Thursday, 11 June 2009

Zokusho: Crystal Blade. Chapter 1

I know, I know, I should try and update more often. As in, according to one of them schedule things. But this little thing called a full-time job keeps getting in the way. Well, not the job itself, more the two hour train journey each way. I really need to get a moped. Anyhoo, this is an old project of mine called Zokusho: Crystal Blade, set in the Zokusho Universe, which you can find easily by going to or checking the fantasy section of the Legends Of Satura library.

Mike, Sheridan and the blind swordsmith were walking along a road in the great city of Interplanes. They had all grown up in the little village, and so everything seemed new and exciting. At least, it did to the younger two; the Old Man just thought it was noisy.
“Tell those people to keep the noise down!” He shouted to his daughter.
“I can’t father. This is the big city we’ve heard so much about. It’s supposed to be noisy.” She twirled as she spoke, looking at all of the skyscrapers. Her plain brown dress twirled with her.
“Well I don’t like it!” her father harrumphed to himself, wildly whacking with his walking stick.
“We should go to that Nebull woman’s house.” Mike suddenly said. He had been quiet ever since they had left Edgar’s place.
“What? Why would we want to go back there?” Sheridan asked in mild surprise.
“We need to find that sword.”
“Why should we have to do anything about it? It’s not our problem any more.” The Old Man continued his harrumphing.
“You created that sword and that makes you responsible for it.”
“I’ve never been responsible for any of my swords before. Why should I be responsible for this one?” He replied, stamping his stick on the ground.
“We’re going to go get that sword. Now let’s go.” Mike strode off purposefully. He had no idea where they were, or where Nebull’s house was, but luck seemed to be on his side since he found it when he turned the very next corner. His luck wasn’t that good though.
“Okay people, keep moving. Nothing to see here.” A policeman informed them. Mike and Sheridan stood dumbfounded at the sight before them, but the Old Man just walked straight up to the policeman.
“When someone says there’s nothing to see, he generally means that there is stuff to see but he just doesn’t want you to see it. So, what happened?” The policeman was only slightly intimidated by his stare, since it was fully 90 degrees in the wrong direction.
“I don’t know; I just redirect traffic. The largest crime in Interplanes history and I’m here, not 50 feet away, telling people nothing happened.”
“So what did?” the Swordsmith said, spinning round to the correct direction.
“Some bigwig aristocrat went missing yesterday. All her staff vanished along with her. No witnesses nothing. That’s bad enough, but for someone as rich as Madame Nebull to go missing it didn’t take long for the vultures to arrive. Some gang thugs broke in and started looting the place. Looks like they got into a fight with some other thugs and by the time we got here the entire building was a smoking ruin.”
“That’s some pretty impressive deduction for a traffic cop.”
“I overheard a detective talking. But anyway, you guys should keep walking.”
“Yeah sure. Come on young’uns, we gotta go.” The Old Man whacked his daughter and her companion around the heads with his walking stick, and they turned around and left.
“Why did you do that father?”
“Because you two seem to have forgotten one important fact. We’re jobless and homeless. I’m all for finding the sword, but I’m even more for finding a warm bed.”
“Edgar said he would sort it out for us.” Mike said, just as his new mobile phone began ringing.
“What’s that horrible racket?”
“That’s this phone thingy. Let’s see, he said I just needed to flick it up to answer it.” Mike did as he said, and pressed the phone to his ear. Luckily it was the right way up.
“Hello, is that a Mr Mike?” A voice said.
“Yes this is Mike. Who are you?”
“My name is Mr Harvard Dent. Edgar rang me and said that you three would need some help getting settled in to your new lives. I’ve arranged an apartment for you. Meet me in ten minutes.”
“Okay, but where should we meet?” Mike asked.
“That depends. Where are you now?”
“Outside Nebull’s house.”
“Just wait there then.” Mr Dent hung up. His office was on the far side of Interplanes, but he had his own jumping crystal so he didn’t need to hurry. He left his office and subsequently the building shortly afterwards. He worked in the Interplanes main government building, mostly stamping approval stamps on forms. He had already submitted the paperwork for the change of ownership of the apartment, and since it was he who had to stamp approval it was processed in record time. He took his jumping crystal out of his pocket.
“Nebull residence.” He said, and promptly vanished.

