On Sale Now!

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Field Trip! the very first issue of REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS, is now available for sale both as a PDF right here on our site, and as a Kindle e-book on Amazon. You can have your NINJA GIRLS any way you like them!

We’re hard at work getting Issue 2: Detention Hall organized, so you’ve got time still to be caught up and in with the cool crowd right at the start.

This first issue has Masayo getting the whole gang in trouble, as they sneak out at night, get into a bar fight and end up trapped on ship, surrounded by sneering soldiers. The girls go flying as they try to unmask a sinister Imperial agent, only to find their hands empty and their futures in doubt.

The PDF is totally DRM-free — we want you to just love it and share it with anyone you think will love it, too. We’re selling through a service called Gumroad, which frees us from worrying about credit cards or Paypal or anything like that.

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Millicent and the Silver Moon of Valour: 3

At last! The whirlwind finale to the tale of Millicent, her nephew, and that other fellow. If you haven’t already, start at the beginning!

Part Three: The Unhappy Pupil

The foreign ninja spoke in an unfriendly sort of way, which I suppose is the thing to do when you’re holding a sharp-edged blade to a well-meaning chap’s throat.

“You. Come with us.”

Well, there are moments for deeds of derring-do, and moments for the simple taking of orders and doing without regard for any derring at all. This moment, with a foreign bird holding me at blade’s length, his mate with a hand on young Tomi, seemed to fall most firmly in the latter camp.

“Well. I say. Of course, dear thing. A companionable little outing, what?”

“And shut up.”

“Understood. Fear not; silence is my very watchword.”

Throwing about the flashing steel is not the sort of thing that keeps the profile beneath the horizon, if you know what I mean, and our tableau had caught some small amount of attention. The foreign ninjas led Tomi and myself around the back of the swing-the-hammer-and-make-the-bell-ring affair.

Once we were out sight of the main drag, without quite so many curious eyeballs upon us, the fellow with sword applied it to my throat once more.

“Now. Who are you?”

At the moments critical, the Isamoto brain is famous for quick shrewdness, and this was no exception. It was obvious these coves were up to a bit of the non-good, and, well, somebody had to break free and get the word out, and it certainly wasn’t going to be young Tomi. Such furious calculation could only resolve with one possible answer: I would have to leg it.

The scheme flowered full and blossomy in my cranium, fair taking my breath away with its sheer braininess. Step one of course, required some simple prevarication. Such things are a toss-off to us Isamotos.

“Me? Who am I? Me? What? My dear sirs, I’m nobody at all. Nobody who you should spend a moment upon, surely. And as nobody, I’ll just–”

And that should have been that. It would have, too, for the two dark-clad fellows had the old “Let him go,” look in their eyes, I tell you, up until that fat little troublemaker opened his sticky mouth.

“He’s Isamoto Koretaka, son of His Excellency Minister Isamoto Koretomo, who serves Lord Yanagisawa in the Department of Manufacturing, Trade and Commerce. This is his medal.”

The blossomy scheme withered. The look in the eyes of our new friends turned rather more predatory as one of them took Father’s Silver Moon and examined it. I aimed a kick at young Tomi.

“A Silver Moon of Valour? You may be of use to us.”

“Say no more, then. We Isamotos are always proud to be of service. Yes. Indeed. Rather.”

Young Tomi proved agile enough to avoid further kicks.

The fellow with his sword at my windpipe did that trick of narrowing his eyes you read about it in the more ripping sort of adventure tales. His sword was most extraordinarily steady.

“Defeating such a highly-decorated warrior will establish our clan’s reputation. Especially one so close to Lord Yanagisawa, with whom we have many grievances.”

“I can well imagine, my dear fellow. Not the most sympathetic of coves, is His Lordship. Very fine dresser, though. Sharp with the silk, if you know what I mean.”

“His fashion sense is immaterial. Let us duel now, and decide the issue.”

You see the sort of chaps they were. No doubt the sort who raised their hand to answer every question in History.

“You may think so, old bean, but I once recall he appeared at Lady Nakamura’s in a seven-layer robe with the odd-numbered layers in identical silk, you know, and despite Her Ladyship’s quite impassioned plea, he straight-up refused to go home and change. Set quite the trend, and the next thing you know, every chap’s got to have–”

“What does this have to do with– with anything? Are we fighting or not?”

Recalling His Lordship’s appearance at Lady Nakamura’s had lost to me the thread of the conversation. I resorted to the unfailing tactic of offering my partner a broad smile.

A smile makes the world a friendlier place, like it says in that tune the chap sings. You must know the one.

The fellow with the sword and eyes narrowed showed no sudden burst of warm fellow-feeling in his heart, however. He clutched Father’s Silver Moon medal in his hand.

“With the death of such an honoured member, even Lord Yanagisawa will pay attention to our clan.”

I keep abreast of current affairs well enough, mostly via a chat with Higuchi-sensei once a week or so, but all this talk was well above my scalp. I had no idea what these foreign birds intended.

“Well, well, well. I can’t say as I can easily imagine him bending to pressure, I’m sorry to say. A man of fierce will, is what I’m saying, what? I recall the time at—”

“Stop it. Stop it. Stop talking. Stop.”

Hardly the sort of friendly boon-companion interchange one would expect after all this time together, what? Foreign sorts are always difficult to plunge with the cert, aren’t they?

I was about to ask what they thought I could accomplish, mouth shut and voice suspended, when in a sudden flash of cascading blonde, Her Highness appeared.

“What’s this all about? What are you two doing with Tomi-chan?”

“And me.”

You won’t see a more imperious look anywhere, I’ll wager. It was rather bracing to see her turn that withering glare on someone other than myself.

“Master Okate of the Blood Ember Clan has had enough of Touch-Moon Palace’s disregard.”

“Master Okate is entitled to any opinion he wishes. Release that child at once.”

“We have been sent to–”

Technically, you know, I mean, according to the strictest of terminology, we of the Palace are, not to put too fine a point on it, ninja. Not for us the natty black outfits or sudden explosions of smoke and all that sing-song, but still, the truth is, we number amongst the clans that gather at Ninja Island, and thus, well, what ho, I mean to say.

And I’ve attended enough of Master Higuchi’s classes to know that there stands a cove of true destructive potential. Most likely if I practiced, I’d acquire those sorts of skills, but not for me the sweat-beaded brow. Not all chaps ought to, I like to say, at least not this one.

Perhaps I should have expected that Her Highness would be the sort to practice diligently, but one likes thinking of one’s beloved’s brow beading with sweat even less than one’s own. Not, at least, when one’s beloved has that cascade of blonde curls.

Nevertheless, I was at a loss to understand what happened next, even with a moment to put it together. But that stunning cascade whirled, and a leg extended quite a bit further than I was entirely prepared to witness. The foreign bird was equally unprepared, especially as the foot on the end of the leg caught him full in the jaw with a lively sort of crack.

He plunged to the ground in a tangled heap, and Her Highness returned to the vertical, skirts once again neatly arranged. The slender sword she carried at her belt had leapt into her hand somewhere in that sudden exchange, and now she levelled it at the remaining foreign ninja with as steady a hand as his friend had only moments ago levelled his at my much-abused windpipe.

