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Chapter 11 – The Pen is as Mighty as a Sword

“Is it okay that we are going to start without Yuki?” I asked Demetri.

“Of course. He said he would catch up with us, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, and I guess I told him where we would be.” I eyed the “condemned” signs that hung on the walls and windows of the deserted apartment building (somewhere on the east side of Tokyo*) and shivered a little.  I had visions of crashing through the floor and breaking my leg, or the roof suddenly deciding to collapse on top of me… and that was before I considered the monsters… “Are you sure it’s okay to be here? Normally buildings are condemned for a reason.”

“In this case it’s because construction workers keep getting hurt from the Wato-level monsters that have a den here. Tonight we are going to get your feet wet hunting them down and destroying them,” he lectured.

“Wato?”

“Meaner than a Zerta class. They bite, kinda hard, but not hard enough to take off a hand or anything…”

“That’s reassuring,” I mumbled.

“Oh yeah, your weapon,” he said, like protection was an afterthought. I felt him wiggle about in the bag until a gold pen dropped out. “There, that might help.”

I knelt down to pick it up. “What do I do? Throw my hand up in the air and yell something like, ‘Glittery Pen Transformation?”

Demetri blinked at me. “Yeah….. do that. Just exactly that,” he urged.

Giving him a nod, I lifted the pen high above my head and in a confident booming voice yelled, “Glittery Gold Pen Transformation!” Nothing happened. I lowered my hand and looked at the pen. “Did I do it wrong?”

He looked at me with large round eyes. “Ooops, I forgot to tell you everything. You turn in a circle clockwise twice, then jump on your left foot while throwing your hand in the air, and then yell the change command. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work right away, sometimes it takes a little practice.”

Determined, I stepped away from the bag and followed the directions. After a third failed attempt I turned to ask Demetri if my form was wrong or something. Instead I found him doubled over in laughter. “What’s so funny? Am I doing it that badly?”

When he caught his breath he finally spoke. “Oh, you’re doing it perfectly. That’s just not how that pen works. I can’t believe you fell for that. Where would you get such a silly idea?”

Turning bright red, I reached down and shook him out of the bag. “All right, Fuzzyface, how do I make this thing work? Or would you rather I feed it to you?”

“Calm down, Jordan. Sheesh, it’s like you can’t take a joke. You’ve heard the saying the pen is mightier than the sword, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, this pen really is mightier than the sword. Hold it in both hands and now concentrate hard and imagine it changing into a sword.”

With some skepticism, I did what he said. I was amazed when the pen did shift into a longsword that resembled a katana. “Whoa…” I breathed.

“That’s not all. That pen has six functions. You just created the first one. You can have it change into five more weapons of your choosing. Pick carefully, because once it imprints that weapon, it will always be an option at your fingertips, but you won’t be able to change your mind later.”

I looked at the sword in my hands. “Okay, now what?”

“Now we go kill some Wato,” he said, leading me through the lobby of the building.

It didn’t take me long to discover my first Wato. Unlike the Zerta from a few days ago, these all appeared to be the same species. The creature crouched just inside the doorway was the size of a medium dog standing on two feet. It had glowing green egg-shaped eyes and oily black skin. It smiled and a row of small, jagged teeth gleamed in the limited light. Around it was a menacing soft purple glow that seemed to get darker the closer it got to the creature. “Do all Wato look like this?”

“These are just one species of Wato. They are related to what some human call Leprechauns,” Demetri sat behind me and began to clean his paws.

“What do I do?” The creature seemed to grin at me and lick its lips.

“Whack at it with your sword. Pro tip, use the pointy end.”

Just then it let out what I can only describe as a battle gurgle and charged at me, mouth open. I lifted the sword high and brought it down on its head. It cleaved in two and seemed to melt into the ground. I blinked a few times. “Is that it?”

“That’s it.”

I nodded. “I can do this.”

“Good, you keep going. Yuki should be here any minute. I need to get him set up. Hey, do you think he will fall for the pen thing?”

I shrugged and watched as his little fluffy tail exited the lobby. I stopped for a moment to zip my hoodie up a bit more, and then turned to the lobby in search of the next Wato. It wasn’t long before I had cleared the first floor and moved into the far stairwell of the building. As I reached the top of the flight of stairs, my phone buzzed.

MSG: Yuki
Starting 2nd floor. Demetri says work on the third floor and we will meet you up there.

I quickly hit reply.
MSG: Me
Okay, see you there!

I carefully made my way up another floor. Quietly I opened the metal door that separated the stairwell from the hallway. I began entering apartments one at a time. Most were small studios that were totally empty so it didn’t take too long. A few of them had a Wato or two in them, but nothing I couldn’t handle. As I neared the end of the hall, I saw the door to the second stairwell open. A tall, dark form entered, followed by a small cat-shaped form. I waved with my phone and saw it wave back. I approached it quickly and let out a breath of relief that it was, in fact, Yuki. “Hey, glad you could make it,” I whispered.

“Yeah, it’s quite the party,” he chuckled. In the darkness, I couldn’t really make out what he was wearing beyond it being black.

“Dressed for a funeral?” I teased.

He glanced at me. “I see you got the same memo. For the record, I wore it better.”

“You wish…”

“Children!” hissed Demetri. “Focus. The sooner we are done, the sooner you can both go home and shower and I can eat tuna.”

We both grumbled but split up and kept exterminating. When I reached the fifth and final floor I breathed a little easier knowing I was almost done. I cleared out a half a dozen more Watos and then went to the door of the last apartment. I froze because something felt a little off. Taking my courage in hand, I opened the door.

As I stepped into the room, it seemed to glow with dark energy. Gooey eggs lined the walls and slime seemed to leak from the bricks. I tried to back out quietly, but the door had closed behind me and wouldn’t open. I set down my sword and tried using both hands, but the knob was covered in a thick black ooze and I couldn’t get a grip to force it open.

I heard a rumbling gurgle behind me. Afraid to look, I turned to see what had made the noise. In the center of the room, a black blob that I hadn’t noticed up until now started to move. I held my breath as six long tentacles unfurled out of the top of it and two glowing red eyes blinked open. I leaned down and picked up my sword, lifting it defensively in front of me.

The eyes blinked a few times, looking around, then seemed to narrow in on me. “What do we have here?” hissed a low, gravelly voice. “Have my workers brought me dinner?”

I fought back my urge to scream and tried to back myself as deep into a corner as I could. One of the tentacles lashed out at me and I swung my sword, making contact with it. The beast howled angrily and the other five tentacles assaulted me. Wrapping around my ankles and an arm, I was dragged towards the mass at the center. I tried to scream but as I did one of the limbs wrapped around my throat, cutting off my ability to scream – or breathe.

In a state of panic, I watched helplessly as I was lifted towards the mouth on top of the blob. “Ooooooh, a Guardian in training. I haven’t eaten a Guardian before.” I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing for what was no doubt going to be a painful end.

I hit something with sudden impact. My eyes flew open to the sounds of the creature’s scream. My stunned brain told me that what I had hit was the floor. I quickly began to wiggle free of the monster’s severed tentacles before climbing to my feet to see what had happened.

Yuki stood beside the monster, thrusting a blade deep into it and causing it to gurgle its last breath before it died and melted into the floor. I started to step towards him, but he rushed over to stop me. “Don’t step in the goo from this one. It’s acidic. It will melt your shoes.” Before I could say anything, he wrapped his arms around me protectively and clutched me against his chest. “Are you all right?” he asked, finally releasing me.

I took a step back, shaking my head. “My throat really hurts, but I think I will be okay.”

He nodded. “Glad I got here when I did. I’ll finish up this floor. Just make sure to smash these eggs before you leave.”

I nodded and set to work as he left the room. When I finished, I made my way back down to the lobby where I found Yuki and Demetri waiting. “All set?” I asked.

