Excerpt: The Kidnapped Mousling
By Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
This Jiao Tu’s Endeavour Ep 1: The Kidnapped Mousling excerpt is shared with the permission of the author.
The Kidnapped Mousling Synopsis
On a multigenerational colony ship five hundred years off course, a lagomorph warrior must survive using only his wits and his sword.
Jiao Tu has been hired to rescue a young kidnapped mousling. A tip leads him to the Below, home to the engines that keep the world in motion. His mission has hardly begun when an encounter with a monstrous being plunges him into the midst of a struggle not only for control of the Below but for the world itself.
Teamed with an untested ratling warrior and the ratling leader of a gang of thugs, Jiao Tu must stop the monster and save the mousling—and the world—before it is too late.
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Jiao Tu, the wandering warrior was originally hired to find to rescue a kidnapped mousling.
Mistress Zhu has vital information, but will only tell him if he performs a dangerous task for her.
Just as he sets out with her son Zhu Song, they are joined by Chooha, a gang leader Jiao Tu injured in a recent fight…
Jiao Tu had positioned himself between Zhu Song and the newcomer on instinct. The fingers of his right paw twitched, but he willed himself not to touch the hilt of his sword.
“What are you doing here?” Zhu Song demanded before Jiao Tu could counsel him not to speak.
The gang leader smiled his yellow-toothed smile and nodded his head at the young lieutenant. The mockery in his eyes belied any respect the gesture might have conveyed.
“Mistress Zhu suspected that you might find your way into some…less than savory places on your quest. So the Great Lady asked that I might accompany you. Just in case.”
Zhu Song opened his mouth to say something further, but Jiao Tu squeezed his wrist. Whether he understood the signal or was simply surprised into silence, the effect was the same. The lagomorph nodded at Chooha.
“A most thoughtful decision on her part. And generous on yours.”
The gang leader chuckled, the sound closer to a cackle. “Generous, nothing. She’s paying me quite handsomely to play nursemaid to the two of you.”
Jiao Tu nodded. That at least seemed in keeping with Chooha’s character. He glanced down at the ratling’s bandaged paw. He had no reason to doubt that Mistress Zhu had sent him. But the gang leader also saw something to his own advantage in the situation, beyond any creds that she had paid him. Perhaps he was looking for an opportunity to revenge himself upon Jiao Tu.
Or perhaps Mistress Zhu had given him more specific instructions, as a kind of insurance against anything happening to her son.
Chooha saw him looking at his paw and smirked. “No hard feelings, bunny.”
Jiao Tu nodded in acknowledgment of the ratling’s words, but his eyes were on him the whole time.
An emotion hit the lagomorph in the gut, the certainty that Chooha intended him serious harm. Kill him first.
He swallowed hard. Though he was suspicious of the gang leader, that was not his thought, not his emotion. A puzzled frown came on Chooha’s face.
“Not going to pass out on us, are you bunny?”
Jiao Tu shook his head, trying to shake off the peculiar sensation at the same time. “If you have been ordered to accompany us, then come.” They set out for the disused passageway, the lagomorph walking so that he could keep an eye on either ratling just by shifting his gaze.
He was too tired. That was it, his subconscious intruding on his waking reality. He would need to rest soon. There was no way around it. It was well that he had Zhu Song to watch his back. They could finish scouting out the passage, and then he would suggest a period of sleep.
A few more turns, and they reached the start of the corridor indicated on the map. Jiao Tu frowned. The passageway was even more poorly lit than the rest of the Below, and the entrance was wide enough to admit only one individual at a time.
“In here?” Chooha smiled. “If you’re trying to waylay me for my creds, you should know that Mistress Zhu didn’t pay me that well.”
Zhu Song covered a scowl by studying the printout. “This says that it opens out further along.”
They entered the passageway, Jiao Tu first, then Chooha, and Zhu Song last. The lagomorph did not like the thought of the gang leader behind him, but it was better than any other option. At one point the corridor narrowed so far that they had to turn their bodies sideways to go on. Jiao Tu held his scabbard tight against his leg so that it did not bump against the walls. Black Fang muttered in his mind all while he touched it, though he could make out no words.
At last the passageway opened out to a wider chamber as Zhu Song had promised. Jiao Tu released his scabbard, and the muttering receded to a small pain in the back of his head. It was hard to make out any details of the chamber until Zhu Song produced a pair of small tubes from his belt and shook them until they emitted a wan green light. They looked around.