The trio were slightly bewildered when he showed up out of thin air. He held out his hand for Mike to shake, but Mike obviously hadn’t grown up with this custom.
“Hello. As I have said, my name is Mr Harvard Dent and I have found you three a nice little apartment.”
“That was fast.” Mike said, his mouth still agape from the sudden appearance.
“Oh don’t mention it. In Interplanes, everything happens fast. You’ll get used to it. Now, if you would like to follow me.” He turned smartly on his heel and began walking briskly away. Everything about Dent seemed carefully coordinated to make him appear smart. His black suit was carefully ironed, his hat was of the variety favoured by superheroes hiding their identities and the same could be said for his glasses. Sheridan was willing to bet anything that his hair was immaculately combed underneath the hat. They followed the man to their new home.
The building was old and run down, as if it had been built before the city, and Interplanes had merely sprung up around it. The apartment itself wasn’t too bad though. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a bathroom but nothing else. Dent handed Mike the keys.
“This will be your home. The paperwork has been taken care of, and you can move in immediately.” He said, and smartly left. Mike just looked around the apartment.
“Only two bedrooms?”
“You’ll be sleeping on the sofa young’un.” The Old Man whacked him with his stick again. “And don’t you dare forget that you still need to find jobs. Now get out there and go find some.” Mike and Sheridan scrambled out of the door, avoiding more whacks as they went. They wandered around Interplanes for a while. Sheridan asked at every place they passed, but didn’t get much luck. That is, until she found a small diner on the corner of their block. They needed a new waitress, since the old one had died of old age. The owner, Simon, was all too happy to hire a young girl since he rationalised that she wouldn’t die of old age anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the old man was getting used to his new surroundings. He rested his walking stick against the wall and turned the radio on. He listened for a while, but got bored with the terrible rap music that these young’uns insisted on playing. He was therefore only mildly irritated when Mike and Sheridan returned.
“You get jobs?” He barked at them.
“I did, but Mike just wasted our money.”
The Old Man swung his stick with such speed Mike didn’t realise he had been whacked until fully five minutes later. In the meantime he was forced to explain his actions.
“All I did was take out an advert in the local paper.”
“And what was that advert about?” Sheridan asked with her arms crossed.
“It was about hiring myself out as a private investigator.” He said, to which he received another whack. Sheridan stormed off to her new room. Everybody was surprised when Mike’s mobile began ringing. Mike answered it excitedly, but was disappointed to hear Dent’s voice.
“I’ve just read your ad in the evening paper. You should have mentioned you were going to do it. You do realise you need a licence right?”
“I’ll take that as a no. Luckily for you I noticed then. I’ve put the papers through for your new licence, and they should be approved any second now,” Dent said as he slammed the stamp down on the appropriate paperwork “There you go. You are now a fully licensed private eye. But I only do this on own condition.”
“Which is?”
“Well, every private eye needs to have a registered partner so I’ve arranged one for you. She’s my cousin and she’s an ex-policewoman so she’ll have all the skills you’ll need. She’s on her way to yours. Meet her outside and she’ll explain the rest.” Dent said as he hung up.
His cousin was busy running to Mike’s apartment building. Just as her cousin had said on the phone, he was waiting. He wasn’t hard to notice. Not many people were wearing a full set of armour, including helmet and cloak. If she had ever seen the Lord of the Rings she would have described the armour as being exactly like that of the Riders of Rohan, but since she hadn’t she wouldn’t. Instead she described it as a sore thumb. She ran up to him anyway.
“Hi, are you Mike?” She asked panting. Mike’s eyes immediately rested on her heaving breasts.
“Uh, yes. I am. I’m Mike. Are those fox-ears?” he asked when he finally regained control of his eyeballs.
“Yeah. My mum was an Interplanes native, and I got these from her. They make it really hard to get sunglasses I can tell you.” She said as she stretched her back. Mike found his eyes wandering again. This girl seemed far too young to be an ex-policewoman. He mentioned this thought.
“I’m seventeen. They let me in because I’m an empath, but I failed the detective’s exam too often so I left again.”
“Empath?” Mike asked, his voice floundering with the unfamiliar word, his mind floundering with the unfamiliar woman.
“Yeah. I’m not very skilled though. I can only tell when someone’s lying to me. Are you looking at my breasts?”
“What? No! Of course not. I was just admiring your, uh, t-shirt.”
“See I can tell that you’re lying. Not that I need to be an empath to do that. I can also tell when people are thinking about naughty things too.” She winked at him as she said this, and his brain nearly switched off. He regained control of both his brain and eyes, but in doing so lost control of his mouth, which hung open. He took control of it, but his eyes went back to their own business. It didn’t help that this girl was wearing nothing but a white t-shirt, some biker shorts and trainers.
“Oh stop ogling already, I’m just teasing you. Now, what’s our first assignment boss?”
The sudden shock of realising that this attractive girl had called him boss met with the horror of realising they didn’t have any assignments, and Mike nearly fainted when his phone rang again. Instead he settled for jumping out of his skin.
“Hello?” He asked, turning away from the girl behind him.
“Is this Raiga detective services?” A stuffy voice asked.
“Yes it is. May I ask who’s calling?”
“A client. I have a job for you. Come to 1043 Mustrum Boulevard. I’ll explain there.” Stuffy voice said and promptly hung up.
“I really don’t think I put enough thought into this.”
“Why not?”
“I have no idea where 1043 Mustrum Boulevard is.”
“Don’t worry. I grew up in this city and I know it like the back of my hand.”
“Good, because that’s where our first client wants us to meet.”
“Okay, but first we need to get you some new threads.”
“Why? This is the official guard uniform of my country.”
“And we’re not in your country; we’re in Interplanes so you need to sharpen up. Come on, I’ll buy you a new outfit.” The girl said just as she began jogging back in the direction she had come from. Mike had no choice but to follow her.
“Wait up! I haven’t even gotten to know your name yet!”
“It’s Rachel. Rachel Dent.” She called back.

