Disclaimer: I don't own Jing King of Bandits

A/N: There are no major plot spoilers in this story, and if you've never seen Jing King of Bandits, all you need to know is that Jing is a master thief and goes around having adventures in a fantastical land with his sidekick, Kir, a talking bird.

To those of you who are familiar with the series, I've only seen the first several dvds of the anime series, so I apologize in advance if the names I've used for my OC s are already taken. There are only so many alcoholic beverage names to choose from!

CHAPTER ONE: PROLOGUE:

"Hey Jing, what about here?"

Kir was tired of flapping. Alighting on a rocky outcropping, he gestured with his wing at the rough semicircle of boulders.

"Sure, Kir. We'll stop here for the night," Jing agreed amiably. He set to work finding firewood. Kir flapped down from his rock and began hopping around, collecting twigs to use as kindling.

"Not that I wouldn't rather be in a nice cushy inn like last night, you know. Did you see the physique on that chambermaid?" Kir's words came out muffled by the wood in his mouth. "I think she liked me!"

"She smacked you in the beak with a towel, Kir," Jing smiled over his load of firewood.

"Mmr wr um wrv rap."

"Huh?"

"Ptooie." Kir spat his twigs out in the middle of a small circle of stones in the center of the clearing. Evidently the area had been used before as a campground. "I said, 'that was a love tap'! Trust me, that girl couldn't keep away from me!"

With that the diminutive bird sat down on the ground, only to shoot up again a second later. "Yowtch!"

"What is it?" Jing asked curiously, ambling over and dumping his wood into the ring, coming to a stop by the crow who was rubbing his posterior with an aggrieved look on his face.

"I sat on something sharp."

Jing squatted and pulled something out of the dirt, holding it up for Kir to see. "It's an arrowhead," he told him. "Look, they're all around."

Kir glanced about and saw them, sticking out of the earth at intervals like sharks' teeth. "Hey, how'd they get here?"

Brushing dirt off the arrowhead in his palm with his thumb, Jing gazed at it as he spoke. "There was a battle around here about fifteen years or so ago. We're right on the edge of Zenithria. Fifteen years ago members of the former royal family took back their capitol city from the Absolut family who'd taken it from them a decade before. These arrows must be left over from that time."

"Yawn." Kir commented stridently. "Ancient history is boring. All those dates and battles…"

"Not this battle," Jing flicked his companion a glance. "It's said that the woman who took back the throne was a 'Creature Caller'."

"A Creature Caller?" Kir's eyes narrowed as he searched his memory. "What's that?"

Jing tossed the arrowhead away. "A Creature Caller, sometimes also known as a Creature Creator, is a woman from the royal line who can create fantastical animals, monsters even, and control them. They say that the war was won by such creatures. Since then Zenithria closed itself off. It discourages visitors and keeps to itself."

"A woman, huh? Is she pretty?"

Jing stifled a smile. Kir had a one-track mind when it came to women. "No one knows. Once victory was assured the Dark Lady shut herself up in the royal palace's tower and let her monsters run the kingdom. She doesn't come out much. Her monsters enforce the laws. At least that's what I heard."

Kir cocked his head and squinted. "Speaking of hearing, do you hear that?"

"What?" Jing's grey eyes took on a watchful aspect. Kir might be a lecher, but his senses were sharp, and Jing had come to depend on them.

The bird stuck his head out and leaned to the right, cupping a wing around his ear. "I hear someone crying. Sounds female. Yipee! Another damsel in distress to be rescued! I can't wait to be showered with kisses of gratitude!" And with that, Kir took off flying through the trees.

Sighing, Jing rose to his feet and followed, running lightly behind the girl-obsessed bird. Life with Kir was always eventful. Together they followed the sound of sobbing.

o-o-o

SAME CLEARING, 15 YEARS PREVIOUSLY

An old woman, dressed in traveling robes, her grey hair falling wild down her back, moved silently through the trees, skirting the campsite where the mercenary troops gathered around the campfire cooking their nightly stew. They were a nuisance, but necessary, at least until Mirin got serious about the war and made some more obedient warriors. That girl had potential. She was the strongest Creature Caller ever born to the family.

Absinthe once again cursed her nephew for taking the girl from the family. Well, Absinthe got the girl back and at long last she'd take back what was rightfully hers – the Zenithrian throne.

Now someone else threatened to take what was hers, and she wasn't about to stand for it. Moving carefully through the trees she kept out of sight of the sentries, and kept well away from the command tents she'd set up a week ago as she gathered troops on both sides of Zenithria, preparing her pincer movement. The Absolut family wouldn't know what hit them. She'd heard they were frantically trying to hire mercenaries as well, but Absinthe had already snapped up the best in three kingdoms. She allowed a grin to steal over her features, accentuating the wrinkles in her face and allowed her feral nature to show, in a way she couldn't afford to do around Mirin.

Mirin was a foolish girl, and Absinthe was about to find out the extent of her folly.

