TRUTH OF THE NINJA: AIR
With powers drained and all abilities gone, Duncan is now just a regular guy - with a price on his head and sought after by the enemy. Destruction and death follow him. Even his own people don't trust him now, not even Uncle. But Lady Gina has a plan.
They embark on a trip to India, to the very temple his mother came from, in an effort to regain his abilities and reawaken the spirit of Shiva. Duncan's every move is being watched, and the invasion of assassins wielding a powerful dark ninja magic cuts his training short. Running for their lives and cheating death, Duncan and Lady Gina are pursued, defying the odds and evading assassin cells more extreme than the last.
Time is running out and the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of one young ninja.
Out of the dark foliage a figure dressed all in black burst from the trees, cleared the distance in one tremendous leap, and landed on the deck of the boat with katana drawn. He quickly engaged me and I front snap kicked his sword out of his hand before he had a chance to blink and landed a series of kicks and punches to his midsection, all of which he blocked, and then retaliated with a few of his own. A palm strike to the chest and a leg sweep took me down as he moved for his sword and I, in turn, took his feet out from under him before he took two steps. Once on the deck we continued to pummel each other with back leg kicks, sidekicks, punches, and double strikes.
In the background I could hear Lady Gina and Uttam fussing at each other about the boat not wanting to start, and out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of several black figures swimming for the boat.
I side-kicked my opponent so hard he flew backwards and landed by the railing in a curled up position, holding his ribs. “We have company!” I shouted and rushed toward the side of the boat to engage the new arrivals; brandishing my short sticks. They came crawling up over the side, one at a time, and I encountered each one in turn; busting skulls, smashing fingers, and breaking bones as fast as they tried to come on board. Blood and bodies floated in the river and I knew it would only be a matter of time before the crocodiles would make their appearance, but that did not stop the assassins from surging forward. More approached the boat as the poison darts resumed their deadly flight. “Uttam! We can’t wait any longer!” I shouted as I spun and twisted and just barely missed being grazed by a dart, while I continued to kick and punch my way through the new wave of assassins trying to climb aboard. “Hurry up!”
I was suddenly grabbed from behind and used the distraction to my advantage. I sunk low in my legs and landed several elbow strikes until my opponent cried out and his grip loosened, and then flung him over my head. He landed in such a way that four assassins climbing on board were knocked back into the water, clearing the side completely of targets. I heard the engine finally kick over then rumble to a full healthy start and knew I had to get rid of this last guy before we took off. I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hoisted him to his feet.
“Who sent you? Why are you here?” I shouted in his face. He grunted and groaned and refused to answer, and just as I reached for his mask a cloud of darts headed my way. I turned just in time and used the assassin’s body as a shield. His back was pummeled and as the poison set in, his eyes rolled back and his body went limp in my hands. Death was quick and painless. I tossed him over the rail just as the boat lurched forward and we sped down the river.
Of Fire and Water
“So you screwed up, so what?” Morgan lounged against a nearby tree; far enough away that I couldn’t latch onto him and ring his neck. He sighed as if bored with life and casually turned pages in the latest creepy book he was reading, while avoiding my hard stare.
“Stand straight, Duncan!” Lady Gina ordered as she passed by on her way to her little table. She paused and gave me a scrutinizing look. “Can’t breathe properly if you’re hunched.” She whacked me with her stick and I stifled a yelp.
I wanted to kick Morgan’s ass at the moment and was concentrating more on how to do that all while balancing on one leg and holding a bowl of fire and a bowl of water in each hand.
“Lady Gina…” I started, but was quickly cut off as she shouted at me from over her shoulder.
“Silence! Focus! Keep the balance.”
I released a frustrated sigh, and then tried to interrupt again.
The weight of the stick striking my lower back radiated a surprising amount of sting to it and I grunted while fighting down the pain. This extreme training wasn’t helping. Lady Gina seemed more irritated with me than normal; futzing about with mixing herbs, remedies, and flash powders instead of coaching me in the calm fashion I was used to. Something deeper was bothering her and it was affecting me more so than just my lack of focus and dwelling on the past.
