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He heard it in the news…
There were speculated reports that Black Friday was under threat and that this year prices would skyrocket, that no one would be able to purchase their beloved NinjApparel at the lowest prices but James, being an introvert, switched off.
Before long, James had returned to his quiet, normal existence buried in online journals in the silent confines of the library and zoning in and out of reality during the night, consumed by manga, blinking behind his all too large glasses, every so often absentmindedly restyling the hair that his mom cut monthly with her old, blunting kitchen scissors.
There was nothing spectacular about his life, and any connection to the outside world was him living vicariously through his more confident older brother, always seemingly styled in low cut harem tees and assault joggers, donning the look of The Grandmaster when he really wanted to entertain on nights out. Any feelings of envy that James had were dispelled by his closeted nature.
What he didn't know was that his life was about to change dramatically…
That news story he had previously heard was having more of an effect on the world as James receded into his fantasy universe. But a looming darkness has begun to emerge. More and more there were tales of Yama, a figure becoming increasingly recognizable by his twisted grin and dark master hood.
First, whispers on the street, in the library, on public transport, growing louder and louder, hushed voices turning into frantic conversations about something rising, bubbling to the surface, prices, costs, an economy in turmoil…
And it would be coming on Black Friday.
Yama was surrounded by a menacing contingent of dark-eyed, hooded figures whose mouths were drawn in solemn, foreboding glares, going by the name Street Assassins.
They were only there to lurk as Yama caused the skies to darken, exclaiming how this Black Friday would be the end, that it would be truly black for all, and after it was done and dusted there would only be him, the dark master, reigning supreme.
The world was sent into a spiral of confusion and disarray as the prospect of an endless eternity of skyrocketing costs caused even the simplest, most humble of people’s mental wellbeing to grind to a halt.
Terror and fear gripped everyone but James…
He didn't know any better. All he cared for was his education, and so what? What would he be able to do to stop this? And why should he care? This was a race of people he had decided not to associate himself with so why should this mean anything to him?
But it was this apathy of what this impending darkness truly meant for the world’s future that would first attract a great, ancient power that had only been prophesized, to James.
It was possible that he may hold the key to the world’s freedom. A way out of the doom that Yama had foretold would envelope the world on Black Friday.
But what could a prophecy do when the darkness was already here?
James hurried home as the wind rasped at his cheeks, the drizzle dampened his hair and the whirl of greying clouds raged a battle overhead. The weather was unfamiliar for this time of the year, but he didn’t think anything of it and was too busy trying to protect his laptop in his duffel bag, that he didn't notice the tall man standing right before him.
Eyes closed, he crashed headfirst into the man and fell to the floor, his laptop crunching on the wet pavement. He heard the cracking of the screen and stared up startled and wild-eyed at the looming figure above.
“W-w-what…” He stammered but fell silent as the mysterious man drew a long, pale finger to his lips.
Did he even have eyes?
James wasn't sure…
James shook away his confusion, blinking a few times.
What he was sure of was that he didn't want to wait to find out but as he tried to get up he found that his body was paralyzed.
He looked around in fear for help and noticed that everything had stopped in motion. If he weren’t under paralysis, he could have reached out and touched the raindrops that had slowed down to a halt.
And then, he heard a voice in his head…speaking with authority and an air of calm dignity.
He heard that the man, The Sorcerer, was here to aid him on his quest, that he had been chosen as the prophecy had foretold, that he was to be a hero, a ninja.
But what quest? What prophecy?
A hero? A ninja?
The Sorcerer drew a vintage coin necklace from his hooded cloak and placed it around James’s neck. And in the blink of an eye he had disappeared.
As feeling returned to James’s body the rain came crashing down, harder than before, in hard icy pellets. He frantically looked at his destroyed laptop, reaching into himself for his senses, and flipped, as if upon instinct, back to his feet in one fluid motion.
Standing there, his eyes darted to his left, and that’s when he saw it, glowing with blue and red fluorescence, merging into purple.
Quickly, he darted into the store for cover…
The old woman seated in the puffy burgundy armchair was motionless when James entered wild-eyed through the front door, causing the bell to jingle, swing, and sway. His arrival had been expected.
He moved towards her, breathing heavily, holding his hand up in apology but she only motioned for him to lower it and beckoned him closer. Her skin was wrinkled and her eyes misty but as James sat obediently before her she cleared her throat and spoke like a mother telling her small child a bedtime story.
Time didn't exist here as James heard the tale of the coming of Yama, something The Oracle had known was on the horizon for some time, and how it had been told that only he could stop the incoming darkness on Black Friday.