“Release the child. Go your way. Or I’ll become annoyed.”

Dashed if the bird didn’t scarper, and without even a backward glance for his pal.

Young Tomi leapt for his rescuing aunt with a gladsome cry; and before I could even recollect myself, or accept congratulations on a thing well done, they were gone back into the festival crowd.

The fellow on the ground groaned. I felt a sudden surge of sympathy for him, but at the same time, he had just ruined my chances with Her Highness.

I kicked him once, recovered Father’s medal, and went on my way.

*****

The charms of the festival were much lost on me from that moment. You know how it is; after a moment of such unexpected savour, everything seems to lose its thinginess.

I returned to Master Higuchi’s training room, and found a quiet corner to sit and contemplate the sheer wheeling scope of it all. I was thoughtful, is what I’m saying. Nobody paid much attention to me, and I paid little attention to anything beyond. I wager even the Master forgot I was there.

There’s little can stop us Isamotos once we get to the thinking, you know.

But there I was, much later in the shadowing hours of twilight, when in stormed a vision of blonde curls and beautifully up-turned nose. Master Higuchi bowed.

“Your Highness.”

“Higuchi, this has got to stop. Can we please go back to just having assassins trying to kill me?”

“There are other forms of danger that Your Highness must become adept at handling. My duty is to train Your Highness.”

“You’re not training Tomi-chan. Why put him in danger?”

The Master smiled. Quite brave of him, I thought, in light of that withering glare turned full-thunder upon him.

“Come now, Your Highness. There was no question of Your Highness being able to handle those Blood Ember Clan ninja.”

“I’m not talking about them. What about that idiot you saddled him with? Just as well he ran away, rather than spend ten minutes in the presence of that intellectual vacuum.”

“Your Highness will have to learn to deal with young gentlemen of that sort. Without running them through. Your Highness did very well with him today.”

Her Highness crossed her arms and tossed that cascade back. Really, the effect is quite stunning.

“Well, I’d appreciate it if we could have a few rounds of goons with swords before you send another ‘young gentleman’ my way.”

“As Your Highness wishes. I’m sure young Master Isamoto will be some time before he dares to approach you again.”

“Isamoto? In Yanagisawa’s office? What’s he got to do with anything?”

“That was his son today, Your Highness. Isamoto Koretaka.”

“Oh. Huh.”

And she left.

As I emerged from the corner shadowy, Master Higuchi nodded.

“I think, sir, I must advise that you find some means of directing your affections elsewhere. Her Highness–”

“I think I get the picture, sensei.”

“Very good, sir. And the Silver Moon of Valour?”

“Here you go. Could you very kindly see about returning that to Father’s office? Best if he never knows it was gone, I’m thinking.”

“I’m sure that’s very wise, sir. Consider it done.”

Thank you! We hope you enjoyed MILLICENT AND THE SILVER MOON OF VALOUR, our attempt to apply ninjas to the world of P. G. Wodehouse. Alternatively, our attempt to apply P. G. Wodehouse to the world of ninjas. Please read the great man’s books, because he’s one of the best writers in ever.
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Millicent and the Silver Moon of Valour: 2

Enjoy the second part of our P. G. Wodehouse-inspired tale of Millicent’s pre-Academy days! Be sure to start with Part One if you missed it!

Part 2: The Foreign Birds

I will confess that my first reaction to Tomi’s precipitous departure consisted mostly of a species of chagrin at how easily the little sneak had whisked away the multitude of sweets I’d had in my pockets. Without my even noticing! Which just goes to show the child was certain to turn out no good. If anything proves an aptitude for the life criminal, it’s skills of petty thievery. He’d even taken my father’s Silver Moon of Valour.

There was nothing for it but an immediate search of the environs, so I made my way through the thronging crowd as best I could, keeping bent over so as to catch sight of the ugly pup. It was true that such a posture would also cut down my profile, but I’m man enough to admit that just at that mome, being difficult for my beloved Highness to find seemed a distinct advantage.

I don’t know if you’ve ever attended the Palace festival here at Touch-Moon, but it most certainly attracts the crowds. Of course all us Touch-Mooners have a go, but it’s one of the few days foreign folks can move freely about town, so you’re having to deal with no end of curious coves rubbernecking, just generally getting in the way. I don’t know how other clans get along, but slowly, and without concern for a chap desperately seeking a thievish young lad seems to be at the heart of it.

I pushed aside a pair of such birds, commented in a friendly fashion on their black outfits picked out with a bit of crimson doodling, and was on my way past the lineup for the noodle stand when one of them tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, my good sir.”

I turned back, ever friendly. Let no one accuse an Isamoto of harbouring resentment towards the foreign classes.

“What what? What ho! What?”

They stared at me for a moment, then one of the pair (I’ll confess I don’t think I could tell them apart) pointed back the way I’d come.

“Was that not Princess Haoki you were talking to only moments ago?”

“Ah, you noticed! Yes, well, a gentleman doesn’t like to say too much, but it’s true Her Highness and I are somewhat friendly, not to say…”

I trailed off as the two coves turned and slipped away into the crowd, appearing to simply melt though the throngs around us.

“Well, I say. I mean, I say.”

I should like to learn that trick, I have to say. I spent the next little way struggling to melt through the crowds as they had, only to exhaust myself bumping into frustrated mothers, exuberant teenagers and yet more surly visitors from foreign ninja clans. With no sign of the dashed Tomi, I was a fair fright when startled by an all-too-familiar cascade of blonde.

“You! You were supposed to be watching Tomi-chan! Where is he?”

“What what! What? Ah, Princess. what ho? How, ehm, how was Your Highness’ trip? Bracing? Refreshing? Quite a festival here don’t you–”

“Quit blathering, you insipid fool. I’ll speak slowly. Where. Is. Tomi-chan?”

I could see that familiar withering stare was warming up. I like to think of myself as a nimble sort of ape, quick on the verbal feet, but it had to be confessed she hadn’t left me a great deal of maneuvering space. Straight-out brazen was the only path to freedom, I decided.

“Hm? Oh, the, er, the young master! Well, bless his heart, what an angel he is, don’t you think? Yes, sure to grow into a fine young–”

She reached forward with those elegant, long-fingered hands. I was in the act of raising my own, slightly less elegant hands, in the hopes of a romantic intertwining, when I felt long fingers reach around my throat.

They really were quite long. And elegant those hands may be, but I’m here to tell you there’s no end of strength in them. She squeezed, and not without a little effect on my atmospheric intake.

“Where is he?”

“Ag. Uck. Yes. Well, it’s funny Her Highness should– erk! Yes, well. Rather. He’s gone to the little boys’ room, of course. It’s, well, just around the corner. I’m sure.”

“You’re lying to me, you thickheaded moron. What happened?”

“Me? Lying? I–”

I had to pause for a moment and allow Her Highness to shake me vigorously. Once she was done, I found the festival whirling around me as though I’d just taken Her Highness out on the dance floor.