“Duncan, really, I know what happened is upsetting…” Morgan started, but I viciously cut him off.
“You have no idea how I feel!” I shouted, suddenly holding my balance better than I had all morning. The outburst caught their attention and Morgan actually shrank back a bit, hiding behind his book and adjusting his bangs to hang in his eyes more so than normal. “I’ve tried to block out what happened, trust me I really have!” The weight of the memories from that horrible night just three days ago felt like an anvil wrapped around my neck, choking me and haunting my dreams. “Akira is gone!”
“But it wasn’t your fault,” he reasoned from behind the book, entirely too calm about it than I was willing to accept and it pissed me off.
“How do I know it wasn’t my fault? Shiva took me over. I don’t know what really happened!”
“Enough!” Lady Gina call from her little table, halting the mixing of herbs and moon water to shout at me. Her face was red, her eyes swollen like she hadn’t slept in days, and her little table and house was looking more battered than normal.
I shook off the irritancies, took a deep breath, grounded, centered, and fought to find the balance, but once again my mind instantly wandered to that fateful night, on our first mission of protection just three days ago. Unknowingly the odds were against us from the very beginning and we were up against an assassin cell that was far more advanced than any ninja we ever encountered; complete with the rarest form of Dark Ninja Arts at their beck and call. I had lost a team member that night, failed the mission and – worst of all – lost Akira in the Da-ku Kokudo, the Dark Realm; the birth place of all dark magic. My team returned beaten, wounded, and scared to death of me because I had lost myself completely to the great Hindu deity Shiva. Word of what happened that night spread like wildfire throughout the Chiao village and even my own people avoided me, my friends were skittish around me, and I lost my best girl to another guy. The only ones that didn’t seem to be afraid of me were Morgan and Lady Gina. Even Uncle was at a loss for words when we were together. Lately I had just avoided everyone and trained.
“Um, psychologically speaking,” Morgan said rather timidly, lowering the book and still not taking the hint to shut up, “the idea is to not block out the memories, but instead you need to understand and accept what happened, and then move forward from there.” Our eyes meet – held – my gaze bore a hole right through him. “Just saying,” he added quickly before hiding behind his book again.
That was the last straw. I couldn’t take this anymore. I needed a release and my emotions were in complete turmoil.
“Arrrrr!” I dropped the fire and water to the ground and watched as the fire sputtered out in a puff of purple haze and the water splattered in a wide stream causing small purple flowers to instantly bloom where ever it touched. “I can’t take this! I-I can’t… I-I can’t…” My voice trailed off in a wave of frustration as I leaned over, rested my hands on my knees and panted, wanting desperately to vomit.
“Duncan!” Lady Gina sounded more alarmed than angry this time.
I then dropped to my knees, head hung, while fighting back fits of panic, fear, and frustration. They were there, knotted up in my gut, wanting out, and I couldn’t release them no matter how hard I tried. I felt like I just wanted to give up, run away, and forget my goals in life; and then thoughts of going to Master Tsubasa’s secret hideout flitted through my mind.
“It’s no use Lady Gina, He’s not there anymore… He’s not…”
Lady Gina rushed over to me and I was expecting the stick again. At the moment I could care less how much she wailed on me, but instead she knelt down and placed a gentle hand on my back while trying to see my face through my curtain of dark hair.
“I can’t Lady Gina.” My emotions were in turmoil, I wanted to cry, to scream, to fly into a rage – but I couldn’t. It wasn’t in me anymore. The rage, the anger, they were gone, or hidden, or so suppressed I couldn’t find them, but I wasn’t in a calm or controlled state either. It was like I was all bottled up inside and couldn’t let anything out. “I just can’t do it. I can’t find the balance. I feel sick. I can’t find my emotions. I-I’m blocked.”
“He’s not gone, Duncan,” she soothed.
“Yes, He IS!” I raised my head and looked at her. Our eyes met, held. “Shiva is no longer in me. I don’t know what happened. Maybe He was sucked out of me and went into the Da-ku Kokudo, or… wherever. All I know is that I don’t feel him anymore.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Morgan said squatting down in front of me. I was surprised he got so close.
