Face: A uniquely oriental belief concerning honor, respect and responsibility. Many will give everything, including their lives, for this concept.
Destiny is a young woman of two clans. Growing up in the United States in the 20th century she is thought to be a simple scholar of the cultures and beliefs of the native peoples of Japan and the US. She has willingly joined the ranks of the Firm to protect a younger brother, kimball, who has a great destiny, that of fighting to save our world from demon forces. But it is her role on which the future hinges that is the question. Was she simply born to protect her younger brother or is her role in the universe a greater one? Is she to be a sacrifice for the greater good.
When the unimaginable happens and she is captured, friends join ranks to fight monsters born out of the mind of men but also those from outside our realm of television monsters and corporations. The question is will they decide to Save Face or Family?
She showed up one afternoon as the sun was setting. As always, her appearance was not noted right away. Her habit of walking softly and her naturally shy personality tended to add up to a surprise when she visited home.
It was as Karen was carrying the basket out to take down the laundry in the backyard that she spotted a lone, small figure sitting by the side of the ornamental pond. The setting rays of the sun made the girl’s hair glow like a smoldering fire. Dropping the basket to the ground with a surprised gasp, Karen smiled and walked decorously toward their visitor.
“You’re home again, little sister.” Her voice was soft and kind and the redhead looked up. Karen was a lovely young woman of about twenty-five. Tall and willowy, her long nutmeg-colored hair was tied back with a pretty blue bow that matched her eyes.
Destiny looked up and smiled. “Hello, Karen.”
The graceful woman sat next to Destiny, smoothing down her skirt. “It has been a while since you were home. Having a break from school?” While her voice was soft and polite it there was a hint of reproach in her tone.
For just a blink of the eye, Destiny looked discomfited, and then she smiled and nodded. “Yes, my professors all decided they needed a break. After all, we have been going straight out for how long now?” There was something in her voice that made the other woman want to soothe her.
“Oh, my,” Karen answered thoughtfully. “It has been over a year and a half since your last visit.”
Destiny blushed. She had not meant to be away for quite so long, but then she never knew where her work would take her. She listened for a familiar voice, tuning out Karen’s voice as she babbled softly about the family but sighed inaudibly when she did not hear one particular voice. She turned her attention politely back to Karen, who was telling her the little things she had missed. “And then Sheila went overboard. She…”
“I’m sorry, what did she do, Karen?” Destiny did her best to sound like she had been listening wholeheartedly.
But Karen was more observant than most believed from her vapid conversation. She smiled, as she knew whom Destiny was listening for. “Your brother is not here, Destiny. He left for a training mission about a month ago.”
Destiny sighed. “I thought that might be the case. I should have stayed in touch better.” It had been too long since she had been around for her younger brother.
Karen reached over and hugged the smaller girl. She was surprised how thin her sister-in-law felt. “She has obviously had been too busy to take proper care of herself.” Karen thought, her mind taking note of the tensed muscles she felt, but she did not mention them. Something was going on here and the girl was not yet ready to tell her. With the infinite patience that was her gift, she turned her mind from the silent signals and back to her soothing outward demeanor. “He knew you had things to do, Destiny. He does not expect you to call every week. In fact we were all glad that you had time to call us at Christmas.” She did not mention that the call at Christmas had been seven months ago.
“Did the packages make it?” Destiny knew international shipping was iffy, especially from the places she had been.
Karen smiled and nodded. “Oh yes, the tea set was just lovely. You really did not have to get Donavan and I an anniversary gift you know? A card would have been fine, especially those lovely ones you make.”
Destiny blushed slightly. It was true she used to make them gifts, but she no longer had the time. “I spotted it in one of the tiny shops in Tokyo and just had to get it for you. The swans,” she said smiling, “reminded me of you.”
The two chatted for a bit longer as the sun’s rays slowly faded, then got up and headed inside. Destiny slung a battered leather backpack over her leather-covered shoulder. Standing, Destiny was a tiny woman. Barely over five feet in height and with a slender build, she looked more like a young girl than a woman well into her twenties. When they entered the hall she put down her pack to remove her jacket, then picked it back up. In her black jeans and long-sleeved silk top, it was easier to see she was a woman and not some fae creature. Her slender curves showed.
