Friday, September 5, 2008

"Song of Momoki" -- Act III

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“Song of Momoki”
© 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.

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ACT III

THE DESTINIES OF FRIENDS: Wherein Momoki Receives Training; Balori Makes Peace; Wu Chan Chu Wars with Herself; Many Move Towards a Great Battle

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CHAPTER 1

Within the many layers of Hell; within one of its planes resting under a staring, indifferent red eye there was an enchanted forest of silver. It glimmered crimson under the undying, unmoving sun that never set, never rose, never wavered or blinked. It was through this forest of dead trees with chrome-like bark Momoki the Marmoset ran through, chased by the crystalline baboon of purple amethyst. He ran frantically, grunting with every effort. He jumped to the side of a tree and rebounded off it into the branches of another. The amethyst baboon, however, did not give up the chase. Instead it stopped, glared up and climbed the very tree in which Momoki sought refuge.

Momoki shivered nervously. He peered at the ground, wondering if he could jump from his great height within the tree and survive the fall. Could an undead marmoset die? He once thought an immortal marmoset could not die, yet he was wrong. If her were to fail here within the dark depths of Hell, what fate would he be cursed with? Would it be worse than the Chamber of Despair? Worse than the tortures of Radiant Gui?

His mind raced with thought. So much so he did not realize the baboon approached him now.

The baboon cackled, howled, raised crystal claws and slashed at him.

Momoki’s smoky black flesh parted under the sharp crystals. He stumbled backwards upon the branch, lost his footing and fell the length of the tree to slam into the blackened, chalky ground with a small thud.

Radiant Gui roared, appeared from the beshadowed landscape and came to stand beside the tree in which Momoki and the baboon now were.

“You fool! You let him come upon you!” cried Radiant Gui.

Momoki’s wounds healed. He lifted himself off the ground. “I did not know where else to go.”

“Fool!” Radiant Gui reached down and backhanded Momoki. He twisted and turned through the air before landing some distance away. Radiant Gui followed him. “You’re supposed to be training for your fight against Yaska Selith, not falling out of trees like idiot monkeys.”

At this the baboon growled. It leapt from the tree and joined Radiat Gui, sitting near the horse-demon’s foot.

“The baboon will attack you again. Defend yourself or it will be more tortures for you!”

The baboon leapt into action, pouncing on top of Momoki.

Momoki shrieked under the weight of the crystal baboon.

The baboon’s claws dug into the ground, pinning the marmoset down. His jaws snapped at Momoki’s head, dripping hot saliva on his face.

Momoki knew he could not throw off the baboon lest he endanger himself. He thought of his fall from the tree, thought of the claws wounds that hand healed over immediately. He knew he could take the damage.

The baboon’s maw opened wide, thrust forward. His teeth snapped together again and again.

Momoki raised his arm, somewhat limited by the baboon’s hold upon his shoulders. He baited the baboon. The baboon wrapped his teeth about the marmoset’s forearm.

The baboon now caught, somewhat limited in his own motions with his claws in the ground and jaw unrelenting upon Momoki’s forearm, Momoki was able to twist his hips, pulled sideways with his arm and using leverage toppled the baboon from off him.

The baboon and the marmoset squared off.

Momoki’s forearm healed.

The baboon jumped at Momoki.

Momoki sidestepped, struck out his palm and pressed against the baboon’s face, pushing him sideways and deflecting the attack. Again and again the baboon attacked. Again and again Momoki deflected. He ducked behind trees. He defended, but he did not run. Momoki stood his ground.

Radiant Gui sat upon his laurels and silently watched, pleased with Momoki’s progress.

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CHAPTER 2

On went Balori Shongoyo the Towering Elephant and with him his three companions. On they went across the countryside. In every town, as they stopped for provisions, word of their presence spread. Soon people from every walk of life – those seeking glory, those seeking righteousness, those seeking to acquaint themselves with a Gifted One like Balori – came forth and asked if they could join the quest to the Plain of Adoration, the quest to retrieve the Jewel of Zingtai.

