-------------------Chapter Twelve, As Told By Xiao Ping and Wen Hung-Lo---------------------

The Sea

We were at sea for some time, so I added a couple of new items to my journal that had actually happened before we had begun our sea voyage.

First, Cairn and Havarak had returned before we left Beijing, and they had set sail with us aboard the Regina Isabella. This fact didn’t seem important at first, as they often ventured forth and returned just as they pleased, but it came to be very important, as you will see.

After Cairn and Havarak arrived, Havarak told us that Cairn had first thought that the starving dire cat she had saved us from back in the desert might need protection. After following and observing the cat for a while, she had realized it was the biggest predator out there, so she wandered around with Havarak after that. Sometimes, they just needed to explore.

They came upon the new lake created by the Mongol’s dam and decided to go for a swim. Cairn turned herself into a shark and found a Gobi monster, a giant lungfish beneath the water that was distressed because he could no longer get down the river. The dam had dammed him up.

“I’m so depressed,” he said, after explaining his plight to Cairn. She could speak with fish when she was a shark, of course.

“Well, we should break down the dam! And make a way for you to get through!” Cairn said.

“I’ve tried,” he said, “but the stone men throw rocks down on me and they hurt my back.”

“We’ll have to swim down deeper then!”

“I’ve tried that too, but they zap me with electricity somehow,” he explained.

“Well, we can help you in that case, I can protect you from lightning with a simple spell,” Cairn said, with a toothy grin.

They gathered themselves up and attacked the dam. After a Druidic diversion and a spectacle of summoned fire creatures and another Lamia claiming to be Baba Yaga, they managed to burst through a short section of the Mongol’s dam and the marooned Gobi monster crawled over it and dropped into the river below. It followed the torrent and went over the ten-foot high partial stone dam beyond too.

Cairn and Havarak followed and saw him unite with his mate later that day. She had a single baby (perhaps an only survivor of a clutch of eggs?) and they named it Havarak in honor of their adventure.

Many days later, Cairn and Havarak returned to Beijing, and they joined us in time to leave for Japan.

Second, Maffeo Polo had been waiting for us at the dock before we left China as a surprise. He wore an exquisite red coat with gold and silver lapels, and he wore a maroon hat that drooped off to one side. His dark beard was now shaped and smoothed. He was standing before a huge pile of gifts. The other Polos stood waiting behind the pile.

He stood up on a crate and cleared his throat.

“Esteemed colleagues, we’ve come to see you off and present you with gifts!” he said. “The profitability of the relations between the Polo Trading Company and the Mongolian Empire has exceeded our wildest expectations!” he said happily. “We could never have done it without you, Sandru, or you, Pang Mei,” he said, and bowed very low.

After that, he handed out the gifts to everyone. He generously supplied us with all sorts of potions for our journey, all with useful effects like healing, waterbreathing, or flying.

Marco came up to me. He was still my favorite Polo. I had always liked his eyes. There was a life in them few others had. “Mrs. Ping,” he said, and smiled his smile. “You know I’m not one to sit on my ass. I’ve been sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong, you know. Well,” he paused,”I came upon this,” he passed me a beautiful gem encrusted rod, “don’t ask me how I got it, but I want you to have it, and I want it to represent our friendship forever and ever.” I could tell it was a magic rod of empowerment; it would make my fireballs even deadlier than they were already. I loved it. I hugged Marco and spun him around. “Thank you Marco! This is great! I know with your spirit you’ll do great things,” I said to him. “Don’t forget to write everything down you see and do in your journal so everyone will be able to read about where you’ve gone and what you’ve done.”

“Don’t worry, I will,” Marco said.

“Maybe we’ll see each other again someday, Marco,” I said.

"I hope so,” he said. I hugged him one last time. We were at last ready to leave.

Of Aki, or Akira, or whatever his name was, there was no sign.

I wondered where Aki was, and what he might be doing. He had left us long ago with an admission that his presence was likely allowing foes of the Amatatsu to zero in on us. I was sure it was the Seal that was helping them find us, and it seemed like he had done well enough helping us defeat them so far. I hoped he would return, but he was not with us on board the Regina Isabella. It was a great irony that to regain his voice he should need to return to Japan, but not do so with us. I kept thinking that he was in danger somehow. I couldn’t scry with the mirror anymore unless it was a strict emergency; I didn’t want the Mustache picking us up again.

Captain Sergio was well pleased. “Well, your Sandru pays well enough, I’ll say that for him,” he said. He was tall and lean and wore a rough stubble that made him look dirty. At least this sea Captain didn’t smell like booze or get grabby. One time he came very close to shore just to wave at some friends of his on land in South Korea. I saw a rock go by very close to the hull. I pointed it out to him and he told me to shut up. He didn’t seem to like women very much.

“Ahhh, women are bad luck on ships, and Princesses are even worse,” he spat a wad of leaf at my feet. He stumped off. “Bilge-cocks,” he said to no one in particular. The crew was made up of Spaniards, Italians, Chinamen, Koreans, and a few others I couldn’t figure out quite where they were from.

The ship sat low in the water as it was packed with supplies, and Sandru said that it should be considered the seafaring version of the Caravan. He had rolled all the funds he had gotten for selling the wagons into trade goods for the ship. He smiled and went around jabbing the crewmembers in the shoulders. “We’re going to Japan! Mind your eggs now!” he would say. He wore a blue turban at sea. He wore all of his rings around his wrist on a leather strap, instead of on his fingers. “You never know when you’re gonna get wet,” he said.

The relations between members of the party were as cold as the weather. We were forced to bunk mostly together in two main cabins. One was in the forecastle and the other was aft. Pang Mei, The Jade Archer and Sandru stayed in the aft apartment. Wen and I stayed in the front cabin, along with Dipaka, Allegro, Ochir, Chaka, G and G, Lo, and Xia. Talk about uncomfortable. It was difficult enough on the cramped boat, but to have no privacy at all for so long was gnawing at our sanity. In quiet desperation, Xia sacrificed a dress and strung up a makeshift curtain across a back corner of the ballista gallery, so we could do our female business with a modicum of privacy. The crewmembers all tried to peek at Xia, although they were nice enough otherwise. They didn’t try to peek at me. I wanted to put a pox on them.

Lo had not answered my letter regarding Ochir, but he seemed to have come to some private conclusion about what he would do. He didn’t say anything, and I wondered if he had finally let the matter drop. Perhaps he’d decided to take on the mantle of the silent, waiting judge.

We weathered the horrible storm that broke our mast and swept away our crewmembers. It had not been the Divine Wind. It had been an equinoctial gale, or so the sailors said. It was over by the next morning. The Captain sucked his teeth as he looked up at the broken mast. He estimated it would take two days to hoist and lash up an emergency stretch of lumber to what was left of the old mast and make up new rigging. We were dead in the water until the mast was repaired. “We’re way off course too,” he said.

Dipaka held a memorial service for the crewmembers that had been lost at sea. Going over the side of the ship in this icy weather was a death sentence. What had become of their bodies, we never knew.

Ochir stayed mostly atop the foremast during the day, keeping an eye out. Wen often watched him for long periods, and I saw Wen shake his head once. Wen hadn’t slept with me in many days. He was so angry with me for what had happened with Ochir. I didn’t blame him.

Wen couldn’t wear his heavy metal armor on board, since I didn’t want him to sink to the bottom of the sea. He wore a leather life preserver instead. He kept his shield strapped across his back and his katana through his belt. The crewmembers all had masterwork suits of air-filled leather that were buoyant enough if the sailors fell overboard, but they wouldn’t make much of a difference in the freezing sea. If Wen went into the water, I would have to get to him fast.

Xia and I prepared several spells of waterbreathing each day in anticipation of a problem. I hated waterbreathing, but it was far better than drowning. I reminded everyone to get to either Xia or myself quickly if we wound up in the water.

We still took watches at night, even at sea, for we didn’t know what dangers might lurk beneath the waves. The Captain said that he had personally seen Aspidoceleons, with turtle shells and snake like heads, otherwise known as Turtle-Asp Whales; Capricorns, fishes with the upper torsos and heads of goats; an Echeneis, a bestiary fish that could stop a ship going full sail by attaching itself to the hull; Krakens, which were huge squids; Serras, huge fishes with swords for noses; and Sirens, whose nubile forms would cause rendy sailors to leap overboard and drown themselves; and finally Nagas, long sea snakes with women’s heads and arms. This didn’t include, he said, things he had seen that attacked from the air, like Rocs, Tien-Kau, Tengus, Stymphalian birds, Simurghs, and Hippogriffs. The Captain had apparently been at sea for many long years.

Dipaka, Lo, and Cairn were standing third watch when we were attacked.

Dipaka told me later that he had seen a great shark fin break through the waves, and then he had seen a horrid humanoid sea creature that rode perched on the shark’s back. It was a fabled Shangri-La, a devil of the sea. It was a humanoid, but its skin was green and scaly, and it had large black eyes. Its toothy mouth curved down and around its cheeks and then under its ears to form gills. Its gills sucked in and out as it swept across the waves towards the Isabella. It held a barbed, three-pronged trident in its webbed hand.

Many more sharks and dark green Shangri-Las rose from the sea behind the first. Dipaka imagined that they must all have come from some black lagoon somewhere.

They made crossing wake patterns on the surface of the sea and burbled in some Shang language as they came.

