The assault on Iron Mike’s compound winds down as Iron Mike’s unconscious form is restrained and carted away. The Task Force members have begun to patrol the grounds, trying to aid the injured, secure the fallen among the Ironworkers, and take inventory of the dead. Hazel stands outside the office next to the ruined desk which was tossed out of the window in the fight. She is out of view of the Task Force members for now, but can hear the activity all around and knows that she won’t be alone for long.
An ancient rectangular, wooden box, barely bigger than a pencil case, rests in her hands. The Japanese kanji for Vengeance are burned into the cover, which has been slid open to reveal seven crystal gemstones: a red crystal reminiscent of the heart, a blue crystal reminiscent of the liver, a yellow crystal reminiscent of the spleen, two white crystals reminiscent of the lungs, and two black crystals reminiscent of the kidneys. All seven crystals appear to be subtly thrumming with life. The magic which emanates from this container is strong and foreign; an ancient form of magic which Hazel has no familiarity with.
It is with some surprise that Hazel suddenly notices Amaya kneeling next to her. She is kneeling down on one knee with her hands on the ground and her head lowered. She sits there perfectly still, only the slight movement of her hair and loose clothing in the wind betraying that she is not some sort of statue. Upon being noticed she coldly and emotionlessly says “The task has been completed master.” She remains perfectly still after saying that.
Hazel tells Amaya, “Go. Disappear, and meet with me again in three days.” Wordlessly Amaya leaps away, blending into the night and quickly fading from view.
Three days later.
Nom. Nom nom nom.
“You made your point you little bitch! I’m going to kill you!”
“Amaya, please dissuade my brother from calling me names and threatening my life…while I’m eating.”
Dark hair shimmered – strands caught by moonlight – an underwater cloud of blurred wisps. A blade disappeared off the table and flashed through the air.
Steel embedded solidly into concrete…by way of groin.
“GAAAAAAaaaaahhh!!!!! Hazel!!!! You witch! I’m gonna kill you! You’re fucking dead!”
Blood gurgled, oozing into a patient puddle at Conrad’s feet from the yawing, gaping wound. His body slumped but remained upright from the supporting manacles anchored into the wall. The Tomorrow Legion didn’t have a torture chamber but Hazel had improvised with a little help from her thousand-year-old new friend and turned the interrogation room into a pizza party.
“By the Nine! Amaya what’s wrong with you?!?! You could have killed him!”
“Of course. But you did not order his death.”
“You fucking Witch!!!!! I know all about you! I know how you got your powers! I’m going to come back and rip your fucking face…” her brother seemed to shrug off the pain in favor of anger. Maybe the pizza was finally working. Hazel took a swig of her beer.
The sentiment was cut short by a sharp ‘crack’ – like the snapping of a twig – when his finger was torn clean-off and roughly shoved into Conrad’s mouth by the ninja assassin.
“YOooooooowwwwWwwWWWW!!!!!!!!” Conrad howled as he spit the bloody appendage out.
Amaya stood there silently. Watching, waiting, following her orders.
“Amaya,” Hazel sighed exasperatedly. “This is never going to work. We’re trying to interrogate him…remember? That’s what the pizza and beer is for,” Hazel tsked. “Haven’t you ever interrogated someone before?”
“Yes.” The ninja’s expression was deadpan and Hazel gauged her for a moment.
“Besides, wasn’t I supposed to be the ‘bad cop’?” Hazel pondered this. She was…wasn’t she? Her memory pierced a two-hour fog of pizza and beer to deliver accurately the simple plan summation. “Eureka! I truly AM the bad cop!”
Amaya stared at Hazel quietly.
“I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me.”
“Wait a minute,” Hazel snickered slyly. “I don’t have to wonder, do I?”
Amaya simply continued to stand there silently next to Conrad.
“Amaya, I command you to tell me if you’re making fun of me!”
“Lashe…” Conrad croaked an interruption. “Lassshhe…”
“Amaya it’s working! See! I TOLD YOU!!!”
“As you say,” Amaya said plainly. She ripped the blade from the concrete and slowly placed it back on the table where it came from.
“Gaaaha!!! GrurullglglgBLEARGH!!!!” Conrad’s projectile vomit fired grapeshot across the room to splatter across the table piled high with pizza boxes and empty beer bottles.
“Tell me Conrad! I’m here. Lashe is here for you. It’s going to be okay. Tell me please! What do you know of Grim Gulf? What do you know of the Nightlords? What did you find about my past? My…family?”
Conrad’s eyes registered some surprise when Hazel mentioned Grim Gulf and the Nightlords, but Hazel failed to notice. “Laaashe,” Conrad whimpered – chest heaving with paroxysm, “fuuuuck you…”
A fist flashed from out of nowhere and teeth sprinkled to the floor like little Yahtzee die.
“Amaya! I command you to stop hurting him! We need him to tell us of his own volition!”
“As you wish.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of free will?”
The dark-haired woman stared back at Hazel with an unblinking gaze.
“Conrad, all I ever wanted was to belong…to feel, loved by our family – by Gerhardt, you, Jesper, Roman…even mom. I tried to study hard – to follow in your footsteps. I tried. Connie…”
“Don’t you dare!” Conrad shouted around a mouthful of missing teeth.
