Blackened steel gleamed dully in the moonlight.
Without warning, the air was thick with shuriken.
Twilight screamed. Ron let out a yell and ducked, covering his head. Sonata looked around, eyes wide.
Kim and Jade sprang into motion, pushing the others down, flipping between the shuriken, deflecting the projectiles into trees and the ground.
"Matte!" a voice called from the trees. The shuriken stopped flying. Kim and Jade covered Sonata and Twilight as Ron got up and took his own defensive stance. A man stepped into view. He was Japanese, with a stern face, wearing a scarlet gi and arm wraps. He scrutinized the five travelers for a long moment. "You are lost," he said in roughly accented English.
"That's right," Kim said guardedly.
The man bowed. "My apologies," he said. "Your arrival caused quite a disturbance. We cannot be too careful. Strange, otherworldly happenings are afoot of late."
"Otherworldly. Pah." A second man in identical garb, whose appearance was remarkably similar to the first man, dropped from one of the trees. "Your imagination runs wild, brother."
"The world is not so mundane as it would seem, Yoshi," the first man chided mildly. "Surely Sensei has drilled this into your head—"
"Unlike you, brother, I focus on what is right in front of me." The second man turned to Kim and bowed respectfully. "I am Hamato Yoshi. You are on land belonging to the Hamato Clan. What are your intentions?"
"We're just passing through," Kim said. "We didn't mean to trespass. We don't exactly have any control over where our portal drops us." She glanced over at Twilight. "Uh, Twi? Get a bearing for us so we can get off the nice ninja's property."
"Working on it," Twilight said as she adjusted her scanner.
"Portal?" the first man asked curiously.
"Long story, ninja dude," Ron said. "You know, I spent a few weeks at a secret ninja school once. Good times..."
Twilight smacked her scanner sharply, frowning. After a moment, she sighed. "There's no Crystal here," she said. "The ones we brought with us are the only ones I'm picking up."
"But...that just means it's too far away, right?"
Twilight shook her head. "The scanner can pick up the signature of a crystal even if it's too far away to track. It shows up as a unique frequency of background radiation. I'm not detecting it here." She frowned, adjusting her glasses. "This world is the Great Rat," she added. "I'll be able to open the vortex again in twelve hours."
"You speak strange and interesting words, outsider," the first ninja said. "And the two of you who are...very unique..."
"We're from another dimension," Ron said. "You get used to it."
Kim rolled her eyes. "Like he said. We're a long way from home and looking for something we desperately need to save our home dimension from a demon. I know it sounds crazy, but..." She shrugged helplessly.
"A noble quest indeed." All eyes turned toward an older man in white robes who had suddenly appeared. He inclined his head respectfully to the travelers. "You are welcome to stay the night with us. Clan Hamato will see to it no harm befalls you. Yoshi, Saki! See to it rooms are prepared at the compound."
"Hai, Sensei!" Yoshi and Saki disappeared in puffs of smoke. The ninja hiding in the trees took off, gliding through the night sky like ghosts.
"Follow me," the master of the Hamato Clan said, turning and walking silently into the forest. The travelers looked at each other, shrugged, and followed.
* * * * *
"You know, it's funny how every time we end up in Tokyo, it always looks like the same Tokyo, even if it's a completely different Tokyo."
The clan elder, Hamato Yuuta, glanced curiously back at Ron. "How is that now?"
"Have you ever heard of parallel Earths?" Kim asked. "That's kind of what we've been dealing with lately. The Earth we're from has all the same cities as this Earth and a bunch of others, but they're always different in some way."
"Ah." Yuuta nodded. "And you have visited Tokyo before, on these other Earths?"
"One of them anyway."
They soon arrived at the Hamato Clan compound. Traditional and austere, it consisted of a spacious main residence, a dormitory, a dojo, and a shrine on a hill. As they approached, Yoshi—wearing more casual clothing—met the group, exchanging words with Yuuta briefly before veering off in a different direction, toward the city proper. Yuuta chuckled as he watched Yoshi go. "Another meeting with Tang Shen," he said, smiling. "As the sakura blossom, so too does young love...ahem. Saki has begun preparing guest quarters in the main house. Naito! Show our guests the way. I must meditate."
"Hai, Sensei," one of the masked shinobi said, bowing. He turned to the group. "Please, follow me, honored guests."
"It's lucky that we keep finding such gracious hosts everywhere we go," Kim said chipperly.
* * * * *
Despite the brightness of the moon, it was actually still fairly early in the night, and the Hamato Clan were preparing to take the evening meal. The party joined their hosts, minus the elder's son Yoshi, who was still in the city.
"Yoshi is afforded special privileges," Saki said as he scooped rice into his bowl, "as the heir to the Clan."
"Your brother has no more privilege than you, Saki," Yuuta said mildly. "It is merely custom for us to gather for the meal, not clan law. If you wished to, say, go out for a pizza, you would be more than welcome to do so."
Saki scowled. "I hold our Clan's honor and custom more dear than that, Sensei."
"Thank you for your hospitality," Kim said after the meal. "Tomorrow morning we'll be out of your hair."
"You are welcome here for as long as you need," Yuuta said with a broad smile. "The Hamato Clan lives to support and protect those in need." He glanced to his right. "You will oversee our guests' needs. See to it they have whatever they need, and are not disturbed."
"Hai, Sensei," the shinobi seated there said.
* * * * *
The sun shone down on Tokyo, cutting through the ever-present haze of urban pollution. The Hamato compound, shaded by acres of trees, was silent even as a dozen shinobi bustled around, attending to morning chores and training.
A shrill scream split the air over the compound, bringing everything to a halt and drawing most of the Hamato ninja to the main house guest quarters. Saki burst through the door of the visitors' room, eyes sharp and wary. "Nani kore?"
"They're gone!" Twilight Sparkle cried, scrabbling frantically around the room. "The scanner, the vortex control, they're gone!"
"This is bad," Kim said, eyes wide.
"You were robbed?! HERE?!" Saki thundered.
"Looks like it," Ron said grimly.
Saki clenched his fists. "Who is responsible? What fool was on duty here?!"
"It was Naito," one of the assembled shinobi said. "Sensei ordered him to secure these rooms!"
Another shinobi burst in, eyes wide and frantic. "Naito is missing! We have searched his room, we have checked the dojo and the shrine...he has disappeared!"
Saki scowled darkly. "Search everywhere," he said. "Naito has betrayed the Hamato Clan! He has dishonored us! Stolen from our honored guests! FIND HIM!"
Saki turned to the four teens, taking a deep breath. "We will recover your stolen property," he said. "I stake my honor on this."
"We'll help," Kim said fiercely.
* * * * *
Miles away from the Hamato compound, a blank-faced man with neatly-cropped black hair, dressed in a Hamato uniform, stopped on a rooftop. After a furtive look around, he opened his tunic, revealing a scarred pink brain creature nestled in a recessed control pit in his stomach. The creature let out a burbling cackle as it studied the stolen tracker and vortex control with its beady black-on-green eyes.
"Well whaddya know," a grating, nasal voice issued from somewhere above the brain creature. "You really can find all the best stuff in Japan..."