Chapter 73: cocoons

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

Reads: 38

Kwai’s valiant group was just within sight of Hawk’s elevated abode when Minori came rushing from behind to report to the shaman that… “The samurai has disappeared…”

“What did you say?” voiced Jangmi.

“I dropped back to make certain we were not followed,” said the archer. “Our group is still intact, with the exception of the Left Hand of God.”

“Where could he have gone?” asked Ice with a hint of urgency.

“Everyone remain calm,” Kwai demanded.

“You’re all going to die!” shrieked the false Fire, then burst out into insane laughter.

They all looked where she stood between Mifune and Kaji, who were responsible for keeping her bound and under control.

“One of you gag her,” said Kwai, “before she announces our arrival.”

Although a duplicate, she was every bit as powerful as the real Fire, and in spite of her arms being pinned to her sides by a hemp rope she put up a fierce fight. Struggling ferociously to get free she might have done so if not for Storm grabbing her by the hair. While she and the two men constrained her, Wind quickly placed a veil over her mouth and wrapped it tight around her head.

“Careful you don’t choke her…” Ice wailed.

“No need to worry,” ventured Water. “She doesn’t breathe anyway.”

“What about the samurai?” Minori asked.

“We will face the evil as one,” Bara replied.

“What exactly does that mean?” Mifune wondered.

“It means he will be with us,” intervened Night. “Bara has the gift of sight. You can trust her predictions. If she says he will be there, he will.”

“She’s right,” Kwai proclaimed. “Wherever Sung Ji has gone I’m certain he had good reason. He hasn’t abandoned us.

“We need to get moving,” advised Water, “time is critical.”In the vaulted cavern, the samurai was cautiously investigating the area where the duplicate Asuka vanished. The real Asuka, close behind, anxiously followed his lead. Had it been another time, place or situation, she would never have considered taking such risks or placing herself in such peril. But when it came to the samurai she was prone to lose sight of everything else. She was content to be with him, even if being so placed her in danger, and at the moment consoled herself with thoughts like that to distract her mind from the uneasiness of being in the evil entity’s lair.

Nervously looking this way and that as she followed his lead, she suddenly noticed two oddly shaped formations in a dimly lit crevice to their left, eerily reflecting the green incandescence of the nearby quartz crystals embedded in the walls.

“What are those?” she asked Sung Ji as she pointed.

“We’ll know soon enough,” he replied.

Upon close investigation they discovered the cylindrical objects were approximately six feet in length, and attached to the wall of the crevice by a sticky mesh or web-like substance.

“They look like…” Asuka began.

“Cocoons,” said the samurai.

“Enormous cocoons,” Asuka said slowly, as if mesmerized. “Do you think that…perhaps…”

“Anything is possible,” interrupted Sung Ji.

Asuka withdrew a hidden tanto blade.

“Where did you get that weapon?” he inquired.

“From ‘Sora’ (Sky),” she replied nervously as she tried in vain to cut through the sponge-like surface of a cocoon. “It won’t penetrate…”

“Stand back,” Sung Ji said, after which he slashed twice with the star sword, opening the enclosures to reveal… “Fire…” he declared. “She’s unconscious, but breathing.”

“He’s breathing as well,” assured Asuka. “This must be the villager Mifune saw pulled into the rain puddle.”The evil, sensing the samurai carried the star-stone sword, had chosen not to appear before them…until they discovered and released the captives. That angered the entity, while elsewhere, Asako was consumed by an overpowering anxiety. Somewhat aware of the evil’s thoughts, she sensed its intent to confront the samurai. She had reason to fear the entity, but in spite of the risk was more concerned for Sung Ji’s safety than her own. She had no doubt whether or not she should go to his side, she was already there the moment the thought occurred to her.

Meanwhile the entity, transparent to the human eye, followed the samurai and Asuka as they laboriously made their way toward the green fluorescent rocks near the entrance to Hawk’s subterranean chamber. Once there, they discovered they could not leave the cavern because of an invisible barrier. Prompted by a premonition of dread, Sung Ji told Asuka to follow him to a darkened recess close by.

“You stay here with Fire and the villager,” he said sternly.

She opened her mouth to protest, but the determination in his eyes convinced her to do as he said without complaint.

“Hai,” she whispered submissively.

He stepped out into the cavern then, his back to Hawk’s chamber, to await what was to come. Even before the entity materialized he felt its malignant presence. The feeling reminded him of another time and place; a visit to the lair of an infamous wizard. He recalled he had entered a shadowed room and almost immediately was assailed by an overwhelming sense of danger. It was claustrophobic, and when his eyes adjusted to the dimly lit surroundings he saw three large boa constrictors, each with its own nest. There was one a few feet in front of him, and one on either side of where he stood. Then, like now, he paused, was immobile but alert.

Now, sword in hand, he waited, transfixed while watching a spot a short distance from where he stood. There, dust from the floor had slowly begun to rise, as if lifted by a lethargic mini whirlwind. Spiraling lazily upward, the tiny particles merged to form a disembodied, melancholy beauty suspended in the air about ten feet above the ground. Only her head and shoulders were visible. Below that was a pulsating cloud of dust. He stared in morbid fascination as the ancient, floating creature peered back, as if it were studiously analyzing him. As he inwardly wondered if what he saw was the true face of the entity, he was shocked as it abruptly ‘spoke’, as if in reply.

“I can assume any shape,” it said without speaking. “My true form is formless. I can appear as an insect in the air or a beam of light passing through the torn rice paper of an old window. I can be the scent of flowers in the spring or the mists of early morning rising above the still surface of a mountain lake. I chose to appear before you as you see me now.”

