When Jealousy Rears Her Lovely Head
The Adventures of Wu Hsing Jade
© 2014 by Richard Messer
“But, why me?”
An incredulous Ming Xue turned her gray-brown face from one mare to the other. It was not long after lunch that the two priestesses had appeared at the door of Wu Hsing Yun’s medicinal shop asking for the young rat femme. Both were dressed in blouse and skirt, though their braids and fur markings seemed to indicate to Ming Xue that they were of something important.
Wu Hsing Jade had entered after the mares’ arrival carrying two cups of tea. Her aunt was out on personal business at the time so the lepine femme and her rodent companion were running the store.
Missy Prohovic asked if there was some place the three of them could talk in private.
“Sue, take them into the kitchen where you all could be comfortable. There is plenty of tea and almond cookies on the table.”
The young rat femme nodded once, then taking her cup, led their visitors to the back of the store. Once they were seated, Ming Xue leaned forward on the table, cup between her fingers and asked again, “Why me?”
The gray mare gave her older companion a sidelong glance before beginning their tale.
“Mrs. Zong said that you hailed from Shanghai, and are a demon hunter. She thinks you might be what we’re looking for in solving this crime on Kami Island.”
The revelation caused the rodent femme to sit up. “Mrs. Zong? She’s one of our customers! And she said this to you?”
“Indeed,” answered the chestnut mare.
Ming Xue frowned, confused. “But a crime? I had heard of a death on this island but had no knowledge of it being a crime!”
“The death of the young fur there is being ruled as one by the constabulary on Meeting Island,” said Sari Aha. “I had been to the island early this morning and the spirits there said that something monstrous was responsible for this death.”
The young rat femme’s black eyes narrowed slightly. “Spirits, eh? Then I take it you two are priestesses of the islands?”
The two mares nodded. Mildly surprised, Ming Xue felt that her calling was finally coming to the fore. Since she and Wu Hsing Jade had returned from their adventure in Siam the young rat woman had been using her spare time in the evenings to practice her tai chi at a local gymnasium as she had before. But now she had taken some of that time to improve her magical capabilities at the estate of Madame Xin Xue, whom Jade had introduced her companion to not long after their return from the Far East. The panda femme, the direct descendant of the queen of the Chinese wako, took an instant liking to the young rodent femme. In fact, there had been a couple of occasions that Ming Xue had spent the night with the lustful leader of Spontoon Islands’ local contingent of The Sea Devils. Now there was a prideful tug at the rat woman’s vanity that she was being called up to vanquish her first demon here on the archipelagos.
A satisfied smile graced those dark lips as Ming Xue sat up straight and beamed at her guests.
“Ladies, I accept your offer!”
The two priestesses smiled to each other before filling in the younger femme on the particulars of the case and who was in charge of the investigation.
“A Detective Sergeant Hargreaves,” answered Sari Aha after taking a sip of her tea. She was going to ask if she could smoke, as the mare was aware of the odor of burnt herbs in the air. But the priestess held her tongue on this and explained her visitation to the island.
“It’s the remains of a volcano with the rockiness of the cone filled with trees and bushes. People use it as a picnic grounds, and it has some trails winding through the undergrowth.”
“But why allow people on the island if spirits are present there?”
The gray mare smiled. “The Kami are present but unseen by the visitors. They only become agitated when someone of a ‘dark nature’, shall we say, sets foot on the island. Then they will summon ‘others’ to remove this person to restore peace to the place.”
Ming Xue nodded as she refilled their cups. Dealing with things of a ‘dark nature’ was something she had dealt with when Master Tang was alive. So the rat femme felt she was capable of handling this without much help. Still, she knew she could fall back on Jade’s help with Sun Wukong’s Tear at her disposal.
After passing the plate with the cookies Ming Xue thought over the offer as she chewed. She then looked up.
“How do I get to this Kami Island?”
Missy Prohovic smiled. “We will be glad to take you there this afternoon, if you like.”
The demon hunter smiled in return. “Let me speak with Jade first then I’ll pack some items I’ll need for this endeavor.”
* * * * * * *
A few clouds drifted over the islands, hinting at the promise of rain later that evening. Ming Xue stood on the beach, wearing a colorful dress and small hat cocked on her head. She eyed the broken rocks thrusting up through the undergrowth, the thatch-roof shelters with their picnic tables, and scattered stone fireplaces. Sari Aha stepped up beside her as Missy Prohovic paid off the water taxi operator. The rodent femme watched the boat leave, worry twisting her features into a frown.
“Will he be coming back for us later?”
The gray mare spoke as they left the beach for a shelter house. “No, but we can always call for one from the telephone here on the island.”
Sue regarded Missy Prohovic for a moment before stepping up beside Sari Aha. “And that is the place that you contacted this Kami?”
The older equine nodded as she took her place at the picnic table. The others followed suit. Again the chestnut mare laid out her items on the table as before and began her summoning song. It was a few minutes before the young rat woman felt a tap on her forearm. She looked to Missy Prohovic and noticed how this mare was looking at something over the rodent’s head. With deliberate slowness Ming Xue followed in shifting her attention up into the roof.
A minute spot of light drifted down to the three femmes seated at the table. Again it lengthen into a roughly humanoid shape as it paused before Sari Aha.
*There is still a great distress here!*
The mare felt the tickling between her eyes as before as the words were spoken in her mind. A glance towards their guest showed Sari Aha that Ming Xue was as unmoving as a statue of Buddha. Her brown eyes were bright with curiosity and what could have been an understanding at what was going on.
