The Devolution of Yamashita Tomohisa – Part One
The Devolution of Yamashita Tomohisa
(A Fairy Tale)
by Ender’s Girl
Part One: An Augury in Pink
Deep in the heart of Johnny’s Evil Empire, the Goblin King’s fortress loomed over the blighted land, a hulking obscenity built from rough-hewn volcanic rock and twisted metal. It threatened to blot out the dull red sun while casting its grotesque shadow on the desolation below, over the fetid marshlands dotted with charred tree stumps and peat bogs, over the gasping dust bowls that encroached insidiously on the swamps. A dozen or so crooked spires jutted upwards from the blackened walls of the stronghold, stabbing at the sky like inverted fangs. A heavy pall hung about the place, one that mirrored the barrenness of the terrain around it. Its deathly stillness was marred only by the flurry of vultures that circled the tallest of the towers and watched the land with a greedy eye, ready to swoop down on the occasional traveler who had managed to survive the fens and the desert, ready to harass the weary straggler until he stumbled, fell, and rose no more.
And so the castle was silent, as it had been for many years. But today, however, was different.
From the bowels of the stronghold, a rumbling sound broke loose and reverberated through the maze of tunnels and forgotten sewers that bore into the structure’s foundations. The rumblings — deep, ominous, incessant — were soon joined by other sounds within and around the castle: the dull beating of the drums of the grunt armies, the clanging of rusty iron chains and demented howls coming from the dungeons below, and the shrieks of the raptors hovering above the blood-stained ramparts. The cavernous furnaces disgorged thick black smoke and bilious yellow vapors that snaked upwards to engulf the fortress in a noxious haze. And all across the land, the serfs and thralls quailed at the sound and turned their haggard faces from the fumes, even as they toiled away under the relentless crack of whips, under the relentless heat of the swollen sun.
Inside the keep, the activity level was unusually high. Castle servants scuttled along the flagstones, bearing trays with oddly shaped metal instruments into a well-guarded chamber that housed the Darkling Lord’s most prized possessions. Inside, crude recesses in the fungus-stained walls cast a sickly viridescent light on the rows upon rows of axolotl tanks that took up most of the floor space. The tanks bubbled with a glaucous ooze that almost concealed the strange embryonic forms suspended within, still incubating, still in the inexorable process of growing limbs and anatomical features — though in varying stages of development. A low shelf to one side of the chamber held fifty or so petri dishes all labeled “Juniors,” and where the inchoate pre-Johnnies were being cultured before they could complete their pedogenesis in the axolotl tanks. The servants padded noiselessly about the chamber, assisting the gray-clad minions who were hunched over the tanks and petri dishes, and whose sole purpose was to facilitate the breeding process.
The massive iron doors swung open with a menacing creak, and all who were inside groveled on the floor as Johnny, the Goblin King himself, shuffled into the room. News had reached him that this latest breed of Johnnies were nearing the end of their incubation period, and he had come to inspect the merchandise. Johnny moved ponderously down the rows of glass tanks, the milky cataracts in his eyes belying the sharpness with which he took in every detail. Sable fur lined his heavy overcoat, and dark oversized glasses were propped precariously on the bridge of his stubby nose. A silver stud gleamed wickedly in one earlobe, and his wiry hair, dyed jet-black, reeked of the perfumed pomade in which it was liberally drenched. These accessories — fur coat, earring, shades — looked incongruous with his shriveled body that had to be at least a few centuries old. But if he appeared in any way comical, not a single prostrated minion in the chamber dared laugh. They remembered the inhuman cries from the dungeons below them, and they dared not laugh.
