The Mighty Ronin, Fukitso,
An 11-chapter Sword and Sorcery Spectacular!
The Revenge of Jabal Shah
KING SHAKARA WAS CLOSE TO DEATH. It seemed to hover over him, an unrelenting tormentor, dogging him without surcease as he dragged his weary legs step by exhausting step through the burning desert sand. From time to time, he found the strength to lift his weird white eyes, to peer bitterly from beneath his furrowed brow at the patiently circling carrion eaters wheeling against the sun. When he did, his dry, cracked lips would momentarily curl. A feline snarl would sound in his throat. And the sunlight would flash from his clenched, white teeth as from the bared fangs of an angry samadhi.
But there was naught he could do about the circling birds, just as there was naught he could do about the sun, or the terrible strangling thirst which grew more and more terrible with each labouring stride. And so, always did he return his eyes to the far horizon, distant dunes rippling with the heat, his concentration fixed fatalistically on that single goal and nothing else as if an archer intensely fixed on a target. And onward he stalked, ever onward, knowing it was only a matter of time...only a matter of time...
He had long since discovered the mistake he had made following the tracks left by his mysterious twin. But, by the time he found those tracks turned back upon themselves, it was already too late; the incessant desert wind had erased the trail behind him. Now he was well and truly lost -- lost in a mysterious desert in an alien world cast here by...
Magic. Yes, that was the one thing of which he
was certain. Black treachery was afoot and a spell had been cast
to banish him to this hellish realm, a powerful enchantment -- and that
pointed to the hand of only one man. Vultan! If indeed the
demoniac court sorcerer could be called a man.
No doubt Vultan was in league with Shakara's
traitorous brother, Drandal, who coveted the ivory throne for himself.
Shakara cursed them both beneath his breath. And he cursed, too, his own foolishness in allowing those two to plot so long against him. But how could he have anticipated this? He was King Shakara -- ruler of the Kingdom of Pandrakiam. And though he was mortal, he had been rendered invincible five years before by the magic of Vultan's more trustworthy predecessor, Giana. Knowing they could not harm him physically, Shakara had allowed them their petty intrigues, permitting them to plot and to scheme -- what did it matter?
A low chuckle of self-derision sprang to his lips.
He had underestimated the sorcerer's cunning. Apparently they had found a way to be rid of him, even if they could not murder him. Ruefully he recalled how cleverly the trap had been laid. How he had received a message, apparently from his faithful vizier, Karim, asking him to meet in the jungle by the river. He was to come alone. But when he had arrived in the glade there had been no sign of Karim. Instead, he had noticed strange, arcane markings carved into the bark of the trees encircling the glade. Before he could begin to divine the purpose for which those marks had been made...that weird violet cloud had appeared out of nowhere and, with a howling of unholy winds, had sucked him in and carried him to this sun-baked wasteland from which there could be no escape.
The irony was Vultan had most likely ensured Shakara's death all the same, however unwittingly. For, while the King could not be injured physically, without water, under the merciless heat of this parching desert sun, death would find him all the--
His thoughts were interrupted as his right foot twisted awkwardly. Already dazed, he was hardly even aware as he toppled to the ground, falling like a puppet with its strings suddenly cut. There he lay, unmoving, his face pressed to the sand. The sun was hot on his back, baking his skin through the scarlet fabric of his tunic, beating on his bald, top-knotted scalp. His mind spun slowly around and around, whirling down, down into deep, everlasting dark...
Strangely, as in a dream, he sensed sudden darkness falling over him like a cloak. In his ears, a sardonic voice rang out like a merchant in a suq hawking his wares.
"The devil! Are my eyes deceiving me? Is this a mirage I see? Why if it isn't Fukitso, as I live and breathe -- the samurai without a master! What is it you call yourself, samurai? A ronin? What the devil are you doing facedown in the sand like that? Come on, speak up!"
Tired as he was, Shakara now lurched to his feet, grimly shaking the cobwebs from his sun-baked brain. He found himself facing a motley group of men, his katana held unsteadily before his scowling features. There were twelve of them, twelve sinister, vulpine figures clothed in ragged abbas and dusty turbans, all abristle with tulwars and daggers -- all except their evident leader, the one who had spoken, who now raised one hand placatingly and urged: "Now now, Fukitso, no need for bloodshed. After all, if anyone has a right to seek revenge, it is surely I, Jabal Shah -- don't you agree?"
"I know not who you are, nor what place this is," returned Shakara evenly, "but I am not this Fukitso you speak of."
The other's slender brows rose in surprise. "Not Fukitso, you say? Not Fukitso?" He exchanged looks with his men. A few of them chuckled jeeringly. "And who are you, if you are not my good friend the mighty Ronin Fukitso?"
"I am King Shakara, of Pandrakiam."
"You're a king, are you?" Again, Jabal Shah glanced knowingly at his men, a smirk playing on his lips, a taunting gleam in his eyes. "Well, well, that's different then. I suppose, Your Highness, you would have us bow before your royal self?"
"That won't be necessary," Shakara replied, failing to discern the mockery in the other's tone. "I need only water and someone to guide me to the nearest city. You will of course be well rewarded for your trouble, peasant."
"Peasant?" The smile froze on the other's face.
"And, of course, you will have my everlasting gratitude, you and all your...little band."
