The Mighty Ronin, Fukitso,
An 11-chapter Sword and Sorcery Spectacular!
"Truly You Dare Much!"
FUKITSO INSTANTLY SAW THERE WAS NO POINT in continuing the pretence. The game was up. He nodded. "Hai, I'm a man, all right. My name is Fukitso. As for the rest -- what became of your king -- there I'm as much in the dark as you are. How did you know?"
"I am King Shakara's closest confidant. It wasn't hard to spot the truth. The way you stand, your voice, your accent -- I saw through your disguise almost immediately. Tell me why I shouldn't summon the palace guards and expose you?"
"Because, unless I misjudge you, you have no love for that snake, Vultan."
The Vizier frowned, confused. "What does Vultan have to do with it?"
Whereupon the Ronin proceeded to relate all that had transpired to bring him to this place. When he was done, the Vizier considered his words a moment, then reluctantly released the bellrope. "That devil, Vultan!" he snarled. "You are right, this can only have been his doing. He and the King's brother, Drandal, have been conspiring for months, for Drandal covets the ivory throne and there is little he would not do to possess it."
"I thought it would be something like that," nodded Fukitso. "But why in Doji's name did they have to banish the king to another land? Why not simply poison his wine -- like civilized people?"
"Because King Shakara is invincible -- made that way years ago by Vultan's predecessor, Giana. He cannot be killed. If what you say is true, I think Vultan banished King Shakara to another world, one similar to our own but with small differences. Our scholars have long theorized that such worlds exist."
Fukitso scowled skeptically. "Another world? Small differences?"
Karim saw that this brawny imposter was not a deep thinker. He frowned, searching for words to explain the concept in simple terms even Fukitso might understand. "There are two worlds," he said, "almost exactly the same, but not quite. You exist in both worlds, as do I. But in your world you are yourself, whereas here you are a king."
"If I wasn't seeing it for myself, I would say you were mad," growled Fukitso. "But your king looked enough like me to have been my twin. He even had a sword the duplicate of my Ginago -- and there is supposed to be only one such katana in existence!"
The Vizier began to pace, pensively stroking his chin. "Somehow we must reopen that doorway to your world -- that is the only way to rescue the king."
"Assuming he's even still alive," Fukitso said pleasantly. "When last I saw him, he was lost in the middle of a desert. Without water, he wouldn't have gotten far."
"Nonetheless, I must try!"
After a moment's thought, Fukitso ventured: "Since your wizard, Vultan, opened that doorway in the first place, why don't we...persuade him to do it again?" He drew his short sword and meaningly ran a thumb along the edge.
"Do not underestimate Vultan, my brawny friend. You are not invincible as the king was. If he were to figure out that you are an imposter, he would no doubt accuse you of being a demon disguised as the king. In the present climate, the peasants would tear you apart themselves. Then too, Vultan himself has powers... No, we do not dare move against him openly."
Fukitso's brow furrowed dubiously. "It goes against my nature, but this is your world and I'll play it your way -- for now." Then he had another thought. "How do you know I'm not a demon?"
"If you were a demon," the vizier explained, only half his mind on the question, "you would already have killed me."
Fukitso nodded slowly. It made sense, he supposed.
Still pacing, Karim punched his fist into his palm. "There must be a way."
"What about this other wizard you mentioned, this Giana? What became of him?"
Karim whirled, his face alight. "By the Idol, you're right! Giana retired to the seclusion of the Black Crag Hills. I will send a message to him telling him what has occurred. He no longer involves himself in mortal affairs, but if any man has the power to reopen that doorway, it would be he."
Fukitso scowled. "How long with that take? I was on my way to rescue a rajah's daughter imprisoned in the vaults beneath Adji Po."
"It should only take a few days -- if he comes."
Fukitso considered this a moment, then shrugged his
broad shoulders indifferently. "Oh, well, I suppose I can pretend
to be a king -- for a few days at any rate." With a single
thrust, he jabbed his short sword into a fruit bowl on the table, and
bringing a succulent orange to his strong, white teeth, took a hearty
bite. The juice ran down his chin, spattering his kimono, rendering him a less than
kingly image. Karim closed his eyes and sighed.
Then a sudden thought made the Ronin grin through
his mouthful. "Anyway, I'll bet I'll have a better time of it
than that dog Fadil Khan...wherever the devil he got to..."
Could the brawny Ronin have but seen Fadil Khan in that moment, he would have been less quick to gloat. But he could not have been half so discomfited as the court sorcerer, Vultan, in whose chambers it was Fadil Khan was reclining when the wizard returned.
