The Mighty Ronin, Fukitso,
An 11-chapter Sword and Sorcery Spectacular!
Horror in the Night
BANDIT LEADER BROUGHT his deadly blade down on the Ronin. The
giant moved even faster. He brought his bound wrists up to his
chest, in the very path of the descending scimitar. The blade cut
cleanly through the sturdy cords...only to shatter to pieces against
the giant's brawny chest!
For just a moment, the scene froze as if Time itself had slammed to a halt. The men stopped shouting. Jabal Shah stared at his shattered scimitar, now little more than an ornate hilt in his hands. His eyes were uncomprehending, unable to believe such a thing was possible. And Migoti, having sprung with uplifted katana into the light of the bonfire, now checked her course and gaped in equal amazement. There could be no question as to what she had seen -- what they had all seen -- the scimitar should have hewn the Ronin asunder. Instead, it had burst apart against his chest. What madness was this?
But then, before any of them could gather their wits, the giant prisoner surged to his feet and grabbed Jabal Shah by the breast of his abba. With a mighty heave, he hurled the bandit leader back into this men, sending them sprawling in a clamouring knot of confusion. In a flash, all was pandemonium. The giant's attack acted like a spark to an oil lamp, galvanizing Migoti in an instant.
"Ronin!" she shouted. "Ginago!"
He looked over at her cry, then caught the blade which she threw to him over the fire. He whipped the sword from its scabbard just in time to meet three bandits who charged in recklessly with flashing tulwars and murderous eyes.
Sparks filled the night at the impact. More men joined the attack. The air resounded with the clash and slither of blade on blade as the giant waded grimly through the bandits in a whirlwind of flashing steel. One by one, men staggered away, howling miserably, clutching ghastly wounds from which blood pumped in grisly, scarlet streams.
For Migoti's part, no sooner had she tossed the giant his blade than she leaped into the fray herself, her own katana, Shogun, weaving a scarlet skein of death and mayhem that cut the bandits to pieces like wheat before the scythe. Then, momentarily fighting clear, Migoti shouted to the giant: "Make for the camels!"
"You go first," replied the other, catching a cross-cut on his blade. "I will distract them!"
Migoti frowned and paused in surprise. Madness indeed! When had Fukitso ever asked her to go first? Almost too late, she threw up her blade, blocking a thrust that would have torn out her heart. With grim ease, she ran her attacker through, then, wheeling about, raced over the sand to the camels ground-hitched under a thorny tamarisk. With a few deft cuts, she freed the already frightened beasts and sent them bleating into the star-flecked night -- all except for two. Into the saddle of one of these she sprang, even as the giant fought his way clear and bounded over, hurling himself effortlessly into the saddle of the other.
For just a moment, they paused. The bandits -- those few still standing -- came staggering after, dark figures etched against the glow of the bonfire, Jabal Shah in the lead.
Migoti threw off her turban disguise, her ebony tresses spilling lustrously over her shoulders. She regarded her companion in wide-eyed wonder. "Who the devil are you?"
A wry smile touched the giant's lips. "I told you," he said. "I'm King Shakara of Pandrakiam. And for this deed, you will be well rewarded, I assure you."
He struck the camel with the flat of his blade and galloped away into the night. Migoti watched him go, her flawless brow crinkling. "You just cost me the map to Amir's Hoard," she grumbled ruefully. "I'd better be well rewarded!"
And with that she galloped after, leaving the bandits howling in her wake.
Fukitso -- the real Fukitso -- stood at the open palace casement, mighty arms crossed, eyes narrow, gazing out at the cool, whispering, star-bearded night as if at a living foe. He was strangely pensive. He had disrobed to the waist and the fresh breeze was a salve on his naked hide. He inhaled deeply, his chest expanding, filling his lungs with the fresh scents of growing things. Slowly he exhaled. Once again, the ebony sky flickered with soundless lightning, the lambent flashes filling the darkness far off over the distant hills. His brow furrowed. A storm? Without a cloud in the sky? What mystery was this?
The Ronin felt an almost subconscious sense of approaching menace. There was something unnatural about that lightning. He felt a stirring of dark and deadly forces, a sense of gathering evil filling him with a deep and sullen melancholy.
What in the name of Doji's Seven Geishas was he doing here?
Tomorrow he would have to appear before the royal court, pretending to be their damned King Shakara. Would he be able to pull it off? He, a mere samurai without a master, a ronin? Could he convince them he was a king?
More important, what would they do if they discovered his ruse? According to the vizier, Karim, the people were already nerved to a dangerous pitch, fearful of "demons" which they believed could take on human form. Whether these demons were real or not was of no matter to the Ronin. What mattered was how the superstitious peasants might react if they took him for such a creature disguised as their king. A dozen men Fukitso could fight, but a nation?
