Chaos Among the Cherry Blossoms: Parts 1 and 2

Chapter 1: The Tomb in the Storm

Japan, 1996:

The sun was desperately trying to peek through the clouds as the wind howled through the cherry blossoms that surrounded the Sun-Jin academy complex. The pink petals were blowing haphazardly to the ground, marring the prettiness of what would have been a beautiful funeral. Row after row of people draped in black attire were watching as the solid wood casket was slowly lowered into the ground and then covered up. Then the line formed as people of all ages, young pupils, former students, current teachers and friends waited to place flowers on the grave of Matsuo Umata. Among them was Sylvia Yamazaki.  She waited quietly in line, fiddling with her jet-black hair that was braided intricately on top of the rest of her flowing locks to keep the stray tendrils out of her eyes. There was the smallest hint of gray starting to emerge around her temples. There were dark circles around her eyes as if she hadn’t slept in days, but they remained dry. She was holding a white calla lily in her hand in a small pot. The flower was beautiful and put off a strong aura of liveliness. She stood in line until it was her turn. She said a few words of remembrance, then quickly turned and left, returning to the compound.

The inside of the compound was massive. There were several rooms set up for everything from sword sparring to practicing martial arts, and even an archery and gun range. There was a buffet set up for the reception with tons of different dishes in the room where the sword practice usually took place. Sylvia grabbed a plate and packed it as high as she could with different sushi rolls. She then went over to the corner of the room and sat down, back against the wall. She had only just began eating when a man walked up to her and sat down next to her. He did not have a plate of food nearly as big as hers.

“Yamazaki-Chan, is that really you?” The man asked

“Yes?” She replied coldly

“It’s me. It’s Shinji. You know, Amaya-San.”

“I didn’t come here to conversate. Sorry.” Sylvia replied coldly through bites of her food.

“So is this how it’s gonna be now. You’re all dark and edgy now?” He joked

“Shinji, it’s nice to see you. It really is, but I just came back to pay my respects to Master Umata, I don’t want to talk to anybody.” She answered

“Can we at least chat for a minute? Catch up?” Shinji responded

“We haven’t talked to each other in 17 years. We have nothing to catch up on, I’m sorry… You might as well be a stranger” Sylvia said stoically. She got up to move and he waited to follow her for a moment. She left the room and he trailed behind, opening the sliding beige door and then closing it behind him. Shinji was a tall man with broad shoulders, short dark black hair and a patchy beard. His face wasn’t traditionally handsome, but not unappealing either. His dark brown eyes shed an eternal light of friendliness and protection.

He walked over to Sylvia and sat down next to her again, which drew a sigh from her.

“I’m not leaving until you at least talk to me for a minute.” Shinji demanded

“I see you’re still as persistent as I remember you being.” Sylvia replied

“I mean, how have you been these last 17 years. You look nice by the way.” Shinji complemented her.

“Don’t patronize me, I know I look like shit.” Sylvia responded crossly. “This is the first I’ve eaten in a few days.”

“By the way you’re putting down those sushi rolls, I believe it. So, tell me, how was America? You know, I heard they got these burgers overseas where there’s 4 patties. I could hardly believe it when I found out.” Shinji asked

“It’s nice. They put me in this house. It was only one room but I didn’t have to pay rent. The whole thing was padded and soft. They even gave me this sweet jacket.” Sylvia replied sarcastically.

“It’s good to see your wit somehow survived in the looney bin.”

“Well, you know, it’s the humor that keeps you sane.”

“I’m glad to see you again Yamazaki-Kun. I just wish it was under better circumstances.” Shinji said solemnly. He looked down at his feet for a moment then looked back to Sylvia “I know you and Sensei Umata had your differences, so I’m glad you decided to come here to honor him.”

“Unfortunately, you start going to a lot more funerals than weddings when you get to our age.” She replied softly. “It was nice to see you too though Shinji. Take care.” Sylvia said, standing up with an empty plate and moving back into the room where the buffet was lined out. She grabbed another massive plate full of brightly colored sushi and trudged off to another room. Shinji followed her in.

