Suzi in the Spring
My name is pronounced Da-re, or at least it was. These days everyone calls me Dare. It was Kisa that started it. I'm sure the Cybunny didn't mean any harm. Besides, the name fits, even if I say so myself.
I'm a daredevil. I'm the leader of the Poison Blade, the six teenagers that are terrors of Shenkuu. They are my friends, my allies. There's Kisa. She's this quiet blue Cybunny that holds the group together. Then Mink next I guess. Mink is interesting because he's so quiet, but he is smart, very smart. Not in the same way that I am, but useful all the same. In all honesty I much prefer the company of the twins. They are Myncies same as me. Obayana is fire coloured, and Borak is electric. I'm Shadow. Then lastly there's her, the infamous sixth member of our little gang. Suzi, though the name doesn't fit her.
She turned up during the spring. She's like that; sometimes we see her. Often we don't. She's like a ghost, a remnant of a legend long forgotten. All I know is that we only ever see her when the air is heavy with the scent of cherry blossoms.
I wasn't sure about her; perhaps I was glad of her strange manner, because while I accepted and enjoyed her company, she was also a threat to me. She, like me, and all the others, had been there since the start, half a lifetime ago: The twins stealing just to eat; the scholar's son bored of it all; the curious little girl; the smart daredevil; and a ghost. Somehow we'd all come together.
There was no doubt in my mind, that if I hadn't been our group's leader, she would have been. As it was, it was only because of her sketchy presence that she hadn't already taken my role. In short I was wary of her.
* * *
We were waiting together, the five of us, wondering if Suzi would show up on this spring morning. Personally I had my doubts, or perhaps hopes, but I would wait. I wouldn't let the other see my fears. We were at the bottom of a cliff towards the edge of the Imperial city of Shenkuu. I heard Kisa gasp and glanced over. She was there, Suzi. She was just standing next to Kisa as though she had appeared from nowhere. My best guess was that she'd climbed down the cliff, but the rope and grappling hook that were tied across her back were unused. I was impressed to say the least, but I didn't let it show.
"You're late," I said gruffly, something approaching annoyance on my voice.
The girl shrugged. "I told you I had to study," she said.
That was the excuse she always used. I just didn't get it. Why was she always claiming that she was busy, and with study of all things? To me it made no sense.
I stayed silent, simply staring at her. Eventually I spoke, slowly though, drawing out my words. "It seems to me," I said, "that you spend all your time studying. You never seem to do anything else."
The silence stretched out between us, taught like a wire as Suzi stared coldly back at me.
It was Kisa that broke the silence. "Come on, guys," she said. I glared at her but the Cybunny didn't even flinch. "You said yourself she was late. So why are we wasting even more time now?" she said, posing the question.
"Okay then, let's go." I leaped, scrabbling up to the nearest roof top. Welcome to the city of Shenkuu, this is where I live. The low peaked roofs were perfect for climbing, and running across. For the Poison Blade, this was the only way to travel. The rest of them followed me.
Eventually I stopped, the others also stopping. They looked at me expectantly, but remained quiet, knowing that I would tell them what we were doing soon enough. They would wait for me to speak, and I enjoy the presentation, but if I couldn't get this right... I didn't bother to finish the thought. I wouldn't get it wrong. I stood next to the skylight, waited a moment and then started.
"This," I said, tapping the skylight, "is the national Shenkuu museum. It's closed at the moment. A new exhibit had to be set up and others moved." I tapped the glass again, liking the effect it caused. "As you can see, the new exhibit has been set up. The workmen have left this area, but the museum is still closed so there aren't any visitors either." I allowed a sly smile to cross my face. "So, who wants to check out the new exhibit with me?"
And that was what most people missed about me. Sure, I'm a daredevil. Sure, I do some really crazy stuff sometimes, but I also think about it. Today was the perfect do to break into the museum, a day earlier and there would have been workmen everywhere a day later would have been impossible because the museum would be open. I'm not just an idiot.
Suzi smiled. "Sounds like fun."
Inside I congratulated myself. Suzi was always the first to poke holes in my plan, so if she couldn't see anything wrong with it, there probably wasn't.
Suzi and the twins moved forward, preparing to enter the museum. I moved to the side slightly.
Kisa and Mink hung back a little way, and I joined them. As much as I hated to admit it, Borak and Obayana really didn't need any help. They were far better climbers than me, and Borak's skill with locks was at least as good as mine.
Mink looked kind of excited, in a quiet nervous sort of way. I think he might have just been excited to see the exhibit. Kisa stood next to him. I don't think she cared much for this kind of thing, but she tagged along; they both did. I never once thought that they might ever betray us.
I turned my attention back to the twins, and Suzi. They were already inside and she had just secured the grappling hook.
I smiled. "Let's go."
I heard Suzi gasp as our eyes adapted to the gloom. I smiled, secretly pleased that I had impressed even her with this one. The room was dedicated to the legend of the Katana twins. A legend every child in Shenkuu knew.
