“And now, Futabatei Sagara-sama!” the loud voice over announced, the crowd bursting into cheer for their various reasons. Natoko breathed a heavy sigh of relief, sitting down on the chairs provided for participants wishing to observe, glad that her lord had actually managed to show up and not blow everything for a second time.
Sagara had come in through the wrong door, but, as if they were expecting him, the spotlights were on him instantly. He winced as the light covered him, but was soon walking down the stage staring at everyone. He looked quite humbled at the several thousand people staring at him at the same time and the samurai found herself wondering if being directly observed by this many people should count as automatic disqualification for being a ninja. He reached the arena, the miniature battleground now scattered with patches of quick drying cement where pot holes had been, the heads that were once in them having been removed as well.
“Possibly the most famous competitor in today’s tournament,” the announcer continued, standing in the middle of the arena as Sagara approached him. “Sagara-sama has so far been determined as the fan favourite, even though we’ve seen very little regarding his skill so far. If this fast brawler’s anything like the other members of his lineage, we should be in for quite a show, ladies and gentlemen.”
The cheering continued. Natoko felt deafened by all the voices, especially the ones behind her, who came at her like a klaxon.
“His opponent perhaps isn’t so famous,” the announcer continued, the little boy sitting in the ring having waited too long for Sagara. “In fact, we’re having trouble finding anything about him. Standing at a mere three foot nine, Timothy McKay from the United Kingdom is perhaps the youngest fighter here. No, he’s not a Cmir, ladies and gentlemen, he is really just eight years old.”
She had no idea what a Cmir was, or why the announcer was treating him with such reverence. Questions to be asked later and then not expect a proper answer from.
Screams and cheers erupted for the child as he waited patiently on the arena floor, looking around with an open mouth as the crowd did their best to encourage him. Natoko had seen him in the waiting room early, but hadn’t really taken much notice of him besides his encouragement of Sagara’s immaturity. She assumed that he was the kid of somebody with connections in the tournament or something, but a participant? Other than his white karate gi, which was a little too big on the boy, making him look like a cute baby who had tried on its older brother’s suit, it didn’t seem right that he was fighting. The only thing that she could see that suggested anything special about the boy was that he was missing two fingers from each hand. How did he get this far? And how could Sagara even hit him, knowing that he was too young to fight?
Sagara jumped forward and kicked the child in the stomach.
Timothy keeled over, coughing loudly as he rolled over and immediately burst into tears. The wild cheers, previously undirected, dropped to stunned silence as the entire arena witnessed the brutal act. The silence quickly became boos and jeers. Natoko gasped in horror with the rest of the fighters at what Sagara hadn’t even hesitated to do. Even the shady looking fighter cringed as Sagara stepped up to the boy and shot another kick at his ribs just as the bell rang to start the fight.
“That creep!” Natoko cried out, her eyes now glued to the match. She couldn’t believe Sagara had just hit a kid like that. He didn’t even seem that bothered as the child rolled round on the floor. He just remained as calm as ever, with even a smile on his face as he stepped back. The poor little boy, sobbing quietly and complaining how much it hurt, shook quietly to himself as the crowd tried to cheer him on. He did so for a few seconds more, before he leaped at Sagara, kicking the boy hard in the balls.
Out of reflex, the audience created the world’s loudest snigger as Sagara’s mouth fell open and his legs gave out on him. He fell back, trying to roll with it and succeeding only to fall, the little boy now higher than him.
“Serves him right,” Natoko mumbled, sitting back down from the chair she had exploded from. “I can’t believe him, striking a child like that.” Besides her, she heard a grunt. It came from the shady male, whose name she had forgotten. He was smiling.
“If you were in the arena, would you have attacked him?” the boy asked. Natoko paused, hesitating to answer a possible enemy.
“Of course not. He’s just a kid.”
“Then…” the boy continued, keeping his eyes on the fight as Sagara lay there, clutching his groin. “Wouldn’t you have lost?”
“I…erm…” Natoko faltered. What would she have done? Just picked the boy up and threw him out of the arena?
“This is a fight, girlie. You win through whatever means necessary. Besides… don’t let the runt fool you. He’s strong. Futabatei knew just what he was doing when he hit him.”
“What?” she looked to the ninja, still on the floor, as he opponent kicked him in the crotch once again. He didn’t look like he knew what he was doing at all.
