When a Hungry Ghost Brings us to Our Next Adventure

rating: +12+x

"Mr. Reid, can I speak with you?"

"What is it, Hyuse? I'm quite busy." The man responded, looking over his notes once more.

Shiko shifted, still uncertain about this new researcher. "I think something's following me. Dad thinks it's a yokai."

The older man sighed. "Just because 6932 thinks something does not make it true."

"I'm serious! Something's stalking me!" Shiko pulled out the phone she received from Anders the year before, finding a video. "See!" Reid looked at the phone the teen was showing him, watching a video of something vanishing after eating a bit of stone. The ugly little creature seemed intent on Shiko the whole time.

Reid was silent a moment more before glaring down at the teen. "This is an anomaly, but it proves little else. I shall start an investigation." Shiko glared at him, more than a little annoyed at the researcher. Reid stalked off to collect his thoughts.

"Mr. Anders and Mr. Erickson let me help…" Shiko muttered as someone came up behind her.

A kind hand landed on her shoulder. "Something wrong, kiddo?"

"Mr. Reid brushed me off when I told him about the yokai following me." Anders had a kind smile adorning his face. "He's not as nice as Mr. Erickson."

"I know." The commander replied. "You two were close, so I get that you're having a hard time with another researcher." Shiko didn't respond.

"Hey…" A soft mumble began, capturing the man's attention. "Do you think we could investigate the yokai instead of Mr. Reid? Since he doesn't want me to help, I don't think it would hurt to do my own, right?"

Anders thought it over for a few moments. "I'm… not sure. It's against Foundation regulations to interfere in research like that. But we also don't have a site director, so I doubt you'd get in much trouble if you did." Shiko beamed. It wasn't a no, so she would go for it. "And no. I'm not going to break the rules for you." Shiko deflated at the addition, but her mind was already racing with the possibilities.


"I just need to sneak in there…" Shiko mumbled, watching Reid as he observed the yokai Anders' team had captured. She wanted to prove to Reid she could be helpful, no matter the cost. Shiko watched him poke and prod the yokai, watched as the creature gripped Reid's sleeve and began ripping it apart until it was nothing more than scraps, and watched as Reid finally got irritated and left the area.

"Finally," Shiko muttered, sneaking her way in. Despite her rather poor plan, she was optimistic. She rushed in, giving the yokai a brick she found outside, and pricked the creature with the syringe she had stored in her pocket. Shiko made sure no one saw her before sneaking out of the cell.

The door closed behind her as excitement nearly overwhelmed her. Shiko nearly squealed. Looking around again, she rushed to the small lab she had been given for her studies.

The lab itself once served as storage. It was where her lessons took place, from those commonly found in a high school to more interesting ones which delved into the anomalous. The small room was outfitted with a computer and desk against one wall and several tables with various pieces of equipment strewn about.

Shiko went to her computer first, pulling up the instructions on running a DNA test with what she had. She had done this once or twice before under Erickson's supervision before he passed, but it had been for some lessons.

A few clicks and the correct page was pulled up. "Extractions first. I already have this," She looked down at her sample, "So I need to isolate the DNA. So… Ah! That one." She read over the directions once more before going to the proper equipment.


"Having fun?" Shiko jumped, having been deep into the material she had been assigned today.

"Mr. Anders!" The man held out a small envelope, handing it to her. "This arrived earlier. Need that skill of yours to figure out what it says." Shiko eyed the letter inquisitively, curious as to its contents. Shiko took the note, facing back at her desk before opening it with Anders standing over her.

"What language is this? I don't recognize it."

Anders shrugged. "Dunno. That's why it was brought to you." With a nod, she read the letter.

Little Shiko. It has come to my attention that you and your associates have retrieved one of my creations.

Since you fancy yourself a researcher, let's play a game, shall we? If you can figure out who that failure was, I'll tell you a bit about myself.

Sincerely, A friend

"Wha…" Shiko read it over again just to be sure. "I… What."

"What is it?"

"It's addressed to me." Neither spoke for several moments.

Anders pulled his radio out, dialing it to one of his men. "Hawke."

"What can I do for you, sir?" Hawke's smooth voice rang.

Anders hesitated momentarily, "I need you and the boys to secure the area. We have a leak, and I want it found."


"Someone knows about Shiko. No one outside this site besides Halo should have that knowledge. Start searching. Call Halo back if you need. Just find this leak."