“Looks that way,” answered Demetri.

We made our way home. After a long hot shower and pulling on my pajamas, I was anxious to get to bed. I stood in the doorway of my room and looked at Yuki where he sat reading on the couch. “Thanks for your help today. Not sure how I would have made it without you.”

He smiled at me. “It wasn’t that bad. You would have been fine,” he said with a wink. His eyes narrowed on my throat. “Is that going to be okay?” he asked with concern.

“Yeah, I should be fine,” I assured him, before saying goodnight. I crawled into bed and turned out the light. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep.

Somewhere between nightmares of almost being eaten, I opened my eyes. Yuki was sitting on the edge of my bed stroking my hair. I started to say something but winced in pain. His cool hands rubbed a sweet-smelling gel into my throat and the pain lessened. “Shhhhh, sleep well. I promise I’ll keep watch tonight,” he told me, tucking the covers back up over my shoulders and brushing the hair from my face. He stood up and left my room without another word.

His presence reassured me and when I closed my eyes again the nightmares did not return.

Chapter 10 – A Class of Her Own

“What are we doing here?” I asked.

“Training,” was all Demetri said. I felt him shift his weight in the bag I had hanging from my shoulder.

“Ok, Fuzzyface, can you give me a few more details?”

Yuki sighed loudly beside me. “Seriously, I should be getting ready for my first day of work. Why did you want to come to the park?

“We’re going to hunt monsters,” Demetri insisted.

“Monsters?” I gulped.

“Don’t worry. Little monsters. Tiny, non-threatening monsters,” he reassured. “But first you need to learn how to see them.”

I took a seat on a park bench. Yuki walked on ahead and made his way to a coffee cart nearby.

“How do I do this?”

Demetri poked his head out of the bag. “Have you ever made your eyes not focus? Where you look at the world around you and everything is super blurry and out of focus?”

“Yeah,” I said with a nod.

“Do that, but this time try looking deeper into the blurriness. It may take a little practice, but you have a gift, so it should come pretty quickly to you.”

I tried what he said. “What exactly am I looking for?” I asked.

“Oh, you’ll know it when you see them. They will be obvious and the only thing in focus,” Demetri explained.

“Maybe this will help?” Yuki said, holding a cup out to me. I accepted it and watched quietly as he took a seat next to me. “So what exactly are we doing?”

“Looking for monsters… little, tiny monsters,” I finished.

“Oh, like the one by the cart, the two in the bushes, and the really tall one by the gate?” he asked, pointing in each direction.

“Very good, Yuki,” Demetri praised. “I’m afraid Jordan is struggling more than I thought she would.”

“It’s not like I am trying to fail,” I grumbled.

Yuki took a sip of his coffee before sitting it down. He rose to his feet and walked behind me. He leaned close, so that his lips were right next to my ear, and used the gentle touch of his fingertips to guide my head where he wanted me to look. “Do you see the gate?” he asked. I nodded, trying not to be distracted by the feeling of his breath on my ear and neck. “Look at the edge of the gate and while looking at it, focus your eyes just past it. The gate will become kind of blurry.” I followed his directions as he described each step. “Do you see that shadow just at the edge of the gate’s blur?” As I started to nod, I began focusing on it, while at the same time trying not to let my face turn any redder.

“Oh wow!” I jumped up, accidentally bumping heads with him. The shadow had come into focus and standing just fifteen feet away was a creature like I had never seen. Its skin appeared slightly oily and was dark with flecks of gold. It had two large eyes the size of chicken eggs that glowed a pale green. It was devoid of any mouth that I could see and reminded me of a six-foot-tall stick bug.

“You see it now?” he whispered as he rubbed his jaw.

My eyes quickly darted around to each of the places Yuki had pointed to earlier and I saw each of the creatures. Then I started noticing more and more of them. They were everywhere. They all had the same glowing eyes, but their colors, sizes, and shapes all varied. “There are so many.”

Demetri spoke up. “Yes, and most are not harmful in the least, but some are. Your job is to stop the ones that are.”

“How do I do that?”

“Practice,” he said simply.

“How do I know which ones are harmful?”

Demetri was quiet for a moment. “When they are Zerta, like these, it is pretty evident which ones are harmful. They sort of have a dark glow around them if they have fed off of some sort of human energy… or possibly off of a human physically,” he finished.

“Zerta? That doesn’t sound overly Japanese to me.” Yuki asked before I could.

“Low-level monsters that don’t pose much of a threat are Zerta class. Amokgun are the deadliest classification and should only be approached by a team of highly trained Guardians. The class system isn’t taken from Japanese. The system for classification is from a very old civilization.”

“Which one?” I asked automatically.

Demetri sighed. “You can learn all about it in the Great Library.”

“Oooh, that sounds like a place of interest.”

Yuki laughed. “Nerd!” However, a bare moment later he piped up, “But I’m with her. It sounds like a place of interest to me, too.”

Demetri glared up at Yuki. “Who says you get to go there and see it? You weren’t invited,” he declared.

“Uh, I just taught your new Guardian how to see the monsters. I think that qualifies me to be in the loop, and a giant library needs to be part of the loop.”

“So are you volunteering to be a Guardian?” Demetri asked.

“What? Don’t you think I would be willing to do my part to keep the human race safe?”

Demetri laughed bitterly. “You might mess up your hair.”

I bit my lips shut and looked at Yuki, who quirked a brow at the cat. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you don’t seem like the hero type,” Demetri argued.

“Why? Because I care about personal grooming?”

“Don’t forget the womanizing,” Demetri snarked.

“Women are human!”

“What womanizing?” I cut in.

“Nothing,” Yuki insisted.

“He’s talking to some girl named Fujiko,” Demetri said with rancor.

I looked at Yuki. He seemed embarrassed. I’d had a knee-jerk reaction when I had heard the argument start, but I remembered who I was talking about. “He’s new in town. It only makes sense he would want to make friends,” I maintained, shaking my head as if that would clear it.

“She works in the office I’ll be in. She has been telling me about the area, the work, and my new co-workers,” he said, pulling out his phone as if to show it to me.

“You don’t have to explain things to me. We’re not a couple. We’re just friends, remember?” I told him, waving the phone away.

He paused. “You’re right. Just so you know, I wouldn’t tell anyone something that could be dangerous for you.”

“I know that,” I said with a smile.

“Good.”

“Touching. I’m glad you kids can get past your romantic shortcomings to understand each other, but I need to know if you can actually be Guardians. Tuesday night we’ll go on our first hunt.  I know tomorrow will be a big day for you both, so why don’t we head home? I’m hungry for some tuna,” Demetri snorted.

We started the walk home. Every so often I would catch what I could only describe as a shadow out of the corner of my eye. When I would look closer, nothing was there. I started to think that seeing what I had today was enough to blow my mind.

Chapter 9 – Buffer Begone

I hugged my father tightly. “Thank you, Daddy,” I whispered in his ear, trying not to let tears seep into my voice.

As I stepped away, Yuki took my father’s hand and ended up hugging him instead. My father flashed me a confused look that I responded to with a silent shrug. “Don’t worry, Mr. Nakamura, I promise to watch over Jordan.”

Dad smiled politely and thanked Yuki. He motioned for me to follow him to the entrance to security. He pressed a credit card and five thousand yen into my hand. “What’s this for?” I asked, already suspecting the answer.

“That’s the card that still has your name on it attached to your mother’s and my account. Use it in the event of an emergency.” He looked over his shoulder at Yuki. “The cash is for another lock on your bedroom door.”

I rolled my eyes. “Dad, didn’t you offer to marry me off to Yuki not that long ago?”

“Yes, but I was just calling your bluff,” he insisted.

“I’ll be fine. You should be more worried about him,” I explained.

“If you kill him, don’t use your kitchen knives or the good cookware. It was expensive.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I said, one last time before one more hug. Then I stepped back to stand with Yuki. We watched until my Dad had made it through the checkpoint and gave one last wave before heading to his gate.

