The Sea DevilsChapter 10
by Richard Messer
(Mature-rated for adult situations)
The rain still fell with the steadiness that was the summer monsoon. But within the long corridor it dripped in through the stone roof, leaving pools and rivulets here and there. Wu Hsing Jade walked warily across the flagstones, the darkness punctuated here and there by iron baskets on spindly stands that held fires fed by wood. The lurid light revealed patches of stone walls filled with the bas-reliefs of furs, avians, and humans displayed in acts of worship, crafting, farming, and pleasure.
At intervals the walls were pierced by the dark maws of doorways that led into stygian darkness. Overhead the vaulted ceiling was lost to web-haunted gloom. But the Eurasian doe looked not to either left or right, for her attention was fixed on the far last door on the left. Fear knotted her stomach and ice flowed through her veins at what might be lurking there.
With leaden feet she arrived at the door, eyes wide with the terror of not knowing what would be within. Slowly she stepped to the threshold and stopped. In the far corner of the room hung two figures by chains.
Drawn into the room, Jade made her slow way to the pair suspended there. When she was close enough to recognize them, the lepine felt as though she had been punched in the belly. The two had the chains wrapped around wrists, the other ends lost in the shadows overhead. The doe bit down on a knuckle to keep from screaming for the two were male and female: Her mother and father!
Tattered ears hung down around battered faces. The bodies showed the signs of having been tortured so severely that the blood-caked wounds were more evident than fur. Hot tears welled up and splashed down trembling cheeks as Wu Hsing Jade could only stare in disbelief at what remained of her parents. However, there came a sound from her left that forced the rabbit to turn in that direction.
Brilliant white light flared up in that part of the room; light so bright that it ached. Throwing up an arm to shield her eyes Jade stared through slotted lids at whatever was there. The light emanated from a source other than a fire or floodlight. It was too intense for either possibility, a radiance that smacked of magic. And out of the bright center appeared a silhouette, a figure that slowly, deliberately, walked towards the femme.
It stopped some distance away, too difficult to judge how far with the light masking it so. Then the light quickly dimmed to a tolerable level to reveal the figure. It was dressed in a white tunic with billowy sleeves and black trousers with baggy legs that reached the floor. And on its head stood a peaked black hat, narrow of width and tied under the chin by black cord.
For a span of time neither figure spoke until the stranger made a quick snap of his hands. Jade flinched as she had no means of defending herself, if such a possibility was present. Then she noticed two fans in the other’s hands. They were smaller than Ming Xue’s, and seem to bear glyphs that glowed with and unearthly blue light.
<Filthy Chinese bitch! You think you have the power to face me? I doubt that! There is no one who is more powerful than Kano Nishida! >
The fans began a dance that reminded Jade of what Ming Xue had done to that imp in her grandmother’s apothecary. Weird blue lights began dancing off of the fan, to whirl and caper around the figure, gathering more and more of the energy until it created a large ring over its head.
Jade wanted to run, to turn and dash out the door, down the hallway, and be lost in the storm raging outside. But she couldn’t! Her feet felt rooted to the spot. And when she remembered Sun Mukong’s Tear it felt like an empty weight in her face, lifeless of the power that it once held.
figure began to sweep the fans over his head, faster and faster, as
the ring of power pulsed and throbbed with a life of its own. And
with a final gesture that ended with the fans pointed at the
terrified rabbit woman, the ring snapped forward towards the
frightened doe. All Jade could do was throw up her arms . . .
. . . and screamed herself awake! Outside the rain still battered the leaded glass of the windows, occasionally pierced by distant lightning. Wu Hsing Jade sat bolt upright in bed, heart beating like a jackhammer, right eye threatening to leap from its socket, breath in raged gasps. Her palms and soles of the feet were cold and clammy from sweat as she stared around the dim room.
A figure seated itself to her right, hands being laid on her shoulders. With a move born from countless hours of practice the Eurasian swept her right arm up and out to knock those hands away while balling her left fist for a straight punch. And just as fast a hand countered the sweep, blocking the doe’s hand as another hand shot up to catch the punch.
The rabbit femme froze, realization setting in that the apparition was Ming Xue! And with a choking sigh Jade dropped her hands into her lap and began to sob. The rodent woman took her friend into her arms to comfort her.
