Walking My Friends Path Ch. 01byfgmntfmgnshn©
As always, thanks to Boheminxen for the edits
Chapter 1: A New Life
Kagari Tanaka was my best friend and I will see him no more. We went to the same private high school together and met on the debate team. I won fourth chair our freshman year and his father made him join. I covered often for his shyness that year, due to his nervousness about speaking English, and we were inseparable ever since. By our senior year, we were co captains and English wasn't a problem anymore. We double dated some despite him having a political arranged marriage, to a girl named Ayano Nakamura waiting for him back in Japan after he graduated college. After High School, we entered nearby Georgetown University together. I wanted a law degree and he was going for a foreign services degree. I rented an apartment and he came over quite often to get away from the pressures his father would place on him. I was his sanctuary. Now, after just one semester, I'm sitting on my bed with my back against the headboard holding my pillow, grasping for any comfort I can, hoping, praying to understand what would cause him to commit the unspeakable. I know he was feeling down after his parents, Junichi Tanaka, the Ambassador of Japan to the United States and his wife Rin, died in a car accident a week ago, but I never expected my always bright and upbeat friend to kill himself over the affair. Especially since I saw him yesterday and though he wasn't over the loss, he seemed like he was getting better. Or maybe I'm just trying to rationalize the impossible because I desperately miss my best friend.
I am brought out of my sadness by the ringing of my doorbell. I trudge down to the front door and open it to a man in a delivery service uniform.
"Yeah, I got a package for a Connor Baldwin," the man said while looking at the paper on his clipboard.
"That would be me," I replied confused on why I'm receiving a package.
"Sign here." The man handed me the clipboard and a pen.
"What is it?" I asked as I put my signature on the paper. His response was generic as he handed me a box no bigger than a small cube of Kleenex, "Don't know. I just deliver it. Have a nice day."
I just tossed it in the general direction of the kitchen table and went to sulking on the living room couch. Minutes later, perhaps hours, who really knows, the doorbell rang again. When I opened the door, a man of Japanese descent in a black suit stood before me. He had a scar on his right cheek and his eyes seemed to peer at my soul.
"Are you Connor Baldwin?" The man asked in a firm tone.
"Yes, I am," I answered.
"The same Connor Baldwin that was friends with Kagari Tanaka?"
"Yes, who wants to know?"
The man's response to my question was to enter my house and grab me by the throat. "I am looking for something. Did Kagari give you anything this past week? "He tightened his grip. "I will know if you are lying." He then released me. "Tell me before I get upset."
I gasped out, "No." (Emotional response? Love the psychological aspect of any story.)
"You speak the truth. Sorry for the inconvenience." He turned and left.
I crumbled to the floor, felt my neck, and coughed a couple times. "What the hell." I said to no one.
"What was that?"
I looked up and saw my girlfriend since day one of college, Kate Upshaw, a beautiful curvaceous brunette woman wearing her typical tight sweater and hip hugging jeans standing in the doorway.
"Oh goodness, are you alright?" Kate rushed to my side. "Why are you on the floor?"
I took a deep breath. "Well, my best friend killed himself and now some asshole just choked the shit out of me." I never swear, but my frustration level was now through the roof.
"Oh my God, I'll call the police." Kate whipped out her cell phone.
"Don't bother. He's long gone and I couldn't tell you where he went or even what vehicle he drove." I stood up and hugged her. "Besides, I'm not hurt."
Kate took care of me that night. She made dinner and we talked about the happy moments we had with Kagari. It was a sad day, but the grieving process has at least begun. Kate went to use the bathroom, and I stretched my legs under the table. I kicked something. I glanced down and saw the box that was delivered earlier. I was getting out of my chair so I could retrieve it when Kate came back in.
"I got to get going," Kate said with her coat in hand. "Are you going to be alright?"
"I'll be fine." We kissed. "Thanks for everything."
"No problem. See you tomorrow." Kate went out the door.
I grabbed the mysterious box and a knife. I cut the tape and lifted the flaps. Inside was a small jewelry box. I flipped it open to find a ring with a Japanese word inscribed into it. Now I'm okay at speaking Japanese myself and below average at understanding people speaking it to me, unless they go slow, when your best friend is from Japan you notice quite a bit. Reading it, however, is a completely different animal that I have not even tried to master. Underneath the ring box, there was a letter.