He didn't believe it at first but when she asked him to look at his new gear and acknowledge his abilities he was stunned into disbelief and awkward realization.
What has happened to my clothes? He thought…
His drab clothing had been replaced by a low cut harem tee exactly like the one his brother wore, the Dark Saint Hoodie, Dojo joggers, Reaper gloves and Combat boots as the vintage coin necklace dangled over his now muscular chest. He felt the power rush through him as his clothing was tighter, a part of him.
“Now go,” The Oracle said, pointing towards the exit. “You shall meet Yatagarasu, The Informant, who will lead you to Yomi where you’ll face Yama. Take with you this nomad backpack, which will come in handy, young ninja warrior. And beware he of the eight heads, Orochi, the Phantom Freerunner.”
James, empowered with the ancient might of the thousand-year-old ninja, bowed, removed his glasses and left on his journey. Catching a glimpse of himself in a tall mirror on his right he recognized the person he had always been meant to be, if only he had just let himself. Confident, serious, powerful, with his hair smooth on the sides and slicked back.
He was ready to save the world from Yama before Black Friday…
He stepped out into the dimming world as the rain fell unrelentingly but as he drew the hood of his Dark Saint hoodie over his head it was as though a protective shield had been formed around him. He strode forward, head held high and felt a fluttering behind him, a ruffle of feathers and the feeling of claws clasp around his right shoulder. Slowly, he turned his head to see Yatagarasu, The Informant, as it cawed out.
He could hear the crow clearly inside of his head as it directed him towards Yomi…
It wasn't long before James found himself inside of a forest. He had heard about this place in myths and had seen it displayed over social media – bastardized and butchered by the media-obsessed generation of clones.
Its name was Aokigahara. The Suicide Forest. The Sea of Trees.
And now James would have to face it, like many before him who had tried and failed…
It was in here that the feeling of danger crept into his soul, with feelings of dread epitomized by the fraying strings that brave travelers who had entered the forest had trailed out behind them so as not to get lost in the doldrums and maelstrom.
The Informant cawed out once more, prompting James to open his nomad backpack where he found his own string glowing green with fluorescence like a glowstick in the darkening forest. Rummaging through he also discovered an array of weapons, which would come in handy: shuriken, a katana and a pouch of grey powder…
He ventured further into Aokigahara as he heard screams of despair off into the distance and then…
He saw them…
Silent humans, milling around in Yin Yang hoodies like aimless ants without a queen.
Their eyes were blackened like the sky.
It was here that James knew that he was approaching Yomi, the World of Darkness, and the domicile of Yama, but how would he enter?
The Informant cawed once more, this time louder and all of a sudden James was surrounded by Street Assassins in their hoods, with snarling, scowling faces.
They attacked all at once but James ducked as they crashed like a Wall of Death around him. In a flurry of leg sweeps, straight palm punches, chops and jagged elbows he raged against them, crippling them all.
They lay there, in the Aokigahara, for seconds, before disappearing into the mist rising from the ground…
As James glanced up he noticed a new figure standing before him. He immediately drew his katana with ferocity and returned to a fighting stance, then drove his blade forward but the man vanished in an instant and appeared behind him.
“I am The Illusionist,” he said as James whirled around once more to only stare out into the blank forest. “I am here the reveal Yomi to you but first you will need to secure safe passage from her.”
In an instant, The Illusionist appeared again and, with an outstretched hand, he made a circular motion that revealed Yomi…
“Who is she?” James asked, still apprehensive.
“She will be with you soon…” He said, and disappeared forever.
Out of the forest he saw a lithe figure approaching. In the mystical darkness she was ethereal, like no woman he had ever seen before, although, to be fair, he hadn’t noticed too many.
She curled her lip into a grin and slowly titled her head back, long hair falling in wisps around her shoulder, biting down on her full red lips. A creature of sheer beauty, intimidatingly so.
Raising her arms above her head, The Temptress came ever-so-closer, face-to-face with the hero who was momentarily incapacitated by the sight of her. Seductively, she brought her hands to rest on his cheeks and exhaled into his mouth.
He saw fear, desperation as his throat seized and his eyes widened, but all the while The Temptress remained calm…
Then, with a whisper, she brought her mouth next to his gradually deafening ears as Aokigahara began to disappear from view, and spoke, “to enter Yomi you must first die yourself. For the sake of mankind, defeat Yama and restore order before Black Friday.” She took off his nomad backpack and he fell.
