Heaven Help Hiaku!

Suprising Transformation!
The Jewel in the Lotus

Luminous and impossible, the lotus bloomed from the slate floor. Closed, its green-white bud would have filled a carriage; opening, it filled the room, forcing the old man back into a corner. He chewed nervously on his walrus mustache as rank after rank of petals opened to lie flat, muttering incomprehensibly to himself.

The seventh rank hesitated, undulating, and the man's eyebrows drew together like two arctic creatures touching noses. He drew himself to his unimpressive full height and brandished his knobby walking stick. His long white beard and much-patched red clothes fluttered in a sudden wind as he barked out an arcane phrase, and the dozens of gimcrack necklaces on his breast clattered and chimed.

Slowly as a dancing girl's veils, the petals descended, revealing a head of glossy black hair, falling uncut around an exotic heart-shaped face with dramatic brows and full dark lips and over slender bare shoulders. The two foremost petals parted, the deepening V giving an increasingly indecent view of a body that perfectly combined opulent curves and athletic fitness. Though it hid nothing of consequence, the hair fell lush and thick past her hips, ends curling on sleek thighs.

The old man stared rapt, his Adam's apple bobbing erratically.

As the petals laid themselves on the carpet of their sisters, the girl's extravagant lashes fluttered and rose over huge amythestine eyes. Like one waking from sleep, she glanced bemusedly around the room, and then her gaze found the old man.

She sprang like a tigress, pinning the old man against the wall by his throat. In a soprano voice that would have been melodic under other circumstances, she snarled, "I wanna know three things! Why am I in your basement, why am I naked, and who--" she stared down with appalled confusion "--why in the First Saint's name do I have BREASTS?!"

The old man gurgled. "My dear young lady, I'm sure--"

Her hand tightened. "Don't call me that, Baldy! Just 'cause your spell made my chest swell up don't mean I'm a girl!"

The oldster's mouth gaped like a fish's, but no sound emerged. Eyes bulging, he pointed at the hand clamped on his windpipe.

The girl clearly thought it over, but when his face turned blue, she loosened her grip. "I asked questions. Answer 'em."

He gulped in air against future need. "There seems to have been a misGLK! That is, surely at your level of er maturity, you've had er womanly attributes for some GACK!"

"I told you, I'm not a girl!" she yelled.

"But er surely that was you I saw at the fountain with your children?"

"My what?"

"I assumed they were yours... you were wearing a dress and shawl and giving them sweets..."

"Agh! What kind of MORON mistakes a monk's vestments for a DRESS?! Where are you from, the moon?"

They both looked up as rattley laughter came from above. A man old as the one being strangled hung from the ceiling by bare hands and feet crooked behind him, stringy black queue and long mustaches hanging down. His jacket and trousers were once black as well, but showed as much wear as the other's, and fit unflatteringly over his scrawny limbs and potbelly. His eyes sparked red in the dim light of the lamps, more like gemstones than an animal's orbs. "Balgus, you've really done it this time, you old bumbler," he croaked out.

"If someone doesn't explain RIGHT NOW, I'm gonna clobber both of you!"

"If you could remove your hand from my throat, I believe I know what happened," Balgus said with strained dignity, and waited until she let go before continuing. "The task I assigned my magic was to deliver to this location the er lovely young woman--" he flattened against the wall at the look on her face "--I had seen near the fountain this afternoon. Since the er person I saw there was your esteemed self, you were transported hither, but I specified the delivery of a woman, and so--" sweat broke out on his bald head "--it shouldn't have happened! The spell should have failed! I don't know what went wrong!"

She blanched. "You mean I've really been turned into--" her hand fumbled across her thigh to the dark curls where it met its mate "--AIEEEEEEE!!!"

Balgus ran for the stairs, but she caught him on the first step, pinning his face to the splintery wood by twisting one arm behind his neck. "Serves you right to get someone who can defend himself instead of whatever poor housewife you were planning to kidnap and molest! Now put me back, and maybe I'll ask the magistrate to let you keep your heads!" She punctuated the demand by yanking his elbow higher.