When the speeding phalanx got to the ship, the first shark leapt out of the water in an arc and the lieutenant Shangri-La flipped from its back and landed standing on the deck. It screeched and skewered a crewman with its trident. The incredibly strong creature flung the poor bastard off the end of his trident and over the opposite side of the boat just like a farmer tossing hay with a pitchfork. The man’s screams ended in the water as the waiting sharks tore him to shreds.

Several of the other Shangri-Las also leapt from the backs of their leaping sharks, and one of them attacked Dipaka. The fishy creature ignored his peace aura and ran him through. Dipaka closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as the Shangri La brutally yanked the trident out. Blood poured from three holes in Dipaka’s chest. The Shang squealed in triumph.

The lieutenant now whirled and threw his trident at Dipaka too. This time it shattered on impact; or rather, it instantly became unmade and crumbled away to dust. The lieutenant made a whooping noise. Dipaka proudly smiled at the angry manfish even as blood began to trickle from the corners of his mouth.

One of the fish men chomped on Lo’s arm and another one bit Cairn. Many more Shangri-Las climbed on board and their claws clicked and scraped over the railing. Water ran off their scaly bodies. There were so many climbing on board the ship began to list to one side.

Cairn screamed “Invaders!” and immediately cast a spell on Lo; it temporarily transferred some of her strength to him. The strength, while inside Cairn, was of little or no value, but inside Lo, it stacked on top of his already incredible natural strength, and the magical strength conferred by the belt of Genghis Khan. Now when Lo became angry, he wouldn’t only be the strongest man in China, but the entire world. Lo drew Suishen very slowly and held a pose. “You smelly fish people have made a very bad mistake,” he said. Then he flew into a rage, grew in size, killed two Shangri-Las with one swat each, and wounded the lieutenant severely. “Aaaaaaaargh!” he thundered.

Cairn leapt from the back of Gun-Gun and began to cast a spell on her Wolf, but a Shang raked her badly while she was in the middle of casting it, and the magic was lost. Gun-Gun got revenge; he grabbed the Shang by the arm and pulled him over. Shangs were not particularly adept at standing with their large splayed-web feet. Gun-gun tore out one of the creature’s gills.

Dipaka healed himself once and then dashed to and fro right through a thicket of Shangri-Las over to the alarm, and began ringing it furiously. The sound of the pealing bell split the night air.

I sat up in our hammock and rubbed the peepers from my eyes. Wen was already up and getting his sword and his shield. We could hear a muffled commotion above us on deck.

Allegro ran over, cracked the door, and peeked out. Wen moved him aside and went out into the ballista gallery. Allegro grumbled at him and followed. I moved to the doorway and looked out.

“Men, on deck, we’ve been boarded!” Wen ordered. The men leapt up and grabbed whatever weapons they could find. Wen headed towards the stairs at the far end of the gallery.

A huge Shangri-La came down the stairs first, leaving a trail of wet and bloody footprints. He appeared to be the Chieftain; he had apparently come straight down the stairs after boarding. He saw Wen in his nightshirt and make a loud sucking noise. A bunch of the lesser Sahaguins came down behind him, their gills sucking.

I watched in horror as they surrounded Wen and several of the crewmembers. I instinctively threw my haste spell on them. All my friends were brown and red, so I knew which ones to haste. It certainly wasn’t the green scaly ones, Xia pointed out, as she created a magical false life to cover own.

Wen expertly waved his katana around in a figure eight as he stood his ground. “By Bahamut’s Bidding!” he cried, and he slashed the Chieftain three times. The big fish now had long gaping wounds across his chest, and blood ran and sprayed all over.

The Chieftain and the other Shangri Las laid into Wen, jabbing his unprotected skin with their tridents, biting and scratching him too. Wen was now horribly wounded and bleeding terribly.

I could hear the Jade Archer’s spirited battle cries from above, and the stifled blast of one of Pang Mei’s spells.

Just in time, Dipaka came down the stairs and threw a crackling ball of healing at Wen, staunching his bleeding.

“This is Father Dipaka!” Wen cried in the Chieftain’s face, “We are Immortal!”

Chaka appeared at the cabin door with her six drums blaring and she proudly announced, “The Mighty Ochir!”

Ochir slid out of the cabin at high speed on his knees, firing his bow repeatedly at the Shangri Las as he went. He nailed a big one with several arrows; the crew threw knives, daggers, and kitchen utensils at it too until it fell down dead. “Ha ha!” Ochir laughed.

Havarak rushed up from the bilge where the horses were and up the stairs to the main deck. “Are you ok She-Wolf?” Cairn yelled something back about having a boo-boo.

“These are just sea-hobgoblins, with slimy-greasy seaweed nobbins!” Allegro cried, and he peppered the Shangri-Las fighting Wen with his ricocheting Halfling stones.

I fired a string of magic missiles at the Chieftain, and moved to get closer to Wen to try to get my stoneskin spell off on him. I needed to touch him in order to do it, but I was forced to duck behind a ballista before I could get to him.

Xia was right behind me; she pegged the Chieftain with her magic missiles too, and he went down. Xia had finished him off. Wen looked back at her, incredulous. Xia was beaming.

Lo was obviously still above us on the main deck killing all the Shangri-Las, large pieces of them kept falling down through the open grate above us. “Eeeewwww!” Allegro said, stepping over an arm.

Ochir kept firing and taking out Shangs. He split one’s head with an arrow so that it popped open and its brains oozed out.

The Shangs were almost all dead at this point; Allegro dropped the next to the last one with a rock to the forehead.

The final Shangri-La turned from Wen and squeezed as fast as it could through a porthole. Wen confidently wiped and then sheathed his katana as the bloodied Shang died on its way through.

“I thought so,” he said.

The battle over, Dipaka healed everyone and we threw the remains of the Shangri-Las into the sea.

We all gathered on deck at the end of it. We were all accounted for, all alive and well. Somehow, our mast was damaged again during the battle.

Ochir was distraught, “What about our ship? We’re dead in the water again!”

“No, they’re dead in the water,” Allegro said, pointing to the Shangri Las, “we’re just not moving!”

“Very funny,” Ochir said, “but that’s not going to get us anywhere.”

Two days later, the mast was rigged up properly enough to use, and we got under way again.

The first day passed without event, and we kept sailing east. “We’ll be in the Imperial waters claimed by the Jade Regent soon enough,” the Captain told us.

The next day, Wen suddenly became much more amorous. He wrote me a poem, told me I was beautiful and said that he was sorry, and arranged for us to be alone in the cabin for a while during the day. He ordered two of the crew to stand guard at the door. He pulled off my tunic and ravaged me, and I loved every minute of it. I collapsed on the bed when he was done. He didn’t fall asleep afterward as he usually did. He paced the cabin for a while, and watched the sea from the portholes. I tried to talk to him, but he really didn’t seem to want to talk about it.

“Come on Wen, it’s me, I know you have something on your mind,” I prodded. He still wouldn’t say anything.

After a time, he left, so I took a nap. Later that night, we got into our own hammock together, as usual. When the first watch changed over to our watch, I got up a few minutes early to go to the bathroom.

“I’m going up on deck now,” Wen said.

“Ok,” I said softly, and I drew the dress-curtain closed and sat down to do my business.

As I wondered about what could be wrong with Wen, I thought I heard a splash. About a minute later, I heard the alarm bell go ding-a-ding-a-ding and I heard Chaka shouting: “Man overboard! Man overboard!”

I leapt up and rushed up the stairs and onto the deck. I saw Cairn dash towards the side of the ship and jump over. She turned herself into a shark before she hit the water. She disappeared into the dark, night sea.

It was a black, moonless night.

Wen yelled an order to the crew. “Extinguish the lanterns! Head due east! Flank speed!”

“No, don’t listen to him! Turn this ship around!” Chaka yelled. I could see that she was holding her belly and looking very worried.

“What is going on?” I demanded. I hoped it was nothing serious, for I had lost any hope of casting spells that night after being alone with Wen.

I was powerless. Just a girl.

Wen looked at me differently than he ever had before; he had the wild eyes of a fanatic.

“We are heading due east to Japan, Cairn has left the ship to do her reconnaissance, and I have taken out the garbage!” he cried.

There was no sign of Ochir.

“He threw Ochir overboard!” Chaka screamed. “He’s murdered Ochir!”


Justice

Ochir stood at the ship’s railing at the end of his watch, looking out into the darkness, when he heard Wen come up behind him. He knew it was Wen by the sound of his footsteps.

He waited as Wen stood there for a while. Finally, Wen spoke.

“Lord Ochir, are we not now out of Mongol jurisdiction?” he asked in a very low voice.

“I don’t know; who hired the boat?” Ochir turned to face Wen.

“Sandru did,” Wen answered.

“Well then, since the boat was chartered in Mongolia, I consider it to be Mongol territory. Since when are you concerned with jurisdiction anyway? Even if I’m the only one on board that believes this vessel is a Mongolian territory, I’m a foreign dignitary in Japanese waters, and as such I have diplomatic immunity.”

“I’m afraid, Lord Ochir, that according to my beliefs, I must pass judgment against you for committing foul murder. I must now enforce Bahamut’s will!” Wen moved toward Ochir.

Ochir raised his hand to halt Wen. “You should know that I saw this coming, and I already sent a letter to my Father in India. If I am killed, I’ve explained to him that it will most likely be by your hand. If you kill me, he will bring the entire weight of the Mongol Empire down on you and your wife’s head.”

