The Mighty Ronin, Fukitso,
An 11-chapter Sword and Sorcery Spectacular!
A Crystal Ball
STRANGER WHO WORE FUKITSO'S FACE had more than mere physical appearance
in common with the Ronin. He too was a man of action, who wasted
little time on second guesses.
Thus he had waited only a short time on the dune where the cloud had deposited him, just in case the cloud should return. When it was clear that he had indeed been marooned here in the middle of this sun-baked wilderness, he wasted no time. He had noted the tracks left by Fukitso and Fadil Khan and, assuming they had been trekking away from an oasis, he sheathed his sword in the scabbard on his back and grimly began to follow the tracks believing such was his best course of action -- unaware that those tracks were luring him away from Adji Po and his only hope of survival.
With his attention intensely fixed on the tracks, he
failed to notice the flicker of light, like a dying spark, that
momentarily glimmered on the horizon at his back. The brief
reflection of sunlight off the lens of a telescope...
Fukitso burst from the woods in a flurry of leaves to find himself on the bank of a winding, mist-shrouded river. Up and down the embankment, the thick emerald jungle crowded close, overhanging the placidly flowing waters with lazily reaching branches and tangles of dangling creepers. On the opposite bank, a woman stood with hands to her face, her anguished gaze fixed on a little girl, evidently her daughter, desperately struggling to swim in the middle of the river. The girl could have been no older than seven. How she had come to find herself in her present predicament was plain enough to see; an overturned dugout floated only a short distance away.
But it was not danger of drowning which had caused
the child's mother to cry out so. Even as Fukitso paused on the
river's verge, a low, log-like shape broke the mirrored surface a short
distance downstream -- and the Ronin's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.
The shape began to move, the water parting before it in a white, rippling bowwave, leaving in its wake a long spreading V. Fukitso wasn't entirely sure what type of creature it might be, but its intentions were clear. The Ronin knew the child wasn't his responsibility. If he had not chased Fadil Khan into the violet cloud he would not be here now. But he was here, and though he felt irked by this unnecessary distraction, he knew he could not stand by and watch a child devoured by some filthy river serpent.
Not without losing a good night's sleep.
A crowd of on-lookers was gathering on the opposite bank. Attracted by the mother's cries, they rushed from the jungle, milling about like a flock of startled krim, all anxious to discover the cause of the commotion but of little help otherwise. Though they too reacted with horror at the sight of the giant serpent bearing down on the helpless girl, not one of them mustered the courage to go to her aid.
Fukitso drew his smaller wakizashi, Kyodai, from the scabbard in his belt and, with a quick run and a leap, dived smoothly into the river coming up only a short distance from the now-frantic girl. Surfacing, he began to swim toward her with sure, powerful strokes, seemingly mindless of the grisly death barely a stone's throw away. But even as the Ronin approached the girl, he changed his course, veering straight into the path of the oncoming monster.
As the crowd watched in amazement, man and monster met head-on -- only to instantly vanish beneath the surface in a flurry of bubbles! For a moment, the water gradually stilled, as if the whole thing had been some strange illusion. A minute passed and then another. Still the crowd watched with bated breaths. Yet a third minute passed...and suddenly a torrent of deep scarlet blood blossomed at the river's surface, a crimson stain that was smeared into a long, ghastly ribbon by the heedlessly flowing current. A moment later, Fukitso broke the surface beside the little girl and taking her in his mighty arms, made his way quickly to the shore -- well aware that where there was one such creature there might be others, and now there was blood in the water.
The Ronin handed the weeping girl to her thankful mother, then climbed up out of the water with the aid of a hanging creeper. But no sooner was he out of the river than he heard a gasp of astonishment, quickly followed by other exclamations from the surrounding villagers. He looked up in surprise -- then grunted. Almost as one, the villagers dropped to their knees and bowed deeply, until their heads touched the soil. They were bowing -- bowing to him!
For a heartbeat, the Ronin was too surprised to react. His brow furrowed in a scowl of annoyance. Impatiently he growled, "Get up, you fools. What the devil are you bowing for? It's not like I did anything you couldn't have done -- if you'd had a little backbone!"
But still they remained as they were, heads mashed to the ground. Finally, the mother of the little girl raised her face almost apologetically. "Forgive us, we did not recognize you when first you appeared. We are honoured by your visit to our humble village. If we had known you were coming, we would have prepared for you a feast!"
Fukitso stood there in silence, his eyes narrow. He considered for a long moment, then carefully he asked: "And just who do you think I am?"
The mother looked confused, her brow wrinkling doubtfully. "Who do we think you are? Surely you jest with us?"
Fukitso nodded slowly. "Uh huh, that's right. It's a joke. So, humour me. Answer my question anyway."
The mother looked around at the other villagers, many of whom had now timorously raised their eyes, but who offered little encouragement otherwise. "You are Shakara," she said, as if speaking a truth obvious to anyone but a child. "You are our King!"