"AUGH! I can't do anything if you dislocate my arm!"

"How about your legs, then?" She grasped his knee, pressing her thumb into the back until he yelped again.

"I WARNED YOU, you miserable old reprobates!" All three in the basement looked up to see an extremely round spirit of vengeance clad in an unflattering shade of pink descending upon them with celestial fury. "I told you, you'd not be turning my home into a den of lewdness and heresy!" the apparition screeched as it unleased a hurricane of twigs upon them. "Out! Out, and your doxy with you! OUT!"

The girl emitted a screech of her own as the twigs raked her unprotected skin and fled up the stairs. A swat across her rump sped her on her way, sending her stumbling into a wall full of shelved bric-a-brac, and she collapsed in a heap of perfect skin and broken porcelain.

A resounding thud and two distinct howls emerged from the basement, followed immediately by two old men who promptly tripped over the girl.

"OUT, I said!" The broom rained blows onto the human pile, the men getting much the worst until they recovered enough to scuttle away on all fours. The sharp twigs landed on her bare breast, and with another shriek she sprang to her feet and ran, heedless of the withered old bodies beneath her feet.

The door flew off its hinges as she kicked it without breaking stride and bounced in two pieces off the far wall of the dark, narrow alley. The girl skidded to a precarious arm-waving halt on the threshhold, toes mere barleycorns from the slimy muck. Just as she regained her balance, two bodies in blind panic cannoned into her and all three tumbled into the slime.

"And STAY out!" Lacking a door to slam, the broom-wielder stomped her foot for emphasis.

The girl flopped over onto her back and pushed herself up on her hands. Groaning, Balgus lifted his face from the stinking mud, and froze as though turned to stone. The girl traced the direction of his gaze, yelled, "PERVERT!", and brought her spraddled legs together, kicking the old man neatly alongside the head in the process.

"GO! I won't have you sullying my alley!"

"Pass us out our belongings, you demented harridan, and we'll be glad to see the last of you!" the black-clad oldster rasped from half-way up the wall.

"IF there's anything left after I take damages out, you can call for it at the magistrate's office!"

The girl gathered her feet under her and sprang upright in a single motion, unhampered by the poor footing, and surveyed the scene disgustedly. When the situation failed to become less disastrous, she heaved a pneumatic sigh and pointed at the man on the wall. "You, give me your clothes."

"What?! Why me? This is all Balgus's fault!"

She gestured at where Balgus lay twitching feebly in the mud. "Because I don't even want to TOUCH his, never mind wear them!" He hesitated, but quickly began skinning out of his garments when she cracked her knuckles meaningfully.

The pants were more than skin tight, and only calf-length, and the jacket popped a button when she tried to hard to fasten it, but she was at least technically decent, even if far from modest. Scowling at the borrowed clothes, she heaved another sigh (and popped another button). "Right. Get your buddy and let's go."

Looking even more malproportioned in only his loincloth, the black-mustached man scuttled down the wall and dragged Balgus upright, grimacing at the smears of loathsome mud this left on his skin. "Where are we going?"

"Shut up and come on."


The stairs terminated in a ledge large as the house they had so recently been thrown out of, but seeming small between the massive gates on one side and the dark plunging emptiness on the other. Balgus looked back at the precarious, wind-swept route they had just traversed, and shuddered. "Only religion could entice someone to live on this god-forsaken precipice."

"I used to think so, until I realized what an advantage keeping INSANE SORCERERS away is," the girl snapped.

"There's no need for personal attacks, my dear! These minor side-effects can happen to anyone!"

"I'll show you a personal attack if you don't stop calling me that!" She pivoted on one heel and stomped toward the gate.

The orange-robed guard's eyes stayed locked on the slice of cleavage bouncing beneath her damaged shirt, but unlike the townsmen who had suffered a similar limitation of vision, he had a distinctly sour expression. "Can we assist you?" he asked, plainly hoping he couldn't.

The girl bit down on her first response. "Please tell the Abbot that something has happened to Hiaku."

