'Is Yoshimitsu awake yet?' I asked with a yawn while I sat at the kitchen table waiting for my alarm to take me back to the World As it Is. There was a huge pile of toast on a plate on the table and I helped myself to a slice.
'Awake? He's been up for hours.' Mathew answered.
The kitchen door pushed open and Mathew picked up the plate of toast. Yoshimitsu was stood in the doorway dressed in a sky-blue and white outfit and a smiling, gentle-looking white mask that he probably chose so as not to frighten the residents too much (some of them can be very sensitive and wary of strangers). He took the plate from Mathew then noticed me sat at the table.
'Ohiyo.' He said with a slight bow.
'Morning Yoshi.' I replied brightly, trying not to blush as I realised he still made me feel all funny inside.
He left the room and I looked at Mathew for an explanation.
'He's helping us out with the breakfast run,' he explained, 'and before you say anything, he offered. He thought it would give him a chance to get to know the residents. -he's very enthusiastic about making a difference here.'
I finished my toast and poured myself some more tea, smiling at the thought of what a lovely person Yoshimitsu was. I started to lose myself in the day dream.
'Oh, by the way Jemma,' Mathew snapped me back, 'Peter said something last night but I think he might have been pulling my leg.'
'Was it something about me and Yoshimitsu by any chance?' I suggested. Mathew nodded, 'Well in that case it's true. I think I've fallen for him.'
Mathew looked at me strangely and then started to chuckle as he placed a very large plate of scrambled egg on the kitchen table, presumably to be picked up by Yoshimitsu again and taken to the main hall.
'You never fail to surprise me Jemma. But I suppose it's what's on the inside that counts?' he said sarcastically.
'Hey, don't be horrible. Yoshi's totally hot!' I argued.
'You're insane. Oh, and just so you know, he's going to...'
And then, before Mathew could finish and having only caught a tiny glimpse of the beautiful Yoshimitsu, my alarm went off and it was time to get myself ready for work.
As Mitsurugi and Chikara past each tree however, there was a sudden clash that sounded akin to a gong being struck and in that instance every petal would shed from its twig, the tree exploding like a pink firework and littering the floor below. Once the samurai had past the leafless, skeletal tree, the petals would begin their defiant journey back towards the branches.
The wind stirred up and carried upon it was the sound of a child crying. Mitsurugi halted his mount in order to listen without distraction. The wind blew again and Mitsurugi savoured the sound to gather as much information as he could. He concluded that it was worth investigating, as it was the first thing that had happened since crossing the threshold between worlds. He turned Chikara into the trees, leaving the path and heading directly towards the source of the sound at a trot. The trees continued to pop and shed their leaves as they passed but both horse and rider had become so accustomed to the odd display that neither paid it any mind.
They reached a clearing that was rich with flowers. Every colour, shape and sized blooms all pressed together to create a thick patchwork rug of scented beauty. The sun seemed to be brighter in that place and butterflies as delicate as the flowers from which they drank the nectar, skipped from bloom to bloom. There was a child hunched down in the far corner of the clearing. He seemed to be wearing a cloak of feathers and was hiding has face with his hands.
Mitsurugi dismounted and walked over to the boy.
'Hey there. Are you okay?' he asked curiously.
The boy just continued to sob.
'Maybe I can help you.' suggested the samurai.
'Can you bring back the forests?' asked the boy, still not looking up.
'Well, no... but...'
'Can you bring back the animals?' he asked again, still covering his face.
'Can you bring back the gods?' asked the child.
'I am trying...' Mitsurugi began to say.
The boy finally looked up and his appearance startled the samurai. The child had black eyes like a bird and his nose was long and beak-like. His face was fierce with hate and he began to scream as he lifted from the ground in flight. His 'feather cloak' revealed itself to be wings and he had legs like a bird. He flew low over Mitsurugi and scratched his shoulder with his claw as he passed. The screaming did not stop. Just one continuous sound until the tengu had flown out of sight. Even then, the sound continued to ring in Mitsurugi's ears.
He walked back to his terrified horse. The animal had reliably remained nearby. The loyal bond with his master was stronger than the instinct to flee. Mitsurugi stroked Chikara's muzzle.
'It was just a tengu. But I think we need to keep moving. This place is going to try to break me. I have no doubt about that.'
The large black and white mansion, Magpie Manor, came into view and I had a quick look at the clock on the roof. There was no magpie on its face, which meant Jemma was in The World As it Is, probably at work. I was starting to wonder if she really existed at all or if I had just dreamed her up. You really have to live in the Manor to see her and I don't like the Manor at all, with all its sick, injured, helpless and/or troubled residents. Being a Night Traveller may mean that I am responsible for rescuing said troubled souls, but that doesn't mean I want to see them everyday. Unlike the other Travellers, I don't feel the need to get to know the egregores I've helped. To be honest, I couldn't actually give a damn about them once they've been removed from whatever unfortunate situation we plucked them from.
