Dragon Ash – Episode 2

By Rock Kitaro
Date : March 16, 2013

ACT 1 – Silence in the Himalayas

ACT 2 – Every Other Generation

ACT 3 – Miro-Tech: Turning Knowledge Into Power

Vampire” by The Trax – Japanese rock

philippines

ACT 1 – Silence in the Himalayas

Over the north side of the Himalayan Mountains within the borders of Tibet, there was a remote village that couldn’t be found on any map. Home to the descendents of an ancient sect of Buddhist monks, said to have been wiped off the face of the earth. These monks paid homage to their idols in a centralized massive temple of a monastery, seen only by most on ukiyo-e ink paintings. A temple said to have been destroyed in the midst of the first Sino-Japanese War back in 1895.

Once again the Third World village of Layanka was being pillaged. Not by any other country or branch of armed forces recognized by NATO. The armor-plated transport choppers that were closing in on that clear summer morning were privately owned. The jeeps that carved through the arid drought-stricken dead grass and bulldozed through bamboo fences had GPS jamming devices implanted in them so they wouldn’t be picked up on most satellites. The three units of paramilitary soldiers shot down any civilians who were too slow or confused to drop down to the ground. And all of the soldiers, all of the vehicles, weapons and equipment…It was all distinguished by their frosted dark-blue color schemes and the diamond shaped insignia of the U.S. based corporation that owned them. An exclusive corporation called Miro-Tech.

The drum line popping sounds of assault rifles and grenades echoed off of the flanking mountains as mothers desperately rushed to gather their children. The helicopter gunners laughed as they watched farmers rushing to huddle their sheep and goats across the plowed fields away from the village. The locals who were bold enough to demand an explanation from their invaders were answered with M1A4s. The closest thing the Layankans had in their defense were the warrior monks who swore their lives to defend the monastery. Other than that, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Due to their remote location in the valley of the mountains, the humble race of Layankans had no need for a self-defense force. But alas, they were receiving outsiders for the first time in over a century.

Konpon Chudo's Main Keep

Konpon Chudo’s Main Keep

The orderly siege on Layanka had been in progress for a fast-paced twenty-two minutes when a heavy-plated Humvee parked by the front pathway leading to the main temple named Xiogurn. Miro-Tech soldiers had already surrounded and infiltrated Xiogurn when Commander Tinoco stepped out of the vehicle and took in its magnificence. Unlike the surrounding area, the grass in the monastery was a healthy moist green. The pathway was made of flat paved stones that had a non-distinctive clear color sheen. Walking on them seemed like you were walking on water itself. The neighboring three temples weren’t nearly as high or massive as Xiogurn, but shared the distinct Japanese design of elaborate curving roofs with the eaves stretching like wings over the main keeps. They were all made mostly of dark wood and red clay that bared no cracking. No doubt, the monks took good care of their fortresses. Of this, Tinoco easily surmised.

Taking off his sunglasses with a heavy sigh, the Cuban born, the bald former JSOC operative stood at an impressive 6’2 with bronze eyes and a finely combed beard. He was the only soldier who wasn’t wearing the dark-blue thermo protective armored plated suits, the only soldier not wearing a $5,000 helmet with a shielded visor that covered the entire face. Green Beret to the core, Cmdr. Tinoco wore a dark-blue version of the army fatigues he was used to wearing while serving the government.

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Three scouting operatives immediately came to his side and saluted. “What’s taking so long?” He asked in his usual low whispery tone.

One of them approached. “Sir! Reports are still coming in. Apparently Alpha unit has met heavy resistance inside. Eight snipers from Bravo are containing the perimeter from the hillside and Charlie company is on their way right now. ETA six minutes.”

“That’s not what I asked.” Tinoco grumbled.

Suddenly the loud crack of hard aged-wood echoed out, stunning everyone where they stood.  Focusing his eyes on Xiogurn’s front entrance forty-yards out, Tinoco frustrations grew as three soldiers came bursting out of the temple’s large wooden doors as if they were slung by a catapult. More soldiers began running out of the temple of their own volition, all shouting for back-up and cursing about shit being ridiculous and unreal. One soldier recognized Tinoco through his cracked visor and came hobbling over on the one leg that didn’t contain a fractured femur.

“The hell is this?” Tinoco asked calmly with a deadpan expression.

The soldier removed his helmet revealing sweat soaked hair and bloodshot eyes. “Sir! These fucking monks. I swear to god, I shot one of them. And he just kept coming at me!” He shouted.

Tinoco calmly ordered the injured soldier to give him his rifle. The soldier promptly obeyed and was shot down for his troubles. “His gun works, just fine.” Tinoco said as if a voice in his head asked him a question.

After tossing the rifle toward the nearest scout, Tinoco turned his direction back towards the front entrance to see a single monk exiting Xiogurn with his palms pressed together in prayer. Draped in blue and white heavy wool robes, the monk wore brown beads around his chiseled neck. From his physique and the definition in his muscles, the monk could’ve easily fueled the myths about any brick-breaking monks possessing supernatural power.

With his eyes closed, the monk began to step forward emanating a regal aura of sincerity. “Please leave now.” The monk stated in a calm, humble tone.

“How is he speaking English?” A quirky male voice said over the soldiers’ communication.

With an eerie roll of his eyes, the ominous Tinoco jerked his head to gesture for the six soldiers flanking his right side to attack the monk. As soon as the men rushed forward and aimed down their sights, the monk opened his eyes. The men tried to squeeze the triggers, but none of them could do it. The triggers were stuck in place and didn’t budge. The monk’s eyes…they didn’t show any pupils or iris. The eyes of the monk were the same clear color as the stones on the pavement, a dull clear sheen that seemed to be in perpetual wavy motion like the surface of a river.

“What the hell?” One of the soldiers grunted.

“Fuck it! Let’s go!” Another shouted, throwing down his gun and whipping out a seven-inch titanium dagger. The five others followed suit and prepared themselves for a knife fight against the unarmed monk.

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With a deep sigh and a silent prayer, the monk lowered his position and put most of his weight onto his right back leg. It was the praying mantis style of kung fu, Tinoco easily discerned. The commander had seen close to fifty systems of fighting and the praying mantis was one of the easiest to recognize due to the hooks its practitioner curls his hands into which resembles the deadly insect.

As the first man sprinted forward lunged his dagger in a straight attacked aimed for the face, the monk used almost whip-like speed in deflecting the soldier’s arm. He palmed the soldier’s elbow so hard that it tore ligaments, causing the soldier to drop the dagger instantly. As the soldier was engulfed in pain and stumbling forward from his own momentum, the monk swiftly sent an open palm into the soldier’s ribcage, shattering three ribs and causing him to fall limp on the walkway. All of this happened in less than three seconds.

The five remaining soldiers had no idea what the hell just happened, but their cognitive refused to allow them to believe that the monk was anything other than ordinary. With invigorating battle cries, the soldiers rushed the monk swinging their daggers in precise clean strikes as they were trained to do. However, not a single blade touched the monks’ skin. With a calm disposition, the monk easily maneuvered amongst them, delivering efficient vital blows to their sensitive organs, the liver, the spleen, the kidneys, and the throat. The last soldier fell to the monk in probably the most revealing circumstance. The soldier somehow managed to get behind the monk and hook one arm around the monk’s neck. Just as the soldier was about to stab the monk in spine, the monk reached back and delivered a hellacious muay thai elbow strike that was so powerful that it cracked through the soldier’s helmet, spraying a lite spritz of blood.

The six soldiers all lay writhing in pain as the monk rose from his praying mantis stance to stand upright and dignified. Three more monks, just as impressive looking as the first, came walking out of the temple and stood side by side with the first one. In unison, the monks all held their hands up in prayer, closed their eyes and tried to beg again. But before he could, Tinoco shouted, “ELITE MTS!!!”

Just like that, eight soldiers scrambled from their transport vehicles to line up double file in two lines of four. These soldiers were different from the others. They didn’t wear full body suits but had cut off sleeves, no helmets and heavy ceramic plates that covered their chest and shoulders. All of them had some kind of unit insignia tattoos on their arms and were well-toned without an ounce of body fat. Instead of assault rifles, they carried meter-long katars that had the heated compound of thermite fused in its edges. These edges were hot enough to carve through rock and churn it into lava like cutting through butter.

Perhaps sensing the threat, the monks retrieved long sharp-tipped bamboo poles that were almost the size of their own bodies. After a quick nod to their SO, the eight soldiers leaned forward in a sprint and took off. They didn’t grunt, didn’t show facial expressions. But like machines, the soldiers moved with haste to execute their orders. The monks spaced themselves apart for each other, letting the soldiers comb between them.

Elite indeed… The soldiers of Miro-Tech showed why they were in a different class. The fight seemed even and on par at first with the MTS being able to read the monks attacks and evade them at just the right time. But like water, the monks maneuvered around the swings of their attackers, preventing a counter-strike. It was only a matter of time before the monks got in a clean hit with their bamboo sticks. But unlike the other soldiers, the monks had to strike them more than just a few times. Each impact ruptured organs and put dents in the soldier’s armor. By the end of the fight with the eight soldiers sprawled throughout the grassy field, the monks were all perspiring with sweat.

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Pulling himself together and straining to breathe, the lead monk once again stood in an upright dignified position, his glossy eyes sternly fixed on Tinoco. In simple English, he stated, “Please leave us in peace.”

By then, most of the villagers were rounded up and positioned on their knees, held at gunpoint by a line of soldiers anticipating a kill command at any moment. But genocide wasn’t the point of the mission. The objective rested in the heart of Xiogurn. Deceptively at his wits end, Tinoco grinded his teeth and mumbled a few Spanish curse words under his breath. A group of about fifteen idle soldiers who had completed their objective had come to Tinoco’s aide. They aimed down their sights and awaited Tinoco’s order.

“What kind of monk?” Tinoco began to utter. Before he could finish the thought, he impulsively whipped out his sidearm and aimed it at the lead monk. He tried to pull the trigger, but again, the trigger jammed.

“Fire!” He shouted to the rest of his men. They were unable to obey the command. Like Tinoco’s pistol, the trigger on their sleek assault rifles weren’t budging.

“Leave them to me.” The voice that came through their communication sets, came from a female.

A vortex of wind kicked up loose grass and dirt as a modified Apache helicopter was descended near Tinoco’s Humvee. Tinoco started to turn and look toward the helicopter when he noticed something. The monks…their eyes. Their clear glossy eyes grew wide with a combination of fear and confusion. Tinoco smirked at the natives. His superior officer was landing. That uneasy wave of apprehension was the same feeling that came over Tinoco the first time he met her.

The gunfire had stopped. There were no more explosions going off. Other than the whirling helicopter, the only sounds you could hear came from the weeping villagers who were submissively on their knees. Stepping out of the chopper one knee-high black combat boot at a time, a Asian woman in her late twenties took in the sight of the massive temple before her. With sunglasses to protect her dark-brown eyes, the woman approached as if the entire region belonged to her, as if she was just checking on it to see how much it’s changed. Tall with a sleek slender athletic frame, her long fluid black hair came down just beyond her shoulders. Those smooth even-toned shoulders were revealed by a loose-fitting black tank top, with her skin-tight tan cargo pants revealing the ass and appealing legs of an expert gymnast.  A modified leather belt was wrapped comfortably around her hour-glass hips, holding a variety of personal gadgets and her weapon of choice.

The Miro-Tech soldiers who were conscience either quickly assembled themselves into formation or moved the injured out of her way. When she strutted by, it seemed worth it to risk their lives and let themselves be fixated on her smooth rolling hips that swayed from side to side. Not brazenly, of course. But only quick enough to satisfy their curiosity, like testing to see if the boiling water had cooled down. But after the quick check of those thighs, something else caught their attention. Their eyes stared with the look of absurdity at the choice of weapon attached to her belt, down by her lower back. A nodachi samurai sword. The nodachi was different from most katana due to its unusual length. Most katana blades were generally thirty inches long. The nodachi was a little over four feet long, weighed over thirty-pounds and would’ve dragged if its owner wasn’t tall enough. The men suppressed their skepticism, doubted that there was no way she could wield the heavy weapon.