There up ahead was the half ruined woodsman's cottage where Cervasa, the youngest of her mercenary captains, had set up camp. His men were scattered around, but not too close to the cottage. Absinthe figured as much. He wouldn't want them around to witness his wooing of her grand-niece. The man had been sniffing around Mirin for weeks now. Absinthe knew he'd make his move when he thought she'd gone to inspect the troops at the other end of the kingdom. He'd underestimated her.

Light spilled from a window at the back of the cottage. Absinthe drew closer, like a moth to a flame, and settled by the window, screened by a bush. Through its leafy branches she had the perfect view of the cottage interior and could hear and see everything.

Inside the cottage Mirin, her grand-niece, stood by Cervasa. The girl's hands were clasped in his. A bench and table stood in the center of the room, a knife, fork and the crumbled remains of cheese and bread on the single plate all that remained of the young mercenary's dinner. The candlelight from a rough iron candelabra on the table next to them caught the light in Mirin's warm brown eyes and lifted shimmers from her long dark hair. Absinthe had once had hair like that, and a sharp envy for the girl coursed through her.

"I can't leave her," Mirin said softly, clutching Cervasa's hands. "Not now that our army is finally ready…Absinthe has been planning this for so long. In just a couple of days our forces will be ready to attack."

"Don't you mean YOUR forces?" Cervasa asked. He was a young man, with chestnut colored hair. He had a stocky build and sported a well-trimmed beard and moustache. Absinthe smirked. To a foolish young girl like Mirin, Absinthe supposed he looked dashing. Absinthe however, saw him for what he was, a mercenary on the make. He thought to steal her niece away, to get her to make monsters for him so he could become the most powerful mercenary around. She narrowed her eyes and listened as Cervasa continued.

"You're the one who can create those creatures, not her. She's using you, Mirin. You have no idea what war is actually like. Believe me, you don't want any part of it."

Mirin leaned forward over their linked hands, her body language beseeching. "Try to understand, Cervasa. She needs me. How can we defeat the forces of chaos if I'm not here to help her take the city? It's my destiny. I have to do this."

Cervasa leaned forward too, so that their faces were only inches apart. His voice grew more urgent as he went on. "You only think it's your destiny, Mirin. And why? Because Absinthe told you so since you were a little girl. Can't you see that she's using you for her own purposes? She's filled your head full of talk of 'destiny' We have to leave, now, while she's off checking the troops on the far side of the city."

Mirin pulled her hands out of his and stepped back. Absinthe could see the disappointment in his eyes as he released his grip and let go.

"You're wrong," Mirin said, shaking her head slowly. "She's not using me, she's helping me to fulfill my destiny. Without me, chaos will prevail in Zenithria. I was born to bring order to my kingdom, and Absinthe is helping me to do it. Crime has doubled under the Absolut family. The people are in danger!"

She'd come out without her usual hair tie to keep her locks in check, and one of them fell forward. She raised a hand to push it back over her shoulder absently as she continued.

"You know that after my parents died, my brother and his wife raised me. They had a little boy, my nephew. I lived with them. I didn't know that father once lived in the palace, or that I was of royal birth. I was happy there, but my life was ordinary. Then Absinthe came. She told my brother Sake and I that we were royal. She told me that I was special, that I was the last in a long line of Creature Callers, the first in generations to bear the birthmark so strongly."

Mirin's hand stole to the back of her neck, where Absinthe knew the cross shaped mark was embedded in her skin. It was the only color on her otherwise perfect alabaster complexion.

"My parents fled the palace when they saw the mark. They wanted me to escape my destiny, my duty, and because of that they died."

"I thought you said they died of influenza." Cervasa interjected dryly.

Absinthe narrowed her eyes at his flippant attitude. Making fun of the story she'd carefully inculcated in Mirin's mind wouldn't win him any points.

Her grand-niece frowned. "It was fate's way of punishing them for taking me away from the palace."

"Darling, if you'd been in the palace when the Absolut family came storming in, you'd have been killed with everyone else. Your father was wise to take you, your mother, and brother away when he did."

Stubbornly, Mirin shook her head. "Maybe at first, but he didn't return me to Absinth, he never tried to find the rest of the family and take back what was ours. He had a duty, I have a duty, and I will not forsake mine. I belong in that palace. Absinthe said so. The longer it takes me to get there, the more innocent people will die."

"What do you mean?" Cervasa asked incredulously.

Mirin stepped over to the table and began pressing her fingers against it. It was something she did when she was upset. Absinthe grinned. Cervasa was forcing her to explain herself, to remember the worst time in her life. He was indeed a fool, because Mirin would end up resenting him for making her relive that pain.

"Great-Aunt Absinthe and I are the only ones left of our family now. When she came to us to beg my brother to let me go with her, so she could train me in the ways of creature calling, he refused. She left and the next week when I came home from school I found them dead. My brother, his wife, even Sake Jr., all of them were dead. All my sister in law's jewelry was missing. A thief must have killed them. There was so much blood. The villagers sent word to my aunt and she came and got me. If I'd just gone with her the first time she came, my brother and his family might still be alive. It was fate's way of showing me how badly I was needed to restore peace and order to the land."