And what of the scheming court sorcerer Vultan? And the king's treacherous brother Drandal? If it was indeed they who had created the doorway that brought him here in the first place, if indeed they had tried to rid themselves of the real king, what might they do if they discovered Fukitso was an imposter?
Well, no matter. Fukitso knew he had little choice. The Vizier had sent a message to the other wizard, Giana, off skulking in the Black Crag Hills. Until Giana arrived -- if he deigned to respond -- Fukitso had no choice but to play his part and hope for the best.
Again lightning flickered. It reflected in his weird, white eyes, like a harbinger of future doom. His scowl darkened.
"My Lord, are you coming to bed?"
The sultry voice drew his eyes from the casement and over to the bed in the shadows. Amongst the rich satin sheets lay a beautiful girl. She was naked, the moonlight gently gilding the silken curves of her supple, brown body. She gestured imploringly. "Come to bed, my love. Come to bed and I will help you forget your troubles."
A faint smile barely ghosted across the Ronin's hard, weathered features. He thought perhaps he might have gotten on quite well with this King Shakara. They were not so different, it seemed. Any man with a harem of thirty wives was a man after his own heart...
The brooding samurai was not the only one that night gazing out a palace casement at the distant, soundless lightning. In the weirdly decorated chambers of the court sorcerer, Fadil Khan made his secret home. He too stood at an open window with arms crossed, the flickering light reflecting spectrally in his eyes.
But, unlike the Ronin, his thoughts were of a less troubled cast.
Vultan had made a bargain and Fadil Khan believed the wizard would keep it. Not through any streak of honesty -- for he knew Vultan had not a shred of integrity in his entire body -- but simply because Vultan's goal was to place on the ivory throne a man as cunning and treacherous as himself. Fadil Khan was such a man. Certainly moreso than Vultan's former co-conspirator, the king's brother, Drandal. Yes, Vultan would keep his promise because it was in his interest to keep it.
At least, so Fadil Khan hoped.
Again lightning rippled over the distant hills. Fadil Khan felt just the slightest shiver of unease trickle down his spine. He knew that lightning was no natural phenomenon. After he told Vultan all he knew about Fukitso, the sorcerer had sunk into a long, brooding silence. For several minutes he had not spoken, his jewelled sceptre tapping pensively against his bearded chin, obviously working out the full implications of this unexpected revelation. Finally he had made a decision.
He did not entirely trust the word of a stranger, he said. What if Fadil Khan was in league with his enemies, part of a trap meant to trick him into moving openly against King Shakara and thus affording the king a pretext for ordering the sorcerer executed for treason? No, Vultan had a better way. If Fadil Khan spoke the truth, then this imposter Fukitso was not invincible as the real king was; he could be killed by earthly means. Vultan would put that to the test, but in a manner whereby, should Fadil Khan prove to have lied and the man on the throne be the real king, no blame could be attached to the wizard.
And if it was the truth?
Standing at the window, the thought brought a relishing curl to Fadil Khan's lips. Then Fukitso would die like the dog he was.
Without further explanation, Vultan had gathered together an assortment of mystical herbs and unholy paraphernalia, stuffing them all in a black sack. Then, sending a palace servant scurrying to saddle the fastest karmah from the royal stables, the sorcerer turned to Fadil Khan. His eyes shone with an avid gleam. "Stay here," he instructed. "We will be gone all night. Tell no one we have gone. And be sure you are not seen by this Fukitso. If he should recognize you, our plans would be undone."
"What about the servant you dispatched for a karmah?" Fadil Khan asked.
Ominously, Vultan replied, "He will be dealt with."
"But where are you going?"
"It is not for a mere mortal to understand. Our business is with beings the mere sight of which would blast the reason from your head." He glanced over as a karmah bleated suddenly outside the open casement. His mount had arrived. "One final thing -- if you value your life, do not leave this chamber for any reason once you see lightning over the distant hills. Do not take so much as a step over the threshold, do you understand? Here you will be safe."
And, with that ominous injunction, he was gone.
Now, as lightning danced and played against the star-crusted vault, Fadil Khan recalled that cryptic warning and wondered again what it could mean. His gaze narrowly studied the open casement. What would happen, he wondered, if he were to stick his arm outside? Surely so little a thing could do no harm. He felt a perverse desire to put the question to the test. Before he knew what he was doing, he unfolded his arms and reached out--
Somewhere in the distant darkness, so faint he might have imagined it, there rose a single, heart-rending scream. It floated on the whispering breeze, a long, wretched cry that rose up and up to a shrill, terrible pitch, then broke off all at once as if interrupted by a blow. Or by death.
Nervously, he swallowed, withdrawing his
outstretched hand. Then, folding his arms once more against his
chest, he settled down to wait -- to wait and to wonder.
What horror might
the morning bring?
On to Episode 8...Madman in the Court
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