Issue #54 – Shadow of the Kurounagi

This entry is part 6 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 2

“I don’t like this.” Codex watched as the one man they managed to capture from the group of ten that had been waiting for them at the airport was loaded into a police cruiser on the tarmac. The other nine had disappeared behind a smoke screen, aided by the fact that they were dressed like airport employees right up until they whipped out ceramic shuriken and weighed ropes.

Darkness had her arms tightly folded. “Neither do I. When the ROCIC needed us to do something, they had a plane on the ground in the hour. N that we need them?” She let out a frustrated growl. “I could have tailed the jet in the sky faster.”

“It couldn’t be helped.” Codex soothed. “And in the meantime, it gave me time to call in reinforcements. But that’s not what I don’t like.”

“Then what don’t you like then?” Darkness was trying to keep the edge out of her voice. She was upset and she knew it; the last thing she wanted was to vent it on her best friend.

“All ten of those guys could have gotten away. That smoke screen was flawlessly positioned and they had magnesium flares to fool infrared. So why did one guy come charging at us instead of dispersing with the rest of them. They didn’t need anyone to cover them.”

Darkness studied her friend for a second. She wasn’t a hypercog like Codex, but years of knowing her let her backtrack her thought processes, even if she wasn’t as quick about it. “You think he meant to get caught.”

“I think he meant to feed us information.” She smirked behind her face guard. “In retrospect, you probably didn’t need to threaten to send a stream of black heat between his legs.” Darkness blushed under her cowl and Codex chuckled, albeit halfheartedly There was still the matter of Ian being missing to deal with.

She opened her palmtop and brought up a program running in the background. “His locator is still transmitting; maybe our kidnappers aren’t as clever as they think. They’re over Iowa now.”

There was a brief bout of action in front of them as a call apparently went out to the airport employees to cordon off one of the helipads and keep their distance. Darkness took this to mean that their ride was almost there and lifted her pack. With no intel, Laurel insisted on both of them packing for anything.

Sure enough, the whine of VTOL engines became evident in the distance.

“So what’s the plan?” She asked.

“We’re flying blind, and entering a foreign country where the best any of our contacts can do is clear us to enter and get us past customs.” Laurel recited from her own personal mission dossier. “You don’t speak the language and I don’t know terribly much about the culture. The enemy managed to capture one of us already, and is feeding us information to get us to follow. Our only advantage: they’re expecting the Descendants.”

A marine corps troop carrier cruised into view, coming in for a landing on the cordoned off pad, but not cutting engines. The two heroines jogged toward it as Codex continued laying out the situation as she saw it.

“And that makes the fact that the kids—maybe I should stop calling them ‘kids’–are all off on vacation right now. Otherwise, I couldn’t have justified calling in reinforcements.”

Darkness frowned. “L, you know I trust that big brain of yours intrinsically, but if they’re expecting Alloy or Zero, isn’t it a bad idea to bring comparatively less powerful prelates?”

“Power isn’t everything.” Codex chided as they mounted the metal stairs up to the helipad. “Notice how Chaos got taken by a highly skilled team who, as far as I can tell, have no powers at all. These two have experience, which I’d take any day in this situation. The enemy is expecting to fight foes stronger than they are, not smarter.”

“Do I sense a lack of modesty?”

“Possibly. I could kick your ass hand to hand any day of the week, after all.”

The cargo doors on the carrier opened to reveal a marine in full combat gear working the door controls, one of the ROCIC’s men. Reportedly, they received special training not only in combating superhumans, but in other dealings as well. He nodded to them.

“Darkness, Codex. Welcome aboard. General Pratt sends his regards. We have a classified flightpath; full speed and straight on the Haneda Airport. ETA, fifteen hours. The general is placing the crew at your command for the op.”

“Thank you, Sargent Wade.” Codex read the name off his uniform. “We’ll try not to be a bother.”

“Speak for yourself.”

Both heroines looked up to see The Whitecoat sitting near the rear of the compartment. He was in a crash seat, sitting sideways with his feet up on the one next to hm. The namesake coat with hanging open over a white shirt, but his normal boots and gloves were sitting in the seat behind him while he lounged in his socks and latex gloves to conceal his finger prints.

Across from him, on the other side of the carrier, sat a prelate Darkness hadn’t met before, but Codex had in the course of filming PSA’s: Barn Owl. His mechanical wings were folded compactly and locked into a plane for him to rest his back on in the crash seat, but otherwise, he was in full costume, including the beaked mask and taloned gloves.

