The Puppeteer: Part Seven
It felt good to finally lift his katana against the pets that had forced him to fight for them. Shuva weaved through them in the darkness, only the lights from the stars and the flickering torches from the wagons providing any illumination. Where his katana struck weapons dropped from numb paws, or were flung away into the darkness. Three pets tried to press a desperate attack, two ducking in from the sides to distract him, but he brought his blade underneath one's guard, striking him in the chest with enough force to fling him a metres away into the ground.
Another pet took her place, but Shuva had already disarmed the two others, leaving bruises behind. None of the pets he had felled returned to the fighting, as they knew that had his blade not been reversed they would have been severely injured But they watched with surly eyes, the first pets he was glad to have forced into tarsha. He whirled away from a club that swung towards his shoulder, stepped over a blade seeking to chop at his legs, and swept his tail around in an arc of force that sent two pets flying.
Neither Ajuro nor Kai had joined in the fray, but were lurking back behind the boulders with Chiroki. He preferred it that way. She would be protected, and he would get the chance to do what he had been yearning to do for years; defy Captain Rosh, and General Tzu. He didn't need their help, anyway, not when he was so incensed.
"You know what this insubordination will cost you?" Rosh asked calmly as she stepped forward and deflected his blade with a smattering of sparks. The blades rang together as the rest of the pets withdrew.
Shuva gave a deep laugh, a genuine one for the first time in many months. "I know you don't have my sister anymore," he said. "I'm quite sure that's why you looked so worried when that messenger arrived today."
The Draik gave nothing away. She really was a good swordspet, having learnt from Tzu himself. She had quick reflexes and knew a number of moves that he didn't. But she was half his size, and did not have his brute strength. He saw her snout crinkle in pain as he struck her katana, sending a shockwave up her arm, but she continued to press him.
Now, he was beginning to sweat. They fought for several minutes, the pets he had defeated beginning to cheer for their intrepid captain. But he had been named Kamikaze, a tempest, by pets on both sides of this war, and finally he knocked her blade wide, stepping into her guard and placing his katana at her throat. The dulled edge was no threat, but still her eyes widened.
"I seek tarsha from all of you," Shuva said firmly, loudly enough so the pets around him could hear.
There was muttering, but it was the muttering of assent, and he stared into Rosh's eyes. Finally she looked away, a scowl on her features.
"Well, you have us: I'll have to acquiesce." She stepped away from his blade and drove her katana point first into the ground. That wouldn't be good for the blade, but that hardly mattered since she could not use it for a year. "You've gotten the best of us, Shuva, though don't think you can just attack my camp tonight. I may not be able to pick up arms, but I can always advise."
Shuva sheathed his blade as the other pets also put down their weapons. He looked over at the pets who worked for the Emperor, still huddled by the wagons, though their eyes were wide as if they could not quite believe or understand what had happened.
"You can leave now," he said to Rosh. "And maybe you should advise Tzu that he can't win. I'm sure he'll be happy to hear of your failure."
The Draik let out a snarl, trying to hide her fear, and motioned to her pets. They gathered behind her and he heard footfalls behind him. He turned his head slightly to see Chiroki coming towards him, Ajuro holding her elbow and chivalrously guiding her over the difficult-to-see ground. Kai was at the rear, his empty eye sockets boring into the gathered pets.
He heard Rosh let out a little hiss, her claw instantly going to the empty sheath at her belt, and he stepped forward protectively.
"You don't want your soldiers to see you lose face," he warned sternly. "I suppose this means you've met my beautiful sister before?"
The Draik threw him a dark look, then strode away, Tzu's pets following her. They looked slightly hunched over and sad, something he recognised from the pets he had defeated on the battlefield. And even though he wasn't on their side, he still felt a twinge of regret for having fought them.
"Well, now, we had better sort this whole thing out," Ajuro said in a businesslike tone. He clapped Shuva on the back with a huge grin. "That was some amazing fighting. Almost wish I used a weapon to fight. Almost."
"Master Shadow!" The shout came from one of the pets loitering near the wagons. The Acara hurried up to him, slowing down exponentially as he neared the bulk that was Shuva. His gaze was frightened as he stared at the Grarrl, and he edged away, closer to Ajuro. "W-what's going on?" he stuttered, giving the Zafara a salute.
"Master Shadow?" Kai asked Ajuro in disbelief, and the Acara glanced at him, then flinched when he saw the empty eyes sockets staring out from the vibrant costume he was wearing. How the pet hadn't noticed him before was beyond Shuva.
