Disclaimer: Don't own any of Rumiko Takahashi's characters; this storyline is mine, however.



Culture Shock

Why was I doing this again?

I had asked myself that nearly every morning for the past two weeks, as I rolled up the futon and put it away in preparation for leaving for work. I still didn't have an answer that thrilled me, and all the reasons why I was subjecting myself to this particular brand of culture-shock-torture had fled the scene posthaste.

Grumbling, I dropped my overnight bag and slumped in the corner of the elevator as it jerked and began its descent, and sorted though my mental files labelled Why-This-Seemed-Like-A-Good-Idea-At-The-Time.

It was all my grandmother's fault. Yup. Has to somebody's, so might as well be hers. She had always wanted to return to Japan before she died; she never had the opportunity. My whole life, she'd told me stories about the country, the culture, what it had been like as a child growing up in Occupied Japan. She was born a month after the Nagasaki bombing; she met my grandpa and married him when she was just eighteen. I loved their wedding photos; Grandma, dark and petite and perfect in her beautiful kimono, stored who-knows-where during the war, holding the elaborate fan in delicate fingers, shyly looking up at Grandpa, a six-foot-four, All-American blond-haired, blue-eyed Marine lieutenant, sir! Grandpa died when my mom was just six years old, in a helicopter crash in Vietnam.

My mom grew up a height-challenged, slender, dark-haired beauty that was able to talk her way into and out of trouble (most of the time), went to college, and married my dad, another six-foot-plus blond linebacker originally from Ohio. I was born when she was nineteen. What is it with short women attracting tall guys? I won't have that problem; I'm five-eleven in my socks, so I'd have to be scoping the LA Lakers to have the same height differential as Grandma and Grandpa!

Oh, right. I was trying to work up a good dose of self-pity, wasn't I? Back to work… I managed to make it all the way to the subway before I noticed where I was, and as luck would have it, my train had just pulled in. I squeezed my way onto the car, trying to avoid the men in white gloves. I was never sure if they pushed my butt by 'accident', but I tried to avoid letting them make it a habit. Maybe I was depriving them of their only decent thrill of the day…

So, anyways, here I am two months later, in Tokyo, hanging onto the overhead straps, heading towards the Tomogawa Electronics Corporation tower located in the Shinjuku district, to spend another day trying to make data entry more exciting. I'm actually a software developer; when the word came around my office in San Jose that head office was looking for people to do a job exchange, I signed right up. I figured it would be an opportunity to visit some of Grandma's old stomping grounds, and get paid to do it, plus have cheap accommodation in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Boy, it hasn't been anything like what I expected.

First of all, instead of doing software development, they've put me into data entry for the software developers. Apparently the glass ceiling in Japan is a little lower and a lot thicker than in the good old USA. For this I went to UCLA? If the chicky doing my job back in California is only a data clerk, my files are gonna be a disaster by the time I get back. She's not responding to my emails, and my boss just sent one back to the effect 'not to worry, things are going great!', complete with one of those little smiley-things, so I know it's an unmitigated disaster. Oh, goody.

Where shall I begin my whining? How about the company-supplied apartment? Not only is it so far away from the office that my morning commute cuts into my much-needed beauty sleep, but it is about the same size as my mom's walk-in closet. A very basic kitchen and a bedroom/living room occupy around one hundred square feet, and a teeny-tiny bathroom gets another generous fifteen or so. All the clichés about swinging cats, and going outside to change my mind definitely hold true. A big cupboard holds my clothes, and the bedding, and that's it. Oh, there's a wall-mounted TV, too, but it only receives NHK, so fat lot of good that does.

At work, California Casual just don't make it onto the map, so I'm absolutely thrilled to be encased in a demure outfit that Grandma might have worn to church in the '50s; navy or dark grey suit with sensible skirt and a fussy little white blouse with one of those girly Peter Pan collars. Please; I'm twenty-three, not thirteen. And oh, boy, does the outfit go nicely with my waist-length brown curly hair, which in a fit of funkiness just before I left, I had done with red and gold highlights. That, coupled with being taller than most of the men in the office and my blue eyes, just about did in most of the personnel on the first day.

How did I ever think I was going to fit in? My skintone is almost right; golden cream, but the rest of me screams 'gaijin' at the top of its lungs, so most people aren't too sure what to make of me. My name also sends most off to fits of giggles, of course politely hidden behind their hands, which is another thing that drives me bananas.

