Luck of the Dragon: Jacks Over Kings© 2014 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
"That's the signal!" The rat exclaimed as the flare arced into the sky.
"Okay," Shin said as she turned to her two classmates. "We're Red Dorm - we survive where no one else can." Two feral grins met her words, and she extended a paw. "Good luck," she said as they shook paws with her.
"Erin go bragh," Brigit murmured feelingly, and she and part of the Rain Island group started moving through the tall grass to the fence. Liberty moved alongside Shin while Fang took up a rearguard position, looking for any sign that they might have been spotted.
"Fang, you and Liberty take out the generator as planned. Wen's mine." Peng-wum and the others had already reached another portion of the fence and were cutting the barbed wire barrier to pieces.
"As planned," the tiger said. "Be careful, love."
"I always try to be."
His breathing was coming faster, Hei thought, and his heart was starting to beat harder as the poison started to work. Shen, being an older man, was likely succumbing faster.
A brief opening of his eyes confirmed this; the wolf was lying on his side, chest heaving.
The younger Shen, though, was nowhere to be seen.
He found that he didn’t care very much.
The drumming in his chest reminded him of the music that accompanied the Lion Dance at Shin's wedding. How beautiful his daughter had looked . . .
To maintain a meditation posture at this point was too much effort, so with a sigh Ni Hei laid back on the cushion, feeling more of the smoke drifting around him.
Tall grass swayed and rustled in the night breeze as Shin low-crawled up to the back wall of Wen He Du's quarters. There were no lights on inside the small building, but she could hear various sounds coming from it and her ears twitched.
Have fun while you can, she thought as she drew her trench knife and prepared to get up.
Suddenly there was an ear-splitting explosion of noise behind her that almost made her leap clean out of her fur.
One of the guards at the gate of Shen’s villa shifted his stance and shoved a paw down his trousers, scratching himself absently and hoping he hadn’t caught anything from that doxy he’d spent good money on the night before. The shaggy-furred feline pulled the paw free and waved it at a passing beggar to shoo him off.
Earlier in the evening Mad Mac, the insane (and, rumor had it, possibly possessed) old skunk that haunted the woods near the church had shambled by, headed for one of the bars. Few dared to resist the mephit, who liked to beat people to death with his fists.
A sour stench hit his nose and the feline’s tail bottled out. At first he tensed, thinking that Mad Mac was retracing his steps, but the smell was different.
It was a honey wagon, essentially a large cart with what looked like a squat wooden water tank on it. Some furs collected manure and night soil, using it as fertilizer for the farms up near the mountain.
Unfortunately, sometimes its route took it past the villas on the hill.
Trying to get her heart to slow down she looked behind her. What she saw made her suppress a groan and put her head down on the grass.
Staring at her with an air of pure merriment were two big eyes, with two long and floppy ears and four big clumsy paws. A long tongue lolled, and it started yapping again, a high-pitched and almost instantly irritating sound.
Shin ground her teeth together and started to debate killing the feral puppy. However, that would probably draw attention to her, especially if she tried to grab it. After weighing her options she decided to ignore the creature in hopes it would find something else to occupy its time.
The red panda suddenly had to hold herself stock-still as the puppy seized the tip of her banded tail in its teeth and started shaking it like a rag doll. It hurt, and it took a lot of self-control to stay still and let the small non-anthro dog have its fun.
After several minutes (that felt like hours, damn the little beast to hell) the puppy finally dropped the tail and Shin breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe he's - oh, hell no . . . she thought as she felt something liquid soaking her tail.
The puppy bounded off to find something else to play with, and Shin took advantage of the breeze to rub her tail as dry as possible against the grass before resuming her part of the mission.
Shen's villa had its own power source, a diesel generator housed in a shed constructed of wood and corrugated tin a short distance away from the other buildings. Liberty and Fang edged up to the rear of the structure, sandwiching themselves between the hut and the huge tank of diesel fuel. "Now, time to see if this stuff works," Liberty said as she pulled three sticks of dynamite from the pouch slung over her shoulder.
Fang sat against the building, ears perked despite the racket coming from inside and his paws tensed around his short-barreled shotgun. He glanced at her and did a double take. "What are you doing?" he hissed.
"Well, there's no way of telling if this dynamite’s gone bad or not – or if your friend sold you a bill of goods," Liberty said as she finished lashing the sticks together with a length of string, "so I'll use three."
The big tiger found himself edging away from her. Songmark girls, they’re all crazy . . . "And if they fail?"
The half-coyote gave the tiger a sour grin. "You could always kill the guy who sold them to us - oh, wait, you did that already," she said. She lit the fuses and shoved them through an open vent window. "I think we should run now," she suggested.
"No argument," Fang said, but he was already running when he said it.
The stink was getting worse, and there was a sound of men grunting and cursing in several languages along with the squeak of wagon wheels. The feline pulled a rag from a pocket and held it to his nose as the honey wagon passed the gate.
And stopped about ten yards past the portal.
One fur, a thickset canine who looked to be the boss, started haranguing the others. A few of them returned the words in kind.
There was a lot of arm-waving, and even one or two fists thrown.
The feline caught the word ‘tools,’ and looked out to see the whole group walking up the road. The honey wagon sat with one wheel askew.
So that was it. The wheel had broken at the axle, and the furs were going off to fix it.
After a few moments the feline’s curiosity got the better of him, and he walked over to the wagon. Pressing the rag against his nose harder to block out the gut-turning stink, he climbed partway up the side of the tank.
The first thing Wen He Du noticed was that his plaything, a fine young girl purchased from a factor in Kuo Han, had suddenly bolted from the bed.
The second thing he knew was that a slim but strong paw had grabbed his muzzle.
