Shinobi 20XX

Gatac 2020-06-28 19:35:04
Jidaigeki Reloaded
Gatac 2020-06-28 19:35:33
As the dojo doors slid and locked themselves shut behind her, Keiko Kamura took a deep breath, smelling the scent of salt air carried all the way from the harbor halfway across the capital. It was the middle of the day, not that the grey overcast skies let on anything, as the breeze wound from Miyako’s harborfront, through the megastructures of downtown, and over the data antennas and sunseeking panels on the rooftops of her neighborhood. The Maruyama district was old, part of the original city, but the hill it surrounded was far too steep and covered with temples and shrines to flatten out, and so it remained stubbornly resistant to the hundred-story architectural flights of fancy just a few miles away. The elevated maglev train whistled overhead down the main drag as Keiko strolled down the street, earphones clipped on as she flipped through the streaming DJs on tap at the moment. The crossing guard bot rolled out in front of traffic, and Keiko joined the rush across the road, cars and trucks humming as they waited for their turn. Something itched in the back of her mind as she turned down an alley, bounding around a three-wheeled delivery drone and just through the bright red keep-out hologram surrounding it. A change in the weather, but with the same grey overcast as the day before, or like her leggings had shrunk a size in the wash. It had put her in an off mood most of the day, but right now, she had bigger concerns, like groceries and the weekly dojo cleaning.

“Mr. Namura, hello!” Keiko called out, bowing as she slowed down in the entrance to the grocery store. “Did you get the udon brand I like in?” She peered between the stacks of dried tuna flake and kelp strips on the bottom of the aisle, trying to find the box that he always put aside for her.
“It should be behind the fish sauce!” Namura called back. Sure enough, when Keiko bounded down the one of the aisles and slid down a few feet on her knees, she spotted the cardboard shipping box emblazoned with the logo of the spiciest brand of instant udon on the market. Seeing its chance, the small stocker robot darted over her, carrying with it the day’s selection of fresh radishes. Keiko, meanwhile, smiled at her little victory. She carefully moved the bottles of sauce aside, grabbed a box and dropped it in her basket. Then she was on her feet again, sliding through the store on her running shoes, piling a few essentials into her basket before returning to the front of the store.
“Ah, you found it,” Namura said, tapping the price into the register. “Two thousand yen.”
“Yes, thank you very much for holding it for me,” Keiko said with a bow, which turned into dusting off her shorts and leggings.
“Oh, it’s no problem for a Kamura,” Namura replied in between rattling off prices. “Simply having you here makes this the safest shop in Miyako.”
“Thank you, but I just run the dojo,” Keiko said for the thousandth time. “If you need help, call the police.”
“Of course, of course,” Namura replied. “Even still, the Kamura name still means a lot to people.” The old man smirked at her. “Keeps the bad elements away.” He pulled out the last item. “Six hundred fifty. And that will be seven thousand, six hundred and twenty.”
A quick rummage in her messenger bag later brought up her wallet, and Keiko quickly counted out the bills and coins down to the yen into the tray before sliding it over. “Here you go, thank you very much,” she said, slinging her messenger behind her back before carefully placing her groceries in the large tote slung over her other shoulder.
“You have a good day, young lady,” Namura said.
“You too, Mr. Namura,” Keiko replied, shifting her tote enough for one last bow as she turned to leave.

Outside, the grey skies had darkened just enough that Keiko reached for the obi on her hip - the only concession to her family’s tradition in her daily life, even if all it did is hold an umbrella. Few of the newer buildings in Maruyama District had awnings to duck under, after all - ‘newer’ in the sense of not being a temple. 108 temples, shrines and meditation sites had withstood the trials of time, and from their placement on the hill, everything else followed - the winding of roads, houses squeezed in every empty corner and even the central cable car line cutting through the middle of the southern slope and its terraced houses. The first drops made their way towards her as she passed a bus stop, where a throng of office workers returning from downtown came pouring out of the electric bus. Keiko dodged through the stand-clear holowalls and the crowd within, exchanging a few nods with those who knew her, and finally opened her umbrella when she was clear of the commotion. There wasn’t a lot of rain yet, just a dot-dot against the waterproof fabric like there had been every day for the last two weeks. Keiko knew it well enough that the weather report projected onto the inside of the umbrella was old news to her. The rain wouldn’t let up all evening, just keep working itself up the hill after her and probably be a proper shower sometime after midnight, to be gone by next morning. She didn’t mind that. At least the drops against the windows kept her company.

The dojo was a ways still uphill, though a few turns of main street away from the mall that had taken over the top of the hill about ten years ago. A hint of the weight the Kamura name still carried was the size of the lot. Almost decadently, the original building still stood where it had been built centuries ago, but had turned into one of the aforementioned shrines somewhere in the process. The actual modern dojo had moved to a far more modern building, L-shaped around the shrine to remove it from view of the street. Thanks to the Kamura residency predating the building - and almost all of the surrounding neighborhood - the more recent incarnation of the Kamura dojo occupied the street-facing leg and half of the building’s core on the ground floor, with the other third the necessary evil of a lobby and business entrance. That left the Kamura-owned leg: sliding glass doors, allowing air into the large open training space behind, with the core behind it the office and living quarters for the current Kamura master, Keiko. The thick granite pediment street-side was faced with a full-width holographic sign that transitioned - with dramatic flourish - between a trio of messages: “Maruyama Martial Arts School”, “Home of Kamura-do fighting arts” and “Spring enrollment open now!”.

Normally, those sliding glass doors were closed and locked outside of class hours, but today, not only were a set of them wide open, but Keiko spotted a person-sized shape moving standing outside the offices inside. “Shit,” Keiko hissed, reflexively stepping into a storefront as she dug in her bag for her phone.
“Keiko?” Mrs. Kubo asked, the middle aged woman looking up from organizing loops of fabric in her shop.
Keiko froze - she couldn’t call the police right away. What would people say if the famous Kamura-sensei just...called the police? At least she should see if it was just kids or some overzealous Kamura fan. “Hi, Mrs. Kubo,” Keiko said, turning her way with a big smile. “Would you mind...looking after my things for a moment? I just need…” She froze, her smile staying on. “I’ll be right back. Would that be all right?”
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Kubo replied with a kind smile. Keiko quickly shed her grocery bag, slid the hood of her running jacket over her head, tightened her messenger bag around her chest, and jogged across the street, staying low behind the parked cars and out of sight. Her hand rested on the handle of her umbrella, slid back into place clipped onto her obi.


At the back of the Kamura dojo, in the living quarters’ spare room, layed a door down to the basement of the building. Keiko used the small space for storing old dojo equipment and some sealed up plastic junk containers, but tonight all of that had shoved aside and a hole knocked in the wall. A few more broken walls later stood four more gang members, psyching themselves up to breach one more wall.

“Come on, just punch it,” one of them goaded the young man at the front.
“We all did it, it’s easy,” another said.
“Hit it with your head!” a third cheered.
“Nah, kick it, use your heel, that was easy,” a fourth argued.
The young man up front shook his hands. “Shut up, I’m gonna do it,” he said.
Closing his eyes, the young man wound up, then punched the cinderblock wall with his bare hands - and the blocks shattered from the impact. They all started hooting and shouting as he threw a few more wild punches, and added in a couple kicks for good measure, and before long there was a man-sized hole punched through the solid concrete wall.

“Out of my way!” one of the others shouted, and all five of them pushed and shoved past each other through the hole. It was dark on the other side, but a moment of fumbling later, each of their phones blinked into flashlight mode, and the white light of the camera flashes turned to golden yellow on the walls, as they illuminated a huge pile of gold coins - and then another, and another, and another. Stretching down the length of the building sat pile after pile of gold, jewelry, and antiques.
“Holy shit,” one of them said.
“Grab what you want, but we’re here for the sword,” another said. They all filled a pocket or two, but kept searching.