"Aye." The radio went silent before bursting to life as the call went out to the rest of the team. Shiko slid further into her chair, anxiety welling as the facts sunk in.

"Are you-" Four beeps sounded from across the room. "Oh! The first step's finished!" Problems momentarily forgotten, she rushed over to her sample, double-checking the time before she moved on to the next step.

Anders observed for several long moments, "You're running a test? Which one is it?"

"I'm curious as to that yokai's genetic makeup. I got a sample when Mr. Reid went to get himself a new lab coat." She looked over her instructions once more, mumbling to herself. "Quantitation? Hmm. This one's going to take a while."

"You seem busy. I'll come back in a few hours. Someone will be by later to keep an eye on you."

"A'ight! See ya later!" Shiko barely looked toward the man as she figured out how to set up the next steps."


Three beeps sounded from behind. "Finally!" Shiko rushed over to her computer, clicking the notification that popped up. With a grin plastered on her face, she read over the results. Then she double-checked her reference guide. Her nose scrunched as she realized she had no idea how to read this.

A few moments passed before Shiko remembered she had access to documents that would help her. It took a few minutes of searching, but she quickly had a better idea of what she was looking at.

"Wait…" She looked between the example and her results a few times. "Weird…" Shiko pulled up another tab, putting the results she got into Foundation's DNA database. She wasn't supposed to be in there since there was a ton of stuff she wasn't supposed to see, but she did have provisionary Level 2 access, so hopefully, anyone who would see it just thought she was helping Reid.

Shiko tried to ignore what she had found. She still had homework to do for the day, and Reid would be angry if she didn't do it.


"Dad?" Shiko called, uncertainty clouding her thoughts.

A fond reply came from somewhere in the distance, "What is it, Shiko?" She went through the dojo, head down, as she made her way to her father.

"Shiko?" A rough yet wise voice inquired. "What is the matter, my child?" She looked up, gaze catching that of her father's.

Shiko took a few moments to try and collect her thoughts. "Did you know my parents?"

"What brought this about?" Her father stated, waving his hand to form a seating area. "You did not appear concerned before?"

A chortle escaped, Shiko leaning into her father for a bit of comfort. "That yokai Mr. Reid captured. I ran a test on it without him knowing. It… uh…" She took a deep breath, a cup of hot tea pressed into her hands. Shiko let out a short laugh.

"That test I ran? It was a DNA test." Her father didn't know what that was, but he was there to listen, not interrupt. "From what I found, the yokai is my biological parents. I don't even know how it's possible, but…" She found herself being held, drinking in the uncommon gesture.

"Do you wish to sit here, or would you prefer to learn about them?" Shiko perked up, having not expected her father to have an answer for her.

"You knew them?!" He chuckled, giving her a nod.

He took a few moments to collect his thoughts, "Your mother, Erin, came to me when she was only a little older than yourself. She was older than the orphans I usually took in, but I knew she needed help. She was terrified and needed a place to stay. I welcomed her into my dojo and began to teach her my arts. She was quiet and withdrawn but learned quickly. She was able to master my arts faster than either you or Katsuyori.

"You taught her? Did she ever open up? How did she meet her husband?" He chuckled.

"She did; it took nearly a year, though. The first thing she asked: if I knew of a yokai she had once seen. Interestingly enough, it was a Gaki, much like the one you and that researcher are investigating. As I listened to her story, I came to a few conclusions. First was that the Gaki she spoke of seemed to have a taste for living flesh. I believed it had eaten her parents, though Erin did not seem bothered by that. Secondly, I needed to protect her. To do that, I had two plans. I began to teach her more defensive arts to protect her. At the same time, I began to plan."

"Really? What was the plan?" Shiko interrupted.

He only chuckled at the interruption. "We will get there. But first, we need to get further in this story, my child." He sipped his tea, "It was around that time when a boy named Steve came into my care. He was a friendly lad who immediately latched onto Erin, even if she did not want him to. I often wondered how Steve had ended up on the streets, though I never found out. It turned out, after a time, that Steve was able to get Erin to open up to him. They got along well…

"You have something to do with that?"

"Later, I found out they liked each other, and I was even able to get them to leave for a while and go out for dinner. I needed time to think. You see, the night before, they encountered the Gaki, Erin had once described to me, as it was eating a dead animal. It was a danger to my students, so I had to do something."

