The Ronin, Fukitso, returns in...

Fukitso and the Golden Egg



A 10-Chapter Sword & Sorcerer of the Mighty Ronin!

by Jeffrey Blair Latta
 


Previously: The Ronin, Fukitso, in charge of the Ichiba's palace guards, is sent to arrest some conspirators, but one dwarf conspirator escapes.  The Ichiba, having pretended to execute the peasants' high priestess, secretly keeps her prisoner in the east tower. The Ichiba's power depends on a "kurocho", a sorcerer whom the Ichiba controls through the possession of a mysterious golden egg. Fukitso receives a gift from the Ichiba, a beautiful woman, who knocks him out, for what purpose, Fukitso doesn't know. Suspicious of Fukitso's sympathies with the peasants, the Ichiba decides to arrest him, but Fukitso escapes. The dwarf conspirator, Okii, enlists Fukitso's help to rescue the priestess, lying to the Ronin, concealing the fact that she is a priestess, and promising her as a reward.  Fukitso decides to recruit Nandalia, Hanbun of the Aka-Zaki.  Nandalia is purposely imprisoned in the east tower where she escapes and frees the other conspirators and the priestess.  Fukitso leads the peasants in an attack on the Ichiba's palace and kills the Ichiba.  The sorcerer appears and takes the golden egg off the Ichiba's body.

Now for the conclusion...


Chapter Ten - Nandalia vs Fukitso!


AND SLOWLY, SEDUCTIVELY, THE ROBE was drawn back revealing inky black locks, a fine-lined countenance, dark, rounded shoulders, and the faintest flash of ebony limbs.  It was the girl who had come so mysteriously to the Ronin's chambers just the day before -- the girl who had come then vanished just as mysteriously.

"Yes," said the Andu.  "I am the kurocho.  And I am your master."

"No man is my master!" roared Fukitso.

"Ah, but as you can see, I am no man!  And I am your master -- as I have been since the day I first worked my spells upon you in your very chambers (see chapter two~The Supreme Plasmate). Your will is mind and your sword is useless."

And, indeed, the startled giant found his sword-arm would not respond to his want.  It hung limp and powerless at his side, Ginago's point resting helplessly upon the stones.

"Abandon your futile struggling," advised the kurocho, as Fukitso strained to fight the spell.  "It would gain you nothing even could you use your weapon.  For, in truth, what you see before you is merely my dream-form, conjured by spells learned from my masters in the City of Amak.  It has no substance and so cannot be hurt.  And it is invisible to all but you.  I am no fool as to face you in body.  But, no doubt, you wish to know why the elaborate hoax?"

The other gave no response save a guttural snarl as he struggled once more to raise his traitorous limb.

"Power," continued the Andu, ignoring the exertions of the giant.  "Through you I shall at last gain the power which I deserve!"

"Hayai-Kuchi gave you power," argued Fukitso, through clenched teeth.

"That fool gave me nothing!" screamed the woman.  "Nothing save slavery!  It was I who came to him, two seasons past.  I offered him my spells to make his Zaki unbeatable and sovereignty boundless.  And how did he repay me?  How reward me for my services?  With betrayal!  Among my meagre belongings, enwrapped in soft pelts and fabrics, I carried an ancient, mystical egg of pure gold and engraved with symbols the loathsome import of which even I do not fully understand.  In gaining the awesome abilities of my birthright, I was forced to accept certain sacrifices.  Within its fragile flesh resides the very essence of my being.  It gives me both life and strength -- but only so long as I do not venture far from its influence."

Here the Andu paused and a brief shudder of renewed fury swept her slender frame.  When once more she spoke it was in a timbre so filled with wrath as to make even Fukitso halt in his struggles.

"Somehow Hayai-Kuchi learned of my egg's secret," she hissed.  "He hired common thieves to steal it from my chambers.  Then he called me in private to his throne and, smiling, told me that henceforth I was to be his slave.  All that was mine was now his; my knowledge, my spells, my body.  To use as he saw fit.  Else, he said, should I dare to disobey, wherever he was, whatever doing, he would smash the shell at his very feet.  Whether he truly knew how terrible was the punishment he contemplated, I know not.  But I would rather death by hiyake than such a fate.  So I obeyed.  Whatever he wanted was his.  I gave him victory in battle and pleasure in his chambers.  And, all the while, I bided my time.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Until at last my patience was rewarded.

