protection ((coh story))




This is a cross post from the virtue forums, since i know that all who enjoy this sort of thing do not neccesarily go there. Enjoy! and feel free to post any comments you might have. There will be more than these two parts.


“Its just jealousy.” Terra had said. The words still rang in Eric’s ears, even though they had been spoken two days prior.

“Then why am I the one that’s jealous?” Eric muttered to himself, as he stared off in the direction of a gray office building. The building offered no answers, and neither did his companion.

Clad entirely in black, the two were clearly dressed for stealth. Both had bandoliers that held throwing knives, restraint devices, and other items useful for combat and surveillance strapped across their chests. Standing on the north side of the building, they watched from the relative concealment of the shadows a Crey Industries surveillance team. The older of the two did not even move. Eric noted with a certain amount of envy that even the pigeons would arrive, bob about for food, and leave, without even registering a human presence. He was entirely too fidgety.

As if to through his thoughts into sharp relief, the padded sole of his boot grated along the rooftop as he shifted his foot. Eric cringed, waiting for the reprimand that he was sure was forthcoming. For the moment, the only sign of disapproval was the new downturn of the mouth in the otherwise stoic features of the man surveilling the roof of the building across the way, through binoculars.

“Sorry,” Eric said under his breath. A slow, audible exhalation was the only response he received.

The two men, father and son, had been at this for a week now. Already, the days were becoming a blur to Eric. Long, hot days spent watching from black rooftops, the reflected heat from tarpaper soaking through him, making minutes hours and hours, weeks. More exciting were the nights, when he was able to move. He smiled slightly to himself at the memories of arcing through the night, landing silently on a building, coiling, and soaring to the next precipice. Movement from his father snapped his focus back to the torpid roof.

Still not making a sound, Kenji rose and secured the binoculars in a satchel. Finally, leather creaked as he adjusted his bandolier of throwing knives and darts. It was the first sound emanating from the man in over two hours.

“It would seem they are not willing to enter the park,” the elder observed.

Eric shrugged. To him that was really no surprise. Gemini Park was something of a Meca for heroes, looking to escape from the stress of fighting crime. To him, the throngs that gathered there were actually more stressful. He rubbed his head, in painful memory of an incident in which two heroes had plucked hairs from his head.

“Of course they aren’t. Most of the people there hate them, and wouldn’t hesitate to take them out,” Eric replied. “You’d stay away from there too if you had that much firepower directed against you.”

“It is fortunate she is welcome there.”

Eric nodded, but said no more, since there was no need for response.

“You however, still lack a center. You fidget like a small child.”

“Finally,” Eric thought, “the words behind the frown.” Again he did not reply, for he recognized the truth in the words.

Shadows stretched out before them, as the sun rode lower and lower in the sky. Whenever possible, they kept the sun at their backs. It prevented inconvenient things, like the telltale glint of light off glass informing their prey of their presence.

Kenji, eyes still fixed on the two Crey agents packing up surveillance gear on the rooftop of the office building, nodded with approval at his son’s silent acceptance of the rebuke.

“Do you have everything you need for the ceremony?” Kenji inquired evenly.

“Yes. I found a good place for it, too.” Underneath his full mask, he felt his face flush slightly with anticipation for that upcoming event.

For the next three minutes, the sounds of birds calling to one another, the labored sound of a truck under heavy engine breaking in the street bellow, and the burble of a near by fountain were all either man heard. At last, the Crey team left the building, and Kenji broke the silence once again.

“Jealousy is the emotion of an wavering soul.” And with that, he leapt off the building, his prodigious ability carrying him all the way to the rooftop they had just been watching.

Eric stood briefly, simmering in impotent furry. He muttered at his father’s quickly diminishing back, “I know I have problems. I don’t need you to point them out to me.”

Eric then dropped to the street below, the wind roaring in his ears as he fell. Two women stood bellow, comparing the contents of their satchels. One stood out, because she was wearing the uniform of a kung fu practitioner. “The other was about as average as a girl could get,” the teenager thought to himself as he plunged toward the sidewalk.

Eric alighted just behind them, relative to the street, and was off again just as quickly. Taking up a position in a tree across from the office building, he settled in for what he hoped would be a brief wait. Bellow him, one woman expressed her pleasure with the other’s selection of sundries and foodstuffs. He smiled to himself, pleased with the realization of his own ability to move undetected in the broad daylight.

Then, he focused on his objective. It was a white van with no windows, but the words “Crey Industries” were painted boldly on the side.

