The Mighty Ronin, Fukitso,
An 11-chapter Sword and Sorcery Spectacular!
AUniverse Gone Mad!
A MOMENT, NO ONE MOVED. Even the faint desert breeze stilled
suddenly, as if in anticipation.
His gaze fixed on his bizarre twin, Fukitso swung smoothly down from his restless mount and, with sword still in hand, strode down the long sandy slope until he stood only a stone's throw from the other. Here he stopped. Behind him, Fadil Khan watched with wondering eyes, his own gaze flicking back and forth between the two bald giants and the hovering violet cloud. Slowly, those eyes narrowed cunningly.
Thus far, no one had broken the silence. Now, the new-comer allowed a slight smile to stir his lips. "So," he said, in a voice like the rumble of a distant avalanche. "What demon are you that you take my face?" For just a moment, he cast a glance over the surrounding sandy wasteland. His nearly-white eyes returned to Fukitso. The smile faded away. "What world is this? Well? How have you brought me here? Speak, demon, speak before I kill you."
"I don't know who the devil you are," the Ronin returned combatively, "but it's you who have my face, not I who has yours. And, as for who will kill who --"
But before Fukitso could complete his sentence, the twin stranger swung up his gleaming katana so it flashed like lightning in the sun and a hoarse battle cry rang like an alarum from his snarling lips.
With the speed of a samadhi, he bounded across the intervening space, crossing the distance in a heartbeat. Fukitso reacted just as quickly, his own blade rising to meet the other's with a crash and shower of blue sparks.
And thus the battle was joined.
Fadil Khan could only stare in dumb amazement, awed
by such an unbridled display of strength, speed and skill. The
two men looked identical except for their clothes, and it was clear
they were evenly matched for prowess as well. There was something
awesomely primordial in the contest. Again and again, blade met
blade, as first one then the other was forced back, neither able to
penetrate the other's shield of whirling steel nor gain the upper hand
for more than a moment. It was like watching two colossal gods
waging war on the edge of the world, two titans at the dawn of Time.
While Fadil Khan found himself almost mesmerized by the amazing spectacle, he nonetheless tore his eyes from the combatants and again studied the violet cloud with a narrow, calculating squint. If Fukitso won this battle, Fadil Khan knew well what to expect; he would find himself once more a prisoner on his way back to Adji Po and the gallows. This was his one chance to escape. It was a desperate chance, to be sure, but the only one to hand. He would be a fool to refuse what fate had thrown his way.
And Fadil Khan was far from a fool.
Quickly, he cast a glance at the giants, still trading blow for blow, their blades flickering and fiery with sunlight that dazzled the eyes. He gave himself no time for doubt. He furtively worked his hands free of the rope that bound him to the karmah. Slowly, tentatively, at first, then gaining speed as he went, he began to make his way down the sandy slope. As he neared the two combatants, he broke into a run. Rushing past them, he didn't slacken his pace but flew up the next dune, sand kicking out behind at every stride, breathing in quick, stolen breaths, straight toward the drifting cloud.
Out of the corner of one eye, Fukitso noticed his escaping prisoner. Instantly he discerned Fadil Khan's purpose. He wasted no breath on useless curses, but threw all his titanic strength into his swordplay, forcing his twin for just a moment to stumble backward in a flurry of sparks. In that moment, Fukitso wheeled and bounded up the slope after Fadil Khan. But his quarry had already gained the crest of the dune ahead of him. Without slackening stride, Fadil Khan hurled himself turban-first into the violet cloud, vanishing in an instant into its swirling heart as if into a cloudy pool.
A split second later, the giant samurai reached the crest and, without hesitation, followed him in.
The mysterious twin, having chased after the Ronin, was only a half dozen strides behind, his sword still raised, meaning to finish their epic battle. But even as he reached the ridge of the dune and was gathering for the leap, he staggered to a halt in a spray of sand. With a thunderous crash and blinding flash of lightning -- the violet cloud simply vanished.