Wen hesitated for a moment when he heard this, but then he acted. “By Bahamut’s Bidding!” he cried. He seized Ochir and headed for the side of the boat. “Full speed ahead!” Wen commanded the crew.

Ochir did not struggle or fight. “My wife has a PD bomb on board,” he simply stated.

“Then I’ll throw her off the ship too!” Wen yelled.

Allegro suddenly noticed what Wen was doing and ran over waving his hands. “Oh, no, no, no, no! He has immunity!”

Chaka popped up on deck from below, and her eyes widened when she saw Wen carrying Ochir.

“Let him go!” she screamed at Wen. “You can’t kill him --I’m pregnant!” she yelled. “Ochir! You’re going be a Father!”

“Then name the baby after my Father!” Ochir cried, and he added, “Goodbye!”

“Repent with the waves and perhaps your soul will go to the Seven Heavens!” Wen howled as he threw Ochir into the icy sea.

There was a splash when Ochir hit the water; after that, there was no sound. Ochir did not even cry out as the ship left him behind.

Allegro reached into one of his satchels, drank a potion, and flew out into the night.

I had reached the deck by this time, heard Wen’s account of what happened, and seen Cairn leave the ship.

Ochir was gone. I was thunderstruck.

I was glad one of the men had finally realized that they must be bold enough to challenge Ochir if they couldn’t agree with his actions. It could never have been the House Kaijitsu.

The way Wen had gone about it hurt. Wen hadn’t trusted me not to resort to using my magic when he attacked Ochir. I wondered what he thought I was going to do.

I looked at my husband. “What took you so long?” I asked. I half meant it; I knew in my heart that Ochir was evil, but I didn’t want him dead. There was a chance Cairn could still find him before he died, but the time for that was growing short.

I saw the brightest light I’d ever seen appear behind the ship. There was an enormous glowing ring hovering over the water. It was as bright as the sun and illuminated the surface of the pale green sea for a mile around.

Chaka was cleverly using a Gnomish illusion spell, normally used for making people think that their purses were full when they weren’t, or for making them think that their great-great grandmothers were dancing on the ceiling; she used it instead to produce tons of light. It was brilliant, literally. In a few more seconds, another enormous glowing halo appeared directly above the Isabella.

It was then that I sensed that something was terribly, terribly wrong. Perhaps the bright lights attracted something’s attention. A very large primordial presence was approaching us from beneath. I ran up the ladder and across the upper deck to the bow and riveted my attention on the water ahead. A roiling maelstrom of foam and steam rose from the sea.

“To port! To port!” I yelled, but it was too late.

A gray reptilian head broke through the waves, as large as a rowboat. It kept going up and up, and the huge coils of the dragon’s body unwrapped as they pushed its horned head upward. It had great yellow slitted eyes and tendrils that hung from its chin. The coils seemed endless. They came toward us and began looping around the ship, over our heads, perfectly between the sails and the masts. They began to close in on us. Water came down on us like rain as it poured off the monster. The light of Chaka’s great ring revealed the horrible creature in terrifying detail. It was covered in millions of glittering scales, and they stuck out where the dragon coiled its body. I was never more scared or aware of the presence of such power. The ship’s bow canted upward, for the Isabella was merely a plaything to the beast. The dragon’s head loomed over the forecastle.

I ran back, slid down the ladder to the main deck, and got away as fast as I could. I was trembling.

“I am the Kamikaze!” the dragon thundered, steam poured from its mouth and my hair blew back as it roared.

Dipaka hustled past me and climbed the ladder in order to get up and into the dragon’s face. He intended to parley with the creature. Our only hope was that this gargantuan monster wasn’t as evil as it appeared. One look at Wen’s face told me that all hope of that should be forgotten.

“Dipaka!” I screamed uselessly into the chaos, as the world for me seemed to reel around some random point.

“Mr. Dragon, I want to communicate with you!” Dipaka yelled above the din.

Unbelievably, the dragon opened its mouth again and spoke just like a person would.

“Japan is a forbidden island, and all of its lands and waters belong to me! You have a hundred words to impress me! If you do not, this ship, and everything on it is mine! You must lay down you arms, your gear, strip to your undergarments, and leave in your lifeboats. I have spoken!”

Dipaka turned around and looked to Wen. Wen nodded to confirm his diagnosis of evil. Dipaka’s eyes filled with sadness.

He turned back to the dragon and said, “Ok, Mr. Dragon, so be it; I hereby tender unto you all of my money, which is none, and I’ll lay down my stick and go only in my homespuns. I’ll leave in a rowboat.” He had climbed back down the ladder and begun lowering the rowboat down to the water as he was speaking. “I am acceding to your demands to the letter. This ship and its cargo are not worth dying over.” He leapt down into the lifeboat.

I handed a potion of flying to Wen, and another one to Lo, who had just arrived on deck with Xia. We weren’t giving up so easily.

“Spread out, if this thing's going to breathe on us, we don’t want to get caught together,” I said.

“Hey, how about a haste spell?” Lo asked me. Lo hadn’t figured it out from the fly potions. My face flushed with embarrassment.

Lo suddenly realized that I had no spells, and why. I had violated one of my taboos. The angry spirits did not care that I was married to Wen.

“On top of that,” I said, “he threw Ochir overboard.”

Lo coughed and looked at Wen in disbelief, and in the middle of our encounter with a dragon, he laughed a long, deep, belly laugh. “Oh, that’s rich,” he cried. “And I didn’t even have anything to do with it!” He slapped his thigh. “Heave-ho! Nice work Wen!”

Wen frowned and looked stern.

“Guys, what about the dragon?” I asked, looking first at Lo, and then at my husband.

“Oh, sorry,” Lo apologized, and they lifted off from the deck and flew away in opposite directions. Lo was still laughing and shaking his head.

“I’m still waiting for my hundred words! This Holy Man is certainly not your only speaker!” the dragon boomed. “Talk to me!”

The dragon now stared at me. Its irises were thin slits in the brilliance of Chaka’s light ring.

“Sister, come out here!” I called to Pang Mei.

The cabin door opened. Sandru and the Jade Archer came out first and then flanked my sister Ameiko Kaijitsu when she emerged. She climbed up the ladder to face the dragon.

The dragon snorted when he saw the Princess.

Ameiko looked up in awe at the dragon, but she was unafraid. I remembered her now as my Mistress Pang Mei from long ago.

Maybe I should have spoken up and taken her place.

“We are here at the behest of the Jade Regent, and we bring important information for his ears alone! You hinder us on our mission! The Jade regent and the Five Storms will not be pleased with you!” Ameiko said sternly.

The Kamikaze was nonplussed. “This ship is mine!” The dragon’s voice thundered so that the masts shook and the deck vibrated under our feet.

“Get off my ship!”

The beast tightened its coils and the Isabella began to snap, splinter, and make loud creaking noises. It was going to come apart. The dragon was not waiting any longer.

Wen swooped down beside me and picked me up. He and Lo had wisely decided to live to fight another day. He flew me out over the side and I dropped the folding boat into the water beneath us. I said the first magic word and it popped open and became a small lifeboat just as the merchant had promised. I said the second magic word and it unfolded yet again and became a much larger junk. It was really a medium sized ship cleverly folded up into extra-dimensional space. It wasn’t in the best of shape, but it was seaworthy and everything was there. It was called the Origami.

Wen looked worriedly at the Isabella’s aft cabin. “What about the Seal?” he asked in a whisper as we landed in the waiting boat.

“The Seal? What Seal?” the dragon's ears perked up. “I want the Seal! Where is it?”

Amieko looked down at us from the upper deck and frowned.

We had no choice but to leave; she had to know that.

She turned back and faced the dragon. She stood tall and held her head high. “You can’t have my Seal, dragon! I command you to let us pass!”

I was never more proud of my sister.

Sandru and the Jade Archer made a break for the railings, but they weren’t fast enough.

The dragon sucked in a lungful of air and then bathed the entire upper deck with a mighty blast of scalding water and searing steam. My sister and her friends were totally engulfed. Tears welled up in my eyes.

Wen covered my head and pushed me down into the bottom of the boat, told me to stay down, and then grabbed one of the oars. I ignored Wen, got up, went for an oar too, and we rowed straight the hell out of there.

Chaka, the Gnomes, and Havarak were in Dipaka’s rowboat, and Lo, Xia, and Wen were in ours. After we got some distance away, we threw a rope over and began towing Dipaka’s boat, and Guchugar, Guchuluk, and Havarak switched to our larger boat to help row. Guchugar and Guchuluk operated one oar together, and they did just about as well as one full-sized person. Lo was big enough to reach all the way across the boat and work an oar on each side, so he sat in the back, right in the middle. He was as good as four strong rowing men were.

We rowed like fiends.

Captain Sergio and what was left of his crew were already way ahead of us in their boat. The Captain glared at me.

I looked back at the Isabella.

The dragon was literally tearing the back of the ship apart looking for the Seal. Chi Hai, Mayor, Baderhu, and Wingnut were still in the hold. There was no way that they were going to get out alive.

We rowed farther and farther from Chaka’s rings of light. I was sweating from every pore and using every ounce of my strength to pull on that damned oar. Chaka was at the tiller steering the boat, and she kept looking back over her shoulder.

I knew she wanted Ochir back. I knew how I would feel if Wen were lost.

At last, when the monster and the ship were far, far off in the distance, both the dragon and the Isabella slipped completely beneath the waves.

They were gone.

My mind was reeling.