Jiao Tu blinked hard. He was not quite sure what he was seeing. The walls of the chamber seemed…blurry. As if they were not really there. Or were perhaps vibrating as fast as the wings of an insect in flight. He reached out to touch the wall, some part of him expecting his paw to go through it.
It did not, but to his surprise the wall was worn like an ancient rock. And it seemed to…vibrate as he touched it. Not with the usual hum of the turning of the world, but like the vibration of a sword having struck something solid.
“Are you alright, bunny? You look like you just drank a mug of locoweed tea.”
He was not sure he was all right, but he had no way yet to articulate his unease, and he did not want to listen to more of Chooha’s mocking. There was something wrong in this place, but he had no idea what. He sniffed the air. There was no trace of the mist monster’s unique scent, but there was—
“Back! Back the way we came!” he hissed. But it was too late.
A voice boomed from the other end of the chamber. “Who goes there?”
Both Chooha and Zhu Song looked at Jiao Tu. He shook his head and motioned them to head back down the narrow passageway, but it was too late to retreat. Two hooded figures with lights strapped to their belts appeared at the far end of the chamber. They wore black robes with hoods that covered their faces.
“Reclamations,” Chooha muttered, a note of disgust in his voice. In the dim light, it was unclear if there were more behind them.
An eagerness not his own stirred in Jiao Tu. He spread his paws, resisting the urge to draw his sword and slay the robed figures.
“We mean no harm, gentlemen. To you or your faction. We are simply surveying this area due to recent reports of…unusual activity.”
The foremost figure looked the three of them up and down, clearly unimpressed. “This is territory of Reclamations. Begone with you.”
“That’s a lie!” Zhu Song said before the lagomorph could do anything to stop him. “The Accords are clear that this whole deck is open and neutral land.”
His words brought deeper scrutiny to the young ratling. “Wiser heads than yours have thought otherwise, pup. You can leave the way you came, or we can send you home to your mother with bloodstains on those pretty white clothes of yours.”
Jiao Tu made sure that his body was between Zhu Song and the Reclamations leader. “Let us not do anything we will regret next cycle.”
“No, bunny.” Chooha smiled and drew his length of steel from his belt. “I want to do something that they will regret.”
Seeing the gang leader draw his weapon, the black-robed figures drew theirs. Each had a pair of long, curved knives. Even in the dim light, the lagomorph could see the keenness to the blades. Once battle began, there would be death. The only issue in doubt was whose.
Black Fang almost vibrated with anticipation at his hip. Unless that was his own bloodlust. It bore down upon him like a physical blade. His only remaining choice was to accept it or try to sidestep.
“We will leave. There is no—”
The figure in black that had not spoken let out a cry and rushed forward, knives flashing. Chooha laughed and swung his length of steel at the attacker. Sparks flared where the blades met steel. The Reclamations guard who had been speaking raised his knives to assist his companion.
“Stay behind me, Zhu Song.”
Jiao Tu drew his sword. The blue streaks of light along the surface of Black Fang shone with a greater intensity in the dark chamber. Or perhaps the same something that made the voice stronger in the lagomorph’s head also made them brighter. Whatever the cause, the appearance of the sword caused the Reclamations guards to pause their attack.
“That should not be in the paws of an infidel. Hand it over. Now.”
Jiao Tu blinked. What did the guard mean? The black-robed figure let out a whistle. Three more Reclamations guards stepped into the chamber.
What was so special about this room?
“Fall back,” the lagomorph called out to his companions. “There is no need to shed blood.”
Chooha snorted. “Fall back? We can take them.” To prove his point, he gave his first attacker a rap across the back of his wrists, causing him to drop one of his knives.
“This is not what we are here for. Zhu Song and I are leaving.”
“Not with that!” The leader of the Reclamations guard ran at Jiao Tu with a shout.
Black Fang laughed in the lagomorph’s mind as blade met blade. She comes. She comes! Let blood flow that she might increase and grow!
Jiao Tu shivered. He had never understood the sword so clearly. But who was “she”? And then the scent hit him. A scent like rotting meat.
A cloud glowing pale blue swirled out of the passageway from which the Reclamations guards had emerged.
The mist monster…