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The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar

The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar

By

Madness Jones

Copyright

The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar copyright 2017 Shakespir Edition.

Author: Madness Jones

Cover Art: [email protected]

 

All rights reserved in all media. No parts of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without the expressed written consent of the author. It is acceptable and even encouraged to review this book as that is protected under United States copyright law. This book is a work of fiction and therefore the characters and situations in this book are the result of the author’s overactive imagination. Any resemblance to actual people or events is purely coincidental.

The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar

Copyright

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Eight

Chapter Twenty Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty One

Chapter Thirty Two

Chapter Thirty Three

Chapter Thirty Four

Chapter Thirty Five

Chapter Thirty Six

Epilogue

Taiko Words Glossary

Japanese Word Glossary

A Note from the Author

 

For Dad & Mom

Your encouragement and support means the world to me, and helped me so much

Prologue

Earth is a beautiful planet, isn’t it? Earth is a planet full of great people, strange animals, and beautiful plant life. Earth, however, wasn’t always the planet we know it to be today.

In order to understand how we got to where we are today, we first must travel back in time, approximately 44 million years, and discuss what happened all those eons ago.

There was once a highly intelligent species inhabiting the earth. The name of this species was the Taiko; a name that translates into children of greatness.

The beings known as the Taiko were physically strong, technologically advanced, and lived by rigid rules of conduct that varied according to territory. It wasn’t always an easy life, but for the most part it was peaceful.

Physically, the Taiko were bipedal just as we are. Their skin color ranged from a pastel orange to dull bluish grey to paper white, with orange being the most common. Their eyes were slit down the middle like a cat’s or a snake’s, and their ears folded back like bird’s wings and separated into three points with web connecting them. The ears would unfurl when a Taiko was startled or trying to hear something far away.

Taiko ruled their world in ways humans can only dream of. Have you seen a skeleton of a dinosaur in a book or in a museum? Well, those bones don’t tell the whole story.

The Taiko were experts at cybernetic hybrid mutation. Many of the giant beasts you see in the museum today were once mechs bred by the Taiko to make their lives easier. They most often used lizard and bird RNA to craft the organic portion of the vehicle, and would then augment their over-sized animals with various working parts to make them useful for whatever was needed. In turn, the tank, ship, crane, or whatever it was, could be programmed to lay eggs and make more without having to build a new one from the ground up.

Yes, the Taiko were the masters of their world. Their society was very proud of high intellect and good breeding.

There were, however, four core mutations that could potentially plague a Taiko. These mutations, or manipulations as they were often called, were called Semp, Dal, Osi, and Maran. A Taiko that was considered a manipulator had a difficult time fitting into normal society.

The Semp were feared because they were toxic. A Semp breathed toxic powder through their mouth; a substance that was deadly to Taiko and most plants and animals. The Semp were easy to spot. They had powder white skin; no matter what their parents looked like. They also had dark purple eyes and black hair.

The Dal fared slightly better because they were useful. A Dal was a Taiko that attracted static electricity to an absurd degree. These Taiko were often struck by lightning, but it didn’t matter since the body of a Dal was equipped to absorb it and even store it for future use. Dal had no physical marks at birth to give away their plight, but repeated strikes from lightning would often result in branch shaped scars all over their bodies by adulthood.

The Osi, unlike other manipulators, were not ostracized by Taiko society. An Osi’s body was 97% water on average, which meant an Osi could shape shift from their normal appearance to a body of water at will. These Taiko had a high level of endurance but were usually not considered a threat to the public due to their calm and forgiving nature.

The ones who received the worst treatment by far, however, were the Maran.

The Maran were ugly pitiful creatures that could breathe fire and frequently exhaled smoke. They polluted the air and could harm those around them with little effort. Maran bodies were only 13% water on average, and therefore wrinkled early and had leathery dry skin.

The other manipulators had social taboo to worry about, but when a child was born a Maran it was a literal death sentence.

The average Taiko lifespan was around 150 years old, but Maran children usually didn’t grow up, and a Maran that managed to make it to adulthood would likely never see 30.

The lack of hydration meant their bones would become brittle. The hair and fingernails were made from leftover iron in the blood. Due to the fire and sulfur coursing through their hydrogen lungs they burned fat too quickly, which made them look deathly thin. This was a blessing, since too much fat often caused spontaneous combustion. Their hair would grow up instead of down, and their black iron nails were sharp as knives.

To the parents of a Maran child, they had a disease. To the world, they were a disease.

Most Maran were weak and sickly. They were often treated like lepers, and were even called Mar; a racial slur that referred to the back of a dirty stove.

It was in this climate that a group of sky pirates emerged to cause fear in the hearts of men and terrorize the skies.

This group was known as the Sinister Ones.

The Sinister Ones flew a stolen military grade mech known as a Kalabus. Their Kalabus was called the Shadow Star, and it was a powerful machine.

A Kalabus had the wide thin oval shaped body of a silverfish with an orb partially concealed on top to serve as its central processing core. The tail curved over its body like a scorpion’s, and often had an attachment that served as a weapon.

The Shadow Star was a dark charcoal color with a translucent red orb atop its body, and the tail wielded a pendulum blade to thrash other mechs out of the sky. The side of its body had an inscription on it written in the aviator’s language of Ipu Ipu. It read Shadow Star.

The Kalabus was only one of many aspects to the sensationalism of these bloodthirsty pirates. According to rumors, they were all mutated Taiko; manipulators. Their pattern of attack was sporadic, and their crimes ranged from the mundane to the obscene! One day, it would be a simple cart theft. The next day, they might threaten the country they were in with a biological weapon!

Still, this was not what caused the citizens to fear the Sinister Ones. No, what caused them to hide their children and scream in morbid panic was the leader of this pirate crew…Yan-Kan Mar!

Yan-Kan was something of a mystery to the Taiko. Clearly this Mar wasn’t as weak as most others in the same position. Yan-Kan had the strength of a hundred Taiko men, and a devil-may-care attitude that made the pirate master unpredictable.

Children wrote songs about this monster, and parents would cover their ears every time their own kids would start singing it.

For five years the Sinister Ones pillaged and fought their way into the collective consciousness. For five years the knights couldn’t catch them. Five years seemed like eternity, but then…

 

The court was full of people that day. It was in the land of Bira; a wealthy Taiko country with some of the best knights on the force. At least, they were considered the best now that they had done the impossible! They had captured Yan-Kan Mar!

The council of Bira, a group of seven men and women in scarlet robes, would oversee the proceedings and sentence the Sinister Ones accordingly. They were already guilty, so a trial was deemed unnecessary.

It was rumored that Yan-Kan had somewhere between 50 to 100 men working aboard the Shadow Star, but when the Shadow Star was impounded the knights only found Yan-Kan Mar and two crew members.

Citizens clamored in the circular shaped courtroom to get seats to this international spectacle! Everyone wanted to see how Yan-Kan would react to the sentencing. Many hoped for the death penalty, but some wanted Yan-Kan kept alive just to see if the Mar could escape the gulag or the labor camp.

The head councilman ordered everyone in the room to hush, and a double door opened; revealing the criminals and two guards.

Each criminal wore the uniform of a Taiko prisoner; a pastel green long sleeve shirt with matching long skirt and black inhibitor cuffs to prevent the prisoners from using their powers. The uniforms were made specifically to be impractical. The long sleeves weren’t useful in the summer, and the skirt wasn’t useful in the winter. No one wanted prisoners to be comfortable.

“Place the guilty on the stone pedestal in the center of the room,” the head councilman ordered the bailiff.

The three Sinister Ones were hoisted up to the stand. They were all teenage girls; something many in the court weren’t prepared for.

One was a tall girl with ice blonde curly hair, large ocean blue cat’s eyes, pastel orange skin, and large breasts. Another girl had short black hair that had been unevenly cut, dark green eyes, skin the color of bleached cotton, a bronze tiara with a blue glass stone, and was very short. Yan-Kan herself was deathly thin, tall, had red hair that grew into a spiky afro, and had blood red eyes.

“The charges are set against Yan-Kan the Maran, Mukaiko the Osi, and Dia the Dal. You have all been charged with piracy, theft, crimes against the natural order, assault, misrepresentation of your identities, kidnapping, subversion, misappropriation of a Kalabus, assault on a knight, arson and murder,” the council head read off dispassionately, “It is the recommendation of this councilman that the prisoners be sentenced to death by Zinc-oxide freezing. Do I hear any objections from the council?”

The spectators gasped when they heard this suggestion. This was a new form of execution that was rarely used. It was a horrific death that involved slow suffocation in artificial transparent rock and the body being put on display to warn others of the pitfalls of a career as a criminal. It was only reserved for the most notorious and evil psychopaths in Taiko society. To be fair though, Yan-Kan certainly qualified.

“There are no objections from the council,” a councilwoman replied after a moment of silence.

“Then the sentence shall be carried out without delay,” the head of the council announced in a flat monotone.

The blonde girl broke out into hysterical tears and screaming, and the short raven haired girl silently teared up.

What Yan-Kan did though shocked everyone.

She looked up at the wizened council members, smiled a wicked smile, and laughed as hard as she could! It was a wretched cackle that made the room echo with her contemptuous amusement.

This was no time for laughter. Zinc-oxide freezing was known to most as the conscious death because it would take several days for the criminal to die inside the blue-green crystal casing.

Taiko had two sets of lungs; the oxygen lungs and the hydrogen lungs. This allowed them to live almost anywhere in the world, but it also meant suffocation took an exceedingly long time.

The audience watched in horror and fascination as the three girls were slowly swallowed whole by the green sludge seeping up their bodies from the holes in the bottom of the pedestal! Yan-Kan’s two accomplices struggled, but Yan-Kan continued to laugh until the concoction reached her face!

The Sinister Ones were finally gone after five years. Taiko society was safe. Their execution, however, was only the beginning…

Chapter One

Earth

47 Million Years Later

Ryuga Do, a small cave on the island of Shikoku in Japan, was full of echoing voices and bustling activity on this cool spring day.

It was a class field trip for a group of high school students. They were from a private school in Tokyo, and many were eager to learn about the wonders of the rock formations and wildlife in the cave.

Tori was not one of those kids.

She and her best friend Hokuto hung behind the class; speaking in soft tones and not really paying attention to anyone else.

“I am so bored!” Tori whined.

“I don’t see why,” Hokuto replied in a whisper, “Caves like these are full of wonder and beauty. The pools of water allow shellfish to thrive in this environment. The stalagmites and stalactites need specific conditions to even form this way! It’s truly remarkable…”

Tori yawned as Hokuto pondered. Tori searched for anything a teenager might find interesting.

“Say Hokuto, I see a small opening right there. Dare me to take a closer look!” Tori said in a low conspirator’s tone.

“No way, Tori!” Hokuto hissed, “It’s too small! You’ll get stuck!”

“Yeah, right,” Tori dismissed her friend’s concerns, “I’m thinner than you, so I’ll probably fit. Just give me your flashlight! I need it to get good pictures!”

“Well…at least you’re finally interested in the cave,” Hokuto shrugged.

Tori approached the crevice gingerly, peeking inside with all the courage a 15 year old girl can fake.

She shone the light inside, but saw nothing but more brown and mossy rock formations. However, when she pointed the light to the left, she saw a glistening blue-green glow.

“Hokuto, you have to see this!” Tori exclaimed, “It’s beautiful!”

Hokuto leaned in with her keychain light, and saw the glow.

“It might be crystal formations,” Hokuto suggested.

“You think it’s something valuable?” Tori asked.

“I don’t know,” Hokuto replied.

Hokuto leaned in to try to get a closer look. She held onto the side of the opening for balance, and leaned in as far as she could.

When it seemed that the shimmering light was getting closer Hokuto heard the crashing of the rocks around her and lost her grip! She would’ve fallen into the hole if not for Tori grabbing her shirt!

“Hang on, Hokuto!” Tori yelled.

“Why isn’t anyone else coming for us?” Hokuto shouted pitifully.

“Our class moved on!” Tori grunted, “I can’t hold on for much longer! Climb up, already!”

Hokuto clawed at the rocks desperately, but they were too slick.

Hokuto slid down the sloping hole, and Tori slid down after her!

 

Hokuto woke up to hear Tori loudly whining about her bruises.

She looked around. Luckily Tori still had the flashlight. It was a dark place, but she saw that the bottom of the crevice was massive and even had a path they could walk.