“Futabatei kicked him full force, not holding back at all, yet the boy isn’t winded.” Natoko looked at little Timothy. The boy beside her was right. The eight year old wasn’t even out of breathe, his tears replaced with a face only marred by the smallest drop of sweat. “He’ll actually lose if he doesn’t pay attention.”
As he slumped back onto his knees, his hands now protecting as much of his body as possible, Sagara was quick to realise how near the edge they had gotten in such a short amount of time. As the next kick came, he blocked it with his hand, the leg falling off to the side. He quickly pushed himself off his back leg and moved to counter the boy that had been kicking him with a swift right hook, only to be strewn onto the floor, the kid’s foot still going at his ribs.
It took both ninja and samurai a moment to realise that he down again, still on his hands, on the floor, being kicked in the rib cage by an eight year old and getting perilously close to the edge of the arena.
“That’s not right,” Natoko muttered to herself, as, without a block this time, Sagara pulled himself up and desperately jumped wide to get away from the danger zone, landing exactly where he was before, still getting kicked in the ribs, the boy doing something she missed to get him back on the floor again. Sagara tried again, leaping like a frog on the boy’s knee before it struck him again, vaulting over him and landing right by the edge of the ring.
He was making his body move, that was clear. She was seeing his body move, moving forwards and away, moving to the side and away, but always landing in the exact same place. She highly doubted that he was jumping round the world. The boy reigned blows to Sagara’s ribs. They still weren’t really hurting him. They must have stung certainly, for the child was wearing trainers, but the biggest damage they were doing was that they were slowly moving him to the edge of the arena. It was like the child had found a huge immovable rock in the forest, and this was the only way to budge it.
Sagara was paralyzed, trapped in the space in front of Timothy but without any chains holding him down. He looked at how far away he was to the edge of defeat, one and a half meters, and still slowly traveling. He looked to the kid, who Natoko saw wasn’t tired a bit, dancing on the ground with a one step kick routine. The child looked focused, but no more than if he was playing with toys, repeating the kicking motion and getting an inch each time. Sagara tried to jump away yet again, but appeared in front of Natoko once again. It was becoming futile.
“Interesting,” the shady guy said, reminding Natoko that he was there. “Glue? Obviously not, since he’s still moving. Some kind of special rope?” He stopped to consider this, and Natoko felt a well in her stomach fill up.
“Perhaps a portal that deposited him where the child wanted,” she quickly suggested, feeling the well empty when the boy stayed silent to consider this.
“But if that were the case, why not just drop him out of the ring.”
“Oh… right,” she said, deciding to shut up. Across from the shady guy, she noticed the nervous guy staring at her. The boy smiled as she noticed, and waved lightly to her. She instinctively waved back, before feeling a little weird and turning back to the fight.
Sagara must have been finding his situation even weirder. It wasn’t that much of a strategy, in fact, it should be a bad strategy. All he was doing was kicking him, inch by slow, helpless inch, yet somehow it was working.
“The inability to hit a small child of eight years old is of such a precise measure,” the nervous guy started to say. “That it is practically considered scientific fact that you cannot do so unless your brain had been surgically grafted to your hand, and then any attempts to hit the child after this would probably resulted in a brain hemorrhage.”
Natoko and the shady guy stared at the nervous guy, who looked back expectantly. “Shut the fuck up man!” Shady guy spat back, silencing everybody. Nervous guy trembled and started looking at the floor, only Natoko feeling sorry for him.
It wasn’t just jumping. Sagara tried to crawl to the side of his dangerous opponent. He only got so far, a few mere slabs of stone, when his chin thudded into the ground and he found himself back where he was a second ago, still being kicked by the very repetitive child.
Bad enough that the boy was just doing the same thing over and over, but Sagara should really try to think his way out of this. Already she had lost count of how many times he had just tried jumping away, and all it was doing was getting him closer to the edge. A foot or so now, and he’d just drop off at this rate.
Finally engaging some random thought process, Sagara deflected the boy’s next kick and got up as quick as possible. In his rush, he had forgotten that he shouldn’t have been able to do this. It was only when he was standing straight up that he realized that he was. He looked down to his feet, and deciding to take advantage of whatever he had just done. He stepped forward to hit the boy, only to slam back into the ground again.
So it was just limited to the small area around him, about five square foot. That didn’t make any sense. What was the kid doing? Sagara got up again, and looked around, waiting for something bad to happen to him. Timothy backed off for a moment, not wanting to take the chance of a Sagara countering any of his kicks.
