The Snake and the Mirror

Chapter 12

September 12th, 2024

“Well, since you seem to have an idea of where we’re going. Where to, boss?” The girl asked Noemi.

“Boss?” Noemi repeated back to the smaller girl, looking her up and down. Athletically built for speed rather than for power, Noemi could understand why it had been so difficult to track her movements. The girl looked Chinese or…Japanese…Korean? Noemi blushed as she stammered out several attempts at asking the other girl where exactly she hailed from. “So where are you…like….from?”

“From, boss?” Junko said, sizing Noemi in return. She took a step forward, holding out her hand, before she caught sight of Ophidia glaring at her in suspicion. Junko frowned but didn’t say anything about it as she took a step back. “I’m Brazilian.”

“Wait, seriously?” Noemi said, keeping her eyes locked on Junko even as she leaned against a tree and crossed her arms. At this point, if Junko tried anything, Noemi was certain that Ophidia would have been able to halt the (probably) Japanese girl long enough for Noemi to draw her weapons, if not just stopping her outright.

“It’s called being a second generation immigrant, boss,” Junko said, her frown lightly playing up the sides of her face as her eyes lit up with amusement. “My parents came to Brazil before I was even born. I’ve never been to Japan in my life.”

“Eh?! You’re not from Japan, but then…what is…” Noemi gestured up and down at Junko’s clothing. The girl looked straight out of a kung fu movie or B-list action flicks as one of the bad guys, the ninjas that the action star would fight off as they came for him in hordes. The dark clothes, the mask, the sword on her back. It was actually a real sword too, not like the machete that Noemi wielded, still hanging off her belt. Noemi had no doubt that if it weren’t for the fact that she traveled with a bona fide goddess, she would have probably been sliced down in the middle of the fight. That thought made her scowl at Junko. “What are you, some kind of ninja?!”

“Bingo!” Junko said, her smile growing as her eyes opened wide. “I mean, it’s amazing that I don’t have to really hide it anymore. What’s a ninja when there are spirits walking around, right?”

“No, not right…” Noemi muttered. “Okay, so just because there are spirits returning, that doesn’t explain what a ninja is doing in the middle of the rainforest!”

“I told you before, boss, I think we’re hunting the same people,” Junko said, her eyes darkening a little as she pointed at one of the corpses with the blade of her knife. “I don’t like Aztlan. And neither do you it seems.”

“No,” Noemi said slowly, not sure how much to trust this girl with. “But that doesn’t answer the question really either! Start at the beginning!”

“What my birth? That’s a bit personal, boss.” Junko said, seeming far more relaxed now than she had only moments before when Ophidia had been coming down upon her. Noemi threw a rock at her, which the ninja effortlessly dodged.

“How did you become a ninja in the first place, jeez!”

“Mmm…fine,” Junko said with a sigh, sliding down the trunk of her tree and taking a seat upon the ground, her legs crossed over one another. Noemi paused for a moment, before sliding down to sit as well. “My dad made me do it.”

“Your dad made you train to be a ninja?”

“More or less…it’s complicated,” Junko said, looking away, her cheeks flushing red.

“Hey, you can’t start a story like this and then not tell it,” Noemi said. “Spill it!”

Junko sighed as she looked down, fidgeting with her hands in her lap. “I guess it doesn’t matter now, given who is in charge of the land but…my father was…let’s say he was a prosperous businessman…a very prosperous businessman.

“Ah huh…” Noemi nodded, catching her clear attempts to be subtle “The kind of prosperous businessman who’s so prosperous that people like the police can make things uncomfortable?”

“Yes, that kind of businessman.” Junko nodded “The kind who had many associates who were similarly…prosperous.”

“You mean like the Triads?”

“Those are Chinese, boss.”

“Oh, right, like the umm…the Yakuza, right?”

“That’s ridiculous boss.” Junko waved a hand as if to brush the thought away “The Yakuza aren’t real.”

“Just like ninjas aren’t real.” Noemi raised an eyebrow.

“Just like” Junko said “And Yakuza ninjas? That would be ridiculous.”

“Riiiiight” Noemi said “So does your father continue to associate with his…prosperous friends after moving to Brazil for reasons?”

“No, he does not” Junko said plainly.

“An ex-yakuza,” she muttered to herself, tossing the word about on her tongue. It sounded cool to say, even though she knew what it meant. It didn’t make it any less fun to let slip off her tongue. “I didn’t know the yakuza used ninjas.”

I am here, Champion. The voice of Ophida said inside her mind. But I feel you are better suited for this task than I, so I have withdrawn to recover what strength we used.

What task is that? Noemi though loudly to herself.

We need a guide. She is able to get around on her own. She will be good for this role.