A moment later, one of them was scanning the walls and illuminated something hanging from an old wooden rack - an ōdachi long enough to wedge across a small hallway, with a sheen to the edge that seemed to exist independent of the light shining on it and a handle wrapped in red skin of something that sure as hell was no shark or ray, at least none that could still be found in the ocean.
“Got it,” one of them said, and reached up for the sword. His hand was almost at the hilt when a loud hiss echoed through the vault.

All five lights and gang members spun around to face the sound, illuminating a woman in her late 20s, standing there in a suit, with a patch almost entirely covering the scars over her left eye. “That’s mine,” she coughed. “In fact, all of this is mine.”
“Yeah?” one of the gang members said as all five surrounded her. “What are you gonna do about it?”

The young woman just smiled in response, and snorted a bit of smoke.
Gatac 2020-06-28 19:35:50
Keiko carefully jogged along the street towards the hard 90 degree turn the street took at her building, heading for the business entrance rather than the dojo itself to stay out of sight as long as possible. The doorbot’s fake hologram eyes followed her past the glass front doors of the building’s business entrance, anxiously waiting to greet her if she stepped through the glass doors. Instead, she paused just before the granite steps up to the dojo’s front porch, angling for the best view she could get before stepping into the line of sight. The first glimpse removed any doubt of kid vandals or zealous Kamura clan fans - a young man in his early 20s stood watch, his neon-green half-mohawk accented by the gently glowing “circuits” of his fancy tech-jacket. Definitely not the attire of neighborhood hoodlums. Two more gang members were visible from the street, standing guard on the dojo’s floor: a shaved-bald young man and a young woman with a shock of electric blue running through her black hair. None of them looked armed, but the anxious twitches and clenched fists definitely told Keiko that they weren’t going to just scatter if she confronted them. She slid back against the building’s granite front and took a deep breath. Time to do this the hard way.

Keiko slid her umbrella out from her messenger bag, and flipped it around to grip the top end as she stepped up onto the front steps of her dojo. She tapped the tip of her umbrella against the granite as she approached, getting the attention of the green-haired lookout. Keiko had run-ins with these kinds of people before - usually you just show them you’re not a pushover and they run off to find easier prey. She held out hope it would work out the same way here, but the fact that they were invading her home and dojo didn’t give her much hope for that.

Keiko was practically standing on the green-haired lookout’s bright white sneakers by the time he noticed her, and quickly - a little too quickly - dashed backwards into the dojo. “Hey!” he shouted, getting the attention of the other two lookouts she could see from the street, and by the sounds coming from the living quarters in the back, at least one more gang member. “You - you get the hell out of here! Or else!”
“This is my dojo,” Keiko growled, trying to sound as intimidating as possible. “You get out. I’ve already called the police, and they’re on their way.”
“Hey, that’s Keiko Kamura,” the shaved-headed lookout said. “The Kamura-sensei herself.” The gang members all smirked at that as the fourth one, a young man with a short-cropped red mohawk, stepped out of her living quarters. “She’s the one we were told about.”
“Best get lost, little Kamura-sensei,” the blue-haired woman said. “You don’t want to step to us.”
Keiko looked at her, but a lot of the snarl was already lost. Scaring off some teenagers was the plan, not fighting four-on-one. “Yeah, well, this is my dojo, who’s stepping to who?”
“You’re right,” the green-haired man said. He grabbed a bamboo practice sword off the rack next to him, and pointed it at her. With a loud cry, he whipped it through the air fast enough that the bamboo strips bent back on themselves and snapped the practice sword in half. “Uh…” His face went from stunned to pumped up in a heartbeat. “Yeah! Fuck yeah!”
“We’re gonna kick your ass, Kamura!” the bald man shouted.
“Better run, Kamura!” the red-haired man added.

Keiko’s mind started racing - there are some definite things that shouldn’t be going on here, and the fight was rapidly turning from an already risky four-on-one to a four-on-one against some kind of weird drug-induced strength and speed. She thought about leaving, but then the shaved man and blue-haired woman moved to cover the one set of open dojo doors, leaving only one path forward.

The green haired young man stepped forward, flashing some shadow-boxing foot moves and bobbing and weaving a half-step too fast for a normal person.
“Go for it,” Red Mohawk said.
“Just punch her,” the blue-haired woman said.
“Yeah!” Green Hair said. He raised his right hand, balled it into a fist and gave it a little kiss, then dropped into a sloppy fighting stance. “You ready for the...widowmaker?”
Keiko struck a stance, keeping her umbrella low and guarding her weak side. “You don’t want to do this.”
“Sounds like a yes to me!” the boy said, drawing his arm back.

The boy threw his punch, then the punch threw him, dragging him towards Keiko with the speed of a top-fuel dragster leaping off the starting line. He was on her in the blink of an eye. Raw reflex got Keiko’s umbrella up and her torso twisted out of the way barely in time. Just past her, the boy stopped as quickly as he’d launched, stumbling a bit on the follow-through as the last of the punch’s energy spun him in place. Their moves ended with them facing each other again, but their expressions were entirely different. The boy looked at her wide-eyed, not quite getting what had happened. Keiko didn’t get it, either, but she set her teeth. This was a fight now. She moved.

Keiko wasn’t as fast as a freight train, but she was as fast as a trained fighter, coming up on Green Hair and his dumbfounded look in two steps. He flailed an arm in front of his face as her bent umbrella closed in. Armpit, over the shoulder, twist him around - with a quick move, she had his arm locked and pulled him off balance with the hook of the umbrella’s grip around his shoulder. Keiko spun in a half-pirouette with him, then stomped her foot to stop and let the umbrella’s curved grip slip. The momentum was enough for him to go towards the door to the lobby, and he was too busy flailing to avoid catching the edge of the granite floor there. The faceplant after that was a wet slap, not the dull crack of broken bones or the brighter notes of dental trauma. Bruised, but not yet due to spend the night at the hospital.

Keiko whipped back around, snapped a foot back and raised her bent umbrella, braced for another charge. “I don’t want anyone else getting hurt -” she started.
“Get her!” the bald man shouted. He even helpfully pointed a finger at her.

Blue Hair was first to move. It only took her the blink of an eye to run towards one of the free-standing racks of practice weapons dotted around the central training mat, grab a bō staff and run up to Keiko with it. It took her longer to figure out how to swing it, though, giving Keiko a chance to duck under it. As Keiko scrambled past Blue Hair and reasserted her fighting stance, Blue Hair whipped around to face her. With what she imagined to be a fierce cry, Blue Hair whirled the staff in her hands and advanced on Keiko. Keiko backed up, umbrella raised, and Blue Hair followed, one, two, three paces - then Blue Hair figured out how to push the staff out and swiped at the proffered bait. The strike snapped the umbrella’s spine clean in half, too quick to even rip the handle from Keiko’s hands. Keiko held onto the handle as she backed away more, her gaze flicking from side to side. She didn’t have much of a chance to catch her breath; Blue Hair dashed forward with her next attack, a clumsy swipe aimed at Keiko’s head. Keiko ducked underneath and tumbled to the side, ending up at her destination: the weapons rack. Her right hand dropped the ruined umbrella while her left ripped a training sai from its mount just as Blue Hair stabbed the staff at her shoulder.

Tiger Mauls Rabbit… Keiko stuck the sai upwards. The bō was going fast enough to scratch itself even against the blunt tines, but caught was caught; Keiko continued the turning motion, bringing the sai up and around. What Blue Hair hadn’t figured out was how to hold on to a weapon, so the staff all but flew from her hands while Keiko seized it. Out of the corner of her eye, she made Red Mohawk coming at her from the side, a blunt kama sickle raised over his head. With an elegant twist, Keiko turned on her heel and delivered a full-power sidekick to Blue Hair’s knee while smacking Red Mohawk right through his haircut with the bō. Blue Hair toppled and Red Mohawk flopped onto his knees. Keiko pressed her fleeting advantage, driving her knee at Mohawk’s face, but even on his knees he somehow slid away from her, leaving her with a hard landing and precious little time to reassess the situation.