The third thing was the burning, tearing pain of a knife blade as it cut into his throat, followed by a burbling sound from his punctured trachea and the hot gush of his blood soaking his fur.
Then he knew nothing else.
Shin wiped her bloody knife off on the pillow and murmured, "Well, that was easier than I thought it'd be . . . " Her voice trailed off as she saw the slave cowering at the far end of the bed, and she hissed, "Get out of here!"
The girl ran without bothering to get dressed, and Shin stepped to the doorway. She sheathed her trench knife and drew the Thompson from its slung position across her back before checking that the way was clear.
She really hadn't thought about hesitating, despite Fang's reservations. Won Lung Ho had been an old threat to the family, while Wen stood between her and her father.
Not the same set of circumstances at all, really.
The sides of the honey wagon were reasonably dry, with streaks of slime that caused the feline to curse. He’d need a bath after this.
He peered over the side.
One of the three sticks of dynamite detonated, and that was enough. The blast blew the corrugated tin structure to fragments and caused the generator to shift off the cement blocks it stood on. Diesel fuel spurted out, and ignited.
The fact that all the lights in the compound had gone out not a few seconds earlier was rendered moot by the daylight brightness of the diesel tank suddenly exploding in a ball of angry red flames that lit up the landscape. Flaming fuel and debris showered out, starting a grass fire that added even more light to the scene.
"Looks like they do work," Fang observed as he dusted himself off.
Liberty just looked happy and loped off toward the slave quarters. Fang started toward the main compound, one paw gripping his shotgun and the other a large-caliber revolver.
The guard never had time to utter a curse.
Pramana had come through, although buying and bringing in almost five hundred pounds of explosives had been very expensive.
It had been worth it, though.
The explosion easily eclipsed the destruction of the villa’s generator just a split second before. Its pressure wave shattered the gates of Shen’s villa and blew down a section of the wall surrounding the place. At the same time it blasted a crater in the rammed-earth road ten feet across and a few feet deep.
The blast also shattered most of the glazed windows in Fort Bob as well as flattening several nearby houses and shops. A few were bursting into flames already as cooking fires and braziers were overturned and fed on combustible materials.
One of the many brothels in the town had collapsed, and furs of both genders were running about unclothed.
Hao and the others had taken cover in a ditch. Holding his paws over his ears, the young red panda shuddered as the concussion washed over him.
Recalling the artillery and bombs at Nanking.
As soon as he felt it was safe, he poked his head up. The others in his crew, seeing him, followed suit. One said, “Wow . . . “
“Wow is right,” Hao said. “I guess I kind of overdid it. Everyone okay?”
“Nine-fingered Charlie bought it,” one said after a few moments.
“Got blown into a cesspit,” the man said, shaking his long rabbit ears. “Drowned.”
Hao shook his head and drew his Colt. “Let’s go.”
Shin picked herself up off the floor of Wen’s house, rubbing her free paw against her rump.
What the yiff was that? She wondered.
A trio of guards were running toward the house, so she flicked off the safety on the Thompson and opened fire. Two went down immediately; the third, wounded, started to crawl away before the red panda administered a coup de grace.
Shin headed out, crouching down, and promptly got knocked off her feet again by another, much larger explosion. The wind caused by it ruffled her exposed fur.
Near the guard barracks, the Rain Islanders and Peng-wum brushed dust and bits of grass from their fur as a second, much larger fireball lit the night sky.
“I think he overdid it,” Peng-wum remarked, half to himself.
“Looks like a hot time in the old town tonight,” Rick said. “Okeh, barracks for us. C’mon!” He and the sextet of hired troops started shooting as furs in various stages of undress, but all carrying weapons, tried to run out of the building.
Grenades were tossed into open windows, while the others laid down a devastating amount of fire from their Mastny avtomats.
It had been the worst disaster to hit Fort Bob since nearly half the town had burned down in 1928. While many of those who had been closest to the explosion were injured or dazed from the blast, others rallied and started trying to beat back the flames.
Mad Mac, two bottles of home-brewed liquor in his paws and covered in blood, added to the confusion by walking about roaring drunkenly "Repent, I tell ye! Lest ye feel the fires of eternal hell!"
The lights had gone out, and there was the sound of two enormous drums.
Hei couldn’t have cared less.
That voice caused him to open his eyes and look up at Shen Ming. The wolf held a lantern, and looked disheveled. “This is YOUR doing!” he snarled, wild eyed. “But it doesn’t matter!”
A foot lashed out, catching Hei solidly in the ribs.
“I will still . . . have . . . your . . . daughter!” Ming said, punctuating each word with another kick. The last word was joined by a kick to the red panda’s head, and the wolf ran from the room.
Hei didn’t see him go.
The young red panda grinned almost boyishly. "I love the sound of gunfire in the evening." He gave quick paw signals to his crew, and there was a clatter as rifles and other weapons were cocked.
They reached the gap in the wall at a run. One feline screamed his own name as a battle cry, charged directly into the breach and fell back howling as he clutched at his stomach. The location of the wound told Hao that the man was gutshot, and would be dead shortly.
“Dammit, Leeroy,” Hao muttered as the others started shooting, clearing the remaining guards from the gap before entering the grounds. The Great War machine gun was strangely silent, and as his men started to spread out Hao could see why.
Part of the gate had fallen directly onto the emplacement. The Maxim’s water jacket was a wreck and the barrel was bent. One of the gunners lay under the gate, only his feet showing. He didn’t seem to be moving.
Hao and half the furs with him gathered near the wrecked machine gun. “Okay, three of you with me," he said, "and when the others come up have them hold the gate. We don't want anyone to show up to the party uninvited, right?"