Musing over his situation, Sagara quickly checked his feet, to see if there was anything sticky on them, just in case. Seeing that he could lift both his legs, he tried jumping up and down on the spot, which he was able to do perfectly. He then took a step forward experimentally and his head was driven once again into the ground like a professional wrestler had landed on it.
He was limited to vertical movement, which still made no sense, but seemed to give Sagara something to go on. Timothy seemed to have no real fighting skill and his attacks were similar to that of an eight year old. He also looked a little driven, almost possessed. Overfocused yet not exhausted. Bouncing up and down, Sagara tried to stall defensively as he got his breath back.
“Hey, the shadow,” the shady guy said, and her attention followed his to the big screen between them and the other side of the arena. The hundred foot tall screen displayed a close up of the two fighters, Sagara facing the camera with an empty expression as…
That was it! Her mind flared, shady boy. His shadow wasn’t right. It was simply too big, an inconspicuous pool surrounding his feet. It looked like his shadow, but it couldn’t be. It was too spread out to completely belong to him, and the horribly bright lights above meant he shadow shouldn’t be that big at all. The little kid didn’t even have a shadow. She had picked it up a little earlier. It made sense earlier because of the lights, but how could one of them have a shadow and the other not? The shadow was actually containing him.
Timothy was still holding back, taking his time, clearly waiting for Sagara to fall before risking stepping forwards again. It was a shadow right, that the boy was using to trap him? Nothing but a intangible shadow. But it wasn’t just a shadow, it was unaffected by the light. What made this shadow special from all the other shadows in the arena, which had been hidden away from the bright lights above.
She stepped forwards, looking down at the circle below her lord on the big screen, focusing solely on the darkness as the shady boy suggested that the portal thing may have been right. Then, she saw it. It was difficult at first, because it was hidden within it’s own darkness, but it was there, just sitting underneath him. A demon! Controlling the shadow; trapping her lord. Weren’t they supposed to register such things? Though now she thought about it she hadn’t actually checked.
The spirit had eyes, she could see that much. They were a very dark hint of purple, and appeared near invisible. Sagara stepped over the eyes, blinding their view of the world above them, and he instantly saw them reappear, trying to get a good view again and moving the shadow as they did so.
He did it again, and again. Before any of them knew it, he was standing right next to Timothy, who was only a foot out of reach in the first place. Before he could figure it out, the young boy was seized in Sagara’s hand, and tossed out of the ring like a rag doll, his head smashing face first into the concrete below.
The whole crowd fell silent from its mix of jeers and looks of confusion, as they realized that the match had ended in a heartbeat. As the child struggled to get up, failing with a slip, they went to boo again, but it did not matter. The bell rang loudly, and Sagara was declared the winner.
Immediately bottles began ejecting themselves from the audience, a well placed bottle spilling brown liquid out on Sagara’s feet. The ninja looked around, trying to keep out of everyone’s wrath, falling back down into his own face as his shadow remained trapped. He had to slowly yank himself over to the edge as objects kept flying, bottles and snack trays and beer kegs coming too close for comfort, all projectiles missing the little boy completely, despite being right in the flight path.
By the time Sagara got off the stage, having fell right into his own face once again, the spirit continuing to pin him all the way off the arena, Timothy had gotten up, and was once again crying. The entire medical team had rushed around him to check if the little tyke was okay.
“Oh you brave little thing,” one of the nurses said, as she patted his nose, dabbing the infinitely small amount of blood coming from it as if he was internally bleeding. Sagara moved up behind her.
“How is he?” he asked glumly.
“You monster. How could you?” the nurse shouted back at him, her demeanor changing from bedside manner to demonic hatred. The ninja was clueless as to what to do. The child was fine, bawling his eyes out at the booboo of losing. As the white clothed nurse women grouped around him, the boy just started to cry loudly, though she could easily see it was just for attention. With nothing to do, Sagara moved up to Natoko, and just shrugged at her. She just gave him a disappointing look and remained silent. He stared back, quiet and spent, before slumping off back down the corridor and out of her sight.
Nobori leaned forwards in a desperate attempt to grab her shoulder, to slow her down somehow. He missed and tried to leap forward as she started crossing the street at an accelerated pace. He kept up as far as the corner before slowing back down to a casual walking pace, letting him bump into her without showing concern.
She hadn’t spoken a word to him since they had left the building. It was no real difference from before. He couldn’t understand her then either, nor could he understand why he could no longer understand her. The obvious assumption would be that she was mad at him for whatever reasons women get angry, probably something to do with the tiny mistake he made the day before with the demon. But, if anything, she had been trying to talk to him more than anything. Paying attention in English class had become tedious when he realised he could just not attend school anymore and only one or two of her words came out making any sense.