She saw Bald Guy lunging at her, bokken at high ready as if he actually knew a thing about kendo, or watched a samurai movie once. Red Mohawk was no longer in her field of vision, a problem for another second. Keiko brought up the bō to block the bamboo sword, now fully expecting the staff to break. And, to be fair, it did, but that and the unchecked clash of bokken against the hard floor made the practice sword burst into a cloud of long fibers. Bald Guy had taken one weapon from Keiko, but given her two in the bargain; using a half of the staff in each hand, Keiko swung at Bald Guy, first getting his left arm, then his leg and then his arm again as he tried to protect himself. That gave her the room to spring from her knees up to her feet and continue forward, driving Bald Guy back and peppering his flailing arms with fresh welts.

Keiko didn’t think about Blue Hair writhing on the ground, didn’t hear her cry...and didn’t see her grab the discarded sai off the ground. Keiko, in fact, was just about to whirl around for a full-strength blow to finally break Bald Guy’s defense and hit him over the head when she skidded back over the slick floor, while the sai whistled a few inches past her face, over the sparring mats and all the way across the dojo, burying itself into the brick wall tines first.

Keiko blinked at that. That was all the time Red Mohawk needed to tackle her from the side. Down they went to the floor, round and round until Red Mohawk was flung off her, crashing through the drop ceiling, into the concrete ceiling above and back down to the floor, trailing a cloud of old dust. Keiko wasn’t much better off: it felt like her lungs had been emptied so violently that they were stuck halfway up her throat, and her ribs protested at the effort to suck them back in. Through blurry eyes, she saw Bald Guy run at her, only to stumble and hit the ground with the same incredible speed and force his gang had used to attack her. No breakfall technique could’ve cushioned that landing; he came down shoulder first and the loud crack of a dislocated shoulder rang all too clearly in Keiko’s ears, even over the blood rushing through her head.

Keiko took her time regaining the proper balance between breathing in and out. Her whole chest felt like one contiguous bruise, but she knew what a cracked rib felt like and this wasn’t it, thankfully. With some effort, she struggled to her feet and straightened up. It hurt and sickened her, to the point where she wasn’t sure if the world would ever stop spinning again. Her right hand reached for a nearby weapons rack to steady herself on. Slowly, her sight came back into focus.

Four wannabe gangsters on the floor of her dojo, all moaning in pain. Lucky for Keiko how they had taken themselves out, one way or another. If they’d had even a glimmer of actual skill...and that power! That speed! Nothing about this was at all possible, she kept telling herself. Some sort of fight had happened, but it couldn’t have gone how she remembered it. Maybe all that impossible was just a concussion talking. Maybe.

“Shit,” she managed to say.

edited by punkey on 2020-06-28 15:06:35
Gatac 2020-06-28 19:36:09
Fortunately for Keiko, the burglars didn’t go into her living quarters at the back of the dojo, allowing her at least one place of rest while the police did police things in the dojo proper. They had busted through a wall and down into the basement - with what tools, the police don’t know - but all they managed to do was bust down a few walls before coming to a dead stop against the concrete foundation of the building. With the gang members hauled off to the local station, all that was left for Keiko to do was to answer the same set of questions over and over to the local patrol officer, then the crime scene officers, and then the detectives. After the third go-around, all Keiko wanted to do was eat dinner and soak her bruises in a cold shower.

This was, of course, the time her landlady showed up. Kiara Ito seemed to exist entirely in transit between Keiko’s family dojo and her various international trips, and Keiko had never seen her in the same outfit twice. She stepped carefully through the wrecked interior, using her one good eye to nimbly pass by crime scene tags and glass shards until she was close enough to Keiko to loom over her.

“Wow,” Kiara said. “Looks like you got your ass kicked.” She looked around. “They break anything important? Heirlooms?”
“No, they didn’t even go back here,” Keiko said, rolling over from face-down on her bedroll to face up. “Did they get into the rest of the building? Maybe they were just using the dojo to get into somewhere else.”
“Nope!” Kiara answered quickly. “Everything’s where it’s supposed to be.” She smirked. “Eh, it happens. That’s what insurance is for. Have the bills sent to my office, I’ll handle the rest. Cool?”
“Cool,” Keiko said, staring up at Kiara from the floor. “Do you want to split a dinner order? All my groceries are locked up in Mrs. Kubo’s shop.”
“Hmm, yeah,” Kiara said. “Sure. I’ll stick to snacks, though.” She patted her belly. “Just ate a big meal.”

The distant sounds of polite disagreement intruded; Kiara craned her neck and then turned to walk back to the dojo. When Kiara threw the door open, Keiko got to see the source: a twentysomething man and an older woman, both in slightly oversize suits and sporting the most boring haircuts money could buy. She had them pegged as cops before they presented their credentials.

“Good evening,” the woman began. “I am Sergeant Oshiro, this is Senior Officer Namba, with the Community Safety Bureau of the NPA. You are…”
“Kiara Ito,” Kiara said.
“Ah, yes,” Officer Namba said, giving her a quick bow. “We are very sorry to be intruding in your building, Miss Ito.”
“We were hoping to speak to Keiko Kamura?” Sergeant Oshiro said, not bothering to bow to Kiara. “In connection with the breaking and entering and the subsequent...brawl.”
“Nope, that’s not how this works,” Kiara said. “Keiko’s in no shape to talk. Take a look around. If this was your home, would you feel like talking?”
“Naturally,” Namba said, “to assist the investigation -”
“Ba ba ba ba,” Kiara jumped in. “Rhetorical question. I’ll say it again: nope. Not happening. Call ahead and make an appointment.”
"But if there is any special influence or evidence -" Oshiro protested.
"Who do you think has more experience with that? I've got dishes older than you," Kiara said. Kiara squared her shoulders at the two cops, and while Keiko couldn't see her face, she felt a wave of heat come off of Kiara. "Now, one last time - scram."
“Of...of course,” Namba said, bowing again. “Again, so sorry to bother you, Miss Ito.”
“We’ll be in touch,” Oshiro said. She managed to steal a look at Keiko, then grabbed her younger colleague by the shoulder.

Keiko watched them leave through Kiara's legs from her perspective on the floor, then rolled slightly to look back up at Kiara's face. "Who are they? Do you know them?"
“Ugh,” Kiara said. “Forget ‘em. Bunch of pencil pushers, I don’t bother with the names anymore.”
"They looked like police," Keiko said. "Maybe I should have talked to them."
“They’ll keep,” Kiara said. She dug her cellphone out of her jacket and unfurled the screen. “Now, come on. Dinner. What are you thinking?”
"I'm thinking -" Keiko paused as her effort to sit up was met with her legs and back all simultaneously freezing up and screaming in pain, only barely stifling the urge to do the same herself. She flipped back down onto her back. "I'm thinking I ask my friend and landlady to get me some bags of ice and order something I can eat from where I'm at right now."
“Had a feeling you’d say that,” Kiara said. She tapped a few spots on her phone screen for a speed dial and waited until the call connected.
“Hiryo Sushi,” the young girl on the other end said. “May I take your order?”
“Michiko, what’s up?” Kiara said.
“Oh, hey Kiara,” the girl said. “Family sashimi platter again?”
“Just two regular bentos tonight,” Kiara said. “Oh, and some ice. Much as you can carry.”


The remainder of the night was dedicated to two friends, one seated on the floor and the other sprawled across it, eating sushi and chatting. Keiko tried and mostly failed to keep plastic bags of ice on her back as she plucked sushi from her bento box, but Kiara moved them back in between sliding the odd piece of sushi into Keiko’s box. After a night like Keiko had, a few less pieces for Kiara wouldn’t hurt. After dinner, Keiko felt just well enough to limp stiff-legged and hunched over into the dojo and lock up, but not quite well enough to make it back without Kiara’s help. After extracting a promise to take it easy the next day, Kiara left through the door into the building’s lobby and Keiko passed right out.