“Honestly?” I thought about it. “I don’t think it is.” I rested on my knees and looked at them each in turn as I struggled with the words to explain what I felt. “I don’t hear him, there’s no conflict, no churning of power. I can’t call forth my animal style, my ninpo is gone, my Ki is just… well… plain regular Ki. It feels like everything that was me is gone. Like everything I worked so hard all my life to build up and become has been ripped from me. I feel weak… listless… useless… I’ve never felt this weak before. I feel so… so…”
“Normal?” Morgan suggested.
“Human?” He offered.
I thought about what that word really meant. “I guess so. But there’s so much more missing… like a chunk of my soul has been torn from me.”
“That’s Shiva.” Lady Gina stated very matter-of-factly. “Duncan, listen to me. Shiva is a part of you. He shares your soul – forever – until a special ritual is done to remove him from you and place Him in another.” She stood, her bones popping, and slowly walked back to her rickety table. “My last student was quite accomplished; never letting Him interfere, keeping Him where He needed to be.”
“Who is this person you’re always talking about?” I shot back. “And you say these things as if to take a stab at me. Like she could do it, but I can’t.”
“You can’t!” she said. “You’re a male. Girls have better control.” She still didn’t tell me who this special student was.
“Oooo that sounds like a challenge,” Morgan said quietly, still squatted down in front of me. I ignored him. Paused. Thought about the opportunity, and then grabbed him by the face and shoved him to the ground, while using the leverage to stand and follow my sensei.
“Wait a minute.” My long strides overtook her stubby short ones. “Male monks have been doing this since ancient times and they had no problem…”
“Yes, and that was because they were monks.” Lady Gina flashed me a smug little smile before continuing. “You see, the monks had centuries to figure it all out. To never have any influences from the outside world was the best way to maintain the entity within a male counterpart.”
Morgan struggled to his feet and jumped into the conversation. “So, what you’re saying is, once a male has been exposed to the pleasures and sins of the world he can’t maintain this thing? But a female can be exposed and still maintain control?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.” Lady Gina shuffled over to her dirty little pillow, sat heavily upon it, and then patted the grass on either side of her. Enthralled, we quickly sat. “Now, I know this may be difficult for your superior male minds to accept, but females really are the mental superior beings. Males dominate with force and physical power. Females dominate with mental acuity and sheer will. Now, young boys in our village get exposed to everything very early in life. Because of this they are fearless, aggressive, survival-strong, and so forth and so on. Of course, young boys in the outside world or other countries have a completely different mentality than you do and use different methods of control.” She paused and adjusted her heavyset frame on the pillow. “Now, females are altogether a different species. We have a quiet commanding presence that not even the Gods will argue with.”
She paused and I rolled my eyes. Though I did have to admit that Mayumi had those qualities and I thought back to how she forced me to a screeching halt when we were making out in the forest and she had to put on the brakes before I had my way with her. She was an exceptional female, a rarity. Yet I was still skeptical.
“Come on now, I think anyone can learn the same technique no matter what their gender,” I argued.
“Well, now, hold up. She may have a point,” Morgan said. “Girls do seem to have a more advance way about them.”
“Nah, we all start off equal in training and most girls can’t cut it. Only the truly exceptional females make it as far as Mayumi or my sister. Perhaps only those types of females could keep a great entity under control.” I tried to argue my point, but all I got was a grumpy stare from Lady Gina. “So, this student you always mention must’ve been pretty special, huh?”
I thought a bit more about this person, but only for a second, and then ruined everything by opening my mouth. “Even so, I still think boys are more advanced than girls and we can all learn the same techniques. Of course different cultures have their own methods of learning techniques and view women on various levels, but still we can all accomplish the same tasks. Look at me, I’m half Indian and half Japanese and look how far I’ve come. I’ve accomplished so much and my mixed race has nothing to do with it. Well… at least I had accomplished so much at one time, until three nights ago.” I bumbled through my explanation trying to now avoid a conflict and finished up quickly. “Anyway, it’s the person that counts.”
