[Warning: The second half of this chapter deals with the Eight Devils of Kimone and is dark. This should be the only chapter like this.]
[Second warning: This chapter deals exclusively with Perfume, her hunt pack, and the aforementioned Eight Devils of Kimone. The Nerima regulars return next chapter, so don’t become concerned with that.]
The Jusenkyou Guide had seen many strange things in his lifetime. Living near Jusenkyou did that to a person. So when the red spaceship approached the land of a thousand springs, he watched it descend with typical calm, waiting for someone to make the inevitable appearance from the red craft. His wait was brief as a blond girl appeared from out of thin air and landed with a dull thud next to him.
“<OWW! That hurt!>” She exclaimed as she got off her rear end and massaged it. Once she realized she was doing all of this under the guide’s watchful eye she gave a yelp and bowed.
“<Sorry about that. Sometimes my cube gives me trouble.>”
“<Don’t worry about it,>” the guide responded.
“<Do you remember me?>”
The guide nodded. “<You’re the girl that pushed her partner into the Spring of Drowned Gorilla and startled that little girl you were with into the Spring of Drowned Goldfish.>”
“<That’s me. Galaxy Police Detective First Class Mihoshi.>” She smiled embarrassedly. “<There’s a little problem with what happened the last time we were here.>”
No kidding. The guide indicated she should continue.
“<Well. It turns out Tsunami can’t give Sasami a new body because the one she has now is unstable because of the curse. And Washu can’t cure either one of them for a real long time. She says it has something to do with the magic that’s involved in the transformations and that it would take her at least three months to figure out how to do it.>”
“<That’s not a long wait,>” the guide said. They figured out a cure not involving the Springs? There would be a lot of happy people in the world if they could market the cure. “<Most people have them for life.>”
“<Well y’see, it wouldn’t be so bad except Sasami’s parents are coming in three days and they may not be too happy about her getting cursed, and since they are the leaders of the Jurai empire I don’t want to be given a public execution. They haven’t had one for centuries, but Ayeka said she was going to strongly recommend it and Kiyone volunteered to help. I don’t know why since I think Sasami looks cute as a goldfish. So anyway I want to cure Sasami before they get here. Could you direct me to the magical girl water?>”
The guide comprehended little of the rant. His response was simply to shrug and point out the appropriate pool to her. Mihoshi got the water, didn’t fall in or splash herself, then used her cube to get back to the ship. Within minutes the ship took off and was quickly out of sight.
The guide scratched his head. “<How strange. Most people wouldn’t want their daughter splashed with water from the Spring of Drowned Magical Girl. I wonder if she meant she wanted water from the Spring of Drowned Young Girl?>” He supposed it didn’t matter. Just so long as she didn’t bring Sasami back. Those annoying magical girls really caused problems. It only took one meeting with such a curse victim to make him seriously consider destroying the pool himself. Such a thing was too annoying to allow it to exist.
His reverie was interrupted as Plum ran out of their hut, bawling her eyes out. Quickly he picked his daughter up and cradled her in his arms. “<What’s wrong?>”
“<I had another bad dream, Daddy,>” Plum managed to get out. “<I dreamt something black with red eyes was trying to get me. He doesn’t like me and he says he’s going to kill me.>”
The guide gazed sympathetically at his daughter. The dreams were now almost an every other day occurrence, and it all started shortly after the bizarre death of that man several months ago. “<How about you go to your aunt’s for a while? Maybe you’ll feel better if you get away from here.>”
To his surprise Plum quickly agreed. His daughter always seemed anxious whenever they visited her aunt. The woman was unmarried, and though she unquestionably loved her niece, she had a tendency dress the young girl like a doll whenever she got the chance, much to Plum’s chagrin. The nightmares must have been really bothering her if she gave in so quickly.
There was something different in the air around Jusenkyou, and it felt ominous. The guide feared that if this was the calm, he didn’t want to be around for the storm that followed.
Shampoo ½ Chapter 30: Death on The Mountain
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s gone on before (the VERY condensed version. For the full story, check out the previous chapters) In the beginning Shampoo fell in The Spring of Drowned Young Boy at the same time that Ranma fell in the Spring of Drowned Young Girl. The two have traveled together since and had many adventures. Last chapter almost everyone went on a dates and had varying degrees of a good time, save Tarou and Akane, and that was mainly because Tarou was mistaken for Rodan and fired upon. Now The Shogun of the Dark is ready to move and he has ordered the Eight Devils of Kimone to raze Mount Phoenix. Also Perfume has been given command of a hunt pack to return Shampoo to China, forcibly if necessary. Of course Perfume doesn’t realize the true depths of exactly what she has been given command…
It was a trap.
Be Dea had lied to Perfume. She claimed she admired Perfume. She claimed the hunt team had been assembled to assist Perfume in bringing back Shampoo. She claimed the other girls would help make her job easier.
“<You can’t cook worth a shit!>”
“<Your sleeping bag is too close to mine!>”
“<Watch it! You nearly stepped on me!>”
She lied through her ancient teeth.
“<You smell terrible! Would you please use soap when you bathe!>”
Be Dea despised Perfume. She must have hated every molecule in Perfume’s body to do this terrible thing to her. Ripping out her lungs would have been preferable to suffering through this pain. She could not imagine how any torture could compare to the hell she was already in.
“<That’s my knife! Give it back!>”
On a deeper level, Perfume understood why Be Dea had done what she did. Traveling with this lot was going to be the truest measure of Perfume’s leadership abilities.
“<OWW!!! My foot!>”
Perfume should have broken her own leg and saved herself from all of the grief.
The group had to be the worst combination of the young warriors possible. There was no way it was a coincidence that this eclectic group had been chosen. On the surface it appeared that it was a random assemblage of some of the brightest and best of the young up-and-comers. It was not all of the finest, but they were all very good. There was only one problem. Every one of them had some kind of personality flaw.
Perfume took Rei Za and Shi Fan as an example. Individually they were excellent fighters, easily in the top twenty for their age group. But their real strength was in their paired combat abilities. They were currently ranked number three and desperately wanted to beat out RanRan and LinLin as the best paired fighters. There was only one problem with that.
“<CHINESE DANCE OF THE FIRE DRAGON!!!>”
Perfume watched the scene unfold before her. The duo was trying to employ a special paired attack that was one of the most dangerous ever created in the Amazon’s history. There was one problem, however.
“<Hey! Why aren’t all of you dancing?>”
“<Because our ears are too busy bleeding!>”
“<Turn that wretched music off!>”
“<Never mind! We’ll take care of it for you!>”
Perfume observed the ruins of the paper dragon and boom box the group had left discarded on the ground. Everyone had been overly zealous in the destruction of the miserably failed attack. In truth that was fortunate; it saved Perfume the hassle of doing it herself. She reevaluated the fighting combo in her mind. Make them attack someone using their individual skills as a two woman team and they worked perfectly, effectively two-on-oneing someone. It was when they attempted to blend those skills as a special two-woman attack that things went awry. None of their combined attacks worked. No matter how hard they tried, it would always backfire.
“<Why didn’t you do something to make them stop? That racket was earshattering!>”
Wonderful. That one would be coming over to her. Perfume looked away from the approaching girl and over to Julep, who was leaning against a tree away from the other girls as she was inclined to do. Times like now Perfume wished she could do the same, but as leader she had to make herself available to everyone. An unspoken communication passed between them as their eyes met. Julep rolled hers in anguish over the girl that had approached spoke to Perfume.
“<You have to do something!>” Tablet complained in the high pitched, nasally, whiny voice that everyone universally despised. She was the official village whiner, capable of driving even an elder crazy in under an hour. It was a miracle her parents didn’t cut out her tongue for the peace and quiet it would bring. True, she was an impressive warrior, but the whining was enough to make anyone desire to strangle Tablet to death. Once she started griping she just wouldn’t shut up, save for one tactic, which was Tablet’s other weakness.
“<I will do as you suggest,>” Perfume began. “<First I will…>” She trailed off as she suddenly gave a confused look towards Tablet.
“<What is it?>” Tablet asked.
“<You look a little pale. I bet it’s nothing, though. Forget I mentioned it.>”
Tablet began to shudder. “<I’m sick! Oh, no! I knew traveling in the wilderness like this was just an invitation for every virus and germ that lived to make a beeline for me. I have to get my medication…>” The rest trailed off as Tablet went back to her knapsack and began sorting through the one hundred pounds of medication in it.
Perfume rolled her eyes. Tablet was a hypochondriac of the highest degree. Rumor had it she once lost a tournament when her opponent claimed Tablet had red blotches that were almost certainly poison ivy. She had been distracted enough to lose in quick order that day, and though she had improved her concentration since that time and wouldn’t be fooled by that trick in a fight, she would still panic at the drop of a hat if it wasn’t a life and death situation.
She was far from the last warrior that represented a problem. There were also Foam and Soap to consider. Cousins that had grown up together as all but sisters and had, at the ripe old age of sixteen, been considered the best paired fighters that anyone, including the elders, had seen. They had been so magnificent that when Cologne had offered to spar with them, they actually managed to put the matriarch on the defensive for a little over a full minute before the two fell in defeat. The duo were well on their way to becoming a force to be reckoned with. They were powerful. They were mighty. They were incredible.
“<I am not a weakling! Take that back, klutz!>”
“<I am not a klutz!>”
Too bad they hated each other’s guts. It all started four years ago over the most pointless thing in the world. A man. Soap liked him first and told Foam. Foam asked him out first. Soap did not like that. The two of them fought over the man for weeks, each forcing him to go out with the other numerous times. Each time a couple went out the girl that was not on the date would attack the other. The young man received enough injuries in the resulting crossfire that it brought the attention of the Elder council upon them. The council mandated that neither one could go out with him due to safety concerns. All that did was transfer the fight to another man and a repeat of the exact same thing occurred. Then it happened again. By that time no male was willing to go out with either one of them. So every time one of the girls wanted to go out with a man not only did they challenge each other for the target’s attention, but they had to challenge him to a fight just to go out with him.
It really was sad.
