The Sea DevilsChapter 12
by Richard Messer
The party left the hospital and climbed into the police car, all except Wu Hsing Jade. She paused at the door, her attention drawn down the street from which they originally came. Something was tickling her mind, as if a foreboding was manifesting itself into her consciousness. She had a passing thought that this was a part of Sun Wukong’s Pearl, her latest ability granted to her by the Monkey King. The rain was still a steady shower and the level of water in the street seemed to have dropped somewhat. She turned towards the open vehicle door.
<Head towards the end of the block and wait there. >
Ming Xue frowned. <What are you going to do, mistress? >
The lepine looked in on her companion. And the smile she offered radiated confidence.
<A chance to finally strike back! >
That brought a bright smile to the rodent femme’s dark countenance. The macaque behind the wheel shot his superior a questioning look, his beetle brows knitted in confusion. When he looked back at the Eurasian standing at the door he was surprised to find her digging at her left eye. And when the glass cover came free in her hand, revealing the large black orb in the socket instead of a real eye, those brows shot up to disappear under the brim of his hat The doe turned to offer a smile to the driver. The simian looked back at the sun bear that only closed his eyes and gave a solemn nod. It was enough for the driver. He started the car and put it into gear while saying, <Yes, mistress, drive to the end of the block and wait! >
As the vehicle pulled out and turned away from the hospital, Wu Hsing Jade had a stronger sense of what was coming towards her. Somewhere in the monsoon rains were two entities working their way towards where she stood. A grim smile touched her lips as she slipped the false eye into her purse. She also checked on the small revolver there as well. Holding the purse in her left hand with the fingers of the right gripping the gun, the lepine doe stepped out from under the awning and into the street.
They’re confused, she thought, as Jade paused at the curb, the rain pattering on her hat and raincoat. They thought I would run, making the chase more interesting. Under her breath she muttered the spell that allowed her to ‘see’. Slowly the color of the rain changed, becoming blue for its lack of heat. But coming up along the sides of the street were two blobs of pale red-orange, trying to use whatever cover was available. A predatory grin curled dark painted lips set against tawny fur as the rabbit woman calmly stepped out into the street. She didn’t feel the cold water flowing over her feet when she stopped in the middle. The granddaughter of the leader of Siam’s wako could only feel the heat rising from within her being, setting a blaze in her soul as she prepared to strike back. She spoke to herself once more, this time the traveling spell as she turned to her left and vanished!
In moments two figures in civilian dress splashed out to where their quarry had stood. They stared down at the water filled street, then at each other. A few words in whispered Japanese passed between them as they tried to make sense of what had occurred. It was the metallic clicking behind them that caused the ninja to spin about. Their target was standing not more that ten feet from where they stood, a cocked revolver leveled at them. No one moved for the space of a heartbeat when the gun went off.
The ninja on the left fell back to splash into the running water, blood oozing from the neat hole in his forehead. The other, caught off-guard from the turn of events, gave a cry and lunged for the lepine femme. But Jade squeezed off another shot. The bullet caught the second assassin in his left shoulder, spinning him in that direction along with the impetus of the lunge. It was after he made a complete turn that a third round was fired, plowing through his right eye.
The falling rain was the only sound on the street then. No one came out to see what had happened; there were no shouted questions directed to the lone figure standing over the bodies. The tall rabbit woman stood staring dispassionately down at the forms being lifeless islands in the river of the thoroughfare. And after slipping the gun back into her purse, Wu Hsing Jade walked up the middle of the street to the waiting police car.
* * * * * * *
On the outskirts of Bangkok to the north, where the city proper gave way to the farmer’s fields, stood a collection of buildings that sat on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Some were low roofed warehouses while others were the homes of those who serviced and ran the boats tied to the docks. Several were the long-tail variety that plied the rivers, streams, and khlongs or canals. A few were small steam-powered cargo paddleboats. But the prize of the collection, like the queen ant in its colony, was an impressive double-decker sternwheeler.
Wu Hsing Jade stood on the dock, admiring the vessel tied up to the docks. The ship was overall white with a myriad pattern of colors applied from bow to stern. Even the great wheel had been touched out with a rainbow. And the two tall stacks bore the metal worker’s art in filigree and gingerbread.
The doe stepped back in under the eave of the home of Zhou Yi and her family. There she fitted an herbal cigarette to the black holder and set it to her lips. She was reaching for her match case in her jacket pocket when a match flared up beside her. Jade turned to see Ming Xue holding the light for her. When the cigarette was lit the rodent femme then applied the flame to the special pipe that Wu Hsing Tang had given her the night before.
