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The Espadas School of Self-Defence and Swordsmanship!

Afternoon of Friday, October 22, 2021

 

Erik Espadas reflected that secret identities and half-truths had seemed a lot less bothersome when he hadn't been the one having to juggle them between other people. It was straightforward enough to respect the privacy and often complicated circumstances of the young people who came to train with him or his wives at the dojo but it was entirely thornier when those circumstances started to intersect with each other. Trickier still with a significant language barrier.

 

He'd been putting it off for that reason but Utsuwa Ranaga has a session scheduled in about half an hour and when it came down to it he wasn't willing to let the quiet girl staying with his family get walk in on a reminder of her long dead abuser without fair warning. "Damn creepy tattoo sword," he muttered under his breath as he walked from room to room in the second floor apartment above the training space looking for Neko.

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Neko and Owain had only freshly arrived back from their week at Claremont. The latter was easy enough to find; he was in his room, polishing his sword and singing Sumer is incumen in with untutored enthusiasm. But Owain had been the Crimson Katana's enemy - though admittedly one of the few beings who had survived bearing such title, he had never had the kind of relationship with the Katana that surviving records and Neko's occasional hints had occasionally suggested. 

 

Neko was in her room when she sensed Erik coming, and took the occasion to quickly set aside her book on the small desk. Tales of Moonlight and Rain had always been one of her favorites, and finding a translated copy in Claremont's library had been a lucky find. When Erik knocked on her door, she called "Come in!" and was ready to greet him with a smile and the proper bow that was his due as the head of this household. Well, not really the proper bow if you had really refined manners, she mused, but the one she could do without overtly embarrassing him. 

 

"Hello, Mr. Espadas," she said. She had called him Erik once but the look on her face had been such that no one had objected to her changing it up. Her English was poor but that was no reason in her mind for her to address her host as if he was a blood relation; that was not proper at all, even under these circumstances. Her English was better when she'd first arrived, but still clearly rehearsed as she asked, "What can I do for you today?" She was in one of the practical brown kimonos she preferred to wear around the house, albeit with her sleeves tied up for work and white hair neatly shaped in a bun atop her head. 

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"Hey kiddo, doing alright?" Erik greeted with a sort of sheepish wave, accepting the bow with the knowledge that they were both compromising on what felt natural to them. He'd initially given Neko a specific nickname as was his habit but between the language barrier and cultural gulf taking the wind of his humour's sails and the girl's formality around address he'd shelved it for the time being. He ran a hand through his close cropped dusty brown hair in a gesture Neko had come to recognize as meaning he was pausing to put his thoughts into the simplest words. There was an extra note of hesitation in his expression that she hadn't seen often in his confident manner.

 

"Another Claremont student is coming to train downstairs soon," he explained finally. "You may know him? Utsuwa? Undercut, frowns a lot?" He waved his hands by each side of his head to illustrate the haircut and mimicked the dour expression, then gave a genuine frown as he second guessed whether or not that seemed condescending. "I wanted to check if you two had talked much..?"

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"Y-yes," said Neko carefully. "He rooms with my friend Ryder." She hesitated visibly, assembling words in her head. "I know he is Japanese, but he does not want to be my friend," she went on, shaking her head. It wasn't hard to guess that Erik was trying to get her to socialize more, which she knew well she needed to do if she ever was going to learn English, but the quiet and privacy of her room here was better than that. "No, he is very - like a hedgehog," she said, making little gestures in the air with her hands as she remembered Tori's analogy. "Prickly?" She shook her head, dismissing the idea. "But I will help," she said, dusting her hands together. "What should I do?" 