My sister was dead. Sandru and the Jade Archer were dead. Ochir, Allegro, and Cairn were missing. The horses and dogs were drowned. The ship, its cargo, and the Seal were gone forever, and my own husband had betrayed me.

Everything was utterly over.


The Island

Just as I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a storm rolled in. We were no longer in a gale worthy ship, so if we didn’t make it to land soon, we were doomed. It was one of those times in my life when I really wondered how I’d gotten into such a mess.

We had no idea where we were. I asked Wen to start praying to Bahamut. It got darker and darker, and the winds picked up. The sea grew violent and we didn’t see the Captain’s rowboat anymore. We hung on for dear life as we tried to make some headway.

Somehow, (it must have been Bahamut) we found an island two hours later. We beached and pulled the boats up on shore. I folded the Origami up and put it away.

We all stood still on the sand, just me, Wen, Dipaka, Lo, Xia, Chaka, Guchugar and Guchuluk. We saw only the edge of a jungle. We could hear the sounds of baboons and who knows what else. I couldn’t even cast a rope trick to climb up into and hide. We were going to have to build a shelter.

I broke down and cried on the beach. Wen tried to console me, but I pushed him away.

He went and stood down by the water for a long time, looking out to sea. The wind and rain whipped his hair. I saw him raise his hand and keep his arm level with the sea. I had no idea what he thought he was doing. He stood like that for a while and then bowed his head.

I was about to start yelling at him when I heard a horse whinny.

I stood up and looked at the sea, and I saw the dark dots of heads coming toward the shore.

Chi Hai came first, along with—Ochir.

“You seem to have lost your horse Wen, but I found her,” Ochir yelled. He came up onto the beach bedraggled and wet, but alive and well. “I do appreciate the swimming lesson, but don’t worry, I’ll repay you, someday,” Ochir said.

Baderhu came next, along with Cairn, Allegro, Gun-Gun, Wingnut, and Mayor.

Chaka ran to hug Ochir. "Oh, you're alive!"

Xia and I ran to hug Mayor. He neighed loudly and shook cold water on us.

“How did you get out, Mayor? Cairn? Did you save them?” I asked.

“The horses swam out of the ship themselves when it broke up, I helped lead them, and everyone else helped too. I was a shark when I found Ochir with his rope. He thought I was a real shark until I bit down on the rope and started to tow him. We went back and found Gun-Gun and the others. Ochir tied some of us together, Chi Hai said she could sense where Wen was, so she led us here,” Cairn smiled from ear to ear. She looked around and then frowned.

“Where’s here?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.

Wen walked up to us. “You shouldn’t have done that Cairn,” Wen said.

Cairn said nothing to Wen; she didn’t have to. Everyone knew that she was in the right, even if she hadn’t seen eye to eye with Ochir before, she was not about to let him drown.

“Leave Cairn alone Wen,” Ochir said. “Your fate is sealed, whatever Hell there is in your religion, you’re sure to have an engraved invitation.”

“Oh, shut up you evil little gnome!” Lo snapped.

“Oh god, I hear flatulence,” Ochir said.

“Our ruin is because of your ill omen! A bad egg will always ruin the clutch!” Wen decreed.

“Hmmm, there’s justice for you, just minutes after attempting a premeditated murder, your ship and your Seal are destroyed by a giant sea dragon!” Ochir cried.

“You are the most sanctimonious, egotistical, and self-centered little bastard I have ever met! Unbelievable!” Lo said.

“No you’re unbelievable,” Ochir said. “And you’d better shut your trap.”

“There’s no shutting your trap. Did I want to murder you? No!”

“No, you wanted Wen to murder me!”

“No, I didn’t want Wen to murder you, but it’s hilarious that he tried,” Lo said.

“I didn’t tell Lo anything about this,” Wen said.

“See? I had nothing to do with it. But I think you deserved every bit of what you got.”

“So that’s it? I swim with the fishes for two hours? That’s the severity of my crime?”

“No! You just don’t understand do you? It’s because you have no compassion! No party loyalty! I was going to call a party meeting and have you kicked out of the party anyway. I’m not traveling with you anymore! You’re evil! You have to leave the party. That’s final. Right now. Xiao Ping won’t say a word; she wrote me a letter regarding you.”

“I’m not in your party, Lo, so you can’t kick me out of it,” Ochir replied.

“You’re NOT traveling with us!” Lo thundered.

“This is our island Lo,” Cairn screamed, “Step off!” Even she was getting tired of this argument.

“Then go to some other part of the island!” Lo ordered.

“You can’t make him leave! I’m with child; I need him to protect me!” Chaka pointed out.

“Ok, then you can go off with your evil little husband, see if I care,” Lo said.

“What? You would cast out a pregnant woman?” Chaka asked.

“Oh no, we are not throwing pregnant women out of the party!” Dipaka cried.

“Haven’t I helped you every step of the way?” she asked Lo.

“Lo, I think this may be above your skull capacity to understand, but I think this may help you to—“

“Shut up! Shut up Ochir! Please! You’re making this worse!” Tears were streaming down Chaka’s cheeks.

“This shambling mound has to understand, we’re here representing the Empire.”

Lo burst out laughing. “That means nothing to me! You can just go scare somebody else with your big bad Empire”

“Hey guys, look! An abandoned fortress!” Allegro tried to end the bickering by changing the subject.

“Hey, my sister’s dead! Will you guys shut the hell up?” I cried.

“That’s right! Your sister’s dead! What are you gonna do about it?” Ochir asked.

“I don’t know!” I cried.

“You’re now the Empress, by right,” he said.

“Empress of what?” I asked.

I looked and I saw that Allegro hadn’t been joking; I did see a Japanese style grey building up on a hill through the jungle.

“Empress of this pile of rocks, without the Seal,” Lo said

“Everyone keep an eye out for a big mirror, I need to scry to find out if Pang Mei is alive somewhere.”

“We need to do a perimeter patrol of the island,” Dipaka said. “Someone else might need help.”

Cairn turned into an eagle and flew off to look for other survivors.

We started to walk around the island, and after just a few hundred yards, we came upon a rotting pier. It hadn’t been used in years. There was an area where the jungle wasn’t quite so thick, and it looked like it led up to the weird fortress.

“Let’s go,” I said.

We climbed and pushed our way through the thick vegetation and Wen and Lo used their backup swords to hack through the worst of it.

When we got to the building, my first impression of it was that it had been stripped. The walls had no paint left, only a patch of color existed here and there. Once inside, we saw that all the copper and other metals had been stripped away from the elaborate friezes that had once adorned the walls. 

The whole place was completely deserted. There was no one, not even a mouse.

Guchugar and Guchiluk appeared from a lower floor carrying a large mirror between them. They showed it to me. “Will this do for scrying?” they asked.

I examined the mirror and determined it was too low in quality to use. The engineers said they could get it up to spec if I gave them a week. We didn’t have a week. “I don’t think we’ll being staying that long, but thanks for trying you guys,” I said.

We went back down the hill and then we went all the way around the island. No one else had washed up on our shores.

“Let’s rest for the night,” I said. “We’ll get back to sea first thing in the morning.”

Cairn the Eagle swooped down majestically and landed on Havarak’s arm. After blinking a few times, she hopped down and turned back into Cairn.

“We need to get out of here!” she cried. “There’s a volcano here! Virgins are thrown into volcanoes! I can’t stay here!”

“I wish I had that problem! I’d still be able to cast spells, and I wouldn’t be sleeping on the hard floor of a stark fortress tonight,” I said, looking at Wen.

“Volcanoes make good lairs for dragons,” Wen said.

I barely slept; I just kept feeling compelled to do something, but there was nothing I could do. Finally, I drifted off. I was dreaming about Silk’s End and my dead sister.

Suddenly, my dream was interrupted by the Amatatsu Seal. Images of the volcano and the sea flashed into my mind. I saw a half submerged cave entrance on one side of the island. The Seal was below ground, somewhere close to the entrance. The message was clear.

I sat bolt upright, and I saw Lo, Xia, and Allegro sitting up too.

“Someone has opened the Warding box,” Allegro said.

“And it’s on this island,” I said. “We have to find it.”

I realized that once the Seal had been exposed to open air, it would bring everyone that was looking for it, whether good or bad.

“The Kamikaze is here and he has the Seal,” I said. “This is probably where his lair is. I’ll bet Wen is right.”

“No, I don’t think the dragon has the Seal,” Ochir said. “I think your sister is alive and they opened the warding box to resurrect someone.”

It was barely plausible, though I guessed that Ochir was just trying to make me feel better. It worked, to a certain extent.

“Is there going to be more trouble between you and Ochir?” I asked Wen later.

“That depends on you, my Princess, remember, you said it was between us warriors,” Wen said.

“Ok, right,” I said.

“Let each man be his own judge,” Wen said.

Chaka got into her bag of holding and fished out a map. She unfolded it and spread it out and we both looked at it for a while.

“Here is an island with a volcano,” Chaka pointed a stubby finger at a speck on the map. “If this is our island, we are somewhere near the icy land bridge where Kamchatka hits Japan in the winter.”

I had no doubt she was right.

“I hate to say this,” Chaka said, “but not too far from here, there is a Mongol outpost. The nephew of Kublai Kahn, Prince Batsai-Khar, runs Ordu-Aganhei. The Prince will receive us well, as we are Mongol Ambassadors.”

“Are you going to report to them that my husband threw your husband overboard?” I asked Chaka.

“Well, you’d just better keep your man in line,” Chaka said.

