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 5

Sakai Yuuma discovered his power in his thirties, well into his career as an English teacher. With some thought and concentration, he could project realistic holograms provided there was enough dust of vapor in the air. Most people he’d heard of simply took their powers as a fact of life and either hid them from the public, or became kachi no gisō-jin.

He considered himself a person of worth because of his job preparing young minds for the future, not because of his powers. To him, his powers only had entertainment value. Attempting to integrate that entertainment value into his instruction turned out to be his downfall. Some students complained, other teachers took notice, and suddenly he had a local reputation as some kind of maverick. The school fired him to avoid bad press and refused to provide good references for his ten years of teaching experience.

He’d turned to the internet for help finding a new job and discovered the Japanese version of a sight called PsionicHires.jobs. It was a social network where employers could connect with people with powers. That’s how his current employers found him. They offered full benefits and a year’s pay for a month’s worth of work tops. All he had to do was live in a barracks built into the storage room of a factory and scare away intruders.

Even taking into account that he’d discovered early that he and his four coworkers were being employed by yakuza, he was having the time of his life. It got even better when the call came in to be on guard for American mercenaries hired by a rival group.

True, the mercenaries had cut down the yakuza rank and file with ease, but now they faced Yuuma and his very favorite illusion, an oni whose design he based off a biker’s jacket he’d seen once on the train. He stood in the center of the illusion’s ‘footprint’, directing it from inside while safely hidden by it.

“Now, go down to destruction, interlopers!” He bellowed, projecting the sound through the oni’s mouth as he made it swing the club. Just as he expected, the pair of mercenaries scattered, not knowing that the club couldn’t touch them. What he wasn’t ready for was the sight of one of them, the man in the long, white coat, sticking to the side of one of the factory’s machines.

“How did you do that?” He asked without thinking.

“Super powers. Duh.” Came the reply as the man in white sprang from his position to the top of another fabricator. “But I’ve got to say, Mr. Sakai, I’ve read your file and I’m disappointed. English teachers should know to always avoid cliches like the plague.”

Yuuma made the oni narrow its eyes. “That joke has never been funny.”

“Sorry about him. He’s a little wired from the jet lag and the coffee.” Another figure appeared, this one flying into view on metal and ceramic wings. His face was covered by a mask with a beak. “He’s usually really good at the banter thing. Me on the other hand, I’ve got trouble with volume.” With that, he screamed, unleashing a wall of sound at the oni.

Luckily for Yuuma, he aimed high, missing him, but the sonic attack did disrupt the illusion, causing the oni’s shape to billow and distort like smoke.

Atop the fabricator, Whitecoat was adjusting the view setting on the screen in his hat, looking for a wavelength that didn’t include the illusion. “Don’t listen to Owl, I’m just trying too hard. It’s my first time in a foreign country and I really wanted to make a good first impression for my international fans.

Switching to ultraviolet revealed Yuuma’s hiding place. “By the way, Mr. Sakai. I see you.” He pointed. Barn Owl screamed again, this time aiming low.

Yuuma grabbed his ears, hoping to spare them the splitting agony that washed over him. Seconds later, hands still firmly clamped over his ears, he looked up. His oni was gone and with it, all of his cover. Codex dashed up to him almost before he could even register that fact.

“Things will go a lot easier on you if you just give up, Sakai-san.” She informed him. She had one of her tonfa raised to deliver the knockout blow if he didn’t.

It was a good enough motivator for him, especially when he saw the other two superhumans behind her. He’d been excited to go up against mercenaries who he assumed would be mundane. This was above his pay-grade. “Yes. I concede.”

“Good. Now where is the boy?” Codex asked firmly, still not lowering her weapon. Whitecoat came around with some zip-cuffs for him.

“I don’t know that. Only Aoyama-san and Sakurazaki-san know where he is.”

“But he is here?” Codex pressed, making sure he remembered how very much in danger he remained. Yuuma nodded. “Alright. At least we’re on the right track. D-1 and D-0 might be together, guarding the boy. Barn Owl, I think you should—“ Suddenly, a brilliant flare of orange light came from elsewhere on the factory floor.

“Aoyama-san…” Yuuma’s voice mixed awe with fear, knowing that Aoyama Takahata was using his powers in close quarters.

“D-2?” Whitecoat asked.

Codex nodded. “D-2. This is why we needed to catch them off guard. Whoever he’s aiming at needs all the help they can get. “Barn Owl, you’re the only one of the three of us with real range, get ahead of us and try and take him unaware.”

***

Another net of webbing missed its mark as Darkness banked sharply in the air. She returned fire, sending out a stinging cloud of black heat ‘needles’ up at Shinobu’s hiding place among the rafters. The other woman skittered aside to evade before dropping down and a thread and swinging in to kick her with both feet.

