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Posted 20 August 2012
The Sea Devils
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
by Richard Messer
Chapter 5

The Sea Devils
by Richard Messer

Chapter 5

   Though it was well past the time for the noon meal, the dining room at the Oriental still held a sizable crowd.  In a corner away from most of the hubbub sat a Eurasian rabbit in Western dress deep in conversation with her Chinese rodent companion.  There had been the occasional glance and muttered words about their being there, but for the most part they were ignored.

   [So, for nearly half of your life you bore this pearl in your face?]  Ming Xue asked quietly in Mandarin.  The two femmes felt their talk had less chance of being listened to if they spoke in this Northern Chinese dialect.

   Wu Hsing Jade nodded, her mouth busy with chewing her salad.  Ming Xue had ordered the vegetable fried rice for her meal.  After swallowing and chasing the bite with water the doe was able to speak.

   [Yes, and it wasn’t easy.  It took time to get use to this weight in my eye socket.  But one of the advantages of having it enabled me to see someone or something in the dark.  Otherwise I would need an electric torch to discern what it was I was looking at.  Not a clear vision, mind you, but a good outline of it, that was filled with color based on its heat.]

   Ming Xue looked up.  [Based on its heat?]

   [You know how an object changes color when heated, like iron?  Well, this vision allows that difference between something living or inanimate.  For example, should I walk into a darkened room and there were three people hiding in there, I will find them, given time.  Also, remember earlier in the room, when you walked in and saw the Tear for the first time?]

   The rat femme nodded.

   [And how you wove a sign of protection against it?]

   Again Ming Xue nodded.

   [I saw the energy in your fingertips when you did.  And I commented that you had some magical skills.]

   The inside of the large round ears flushed pink, as the younger femme bowed her head in embarrassment.

   [It is one of the things I’ve learned from my master in Shanghai,] she murmured.

   Taking another sip of water Wu Hsing Jade studied her companion for a moment before speaking again.  [You’ve never told Aunt Yun and I about your life in Shanghai.  Would you be so kind as to tell me now?]

   Setting aside her chopsticks, the rodent woman folded her hands on the edge of the table and bowed her head briefly before looking her employer in the eye.

   [You have to remember that Shanghai is a large and unforgiving city.  Growing up is rough on children there, even if you came from a prominent family.  I was scarcely seven years old, living a hand-to-mouth existence on the streets for as long as I could remember.  Never knew my mother or father, only the kindness or cruelty of whoever I chanced to meet. 

   [Then Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, must have taken an interest in me as I wondered into an open backdoor.  It was an apothecary, like your aunt’s but not as nice, run by an old Taoist master.  He must have seen me walk in as he never said a word, only watched from a darkened corner of his shop.  As he later told me, he sensed something special about this ‘miserable specimen of a street urchin’. 

   [As it was, I was very hungry and looking for something to eat when he stepped out of the shadows and spoke softly to me.  Forgive me for saying this, mistress, but I shat on the floor from fright.] 

   The Eurasian doe gave a snort of laughter then took a quick sip of water to cover it as a couple of other diners glanced their way. 

   Ignoring the Occidentals, the rat femme continued: [The old man gave a soft chuckle at my embarrassment then led me back into his kitchen for something to eat.]

   Jade sat up, long ears cocked forward.  [Old man?]

   Ming Xue nodded.  [Yes, mistress.  It was thought that he was the last human left in all of China!]

   Chewing thoughtfully Jade pondered what she knew of the decline of the human race on Earth.  She remembered the great influenza pandemic taught in school and what her own parents spoke about.  The doe knew that most of the world was wrong in its belief that Man was gone, what with the one human male who worked for the Navigational Aid Service on the Spontoon Islands and his recent marriage to the female working as a nurse on Little Orpington Island.  Jade turned her attention back to her companion.

   [For the time I lived with him, learning herbal medicine. Tang Bin – that was his name – looked after me as a daughter.  He used to say that his family had been the most wonderful part of his life. But his wife died some years before and the children had moved onto their own lives.  So he lived a lonely life with just his shop and other endeavors.]

   Jade cocked her head, fork halfway to her lips.  [Other endeavors?]

   The rat femme nodded in return as she picked up her chopsticks.

   [Besides his shop, Master Tang was, as I had said, a Taoist master, a paper master, and a demon hunter.]

   Sitting up straight in her chair, Wu Hsing Jade stared at her younger companion.

   [A demon hunter?  And a paper master?] she gulped.

   Ming Xue nodded again.  [Since we lived close to the waterfront there were strange events that happened there.  People were known to have disappeared that were not related to gang actions.  Unnatural incidents resulting in deaths and destruction of homes always brought Master Tang to investigate when the police couldn’t solve it.]  She sighed deeply at the memories.  [I have learned much from this quiet old man who never rushed blindly into action, but could stand firm and deliver powerful energies to dispel the creature threatening our neighborhood.]

   The lepine femme chewed thoughtfully as she digested these words with her salad.  For five years this young femme had lived and worked at her aunt’s apothecary without any hint of her prior life, or the skills she had learned other than the knowledge of herbs and medicines. 