Next morning, Keiko woke up and was immediately surprised. Her back and legs felt fine - felt great even. She practically sprung to her feet, feeling instantly awake and full of energy, and flew into cleaning up her living quarters. It was in the middle of this that Kiara came back down from upstairs, looking more or less like she had just rolled out of bed.

“Morning,” Kiara yawned, adjusting her eyepatch as Keiko sashayed into her field of vision. “You’re feeling...better.”
“I feel great, actually,” Keiko said, sorting her collection of athletic shirts on top of her dresser. “It must have just been swelling last night, not bruises.”
“Right,” Kiara said, staring at Keiko as she swayed back across the floor. It would have been impossible for most to see, but Kiara spotted just the faintest shimmer of blue as she did so.
“What?” Keiko paused to stare back. “I know I haven’t showered yet, but I just felt like...doing something this morning.”
“Any other morning, I wouldn’t care,” Kiara said. She folded her arms. “Buuut…after last night, and what’s going on right now...there’s things you oughta know. But first there’s things I gotta know about what’s going on with you. Okay?”
“That’s not ominous at all,” Keiko said, folding a shirt. Kiara stayed silent and looked down, so Keiko relented. “Okay. Ask your questions.”
“Have you ever felt’re not alone in a room when you know there’s nobody there except you?”
“Only because I live in the same building as you,” Keiko joked. “I swear that you’re a ninja some of the time.”
Kiara smirked. “Seriously,” she said. “Have you ever seen...heard something that shouldn’t be there? Like, I’m not talking about a mirage, or a trick, or a...hallucination. Something you looked at and you knew it was there, but you just...also knew it couldn’t be. People. Voices.” She paused. “Ghosts.”
“Well, actually…” Keiko started. “Last night, there was something weird. Some of the burglars almost got the drop on me, but then something I couldn’t see threw them off or away. It was dark, but even then, it was something that...wasn’t there that I could see. I didn’t mention it, because what was I going to say?”
“Right?” Kiara said. “Weird shit doesn’t come with labels.”
“And it is weird that I feel great after being, like, laid out last night, but it beats being stuck in bed all day, I guess,” Keiko said. “Maybe I just didn’t get beat as badly as I thought, but…” She shrugged. “Can’t really complain about it. Just lucky, I guess,” Keiko said as she bounded into the kitchen.
“Yeah, lucky.” Kiara sighed as she watched Keiko sashay about. “Let’s cut the drama. I got a friend you need to talk to. She can tell you what’s what. I’ll make the call now.”
“Yeah, sure, that sounds great,” Keiko called back over her shoulder.

Kiara finally unveiled her phone, then tapped through a few menus to make a call. As Keiko moved into reorganizing her small kitchen, Kiara waited for it to go through. And, for the first time that Keiko could remember, Kiara looked nervous.

“Yeah, I’ve got her,” Kiara said, no niceties. “Borderline, but should be safe.” She glanced up at Keiko’s face. “Yeah, she’s ready to hear it. Okay, I’ll have her outside for you.” Just like that, she hung up again.
“And that was...” Keiko probed.
“Shadowwatch,” Kiara said.
“...Shadowwatch?” Keiko said.
Kiara nodded. “You heard me,” she said.
Keiko laughed. “Yeah, and Sho Sakamoto is coming to ask us to save the world himself. Or Gorou Shirai, it’s an older show, but I think his Hiro Homi was a bit more mysterious.”
“Not half as much as the real deal,” Kiara said. “Just sit tight, they’ll be here soon.”

edited by punkey on 2020-06-28 15:06:10
Gatac 2020-06-28 19:36:28
It didn’t take long for the on-street parking in front of the dojo to receive a grand total of two anonymous, conspicuous arrivals. First was a black sedan with a prefecture government plate. From it emerged Sergeant Oshiro and Senior Officer Namba, who made an unhurried approach to the front lobby. As they walked, the second car arrived, a white van sporting a delivery company’s livery. Though appropriately dirty and a bit noisy, it sported low-profile omniwheels that looked to be worth more than the entire rest of the vehicle and were definitely out of place for a lowly delivery van.

Oshiro and Namba didn’t ring in. Instead, they waited quietly until Keiko approached them, Kiara just a step behind her.

“Miss Kamura?” Oshiro said, nodding to both her and Kiara. “I hope you’re...sufficiently recovered.”
“I feel fine,” Keiko said, looking warily at both the two “police officers” from earlier and the strange van parked in front of her dojo.
“We’re very sorry about the imposition,” Oshiro said. “But due to yesterday’s events, our superior has taken an interest in your case. She would like to have a short conversation with you. Please, enter the van with Miss Ito. We will stay here and make certain that nothing happens to your family’s dojo during your brief absence.”
“I’m sure you can find some glass shards to sweep up or something,” Kiara said.
“We don’t really -” Namba began.
“We’ll make ourselves useful, Miss Ito,” Oshiro said.
Kiara smiled. “Sorry about the imposition,” she said. “Come on,” she said to Keiko and led her past the officers. “Okay, there’s only one rule,” Kiara said. “Don’t lie.”
“Kiara, what’s going on?” Keiko asked, looking back to Oshiro and Namba stepping into her dojo.
“They’re gonna look for the stuff the regular cops missed,” Kiara said. “We’d just be in their way.”

As they approached, the side door to the delivery van slid open by electric motor, granting a glimpse of the interior: opposing seat benches, wall-mounted monitors and a subtly raised cabin roof. As soon as they were inside, the door slid closed again. Already seated there was a woman in a pantsuit, with short brown hair and strong cheekbones. Rather than bow, she leaned forward to shake Keiko’s and Kiara’s hand.

“Chie Ishikawa-Andrews,” she introduced herself. “I’m in charge of this operation.” She smiled. “Officially, we’re the Department of Outlying Territory Administration. Unofficially, well, Miss Ito has probably told you who we are.”
“Yep,” Kiara said, turning to Keiko. “She’s the Shadowguard. The real one.”
“Sure you are,” Keiko said as she took a seat. “Look, obviously the gang last night is into something serious, and I’m sorry, but I don’t know why they were so fast or strong, and whatever drugs you’re looking into, I don’t know about either.”
“I know you don’t,” Chie said. “You’re not under interrogation here. You’re here so I could look into your eyes before I tell you a lot of things that you won’t believe.”
“Like you’re the Shadowguard, and this is a Shadowwatch...van?” Keiko said. “Kiara, what is going on?”
“You’ve pretty much just said it,” Kiara replied.
“Let’s start with that, then,” Chie said. “Of course, you’ve heard about Shadowwatch and the Shadowguard growing up. You heard the fairytales, followed the...creative depictions on TV, maybe you’ve seen a late night documentary about the truth behind the myth, that kind of thing. Yes?”
Keiko just stared at Chie.
“I will take that as agreement,” Chie replied. “Well, much of that is false, but the core of it is true - Shadowwatch is still very real. We protect the country - and the world - against the fantastical and unseen, something that your family is very much a part of.”
Keiko rolled her eyes. “So you’re saying that there’s dragons and yokai and the Blue Oni, just like all the crazy Kamura fans that bother my dojo say are true.”
Chie nodded. “Largely,” she said. “Some things have become exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness, of course. Your father said the same thing when his connection to your family’s power first appeared. I should know, I was there.”
That froze Keiko up. “You knew my father?”
“It was partly his endorsement that secured my rise to Shadowguard,” Chie said. “But I see that you don’t believe me.”
“That you knew my father, maybe,’s not believable,” Keiko said. “These are...stories, not truth.”
“Mind if I just shortcut to the end of this conversation where I do the thing and we move on?” Kiara said.
“I was about to ask you to do so,” Chie replied.