Oh, you want to have a go, too? My name is Rhiannon Tanaka Johnson. What can I say? I'm from California, and my mom was going through a heavy Fleetwood Mac phase around the time I was born. I'm just grateful she didn't call me 'Stevie'; the upshot is, no-one can say my first name right, so now I'm known as 'Rin-chan' to my friends and 'Tanaka-san' to everyone else. My poor dad doesn't even get recognized for his contribution.

Anyways, at least today is Friday, and I only have to suffer until 6:00, when Mariko, Hiromi, Naoko, and Kazu have something 'special' in store for me to do with them tonight. Thank the heavens that it won't be another karaoke bar; I'm not good at smiling serenely as somebody butchers what everybody assumes is my 'theme song'. Which one is it? You get three guesses, and the first two don't count…


Anime Knights

Well, that was interesting.

After work, the girls, already giggling insanely like there was something other than green tea in their cups this afternoon, made short work of dragging me off with them. It's too far to go back to my elegantly appointed broom-closet, so I brought my stuff to stay overnight at Kazu's place. It is about the same size as mine, but her roommate is staying over at her boyfriend's place, so there's space on the futon for me. Apparently, that's where we are all going to get changed to go out tonight; we'll have to take numbers and wait in the hall, I suspect. Oh, what I wouldn't do for a cold Kirin about now!

Try squashing five fully-grown women into a hundred square feet, and then have them get changed, hair done and makeup applied. No privacy issues or sharp elbows here.

The big surprise was that we were going to hang out in the Asakuza district, which I thought was a little out of the way, but apparently one of its charms is that it isn't over run by horny white guys looking to pick up Asian girls, like Roppongi. No, we were going to check out an anime zone, populated by fangirls and boys, and we have to look the part.

I point-blank refused to do Sailor Moon, Mars, Mercury or whatever.

No sweat. They had already decided that I was going to be Witch Hunter Robin, complete with gravity-defying ponytails. I could cope with the long black trench coat and even the Dracula's-bitch dress. The little half-moon granny glasses were a bit weird, but the pendant Hiromi produced was very cool. Naoko couldn't wait to get her hands on my hair; the curls seem to fascinate everybody, and they all had a go at combing it. Naoko twisted my hair, and retwisted it and then twisted it again before she was happy with how the ponytails stuck out. Don't ask me how she held it all together, but man, my scalp ached the next day! Fortunately, the character of Robin Sena doesn't wear much makeup, so all I had to do was climb into the dress, supplied by Hiromi's sister (where could she have worn a black Victorian wedding-style dress?), zip up the heeled boots I brought from home, and shrug into the trench coat. I think I would have preferred being 'The Matrix', but hey, we can't have everything, can we?

The subway ride into Asakuza was a hoot. The closer we came, the more the car filled up with people dressed as anime characters; it was like stumbling on a smoke pit outside a convention centre back home. We hit the station, and had to have a last-minute inspection by Kazu, our self-appointed mother hen, before we were allowed to exhibit ourselves to the general public.

There are an awful lot of people with an awful lot of time on their hands to make costumes in this country.

The main 'stroll', for want of a less shady term, was two blocks from the station. We hardly drew any second looks from anybody, which was a bit disheartening after all the effort. Kazu was a very boss Full Metal Alchemist Lt. Riza Hawkeye, blonde wig and all. Naoko and Mariko were seriously skirt-challenged as Sailors Mars and Mercury, and Hiromi was sweetly innocent as Akane Tendo. I suspected she kept her high-school uniform just to do this on weekends. I was blown away by the quality of some of the costumes on display, the wearers sauntering along the road like some kind of anime-pride parade.

Over there, three girls as the characters of Magic Knight Rayearth, complete with body armour and swords. A whole 'pack', so to speak, of Wolf's Rain characters. Three ZAFT Forces pilots chatting amicably with four others dressed in Earth Alliance garb. Nobody brought their mobile suits; darn. A few couples were dressed as Kira Yamato and Lacus Clyne from the same series (the pink hair on the latter was hard to miss), and I spotted at least one flaming-haired Fllay Allster with a Yzak Jule. Interesting. An Amon from Witch Hunter Robin ghosted along; he only came up to my shoulder. Miroku and Sango from Inuyasha were also much in evidence, probably because the costumes were easy, not because the couples were into sadism by way of smacks to the chops; but there was a fair bit of that for realism.

