The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 75

“Where is he now?”  Ellen Eth asked, leaning forward.  “Surely he has told you how you could find him.”

“Luftin was eaten by the same bedamned dragon that Lord Caverstorm is looking for.”  Callindra said, savoring the dry bite of the mead.  “It was right after Jorda was killed saving us.  A few of her siblings came with him to avenge her death and there was a huge battle and Cerioth just ate him.”

“Luftin?  I was told your Master’s name was Glarian.”  Ellen Eth frowned and leaned forward.  “Why did you call him Luftin?”

“Turns out he was the god of wind the whole time.  I have no idea why or what a god would want with someone like me.”  Callindra was definitely feeling strange.  She set the goblet down with a frown.  “Why would the gods care about an orphan who never knew her real parents?”

“Why indeed?”  Ellen Eth said, “I know they rarely do anything without a reason, so that makes you a curiosity my dear.”

Callindra couldn’t take a deep enough breath, the bedamned stays were digging into her ribs.  She stood slightly unsteadily and bobbed a curtsey.  “Pardon me Lady ‘Orien, but I feel the need for a breath of fresh air.  I am going to just step outside for a moment.”

Ellen Eth watched her go, a slight but genuine smile on her lips.  This youngling was a puzzle and a prize.  She made a slight gesture and one of her spies slipped from the shadows and followed.  The girl wouldn’t get too far with that amount of the truth telling drug raging through her system, but she wanted to be certain that The Sol’Estin did not get beyond her reach.

Durrak toyed idly with a dagger, spinning it between his fingers and flipping it to catch the hilt.  Lorin had been gone for a quarter candlemark and he was starting to wonder where the blighter had disappeared to.  In any other situation he’d think his friend was off scandalizing the courtesans, but here and now he felt there was cause to worry.

“Hey.”  A low voice interrupted his reverie.  “You don’t look like the rest of ‘em.  I mean cause of the armor not cause you’re a Dwarf.”  A young human dressed in finery that looked out of place despite it fitting with perfection slipped into the chair that Callindra had recently vacated.

“You no do be talking like a court boy.”  Durrak observed with a wry grin.

“Huh?”  He stuffed some of the small sandwiches into his mouth and talked around the food.  “Yeah I ain’t from around here.  I’m lookin for a friend who ain’t from around here either.”

“Who do your friend be?”  Durrak asked, “A certain willful young lady?”

The boy’s eyes narrowed slightly, “Maybe.”

“If she do be Lady Callindra, she did be walking toward the exit less than half a candlemark ago.”  Durrak said, “If I do be seeing her again I do be happy to be giving her a message.”

“Which way’d she go?”  He asked.  When Durrak gestured with the point of his dagger, he nodded, “If ya see her tell her Reed was here and said time to go.”

“Maybe I do be joining you Reed.”  Durrak said, sheathing his dagger and rising from his chair.  “I do be getting bored of sitting anyhow.”

Reed looked at him and chuckled.  “You think I’m actually supposed to be here?  With all that armor you’d give me away in a second.”

The Jade Court Part VII – Submission

“Pardon the intrusion Mistress.” Tan Son Shu knelt outside the door, sliding the rice paper covered panel aside a few centimeters.

“Son Shu, you are a welcome intrusion.” Sai’Li said, “Come and have some sake with me.”

“Mistress, there is a man who claims to be from one of the Houses.”  He said, still kneeling.  “He wishes to respond to an offer?”

She moved a hand slightly and a black pearl the size of her thumb rolled from her sleeve.  Even as it stopped rolling, it swelled into a glistening black spider the size of a Labrador and silently skittered out of the open window.  Son Shu felt cold sweat break out on his forehead.

Sai’Li poured sake into a pair of beautifully lacquered cups and reclined on her couch, running her hands though the tiger’s fur that lay next to his own large dish of liquor.  Her kimono was loose, showing the alabaster white of her legs all the way above her knees and parts of an intricate tattoo coming over her left shoulder.

“Come drink with us Son Shu.”  She said with a smile, “Our guest will join us shortly.”

Not being able to ignore a direct command, he came and knelt at the low table.  Lifting the cup, he took a sip and savored the exquisite taste.  Sai’Li packed her kiseru with tobacco and struck a match, lighting it and exhaling a cloud of fragrant smoke.  Son Shu found it easier to relax than he had anticipated, his mistress’s easy manner was infectious.

The elevator chimed and Son Shu looked to his mistress.  She inclined her head and he went to the door.  “Please master Yashida, won’t you join us for a drink?” He asked, sliding the door aside.

Tanaka was wearing a rumpled black suit and had an unlit cigarette clamped between his lips.  Son Shu extended a lighter on reflex and Tanaka seemed to respond on reflex as well, leaning in to light his cigarette and bowing slightly to Sai’Li.

“Lady.  Circumstances have caused me to reconsider your offer of patronage.”  He said, stepping into the room.

“Please Tanaka, come and have sake with us.”  Sai’Li said, “Let us discuss whatever troubles you.  But I insist that you drink with me.  I find sake to ease difficult conversations.”

He hesitated, but removed his shoes and came to kneel at the table.  Sai’Li herself poured him a cup of sake.  She waited for him to settle, taking the opportunity to refill her pipe.

“I find myself in need of assistance.”  He began, “I am not certain what made me think you could offer it, but I had the idea that your offer of protection was genuine.”