“Ow…Tori? Have you explored the hole we came down from? Do you think we can climb back up?” Hokuto asked softly, afraid of an answer.

“I already checked,” Tori sighed in an annoyed tone, “It’s slippery and nearly impossible to get a handhold on. Even if it weren’t, a wild guess says we fell about 30 feet. The only reason I didn’t lose consciousness is because I landed on you. Can you walk?”

“I think so,” Hokuto replied as she tested her legs, “Did you take a look at the path? Does it lead to a major part of the cave?”

“I don’t know,” Tori replied, “I didn’t want to go alone.”

“I understand,” Hokuto replied.

“The path is where the glow is coming from,” Tori informed her.

Hokuto eyed the narrow path apprehensively but sojourned on with no complaint.

Tori held onto Hokuto’s shoulders so she would not lose her. That eerie glow grew brighter and brighter the further they went.

Finally, they found where the glow was coming from; a cave mouth that was wide and spacious.

It led to a dead end; a single chamber. In this chamber was a man sized chunk of blue-green crystal covered in dust on an artificial stand.

“This crystal display was obviously left here by someone,” Hokuto pointed out.

“What is it?” Tori asked; never taking her gaze from the opaque stone.

“Well, there’s a sign over there carved from sandstone. It has all sorts of indentations that you can push down; like buttons. I’ve not seen this language before. I can’t read it. Maybe this is a shrine, or a monument to a great leader from the past,” Hokuto theorized.

“A leader who didn’t write in Kanji?” Tori asked skeptically.

“Well I don’t really know what it is,” Hokuto admitted, “Maybe I can figure out what type of stone it is by examining it.”

“That thing is huge!” Tori exclaimed, “It must be ten feet tall! In all my life I’ve never seen such a crystal! It’s as wide as a car!”

Hokuto circled the luminescent crystal with an appraising eye.

Tori watched Hokuto, but then got bored after a few minutes. In an effort to look busy and not think about their plight, she walked over to the sign and started pushing buttons.

After a minute she found one that wouldn’t press down. She had her thumb pressed down on it, but it wouldn’t budge.

Hokuto, meanwhile, looked at the walls of the cavern for clues.

She didn’t find anything, but then she looked up at the ceiling.

There was a marble sized hole up there. No light escaped but there was a deposit of iron shards hanging from the edges.

Hokuto noticed the shards were rusting. It was twenty feet high, but even from there she knew it didn’t look natural. It was clearly manmade.

“Tori San, get a look at this,” Hokuto’s voice echoed in the deep chamber.

“Huh?” Tori looked up from the sign suddenly.

In a hurry, Tori accidentally removed the piece from the sign she was trying to push down!

“Uh-oh,” Tori said softly.

“Tori, you might have just destroyed a national landmark!” scolded Hokuto.

Just then, the girls felt rumbling from the cave floor!

“An earthquake?” Tori whimpered.

“Quick! To the entranceway! We’ll be safer there!” Hokuto cried.

“That only works for houses!” Tori shouted after Hokuto came to where Tori was standing, “We do that here and we’ll get crushed!”

The walls didn’t crumble, however. That wasn’t where the shaking was coming from…

Tori and Hokuto looked on in horror as they noticed the crystal. It was cracking, it was breaking off in pieces, and its weight shook the ground!

A few chaotic seconds later, and the blue-green crystal lay in a heap of rubble.

The girls were reluctant to go near it, but finally Hokuto knew a full examination was necessary.

As she grew closer to the pile of debris, she noticed something in the crystal that wasn’t glowing.

She tried to pull it out, and noticed she was holding blonde hair, which was still attached to a head!

“Ah!” Hokuto screamed.

“What is it?” Tori asked.

“It’s…A body…” Hokuto whispered; nonplussed.

“It’s a person!?” Tori asked incredulously.

“No…Not a person…” Hokuto replied softly, still looking down.

Tori looked, and saw that it definitely wasn’t human.

Its ears were long and fit on the side of its head like bird’s wing or a fish fin. The ear broke off into three interconnecting sections at the top. It wore a long sleeve shirt and long skirt the color of foam; a pale sea green. It seemed to be a woman. The hair was curly, light blonde, and long. The strangest part though, was its hands were restrained in black handcuffs that seemed to be of modern design.

Hokuto was reluctant to get too close, but Tori was curious. This was unlike anything the schoolgirls had ever seen!

Tori dug, and found a thin bony hand with long black nails! Tori dug away at the crystals, and found the body attached to the hand. This body was thin, and it had brittle auburn hair that would’ve been very long; had it grown down instead of straight up.

“I don’t think this body is as well preserved as the other one,” Tori guessed regarding its appearance.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Hokuto replied softly, as if the noise could wake the dead, “They were both preserved in this rock. If my guess is correct, then the red haired monster didn’t get the nutrition that the blonde one did.”

“So what do you think they are?” Tori asked nervously.

“I don’t know…Oni? The red one looks like an Oni.” Hokuto speculated.

“Seriously? An Oni?” Tori scoffed.

“What? It has the hair of one, and it is red,” Hokuto replied.

“Its hair is red, not its whole body!” Tori pointed out, “It’s clearly the same species as the other creature, and it doesn’t look like an Oni. Maybe we discovered a new species.”

“Maybe,” Hokuto replied noncommittally, “Hey, what’s that?”

Hokuto pointed to something that shimmered in the rubble. Her friend dug, and saw a faded brass tiara with a smooth blue stone.

She pulled at it, but it was stuck in something. She pulled harder, and partially pulled out another head!

Tori screamed, but then noticed the head was still attached to a body. She breathed a sigh of relief.

They looked, and saw it had short black hair like a person, but a very pale complexion that they assumed was due to it being dead.

The tiara was on the forehead of the creature, and it appeared it had been slightly scorched.

They dug out the new body and examined it as best they could.

“Hm…The tiara would suggest royalty,” Hokuto hypothesized.

“She’s shorter than the other two,” Tori observed as she leaned over the corpse.

“What makes you think it’s a girl?” Hokuto asked.

“It’s a girl; I can tell,” Tori replied confidently.

“Hikai Bowen Ti?”

“What the crap does that mean, Hokuto?” Tori asked.

“I don’t know. Why did you say it?” Hokuto asked in return.

“Um…I…didn’t…” Tori stammered, “That voice was awfully squeaky. It sounded like a kid.”

“Maybe one of our classmates?” Hokuto suggested.

Neither one would turn around to check. They just looked at each other, and listened for another sound.

“Kichan komani didiya! Dia! Yan-Kan!” the high pitched voice called out; echoing amidst the cavern.

Finally both girls turned together, and saw it…

 

Tori and Hokuto were face to face with the blonde creature! It was still restrained by the black shackles, but it stood erect, and Tori passed out!

“Tori San! Wake up!” Hokuto shouted worriedly.

She was left alone with the monster! What if it ate her? What if it carried her to some strange underworld?

“Please, stay back!” Hokuto cried out helplessly, “We’re sorry!”

The creature looked at her with a quizzical expression. It had blue eyes; slit down the middle like a snake’s, but with the whites on the edges like a person.

The creature looked down beside Hokuto, and saw its companion in the tiara.

“Dia! Kimon Kamin Marachakis! Kishon ya!” it ran to its friend; unconcerned with Hokuto or Tori, “Dia! Dia! Kishon ya!”

The blonde creature was close to tears, but soon the other awoke and looked around.

This creature’s eyes were deep green. When it sat up Hokuto scooted Tori out of the way so as not to anger them.

Hokuto watched anxiously as they conversed. The tiara monster also had shackles on her wrists, and both worked to remove them.

They had no luck with the restraints, so the blonde one checked on the red haired one; still unconscious.

Hokuto moved slowly with Tori’s unconscious body; trying to get to the exit, but she was too slow; the tiara creature saw her.

As the small pale creature came closer, Hokuto tried to be calm.

“Seremi Fignon?” the tiara creature asked.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand you,” Hokuto replied feebly.

The creature cocked its head, said something else Hokuto didn’t understand, and then levitated off the ground!

Hokuto flinched in terror! The creature lifted its leg up and bent down with its tethered hands to pull something out of its flat shoe. It pulled out a small grey box with buttons and a bunch of holes.

“Kichiney, Thegres Tomony Boi Kochon!” it exclaimed eagerly as it held the box up to Hokuto’s face.

“I don’t know what you want me to do!” Hokuto shouted, “Please don’t hurt us! My friend Tori and I never meant to come here!”

The creature then looked at the tiny box, cocked its head, looked up at Hokuto, and placed the box back in front of her face.

“Kulison, Kempai Tori Ma,” the creature said in a warm tone.

“Kowi! Machikanaki Dia Dal!” a shrill voice echoed in the cave, “Kepik Sukron!”

Hokuto turned, and saw the red haired creature walk toward an opening in the wall. It pulled out a blue-green speckled bottle.

This creature had red eyes; slit like the others. It looked hungry, and its wide eyed smirk looked intelligent yet maniacal.

The tiara creature showed the red eyed one the box, pointed to a petrified Hokuto, and continued to speak in a submissive manner.

When the red one heard what the green eyed one had to say, the red one laughed; a booming cackle that lingered in the air.

Hokuto, despite her fear and confusion, tried to make sense of it all. The tiara was clearly not a sign of royalty; this creature wasn’t in charge. The red haired Oni looking creature was their leader. In the box was something funny, or perhaps they thought Hokuto’s scared reactions were funny. Were they willing to release her? Why were all three of them shackled? Were they evil spirits?

The black haired tiara creature approached Hokuto again.

Hokuto prepared for the worst, but the creature fiddled with the box for a few minutes before even looking at Hokuto again.

The creature then opened the box, and there she saw syringes.

Hokuto wasn’t afraid of shots, but she was afraid of being injected with a foreign substance by an unknown being.

The creature pulled out a syringe, which was filled with glowing blue fluid. The creature then injected it into itself!

“Konjai! Konuji! Kotest! Testing! Testing…Do you hear me?” the creature asked.

“Yes, I hear you,” Hokuto replied calmly despite her fear.

“Good, then the language transfer is complete,” the creature’s accent was still a little odd; like a British accent, but she had a beautiful voice and a calm demeanor, “Now, I still need information.”

“W-what kind of information?” Hokuto stuttered.

“Ooh!” Tori moaned next to Hokuto; finally awake, “What’s going on, Hokuto?”

Tori then looked up from where she was sitting, and nearly passed out again from the sight of the tiara creature.

“Hokuto! What’s happening?” Tori yelled; terrified.

“Dia! Mikchen tomogai!” the red haired creature yelled from the other side of the room.

“What did it say?” Hokuto asked her alien guide.

“Yan-Kan told me to keep you two quiet,” replied the creature.

“If I may ask…what’s going to happen to us?” Hokuto asked, but she feared she already knew the answer.

“Well, first of all I want to know more about your culture, and if the Taiko race still exists,” the creature replied.

“The what?” Tori asked.

“The Taiko. It is the name of my species,” the alien replied, “You have already given me the answer by way of your ignorance. So, at the moment we are at a crossroads. It will be up to Yan-Kan to say whether or not you should live or die. I will consult her now.”

The small pale creature then turned to speak to her red eyed master.

Hokuto and Tori looked at each other with narrowed eyes. Their only chance to escape would be this moment, so the tip-toed away quietly.

Once out of the chamber, they picked up their pace and ran!

They panted with the exertion, and Tori felt ready to faint again once they had finally stopped.

The opening was still 30 feet up; still too slippery. They knew no one would hear their cries for help; except the Oni. How could they get out of this cave alive?

“Tori San, in case we don’t make it out, I just want to say…” her words were there, but Hokuto just couldn’t say them.

“I know, you’re my best friend too,” Tori finished for her.

“No, I wanted to say I was the one who accidentally broke that good china plate in your mother’s cabinet. It was an accident, and if we get out of this I will replace it,” Hokuto confessed.

“Okay,” Tori replied; too tired to even be angry about it.

“So, How can we climb this wall?” Hokuto asked.

“Dry it off first!” said a mirthful, barking voice; like that of a witch.

Tori and Hokuto quickly turned around and screamed!

It was the red haired creature smiling menacingly at them.

Her white fangs were visible; despite the poor lighting. Her eyes looked even more evil than before. It was indeed a woman; despite the lack of feminine features. Her voice and stance gave it away.