“I don’t suppose you dance, Your Highness?”

Her Highness gave a sort of a growl, the kind of thing you might expect to hear when you’ve mistakenly gone too far into what looked like a jolly comfortable sort of cave, only to discover, via said growl, that it somebody else has gotten there ahead of you, perhaps someone of the heavy-set, well-taloned wild thing variety, offering you the choice between departing forthwith or remaining behind to serve as the amuse-bouche.

It was disconcertingly easy, just then, to imagine Her Highness with a set of talons.

She unloaded the famous withering glare, and I was duly withered, boasts to old Higuchi notwithstanding.

“The delightful young chap scarpered the moment your back was turned, Your Highness. I’ve been–”

“What did you do to him? You monster!”

“Ag. Erk. Your Highness, I did nothing. I gave him a bit of candy and the next thing I–”

“Don’t you know he’s not allowed candy? What mad spirit possessed you?”

Just then she released me. We stared into each other’s eyes with a steady, soulful gaze. I smiled my most charming smile, the one where I raise my left eyebrow slightly. Cousin Noriko says it’s practically irresistible. There was definitely a moment, there. Call me a hopeless romantic, but a lad knows when he’s making a hit.

Her Highness scowled.

“You search that way, past the noodle stand and up towards the Old River Temple. I’ll go this way, and we’ll meet at the Temple steps. Don’t speak! Don’t open your mouth. Just nod if you understand me.”

Any number of clever rejoinders came to mind, but I decided the b. part of v. and whatnot, and so just nodded. She turned and left.

I ensured the old breathing apparatus remained still operable with a few careful ins and outs. It does quite put a chap on the defensive, you know, having fingers, never mind how elegantly long, digging into his windpipe, cutting off the fresh and cool.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but replay our conversation in the memory as I poked about the crowd. The way her blue eyes sparkled, the delightful lift of her cute nose, and the sheer drama of the previously-mentioned blonde cascade. Now she knew who I was, and now she would see what sort of a fellow I was, and if that didn’t put me well enough ahead in the race to lope home, well, I wasn’t deserving of the name Isamoto.

As I made my way past the Try Your Strength contests, younger clan members giggling and lining up for a try at the hammers and the rope pull, I all but ran right into those same foreign coves who’d been so kind only moments ago.

“What ho! What a surprise, running into you lot again. Enjoying the festival, are we? Impressed with the spread, no doubt. The thrilling displays. What?”

They looked at me with a flat sort of stare that I have to admit somewhat put me in mind of my Goddess. Withering.

I was most definitely starting to feel over-withered.

“I say. What?”

At that moment, I caught sight of a sullen little face peeking out from behind the foreign chappies.

“Aha! There you are, you little… gentleman. Your young aunt is searching everywhere for you, don’t you know. And you better have that Silver Moon of mine, or there’ll be trouble. Come along with me at once!”

I tried rapturously to picture Her Highness’ smile at the sight of her beloved nephew safely in tow. I’d never seen her smile, which made it all more work than the brain was really up for just then.

Still, radiant girl. Positive cascade of blonde, you know.

“Well? No more tricks, young man, come with me.”

Dashed if the boy wasn’t moving. I noticed one of those foreign birds had a hand on the lad’s collar.

“Here now. That’s young master Tomi you’re heaving about there. He’s nephew to Her Highness, Princess Haoki, the very girl you were asking about not–”

I paused then. It seemed the thing to do, with the fellow’s sword blade so suddenly at my throat.

“You’ll come with us, too.”

“What ho.”

Oh dear! Who are these unsubtle brutes and what do they want with Tomi-chan? No worries, certainly our dashing hero will save the day. Certainly. Read on to Part Three to find out!
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Millicent and the Silver Moon of Valour: 1

A little tale from Millicent’s high-class past. Honestly, not ALL of the guys of Touch-Moon Palace are like this. Obviously this tale owes virtually everything good about it to the late great P. G. Wodehouse. If this clumsy homage leads just one of you to read his works, then I have not lived in vain.

Part One: The Young Blighter

What I say is, obviously a fellow takes responsibility for his own actions, like any sterling hero ought, but at the same time, suggesting it was all my respons is a bit heavy, isn’t it? Surely anyone can see it was as much the ill-favoured horseshoe, the darksome feline crossing the sward before me, as anything I might have done.

That very morning, unaware as I was of my impending doom, I was consulting with wise Higuchi-sensei as to what options lay before me.

“Dash it all, sensei, the girl’s got me hooked by the heart. You’ve got to help me.”

“Her Highness is a most charming young lady, sir. But I see you are wearing your father’s Silver Moon of Valour.”

I put a smug finger to the medal on my breast.

“And very sharp it looks, don’t you think?”

“I cannot recommend it, sir. The Silver Moon is given to–”

“Let not the problem of the Silver Moon occupy your thoughts, sensei. Consider instead the problem of my making a hit with Her Highness. How is it to be accomplished?”

Higuchi-sensei’s always the chap for a little brainy knocking about. Never at a loss for a bit of the clever. How he keeps his hair from singeing due to all the furious cranial combustion going on in that skullcase I’ll never know.

“Yes, sir. As I say, Her Highness is a most charming young lady, sir, and—”

“Charming? My dear fellow, she’s a vision! That upturned profile, that blonde cascade of curls, that withering look. Most especially that withering look.”

“Her Highness can be intemperate at times, sir. I wonder if you—”

“I’ve been well-withered on occasion, let me tell you. But we Isamotos are made of stern stuff, sensei. All I need is a scheme, a brain-fever of your to take the edge off her disdain, if you see what I mean. Now, put the squidgy bit between the ears to work and let’s come up with something really special.”

Higuchi-sensei studied the far wall of the dojo for a moment. It was scarcely my fashion to attend morning practice, but the idea of consulting the old fellow came to mind as I was just emerging from the dreamless, and I’d rushed over with urgency.

“Her Highness is fond of her young nephew.”

“That sour little egg? Fat little round thing, squinty-eyed and piggish?”

“His name, I believe, is Tomi. I am given to understand that Her Highness is quite fond of the child. It is possible that she would look with favour on any gentleman who did the boy a kindness.”

“Hm.”

“Now, as regards to the Silver–”

“No more of that, sensei. I thank you for your assistance, but in this matter I remain firm.”

“Of course, sir.”

Well, that knock about the nephew gave me something, although I was blasted if I could imagine doing a kindness to the little blighter. A more thoroughly wretched child you could never find, who only stopped whining and whimpering long enough to have a really good howl every now and then. But there was no denying that the ache of my heart, Her Highness Princess Millicent Haoki, doted on the boy as though blind to his manifold defects.

Her Highness was herself the object of dotage from her plummy old sire, of course, Prince Mitsutachi, the chap in charge of things here at the old Touch-Moon Palace. But in the case of the dear old fellow, it was straightforward enough to understand his affection for the blonde and spirited fruit of his loins. The Princess was one of those effortlessly elegant sort of gals, with the long-fingered hands of a, well, someone who requires long fingers I suppose. Of course the old Prince doted on her. She was the darling of the clan. At the same time, there was no denying the sweet young thing possessed a certain temper, or as Higuchi had brainily put it, in-temper. More than one hopeful suitor had been wrecked in the howling storm of her intemperance.