“Indeed.”  She said, exhaling smoke from her nostrils in curling trails.  “I do not make promises lightly Tanaka Yashida, nor do I take them lightly.  What promise are you making?”

Tanaka backed from the table and bowed from a kneeling positon, pressing his forehead to the floor. “If you can save my people, I swear fealty to you Lady.  My blood shall be spilled at your whim.  My life spent at your desire.”

“I do not spend the lives of those who swear themselves to me without cause.” Sai’Li said, “Although I must confess that blood may be a significant motivator.  Do you promise me your blood?”

“I do.” He said without hesitation.

Sai’Li shivered and licked her lips.  Tanaka noted that her canine teeth had grown long and sharp.  “I claim you and your clan once more as mine.  This pact shall be sealed in the old way, the ancient way.  My way.”

“If it will help my people, I consent.” He said, “Please hurry.”

“In this matter, I shall take my time.”  Said Sai’Li, she stood and swayed across the room, eyes smoldering.  “You have my word that no more harm shall come to what is MINE.”  At this last word, her eyes turned blood red

Her mouth opened wide and he saw those elongated fangs descending on his throat.  He wasn’t just powerless to resist, he wanted to feel them pierce his skin.  Tanaka Yashida lost himself in the terror of his new Lady’s kiss.

The Jade Court Part VI – Failure

“We can’t keep having these losses boss.”  Lon finished, shaking his head.  “Five of our last six deposits got jacked, Shinji and Li got shot in the head in broad daylight and someone got into one of our bases last night and did something.  Something weird.  Must have been like a biological weapon or something.”

Tanaka poured him a glass of whisky, lit two cigarettes in his mouth and passed one over.  “What do you mean weird?”

“They’d been melted boss.”  He shuddered and took the drink with a nod of thanks, “I ain’t seen nothing like it.  Like their flesh had been turned to jello.”

Tanaka poured whisky for Asahina and himself and took the opportunity to exchange a glance with her as she took the glass.  She nodded slightly, it was magic.

“I dunno what to tell you, boss, I’m sorry.”  Lon bowed his head, “I’ve failed you.”

“You should have brought this to me sooner Lon.”  Tanaka said, “But I made you a captain because of your independence, so the failure is mine, not yours.”

Lon kept his head bowed until Tanaka slapped him lightly on both cheeks, “I need you at your best, not feeling sorry for yourself.  Get back out there and keep your men vigilant.  You can rely on me to handle the rest.”

“Yes boss.  Thank you boss.”  Lon said, standing and bowing deeply before backing out of the room.

“What do we do about this?” Tanaka asked Asahina, “Can you do anything to defend against whatever magical attack this is?”

“Let’s look at the facts.”  Asahina said, “It appears most of these attacks have happened at night, other than the ones that seem to be from sniper fire.  Since it seems Lon didn’t vary his patterns much, I think it may be time to put out some bait and see if we can catch ourselves a rat.”

Tanaka’s mouth spread into a humorless smile.  “An excellent idea.”

The trap had been set, the bait dangled out for their enemy to see and all had been in readiness.  Tanaka had been waiting on a rooftop with a sniper rifle and night vision scope.  Asahina had been across the street on another rooftop, waiting to attack or defend with her magic as needed.  Men had been positioned in cars and cafes, waiting to move in when their attacker fell into the trap.

That’s when everything went wrong.

Tanaka sent a perfectly spaced pair of bullets into the head of the first would-be assailant.  He quickly turned his scope toward another figure and shot it in the chest, knocking it backward.  Asahina’s voice sounded in his earpiece.

“Tanaka!  Get out!  GET OUT!”

He saw the flash of magic from the rooftop where she was stationed and saw a half dozen figures converging on her location.  Before he could get a clear shot, a scrabbling sound made him look down.  Figures were clawing their way up the side of the building with unnatural speed.  Cursing under his breath, he dropped the rifle and took out his phone.

“I’m extracting, route three.”  He said.

“Negative sir!” The voice on the other end said, “We’re being hit, use-“ The voice cut off to the sound of screaming and awful crunching sounds.

The first of the things climbing the building pulled itself over the edge of the roof and Tanaka put a bullet through its head, but the thing only seemed to find it a momentary inconvenience.  A thrill of fear went down his back.  He turned and ran, pulling a pair of grenades from his belt, tossing one behind him and dropping one as he ran through the door.

When the explosions shook the building he didn’t stop running until he was at the underground parking garage.  He paused, catching his breath and loading a fresh magazine into his pistol.  Looking through the small window, he could see several people who he was certain were waiting for him or his associates.

Tanaka opened the door and walked briskly out, ignoring the men who moved to flank him.  When the first one was close enough to be an easy target, he shot both of the man’s kneecaps out.  He knew the bullets wouldn’t kill whatever the things were, but nothing could run with the use of its legs.  The momentary distraction was enough for him to run to his car.  Silently cursing the necessity, he abandoned his men and ran.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 74

“If you do be finding Cerioth, your best option do be running.”  Durrak said, “If I no did be a fool, I no would be looking to fight with her.  But she did be destroying Farenholm, killing all my people and taking up residence in the halls of my ancestors.  For that, I do be owning her.”

“She ate my Master.”  Callindra said, “I plan to cut her open and see if he’s still inside.”