“<Stop fighting, you two!>”
Perfume caught sight of the blond haired girl rushing towards the duo, red sashes trailing behind her yellow and red Chinese style clothing. Sash was aptly named. The sashes she wore were weighted with metal, and she had learned how to wield her chi effectively, traveling it down the material when needed. Sash was a force to watch out for. Especially when she ran around…
…because she was as clumsy as a pregnant water buffalo. In a fight, when she was concentrating, she was fine. It was in everyday normal activities, like walking, that she was a menace to herself and others around her.
“<OOOOWWWW! That’s not funny! I fell in that fire! Thank goodness I wasn’t burned. Who tripped me?!>”
“<The blond with the sashes.>”
“<You tripped over your own feet, Sash.>”
“<That’s just plain silly. I’m much too coordinated for that. What’s that smell?>”
“<Don’t be stupid! I don’t smoke.>”
“<I don’t mean you smoke. I’m telling you you’re smoking!>”
“<And I’m telling you I don’t smoke. Now what is that smell?>”
“<She’s trying to tell you that, when you fell down part of your outfit caught on fire. Or in other words; look at your behind.>”
Perfume sighed. Enough was enough. She gave a nod of her head to Cabinet, who picked up Sash and threw her into a nearby stream, putting her out. As Sash sniffled in the stream Perfume felt a pang of sorrow. Sash was one of the few people that got along with just about everyone, unlike just about every other person in the unit. Most of the girls were normal to semi-normal, but the one common theme among almost all of them was a dislike of Shampoo. It went from a general antipathy because they were never able to defeat the number one fighter of the young warriors, to outright hatred that almost guaranteed, under these circumstances, an attempt to kill Shampoo if she resisted or even looked cross-eyed at them.
Not that Shampoo was the only one that was disliked. Over half of the girls also cared little for the return of a new and improved Perfume, that managed to defeat many of them within the first month of her homecoming. That made giving the orders easy and having them obeyed difficult.
And then there was the resentment towards her second-in-command. Cabinet had been sincere in her commitment to turn over a new leaf, and some of the girls accepted the apologies the onetime thug had given them. Others were not so willing to turn the other cheek. By Cabinet’s own admission she had done some pretty harsh things to many of the girls when she was younger, so she understood the continuing bitterness and accepted it. Such mettle was rare to come by. Perfume had chosen well, regardless of what additional anger was directed towards her in her choice of her number one.
Surprisingly the only other girl that had proven a stalwart comrade was the normally aloof Julep. None of the others cared much for the wolfgirl, and that sentiment was returned with indifference from Julep, but Perfume felt different. Though they were beyond extraordinary, it wasn’t her abilities that caused the partly feral girl to stand out in Perfume’s mind. It was something about Julep herself that went much deeper. Something called out to Perfume, and she responded to it. The two had bonded with a speed that was only surpassed by Perfume’s near instant connection with Shampoo. Julep rarely showed it on the outside — the girl had a face made of stone — but Perfume could read even Julep’s body language, and the story it told was one of trust. That trust was shared by Perfume, and she had a feeling that when the chips were down, Julep would be the one she could turn to.
There was also the animosity many of the girls felt towards one another. Longtime clan feuds were evidenced in the group. Personal vendettas even moreso. Shouting and shoving matched were almost constant. There was only one real benefit from the bile that was spewed amongst the hunt pack and that was the fact it was going to take them forever to get anywhere.
“<Draw your sword and prepare to be impaled!>”
“<I’ll make you eat spear to still that wagging tongue of yours!>”
It was also going to take a miracle to get the group to Japan alive.
Perfume gave a hand signal to Cabinet. Her second-in-command moved to the arguing duo, picked up both by the scruffs of their necks with the awesome strength at her disposal, and thumped their heads together. Angry people raised a lot less fuss when they were unconscious.
Orders were given to pack up the camp and head out. The longer they remained in one place the more likely it was that blood was going to be spilled. Grumbling was heard as the girls loudly packed up their belongings and there was a commotion over what belonged to whom. They took so long that Perfume was about ready to skewer a couple of them just to prod the rest of the group onward, not that she was certain that all it might do was serve to make them move slower as an act of defiance.
Julep raced on ahead and scouted the trail for ambushes. If the hunt pack’s personality wasn’t bad enough on its own, the whole trip was turning into a voyage to hell. Already they had been jumped by three different groups of bandits. They took some alive and the bandits revealed to Perfume that the groups believed they were transporting some kind of treasure, making them a target with a huge painted bull’s-eye on its back. Two bridges along their route were out, one appearing as though it had been blown up, and the Chinese authorities detained them for the better part of a day as they searched for drugs. Perfume managed to get the captain to admit they had received an anonymous tip that their group was transporting some kind of illegal contraband. The fact Tablet had close to a hundred pounds of legal drugs did not help things along since it took the officers over three hours to identify some of the more exotic medications she had.
There was no such thing as coincidence. It was God screwing her over, as She made Perfume a punchline in a joke only She understood. Or at least that was what the pink-haired Amazon had thought up until the point she had heard about the tip. Now she was beginning to believe it was some other force at work here. All it would take was one more piece of evidence to confirm her suspicions.
As Perfume turned a bend in the road she spotted the confirmation. Julep was crouched next to the ruins of yet another bridge, one that went over a river too large to cross by swimming. Not with the supplies they carried. It was easily going to take over half a day to find another bridge to cross. Perfume signaled the others to wait while she went on ahead to talk with Julep in private. The wolf girl straightened up as Perfume approached. The look Julep possessed said something was up.
“<What have you found out?>” Perfume asked.
By way of explanation Julep bent down once again. Perfume needed no urging as she followed the tracker down. Julep fingered some of the debris where the bridge had at one point extended to this side of the river.
“<This didn’t happen by itself. Someone intentionally blew up the supports on this side of the bridge. Explosives weren’t used. My nose would detect the lingering scent of them.>”
Perfume looked quizzically at her. “<The Bakusai Tenketsu?>”
Julep nodded in confirmation. “<They tried covering it up, but you can tell from the way the wood is torn up at this end. We’re dealing with an Amazon.>”
Perfume shook her head, her mind already racing with possibilities. “<Don’t jump to conclusions. That could be bait to make us think that way.>”
“<Who else knows the Bakusai Tenketsu?>” Julep asked, somewhat perturbed at having her statement questioned.
Perfume gave a smile, not to smirk at the girl, but to put her at ease. “<You’d be surprised at how many Amazon ‘secrets’ are known outside our village. It’s not widespread, but there are outsiders that know some of our techniques, including the breaking point. This is what I would do if I desired to mislead us.>”
“<So it isn’t an Amazon?>”
Perfume shook her head again. “<I didn’t say that. The odds are good that it is. What I’m trying to do is tell you not to put too much faith based on an assumption that is based on little evidence.>”
Julep face twisted as she considered that. If Perfume was guessing correctly, the wolf girl was trying to decide if she liked the idea of being questioned and proven wrong. It was a situation Julep was not used to. Living alone meant all of one’s choices never questioned, even if they were horribly wrong.
Julep’s body relaxed. “<You’re right. I shouldn’t have been so confident in that discovery.>”
Perfume shrugged nonchalantly to put the girl at ease. “<I’ve made the same mistake before, so don’t let it get you down. Besides, my first impulse it to agree with you. It probably is an Amazon.>”
Julep smiled in response. “<You’re good. I like sincere people. I’ll look around and see if I can catch her scent.>”
As she finished her statement Julep took off, her brown and green outfit blending in the foliage so perfectly that the girl seemed to vanish after only a few seconds. Perfume admitted Julep was one for few words, but as long as they came out like that it mattered little. She returned to the group and grabbed several maps to locate the shortest route to the next crossing before giving the order to move out, much to the grumbling of the majority of the group.
The next couple of days passed without incident. Without any direct incidents anyway. There was the continual erosion of unity as sides began to be divided among the members of the pack. Perfume had to break up two more fights between the girls just to keep them all alive. Tempers were raw and starting to flare.
Perfume’s surface thoughts believed this was good. The less they got along with one another the more unlikely it was they would be successful in locating Shampoo. But as this behavior continued, doubts began to creep in, and Perfume could tell precisely where they began. One of the girls made a comment that Perfume’s leadership stunk. More comments were made about Be Dea being crazy leaving someone like Perfume in charge, that Perfume was incompetent, and other far worse things. Each insult was like a stab to her heart. She wasn’t a poor leader; she simply was not trying.
By the third day everyone was making derogatory comments about Perfume, Hairbrush even saying that she would make a much better leader then the ‘wandering bitch’. Perfume bore the insults with all of the resolve she could muster, but it got worse by the hour. It was her belief she could have taken the criticisms had it not been for a passing glance at Cabinet. Where confidence, and even admiration, had been before was now being replaced with doubt. Not having the trust of the others was one thing; losing the faith of one who already possessed it was something else.
The words hurt. All her life Perfume wanted respect. She wanted to prove all of those fools that treated her like dirt when she was growing up wrong. The woman that stood before them now bore little resemblance to small, uncoordinated girl that had grown up a virtual outcast within the village. She was now worthy of respect, but the words the girls spoke were laced with the same contemptuous tone she had heard for so many years. Her blood boiled in rage at that. These were the voices she wanted to leave behind. The ones she HAD left behind. But like some villainous monster from a horror movie, they had been resurrected and were letting their presence be known full force. It was all such nonsense. She could break the lot of them. Her mind had already figured out what actions to take to bind them into an effective fighting unit that would obey her commands without question. Many of them might end up not liking her, but they would calm down enough to behave.
Now that she was on the verge of achieving the most respected rank in the village, she was throwing it all away. And for what? Some misguided notion that she was protecting someone that she owed nothing to. Shampoo was a lawbreaker. She got the curse and ran. The coward was hiding, afraid to face the consequences of her actions. True, Perfume thought the law was extraordinarily stupid, but the stigma attached to the circumstances following that incident over a millennium ago still remained to this day.