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Silence - Potentially starring Ivy, korean singer

Silence – Potentially starring Ivy, korean singer

Commander Tinoco saluted with stern caution and authority as she approached him. She said nothing. Arching up one of her thin-trimmed eyebrows, the lady took off her sunglasses to reveal her signature cold hypnotizing stare that was almost impossible to discern. Tinoco, however, interpreted the stare with accurate precision. She was agitated beyond belief, but knew better than to throw a bitch fit. Not a good look for a company owner who was trying to prove she deserved authority at such a young age. The sight of her elite MTS writhing on the ground was an embarrassment to her and the name she was trying to build.

“Who is that?” Uttered one of the soldiers standing assembled in line. Fortunately, Tinoco and the woman out of range to hear him.

“You don’t know?” Said another, unable to resist the conversation that poked at everyone.

“Don’t know her real name, but everyone calls her Silence. I heard she’s the majority shareholder of Miro. That’s why Mr. Lindren lets her go out on these missions.” Said a third soldier.

“Fucking A! Majority share-holder?! At her age? Shiet! I was still paying off student loans when I was her age, man. Where’s the justice?”

“Makes sense, I guess. But why is she here? Why did we have to line up for her like she’s the goddamn Emperor of Star Wars or some shit.”

“Better watch your mouth, boy.”  Said an older, obviously more experienced soldier. “There’s a reason why the commander is damn near bowing down to her ass. Trust me, boys. You’re about to see some shit go down.”

Silence rolled her eyes from Tinoco to the monks. Like an actress dropping character, she suddenly switched from scorn to the polite guest who felt that it was an honor to be graced by their presence. Tinoco began backing away to give her space. Silence took off in a casual strut over the walkway.

The monks were confused, as well they should be. She didn’t present the aura of the Elite MTS, yet peril was the general sensation that the monks were encountering. The lead monk looked around at his brothers, taking in their concern and coming to the conclusion that he needed to take a stand. With the hope of a peaceful outcome never abandoned, the lead monk began to step forward with the palm of Buddha stretched out.

That monk was stopped in his tracks as he uttered an indiscernible syllable of surprise. He saw Silence slowly moving her left hand to rest just below the hand guard of her nodachi. That hand gripped the sword sheath to tilt the foot-long hilt. Using the thumb to push on the oval handle-guard, Silence released the blade two inches from the friction of its sheath. An attack was imminent and the monk knew it. Getting into stance with his weight on his back leg, the monk tightened the grip on his bamboo pole and aimed the tip toward the bridge of Silence’s nose.

Forgetting almost all training of how to control his body temperature, the monk was sweating bullets and his heart was racing. Wanting to avoid confrontation at all cost, the monk glared intensively and shouted as politely as he could. “Please–!”

He would never get to finish that statement. What happened not only extinguished the doubts of the on-looking soldiers, but also cemented the inevitable thoughts of peril in the minds of the monks. In a blinding speed, Silence drew her sword and covered the distance of ten feet in a single dash to fully extend the blade with one hand. The blade was driven into the center of the monk’s throat with the tip protruding through the back of his vertebrae.

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A round of gasps and whispers of disbelief chimed out amongst her soldiers as Silence easily yanked her sword free and jerked the blood from it like emptying a dustpan. The kneeling villagers who couldn’t help but weep with sorrow, giving up on the hope of ever seeing another sunset again. The three remaining monks were taken aback by the sight of their dead brother. Four more monks who were watching from inside the temple could no longer hide their presence and came out to form a last line of defense. They looked at Silence. She was still wearing that gentile smile of a child who was incapable of knowing between right and wrong. She was just toying with them, however. Because seconds later, that smile turned into a heartless scowl that revealed her honest opinions that they were less than gnats to her.

With a vigilant roar, the seven bamboo wielding monks ran for her. The attacks that took their entire lives to master were well coordinated. Utilizing an impressive variety of acrobatic flips and aerial attacks that seemed as if they had the ability to float in midair, the monks were able to swing their poles at the same time without hindering each other. But Silence…for the first wave of attacks, Silence didn’t even lift her sword. With it recklessly held down by her side, she showed lightning fast instinct and flexibility to evade each swing and stay out of their arms range. To the monks, it was like trying to hit a minnow in the water as if her body reacted to their swings before they came close to her. With such grace and agile maneuvers, the years of dedication to martial arts and the techniques of kung fu, seemed pointless for the monks.

After a half a minute of seeing what the monks could do, Silence grew bored. She finally stopped ducking and let one of the monks take a clear shot at her face. It seemed like a clear shot. Because just as the sharped tip of the green bamboo pole came within inches of her left cheek, she palmed and held on to it. The monks all stopped attacking. The monk who struck her tried to take his pole back, but Silence wasn’t letting go. He was using two hands in his attempt, while Silence seemed to hold onto it effortlessly with one. With a frustrated sigh, she tightened her grip, cracking the bamboo with a loud pop.

“Annoying insects.” She grumbled in her native Japanese language.

As soon as she let go of the bamboo stick, Silence moved forward and waved her sword around in three quick swings that looked as if she were simply flicking her wrist while holding a flashlight, as if the sword weighed no less than a bed pillow. To the soldiers, the swings were just a blinding blur of motion made visible by the reflection from the sun. But seconds later, three monks fell to the sheen colored stones. Their blood began to drain on it. Without uttering a sound, the four remaining monks gave quick thrusts for the most efficient strike toward Silence’s abdomen. Before the tips of their bamboo sticks came within a foot of her, she gave two more waves of that long and sleak nodachi. The strikes seemingly paralyzed the four monks in place. All of them were frozen with their arms extended in their respective strikes. Walking safely amongst them, Silence gave another jerk of her sword to yank the blood off of it before sheathing it.

“Let’s go.” Silence said in such a low tone that Tinoco was barely able to hear her. Ignoring the four monks who were frozen in place, Silence continued on the stoned pathway toward the temple’s large open wooden doors.

Tinoco nodded and waved for the eight soldiers who were lined up to follow her. “Vamanos!” He shouted.

Looking toward the soldiers who had their guns aimed at the kneeling villagers, Tinoco gave the order for their release. The soldiers immediately lowered their rifles and hurried over to their designated vehicles. The villagers were stunned and baffled, wondering why they had been spared or if the violent visitors would be staying permanently. Tinoco was about to head toward the temple himself when another Miro-Tech transport chopper was approaching for landing.

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As the eight soldiers following Silence walked down the pathway toward the temple’s entrance, they cautiously walked amongst the four monks who were just standing there with petrifying looks of agony.

“HO!!!” One of the soldiers shouted.

Without warning, a spray of blood was released from the monk’s necks, showering the soldiers in red. Tinoco simply chuckled to himself before putting back his own sunglasses.

Inside the temple was just as enchanting as Silence imagined it would be. Hardly any sunlight penetrated it. Instead, the interior was lit by torches that wielded a rich yet mysterious purple flame. The main atrium Silence stood in was round, large and hollow with a high-vaulted dome ceiling that reached sixty feet above her. Other than the eerie purple fire that illuminated the golden walls, the first thing you’d notice was the four thirty-foot golden statues of samurai dressed ceremonial battle armor. There were also over a hundred other little statues and ornaments all neatly positions on coordinated platforms that made it so one never blocked the view of another. The golden walls were covered with paintings that depicted a timeline of a war that was waged centuries ago.

Twelve priestesses with shaved heads and dressed in light-weight burgundy robes were hugged along the walls as the soldiers came pouring in. The soldiers were ordered to take great care in video recording every square inch of the temple. The research team of more experienced excavators were on their way, arriving via another chopper. The priestesses were timid by nature, but showed no fear. The tears that rolled down their cheeks were for their fallen brethren, not of their own futures. Most did nothing to interfere in the excavation process that was about to begin. Only one priestess who was too young to know her place, stood in defiance.

Staring into the purple that reflected off of Silence’s dark empty gaze, the priestess approached with firm conviction. At first, Silence didn’t notice her coming. She was too busy scanning the various statues in search for a specific artifact.

“You! You have no right to be here! Leave!” The young priestess shouted in simple English with high-pitched aggression.

As soon as the priestess was within arms reach, Silence reached out and backhanded her so hard that the impact echoed off of the walls for five seconds.

“Oh! Owe! Okay, see. Now was that really necessary?”

Steven Alba - Potentially staring Adam Brody

Steven Alba – Potentially staring Adam Brody

The priestess recoiled away as Silence turned her attention toward the entrance to see her old college lab partner approaching. With a hand on her hips, she scoffed at the lanky dark curly-haired archeologist. She wasn’t in the mood to here his lip, but knew him well enough to not expect anything else.  Steven Alba was the same age as Silence, but less impressive in stature. His pale white skin and small black eyes made him an easy target for your garden-variety bullies back in his grade school days. Never able to fight back physically, Alba made belittling others an art form.

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“I mean, I get that your suppressed feministic ideals comes to haunt you every now and then, but give the kid a break.” Alba said as his tone gradually began to fade, his break taken away by the magnificence of the temple.

“This stuff…this stuff is absolutely spectacular! Look! Look at that. That statue over there is of Sasaki Kojiro. Do you know who that is? Do you know who Sasaki Kojiro was?” Alba said as he straightened out his glasses.

Silence exhaled heavily through her nostrils as she ducked under Alba’s extended pointing arm and walked toward a smaller statue that was being dwarfed by the statue Alba was referring to. “Hey! Hey, Silence. Do you know who Sasaki Kojiro is?”

“No, Alba. Do tell.” She uttered with a complete lack of enthusiasm.

With genuine glee, Alba put down the leather bags that contained his tools. He went on to explain while subconsciously shaking hands in an erratic fashion to correlate with his words.

“Oh my god! Tell me you haven’t notice yet. This, temple. It’s an exact replica of Enryaku-Ji’s Konpon-chudo.” Alba told her.

“Enraki, judo, what?” Tinoco said as he entered the building and took a look around.

Alba nodded. “Ah…In layman’s terms. Basically, it’s like this. Enryaku-ji is one of Japan’s oldest monasteries.  Konpon is one of the temples in Enryaku. But here’s a replica in the middle of nowhere? Why do you suppose that is? Well, good man, I will tell you. You see this statue over here? You see it?”

Tinoco, like Silence, tolerated Alba’s personality up to a point. But when Alba put an arm around Tinoco and escorted him over to one of the forty-foot statues, Tinoco couldn’t help but clench his jaw and reach for his tactical knife.

“This man is Akechi Mitsuhide. The Judas Iscariot of ancient Japan if you will, this man betrayed his lord and killed him. That lord just so happens to be Oda Nobunaga. And if you don’t know who Nobunaga is…then just…goddamn you. You see back then, we’re talking about the mid-1500s, Japanese warlords or daimyo were constantly vying for power, leading to decades of ceaseless warfare, bloody battles, endless graves. Using his renown brutal tactics and the advantage of Dutch muskets, Nobunaga fought and clawed his way to the top and was this close to forcing all of Japan to get on their knees and kiss his ass. Then what happens? In a single night of unsuspecting treachery, this man, Akechi Mitsuhide fucked all of that up.”

“Why he betrayed Nobunaga? No one really knows. Some say it was due to the numerous public insults Mitshude had to put up with. Some say it was out of concern that Mitsuhide would be exiled due to his approaching old age and bordering along the edge of pointlessness. But more than likely, it was probably due to the fact that rumors were circulating about Nobunaga planning to give Mitsuhide’s domains to the page, Ranmaru…Nobunaga’s little boy toy.”

“And so! Mitsuhide slaughtered Nobunaga, Ranmaru and the next in line to the Oda clan. He tried to get the emperor to recognize him as the next top dog, but before he could, Nobunaga’s closest friend, Toyotomi Hideyoshi caught up with him ten days later and ended him in the Battle of Yamazaki…That’s what they say. But Silence and I…we heard something different, didn’t we, princess.”

“Stop calling me that.” Silence uttered under her breath.