"How'd you know what to do?" Shiko couldn't keep the curiosity from her voice.

Her father smiled as he answered, "I have seen a few in my time. Gaki are usually cursed by whatever sin they committed before they died. This one was no exception. I surmised that it was cursed due to cannibalistic tendencies. So, to free it, it needed more flesh. That city had several dungeons where bandits were kept, so I collected some to feed the Gaki. My plan worked, and my students were safe once again."

"Did they ever find out?"

"No." He paused, "They were more occupied by each other. So much so that I should have expected it when Erin requested to cut her training back. Later, I learned Erin was pregnant, and they had gotten 'engaged,' though I am still unsure what that means in this age. Regardless, I was happy for them. They invited me to their wedding. The customs of this century are much different from what I know, so I spent several days locating information about these things and was thoroughly prepared when the day came.

"What're those?"

Her father chuckled once more. "I was able to determine that it is the custom of these recent centuries to perform such rituals for two people to live together legally. I find it odd, as such a custom never existed before."

They sat silently for a moment before Shiko came up with her next question. "What happened then?"

"You were born." Her father had that soft expression he only got around her, "Though their happiness did not last. Erin was being stalked, though she was uncertain who it was. They were scared and asked that I take you in should something happen."

Several minutes passed between the two in silence. "It's clear you cared for them, Dad." Shiko began. "I'm going to figure out who did this and if they can be saved."

"You do not have to."

She smiled, finishing her tea. "I want to."


"Shiko!" She jumped, having been intent on studying the yokai Reid had submerged in water.

"Mr. Anders? What's up?" It was clear the commander was agitated. Anders only walked up to her, handing the teen a note.

She looked it over, "This…" She began. "It's the same as the last one."

Congratulations, Researcher.

You've solved the first clue. As your reward, I'll tell you this much. Your Foundation sites aren't nearly as secure as you think they are. It's easy for someone of my status to gain information.

Now, onto your next clue. You'll play along; I know you will. That gaki is on a mission for me. Can you figure out what it is?

Sincerely, A friend

"Someone's playing a game with me." Shiko shuffled where she was standing. "Whoever it is claimed to have sent the yokai."

"My boys didn't find anything to suggest a leak. Which means whoever this is, is incredibly dangerous. I don't know who it is, but we'll ensure you're safe." Anders promised.

Shiko laughed. "We both know there's very little that could hurt me here. Not with my dad watching." Anders took the last few steps towards the teen, laying his hand on her head before ruffling the dark mass.


"Hyuse. Where are you going?" Shiko froze at Reid's call.

She turned to the man, "To visit Kuro?" She began. "I'm sure he's got something useful about the skip you're working on." She swallowed hard.

Reid took his sweet time responding. "If it will keep you out of my way for a while. Take that overbearing soldier with you." Anders rounded the corner, grumbling.

"There you are." The grumbling continued, "If you're ready, we'll be leaving now." Shiko nodded happily, watching as Reid vanished further into the site.

"You're coming with me this time, Mr. Anders?"

"It's better than dealing with Reid's complaints."

Shiko's curiosity got the better of her as they entered the forest. "What's he complaining about this time?"

"Oh, the usual. Everyone here is incompetent, and he's the only one able to do anything correctly." Anders joked.

"He's been here for a couple of months now, and Dad won't even teach him," Shiko replied. "Dad's a pretty good judge of character, though, so there must be a reason."

Anders chuckled, "You know, my last posting wasn't nearly as chill as this one." He began. "Back then, we never had the time to do things like this. We never put so much trust in any skip, let alone letting them decide who gets access to other skips."

"This isn't normal?"

Anders smiled. "Nah." A fond expression found its way to his face. "Sometimes I forget that this place is all you know until you say stuff like that."

"That's not my fault!" Shiko pouted.

"I know." A chuckle followed, "Doesn't make it any less fun to tease you." The remark earned him a punch to the arm. The smile he wore never faltered.

"Why'd you really wanna come out here today? I know you wouldn't come out here unless it were important."

Shiko looked to the ground, considering her answer. "I need to speak with Kuro. He might have some answers for me." She knew Anders would ask for more than that, so she added, "That yokai Mr. Reid is working on. My tests indicated that, genetically, it's related to me."

Anders was quiet for a long while. Shiko didn't bother speaking to fill the silence as the pair went deeper into the forest to the estate hidden within.

