“You’re sneaky enough, Plum Blossom, I’ll grant you that.”
“First of all, madam, we ought to make as little noise as possible. Second, don’t call me that.”
“The translation is correct, what difference?”
Siu-Wai turned from the door to regard Jihanna with a single arched eyebrow. The dark teak of the companionway allowed for little light here in the bowels of the sorcerer’s ship, but the annoyance in her expression could not be mistaken. Jihanna chuckled.
Siu-Wai (or Plum Blossom, to give the translation of her name) returned to her efforts with the door, and sighed as the lock gave way. She swung the door open and the two girls slipped into the room beyond.
“There. Got to be that chest.”
Dawnglow through the porthole gave them enough light to work their way across the cabin, scarcely enough room for them both to fit. Plum Blossom crouched in front of the heavy mahogany trunk and after a moment, flipped back the lid.
Their smiles lit up mellow and warm in the golden reflections. The two lions crouched there, fierce and ready to pounce, eyes wide, snarling mouths alive with hunger.
Jihanna reached in and traced a finger over the head of the nearest, scratched behind the solid, smooth ear. She grinned.
“Nice kitty. Your family must be pretty wealthy, huh?”
Near the lion’s forepaw lay a box of worked obsidian, as long as Jihanna’s forearm. Plum Blossom picked it up and tilted up the lid. Within lay seven iron spikes exactly like the one driven into Captain Thornbury’s chest, the one that had erupted into the hideous demon they’d fought.
They both froze, hunched over the chest, as the door behind them blew open.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice such an intrusion? You thieves shall pay for your temerity.”
The sorcerer stood there, pale and furious, his black robes swirling in the doorway. His watery pink eyes widened as Jihanna and Plum Blossom turned to face him.
“You! How did you survive– Never mind. I shall make sure of your demise this time, you miserable pirate. Soldiers! Bring them up on deck!”
Jihanna tried to draw her cutlass, but in the cramped cabin there was no room to fight, and the armoured soldiers poured in on her and overwhelmed them both.
The dark girl cursed and heaved, but she was bundled along the companionway as quickly as the much quieter Plum Blossom.
In all the chaos, nobody noticed the obsidian box fall to the deck, one spike missing.
“You wanted my golden lions? You could not possibly recognize their true value.”
He grinned and raised his hands.
“You wanted those lions? You shall have them.”
Soldiers held Jihanna and Plum Blossom before the soldier. Long shadows stretched across the deck as the sun rose, boiling out of a red sea. Shadows that twisted and ran together around the sorcerer, dark traceries of hideous import. His hands curled into talons, and his grin became a terrible sneer. He roared, thrusting his arms into the air.
Jihanna ceased her struggles as from beneath her feet came a terrible deep baying, as though some tremendous beast, or two such, had begun hunting within the cabins of the ship. Before she had a moment to consider what the sound might mean, from the companionway sprang two massive tawny lions, heavy paws spreading on the deck.
Soldiers cried out and fell back before the great beasts, releasing their prisoners who stood amazed, staring.
The lions prowled forward, their broad heads turning this way and that, golden glittering eyes darting from one man to another. They both looked on the sorcerer and hissed, but he only smiled and with a flourish pointed at Plum Blossom and Jihanna.
The latter grabbed for her cutlass, only to find it gone, but the former shook out her elegant (if ripped and water-logged) robes and stepped forward, spreading out her arms like priestess preparing a benediction. A dark object in her right hand drew Jihanna’s attention.
The lions crouched low and crept towards Plum Blossom, snarling. She rolled her right arm over, tossing the dark object in a lovely arc towards the open deck in front of the sorcerer.
She smiled as she spoke, as the lions came near.
“I’ve heard no sorcerer can make himself immune to his own spells.”
The lions charged.
Jihanna recognized the object and leapt forward, stretching out as she passed right over one of the lions. She caught the iron spike in one hand and rolled across the deck.
The sorcerer, not yet caught up to Jihanna’s motion, laughed as he watched the lions leap upon Plum Blossom.
His laugh was just transitioning to a puzzled frown when Jihanna popped up in front of him.
“This is for my crew, my captain, and my ship, you bastard.”
She slammed the iron spike into his belly.
His scream, his writhing agonies as he fell back, clutching and scrabbling at the length of steel embedded in his body, none of these made any impression on Jihanna. She whirled immediately to rescue Plum Blossom from the claws of the beasts that had just attacked her.
Only to see the girl laughing as the lions frolicked around her, fawning and leaping like puppies. Plum Blossom grinned at Jihanna.
“Did you know they would do that? Did you know they COULD do that?”
“I knew their true value.”
Plum Blossom froze as the lions posed, and then shrank back into the statues they’d once been.
“At least, I thought I did.”
“You little fools will not defeat me!”
Both girls turned as the sorcerer struggled to his feet, blood pouring from his stomach. He coughed, crimson streaming over his chin.
“Now you shall– gah!”
As he raised his arms, the spike in his belly erupted with that hellish glow.
Jihanna turned immediately and tackled Plum Blossom, hurling them both over the rail. Before they hit the water she heard the screaming and crashing begin.
“Those statues must have gone straight down. And it can’t be too deep out there.”
Plum Blossom drew up her knees, not immediately responding to Jihanna’s comment. The two girls sat at the end of a pier, studying the debris-littered surface of the Konogoro harbour. Scraps of the ruined junk bobbed and bumped beneath them.
“We can’t have seen more than three sharks on our way in, either.”