“Think so? Hump! By my honor I know it to be true. My last student was able to achieve what others before her could not. I was hoping you could do the same. I know you can! You just need to get your balance.” She got up slowly, leaning first on me, and then Morgan until she stood to her full height. “Always so cock-sure, you boys. Yes, yes, always.” Her voice trailed off as she went back to her little table, humming to herself as she continued mixing the moon water.
She didn’t say anymore, nor did she elaborate on the prior superior student. I thought for sure I would get more out of her this time, but I was mistaken. Startled that the conversation was over, I scrambled to my feet. “Wait sensei, you still haven’t told me anymore about Shiva. How am I supposed to regain my inner powers? How am I going to regain my fighting skill and Ki… and ninpo? And, most importantly, how am I to bring Shiva back?”
She peered at me quizzically from over her shoulder. The look sent a shiver up my spine. Unsure, I then cast a glance at Morgan who was looking at me just as odd.
“What?” I finally said.
“Do you really want him back?” Morgan asked.
“Ah… well, I… y-yea… it’s important because… ah…”
“Duncan, haven’t you heard me?” Lady Gina grabbed her walking stick and slowly approached. “Shiva is not gone.” She stabbed the stick in the ground for emphasis on those last words. “He is still somewhere within. You must find the way… find the path to the connection. And once you find that connection it will be up to you to fuse, keep control, and become the ninja your people know you can be.” She started to turn away and I was even more confused as to what it really was I was supposed to be, or do, for my people. What was this great task I was to achieve with the assistance of Shiva and why?
But upon her words my demeanor softened and I suddenly felt small and insignificant, lost and confused, but more importantly – I felt vulnerable. I cleared my throat and in a very small voice said, “But that’s just it – I don’t know how.” I touched her on the shoulder, turned her to face me, and searched her eyes for hope. “I need you to guide me Lady Gina. I have no clue what I’m doing or what it is you want me to do. Yet I just know, deep inside, that you’re the only one that can help me.”
Her face brightened as she smiled and gave me a tight hug, and then just as suddenly pushed me away and took on her tough sensei act once more. “Away with you.” She shot a look at Morgan. “And you, too.” She shooed us with her fingers. “Enough for today. I will have more for you later.”
Morgan and I left her mixing and muttering over moon water and powders and headed out to the shops. The wonderful aromas of rice, fish, beef, and sauces drifted in the air and my stomach knotted, reminding me that I haven’t eaten much at all the past three days after the failed mission.
“I’m going to get food. You coming?” I said to Morgan.
He sighed in a bored type of way and said, “No, thanks. Not interested. Food is so overrated.”
The look on my face must’ve signaled my disbelief because he flashed me a sly smile, and then used his flash step and disappeared. Left to my own thoughts I wandered through the main street of the Chiao village in the hopes of seeking out a friendly face and getting a bite to eat. Instead all I got were shuns and odd stares, or people rushing by me and trying not to make eye contact. I felt like some kind of a freak or the town leper. Uncle wasn’t around to console, either. For the past three days he had been busy with calming down the elders and Captain Yoshida. Though the Captain wanted me for the Black Dragon Squad, he still had a personal vendetta that easily spelled out he wanted me destroyed like a rabid dog if I continued to get out of hand. If I ever got a chance to join the squad he would be in full control of carrying out the order at any given time. My slight confrontation with Master Katsumi during a secret nightly training session showed me he had some loyal people still willing to do his bidding. This also made me a bit leery of his true reasons for wanting me in the squad. Once I joined I was his, at his command, and he would have complete jurisdiction over my life. The thought weighed heavy on my mind as I continued to slowly wander.
My pursuit for human contact and conversation drove me on. I felt the need for support and closeness. For most ninja you band to form some sort of brotherhood with your team, but for others you become solitary. I guess I was afraid of the solitary route, but it looked as if that title was being pushed on me whether I chose it or not. Fighting the aches of being alone I continued my quest for companionship. There had to be someone to talk to, to spend a little one-on-one time with. Yamamoto sensei was teaching, Master Katsumi was training, and no one else would speak to me. There was no sign of Shinja and Masa, though I was certain they were still my friends, and Mayumi had been avoiding me ever since that night and I desperately wanted to talk to her. Her love and support would mean so much to me right now and, like all the other important women in my life, she wasn’t there when I needed her most.