“The best place to hide, is in plain sight,” he said quietly to himself.

“What was that Jen?” asked Jane Doe.

“I didn’t say anything,” replied the blonde in the Chinese clothing.

Eric winced and silently berated himself for carelessness, at the same time being thankful his father wasn’t around for that particular mistake.

___ part one

In what was becoming almost a daily routine, Eric waited for the van to leave. Kenji and Eric had changed their pattern today, however. Instead of Kenji following the van back to Crey industries, and Eric continuing on to the park to check on their assumed charge, today Kenji would first scour the roof for any errors or possible evidence, and then sweep the area for more surreptitious efforts on the part of Crey. Eric would follow the van.

Across the street, a paragon city police officer stopped next to the Crey van, breaking her steady stride as she noted the illegality of the van’s location in a fire lane. Removing a pen from her breast pocket, she began writing in crisp strokes on a pad of tickets. Eric smiled slightly; gaining amusement from anything that might inconvenience his targets.

“Oh my God! Look!” one of the women bellow him exclaimed.

Eric tensed, ready to make a hasty departure, and then looked to see if it was he the woman had spotted. She stood in an almost classical pose arm extended towards a crime developing up the street. Three surly looking young men in hellions gang colors had just taken interest in a nurse walking home from work. Already, her screams for help were attracting the attention of on lookers, many of whom were swinging into the in-action of people that lived their lives as potential victims.

The two Crey agents chose that moment to exit the building.

Eric shifted his weight, and moved his left hand to another branch, improving the base on which he was balanced. His mind registered the sound of a bag being dropped below him. The next thing he knew, a furious gray blur struck him soundly in the face, beating at his head and pecking at his forehead in annoying yet ineffective attacks.

Eric swatted at his assailant, and then realized a fraction of a second that his initial reaction had unbalanced him. His left hand scrabbling against the bark, he felt the rough texture scratch against his fingertips; he lost contact with the tree.

“Aww Man…” Eric tried to roll with the fall so he could land on his feet. However, the tree finished it’s betrayal, and snagged his right foot with the fork of two branches. Eric landed unceremoniously on his head and shoulder in front of the two women. The pigeon returned to it’s nest, having successfully defended it’s home.

One immediately began screaming and backing away. The Crey agents across the street paused on their way to the van, noting the heap of black fabric just spat out by the tree. The blonde girl in the kung fu uniform took up a quivering cat stance, weight on her back foot. She swallowed nervously as Eric rose.

“Tsoo ninja… you’ll have to go through me, if you want to hurt anyone in Galaxy City!!” The girls voice was shrill, with excitement.

“What?” Eric replied as he tried to gather his bearings. Best to just play it off and attack the hellions he decided. “Oh, no, I’m not Tsoo.” As Eric turned to leap down the street, a foot caught him in the side of the head, and he stumbled forward, stars clouding his vision.

“What the hell?!” Eric spun around, drawing his blade. The blonde girl paled visibly at the site of the sword, but remained firm in her resolve to oppose this tree-born evil. Across the street, the Crey agents were quickly loading their van.

“I’m Steph.. Cat Scratch! And I will not let you Harm..” cat scratch paused, realizing she didn’t know what she was defending. Her mind latched on to the first idea she had. “Anyone!”

“You.. I… Get Them!” Eric sputtered and yelled, pointing down the street at the hellions. The girl’s face registered the confusion she felt, her eyebrows contracting. He heard the van start as doors closed behind him. He spun around to make sure his targets hadn’t eluded him already. This time, a kick to the back propelled him on to the hood of a parked car.

“Oh that does it!” Eric declared as he rolled off the hood of the car. He sheathed his sword and pulled a long plastic zip tie from within his uniform. Then he charged Cat Scratch. The girl shut her eyes tightly, cringing from the charging youth, and throwing an un-aimed kick in Eric’s direction. He stopped short, allowing the girl to carry herself off balance with the flailing strike. Then, he grabbed her foot and gave it a slight twist and push, sending the girl to the sidewalk. Eric quickly sat on her back and zip-tied her ankles together, and then drawing another zip-tie, fixed her ankles to a silk loop on the back of her pants.

“Sorry,” Eric said. Springing to his feet, he spun around trying to locate the Crey van. He groaned when all he saw were bewildered, but interested onlookers watching three hellions run from the nurse, who was pursuing them down the street with a very large hand gun.