But confidence is in the blood for us Isamotos.

Thinking of the boy, I took the precaution of stuffing my pockets with assorted sweets, and later that very day I was glad I did.

The Palace Festival is the big do hereabouts, and the boulevards turn over to carts and food stands and the like. It’s all very noisy and yet there’s a certain cheery charm to the whole thing, I must admit. Some talented coves pulled out those sorts of strummy instruments and within a moment or two, lads and lasses were grabbing each other and cutting up right there in the street.

We of the Touch-Moon Palace are not of typical the cutting up in the street crowd. Protecting a reputation for serious thinking and brainy doing requires stern effort, you know, and every one of us in the clan is expected to contribute to the group getting-it-done-i-ness. But the Palace Festival is one of those times we put up the old feet and let down the old hair.

Perhaps that explains my day-dreamy wonder. I stood watching the dancers, entertaining the dizzying notion of wheeling Her Highness out for a round, an enthrallment that evaporated in a breathless rush as I saw her in the crowd.

And what do you know? She was remonstrating with the young sourpuss himself, dear Tomi-chan. My moment had, evidently, arrived.

“I don’t want to stay here! I want to come with!”

The little chap whimpered and clung. I savoured the moment, then stepped in like the bold hero ought.

“Your Highness, can I be of assistance?”

Very smooth, I thought. She turned those icy blue eyes on me, tossed back a portion of that blinding blonde cascade and although it was clear that she was speaking, well, a fellow fairly goes blank at such moments, doesn’t he? Isn’t that almost required?

At any rate, I certainly went blank, so embarrassingly I missed entirely what she’d said, and we stood staring at each other for a moment. She put her hands on her hips.

“Well?”

Startled out of reverential daze, I did as best I could.

“Well?”

“Well?”

“Well, well.”

“Are you mentally defective? Who are you?”

That was a nasty shock. We’d nearly been introduced at the Lord Chamberlain’s supper-party only three months earlier.

The lad took it in hand to interfere, blast him.

“He’s nobody. You can’t leave me with him.”

Leave him? The brain leapt in, moving the mouth before I’d even puzzled it out.

“Your Highness, I am Isamoto Koretaka, son of His Excellency Minister Isamoto Koretomo, who serves Lord Yanagisawa in the Department of Manufacturing, Trade and Commerce.”

Whew! One of those centipede things, you know, where I just had to stay out of the mouth’s way. The mouth kept going, too.

“My father would be horrified to hear that I refused to be of service to the daughter of our glorious Prince. Please allow me to place my humble abilities at Your Highness’ disposal.”

That was a bit thick, but I was scarcely in control at this point. It was as though I was sitting a few rows back, watching the whole affair and perhaps scarfing down a few bolts of the good stuff.

She studied me with renewed interest, which I can tell you was no end of bracing. When the girl you’ve set your cap at takes a steady look at you, well, it chuffs you right up, there’s no denying. The me sitting up in the bleachers gave a solid hip-hip-hooray just at that moment.

I saw her piercing gaze drop to the Silver Moon at my breast, and celebrated with the other me up in the stands.

At which point I saw young Tomi-chan opening his wet little mouth, the sinister leer on his face proclaiming the intention of cutting me off at the knees, and I came up with a wheeze I’m still pretty proud of.

Before the evil blighter could get his whine rolling, I stuck a hand in my pocket and produced a half-dozen wrapped sweets. The boy’s expression changed to a hideous lit-up grin that was frankly more terrifying than his sinister leer, but it put an end to whatever he was going to say. He snatched the candy and simpered at Her Highness.

“It’s okay. I’ll stay with him.”

My beloved sighed. Such a sigh! Her hands dropped from her hips and she bent over to kiss the foul little punk’s forehead, as though he were the very angel.

“You’ll be good? I shan’t be more than a few moments.”

I had to look away as the kid nodded in an ecstasy of pretended angel-i-ness.

“Very well then. Don’t move from this spot. And YOU–”

She affixed me with the withering look previously referred to. I felt cheerfully immune, as though shielded by the shimmering aura of my father’s Silver Moon.

“Don’t you let him out of your sight.”

And she was gone. Who knew where this moment might lead? I stared after her into the crowd for long, long moments, thinking of how deeply she’d be impressed by my demonstration of the very qualities for which the Silver Moon was awarded: steady watchfulness, attentive, er, attention, and a stern yet loving attitude towards all, even the ugly runt she’d entrusted me with. Something like that, I suppose.

A serene smile on my face, utter contentment and confidence in my heart, I turned to the young fellow who I had to admit, had just made my dreams come true.

“Now, young fellow, how about we–”

He was gone. The blighter had emptied my pockets and taken off into the crowd.

Poor Isamoto! Not quite as smooth with the children as he wishes he was! Don’t worry, he’s very confident this will all work out. Follow the story in Part Two!
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Award-Winning Comic Book!

Guerilla 2013 Award

Guerilla Printing is one of the best friends an indie comic producer can have. Based right here in Toronto, they specialize in helping bring independent comics to life. Making REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS would have been WAY harder without their support and wisdom.

But they produce a lot of comic books, so when they announced we’d been nominated for Best Comic Book of 2013, we tried not to get too excited. An honour just to be nominated, and all that.

Secretly, we really wanted to win. Way back when Dave and I were first talking about this project, we told each other we wanted to make a comic book that would win awards. And look at us now!

Best Comic Book of 2013!

Pretty exciting.

Thank you to everyone at Guerilla for supporting us and being so great over the process of bringing REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS to life.

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Hey Ninja Girl 22: Gas Attack

We have a question from Josh:

Recently one of my friends was a victim of a poisonous gas trap, that was cleverly hidden in the midst of her bio lab. For her sake and mine how would you recommend protecting one’s self from future exposure to poisonous gases, or in the event of not being able to prevent exposure how would one limit the effects of it?

THESE KINDS OF TRAPS CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS. I’VE OFTEN–

YOU GET A LOT OF GAS ATTACKS, PRINCESS?

OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO TURN THIS INTO–

YOU DON’T NEED TO BE EMBARRASSED, MILLICENT. YOUR BODY IS BEAUTIFUL. EVEN THE STINKY BITS.

OH YES, THIS IS JUST HILARIOUS.

TO BE SERIOUS FOR A MOMENT, YOUR BEST BET IS GOOD BREATH TRAINING. IT TAKES A LOT OF PRACTICE, BUT IF YOU SHARE A ROOM WITH MILLI–


THIS ISN’T FUNNY, YOU JUVENILE IDIOTS! GAS ATTACKS CAN BE REALLY SERIOUS!

 

Posted in Hey Ninja Girl Tagged with:

Hey Ninja Girl 21: Shock and Awe

This question comes from Rich, who says:

Hello Girls! I’m married to tall, athletic Viking warrior woman, and I’m having trouble deciding what to get her for Christmas. I know you have a distinctly different fighting style and use different tactics (she’s more of a full frontal assault/shock and awe type), but do you have any suggestions for what I could put under the tree for her this year?