With that, she turned and walked from the table.  Lorin watched her go, eyes searching for a hint about what possible danger she thought she could pose to a fly, let alone a dragon.

“Did you be noticing her hands?”  Durrak asked, “She do be a left handed fighter, light blade, fast footwork.  She do be wearing that ‘lady’ disguise well.”

“You really think she’s dangerous?”  Lorin asked, still mesmerized by the sway of her hips as she walked away.  “Beautiful as a naked blade, but other than how she moves, I would never have guessed…”

“Oh, I do be certain, Lorin.”  Durrak took a cigar from his pouch and blew a plume of dull red smoke to curl through the air.  “If there do be one who might beat me to Cerioth, it do be her.  We should be working together, but I no do be knowing if we can be trusting her.”

Abruptly, Lorin stood and hurried in the direction Callindra had gone.  “What the hell, why don’t we ask her?”  He said, giving Durrak a grin.

Callindra was worried about her friends after they hadn’t followed her in, but even more, now that The Order had threatened her in public.  If Ellen Eth allowed this type of behavior at a ball, there was little doubt that worse was to come for guards and servants.  She also wouldn’t be at all surprised if knives in the night were next.

As she walked toward the stairway where she’d come in, a guard stepped forward from an alcove where he had been watching unobtrusively.  “Pardon Lady, but my Lady ‘Orien would like to speak with you.”  He gestured toward a raised dais where she could see Ellen Eth sitting at a low marble table.  The woman was staring at her.

“Of course, I would be delighted to make her acquaintance.”  She said with forced enthusiasm.  “I wouldn’t have thought she would want to meet me personally.”

“My Lady meets with all of her guests personally.”  He said, “She only invites those with whom she wishes to speak.  Lady ‘Orien finds these casual parties to be far preferable to a formal audience.”

“I see.”  Callindra said, “It makes sense to wish to meet informally first.”  It certainly did make sense.  In this setting, most of her potential enemies would be unable to carry a weapon, and if they did, it would be difficult to conceal anything in formal wear.

With a nod to the guard, she made her way toward the dais.  She saw movement out of the corner of her eye, glancing back she saw the Elf Lorin walking toward the guard with a purposeful stride.  If he was following her, she decided to deal with him after Ellen Eth.

Callindra approached the table and curtseyed deeply while keeping eye contact.  “Lady ‘Orien, it is a pleasure to meet you.”  She said as she rose.

“Charmed, I’m sure.”  Ellen Eth said, giving her a smile that did not touch her eyes. “I must say you are not at all what I imagined you would be.”

“We are rarely exactly as expected, Lady.”  Said Callindra with a slight inclination of her head.  “I trust the differences are positive ones?”

“Based on the exploits I’ve heard of the Adamantine Brotherhood and the reputation of battle mages from The Order, I rather thought you would be more martial in both appearance and manner.”  She said, “I was surprised when you did not send Rrayu away and even more so when I heard the reports of your drastic changes in appearance and manner the evening you arrived.”

Callindra hesitated but decided that the truth was as likely to work as anything.  “When my life required me to know how to be a warrior, I became a warrior.  When I had to be a Lady, I learned to be a Lady.”  She shrugged, “Off hand, I would say being a warrior is easier and less dangerous.”

Ellen Eth blinked, the only thing betraying her surprise.  “Ah, well.  I suppose your training to become The Sol’Estin could hardly have included courtly arts.”

A laugh burst from her before Callindra could stop it.  “Oh, gods and demons no.”  Just thinking about Glarian trying to teach her how to wear stays or walk in skirts nearly made her dissolve into helpless laughter again.

“Of course.  Rumor has it that he was a bit of a recluse?”  She gestured, and a servant stepped from the shadows with goblets and a pair of bottles.  “Is it true that The Order disbarred him?”

“I don’t know all the history, but from what he told me, they could not remove him without trial by combat, and none of them had the skill or power to defeat him,”  Callindra said, watching as the servant poured her a goblet of mead.

“Why would he break the bylaws and train a student after being forbidden to do so?”  Ellen Eth mused, accepting a glass of dark red wine from the servant.

“I’m sure he had his reasons,”  Callindra said, taking a sip of the excellent mead.  “But I saw him practicing the Korumn and wouldn’t stop begging him to teach me the Sword until he agreed.”    Her head felt lighter than it should.  She’d never told anyone that before, and it seemed as though she should be thinking more before she answered.

The Jade Court Part V – Respect

Sai’Li paused at the entrance to the boardroom, stepping out of her sandals and padding on stocking feet to the spot at the low table they had set out for her.  Everyone stood as she approached and they exchanged cautious bows and pleasant introductions before kneeling on the cushions.  An attendant offered tea which she accepted, setting the porcelain cup on the table.

“Your invitation was most courteous and your hospitality likewise.”  She said from behind her fan.  “May I know the reason you asked me here?”

Tanaka opened a lacquered box on the table and withdrew a cigarette.  He offered them, but Sai’Li instead reached into her sleeve and withdrew a jade and gold kiseru.  She carefully tamped tobacco from a small golden box into the bowl and leaned forward to allow Tanaka to light it for her.  The smoke smelled sweet and exotic, making Tanaka’s cigarette seem harsh and uncivilized.

“It seems as though there’s a bit of tension between you and the Yashida clan.”  Tanaka said, “I’d like to put that to rest.”

