Copy Cat, Part 3
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Last time on Nexus:
Copy Cat, Part 2

Chloe hated it when Dean carried her under his arm. Sure, they were much faster, but first of all it was totally degrading and secondly all her bones hurt every time afterwards from the jerking.
The Nun-Di, who had probably only allowed himself to be grabbed because he had followed Chloe's example and offered no resistance, seemed to be having more fun with the situation.
"Nuuuuh!" he sounded.
You're lucky you don't have a skeleton, Chloe thought darkly….
She had no idea how these two guards had immediately gotten on her trail. The only fact was that they were being followed. Chloe knew Dean could have just whacked one, but there was a risk that Chloe or the Nun-Di would come to harm in the meantime.
Ahead of them, the sea came into view.
Chloe glanced behind her. Where was the little one? The big one was still chasing her, panting.
Something jumped from a rooftop onto Dean and tried with moderate success to unscrew his head from his shoulders. However, the something, the little soldier, managed to knock Dean off balance. He rolled up while still in the fall, trapping Chloe and the Nun-Di inside him so they would take less damage on impact as Dean rolled across the street. The roll ended just short of a ceramic merchant's wares, who then let the stopped air escape with relief.
The small guard, who had come to rest earlier due to his lower moment of inertia, stood up with difficulty as the large one jogged past him.
Dean had much less trouble getting up and was already lunging with his fist.
Unfortunately for him, the big guy knew judo….
Dean flew through the air in a high arc, denting the ground on impact.
Without making a sound, Dean rose again, only for the little guy to hit him in the knee with his sword.
It ricocheted with a loud "ping!".
Dean kicked his stunned attacker aside in annoyance to get back to Chloe. She, along with the Nun-Di who was following her around like a lapdog, had crawled under the ceramic vendor's table to avoid the big guard's grabbing hands.
"Hey, get away from my merchandise!" the vendor incensed, trying to shoo Chloe back out.
She ignored his kicks and scrambled to the end of the table, where she pulled Nun-Di along with her with a determined grip to reach the sea. His skin, fortunately, felt neither slippery nor damp, but like her own.
The big guard continued after them, but Dean grabbed him by the throat from behind and pulled him backwards over his posed leg.
Before Dean could get moving, though, the guard got a hold of his foot and twisted it.
Normal people would have been brought down by this, but Dean held himself upright. Only when the little one pulled with spiteful laughter his other leg out from under him, Dean landed on the ground in an involuntary split.
That was all Chloe registered, as she hurried to reach the ocean.
"Stop right there, you brats!" she heard the little one shout behind her.
The docks opened up in front of them.
Chloe and her doppelganger clopped down a flight of stairs and reached the part of the harbor that was mostly wood.
Her pursuer threw himself against the Nun-Di from behind and knocked him to the ground. The latter, however, immediately bit his arm, causing a few pained screams before the guard got the idea to let go, whereupon his target followed Chloe again.
Chloe, meanwhile, came to a stop at the edge of the jetty and looked briefly at the green harbor water before turning around. The Nun-Di rushed toward her.
And was overtaken by the thrown sword of the obviously enraged guard….
Chloe could only stare stock-still at the approaching weapon, while the world around her seemed to run only in slow motion.
The weapon struck Chloe at the root of her nose.
Grip first.
Chloe's head was jerked back and she tried, semi-conscious, to regain her balance.
Then the Nun-Di slammed into her, ramming them both off the dock.
The water was pleasantly warm and brought Chloe back from unconsciousness. There was no sign of the Nun-Di.
Chloe tried to swim, but something got caught in her robe.
And pulled her upward.
As she broke the surface of the water, she also saw what had caught her. The guard had gotten hold of a pole lying around with a hook on it, which was actually used to pull boats to the dock, and improvised a fishing rod with it. The anger apparently gave him herculean strength, because Chloe flew out of the water in a high arc and landed hard on the wood of the jetty.
She gasped. How did Dean endure such a thing…?
