Family Remains

by Tenshi

By the time they got out of the jeep in Sendai, they had all pretty much agreed that they were in for a fun weekend. The earlier protests (Kento not wanting to miss the American World Series, Rowen's plans to attend a seminar on space medicine) had been forgotten. Kento had left the VCR on auto-record and Rowen had been convinced that he didn't need to waste his weekend studying how astronauts blow chunks in zero-gravity. Sai, wanting to spend a weekend with Kento that did not involve a blaring TV set, wondered if he was the only one who'd paid Rowen to come. He had been pretty flush when they were buying their bento for the trip.

"So, we are getting paid for this, right?" Kento asked, as they piled out of the jeep and Ryou's motorcycle purred to a halt behind it. Sai locked down his thoughts of petty bribery a little more tightly, lest they leak again.

"A modest compensation for our trouble," Sage demurred. "It might not be monetary."

"Even if it ain't you can be sure it's gonna be good," Rowen added, as though contemplating the pleasant thought of further riches. "This is the Date family we're talking about."

"That's right," Kento beamed. "A weekend in the old family manse, hot baths, fatty tuna sashimi, big fluffy futons, eel donburi..."

"You do realize the family house hasn't been lived in for a few years," Sage interjected, as Mia fussed at Yuli for filling his overnight bag with action figures, and not packing his toothbrush. "The reason we're being paid is so we can tell Obaasama what kind of repairs and things will be needed." He held up one hand to measure a tiny bit of space between his thumb and forefinger. "It needs a little bit of modernization."

"So," Ryou said into the stunned silence, when they had finally come into view of their destination, "by 'a little modernization' you mean we're spending the weekend in the Tokugawa Era."

For a moment the only sounds were the wind moaning faintly through the torn paper screens of the once-magnificent Date family home, and the dispirited 'pop' of Rowen's bubblegum bubble collapsing. The only way the house could have looked more obviously haunted would have required heavy comic-tone shading and an ominous sound effect scribbled across the roof tiles.

"Oh, no," Kento said, flinging his duffel down on the gravel path. "Oh hell no. We might as well sell the film rights right now, because you know we're all gonna go in there and only Rowen's gonna come out alive, because he's the brainy one. The rest of us are going to be boxed axe-murderer breakfast nibbles."

"Oh, really Kento," Sai said, shifting the weight of his backpack. "You watch too many late-night horror flicks."

"Yes!" Kento exclaimed, "and I do it so I can be trained to spot obvious dangers like this! I'm telling you, this is a spook hole! Or a gateway to hell! Or the secret hideout of some cult murderers! C'mon Rowen, back me up!"

"I dunno," Rowen said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "Typically the slutty ones get killed first, but what happens if the slutty one is the brainy one? I might need my calculator for this one." Rowen started digging in his backpack for something to write out his probability theorems on, while Sai muttered, not very quietly, that it was very hard for Rowen to be the slutty one if he'd never even gotten laid before.

"I know it's a little run-down, and it is an old place," Sage said, "But come on, Kento. My mom lived here until she was fifteen, and she was never murdered by anything. I know the outside's a little beat up, but it's really nice inside. They've done a lot of work on it. You just don't want to stay anywhere without 130 channels and a king-sized bed."

"It's all right, Kento," Sai said, putting an arm around his best friend's shoulders, "You can sleep in my room if you're too scared. I'm sure Yuli has a teddy bear you could borrow."

"Nuh-uh," Kento said firmly, swatting Sai away. "I'm going right back into town and I'm hitting a capsule hotel for the night before--"

"Ooooh!" Mia, who had been delayed back at the jeep with Yuli, finally caught up with the others and put her hands to her heart in delight. "Oh, Sage! It's gorgeous! Momoyama period, isn't it?"

Sage went slightly pink, as though Mia had paid him some kind of personal compliment. "Well, yes. The oldest of the outer structures, at least. Parts of it have burnt down and been rebuilt to period over the years, but the inside is mostly early Meiji. Legend has it that Date Masamune drafted the plans himself, as a kind of vacation house. But I seriously doubt he ever came here."

"You can just see him here, can't you, though?" Mia said, abandoning her duffel as she charged up onto the porch of the house, exclaiming over everything from the axe-marks in the timbers to the small, forlorn brass windchime hanging in a cobwebby corner.

"I'd really rather not," Sage said, but was interrupted by Kento, bag in hand, stomping up the path to the house.

"I thought you were going to get a hotel?" Sai asked, all innocence.

Kento turned on his heel and made a sharp chopping motion across his throat. "If she ain't afraid," he said, "I ain't afraid."

"Afraid of what?" Yuli asked. His action figures had been more than he could heft, and he had dragged his overnight bag all the way from the car, leaving a wide path in the gravel. "Phew."

"Nothing," Ryou said, picking up Yuli's Ultraman duffel and slinging it over his shoulder. "C'mon. If Sage lets us in we can pick out a room, okay?"

"Yeah!" Yuli cheered, following Sai and Sage to the house.

After a moment, Rowen lifted his head and announced triumphantly, "If Braininess has a value of B and Sluttiness a value of S, and the general odds of surviving a horror flick are 3,541.3 to 7, the Braininess factor modifies the lesser odd by twenty-six percent, and Sluttiness by negative fifteen, so odds are I'd still have better than normal chances, right?" He blinked around the empty front yard; the only other person present was a blackbird eyeing him curiously from the reddening boughs of a maple tree.

"Some people got no respect for science," Rowen muttered, cramming his calculator back in his bookbag and hurrying to catch up.

The inside of the house was, as Sage had predicted, nicer than the outside. The kitchen was mostly modern and Kento was greatly mollified when the vast stainless steel fridge did not contain the mutilated parts of other visitors, but instead had been stocked by Sage's mother with enough food to feed an army, or at least everyone else and Kento.

"I used to come camping up here with my dad, and it was in a lot worse shape back then," Sage said, as Kento investigated lacquer containers of grilled fish, and Sai took the shiny new rice cooker over to the sink. "The plumbing's pretty new, and the roof, but Obaasama wants to rent it as a vacation house so she wanted some opinions."

"Well I think Mia's pretty pleased with it," Ryou said. Mia had only ducked her head in the kitchen, but once she discovered it was not a central firepit with a hanging kettle, she lost interest almost at once.

"You said the baths were nice?" Sai prompted, showing off a little by coaxing the water into the rice cooker without putting the pot under the spigot.

"That and the main garden are the top draws," Sage said. "When you've got the rice on for dinner, I'll give you the tour."

