Dragon awoke with a buzzing in his head. He shook his head fiercely and tapped his palm against it. Still the noise didn't clear. It began to sound more focused until he realized that the sound was human voices, speaking in hushed tones. He slowly opened his eyes and they were assaulted by bright fluorescent lights.
His eyes were unshielded by his visor. His helmet had been removed. It was, however, lying beside him. He put it back on and looked around. He was in some sort of large windowless area, most likely a warehouse. The walls were a dull gray with metal showing through in some areas. Reinforced concrete, he thought, I can break that without a problem. Then he noticed that there were ten Japanese men, women and children sitting against the walls at various points, whispering among themselves.
The rest of the warehouse was bare, except for an oriental rug that Dragon was lying on and stacks of crates on the far wall. Dragon stood up and heard his father's voice, electronically distorted. "Don't move, Shidan. If you do, it will mean the deaths of these innocents. And I know how you would hate that."
Dragon sat back down. "What do you want with them, father? You have me."
"Simple, Shidan," came the reply. "I don't want you. I want the Black Dragon. And when he comes here, you both will die. Right now, you are standing on a deadman switch. Those crates are filled with plastique. If weight of more than one and a half tons is not maintained on the pressure plate where you now sit, the resulting explosion will destroy this warehouse and the dock it is sitting on. You will note that even all ten of the people there would not equal one and a half tons. With the crates, they might, but if you try to move the crates, the bomb will also go off."
"When your brother comes to find you, as I know he will, the innocents will be released. If they try to leave before then, I'll destroy the warehouse. You will keep your brother in the warehouse until they are gone. If you try to warn him in any way, my speakers will pick it up and the entire warehouse will be destroyed. Goodbye, Shidan."
"Father! Explain to me about my brother! What do you mean?"
Dragon's words echoed off the walls and died in silence. There was no answer from the electronic loudspeaker. One of the children began to cry.
Dragon tried to think of ways out, but he was finding it difficult to concentrate. His mind kept wandering back to the last time he had seen his cousin, now revealed to be his half-brother, Nishi Motaki.
"Ungrateful bastard! I let you stay here after your mother died, and now you refuse to honor me? You are 18 years old, you do not know everything!" Dan shuddered in his room. The last time he had heard his father this angry was the day his mother had been in her accident. His mind cleared for a second, and he thought he could see her, with blood on her white blouse, yelling something at him. The memory faded, and he shook it off. His father had said she had an accident, and Toshio would not lie to his only son.
Motaki's voice answered in an equally outraged tone. "Ungrateful bastard, am I? I trained in these skills, I learned the martial arts! I did not agree to use them to become a butcher! There is blood on my hands, but there will be no more innocent blood spilled by me! I have sworn to help people, not bully and frighten them for your crime syndicate!"
Dan heard a familiar crack, and again he saw the vision of his mother. He heard something metallic skittering across the tile floor. He had to strain to hear Motaki's voice. "Do not ever try that again, or you will lose your hands. I am leaving now. Pray we do not meet in the future."
Motaki stormed into Dan's room. He handed his teen aged cousin a black origami figure in the shape of a dragon. "Take this, Shidan. I may never see you again. But use this to remember me."
Dragon shrugged himself out of his memories. He stretched forward on the rug and pulled up one corner. The floor looked exactly the same to him until he came to a small depression. The pressure plate was not discolored, but it did sink in a little bit. Dan's knowledge of security systems made it easy to spot. Now he knew exactly how far he could walk.
Slowly, Dragon stepped to the very edge of the rug. He tapped his hand gently on the floor beyond, making a slight dent in it. He began to tap the same spot, over and over again, being careful to make it sound like a nervous habit and not an attempt to punch through. The patch fell out, hitting the water below with a splash. Dragon quickly began tapping another section of the floor, knocking it through as well. His father had been foolish to mention the fact that they were on a dock.
Dragon motioned to the people on the sides of the warehouse. When only one old man began moving slowly to wards him, he drew himself up to his full height and motioned more definitively. Frightened, the people rushed over to where he was. He resumed the tapping.
