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Chapter One: Landing

Night drifted over the countryside, draping the hills and fields with darkness and silvery light.  Everywhere the shadows gathered, pooled, seemed to grow, and then diminished as the moon swirled through the clouds above. 
One shadow did not diminish.  In the darkness it would have been impossible to comment on its form, but it must have been about the size of a man.  In the depths of it, two red lights seemed to spring to life, and they moved all around, searching, searching…
The shadow leapt.  Its movements were strong, fluid, and while it appeared to be running it was more as though it was flowing, down a hillside, over a hedge, through a field, past a big house, into some trees.  It stopped moving and was still, as though listening for signs of pursuit.  It was expecting some.  Another shadow was coming from a slightly different direction, zigzagging across the ground, but before it reached the trees something alighted from the sky and halted it.  The first shadow did not see what happened, but when the enormous shape took to the air again, its quarry was gone.  The shadow snuffled, a bit uncertain, but then turned and bounded into the forest, through the trees, deeper and deeper.  In the distance, it heard a roar that shattered the night.  It continued on. 




Kira took a deep, steadying breath and stepped through the arrivals barrier.  Everywhere the usual bustle and anarchy of Heathrow airport ebbed and flowed around her, a tall, slim girl with very long, dark hair pulled into a ponytail, struggling with too much luggage.  She looked around helplessly, trying not to be pushed around so much by the tumultuous crowds.  She hadn’t known what to wear today, so had tried to look distinctly normal, so she wore jeans and a black t-shirt.  Over the heads and bags she saw someone waving: craving to look she saw James, the eldest and biggest of the three Thorpe brothers, whom she hadn’t seen since she was little more than a baby.  Now she saw him, she wondered how she could possibly have missed him.  He was by far the tallest person in the room, around six foot six and strongly built with it, and his longish, straggly blond hair was easily recognisable from the picture the family had sent a few weeks before.  He began to shoulder his way easily through the throng as Kira struggled in vain against both her luggage and the hordes of people. 
“Kira!  Wow, you’ve certainly changed a lot since I last saw you.”  Without waiting for her to reply he took her suitcase and shoulder bag, leaving her with only her backpack.  “Let’s get out of here; everyone’s been looking for you.  It might have been anyone who found you.  How was your trip?”
“Oh, it was fine.  Just rather long.”  She tried to mask her accent, but she found it very hard.  Just one of the reasons she was here was to improve her English.  Her father was half English, and she had grown up speaking both languages, but being in this country would probably be a revelation.  “Er, where’s customs?”
“Just coming up, over here.  Why?  Got anything to declare?”  His manner was calm and reassuring, and Kira somehow felt braver.  She wasn’t used to being dwarfed by anyone, but there was something very secure about having James Thorpe standing next to you.
“No, just something to pick up.”
“My, my.  How mysterious.”  He said nothing more, for which she was glad.  This was going to be a little embarrassing, but there was no way she wouldn’t have brought this with her.  She showed her id, her ticket and the receipt she had been given, and eventually a package was handed over.  Looking at James, Kira saw his eyebrows rising as he saw what it must be, but still he said nothing.  She felt through the cloth wrapping, but it seemed fine.  She was relieved, having been anxious the entire journey about whether it was safe. 
“Ok, I think that’s everything.”
“Fine.  We said we’d meet back by the main entrance, just over there.  Let’s go.”
“Hai.”He grinned at her, and strode towards the meeting point, where Mr and Mrs Thorpe were stood waiting and smiling.  Tall, blonde Mr Thorpe looked almost Scandinavian, and he was dressed impeccably, every bit the hotshot reporter he had been when his wife had met him.  She was Japanese, like Kira, and she and Kira’s mother had been best friends until they were both eighteen, when Julian Thorpe had met his future bride.  None of her sons looked the least bit Japanese, but they had grown up almost bilingual.  The couple stood shoulder to shoulder, or shoulder to hip anyway.  Mrs Thorpe was tiny.
“Kira!  My goodness, it’s so good to see you again, you’ve grown so much!”  Mrs Thorpe bowed formally, her husband doing the same, and Kira did the same, before having her hand pumped by Mr Thorpe.
“Very nice to meet you, Kira.  I hope you have a wonderful time while you’re with us.”
She smiled, rather nervously.  “It’s very kind of you to have me for two whole years.  I hope I won’t be too much trouble.”  She silently thanked her father.  She might have been embarrassed about her skills at school, but they certainly had benefits. 