“Oh. My. God.” She sighed, annoyed “If you wanna fuck me then just come up with some terrible excuse and tell me when and where. Otherwise, please leave me alone.” She stated

“Yamazaki-Kun, I need to talk to you about Master Umata. You know I can’t just let this go. I need to figure out who did this to him. I need help catching his murderer, and I need… Protection.” Shinji responded hastily

“First of all, drop the honorifics. My name is Sylvia, ok. Just call me Sylvia. Second of all, I’m out of the game. It’s very sad what happened to Sensei Umata, but I suggest you just give it up, ok? Nothing good can come from this.” Sylvia answered. She munched on her sushi rolls with more vigor.

“I’m not asking you to do this out of the kindness of your heart Sylvia. I’ll pay you.” Shinji countered

“Ok, fine. Everyone has their price. How much?”

“2 million up front, another 2 million when the job is done.” He answered swiftly and confidently.

“Psh. I wouldn’t shoot somebody’s elderly dog for that little money. Come up with a much higher number and maybe we can do business.”

“I was talking dollars, not yen Sylvia.” Shinji said calmly.

“Oh.” Sylvia looked away as if she was seriously ruminating on the thought of accepting it then and there.

“I’ll have to sleep on it, but I seriously doubt it, Shinji. I don’t need the money anyway.” She replied more completely. “Besides, where the hell are you going to get 4 million dollars anyway?” Sylvia asked

“Don’t worry about where I get the money, just trust that I have it, ok?” Shinji replied simply. “There’s this bar down by the waterfront in town about 7 miles from here. Join me for some drinks, we can share some memories of better times and maybe talk some business.”

“Shinji, I’m not…”

“Please, just for an hour. I think you owe Sensei Umata that much.” Shinji prodded.

Sylvia heaved a massive sigh “Fine, they better sell sushi there though.”

The two got into their vehicles and drove away from the Sun-Jin complex. There was about 5 miles of dirt road caked with cherry blossom leaves between them and the main city. They drove into town and parked a bit away from the New Haven bar which was just a few feet from the bank of a river that ran through town. The bar was upscale and finely decorated, with light fixtures emitting soft light across the room. Low string music was playing over the speakers and the liquor bottles behind the bar were backlit with blue lights that pulsated slowly. They walked in, and the bartender greeted them.

“Two sake please. Top shelf.” Shinji said to the barkeep in Japanese as they sat down on the nice wooden stool. He nodded and got to work pouring their drinks.

“What are you doing Shinji?” Sylvia asked

“Oh sorry, did you not want sake?” he replied concerned

“You know I can’t drink right? I’m on like 4 antipsychotics? I thought you were a doctor?”

“Yeah, and as your doctor, I suggest you drink this with me.” He chuckled, handing her the glass full to the brim with sake. She reluctantly grabbed it.

“To Sensei Umata.” Shinji said raising his glass.

“To Sensei Umata.” Sylvia agreed quietly, raising her glass to meet his. She drank the entire cup and then sat it down on the top of the bar. The two sat silently looking down at the bar top. Sylvia spun the glass around a few times before Shinji broke the silence.

“You must be so conflicted.” He started “I mean, Master Umata took both of us in and gave us a home when we had nobody else to turn to… He put me through medical school when the whole being an assassin thing didn’t work out. But I know you two didn’t see eye to eye more often than not.”

“I can’t be too mad at him. He was just treating me like everyone else I’ve ever met. You know, like I’m a ticking bomb with the timer at 5 seconds.” Sylvia responded sullenly, still spinning her glass.

“Did you two at least talk again before he passed?” Shinji asked carefully

“Briefly.” Sylvia replied simply

“Well, that’s good at least.”

Shinji had quietly ordered the pair of them another drink and the bar keep set the new glass on the table. Sylvia grabbed hers and gulped down quickly. As the night wore on, the glasses started to pile up and eventually, it was time for last call around 1 A.M. The two had spent the entire night reminiscing about when they were teenagers. Shinji went to pay and the bartender waived him off aggressively.

“Don’t bother. I know what your tattoos mean. Your blood money is no good here.” He said taciturnly

Shinji put his wallet away and then they both stood up to leave.

“You live around here, right?” Shinji asked

“Yeah, about 3 blocks away.” Sylvia answered, her speech a bit slurred.

“May I walk you home?” Shinji asked politely and Sylvia nodded.