The last couple of weeks had flown by. We had moved into our new place. Dad had had a security system installed in our new apartment. We bought furniture and Yuki bought a car. Demetri, to his credit, made it the entire time without revealing his ability to speak. All in all, I felt pretty good about things.

Yuki and I walked in silence back to the car. I slid into the passenger seat, trying to ignore what now felt like an awkward distance between us. As we pulled out of the parking structure Yuki finally broke the tension. “You know your Dad really did ask if I would be interested in marrying you?”

I cringed. “Sorry, he’s just worried about me.”

Yuki laughed. “You’re not even remotely interested in what I said to him?”

“I think it’s better for me not to know. Now that we live together it could cause friction.”

“How so?”

“I’m running through all the answers you could have given and none of them would help our situation. If you said yes, then I would feel pressure over your unrequited love. If you said no, I would somehow hold it against you, being convinced you have no taste,” I explained.

“Ah,” he responded. I was inexplicably irritated by his single-syllable answer

“Ah? That’s all the response you are going to give?”

“You didn’t want to know. Now that you have explained your reasoning, I understand and agree with you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I pushed.

“I mean, I think you are right and no good can come of me telling you.”

“So you said no? You jerk! As if you will ever find anyone better than me,” I grumbled.

Yuki sighed heavily. “Here we go. I didn’t say that I said no,” he responded calmly.

“You said it was better I didn’t know. That normally means you are about to tick me off.”

“Maybe I just want to protect my delicate ego?” he insisted.

“Maybe you just want to protect your-”

“Hey now,” he cut me off. “There’s no need for threats!”

I started chuckling. Yuki cast me a sideways glance. “Do you enjoy arguing with me?”

“Yes,” I smiled.

“If this is your form of foreplay, I am a little worried about what the main event is.”

I gasped and turned to glare at him, only to find he had a satisfied grin on his face. I decided to drop the fight. “I’m hungry.”

“Me too,” he said, poking at the GPS on the car’s console. “Your dad is gone. Do we want instant noodles or to sample of some of Japan’s fast food?”

“Fast food, then let’s stop to pick up groceries.”

“Don’t we have a fridge full of food back at home?”

“I’m not going to spend an hour or two every day on a meal. Especially not for three meals a day,” I said with a sigh. “I will find a use for most of what is in the fridge, but I’m not going to cook the big meals like dad has been for the last couple of weeks.”

He laughed. “I understand now why you were chubby when we were growing up.” Yuki rubbed his belly. “I think I put on a little weight with all your dad’s cooking.”

“I wasn’t chubby,” I argued.

“I never said it was a bad thing. Itsuo and I both thought you were pretty cute…” he trailed off. I shot him a startled look. He was glowing bright red.

“Ugh, men!” I grunted, crossing my arms over my chest and sinking down in the seat.

“Anyway, we can grab a burger then hit up a store. Monday I start at the new office and I just know I’m going to need to buy stock in a local coffee chain,” he joked.

“Yeah, I go in for a meeting with my editor. I need to finish up my storyboards today and tomorrow.”

“If we pick up the stuff, I can handle dinner so you can focus on work,” he offered.

“Awww, look at you trying to act all domesticated,” I teased.

“Keep it up and I may even wear a frilly apron for you.”

“Just as long as that isn’t all you wear.” I laughed wickedly when he gave me an innocent look and a not-so-innocent wink.

We made it home with uneventful ease. As we opened the door to the new place, Demetri sat there waiting for us. “Hey, cranky kitty, we bought lots of tuna,” I told him.

“Good work human, but we have an issue. While you were gone someone or something tried to breach the barrier on this place. They didn’t succeed, but it would seem they know we are here.”

“Who is they?” Yuki asked as if reading my mind.

Demetri was quiet for a long moment. “I’m not entirely sure who the threat is, but they no doubt want to prevent Jordan from fulfilling her purpose.”

“And my purpose is to protect mankind?” I asked, still hazy on some of the details that had brought me across an ocean.

“And to help keep the gates between planes sealed,” he finished for me.

“Is there a training course I get to take for that? You do know that I just barely passed P.E. in high school, right?”

Yuki outright laughed. “Yeah, that was pretty funny.”

“Shut up!” I warned, but he kept going cracking jokes at my expense.

“She was so bad at dodgeball the teacher made her wear a hockey helmet to class.”

“Greeeaat…” growled the cat.

“I don’t have to take this. I could go do my work,” I insisted.

“Wait!” Yuki said with concern. “We really should talk about someone trying to breach the barrier.” He turned his attention back to the cat. “So what does all this really mean? What should we be on the lookout for? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”

Demetri looked back and forth between the two of us. “I suppose both of you could use a little training.” He pointedly looked at me. “Some could use more training.”

“Why do I need training?” Yuki asked.

“Because you insisted on moving across an ocean to be close to me,” I pointed out.

“Will this training protect me from her sharp tongue?”

“I don’t know, Yuki. You’re talking ninja-level moves to avoid her venom,” Demetri considered.

“That’s okay, I was better at dodgeball than she was.”

The cat laughed. The little fuzzball laughed at me. “From the sounds of it, that doesn’t sound too hard. Perhaps I should be training you as the next hero.”

“Go ahead,” I snapped angrily. “When you two are done saving the world I will be working on my storyboard.” I turned with a huff and stormed away, closing my door with a little more force than I had anticipated and rattling the sparse hangings we had on the walls.

 

Chapter 8 – Pacific Hopping

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you and help you get settled in?” Yuki asked.

“Dad’s coming with me. I’ll be fine. You need to tie up your loose ends here before you come to Japan,” I insisted.

“Yeah, but just remember to skype me when you pick out apartments. I want to have a say in which room I get.”

“Blah blah blah,” I said, mocking him with my hand. “You’ll get whatever room I give you and like it!”

Yuki sighed. “Would now be a good time to tell you that my parents are overjoyed that I am moving in with you… even if it is all the way in Japan?”

“Your mom does know we are living together as roommates, in separate rooms, right?”

“Separate rooms and separate beds,” my dad said sternly, pulling his suitcase from the trunk. “I am not paying for you two to have a sex cocoon in Tokyo!”

“Ewwww, Dad! That’s gross!” I stuck out my tongue in mock disgust.

“Yeah, Mr. Nakamura, the term you’re looking for is Love Nest.”

My father paled and I believe I did too. “Dad, he’s kidding,” I quickly insisted.

My father leaned close to me. “We’ll buy an extra lock for your bedroom door,” he whispered.

“We could just get a better lock for the front door,” I offered.

Yuki rolled his eyes. “Seriously, I will be doing work there. I promise to act like a guardian and not let anything happen to her. I will see you both in a week.”

“Repeat, I am thirty-one and have lived on my own since I was twenty-four. I can adult!” I hugged Yuki and didn’t resist as he slid an envelope into my pocket. We had already discussed making sure my father wasn’t footing our bill, but Yuki wanted to make double sure. “Thanks,” I whispered into his ear. “See you soon.”

Yuki smiled and finished closing all the doors on my father’s SUV. “I promise not a scratch, sir,” Yuki vowed before getting back into the driver’s seat and leaving us in front of our terminal.

I turned and looked at the huge pile of suitcases. “Do I really need to take all this stuff? Can’t I just have you ship me what I need?”

“Trust your father, you need all this.” The way he said it told me there would be no arguments.

I picked up the carrier that had Demetri in it and Dad and I made our way to the ticket counter to check in. Seventeen hours later we touched down in Narita Airport just outside of Tokyo. The apprehension I thought I would feel wasn’t there – instead I was filled with excitement. “This is real,” I whispered to myself as I chased after my father on his way to immigration.