It wasn't until the estate was in sight that Anders spoke up. "This is clearly bothering you. Do you wanna talk about it?"

"Thanks." Shiko almost managed a smile. "But I'll be alright. I just need to figure out this mystery first."

"If you say so." Anders wasn't convinced, "Come on. I'm sure Kuro already knows we're here." The winged yokai appeared in the courtyard, greeting the pair as if on cue.

"Ah!" The bird man stated, "I was wondering when you Hunters were going to stop by again!"

Shiko found a smile again, rushing to greet the yokai. "Kuro!"

"Hello, little Hunter. Do you come for more knowledge?" Shiko nodded excitedly at the inquiry. "What is it you seek today?"

"A new yokai appeared recently." Shiko began, following Kuro into the estate. "Dad mentioned that he believed it to be a Gaki."

"Do you know if it resembled that of our people or the Hinduist-Buddhist Preta we occasionally saw?"

Shiko thought about it. "I'm not sure, though I can describe it if it helps?" Kuro nodded, "It was a couple of feet tall and had this tiny mouth. Its neck was the thickness of, like, two fingers, and it had a distended belly."

Kuro considered everything for a few moments. "That sounds closer to the Nihon representation. Is there anything else you know about it?" They entered the document storage, Kuro walking over to sort through the various scrolls.

"Someone made it." Kuro froze, "I don't know who it is, but someone's been sending me letters. Apparently, they've sent the yokai for some unknown reason for this game they're playing."

Kuro turned back to Shiko. "Shiko." It wasn't often she heard her name from the yokai before her. "This is very important. I need you to tell me everything you know about this person."

Unnerved, she replied. "We don't know much. They sign their letters as 'a friend', claim to have made the Gaki we have, and they have a weird obsession with me specifically since they were able to locate me."

Kuro's expression turned dark, but he didn't reply. Instead, he chose to go back through sorting through the documents. Shiko could hear various mutterings, though she knew better than to disturb the man when he was like this.

She patiently waited until Kuro was ready to speak with her again. "Here," He handed her two documents. "This is everything we have on Gaki. It's not a yokai we encountered very often."

"It's alright," Shiko stated. "You've still got more information than us, so everything you give us is useful." She turned to leave, waving the man farewell.

"Little Hunter." She turned back, "Tell your father I need to see him when he gets a moment." Shiko nodded, heading out to rejoin Anders.


"Getting anywhere?" Anders inquired, startling the teen who was hunched over the ancient documents.

"I think?" Shiko stretched, joints popping after such a string of immobility. "With the extra couple I got from Kuro, I think I've got most of the picture."

Anders smiled, pulling up an empty crate to sit next to her. "Oh? What would that be?"

"It starts with the basics," Shiko explained, rereading her notes so she could relay the correct information. "It seems like the legends have a pretty good grasp on Gaki. They're spirits with everlasting hunger, which are generally cursed before dying. This existence is, apparently, a punishment for them. But I don't think this is how the one we have was created. Here, I've written down what I've found so far."

Anders looked over the notes, thoughtfulness filling his expression as he looked over each one.

If I understand this all correctly, it's possible to purify a Gaki, given the proper steps. This would let the spirit be in peace, and it would disappear from our reality. It has something to do with eating 'the lord's weight' of whatever item is deemed necessary by the conditions of the curse. I don't know how we would be able to find that out, but I think it could be possible. It would be interesting to study.

Since this yokai can be created with a curse, I wonder if it would be possible to create one ourselves. Surely we could look into how these things are made. The Foundation would love to know that. Maybe I can press Kuro for more details?

Kuro located another document for me, though this one's weird. It's written in something resembling chicken scratch, and half of it doesn't make sense. There's something about wanting to be saved and three pages of nonsensical ramblings.

I might be mistaken, but there seems to be a hidden message here. I can't tell what it is yet, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. Something about it makes me nervous, though. I wish I knew what it was.

It took me nearly a week, but I discovered the secret of these pages.

Whoever wrote these detailed the process of creating a gaki, part of the process is knowing how it's done, so I guess it puts me at risk.

From what I saw, you need someone with magick who can solidify a curse on someone's soul. Apparently, a typical curse won't work 'cause they can sometimes vanish after several years. But once you've got your curse, you must ensure the person dies from choking on something. That something is then the thing the gaki will crave but never be able to find.

It's that something that can break the curse. If a gaki can eat something like 60+ kilograms of whatever killed them, it'll break their curse, and their spirit can be at peace. I wonder if I can figure out what killed this one.

