With a bitter howl, the wind ascends a jagged cliff. Bursting forth at the top, it finds the Yama Dojo hiding under the jet black sky and whips its way around the building. It squeezes tight, constricting the bamboo and mud frames that held the shoji paper windows in place and causing them to shudder as if they were the cold, scrawny frame of the young man out the front.
The front door slides open.
“Come,” Sensei Abe Lincoln says, scarcely even looking at the lad. “He is waiting for you.”
Lincoln turns and the guest enters the dojo. Without further word being spoken, he diligently falls into step behind the sensei. They walk in silence on their pilgrimage through the heart of Yama’s Mecca until they reach the central shrine.
Shujin Yama kneels in the centre of the room, eyes closed and surrounded by the orange glow of flickering candles.
Lincoln scurries in and leads with his hands as he lowers himself to the ground in reverence. Seeing the young man standing in the doorway, Lincoln hastily beckons him over and before long, he too falls before Yama.
Their worship soon summons the beast. Yama opens his eyes and after regarding Lincoln with a vague disinterest, his attention falls to the other sack of meat.
“I knew that you would come,” the Oni of Oblivion announces. “Where else would you go? Skipping off back to the arcade to oogle over Mrs. Pacman? Oh wait… you can’t, can you?”
The youngster’s face rises. The firelight catches it.
Justin. Former employee of MECCA. Pre-Yama.
“But look around you!” Yama stands, arms outstretched, and slowly turns in a circle. “My temple still stands, doesn’t it? Unlike Vito Valentino’s! For you, coming here is the first step on a path to enlightenment. You’re free now. Free from chasing Vito’s bright, shiny lights! Free from the high of whatever candy his place sold in the vending machine, or in the alleyway behind it! Free… from Vito himself thumping his chest and acting like he is owed respect just because he is who he is.”
Yama shakes his head.
“Stand up,” he commands.
The young man doesn’t need to be told twice. He springs to his feet.
Lincoln grumbles as he uses his cane to also pull his own aching bones from the ground.
“That’s the first lesson that you must learn…” Yama keeps locked in on the newcomer, folding his Justin-size arms in front of his body. “Respect cannot be demanded. It cannot even be earned. How many times have I stood with that twerp Billy Fields, or that smug Otto Price, and told the world that I would stop at nothing until they gave me respect? How long did I then hold that Premier American Championship for? Did it work? No! All I got were sneers, jeers, and bigots making a mockery of my name just because it sounded different! People may ask me why I made this ‘personal’ between Vito and I. But I didn’t. I only made it personal for him. IT ALREADY WAS FOR ME! I’m the guy who pulled himself up by the bootstraps; who travelled around the world to make something of himself! I return… and I’m treated like this? I SHOULD BE THE DAMN HERO HERE!!!”
He seethes. The rise and fall of his chest pushes another gust of wind out into the dojo.
“But I’m not, am I?”
He spies Abe standing next to Justin, and a wry smile appears – one that would not be out of place on the sensei’s face.
Lincoln immediately grows concerned.
“Slap him,” Yama says to Justin.
“Wh… what?” Both Lincoln and Justin stammer the same thing.
“Slap him. Show him that his name alone is not enough to command your respect!”
Lincoln goes to plead with his ‘student’. He steps forward and–
One swinging palm catches the sensei across his cheek. The older man falls into a crumpled heap onto the ground.
“Good,” Yama snorts in approval. “This is just the beginning for you. You will learn, as the world will, that if you want something to change, you have to make it. And if someone has something that you want? You have to take it. I’ve taken Vito’s precious MECCA from him; I’ve taken his health. And now? I’ve taken you, a symbolic representation of his little cheer squad. There’s only one thing left to take.
The Real World’s Championship.”