Emma was starting to worry about Harvey. She had been surprised by his impulse to stay on the train when they had reached Hiroshima and could see by the reactions of her two friends they felt the same. But she had hidden her anxiety and told her friends that Harvey was prone to acting spontaneously and reassured them that he would be fine, after all, he knew the address of the inn they were staying at and would show up sooner or later.
The girls had spent the afternoon at the Peace Park. This was ground zero for the atomic bomb that detonated above the city. The skeletal remains of one of the destroyed buildings with its prominent dome were a poignant reminder of the bomb’s devastation. But what had touched Emma’s heart was the story of Sadako Sasaki. She was only two when the bomb struck and she later developed leukaemia from radiation exposure. Sadako believed that if she folded one-thousand paper cranes she would be granted a wish by the gods. She spent her last days in the hospital folding paper cranes from whatever paper she could find but sadly it wasn’t enough and she died.
There is a statue in the park of a girl with outstretched arms and a folded paper crane rising above her, dedicated to all the children who died from the bomb. Thousands of origami cranes of all colours lie at the base of the statue, which have been sent by people from all over the world.
After they left the Peace Park, Emma and the girls were starving and wanted to experience some local but yummy cuisine. Emma led them to an izakaya, or Japanese pub, that was recognisable from the red lanterns hanging outside over the front door. They sat on tatami mats at a low table and wondered what they should order. The server brought them wet towels on a little ceramic dish to clean their hands.
“How are we going to order?” Judy asked. “I only know a few words of Japanese and I don’t think they know what ‘California roll’ means.”
“The only Japanese food I’ve eaten was at Domo in Hong Kong which has a sushi train of plates that go by on the conveyor belt to pick and choose from,” said Sara.
“Don’t worry ladies I’ve eaten in Japanese pubs like this before and know a few items to order that I think you’ll like,” said Emma.
“Sumimasen!” Emma called out and a man came over to take their order.
“Edamame to yakitori to agedashi tofu o kudasai,” Emma said telling the man what they would like to eat.
“Hai, O nomimono wa?” asked the man.
Emma wasn’t quite sure what he was asking but soon understood when the man pantomimed having a drink.
“Sake o kudasai,” she responded telling him to bring sake.
“Hai,” said the man and then went away to get their order.
“Wow Emma, I’m impressed. We won’t go hungry with you around. So tell me what have we ordered?” asked Judy.
“We’re going to like it, even you Sara,” she said with a wink.
“We’re having grilled chicken skewers, deep fried tofu in a broth and salted green soy beans like the ones at Dragon i.”
The sake arrived along with some pickled vegetables that Emma noticed were brought out to all the customers. As they said cheers they made sure they looked into each other’s eyes, otherwise, they would have a bad love life according to superstition. Not that any of them had boyfriends but it was always best to be on the safe side. The sake was light and refreshing.
“Mmm, this food is awesome. Too bad Harvey isn’t around to enjoy it and keep us company,” said Sara who enjoyed the warm glow of the sake.
“It was really weird that he stayed on the train even if he did bump into someone he knows. Do you think he’ll be okay?” asked Judy.
“He’ll be fine, he’s a big boy. He has a great sense of adventure and really likes exploring,” Emma said this to reassure her friends but her own doubts were creeping into her mind as she checked the time on her watch again.
Kenji was sitting across from Harvey at a table in a café that was in front of Kyoto train station. They had ordered ramen when they arrived and Kenji noticed his new friend was almost done. It was taking Kenji a little longer to get through his.
A sick feeling had entered his stomach ever since he heard Sato and Yamaguchi talking about the fire ring and his family in Koga. He had considered killing both men when he entered the room and saw them unconscious but had quickly dismissed the idea. That would be cold blooded and cowardly, and was beneath him. He would lose all honour in front of his sister and Megumi if he had chosen that option. No, they had learnt to fight fair and ending someone’s life was not to be taken lightly. Yamaguchi may be sinister and dangerous but no one deserved to die from a knife in the back.
Something else was eating away at his brain. He wondered who had betrayed his family and the closely guarded secret of the fire ring. They lived in a small village in the shadow of Mount Atago and the Watanabe clan had been there for centuries and knew most of the people in the area. Kenji wondered if he had been careless by wearing the fire ring. With an effort he shoved these concerns to the back of his mind. He didn’t have a lot of time and needed to make some quick decisions and begin to make arrangements to safeguard his family.