“Disagreements are bad for business.”  She said, exhaling a stream of smoke and taking a sip of tea.

“We sent two of our people to see you.” He said, “They never reported in.”

“Is that all this is about?”  Asked Sai’Li, “I do have to congratulate you on the loyalty of your subordinates, they have been refusing to break their word despite not being allowed to depart while still in your service.”

“You have them?” Tanaka demanded, “Release them to me at once.”

“Now my dear Tanaka, I cannot allow disrespect to go unnoticed or unpunished.”  She chided, “They are being treated well and I expect we shall have the opportunity to reunite you soon.”

“You are hardly in a position to negotiate.”  Snarled Tanaka, “You came here without any support, for all that pet tiger of  yours would be able to do against us.”

Her fan snapped shut with a crack and she fixed a glittering green eyed stare on him.  “Do not make the mistake of thinking that I am in any way threatened by what little resistance you can offer.”  Her kimono shifted color, becoming a pristine white with delicate black and gold spider webs covering it.

“You aren’t going to distract me with petty tricks and idle threats.”  Tanaka said, “If we do not allow it, you will not leave here alive.”

“You do not have a choice whether I live or not Tanaka.”  Sai’Li blew more scented smoke into the air.  “I’m sure little Asahina has told you what I am.”

“You expect me to believe that line of shit?”  Tanaka laughed, “I’m not-”

“I do not tolerate disrespect,” Sai’Li said calmly, taking another sip of her tea.  “Please moderate your language.  I am not offering any threat, nor do I intend to do so.  Also, I am your guest who has kindly agreed to travel in order to meet you in person after you rudely sent your subordinates in response to my earlier request.”

She drew more smoke into her lungs and let it trail out from her nostrils.  “Furthermore, I am sitting before you alone.  A single woman surely does not provoke such a fearful reaction from a strong and powerful man like yourself who has a half dozen armed gunman itching to see what the color of my blood is.”

Tanaka brought himself under control with a visible effort.  “Apologies for my outburst.  If I may be so bold; as a gesture of good will would you return our retainers to us?”

“Perhaps.”  Sai’Li tapped the ashes out of her kiseru and refilled it, lacquered nails clicking on the jade as she tapped the tobacco in.  “I wish to ascertain your loyalties first.”

“I am loyal to my family,”  Tanaka said.

“Who does your family owe loyalty to?” She asked, letting him light her kiseru.

“We are our own family.”  He said, “We do not owe loyalty to anyone.”

“Is that what you believe?” Sai’Li raised an eyebrow, “If you read your histories I think you will find something different.”

Tanaka opened his mouth to answer, but Sai’Li moved her hand blindingly fast.  Her fan snapped open between his head and the window.  The sound of a bullet ricochet was followed almost immediately by the sound of a rifle shot.  The delicate looking silk of her fan was unmarred, but the bullet clattered to the table mangled and bent.  The guards leaped into action, two tackling Tanaka to the floor, one shouting instructions into an earpiece and another drawing a pistol and pointing it at Sai’Li.

Asahina waved a hand, stepping between the windows and Tanaka.  A second gunshot glanced off an invisible shield that surrounded her before a bolt of black energy lanced from her finger to punch through the window of a building across the street.  Tanaka snarled curses and his guards stood up but kept themselves between him and the window.

“It appears you have some things to deal with,”  Sai’Li said calmly, tapping the ashes from her kiseru and stowing it.  “As a benevolent gesture, I will return your people to you.”

She stood and took a ring off her finger, stretching it into an oval five feet tall.  Looking through it, Tanaka could see a well appointed room with barred windows that looked out onto a cliff over the ocean.  Ichi and Shinobu turned from the window to look at the portal in surprise.

“Your master has convinced me to be lenient.”  Sai’Li said, “You are free to go.”

After they stepped through the portal cautiously, Sai’Li collapsed the ring and put it back on her finger.  She turned to leave, “Come Ignis.”

There was suddenly a six hundred pound tiger in the room.  It looked around at them all contemptuously before it began to fade from view again, starting from its tail until only the mouth and eyes remained.  Those faded as too as they walked through the door.

The Jade Court Part III – Loyalty

Soft music drifted into the room, delicate and precise.  Tanaka Yashida and Asahina Ito sat at a low table, watching a video feed on a large screen mounted to the wall.  A young boy sat in a chair nearby, legs crossed and eyes closed in meditation. It had been six months since their information gathering attempt had failed, the moment Ichi and Shinobu had set foot on Izu Oshima they had lost all contact.  Asahina saw it as a diplomatic snare. Tanaka saw it as a declaration of war.

Using his contacts on the island, he had first tried to remove the Jade Lady from the hotel she had taken up residence in, only to find out that she had indeed purchased the Miharayama Onsen hotel.  She had also paid twice the market value with cash. He’d tried to get local suppliers to stop selling their wares to the hotel, but he’d only managed a temporary pause in their business.

From there, Tanaka had widened his efforts to disrupt life on the island itself.  He had undermined the reliability of the power grid by cutting auxiliary power lines, sabotaged the ferry and bribed the local traffic authorities to undertake major repairs on the only bridge that connected to the mainland.  The Jade Lady had responded by constructing solar and tidal power generation that made Izu Oshima energy independent and helping to revive the local farming and fishing communities. The need for people to leave the island dropped dramatically.