Panting heavily, the guard stepped toward her. Chloe decided to take the only action that wouldn't result in her being strangled instantly.
"Rrrrrrr!"

"Li, now you listen to me, it's absolutely stupid!" exclaimed Elli, before this strange resting field forced her back into an even frame of mind.
It was probably what was blocking her Nexus. It didn't just affect emotions.
Two guards dragged her behind Hè and Mang as they wandered through the house.
"Our ancestors wrote reports on these beings, are you saying our ancestors are lying?" replied Hè with the composure of a marijuana user.
"I'm saying that you may have misunderstood something," Elli corrected him. "You are a man of science, after all; question such things!"
"To question it, I have to question the Nun-Di," it came back. "The one that you helped to escape."
"I think as an immortal she hangs too far in the past," the concubine suspected.
Keep telling yourself that, you huge snake, Elli thought to herself. Yet it was this "out of time" thinking that had enabled her to let Li Mang attain the status she held today. How could Elli have been so wrong about her?
Because you've been sloppy, said the part of herself that Elli immediately pushed back into the alcohol where she wanted it to stay.
"Perhaps we should instead see if her immortality can be passed on?" Li asked the scholar straight.
"That won't be necessary," replied the latter, as they finally entered a chamber where Hé's luggage was probably kept.
He stepped to a large chest and took out a long case.
"We can catch a new one, after all, we still have this."
He opened the container. Out came a flute. It seemed to be made of deep blue crystal. The light refracted off it like ocean waves. Elli knew this object.
"Wait a minute, this was supposed to be hidden on an island in the Pacific!"
"It was," Mang confirmed in amazement. "After we learned about this treasure in old records of our sailors, we had to expend quite a bit of human resources because our ships kept going missing when they left for the island. The emperor almost cut off our funds. Fortunately, Captain Ping came back in time with this instrument."
"You know what that is?" asked Hé.
"Yes, the Sea Flute, created by the forgotten island goddess Malulilu to cheer up her creations."
Hé frowned.
"Learned something again. How did you know?"
"I get around a lot. This flute can summon any creature of the sea if you play the right tune. How did you know the one for Nun-Dis?"
"Trial and error," was the short answer. "We have lost some brave men to the things that lurk in the depths. But we now have a secret weapon for the Portuguese and the Dutch, so it's worth the few dozen men."
"You sicken me," Elli spat in disgust.
"Likewise," it came back unconcernedly.
"Night is falling soon and we have a good moon. This is the perfect opportunity," Mang opined.
"Indeed it is"; confirmed Hé. "Men, lock up this lying-"
"NO!" thundered the concubine.
Hé measured her with mild astonishment.
"I am sorry, esteemed Hé, but you do not know this woman. I want her to be where I can see her at all times."
The scholar shrugged his shoulders.
"If you wish, men, off to the bay."

Zhèng, with the bound Nun-Di on his shoulder, had almost gotten to the Mang residence when Wu caught up with him.
"Wu!" Zhèng. shouted "Are you all right? Where's the foreigner?"
"I'm okay, just bruised," the tall guard appeased him. "After a while, the city guard had gotten involved. After I told them he was a thief, they let me go."
"Not bad at all," Zhèng praised. "Did they lock him up?"
"Probably, but they called for reinforcements when I left. The man knocked down three men."
Zhèng remembered with discomfort the moment he had tried to chop off this giant's leg….
"Is that it?" asked Wu reverently, looking at the Nun-Di.
Zhèng pressed his fang a little harder against his shoulder, which the latter acknowledged with a loud "Riiih!".
"Woah," Wu went.
They reached the Mang estate just as a procession of ten guards, Min, Hé, a foreigner the guardsman didn't know, and the imperial concubine herself were striding straight out of the gate. Hé ordered them all to stop.
Zhèng noticed with discomfort how the calmness overcame him…
"Zhèng, Wu," the scholar greeted them with a put-on smile.
"Honorable Hé, I greet you!" Zhèng replied.