They didn’t know how long they lay on the bed, Jade curled up against Sue, her head on the rat woman’s shoulder. Sue softly crooned old Chinese lullabies to settle the terrors that filled the other’s soul. The doe told of her dream, of finding her parent’s bodies, and the mysterious sorcerer. The rodent femme didn’t answer but just listened. Presently the voice of her employer and friend began to faded into slurred words until it turned to soft snores. In the darkness Ming Xue smiled. She recalled years ago, when the rat femme was a beaten disheveled creature on the streets of Casino Island, and how this same doe used to snuggle and comfort her during her times of being haunted by night terrors. One part of her consciousness knew that Jade was there whenever the nightmares bore in on her dreams, doing the same as was being returned. Sue also knew that Wu Hsing Jade had been tempted to do other things beside being an anchor for a lost and lonely rodent femme.
With great care so as not to disturb the tall Eurasian, Ming Xue managed to ease the bedclothes back and over them. With a soft kiss between long ears Sue snuggled against Jade and allowed herself to drift off to sleep. It was sometime later, she wasn’t sure how long, that Sue felt a weight on her chest. As a matter of fact, it was a hand softly kneading a breast. Stirring in her sleep the rodent femme was becoming aware of a nibbling along her throat.
It was a slow climb to consciousness that brought Sue to the realization that Jade was trying to seduce her in her sleep. A dark gray-brown hand tilted a tawny chin up until lips could meet. The young rat woman never had time for love while still living in Shanghai; there were too many there, both male and female, who wanted the femme for just a bed warmer. And her work with Master Tang didn’t leave much free time to pursue such an endeavor. Her first stirrings had begun with the niece of her rescuer lying next to the rodent femme. But nothing came out of it for fear of being mistaken for a lesbian - which might have had her thrown back out into the streets. Then Ming Xue began hearing snatches of conversation between Jade and her aunt, Mistress Wu Hsing Yun, about a Madame Xin Xue and Jade’s times with her.
The pair held each other in the darkness, arms holding tight and lips, mouths, and tongues working feverishly until Jade slowly awoke. She blinked, confused, and was surprised to find her companion in her bed.
“Sue?” came the soft query but further words were stopped by a finger against her lips.
“Shush, mistress, and let this time together be the start.”
Jade couldn’t believe what her long ears had heard. Somehow in the darkness she saw Sue’s smile, both warm and welcoming, and allowed herself to be drawn in. For long minutes they held onto each other, hands roaming and lips kissing, until both settled into a snuggle.
“You wanted to do this for a long time, haven’t you?”
The lepine doe could only nod. There had been times when she would watch Ming Xue at work behind the counter or busy in the kitchen, dark thoughts working up fantasies about this furson. There had been a couple of times that Jade had managed to catch a glimpse of a naked rat femme padding out of the bath when she thought no one was watching.
“Well, now I’m glad that time had come.” The words were soft, warm and inviting. But time was drawing close to dawn and Jade felt the need to postpone this tryst until there was time enough to continue. She reminded Sue that the need for sleep was much more important than the sapphic exploration that was started. The other agreed and both settled once more into each other’s arms for a peaceful sleep.
But sleep eluded the rabbit femme now. She was awake and knew it would be impossible to try to slide back under again. Beside her came the slow, easy breathing that told Jade that her friend had finally drifted off. Careful so as not to disturb the slumbering rat woman the lepine doe eased out of her embrace. Pausing by the vanity to assemble a cigarette into the holder Jade drifted to the windows. She was about to open one when she remembered the warding there. Jade drew a small match from the silver case she carried and struck a light, being careful to cup the flame. The soft yellow glow briefly illuminated her face, and glittered along the black surface of the Tear.
She drew the smoke in, then softly blew it out as she stared out into the dark rainy night. Streetlights were dim yellow glows across the river, like fairy lights in a distant meadow. Somewhere overhead she heard a door open and close. Silence filled the room once more as Jade took another puff. Something about the dream still bothered her. It wasn’t just the passage down the corridor, though it did remind her of one of the abandoned palaces that dotted the landscape of Siam. Nor was it finding what remained of Wu Hsing Keyo and Roger Bannon. Jade knew that they had been dead for some time now, a feeling that had hung around her since she first learned of their disappearance. No, it was the mysterious figure dressed in black and white that puzzled her the most of all. Something was strangely familiar about him -- for a male it was, from size, voice and actions. Still, the answer eluded her... such that she put it from her mind for the night.
The Eurasian doe let smoke slowly dribble from her pursed lips as she filed those thoughts away. A cold emptiness filled her as she drew the dressing gown tighter. All she wanted to do right now was to finish her cigarette and try to go back to sleep. But slender arms encircled her waist as a body was pressed into her back, the head nestled between shoulders. Ming Xue’s sudden appearance caused the lepine to choke on the smoke in her lungs.
“Don’t you know that cigarettes are bad for you?” came the softly spoken words from behind.
“And pipe smoking isn’t?” gasped Jade.
