Spontoon Island
home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
comic strips - editorial - souvenirs - Yahoo forum
Posted 24 February 2014
The Sea Devils
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
by Richard Messer
Chapter 14

The Sea Devils
by Richard Messer

Chapter 14

Jade sat up quickly when she heard this.  She strained her eyes against the dark; the Tear showed her the two pinpoints of light on the far side of the river.  And there was the tree, with its split trunk hanging out over the oily waters.  The doe turned to hiss to Sue.

“Tell Bin An that we’re here!”

The slender figure that was behind her slid away to comply.  Turning back around Wu Hsing Jade studied the mouth of this new waterway and didn’t like what she saw.  Presently the old river otter settled in beside the lepine femme.

[Where are they?]  His head bobbed around as he tried to discern the lanterns in the darkness.

Pointing off the port bow that she realized was a useless gesture, Jade said, [About thirty meters over there.  But it will be damn near impossible to turn now for the run to it.]

Disbelief colored the mustelid’s voice.  [Oh?  How so?]

[Your engines aren’t strong enough to fight the current here.  Our best bet is to go further upstream about, maybe, another hundred, a hundred and fifty meters before dashing across to the far side.  That way you can use the river to carry us back down to the mouth of that river, working in close to the bank before making a run up this last river way.]

She sensed more than saw the otter’s attention on her.

[How would you know all this?]  

Sparing the other a quick glance Jade replied, [My father is, or rather was, a naval officer with the American Navy.  And had taught me many things about boats and boating.]

Bin An gave a noncommittal grunt before sliding off the foredeck and worked his way back to the stern.  Jade watched him speak to the helms fur before ducking out of sight.  The Eurasian doe was wondering what the old otter was doing when he popped back up.  In one hand he held a bull’s eye lantern that had a red lens set into it.  With this began to wave a pattern to the other boats following.  It was a long time before the lepine noticed that the following boats were given an answering swing of their lanterns.  After awhile the mustelid returned after putting away his light.

[I signaled to the others to follow my lead.]

It was Wu Hsing Jade’s turn to give a grunt as her attention was on the two lights across the rushing river.  Soon they were behind the little flotilla as it struggled further up the current.  Ming Xue joined them, bending close to be heard.

[The pilot is getting worried about this trip.  He had just switched to the auxiliary fuel tank sooner than he hoped.  He says there might not be enough to make it back on.]

The figure of Bin An was a shapeless shadow in the dark; to Sun Wukong’s Tear he became a distinct collection of shadows that huddled in on itself.  Presently that collection sat up and his eyes shined with a light of determination.

[We continue on,] he breathed before looking up river.  [We cannot give up hope, nor can we deny our people satisfaction in dealing with the Japanese.]  He looked to the taller Eurasian femme.  [How much further before making our move?]

With a glance behind Jade turned back to their current heading, doing a quick calculation in her head.


Moving with the speed and nimbleness of youth Bin An hurried back through the crowded boat to the stern.  Together the mustelid and helms-fur leaned into the steering bar, heeling it over to starboard.  The boat was slow to respond to the change of direction, until the river caught it fully broadside and shoved it around.  Using the engine and the force of the current the long-tail boat worked its way to the north shore and headed back downstream.  Looking back Jade could see the other four boats follow along in a haphazard fashion until everyone was roughly in line.

With the current pushing them along everyone on board was on edge, for should they miss the turn up the next river then the whole mission was a failure.  When the mouth appeared Jade shouted, [Now!], ignoring the fact that her voice might not have carried far over the roar of the river, the steady shower of rain, and the grumble of the overtax marine engine.

Turning up their new heading was as much a matter of luck as it was boating skill.  There was no heavy handed handling of the bar as when they dashed across earlier.  It was more the sensing of the river’s push and what the engine had left in its iron heart to counter the opposing current.  Between the two furs manning the helm they ‘finessed’ the turn, using the push of the river behind them to dance across the oncoming current and make a ‘near-disaster’ brush on the western embankment as they successfully entered the final leg of their run.

The next two boats followed their action, more or less.  It was with the last two that disaster struck.  Either the operator of the fourth boat wasn’t as skilled, or misguided his turn.  The craft heeled up against the muddy bank of the mouth, its keel caught there, when the last boat slammed into it.  The screams and cries of the furs onboard nearly drowned out the buckling and splintering of wood as their bodies were smashed and torn by the impact.  Through the night vision of Sun Wukong’s Tear did Wu Hsing Jade watch with horror the destruction of nearly half their fighting force as it sank into the dark raging waters of the two rivers.

