I stretched my arms behind me before leaning over my desk to look out the window. Sunlight shone brightly into the common room of our apartment, creating ribbons that seemed to paint the air. Demetri yawned and shifted slightly where he lay in a patch of warm light. “You know, when you look like that, it makes my fingers twitch to pet your belly,” I told him.
He looked at me through barely silted eyes. “Try it and see how sharp my claws really are.”
“Well you’re certainly cranky when your only job is being snarky and bossing me around,” I grumbled to my sketches.
“My job. I also now boss Yuki around,” he said, a hint of triumph in his voice.
I rolled my eyes and picked my pencil back up. As I started to lay more detail into my main character’s clothing, Demetri jumped up to sit on my desk. “I thought your brother was the artist,” he remarked, lazily surveying my work, “but you seem equally skilled.”
“I used to do all my own sketch work, but Nate enjoyed it and wanted something to do together with me. I told him that if he wanted to help, my readers shouldn’t be able to tell our panels apart.” I added shading into a corner of a night scene.
“How far along are you?”
“Much to my editor’s joy, I am ahead of schedule. I’m used to doing this while working a full time, busy job. Having the time to really devote to it has given me a chance to get ahead on my work.” I couldn’t help but smile when I remembered the reaction of my editor as I handed in my full manuscript so early.
Suddenly I heard the sound of my tablet ringing from across the room. I started to get up, but Demetri jumped off the desk and beelined for it. “It’s for me!”
“Hey, when did I give you permission to use my stuff?” I barked after him, pushing out of the chair to see what sort of calls a talking cat received.
Demetri tapped at the screen with his paw until it glowed to life. A woman with hair so dark it almost looked blue stared back at us. Her commanding tone matched her no-nonsense expression. “Agent Demetri, status report.”
“Training is moving along nicely. I think the Guardians will be ready for a field mission by the end of the month, Commander.”
“We received intel that Jordan faced off with a Romeo class. Her injuries were minor. How is her recovery?” I reached up and touched the now faded bruise on my neck.
Before Demetri could answer, I cut in. “Uh, hi… Commander? I’m just fine. The creature was a Romeo class? I would have guessed it to be much bigger and scarier than that.” I laughed uncomfortably.
The Commander eyed me before clearing her throat. “Yes, well, any creature can seem bigger or more dangerous when it is in the process of preparing to eat you.”
“Thank you for allowing Yuki to come and train with me. He was a huge help that night. I’m not sure what I would have done without him,” I continued.
The commander and Demetri exchanged looks before she addressed me again. “Train hard, Jordan. Missions are only going to get harder.”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered with a nod.
She and Demetri continued to talk about a number of things I didn’t entirely understand, so I gave up listening and returned to my work. At the end of their conversation, Demetri made his way back over to me and jumped into my lap. He glared up at me with angry eyes. “And who gave you permission to take over my call with the Commander?”
“Who gave you permission to use my stuff?”
Demetri grumbled under his breath. “Next time wait for me to give the okay.”
“Fine,” I said with a sigh, pushing him off my lap. The sounds of beeping on the front door caught my attention just before it swung open and Yuki stepped in. “Hey stranger, how was work?” I asked.
He kicked off his shoes as he stepped into the apartment. “It went. The boss tried very hard to convince me to go out drinking tonight.”
“How did you get out of it?” I asked, turning back to my desk.
Yuki waltzed over to me and leaned on the desk, swinging my chair so I would face him. “That’s easy. I insisted the little lady waiting at home for me would be opposed since I had ignored her all week long.”
I processed what he was saying and without a single warning, gave him a hard shove. He slid sideways off the desk and landed on the floor with a loud thud. “You idiot! They’ll all think we’re together now.”
He shrugged and shifted on the floor to rub his hip. “So?”
“So?!?” I took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of my nose. “That’s how rumors spread! Besides, Casanova, if everyone thinks we are together, then how are you going to fill your quota of girls to flirt with?”
Yuki gave me a horrified look. “Just how much of a womanizer do you think I am?”
“Your mother is constantly showing my mother pictures of you with a new girlfriend.”
Yuki laughed. “Are you jealous?”