That elicited a chuckle from a rodent’s throat as Ming Xue slid around to stand beside the other, arm around a slender waist. Dark eyes in a dark face stared up in the gloom. “What’s wrong, mistress?”
Dark rain on glass was all the Jade could see as she stared once more into the night outside. She took another careful puff.
“My dream still puzzles me, and my mind won’t rest until it is solved.”
Sue rested her head on the lepine’s shoulder. “What about it that still perplexes you?”
In as few words as possible Wu Hsing Jade told Ming Xue about the strange figure at the end of the dream. But when the doe gave her spotty description the rat femme tensed up.
“What’s wrong?” asked Jade, the herbal smoke coming out as puffs with the words.
The pattering of the rain was the only sound in the room for a long stretch before hushed words issued from rodent lips.
“It’s him, Jade! The army officer that Mistress Xin Xue warned you about and we saw in the dining room today! It has to be him!”
Suddenly it all fit! Xin Xue’s word of a medical officer in the Japanese army taking up post here with the military attaché. The canine of mixed parentage at the dining room table murmuring under his breath as he watched lepine and rodent leave. The attack outside of her grandmother’s shop and that tiny demon in the shop. Even the figure in her dream seemed to be of the same height and build. It was slowly coming together. They were dealing with a formidable adversary and they didn’t know the level of his powers. A heavy lump formed in Wu Hsing Jade’s belly.
She turned from the window to crush out her smoke in the ashtray and left the holder lying by it. Dizziness overwhelmed the lepine such that she sat heavily on the edge of her bed. Ming Xue came to sit beside her.
“By the Gods, girl, what are we going to do?!” Jade wailed softly into her hands.
The rat femme pulled the frightened doe into her arms, gently rocking them both.
“We’ll do whatever is necessary, mistress. Whatever is necessary. Between you having the Tear and my experience in fighting demons, we should be able to give a good accounting of ourselves in the end.”
Jade looked up. “And what if it means the end of us?”
Leaning in the younger femme gave the doe a kiss. “Only after we’ve had time for ourselves.”
There was a long pause as the two furry women eyed each other in the dark before melting into an embrace. They fell back onto the bed as they sought to dive into the pleasure of each other’s bodies, and hang sleep and the coming dawn!
* * * * * * *
An intermittent ringing intruded on the rabbit doe’s dreams. It was loud and persistent. Pleasurable thoughts fled before it. Wu Hsing Jade lifted her head to stare bleary-eyed in the direction of the noise, only to discover that it was just the telephone.
Brushing dark tresses out of the way for a clearer view she tried to rise from the bed, only to discover a weight across her back. Ming Xue had draped herself over the tawny back of her employer, right arm hooked across a shoulder. Being careful the lepine doe lifted the arm clear and slid out to sit naked on the edge of the bed. She lifted the receiver and spoke.
“Miss Bannon? This is Mr. Bajeet calling from the desk. Could you come down, please? There are some policemen here who wish to speak to you!”
“Policemen?” echoed the doe, all traces of sleep gone.
“Yes, miss. They say they have very important news to tell you but only in your presence.”
The Eurasian’s mind went into a whirl. The police? Coming to see her? Whatever for? Then in a sort of hint Sun Wukong’s Tear warmed a little in the doe’s eye socket. Pressing a hand over it the lepine sought to soothe the black orb, when her mind’s eye was filled with the image of her grandmother!
“Miss Bannon? Hello, are you still there?” The desk clerk’s worried tones brought Jade back to the present.
“Sorry, sorry,” she answered in what the doe thought would be sheepish tones. “I was, ah, busy getting dressed. Please tell the officers that I’ll try to get down there as quick as possible. Bye!”
Jade set the receiver back into its cradle before the baboon could respond. Turning, she grabbed the slumbering rat femme by the shoulder and began shaking her.
“Come on, Sue, wake up! The police are down stairs wanting to see us, and I don’t think it's good!”
The dark naked body still snored softly in the tangled bedclothes until the rabbit femme reached over and gave a resounding smack across those round ass-cheeks. With an explosive curse in Cantonese Ming Xue was on her feet on the other side of the bed, her fists up to face whatever opponent would dare to strike her. Then she blinked when she saw the tawny figure of Wu Hsing Jade struggling to cover her nakedness in clothing.
“What is wrong, mistress?” asked the rodent femme as she followed her employer’s actions.
“A phone call from the front desk. Seems some policefurs want to talk to me about something, and I think that something is Grandmother Tang!”
Sue paused in her dressing, one leg in her under things. “Grandmother?”
Jade nodded while drawing her long dark mane out of the neck of her dress, after slipping it on.
“The Tear showed me her face, and I know right then and there that this visit has something to do about her.”