The next few days passed quicker than I would have liked. We managed to set up a bank account with the post office. I got SIM cards for myself and Yuki. I narrowed down apartments to my top three based on location, price, and how much I liked the place. After a couple heated discussions over skype, Yuki and I made a decision. The real estate agent seemed highly amused and kept calling us “the newlyweds” and chuckling with my father.

Friday night came. My father had plans with some old friends, so I was finally on my own. I saw him off, waited a full ten minutes, then pulled on my shoes and rushed down to the convenience store. I had been itching to go crazy and buy snacks and ramen, but when your father is a chef, cheap processed food isn’t an option.

Little plastic bag in hand, I made my way back to our Airbnb to feed Demetri and indulge in cheesy ramen and green tea-flavored chocolate, and wash it all down with melon soda. About halfway back I got the feeling I was being watched. I looked around without slowing my pace, but reached my free hand into my pocket and curled my fingers around my phone. A few steps away from the place we were staying, a man in a hoodie rushed passed me. He bumped my shoulder.

I started to stumble but he reached out to steady me. Most of his face was covered and I could only just make out the outline of his jaw. “Sumimasen,” he whispered before rushing off. I turned and watched him leave. He walked in the direction I had come from and I had a sudden urge to rush after him and tell him to be careful.

I headed inside and made extra sure to lock the door behind me. I fed Demetri, who was sulking that I had sentenced him to silence while my father was still here. “You can talk when he isn’t here,” I pointed out.

“Oh, her majesty will allow such things?”

“Look, if you don’t want the tuna, I can put it away,” I said, reaching for the can.

A paw with exposed claws swatted at me, followed by an angry hiss. “Touch it and I will shred everything you own,” he threatened.

I backed away and flopped on the couch, reaching for my ramen which should be ready by now. “It was weird, I felt like I was being watched when I came home from the convenience store.”

“You probably were,” he responded between bites.

I looked at him with alarm. “What?”

Swallowing the bite in his mouth, the small furball shifted his gaze to me. “You are here. You may not be actively vanquishing evil, but you have a powerful aura. I’m sure everything in the neighborhood is watching you with bated breath trying to figure out if you are a threat or not.”

“Am I in danger? Is my father in danger?” I said, glancing at the door.

“As long as they don’t think you are a threat, you should be fine.”

“Greeeeaaat…”

“Calm down, I have already contacted the local gatekeepers. They are cleansing and putting up a barrier at your new place before we even move in.” I knew his words were meant to calm my nerves, but it just made me feel more vulnerable now.

After I finished eating and disposing of the evidence I decided to turn in. Yuki would arrive tomorrow and I wanted a good night’s sleep if I had to handle both he and my father together for two days.

I read for a bit and fell asleep with the light still on. Between dreams, I heard my light click off and felt the blankets on me shift to cover me up. “Thanks dad,” I mumbled. A hand tucked a few strands of hair behind my ear. Through cracked eyelids I saw my father’s form in the doorway as he silently left the room.

I tugged the covers up higher and sank back into sleep, sleeping better now that I knew he had made it home safely.

When I next awoke, Demetri lay beside me on the bed, purring happily. I reached out and stroked his soft fur. “Awww, who’s a sweet kitty?”

“I am if it means you’ll feed me?” he implored.

“Didn’t my father feed you already?” I asked him, still petting his soft belly.

“He couldn’t have. He isn’t here.”

“Did he leave early this morning to go somewhere?” I asked.

“No, he didn’t come home last night. He sent you a text message around four am.”

I reached for my phone, and sure enough, he had sent me a message. I sat up quickly. “Demetri, who else was here last night?”

“Just you and me. Yuki doesn’t arrive until this afternoon,” he said, stretching.

“No, someone was here last night. They turned off my light and tucked me in. I thought it was my dad,” I explained, bordering on panic.

“Jordan calm down. You probably dreamed it and turned it off yourself. I would have sensed if anyone or anything besides us was here. Nothing was here.”

I stared at the bedside lamp for a long moment before deciding it was time to get up and get the day started. I messaged Dad to ask to meet at the café down the street for brunch before we went out to the airport to meet Yuki.

Chapter 7 – Backstories Aside

I finished opening the can and set it down on the floor beside the kitchen table. “It’s about time,” Demetri grumbled as he buried his face in the tuna.

I looked over at Yuki with concern. He was eyeing me and the cat suspiciously. “So he really talks?”

“Yup,” I admitted. I held out my hand to help him up. He eyed it cautiously before taking it. “I’m still the same Jordan you know and love. I just happen to have a talking cat now.”

Yuki stood up slowly and pulled me to stand behind him. “Are you sure he’s safe?”

“Why are you getting all protective now that I have fed him? Shouldn’t you have done this prior to sitting on the floor in shock?”

He turned his head and glared at me. “I’m sorry that my first reaction upon regaining my senses is to make sure you’re safe. You know, some women would think that’s chivalrous.”

“Let them be impressed,” I shrugged, pulling myself free of his grip and stepping around him. “He’s just a cat. A cranky, tuna-demanding, talking cat.”

Demetri sat back and pinned me with a look as he used his paw to clean the last of the tuna juice off his face. “I am not just a cat. I was sent here to find you and bring you back to Japan with me. You are just choosing not to cooperate.” The cat slid his attention to Yuki. “You, human! You seem mildly familiar, have we met before?”

Yuki looked from me to Demetri. “That depends, did you talk when we met before? If we did, then it wasn’t me. If you only made cat noises, we might have met before.” Yuki seemed to be relaxing and moved closer. “Why is it so important she goes to Japan?”

“She has a destiny to fulfill. We have a plan for her,” the small furball declared.

“I don’t buy into the whole destiny crap,” I said flatly.

Yuki looked back at me in shock and amusement. “Maybe you are some long-lost moon princess sent here to save the world in a time of crisis,” he mused.

“I doubt that. It’s probably something lame, like I have the power to pick out the best can of tuna from the shelves and talking cats everywhere want to make me their goddess,” I joked.

Yuki laughed. “You spin around and point at cans at the market saying things like, ‘Blue label select, I choose you!’ or sneak up behind displays and tackle them to the ground…” His laughter was infectious and we were both overtaken with a fit of giggles.

Demetri sat and stared at us disapprovingly. “If you two are done?”

“Wait!” I yelped, throwing up a hand. “They need me to pilot a giant robot against attacking space pirates.” Further laughter ensued.

Demetri cleared his throat. “What if I told you the stories about moon princesses, giant robots, space pirates, and magical cards were all true?”

“I would say bullshit,” I answered with a nod.

“Up until very recently, neither of you believed in talking cats, but here we are,” Demetri argued.

Both of our laughter trailed off as we exchanged glances. Talking cats were impossible…. as impossible as magic, demons, and space aliens.  But there he was, right in front of us, making snide comments and lashing his tail.

As the shift in my reality sobered me up, I asked the big question. “Why me? Why specifically me? I don’t want some non-committal, detail-lacking answer. Destiny and fate are BS. If you need me that bad, there is something specific about me that makes me the girl you are looking for.”

“We believe you have the ability to see things that exist around us that most people can’t see. What’s more, we’re pretty sure you can interact with, create, and destroy those unseen things. This gift makes you special.” Demetri hopped up on the table.

“Who is we?” asked Yuki.

Demetri huffed. “I work for an organization that oversees the gates between existences.”

“So why do you need me to go to Japan? Can’t I just fight here?”

“You know how Japan is an island?” the cat asked. We both nodded. “Think of it more like a lid. It’s out there in the water serving as a lock, or a lid, on a bunch of different gates. We had no clue humans were going to settle on it and build a civilization.”

Yuki looked at me. “Great, you know what this means?” I shook my head. “Space cats!” We both burst out laughing again.

His angry hiss snapped us back to reality. “Sorry,” we mumbled in unison.

“What’s the story with you two?” Demetri finally asked.

“What do you mean?”