Oh, yes. Shampoo was a coward. A coward who had the courage of a lion. Someone that was willing to possibly sacrifice her life for one who wanted to kill her, and all because of an incident in which Perfume was to blame for as much as Shampoo. Some coward. And some would be leader Perfume would turn out to be to drag the other girl back for the inevitable execution.
Perfume had given her word to lead the mission and bring Shampoo back. The others, for all their animosity, were relying on her, and it would look very bad if they failed. Could Perfume bring herself to obey the orders, and to do what was right for the others, or would she throw it all away for one person she had seen three times in the last three years? A person she possessed nothing but all consuming hatred for three years on end.
If she did capture Shampoo, would she be able to live with herself afterwards? And if she threw the mission and failed, would she be able to hold her head up with dignity again, knowing she had willingly discarded all she had trained for? Would she be able to live with the humiliation of her failure?
Perfume was trying to quell the war within her when another Amazon, Boudoir, settled it.
“<Scarface is clueless.>”
Whether or not it was intended to be overheard meant nothing. Perfume rushed forward and grabbed Boudoir by the shoulder and spun her around. The loudmouth did nothing other than gaze contemptuously at her leader. Perfume would see to it that did not last.
“<Ring us around in a circle of steel!>” Perfume commanded.
The Amazons stared at one another for a few moments until Perfume barked her command again, leaving no doubt in their minds that the order was meant to be obeyed. The Amazons backed a good distance away and drew their weapons, creating the ring of steel Perfume desired. Julep was the one exception as she jumped up into a tree so that she could look down and get a clear unrestricted view of what was to come.
Boudoir looked around in surprise. She had not expected a response from Perfume. Everyone had been insulting her for the last three days, and justifiably so. The pink-haired girl was a terrible leader and an all around failure as far as she was concerned. From the look that Boudoir was being given left little doubt that Perfume was quite serious about what she was doing now.
“<I can’t fight you,>” Boudoir said confidently. “<Be Dea said we were to follow you no matter what.>”
In answer Perfume spit in Boudoir’s face and slapped both cheeks before her opponent could react. Her hand slowly rose to her face, wiping away the spittle as Perfume spoke.
“<Your honor has been insulted in one of the worst ways imaginable. No matter what the elder said you would be remiss in not defending your honor and would be regarded as a coward for not answering this challenge. Even if she were to press the issue the rest of the council would overrule her. Now draw your weapon!>”
Boudoir did as she was ordered. No living being could do what Perfume dared do to her and survive. Her battle-ax was drawn as she brought it into an attack position in answer to Perfume’s own naginata.
With a cry of rage Boudoir swung her ax. Perfume stopped it in an effortless shift in which she seemed to dance away from her opponent. A second, third, and fourth swing brought nothing but effortless evasions as well. Seeing no counter attacks were imminent Boudoir attempted to drive Perfume into the walls of the ring of steel. Just when she thought she saw an opening in the pink-haired Amazon’s defense large enough to allow the move, it closed up and was revealed to be a set up. Boudoir was struck in the knee, stomach, and three times in the face. She lost her footing and fell backwards onto the ground. Shakily she regained her vertical base.
“<A lucky move, Scarface. Let’s see how you do now.>”
Perfume allowed Boudoir to reacquire her footing and watched as the bigger girl charged once again, only to suffer another strike from the blunt end of Perfume’s weapon. A kick followed that up, hopelessly disorienting Perfume’s opponent. Rather than finishing her off with a simple attack, Perfume instead focused on her fist. It had been an attack she had been taught but failed to master, at least until recently. Now she focused her concentration. She needed this to work, or else she would never have a wide enough array of attacks to win the leadership of the Joketsuzoku. All of her fears were for naught as she felt the glow come to the point of her hand.
“<FIST OF THE THUNDERSTRIKE!!!>” She yelled, as her blue ensconced fist connected with Boudoir’s unprotected jaw and sent her flying into Foam, the impact collapsing the unexpected backstop as well. As the blow struck a small object flew up to the air, sailing high enough to allow Julep to snag it before it began its downward descent. As Boudoir’s unconscious form hit the ground Julep watched it thud with an approving, wry grin. Casually she tossed the tooth that had been knocked out of Boudoir’s head back onto the girl’s faintly heaving chest. She didn’t want it anyway.
“<Pick her up!>” Perfume commanded two of the warriors. “<You’ll make a travois and drag her and her equipment along until she recovers.>”
She paused at this point to walk around the still circled girls and afford each a contemptuous stare. “<I’ve given you several days of freedom to see what you would do with it. It is now official: I am sick and tired of hearing you whine and complain every five seconds about this and that. You sound like a bunch of five-year-old males. This will change. From this point onward I will be giving the orders and you will obey without complaint or question. If you do not you will not have to worry about any of the elders. I will make your life with me such a hell there won’t be anything left for you to fear once you return. I’ll have already done it to you. Since I have every bit of faith in you and that you understand what I just said, I will waste neither my breath nor yours any longer. That is unless someone disagrees with what I just said and wishes to argue the point with me. If that is the case I will be more than happy to insult your honor and make an example out of you as well. Any volunteers? Now is the time to speak up.>”
There were no takers.
“<Good!>” Perfume allowed a smile this time to reassure the girls that they had done well. “<We set off now. We have a lot of time to make up and we start recovering it. NOW!!!>”
The rest of the day proved to be an endurance test for some. The group was forced to run almost the entire day, only taking breaks long enough to recover their energy and run some more. They made up some of that precious lost time Perfume wanted to gain back, although that was not the real reason Perfume drove them so hard. She wanted them air-sucking, chest heaving exhausted. Perfume herself had long ago learned to increase her endurance — some fights had to be won by simply outlasting an opponent — so she was barely tired when the group was at last allowed to rest for the evening. As she hoped, the pack of girls went immediately to preparing food and beds. For the first time since the journey began not a single argument broke out from the lot.
After dinner, and when most of the girls had passed out or gone to sleep, Perfume made herself comfortable and began working on her side project. She removed the tools and parts from her own backpack and began working on the item once again. It was fortunate the Chinese authorities had not recognized the parts for what they were when the men had searched her things. There might have been trouble over that.
Perfume was no engineer, but she was good enough to prepare a new ace in the hole for those unexpected times when her or another’s life might be on the line. There were those that would consider such a weapon dishonorable, but one frequently fought those without honor, and such an edge just might be needed. Aside from that Perfume began to have doubts about if it was honorless or not. A weapon was a weapon, whether it be chi, sword, or hand, and the mind was the greatest weapon of all. It was long past time for the Joketsuzoku to acknowledge that their ways needed modifications. To stay mired in the past meant being buried in the sands of time, just as all the other cultures throughout time. That was one of Perfume’s greatest fears, that she would lead the Amazons just in time to witness their erasure as a culture from the face of the earth. Steps needed to be taken, and soon. Perhaps those first steps could begin with this journey.
Perfume was so lost in thought that she failed to hear Cabinet approach. As fast as she moved to cover the materials with a nearby sheet Perfume was certain Cabinet saw more than she wanted.
“<What was that you were working on?>”
She had seen too much. “<Nothing.>”
“<It looked like a large bracer.>”
Far too much. “<A private matter.>” The tone left no doubt that the subject should be dropped. Fortunately Cabinet picked up on it. “<You have something to ask me?>”
Cabinet forgot all about the bracer as she returned to the reason of why she had come to her leader. “<I was going to ask you how we are going about in bringing in Shampoo should she resist. After all, I remember what she did to you and this would be an ideal time to get a measure of revenge. The Elder did say by whatever means necessary.>”
Perfume gave her a cold stare. “<I’ve learned to bury my past. We take her alive, no matter what.>”
“<That’s going to make things difficult.>”
“<No,>” Perfume said in a tone that brooked no tolerance for argument. “<I’ll make things difficult if my orders aren’t obeyed.>”
Cabinet took a step back when she saw the look in her comrade’s eyes. Shampoo was going to be taken alive.
Perfume moved on to other matters that concerned her. “<I’ll need your help in doing something tomorrow.>”
Cabinet felt relieved. Perfume was back to normal. “<All you need do is ask.>”
“<I’m asking. Allow me to explain what we are going to do and why…>”
After Perfume was finished explaining Cabinet did not know whether to laugh or look horrified, but it sounded like the plan just might work. If Perfume managed to pull it off the hunt pack’s chance at recovering Shampoo, should she prove intractable, would be tremendous. It would also serve to secure Perfume’s position as an effective leader in the eyes of the others. Such would suit Cabinet well. Perfume seemed to have a charisma that drew the large girl like a moth to the flame. Julep seemed almost as fascinated as well, as difficult as that was to be believed. The pink-haired girl had undergone a dramatic change since the days when she teamed up with Shampoo and beat the crud out of herself and her other strong-arm friends. Who knew? Maybe someday Perfume would be matriarch, and perhaps she would remember those that helped her on the way.
Soap awakened with a yawn. She had a dream about being picked up by that oh-so-cute guy she had set her eyes on just last week. She was going to force him into a date challenge before her slut cousin beat her to it. That would show her.
Soap brought her right arm up and tried to remove the nighttime sand that had formed in her eye when she felt some great weight on the arm, preventing her from moving it. What was almost as surprising as the restraint was the ouch that followed and a tug that threatened to pull Soap’s arm out of the socket. She stared over to see what the restraint was and who yelped. It was much to her disgust that she saw that it was a pair of arm shackles that connected her left arm to the right arm of the person laying right next to her: Foam.
“<What the hell do you think you’re doing?!>” Soap would have struck her fellow Amazon had the shackles and Foam not thrown her off balance.
Foam was just as angry at her companion. “<Don’t try to blame me, tramp, you’re the one that did this.>”
The struggles between the two continued until a voice shouted through their argument.
“<I did it!>”
Both girls turned to see half of the Amazons gathered around the shackled duo. Perfume was the one that had spoken up.
“<Why the hell am I locked up with HER?! I didn’t do anything wrong!>” Foam protested while Soap remained silent, trying to come to grips with what was going on.
