The Crusaders: Divine Intervention
Part 1: The Disappointing Reality
Kenseijin gripped the railing as he took in the familiar sight of compacted structures reaching up to join the rising sun in the morning sky. The towering, metallic pagoda could provide a 360-degree view of the entire city from within Chiyoda from its top tier, where the Crusader waited for his host to finish conversing in the room behind him. Though the details were below his notice, he could hear Nabe's cybernetically-filtered voice relaying a mission briefing to the handful of holographic screens projected from the small table in the centre of the largely stark chamber, whose sliding doors and angular design further echoed the structure's ancient stylings. As he looked out upon his city of origin, it was with a sense of liberated fulfilment. It didn't matter what exactly Nabe was briefing his subordinates to do, it only mattered that they were around to do it. And as long as that was the case, Kenseijin could continue to enjoy the view, knowing he need not wade into the concrete jungle himself with either a blade or a badge in hand. He turned on Nabe's armoured footsteps approaching, the cyber ninja backed by the mural on the wall behind him depicting a mass of red-clad ninja rushing like a tsunami of blood toward a lone, white samurai on a grassy field, shining blue sword raised to defend the town behind him.
"Apologies for the delay, Mr Tanaka." Nabe's formal but friendly vernacular and humble posture somewhat undercut his sleek aesthetic as he spoke in Japanese. "Please, come in." He motioned toward one side of the table, the holograms now dismissed so only two empty cups and a kettle of steaming coffee remained. The two knelt on opposite sides before Nabe took the kettle and poured Kenseijin's coffee.
"You needn't apologise for so effectively keeping the peace, Nabe." Kenseijin removed his helmet and placed it on the table as he spoke, likewise in his native tongue, smiling at Nabe as he retracted his helmet around his neck with a shrug.
"True, but what good is widespread peace without simple politeness?" Kenseijin chuckled as he took his cup.
"Fair enough. That just shows the effects of living in America on me." Kenseijin bowed his head to Nabe as the ninja brought the kettle back to pour into his own cup.
"How is your daughter?"
"She's well. Succeeding at school, doing her own laundry, and with plenty of friends among my younger teammates. I'm just pleased to see that, should she return to her hometown, she can walk the streets with the same quality of protection as Los Angeles has." Nabe bowed his head at that as he took his cup.
"Thank you, Mr Tanaka. However, I must credit the DSA with providing our support staff and recruiting additional operatives, not to mention giving us this base of operations." Kenseijin looked concerted at that, which Nabe noticed as he sipped his beverage. "I am curious, though, as to why you've advised we keep the Department at arms-length of late."
Kenseijin sighed before he spoke, looking into his drink. "Things are...not as simple as we once thought. Although, I suppose they've always been that way, even if I believed or wanted it to be otherwise. The DSA wears nice suits and upholds order, but...that does not make them heroes. That much was true long before I came out of retirement." Nabe nodded after another sip.
"Well...I suppose it's more important we stand for honour and justice than the values of our benefactors, anyway. Running dozens of units across the country out of the Monastery makes it easy to forget how all of this started with three lowly citizens trying to make a difference." Kenseijin grinned and gestured with his cup.
"At least Akai managed to make your cloaking tech coffee-proof." Nabe chuckled as he took the coffee from his lips.
"Yes, Mihara has said that should be considered the height of our achievement." Kenseijin took a sip of his own, then donned a more severe visage as he continued.
"Seriously, Nabe, you should be proud. All of this is so much more than I imagined possible when I took up Keigo Senshi's sword."
"True, but the Order wouldn't have come about without your example. This is your legacy as much as your ancestor's." Kenseijin looked back out to the balcony. Though he smiled, Nabe could see in his distant gaze that he'd outgrown the need for praise relative to his predecessor. "If I may say so, Mr Tanaka, you seem...perturbed." Kenseijin didn't turn back to Nabe as he responded.
"I...suppose I am. Though things have always been complicated, much has continued to change." His eyes met Nabe's again, now with a ponderous look. "There have been...developments of late, regarding my teammates. Little victories and major lows in equal measure, though not of equal impact. These are things I feel I should have deduced, or could have if I trusted myself to engage more with my juniors. I recognise that we are all equal students in this venture of deciphering our role as heroes, but I...cannot help to wonder how much I have left to offer, or how much more I can bear to learn."
"Perhaps there's a place for you among the Order. In an official capacity, that is." Kenseijin smiled.
"Gratitude, Nabe, but the Crusaders are…" Kenseijin stopped short, trying to think of how to best phrase his thoughts, finally opting for the simplest explanation in his gut. "...the Order would be a job, like Tokyo Metro was. The Crusaders are family. I mean no offence, but-" Nabe shook his head.
