In the Slavic Niponic War, many officers and subalterns were distinguished with both honours and infamous nicknames. The Slavic Niponic War is hardly spoken in common History books for a good reason. In the late eighteenth century, the Russian Empire of the Romanovs decided to conquer the mysterious and beautiful cluster of isles in the south Atlantic known as Bellanária isles.
However, none of this Bellanian and Japanese fearsome men had a reputation as the one of Hibiki Kato. One of his Human Japanese men had sliced with a holy blade his face…Hibiki Kato had a horrendous scar deforming his former handsome, attractive pale face. This scar went from another ear to another. He could make his lower jaw hang, as if it were made of an elastic blueish ragged skin. Then, his otherwise Human features that would hide his Onisamatzeka demon nature served to no avail, for his forked tongue and his sharp, two inch fangs made the general effect the face of a fiendish beast. His human disguise served nothing, but for underlining his demonic appearance. His nose was flat, slender and long. Even to his adorable twin sons he had to cover his face until they came of age.
Unlike his attractive older brother and his courageous sister, Hibiki merely had his surprisingly good puppetry sculpture, to the point his dolls looked like real Humans, his talent for music was quite known in Shunamari, reaching from koto pieces to his somewhat rusty, dramatic, tenor voice. His hoarse tone only added to his mystery.
The Russian Humans from the war days shivered at the echo of this voice, which could speak perfectly well in both Russian and German. The old Ninjutsu master knew a few things about murder, and whenever he hated someone with a deadly hatred, no one could stop him from poisoning the poor division the hated Human officer was leading. Being a master in disguise, he also knew how to fabric the deadliest and the most ingenious of all biological weapons, from using the old natural gases resources in the mountains to paralysing spores from the most varied fungus in the south… Thus, Hibiki Kato earned another nickname from his enemies: the Poisonous Captain.
Many European Humans said he had died of an injury in 1794, but Lorelei Von Tifon knew better: it was this very same Hibiki Kato who had been the martial art teacher of her older brother, the Duke. Her poor brother would resort to anything…You might even say that I would sell his soul to the Devil if it meant I could protect my sister. Hell, I am a condemned man – both in the Buddhist, Japanese view of things and in the Protestant, Christian point of view – since I was born out of my mother’s womb. I recall Mother saying I had “clawed my path out of her womb” on 13th of November, 1784. Despite the fact I am nearly immortal, I remember reading the Luteran Bible as a boy and in the Chinese New Year’s Eve, my mother would come with me to watch the celebration in Kyoto.
Since our father had died, I was charged with the little delicate and naïve creature’s tutelage. My sister and I had over one hundred years of difference… It was prone how arguments would arise.
When her eldest patron, Prince Naguib of the Shajaaka Caliphate had been found in one of the gloomy, melancholic gutters of Cy-bata Teito, paralysed in fear and frostbitten sweat, babbling about the terrible “mouth-slit masked devilish beast”, Lorelei knew for certain the author of this torture… Was none other than her “uncle” Hibiki Kato!
Julrihat Lornam – or Lakhlan as his surname was pronounced in the eastern banks of the Blessing River – was a man of the Punjab region, India; his family had crossed the seas.
His brother, Menhir Abdullah Lakhlan was taken by his parents as child to find a better life in the Bellanian Empire, in the southern streets of Petrybloom, of the Shajaaka Caliphate. Gulzar, their father was a known violinist and an excelled accordionist.
The elderly Lady Kanti, had been just accepted as lady of the court in the Bellanian Imperial Palace. She was to be one of the chambermaids working for a noble lady of higher rank. Therefore the old Gulzar had as company his devoutly religious elder son Abdullah and his rather creative, daring son Julrihat.
Julrihat had turned twenty one and yet, he had never left the charming manners which made him look like a Persian king. He had a small, dark mustache, beautiful dark brown eyes and his silken olive complexion made some people compare him to the aristocracy of the South-western Bellanian caliphate.