As we meandered along, the girls giggling and peeking through their fingers at some of the buff Naruto boys we passed, we reached the epicentre of the whole thing; the crowd in front of us parted, like the Red Sea, except it sure as hell wasn't Moses who came towards us.

It was Sesshomaru.

Damn. This guy was good, so far as I could judge, going by the manga Hiromi brought to the office every day to read at lunch. He had the whole shtick down pat; white kimono and hakama, black half-boots, spiky breastplate-thingy, big furry boa, not one but two swords (were those legal?), really nifty silver wig that reached down past his butt, and some impressive makeup. He even had the pointy ears happening. As he came closer to us, oblivious to the admiring glances being darted at him, I noticed that he was tall. Taller by a few inches than me, and I was about six-two in the boots.

He came to a stop right in front of our group, gazing at us with yellow eyes. The contact lenses even gave him slit pupils; man, this guy was over the top! I wondered, briefly, if the facial stripes were actual tattoos, and winced at how much that must have hurt, if it was the case.

I was very surprised when the girls bowed away from him, Hiromi murmuring something that sounded like "Lord Sesshomaru" deferentially. I stood my ground; I wasn't going to feed this guy's ego. He stood, regarding me with a sardonic look on his handsome face. Well, at least it would have been handsome, if it hadn't been marked up with two red stripes per cheek and a blue crescent moon on his forehead. He started towards me; I swirled the trench coat around me, as if I was really going to fry him à la Robin. He paused, and then continued, an irritating smirk on his face, until he was barely a yard away. I lifted my chin to look him directly in the eye; I wasn't going to pay him court.

"This is your first visit, is it not, Robin?" His voice was cool silk, full of mocking amusement.

"I didn't realize that there were so many tall female characters that you might confuse us, your lordship."

The icy bastard smirked, then proceeded to circle me, giving me a thorough once-over, before pausing, and catching me under the chin with his authentically-clawed fingers.

"I'll look forward to seeing you again, Huntress." He floated away. All he needed was a green midget following him to complete the set. I was too startled at him touching me in public, to do much more than glare daggers at his perfectly-coiffed wig.

The girls pounced. Hiromi was nearly in hysterics.

"Rin-chan! What an honour! Lord Sesshomaru never talks to anyone, except to his friends that dress like Inuyasha and Kagome; you really made an impression!"

I twirled the pendant around my finger. "An honour? Getting publicly groped by a complete stranger is an honour? There are a lot of things I don't understand in this country… this guy is really something important on the street?"

"Oh, yes! He's been here for a long time; trust us, it's a very big deal that he came over to speak to you, and on your first visit, too."

I couldn't help shaking my head at Hiromi's near-teary pronouncements. This guy obviously needed to spend more time in the real world; and so did Hiromi, for that matter. She was treating 'Sesshomaru' like he was a real person, not somebody dressed up. Mind you, he was so very tall and slender, like the character; wonder who his daddy was?

Kazu announced she needed a beer; I heartily seconded that motion, and we found a bar that wasn't too dank for some refreshments, before loitering our way back down the street and heading for the subway station. Hiromi was still babbling about 'Lord Sesshomaru' and how lucky I was to be noticed; I finally asked her if she had the guy confused with the character; that shut her up.

We stayed up at Kazu's for another couple of hours. I watched her waste several characters in Halo while drinking another beer, before we unrolled the futon and collapsed onto it.


Dog Bite

I am definitely not doing this again. Nope. No way. Not even if the request comes with a whole week off work just for me, with buff anime boys on call to fulfill every fantasy.

That's what I said the morning after our little foray, when my teeth were still fuzzy and my face unwashed, and my scalp aching from those damn ponytails. Kazu only laughed, before handing me an opened container of natto for breakfast. Sadistic bitch. Luckily I wasn't hung over, or I'd have redecorated her tiny bathroom for her. Geez, does that stuff ever smell! Screw the "it's good for you" crap.

