Issue 170 introduces the Middle Master, elder brother to the Hard Master and Soft Master, who Tommy thought had died in the war but who was actually a prisoner in a Russian Gulag. For years. His son was raised as a Russian Arashikage, basically, and now has a dojo in America where the Joe ninjas run into him.
I originally wrote the following one-shot in an effort to reconcile this new element of the comic to my verse, because even though I write AU, I do like to keep things close to the original when I can.
I have since decided (since issue 172 if you're curious...) to completely ignore the new comics in my verse. So, this is outside of my usual continuity.
The Disowned Master
"So… do you think he's legit?" Billy asked.
"It's an odd story," Kamakura commented. "But he seemed sincere, didn't he?"
Snake Eyes nodded, but Storm Shadow made a so-so motion with his hand. "He was not lying," he said.
The four were back in their car, Storm Shadow driving aimlessly for the sole purpose of having a private conversation about who they had just met.
Earlier that morning, while driving towards the abandoned warehouse Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes had intended to use for an advanced training exercise with Billy and Kamakura, they had stumbled upon a Russian dojo dubbing itself an Arashikage school. They had naturally gone in to investigate and had met the master of the dojo, a man claiming to be the son of the eldest of the Arashikage brothers. The master had told them the story of how his father had been held in a Russian gulag for years and had built the foundation of a new branch of the Arashikage with fellow prisoners as his students, coming to be known only as the Middle Master. The guards at the gulag had allowed the lessons, apparently feeling that they were harmless and were helping the morale of the prisoners, therefore reducing the likelihood of a riot.
Tommy had revealed that his uncles had told him their older brother had died in the war, but had elected not to specify that they had been lying at the time, or why.
After he was done with his story, the Russian master had bowed and vowed loyalty to the Masters of the Arashikage. Tommy had been unable to respond, and knew the man had noticed, but he needed advice on how to proceed; thus the drive they were on now. Snake Eyes had been basically appointed his advisor by the Hard Master, it was only fitting that he advise him in this.
"But there's something he doesn't know?" Billy asked in answer to his sensei's last comment.
Storm Shadow nodded. "I was thirteen when I found out there was an elder brother, and when I asked the Hard Master about him, he told me their half brother had died in the war. He used an uncommon word for it, one that more accurately translates as 'to become nothing'. I later mentioned this dead brother to the Soft Master, wondering why he did not have an altar. He interrupted me before I had a chance to actually ask, telling me the man was actually their half brother and had died in the war. He used the same unusual word the Hard Master had, the one that really means to become nothing. It was also extremely odd that they both specified he was only their half brother… since he was a member of the clan, it wouldn't have been unusual for me to refer to him as their brother even if he hadn't been related by blood at all."
Snake Eyes frowned.
"That seems… suspicious," Kamakura said hesitantly. He wasn't exactly keen on accusing the near mythical Hard and Soft Masters of lying.
Storm Shadow snorted at the understatement. "It seemed suspicious, all right. It made me extremely curious, so I asked my father."
He paused and pretended to concentrate on driving as he pulled into a mostly empty parking lot, shamelessly waiting for a prompt. Snake Eyes sighed at the theatrics, and Billy rolled his eye, smirking.
"What did he say?" Kamakura asked, strongly resisting the urge to roll his eyes as well.
Storm Shadow parked the car. "He first confirmed that the eldest son was their half brother, having been born from my grandfather's first wife. He then told me that his brothers were speaking in tongues, but that as far as anyone in the clan was concerned, myself included, the man was indeed nothing anymore, and that his own name was testament to that."
"He was disowned!" Billy exclaimed, his eye wide. "Your father was named Tomisaburo like you, right? Precious third son? As if the eldest had never even existed!"
Kamakura's eyebrows shot up and his mouth opened a bit. "Whoa. But… his son just swore loyalty to you!"
"Correct and yes, he did," Storm Shadow said. "The Fearless Master was born shortly after the war my uncles were referring to, a clan war with the Tsukinochi. The eldest son, then sixteen, betrayed us to our enemies in exchange for an heirloom sword of theirs that he coveted. Although we won the war, his betrayal resulted in the death of many Arashikage. Because of his young age and because nobody was particularly keen on more Arashikage blood to be spilled, the traitor was allowed to escape with his life. However, he was disowned completely, nearly all traces of his existence destroyed. As a final rejection of my grandfather's first born, my grandparents named their fourth son Tomisaburo."
"For a sword?" Kamakura asked. "He betrayed his family for a sword?"