“Please, don’t eat us!” Hokuto pleaded pitifully, “We’ll do whatever you ask of us if you’ll just please let us go! We never meant for you to awaken from your eternal rest. Please!”

“Yeah, what she said!” Tori added.

The troll like creature cackled and nearly fell on the floor with a fit of laughter!

“Ha! Anything you say! Hahaha! Sorry, you say!” she laughed, “I don’t have time for this crap! You really wanna help me? See these cuffs? Get ‘em off! I’ll get you out of here after that.”

“I’m not sure if we should-” Hokuto began to say.

Hey!” the creature interrupted her, “Did I ask you your opinion on this? Get me out of these things, or I’ll burn you alive!”

The creature was suddenly very serious. Her face was severe as small flames blew from the corner of her mouth.

“Okay, okay!” Tori snapped, “We’ll get you out of the cuffs, but if you attack us anyway you’re in big trouble!”

“Ooh, I’m so petrified,” the creature smirked sarcastically.

The creature lifted up her hands; her black nails nearly jabbing Tori’s face as she bent down to examine the cuffs.

“Hm…Where’s the keyhole?” Tori asked.

“What are you talking about?” the creature asked impatiently.

“Well I mean…How am I supposed to unlock them?” Tori asked.

“Feel around for a smooth round part,” the creature ordered, “At the center of that is a finger scanner. Just leave your finger there.”

“…And?” Tori asked.

“It’ll open for you,” replied the monster, “It’s designed to keep criminals from being able to open it.”

Tori did as she was told, and before long the shackles fell off.

“Ah! Much better!” the creature said as she felt her sore wrists.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Hokuto interrupted, “But I just realized. If you can breathe fire, then why didn’t you just melt the cuffs?”

“Because that little demonstration was all I could do. With the cuffs on my fire was severely crippled. Now, I’m back! I can shoot a steady stream of fire from here to the top of the ceiling hole! Slur all you want now, you burning knights! Yan-Kan is back!”

Tori and Hokuto cowered away from the ranting monster. There in that cave was where they would die. They were sure of it now.

Yan-Kan then turned to them with a wide toothy grin.

As she got closer the girls tried to back up, but they were backed against the wall with nowhere to go.

Yan-Kan looked up at the place where the girls fell from, and all of a sudden she blasted a wide stream of fire inside the hole!

“Alright then,” Yan-Kan looked up at it appraisingly “Surface is solid: check. Fire will alert others if nearby: check. Alright then, at any moment you should be rescued, but if you can’t wait that long, I suggest you start climbing. It should be easier now. You can come back here anytime you want. We won’t be here anymore.”

Hokuto and Tori watched in stunned silence as the fire spraying abomination strolled past them and back into the cave mouth.

Hokuto was still hesitant, but Tori wasn’t going to stay down in that insufferable pit any longer!

She clawed her way up, scraping her knees and hurting her legs as she strained to gain traction.

Her fingers dug into the crusty charred rock. Her heavy breathing was heard by Hokuto despite the distance between them.

Hokuto finally gathered her courage and attempted to climb out as well. Soon Tori was out, and she pulled out Hokuto after her. They saw that their class was heading toward the exit; the tour was over.

Their teacher looked at their dirty uniforms with disapproval. A full 2 hours had passed since they broke from the group.

“Where have you young ladies been?” the teacher asked harshly, “I was so worried something had happened to you.”

Tori and Hokuto teared up; their faces crinkled with the strain.

Before long, both were crying and hugging their teacher!

She didn’t understand why they were doing that, but at least all was well and they were safe.

Chapter Two

Yan-Kan pulled the shackles apart from her sisters with ease. Her full strength was returning, and her body felt warmer already.

Her two sisters looked to her to lead them, but all she knew about this world so far was how easily the people in it were scared. She was completely lost.

Yan-Kan was the oldest of the group of triplet sisters. The middle one was Dia; a small pale Taiko with green eyes and short black hair.

Dia was very intelligent to the point of egotism, and specialized in genetic experiments. She also had a love of foreign languages and anything mechanical. Dia was the one who repaired the ship back when they were stealthy sky pirates outrunning and outgunning the knights who pursued them and sought to sever their heads.

“Oneesama…I’m hungry,” whined Mukaiko.

Mukaiko was the youngest triplet, and the least mature. Beauty and innocence graced Mukaiko as a bird graces a winter’s branch.

She had long curly blonde hair and celestial blue eyes. Her voice was very high pitched and childlike, but she was quite tall at 5’8”.

Their time of death was age 13. Taiko didn’t age very differently than humans biologically, but their society expected a lot from children their age. Orphans at that age received little pity from those around them.

“Alright Dia, what’s our next step?” Yan-Kan asked.

“Well dear sister, we already have the language transplanted. A good thing I had these gels hidden in my sock,” Dia noted, “Now, if I may suggest it, we should go to the surface and learn more about these creatures.”

“Yeah whatever,” Yan-Kan replied dismissively.

“Say Dia,” Mukaiko called to her, “Did you smuggle more stuff?”

“Just my chronometer,” Dia replied casually, “I was allowed it. I asked for one item to be executed with, and knights will grant most requests of the dead.”

“Why’d you ask for your stupid gravity watch?” Yan-Kan asked.

“I don’t really know,” Dia shrugged, “I suppose because my most valuable possession was already taken from me…”

“Oh,” Mukaiko replied solemnly at the memory.

“So…what’s it say?” Yan-Kan replied; glossing over the moment.

“Oh, let’s see…” Dia pulled the small black orb out of her sock and began calculating in her head what she was reading, “Oh dear blood!” she finally cried out.

“What?” Yan-Kan shouted impatiently.

“Yan-Kan…Mukaiko…You won’t believe this…” Dia whispered.

“What!?” Yan-Kan bellowed; her voice echoing as if more than a single person were speaking.

“44 million…We’ve been encased in the Zinc-oxide for 44 million years!” Dia exclaimed, “Everything we ever cared about is gone…”

“Great! More planet for us!” Yan-Kan replied with a smirk.

“Wait a minute!” Mukaiko interjected, “How did we survive? I don’t understand. Why are we still alive?”

“Simple,” Dia replied, “Our oxygen lungs and hydrogen lungs are working together to recycle our current air supply. The stone must have acted as a barrier to keep our cells from exposure to elements that would cause them to degenerate as they replicated.”

“You know what Dia? I’m in such a good mood that I’m going to pretend I understood you,” Yan-Kan said cheerfully.

“It hardly matters now, anyway,” Dia replied matter-of-factly, “This is the end of the Taiko race. Those creatures had never heard of us before, and we have no way of repopulating our people.”

Dia felt as if she were on the verge of a panic attack. She looked at the walls and saw that nature had reclaimed everything. They had been inside a sterile building with computers and machinery, but now it was all rocks, stalagmites, stalactites, and puddles!

Dia was a Dal; meaning she conducted electricity. Inside the cave there was no way to recharge herself. She felt cold and was terrified of her new surroundings. What could they do now that they were all alone on a planet they no longer knew?

Yan-Kan, on the other hand, was overjoyed. She had outlived every rival. She had conquered time itself! She knew nothing of these new creatures, but it didn’t matter. No one could hurt them now.

“Alright girls, it’s time to explore our mighty new world! Come on!” Yan-Kan ordered as she triumphantly strode to the exit.

“Yes, Oneesama!” Mukaiko replied excitedly.

“Right away, Yan-Kan,” Dia sighed; trying not to sound anxious.

The cave was long and winding. It took them an hour to find their way out. Normally Dia could levitate above them, but she had used her limited ability on impressing the humans, and with no charge she was just as lost as the others. Dia’s stomach ached, and her insides felt like they were trying to get out. She tried to touch her abdomen, but the wounds were not yet healed, and her cuts began to bleed again.

Soon they managed to leave the cave. The light was so bright!

“Ah! Oneesama! Where are you? I can’t see you! The light!” Mukaiko shouted.

“Shut up, kid!” Yan-Kan snapped at her, “We don’t want them to hear us yet!”

 

After they left the cave, they walked for several minutes. Soon the three travelers found themselves at a set of railway tracks.

They looked one way, and then another, but didn’t see anything coming.

“I think we should follow these tracks and see where they lead us,” Dia suggested.

“So what’re we looking for, anyway?” Yan-Kan asked.

“A hospital,” Dia replied, “Or any place with medical equipment for that matter. These new creatures are everywhere. They clearly rule the planet now. Life will be easier for us if we look like them. I can do this, but I need to get a closer look at them so I know what I need to do to our bodies.”

“You’re going to perform surgery on us?” Mukaiko asked timidly, “Yan-Kan!”

“It’s okay with me,” Yan-Kan replied; unconcern-ed.

Mukaiko knew surrender was her only option. Yan-Kan always indulged Dia’s intellectual whims.

“Oh, and one more thing; everybody take off your skirts!” Yan-Kan ordered.

What? Why?” Mukaiko asked frantically.

“We can’t let them see our faces,” Yan-Kan replied, “We’ll cover our heads with the skirts, and follow the tracks to their nearest village. Don’t worry, kid. At least you’re wearing underwear.”

Mukaiko didn’t say anything to her. She just did as she was told. This was the way it had been for as long as she could remember. Yan-Kan and Dia always had the plans, and she always went along with them. On days like this though, she wondered if that was wise.

 

It took the better part of the day, and the sun was now setting, but the three Taiko finally made it to a city. It was big, and there were so many people walking around.

“They all look so orderly and clean,” Dia said appraisingly.

“They’re all gold colored,” Mukaiko remarked, “and they have such tiny ears and eyes! How do they see or hear anything? I wonder if they eat the same things we eat…”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Yan-Kan replied nonchalantly.

They pulled their pastel green skirts tighter over their heads and walked briskly into the city.

The weather was warm, and there were metal beasts, signs, and lights everywhere!

“Alright then, that sign says the clinic is 2 km from here,” Dia informed them.

“Hey! How come I can’t tell what it says?” Yan-Kan complained, “I only see squiggles!”

“That’s because you never bothered to learn how to read our native language. The gels only decipher information in the parts of our brains that are active,” Dia explained patronizingly, “Mukaiko and I can already read, but you cannot. It’s as simple as that.”

“Yeah, it’s as simple as you and Mukaiko were tutored with the money I painstakingly stole for you two ungrateful brats!” griped Yan-Kan.

Dia and Mukaiko just ignored their sister’s seemingly harsh words. Yan-Kan always spoke that way, but the truth was she was happy to sacrifice for her sisters. When they were younger they were tutored by a kindly old teacher who offered to teach Yan-Kan also, but Yan-Kan was too busy conning and stealing to bother with education.

The girls were triplets, which was scandalous to the Taiko. A woman could only give birth to more than one child at a time if she had more than one man to father them. The girls’ mother, whoever she was, abandoned them at birth.

They were raised in a child village; which was an assortment of small houses where orphans were kept. Their child village, like so many, was under-funded. There were 75 children to every matron that cared for them.

The three girls had a particularly mean-spirited matron, who had a special hatred for Yan-Kan. Yan-Kan was a Maran, and Taiko believed these types of manipulators to be evil and cursed.

When the girls were only 6 years old, Yan-Kan decided it was time for them to escape. She knew she could care for her sisters herself.

Two years later they found a Kalabus egg and took it. That egg hatched into the Shadow Star; the instrument to their success as sky pirates.

A Kalabus wasn’t the same as a car. A Kalabus only allowed itself to be used if it trusted the person using it. They started out small; about the size of a fat housecat. Eventually a Kalabus could grow to be the size of a football field! They could feel, they could want, and they could eat. Having a Kalabus was less like having a car and more like having a faithful dog or horse.

When they arrested the Sinister Ones, they put the Shadow Star to sleep. The girls cried all night together from inside their cell; even though Yan-Kan could produce no tears.

 

It took a while to find the clinic, but when they did it fortunately was closed. Yan-Kan picked the lock using her fingernail.

They carefully walked inside; in case it was booby trapped.

Once inside, they started ransacking the place, going through anything they could find. Papers were glanced over and thrown aside, Dia grabbed a bag and started shoving tools and vials of medicine inside with abandon, and Yan-Kan draped her skirt over a couch to catch any excess blood.

“Hey Dia, why do all of these papers say Kochi on them?” Mukaiko asked.