“That’s easier said than done, I’ve discovered,” I said. “All I can say is, I hope that if Ochir doesn’t do anything to provoke him he won’t do anything back,” I said.

“I’ll try to keep Ochir from killing any more women lying on the ground,” Chaka said. “Fights are natural. Boys will be boys; we just have to deal with it. That’s why the Gods put us women here.”

“There may be great wisdom in that,” I said.

I didn’t want to go to Ordu-whatever yet. Heading into a Mongol base didn’t sound healthy to me after what Wen had done.

“I need a volunteer that knows how to swim and can sense the Seal. Someone needs to do a thorough recon of the volcano. I propose to cast a fly, endure elements, bear’s endurance, water-breathing and invisibility on the scout,” I announced.

“Grease me up woman!” Allegro volunteered. I cast the spells on Allegro, and we said good luck to him and he flew off.

“Just try to determine which one has the Seal, the dragon or my sister.”

A short time after Allegro was gone, Guchuluk said, “O boy! I see a ship!”

It got larger as it neared. It flew a Japanese flag.

They sailed up and dropped anchor right by the cave entrance. There were rows of Samurai standing rigid on the deck.

“We’re rescued!” Cairn cried. We waved at the officers on the deck of the ship; they looked at us, but they didn’t wave back.

Six of them pulled goggles over their eyes and dropped over the side.

“Well, if I’m wrong, and it is the dragon down in that volcano, they’ll make a nice lunch for it,” Ochir chuckled.

Allegro flew over to the cave entrance and lowered himself slowly into the water. He swam down and through a long rocky tunnel. The water was of course incredibly cold, but the spell on Allegro protected him from that.

After a time he swam back up and the water actually got hotter and hotter, until even with my protection spell Allegro was running the risk of a bad scalding. He came out into a hot, dry tunnel that led on into a huge side chamber inside the volcano.

High in the side of the cone, there was a set of holes where flows of lava came down the side and entered the water, and a wide curtain of steam rose from it. The cavern glowed orange.

Allegro thought he heard someone talking to himself. As he continued gliding forward, the voice got louder.

“Seal, I command that you reveal your powers to me!” the voice ordered. There was a rattling noise.

“Damn it! Do something you stupid Seal! I’m gonna try one more time, and then I’m gonna do something we’ll both regret!” There was another rattling noise.

Allegro peeked around a corner and saw the dragon.

He decided to get closer while the dragon was concerned with the Seal, and see what treasures the dragon may have horded in other chambers. As soon as he moved, the dragon’s head snapped in his direction, and Allegro suddenly thought better of his plan and turned and floated away.

“Oh no, please don’t leave, don’t you want to share some sake?” the dragon asked.

Allegro didn’t answer; he just flew back down the tunnel, got back into the scalding water and swam as fast as he could. Suddenly, he sensed someone coming from the other end. He slipped into a niche and waited. He saw the six Samurai frogmen swim past. They didn’t notice him. He followed his instinct and decided to see what transpired.

They came to the end of the underwater tunnel and went up into the dry hallway.

They all walked out and stood on the circular peninsula landing that jutted out into the water.

The curtain of steam created by the lava cascading into the water rose before them.

“Alright Dragon!” they said. “Don’t make a waste of our time! Come out here now!”

The dragon poked his great horned head out of the steam.

“Gentlemen, who invited you?” the dragon asked.

“You know very well why we are here!” they said. “We were sent by the Jade Regent, your Lord! Now give us the Seal!” they demanded.

“Give the Seal to a mere lieutenant? Bah!” and he breathed his fiery steam breath all over the men.

They weren’t killed outright, so they spread out, pulled out their weapons, and attacked the dragon from all sides.

Allegro thought to try sneaking in and grabbing the Seal, but he saw the dragon pop it in his mouth and swallow it as the fight started.

The Samurai got in some good licks on the dragon, but after a second breath weapon, three of them were dead.

After another handful of seconds, the rest were dead too. Allegro saw the vast dragon limp around, sit down, and start licking its wounds. Blood was dripping from its fangs and claws.

Allegro returned and told us what he had seen.

We saw this as our opportunity to attack. “This may be the only chance we’ll get,” Lo said.

We all needed water breathing, so Xia cast those on us. I cast a stoneskin on Wen.

Ochir tried to tell Chaka that she couldn’t come because of her pregnancy. Apparently, he didn’t know her very well. She talked him out of forbidding her from going in less than two minutes.

“What? You can’t beat the dragon without me!” Chaka had said.

Havarak nodded. “If you don’t want to go Little Boo, I’ll stay right here with you,” he offered.

“We’re going,” Cairn said.

Havarak and Cairn cast resist energy spells on us.

I enlarged Wen and Lo. I had my haste spell memorized and ready for when the time came.

Ochir offered Wen a potion of fire resistance to keep him from boiling. “Here Wen, no hard feelings,” Ochir said.

Wen stood there. I didn’t know what he was going to do. Ochir was doing a good job of really magnifying Wen’s contempt for him. I wondered if Wen would ever realize that is all it was. Even if Ochir was pure evil and Bahamut wanted him dead, it was only contempt.

“I’ll take it,” Wen said, and he took the potion. “Thank you,” he said.

We moved to where we were over the cave entrance, that way we could just drop down and start swimming when we were ready.

We swam down the tunnel and the water got amazingly hot. Just when I thought my skin would blister, we came up into the dry tunnel. We all came out as red as beets. It was still hot as hell.

“All right, let’s get the Seal back for god’s sake!” I rasped.

We went down the hallway, and we all waited when we came to the large opening. At first only Lo went out onto the landing to lure out the dragon.

“I heard there was a cowardly dragon in here!” Lo called out. There was no response; the challenge was drowned by the lava fall and the steam curtain.

“You there, dragon!” Dipaka cried. Still there was no response. The lava and steam made the only sound. We all walked up to the edge of the opening.

“Suishen the Katana demands the return of its sister, the Seal!” Lo cried.

“Suishen?” it sounded like the dragon was right there in the chamber.

“Yes, Suishen!  Show yourself dragon!” Lo challenged.

“Is it an artifact?” the dragon asked, “Of course, it must be, me thinks, or it wouldn’t be the brother of the Seal! I want it! I’m going to take it from you!”

Lo’s plan had worked.

I threw up the haste and Chaka started tapping out a speedy march on her drums.

Ochir stepped forward and fired four arrows off into the mist. His fourth arrow hit something; we saw a burst of electrical energy flare up.

I fired the wand of lighting at the same spot and it fizzled. This beast had a strong resistance to spells.

“That round landing with the narrow walkway leading up to it looks strangely like a spoon,” Dipaka said.

“You mean for feeding the dragon,” I said. 

Wen went out on the circular landing and walked up to the edge. He stood there with his chest out, and his chin jutting forward.

“I am Wen Hung-Lo and I will slay you foul worm and recover my Mistress’s Seal!”

“Let me know if he moves, Allegro,” I heard Ochir say.

“I have movement!  Here he comes!” Allegro warned.

The dragon came out of the steam and headed toward us. The worm looked at Wen and chuckled as he went by and said, “Your illusion can’t fool me, gnome, I have all seeing dragon eyes.”

Wen was an illusion? Chaka was trying to waste the dragon’s last breath weapon.

It didn’t work, the Kamikaze breathed on us all instead.

The sensation was awful, we were pressure boiled alive.

I died then, or would have; had not Dipaka hit me with his blast of healing in that very instant. After what seemed like forever, it was over. I was dazed and in horrible pain.

Xia was dead; I picked up her body and ran straight out of there. I didn’t look back. Everyone else came too. After a hundred paces, Lo took Xia and we ran like hell.

There was no way we could beat the dragon. We had to wait for the next group that came to find the Seal.

“Maybe if the next group is bigger, and kills the dragon, and they get the Seal, we can somehow take it from them,” Wen offered.

“We’ll have to try that, we obviously can’t kill that dragon,” I said.

“Wait a minute! Tomorrow, I can prepare three resist fire spells, and I can cast one on Lo and one on Dipaka, and that will make it a lot easier!” Cairn said. “We can slay this dragon!”

“I like your positive thinking, Cairn, and your spells would make a big difference, but we need everybody at full strength in there, and we just don’t have enough protection spells go around to do it,” I said.

“I’m too slow to escape that dragon’s breath. Once it hits me, I’m just a standing scarecrow. I can’t do battle with a grand worm when I have one foot in the grave,” Lo said.

Dipaka agreed. “Even with your resistance magic we are doomed in there. You can’t fight in that condition.”

“Yes we can!” Cairn said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “We need to wait for the next group to come, we need another more solid attack to jump in on.”

“But we don’t even know if someone’s coming!” Cairn cried.

“No, but we have no other choice. We’ll wait three days,” I said.

Dipaka carefully wrapped up Xia’s body in a tight shroud to preserve her for as long as possible. He prayed over her corpse for hours.

After three days had passed, no ships had come. Cairn became even more restless and flew out to sea to see if anyone was coming. She saw no one.

There would be someone else coming after the Seal, I reasoned. Finally, I ordered that we would wait until they came.

We had developed a makeshift corral on the west side of the island just inside the jungle line. We figured any ships we hoped for would come from the east. Guchugar and Guchuluk stayed at the corral to guard the horses. Gun-Gun and Wingnut stayed with them too.

On the east side of the island, we had two rope tricks running at all times near the cave mouth. We stayed comfortable and out of sight.