"I'm impressed you managed to figure this all out on your own." Anders praised, "You really do have the makings of a damn fine researcher." Shiko's flushed cheeks betrayed her; she wasn't used to compliments.

Anders took pity on the teen, "We generally don't deal with neutralizations. The Foundation's generally against it, but I think it would be good to add this to the Skip's file just in case." Then, before Shiko could speak up, "Don't worry, I'll make sure Reid adds it. This is important enough that he'd be stupid to ignore it."

He got up to leave, a smile on his face, only to be stopped before he could reach the door. "Mr. Anders?"


"Do you think we could try to figure out what it is this one needs?" Her uncertainty betrayed her. "It's just… Knowing what I do, I don't want them to suffer, ya know?"

He looked at her fondly, "I get ya, I really do. But knowing these things and living with them is part of the job. Chances are, sometime in the next couple of years, you'll be given an opportunity. You'll have to choose which world you want to live in, and when you choose this one, you'll have to be prepared for the knowledge that people, animals, and things are all suffering, and there's little you can do about it." Then, "I know it's hard right now, and it really doesn't get easier. You'll get better at managing that feeling as you grow, Shiko. It's not a bad thing, ya know? Having those feelings means you're still human, and that's good."

Shiko looked at her lap, where her hands were fiddling with themselves. She stayed silent, contemplating the feeling growing and knotting in her chest. She hadn't really thought about the future much, not with how she basically had it laid out before her.

"Oh, before I go, another note arrived. You'd better take a look." She nodded, not entirely paying attention as Anders left it on her desk before leaving.

It was a while longer before Shiko remembered the note. She grabbed it from where Anders had placed it on the edge of her desk, reading it once she was able to focus on the words.

Time's up, little researcher. It's too bad you couldn't figure out its mission.

But it's alright, Shiko. I like you, so I'll let you know anyway. That Gaki was sent to track you down. You see, I plan to make this world strong once more. The world has grown weak; people no longer fear those who go bump in the night, and so they grow complacent. I will give them this reason. And you, my dear? You are a mystery to me. I sent the Gaki to test you. I need to know what you're made of. If that means getting my hands dirty, then so be it.

I don't play with lives, Shiko; I enhance them.

Sincerely, A friend


Shiko glanced at the clock in the observation room. 02:43. She knew she would get in trouble for this once someone else found out about it, but she needed to know. She looked down at the control pad, finding the correct buttons to drain the cell before her.

Something beeped, asking for a security code. Shiko provided Reid's. It didn't matter how she got it; it was just another thing she would be punished for later.

She watched as the water drained, glancing over to the pile of trash she had brought. It would be enough to satisfy it for a few minutes. It took longer than she would have liked, but she didn't care. She knew she had probably set off the silent alarm. She needed to do this.

Finally, the cell was empty. The Gaki within flickering until it caught sight of her. Shiko sighed, entering the cell with her bag of garbage. The Gaki met her near the door as the offering of trash was presented. It dragged the bag a few feet away before tearing into it, never taking its gaze fully off Shiko.

"I'll get in trouble tomorrow since Mr. Anders is always on me about the dangers of skips, but you don't seem dangerous. And I know you don't want to eat people. And Dad always says that yokai are generally peaceful." She looked to the ground, "I'm going to try to save you. I think you deserve that much." The Gaki stopped and stared at her, cocking its head.

"If only I knew what killed you, I could figure it out…" Shuffling was heard from near Shiko, coming from the Gaki before her. It seemed to be looking through the bag. It stopped after a moment. Shiko could have sworn the creature looked disheartened.

A few moments passed in contemplation. "Were you trying to find the thing that killed you?" Its actions grew a bit faster as it ate a few more pieces of trash. "If I bring you a variety of things, do you think you'd be able to show me what you're looking for?" The Gaki sped up again, then froze.

"Shiko," Anders' voice called from behind, "What are you doing here at three in the morning?" A yawn escaped him.

"I… Needed to speak with this yokai. I thought it could give me some answers."

A groan mixed into the words he spoke next. "You set off the alarm and woke me up at three in the morning for that? You couldn't have waited until morning? And what did I tell you about getting close to Skips?

"I know." Shiko began, "I should have waited, but it was eating at me. I'm sorry for waking you." Anders didn't respond, only dragging her out of the cell and back into the observation room. Shiko watched as it greedily finished off the remaining trash before waddling over to the observation window.