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Erik blinked a few times as he considered Neko's assertion. "He is like a hedgehog, yeah, wow. I'm going to use that." He returned his attention to conversation at hand and gave the girl a small shake of his head. "Oh no, there's nothing you need to do, that's not what I was getting at. The thing is..." He placed his hands on his hips and looked at the ceiling, deciding finally that there was nothing for it but to be direct. "Utsuwa has powers, yeah? Specifically, he's got a magic sword, only not like Owain's? It pops out, can be sort of a surprise and I didn't want you getting surprised." He was starting to speed up his words a bit and forced himself to slow back down. "You know I can sense stuff about magic and I haven't gotten into it with Utsuwa himself but I've seen the sword before, yeah? And I'm pretty sure you'd recognize it too 'cause it used to belong to the Crimson Katana." He stopped to give her a chance to process, hopping ripping the bandaid off had been the right move.

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Neko blinked a few times, taking in Erik's words. "Toripurufurēmu-gatana," she said flatly, her eyes looking inward. "Yes. I have seen it." Drip drip drip. She had never smelled a man's blood before that first day. There had been a great many days after that.

 

I wondered where it had gone. She looked at Erik and suddenly wished very much that Raina was there - or perhaps it was better that the American witch, with her perfect magical Japanese, wasn't there at all. "It is - a bloody sword," she said, and as she spoke an illusory blade appeared in her left hand, crackling upwards from a coil of fire between her fingers to transform itself into the infamous Three Flames Katana. 

 

It was the katana Erik himself had seen in action, flames crackling from the haft and up along the blade, but unlike in those times the blade dripped with bright red arterial blood that fell from the metal to drip down onto the ground beneath their feet with a steady drip, drip, drip. As she spoke to Erik she looked not at the man but at the blade, the fire reflected in her large yellow eyes. "Does he know?" 

 

 

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It wasn't exactly the reaction Erik had been expecting; it was hard to reconcile the polite teenager he'd gradually gotten to know with the knowledge that she had seen far more death than he had himself. The illusory katana was convincing and disturbing but it didn't taste the way the real one did to his metamagi senses and so his attention remained on her expression.

 

He let out a long, audible breath and quietly replied, "I think so but it's... attached to him so I don't think he had a lot of say in it." If he'd been more proactive he could have spoken with Utsuwa ahead of time and tried to get the kid to open up and clarify some points but he'd been trying to give the boy his space. After another beat of silence broken only by the drip of illusory blood from the blade he softly continued. "I know what the sword looks like, Neko. C'mon, you don't need to be looking at that." He extended an open hand, still more than a full step away from her and she felt a small tug on the magic threads woven into the image she'd created. Not enough to pull it away without her permission, just an offer to carry the metaphorical weight for a moment.

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When prompted, as if waking from a dream, Neko handed the sword to Erik. It had no weight in his hands, nor smell from the blood, but might as well have been the real thing for all he could tell. Deprived of its connection to its maker and in the hands of one with no particular desire to see the katana again, it slowly faded away in a faint puff of fire. "Okay," she said, after a moment's pause. "I will stay here." That is why Utsawa avoids me, she thought with finality, because I remind him of he who carried the blade before he did. And of whose blood is bound to the sword. She sat down again in her chair, hands on her lap, and looked at Erik. "It is a bloody, no, a...a sword of blood." She looked frustrated, her hands twisting together for a moment, as she put the words together. "The other one, the woman. She is dead?" 

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"'Bloody' works, too," Erik assured her quietly, clenching his fist over the little flicker of illusory fire then forcing himself to relax his hand. "I don't honestly know. I only met her the one time and we didn't, uh, talk much. There was a robot pirate and a bunch of those cultist ninja guys in a museum-- you know what, that's not really important." He waved away the temptation to get sidetracked by the easier conversation of an anecdote. He looked back to Neko where she had taken a seat and belatedly put together her meaning. "Oh! Like a bloodline, it's tied to-- right. Yeah, that makes sense. Hm."

 

Setting aside the questions that raised he met her eyes with a serious look. "You don't have to stay up here. What I was going to ask is if you'd rather I moved the training session somewhere else. The whole point of you and Owain staying here is for you to feel safe. That means you get a say in stuff like this."