Weighing next to nothing while in flight, Darkness was propelled backward much further than she should have been, but recovered by firing off black heat behind her. She answered by sending a bolt of black heat to cut Shinobu’s line.

The spider woman was ready for that, throwing a line at Darkness’s legs the moment that attack came. She fell, tugging the line toward her. The two collided in mid-air and hit the top of yet another fabricator. The only saving grace in Darkness’s mind was that this one wasn’t on like all the others, so she didn’t have to worry about it trying to vibrate the fillings out of her head.

They recovered at the same time, each rolling to the side and coming up to a knee, ready to attack the other. A stiff breeze blew over them.

Shinobu was almost too late, dodging slow enough that Chaos’s fist came within inches of the back of her head. She wasn’t too late to attach a web line to his chest, however, before using it to swing him laterally into Darkness. Both heroes collided and toppled off the side of the fabricator, landing in a heap on the scaffolding below.

“I should not have tried to horn in on your fight.” Chaos groaned.

“No, you shouldn’t have.” said Darkness, though without malice. She extricated herself from her fiance and looked up to see if Shinobu was about to follow up. She wasn’t. “Any luck finding—Watch out!”

They both said the last part at the same time before throwing themselves away from each other. A split second later, that attack they’d both seen cut through the scaffold between them, melting and twisting the metal there in a span only about six inches wide, but five feet high.

It looked like a solar flare in miniature, a loop of liquid fire, moving like the chain of a chainsaw, that spooled out to dole out destruction. It hadn’t just cut through the scaffold, but the housing of the machine beyond that. If it had hit them, their costumes wouldn’t have saved them.

Above, they heard Shinobu shouting. Cursing sounded much the same in any language.

The object of her ire was standing across from them on ground level. He was in his late forties with a shaved head and a graying goatee. He was dressed in a white, casual suit with no tie. In each hand, he brandished a roiling ball of orange and gold plasma the size of a cantaloupe.

Aoyama Takahata glared up at Shinobu with hard, brown eyes. “Damare.”

Chaos and Darkness took to the air in his moment of distraction, flying in opposite directions. Casting one more stern glare at the spider woman, he picked Chaos as his target. He brought his hands close together, allowing a plasma arc to form between the two spheres before separating and rotating them in a practiced motion. The arc expanded and rushed forward after Chaos, dripping sparkers as it burned the air around it.

Controlling the arc was involved and time consuming. The arc itself was slow and once directed was almost impossible to direct. But it only needed to hit once.

Buffeting himself to the side with a gust of wind, Chaos felt the heat radiating off the discharge from several yards away. It neatly severed several struts in the rafters, setting the older, wooden pieces alight.

“It’s getting dangerous over here, guys.” He said into the com before turning to face Takahata. To himself, he added, “And not just for me.” A precise wrist movement poured a dose of water into each palm. In no time, he had two Chaos Novas going and hurled them both at Takahata. One burst in front of him, interrupting his concentration while the other went wide, blasting apart the control console on the fabricator beside him.

Alarms started to ring and hydraulics hissed into motion. The central cowling of the unit opened down the center, revealing the heart of its operation, a large, hollow space the size of a master bedroom, where robotic arms had, until the emergency stop engaged, had been cutting a fiberglass plate to order.

Takahata’s concentration wasn’t broken for long. He summoned the plasma balls again, preparing to create another arc. This time, he didn’t get time to use it. A bar of black heat as wide as a person’s waist, caught him from behind, throwing him to the floor and causing the plasma balls to once more dissipate.

Darkness flew over him, turning once to shoot down another web net from Shinobu. “Chaos!” She shouted. “Change partners!”

He grinned and dropped wordlessly into a steep dive, pulling up only when he was skimming just above the floor. Darkness passed over him and he flew past Takahata, right for Shinobu.

To her credit, the spider-woman stood her ground and threw a web net at him.

He countered by throwing a tiff wind ahead of him that caught the net and threw it back at her. Caught by surprise and having no special advantages against her own creations besides knowing where she placed them, she was quickly snared in her own trap. Chaos finished the fight with her with a swift right cross.

Behind him, Darkness span in midair and readied another burst of black heat. Taking no heed of her obvious warning, Takahata rose to a knee. She put him on his back with another blast. With a satisfied look on her face, she landed to cuff him while he was out.

Chaos looked up from Shinobu’s prone form and grinned broadly. “Teamwork!”

“That was a hell of a thing to watch.” Barn Owl winged down to land between them. “Too bad they’re knocked out. The guy we caught thought the plasma guy was staying close to where the boy was being held.”