"No, I understand. Vocational deference and emotional tethers are leagues apart. But, if I may, what would you do otherwise?" Kenseijin's response came without an ounce of consideration.
"I'd raise Umi. Heh, for the fleeting years that she has left before she's a full adult. But then, I suppose, it'd only leave me with that same question afterwards. And with how intertwined those lives are, and how much superheroic nonsense fills her daily routine, I wonder whether they could ever be divided. Especially now that Kemono is back." Nabe's eyes widened, his hand reaching for his gut instinctively.
"Kemono is alive?" Kenseijin nodded gravely.
"Confined for now, but yearning as ever for vengeance against my family. We're working to dismiss that danger. To keep my daughter safe. Whatever her age, I…" He clenched a fist on his knee. "...I can't be without her. Nor will I let her be without me." Nabe could see his idol's distant stare returning, now sorrowful with the flashes of memory. Of promises.
"Well, you could never be condemned for being uninteresting, Mr Tanaka." Kenseijin chuckled again, running his fingertips down the scar across his face.
"I suppose plenty of civilians think the same thing when they see me at the grocery store."
"Have you confided any of this in your teammates?"
"Inklings, here and there. I still do my best for them, of course, but...they've grown, as the Order of the Sword has."
"Given that fact, then, it may help to remember that neither of us accomplished any of these feats alone. Even the DSA served us in that sense." Kenseijin nodded, then grinned with an affable shrug.
"I like to think I'm enough for Umi, at least. Perhaps when Kemono and the issues surrounding him are dealt with, I'll field for their thoughts. Make an informed decision."
"I have the utmost faith in you, Mr Tanaka. And I believe you're more than up to the task of fatherhood as ever, regardless of your choice in family members." The two bowed their heads to each other, but only Nabe sipped his coffee. Kenseijin couldn't quite shake the images in his mind's eye. The faded feeling of a kiss on his cheek and a hand in his, but not from his daughter. From Koemi. From before.
Los Angeles High School…
Umi leant against the wall with arms crossed, a mismatch for Kaleb, who paced rapidly in every conceivable circuit within the nook around the building's side. He'd shift the weight of his backpack on his shoulders, then toss it off, then pick it up again, rinse and repeat, though it seemed he was the only one who minded. Finally, frustrated words burst from his mouth.
"God, could they take any longer?"
"The bell only rang five minutes ago." Umi commented.
"Yeah, to you. This is cutting into my free time before my patrol shift! Time I want to spend playing Chaos Fighters!"
"Didn't Lewis sensei-err, Mr Lewis tell you to redo that intergalactic history paper?"
"Please, I have forever until that's due."
"Not if you keep spending your time getting creamed in Versus Mode. Although, you didn't seem so worried about finishing our match the other day." Umi's off-hand observation stopped Kaleb in place as he recalled why that was.
"Uh, yeah. Sorry about that." As Kaleb reached to pick up his backpack for 88th time, Umi peeled off the wall, no stranger to the shift in his mood.
"You've done enough pacing. Why don't you let it out before you blow up?" Kaleb looked at her, partly surprised, partly impressed.
"That was very well said."
"I do my best." Kaleb made his way to her side, pressed his back against the wall and slid his hands in his pockets as he exhaled through his lips.
"Well, um...Darkstar is legit."
"Uh, real. He's what the DSA says he is."
"I went to see him after Abigail tried to get in his head for me. I tried not to show it, but he got in mine, even more than before. Still, I figure now that I know his deal, I can work around him rather than running away from him. Thing is, I...have no idea what the next step is. Other than to stick with the team, of course. I know they'll keep me on the right path, they always have. I just wish I could see the road signs, y'know?" Umi nodded as she leant back beside him, her eyes moving about to find the words.
"I think you're doing great." Kaleb looked at her, now merely confused.
"Yes. When the team found you, the last thing you wanted was to be told what to do, but you were still helping people. You were walking a path you couldn't see long before any...future stuff came into the picture. The only difference is, now you do it in a silly costume."
"Hey, the suit's grown on me! Don't knock it just because you can't rock it."
"My point is, there's good and bad in every person. The key isn't for one to beat the other, it's for both to exist in harmony."
"Huh. You sound like your dad." Umi shrugged and put on a confident face.
"It's a family thing."
"Heh. It's funny. Before all this - like, minutes before all this started - the biggest worry on my mind was whether I should tell a girl I met back in Russia where I really sleep and what I skip homework to do." It was Umi's turn to look surprised at Kaleb.