So I guess you could say that is one of the main reasons I spend my time on the ship Nempty, with a psychotic pirate poltergeist, called Jabez. He's a real thorn in my side but he's the less of two evils. My living arrangements also explain why I rarely see the girl from the physical world whose very imagination keeps Rotokia and the people who seek refuge here, alive. Not that I mind the fact I never see Jemma. She may have created the whole of Rotokia but she's also a bit of a nut case. If they're all like that in The World As it Is, then I'm glad to exist in another reality.
Once I reached the Manor, the guys came gradually into some form of blurry view. They were all there, even little Trilbuckle and his dragon friend Snowflake, or Chilly as we tend to call him, because Snowflake is a lame name and not very butch to yell out during battles. Trilly and Chilly rarely join us on missions in the Middle-Worlds though. We always ensure two Travellers remain behind to keep an eye on things at Rotokia and Chilly can, at times, be more of a hindrance than a help. In addition to my fellow Travellers, I also noticed an extra person, sitting cross-legged on the grass with his back against the Manor wall. He seemed to be wearing a creepy mask and he had an awesome sword resting on his lap -I couldn't wait to ask for a turn.
'Geordie, you made it. Better late than never I suppose.' Clandolin called out as I reached the group.
'Keep it down man! My head's in a rough state.' I pleaded as I tried to refocus my eyes so that only one image of the elf appeared. 'What's the idea calling us here at the crack of 9 in the morning anyway?'
'We've got a possible new member.' Clandolin explained, brushing his black hair off his pale face with his hand.
I pointed vaguely towards the strange guy on the grass.
'That'd be him then is it?' I asked.
'Yeah.' Clandolin turned to the potential Night Traveller, 'Hey, Yoshimitsu, can you come here for a minute?' he called.
I must admit I was quite surprised at what happened next. The new guy, this 'Yoshimitsu', who had been sitting perfectly still, rose to his feet so quickly that I swear on my already shortened life that I didn't see him move. He then just walked casually over to us and I noticed his blade was enormous and also glowing green, which was strange.
'Hey my friend, that's a pretty big weapon you have there. You trying to compensate for something or what?' I joked, really not interested how his first impression of me was going.
He replied in some sort of weird language and I almost s**t my self when his eyes lit up red as though they had light bulbs inside them, which is of course impossible, I thought. For a second I half expected him to shoot lasers from them -he looked the type.
'What the f**k?' I yelled, looking at Clandolin for an explanation.
'Oh, he doesn't speak English. He's a space ninja, from Japan. Well, originally, he's been around a long time. He's also partly bionic. Most of his organs are real though, if somewhat tampered with, except, as you may have noticed already, his eyes.' explained Clandolin, who had clearly spent some time getting to know this strange man.
'A ninja?' I said distastefully, scrunching my nose and looking him up and down 'I thought I was the ninja of the group.'
'No, I mean, Yoshi's a real ninja. You're just an ex-assassin who got his reputation by cheating his way to the top.'
Ignoring the elf's comments, I studied the new guy closely for a few moments. He looked weird and I didn't like the way he stood so still. What I really wanted to say was that he sounds like a bit of a freak show to me, but I decided to be nice and settled for...
'He sounds like a bit of a freak show to me.' then realised I'd said the wrong thing out loud -hangovers do that to me.
I waited again to be zapped into dust by the new guy's bionic laser eyes but nothing happened. Clandolin turned to him.
'This is Geordie by the way Yoshi. He really IS a freak show, so don't take anything he says to heart. He is skilled with both a crossbow and a sword and, like the ninja, he is a genius at stealth. He doesn't have fancy abilities like some of the others, but he can freeze time.'
'I COULD freeze time.' I corrected him hastily.
'No, you can freeze time but you choose not to. You see Yoshi, this middle-aged scruff you see before you is actually only 22. He discovered at the age of 18 that he had the ability to freeze time for as long as he wanted. Naturally, being young and foolish he decided to use it all the time. It allowed him to gain a reputation as one of the greatest stealth assassins the world has ever known, -a title he never actually deserved as there is no skill in killing people who don't even have the opportunity to defend themselves, not to mention no honour.
'But you see, his clever trick came with a high price, because each time he used it his ageing process was accelerated. After realising his curse, he kept trying to stop using the skill but he was addicted and it started driving him crazy. He actually found Rotokia by himself and asked us to help him. Which we did of course.' Clandolin boasted.
'Yeah, and now I'm an alcoholic who smokes too much and lives on a ship with a deranged poltergeist. Always read between the lines Yoshi-whatsit.'
