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Night God Bless: Point-02

I was half-dead when they pulled me from the water, frozen and pneumonic, my mind delirious in among its fading vital signs. Apparently I had been rambling about wizards and magic dust and so-on which probably didn’t give my rescuers the best impression, but I was grateful nonetheless that they hadn’t just decided to dump me back in and let the current wash me out to sea.

‘They’ were a ragtag clan of people who hadn’t managed to get out, and hadn’t sided with either of the armies busy fighting. The youngest was a girl of 17 with a shock of bright pink pixie-cut hair, who had apparently been running a small scale trading operation from Platform since she was 15.  The oldest was a grizzled army vet with PTSD and everyone knew he was a ticking time bomb. The flipside of that coin was that he was a damn good shot regardless of what weapon you handed him.

The rest were… survivors. Two thirds male to one third female, and a lot of them told stories about getting their significant others, kids, families out of the way but not managing to save a seat for themselves. Others told stories about giving up their ticket out for a small child or a disabled person or something equally white-knight. Still, it was better than my story; why didn’t I get out? Because, I got drunk and made some bad decisions. Whoop-de-doo.

It took a more than a good few days for me to get back on my feet again, and it wasn’t just because the resident nurse had me heavily medicated. Apparently when I’d hit the water I’d fractured quite a few bones; nothing intensely bad but enough to stop me walking, which only seemed to make me frustrated and depressed.

I’d missed my ticket out of that goddamn warzone, I’d fucked up more times than I thought was humanly possible, and the people who rescued me didn’t trust me as far as they could throw me because of all my thinly-veiled blathering about drug running. The second week in, the pink haired girl brought me coffee, and I finally felt like I could relax a little.

“Thought you could use some company.” The cup was a cheap plastic one meant for cold drinks at picnics, but it did the job. I took it gratefully and tried not to spit the syrupy brown liquid back into the cup when I tasted it. There’s coffee, there’s good coffee and then there’s reconstituted motor oil mixed with caffeinated mud. This was the latter.

Gingerly, I set the cup down on the floor. My ribs ached to the point of tears as I leant over the camp bed, but I held back. “Thanks, I guess. Your name is…?”

“Wynona; my friends call me Wynn,” she said, although the statement was indirectly one of disenchantment. A flick of the neck, and her pastel fringe sat away from her eye for a moment before sidling back. “You don’t remember my introduction from before?”

I scratched at the bandage on my arm and looked away. ‘Out of it’ didn’t even cut what I was before, but it was clear I’d hurt her feelings. “I uh… wasn’t exactly very coherent when you introduced yourself before. Sorry.”

The right corner of her mouth pulled up in a smirk that expressed the words, ‘oh well’ with a disappointed sigh. She leaned forward, her eyes expectant. Something clicked, and I realised that it was likely I hadn’t introduced myself.

“I’m Darke, Daniel Darke. My friends call me… well, any variation on ‘Daniel’, I guess… or just ‘Darke’.” I offered a bruised hand, the palm open. She took it and shook it gently, her eyes fixed on me as if I were going to try something. “I lived over in West Haverfield, until this whole skirmish kicked off. I think it was one of the first places the shells started falling.”

She shrugged. “I was over in Beaconsfield when it started, but my girlfriend lives over this direction. There’s a chance that she made it out, but with her being in the Army Logistics Corps… I dunno, she might still be around.”

The girl’s eyes were distant. Whatever hope had stirred her into heading this far had begun to fade. On her nails, the black lacquer was chipped, the crescent moon tips cracked. It was an odd thing to notice, but it was difficult not to notice anything about her. She stood out – and that made me worry; it was girls like her who either were the first to die or the first to be taken. I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen.

Wynona stood up and sighed. “Anyway, I’ve spent too long. I gotta go on a supply run.”

I swilled down the awful beverage she’d brought and passed the cup back to her. With some effort, I mustered up a weak smile to spite the acid in my throat. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“Someone’s gotta drink this shit,” she said with a grin, “Might as well be you, pretty boy.”

The teenager left the room and I lay back in my bed, content in spite of the urge to vomit in order to save my kidneys from the torture they were about to endure. I’d made an acquaintance at the very least, so perhaps that was enough to stop the rest of them from killing me. Or so I thought.

Night God Bless: Point-01

Artillery whistles don’t make the most convenient alarm clocks, but you can be damn sure they’ll wake you up. That was the way the Arlandrian Civil War started for me; that telltale whistle, that banshee shriek that freezes even the best-trained soldiers right in their tracks. Typical then that I was laid in bed, still drunk as fuck, still on the verge of being sick.

It took me five minutes to get dressed, get my gear and get out of my apartment. Chances were it wouldn’t be standing for much longer. The stairs were like gelatine as I tried to make my way down them; I missed a step and a moment later I was curled foetal by the front door, everything hurt and nothing felt the right way up. Another explosion rattled the rafters above me, and the cascade of dust was all I needed to get back on my feet.

It’s strange how quickly you can sober up when you really need to. I checked my cellphone, desperately hoping that perhaps they hadn’t taken out the communications networks yet. Two bars out of five was good enough, and I forced my fingers steady as I typed in A-N-D-R and up came Andrew Harris, the only dude I knew who could have my back in this sort of situation.

“Andy, bro how’s it…” I started, before the answer machine cut me off with its robotic voice, its slanderous sound-bite tongue. The staccato words dug in harder than the straps of my rucksack, and that was saying something. My mind immediately jumped to the worst. He’s dead. He’s dead. Oh my God, he’s fucking dead; what the hell do I do?

I told myself I was being ridiculous; I had half a mind to slap some sense into me but right now it was a waste of time and a waste of energy. An Arlandrian Army vehicle turned onto the road and I ducked into an alleyway. I didn’t know whose side they were on but I’d be screwed if it wasn’t mine. Oil and sweat and grease filtered through the air like miasma as the truck rolled by, no doubt planning on supplying the front lines with more cannon fodder.