About half an hour later they emerged from a second hand shop. Mike was wearing a trench coat with matching hat and suit, while Rachel had indulged herself and bought a similar hat. She placed it on her head with a twirl and walked to the edge of the pavement.
“I think we had better get going. Our client’s probably pissed.” She said.
“A lady shouldn’t speak like that. Heck, even men shouldn’t speak like that.” Mike said as he held the door open for her. She got in, wondering who in this world used the word Heck in daily conversation. They finally reached 1043 Mustrum Boulevard. Mike seemed slightly put off by the fact that it was another large mansion, but Rachel just hopped out of the taxi and told the driver to wait. Mike followed her up the driveway to the ornate front gate. Rachel pressed the button, and they swung open. Rachel didn’t bat an eyelid when they passed the fountain, but Mike just stared. His mind boggled at the thought that anybody could afford to waste so much money on such an ugly thing. He shut his mouth when they reached the front door.
“You certainly took your time.” The owner harrumphed at them from his front door. Mike relaxed; he knew how to deal with this kind of person. The man had wispy grey hair, with a large grey moustache above his upper lip. The suit was obviously several hundred times the price of the one Mike was wearing. Rachel seemed underdressed for the occasion.
“Sorry about that but we got a little delayed in traffic.” Rachel said, holding her hand out to shake.
“And why’s that my problem?”
“I was just trying to explain is all.”
“Well don’t. You there, I hope you’re the messenger for Raiga detective services.” The man put extra spittle into this particular harrumph. Mike just grinned.
“Yes sir. I’m to take notes on the case. Raiga’s training me sir.”
“Good man. It’s important to learn skills at a young age.”
“Yes sir. So, what do you wish us to investigate?”
“I want this Raiga person to find my dispelling staff. It’s been in my family for generations and I’ve lost it.”
“Do you have any idea where it may be?” Rachel asked, taking out a notepad and pen.
“If I knew that I wouldn’t have hired you. I might still be better off without you.” Extra harrumphing with a side of spittle.
“Where was the last place you remember using it?” Mike jumped in.
“I was at Madame Nebull’s dinner party last week and I don’t remember having it since. I tried talking to the police but they keep saying they haven’t seen it.”
“Do you have a photo of it?” Mike asked.
“Of course I do! What do you think I am stupid? I keep a photo of everything I own, for insurance purposes. Here.” He held out a Polaroid of a long silver staff with an ornate carving of a dragon running up its length. Mike reassured the man that they would find it, and then said their goodbyes. Walking back to the taxi, Rachel rounded on Mike.
“So who’s this Raiga person then?”
“Nobody. It’s just the name of my home, Terra Raiga. I can’t help it if he got the wrong idea.”
“Right. Anyway I don’t think we can find this staff.”
“Why not?”
“Because it was my job to catalogue all of the evidence from that place before I quit. It wasn’t there. In fact, there weren’t any dispelling items, which struck me as strange for someone so rich, but I didn’t make anything of it.”
“What are these dispelling weapons?”
“You really don’t know anything do you? Dispelling weapons are the only way to get rid of fiends. I’m surprised you don’t know.” Rachel said as she climbed into the taxi.
“Fiend? I’ve heard that word before.” Mike started to stroke his chin as he tried to remember.
“Where to this time?” the driver interrupted.
“Nebull’s old place.” Rachel said, jogging Mike’s memory.
“That’s it! That Edgar guy said that Madame Nebull was a fiend! That’s where I’ve heard it!”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Yeah! That’s probably why the police haven’t found it. She must’ve thrown it out. She wouldn’t want any anti-fiend weapons in her home.”
“Driver, take us to the dumpster behind the Nebull residence.” Rachel suddenly declared.