“He means we seem really close and he wants to know why,” Yuki explained.

“Oh, the parent trap question?” I clarified and Yuki gave a nod. “Should I handle this?”

“He’s your cat…”

I took a deep breath before I began. “My father is a chef, and after he had completed the first half of his training in France, he went back to Japan. He worked as a Sous chef in a small western-style restaurant in Tokyo. My mom was an English teacher in Japan at the time. She was supposed to be on a date, but the guy stood her up. Everybody at the restaurant was too afraid to talk to her since she was a foreigner, so a member of the wait staff went and got my dad from the kitchen, knowing that at the very least his French was pretty good.”

Yuki pulled out a kitchen chair and motioned for me to take a seat before he, himself sat down. “I love your parents’ story,” he said with a gleam in his eye.

“Anyway, Dad went out to talk to her and found out she was stood up. He needed her to leave so they could free up the table, or to order something to eat. He felt pretty bad about what had happened, and being a nice guy told her she should order something and he would pay for it. When she didn’t know what to order, he asked what she wanted and she said ‘grilled cheese and tomato soup’, which he made special for her. After that, they would get together once a week under the guise of helping my father with his English so he could train more in North America. Eventually, my mom was moving back, and my dad decided to go with her, and they got married.”

“Ok… but how does this explain you and pointy-hair, pretty boy?” Demetri prompted.

“Aww, he thinks I’m pretty,” Yuki cooed.

“My dad was able to get a job at a fusion restaurant in Hartford. When we moved into the suburbs, there were only two other Japanese families in town. One was an older couple whose kids had already grown up, and the other family was the Takahashi family, who had twin boys a year older than me. My mom didn’t have problems making friends, but my Dad worked really long hours and still hadn’t mastered English, so he welcomed having a set of friends his age that spoke his native language. Since they were my parents’ friends, it only made sense that Yuki, Itsuo, Nate, and I would all grow up together as friends too.”

“Wait, so you’re a twin?” asked Demetri, turning his attention to Yuki. “There are two of you?”

My heart beat heavily at the cat’s question, but Yuki took over. “There were two of us until eight years ago. Jordan and my brother were in an accident with a drunk driver. Jordan survived but Itsuo didn’t. When we were growing up, Itsuo and Jordan were much closer than she and I were. My brother and I were really close, but we weren’t much alike. Itsuo was more outgoing, and believe it or not, I was pretty quiet.”

Yuki’s voice cracked and I reached over and took his hand without a second thought. “When Itsuo died Yuki and I became closer because it felt like each of us was missing our other half. We tried dating, and it didn’t exactly go so well. He drove off with my purse and left me stranded in California.”

“After she got drunk and made out with a couple different people, then refused to apologize for it,” Yuki added.

“I can’t apologize for something I don’t remember,” I bit back.

“Children, focus!” snapped the cat. “Anyway, I think I get the picture. You’re still friends but at times it is a little… strained?”

“Exactly!” I was quick to agree.

Demetri gave us a look that felt a little judgy but said nothing else on the subject. “Yuki here thinks you going to Japan is a good idea. You trust him, so why not go?”

Yuki cut in. “Actually, I thought it was a good idea until I heard about the giant robots, space pirates, and monsters.”

“I never mentioned monsters,” Demetri retaliated.

“Are there monsters?”

“Of course there are…”

“Yeah, I’m leaning more towards no now that I have all the details,” Yuki said firmly.

“Look, I’ve gone to great lengths to bring her back to Japan with me on good terms. She can go willingly, or the next guardian who comes won’t be as nice,” the cat said. “Just agree to it and pack up. This way you get to do a job you want to do.”

“Can I at least think about it?” I finally asked.

“I have to give a status report by Friday. You can have until then. After that, it will be out of my paws.”

Yuki and I exchanged glances. “Would you run away with a talking cat?” I asked.

“Is that an invitation?”

Chapter 6 – From Phone Calls to Talking Cats

I had just set my keys down on the table by the door when my phone buzzed to life. I flipped it over and rolled my eyes when I saw the caller ID. Hitting the button for speaker, I walked towards the kitchen. “Hi Mom.”

“Hello sweetheart,” chirped a happy voice.

“What did Nate tell you?” I asked, already hearing her chuckle. “What did he say, Mom?”

“We’re just so proud of you for chasing your dream,” she started.

“What does Dad think?”

“Your father thinks that moving to Japan will help you get in touch with your heritage, and for that he is thankful this opportunity came along,” Mom explained, with a tinge of something that told me that wasn’t exactly what Dad thought.

I laughed this time. “Where did this notion of me moving come from? Seriously, what did Nate tell you, because I don’t think you got the entire story.”

“Well, you see…”

“Here we go,” I mumbled, collapsing into a kitchen chair.

“Mariko called me to offer her congratulations after talking to Yuki, who told her all about your job offer,” she began.

I sighed. “How did I know Yuki was behind this?”

“Well, you know he’s been sweet on you since you were kids.”

“No, he’s tormented me since we were kids and continues now that we are adults. The only difference is Itsuo isn’t here to tell him to shut-up.”

Mom went silent for a moment. “You know what happened wasn’t your fault, right?”

“I called him out to get me in the middle of the night, Mom. I should take some responsibility for it.” Tears pricked at the back of my eyes. It had been eight years since the accident and I still couldn’t talk about it. “Mom, I would really rather not talk about this.”

“Whatever you say, dear. Anyway, Yuki told Mariko and she called to offer her congratulations. What kind of daughter lets her mother find out she is moving out of the country from someone else?”

Ah yes, the nagging part of the evening, I thought to myself. “Sorry, Mom. I just found out this morning and the paperwork came in while I was at work. I sent it to Yuki to translate. They didn’t offer me a position overseas. They just want to run my comic in a magazine.”

“That’s a big deal. How are you going to do a comic in Japan while living in Seattle?” she asked.

“Email and cloud storage?” I answered honestly. “Everything is electronic now. I can rule the world from my living room if I feel so motivated.”

“Oh Jordan, you don’t need to be so dramatic. So tell me about this job?” she pushed.

“Well, I would publish in their magazine for three months. If readers like me, they would sign me on for a year of creative work and help get my comics into book form. I don’t need to move there to do the job. I can do it here while still working in programming.” I secretly applauded myself for planning to be an adult and keep my real job.

Silence was all I heard in response. Then I heard my mother’s muffled voice and the phone being handed off. “Why don’t you want to live in Japan?” my father cut in. “If you are going to make manga like a Japanese artist, shouldn’t you go there and master the trade? I went to the US and France to master western style cooking.”

“Dad, I already know how to do this. I have a successful webcomic,” I reminded him.

“Is it the same?” he asked in an unyielding monotone that normally signaled I was about to lose an argument before it even began.

“Not exactly, but…”

“Not exactly means no, it is not the same. Japan made Japanese style animation and manga. You should go there and learn from the masters in it so you can do it at the best level you are capable of,” he argued.

“And how am I going to afford to do that?” I asked, perhaps a little too sarcastically.

“I will support you. Besides, maybe if you go there you will find a nice Japanese boy.”

“Dad, I’m thirty-one. I don’t need you to support me so that I can write manga. As for a nice Japanese boy, you didn’t marry a nice Japanese girl. You married Mom.”

“Are you saying you mother wasn’t nice? Or she wasn’t a good girl?”

“No, Dad, that isn’t at all what I am saying. I am just pointing out that she was a white girl from New York who was teaching English there. Things worked out well when you married an American. Are you saying that things didn’t work out well for you marrying Mom?” Ha, I turned that back around on him, I thought to myself.

“It’s not the same. Boys now have no respect,” he countered.

“What about Nate? You raised him to be respectful. You and Mom both like Yuki and Itsuo.”

“Nate is your brother so you cannot marry him. You can marry Yuki,” he accepted and I almost choked in shock. “I will call his parents and arrange everything. Okay?”