Polyphonic tones cut through the air and I almost had a heart attack. It was Harris, and the noises I heard were those of turbojet engines and loud speakers and crowds. How had he managed to get to the airport so quickly?

“Darke, my main man! ‘Sup brother?” He was jovial as always. Hell, the guy could have a gun to his head and he’d still have a smile on his face. That was just the way he rolled, and it had won him his childhood sweetheart and a lot of friends. “I’m at the airport, if you can’t tell by the deafening roar of BT-22’s and small children. I got your name on the list for a flight out to Maiden’s Bay, but you gotta promise me you’ll be here in the next two hours!”

In theory, that wasn’t going to be a problem. But theory was quickly consigned to the history books when you had a rifle up your ass. Hypothetically speaking. “I’ll do my best, but if I don’t make it, don’t worry. You know me; I ain’t getting my ass handed to me on a platter without giving the chef a piece of my mind, y’know what I’m saying?”

Harris laughed as though I’d told the best joke he’d ever heard. “I feel you man, I feel you. Look, if you don’t make it out, and my place isn’t completely totalled, there’s a safe in the basement. Code’s 14-13-25 and it’s packed to the goddamn nines with all the gear you’d need for some straight-up fighting. Was meant for the mob, but I don’t think they’ll mind too much if you borrow it.”

I smirked as I pushed my way through the discarded trash cans of a desolate alley. Harris and me, we’d pulled some pretty big jobs to supplement our incomes, so to speak. The mob was always looking for gun runners, especially if they were exclusive. The triads and the Russians, they had their sources, sources that incredibly survived the supposedly impossible trip from the mainland. But the mob had nothing – at least until they met The Wizard, i.e. Harris’s ridiculous alter ego who appeared to be a cross between an overdressed pimp and a sorcerer.

The Wizard was the mob’s one stop shop for firearms, pickups and sometimes drugs. We had about twenty people at the height of the operation, and they were nearly all disposable. Recovering addicts we leashed in the blink of an eye, low scale crims who couldn’t afford to bribe the cops, that sort of thing. A few years in and fifty thousand Arlandrian in the vault and we packed it all in, made sure that even the mob wouldn’t have any bad blood against us.

“Thanks for the offer, I might take you up on it if I mess this up,” I replied as I ducked between two cars. The telltale rumble and creak of a main battle tank passed without incident. “I’m coming up on Greenberg and Lake, and making good progress.”

“Shit bro, don’t –” I dropped the cellphone as I left the alleyway, an instant reaction. What had once been a moderately busy intersection in midtown was now a goddamn firing range, and I’d just drawn everyone’s attention to me because of a stupid phone call. As I turned on my heel, everything slowed down to quarter speed, my heartbeat like the drone of a drum in my ears. Splinters rained about me as bullets passed through head-high fences, and while my mind screamed peril all I could do was run. It was all my mind could focus on.

I scaled the fence at the end of the alley and dropped over onto Bridge Street, which turned out to be another stupid idea. Two tanks were sat to my left and the thud of the hammer of their machine guns was more than enough to clarify that they weren’t friendly. There was only one option, and if I survived it, it was going to be a miracle.

A gap in the gunfire came and I ran. Not away from or towards the tanks, but perpendicular to them, towards the edge of the bridge and the river below. With my entire life from the past five years in the bags on my back, I jumped, and immediately the icy water was everywhere. Step two of this imperfect escape plan was to try not to drown; but as always that was much easier said than done.

Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 3, Page 5 – [25/05/2016]

“You enslaved me?!” Anayama was beyond angry. Small hands were balled into fists, knuckles white. “You are insane, Okita! Insane! All you had to do was execute that Resistance creep, and he threw his life on the line for me. Why couldn’t you just do what everyone wanted you to?!”

I looked away, out of the window of the inn where I had taken to staying. “It wouldn’t have been right.”

Justifying it like that was weak, I knew that much. But I didn’t want to admit my own weakness at the time, my own inability to draw blood from those who didn’t deserve it. That night, I saved two lives and dealt justice. We didn’t have the population to execute someone for a simple mistake. Though, the Magistrate had it coming – whoever was there simply by bloodlust’s call had it sated; there was no man guiltier than the one who simply sat around and handed out sentences. At least I did it by my own hands.

“Don’t talk to me about what’s right,” Anayama spat bitterly. “You were just too weak to do what was necessary.”

A crack echoed through the room as the back of my hand hit her face. She stumbled, and fell to the ground, her wedge sandals offering little support. “I saved your life, you ungrateful bitch! And I don’t think highly enough of you to execute an innocent man when you were clearly the one at fault.” I leaned down and grabbed her by the collar of her kimono. “You are enslaved because you’re worth more to the Juuyuushi alive than dead. I can free you whenever I wish, but until you realise that this this me doing you a favor, you’re under my command. Got that?”

She nodded carefully, still nursing her hit cheek with one hand. The other drifted to the metal ring around her neck, fixed in place by a complex locking mechanism. Like slavery itself, the concept was archaic, but effective. Her place, her punishment was visible for all to see. “I understand. I apologise, Mistress Okita.” There was an odd sincerity in her address, which made me feel a little more comfortable with a most definitely uncomfortable situation.

I offered her a hand up, which she refused, and awkwardly pushed herself up from the ground. She asked for leave and I gave it to her – to my own shame, I’d put her through a terrible ordeal. One that could have been far worse overall, but with less drawn out suffering.

I returned to reading my book in the candlelit room, the bedside lantern still bright upon the table. All things considered, it was difficult to concentrate upon the content. Setting the book aside, I blew out the candle and decided to head out, hoping some fresh air would clear my head. Okutama was cold that night, the breeze running through the mountains cooling the moisture in the air. It was a little unnerving, given the warmth of the day. Superstition told me it was a sign, one that my own warmth was failing, that I too would become cold and dark. I never was one for superstition though, so I simply pulled my cloak from my pack, swung it over my shoulders and continued.