"Me, too," Wu followed up.
"What do you want?" asked Hé. "We're a little busy right now."
"Uh, sir?" asked Zhèng cautiously. "You sent us on a quest to find the Nun-Di. Don't you remember?"
"Oh yes I do," said the scholar, unimpressed. "And you mean to tell me you two imbeciles managed to capture a shapeshifter?"
"Sir?"
"Girl, speak or I will have you beheaded on the spot."
The foreigner spoke up with that anger that only doesn't break out because it is held down with all its might.
"Kill her, and I will make you wish you could die."
"You realize you can't make any effective threats right now, don't you?" Hé asked.
Then Zhèng's heart slipped as the Nun-Di suddenly said, "Let it go, Elli."
He opened and closed his mouth a few times like a fish gasping for air.
Hé measured him with his usual murderous composure.
"After you two have failed so phenomenally, I guess I'll-"
"Wait," Mang interjected. "That's actually exactly what I need-"
"For what?" the foreigner asked.
"As insurance against you, Elli."
Zhèng literally felt the air cool imperceptibly as pure, ice-cold hatred flared up in the blonde for a moment that not even Hé's cursed balance aura could stifle.
"Hurt even a hair of her head…. See what happens…"
Mang just smiled.
"Elli, I can play that game too. You won't get out of line, because whether you get free or not, she's still dead if you do. Good job, you two."
Zhèng let the pent-up air escape. The scholar raised a finger admonishingly.
"Uh, highly honored Lady Mang?" he began, but was interrupted.
"Quiet, Hé, circumstances may be different, but these two have done a good job for me. Even if you throw them out, I will give them work."
Zhèng and Wu said nothing, but bowed to express gratitude. The girl crashed back first on the floor as they did so.
"Good, now put the knife to her throat and don't hesitate to cut it if our friend here tries to escape."
Said "friend" had a thoughtful expression on her face.
"Where is the big one, anyway?" she asked.
"The guard has him in custody," Wu explained.
"You took Chloe away from him and left him alone?" the foreigner concluded, biting her lips. "I don't suppose either of you have ever seen Terminator, have you?"
"Not me," Chloe spoke up.
"What, not even you? That's a classic!"
"That movie's PG-13, Elli!"
"That's no excuse!"

Cai and Aang stood quietly in the guard department, relatively perplexed. The two guards had just gone on duty when they had heard a repeated loud crash.
Now they were standing in front of one of the prisoner cells.
It no longer contained a prisoner. He had broken the door and the lock out of the wall.
And then he had used it to knock out the guards…
The remains laid bent in a corner, loud groans came from everywhere as the men slowly came to their senses. Some were bleeding, all definitely had bruises.
But there was no trace of the prisoner. Likewise, the bars of a window in the back of the hallway were also missing.
Aang licked his lips carefully.
"Shouldn't we give chase?"
He looked at Cai. The latter, with a blank expression, looked first at him, then at the guards lying on the ground, and then back at Aang. He shook his head slowly but firmly.

The waves lapped softly against the rocks. Man-sized cliffs stretched out around Elli. But despite the barren rocks, grass and even sturdy-looking trees had taken root on them.
"I have a good idea," Mang announced, pointing to one of the guards. "You there, take the little girl and hang her from a branch above the water so that she dangles above the surface. Then stand beside it with your sword drawn."
Said guard immediately complied with the order, Chloe tried to resist with a strangled squeak, but it was useless.
"Hé?" the concubine continued to ask. "What do you say we get some…you know…"
The scholar looked briefly at the suspended Chloe before it sunk in for him.
"Ah, that's what you mean. I don't care. Min, the flute."
The servant handed her master the Sea Flute. He played a little tune on it.
Then nothing happened for a while.
Then Chloe's, by now so tied up that she could only kick her legs, and Elli's features as well fell asleep. Below Chloe, a triangular dorsal fin was now making its circles….
Mang anticipated Elli's question.
