The collection features my story “Ceremonies” — an urban fantasy story about a Valkyrie from Minnesota, a ninja-vampire, and some tough-as-nails bikers.
Below is an excerpt of the first 1,00 words, and what is essentially the origin story of Hattori Jotaro, aka Joe.
“Can’t I just have a beer instead?”
Joe smiled as he set down the tray. “You could, but I prefer you humor me just this once, Bryn.” he said. “Besides, we are not just having tea here. A traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a spiritual experience that embodies harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.”
Bryn could appreciate Joe’s traditions, but he was a 500-year-old vampire from Japan, and she was a Valkyrie, and their cultures, and traditions, couldn’t be more different. She was accustomed to feasting and hard drinking with Gods and fallen heroes in the halls of Valhalla. Or, at least she used to. Now she owned a small-engine repair shop in northern Minnesota. Either way, Joe’s sit-cross-legged-and-be-at-peace Zen bullshit was hard for her to get used to.
Joe began preparing the tea. He added two scoops of green tea powder to the tea bowl. Using careful, precise movements, Joe next ladled hot water into the bowl and whisked it into a thin paste, creating a soupy-like substance. Bryn, who had been fidgeting the entire time, thought it looked, and smelled, nasty. Yet she graciously took the bowl from Joe when offered, bowing her head in acknowledgment.
“As you know,” Joe began, “I was born Hattori Jotaro, nearly five-hundred years ago in the Iga Province of Japan. I had a mother, a father, and two younger brothers. Our village, for all intents and purposes, was a quiet, normal farming village. Our numbers were small, and our needs were few. My father, Hattori Hanzō, was the son of a minor samurai, but he himself had grown to become a renowned samurai and master strategist in his own right, serving the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu, only to suddenly renounce his role as retainer to Lord Tokugawa and move with my mother to the remote village where my brothers and I were born.
“Though we were but simple farmers, my father had samurai blood coursing through his veins, and as such could never fully abandon the life of a warrior. He began to train the entire village, women and children included, in swordsmanship. This grew into the training of other weapons: spear, staff, chain and sickle, shuriken, and so on. My father adapted his knowledge of strategy in large-scale battles to that of specialized tactics of guerrilla warfare. Shinobi, they called us.
“For many years we lived alone in the mountains, isolated from the politics and ongoing feuds of the power-hungry Japanese warlords. But fate would not permit us to go on forever as such. Soon, my father’s former master called upon my father for aid in certain situations. My father reluctantly obeyed, sending members of our village on stealth missions of espionage, sabotage, and assassination. Lord Tokugawa’s power and military might grew as a result of these missions, and he was most grateful to my father and our people.
“Then, on a calm and otherwise ordinary morning in the year 1582, a company of soldiers rode into our village on horseback, led by my father’s former master, Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu. He had just won an important battle, but only narrowly escaped; his enemy chasing him close behind. He asked my father for help, and once again my father reluctantly agreed. He led Lord Tokugawa and his men across Iga territory into the safety of Mikawa Province. My village and I, skilled as we were, eliminated the forces that came into our territory in pursuit of Lord Tokugawa. From there, my father went on to continue to aid his former master, helping rescue captured Tokugawa family members.
“At this point, Tokugawa Ieyasu held all the power, and he was declared shogun, the de facto ruler of all of Japan. Grateful to my father for saving his life and assisting his rise to power, he named him Lord of Iga. My father rejected the title, and returned home quietly, declaring wars and politics and power the reason why he had left the first time, and how he regretted being pulled back in. The shogun took the rejection as a direct insult on his honor, and was furious with my father. He sent numerous messages to my father at our village, my father replying to none. One fateful evening, he came to our village himself to confront my father, along with a company of just eight men.
“What happened next is something I will never forget. It’s something I can’t forget. Lord Tokugawa talked of honor, servitude, and duty. My father would hear none of it, and politely requested Lord Tokugawa to leave, and never return, allowing our village to live in peace. Lord Tokugawa then began to talk of dark demons, thirst for blood, and a power harnessed that would allow him to rule until end of time. Then he and his men changed. They physically changed. Their eyes became pools of black, their faces contorted into angry misshapen things. Their mouths grew sharp fangs. It was a bloodbath. My father was the first to be ripped apart, by the shogun himself. He went straight for my father’s throat, biting into it and chewing away as he drank and bathed in his former retainer’s blood. The rest of my village was violently torn apart soon after, having no time to react to the horror that befell them. No amount of shinobi training could have ever saved them. I stood by, frozen in fear, helpless as I watched my mother, my brothers, and everyone else in my village perished in a tornado of blood and screams.
“I think it was Lord Tokugawa who came for me, but I can’t be sure. The next thing I remember is waking up in darkness, cold and surrounded by dirt. I had been buried underground. Panicked, I clawed my way up out of the dirt. When I finally pulled myself from my shallow grave, the shogun was standing over me, his eight demons behind him.
“‘Welcome,’ he said, ‘to your new family. I am your father now. You will honor and serve me.’
“And that, Bryn Northcutt, is how I became a vampire.”