I made my way down the hill to one of the many bridges that crossed the Tama River, leaning on the varnished wood and staring up at the moonlight. The stars, like brushed metal amidst coal dust, glinted in the distance and for a moment, I wished that I could vanish somewhere out there, somewhere far away from the accursed country I constantly fought to protect. Footsteps brought me back to earth.

“Contemplative isn’t a look that suits you, Okita.” The sardonic male voice was too familiar. I couldn’t escape the bastard. “What are you doing out here this late?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” I stood up straight and brushed off my cloak. The pale bluish-white of the uninterrupted moonlight made everything feel strange and dreamlike. “What do you want, Mochizuki?”

He came over and stood next to me, stared up at the sky with dreamy, half-asleep eyes. “I wanted to thank you.” No eye contact was made, but the tone was sincere. “I couldn’t have dealt with Anayama being killed, and that would have made me leave the Juuyuushi and the Resistance. By sparing her, you spared me by extension, and I will forever be grateful for that.”

Smiling warmly, he turned to look at me, and I looked away quickly. Heat rose in my cheeks and I folded my arms. “Don’t think I was doing it for you or anything. I wasn’t. I just didn’t want to kill an innocent or a teenager tonight. The Resistance doesn’t have enough men and women to kill people over minor transgressions. That’s all.”

The man shrugged and began walking away. “Say whatever makes you happy, Okita. Fact is, tonight you made a great leader. One as suited to politics as to battle. Maybe you should be the new Magistrate?”

Whatever words would have been a suitable response didn’t come to me, so I stuttered pointlessly until he had disappeared. I sighed and slumped down against the bridge’s guard rails. Magistrate? Me? Naturally, I’d always said that I could do a better job than the now-deceased one, but to actually have the opportunity and the support to do it was… exciting.

The next day, I formally took the post as Magistrate and mayor of the town, and began drawing up plans for how it could be developed in the wake of the attack. We didn’t have the manpower to wage a war, but we did have the manpower to build a solid defense. And that was what I intended to do.

“So, you want to build a castle?” Mochizuki said with a smirk, at a meeting a week later. Anayama rolled out the plans I had drawn up with the help of the town architects. Some it involved ‘acquiring’ resources from various enemy locations or friendly trade partners, but it was our best bet. “Not even a castle. A citadel, practically.”

I pulled out another scroll and laid it over the top of the blueprints. “Take a look at this. This is the nation they call ‘Suspiria’ which takes up parts of Shizuoka, Kanagawa and Yamanashi prefectures. It started as a citadel for a politically-allied group of British, German and Russian settlers. Nobody thought they’d survive, and yet they are considered one of the strongest nations. A practical modern day Oda clan.”

“And you want to emulate their success, I see. As your deputy, I’ll arrange for all resources to be put towards that,” Mochizuki said with a bow. “I’m impressed, Okita. You’re less a Magistrate and more a Daimyo.”

The constant compliments would do nothing for my ego, I told myself. And yet… things would soon change.

The Sunday Summary: Hits, Walks and Six Months in Japan

Hey everyone, welcome to my new Sunday blog where I talk about life and general shenanigans. This won’t be an interruption to Showa 60 or to my other writing – I’m just viewing it as an outlet.

So, without further ado, I’ll split this up into the pieces mentioned in the title!

Hits

I was taking a brief perusal of my stats for all the time I’ve owned this domain (about two years or so, I think?) and I have to say, I’m impressed with Brazil. Either I’m getting a lot of spambots, or I genuinely have a lot of Brazilian fans. Check this out!

Screenshot 2016-05-22 22.42.46Screenshot 2016-05-22 22.47.42

453 lifetime views. The UK, I can sort of understand – my friends and family are from there, and some of them are particularly avid readers of my stuff (thanks guys!), and the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook is predominantly American, which explains the US. But Brazil? A total outlier, so I’m impressed. Muito obrigado! Also, Italy, you’re a confusing one for me too, so a big grazie mille to my Italian fans, wherever and whoever you are. And for those of you in Japan… ありがとうございました!

Walks

Everyone and their mother always seems to recommend running as a quick fix to getting some exercise, but it’s never really worked for me, and if you have the wrong sort of shoes (which I do) then it can cause serious damage to your legs over a long period of time.

For me, swimming is my main exercise. It’s low impact, it works on strength, suppleness and stamina, and it’s extremely relaxing. Unfortunately in Japan it’s hard to find a public pool (the closest one to me requires taking a train and then a taxi or bus), and private gyms practically require a small loan to attend regularly.

Therefore, I drop down to my second favourite exercise – walking. Fortunately for me, I live in a reasonably low plains area fenced in by the Tanzawa mountains and the greater Tokyo Metropolis. And the Pacific Ocean, I guess, if you go far south enough. My city has hundreds of years of history as a farming town, and by following the river through town, you quickly reach the farms surrounding the local agricultural university. The route alongside the river is pleasantly flat, and courtesy of the foliage and water it’s also pretty cool temperature-wise. The route I followed today was a good three miles, but didn’t feel like I was exerting myself especially hard. That being said, apparently I burned two hundred calories, so that practically takes care of that mint chocolate ice cream I had earlier in the day…

I also took a few pictures, which I thought captured the hazy sunset of the evening pretty nicely:

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All in all, it was quite the beautiful trek, and if it keeps me fit and healthy, I might take a similar route every Sunday – provided I don’t have anything else planned or something more strenuous on the cards. The hard working lifestyle of Japan combined with the boredom of living alone are an excellent soup for losing weight, so I’m beginning to feel better about my health and my body. Goodness knows I could have done with losing a few pounds when I got out here, but now I can barely keep my suit trousers up…

Six Months in Japan

Speaking of which, I’ve been here six months now! It’s quite incredible how the time has flown by really. In that time, I’ve visited so many places, met new people and learned new things.

