Snake Eyes had wondered sometimes about the logic of building a dojo on a mountain. There was a definite lack of level real estate to be had, and a copiously large amount of stairs. Hard Master had explained to him once that it was tradition, and that without tradition their lives would be meaningless.
"In fact," Storm Shadow had said, "Our lives would be as shaky as…as a fiddler on the roof."
"Really?" Snake Eyes had asked.
"He's just quoting musicals again," Hard Master had replied. "I have no clue where he gets it from."
"You have to admit, you were asking for it. Besides, the fact that the quote can be reused hints at the obscenely traditional nature of this dojo," Storm Shadow had said.
"Explain yourself, Young Master," Hard Master had said.
"There's not much that can be done about the fact that we're in Japan, and really, it makes sense," Storm Shadow had observed. "However, the fact that we're on a mountain – which makes no sense, considering what a pain it would be to carry everything up and down these blasted stairs – is pretty overused. Also, why do we have our own private island? How do we get stuff out here? What do we do when someone gets injured? Do we have a road system? How much money do we devote to bringing stuff here? Do we have a ferry? There are many unanswered questions, most of which could be solved by moving this dojo to the mainland."
Hard Master had ended the conversation by telling them both to go run until they puked.
After ascending the endless flights of stairs, Snake Eyes finally came to a courtyard. For one tantalizing moment, the ninja fans held their collective breath. Was this the moment? Would Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes fight now?
A vague white figure appeared in the doorway. Yes! This was it! The fans looked at each other in appreciation. This was gonna be good, considering how amazing the rest of the series had been.
Then, just as it seemed that there was going to be an epic fight scene, Snake Eyes flashed back.
"Ichi! Ni! San!"
Snake Eyes waved his sword around a little, counting in Japanese. In retrospect, if he'd known they would be some of the last words he would ever speak, he would've said something else. Maybe he would have sung something. But, alas, all he'd done was count.
"Hey, old man! Yes, I'm talking to you!" Storm Shadow sauntered out of formation, approaching Hard Master without an iota of respect.
"Storm Shadow, you should call me 'Sensei' in front of the other students," Hard Master said, his voice all benevolent and masterful.
"I'll call you what I want, old man," Storm Shadow said, pulling a nickel bag from his back pocket and kneeling on the hard cobbles of the courtyard. He pulled out a paper, and began to roll a fattie.
"Tommy, what are you doing?" Hard Master demanded.
"I'm delineating my evilness by doing drugs," Storm Shadow said.
"Cigarettes are legal, if unhealthy," Hard Master said.
"This ain't a regular cigarette, old man," Storm Shadow said.
"Also, how are you going to smoke through your mask?" Hard Master asked, conveniently ignoring Storm Shadow's last remark.
"I haven't actually started smoking yet," Storm Shadow said, yanking off his mask, lighting up, and taking a drag. "Ah. Much better. Anyway, I hear you've been tutoring my friend…what's his face…uh…"
"Never mind his name. Yes, I've been tutoring him. Listen, Tommy, you've been training since you could walk. Your friend came to us as an older child, and he needs a little help to keep up with you," Hard Master said, placing a fatherly arm around Storm Shadow's shoulders.
"B.S., old man!" Storm Shadow snarled. "I'm so evil that I reject your paternalistic wisdom! Just a second…" Storm Shadow took another pull of his joint. "Sorry, you got me a little worked up there," he said. "I need this stuff to keep me cool."
Hard Master frowned. "He's your best friend. Would you deny him aid?"
"Yes," Storm Shadow said, brow knitting again. "I would deny him aid, and kick him out of the dojo, and chain him to rocks where birds would eat out his liver. That's what I'd do."
"Because I'm a bad guy," he said.
"What happened to the kid whose biggest problem was a little excessive violence towards squirrels?" Hard Master asked.
Storm Shadow shrugged. "Apparently, it's edgier just to make me bad."
"No, that's just poor writing," Hard Master said. "That isn't edgy."
Storm Shadow shrugged. "Anywho, you haven't taught me the Seventh Step to the Sun yet, Pops. It's bringing me down, you know?"
"I haven't taught it to you because of your little violence problem," Hard Master said.
"What violence problem? WHAT VIOLENCE PROBLEM?!" Storm Shadow screamed. "WAIT A SECOND WHILE I SELF-MEDICATE!" Storm Shadow began to frantically puff on the joint. After a few moments of frantic hyperventilation, he seemed to calm down. "Where were we?"
"Your violence problem."
"I know I have a tendency that way," he admitted. "But I'm the greatest student of this school. I deserve to learn it. I want to know why you haven't taught it to me yet."
"Uh…" Hard Master thought a moment. As he tried to formulate a way to let his nephew down, a rabid fan yelled from the peanut gallery.
"Hard Master's trying to replace you with Snake Eyes because he's better at being a ninja than you!"
"When did they get here?" Storm Shadow asked.
"Don't listen to them. They're liars," Hard Master said. "Well, you see, um…"
"Yeah, just pull out a gun and nail him one through the head!"
Storm Shadow turned to the fanboys. "Hey, if I give you twenty bucks, will you do it?"
"I don't have any weapons on me," admitted Rabid Fanboy #1.
"You suck at cosplaying," said Rabid Fanboy #2. "This one's for you, Stormy! You're my favorite Cobra!"