Balori did not enjoy the idea of further people joining them, nor did he enjoy his further impeded progress by their joining, yet he saw the wisdom of their numbers. He knew there was a chance of war against the demon and a war would require an army, so he allowed their numbers to grow. Soon his three companions grew from three to five, then ten. Now, as they rode through a countryside turning gold with Autumn, their number was nearly two dozen.

The new members of his expedition brought their own supplies and shared weapons and armor with one another. None of them could be called rich and they could not afford full suit of armor. Many of them wore no more than one or two pieces.

One such man also had a yurt, an inheritance from his grandfather, and within it they stayed. Balori refused to join them, saying he hated being within its canvas walls. But afraid he would seem unappreciative or cause hurt feelings, he ventured a peek within it once for an inspection. He gave it his seal of approval.

As the sun set in the golden country, Balori sat atop a large boulder to watch the starless night wash over the land. He hated the slow going of his companions. He desired to fly right to the Plain of Adoration. But every time he thought this, he huffed and sighed and accepted the importance of his companions. He did so now.

It was Negkendra who came to him this night, asking if he could join the Gifted One seated upon the boulder.

Balori harrumphed. He said, “I suppose you could join me.”

Negkendra sat on a much small stone that lay at the foot of the boulder. Together the two watched the blank sky grow black overhead. They sat in silent contemplation together a long time.

At last, Negkendra said, “I’m sorry for my part in the Elephant Crusade.”

Balori was shocked but this. He grunted, but said nothing.

“It was wrong of us, wrong of the Eternal Empress. Wish that I could remake our histories.”

Balori breathed deep. He thought of Negkendra’s stand against Ghalib. He wondered at the man who was once supervisor over the Elephant Crusade now a crusader for the stars. He said, “I thank you for your stand. I thank you for your companionship now, though you once stood as my overseer.”

Negkendra nodded. Guilt weighed heavily upon him. He thought a moment of things, then said, “I wonder what’s happened with Ghalib.”

“I killed him,” informed Balori. “I crushed his head under my foot.”

This frightened Negkendra. He asked, “Why have you not done the same for me?”

Balori answered, “Because you ride with me now. I have much hatred filling my new form, Negkendra, but I fight it. I do not wish to be a simple killer, a mere spirit of vengeance. If I am to task myself with anything in this life, I must do so with intellect as well as passion and not with passion alone. To act on passion alone, I suppose I would take the hides and crush the heads of every man or woman in every country I came into. While that may be the act of vengeance, and I do enjoy the vengeance I took against Ghalib, I do not wish to be vengeful alone. I would like to commit something closer to justice, if I can.

“While once your were my overseer, while once you were amongst my captors, you are now at my side. I can assume you seek the same end as I?”

Negkendra nodded. “I seek righteousness. I cannot stand by and live my life while atrocities carry on in the world, especially when I once had a hand in them.”

“Then we are the same,” said Balori. “Many who travel with us now seek glory or wish only to be at my side so they can one day claim they were once at my side. I suspect many may run from us when we reach the Plain of Adoration. But you and I and Akadia and Macia are bound by the cause of righteousness.” Balori sighed, breathing easily now. He admitted, “Where once you were my enemy, now you are my brother.”

Negkendr turned and looked up at Balori. He smiled and said, “I, Negkendra the First Mahout, am at your side to the very end.”

Balori smiled back. “I know you will be.”

Balori moved his trunk to Negkendra’s side. With it he softly patted the former mahout, caressing him as he once caressed his own beloved Tafarri. To Balori’s accord, they were family now.

The two sat, Balori’s trunk about Negkendra’s shoulders, and stared into the dark, dark sky.

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CHAPTER 3

Momoki stepped cautiously through the silver forest. He knew the silver baboon was near, but he could not find the shiny creature. He feared a surprise attack. His fears were not unwarranted.