The monk almost dropped his glaive. "Hiaku? What happened to him?"

"Nice to know I'm so highly thought of," the girl muttered. to the monk's puzzled look, she said, "It's... hard to explain. Just tell the abbot, please."

"Hiaku? Is that your--" Balgus cringed before her glare and finished weakly, "sweetheart?"

"Hiaku is a MONK, you senile lunatic! Monks don't HAVE sweethearts!" She turned back to the guard, who was watching with one eyebrow crawling under his bangs. "The abbot? Please?"

"Of course!" He struck the haft of his weapon against a gong suspended from the rock, and a junior monk, no more than twelve or thirteen, appeared in the opening between the ajar gates. The guard whispered a few words to the youth, and he vanished again.

"Aren't you going to let us in?" demanded the almost naked oldster, hugging himself against a particularly frigid gust from the peaks above. "What happened to holy charity?"

"I'm sorry," the guard lied coldly. "No one is allowed within the walls at night without permission of the abbot or a senior brother."

Grumbling, the old man retreated to join his companion in huddling against the cliff face where it provided some shelter from the wind. Balgus's cane glowed red with heat, but from the way they shivered, not very efficaciously.

Despite her inadequate clothing, the girl was as uncaring of the wind as the robed monk, her tresses streaming out just as his did. Watching her standing there, he seemed about to ask something, but shook his head and stepped back to his post.

With a complete lack of fanfare, an ancient man in a monk's orange robes emerged from the gate. He was as wizened as the other two, and the hair and beard that streamed out farther than his own unimpressive height were white as clouds, but he moved with confidence and his eyes were clear as a young man's, or a young lion's.

The guard and the girl stepped forward simultaneously. "Master!"

The girl blushed and stepped back, but the guard rounded on her. "How dare you address the abbot so, you floozie?"

"FLOOZIE?! Watch your mouth, Tekkagu, or--" The guard recoiled, but the abbot interposed himself before the girl could leap for his throat.

"It's all right, Tekkagu. No need for formality at this hour." The abbot looked the girl over from crown to toe, and shook his head in disappointment. "You really must learn to control your temper... my dear."

Tekkagu's jaw dropped. "Master! You KNOW this, this WOMAN?"

The abbot patted his hand. "The Fourth Saint teaches us that no person is unworthy of compassion and instruction, Tekkagu. Not even such as her."

The girl's face turned an alarming shade of red and her hands clenched, but she bit down on any retort.

"Please, come in out of the wind and have some tea." His beckoning gesture included the two shivering old men. "And, Tekkagu. You did right to summon me." He led the way inside, leaving the guard puffed with pride and somewhat confused.


"Now," the abbot said as he poured the tea, "would someone care to explain what has happened? I am almost certain that when my student Hiaku left this morning in an entirely different shape. Not that your current shape is lacking in the slightest," he added.

Hiaku ground her teeth. "It's lacking at least one thing! And has a few I could do without!" Even in the loose robes she had been given, what she had gained was strikingly obvious, and kept drawing the gazes of the men flanking her.

"All creatures beneath Heaven have those attributes fitting to their nature and destiny," the abbot said placidly, and inhaled the vapors of his tea. "Ah, perfect." He sipped.

The two men kneeling beside Hiaku fidgeted, but neither said a word.

"And why can't I wear my own clothes?" She plucked at the undyed fabric draping her bosom.

"Theology was never your strength, but surely the difficulty of a woman monk should be obvious." The abbot held up a hand to cut off her complaint. "Regardless of how you began the day, a case that you are not a woman has very little to support it."

"Then make this lunatic change me back!" She glared at Balgus and scooted away from where his thigh pressed against hers.

"Before acting, understand the situation," the abbot chided. His eyes fixed on Balgus.