“Well, you’re hungry,” Kenji said as he looked at Harvey ravishing his ramen.
“This is really tasty. Thanks again for treating me.”
“You’re welcome. Harvey, I think you may have some questions about the ring and why I was there in Gion.”
“That did cross my mind.”
“What I am going to tell you is a closely guarded secret but I feel I can trust you and I think I may need your help.”
“You can trust me Kenji. I would never betray a friend.”
In spite of the tension he was feeling, Kenji smiled.
“My family has been the guardians of the rings since the time they were taken from the samurai lord, Ota Okanabe. Some time ago it was decided that the rings should be separated and the water ring was entrusted to a close Chinese friend of my grandfather and taken to Hong Kong.”
“That explains why I came across it. I guess you never expected that the ring would end up in the estate auction of Mr. Ho,” said Harvey.
“You’re right about that. It seems he didn’t trust the secret with his children. He was rather old when he died and perhaps became careless.”
“The part I don’t get is how could Sato know he could find the ring in an obscure shop in Hong Kong?” asked Harvey.
Kenji wrinkled his brow. “That question has been troubling me as well. I’m sure that was no coincidence but he certainly didn’t find out about the ring’s location from anybody in my family,” Kenji said with certainty.
“Well, you have the ring now. I certainly feel better that it is out of the hands of Sato and Yamaguchi. Kenji, your family must be pretty cool being the guardians of the rings. Are you descended from a samurai family or something?”
Kenji thought about the imminent danger his family was in and wondered if he should tell Harvey about the threat. He found Harvey to be likeable and his instincts told him he could trust him. The teenager also presented a unique opportunity. One which he had not counted on but his father had taught him to adjust plans and allow for contingencies when needed. He felt he was in need now.
“I’m from the Koga region of Japan that is famous for producing Shinobi, the shadow walkers, which are more commonly known as ninja.”
Harvey’s eyes bulged wide. “You’re a ninja?”
Kenji automatically looked around the café to see if anyone was within ear shot. This was more of a reflex since it was highly unlikely that anyone would understand their conversation in English. All the same his training and experience taught him to be discreet.
Lowering his voice, Kenji looked at Harvey and said, “It’s not like my day job. I actually work as a sushi chef here in Kyoto. But martial arts and traditions are passed down within the family. My father learnt from his father and he in turn taught me and my sister.”
“You have a sister and she’s also a ninja?”
“She was the younger one you saw earlier at the teahouse.”
“Oh, I remember her. She had the sweet singing voice.” Harvey was going to add that she had sexy full lips and sensual eyes but wasn’t sure how Kenji would react to his enthusiastic description.
“Yes, her name is Eri. She’s about your age but don’t let her sweet voice and good looks deceive you into thinking she’s delicate. She has learnt the ways of the ninja from an early age and is exceptional with using both the short and long swords.”
“Now I know why you could sneak up behind me without a sound. You also moved as silently as a cat hunting its prey when we were in the teahouse. But I noticed that you briefly looked like you were in shock. What happened?”
“Harvey, I can see you don’t miss anything. In Japan we have a word for someone observant like you, monomi, this means the one who sees.”
“The one who sees, cool. But you’re not trying to evade my question, are you Kenji?”
“I overheard those two gangsters talking,” Kenji continued. “Sato has learned my family guards the fire ring and they are making plans to get it from us.”
“That means you and your family are in danger,” Harvey said with a tone of dread in his voice. Harvey knew the importance of protecting family. “I’d like to help you and your family.”
Kenji’s mouth turned up into a smile. “That’s very kind of you but you don’t need to worry about us. We’re quite capable of taking care of ourselves. However, Yamaguchi is not to be taken lightly. He’s quite cunning and capable. We were lucky tonight thanks to careful planning but I wouldn’t risk an open confrontation with him if it can be avoided.”
“You sound like you have a plan?” asked Harvey.
“Not yet but I would like your help with something.”
“Just let me know what it is.”
“Harvey, you remember I told you the rings were created by Master Abe?”
“Yes, you said he was the best sword maker of his time and created the rings for the emperor and the shogun,” Harvey recalled.
“You have a good memory. But I didn’t tell you the whole story. When Master Abe crafted the rings he wasn’t just creating a ceremonial symbol for the empire and shogunate, he was creating something supernatural.”
