The Jade Court Part I – Return

Author’s note:  I’ve been reading a lot of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka and have the urge to write a short story that has some kind of bridge between them… I don’t really think it’ll be very good, and I might not even get to any kind of tie-in to either book series, but once I get something in my head I have to try to write it or it makes me crazy.  I thought I’d make it about the return of the Jade Court of vampires and tell it through the lens of one of my favorite Pathfinder characters.  Longtime fans might remember the bloody adventures of Shirasiau Sai’Li; well here she comes back from the depths of my weird and twisted imagination to play the starring role.  Anyway, enough bullshit, I love writing this kind of thing.  Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading it.

 

Tan Son Shu finished sweeping the courtyard and stretched, knuckling his back.  Taking care of the ruins Shimoda Castle was his life’s work.  His family legend said the small volcanic island of Izu Oshima was home to a line of royalty whose power made the world tremble in the late 1500s, and that his family had been their trusted servants.

Charged with maintaining the castle and its grounds until their return, Tan’s family had been living here for generations, but now he was the last of the Son Shu line.  The older of his relatives had all died and the younger had left for, lured by the neon lights and excitement of cities.

Turning to a line of ancient Bonsai trees that clung to a ring of stones in front of a mosaic showing a striking woman in a kimono holding a parasol over her head and a fan before her face walking a garden path with a tiger at her side.  Tan took his shears from their pouch and carefully trimmed a few branches.  He was absorbed in his work, Bonsai was a meditative practice, but a flicker of motion caught his eye.

He looked around to try and identify what had disturbed him, over the past few weeks some youngsters had been trespassing, trying to find a place to smoke and drink cheap sake.  They pretended to be Yakuza, but really they were just rebellious kids.  Tan didn’t see anyone and was turning back to his work when his eyes passed over the mosaic.  He rubbed his eyes and looked again.  The woman and her tiger were moving, walking up the garden path toward an archway.

Tan took a stumbling step backward as the pair stepped through the archway and into the courtyard.  Her kimono was black and elaborately embroidered with scenes of travel, accented with glittering gemstones and thread of gold.  The tiger’s claws and fangs were sheathed in jade and tipped with diamonds.  She looked around, only her eyes visible above her fan.

“What have you allowed to happen to my estates?”  She asked in an ancient and formal dialect, her voice like silk sliding over a katana’s blade.  Her eyes met his and he felt the crushing weight of her will.

Tan fell to his knees and pressed his forehead to the stones, “Great Lady, I am the last of the Son Shu line.  I have done my utmost to care for your property.  My deepest apologies for my failure.”

The tiger’s hot breath washed over his neck, smelling of alcohol and fresh blood and Tan was certain that would be the last thing he felt.  Something slithered into his mind, subtle yet powerful, and he could no more have stopped it than he could stop the tides.  Tan heard the sharp snap of a fan being closed and a mild exhalation of breath that might have been a sound of annoyance.

“Ignis, my pet, leave this one be.  He has been loyal when the rest of my retainers have forgotten.”  The hot breath retreated, and he saw a pair of jeweled sandals with perfectly formed feet stop before his still downcast eyes.  “Tan Son Shu.  You have spent your life in service to me.  It is time for your reward.”

“Great Lady, I desire no reward.  It has been an honor to serve.” He managed.

“All the same you shall have one.”  She said, lifting his chin with the toe of her sandal.  “I value loyalty and honor above all things.  You have spent the best years of your life in service to me, rise and receive your payment.”

He stood on trembling legs, eyes still downcast and felt the press of cold lips on his forehead.  A shiver ran through his body and his vision blurred, his chest felt tight and something changed.  With a shock, he removed his glasses to find his vision was perfect.  The tightness was a result of the return of youthful musculature straining against his undershirt.  Tan watched the gnarled arthritis of his fingers twist and straighten into strong, young joints.

He fell to his knees again, his fingertips daring to touch the edge of her sandal, “Great Lady, my life is yours.”

“You may call me Lady Shirasiau.”  She said before the sound of raucous laughter interrupted her.  A hiss and a gesture of her lacquered nails signaled the tiger and despite its size, it melted into the small bamboo thicket that grew on the east side of the courtyard without causing a single grass stem to waver.

“Hey old man!”  A boy’s voice rang out, slurred with drink. “You ain’t got the balls to call the cops on us this time!  We got the Yashida clan backing us now!”

Ten boys swaggered up the path, the one in the lead carrying a bokken over his shoulder.  The others carried bottles of sake and all were smoking cigarettes.  They were dressed in cheap suits and white dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up to show fresh tattoos on their forearms.  Tan moved to stand between Lady Shirasiau and the gang, hands closing into fists.

“You boys do not belong here.”  He said, “Please leave.”

“Woah, who’s the broad?”  The leader said, “And who the hell are you?”

“Yashida clan?”  The Lady asked, gliding forward, her sandals clicking on the cobblestones. “How interesting.  What would the Yashida clan want with such filthy infants?  Surely they have not gotten this soft.”

The kid with the bokken leered and pointed at her with it, “Bitch, I’m gonna enjoy breaking your bones.”

“Child.”  She said, tapping the end of his wooden sword with her fan, “You do not wish to make threats that are fundamentally impossible to make good on.”

“Lon, shoot this bitch.” The kid at the front said.  Nobody responded, and he looked around.  Tan noticed there were only nine; the last kid in the pack was gone.  “Lon?”

“I will give you a single chance to live.”  The Lady said, snapping open her fan. “Beg my forgiveness and pledge your life to me.”  A tiger’s rumbling cough came from the bamboo thicket and a shoe with three inches of bloody leg sticking out of it flew out to land in the middle of the boys with a sickening wet sound.

The punks scattered, running in different directions.  Every few minutes Tan heard a scream of fear that was suddenly cut off.  After nine such screams, the tiger padded up with blood on his chin and a satisfied gleam in his green cat eyes.

“Such a good boy.”  Lady Shirasiau said, laying a fond hand on the big cat’s head.

Tan was looking at her with a mixture of horror and awe.

“Tan Son Shu, you will secure me proper lodging befitting my station until my beloved castle can be rebuilt.”  She said, tossing a small silk purse at his feet.  “Send messages to the clans.  Tell them it is time for them to come and pay their respects to the Jade Court.”

 

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