'Unhand meh booty you scoundrel' came the husky voice of Jabez as I stuffed cans of beer into my rucksack.
'Oh, f**k off wont you?'
Jabez, while being the biggest burden of my life, is also the very reason I live on Nempty. You see, the ship's hull is always stocked to the brim with alcohol. No one knows where he goes or how he gets it, but as soon as the stocks start getting noticeably low, Jabez ups anchor, vanishes along with the ship for a day or two, then comes back with a full stash again. The down side of it is that he protects his hoard rather like bees protect their honey.
'Draw your weapon and prepare to fight.' barked the poltergeist, waving his blunt, rusty, laughable cutlass at me.
The many cuts on his face began to open and bleed. That was just something Jabez did when he was angry. It made a right mess of the wooden flooring which was constantly splattered with spots of blood. I'm not even sure how a ghost can make real blood appear, but he's a poltergeist and I guess they can do things like that, somehow.
You see, just in case you're interested, when Jabez was killed his body was slashed hundreds of times all over and he was then left to bleed to death on the docks of the river Tyne. He then spent the next 160 years haunting the pubs on Newcastle's quayside until trying his hand at frightening school girls who foolishly dabbled with the ouija board. That was incidentally how he came to meet Jemma and became trapped in her world! His spiritual body has, for some reason, decided to keep his gruesome final appearance.
'Oh come on, let's not do this again...' I pleaded.
'Aha! Afraid are you?'
'Terrified.' I lied, considering whether or not to pick up my sword.
I decided it was too far away. Okay, I know a real ninja would never find them selves in a position where there are 3 meters and a small mountain of lager between themselves and their weapon, but I'm not a real ninja. In fact, I'm not really a real anything.
'Did you hear that???' I said, suddenly, pretending to look startled.
'Hear what? What was it?' Jabez's eyes rolled around in his head curiously.
'Sounds like privateers coming to take your treasure!' I said, not all that convincingly but really, to excite Jabez, you needn't be.
It worked a treat.
'They'll never take me alive!' cried the spook, waving his cutlass around like a maniac and going to the deck via the ceiling. 'Man the cannons!' he added before he left.
'Sure, I'm right behind you.'
I removed a few non-essential items from my back pack, water, food, bandages, that kind of thing, so that I was able to squeeze a few extra cans in. Well, I had packed another pack for my student so it wasn't the end of the world.
The reason for my packing was that the Magpie Twins, Autumn and Acacia, had been out scouting in the Middle-Worlds and found some rather unpleasant giant-type creatures called golemdrones that were terrorising a small egregore world. Naturally, we had to go and save the retched souls, as usual. At least it meant the new guy could get an idea of what the Middle-Worlds can be like.
I started to climb to my feet and the ship suddenly jolted with a loud explosion which caused her to rock vigorously. I caught my balance and picked up the two very heavy packs. 'Yoshi can carry these.' I said to my self as another cannon was fired.
It was certainly time to get out of there. I headed slowly towards the Manor, leaving the one-man war zone behind me.
When I reached Magpie Manor I noticed the magpie motif of the clock tower was showing. I sat down, opened one of the packs, and took out a beer. If Jemma was around, I needed a little bit of mental support. You think I'm overreacting? Just read on and you'll see what I mean.
'Yoshi-kun...' I cringed at the sound of the whiny little voice.
Jemma was hurrying down the steps with a bundle in her arms and a pair of those stupid cat ears on her head.
Yoshimitsu had been standing with Clandolin and Dylan but turned around at the sound of his name being called.
'Yoshi, I've packed you some stuff.' said the silly little girl as she reached the ninja. He said something to her in Japanese. I forgot that she knew a bit Japanese. Jemma facts don't tend to stick in my mind very easily.
'Because it's your first time on a proper mission in the Middle-Worlds.' she answered what must have been a question.
She opened up the bundle and took out a box.
'I wasn't sure what you like so I got you sushi...' she handed him the box but when he didn't take it from her, she just balanced it on his arm, which was folded over his body, grasping the elbow of the arm holding his peculiar his sword. 'sandwiches..., rice balls..., pastries..., cakes and um? chocolate biscuits.' she said proudly, as the pile in Yoshimitsu's arms built up.
