The Sea DevilsChapter 17
by Richard Messer
They made their way to the far door of the library, pausing long enough to glance out after easing it open a little. The sound of gunfire seemed to have eased off some, probably indicating that the gunfights were almost over. But as to who was winning was anyone’s guess.
Through the broad gap were seen other structures, all with the ornate carvings along the eaves and ridges. To the left Wu Hsing Jade could barely make out the stupas there plus a couple of smaller structures that were used as housing by the monks and any guests who came to visit and study.
A quick glance in the other directions showed the doe that there appeared to be no one about to see them. With a nod of her head, Jade stepped out the door and was easing down the steps when her foot caught something at the bottom. She fell forward to land into a muddy puddle. While throwing her hands out to catch herself, the femme’s right hand encountered something lying there.
Sputtering to clear the mud and slime from her mouth Jade stood to stare at what her fingers were wrapped around. It was a katana, a Japanese long sword, common among samurai and officers. She looked back to see the body in khaki sprawled across the bottom step.
“Looks like you have a souvenir from this trip,” said the rat femme stepping around the corpse. “Provided we can meet up with our people and leave this place.”
Jade stood there, spitting and wiping her mouth to clear the muck from it. With a final swipe with a soggy sleeve she looked to the sword. “Yeah, a better gift that a bullet. But you’re right. We need to find Bin An and whoever is left and get out of here as best as we can.”
But nothing more was said or done as a massive explosion sounded off behind them, knocking them into the mud. Climbing back to their feet rat and rabbit watched as gouts of flames sprouted from the blown-out windows of the temple. They stood and stared in disbelief as the massive structure slowly collapsed in on itself.
“What the hell?” Jade murmured in awe as the evidence of what had been going on here was now being burned and buried under stone and tile. Then the library exploded as well, the force hurling both femmes farther away once more into the muck and mire of the grounds.
Slowly, and with each others help, they climbed to unsteady feet, the light of the conflagrations shining in wide disbelieving eyes. And Jade groaned inwardly as the evidence they needed was being consumed within. Without the paperwork of the Japanese experiments here they now had nothing to show to The Sea Devils – and the world – of the atrocities being committed against the Chinese people here in Siam.
“What the yiff just happened?” murmured a sodden rat femme as she continued to stare unbelieving at the destruction of the temple structures.
The rabbit doe could only shake her head, then blinked before turning towards Sue. It was the first time she had ever heard the young woman swear. But further thoughts were scattered by the fireball that erupted at their feet, throwing them back once again out into the temple grounds.
With infinite slowness the two femmes climbed, yet again, to their feet.
“What was that?” Ming Xue stared about, fans in hand and confused as to where that came from.
But Wu Hsing Jade knew, as she watched the source come striding slowly from between the wreckage of the two buildings. She knew it was him, this Kano Nishida, who sent the imp after her and Ming Xue to her grandmother’s place, and who had her mother and father tortured to death.
The figure was moving slowly, purposefully towards them. He wore the khaki uniform of the Japanese army, not the ceremonial black and white costume of a priest or magician as the doe had seen in her dream. And by his side hung the required katana of an officer and samurai. Silhouetted by the flames he stopped some distance from the two femmes.
<You half-breed Chinese bitch, do you think that paltry babble in your head can stand up to generations of the Japanese magical arts? >
Jade bristled at this but kept her calm. She knew he was trying to rattle her to the point of doing something rash. However, she smiled instead.
<Do you think your vaunted Japanese arts can stand up to the power of a Chinese god? >
The canine spat out something in Japanese and brought his hands up. That was when Jade saw the fans and knew that that part of her dream was manifesting itself in the awaken world. Through the steady downpour of rain the doe saw the glowing blue glyphs on the fans as Kano began his dance of death. But a wordless cry came from the rabbit femme’s left as Ming Xue stumbled up before her, her own fans out and weaving a counter spell.