Snake Eyes punched the side of the car, snarling, clearly sharing Kamakura's indignation. Billy was scowling as well, his arms crossed tightly.
"He certainly deserved to be erased from our memories," Storm Shadow said, "but why did he name his new clan Arashikage? Why does his son have no idea of his own father's history? A traitor would not see his own actions as something to be hidden and ashamed of; he'd only congratulate himself on his cleverness."
"Are we sure his son doesn't know the full story?" Billy asked. "Maybe he didn't mention it because he's ashamed?"
"I could see that," Kamakura agreed.
Snake Eyes shook his head.
"He doesn't know," Tommy said. "He is proud of his father, and he has no idea that we may have reasons not to share his admiration. That much was obvious in his tone AND his body language."
The apprentices hung their heads, chastised.
"I figure the Middle Master either regretted his actions, or didn't," Storm Shadow said. "If he didn't, I can't see why he'd perpetuate the name while sharing our teachings. He could easily have wanted followers, but why name his clan Arashikage? If it had been to mock us, wouldn't he have taught his students as poorly as he could to make them a living parody? Unless the next generation miraculously taught itself better, he did no such thing; the Middle Master's son appears to be more than competent enough not to be an embarrassment."
"So you think he regretted his actions?" Billy asked. "That still doesn't explain much."
"Not with certainty," Storm Shadow admitted, "but I do have a theory. I think the Middle Master regretted his actions and the loss of his family. Perhaps he had thought the Tsukinochi would be unable to capitalize on his betrayal, or perhaps the full horror of what he had done only occurred to him once he lived through the consequences. Perhaps he simply became wiser with age and realized no sword was worth what he had lost."
Snake Eyes signed the word 'guess'.
"Of course I'm guessing," Storm Shadow said, slightly annoyed. "Anyway, assuming he regretted losing his family, it's not overly surprising that he'd try to get it back. It all fits."
Billy held back a snort; Tommy was starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist. Storm Shadow gave him a significant look but continued with hardly a discernable pause.
"Here's what I think. Some time after he escaped, he was captured and sent to this gulag. By this point, he has a heavy conscience and he's missing his family. In the gulag, he finds himself surrounded by men who have lost nearly all hope and who merely survive, with no purpose to their lives. He could escape, he is after all a ninja, but what would he be escaping to? The frozen desert that surrounds his prison mirrors the emptiness of his life. He has nothing worth escaping to. Instead, he ends up teaching the other prisoners; he gains their respect, and he soon feels like he has a clan again."
"Both to honour his ancestors and to satisfy, as well as he could, his desire to rejoin his family, he makes that clan an offshoot of the Arashikage; they use our name, our symbol, and our techniques. They embrace our philosophies."
"The gulag is eventually closed and he eventually has a son. Never does he have any incentive to risk losing this new family by revealing his old crimes… why would he want to destroy the Arashikage he has created by causing dissent, which would certainly arise if the clan knew what he'd done? Once he has a son, it becomes even more out of the question: soiling his name would also ruin the boy's."
Snake Eyes signed the word 'guess' again.
"Yeah, but it's not a bad guess," Billy said. It was an honest statement, although he did hope siding with his Sensei would help make up for his earlier not quite contained snort.
"It's interesting," Kamakura said, "but acknowledging that we don't know any of this for sure, it doesn't really help us decide whether we can trust his son, does it?"
"No," Storm Shadow said. "I'm just trying to help us understand better where he may come from. As for trusting him, I for one will not blame the son for the father's actions."
Billy's breath caught and he suddenly became interested in the view outside his window. Kamakura, in a gesture he felt was particularly noble, did not comment on it. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, for their part, pretended not to notice.
Snake Eyes kept the conversation going by nodding at Storm Shadow and signing that although they would never know exactly what had happened, all evidence and their best guess pointed to the Middle Master having raised his son to be an Arashikage.
"So you agree?" Storm Shadow asked, smiling. "I will need your help composing a letter to Obake Obaasan to explain; I'm pretty sure her generation would not have made the same decision, and yet she will be the one dealing most closely with the consequences of our forgiveness on our reputation with the other clans. Allowing the son of a disowned and banished traitor into the clan will not make us look particularly fierce… more like desperate."
Snake Eyes mulled that over for a second and shrugged.
"Eloquent as always," Tommy chuckled. "Well, then. Let's head back and get to know our new brother better, shall we?"
Author's Notes (yep, more)
I debated a while on whether to just ignore the Middle Master, but I just had to make up an explanation for the Fearless Master being called Tomisaburo, which I usually see translated as Precious Third Son. So there you have it, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. :P
Thank you for reading!