I wink at Rose, the blush on her face almost making me laugh. I settle for keeping my smile. It is my revenge for her forcing me into dinner with her family.
I hear a buzz from my phone. Pulling it out, I notice a text message from an old friend.
|Come see me when you are available.|
“We should plan that second date soon.” Rose says, still a little flustered from my teasing.
“Well… I am meeting you at your dad’s for dinner.” I say, putting my phone away. My expression gets serious. “For now, I have somewhere that I need to be. Blake can give you a ride home, I’ll be taking an Uber.” I stand up.
“See you tonight then?” She says, standing up with me.
“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it.” I respond, sincerely hoping for some kind of disaster that will stop me from going. An earthquake. Yeah. That would stop me from going. Or maybe aliens can attack? I’ve always wanted to see a UFO.
I call an Uber on my phone, waving goodbye to Blake and Damien as I walk out. They barely notice, distracted by their conversation about someone named Kirito.
The Uber driver is quiet, which is nice, it lets me think about the benefits involved with killing a Beta Tester. Maybe Taylor will know why the killer gains the belongings of their victims.
The driver stops outside of a house. It is of eastern design, I am not an expert on these things, but I would guess that it follows the Japanese style more than any other. After all, the man who owns the building is Japanese.
I get out of the car, giving a “thank you” to the driver. He smiles at me before driving away. I shoulder my backpack, which I had barely remembered to grab from Blake’s car, before I walk across the small garden path to the front door of the house. I take off my shoes as I knock on the wood paneling next to the door.
“Mr. Tanaka? Mr. Akiyama? Are you home?” I say as I wait for a response to my knock.
A few moments later, a young man wearing a traditional gi opens the door. His slanted eyes look at me with happiness as his mouth twists into a barely perceptible smile, “Elena-kun, it has been too long. Sensei is waiting for you in the dojo.” He says without an accent, motioning me into the building. “And if you aren’t going to call me senpai, at least call me Tanaka-san. Mr. Tanaka is too…”
“American?” I say, smiling to show him that I am joking.
“Informal.” He corrects me.
“Hai Tanaka-san. I haven’t completely forgotten myself.” I respond as he leads me through the house and into a large room with wooden flooring. Various weapons line the walls of the room, but I ignore them as I bow to the elderly man meditating on a mat in the middle of the room.
He doesn’t acknowledge me, but Tanaka-san is already moving to kneel on the floor, so I join him.
The man meditating is wiry from years of martial arts, he has a small beard, but has completely shaved his head. Laugh lines line his face, giving some clues as to his age.
His eyes open, looking me over. “Why do you wear bandages to cover nothing?” he asks, his accent thick.
“Sensei.” I greet him, “What do you mean?”
He touches his own shoulder. “Your father told me of your wound, but you do not look to be in pain, nor does your face look addled from drugs.” he throws something at me. I instinctively catch it with my bandaged arm.
I look down at the small river stone he had thrown at me.
“You do not look injured at all. So I ask you again, why do you wear bandages to cover nothing?” He looks at me seriously, his hands hidden by the sleeves of his robe.
“You are as observant as ever Sensei.” I respond, not elaborating on what happened. I have no desire to advertise my abilities more than I already have, even to someone I trust so much.
Akiyama Sensei observes me carefully, “There have been tales of people suddenly gaining great powers. Most disregard them, thinking them nothing more than lies. I do not disregard them.”
“As is wise, Sensei.” I say, matching his gaze as I do.
He stands up, his body moving smoothly, like water. Tanaka-san and I both stand up in response.
“It has been too long since you have trained under me. Let me see you go through the katas.” Akiyama Sensei says.
I bow, before starting my katas. I am more out of practice than I should be, it has been two weeks since I last went through the katas.
Sensei stops me almost immediately, adjusting my stance ever so slightly. The day continues like that, as Akiyama Sensei would stop me occasionally to adjust my stance, or move my hand a centimeter higher. Tanaka-san starts doing the katas as well.
I admit grudgingly that his form is more fluid than mine. Slacking in my practice has let him get a lead that he didn’t use to have.
Akiyama Sensei has us repeat the katas a few more times before he motions for the end of the session.
We bow to Sensei, two students I don’t recognize are watching us curiously.
Tanaka-san turns to me. “If you would be so kind, I would like to spar. It has been too long since I have had a worthy match.”
I look at Sensei, who nods at me.
We both move to the center mat and bow to each other.
I get in a ready position. I was once as skilled as Tanaka-san, but his training over the past year has been more grueling than mine.
Both of us wait for a moment standing still. Tanaka-san is the first one to move, as he sends a kick towards my side.
I step closer to him, blocking his leg with my forearm. I punch towards his chest, but his arm moves, almost gently pushing my punch to the side. I use the opportunity to push his leg back, pushing him off balance. I put my foot behind his, tripping him.
He rolls backwards, sending a kick towards my stomach. I jump back absorbing the impact of his kick to the best of my ability.
I breathe steadily, his kick having winded me.
He looks at me, a small smile playing at the edge of his lips.
I forgot how much Tanaka-san enjoyed beating me up, the crazy bastard.
Our fight continues for a few intensive bouts, as I am slowly forced to fight defensively, twisting and turning away from his shots.
Eventually, he lands a kick that sends me sprawling. That is followed by him grabbing my arm and twisting me so that my cheek is against the ground.
I tap on the mat, signalling my surrender.
Tanaka-san lets go of me, letting me stand up. We bow to each other and I finally notice the sweat covered state he is in, his breaths coming heavily.
“Thank you Elena-kun. Our fight was very informative.” Tanaka-san says, as he leaves his bow.
“Likewise Tanaka-san.” I respond, out of breath myself.