They tried to get Mia to join them, but she was lingering in a doorway in raptures about shoin and sukiya style, so they left her to wander the dusty halls in giddy delight and went out for the tour. The rooms set up for their use all faced the garden, and not only had fresh futons been left out for them, but neatly folded kimono, and antique braziers to keep the evening chill away. Sai let out a low whistle as he picked up the quilted haori laid out for him, and admired the gleaming tatami mats. They all had been given rooms that were small and private, but connected with sliding screens that were flung open for daylight. The only exception was Mia's room, which sat off to the side across the hall and had a smaller futon tucked into it for Yuli.

"Wow, Sage. Your mother and grandmother really outdid themselves." Sai was too busy admiring the delicate wave-patterned stitching on the jacket to notice the tiny line that appeared between Sage's eyebrows.

"Something the matter?" Ryou asked.

"I guess not," Sage said. "Mom said she'd have sleeping bags out for us, but I wasn't expecting all this."

"Hey, didn't you say that they planned to give guests kind of a taste of old Japan thing?" Rowen stepped in from his side after investigating the royal-blue and gold kimono laid across his futon. "If they're gonna do this for all their guests, they'll have to charge a fortune for it."

"But people pay for this kind of stuff." Kento grinned at Sai, who had put his arm through the haori to see how the pale blue color looked against his hand. "It's all cool and old-fashioned, and tourists eat that up. Your family is going to make a killing, Sage."

"I wonder where she got all this," Sage muttered. "Obaasama must have really thrown open the storehouses." He shook his head slowly. "I don't get it. When I was a kid she nearly murdered me for touching an old hanten jacket she had on display, I don't think she'd loan out vintage kimono to a bunch of teenage guys, even if they are my friends. And how did she know our armor colors?"

"Don't be so suspicious," Sai beamed, briskly folding his jacket again. "These are all obviously brand new, and we wear our armor colors all the time. It's not like they're hard to guess. I'd say she wanted to surprise you, so you'd feel like a guest too. Now come on," He hooked his arm through Kento's in a way that was almost predatory. "Let's go see those baths. I want to be cleaned up before dinner."

The baths were simple, elegant, and completely inviting. Firewood had been laid in the stove for the large ofuro, which was large enough to hold them, their armors, White Blaze, and possibly the jeep if it had wanted a soak. The water had been pumped directly from the spring and the tub was recently filled; there were orange slices floating on the water.

"Hey, now this is more like it!" Kento said, poking at the pile of firewood under the wooden tub. "Ryou, you wanna get this going for us?"

"No problem," Ryou said, ignoring the matches and putting his hand to the stacked tinder. There was a flicker of crimson light across his brow and between his fingers, and flames roared to life in the grate. The tour was unanimously put on hold as everyone went back for bathing supplies and the clothes laid out for them, and once they were finished, well-dressed and steaming slightly, any lingering supernatural concerns had vanished.

Sage took them around the gardens and showed them the ruin of the old tea house while Mia had her bath (lingering) and Yuli had a quick wash-off under the spigot (noticeably short). They reunited in the dining room, where Kento announced they all looked like they had escaped from a samurai drama. Mia especially was quite pretty, with her steam-flushed cheeks, russet hair done up in a twist, and the neckline of her kimono pulled down just so at the back of her neck. Ryou would trail off mid-sentence every time his eyes wandered over to her, and then he would become suddenly interested in whatever it was he was eating.

"And there's this one garden with these stone steps and a little shrine," Yuli was saying, giving Sage his full and enthusiastic review of the grounds, "It was so cool! I left one of my gundam figures under it, though."

"It's dark now, you can go looking for it tomorrow." Sage put his bowl of miso down and smiled up at the assembled group. "Well, I suppose it's kind of late to say it, but thanks everyone for coming."

"Don't be so formal," Sai said, much more cheerful after a bath and a decent meal. "It's been wonderful so far."

Kento grunted his agreement with Sai's sentiments, but could not say more, as his mouth was full of noodles.

"Yeah, Sage," Rowen added. "Though I know being the Date-san here you want to play host, but your mom and grandma already got that covered."

"Seems like it," Sage said, selecting a perfectly-shaped bean dumpling from the tray of sweets they'd found in the kitchen. "I think the house is more the host than I am."

A game of uta-garuta was proposed and then abandoned before even ten cards had been matched to their respective poets. The long car drive followed by a hot bath and expansive dinner had reduced everyone, even nightbird Rowen, to near-coma status. Ryou grudgingly lit the braziers in everyone's rooms (for people too lazy to use matches, he said) and before long the only sound in the ancient manor house was a symphony of contented snoring.

Rowen woke up in the middle of the night, fully alert and taut as a drawn bowstring, as though someone had spoken his name very close by. The room was pitch black, the silence so thick that it rang faintly in his ears. The paper lantern in the corner had gone out, and the brazier was only a blacker shadow. Groping in the dark for his wristwatch, he found it and squeezed the little light. Two-thirty.

He did not need to touch the minds of his fellow warriors to guess that they were all still sound asleep. He wasn't really surprised to wake up; he had gone to bed way before his usual midnight hour and was sleeping in a strange place. He had come prepared for such contingency. He turned up his flashlight and clicked it on, then unearthed a Steven Hawking paperback from his bag and in a moment the silence was punctuated by the periodic whisper of turning pages.

A half a chapter in, Rowen realized he must have read the same paragraph fifteen times. Little things kept breaking his concentration: Kento snorting himself out of a dream and back into sleep one room over, the creak and mutter of the trees in the garden, a low moan of settling wood beams. The darkness outside the beam of his flashlight seemed to press against everything like a big black cat, suffocating Rowen and almost bowing in the shoji screens.

Putting down his book, Rowen wrapped up in the padded jacket that had been laid out for him, and slid open the screen that led to the porch. Up here in the middle of nowhere, there should at least be some good stars.

The varied darkness of the sleeping garden was a relief after his stuffy room. It was cold in the mountains, and in October, and his breath made a fine mist as he stepped down off the porch and onto the carefully raked gravel path. He might have been warmer in his own clothes, but something about blue jeans and a sweater was an affront to the atmosphere of the house. Rowen picked his way down to the center of the garden, wooden sandals clattering like a bamboo water-balance.