“Not at all, it’ll be wonderful to have another woman in the house.  I always feel so outnumbered all the time.  How was your flight?”
“Oh, it was fine thank you, Mrs Thorpe…”
“Kira, dear, I know this is new to you, but not so formal.  I almost feel homesick if you act like that.  No, please just call me Aunt Yumiko, I could possibly deal with that.”
“O… ok.”  She was right, this was very new.  Could she adapt?  “It was fine, but a bit long.  I feel really tired, and I haven’t done anything today.” 
“Oh, that’s perfectly normal.  It’s all that travelling.  Did you eat much?”
“Uh, they gave us some food on the plane.  I had a sandwich.”  She shrugged.
“Well, would you like some more?  We were going to eat out any way, somewhere on the way home: it’ll be much too late by the time we arrive.  How does that sound?”
“Well, something else might be nice…”
“Ah, I see someone found her.”  Kira turned around and found herself looking at the most utterly handsome guy she had ever seen.  It was Scott, the middle of the three brothers, seventeen years old and about to start his final year of secondary school.  He was tall, though not as tall as James, and much leaner.  He wore his blond hair very long, with a ponytail that fell gracefully down his back, his eyes sparkled a gorgeous blue and his smile was dazzling.  Kira realised that she was staring at him and quickly looked away, a bit flushed.  He sauntered up, and smiled at her.  “Good to meet you, Kira.  Welcome to England.”  She blushed still more deeply, and stared at the ground to cover this. 
“It’s good to meet you too, Scott.”  She shook his proffered hand: it was cool and firm in hers.  She dropped it quick, as if it had bitten her.
"Hey, Aidan, catch.”  James tossed Kira’s shoulder bag, and she looked up to see the third and final brother catch it.  Aidan wasn’t really short, in fact he was slightly taller than Kira, but compared to his towering brothers he looked almost diminutive.  His hair was black, like his mothers.  He smiled warmly at her.
“Hi.”
“Hello.”
“Well, if we’re all here, let’s go,” Mr Thorpe said decisively.  As they trooped out into the rain and the wind, Kira found herself walking with Scott, just in front of James. 
“I’m almost surprised they let that thing into the country.”  Scott was looking pointedly at the long, slender package slung over Kira’s shoulder.
“We had to go through all sorts of paper work to manage it, but they let us eventually.”
“Will you let us see it?”
She was in the process of unwrapping it when James put his hand lightly on her arm.  “Not here, huh?  After all, we are still quite close to the airport.  Wait till we’re home.”
Scott chuckled, and Kira was glad that the twilight and the bad weather hid her rosy-red face.  She resettled the object and continued walking. 
In the car she found herself jammed into the back seat, between James and Scott.  It was a big car but there wasn’t really room for six people when most of them were very tall.  Aidan was crammed in the back with Kira’s things.  Kira was soon lost in the cheerful babble of sounds that surrounded her.  She looked out of the window, at the clouds of orange light that passed so regularly from the sodium street lights, and the drops running down the cold glass.  She lent back in her seat and began to drift…
She missed dinner, but wasn’t too sorry for that.  She managed to stay awake long enough to get into the house without seeing it, and to collapse into bed, where she dreamed of boys with long blond hair, of trees blowing in the wind, and about the glint of sunlight on metal.




She woke up very early the next morning and lay for a while wondering where she was.  The whole room seemed strange somehow.  For one thing, the bed she was lying on was raised high above the ground, not like the futons back home, and the roof was slanted, with dark wooden beams spanning the gap.  She swung her legs over the side and looked around.  She didn’t really remember what the house looked like from last night, she had been too tired, but now she crossed to the window and pulled open the curtains, before unfastening the windows themselves and letting in a cool, refreshing breeze from the garden.
Garden was an understatement.  Her window was quite high up off the ground, and although the sun had not quite risen she could see acres of rolling grassland, forests and some mountains in the distance.  Here and there were a few isolated farms, and in the distance something that might possibly be a main road, but this place felt very remote.  It was wonderful.  Looking down she saw that the storey below extended beyond this one, and a flat roof jutted out below her.  She ducked back into her room and threw on some clothes before grabbing the long, wrapped package and jumped, with it, onto the handy platform and then down to the ground, landing both times as light as a feather, never hesitating, fluid grace in every movement. 