You and I have been friends a long time and there is no one I trust more. I have concluded my parents were murdered and I may very well be next. If I am not alive when you receive this, then I must ask a favor of you. The ring is very sacred and people are willing to kill for it. Do not tell anyone you have it, not even Kate. The less people know, the safer they are. I require you to travel to Kyoto, Japan. There is a secret meeting of The Brotherhood of Japan to be held at Kiyomizu-dera temple at midnight one week from Friday. The Brotherhood is an organization that has been in existence for thousands of years and its sole purpose is to create a better life for the people of my country that includes political leaders, religious leaders, international corporations, and even legendary samurai castes. A technology has been developed that would reduce the world's dependency on oil.
Lately, various members have secretly been in league with several Middle Eastern countries that are pushing for acts that would prevent this technology from being developed. My father was the head of the organization and wanted nothing more than to make life easier on the common man, and he was certain this would help the world. The position he held is an inherited one so when he died, it fell to me and I am now bequeathing it to you. Whoever has the ring has the power. The enclosed invitation will get you in. Tell them you are from the Lysengic Corporation. It is an American company working with Harashima Enterprises to develop the technology. Outsiders are not normally allowed, so don't expect a warm welcome. Only when they announce for the ring bearer to make his presence known can you show the ring and you will be safe. Don't let anyone pressure you into handing it over. Trust your instincts, as I do not know who set these plans in motion. Good luck and be safe.
Your friend always,
My friend was murdered and if I'm not careful, I very well could be next. Hell, a man was already here today and if I had opened the box first, Kate would be the one mourning me. I want to help my friend but I don't want to die. A world without reliance on oil would be a dream but at what cost to me? Can I risk death? What kind of friend would I be if I refused Kagari's last request? Time to make plans to go to Kyoto.
December is one hell of a month to travel at the last minute. I paid way over market value for flights and hotel accommodations. I informed my family I got an internship in California and told Kate I had a death in the family. I hated lying, especially to her.
Despite getting there a day early, I dared not risk going anywhere. I could not stop fidgeting. I locked myself in my hotel room until it was time for the meeting. The temple was only a couple blocks from my hotel, so I walked it. I didn't want to draw attention to myself by getting a cab.
When I arrived, security was tight. I had to show my invitation to several guards and every one of them looked at me with disgust. I briefly thought about leaving, as I was definitely not wanted. Everyone was hoarded into the biggest building. I was in the back with all the other gaijin, or outsiders. I couldn't believe the spectacle I was witnessing. There were three separate tables of samurai, two tables of men I would say were religious, based on their robes, and about twenty other tables filled with men in suits.
The master of ceremonies soon arrived in front of everyone. From what I was interpreting, he welcomed everyone and went over the agenda. I think he then asked for a moment of silence for the Tanaka family because everyone's heads bowed. I followed suit. He said something about unfortunate circumstances, something about a vote, and the final word was mikado.
"What does mikado mean?" I whispered to myself.
"It means leader or emperor." The extremely thin man in glasses sitting next to me answered in a hushed voice of his own. "Because of the untimely deaths of father and son, they want to elect a new mikado."
"What about the ring?" I curiously asked the man next to me.
"He said a ring wasn't found, but I don't know what that means, do you?"
I stood up and tentatively walked forward. With each table I passed, I felt like daggers were coming from everyone's eyes. I heard words like disrespectful, insolence, and dishonorable. They didn't like that the gaijin was interrupting there precious meeting. I reached into my pocket and clutched the ring. The host was saying something to me about sitting or getting out. It was now or never. I slipped the ring on and held my hand high in the air for all to see. A wave of silence came over the room. The host asked something. All I understood was "where" and "ring."
"Talk slower, please," I countered in Japanese.
The man rolled his eyes and shook his head but complied. "Where did you get that ring?"
"Kagari Tanaka," I responded adamantly.
"This organization does not concern you. Hand it over and leave." The man was beyond angry with me.