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She was holding her handheld smart phone up to the silver necklace that was resting around the neck of an indistinguishable clay Buddhist bust. The app she was using was developed by the Data Transmission department of her own company and only she and Alba were cleared for access to it.

“Legend has it; Mitsuhide didn’t perish in the Battle of Yamazaki. Rumor has it that Mitsuhide escaped and was taken in by the sohei of Enryaku-ji. The sohei, or warrior monks, were already pissed off at Nobunaga for crushing most of the Ikko-ikki in alliance with the emperor. Rumor has it, after Hideyoshi died, Ieyasu Tokugawa stepped up and pursued the remnants of the Akechi clan, dispatching the likes of Hanzo Hattori and some say, Musashi Miyamoto himself. So, Mitsuhide left the country with his sons and grandsons to create a monastery and lead a life of peace. This is that monastery.” Alba explained.

Tinoco shook his head. He still didn’t get it.

Alba sighed. “You’d have a greater enthusiasm if you read the dossier I wrote. I hope you didn’t think shooting at these monks would actually work. I told you that these bastards might possess some fantastical attributes. They come from a branch of Tendai Buddhist who practice and cultivate chi. Now I don’t want to convert you or nothing like that. But…let’s just say that I’ve seen Silence do some stuff that’s made me question my own religion.”

Tinoco couldn’t care less. He just received a transmission in his earpiece and relayed, “The professors are five minutes out.” With that, he turned around and headed for the exit, completely ignoring the splendor that surrounded him.

With a slight grimace, Alba trudged over to collect his brown bag from off the ground. “I gotta tell ya, Silence. The least you could’ve done is hire a commanding officer with a degree. Got me out here sounding like a geek.” Alba uttered.

“You are a geek. And caring about history isn’t a prerequisite I require from the soldiers. He likes to boss people around. That’s good enough for me.” Silence said as she finished scanning the pendant.

“What’s gotten into you?” Alba silently asked her.

“I just had to kill six monks. I’m not completely cold-hearted.” Silence answered.

At first, Alba appeared to regret his careless words. “Gosh, Silence. I’m sorry. I mean, I’ve known you for a long time. Seen you kill a lot of people, but you never really seemed to, you know…care.”

A grunt involuntarily slipped from Silence’s throat as she squinted her eyes. Alba poked a nerve and she sought retribution. After scanning the necklace and confirming it was what they were there to attain, she wrapped her hand around the pendant and ripped the necklace off of the bust, breaking clasped.

The distress on Alba’s face was priceless. His pale face turned green and his eyes looked as though he had just witnessed a suicide by a jumper. “Whoa! What are you? Come on, Sai!!” Alba whined, barely able to catch the pendant after Silence nonchalantly tossed it up in the air.

“Do you know what this is?!” He angrily/fearlessly barked.

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Silence shook her head with a satisfied smile. “No Alba. I was only pretending to pay attention in class.”

“Just saying, this isn’t some bag of skittles. You can’t buy this at your local flea market, or have one of your boys cook it up in R&D or CID or COD. This medallion was melted and minted over four hundred years ago. Although, this family crest is… Huh…That’s weird.” Alba said, stopping in his tracks.

Uncertainty just wasn’t one of Alba’s traits. Silence was walking on her way back outside when she felt compelled to turn around and examine the puzzled look on Alba’s face. She wanted to ask what the problem was, but didn’t. She just stood there and waited.

Alba walked over and held the pendant up to her. “Does this look like the Akechi family crest to you?”

She knew that Akechi family crest had five flower petals arranged in a circle. The pendant Alba was holding only had three large petals. With obvious agitation, her eyebrows furrowed as she looked around the temple. She picked the right pendant, but the crest… “What’s going on?” She asked herself out loud.

“I don’t know. Maybe the clan changed it when they came over here?” Alba suggested.

Silence exhaled sharply. “That doesn’t make sense! Why would he do that, he’s not in Japan anymore?”

“Maybe it was a precaution. In case the shogunate caught up to him? Maybe he was looking out for his future generations.” Alba suggested.

“One, you’re not Japanese. You wouldn’t understand. A proud daimyo would rather die than change his family’s crest. The legacy they leave behind is more important than…And least of all, not descendants from the Seiwa Genji.” Silence rattled out in a frustrated whisper.

“Maybe, Akechi wasn’t the only clan who came here? Maybe there was another clan?” Alba said.

Silence nodded, blowing heavy out of her nose. “I swear its one setback after another. This pendant is worthless.”

“I wouldn’t say all that. I mean, we pretty much know every documented crest known to man. So if this is a new one, nay, a hidden one. Then it just means one more discovery we can add to our repertoire.” He said with a toothy grin.

“Sure Alba. But lets not lose focus on-“ Silence whipped her shoulders to do an about face.

The Miro-Tech soldiers became en garde in reaction to Silence’s sudden tension. Alba finally turned to see a group of twelve monks all, just as athletic as the previous, walking down a stairwell on the other side of the hall. They were virtually mute in the steps they took. It was puzzling to Alba as to how Silence detected their approach. Then he remembered that she’s simply Silence.

The twelve monks didn’t attack or pose a threat. These monks were assigned only to guard the man they were escorting down the stairs. The high priest of Xiogurn was approaching his eightieth year but walked as if he was half his age. His potbelly and long white beard that covered his sternum were overshadowed by the fact that he had his eyes closed. Silence had correctly deduced that blindness was his ailment.

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“For god sakes. Put down your guns. Its pointless and you’ll only end up destroying this priceless landmark.” Alba said to the flanking soldiers who gradually moved in on the monks’ positions.

“Do as he says.” Silence ordered. The soldier’s obeyed instantly, understandably inducing envy from the powerless Alba.

“I apologize, but you enter our house uninvited. Please stop this unnecessary violence.” The high priest said in clear, distinguishable English with a mild European accent.

“All right… This is getting weirder by the minute. I’ve yet to see an English textbook lying around. And what’s your name good sir?” Alba said, performing his own attempt of a British accent.

“I am Saicho. As I said. You come here, uninvited. You’ve killed the innocent and claim this land as your own. I would say you’re American, but this one clearly comes from a long line of Japanese nobility.”

Alba waved his hand in front of Saicho’s face, testing his vision. “How is that you speak English with a British accent. And better than our own Tinoco, no less.”

“You there…” Saicho said, raising his hand and barely lifting a finger to point at Silence. “I am wrong, aren’t I? You are Japanese. But not of noble blood. Yet, you said nothing to correct me.”

Alba folded his arms and scoffed with a smirk. “Trust me, your piousness. She didn’t correct you because it’s just not like her to waste the time. There’s no deceit here, other than the fake crests you got draping over your monuments. For instance, this here isn’t the Akechi clan.”

“Members of the Akechi clan have branched out. Fathers have had daughters and the daughters have taken on other family names.” Saicho explained.

Silence smirked and whispered with frustration. “Of course. So stupid of me.”

Alba playfully bumped into her shoulder and mockingly said “Why didn’t I see it before?!” Then he turned to the high priest and asked, “What family crest is this? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“He doesn’t know.” Silence growled.  “That’s not a British accent but Austrian. Not born a priest, but made one. Saicho isn’t his real name, but the name given to him. A gross disservice to Dengyo Daishi, the founder of the Tendai school of Buddhism. I have half the mind to cut you down right now if it didn’t mean cutting down the twelve men guarding you.”

“There, there Silence…” Alba said raising an arm in front of her. Silence pushed it away, digging her nails into his forearm as a warning.

“Ah! A supremacist!” Saicho joyously accused.

“That’s right. I don’t deny it. Given a Japanese name and taking up a post to guard these relics, whether or not they belong to a traitor…it’s infuriating to say the least.” Silence said, managing to suppress her rage well.

A soldier stepped forward and removed his helmet. “Ma’am. The professors are here.” He said.

PAGE 12

A muscle above the edge of Silence’s upper lip twitched. Looking around at the twelve experienced monks who guarded Saicho, Silence was having second thoughts about letting them live. But then, she heard the shouting of someone who meant a great deal to her. Someone whom, Silence felt responsible for. With another grunt of regret, Silence whipped her long black hair as she turned around and headed for the exit.

Struggling to carry his twenty-pound tool bag, Alba ran to catch up with Silence outside the temple. The sun was now directly above them, raising the heat index and drying out the morning humidity. After wiping the sweat from his forehead on his sleeve, Alba covered his mouth and nostrils from the dirt. A transport helicopter was descending near their positions.

“Thanks for the restraint. Be a shame to get the blood on those artifacts.” He shouted to Silence over the volume of the chopper.

Silence reached into her pants pocket to pull out her sunglasses/goggles. “You give too much consideration. History’s been soaked in blood long before I stumbled onto it.” She said, shielding herself from the blinding light.

The whirling helicopter blades were still kicking up dust as the coed team of professors and renowned historians walked around Silence on their way to the temple. All of them knew of Miro-Tech’s unsavory tactics, but for the pleasure and privilege of potential discovery, all chose to bury their heads in the sand, so to speak. Silence and Alba continued onward to the chopper cabin that carried them there. There was still a passenger on board, aggressively screaming at the pilot.

“Oh, you guys are gonna have a blast. Chapelle! Chapelle! Check out that purple fire when you get in there. Swear to god, it’s gonna blow you away.” Alba shouted with glee, amping on the already anxious historians.

“Oh! And don’t mind the fat high priest in there. He may act like a know-it-all but he’s about as fake as Tinoco’s smile.” Alba shouted with his playful chuckle.

“I DON’T CARE! THE NEXT TIME I SAY TAKE OFF! TAKE OFF!”

Mellow - Potentially starting Meisa Kuroki

Mellow – Potentially starting Meisa Kuroki

Tinoco was standing next to the chopper door, annoyed and exhausted. He held his hand up to gesture for Silence’s assistance. Inside the cockpit, a petite fifteen-year-old Japanese girl was jerking the pilot’s ponytail in a tight grip while digging the very tip of a dagger into the back of his neck. The girl was still dressed in a Japanese school uniform like she was just pulled out of class. Only, there was a small sword attached to her back. While there weren’t any distinguishable features in her face, as she looked like any ordinary girl who wouldn’t stand out, she had green highlights streaking through her bangs with the back of her long hair pulled into a bun.

“Mellow!” Silence scolded light heartedly.

Alba took a quick peak inside and recoiled snickering to Silence, “Oh my god! That’s what the guy gets for having a ponytail.”

Upon hearing the voice of her mentor, Mellow let the pilot go and jumped out of the helicopter to bow. “Sumimasen, sensei!” Mellow greeted with heavy regret.

PAGE 13

Putting a hand on her hip, Silence grinned, always finding Mellow’s exaggeratingly loyal submission adorable. “You’re late.” She told her.

“I’m sorry. The scientists took forever to pack up their equipment! I told the idiot pilot to leave without them. But the bastard told me no! Said that they were more important than me!” Mellow explained.

“Yeah, um… How are those English lessons going? It’s annoying to hear you two speak in Japanese. You know how I hate feeling like the dumbest guy in the room.” Alba interrupted.

Mellow did have her own personal English tutor, but was never one for studying unless Silence was there to enforce it. Mellow could barely speak it, but understood the English language. With an affinity for cats, it was only natural for Mellow to hiss at Alba, assuming he was making fun of her as he did everyone else.

Silence let out an exhausting sigh as she turned to lean with her back against the helicopter. With a nod, she gestured for Tinoco to see to the soldier’s clean-up, an order he understood and obeyed. Mellow’s concern was overwhelming.

“Are you hurt?” Mellow asked, checking the darken area below her armpits, mistaking sweat for the possibility of blood.

Silence gently pushed Mellow’s hand away before running her forearm over her forehead. “What time is it in Atlanta?” She asked.

Alba looked at his watch. “Well, unless you want to wake up the Swedish meatball, it might be best to wait till sundown.” Alba told her.

Suddenly there was a collective round of protest. Alba turned around to see four soldiers carrying a small golden Buddhist statue out of the temple under the supervision of an archeologist. The protest came from a group of elderly villagers who held the statue to high regard.

“And the pendant?” Silence asked.

