Notes: This is the end of our story; I wanted to do so much more in it (a fight between Kurisu and Maddohatta, for example), but, perhaps if there is a sequel, or something, all that will find a place in it. This final chapter isn't long at all, but it is, obviously, VERY important. My thanks to Cryssy-miu and gothicorca1895, for use of their characters, and my thanks to , who is planning to create a series of "illustrations" for this story on her(?) DeviantArt account, and was very kind in reviews.
Chapter 17: The Last Laugh?
Master Croc sighed and shook his head.
"Sorry, Shen...our men have searched the beach and the ocean floor for all they could find. We found tons of rubble, a good many bodies, and even that launcher...but this is all we could find of our friend..."
The last word was spoken with the deepest, most bitter sarcasm as Croc held up a battered, seawater-soaked top hat.
Sheng Li stared at the top hat with an utterly unreadable expression, taking it out of the other master's clawed hands almost tenderly, wiping away some of the dampness with his sleeves.
"And his lieutenants?"
"Hakkyo and Shita? Xun hit them pretty hard...they were already half-dead when they hit the water. It's really a shame...them and all those assassins dead. Not that they didn't deserve it, but we had hoped to learn more about Giao Xun's role in this affair."
Shen nodded briefly.
"How is the kitten taking it?" asked Ox.
"Surprisingly well," Shen said. "Nana was able to get some information out of Maddohatta while he had her prisoner...we've both gotten some well deserved answers."
"Of course, some does not equal all..."
Ox and Croc nodded.
"We're going to continue searching, Shen," Ox lowed. "We still have quite a mess to clean up..."
"Yeah," Croc snorted. "Between this, the Gongmen factory, and that inn, we really have our work cut out."
"My apologies," he said shortly, and then added, "I shall be returning to the Valley of Peace in three days, after Lanying has fully healed; Dr. Ren says the injuries were not as serious as they at first seemed...and I feel have had enough of my ancestral home in this trip to last me a lifetime."
"Heaven be willing, we won't need to call you back," Ox chuckled.
"Goodbye, Master Shen," Croc said, and the two of them bowed. Shen returned the gesture, and the two larger masters walked off.
The Soothsayer was standing at the edge of the shore. Shen walked up beside her, the two of them staring off into the horizon.
The sun was just starting to rise.
"So," Shen began after a second. "He was a servant and/or spy, eh?"
"Yes. Quite so."
"That explains a lot."
The Soothsayer looked up at him with one eyebrow raised, stroking her beard with one hoof.
"I know that look," she said. "What are you thinking of?"
"Probably the same thing as you."
Min Yun sighed.
"I'm thinking," she admitted, "that nobody alive could have survived a fall like that...none of his men did. Not even the heads of his force. And since the temple fell with him..."
The Soothsayer trailed off.
"True," he agreed. "But I somehow think that if I could survive being crushed by a cannon, he could get out of this."
Min Yun blinked.
"Then, yes, Shen, we are on the same track...you don't think he's gone for good."
There was a short silence.
Shen let out a mirthless laugh.
"Oh, believe me, Nana," he said, looking down with burning eyes at the hat in his wings, "I would love to think so. I truly would. But...in what's left in my heart of hearts..."
Here the old goat and the peacock's eyes met. Both sets of eyes were grim and dark.
"Doubt it?" finished the Soothsayer.
"How do you do that?"
Min Yun shrugged.
"I told you before: I know everything."
Shen eyed her doubtfully.
The Soothsayer smirked.
The two looked at each other a moment longer, and then gazed off into the distance once again.
The dawn was rolling in, and a new day was ready to begin.