Shidan Ochiro, known in most of the world as Golden Dragon, stepped into the airport concourse with his wife and child behind him. He cocked his head as he heard Japanese coming from the loudspeakers, announcing flight arrivals and times. It had been a long time since he had heard his native tongue spoken with such fluidity. He smiled at his wife, who stood a full two feet shorter than he and was looking up at his face. She grasped his hand in hers and squeezed.
Dragon's 10-year-old son, Alex, grabbed his other hand and tugged on it. Dragon lowered his head, and Alex whispered, "Dad, what are they saying?"
Dragon said, "Nothing, kiddo. Just flight times." I need to teach Alex Japanese, he thought. He should at least have a link to his native land.
"Oh," his son replied. "Well, who are those guys?"
Dragon shifted his gaze to where Alex was pointing. Coming toward them in a brisk walk were four Japanese men in black business suits. Each of them also wore black sunglasses and had an ear piece. In America, Dragon would have thought they were Secret Service.
As they got closer, Dragon squinted and then smiled. He shook both of his hands free and stepped forward, stretching his right hand out to the lead man.
"Kato! How did you know I was coming?"
The man took Dragon's arm and rather than shaking, slapped a thick cuff on it. He then swung the arm around to Dragon's other arm and locked them together. Dragon just stared down at his hands in surprise. "Kato? What's going on here?"
The man removed his sunglasses and glared up into Dragon's face. He spoke in Japanese."We will talk about it in the car. Come along now."
Kim stepped forward and put an arm on Dragon's shoulder. "What's going on? I thought you and Dan were friends, Detective! How dare you treat him like this?"
Kato gave a very bestial growl and then switched to English. "Go to your hotel, Ochiro-san, and take your son with you. It is in everyone's best interest." The man did not look at Kim, he stared at Dragon.
"Do as he says, dear," Dragon said. "I'm sure there is a very good reason for this. There had better be." He directed the last at Kato.
Kim uncertainly took Alex's hand and backed away into the airport. "Call me," she said. "As soon as you can."
Kato took hold of the chain between the cuffs and pulled Dragon out of the building. People were pointing and whispering among themselves. Even out of costume, Dragon had a fair reputation around here. The more people reacted, the angrier Dragon was getting.
"I thought we had a deal, Nijimi," Dragon muttered to the detective.
Kato responded by yanking harder on the chain. It didn't hurt Dragon, but he got the point and kept quiet.
They finally got out into the covered parking lot away from the crowd. From there, no one spoke. It took them ten minutes to reach an armored truck.
"Is that really necessary?" Dragon asked. "I'm not going to break away. If I was, wouldn't I have cracked these cuffs like tissue paper?"
"It is my hope that it is not necessary, Golden Dragon," Kato answered. "Or should I say Black Dragon?"
Dragon snapped the cuffs in two. He was surprised when the four men didn't really react. "I thought we had a deal! No mention of that! I've changed since those days, I convinced you of that last time I was here! I've paid my dues! Why are you bringing that up now?"
Nijimi produced a newspaper from inside his jacket. It was from a week ago, and the headline read, "Black Dragon kills again!"
"What is this? You think this is me? I've been in America! Do you think I've been traipsing over to Japan and killing people in my spare time?"
"The world is well aware of the capabilities of your plane, the Vagabond," Nijimi answered. "So are the Tokyo Police."
Dragon screamed at him, "The Vagabond is in outer space! You're accusing me of being an assassin without even checking your facts! I thought we were friends!"
"I thought so as well," Nijimi answered, opening the back of the truck. "Please get in."
Dragon glared at him and then stepped into the armored car, ducking his head to fit inside the doorway. The other two men closed the door and with a final click, Dragon was locked inside.
* * * * *
Kim had reached the hotel by taxi, and her nerves were getting worn thin. Alex had been full of questions about why the police had taken his father, what the different buildings were, and when they were going to visit all the sights. She had finally been able to quiet him by giving him the Sega Game Gear she had meant to save for his birthday. Desperate times call for desperate measures, she thought.