"It's a tiger shark, Elli. Usually, they do not attack adults, but Chloe is pretty small for her age and this one seems hungry…. Guard, if the blonde makes even one wrong move, cut the rope!"
The guard nodded, though only after some hesitation and reluctance.
"You're going to throw Chloe to the sharks?" snapped Elli. "Li, that's sick!"
"It's absolutely cruel, I know," the concubine confirmed unconcernedly. "But that's what keeps your feet still. And it keeps your gorilla off my back, should he show up here. Don't do anything that would give us both sleepless nights…"
Elli thought hard while the scholar played another tune and some men prepared nets. It was not easy, because this resting field decelerated her thoughts considerably. It was probably calibrated to the thinking speed of normal people….
Dean had surely already freed himself, but how would he know where they were? Li was certainly prudent enough not to inform her guards.
Could the Nun-Di help? Chloe and Dean seemed to have completed their mission. But she didn't know much about these creatures because nobody had never been able to study them up close. But maybe he was luring the sharks to him, or attacking them itself….
Wait… Shark attacks… She remembered what her instructor had taught her back at the SPC seminar….
Elli rammed the back of her head into her guard's face and kicked him with all her might. He was actually baffled enough to let her go.
"BONSAAAAAIIIIII!" she yelled and ran to Chloe.
The guard next to Chloe actually seemed to be struggling with himself, but his fear of Mang's wrath finally seemed to prevail over his morals. He cut the rope…
Chloe dropped like a stone into the water.
She immediately came back up and kept herself afloat with all her might. Therefore, she did not even notice the shark behind her, which leisurely swam up and opened its mouth.
Only for Elli, honorary pugilist of the Shark Punching Center, to sink her fist into its snout.
She unfortunately had nowhere near the arm muscles of a professional shark puncher, but made up for it by leaping into the waters with a pike jump, adding the force of her impact to her fist.
A shark's snout, along with its gills, is one of its weak points, as many sensory organs converge there.
Unfortunately, the same is true for people's fingers….
Elli was sure that she had not broken anything, but she felt as if she had hit a concrete wall. On top of that, the shark's skin had scraped the backs of her fingers, the wounds burning in the salt water. Her whole arm was numb and moved only with great effort. She would not be able to pull off such a stunt again.
The shark seemed to have been sufficiently affected, fortunately, because it had dived and did not come back up.
Elli slapped into the water next to Chloe and came back up, snorting and groaning in pain.
"Swim, Chloe!"
The idea was to flee from Mang by sea, for the cliffs were too impassable to pursue directly.
However, nothing came of it. Chloe's feet alone got her just five meters before she was grabbed by the collar and pulled out of the water.
"Let go of me!" she shouted.
It took Elli a moment to process the sight.
They had swum out far enough that no human arm could reach them from land. Hé, however, didn't mind.
With nimble footwork, he balanced on the waves. The man virtually walked on the water. Used correctly, his balance field even seemed to create equilibria between acting forces.
Elli swam after him as fast as she could but her arm slowed her down so much that she just stared at a row of sword blades on the shore.
Strong arms pulled her out of the water and threw her to the ground in front of Mang.
"I never thought I'd see a human punching a shark," Mang said, rudely snatching the hostage from the scholar's hands.
Elli looked up at her, startled. And then a little bit further up….
Mang drew her knife.
"I won't kill her, Elli," she promised calmly. "But for this shock, I will take one of her legs-"
She probably noticed that Elli's jaw dropped. And not because of Mang, but because of what was behind her.
Salt water began to drip onto the concubine as the guards began to shout loudly and back away from the water. Hé stood directly behind them, holding the guard Zhèng in front of him like a shield. Min stood a little apart, no less stunned.
The concubine finally got the idea to turn around and look up.
She was looking at the head of a Nun-Di.
It was about the size of an ox cart….
Elli began to smile uncertainly as she said, "Heeeeeere's MOMMY!"
The giant Nun-Di hissed menacingly.
"Rriiiiih!" came a much less fearsome response from the point where his long neck disappeared into the water. A second Chloe braced herself out of the water there.