She flipped her flame colored braid back over her shoulder where it bounced against her tailbone. The large golden eyes that attracted a bit too much attention for her comfort sat in a face that had high cheekbones and a pointed chin. Over all she was more exotic-looking than beautiful. It was almost as if she were a shy forest fox dressed up as a woman. The effect was more pronounced when one spotted the black bits that seemed to hover over her ears and realized that she had a white tip to that long braid. She whistled softly as she followed Karen into the house, the music relieving a bit of the tension she carried deep inside.
Inside the family room, Aileen was curled up on the couch, watching her favorite show on the television set. There was a slightly forlorn look on the pretty young woman’s face. She twiddled with a bright band that rested on her left hand. Married for less than a year, she was unhappy that her husband was not home. As a commercial flashed onto the set, she sighed and flipped through the other channels.
Lying on the floor with textbooks spread around her was Aileen’s older sister Monica. She looked up in irritation. “Stop that, Aileen.” Both of the girls held a clear and striking resemblance to Karen, the eldest sister.
Aileen sighed again. “Sorry, sis. I’m bored.” She shook her short-cropped mahogany hair, running a hand through the strands. “I think I’ll go take a bath. It’s hot tonight.”
Momentarily Monica’s face softened. She understood how her younger sister was feeling. Aileen missed her husband. Married so young, the two were deeply in love. This trip of his was necessary, but it was also inconvenient. “Its okay, sis. That might just be a good idea.”
As Aileen stood up, Karen entered the room. “Look who is here for a visit,” she said sweetly, sweeping her arm around Destiny, pushing her into the room.
Aileen immediately brightened and swept her sister-in-law into her arms. “Destiny!” Once more Destiny fought down an urge to stiffen. Aileen noticed, but was too happy to see her to let it concern her.
Monica also smiled. She also had missed her sister by marriage. She found that the quiet young woman was nearly a match for herself, at least in their love of puzzles. “Hey, sis! Long time no see. Those task masters of yours let you have a break finally?”
Destiny nodded as she gave Monica a quick, one-armed hug. Aileen looked puzzled for a moment. This hug too seemed a bit shaky to her. Though not as well trained as her young husband, Aileen had a good sense about people. Something was not right with her sister-in-law, but she decided that now was not the time to ask.
Moving to sit on the floor, her back to the wall, Destiny smiled softly at her family by marriage. “Yes, they have kept me very busy lately. I’m sorry I was not home for your wedding, Aileen. I was in Tibet then.” She flipped open the pack that she had settled next to her side. Hiding her smile behind the fall of her ragged-looking bangs, she teased, “who would like their presents?”
Both Aileen and Monica squealed like young children. Though Monica was a year older in fact than Destiny, she had come to really enjoy her sister-in-law’s gifts.
Closing her eyes and making a show of slowly sorting through her pack, Destiny first pulled out a small package wrapped in a midnight blue piece of silk. She held it next to her ear and shook it slightly. “Now, who could this be for?”
Monica chuckled and arched one long brow. She did not want to seem greedy, but she put out her hand in response to the question. Everyone in the room knew that midnight blue was her favorite color. Destiny’s eyes twinkled a bit and she gracefully placed the package in Monica’s slender hand. “Go ahead and open it, sis. I think you’ll like.”
She waited as the regal-looking young woman carefully unwrapped the present. The silk proved to be a long, sheer scarf wrapped around and around something much smaller. When Monica finally unrolled the whole length, a pair of silver earrings dropped into her palm. She held them up with a long whistle. The slender drops of silver looked like water that had been caught in the moment of falling. She had seen others like these at the specialty shop in the city, but they were plain compared to these. They seemed to move, flow like the water they mimicked. “Oh, these are lovely, sis.” She smiled and reached out a hand. Destiny grasped it and they squeezed fingers.