In the daylight, the garden had been pretty but with a lingering air of foreboding neglect, the bushes overgrown and the leaf detritus of other years heaped up in corners. In the dark, however, it was as though the pall of abandonment had fallen away, leaving only a shadowy, inviting beauty. In the koi pond, the curled-up edges of leaves floating on the surface were rimed in glittering frost, and the moon rode low above the crumbling teahouse. Rowen took a deep breath of the cold air, and flung his head back to the silvery ribbon of the milky way above. The maple trees made a lacy border on the sky, their leaves the color of old blood in the dark.

"I hope you like it here."

Rowen yelped, nearly coming out of his skin. His heart was still pounding like a taiko drum when he realized it was only Sage, standing quite close by in the shadow of the yellow ginkgo by the teahouse. Rowen recognized the pale fall of his hair, and the deep green shoulder of his kimono, even if the rest of him was indistinct. "Sheeze, Sage! Don't sneak up on me like that!"

"Is there some other way in which I should sneak up on you?" Sage asked, his comeback couched in polite deference, as though he was actually concerned he had done something wrong. Sage was good at that, smart-ass while being textbook courteous.

"Very funny," Rowen said, and stuffed his chilled hands in the sleeves of his jacket. The cold must have been sinking in slowly without his notice; what had been a pleasant chill when he first came out was now a penetrating, bone-numbing cold. "Still, it's a really nice place. The food and the baths and everything are great. Though I told you you don't have to worry about playing host."

"I'm pleased you like my home," he said. "As it is now yours."

It was not so much the ominous phrase as the not-quite-right angle of his smile that set off warning bells in Rowen's mind. Rowen's blood turned to icewater in his veins as the moonlight fell across the stranger's face, and the light failed to put any trace of mortal warmth in the bleak, dead gaze. Whatever it was under that tree, it was not Sage. It wasn't even human. Anymore.

And without a whisper of motion or so much as a single ginkgo leaf stirring beneath his sandals, the ghost was gone.

Rowen stood in mute shock for perhaps half a minute, staring at the blank bark of the tree. Then he exploded back towards the house with all the speed of his yoroi behind him, rending a bright-blue tear in the listening, sentient darkness of the garden.

"Sage! Sage!"

Sage bolted awake out of his futon and was halfway through his armor call before he realized it was only Rowen, kneeling down beside him with a wild look in his eyes and his indigo hair going in all directions.

"Unf, Rowen, what is it? It's three in the morning. If there was a snake in the bathroom again--"

"There was not," Rowen said, fisting his hands in the front of Sage's sleeping-robe, "a snake in the bathroom. There was," he continued, "a great big frigging ghost in the garden, and before I run screaming back into town I just wanted to let you know I'm sorry for the hole I made in the screen of my room."

"Let go of me," Sage said, trying without success to pry Rowen's clammy fingers off of his clothes. "You just had a bad dream, Rowen. There's no such thing as gho--"

"If you," Rowen said, with feeling, "are gonna sit there on your mystical-armor-wearing ass and try and tell me there's no such thing as ghosts, I'm gonna have to shoot you. With my arrows. The magical ones."

Sage folded his arms as best as he was able with Rowen's death-grip on the front of his kimono. Even so, he still managed a tone of patronizing reason. "Hashiba Toma--"

"Don't you 'Hashiba Toma' me!" Rowen shouted, eyes blazing. "You ain't my ma! I am telling you, you got spooky look-alike ancestors in ya back garden!"

"Whassit goin' on?" Ryou said, staggering in from his room, red kimono hanging open over half-done-up jeans. "Izzit fight?"

"It's not a fight," Sage said, freeing himself at last. "Rowen's just dreamed up a ghost, is all."

"Dreamed up a ghost?" Rowen said, with barely-contained fury. " I did not-- You sonuvva--" Suddenly somehow there was a gleaming golden bow in his hand. "ARROW SHOCK WA-wummphhtpf!"

"Now, let's be reasonable about this." Sai had both of his hands clamped firmly over Rowen's mouth, as the bow of the Strata armor dissipated in a little shower of blue and gold sparks. "Rowen is obviously quite upset, and I think we all agree that he is generally a very level-headed and calm person and would not be so agitated unless really upset. Right?"

Sage nodded, reluctantly. Ryou still looked asleep, but there was a line between his eyebrows, as though he had almost worked things out.

"Right, Rowen?" Sai said, with dangerous sweetness. Rowen bit him.

"Get offa me," Rowen gasped, escaping Sai's chokehold. "I don't care what any of you think. I've fought nether spirits and demon overlords and all that crap, and I've never seen anything as scary as that guy I thought was Sage looking me in the eye and radiating just how much he was dead. And if you want to sit around and have a nice talk about it, that's fine, but I. Am. Leaving."

"I knew it!" Kento crowed, from the open doorway leading to Sai's room. "I told you guys this place was the Rocky Horror Picture Show--"

"If it was the Rocky Horror Picture Show then you'd have to be in a corset, and frankly I'd rather face Rowen's ghost," Sai snapped, shaking his fingers. Rowen had bit him rather hard. "Now I'm serious, if there is something supernatural going on here--"

"There is," Rowen insisted.

"--Then it is our duty as armor-bearers to get to the bottom of it. Are we not charged with guarding the mortal world?"

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. After a long pause Ryou said, "The house is haunted?"

Sage put his face in his hands.

Two minutes later there were five nervous young men roaming the dusty halls, dressed in a hodgepodge of boxer shorts, blue jeans, and kimono, their flashlight beams lurching uneasily over painted screens and cobwebby vases.

"I dunno, Rowen," Ryou said, much more coherent now that he was actually awake. "I figured you'd be the kind of guy who would look at a ghost sighting as a scientific opportunity."

"I would," Rowen said, waving his flashlight at a suspicious shadow down the hall, and lighting nothing more ominous than a large statue of a bodhisattva. "If I hadn't been the one doing the seeing. It was just plain freaky." Rowen did not admit, certainly not in front of the others and barely to himself, that the fact that the ghost looked like Sage was what had really alarmed him. And the fact that he was alarmed by that made him even more alarmed, and at that point there were so many alarms going off in his head that he was pretty certain that civilian vehicles should pull over for him on the highway.

"Still, it would be amazing if we could prove it," Sai said thoughtfully. "Definitive proof of the supernatural? I mean, how rare is that?"

"Oh," Kento said, "only about as rare as five mystical elemental armors that grant their bearers superpowers? Forget it, Sai. Big ideas about proving shit are for the people who wind up greasing the buzz-saw in the basement. If we packed up and left now we might actually live--"

"If we packed up and left I could never look my Obaasama in the eye again," Sage growled. His flashlight was off, tucked in the sleeve of his kimono, and it was apparent he had only come with them because he was worried for the safety of the property. "And this house doesn't have a basement."