The silver baboon appeared from the silvery hide of a tree. His body melded perfectly with the dead thing, only his eyes could be seen against the tree’s bark, until, that is, it moved. The baboon shifted his weight and Momoki saw his movement as it catapulted from the tree at him.

Momoki screeched. He stumbled backwards under the weight of the baboon as he smacked Momoki in the face before running off and disappearing, blending with yet another tree.

Momoki stood. He peered about. His nerves settled. He knew he merely had to watch for the baboon’s movement. He saw it.

The baboon jumped, appearing from a tree’s branch. Momoki was able to sidestep, but still caught a claw to the face. A scar appeared across his cheek, but immediately began to heal.

Momoki watched as the baboon disappeared into the trees.

Radiant Gui, who was watching from the shadows outside the forest, spoke. His voice was deep and growling.

“You are well exposed, marmoset. Learn from the baboon’s ways.”

Momoki considered this. He was unsure what the demon meant. He wished he could see Radiant Gui, to speak with him and ask what it was he was required to do. He hated the demon that watched from the shadows.

Then a thought came to him. The shadows. Shadows grew long and full everywhere, especially in this land.

Momoki caught sight of silver streaking movement. The baboon launched itself into the air, descending upon the marmoset.

Momoki dropped to the blackened ground. He spread himself close to the chalky black dirt. He disappeared within its dark mass. Only his hat and eyes remained, but his form was difficult to determine.

Confused, the baboon struck where he had last seen Momoki, but Momoki crawled sideways and out of the way of the silver claws.

The baboon cackled angrily and jumped into the trees, bending well there.

Momoki moved within shadows, blending well there.

In the distance, Radiant Gui laughed with approval.

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CHAPTER 4

It took many days for Comet Fox to sober up upon the foothills of Taliesin. Xiao-tep cared for him in that time, sacrificing not his work for the Mountain that Lives in the Sky, but instead sacrificing his time with his friends Aglina and Zingtai.

As Kalavata flew overhead and Xiao-tep finished his day’s work of gardening, he came to Comet Fox who was resting upon a soft, cool, moss-covered stone. He brought with him fruits from the day’s harvest, including crab apples. Comet Fox ate them voraciously.

“It’s been a long time since last we met,” spoke Xiao-tep as he ate his own meal.

Comet Fox stayed his feeding a moment, the juice of the apples dripping from his long muzzle, and said, “That it has, friend. And I am ashamed I’ve come to you in the condition I did.”

“Thought I you swore off drinking.”

Comet Fox set the apple in his hand upon his knee. He stared at it a moment and thought of the wicked, enchanted fruits the demon Ketsueki Sato once fed him. He felt greater shame in his weakness. “I’m sorry, Xiao-tep. I-I suppose I grew weak. I’ve not had a good time of things as of late.”

“Oh?” Xiao-tep asked.

Comet Fox looked to the west and wondered if that was the direction of the Peony Tea House. “I’ve had a falling out with your sister.”

“Wu Chan Chu? Is she well?”

Comet Fox smiled. “You have much to be proud of her. She is champion at the Peony Tea House.”

Xiao-tep did not like this, despite Comet Fox’s assumption he would. Xiao-tep had learned to hate fighting. It pained him greatly to ham another creature. But he supposed Champion of the Peony of indeed a great feat. He said, “That is truly an accomplishment. I take it she’s well, then?”

“Oh, yes. She has all the food she can eat and all the tea she can drink. She’s come to favor the hooka. And she has room and board at the Peony as champion, and a cut of the teahouse’s winnings concerning her fighting. She has truly set herself up.”

Xiao-tep ate his apple. “Good. You spoke of a falling out?”

Comet Fox sighed. “Indeed. There was a theft at the Peony and I was blamed for it. As champion, of course, a theft against the Peony is a personal matter. We exchanged unfriendly words.”