The stranger stood there in stunned amazement, the wind blowing swirls of sand around his legs. His forgotten sword planted its tip at his feet. Slowly, he looked around him, at the endless sea of rolling, silken dunes, a desert that stretched for as far as the eye could see. The karmah, frightened by all the swordplay, had run off, now a mere distant white speck on the heat-rippled horizon. He was alone -- alone but for the clear cerulean sky, the steadily burning sun, and the faintly dying thunder that dwindled at last to silence.
Fukitso had never been one to give deep thought to a
plan of attack. His nature was one of instantaneous response, of
dynamic, hair-trigger impulse. For all his tremendous size and
strength, his greatest asset lay in his weird, blind-seeming
eyes. Those nearly-white orbs concealed his thoughts, confounding
his enemies who, unable to foresee where he might leap, or how he might
strike with his keen-bladed katana,
could no more counter his actions than they could guard against a bolt
of lightning lancing from a black and wind-whipped sky.
This, coupled with his explosive reflexes, had seen the Ronin through many a bloody contest in which he had been both out-numbered and out-classed in terms of weaponry and armour. His advantage lay in speed. To think, to pause in momentary consideration of a course, was to give up that advantage. To court death.
All the same, this time he wished he had taken a moment to weigh the wisdom of following Fadil Khan into the mysterious, violet cloud. He was paying for that impulse now.
It was as if he was caught in a tornado. All sense of up or down, of right or left, was rendered meaningless, swept away even as the Ronin himself was swept twisting and turning, flipping and flailing on howling, violet torrents of air, like a leaf trapped in a typhoon, like a bit of flotsam spinning crazily down the throat of a whirlpool. All around him was the shrill screaming of the maelstrom, a single sustained shriek as of a deafening chorus of tormented souls all crying out for final, merciful release. He felt dwarfed by the titanic forces against which he struggled. They played with him as a samadhi plays with a tiny avator, all his strength, all his size counting for naught; his samurai training rendered useless against a universe gone mad. And then...
...it was over. The Ronin found himself tumbling on green, sweet-smelling grass, head over heels, as if fired from a catapult, unable to halt his course but thankful nonetheless to be freed of that insane, screaming wind. Thankful, that is, until at last he collided with a tree with a force that would have broken asunder another man's skull.
How long he lay there unconscious he could never know. But when he came to, he continued to lie a moment, eyes closed, flat on his back, slowly regaining his senses. Finally, with a groan, he sat up and looked searchingly around. He winced as one hand tenderly touched his battered scalp.
His katana, Ginago, lay in the grass at his side. Deftly he picked it up.
Characteristically, his first thought was of Fadil Khan. The villain was nowhere to be seen, but that was nothing strange. Fukitso found himself in a forest glade. There were thick, tangled trees on every hand, a deep, shadowy sea of fragrant green into which an entire army could have marched and still be hidden from view. Then too, he had no idea how long he had lain unconscious. Still, Fadil Khan was soft and city bred. He would not have known to cover his tracks -- it would be no challenge for the keen-sighted samurai to pick up his trail, however far he might have gotten.
Fukitso's next thought was of the mysterious violet cloud. He climbed to his feet, mildly surprised to find that no bones had been broken. He frowned as he realized that the violet cloud which had brought him to this place had vanished. For a moment, he stood there pondering this bizarre mystery, a finger scratching his bald, top-knotted head in grim bafflement. A moment before he had been a few hours' walk from the city of Adji Po, in the midst of the desert surrounded by endlessly rolling dunes. Now he stood in a forest, not a dune in sight. What magic was at work that could so transport him in the wink of an eye? And, more important, what was this place? And who was that stranger who wore his face, that twin who even carried a katana identical to his Ginago? Was he a man, or a djinni?
To these questions, he had no answers.
One thing seemed certain. The stranger had not followed him into the cloud. Whoever he was, whether man or djinni, he was still back in the desert. If a man, and if he was as confused as Fukitso, he would not know the way to Adji Po; lost in the desert, it was unlikely he would find his way to water ere the killing heat finished him off. He was as good as--
Fukitso's thoughts were interrupted as a shrill scream rang out suddenly on the air. It was a woman's scream, aching with horror and despair!
"My baby!" she wailed wretchedly, even as Fukitso,
with sword in hand, bounded smoothly into the woods in the direction of
the cry. "Somebody save my baby!"
On to Episode 3....A Crystal Ball
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