"Hey," Rowen said, still sharp around his edges, "I know Kento's exaggerating but at least he believes me. I'm not making this up."

Sage sighed. "Oh, I'm sure you saw something, Rowen. A patch of fog, or a wild animal--"

Rowen brandished his flashlight, realizing with off-balance clarity that it would be really easy to tell Sage and the ghost apart if one of them had a few prominent facial injuries. "You think I don't know a bunny rabbit from a ghost?"

"I think you were up late reading some horrible American pulp novel and your imagination did the rest--"

"I'll give you something to imagine!"

"Come on, guys just chill out--"

"Ow! Hey! Watch where you're swinging that!"

"What in the world is going on out here?"

Everyone froze, even Rowen, who was wielding his flashlight like a lightsaber, and the other three who were trying to keep the Halo- and Strata-bearers apart. Mia stood in the doorway of her room, wearing her nightgown and an expression of supreme annoyance. Ryou hastily did up the front of his jeans and Sai folded his kimono together over his sky-blue shorts, not so much out of modesty as to conceal the fact that they were printed with smiley dolphins.

"Uh--" Kento began.

"Rowen thinks he--"

"I don't 'think' anything, Date--"

"So sorry to bother you, Mia, we'll just--"

"Nice nightie."

There was an ominous silence in which Ryou put his hand over his mouth and went the color of his armor. "I mean," he tried again, "we were just um--"

"Really!" Mia huffed, a bit pink herself, though none of them were deluded enough to think it was from flattery or the sight of them in their underwear. "I thought you boys were older than this sort of nonsense!"

They cringed; nothing stung more than Mia pulling the grownup card.

"Which one of you is responsible for this?"

Mutely, and with five separate looks of accusatory innocence, each Trooper swung his flashlight beam at one of his fellows. Rowen, with Sage's flashlight in one hand and his own in the other, crossed his arms to lay the blame on Sage and Sai. Sage blamed Rowen, Sai blamed Kento, Kento blamed Ryou and Ryou waved his flashlight vaguely at the house.

Mia rolled her eyes. "Go," she said, "to bed."

The shoji screen snapped shut.

There was a collective sigh of relief in the hallway.

"'Nice nightie'?" Kento repeated, incredulous.

"I know," Ryou moaned, face in his hands. "Don't remind me. It was all the lacy bits. I lost it."

"You never had it," Rowen grumbled. "But at this rate, even if you did, you're not gonna lose it to Mia."

Ryou looked deeply pained; it was clear he thought the same.

"She's right, though, this is ridiculous." Sage folded his arms. "Come on, let's just go back to sleep."

"I'm afraid you're right," Sai added. "We can investigate in the morning. We'll open up the dividers between our rooms though, so if anything strange happens again there'll be witnesses."

"I know what I saw," Rowen protested, but weakly, as they turned back down the hall to their rooms.

"It's okay man, I believe you," Kento said, clapping one hand on Rowen's shoulder.

"Thanks, but leave my arm on--"

"Shh!" Sage said, from the lead. Naturally, with his own innate sense of light, he had no need for his mag-lite, but he clicked on his reclaimed flashlight and shone the beam down the corridor. "I just saw something."

"What?" Rowen said, not noticing how close he was to Sage in order to see down the hall. "What is it?"

"There it goes!" Sai exclaimed, as a shadow darted across the hall. "It's... It's a... very short ghost."

"No it's not," Ryou said, elbowing past them. "It's Yuli."

It was indeed Yuli, standing at the end of the hall in his Godzilla footie pajamas, and staring listlessly at the floor.

"Hey, kiddo," Ryou said, going down on one knee beside him. "Whatcha doin' out here?"

"Lost my toy," Yuli muttered, still eyeing the floor. "Left it in the garden."

"What, your gundam figure?" Kento ruffled the little boy's hair. "It's out there keeping watch, right? You can go get it in the morning."

Yuli pulled away from Kento as he would from a stranger, grimacing. "Lost my ball," he said, and padded down the wood floor. "Otousama gave it to me. He won't come back if I don't find it."

"'Otousama'?" Sai echoed, bewildered. "When did Yuli take to talking like Sage?"

"Yeah," Kento said. "He's always called his dad 'papa,' anyway."

"He didn't bring any balls with him." Ryou's eyes narrowed, and there was no trace of sleepiness or bewildered infatuation on him now. "Just his action figures."

"Something strange is going on here," Sage admitted.

Rowen made an exasperated noise that required a full-body gesture. "I told you that-- hey, where'd he go?"

Their last glimpse of Yuli was a green-buttoned backside disappearing around the corner. Ryou felt a sudden sense of inexplicable panic at Yuli being out of his sight, a sensation that went to the other four like a static shock along the threads of their bond. In half a second they were running after him.

"Damn that kid can go fast," Kento huffed. "I might need my undergear for this."

"You wouldn't if you hadn't had four helpings of curry at dinner," Sai said, not winded in the least. He was one of those annoying people who ran because he claimed to enjoy it. They all knew it was really because he was vain about his ass.

"He's headed for the garden," Ryou said, skidding around a doorway, the dusty wood floors slippery on his sock-feet.

"Oh," Rowen said. "Peachy."

The cold hit them full blast as they followed Yuli through a section of porch that had not been screened-in yet, and off it into the garden. Their flashlight beams bounced and swung like a used-car lot forced into unholy motion, but even in the haphazard light they were constantly tripped by roots and loose stones, or swatted in the face by trailing branches that seemed to reach out to them with malevolent intent.

Yuli, with no light to guide his path, breezed through the obstacles without so much as a pause.

Within a minute all of them, even Sage, were hopelessly lost. All they could do was follow Yuli, who pattered through chunks of moonlight like a tiny, Godzilla-clad ghost. When he came to a stop it was so sudden that Ryou, in the lead, almost plowed right into him.

"Whoa, hey-- OW!"

Yuli scrubbed at his face, and blinked, bemused, at the five-trooper pileup immediately behind him. "Huh? Why'm I out here? What are you guys doing?"

Sai and Kento, who had landed in a position that could only be described as extremely compromising, stood up at once and pretended to be interested in opposite sides of the garden.

"We were following you," Ryou explained, bending down with his palms on his knees. "What are you doing, running out here in the middle of the night?"

"I dunno," Yuli said, scratching at the front of his pajamas. "Last thing I remember I was in bed."

"Heh," Kento grinned. "Been sleepwalking, eh kiddo? Or maybe sleep-sprinting?"