The rodent femme said nothing, having seated herself on her own bed, drawing shoes on. When both were ready, they headed for the door, purse and shoulder bag in hand. As she reached the door, Wu Hsing Jade stopped, then turned back towards her steamer trunk. From a small drawer in the lid, she extracted a small revolver. It was given to her by Xin Xue on the last day before catching the flying boat out of the Spontoon Islands. Thumbing the side-lever Jade hinged open the top-break pistol and checked that the cartridges were there. Satisfied, she slipped it into her purse and headed out the room door, Ming Xue close behind.
They took the lift to the ground floor and fairly flew out of the car as soon as the doors opened. There was Mr. Bajeet standing to one side of the lobby, wringing his long hands while his animated countenance seemed to be entertaining the two policefurs. One of them Jade recognized as the sun bear sergeant that showed up at the apothecary not long after the attack. The other fur was not the same constable who arrived with the sergeant the first time. This fellow was a pig-tailed macaque who were native to this part of Asia. They were dark-skinned and dark-furred, as opposed to their ruddy cousins found in Japan.
<Ah, Mistress Wu Hsing Jade, a pleasure to see you again, > the sergeant grinned as he bowed to the two femmes. His partner did the same. Jade and Ming Xue returned the bow.
<Please forgive our appearances, officer, > said the doe breathlessly. <We were still in bed when Mr. Bajeet called. > She waved a hand towards the simian who smiled nervously. <What seems to be the problem? >
A strained smile replaced the official face on the ursine. <I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Miss Jade, but your grandmother is, at this moment, lying in a hospital bed. >
<A hospital bed? > yelped the lepine femme, eyes wide and a hand at her throat. Several other guests turned at the outburst. One happened to be a white bull terrier looking over the edge of his newspaper.
<What happened? > Jade asked in a more subdued voice.
Before answering the ursine officer gave the Asia baboon a questioning look. It took the desk clerk a moment to understand the unspoken question and led the party to a small room off the side of the lobby. Once all were seated the bear set his hat down and began:
<It would appear that between the hours of four and five this morning, several persons unknown made an attack on your grandmother’s business. They broke through the front door, back door, and there was even an attempt on entering an upper story window. From the statements of the neighbors it sounded as if a major battle was happening on their street. They reported the smashing of furniture and such, as well as the ringing of cooking pots in the kitchen.
<A few had gathered their courage and rushed to be of what aid they could to Mistress Wu Hsing Tang and her staff. As they were preparing to enter through the smashed doors several figures dressed in black charged out. They knocked the neighbors aside while carrying their comrades in their haste to escape. It was after the disappearance of these assailants that the neighbors made their way in.>
The sergeant paused to catch his breath just as a young servant entered with a tray of cups and a teapot. Mr Bajeet stood outside, beaming his toothy smile before gliding away. Ming Xue automatically filled cups and passed them around. All nodded their thanks and sipped. The ursine continued: <The shop was a complete shambles. With jars and storage cabinets smashed and the furnishings in the living area broken up it was amazing that anyone could have survived the fight. Grandmother Tang was sprawled across the bottom of the stairs, a broken sword in each hand. Godess Guan Yin must have been looking after her, what with all the wounds she bore. Ling-Ling was found under a pile of shelving in the shop, unconscious and barely breathing. She too had a pair of war fans like yours, Mistress Xue. > He spared the rodent femme a look before returning his attention to the Eurasian doe. <The only fatality was Sung Xi.>
Jade blinked. <Who?>
<She was the older rat woman who worked in the kitchen. As much blood as was thrown around the kitchen we speculated that whoever attacked her probably thought she would be an easy target. Her body was under the table she prepared the meals on, a carving knife in each hand.>
The officer paused to sip from his cup when he was interrupted by the lepine femme.
<Sir, I need to see her, my grandmother. Now.>
The bear blew out his furry cheeks. <That may be a bit difficult, what with those assailants still out there. We won’t be able to guarantee your safety in your travels there and back.>
Wu Hsing Jade said nothing, but continued to stare, almost unblinking, at the police fur. Her grandmother had been attacked, her home and business destroyed. Two other furs were involved in the fight and one of them was dead. The Eurasian doe was not going to allow this to pass without some form of retribution in the offing. And if she needed to set fire to all of Siam to smoke out those responsible, including the Japanese, then by the gods she was going to start striking matches!
The ursine watched the stoniness settle over those lovely tawny features and knew that it was useless for further argument. Then the steeliness entering her next words settled the bear’s position in this gathering: <We will be going to see my grandmother, now! And anyone willing to prevent this from happening had better consign their soul to heaven because their ass will be mine!>