Both femmes stood side by side, each quietly smoking as they stared out at the steady downpour. In places the river had crawled out of its banks to flood the fields. Ming Xue took the pipe from her lips to blow a streamer of smoke into the air. The humidity caused the smoke to linger as it drifted away.
“I guess we’ll have to wait on the others to answer her call?” asked the young rat woman as she set the pipe stem back into the corner of her mouth.
Jade nodded, knocking ash off of her smoke as she added her stream after Sue’s.
“Could be an hour or two. But then, are we in a hurry?”
Sue could only shake her head. After picking up the Eurasian doe from her dealing with the ninja they made their way northwards a ways until the road proved impassable. Luckily, they were close to the river and some dock works nearby. The police furs led the way until they came upon a handful of furs working in a warehouse. A few quick words and the workers took over guiding them to the other side of the building. The police officers then said their goodbyes and made their way back to the car.
In what was the foreman’s office, the rabbit and rat explained to the marten there who they were and their need to reach Zhou Yi. The humble creature bowed in answer to the request and sent for a couple of the workers. In minutes the four were heading upriver, keeping close to the bank where the current was weaker. They rode in one of the long-tail boats that had been fitted with a small motor mounted on a swivel mount. A long tube housed the propeller shaft with the whirling prop churning the water behind the boat.
It took nearly a half hour to reach the home and business of the river otter family. Zhou Yi was surprised and delighted at the pair being there, until they told about the attack at Wu Hsing Tang’s home and that Grandmother Tang was in the hospital. Shock and dismay slowly gave way to a deep frown and a seething underneath the femme’s dark brown form. It also brought a sharp nod followed by rapid orders being snapped left and right. Other otters and a few other creatures jumped to in carrying out their tasks. They clambered into boats and headed up and down river while some strike out along muddy lanes.
<It will take some time to gather those we will need for our mission tonight. >
The lepine doe looked confused. <Mission? >
Zhou Yi gave another sharp nod. <Your grandmother knew that there would be a confrontation with the Japanese, it’s just we didn’t know when and where it would occur. Now this attack on her and all under her roof has removed all doubt. We have a very good idea where they are staying; all that is left is to gather as many of the wako hereabouts to stage a strike at their center.>
Jade understood this and offered her and Ming Xue’s aid. The otter femme smiled at this.
<She knew that you would help, and we were counting on it as well, > she said while looking at the black orb in the lepine’s face. Then she turned to Ming Xue. <And what skills do you have to offer? >
The reply was a flash of a gray-brown hand pulling a fan out of the rat woman’s shoulder bag, snapped open, and a steel tip resting lightly on the startled otter’s nose.
Wu Hsing Jade gave a hard smile. <She’s also a demon hunter. So whatever the Japanese may have in guarding this place, either natural or unnatural, we will handle that part of this mission. >
Sue had recovered her fan, taking a step back with a hard smile of her own. The grin that Zhou Yi returned said that they will have nothing to fear in what laid ahead of them. Then she invited her guest to the midday meal that was eaten in relative silence. Even the children sensed that something was up and kept quiet. And the elder members of this extended family held their tongues. When the dishes were cleared Jade and Sue excused themselves, Jade to step out onto the walkway facing the river, Sue to retrieve her pipe and herbal pouch.
So the pair stood outside watching the rain and enjoying their smokes. When the Eurasian pulled the cigarette end from the holder she pitched it into a puddle. The rat femme took one last puff then knocked the dottle out. They stood there in silence for another minute when Ming Xue slowly reached over and took the doe’s hand in hers. Jade glanced down at the intertwined fingers then up at the rat femme’s face.
“I love you, Jade,” she whispered, looking out at a watery world, “and scared that what has started between us could end so quickly tonight.” Sue looked up, her eyes large and fearful. “I never once thought that my first love would be with another woman. But now that I see how beautiful and fragile it can be, I don’t want it to end. Even if you find a male to marry and settle down with, to have a family of your own, I would still love you I want to enjoy the time we have together, whether we are in bed or not, for now and forever!”
A single tear spilled over an eyelid, to course down gray-brown cheek fur, to the corner of a trembling mouth. “I love you!”
The lepine felt her own lower lip tremble as she enfolded the smaller femme into her arms, one hand stroking the black bob on her head. “Me, too,” came the hoarse answer.