OH, THAT’S SO SWEET! VIKING, HUH? YOU KNOW, IT’S NEVER EASY STAYING STYLISH IN THOSE COLD WINTERS. MAYBE A FUR COAT OR A WARM COZY MUFFLER?

WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT TAKE STYLE TIPS FROM MASAYO. JUST LOOK AT THAT HEADBAND.

HEY, WE HAVE TO WEAR THIS. IT’S MY CLAN’S UNIFORM.

WHICH ONLY PROVES YOU’RE TOO STUPID TO LEAVE SUCH A LOSER CLAN.

YOU KNOW, ONE FUR IS PRETTY EXPENSIVE, BUT… IF YOU GOT HER A MINK FARM, SHE COULD HAVE DOZENS OF FUR COATS. AND MINKS HAVE MANY USES. YUP.

I WOULD LIKE TO FIGHT YOUR WIFE.

SHOCK AND AWE. THAT’S OUR ERI.

Posted in Hey Ninja Girl Tagged with:

Masayo and the Shadows of the Truth: III

And here’s the last part of this thrilling story! If you’re coming late, start at Part One. Grim secrets of the Glorious Dragon Clan are revealed, and cold-hearted schemes run their course. Enjoy!

DARKNESS

Masayo slipped along the shadows behind Chen’s. She worked her right arm steadily, raising and lowering the hand as she pulled the fingers together, then spread them wide.

Overhead, the glow from the massive lanterns grew steadily brighter. They turned in lazy circles, revolving on the massive chains that hung from the cavern ceiling high above. The artificial day of the great underground city of Vargas began to come to life, and the street running in front of Chen’s thronged with early-morning activity.

Stopping alongside a bakery, Masayo reached with her right hand and pulled a long-bladed knife from her belt. She studied her grip and made a few practice slashes with the weapon, then inhaled with a grin the savoury aroma of fresh-baked bread. She crouched in the shadows for another moment, eyes alert, and then stepped forward, crossing the alley and making a quick turn in the traffic of the main street.

She fiddled with the lock at Chen’s for just a moment and slipped inside.

“I told you she’d come here. That old coot told her to, and Masayo does whatever she’s told, don’t you, Masayo?”

Masayo stood stunned in the gory ruin of Chen’s drugstore, with dead bodies still lying on all sides. She pulled the door closed behind her, staring all the while at the two ninja across the room, their black uniforms and gold headbands exactly like her own.

Hirosue. And his girlfriend, Hanako. Hirosue held the wrapped-up swords he’d gotten from Ikegami.

“Where’s the kid, Masayo? That kid saw what happened, didn’t he? I don’t know what sort of game you and Ikegami-sensei are playing, but tell us how to find the kid and we won’t have to kill you.”

“Game? Kill me? What are you talking about, Hirosue?”

Hanako stepped to her right, circling away from Hirosue. Masayo looked back and forth between the two. She slid her rear foot a few inches back. Just to her left stood a counter littered with tiny bottles. She held the big knife low by her right side.

“What’s his name? I can find him if you tell me who it was.”

“He doesn’t know anything.”

Hanako scoffed. Hirosue’s scowl deepened.

“You’re going to have to do a lot better than that, girl.”

Masayo sank a little, flexing her knees. As she moved, Hanako’s hand blurred and a finger of sharpened steel stabbed hard into the plank next to her front foot.

The boy grinned.

“Hanako doesn’t like you anyway, Masa-chan. You’d better tell me.”

*****

Ikegami raised his fan as he came up alongside the front window of Chen’s. Grand Master Shiro stopped, serene in his bulk, indifferent to the stares of the pedestrians passing by.

The old man listened for a second, then motioned to the Grand Master. Shiro shifted an inch closer to the window.

*****

“That’s enough. Let’s just kill her. We can find the kid ourselves.”

“Fine. Take her.”

“You take her.”

“Stick her with that shuriken, and we’ll both rush her.”

Masayo lifted her knife at the same moment as her left hand swept out, launching a hail of glass bottles at Hanako. The other girl’s shuriken went wild, and she flailed backwards as Masayo feinted at her.

Hirosue, too late, stepped forward, stopping short as the tip of Masayo’s knife flicked straight at him.

The knife did not move as the door behind Masayo flew open.

“Sorry to interrupt.”

Hanako and Hirosue stared at the enormous bulk of Grand Master Shiro filling the doorway.

“Grand Master!”

His voice rumbled and filled the shop.

“You two afraid to take on one teenage girl? I don’t need cowards in this clan.”

Hirosue’s face twisted, bright red, his eyes wide.

“What are you saying? She’s ruined–”

“Take her down, then. Now.”

Masayo had not turned to look at Shiro standing just behind her. Her eyes flicked back and forth between Hirosue and Hanako.

“But…”

“I said–”

Shiro broke off as Masayo moved.

She was a long-limbed girl, without the compact grace most members of the clan had. But Masayo practiced hard, and she knew better than to wait when she was out-numbered. Grand Master Shiro had attended many of her training sessions himself, and there was a trace of satisfaction on his heavy-browed face as the girl flew across the room.

Hirosue got a hand on his swordhilt, but Masayo closed with him in a flash and put a knee into his right side. He cursed and fell. As he crashed down, struggling to roll over the bodies on the floor, his half-drawn sword clanking, she planted one foot on a stool and leapt high in the air, twisting away from Hanako’s first slash.

The older girl had her two knives out, and brandished them in front of her as Masayo landed. Masayo feinted, holding her big knife like a sword, and just as Hirosue staggered to his feet she leaned forward, lashing backward with one long leg. Her heel caught him again on his right side, at the base of his ribs, and he collapsed, crying out in pain. He clutched at his side and blood welled out between his fingers.

Hanako moved in then, and Masayo had to spin, her knife whirling around, blades clashing too fast to follow, move and countermove simultaneous. Masayo’s blade flew, flipping and dancing, but every time she found an opening Hanako’s second blade threatened and she had to pull back. The two girls circled each other, both panting.

Hirosue coughed and cursed from the floor. Shiro grinned, his face cruel.

Ikegami nearly cried out when Masayo drew her knife well back, leaving her side exposed, and Hanako took the opportunity, sinking one blade into the tall girl’s shoulder.

Masayo turned away, the simple motion of her body yanking the knife from Hanako’s hand. Her own knife batted aside Hanako’s other weapon and then slid, gently, silently, up into Hanako’s body, just under her breast.

She stepped back, leaving the knife embedded in Hanako’s chest, and the stricken girl sank slowly to her knees, coughed once, and fell on her face.

Hirosue shrieked and struggled to his feet. Grand Master Shiro raised a hand.

“That’s enough, Hirosue. I’ve seen all I need to see.”

“But she killed–”

“You and Hanako were never a match for Masayo. Shut up.”

Masayo had not moved during this, just stood staring at Hanako’s body. She looked up as the Grand Master addressed her.

