The Sea Devils
by Richard Messer
Ming Xue (Larger file here - 6.3 MBytes)
Art by L. Frank - http://www.furaffinity.net/user/wom-bat/
Ming Xue was the first to notice the rush; one from their left while two others charged in from the right.
She flung up her left arm, shoving Wu Hsing Jade backwards while thrusting her right hand into her shoulder bag. From the bag she pulled out a long slender object that she snapped open with a flick of her wrist. A large fan quickly unfurled in time to catch the tip of a knife being thrust at the rodent’s face.
When Jade was pushed backwards she hit the corner of the wall, banging her head on the wood siding. Stars flashed briefly as the Eurasian doe slid down to the rain-drenched sidewalk. She caught sight of the attacker to her left, a knife held low for a quick thrust. Jade couldn’t use her Thai kickboxing while on the ground. But she remembered her father teaching some of his boxing punches to supplement her kicks. As the knife came to her face the lepine swung her left arm up to deflect the wrist out of the way. Then Jade followed it with a right upper cut to ‘the gearbox’, as her father would say.
The assailant doubled over, hands clasping his crotch. This allowed Jade to deliver another upper cut to his chin. She was satisfied with the solid cracking of teeth as the dark-clad figure fell back into the flooded street. Scrambling to her feet the rabbit femme turned her attention to her companion.
Ming Xue fights in the rain (Larger file here - 935 KBytes) Art by L. Frank
Having moved to the center of the thoroughfare the young rat femme managed to space her opponents to either side for more room to maneuver. Ming Xue had drawn another fan and was making good use of both. She spun a dance of death in the rain, the fans weaving a screen against flashing steel beneath the dim light of the street lamps. Her black hair was plastered about her head, a snarl curling her lips back to reveal white teeth. The beige paper and bamboo strips in her hands dodged up and down, back and forth, broad and narrow spirals all about her bobbing figure. When one of the attackers made a feint, the rodent woman would block. This allowed the other dark figure to make a try for a strike. This Ming Xue would parry, then follow with a slashing motion with the fan.
Wu Hsing Jade managed to stand with her back to the wall, watching the fight in the street, along with a few other people gathering around. They stood back staring on in awe at the death dance being played out in the rain. Then the lepine remembered the pistol that Madame Xin Xue had given her at their last meeting. Roger Bannon had taken his daughter with him to the pistol range at Pearl Harbor to practice with his service revolver. He had let her try her hand at using the weapon until she felt familiar with it. Now she dug into her purse for the gun, only to find that it wasn’t there!
“Shit! I left the yiffin’ thing in my steamer!”
Then she stared helplessly at the fight, knowing that Sue was probably nearing the end of her endurance. Indeed it looked as though the rat femme was tiring, her moves becoming not as smooth. A couple of times the figures in black landed a strike on the young fur, blood mixing with rain water on her arms.
Quickly Jade racked her brains for some means of balancing the score between her companion and the two assailants. Then she remembered the incident in The Oriental’s dining room. Under her breath the lepine began muttering the words to the spell as her fingers quickly wove the signs. The Tear grew warm in her eye socket as the energies leapt out to the left-hand attacker. He was making a thrust to Ming Xue’s back when his foot slipped. The momentum of the move sent him falling forward, the movement catching the rodent femme’s eye. Snapping out a growl Sue leaned into her strike, the fan making a slashing motion across the others throat. Eyes wide in surprise, the figure in black stumbled past to crash into his comrade.
Somewhere a police whistle sounded over the pattering of rain. Some of those who had watched quickly melted away into the darkness. Only a handful remained with Wu Hsing Jade, two of them being her grandmother and the mouse femme helper. With slow steps Jade approached the sagging form of the rat woman. Ming Xue was taking deep ragged breaths, her shoulders slumped, eyes half shut from exhaustion. As Jade softly laid a hand on the others shoulder Sue turned her eyes up to the doe’s face. Then, with a sob, Ming Xue slumped against her employer.
Both Wu Hsing Tang and Ling-Ling made their way to the two standing in the street in the rain. Together they ushered them back down the walkway to the apothecary. Inside the shop Sue and Jade were disrobed of their sodden clothes, then softly guided back into the family room. The rat cook had brought out tea and a stack of towels that elder rabbit and younger mouse used to rub down the rain-soaked duo.