“<You two are going to have to start acting as a team,>” Perfume explained. “<To that end you will be bound together hand and foot and learn to do everything as one. You will walk together, eat together, relieve yourselves together. Everything! I’m tired of hearing you bawl at one another and I might have need of your skills as paired fighters. So you will start functioning together once again.>”
Both girls protested, as Perfume expected. If they had not she would have suspected a trap. There was a speech she had planned out for the occasion.
“<You will be expected to keep up with the rest of the pack. Failure will not be tolerated so I have provided you with encouragement.>” She pointed to Cabinet. “<She will be trailing the party to make certain you keep up. She is going to hit you if you lag behind, and if you fall too far behind you will discover that I am a far worse person the either of you two could ever hope to be.>”
Cabinet cradled her very large two-handed warhammer fondly.
“<ARE YOU CRAZY!!!>” Soap erupted.
“<No. As much as you two hate each other, I believe this is the only thing that will get you to coexist. I won’t set an unrealistic pace, but if you fail to work together you will soon be very unhappy people. You have one hour to practice. I would suggest you start with walking. That will be the most important skill you’re going to have to master in the immediate future. Once you have that down you can move onto other things.>”
Foam and Soap stared at Perfume then looked at one another. Both realized she was dead serious. Biting their tongues the two spoke as civilly as they could and agreed to try to practice. As they left to start walking, inside each of their minds they knew that the other one would fail and both would be hurt severely.
“<That seemed a little harsh,>” Tablet commented once the duo were out of sight.
Perfume shrugged. “<They’re of only minimal use as they were and too much of a hindrance. Once they relearn they can rely on one another, we will be able to rely on them.>”
Perfume left the others to absorb what was said. Hopefully most would believe in the explanation. Now if only Soap and Foam went along with it as well.
Perfume deliberately allowed the pace to be almost painfully slow. It would give those whose endurance was down a chance to catch their wind. The chained duo only needed to be struck four times by Cabinet before they learned to move together as one, and by the end of the day they were, amazingly, moving as fast as the pack. Perfume’s plan was working in that the two of them were starting to function as a team once more.
Since everyone had a chance to regain their strength Perfume felt there would be time to talk to the lot of them and learn a few facts. She ordered the group to gather around in a circle as they sat by the campfire to listen to what she had to say.
“<How many of you have been to a big city?>”
A little over half of the girls raised their hands. Perfume was surprised, to say the least. She had been confident no more than a quarter had been that far from home. As she thought about how lucky she had been in getting so many experienced warriors another thought occurred to her.
“<How many of you have been to someplace besides Machu’Tang?>”
All but six of the hands dropped. It was as she suspected. To villagers who lived in a village of under a thousand people, a town like Machu’Tang, that had a population of fifteen thousand, seemed incredibly large.
“<There’s a tremendous difference between that town and the cities we’ll be going to. Pictures cannot do the cities of Japan justice. They are huge and vast places where it will be easy to become awestruck and perhaps a little intimidated.>” She cut off the expected protest over the term ‘intimidated’. “<There is no harm in that. Few of you have seen much of the outside world or the people that live there, so where we are going will be a totally new experience for you, just like it was for me when I set out. All new experiences should be looked at cautiously. Why don’t we ask some of our fellow warriors of their first experiences in large cities? Shelf?>” She indicated one of the people whose hand remained up.
Shelf related her experiences in Beijing. She was surprisingly frank about how intimidating the experience was at first, but assured everyone the culture shock did not last. Sash volunteered next.
“<I’ve been to Juuban, Japan, and a lot of other big cities there. You see, I have relatives there on my father’s side and I’ve visited my cousin, Usagi, lots and lots of times. People say we look alike and act a lot alike but I think that’s just because she wears her hair like mine. They have lots of cool music and neat televisions shows and the place is just really big and nice even if all the people there are foreigners. Oh, yes, there are lots of girls that run around and kill Youmas in Japan too, so watch out. If you remember that the one’s that wear what are called sailor fukus are good and the one’s they are fighting are bad, you’ll do okay.>”
“<Thanks for that descriptive look of Japan through the really spaced’s eyes,>” Perfume commented dryly.
Perfume made a mental note that Sash was also a bit oblivious to the way things worked and probably did not understand the concept of sarcasm.
“<What about your experiences?>” Cabinet asked.
“<Yeah,>” Rei Za added. “<They say you traveled all over the world. What’s it like?>”
Perfume noticed all of the other girls, even the ones that despised her, perked up at the question. Apparently word had gotten around a lot more quickly than she realized. “<I don’t know. It’s a pretty long tale. Are you sure you want to hear me talk?>”
Unanimously the girls encouraged her to go on. “<First of all let me tell you, no matter where you go the people are all the same. Now the first place I went to was actually a small fishing village off the coast of…>” The conversation went from there with Perfume discussing many of the various places in the world. There were some she left out; having all of her secrets revealed was a step she would not take for anyone. Even her own parents did not know the whole story.
She was amazed by the rapt attention she received from everyone. Not a single person looked bored or annoyed with the speech. Perfume would never have regarded herself as any kind of decent storyweaver, but the others had no complaints. After several hours Perfume finished, allowing the others to absorb what was said.
“<You know a lot!>” Sash said.
Perfume shook her head; the praise was unworthy of her. “<I just kept my ears open and paid attention to the world around me.>”
Shi Fan spoke up at that point. “<It sounds to me like you’re a little critical of our own village. If we’re so behind the times why did you come back? Lots of others have left to move to the bigger cities, even my own brother.>
Perfume sadly shook her head. “<Because its home. No matter where you go or what you do, there’s only one place on earth that is.>”
Most of the girls nodded at that point.
“<That’s not to say I don’t think there shouldn’t be changes. As much as our traditions have kept us alive for centuries, we have fallen too far behind in the ways of the world outside of Joketsuzoku. We need to start changing things now, easing our way into the modern world. Otherwise we will be unprepared and crushed by it when it comes knocking at our door. And someone always comes knocking at the door. Always.>”
Soap spoke up, obviously fascinated by the direction the conversation had taken despite the fact she was still shackled to her hateful partner. <What do you think we should do?>”
Perfume was about to downplay any suggestions when she noticed that all eyes were intently riveted to her. They were actually interested in what she had to say. That was a first. She had plenty of ideas, but almost no one to share them with. Now she had a captive audience, so to speak, and if they were willing to lend her their ears she was prepared to talk to them, the late hour be damned.
So for the next four hours she laid out what basic course she believed the Amazons should take. Early on many argued with her ideas, but she tore apart arguments and almost invariably got the party twisted around to agree with her ideas without realizing it. By the end of the speech all but two of the girls were in total agreement with Perfume about what should be done regarding the future. And the holdouts only argument was that ‘the old ways shouldn’t be changed.’
Perfume assured the group they would get a late start tomorrow to make up for the lost sleep time. As she made her way back to her sleeping roll Julep made her presence known by walking up to the pink-haired Amazon.
“<If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.>”
“<What do you mean?>” Perfume asked.
Julep gave a feral grin. “<In a total of thirty-six hours you have managed to turn a bunch of people that hated you into converts that would help you revolt against the council if you ordered it. Most of them anyway.>”
Perfume gaped openly at that. “<Get real! I did nothing of the kind. I just told them a lot of things that made sense. Most of them were obvious anyway.>”
“<You really have no idea what you did, do you?>” Julep could see the answer of no in the other girl’s eyes. “<As I listened to you, I watched with as much of a critical eye as I could. I ain’t much for words, as you may have figured out by now, I know what I believe in and what my goals are in life, so I watched the way you said it. The way you talked was flawless. I found myself lost in what you were saying more than once. You have charisma you don’t even know you possess. It ain’t just what you said, it was the way you said it; your voice pitch, the way you moved you body, the way you argued with people without alienating them, the way you got them to admit you were right and they were wrong. And now they will follow you wherever you would take them. All but one or two anyway, but you can never please all of the people, can you?>”
Perfume was in shock. Did she have that much of an effect on them? As difficult as it was to believe she had, there just might have been a great deal of truth in what Julep had told her. The coming days would tell.
And tell they did. Within three days she was convinced Julep had been correct. Individual conversations had given Perfume all the information she needed. Most of the warriors had almost total faith in her, discounting the still bound pair of Foam and Soap, and Boudoir, which wasn’t really a surprise. Those two still resented the fact they were locked together and Boudoir was still mad about being made an example, but Perfume was confident they would come around.
It was two days later when Perfume silently approached Julep.
“<I’ve been looking at where our path leads. There’s a mountain pass coming up.>”
Julep nodded in understanding. “<Perfect place to bring down a rockslide and delay us three whole days.>”
“<I’m going to order an early camp. Then the two of us will go alone to scout the area. Any more than that and we might be spotted.>”
Julep nodded once again and eagerly prepared to engage in the hunt.
The masked figure waited in the shadows of the rocks above the pass. It was difficult finding the right spot to block the pass with. The canyon was so wide the rockslide had to be nearly perfect; otherwise it would be simple for the party to simply crawl over the boulders and continue on after only having been delayed a few hours. At last the figure believed it located the correct spot with which one breaking point would be all that was required to divert the party for close to three days.
It was just about to detonate the rocks when it sensed a presence behind it. Quickly, the darkened figure rolled to its left just a second before a set of cat’s claws impacted where it had been but an instant before. The strike on the rock sent a shower of sparks along the ground. The figure lashed out with a quick sweep of the foot that would have knocked a normal person off their feet. But Julep was no ordinary person, not even an ordinary Amazon, and with her Musk-inherited speed, jumped back and out of the way.
The figure drew back in apprehension and fled. Julep’s unrivaled speed gave her the edge in the pursuit as caught up to her prey within seconds. Just as she lashed out again with the claws, the figure ducked and rolled to the right, narrowly avoiding the sharp metal blades rip into its flesh. Julep watched as the figure reached a hand into its shirt and bring out a cylinder of metal. A telescoping staff darted out and nearly caught Julep in the head. Once again her speed saved her as she darted out of the path of the strike and moved in. The sweep of her arm was close enough this time as the claws caught a glancing cut on the figure’s top. Julep smelled the scent of fresh blood in the air, which confirmed her suspicions of the hit. The figure reached inside its shirt and withdrew its hand to see blood on its fingertips. It looked down at the blood, rolled its eyes, then keeled over.