Alba nodded with a smile of uncertainty. “It may look like we’re back to square one. But we’re on the right trail. Whatever family crest this belongs to, we’ll figure it out. We just need to dive deeper into descendants of the Akechi clan. We already know Ryoma Sakamoto’s one of them. We’ll figure out the rest.”

After taking a moment to ponder over the bleak path the laid before her, Silence nodded. She was weary from the sight of the battle. Her eyes wandered upward above the horizon. It was hard to decipher how far away the sky was when there were no clouds. It was a disparaging thought to the young explorer. So, as Alba and Mellow engaged in bickering comparable to that of sibling rivalry, Silence jerked herself off of the helicopter and took off in a helpless stroll in the direction of the Himalayas. Disregarding the smoldering fumes and sand-stinging winds, Silence peered to the top of the snowcapped mountains and whispered to herself…“Where does the ocean go?”

PAGE 14

Beginning-of-a-Journey

ACT 2 – Every Other Generation

Six hours later on the other side of the hemisphere, a faded red 96 Ford Ranger was cruising on the heavily wooded back roads of the town of Hephzibah, Georgia. Unlike The closest major city that was Augusta, Hephzibah was a rural small town with a lot of land, former plantation fields and several mom and pop businesses sprinkled over the area.

Being that most of the major businesses were located in the city a lack of traffic made it possible for the driver to command the roads and claim them for his own. The sun had just come up over the clear horizon, prompting a tilt of the visor to shield his eyes from the sharp amber glow. With old Johnny Carson washing over him, Masataka Kaze released himself from his conscious mind and took in the beautiful variety moss trees that lined Old Waynesboro Road.

Pulling a double shift stocking the shelves for Home Depot took a toll on the balding elderly 1st generation Japanese-American. But as was with the family trend, stubbornness would never allow him to admit it. Working hard and coming home with a sense of accomplishment was one of those simple pleasures Masa enjoyed. It was an honest living, it paid the bills and it helped feed him and his dogs. The old man wasn’t going to let arthritis and emphysema rob him of all that.

Masa lived in a decent neighborhood, comparable to the serene stereotypical photos you’d see in any dental office regarding southern hospitality. Almost every neighbor on his block was in a middle income family who commuted to the city but retreated to Coventry subdivision to relax away from the hustle and bustle. Masa’s house was bought and paid for with his son’s money, a quaint gift of gratitude and respect. With three bedrooms and two baths no more than seven years old, Masa wasn’t so foolish as to decline the offer.

Turning into his driveway, the old man pressed the opener for his garage and took his time slowly rolling down the driveway. His front yard was littered with auburn colored leaves, but didn’t look messy or unkempt. His yard basically deserved an award for how he kept it. There were four Maple trees positioned in a perfect four cornered square. The trees were planted six years ago, so there branches weren’t overextended, and instead, they provided a perfect umbrella for the brightest of days so pollarding was out of the question. With the summer winding down and the leaves changing from green to auburn, the sight was simply breathtaking.

In his two-car garage, one half was made to park his truck, the other half turned into a dojo. You’d think that the blue wrestling mat that covered the floor next to his truck would have signs of footprints or smudged rubber from his tires. But it was clean, still shiny and crack free. There was a punching bag hanging from the ceiling in the corner. The six wooden staffs of different sizes were resting nice and neatly on the plastic hooks that were drilled into the plaster walls. Gloves and karate gis, colored belts, and each guard pad were all folded and stationed along the far side of the wall, descending in size from the largest quantity to the smallest.

A loud screech rang out as Masa let out a wide gaping yawn. He wondered if the neighbors were able to hear his rusty door hinges, but only briefly. Sleep was the short term goal that needed to be accomplished as soon as possible. So after unloading the three bags of red mulch from the back of his truck and setting it outside the garage, Masa closed the garage and entered his lovely abode.

As per his usual routine, a ruckus of barking could be heard as the old man opened the door entering into the laundry room. But something was amiss. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was, but something seemed different. Even when he kicked off his boots and opened the door from the laundry room to enter the main hallway, something seemed off. He leaned over in his usual dance of palming away the three fully grown collies to get to the kitchen. It was breakfast time for Kenshin, Shingen and Date and they weren’t about to settle down without their morning fix.

PAGE 15

With Masa taking the liberty to clean out the fridge of the break room at this job, no week old bologna or aged chicken would go to waste. It saved him money and stealing it made him feel better about his co-workers being presumptuous the kind of person he was. You see, most of his co-workers assumed Masa was just a cranky old foreigner who didn’t liked to be bothered or talked to. But that wasn’t it at all. The old man was just shy around new faces. And when others avoided him, he took it as a sign of fear. That fear bred resentment in him. His retribution was theft.

The old man’s home gave a warm Native American feeling with a tint of traditional Japanese flavor. All of his furniture, the oriental rugs and the even the paint on the walls was accented in earth colored tones, brown, dark brown light brown. The fabric matching sofa set all had wooden trimming. The wooden dining table next to the kitchen had a surface made out of glass, depicting a painting of Japanese birch trees. The walls were modestly decorated with several photos of family above the dark brown china buffets that acted as display shelf for several antiques and figurines, all items that have been passed down through generations.

It wasn’t till he was scooping five-day old turkey and stuffing into the dog’s bowls when it just hit him, the thing that was different about his routine. Perhaps it was the soft melody playing from the grandfather clock that aided him in his epiphany. He didn’t know whether to be happy or apprehensive about it. But when Masa usually returned from a hard day’s work, a high pitched chime would continue to annoyingly blare out until he put in his key code for the alarm. Only, it didn’t chime on that day. Someone had deactivated it.

“Mmm….dogs ain’t worth a damn.” He grumbled to himself.

Taking a few dragging steps into the living room, the old man looked down…to see me passed out on his couch, still wearing the white collared shirt and dress pants from the night before.

Tien Kaze - Potentially staring Jay Kim

Tien Kaze – Potentially staring Jay Kim

My grandpa…Ever since I was a kid he enjoyed running his fingers through my short jet-black hair. In his mind he compared it to the hair of a husky. When I was seven he even tried to nickname me “husky”. My mom made him stop however, given the implications that I might take it as an insult on my weight. Now that I was seventeen, he had no problems combing his fingers through my hair as I slept and giving it a quick jerking pull. I smiled. I was only pretending to be asleep and he was well aware of it.

“Ohayo gozaimasu…” I overextended as playfully as I could.

It worked. With a smirk, the old man told me to go take a show and get ready for breakfast. I willfully obeyed with a heavy sigh of relief. As I went and washed a night of sweat and dirt off of my back, Masa took off heavy flannel collared shirt and changed into a throwback t-shirt that promoted the 1996 Georgia Olympics that he helped out with. He abandoned his plans for sleep…or more so acknowledged the unrealistic possibility of that ever happening. And I did feel bad. I knew he was a hard worker. But after the mess that went down the night before…I needed the old man. Probably more than I ever would.

The sizzle of smoked sausage and the aroma it produced filled the whole house. As grandpa whipped up his signature breakfast of scrambled eggs, seasoned rice and sausage, I was drying off and putting on the dark jeans and red hoodie that I had forgotten to take home with me over the summer. I had a bunch of clothes that he took the liberty of washing and putting up for me.

PAGE 16

“Nope. I haven’t seen him. But if I hear anything, I’ll be sure to let ya know.” Grandpa said as he creased the handheld phone between his ear and shoulder whilst stirring up the eggs with a fork.

While he was fluent in Japanese and English, he used to speak with the Japanese accent as a toddler. He developed the country tone over the decades of working with blue-collar workers. The added deep rasp came from the mild emphysema he had to contend with. His eyes were thin and slanted with large heavy shaded eyebrows that he passed down to his son. I have the heavy eyebrows, but my mother’s German blood gave me larger eyes that I really didn’t care too much for. In my opinion, large eyes just meant that it was easier to read my emotions while it wasn’t for dad and grandpa. Anyways… The most distinguishing feature was an age old scar that came down from behind his left ear to almost the center of his neck. He told me it was from an equipment accident when he was trying to replace the blade on an industrial steel cutter. But I never believed him.

As grandpa was talking in his kitchen, my father, Robert Kaze, was in his own backyard on the other side of town. It was a weekday and he needed to be clock in for his shift at Food Lion in a couple of hours, so he was dressed in his usual tucked in buttoned up collared shirt and khakis. Dawn had just passed and the morning heat was starting to kick in, but he intentionally chose to step outside so as to not concern my mother with the occasional Japanese slurs, in case she interpreted it as a form of concealment.

Looking over his shoulder to see if he was being watched, Robert forced a smile and said as politely as he could, “If he’s there, you would send him straight home wouldn’t you?”

Masa grinned. “Huh…” He said, toying with his grown son. “Now what I want to know is why he ran away in the first place?”

Coincidentally, I was just walking by the kitchen on my way to the garage. I heard Masa ask the question. And while I wanted to tell him, I wasn’t foolish enough to let my voice be heard over the phone. Risking my father’s powers of deduction, I opened the door from the laundry room leading to the garage. With it being an access door, the alarm charmed. The apprehension written on my face incited a wider grin from Masa. The dogs were right behind me, so I let them out too before closing the door.

“Pappa! If you really like to know what happened, why don’t you find him and-”

“Oh! I’m sorry, son. Looks like I have an incoming call.” Masa’s laid back tone didn’t reciprocate with my father’s suppressed rage.

Robert could hold back no longer. “Now you listen to me, you old goat!” He shouted. “If’s he’s there and you’re lying to me!”

“Listen, listen. Robbie, if I see him. I’ll be sure to tie him up and send him straight over. Okay?”

“I know he’s there! There’s nowhere else he can be!” Robert shouted. He didn’t receive a response. Masa had already hanged up.

The back screen-door opened and my mother stepped outside with her arms crossed. “He’s there isn’t he?” She said, not asking but telling.

PAGE 17

Slapping the phone into the palm of his hand, Robert turned to her with frustration written upon his wrinkling forehead. “I’ll pick him up on my lunch break, Gail.”

Dissatisfied with his answer, my mother gave him a stern look before rolling her eyes and heading back in. Robert’s sigh was an uneasy one to let out. If he had it his way, he would’ve jumped the backyard fence to get to his car, rather than entering that house and dealing with my mother’s inevitable ranting. So he just stood out there, looking around the yard. Eventually slipping into a deep meditational prayer to his lord and savior.

I had the garage door up but the dogs knew better than to run off. The least they could’ve done is run out into the yard and tumble amongst the leaves. But like little children, whenever I worked the heavy bag, they sat side by side watching me like students. I was going at it bare-fisted. The sting of the abrasive fabric was welcomed. The soreness that would eventually lead to swelling in my wrists from uppercuts, that was welcome. The heat from the morning sun and the fact that I was wearing a steaming hoodie was welcomed. Relentlessly, I threw punch after punch, switching it up with elbow and knee combinations before loosening my legs to throw rib high roundhouses.

The alarm chime rang. Kenshin, Shingen and Date started barking as they ran to the old man. I didn’t stop. I worked harder. Perhaps to impress him, or to show him that I was in more pain than he could imagine. It wasn’t till the sweat from my bangs trailed down into my eyes that I had to pause and wipe. I hurried, using my hood as a towel, but it was all the time gramps needed to throw a word in.

“Do you know how cowardly it looks to run away from home?” As he began, I swear my shoulders rose up on their own as I unintentionally rolled my eyes and let out a disgruntled groan.

He continued with, “a samurai isn’t permitted to leave the battlefield without his lord’s permission. Seventeen. Even Musashi was your age when he stepped onto the field of Sekigahara. Do you think he ran from the fight?”

“Awe man…Grandpa, I had to. Last night just wasn’t supposed to happen.” I said as I clapped my hands with each syllable on that last question. The heat was finally getting to me, compelling me to take off the hoodie. But the black tank top I was wearing underneath wasn’t sweaty at all. Made me wonder if I was losing it.

Lowering myself to a squat, the dogs cautiously came to me as they always did when I was at their eye level. The perfect anti-depressant was what those furry monsters were. I shook my head as if grandpa just asked me another question. He needed an explanation, but I wasn’t sure where to start. And the samurai reference he used…the jerk was playing on my passion. Kaze tactics 101.