Anders hit the controls to refill the tank, but Shiko wasn't paying attention to him. She was more interested in the creature before her who appeared to be mouthing the word 'save.' Anders either didn't care or didn't notice as he grumbled about getting back to bed. She was willing to bet it was the former.


Shiko stared at her screen in annoyance. She knew she would be punished for her actions, but she felt revoking her researcher privileges was a bit much, doubly so, since she was one of the only ways for them to get any information on the Yokai Hunters.

Shiko grumbled to herself, ignoring the man entering the room until he was right in front of her.

"Why'd you do it? You knew what would happen." Anders was disappointed, yes, but not angry. The disappointment stung more, though.

"I already told you." She looked away, not really wanting to see his face at the moment.

He sighed, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Shi." She looked at him, surprised at the use of her nickname. "Do you understand what you did was wrong?"

"I know I could have been killed or worse. I know that I could have put the rest of you in danger. I'm not helpless, though; I wouldn't have done it if I thought it had a chance to go badly."

Another sigh, "I know you know the dangers." His gaze only turned up the disappointment. "Are you going to do it again?" Shiko shook her head.

"'m sorry…" Came her mumbled apology.

"Hey. Cheer up a bit, Shi." Anders' tone changed to something softer, "Kuro asked to meet with you. Reid approved it, assuming someone keeps an eye on you."

"He's not mad?"

Anders laughed. "Reid's pissed. Enough that he wanted you thrown out." Shiko shrunk into her seat. "I convinced him we wouldn't be able to fulfill our primary purpose without you. And, well, we all know Sensei would leave if Reid actually got that approved."

Shiko smiled, getting up to follow the man out into the woods. Before they could get anywhere, they were interrupted by a short, stout man bursting into the room.

"Sir!" Tethras stated, handing the commander a slip of paper, then departing. Anders looked it over for a moment before passing it off to Shiko.

"Another note?" The inquiry didn't receive a response.

You've been quite the amusing little researcher, Shi. I'll let you in on a secret for the fun you've given me.

I believe you're already aware that yokai are coming back to life, yes? Would you believe that I'm the one responsible? If you could just locate me, you would be able to solve so many problems, don't you think?

I have my goals, little researcher. But you'll have to figure them out yourself. I just want the world to be peaceful again.

Sincerely, A friend

"I think they're taunting us?" Shiko stated, uncertain.

After a few moments, the silence was broken again: "What did Kuro want?"

"Dunno. Only that he seemed rather insistent." She nodded, following Anders out the door and into the forest.


"Little Hunter! You are alright!" Kuro rushed up to her, more than a little concern pouring off him.

"Kuro? What's wrong? Why's Dad here?" Shiko looked around in confusion.

Her father spoke first. "There is something important we must speak of."

"Listen," Kuro began, motioning for the group to take a seat, "Your father and I know who is doing this."

Several cups of steaming tea were produced at that moment, "What? And you didn't tell me before?"

"I need you to understand. While our Hunters were different from yours, our goals are the same. Our methods are similar." Kuro took a deep breath, looking for all the worlds that he would rather be doing anything else. "The man who has been sending you those letters, the one who has been bringing yokai back to life. We called him Aka."

Shiko knew that name. "You mean from the Hunter's leading council? The one that you formed to help lead them? Why?"

"I… Do not know." Kuro seemed saddened, "We used to be close, but I suspect he was using me to further his goals. He left some time before Ishiyama died." Shiko looked at her father, who was visibly saddened.

The old master was the one who spoke next. "We do not know what he wants. He is dangerous, and he will eliminate anything in his path." He took a moment before his following sentence, "We do not know what he wants with you. However, I suspect that it has to do with your magick. Should he be like us, he will not be able to read the language used in this age."

"I dunno if that's true," Shiko began cautiously, "but he's been testing me for a while now. Clearly, he wants something we haven't pieced together yet."

Anders spoke next. "Well, while we figure it out, I'll make sure Shi stays safe. And if that fails, Sensei and I will have a backup plan." Shiko only realized she was tense after she began to relax. An anxious chuckle escaped as the group began to murmur among themselves.

None of them had any idea of what truly awaited them; none knew of the plans crafted by their one-time friend. Not a single person would imagine what the next few years would bring to the small site in the Japanese wilderness.

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