“At least the place is clear now.” Chaos said. “I’ll make it easier to search…” He trailed off, noticing that Darkness was staring past him. Glancing back, he saw only the open bay of the fabricator he’d blasted open in his short fight with Takahata. “Something on your mind, honey?”

She smirked at the pet name. They didn’t really use them unless it was to get under each other’s skin. “It’s just that there’s a lot of space in those things.”

“I’m not following.”

“Me neither.” added Owl.

Darkness licked her lips and pointed at the fabricator that bore scars from Takahata’s attack. “I noticed when I fell on it: that’s the only one of these things that’s not running. And when he,” She nodded to Takahata, who had regained consciousness only to find his hands cuffed and restrained directly over his crotch. “blasted it, Spider-Lady over there went ballistic on him.”

“Ha. Hidden in plain sight.” Barn Owl folded his wings and looked down the row to find Codex and Whitecoat rushing toward them.

“Ninja style.” Chaos observed before flying up to the console.

The others soon joined him, with Codex sitting down at the main input.

“You’re right,” She said to Darkness, “Every tool and robot that should be hooked up n there is listed as offline and unattached.”

“Can you open it?” asked Barn Owl.

“We should be careful with that. “ Whitecoat said, “This is the last fallback. I’d bet my very fine hat that there’s a horde of elite ninja waiting to jump out like Akira Kurosawa’s bachelor party cake.”

Barn Owl gave him a sidelong look. “Kurosawa’s big movie was about samurai, not ninjas.”

“You know what I mean. Let’s just be careful.”

“Boys, a little peace.” Codex interrupted. “Once we get Higurashi-san’s son back safe and sound, then we can practice our cultural references. I’ll even treat you guys to a night on the town in Tokyo when we’re done here.”

“Deal.” They both said.

The whole time, Codex was working on the console, learning the system by logical guess, trial and error. Finally, she found the right command set. “And now to make a cultural reference of my own: Iftaḥ yā Simsim.”

“Say what?” Darkness asked as the cowling began to open.

“Oh, that’s just a little bit of Arabic.”

“For…” Darkness prodded.

“Open sesame.”

The retreating cowling revealed a small room with two futons on the floor, a small television screen, and a table cluttered with all sorts of minor necessities, from an electric kettle to a hot plate and plastic utensils. Boxes of MREs and other nonperishable food were stacked beneath it. A toilet built into the cowling walls, hooked up to the plumbing for the machine’s water jet cutter and cleaning cycle.

On one of the futons lay a boy of about ten years old, curled up asleep, though his expression told of a less than restful slumber, due in no small part to his kidnapping. On the other sat a girl who couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen. Her hair was disheveled, her simple outfit of jeans and a T-shirt, wrinkled from being worn for days.

She didn’t look surprised to see them. Instead, she looked angry.

“Man, I knew she was young from the file, but still, it’s hard to see in real life.” Barn Owl muttered.

Sakurazaki Kin, age seventeen, jumped to her feet, fire in her eyes. “Kono hito wa koko ni irubekide wa arimasen. Anata wa kangei sa rete imasen. Mama, matawa watashi wa anata o kizutsukerudeshou.” Her tone was low and aspired to be menacing.

Orokana koto shinaide kudasai. Watashi-tachi wa anata o tasukeru koto o koko ni aru. Kore o okonau tsukutta hito wa mō anata o kizutsukeru koto wa dekinai.” Codex said firmly.

“I’m right when I say she didn’t know Japanese this morning, right?” Whitecoat asked.

“A full day of hearing it spoken, plus time to listen to audio recordings on the flight to Sendai? More than enough for our girl.” Chaos said proudly.

Kin didn’t seem all that impressed. She mimed spitting and snapped back. “Anata wa, jōkyō nitsuite nani mo shiranai. Watashi wa kizutsukeru koto ga naida. Watashi wa shōnen no sewa o suru tame ni shiharawa rete, watashi wa yakusoku o hatashite ikimasu. Anata wa kare ga hitsuyōna baai, anata wa watashi o korosu hitsuyō ga arimasu.

Codex sighed. “We’re going to have to knock her out.”

“Seriously?” Whitecoat eyed the girl with uncertainty. “I thought she only canceled magic.”

“If we don’t she’ll raise hell, powers or no.” Said Codex.

Chaos shook his head. “I’ll do it. At least my way, she’ll just wake up with a splitting headache, no bruise required.” He focused on the air around her and lowered its density to unbearable levels. A moment later, Kin’s eyes rolled in her head and she passed out.

“Thank you.” Darkness laid her hand on his shoulder. “Now let’s get the boy and bring him back to his father.”

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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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