Deciding that doing something was always better than standing there, Eric leapt after the fleeing hellions. His cheeks were hot with embarrassment, and the first hellion he over took caught the full force of the young ninja’s discomfort. Coming down from his impossibly high jump, Eric landed with his knees on the shoulders of the gangster, bearing him to the ground. The man whuffed as the air left his breath. Quickly, he slapped an arrest tag on the hellion, and began searching for the other two.

Police officers had descended on the scene, six dealing with the two other hellions, who had been affixed to the sidewalk by some sort of web like substance. Behind him he heard a muffled crying, and footsteps approaching rapidly.

Spinning, he saw four of Paragon City’s finest running towards him, guns drawn.

“Get on the ground now! NOW!”

Eric reluctantly kneeled down, hands held out to his sides. One of the officers skidded to a stop in surprise, the other three barreled into Eric. He felt something in his knee pop as his leg was bent in ways never intended.

Eric hissed with a sharp, pain-induced breath as his the fibers of his body quickly began to knit themselves back together. The three police continued to struggle with Eric, who wasn’t fighting back. One of the cops cried out in pain, as her partner put her into a wristlock, thinking he had Eric’s hand.

“I’m a registered Hero,” Eric declared loudly from the bottom of the scrum. Upon hearing this, the police relaxed slightly. “Check my I.D. it’s in my… yeah there.” He said, as one of the police officers found his id on the inside of his uniform jacket.

“Whoa, he really is a hero.” stated the cop who found the card

“Then why’d he take out that girl back there? Hey, what’s the deal with tying up the girl?” inquired the largest of the four.

“She kept attacking me. She thought I was a Tsoo ninja.” Eric said, while brushing gravel out of his hair and inspecting his knee.
“You look like a Tsoo ninja,” commented the officer who had initially halted his arrest attempt.

“Do Tsoo ninjas arrest hellions for you guys very often?” Eric rejoined sarcastically.

“There’s a first time for everything,” the cop replied while helping Eric up. “Sorry about the confusion.” With that, the cops joined their co-workers in rounding up the legitimate criminals. Eric turned away, and then remembered the girl he’d left bound on the sidewalk up. He looked up and gathered himself to jump, but saw his father leaning over the girl, cutting her bonds with a knife. He relaxed, and then began walking back towards the two.

The girl massaged her ankles, and then, with help from Kenji, got up, gathered her things, and hurried off into galaxy city’s pedestrian flow.

Eric slowed his pace slightly, trying to prepare himself for the verbal and quite possible physical lashing he was going to receive for this mess. His father kept his back turned to him. As he got close enough to speak, he saw his father’s shoulders shaking. Confused, he walked around, to face his father. Kenji had removed his facemask, and tears were leaking out of his eyes. He was laughing.

Eric’s face burned even more brightly now. He sighed, and pulled off his own mask, and then sat down on the curb.

“Well..” his father managed to say between silent laughs, “that certainly could have gone better.”

-- part two.



Thirty minutes later, the two landed on a fire escape in King’s Row. The slightly rusted metal creaked in protest, even though the men were fairly slight by local standards. The sun had sunk bellow the horizon, casting the sky in the bizarre colors of an industrial sunset. The war walls of the city shimmered in the distance. Eric watched a drug deal that was in progress, briefly considering breaking it up, but refraining as a group of several heroes in matching colors descended on the skulls like birds of prey. His father had already entered the building through the emergency exit by the time Eric turned around.

As he walked down the hall, memories of the previous week mingled with that night months previous when he and his father had fought in this very hall.

“Man, they don’t fix anything around here, do they?” Eric asked as he fingered a gouge in the plaster of the wall left by his sword, a couple of month’s prior.

Kenji only responded with a brief shake of his head, as he checked his door. Sliding his had along the top of the doorjamb, he found the thread he was looking for. It was nearly the same color as the door, and it was still there. He opened the door quickly, and it swung inward on silent hinges.

“You don’t lock it?” Eric questioned as he followed his father into the apartment. Eric’s old apartment, where he had lived when he first arrived in Paragon City.
The air smelled slightly of pine and ginger. The first would be the oil his father used on his drawing table, the later from his food. There was not a speck of dust to be found, Eric noted as he drew his fingertip along the molding of one of the walls. He traced the texture of the paint with mind, again finding patterns and shapes in the earth tone swirls as he had when they first arrived.

“There is no need.” Kenji replied evenly.

Eric shrugged, and began undoing the various straps and buckles that held the various instruments of his clan’s craft to his body, whether he was crawling furtively along a rain gutter, or soaring through the night like an urban impala. He briefly ran his hands over the smooth laquered sheath of his katana, twisting it slightly so that the light played and danced along the contoured edge. He looked up to find his father holding his bandolier.