Four days later, three ships came, one larger than the other two. They docked at the old pier. Six black tengus flapped from the deck of the lead ship to the shore.

A large blue-skinned Oni General floated down to the beach behind them. He had a huge studded tetsubo as Kimandatsu had born. This was apparently the weapon of choice of the blue Onis.

“To the citadel, you birdbrains! We’re going to surprise attack this ignorant linnorm from the rear,” he ordered.

The tengus marched up the shore and headed up the hill to the abandoned fortress. The General knew another way into the dragon’s lair.

“Hmm, someone’s just been through here with machetes. I want four guards on the door after we get up there,” he ordered. “Get them from the ship!” Four tengus flapped back to the ship and returned with one female Samurai each in its talons. They flew up to the fortress to catch up with the others.

Allegro followed them after they were gone; I cast a batch of recon spells on him for another stealth mission. We stayed put in our hiding place under our rope trick and waited for Allegro to return.

Eventually he did.

“Guys, they’ve engaged the dragon! They were repelled after the first attempt, and the tengus wanted to wait for the Daimyo. The General refused because of his sullied honor and they went back to fight again! Now’s our chance!”

We cast our protective spells.

Chi Hai neighed and galloped up to us as we prepared.

“I thought Chi Hai was in the corral,” I said.

“I’m taking my horse in to fight the dragon this time,” Wen said, “put your spells on him too.”

After that, we dropped into the water and went back up the channel. Cairn helped guide Chi Hai as she swam underwater.

As we left the water and moved to the end of the tunnel, we could hear the sounds of the battle raging.

We peeked through a cleft. We could see the back half of the dragon, and the archers found an angle for arrow shots.

We saw that the dragon had a tengu already wrapped up in his tail and was slamming him up and down on the ground repeatedly. Clouds of black feathers were floating around.

Wen and Lo moved into charging positions. I used Aki’s wand to make Lo even larger.

Chaka stayed in the back, rapping out an impromptu rhyme.

Havarak, Allegro, and Ochir all took carefully aimed shots at the dragon, but they all bounced. The dragon’s hide was like iron.

The tengu in the dragon’s tail abruptly stopped struggling and dropped its weapons, and the dragon flung the lifeless birdman on the cavern floor.

The front half of the dragon was fighting the Oni General. The dragon clawed the General twice and snapped it jaws shut just inches from his face. The Oni slammed two Sais into the dragons nostrils and the beast reared and clawed the floor. The Oni switched back to his tetsubo and clonked the linnorm hard on the chin.

Wen charged, flying in on Chi Hai with his lance leveled.

I watched in horror as the dragon’s tail shot out like lighting, encircled Wen, and took him right off the back of his horse. It was as if the dragon’s tail were an additional monster. It lifted him high into the cavern and shook him vigorously. Wen struggled to get free, but he couldn’t.

Chi Hai banked and came back around; Cairn waved the horse to safety.

Lo roared, ran into the cavern, and pulled out Suishen as he went. The flames flared up very brightly in the presence of so many Onis, but they weren’t our enemies at that moment.

Lo slammed into the side of the dragon and ran him up to the hilt with the burning Katana. The dragon gurgled.

Ochir fired arrows at the great beast, and several made it between scales and hurt the linnorm.

“What are you doing Allegro? The stories of deeds of derring-do this day will be told for centuries! Get in there and fight the dragon!” Istanoval admonished Allegro. Allegro crept forward, frowned, and looked for an opening.

I fired four magic missiles at the dragon, and I forced them all through its spell resistance.

“Let go of my husband, you bitch!” I screamed. It wasn’t used to that. 

The worm lurched away from Lo, and coiled its body and sprung at us.

Lo jabbed the dragon again as it launched itself.

The dragon landed on top of Dipaka, Chaka, Ochir, the Gnomes, and me. If it laid down on us or collapsed, we’d be dead for sure.

The tengus pulled out their bows and shot at us.

“Hey, we’re not dragons, you idiots!” Allegro scolded them. The tengus only laughed.

The main Oni flew over Lo’s head, tetsubo at the ready. “I will be back to deal with you later,” the General said.

“Yes, we shall deal with each other after the dragon is dead,” Lo agreed, and he didn’t attack the Oni as he sailed over. Suishen’s flames leapt up to a great height when the Oni passed by.

The Oni hit the dragon with a cone of cold. We were conveniently caught in the blast and flung to the ground. I tried to get up as I clung to consciousness. I felt Dipaka’s steady hands grip and heal me, and he helped me to stand. The dragon was unaffected by the blast. It only chucked. “Hey, it looks like you’re on my side, you stupid Oni!” the dragon said.

Allegro found his opening, he jumped in, and he stabbed the dragon in the leg with Istanoval. “Take that!” Istanoval cried. The dragon staggered.

“What?” It stumbled again.

“This is it dragon! Prepare to die!” Lo bellowed. The dragon snapped its attention back to Lo as the Goliath charged. The dragons’ eyes widened.

Since the dragon couldn’t seize Lo with Wen already in its tail, it dropped Wen. It was a desperate gamble.

The tail shot over its head and wrapped around Lo, and even managed to lift Lo's mammoth frame off the ground a few feet, but Lo broke the grab, whirled in, and stabbed the dragon one last time.

The dragon screamed and collapsed.

Havarak ran up, propped the dragon’s steaming mouth open with his feet, and then fired an arrow straight down its gullet. The dragon shuddered and lay dead.

“Way to go Havarak, you killed it!” Cairn cried in admiration. Lo’s eyes narrowed.

The dragon gone, the Oni General quickly redirected his aggression toward us. The two tengus ganged up on Lo, nailing him with rays of enfeeblement that drained away his strength. Even after the massive double drain, he was still stronger than most.

The Oni General stepped up and batted Suishen from Lo’s grip. Suishen clanged to the floor of the steamy cavern. It lay there burning.

“I am Kazuo the Yojimbo, the Enforcer of the Five Storms,” the General cried.

“Oh yeah! We’ve never heard of you!” Ochir taunted.

Ochir and Havarak fired in rapid succession and arrows sprouted from the Generals chest. The Oni growled in frustration.

“Lo! Keep your guard up! I’ll get your sword!” Cairn cried, and she tiptoed through the bodies and feathers to retrieve Suishen. As she handed it up to Lo, the Oni General slammed her hard with his tetsubo. She jumped back and rolled to safety, but she was bleeding badly.

Lo carefully leveraged Cairn’s sacrifice. He hacked the blue Oni in half with three powerful chops.

I fireballed the two tengus and they rolled, squawked, and dimension-doored away.

It was over. 

Dipaka began his end of battle healing ritual that had become so important. 

“Lo, cut the Seal out of the dragon, please,” I said. Lo got right to his grisly work. After he was done, Wen wiped the warding box off for me, and I shook it and I heard the Seal inside. I didn’t dare open the box. I wrapped it up and put it in my pack.

Allegro and Ochir wasted no time in scouting the chambers nearby, and they piled up a bunch of powerful looking magic items and valuable gems and coinage in the middle of the floor.

The Oni General had been carrying a giant forty-pound ruby in his pack. Maybe he had brought it to trade with the dragon for the Seal. It was a deep burgundy and sparkled like crazy.

Chaka slipped the ruby into her bag of holding.

After we made sure we’d not missed any goodies, we went back out through the tunnel.  We went around to the opposite side of the island and got ready to depart immediately.

We had to leave Mayor behind on the island, because the Origami could only take so many. We were probably doing him a favor. Spad the raven stayed behind with him. Maybe he’d return to us after we’d raised Xia. Her body was laid in the rowboat behind us.

The skies were cloudy but there was no rain. A day later, we came upon another island.

“Ok folks, it’s time to open the box and do our business and then get out of here as fast as possible,” I said.

We pulled up on shore and disembarked.

As I prepared to use the seal to resurrect Xia, Lo went and lifted her body out of the rowboat.

“Lo, lay her down in front of me,” I said. Cairn found some flower petals and sprinkled them over Xia’s body.

I knelt and I opened the warding box. Images and sounds overwhelmed me immediately. I heard a voice.

“Scion Aiko, your sister Ameiko is safe. She has gone with her freinds to Ordu-Aganhei. You must go to the Forest of the Withered Blossoms. It is nigh; you will find it to the north and east. There is also another Amatatsu scion, Prince Tsuto Kaijitsu. He was the first mate on your sea voyage. He is with your sister. You must embrace him as your true brother.”

My heart jumped. Pang Mei was alive! I was overjoyed. Prince Tsuto Kaijitsu? My brother? What the hell? I pushed the joy and shock both out of my mind.

I needed to resurrect Xia. “Um, Seal?” I asked.

“Yes, I sense a dead Scion. Is it your wish that she be restored to life? Know that I will be utterly inert for a month if it is made so.”

“Make it so,” I said. “Please.”

I placed the Seal on Xia’s forehead. White arcs of light shot forth and became a net that enshrouded Xia’s body. Soon she was encased in a white cocoon.

She stirred. I pulled the shroud away from her face. She opened her eyes and looked at me.

“I’m back,” she said, and smiled her beautiful smile.

“I’m so sorry,” I cried and hugged her. Dipaka helped me get her out of the shroud and she stood up.

Lo bowed to her and said, “My Lady, I have failed in my duty to protect you, and I will understand if you do not want me anymore.”

Xia fell into Lo’s arms. “Oh Lo, it’s not your fault! It’s nobody’s fault!”

