|The Sea Devils
by Richard Messer
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
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
[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
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
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
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
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
[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
Immediately, the junior officer was on his feet, loudly
berating the waiter in Japanese and raining blows down on the
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.