"No," I said sternly and then I remembered I'm supposed to be in charge. "By order of Connor Baldwin, I demand you to sit down. The anti-oil device is too important to the world and I'm here to see to it that it gets created," I added with a confidence I wasn't really feeling.
He took a step back and then smiled. He walked towards me and stopped with about a foot separating the two of us. "I challenge you to a duel to prove your worthiness."
A small amount of pee escaped my body. After a few moments, I responded. "What kind of duel?" I was barely audible.
The answer came from behind my antagonist in the form of a woman carrying two katana's. "Choose."
I grabbed one and it was obvious I had never held a sword in my life. I was so unsure of myself. The man openly laughed at me. Kagari never mentioned anything about a duel. What did I get myself into?
There came a commotion from one of the samurai tables. I heard the phrase "Your Highness, no." I gazed toward the crowd and saw a young woman, no more than twenty years of age. She stood about 4'7" tall with shoulder length black hair, and had brown eyes. She wore black glasses and she was walking towards me. She looked like she had some American features in her as well. As she got closer, her hand reached for her katana. I was fortunate my opponent was in awe of this woman, because he had plenty of opportunities to cut me down. I stumbled a few steps back as she was almost in striking range. Her eyes reminded me of a hawk stalking her prey and her facial expression seemed to be made of stone.
Two more steps, and then the woman withdrew her sword and kneeled. "Upon my code of honor, with the discipline of my being, I am bound to serve and protect you with my life and sword." She spoke in perfect English first and then echoed it in Japanese for all to hear.
I didn't understand the meaning of what she said but everyone in attendance received it as if she gave birth to a deity. It was held with that much reverence.
The woman stood and faced my foe. "I, Tsukiumi Akita, on behalf of Mr. Baldwin accept your challenge Isamu Susaki."
Could she do that? Not that I was complaining. Apparently, Tsukiumi is good with a sword, because Isamu dropped his katana and backed down immediately.
"Very Well." Tsukiumi sheathed her weapon and turned to face me. "Tell everyone we are postponing the meeting for one week."
I did, but it took me two times, as my first attempt was followed by abrupt laughter and Tsukiumi had to correct the word 'week' as I apparently said 'orgy'. She sent several members of her clan to retrieve my belongings and we went to her hotel room with one other samurai, a warrior by the name of Kazuki Akita.
Kazuki muttered something.
"In English." Tsukiumi responded. "It is impolite to speak a language in front of someone who cannot comprehend, especially when you are talking about him."
"Yes, Your Highness. I apologize." Kazuki continued. "The elders are not pleased that after only three years of coming to the knowledge you exist, the head of our clan would leave." Kazuki shook his head. "And for him of all people. It is just foolish."
"What is wrong with Mr. Baldwin?" Tsukiumi replied unwavering. "He stood up to a crowd who wants nothing more than his death, proving his bravery, he accepted a duel he knew he could not win, proving his courage, all for the anti-oil device he knows nothing about, proving his passion to want to help humanity. Is not a man of that mettle worth protecting?"
Kazuki stood speechless.
"And besides, he is the Mikado of The Brotherhood of Japan. His position alone demands that he should be protected," Tsukiumi added.
"You are wise beyond your years Your Highness. I'll let the elders know of your decision." Kazuki left.
"Ma'am, I would like to say thank you for saving my life." It was an apology long overdue.
"You can suspend the formalities. Call me Tsukiumi and no thanks needed, Mr. Baldwin." Tsukiumi looked out the window and then closed the curtain. "It is considered an honor for an Akita to find someone worthy to protect and you definitely need protection."
"Please, don't call me Mr. Baldwin."
"No, that's not what I meant. You can call me Connor."
"With all due respect, Sir, I will call you Mr. Baldwin or Sir."
I realized then I have to take Tsukiumi for her word. Her stoic voice and stone facial expression hasn't changed from when I first saw her stride toward me. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but should I be looking to hire a security service?"
"I will be enough."
I believed her. Without warning, there was a knock at the door. Tsukiumi pulled her katana, opened the door and had the blade at the throat of the man standing there in a blink of an eye.
"What do you want Hideki Nakamura?"
Hideki took the hint and proceeded in English. "I need to see the Mikado about a personal matter." I could see apprehension in his eyes, as he certainly wasn't expecting a weapon at his throat.