“In that case,” Lo dropped to one knee and said, “Xia, will you marry me?”

Xia smiled and said, “Yes!”

“Well, we’ll need Aiko’s blessing, of course,” Lo looked at me.

“And you shall surely have it,” I said. “I think Wen has something to tell you, Lo.”

“Yes, Lo, I hereby dub you “Ear-Splitter, both for your attack on Aju and your loud roaring in combat,” Wen said.

“Hey, I warn people not to make me angry!” Lo said, and we all laughed.

“Uh guys, we just opened the warding box and we need to get the hell out of here,” I said.

“Where is it you want to go?” Dipaka asked. There was a glowing Unicorn standing next him. He was smiling and stroking the Unicorn’s mane.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. “How’d you do that?”

“It is the power of the universe,” Dipaka said, and bowed.

“We can’t take your Unicorn on the Origami!”

“This creature can take us where we need to go if need be,” Dipaka said, “and it can fly on its own too.”

“Oh,” I said. The Unicorn regarded me with its deep, black eyes.

After we hastily left the island, we were sailing that night north and east per the Seal’s instructions. Wen and I snuggled together in a blanket trying to sleep in the cramped cabin.

“Are you going to attack Ochir again? Please don’t do it. We need the possibility of peace, or am I just an idiot for thinking that’s possible?” I asked.

“I’ll leave judgment on Ochir for a day to day thing. We slew the dragon, and we recovered your Seal, that’s enough for now woman,” he said, and he kissed me to shut me up. Kissing was fine with me; I had nothing more to say.


Justice and Redemption

Prince Wen Tian Xiang, a journal of a Servant of the Heavens
By Bahamut’s Bidding

Last Month 16, 3967 (Year of the Fire Snake)
We’re at sea having left the Mongol Empire a few days ago. We said our farewells to the Polos. They have made inroads and alliances with the Great Khan and will be staying to suck upon the teat of appeasement. Still, they’re good people. They did us the favor of sending Allegro with us. Maffeo gives us potions, including water breathing. This may ruin my plan. 

Our ship is the Regina Isabella. She is of European design and has three masts but no oars. She is also armed with eight ballistae, four per side beneath the main deck. Her captain is a gruff fellow named Sergio. He has been well paid by Sandru to carry us to Japan. Only a Venetian would be crazy enough to sail the accursed Sea of Nippon.

The first mate is a new world Asian, a real California boy named Tsuto. He says that his family was exiled when the Jade Regent took over Japan. He says his mother is a valley elf, something akin to a spirit folk. He now sails back to homeland of his ancestors to reclaim his birthright. 

The crew is a mixed lot, but experienced and brave.

On board is Ameiko, Sandru, Jade Archer, and Wang Chung. Of course, my Aiko, Lo Ear-Splitter, Dipaka, Allegro, Cairn and Havarak are with me.

The newly married Ochir and Chaka are also on the Isabella with their henchmen, Guchugur and Guchuluk. Whether they remain “with” us is still in doubt. Chaka is now an Ambassador and Ochir is a General of an army of one.

The mounts and dogs are stowed in the hold. We are well supplied but conditions are cramped and the tension between Ochir, Lo and me is ever present. The prophecy of doom at sea as told by the late fortuneteller weighs on my mind.

I try to get myself appointed into the ship’s chain of command, but I realized I hadn’t earned it with the crew. They chuckled as I put on their leather-bobbing vest. No great armor and unmounted on heavy seas, I’m not at my best. 

Last Month 20
Havarak senses my unease so he offers to teach me how to fish. He says, “Come to the poop deck Overbite. Unfurl your brow and loosen your bowels or you’re going to look like your mate Plain Face. After we did our business and cast our lines the half Jurchen tells me the biggest fish story I ever heard. 

While the rest of us were dealing with the Hubidai and Genghis, Cairn and Havarak encountered a giant long-necked lungfish. It was about sixty feet long and displaced twenty-five tons with a mouth full of sharp six-inch teeth. It swam with its large front flippers and powerful tail. 

This fish called itself Bloop and it suffered from severe malaise. Cairn found all this out by having a free session in the fishy tongue with the monster. Havarak could also speak fish; even though in this case he wished he couldn’t. 

The Goliaths had dammed up the Onon River where Bloop lived. This created a nice deep lake where there were plenty of fish for him to eat. The problem was that his mate was trapped on the other side of the dam. In his depression, he dug at the bottom of the lake and he wallowed in self-misery. He tried to break the dam with his hard head but the Goliaths threw boulders at him so all that resulted were migraines and back pain that he pitifully recounted.

Cairn, the simple gnome, was very moved by his plight, so she resolved to help Bloop. She told him that if he bashed the dam near the bottom, he’d have plenty of time to get out of the way of the boulders. He said he was struck by lighting as well. Cairn told him she could protect him from this. With their combined intellect, the two of them came up with a plan.

The attack on the dam went well at first. The lungfish used his tail to bash the bottom of the dam and made cracks in the wood. The stone men threw a few rocks but none of them were crazy enough to jump in the lake. Then a witch in the form of a female Goliath came to the lake. I don’t know why she bothered with the disguise any hag will do. She called herself Baba Yaga but Havarak called her Droopy. She summoned her fiery elementals to battle Cairn’s summoned crocodiles. They both called lightning bolts from the sky. Cairn was being pressed and Havarak knew she would get the short end of the duel. He yelled for her to leave and he thought she may have listened, but that was when the witch seized control of Bloop’s simple mind. 

Droopy called the lungfish to the surface of the water. Cairn would not leave her new friend. The witch cackled with glee as she ordered Bloop to eat Cairn. The cold mountain wind blew across the lake and carried the sound of her laughter. It was like the crunching of children’s bones. Havarak loosed an arrow to get Bloop’s attention then leapt into the lake swimming hard. 

He said he didn’t know right then what else to do. He really thought he finally would have the chance to give Gruumsh the bird when the lungfish turned and headed straight for him. 

The hag had turned to her true form that was half hag from the waist up (which was a waste) and half lion from the waist down. A Lamia Pussinia, as they say in Latin.

She coaxed the controlled Bloop to take care of our intrepid ranger while she bared claws to get close and personal with our special druid.

Havarak saw the huge mouth filled with sharp teeth open wide. He heard the belly of the beast grumble with hunger, as he had not eaten for days. He kicked the water hard and made his body straight as a Chinese pearl diver to propel him passes the jaws and straight into the gullet. It worked! Bloop had swallowed him whole. He was now waist deep in bile in the creature’s stomach. He fumbled in the dark for his potion of protection from evil that protects the imbiber from mind controlling effects. He found it and emptied the bottle inside Bloop’s upper intestines.

The effect of the potion was almost immediate. Havarak could feel the creature turning sharply. He felt the anger surge through the body. He heard the creature say, “I’m coming for you Sweet Fish!”  He pulled out Snick and Snack and waited.

It didn’t take long before Droopy joined him in the creature’s belly. She didn’t execute the perfect dive though; her body had a few teeth marks. Havarak cut her head off with a crossing Florentine maneuver he learned from Marco Polo.

Cairn gave Bloop an obnoxious unguent that made him cough up Havarak. After an hour of dam bashing without interference from the Goliaths, a breach was made. Apparently, the witch had the stone men under her control and now that she was headless, the spell was broken. Cairn and Havarak stood arm in arm, waving as Bloop swam down the river saying “Must find Sweet Fish, we Plesiosaurus mate for life.”

The next day as the two trailblazers were getting ready to depart, Cairn spotted a mountain goat with a testicular growth, which of course she had to try to cure. Havarak said the goat was fortunate to have three balls. Bloop came back with his mate Sweet Fish. They had a hatchling in tow, they asked Cairn to check if their newborn was a girl or boy.  Very hard to tell with lungfish you know. Both companions checked carefully and they agreed it was a male. Therefore, the little fellow was named Havarak, which in the fish tongue sounds like “Whopper Stopper.”

Last Month 24
It came at night. Boiling clouds pushed by unholy winds covered the bright moon. The sea became a rolling turmoil. Its waves lifted the Isabella fifty feet only to have her plunge straight down again. Captain Sergio struggled to be heard over the thundering tempest. “Turn into the waves lads! Tie down that spoon line! PRINCESSES! GET YOUR ROYAL ASSES OFF THE DECK!  Hang on to your suppers boys! It’s only an equinoctial gale!”

Three men were lost overboard. We barely heard their screams as they disappeared in the blink of an eye. That is no way for a man to die. 

“ONE HAND FOR THE SHIP, ONE HAND FOR YERSELF!” The Captain bellowed. 

This goes on all night. I hold on to Aiko tight praying to the Dragon to deliver us from the cursed sea.

We hear a loud crack of splintering wood and the screams of the sailors on deck. The ship spins sideways totally out of control. We see through the portholes the mast with rigging and sail are torn from the ship.

Wang Chung sang, “There goes the main mast, claimed by the sea. I’m so aghast I lost my pee. This storm is like a Shanghai girl. She’ll give you a hell of a ride, she’ll take you for a twirl. Then you wake up you’re on a ship with a headache, don’t know where you are! Get me off this crazy boat! We're all going to fucking-freaking-fracking die!!!"

I bitch slapped him. It was the only thing to do.

Last Month 25
Thank the Dragon the storm is over. We lost five of the crew. We hold a service for them.  “May Neptune receive them into the briny deep,” the Captain said. We drop anchor to make repairs. We’re way off course. However, we do have the materials to fashion a new mast and sail. Sandru takes credit, as well he should.