It became a race to see who could complete their spell first as dog and rat worked their skills - one to kill, the other to defend. And the whole scene ended in a tie as Kano Nishida brought the whirling blue ring of fire over his head outward into a flaring lance towards rat and rabbit, while Ming Xue managed to throw up a fiery wall of yellow-white energy. There was a deafening explosion of the two forms of energy impacting that threaten to rupture eardrums of all close by. And the flash caused all in the vicinity to squeeze eyes shut momentarily. But the blue lance had splashed against the yellow-white wall, flaring out into the rain-soaked night and lighting the grounds around them brighter than the fires of the structures. Even the falling rain momentarily turned to steam from the strength of the released energy. The two combatants were spent from the powers they had conjured up, sagging where they stood and all hung in the balance as to who would recover first. Until, unexpectedly, the Japanese magician fell face first into the mud.
Sue took a stumbling step back and dropped to one knee. She felt drained worse than when she had fought those ninjas from the night before. Blinking her vision back into being the rodent femme could only stare at what was before her. Wu Hsing Jade stood panting over the still form of the army officer, her hands still holding onto the grip of the samurai sword. The blade had been thrust through between the canine’s shoulder blades.
The young rat woman stumbled up to where her companion stood leaning on the sword, drawing in deep breaths. She looked down at the dead officer and saw that his head was turned sideways, the look of surprise stamped on those muddied features.
< How . . .? > Sue began but couldn’t complete.
Wu Hsing Jade gave her a lop-sided grin as she tried to stand up straight. She stumbled a little such that the rat woman caught her and half-dragged, half-guided the other to the steps of another building. Both sat down heavily on the slick stone steps until the rabbit doe could recover herself enough to speak.
<My traveling spell, > she said haltingly. Jade took several minutes to control her breathing and try to get her racing heart to slow down. When she finally was able to speak it was with soft words that Sue could barely make out over the cracking of the fires.
<It was one of the first spells I stumbled upon, literally, after I had Sun Wukong’s Tear in my head. By thinking of the place I wanted to go to, and keeping that place in my mind’s eye, I would speak the spell then turn to the left. And I was there!>
Then Jade leaned into her friend’s arms and passed out.
* * * *
The sensation of slowly rocking floated through a tired and aching rabbit’s body as the steady throb of a distant engine echoed in her ears. And the slow crawl to wakefulness caused a reluctant Wu Hsing Jade to open gummy eyes. The feel of a cool wetness on her forehead brought the doe farther out of her blessed oblivion.
“Commander, she’s waking up.”
Jade mentally frowned. Sue? That sounded like her voice, but who was she talking to?
Her vision clearing a little more the lepine femme could make out what appeared to be a dark face framed by short black hair and dotted by two wide dark eyes that appeared to be moist. Then something off-white moved into her periphery on the other side.
“Miss Bannon? Are you feeling any better now?” The voice was soft but masculine with an American accent.
It took a moment to realize that she was still alive. Well, that accounted for something! Jade blinked her eyes to try and bring them into focus. After a minute she could clearly see Ming Xue's tear-streaked face beaming done at her, her body rocking from the sobs the young femme was trying to suppress, a wet compress in her hand. It was the other face that puzzled the doe. The long blunt muzzle of the canine had been smeared with what might have been ash or grease to mask the whiteness of it. But the dark brown eyes were bright with relief as a gloved hand brought a cup up to her lips. Jade took a sip of water, then grabbed the cup with both hands and drained it in a moment. She held it up to the other figure.
“May I have some more, please?”
“Said Oliver Twist to Fagan.”
The lepine doe looked confused. The canine dipped his head in apology.
“Sorry, ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens. I didn’t think your father bothered to bring the classics into your education. I’m Lieutenant Commander Abbott Briggs, I was your father’s officer in charge of Far East Studies.”
That caused the young rabbit woman to frown. “’Far East Studies’?”
The Bull Terrier nodded. “It was the cover story for our works in Asia in regard to tracking down certain magical artifacts and getting them to safety. Your Madame Xin Xue was instrumental in setting up this operation and directing our efforts in finding these items.”
“Xin Xue?” The doe blinked at this until it all finally settled in. Of course, why else would she keep dropping hints as to Jade’s parent’s whereabouts! Then have the lepine femme finally come to Siam to follow up on what rumors there were in regard to collusion between the Siamese government and Japanese military. This may be why Roger Bannon and Wu Hsing Keyo had been sent here, and lost their lives in doing so.