As Kim stepped out of the cab, she asked the driver in ragged Japanese if he could help her with the bags. After all, when your husband can lift in excess of 15 kilotons, you don't feel the need to pack light. As the driver took the bags to the desk, grunting all the way, she looked in her purse to find money for a tip.
"I've got it," she heard. "Where's Dan?"
She looked up to see Detective Kato Nijimi standing in front of her, paying the cab driver. He was wearing a brown sweater and dark blue pants, and while he looked identical to the man she had met at the airport, his demeanor was noticeably softer.
"Detective? How did you get here so fast from the airport?"
Nijimi shrugged. "The airport? It was all I could do to get to the hotel on time. What's going on?"
Kim felt a familiar surge of fear in her stomach. No matter where they went, Dan was always hunted by someone. It seemed likely that he was in the hands of another of his many enemies.
* * * * *
Nijimi stopped the car and got out. He motioned to the other three men in the cab, and they stepped away as well. They began walking away from the truck, leaving it in the middle of a junk yard. The towering cars blocked any view of traffic, although the rush of the highway could be heard. When the four men reached the edge of the junk yard, Nijimi pulled a small box out of his coat pocket and pressed the single red button on its face.
The junk yard resounded with a large explosion, knocking down several stacks of crushed cars. A roaring fire erupted from where the armored truck had been. The men started laughing. "So much," said Nijimi, "for the much-vaunted Golden Dragon!"
As they laughed, the men's features began to melt, until their skin was replaced by tan fur and their faces formed into ebony monkey-like shapes with protruding yellow tusks. Their laugh became more bestial, and one of them half-growled, "The Cult of the Wyrm is growing weak to fear such as that!"
A horrible sound of creaking metal came from the junk yard, and all four creatures turned to look. Dragon pushed the wreckage aside and a rose to his full seven and a half foot height in the midst of the wreckage. His clothing was in tatters and burning around him. "I hope, for your sake, that you have a very good explanation. This," he said, shaking the tattered arm of his jacket, "was my favorite suit."
The four creatures howled and launched themselves at Dragon, faster than he would have thought possible. He fell under the impact, and all four of them were trying to bite his jugular as they pinned him to the ground.
Dragon stood up, shaking them all off. He backed up against a pile of junked cars. "Who the hell are you?"
Nijimi answered, in a throaty voice. "We are the Cult of the Wyrm. Poor, sad Dragon. At least your predecessors knew what killed them." He lunged at Dragon, four black gleaming claws emerging from his right paw. His arm swept across Dragon's chest, and Dragon yelled out as four slashes appeared.
"The sword of the Wyrm cuts deep, does it not, Ochiro-san?"
Dragon rocked forward on his heels and then shifted back, slamming his entire body into the cars behind him, bringing the tower toppling down onto the creatures and himself. He flew up from the wreckage and watched as they crawled out from underneath.
"Give up, Golden Dragon. The Wyrm is the true way. You followed it once. Perhaps you can again. We needn't kill you." Nijimi licked the blood from his claws and said, "Although we might like to."
Police sirens sounded in the distance, and the four creatures looked off at the highway. Ten police cruisers were pulling off the road and heading for the junk yard. "We mustn't be discovered, brother," one of the other creatures said. "We must flee."
Nijimi looked at Dragon for a long moment and then joined hands with two of the others. "Agreed. Farewell, Dragon. We shall meet again." The four stood in a circle, hands joined, and began to glow.
"No!" Dragon yelled as he flew down at the group, but they faded out and he struck only thin air. He landed and punched a nearby car in frustration.
Moments later, the police cars skidded to a halt outside the fire and Detective Nijimi jumped from the first car, his gun drawn. It didn't look like a standard gun to Dragon. Dragon waved to him and flew over, out of the fire.
"What happened?" Nijimi asked. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Dragon replied. "I was attacked by some monsters calling themselves the Cult of the Wyrm. I have a feeling its related to the Dragon Cult." He waved his hand at Nijimi's gun. "Nice piece."
"Oh," the detective said sheepishly, returning it to his holster. "Just a memento from a VIPER bust. If we were dealing with something that would take you on, I figured I might need a little more firepower."