Hazel, near tears, couldn’t help but giggle. Her brother looked kinda cute without his two front teeth. His two front teeth. She leaned forward and wiped his bloody mouth, frothing with spittle and hatred, with her sleeve. “Hold still Connie.” Hazel tore a little strip of saucy crust from a slice and mimed the ‘airplane’ motion. “Ooh! Amaya made a little hole in the hangar! The plane can land even if the big hangar doors are stubborn wubborn.” Hazel waved the crust like a fairy-godmother wand and attempted to insert it into the toothless portal." Her brother thrashed and spit coagulated bloody saliva at her and the crust fell to the floor.
“What did I do to you? What did I ever do to earn your hatred? To earn your ire? All I ever wanted was your acceptance…your love. A word of kindness.
“arlkjd dartus zi wixxzyn lopa-quz…”
Hazel hauled off and landed a solid fist into his open-toothed rictus. “Conrad, I told you – no magic. If I even THINK I hear a spell being cast you’re getting a one-way ticket to The Island.” Hazel had threatened her brother with police, jail-time, and the punishment of incarceration but Conrad refused to be manipulated by something as mundane as a “time-out.” Hazel feared that it might be too late to rehabilitate him…to show him a better path…a better life. It might be too late to have her family back.
Absently, Hazel thought she heard a familiar squish squish of cheesy goodness sloshing around the spin-cycle. “It’s good, right?” she called over her shoulder at the ninja without turning around.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Amaya replied. She was standing still in the shadows of the room.
“You know…” Hazel teased without taking her eyes off her brother. Amaya continued to stare at Hazel’s back.
“Amaya, it’s time. I’ll meet you in the garage.”
“Wait, Hazel, no! What are you thinking?!?! No!” Conrad railed against his restraints.
“We’re going to speak to Gerhardt.”
Hazel ignored Conrad’s pleas. Amaya had already left.
“We’re going to see our dad.”
She was just here a week ago – a few days before the raid on Iron Mike’s stronghold in Waingroh. Still, with the memory fresh in her mind’s eye, she was astounded by how lush and vibrant The Verde was. It would always be home. “Purreow?” Greymalkin inquired from the passenger seat. The cat blithely ignored Hazel and hopped up on dashboard for a better look at…something.
“Grim! I told you to stay in the back.” Hazel put her knee on the steering wheel and reached out a hand to usher the cat out from the defroster-territory under the windshield. The car swerved a bit but remained firmly under her control.
Amaya sat in the car silently, staring ahead but not seeming to focus on anything. Hazel had been having a very difficult time deciphering Amaya’s sense of humor – if, in fact, she had one. Grim sauntered away from her groping hand to lounge just out of reach at the passenger’s side of the dash. He favored her with a smug look that begged an unutterable question, “Did you really think – for a split second – that you were in control?” That’s what the box was. Amaya knew it better than any. Control. Hazel was pretty sure Amaya had to do what she said because of the box. Something about that seemed inherently wrong; it didn’t sit well with Hazel that she could compel someone to do something against her will – or well, REGARDLESS of her will. It seemed to completely ignore “will” altogether.
Hazel’s train of thought derailed. “Amaya, how long has it been since you had your freedom?”
“Nine hundred seventy four years, two hundred seven days, and…” She paused for a brief moment, then continued “Four hours.”
“How do I compare to the others you’ve served? As a Master I mean…”
“They were human.”
“Amaya I command you to tell me honestly how I am as a Master.”
“I have served yakuza, crime lords, Genghis Khan, shogunates, mafia bosses… and most recently the being who called himself Iron Mike. You have so far proven no different from any of them.”
“Really? Wow! You knew Genghis Khan! That’s amazing! Wait, Amaya, do you even like me?”
“I neither ‘like’ nor ‘hate’ you.”
“What would you do if I set you free? Do you even want to be set free? Do you know how to be free of the box’s control? I will help you if it’s within my power to do so.”
“I will never be free. My life belongs to whosoever possesses the mystic heart. I exist as long as it exists.”
“Amaya, what’s that noise?”
“Your prisoner wishes to speak.”
“He’s my brother, not my prisoner!”
“Of course. I have been corrected.”
“Conrad you’ve been awfully quiet back there! Amaya, help him speak-do you mind?” Amaya stripped the duct tape off unceremoniously – peeling with it layers of skin and facial hair stubble.
“You’re a fucking lunatic! You really are insane!! I can’t believe what I’m hearing! You’re talking about giving a most valuable prized possession – a tool – an immortal assassin!!! Her freedom! Letting it go? What the hell is wrong with you!”
“Amaya, duct tape please.” It went back on. “She is not a possession. She is not a tool. She is a person. And she has a heart and feelings. If you treat people like objects then you risk losing your OWN humanity. Try to have a little empathy Connie. Amaya isn’t JUST an immortal ninja assassin. She’s a woman who had a life and freedom once. And I would see her have that again if it is what she wants.”
“What do you think?”
“I think your prisoner brother is right.”
“Really? About which part?”
“That you are insane.”
“Awww, Amaya, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” Graymalkin yawned as they pulled into the driveway. “Oh! Looks like we’re here!”