Johnny paused by the long ledge and held up a sulfur-yellow petri dish with two spotty claws, peering curiously at the tiny morula writhing inside the glass. The Goblin King spoke, his voice an odd rasping sound emanating from his desiccated throat. “You,” he prodded the nearest prone minion with a sequined ruby shoe. “What’sss in the platessss?” The minion rose shakily to his feet, his gray robes rustling over the cold stone slabs. “Juniors, m’ lord,” the minion’s tongue flickered out nervously. A sweep of his gloved hand indicated the dozens of identical petri dishes on the table. “They still have a good four years before reaching their full neotenic state… but should they all turn out to be viable, they can form, uh.. a super group, my lord.” Johnny returned the dish he was holding with a dismissive nod. “Excellent idea, a super group,” he croaked, then added thoughtfully, “Name them… Hey…. Ssssay…. Jump.” The rest of the minions rose from the granite floor, bobbing their heads obsequiously and making useless little sounds of assent. Johnny rolled one wrinkly eye until it popped out of its socket. “Foolsss…” he hissed disdainfully, swatting the eyeball back in place.
And so it went for another hour or so, the Goblin King moving down the line of axolotl tanks, inspecting each fetal form as it stirred fitfully in its mucilaginous cocoon, and then pronouncing the path it was to take later in life, as a full-fledged Idol. One tank held a decidedly reptilian-looking embryo, the heavy-lidded eyes and sallow features nearing full development. Johnny tossed the scrawny thing back into its amniotic slime. “Kanjani8,” he rasped. “And maybe… put him in another group, jussst in case.” In the next row, a rather large and gangly axolotl swam sluggishly in its tank, and as Johnny paused before the incubator, the creature shot him a bored look and made an obscene gesture with a three-toed appendage. “Sssso… a ssself-ssstyled rebel, are you? Craving a little… independenssssce, are you?” Johnny’s evil eye roamed over the creature’s glassy eyes and rudimentary brown curls. “Ohoho, you’ll be crawling back to me in no time, my little one…” The Goblin King smiled knowingly as he moved away.
The next container held a much smaller figure that rhythmically darted to and fro, a determined gleam in its tilted eyes, so artfully lined with black kohl. A gray-robed minion materialized at Johnny’s side. “It’s been practicing every day since it started growing limbs, your lordship. Its latest routine is some kind of… water dance. Er… quite partial to makeup, too.” Johnny cackled in amusement, eyeing the incipient form as it continued to shimmy and twirl in the green sludge. “Sssso young, but ssso much energy, hmmm? Ambitioussss little thing. The youngessst of your group, but a born leader, I can ssssee. Black and red shall be your colorsss.” The minions murmured obediently, following their master as he shuffled thoughtfully down the line, and careful to not so much as glance at the sequined ruby shoes peeking underneath the heavy robes.
“And what isss thissss?” Johnny stopped before a tank identical to all the others in the nursery, but which stood out in frothy defiance amid the greenish monotony of the breeding chamber.
For the color of the embryonic juice inside the tank, was pink.
Johnny reached into the incubator and with great care extracted the creature from its gooey cocoon. Its neoteny was virtually complete: pink slime dripped from the brown fuzz of its wrinkly skin, and its spindly limbs — fully formed now — wriggled in feeble protestation as Johnny continued to hold it up in the flickering green light. The minions cringed and wrung their hands. “We don’t know why the amniotic fluid turned pink, your majesty. It just… did.” Johnny brought the neonate closer to his vision. The creature’s nictitating membrane drew back for the very first time, revealing a pair of dead-fish eyes that stared dully at Johnny’s necrotic face. “A freak among freaks,” Johnny wheezed in disgust, and was about to fling it back into its container, when the strange little thing did what no other axolotl tank inhabitant had ever done before.
It smiled at the Goblin King, the viscid lips creasing upwards to reveal pointy little teeth, the vacant eyes crinkling around their upturned edges. And it gurgled as it smiled. Johnny eyed the creature with renewed interest. Something inside his dried-up husk of a soul was awakened, an emotion that uncomfortably felt like… genuine affection. “Could you be the Chosen One?” murmured Johnny, bringing one knobby finger to tickle the creature’s button nose. It caught a knuckle joint in both of its webbed little hands, still gurgling, still smiling. It was the sweetest sight Johnny had ever seen in his five-hundred-odd years spent on this earth. “My precioussss…” he crooned, borrowing a distant cousin’s favored expression. The Goblin King whirled around with uncharacteristic sprightliness and held the creature in both of his gnarled hands, above the cowled heads of his minions. “I have chosen the Heir,” he cried. The minions prostrated themselves once again, careful to avert their eyes from the sparkling ruby shoes, as their master wrapped the creature in a blanket and proceeded to waltz around the nursery, pirouetting nimbly on the stone slabs.