Dragon pulled the old man to him. "Find out, quietly, if everyone can swim." The man nodded and began whispering to the others. He returned and said, "Yes, and I will support the child who can't."
Nodding, Dragon whispered. "I will make a hole large enough to go through. Swim away from this dock and go call the police. Inform them that this building is going to explode and tell them why. Do you understand."
The old man nodded. An old woman said softly, "Domo Arigato, Golden Dragon."
Dragon pulled on the hole he had made, yanking a large section of the floor free. He helped lower people into the water below. When the last of them was away, he took a deep breath of relief. He watched until it was clear that they were beyond the range of the explosion.
"Now comes the hard part," Dragon muttered. He closed his eyes, counted to three in his head, and took flight at full speed toward the ceiling. He was halfway there when the explosion started.
Dragon flew through the ceiling, propelled by his own power and by the force of the explosion. He struggled to remain conscious, but metal shards impacted with his body and the pain was too great. He finally passed out as he began his downward arc into the burning embers of the warehouse.
Dragon crashed into a warehouse two blocks away. Bricks exploded into the warehouse as he smashed through the ceiling and landed on an assembly line full of raw fish. The workers who were cleaning the fish looked up at one another and then ran from the assembly line.
Dragon woke up and had the sensation of moving. He was sitting on something slimy. He realized where he was a second before he went sliding down into a vat full of fish. He had the presence of mind to close his mouth before plunging, semi-conscious, into the vat. He rose from the vat and landed on the warehouse floor. Coughing, he muttered, "Any landing you can walk away from," and walked out the door.
When he got outside, Dragon took to the air to observe the warehouse. The fire department had not arrived yet, but the fire was small, and seemed in no danger of spreading. On the edge of the burning wreckage, Dragon saw a flash of black. He switched his visor to infrared and saw a cooler human form slip behind the warehouse next door. Dragon accelerated downward toward the figure.
When he rounded the corner, Dragon saw a figure standing against the wall. He had an athletic build and was clad in a black ninja outfit. On the chest, surrounded by a red field, was a black dragon very similar to the one on Dragon's costume.
"Shidan?" the ninja said. "Is that you? My, how you've grown."
Dragon recognized the voice and was shocked. "Motaki? Why are you dressed like that?" The realization hit him a second later. "Oh, no..."
"I am the Black Dragon, of course," Motaki replied. "It seemed that you were done with the name, having found one much better suited to you."
Motaki looked at the burning warehouse. "I'm glad that father failed to kill you."
"You've been killing people, Motaki!"
"I have been executing Yakuza butchers," Motaki corrected. "Butchers who were beyond the reach of the law. Each of them was guilty, I made sure of that."
"That doesn't matter!" Dragon yelled back. "You can't just kill people! Listen, I have some pull. Maybe if you could cut a deal with the police, you could start over. Fight the Yakuza, but don't kill them. It isn't necessary." Dragon extended his hand to Motaki.
Motaki slapped the hand away. "You are an idealistic fool, Shidan. I do what is necessary. As do you. You seemed willing enough to sacrifice the innocents in that warehouse to escape."
"I did not endanger those people, I knew exactly what I was doing! And how did you know about it, anyway?"
Motaki bowed his head. "I have learned many skills since last we met, little brother. Among them is the art of disguise. I wished to observe you, and save you if necessary."
"That's another thing," Dragon said. "How long have you known we were brother?"
"I have lied to you since the day you were born, Ochiro Shidan. I was your father's first son, born of a young naive Japanese woman who thought that a brash Yakuza thug could love her. When Toshio married your mother, I agreed not to mention my true relation to him in exchange for financial support. I agreed to a great many foolish things back then."
Dragon went into a defensive stance. "I'm going to have to take you in, Motaki. I'm sorry."
A sigh escaped from Motaki. "I am sorry, too, little brother. But not surprised." In a flash of motion, Motaki reached into his belt and threw four small capsules to the ground. A cloud of smoke erupted, and before Dragon could switch to infrared, the Black Dragon was gone.