I felt awful for the guy; all that power, all that talent, being mothered by a woman barely a fraction of his age. I watched on as one watches a bad car accident while she continued to add to the pile.
'I figured you'll also need towels in case you get wet..., soap so you don't get too stinky..., a first aid kit.., and of course toilet paper...'
I couldn't take it any more and I could only imagine how mortified he must have been feeling. No one else seemed to be daring to stand up for him so I decided, despite preferring not to speak to Jemma, to help.
'Umm... that'll do Jemma. I'm sure Yoshimitsu has done this sort of thing before.' I said, taking the pile from the motionless ninja and handing it back to Jemma who clumsily dropped the whole lot on the floor. 'Besides, I've brought enough supplies for both of us!'
The girl scrambled around on the floor, picking up the boxes of food and placing them back in her bundle. She stopped when she picked up the first aid kit.
'Well, at least take this!' she ordered, all wide-eyed and pathetic looking.
I was praying over and over in my head that Yoshi would just raise his sword and chop her irritating head off. Despite my efforts, he gently took the first aid kit from her and opened up the little box. He took out a tiny bandage, held it up and considered it curiously. I snatched it out of his hand along with the box, and then handed it back to Jemma.
'What exactly do you expect we could use that for?' I asked impatiently.
'Well, it'll help with minor injuries.' The silly girl replied.
I put my hand on Yoshi's shoulder and started to guide him away.
'If he gets a paper cut, I promise to send him straight home.'
Clandolin started to draw out the portal to the Middle-Worlds as we all picked up small shell-shaped stones on string that can be tied around the neck. The shells are referred to unoriginally as 'home shells' basically because in an emergency, if you tap it quickly and deliberately, the shell will instantly transport you to the green room of magpie manor, -that's where Jemma's guides congregate. The room is rarely empty and while we are away, we always leave two Travellers behind in case there are any emergencies. They stay in the green room because once we rescue someone, we generally send them straight to the manor via the shell. I'm sure you can sympathise when I tell you I HATE being on green room watch. Generally I just sit around insulting everyone and taking aim at Jemma's head with my crossbow when her back is turned. Oh it gives me such satisfaction to fantasise about pulling that trigger.
I handed a home-shell, both of my packs and our tent to Yoshimitsu. He didn't complain. Yoshi also had a small pack of his own over his shoulder and was of course, also carrying his sword. As his hands were full, Jemma opened the pack and slipped something in from her pile of useless crap! Once the portal was open we started to walk through.
...and there she was again, grabbing Yoshi's arm, who could do nothing but step slowly backwards as his hands were full.
'Please be careful. I'll miss you...' she said with genuine tears in her eyes.
I managed to peel her hand off, kind of like you would peel a leech off someone and we stepped through the void. Sadly, not quickly enough to miss hearing one final 'I love you Yoshimitsu!!!'
Yoshi just shook his head and covered his masked face with his hand.
'Was that as painful to endure as it was to watch?' I asked as Autumn and Acacia appeared next to us. I turned to the twins, 'I feel so sorry for you having her as a mother.'
'Jemma's not so bad really you know.' replied Autumn, referring to his mum by her name. -his sister does that too.
'Yeah,' agreed Acacia, 'she just has a big heart, she can't help loving people. Besides, I'm glad she has a crush on Yoshi, he'd make an ace stepfather!'
Yoshimitsu made a strange noise, a bit like a bovine animal being shot in the leg. I can't really describe it but it was possibly the only response you could make to being told you should get together with Jemma. In fact, if I had been Yoshimitsu right then, I'd have accidentally on purpose tripped and landed chest-first on the pointed end of my sword. But that's just me.
'How dare you talk to Yoshimitsu like that? Do you know who he is?' I snapped.
Acacia just waved my words away and went with her brother to join Clandolin at the front of the group.
'Sorry, Yoshi, these kids never did respect their elders!'
We all gathered in a loose semi circle to await Clandolin's instructions.
'The Magpie Twins say that the village they found is only a few miles north of here. So our first action is to head there. Once we speak to the villagers, we'll have a better idea of what we are up against.'
We walked through the rich farmland. It was spookily quiet and not a soul was around. There was something else amiss too but I couldn't put my finger on it. Yoshimitsu took the note-pad and pencil from his belt and scribbled out a message for me.