As far from either of them as possible was a rotund Hispanic man with a shaved head and sad excuse for a beard. Until Codex and Darkness arrived, he’d been working furiously on a notebook computer. He had no costume, instead being dressed in a T-shirt with a wolf on it and khaki cargo shorts.

Whitecoat swung his legs off the seat they were propped up on. “I already promised we were going to be one hell of a bother. Owl might call him ‘stewardess’ at some point. And you know Nermal’s going to be packing in the peanuts and free champagne.”

Codex laughed. “He… Nermal was it?”

Nermal set his computer aside to stand. After an attempt at smoothing out his formal T-shirt, he offered his hand to her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. It’s Adrian. Adrian Saca. The Whitecoat is just a bastard like that.”

“He’s got all of us calling him that.” Barn Owl chuckled.

“Oh, Nermal. You can’t go around telling people you’re real name. You’re on a mission now. No telling what the many, many enemies you’re about to make would do to you and yours if they found out who you were.”

Nermal’s eyes widened. “But you told me I could just hang back and run information and translation! You never said anything about making enemies!”

“He’s kidding.” Codex laid a hand on his shoulder. “I think.”

Darkness stepped past both of them to address Whitecoat and Barn Owl. “Codex didn’t tell me anything about you bringing someone else. Is this going to be okay?”

“We took some initiative.” said Barn Owl, also standing to greet her. “Nermal is our friendly neighborhood lab tech and information broker back home. Codex told ‘coat that she doesn’t know much about Japan; Nermal does, plus he speaks Japanese, so we’re bringing him along.”

She looked back at Nermal and Codex. Her friend could have probably absorbed everything they needed to know about Japan on the flight over, but it didn’t hurt having a second brain working on this when they had so little to go on.

Still, he was out of shape, not part of the superhero lifestyle, and thanks to Whitecoat’s remark, baldly terrified. “He couldn’t have helped via satellite uplink?”

Barn Owl shook his head. “He could have, but see, Nermal doesn’t work for our money. He seems to do pretty well for himself, and he sees what he does as a service to the community.”

“Instead,” Whitecoat cut in. “He works for food and favors. Today’s favor is the trip to Tokyo… hope you don’t mind a bit of a layover after we save your guy.”

Darkness was about to reply when someone cleared their throat for attention. Surprisingly, it was Nermal. The other turned to listen, which seemed to make him slightly flustered, but Codex nudged him to continue.

“Okay… well when Whitecoat played back Codex’s message to me, I ran the intel you got through some of my friends in Japan.” He looked sheepish at their looks of surprise. “Internet. I have friends all over the planet. Anyway, the hanger at Haneda Airport you’ve been directed to is a private hanger belonging to the Tsurugi International Troubleshooting Taskforce.”

“Vague enough name.” Whitecoat noted. “What dot hey do?”

“What don’t they do? They have a crack staff for hostage extraction, outfitters for scientific expeditions, private investigators, even an in house expert with an underwater salvage robot. Plus, rumors tie them to the Kurounagi.”

“The what now?” It was Whitecoat again, but Darkness would have asked if he hadn’t.

“I wouldn’t have bothered following up on it if Whitecoat hadn’t mentioned you dodging shuriken. Those are stereotypical ninja weapons. And it so happens that this urban legend, the Kurounagi are supposed to be a modern-day ninja clan. The rumor goes that the Kurounagi does the jobs that are too illegal or socially unacceptable for Tsurugi; corporate espionage, assassination, sabotage, that kind of thing.”

The others looked at one another and once again it was the Whitecoat that spoke for them. “Ninjas. You’re telling me that Chaos has been kidnapped by ninjas.” Nermal nodded and made him sigh dramatically. “I should have expected this eventually.” He nudged Barn owl with his elbow. “Hey Owl? Are we bad enough dudes to rescue Chaos?”

***

The man, apparently the leader of the Kurounagi no ichzuku, loomed over Chaos, examining him with a practiced eye. “I do not wish for you to remain shackled as you are. It is an undignified position for a well known hero such as yourself.”

“If you respect me so much, why not let me loose and I’ll show you what heroes do with kidnappers?”

That got a hearty, but short lived laugh and the man turned away from him, pacing the floor around the table. “I know full well they you would immediately act to defeat us, bring us to what you believe is justice.”