Yuli frowned. "I never did before. Hey--" He looked around him, as though recognizing the place for the first time. "I was here earlier today. It's where I saw that other kid."

"Kid?" Sage said, sternly. "What kid? You didn't say anything about that before."

"Oh. ...I didn't want to get him in trouble," Yuli said, to his damp Godzilla-feet, fisting his small hands in his sleeves. "I figured he wasn't supposed to be up here. He liked my gundam, so I left it here for him when Mia called me in for my bath. Sorry, Sage."

"It's okay, Yuli." Sage smiled down at him. "But if you meet any strangers here you should tell me."

Yuli nodded.

"There aren't any other houses for miles," Sage said, as Yuli peered around the overgrown shrine for his toy. "I wonder if someone is squatting in the house and trying to scare us off?"

Rowen snorted. "Sh'yeah. It's probably Mr. Withers, from the amusement park. Come on, Sage. This is reality, not an episode of Scooby-Doo."

"I like that idea better than a ghost story, though," Sai tapped his flashlight against his palm, sending the beam bouncing in the trees and making the shadows of the ruined teahouse do jumping-jacks.

"Hey!" Yuli shouted, making them all jump. "He left me something!"

They crunched through the undergrowth to where Yuli was standing in the shadow of the shrine, holding up a little embroidered ball in one hand, the colors of the threads faded even in the moonlight.

"What's this?" Ryou asked, picking up the ball, and passing it to Sage.

"A temari." Sage rolled the ball back and forth between his palms, and handed it back to Yuli, who busied himself tossing it in the air and catching it. "An old one, too. I'm not sure he should be throwing it around like that, it's an antique."

"It's not yours, Sage, it belonged to that little ghost boy," Rowen said. "And he gave it to Yuli."

"Little ghost boy? I thought you said the ghost you saw looked like Sage?" Kento raised one eyebrow, suspicious.

"It did." Rowen was matter-of-fact, as though the conclusion should be obvious. "But it seems to me that Yuli found a different one. You know any other kids that would be up here?"

"Oh, so there's two ghosts now?" Sage blew up at his trailing bangs, exasperated. "I'm not even sure that I'm convinced there's one, and a sleepwalking kid and an old ball aren't going to convince me that--"

"Sage," Sai called out softly, some distance from the small granite shrine. "Can you come over here a moment?"

Sai was busy pulling away dead branches and the skeletal remains of wisteria vines from a corner of the garden, near the back of the teahouse.

"What have you found?" Ryou asked.

"My flashlight beam caught on something," Sai stood up, and in the area he had cleared sat a modest arrangement of rock slabs, no larger than the shrine Yuli was bouncing his ball against, and ominously familiar in design.

"Graves!" Kento exclaimed, running a hand over the lichen-encrusted stone. "Creepier than advertised!"

Sage frowned, going on his knees in the damp earth. "I didn't know this was here," he said, hands folding in an automatic, instinctive bow of respect. "All the old family graves are way on the other side of the property."

"There are no names." Sai held up the flashlight beam, sweeping it over the blank rock. "I thought at first time had worn away any inscription, but I don't think there was anything ever carved in this."

"Allow me," Kento said, and he placed both of his hands on the gravestone, closing his eyes as a thin outline of orange light traced over his profile and the ends of his hair. "This has been here for a long time," he said, when he opened his eyes again, his armor-light dimming. "Almost four hundred years. It was never inscribed. There's ashes underneath it. At least two people. Maybe three. They're hard to tell apart after all this time."

Ryou was impressed. "Whoa, Kento! I didn't know you could do that!"

Sai's mouth twitched in something that was almost a smile. "He uses it to find loose change at the beach."

"I want to investigate this," Sage said, at once. "If these spirits have had their graves neglected, it could explain why they are displeased. As a descendant, I should take care of it."

"Ha!" Rowen crowed. "So now that there's a grave, you believe me!"

Sage fastidiously brushed off his knees. "I didn't say that there was such a thing as ghosts, Rowen. Only that the spirits of my ancestors may be restless. Let's go back in. Yuli should be in bed, and I want a cup of tea."

Rowen stared after him, utterly befuddled. "How can he agree with everything I've said, and still make it sound like he's right and I'm wrong?"

"I have no idea." Sai patted Rowen on the shoulder. "It seems to be a particular gift of his."

They saw Yuli back to bed, making sure not to disturb Mia, who was sleeping soundly. Once he was tucked in his futon with his ball in one hand, they crept down the hall to the kitchen. Kento raided the fridge for leftovers (it seemed there was even more food than before) while Sage whisked frothy cups of fine green tea. There was nothing so common as teabags or even loose-leaf in the kitchen.

"So the question is," Sai said, warming his hands on his cup, "who would be buried so close inside the grounds, but without any sort of marker?"

"And do we really care about it at three in the morning?" Ryou yawned, but pretended to be drinking his tea when Rowen and Sage shot him aggravated looks that were eerily similar.

"It wouldn't have been anyone who wasn't important or close to the family," Sage said, idly rolling the bamboo tea whisk under his finger. "Or they would have been buried far away. But anyone important would have had a name."

"But it has to be a relative," Sai insisted. "Rowen said the man in the garden looked like you."

"Impossible," Sage scoffed. "I look like my father. I doubt that anyone in my family four hundred years ago would have looked anything like me." With an impatient gesture he summed up his pale eyes and hair. "Don't you think?"

"Well, maybe your dad isn't the only foreigner in your bloodline, Sage." Rowen was doodling Punnet squares on a napkin. "If he was, you probably wouldn't have been fair. If your mom had a recessive blond gene from way back when and then your dad--"

"Ugh, stop," Kento said, putting down his onigiri. "You're going to bore us all dead, and then we can ask the ghosts personally. The fact is, the graves and the ghosts probably have nothing to do with each other."

"Then why did Yuli lead us there?" Rowen demanded, gesturing with his napkin. "Why did he find the ball, but not remember that he was looking for it in his sleep? Why is this all happening tonight? Why did the ghost ask how I liked his home if he didn't live here once? And are you going to save me some of the ume ones, or am I going to have to hurt you?"

Sheepishly, Kento withdrew his hand from the container of pickled-plum rice balls.

"Gotta be something," Rowen said, pacing as much as the kitchen would allow. "Graves close to the house, but no names. Why wouldn't they have had names? If they were family, if he owned this house, then he would have been part of the Date clan, unless..." Rowen trailed off mid-sentence, turned on his heel, and bolted from the room.