Kiara looked around, then pushed herself into a corner of the van, as far away from the others - and anything flammable - as practical. Then, she sucked in a deep breath and held it until something began to rumble in her chest. Keiko watched as Kiara’s torso widened and her neck lengthened, skin and bones flexing in defiance of human anatomy. Her face stretched as something pressed forward from within, then a red-scaled whisker flicked out of her open mouth just before tears started to appear around her grotesquely stretched face. The tears raced along her cheeks, joined together, and then suddenly Kiara’s face tore open, revealing three feet of red scales, golden tufts of hair, and red whiskers protruding below Kiara’s still-human eye and head. Her jaws opened to reveal razor-sharp teeth, and live, hot flame danced in her throat, casting its light through the cabin. Then she shut her mouth and with a big puff of white smoke from her nostrils, the draconic muzzle shrank back into Kiara’s face, which rapidly sealed itself back up. Keiko just stared at her.

“Like I said, fantastical and unseen,” Chie continued. “Do I have your attention now?”
Keiko’s eyes were still on Kiara. “You’re...Kiara Ayami.”
“And leader of the Red Dragons, don’t forget them,” Kiara said with a smirk.
“ knew Kirika Kamura,” Keiko said.
“You do realize you’re not blinking, right?” Kiara said.
“It’s not every day you meet an actual dragon,” Chie said. “Or a living sword-saint.”
“You've been...watching me?” Keiko asked, still fixated on Kiara.
“Kinda,” Kiara said. “I made a promise to protect the Kamuras, but that doesn’t say I can’t be friends with them.”
Keiko slowly nodded, then looked at Chie. “And you…”
Chie smiled. “I lead from the front,” she said, and slid her jacket aside to reveal a short sword alongside a pistol. “Shadowwatch might be different, but some things haven’t changed.”
“And you’re here to...tell me what, that I’m going to be covered in flaming tattoos and grow to ten feet tall?” Keiko asked. “I mean, all I did was fight off a few burglars.”
“That’s rather understating the situation,” Chie said. “There are two things you should be thinking about, Miss Kamura: one, how many people do you know who can put their fist through concrete? And two, what do you think someone with those powers was after at your place?”
“I...I don’t know,” Keiko said.
“I can answer the second one,” Kiara volunteered. “They broke into my hoard and wanted my sword.”
“Well, I suppose it’s a good thing they failed,” Chie said. “The last thing we want is another rogue dragon running around. I presume you...disposed of them?”
“Needed a bit of pepper flake but they went down easy,” Kiara said.
It took Keiko a moment to figure that out. “You ate them?”
Kiara smiled at Keiko. “Told you I wasn’t hungry last night.”
“The point is,” Chie said, “these weren’t just burglars. They got their hands on supernatural power, somehow. And I don’t believe they came up with the ritual for that and the plan to steal from a well-hidden dragon hoard by themselves. And it’s not a coincidence that the next day, the Kamura scion in waiting woke up recovered overnight from a beating that would put anyone else in the hospital.”
“I saw the glow, too,” Kiara said. “Honestly, I’m surprised she hasn’t shown up yet.”
“Well, maybe we’re a bit early,” Chie said. “But there’s still something supernatural going on, and I think it’s best that you know the truth, Keiko. There are strange things in this world, and your family is one of them. You should know this, in case they come back, or in case something else comes, because sooner or later something will.” She paused. “I mean, if something does, you can contact us.”
“Smooth,” Kiara said to Chie, then smiled at Keiko. “I’m not going anywhere. If these idiots come back, we’ll be ready.”
Keiko looked back and forth between Kiara and Chie, not sure which one’s comfort was less comforting. “...can I go back to the dojo now?”
“Of course,” Chie said. She looked behind her to the van’s driver and waived, then reached into her jacket and came up with a transparent holocard. All it displayed was a blank white face, but then Chie ran her finger around the edge and most of the blankness fell away to reveal a phone number. “This is a direct line. Don’t hesitate to call.”
“Okay,” Keiko nodded, although her expression indicated things were anything but. “Just...I need to clean the dojo. Please, take me back home.”


Indeed, as Keiko stepped out of the Shadowwatch van and back onto the familiar front steps of her family’s dojo, it was obvious that there was much cleaning to be done. Kiara trailed behind her, but Keiko stepped briskly to stay well ahead of her. Kiara, to her credit, didn’t try to force the issue, keeping the distance steady. Instead, she let Keiko step quickly towards a young man doing his best impression of a statue in the middle of the dojo floor. Disheveled black hair fell over the collar of his mustard-colored coat and little splashes of dried mud marked the hem of his black slacks. As Keiko got closer, his left hand shot up, index finger pointed to the sky.

“Hold it!” he said. “This is a crime scene.” Beside him, his trirotor drone - a refurbished Kogin Spectraworks Multi-4 - hovered about a meter off the ground, its laser flickering rapidly across the floor, square centimeter by square centimeter.
Keiko obligingly stood back and actually smiled. “Hey, Kenzo,” she said.
“I came as soon as I heard,” Kenzo Kamura said. Carefully, he pivoted on his left heel, turning to face Keiko. On the plus side, his white shirt was actually white, even if the tie looked like Mom had knotted it for him a few years ago and he hadn’t ever dared to redo it. And he had a fresh shave, too. “Mrs. Kubo told me everything,” he continued, taking big, careful steps towards his sister. “And I got the gist from the cops as well. Still, there’s a lot about this that doesn’t add up. If we’re going to find who did this, we’ll have to dig deep.”
“I already have my insurance on the case,” Kiara said. “But if you think you have any promising leads -”
“We’ll talk to the police, thanks,” Keiko says. “We don’t need...your help for this.” She looks back to Kiara. “Thanks. Bye.”
“...bye,” Kiara said. One final glance at Kenzo - who gave her the same flirty wink he always did - and then she headed out.
“Quite the mess,” Kenzo commented, then spread his arms. “Come on, bring it in, sis.”
“Kenzo, it’s just some broken equipment,” Keiko said, shaking her head. “And pillars. I don’t need a hug.”
“You always say that,” Kenzo said, and wrapped his arms around his big sister. “And you always need a hug.”
Keiko sighed, then smiled and returned the hug. “Thanks, Kenzo.”
“It’s still your broken equipment, and some...very strangely smashed pillars,” Kenzo said. “But it’ll be okay.”
“Yeah,” Keiko said, burying her face in Kenzo’s shoulder for a moment. “It’ll be okay.”

Kenzo slapped Keiko on the back a couple times before letting go. “Let’s get started,” he said. “Where do you want me first?”
“How about you help me pick up the broken weapons, and then we sweep the floors?” Keiko asked.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Kenzo said.
“So!” Keiko started as she walked over to the storage closet on the dojo’s matted floor. “What’s the case of the week for my detective brother?”
“Oh man,” Kenzo said, following in Keiko’s wake. “So Jiro - he’s my landlord Susumu’s cousin - is dating this guy Ryuu, who’s this big shot over in the Grove, word is he’s connected, you know.” Keiko shoved a broom in Kenzo’s hands and started sweeping, and Kenzo dutifully followed alongside and just behind her. “So I thought, okay, he’s 100% cheating on you, my man, don’t date a gangster, they’ll break your heart, but Jiro swears it’s not that, there’s more going on but Ryuu’s acting weird and Jiro just had to know, so he asked me to look into it and I said, sure, I’ll look into it, just square me up with Susumu.” They completed one row, and made the turn in the same practiced motion, the product of growing up sweeping these very same floors together. “Now wouldn’t you know it, Ryuu was lying to Jiro - he’s not actually a brother after all, I checked with a friend, he didn’t know Ryuu. So, just a regular guy with some dangerous ink. Case closed, right? Except Ryuu heard about me and he called me and he’s actually an undercover drug enforcement agent? Isn’t that wild?” Kenzo paused. “Now I just gotta figure out what I tell Jiro.”
“Sounds like quite the conundrum,” Keiko said, standing up and staring at Kenzo as he finished sweeping his row behind her, a big smile on her face.
“What?” Kenzo asked as he finished up and wiped his brow. “I say something funny?”
“No, just...thanks for being here,” Keiko said, and gave her brother a hug. “You always seem to turn up at the right time.”
“Yep,” Kenzo said. “That’s me. Right time, right place, every time.” He paused. “Miss Ito give you any static about the insurance stuff?” he asked. “Just seemed like a...weird thing between you two there.” He looked around. “I mean, how petty can you be?”
“No, it’s not that,” Keiko said. “She’s gonna help us out, it’s just some...personal stuff. We’ll sort it out later.”
“Ah,” Kenzo said. “Okay, the Captain has switched on the ‘No Prying’ sign, I get it.” He paused for a moment. “Back to sweeping?” he asked.
“Back to sweeping,” Keiko said.