Julep was thinking about what a disappointment the hunt had been with the figure’s sudden collapse and was approaching when she sensed something wrong. Instantly she realized the figure was faking its collapse and that it was nothing more than bait. Bait which Julep had fallen for. Before the figure got to its feet a small black ball was in its hand for an instant before it was hurled at Julep’s feet. The ball erupted in a billowing yellow cloud, catching Julep in the center. The wolf-girl recoiled in disgust as the scent of the stink bomb assailed her nose, the stench powerful enough to make her head reel and sight spin. The figure was on the recoiling Julep in a flash as it connected using the staff with a blow to the back of Julep’s head. The girl went to one knee in pain and found it too difficult to even stand up.
The figure did not waste even a moment as it leaped away from Julep over the rocky terrain of the mountain and made its way to the tree line. It had almost made it there when a net suddenly blossomed out of the brush. Barely managing to avoid the trap, the figure darted to the side. However, this proved to be yet another trap, as it was suddenly set upon by Perfume, swinging her naginata in a deadly arc. The staff reached out and parried the blade of the naginata to the side. There was no retaliatory strike by the figure as it found yet another thrust leveled at it. Once again the near fatal strike was parried.
Perfume switched tactics and brought the blunt end of her polearm in a sweep aimed at the back of the figure’s legs. The blow was on the mark as the figure was knocked off its feet. The second naginata strike was powerful enough to pound the staff out of its grasp and send it flying far out of reach. The figure was now on its back on the ground, naginata leveled at its face.
Perfume saw the enraged Julep approach her position. “<Go back to camp! I’ll take care of this one!>”
Julep was about to protest when she caught the look in Perfume’s eyes. It was not a request. With a snarl Julep obeyed the instruction and left her much desired prey to the mercies of her leader.
Perfume never let her eyes leave the fallen form. Once she was convinced Julep was well out of sight she waved at the figure with her naginata. “<You can take off the mask now, Silk.>”
The figure removed the mask to reveal that it was indeed the Amazon Perfume had suspected. “<What gave it away?>”
“<The staff. Your moves. Either one was more than enough.>”
Silk shrugged. Too bad she had lost some of her moves as she got older, though even in her prime she would have been no match for Perfume. So that was the way it was going to end. Silk knew the game was up. Too bad she couldn’t have laid eyes on Soun one last time. It was odd that in her last moments of freedom she realized she should have gone back to Joketsuzoku just long enough to set her house in order and return to Nerima to try to win her love’s heart once more, not that it appeared that would have taken much effort.
Silk knew Perfume had several options open to her. Send her back to Joketsuzoku in chains with a couple of guards. Drag her along for the trip. Kill her. Any one of them would be acceptable under the circumstances.
“<If I didn’t know better, I would swear you were trying to stop us from getting to Nerima,>” Perfume taunted.
Silk’s retort was abruptly cut off.
“<It’s a good thing I know better. Our meeting here must be the most incredible of coincidences. No doubt you have been following us to make sure we were safe in our journey. Now that you see that we can handle ourselves, there’s no longer any need to worry. You can go on to Japan, secure in the knowledge we are all right. In fact, if I were to lay eyes on you again on this trip, I would have to come to the conclusion you have been following us for an altogether different reason and the consequences to that would not be beneficial to either of us, especially you. Do you understand?>”
The day was just full of surprises. Silk simply nodded her head.
“<Good! I have a job to do which I now intend to see through to the end. If you get in the way it would be… unfortunate. Have a nice day, Silk.>”
Silk bowed and left as quickly as she could. Whatever agenda Perfume had was anyone’s guess, but Silk now had a second chance to help Shampoo out and she was damned if she would let it pass. She set off on the most direct course for Japan she could take. Time was too valuable to waste.
Julep saw Perfume return from the mountain, a look of satisfaction on her face.
“<The problem— >” Julep started to ask but was cut off.
“<Taken care of.>” Perfume assured her. “<You didn’t mention this to anyone, did you?>”
“<No. I figured you would want to make the announcement.>”
Perfume shook her head. “<I don’t want everyone to get paranoid. I managed to get enough info out of the ambusher to know she was working alone.>”
“<Was it an Amazon?>”
“<Yes,>” Perfume admitted. “<But I would rather not mention who it was. I like the family and would want no shame to fall upon them for the actions of one individual. The matter is most definitely taken care of.>”
Julep accepted the explanation and promised to remain silent. “<Things should be quieter now.>”
“<There is that,>” Perfume agreed.
On the top of the mountain the man dressed in gray robes looked down upon the group, still several miles distant from their own position.
One of the two dozen men dressed in reptilian armor that stood next to him spoke up. “<It appears to be a group of armed women, sir.>”
“<It must be the Amazons!>” Drakosh the Enchanter snarled in fury. “<How the hell did they know we seek the mask?! Curse their eyes! Now we must find a way to kill them!>”
Drakosh cursed his infernal luck. As a member on the inner council of the Cult of the Serpent Men, he knew there was a great push to be made in the upcoming years. This was one of the last tasks to prepare for the rebirth. The legacy had been passed down to the cult for the last millennium, but now the legacy was being threatened by the same group that had nearly hunted the last of the cult into extinction. It seemed that the destiny of the Amazons and the Serpent Men was to be forever intertwined.
The next night:
Mount Phoenix, China:
The Eight Devils of Kimone stood outside the mountain of the Bird People. Gemma looked the group over one last time. Night had fallen and there was a peaceful quietness to the air around them.
“There’s been a slight change in plans. We need to take some of them alive.”
“How many?” Tessai asked, the sound of disappointment evident in his voice.
“A handful,” Gemma informed them. “Preferably young and healthy ones.”
“Allow me the honor, Lord Gemma,” Yurimaru offered in his soft, feminine voice.
Gemma slowly shook his head. “Benisato. I want you to do it.”
Benisato missed the hurt look in Yurimaru’s face as she bowed in agreement and closed her eyes. By concentrating she could see through the eyes of the thousands of snakes that had sneaked into Mount Phoenix at her behest. At last she found one that had slithered into a place that would do.
“I’ve found a nursery. There’s no more than thirty children, which I suspect will be more than enough. I can take it alone. The rest of you can enjoy yourselves.”
“Not quite,” Gemma turned to Mujura. “I need you to obtain a special item for me. It lies near the royal chambers of the King.” Gemma related the specifics of the item he sought and where to bring it. If he judged the reactions of the avians, and if the information the Shogun had given him on the leader was true, he would need the item to survive the encounter. That, and the other that awaited nearby to assist him if it was needed.
“It will be as you command,” Mujura assured him.
“My lovelies are in position,” Mushizo assured Gemma.
The leader of the Eight Devils looked skyward at the huge swarms of stinging insects that flew above the mountain. Anyone trying to escape was doomed.
The Devils needed no encouragement. Benisato commanded several of her most poisonous snakes to lash out at the guards that were positioned at one of the entrances to Mount Phoenix. Each guard would drop to the ground, dead before ever sounding the alarm.
The plan went off without a hitch as the group moved quickly to where the dead guards lay fallen.
“Remember, except for Benisato’s mission, we are to leave no survivors.”
The Devils smiled. That was not a problem for anyone. The group entered the mountain in short order. Attacking in the middle of the night they would have an early advantage in the slaughter and any organized resistance would be long in coming.
It wasn’t long before the screaming began.
“<What’s going on?!>” One of the Bird People managed to ask in one of the main caverns of the mountain. A group of close to forty people gathered in there, trying to figure out was going on. Bizarre sounds had broken the night, and frightened all of them.
“<I don’t know. I heard a bunch of screams coming from one of the other caverns and then nothing.>”
Another figure rushed to the cavern in a blind panic. “<They’re coming! We have to get out of here!>”
“<Who’s coming?>” One of the others asked the hysterical man.
As the others saw the look in his eyes they knew madness had claimed their fellow avian.
Some of them looked one another over and came to the unanimous conclusion that leaving for a higher ground might be wiser. All of them took off and sailed for a hole in the roof, one designed for the coming and going of the avians to depart whenever they so chose.
Zakura stepped into the cavern from one of the linking tunnels, just as the others took off.
“Now, now, boys. You shouldn’t leave so soon. The party’s just getting started.” And with that she parted her cloak, casting three dozen metal objects up to the ceiling of the cavern, including the hole that allowed access to the outside world. The object’s metal prongs clamped down on the rock for the briefest of seconds, securing their position.
“Boom,” she said under her breath as her eyes glowed red.
The explosives detonated, causing the ceiling to collapse on almost all of the avians. Several tried to maneuver around the falling pieces of stone, but most were simply swatted out of the air, wings breaking on impact with the rock and bones shattering as their bodies hit the floor.
Zakura felt a rush as she ducked back into her side passage. Oh how she loved to hear screams of agony. It was nice to know she could still bring down the house.
Several of the Bird People managed to avoid both the explosions and the debris, narrowly avoiding the fate of so many of their fellow citizens. As they burst through the opening in the side of the mountain they received their first taste of the night air, and of the millions of wasps, bees, hornets, and every other kind of stinging insect imaginable. Within seconds, the handful of survivors was no more, as the insects attached themselves to their winged bodies and repeatedly stung them for all they were worth.
The hunchbacked Mushizo savored the feeling of each one of his ‘children’ as they dug their stingers into the avians. Some of the children died under the return assault of the people, but nowhere near enough to cause him real pain. It was a disappointment that the bird people dropped from the skies all too soon for his taste. The other Devils were proving themselves too effective; hardly anyone was making it out of the mountain. Mushizo took solace in that at least no one was getting out alive.