Dragon laughed and said, "You would have."
Dragon put his arm around Kato Nijimi's shoulders and started to walk back to the nearest squad car with him. He saw Alex and Kim peering out from the back seat. As they walked toward the car, Dragon whispered, "I think we need to talk about this Black Dragon."
Nijimi's smile turned into a frown. "You've heard, then. Yes, we need to speak. The method of killing is similar to the original. Some of my superiors are talking about reopening the case. If they find out about our deal, it could jeopardize my job."
Dragon understood immediately. When he had last returned to Japan, it had been just after the fight with King Cobra. He had gone to clear his name, but a copy-cat killer hired by his father had been murdering people in the guise of Black Dragon. As Dan Ochiro, Dragon had been able to work his way onto the investigation with Nijimi.
At first, their alliance had been anything but friendly. Nijimi wanted nothing to do with a "showboat American P.I. who cared nothing for his heritage" and Dragon didn't care for the stiff-necked Japanese detective. However, when their trail had led them into a Yakuza trap, Dragon had been forced to blow his cover identity to save Nijimi's life.
After that, the two had formed a trust, which turned into a friendship by the time they brought the Yakuza metahuman in. Of course, snipers had killed the Black Dragon before he could talk. Nijimi and Dan decided it was best to let the legacy of Black Dragon rest, and they transferred all criminal blame from Dan's past activities on to the murdered Yakuza assassin.
Nijimi drove the car onto the highway as Dragon sat next to him, engaged in thought. "The Yakuza could be involved," he muttered, more to himself than anyone else.
"I'm afraid that is likely, Dan," Nijimi answered, "as all five of the killings thus far have been Yakuza members."
Dragon's face twisted into an expression of disgust. "Well, then, I guess I know where to go for information. It's time I spoke with my father."
Kim reached out from the back seat and grabbed Dan's shoulder. "No! You know what he'll do to you if he gets his hands on you! He doesn't care that you're family, just that you're the enemy! Good lord, Dan, he killed your own mother!"
Dragon's head dropped to his chest, and Kim immediately regretted her words. Dan had been very young when his mother had died, and he didn't think about her much. But it was quite clear that he was reenacting the day in his mind.
Dan was busily playing with the origami figures his cousin Nishi Motaki had made for him. His cousin was only seven, but he already possessed great skill with the paper figurines. Today's toys were two birds and a highly unusual monster that reminded Dan of Godzilla. From the next room, he could hear his mother's voice, very quiet, almost whispering.
"No, he doesn't know yet. He's in deeper than I thought. It seems to me that he's in the upper hierarchy. I'll report to the bureau later tonight with my report...I have to go." The audible click of the phone being hung up sounded, and his mother's voice, louder this time, said, "You're home earlier than I expected, Toshio."
Dan jumped, as he usually did, at the sound of his father's voice. It was cold and quiet, always controlled, but there was restrained anger in every word he ever spoke. "Early enough to hear your conversation," Toshio said. "Early enough to know who you were speaking to. How long have you been working for the Japanese Secret Service? Are you even truly an American, or was that part of your cover? A young student, a whirlwind romance, a decision to stay in Osaka...all part of some clever government plot against the Yakuza. Well, this plot is destined to fail."
Dan heard a click and then two loud cracks, followed by his mother's voice crying out in pain. He covered his ears and tried desperately not to cry. Then he saw his mother stumble into the living room, blood coating the front of her white silk blouse. "Run, Dan. Don't let him corrupt you."
Dan was running out of the house as he heard his father calling, "His name is Shidan! Don't call him that American bastardization! Shidan, return to this house immediately!"
Dan was holding the origami in his hands, running as fast as his young legs would carry him out of the house. He heard two more cracks from inside the house, and he was in the street when he heard his father yell, "Shidan! Look out!"
His gaze swerved to the left and he saw a frightened old man trying to turn the wheel of his truck away from him. Dan knew he wasn't going to make it. Then everything went black.
"Dan?" Kim's voice broke him out of his thoughts. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring that up, it's just..." Kim's hands were still on his shoulder, but their touch was comforting, not abrasive, now.
