The Grandmaster, by D.L. Smith-Lee
Mitsuko turned from the busy sidewalk into the dark alleyway, glancing over her shoulder to ensure she was not being followed. Her hand clasped the wet spot on her abdomen where the wound bled into her hand. She couldn’t believe that, even after centuries of being dead and buried, the steel blades of the long deceased Zoku Clan could still cut so deeply. Mitsuko knew she wasn’t supposed to go out alone but she had to prove her worth to her clan. The Jade Clan had been a traditionally male clan for centuries. Before Mitsuko there had only been two female Jade ninjas and they were clansmen before Mitsuko’s grandparents had been born.
She pressed onward, plunging deeper into the darkness of the alleyway until she located the steel gray door at the end. Mitsuko banged the door urgently, praying that her fellow clansmen would not scold her and that they would listen. She’d, once again, gone against their wishes and hunted for the witch, Sadako, on her own.
The door swung open and Kenichi, her partner, stood in front of her, glaring.
“Ken,” Mitsuko said, reaching for him as he caught her arm.
“What the hell happened to you?” He demanded. Mitsuko hesitated, knowing that her answer would anger Kenichi. She’d put her life at risk again without him there to back her up.
“Sadako,” she said quietly, feeling Kenichi’s furious eyes on the back of her neck. He said nothing as he shut the door and swept her up into his arms, carrying her to the living area. Kenichi laid her on the couch where the other clansmen quickly gathered around, begging to know what happened. After Kenichi quieted them all, Mitsuko told them.
“Sadako has arisen them,” she said tiredly. “They’re back.”
“Who? What has she arisen?” Kenichi asked eagerly. Once again she stalled, this time she knew the answer would cause a panic but she had to tell them.
“The Zoku Clan.”
A dead silence swept the room, each clansman looking perplexedly at one another.
“Impossible,” Kenichi protested, breaking the silence. Mitsuko knew he’d be first to object.
“It’s true, they’ve arisen from the dead and are headed for the city now,” she explained. “They did this to me.” Mitsuko lifted her shirt, revealing the slice along the side of her abdomen from the ancient steel blade. While the other clansmen immediately retrieved herbs to heal her wound, Kenichi stood over Mitsuko, glowering into her eyes.
“You have to stop doing this Mitsuko,” he said gravely. “I could have lost you tonight.”
Mitsuko turned her face away, too ashamed to look him in the eye. She knew how much he cared about her because she felt the same. They were more than partners, they were friends. Kenichi gently turned Mitsuko’s face to his.
“Swear you’ll never leave without me again,” he demanded. Mitsuko looked deeply into his eyes, taking note of the severity within them. She had to prove her worth to the Jade Clan. She wanted to prove that she was as good a warrior as any of the males there but she knew she needed Kenichi by her side.
“I swear,” she agreed.
Long ago, the Zoku Clan was an enemy of the Jade Clan. Nearly five hundred years had passed since the great Jade Grandmaster had slaughtered the last of the Zoku Clan. Their resting place was not far from Osaka. Legends told that there were only about sixty of them all together but regardless of their small numbers they were a force to be reckoned with.
Few ninja clans were capable of harnessing Ether or learning the divine Ethereal Arts, but the Zoku Clan could. But they didn’t always use their powers for good. When Zoku ninjas attacked Osaka in the late sixteenth century, little did they know that the Jade Clan was blessed by a power equivalent to the power of Ether: the infernal Nethereal Arts.
Mitsuko laid on her bed that night, gazing at the ceiling when streaks of golden light floated across it, breaking through the darkness. Mitsuko recognized these lights as Nether waves but she’d never seen them in this arrangement. She sat up and looked to the corner of her room, locating the entity responsible.
At the edge of the city, the Jade ninjas could see the ranks of the of the Zoku revenants in the distance. Regardless of the darkness of the night, there was no mistaking the limping, slouched bodies from the distance. Their tattered flesh and armor fluttered in the chilly Osaka air. An upright figure stood to the center, walking with the poise of a runway model. Long black hair fell to her waist and a red kimono hugged her figure. Sadako and her zombified army now stood across from the Jade ninjas.
“I expected a bit more of a challenge than this,” Sadako sneered. “Too bad about the little bitch my minions disposed of.”
Kenichi narrowed his eyes, focusing in on Sadako. He drew his katana and screamed the Nether incantation, setting the blade on fire. The other ninjas followed.
“Death comes to those who wish it,” Sadako said and signaled her zombie slaves to spring their attack. Out of nowhere, a great explosion of light blasted the undead warriors backwards before they reached the Jade ninjas, Sadako stood her ground.
As the dust cleared, the light revealed the cause of the destruction.
“It can’t be,” Sadako said grimly.
“It is,” Mitsuko said with an immortal echo. Her body glowed with Nethereal energy and she held a blade her clansmen had never seen.
“You shouldn’t go waking the dead, witch,” Mitsuko said. “You might wake that which you don’t desire.” Sadako grimaced and sent her troops forward. Mitsuko only swung the ancient blade once, sending a final explosion across the fray. The other ninjas came to realize what this was, how Mitsuko had become so powerful.
“The Jade Grandmaster has returned,” Kenichi murmured.
D.L. Smith-Lee was born in a suburb of Chicago called Harvey, Illinois. He has published two stories, one in the 100 Worlds drabble anthology and one in the 100 Doors to Madness anthology. Hoping to flood the Earth in the dreamworlds of fantasy, he writes for escape from reality and the love of writing. He currently resides in Florida, where he serves in the US Navy.
Posted on October 9, 2014, in Issue 15: Elves & Spacerockets and tagged alternate history, e-zine, fantasy, flash fiction, genre blender, monsters, ninja, ninjas, superpowers, The Were-Traveler, witch, witches. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.