The Puppeteer: Part Six
Chapter Three: The Reversed Blade
He fought like a tempest, and from the beginning of the war every pet feared to fight him, so powerful was he; so skilled. He was remarkable in that he had the strength of a larger pet but the speed of a smaller one. His skill with the blade was legendary, almost as much as his kindness had been before he was forced to fight. Some say he did not want any glory, would have preferred to hide away from the fighting. It is said he was approached by the Emperor's captains when the fighting broke out, but could not bear to harm another pet. I could tell you a million different stories about Kamikaze, but none would do him justice.
The Grarrl sat by himself on a boulder at the edge of camp, his katana laid flat across he knees as he polished it. The other pets in camp stayed away, while the sentries nearby kept as much an eye on him as they did to the landscape outside. He was used to it now.
There was the sound of footsteps behind him and he turned his head to see a Kougra hurrying towards him. She barely came up to his chest.
"Captain Rosh wants to see you," the Kougra said, eyeing his blade and then hurrying away just as fast as she had come.
Shuva slowly got to his feet and sheathed his blade, which was larger than any other in the camp. Then he walked slowly to the large tent in the centre of the encampment, flying the gold and blue of General Tzu. His steps shook the ground slightly, and pets unconsciously moved out of his way. They had come up with a nickname for him, both Tzu's and the Emperor's forces. Kamikaze, which roughly translated as 'the tempest'. For in battle none stood against him.
The guards at the entrance of the tent nodded to him. No salutes. He was an unwilling member of the army, so he had no rank, but they still showed him respect. Captain Rosh was standing by the campaign table, reading a scroll and clicking her claws noisily against the light wood. The silver Draik wore a katana at her waist, and she was skilled with it, though she didn't have the sheer power that Shuva did behind her blows.
"Ah, Shuva," she said, looking up from her reading. She was a rather beautiful Draik, except her face was marred with scars of battle. She had been one of the first pets to rise to Chang Tzu's banner, and was one of the most trusted. "I've just been reading a report from the General. We're to lead a raiding party on a supply line a few hours from here. We'll intercept them and take their food and weapons. Tzu doesn't want any civilians hurt so I thought it would be best that you came along." She smirked a little bit. "And they'll probably flee at the mere sight of you."
Shuva saluted stiffly, not saying anything. He never spoke, unless he was asking about his sister. He tilted his head slightly as he heard a commotion at the entrance to the tent, then the guards a little unwillingly let a Techo inside. The Techo looked a battered and tired, as if he had been travelling the whole night, but he cast a frightened glance at Shuva and hurried over to Rosh, who had one eyebrow raised in a somehow threatening way. She did not look happy with the interruption.
"Sir, I need to speak with you. Alone," the Techo panted, casting a meaningful look at the rainbow Grarrl in their midst.
Captain Rosh gave an irritated sigh, then waved Shuva away. "I'll see you this afternoon," she said. "Meet me by the eastern part of camp."
The Grarrl nodded and stumped out, ducking his head so he wouldn't tear the tent down. He could hear the voices behind him, and Rosh sounded slightly worried. That was good, whatever it was. He went back to his rock and began to polish his katana again.
The shadows were lengthening as the sun slowly sank below the horizon. The small party of perhaps thirty pets had made good time, and they had almost reached the place where they were supposed to intercept the supply wagons.
Captain Rosh strode up ahead, claw tight around the hilt of her katana, while Shuva walked not far behind, taking one step for every two of hers. He was less concerned about being attacked. The sun had disappeared behind a mountain by the time Shuva spotted the light of torches ahead. The group of pets spread out, taking what cover they could find. They were not quite in the wilderness of Shenkuu, as the wagons were heading towards the Emperor's armies closer to the Capital, and most of the trees had been cleared away. But they managed to close the distance to two hundred metres before they were spotted.
Shuva gave a roar and charged forward, waiting until the last second to draw his blade. An arrow bounced off his breastplate but he ignored it. He covered the distance faster than the other pets and his first swing knocked the blade of the pet he was facing out of his paws. Other pets approached him, but his rainbow scales were distinctive even in the fading light, and he had soon disarmed a dozen pets. Within ten minutes it was all over, and the pets had surrendered, forced to not use arms for a year, as tarsha required.