As Friday wheeled around again, Hiromi began sizing me up speculatively; the Terrible Trio were obviously putting their heads together. I paused in her cubicle on Thursday afternoon, on my way for a bottle of water. "Hiromi-chan, whatever you are scheming in that inventive little head of yours, you can just forget it, especially if it involves 'Lord Sesshomaru'. I'd rather go to a karaoke bar and sing Celine Dion…"

"Oh, Rin-chan…you have to come. We've been working on a new costume for you all week!" Her big brown eyes were even bigger. I hate puppy-dog eyes, mainly since my blue ones don't do the job as well. I sighed.

"Let me think about it; I don't believe Kazu-chan has room tomorrow."

"Mariko-chan says you can stay with her! Please say you'll come, Rin-chan?"

I heaved a rather large sigh. "Okay, Hiromi-chan…I'll let you know by the end of the day." I had barely sat down again at my desk when Mariko popped her head over the partition.

"I'm so glad you are coming, Rin-chan! It'll be great this time; you just wait and see!" I slowly banged my head on my keyboard, and considered taking up an invitation from a rather good-looking Naval lieutenant to go visit the base on Tokyo Bay, just to throw myself overboard.

So, here we were again, except the venue was Mariko's slightly larger apartment, as in "shoebox" instead of "broom closet", and our numbers were going to be increased by Dai, Seiji, Moto and Jin. The boys were meeting us at the subway station on the way to Asakusa District. Naoko mentioned that they were coming as characters from Dragon Ball Z. Bright orange gis would be fairly easy to spot, and possibly avoid. Moto gave me the creeps, to be quite frank. He had a permanent leer on his face, like he had a remote camera hidden in the women's washroom or something.

Hiromi came perilously close to death when she held out the kimono, a huge grin lighting her face. Apparently, I was going to be the 'Rin' character from Inuyasha; just a whole lot bigger. Like nearly six-feet-tall bigger. Naoko and Mariko had equally blinding smiles; Kazu was laughing her ass off.

"Hiromi-chan, haven't you forgotten something? 'Rin' is what, six years old? I appreciate your confidence that I can pull off a character, but I don't think anybody's imagination can stretch quite that far!"

Hiromi was not to be dissuaded. "Nonsense. You'll look elegant, just like 'Rin' all grown up. Please, Rin-chan, do it for me?"

I growled. "The name's Rhiannon, don't forget; and I'm definitely feeling kind of witchy right now…"

I put on the cream hakama and juban and then the apricot silk kimono. It was almost long enough; I thanked her silently for not making me tangle with the traditional slip instead of the pants. Hiromi refused to say which sister had contributed it; I had a feeling there was an empty package in the family storage cupboard that had contained a very expensive furisode kimono. Mariko tied the fancy knot at the back, and then Naoko went to work on my hair. She combed it and put some kind of oil on it to make it glossy, then gave me a side part with a piece pulled aside and secured with a tortoiseshell comb. No goofy little ponytail, thank goodness. She then went to work on my face. The girl should do stage makeup; she's really quite good. By the time she was finished, I had a full anime-makeup job, even though I still felt a little silly.

The things you do because of peer pressure.

On the subway, I refused to sit down because I didn't want to get the kimono dirty. Motto smarmily suggested that I could sit on his lap; he got first-degree burns from the glares levelled at him by the rest of us. I pointedly moved to the next set of hanging straps and turned my back on him. Hiromi, garbed this time as Cigalli Yula Attha from Gundam Seed with Kazu's blonde wig rearranged, covered my back. Kazu was dressed as Poala from Beet, and she spent the rest of the trip polishing her knuckle-duster meaningfully on her pants. Naoko and Mariko were tarted up as girls from Chobits with ears, fishnets and clip-in hair extensions. Those two really liked their short skirts…

I led the way off down the street, the rest of the girls forming a barrier between Motto and me; Dai and Jin, dressed as Goku and Trunks, helped them out. Moto was Vegeta; glad he chose a character that suited him. Seiji was Athrun Zalla from Gundam Seed; the way Hiromi turned sweetly pink when he fell into step beside her made me think there was maybe something up between the two of them.

Once we reached the stroll, I spotted a couple of tall costumed white guys. I veered off to chat; the blond one was a very orange Naruto, and his black-haired buddy was Sasuke, with his tiny girlfriend as Sakura in day-glo pink hair. They were university exchange students, and we had just swapped phone numbers to get together for a beer, when we were rudely interrupted.