“Masayo-chan. Well done. Go back to the Casino and wait for me.”

“But, I…”

The girl cut herself off and bowed.

“Yes, Grand Master.”

She exchanged one glance with Ikegami as she picked her way out of the shop. The old man, face half-hidden behind his fan, shook his head minutely and she left without a word.

Shiro stared at Hirosue, his flat cold eyes half-open, his breath rumbling slow and deep.

“Well, sensei, I guess we just decided who we’re going to put this on.”

Ikegami swallowed. Hirosue pushed forward, clutching his injured side with one hand, reaching out to Shiro with the other.

“Grand Master, I–”

“I don’t want to hear it, kid. I don’t want one word from you.”

Ikegami stepped forward, fanning himself lazily, lips pursed, studying Hirosue.

“They recognized you, didn’t they, Hiro-kun? You thought you could rip off Chen’s, disguised in your stolen Shadow Claw gear, but one of them recognized you, and one of them stuck you, then you had to kill them all. You stupid punk.”

He turned to the enormous Grand Master.

“Grand Master, I don’t like this plan of yours. Provoking the Shadow Claw is only going to backfire on us. But please, don’t put this sort of thing in the hands of a dumb kid like him.”

Hirosue burst out, “What about Masayo? She knows too much.”

Shiro raised a hand towards Hirosue.

“I told you to shut up, kid.”

He rotated slowly to face Ikegami. The old man shook his head.

“He may have a point, Grand Master. Masayo is too smart to not put this together. And she will be outraged. She may be skilled, but she’s not as… pragmatic as I am.”

“No. I will deal with the girl. She won’t be a problem, don’t worry. Hirosue, we put this on Hanako, understand?”

“What?”

“Tell Red-Eyes she was crazy. Tell him she was a junkie. I don’t care. But it was her that did it, we don’t know why, and you’ll make good his losses.”

Hirosue stared at the girl’s body, his furious scowl frozen on his face. He started as Ikegami approached. The old man picked up the bundle of swords.

“I’ll take these back. Grand Master, you really ought to kill Masayo.”

Shiro growled, rattling the windows. Ikegami bowed, tucked his fan into his belt, and slipped out.

*****

“What a delight, Matsuyama-san. Two random encounters in a single morning.”

“Random?”

Ikegami chuckled briefly, then stepped directly in front of the Shadow Claw warrior’s bulky form. Matsuyama glowered.

The old man bowed, then held up the bundle containing the two swords.

“I regret to tell you I have no information as to what may have happened to young Rie, but I found these and thought they should be returned to her people.”

Matsuyama snatched the weapons from Ikegami and inspected them briefly. His glower darkened even further, but the elderly Glorious Dragon before him seemed unconcerned.

“You’re not going to tell me what happened to her, are you?”

“I’m uninterested in the truth, Matsuyama-san. I serve my clan as I must. As you must.”

The two men stared at each other. Matsuyama bowed, a minute inclination of his upper body.

“You will be an honourable enemy, Ikegami-sensei. I look forward to it.”

Ikegami chuckled, and reached out to toy with a yellow silk tassel.

“They are very nice swords.”

He snapped his fan open and wandered into the crowd.

Well, that settles that. You may have figured out that Masayo is pretty much getting straight on a boat to NINJA ISLAND after this. Thanks for reading!
Posted in Fiction Tagged with: , , ,

Masayo and the Shadows of the Truth: II

The second part of this suspenseful tale! Read the first part here!

SHADOW

“What do you want, old man?”

Hirosue paused in his descent. At the base of the staircase Ikegami stood waiting, a sad sort of smile on his lined face.

The staircase curved down against one wall of the huge main hall of the Golden Lotus Casino, four stories above the main gambling pit where dice rattled, winners cheered and losers cursed. Courtesans and waiters pushed past one another, all eager to get their share of the winners’ take. Balconies ringed the huge chamber at each level, where people leaned over to watch the fun below, or partook of quieter, more expensive pleasures.

The Glorious Dragon Clan ran this place, the biggest casino in Vargas, where pirate crews came to spend their loot, where deals got made and if a few unfortunates got put down of an evening and were never heard from again, well, Vargas was a tough town and nobody cried for them.

Ikegami nodded.

“Hiro-kun. I don’t mean to detain you. You look busy.”

Hirosue sighed and looked off across the hall, as if hoping to see someone more interesting.

“I no longer report to you, sensei. If you’ve got something to say, say it.”

“Sure. Funny stuff been happening about the Shadow Claw Clan lately, huh? Funny stuff.”

He seemed to find the old man more interesting all of a sudden. Hirosue glared.

“What you got to say about that?”

“Well, I don’t know. But does seem strange, after all these years, they suddenly start getting involved in ugly stuff. Pushing shopkeepers around, some kind of racket, huh? Seems strange. Funny stuff.”

Both men stood very still. Hirosue’s hands balled into tight fists. His legs flexed slightly. Ikegami shook one arm, his fan half open in that hand. The boy looked at the fan and stepped back, cautious.

“You hurt yourself, Hirosue? Your side pulling a little? What happened there?”

“I’m fine, sensei. What do you want?”

Ikegami shrugged the bundle off his shoulder and set about unwrapping the swords.

“I just wondered if you had any idea where these swords might have come from.”

Hirosue stared as the yellow tassels and the hilts of the two swords appeared.

“What are you doing with those?”

Ikegami stared for a moment, flat and steady at Hirosue, then nodded.

“Thank you, that’s all I needed.”

“Wait.”

Ikegami waited. Hirosue grimaced, fists still tight.

“I’m just doing what the Grand Master asked. This is all his idea, so stop getting in the way.”

“The Grand Master told you to do this?”

Hirosue tossed his chin up, hands on his hips.

“That’s right. You don’t want the Grand Master angry at you, sensei.”

“Certainly not. Did you want these swords back?”

The young man started at that, then snatched the bundle up from Ikegami’s hands and stormed off, disappearing into the thunderous crowd of the casino.

Ikegami sighed, and made his way up the stairs Hirosue had just come down.

*****

“You’re not Shadow Claw. Who are you?”

Masayo kept her right arm tucked in close to her body. A little blood trickled down from her shoulder where the shuriken had struck her. The tiny blade had held only a trace of poison, but it was enough to render her arm useless. She’d left the big polearm long behind and held only a small knife in her left hand.

The woman she faced, who’d been pursuing her since that scene with Erik, wore the infamous black outfit of the Shadow Claw Clan, feared rivals to Masayo’s own Glorious Dragon Clan. Masayo had never fought a Shadow Claw ninja, but they were reputed to all be masters of deadly arts. Even their youngest disciples were supposed to be a match for a dozen ninja from any other clan.

She’d been run to ground in a narrow alleyway, branching off from the Street of Blossoms, where craftsmen made the huge flower-bedecked displays that were used throughout Vargas for festive occasions. The air spun with thick perfume, and flower petals, pink and burning yellow, drifted down around them all.

The alley dead-ended, and with only one arm Masayo would never be able to climb fast enough to elude her pursuer. She whirled, knife close to her body, her long legs flexed low.