“No, but it is going to cause trouble for me if jaded lovers, jealous girls, and lecherous old women start showing up to save you from me, or steal you away… or whatever they do.”
“Jordan, you watch entirely too many dramas. If the girls at the office think I am in a relationship and live with a girl, they will leave me alone. Most of those photos on social media are things I have been tagged in. Girls think I am hot and are all over me all the time.” His tone was a little too casual.
“You don’t seem broken up about it,” I pointed out.
“I mean, I love hearing that girls find me hot and want to do stuff with me, but a lot of times it gets out of hand and makes it hard to get anything done.”
“Aww, poor Yuki. He’s so hot that girls throw themselves at him all the time,” I teased.
Yuki’s face turned serious. “If I was a girl was telling you about this, you would be supportive and comforting and rant with her about men. When it happens to a guy, you write it off as something we enjoy. You don’t think I have never been touched in a way that makes me uncomfortable? Sure, I can fight a girl off a lot easier than a girl can fight off a guy, but if I do, then what? I get accused of hurting her because I said no?”
His words were sobering and I was quiet for a long moment.
I sorted through my assumptions and misconceptions. “I’m sorry I made light of your pain. You’re right, it isn’t okay either way. I think girls are just so used to hearing the catcalls and the harassment they assume guys must be doing it because they would like it done to them.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I like hearing that I am hot, funny, etc. I’m not saying I always turn it down when a girl makes advances on me. I like an assertive woman. I just think it’s shitty that because I happen to have what I do in my pants, it’s assumed I am always looking for action.”
I held out my hand to help him up. “I guess I can be your cover story, but if I can’t keep track of all the girls and have to find other places to sleep because a sock is constantly on the door handle, I swear you will get your ‘player’ title back. Got it?”
“You can use me as your cover.”
“I don’t need a cover.”
“If you say so. Hey, so dinner tonight? What’s the plan? Conveyor belt sushi, ramen, noodles, the late night place across the street, or maybe a convenience store snack feast?”
I shook my head. “Actually, I made chicken noodle soup. It’s in the fridge. Help yourself.” I looked back to my desk and pondered if I wanted to do more work.
Yuki looped his arm around my waist and started walking me towards the door. “I am flattered you cooked for me, but we need to go out. It’s our first weekend alone together in Tokyo.”
“We went out last Sunday,” I said, digging my heels in.
“Pleeeeeeease?” He begged, flashing me his puppy eyes.
I sighed heavily. “Fine, but you’re paying.”
Demetri came bounding across the floor as we were about to leave. “Wait!” We both turned to look back at the bossy feline. “There has been an increase in activity from more powerful creatures. Be prepared and take your pens.”
I darted into my room and grabbed my pen off my nightstand and pushed it into my bun. “I’m ready,” I told Yuki, and we slipped out of the apartment.
Sitting beside each other at a conveyor sushi place, we didn’t talk much. It was only after I took my seventh plate that Yuki cracked the silence. “Dear lord Jordan, how much fish and rice can you actually eat?”
“Well, since you’re paying, I plan to find out.”
“No wonder you can’t keep a boyfriend. They can’t afford to keep feeding you.”
I turned just enough to glare at him. “Maybe I don’t want a boyfriend,” I started to argue, when I saw a shadowy figure sitting in a booth not far away. All I could see was his build because he had the hood of his jacket pulled up, but it felt like he was watching us. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Yuki, that guy over there gives me a weird vibe. I think he’s watching us.”
“He’s probably just in shock at how much you can eat,” he continued to joke.
“No, seriously. When I see him it makes all the hair on my arms stand up.” I lowered my eyes and went back to eating.
Yuki tried to casually glance in the direction I had indicated. “Okay, so what do you want to do?” he asked.
I took another plate of sushi and began eating it. “I want to see if he leaves soon since he is alone. Maybe it’s nothing?”
“You gotta trust your instincts,” he told me, before tapping the screen in front of us to begin closing out our ticket. After he finished paying he stood to wait for me, then protectively draped an arm around my shoulders as we left.
“What are you doing?” I asked him once we were about a block away.
“Well, if he is a creep I thought I would send the signal not to mess with you.”
