Author's note- this is written around a novel about Red Ronin. I have posted five, one for each prompt, as an ambitious attempt to support the big anniversary of Reedsy. They all follow separate characters, but I recommend reading "Devil Take the Hindmost" last because it has the largest cast, several of whom are introduced earlier.
Cut to the Quick
When Kentaro, the beautiful Red Ronin, told me we would train together, I was ecstatic. He is majestic, skilled in battle and so stoic. I know many would say a Chinese woman has no business idolizing a Japanese man, but the war was long ago, even for someone who has power and the resultant longer life, as much as twice what ordinary people have.
Now, the next morning I am puttering around the cutting room, where I make costumes for those who are allowed to fight. I yearn for the days when I was Ribbon, using my powers to combat the evildoers of my era. Now, just the little tailor, I make clothing for those who are still permitted to face danger.
The memories are all there, but the few I have of his wit, charm, and true appreciation of my craft, are overwhelmed by others.
The roaring twenties and prohibition. A dark street, just me and my sidekick, Komori We know a truck full of bootleg booze is set to be offloaded to the speakeasy which shares the loading dock for a furniture store. At nineteen, Komori is barely more than a boy and his power of flight means he makes an excellent scout, but his wretched marksmanship means he is ineffective for a battle. Two men step out to loiter in the alley. I recognize one, Clark Fenton, as working for Abe Zwillman, one of Lucky Luciano's peers. The other sticks to the shadows, which marks him as the more competent, and hence dangerous, opponent.
A rumbling truck trundles down the alley, its headlights dimmed so it is hard to spot. They probably have someone who sees in the dark driving. And then the man in shadow strikes. Somehow, he spotted Komori, despite my sidekick's dark coloration. A tommygun barks and Komori falls, riddled with bullets. Then Janus, the two faced gunman speaks, "I got your flying rat. Now it's your turn, little tailor."
My heart sinks. The entire operation was a trap, one laid by my informant. But I am not powerless, despite what some might think. Fury fills me, and the ribbons which give me my name spool out faster than the eye, but not my power, can follow. Not light silk, but heavy Christmas wrap, the sort with sharp edges that give nicks to wrappers. Two spools speed out, slashing the trucks tires to pieces, then capturing the crew in deadly cocoons. Janus fires at me, but my costume is thick and rigid when the bullets strike, glancing off harmlessly. Another two spools pin the gunmen jumping from the back of the truck, which carries no barrels. Janus's gun runs dry and his partner, firing a colt 1911, hits as poorly as Komori did. Emerging from the speakeasy, Inferno, the living fire, ignites the ribbons I have speeding that way. Unable to oppose the flaming beast, I run, using more ribbons as lines to swing among the midrise buildings and escape.
My thoughts return to the present when someone enters. I am busy because that is all that holds the memories at bay. “I’ll be with you in a moment, darling.”
“Take all the time you need. I just came to offer your first lesson.”
Kentaro. I rush over to his side, certain my smile splits my face hideously, though he is far to polite to say such. “I am ready.”
“I see.” He grins in response. “Do you need to get a gi?”
I put a hand to my jacket, and alter it. I know it looks like flowing water. “Like this, darling?”
I have surprised him. “How could they remove you from fighting?”
“My power only rates as two. An idiot suggested I could not bind anyone stronger, thus I am useless.”
“They never heard of knots?”
“Not these buffoons.” I notice his attention. He has a plan. “You see something.”
“We will begin with jujutsu. When I am satisfied, we will train with kusari.”
“Combat ribbons? We have new fabrics which are extremely strong.”
“Then you will like my final suggestion more.”
“You and the other special reserve will don the uniforms of gun-grunts. None will suspect differently until you demonstrate. Preferably when none can observe to carry the tale.”
“Or when the situation is so dire it won’t make any difference.”
He is the antithesis of young Todd, who wanted to be Japanese and took their word for a bat, a creature of the night which he hoped would terrify the criminals we faced, as his hero moniker. Instead, they laughed at his name, unaware what it meant. Nobody will laugh at Kentaro.
We head to Jolly's domain. Walking beside Kentaro is tiring, not because he has long legs and mine are short, or because he is a hundred years younger than I, but because he is so hard to fool. Before my power manifested, I trained for movies, acting in San Francisco's Chinatown. Even when I started to be able to make cloth obey my will, I hid it from everyone, which stretched my abilities. None suspect that my smiles hide sorrow. However, I have to be completely alert around a classic samurai. They train in deceptive sincerity, along with piercing it, and a single slip will reveal all. His pity would destroy me, more than those who think me useless.
"Is it the thrill of life on the edge of the blade?" Kentaro's question catches me off balance. I should have known he was better than to just recruit me. He want my motives to be sound, not just a danger junkie seeking a new high. The old pain threatens to tear my voice if I answer hastily. I want to go back, to save Todd, to be better.
"Darling, a woman never reveals all her secrets."
"If I understand your motivation, I know your limits." He stops walking. I guess his next words will be accusing, but instead he says, "I will not press. I was rude."
Always polite. If I could choose anyone to tell, it would be him. We would likely have shared experience- one does not get so many old scars without losing friends in battle. Now I wonder if he has guessed, but I cannot talk about it, which may be the cruelest cut of them all.