“Not okay!” I almost yelled into the phone sitting on the table.

“You just said he was a good boy. I agree with you. He likes you. You… sort of like him. Meh, all I want is to know you will be taken care of.” I heard my mother mumble something about grandchildren in the background.

“Dad, I’ll be okay. First, let me see if I even get enough readers to be signed long term. I promise I will consider moving to Japan, if I can get enough readers that the publisher offers me a long-term contract.” Just then I felt a nudge around my ankle. I looked down and Demetri had rolled a can of tuna over to me.

“Jordan, could you please use your thumbs and open this for me?” Demetri asked.

“Not now,” I snapped at the furball.

“Jordan, who was that?” came my father’s instant question.

“Oh you know, just Demetri.”

“Who is Demetri?”

“My cat,” I answered before thinking it through completely.

“Be serious, Jordan. Are you seeing a man and not telling us?”

Letting out a heavy sigh, I came up with a believable story. “My new neighbor Demetri, ummm, doesn’t have thumbs. He was born without them. Anyway, I sometimes help him open cans.” I groaned inwardly, knowing how ridiculous it sounded, but I couldn’t bring myself to lie outright to my parents.

“Ah, how does he button his…” my dad was cut off by the sound of the doorbell.

“Sorry, Dad, I gotta go. Someone is at the door. Love you, bye.” I quickly hung up before rushing to the door.

I flung it open to Yuki’s smug face. He took one look at me panting from my brief jog down the hall and immediately said, “Heavy breathing as soon as I arrive. I would say I just got here in time.”

“You!” I stabbed a finger in his direction.

“Me?”

“FYI, we’re getting married or I have to move to Japan,” I told him in a flat tone.

“Ah, you must have talked to your parents,” he said with a chuckle.

I stepped aside so he could come in and closed the door behind him with more force then I meant to. “What do you want?”

He held out a bouquet of roses with microwavable burritos nestled among them. ”I wanted to give you these before they thawed.”

I rolled my eyes and accepted them. “I thought we discussed fifty as the preferred number?”

“I figure if I give them to you a few at a time I can see you more often,” he said, stepping closer.

I slid just out of reach and headed back into the kitchen. “I better get these in water… and the freezer. Seriously though, why are you here?”

“I think you should go to Japan,” he insisted.

With a laugh, I turned around as I closed the freezer door. “You know, I was just kidding about the whole getting married thing. Your bachelor lifestyle is safe.”

He clutched his chest like I had wounded him. “For you, I could be a changed man.”

“Do those lines actually work?” I teased.

“More often then you want to know,” Yuki answered with a wink.

I was ready to retort with a snotty comment when Demetri hopped up on the table. “You there! The good-looking man with pointy hair. Do you know how to open a can of tuna? This human insists on trying to starve me.”

Yuki stared at the cat. “Hey, Jordan?”

“Yeah?”

“When did you get a cat?” he asked. His eyes never left Demetri.

“A couple days ago,” I said with a shrug, horrified about how this was going to play out.

“And how long has he talked?”

“Since I got him.”

Yuki sank to the floor and sat staring up at my talking cat. Demetri looked at me. “Why are you humans so shocked that a cat can talk? With so many intelligent creatures on this planet, why do you think you’re the only ones who are capable of speech?”

“Demetri, now isn’t the time to discuss this.”

Demetri looked back at the shocked Yuki. “So, where do we stand on your can-opening abilities?”

Chapter 4 – Phone Calls

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?”

“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.

MSG: Yuki
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.

MSG: Me
Here?

MSG: Yuki
Just hurry up and come outside.

MSG: Yuki
I’ll buy you a taco

MSG: Me
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.”

Chapter 3 – The waiting game

“Why aren’t they responding?”

I looked at the clock on the microwave and calculated the sixteen hour difference. “It’s two PM there. For us, this is a big deal. For them, it is Tuesday. We are probably not as big a priority as their existing projects.” I justified the wait as much for Nate’s lack of patience as I did for my own sanity. For good measure, I hit refresh on my email again.

Nate sighed heavily and reached for another slice of pizza. One bite in he quickly stood up, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and dropped back into his chair. “I should head home soon,” he said, glancing at the clock.

“Then don’t open the beer. Put it back into the fridge and drink it another night,” I ordered.

He looked at the bottle in his hand. “It’s only one…”

“I don’t care!” I snapped before he could finish.

He paused. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I forgot.”

I shook my head and held up my hand. “Let’s not open that can of worms again.”

“Understood.” Nate rose and slipped it back into the fridge before reaching for his jacket. I followed him to the door. “If you hear anything, call me.”

I held up my pinky. “I promise.”

With a laugh, he stepped out into the cold evening air and jogged to his car. I watched as his taillights disappeared into the darkness before finally closing the door.

“I thought he would never leave,” came the irritated voice of Demetri.

I scowled down at the cat. “You didn’t have to stay hidden the entire time he was here. That was your choice. He’s an animal lover, you probably could have scored more tuna.’

The cat gave me a look that conveyed a disinterested shrug. “The fewer humans that know about a talking cat, the better.”

“You could have opted not to talk?”

“Be serious! How else would I convey my distaste for the things you do?”

“Silly me,” I answered with an eye roll.

“I could do without your sarcasm. Please keep in mind when we move to Japan that you can’t do that,” he said dryly, sniffing around the bowl I had put tuna in for him that morning. “Tuna, please.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, startled.

“I said, ‘Tuna, please?’ ”

“No, before that?” I insisted.

“Oh, when we move to Japan, please try….”

I cut him off quickly. “When did I agree to move to Japan?”

“It’s understood that for you to fulfill your destiny you will go where they most need you.”

“Anyway, how am I going to afford to live there?” I asked.

“With your new manga writing career,” Demetri replied logically.

“Do you know how much a manga author or artist make?” I quizzed the animal, who had dug through the shelf during our conversation and was now rolling a can over to me.

“I don’t know, but it is a job.”

I took a deep breath. “I’m not an artist. I’m just a writer. I know how to storyboard for comics, but the artwork needs to be done by someone with talent. If I’m lucky, I will make twenty thousand a year, and that is a HUGE ‘if’. I most likely will make less than half of that.”

“Hmmm, you can buy a lot of tuna with that amount.” The cat’s eyes glazed over.

“Yes, but where will I sleep? What will I eat? How will I afford an internet connection to submit my work to my publisher?”

Demetri snorted at me. “Is that all? How much could that cost?”

“A lot more than your tuna. I can’t go to Japan. I have a decent job here. Maybe I could go for a vacation a few times a year if I planned, but I can’t live there.”

He rolled his eyes. “Open this,” he insisted. I was quiet for a long moment. “Please?” With a sigh, I leaned down to pick up the can and crack it open.

By midnight I still hadn’t heard anything from Mr. Sato. I closed my laptop and made my way to bed. I was exhausted. In fact, I was beyond any words I knew to express my level of tired. Outside of that,  I had a deep feeling of disappointment. I knew it would probably take a few days to hear back, but that didn’t prevent me from wishing for a more speedy response.

I crawled into bed and didn’t even argue when Demetri snuggled in under the covers with me. He fell asleep with a soft drumming purr that relaxed me. Darkness engulfed me and soon I had fallen into a dreamland where I seemed to know what was going on even though nothing was familiar.

I jumped from storyline to storyline, encountering evil necromancers, giant robots, and ghost ninjas. I never had time to get scared because one adventure bled into the next. As I sat around a long table discussing plans of action for the newest threat to humanity, I heard a familiar song playing in the background. I asked if anyone else heard it, but all the dream characters shook their heads in confusion.