I slowly looked up to the old man, one eyebrow raising involuntarily. It does that sometimes. “A samurai isn’t permitted without permission. But what about a ronin?” I asked him.

Walking on to the mat and leaning against the wall next to shelf of gloves. With that condescending smirk most parents get when their kids think they know it all, he said, “You think you’re a ronin now?”

PAGE 18

Cringing and glaring at the question, an attitude surface. “Grandpa, I don’t know what I am. Did you not just hear me just now? Last night. Was! Not! Supposed to happen!”

“Tch!” He snarked, still doubting my plight. “What happened last night that was so so critical?”

Blowing out a frantic gust of breath, I told grandpa that I hit my father. The words rattled as they passed my lips. But his reaction…I guess I should have expected it. Starting out as a long drawn out wheezed, my grandfather bent over, bearing his teeth and grinning from ear to ear. Then erupting with such volume that bounced off the walls, my grandfather laughed and laughed and laughed. For a moment, I thought he was about to die.

“You! You hit him!” He said, still hacking with laughter. “Why? What did he do? No! What did he sa-hay-hay-hay!!!”

Smoke came from my nose as I rose back up to my feet and took a hard swing at the punching bag. My punch did nothing to silence him. He continued to laugh to his heart’s content. Finally I just had to turn and give my signature defiant gaze. Not to be boastful, but I am said to possess a sharp gaze that can stop heartbeats in both men and women. Needless to say, Masa took the hint.

“I can’t go back.” As seriously I could possibly convey, I told him those words and meant it in every possible way.

After I was convinced that he was finally looking at me as an independent vessel and not of one being dragged on a hitch, I told him what happened. As a grown man, I passed no blame for my faults but admitted about how I lost my temper. I admitted that I raised my voice and insulted my father’s strength as a man. There was no excuse to ever raise my hand against my father and to strike him down in a blind rage. But all of that said… It was the look in my mother’s eyes that was killing me.

I wasn’t foolish. I knew my mother and father loved me. But there was no way I could ever step in that house without my mind recreating that tragic night. And I know some families have it worst. I’ve heard of stories of domestic abuse that happens on a daily basis. I know of girls who constantly fear being raped by their step-father and sons who fear their fathers coming home from a drunken rage. For me to tell any of them my story, I have no doubt they’d look at me like a little bitch. But they didn’t have my conscience.

“It’s a curse.” I told him.

By then we were at the dining room table eating the breakfast he prepared. Soft daylight from the backyard penetrated the half opened window blinds. He listened to me whole heartedly…even though you wouldn’t figure it with how vigorously he chowed down with the immense pleasure written on his face with each bite.  I hadn’t touched my plate. My elbows were propped up on the table with my palms covering my eyes. The collies, at least, sympathized with me. All three of them lay behind me with their chins on the rug. It looked like they were just bored, but I knew they were commiserating with me.

“You’re conscience is a curse?” He asked me with a mouthful of eggs.

“Yes grandpa.” I said agitated from his lack of condolence. “It burns.”

PAGE 19

“You don’t think anyone else has a conscience?”

“Kinda hard to tell. But your tone makes for a weak argument in that department.” I dared to say.

“Aack! We all have a conscience. We just know when to keep it at bay.”

My breaths became scarce. With saline glossing over my eyes I started coming to an embarrassing conclusion, I asked, “Am I the only one then who doesn’t-“

“You’re not, boy!” He said, cutting me off. “Look at me, Tien.”

Sitting back in my chair, I did what was asked of me. With genuine empathy, he told me, “You have a big heart. A heavy heart. You know what you did was wrong and your conscience is punishing you for it. That isn’t a curse. It’s a gift. It’s hurting now. But you’ll grow stronger from the pain. That’s what men do.”

I nodded. His words made sense, but I couldn’t understand it. He could tell from my empty gaze that wandered. Regardless how he felt about what I had done or what he thought I should do, he was gradually coming to terms with one fact that was undeniable.

“So…You’re not going back home? You’ll stay a ronin?” Masa asked. Hearing him say that made my shoulders lower a bit. I finally felt the nerve to pick up my fork and dig into some cold scrambled eggs.

“I’m going to Japan to become a master of martial arts. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know how I’m going to make a living. All I know is that I can’t stay here. I’m sick of this place. I’ll work on a fishing boat for the rest of my life if I have to. But all I know is that I want to be the best martial artist this world has ever seen.” I said.

Sitting back in his chair and folding his arms, grandpa took a minute to digest my words. Him and my father both were natural born stoics. Subtle grins and frowns just weren’t noticeable. They had to have a full blown smile or nothing. So with a blank poker face that showed neither disappointment nor pride, he asked “You think you’ll be happy in Japan? Eh? You think you’ll be happy in Japan? You don’t know anybody. You barely know a few phrases.”

The doubt wasn’t expected. And as per usual, it was gradually strengthening my resolve. “At least I’ll blend in.” I uttered, with a hint of pointlessness.

“Aack! You’re American. They’re gonna look at you like you’re Al-Qaeda. Hahaha!”

His laughter was haughty and proud. As if he surprised himself with what he thought was clever simile off the cuffs. For more than thirty seconds, my eyes didn’t blink. I stared at the old man as he laughed and repeated himself two or three more times. Finally I dropped a F-bomb and shot up from my chair, startling the collies. The bastard purposely laughed louder as I unlocked the back door and whipped it open. I let the dogs out before making sure I was closed.

The dogs immediately shot for a squirrel that was caught gathering acorns. It was reaching the bottom of the hour and I suddenly started thinking about school. If I wasn’t suspended I would’ve been in first period by then. There were four maple trees in the front yard, but just one in the back. The solo tree was larger and older. The source of singing birds came from that tree. I couldn’t tell if it was annoying of pleasant, but glad it wasn’t silent.

The door squealed open as he stepped outside, one hand holding his java, the other in his pocket. “If you’re gonna stay here, you might as well rake up these damn leaves.” He said.

PAGE 20

I scoffed, shaking my head with a serious smile. “I’m not staying here, grandpa. I’m going to Japan. The sooner you get that through your head, the sooner I can stand the sight of you again.”

He brought the mug to his lips and took a sip. “So…Your pappa will be coming to pick you up in a couple of hours.” He said bluntly.

Grandpa and I were squared off. Unintentionally, of course. We were both staring the same look of discontent, one trying to sway the other. My palms were getting sweaty. Damned temper. I wished I could control it, but I was a slave to it. A slave to my emotions.

“You don’t think I’ll do it. Do you.” I wasn’t asking him, I was accusing him.

Then he said some shit like, “I know you better than that. Doubting you will only fuel your stupidity.”

I couldn’t tell if he was toying with me or taking me seriously. My confusion led to frustration. If there was one person on this god-forsaken earth, whose blessing, whose approval I yearned for and needed to continue on living. It was him. Clearing my throat, I corrected him. Clarifying that doubting me would not fuel my stupidity, but my determination. I said it in a clear tone, holding back a considerable amount of fire.

“Sure…” Was what he said in return before looking upward towards that grand maple tree.

I stepped forward on the freshly cut grass, making sure my eyes didn’t wander. Making sure my facial reactions remained in tact, presenting a mature adult and not some rebellious teen, I said. “I am determined, grandfather. I am. You weren’t there. You didn’t see the look in my mother’s eyes that fucking dug into my ribcages and ripped them apart.”

My fingers balled into a fist as I looked up to the patchy sky. As if I was responding to a siren that’s been ringing in my head for so long, my voice raised with aggression. “Something’s been calling to me! It has been for a long time now. When I saw that girl being molested in the back of the bus it was but an ounce of the rage I’ve been suppressing. There is fire inside of me. It burns. Something is calling me to Japan.”

“I know! I know it sounds stupid! I know every teenager before me must have said something similar in the past. But I’m not one to just vent and talk about this shit. All my life, I haven’t been just good at karate-ka, I’ve excelled at it. You know this better than anyone!”

I continued, walking closer to him so he could see the intensity in my eyes and know that I wasn’t just making that shit up. “I’m not wrong, grandpa. I know I’m right.”

“So you’re right. I know it. You know it. Isn’t that enough?” He asked me.

“Grandpa! I can’t stay here. Call it running away from your problems. Call it what you want! But I’ve put up with it for seventeen years. Its time to recognize what I am, and its not a Jehovah’s Witness.”

“What are you then? A samurai?” He said, mocking me again.

PAGE 21

I walked closer till I was face to face with the man. My eyes slowly rose from the ground up to lock with his. I met his mockery with something that ended up stunning him to the core. It was perhaps one of the few times I ever said it and maybe at the time, I actually believed it.

“A demon.” I said. “Because I sure as hell can’t be human. I would say I’m an angel, but I’m bound to earth. So I must be a demon. Da ne?”

Masa closed his eyes upon hearing my words. His deliberation was deep and motionless. I stepped away from him and walked off in no particular destination. For a moment, I saw the wind coming. The trees swayed in a wave before reaching me and my grandfather. It was a lukewarm breeze to the dogs, but to me it felt like an arctic breeze that penetrated my skin and slowed down the flow of hot blood within my veins.

Back then, I wasn’t sure why I called myself a demon. I guess it was just at the forefront of my mind. But any entity that’s alienated or isolated from general society would’ve done the trick. That feeling of emptiness… It wasn’t romantic. Wasn’t courageous or bold or even…When people talk about being a rebel, there’s usually this glorification of it. As if standing alone on an island was the coolest thing to do, thanks to James Dean and Marlon Brando and whoever the hell else. But there’s nothing awesome about being a rebel. It’s torturous. Who would want to live in a world where they were the only one who thought a certain way? So many times I felt like throwing myself in front of a speeding truck or hanging myself off of a bridge. But it was arrogance that kept me alive. The thought that no matter what, this life was meant for something else. Something greater and better than everyone else. It was up to me to do something about it. The time for talk and explanations was over. This was what I had in my mind at the age of seventeen. The problem was, I just couldn’t articulate it to my grandfather.

So while my grandpa stood there stupefied, or perhaps disturbed by my declaration. I literally began to brainstorm about how I’d get to Japan. I had $600 dollars saved up from doing yard work at various Kingdom Halls over the summer, but that was back at my parent’s house. As far as I was concerned, all of my possessions, my belongings and my money, everything that was at that house would stay there. I would leave it all behind. So now what? Don’t have any credit. Didn’t have any friends. I had a cousin in Tampa, but was a struggling artist and in no position to take in a stray. So now what? Should I just start walking and come what may?

“Kuso! Alright damn it!”

His shouting prompted me to turn around with an eyebrow raised. Masa had whipped his coffee out into the grass and was standing there with a grin. His heartbeat was racing and a mild snicker escaped from his lips with the look of giddy anticipation. The man had just come to a decision. The kind of decision he knew would put him knee deep in trouble but was willing to walk through it.

“Come on, boy.” He told me. I can’t begin to explain how relieved I was. With a priceless smile that said I had just won the lottery, I nodded and began in a humble approach.

I heard the wooden sounds of drawers being pulled out of the dresser before I walked into his bedroom. There was an old empty military duffle bag lying on the floor as Masa set the drawers on his queen size bed. The dogs were just as curious as I was. They trotted over to their individual twin size comforters on the floor that made up their beds and sat with their ears perked up. The blinds were closed. The orange overhead light from the whirling ceiling fan illuminated the bedroom that shared the same earthy atmosphere as the living room.

PAGE 22

As he began to stuff the duffle bag with some of his old clothes from the 90s, it had just occurred to me that he hadn’t had any sleep yet. I wondered if he was thinking clearly, as if he said “to hell with it” on a whim. It could be that he was truly on board with my ambition, but I couldn’t see any able-minded consenting adult just being gung-ho about my plan.

I walked to the base of the bed and put an arm around one the vertical posts. Gratefully, I told him. “Grandpa, you don’t have to do this.”