edited by punkey on 2020-06-28 15:06:44
Gatac 2020-06-28 19:36:48
The sun had fully set by the time Kenzo Kamura went on his way back to his nightlife of sitting in parked cars and ramen shop windows to spy on strangers, leaving Keiko to crawl around on the floor on hands and knees, searching for every last sliver of wood on and in between the mats on the floor. The footsteps that crept up behind her were unreasonably soft for the apparently ancient dragon that had pretended to be her friend.

“Hey,” Kiara said. Getting no immediate response, she looked around. “You’ve been busy.”
“Classes don’t stop,” Keiko said.
“They could,” Kiara said. “Or I could have new mats delivered and installed today.”
“No, thank you,” Keiko said, picking a sliver of wood out from between the mats.
“I’ve had this conversation a few times, with other members of your family,” Kiara began. “It doesn’t get easier.”
“That you’ve been lying to me about who - what you are?” Keiko asked. “That my father and mother hid this from me? That the crazy tales of the Kamura family are all true and I’m...what, the next Kamura hero, the next Kirika Kamura?” Keiko pushed herself upright so she could properly glower at Kiara, a move only somewhat undercut by the tears building up around her eyes. “I mean...what am I even supposed to think about all of this? I just thought it was some gang trying to make some dumb statement robbing Kei Kamura’s dojo...but now it’s all of this? When I don’t even know what it is? How am I supposed to feel, Kiara? How is this supposed to be any easier?” Keiko took a few deep breaths and wiped her eyes. “And you eat people?”
“Yeah, look,” Kiara said, “I know this is all kinds of fucked up. Like, really, all kinds.” She sighed. “Yes, I lied to you and I asked your parents to lie to you as well, so don’t go blaming them, this was all me, okay? And I didn’t do it to turn you into the next Kirika Kamura. I did it so you’d have a choice. And I ate the thieves because...because they had dangerous powers and they were about to do something terrible and I knew I couldn’t leave any trace of them but mostly because they were assholes and I am a dragon and I was hungry. ‘Cause that’s how dragons are, we eat people on occasion and that’s why everyone’s glad I’m the only one. Okay?” She paused again. “I don’t know better than you. I’ve got four hundred years and I’ve been through this shit with your family a few times but I’m flying blind still. And I can’t tell you how all that’s supposed to feel. You’re angry, be angry.”
“I am angry!” Keiko shouted, but after a moment of Kiara looking back at her, she shrunk back down. “No, I’m not, I’m just...upset. This is...I always hoped that this would be true, but I also...I hoped it wasn’t. Because I was happy with how things were, but now...I don’t know what’s gonna happen and that’s scary.”
“Yeah,” Kiara said. “I know that’s upsetting to hear. You being happy with just being the Kamura master...that’s the reason I kept it up. But I never liked lying to you.”
“You’re still lying to me now,” Keiko said. “This isn’t you, this is just...whatever it is you put on. I want to see what you really look like. I want to know this is all real and not just some drugged-up gang members.”
Kiara nodded. “You want to see me? The real, no-shit dragon me?”
“Yes,” Keiko said, wiping her eyes.
“Okay,” Kiara said. “You might wanna look away until I say I’m done. Not that I’ve got anything to hide, but the transformation isn’t much fun to look at.”
“I want to see,” Keiko said.
“...your call,” Kiara replied. “All right.”

Kiara stepped back and closed her eye. She would’ve taken her clothes off, if she cared about them, but at least they didn’t have to suffer long. The elongation of her neck and face was almost as Keiko had seen in the van, but quicker and fuller, like a closed fist through a tight sleeve before the wave reached her face, from which the same scaled red muzzle erupted as before, but this time followed by the rest of her head, horns, whiskers and all. Then her jacket ripped, first pierced at the shoulders, then torn apart at the back seam as twin wings emerged from Kiara’s back, with a slick, bloody sheen. She seemed to tip forward, bending over and just stretching forward endlessly, coiling inside the dojo and around Keiko. Keiko whirled around, trying to follow Kiara’s movement. She had missed the final moments of the transformation around the legs, but could feel a slight stroke of wind as Kiara’s new, golden tufted tail swung past her. In seconds, the air had turned thin and fiery and Kiara’s enormous red-scaled form filled the dojo floor from window to window. Keiko fought the urge to cough as Kiara coiled and sat up in front of her, best as she could under the ceiling. Golden horns and fur and thick red whiskers ruffled in a non-existent breeze, while one glowing red eye stared down at her, the left eye milky and scarred. Clawed forelimbs the size of the practice racks Kiara’s body had shoved aside rested gently on the mats as she laid her massive form down. The dojo’s floor was easily ten meters long by thirty meters wide, and Kiara’s true form filled almost all of it, leaving just the pocket in the middle for Keiko Kamura.

“Yes,” Kiara said, her voice resonating through the room. “This is me. No more lies, Keiko.”
“You’re...very big,” Keiko said, turning around in an attempt to take in all that she could see, which was just the innermost coil of Kiara’s body.
“I am,” Kiara said. “You can imagine that squeezing myself into human size is not very comfortable. But this,” she said, huffing a bit of smoke, “does not travel well outside these walls.” She looked to the side. “As far as I know, I’m the only dragon left in this world. And it should stay that way. The sword the thieves were transformed me. And I have no idea what would happen if someone else were to take possession of it.” She looked back to Keiko. “I wish you could have been happier a bit longer. But this is a privilege rarely afforded to your family.”
“So, what happens next?” Keiko asked. “Usually?”
Kiara chuckled and Keiko felt the echo in her chest.
“What?” Keiko asked.
“I’m sorry,” Kiara said. “Every time, every Kamura I’ve ever known has never tried to fight it, or run from it, or even complain about it for more than a few days. They always stand up and shoulder the load. It’s...just good to see you do the same, Keiko. Makes me certain that the gods chose the right one.” She sighed, the hot breath curling a bit of flame out of her nose. “The Kamuras never are prepared for what happens to them, but they’re always ready.” Kiara shrugged as best as a massive dragon in a confined space could, which was a good three meters or so from her head. “The gods have decided it’s time for you to step up, Keiko. We never know what for,’s time.”