The more I ignored it, the louder it became. As I pondered its meaning, I remembered that I had once had a phone that played that song as a ringtone. “Wait, I still have a phone that….” I sat up in bed with a snap and fumbled for my blaring phone. I glanced at the screen. “Plus eight one,” I read out loud, only to remember a split second later that that was the international country code for Japan. Taking a deep breath, I hit the green button and lifted the phone to my ear. “Hello, this is Jordan Nakamura.”

Chapter 2- Is this validation?

“My inbox has exploded!” I stared at the number of unread emails.

“Yes, well, that does tend to happen when you go viral,” Demetri explained in a voice devoid of interest.

I glared at the cat beside me. “You could pretend to be excited for me since you are freeloading in my house and eating my tuna.”

“Will you give me more tuna if I pretend to care?”

“No,” I said flatly.

“Then there is nothing for me to gain by pretending that your web scribbles’ success holds any value to me. It is merely a means to an end.” Demetri turned away from me and curled into a ball before closing his eyes.

“What do you mean, a means to an end?”

“Your talent was confirmed by Shinto Shrine Publishing. I just pointed them in your direction,” he said lazily.

I scooped Demetri up so that my nose practically rested against his forehead. “You did what?”

Demetri rolled his eyes. “Cats in the office are all the rage in Japan right now. I needed to find a way to ensure your passage overseas. I merely sat on a keyboard to assure that a lead editor would see your site. From there the entire staff read your work and tweeted about it. I would assume one or more of those emails are from the publishing house.”

“I owe my webcomic’s success to your furry butt?”

“Yes, now keep that in mind and go get me some tuna.”

I sat Demetri down on the corner of my desk and went to rummage through my cabinets until I located another can of tuna. When I popped it open, he leapt from my desk and rushed at my feet. “Foooooood!” he exclaimed as he mashed his fuzzy face into the bowl. With the talking cat distracted, I returned to my email and began weeding through the thousands of messages.

The moment I found a company email from a Sato Daichi I stopped scrolling to open it. I blinked in confusion a few times, trying to process it. “It’s in Japanese,” I mumbled. I scrolled further down and breathed a sigh of relief. There was what I assumed was a translation.

Greetings Nakamura,
I represent Shinto Shrine Publishing, a publishing company located in Japan. While we publish multiple forms of art, we specialize in manga and magazine release. We recently came across your webcomic Girl Without a Name and would like to discuss the possibility of translation and release in one of our monthly subscriptions. We would like to arrange a call as soon as possible if you are interested.
Sincerely,
Sato

I re-read the email and couldn’t help but smile. My inner nerd rejoiced. My fans had always motivated me, but while I never thought I needed validation from within the industry, it sure felt nice to receive it. Knowing that my characters may get to live their lives in front of a larger audience nearly drove me to tears.

Without a second to lose I picked up the phone and called Nate. He answered on the second ring. “Yup.”

“Hey Nate, I know what happened,” I told him.

“You found out that the editorial team at Shinto Shrine Publishing stumbled across your comic and tweeted about it?” I could hear the grin in his voice.

“Yes…”

“And one of their bigwigs has reached out to you about translating your comic for distribution?” he continued.

“Yes…”

“Yeah, I already know. Wow, it took you that long to figure it all out? Old age has slowed you down considerably.”

“Hey! Listen you brat, a lot is going on. I don’t have time to sit around and read tweets all day,” I retorted.

“You don’t?”

“No! I don’t! I have a job!” I balled my fist as if to shake it at him.

“Haha, okay, but I thought you were a coder? Don’t you set your own hours? Or has your boss finally given you a permanent full-time position?” I hated that he was right. Why did he have to actually pay attention to the things I said? He never listened this well when I would lecture him as a kid. He cleared his throat and it snapped me back to reality. “Anyway, I have a regular job so I need to get back to work. Get the details and I will plan to come over after work.”

“Do you want me to order pizza? Are you going to bring Eva with you?” I asked, remembering that he had been neglecting his girlfriend while we worked on this project.

“Eva?”

“Yeah, your girlfriend?”

“Ooooooooh, no. No, she won’t be available. Just plan for me. I’ll grab drinks.”

I chose not to comment but instead agreed and hung up. I looked back at Demetri, who was sound asleep by my feet. With a deep breath to cool my nerves, I hit reply on the email. I started to type.

Dear Mr. Sato…

“Wait, is Daichi a male or female name?” I asked myself. “I’m pretty sure it’s male.” I sat silent for a moment, having an inner debate if I should just call my father and ask. I glanced at the clock. “Eleven… that would mean it is two in the afternoon out east. I wonder if I could catch him?”

I picked up the phone and dialed my father. A sickeningly sweet female voice answered. “Hello, Capalo Hotel Manhattan, how may I direct your call?”

“Yes, Chef Nakamura please,” I said clearly.

“May I say who’s calling?” the woman asked politely.

“Please let him know it is Jordan… his daughter,” I quickly added, realizing that for a busy executive chef, Jordan may not be enough information. The phone was suddenly filled with the sounds of smooth jazz. There was a click followed by silence. Worried that the call had been cut off, I spoke up. ”Hello?”

“Yes, sorry Jordan. Just a moment,” answered my father’s strong voice. I heard a muffled conversation and then he was back. “Sorry about that. We are prepping for dinner. Is something wrong? Are you okay? Is Nate all right?” The normally stern tone of my father’s voice had an edge of worry.

“Dad, don’t worry. We’re both fine. I just have a quick question. Is Daichi a guy’s name?”

“You interrupted prep to ask about a name?” he questioned. “What is this about? Are you online dating?”

I rolled my eyes. “No, I’m not dating. I was contacted by a publishing house in Japan. They are interested in publishing me.”

“I wasn’t aware you were writing in Japanese,” he stated. “Are you still coding and working with computers? Keep doing that. Writing is a hobby, not a career.”

I sighed. “I am still coding, Dad. Nate and I have a webcomic. The company is interested in translating my comic into Japanese for publishing overseas.”

“And someone at the publisher is interested in dating you?”

“No, Dad. Nothing like that. I’m not dating anyone,” I answered in exasperation.

“Why aren’t you dating? You’re beautiful and smart. You have a good job,” he insisted. “What is wrong with this publisher that he doesn’t want to date you?”

“Dad, he’s not… I mean…ugh…”

“This is why he doesn’t want to date you. You don’t use real words to express what you are feeling or thinking. Don’t worry, Daddy will help. Give me his number, I’ll tell him he should date you.”

I took three deep breaths and reminded myself that he was torturing me out of love. “Dad, is the name Daichi a male name in Japan?”

He was silent a long moment. “Typically, yes.”

“Thank you!” I said before lapsing into my normal goodbye speech that would get me off the phone.

Finally hanging up, I turned back to my computer.

Dear Mr. Sato,
Thank you for your inquiry about my webcomic. I am both flattered and humbled that you would take time out of your busy schedule to reach out to me. I would very much like to discuss the opportunity at your earliest convenience. I have attached my private contact information so you may more easily reach me.
Sincerely,
Nakamura

I hit send and leaned back in my chair, highly satisfied with myself. I started working my way through the pile of fan mail in my inbox before I gave up and logged into the company servers to begin work. I was exhausted, but if I didn’t get my work done, I would have all the time I needed to sleep – without a job.

Chapter 1 – Just Hit Publish

“Can we make his hair…spikier?”

“Uhhhhh, I’m not sure that is actually a real word?” Nate argued.

“It’s English, you can make anything a word in English,” I fired back.

Nate rolled his eyes before quickly moving his hand over his electronic drawing pad. “Ladies and gentlemen, Jordan Nakamura: inventor of words and Betty of Badassdom.”

I chuckled as I watched my character take shape on the screen. Giving ‘gentle’ instructions, Nate and I worked through the night making sure the newest installment for our web series was perfect. When the sun rose and we were finally out of coffee, I knew it was time to publish a new post and wait for the internet to explode. Of course, by “explode” I meant our three thousand fans would throw up their hands and rejoice at the birth of our new story arc that had taken entirely too long to produce.