Whilst packing the clothes, he spoke in a hurried tone as if the police would be there any minute. “When I was your age, I made my way here from San Fran by myself. My parents were dead. The rest of the family was in Yokosuka. It was the year that I became strong. Independent. Resilient. Your father is my boy…but he’s always been into the books. The straight and narrow, taking after his mother. God bless her soul.”

He paused for a moment of silence as he always did after speaking of my grandma. Turning to look at me like I was the last bullet in the clip, he said with all sincerity, “I see myself in you. You’ve always reminded me of myself. Aside from those damn European eyes, you have the same fiery spirit I had. Except yours has been suppressed for so long, that the rage inside you… I bet if something were to happen to me or your parents. No one would be able to contain you.”

His eyes…It was hard to bear. At first he looked at me like I was treasure, but gradually, they turned into the eyes of someone who was watching a wild tiger on a leash. For a moment…it came close to that same heartbreaking stare my mother showed me the night before. I didn’t know if he was toying with me or not. He just stopped talking and recoiled back into his inner shell. Staring at me but saying nothing.

“Grandpa!” I said, trying to snap him out of it… Nothing. Slapping the bedpost, I stormed out of the bedroom and left him to his damn meditation. “Tired of this shit.” I mumbled.

Kenshin, Shingen and Date followed me back out into the garage. The garage door was still open. Frustrated and confused, the punching bag was an easy solution. As I began to once again exhaust myself, I picked back up on brainstorming about what to do. More and more, it was beginning to look like my dad would arrive soon and that I’d have no choice but to confront him. But no matter what he would or could say, I wasn’t going home. The more I told myself that, the easier I forgot about the sweat covering my face and the pain in my unprotected knuckles.

Fifteen minutes later, the alarm chimed and Masa stepped outside. By then, my punches had gotten weaker. My shoulders were killing me. Panting with my sweat filled bangs stinging my forehead, I turned to him. Just as I was about to ask what the hell he wanted, I had a pair of white padded training gloves thrown in my face. I caught them before they could fall.

“Put em on.” He ordered with a blank stare.

With a slight shake of the head, I clenched my jaw. “Old man, I’m really not in the mood.”

PAGE 23

His eyebrows raised nearly an inch before he put on his padded helmet. “Put on the goddamn gloves.” He said in a raspy country accent

Reluctantly following his command, I began to put on the gloves. Those gloves…I’ve had them since I was ten and was only able to fully fill into them when I was sixteen. And everytime I put on the gloves, my mind would slip into a trance. Thanks to his training, the gloves were like a key to a new world where I could block out everything and everyone in it. All I could see was my opponent in front of me. The pain didn’t exist. The fear didn’t exist. All that was in front of me was a battle. Plain and simple. Just how I like it. Damn the helmet. He was wearing gloves, not bare-knuckled, so I wasn’t worried about cuts.

Following the roots of Kyukushin, Masa put his hands up in a full guard and stepped in close. I let him do it. As per usual, his strikes were a barrage of hard sternum punches before elevating his swing up to aim for my face. I knew it was coming. I was faster, but the old man’s hustle was more aggressive. As I put up my hands to block his strikes, he simply punched at my arms to move them out of the way. The chest strikes were designed to attack the nervous system, literally stunning the victim to lower their awareness and reaction time to do nothing against the more critical strikes aimed for the head and neck area.

This, of course, only worked on individuals with a low threshold for pain. Professional athletes are able to pop the leg back in place, wrap it up and finish the game because they have a high threshold of pain. This was my case. Masa had been sparring full contact with me since I was twelve. So pain wasn’t a problem.

So he got in his first few blunt punches that knocked the wind out of me, but I easily rolled under the swing for my right cheek and tapped him twice with jabs to his temple. It loosened him up. He chuckled a menacing chuckle as I swaggered out of the garage into the open drive way and beckoned him to follow.

“Uh-huh. You know I’m gonna kick ya ass, boy.”  Masa said before letting out a sharp cough to clear his throat.

I told him to save his breath and bring it. And he did. For nearly ten full minutes, we went at it, trading blows and providing an impressive display of karate techniques. His main weapons were his fist, elbows and durability. Built like a rock and working manual labor since he was fifteen would do that to a man. My weapons were my legs, agility and the simple pleasure of trying out the wide range of techniques the old man taught me. But after ten minutes of hearing nothing but our grunts and heavy exhales, he began to give some rather interesting directions.

“When you get to Japan, head north to the land of Hokkaido. Look for a village about ten miles northwest of Sapporo. It’s there. There that you’ll find your master.” He said.

I was too busy dodging the bastards swings. So why he thought I would be able to digest all that, I’d never understand it. But I did hear him. I did digest it. “Master?” I asked, kind of annoyed that he didn’t elaborate on his own.

He caught me with a brutal uppercut to the midsection. I didn’t see it coming after he tagged my shins with a low kick. I was expecting a palm to the face but the bastard was switching it up. In the middle of the driveway, I dropped to one knee and wrapped my arms around my ribs.

PAGE 24

Masa used took the time to catch his breath. With a slight chuckle in between his wheezing panting, he explained. “There’s this legend. Passed down to my father from his father from his father. As you well know. Our ancestors form a long line of samurai.”

The sharp pain was starting to subside, but I took advantage of resting on one knee a little longer. With a soft nod, I let the old man know that he had my undivided attention.  My sharp eyes warned him that he better not be pulling my chain before I really go all out and whip his ass. Standing up straight, Masa put his palms on his lower back and stretched out his spine.

“Well…For centuries, samurai families and daimyo would turn to some of the most decorated and reputed sword schools in the nation. Sort of the way the Tokugawa shogunate would turn to the Yagyus. Or how the Aizu clan would turn to Yoshioka dojo. But it is said…that there is a clan not found in the history books. Not mentioned on any scroll, not whispered by any commoner or by most lords.”

“It is said that this clan are descendants from the Susanoo.”

“The Shinto god…of what, seas and storms right?” I asked.

“Hai. For centuries, the richest most powerful emperors and shoguns sent their sons and their best warriors who possessed the most potential to this secret clan of sword saints. Those who were able to seek out and find them tipped the balance in this world between power and strength. Warriors such as Bokudan, Musashi and Yoshitsune all have the breath of this clan upon them.”

“What clan?” I asked, subtly rolling my eyes at the unnecessary build up.

“Tien, the warriors who sought out this clan have always played a major factor in every battle from the feudal age. For every trained swordsman, you’d need at least fifteen skilled samurai to even consider the possibility of victory.”

“Grandpa! What clan?” I said, clapping my hands with each syllable.

“The years have narrowed down the names and killed off living descendants. But one name from an heir I did meet long ago on my last visit to Japan as a child. His name was Yagami.”

“Yagami?” I repeated. I had heard the name before, as it wasn’t uncommon. I wondered if this clan was really such a secret.

“Now if you want to believe this or not, it’s up to you. But it is said that members of our family were once good friends with the Yagami ancestors. Due to their training, our ancestors possessed god-light speed and sharp agility. Abilities that you hear about in your comic books, mastering the elements and commanding the wind and fire to obey their will. Our ancestors were merciless. Fearless! And loyal to their cause.”

With disbelief stretched across my face, I finally rose to my feet and put my hands on my hips. “Gramps, you’re always saying that. But other than you and grandma’s side of the family, I have no idea who my ancestors are. Kaze. It means wind, doesn’t it? Which means your old man probably changed it when he immigrated over. Tell me. What was his father’s name?”

PAGE 25

Masa just looked off down the street as if one of his old friends was coming and he was eager to give them directions. It pissed me off. Who in their right minds would believe that load of garbage? Don’t get me wrong. It was entertaining, something I’d tell me kids before kissing them goodnight. But come on…sword saints?

After a moment of stoic silence, he went back inside. I stared him down as he walked past me. A few minutes later, Masa walked back out with that packed military duffle bag and a round tin container that was originally used for packing Christmas sugar cookies.

“Well you’re going to Japan anyway, aren’t you?” He pointed out.

I smirked. “Do you have like…a pause button in your brain? Where you can just pick back up where you left off and continue in a conversation?”

“You going to Japan or not, boy?” He grumbled with a roll of the neck.

“Yeah, I’m going!” I grumbled back.

“Well if you’re going. And if you’re serious about dedicating your life to the martial arts. This is the place that will take you in and cultivate you. What have you got to lose?” He said.

With that, he opened up that tin can he was carrying and took out a wad of cash before tossing it to me. “That’s $500. A taxi is on its way to take you to the bus station. There’s an 11:30 heading out to Dallas. From Dallas, you can catch another bus to the west coast. Spend it well.”

My heart skipped a beat. Standing there in that drive way, the chains that bound me were gradually beginning to crumble from steel to sand. The tension around my head was, for the first time in a long time, beginning to subside. Pride was telling me to decline his money…but that would be selfish. It was already a sacrifice for Masa to accept my decision. To slap away his helping hand would be going too far. How was I supposed to express my heartfelt gratitude to the only man in the world who I felt knew me for me? “Thank you” didn’t even come close to showing the depths, so I just stood there, stupefied.

“Come on, boy. Take another shower. Be fair to the other passengers.” He said with a coughing chuckle before pushing the garage door opener.

I chuckled. That bastard. I had to hurry to duck under the descending garage door. After taking another shower and changing into more utilitarian travel clothes of beige cargo pants and a light-blue flannel shirt. The military duffle bag was leaning against the wall by the front door.  I didn’t want to check to see what he packed for me.

I spent my last moments in my grandpa’s house looking over the photos of my mom and dad…from back in the good ole days when I was too young to care about anything other than cartoons and toys. In particular, there was a photo of just the three of us on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. On the island of Fort Sumter, they allowed me to sit on the twenty-foot end of a cannon while mom and dad posed in front of it. I remember the day. The sun was out, the sea breeze was cool and the seagulls were gawking. I wondered what could’ve changed from then to now…to make my parents lose that spontaneous sense of impulse…as if life as they knew it would be like this forever. Tears found their way down the side of my nose. I was mentally saying my goodbyes to them.

PAGE 26

Five minutes before the cab arrived, I was sitting out on the steps of the front porch with the collies by my side. My heart was ready to burst. Two days ago, I would’ve never thought that I would be saying goodbye to anything. With my eyes focused on no one particular maple leaf that blanketed the green lawn, nostalgia set in. It was a sour emotion.

Grandpa exited the house and stood over me with a cup of tea in his hand. Using the other hand to wipe his eyes, he let out a loud obnoxious yawn that I couldn’t help but smirk at. “This is it!” He told me. “No backing out.”

“Grandpa…Thanks for everything. I’ll be back at some point. I just…”

He shushed me as if my voice was a nagging hum. “You think I’d give you my hard earned money if I didn’t think you needed it? So many people believe in you, Tien. Make sure you’re one of them.”

“You stole that from the magnet on the fridge.” I accused.

“Well, its there for a reason.” He mumbled.

Then, there was silence. Both of us had our eyes on one end of the street. I imagine there’s a lot we’ve could’ve and probably wanted to say to each other. But we didn’t. It wasn’t until the taxi finally appeared slowly creeping down the street that a question popped into my head.

“Why tell me?” I said, breaking the silence. “Why tell me about this Yagami fellow? I mean, say I do learn these special techniques. Don’t you think I might use this power for my own selfish reasons?”

Masa put one hand in his jean pocket and nodded. “Why do you keep letting me beat you? You think no one is watching you when you practice outside or in the garage?  I know what you can do, Tien. You’ve mastered everything I’ve taught you and you can do it better than me. But you hold back.”

I didn’t admit or deny his claims. I wasn’t the type to openly brag, but at the same time, I couldn’t stand being modest about obvious greatness. The taxi driver came up to a park in the driveway, but remained in the car while beckoning me over. Swinging the duffle bag over my arms and turning to look the old man in the eye, I gave a respectful bow in the tradition of my Japanese heritage. He stretched out his hand and ran his fingers through my hair one last time.

“Tien Kaze. Believe it or not, you’re not the badass you think you are. I believe this journey is gonna help you realize that.”

I smiled proudly and turned to make my way toward the taxi. My smile….I couldn’t help it but the smile turned into a grin of anticipation as I said under my breath… “Yes I am.”