In terms of places I’ve visited, there’s actually too many to list in great detail, but I might make another page with the places I’ve been and maybe try my hand at some travel writing. For now, here’s the not-so-brief overview:

  • Okayama, Okayama Prefecture
  • Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture
  • Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture
  • Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
  • Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture
  • Tokyo Metropolis
    • Ikebukuro
    • Shibuya
    • Harajuku
    • Kichijoji
    • Shimo-Kitazawa
    • Odaiba
    • Ginza
    • Asakusa
    • Akihabara
    • Shinjuku
  • Osaka, Osaka Prefecture
  • Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Nara, Nara Prefecture
  • Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture

Before I leave Japan, the places I really want to visit (that are reasonably accessible) are:

  • Hakone and Lake Ashi
  • Mt. Fuji and Fujinomiya
  • Fujiyoshida and Fuji Five Lakes
  • Kofu
  • Hachioji
  • Nikko
  • Hakone-Yumoto

Time will tell whether I get to go to these places! In the case of Fujinomiya, I’d at least have a place to stay (courtesy of a friend living out there), but as for most other places I’d definitely have to make a weekend of it.

Who knows what the next weekend will bring? That’s kind of my motto when I’m out here – some places are far cheaper to get to than you’d probably expect, and there’s always the option of getting up (begrudgingly) early and taking local trains to the destination.

Anyway, that’s about all I have time for, so thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Japan updates, more Showa 60 and eventually, more of my novel.

Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 3, Page 4 – [18/05/2016]

The entirety of the Resistance in the village stood before me, nervous and chattering quietly. It reminded me of the opinions of non-Japanese I had heard long ago, that our culture was based around the concept of shame and duty. In circumstances like these, it was both true and helpful – we were a collective of individuals, doing our best to survive. A traitor to one was a traitor to all.

A bell sounded to call this meeting to order, the townspeople looking upon their supposed protectors with discomfort. Given the day’s events, I didn’t blame them.

“On this day, our location was discovered by a lone infiltrator, an enemy with technology far beyond the reach of normal nations,” I said aloud, raising the rifle above my head by its integrated carry handle. “The infiltrator destroyed any evidence of their existence rather than be caught, leaving naught but a question – who led them here, and why?”

There was nervous chatter among the people, and then all heads turned towards Anayama, who had something clutched tightly in her hands. Of course it would be the child, the one who hated me. She stood up, slender legs shaking. Branches in the wind, knocking together and somehow staying solid in spite of it. “I believe it was this that led them to us, some sort of device. Hi… I mean, Mochizuki said he had found it attached to one of his men, Nakayama Shunsuke, I believe.”

As if it hadn’t been difficult enough with Anayama alone, I now had a decision. Would I punish her for not informing me sooner? Would I punish Mochizuki as leader of the expedition? Or was this all upon Nakayama, the one who had allowed it to happen to him? But then again, perhaps this was all a ploy for the little couple to cover their rears.

Mochizuki stood up from among the crowd, pulling the one named Nakayama to his feet. “Indeed, dear leader.” His title for me was pure theatrics, not an ounce of seriousness in even a syllable. “It is as Anayama says. This one fell behind, and when he caught up to our group, this item was attached to his cloak.”

I frowned as I inspected the device. It was a radio transmitter of sorts, fitted with a small series of hooks. Not the kind of thing a trained warrior would allow to be clipped onto them. But perhaps something a young girl with a lack of athletic prowess… it was all very hard to believe. That being said, the whole town was present and they wanted to see justice. Anayama had fallen behind, that much was certain – she was trembling, couldn’t even make eye contact with me. Nakayama on the other hand seemed calm, like someone who had accepted his fate in spite of it not being true. To execute him would put this whole thing under wraps, but it would be killing an innocent. To execute Anayama would be the height of controversy – Mochizuki would likely try to kill me again, the townspeople and the resistance would be shocked at the death of their little idol wonder girl. Letting an innocent man fall for someone else’s mistake… could I truly allow it?

“A decision must be made, Okita,” the magistrate said from his seat behind me. “Our town has been put in danger, and the one who allowed it to happen must pay. The people seek blood.”

I turned around to face him, silhouetted in the lantern-light. “And blood they shall receive. But you know as well as I that this situation is not as it seems.”

Smirking, he opened his fan and began to waft a gentle breeze towards himself. Gold rings glinted upon his fingers as he moved, and I felt myself become increasingly frustrated. “So you would fracture the Juuyuushi? Kill a child to suit your own ideals of justice? The warrior in front of you has accepted his accusation in silence; he wishes to place his life on the line in spite of the truth. Do you accept his offer? Or would you sooner break the heart of your comrade by killing another?”

At my side, the sword weighed heavy. Drawing it would mean drawing blood, and a betrayal of this caliber, even accidentally, meant that someone had to die. But, were there fates worse than death? Fates embarrassing and shameful enough to be considered a fitting punishment?

“There will be no execution tonight,” I said loudly, facing the crowd with my arms folded. The crowd roared in indignation, throwing around insults suggesting I was cowardly or weak. “However! However… justice will be served. I hereby sentence Nakayama Shunsuke to labour and indentured servitude at the damaged onsen.”

“And the girl?” Mochizuki said, a hint of hope in his voice that I might let her get away with her obvious transgression. “What becomes of Anayama?”

I glanced away for a second, unsure as to whether I should really do this. She required punishment; she had threatened the safety of the entire village and kept the transmitter for assessment without obviously disabling it. “Anayama Kiriko,” I said, pointing towards the girl, “You are now stripped of your Juuyuushi rank, for the Juuyuushi does not accept slaves into its ranks. You are to report to me, and serve the rest of the group as I see fit.”

Mochizuki looked heartbroken, but then bowed his head. I stared at him, and when our eyes met, he gave a weak smile. This had all been for him. He turned away and left the crowd, and I was sure for a moment that he brushed tears from his eyes.

The magistrate chuckled behind me, still clutching the fan between his fat fingers. “So you’re enslaving the girl? You do realise that is against the laws of this village… surely executing her would have been more merciful. Or perhaps you think you are above the law?”

I clicked my blade from it’s sheath, revealing an inch of metal. “No, Magistrate. I don’t think I’m above the law.” With all the speed I could muster, I span and sliced the blade vertically up his body, rending fat and cartilage in one sweep. “I am the law.”

Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 3, Page 3 – [11/05/2016]

Water collarbone deep and towel sat atop my head, I finally started to relax. The dagger never left my reach, sat beneath the water at my side. I knew, from prior experience, that I could draw the blade in one second with the water resistance. My only issue was if someone brought a gun. I could throw the dagger, but I might be shot in the process, and it wasn’t enough to use my abilities when my movement was hindered.

Grinding my teeth, I tried not to focus on possibilities. Possibilities were endless. Certainties were much fewer and further between. What I knew for certain was this: Mochizuki had tried to kill me. Harry McArthur was dead. As was the Vice President of Arlandria I needed to ensure the plan continued smoothly, otherwise all our efforts thus far would have been for naught.

I caught sight of my reflection in the water, noting that where my so-called comrade’s sword had cut, he’d sliced off a good chunk of my hair. Taking the dagger, I removed the rest along the line, the cut now short and bobbed. Not that I was one for vanity, but it didn’t suit my face.

As I was about to set the blade back into its sheath, there was a rustle in the bamboo and I stood up as sharply as I could, scanned around for any disturbances. This wasn’t a good place for me to be if someone planned on sneaking in. If I hid my position in the water, the ripples would give me away. If I left the water and returned to the building, I’d leave footprints on the floor. I frowned and jumped into the flowerbeds surrounding the pool, masking myself as best I could.

A lone figure dropped off of the fence and landed in the water, clad in a dark green cloak and wearing now-soaked camouflage trousers. I saw the badge – Technisian.

Technis was the worst of the little ‘countries’ spread throughout what once had been called Japan. They were a state run by the numerous corporations established there – far more technologically advanced than most, but also far less ethical in the process. There were tales of an undercity rife with crime and murder, while the upper classes lived on the surface with their portable computers and cellular phones. Their military was advanced too… but not this advanced.

I pounced on the soldier, pushing them under the water and disarming them in a flash. Arms and legs flailing, they struggled. I waited, and then pulled them to the surface, tossing their water soaked body onto the hard floor at the side of the pool. I took the rifle – a mixture of metal and composites, bullpup arrangement with the magazine behind the trigger – and aimed it at the infiltrator’s head. Their face was covered by a state-of-the-art tactical helmet, which I was reasonably convinced wouldn’t stand a point blank shot.

“Identify yourself.”

My order was unlikely to be followed, I knew that much. If they were Technisian, failure to defeat a ‘technologically inferior’ foe was shameful. For their Special Forces, such a situation would be punishable by death. The weakened soldier raised a hand, a remote clutched in it. They had nothing to lose – and I had a lot. I dove into the shallow water of the hot spring as a significant amount of plastic explosive detonated, the noise still deafening beneath.

As I surfaced, I witnessed a scene that looked like something from a war zone. The ground was dented with a crater, the surrounding area blasted into pieces. The entire wing of the ryokan had been demolished, the view through the corridor now a clear shot of the town below. A wall had been damaged on one side, and the other was spattered with blood and shrapnel. I realised that I hadn’t exactly come out unscathed either, my back and arms stinging with small cuts and burnt flesh. Fragments of fabric and plant matter descended from the sky above like black snowflakes.

My mind was full of questions, even in spite of the pain. I certainly hadn’t been followed – I hadn’t even been close to Technis in months, and I wasn’t stupid enough to get tagged. But that meant someone had. I got out of the hot spring, redressed and headed towards the main door.

“Kanon? Thank the gods you’re alright… what happened?”

I gestured to the demolished wing, and the kitsune’s face fell. “Inari blessed. What manner of monster could do this?”

“Another human, unsurprisingly,” I said, holding up the unusual rifle, still dripping slightly. “One with technology far advanced beyond normal consideration.” I hit the magazine release and found a full stack of rounds – the rear of one bullet displayed 5.56mm x 45mm. Those weren’t rounds I registered being used by anyone… but yet, gut instinct still told me this was Technisian.

Koto looked at me nervously as I reinserted the magazine and checked the chamber. “What are you going to do?”

“Someone led these bastards here. Someone compromised the Resistance, the Juuyuushi and the safety of the Remnants,” I tossed her a small coin from my purse. “I’m going to find out who. And when I do… I’ll have to call a mason, because someone’s going to need a new headstone.”

Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 3, Page 2 – [04/05/2016]

I stormed into the onsen and slammed the sliding door so hard behind me the frame rattled. The woman behind the desk jumped, her human form failing a little, fox ears and three tails flickering into existence briefly. A kitsune, a spiritual being hunted to near extinction for their magical tails, and for more… unpleasant purposes.

“You seem troubled, Mistress Okita. Is there anything I can do to ease your worries?” Her tone was gentle, but tainted with the magic of a glamour. I shot her a look and her next sentence held little power. “I apologise, I was merely thinking for the safety of the inn. You have been known to be quite destructive in your bad moods.”

Sinking down to remove my boots, I smirked. “You always did know how to charm a girl, Koto.” Tossing them loosely to the side, I stepped up onto the wooden floor and took a cup of tea from her. “My long-time handler sacrificed himself for me, and this,” I said, pointing to the stinging cut on my face, “This was done by that treacherous bastard Mochizuki while my back was turned.”

Koto raised a gentle hand to my face, and I felt the warm electricity of healing magic. “And you’re sure you didn’t provoke him in any way?”

Embarrassed, I remained silent. I had provoked him – perhaps not enough to kill me, but enough to warrant a reaction. I was pissed off, and I took it out on him. That probably meant I owed him an apology, but I wasn’t about to utter a single syllable to that coward until he apologised for my face.

