Tanaka isn’t quite what I expected. He is short. Almost child-like in appearance. But there is an air of ancientness to his being. As if he has seen things long past that no other have witnessed.
At the same time, he is quick and agile. And stealthy. When his clan appeared, they seemed to simply materialize from the shadows. This was both frightening and exhilarating. I had never seen such.
It is these techniques that McCall wishes me to learn. This and the sword mastery. And the other weapons. Truva, speaking for him, has said that I will need them.
So I am learning them. I am a quick study. Much quicker than any other. Surprisingly, I am enjoying myself. Maybe a little too much.
“Again.” I like his commands. short and to the point. “Strike. Strike. Kick.” I follow his commands. “Better. But faster this time.” His accent is cute.
We go through this routine in a very intensive course. All is meant to make me the deadliest hunter ever trained. And I welcome the training.
“I have been asked to teach you stealth and the sneak-attack tactics, if I may paraphrase Mr. Truva, of the ninja. I would…prefer that you look at it as an assassin’s training. After all, that is what the ninja is and always was. Assassins. With a code of honor that transcends even that of the Samurai.
“The weapons you use are ancient. the techniques, even older. We are the shadow warriors. From the darkness and shadows we emerge to destroy our enemies. We command the night.”
“And your samurai counterparts?” I am still focused on the lesson.
“They are the more disciplined warriors of the day. They command all that can be seen in the light. But we once were allies, until the emperor decided to use us-the ninjas-to kill his most trusted samurai on the word of the one who betrayed him. That was when my clan ceased serving the emperor or his successors.” He bows his head.
“Who betrayed the emperor?” I am curious.
“A vampire named Sanaki Toji. Oh, I know that the history books have someone else attribute the deed to his human familiar, but Toji was the true culprit.”
Afternoon. We have begun training with swords and other bladed weapons. We have trained for the past three weeks, the ninjas going with McCall on hunts while Tanaka trains me. It has been a compromise, since I do find it thrilling to hunt vampires and fight the general undead masses. But I would not say that I have been disappointed in any way. In fact, I relish each lesson.
With each lesson, I get even better. Faster. Stronger. More deadly.
As I train, McCall has been taking measurements. Legs. Thighs. Arms. Upper cheat. Stomach. Waist.
I wonder what he is up to. This is not normal activity for him. It has me suspicious. And that strange little fat man who has been hovering around me. He has been measuring too. But for what?
Tanaka’s expression never changes. Not even when we are interrupted for another set of measurements. He simply brushes it aside and continues the lessons. Agility exercises. Stealth. The mysteries of ninja “magic”.
Ironically, there is nothing magical about their mysticism. It is simply that they closely guard their secrets so that the secrets cannot possibly fall into the wrong hands. And Tanaka passes it on to every hunter that McCall trains. Me included.
In a small period of down time, I go to find out what has been taking place. Why they have needed my measurements. It is no use. Whatever they are doing, it seems to be in some hidden away part of the compound. Truva shakes his head.
“You could keep searchin’ all you want. You aren’t going to find where they are or what they are doing. They will let you know when they are finished.”
“What is it?” I am adamant.
“I will only say this. You have astounded all of us. You have completed in one week what takes most decades to learn. You have mastered The ninja code with such ease and grace that they are putting something very special together for you. It would behoove you to just be surprised when they reveal it.” He has cocked his head in reprimand. I bow mine and nod.
“I will.” I am solemn.
“Then go and finish your final test, Cris.”
I turn and go back to the arena. By the time I enter, the break is over. Tanaka awaits my approach. He bows. I bow in reply.
“One last test to make sure you are ready. This time, you will start out with one opponent. Then, you will move on to two. Then to multiple. Each is to see how well you handle fighting on your own. Remember. This is not to kill. Just to disarm and make yield. But out there, it will be kill or be killed.”
I nod. With a single gesture, he motions my single opponent into the ring with me. I make quick work of one. Then two. And three.
Four is a little harder. As is five and six. Beyond six, it is a real workout. And it gets harder, the more he adds. But I am able to defeat them at all levels. No matter how quick. I adapt and become quicker.
After I successfully face twelve, the test is over. Tanaka bows in respect. I bow back.
“You have successfully completed your training. You are now master. Congratulations. It has been an honor to teach you.”
Tanaka is joined by another. He is handed a set of swords. And a small knife. He extends them to me.
“You have earned these. Use them well. Yoshi has left a bow and several other small weapons, those use by all ninjas, in your room with a grapple. We are proud to call you sister-in-arms.”
I accept the swords and knife. “I am proud to have called you teacher and master.” I bow in respect.
The sun has risen once again. Tanaka went on one last hunt with McCall. I rested. Not that I needed to.
I am already awake when Truva comes to get me. “McCall wants to see you in the arena as soon as possible. No breakfast.” He is surprised that I am already up.
After he is gone, I sigh with relief. I do not have to pretend this morning. I go straight to the arena. Being dressed, I head on down.
When I get there, McCall is standing in the center of the arena. Beside him is the short, fat man who had been taking measurements. I am apprehensive. What now?
“Miss Juarez, may I exclaim that you were the toughest subject to measure. With that said, I must also allow as to how hard it was to carry out this…mission. As a token of how well you have performed, McCall has asked me to make you something very special. Your body armor. This suit will mean the difference between life and death. Guard it with your life and it will guard your life.” He holds out a set of clothes draped over his arms.