Abdullah had a thick, dark beard, together with two dreamy dark eyes in a slighter dark olive complexion. Despite being a middle-aged man, he was still considered an eloquent and elegant man, for both brothers were of a high caste. His smile while speaking both in Iranian, Punjabi or in Northern Bellanian confirmed both the boys middle-class origins.
Abdullah spoiled Julrihat. To begin with, he was very proud of him and please to foresee a glorious career for his younger brother in the Bellanian Guard. He took advantage of the younger man’s leave of absence to show him Cy-bata Teito, with all its luxurious and artistic delights.
Abdullah considered his brother’s age and thought that, even if their mother rose above the ranks in the court ladies, they would never be considered more than low rank soldiers. Julrihat should be the first to win the heart of a talented young singer with good connections to the Caliph. Most of the Court Ladies of Petrybloom were allowed to recite poems in Arabic and in Northern Bellanian in the most refined halls of Cy-bata Teito.
It was in one of these small escapades that the two celibates found the Chévalier. It was in this building that the two men would soon find Lorelei Von Tifon. They had managed to reserve a table next to a window in the Chévalier’s cabaret. A soft, mezzo-soprano voice began to echo across the hardly lit cabaret room, two blueish, almond eyes hovering, reflected a hundred times by the mirrors which served as walls. The French opera’ Carmen aria “L’amour est un oiseaux rebelle”. Julrihat gasped, noticing how the sapphire eyes twinkled in the dimness.
Lorelei, the “Black Daffodil” was swinging on an acrobatic swing, six meters above the ground. The audience echoed an almost whispered gasp: Lorelei’s hands were now releasing the swing. Her white dress revealed to stretch itself as if it were a bird’s tail feathers gracefully hanging from her puffy skirt. White-like petals seem to flow from her hands.
For a moment, Abdullah thought the temperature within the cabaret immense, opulent hall had dropped at least fifteen degrees… Were not those little flowers a little similar like snowflakes?
This ethereal, seductive voice was as velvety as the cymbals and the invisible orchestra that accompanied her. The following song was a Northern Bellanian jazzy song which was composed purposefully for the clients to loose themselves in their refreshments in that merry Fat Tuesday’s evening. Abdullah and Julrihat recognized this song: it was an adaptation of the Southern Bellanian song : “Two Northern male eyes have enraptured me/Take a good look on me”!
On the late evening after Lorelei Von Tifon’s première, Abdullah, after applauding the mysterious young lady, turned to Julrihat and saw that he was quite pale.
‘Don’t you see’ Said Julrihat ‘The young lady is fainting?’
‘You look like fainting yourself! What’s the matter? Is it the tobacco stench or the scent of Japanese incense too heavy for you?’
‘Oh dear brother… Our Lord works mysteriously! By Allah, if this is not the same coquettish Japanese thirteen year old whom I generously offered my lunch’s money for her dish of fried Punjabi eel, I must be dreaming! That slender lady is an angel, for only the All-Powerful could create a creature with such talent and beauty!’
‘You mean the little geisha who played the piano and danced in the Russian cafés?! Can it really be her?’ the older man asked in a sceptical tone who studied cautiously the Quran.
‘Like Princess Badr-Al-Budur, she has almond eyes and she has fair, white skin!’
‘Oh, Mom did used to tell us that story of Aladdin…But be careful, brother!’
Abdullah gave his brother a curious smiling glance and seemed quite pleased. They were soon at the door leading from the cabaret to the stage.
Abdullah almost shoved a man clad in black carrying a few puppets, all of them females, either with European or Far-Eastern facial expressions.
« Pardon me! » A tenor voice echoed in the busy corridors as the man with the scarf disappeared among the chorus girls, the stage-hands, businessmen, and scene-shifters.
« What a weird puppeteer...! Did you looked at his puppets? They look bigger than the ones our father used to bring us. » Abdullah snapped, a little annoyed at the tall and pale puppeteer’s coarse manners.