Balgus straightened his spine to the extent possible and smoothed down his borrowed robes. "The tale is simple and easily told, your holiness. I am Balgus of Noremuria, a travelling philosopher new come to your land. On the road, I fell in with this rogue--" he gestured across Hiaku, missing her breasts by rather less than the distance she leaned back "--who deceived me into casting a spell to deliver into his base clutches an innocent maiden he had taken a fancy to. Being less than sound of sight, alas, and unfamiliar with the local customs to boot, the 'maiden' he had spied was your unfortunate student."

Both Hiaku and the accused "rogue" opened their mouths, and then shut them as the abbot said calmly, "I see. More tea?" He refilled Balgus's cup. "And your account?" Those leonine eyes fastened on the "rogue".

"I am Refulgent Spider, a member in good standing of the Frati Araneati, directed here by the Paterni of my order in search of new knowledge with which to enrich mankind," he rasped. "While in your lovely city, I was approached by this 'Balgus', as he names himself, who offered to sell me a spell for bringing distant objects into my possession. I doubted his honesty from the first, but I could not pass up the chance, so I demanded he demonstrate. Rather than letting him set up the demonstration so as to bamboozle me, I insisted on naming the object to transport. You can imagine my surprise at the results of the spell."

The abbot cut off Balgus's protestations with another, "I see." He stared into his teacup for a moment and then raised his eyes to Hiaku's.

"I was at the widow Feizhu's taking care of her youngest's fever, when all of a sudden I felt faint, and next thing I know I'm in this giant flower thing, in somebody's basement, freezing my hide off! I start trying to get answers out of this moron--" she elbowed Balgus "--and then I feel something sort of sloshing on my chest, and I look down and I'm like THIS!" She glowered down at her transformed body, but the robes failed to lie flat on her chest. "Then this one, sticking to the ceiling so I didn't see him before, starts laughing his head off at how Baldy here screwed up. Then the landlady comes in and starts chewing 'em BOTH out, and calling me a, a DOXY! and whaling on us all until she gets us out in the alley. These guys ask about their stuff, but she says she's gonna sell it to pay for everything that got broken. So I make the spider guy here give me his clothes, and bring 'em here to see what you can make of it."

"I see.' Hiaku hadn't drunk a drop of her tea, so the abbot forebore pouring her more.

"They talked like they knew each other," she continued, "and they sure both lived in the same house, so I think this stuff about them having just--"

"Thank you, Hiaku, but I believe I have all the information required to understand the situation."

Hiaku folded her arms over her breasts and glared at both the magicians before realizing they were looking past them, at each other, and looked rather nervous.

"What action do you propose to undertake, your holiness?" Balgus ventured.

"At the moment, none. It is, after all, nearly midnight. The two of you may sleep here; I will have one of the novices bring you bedding. Hiaku, you may have one of the rooms in the other wing."

"Hey! I have a perfectly good room!"

The abbot drained his cup. "Unwanted or not, your current form is not a temptation to which the other acolytes should be exposed."

Hiaku clenched her fists, but the magicians had already retreated to the corners.


"Hst! Hiaku!"

The lump under the blankets stirred. "Wha?"

The robed form in the doorway slipped into the room. "I thought it was you! Why didn't you say anything before?"

Hiaku sat up, brushing hair out of her eyes. "Tekkagu?" Panic flashed across her face. "Uh... What? Do you know me?"

"Hiaku, you know you're the worst liar I've ever met." Tekkagu knelt by the futon. "What's going on? Why the disguise? At the gate, I could have sworn you were really a-- woman!" He almost snarled in disgust.

In the faint light from the window, Hiaku's face gleamed with nervous sweat. "Uh..."

"You aren't still in diguise, are you?" His hand landed on her shoulder and slid downward onto mounded flesh exposed by the gaping robe. "What in---?" He squeezed gently. "This is--!"

Hiaku gave a squeak and yanked the covers up to her chin, dislodging the wandering hand. Even in the dimness, her flush was plainly visible.

Tekkagu leapt to his feet. Hiaku flung herself upwards, clapping one hand over the monk's open mouth, and they toppled together onto the floor mats. Tekkagu slammed one arm down to break his fall, but Hiaku landed right atop him, driving the air from his lungs in a squawk.

