We meet Kohaku Ethans Teacher, and learn a little about Faerie Fire.
| Reality can be a real drag. For Ethan Argent, Superhuman, the statement rings true. He never asked to be superhuman. Nor did he ask for his powers to go off in the middle of a sermon. Ethan got his fifteen minutes of fame because someone recorded the whole thing. His father got hospitalized, and his mother told him she never wanted kids, just his father.
Ethan's woes didn't end there. A pair of human traffickers sold him to Ms. Reynard, a noblewoman from another world/dimension. She offered to make him the first superhero of Rathmore city. A metropolis in the grip of a mysterious potion called Faerie Fire.
If all that wasn't bad enough, he ran afoul of Constance and Clara. Constance is the freckle-faced niece of Ms. Reynard, and Clara is a noblewoman with East Indian heritage. She is engaged to Constance.
The raptor eyes of Kohaku watched Ethan. The soon to be hero stared back. "Do I have something on my face?" A light went off in his head. "Are you a firestarter?"
Kohaku's bird-like features stiffened for a moment. Ms. Reynard scowled at her new charge. "Ethan, do you think it polite to ask such personal questions?" She said.
"I am going to be spending a lot of time with Korharu. The question was bound to come up sooner or later." In Ethan's mind, the question was reasonable.
Ms. Reynard tapped a closed fan on her open palm. "You are not a nice young man. Constance told me about your little scuffle." She tried to give him the mother stare.
Constance and Clara walked in. The pair looked like they had gone a few rounds. "He started it," Constance said as she pointed at him.
"You helped continue it, my love," Clara said in a peeved tone. "Although I admit his barbaric display didn't help matters." She made eye contact with Ethan and enunciated every word.
"You came up in my personal space and insulted me. I reacted accordingly. Constance refused to accept her magic wouldn't work on me." Ethans Silver eyes locked with the gentle browns of Clara. The staring contest carried on for thirty seconds.
Kohaku pulled Ethan back so fast a dust cloud in his shape was left behind. "To answer your question, I am a firestarter, and paid the ultimate price for my foolishness."
"What happened?" Ethan asked. Constance and Clara flew to the back of his mind. He was eager to hear the tale.
Kohaku put a plate of food in front of him. The smell wafted up into his nose. His belly rumbled like thunder, and his mouth rained saliva. "Eat, and I will talk." She waited for Ethan to get started. "I served a respected Shogun, once upon a time."
"Sounds like fun," Ethan said.
"Until you become a filthy Firestarter and lose everything." Constance sneered.
"I cannot change what happened, but I can change myself."
The freckles on Constance's face vanished as her face reddened. Clara was trying to calm her down. "I bet Ethan resents having you as his teacher..."
Kohaku stood in anger now. " I see you are one who must demean others to find self-worth." she looked down at Ethan. "Have you a problem with me being a firestarter in recovery?"
"No, I think its an asset considering what we are trying to accomplish. You will have insights into our enemies." Ethan said in between bites.
Ms. Reynard slammed her fist on the table and pointed at her charge. "Constance, leave the room. Kohaku is our guest..."
"That will not be necessary. Constance has a right to her opinion and the right to express it. If she continues to throw insults me, I will exercise my right to challenge her," Koharu said.
Constance's eyes opened wide and shook with fear. Her hands tugged on her curly red locks. "Clara, maybe we should have breakfast somewhere private."
"You can eat somewhere else. I am staying here," Clara said. "You've been acting like a child since last night. I have no idea who you are right now."
"I am the same person I have always been...," Constance said in a panicked tone.
"No, you're not..."
Ethan tapped Kohaku on the shoulder, "Let's get out of here. I am eager to get started."
Kohaku bowed to Ms. Reynard and Lady Clara. "Ethan and I shall take our leave. We have little time to waste."
Before they left, Ethan stopped at his room and tucked the Ruger Blackhawk at the small of his back.
The pair left the Manor and headed into the city. Ethan loved the old gothic structures mixed with Celtic decorations and cobblestone streets. He didn't care much for the horses. As soon as he heard the hoofbeats, Ethan would rush off to the side.
Kohaku fluttered her wings and adjusted her sword. "Ethan, are you scared of horses?" she asked. "If you are, I don't think Rathmore is the place for you."
"Where is the closest stable?" Ethan asked
"About another five minutes of walking, why?"
"It's one of those things you have to see to believe."
"Fair enough," Kohaku said. "Shall I continue my story?"
"Please do," Ethan said.
"I was called the Hidden Blade."
"Why is that?"
"I always wore my katana inside my kimono instead of outside. I could draw so fast the blade seemed to appear in my hand from nowhere." Kohaku's tone was humble.