Ajuro gave the Hissi a haughty glare. He was very good at that, Shuva knew. "It's something the troops call me. The Master is because I'm a tested master of martial arts, and Shadow because of my work and colour. But that's beside the point.
"Haja," he said, addressing the Acara as he began to gather the discarded weapons scattered in a wide circle around the wagons. "Just because you can't carry arms doesn't mean your wagons can't." He dumped half a dozen into the nearest one, and they spilled out among the bags of food and folded cloth. "Take these wherever you were meant to be taking the supplies, and them to other soldiers."
He inspected Rosh's blade with an appreciative air. "They're quite well made, and we'll need everything we can get. I'm almost sure from all the reports I've been, ah, appropriating, that Tzu is going to make a big push soon, so I'll need to push on ahead with my companions and speak to our General. Aren't you guys going to help me?"
He finally stopped and turned to Shuva and Kai, indicating the scattered weapons. Chiroki seemed determined to help as well, but as she bent down to pick up a mace the weapon lifted into the air and floated to the wagon. In fact about fifty other weapons had also lifted into the air and one by one they plopped into the back of the wagon with metallic clinks.
All eyes turned to Kai, who had raised his wings and was waving them ever so slightly in the air. Ajuro couldn't imagine the amount of concentration he was using, but the Hissi seemed quite relaxed as he finished. "You were saying?" Kai said as the last weapon lay still.
Ajuro glanced at the other pets, who were all looking slightly unsettled. Even Shuva looked mildly surprised, as Kai had barely been able to lift three rocks at a time eight years ago. He finally cleared his throat.
"Ah, yes, so Haja you take your pets to the nearest camp. I know you were heading towards Captain Ari's but Captain Xinsao's is only a few hours east of here, and you have no one who can fight."
Haja saluted again, edging away from both Shuva and Kai. Only this meant that he was slowly backing away from all of them. "What about you, Master Ajuro?" he asked. "You could come with us?"
"No, we must meet with the General. It's important that everyone knows the Kamikaze is on our side now."
At the name Haja flinched slightly, eyes flickering to Shuva, who sheathed his blade with a sigh. Likely none of these pets knew his actual name, but it still irked him that Ajuro was using that word in its place.
The Acara nodded hastily, then motioned to his pets to move, even though it was dark. They had a good chance of reaching the other camp before Rosh could decide to send more pets and they probably weren't too keen on staying in this place any longer, not with Shuva there.
"How did you know all that stuff about other camps, and Tzu's plans?" Kai asked. "You've been chasing me for weeks."
"Well, I stole some notes when we picked up Chiroki, and I did go to that outpost a few days ago," Ajuro said. "I have to know these things to be a good spy. Anyway, shall we make camp for the night?"
While Kai magically gathered enough wood to last them several nights and Ajuro began to prepare a meal, Shuva sat Chiroki down on the grass and lowered himself down next to her. She still only came up to his chest, but she leaned against him, smiling widely.
"I always thought it would be you coming to rescue me," she said to him, and he gave a sigh.
"I always hoped I could. But I knew I could never risk it in case you got hurt. I suppose I'm glad that it was Ajuro and Kai who did the rescuing, even though he did disappear for all those years. If I could trust anyone to rescue my baby sister, it would be those two."
"I'm hardly a baby," Chiroki grouched, and he felt tears gather in his eyes. How long since he had had one of these arguments with her? It had been forever, but he was glad that she was back finally.
"Well, I'm much older and larger, so you can't stop me trying to protect you," he said with a brotherly frown.
She laughed, and he smiled at that laugh. That was what he had missed more than anything. Then she stopped smiling and looked troubled.
"I just... I just can't believe how scared those pets looked when they saw you. What did Tzu make you do?"
Shuva sighed and turned away. "I fought for him, but always with my reversed blade. I tried not to hurt any pets if I could help it."
"Ajuro told me. And I'm so proud!" Chiroki said. "Besides, imagine how many pets are still here because of that blade of yours. I don't like fighting, but I know General Tzu has to be stopped. So I'll support you now if you want to keep helping the Emperor, but as soon as we win – which we will –"
"I'm not going to fight any pets after that. I've had enough," Shuva agreed, knowing exactly what she had been about to say.
Ajuro called out from the now blazing fire that food was ready, and they settled down to eat. The Zafara wasn't concerned that it was a huge beacon, but probably because he knew Rosh would be wary of sending anyone after them after her recent defeat.
"Eat up, everyone," Ajuro said with a grin. "We have a long hike ahead of us, then you can finally meet General Atunra."
To be continued...