“Did I ever tell you the story of me and my sister?” Koto began, her voice tinted with magic, but not the coercive kind. “It all started two hundred and sixty four years ago. By the standards of most of my kind, we were little more than children, but we weren’t unintelligent. Just unused to what family meant.” Her voice washed over me like a warm flow of water, comparable to the very springs the building was host to. “We had a huge argument because she fell in love with a human. A foreigner, at that. He was a Britannian naval officer, sharply dressed with fine features – certainly interesting to look at as a human with a very storied past. But as you know, we live far longer than humans, and she was so young…”

I felt her hands running through my hair and across my shoulders, searching for more injuries to treat. “What happened?”

“I tried to warn her that her first mate should not be from a short lived species, but she wouldn’t listen. She was in love with the man, and nothing I could say would change that,” Koto continued, unbuckling my armour to reach a minor laceration on my side, presumably from diving out of the window a few days back. “She eloped with him, possibly back to his native England. I didn’t see her again until twenty years ago. As it turned out, after his death, she was heartbroken. She wandered hopelessly looking for a place she could connect to the spiritual world, but her spirit was so weak, she could barely cope. On one hand, it was pathetic – a creature of her power, mourning a simple human – one with the barest hint of magical talent. On the other, she was still my sister, and I had missed her dearly.”

The point she was making here was obvious. Stupidity and selfishness had caused her and her sister to grow apart, to become sidetracked with their own thoughts rather than considering the other person’s feelings. I nodded solemnly as the sensation passed through my side and up into my body, suggesting that the wound was infected. “So what did you do?”

“I killed her.” Koto jabbed her claws in my side as she said that, and I yelped in shock. She giggled and withdrew a few fragments of glass. “Just kidding. I welcomed her back, as any true sister would. I listened to her side of the story, finally.” The fox spirit set the glass into a small container and healed up the small cuts with gentle fingertips.“Your issue is different, however. I provoked someone who meant a lot to me, who still held love for me even when I disagreed with her following her dreams. You, Okita Kanon, provoke those who hold no love for you, merely the simple bonds of camaraderie. Do not allow your own rage to sever these ties… otherwise those you have abandoned may sever bone and sinew.”

I grimaced and set my hands out as she passed me a kimono. “And what of you, Koto? Do you hold any love for me?”

She smirked and set herself on the counter, crossing her pale legs so that the silk of her kimono brushed back either side of them. “We kitsune find you humans very entertaining… and I do consider you a close friend. To earn my love however, you’d have to show a degree of skill that… can’t be earned on the battlefield.”

All I could do was look at her blankly. “Are you propositioning me? Or am I misreading this situation?”

Her expression still coy, she drew a smoking pipe from under the desk and lit it. “You can read it however you like, Kanon. We are but characters in a book, and our relationship is to the reader’s interpretation.” She sauntered over to me and blew a gentle ring of sweet-smelling smoke around my face, leaving her red lips pouted ridiculously. “How about you and I… read between the lines?”

I walked straight past her and towards the washroom. “I’m going for a bath. Read that and see how it entertains you.”

As I passed through the sliding door, I was convinced I heard her saying something about ‘ship fodder’, whatever that would mean. I shook my head and shoved my boots into the rack, before undressing and selecting a basket for my clothes. Ready to relax, I almost went to wash myself off, but returned to grab my dagger. Now wasn’t the time to lower my guard.

[\\return]

Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 3, Page 1- [27/04/2016]

It took a few days to get home – a few night stops at villages that recognized the Juuyuushi symbol or my clan mon, villages that were unfailingly allied with the cause. By the time I was back in Okutama, I needed a long soak in the hot springs and nobody to drop on me with questions about Harry McArthur’s death. Typically, I got to do neither, with the town magistrate requesting my immediate presence in his chambers.

“Okita Kanon, why was I reached with news that McArthur’s apartment was caught in a violent explosion, and that you somehow survived the ordeal? Do you have no honour to die with your friend?”

I grit my teeth together. This pompous bastard was tiring from the moment he opened his mouth, but to suggest something like that in his second sentence was infuriating. Riled up, I slammed my hands down on the table. “This insistence you have with acting like we’re still living in the old ways is pathetic, Magistrate. We don’t have the manpower to sacrifice ourselves in battle, and I’m the last of my bloodline. You can’t afford to lose me.”

A smirk spread across his fat face. “Oh? But we can afford to lose one of our best healers because you weren’t willing to take care of a few loose ends?” He flicked a paper fan open and started wafting it towards himself. “You are becoming more arrogant in your advancing years. Maybe you should just quit and become a housewife already.”

Resorting to petty insults was his trademark; he knew I could kill him, but wouldn’t. I’d be exiled, and the plan would be a lot harder to execute on my own, especially with my nine other comrades hunting me. “Just direct me to whoever has the next mission.”

“That would be me.”

I turned to find a young man, short but toned, with a shock of light brown hair. It reminded me of why brown was literally ‘tea-coloured’ in Japanese, because the way it sat on his head was like someone had dumped a cup of the stuff over him.

“Mochizuki,” I said with a stern tone. “Thanks for doing nothing in our last mission.”

He laughed, in a way that sounded hearty but forced. “You fail to realise the art of the ninja is sometimes simply to observe and reconnoitre.” Mochizuki walked towards me and pushed me back against the desk, trapping me with both of his arms. His face, his shochu-smelling breath were too close. “Kanon, the blade should weigh heavily on the soul. But yet it seems not to affect you.”

I hit him with a palm strike to the solar plexus and then followed up with a right hook to the face. He staggered backwards, clutching his cheekbone. Probably broken. “I’ll repent for my sins when this country is ours again. Until then, I’ll kill as many damn people as it takes.” I drew the dagger strapped to my belt, the blade a foot long and single edged. “I’ll start with you if needs be.”

The coward backed away, pressed himself up against the wall. He was as much warrior as I was a god. With a slight laugh, I nicked his flesh with the dagger and then sheathed it. The mistake I made was turning away from him. What happened next spread out across time like honey on bread. I heard the slight click of his sword being unsheathed, and propelled myself away while projecting a false image of myself – the blade swung low and upwards, decapitating the false self and just catching my real cheek. The hot flush of blood seared across my skin, and as I hit the floor, everything came back into focus.