Nausea overwhelmed the lepine femme until she leaned over the side of her boat and heaved what little contents were left in her stomach.  Gasping for air as she sat up, and wiping the bile from her lips did Jade felt a sudden desire to just throw herself into the waters and end it all.  With the reduction of their group the thought of carrying on with their mission now seemed tantamount to suicide.  Even with her using the Tear and Ming Xue’s skills with the fans and fighting demons, the chance of dealing a decisive blow against the Japanese looked nigh impossible.  Jade then became conscious of someone close.  It was Sue.

“We have to carry on, Jade, we have to!  There’s no turning back now.  And even if it’s just you and I, we will make the Japanese pay for their crimes against our people.  Remember our people’s history:  Much has been accomplished by the very few!”

Nothing more was said between them for a long time.  The thrumming of the boat’s engine and the rushing of the river along the side of the hull filled their ears as rat and rabbit stared into each other’s eyes.  The doe’s eyes then blinked as she gave a slow nod.

“Yes, we have to go on.  For Grandmother Tang and Ling-Ling, and for the old cook defending her kitchen.”

“And for your mother and father, Jade.  Never forget them.”

The words were spoken softly, barely heard above the noise of their travel.  And yet they achieved the desired effect.  Nodding again, Wu Hsing Jade set her sight back on the river before them as they pushed onward against the current to the abandoned temple complex.

It was well after midnight when the lepine spotted the opening of the canal that encircled their destination.  Again Jade whispered her directions and the reduced fleet turned up into gentler waters.  The laboring of the marine motor was reduced, though it had been mentioned in passing that after this mission – should any of them survive – that the engine would either be severely overhauled, or scrapped and replaced.

The trees to their right soon thinned and vanished, revealing tall weeds and grasses.  Again the Tear came to the fore and showed to Jade the ancient ruins of the temple complex.  No one could remember when this structure had been built or by whom.  It could only be guessed at that it was at least two centuries old, but who had it raised was never known.  Speculation turned towards some forgotten noble fur or minor member of a royal family as a private retreat.  It was all a mystery and they had felt that it would remain such.

After traversing the weed-choked waterway for about a kilometer the party saw that it turned sharply northwards as was hastily drawn on Bin An’s map.  They followed this new route for another kilometer when a halt was called.  The long-tail boats angled into the vegetation covered embankment where some furs jumped out to drive stakes into the muddy earth and tied off lines to secure the boats.  Planks were extended and the assault force made their way to the welcoming solidity of rain-soaked ground. 

They spread out along the top of the embankment, eyes peering through black silk masking and steady rain towards the distant pile of stone.  There were some lights being displayed along the crumbling crenelations, though the distance was too great to make out any guards walking their rounds.  The old mustelid called a quick gathering to determine who was left.  There came a muttered curse from his hidden lips as he realized how tragic the loss had been.  Quickly he assigned the duties of those lost to the remaining furs.  There were quick looks to one another at the extra load laid on dark shoulders but none complained, even though their group was reduced from five teams to four rather thin ones.  And when nothing else was said, or needed to be, they set off across the marshy ground towards their goal.

Jade and Sue, with their handful of armed fighters, angled across towards the northern portion of the complex.  The going would have been difficult had it not been for that black pearl set into the doe’s face.  She maneuvered them through the firmest parts of the grounds, bypassing waterholes and hummocks of grass and weeds.  At times the Eurasian would glance to where the others were heading for the wall, watching an occasional figure go down when a hole was encountered or a pool of soft mud ensnarled a booted foot. 

Eventually the small party reached the weathered stone wall and took time to rest and catch their breath.  There were no lights overhead, which could have been considered a blessing.  But that didn’t offer much comfort to rabbit and rat femmes as there could have been something perched up above that could see as well in the dark as Wu Hsing Jade.  Both femmes scanned the heights with their own means and determined that it was clear.  Their orders had been to scout around the wall at this part of the temple complex to see if it was possible to enter by a doorway or other such means.  If not, then to scale the wall by rope and grappling hook and make their way into the palace here, finding whatever evidence of what the Japanese were doing inside.

The group worked its way around along the wall until by chance they encountered a break in the stone barrier.  It appeared that the ground had settled here and the stone blocks broke open, creating a slender gap for a furson to slide through.  Carefully Jade inserted her head through, the Tear giving her a clear vision of what lay beyond.  What had once been a garden was now weed-choked and crowded with saplings.  But nothing moved inside. With a wave of a gloved hand the lepine doe worked her way through, followed by her rodent friend and the others. 

It was the last figure through that their troubles began.  This furson was thicker in the waist than the others and managed to get himself stuck in the gap.  There were a few muttered curses as a couple of his comrades ran back to try and pull him through.  One took hold of the outstretched arm while the other knelt to work his fingers between stone and belly to pry it in when an earthshaking bellow sounded beyond the wall.  The trapped figure gave a yell as something pulled him out of the crack.  The yell quickly rose to a blood-freezing scream that broke off with what sounded like the rending of flesh.