Once on the ground she jogged a little way until she rounded the corner of a small patch of trees, their leaves golden red with the autumn.  She took a few deep breaths, and then unwrapped her sword.
The sword was her most treasured possession, and it had cost her a lot to be parted from it on the plane.  Her family was very traditional, descended, they said, from the Samurais of centuries ago, and this sword was the weapon of one of the last of those, a hero named Atshushi Endo.  It had been passed down through the generations, and had been given to Kira when her aptitude for Kendo had been realised.  The martial art was a large portion of her life: she had been captain of the school team back in Japan.  She rather hoped there would be something similar here.  Of course she wouldn’t use this sword, just a wooden boken, but she practised with this every morning, if possible.
She drew the long, shimmering length from its sheath and held it up in front of her.  As she watched, a single beam of sunlight came over the horizon, catching the very tip of the long curved blade.  She stretched it before her and then began to move, letting the patterns and weavings of the dance carry her, until she was almost lost to the world.  The dawn sunlight bathed her, warmed her limbs and soothed away the stiffness sleep had brought.  She spun and whirled, one with the sword, it an extension of her arm, both her arms, her other arm, she never kept it in one hand for long.  After a while she slowed and held it out in front of her.  At some point she had closed her eyes, and she opened them now, to find she was looking at the house for the first time. 
It was very big, and looked quite a lot like one of the farmhouses she could see in the distance.  She remembered vaguely someone saying that it was a barn conversion, but she hadn’t really understood.  She sheathed the sword and walked back towards it, seeing a glass door leading into a kind of sun lounge.  She tried the door and found it open.
The brightly lit, glass room led into the kitchen, and someone was there already.  Aidan looked up from the book he was reading and smiled at her.  “Good morning.  You’re up early.”
"I’m always up this early.  I like to practise while it’s quiet.”
“I saw.  You really must be very good… not that I’m any judge.”  He stood up and crossed over to the fridge.  “Are you thirsty?  There’s coffee in the pot, or I can make tea… not the sort you’re used to, though, I suspect.  There’s juice too.”
“A juice would be great, thanks Aidan-san.”  She sat down at the table, the sword across her lap, and looked around at the beautiful kitchen while Aidan poured her a glass.  It was wonderfully refreshing after the early morning workout.
“By the way,” Aidan said, seating himself again with a mug of black coffee, “I’m hardly an expert on the honourifics, but I’m pretty sure I don’t warrant a ‘san’.  It makes me feel kind of weird.  Anything else you could use, if you’re going to use them?”
Despite what he said, Kira had the feeling he knew more than he was letting on about the language.  After all, hadn’t the letter said he was fluent?  She decided to ignore it though.  “I suppose I could call you ‘kun’.  That’s quite familiar.”
He shrugged.  “Sounds okay to me.  So, did you have any plans for today?  School starts on Monday, but you’ve got a couple of days to settle in.”
“I was wondering if I could take a look around here, see what the house is like, the garden and everything…”
“Don’t worry.  That’s my job.”
They looked around.  Scott had just walked in, beaming.  His hair was wet from the shower, and his blue eyes sparkled as they reflected the light.  Kira felt herself beginning to turn red, and hastily covered her face by lifting her glass of juice.  “Mum and Dad told me to show you around today, Kira.  Hope you don’t mind.  Hey, there any more juice, Aidan?”
“Sure.”  Kira looked at him, slightly startled, as he got up and went back over to the fridge.  There had been something just slightly strange about the way he had said that, just a bite of… what?  She couldn’t tell, and Scott seemed not to have noticed as he sat down next to her and reached for an apple from the bowl in the middle of the table.
“You had breakfast yet?”
“Not yet, no.”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure what you’d be used to, but there’s fruit, some rolls I think, there’s generally some cereal around… what would you like?”
Kira had to admit she was relieved.  She had heard stories about what people had called the ‘Full English Breakfast’.  It sounded disgusting.  “Er, a roll or something would be great.”
“Okay, plates are…” but Aidan was already there, proffering a plate with a plump, white bread roll on it.
“Thanks,” Kira said, and broke it in half.  It was very fresh and deliciously soft.  She finished it quickly and then glanced at Scott.  “I need to get ready if we’re going out.”
“Sure.  I’ll do some practise for a while, otherwise my teacher will kill me.”
“Practise?”
“Violin practise.  I’m supposed to do an hour a day.”  He grimaced.  “Guess how often I do that much?”  She chuckled lightly and he grinned and stood up, walking into the corridor.  She looked up at Aidan.