“I am glad you like them, Monica. It would be hard to return them.” Destiny grinned. They shared that grin, as Monica had a tendency to return gifts for the cash, all but those from her friend Destiny.
The little show started again. This time Destiny pulled out a long package wrapped in sunny yellow silk. Once more Aileen squealed. She knew this one was for her as sun yellow was her favorite color. She took the long package in shaking hands and looked at her sister-in-law with teary eyes. Aileen was a very mercurial girl, vivacious and kind. She slowly unwrapped the present and then held up the carved teak wood box inside.
“So lovely,” said Karen as she peeked over Aileen’s shoulder. Aileen looked over the box and then noticed the tiny latch. Placing her thumb carefully on the catch, she eased the lid back and then gasped as she saw what lay inside.
Lying snuggled into soft black velvet was a necklace that glowed like fire. A string of perfectly round beads gleamed as Aileen picked it up. The light from the lamp shone through the small globes, showing the tiny leaves and insects trapped in the amber. She lifted her eyes and her lip quivered. “It’s perfect, sister.” She impulsively hugged Destiny once more.
Destiny smiled and then, untangling herself from Aileen, dug out her gift for Karen. The older woman took it and opened it quickly. The beautiful green scarf was immediately tied into her hair and the packets inside were examined closely. Ohhing at the various rare spices that she held, she smiled and thanked Destiny.
Later that evening as she soaked in a hot bath, Destiny closed her eyes and sighed. It had been a long trip back home and she knew she would not be staying long. She had wanted to come home to relax, rest and recoup from the long mission she had just completed. Though to be truthful, if only in her own mind, she knew she was running away.
Seeing her sisters of all but blood had helped her to lose a bit of the edge she had been living with for the past two years. It had not been so bad when she had called home for Christmas, but then she had not been through the things she had now. Wincing as a particularly sore spot twinged in the hot water, she cast her mind back over what her instructors had told her before she left.
“You will only stay as long as it takes to move your family, child. After that you will have to decide what your role will be in the organization.” The old man paced back and forth, not looking at his student. “I know you have tried to be what we expect, but you are slowly killing yourself that way.” He stopped pacing and sat in front of Destiny. “I do not want you to continue the way you have, Destiny. You have paid too much.” He reached out a hand to lay it on her shoulder and she shied away. Sighing once more, the old man shook his head. “You NEED to rest child. Why not take…”
“No, he needs time away.” She interrupted softly.
She got up slowly, favoring her right side and shook her head. “He hurts, as much as I, for what he had to order me to do. Let him have some space too, Master.” She bowed and then left the room, the sad man watching her as she did so.
She started as she heard a knock on the door. Her head coming around she called out, “What?”
“Can I come in?” came Karen’s voice from outside the door.
Swallowing, Destiny debated for a moment and then sighed. “All right, Karen, come in.”
Karen stepped into the room and laid some fresh towels on the stool by the large, sunken tub. She sat on the edge and waited a moment before speaking. “Destiny,” she started softly, “what happened to you?”
Closing her eyes, Destiny sighed. “I can’t talk about it, sister.” She quivered as she felt light fingers settle on her shoulder. She clenched her jaw to repress the reaction to any touch she had had for the past month.
“Little sister, something has hurt you badly. I can see it.” As always Karen’s voice was soft and soothing and Destiny found a part of herself relaxing.
She sighed once more and nodded. “Yes, I know you can.” She brought her golden eyes up to look into Karen’s blue ones. “I just…I have trouble talking about it.”
“Because of the work you have been doing?” Karen’s voice was a tad firmer this time.
Destiny looked up, her eyes narrowing a bit. “What do you mean by that, Karen?”
Karen sat back a little, surprised at the hard look that flowed over the young woman’s face. Something had definitely changed in the past year and half. The shy and open young girl had become a different person, almost overnight. Swallowing, Karen went on. “I know that you are not going off to school, if that is what you mean.” She interlaced her fingers in her lap. “You are doing something that takes you far from your home, in secret, and you return worn to the bone.” She searched Destiny’s face with her eyes. “You have grown too quiet, like you are keeping some awful secret. And I have noticed you send us gifts and notes from places that are in the news.” Pausing for a moment, she tilted her head to the side. “That and you have been physically hurt, very recently.”