“But, why me?”
Briggs gave a slight chuckle as he handed another cup of water to her.
“Well, for one thing, your grandmother is a very important person among the Chinese in Siam, whether she’s a pirate queen or not. Your cover story as to visiting her on a vacation was a reasonable excuse to get you into the country. Another thing is that item in your head,” and he pointed a gloved finger towards Jade’s left eye that now housed the Tear, “and its capabilities of keeping you safe while here. We never expected you to go up against a Japanese magician. But how you have handled yourself in this regard has made an impression on me that I will speak favorably of you in my report.”
His gaze settled on Ming Xue. “However, the same can not be said about who you brought along on this trip.” The rodent femme was taken back by this.
“What do you mean?” queried Sue, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Your little temper tantrum at the custom’s office the other day. That would have been enough for the Siamese to deny your entry into country. I doubt I could have stepped in and smoothed things over.”
“Wait a minute!” exclaimed Wu Hsing Jade, sitting up. “That was you on the barge going to the hotel! And you were in the dining room when we were leaving after that Japanese officer attacked that busboy!”
“Yes,” the canine agreed. “And spent a miserable night in a tree overhanging the river to make sure that those lamps stayed lit and showing.”
The two femmes stared at this vaguely familiar furson. He had been with them the whole time they had been in country and had been standing on the sidelines during their struggles! And he was a representative of the American Naval Intelligence, like Roger Bannon, dealing with the troubles of recovering magical items to safety, like Sun Wukong’s Tear!
“And you saw what had happened to the two boats trying to get up the river,” said Wu Hsing Jade quietly, trying to change the course of the conversation away from her near disastrous entry into Siam.
Abbott nodded. “I was right over it all when it happened.” He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, wanting to clear the gruesome memory from his mind forever. “We lost half our fighting force in one mistaken action. Hearing the screams and rending wood made me cry and throw up at the same time. By the time I got down from the tree I was ready to throw myself into the river as well.” Again the Bull Terrier shook his head before turning black eyes wet from those memories on the rabbit doe.
Ready to change the subject himself he asked, “Did you find your mother and father while in the temple?”
Nodding in reply Jade related how she had found their bodies and what their shades had passed on to her before she released them. Then she went on explaining what had happened to her and Ming Xue afterwards, from fighting the ogre to finding the dead ‘patients’ and medical personnel. That included the fight with Kano Nishida and watching the destruction of the temple buildings and all evidence needed to support any collusion between the Siamese government and the Japanese military. When she had finished Jade drained the cup then glanced over her shoulder. In the distance could be seen the first glow of dawn through the tangled boughs of the trees. And there were the two other boats following behind. But the doe did a double take on the sunrise and realized there was no rain falling. She looked back to the canine.
“Has the monsoon finally finished?”
The American canine shook his dirty head before pointing through the trees down river. In the distance could be seen dark clouds. “Only a brief respite for the moment. It will probably start back up before noon. Just be thankful for this momentary break. We got about another month or so.”
“What about Bin An? I don’t see him anywhere?”
The Bull Terrier turned his head towards the middle of the boat. Several bodies were lain in side by side in the cramp confines amidships, all covered by a tarpaulin. With a deep sigh Jade bowed her head and offered a prayer.
“Less than half of our group made it out. The Japanese put up such a stiff resistance it almost looked like we would have had to cut and run. But that Bin An was leading the charge so they could mix it up with the guards. Afterwards we searched the bodies and found that each soldier was completely clean; no personal effects or papers as to who they were and what unit they belong to. I have my suspicions but will need to ask for conformation when we get back to Bangkok.”
The dark boughs of the trees overhanging the river seemed less threatening now with the rains stopped and a sun brightening the distance. Suddenly feeling tired from the past two days catching up to her, the lepine doe shook her head slowly and settled back into Ming Xue’s lap. She closed her eyes against the harsh reality behind them and closed her eyes. Her last conscious thought was of soft rodent femme’s fingers gently massaging her temples . . .