“You carry a dagger now.” It was a statement, not demanding explanation. No expression hinted at pleasure or displeasure. Eric could see his father’s hands tracing the inscription on the blade. Kenji turned the blade over and read allowed.

“If your sword should ever fail, you’ll always have back up.” Now, his eyebrows lifted in inquiry.

“Courtney gave it to me for my birthday.”

Kenji nodded once, and then replaced the dagger in the bandolier, and then drew it again quickly, as if he enjoyed the sound of the blade clearing leather. He then tested the balance of the blade, balancing it on the end of his finger. With a fluid motion, he palmed the blade and flicked it at Eric. Completely non-pulsed, Eric caught the blade neatly.

“A very sensible gift, and a very fine blade. Have you used it yet?”

“Has my sword failed yet?” Eric rejoined scornfully. His father’s face tightened, and the air in the small apartment began to crackle with tension.

“I mean, no, I haven’t used it yet.” Eric said, trying to ease the tension. He didn’t know why he still had the need to provoke his father, but he did. He focused his attention on maps that were spread out on the drawing table that was his father’s prize possession, after his sword, of course.

The table dominated the living room of the apartment. It was old, probably from the 1950’s or 1960’s. It had iron legs, which Kenji had bolted to the floor. Large tracks allowed it to tilt through almost 180 degrees of rotation. The writing surface looked to be oak, or some other hard wood. It had been meticulously cared for, and kept so clean it was almost antiseptic. Normally, Kenji used it for calligraphy, his long time hobby. Now, several maps of city zones were affixed using a type of resin adhesive that would stick to the wood, but never permanently.

Eric studied the maps while his father made tea, and put rice into the rice cooker. Small notes in his father’s tidy, cramped hand inhabited the margins of the maps. Most of them detailed the movements of the Crey agents they had been stalking. Others detailed advantageous spots from which to monitor their assumed opposition. Eric’s eyes found a note that caught him off guard.

“Why do you have Courtney’s house on here?” the teen asked in surprise.

“At first, I thought it was she that we would be protecting.”

“Oh.” Eric nodded. That, at least, made sense. He glanced at the timetable to the right of the map of Galaxy City.

“Looks like it’s your night in Galaxy City…” Eric trailed off. They had been alternating nights, watching her Uncle, ready to step in, if needed. Since she was staying with one of her mentors in the park, they had no need to watch her at night.

Then, he went over to the corner where he’d left his backpack after school. The blue canvas bag, with his hero id, “Suzuki Katana” scrawled in bold letters along one side was definitely well used. The there were light stress marks where the corners of books tested the fabric to its limits. Eric fished for a bit, and then collapsing into the corner of the room, he began to read.

From where he was in the kitchen, Kenji watched his son, a neutral expression his face. “He is so much like his mother,” he thought to himself. Sayuri had been marginally popular as a geisha, known for her emotional swings, as much as for the designer kimono her “older sister” had always lavished on her. “She too, lacked discretion.”

The timer on the rice cooker began beeping. Kenji removed two ceramic bowls from the dish rack, wiping off any accumulated dust with a rag. He inhaled with deep pleasure the steam that poured out of the rice cooker when he opened it. The sticky sweet smell helped to clear his mind. Deftly, he paddled rice into the two bowels, and poured the tea.

“Funny how quickly we fall into old routines,” Eric thought, as he rose, closing the book over his thumb to hold his place. He crossed the room and joined his father at the kitchen counter. His father handed him a pair of disposable chopsticks wrapped in cheerful, lucky red paper. Eric broke them apart with a crack, and laid his book open on the counter. “Just like old times.”

“What are you reading?” asked his father.

“Demons, by Fyeodor Dostoyevski” replied Eric, without looking up from his book.

“What is it about?”

“Right, wrong, consequences, responsibility…”

“There can be no action without consequence.”

“Right. But it’s not always that simple is it?”

“Only if you choose for it not to be.”

Eric paused, a morsel of food half chewed, and his brows knitted in thought. What if there was truth to that? Everything in his life that was complicated, he had made complicated. Or, it seemed that way to him, anyways. He shook his head, and continued to eat. The apartment grew dimmer, as full night began to envelope the two men, and the apartments paper lamps diffused the soft white light in to the room.