Destiny looked up surprised. “How can you tell? I waited to come home until…” She stopped as she realized she was saying more than she meant.
Karen nodded as if her fear had been confirmed. “You are thinner, sister and you do not move as fluidly as you usually do. You have been injured in a fight of some type, I can tell. You move like Father did after he was in a tournament.”
Wincing and grabbing one of the towels Karen had brought in, Destiny let the water cascade down before wrapping up in it. “You have to promise not to tell Monica or Aileen what I tell you, sister. It is for your safety and theirs.”
Karen nodded, distracted by the barely healed scars she saw on the younger woman’s body. She could not restrain a hand from creeping outward. “Oh, Destiny,” she cried out softly.
“They are healed, do not worry about the marks.” Destiny’s voice was weary. “They did the best they could.”
“But you still hurt…I should get Donavan to help.” She stood up too. “Before you object, you know he will say nothing to anyone.” She trusted her husband.
Destiny thought for a moment. “All right, but just once, as I said, I’m healing fine.”
Karen nodded and then handed Destiny her robe. “All right. Now explain what happened.”
“Not now,” Destiny tilted her head toward the door. Aileen’s voice could be heard clearly as she came toward the bath. “In the guest room.” She sighed. “I might as well explain to both you and Donavan at the same time.”
A half hour later the younger sisters had headed to bed, calling out goodnight to both Destiny and Karen. The house grew quiet. They had bedrooms across the house from the guest room that Destiny used when in town. She was still dressed in the old, soft robe and was combing the tangles from her long red hair when she heard a knock on her door. ‘Come in, Karen,” she called out softly.
Opening the door, Karen stepped inside, followed by her husband, Donovan. Donovan was a tall man with sandy brown hair and glasses. A perpetually smiling man since he married Karen, his face was rather somber for those who knew him. “All right, Destiny, what is this about injuries?”
Sighing, Destiny stood up and undid her robe. Unselfconsciously she dropped the garment and stood naked before the doctor in the family. As it fell to the floor, Donovan let out a small gasp. He turned to his wife and asked her to get his bag from their room.
As she left, he turned back to his patient. “Destiny, I told you to be careful.” He shook his head and gestured for her to lie down. With quick professionalism, he probed the marks on her skin and tested them for how well healed they were. Tsking as he found some in less than perfect condition, he softly cursed. “I should never have told them about you, child.”
“Do not call me child, brother. You are only seven years older than me.” Her voice was a bit muffled, as she was on her stomach at the time.
“You weren’t supposed to get hurt. They said they just wanted to train you. They said nothing about using you for a target.”
Destiny was about to answer when Karen returned. She paused as she caught the last of her husband’s comment. She looked at him confused. “You mean you knew?”
Donovan looked a bit ashamed and nodded. “Yes, I knew where she was.”
“Why did not you tell me…or better yet, tell me now.” For once her voice took on a commanding tone.
Wincing, Donovan explained quickly. “Destiny was recruited by an organization I used to work for. They wanted to train her ‘special’ talents.”
“More they wanted one of my family to train. They would have been happier with little brother, but I refused,” added Destiny.
“You were right to, child.” Donovan nodded. “He was too young and he needed to finish school.”
“Who are you talking about?” Karen asked slight exasperated.
“They are known simply as the Firm and they are not who you think.” Destiny started as Donovan spread some special scented cream over her back. His large hands moved over her skin and the cream quickly deadened the aches in her overstrained muscles.
“Okay, the Firm, go on.”
Donovan picked up next. “They are a group dedicated to protecting the regular people from dangers they know little about. Things that are not considered real yet can kill as easily as you breathe.” He rubbed harder over Destiny’s left shoulder, where he could feel a massive knot just below some scar tissue. “The Firm told me they wanted Destiny to train her to use a latent family trait. That of the natural healer.” He narrowed his eyes at the whip marks that crossed the young woman’s back. “They put you into the field to fight though did not they?”