At her words, Fukitso was again silent. In his
blind-seeming eyes, there was no hint of the thoughts whirling in his
brain. The villagers began to grow nervous, no doubt believing
they had said or done something wrong. But then, the Ronin's lips
slowly curled at the corners, widening into a broad, toothy grin almost
like a snarl. Finally he nodded once, as if relishing a private
jest. "Hai," he
said. "So ka -- that's
right. That's who I am -- I'm this Shek...whatever. I was
just testing you." He gestured with his short sword in what he
hoped was a kingly way, urging them to rise, which they did with wary
"Now," he said, boisterously resheathing his
shortsword, "let's see if we can't do something about that feast you
mentioned, eh? Well, come on, step to it -- your King could eat a
Even as Fukitso was grandly escorted to the village
by a procession of excitedly chattering peasants, one figure there was
who did not join in the royal parade. This man was lean but
short, with a bristling black beard and a nose made crooked by a blow
encountered in some long ago tavern brawl. His eyes were small,
and intensely scheming, a look well fitted to the pensive wringing of
his thin, bony hands. His villainous disposition was stamped on
his features as clearly as an icon stamped on a tarnished coin.
He remained beside the river. All the while the bedlam jabbering of the procession gradually faded away into the tangled green of the jungle he waited. Then, still wringing his hands, he turned and, with a wary backwards glance, slunk off into the verdure, like a snake slithering down its hole.
A short time later, he came upon a rude dirt track in the jungle and, following this, made his way to a low, aged barn, with weathered, leaning walls of splintered wood and a sagging pitched roof. He groaned as he forced open the heavy door until there was just enough room to slip inside. This he did. Then, casting a single wary glance to ensure he had not been followed, he pulled the door closed behind him.
Inside the barn, the gloom was lit by diagonal spears of sunlight that found their glimmering way down through holes in the battered roof, a gilded sparkle of dust lending them a strangely beautiful solidity. But the man had no time to admire motes of dust caught in the sun. His was a mission of urgency for a most unforgiving master.
He crossed the barn to a heap of hay in the far corner. Dropping to his knees, he thrust lean arms deep into the hay, hissed as he found what he sought -- then, oh so gently, drew forth a large crystal ball mounted on a golden base like a serpent with its tail in its mouth.
Carefully he set the crystal ball down on the wooden boards at his knees and delicately dusted it off. His beady, black eyes stared deep into the crystal's icy, sapphire depths.
"Master," he said. "It is your servant, Koto Dashad. Master, I have news for you. Do you hear me? Do you hear your humble servant?"
Almost immediately, the crystal grew clouded with a strange, emerald mist. Then the mist cleared and a face swam slowly into focus. It was a frightful face. A lean, craggy visage with a sharp beard, a cruel hooked nose and narrow eyes that smoldered with a fierce, unholy luminance. And, as that face appeared, even Koto Dashad swallowed nervously.
"Who is it summons us?" asked the face, his voice echoing strangely as if from within a fathomless cavern. "Who summons Vultan? Speak!"
"It is I, Koto Dashad. I have important news for you, Master."
"Important it had better be, worm! You have interrupted us even as we were celebrating the success of our plan to rid ourselves of that bothersome king!"
"But, Master, that is what I have to tell you. The King, he appeared outside my village only moments ago. Even now he is being feted by the villagers. Something went wrong!"
"What!" Koto Dashad cringed, his bony arms crossing defensively before his face. "This is not possible! Nothing could have gone wrong! The spell was cast perfectly -- are you certain it is the king? There could be no mistake?"
"I am certain, Master. It is the King as surely as I am kneeling here before you."
For a moment, Vultan was silent, struggling to take in this unexpected turn of events. Koto Dashad waited, hardly daring to breathe so fearful was he of his master's wrath. Finally, Vultan nodded: "You have done well." Koto Dashad released his pent breath. "Return to the village but give no sign that would make him suspicious. We must meditate on this awhile."
"But, Master," whined Koto Dashad, momentarily forgetting his place in his excitement, "King Shakara is invincible -- that is why you tried to banish him to another realm. So that his brother, Drandal, could assume his rightful place on the ivory throne. If he cannot be banished, and there is no way to physically harm him, what will you do? You promised to make me--"
"Shut up, you dolt!" Vultan's angry shout struck Koto Dashad like a palpable blow. "Another word and we will banish you to another realm! It is not for such as you to question us! Does the lowly worm seek to comprehend the mind that controls the boot which trods him into the soil? Bah, be gone with you! Away!"
And with that, the crystal ball grew cloudy once more, and the face was gone. Trembling fretfully, beads of sweat running into his anxious eyes, Koto Dashad hurriedly concealed the crystal ball back into the hay. Then, without a backwards glance, he fled the barn as if fleeing the den of a snarling samadhi.
But no sooner had he left than the hay began to
stir, shifting and rustling with the movement of something
beneath. A figure lifted its head from the straw, a head topped
with a scarlet turban.
Fadil Khan contemplated all he had heard and seen
whilst concealed in the hay -- and a cunning smile played like a shadow
upon his cruel lips...
On to Episode 4....The Revenge of Jabal Shah
Back to Fukitso and the Lair of the Havok!: Table of Contents