Shuva walked away from the wagons, feeling slightly ashamed. He hated how his size and species made him the ideal fighter, especially with the unusually quick reactions he had. He hated hurting other pets, even if it was only bruises, and he hated Tzu for forcing him to fight. He was not even sure he would have fought for the Emperor if he had had the choice.
Captain Rosh came and clapped him on the back. "Good job," she told him, but from her tone he knew that she was enjoying his misery.
It was at the edge of the circle of light that he stopped and went to sheath his blade. At first he thought he was just tired, but after several tries his blade still wouldn't go in. He looked down and saw with astonishment that his blade had curved ever so slightly at the tip. As he noticed this the katana leapt out of his claw and thudded into the ground.
He glanced over his shoulder, but the other pets were all occupied, and they hadn't even brought a magic user with him. So he must just be imagining things. He reached down to grasp the hilt and suddenly the blade pulled itself free from the earth and moved in sharp, sure lines. When it finished it hovered next to his claw hilt first, and he grasped it, studying the arrow it had traced in the dirt.
With another glance over his shoulder he strode away, following the direction of the arrow. There was nothing ahead except for a cluster of boulders, and as he approached them he slowed down, gripping his katana tightly. It had straightened itself again, but he knew that whoever had curved it was probably watching.
As he passed the first boulder, which came up to his shoulders, a shadow detached from it and moved towards him. The other pet had the same lightning reflexes, because a paw came and gripped his wrist as he brought his blade up. There was some pressure, and he was forced to drop it. He bared his teeth in a growl, but then the other pet threw back his hood.
"It's good to see you, Shuva," Ajuro said.
The Grarrl relaxed slightly, then his eyes narrowed and looked back the way he had come. "What are you doing here? I'm supposed to be on their side, remember. I know you're a spy for the Emperor, and if they know I let you go I might not see Chiroki again."
"You'll let me go?" Ajuro sounded amused as he gestured at the katana lying harmlessly on the ground. Shuva wrenched his arm away with astonishing strength and picked it up again. "I see your point. But I've finally found a way for you to leave Tzu for good."
Shuva tilted his head. "I'm listening."
Ajuro led him further into the rocks, so that they were out of sight from the wagon. There Shuva saw his sister for the first time in two years.
As soon as he saw the Kacheek he ran the rest of the way to her and lifted her from the ground, swinging her in a wide circle as he hugged her. They stood that way for about a minute, before Shuva finally put her down, eying her critically. But she seemed in perfect health. He tried to angrily wipe away the tears running down his face, but then decided it didn't matter since she was crying as well. It was then that he noticed the other pet.
It was a Hissi, dressed in what had been Lunar Festival costume before it became the fashion in the Capital. He felt a shiver as he realised that the holes where the Hissi's eyes should have been were black and empty. The other pet seemed unsure at first, but then Chiroki grabbed his wing and dragged him forwards.
"Shuva, Kai is back!" she said cheerfully.
"Kai?" Shuva said in disbelief. The Hissi removed the mask he was wearing, revealing what looked like an empty skull. Then Shuva realised that the skin was slightly transparent. There were no recognisable features until he spoke.
"I'm so sorry, Shuva," he said. He moved forward and pressed a crumpled piece of paper into Shuva's claw, closing his claws over it. The Grarrl looked down and saw the almost illegible scrawl that was his friend Kai's. In the light of an almost shuttered lantern he read the letter, which halfway through became a much neater script in a different ink, explaining everything that had happened. At last he looked up, and even though he couldn't read Kai's expression he could feel the hopeful air about him.
"So that was you doing those tricks with my katana," he said at last, his voice cracking. Then in a swift move he pulled the Hissi into another of his bone-crunching hugs, which was ruined only by Ajuro tapping him on the shoulder.
"Sorry to interrupt, gentlemen, but it appears that Captain Rosh has become aware of your absence."
Shuva peered over the boulder he was hulking behind, while the others peered around it. The pets below were milling about, and then a number detached from the others and headed towards the boulders, which were the only obvious hiding place on the landscape.
"How do you know who that is?" Shuva asked the Zafara.
Ajuro smiled knowingly. "I make it my business to know everything. It's my job. Anyway, what are we going to do about those pets?"
Shuva lifted his katana. "I'll deal with them," he said.
To be continued...