Mirin stepped back from the table, sadness in her eyes as she looked Cervasa. "You can't ignore destiny. I have to prevent anything like that from happening ever again. My destiny is a sacred duty, and I can't ignore it. Every time my family tried to ignore it they died, don't you see?"

Cervasa gestured sharply. "All you know is what Absinthe told you. What if she's…wrong?"

"She can't be wrong. My parents are dead, my brother and his family are dead. How can that be a coincidence? It's fate trying to set things right."

"Maybe it's not coincidence. Did you ever think of that?" Cervasa and Mirin stood like statues, his words creating a leaden silence between them. Absinthe held her breath. This was bad, very bad. Then Mirin grimaced, breaking the spell.

"What do you mean?" Genuine puzzlement spread across her face. Absinthe let her breath out. Her training held. Mirin found it impossible to doubt her.

Cervasa seemed to realize it too. He started to speak, stopped, shook his head gently and stepped forward to cup her face in his hands.

"Do you love me, Mirin?"

"You know I do," she whispered back to him.

"Then come away with me. Come away and test this 'destiny' theory of yours. I may just be a mercenary your aunt hired, but I love you, and I swear I'll protect you. If nothing happens then you'll know you can escape this destiny of yours."

"But Absinthe plans to storm the palace in three days' time. She can't make it to the top of the tower without my help, and you know what the prophecy says, 'He who reaches the last level of the tower will destroy the old rule and lead all Zenithria'."

"If she wants Zenithria back so badly, let her fight for it herself."

"But she needs me." Absinthe heard the wavering in Mirin's voice and cursed silently.

"You've created enough monsters for her to use. Why not let her have them? I'll protect you, Mirin. Leave the monsters with her and come away with me. You have to decide now. Do you want to live with her in that tower or do you want to live with me?"

They stared at each other. Absinthe ground her teeth together. She recognized that look.

"With you," Mirin said at last. "I want to be with you."

Cervasa smiled in relief. "Then let's go."

Mirin nodded firmly. "Let me go get my cloak from my tent."

"I'll buy you a new one."

Mirin took a step back, smiling gently. "It's got my diary in its pocket. I'll be right back," she promised, and slipped out the door.

Absinthe gave her a few minutes, then stole around to the front of the cottage, her brow furrowed in intense concentration.

"What the…?"

Rounding the corner and passing in through the doorway, Absinthe surveyed a most satisfying sight. Cervasa was restrained, his arms and legs clasped in the iron grip of four Absinthes. Another Absinthe, a mirror image of the original, held a knife to his throat.

It taxed Absinthe's abilities to their limit to be able to create five more copies of herself, and copies were all that she could do, and only of herself. For the millionth time she cursed her inability to do more with the watered down version of the family gift she'd been given.

She felt a bead of sweat run down the side of her face. Unlike Mirin, who could create vast numbers of creatures and maintain them without effort, it took a lot out of Absinthe to make even a few copies of herself. She'd have to make this quick, especially since she was already maintaining a copy at the other side of the city to give herself an alibi. No one knew of Absinthe's ability, not even Mirin. Her pride would not allow her to be compared to her infinitely more gifted niece.

"Did you really think I'd let the last Creature Creator from my family fall into your hands, Cervasa?" she sneered.

"Not the last one, obviously." Cervasa pulled against the women gripping his arms, stopping only when his motion caused the knife at his throat to score a thin red line that beaded up and began to bleed.

Absinthe shrugged. "I do copies only. Mirin is the strongest of us all. Only she can create literally anything she can dream up."

"Her dreams are nightmares because of you! She's created hideous beasts from legends to serve your twisted ambitions. Legends you told her! You don't care about her, you only want your throne back!"

How impassioned the young were. Absinthe stared coldly into the eyes of the young man who stood in the way of her dreams of power. "Perhaps, but you won't be around to see it. Your death will simply prove to Mirin once again the folly of avoiding her destiny. This tragedy will bind her even closer to me, and she'll never suspect that I had anything to do with it since I, or rather an image of myself, am out with the troops right now. You should have stayed away from my niece, Cervasa. From now on I'll have to depend on monsters. Humans are so unreliable."

"What do you know of humans? You're the real monster here!" Cervasa snarled. "Don't think I don't know you killed Mirin's brother to get her away from him. What do you intend to do with her once you've got your way? Kill her too?"

Absinthe laughed. "Kill her? Certainly not, she's far too useful. But that doesn't mean I'll be sharing the throne with her. There's a lovely little basement in the palace. She can live there, writing her silly little laws, and keeping my army of creatures under control. You, however, are of no use to me whatsoever. Goodbye, Cervasa."

Had anyone been near the cottage, they would have heard a choked cry turn into a watery gurgle, then silence. They would have seen the bent figure of an old woman peer around the doorway, then escape into the shadows.

A few moments later, they would have seen a young girl, about seventeen, with coal black hair and fair skin, rushing quietly up to the cottage. They would have seen her enter, heard her scream out Cervasa's name, then heard the heartbroken sobs emanating from the building, but no one was close enough to hear, and Mirin cried throughout the night until discovery came with the dawn of the next day.

TO BE CONTINUED…