It took me a few moments to realise what he meant. I looked around and he was right. The landscape we were passing through had all the signs of recent sheep farming. At that time of year the sheep should have been in the fields for lambing. I flashed the note to Clandolin who upon reading it, instantly leaped over a fence and sprinted through a large field. He stopped when he reached the large feeding trough then sprinted back. Elves are notoriously fast runners so he was soon back at our side.
'There's fresh feed in the trough.' He panted, 'everyone, be very, very careful. Stick together.'
I punched Yoshimitsu in the arm,
'That includes you too Yoshi!' I joked, remembering his reaction last time he was advised to stay close to the group.
We soon reached the village. Well, sort of; we reached the pile of rubble that had been the village when Autumn and Acacia scouted the place out less than 24 hours previously.
'They were here, all of them.' Acacia cried out, kicking a pile of stones with her feet in frustration.
Yoshimitsu bent down in front of what looked like it had been a garden wall and pushed some of the stones with his hand. He grabbed something silver and with a tug, he pulled out a child's tricycle. He considered the battered toy for a moment and then started trying to manipulate the wheels back into shape. When he wasn't able to do so, he just placed it carefully back down on the rubble and walked back to us.
Dylan didn't need to be asked, he transformed into a small black wolf, a gift inherited from his Lycastian mother, and began to sniff around. I had seen him do that many times before and we all, except maybe our new member, new how to read his signals. When he suddenly lay down with his ears pricked, we knew that he had found the scent he was looking for.
Clandolin jogged to where his son was patiently lying.
'Good work Shadow Wolf.' he beamed.
Lycastians all have stupid names when they take wolf form. Amphor, Dylan's mum, is known as Shy Wolf. Apparently, as Clandolin is half dark elf and Dylan's wolf-body is black, they decided Shadow Wolf was an appropriate name. Well, it's not that surprising really, when Dylan was born, Clandolin originally wanted to call him Anvil but Amphor fortunately put her foot down and he had to settle for naming him after his favourite Magic Roundabout character.
'Do you want us to see where the scent leads?' asked Autumn as Shadow Wolf transformed back into Dylan.
'Dad,' Dylan interrupted, turning to Clandolin, 'It seems that most of the villagers made it out in time, they can't have got far but they won't stop any time soon. Fear will keep them on their feet. The Magpie Twins and Shadow Wolf will catch up to them much faster if the rest of the Travellers wait here.'
Yes, you heard right, Lycastians also refer to their wolf form in the third person. I think by now you are starting to see why I tuck myself away on Nempty, as far away as possible from all this stupidity. If only so many people didn't want me dead back in my home world I would return there in a heartbeat. Sadly, I have a huge bounty on my shoulders. I'm a very valuable man you know!
Clandolin looked proud of the adolescent. He agreed that the rest of us; Mouse, Yoshi, me and himself, set up camp while the three youngsters went on ahead to find out as much as they could about these 'golemdrones'. Dylan transformed back into the black wolf and sprinted away, hot on the scent of the vanished villagers. Acacia and Autumn leaped forward, spreading their arms, and within seconds they had taken magpie form, just as their mum could, and they sped off after Shadow Wolf. We decided it would be reasonably safe to camp at the village as the golemdrones weren't likely to be returning any time soon.
Mouse and Clandolin started setting up their tents. Mouse, our explosives expert and general maker of 'bang' sounds, had been my working partner, but now that I had Yoshimitsu to watch over, the team had been jumbled around a bit. Mouse now paired with Dylan and so Clandolin had joined with Autumn and Acacia. It would have been easier to let Mouse join the Magpie Twins and keep Dylan and Cland as a pair, but I know how Cland works and because the twins can take magpie form, there is more room in their tent. Clandolin will stop at nothing for comfort!
Yoshimitsu started to unfold our tent.
'No, no, no Yoshi. Bad ninja!' I said, wiggling my finger at him, 'We NEVER set up our tent without having a beer first.'
I opened my back-pack and took out four cans. I offered one to Yoshi who, ignoring my words continued to start setting up the tent. -I was starting to like him; he made being lazy so much easier for me.
Once the tent had been effortlessly erected, Yoshimitsu sat down on the grass beside me.
'Now do you want to beer? I asked him as I opened my second can.