“Supernatural! That sounds strange, what do you mean?”
“What I mean is out of the ordinary, something really exceptional. Remember that in ancient times the emperor was seen as a living god. When Master Abe added the blood and tears to the rings his goal was to create something divine. His deep knowledge of alchemy and metallurgy enabled him to create two rings of sheer perfection, the likes of which had never been seen before or since. However, he soon discovered a fatal flaw with the rings. When a great master swordsmith creates one of his masterpieces, such as a fine katana blade, there is an aura to it and the same was true with the rings.”
“How can an inanimate object like a ring have an aura?” Harvey asked.
“It is possible for a powerful object to have some energy. It’s as if a great sword or in this case the rings have their own character or spirit attached to them. Some swords with strong auras may work fantastic for some people but not very well for others. The auras of the two rings should have been in perfect harmony like the balance of yin and yang but they were not, in fact far from it. Master Abe sensed hostility between the two rings.”
“I don’t get it, if the rings were created in perfection, how could they be flawed?” asked Harvey.
“That’s a good question. The flaw wasn’t with how they were crafted but with what was put into them. Master Abe was quite famous during his life and was often invited to sit at the imperial court in Kyoto. During one of his visits he learned of a great scandal that few knew about. The empress had taken a secret lover and been unfaithful. The emperor learned of her infidelity shortly before his blood and her tears were dropped into the hot liquid metal that would become the rings. The seething rage that flowed through his blood was moulded into the fire ring.”
“Oh, my god!” said Harvey with widened eyes. He was utterly captivated by the story. Kenji described the rings as if they were almost magical. It seemed like they had their own character. They were near perfect but each had a unique flaw. The fire ring was strong but it contained the shadow of rage. Harvey wondered what the flaw of the water ring, which they had just taken from Yamaguchi, was. He suspected that even Kenji might not know.
“When Master Abe learned of the scandal he understood why the rings didn’t complement each other but he was faced with another problem. The creation of the rings was designed to bring balance and peace to the country, which had been marked by feudal lords warring against each other for decades. But he feared the rings would do the opposite and further split the country into chaos. He delayed the presentation of the rings to the emperor and during this time, they were stolen by Ota Okanabe who had the ambition to become shogun.”
Kenji stopped talking to let Harvey think about what he had said about the rings causing instability.
“If Okanabe was able to use the rings in his desire to become shogun, the country may have split into civil war,” said Harvey.
“That happened anyway with the rise of Lord Tokugawa. But I suspect that Master Abe thought the same thing as you. It’s also worth noting that when Tokugawa became shogun a new era was ushered into Japan. The country became stronger under his power and influence.”
Harvey was nodding his head.
“Getting back to the story of the rings, Master Abe lived close to Koga and was familiar with the ninja family clans in the region. He approached my ancestor, Yamato Watanabe, who was leader of the clan, and brought him into his confidence about the rings and asked him to recover them. When Yamato returned with the rings and asked Master Abe what he wished to do with them, Master Abe asked the clan to act as guardians of the rings. It was decided that the fire ring would stay with my family and the water ring with the Higa family, which is also part of our clan and lived in the same region.”
“After the passing of some years, when Master Abe was close to drawing his last breath, my ancestor Yamato approached him and asked if it would not be better to destroy the two rings.”
“He responded with an enigmatic prophecy, ‘When fire and water envelop the throne, Japan will sink into the sea. But when water can flow freely and fire is kept in check, the morning sun will continue to rise eternally.’ It was the last time the clan talked to Master Abe before his death.”
Kenji paused in his story to let the words sink in.
Harvey silently repeated the prophecy in his mind. The part about Japan sinking into the sea was particularly poignant.
“Wow Kenji that is some very powerful imagery. It reminds me of the devastating earthquake and tsunami Japan suffered last March. It sounds like the two rings are not meant to be together.”
Kenji gave Harvey a sharp look and then slowly started nodding his head. What Harvey had said struck a chord with him. When he had been to Hong Kong over a year ago to visit Mr. Ho, he had taken the fire ring with him. At that time, the two rings had been in close proximity and he remembered being irritable. More importantly, Japan had suffered a major disaster a few days later. He had never thought of it in this light before and still thought it probably was coincidence.
Kenji continued his story.