"Hey!" Running feet sounded in the hallway as the pair blinked dazedly at each other from nose-touching distance. Tekkagu looked away from the violet eyes so near his, and emitted another incoherent noise as the full effect of Hiaku's disarrayed robes became clear to him.

Light showed through the door, and with the speed of desperation Hiaku flung the monk onto her futon and threw the blankets on top of him. She just had time to plop down in front of him bit more before a teenaged monk with a lantern and glaive burst in. "What's going--" he began, and then saw the pink-tipped swells that had bounced nearly out of her robe, cast into strong relief by his light. "Ulgk."

The rest of Hiaku's exposed skin turned pink as well and she yanked her robe closed. "Hey!"

The guard shook himself like a man released from an enchantment, then, realizing the situation, emited another strangled noise and lowered his gaze so fast his chin dented his sternum. "I beg your pardon, ma'am! I uh heard a noise um I'm on watch is anything wrong are you hurt? Ma'am?"

"I got up to er do a necessary thing, um and caught my foot on the blankets."

The guard's face reddened even more. "Are you all right, ma'am?"

She grimaced. "Just embarrassed, thank- thank you."

"Sorry, ma'am!" He turned and fled.

Hiaku closed the door and leaned against it with a whuff of relief. "I hope I wasn't ever that stupid."

Tekkagu flung the covers off. "Gah, of course not! Nozen should be cleaning out latrines for a year! Worst excuse for a monk I ever saw!"

Hiaku scowled. "It's not really his fault. If that damned sorcerer hadn't--"

"Sorcer-- but magic shouldn't work on a monk!" His eyes narrowed. "What were you doing?"

Hiaku's face flushed. "Nothing! I was just eating dinner!"

"Meat?"

"No! Mama Kuan doesn't even serve meat!" Sweat trickled down between Hiaku's eyebrows.

"Huh, I guess that's-- Wait, Kuan? Puppy Kuan?"

Hiaku raised her hands defensively, but Tekkagu punched right between them, sending her tumbling backwards clutching her nose. "YOU'RE DISGUSTING! You're as bad as that scum Nozen! What is she, twelve?"

"Vourdeen," she said through her hands. "How gad you dod loog, de way she boudzes deb aroud? I thing you broge by dose."

The door banged open again. "What's going- TEKKAGU?"


The abbot cradled his teacup in his hands, eyes closed as he inhaled the fragrant steam. "Tekkagu, would you care to explain why you invaded the private chamber of a female guest of this temple?"

Across the table, Hiaku and Tekkagu glared at him and then at each other.

"I'm not female and I'm not a guest!" Hiaku's voice was only slightly thickened by the swelling of her white-bandaged nose. "Tekkagu's been in my cell hundreds of times! Although he never broke my nose before."

"You deserved it! You lech!"

"I AM NOT!"

"How come you got turned into a freak by that sorcerer, then?"

Hiaku bounced to her feet, fists clenched. "BECAUSE HE'S INSANE, YOU IDIOT!"

The abbot stretched his foot out under the table and brushed his sock-clad toe along the side of Hiaku's instep. She shrieked, yanked her foot away, and toppled onto Tekkagu, who yelped and flung up his hands, but not in time to keep the front of her robe from engulfing his face. "GAAAAH!"

Hiaku shoved him away, overbalanced, and plopped down on her cushion. "Watch it, you moron!"

Tekkagu snarled, flexing his fingers like claws. "Keep those disgusting things to yourself!"

"I'm not any happier about them than you are!" She turned to the abbot, who was still calmly sipping tea. "Master, isn't there anything you can do?"

"In the morning, our visitors will show us what resources they can apply to this situation. Until then, please return to your room. Tekkagu, I believe young Kushono is due to be relieved of his watch on the north wall."

Tekkagu bowed and stomped off.

"You dragged us over here in the middle of the night just for that?!"

The abbot gazed into his teacup until Hiaku stomped off in the other direction.

The Grand Pilgrimage!
The Manhood at the End of the Rainbow!