She sped up again, varying her pacing by zipping side to sides between the bustling crowds. Most were clearing a path ahead of him, as the men in suits did whenever he passed, the floors and skies and other sides of the street becoming the center of their attention for just the time it took to pass them, then he’d hear their noses fold up as they’d turn back to him, before becoming inconsequential altogether.
Speed up. Slow down. It had been one or the other ever since they had left the hotel. Down the stairs and over the road. Up the bridge and down the express line. Through the train station where the cleaner homeless gave out tissues and through the centre that had banned him last year. All to chase the cleaner. All for reasons only the Ninja girl knew.
There was nothing special about wage slaves. They worked too hard for too little. They gave up joy with the intent on success by conforming, and fell only into the ritual of meaninglessness. There were better ways to live one’s life. So why was this cleaner special? Why were they traveling halfway across the city to stalk him?
A busload of passengers appeared through tiny doors between them and the target, and the ninja girl crossed the road without any shift her step, traveling across fluidly and more than likely keep track of her prey. With the pink shirt standing out against the crowd, Nobori kept his eye on the target most of the way, but would have lost it ages ago if it wasn’t for silent girl.
His stomach rippled as he felt the change again. Looking to his hands they looked more wore now, calluses from years of construction work bubbled up over his mitts, and stubble that came from shaving everyday poked out of his chin. He glared at her quickly, watching her slip behind an old lady on a bicycle and come out the other end a university student who had just woke up.
It had been happening since they had started. Before the girl only changed herself, but after they started their little stalkathon he had started changing too. And it wasn’t just a difference in looks. Down the stairs he heard a jingle in his pockets from coins he didn’t have and over the road they changed into the rustling of notes. He went up the bridge as an old man and got on the train a businessman whose jacket smelt of smoke that came only from cigars. The homeless old man, a regular stop of his for conversation, didn’t recognise him and only spoke to mention that a shaved head looked ugly on his then female frame. And by the time he went through the shopping centre, he tasted the hamburgers eaten the night before when he had slept on an empty stomach.
The pink shirt got on a bus at the depot. He wasn’t a suspicious creature of any sort. His body never jerked suddenly to lose the trail or stop completely to see if anyone else would too. Nor was he too perfect in his actions, smoothly gliding as if nothing was wrong. At one point he even looked round as if a sixth sense told him something was wrong, but passed it up without even thinking paranoia.
The ninja girl followed him onto the bus, Nobori getting on quickly. This time they just turned invisible. Nobori’s mind drifted without a body to keep hold to, and his passed on to thoughts of Daisuke and the others. They hadn’t met since he had gone on the excursion yesterday and though they usually met at the back of the parking lot near Takumi’s, none of them had been there. His mobile had been stolen from the arcade the week before, so he had no way of getting to them. None of this really concerned him though. A part of him did want to make sure they were all right because, y’know, just to make sure, but another part felt nothing for these creatures who hovered around him and nodded their heads to everything he said, told him he was cool and then never appreciated it.
At least with this girl, things were finally starting to get interesting. Hanging around the streets all the time was finally starting to pay off.
Something landed on his shoulder, and he turned to find himself aware he had a shoulder again. Shuffling carefully, he lifted the girl’s head up so she could get a little comfortable, though also because the idea of a girl resting on his shoulder appealed somehow, even if that girl was currently an eighty year old man. He got comfortable again, realising no one around them cared.
The way Japanese society was, they could have detonated and the people wouldn’t care.
Yawning to himself, he caught a glance of the folder, the one she had been carrying around since this all started. He hadn’t had a chance to reach it yet and took one while she was sleeping. He cringed when he realised it was all bureaucratic gobbledegook, stinging him with abstract clauses and none specific implications. The language jumped between English, Japanese and what he thought may have been English but with symbols he didn’t recognise.
The Japanese bits were easier to read, but didn’t mention much. It listed the residence of an Itoko, as well as a bizarre address reading McKay, BlNiock (both with poor use of Japanese kana) and what appeared to be a moment when the typist accidentally leaned on the space bar and then hit the comma before moving on. They were heading in the direction of this place. The address they had gone to before was also listed. In fact, all three were separate hotels spread over Osaka now he looked at it.
The bus slowed to a halt, and he quickly shook ninja girl aware as he saw pink shirt halfway through getting off. She was already off the bus with him before Nobori even had time to let her pass.