Author's note- this is a variation on the opening of 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.
The call is the sort I always answer. Thunderclap engaged enemies without waiting for backup or support. He chased Purple Ninja after she hit an armored car and walked into some sort of ambush. It seems someone killed him and is screaming in an unknown language. The police don't want to attack a power who could put down Thunder, with good reason, so I have to go defuse the situation. If I can't, then the entire team will come in and hope they can defeat whoever this new threat might be.
We reach the warehouse district and I get out. A line of police partially obscure my view of a tall Asiatic man as he wipes blood off a strange polearm. He speaks to them in an odd Japanese dialect which I cannot understand. This is my metier. I walk up to the line and they part for me. The man is muscular, handsome, has his hair in a queue, and dresses simply, a patterned kimono and dark pants which had seen better days. I put my hand out, trying to touch his face, but he intercepts with his free hand. the move forces me to look into his eyes and activate my power.
The energy flows, my words running across to him. His mind is brilliant, a sun against my flashlight. I am drawn like the moth to the flame. I've never experienced anything like it. A minute later, the language transfer finished, he staggers back, stumbling slightly.
“I’m surprised you’re still standing,” I say.
“I do not understand.”
“You’re speaking English now. You do understand.”
“Why would I not be standing?” Then his eyes narrow dangerously. “What did you do to me?”
“Taught you English. It’s a lot easier on the subject if I can get direct contact with the cranium. You resisted, so I fed it to you through your eyes.”
He bows to me. “I apologize. I did not understand your intent. Thank you for the gift of words.”
“It’s my job,” I points a finger at Thunderclap's corpse. “Care to tell me what happened?”
“One moment, I strode a mountain trail. Then next, here. The man in brass armor felled the flying woman in purple with some magical power, then attacked me. I struck him.” It's short the way he tells it. “Do you need to ask more?”
“Where were you before you appeared here?”
“Between Okayama and Tottori.”
The police lieutenant, aware of our perps new language ability, butts in. “Don’t know where this guy is from, but I know where he’s going.”
“Odd,” the stranger says. “Okayama is far better known that Tottori. Still, I am grateful for your assistance in-”
The lieutenant motions and two of his men move forward to cuff the samurai. He moves like a dancer, eluding both.
I bark, “What is the meaning of this?”
“He killed Thunderclap. He goes down.”
“How can you kill thunder?” the samurai asks.
“Stop. This man did nothing wrong.” I stand between the police and the man. “He accidentally killed Thunderclap. We all know how reckless he was. In this case, he picked a fight with the wrong person.”
“Bullshit. You don’t just happen to kill one of the top heroes in the city. He did it deliberately.”
“He defended himself against an unprovoked attack.”
“Forgive me.” The samurai bows to the lieutenant. “The brass-armor man was a weak combatant. Certainly not a match for any trained in bujutsu, the arts of war.”
“Enough Bill.” I stop the lieutenant, then turn to the samurai. “I’ll apologize for the hostility this time. The man in the armor had the code-name Thunderclap. Even if it was a mistake, you killed him and the city is in peril because of it. A lot of people will treat you like shit for that. You have to deal. You talk it over, but you do not pull that pig-sticker and kill someone over words. Am I understood?”
“Am I permitted to suggest replacing your Thunderclap with my meager skills?”
“You wouldn’t last a minute, dress-boy.” Bill blows a gust of smoke at the samurai.
“Are you serious?” I look him over. He's calm, relaxed, in control. “Where are you from? When are you from?”
“I am a wave. I travel, but have no place.”
“Ronin.” I point to a policeman's pistol. “Do you recognize this? I mean from before you got here.”
“It is a teppo, but far different from those the Portuguese brought.”
“You’re not in your world at all. I don’t think you can ever go back.” His face shifts slightly at my words. Not much, Japanese inscrutable stoicism at it's best. I must have just destroyed his entire world. He has no hope for the future. I hold out a hand. “I’m Jessica Washington. I recruit, train and advise the City of Charleston superhero team. Welcome.”
He kneels and places his polearm in my hands. “My strength is yours to wield, my lord.”
A thrill washes through me, to command such instant loyalty. But it's not my right. I hand back his weapon. “Get up. We don’t make a ceremony out of it until you finish your training. And you work for the city, not me.”
He is wide-eyed with wonder in the car and during the trip back to headquarters. I hope I can keep his enthusiasm. We reach HQ ad enter. I am still marveling at his ability to take out thunderclap with no powers of his own. He staggers slightly and the security desk beeps as we pass. I look him over closely. I did not want to see this. It means he might have come with a well prepared tale. Someone meant to infiltrate. “The power meter says you have some sort of talent. Care to explain?”
“I do not understand.”
“Do you have any unusual abilities?”
“I cannot fly, conjure thunder, or give languages.”
“What can you do?”
“Bujutsu, zanshin, meditation, some shiatsu. All the typical skills of a sohei bushi.”
“One at a time. You said Bujutsu is fighting. I do meditation. So what is zanshin?”
“To hear silence and see darkness. To know nothing and everything. It is the first essence of understanding breath, life, all,” He says. I nod agreement, then he asks, “You disagree?”
“Here a nod means yes. Sorry for the confusion. To be clear, you are some sort of chi master?”
“Only a student.”
“What is shiatsu? Why are you only so-high?” My words must trigger the knowledge of English which I put into him earlier.
“Shiatsu, massage for healing. Sohei, the monk, but not Yamabushi.”
I ask the security guard, “How much power did he rate?”
“A three ma’am.”
“So more than me, but a lot less than we usually hire for front line service. Support position, except he took out Thunderclap and he thought it was easy.”