“Hmm,” Xiao-tep considered this. “Were you behind the theft?”

Comet Fox wanted to be offended, but then realized the question was perhaps a good one to be asked. “No, it was merely assumed I was the thief.”

“Then where’s the problem?”

“Wu Chan Chu did the assuming. She struck me in anger and would not hear the truth of my innocence. I left,” Comet Fox picked the apple from his knee and bit it. As he chewed he said, somewhat forlornly, “That is when I returned to drinking. I felt full of shame and sorrow for myself. It was a stupid thing to drink under such emotion.”

Xiao-tep only nodded in concurrence.

“Thank you for caring for me, Xiao-tep. I see you’ve started a new life here? I had heard you were here from some migrating geese. I guess I came to see a familiar and friendly face.”

Xiao-tep looked to Comet Fox and smiled. He patted Comet Fox upon the knee where once the apple had been. “You’re always welcome here, old friend. Taliesin has been good to me. I care for her and she gives me plentiful fruits to eat. When I came here, the old caretaker had tragically gone. I am happy here.”

Comet Fox smiled and bit his apple, juice flowing from his mouth as he spoke, “Good. I am happy you’ve found a good home.”

“What of you?” Xiao-tep asked. “What have you done when last we met?”

Comet Fox finished his apple. “A great many things, including further training. But the largest event is my falling out with Wu Chan Chu. How I wish I could make matters better between us.”

They sat watching the world far below Taliesin.

After a while, after talking and reminiscing, they wondered up the mountain where Xiao-tep introduced Comet Fox to Aglina and Zingtai.

“She once was the stars,” explained Xiao-tep of Zingtai.

This jarred some memory within Comet Fox, the memory of a kind man who had cared for him while he was drinking and drunk and roaming the world. He said, “I believe I met a man in my travels, though truthfully I cannot recall if it is a memory or the memory of a dream. I believe he told me he was traveling to some plain…” Comet Fox’s face strained with consternation and thought. He said, “I believe it was the Plain of Adoration. They sought a demon and wanted to restore the stars. I seem to remember a Gifted One with them, a rather discourteous elephant.”

Xiao-tep’s eyes widened. “An elephant? Di he walk and talk as a man like we do?”

Comet Fox nodded.

“Balori!” he turned to Zingtai. “Zingtai! Balori remains on his quest for your jewel.”

At this Zingtai smiled and fluttered her wings happily. “If anyone can do this,” said she, “I begin to believe it will be him.”

“Know you this elephant?” asked Comet Fox.

Xiao-tep said they did, “He came to us some time ago seeking the matter with the night sky. He said he was sent forth by an empress to return the stars. When he came here, he learned of the theft of Zingtai’s jewel and the reason for her disappearance from the night. He must still be looking for her stolen jewel.”

Comet Fox said, “They appeared rather determined.” He wondered a moment. Curiousity infected him, as it always does, and he said, “Perhaps we should go find this Balori, go see this Plain of Adoration. I would bet the demon has Zingtai’s jewel.”

Xiao-tep shook his head vigorously. “No. This is Balori’s matter, not ours.”

“What matters whose matter it is? I didn’t ask to join his quest. I simply wish to see this demon they spoke up upon the Plain of Adoration. What harm could come by merely looking?”

Xiao-tep could not answer this. He could find no harm in it, yet he did not wish to be involved. He did not wish to be caught in a fight against yet another demon. He shook his head vigorously.

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CHAPTER 5

Momoki screeched in fear as the golden baboon chased him through the silver forest. He hid within the forest’s shadows, which work to some extent, but the baboon was far larger and stronger. He tried to parry and deflect the gold baboon’s assaults, some of which worked but many of the blows the gold baboon threw landed upon Momoki, knocking him backwards further and further.