Chaos rolled his eyes. “’What you believe is justice’, so which archetypical bad guy are you? The anarchist, the zealot, maybe someone who thinks on their own justice is the only one that counts?”

“No, Chaos. I know quite well that kidnapping you was wrong, but I have been left with little in the way of options. You remain shackled and under the effects of Haru-kun’s kaze taosu mahō, only because I want that opportunity to make my case to you. Will you listen?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“You always have a choice. You can tell me to go to hell right now, tune out what I have to say, and then leave once we land in Tokyo.”

Chaos made a rude sound in his throat. “As if you’re going to let me go.”

“You have my word of honor that once we land, no matter what, you will be released.” He stopped his pacing and face chaos head on, his face etched with seriousness.

Privately, Chaos was becoming curious about the whole plot. And it never hurt to let the enemy talk. Even when they were misinforming you, they might let more slip than they intended. “Alright, I’ll listen.”

The other man nodded sharply and stood up even taller than before. The movement opened his shirt up more and Chaos could see that the tattoo on his chest was black eel with silver fins and red eyes. “Domo, Chaos-san. I will start with introductions. I am Higurashi Kunio, leader of the Kurounagi no ichizuku. This is Onmyoji, Urashima Haru.” He gestured to the talisman user, “And Annalee Winchester, one of our top disciples in America.”

The other two nodded to Chaos, tight lipped, and he responded in kind.

“The Kurounagi no ichizuku was once the ancient protector of Onmyoji: practitioners of magic, what we call Onmyodo. In particular, they protected those not appointed by the Imperial government; hiding them, gathering supplies for them, and helping them locate and recruit those with natural gifts, or skillful knack for Onmyodo.

“Time passed however, and the ranks of the Onmyoji stopped growing and began to thin. While we still welcomed them, the Kurounagi was forced to expand into other areas, and we have been very successful. While we are not the last, we are the oldest surviving shinobi clan, thanks in part to maintaining the Onmyodo bloodlines.”

“So you’re not just ninjas, but you’re magic ninjas.” Chaos observed. Why did things always have to come back to magic?

“Not all of us, or even a majority, but you can say that. Haru-kun is the leader of the Onmyoji no Kurounagi, the most experienced and skilled among them.”

Chaos nodded, filing all of this away for later. It sounded true enough to trust for now. “Alright, so you managed to keep going even when the others couldn’t. What does that have to do with me?”

“I am getting to that. You must understand that for hundred of years, even this far into the Information Age, we have remained largely secret to the world. But in the past few years, that has changed. For one thing, Onmyodo has begun to resurface in the general populace.”

“Not just for you guys.” Chaos shook his head. “Magic’s come back in a big way and it’s a global issue. Believe me, I know, I was there.”

If any of that surprised Kunio, he didn’t show it. “Indeed. However, it presents a unique problem for the Kurounagi. We are bound by ancient oaths to attempt to recruit and teach these new Onmyoji. This has exposed us to world, and others within the underworld have taken notice; in particular, another surviving clan of shinobi, the Shiroi Hōseki no Shishi no ichizuku, who in turn control a number of yakuza organizations.”

Kunio’s face seemed to age ten years as he came to this point, and he bowed his head. “They have recruited… you call them ‘descendants’, into their numbers as mercenaries and among their number is a man whose power negates any use of Onmyodo within one hundred yards.”

“You want me to take out a rival gang for you?” Chaos strained at his shackles. He wanted nothing more than to punch the man directly in the face.

“Of course not.” Kunio fixed him with a warning look that dared him to sully the real situation by equating it to criminal activity. “No, we can deal with the Shiroi Hōseki no Shishi and their allies under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances.” He raised his head and made certain that he and Chaos were staring eye to eye.

“They have taken my son, who has recently shown signs of being like you, a descendant. The ransom they demand is every Onmyoji we have recruited under the age of majority.”

His voice turned to steel. “The parents of those children placed a great deal of trust in me. Their safety is my responsibility. Their training is sacred duty. I cannot sacrifice them, even for the safety of my son. And yet, he is still my son. If I could, I would send my entire clan to retrieve them, but denied the power of Onmyodo, they cannot stand against the yakuza descendants.

Once more, he bowed his head. “Japan does not have superheroes, only kachi no gisō-jin. Real life ‘superheroes’ are, at the moment, an almost purely American invention. We had no way to traditionally contact you; that is why we took you and hoped that your team would follow. I can offer you anything within the power of the Kurounagi to obtain if only you will help me get back my son.”

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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