"Oi! Wench! You gonna keep people waiting, or what?"

I turned around. 'Inuyasha' was standing there, arms crossed into the nearly ankle-length sleeves of his florid red outfit, scruffy looking sword hilt poking out from under his arm, silver wig swishing…hey, cool! His dog ears actually moved! Fascinated, I watched those realistic appendages flicker, and then wondered if he'd show me the wiring necessary under the wig. He was even barefoot. Talk about taking everything to the nth degree… He also had golden contact lenses, like 'Sesshomaru', and an authentic attitude. I straightened up to my full height, and gave him my best 'frosted' look.

"I wasn't aware that I was keeping anybody waiting, actually."

He rolled his eyes. "Come on, Rin…Kagome wants to meet you, Sesshomaru's cranky, and I don't like doing the 'fetch' thing."

I folded my hands inside of the sleeves, and cocked my head to one side. "I think I object to being compared to a tennis ball; I've already had the pleasure of his lordship's attention, thank you, and don't wish for a repeat encounter. I think I'll rejoin my friends, and you can stop feeling put-upon by yours." I was sweeping by him, my nose in the air, when he gripped my elbow and fell into step beside me. "Hey!" I snapped, yanking away. "Hands off, buddy! Who do you think you are?"

He didn't answer, just caught my arm again, and sped up, tugging me along.

"Oi, Sesshomaru! You sure about this one? She's awfully feisty, and kind of on the lanky side…"

I was framing a really bitchy retort, when he let me go, and I found myself facing a dainty woman with beautiful grey eyes dressed in a green and white high-school uniform and carrying a bow. 'Kagome' was bang-on the character, except this version was older; about twenty-five, I guessed, but her figure was spectacular, and the warm smile was radiant. She searched my face, smiling brightly; I instantly rearranged my features from a scowl into a smile, and bowed slightly to her. "Pleased to meet you, uh, 'Kagome-san'."

"You have lovely blue eyes, Rin-chan! And you're so tall!" I was wincing over her use of the familiar, but then I remembered that 'Rin' was a little girl in the anime, so if I was going to play along with them, then I had to go by their terms. Except I'd rather be eaten by wolves than say 'Lord Sesshomaru' to his face. 'Kagome' took my other arm; she barely came up to my chin. Nattering cheerfully about my costume, she gently ushered me along, 'Inuyasha' falling in behind, until we came within striking range of 'Sesshomaru'. He was standing in front of a black sports car; apparently zipping around as a ball of light had lost its appeal. Whoa …is that a BMW Z4…? I mentally slapped myself. Bad girl. No tire-biting the anime-loser's hot wheels.

His face may have been composed into a study in boredom, but his creepy golden eyes were glowing intensely. I stopped, giving him as coolly regal a look as I could muster. With 'Kagome' holding one arm, and 'Inuyasha' breathing down my neck, they had me neatly trapped, and his lordship was coming closer. I suddenly had a great sympathy with untold thousands of deer peering into the darkness at those twin beams of light…

I had to lift my chin to keep eye contact, my jaw tightening. We were nearly chest-to-breastplate, close enough that I could almost number his individual eyelashes. They were ridiculously long, for a guy, come to think of it. He didn't say anything; his nostrils were flaring as he inclined his head even closer to me and sniffed my ear delicately. Stifling the urge to bat him away, I concentrated on his cheek stripes. The lines were so cleanly etched and the colour so deep…damn. Maybe they were tattoos…eeyew. Definitely not dating material, if I had even the slightest inclination. Guys with facial tattoos just aren't doctors or lawyers in real life…

"I have finally found you." It was a statement, not a question. I snapped my eyes to his; the look of confusion on my face must have been pretty obvious, because the bastard smiled…and so did his eyes. That sudden thawing and the molten character it gave his golden irises suddenly made him seem…rather attractive. I toyed with telling him that he ought to smile more often, but was forestalled by him lightly stroking my cheek with the back of his index finger. As if that wasn't enough, he leaned in and brushed my forehead with his lips. "My Rin…"

I was suddenly aware of being the focus of attention of about, oh, three hundred people, give or take a dozen, and some of them were doing the "oh, isn't that sweeeeet," thing. Ah, yes, there's nothing quite like being in the centre ring of my favourite spectator sport: public humiliation.