I glanced up at him. “That wasn’t the feeling I got.”
“Oh.” He lowered his arm so his hand just rested at the small of my back. He was very quiet. I started to ask him why he was being clingy, but instead, he pulled me closer. “I think we are being followed,” he whispered before he nudged me along at a quicker pace.
When I noticed a park nearby, I pointed and we headed for it. As we stepped into the light from an overhead streetlamp, we turned to face the sound of approaching footsteps. Muscles tensed, ready to pounce, we met the beast head-on.
Instead of a monster, we faced two little boys. One was holding a ball while the other used the back of his sleeve to wipe his runny nose. I let out a breath of relief. With kind eyes, Yuki looked at the boys and spoke to them in Japanese. “You boys should hurry home. It’s dark out. Your mothers must be worried.”
The boys exchanged looks before looking back at us. The one with the snotty sleeve answered. “Our mothers never worry about us. In fact, right now they are out looking for dinner.”
I smiled at them both and did my best to convey my words in Japanese. “Wow, that must be hard. Are you boys hungry?” I asked, kneeling down to face them at eye level. As if to answer my question the boy with the ball clutched at his stomach and nodded.
I stood up to ask Yuki if we could take them for a snack, but as I met his eyes his face contorted in horror. “Jordan, watch out!” he gasped, reaching for me.
A strong hand suddenly gripped my shoulder and another two hands gripped my ankles, yanking me to the ground. I sucked in air at the sting of the concrete that hit my knees. I let out a scream and turned my attention to the boys behind me, who suddenly were equal in size to Yuki at least, if not larger. Their eyes were glowing red, and a hideous black shadow seemed to ooze off of them both. Their mouths were filled with jagged teeth and each hand was tipped with a razor sharp claw.
I gave up on screaming and focused on trying to kick and claw my way free. There was a flash of light and I looked up just in time to see Yuki charge towards them with a spear in hand. He plunged it into the back of the creature holding my feet and it let out a terrifying shriek. As Yuki pulled his spear free, the other creature let go of my shoulder and took a swipe at Yuki, catching him across the stomach.
I wasted no time in rolling over and grabbing for the pen in my hair. As I held it in front of me it became a sword. I barely had time to catch my breath before a now-bleeding monster launched itself at me. I jumped to the right and took a clumsy swing. With sheer luck I made contact. There was a spray of black, tar-like blood across the concrete. The monster staggered and reached for its arm. Both he and I looked at where it lay severed on the ground. He let out a blood-curdling scream and looked at me with vengeance in his eyes. In a deep, rumbling voice he snarled, “I’m going to torture you before I eat you.” With that, he reached down and picked up his arm and raised it high above his head as if to pummel me with it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Yuki holding his stomach while trying to fend off his own beast. “Hang in there, Yuki!” I yelled at him as I charged my approaching monster. I must have caught the beast off guard because he stumbled back a few steps and I forced my sword through his chest before twisting my wrist and pulling it through his side. The beast sank to his knees.
With my sword freed and my monster mostly subdued, I turned my attention to helping Yuki. I looked at the sword in my hands and focused on it. With the glow of a white light it faded away, leaving two lethal-looking daggers in my hands. I stepped in, ducking low as the beast swung his arms wide, trying to avoid Yuki’s spear. With its side exposed to me I drove the first of my daggers in deep, up to the hilt.
When the monster cried out, Yuki thrust his spear into its throat before stepping back. The monster gave one last gurgling cry before collapsing. I rushed to Yuki, leaning into him to help bear his weight as he sank to the ground. The entire front of his shirt was covered in blood and he had even more cuts and gashes covering his body. “Yuki?” I asked, cupping his cheek.
He smiled at me. “You okay?” he asked weakly.
“Yeah…” Behind me I heard a growl. I turned just in time to see the one-armed monster push to his feet and lunge at us, his teeth bared. A shadow moved quickly and there was a flash of steel. Just as the monster would have reached me, his head rolled to a stop beside my knee.
I looked up, trying to process what had just happened. Yuki stood before me holding a sword. His hood flapped behind him. My brows drew down as I looked from the Yuki in my lap to the Yuki standing before me. “Yuki?” I asked the one holding the sword.