A quick glance towards the students shows them looking at me in awe. Both of them share the physical characteristics of Tanaka-san, likely siblings. One is a girl, the other a boy.
The boy hands each of us a towel to wipe off the sweat from our spar.
We are then led into a small room where Akiyama Sensei is preparing a tea set for three. I kneel at the small table designed for the Japanese.
Gods, I hate the custom that requires me to kneel. I would much rather have some chairs.
The girl pours tea for all of us into cups.
“You are out of practice.” Akiyama Sensei says to me.
“I am. But I would like to get back into practice if you will accept me Akiyama Sensei.” I respond, taking my tea only after he does. I take a small sip.
“You do not have the time to be my student.” He responds. “But you may come here to practice the Katas, or spar with Tanaka-san as you wish.”
“Thank you Sensei.” I bow my head slightly to him. I take another sip of my tea. “I am curious, why did you call me here?”
“I had heard of your injury from your father. I had thought that I would see if medicine from my country could help your shoulder. But I see that there is no need.”
I smile into my cup as I take another sip of tea. The old codger was just worried about me.
I place my tea down, looking at the time. “Thank you Sensei, but I must be leaving now. I have an appointment with a friend.”
He nods and I stand up, walking away from them.
Tanaka-san accompanies me to the door, quiet until I am on the front porch, putting my shoes on.
He struggles with himself for a moment, trying to say something to me. “Strange things have been happening everywhere. Sensei says that the world is changing. He says that he can feel it when he is meditating, and to be honest, so can I. I can feel an energy inside and around me that I couldn’t before.”
I pause, interested in what he is saying. Maybe the energies I have access to aren’t just created by The Game Of The Gods, it is possible that other people can access them. “That is very interesting Tanaka-san. Thank you for telling me that.” I smile at him.
Turning around, I take a step forward, across the garden path.
Tanaka-san grabs my arm. “Be careful Elena.” I go still at his usage of my name, he didn’t say -kun after it. I knew he could speak American.
He continues,“I know that whatever is going on, you are probably involved in it. So please be careful.”
I turn around, giving Tanaka-san a hug. “When am I not careful?” I ask into his arm, “Except for that time with those karate kids. Oh, and the time with that mma black belt.” I pull away from him, thinking. “I almost forgot about that time with the gunman at Starbucks.” I squint, looking through my memories, “I think that covers all the times I wasn’t careful.” I take a full step away from him, smiling devilishly. “At least while I was around you.”
Tanaka gives me a laugh. “Be as careful as you can then.”
I give him a mock salute. “Aye aye, Captain.”
Captain: Was she talking to me?
Cadet: You haven’t been paying attention, have you?
I ignore the voices in my head.
Waving at Tanaka-san, I walk towards the street and call another Uber. This Uber driver was a lot more chatty. By the end of our ride, I knew more things about being an entrepreneur than people that go to college for it.
You see, the key is image. You can have the worst product in the world, but if you give it the image of a miracle worker, you will be selling out by the time you’ve been in business for a year.
I actually feel a little sad when the Demor mansion comes into view, I wanted to know more about how terrible multi level marketing can be and the different ways it can show itself.
The driver whistles as the full mansion comes into view, interrupting his explanation. “Nice home.”
“Thanks, you can drop me off at the gate.” I respond.
The driver pulls up, letting me out. I look at the gate with a small frown, it had been completely repaired since I last saw it.
Waving at the security guard manning it. I tell him my name. He opens a small side gate which I walk through.
The security guard greets me on the other side, asking for me to hand over my backpack. I do without any trouble. I raise my eyebrows as he ruffles through every pocket in my bag.
“I am going to need to check you for weapons. If you could please put your arms up like this.” He puts his arms straight out.
I smile at him. “You are not going to be touching me.” I start walking towards the house. “Just call Rose or Mr. Demor, they can tell you that I am fine.”
He grabs my arm, “I am afraid that I am going to have to insist.”
I look down at the hand grasping my arm and smile up at the security guard.
Before he can react, I grab his arm, twist it behind him and trip him so that he falls to the ground.
My knee is on his free arm to prevent him from doing something stupid. I pull out my phone from my pocket.
It rings a few times before the other line picks up.
“Elena?” She asks.
“Hey Rose. Do you think you could come to the front gate? I really don’t like random men touching me and your security guard really wanted to frisk me.” I say calmly, the man under me is squirming, trying to move me off. I twist his arm a little to keep him in place.
“Sure, I’ll be out in a minute.” She responds.
“I can wait.” I say, hanging up.
“Could you please get off of me?” The man under me asks.
“You were the one that couldn’t take the time to call your boss. We are going to stay like this for a little bit to give you some time to reflect.” I say leisurely. “I have some issues with men trying to control me. I wonder why?”
Rose walks towards us, a large smile appearing on her face as she sees our position.
I take a moment to admire the dress Rose is wearing, blue butterflies traveling up it in captivating patterns.
She looks at both of us for a moment, obviously trying to hold back laughter, but failing terribly.
She gets herself under control, saying “Elena, you can get off of him now.”
“One moment.” I say to Rose before leaning down next to the ear of the security guard. “Be more careful next time.” I whisper into his ear, before I let go of his arm and get off of him.
The man picks himself off of the ground, his gaze meeting mine. “Has anyone ever told you that you are hot?”
Rose bursts out into laughter.
“A couple of times, but I always appreciate hearing it.” I respond, smiling and a little impressed with his honesty.
“I am really sorry for the way I acted, you are right, I should have just called them.” He says, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment.
“Wow.” I say, my eyes going wide. “You are full of surprises.”
“Come on, we should get going. My dad is waiting for you.” Rose says, dragging my attention back to her.
“Let’s go.” I say, turning away from the security guard.