Hiaku flung herself into the bed she'd been assigned. "Just because he doesn't sleep, he thinks no one else does," she muttered. "Senile old bat. I bet he couldn't even exorcise a rat-demon, never mind break a curse. I'm going to be stuck with these-- Who's there?"

Refulgent Spider's rattling laugh was audible before he became visible in the shadows of the ceiling. "Very good, pearl!"

"What are you doing in here?" Then she saw where his eyes were focused. "FINE!" She yanked her robe open and thrust her chest out. "TAKE A GOOD LOOK!"

His eyes bulged almost out of their sockets, and he slid down the wall as his hands lost their grip, but then he turned his face away. "You're too beautiful to ignore, but that's not why I came here."

Hiaku blinked several times. "Oh. Uh. Right. Why did you sneak into my room in the middle of the night?"

"I came to warn you about--" he looked at her, flinched, and buried his face in the corner. "It won't help either of us if you beat me unconscious before I finish."

She fixed her robe again, but her nipples still poked through the wool. Muttering grouchily to herself, she sat down and draped blankets in a tent around her. "It's safe. Get down here on the floor. You're giving me a sore neck."

Spider eyed the floor, lip curled beneath his mustache, and edged down until his toes were only their own length from the polished wood. "Will this do?"

"That's fine. What did you want to warn me about?"

"Balgus will try to tell you he has no idea how to reverse the spell he's put on you, but he just doesn't want to. You've seen how he looks at you."

"Just like you do."

He fidgeted back and forth on the wall. "Well, yes, but I am only a fortunate bystander. Balgus is responsible for your condition."

"If it's just a 'condition' and you know I'm a man, why do you keep staring?"

Spider blinked. "Is it just that there are no mirrors here, or were you a eunuch?" Hiaku's face darkened and he hurried on. "Just think of it as you owning a beautiful piece of art, which is what people are looking at." Sweat stood out on his brow.

Hiaku's shoulders shifted under the thick layers of wool. "I guess if I beat everyone who looked, I wouldn't have anyone to talk to. You're saying that Baldy can turn me back, but he'll try not to, so I'll have to... persuade him?"

Spider's queue danced with the force of his nodding. "Exactly right, pearl! I knew you were sharp!"

Hiaku stared at him until he squirmed. "Thanks for the warning. Now get out of my room!" Spider scuttled back up the wall and squeezed out the small window. Hiaku watched the window for several minutes, but finally vanished beneath the bedclothes.


The frigid mist filling the room eddied, curled in on itself, spun into a vortex. It spun faster and faster, until the mist it pulled in looked solid and the sound of it was an eerie moan. With a thump, the vortex burst, shredding the vapors around it, and left an old man draped in an orange nightshirt tottering in circles where it had been.

Violet eyes glared from a narrow slit in the pile of blankets. "What do you want, Baldy?"

Balgus's foot caught under the edge of the bed and he toppled toward Hiaku, but a sudden eruption sent him tumbling across the floor to fetch up in the corner. "If I have to come out there, I'm gonna have to throw a lot of punches to keep warm."

"I'm sure that won't be necessary, my d- my dear boy. I only came to warn you against the perfidy of that rogue, Refulgent Spider."

"What's your story?"

Balgus stood and dusted himself off. "Refulgent Spider was sent by the degenerate insect-lovers of his order to steal my magical secrets. Keep him under heavy guard, or what you've suffered will only be the start."

"Thanks for the warning. Now go away so I can get some sleep."

"Of course, of course." The wizened wizard gestured dramatically and the fog swirled about him, gathering and spinning into another vortex. The last thing visible before the vortex burst on emptiness was his nightshirt billowing up around his scrawny shanks and privates.

"Ew." Hiaku's eyes disappeared as the blankets closed around her.


The wind whipped along the balcony, blowing hair, mustaches, and beards out like flags and molding Hiaku's thin white robe to her figure. Multicolored clouds of powder were whisked out over the valley, followed by scraps of paper, twigs, and an empty gourd.