Mang had apparently frozen in place.
The Nun-Di mother took a deep breath….
"GROOOOOUUUH!"
It was such a bloodcurdling roar that Elli began to vibrate.
Mang started screaming, pushed Chloe off her and tried to run away.
She didn't get far.
Its mouth opened, the Nun-Di's head sprang forward, grabbed the imperial concubine and threw her high into the air.
Still screaming, Li Mang fell into the open maw of the sea creature. Her screeching abruptly ceased as its jaws closed with elemental force.
The Nun-Di turned to Elli and growled.
Its offspring, meanwhile, gnawed at Chloe's bonds with mixed success. Without taking her eyes off her mother, Elli approached the girl and groped for the knot.
With only one properly functioning arm, it was difficult to untie the rope, but the mother seemed to let her, so Elli risked taking her eyes off her.
Finally, Chloe came free.
She straightened up swaying, her eyes fixed on the huge Nun-Di, who eyed her scrutinizingly. Elli half feared that it, too, would regard her as conspecific and unintentionally drown her.
But the mother, as hoped, was smarter than the child, making a deep, booming noise and shoving her confused-looking offspring back into the water.
"Rururara!" came from there.
The Nun-Di stopped in mid-motion, took aim at the men, who had not moved from the spot because of this incredible spectacle, and hissed again.
Great screams came from the men as the head suddenly sprang forward.
But as gigantic as the Nun-Di was, it did not reach its victims.
"Don't be afraid, men!" said Hé with renewed courage. "I will calm this beast."
Elli saw him pull a jade orb from his sleeve and squeeze it between his hands. So this was the generator!
Elli felt calmness spread through her, and even the Nun-Di's anger seemed no match. He tossed his head back and forth and made those deep, booming sounds again.
"Ha! See, no fear. I-"
Someone shoved him from behind. The orb fell from the scholar's hand and rolled toward the water.
Horror spread across Hé's face and he immediately rushed after the jewel. He left the soldiers behind and threw himself at the orb before it could roll any further.
He exhaled in a calming breath.
Then the Nun-Di's jaws closed around him with a terrible crunch….
"Oops…" said Dean, who had given Hé the shove.
The guards, now leaderless, looked at each other.
Zhèng was the first to wordlessly take to his heels and disappear.
Wu followed him slowly.
"Hey, Zhèng, wait for me!"
There was an awkward silence among the rest of the men until the Nun-Di growled again and made an effort to get out of the water.
At this, a medium-scale panic broke out and the guards ran for their lives.
The servant Min tripped behind them as fast as she could.
Chloe had been watching silently, but now ran slowly to Elli, keeping an eye on the Nun-Di. To Elli, though, it looked like it had calmed down.
It looked at Dean, Chloe and her in turn. Over the edge of the bank, the cub did likewise. Finally, it gave one last low growl and let himself sink back into the waters. The little Nun-Di looked at Chloe for a while before he too dived down.
"I didn't mean to, really!" affirmed Dean as he drew closer. "How was I supposed to know he was going to jump after that thing?"
Elli waved it off.
"In that case, I'd blame it on karma, Dean. How did you find us, anyway?"
"Your battle cry," Dean explained simply. "After that, all I had to do was follow the roar of that giant Nun-di. Do you guys have any idea what this is? The Chinese left it lying around. Looks valuable."
He showed off the Sea Flute.
Elli conspiratorially looked left and right before taking the flute and thoughtfully making it disappear into her robe.
"In their hands, it's a weapon of war."
"What do we do?" asked Dean. "Do we get out of here?"
"Of course," Elli replied. "I can finally reopen the Nexus. But there's something I have to do first…"

Panting, Min reached the Mang residence with the rising sun. This stupid servant's clothing did not allow her to run, unfortunately, but now she could finally put on something else. There were no more guards, they had all fled, having failed in their supreme duty. May the ancestors know where they were right now….