Frustration welled within Momoki. If he were to take the fisted blows of the golden baboon, he wanted to give the creature a taste of the assaults. Momoki took a punch to the face, balled his fist and threw a punch of his own. It was weak and bounced harmlessly off the baboon’s neck.

The baboon paused his assault. He peered at Momoki, then cackled hysterically with laughter at his weak attack.

Radiant Gui sighed and stepped from the shadows. Said he, “Damn your hide, marmoset! If you are to defend yourself you must know how to deflect an attack or hide. But if you are to topple a demon, you must know also how to fight. That was no attack. That was pathetic. We must equalize the gold baboon’s strength with your own.

“Now think, marmoset. Think of some thing that you used in your day-to-day life, something you know well and are familiar with, something you can use as a weapon.”

Momoki thought on this. He searched his memory of his life on Taliesin. In his hand appeared a small, black version of his smoking pipe.

“What is this?” raged Radiant Gui. “A pipe? Of all the things you must have used you think of a pipe?”

Momoki, ashamed, lowered his head and said, “It was there during my happiest times. I would smoke it when my friends and I would picnic under the trees.”

“Bah! What a fool! A pipe is no weapon!” Radiant Gui sighed. He shook his head in disgust. “Very well, carry on with your training.” Radiant Gui melted again into the shadows.

At this the gold baboon struck. He pounced atop Momoki, slamming him to the ground. Momoki struggled to get away from him, beating the baboon about the head with the pipe. This did nothing to the baboon but further anger him.

At last Momoki thought of his first fight, with the amethyst baboon, and how he allowed that baboon to close in so he may wrestle it off himself. Momoki stopped defending, stopped fighting the gold baboon and let his muzzle come close to Momoki’s face with its snarling, saliva-cover teeth. The teeth snapped at Momoki and as they came so close Momoki thought he might be bitten, he lifted his pipe, turned it round and used the pointed mouthpiece as a small spear.

The pipe entered the gold baboon’s temple.

The baboon screamed in horror. He let go of Momoki, stumbled backward, then toppled.

Momoki lifted himself off the ground. He had fought before coming to Hell, but never before had he taken the life of another creature. He stared at the gold baboon with his mouth ajar as Radiant Gui laughed in the background. Momoki felt as though everything within his form suddenly sank, leaving him incredibly empty.

Radiant Gui stepped out of the shadows once more. He said, “I suppose your pipe is a good weapon after all.”

The horse-demon grabbed the pipe with the tips of his massive claws. He pulled it free from the dead baboon’s temple. He handed it back to Momoki.

“Your training is now complete. You should be proud. You’ll ride against Yaska Selith in the name of all demons. But now you must train your own band of warriors to ride with you. I will hand-pick these warriors and I will chose those who have fallen in some way to Yaska Selith. Such warriors, ones with some investment in the outcome, are most likely to succeed, and succeed you must.”

The horse-demon looked into the distance, as if thinking. Momoki thought as if he were worried.

“Y-you’re afraid?” he said.

Radiant Gui looked to Momoki. His face twisted with anger.

“Me? Afraid? Bah! I fear nothing!” the demon lied. “But know this: the one who cursed all demons did so due to Yaska Selith. Though she is a mere demi-goddess, she could cause all the layers of Hell some problems should she decide to fulfill her curse. This is why I train you, to avoid that minor complication. But if we can rid the world of this pseudo-demon, this false demon that causes peril for all demons, she will most likely forget her curse.”

Momoki nodded in understanding.

“Know this, too, marmoset: I know I’ve proven myself a liar, but should you succeed, I will promise never to harm your friends. Have we a deal?”

Momoki nodded. “I will do this.”

Radiant Gui left Momoki.

Momoki returned to the massive doors of the Chamber of Despair. He opened them and entered. The doors shut behind him.

His friends sat in the hut, chatting idly. Gogi, seeing Momoki had returned, ran to his side, saying, “Momoki! Momoki! Look!”