“Because that is the name of the city we are in,” Dia replied, “I saw it on the way here.”

After a few minutes of examining everything she grabbed, Dia felt ready to begin the surgery.

“Alright then girls,” Dia intoned, “I found this bottle of what is apparently an anesthetic. Who wants to go first?”

“I’ll go,” Yan-Kan volunteered, “If I die, don’t try this on Mukaiko.”

“Yes, Oneesama,” Dia replied dutifully.

Dia then had Yan-Kan drink the vile fluid; since a needle wouldn’t go through a Maran’s rough skin.

Yan-Kan shook for a few seconds and made gagging noises due to the horrible taste, but finally she fell asleep.

We all know how sci-fi portrays aliens. Their transformations are usually painless, instant, and oftentimes beautiful. In truth, however, a change of this magnitude is awkward, painful, and uncertain of success.

Dia made the first incision. She began by cutting away pieces of Yan-Kan’s right ear; the one facing the outside of the couch.

Dia’s hands were steady, and her gaze was focused. She had to cut slowly through the cartilage and remove each of the 3 sections carefully.

“I’m going to faint!” Mukaiko cried out, but Dia wasn’t listening.

Dia cut out a delicate round shape and quickly sealed it with gauze and surgical tape. She would have a trickier time cutting out the second ear, as it was facing the couch.

“Mukaiko! Help me turn Yan-Kan over on her stomach!” Dia ordered.

Mukaiko gulped, and then answered with “Yes, Oneesan.”

Fortunately for them, Yan-Kan was very light weight. Despite her strength, Yan-Kan weighed very little due to near starvation off and on for most of her life.

Once Yan-Kan was face down, Dia began her work of cutting apart her other ear. She found the slope trickier than before, but she managed to shape it just the way she wanted it before taping it up.

“Alright Mukaiko, now I need you to help me get her on her back,” Dia told her.

Once Yan-Kan was on her back, Dia walked away and began taking random bottles out of the bag and testing them on white pieces of paper.

“What are you doing, Dia?” Mukaiko asked.

“I need a thick brown liquid,” Dia replied distractedly, “I’m going to inject it in Yan-Kan’s eyes to give them the right color.”

“What!?” Mukaiko gasped, “That’s crazy! You’re not qualified to operate on her eyes! Besides, she’s a Maran! There is nothing wrong with having red eyes!”

“Mukaiko, you understand that these people all have brown eyes? Yan-Kan’s eyes are red. She’ll never pass, and neither will we. I have to inject her eyes with the proper color.”

Mukaiko had heard all she could hear. She fainted, and part of her body changed to water and splashed the floor before solidifying.

Dia merely sighed and continued her grizzly surgical artwork.

She held an eye back, and prayed that Yan-Kan didn’t wake up during this part.

Dia managed to get both eyes colored brown, but she wasn’t sure what product she used, so she was unsure if it would hold.

Dia then found a couple of bottles that she mixed into a gold color for Yan-Kan’s skin. Then she realized it wasn’t necessary. Yan-Kan was tan enough to just barely pass for one of these people.

She would still have to use it, however; on herself and Mukaiko.

Dia then knelt over her other unconscious sister, Mukaiko, and began cutting away at her ears. It was easier this time. Whereas Yan-Kan had rough unyielding skin, Mukaiko was so soft that Dia barely had to apply any pressure at all.

She then shaped the ears into what she wanted them to be. The pale pink blood was pouring out of Mukaiko, so Dia had to apply the gauze and tape quickly!

She then applied the skin tone to Mukaiko’s entire body! It was a long and tedious task. Dia was no tattoo artist. Somehow she still managed to get the coat even and Mukaiko had beautiful golden skin.

“Alright, and now the eyes…” Dia muttered to herself.

Dia lifted back an eye, but Mukaiko moaned in her half conscious state.

“Hm…I can’t do this if she’s awake,” Dia reasoned, “She’ll bite me. Oh well, she’s close enough. I guess it’s time to begin on myself.”

Dia stared at her bloody scalpel, wiped it off, and stared at it some more. This was not something she was looking forward to.

With great hesitation, she went to the mirror, and began carving up her ear. She cried out, and hoped she didn’t tear up. She couldn’t afford the vision impairment.

Dia struggled with carving up her ears and remaining focused on the shape. By now Yan-Kan was awake, and Mukaiko was awake and vomiting uncontrollably.

After the ears were carved and her blood was spilling out, Dia couldn’t take anymore, and she passed out!

Yan-Kan wrapped the gauze and tape around her sister’s ears, grabbed the unconscious body, and started for the door.

“Wait!” Mukaiko called out, “What about the colors? Dia needs her skin and eyes colored.”

“She’ll be fine,” Yan-Kan dismissed her concerns, “Let’s get out of here before someone investigates all this screaming!”

Mukaiko bowed her head and followed her sisters out. She looked down at her new skin. It looked so weird; so alien. What was she?

What were they?

Chapter Three

The next day the girls woke up sore. They had slept in an alley, but that was no huge change for them. What was a change was all of these people driving and walking. They were used to busy cities, but it was eerie that there were no Taiko in sight!

“Hey, why do my eyes feel sore?” Mukaiko whimpered.

“I’m sorry, Mukaiko,” Dia confessed, “But I used some liquid to make the middle of your irises round just before you woke up. I did the same to Yan-Kan and myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to change the colors in our eyes, so just try to squint a lot.”

“Brown’s a weird color,” Yan-Kan said as she looked at herself in a puddle’s reflection, “I’ve never seen anyone with brown eyes before yesterday, and now everyone’s got ‘em!”

Yan-Kan rubbed her eyes, and immediately regretted it! It had been a long time since she felt pain like this!

Mukaiko moaned as she looked out at all of these people. They were so organized they almost appeared to be Taiko…ugly Taiko. The city wasn’t as loud as she expected, and she wondered if these people were really that quiet or if she had lost her hearing.

Dia looked in every direction; observing these people in hopes of learning ways to emulate them.

“So what are we supposed to do now?” Mukaiko asked.

“Hm…” Dia pondered for a moment, and then finally said, “If we are to fit in here, then we need names that sound native to this region. I saw a stand full of thin papers with words on them. I’ll go over there and see if anything has feminine names on it.”

Dia went to cross the street, but nearly got hit by a truck when she didn’t use the crosswalk!

Dia backed away and tripped on the sidewalk! She fell on her butt and looked around haplessly. People looked down at her for a moment, but no one offered either help or condemnation. Being ignored was something Dia was used to as a free child. She wondered if these people knew she was a free child; what humans would call an orphan.

She got up and walked to the crosswalk; keeping her pace slow to avoid suspicion.

When she got to the kiosk she looked up at the rectangular sign that read NEWSPAPERS.

She then lowered her gaze a bit to the older man manning the kiosk. She still had to crane her head a little. Dia was short for her age and slightly pudgier than her sisters. It made her look younger, but fortunately her voice was both melodious and mature.

“Excuse me,” Dia said softly, “Do you have any information on names?”

“Yes,” the man replied courteously, “We have this year’s issue of popular baby names. It includes different colored characters for gender, shows the number of brush strokes each name has, and is categorized into traditional Kanji characters, and also hiragana for more youthful names.”

“It looks lovely,” Dia said as she admired the shiny paperback book.

Dia then abruptly grabbed for the book, but the newsstand man held onto it tightly! Dia pulled at it in a desperate struggle to rip it out of the man’s grasp, but he was proving stronger than she was. Knowing she couldn’t get the whole book, she inched it open and ripped out a single page and ran off with it!

“Hey you, stop! Thief!” the man yelled at her.

He never left his kiosk to give chase to her. He dared not leave his business vulnerable to more thieves.

Dia ran toward a crowd and yelled “Thief! Thief!” while pointing at another crowd across the street. The people looked for the thief while Dia blended into the throng and eventually made it back to the alley. This technique of misdirection had served her well many times in the past.

She met her sisters with the precious book page. Hopefully the names in here would help make their new identities complete!

Dia looked down at it, and it was a hiragana page that had names starting with To on both sides.

Dia scanned through them to decide her new name first. After that she would read them to Yan-Kan until she found one she liked, and then Mukaiko could pick one.

“Alright…Let’s see…” Dia said under her breath, “Tomoko and Tomoyo are both alternate words for intelligence. Tomoko has a more feminine sound to it and is distinctly woman, but Tomoyo sounds more modern and progressive. Hm…”

“Just pick one, Data Girl!” Yan-Kan snapped; using a nickname she had given Dia when they were just little kids.

“Alright, already!” Dia snapped, “From now on, my new name is Tomoyo. Can you remember that, girls?”

“Of course!” Yan-Kan replied defensively, “I’m illiterate; I’m not stupid!”

Dia sighed and wrote her name on the side of the page. She then began to read some of the names to Yan-Kan from random places in the book.

“What about the name Tori?” Dia asked.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that somewhere before,” Yan-Kan replied dismissively, “Next!”

“Hm…Toshi is a nice name, even if it is mostly for boys,” Dia suggested.

“I hate it,” Yan-Kan replied, “It sounds too stuck up! No, I want something that sounds like me.”

“Well…Toya is the perfect name for starting a new life,” Dia told her.

“It sounds too much like your name,” Yan-Kan griped.

“Well there aren’t many girls’ names on this paper!” Dia huffed, “Just pick something! Alright, Toki. What about Toki? I know it’s gender neutral, but to be fair so is Yan-Kan.”

“Yeah…Toki. It works. Because I have conquered time it shall henceforth be my very name! We have become the embodiment of dodging death itself!” Yan-Kan exclaimed jubilantly.

“Yes, yes, whatever!” Tomoyo snapped impatiently, “Alright then, little sister, what shall your new name be?”

She went to hand Mukaiko the piece of paper, but the youngest Taiko was too busy looking out at the traffic. She seemed entranced by the graceful yet dominating movements of the lifeless transport systems.

“Mukaiko, you need to pick a new name now,” Tomoyo urged her gently.

“Hitomi,” Mukaiko said without turning to them.

“Excuse me?” Tomoyo asked; unsure if she heard her correctly.

“Hitomi, like on that truck,” Mukaiko elaborated, “I want that name.”

Tomoyo looked out at the truck, and it said Hoshi No Hitomi. It had a picture of contact lenses going into an attractive woman’s eyes on it.

“Why Hitomi?” Tomoyo asked, “Wouldn’t Hoshi be a prettier name than Hitomi?”

“Not really,” Hitomi replied, “Hitomi sounds more like Mukaiko than Hoshi does. It has the same number of syllables so I think I’ll remember it easily.”

“Just terrific,” Tomoyo replied sardonically, “My sister has named herself after a delivery truck.”

Tomoyo then wrote the names Toki and Hitomi on the side of the page so they could practice them. If this was going to work, then they couldn’t refer to their old names even in private. If she was to be Tomoyo, then she would have to always be Tomoyo, and her sisters were Toki and Hitomi no matter what. This would be hard.

“Okay girls, we have our new names,” Toki said thoughtfully, “So now what? We have no ship and no way to get one. So what’s gonna keep the rain and snow off our heads?”

Tomoyo and Hitomi looked at each other, and then at their sister. They didn’t really have a plan beyond this.

Hitomi paced, and Toki propped her chin on her elbow as she reclined on a pile of cardboard.

Finally, after much thought, Tomoyo came up with an idea. This was a risky idea, and would require much research on her part, but they would have a place to stay and a way to further assimilate into their new environment.

“Girls,” Tomoyo said tentatively, “We’re going to need clothes…”

Chapter Four

Kaneshiro Ritsuka strolled down her suburban street contentedly as she looked at all of the lovely spring foliage.

Ritsuka hoped the package from her grandfather had arrived in the mail. She had been waiting for weeks.

She twirled the stray hair from her brown ponytail in her fingers and thought about school the next day. She was 15, and on this day she had been asked out by her crush for the first time!

Akahana Takuya was the coolest boy she had ever met. He could skateboard, he was great at kendo, and the way he wore that rumpled hoodie and red ball cap made him look like such a bad boy! She still called him Akahana Kun. They weren’t yet on a first name basis, but she could feel their relationship forming already.

Ritsuka walked to the mailbox first thing after coming home, and right there sticking out of it was a plain brown box. It was here!

Ritsuka hurried inside and started tearing the tape off the box postmarked Bristol, England.