Without Hé, however, she was also out of a job and would probably be chased from the yard as soon as it became known what her master had done. Maybe she could leave the country on a Portuguese ship. Here in this house there was certainly something they could bribe themnwith.
In one of the storerooms, the bag of the immortal caught her eye. She had tentatively reached into it but the bag seemed bottomless. Perhaps she could sway the Portuguese with it as well as the gold.
She reached for the purse.
Suddenly the light flooding into the room through the window and door disappeared. It became pitch black.
Startled, Min withdrew her hand.
"Min? Would you be so kind as to give me back my handbag?"
Min squealed in shock and froze for a moment as the immortal's voice sounded behind her. The smell of strong alcohol rose to her nose.
She didn't sound angry or hateful. She just sounded disgusted and disappointed beyond measure. And that made it even worse! What would she do to the servant!?
With mechanical-looking movements, Min fumbled in the darkness for the bag and passed it behind her without turning around.
The servant felt the bag being taken from her hand.
"Thank you."
W-What are you going to do with me now?" asked Min in a choked voice.
"Nothing yet," the immortal replied calmly. "I haven't thought of anything for you yet, and your sentence should be properly weighed. But someday, Min, I will return to you. Fear it, try to flee from it, but the day will come when I will hold you accountable for your betrayal of me. Even your death will not stop me. All right?"
Min nodded in panic.
"Then, goodbye…"
The room became bright again. The handbag and the immortal had disappeared. In full panic, Min tried to gather as much as she could carry and then tried to reach the Portuguese Diocese at top speed.

"Hehe…"
With a self-satisfied grin, Elli took her eyes off the cosmoscope.
"What are you going to do with her?" asked Chloe behind her.
They were both wearing clothes appropriate for Chloe's time again.
"I don't know. Maybe I'll hang a kick-me sign on her back someday without her noticing, I don't know."
A bottle of good Russian vodka from her bar materialized in her hand. Elli licked her lips as she removed the cap.
"One more thing I'd like to know," asked Dean, who was standing in a corner and ironed their robes. "If Min didn't release the Nun-Di, who did?"
"Simple," Elli replied "That was…"
Her grin gave way to a thoughtful expression. Still brooding, she put the bottle to her lips and drank.

Phuong Jiang happily sipped his tea. The splendidly dressed eunuch sat on one of the balconies of the imperial palace, enjoying his break.
At least that's what his subordinates thought.
Jiang was old, gray-haired, and had been in the business for a long time, so he had learned that if you want to fool your enemy, you must first do the same to your own guys.
He listened to the report that had finally reached him from Macau after a week. It had gone much better than expected.
"So I was right about Mang's machinations. I keep saying, don't give too much power to the ambitious, or they will eventually try to dispute even the gods' posts. I must commend you. Your plan to let loose the Nun-Di to flush out those traitors was pretty good."
"Thank you, my lord," was the abject reply from the kneeling man.
"But now I have to ask, what would you have done if this Elli hadn't shown up?"
"The original plan had been to conceal myself and steal the Sea Flute to prevent Mang from calling a new Nun-Di. Since the item had not been in one of the Abnormality Institute's warehouses as actually communicated, that would have been proof that some members, or at least Master Hé, had become susceptible to corruption by influential members of the imperial court."
"Well, now we've lost the Sea Flute, though…"
"I thought it more important to inform you of what has happened before the rest of the imperial court learns of Mang's and Hé's demise. If I have disappointed you, I accept any punishment you may impose on me."
"On the contrary, I am more than pleased with your work. This flute would only have caused us problems in the long run. Control of the sea belongs to the gods, as does the power to decide over immortality. I will send your family enough gold to fill thirteen rice bowls with it."
"Your gratitude honors me deeply, my lord."
"And it pleases me to know someone as competent as you is at my side. Now, your next assignment will take you to Nanchong. You'll have a week to recuperate while I set things in motion. Hmm, you'll need a new alias. Better not your old… Uh, what were you called again?"
"Wu the guardsman, my lord."

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