'Yoshimitsu', Clandolin reminded me.
'So Clandolin, is this guy understanding any of this or could we just as well be talking to empty space?'
'Yoshi understands everything you say to him in English. He just can't speak it.' Clandolin explained as he reached into his pocket and pulled out something small and flat. 'But he can write it just fine.' he added, handing me the little notebook and a pencil.
'Shouldn't you be giving these to him then?' I asked puzzled.
'If you'd arrived on time rather than an hour and 15 minutes late, maybe you'd know why you need them.' he snapped; I thought his manner was a little harsh, 'you have been chosen to be Yoshimitsu's mentor while we do some training exercises in the Middle-Worlds.'
'Partly it's because you have similar skills so are likely to pair up on missions, but mostly we just figured it would p**s you off.' he laughed cruelly then walked off towards the rest of the group leaving Yoshimitsu and I side by side.
'I joined for the action, but I stay for the compliments.' I remarked to my new partner.
'Hey,' I called after the elf, 'One last thing...' Clandolin turned around but kept on walking away, backwards, 'does he really shoot lasers out of his eyes?'
The elf looked confused.
'No one ever said he did.' was all he had to say before turning away and moving back to his rabble of loyal followers.
I turned to the bionic-mutant-ninja-turtle-laser-man and smiled my most lovable smile.
'Umm, so... CAN you shoot lasers from your eyes?' I asked tentatively.
He shook his head and said something Japanese which I assumed meant 'no', although it was several words, so maybe 'no I am unable to do that'. I don't really get how languages work, but whatever he said, I was relieved.
We all settled on meeting at 8pm so we had time to set up a camp in the Middle-Worlds. I headed back to my ship, Nempty, feeling a bit sick with life -and with the hangover. I noticed with a sigh that I could hear the cannons firing which meant Jabez was already awake, drunk and fighting imaginary merchant ships again.
'He's where?' I gasped as I sat in the Horizon after work.
'He's in the MiddleWorlds with the Travellers.' Peter repeated. 'He'll be there overnight.'
I was really disappointed. I wanted so much to see Yoshimitsu again and now I was being told he had gone to the one place I preferred to stay away from, to train to be a Night Traveller. You see, while at work I had been unable to think of anything else besides Yoshi. The fleeting flutter of attraction I had felt the previous evening and grown and grown, and in less than 24 hours, I had found my self at the point of near obsession. While it is in my nature to love easily and passionately, I had never known desire to spread so rapidly and so intensely.
'Oh I get it,' Peter chuckled, 'you still have a crush on him don't you?'
'Of course I do.' I snapped, 'This is real, I can't stop thinking about him.' Peter just kept on snickering at me. 'So I was thinking...' I went on, ignoring his rude disregard for my feelings, 'Could you talk to him for me when he gets back?'
Peter stopped snickering and rolled his eyes at me in his usual manner.
'Jemma... do we have to do this?'
'Yes we do. You're my spirit guide too so you must do this for me.' I insisted.
'I think you're confusing 'spirit guide' with 'minion'. I'm not a servant you can order around.' he answered defensively but then smiled, 'but just this once I'll do your bidding. I'll chat with him tomorrow evening, okay?'
That gave me something to obsess over for the next 24 hours at least.
'But Jemma,' he added, 'you do know the chances that he'll return your feelings are minimum don't you?'
I just shrugged, maybe he wouldn't, maybe he would. All I knew is that I had to try.
The cemetery was exactly the same as it always is... very cheesy. In true 1960's Hollywood style, there was a full moon in the sky that caused the headstones and crooked, leafless trees to cast eerie shadows on the overgrown weeds that littered the ground. To add extra cheese-factor, the air around us was thick with smog. Oh but the cheesiest part was coming. It was time to give my new student a briefing about zombies.
'You ever fought a zombie before Yoshi my lad?' I asked as we picked our way though the gloom with our share of the camping equipment. We were all paired up, except Clandolin who was with the Magpie Twins Acacia and Autumn in front because the inclusion of Yoshimitsu made our number odd. He shook his head.
'Well you're about to.' I explained. 'A few things you should know, they are stupid, very quick, move in swarms and their flesh is soft and easily cut. A sword like yours will cut through a swarm of zombies as though it's butter. However, I must ask you not to take any unnecessary risks. Don't go off on your own, we have a rule with swarming creatures that we stay as a group. Otherwise you can find yourself surrounded before you even have time to think and sure, you may have some awesome skills, but one man, however quick, strong and wise, can defend against 50+ blood thirsty killers. Sorry if I'm preaching but I don't want to lose my first student on our first training mission.'
Our conversation was interrupted by Clandolin's voice.
'Heads up gang, here they come.' he said as the first wave of zombies appeared up ahead.