Depression set in and I was about to give up when a friendly voice greeted me.
It was Ryu. Standing on the front porch of his store, he arranged melons in a large crate to make room for a sign. He smiled as I stopped and looked up at him.
“Not much to do today?” he tossed me an apple and continued to work. His easy going nature drew me in as always and a twinge of ninja magic oozed off of him and touched me for the first time. I had no idea.
I smiled slightly as I looked briefly at the apple and wondered at its yellow/red coloring. Two colors, two races of apples combined to make one great fruit – only the apple wasn’t a big screw up like I was right now.
“Thanks Ryu.” I stepped closer and sat on a small crate close by. The awkward pause between us rose as I bit into the apple and chewed. I wanted to talk to him, yet wasn’t sure how to start or what to say. Besides, I was pretty sure Ryu already knew the circumstances of my mission, as did everyone else, but with his considerate nature he easily broke the silence.
You’re not in this alone, Duncan. Many of us have gone through the same thing, the same emotional torture.” I opened my mouth to protest, but he quickly put up a hand to stop me and continued. “Losing a team member is hard, especially on your first assignment AND you weren’t even supposed to be team leader. So, yeah, I can relate.”
I shook my head slowly. “This is different Ryu. How many ninja have had a great Hindu deity locked within them. One so powerful that if not contained it could change the face of humanity if it wanted”
“Well, none that I know of,” he flashed me a quirky smile, trying to keep the mood light.
“And the worst part is that I didn’t even know what happened after he took me over. Was I the reason for everything to go to shit? Were there actions that, if I had been in control, would’ve changed Akira going into the Da-ku Kokudo? I’ll never know.”
He didn’t say anything right away; it was like he wanted me to keep going, so I took another bite of the apple and chewed as I thought of my next response. “And I can’t help but feel like we, my team, were set up for failure right from the start. That assassin cell – they were so incredibly advanced. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Their fighting skills were off the chart.”
“What were they wearing?”
I looked at him quizzically then said, “Tight black clothing. Typical. Just all black. One was a skilled archer, and the others had their own little evil magic thing they did.” I weakly wiggle my fingers in front of my face to protest my dislike of their dark magic skills.
“Did they have any special marks anywhere? You know, tattoos or something?”
“Well, the one that was always on my ass and wanted to kill me had the kanji of death tattooed on his arm. I don’t know about the others. I didn’t notice.”
“Hmm.” He looked a bit troubled and lowered his head in thought. I watched him closely, looking for any signs that he would cover up the real reason behind his questions. He glanced over his shoulders, making sure no one was around and leaned in close to my face. “Those assassins,” he glanced over his should as he lowered his voice even more. “They weren’t just any assassin cell.”
“Well, duh,” I whispered.
“Duncan, seriously, those were special forces black ops.” My eyes widened and my gut tightened because I just knew where he was going with this. “You see, years ago your father and I worked on a special mission, along with your mother. We were in Germany tracking down a ruthless man. At the time no one knew his name, but now, thanks to you, we do. But back then he was already a dangerous person, bent on world domination, playing chess with the biggest powers of our world and the funny part was – no one knew it.”
“How? That’s ridiculous, Ryu. How could no one see what was going on?”
“Shhhh, I’ll tell you.” He paused and looked around again before continuing. “That’s just how slick this guy was, and still is today, but we found out through the Indian and Egyptian governments when they asked for our help. That’s how your mom and dad met. You see, this guy fashions himself after Hitler and thinks he’s the descendant of the Black Magician Landulph II of Capua. He’s interested in all different cultures, races and religions – anything you can bring to the table to assist with his plans is fine. However, if you cross him he’ll kill you on the spot. He’s developed a huge group of followers that will carry out his orders in the blink of an eye because he’s got some type of a hold on each and every person he deems worth it.” My mind instantly fell back to that night at The Jade Tree and the argument between the American and Zahn. Zahn had threatened his family with a simple looking ring he wore and the American had backed down. No one man should have that much power.