"Hayai-Kuchi, worried by the mutterings of the peasants, chose to quell their unrest by raising his status to the very brink of godhood.  To do this, he simply ordered that the high priestess of Kondomi be arrested on a charge of treason and executed in full view of all upon the Hill of the Sun.  This plan would have served him well, save that I, using my spells, replaced the priestess with one of my slave girls, secreting the priestess in the east tower.

"Only a short time later did you come riding into Kari-Zak seeking to hire out your sword.  I took little interest in you until that incident with the Niban.  Then did I finally form a plan by which to escape the leash of Hayai-Kuchi.  With vague warnings muttered to the already worried Ichiba, I tricked him into declaring you an outlaw.  But, the day before your arrest, I worked my spells upon you to ensure that in this relationship t'would be I who was the master.

"The rest must be obvious even to you.  Had you not escaped, I should have freed you.  And, once so, it was certain you would be approached by some member of the revolt.  With you as leader of the rebels, they would stand a far greater chance of success.  Of course, if you failed, I would be none the worse.  But, if you succeeded in over-throwing Hayai-Kuchi, at my command you would proclaim yourself Ichiba with none to know that t'was I who truly pulled the strings."

A shadow of surprise crept across the sharp features of the Kurocho, as Fukitso gave forth a grim and knowing chuckle.

"You have planned well, woman," he growled, slowly.  "But I think you have placed too much faith in my abilities as a leader.  The peasants are blinded by blood and the thrill of battle.  But give them a season and the unrest will return.  I am a Ronin, yes.  But not of their blood.  I may look much like these peasants, but I am not one of them.  And the amber-skinned city-dwellers like me even less.  No, kurocho.  My reign cannot last.  And so neither may your power."

"Ah, but there you are mistaken," laughed the Andu, her confidence quickly returning.  "For, you see, to ensure your long reign we shall take a lesson from Hayai-Kuchi."

With a slender limb the kurocho motioned toward the great causeway upon which still stood a slight and frail figure silhouetted against the crimson evening.

"Kill the high priestess with your own sword!"

Suddenly, the giant's body was no longer his own.  As if in a dream, he felt his hand firmly grip Ginago and raise the scarlet katana from the ground.  He heard his voice bellow forth his cruel intention.  He heard the gathered throng give up a murmured echo of confusion -- but as yet disbelief held them back.  And, with firm but heavy stride, he crossed the stained surface of the plaza toward the entrance to the "Blade" and the figure which waited thereupon in numbed terror.

"Hold, savage!" ordered Nandalia, leaping nimbly into his path.

She had long since abandoned the unwieldy beetle-armour and now stood clothed only in the torn tunic and breeches stolen from her jailer.  To the unknowing eye she stood vulnerable and unprotected.  But, while her golden limbs were streaked with scarlet, of wounds she bore none.  She was the wind.

"I know not wherefore thou doth this deed, yet thou shalt not touch the child with either hand nor blade.  Not whilst Nandalia, Hanbun of the Aka-Zaki, yet stands!"

Nandalia could not hear the cruel laugh of the kurocho's dream-form.  To her, the giant paused at her own bold challenge.  She could not know that to his ears came words of a different sort; words spoken like a sentence of death.

"Very well then," chuckled the dream-form.  "Fukitso! Kill the high priestess -- and all who stand in your way!"

***
In height the supple form of Nandalia barely reached the level of Fukitso's broad chest.  Standing crouched and expectant beneath his strange-eyed gaze, her slight and slender figure gave scant credence to her oath.  But, still, the giant seemed halted in his tracks by this daring nymph as a herd of barapur before an avator.  Tiny drops of sweat beaded his dark forehead as if from some titanic inner struggle, and his clenched knuckle noticeably trembled at his side.  But, with a slow nod of acquiesence, he lowered his gleaming blade, and Nandalia allowed herself a faint sigh of relief.

Once more Fukitso's unknowable gaze proved his greatest strength as, without warning, he lashed out in a screaming arc which even Nandalia could not wholly avoid, receiving a fierce gash across the ribs from which scarlet blood flowed like wine.  Before she could recover from this unexpected attack, Ginago roared again, this time in a downward stroke intended to cleave her in twain.  In instinctive desperation, Nandalia caught the full shock of the blow directly upon her own blade, the awesome force of which crushed her to her knees with a cry of pain.

