The Mighty Ronin, Fukitso,
returns in...


Fukitso and the Lair of the Havok!

An 11-chapter Sword and Sorcery Spectacular!

By Jeffrey Blair Latta




Previously: Fukitso was taking Fadil Khan back to the gallows at Adji Po when they encountered a cloud out of which appeared a twin of Fukitso.  Fadil Khan leaped into the cloud, but Fukitso followed to another world where the peasants mistook him for their King Shakara.  One peasant informed the court sorcerer, Vultan, that his plan to get rid of King Shakara had not worked.  Vultan was in league with the king's brother, Drandal.  Because King Shakara was invincible, their plan was to banish him to another world.  Fukitso pretended to be King Shakara, but, with the vizier, Karim, sent a message to another wizard, Giana, asking for help.  Fadil Khan revealed Fukitso's deception to Vultan and Vultan promised to make Fadil Khan king instead of Drandal.  Meanwhile, the twin Shakara was mistaken for Fukitso, captured, then rescued by Migoti.  Meanwhile, Vultan unleashed a mystic plague.  Consulting the Idol (secretly controlled by Vultan), Fukitso was sent to steal a havok egg -- only to find not one but a whole nest of "havoks".  Vultan was ambushed by the betrayed Drandal, who, though he knew the secret to Vultan's power, was nonetheless defeated...

Episode Ten:

Talons in the Dark


MIGOTI SWUNG DOWN FROM the camel's high-horned saddle and waited for her giant companion to join her.

Her giant companion?  Rather King Shakara of Pandrakiam!

After their narrow escape from Jabal Shah and his band of cutthroats, they had ridden hard all night, eager to make Kabal before the morning sun turned the desert into a baking furnace.  Along the way, King Shakara had related his tale -- and what a tale!

Migoti had had a hard time believing it.  A parallel world in which lived doubles for every man and woman?  How could such a thing be possible?  There was no doubt this giant looked so much like Fukitso he could have been the Ronin's twin, yet even now she half suspected this was some bizarre trick.  Yet had she not seen for herself how a scimitar shattered against the giant's broad chest?  How to explain that miracle?  King Shakara claimed he had been made invincible by a wizard.  Invincible!

Even Shakara himself could not know for certain the truth of his tale.  He knew only the things he had seen and experienced.  He had been lured to a glade and transported to this desert by a magic cloud.  He had fought with his double and the double had chased another man into the magic cloud just as it vanished.  Then he had encountered others of this world who clearly mistook him for the double whose name was Fukitso.  The rest he surmised based on his knowledge and his wits.

By the time the two riders came in sight of the minarets of Kabal, Migoti's skepticism had melted away.  Gods help her, she believed his story!  He really was King Shakara of Pandrakiam!

And with acceptance came the realization that the real Fukitso must be trapped in that other world.  He had no way back.  While she and the Ronin had experienced their differences in the past, they had also forged a bond.  She supposed, as usual, she would have to rescue him now.

Besides which, King Shakara continued to insist he would reward her for rescuing him from Jabal Shah.  But only if they could find some way to return him to his world.

Luckily, Migoti happened to know a way.

Or at least, she knew a wizard who just might be able to reopen the doorway if anyone alive possessed the power.

Now, King Shakara dismounted and stepped to her side.  He regarded with scepticism the mud-brick hovel she had brought him to.

"This is the home of your wizard?"

Migoti slapped a mosquito.  "He is a humble man.  His needs are spiritual, not earthly."  She glanced up at him with an angry frown.  "And he will not appreciate your criticism."

"I apologize," King Shakara rumbled sincerely.  "I am not feeling kindly disposed to wizards at the moment."

Migoti stepped up to the small wooden door and rapped the brass knocker sharply.  For a moment, there was only silence.  Then there came the sound of footsteps and the door swung slowly open.

Migoti parted her lips in greeting -- when behind her, King Shakara exclaimed: "By the Idol, the serpent rears its head!"