Noemi nodded before she noticed Junko was staring at her. It had never occurred to Noemi what it must look like when she was meeting with the snake goddess. She liked to think it just made her look as if she were day dreaming.

“Aaaanyway…thing about being a prosperous businessman is that other prosperous businessmen you associate with don’t want you to leave, since it makes them less prosperous and you could share that prosperity with other less deserving people.”

“Right” Noemi said, seeing through the pretty obvious metaphor. “Yeah, can’t imagine what it must have been like,” Noemi said, nodding her head slowly. “I’ve been on the run for Aztlan and it’s exhausting. It must be hard to be on the run all the time for years.”

Junko mirrored Noemi’s nod, folding her hands together as she squirmed a bit in her seat. “A-anyway, he was rather big into the idea of personal safety, so I’ve been studying martial arts for a long time.”

“They have teachers for ninjas?”

“It’s called modern day ninjutsu,” Junko said with a huff, crossing her arms over her rather flat chest.  “And it’s not like I didn’t learn other forms of personal protection. I learned a lot of different ways how to fight…some just involved a lot more stealth and hiding than others.

“How much use did you ever get out of your ninja training before, I really want to know.”

“Actually,” Junko started to say, before she hopped to her feet. Once more she was moving faster than Noemi could track, though she could feel the wind rushing by her as Junko leaped over her, pushing off against the trunk of the tree, before swinging on its branch and somersaulting through the air and landing on her feet like a cat. “I’ve always gotten a lot of use out of my ninjutsu. The personal defense is certainly helpful, but with all the spirits around here, I’m able to combine my speed and sneaking techniques with their own abilities.”

“Kind of like you did against those Aztlan soldiers, huh?”

“Indeed. I made a pact with an air spirit to make sure the wind was always at my feet,” Junko said. Noemi could see the air swirling around her sneakers as Junko pointed to them, tiny eddies cycling around her shoes. “There are some others here and there that will help me out. Most of them do it for my aid in getting them away from Aztlan and its cult.”

“That’s kind of my situation, except I have to actually get Ophidia out before we both get caught.” Noemi said.

“Ophidia, so that’s the name of the spirit following you? It doesn’t sound native.”

“Well…it’s what I call her and she doesn’t seem t mind, she said she forgot her own.” Noemi said.

“Odd for a nature spirit. You sure you know what you’re traveling with, boss?”

“I do. Because she’s not just any nature spirit, Ophidia’s a full-fledged goddess in her own right, just a bit of a…small one right now.”

“I was taught all spirits are just spirits” Junko said “Whether they’re big ro small, but I take it you’re trying to make your little goddess big again?”

“That’s right” Noemi smiled “It’s why we’re heading to the coast, but the way seems completely filled with those sna—With Aztlan soldiers.” Noemi didn’t want Junko getting any ideas that Ophidia’s feathered serpents were allied with Aztlan. She still needed a guide and the more she talked to this girl, the more Noemi grew to like her. There was something that felt comfortable talking to another human being. Even the out of place conversation they were having was the most normal experience Noemi had had in weeks.

“To the coast?” Junko asked.

“Yeah, but…well, I don’t know this jungle as well as I thought,” Noemi said, faking a cough to cover the awkward silence, filling the void with any sound. “You seem to have a better knowledge of the area, so I’ve got to ask, would you like to travel with us?”

“You and your goddess?”

“Ophidia’s not too bad, and she’s already given her blessing,” Noemi said, pulling herself to her feet and stretching her arms. “What do you say? We’re trying to get a ship to take us away from this place. Surely you don’t want to stay here any longer either, right?”

Junko stared at Noemi for a few seconds before nodding her head slowly. “Very well,” Junko said. “I can take you to the coast. I had my own business there anyway. I see no reason not to travel with you.”

“Business? What sort of business does a ninja have anyway? Isn’t that basically assassination?”

“I couldn’t tell you, boss.”

“My name’s Noemi, by the way, Noemi Valente.” Noemi said, holding out her hand. Junko took it, looking up into the taller girl’s face.

“Pleasure to meet you, boss.”

“Err, you don’t have to call me that. I figured you were just calling me that since I hadn’t given you my name.”

“Right now, this is your team, boss. So that’s what I’m calling you. Now come on, get your goddess and let’s get a move on.”

“Right!” Noemi said, as she picked up all the stuff that had been scattered in the fight, the various weapons and charms that the Aztlan soldiers had dropped. Given the dangers that faced them, Noemi knew every tool was necessary to survive. “To the shore!”

It looks like we’ve got ourselves another companion, Ophidia. You’ve already doubled your cult in size!

Noemi could almost swear she heard a strange, almost hissing laughter, in her ears.

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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