There was a book of recipes written in English, a 50 pound note, a tin of butter cookies, and the DVD on volleyball she had asked for. She had just gotten a region 0 DVD player, and couldn’t wait to try it out with this movie.

Ritsuka’s father was born and raised in the Kochi region, but her mother was only half Japanese. Ritsuka’s grandfather was a white man from England.

Her grandparents didn’t come to Japan very often. In fact, Ritsuka could probably count the times she had seen them in person on one hand. It didn’t matter though, because they always spoiled her with fancy gifts, long letters, and money that she always had to convert.

Ritsuka was on top of the world in this moment. Her life was almost perfect.

Her neighborhood was a fairly safe one as well. She knew most of her neighbors either barely or closely.

Her next door neighbor on the right side of her house was Miyasaka Yuirena. She couldn’t stand Yuirena! She was the same age as Ritsuka, but she was a total phony.

Yuirena always pretended to be more sophis-ticated than she was. She pretended to know about other cultures and always talked about going to America to become a famous Madnesswood actress. Ritsuka would point out that there were movie studios in Japan, and also that Yuirena spoke no English, but Yuirena would just dismiss her comments.

Yuirena was actually a name her parents made up by combining two other names, and Ritsuka thought it sounded so stupid. She thought it was cool when they first met. They used to be friends, but when they turned 12 Yuirena developed a curvy figure and was suddenly popular. Since then she didn’t want to be seen with a tomboy like Ritsuka.

Yuirena was out on the sidewalk of her own house sweeping the dust away. She wore her hair in a ponytail like Ritsuka, but she dyed it light pink. It looked so ridiculous! She reminded Ritsuka of a cosplayer at an otaku convention.

Ritsuka also saw Omiro Emiko running down the street with her dog Rinto.

Emiko was around 8 or 9 years old; Ritsuka couldn’t remember. She lived somewhere in the neighborhood with her mother and her dog, but Ritsuka still didn’t know exactly which place she lived in after all these years. She thought it might be in the apartments on the corner, but she didn’t know.

Ritsuka looked up at the clock on the wall that resembled a soccer ball. It said 5:35 p.m. That meant in another half hour or so Prof. Ichikawa would be coming home from work.

Prof. Ichikawa was an astronomer and stellar cartographer. He lived down the street on the side opposite Ritsuka. Everyone recognized him in this neighborhood. His short brown hair always seemed disheveled and he always wore a warm placid smile and big rounded glasses.

The kids liked him because he always had something sweet with him. Sometimes it was Mochi balls, sometimes it was chocolate bars, and sometimes it was lollipops. He always walked home with some kind of treat, and if the kids asked he’d usually share. That was why most of the kids called him Prof. Candy.

Prof. Ichikawa didn’t have a family of his own, so he loved it when he could spoil the neighborhood kids.

Despite his good hearted nature Prof. Ichikawa was usually distant and unwilling to carry on a long conversation. His work was his life, and even at home his mind was on the stars.

As Ritsuka tried to figure out where all of her new gifts should go, she suddenly heard her cell phone ringing.

“Hello?” Ritsuka answered.

“Hello, Ritsuka San. It’s Kuniko,” the mealy mouthed voice on the other end answered.

“Kuniko!” Ritsuka shouted joyously, “He did it! Akahana Kun asked me out today! We’re going to the museum on Saturday! Oh, I just can’t believe it! Everything is going according to plan!”

“Yes, Ritsuka San, I am happy for you, but could you please not speak so loudly?” Kuniko requested timidly, “It hurts my ears.”

“I’m sorry Kuniko,” Ritsuka replied apologetically, “My parents aren’t home yet, so I’ll probably relax and watch TV before I start on my homework.”

“You are so lucky,” Kuniko said wistfully, “My parents are always here, so if I don’t do something they know it. By the way, are you coming over tomorrow after school to stay the night? My parents need to know if your parents are okay with it.”

“I talked to them. They are,” Ritsuka replied, “See you then.”

“Alright. Goodbye,” Kuniko finished.

“See you later,” Ritsuka said as she hung up.

She and Kuniko had been best friends since they were 6 years old. Kuniko went to the same school as Ritsuka, but she lived outside of town on a small farm with her parents.

Kuniko was the third born of 8 children, and the youngest girl. Ritsuka liked going over to her friend’s house. Being an only child, it was a different experience to be surrounded by so many other people.

Kuniko’s father always wore a robe and socks; never shoes, even when he was outside. It struck Ritsuka as odd, but he was a farmer so he could dictate his own dress code. Her mother was a placid woman who said very little. She always seemed tired.

Kuniko was a sweet girl who wouldn’t fight with anyone over anything. Her siblings used to yell at her when she took too long in the bathroom, but they soon realized that it was no fun arguing with someone who didn’t argue back.

Kuniko always wore layers even though it was usually warm. She wore a sweater, a long skirt, a shirt, an undershirt, and socks with sandals. Her black hair was always tied back in a smooth bun. She had an old fashioned charm that people found endearing.

 

Ritsuka sat on the couch and watched TV for about an hour before her mother and father came walking through the door. They worked at the same real estate office and usually carpooled to work.

Ritsuka mentally kicked herself for not having started on her homework yet! She knew her father would ask. He always asked so many questions of her. She was their only child, so her parents had a great emotional investment in her success.

“Hi Mama, hi Papa!” Ritsuka said too loudly due to nervousness.

“Oh, Ritsuka, I’m so glad you’re already downstairs,” her mother said warmly, “We need to talk to you about something…”

Ritsuka wondered if she was in trouble at school. She didn’t recall doing anything wrong, but then again high school was a strict place. Her mother never took such a serious tone. She wondered if somebody had died.

“Yes Mama, what is it?” Ritsuka asked softly; fearing her reply.

“Sit down, Ritsuka Chan,” her father patted the back of a wooden chair at their dinner table. He and her mother sat down as well.

“Ritsuka Chan…” her mother began, “Shortly after you left for school today, your father and I got a phone call. Apparently, my father has been keeping secrets from me, dear.”

“What kind of secrets?” Ritsuka asked.

“Um…My father, your grandfather…” Ritsuka’s mother seemed to struggle with her words as she spoke, “Well…He had another child; a daughter. It was shortly before he met your grandmother. He had the child, but did not want to claim her because he had fallen in love with my mother. His mistress was forced to raise the child alone.”

“Wait,” Ritsuka interrupted, “So I have an aunt somewhere that you didn’t even know about?”

“Um…you did…” her mother replied pensively, “The reason for the phone call was because my abandoned sister recently died. She had no family except for her daughters. We are the only family they have in this country. The girls are only teenagers. They need a new place to live; a new family. After much discussion, your father and I have agreed to take them. I know this will be a rough time for you, but I would hope if you were in the same situation that someone would care for you. We cannot abandon our family; even if my father was misguided enough to do just that.”

“I just can’t imagine…Grandpa leaving a woman to raise his child alone?” Ritsuka pondered aloud.

“I do not understand it, either,” her mother replied solemnly, “We have a lot to work through, but I’m sure we will grow to love the girls as our own. The good part is, now you will know what it is like to have sisters.”

“Yeah…I guess I will…” Ritsuka replied noncommittally.

Ritsuka knew her mother was right. There was nothing she could do, so there was no point in complaining about it. They did have a guest bedroom upstairs across from Ritsuka’s room, so at least she wouldn’t have to share.

Ritsuka had stayed over at Kuniko’s house often enough to know a house with siblings could be chaotic. She also knew though that a sisterly bond was one of the closest imaginable. These were her cousins, but in order to get along with them better she would just pretend they were her new sisters.

 

They drove for twenty minutes in rush hour traffic to pick the girls up. As many questions as Ritsuka had, she forgot to ask the most important one: how many of them were there?

Ritsuka imagined two girls, but standing on the curb were three, and what an odd looking bunch they were!

They were dirty, and all dressed in ill-fitting clothes. One looked like a ghost, and was wearing a green and purple sailor suit with purple leggings. It looked like a magical girl costume; complete with a tiara! Another girl was wearing a man’s white work shirt and torn blue jeans with black shin-high boots. She had a disheveled appearance and was very tall. The last one was dressed normally in a purple tank top and pink skirt, but had kinky blonde hair and was taller than most of the boys Ritsuka knew!

Her parents turned off the car and got out to speak to the new additions, so Ritsuka took that as her cue to do the same.

“Hello girls, I am your aunt; Kaneshiro Asagi,” Ritsuka’s mother introduced herself to the girls, “and this is your uncle; Kaneshiro Ichiro. This is your cousin; Ritsuka. May I know your names?”

“How you doing, ma’am?” the one in the work shirt replied, “I’m Toki, and these are my sisters Tomoyo and Hitomi. So uh, do we all crawl into that thing you drove here or what?”

Ritsuka didn’t want to be rude, but she couldn’t help but stare at Toki. Her hair must have been a foot high! Toki had red hair and dark skin…that was a combination Ritsuka had only seen on TV. She didn’t know it existed in real life. Toki’s hair hung around her like leaves on a palm tree! It was a lion’s mane!

“Um, yes, you can all sit in the back with Ritsuka,” her mother told them, “It will be a bit crowded…”

“Don’t worry; Hitomi can sit in my lap for the ride if it’s not too long!” Toki declared.

Toki was so loud! Ritsuka was sure everyone was staring at them. She wondered if their mother was Japanese or English. She really couldn’t tell. Toki and Hitomi were dark skinned like her, but Tomoyo was the color of spoiled milk. Tomoyo must have been the youngest since she was wearing a princess costume and was so short.

They drove mostly in calm silence, but Ritsuka felt like she was suffocating! She sat on the passenger’s side on the left, and Toki and Hitomi sat next to her.

Tomoyo seemed lost in thought as she stared vacantly out the window, but Toki and Hitomi whispered and looked shiftily at Ritsuka and her parents. Ritsuka didn’t know why, but she was very uncomfortable around these girls.

When they got home Ritsuka’s mother led them upstairs and showed the girls their room.

“The bathroom is right next to your room on the left,” her mother told them, “Ritsuka’s room is right across from the bathroom. The master bedroom is at the end of the hall on the right. I apologize that we only have one futon available.”

The futon she spoke of was actually a flat pallet with a blanket and a pillow. The room was painted yellow, and mostly empty. There was only the futon, an empty shelf, and a small mahogany table. The room itself was quite small, but also had an empty closet. Toki walked in first, and then Tomoyo. Hitomi was shy, so she tended to cling to Tomoyo’s shoulders as she looked around.

“Thanks, Ma’am,” Toki replied with a sideways smile, “We’ll get this place looking like home in no time.”

Then Toki turned to the girls and shouted “I get the futon!”

Ritsuka expected an argument like she usually saw at Kuniko’s house, but the others just bowed politely and said nothing.

Ritsuka’s mother left to order take-out for their dinner, but Ritsuka just stood in the doorway for a while and watched the three girls arrange their new room. They didn’t even seem to notice her.

“I’m not sure we’ll all fit in this tiny room,” Toki observed.

“Oneesama,” Tomoyo piped up, “I want to sleep in the closet.”

“Are you kidding me? There’s no light in there!” Toki protested.

“We can add lights later,” Tomoyo replied, “The confined space is out of the way. I think it would make an excellent laboratory.”

“Whatever,” Toki acquiesced, “Hitomi, you sleep here next to me. Once we have money I’ll buy you a decent bed.”

“Yes, Oneesama,” Hitomi replied reverently.

Ritsuka felt like she should say something to them; anything to make her cousins feel welcome, but she couldn’t. Not only were these girls strangers to her, they also looked freakish. Frankly, Ritsuka didn’t trust them. She didn’t know what was wrong with them, but she knew something was off.

Chapter Five

Planet Riah

The Taiko people were not faring well. The ovarian plague was overtaking their entire female population from one end of the continent to the other.

Planet Riah had been the home of the Taiko for millions of years. They feared that their time was soon coming to an end. Disease and famine meant that their numbers were dwindling down to a mere handful of what they once were. There were maybe 5,000 Taiko left.

This was the climate in which Mektar was born. He was 9 years old now, with bushy hair the color of tree bark and light blue eyes. He lived in Tilbek; a coastal nation with a large population and tall developed buildings. The capital city of Tilbek was south of the Jebsi jungle and northwest of the Golden City.