“Not quite.” The Yuki in my lap grinned as he turned his head to look at our newest surprise. “Took you long enough… Itsuo,” Yuki grumbled.
“I was told not to intervene,” Itsuo said flatly, turning his back to leave.
I pulled myself free of Yuki and stood up to rush after him. “Wait!” I grabbed his sleeve to stop him. “Where have you been? I thought you were dead. Why…?”
Itsuo sighed and reached for my hand, pulling it free from his sleeve. “To you and my family I am dead. Itsuo died that night in the car accident.”
“I’m confused,” I admitted, looking back and forth between Itsuo and Yuki. “What do you mean, you were told not to intervene?”
“Guardian Command told me the two of you were in training. I’m not supposed to lend support until you take the oath and become full Guardians. Even so, I think they will forgive my overstep since you mostly took down two Evio class monsters.” He started to walk away again, before stopping and pulling something out of his pocket and holding it out to me. “Here, use this to close up yours and Yuki’s wounds.”
I looked back at Yuki, who was gasping for air. Cursing myself for leaving his side, I rushed back over to him. When I looked back, Itsuo was gone.
In case you missed the announcement earlier this week the first book in our new light novel series hit Amazon Kindle.
Demon’s Oasis follows the adventures of Jessie Soma and the “boys” from Oasis Host Club. This series offers readers the familiar Isabelle Fantasy/Paranormal vibe while plopping you down in what we hope feels like an anime or manga.
Silence. When I answered the phone, all I was greeted with was silence. “Hello?” I asked.
There was a shuffling of paper and what sounded like the clicking of computer keys. Whoever was on the other end shifted the phone and took a deep breath as if they were psyching themselves up. “Nakamura-san?” asked a deep voice.
“Yes, speaking,” I said slowly.
“I am Sato Daichi from Shinto Shrine Publishing,” the voice continued.
“Oh, Mr. Sato, thank you for calling. I was very excited to receive your email.”
“Ah, yes… thank you for responding so quickly,” he said hesitantly. I heard a murmur of whispered voices on the other end of the phone. “We very much enjoy your comic. Would you like…” Daichi paused and mumbled something. “Would you be interested in translating and publishing your comic in one of our monthly magazines?”
“Yes, I would, but my Japanese isn’t good enough to do translations,” I explained carefully.
The voice on the other end of the phone picked up in tone and the speaker switched to Japanese. “Ah, I was not aware that you spoke Japanese. That’s better,” Daichi stated in relief.
I carefully processed what he was saying and did my best to formulate a response both polite and understandable. “I can only speak a little Japanese. I grew up in the United States. My father is Japanese but my mother is not. My father worked many hours so I didn’t learn or practice speaking or reading Japanese as much as I did English.” I kept my sentences short and simple because I didn’t trust my ability to dive into more complex conversation.
“I understand,” he said, reassuring me. “We would need twenty-five pages a month. If you use your team for art, the pay is higher than if you use our art team. You will need to hire your own translator since you live overseas. We will run three months of your comic. If fans respond favorably, we will offer you a contract for a longer period of time. Do you understand?”
I was quiet for a long time as my sleepy brain did its best to process all the information. “Do any of the pages need to be in color?” I finally asked… or at least tried to.
Daichi seemed to get the gist of what I was asking. “Yes, we need one color lead page a month.”
We spoke for a while longer. He confirmed they would send me all the details, including pay, in an email. I thanked him again for his time and the opportunity before hanging up and immediately calling Nate.
“Did they call?” He didn’t even bother with a “Hey Jordan.”
“Why else would I call you at this hour?” I answered in a mix of exasperation and excitement.
“So what?” I asked.
“Did they make the offer? Are you going to do it? Details, woman! Aren’t you the one that always insists on the details?” Nate demanded.
“They are sending me all the details in an email. Once Mr. Sato found out I spoke some Japanese, that was all he spoke. I did my best to keep up but I was a bit overwhelmed,” I admitted.
“What happens if he sends all the details in Japanese with no English translation?” he finally asked.