Ethan smiled wide and spoke with unbridled enthusiasm. "Damn, that is so cool."
"Right, you wouldn't know. Its on par with awesome."
"You flatter me," she said. She stroked her long red nose. "I enjoyed life as my lords best fighter. Until the day Musashi showed up. My lord took him into his confidence almost immediately."
"You did something stupid?"
"Beyond stupid. I attempted to kill Musashi. Let me tell you that man looked better in life than he did on paper." Regret and sorrow ruled Kohakus tone. "My lord exiled me for my actions. Worse, I was not allowed to die with honor."
Ethan was not sure how to respond. An honorable death often included dying on the battlefield or ritual suicide. "Thank you for hanging in there. Most of all, thank you for making me your student."
An odd string of squeaks and squawks came from Kohaku. "Boy, your tune will change once we get into it." She took a few moments to compose herself. "I drifted, until the day a western peddler came through my area. His tongue was like fine silk, and I bought several vials of Faerie Fire. A few of my students left the service of the shogun and joined me."
Ethan was content to listen. He kept his mouth closed and waited for the story to continue. "We became the Yokai Five, a band of fierce mercenaries. We were known for our demonic appearance and unparalleled skill on the battlefield."
Kohaku's voice cracked as she finished the story. "We started to lose ourselves to our magic forms. Enough was never enough. It got harder to come back from our demonic selves, and we became more violent. Things came to a head when we slaughtered an entire village."
"What happened next?"
"We became fugitives, and eventually caught by some lord whose name escapes me for the moment. The lord sentenced us to die. Death killed our human forms leaving us trapped in our altered states. I knew my friends would resume their visceral pleasures, so I beheaded them."
"Wait, could you say that again?" Ethan was interested, in a morbid sort of way.
"Faerie Fire revives the drinker upon death, but those that do never become human again," Kohaku sighed.
"Did the beheading work?"
"Yes, and it was the hardest thing I ever did. I dedicated my life to finding others like myself and put them out of commission. I did my best to atone for my transgressions against my fellow people."
"At least you tried to turn things around."
"I thought the same. Musashi did not. He caught up to me near Mount Fuji. He stabbed me through the heart and threw my body down a hole. I woke up a day later in Rathmore, trapped in the form you see."
Not a word escaped the tengus lips as they approached their destination. The pair reached the straw-roofed stable, and the familiar scent of horse dung wafted through the air. "Now, what do you need to show me?"
A few deep breaths in and out and Ethan slowly walked toward the stable. It started with soft nickers and neighs. Step by step, the activity in the stable began to increase. Ethan stopped when hoof against wood could wake an entire graveyard.
The tengu-like Kohaku fluttered her wings. "How is this possible."
Crackles and pops came from Ethan's fist as he raised it. "I am superhuman. Something about my power sets horses off. It can't be dampened or silenced. Its been tried."
"I see. We'll talk more once we are back at Reynard Estate. For now, we have to head to an armorer and get you some proper equipment."
They followed the dull grey cobblestone to the Hawks Nest Armorers. A jovial man in his mid-fifties ran the place. He was accommodating and friendly without being pushy. His bald head shone in the morning sun.
"Kohaku, I see it's time to outfit another student." He said, and he shook her hand warmly.
For the second time since they met, Kohaku smiled. "This is Ethan Argent. He is in the care of Ms. Reynard."
"He looks like a winner to me, Kohaku. You can see it in his eyes."
"Ethan, would you care to explain your current situation?"
For ten minutes, Ethan explained how he got to Rathmore his power set. "Unfortunately, I haven't had time to practice ."
"Don't worry, you will. Once we complete the mission here, its back to Reynard Manor for training."
Jules chuckled, "From what you told me about your abilities, your best bet is runes." Ethan could tell the man was trying to crush his hand, "Do you even register my grip?"
The question went unanswered, "Why runes?"
Jules pulled out a pipe and took a long pull, "Do you know the difference between a spell, enchantment, and rune?"
"How about we assume I don't know anything."
"A spell is accompanied by hand actions and words. It is the most basic discipline of magic. The effects don't last, and one mispronounced word can change the effect."
It made sense to Ethan. "Okay, what about an enchantment?"
"Enchantments are meant to imbue objects for a set period. Again the more complex the enchantment, the more effective it is. The usual time frame is a year, and then the item must be recharged. I do not care for them in the least." Jules said. He relit the pipe and sent cherry-scented smoke drifting across the room.
"Are runes any better?"
"I prefer runes to other options. All runes require energy to be activated. Any kind of energy can power one. I once triggered a rune using heat from a candle. They don't require words or hand actions, and they never need to be recharged. The effects never last as long as an enchantment, but as long as the rune has power, it remains active."