   Ming Xue continued.  [For nearly twelve years I lived and learned from Master Tang.  Among the lessons was the practice of tai chi.  I’ve learned to control my emotions as well as to defend myself from some unpleasant people.]  Then she swallowed hard as unpleasant memories began to flood her mind.  There came a gulped sob making the rat femme reach for her water glass.  Wu Hsing Jade waited patiently as her companion tried to recompose herself before continuing.

   [There came the day when we were called down to a warehouse by the docks.  It was said that some sea creature had appeared early that morning and was holed-up in the warehouse.  Several furs and feathers that arrived to handle the cargo stored there were savagely mauled to death by whatever was inside.   The police fared no better, and that was when Master Tang and I were called in.  What we found was a horror beyond nightmares.  I will spare you the details, mistress, as we fought as we never had before.  In the end the creature was destroyed, but at a terrible price.  Master Tang suffered grievous wounds that he never recovered from.  And to make matters worse there was a street gang that moved into our neighborhood and took control.  Their leader coveted my master’s house and wanted me as his concubine.  I barely escaped after having injured a few on his men.  For days I hid around the docks and warehouses from them, always helped out by those we had protected.  Eventually, I hid myself aboard a vessel leaving Shanghai for the Spontoon Islands, and the rest you know.]

   Tears began to well up in the young femme’s eyes once more as she bowed her head to spare Jade the sight.  Compassion filled the lepine’s heart as she reached across the table to take the smaller gray-brown hand in hers.  Ming Xue offered a weak smile as means of saying ‘Thank You’. 

   [I’m sorry for your loss, dear friend.  And hope that there will be some means of helping to ease the sorrow in your heart.]

   [Thank you,] was the soft reply.

   By then the waiter returned to ask the ladies if there was room for dessert.  They were perusing the dessert menu, when they noticed how quiet it had become at the nearby tables.  Rat and rabbit looked up to see a contingent of military and civilian furs entering the dining room.  There were two Siamese military officers along with a civilian whose dress and bearing spoke of being a highly placed government official.  But what caught Jade’s attention were the four who were definitely Sons of Nippon.

   Two were army by their khaki uniforms while the other two appeared to be naval from their dress whites.  The head waiter, a Siamese feline whose black seal points made him inferior to the other’s chocolate, came forward in a hurry, kowtowing to this important party.  The civilian who was used to such treatment merely waved the fellow the get them a table quickly.  The waiter turned, loudly clapped his hands and began shouting orders to the other waiters.  Those who were serving their guests left quickly to jump to the serving this new party.  A few of the customers already seated voiced their complaints rather loudly.  But in a corner table an Eurasian rabbit and her rodent companion watched the commotion in silence.

   Soon a large table was arranged far from the rest of the room and the newcomers quickly seated.  The civilian and army furs were deep in conversation as the waiters brought glasses of water.  But the two naval types, one younger than the other and both red-faced macaques, remained quiet and far from the others.  Wu Hsing Jade thought this was interesting and watched them out of the corner of her eye.  Then on a whim, she muttered under her breath, and began to see the scene through the Tear.

   As through a dark lens the figures at the far table showed the usual color difference based on their body heat.  But the older macaque caught her attention the most.  There was a faint aura surrounding his body, similar to the color of Ming Xue’s fingers when she wove the warding spell. 

   [That one has magic,] she murmured softly to her younger companion.  Sparing a quick glance over her shoulder the dark-haired rat femme asked, [Which one?]

   Reaching for her cigarette case and holder Jade said, [The older naval officer.]

   Then fate took a hand in the setting.  One of the waiters was bringing a tray of water glasses to the table when he suddenly tripped.  Most of the contents fell to the floor amidst shattering glass.  But some of the water had splashed down the back of the senior macaque.  With a gasp he stood up, knocking his chair over.

   Immediately, the junior officer was on his feet, loudly berating the waiter in Japanese and  raining blows down on the unfortunate fur.

   Anger welled up in Jade at this needless punishment and she felt the growing heat within Sun  Wukong’s Tear behind the glass eye.  Familiar energies began coursing through her body as the lepine’s lips formed the silent words and her fingers made a slight motion.  The young macaque had taken a step forward as if to kick the poor waiter when his foot shot out from under him.  With surprise stamped on his crimson features the young naval officer fell backwards to crack his skull on the table’s edge.

   The older naval officer quickly fell to his feet to render aid to his aide.  The room had grown quiet as the others of the table stood to gather around their comrades.  Taking this as a cue to leave, Wu Hsing Jade rose from her own table, tossing a few bills by her plate.  With purse and cigarette holder in hand she made her way around the other tables, far from the military gathering, Ming Xue in tow.  The doe spared the officers one last glance, and was mildly surprised to find the older macaque staring at her in her passing.  To cover her nervousness she brought the holder to her lips and blew a desultory smoke ring in his direction.

   As the pair were about to leave the dining room Jade caught sight of someone she had least expected to see again.  At a corner table sat the American bull terrier, a folded newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.  And there was a knowing smile on his muzzle as he watched rat and rabbit leave.


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