It didn’t take them long to get there. But when they got out of the taxi, the driver drove off with Mike’s armour in the boot. Mike was very frustrated by this, and said so. Rachel ignored his protests and jumped in the dumpster. As she was rummaging, a policeman turned the corner into the alleyway. He had short dark hair, and was only a little bit on the pudgy side. Mike recognised him as the policeman from earlier that day.
“Hey!” The policeman called out “What are you doing back here?” he jogged up to Mike.
“I’m a private investigator following up a case.” Mike replied, maintaining his composure.
“Oh yeah? Where’s your licence?”
“Right here officer.” Rachel called out from inside the dumpster. She jumped out, clutching both the staff and Mike’s licence.
“Rachel? What are you doing here?” The policeman asked, only briefly glancing at the licence she was holding.
“I quit remember? I’m a private eye now.”
“You know this guy?” Mike asked her, gesturing towards the cop.
“Yeah. This is Blake. He used to be my partner until I quit. Ain’t that right?”
“Yeah. So you gave up the glamorous lifestyle of a cop to become a two-bit PI? Can’t say I blame you.” Officer Blake glanced around the alleyway, his eyes finally coming to rest on the staff Rachel was clutching. Before he could ask though, Rachel headed him off.
“So how’s the investigation coming along?”
“Not well. I overheard a detective saying that they had a witness, but not a very reliable one. It’s the bum from last week, and he said that he saw a member of the Dragon Cult leaving the middle shortly before the police arrived.”
“The Dragon Cult? What would they want with the stuff in here?”
“Who are these Dragon Cult people?” Mike asked, but nobody seemed to be listening.
“I’ve gotta go, or the Captain will chew my head off again. Good luck with the new career.” Officer Blake called as he left. Mike repeated his question, and this time Rachel answered.