"Now what?" Sai wondered, as they abandoned their teacups to follow him. Rowen had not gone too far, only down to the statue of the bodhisattva across from Mia's room. He was studying it intently, from the carved wheel of the eightfold path behind her head, to the child held in her arms.

"It's Kannon," Sage said, with a measure of impatience. "You flee the kitchen to examine art relics?"

"It's not Kannon," Rowen said, grinning like a fox who at last has caught the scent of a hare. "But we're supposed to think it is."

"Okay, then who is it really?" Kento demanded. Ryou looked longingly through the open side door at his rumpled futon.

Rowen was practically glowing with intellectual triumph as he pointed at the carved prayer beads she wore around her wrist. Almost hidden in the wooden folds of her sleeve was a tiny cross. "It's Mary. Those people whose ashes are buried unmarked were part of the Date clan... but they were Christians."

"Oh come on," Sai said. "I was hoping for something better than that! You don't know when this statue was bought, it could have been ages before or after--"

"No," Sage said quietly. "He's right." He stepped out of the shadows, looking up at the benevolent gaze of the saint who had borrowed another goddess' guise. "I'd forgotten. I couldn't have been more than five or six when my grandmother told me that story."

"What story?" Kento prodded. "C'mon, don't leave us hanging!"

Sage shook his head. "I barely remember any of it. It was when I figured out that my father wasn't a Date, that he'd taken my mother's name. My grandmother told me a story that once Date Masamune had adopted a son the same way-- a foreigner. Dutch, I think. It wasn't that uncommon, just an honorary thing when he married one of Masamune's daughters and took the name Date, just like my father." Sage reached up to wipe the veil of dust from the carved, serene face. "But then, they started the persecution of the Christians. Masamune was said to have been favorably inclined to them, but he could only defy the shogun for so long. In the end, he had to order the execution of his adopted son. After the execution Masamune's daughter went mad, and killed her little boy and then herself. She tried to suffocate her baby girl, too, but the baby survived." Sage's smile didn't quite make it to his eyes. "She was the first matriarch of my line. Ever since then, baby girls in my family are supposed to be lucky."

"That's so sad," Sai said, his eyes shining. "Surely they must be the ones buried out there. They couldn't be in the graves with the rest of the family, and couldn't have the family name, so Masamune just passed that on to the granddaughter. But the least he could do was let them stay here, in the family house."

"I don't think they ever left," Ryou said, and it took a moment for the others to realize why his voice had gone so tight, and why the hall had turned so cold.

The end of the corridor was enveloped in a strange, luminous mist. As they watched, transfixed, it coalesced into a vague human figure, and then sharpened at the edges until a young woman stepped out of the shadows, her hair and bright kimono sleeves trailing. Sage made a strangled noise in his throat, as though he would speak to her, but unlike the ghosts in the garden, she took no notice of them. Her eyes fixed on them without seeing, she swept through them with a chill that left their knees weak and their souls shivering inside their cages of flesh and bone. Despair and anguish washed over them in invisible waves, until she touched the door of Mia's room, and vanished.

"Mia!" Ryou was after her in a second, though the others were still thawing, and flung back the screen. Inside there was no phantom chill, and Mia and Yuli were both sleeping soundly.

"I don't get it," Ryou said, closing the door again. "Where'd she go?"

"Nowhere," Rowen said. "She was just a bit of time caught in some kind of loop. She didn't even see us."

"How awful," Sai whispered. "She was so sad. Isn't there anything we can do?"

"Probably not for her." Sage looked back down the hall, which now was filled with only ordinary shadows. Something white caught his eye, gleaming against the floor. "What's that?"

They all turned, expecting demons, or ninjas, or maybe demon ninjas, but Sage only bent down and picked up a plain envelope.

"A secret confession?" Kento wondered.

"A page from the bloody history of the house?" Rowen suggested.

"Something from the other ghosts?" Ryou asked.

"No," Sai said, one hand to his heart, "Maybe it's a tragic profession of love from beyond the grave!"

"It's from my mother," Sage said, and slit open the envelope, ignoring the looks of disappointment from his friends. "She must have left it for me, but it fell under the statue."

"Or it was moved by supernatural means!" Rowen announced. Sage glared at him before reading aloud:

"Hello honey, I hope the place will be comfortable enough for you and your friends. There's snacks in the fridge but you might need to go into town for takeout for dinner. Sleeping bags are in the main room, you might want to sleep all together because we haven't gotten the screens repaired for the rooms along the garden. I'm sorry we couldn't get the bath fixed either, but I've put in some tokens for the bathhouse in town. If it gets too cold for you just come down to the house and you can sleep in the dojo. Stay away from that old tea house in the back, I think it's going to cave in any minute. Hope you have a nice weekend. Love, Mom."

Had there been any crickets out at such an indecent hour, they would have been the only sound.

"The baths aren't working?" Sai echoed.

"All that food was snacks?" Kento was thunderstruck. "Whoa, what does your mom call 'dinner' then?"

"She didn't make that food," Sage said, folding the letter into crisp quarters and tucking it into his sleeve. "Or fill the bath, or put out these kimono for us, or prepare our rooms. I would not suggest panicking, gentlemen, as I'm not convinced of any malevolence here, but something very unnatural is happening, and I think it might be a very good idea for us to leave for now and come back in the daylight, and better prepared."

"I'll pull the jeep around," Ryou said, at once. It was a foregone conclusion that if Sage said the place was too freaky for him, it was nowhere anyone sane wanted to be for long.

"Good. The rest of you, get your stuff together." Sage nodded at Mia's door. "I don't want to scare them. We'll carry them out right before we go."

"I'll get your stuff, Ryou," Rowen offered.

"Right," Ryou said. "Meet me in the front room in five."

It did not take long for them to grab their duffels and meet back at the front room, where Ryou was looking at the door and swearing furiously.

"Got the car around, buddy?" Kento asked, hefting his bookbag.

Ryou brought his fist down against the front door. "It won't open!"

The others dropped their luggage at once and went to put their shoulders to the door, to no effect. Even with all their strength, the wooden door refused to budge, when Netherworld portals the size of skyscrapers had yielded to them before. It did not feel locked so much as it seemed the door and the entire front wall of the house had been fused into one, inflexible whole.

"Still not convinced of any malevolence?" Rowen glared sideways at Sage, grimly mollified. "Nice ghosties don't usually lock people in."

"Undergear," Ryou gasped, letting the iron handle slide out of his hand. "Sorry Sage, but we're going to have to bust this thing down."