“What should I do with these?” she asked, gesturing to the glass and plate in front of her. 
“Don’t worry, I’ll get them.” 
She got up, and then realised something.  “Er… which way is it to my room?”  He raised one eyebrow, begging the question.  “I, er, went down from my window.  I didn’t come through the house.”
He smiled.  “That right?  Well, just go up the stairs, then along the corridor to the end.  You’ve got the guest bedroom, so you’ve got the en suite to yourself.”
“Thanks,” she said, smiling, and left him to his coffee.  As she went up the stairs, the sound of a violin floated up to her, playing a slow, haunting melody that she didn’t quite recognise.  She smiled, and continued on. 




Five minutes later she was back down in the kitchen, waiting for Scott to finish some scales.  Her hair was bound up in its usual ponytail, and her clothes were comfortable rather than particularly stylish.  She found herself checking her reflection in reflective surfaces and wondered why: she wasn’t normally self-conscious.  She didn’t usually care much how she looked.  Today, though, something was a little different…
Scott finished and emerged from the room.  “You ready?  How about we a start with the house itself?”
“Sure.”
They sauntered around the house, which proved to be a real warren: five bedrooms two bathrooms as well as loads of rooms downstairs.  Everything was connected by rather dark, narrow corridors, which made you feel like you were in the bowels of the earth.  Afterwards they went out, and walked down the long driveway and onto the road that led to the small town not far away.  The day was one of those perfect autumn days: bright and sunny, with a stiff, refreshing breeze, and the air full of red leaves. 
“So remind me how old you are, Kira.”
“I had my seventeenth birthday a week ago.”
“Quite old in your year aren’t you?  I’m not eighteen yet.  Next month.  We’re going to have a big party.  And then Aidan turns seventeen in February.”
“I’ll have to remember all these dates.”  Scott laughed easily.  It was nice just to walk down the quiet road, talking and laughing with Scott.  For one thing, it felt nice not to be by far the tallest person around.  She had always looked so huge compared to her friends that she had become a quiet, self-contained girl, trying to make herself seem smaller.  Here, where her size was not so unusual, she didn’t have to. 
She glanced up at Scott, at his beautiful hair and his easy elegance, and felt herself blushing once again.  What was wrong with her?  Sure he was good looking, but she hardly knew him.  Anyway, she didn’t get crushes.  Not once had she had one.  She glanced up again.  So why did she have to start now?  Wow, and ‘good-looking’ might just be the understatement of the century.
The town of Hunter’s Heath was small and, with the end of the summer holidays, quiet.  The buildings were almost all elderly, grey stone and tall, lining narrow streets.  Scott took Kira to the shops, where she saw what was on sale, past the school where Scott and Aidan were pupils, where James was an assistant teacher, and where she would be starting next week, and even up to the ruined castle on a hill not far away.  This, Kira thought, was what England was: quiet and old, and gentle in some strange inexplicable way.  She absorbed every sight and sound and enjoyed the breeze on her face and in her hair.
“Scott-san, at the school, are there many clubs?”
“Yeah, loads.  There’s football and other sports, music ones, the library, loads.  And yes,” he added, grinning at her, “there’s a martial arts one too.  One of my friends teaches it, and James supervises it.  You knew he was training to be a PE teacher, right?”
“Yes, I did.  It all sounds great.”  She was blushing again, this time from being so transparent and single-minded.  She wondered if Scott thought she was making an idiot out of herself, but he seemed already to have forgotten.
“What did you choose to study?”
“I ended up choosing English, Maths and History.  It was so hard, to choose only three subjects.  In Japan, we have to study far more.”
“Yeah, I know.  The ones you’re doing are very similar to Aidan: he’s doing Music instead of History though, same as me.  I’m doing English.  I warn you now, the course is hard.”
“And what do you want to do when you leave school?”
“I don’t know, really.  Maybe go to college, study music or something.  That might be nice.  I’ll have to make my mind up fairly soon though.”
After a while, Scott led them back into town.  “Listen, some friends of mine are meeting in a coffee shop just round the corner… do you mind if we go too?  I could do with a break, anyway.”
“That sounds fine, Scott-san.”
Ten minutes later she was sitting in a crowd of people a little older than her, who were all laughing and joking over their drinks.  Kira sipped the iced coffee Scott had bought her and tried to avoid people’s eyes.