--- part four

Thirty minutes later, the bowls were back in the dish rack, small beads of water busily evaporating into the night air. Eric was back in his corner, huddled almost into a ball, reading his book. Kenji kneeled before the small Buddhist alter, eyes closed, seeming to meditate. However, he was lost in thought. His mind went over nearly a century of memories and experiences, searching for the right thing to say to his son. Eric would burn himself out; destroy himself if he did not find an appropriate center soon, the father thought. He searched all the teachings of the hisan-ken for an answer.

The hisan-ken is a ninja clan, dating back to the early Japan. If historians were to put a date on the formation of the clan, it would be in the year 1453, at the marriage of Nita Yukako and Kurasawa Koji. Over the several hundred years, the clan developed their philosophies and teachings. Their name, hisan-ken, which means flying sword, was emblematic of their preferred weapon. The clan based their training hierarchy along familial lines, parents being the masters of children. Provision for an orphaned student developed after a particularly bloody clan war in the early Edo period, about 1637. Aunts and Uncles would take over the training of the children, and in a worst-case scenario, brothers and sisters.

The training philosophy was built around roughly equal parts physical training and meditation. Indeed, the clan was known for it’s various meditative exercises, and the firm resolves and purpose those exercises lead to. Mastery in the art was traced through an image of concentric circles, with a student’s master being in the center.

A student’s training as an 11th circle initiate was largely manual labor. Cleaning the shrine and living area, attending to the masters needs as they instructed older siblings. Meditation was simply practice in being still and not falling asleep. As a student passed from initiate to student, more formative activities were introduced. Basic hand-to-hand forms and sparing were introduced to the endless regimens of push-ups, duck walks, and other natural exercises. Philosophically, the students were indoctrinated into the need for a center, during this phase of training. Their days were long, working for a legitimate family pursuit, such as farming, and training by night. Typically, they slept only six hours a day.

As a student got older, and became an adept, weapons were introduced into their training. Always, they started with the wooden bokken. The students would train in weapon forms for hours, until their hands bled, and formed calluses from the work. Meditation also included their new weapon, crafting a bond that sought to make the sword an extension of the body and soul of the ninja. It was in this area that the crucial point of training occurred. The meditative exercise which gave the ninja his center, or grounding, a sense of purpose in the world. Most did not reach this point until they were at least 20 years of age.
Kenji frowned to himself. Eric had reached it when he was 15. There were many times when Kenji wondered if he was rushing the boy’s training, and now, he was sure of it. Eric had excelled in his mastery of hand-to-hand combat, and he was truly gifted with the sword. In truth, he was as uncommon a swordsman as Kenji had ever met. However, the boy lacked the emotional stability to go with his physical prowess. Kenji could not understand what drove the boy to be so irrationally protective. Even now, they were defending a single girl against impossible odds from a much larger force. But why, when there were so many others.

He nodded to himself, clapped twice, in a traditional ending of a prayer, and rose. Eric did not even look up, but remained fixated on his book. For five long minutes, Kenji watched his son. The whisper of a page being turned was the only sound in the apartment. He then walked to the center of the room, and stood with his back to his drawing table.

“Shiri-Kaze, draw your sword.”

Eric started and nearly dropped his book. Not only had his father used his “master” voice, he had called him by his clan name. He dog eared the page of the book, and then retieved his blade. He settled into an even stance before his father, the wood creaking slightly beneath his feet. Then he drew his blade explosively, noting with pleasure a slight flinch out of his father. The room was small; the blade tip was scarcely 10 centimeters from his father’s face. The two had settled into the old relationship of master and student.

“Close your eyes and focus, Eric.” Kenji said in a soft, even voice.

Eric fell readily into a meditative trance. He was quite practiced at it; he had been doing it since he was three. The perceptions came on like a gust of wind at his front, images and memories speeding through his conscious thoughts, memories of training, of Texas rainstorms, and of Paragon City. As the parade went on, he released from attention all these extraneous details of his life, and slowly focused his concentration onto the center of his existence. Here, he stood, at the meeting point of two walls, beneath a blank, non-descript sky. Eric was familiar with this place; he came here often.

From out of the sky, a voice boomed incomprehensible words.

“Eric, what is before your sword?” Kenji said evenly.

Eric saw a small dot on the horizon, and grinned in anticipation. He flexed his fingers, and heard the knotting on his hilt creak under the pressure of his grip. His foe approached. His foot shifted, raising a small puff of dust, and Eric prepared to leap forward to meet his foe. He checked his motion though, for now other foes were approaching, walking along side the walls. He needed the walls to guard his flanks. The teenager tensed, and then relaxed. Three on one was nothing.