Even as the violet curtains over the hall door rustled back into place, the black-robed magician froze in wide-eyed amazement -- amazement that quickly kindled to rage at the sight of a red-turbaned stranger lolling in his over-stuffed chair, smoking on his hookah, a plate of sweetmeats at one elbow.
What madness was this?!
For just a moment, Vultan was speechless, hardly able to credit his senses. For his part, Fadil Khan barely seemed to notice the wizard's entrance. With sybaritic unconcern, he drew on the hookah's faience mouthpiece, then exhaled a long, satisfied stream of smoke that coiled snake-like in the gloom.
At last Vultan found his voice. "Are you mad?" asked the sorcerer with tight self-control. "Do you know where you are? Do you have any idea who we are, what we will do to you for this...impudent trespass?"
Fadil Khan merely gestured expansively. "Come in, effendi," he said. "Come in. You must be Vultan. Your crystal ball does not do you justice. I thought you were shorter."
Vultan inhaled, his features scowling furiously, eyes ablaze. He spread his spidery hands, voluminous sleeves falling back to his elbows. The candlelight flashed off the jewel-crusted sceptre he bore. For just a moment, the candleflames danced, though there was no draught in the shadow-hung chamber--
"I don't think you want to do that."
Something in the intruder's voice, a ring of confidence completely at odds with the situation, caused Vultan to hesitate, his arms still upraised. "And why should we not blast you out of existence for this outrage, you miserable little worm?"
"Because," Fadil Khan replied, still with the same unswerving confidence, "this miserable little worm may solve all your problems, effendi. This miserable little worm may tell you why you can't rid yourself of your King Shakara."
For a heartbeat, the scene held, frozen, as Vultan took in the stranger's unexpected claim. Fadil Khan knew he had never been closer to death than he was in that moment. He believed the sorcerer could indeed blast him out of existence. But he had always played for high stakes. High stakes meant high risks. And, if he had read Vultan wrong, he supposed he deserved whatever fate he got.
Vultan lowered his arms and let out his breath. "Speak," he conceded tightly. "Speak and we will listen. But be warned, puny man -- if you cannot deliver what you promise, your fate will go down in legendry!"
Fadil Khan swallowed and nonchalantly wiped a bead of sweat from his upper lip. "One moment, effendi. First we bargain, then I tell you what I know."
"Truly you dare much! We could destroy--"
"I know your King Shakara is invincible," Fadil Khan interrupted quickly. "I know his brother covets the throne and that the two of you tried to get rid of him by sending him to another world using magic. I know that it didn't work and that both of you want to know why. And I know--" here he rose and stepped briskly to the open window, his back turning disdainfully toward the sorcerer "--you and I are going to be great friends because not only can I tell you what went wrong, but I can tell you how to be rid of your bothersome king once and for all." He spun to face the sorcerer and a cunning smile crawled across his lips. "And all I ask, Vultan, is that you promise to make me king instead of Shakara's brother."
Once more, Vultan was silent, his mind churning. He took a moment to weigh Fadil Khan's words, so unexpected had they been. He tapped his sceptre pensively against his bearded chin. "You would ask us to betray Drandal?"
"I would ask you...to make alternative arrangements."
Vultan frowned, but Fadil Khan smelled victory. He knew the sorcerer's type, if only because it was the type to which he himself belonged. If Vultan was considering the offer, the deal was as good as done. "Drandal has many supporters. Who are you? A stranger."
"You have powers, do you not? With you supporting me, who can stand against us?" Then, with just a hint of mockery: "Unless, perhaps, you are frightened of Drandal?"
"Frightened?! Bah! Of that insignificant fool?! We are Vultan! We fear no one!" Fadil Khan grinned to see the sorcerer bluster defensively; he had indeed judged his man to perfection. "Very well. It is a bargain. Rid us of King Shakara and we will make you king in his place. By the Dark Gods of Deonia, you have our word on it!"
Once more, Fadil Khan smoothly reclined into the
over-stuffed chair. He popped a sweetmeat into his mouth.
"Very good, effendi," he
began. "Please, draw up a chair, for I have a long story to
relate. But the first thing you need to know is this. That
man in the palace is not your King Shakara. He is an imposter
named Fukitso." He paused a moment, to let this revelation sink
in. Then: "The second thing you will want to know is...he may be
killed as easily as you or I..."
On to Episode 6..."Die and Be Damned!"
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