There came an urgent knocking at the shop door. Grandmother Tang nodded to Ling-Ling to answer it. The mouse femme nodded in return and left. Once more the cook returned with a pair of dressing gowns. Between her and Grandmother they managed to fit the gowns on the tired rabbit and rat when two police furs entered. They doffed their hats and bowed respectively to the older lepine. Ling-Ling made her way past to the kitchen.
<Grandmother Tang,> began the senior officer, <We received a call about a fight near your shop. Is this true?>
Wu Hsing Tang did not answer at first, as she was busy serving out cups of tea to Jade and Sue before offering it to the police furs. They took their places at the table and the interview began. The mouse femme returned with a tray that she set down at the end of the table by Ming Xue. Taking her place by the rat femme, the mouse took up a straight razor and began to carefully shave the fur from around the slashes on Sue’s arms. Afterwards she cleaned then applied a salve to the knife cuts and wrapped them in bandages.
The police fur made a quick note in his small notepad before looking up.
<May I first ask your name, miss?>
With a soft sigh the young Eurasian doe replied, <Jade Bannon.>
The pencil scratched across the paper.
<And your other name?>
Jade blinked then answered, <Wu Hsing Jade.>
More scratching followed by the pencil being laid aside. The sun bear looked up and cleared his throat.
"The nightingale only sings at night . . .
. . . when the sky is clear, and the moon is full and bright!"
There were smiles all around the table as the questioning continued at a leisurely pace, with some directed towards Grandmother Tang.
<And how many of the assailants were there, Miss Bannon?>
<There were three.>
The other police fur leaned over to his senior and whispered something into the others ear. The ursine nodded and looked back at the doe.
<My partner says that only two had been found out in the street; one who was unconscious with an apparent broken jaw, the other was dead from having his throat slashed by some sharp instrument.>
Ming Xue looked up from where Ling-Ling was finishing tying the last bandage in place.
<That would have been from my fans, sir,> the rodent said softly.
The officer then asked to see Ming Xue’s fans. She leaned out of her chair to recover her bag from the floor and pulled out the aforementioned articles. The ursine turned each one over in his hands, studying them closely, when something caught his eye. It was when he snapped one open that his eyes widened and a grunt issued from his throat.
The ribs were not made from strips of bamboo but slim dowels of a hardwood tipped with steel points. And the panels were not mere papers, but sturdy unwatered silk. There were signs of knife cuts on some of the panels but none had penetrated. Carefully folding the fans up, the officer handed them back to Sue. Then with a quick glance at his writings the police fur came to his judgement.
<If what you say is true, Miss Bannon, then your attackers may have been simple robbers after an American with a lot of money. Or mayhap they had ties with either the Siamese government or these Japanese officers residing in our country. But rests assure that our report will only indicate an attempted robbery of an American visitor and her attendant.>
<Thank you,> said Wu Hsing Jade and Wu Hsing Tang with smiles.
The two officers stood and bowed with a smile before Ling-Ling showed them out. After several minutes of quietness Ming Xue said softly, <’Ling Kuei’.>
Her lepine companion turned to her. <What?>
<The ‘Ling Kuei’,> repeated Wu Hsing Tang. <The ‘Forest Spirits’, warriors who move in shadows and strike from darkness. They are the ones that the Japanese learned from, to create their ninjas.>
The older lepine femme nodded. <They are used as spies and assassins. In olden times whoever needed someone dead - or information to be used in bringing down an opponent - hired them. Now I understand that they are primarily at the beck-and-call of the military to deal with whoever displeases them.>
Wu Hsing Jade blinked at this. <And you believe this Japanese officer might have called them up to deal with us?>
Grandmother Tang nodded again.
Jade couldn’t believe this. How could that macaque know where she was going and when she would be returning? True he was a magician, even a sorcerer, with a level of power the Eurasian could only guess at. She shook her head to try and clear some of the fog inside, filled by the rain and excitement.
<Something wrong, Jade?> Ming Xue’s query caused the older lepine to glance at her, but say nothing.
With a weary shrug the other doe answered, <I still can’t figure out how that officer could know what we were going to do after leaving the dining room.>
Ming Xue cocked her head and studied her employer and friend for a moment. Then sitting up straight in her chair the rodent femme turned it until she sat facing the other.