“Right,” Keiko said. “Well…” She took a seat. “What’s it like...being a dragon? Seems...interesting?”
“Hrm,” Kiara rumbled. “Things look smaller. People, too. You have power, but also hunger. I’ve tried to stay as human as possible, but it’s tough to hang on to that. If you’re a dragon…you have more and more, but enjoy it less and less.” She looked down at Keiko. “And you know, very precisely, what is precious.”
“I suppose you mean our friendship,” Keiko said.
“Yes, I do mean our friendship,” Kiara said sarcastically. “Dummy.”
Keiko finally cracked a smile at the appearance of the Kiara she was familiar with. “I did...I was fine with finding out about my family’s past. You can’t be told your whole life and have movies and books and manga made about your family being heroes with magical powers and not wish it was true, but finding out that my best friend was lying to me about what she was...that hurt a lot.”
“That’s fair,” Kiara said. “I know all the explaining in the world won’t lessen that pain. I am sorry for lying to you, Keiko. And...I am sorry if I have ended our friendship with it. I hope you will forgive me someday, but…”
“Hey, hey,” Keiko said. “I said it hurt a lot. I didn’t say we weren’t friends anymore.” She smirked. “You just have to make it up to me. Tell me about my family.”
“Your family,” Kiara said, then shuffled her weight about a bit, as if to find a more comfortable resting position for her coiled-up body. “Well then,” she continued, bowing down to get closer to Keiko. “I was just a young girl with a ninja-to and my first mission when I met Kirika Kamura - before she became a sword-saint. A lovely spring day in a rotten little city they called the Forge…”


As Kiara spun her tale, her voice - so booming at first - became more measured, and the flicking of her whiskers and tail less strange. Kiara told the story the way she had told it many times before, a string of pearls with a new one added to the end with each new Kamura. Kiara told much of the adventures she had had with each, still excited and grateful for all, but she didn’t spare the inevitable end that came with each passing life. In time, Keiko found herself sitting with her legs drawn against her body and leaning on Kiara’s forelimbs - which, given the length of Kiara’s neck, still left Kiara facing Keiko. Regardless of how much she had heard about her family from the legends, hearing about the people behind those stories from someone who was there was altogether different; scary and exhausting at points, but also...comforting, in a way.

“...which is why you don’t want to ship ancient evil artifacts by air,” Kiara said, chuckling to herself. She paused for a moment. “Well, we got the dagger out of that jungle and into Shadowwatch containment. I’m not sure how we settled that with the Ecuadorian government, but that’s not my department. And...I think that’s just about all I have to say about Katsuo. He was kind of a quiet type. Still fun.” She sighed. “Fuck cancer.”
“How about Kei?” Keiko asked. “How about my father?”
Kiara paused, seeming to think for a moment. “No fun adventures, I’m afraid,” she said. “Your father was...well, he wanted to continue the family legacy, but he was against bringing harm to anyone. He saw the arts as a way to self-improvement, but he abhorred violence - maybe more than he ever let on with you. He didn’t want to impose that on you. He turned down working with Shadowwatch, too.” She smiled. “He found his own way to be a hero. He made these streets safer by building the community. The school you went to wouldn’t be here without him writing all those letters to the city council. He tried to give all the kids here an opportunity to make something of themselves in the dojo. There was no grand secret to it. He was just as you saw him. Tireless. Always willing to give people a chance.”
“But when he went to the syndicate, he was alone,” Keiko said. “He told me to make sure the dojo was in order before he left.” She paused. “He knew they were going to kill him.”
“He made a choice,” Kiara said. “It was either see everyone he knew and everything he had built destroyed and turned into a nightmare, or make the sacrifice.” Kiara leaned forward and leaned her muzzle against Keiko. “He did it so you could have the life you have. I know it hurts, but that was the choice he had to make.”
Keiko wrapped her arms around Kiara’s muzzle as best she could, which in this case didn’t even make it down to her lips. “He could have fought.”
“That would have been as much a loss as giving up,” Kiara said. “Hopefully, soon you’ll be able to ask him yourself. That’s one of the other constants - the previous generation of Kamuras always seems to wait until after death to reconcile with the generation they left behind. That’s all I can say, the rest is not my place.”

Keiko sniffled, and gave Kiara another half-muzzle hug. “Thank you, Kiara.” They both leaned back. “So, what now?”
“Well, now I think I should introduce myself,” a voice called out. “I didn’t want to interrupt Kiara, she’s always told the best stories since she turned 150.”
“Who said that?” Keiko said, standing up and looking around. “Is someone there?” Keiko even jumped up and down to try to see over Kiara’s body as best she could.
Kiara smiled, her whiskers curving upwards. “I think it’s time that I took my leave.” She lifted her head and looked around. “It’s good to know that you’re there, old friend.”
“And the same to you!” the voice called back. Kiara carefully slid open the shrine-side glass doors and slipped through, uncoiling herself. Her tail fluttered in the evening breeze as she took to the night sky. “She can’t hear or see me, sadly,” the voice told Keiko. “But I’m pretty sure she can sense when I’m here.”
Keiko looked around, and even when the last golden flick of Kiara’s tail cleared the sliding glass doors, there was no one to be seen. “Hello?” she tried. “...Kiara?”
“It’s just you and me,” the voice said. “First, you need to truly connect with your family.”
Hello?” Keiko shouted.
“No, no, no,” the voice said. “Are the Kamuras known for their booming voices? Well, okay. Are they only known for that? Pick up a sword, Keiko.”
Keiko tentatively grabbed a practice sword off of the rack, pointing it roughly in the direction of the voice. “It’s not exactly a fair fight if I can’t see you.”
“Oh, there’ll be plenty of time for that later,” the voice said. “First, let’s see how well your father taught you. First position!”

Keiko’s reaction rested barely above instinct - her hands snapped into position, sword in her obi at her side, right leg back and ready to step forward into a swing or a thrust. “First! Second! Third!” the voice shouted, and Keiko moved in kind. The blade came up, then into a downwards blow, which flowed up across her body in a slash, then back downwards again, this time with a stomp of force. Keiko couldn’t see it, but each motion built a blue glow around her. “Fourth! Fifth! Sixth!” The force carried the blade across Keiko’s body in a horizontal slash, then a flick and back into her belt, the final movement spiking the blue radiance coming off her skin in a flash.
“Holy shit!” Keiko shouted, and looked down at her hands. Ethereal blue flame licked up her fingers and rolled off her fingertips.
“That’s not all,” the voice said, and Keiko looked up to see an absolute mountain of a woman, six feet tall and built with muscle upon muscle, glowing in a blue ghostly form before her. Shimmering blue kanji were visible on her skin from her feet and hands all the way up to her face, her kimono gently blowing in some impossible breeze. She bowed to Keiko. “Kirika Kamura. Pleased to meet you, Keiko. We’ve heard a lot about you.”
The sword dropped out of Keiko’s hands, blowing the flames out billowing from her body but leaving a blue glow behind. “Oh my fucking god.”
“No, not that I know of,” Kirika said, cracking a smile.
“Oh!” Keiko quickly dropped to her knees and bowed her head to the mat. “I’m so sorry, it’s just...this is my first time talking to a dead person, or a dead relative, or...Kirika Kamura.”
“Stand up, stand up, I’m not Empress or anything,” Kirika said.
Keiko hopped back to her feet. “So! Uh, well, Auntie, I guess? Kirika?”
“Kirika, please,” she said. Kirika walked around, inspecting the dojo as her glowing blue feet failed to make the slightest dent in the soft padding on the floor. “I see you repainted. Your father always meant to find time for that. Ironic, given how much he worked around here to paint other people’s buildings.”
Keiko didn’t quite know what to do with that. “Is there...some kind of message you have for me? The stories always talk about...Kamuras having some message of deep import for their descendants.”
“Hah!” Kirika said. “If only it was that easy. Come on, let’s go into your apartment so no one sees you having a discussion with yourself.”

Keiko dutifully followed the ghost of her great-several-times-over aunt Kirika back into her apartment, whereupon Kirika took a seat at the foot of Keiko’s bedroll, motioning for Keiko to sit down in front of her.
“So, you want to know what’s going to happen next,” Kirika said. “Let’s get that out of the way right now - I have no idea. That’s not what I’m here for.”
Keiko couldn’t conceal the frown on her face.
“Your father made pretty much exactly the same face when I told him that too,” Kirika said. “I’m more of an...advisor, someone you can bounce ideas off of, someone who’s here to guide you through what’s to come. But Kamuras have always had to chart their own path. Your father did not like my ideas about what to do with some of the thugs that came around the dojo.”
“Did it involve beating them up?” Keiko asked. “Because I told him the same thing.”
“That’s what he said you said!” Kirika said, laughing. “Oh, what a stubborn man. But he was always right.”

