Chapter 68: night visitors

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 36

She stood as tensed and ready as the black clad guardian before her, with her mind’s eye fixed on the cursed gateway beyond the silent ninja. The torii atop the ancient steps appeared harmless; and not much different than others she had seen, with one exception. This one was ancient, perhaps thousands of years old, made of an unknown, midnight black crystal-like substance. Its gleaming surface was scratch proof and harder than metal.

Ice knew that once she walked beneath it she would find oneself in another place…a timeless place occupied by extreme evil. Still, some intuition led her to believe that the mystery of her sister’s disappearance lay hidden behind the tori. She was at once compelled and impatient to discover for herself the truth concerning Fire and her evil duplicate.

While Ice searched for the right words to say, the way sentinel firmly held the crescent bladed monk’s staff in a defensive manner, as if to warn her to keep her distance.

“Brother Quiet, you’re only doing as Chiharu commanded,” she said, breaking the tense silence that separated them. “I don’t want to fight you,” she declared, “but I must pass beneath the torii.”

No reply… But she expected that. He was, after all, a mute…incapable of speech. But she hoped he would consider her request, nod his head, lower his weapon and let her pass. He was her ‘brother’, but obstinately obedient to Chiharu. Ice knew he would not simply stand aside and let her climb the stairs. She knew he was not just following orders by blocking her advance. He was trying to protect her from danger. The intensity of his gaze clearly defined his determination. It made her think of her sister’s eyes, at one time just as intense and determined as his. But since the evening of her disappearance her eyes had become vacant and void of intensity, as if she had no soul. That thought spurred her into action, and as she made an abrupt move, he just as quickly swung the staff toward her head…

She awoke in that instant, covered in sweat, her body trembling. ‘Another nightmare’, she thought, “but so vivid…”

She wasn’t certain of the time, but assumed it was early pre-dawn hours. She was weary but indifferent towards sleep, knowing that bad dreams lurked like demons in the dark, patiently awaiting her arrival. Reluctantly she stood, leaving her palette and room behind. In the hallway she was surprised to find Bara at an open window.

“Aren’t you cold standing there?” she asked the younger girl.

Bara turned from the window… “Ice,” she said. “Did I disturb you?”

“No. I was awakened by a nightmare. I’m much too restless to sleep. And you?”

“I can’t say really…” Her words trailed off.

“You’re restless too?” asked Ice as she came up beside her.

“Hai. But more than that… I sensed something. A foreboding…”

“Is that Kwai on the terrace?” asked Ice suddenly interrupting.

Before Bara could reply, Ice gasped… “What is that?” she exclaimed while pointing a shaking finger.

Bara immediately screamed… “Kwai-sama!!”

Even before she yelled Kwai’s sixth sense moved him to action. Without looking Bara’s direction the shaman turned abruptly to face the hulking black shape that had emerged from the darkness and shadows at his back. As he turned he withdrew the blade from the enchanted tanto and with one swift downward strike reduced his assailant to glowing red ash. As the residue was carried away on the night-winds Kwai assumed a defensive stance to confront the two dark, ebony shapes that were rising over the terrace railing. Following a downward linear strike a second ‘shadow’ became ash before it set a foot on the terrace. The third minion managed to climb over the railing and stood upright facing the diminutive Chinese. At least seven feet in height, it loomed head, chest and shoulders above Kwai, but hesitated to attack. Obviously confused by the speed at which he dispatched the other two, it was momentarily indecisive. Kwai didn’t wait. Taking two quick steps toward the hulk he quickly made a forward thrist with the sword and the creature exploded into a cloud of glowing ash.

Kwai quickly turned his attention then to the window where Bara and Ice stood transfixed, waved his sword as if to indicate all was well, then looked back toward Hawk’s private building. He was thinking about the mirror, imagining that the shadows had perhaps entered this world through the looking glass. But he knew destroying it would not prevent more from doing so, as he believed any reflective surface would serve their purpose. He thought about Chiharu, then Sung Ji and suddenly with a hint of urgency rushed off for the Shrine of Autumn Mists.

“We should awaken the others,” declared Ice.

“Hai,” agreed Bara. Meanwhile at the shrine, Chiharu, alerted by Bara’s cry, was heading toward the hidden room to check on Fire when she was struck by an overwhelming sense of dread. Compelled to go to the front door, she opened it in time to see three huge dark shapes quickly climbing the stairs leading to the front portico. She was frozen for a moment as they stepped onto the landing and abruptly stopped, staring her direction. But were they staring she wondered. The hulking shapes were humanlike, but their faces were featureless…formless and blank, at least they appeared to be. There was about ten or twelve feet separating them, and it was dark, so she couldn’t see them clearly. But she was certain of one thing, they were evidently minions of the evil entrapped in the catacombs beneath the mountain, and she imagined they had come for the false Fire, or perhaps for her.

She had no more time to think, as one of the three shapes began to move threateningly toward her. She managed to force her legs to move, stepping back just as something hissed through the air above her head. With skilled accuracy the arrow struck the advancing hulk in the center of the forehead, causing it to explode into a cloud of red and black glowing ash. Before the shock of the moment passed Chiharu was surprised to see Kwai top the stairs and rush from behind and between the remaining shadows, his sword whistling as he struck one and then the other giant assassin. He skidded to a halt and held an artful pose as the ash and residue of his targets languidly settled to the ground.

“Are you harmed, Mistress?” Chiharu heard Minori say as the young archer rushed to her side.

“I’m well,” she replied as Kwai put away his weapon.

“Now we know those bamboo arrows are effective,” he declared. “It’s as I said; from a distance, your reach will disperse the shadows.”

“Hai,” said Minori, “and just in time. I’m glad you were able to fashion the tips in time.”

“And I’m happy you chose to abide here with Chiharu,” Kwai replied.

“What’s going on?” asked Jangmi from the doorway of the shrine.

The three turned her direction just as Bara, Ice and the other girls topped the stairs at Kwai’s back. Everyone was there, except the children of the night and… “Sung Ji…” said Kwai as the thought suddenly struck him.

Submitted: September 05, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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