You bastard! You could have killed me!” I screamed, launching myself towards him. I took hold of his sword arm and hit it hard with my palm, rage surging. I felt the bone crack underneath and swung back around with a kick, launching him through the screen wall and into the next room, where one of the Magistrate’s courtesans was enjoying tea. Mochizuki’s shoulders caught the table and flipped the hot kettle’s contents over himself, along with the dango the courtesan had set out neatly on a plate.

Okita, wait… I was just…

My right fist hit him so hard my entire body shuddered as he tried to get up, the thin metal of my gauntlets probably the only thing that stopped me from breaking my hand against his cheekbone. I grabbed him by the collar, pulled his bloody face to within inches of mine. “You’re a disgrace. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right here, you pathetic worm!”

He pointed back through the hole to where our fight had started. “Anayama. She… I… we… just please. Don’t put her through that.”

I turned around to see the youngest member of our little group. Kiriko Anayama was little more than sixteen, a prodigy with some of the rarest dimensional magic in existence but woeful in stature and clumsy by nature. I grit my teeth and relinquished my grip on Mochizuki’s collar. Anayama was smitten with him, and she hated me. Nothing worthy of fear, but she refused to speak to me directly, even when it really counted. “He’s all yours, Anayama.

She walked past me as though I didn’t exist, and started tending to Mochizuki’s wounds. As she dabbed at his bloody nose with a handkerchief, she shot me a glance of pure vitriol. That was my cue to leave, clearly. I disappeared from the Court of the Magistrate and headed up to the onsen, hoping that I could maybe relax a little, and find somewhere to deal with the wound on my face.

[\\return:prevscene]

Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 2, Page 4 – [20/04/2016]

The coffee maker burbled away in the corner of the kitchen, sending out the unmistakable scent of rich Colombian coffee. Trade was an odd thing in Tonlist. Ships went in and came out, but these were heavily vetted. Floating ports out in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific were where the international ships offloaded their goods, the goods were checked and then sent on separate ships to their respective ports. It didn’t really make sense to have coffee branded from the outside world, but then very little ever made sense here.

Riley came up behind me while I was taking cups from the cupboard, his presence in the room small but unmistakable. “Are you sure you wanna try sneaking up on me?”

“I… uh… dammit.” He laughed awkwardly. “Would that be a bad idea?”

With a shrug, I turned. “I might have reacted out of self-preservation and broken your ribs with my elbow. And I can’t exactly take you to a hospital.” Pressing my hands into the countertop, I leaned back. “You can approach me from this side though.”

I had to admit, toying with him was amusing. And in spite of him being still in his teenage years by technicality, he wasn’t necessarily unattractive. He leaned on the island counter, closing the gap between us. “So what exactly do you do?”

Sometimes, it surprised me how forthright he could be. This was one of those times. I turned back to the cups, turned my back on him and moved them over to the coffee maker. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said, and knowing he’d reply with something predictable like ‘try me’, added, “And even if you did, it’d be dangerous for you to know.”

“So I’m guessing you’re part of these rebel groups I hear about,” he said, coming around my side as I poured the dark coffee into the cups. “Sabotage, assassination, subterfuge.”

I muttered a soft curse in Japanese under my breath. There weren’t meant to be stories with that much information. “Guess all you want, Riley. I’m not telling you anything.” I poured one cup, passed it across. Poured another and kept it for myself. “Questions about me are preferable to ones about my chosen career path, thank you. What the hell do you do, anyway?”

“Try to avoid conscription mostly, given that I have a chronic pain disorder.” His reply was curt, bitter. Almost as biting as my question, so I probably deserved at least that much. “Doctors can’t figure it out. None of it makes sense so they just give me medication and send me to a physiotherapist and hope for the best. The military, however, doesn’t see that as a barrier to taking up arms, apparently.”

He took the milk out of the fridge and poured a drop into the coffee, before offering it across to me. I declined; in Harry’s honor I took my coffee black, no milk, no sugar. No fuss. Riley rolled his shoulders until his back made a sound like a twig breaking underfoot.

“Anyway, I stay at home.” He continued, holding the coffee mug close to his face, staring at the murky beige. “Study. Write things. Go for bike rides when I feel healthy enough to get out of the house. That’s my life. Glamorous as shit.”

Whatever excitement I had felt on being invited into his house was now gone – there was no tension, no undercurrent of nervousness. Just pity.

“You’d have to do something pretty impressive in my society,” I said, probably a little bluntly. “To call you a burden would be an understatement. But… if you could hold your own in a defensive fight and do something of worth, you might be considered average.”

Riley’s face morphed from shock to hurt bemusement, his mouth pulled into a smirk as he let out a single chuckle. “For someone so cute, you sure are tactless. You think I don’t feel like that anyway in my society? You think I enjoyed working my ass off through school just to be told that I probably wouldn’t be able to hold down a steady job?” His voice had risen, his hands shook. He stared me dead in the eyes, and for the first time I felt something spasm through my gut. Not fear, but some kind of discomfort. “Whatever, it’s not like you’d get it. Nobody does, because nobody else has this kind of situation.” He downed what was left in his cup and dropped it in the sink with a clatter. “Thanks for the coffee.”

As he slammed the door on his exit, the whole house seemed to shake. Tactless? That was the first time anyone had ever called me that, and it was one-hundred percent true. What I said wasn’t nice – but then I hadn’t told a lie. In my society, things were like that because they had to be. Anyone who couldn’t support themselves and others was a burden, and they were cast out. It was risky, of course; if the outcasts were captured, they could reveal secret information. So sometimes, my group had some more… morally questionable activities to perform.

I sipped the coffee. It was tepid and the bitterness was far too harsh, adding a little kick to the discomfort I was feeling. Content with what I’d had, I poured the rest down the sink, and wandered over to the chalkboard in the corner. I scratched down a simple note and went to change into my usual mission gear. I needed something a bit more comfortable than these Arlandrian clothes if I was headed home.