I was thankful for our fans. Three thousand fans wasn’t enough for us to quit our real jobs and only produce content, but it did prove that we were, in fact, readable. We just had to keep trying to get out there, and I knew someday we would get our break. “It’s a numbers game,” I assured myself as I handed Nate his jacket.

“Sorry, did you say something?” he asked.

I shook my head to clear it as well as remind myself I had to stay awake long enough to crawl to bed. “Not really,” I answered while opening the door for him. “I mean, I was just saying it’s a numbers game. Eventually we will produce enough content that someone will notice… right?”

Nate reached out and ruffled my hair with a laugh. “Get some rest Jordan, our fans await.” The simple gesture reminded me of simpler times.

“Thanks, but they’re your fans too,” I insisted.

Ha paused long enough to give me a blank look. “Nope, I just draw what you tell me to. Anyway, good night!” Nate braced himself against the cold before opening the door and ducking out into the frigid February morning on the short jog to his car.

After closing and locking the door I stumbled back into my small home office. I looked over the new post one last time. “Well, here goes,” I mumbled, and hit the button to send it out into the world. Glancing at the clock I sighed heavily. “Seven fifteen…. Ewwwwwwh.”

I grabbed my phone off my desk then staggered to bed. I wiggled in an unladylike fashion until I had removed my bra and nothing else and collapsed into bed. Thumbing through the list of contacts on my phone, I found the one I was looking for and hit send. I prayed for a voicemail but instead got a singsongy voice on the other end.

“Jordan? Good morning, Jordan. How can I help you?”

“Mollie, I’m not coming into the office today. I was up all night working on a project.” I listened carefully as I heard my boss feverishly scribble something down on paper.

“Are you not working today? Or are you just not coming in?” she finally asked. The happiness was gone from her chirp.

“I’ll log in and work this afternoon, but if I don’t get some sleep none of my code is going to run without errors.”

She huffed a humongous sigh that had no doubt made her tiny frame shake. Hell, I almost shook on the other end of the phone. “This isn’t going to be a habit again, is it?”

“It may,” I admitted honestly. “If you could afford to pay me more for my coding, including some benefits, I wouldn’t need to freelance out.” I knew coming back to the age old arguments about workers’ rights would end the discussion quickly.

“Jordan, you know if we had a full time position available I would offer it to you?”

“On what planet is fifty hours a week not considered full time?” I growled.

“You know what I mean.” Mollie went quiet for a minute. “Oh, Jordan, I’m getting another call. Sorry, I gotta go. I’ll email you some specs. Just get some rest, then get those fingers moving.” In the next breath, she was gone.

I plugged in my phone and rolled over. I’m confident I was asleep before I actually closed my eyes.

*****

Somewhere between my dream about a wild night with the entire cast of Thunder from Down Under and the dream where I rescued baby ducks from a carnivorous umbrella, I had a conversation with a talking cat. Most of my dreams feel like dreams, but the conversation with the cat felt strangely real.

Just when I was about to enjoy an encore performance from the glowing sex gods, the sounds of loud music ripped through my dreams. “Damn it, no!” I swore as dream-me made one last feeble reach for a leather G-string. I peeked through my lids and focused on the culprit.

My phone flashed and vibrated violently from where it sat on my nightstand screaming Bon Jovi at me. I flipped it over, revealing Nate’s photo on the screen. I hit the green button and squawked loudly into it, “What?!?!?!”

I was greeted with the faint sounds of keys clicking. “Uhhhh, Jordan? Did I wake you up?”

“Yes!” I snapped grumpily. “You interrupted a glorious dream involving a scantily leather-clad man who could tie cherry stems with his tongue….”

“So the guys from Thunder Down Under again?”

“Yes.” I sniffed that he so easily knew me.

“Sorry to interrupt what was no doubt another X-rated dream, but something is wrong with the site.”

I all but jumped out of bed and rushed to my laptop in the office. “Were we hacked?” I asked in a panic.

“No, but could you look at our viewership?”

I tapped my foot impatiently as my laptop loaded and I made my way to the site. I clicked on stats and flopped into the rolling chair beside me. I was in shock. “Does that really say forty-five thousand hits?”

“Forty-five?” Nate asked. I heard him frantically clicking. “That’s three thousand more hits in the last ten minutes. I needed to refresh.”

“Oh-Em-Gee!” I cried into the phone. “Do you think something is broken? Or do you think a spambot got ahold of our URL?”

“I don’t know,” Nate answered in a distracted tone.

“It’s rather funny how neither of you has considered that your site is going viral?” said an unfamiliar voice. I whirled around in my chair to confront the intruder, but the doorway behind me was empty.

“Uhhh Nate, someone is in my house…” I trailed off before absent-mindedly hanging up. I heard panic in his voice just before my phone went silent. I jumped out of the chair and rushed into the hall. “Hello?” I called out to my seemingly empty condo. “Hello?” When my phone started singing again I let out a shriek before answering an undoubtedly worried Nate.

“Jordan? Jordan? Are you ok?” he cried into the phone. “Lock yourself in a room and call nine one one. I’m on my way.”

I turned the corner and looked into my bedroom and then my bathroom. “Nate, I think I just imagined it. I woke up really suddenly and I don’t think I was fully awake.” Just to be sure, I grabbed my old softball bat from the hall closet and headed into the living room. I quickly checked it and the kitchen. Nobody was there.

I heaved a sigh of relief. “Sorry to worry you, but I think I just imagined it. I’ve been through the whole house. Nobody but me is here.”

I heard Nate let out a long breath. “So you are okay?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I told him while nodding to myself for reassurance.

“Don’t scare me like that, Jordan. Mom and Dad would be so mad if I let something happen to you.”

“Yeah, let’s try and avoid upsetting the parental units if we can help it. It is nice to know that my little brother has my back though.”

“Little,” he snorted.

“You’re two years younger!”

“And you’re two feet shorter!” Nate fired back.

“I’m not that short…”

He snickered like he had just gotten away with something. “Fine, maybe you’re not that short, but if you aren’t suffering from a home invasion, I’m going to let you go so I can get back to work.”

“Thanks!” I said as I started a pot of coffee. I dropped my phone on the table and rummaged for a coffee cup. Coming up empty – I had avoided dishes for three days while we were in crunch time – I gave up and washed a mug.

I poured a cup and sat down at the kitchen table. I inhaled deeply to drink in the aroma before taking the first sip. “Damn, if coffee beans aren’t really magical beans, I’m not sure I want to believe in magic.”

“Well that is a charmingly naive point of view,” said the voice from earlier.

“Eeep!” I squeaked as I dropped my mug and watched it crash and break on the floor. “My coffee!” I cried despondently.

“Seriously, you’re our best hope?” came the voice again.

I looked around the kitchen in a panic. I wondered if I was having a nervous break or if I could reach a knife for safety fast enough. “Who are you? Where are you hiding?” The table in front of me shook slightly, bringing my attention back to it. In front of me sat a non-descript grey cat.  Nothing about it seemed out of the ordinary other than it was sitting on my kitchen table… and I didn’t own a cat. “Will you please calm yourself down? We don’t have time to sit here while you have a panic attack.”

I blinked repeatedly. “Are you talking?”

The cat yawned before sticking me with a glare that chilled my blood. “You’re serious? We had a conversation for over an hour this morning, and now you choose to freak out over me being a cat?”

“Wait, what?”

The cat sighed, causing its whole body to rise and fall. “This morning around ten we talked about why I was here. I gave you a whole rundown.” I continued to stare. “You know, the whole chosen one thing. I’m here as your guardian. You need to defend the world against evil. Is any of this ringing a bell?”

“You’re a talking cat!” I yelped.

The cat growled at me. “Humans!” It shook its head. “Fix another cup of coffee, grab a can of tuna, and sit back down. I guess we will go through all this again.”