{Run!} was all that Wu Hsing Jade could get out as she turned and sprinted through the remains of the garden.  Behind was the pounding of booted feet as the others of her party tried to keep up.  And beyond the stone wall came the bellow again, while on the far side of the complex could be heard the rattle of gunfire.

Turning the corner Jade could see the vast opening of a doorway into the palace, and this she took.  As she stepped through the lepine sensed someone else had entered with her.  She spun about to see.  Through the Tear, a slender figure very familiar to her slowed down to catch its breath.  Outside, the sound of booted feet thundered passed as the rest of their party continued their panicked run.

“Damn!” gasped the doe, doubled over from the sudden exertion of running.  “What the hell was that thing outside?”

Leaning against a wall the rodent femme gulped down drafts of air before answering.  “I, I think that was . . . the ogre . . . we were warned about!”

Reaching up a hand encased in black silk, Jade pulled off her head covering, stuffing it inside her jacket.  She saw that Sue did the same, shaking her black bob loose.  The doe’s own dark tresses had been plaited back out of the way.  Then she stuffed her hand into a shoulder bag and pulled out a flashlight.  She thumbed on the switch and the bright light made her right eye ache momentarily.  Passing the light to her left hand the tall Eurasian reached down to the leather holster hanging from the belt encircling her waist and drew the revolver there.  It was a large British-made Webley in a 0.455 caliber, much more businesslike than the little 0.380 that Xin Xue had originally given her.  Hefting the pistol, Jade swept the hallway with the light, and felt a cold fear knot her stomach.

For what could be discerned from the flashlight was a long hallway lined with doorways on both sides.  The scene from her dream was overlaid by what she now saw, and the similarity was too damn close!  There came the dripping of rain through the roof in places while the sound of the inundation outside was left behind.  Together Jade and Sue stepped forward slowly. Stepping around debris and puddles the pair made their way deeper into the palace when there came the sounds of gunfire and screaming outside, all overlaid by that bellowing cry.

For several minutes rat and rabbit stood froze in place as the sounds of the fight faded away into the night.  When silence settled once more outside, the two femmes stared at one another before they continued their hesitant way down the corridor.

When they reached the end, Wu Hsing Jade paused at the last doorway on the left.  With a mouth suddenly gone dry and a strange twisting in her guts, the Eurasian doe took a step forward to the entrance.  The gun hammer cocking back sounded like the crack of Doom in the oppressive silence as the lepine eased her way into the Stygian gloom.  She played the light about, sweeping the room, fearing the sight of two lepine corpses suspended from chains.

But such wasn’t there.  Instead the room was a small antechamber with a stairway to her left that led downward.  On the walls of the room were faded paintings of figures appearing to descend into the earth, with demons guiding and prodding them along.  With an audible gulp the doe led the way down the broken steps to whatever lay below.  Pieces of stone and what might have been plaster littered the steps as both femmes worked their way deeper into the bowels of the earth.

At the bottom was a doorway to their left that opened unto a narrow corridor running left and right.  Narrow openings lined the far wall in both directions.

“A dungeon?” queried Ming Xue, her left hand on Jade’s shoulder while her right gripped one of her fans.

The Eurasian shook her head, an action lost in darkness.  “Maybe, though I’d never heard of such in these wats before.  Could be private chambers for whatever they wanted to do in seclusion, whoever they were.”

Somewhere overhead could be heard the faint popping of gunfire.  The doe and her Chinese rodent companion looked to one another.

“I better go check,” said Ming Xue as she bounded up the steps.

“Be careful,” Jade hissed loudly at the disappearing femme.  For a long time she stared up after her friend, whispering a silent prayer for her friend’s safe return.  Turning back to the task at hand the lepine swallowed the lump of fear in her throat and stepped into the corridor.

The play of light over the walls revealed murals not as faded as those above.  There was still color in the drawings as Wu Hsing Jade slowly worked her way to the right.  Images of furs, avians, reptiles, and humans were displayed in the various acts of what could have been considered an orgy.  The lone femme’s eyes were wide in surprise at what the ancient figures were doing to each other in pairs and trios while food and libations were enjoyed between them.  When the corridor ended, Jade felt her blood racing and heart beating wildly at the final vision of a rat and rabbit femmes engage in a private act of sex.  Her mind rolled back to the night before when she and Sue shared the first time in each other’s arms.  With a force of will the tall Eurasian turned away to face the doorway before her.

If there had been a door set into the stone lintel it was long gone.  Swallowing her fear yet again, the lepine stepped through, flashlight shining everywhere, the revolver held at her waist as her father once taught her.  The room was small, maybe twelve by twelve feet, and bare of any furnishings.  But the sight of what dangled in the far corner caused the rabbit femme to give a low, mournful cry from deep in her throat.

Two lepine corpses hung by their arms from chains!  One was male, the other female!

        The Sea Devils
            Spontoon Story Basket