Eventually, the amount of influence they could enact to change things on Izu Oshima had dwindled to almost nothing.  Councilors and officials politely declined bribes, business owners ceased responding to threats, and even locals who owed him favors only grudgingly agreed to do small things in return for being released from their obligations.  He had finally resorted to magical means.

One of the people who Asahina had helped him recruit was an Adept who had an affinity with animals.  Together with Tanaka’s tech department they had outfitted a few dozen pigeons with small cameras and deployed them to the island for spying purposes.  Now they watched in disbelief at what was happening in the city of Motomatchi.

The Jade Lady was walking the streets in formal dress from centuries ago.  She wore a flawless kimono of white embroidered with sakura trees, wooden sandals with high platforms to keep her feet out of the road dust and carried a parasol.  A huge Bengal tiger walked next to her like an obedient hound, everyone seemed to take its presence in stride.  

She exchanged pleasantries with every person she passed, calling them all by name, giving some gifts and accepting small tokens from others.  Children occasionally begged rides on the tiger’s back in exchange for small dishes of liquor that he lapped up with apparent relish. The townsfolk weren’t being forced or intimidated into obedience, they actually loved and respected her.

“It can’t be real,” Tanaka said, looking at Asahina. “Looks like you were right.  She is using some kind of mind control.”

“As strange as it seems, I don’t sense any kind of magic.” She said, “But I’d have to get closer to be sure.”

They watched as the lady walked into a small town square.  A gang of young men with masks over their faces ran from alleys in front of and to either side of her.  Most of them had knives, but their leader and two others had pistols.

“Tsung, please move one closer so that we can hear,” Asahina said, and one of the images on the screen came closer to the square as one of the pigeons landed on a fountain.

“-you stupid bitch?” The leader was yelling, “I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, but you don’t get to tell us what to do!  You might have a pet tiger but that’s not gonna help you against bullets!”

“You are being most uncouth youngsters.”  She said, snapping her fan open in front of her face.  “One should show more respect for one’s elders.” A low rumble of a tiger’s growl rolled through the air.  It cut off when she put her hand on his head.

“The Tonda gang has run this town for longer than you’ve been alive.”  He pointed his gun at her, “We don’t take anyone trying to get a piece of the action.  We sent you warnings but you just wouldn’t let it go.”

“Izu Oshima is my island.”  She said calmly, “No gang of young fools can alter that.  Your guns cannot help you accomplish your goals. The only way you will be able to remain here is to agree to serve me and obey my commands absolutely.  I will not allow you to further trouble my people.”

The gang began laughing and their leader shook his head. “You’re outta your goddamn mind.  I’m gonna paint the walls with your blood!” His gun fired, and a bright splash of blood began to stain the Lady’s pristine white kimono.

A hail of stones flew as Sai’Li fell to sprawl on the grass in an expanding pool of blood.  Dozens of the citizens ran forward, throwing more rocks, carrying bats, sticks and carrying other improvised weapons.  Shopkeepers still wearing their aprons, servers from restaurants, students, housewives, and fishermen filled the square, skirting around the tiger where he stood protectively over his mistress.

“You boys leave now.”  A man in a business suit said, pointing at them with a golf club.  “Lady Sai’Li has done more to ensure our prosperity in the last two months than anyone in my lifetime.  You always said you were helping us but I never saw you do anything but demand free drinks and cause trouble.”

A group of teenage girls ran up to Sai’Li, stopping nervously a few feet away from the still bristling Ignis. “Lady!” One shouted, “We need to help you!  If we don’t stop the bleeding you’ll die!”

The tiger looked at them with a baleful glare but moved to put himself between her and the gang.  More rocks flew and the gang leader brandished his gun, causing some of the people to flinch.

“I’ll shoot you just like I did her!” He yelled, “Nobody fucks with the Tonda gang!”

A rock struck him in the face and he stumbled back, blood running from a broken nose.  The businessman ran forward, smashing his golf club into his gun hand, sending it flying.  One of the others aimed his pistol but went down under a half-ton of angry tiger before he could pull the trigger.  The remaining gang members fled.

“Something’s not right,” Tsung said, his voice soft and dreamlike.  “No! They’re dying!”

The video feeds closest to the square changed perspective and the ones further away caught the motion of small bodies falling.  The birds that had been carrying the cameras had fallen over. The leaves of the trees in the square turned brown and began to fall off in the light breeze.

A white Mercedes arrived, and a group of figures sprang out.  The Lady struggled to her feet, and the man in the business suit seemed to be talking to her.  Despite her injuries, she bowed to him before allowing the new arrivals to help her into the back of the car, leaving a trail of blood behind her. 

“Well, that was unexpected,”  Tanaka said, running his fingers through his hair.

“Yes, she seems to have truly captured the hearts of those people.”  Asahina said, “I did not think that kind of tactic would be what she employed.”

“I was referring to how she tricked them all into thinking she had been hurt defending them,” Tanaka said, tapping a cigarette out of a pack and lighting it.  “After word of that little display spreads there won’t anyone in that city who wouldn’t die for her.”

“If she doesn’t die from being shot.” Asahina said, “That wasn’t a trivial injury.”

“She uses some kind of life magic.” Tsung said, “Or if it wasn’t her, someone else drained the life from everything around her.  The people were strong enough to stay alive, but the plants and smaller animals all died.”