The two walked through the dimly lit streets of the town, past rows and rows of buildings and houses stacked on top of each other. They continued chatting happily and recollecting memories of their younger exploits.

“Do you remember that time Tanaka-san stole that huge jug of plum whiskey from Master Umata’s chambers?” Sylvia asked

“Yes, I vividly remember holding your hair back while you puked your guts out.” Shinji laughed “you were a lightweight then and you still are.”

“I told you I never drink.” Sylvia said laughing hysterically “I weigh like 100 pounds soaking wet, cut me some slack.” She added, hitting Shinji playfully on the arm.

The two came up to the house that Sylvia was living at. It was a very small wooden building with two floors stacked vertically, and painted a static cream color. A small staircase on the side connected the ground floor to the front of the second story. The two stood out front still conversing together.

“He would literally start every sentence with ‘as a Sun-jin student’ every fucking sentence when he talked to us.” Sylvia laughed

“Remember when he made me and you scrub the entire sparring room because we laughed at him when he said it once?” Shinji smiled and looked up at the building.

“This you?” he questioned

“Yep.”

“We got completely lost in remembering the good old days. We didn’t even get to talk turkey.” Shinji stated

“Meet me at the gun range in town tomorrow at 1. We can talk then.” Sylvia replied

“The gun range? Why?”

“Because, I need to make sure my guns still fire properly after 8 years out of use.” She answered

Shinji nodded and then bowed “I guess this is goodbye for now, Yamazaki-Chan.” Shinji said “Unless the sex you were offering earlier is still on the table.” He supplemented with a smirk.

“You haven’t noticed by now that I use sarcasm as a defense mechanism?” Sylvia giggled in response

 “That was an incredibly specific defense mechanism.” He joked “Alright, good night Sylvia.”

As he began to walk away, Sylvia reached out to him and pulled him in for a hug. He gently wrapped his arms around her body in response.

“Thank you for tonight Shinji. This little trip down memory lane was… It was the first time I’ve felt genuine happiness in what feels like an eternity.” Sylvia said sincerely. She looked up at Shinji and he was looking back at her with a compassion in his eyes. As if it brought him great joy seeing that he had made somebody else happy.

“And thank you for treating me like a human being and not a psychotic monster.”

“You’re welcome Sylvia, it was really nice to talk with you again. I can’t believe it’s been 17 fucking years.” He said with a smile “And I wouldn’t see you any other way because that’s the girl I grew up being friends with.”  

Sylvia ended the embrace and waived him farewell. She then went up to her house and walked straight to her bedroom. She jumped into her bed where her Jerrid Messa body pillow was laying. She grabbed it and held it close to her.

“Did you seriously get friend-zoned by the first guy you’ve had contact with in 10 years.” Angel said “You have like zero game.”

“Leave her alone.” Janice replied “But seriously, you should open up a bit.”

“Yeah, he’s cute. Really filed out, didn’t he?  Plus, he’s 100% Japanese. Keep the bloodline pure.”

“What the hell Angel?!” Janice exclaimed

“What? What did I say? You don’t think he’s cute?”

Chapter 2: A Legend Lives

“I don’t get it, honestly. What’s keeping you from helping me with this?” Shinji asked. He was at the gun range with Sylvia who had disassembled her Walther PPK and was cleaning it intently and thoroughly.

“Because this is a wild goose chase Shinji. We have nothing to go on at all. Why can’t you just let the police handle this and get on with your life?” Sylvia answered a bit crossly.

“You know the police aren’t going to do shit for anybody in the Sun-Jin, let alone the leader of the whole thing. I mean look, I did some digging, you forget I work almost exclusively on assassins and yakuza. I’ve got connections in Japan.” Shinji countered

“Yeah, great. We have an oni mask left at the scene to go on. That could be a massive coincidence for all we know.”

“But here’s the thing. A mask exactly like the one left at the scene of Umata-San’s murder has been found at plenty of different scenes of gang violence between yakuza clans. I had a guy a few years back, came to me because he was nearly cut in two during a gang dispute with this rival yakuza. He said they go by the Masuhara clan. But here’s the kicker, I did some digging around the underground scene, and it turns out, nobody really knows anything about this clan or the leader. Except for the fact that the patriarch’s nephew is an extremely skilled assassin.”