He shook his head and opened the other back-pack.
He took out a four pack of beer, and another, and a third.
'Woah, you're not going to drink all of that are you?' I said with genuine panic, -well, we never know how long these things are going to take and I simply can't work sober.
With a sigh of relief, I watched as Yoshi replaced all of the cans. I continued to sip peacefully when I suddenly had a bit of paper thrust in my face, which read;
You said you brought supplies
'Yeah, I did! I brought enough beer for both of us.'
Yoshimitsu growled and wrote another note.
I can't get drunk and I don't like beer
'That's the most disgusting thing anyone has ever said to me.' I gasped, 'that's just sick, it's twisted, it's... you're... some kind of... of... bionic monster!'
He did not reply but began to walk away from the camp.
'Yoshimitsu!' I called after him, 'now where are you going?'
As usual, he completely ignored me and just kept on walking. I was beginning to understand that he answered only to himself. Still, I was a little bit worried because he may be an awesome martial artist, but he didn't know the Middle-Worlds other than the parts created for Tekken and Soul Calibur and the 'egregore parts' are relatively tame; more organised and predictable compared to the parts created by the deep subconscious.
'Yoshi don't go wondering off please, this place is dangerous.' I tried, being careful that it didn't sound like an order as clearly, orders don't even make it into Yoshi's ears never mind his brain.
He just raised his sword in the air as though sort of waving at me, but didn't actually turn round or change pace. He was soon out of sight and I was left to try and explain to a very angry Clandolin why I had allowed him to go off alone. All I could do was explain that no one allows Yoshi to do anything; in fact, no one really has a say at all where he's concerned.
Almost an hour had passed, Yoshi had not returned and neither had the kids. The kids I knew could handle themselves but I had no idea how Yoshimitsu would manage and, oh I hate to say this, I was getting a bit worried.
I opened another can and tried unsuccessfully not to think about all the various scenarios that could be playing out. I especially tried not to think about Jemma's reaction if I had to take Yoshimitsu back to Magpie Manor in little pieces. Although that wasn't the only reason I was worried, in spite of myself, I was actually growing quite fond of the guy. He was a far more interesting companion than Mouse (who incidentally drinks almost as much as I do, and he snores) and while I had never actually been sober long enough to notice him when I played it back in my college days, he was a character from Tekken too and that certainly went towards his cool rating.
The sun was slowly descending and with a weight lifting, I noticed Yoshi strolling back towards us with something in his arms. I put down my can and stood up to greet him.
'Well look who's decided to return!' I said sarcastically and deliberately hiding my relief.
He said nothing but as he got close to me he lifted into the air, using his sword as a propeller and as he flew over me, he dropped two dead rabbits and an extraordinarily large fish onto my head.
'Woah, gross man! What the f**k are you doing?' I snapped, so angry that if Yoshi didn't wear a mask, I'd have broken his nose.
Yoshi landed in front of our tent and laughing, he threw an origami dart at me. He then opened the tent door and crawled in, zipping it up behind him. Picking up the dart I noticed it had 'read me' written across the wings.
I opened it up to read the note.
Isn't it a good job one of us can be bothered to find food? Come and get me when you've cooked it.
'Yoshimitsu!' I called out at the tent door, 'I don't know the first thing about cooking.'
There was no response so I persevered.
'Yoshi seriously, I'm not kidding, I really don't know what to do with these. At least give me a hand.'
The zip came down a bit and a gloved hand popped out and gave me the 'v' sign before vanishing back inside.
'That's not what I meant! Oh come on Yoshi. Help me out here.'
There was a long pause and then the zip came down again. This time the hand dropped a note on the floor.
Please keep it down, I'm trying to rest.
'Clandolin...' I began gently, as I approached the elf.
'Don't even think about asking me for my help.' he snapped before I had even opened my mouth to continue, 'You totally deserved that!'
I turned to Mouse who just threw me a pen knife. I picked it up and waited for an explanation. None came so I continued to stare.
'What'cha gorping at?' he growled, almost in English, 'get skinnin' them rabbits.'