“What does that?” Tanaka asked, looking at Asahina.

“Oh no.”  She said, her face going pale. “We thought they were all dead.”

“You thought WHO were all dead?” Tanaka snarled, “What have you been hiding from me?”

“I thought she was laying claim to the Jade Court out of ignorance or because none of them still lived to dispute her words,”  Asahina said, her face pale. “If my fears are accurate she may be an ancient evil returned.”

“What?” Tanaka looked caught between anger and surprise.  He’d never seen Asahina frightened before.

“Remember when we first met?  When I was hunting that creature and found out it had been stalking you?”  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Remember how hard it was to kill?”

“Once you told me how dangerous it was and we ganged up on it with the proper tools, it wasn’t that hard.”  He said, but the memory of the thing she had called a Black Court vampire still sent a thrill of fear down his spine.  “Garlic, crosses, and stakes through the heart, a scene right out of Brahm Stoker.”

“That’s why the Councils around the world worked to propagate that story,”  Asahina said, pouring a glass of scotch with shaking hands. “That’s one of the only times the wizarding world has used the power of normals to defeat a supernatural enemy.”

“I remember your history lesson from last time.”  He said, “What’s this got to do with her?”

“The Jade Court left a few centuries ago.”  Asahina said, “They weren’t driven out, they weren’t forced to go, but it was right before the first war between vampires and mages began.  At first, we thought it was because they were weak, there never were very many of them and nobody knows how they’re actually created.

“I haven’t been able to find more than rumors, but it seems as though this was a strategic move based on divination or maybe even advice from a dragon.  Either way, it was not due to any weakness that I could find.”  

“So we should stock up on crosses?”  Tanaka asked, lighting a cigarette.

“I looked through all of our records back then.”  She said, “After we drove the Black Court from our lands I wanted to research the other courts so that we could defend against them if need be.  I couldn’t find one single instance of a Jade Court vampire being killed. Not one.”

The Jade Court Part II – Rumors

“What’s this Jade Court nonsense?” Tanaka Yashida asked, lighting a cigarette.  “Does this ‘Lady Shirasiau’ really expect us to come to her like supplicants?”

“There are different thoughts on that subject.” Asahina said, “According to the Council there was once an Eastern vampire court.  They were said to have been exterminated centuries ago, but there have always been rumors that they simply retreated into another realm to wait for a time when they could return.

“Others think that she’s just an imposter, albeit a clever one.  She has supposedly modeled herself after a character from the pages of fifteenth-century legend, complete with the pet tiger.”  She poured herself a glass of whisky, “My opinion is that she’s an opportunist. I’m sure she has some power, but it’s likely mind magic or illusion, nothing more.”

“Well, if that’s true what do you suggest we do?”  He asked, annoyed. “I didn’t hire you for cryptic history lessons.  What’s the wizard angle on all this?”

“As of now, neither the American or British Council bodies are concerning themselves with a single woman, no matter what her supposed influence is.” Asahina said, “So you’re free to operate without stepping into Council politics.”

“Good.  She’s taken over the top floor of the Miharayama Onsen hotel.  I even heard a rumor that she bought the entire building.” Tanaka said.  “I think it’s time to send someone to pay her a visit.”

“I suggest Ichi and Shinobu.” She said, “A good combination of strength and intuition.”

“My first lieutenant and your former apprentice.”  Tanaka stubbed out his cigarette, “I agree, that is a strong combination.”

“Ichinose, we must approach with caution,”  Shinobu said, looking at the building with a squint that told him she was using her mage’s sight.  “There has been magic used in and around this place, although I do not see any wards.”

“Mages.” He grunted and adjusted his shoulder holster.

“You should have brought your sword.” She said, “It would be more fitting here.”

The door opened and a young man in a perfectly tailored suit looked them over.  “May I be of some assistance?” He asked.

“We are representatives from Master Yamazaki, here to pay our respects,” Shinobu said.

“You may call me San Shu.”  The man said, bowing at the waist, “I am Lady Shirasiu’s assistant.”  He held the door and followed them into the elevator. When the door opened on the thirteenth floor, Shinobu caught her breath.

The room was huge, the entire top floor was one enormous room.  All four walls were windows, showing spectacular views of mountains and ocean; the steam from hot springs and thick jungle.  A garden of bamboo grew on one side, a steaming pool of water sat on the other and in the center was a raised dais upon which sat a large throne that seemed to be carved of a single piece of green stone.  The most striking woman Shinobu had ever seen sat on comfortably on the Jade Throne, wearing a red kimono embroidered with golden thread smoking a kiseru and looking down on them with an indulgent smile.

“Ichinose Irigani and Shinobu Kiri of the Yamazaki clan.  Tell me, how is your Tanaka?”

“Miss Shirasiau,”  Shinobu said, bowing.  A sound shook the floor beneath her with a subsonic rumble.  Although she couldn’t see the animal making the noise, Shinobu could tell it was big and feline.

“Please address her as Jade Lady if you wish to refer to her directly.”  Tan said, “Lord Ignis is a might protective.”

Shinobu’s eyes flicked around nervously, but couldn’t see anything.

Sai’Li exhaled a cloud of aromatic smoke and tapped the ashes out of her kiseru into a bronze brazier.  A servant took the pipe from her and refilled it with tobacco before handing it back. She put it delicately between her lips, drawing on the pipe while the servant held a match over the bowl.