The Golden City was where he was going now. It was the royal abode of their queen and her court. It was inside a dormant volcano, but there were many active geysers surrounding it. The very sky outside the city was red, and there were huge reptilian monsters guarding it.

The Golden City was forbidden to all who were not personally invited by the queen, therefore most Taiko would go their whole lives without ever seeing within its walls. Mektar felt very lucky to have been invited, but he didn’t know why Mighty Karagami sent for him. He was not important, nor was his family. How did the queen even know of him?

Mektar wondered if he had disgraced his clan somehow. He hoped not. Those who were disgraced were forced to cut off their own hair; the very symbol of Taiko experience and power!

Another reason Mektar feared going to the Golden City was that he had to leave his mother alone.

He was his mother’s only child, and his father had died when he was 3 years old. His mother supported them by selling handmade jewelry on the beach, but 2 months prior to his journey his mother had contracted the ovarian plague. It was horrible watching her as she lost weight and bled from her mouth and genitals.

He could still see her hollowed face and pleading blue eyes as she looked up at him from her sickbed. Her sleeves had been ripped to allow the doctor to give her topical medicines and check her vitals. Her shiny blonde hair was ragged and strewn all over the bed.

When he told her of the invitation, he at first asked if there was a way to refuse so that he could stay by her side.

She told him there was not. When they departed she said “Go see Mighty Karagami. Perhaps she has decided to make you a court member. No matter what she says to you however, show no fear. You are strong…you are intelligent…you are…my brave little hero…”

Brave little hero was what she always called him from the time he could remember. She had drifted off to sleep after that. Mektar wiped the sweat from her face with a cold wet cloth before he left her.

His fear was that this was the last time he would see her. If he were made a court official, then he would be forbidden to leave the Golden City. Even if that wasn’t what Mighty Karagami wanted, it would still be weeks before he could return home. By then it might be too late. He would soon be a free child, and then there would be no choice but to quit his lessons and get a job.

So many thoughts raced through his head as the Ifri, the metallic beetle he was riding in, scurried onto the threshold of the Molten Palace.

The guards checked his invitation for authenticity, and once they were satisfied that he was truly summoned, they let him pass into the interior of the palace.

A large peach colored man escorted him into a hallway with four chairs; two on each side, three of which were already occupied. There was a large red double door gilded with gold trim at the end of the short hallway.

“That door leads to Mighty Karagami’s receiving room,” the guard informed Mektar, “It will open automatically when she is ready for you and her other guests.”

“Thank you very much, sir,” Mektar replied respectfully.

He sat down in the ornate red and gold chair on the lower left side to wait for the queen to receive him. It didn’t take very long for Mektar to get bored. He fidgeted in his chair, but dared not make a sound. The room was so quiet, so still, that it almost seemed reverent; as if someone had died.

Mektar needed something to take his mind off of the chilling quiet in the room, so he decided to get a better look at the other Taiko in the room with him.

The man sitting directly across from him was very old. He was so old that his ears didn’t fold back anymore. They were so calcified that the points stuck straight out like the blades of a multi-tool.

He saw that the man wore a pale yellow rag on his head and a pale yellow half-apron over his puffy off-white pants. His shirt and pants were the same color; a uniform. His shoes were simple black flats, and he carried a carved stick that had many fractures from combat.

With this information Mektar could tell that this was a warrior from the north; possibly the mountains of Opam. The tribes of Opam lived a hard and simple life in nearly uninhabitable conditions, and were typically less than friendly with outsiders. Even their women were belligerent and ugly!

The rag meant the man was bald on top, but Mektar could see a long silver ponytail hanging from the side of the chair. It must have been four feet long! This guy had to be at least a century old or greater! Even his mustache was long!

The old man’s black eyes met Mektar’s, and Mektar averted his gaze as quickly as possible. He didn’t want to anger a friend of the queen.

After feeling sure that no one noticed him anymore, he decided to look at the man sitting next to the old one.

This man was pale skinned with long unkempt black hair. Purple eyes darted across a book page, and Mektar silently gulped. Only Semp had purple eyes! This man was poisonous!

Still he stared at the Semp. The man’s clothes were faded. Faded mauve vest, faded brown shirt with puffy long sleeves, and faded olive green puffy pants. He also wore short brown boots that buckled at the top to prevent air from escaping, and he had a tan bag strapped across his body. Both articles were made of animal hide, but Mektar couldn’t tell what kind of animal.

Those clothes were indicative of a man from the Jebsi jungle. Mektar lived only a half hour from it, so he was familiar with the customs of the people there.

Jebsi was an unusual place that was caught between the wisdom of the modern world and the superstition of their ancient customs. The Jebsi believed they were genetically superior to all other Taiko. They used a special machine called a match-maker to find out the chemical type of a Taiko. Only those who shared the same genetic chemistry could marry. This was to ensure healthier and stronger children.

Mektar thought many of the Jebsi customs were misguided. His parents married because they loved each other. Having a machine arrange your marriage just seemed stupid to Mektar.

The Jebsi also believed in what Taiko mythology called historical mobility; that is, the belief that the Taiko race came from another planet and colonized Riah millions of years ago. That also seemed silly to Mektar. If they used to have another planet, then where was it now? There was no proof that life could exist outside of Riah.

The countenance of the Jebsi Semp made Mektar nervous. The only one left to examine was the guy sitting next to Mektar.

The Taiko next to him was a teenager, and to Mektar’s surprise, the young man’s pastel red hair had been cut!

The teenager held most of his hair up with a red band, but a small strand on his right side was tied up in a leather blue-green chord. The teenager wore a sleeveless red shirt, blue pants made of a durable netting material, and orange sandals.

The young man’s eyes were green, and his skin was so tan that the orange was almost a light brown!

This guy was clearly from a desert area. Deserts didn’t usually have much in the way of population. The insects were larger than most Taiko, and hid under the sand waiting for prey. The desert Taiko actually hunted and ate these horrible monster bugs! Mektar felt like he was going to gag just from thinking about it!

Another thing he noticed was the desert Taiko’s stick. It was metal and retractable, with no visible markings. It was new, and it meant that this guy at one time was a warrior before his disgrace.

Mektar thought about the company he was with; an old mountain man, a poor man from the jungle, and a disgraced desert dweller. Clearly these were not members of the court. If anything, they were here to be punished; which meant so was Mektar!

He felt his heart racing! He clutched his hand over his abdomen; gripping the material of his light blue short sleeved shirt. He had a hard time keeping his thoughts steady. Surely Mighty Karagami wouldn’t kill a child before at least telling him what he did wrong!

Just then, the doors opened, and the other three stood up and walked toward the entrance. Mektar straggled a little, but he tried to keep pace with the adults.

The receiving room wasn’t at all what he expected. It was made entirely of volcanic rock, and had no illumination except for a few pools of magma in the floor and dripping magma on the walls. There was no furniture. Why was there no furniture? Was this a dungeon? Was this a trap!?

“Nice place they got here,” the teenager remarked sarcastically, “I bet Karagami entertains here all the time.”

“Actually, you are the first to see it,” a tiny placid voice said from beyond the shadows.

Mektar jumped, and everyone turned to the source of the voice. A light came on, not very bright, but bright enough for them to see a small figure in pink and pastel yellow robes.

It was Mighty Karagami herself! She didn’t look anything like Mektar had imagined. He imagined a strong and imposing queen, but this girl couldn’t be much older than him; maybe 13 at best. She wore her long black hair in a large bun with long side bangs. Her face was nearly colorless. Her eyes were purple and had bags around them from stress and possibly illness.

She wore a large necklace with big round bronze beads and a light blue gemstone set in a large round bronze medallion. This was the signet of her family’s 600 year rule. Her multiple robes were tied at the waist and puffed out around her legs, but stopped just short of her tiny delicate feet. Mektar thought she looked like she was being swallowed whole by a carnivorous flower.

“I am grateful that you were all able to make it here in such a timely fashion,” Karagami greeted her guests.

Mektar would have expected the ruler of the entire world to have a booming resonate voice, but Karagami’s voice was so quiet and sounded so young. She wasn’t exactly the vengeful warlord Mektar expected.

“Pardon me, my queen,” the jungle Taiko bowed his head and folded one arm into his chest, “If I may ask, why are we here?”

So, the others didn’t know what this was all about either. Mektar noticed that the jungle Taiko’s voice was also little more than a whisper. All of this quiet talk made Mektar feel uneasy, but he didn’t know why.

“I am grateful you asked, Purdas,” Karagami replied demurely, “I have asked you gentlemen here because I have a very important task for you, if you choose to accept it.”

A task! What could the most powerful Taiko in the world possibly want from a small boy like Mektar? He unfurled his ears to give full attention to what she was saying.

“The court’s top scientists have been trying to come up with a solution to the severe climate change that has plagued our world. While we have not determined how to fix it, we do now understand what has been causing it,” Karagami stopped for a moment to rub the bridge of her nose and sigh, “In short, our sun is dying. It will soon implode, possibly in the next hundred years or so. Of course, we will not be here long enough to see it happen. Our atmosphere is becoming toxic and new diseases have accompanied this change in climate. You of course know of the ovarian plague that has gripped the southern regions of our world, and the famine that threatens to consume the north. Even the Golden City is not immune to these hardships.”

“So what should we do about it?” the old man asked abruptly.

“Ah, I see you are eager,” Karagami smiled at him; a tired smile that made her seem very old and sickly, “I will try to make this brief. Our Tilbek star gazers have found a new planet thanks to a radar that seeks out Taiko computer signals beyond our galaxy.”

“Excuse me, my queen,” Mektar found the courage to speak, “Do you mean to say that there are Taiko on other planets?”

“My dear Mektar, I say so much more than this,” Karagami said; her tone hushed and conspiratorial, “This is no mere planet. It is the fabled planet of long ago. It is the birth place of all fleshly life. It is earth…Our earth! It is real, and we have found it!”

Karagami’s demeanor was suddenly changed as she spoke. Where a hushed courtesan once stood now stood an excited and almost maniacal child! She smiled wide, and her dark violet eyes grew wide as well.

“You aren’t serious!” the desert Taiko scoffed playfully.

“I am, my subjects! I am!” Karagami roared gleefully.

Mektar and the teenager began to smile and laugh in jubilation! They, like Mighty Karagami, understood what this meant. A new planet meant more land for food, more plants for medicine, and so much more! They all knew the stories of earth. Giant plants and animals for as far as the eye could see. A perfect climate for Taiko. It was too good to be true.

“Mighty Karagami…” the Semp, Purdas, seemed to have trouble knowing how to phrase his next sentence, “My queen, if I may ask you…are you trying to tell us…Have we been chosen to colonize the planet? Will we actually meet the descendants of the Taiko who stayed behind so many eons ago?”

“Not exactly, Purdas,” Karagami replied somberly, “For you see, there are no Taiko remaining on the planet. Now if I could-”

“Wait, my queen!” Purdas suddenly exclaimed, and then just as quickly understood how loudly he spoke to Karagami, “I mean…You said the scientists sought out Taiko computer signals. How could they find the planet if no such signal exists?”

“I was going to tell you,” Karagami replied, her patience barely wavering, “Earth has been colonized by another alien species. We have been denied our birthright by a gluttonous race of aliens that have gone out of their way to make the planet uninhabitable to anyone besides themselves. They have even killed numerous types of animals just so they can keep their own foothold. The computer signal was an antiquated one that must have been used by our ancient ancestors. We are having trouble with the ancient script favored by our ancestors, but we have managed to figure out two things. For one thing, the signal belonged to a prison tower. Also, we have managed to decode a name…Yan-Kan. We don’t know what it means.”

“I do,” Purdas spoke up, “Yan-Kan Mar was a vicious sky pirate that existed millions of years ago on planet earth. My people tell this tale orally, as written records are minimal. It is stated that he was a Mar that commanded at least 50 if not a hundred men. They were called the Sinister Ones. It was also said that Yan-Kan killed dignitaries from several lands for the mere satisfaction of it. He was loyal to no one, and his evil reign over the skies lasted 5 years before his capture and swift execution.”

“Mar?” Mektar asked incredulously, “I studied the Mar Taiko in school. They died out over 3,000 years ago. They died young due to having only 10% to 13% water in their bodies. It takes a toll on the body to support itself on blood that’s practically solid. They also had trouble conceiving due to-”

“Child! You are interrupting an important discussion,” Purdas reprimanded Mektar.