His enemies began to resolve themselves. One was the spitting image of a swat officer, with the word “Crey” emblazed on his armor. This one carried a gun and tactical gear. Eric would have to deal with this one quickly. To his left was an insectile humanoid. This prompted a twinge of confusion in Eric’s mind. Wasn’t this one on his side? On his right, a specter, a shapeless ghost approached. Eric began to weave his sword in a defensive pattern.

The attack came without pre-amble or boasting. The insectoid attacked with an organic blade, a simple over handed hacking attack. He parried easily, and met the attacking Crey agent’s machete. A quick kick to the exposed knee of the agent drove him back, and Eric set his guard for the next attack. But now, the agent was on his left and the ghost had taken the center. The phantom directed waves of pure hatred at him. His stomach curled as the emotion saturated him and he felt the desire to destroy.

Again the voice boomed from the sky.

“No time, wait a second.” Eric replied. How could he answer when nothing before his blade would sit still? In the distance, he saw more foes appear on the horizon. Foes he could easily place a name on, like Freakshow tanks, and Dr. Vahzilok, and more obscure ones, like the notion of fear, and the embrace of pain. They assaulted him relentlessly, constantly changing places, phasing in and out of existence. His strikes became desperate, drawing sparks from ethereal blades, and his parries almost automatic; simply because where ever he put his blade, an attack was arriving. Miraculously, he had not been struck yet.

For a third time, the voice from the sky tolled across the plain, like an ominous bell, ringing to be answered, or to signal his doom.

“Everything!” he shouted back, and continued to fight desperately for his life, and the life of… her.

Kenji Kurasawa flinched at his son’s forceful reply, and then a frown of deep concern crossed his face. Beads of sweat had dampened his son’s face; his breathing was heavy, as though he had been fighting steadily for thirty minutes.

“What are you defending?” Kenji asked evenly.

The voice boomed again, and Eric was exasperated. Throwing a spinning back kick into the chest of an attacking foe, he glanced into the corner, and found there a small girl, about 4’10, dressed in dark purple. She was still there. Eric fought with renewed vigor, and struck out viscously at his foes. He answered the voice, defiantly. “She is!”

“She?” repeated Kenji, wanting to leave no room for misunderstanding. “Who is, ‘She?’”

The voice was noisy today. Why wouldn’t it just let him fight? He could not drive his enemies back, not with the constant interruptions. Slashing, hacking, spinning, punching and kicking, Eric held his corner. The voice thundered again.

Eric shouted the girls name in response. He heard a soft, slightly stubborn sigh behind him, and faltered in confusion, then his enemies vanished. His heart thundered in his ears and a harsh wind grated the battlefield. A wind that did not touch him. “

No,” he realized, “that’s my breathing.”

He focused on bringing that under control. Then, everything was gone, and he stood alone on a barren, dust filed plain. Gathering his legs, he leapt straight up and landed in his father’s living room.

He regarded his father, who was looking at him with a look of profound sorrow. The room remained unchanged, bathed with the soft light from tatami lanterns. His sword was shaking in his grip; he could feel the knotting of the hilt was soaked with his sweat, and his arms felt like they were filled with lead. Kenji inclined his head to Eric, indicating he could recover his sword. Eric sheathed the blade, arms shaking, and his sweat covered hands slipped slightly on the lacquered sheath of the sword. Then the teen collapsed into a kneeling position. It was the only restful position he could respectfully assume.

“How long was I..” Eric gulped at air that his lungs couldn’t seem to get enough of. Air that burned his throat.

“About one and a half hours,” Kenji responded. The elder ninja sat on the floor across from his son. “This girl, she protects one her self. You told me this.”

Eric nodded, mopping at his brow with his sleeve.

“And you are going to protect her from everything.”

Eric flinched visibly, and then stared at the floor.

“You are destined for failure, then, for you have assumed an impossible task,” Kenji said, bringing his concern into sharp relief. “Does the whole world bear this girl malice?”

Eric shook his head, and tried to focus on counting the lines in the wood grain. He knew he was right, because it felt so right.

Kenji started to speak again, but let it go. He was no closer to understanding his son than he had been two hours ago, and now Eric was obviously not at peace. Being at peace was crucial for the hisan-ken.

He quietly stood, and left Eric where he was kneeling. “I will be at the park. You will go home. Sleep tonight.”

Eric only nodded, to tired to argue. He stood and began to gather his things. Both men dressed in silence, and did not exchange good byes upon leaving. He deliberately took a different tram than Eric to give him space. And he privately wondered how, as a father, he could have gone so wrong.