“Jade Lady.” Shinobu began.

“Why did your master send you here?” Sai’Li interrupted, “Are you gifts?”

“Gifts?”  Shinobu was off guard, this was not what she had anticipated.

“What do you mean?” Ichi asked, reaching under his jacket.

“I told them all to come pay their respects to me.”  Sai’Li said, exhaling smoke from her nostrils, “I did not tell them to send their servants, so I am left wondering why they would do such a thing.”

Shinobu put a hand on Ichi’s arm, interrupting his move to draw his pistol.

“Child.”  Sai’Li said, “I have heard of these ‘guns’ that you favor in this age.  I am excited to see what you think they can do.” She handed her kiseru to the servant and waved him away.

Ichi held very still, not removing his hand from his gun. “My master did not send me here as a gift.  I will not be your creature.”

“No?”  Sai’Li asked, “Why did you come here if not to submit to my will?”

“We came here to offer our respects.”  He said, “Our family wishes to –“

“Do not lie to me, child.”  Sai’Li said, “Only curiosity has kept me from feeding  you to my tiger.”

“Just what is that supposed to mean?” He asked, “I have been sent here with my counterpart to give you the honor of the Yashida Clan.”

“What do you know of honor?”  Sai’Li asked, a gentle smile on her lips. “What would your master know of honor and duty when he sends you here instead of coming on his own?”

“I am willing to die for the honor of my master.” He said.

“Any fool can die.”  Sai’Li said, “What use are you to him dead?  I desire followers who are willing to live for me.”

“I will keep my oath to serve the Yashida Clan.”  Shinobu said, “They have not released me from that oath and I will not forsake my sworn word.”

“This is precisely why I told Tanaka to come himself.”  Sai’Li said, “As you took the trouble to come this far and are ignorant of the insult your master has given me, I am willing to allow you to leave.”

“I’ve heard enough.”  Ichi said, “We answered your request to come even though you treated it as a command.  We have sat through insults and arrogance that go beyond what my honor will tolerate. If you apologize I-”

He cut abruptly as Sai’Li snapped her fan open with a sound akin to a whip crack.  “Let me clarify. I did command your master to come here. It was not a request, nor should it have been treated like one.  One way or another he will come before me and he will have the same choice I give to everyone else who dares dream of opposing me.”

Her eyes locked on Ichi’s and he felt an involuntary shiver run down his spine.  “Serve me or die.”

Ichi drew his pistol with nearly inhuman speed and began firing in less than a half-second.  An orange blur moved between them and the bullets struck Ignis’s thick hide. The tiger roared and slashed claws tipped with jade and diamonds across his stomach.  Ichi dropped to his knees, trying to hold the wound closed and gasping in pain.

Shinobu threw her hands out and a lance of black energy flew from between them to strike Sai’Li in the chest.  A look of disbelief crossed her face and she stammered, “How can you? That should have killed you!”

“You are several centuries too late.”  Sai’Li said, “You cannot kill what is already dead.”

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.”

 

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 73

“The Lady do be conversing with me,”  Durrak said, giving the man who had spoken last a stern look.  “I no do appreciate a pleasant interlude being interrupted with rudeness.”

“Stay out of this, Caverstorm.”  He said, all but spitting the words.  “This is not your concern and she is no ‘lady’ at all but an imposter, trained by a rogue mage who defied the-”

Durrak abruptly stood and hurled one of his spiked gauntlets in the man’s face, cutting off his tirade.  “I no do be taking insults to Ladies who do be sharing time with me lightly.”  He said, voice simmering with contempt.  “Be picking up my gauntlet or do be departing after formal apology.”

Callindra paused, left hand reaching into her bag, and waited to see what would happen.  Lorin was leaning back in his chair with a boyish grin on his face, watching with apparent glee, but she could see he had his hand on a knife hilt under the table.  The man stared at Durrak for a moment, ignoring the blood coming from wounds the spiked glove had made on his face.

“We are both Inquisitors of The Order.”  He said after a moment, indicating the woman who stood next to him. “You may not have understood who you were speaking with before you made that challenge.  I understand if you wish to withdraw it.”

The Dwarf began to laugh, a rumble that built until it was a full belly laugh that shook the fastenings of his armor.  “You do be thinking.”  He started, before lapsing back into laughter.  “You do be thinking I do be withdrawing my challenge because you do claim some bloody title?

“Before I do be coming to this place, it did be my life’s work to be taking titles from fools too weak to be keeping them.  Do be apologizing to this Lady and departing with your comrade or do be preparing to fight.”  Durrak folded his arms over his armored chest, a move that emphasized the broadness of his shoulders and the spikes on his armor.

“Lord Caverstorm, please.”  Callindra said, “There is no need to intercede thus.  I would not want you to be injured for making such a noble gesture.”  Although her voice was calm, her eyes flashed with anger.  The Dwarf suspected she wished to defend her own honor.

“A gentleman no do be able to do less.”  Durrak said, “It no do be a gesture; it do be my obligation and my pleasure Lady.”

The entry chime sounded again, and the light illuminated a beautiful woman wearing a simple yet elegant dress of silver.  “The Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”

Her eyes swept the ballroom, occasionally pausing on one group or another until they eventually came to rest on Durrak.  She took in Lorin, Callindra and the Inquisitors in silence, not offering support or rebuke.  Her presence seemed to calm the confrontation down, and the man bowed from the waist to Callindra.