"You met a girl?" She paused to find the right word. "And she...tolerates you?" Kaleb rolled his eyes.
"Oh, for God's sake..."
"How could she get past your hair?"
"I keep it long and messy so I don't have to see your stupid face."
"I'll cut it off while you sleep one day, baka."
"Try it and I'll drop you off in the desert faster than you can snip those scissors, neudachnik."
Umi paused, her playful smirk receding to a more sincere smile. "You really like her?" Kaleb nodded, looking away shyly as he grinned helplessly.
"Yeah. I really do."
"That's very sweet. I hope you can be together."
"Yeah. Me too." The two looked to the end of the alley as footsteps approached. Kaleb launched off the wall as Suzy and Abigail made their way down, double-checking for watching eyes. "About time! I got a whole workout done waiting for you two!"
"Sorry, Kaleb!" Abigail cheerily replied. "Suzy and I stayed behind to help Nicole with notes for her Novon speaking exam."
"She'd better pass."
"I'll say." Suzy sharply uttered under her breath as she reached for her earpiece.
Laboratories, the Castle…
Kon's hands gripped the edge of the workbench with varying levels of tightness as he leant against it, head hung, index finger tapping, mind racing through the last-minute considerations and reconsiderations ahead of what he intended to say. Whatever his thoughts, he wasn't going anywhere until something had been said. A sound of moving metal from behind brought his head up to look over his shoulder. He saw Dexter sitting in the middle of the table, his toothless jaw clenched on the end of one of Lizzy's tools. Kon nodded at him.
"You wouldn't happen to know how far out she is, would you?" His question got the robotic primate's attention for a moment, then he returned to chewing on the tool. "Figures." Kon looked back up again as the doors to the lab opened and Lizzy stepped through. She appeared briefly surprised before she smiled and greeted him.
"Hi, sweetie! I was just gonna wrap up some work on the dimensional gateway before bed." Kon grinned as she came down the steps towards him.
"You know you're entitled to breaks, right?"
"Ha, look who's talking! You oughtta take your own advice, boss-man." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before moving around the side of the table to yank the tool out of Dexter's hands. "Besides, it's less time spent later if I work on it now. Speaking of which, since you're not holding any flowers behind your back, I assume this is job-related."
"What is your favourite flower, anyway?" Kon asked as he turned around.
"I'm not the outdoors type, but what girl doesn't appreciate a bundle of sunflowers?"
"So, what's up?" Kon rubbed the back of his head with one hand.
"Well, it's funny you mention time since it's been on my mind lately. I, uh...when we went to see Darkstar, he told me something. Something I haven't told you yet, about his timeline. Andrew can vouch for it." Lizzy leant her hip against the bench.
"He said where he comes - or, uh, when he came from - he said we have a son." Lizzy's chin raised with the realisation of why and how this had been affecting Kon. "Or had a son, I guess. The tense stuff gets me every time." Kon looked at Lizzy expectantly and with a hint of remorse as she did the mental maths on his statement.
"Okay." A pause. "I'm not pregnant if that's what you're worried about."
"No, of course not."
"And that son isn't technically ours, he's the son of a different Kon and Lizzy."
"I know, James helped me figure all that stuff out. I figured I'm better off facing it so Darkstar can't use it against me. But it still makes me think, y'know? About all the changes that could be waiting for us without us knowing. I mean, me and a kid? Hard to imagine."
"Yeah, I get that. This all started as a fun gig to make some friends on my end. I had no idea I'd fall in love again or meet the girls I consider my sisters or invent a forcefield projector using technology from another universe."
"That last one is definitely as important as the others."
"Undoubtedly." The two exchanged little laughs, then silence set in for a moment once more.
"I'm sorry I kept it from you." Lizzy shook her head with a smile.
"Hey, when it comes to building a mental armour against anxiety by fronting like things are just dandy, I'm kind of the master smith. I'm just glad you opened up about it before some critical mistake was made. And in a way that doesn't involve so many veiled hypothetical questions this time." Kon looked away as he rubbed the back of his head again.
"I'm not big on subtlety, am I?"
"Again, better than staying in solitude. And, hey…" She came back around to Kon's side of the bench. "...I wouldn't want to have a kid with anyone else, no matter what timeline I'm in. We don't need Andrew to verify that." Kon beamed as all traces of his inner tension were visibly relieved by the look on his face.
"Do you think I'd be a good dad?" Lizzy let out an unbothered sigh as she put her arms around Kon's shoulders.
"I think you should finish your trial run with Kaleb before you worry about that." Kon's expression dropped.