"It can wait until later," Tsukiumi rebutted.
"I was Junichi Tanaka's most trusted advisor and you won't let me in to see the new Mikado?" There was shock in Hideki's voice.
"I understand your position, but understand mine. My daughter would like to meet her husband before they get married."
I coughed on air. "Did he say married?" I know all men have a little angst on their wedding day, and they had months, if not years to plan for it. Now take that little and multiply it by infinity. That's where I'm at.
"Mr. Baldwin, do you wish to meet with your fiancé?" Tsukiumi inquired.
Still stunned by this development, I eloquently replied, "Um yeah, sure."
"Only Ayano may enter," Tsukiumi directed.
"Hina and I would like to meet with our future son-in-law," Hideki beseeched.
"No, only her. Take it or leave it." Tsukiumi was defiant.
Ayano glided through the door and Tsukiumi shut and locked it. Ayano is the most angelic being I have ever seen. She radiated a simple beauty. Her black hair went to her mid back; her eyes were the color of chestnuts and she wore a blue silk kimono. Every movement was graceful and with purpose. I kissed her hand and invited her to sit beside me on the bed. We both seemed mesmerized as we took in each other's appearance from head to toe.
Ayano placed her hand on my chest, right where my heart is. "Courage." She struggled with the word. She then placed her hand on her chest. "Honored."
"If you speak slowly, I can understand you." I told her in Japanese.
Ayano smiled widely and nodded her approval.
We talked a short while before Ayano felt she should go to sleep. Tonight was just for introductions. We were supposed to be married the Sunday after the meeting, which means if I didn't postpone it, I would be married in two days. Now it will be in ten. What a relief, I thought it was going to be rushed. Ever the gentleman, I walked Ayano to her room with Tsukiumi as a shadow. I kissed her cheek and bid her a goodnight.
Once Tsukiumi and I were safely back in the hotel room, I flipped out. "I can't get married, I have a girlfriend. I'm only 19; I'm not ready for commitment. I'm still trying to figure out who's the best person to give this damn ring to. What the hell am I even doing here? What did Kagari hook me into? Ah, man." I shook my head and threw up my arms. "My Dad's going to kill me for marrying someone I don't even know and my Mom's going to be pissed she isn't here to see it." I collapsed onto the bed.
Tsukiumi let me get all my aggressions out before talking in her usual controlled voice. "Relax Mr. Baldwin. I am here to assist in all your quandaries." She sat on the bed next to me and placed her hand on my back. "First, you need to decide right now if you are able to lead." I turned my head towards her, hoping she was about to give me a way out. "The Brotherhood of Japan is an honorable organization. It has been in existence for thousands of years because of proper guidance from the Mikado. If you turn over the ring, it will fall into disarray with all the members fighting over who deserves the right to be in control. They are all wrong. Being a leader is not about personal power, it's about giving power to the people who do not have it. I see that power in you. You spoke of giving the device to the world without want of compensation or regard of what others may think. That is why I spoke an unbreakable vow to serve and protect you. You, Connor Baldwin are the right person to be the Mikado. Don't just believe me, believe Kagari Tanaka. Your friend could have chosen anyone to give this power to and he chose you."
I was now sitting up on the bed, facing Tsukiumi. "But what about Ayano?" I asked curiously.
"Ayano was selected to be the wife of the Mikado. She has been trained to be everything the Mikado needs in a woman. She is highly skilled in foreign affairs, negotiating, and can speak several languages. . She knows everything there is to know about the Brotherhood and all its enterprises. She is someone who will push you to be your best while being supportive in your endeavors. She will be your confidant, your wife."
"So you're saying love is not a luxury to Ayano and me?"
"I understand why you may think that, but that is not how she feels. Love is born from actions. Ayano's first words were courage and honored. Your act of courage tonight made her feel honored to stand by your side and by speaking those words in English, a language that is a weakness to her, she demonstrated she is willing to show you her flaws. She could have easily asked me to translate. You in return did the same, when you spoke to her in Japanese. It was a small gesture, but one that went a long way. She wants to love you and if your current actions continue along the same path as you have already shown, she will."