“Ok, so what are you getting at?” Sylvia sighed, continuing to polish a spot of rust off the silver metal of her pistol.

“What I’m saying is, we find this guy, we probably find who killed Master Umata.”

“And what do you need my help for? You seem to be doing great on your own.” Sylvia responded dismissively without looking up from her work.

“Here’s the thing. This man is literally a ghost. Nobody has ever seen him; nobody knows his name. All they know is that he’s earned the nickname ‘The Butcher of Bandai’” Shinji explained

“And let me guess, you’re not about to take on someone named ‘The Butcher of Bandai’ without somebody who can actually use a gun.” Sylvia remarked a bit cheekily.

“I know how to use a gun.” Shinji said indignantly

“Sure ya do.”

Sylvia finished cleaning the gun and slowly started putting it back together.

“Look. I want to help you, I really do. And I want to do right by Master Umata, if nothing else than for my own karma. But I can’t keep doing this my whole life Shinji. I’m tired, I’m mentally exhausted. I just want to be at peace. Please.” Sylvia pleaded. She had reassembled the gun and had pulled the trigger a few times to check the action. The barrel had locked open. She pulled the trigger one more time and it clicked into place.

“I get where you’re coming from Sylvia, but I need somebody I can trust working with me. I trust you.”

Sylvia pushed the button near the stall of the firing range that moved the target away from her using a pully system. The target that was in the vague shape of a human torso and head was moved about 200 feet away from the pair. She had 2 magazines of ammo laid out on the counter in front of her. She put one in the gun, clicked the slide into place and then dumped the entire mag into the target. It was a tight grouping around the chest and two in the head of the outlined figure.

“You know, Master Umata would have been happy to see us working together like this. I’m just saying.” Shinji said a bit off-handedly.

Sylvia turned to him angrily and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. “Don’t you dare try to guilt me into changing my mind by bringing him up. We might have not had the best relationship, but he’s still twice the man you will ever be.” She spat at him.

Sylvia turned back to the gun range as Shinji started to reply to her. “Are you just sick of this lifestyle or are you scared? Are you afraid that you’ve been away too long and that your skills have diminished? What is it, because the Sylvia I knew would never back down from a challenge like this?”

Sylvia grabbed the gun off the counter, loaded it and then snapped the slide into place. She faced Shinji with the gun held solely by her weaker left hand. She unloaded the entire clip into the dead center of the target 200 feet away from them without breaking eye contact with Shinji. After she felt the gun lock open, she slammed the slide closed and then put the gun back into the holster on her hip.

“Knowing how to efficiently take a human life is not something you can just forget how to do.” She said sternly, then went to leave for the exit.

“Sylvia wait.” Shinji called out, but Sylvia never turned to face him. He caught up to her right as she got to her car. He grabbed her firmly by the shoulder and she pulled away aggressively.

“Will you at least take my number in case you change your mind?” He asked, holding out a slip of paper with numbers slapdashedly scribbled across it. She snapped it away from him antagonistically and looked at it for a moment.

“You have a doctor’s handwriting.” She snarked as she got into her vehicle.

A few days had passed since Shinji and Sylvia had last talked. Sylvia was sitting in her house, on her bed, arms wrapped around her knees. The trash can near her bedside was full of completely filled pill bottles. She was crying and holding her body pillow close to her chest.

“You really need to get some friends.” Janice said

“Seriously, you need to get out and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Nobody is going to make you feel better if you don’t at least try to do it yourself first.” Angel added

“Wait, did we just agree on something?” Janice said incredulously

“A calendar is right once a year.” Angel replied

“Shut up you two. You’re not even fucking real.” Sylvia cried. The tears fell freely from her eyes and down onto the bed, soaking into the cloth. She looked out her bedroom door and into the living room where the phone was sitting on a small end table.

“Just call him. You know you want to.” Angel said

“No Sylvia. Your past does not define who you are.” Janice countered.

As she continued to look over at the phone, a familiar man in a mask appeared by her bedside.

“The sound of the hammer hitting a primer… Sending a long silver bullet out of a well-oiled chamber. It calls to you like a foul temptresses’ song, doesn’t it?” Jaeger said, his words muffled by his mask. “This was what you were meant for. This is your very purpose in life. It’s the only way you know.”