Like most skilled warriors, Nandalia well knew the limitations of her tool.  And, so, she knew also that it could not survive another such blow.  Thus, for a moment, she fell to the defensive, lithely leaping back from another furious arc, then rolling to the right even as Ginago lighter her shadow with sparks.  As the giant strove to raise his blade from the stones, Nandalia landed supply on her feet and struck at his forearm, washing his knuckles with red.  He roared with bestial rage and cut upward in a murderous sweep which she only narrowly managed to turn aside.

Now, at least, was the initial shock created by Fukitso's first attack a thing of the past.  Now did she begin to fight.  Once more she was the wind, deftly deflecting the terrible cuts of the Silver Jaw with swift, almost invisible strokes.  Yet, even the wonderful art of the Aka-Zaki, perfected over generations of use, could not completely save her from the incredible strength of her Samurai opponent.  Her lithesome thews burned like molten stone with each fantastic blow, and slowly but incessantly was she forced up the steps of the temple.

To all appearances, however, Fukitso had taken a far greater beating, now streaming scarlet from a score of minor wounds.  Again and again did he cry out with rage and pain as his nimble antagonist darted a stinging cut beneath his guard, her only hope being to bleed him to exhaustion.  But the giant Ronin never faltered, coming ever onwards; forcing her ever back with sure, hacking strokes.

All the while, the kurocho's dream-form watched with gloating anticipation, standing just clear of the fray behind Fukitso.  Finally, with a sigh of one bored by a particularly tedious dance, she raised a slender arm and shouted imperiously.

"Truly, Ronin!  Your stamina amazes even me.  But I would not waste your blood upon a mere nuisance such as she.  Finish my command at once!"

Though to both the watching throng and to Nandalia no sound was apparent, to Fukitso the command and the action were as one.  Ginago roared in a blinding, lightning sweep catching the weapon of the other just above the wrist-guard and snapping the blade like bamboo.  Once more Nandalia reacted without thought releasing the useless hilt and pivoting upon her heel while lashing out with the other foot in that terrible golden arc which had spelled the end of so many others.  But, this time, a sharp, resounding slap echoed beneath the portico as her ankle was caught firmly, surely, and painfully in the giant's unbreakable grip.  And, for perhaps the first time in her life, Nandalia felt fear.

Desperately she strove to retain her balance upon her one limb, while her tormentor, cruelly tightening his grasp, dragged her other straining limb up and across his broad shoulder.  Then, with grim finality, using his shoulder as a fulcrum, he flung her bodily over his back and onto the stones beyond raising a thin cloud of dust by the impact.

Thus she lay, blood trickling from her nose, her body wracked with harsh coughs, gently arching her spine as if to pry each individual vertebra from the very stone.  Until even this slight motion ceased when she felt the sharp point of Ginago press firmly into the flesh of her throat.  She dared not even open her eyes, but her fingers clawed like talons at her side and her chest rose and fell with each expectant breath.

Though Fukitso fairly trembled with the fury of his inner battle against the spell, he knew he could not win.  Slowly, meticulously he felt himself lean upon the sword-hilt.  He saw Nandalia begin to writhe beneath its cruel bite.  And he heard the dream-form of the kurocho sigh once more.

"I grow tired of your resistance, savage," she hissed.  "Obey me!  Kill the high priestess and all who stand in your way.  Now!"

Slowly Fukitso raised his weird-eyed gaze from the tortured figure at his feet and glared at the kurocho, and then at the fragile silhouetted form visible beyond her right shoulder.  And he smiled with grisly mirth.

"Very well then, master," he said.  "As you command.  Now...out of my way!"

Whether either Fukitso or the kurocho foresaw the result of his action is impossible to say.  More like, he acted out of desperation and rage, wholly forgetting how useless was his weapon against the intangible dream-form.  For the kurocho's part, the certain grin never left her countenance.  Not even as Fukitso struck at the waiting image, nor even as his steel blade entered its spectral flesh.  Not even as the blade, reaching the area of the heart, stopped as if striking a solid mass, and the giant was flung backward into darkness and cold oblivion, the pitiful shrieks of a doomed woman ringing in his ears...

* * *
"Ah, the hulk danes to grace us with his consciousness!  Me thinks the event should be accomplished right quick!"