Ethan still didn't follow, "Could I get that in plain English?"
Jules grinned, "You don't have magic but can produce electrical energy. Runes will be your bread and butter. Is there anything else?"
Ethan remembered the Ruger Blackhawk. He deftly pulled the gun from the holster and handed it to the curious weaponsmith. "Can you make something like this? I have a feeling range is going to be a problem."
"This is from your realm. Have you tried to fire it?"
"No, I don't like the idea of killing someone or myself by accident. I brought it with me for protection."
"I will see what I can come up with."
In the meantime, Kohaku was examining weapons. She would caress the metal shake her head and put it down. She held up a few to Ethan, shook her head. Finally, she held up a six-foot chrome chain. On either end of the chain were small brass weights.
"Where did you get a meteor hammer, Jules?" She asked.
"A traveler from China needed money. It's more of a display item than anything. The damn thing is liable to kill the wielder, before an enemy."
The chain felt comfortable in his palms, "Can you teach me how to use it, Kohaku?"
"Yes, I was going to suggest the weapon for you."
Kohaku paid for the meteor hammer, "Send a message when the armor is complete."
"Will do," Jules said.
The trip home was silent. Kohaku's plain words and lack of body language made her impossible to read. It didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but something about her made him feel uneasy.
Ethan and Kohaku came home to Clara and Constance fighting in the Foyer. The teenage drama made Ethan wish they were still out and about. Constance was on her knees, gown bunched up under her, hand clasped in desperation.
"Clara, I don't mean to get jealous, give me another chance," Constance said. Ethan didn't know much about Constance, but begging was the last thing he expected her to do.
"This isn't the first time your jealousy made a mess of things. I am scared of you, Constance. If you had put any effort into fixing the problem, I wouldn't have to do this. " Clara yanked the diamond ring off her finger and set it in Constance's palm.
"Should we be watching?" Ethan asked.
"It is oddly compelling. And yes, you should be watching. Sometimes a situation like this one will come up. Fists and weapons are too extreme to solve the problem." Kohaku paused, and her raptor yellow eyes stared straight into Ethan's Silver greys. "More important than your ability to fight will be the ability to resolve conflicts without throwing a single punch."
Constance saw Ethan, "Aw crap," He said
The red-haired menace strode up to him and started to poke him in the chest with a bony finger. "This is all your fault..."
Clara stood in front of him and growled. "You don't listen, do you? Ethan has been out for most of the morning, and yet you blame him."
"I knew you were falling for him..."
Impatience, Ethan was full of it. He stepped forward, a spark covered hand lightly brushed the two young women. Constance and Clara wiggled like crazy before the pair dropped to the floor. "Problem solved."
"Was that necessary?" Kohaku asked.
"They were up all night fighting and needed a nap."
"How does it help?"
"A couple of hours might help end the stalemate."
"I will accept that answer. Next time, justify your actions. I refuse to train another murderer." Kohaku stretched out her limber form. "We should get started right away. To the practice field."
Ethan followed her to an empty area on the estate. A crude mud hut with straw thatch sat next to a bunch of archery targets and practice dummies. A straw bed, firepit, and cooking pot lay in the center. Above the bed was a steel katana suspended on a chain point down.
"Welcome home, Ethan. While we train, you will live here." Kohaku said with satisfaction.
"Is that katana secure?" Ethan asked as he imagined the cold steel piercing him in the middle of the night.
"Death follows a warrior. You will learn not to fear it. The katana will help achieve this. Now, get outside and defend yourself." Before Ethan could react, a wooden sword struck him across the arm, and then swept his feet out from under him. The air whooshed out of his lungs, and he gasped for air as the ground broke his fall.
The impeccably dressed Ms. Reynard came out parasol in hand. "Ethan, I...." she arrived in time to see Ethan take a blow to the ribs. He watched as Ms. Reynard, bolted towards him. "I didn't hire you for this."
Ethan rose from the ground and gritted his teeth only to take another blow to the head. "Yes, you did. I will not coddle him. If you don't like how I teach, quit watching." She swung again, this time Ethan blocked and snapped the sword in two.
"Let her teach. My body can take it. I can't be afraid of getting hurt." Another wooden sword appeared in Kohaku's hand. Ethan groaned, "Here we go again."
Ms. Reynard left without another word. She never came to watch again. Clara did. Why? Ethan didn't care enough to find out.
The months flew by as the young hero learned the limits of his body. He had a fair amount of speed, could lift three thousand pounds, and learned to control his electrical ability.
The day his armor arrived, Kohaku smiled. "Time to put your training to the test. Suit up."