The Mighty Ronin, Fukitso,
An 11-chapter Sword and Sorcery Spectacular!
"Die and Be Damned!"
MASTER, A MOMENT PLEASE."
Drandal, traitorous brother to King Shakara, paused at the barely audible hiss and looked around in surprise. He had been passing the dark mouth of an alley when the voice caught his attention and he quickly discerned a lean, raggedly dressed figure crouching in the shadows.
"You there," he said uneasily, eyes briefly searching the darkness to assure himself that the man was alone. "What are you doing lurking in that alley? Come out where I can see you."
With obvious trepidation, the figure eased forward into the light. His beady eyes cast left and right, then shot back to the handsome nobleman.
"My name is Koto Dashad," he said. "We have met before in the chambers of the court sorcerer, Vultan. Do you remember me?"
Drandal studied the peasant a moment. "Yes," he nodded. "I remember you. What do you want? And be quick about it. I am on my way to a meeting and I have no time to chat with a peasant."
"You will have time for this, I assure you, Master. I bring you information that may save your life...for a price."
Drandal frowned. "Information that may save my life? What nonsense is this?"
"For a price, Master."
Drandal considered a moment. He was not used to being dictated to by a lowly peasant, and he was tempted to call the city watch and order the fool flogged. But if he spoke the truth...
"Very well. What is your price for this information that may save my life?"
"The ring on your finger -- the one with the great ruby," replied Koto Dashad, his gaze burning avidly on the jewel. "That is all I ask. It is not so much for such information as I bear, I assure you."
"Very well. Here." Impatiently, Drandal slipped the ruby ring off his finger and tossed it to Koto Dashad, who eagerly secreted it within the breast of his dusty abba. "Now, out with it. What do you have to tell me?"
Again Koto Dashad's eyes darted left and right, obviously fearful that they should be seen together. He leaned closer. "I was employed by the sorcerer Vultan," he explained. "Thus, I know all about your plan to rid yourselves of King Shakara and how it seemingly failed."
Suddenly Drandal's features grew dark and threatening. "You risk much telling me this."
"I am no threat to you, Master," Koto Dashad quickly assured him. "My lips are sealed. But I know why your plan seemingly failed. Your magic did succeed. The man now seated on the ivory throne is an imposter from another world. He is an exact double of the real king."
Drandal laughed in a short, cutting shout. "You fool, I already know that. I have but just this moment spoken with Vultan who told me as much. Is that all you had to tell me? You have wasted my time."
But Koto Dashad continued doggedly: "I learned this when, on my way to speak with Vultan, I happened to be passing his open window and chanced to hear him speaking to a stranger -- a stranger from the same world as the imposter. And I heard something else. Something which you do not know." He paused, building the suspense. Then: "For this information, Vultan pledged to make this stranger king of Pandrakiam -- instead of you."
"What!" Drandal's eyes blazed, his features contorting in an instant. Koto Dashad glanced around nervously, afraid the nobleman's outburst might attract unwanted attention.
"It is true, Master. Vultan is planning to double-cross you. I heard it from his own foul lips!"
With considerable effort, Drandal regained a measure of self-control. His eyes narrowed cunningly, but his voice still trembled bitterly. "You have done well. But, tell me, why have you betrayed your master?"
"Because I do not trust him," Koto Dashad replied honestly. "He promised to make me a vizier, but I no longer believe he will keep his word."
"I see," Drandal nodded, his voice a purr once more. "You would rather a ring you can hold in your hand, than a promise that you can't, eh? Very astute of you."
"Thank you, Master."
Drandal gestured. "Step closer. I would give you an even greater reward for your trouble."
Though surprised by this unexpected offer, Koto Dashad stepped wonderingly out of the alleyway. "What is it that -- ah!"
With a single savage thrust, Drandal stabbed the peasant with a keen-bladed dagger hidden up his sleeve. Blood gushed from the peasant's lips, his eyes rolling back in his head. He slumped grotesquely to the cobbled street.
Disdainfully, Drandal rolled the body into the alley with his foot after first wiping the blood from his dagger on the corpse's abba. He looked quickly around to make sure the grisly deed had not been witnessed.
"So, Vultan would betray me, eh? Well, he will
pay for that! He should never have told me the secret of his
power. I alone know his weakness. Oh, yes, now he will pay!"
Suddenly he recalled the ruby ring. Quickly he retrieved it from off the cooling body. As he slipped the jewel on his slender finger, he cast a last glance at the peasant's corpse, barely visible in the thick shadows of the alley.
"If you would betray Vultan for a ring," he sneered, "what price to betray me?"