“I forgive the child’s enthusiasm,” Karagami told him, “It is clear that the computer that ran the prison tower was still operational. It has been passively scanning the planet for millions of years. This is how we learned of the humans and their treachery. It must have been tampered with either by an animal or a human trying to rob the gravesite. I have chosen the four of you specifically because you each possess unique talents.”

“Even me?” the teenager scoffed as he ran a hand across his short spiky hair.

“Even you, Sanrok,” Karagami replied with a cheerful smile, “You are going to earth for two reasons. One is to investigate the site of the prison tower signal. The archaeological significance of it could confirm or dispel many old world legends. Purdas, you are an accomplished archaeologist, and I feel you are the most qualified to excavate the dig site. You are also a Semp just as I am, so you’ll also be able to defend yourself against the aliens.”

“You honor me with this assignment, Mighty Karagami,” Purdas bowed his head respectfully to her.

“I have chosen young Mektar to assist you in your quest,” Mighty Karagami informed him, “He has the highest intellect of any child tested. He is adept at computer code, and will be able to help you with the technical side of your task.”

She then turned to the old man in the off-white layered clothes.

“I have chosen Arnoch as the team’s bodyguard,” Karagami said, “He is well versed in the ancient Taiko martial art of Clau Chi. It will be necessary to raise your stick against the humans if they come too close to your base of operations, Arnoch. Your village speaks very highly of you, and they believe you are the strongest they have to offer.”

“I am!” Arnoch replied shamelessly, “I will not fail you, my queen. We will return with all that you desire.”

Mektar noticed a stark contrast between Purdas and Arnoch. The mountain man was so loud when he spoke! Was it cultural?

“Yeah, so he’s strong, and they’re smart,” Sanrok interjected, “So, my queen, why am I here? I am disgraced! I shouldn’t be here in your court. I shouldn’t even be anywhere there might be decent Taiko! What could you possibly want from me?”

Sanrok was belligerent, and Mektar cringed; knowing Karagami would have him executed where he stood.

Instead, Karagami said “Actually, Sanrok, I offer you a chance to regain your honor and a position among my court. Your task is to capture humans for Purdas and Mektar to dissect and study. We will send an invasion force, but before we do we must establish a way to kill the humans without harming any other forms of life. Purdas and Mektar, do you both feel comfortable vivisecting live humans?”

“I do,” Purdas replied without hesitation.

“Um, my queen…” Mektar stammered, “I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve never performed medical surgery before, and these are unknown creatures. What if I throw up or something?”

“Purdas will be there to instruct you on the best procedures,” Karagami replied, “Does anyone else have any questions before you depart?”

“Wait! We’re leaving now!?” Mektar suddenly shouted, “But my mother is sick! Who will care for her if I leave?”

“Do not worry, young Mektar,” Karagami replied cordially, “It is already taken care of. I sent one of Golden City’s finest physicians to her. I could not send the court’s personal doctor, but I assure you she is in the best of care. Now gentlemen, you will find your provisions in the war room. Afterward you will be escorted to an orbiter with the coordinates for earth already tapped in. The trip should take a few months, but I doubt you will need to hibernate. Remember, the very future of the Taiko race rests in your hands. Do not fail me.”

Karagami’s warning hung in the air as they were escorted away. Soon they would leave Riah, and their families, behind. Mektar’s chest felt heavy as he shuffled behind the others. A trip that would take months…he would surely never see his mom alive again.

Chapter Six

Kochi, Japan

It had been two weeks since the Sinister Ones awoke from their prolonged slumber. The first week had been spent in an alleyway in search of a new home to exploit. The second week had been spent in the Kaneshiro household pretending to be members of the gullible human family.

This was not an easy transition for Toki. The Kaneshiro family insisted on enrolling them in school. They went to the school, but Toki only enrolled her sisters.

This family was surely unprepared for their unwanted burden. A Taiko family forced to care for free children might try to poison them and hope law enforcement didn’t notice. Therefore, Toki was not comfortable eating their food.

To combat this, her sisters would secretly take pieces of the school lunches and shove it into socks, blouses, backpacks, and wherever else food would fit. When they got home they would feed their sister what they had collected. Tomoyo and Hitomi ate during lunch, and Toki ate at night; there were no other meals for them.

Toki would leave every morning with her sisters and pretend to walk to school with them, but then she would go from business to business in search of a job. Half the time she didn’t even know what type of business it was she was applying to!

She knew by now that Ritsuka knew she didn’t go to school with her sisters, but she rarely spoke to the human, so it didn’t make much difference to her.

On this lovely Thursday she walked down to the business district as she had every day for the past week. It seemed by now that she was starting to make out the faces of those that regularly walked past her. She began to see the subtle differences in their human features.

Toki stopped for a moment to survey her surroundings. Where had she not stopped before? There was what looked to be a dry cleaner, a white building with smoke coming out of the top, and a gravel lot with heavy machinery.

It was so hard to choose, and Toki wasn’t sure what to do.

At first she thought getting a job would be easy, but she had not counted on how particular humans were.

 

There was a law office that would not hire her because she could not type. There was a restaurant that would not hire her because of her age. There was even a clothing store manager that sprayed her with air freshener because she smelled of smoke! He thought she smoked cigarettes, but that wasn’t it.

The day before she had gone to a mechanic’s shop to ask for work fixing vehicles. She had to exhale excess smoke while she was talking to him. If she didn’t exhale every hour or so, it would build up in her lungs and she would suffocate.

When she sighed the smoke came out, and upon seeing this the old mechanic backed up against the wall, wide-eyed, screamed “Be gone demon!”, and shoved a bottle into her hands. That was her favorite interview thus far.

After she left, Toki opened the bottle and sniffed. It was alcoholic; that much she knew. She stared at the bottle for a long time.

In her old life, Yan-Kan’s drink of choice was called Roksel. It was fermented fern roots with spices and added proofing. Yan-Kan was an alcoholic, and a violent one at that. A lot of her worst behavior occurred as a result of drunkenness.

She looked at the bottle, wondering if she’d like the taste of it. She knew she would. She knew even if she didn’t like it she’d still try to finish it. Toki closed her eyes so hard that it hurt her face! She dared not drink even a drop of it!

She couldn’t throw it away though, so she left it in the fridge of her human benefactors.

 

Toki stood there for a moment pondering her next move. The dry cleaners, the smoke-topped building, or the machine lot?

In the end she decided to go to the machine lot, figuring humans that work so close to dirt couldn’t be too picky.

It was difficult for Toki to pass a job interview. She was brazen, and she was always loud. That alone made her hard to get along with, but her short temper and smoke breathing was enough to make her a pariah. She wiped her nose with her bare arm, sighed, and went on.

It turned out to be a construction sight she went to. Toki was told to meet with the foreman, who was in a tiny portable office with beige plastic walls.

She went in, and smiled at the ridiculous sight of him. This man was so huge! He was so much fatter than everyone else she’d seen before, and he was crammed in this tiny office with a tiny desk!

It was very hot in there, with only a little fan to cool things off. It was perfect for Toki, who was very cold natured.

“Yeah, whadya want?” the man asked without looking up from his paperwork.

“Hey, Nakamura San,” Toki replied casually, “I’m looking for a job and was wondering when I should start?”

“You assume you have the job?” the foreman asked skeptically, “I need no one! Also, how do you know my name?”

“Some guys out there told me,” Toki replied, “and by the way, you do need me. I’m the strongest person you’ll ever meet! I can carry a vehicle if you wanted! I’m young, I’m desperate, and I’m strong. Will you ever find anyone as good as me?”

“You are a brash young man,” the foreman said; unaware he was speaking to a girl, “but as it turns out we are shorthanded. I will expect you to work 12 hour days; minimum.”

“I can do that,” Toki replied matter-of-factly.

“Have you ever worked in construction before?” he asked her.

“No, but I can learn,” Toki replied; her face hard and unwavering.

“I will test you for three days without pay,” the foreman declared, “If you work out, I will hire you.”

“I’m betting that’s not legal,” Toki said with a sly smile, “but who am I to judge? When do I start?”

“Tomorrow morning,” he told her, “Be here by 6:00 a.m. sharp. We need people to install sheet rock and work the rivet guns. Can you do that?”

“We’re about to find out,” Toki replied smugly.

“What’s your name, kid?” the foreman finally asked.

“Kaneshiro Toki,” Toki replied without missing a beat.

“Good. Report promptly. By the way, you’ll need to wear a helmet over that mop you call hair.”

“Well, I normally wouldn’t, but I need the job pretty badly,” Toki said with a disgusted sneer, “Alright. I’ll be here.”

“Good, now please get out of my office,” the foreman demanded, “I still have a lot of zoning forms to fill out.”

“Yes sir, Nakamura San,” Toki pointed at him and gave a sly wink as she left.

Toki waited until she left the construction site before she let out a loud piercing laugh. She had won! She was victorious and got the job! Soon she would be able to afford food and clothes for her dear sisters. At last, Toki was able to hold a real job; able to go through life without stealing, fighting, and hiding to survive!

 

The next morning Toki arrived 5 minutes early for work and was eager to get started.

She did her job efficiently and was going as fast if not faster than the other workers. She made a few mistakes, but she wasn’t getting paid yet, so she didn’t think much of it.

Repetitive tasks like lifting, hammering, and drilling gave Toki’s mind a chance to rest and think about nothing save for the task at hand. She liked being able to just work and be left alone.

When it came time for a lunch break, however, Toki realized that she had no lunch!

She had forgotten to save the scraps her sisters had given her. She usually wouldn’t hold back fish due to the smell it produced when it was old, and her sisters gave her nothing else for fear it would be inedible to Taiko.

Toki didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t keep working when no one else was. They would think she was trying to get above them in whatever caste system this new world had. She had nothing else to do, so she sat on the ground in front of the metal frame of what would some day be the building.

She looked at the light brown dust and earth beneath her. She wondered how much of it was younger than she was.

After a minute, she saw a shadow cast over her, and looked up to see one of the workers smiling down at her.

“Why are you sitting in the dirt like that?” he asked her, “Let me guess; you forgot your lunch and don’t want to sit with any of the guys so you don’t have to watch them eat.”

“Well…If you’re so smart, then why do you work here as an ant?” Toki asked snidely; using a euphemism from Taiko culture.

Rather than answer her, he just plopped down next to her.

“Hey! Get lost!” Toki shouted instinctively.

“Calm down,” the man chuckled, “You are so grouchy! I just want to offer you some of my lunch. If you get hungry, your work will suffer, and then everything the rest of us did will suffer as well.”

Despite her misgivings, Toki couldn’t help but smile at him. This guy’s face looked like it smiled all the time. His hair was dark brown, and unlike everyone else working at the site, his hair was down to his shoulders and looked like it had never seen a brush. His powder blue shirt was covered in grime. If fact, this guy was covered in dirt from his head to his faded tan work boots. Even his skin seemed darker than everyone else’s.

He handed her a sandwich, something Toki was only recently acquainted with, and she lifted the bread to see what was in it. The meat was pink and looked delicious, but she didn’t recognize the different plants inside it. So many plants from Yan-Kan’s past were now extinct, and the new stuff felt small and unfamiliar.

She took a bite. It was cold and had a salty taste. She still didn’t recognize the flavors.

“What kind of sandwich is this?” Toki asked the man.

“It’s salmon with tomato and lettuce,” he replied, “So, how do you like the job so far?”

“I love it!” Toki replied honestly, “Soon I’m even going to get paid to do this! Maybe if I save enough money, I can afford to get a new vehicle or send one of my sisters to private school.”

“That’s a pretty noble goal,” the man nodded and smiled, “I like it here, too. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, and I tried to tell them I wasn’t smart enough, but they just didn’t get it. They’re still disappointed in me. It’s the numbers really. I’m bad at things like calculus and trigonometry and whatever.”

“Yeah, I guess you’d need to know numbers to know how many stitches to give someone,” Toki replied sympathetically, “I got into a fight when I was 10 and got stabbed in the back. Tried to put my own bandages on, but wound up hemorrhaging. Luckily I bleed slowly, so my sisters had time to get me stitched up right.”

“Ouch!” the man winced, “I guess you’re pretty hardcore then.”

“Yeah, whatever that means,” Toki shrugged, “So, what’s your name?”

“Okawa Kouji,” he told her, “I know how ironic my name is. You got a name?”