“So, what you’re saying is… those assassins are his?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re lucky to be alive, kid.” The mention of the word ‘kid’ touched a defensive spot in my heart and I shot him a look, but he simply stared back at me more serious than I’d ever seen him look before. “You had no idea what you were up against that night, Duncan. And your ninja training and natural survival skills saved your ass.” He paused and then said, “Consider yourself lucky.”
I was at a loss for words and it took a few moments for me to digest what he had just said. “So… you and my dad had to face those guys back-in-the-day?”
“Yep. He lost everyone accept me. He saved me, Duncan and I will be forever grateful. I was able to come home to see the birth of my daughter.” His eyes misted and he blinked back a tear. “I was able to live and be a father to my child, he didn’t. I’ll never forget his sacrifice.” He stood and walked over to a crate of oranges. “Your uncle – you have no idea what he’s faced to save your sister. This Zahn character is a real piece of work. And your uncle risked his life, used every ounce of his magical defense, to keep Jewel out of his sights when Zahn was looking for the-one-that-got-away.”
“I’ve heard stories about uncle. I really respect him for all that he’s done, raising me, taking care of Ruby and, well, just everything. I guess Zahn would’ve taken her if he found dad, huh?”
“No, if Zahn would’ve found out where your dad came from he would’ve taken her and demanded us to turn your father over to him, or he would’ve killed her in front of us.” Ryu finished the sentence in a flat, matter-of-fact tone and it cut deep. “Or he would’ve killed your father in front of all of us after he got his hands on him, and then took your sister to raise as his own – to be a special assassin just for him.”
“She’s with him now,” I said, stifling hurt in my voice.
“Yeah, I know.” He released a troubled breath. “She’s working on something, well, I hope she’s working on something. I can only guess she’s looking for the perfect opportunity to exploit him, and then kill him. I don’t want to believe she’s a traitor.”
I really didn’t want to discuss my sister at the moment, the memory of the last time she left made me lose my appetite. I looked at the ground, while hiding behind my curtain of hair and said, “But what about you? You got away, too.”
“They thought I was dead.” He must’ve noticed the look on my face for he suddenly softened as he glanced at me from over his shoulder, while shuffling fruit around. “Look, Duncan, all I’m saying is that you and your team got off good compared to what I know about that assassin unit. You’re lucky – damn lucky.” Then he smiled and said, “At least you lived to see your birthday.”
I snorted a little laugh at the very idea. “I’ll be seventeen next week. Big whip.” I raised my head and looked at him. “I won’t have anyone to celebrate with. The entire village won’t even look at me. All of my training Shinobi avoid me and won’t talk to me, I don’t even know if Shinji or Masa will want to be around me. And to top it all off Mayumi won’t even look at me… or… speak to me. I lost her to Kai.”
Ryu suddenly wheeled around, took one large step towards me and loomed in close to my face. “Save it Duncan!” His sharp comment took me by surprise and forced me to look him in the eye. His entire presence shook me to my very core and captured my full attention. He pointed and raised his voice slightly and seemed to grow taller within seconds. Nina magic? I was too shook up to guess. “You – are – a – ninja! Pull yourself together and learn to be grateful you live from day to day or year to year. From this time forth you will be faced with your most difficult choices – life or death. That’s all you need to be worried about. When on a mission you just do your best with what you’ve got and hope you get to come home in one piece each time. And though you’ve only just begun to taste blood and feel death at your own hands, you will learn to respect that delicate cycle. It’s doesn’t matter who you are or what you have residing within you – you – are – a – Shinobi!” He paused and calmed down and all the scariness that just spun from his very being vanished in a split second. “Now, I’m sure your uncle would like to speak with you about your past assignment and maybe, just maybe, you need to take a break from training. Take some time off, huh?”
I stood, too shocked to speak and stepped off the store porch.
“Duncan,” Ryu called from over his shoulder. “Your father was a great man and you look so much like him. You have all his potential and more. Don’t ever forget that.”
My head was swimming with all he said and how he said it that all I could do was simply nod and walk towards home.
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Copyright © 2003 - 2011 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Copyright © 2003 - 2012 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Copyright © 2003 - 2015 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Copyright © 2003 - 2016 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.