He's quick to take exception with that. “I believed I was to be samurai, not a sandal bearer?”
“Sorry.” I chuckle. It's funny if you think about it. “Your chi powers are stronger than my language transfer, and if it lets you see in the dark, it’s got applications, but most of our named people are a minimum of fives.”
“I have a name.”
“One you have yet to offer.”
“I am supposed to give my name when you offer me a set of clothing, for service. Then I may rename myself to suit the position.”
“Was that a pun? Suit the position when I give you a suit of clothes?” I ask. Everyone will love or hate him. He's got that sort of wit.
“We shall serve your lord well,” he answers.
“Learn to give a direct answer.”
“I am a student.”
I shake my head at this. He is too much. “You need to go through intaking, at least. Follow me.”
We go to HR and get his information entered. Fukushima Kentaro, from another world, age twenty-two, power three. Then it's costuming, where Emma loves his banter, Ken proves shameless, stripping down to a loincloth without hesitation. I have to admit he has a great bod, lean and strong, but with more scars, healed down to thin lines, than I would expect someone to survive. Emma gives him a red jacket with black trim and names him Red Ronin. Everything is pretty predictable until we hit medical.
At the news of Thunderclap's death, Camilla, Doctor Garcia, slumps back in her chair. Then Red Ronin steps forward, touches a place near her collarbone, and she's fine.
“You have healing powers,” Camilla says.
“I only redirected your flow of chi.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” I say.
“Jess, how old did you say this guy is?”
Ronin tenses. Nothing much, just a tightening of his shuolders.
“Over forty. I can feel the difference and usually guess within a few days when someone was conceived.” She looks at me, a question in her eyes.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Ronin says.
“Tell the truth this time,” I command.
“It is true. Even I make mistakes.”
“No more word games. Your age now, or you’re off the team and treated like an outlaw for murdering Thunderclap.”
“I stopped counting long ago.”
“Be more specific.”
“It does not matter. I bore sandals for Hojo Daimori Hiromasa at the third battle of Uji. I may have been six or seven as you count years. After my lord’s death, I studied with an eccentric hermit and mastered chi. News of Tokugawa Tadanaga’s seppuku reached my ears some days ago.”
I consult my device and get an answer. “So about four hundred years? Is that possible Camilla?”
“Maybe.” Camilla looks Ronin up and down. She reaches for him, but he grasps her hand before the touch lands.
“I cannot do this for others. Each must learn their own way.”
“Duh,” I say. “Can you teach someone?”
“Poorly.” He takes strings of coins from around his neck and groups them into three piles. “To learn the secret of agelessness, one must have three requirements- talent, experience, and training. Talent may be increased for a very young student with a proficient teacher. Otherwise, it only declines with age. Experience increases with training and age. Training is the mastery of the teacher. If any lacks, the student will never learn enough.”
“And you can’t teach.”
“I might manage with Doctor Garcia.”
“Because she’s so much smarter than me?” I feel the catty tone as it leaves my mouth.
“Because she can sense chi. I mastered it so easily that I cannot teach the first step.”
“Her skill is rated at four, higher than yours. Perhaps someone else with a major power?”
He looks animated, interested. His first true emotion. “I might teach you. You must use your power on me again- let me feel it and determine how to shift it to the proper uses. I thought it magic earlier, but if it is chi...”
“Powers are not chi...” I begin, then stop in thought.
He and Camilla spend several minutes trying to focus her chi, but get nowhere. I finally end it so I can introduce Ronin to his teammates. When we finally meet the team, it goes about as I expect. Ronin is personable and capable and, despite a clash of ego with one member, I am sure he will fit in and be an asset.
Despite how crazy it might seem, this has been only moderately stressful as days go in my line of work. Not all superpowers are equal, but they also serve who stand and translate.
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Thoroughly enjoyed this story. I'm looking forward to reading the other segments when I get a chance.
I really like the idea of supporting superheros. Very creative story, and really enjoyable to read!
Enjoyable story. Looking forward for reading more of yours... Would you mind reading my story "The secret of power?"
How much research you had to do before writing this! Really! I enjoyed the full story. I enjoyed the characters(especially that 400-year-old idiot) Just one thing. Why, everyone, portray samurais like that?😞 Small note: A samurai must be capable of using kenjutsu.(and you tricked it with bujutsu! Impressive. Covered all the ends.) Ps. If you have some time, will you please stop by my latest story, "the case of grassyard cafe"? I really want to know what you think. (I'm getting a bit addicted to your suggestions)
This story is part of the research/background for a larger novel. I do a ton of research for novels. Even fantasy settings need me to know what traces are (harness for animal pulled vehicles) and how preindustrial life goes (mostly farming, herding, and suffering) etc. Otherwise things are off. The samurai (ronin) is one of several variations, but the story required supreme competence, otherwise he can't face superpowers. I tried to blend in some Sam Spade, for a noir feel, but he's also a chi master, and that requires enormous mental di...
So you also write superhero novels. Wow! I was working on that type for a while, but a writer's block fell on my head wounding me severely. I just wanted something new, wanted to get out of the 'villains want a rampage, heroes save the day' thing but failed badly. Then I tried some 'where the power came from' but my general plot didn't allow me to surf much ideas. Any suggestions?
First determine how you want the people with powers to interact with the populace at large. Then figure out how powerful they need to be for that sort of interaction. For example; if you want a handful of people able to rule entire nations, the heroes must be capable of ignoring most modern weaponry- in their sleep. Maybe you want them to be mystery men; then their powers should be fairly subtle. But it all depends on how you see them interacting with normal people. Source of powers should be immaterial unless it is central to the plot...