Dragon muttered a curse and took off to make sure that all of the innocents had reached the shore. They were already at an ambulance, being wrapped in blankets. After scanning the area with infrared, he shook his head in frustration and headed back to the hotel.
* * * * *
The creature who had posed as Kato Nijimi stood in a dark chamber in its true form. It stood about seven feet tall and was as broad as Golden Dragon. It's entire body was covered with light tan fur, except for its hairless face, which shone like polished ebony. Its eyes were glowing blue dots set above a protruding snout. Sharp yellow teeth showed in its mouth. The only clothing the creature wore was a simple white robe, adorned with a blood red Japanese character on the left breast.
"Ketsueki," came a hissing voice from the darkness. "You have failed. Are you prepared to accept the price of failure?"
The creature bowed its head and said, in a low growl, "I am prepared, venerable master."
The room fell silent, and then it was filled with crackling energy of various colors. Balls of colored light floated around the creature, and his blue eyes tried to follow each one. Finally, twelve of the orbs had surrounded him, and they pulsed, changing colors until all twelve were blood red.
"Ketsueki, you have earned shame today. Yet you are one of our finest warriors. Therefore, your blessing will be both a punishment and a gift. Henceforth, you are vampire."
All twelve orbs shot glowing streams of white light into Ketsueki's body. He jerked and cried out, but quickly muffled the sound and stood still, holding his teeth firmly together.
The ordeal stopped a minute later, and Ketsueki fell to the floor, panting. "Bring us the Golden Dragon, Ketsueki," the voice hissed. "Or at least his head."
Ketsueki rose and his mouth parted into a parody of a grin. "It shall be done, venerable master." With a bow, he backed into the darkness and disappeared.
* * * * *
Dragon landed on the street outside the Tokyo Hilton. He changed in the blink of an eye back into street clothes. Smiling at the doorman, he stepped inside the hotel and walked up to the desk clerk, a pretty young girl who smiled nervously and backed up several inches.
"Can I help you, sir?" she stammered.
"Yes, I need the room number for Kimberly Ochiro."
The girl handed Dragon a key with trembling hands. Dragon gave her a friendly smile and walked over to the elevator. Seeing a crowd looking at him, he opted for the stairs. He knew that he could counteract his weight with flight, but fellow elevator passengers seldom did.
Dragon flew through the stairwells, reaching the top floor quickly. He stepped out and went to his room, knocking on the door. When there was no answer, he called out, "Kim? It's Dan."
After a few seconds, Dragon got worried. He put the key in the lock and opened the door. The first thing he felt was a breeze coming from the broken window. There wasn't any glass on the floor, so it had been broken from the inside out. Kim was crying in the next room.
Dragon was in his costume and was in the bedroom. Kim was lying on the bed, sobbing and holding Alex's Game Gear.
"Kim! Where's Alex?"
Kim pointed at the window and sobbed out, "Men in white ninja robes, gold dragons on their chests, they took him."
Dragon flew out the window and looked around. Across the street, there was a Japanese man in his late thirties dressed exactly as Kim had described. He was staring up at Dragon. When their eyes met, the man bowed deeply.
He was coming out of the bow when Dragon grabbed him by the front of his clothes and lifted him high above the street. "What have you done with my son?" he bellowed, the force of his voice blowing the man's hair back.
"The boy has not been harmed, Golden Dragon. We would never injure our champion in such a way." The man in white was calm, showing no fear of Dragon.
"Who are you?" Dragon demanded.
"I am Sagan, of the Dragon Cult. We sought only to protect your family from the Cult of the Wyrm, but we could not capture your woman without harming her. You have chosen a worthy mate. She is untrained...but ferocious."
Dragon noticed a bloody stain on Sagan's right arm. He remembered
Kim holding a pair of scissors.
"Why didn't you just ask them to go with you?"
Sagan looked stunned, and then replied, "We assumed they would come quietly."
Dragon gave him an incredulous stare, but Sagan continued.
"Living within the Cult, you tend to forget some of the social mores and customs. I am sorry. May we please collect your wife and join your son?"