"It's all right," Dragon said, covering her hands with his own. "You have a point. Maybe I shouldn't go to him if I can avoid it. But I need to talk with my mother."
Nijimi stopped the car outside the hotel. "Dragon, if there is anything you need, do not hesitate to ask. I'll be at the station or at home. You have both numbers?"
Dragon nodded and absently shook Nijimi's hand. "Keep me informed about this Wyrm Cult. I'll call you soon. And thanks."
Kim and Alex waited for him to say his goodbyes at the hotel door. Alex was happily playing his Game Gear. As Dragon walked up, he yelled out, "All right, Dad, look! I beat Doctor Destroyer! This Champions game is cool!"
"I thought that was for his birthday," Dragon said. He stopped saying anything else when he saw the look on Kim's face. "I have to go," he mouthed to her.
"I know," she mouthed back, and blew him a kiss. She guided Alex inside the hotel. He was so engrossed in his game that he didn't notice his father leaving.
Dragon concentrated for a second and his Golden Dragon uniform appeared around his body. He slowly lifted into the air and took off toward central Tokyo.
A few minutes later, he touched down gently in the midst of a graveyard. In front of him was a simple gravestone, with a bouquet of fresh red roses on top of it. The gravestone read, "Diana Holenbeck Ochiro, March 10, 1937 - June 12, 1962."
Dragon gazed at the ground and said quietly, "Hello, mother. I miss you. Father has been unable to corrupt me. I oppose everything that he stands for. I hope you can see that, and I hope you are proud of me."
"How touching, Shidan." The voice cut into Dan like a cold wind. Without turning around, he said, "Hello, father."
Dan turned slowly around to face Toshio Ochiro. He was in his sixties now, but he looked like a man of no more than forty-five. His black hair was slicked back and a custom gray suit with brown top-coat fit his six foot frame perfectly. It had probably cost a great deal of the Yakuza's money to have it tailored.
Behind him, to either side, were young Japanese men in black turtlenecks and tan pants. Each held a massive rifle in both hands and they were grinning as they aimed them at Dragon.
Toshio walked up to Diana's grave and plucked a red rose from the bouquet. "Ironic, is it not, that the same money she sought to deprive me provides her with fresh flowers daily? A tragic waste, your mother."
Dragon's hands clenched into fists. "Try saying that when your goons don't have 'Brickbuster' cannons aimed at me," he growled. "When did you join up with VIPER?"
Toshio, now mere inches away from Dragon, sneered and threw the rose in his face. "Fool! You think the Yakuza does not have dealings with VIPER? I knew you would come, and I believe in being prepared."
"So the Yakuza is behind the killings," Dragon reasoned. "You killed people to draw me here? You bastard."
"Spare me your sanctimonious prattle, son. The killings are not my doing. Rather, they are the work of Nishi Motaki." Toshio stopped briefly and stared into Dragon's eyes. "Your half-brother."
Behind his red visor, Dragon's eyes widened in surprise. "What?"
In his shock, he failed to notice his father's hand signal, and was barely aware of the two goons triggering their cannons. Before he could say anything else, the two weapons discharged. Dragon flew through the air as the chemical bursts hit him square in the chest. He came to rest against a stone mausoleum and lay still.
"Pick him up and take him to the truck," Toshio ordered. His men leaped to obey. They grunted as the two of them tried in vain to lift Dragon's 3,200 pound body.
"Worthless fools," Toshio muttered. He snapped his fingers and ten more men appeared from the trees surrounding the graveyard. All twelve men grunted and lifted Dragon from the ground. Although they dropped him every few feet, they managed to heft him onto the flatbed of a waiting truck and covered him over with a tarp.
Toshio watched them carry his son to the truck and then picked up the rose, lowering it once again to his wife's grave. "I did love you, Diana. You simply made the wrong choice. As did both my sons."
Toshio walked quickly away from the grave and got into the back of a black limousine. The car started to drive away and the truck fell in line. The procession passed through the gates of the cemetery and out into the Tokyo night.