By the time the 3 shape-shifters returned to our camp I had successfully skinned and cooked both of the rabbits. Well, sort of successfully. I think I lost a lot of meat while skinning them as, well, entire limbs were cut away. I tried to remove the guts from one but it was terribly messy and I gave up half way through. The second I just boiled whole. Yes, I boiled them. I had tried to make a sort of barbecue thing, but the only things I could find to make the grate was a bunch of old twigs and well, you can imagine what happened right? So I borrowed a large pot from Clandolin, walked all the way to the river (seriously I did and it was 20 minutes away!) to get some water, then threw in the meat.
The fish? Well, in order to make the fire and obtain the pot I had to do some bargaining with Mouse and Clandolin and it cost me the fish. They had no trouble cooking it and had brought noodles to have with it. The fish was even large enough that they were able to plate some up for the youngsters.
'Geordie, are you okay?' Acacia gasped as soon as she returned to her human shape.
'Yeah, why wouldn't I be?'
'You're cooking! You've never cooked in your life. And...' her eyes flickered towards the skin that I'd just left on the grass and was already attracting the odd fly, 'you even skinned them??? How the...'
'Yoshi made him do it!' Clandolin sang out smugly.
Autumn had also returned to his simian shape and joined in the taunting.
'Yoshi got Geordie to do something that wasn't getting drunk or sleeping off the consequences? My god the man really is a legend!'
'Oh yeah, lets all pick on Geordie.' I huffed as I clambered to my feet.
I walked over to the tent and started shaking it.
'Hey, your dinner's ready.' I sang out sarcastically, 'come and get it while it's hot!' then as I walked back to the others I added under by breath 'hope you choke on a bone.'
We all sat around the fire and shared out our food. Everyone was hesitant about trying my lovely boiled rabbits.
'I've already eaten.' said Clandolin.
'I'm on a diet.' was Acacia's excuse.
'I'm giving vegetarianism a try.' Autumn lied
'Not bad, a bit tough but it'll do.' said Mouse who will eat just about anything.
'Augghhhhhh ahhuuuuuiiiiooooooghhhhhh.' was Yoshi's response who had tried a bit and then went rushing into the tent.
'So anyway.' Acacia began, as all heads turned from the tent, back to the group, 'Like I said, we found the villagers but we must act quickly if we're to save those that have already been taken and prevent anyone else getting hurt...'
'Did you find out much about the golemdrones? Behaviour, weaknesses, that sort of thing?' asked Clandolin as Yoshi reappeared wearing a different mask.
The new mask was not as skull-like as the two I had seen him wear before but had an almost bird-like appearance. I chose not to speculate as to why he decided to change it and no one else seemed keen to bring it up either.
'Well sort of.' Acacia began hesitantly, 'but none of it is good really. We know that they are very fast, very large and very strong. They spit a sort of gooey, muddy substance at their prey which, upon contact instantly solidifies. It doesn't kill them though. It is just porous and elastic enough to allow the poor captive to breath but that is it. They can't move. They can't even close their eyes if they were unlucky enough to have them open when they were hit...'
'So what? They're just left to die slowly?' I asked, taking a bite out of my boiled rabbit and wishing that I too had a mask I could change too.
'No, I think they're usually eaten before they die. Apparently they'll only eat live food.'
We talked a bit longer and got as much information as we could out of the youngsters. Acacia drew a map in the soil with a stick to show us the area that the golemdrones inhabit and then we all turned to Clandolin to find out what our strategy was going to be but he just shrugged.
'Any one fancy throwing some idea's my way?' he offered submissively.
'So, let me just clear this up.' I cut in, 'We need to free the statue people right?' everyone nodded and I took a sip form my can, 'but the golemdrones jealously protect them?' again nods, 'and we also need to kill them.' nods, 'and there are three, and they're fast, and they're likely to turn us to stone as soon as they look at us?'
'That's about it yes.' Clandolin sighed.
I turned to Yoshimitsu and clapped him on the back,
'Yoshi my lad, you'll have a plan right?' I tried.
To my amazement he nodded and stood up. We all looked at one another in utter astonishment as the ninja calmly reached into our tent and picked something up. He strolled back with the note book and pencil then sat back down and began to scribble the names of each Night Traveller.
'You can be irritatingly cryptic sometimes Yoshimitsu.' I snapped.