Keiko felt a stab in her chest at that. “Not always.”
“Hey,” Kirika said, her voice turning firm. “Always. Believe me, everyone had quite the argument about it for a long while, should trust that he made the right decisions.”
“For him,” Keiko said. “If his right decisions put him in a situation where giving up his life was the right move instead of fighting for what was right, then...I don’t know how right those decisions were.”
“And that’s what’s right as well,” Kirika said. “There’s many different ways to be right.”
“Uuugh,” Keiko said, and fell back onto her bedroll.
“Your path is not your father’s path which is not my path,” Kirika said. “Your father saw this place and our family’s legacy as a beacon, something to use to inspire others to become their best.”
“If this was a community center and we were a family of organizers, then maybe,” Keiko said, sitting back upright. “But this is a dojo, and we are warriors.”
“Not always,” Kirika said. “How many Kamuras went without making friends out of enemies and inspiring others to follow their example?” Keiko crossed her arms. “That’s right,” Kirika said.
“Okay, fine, point taken,” Keiko said. “So…when does this guiding start? Are you going to lead me to where the people that broke into the dojo are?”
“If I could, do you think that’s a smart idea?” Kirika asked.
“...probably not until I know why they could move so fast or punch through concrete with their bare hands,” Keiko said. “You wouldn’t happen to know that, would you?”
“I didn’t know that you had repainted the dojo,” Kirika pointed out.
“All right, so you don’t know that, either,” Keiko said. “What do you know?”
“What do you know?” Kirika asked.
Keiko narrowed her eyes at Kirika, then laid back down on her bedroll. “They came in here, looking for Kiara’s sword that apparently turns people into dragons. They said they knew about me and my family, and it didn’t sound like in the way the movies talk about, but, like, really knew about us. So, that means...they know about all this magical business, and...their powers are probably magical. Which means...there’s some kind of magical being behind them, and...we need to find that if we’re going to figure out who they are and what’s giving them their powers.”

“See?” Kirika said, standing up to lean over top of Keiko. “Guidance! But that’s not the only guidance you’ll need. Channeling all this power has...side effects. I’m here to help you with those, as well. Believe me, I didn’t look like this when I first met Yukio.”
“Face tattoos could make this...more difficult,” Keiko said, wincing. “Wait, father wasn’t nearly as big or covered in tattoos as you are.”
“It affects everyone differently,” Kirika said. “But I think we can guess part of what’s going on here. Didn’t your leggings used to cover your socks?”
Keiko hopped to her feet, and sure enough, where her socks used to be tucked under her leggings and her shirt pulled over the waistband, she now had a little bit of ankle and midriff showing. In fact, as she stood up, her outfit of flexible athleisure wear felt a bit on the tight side, like it was close to the end of its bounds of stretch. She ran over to the full-length mirror in the corner, and the top of her head was just about cut off by the top of the mirror, when that definitely wasn’t the case this morning. Keiko blinked a couple times and rubbed her eyes - she didn’t look like she grew taller, she still seemed the same proportionally; instead, everything about her must have been just a bit bigger.
“Holy shit,” Keiko muttered, reaching out to touch the mirror.
“Be glad all your clothes are elastic,” Kirika said. “I tore open so many kimonos when I was growing.”
“Okay, an extra inch isn’t so bad,” Keiko said, looking herself over. She turned her wrist over, and the bottom legs of a kanji character stuck out from her wrist. “I thought you said it affects everyone differently!” she shouted, rolling up her sleeve to reveal a couple characters - Turns Towards the Sun - climbing up her wrist. “Father only had a few tattoos, and they were on his chest!”
“He also refused to use the Kamura kata for violence,” Kirika said. “It seems you’re a bit more like your Auntie Kirika. Don’t worry, they probably won’t be visible. Much.”
“That’s not very comforting,” Keiko replied as she rolled up her other sleeve to find a couple more characters there, as well as a few stripes running up from her ankles and toes.

Kirika turned on her heel and walked back into the dojo. “So! There’s one more thing we must discuss.”
“I don’t know how much more I can take,” Keiko moaned, following behind Kirika as she desperately rubbed at the tattoos slowly fading in on her arms.
“Your chosen weapon. Your father didn’t really have much use for his,” Kirika said, looking up to a very dusty looking sword hanging above the center of the mirror covering the front wall of the dojo’s floor. “Do you have one?”
“I mean, not this one,” Keiko said. “I had something...special made.” She leaned back inside her apartment’s door off the dojo floor, reached behind the shoe rack, and came up with a smooth, matte black curved object. The blade - sixty centimeters from tip to tsuba, exact down to the micrometer - held an edge with a bevel too thin and fragile to be forged by hand from ‘genuine’ tamahagane. The sine of the hamon was a perfect periodic wave and a purely aesthetic one, the real material transition beneath it being much finer and more gradual. In lieu of ray skin, its wood handle was wrapped in strips of carbon fiber underneath the leather. Above the laser-cut patterns of the dark grey titanium alloy tsuba was a laser-etched sigil and attendant serial number on the side of the blade’s spine proclaimed it as a masterwork-level product of the Shimamoto-kanuchi Forge.
Kirika whistled. “Sword like that should be able to do the cutting for you.”
“I bought it after father died,” Keiko said. “Just in case...well, just in case this day ever happened. Of course, I didn’t count on growing an inch or two, but the balance is adjustable, so it should work out.” Keiko secured the sword in her obi, and the sword rung like a bell when she drew it. “He called it Hawk’s Talon after he saw me take three practice swings with it. Said it just felt right to name it that.” Keiko slid the sword back into its sheath, then pulled the sword off her obi and offered it to Kirika.
“What do you expect me to do with that?” Kirika asked.
“Don’t you need to...I don’t know, bless it or something?” Keiko asked.
“First off?” Kirika raised her hand pulled back her ghostly kimono to reveal her thick spectral forearm, then passed her hand straight through the sword. “Can’t touch it. Second, it’s not up to me or anyone else to bless it. The sword obviously lives up to its half of the name. It’s up to you to live up to your half - Hawk.”
“Fair enough,” Keiko said, returning it to her side. “So, maybe we go out see if we can...find someone who knows where we can find a yokai or other demon?”
“I never had one of your phones or computers, but I’m pretty sure that’s not something you can just look up,” Kirika said. “Besides, you might want to check what time it is.”
Keiko looked up to the clock on the dojo wall - which read almost three in the morning. “Shit,” she said. “I don’t feel tired at all. I mean, maybe the kind of people we need are up late too. I should call Kenzo, maybe he knows someone -”
“Or maybe you should attempt to get some sleep and let your brother do the same,” Kirika said. “Gods above, I never cease to be amazed at the power of the Kamura family curse.”
“You never thought that all of this was a curse,” Keiko said. “Everyone knows that.”
“Of course I didn’t, but ask Yukio or Toshiba or Ueki or Toshi and they will tell you something very different,” Kirika said. “Trust me, you’ll be calling your friends and family at all hours and they’ll know the curse soon enough. For now, rest. It’s been a long day.”
Keiko sighed. “Yeah, I guess he’s either asleep or on a stakeout, and either way me calling to bug him about yokai-hunting likely isn’t going to go over well.” She looked over to Kirika. “Do you...need a place to sit or lay down or something?”
“Don’t worry about me, Keiko,” Kirika said. She bowed to Keiko. “See you later, and good night, Kamura-kensei.”
Keiko’s stomach jumped into a knot, but she still couldn’t suppress a smile. “Good night, Kirika.”

With that, Kirika faded out, and left Keiko alone in the dojo, her hand resting on Hawk’s Talon. “Well, tomorrow’s going to be interesting.”

edited by punkey on 2020-06-28 16:06:04