At this, Julrihat shrugged his brother with a dreamy smile on his lips:
« Indeed… Northern Bellanians all look weird to you, dear brother! »
There was a group of girls circling around the stage. They were commenting how full and crowded all the auditoriums and dancing saloons in the Chévalier were. There was going to be a late Japanese bunraku play in the fourth floor. Most of the puppeteers were clad in black tight kimonos, since – as David Ivanovitch explained – was to create the illusion the puppets moved by themselves in the darkness. The cabaret was in the second floor, for the girls would had barely time to come to the fourth floor’s auditorium and watch the rare performance of the Shunamari bunraku troupe.
It was stunning how the conversation of the girls changed from Arabic, to German, and then to a fluent Northern Bellanian.
« Lorelei was perfect, as unnaturally graceful as any female bunraku doll! »
« By Allah comparing the flexible Lorelei to one of those devilish dolls…! » A South-western Bellanian singer gasped.
« How on earth could she stand on that swing for so long, and singing no less with a perfect pitch? Sometimes I wonder if she’s human at all! » A Northern girl descendant of Russian emigrants widened her eyes, recalling that smoky, seductive female voice.
« I had heard she had Ninjutsu training since she was five…Indeed, Shunamari people are like descendants of either goblins, or any other supernatural beings! »
Abdullah and Julrihat finally managed to clear their throats, as if to suggest the young women to know they were present.
The chorus girls who were from Petrybloom and from the Floating Jade Turtle isle immediately recognized the Lieutenant and his older brother, the Major Lakhlan.
« Do you know where Lorelei’s accommodations are? »
« Follow the northwest corridor and then it’s in the bottom, Lieutenant. » One of the Korean-blooded ladies answered in fluent Northern Bellanian. « I saw a doctor coming into her bedroom. »
« Herr Wakahisa’s one of the most proficient doctors in all of Shunamari, little Sarang. Everyone knows that… » A young geisha commented while flipping her fan.
« Can you please make me a favour, little Yuki? » Abdullah smiled gallantly at the twenty year old lady with her painting.
« Must I? The Puppeteer master from the Bunraku troupe instructed me to rehearse my koto before his play… »
« So that was the man we’ve bumped into… » Murmured Julrihat while scratching his chin.
« Indeed… But if you wish, I’ll take whatever it is you want to deliver to Fräulein Lorelei. »
« Yuki, wait! I want to go with you… » The seventeen year old girl known as Sarang giggled as she floated around her sari.
A couple of minutes afterwards, both Sarang and Yuki had returned with a smile on their faces.
« Lorelei will see you soon, Lieutenant. »
When the two brothers were about to arrive the young lady’s bedroom, Abdullah fell to his knees, groaning with pain. His face had become as pale as sheet, and his eyes were widening.
He coughed loudly.
« Allah help me…! » Abdullah proffered, while grasping his chest.
Alarmed, and recognizing the signs of a possible colic due to spicy Northern Bellanian food, Julrihat promptly asked one of the stage-hands to supply a glass of water.
« Brother…What on earth has… I know how sensitive you are to Northern Bellanian gastronomic tastes! I had asked for chicken parmesan! We both ate the same food from the same dish… »
Out of the sudden, Abddullah yelled as he punched his own stomach.
« Dear Lord…! It is as if my body doesn’t obey me! Julrihat, please! » He moaned as his legs and arms wriggled, writhing in a burning, crippling pain.
« Don’t worry, brother! I’ll call our father and a hospital… » All the thoughts and ambitions to know more about Lorelei had vanished from Julrihat’s mind. He widened his eyes. « This can’t be the work of your sensitive stomach! Chévalier is reputed to have two of the most distinguished restaurants in Northern Bellanária. No… Someone is determined to make you disappear from the face of the earth, brother! »
« Julrihat, you…Don’t worry about me! I’ll walk my way to the hospital… You need to see Lorelei…»
« Abdullah… You! You can be at the mercy of whoever poisoned you… »
« We’re both soldiers, Julrihat… If this building is destined to be a dangerous, mined battlefield, so be it! »
The younger man gasped frightened at the strange coincidence. The Master Puppeteer of the Shunamari Troupe had been the only man they had a closer contact, and there were many poisons which needed to be administered directly into the skin, for they would not work in a strong man like Abdullah. Both he and Abdullah were sons of a herbalist and alchemist, Gulzar. Gulzar: the Muslim fakir who knew more about poisons than anyone else in their local Punjabi village.