The narrowness of the alley forced her pursuer to come at her directly, and Masayo was able to keep her useless right arm behind herself as the dark-clad woman came forward. Her swordblade glittered, one petal spinning aside as she thrust. Masayo heard workmen calling out to each other, yelling about holding a gigantic disk of crysanthemums steady, unaware of the deadly battle taking place behind their workshop.

She brought up her knife’s short blade, parrying the attack, steel shrieking on steel, and Masayo twisted, letting the sword shoot past her. She dropped low and slammed her elbow into the other woman’s gut.

Curses and a tangle of limbs as the two women fought, blade and muscle and grabbing hands, sharp edges only a hairsbreadth from slicing skin open.

“Poison? Who are you?”

The sword clattered on the stones underfoot. Masayo grunted as a fist took her just under the ribs. With only one hand she couldn’t perform the wrist lock and as she tried to pull away, the other fist caught her on the jaw.

She spun, half-dazed, and kicked out low, driving her heel into the side of a knee. The other women shrieked and Masayo stepped in, slamming her forehead into an angry face. The mask dropped away and the girl in black reeled, spraying blood from her nose and lips.

“Hanako?”

Masayo stared in shock for a second. Pink and yellow flower petals spun down between the two girls, and then a knife appeared in either of Hanako’s hands.

“Hey, who are you girls?”

A worker opened the back door of his workshop. The only answer he got to his question was a sudden streak of black and gold as Masayo shot through the door. He looked from her disappearing form to Hanako, just in time to receive one of her knife blades in the throat.

Hanako stared after Masayo for a second as the man died at her feet, then sneered, cleaned her blade and set off at an easy pace back up the alley.

*****

“A surprise, meeting you, Matsuyama-san.”

The enormous ninja shrugged, his broad shoulders rising and falling with titanic indifference. He stood studying the window of a tailor’s shop, facing away from Ikegami who slouched against a nearby post.

Market traffic filed past them, merchants and customers alike keeping an awed distance from Matsuyama. He stood at least half a head taller than any one else in the square, and his black outfit identified him as a member of the feared Shadow Claw Clan. Even those who didn’t know his name or reputation kept their distance. Though not with the same care as those who did.

“I greet you willingly, old man. You have ever been honourable in your dealings, no matter how wretched your clan has become.”

Ikegami bowed, his smile unwavering.

“I but serve Grand Master Shiro’s wishes in all things.”

Matsuyama scoffed.

“Grand Master? Your Shiro is a gangster, sensei, and he has led your clan into dishonour. He shames all the clans.”

“I’m always gratified to have your wisdom, Matsuyama-san. Do you ever worry that the Shadow Claw Clan will someday fall into a similarly degraded state?”

Ikegami grinned, watching Matsuyama fight to keep from turning around.

“What do you mean? We maintain the traditions. We keep–”

“Indeed. Do your younger members feel the same? Seems like I don’t see them around as much these days.”

“Master Hisakino sent Nakayama away for training just recently.”

Turned away as he was, Matsuyama did not see the dark frown descend on Ikegami’s face.

“Nakayama? Is she the one with the fancy swords? I can’t keep all these kids straight.”

“You must be thinking of Tanaka. Rie.”

“Right. Rie-chan. Nice girl.”

At that Matsuyama did turn around. His dark eyes blazed at Ikegami.

“You’ve seen her? Where? How long ago?”

“How long has she been missing?”

The Shadow Claw ninja crossed his arms, scowling.

“How did you know she was missing?”

“Sorry, I haven’t seen her. Anyway, glad to know you aren’t worried.”

Matsuyama watched, broodingly furious, as Ikegami sauntered into the crowd, fanning himself.

*****

“The story won’t hold.”

Grand Master Shiro sat motionless, a monument to steady caution. His eyes half-lidded, his lips turned up in a thin scowl, he made no response to Ikegami’s claim.

The two men were alone in Shiro’s office. The lanterns outside swung slowly, the shadows in the room drifting across the walls in even arcs.

At last the Grand Master widened his eyes slightly. He drew in a long sonorous breath through his wide nose. He sighed.

“The kid says it will.”

Ikegami crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorframe.

“He hasn’t told you everything. We don’t want this investigated, Grand Master. Red-Eyes isn’t going to take our word for it. Not unless we’re clearly embarrassed.”

“Embarrassed? The Glorious Dragon Clan?”

Shiro’s chair creaked and popped as the enormous ninja chieftan leaned forward.

“The only way Red-Eyes is going to accept our story is if our story is it was our fault, and those responsible have been punished. Anything else, and he’ll start digging.”

“Who’s responsible, sensei? In your ever-so-wise opinion?”

“Doesn’t matter. What matters is who are we going to punish.”

Shiro grinned, the sudden animation of his face grotesque in the half-light. He leaned back, chuckling.

“You really don’t care, do you?”

“I serve the clan, Grand Master.”

A big hand came up and stroked a big chin.

“Okay. Who do we throw and how do we sell it?”

What’s Ikegami REALLY up to? Also Shiro? Also Hanako? Also Hirosue? What — is EVERYONE up to something? Read Part Three to find out!
Posted in Fiction Tagged with: , , ,

Masayo and the Shadows of the Truth: I

Masayo’s clan, the Glorious Dragon clan, has a bad reputation in their hometown of Vargas. But they’re probably not all heartless gangsters. Probably.

LIGHT

“Those swords weren’t there before, Ikegami-sensei. I swear it.”

The lean old man turned a yellow silk tassel around in one hand, studied the swordhilt it depended from. The sword had been stabbed vertically down into a young girl’s face. She lay dead on the shop floor, surrounded by a half-dozen other corpses, all in the little uniforms that everyone who worked at Chen’s wore. A similar sword, with an identical silk tassel hanging from the hilt, had been plunged into another body across the room.

“Hm. So whoever killed these poor folks, they brought the swords afterwards. Funny. They’re nice swords, though.”

The girl he spoke to stood holding the shop door shut against the few late-night passers-by. On the edge of gangly, she was tall and uncertain. Her black and gold uniform proclaimed her as a member of the Glorious Dragon ninja clan, as did the long polearm in her free hand. Her jaw worked as she held her mouth clamped shut, watching the old man study the shop full of corpses.

Ikegami straightened up, smoothing the lines of his black kimono, set off by a gold belt. The colours were of the same ninja clan as the girl, but the classic lines of his formal outfit suffered from the many mendings it had undergone. Seams hooked up with odd threads, and cuts all over stitched back up inexpertly. Tucked into the belt he carried a fan. He showed no sign of carrying any sort of weapon.

“This place is under Hirosue-kun’s protection, isn’t that right? He collects for us, hm?”

The girl nodded.

“That’s right, sensei. But we split with Captain Red-Eyes, I believe. He supplies Chen, so he gets a cut.”

“Hm.”

The old man stepped across the body he’d been inspecting and knelt down again near the counter. A knife lay there, the blade dark with blood.