For a heartbeat, Migoti pulled back the tail of her turban allowing the hazy light of the two moons to play upon her flawless, golden features. Fukitso -- or rather, the man she thought to be Fukitso -- raised his weird, white eyes in surprise. He sat in the sand, his hands bound with cord. He frowned but said nothing. Quickly, she replaced the cloth and scurried away, back to the great, crackling bonfire and the motley gathering of bandits among whom she had been living in disguise for the past week.
For months Migoti had sought a means to infiltrate Jabal Shah's villainous band. Jabal Shah had raided a caravan on the Tariq al'Asal last year, by which he had come into possession of a map to a lost treasure -- the legendary Amir's Hoard. The bandit leader himself was ignorant of the map's value, being illiterate, but Migoti knew it was worth a fortune -- literally. The band, though, was not so great in number that they would not have noticed an extra member. Thus she was forced to bide her time, following at a discreet distance, awaiting her chance.
Then, she chanced to overhear in a tavern how one of the younger bandits was mute, his tongue cut out years before by a rival band of thieves. Instantly, a plan was formed. Still, it took another month before she caught the mute bandit alone on the desert one night, the fool having wandered off in a drunken stupor. A flash of moonlight on steel, a gush of scarlet, and the deed was done. Then, donning his clothes and concealing her face with the tail of his turban, Migoti joined the bandits with no man the wiser.
In disguise, Migoti quickly learned that Jabal Shah carried the map in his saddlebag. Tonight, it had been her intention to wait until the men were sound asleep, then steal the map and make good her escape on one of the band's black camels. But then Fukitso, the barbarous masterless samurai, had blundered into her carefully laid plot, ruining everything. She was sorely tempted to leave him to the mercies of Jabal Shah!
Unfortunately she could not. He had saved her life too many times before. She supposed she owed him for that at least.
But what was this business about him being a king? Some subtle deception, meant to throw Jabal Shah off balance? Impossible -- Fukitso was many things, but subtle was not one of them! But what then? Just now, when she had revealed her face, there had been no sign of recognition. He had stared at her as at a stranger. True, those blind-seeming eyes of his were impossible to read, but still, she would have expected something. Perhaps Jabal Shah had been correct -- perhaps the desert sun had baked the Ronin's brain. Or perhaps he had been injured, a blow to the head damaging his memory.
Well, whatever the truth of the matter, Migoti prayed Fukitso remembered how to handle his katana, Ginago. Because it would require both their swords if they hoped to survive this night.
As if he could read her mind, at that very moment, Jabal Shah strode imperiously from his camel-hair tent and out into the lambent light of the bonfire. His men, gathered around the fire, had been drinking all evening. With one sweep of his arm, he knocked a wine-skin from the hands of the nearest bandit, sending it tumbling into the flames. He jerked a scimitar from the scarlet sash around his lean waist.
"Enough, you hairy curs!" he roared. "It's about time we brought on the entertainment for the evening!"
His words were greeted with a chorus of coarse laughter and drunken shouts. Migoti's emerald eyes flicked to Fukitso's blade which lay in its scabbard in the sand beside Jabal Shah's tent. She wondered what had become of his smaller wakizashi, Kyodai. One slender hand discreetly settled on the katana hidden in her robes -- her own blade, Shogun.
Jabal Shah circled the bonfire in a half dozen strides, until he stood but scant feet away from his prisoner. The giant lay in the sand with his hands bound tight -- helpless. Carefully, Migoti began to ease her way closer to the sword, unnoticed by the cheering men.
Jabal Shah looked down on his prisoner and a vindictive sneer curled his lips. "Well, Fukitso, what do you think of this? When last we met, it was you who held the blade and I who lay at your feet. Now it seems the tables have turned, have they not?"
Stoically, Shakara regarded the bandit leader in smoldering silence. Finally, in a low menacing voice, he said: "For the final time, you impudent little dolt, I will warn you. I am not this Fukitso you speak of. I am King Shakara of Pandrakiam. Whatever vendetta you have with this Fukitso, it is none of my concern. But, should you continue to treat me with this lack of respect, I promise you will very much regret it."
Jabal Shah's eyes widened in amazement. "What?! Still you dare to challenge me? When I hold your very life in my hands!"
Migoti picked up Fukitso's sword. All eyes were on the two men.
Jabal Shah raised his scimitar two-handed. The firelight caught its razor edge.
"Then die!" snarled Jabal Shah. "Die and be damned!"
Migoti tore her katana
from within her robes and sprang forward -- but, even as she moved, she
knew she had waited too long...
On to Episode 7...Horror in the Night
Back to Fukitso and the Lair of the Havok!: Table of Contents