.”
“Isn’t there something we can do?” Alderan pleaded.
“Pray that when the opportunity for change happens, another unlikely event occurs. But don’t hold your breath.” And with that The Seer went to the Prophecy Rooms. No more predictions for a little while, at least until the opportunity for change passed.
To be continued.
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