Kenji swallowed water as he fought to bring himself upright. His feet touched the shallow river bottom and he finally stood in the chest deep water. Coughing up fluid, he snapped to his senses. The giant fish was still ramming the boat, pushing it faster than even Chet Fai had propelled it. The sloop slammed into the river bank sending everyone, include the giant Xjian woman, flying ashore. Shinoto crashed hard onto the sandy bank next to her brother, followed by Waru.
Kenji pushed against the force of the current and the weight of the water itself as he attempted to run along the bottom, aiding himself with his arms.
The fish turned about, sensing him again.
He froze helpless as the giant carp lined him up, its mouth opening wide. It paused as if relishing the moment, its crimson eyes penetrating him with fear. Shouts came from the shore, but he dare not take his eyes off the creature. It then jetted towards him like an arrow, flicking its massive tail. Kenji trusted his palms towards it reflexively, attempting to shield himself from the attack. It got within five feet and a spear landed upon its back, piercing it through. Kenji looked ashore to see Waru wrestling with a rope tied to the end of the spear.
“Move, lad!” he shouted. “Run ashore now!”
Kenji wasted no time, pushing as fast as he could through the water and away from the giant fish. It swam and nipped at him, its red eyes blaring. The water turned inky black as something oozed from out of its skin. The bright orange scales turned blood red and its white flesh became a sickly grey.
“Run!” Kenji shouted as he finally reached the shore. “It’s the demon!”
The rope grew slack in Waru’s hands as the fish followed Kenji towards the shore. He barely got out of the water before it crashed onto the sand behind him. The fish opened its mouth, and two more sets of red eyes peered from within the carp’s throat. Waru pulled on the rope and the spear tore easily out of the now decayed flesh. The smell was horrible, like a fish market in the heat of summer.
Something black and spiderlike scuttled out of the fish’s mouth. The skulldemon, now the size of small pig hissed and sprang towards him.
“Kenji!” Shinoto shouted and he turned just in time to catch one of the oars as she tossed it to him. He braced the oar lengthwise across the demon’s open jaws as it slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. The sound of snapping wood was loud in his ears as the spider demon bit straight through the oar, one of its fangs grazing his shoulder.
Kenji cried out as a pain like fire spread from the wound and travelled down his arm. Not good…
“Fight me, demon!” Waru shouted as he jabbed the beast several times with his spear. The monster finally paid him heed and leap from Kenji to the quick footed old man. Waru assumed a martial stance as he faced off against the hissing beast.
Kenji struggled to his feet, grabbing half of the oar. He plunged the splintered end into its huge furry abdomen from behind. Despite the force behind it, the wood barely broke its thick hide. Kenji continued to stab at it, releasing a cry of desperation.
“Out of the way!” Chet Fai shouted.
The ten year old wielded the other oar in his hands, spinning it above his head. It was one of the martial forms, Kenji had seen him practicing earlier, applicable to both staff and spear. Releasing a Qi-charged yell, he struck the beast across its skull-like head and it few backwards perhaps ten feet.
By the heavens…
Kenji marveled at how much strength and power could come from so small a frame—the power of a blue tiered practitioner now rebirthed in child form. Chet Fai continued to strike the demon, slapping it too and fro. It flipped into its back and with a sickly sound, ejected a stream of white film from the tip of its abdomen. It expanded like a mist as it engulfed Chet Fai and the boy screamed.
“Get it off me!” he cried. “Get it off!”
He fell to the ground, the oar falling with him. He rolled and the sticky mist seemed to only grow thicker and heavier the more he moved. The spider flipped back onto its feet and scuttled towards the now prone Chet Fai.
Kenji dashed forward, blocking the beast’s path and swung at it with his half-an-oar like a club. He managed to hit its stony head and it immediately spun towards him, ignoring Chet Fai. It reared up on its back legs, about to pounce on him again, but then the demon squealed as a spear tip came thrusting through its abdomen from behind.
“Kill it, Kenji!” Waru shouted, lifting the beast of the ground, its spiked legs stabbing air. “Kill it now!”
Kenji battered the monster with all his strength, yelling with a battle cry. Even without being tiered, he was as strong as an Ox. With each recurring hit, the beast reeled and finally began to spill dark blood.
Die you fiend!
The demon tried to scurry backwards and when it couldn’t find purchase with its legs, it lifted its abdomen and shot a stream of silky mist behind itself, covering Waru.
Waru fought to keep hold of the spear as he beast gained momentary control, yanking it out of his grasp. It spun about with it still lodged inside of it and then in an act like vengeance, it leapt atop of Waru.
The old man cried out as the beast sunk its jaws deep into his left thigh. A tearing sound filled the air, accompanied by Waru’s wild screams as it tore free a chunk of flesh, blood soaking the sand like spilled wine.
“Waru!” Kenji battered the monster from behind, but it seemed to have gone into some kind of bloodlust, tearing into Waru’s stomach in a frenzy. “No!”
“Kenji, get back!” Shinoto shouted from behind him.
He turned to see the small girl poised a few feet away, the Soul Mastery tome in one hand, her other hand held aloft, palm first. She looked back and forth between the book and the monster, her eyes closing every now and then in concentration.
She finally released a yell and a wave of blue energy emitted from her palm.
It struck the beast, sending it flying off of Waru.
“Keep going, Shinoto!” Kenji yelled to her, rushing to aid Waru. “Do it again!”
She did so, yelling each time with the force of her Qi. The demon struggled to regain its footing, but before it could leap forward Shinoto blasted it again, sending it reeling towards the forest. Finally it stopped trying to come towards them altogether and ran the opposite way. It scurried into the forest, disappearing with the spear still stuck through its back.
Kenji fell to his knees as he reached Waru. The old man coughed blood, trembling as he looked down at his ravaged leg and abdomen. The sight was enough to make his flesh crawl.
“Well…this don’t look good…does it, lad?”
Shinoto quickly freed her brother from the webbing before rushing to the old man’s side. “Waru…!”
“Save your strength,” Kenji said, tearing off a part of his robe to wrap the old man’s wounds. “We’ll get you to the village. They’ll heal you there.”
In truth he had no idea what they could do for him, or even how far away the village lay ahead. But he had to give him hope. Even now his blood seeped deep into the wet sand. Shinoto rushed to help him, tearing the cloth into strips. “Let me do this. You two get the boat afloat.”
Kenji nodded and looked to Chet Fai. When he saw the look in his eyes, Kenji paused. Chet Fai didn’t say anything, merely stared at him with a deeply furrower brow.
“What?” Kenji said.
The boy smirked. “Nothing.”
Whatever this was, he didn’t have time for it.
“Get the sloop in the water,” Kenji said, scooping up what was left of the oar. “We need to reach Amatsu quickly.”