A tall, goateed man stood in the doorway, dressed in brown robes and carrying a jewelled sceptre.  He blinked in surprise at the giant's sudden outcry.

King Shakara knocked Migoti aside even as he whipped his sword from its scabbard and placed the deadly point to the wizard's throat.

"Are you mad?" Migoti shouted, furiously dragging down his swordarm.

"Do you know who this is?" King Shakara returned.

"Of course," she replied, still mystified.  "This is the wizard I told you about.  This is the sorcerer...Vultan!"

***

As the havoks surged out of the darkness into the ring of light cast by the torch, Fukitso finally saw what it was he faced.  They were great hairy apelike beasts, with reddish fur striped with black, and long fingers tipped with vicious curving talons.  The light flashed off snarling yellow fangs, slavering drool spilling grotesquely from their champing jaws.

Cursing under his breath, the Ronin desperately swung his katana, decapitating the foremost beast, then swung again hacking into another.  Another man might have sought to fall back before that hideous tide, but not Fukitso.  The mighty Ronin carried the attack to the attackers.  From his lips sounded an animal growling every bit as bestial as that made by the creatures themselves.  Though trained as a samurai, his was a primitive prowess; he was the eternal primordial fighting a battle as old as Man himself.

But there were too many of them.

For every havok he killed, another materialized out of the darkness, jaws agape, talons seeking to bring him down.

He recognized the creatures now.  He had encountered just such apelike beasts on the Coral Coast along the Jadzra Sea.  But the locals had called them shirmas and those creatures had been peaceful vegetarians.  Then Fukitso recalled what Karim had told him -- how this world was similar to his own but with small differences.

Small?!

As Fukitso fought his way through the mass of snarling havoks, the torchlight abruptly played upon a mountain of eggs heaped in a corner.  Havok eggs!

Yet what good did that do him now?  The creatures had cut off any hope of escape.  Even his titanic strength was fading fast before their sustained onslaught.  A few minutes more and they would break through his shield of whirling steel.  A few minutes and he would be torn literally to pieces.

And then, even those few minutes were denied the embattled samurai.  More by luck than design, one of the havoks struck out with a great hairy paw, smashing the torch from his grasp and sending it tumbling to the ground in a burst of yellow sparks.

The torch went out, plunging the cave into darkness...

***

Before the wide, stone steps of the palace, a vast crowd had gathered.  It was nearly noon and the midday sun turned the courtyard into a stifling furnace.  The heat exacerbated already aggravated tempers, encouraging more than one fight to break out among the close packed throng.  Otherwise, they were surprisingly well behaved.

The cacophonous gathering comprised a fair cross section of the population of Pandrakiam.  Richly robed noblemen rubbed shoulders with dirty, bedraggled beggars; courtiers in silk and lace jostled for room amidst the clamouring peasantry; the wealthy, the poor, the powerful, the meek, all stood united by a single common all consuming sentiment.  All were driven by fear.

Not fear of the sickness which had visited them in the night.  For, strangely, no sooner had their beloved king set out on the quest given him by the Idol than the curse seemed to lift from the land.  Truly, it was a miracle.  There were no further reports of men stricken with sudden madness.  The gods, it seemed, were appeased.

No, not fear of the sickness.  Fear born of rumour.  Fear of words spoken in hushed whispers and dark corners, passed on by trembling lips to disbelieving ears.  Fear that the rumour might be true.

A line of palace guardsmen stood arrayed before the steps nervously eyeing the unruly crowd.  In polished cuirass and gleaming morion, they were a magnificent sight, but the fear in their eyes gave the lie to that aspect.  It would not take much to start a panic, they knew.  They had not enough men to control this crowd.  Not nearly enough.

Suddenly, the palace doors flung wide and the court sorcerer strode grandly out into the harshly dazzling sunlight.  He stopped at the top of the steps and gazed out over the jumbled heads and waving hands.  After a moment, he raised his lean arms, his jewelled sceptre blazing like a star, signalling the crowd to silence.