"I'm not his dad."
"No, you're just a lot like a dad to him."
"It's not like we adopted him. He still remembers his father well. Even if I felt I could fill that void, it's not right to undercut those memories."
"Would you feel the same way if Darkstar were anyone else?" Kon fell silent at that. Lizzy brought her voice back from its witty relaxedness to match his feeling. "I'm sorry, but...Kaleb was an exception to our rule long before the truth about Darkstar came to light. He's not just a teammate or a friend, he's a responsibility."
"I get that we made him a promise, sweetie. I'm not about to break it. I just...I don't exactly have a plan, either. Even when we walked away from the DSA, we had that much. I'm not sure any amount of monitor shifts or patrols will make this one work out. And that's not because I don't believe in Kaleb, it's-"
"Because you're scared of what you're not prepared for." Kon nodded and hung his head. Lizzy lifted his chin. "I had to shut down my childhood AI friend for the same reason, remember? We're the Crusaders, Kon. We do our best work when we're blindsided." Kon sighed and gently lifted Lizzy's arms off his shoulders to take her hands in his. Lizzy's smile faded with the dimming of the light in his eyes and the faint trembling of his hands.
"But...what if we're wrong? What if this is all another Moscow tragedy waiting to happen? What if something worse comes...and we don't save the day?"
The jogger's heavy breaths and sweating skin came not from exhaustion, but dread. She'd sprinted as far and as fast as she could away from the gang of hooded men who'd tried to corner her during her run through Exposition Park, but they showed no signs of relenting as they followed her out of the field into the urban sprawl. She dashed from the lamppost on the sidewalk into the nearest alley, hoping they didn't spot her zipping in. If they did, she was at a dead end. She could force herself to keep going, but her body was burning, her hands shaking, her head hung. She tried to slow her breathing, block it all out, focus herself. But she couldn't help hoping a Crusader would fall out of the sky to liberate her of this fear she felt. Then she heard the voice at the other end of the alley.
"Found her!" She saw the fastest of the four thugs standing at her only exit. Instinctively, she ran the other way, frantically looking around for a door or a window or a secret passageway that would magically appear to her. No such luck. She looked back and the four men were gathered by now, silhouetted by the streetlamp. Their leader chuckled as she held back tears.
"Please, I-I don't have anything for you."
"Oh, I think you do." Just as the four began to creep down the alley, the jogger shut her eyes. The criminals should have done the same, as a flash of light came from above. The four cried out in unison before they dropped to the pavement on their backs. Shocked, the jogger opened her eyes, but by then the light was fading. She almost dropped to her knees at the sight of its source. A pair of humanoid, female figures hovered down using the broad, feathered wings that extended from their backs on metal frames, each clad in hooded, loose, light blue robes strapped with metal belts carrying a scabbarded sword on the left side. As they got closer, the jogger could make out their spotless, identical features: golden eyes, alabaster skin, and bald heads. The only things that made them different were that one had a thick metal collar around her neck, while the other seemed to wear a chest plate beneath her robes. The chest-plated one landed before the jogger and took her hands with a smile.
"You are safe, mortal." She tenderly assured the jogger as her wings folded in. "These ones have fulfilled their roles."
"Wh-what?" The jogger shakily questioned. Behind her, the collared woman landed and drew her sword with her right hand. The blade shone blue, seeming to brighten as she clenched the silver handle tighter.
"Indeed." The other figure spoke in a much firmer tone. "Theirs is to be relieved of their vile existences…" She went silent as she brought the end of her blade down on the leader of the gang, then the three behind him, running them through without a change in her darkened expression or a sound from the thugs themselves. "...so that Seigi may chance this supposed 'intuition' of hers." The chest-plated woman sighed calmly.
"This is no gamble, Fukushu. I know the descendant of the sword saint will be important to our mission, and that his allies will provide wise counsel."
"Our orders are clear, Seigi. This pursuit is frivolous, and it could cost far more than our success in this endeavour." The jogger finally found her voice in the wake of all she had witnessed.
"Who...who are you?" Seigi turned back to the jogger with a smile as Fukushu stoically sheathed her weapon.
"We are the Tenshi. We have come to save the world."
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed. If you're really liking this story so far, give it a favourite, and tell your fellow authors to check it out. Next chapter, the Crusaders are met by dark revelations as they confront the Tenshi and discover just what is at stake. If you have anything to say or suggest, any plot holes to point out, details needing clarification, or general questions to ask, feel free to PM me or leave a review. Finally, be sure to check out my community, The All-Star Multiverse, and my Facebook page, PancakeOverdose! Take care.