“Then I guess I will call Yuki. He translates for a living. He would probably help us out.”
“You could call Dad?”
“Ha! Yeah, and listen to the lecture that men are not going to want to marry me if I do nothing but write stories and read manga. Do you remember when he told me that was why all my boyfriends in high school and college broke up with me?”
“And then I told him that you cosplaying all those scantily clad characters was why they dated you in the first place?” Nate laughed. “Man, I thought his head was going to explode. It was so funny.”
I cleared my throat. “Anyway, I don’t think involving Dad at this point is necessary.”
“If you say so,” he agreed. “So, are you going to move to Japan?”
“Why does everyone keep thinking that mangaka make enough that I could move to Japan?” I asked.
“Because Japanese mangaka afford to live there… well, except for all the ones living in Korea, but you get what I’m saying.”
“I have a job here,” I insisted.
“Yeah, that offers no benefits because they’re keeping you part-time. You can code anywhere in the world. Move to Tokyo! Get a two bedroom so I can visit!” Nate continued to babble but I stopped listening.
“Maybe, if we make it through the three month trial, I will consider it. What about you?”
“What about me?” Nate asked carelessly.
“You’re the actual artist.”
“They were your character designs. I just did what you told me to. This is your baby. I just help you out because it’s fun.”
“So I can move to Tokyo, but you can’t?” I asked.
“Not can’t, I won’t move to Japan. I will totally be down for visiting as often as I can, though.”
“How is that fair?” I argued.
“Look, I’m like Dad. I like American girls. I’m not going to find a good American girl if I live in Japan.”
“Dad did,” I retorted as I remembered my parents’ cute little love story.
“You’re never going to settle down, so you should go have an adventure. See the world. Make manga!”
“What do you mean, I will never settle down?” I took a few calming breaths. “What is it with the men in this family thinking the only key to a happy life is a ring on my finger and a bun in my oven?”
I heard a choking sound on the other end of the phone that spluttered into laughter. “I never once thought your happiness was dependent on finding a guy. I definitely never implied anything about you having kids. Quit putting all that on me. I was just saying that you are a free spirit and I don’t see you settling down. I don’t think you are incapable of it, I just don’t see it as something you actively want.” He tried to explain himself quickly, in hopes of avoiding my wrath.
“And you do?”
“Yes,” Nate answered simply.
We ended up talking for another hour before we realized that if we wanted to function at work we really needed to get more sleep. I hung up the phone reluctantly and opened my inbox. Sure enough, there was an email outlining the entire agreement… or at least, that’s what I think it did. They didn’t include a translation this time.
I made it to work by the skin of my teeth, just in time to slide into my seat seconds before Molly strolled into the meeting room with a latte in one hand and her phone in the other.
The meeting was pretty much what it always was. She gave us, the programmers and engineers, a list of deadlines she expected us to meet. We, one by one, explained why those deadlines were going to go whipping by unmet, as politely as we could. Then, when she left the room, we all rolled our eyes and spent another ten minutes devising a plan on how to best get the most work done we could in the allotted amount of time. Management here never seemed to understand how things worked.
I stopped for a cup of coffee before heading to my desk to get things started. When I finally finished my tasks for the morning, I paused long enough to forward Yuki the email I had received the night before. I rolled my eyes knowing that it would no doubt end in a call where he told me I was getting too old for all of this “crap”.
When lunch finally rolled around, I was hungry enough to eat my keyboard. I grabbed my bag and was headed for my car when a twinkling sound from my phone stopped me. I tugged it out of my coat pocket.
Hey, we need to talk about what you sent me. Let’s grab lunch, I’m already here.
I blinked at the message. Quickly my fingers moved over the screen.
Just hurry up and come outside.
I’ll buy you a taco
Burrito, and you’re paying!
I shoved my phone back into my pocket and pushed open the heavy door that led to employee parking. Sitting directly in front of the door was an expensive-looking black sports car. The window rolled down, revealing a handsome guy who had the face of my childhood best friend Itsuo, but I knew it wasn’t him. It couldn’t be. “Get a new car, Yuki?”
“Yes ma’am, now hurry up and get in. We have a lot to talk about.”