Last Month 28
We’ve been dead in the water for three days. The Captain and crew speak of all kinds of nasty sea creatures. We post stout watches but being a sitting duck makes everyone nervous, except maybe Dipaka. He sits crossed legged all day with that peaceful look on his face with his halo and homespun. I rubbed his bald head to bring us good fortune.

That night we are attack by the Shangri-La, the Mongols of the sea. They are shark-riding blood frenzied trident wielding aquatic humanoids that look like a cross between a man and a catfish. I’m not on watch and by the time I wake and draw my blade half a dozen of them are beneath deck threatening the women. The crew is also bunking down here as well. Here was my chance to earn their respect. I take a position to fight all the invaders including their chieftain. This keeps them off the crew, the women and Ochir.

The Shangs all attack me. I’m not wearing my great armor and the bobbing vest is about as much protection as a nightshirt. Their tridents, fangs, and claws tear in to my flesh. I buckle and stumble with blood in my eyes. I should have died right there but the Dragon turned the deathblow. When Dipaka brought his healing to the fray the tide started to turn. I kill several of the invaders. We lost two of the crew that were tossed into the sea by the Shangs and were eaten by sharks. Lo, Havarak, the Jade Archer and even the wee folk defeat the rest of the Shangs. We throw their carcasses into the sea. The sharks eat them too. The crew below deck is unscathed. I can see I have earned their respect and would need it later.

Last Month 29
The attack caused more damage. We had to wait for more repairs.

Last Month 31
Last day of the year. We’re finally underway again. The mast is repaired. We’re sailing east to the Land of the Rising Sun.

First Month 1, 3968 (Year of the Fire Horse)
The ancient wise said that whomever you spend New Years Day with would determine your fate for the year. The actions you take and attitude you have on this auspicious day sets the course for the rest of the year. It is also a time of reflection on the events of the past year. I’ve married a wonderful girl. I’ve been made a “Prince”. I’ve been ordained as a Fist of Bahamut. I have also witnessed despicable evil. Through most of it, I along with my friends prevailed. In one case, there is unfinished business.

I pray to Bahamut to do his bidding. I make love to Aiko as if it is the last time. Ochir has done his watch, now it’s time for mine. His post is atop the foremast. It is a dark night but with a good wind. It is winter in the northern seas. The water is very cold.

I wait for the Mongol Zhuru “general” to come down. I ask him if he agreed that we were out of Mongol territory and were now in Japanese waters. Of course, there is never a simple or honest answer. He not only claims the ship is Mongolian; he claims diplomatic immunity as well. 

“Bahamut accepts no excuses for foul deeds,” I tell him.

I use the Dragon sense on Ochir for the last time. He does smell foul. The evil is settled and deep, sure of itself, and free of conscience. I had hoped for him, a little.

“I’m afraid, Lord Ochir, that according to my beliefs, I must pass judgment against you for committing foul murder. I must now enforce Bahamut’s will,” I seize him.

He threatens me with his father, his Empire, and finally, his wife. He says she has a bomb. I hesitate, remembering the bomb exactly one year ago that should have killed Aiko, Chi Hai, and me.

“Repent with the waves and perhaps your soul will go to the Seven Heavens,” I was strangely calm with certitude as I tossed him into the icy sea.
 
I heard Allegro shouting for me not to do it. He drinks a potion and flies off into the night. I hear Chaka saying she is with child. Good, the babe will be better off without Ochir if she is truly pregnant.

I order the ship to hold course at full speed and the lanterns covered. I knew after my actions when the Shangri-La attacked, the crew would obey.

The only thing left are the lamentations of the women. I see Cairn, the beast mistress leap over the side. I tell her not to do it. She turns into a shark before she enters the sea.

Chaka rings the alarm bell. Now everybody is going to lose sleep. Her henchmen set up strange gnomish metal cylinders with mirrors. Chaka uses her magic to imbue these contraptions with very bright and focus light. 

I don’t blame them for trying but if they ever find Ochir, he’ll be a Gnomecicle. He also had refused the Amatatsu Seal in his hubris. There will be no resurrection.

It is said by the clowns and jesters that no good deed goes unpunished. I also know that there are evil powers upon the world. We need Kami because there are Oni. We need Bahamut because there is Tiamat.

The Dragon Queen sends one of her servants upon us. Up from the depths, three stories high, breathing fire, it stands in the sky. Gojira! Gojira! Gojira! Maybe it was just Gozuki. It named itself, Kamikaze.

Dipaka engages in parley. I knew it was pointless. The Kamikaze demanded the ship and all cargo and treasure in exchange for our lives; typical Tiamat spawn. Dipaka agrees and prepares to abandon ship. 

Aiko gives us flying potions. She tells Lo I threw Ochir overboard. He laughs. Lo and I exchange looks. Our first instinct is to fight but we’re overmatched by this scaly beast. Cairn, Allegro and Ochir are not within sight. Aiko doesn’t have her spells. All of that I bear responsibility. Where the hell is Aki? I also am not wearing my great armor, which is packed with Chi Hai in the hold. Captain Sergio orders abandon ship.

Wait! We have Princess Ameiko and her team. I think of the Seal and its healing powers.

“What about the Seal?”

The sea wyrm has sharp ears, “Seal? What Seal?”

Princess Ameiko tried to bluff the wyrm into leaving us alone. She was not successful. It breathes its super heated steam all over her and her people and the aft part of the ship. 

There is no sign left of the Crown Princess, Sandru, the Jade Archer, Wang Chung and Tsuto, the first mate. We flee the scene on the Origami, Xiao Ping’s folding boat. I looked back the burning ship disappeared beneath the waves along with the Kamikaze. This has been an unmitigated disaster.

First Month 2
By dawn we find a small volcanic island perhaps a mile across. Ever since the wyrm’s arrival last night, the sea has been rough. This island is the first of several prayers answered this day. I look out to sea and saw a small light. It is my bonded mare, Chi Hai with a continual flame that I placed upon her headdress. She is swimming this way leading the other mounts. Year of the Fire Horse indeed.

Allegro and Wingnut, his Italian mastiff comes back as well. Gun-Gun, Cairn’s wolf is with them. I think the Venetian Halfling saved the animals but he gives credit to Chi Hai.

Cairn also comes back. She saved Ochir. I never figured Cairn into my plan since she is not always around. It was all for nothing.

Of the Captain and the crew, there is no sign. As soon as Ochir returns, the bickering starts. Allegro spots an old fortress deeper inland. We decide to reconnoiter the island. There is an old pier made of stone and an overgrown path leading up the hill to the fortress. We hacked through the forest to the fortress and explore it. It was deserted and thoroughly looted. We bed down for the night on the cold stone floor. That night the Warding Box is opened. The Amatatsu Seal comes to me in my dream. It is being held captive by the Kamikaze right here on this island. A half-submerged cave entrance leads to the wyrm’s lair in the volcano.

First Month 3
We look for more survivors from the Isabella. We don’t find any. Allegro volunteers to scout out the cave. Aiko casts the spells necessary for the Halfling to go. The brave Polo heads into the volcano alone.

A short time afterwards, a ship flying the flag of the Rising Sun of Japan sails up to the cave entrance that Allegro went into and drops anchor. Six samurai frogmen jump into the water and swim into the cave. Allegro is caught between the wyrm and these hardened warriors.

Somehow, he escapes and reports that the samurais wanted to take the Seal. They thought Kamikaze was going to give it to them because they all work for the Jade Regent. Instead, he killed them all, but they managed to wound him.

We think now that we can defeat him. We sally forth into the cave with a water breathing spell cast by Xia. Ochir offers me a potion that will protect me from fire and heat. I take it.

We enter via the sea cave and come to the caldera of the volcano where lava falls hit the seawater and cause a continuous cloud of steam. The water is close to boiling here but there is a small island we can climb onto. The Kamikaze hides in the sauna of his lair. He watches us. Lo challenges him with Suishen and seeing the prized blade, the wyrm attacks. He is unwounded at his full strength. Our archers got a few arrows through his scales, mere pinpricks. A few magic missiles beat his defenses but they were superficial. One super heated steam breath and most of us were wilted. Xia was dead. We swam for our lives. I don’t know why he didn’t finish us off.

First Month 7
We’ve been hiding in the rope trick for the last few days. Our only chance is another miracle. Today, three more ships from the Jade Regent come to the island. The largest one docks at the old stone pier. A huge blue skinned Oni flies forth leading a murder of six crow-like Tengu Onis. They also bring four female human samurais for good measure. They head to the abandoned fortress. Their leader says he know of another way into the wyrm’s lair. That’s Allegro's cue. He follows the new villains into the fortress.

The lead Oni is General Yojimbo, Enforcer of the Five Storms. He and his Tengus fought the Kamikaze and were at first repulsed. They attack again, now is the time for our own attack.
 
We hurry to the sea cave entrance. I’m wearing my great armor and I’m mounted on my bonded holy steed, Chi Hai. The outcome is assured. We defeat the Kamikaze. We defeat Yojimbo. We recover the Seal.

We brought a bard to tell our tale and a scribe to write our story. Ask them for the details. I don’t want to be a braggart.

First Month 9
The Seal reveals that Princess Ameiko is alive. Sandru, Jade Archer, and Wang Chung are with her. There is also another Amatatsu scion, Prince Tsuto Kaijitsu. The Seal then resurrects Xia and becomes silent.  

 

 

 

 
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