As he collapsed in her arms, The Temptress pushed him through the portal and into Yomi…
Here was a momentary lapse of reason, a gasp of nothingness and the drain of the surrounding world, driving down into the pit of his stomach and shooting up into his head; rattling his already frazzled neural connections.
He awoke in limbo…
In Yomi, everything was stagnant, static, much like the world would be if James didn’t succeed. Ground to a halt on Black Friday as prices rose and the economic collapse caused widespread malfunction.
He also found that The Temptress had given him new attire, as instead of his Dark Saint hoodie he now wore the Emperor’s woven jersey.
He felt regal and ready for battle.
The people needed their deals, a katana slashing through Yama, and with that, through the heart of the darkness, restoring Black Friday to how it was meant to be and maintaining the equilibrium.
James was dead, but he could bring life to the world once more and save Black Friday with the abilities of the Ancient Samurai…
He crept through the World of Darkness, making sure of his every footfall, when he heard a terrible, guttural roar reverberate through the limbo, shaking it out of its misery and bringing chaotic destruction with it.
James turned with speed just in time to evade the Phantom Freerunner, which whooshed past him as though he were a matador. Orochi reared his heads, an ugly, serpentine mess of heads snapping in blind rage, jagged teeth gleaming sharp. The Phantom Freerunner returned with venom and bound forth with extreme pace once more but this time James was ready…
He readjusted his Emperor’s woven jersey and slowly took out the pouch and released the grey powder, creating a smokescreen that Orochi went right into. As the beast lurched backwards, howling in pain, James released eight shuriken into the eyes of the foul creature before zooming forwards and stabbing his katana into its one heart.
There was no monumental collapse or death wail…
Orochi simply crumpled to the floor as James twisted his katana once more and pulled it back.
Now, for Yama…
He continued through this netherworld and came upon a steel gate in the gloom. Opening the gate, as it creaked and eeked, it would have been cold to the touch had it not been for his Reapers.
As he stepped into the vestibule he was greeted by a booming voice, “WHO DARES!”
“Yama…” was all that James whispered to himself as he ventured further, seeing a cove with a ripped curtain adorning the entry in the corner of the room.
It was here where he found Yama, in all his filth and faux-glory.
He moved the ripped curtain and peered inside to find a hunched figure shrouded in a dark master hood in the corner of the room.
He prepared for battle as he heard Yama cackling audibly but just as he blinked the figure in the hood disappeared from his view.
Startled, he stumbled back and knocked his heel onto the chamber wall…
The figure, Yama, appeared on the roof and dove down at James, revealing his contorted hands with sharp knives for fingers glinting in the darkness…
This was, indeed, the god of death. James darted out of the way and tossed his Shuriken but Yama easily evaded the attack.
Again Yama came and impaled James’s shoulder, driving him forward and pressing him against the wall.
James struggled but he was pinned and began to feel hopeless as Yama let out that cackle once again.
His eyes met with Yama’s, underneath the hood of the dark master, and what he saw was a person who hated Black Friday, who didn’t care about the plight of the people of Earth.
He stared deeply into the soul of this monster and only saw how he had been before he had chosen to become a ninja.
His apathy to the world had been unjustified, and his recklessness to assume that the world could either end or go on, without him participating, was the reason for everything to come crashing down.
Now that he was a ninja, James stopped struggling and looked inside of himself. Into how his journey had forced him to conquer his own demons with NinjApparel, who were far greater than this menace.
As Yama brought his twisted face to James’s, preparing to consume him, James shot his free hand out and hit Yama square in the chest with his palm – sending him flying into the opposite wall of the ancient chamber.
He knew he could only defeat this darkness with light, to save Black Friday. He gripped his vintage coin necklace and let the power inside of him fill the crystal until it grew burning bright.
Yama quivered in fear and let out of shriek of desperation but it was too late, as white light, hot with heat shot from the crystal and doomed Yama into oblivion…
There was only white light and white heat surrounding them, burning everything to smithereens as James felt himself scooped up and carried away limply.
The pain subsided as he glanced up to see her, but this time she was different, as a glow seemed to linger beneath her pale skin. Her smile this time was warm and comforting, not wanton and daring.
“You.” Was all James could say as he regained consciousness and she kissed his forehead gently, batting her eyelashes like a doe.
The Mercy Dress, deep maroon and stretching on eternally, hugging her figure, touched his heart and brought him back to life and reality…
When he came too he saw people cheering, crying with joy as the sun broke out powerfully through the gorgeous white clouds, sheep with no legs. They were hugging and kissing, and when James looked down at himself he saw that he was still dressed in his NinjApparel.
It hadn’t been a dream… he was a Rogue Legend.