4092092-Downtown-Atlanta%5B1%5D

Act 3 – Miro-Tech : Turning Knowledge into Power

PAGE 27

Two hours west of Augusta, driving I-20 would take you into the heart of Atlanta. Back in 2004, Atlanta was on the rise as far as popularity and development was concern. Thanks to the efforts of Ludacris, Usher, T.I. and Lil Jon, the terms “ATL” and “Dirty South” came synonymous with the city itself. If you were to tell anyone that you were from Georgia, they’d immediately look at you like a celebrity, assuming the whole state was like Atlanta. As if your being from Georgia was a testament to how “real” you were.

One of the companies that contributed a great deal to the economic growth and real estate development to the greater Atlanta area was the newly established Miro-Tech Corporation. The Fortune 500 Company was bringing in 750 million dollars in revenue with its main consumer being the United States government. It served as an option for the world’s leading engineers and scientists to migrate to the city if there wasn’t any positions in NASA. Its main headquarters was a massive eighteen story downtown building equipped with two helipads and sixteen satellite dishes. It was the third tallest building in the Peacetree Business center that surrounded the scenic artsy Woodruff Park.

On such a beautiful day as it was, the morning clouds showed as shadowy patches slowly moving over the north façade of the cement building. the outside of the building didn’t look like anything special. It retained the stylings of any 1980s Wallstreet-esque building erected. But the inside of the building was like entering a whole nother country.

Fountain of Trevi

Fountain of Trevi

Light jazz music led by the sounds of a classical piano could be heard in every lobby, hallway and elevator. You wouldn’t hear the music on the first floor however. It was drown out by the sounds of the rushing water flowing in a size-for-size replica of Rome’s baroque Trevi Fountain. Guests couldn’t help but marvel at it. Everything was expensive, clean and maintained to look like they were bought just the day before. The white carpet was imported white wool from Switzerland. The smooth gray marble walls displayed angelic faces crafted by the best Venetian sculptures. Displays of historical artifacts behind glass walls made the building look like a modern museum.

With the exception of interns, receptionists and maintenance who had their own designated uniforms, most of the employees were dressed in their finest business suits and of their own choosing. Their only requirement was that the main color had to be the dark indigo that was on the Miro-Tech logo. Even with the relatively excess amount of security guards patrolling every floor, no one felt in danger. And certainly nobody suspected brutality to be an issue with the countless expeditions that were taken around the world. For the most part, the atmosphere was very friendly and inviting, even to the public. It was a popular destination for school trips within and from neighboring states.

Every door required a palm print for access. Miro-Tech’s state of the art security system was ten years before its time. The security guards patrolling the bottom ten floors were dressed in dress suits and ties. The guards patrolling the eleventh floor and up were suited like the soldiers in Himalayan expedition. They didn’t carry guns or swords to cause unnecessary tension in the work place. Instead, they wore gloves that could deliver an electric current to whatever it touched when activated. The surveillance cameras in every corner of the room were hidden within the marble statues of dragons that served as decorations. And every camera had embedded retina scanners in them, not only recording every person’s identity, but sending a red flag to the main control room. This alerted personnel to anyone who had wandered into a restricted area. But after the first ten firings to serve as an example towards that kind of behavior, the only problems surveillance operators encountered were from the children that parents brought in.

PAGE 28           

Miro-Tech made most of its money providing research and development toward efficient resourcing alternatives. From safer more dependable oil drillings, excavations around the world, to the constant modifications of a wide arsenal of weaponry from knifes to high powered rifles that produced a more controlled result. For example, instead of messy bullets that can leave permanent brain damage or put the target in shock and warrant them useless for interrogation, Miro-Tech was able to produce a rubber bullet made from a top secret synthetic blend. This bullet was able to deliver an electrical low voltage shock through layers of clothing and vests, that affect only the marrow of the bones, instead of the soft tissue organs. Other than the mild superficial pain, the victims of such a bullet only crumble in confusion as their skeleton feels like it’s rendered useless for a brief duration.

Any company that specifies in the production of offense should also develop countermeasures toward their own weapons, and this is what Miro-Tech did. Miro-Tech’s CEO recently signed a 80 million dollar contract with the U.S. army to produce combat suits made for amphibious warfare with the technology to blend into any surrounding like that of an octopus. In addition to the suits, Miro-Tech’s subsidiary in Tampa, Florida will be commissioned to produce 30,000 Ghost Scrambling Devices that will render any vehicle installed with them, undetectable from sonar and infrared.

It was on the eleventh floor where most of the products were being tested in their experimental phase of the process. The floor was a massive laboratory with thirty-foot high ceilings and two guards standing near every exit. Scientists and researchers were all dressed in white lab coats as they conducted their experiments on willing and well-paid test subjects who had all signed non-disclosure and liability waivers. It was noisy with controlled explosions going off and engineers taking apart and assembling parts for machinery that people would kill for on the black market.

On this particular day, a rare event was taking place. The chief executive officer himself was giving an exclusive tour of the lab to a group of sixteen unique individuals. These individuals were part of a committee put together by the Georgia state representatives to look into Miro-Tech’s business practices.  The company wasn’t under official revue, but requested the arrangement to put the minds of the shareholders at ease. After all…one tends to hear things when you’re at a high vantage point. Two publishers, four lawyers, four doctors, three army lieutenants and three directors from the Human Resources department of Atlanta’s city counsel made up the committee. Each of them had their own agenda, but at the moment, politely followed their courteous guide.

Matthew Lindren was not what you’d expect from a “legitimate” company that earned over a billion dollars in less than five years. Most CEOs who generated that kind of success at the time were innovators who put their foot in the Internet doors early on. They were young geeks who seemed obsessed with technology and numbers. Lindren looked like he was just handpicked from a group of former heavyweight boxers.

Adjusting to the side effects of being in his fifties, Lindren’s blond hair had died down to a rough hazel color with remnants of yellow just on the tips. He stood a little over six foot three inches with broad shoulders, dressed from head to toe in a suit from his own personal collection of Austrian designers, a homage paid to his homeland. Wrinkles were beginning to set in across his forehead and the tan complexion he had his entire life was beginning to look like shiny plastic. But still…Lindren was aware of the intimidating effect his appearance had on people so he always laughed at every opportunity, no matter how lame or old the joke was. If there was an attempt at humor, he jumped on it. This made him look odd, lowering the security level of those around them. But once ever so often, there would be one idiot who mistook his smile as a sign of inferiority.

PAGE 29

Lindren was leading the committee down a twenty-foot walkway. In this safe area they could see through the massive floor-to-ceiling three-inch glass panels into two labs. In the first of these labs, an experiment was underway as a former Olympic gymnast tried to keep his balance on a hoverboard that was floating three feet off the ground on embedded propellers. A team of engineers monitored his progress, snapping photos, filming digital cameras and taking notes.

“What luck!” Lindren said in his mild Austrian accent. “What you see here is a hovercraft powered by a perpetual fusion of electricity from six D-cell batteries and ordinary H20. That perpetual energy is recycled within the device, thanks to rare earth minerals found by our excavation teams in the heart of Sibera, believe it or not.”

“You yourself are aware of how every product under development works?” Said Sharon DiPaolo, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property from the law firm of Harris and Dunn. She was the only woman in the tour group and despite being under five feet tall, stood out for her voluptuous physique.

Lindren smiled proudly, obviously smitten with the way DiPaolo carried herself. He gave a sharp nod and swayed his hips, never standing completely still for a second. “I uh…I confess, while I sign off on the testing of every ingenious contraption our scientists come up with. Only the forty most expensive warrant my attention as far as the details are concern.”

“Uh huh. These rare earth metals…” Said Edward Ray, columnist of the Atlanta Metropolitan Times. Mr. Ray wore a look of envy and doubt from the moment he laid eyes on the replica of Trevi. Such extravagance on display as if the fountain were nothing but a trophy won at some tournament… Ray suspected foul play.

“These rare earth metals. They got a name? Or should we just call them, rare earth metals?” Ray asked, respectfully and politely, but unable to mask that skepticism.

Lindren clapped his hands together with a smile and a heavy shrug. “These discoveries are still being debated and classification in conventions throughout northern Europe, my friend. When we have a conclusion for their placement on the periodic tables, I’ll have my people send you a memo.”

The quip brought laughter to the committee and left the writer no choice but to forced a smile. Lindren continued with wide open arms, saying “As you can see gentlemen…and lady. Miro-Tech has been hard at work putting the wise investments from our shareholders to good use. Every week, a new project green lit. And every week, a new project is finalized.”

“And all of this is thanks to investment from your shareholders?” Ray said, holding up finger quotes around “shareholders.”

“These shareholders mush have an astounding amount of trust in some start up company proclaiming to primarily dedicate themselves to the discovery of history’s greatest lost treasures. And what was it? Ah yes. Harnessing its technologies. Hahaha! What does that even mean? By harnessing its technologies, are we supposed to believe the alarming range of weapons have come from these discoveries?” Said Ray.

Still smiling, Lindren’s arched eyebrows did nothing to hide his agitation. He slowly put his hands in his pockets to ball up his fists. After a brief awkward pause, he bluntly answered, “Yep.

PAGE 30

The growing tension was more than obvious. While there was an obvious conflict between the CEO and the seemingly garden variety reporter, the others in the committee felt awkward. DiPaolo stepped up to the plate. “And what’s going on over here!” She said as she extended her left index finger towards the second lab room.

The group turned their attention through the glass to see another exhibition. At that exact moment, six Elite MTS soldiers were dressed in white karate gi, standing with their hands up in full shotokan karate stance. They stood surrounding a bald-headed warrior of Asian descent. While this Asian warrior already stood out with his monk uniform that seemed to glow like it was under a black light, the most distinguishing feature was his tattoos. It was a linear design that carved over his head, face, and down his neck like a thin trail of maps. But the ink of his tattoos weren’t black. They glowed a dull lavender color. And when this warrior opens his eyes…his iris had the same color of his tattoos. It was as if he were wearing white crystal contact lenses.

With a loud clap, Lindren approached the glass. He had a cigar in his mouth with the wealthy smirk of a rich man displaying new toy. “Ah! You lot are in for a real treat. We are observing a rigorous training exercise. Here we have six of Miro-Tech’s finest! All former marines who have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. And our shiny friend in the middle there. He’s what we’re calling a Blade of Yagyu. Similar to the marines. But as you’re about to find out…he’s slightly one notch above the rest.”

A large bald white bald man with a beard and a tattoo of a swastika on the back of his neck was standing in the lab room a safe distance away from the seven men. He looked like a Harley Davidson enthusiast, but was dressed in a karate uniform…a former Aryan brother who had changed his ways. “Begin!” He barked from the pit of his bowels.

“HAI!” The six elite soldiers barked in unison.

One at a time the soldiers rushed the Blade of Yagyu. Silent and swift was he. His eyes didn’t shift. No movement seemed erratic or hesitant. As if he were submersed in water, the Blade of Yagyu reacted to his attackers and counter attacked with lightning fast kicks and punches that connected with such force, that the committee standing outside the room could feel the blows in the core of their spines. Each impact was like watching six grown men get hit with the impact of a speeding car. A kick to one soldier’s midsection nearly folded his entire body in half before slinging him across the room. Some of the committee members, including DiPaolo, covered their mouths in horror at the grotesque scene.

With a sadistic grin and a lit cigar, Lindren explained, his voice a couple of decibels lighter than his usual boisterousness. “In addition to developing new weapons and alternative sources of energy. We have discovered a more efficient means of combat. Boxing. Karate. Tae Kwon Do. Kung Fu…we’ve discovered the source of such system of fighting. Methods and techniques thought to have been lost with the countless global calamities that have struck our mother earth for centuries.”

Lindren turned and waved his cigar at the three lieutenants in his company. “Just think…If every private, jar head, naval officer fought like that.” He said with a low grumbling chuckle. “Let’s just say radical religious fundamentalist will think twice before hijacking air craft carriers. Eh?”