"I couldn't agree more," Sage said, and flung off his jacket, summoning his mystical armor from the beyond with a sharp call and a clenched fist. The others did the same.

Absolutely nothing happened.

"What the--" Kento began, gawping at his empty hand and trying to figure out why it wasn't sheathed in mystic white metal.

"It's blocked!" Sai exclaimed. "Like that time with the nether spirits, and the flutes. We can't even call our under-armor, much less our full yoroi!"

"Shit," Rowen said, with feeling.

"Okay, guys," Ryou said, glancing around the house, "I think it's safe to say we might kinda be in trouble."

"I'm starting to agree with you," Sage said. "Let's get Mia and Yuli. I don't want us getting split up, and I don't want them left alone here."

Abandoning their bags and their fruitless attempts at escape, they ran through the halls back to Mia's room. Ryo skidded to a halt and then smacked his hand against the doorframe, hard enough to scatter splinters even without his armor on. "They're gone!"

Rowen reached the doorway next, and caught a glimpse of tousled, empty bedding. "Fan out! Search the place, they can't have gone very far--"

"Shh." On the far side of Mia's room, one of the partition screens slid open, spilling moonlight across the floor. Mia sat behind it, small and beautiful in the sea of layered kimono that she had worn at dinner. Yuli's head was pillowed in her lap. "My son is sleeping," Mia whispered, bending down over Yuli and pressing a motherly kiss to his forehead. Yuli stirred fitfully in his sleep, clutching the faded string ball.

"Son?" Ryou managed, while Rowen, behind him, was less subtle.

"Mia, what the hell are you talking about! We've got to get out of here, now!"

Mia smiled up at Rowen, dreamily. "Leave? This is our home." Rowen's breath hitched as he saw in Mia's eyes the echo of the phantom in the garden, the disconnect between life and death. Mia, he knew by instinct, still thought she was asleep. The woman he was talking to now was someone else entirely. "We're not ever going to leave," she sighed happily, fondling a lock of Yuli's hair. "Not ever."

"Look," Sage began, stepping into the room, "We don't have time to explain, just--"

At the sight of Sage, Mia started up with a joyous cry, sliding Yuli off her lap as she rushed over to the Halo warrior and wrapped him up in a passionate kiss. Sage, wide-eyed, was perhaps only a little less startled than Ryou, who looked like he might burst into flames on the spot. Rowen thought several things that surprised even himself, and spent a brief moment banging his head against the doorframe, in the hopes of clearing it.

"Um," Sage said, when he had managed to disentangle his mouth, "I think you've mistaken me for someone else."

"Sage," Ryou growled, and blocked armor or no, there was a visible heat distortion coming off of his skin, "what the hell are you doing?"

Sage did his best to look victimized, which was hard with Mia's fingers in his hair and creeping up under his sweater. "Hey, she started it!"

"Now we're all here together again," Mia murmured, rubbing her cheek on Sage's shoulder. "My Lord and his son and our warriors, and they will never be taken away..."

"Oh, dear," Sai said.

"She's possessed!" Kento yelped.

"No, I think she's just kind of sleepwalking, like Yuli was." Rowen staggered forward, rubbing at the new knot on his forehead. "She's got the same kind of look on her face. Probably we better humor her till this is over with."

"Then you better make it quick before I become a father," Sage snapped, pulling a cooing Mia's hands out of his clothes.

"Whoa!" Kento said. "That would like, make you your own ancestor!"

"Ixnay on the cestornay," Sai said, with a warning glance at Ryou, who was on the verge of implosion.

"Come on," Ryou snarled, and stomped out of the room. "Just bring them with us. We're getting this sorted out once and for all."

Mia voiced no protest at all, her arm hooked through Sage's and her voice in a dreamy singsong, expressing her ardor in verses of seventeen very explicit syllables. Sage's ears had a delicate blush, Rowen felt inexplicably short of breath, and Ryou's clenched fists began to smoke, ever so slightly.

"Where are we going?" Kento asked, edging back a little from the heat in Ryou's eyes.

"The garden," Ryou said, teeth gritting. "That damn tea house has been giving me a bad feeling this whole time, and I knew I should have listened to it."

As they passed by the bathhouse they noticed that it was barren and forlorn, the tub they had soaked in now bone dry with a few leaves clinging to the bottom, as though it hadn't been wet in decades. The fire grate was cold as the grave, and several sections of piping had been unearthed from the floor for repairs. Sage shivered at the sight of it, but none of them spoke. Glancing back at the house, they saw that the rooms they had been sleeping in were open to the elements, the shoji faded and torn, bare floors carpeted with dust, untouched.

"The illusion fails," Sai whispered.

Mia swooned, fainting, and Sage caught her up in his arms without breaking his stride. "It's not long before dawn," he said. "We have to get Mia and Yuli back before then, or they might be lost to us. She's already slipping out of herself."

Kento gave a worried glance at the little boy sleeping in his arms. "We better hurry."

Ryou crunched to a halt in the center of the garden, and glared at the blank windows of the old tea house, the crumbling doorway falling in on itself like a decomposing mouth.

"All right!" he shouted, his voice as ringing as steel in the cold darkness. "Come out and face us, you son of a--"

"Ryou." Sage laid Mia gently on the ground. "Wait. Let me do this."

Ryou scowled, but one glance at Mia's still face was all it took for him to agree. "All right."

There was something of battle in the way Sage stepped in front of Ryou, deliberately placing himself in the position of first harm, protecting their leader. For a second there was a warning of Sage's intent in Rowen's mind, but then the Halo warrior proffered a curt bow to the tea house, his voice ringing out over the garden.

"It is a poor host who does not greet his guests face to face, Grandfather."

In the ruined mouth of the teahouse there was only the rustle of weeds. Rowen felt his hackles raising even before the shadows folded together and produced an origami of green silk and pale hair, shining faintly in the darkness like the memory of sunlight in winter. Kento's arms tightened on Yuli's sleeping form as the ghost eyed them with level dispassion.

A poorer host would have frightened them.

Sage met the dead gaze of his ancestor, unflinching. "You insult our courage, sir. Though your hospitality is not lacking, I think it comes at a cost we have never agreed to pay."

But pay it you will! The ghost's eyes flashed with the same color as Sage's; he solidified, so instead of a hazy shape there were fingers, and crisp folds in his kimono. I was a fool to believe Shoshi's father, with his lies about honor and friendship, only to die by his order, for a faith he swore he admired and would protect! Unearthly light licked around his edges like flame on paper, reflecting his anger. But now you will make good his promises to me. This villa, and my wife, our children, and my warriors, you will return these things to me, long revoked, long overdue.