Zhou Yi had stepped out and stopped at seeing them embracing. Looking up, the tall Eurasian said, <She’s had a hard life in Shanghai and knows what will likely happen ahead of us. >
The otter femme merely nodded. <A few others have arrived saying that others will be here by this evening. At that time we’ll draw out plans and make ready to head out. >
Wu Hsing Jade nodded her understanding, still holding a trembling rat woman. “Let’s go in, okay?”
Ming Xue pulled away, scrubbing the wetness from her face. With barely a nod she turned to follow the river otter femme inside, the lepine close behind. In the main room the pair met other otters who arrived minutes ago. Seated on woven mats they presented what had been observed about the travels of the Japanese.
An aged mustelid by the name of Bin An recounted what had been learned.
[About five kilometers northwards is a small river that comes into the Chao Phraya from the east. This river meanders for close to ten kilometers before it begins to curve towards the southeast.]
As he spoke the elder’s hands played out the course of the rivers. And when his right hand made a curling motion, indicating the river’s bend, he placed the forefinger of his left hand against the heel and made a perpendicular sweep away from it.
[There is an even smaller river that joins this one before the bend. This leads to an abandoned palace deep in the forests. It is here that the Japanese have established their camp.]
[Any idea what they are doing there?] asked Wu Hsing Jade.
The old otter shook his head. [We are not sure, as we cannot get close to the place. There is something very large moving around the grounds at night. All we know from our daytime observations is that the Japanese take a handful of our people in at times, but none come out again.]
The rat femme was puzzled. [Where are they getting the people?]
A younger otter spoke up. [Best we can tell is from the isolated villages deep in the eastern countryside. Whole communities are taken; the elderly as well as the children. As far up the streams and tributaries the Japanese’ barges can travel, no one is left behind.]
This made the Eurasian lepine sit up straighter, hands on knees and head bowed in thought. People go in but none come out! And why are their doctors in the country but nothing is ever said about their mission to help the people of Siam? Jade shook her head, setting her long ears to dancing.
[Something is wrong here,] she finally admitted. [We need to get inside that palace and find out just what game the Japanese are playing at.]
[Game?] queried a confused Bin An, looking to the others for help. They looked back perplexed as well.
The lepine doe felt her ears grow warm from embarrassment. [Sorry about that,] she said with a weak smile. [An American term referring to playing cards. You can’t play if you don’t know what card game is being played out.]
The others gave knowing bobs of the head and muttered agreements though the doe could see they were still a bit confused.
Ming Xue was looking puzzled herself. [What do you mean, something moving around the grounds at night?]
The older otter shook his head. [Whatever this creature is, it is very large, with a hunched back, a large head that appears to be thrust forward when it moves, and thick arms that looks to aid it in moving.]
[Something almost apish?]
Bin An nodded as did several others with him.
The young rodent femme bowed her head, lost in thought. [Sounds like something my old master and I once ran into in Shanghai, years ago. From what you’ve described it may be an ogre we’re dealing with here.]
There were gasps from a couple of the river otters over this bit of news. Bin An looked a little shaken from it. [Are you sure of this, young miss?]
Glancing around at the others from under her brows, Ming Xue gave a curt nod. [I believe it is so. It fits like a piece of a puzzle with what my mistress had learned about a week ago. The Japanese had brought in an army doctor about this time; someone who also is a magician, for we had ran into one of his summoning last night at her grandmother’s apothecary. And this was not long after the meeting.] Sue directed this last line to Zhou Yi.
The otter femme leaned forward in surprise. [After the meeting? Then it knew everything that was said?]
Wu Hsing Jade nodded at this. [Aye, but it never had the chance to carry this information back to its master. As I had stated earlier, Ming Xue is a demon hunter. When she learned of its presence, Sue quickly dispatched it!]
Several pairs of dark brown eyes turned towards the young rat woman, all shining with the new light of respect. [This is true?] someone asked.
Though the insides of her round ears were burning with embarrassment Ming Xue sat up straight and merely gave a curt nod. As the mustelids all began a hurried conversation among themselves the Eurasian lepine leaned in close enough for only her companion to hear.
“Great going, girl! You’ve just made yourself invaluable to this mission. If you can deal with this ogre then it’ll be a cinch to get into the palace afterwards.”
Sue spared Jade a sidelong glance. “Then why do I now feel that I’ve just signed our death warrants?”