I loaded my crossbow.
'Yoshi, don't feel that you have to join in this time. You can if you want, but usually we just let people watch how it's done until they get confident. These zombies may look slow for now, but just wait till this baby hits.' I explained, letting my arrow fly.
It went strait through the head of one zombie as though it were made of jelly and stuck into the neck of one behind it. Both fell to the floor but as predicted, all heads turned on us and they began to scurry, swift as spiders, towards our group.
I started to reload but before I knew what was happening, Yoshimitsu dropped the bags he was carrying and leaped into the air as though about to pull some sort of somersault but vanished and instantly reappeared in front of the zombies. He screeched something in Japanese and then, raising his sword, rushed at the closest zombie and sliced it in half bilaterally. I was horrified that my first ever student could be such a suicidal dork.
'Yoshi-f**king-mitsu! Get your a** back here now. You've no idea what you're doing.' I yelled, sounding sickeningly like my dad.
I turned to Clandolin,
'I thought you said he understood English? I'm not sure he understood a thing I just said to him.' I snapped, throwing down my bow and drawing my sword ready to dive in there alongside the crazy ninja.
Yoshimitsu was fast and his movements precise. To watch him was almost like watching a beautifully choreographed dance on fast-forward. The guy certainly had some moves, I could give him that. But soon the zombies were too many and he all but disappeared inside the scrum. Sword raised, I began to run forward to save his ass before he was torn apart, but Clandolin grabbed my wrist.
'Let's just see how he handles himself.' He advised calmly, 'after all, he's well armoured.'
I watched with my heart in my mouth as the swarm got tighter and tighter around Yoshi, waiting for the screams of agony as my first and possibly last student was separated from his limbs. But instead, the swarm suddenly scattered from the centre as though being pushed away in all directions at once.
As soon as the swarm had thinned out enough what we saw sent a wave of gasps throughout the on-looking Travellers. There were about eight Yoshimitsus. The son of a b**ch had somehow divided into clones of himself. They had formed a circle, each facing out from the centre and began to step forward in perfect time with one another as though one mind was controlling 8 bodies. They slashed their way quickly forward, taking down any zombies that got too close and soon, the clones had split up, confusing the swarm and causing it too, to become divided as the zombies honed in on one Yoshi at a time. I watched in awe as each Yoshi demonstrated the vast repertoire of moves the ninja was capable of. He could teleport, I knew that already, but he could also fly, and hover. One of the Yoshi clones seemed to get bored for some reason and leaped into a tree out of reach where he sat laughing and with wild hysteria. One of the clones was suddenly caught off guard and soon found himself surrounded by zombies. He calmly began to raise his sword and I assumed, as I had seen others do, he was going to use it as a propeller to fly up and away from the zombies. Instead he plunged the sword right through his own chest and then spun like a maniac into the zombies, killing at least a dozen before falling, dead himself, to the ground. Another Yoshi, noticing the fallen clone grabbed the weapon with his free hand and with a sickening twist yanked it from the body. He then sped headlong into the zombies again, flailing his dual swords around wildly, making light work of the few remaining zombies.
It was very soon over and one of the Yoshi's reached up his hand to the one in the tree who, taking the hand began to climb down. As their bodies touched they melded together becoming one Yoshimitsu. The other clones were all doing the same, four becoming two, two becoming one, until there were only two left, one of which was the dead Yoshimitsu. The almost whole Yoshi kicked the body curiously with his foot. When it didn't move he crouched down and cocked his head as though thinking intently. I was starting to wonder if he really knew what to do, when he grabbed both hands of the fallen Yoshi and with a great tug, began to roll backwards pulling the body with him. After a few backwards rolls he sprung to his feet, whole again. He turned to face us and with a victorious slash of his sword muttered to himself in Japanese. -Poser!!
We all rushed forward to congratulate him. He casually sat down on the grass, cross-legged, and grasping his sward with both hands, began to beat it up and down rhythmically as though in some sort of trance. The teenagers, Autumn and Dylan were the first to speak to him.
'That was awesome!' exclaimed Dylan enthusiastically.
Yoshi stopped meditating and looked up.
'Yeah, you totally rock! You're bad a**!' agreed Autumn.
I thought I should add something too.
'You have balls kid. I'll give you that.' I said, patting him on the back.
He stood up and gave a bow while saying something in that weird language of his, which I guessed from his tone of voice and body language meant something along the lines of 'thanks for the compliment'. He walked calmly past me back to where he had dropped the bags. Picking them up, he said something else but again, I had no idea what it was supposed to mean.
'What's that Yoshi? You think we should set up camp soon and open a crate of beer?' I asked him sarcastically, 'That's a great idea. You're a genius my lad!'
Our new companion just chuckled back at me.