Tessai, already in stone form, stormed around another set of houses in one of the caverns. He simply ripped open the wall of the nearest one and stormed inside. Before him was a scene that he found all too familiar this evening. Already the occupants, a man and woman, were dead. Benisato’s snakes had done their job too well, silently positioning themselves in people’s homes and biting them while they slept. By his estimation, Tessai had not managed to kill more than fifty of the bird people. He should have had at least a hundred by now. His stone skin was not anywhere near doused with the amount of blood he wanted.
As he kicked his way out the opposite side of the home in search of more prey he was rewarded by one of the people taking off about two hundred feet away. He allowed the young woman two seconds of air time for a decent head start before hurling his huge double edged sword spinning in a deadly arc. The blade cut the woman in half directly out of mid-air. His accuracy was as sharp as ever.
As the blade returned to his hand two newcomers arrived on the scene. It was much to Tessai’s delight they were wielding swords. Warriors. Perhaps they would put up a good fight. Not. He allowed them their screams of rage and to bear down on him. He raised his double-sword high in the air and let them close enough to strike his stony hide with their swords. Both blows were completely ineffective as they merely bounced off Tessai’s rocky skin. He let the surprise in their eyes stay with them as he brought his weapon down at last, slicing through both, effortlessly shearing them in half. The blood splashing across his skin felt good, even through the stone. That was more like it.
Tessai moved on to see if what else he could kill.
The two matronly women looked towards one another. The nursery was segregated away from most of the other homes due to the amount of noise the children tended to generate. Usually when the children were asleep, things were quiet, except tonight. Both women felt the shock of what sounded like several cave falls in the mountain. The nursery was in a very sturdy section, but if it was an earthquake there might not be any protection.
“<Perhaps I should check out what’s happening,>” one offered to the other.
“<I think that would be a good ide—.>”
Whatever else was to be said was cut off as a pair of arms elongated to coil themselves around the two women. Both found themselves wrapped up from their throats to their arms, just like a snake would its prey.
Benisato looked upon the trapped women. She drew them closer and decided she would split the methods of death. For the first one she simply increased the pressure from the arm wrapped around her throat and snapped the neck. For the other, Benisato simply brought the woman close, maneuvering her so her throat was revealed before the mistress of the snakes’ mouth. The last thing the avian woman saw was her attacker’s jaw drop open to reveal two huge fangs, exactly like a snake would have. She closed her eyes at that point, so the last sensation the woman had was of those fangs sinking themselves into her throat. The last thought the woman had was that she hoped none of the children had seen what had happened.
Benisato tossed the useless body to the side. With a purposeful stride she entered the nursery. Only now were several of the children beginning to stir, awakened by the sounds of the struggle outside. Benisato gained the attention of the children, exerting her influence over minds by looking into the children’s eyes.
“Rest easy, little one’s. Auntie Benisato will be taking care of you from now on.”
“<Move quickly!>” Kiima was scared out of her mind. She had no idea what was going on. Only that half of the guards in the royal towers were dead, and that Lord Saffron was in mortal danger. She rounded up the remaining guards that she could find, only about twenty of them, including Koruma and Masara, and had them form a protective shield around Saffron as she carried the child herself. The attempt to recover the Kinjakan and Gekkaja before fleeing proved futile. Both items had been taken and their guards slain.
There were a series of escape tunnels specifically designed for emergencies such as this. They were built low to the ground in case the lord had been injured and was unable to fly. Now for the first time that she could remember the lord of Mount Phoenix was being forced to use the tunnels. Oh, what a shameful job she was doing as the protector of the royal family.
The group entered a small cave, the last area one could rest before emerging to the outside world. As they entered they all saw a man, dressed in an old style white Japanese robe, barring the way out. He had a sheathed sword held parallel to the floor in his hand, displaying it for all to behold. Kiima could not help noticing the man was blind.
“<My name is Ututsu Mujura. I offer you the choice of honorable surrender or honorable death.>”
“<KILL HIM!!>” It was no doubt one of the scum that dared to desecrate Mount Phoenix and harm its people. Kiima vowed he would be only the first to fall, not the last.
All of the guards, save Koruma and Masara, rushed forward to dispatch the one who would dare threaten the safety of their lord. Despite the sheer number of the attackers Mujura slowly placed his hand on the hilt of the still sheathed sword, drawing it no more than two inches from out of its sheath.
The child, Saffron, held tightly onto Kiima’s pant leg in fear. She placed a reassuring hand on his head to calm him. Mujura would be dead soon enough, then the party could continue on their way.
Kiima could only see a flash of movement from Mujura, as he was lost from sight by the group of guards. Within seconds screams of pain sounded out, overpowered only briefly by the ring of metal on metal. Soon she was able to see Mujura, the cause for her clear view striking fear into her. The guards were falling almost one to a swing, despite the fact that they greatly outnumbered the lone blind man. Only Kui, one of the master swordsmen of the guard, managed to exchange three blows with Mujura before he was cut down as well.
Even as Kiima’s mind grasped at what had just happened she heard a cry of pain from the side. She turned just in time to see Koruma grabbed by what appeared to be a man emerging from the shadows. All she managed to see clearly was that the gray skinned man seemed to have some sort of mechanical claw-like appendage where his left arm should have been. Her fears about the shadows were confirmed as a kicking and screaming Koruma was dragged into the shadows by the man.
“<Where did he— >” whatever else was going to be said was cut off as a thin wire shot out from where the party had come from and wrapped itself firmly around Masara’s neck. As soon as the wire stopped looping one hundred thousand volts of electricity shot through the wire and electrocuted him.
Kiima could smell the burned flesh of her longtime subordinate. She had known him since he was a little boy, bound to become one of her primary aides in the upcoming years in her role as caretaker of Mount Phoenix and Lord Saffron. She felt Saffron cling even tighter to her legs, shivering in fear.
“<What’s going on?>” he babbled.
“<We are killing your people.>” Yurimaru said as he made his way from his position from up the hall, closing the distance between himself and Kiima.
“<WHY?!!> Kiima raged through her tears, praying he was lying. “<Why are you doing this?!>”
“<I could tell you it is because we desire treasure, or perhaps some of the magic items your people possess, or that you represent a threat to our existence and need to be removed.>”
Kiima turned to the sound of the deep voice. From behind Mujura a huge man, well over six feet in height with a long pole-like item wrapped in a bundle of cloth, moved from deeper in the passageway. Something in the way the man carried himself told her he was the leader.
“<I could also tell you it is because we hate you, your deaths make us more powerful, or we desire your souls, but the truth is we are killing all of your race for the simple fact that you are in our way. The people of Mount Phoenix will cease to exist because they are an inconvenience, otherwise you would have been beneath our notice.>”
“<NO!!!>” This was from Saffron, who darted from Kiima’s legs and rushed towards Gemma, stopping once he entered the cave. “<I won’t let you hurt them!>”
“<Too late, boy,>” Gemma said. “<It’s already done.>”
Kiima moved forward to grab Saffron, but suddenly felt something stick itself in her back. She cursed herself for lowering her guard as she barely managed to turn painfully around and see what had struck her. She was certain there had been no one there before. Her rapidly darkening vision caught sight of the gray man from the shadows poised above her back, metal claw glistening in the torchlight with blood. It was then she heard Saffron speaking.
“<If my people are dead, then I have nothing to live for,>” he proclaimed. “<The least I can do is take their butchers with me.>”
Kiima could see him raise his hands to the roof of the cave, wondering what he was up to.
“<I call upon the internal power of my heart!>”
No! He couldn’t be doing that. It was a death sentence to call upon the internal fires to trigger the transformation to the adult version of himself. All the lords of Mount Phoenix could call upon that inherent ability to transform once without the waters of Jusendo, but the internal flames could not sustain them, and they would die in less than an hour. And once the transformation was triggered there was no way to turn it off. It was nothing more than a prolonged form of suicide.
“<NO!!! STOP, MY L—URK!!!>”
“<Be silent,>” Shujima said as he brought the claw from under her throat and sliced it open. “<Forever.>”
Saffron stopped in his ritual and turned to see his longtime keeper dead. With her loss he knew there was nothing left. Without another word he released all of his energy and in a pillar of flame was turned into his adult form, blazing wings and all.
“<I have less than an hour of life left.>” Saffron now said in a deep voice. “<That will be more than enough to put you through hell before you die.>”
Gemma appeared unimpressed by the display. “<The rest of you, leave. I will deal with this one.>” He held the wrapped bundle in front of him.
Shujima instantly disappeared in the shadows and Mujuru ran down the passageway from which Gemma came. Only Yurimaru remained.
“<Allow me to assist you,>” he offered.
Yurimaru reluctantly moved to obey, leaving Gemma alone with the blazing Saffron.
“<It does not matter what you do. I will kill you soon enough and destroy them as well! None of you will survive!>”
“<Are you through posturing?>” Gemma said emotionlessly.
Saffron raged at the man’s seeming nonchalance. Didn’t he understand his death was before him? It didn’t matter. He would be dead soon enough.
“<DIE!!!>” A huge gout of flame burst forth from Saffron’s hands blowing a twenty foot hole clear through the remainder of the rock and to the outside world, Gemma’s body helping to pave the way.
Saffron flew outside to gaze upon the man’s remains, if there was enough left of his body to confirm his death. Then he would return into the mountain and finish off the rest of the butchers.
Upon clearing the hole he caught sight of a blur from around the side. He made out the familiar sight of a staff with a crescent on top, the Gekkaja, right before it went down his left side, opening a huge gash from his shoulder to hip. It was no small amount of pain he suffered as he flew another twenty feet before landing, fires from within licking up the wound, healing it within seconds.
“<So, you have the ability to regenerate the same as me.>” Gemma stated. “<I was unaware of that.>”
Saffron turned in rage at the man. Gemma had somehow survived the attack and looked as healthy as he did before the blow.
Gemma held the Gekkaja out before him. “<This is a rather useful item, the way it produces cold and snuffs out a lot of those heat attacks. Coming back from that blast would have been harder without it.>”
“<DIE!!!>” was the only response Saffron uttered as he once again attempted to fry Gemma where he stood.