“Lady Sol’Estin, please accept my apology for my behavior.”  He said, his voice perfectly polite.  “I should not have intruded on your private conversation and aired my grievances in front of others.  We shall discuss this later in private.”

“I fear I do not know your name, sir, for we have not been introduced.”  Callindra replied, stiffly formal, “May I please have your name?”

“I am Inquisitor Revchek.”  He said,  “We will speak privately of personal matters soon.”  The two Inquisitors stalked away, backs straight with tension.

“Seems to me that man intends to kill you,”  Lorin said laconically.

“The feeling is quite mutual.”  She said, watching the two as they retreated.  “I don’t think I’m going to give either of us a chance though.  Too much risk for not enough reward, as much as I’d like to see his liver on a stick.”

“You did be saying you no did know him,”  Durrak said, seeming confused.  “Why do you be wanting him dead?”

“I appreciate your chivalrous offer Lord Caverstorm.”  She said, “However, my quarrel with them is only due to the Order’s quarrel with my Master.  Now that he’s gone, I appear to have inherited his debts.”

“The offer do stand.”  Durrak said, “I did make it more for his sake than yours.  That man do be in need of a touch of humbling.”

“I find his arrogance in the face of the end of the world a little refreshing.”  Callindra said with a weak smile, “Or at least I would if I could find room for levity.  Thank you for the conversation and support.  If you find Cerioth tell her hello with that polearm for me.”

“You no do be staying?”  Durrak asked, raising a bushy eyebrow.

“No, I’m afraid this city has shown itself to be as dead as every other place.”  Callindra said, “Despite the people who shelter here, none of them are living.”

She stood from the table with a grace that Lorin now recognized.  It wasn’t the smoothness of a dancer or a Lady trained from childhood to move just so.  It was the litheness of a predator trained to kill.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 72

“Why did I be letting you be talking me into this?”  Durrak asked Lorin, “Look at these bedamned fools in their frippery.  Do they not be knowing there do be monsters from the Abyss feasting on human flesh above their heads?”

“Durrak, my friend, you need to relax and enjoy yourself,”  Lorin said, surveying the crowd.  “There are so many beauties here tonight, how can you focus on the problems of the world above with such delectable butterflies flitting about?”

“How do you be thinking of women now?”  Durrak took a lit cigar from his belt pouch, puffing a cloud of thick blue smoke.

“One has to enjoy things when one can, my friend.”  He smiled over Durrak’s right shoulder, “Like this vision of loveliness for example.”

A woman in a dark green dress with a matching bag incongruously strung on a silver chain that was bound to her wrist was walking purposefully toward them.  Lorin thought her a bit slender, but she moved with grace and confidence that he found alluring.  The only sign of nervousness was the way her hand clutched the bag’s chain.

“Lord Caverstorm?”  She inquired, ignoring Lorin completely and dipping a curtsey to Durrak.  “Might I impose on a moment of your time?”

Durrak chuckled at his friend’s stricken expression.  He grounded the butt of his Gisarme and bowed with a creak and scrape of armor.  “I do be at your disposal, Miss.”

“Apologies Lords, my name is Lady Callindra Sol’Estin.”  She curtseyed to Lorin as well, “Would you care to join me at a table so that we can converse with proper refreshment?”

“For you to be using Mithril, you do be showing much caution or that you do value the contents of your pouch most greatly,”  Durrak said, glancing at her wrist.  “I do be happy to join you Lady Sol’Estin.  This do be Lorin, I do be apologizing in advance for he do be a terrible flirt.”

“Please ignore the crude and uncultured Dwarf, my Lady,”  Lorin said with an elegant bow.  “We would be honored to sit with you.”

Instead of returning to the table she’d shared with a few other courtiers, she led the way to a small table and perched on the edge of a chair.  She signaled to a servant who brought an assortment of small snacks and a tray of wine glasses.

After the servant had left, she smiled at Durrak, but the words that came out of her mouth belied the expression.  “I hear you have an interest in the dragon Cerioth.  If you desire her death as intently as I do, perhaps we can help one another.”

“What quarrel do a Lady have with The Bane of Ignetium?”  Durrak asked, “A gentle lass like yourself no do be having cause to be picking fights with dragons.”

“I’ve killed one dragon already.”  She said, her voice fierce but calm.  “It wasn’t easy, but by all the gods and demons, I intend to do it again.”

“I think we may have misjudged you, my Lady.”  Lorin said, “It seems as though you aren’t a delicate flower despite looking the part almost perfectly.”

“I’m flattered that my ruse worked so well.”  She said, still smiling as though they were flirting or making small talk.  “I fear I’m even less of a Lady that you likely think.  I came here to try and figure out what the most powerful city ever constructed had done to survive the hordes of Taken, and instead, I discover a den of petty idiots pretending that someone’s claim to nobility still matters.”

Realization dawned on Lorin’s face.  “I remember that name now.  It’s not a surname, but a Title from a school of battle magic.”

“It is the Title of a wanted criminal.”  A woman’s voice from behind and to the left Callindra’s chair said.  “A Title that cannot be rightfully claimed by a half trained apprentice.”

“Come along quietly, child.”  Another voice said, this one behind and to the right. “All we want is you to lead us to your Master.”