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"Okay, it is fine," said Neko, shaking her head. "That would just be...difficult." She frowned for a moment, brows furrowing the way they did when she tried to put particularly difficult thoughts into English. What can I tell him? That the sword cannot hurt me? But it can, Neko, it can. "Ka-" She hesitated a moment, and then as if greatly daring, said "Ranaga is dead. Utsawa is just a boy. The sword is a sword." She considered quietly, then raised her voice to call, "<Owain! We need to speak!>" 

 

To his credit, the tall boy from across the hall arrived with some alacrity, barefoot and in pajamas bottoms and a white tank-top. "Erik," he said with a nod. He had been reluctant to call the adults in the house by their first name too, but seemed more comfortable than Neko with it - though it helped that the language barrier was less for the boy from a place so distant it was downright mystic. "<What do you need, Neko?>"

 

His Japanese was slow, but Neko nodded in satisfaction before saying in English "Mr. Espadas has something to tell you..." 

 

When the story had been explained to Owain, the squire-turned-knight frowned, his usually jovial demeanor (sometimes artificially so, it seemed) fading. "Is that so. Well. That explains why he had nary an interest in a friendly game of buffets when I suggested it last eve..." He considered the situation, shot a glance at Neko, then said to Erik, "I had a different...relationship with Katana than Neko did." He leaned against the wall, making a little gesture with his hand to emphasize. "He was a master swordsman and a dangerous warrior; greater than anyone but...my father." He put his hand to his mouth and hesitated again before he spoke with the air of someone trying to dismiss the whole thing. "But to me, he was only that. If Utsawa is now bound to that damned sword," somehow when Owain said it sounded like a theological description more than an oath, "that is his burden to carry, and I would not make it greater by shunning him." 

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Erik didn't pretend to be particularly convinced by either of their assurances but decided the best way to show them respect was to take them at their word for the time being. "Offer stays on the table," he told Neko in particular with a level look. "If it ends of being too weird we can move it elsewhere next time. That said, I think that's probably a good attitude." He nodded in approval to Owain. "None of us get to pick our crappy relatives." He hadn't been pushing the young man to talk about the Green Knight but between what Talya had told him and what he'd inferred from Neko and Owain's own accounts he'd developed some opinions"If you want to talk to Utsuwa about it but want to have an adult around, let me know, yeah? Not trying to get in your business, so no pressure." He pulled a face and placed a thumb and knuckle against his forehead as though beset by a sudden migraine. "Neither of you are going to get why it's embarrassing that I sound like I'm trying to be a 'cool dad', huh? 'If you're going to be experimenting with magic swords we'd rather you did it in the house where we know you're being safe!' Dios."

 

Trying to reconcile how old he felt with the knowledge that his wives were both immortals and the young teens upstairs were World War II veterans Erik headed downstairs to prepare the space for the training session.

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Utsawa as usual was punctual in his arrival.  With the school year starting he'd not had much opportunity to continue the training there he'd been undergoing over the summer and was eager to put thoughts of Claremont and the assorted social pitfalls it contained to instead focus on the simplicity of the blade.

 

He entered with his bundle of weighted practice blades slung in a bundle over one shoulder, the light weight athletic wear in blacks and greys moved easily with his athletic form.  He waited listening for a moment to ensure that the dojo was unoccupied before he entered the spacious room where classes and lessons were normally given.

 

"Afternoon Erik."  he greeted with a small nod, he saved Mr. Espadas for when he needed to nettle the older swordsman.  "Thank you for clearing time for me again I'm looking forward to more regular sessions now that school has hopefully settled into the routine."  that seemed as unlikely as ever given the school he attended.  He carefully set his bundle to the side and kicked off his shoes in the corner before stepping out onto the mats to begin his usual warm ups.