Gogi lead him to a corner of the courtyard that had obviously been worked. Gogi said, “I brought with me a few seeds, so today while you were out I worked the ground here and planted them. I’m uncertain that they’ll grow. The soil here doesn’t look particularly fertile and while you and Twila don’t need to eat, Szu Ri and I still do and so I planted this garden.”

Gogi looked up at Momoki, seeking approval. “Is this okay with you, Momoki.”

Momoki smiled down at his friend, though his smile went unseen. Momoki nodded, saying, “It is, indeed, old friend. I’m proud of you.”

Hearing this, Gogi swelled with pride in himself. He looked at his garden before returning to the hut with Momoki.

Szu Ri and Twila welcomed him back.

“Are you well, Momoki?” Twila asked.

Momoki nodded and stroked her head with a loving finger. He then said to his friends, “I’ll soon have to leave this Chamber. I hope it will only be for a short time. But I’d like the three of you to go with me. I do not trust you under the care of Radiant Gui.”

His friends knew what he was asked to do, knew he was to fight a demon with others. They feared going with him. But they also feared Radiant Gui.

At last Twila said, “As long as we’re with you, we know we’ll be okay.”

Szu Ri and Gogi nodded in agreement.

They chatted on other things for a time before, tired, Szu Ri and Gogi fell asleep. Twila cuddled up next to Momoki as he watched over them.

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CHAPTER 6

Wu Chan Chu kicked the doors of the Peony Tea House open, nearly kicking them both from the hinges. She pulled the mule and its cart into the teahouse until, at last, he stopped them in the center of the fighting floor. He called out for Sal Igo and the owner of the teahouse came. He recognized the coffers immediately.

“The coffers!” cried Sal Igo. “you’ve returned them to the teahouse! Our hero is Wu Chan Chu!”

Great applause was sent up for the frog demi-goddess.

Sal Igo pulled her aside. “Where did you find them, my friend?”

“I discovered the real thieves, one being Roku whom I turned into you. The other escaped me, but I was able to retrieve the coffers for you. Know this: Comet Fox had no dealings in the theft.”

Sal Igo nodded. “Very well. Now let us discuss your return as our champion. We’ll have to redecorate your room, but we’ll put it back the way it was before, or make it better if you’d like.”

Wu Chan Chu considered this. Guilt filled her for having blamed Comet Fox without evidence as the thief. She said, “No, I’ll not be your champion.”

“But why? Do you wish a larger cut in the winnings? If so, then it is done.”

Wu Cha Chu shook her head. “No. I’ve got to find the other thief and bring him to justice. It’s the least I can do since…” she wanted to say she wanted to do more than clear Comet Fox’s name, but to bring the real thief to justice in the name of her friend. She could not bring herself to do this, however. She said, “I’ll take my brass knuckles and a reward and I’ll go.”

“Go? Feh! You’ll go nowhere and I’ll pay you no reward! I offered no reward!”

Wu Chan Chu grabbed the man by his throat. “I believe a reward is nonetheless appropriate.”

Sal Igo nodded. “Okay, okay. You’ll receive a small reward.”

Wu Chan Chu let him go.

And so the frog demi-goddess gather provisions and left the Peony Tea House, heading east, searching for the Immortal called Black Tentacle.

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CHAPTER 7

Rain fell hard upon the lands as thunderstorm after thunderstorm rolled over the farmlands.

Shabar packed a small sack and saddlebags with preserved fruits and a bedroll, items he would need while traveling.

“You cannot do this to me,” said Alai. “You cannot do it to your children. By the gods, Shabar, you have an unborn child!”

Shabar did not look at her as he continued packing. “I called on Old Man Arnas again. I did so yesterday. He knows I’m leaving. In two days’ time he’ll send his daughter here or when the rains let up. She had three children. She’ll be able to help with the birth.”

Alia filled with anger. She slapped Shabar hard along the length of his cheek. He did not turn to her. He did not respond except a brief pause in his packing.