With faster than human speed, the leader of the Devils leaped over the attack and landed next to Saffron, swinging the sharpened end of Gekkaja once more. A second slice was landed on Saffron as his chest was ripped open, but in throwing the blow Gemma left himself open, allowing Saffron to hurl another fire blast at him.
Even at point blank range Gemma evaded a majority of the fire bolt, the rest passing him by and destroying a large section of a nearby hill, but the portion of the blast that did connect sizzled flesh along the back and blackened it instantly. Despite the obvious pain Saffron saw Gemma grimace ever so slightly, then watched in mute amazement as the wound on his opponent healed even more quickly then he could have done it.
In spite of the shock Saffron evaded another thrust and took off. As he suspected Gemma remained on the ground, unable to meet him in the air.
“<It is the end!>” Saffron unleashed another blast at his grounded opponent. This time Gemma brought the Gekkaja to meet it.
“<Pitiful,>” Gemma taunted in an even voice.
The roar of rage from Saffron could have been heard from miles away. Bolt after bolt was sent Gemma’s way, the Devil either dodging it or using the Gekkaja to protect himself. The two made their way from Mount Phoenix and to the side of a nearby mountain, where Saffron was certain no damage would be inflicted on his mountain home. There was still hope that Gemma had lied and that there were some survivors. There had to be. He would not be the one to have led his people to extinction.
Now he had the space and unleashed a hellstorm that tore up the mountainside his opponent had been on. His vision was temporarily blinded by the blast, and he lost sight of Gemma momentarily. As his vision cleared he bore witness to the devastation he had inflicted. The entire mountainside had been swept clear of all life, save the large man whose flesh was healing from the burns he had received, Gekkaja still in hand.
“<ENOUGH!!!>” If the Gekkaja was all that stood between him and revenge, it would have to be destroyed. From high above he took careful aim at the staff in front of Gemma and launched yet another attack, one continuous focused flame on him. As Saffron anticipated, Gemma blocked it with the Gekkaja, which continued to protect him. Saffron continued focusing the ten-foot wide blast at Gemma. The ground around Gemma began to bubble and melt into a liquid, causing Gemma to sink into the earth. Perhaps he would drown in molten earth before being burned alive. It was going to be a race against time since Saffron could see the Gekkaja glow green and begin to crack from the assault. Unfortunately exhaustion began to wear the King of the Bird People down.
Saffron knew he was going to win. He would have just enough power to do it. However, his near insane delight was short lived as a chi blast amputated both of Saffron’s wings and broke off his attack on Gemma as he spiraled towards the ground. He managed to rotate just enough in his downward fall to observe a girl with long white hair and scale armor hovering in the air a short distance away.
“<The fist strike was Herb’s Special Revised Wing Cutter Attack!” she bragged as she summoned a glow from between her hands. “<And here’s the finisher! SAFFRON SLAYER DEADLY SPIRAL!!!>”
The spiraling chi blast struck Saffron even as he released a fire blast of his own. Herb-chan was able to fly out of the way of the fiery bolt. Saffron was not so fortunate as his wings were less than one quarter regenerated when the blast struck him full in the chest. The force of the blow’s tremendous power was enough to drive him head first into the ground. It took precious moments for him to get to his feet from the impact. The only consolation was that his wings had regenerated as he lay in the ground.
“<Two can die as easily as one!>” Saffron started to shout when he heard someone moving behind him.
“<You go first.>”
Saffron turned just in time to see the Gekkaja was coming from its drawn back position and being brought forward. He would have screamed in anger at Gemma for prolonging the inevitable, Saffron would simply regenerate the damage, when he realized where the cut would connect.
To his credit Saffron managed to get a hand up and began to raise a shield of heat, which would have instantly killed a normal man. Unfortunately for him, the combination of the Gekkaja and Gemma’s regeneration were more than enough to enable him to not only survive the heat, but ensure his limbs possessed enough force to cut through the blocking arm and shear off Saffron’s head at the neck.
Gemma observed the now headless avian closely. When the body fell over he knew the truth.
“<It appears there are limits to your regenerative abilities, King of the Dead.> He looked up to the one that had provided the last minute assist. “<Thank you. It would have taken me a while longer to kill him if you hadn’t arrived when you did.>”
Herb-chan shrugged. “<I have as much vested in this as you. It looked like you had your hands full, so I thought I might speed things up.>” That was when Herb-chan noticed Saffron’s body, and what it was doing. “<That doesn’t look good.>”
Where there was a headless stump, flames began to shoot out. Many flames. Herb-chan managed to erect a chi shield for the heat and flew backwards as fast as she could while Gemma backed up while keeping the Gekkaja in front of him. Neither had made it very far when the body exploded.
For miles around, the shock was felt as the Saffron’s body detonated, releasing the last vestiges of his power in an enormous display of light and heat, turning the mountain under the dead monarch into rubble.
Even at the edge of the blast radius Herb-chan was blown nearly a mile backwards. The chi shield and her own improved immunity to heat was all that saved her from being destroyed, and once certain there was only going to be one blast she flew back. Mount Phoenix itself looked unharmed. The blast seemed to have been concentrated mostly upward. As she approached ground zero she began searching around for her ally. It was unlikely Gemma had survived. He had been at ground zero when the blast occurred. Still, Herb-chan would be thorough and make certain there was nothing left.
The aerial search took her over and around the new chasm that now claimed the area where the mountain once stood. Even she was in awe of the kind of energy it must have taken to do that. If she possessed that kind of raw power there would have been no need for the Shogun of the Dark or his plans. She could have taken over half the world on her own.
As her dreams of what could have been went on, she spotted a movement from down towards the bottom of the pit. At first it was nothing but disbelief that anything could have survived the explosion, but as she flew downward she discovered the truth. What appeared to be nothing more than the remains of a skeleton with a little bit of flesh was reconstructing itself. Almost as amazing was the speed at which it was happening. Within less than two minutes a perfectly healthy and naked Gemma was standing before her.
“<How…>” Herb-chan could get out nothing more.
“<My abilities were boosted far beyond what they once were. That, combined with the Gekkaja, saved me, though it was destroyed in the blast. Still, it served its purpose well. Now help me out of this pit.>”
Herb-chan did as she was bidden and flew Gemma back to Mount Phoenix. The other Devils had been waiting for the return of their master, having been informed by Mushizo through his link with the stinging insects.
Gemma looked questioningly towards the others as he grabbed a nearby cloth to cover himself. “Saffron has been disposed of. Are all of them dead?”
“We swept the area twice.” Benisato informed Gemma. “Aside from the children that are locked in the nursery, we’ve found no one.”
“I guarantee no one flew or walked out of here alive,” Mushizo confirmed.
“That is good. The Shogun was most specific in not allowing anyone to escape. Secrecy is still of the highest importance. It is not impossible some of the citizenry were not present at the time of the killing. So we will keep our eyes open and set traps for any that might return. Yurimaru, prepare a chamber for the Shogun. He will be…” Gemma trailed off as he saw Mujuru hold up his hand for silence.
The blind man went to one of the rock walls and gently placed his hand next to it. In a flash he drove the sword through the wall, allowing it to remain there momentarily.
“What was that all about?” Zakura started to say until she saw the blood run down the blade and drip to the floor.
Mujuru removed his blade. “With my enhanced hearing I detected the heartbeat of someone hidden in the walls. There is a secret passage behind the wall here.”
“Tessai, break it down!” Gemma ordered.
Tessai did as he was bidden and drove his fist through the wall, opening a small hole that the others could stick their heads in and look down. The body of a little girl was lying in the passageway. Mujuru was the first there as he demanded silence.
“I hear the sounds of running feet,” he informed them.
Yurimaru took Mujuru’s place and sent one of his wires down the corridor. He was rewarded by the wire looping around something that immediately attempted to pull away. Immediately he sent a light charge down the wire and felt the resistance die off.
“We should interrogate that one to find out if any others escaped,” Yurimaru offered.
“That’s a small passage. None of us can fit down there,” Tessai said.
Benisato once again took the lead. “I can,” she informed them and proceeded to slither her body like a snake into the opening and went down the narrow corridor, disappearing in the darkness. It took but moments for her to reappear, dragging the body of a young girl with her.
She threw the unconscious girl, who could have been no older than seven, roughly on the ground. “I heard the sounds of a river at the end of the passageway.”
“Damn!” Gemma murmured, then indicated with a wave of his hand what Zakura should do.
Zakura moved above the girl’s unconscious form and slapped her awake. The girl awakened and looked up in terror at the group before her.
“<We need some information, little one,>” Zakura cooed, her scar filled face doing nothing to ease the girl’s discomfort. “<Were there any others that escaped down the passageway?>”
“<N… no,>” she managed to stammer out.
Mujuru had been listening intently. “She’s lying. I heard her heartbeat jump.”
“Oh, now that’s too bad.” Zakura’s tone did not sound like she was disappointed. Rather it sounded as though she was quite pleased with the response. She pulled a small throwing blade out and started moving it in circles above the girl’s eye. “<I think I’ll have to take one of those beautiful brown eyes and loosen your tongue.>”
The girl nearly wet herself in fear. “<I’ll tell you the truth. There was one other girl with me. She got away.>”
Zakura just continued smiling. “<I think I’ll take one out anyway. You really should be disciplined for lying to your elders.>”
Gemma gave Mushizo orders above the girl’s screams. The hunchbacked man quickly sent his swarms of stinging insects to search for the river’s opening. It took but moments to discover there were two different rivers leading from within the mountain. He sent out his insects and began searching the skies above them.
“Why didn’t you spot her flying away?” Gemma inquired, his tone indicating his displeasure.
“I’m not sure,” Mushizo responded. “None of them were near your fight and all of my children have been flying as high as they could, keeping a lookout for anyone that escaped. I’m certain I would have spotted anyone leaving, even from that far away.”
Mushizo continued concentrating until one of his distant scouts reported a little girl crawling out of the river several miles downstream. He watched her for a moment, trying to figure out why she wasn’t taking off, until he noticed something unusual.
“She swam down nearly the entire length of the river. That’s why I didn’t spot her. She swam instead of flying!” Mushizo said.