PAGE 31

Just like that, the battle was over. A medical team was given the go-head to enter the lab room from another door and collect the injured soldiers. The Blade of Yagyu wasn’t sweating or panting from his job well done. He seemed complacent and ready for his next command as if his entire existence was manufactured solely to obey. He was looking at Lindren. It was subtle, but Lindren gave a nod of approval. The Blade of Yagyu returned with a salute of his own, palming his fist in front of his chest and giving a slow forty-degree bow.

“You see, from our missions into untapped territory… and there is a lot of untapped territory… we’ve discovered that while common sense would tell us that while the present should always exceed the precedent, Silence has discovered scrolls and carvings of ancient systems of hand to hand combat thought to have been lost for centuries.”

The Blade of Yagyu was still bowing as Lindren continued boasting. “Just look at him. Remarkable! Just like people who grew up in the 40s, 50s, and 60s are much healthier than those born in the 80s and 90s….So too were the warriors of medieval times ten times stronger than your best special forces soldier. As you can plainly see.”

The committee reluctantly applauded, thinking the warrior was bowing to them and not specifically Lindren. Even DiPaolo, who was beginning to develop an attraction for Lindren, seemed a little taken aback. Only the dutiful columnist seemed bound and determined to pursue his own hidden agenda.

“I’m sorry, but am I the only one who finds this the tiniest bit suspicious and down right hard to believe?” Ray asked, commanding the floor.

“You do not believe your own eyes?” Lindren chuckled.

“How do we know this isn’t the work of steroids?” Ray asked. The accusation gradually erased the smile from Lindren’s face.

Ray approached one of the lieutenants. “I mean, sergeant, doesn’t any of this raise any red flags? Scrolls? Carvings? Come on!”

He then pointed to Lindren and dared to raise his voice. “You have a company that’s risen from the ashes amidst a war in the Middle East with a revenue of 250 million made in your first fiscal year. That kind of money just doesn’t happen over night. Not legally! And what, it’s all thanks to this Silence person? Who the hell is he? Does he have a last name? Silence!? Really? This is ridiculous!”

The walls that were holding Lindren’s feral temper were beginning to crack. Holding it together with the cement of professionalism and the big picture in mind he calmly stepped forward, towering over the columnist who was just now beginning to understand that he had stepped knee-high into a pile of…

“You want to know who Silence is? You say you do, but I don’t think you do.  Cause let me tell you something, uh…Mr. Skeptic!” Lindren said, flipping Ray’s tie out from his suit jacket.

“Silence is the type of woman you hope forgets about you the morning after. Because if you piss her off…all the money in the world can’t save you. So you go back and tell the companies that sent you that they can shove their skepticism and doubt up their ass. Because your rights, your safety, what you think you’re entitled to. They don’t amount to a damn thing while you’re in my castle.”

PAGE 32

As Lindren spoke, it felt as if the overhead lights were dimming while the shadow of Lindren turned into a derecho above the committee. It was as if the ground beneath their feet was shaking. The wrath of God was felt, not only in Ray who was reduced to a quivering puddle of school boy bitchness, but even the lieutenants who wished they could possessed an ounce such intimidation without having to raise their voices.

“Mr. Lindren…” A soft voice from a female approaching from down the hall was calling out to the man. But Lindren’s stone cold grey eyes were fixed on the reporter.

“You understand me?” Lindren said.

Ray nodded erratically. “Ye-ye-yes! I understand.” He rattled.

A tall pail skinned woman clearly in her mid-20s was now standing behind Lindren. Her slender physique was complimented by her tight-fitted, yet work appropriate business suit. Her blond hair was put up in a bun and she was wearing brown thin-framed glasses. She looked at Lindren, then she looked at Ray. A smirk formed over her face and she failed to stop a sharp chuckle from escaping.

“Mr. Lindren.” She softly said again.

“Yes, Maggie.” Lindren said as he sternly glowered at a recoiling Ray.

Maggie moved closer and whispered something in Lindren’s ear. And just like an angered child who suddenly had a lollipop dangling in front of him, Lindren’s face instantly switched from a scowl to an anticipating smile. “Ah! Speak of the devil!” Lindren said while clapping his hand.

Grinning with slight embarrassment, Maggie gestured for an approaching assistant to walk faster.

“I’m sorry my lady and gentlemen. Something’s just come up and I’m going to have to slip out of touring you through the rest of Wanka’s factory. The lovely Ms. Aberdeen here will take over and help you see your away out. Please take care and have a good day.” Lindren said politely with genuine regret.

As Ms. Aberdeen took over the tour group, turning them around and leading them back the way they came, Lindren and Maggie walked toward a private elevator around the corner and at the other end of the hall. Four of the Lindren’s personal security guards were waiting for him by the elevator. One of them communicated over his wire that their boss was approaching to reach the top floor.

The elevator doors opened and stayed open until all were inside. And it wasn’t until the doors closed that Lindren dropped the charade and returned to his normal look of spite. “Find out who that reporter was and make sure he doesn’t see his family again.” He grumbled.

“Alright daddy. We’ll make sure he learns his lesson and return him to his family after few days.” Maggie said with a smirk.

Lindren glared at her. Keeping her smile, Maggie raised her eyebrows at the brutish man. She was indeed Lindren’s only daughter and most prized possession. And while Lindren had no tolerance for anyone undermining his authority no matter what their relationship was to him, his blood was passed down to Maggie. Sharing the same spirit, Maggie also had a lack of tolerance. A lack of tolerance towards impulsiveness, which she deemed went hand-in-hand with stupidity.

PAGE 33

“Temper, temper.” She chimed out in a high-pitched voice.

“Should’ve smothered you in your crib.” He growled.

“Too late!” She joked back.

The elevator took the party up to the seventeen floor. The entire floor served as an executive suite for not only Lindren, but all the board members. Naturally, no expense was spared in providing all of premiere amenities from upscale automatic lighting to air conditioning that adjusted according to the preference of the executive. Lindren’s corner office was more than envy provoking. Overlooking the park and perfectly positioned so the sun would never directly hit it while going from East to West, Lindren’s office was a second home with the father and daughter who often spent the night, taking their evening and morning meals there.

The guards waited outside as Lindren and Maggie entered the office and closed the door. Sliding his fingertips across his polished desk as he approached, Lindren plopped down in his leather chair and gave a quick spin before pressing an area by the edge of the desk. You see, Lindren’s entire desk was a flat touchscreen computer monitor. And this was in 2004, mind you. Years before that sort of thing would be made popular by a tablet. After touching that area of the desk, an image of a digital keyboard appeared on the desk. Lindren typed in his password as on the keyboard as if it were any ordinary keyboard. Once his keyboard was in, his desktop interface appeared, and a box with an exclamation point was blinking in the center. After pressing the exclamation point, another monitor slid up out of the desk. This new monitor had a camera attached to the top of it. It’s only function was to provide a video chat with a single encrypted laptop. The owner of this laptop was Silence.

The feed opened up and showed a view looking out from a helicopter. So basically, Silence had the laptop on the helicopter floor with the camera pointed out the door with Silence squatting down and Alba and Mellow standing behind her. It was a little after 10am in Atlanta, but it was nighttime in Layanka. The soldiers had a bonfire roaring in the background. The treasures the archeologists pulled out had everyone’s spirits on cloud nine. Silence had already told them that they were shipping out to head home first thing in the morning. So while everyone celebrated, feasting on lambs and getting drunk off of alcohol-laced well water, Silence was brooding.

“You know I don’t like waiting.” She uttered in front of the camera, calmly annoyed.

Lindren smiled with a humble nod as Maggie stood behind his left shoulder. “My humble apologies, milady. I was performing a necessary tour to some of our more influential skeptics. Went well as could be expected of me. But on to more pressing matters. How was the mission? Are you hurt?”

Silence sighed as she palmed her forehead, wiping off a thin layer of sweat from the humidity. “Why does everyone keep asking me if I’m hurt?” She said under her breath.

“You’re worth half a billion. They’re just being polite, Psy. Gee whiz. Hey Maggie bear! How you doin? Your hair looks fabulous!” Alba chimed in.

“Thank you Alby! Hope Tinoco’s treating you okay.” Maggie replied.

Lindren grumbled.

Alba noticed and leaned closer to the camera. “Awe, don’t be like that, Keiser. Sitting there all disgruntled and what not.”

PAGE 34

Suddenly, Silence punched real hard driving her knuckles down on Alba’s foot. Letting out a loud dog whimper, Alba hobbled backwards allowing Silence to continue her conversation.

“We have the pendant, but it’s not the Akechi clan as we expected. I’m sending it back to HQ with Alba and company. Get it analyzed and find out the clan of its owner. I don’t care about the other pieces, this pendant is a tier one. So be nice to him, Lindren.” Silence warned.

“Of course, my dear Silence. Stephen will have the entire facility from its foundations to its crevices at his disposal.” Lindren said with an unshakeable grin that wasn’t fooling anyone of the distain he held for the younger, weaker, yet more intellectual being.

Alba scoffed as he shook his head. “That’s just grand.” He uttered.

“Where will you be going?” Maggie asked.

Silence sighed. “Not that it’s any of your business, Maggie. I need a vacation. Need to do some reflecting…Get my head on straight. And Mellow needs to control her temper. So we’ll be in Switzerland for the next few weeks.”

Maggie leaned closer over the desk with a look of concerned. “What happened, Silence?”

Lindren clasped his fingers together and propped his elbows up on the table. “Her hands are soaked in blood. Simply washing them isn’t enough.” Lindren said.

Silence’s eyes rose to examine Lindren. His tone of voice exuded concern…but there was a slight curl in the corner of his lips. Popping up to an upright stand, Silence turned her back on the laptop and started walking away. Alba and Mellow exchanged glances, not knowing what to make of it.

“Alba.” Lindren called out. “I trust there weren’t too many casualties…”

Scratching his curly black hair, Alba looked off to his right. “What’s ‘too many’?” He asked.

Using his better judgment, Alba decided not to take the laptop out of the helicopter and show Lindren the tragic scene. While the temples lay still intact, rows of dead villagers were laid out in lines with white clothes covering their bodies. The monks had surrounded the departed and prevented Silence’s men from burying them. Alba wondered if it was their way of rubbing the sins in their faces. Whatever the case was…Silence’s heart weighed heavy, for amongst the casualties…two young girls had succumbed to the smoke.

           

Three weeks later

Three weeks later, I found myself bundled in a hooded jean motorcycle jacket that I bought at the stop in Dallas. It was hard to move in, but it kept me warm even when it got wet. The sky was a dark blue as the sun made its steady ascension from the eastern land. Bells were ringing faintly from a distance. The strong frosty sea breeze kept the seagulls from flocking. So instead…they kept gawking around me. Waiting for me to pull out my Pop tart.

PAGE 35

I sat on a large cork barrel looking outward at the choppy waters of the bay. San Francisco… the commercial district of the shipping harbor. It was the city that gave my great grandparents their first touch of American soil.

Finally taking out my Pop tart for a bite, I grinned at how ironic it was. Here they were, immigrating from Japan. And I was ready to put my life on the line to go back. Was it foolish of me? Did it show how naïve and immature it was? Didn’t matter. Whether I was stupid or not, I had to find out for myself. This is my life and I wasn’t about to waste another goddamn day in Georgia.

My ship lay yonder. I got my VISA and was hired as a deckhand for freightliner. I lied about age and name and where I was from. One…I didn’t want my parents to have a trace on my lead. And secondly, I knew the first thing I’d do when I get off the docks of Japan was scadadle! The obnoxiously loud whistle blew for my ship. Moments later, sailors came trudging out of a warehouse diner, walking toward the boarding dock. It was time.

Propping off of the barrel and landing on the wet cement pavement, the thrilling sense of adventure washed over me. I knew it was going to be challenging and that I’d probably struggle, but I didn’t care. I was about to embark on a journey that would take me to a whole new world. I stretched out my wings toward the sky and stared out toward the bay of passing ships.

With a grin on my face, I whispered to myself… “Okay. Let’s do this.”

One comment on “Dragon Ash – Episode 2

  1. Pingback: Dragon Ash – Episode 2 – Short Story | Stage In The Sky

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