He followed north-west towards a strange-looking flight of stairs with a refined, imposing statue of a brass falcon in the handrail.
Ornamented with a high-relief statue of Lady Shamanarta, the goddess of the arts, the door was refined, with natural carvings which were realistic approaches of cherry blossoms.
Julrihat was relieved to see there were a wire telephone a couple of meters from Lorelei’s bedroom. The gas lamps flickered in an eerie greenish light the entrance to her bedroom.
« Miss Lorelei…»
« What…! Who are you? » Lorelei’s voice echoed in a fearsome, threatening tone.
« Fräulein Lorelei… Don’t you recognize me? I am the man whom you left your Japanese fan with a poem. »
« Ah… I know nothing of a fan, neither of a poem! Please, do leave, mein Herr! I am so tired! »
Julrihat was quite embarrassed and he felt insulted at the young girl’s impertinence. She had written him a poem and it was those eyes that had greeted and thanked him for offering enough money for a month of hearty meals.
Surely she must had remember…
« Fräulein, please… It has been three years since I had seen you. I merely wanted to hear your voice… I never knew you would be here, of all places! »
« Of all places--- A blueish butterfly flying/, towards the candlelight/, how she wished to reach that warm/Her life would be forfeit… » Her sceptical, cold voice recited a poem in Northern Bellanian. It was the poem Lorelei had written on that fan.
Lorelei… How that name sounded strange, and yet fascinating to Julrihat Lornam!
« Of All places, the snow is twinkling/ The silvery, blessed water is sprinkling/ from my dear devilish, enchanting city! » Lorelei started to hum, her voice as though an inviting, wild freezing gust of wind.
No sooner Julrihat knew he was in the arms of the fifteen year old.
« My human Indian prince charming! » She exhaled through her small lips, as Julrihat kissed reverently her hand… How cold those fingers were! « Oh, no! Don’t touch me, Lieutenant! »
« Why shouldn’t I touch you? »
« Because… Because… Oh, Lieutenant, how could I explain it? » Lorelei’s normally confident voice was shattered, conflict evident in her long, white face. « Should I tell you now, Lieutenant? You see, I arrived here in the summer, for my brother perhaps would not suspect I would run from my home, in the freezing Shunamari. »
« Dear Lord… Did he wished to marry you with a man you didn’t liked? »
Lorelei could not help to laugh at that statement, typical of a man raised in a patriarchal society. Despite the fact she did not meant it as an insult, her voice was naturally cold; perhaps she had inherited it from her brother.
Since when I laughed honestly with a man? It has been years…
Her smile was something that made Julrihat felt as though ice was flowing through his veins.
Lornam clenched his fists, gritting his teeth:
« Why on earth are you mocking me, Miss Lorelei? »
« I am not mocking you, silly: you say you have been in Bellanária since ever, but you never have been into Shunamari! Well, that is laughable, Lieutenant! Shunamari is a large territory within our Empire. »
A sudden deep chuckle echoed within the bedroom. And yet, Julrihat could not help to wonder how on earth is that possible… Certainly there could not be no one safe for Lorelei and himself!
Julrihat Lornam tried to giggle. Bellanian women surely are more independent than the ones from his parents’ homeland.
« Ah… I’m only patrol the Southern Bellanian waters, not the Northern ones. »
Lorelei’s eyes attempted a polite, submissive expression as she gestured to the door:
« Good for you… Now… if you do not mind I’ll need to rest, Lieutenant… »
The twenty and one year old Bellanian Southern Guard lieutenant’s body inclined reverently, his eyes clearly a far much airier, optimistic mood.
« Goodnight, Miss Lorelei. »