<Turn and face me, please.>
Both lepines starred at this bold request. Jade had never heard Sue speak with such authority; Grandmother Tang was annoyed that a servant would speak this way to her employer.
Jade did as she was asked, turning her chair until both were facing each other. The rat woman held out her hands, palms up. <Now give me your hands, please.> And the doe complied.
<Clear you mind and think back to when we were in the dining room. See in your mind’s eye the event at the other table when the servant spilt the water.>
Wu Hsing Jade did as she was asked as the lepine thought back to the incident. She and Ming Xue were seated at their table when the water splashed down the naval officer’s back. He stood up, startled. The younger macaque snapped to his feet, crimson face growing darker as he stormed around the table to abuse the poor fellow on the floor. Then Jade felt the growing warmth of the Tear in her eye socket as her indignation of the treatment of a fellow Chinese fueled a growing hate within her. Calling up the spell was easy, and its deliverance satisfying when the young officer slipped on the water to crash his head on the table’s edge. There followed the quick retreat from the room and the exchange of looks with the older Japanese officer.
But something was wrong with this picture. There was no hate in the fellow’s eyes only a curiosity at finding someone else who wielded power. Jade frowned at this incongruity. And if it wasn’t him, then who else could have sent those Ling Kuei, ninjas, whatever, after them?
<No, it was not him, mistress. There is no hatred in his face. Someone else at the table called up those who sought our lives. Now look back at the others around that table.>
Ming Xue’s voice was soft and soothing, but still carried that note of authority. Jade rolled back the memory of their departure, this time studying the other faces at the table. It seemed Thai and Japanese were directing their attention to the other end of the table . . . No, wait, and there was one whose full attention was not on the unfortunate junior officer. The lepine frowned as she tried to draw the features into clearer view. It was one of the army officers. He was a young canine of mixed heritage that the doe could discern from the distance. And though his attention was with the others of the party, his eyes were not. They were following the American rabbit and her Chinese companion out the doors. And his lips were moving as if he were muttering something under his breath....
With a sudden gasp Wu Hsing Jade snapped out of her trance, eyes wide with shock and horror.
<It wasn’t the macaque!> she gasped. <One of the army officers is responsible for sending those three after us, and he’s a magic user, too!>
Ling-Ling was thrusting a cup of tea into the doe’s shaking hands, making her drink. Ming Xue was to her feet in a move so quick that no one else had noticed. Snatching up her fans from the table she snapped them open as she backed herself into a corner, her dark eyes flitting around the room. Then words were growled out of her throat, words in that strange language that Wu Hsing Jade had heard before when her rodent friend had warded the door to their hotel room.
In a slow dance, the rat femme moved from side-to-side, shifting the fans into different positions in a bizarre choreographed dance, her eyes scanning every square inch of the room, all the while repeating that strange mantra. She suddenly stopped. The abruptness caught everyone else in the room off-guard.
With eyes fixed on the corner of the ceiling directly opposite of where she stood, Ming Xue narrowed those dark eyes unto they were mere slits of sparkling black. With head thrust forward the rodent femme snapped a word so sharp and so loud that glass objects in the room tinkled to the force of the word. Immediately, something formed up in that corner, a small black puff of smoke that coalesced into a tiny figure of hideousness. Tiny batlike wings kept it aloft, as a single yellow eye stared back at the rat-woman.
Ming Xue hunts an imp spy - (Larger file here - 3.1 MBytes) - Art by L. Frank
There came a quick flurry of fan sweeps as Ming Xue brought both up to point at the creature hovering there, followed by a shouted word that caused the thing to give an unearthly squeal before popping into a million shards of blackness that nearly deafened everyone in the room.
There was a long stretch of silence before anyone could move, speak, or think. Eyes slowly turned to stare blankly at the young rat woman who carefully folded her fans and laid them back on the table, ready for reuse. Pulling her chair back up to the table Ming Xue sat down once more, reaching for her teacup. The mouse femme, remembering herself and where she was, hastily filled the cup.
<I think,> began the words, before they faltered. Wu Hsing Jade turned to her grandmother, who had tried to speak. The older doe was in shock; her mouth working but no words were coming forth. Finally she managed to complete what was on her mind.
<I think you did well, granddaughter, in bringing her along.> Their eyes locked. <She will definitely be someone to have at your back.>