Knowing Sung Ji was a protector of women it had assumed the shape, or rather partial shape of a woman, thus giving it the advantage. Her appearance however, reminded him of something Kwai had said. He warned all of them not to be deceived… “The entity with which you must contend is the author of deceit and lies. It knows our thoughts and will do it’s best to trick our minds. It’s appetite for confusion and disharmony is voracious.”

The samurai had remained silent as the disembodied entity awaited his reaction. As he stared back at the vision he slowly began to notice how beautiful her facial features were, a distraction he imagined, designed to delude his conscious awareness. To cause him to hesitate when he should react.

“What kind of samurai are you?” it taunted. “You align yourself with women and listen attentively to the ravings of an old man…”

As it ‘spoke’, its countenance slowly morphed, gradually assuming the appearance of Asako. That ploy had an opposite effect than expected, as thesamurai was offended. Once aware of that the entity’s beauty became distorted by rage and its eyes glared with hatred and contempt. Facing such a grim, otherworldly threat alone, the samurai was beginning to experience doubt as he recalled Chiharu and Kwai warned that the evil was an ancient and resourceful one. Although it had been imprisoned by a Power much greater than itself, it was still able to cause mischief and turmoil, which empowered it and gave it satisfaction. Awakened by Sensei Hawk’s evil nature, it craved revenge after his demise. It was angry and could not, the samurai determined, be tricked or misled.

“Exactly…” the creature affirmed the very moment the thought entered Sung Ji’s mind.

The samurai remained stoic, still as a statue, but alert and ready to move.  The entity, patient as a cat toying with a mouse, knew that Minori was directly responsible for ending Hawk’s lawless life, and that she had returned to the Shrine of Autumn Mists. It wanted to take revenge on her, but blamed all of them for Hawk’s death.

“I want that little vixen,” the entity raged, “that bow-master. Better yet, I want all of you. You’ve all killed my servant…” it accused.

“Whose servant?” said Sung Ji. “Gu-nu-sae-yo’ (Who are you)?”

The creature grinned maliciously… “I am legion…one of many…an angel of light but a murderer from the beginning. I am pestilence and plague, the seed of destruction, betrayal and death; the author of chaos, the great deceiver and prince of liars.”

“Your servant was already dead before the girl’s arrow pierced him,” declared the samurai, “devoured long ago by corruption. The bad choices he made set karma in motion and brought about his downfall; he was the cause of his own destruction.”

As he spoke, a dense mist began to form slightly above the ground within the short distance that separated them. The entity seemed not to notice, distracted by its anger and thirst for vengeance. In answer to the samurai’s accusations it began to wail like a tormented lost soul. The horrific sound caused Sung Ji to tense momentarily, but he quickly relaxed as he detected the scent of jasmine and noticed that Asuka had left her hiding place. She was stealthily moving toward the entity from behind, her right hand tightly grasping the hilt of the tanto as the mist gradually rose, masking her movements. The evil suddenly went silent and its head turned 180 degrees to glare at her threateningly and in an audible, rasping voice it questioned… “Just what do you think you’re doing, you little snipe?”

Asuka fearfully gasped as she abruptly stopped advancing, suddenly frozen in her tracks.

The mist thickened as the scent of jasmine filled the cavern. The evil became quiet, forgetting the innkeeper’s daughter, eyes scanning the darkness as its head rotated left then right, as if looking for something sensed but beyond sight. It tilted its head finally, craning its neck as though listening for the slightest sound. Momentarily it spoke… “You think because you can’t be seen or heard I don’t know you’re here? You’re just another bleeder…a worthless life-giver who failed to give birth before leaving this world.” Then addressing the samurai it asked… “Does your protector really believe her ghostly tricks are effective against me? Does she think I will be afraid? I have no fear of the dead.”

“I can’t answer for her,” affirmed the samurai. “But I can make an educated observation. You apparently possess powers beyond our ability to comprehend, but they are obviously limited. Your animosity clouds your reason and you seem tortured by your own existence. Therein lies your weakness.”

The entity was speechless, its eyes flaming at his accusations, but soon cooled as it lowered them to stare at the enchanted star sword he held defensively in his left hand. “Why do you oppose me?” it asked. “You’re a mere mortal, bound by natural laws. You need only to lay down your weapon. Serve me and I will lay the riches of the world at your feet.”

“And my friends?” wondered Sung Ji.

“If they oppose me they are my enemies. As my servant you’ll have to slay them.”

“I can’t do that. Nor can I serve the great deceiver.”

“You’re a little thick, aren’t you,” it countered. “I’m telling you that you can’t win. I will crush your bodies, devour your souls and gloat in the darkness.”

A demon wind arose as the entity spoke, dispersing Asako’s mist. At that very moment a cacophony of sound resonated from Hawk’s chamber as Kwai and his entourage arrived. Without hesitation Minori notched one of Bara’s arrows and took aim at the floating evil. The enchanted barb pierced the invisible barrier and sped to its target, which moved with blinding speed to avoid being struck. Meanwhile Storm, Wind and Silence charged forward, only to bounce backward as they collided with the barrier.

In that instant Asuka raised an arm and flung the tanto, point first, sailing toward the back of the creature’s head. To her dismay it passed through the entity as if she were a mirage. Spinning with alacrity to face the diminutive girl it sent an invisible wave of extreme force slamming into her body, knocking her off her feet and sending her flying backward toward the cavern wall. She struck the craggy surface with bone-breaking intensity, snapping her neck as her skull connected with the jutting quartz. It seemed to everyone assembled that time stood still as they watched her frail, lifeless body slide down the wall and collapse onto the waiting ground.


Submitted: September 06, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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