Yoshi ignored me as ever and carefully tore up the paper so there was a different name on each piece and I realised what he was doing. We all watched as Yoshi showed us on Acacia's map, what his plan was with our names on bits of paper to represent each of us. It wasn't easy and we kept getting frustrated with Yoshi when he couldn't explain things to us in English. Okay, so it's technically our fault for not knowing Japanese but really, none of us thought about wasting half our lives studying a language spoken by no one we knew at the time. Funny that.
Eventually, we all understood the plan and agreed to give it a go.
'I hope you know what you're doing Yoshi.' I said before we headed back to our tents. It was 7pm and we decided to strike in the night, at around 1 am. Dylan took first watch in his Shadow Wolf form, and I somehow managed to be excluded from the rota. I didn't mind though, it was happening a lot since the time I got drunk and slept through our camp being raided. I don't know specifically which time I am referring to though, there were several.
The woods were painfully silent and the darkness was suffocating. I crouched close to the ground with my crossbow in my hand and though I could not see him, I knew the exact location of my working partner who also waited, perfectly still, perfectly hidden near by, only he got the tree.
I could not see what was happening ahead. The only thing I knew was the precise moment I was expected to strike. I also knew that timing was crucial; if I messed up, at best they'd go sailing past us and we'd have to do the entire set up again, at worse, someone, Yoshi, Acacia or myself would lose their life. So no pressure then!
The plan was further complicated by the fact that once Autumn and Acacia, began to lure the golemdrones towards us we had no idea how many would follow. We were almost sure at least one would wait behind to protect the preserved villagers, especially as the magpies, using the home shells, would begin by removing one or two of the captives and sending them to the Manor. But that meant that there could be two following Acacia as she lures them towards Yoshimitsu and me.
There was suddenly an ear-piercing screech followed by the thumps of giant feet. The twins had been spotted. I could hear the slapping of mud against the ground and knew the golemdrones were shooting that strange preservation substance from their mouths. I just hoped the twins were okay. Yoshimitsu, from his vantage point, would have been taking in the whole scene. I knew this for sure, as he was open enough to tell me that he had exceptionally good night vision.
Then the cue I was waiting for came as Acacia, in her bird form, flew right over the top of me. She called out 'chi-ku, chi-ku' twice which meant two of the monsters were approaching. That was unfortunate but not a total disaster as we had a plan B for just such an eventuality. I waited as the heavy footfall came closer and closer at great speed.
There was a sudden crash beside me. Something heavy had fallen with a thud. Something was wrong I just knew it.
'Yoshi,' I whispered, potentially blowing our cover.
There was no reply.
'Yoshi... are you still there?
The golemdrones were almost on-top of us. I listened to my gut and, leaving my post, I rushed to Yoshimitsu's tree. On the ground I could see the outline of Yoshi's distinctive armour as it was picked out by the tiny amount of moon light that made it through the trees. I ran quickly toward him.
Acacia had taken human shape again to taunt the Golemdrones. I knew she should be okay, as Yoshi had suggested the twins carry the home shells so that if they were hit, the pressure would activate the shell, sending them safely home to the manor. Still, it wasn't fail safe and by leaving my position I was leaving her vulnerable.
I rolled Yoshi over and his visor was thick with blood and cracked in several places. He was clearly unconscious, or dead. His awesome sword lay at his side in two pieces. I had no idea what had happened. There had been no struggle, no sound, nothing.
The first golemdrone had passed the point that I was supposed to ambush from, and narrowly missed us as it rushed past. The second was right on target to stand on us so I tried to roll Yoshi out of the way. My movement caught it's attention and the one that had passed us also turned back on it's self and headed our way.
I had only one option and no time to think about it. The old feeling came back to me in an instant; the feeling that seems to reach out of my stomach like a long arm grasping reality and causing it to come crashing to a halt. The entire world suddenly bounced out of time and space.
My body immediately began closing in around me, squeezing the life from me cell by cell. I looked up to see the golemdrone frozen, motionless above me and so I quickly shot it and the other in the throat, head and heart with my crossbow. At least they had been taken care of and I could always shoot the third before I returned time to its rightful status.
After picking up the broken parts of his sword, I knelt down at Yoshimitsu's side and scooped up his limp body so that he was over my knee.
'Come on Yoshi, don't be dead. I'm sacrificing several months of my life to do this for you.' I said as I tapped the homing shell and returned us both to Magpie Manor.