“During that time when Yamato heard Master Abe’s prophecy, the country had been enjoying a new period of stability under the Tokugawa regime. It was decided our clan would continue to be the guardians of the rings, to hide them away and keep them secreted from the world. The only change to this was when the water ring was moved to Hong Kong after the passing of the last guardian from the Higa family.”
Kenji had made up his mind. He looked Harvey straight in the eye and with a tone of gravity began to speak.“Harvey, I want you to take the water ring with you to Hong Kong and look after it. Can you do me this favour?”
Harvey had not been expecting to hear this but his response was just one word. “Absolutely!”
It was now Harvey’s turn to trust Kenji. “Kenji, you didn’t ask me how I came to know it was Sato who had stolen the ring from me in Hong Kong.”
“Well you saw him when he took…”
Kenji stopped mid-sentence.
“You knew his name was Sato. How did you know that? And you also knew Hiro Yamaguchi’s name. How’s that possible?”
“It was actually my friend Emma who overheard Sato talking to someone at a club in Hong Kong. That’s how we found out his name.”
Kenji nodded his head as he heard this.
“How I came to learn of Hiro Yamaguchi is a little more interesting and mysterious. I found his name written on a list that was hidden in a wooden box that had belonged to my father.” Harvey paused before continuing. “My parents were killed tragically at sea over three years ago. They never found their bodies.”
“That’s terrible, Harvey, I’m very sorry to hear this,” replied Kenji sincerely before asking the first question that had come to mind. “Harvey, what was your father’s name?”
“I can’t say I have ever heard of him. What did he do for a living?”
“He worked at the British Consul in Hong Kong.”
Kenji made a mental note of Harvey’s dad’s name. He would do some research later to find out more about him, if there was anything to find out.
“What else can you tell me about the paper you found Yamaguchi’s name written on?”
“The name of the folder I found it in was labelled Medusa.”
“Medusa! That’s a strange name for a file,” replied Kenji. “Was there anything else written on the paper?”
“Yes, there was another name, Jon Malak. Have you heard of him?”
“No, I haven’t. I wonder what the connection is between Jon Malak and Yamaguchi. This list of yours is a mystery. Is that it or is there something else you can tell me about it?”
Harvey hesitated before answering. He was confused by the other name on the paper. It was a name he knew very well.
“Yes, there was another name on the paper. The final name written on the list is Clive Atkinson.”
After leaving Harvey at the café in front of Kyoto station, Kenji called his sister, Eri, on his mobile phone telling her they needed to meet right away. When they met, Eri and Megumi had already changed out of their kimonos and removed the heavy make up. They were dressed in jeans and warm coats to guard against the chill in the air. They both had their long black hair down and Eri was wearing a red beret. Kenji embraced Megumi and planted a big kiss on her lips.
“You were brilliant playing the part of Miyuki, you acted like you grew up in the willow world of geisha life,” Kenji said in Japanese.
“How do you know I didn’t?” Megumi replied with an enigmatic smile.
“And you little sister, I don’t think I’ve heard you sing so beautifully before,” Kenji continued.
“I’m just glad the whole thing is over. So where’s the ring?” asked Eri in a serious tone.
Kenji told them what he had overheard about their family being in danger and his decision to entrust the ring with Harvey.
Alarm spread across Megumi’s face. “How do we know we can trust the gaijin?”
“I’m a good judge of character. I did pretty well with you, didn’t I?” Kenji said with a playful smile. “Don’t worry, I trust Harvey. He has a noble quality about him. And it is better to have both rings separated.”
Kenji instinctively felt his left forefinger but of course the fire ring wasn’t there. He had put it somewhere safe in case things hadn’t gone as planned at the teahouse.
“What about father? He’s all alone at home,” said Eri.
“We need to go see him right away and tell him what has happened. We’ll all need to take a holiday and be away from Koga for some time,” he said.
Kenji worried it may be hard to convince his father of the need to vacate their home. His father could be quite stubborn at times and wouldn’t leave easily. Of course he was quite capable of taking care of himself. He had taught Kenji and Eri from a young age the standard martial arts of judo, karate and kendo and later the more specialised arts of stealth, concealment and close combat with small weapons. But the villain Yamaguchi was resourceful and not to be underestimated. He wondered again if he should have ended it quickly back at the teahouse.
“My car is just around the corner. Let’s get going,” said Megumi.
“So where are we going to go and hide out?” asked Eri as they walked towards the car.
“I think I might know just the right place,” replied Kenji cryptically.