It took me no more than five minutes, but the whole time, the guilt over the look that Riley had given me pressed into my chest. Like every strap and buckle on my outfit was far too tight. In spite of how I looked, I went upstairs and found him laying on his bed, the room a haphazard mess. “Riley. I’m leaving. I… just thought I should apologise. What I said was uncalled for.” I sat down next to him on the mattress, looking away. “But you probably won’t see me again, so I didn’t want you to dwell on it. You’re a good guy; keep questioning things and you’ll do well.”

As I was about to leave, he grabbed my bracer, and turned to me with oddly distant eyes. “Don’t head directly south. That direction… I have a bad feeling about it.”

I nodded with a gentle smile. “Thank you. Take care of yourself, Riley.”

He rolled over again, still curled up on his bed. There was something a little unnerving about his next words, even though I had no idea why. “You too, Kanon. Make sure that’s your choice.”

— S C E N E   E N D —

[\\return]

[//next]

Showa 60 – Act 1, Scene 2, Page 3 – [13/04/2016]

His body was completely frozen under mine, save for the rise and fall of his chest with his rapid breaths and the flicker of his eyelids every so often. Whether or not he believed I could kill him – and I definitely could – was irrelevant to him, his mind forged by Arlandrian morals and clearly debating what to do in the situation.

“You know, this would be more convincing if you at least made it look like we were doing something illicit,” I said, brushing a rough hand around his face, along his neck. “Is everyone in this country as hypocritically puritanical as you? How old are you even anyway?”

“I-I’m eighteen,” he said, guiding his hands nervously around my body with confusion evident in his eyes. “You?”

“Twenty. Surprising, isn’t it?” I said, gesturing to myself. We were both hit with the mixed blessing of looking younger than we actually were. With a smirk, I pushed my hips into his and watched his teeth sink into his lower lip. “So, I suppose I should start this little history lesson. It all changed in the 1850s. The Americans – as in, those who invaded and conquered the United States and won their little war of independence – came over when Japan closed itself off and tried to force the country open. We refused.”

“Isn’t… isn’t America a really long way away?” he asked, leaning over behind my neck and putting his lips against it. “I wouldn’t think they’d have any interest in this place.”

Even with my self control, the sensation was pleasant and I struggled a little to keep my tone even. “You’d think so, right? But no. They came back with an army, and demanded one final time. The Emperor’s stubborn refusal – though sensible in his own mind – led to an all out war. A war we lost entirely. The Emperor became the Americans’ puppet.” Seeing Riley freeze again, I moved one of his hands to my waistline and gave him a nod. “Later on, some rebel groups tried – and in a few cases, succeeded – in assassinating the invaders’ top military brass. Perry, the leader of these troops, seemed to think the Emperor had betrayed him. So he had him executed in public, for all to see.”

The young man’s fingers traced just underneath my waistband, not quite wanting to go through with whatever was going on. I let him stew a little longer. “Wow, that’s uh… I… well, it’s bad, right?”

“Very bad. Without a central force to control the clans, everything descended into one final war, which the Japanese had no chance of winning. Perry enlisted the help of the British, the Russians and the French who dealt the final blow.” I ran my hands up under his shirt and scratched lightly along his back with my fingernails, listened to him practically whimper. “They then cut the country up like meat into different ‘colonies’. A few other countries got involved too. Before long, most of Japan was portioned out, the original Beaconsfield Treaty was enacted… a few revisions and then here we are.”

His face was suddenly pretty serious. “That’s… really strange hearing it from you.” He sat up and moved away from me. “So you’re saying this whole place was united, once upon a time? And that it was stolen in a war?”

I nodded and propped myself up on my elbows. “It was united after a war that lasted almost two hundred years. And then another two hundred years passed and we had that.”

He stared into the distance thoughtfully, and then stood up, tucking his shirt back into his jeans. “C’mon, we’ll go to my place.”

My eyes widened. Didn’t this kid know the rules? Providing shelter to an ‘outsider’ was considered treason in Arlandria, regardless of age. Even if he wasn’t 21, he could still be executed or put in prison for an indefinite period. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“Screw the rules. My place is out of sight of the usual patrols, my parents are divorced and my mom is away in Technis on business for a few weeks.” Riley offered me a hand, which I took. “I’ll help you. I know it’s a dumb idea, but you seem like you’re in trouble and I can’t sit by and watch that – regardless of whether you’re an outsider or not.”

I gave a light chuckle and shook my head. This one had a bit of a hero complex it seemed; letting his own personal morals get in the way of his safety. It was naive, and stupid… but endearing. “You’re sweet. And you’ve convinced me. Let’s go to this place of yours.”

The house was pretty nondescript – detached, ‘craftsman’-style with its wood paneling and gables. Small windows were covered with blinds, and the garden was pretty enclosed with imported fir trees. It was, for all intents and purposes, an excellent safehouse. Maybe not the most resilient to attack, but definitely a good place to lay low. I didn’t admit it, but I was impressed.

He led me inside, through to the kitchen, where he took a beer from the refrigerator and cracked it open. I was pretty sure by Arlandrian laws even I wasn’t allowed to drink, but here he was taking liberties again. “Get one yourself, if you want.”

“I don’t really drink,” I replied, “Have to keep a clear head in the event of the worst happening.”

“Suit yourself.” He pulled himself up onto the countertop, shuffled til he was comfortable. “So why did you look so upset when I found you?”

I frowned and folded my arms. “My gua-, no, my best friend was murdered because he was taking care of an ‘outsider’. His apartment was under attack by a heavily-armed militia, and to keep me safe, he… that idiot, he…” I tried to stop the tears, but it was already too late. “He left the gas to leak after he cooked breakfast. He knew we were compromised and once I was out of the blast radius… he set the whole place alight. Blew the apartment clean out.”

Riley’s eyes widened. “Holy shit. I… I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I lied, brushing the tears from my eyes. It wasn’t fine. wasn’t fine. Everything still hurt like hell. I hadn’t really even mourned McArthur properly yet. But there was always a way to start these things. “Can I make coffee?”

[\\return]

[//next]