What remained of Jabal Shah's smile faded in an instant and all pretence at cordiality vanished from his voice. "Enough of this charade! The sun must have baked your brain and left you addled! Either that, or you take me for a fool! We've been following you for hours, Fukitso, watching you from afar through a telescope. I thought at first, perhaps, you were leading us into a trap, pretending to be lost. But no -- I see you have lost your wits!"
Even as he spoke, the leader stepped sharply back and, at a gesture, his men began to advance, quickly encircling Shakara in a ring of glimmering steel. Shakara eyed them warily, turning, his katana raised defensively. The leader merely laughed. "Fukitso, you have no idea how long I have dreamed of this encounter. How I have longed to punish you for what you did!" And here he tore wide the breast of his abba revealing a jagged, pink scar slashing diagonally across his chest. "To watch you cut down like the dog you--"
Without a sound, Shakara slumped to his knees, then onto his face, to sprawl unconscious in the sand. The leader scowled; he had been robbed of his moment of triumph, robbed by the heat of the sun.
"Bah!" he fumed angrily. "No matter. Bind him and we will take him with us. We will give him water. When his Highness awakes, we will have a surprise waiting for him!"
Laughing at their leader's jest, the men went quickly to work, tying the giant tightly with cords even the mighty Fukitso could never break. But one ruffian there was who did not join in the laughter. This man wore the tail wrappings of his turban swaddled tightly over his lower face, closely concealing his features. But no one wondered at his silence, for did they not all know that his tongue had been cut out years before in an encounter with rival bandits?
For that reason, they would have been startled
indeed to hear the brief unconscious whisper that found its way through
those wrappings, words spoken in a voice that clearly did not belong to
"Damn you, Fukitso -- damn you for a fool!"
"Your majesty, you had us all beside ourselves with worry," exclaimed Karim, the court vizier, as he scurried down the broad palace steps to greet his returning king with obvious relief. "We had no idea what had become of you. You should have told me you were leaving the palace grounds -- I would have ordered an escort to see you were safe."
Fukitso had no idea who this anxious little man
might be, but he knew enough to pretend familiarity. Until he
knew more, it was clearly best that they continue to mistake him for
their King Shakara. So far, he had gotten a sumptuous feast out
of the confusion. If he played his cards right, there was no
telling where it might lead.
"I wanted to go for a walk," the Ronin explained with casual indifference. "To...clear my head." He had heard that phrase used by courtly fops in the past and it seemed a suitable choice now. "I knew you would see to my...affairs while I was gone."
"Of course, your majesty," the other said quickly. "Of course. But that's not the point. There have been reports of demons in the hills. This is a poor time for you to travel unescorted."
"Your vizier speaks
words of wisdom, Your Majesty." Fukitso turned to find
himself addressed by a tall, goateed stranger, a striking figure
dressed in a flowing black robe and fondling a jewel-crusted sceptre in
his thin, spidery hands. Instantly there was something in the
speaker that caused the Ronin's blood to chill, his skin to crawl as if
at the rustling of a slithering snake. "Just yesterday the peasants reported
sighting a djinni lurking at
Akbar's Pass. Though you are invincible, no man knows what harm a
djinni might be capable
of. It would be a disaster should anything happen to you."
The speaker's voice was a sibilant hiss, and his eyes seemed luminous with a strange, scarlet glow. He turned those eyes on the vizier. "I am surprised at you, Karim. Allowing the King to wander off without soldiers. What were you thinking?"
But the vizier hardly seemed to notice the rebuke. His eyes were fixed on his king; he looked troubled. Hurriedly, he said: "Come, Your Majesty. Let us get inside. A crowd is starting to gather." He gestured toward the palace steps, commenting over his shoulder: "Excuse us, Vultan, the king needs his rest."
But the sorcerer was not to be so easily dismissed. "We trust nothing...untoward occurred during your walk?" When Fukitso did not immediately respond, he continued: "We have heard a bizarre rumour involving a river serpent. Something about a little girl?" He laughed and waved a hand dismissively. "No doubt the wild fancies of the brainless peasants."
Fukitso frowned at the sorcerer. "No doubt," he rumbled.
For a moment, silence stretched between the two men, a silence in which the Ronin took the measure of the sorcerer. And a sorcerer he evidently was. Fukitso knew Vultan's type, and he knew that such men were like snakes coiled by the waterbarrel -- it was only a question of when they would strike.
"Your majesty?" The vizier gestured again.
Fukitso nodded, his eyes still on the sorcerer. "Lead the way...Vizier. Lead the way, and I will follow."
Vultan watched them ascend the steps and vanish into the great oaken doors of the palace. In his eyes there was a pensive gleam. He tapped his sceptre contemplatively against his bearded chin. "How did you do it, Shakara?" he snarled under his breath. "We cast the Spell of Banishment. We burned the Scroll of Kalam. The stars were in alignment and the kaven was in the house of the elam. Nothing could have gone wrong! Why are you still here? Why?!"
Soon, Fukitso was led through massive, gilded doors
into what was obviously the royal bedroom, a fantastically decorated
chamber crowded with silk pillows, flowing, tasselled arras and a great
swollen bed hung round with shimmering drapes. Fukitso could only
stare in awe, struggling to take it all in. A wry smile quirked
his lips. Being mistaken for a king could definitely have its
"All right, who are you and what have you done with
Fukitso whirled to find the vizier watching him with
one hand holding the end of a bellrope. "Quick now -- or I will
summon the guards. Are you man or demon?"
On to Episode 5...."Truly You Dare Much!"
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