I scooted sideways, away from the three of them, and then backed up a bit more. 'Kagome' looked startled; 'Inuyasha' was smirking, and 'Sesshomaru' appeared bemused. Dai and Jin stepped up to flank me; where were they when I really needed them, about five minutes ago? I swung my hair over my shoulder, and addressed the three in front of me.

"Excuse me, but I don't believe we've been formally introduced; I object to being manhandled by complete strangers." I decided to show them a thing or two; maybe they thought the gaijin was too stupid to know the score. I squared up, and bowed very deeply to the woman. "I wish you a pleasant evening, 'Kagome-san'." She gracefully returned it. 'Inuyasha', face and ears twitching, looking like he was about to split a gut, didn't bother to return my barely-low-enough-to-be-polite bow. I paused a moment, and then stiffly inclined my head towards 'Sesshomaru'. "Good evening, your lordship; try not to assault any other innocent women. I don't think that nice white kimono would stay very clean in a police lockup." He said and did nothing, just followed me with those owl-yellow eyes.

I spun around, the kimono skirts flaring out nicely to punctuate my action, and strode back down the street in what I hoped was a dignified retreat, the boys keeping pace at my elbows. I glanced over my shoulder; Moto had started following us, but Kazu yanked him back and shoved him rather roughly onto a bench, with an obvious warning to stay put, before she jogged to catch up, grabbing Mariko on the way.

We were safely on the subway before I let my irritation out. "Who does that creep think he is? The nerve of some people…I should have punched him out, instead of letting him get that close…I feel like I need to wash." The boys and Kazu stayed very quiet; Mariko made soothing noises, and I quickly subsided. I wondered if Mariko had cold beer at her place. I was desperately in need of one.

But…a little annoying voice wheedled in my head. His touch felt good…and his lips were very soft… Mentally rolling my eyes, I told the voice to shut up, and leave the mooning to Hiromi. This was definitely my last visit to Asakusa.


River Cruise

Having declared that publicly, of course, the very next day, where did I find myself?

I called Dave and Josh, the Naruto boys, early the next afternoon to see about making a date to go out with them and Dave's girlfriend. They had already decided to take a cruise up the Sumida River through the heart of Tokyo, so I invited myself along. The cruise started just at dusk, when the major bridges over it lit up, each one a different colour, and highlighting the type of construction. Unfortunately we were too early for the July fireworks display over the Ryogoku bridge, but that was okay. It kind of sounded like a Seine River cruise in Paris, which had been interesting, but it was really the chance to babble about home that I was looking forward to.

We caught the sight-seeing boat at the Hinode Pier, and settled in for the ride. Dave's girlfriend, Sayaka, was delightful, and made me feel welcome, as did Josh. Dave was a little more distant, but he thawed out quickly enough when he heard about my job back in California. Turns out he was hoping to get work in Redmond with the Microsoft colossus as a software marketer. Josh was a programmer; I gave him my card to call me when we both got back stateside.

The cruise ended at the Asakusa bridge, and we decided to go for a drink to warm up a bit. The evening breezes off the river were a little chilly. We found a nice bar not far from the bridge, and had a couple apiece to prolong the night. It had been very nice, but I found I was missing home quite a bit. I decided to call San Jose as soon as I could, just to hear my mom's voice, and be teased a bit by my dad. Heck, I'd even be nice to my rotten little brother if he answered. Boy, absence does make the heart grow fonder.

It was after midnight when we strolled in the general direction of the subway station, then Sayaka had a conniption because she'd forgotten her purse at the bar. She and Dave toodled off to retrieve it, while Josh and I hung out on a bench to wait for them. We were chatting about minor things, favourite movies and music, when I noticed a group of men in dark clothing heading purposefully in our direction. Something about them appeared menacing; people were scattering before them, or dodging into doorways to get out of their way. Yakuza thugs out on a protection stroll? I wondered. They were definitely pointed in our direction. They were still half a block away, when I grabbed Josh's arm and pulled him upright, interrupting him in mid-sentence.