He began packing again.

“I don’t understand why you go. There are others to go forth like this, others without families and without children. I’m certain they are on their way to make things right.”

Shabar stopped his packing. He finally looked at his wife. “I’m certain there are others, too. But I cannot allow this to carry on, especially since I had a hand in matters. Even if I had no part in things, I could not stand by. I cannot help but think those who watch atrocities committed by others are much involved in their continuance. I cannot watch.” He returned to his packing. “I have to go.”

“You are a damned fool! Don’t you care for your family? Why would you leave us?”

Shabar’s son, frightened at his arguing parents, scrambled from under the table where they ate to hide under his wooden bed beside the stove and its warming fire. He could not understand the things happening in his home, but he knew his father was leaving. He didn’t want his father to leave, but was unsure how to keep him home.

She followed him outside where he placed a saddle upon his mule. She stood under the overhanging eave of their home Shabar had built himself. She watched him.

Shabar came to her side. “Kiss me a last time before I go.”

Again Alia slapped him across the face.

“Don’t let me leave like this,” he begged.

“I won’t kiss you!” screamed Alia. “I won’t love a man that will not stay and provide for his family! I cannot love you! I hate you!”

She slapped him again.

Shabar glowered at her. He turned and mounted his mule.

Alia ran out into the rain. Thunder broke high overhead as she cried out, “If you leave, don’t ever come back! Don’t ever show your face here again! I hate you! I hate you! Don’t you dare come back!”

She collapsed into mud. Her chest heaved with sobs. Her hands surrounded her belly as she tried to hug her unborn child. “Shabar!” she screamed. “Shabar! Don’t leave me! No! No! Don’t! Shabaaar!”

Thunder roared. Rains pounded the lands around her, staining her clothes with thick mud. She screamed and screamed as Shabar left her.

As he rode away, Shabar’s tears disappeared into the rain.

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CHAPTER 8

As Balori’s army grew and marched from the west; as Wu Chan Chu came from the far, far northwest; as Shabar left his heartbroken wife and traveled south; as Momoki the Marmoset was training in Hell; so came Comet Fox to the Black Mountains that bordered the western edge of the Plain of Adoration and with him, at the urging of his friends Aglina and Zingtai, came Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish. They came, flying from the beautiful mountain Taliesin and lighted upon one small mountain within the Black Mountains range. They peered down into the valley and onto the Plain of Adoration.

There they saw the horrors of the Bone Warrior army. There they saw the vile orgies and wicked fighting the followers of the demon-dog dearly loved. There they saw the Weasel King Raiju Yu as he raped small boys. There they saw Neboshazzar feasting upon the flesh of the weak and the dead. There they saw the Brothers Jackal howling with laughter at the mention of the torment of others. And there, lastly, they saw the gigantic demon-dog known as Yaska Selith.

“By the gods,” gasped Comet Fox, “he is far larger than even Ketsueki Sato.”

Xiao-tep nodded in concurrence.

“Could it mean he is also stronger?” Comet Fox asked.

Xiao-tep did not answer for he did not know.

Within the Ankh-fish waged a war of emotions. Never did he want to fight again. Never did he want to take up arms against another creature, even one most evil. He loved his life within the fields and gardens of Taliesin. He loved his friends Aglina and Zingtai and Otti. He did not want to fight, yet he knew this blight upon the land needed expunging. He, at last, made his decision.

“I must return to Taliesin to retrieve my Spear of Sorrows,” said he. “And we will need help.”

Comet Fox cocked his head curiously. He thought a moment. He then asked and suggested both at once, “Wu Chan Chu?”

Xiao-tep merely nodded, saying, “And perhaps many more.”

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That's it folks! I hope you've enjoyed "Song of Momoki". Come back next week to read Act I of "Warriors of the Midnight Sun", the final tale within this storyline set in the wuxia world of The Children of Gods.