Sage closed his eyes, and across his forehead the mark of his virtue shone dim green in the dark. "I admit," he said, after a moment, "that you and your family were done a great injustice. Masamune chose the path of least dishonor, but it was a dishonor all the same. I will pay that debt, out of honor for my family, and by the virtue of my armor."

"Sage!" Rowen hissed, taking a step forward, wishing for the reassuring weight of his bow. It had come so quickly before, when the specter had not yet found them a threat. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What must be done!" Sage answered, as sharp as the falling blade of his sword. "Atonement is the core of honor, Rowen. Without it, the word means nothing. However." Sage turned back to his phantom ancestor, ignoring the desperate look on Rowen's face. "My friends have no part in this debt. You will release them. I will stay."

"What?" Rowen bolted forward through the gasps of disbelief, wrenching Sage's arm until the other warrior looked at him. "Are you crazy? We're not leaving you here to be possessed by some freak without the sense to stay dead. I don't care if we have to go through him to get out of here--"

"It is dishonorable to do harm to your host," Sage demurred, unperturbed.

Rowen had him by both arms now. "Well it's dishonorable to kidnap your guests!"

"Having received a discourtesy does not permit you to respond in kind," Sage answered. "And it doesn't matter to you anyway, since you'll be leaving with the others--"

"The hell I will!" Rowen thundered, and stepped in front of Sage, a ridiculous move for their strategist and their only long-range fighter. "I ain't letting you stay here on your own, and if Casper over there wants you he's gonna have to take me too."

"And me," Ryou added, standing to Sage's left. "But you let Mia go."

"And Yuli," Kento said, moving in front of Rowen. "I'll stay here in his place, but the kid and Mia go home safe."

"Sage is our friend," Sai murmured, not needing to shout. "By his choice or no, you would be a fool to think we would let you harm him while we are still breathing."

"It doesn't matter if we don't have our armor," Ryou said. "Even without it I know about courtesy, and wisdom, and justice, and trust, and I know those things were taken away from you. But I also know righteousness, and I know that what you are doing here will give nothing back to you. No matter if we fall without our armors, we will never let you take our friends without a fight. If you want Sage, you'll have to come through us."

"Really," Sage began, "I think it is my choice to--"

"Shuttup, Sage," Rowen said, without taking his eyes from the ghost's. "Like you said, having received a discourtesy does not permit you to respond in kind, and that goes for this guy too. So what's it going to be, buddy? You want to compound your wrong with seven more? You just fucking try it." The air hummed with energy, whining and straining like an animal pulling at a fraying tether, and with a crack like thunder Rowen's bow unfolded in his hands, gold and starlight. Behind him, colored light blossomed into dual swords, and a spiked staff, and the gleaming jaws of a trident. Of them, only Sage did not call his sword, but the weapons of his friends caged about him in a protective shell.

They stood there, crackling with power over Mia and Yuli's sleeping forms. And the ghost folded his hands in front of his robe, and bowed.

You may put those away. You have no need of them. It would seem that in four hundred years the Date clan has learned something about Courtesy. He looked up at them, and they realized they had been deceived, as in the teahouse behind him there was a young woman in layered kimono, and a smiling little boy with sandy-colored hair. Forgive me for my deceit, but I, too, have duties to perform.

Sage waved for the others to lower their weapons. "This was a test, wasn't it."

It was, his ancestor answered, fading now as the darkness around them began to unravel. And you have passed it admirably, Date Seiji. He bowed, as did his wife and son. The wrongs of the past cannot be undone. Only the wrongs of the present. See to it.

"I will," Sage vowed, and Ryou echoed, "We will."

Rowen's last thought, as the ghosts dissolved into the first mists of dawn, was that the phantom and Sage really did have the same smile.

For a long time they stood there, watching the sky creeping pale grey and gold to the tips of the maple trees, until Mia sat up, yawning.

"...I was having the strangest dream about--" she stopped, blinking at the garden, her nightgown, the yoroi weapons, and Yuli curled in a ball at Kento's feet. Her hands went to her hips as though drawn by some indignant magnets. "All right. Which one of you wants to explain this? Like now?"

"Not me," Ryou answered, sheathing his swords in nothingness. "I'm going to bed."

"Yeah," Rowen said, walking past her, "I've lost the most sleep, here."

"Maybe later," Kento added. "Unless Sai wants to..."

"Ah, no," Sai said, following him. "I think it's better if Sage tells it."

"Sorry, Mia." Sage turned away from the teahouse. "but I've got to help them find the sleeping bags, since our rooms and things weren't real. I'll tell you over lunch."

"What?!" Mia shrieked. "Not real? What are you talking abou-- Get back here! You can't just go off and... ohh!"

"It's okay, Mia," Yuli said, taking her hand. "I can tell you what happened. See, I was playing with my gundam figure, and then..." He frowned. "Then... then there was a little boy my age... and a ball... wait, maybe I had the ball? And there was a nice lady in a kimono, and... something about a statue? I don't remember..."

"Don't worry about it, Yuli," Mia said, with a deep breath that was meant to be calming. "There was something going on here last night, but I'll wring it out of them later. For now let's go make some breakfast, okay?"

"Yeah!" Yuli took her hand. "What are we having?"

"I don't know," Mia said, smiling grimly as they left the dawn and the peaceful garden behind. "But whatever it is, it will require dropping lots of pans all over the floor and singing sentai theme songs at the top of our lungs while we do it."



Otousama - Father (very formal)
Obaasama - Grandmother (very formal)

* I take no credit for Rowen's Space Medicine Seminar, which by rights should be an IMAX showing, and should contain the line "blowing chunks in 3-D." It belongs to a late, lost, lamented and unknown fanfic about the Ronins going to go see a movie together, and I can tell you now, they don't write 'em like that anymore. This one is for you, whoever you are that wrote that. You gave me a lot of laughs, and I hope I gave some back.

* the Ronin ghost story thing has been done before, but I thought I'd give it another whirl, this time in an actual Japanese ghost story. As far as I know Date Masamune never adopted any blond Dutch guys, though he did sympathize with the Christians right up to the point when he started persecuting them like everyone else. Tokugawa-era peer pressure was a scary thing.

* Saint Mary was often disguised as a statue of Kannon, see the wiki on Kannon for further details.

* This was supposed to be a short Halloween fic. It is now 10,000+ words and almost Thanksgiving. These things happen.


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