Hiaku folded her arms across her breasts and scowled at Balgus. "So much for 'twenty-third time lucky'. Do you have any other ideas, Baldy?"

The old wizard chewed on his mustache for a while. "I don't understand. This shouldn't have happened in the first place, and if it did, any of those spells should have reversed it!"

"So he says," hissed Refulgent Spider from his position on a roof beam. "Personally, I wouldn't trust him any further than I could throw him."

"That's because you have no idea what integrity looks like," Balgus said stiffly. "I understand perfectly well that I have wronged this young, er, gentleman, and I am doing my best to restore, er, him to his natural condition."

"A little after she breaks down and says she'll do anything, no douACK!"

Hiaku slammed Spider to the floor and ground his face into it with a foot on the back of his head. "Don't even joke about that, freak!"

The abbot tapped Hiaku on the shoulder, sending her flying to impact the wall upside-down. She slid down to rest awkwardly on her neck and shoulders, robe rucked down around her chest to show a simple white loincloth and a great deal of skin. Both wizards' eyes strained from their sockets.

Tekkagu stomped over and yanked Hiaku upright by one hand, pulling the hem of her garment down so hard that a seam popped over her shoulder. "We don't need to see that!"

"Your devotion to moral rectitude is noteworthy, Tekkagu." The abbot meditated over his tea. "The situation seems clear enough. This foreign magic afflicted Hiaku at a moment of spiritual weakness, in a way that resonated with the particulars of his failing. This allowed the curse to bind more strongly to his chi, so that Master Balgus cannot remove it even though he was able to create it in the first place."

"So what do we DO?" demanded Hiaku. "I'm not going to stay like this for the rest of my life!"

"I'm sure that, given time, Master Balgus will be able to unravel the combination. However, he might do well to consult with a skilled exorcist. Unless one of you knows such a person...?" He paused until everyone shook their heads. "Then I recommend my old friend Oranku, who lives on Mount Abu."

Balgus cleared his throat. "Er, perhaps you haven't quite understood the details. Although this can be visualized as a magical effect which has taken up residence inside the er young gentleman, it has no will of its own, so er he can hardly be said to be possessed."

"Oranku, like most exorcists, is also skilled in the breaking of curses, which I think this qualifies as. If you leave within the hour, you can reach the inn at the pass before nightfall." The abbot snapped his fingers and a young acolyte appeared. "Josu, please assemble travelling clothes and packs for four people, and bring me my writing desk."


"I still don't see why I had to come with you," Tekkagu complained. "How is being exposed to foreign wizards and curses supposed to help my spiritual development."

Hiaku shifted her pack to a more comfortable position. "Maybe you'll learn to stop whining?"

"You LIKE being a woman?"

"No, but complaining isn't going to help. Beating up Baldy didn't help either, so now I'm going to see this Oranku." She trudged past him, up the snowy slope, without looking back to see how the wizards were doing.

A branch creaked above her and she looked up just in time to see a fur-clad form plummet toward her, surrounded by a halo of netting. Her foot flashed upward and the attacker sailed off to land in a snowbank, but the ropes wrapped tight around her. "HEY!"

More bandits erupted from the trees on the other side, only to encounter Tekkagu's flashing glaive. Two fell and the rest made a hasty, yelping retreat, directly into the sticky strands lurking there. Refulgent Spider laughed so hard he nearly fell from the pine tree he was hiding in.

Hiaku squirmed in the net, bound tight as a sausage. "Someone get this stuff off me!"

"Of course, my dear." Snow flew as Balgus bustled over to her. Grasping the ropes wedged his fingers against the wool that muffled her body, and pulling didn't open up much space, though his face turned red.

Hiaku glared at Tekkagu, who was watching sourly. "Do something!"

"Why? You look like you're enjoying it."

"WHAT? Even if I really was a girl, I wouldn't want to be pawed by this, this old pervert!" She tried to slap Balgus's hands away, but only managed to topple against the tree-trunk.