Destiny nodded. “Healing powers are only good where they are needed, brother. I could not stay in headquarters now could I?”
“Destiny,” Donovan sighed. “You should know I talked to Doctor Sorason a month ago.”
Destiny shivered and then nodded. “So…you know then.”
Donovan lay a gentle hand on her shoulder, “Yes, and I know it was not your fault. They shouldn’t have sent you out as a warrior. They knew you would only be able to do so much.” He noticed her tensing once more. “I am not insulting your ability, Destiny. We both know you are almost as good as your brother, but you are too much the empath to be sent out to kill, and that is what they did, is it not?”
Destiny did not answer for a long time, but slowly she did. “Yes…but that was not the plan. We were to just stop the attack. Nothing was said about us having to terminate that target. We were to just help the people trapped in the building by the objective.” She tried not to pay attention to the images flashing behind her eyelids. “Ivy was trapped and I had to do something.” She started to quiver as the memories flooded back.
Donovan quickly pinched a single nerve and the girl fell unconscious with a groan. He shook his head, turning to look at his wife. “They said she was over it.”
Karen glared for a moment and then moved to pull a blanket over Destiny. “They were wrong.” She turned to look at her husband, less angry. “Did she have to kill that ‘objective’?”
Donovan nodded. “She went mad for a bit when her partner was killed. A young girl named Ivy who had become one of her close friends. The support crew arrived just as she let off a massive chi bolt.”
Karen looked surprised. “I did not know she could do that, too.”
“It was why they wanted either Destiny or Kimball. Their family can, when pushed, emit a strong chi blast.” He sighed. “They miscalculated the ability of her partner and the girl was killed. When Destiny saw Ivy being crushed by the genetic freak that the enemy unleashed, they say she lost her mind for a brief time. Long enough for her to destroy the monster and to sink to the ground. She was captured by the other side, and they…” he waved a hand at the marks covering Destiny’s back. “The enemy was displeased and they took it out of her skin. It was only by the determination of one lone wolf that she was freed.”
Karen moved to her husband’s side and sat down next to him. “Are you?”
Donovan looked down with a soft smile. ‘I am not on the active roster anymore, love. They remove those who have families.”
Her eyes grew wide for a moment. “That is why you pushed for Kimball to marry Aileen so soon!”
He nodded. “I knew they would not touch him if he had a wife to kick up a fuss if he was not at home.” He smiled and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Just as I know you would.”
Karen sighed into the kiss and she then turned her eyes back to the slumbering form on the bed. “But Destiny?”
“Yes, Destiny. She is alone and therefore can still be called, when needed. I just hope they do not call her for a while. She needs to heal.” His voice finally sounded worried. He let his doctor’s mask drop and the man shown through. “Inside and out.”
The couple left the young woman to sleep off her exhaustion and headed to bed. Inside as they undressed Karen paused for a moment, her hand on the top button of her dress. “Beloved?”
“Yes?” answered Donovan, who was all ready lying down.
She slid down to sit next to his hip. “If you are out of the loop as you said, then how did you get all that information on Destiny?”
Donovan chuckled a bit, “I am out of the cycle yes, but not out of the loop.” He reached up and lightly caressed his wife’s cheek. “I have a friend on the inside. One very concerned about our fiery shadow girl. He made sure I knew just what was up.”
“A friend who is concerned about her?” Karen looked interested. “Would this friend be young and handsome by any chance?”
Donovan laughed and pulled his wife into his arms. “Yes, he is handsome, in a rugged way. And I know how your mind is thinking, beloved. He is biding his time. He knows she is not ready yet and he is as patient as his namesake. He has been watching over Destiny from her first day. They are meant to be.” He could see she had more questions, but he hushed her with his mouth and hands. Soon enough she had something else more personal to think about, and not long after that she gave up on thought all together.