“So, Scott, are you going to introduce us to your gorgeous friend, or are you going to ignore her completely?”  The speaker was a boy with spiky black hair who wore sunglasses even inside the shaded shop.  Kira blushed, and looked down her straw as if fascinated.
“Sorry, guys, this is Kira Sushima, from Japan.”  It still sounded odd, hearing her names that way round.  She was used to being Sushima Kira.  “She’s come to live with us for a couple of years, she’ll be starting school on Monday.”
“Our year?” the same boy asked.
“No, the one below… only just, though.  Oh Kira, this is Morgan.  She’s the one who teaches the martial arts club.”  Scott was gesturing to the girl beside him.  She looked very gentle and kind, almost maternal, with shoulder length blond hair and a quiet smile.  Not what Kira would have expected from a martial arts expert, but looks could be deceiving.  For instance, if the guy with the sunglasses was Scott’s friend, she was sure he wasn’t as big a jerk as he was coming across.
“You do martial arts, Kira?  Which ones?”  Morgan asked, her voice calm but her eyes alight with interest.
“Er… mostly Kendo, a little Iaido, and I did Kung fu for a little while…”
“Hmmm.  The club at school is mostly karate, but I know a little Kendo.  Maybe we could spar sometimes if you come?”
“That sounds great.  When is it?”
“On a Wednesday evening, after school till quite late.  But then, if you’re living with the Thorpes, I guess James could take you back.  So, you’ll come?”
“Definitely.”
Scott was looking very pleased with himself, and he winked surreptitiously at Kira.  She blushed again and immersed herself in her drink, wondering why he had winked and hoping no one could see her face.  No one noticed her silence much, though, and the laughter and chatter continued.  It was gone noon when the group left to go to their respective homes and lunch.  She and Scott walked along the traffic-less road they had come by, with Morgan’s leaving words, “I’ll look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, Kira!” still fresh in her mind.
“Well, everyone liked you.  It’s almost a shame you’re the year below us, you would have fitted in really well.”  She looked at him, unsure.  What did he mean?  “Oh, and don’t worry about Tim, he’s just a bit of a poser, that’s all.  Well, let’s get back, I’m starving.”  He paused, looked around at her and smiled.  Kira stopped too, her heart beating fast and her lips unable to move.  What on earth was wrong with her?  He reached out and pulled a strand of hair that had been blowing in her face away, tucking it behind her ear.  “Thanks, I really enjoyed this morning.  It’s always nice being able to talk and hang out with a cute girl.”
He grinned again and set off back home.  For a moment Kira stood rooted to the spot, her hand on her cheek where his hand had brushed it.  What on earth was going on?  The next moment, though, she came to her senses and hurried to catch up to Scott. 


Any comments very welcome, particularly as I need to decide whether to post any more.
The very first bit sounds like a poetic description of a plane.  Though it appears not to be.  Either a very nice dual meaning, or a good coincidence.  Either way, I approve.  Didn't read further than this, and this is the second time I've meant to.  --Vitenka (Promises self again to read this.)
Seems written well enough, though slow to come to a point.  I'm left with confusion as to who is who, which is usually a bad sign but normal for me.  I'm very confused by the description of an english school as having a martial arts club, let alone 'mostly karate'.  --Vitenka
I liked it. :) And my school had karate and I think judo. --Rachael
I'm mainly going 'huh?' at the concept of such a club being run by a student at all (wouldn't you need serious adult supervision, or is this set many years ago?) and anyway, as you say - it would be a 'karate' club and a 'judo' club - not a 'martial arts' club.  Not at school level.  --Vitenka (And, usually, they're set up as external clubs, since most schools don't have suitable facilities, whilst they may have mostly a single schools membership, they're not usually exclusive.  Of course, exceptions do exist.)
Ah.  Well, here you have stumbled across my toatl inexperience with martial arts of any kind, much less their manner of practice in this country.  At our school, though, it wasn't entirely unusual for a student to be running a club like this, so long as there was adult supervision, hence the presence of Chris.  The club is, in fact, mostly for character development, especially of Kira, Chris and Morgan... if anyone has a suggestion for a better way of doing this, I would be interested to hear it.  --FR
It's certainly livable, just seemed glitchy.  Not to mention anime-style cliche ;)  --Vitenka
Strange as it may seem, it was meant to be.  I wanted to combine my usual fantasy rubbish with anime-style characters/plot.  --FR



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