*What is this ‘great distress’?*
The older mare blinked at these words for they were ‘spoken’ by someone else, and she believed it was the demon hunter sitting across from her.
The Kami turned about and drifted towards the priestess’ guest. It hovered about a foot from the rodent woman’s black nose bud, going into its bobbing motion.
*A dark creature full of pain and hate!*
Ming Xue cocked her head slightly as she regarded this spirit. *What kind of creature?*
*A snake, but not snake! A fur but not fur! Both but neither!* Then the Kami vanished once more in a spray of colors.
After a moment the young rat woman blinked and let out her breath, not realizing that she had been holding it when the spirit first appeared. “So, that is a Kami.”
Missy Prohovic gave a soft chuckle as she pulled three bottles of soda from her bag. Using an opener she uncapped each and passed them around.
“That is one of many, many Kami that inhabit the islands, in this world and the one that touches it.”
Taking a pull from the bottle Sue let the refreshing drink slide down her throat before speaking.
“The spirits in Shanghai are very much different than this one. They can be benevolent or malevolent.” She took another sip. “And I have encountered too many of the latter in my time.”
Sari Aha chuckled as well, but let it fade away as she took on a more serious mien.
“When it had spoken to me earlier today the Kami mentioned pain and hate from rejection.” She shrugged her broad equine shoulders before drinking from her bottle.
The rodent femme’s dark brows furrowed in thought. “Pain and hate? From rejection?” She turned her attention on the chestnut mare across from where she sat. “And a snake but not a snake, as well as a fur but not a fur.”
Sari Aha nodded in agreement. The gray mare looked from one to the other before speaking. “Are these enough clues to figure out what this, this thing, might be that has disturbed the spirits of the island?”
“Don’t know, but could be a start,” Ming Xue murmured, more to herself than to the others. She looked up at the chestnut mare. “What have the constables found here on the island?”
Taking another drink, Sari Aha was about to speak but belched instead. Redness colored the inside of her ears as she sheepishly offered her apologies. When she was ready the priestess replied, “Detective Sergeant Graeme Hargreaves – the officer in charge – said that it looked like someone had used a heavy pipe to kill the young fur here. And that someone had dragged something through the undergrowth.”
Ming Xue pondered these words for awhile as she took periodic sips of her soda. When her bottle was empty Sue set it back on the table and stood up.
“I had best look at these marks in the sand if the wind hadn’t erased them.”
The two priestesses drained their drinks and set the bottles with Sue’s. Together the three femmes made their way along a trail deeper into the undergrowth. After a few minutes they reached a spot along a low ridge. Sari Aha pointed to a place where something had been dragged through the sand.
Dropping beside it Ming Xue studied the depression made. It wasn’t straight as she had first thought, rather there was an undulation as if whatever made this had been moving side to side. Kneeling carefully over the depression so as not to disturb it, the demon hunter sighted down the trail it had left behind. It was as she thought, this track in the sand had been made by a snake, and a very large one at that!
Dusting her hands as she stood Ming Xue turned to the mares.
“I’m going to need you two to stand back a ways as I perform my ceremony.”
The gray mare looked puzzled. “A ceremony? What kind?”
From her shoulder bag the rodent femme extracted two fans with steel points.
“I need to call up the image of whatever this thing is. But I have a bad feeling of what we might be dealing with.” So saying Sue turned away from the pair and snapped the fans open. The points flashed in the afternoon sun as the demon hunter began a slow dance.
The equine priestesses took several steps back as they watched in silent awe at this dark-furred rat woman. There arose a soft song that caused the hackles on the mares’ necks to stir as the figure in the colorful dress kicked off her shoes and began a slow dance in her naked feet. The fans began to weave a mesmerizing pattern in the air as the strange words being sung rose in pitch and timbre.
Ming Xue had performed this summoning only two times before, and that was with Master Tang in attendance and ready to assist should something went wrong. But the old master was gone and his pupil was on her own. Slowly a silvery-white circle began to form in the air before the dancing femme, blotting out the scenery as an image began to form within.
The scene was at night, and a dimly shaped form was moving from right to left. At first it looked like a female figure from the swell of its breast to the long tresses that hung down about the shoulders. Then the figure stopped and turned to look at Sue. Or at least that was what it appeared to be doing. And by the faint starlight the rat femme noted a patch of white surrounding the left eye. Agitation seemed to be motivating this strange figure as she looked around in panic, turned and was gone through the underbrush. But the last part of the image before it faded away was of a slender tail that flicked out of sight.
Sue stood for a long time, drinking in air as she tried to still her heart and get a grip on a rising panic that she had not expected.
The rodent woman turned to face the two mares. Missy Prohovic spoke again now that Ming Xue was looking at her.
“What was that – thing – just now? In that magical mirror you called up?”
Taking a deep breath the demon hunter stowed her fans as she approached.
“Something from the past; a creature of legend and lore, that should not be in our world.”
Realization slowly dawned on the chestnut mare. “A snake but not a snake. A fur but not a fur. It was a combination of both, was it not?”
With a nod Ming Xue stepped past them and headed back down to the shelter.
“Yes, it is, and a very dangerous foe should you ever confront one. And I am the one who will have to face it, even unto death!”
The gray mare was confused as she and her sister priestess followed after. “And what is this thing?”
The rodent femme stopped to face them. Her dark face was grim and the words she spoke brought a thrill along the mares’ spines.
“What we’re facing, sisters, is a lamia!”