"Let's go…we need to put some distance between us and these guys." He spluttered something about Dave and Sayaka; I jerked him into a walk. "I just don't like the look of this," I whispered, bustling him along. "We'll head for the bridge, and then circle back for them to get out of these guys' way, okay?" Josh finally gave in, and we trotted briskly down to the end of the block, and turned left. I kept him moving smartly, checking over my shoulder frequently to see where the gang was headed. At the corner we had just passed, the group split, half continuing straight, while the other half followed us. Josh started to get nervous then, and we started jog-walking, until the next corner, where we darted into traffic to cross the street, and then fairly ran up the next block. Our pursuers kept following us. Josh spotted the signs for the bridge one block over; we kept up our pace until we reached it. A posted sign indicated the presence of a police station across the bridge; we were saved.

Or maybe not.

A shoulder check confirmed that yes, we were still being followed. We ran onto the span, which seemed strangely deserted for a major bridge across the Sumida. We were partway across, when we both saw the other half of the gang lounging against the bollards on the other side. They must all have been recent Olympic sprinters to have reached this point before us.

Things were not, as they say, looking good for us. Josh and I huddled against the railing, looking both ways at the groups of men, who now that they had us cornered, were sauntering along like they were out for an innocent evening stroll. They reminded me, suddenly, of carrion birds swooping lazily in to clean up a road kill.

A kill. That's what we were going to be. My stomach instantly tied itself into a large knot, and I broke out into a cold sweat.

Josh suddenly gripped my arm, nearly making me scream. "Get up onto the railing!" he hissed. "You can jump into the river and let it carry you down to the next bridge, where that boat was tied up…you can swim, can't you?"

"Enough not to drown…I don't know, Josh…what about you?."

"I can cope…it's your only hope, Rhiannon. I think these guys have something nastier in mind than tea and polite conversations… please, just do it!" I obeyed him; he boosted me up onto the broad metal railing and I sat, legs dangling over the side. The river below swirled into little dark whirlpools where it passed the bridge supports; but it was looking safer than the bridge deck at this moment.

Josh stepped away from me, towards the nearer of the two groups. His voice was remarkably steady, considering. "Good evening, gentlemen…do you have something you'd like to discuss with this lady and myself?"

I heard a short, derisive laugh. I looked over my shoulder. The leader of the nearer group came to a stop three or four yards away from Josh; the other group stopped about fifty feet away. Its members seemed to be more concerned about preventing any other witnesses from getting too close. I started shivering.

"Oooh, he has blue eyes! Brothers, when was the last time we had blue eyes to savour?"

"Hmmm, I think it was…oh, yes, now I remember; '05, Tsushima Straits, wasn't it? They were especially delicious flavoured by the salt water, as I recall. No, no…my mistake…it was '45, Okinawa, I'm sure of it."

"You'll have to draw lots, since there are only two of them up for grabs." I knew that voice!

"What about the girl? Hers are an even more delicious shade of blue…"

"The Mistress has other plans for the Lady Rin." I wriggled around so that I could see the speaker more clearly.


My co-worker leered nastily around his index finger, which was picking away at his front teeth. Josh, misunderstanding, relaxed a bit and half turned to me. His body completed the manoeuvre; his head bounced across the bridge deck.

The response from the gang was immediate. As a group, they dove on Josh's body and began pecking at it, tearing off pieces of fabric and flesh. Their dark clothing became iridescent; feathers grew from their shoulders, their arms morphed into wings, their legs shrivelling and sharpening into menacing bare claws. Glistening razor-sharp beaks rose and fell.

They were ravens! I must have screamed the last word out loud.

"Yes, my dear Lady Rin, we are raven-youkai…and we have orders to bring you to the Mistress' presence; alive, unfortunately." I tore my eyes away from the seething mass of black feathers that had my protector under it and met Moto's cold beady eye. What I saw there froze the blood in my veins. I realized that he was about to move towards me; the speed that he had used to dispatch Josh made me realize I had no time to react.

So I jumped.


A/N I'll apologize if I mistakenly maligned the Asakusa district; I needed an area near a bridge over the Sumida, and the guidebooks said it was a noted entertainment district until mid-century. The area also had to be on a major subway line, and near a bridge for this story to work. So, Gomen nasai if I muffed it…but it's my story, and I'll fudge if I want to!

The 1905 Battle of Tsushima Straits saw the Japanese navy wiping out the pride of the Russian navy after it had sailed all the way around the world. 1945 Battle of Okinawa saw the first Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands in WW II.Both battleswere dark, nasty and desperate…