The Dragon Cult in question is a group of power hungry individuals who at that very moment were having a meeting. They were standing in a darkened room, all wearing black robes with golden dragons decorating them. They were wearing masks in order to prevent anybody from seeing each others faces. This of course lessoned the chances of being betrayed to the cops, but it had its own inconveniences. Arranging secret meetings for one.
And so this meeting was held in utmost importance. They had retrieved, at great risk, several very powerful artefacts from Madame Nebull’s residence and were discussing them.
It wasn’t a particularly great haul.
Most of the items they had collected had been mere knock-offs, created to give the impression that the owner was richer than she actually was. Within all of this though, they did find three items of particular value. One was simply a sword which, despite however much magic is poured into them, are a dime a dozen. It would be used well though. The second was a coat with deep pockets. Not the rarest of items, but it was rare enough, and was perfect for their smuggling operations.
But it was the last item they were interested in most. Although not magical in the least, it was probably worth most to them. It was a copy of Nebull’s computer hard drive, and it had information. It mentioned something called the Crystal Blade, and this sword looked like the sword to conquer all swords.
Unfortunately, nobody had the slightest idea where it was.

Mike pressed the button, and the gates swung open. When they reached the front door, the stuffy-voiced man greeted them happily. Rachel handed over the staff.
“Well done. The police were totally useless. Tell Mr Raiga that he has my thanks. Here, as payment.” The man handed Mike a large wad of cash and went back indoors. Mike and Rachel left, Mike happily counting the money, Rachel seemed uninterested.
“What’s wrong? Our first assignment went off without a hitch.”
“I’m just worried is all. The Dragon Cult is really dangerous.”
“Well, as long as we stay out of their business, I’m sure they’ll stay out of ours.” This seemed to cheer her up slightly, and she joined him in counting the money.

What they didn’t know was that their client had hurried back into his basement in such a hurry that he nearly forgot to put his robes and mask back on. His brothers in the Dragon Cult didn’t share his excitement, but he said he had found a wonderful private investigator who didn’t seem bright enough to check on whom actually owned items before retrieving them.
“I’m sure that with time and careful handling, we can get Mr Raiga to find the Crystal Blade for us.” He laughed a deep laugh, not once harrumphing while he did so.

In the tower block belonging to The Interplanes Paper, hot shot reporter Lya Lorne was finishing up her latest front page article. She was therefore quite surprised when her photographer James woke her up.
“Lya, the chief wants those documents proof read before we close for tonight.”
Lya pulled her forehead up from her keyboard. Her eyes grew wide when she realised that she had just deleted the entire front page of the morning edition.
Her scream could be heard from the very top of the building.

Mike and Rachel were too far away to hear this of course. They had been forced to walk because everybody was finishing work, and they couldn’t get a taxi for love nor money, although admittedly they had only tried the latter. They were having a lovely awkward silence when they came to a road. Nothing particularly strange, but they nearly had premature heart attacks when a silver-haired woman on a bike nearly ran them over. Once their heartbeats had steadied, they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.
Mike arrived at his apartment late, only to receive several whacks from the Old Man for missing dinner. Sheridan had been whacked into making a celebratory roast, and Mike had completely missed it. He did calm down slightly when Mike showed them the wad of cash he had been paid earlier.
After Sheridan and her father had gone to bed, Mike set up the sofa for himself. He removed his hat, which he had worn all throughout dinner and let his short, spiky black hair out. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror. His ears stuck straight up from the top of his head, and they had always marked him out as different. But today all that had changed. Today he had met someone just like him.
The Old man clutched his walking stick to him as he slept, mumbling something about having hidden the Blade in a place where nobody would find it.

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