“Toki,” Toki replied, “Let’s keep it on a first name basis.”

“Okay,” Kouji said agreeably, “So, you meet the rest of the guys?”

“No,” Toki replied.

“Oh, well that stiff guy is Yukio. He treats this job like he’s a big time salary man. The guy in the green sweater is Kasehiro San. He doesn’t talk much, but he works harder than anyone. That white guy is Paulo Montero. He’s from Brazil, and he doesn’t say a lot since he doesn’t speak Japanese very well. Those guys up on the beam are Midori San, Aoki San, and Shiromura San,” Kouji said as he pointed to each guy.

Toki and Kouji ate mostly in silence after that, with Kouji feeling the need to break the monotony every couple minutes with small talk.

Soon lunch was over, and they went back to work, but every now and then Kouji would work close to where Toki was working to see if she needed any help.

Near the end of the day a woman with big breasts walked by the construction sight, and Toki cackled uncontrollably at the way Kouji immediately stopped and stared at her until she was out of view.

After she was gone, Kouji wistfully sighed and asked “Do you think I have a chance with a woman like that?”

“I guess if that’s what you want,” Toki shrugged, “She seemed a little stuck up to me.”

“No, that’s not stuck up, that’s sophistication,” Kouji corrected her as he went back to measuring some wood with a level, “If I’m truly honest with myself though…I like white women. I have always wanted a tall blonde with long legs and breasts like pillows. She’d laugh at my jokes, and her red lips would pucker up real big as she sipped a fruity cocktail. She’d gaze at me with big blue eyes, and tell me she wanted me in a cute French accent. Well, maybe an American accent. I’m not picky.”

“Holy fire, Kouji!” Toki cursed using a Taiko pejorative, “Your girl sounds a lot like how my little sister looks. Well, everything but the red lips part. It’s weird, but my sisters are as beautiful as I am ugly. Hey, stop staring at the sky already!”

“Yes, I guess I shouldn’t daydream during work,” Kouji lamented as he planed the wood, “I can’t help it though. I can’t talk to girls. I try to flirt, but I just wind up making a fool of myself. Especially when I’m drunk.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Toki replied as she broke a rock into two even pieces with a hammer, “I used to get smoke-eyed on booze and then flirt with the first random guy that caught my attention. Worst of it was I only did it so I could rob him when we got outside. Oh, that feels like a lifetime ago.”

“You wanna go to a bar after work? There’s this girl who works at that new place called the Sato Lounge…I’ve been trying to get her attention for weeks, but I need some advice. Maybe you could help me?” Kouji asked tentatively.

“Depends,” Toki stated.

“On what?” Kouji asked.

“On whether or not you’re buying my drinks,” Toki negotiated with him, “I’m not getting paid yet. If you want me to help you I need you to buy me drinks and snacks.”

“Deal,” Kouji replied eagerly, “Her name is Hana and she has the biggest roundest…eyes.”

“I’m sure she does,” Toki replied knowingly upon seeing Kouji blush like an awkward schoolboy.

They said nothing more on the matter until after work. Toki felt comfortable around Kouji. He seemed genuine, had good humor, and wasn’t concerned with what others thought of him. Somehow he felt like a kindred spirit to Toki. She didn’t know why, but for some reason she really wanted him to have that bar woman.

Chapter Seven

Ritsuka sat at the school lunch table with a wearied look on her face. Kuniko sat beside her and looked concerned for her friend. Ritsuka didn’t sleep the way she used to. Every since her cousins moved in a month prior Ritsuka was a different person.

“Ritsuka…I heard Yuirena backed into your bike when she was taking driving lessons. I am sorry you have to live so close to such a terrible girl,” Kuniko said, trying to get a rise out of Ritsuka.

Kuniko hated gossip, and didn’t like to talk badly about others, but Ritsuka was just sitting there staring at her sashimi. She had to do something to get her friend to notice her.

Ritsuka’s mind was far away at that moment. She just couldn’t get her strange cousins out of her mind. Toki especially confounded her.

Toki was never at school. Ritsuka already knew her cousin Toki was skipping school, but the past two weeks things were even worse. She left before dawn and would stay out until late at night. Ritsuka’s parents were concerned about Toki, and Ritsuka was beginning to hate that red-haired brat.

On several nights Toki would stagger in as she came home. She would yell obscenities and reek of sake! Ritsuka’s parents didn’t wake up to hear this, but Ritsuka did, and she would watch as Hitomi or Tomoyo held onto Toki and led her up the stairs and into their room.

There was the one day a few weeks back when Toki gave them a bottle of sake and said it was a gift for her favorite aunt and uncle for taking them in. It seemed like a nice gesture at the time, but now Ritsuka thought about it more skeptically. Toki was 13, and yet it was clear she was drunk most of the time when she was home!

If this were the end of Toki’s odd behavior then Ritsuka would’ve tolerated it better than this.

The real weirdness began the previous week. It was bath time, and Ritsuka’s mother told her and her cousins to get in the tub. It was a little crowded for four people, so Toki said she’d wait.

Despite living there for three weeks, this was the first time that Tomoyo had ever bathed with them, and she had yet to see Toki bathe. Tomoyo looked nervous as she sat in the water. Hitomi loved bath time, and usually splashed Ritsuka’s face!

That wasn’t the end of it, however.

That night after everyone else had gone to bed, Ritsuka awoke to the sounds of someone grunting and screaming in pain!

Ritsuka was the lightest sleeper in her family. Lately, however, she was even jumpier than usual. She felt like she shouldn’t sleep if any of her cousins were awake.

When she ran to the bathroom to see about the screaming, there was something inside her that said she shouldn’t burst the door open. So instead, she pushed the door open very quietly to see if someone needed her help.

Inside, there was Toki, stark naked and sitting on the floor of the bathroom scraping at her skin with a metal pronged brush!

She grunted as chunks of dead skin came off her arms and legs. She occasionally screamed when she scraped away live skin.

This was the first time Ritsuka had ever truly seen Toki’s body, and it was unsettling.

Her skin was covered in scars and wrinkles. There was a large gash across her back going down her shoulder blades at a diagonal angle. Her skin was tanned and puckered. She looked like a rotten orange, Ritsuka thought.

Another thing Ritsuka noticed was Toki’s ribs and pelvic bone. She could see every angle and bone protruding from the starving body! That figure was both disturbing and heartbreaking. Ritsuka had once watched a documentary with her dad on the horrors of starvation from World War II. It looked eerily similar to Toki.

Ritsuka couldn’t stand in the doorway very long. Toki stank like burning coal, and it was hard to breathe standing that close to her.

At first Ritsuka thought it might be because she didn’t eat at their dinner table with the rest of the family. That couldn’t be it though. Tomoyo and Hitomi didn’t eat with them either, but she had seen both of them naked. Hitomi was gorgeous; nearly perfect. Tomoyo had a big scar across her stomach, but her body was fleshy and mostly healthy.

She also considered that Toki might be anorexic or something. It seemed plausible at first, but then she remembered seeing Toki eating in her room once. She ate too much, and too casually, for it to be an eating disorder.

Ritsuka didn’t know what it was, but it was obviously something that had been going on for years. Maybe she did have an eating disorder. Maybe something was wrong with her physically.

Another, more sinister thought occurred to Ritsuka. What if Toki was hated by her parents? What if they starved her on purpose?

One thing she found odd about her cousins was that they never spoke of their mother; Ritsuka’s long lost aunt. When they spoke to each other at all it was mostly Toki barking orders or Hitomi and Tomoyo whispering to each other. When they spoke to Ritsuka or her parents, Tomoyo and Hitomi were both polite and grateful, but they never offered to have real conversations.

“Ritsuka! Ritsuka!” Kuniko gently nudged her as she called her name.

“Huh? Oh, I’m sorry, Kuniko,” Ritsuka apologized, “I guess I haven’t been myself lately. Listen, do you ever…well, what I’m trying to ask is, when your brothers and sisters have a problem, how do you talk to them about it?”

“I don’t know,” Kuniko replied; confused, “What kind of problem?”

“I don’t know!” Ritsuka exclaimed, “I’m exhausted! I don’t sleep, I can’t focus, and my cousins are driving me crazy!”

“It cannot be helped,” Kuniko replied in a sagely tone.

“Yes, I keep telling myself that,” Ritsuka said, “I fear something’s wrong with my cousins. Toki might have a serious problem, yet I can’t stand being around her! I should feel pity for her, but all I feel is irritated! She’s so loud, and the way she smirks at me! She has this way of smiling that makes it look like she can see all of the secrets in your mind or something! She creeps me out. I barely see her, and when she is home I try my best to avoid her. Hitomi is a very nice person, and Tomoyo isn’t all bad despite her ego. It’s Toki…I don’t know what to do anymore. I need to get these Oni out of my closet!”

“Well…If you cannot stand Toki, maybe it’s simply because you don’t know her very well,” Kuniko offered, “Perhaps you could ask her sisters to tell you things about Toki, then maybe she won’t be such a mystery to you anymore.”

“Yeah…They call her Oneesama,” Ritsuka told her, “It’s never Oneesan. Do you ever refer to Aiko or Naomi that way?”

“No, I call them Oneesan. That is what most people would call their older sisters. At least if they saw them everyday,” Kuniko replied.

“Yes, I always thought that, too,” Ritsuka shrugged, “but Hitomi and Tomoyo call Toki Oneesama. What’s weird is Hitomi calls Tomoyo Oneesan. Why would they give Toki so much more respect when it’s obvious she doesn’t deserve it?”

“I don’t know,” Kuniko replied, “Ritsuka San, you’ve come to stay the night at my house every week since your cousins moved in with you. Maybe this weekend I could stay with you? I would love to meet your cousins. They sound very interesting.”

“I don’t think interesting is the word,” Ritsuka said wryly, “I wish this problem would just go away. It seems like the only time my life feels right is when I’m with Akahana Kun. The other day we went to the park. We held hands and he showed me tricks on his new skateboard. I would introduce him to my parents, but he’s kind of a…Well, my parents want me to date someone nice and safe, but Akahana Kun lives dangerously and does what he wants. I don’t think they would approve of him.”

“I see,” Kuniko replied empathetically, “I’m sure if they knew how important he was to you then they would give him a chance.”

“No, my parents are pretty strict that way,” Ritsuka explained, “I guess I just have to keep my love life a secret for now. God, I hate keeping secrets from my parents! We’ve always been so close, but I just don’t think they’ll understand my love for Akahana Takuya.”

Ritsuka looked down at her pudding cup and stirred it with a look of melancholy. She could barely remember when everything in her world seemed perfect. How she longed for those days again.

 

It was late at night. Tomoyo and Hitomi stayed up waiting for Toki to come home from work. More than likely she was coming home from the Sato lounge. It was where she spent most of her free time these days.

When Toki came home Hitomi offered to situate her in bed, and Tomoyo took a well deserved night off.

Sleeping in the closet meant she could shut the door on all of their noise. Sleeping alone, however, meant that she would have no one to wake her should her dreams disturb her again.

Taiko don’t dream the way humans do. Human dreams can be about almost anything. They can be frightening. They can make no sense. They can be beautiful worlds or ordinary days with people who don’t exist, yet in the dream they are lifelong friends. They could be nightmares, or fantasies which we never want to leave.

When a Taiko sleeps, however, their minds don’t make up new things. The Taiko mind retreats to memories of events that have already happened to the dreamer.

Tomoyo did not want this. She hated dreaming. She hated her memories. Even the beautiful memories were tainted, and when she awoke she would remember the moment for what it really was.

***

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The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar

"The Sinister Ones were finally dead, but their deaths were only the beginning..." 40 million years ago an advanced race called the Taiko ruled the earth. All traces of them have been lost, and humanity has ruled for thousands of years. Now, however, a skeleton from the past has been unearthed in the form of three Taiko sky pirates led by the formerly infamous Yan-Kan. The pirates are revived from their crystal prison and discover that their world no longer belongs to their people. What will they do with this knowledge? Will they seek revenge, try to start a new life, or attempt to unlock the secrets of their people's forgotten past? The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar is a tale of life, loss, adventure, the undying bonds of family and the discovery of new friendships. Readers from many walks of life will find this an unforgettable read.

  • Author: Madness Jones
  • Published: 2017-06-03 08:20:10
  • Words: 102424
The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar The Legend of Yan-Kan Mar