"Please, permit me." Refulgent Spider leaned down from the nearest branch to pluck at a trailing rope-end. The whole net unravelled into a heap around Hiaku's feet. Spider flicked the end he held upward, and it all flew into a neat coil around his shoulder. "There's no end to your incompetence, is there, Balgus?"

"I'm a wizard, not a sailor!"

"Not much better at one than the other!"

"Shut up! Both of you!" Hiaku looked around, but the bandits had scuttled away, dragging their wounded with them. "If we waste any more time, we aren't going to make it to the inn before dark."

"I guess you'd just have to spend the night in the woods alone with two men, huddled together for warmth."

"Tekkagu," she snarled. "If you say one more word I'm going to beat you until you can't walk!"

He turned his back on her and stomped up the path.

"Don't mind him, my dear," Balgus said, patting her on the arm and then yanking his hand back from her scowl. "He's just regretting his vows."

"What? You think-- EWW! That's digusting! Tekkagu would never do that!"

"You still have much to learn about life as a woman, my dear."

"I'm not GOING to learn, because we're going to see Master Oranku and he's going to get rid of your STUPID SPELL!" She turned ostentatiously away from the old man and stomped after Tekkagu.

Refulgent Spider smirked. "I don't see how she can resist--"

Balgus gestured with his cane and Spider's branch cracked neatly across, depositing him into a snowdrift.


The inn loomed above the saddle of the pass on its crag, at the top of a hundred stairs. Torches flanked the thick doorway, but only a few lights showed behind the narrow windows. The four travellers stood at the bottom of the stairway, gazing up with dismay.

Balgus tapped the bottom step with his cane. "Are all buildings in your country constructed atop mountains?"

Hiaku heaved a sigh, visible even under her thick coat. "They don't have bandits in your country either, do they?" Without waiting for an answer, she started trudging up the steps.

At the top, she leaned against the wall, panting. Tekkagu was still prodding Balgus up the steps, but Refulgent Spider clung to the wall above her, not even breathing hard. Hiaku glared up at him. "Using magic is cheating."

He twirled his mustaches. "Sour grapes, pearl?"

"No!" She stomped through the gateway, not looking up at the massive wooden gate suspended above it by thin ropes. The courtyard was almost empty, only a few carts parked in one corner, but music of strings and drums leaked out through the door behind the enormous fur-loinclothed guard.

He stepped forward to meet her with a scowl. The top of her head only came up to his nipples, but she glared up at him just as unpleasantly. "Do we look like bandits?" He narrowed his eyes and hefted his axe, which was also taller than Hiaku, but she didn't back off.

Tekkagu came up behind her, Balgus trailing after. "Is there a problem?"

The guard looked them over, especially Tekkagu's glaive, then threw back his head, bead-tipped mustachios flying, and bellowed a laugh. "Monk, old man, and bedwarmer? I hope are bandits! I like clowns!"

Tekkagu and Balgus stepped forward simultaneously to grab Hiaku's arms before she could even stop sputtering. "BEDWARMER!? If that's all you think with, how about you try thinking without it?!" The guard jumped back just in time to keep his crotch away from her foot.

"Hah! Maybe you sell her?"

"How mu--" Refulgent Spider's question died in his throat as Hiaku turned to glare at him. "Ahem. That would be completely out of the question, I'm afraid."

The guard cocked his head dubiously. "Acrobat?"

Spider sputtered. "Of course not! I am a wizard of the Frati Areani!"

The guard grinned, showing unnaturally long teeth filed to points. "I Naghiz Shaman-Biter. You make trouble, I learn if you crunchy like chicken foot."

"Fortunately for you, we're not here to make trouble. We are here to get warm, however."

"You go in." He pulled the massive door open with his foot, letting out a blast of music and smokey heat. "Get bath for your bedwarmer, girls like that. Cheap!"

The inside of the inn was a single broad, low-ceiling room, full of smoke from many fireplaces and half-full of living things. To the left, a herd of donkeys milled, braying into their feedbags. To the right, a dozen people in undershirts clustered around three musicians and a fire.


This file was last modified at 2234 on 13Jan09 by trip@idiom.com.