A smile crossed my face as I heard talking. Mink, more accurately; he was reading aloud. He was reading out the old legend. Only Mink would break into a museum, and then read the old legend we all already knew.
I turned my attention back to Suzi. She was staring in awe at the Night Katana, the one that legend said Princess Amaya forged herself. They said she forged it in the black of night. She forged it in secret, just as she gathered supporters in secret, all to usurp her twin brother Prince Kane.
I picked up the Gold Handled Katana, marvelling at its beauty. This Katana had been forged by the young prince Kane in the palace forge. It was his first and only work.
I turned to face Suzi, the Katana still held in my hand.
She turned to face me. Her hands also gripped a Katana.
She held the Night Katana, the one originally forged by the sister. I couldn't remember where it had been forged, some village blacksmith's probably.
Legend said that while the night Katana had been forged with inferior metals, it was on the same level as the gold handled Katana. They said that if Amaya had had the resources of her brother, the sword of simple dark iron would have been far superior to his own creation in gold and steel.
The legend also said that Amaya had been better with her sword, a better fighter.
Suzi wasn't a better fighter than me. I lunged, half in play, half with complete seriousness. Today I would prove that I was the rightful leader for the Poison Blade.
Gold flashed through the air as I swung the Katana. Even faster, silvery black blocked the stroke. So she knew how to use a katana and she had good reflexes. I circled, looking for another opening.
That fight didn't end well for me. She never cut me, every stroke she made was controlled, careful and deliberate. Eventually the Gold Handled Katana slipped from my fingers. I sagged to my knees. Who was this girl? I asked that question more then, than I ever had before. But even now I still don't know the answer.
I said the only words I could think of. "Join me." They were the words the young prince had said to his sister, but that wasn't why I said them.
"No," her words cut, "I will not lead your armies. I would rather see the kingdom divided than let you lead it into ruin."
I froze. She wasn't talking about us. She was talking about the twins, the legend. She was talking as though she was Amaya but that wasn't how the legend went.
My mind raced. She used the Katana so well... she had to have been trained as a samurai; that was the only answer. That at least would explain her reactions. As a samurai, even a student, she would know the legends better than most...
But that was it, wasn't it... This legend had a special meaning to her. This game we were playing wasn't a game to her. I gave up. I had no idea how to respond, how to break the spell.
"Fine," I said. "You lead the Poison Blade."
Suzi looked at me. Suddenly back in reality. She laughed. "No, I'm good."
I rolled my eyes. At least that was sorted out, but the others would always know I wasn't the leader because I was strongest, but because she choose to let me lead.
"Oi, what are you kids doing in here?" A red Skeith loomed over us.
We scattered. Obayana and Borak were the first through the Skylight, mostly because they didn't even need to use the rope. Mink and Kisa were the first up the rope; actually they were the only ones to use the rope. I used it a little, and Suzi just jumped. Ogrins have it lucky in that respect.
Kisa grabbed the rope and we sprinted. It was unlikely that the guard would catch us, but we wouldn't stop until we knew that we were safe.
At the cliff face we started to climb. We all knew where we were going and we had run like this, thousands of times before.
The twins raced ahead, going up the vertical slope as though it were flat. They would let us know if there were any guards waiting to ambush us. It was unlikely but it had happened on more than one occasion.
Next in line came Kisa and Mink; they were possibly the weakest links in the group, at least when it came to this kind of thing. They had their uses, which made up for the fact that without the grappling hook they could never climb the sheer slope.
Last was Suzi and myself, our previous fight forgotten. We both still gripped the Katana. I doubted that the museum had had the originals out on display like that, but both were still good weapons. Again, one fat Skeith wasn't going to chaise us. The place and city guard, on the other hand... Let's just say we didn't much like them and the feeling was mutual.
Eventually we made it to the meadow, a high plateau which no one outside our little group had ever found, at least not to our knowledge.
I watched Suzi drop to the grass, a smile on her face.
"Fun?" I asked.
The silence stretched out. The other four had wandered off, Mink and Kisa sitting together, Obayana and Borak messing around in a tree. It was peaceful.
"Look, about earlier..." Suzi said breaking the silence.
"Forget about it."
"No, this is important." She looked down. "I... I got distracted, I wasn't thinking."
"No. I challenged you. I shouldn't have done that."
"I should have let you win."
I had to ask. "You've been trained as a samurai?"
The girl looked surprised, but she must have known I'd guess. She stayed quiet, seeming to think of an answer.
"You don't have to tell me. We're the Poison Blade. These people are my family, but I don't think I know a single thing from before about any of them. We don't ask questions."
"Yeah," she said. To this day I don't know if the response was to my question or my comment. I didn't ask.
That was the last time I ever saw Suzi. She didn't appear at all the following spring, and we didn't even look for her the one after that.
I feel I should tell you that the Poison Blade continued on... We did for a few more years at least. But it didn't have a happy ending. So I'll end my story here, because it's the happiest time to end.