Dragon grunted and flew back into the room. Kim was washing the scissors when she saw Sagan. She charged at him, scissors held high above her head. "Give me back my son!"
Dragon caught her arm. "Hold on, dear. This has all been a very large misunderstanding. Alex is okay."
After another second restraining her arm and watching her face remain unmoved, he said, "Put the scissors down...Please?"
She relented and lowered the scissors, but she glared at Sagan, who seemed unaffected by the whole thing.
"I thought I was the one with a temper in this family," Dragon said.
After a brief explanation, Kim put the scissors down and apologized for stabbing Sagan. To his credit, Sagan assured her that he would have done the same had his wife been threatened by strangers.
Dragon lifted Sagan and Kim out the window and flew off to the Dragon Cult, directed by Sagan. None of them noticed the cold blue eyes that followed them from the doorway, or the growl of frustration that escaped Ketsueki as he entered the room.
An older Japanese man knocked lightly on the open door. He caught a glimpse of Ketsueki, just enough to think he was human, and walked in. "Sir, would you mind turning down your television? It sounds as if someone is being..."
Ketsueki turned and sprang at the man. He had time to finish his thought, "...murdered in here." Then Ketsueki's fangs were buried in his neck.
Sagan directed Dragon out over Tokyo and toward the parts of Japan where he had grown up. Osaka was still an urban area, but not as large as Tokyo. They set down very close to where Dragon's home had been. Sagan instructed Dragon to land in an alley about two blocks from the house.
"It's here?" Dragon asked incredulously.
"No, Golden Dragon. From here, we must walk if you wish to reach your destination." Sagan began walking in the direction of Dragon's former home.
"Very Confucius," Dragon remarked, but he took Kim's hand and followed.
After a short time, they were standing in the middle of the road in front of Dragon's house. There was no traffic, as the road was traveled only by a few cars each day.
"Concentrate and remember your first encounter with the Dragon Cult," said Sagan. "Picture it in your mind."
Dan screamed as the truck's front bumper hit him in the chest. He felt himself knocked backwards and up. He lost all bearing, and could only see the world spinning around him. He heard his father yell his name.
The world went black, but Dan could still hear. An old man swore that he had tried to stop, and his father assured the old man he would pay for this. Suddenly, above the noise, he heard his mother's voice, detached and hollow. "Don't let him corrupt you. You are better than that."
Dan felt a surge of strength. He opened his eyes and saw that his father was rushing to his side. If only I could feel my arms, he thought, I would kill you for what you've done to my mother. I will never be like you.
A golden glow erupted in Dan's field of vision. Before him, encased in the glow, was an elderly man in white robes. He was wearing a clay mask in the shape of a dragon, and in his hand he held a fist-sized red gemstone. He spoke in a musical voice. "Enter, Shidan Ochiro."
Dan felt his body lift off the ground and float over toward the man. Dan weakly smiled and stared at the golden glow as it became a circle. He floated into the circle and there was a bright, warm light.
Dragon opened his eyes and saw Sagan looking intently at him. Kim's eyes were focused directly to Dragon's right. He turned that way and saw a glowing golden circle.
"Our pathway is open, Golden Dragon." Sagan bowed and walked casually through the portal. Dragon took Kimberly's hand and half-dragged her into the portal as well. There was a flash of light and suddenly Dragon, Alex and Kimberly were together.
They were standing on the lowest level of a set of steps that ascended to a white podium. Standing at the podium was the same elderly man Dragon had seen so long ago. He beckoned them up.
The family dutifully climbed the stairs, and Dragon noticed that on each level there was an engraved dragon in different colors and shapes, along with characters that could have been ancient Japanese. As they reached the top, Dragon felt an increasing sense of peace.
"It has taken you longer than your predecessors to master the gem, Shidan Ochiro," the man whispered. "Soon we will need it to be returned so that it may be prepared for the next bearer."
Dragon gazed down at the red gem on his belt. "If I remove the gem, I will die."
The old man nodded and said, "Not for much longer. You will know when it is time. No matter. There is something else which concerns the cult today. The future of your son."