“It must have been a fight, but not much of one by the looks of it. This knife fits that fellow’s belt sheath, over there. I’d wager the blood on it doesn’t belong to any of these poor bastards.”

He reached out to the tassel in the nearby swordhilt, looking up as Masayo coughed uncertainly.

“What is it, girl?”

“Those swords. I think I’ve seen them before. They belong to a Shadow Claw girl. Her name’s Rie, I think.”

“Shadow Claw? Rather difficult to imagine Master Hisakino approving of anything like this, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. But I’ve heard that lately Shadow Claw ninja have been, well, doing stuff kind of like this.”

“Well,” the old man sighed, and toyed with the tassel in the swordhilt once more, “Red-Eye’s definitely not going to like this one bit. Where can I find Hirosue, do you think?”

“He sleeps in Dormitory C.”

Ikegami stepped over the bodies and put an arm on Masayo’s shoulder.

“Thank you for coming to get me, Masayo-chan. But don’t tell another soul. I’ll see if I can find Hirosue. He needs to know about what’s happened here.”

Masayo leaned past the old man to look once more at the piled bodies.

“Erik. Erik’s missing. A kid. He works here sometimes but…”

Ikegami’s smile lost its warmth.

“Are you sure, Masayo-chan? Well, that needs to be looked into. Can you find him?”

Masayo nodded, mouth tight.

“You look after that. Find him, see if he can help us. I’ll meet you back here.”

“But, but, who did this, sensei?”

A gnarled old finger lifted the girl’s chin.

“Don’t worry about that, Masayo-chan.”

“But–”

“What we must have is an appropriate response for when Captain Red-Eyes learns of this. We must defend the clan, Masayo. Do you understand?”

“No.”

Ikegami sighed and reviewed the scene. He reached over and wrenched one of the swords out of the corpse it had been stabbed into.

“We don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea here, do we?”

Masayo watched in confusion as the old man took the other sword as well, and wrapped them in a cloak.

They closed the shop door as they left, making sure the “Closed” sign was still up and the door locked. The shop lay dead and silent for unheard heartbeats.

A stand of shelves shivered, then pivoted open, revealing a scowling girl a little older than Masayo, though not so tall. Dressed all in black, she pulled a mask down over her angry face before slipping out the door.

*****

As the lamplighters refuelled the enormous lantern outside, shadows whirled and danced across Grand Master Shiro’s unlit office. A pen scratched, tiny in his mammoth hands, as he made notes in a ledger. The Grand Master’s golden kimono flickered in the shadows, his face overhanging with craggy weight. He leaned forward on the desk and the mahogany creaked beneath him.

The pen stopped as a door opened and a young man in black and gold entered.

The young man bowed to the Grand Master, who acknowledged the obseiance with a minute nod, eyes half-lidded, but showed no other sign of interest.

“Grand Master. There’s been an… incident. At Chen’s. I can deal with it, but it’ll-”

The Grand Master’s voice rolled deep and gravelly across the room.

“We got no issue with Chen, Hirosue.”

“I know that, Grand Master. But I think we can use this to our advantage. We can accelerate this effort with the Shadow Claw Clan.”

Wood creaked and squealed as the Grand Master leaned back, bringing his face into the sharp beams of light from the lanterns outside. The stark angle made his face crueller, heavier.

“This was supposed to go longer, kid. A few weeks hardly counts. Maybe you lost your nerve.”

“No, Grand Master, I assure you. But this situation at Chen’s needs to be dealt with. It’s perfect, I promise you.”

Hirosue fell silent as the Grand Master lifted a finger. A finger big enough to plug a pint glass.

“Do what you have to. I don’t want to hear another word about this. Now get out.”

Hirosue got out. The door closed behind him and the Grand Master sat in perfect stillness for heartbeats. The room lay silent.

The pen began scratching again.

*****

Ikegami strolled along a busy lamp-lit corridor, passing other Glorious Dragon ninja, returning their respectful bows with his lopsided smile. He carried the bundled swords over his shoulder.

He turned in at a door and stopped, studying an arched hall lined with simple cots. Here and there young men sat quietly, tending to weapons or patching garments or just chatting in hushed whispers. They all stood at Ikegami’s entrance.

“Boys. I need this room for a few moments. I wonder if you could step outside?”

Although obviously curious, none of the young ninja asked the old man what he was about as they filed out of the room. Ikegami closed the door, then made his way along the rows of cots, studying nameplates.

“Hirosue.”

Kneeling, Ikegami studied the locked trunk set at the foot of the bed. It was a heavy chest carved of teak, traced with delicate bas-reliefs of tigers and bamboo. The iron lock set into the lid yielded with the faintest motion of the old man’s hand, and he levered the chest open.

Ikegami reached in and turned aside layers of dark clothing. Beneath glittered steel, weapons arranged in careful rows. Knives, throwing spikes, sickles. Old fingers lifted one, then another, as he inspected them. He set the last one back down and turned back the clothing on top, pausing to rub the last layer of cloth between his fingers.

Pulling his hand away, he studied the dark stain on his fingertips. He sighed.

The boys were all waiting for him as he came out of the room and apologized for taking up their time. None of them asked what he’d been doing and he headed back the way he’d come.

*****

Masayo idled on a bustling corner. Down one hand the street opened out to the waterfront, moonlight wavering on oil-slick ripples. On the other rows of workshops lined the street, hammerblows ringing out.

She paid little attention to the crowds scurrying by, but one kid caught her eye for just a second. A wary ten-year-old with the eyes of an sour old man.

Masayo held up a coin, tossed it from one hand to the other, and then very deliberately dropped to ground beside her.

“I’m not dumb enough to touch that, lady. What do you want?”

The kid had materialized on the opposite side of Masayo from the coin she dropped. She turned her head away from him, keeping her gaze on the coin, and reached out to casually grab the second kid as he leapt in to take advantage of what he assumed was a successful distraction.

“Hey, hey, hey! We’re friends here, lady, we’re friendly. You looked like a generous type is all. What’s the fee, now, lady? What do the Black and Gold need from the Wharf Rats?”

Masayo grinned, planting one foot over top of the coin.

“I’m looking for one of you. Erik, helps out at Chen’s sometimes. He knows me, I need to tell him something.”

Just like that, a third kid came up in front of her, sauntering out of the crowd with a smirk.

“Hey, Masa-chan. I haven’t been at Chen’s for a couple days. What’s up?”

“Crap, Erik, listen–”

She’d been followed. A dark shape moved, up on the opposite rooftop and Masayo grabbed the kid, interposing herself. Black clothing. Face masked. Flash of silver.

Fire stabbed her shoulder. She pushed at Erik.

“Get out of here, Erik. Don’t go back to Chen’s. Just get out.”

The kid was long gone. All the kids were gone. Masayo rolled into an alley, just dodging another shuriken, and then she ran. The silver badge on her attacker’s chest glittered in her mind.

“Shadow Claw.”

She ran.

Uh-oh. Why is the Shadow Claw Clan attacking Masayo? What is Ikegami up to, exactly? And really happened at Chen’s? Read the next part! Maybe there will be answers? Maybe.
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