"My pounding skull appreciates your wit very little, dwarf," growled Fukitso, rising from the luxuriant divan like a corpse from the earth.

His face was drawn and lined, and his skin a pale grey from loss of blood.  About his thickly-corded chest were wrapped thin gauze bandages beneath which he could feel the warm, healing ointments beginning to soothe.

Beside the dwarf stood the proud figure of Nandalia.  Though she was likewise bandaged about the ribs, her supple frame seemed none the worse for the experience.

"Verily art thou blessed to retain thy skull at all," she laughed slightly.  "Thou wert thrown the very length of the portico."

Fukitso nodded with the slow return of his memory.

"Aye.  I recall.  But what of the kurocho?"

"I knowst not," she replied.  "The mystic hath no doubt fled for safer lands.  T'was such then who didst so hold thee entranced?"

"You saw her not?" asked the giant, with consternation.  "Under the portico?"

"I didst see none save thee.  But verily, I wouldst believe any tale.  For, when thou didst strike at the very air 'bove mine head, lo! a tremendous bedlam didst split the sky and thou wert tossed like a very doll.  And, more, when we didst examine the area whereat thou hadst struck, there 'pon the stones didst we discover silvered fragments of horribly carven gold.  Knowst thou of this?"

"I know very little," laughed Fukitso.  And Okii nodded knowingly.  "Save that I shall live to fight again.  So, tell me, how long have I lain so?  What has passed in my absence?"

"For a full day and night have you so lain," answered Okii.  "During which time much has transpired.  Thanks to you, the revolt was a revolution.  Takai-Yadoya, the merchant, has assumed authority as Ichiba and, for now at least, has the full support of both the citizens and the half-breeds.  He named Ippai as his chief treasurer, though much was looted during the revolt."

"No matter," said the giant.  "I will soon return order to Kari-Zak."

"That, I fear, will not be the case.  The people were furious when you attempted to murder the priestess.  We barely carried you away alive.  You must not show your face in this city again.  Thus Takai-Yadoya has given the position of Niban to Wakai, the youth."

Fukitso nodded.

"They did not see the kurocho's dream-form," he muttered.  Then he laughed.  "No matter.  I shall take my promised reward and be satisfied."

Okii coughed nervously and fingered the hilt beneath his cape.

"Surely, Fukitso," he said, "surely you see that the Ioni which I offered is the high priestess herself and so, obviously, can never be given to you nor to any man?"

The dwarf drew back a step as the giant turned to eye him with a sombre scowl.

"Yes, I had forgotten your deceit," he growled, slowly.  "I dislike being so used, little avatar.  Very much."

Momentarily they eyed each other, dwarf and giant, with Nandalia looking on.  Then he chuckled.

"But they say the blood of dwarves weakens good blades.  And I save Ginago for choicer meats.  You are fortunate.  And while I could take by force what I have earned, still I cannot change what she is -- a high priestess.  I desire a woman to serve me, not to whom I must serve."

"It could not be helped.  We were desperate."

"But, perhaps, this game is not without compensation.  It has, after all, brought even more tempting game within reach."

Saying this, Fukitso hungrily viewed the seething, gold-limbed figure in the corner.

"Samadhi tamed makes a fair companion," he said, cryptically.

"Arrogant wretch!" hissed Nandalia, drawing her new gleaming sword with a harsh rasp.  "I am not one to be so easily tamed!"

"What?  Has our skirmish not yet taught you some manners?"

"It hath taught what was already known!  That thou art a fool!  Lick thy wounds and remember this day!  For, meantime, Nandalia doth ride to recover the Tear of the Sun!  And, more, if thou shouldst dare to follow, I shalt feed thee to the barapur!"

And, with a broad sweep of the tapestries, she was gone.

"I am sorry," apologized Okii, somewhat startled by this display.  "But we may still reward you with something of the treasury."

With a grunt of pain, Fukitso rose stiffly to his feet and donned his kimono and wide-shouldered overmantle.  Then, strapping Ginago to his back, he turned once more to the dwarf.

"The only reward I require," he said, "is a karmah, fast and fresh.  As for your treasury and your priestess, keep them both.  My ancestors being willing, before this day is through, I shall have as much treasure and as much woman as I can handle!"
 

The End.


Previous episode: "I am Their God, Fool!"


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Fukitso and the Golden Egg is copyright Jeffrey Blair Latta.  It is reprinted here with the author's permission.