The tumult faded to a murmur and Vultan slowly lowered his arms.  "People of Pandrakiam," he called out in a powerful commanding voice, it is noon and King Shakara has not returned from the Cave of the Havok."  He paused a moment, then: "The king is dead!"

The words were like fire to a brand.  Instantly the crowd began screaming and yelling.  Women swooned and strong men began to weep, tearing at their beards in the extremity of despair.  Again Vultan signalled for silence and, so commanding was his presence, that a sickly calm descended once more on the courtyard -- a sickly calm broken only by a low, scattered moaning.

"Yes, the king is dead..." he repeated grimly, "...but he must have a successor.  As his court sorcerer, we have chosen such a successor.  A man suited to sit on the ivory throne.  A man we trust."

As he spoke, Fadil Khan stepped through the palace doors.  He was dressed in sartorial splendour, with clothes taken from King Shakara's own wardrobe.  First impressions, he knew, were important.  He took his place just behind Vultan, impatiently awaiting his cue to step forward and humbly accept the kingship.

"This man," Vultan continued, "we now bring before you.  People of Pandrakiam, bow -- bow before your new king!"

And a voice boomed out: "I wouldn't bow before that dog if you paid me a Daimyo's ransom!"

Barely were the words spoken than the crowd parted and a giant figure strode arrogantly through the gap and up the palace steps.  Only as he reached the top and turned at last to face the crowd, did they realize who he was.  That knowledge gave birth to a voice.

"The king!" shouted one man.  "King Shakara has returned!"

For a moment, the resulting excitement threatened to precipitate a riot.  The crowd flew into a rapturous frenzy, the guardsmen anxiously drawing their swords.  Yet Fukitso calmly raised a hand, restoring order.  Vultan regarded him with a dazed look in his eyes.  All his plans, all his scheming...for nothing.

"Your Majesty," he stammered, "when you had not returned, we despaired for you.  Thank the Idol you have come back to us unharmed."

"I can see you despaired for me," Fukitso rumbled wryly, glancing at Fadil Khan cringing behind the sorcerer.  "And I see you've met my friend Fadil Khan."  His eyes returned to the sorcerer and he held out something in his fist.  "By the way, here's you damn havok egg.  Although I'm betting the sickness quit all on its own as soon as I left.  Those havoks turned out to be quite a challenge.  I'll admit, for a time there I didn't think I'd make it.  But then my torch went out and that saved my hide.  They couldn't see in pitch blackness any more than I could.  Luckily I'd disguised my scent before going in there.  In the dark, I just helped myself to one of their eggs and walked right past them."

For a moment, Vultan merely stared blankly at the outstretched fist holding the Havok egg.  His mind whirled dizzily, all his plans coming to ruin.  It was too much.

Far too much...

With a sudden savage snarl, he lashed out, striking the egg from Fukitso's grasp and sending it splattering on the palace steps.

The crowd gasped in amazement.  But then, a strange look transformed the sorcerer's lean features.  Slowly, the crafty gleam returned to his eyes, a vindictive twist curled his lips.

Fukitso frowned.

"Your Majesty," Vultan purred, "what is this we see on your arm?"  When the sorcerer had struck his hand, the Ronin's kimono fell back, revealing his muscular limb.  Now he raised that powerful arm and the crowd gasped again.  One of the Havoks had managed to scratch him with its razor sharp talons.  The wound still seeped blood.  "King Shakara is invincible," Vultan shouted, raising his voice for the sake of the crowd, stepping quickly back.  "He could never bleed!  You are an imposter!  You are a djinni disguised as our king!  You are a demon!!!"



Back to Episode 9...Ambush in the Courtyard

On to The Conclusion...The Wrath of Vultan


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Fukitso and the Lair of the Havok! is copyright 2004 by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)