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Erik knew what the cats were for, at least via Raina's translation for his benefit. The spectral felines were directly linked to Neko and let her see what was going on when she wasn't around, a comfortable way of viewing the world for someone dealing with a lot of trauma. The more attention Neko was paying, the more cats were around. What that meant was that when Utsawa arrived, there were perhaps a half-dozen cats in various places on the first floor of the dojo, mostly white with brown patches and yellow eyes but a a fat, fluffy Persian and a sleek Siamese could be seen lurking in window sills, basking in sun beams, eating from a dish that wouldn't be there the next time you looked, and otherwise hanging around in situations of feline innocence. 

 

After a moment, the door from upstairs swung open and Owain stepped down. In his T-shirt and shorts, he was obviously dressed for a warmup himself, especially when you took account of the sheathed sword he carried over his back. "Hail and well met, Utsawa!" he declared cheerfully as he came down. "Erik," he said with equal good humor to Erik, though as usual he was obviously trying to catch himself before he said sir, "mine morning tasks are finished, and calculus doth sleep for another day. By your will, might I join the sword play?" 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Going good, Hedgehog?" Erik greeted Utsuwa as the teenager entered, stooping to pick up a toy car that had somehow made its way downstairs to the training mats. The instructor wore a plain white t-shirt and light grey sweatpants, his feet bare as he exchanged the toy for a practice sword of his own on a nearby shelf, noting the white furred housecoat that appeared to be reclining there. He gave the feline a look with a raised eyebrow as though to ask who it thought it was fooling before turning back to the stretching student. "I'd ask if you'd been practicing in the meantime but that seems like a foregone conclusion. You remember the footwork we were working on last time?"

 

When Owain appeared he paused, not surprised so much as trying to gauge the reaction of the two young men to each other. He looked to the various cats around the room to see if he could read anything from them, too but quickly decided that he wasn't going to waste his time trying to read the body language of cats that weren't actually cats. "Good work. That's up to Utsuwa, though. I know he had stuff he wanted to work on specifically." He raised his hands with the palms upward and looked to Utsuwa with a neutral expression.

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Kensei clocked the cats with some curiosity, they were new, though the Dojo had enough unusual patrons and residents that he mostly marked it up to that.  He dropped into a few warm-up stretches as he tried to hide the slight frown at the nickname, he didn't know how but he knew Tori was responsible for that.  "Well enough, there are, holes, in my prior education but I manage."  he admitted with a small sigh he rarely saw the point in small talk and wasn't a big fan of things he did not excel at.  Unfortunately academics was one of those things.  

 

He popped to his feet nimbly and assumed the unusually light stance Erik had been advising last.  "I have and I do."  he answered succinctly.  As soon as his training was the topic of conversation he avoided eye contact and his speech dropped to even more clipped tones.  He played it off as respect to an honored sensei.  But to those more perceptive it was probably more clear than he liked that he expected to do otherwise would result in physical punishment.

 

His eyes snapped to Owain as he entered and his stance fell almost automatically into a more familiar and grounded defensive stance.  He looked between the fellow student and Erik with a rapid blink as he tried to ignore the reaction of his grandfather to the turn of events.  "It is not play but I would welcome a sparing partner with experience similar to my own."  There was only so much to do against Erik even when the older swordsman slowed down intentionally.

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"The men of this age think play is a light thing for boys," said Owain cordially. "But play is serious business." He stepped back onto the mat and knelt down, planting his sword in front of him so it made the shape of a cross. "Oculus meus sit acer et ensis velox, Deus," he murmured before he rose to his feet. "I thank you for your estimation of my talents with the blade. I am sure you are equally skilled. So, then," he went on as he held the scabbard in one hand and hilt by the other. "To the first touch?" He drew his sword, the blade within audible against the rough metal lining of the scabbard, and carefully wrapped the blade itself in a light cloth the dojo kept close by for such purposes. 

 

There had been, to Erik's eye, a notable increase in the number of cats on the ground floor since all this began; many of them watching in eerie silence as the boys prepared to square off. There was not enough of them to actually get in the way of the fighters as they squared off, but there were certainly more of them now. 

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