Shinji finished clipping the end of a long bit of heavy sinew. He then put the scissors down and applied some heavy gauze over the wound on the man’s side. He put all his tools back on the silver tray which was reflecting the spotlight hanging over the operating area. He rolled his chair over and tossed his disposable purple gloves in the trash bin where several other pairs were currently residing. He grabbed a bottle of pills, intently read the label and then turned back to the man.

“Ok, all done Himito-San. Now, take these twice a day, and if you feel nauseous at all, call me immediately, we don’t want you going septic. Get some rest, no more drive-bys, ok?” He explained

“arigato Amaya-San.” The man said, bowing despite the pain it caused him. He got up and walked out of the operating room. Shinji followed behind him and went to his office, a dingy little room on the far end of the tiny clinic. He sat at his desk and sighed. He picked up a medium sized rubber band ball and started bouncing it against his desk. The phone rang.

“Dr. Amaya’s office, how may I help you?” he answered “Oh Sylvia, what’s going on? Have you been crying?”

“Yeah, never mind that. I’m taking the job.” Sylvia responded, trying to compose herself.

“Oh, great. When can we start?” Shinji asked, excitedly “I got some intel from one of my clients that the Masuhara clan is operating out of this warehouse in the waterfront district. It’s where they supposedly traffic all their illegal weapons from. I was thinking, we can hit that either tonight or tomorrow…”

“Hit it? You want me to take on an entire yakuza clan by myself Shinji? We need backup, and real weapons. I have somebody that we can trust that will help us do it. She won’t be cheap, but she’ll get the job done. Do you know where we can get weapons from? I’m talking military grade assault rifles, shotguns, body armor. Stuff like that.”

“I know a guy that can get us all that. Easy.” Shinji replied

“Alright, call him up. Tell me the details and let’s meet up there tomorrow. Right now, I got some business to take care of.” Sylvia stated, then hung up.

Sylvia pulled up to the storage place and parked her car haphazardly into the space in front of the office. She got out and slammed her door shut. She walked into the building and up to the front desk. The man behind the counter immediately bowed to her.

“Y-Yamazaki-Chan. What are you doing here?” The man behind the counter asked anxiously.

“I need the key to my storage unit.” She replied simply.

“Are you sure?” The attendant asked nervously.

“Oh, I’m sure.” Sylvia replied with a smile.

“One moment please.” The man left to go into the back room. He returned moments later with a long, silver key adorned with an emerald. He presented it to Sylvia and she took it. She walked all the way to the back of the facility, where a large unit sat. She unlocked the massive golden padlock with the key and then dropped it to the concrete. She opened the sliding door upwards and walked into the unit. It was cold with a thick concrete floor. Spider webs were covering the ceiling and dead bugs littered the area. Inside was a silver chrome and blue motorcycle that had seen better days. Sylvia walked to the back of the unit and tapped on the wall a few times. She pressed against a small section of it, revealing a false wall that spun backwards to expose a tall safe. She entered the combination slowly: 90215. Inside the safe was a sheathed katana and a dagger that matched on top of a large briefcase. She grabbed the katana and unsheathed it quickly. The long silver blade with her family crest at the base was as brilliant and sharp as ever.

She opened the leather briefcase and inside was filled to the brim with Black Star minted platinum, silver and gold bars. In total it probably equaled up to 15 million. She tied the katana around her waist and grabbed the dagger. The short blade needed a bit of sharpening, but that could wait. She walked over to the motorcycle and gathered her black locks up into a bunch and used the dagger to cut them all off in two quick slices so that it was jaw length. The jet-black hair fell to the floor and she looked at her reflection in the chrome of motorcycle.

“Why did I do that? It looks like shit. Oh well, it would appear I’m making a hair appointment today.” She sighed, looking at the uneven and poorly cut tresses.

 She slid it back into its sheath and tied it onto the belt loop along with her katana. She flipped her coat over it, to conceal the blades and then walked out of the unit, closing and locking it behind her.

She walked back through the office and handed the key to the waiting worker. She nodded and headed for the door.

“The legend lives, huh?”

“I guess so.” Sylvia replied slyly, turning towards him slightly.

“Welcome back, Ice.” he said with a smile.