The Ronin, Fukitso, returns in...

Fukitso and the Golden Egg

A 9-Chapter Sword & Sorcerer of the Mighty Ronin!

by Jeffrey Blair Latta

Previously: The Ronin, Fukitso, is employed as the Niban, in charge of the Ichiba's palace guards. The Ichiba sends him to arrest some conspirators who are organizing a revolt, but, in the excitement, 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 for treason.
Now, that night...

Chapter Four - Attack on the Causeway

THE GREAT PALACE OF KARI-ZAK squatted like a horned demon atop its plateau which rose from the level city like a fantastic, rough-hewn stool.  To reach the plateau from the ground, a slender causeway of earth and stone sloped at a steady rate from the south edge of the city's commercial plaza clear to the main gateway of the palace.  Like a slim dagger, this causeway clove the city nearly in twain from north to south.  Hence was it named, "The Blade of Ichiba".  So, while the wealthy home of Takai-Yadoya was located only a short distance from the foot of the plateau, the conspirators were forced to walk a great deal farther to reach the gateway to the "Blade".

Kyoi had recovered shortly after setting out, so that all the party walked.  All save Fukitso, who rode mounted upon a strong, white karmah as befitted a Niban.  The karmah stode the cobbled stones just ahead of the band, its short forelimbs folded to its chest, blunt snout pointing forward, and broad tail extended behind.  Its thickly muscled legs could have carried it the length of the city in a matter of moments.  But, for now, it walked with a slow, slender stride.

For a time, the band walked in the ghostly twilight of the overhanging balconies, occasional spears of orange moonlight glancing from the armour of the Zaki.  Then they stepped out onto the polished marble vastness of the plaza.  The surrounding shops lay barren and forlorn, in accordance with the curfew.  But somewhere in the slums beyond, the sound of drunken revelry rose on the stale night air.

Crossing the plaza, they stopped before the entrance to the causeway.  To the right of the entrance sat the Temple of Kondomi, its pillared interior now dark and desolate.  Wakai gazed at that nighted portico, but saw no hope therein.

Without question, the two guards on duty admitted the band, and so commenced the long trip to the palace.

The causeway was quite thin with low stone walls on either hand such that the party could just barely walk with three abreast -- a Zaki on either side of a prisoner.  By the time they had crossed half its length, the majesty of Kari-Zak spread beneath them like a beautiful dream-land bathed in orange moon-glow.  But the trembling conspirators had eyes only for the dark and jagged shadow outlined against the stars ahead.  Of course, none could yet see the mounted figure who waited patiently at the gateway to the palace...

Zaki-Iwaba had always been a loyal and trustworthy individual.  The very thought of attaining the high position of Niban had never even crossed his simple mind.  Yet today he had been granted that privilege, and he was fairly drunk with the unexpectedness of it all.  And, as his first duty would be to arrest his Ronin predecessor, he wished to see to the task personally.  Of course, it had never occurred to him to bring an escort.  The Zaki now accompanying the traitor could readily be untilized should there be any resistance.  And Zaki-Iwaba did have a flare for the dramatic.

Fukitso reined his karmah to a halt as he saw the mounted Zaki limned by the light of two torches.  An uneasy chill spread between his shoulders.

"Zaki!" he bellowed, with confidence he did not feel.  "What are you doing there?  Upon a karmah?  Have you a message?"

A mischievous smirk played upon the lips of the other as he slowly drew a parchment scroll from beneath his cloak.  This he opened under the light of the torches and, with a dignified clearing of his throat, he began to read.  (Or pretended to.  For, like most Zaki, he could decipher not a word of Ioni.)

"By the order of his most high Ichiba, and by the power granted me as Niban, I place you, Fukitso, under arrest for treason against Dos-Yamura and against the Ichiba.  Sentenced to hiyake to commence--"

Sadly Zaki-Iwaba, momentary Niban, never completed his first and only assignment as, with a savage roar like the very earth in upheaval, Fukitso tore his katana from its scabbard and, reining his mount, charged upon the startled warrior.  The other barely had time for a pitiful shriek ere Ginago howled and the Silver Jaw impaled his chest to the hilt.  With a furious wrench, Fukitso dragged the crimson blade from his foe, who toppled from his frantic mount and vanished over the wall.  Zaki-Iwaba would never drop his eyes again.

The accompanying Zaki lined along the causeway behind, momentarily too startled to save the Niban, now whipped forth their long, bronze-bladed swords.  In groups of two they advanced upon the raging giant who was still hardput to control his own panicked mount.

He knew that his position was hopeless.  While the Zaki could only attack two at a time, the narrow causeway left no room to maneuver and, in mere moments, any rear escape would be cut off as well as the Zaki on watch answered the calls of his antagonists.  Could he but calm his karmah sufficiently, he might yet ride through to freedom.  But he knew that there was little chance of that, as it was all he could do to keep the beast from plunging them both over the wall.

It was then that aid came from an unexpected quarter.

"Death to the Ichiba!" cried Wakai, flinging his manacled wrists about the neck of the rearmost Zaki.

Immediately the other conspirators took up the cry and leapt upon the startled warriors.  The long blades were useless at such close quarters, and the Zaki were forced to drop their weapons in order to defend themselves.  Several more Zaki farther behind rushed to the aid of their comrades, crushing the conspirators with their very numbers.

Then a party of Zaki appeared at the palace gates shouting wildly in their excitement.  Fukitso cursed venomously and vainly struck his mount with the flat of his blade.

For a brief instant, a path materialized through the brawling mass, and the karmah, hysterical from the bedlam, bolted for freedom.  With great, sweeping strides of its powerful limbs, it thundered through the terrified warriors crushing men beneath its fantastic claws.  A few warriors tried foolishly to halt the juggernaut, only to be tossed doll-like over the wall.  For a moment, a Zaki grasped Fukitso about the leg and clung to his prize like a naga-gur.  The roar of Ginago was the last sound he would ever hear.

And, then, Fukitso was clear and racing down the causeway.  Behind arose frantic shouts, and sharp stones, launched from slings, rained about him.  But these too were soon left behind.

At the entrance to the causeway, the two Zaki waited eagerly.  They had heard the distant fighting, and knew by the shouting that the instigator was mounted and fleeing their way.  They stood ready, sling in one hand and sword in the other.  Across the entrance was placed a taut rope barrier.  The barrier was quite a bit higher than the wall itself and, it was well known, karmah were abysmal jumpers.

Now they could distinguish the dull rumble of the approaching animal.  Its scaly white hide became visible against the black of the slope.  One Zaki shouted a warning.  But still the thrumming thunder grew.  Slings commenced to whirl.  The Zaki shouted again...

And his shout became a cry of surprise as he flung open the barrier, even as the white behemoth crashed unstoppably past.  The Zaki could only stare open-mouthed.

The karmah had been riderless.

High atop the distant heights of the palace battlements, there was none to see the dark and hooded figure of the kurocho which gazed in silence upon the scene of recent combat and then, turning and drawing tight its cloak, melted into the night...

Previous episode: Treason at Midnight
Next episode: A Desperate Lie

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