“Will she get away?” Gemma asked.
Mushizo shook his head. “Her wing’s broken. There’s no way she’ll get far. Still, I won’t take any chances and send the two nearest swarms after her. Either one is capable of killing up to a dozen adults. Disposing of her should be easy.”
Gemma nodded his head in approval. Best not to take any chances.
Seven-year-old Sera ran for all she was worth, trying to keep from crying. Her father taught her big girls didn’t cry, and she had to be a big girl now. She was all alone, since she saw her mother and brother…
She pushed the thought out of her mind. If she thought about it then she was going to stop running. And then the bad stone man would hunt her down and kill her he would tear off her…
She began sobbing. There was no way to stop it now. She cried and cried but kept running. He legs burned as though on fire, and she could only take small shallow breaths into her painfully tight chest as she ran. Why did she have to break her wing? If it was still working then she could have flown to the ends of the earth to get away from the evil people. But it had been broken by some falling rocks that the weird laughing woman had brought down when she made everything explode.
She was running blindly through the thick brush, trying to remain out of sight, when she ran into someone.
“<NOOOO!!!>” she screamed and tried to run away. It was one of the bad people that were going to kill her. She just knew it. The person held onto her tightly as she tried to escape, her struggles going on for almost a full minute before she realized the person was just holding her and not trying to harm her at all. She paused long enough to see it was a young boy, one that looked a lot like her older brother, except he had orange hair and lacked wings. All the time she was struggling he spoke to her in a soft voice to get her to calm down. She found herself starting to relax in his grip. She couldn’t believe someone that looked like her brother and spoke so nice could be bad.
Once she settled down the boy released her. He crouched down so he could talk to her eye to eye. “<What’s wrong, little one? You seem to be scared of something.>”
“<Bad people,>” she sobbed. “<There were bad people that duh… did bad things.>”
Once again the boy soothed the girl, trying to get her to calm down again. Just as he succeeded the sound of a subtle buzzing caught his attention. He looked carefully around, his eyes settling on the direction the girl had come from. Several dozen wasps were hovering around, almost as though they were waiting for something.
“<This doesn’t look good.>”
Sera turned and saw the wasps hovering around. She could never remember wasps behaving in such a manner, when she noticed the number was growing considerably. Within moments dozens went to hundreds, then thousands. The swarm blocked out a considerable portion of the path before them.
“<Get behind me, little one,>” the boy said gently and delicately pushed the girl behind him. Once she was fully behind him he cupped his hands and held them out before him. Quickly gray energy filled the hands before him, expanding by the moment.
The swarm finished building and surged forward. The boy held his ground until the fastest of the insects was no more than twenty feet in front of both he and the girl. The range was close enough as he unleashed the ball of energy directly in the path of the murderous creatures. When the ball made contact with the fist bug it expanded in a gray fireball more than twenty times its original size.
Sera had to shield her eyes from the glare. It was a half-hearted gesture as she was fascinated by the coruscating gray energy. Calmly she watched as it consumed all of the swarm in a wave of gray light. The heat generated from the blast was intense enough that she felt herself take a step back to avoid some of the effects. When the light cleared she saw not a single wasp was left.
“<WOW! That was awesome! How did yo…>” she trailed off as she noticed her savior was flat on his back, unconscious.
Sera felt the dread in her heart as she gazed upon the prone boy’s form. Had one of the bad people sneaked up behind her and taken another one of her friends away? She began desperately shaking his body, crying hard again. He must have been dead, just like everyone else. She started to calm down when she noticed he was, in fact, breathing, but he didn’t do anything else. Just as she stopped shaking him and tried to think of another way to revive his consciousness a voice came out from the woods, opposite from the wasps.
“<What have you done with Flare?>”
Sera looked up to see a fierce looking girl, about Flare’s age, scowl down at her. In her hands she held what appeared to be a rugbeater. The girl looked none too happy.
“<Don’t be paranoid, Carpet,>’ a voice from behind the newcomer spoke up.
The speaker moved into sight and passed Carpet, advancing to the fallen Flare. Sera could tell that she was short and younger than the other two, with red hair and bore a trident in her hands. “<You heard the blast. My brother used his chi ability. Too bad he can’t put anything less then every drop of his chi when he uses it. Must be annoying the way he always passes out after attacking.>” The trident-bearing girl hid a smile. “<At least this gives you an excuse to baby him a bit.>”
“<I don’t know what you mean!>” Carpet said, totally shocked. “<Why would I want to baby a male like him, LinLin?>”
LinLin smiled once more. “<You hide it so poorly I don’t know why you bother denying it. Everyone knows you got the hots for him. Couldn’t tell you why though, as a brother he leaves a lot to be desired.>”
“<Shut… up… you little cow.>” Flare mumbled as he tried to get up and promptly fell over.
Sera was on him in a second. “<Are you hurt?>”
“<Looks like you have competition,>” LinLin said, who was then less than pleased that Carpet made no noise of protest. “<What happened?>” she asked Flare.
“<A swarm of wasps attacked,>” he said weakly. “<They were trying to kill the girl. I protected her.>”
LinLin looked the girl over, taking in the wings for the first time. She had heard of the people of Mount Phoenix, but considered them nothing more than an old wives tale elders told to scare children. Now she had evidence it was otherwise.
“<Did they look like that?>” Carpet said as dread began to fill her voice and she pointed to the second swarm that was approaching.
“<Quick! RanRa…>” LinLin cursed as she remembered that her sister had chosen to stay at home and not go on the long distance patrol. Her arm was still bothering her and the duo’s attacks were always off when that was the case. Shampoo still had a lot to answer for. Too bad Cologne swore them to secrecy and forbade them from going back, not that she really wanted to risk angering Shampoo further.
Now she had a problem. Neither she nor Carpet could take out a bunch of small insects. And from the size of the swarm there was little doubt what the outcome would be when the struck. LinLin hated stings too.
“<Look like it’s up to me.>”
All eyed turned to see a tall, brown-haired girl standing atop a fallen log, looking smugly at the swarm of wasps that was moving upon them. With a flick of the wrist, twin battle-axes appeared from within the confines of her sleeves and appeared in her hand.
“<It’ll be just like the early training days.>” With a speed like few had ever seen, she was suddenly spinning like a top, axes flashing, and entered the swarm.
Sera looked on in horror as the swarm fell upon the girl as well. Her figure was lost under the heavy black cloud of flying pain. No screams of pain were heard from the cloud, just the continuous sound of whirring. In moments Sera aware that the cloud was thinning out. Amazingly the girl was still spinning around, unaffected by what had happened. It took but a few more moments for the last of the insects to fall to the ground, clearing the air of all but the normal kinds of flying matter.
The girl stopped spinning and allowed the axes to fall back into their proper place. “<Elder Be Dea used to make swarms of bees attack me to build up my speed back when I trained under her. It worked.>” she explained as she made her way back to the group. Flare was finally able to make it to his feet with Carpet’s support when LinLin began cheering.
“<Way to go, Puke!>”
“<Don’t call me that!>” the girl snapped.
“<Puke saves the day!>”
“<I said stop it!>”
“<Puke! Puke! She’s our girl! If she can’t do it, no one will!>”
“<Get ready to be sliced and diced, you obnoxious little weasel!>” Twin axes appeared in the girl’s hands once again. LinLin began to run away through the trees as the ax bearing girl started bringing them in an up and down motion, turning each tree into kindling. LinLin made certain to stick her tongue out at the girl as she ran. It was no coincidence that the way LinLin had gone was a direct path to the village, and that Carpet had a much easier time of helping Flare and Sera move out of the area.
“<Why did the girl call the other one ‘Puke’?>” Sera asked.
Flare smiled at that. “<It’s a bad pun. When ‘Puke’s’ mother was pregnant with her, she had her heart set on the name Perfume. Three days before Puke was born another woman in the village had a daughter and named her Perfume. Since our village is small, there was no way there could be two girls with the same name at the same age. Things would get too confusing. ‘Puke’s’ mother was trying to decide on a name when someone suggested Ambergris, which she ended up using. Ambergris’s mother didn’t realize it was meant to be a joke and fell in love with the name, not understanding what she was going to do to her daughter.>”
“<It sounds like a nice name. What’s wrong with it?>”
“<Do you know what ambergris is?>”
Sera shook her head no.
“<It’s an ingredient in perfume. Basically its whale vomit.>”
Sera ‘bleched’ and swore never to use perfume as long as she lived.
“She escaped,” Mushizo said, the faintest bit of dread creeping into his voice. There was now a good chance his resurrection was about to come to an end.
Gemma remained impassive for a moment. Slowly he turned away from the Devils and walked off. “I will inform the Shogun of what has happened.”
None of the Devils had a particularly good feeling about that.
Once out of sight of the others, Gemma pulled a small marble out of his boot. He gave the command word and watched expand large enough to fill his hand. A second word initiated contact with a likewise orb that the Shogun had nearby, his image filling the interior of the orb
“How did it go, Gemma?” The cowled image of the Shogun asked..
“All went as planned save that there was one escape.” It was time to see how the Shogun would react to the failure.
Surprisingly, he seemed very unconcerned. “It was bound to happen. I simply hoped it would be later rather than sooner. Have Herb move his armies in a defensive web, reinforcing the south heavily. I want us cut off from the rest of the world.”
Gemma moved to obey, but was brought short as he was about to shrink the orb.
“Make certain that the armies are no closer than twenty miles. It is as much for their safety as a desire to keep them out of the way. You are in charge of security within that twenty miles. I don’t want a mouse to get near here. Do you understand? More failures will not be tolerated.”
“Of course, my Lord.”
“Good!” The image of the Shogun disappeared, allowing Gemma to shrink the orb and replace it once more. Events were moving faster than even he thought they would. Perhaps it was time to start going into exact details of what he was going to do to Japan once it was his.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Anyone familiar with Wade Tritschler’s work knows who ‘Ambergris’ really is, and that she belongs to him. I named my own Perfume before coming into contact with his work, but still couldn’t resist using a character as original as that.
Special Thanks to
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