Pulling a rifle from his back, the fanboy (in an amazing stroke of luck) shot Hard Master through the head. After a moment, he turned to Snake Eyes and tried to repeat his success. Although he shot a little low, there was no denying that he had a future in a variety of fields involving firearms.
"I knew coming to Comic Con as Zartan was a good idea," said Rabid Fanboy #2, looking at his rifle fondly.
"I'm still trying to figure out how you convinced me to crossplay as Zarana," Rabid Fanboy #1said. "Come on, let's go get some food."
"Snake Eyes, your memory fails you," Storm Shadow said, shaking his head. "Marijuana definitely isn't the Right Fuel."
That's totally how it happened, Snake Eyes protested.
"Not really. It happened more like this," Storm Shadow said, smiling. "It's my turn for a flashback."
Storm Shadow sheathed his sword. Walking up to Hard Master, he practically kowtowed. "Uncle, may we speak?" he asked.
"No, you stupid turd," Hard Master replied. "You're supposed to call me 'Sensei' in front of the other students."
"I don't speak to you as a student," Storm Shadow said. "I'm here because I'd like to know why you're training Snake Eyes privately."
Hard Master shrugged. "That isn't that big of a deal, is it?"
"Well, it wasn't," Storm Shadow said. "But then, when you commanded me to bow whenever he entered a room, I felt it might be getting a little excessive. After the Technicolor Dreamcoat Incident, I thought it was time to talk to you."
Hard Master considered this for a moment. "Well, since I am showing some pretty obvious favoritism, I think I'll just guilt-trip you to disguise my actions. For heaven's sake, Tommy, he's your best friend, and you've been training since you could walk, and he needs help." Hard Master placed a fatherly arm around Storm Shadow's shoulder. "Do you deny him aid?"
"No, I just want to learn the Seventh Step to the Sun," Storm Shadow said.
"Oh. Well, unfortunately for you, I already taught it to Snake Eyes," Hard Master said.
"Why?" Storm Shadow asked, confused.
"Because I sense much fear in you," Hard Master said. "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. And suffering leads to Cobra," Hard Master said.
"Why does that line seem familiar?" Storm Shadow asked.
"Because this entire scene bears an eerie similarity to Star Wars," Hard Master replied. "Anyway, where were we?"
"Uh…you said you had already taught Snakes the Seventh Step to the Sun," Storm Shadow said.
"Well, I taught you the Sixth Step, and that should be good enough for you," Hard Master said.
"But, you sort of promised me that you would teach it to me," Storm Shadow said.
Hard Master sighed. "Tommy, you are so impatient. It's just kids these days, I guess, with their cell phones and their myPods and their fancy-schmancy electric cars and 4G networks and Spacebooks and MyFaces."
Storm Shadow tried to interrupt, but Hard Master continued. "When I was a boy, there were no cell phones. If we wanted to talk to a friend, we had to row a rowboat – uphill both ways, mind you – to the mainland, see a man about a horse, ride the horse to the friend's feudal castle, and then get back without being killed by rogue samurai."
"How old are you?" Storm Shadow asked. "I mean, I always assumed you were maybe 60 at the oldest…"
"When 900 years you reach, look as good you may not," Hard Master replied.
"Stop purloining lines from Yoda," Storm Shadow said.
"Fine," Hard Master said poutily.
"And back to the topic at hand. Uncle, you are forcing me to be blunt," Storm Shadow said. "Like you said, you're…old. Not 900 years old, maybe, but certainly getting a little up there. It's not unreasonable to teach me the Seventh Step as a form of security."
"Come on, Tommy, everyone knows that if I taught you the Seventh Step all you'd do is use it to impress girls and get in bar fights," Hard Master said. "See, the reason I taught it to Snake Eyes the Seventh Step is that I know he'll hardly ever use it. To him, violence is a burden. To you, it is lighter than air."
Storm Shadow sighed. "Okay, that does it. I quit. I've been scouted for some really good jobs recently, and there's no reason why I should stay here and take your abuse."
He ripped off his mask, letting it float from his fingers. It's a symbol, he thought. My shackles, floating away…
Then, in the space of about four seconds, the following events occurred:
Snake Eyes broke ranks and began running toward Hard Master.
Zartan shot Hard Master.
Zartan, in some remarkable burst of skill, shot Snake Eyes in the throat.
Snake Eyes ran towards Hard Master's body, screaming 'Ben! Old Ben! Don't be dead!'
Storm Shadow could only stare in shock. He was still staring when Zartan came up, rifle casually slung over his shoulder.
"Hey, Storm Shadow. Fancy seeing you here," he said.
"Zartan…did you do this?" he asked.
"You bet I did. Fine piece of work, wouldn't you say?"
"No. No, I wouldn't," Storm Shadow said, voice brittle and annoyed.
"I sense your annoyance," Zartan said.
"Could we stop the Star Wars now? Please?"
Storm Shadow scowled. "Okay, would you like to enlighten me on precisely why you did this?"
"The Commander said to follow you here and take care of whatever was stopping you from coming to Cobra full time," Zartan explained. "I think I guessed right."
So, which version is correct? Snake Eyes asked.
"I suppose they both have a grain of truth in them," Storm Shadow replied. "The point is for the reader to decide for themselves."
Snake Eyes sighed. I swear you're playing with my mind.
"Well, lucky for you, brother, all games end today," Storm Shadow said, grinning.