With the little sprog nestled in the crook of one shriveled arm, Johnny skipped his way out of the chamber, down the dank, twisted corridors and up a half-dozen spiral staircases leading to the tallest tower of his castle. The rumblings, drumbeats, clanking sounds and predatory shrieks grew even louder, causing the stronghold to tremble right down to its very foundations rooted deep in the bedrock. The summons — for that is what they were — drew all denizens of the Evil Empire from far and wide, and they came straggling across the wilderness, toothless, eyeless, some even limbless, these mutant forms who lived and died under the yoke of the Goblin King.
From his room in the tallest spire, Johnny surveyed the mewling cohorts assembling below him. Stepping out onto the crumbling balcony, he raised the squirming bundle as high as he could. “Let all the land — from the north, to the east, to the west, to the south — behold my new Heir,” he crowed, a triumphant gleam in his glaucomatous eyes. “He shall grow up a prince among men… er, maybe not men,” Johnny backpedaled while the drudges down below blinked their pus-caked eyes in confusion. “Er, no matter. He shall grow up a princssse! An Idol! He shall ssssing, dance, act, model, bake, ssssew, everything! Everything and anything!”
And as the Goblin King exulted over his newest ward, the mutant hordes groveled in the dust and dared not demur. Johnny turned from the balcony and crooked an arthritic claw at a gray-robed minion. “You. Background music!” The minion scurried out of the room and returned with a beat-up contraption that looked suspiciously like a battery-powered cassette player. He pushed the play button, and the chorus from “The Circle of Life” blared out of the battered speakers. Johnny’s withered face turned a bright purple. “Louder, fool!” The hapless minion cranked up the volume dial to its highest setting, until the distorted strains of the song reached the multitudes below.
Johnny dangled the unsuspecting bundle over the balcony, as another distant relative of his (thrice removed) had been fond of doing. The drudges below and the minions behind him gasped in horror. “Jusssst kidding,” Johnny muttered sourly as he pulled his precious heir back, rolling his eyes a bit too vigorously. This time, both eyeballs popped out of their sockets and swung unappetizingly over his shrunken cheekbones. A lovely burbling sound came from the baby-like thing in his arms. It was — laughing. At him. Johnny beamed in sheer delight, his maw cracking wide open — or at least, as wide as his parched skin would allow. “You’ve got some cheek, little one.” The Goblin King thought for a moment. “I shall call you… YamaPi,” he rasped. “And you shall be loved by all — by the fangirls, by the press, by the networks, by my own groundlings, even by the other Johnnies…” He broke off, suddenly remembering the current Crown Prince, Kimura, and the Crown-Prince-in-Waiting, Takizawa, both away fighting in their respective dorama campaigns. He had a feeling that neither princeling would be thrilled to learn, upon returning, that the Darkling Lord had chosen a new Heir Apparent.
The Goblin King shook his shriveled head and sighed. He would deal with the older Johnnies when the time came. But as the Disney song continued to play, Johnny Kitagawa looked down at this little bundle of joy wriggling in his arms, and let the voice of his ultimate idol (Elton John) take the song to its soaring refrain, allowing the music to say all that his dried-up heart wished to say. The future of his Evil Empire never looked so bright. And so… pink.
Next up: Part Two — A Happy Childhood
Credits: My writing style was obviously influenced by every significant work of high fantasy and science fiction from the previous century, hahaha. Obviously. Special thanks to Frank Herbert, author of the “Dune” books, who gave me the idea for the in vitro breeding via axolotl tanks. And to the 1982 fantasy movie “The Dark Crystal,” which I saw as a wee li’l child and whose eerie images have stayed with me ever since.
Photo credits: aquadaily.com, bestuff.com, erdingtonaquatics.com, horrorart.biz, lavender.fortunecity.com, softlist.net, telegraph.co.uk, and extra thanks to the various users at crunchyroll.com who posted YamaPi’s chibi pics.