Book Six: The Palace of Frost
I take a deep breath and ignore the camera flashing, finding my inner chi. I slowly exhale and let my body feel the energy around me, blocking out everything except for my imagination.
I’m someone else, in a different realm, in a different world. My long black hair whips around me as I move, and my skirts swoosh as I spin.
I am Master Hiro.
Then I place my fist in my flat palm and bow at the waist.
“Ahh-Haaaa!” I do a series of micro-hand movements, practicing my kata actions with precision. One cannot be a karate master without first being a master in kata.
Kata is a solo art that requires high amounts of dedication and focus.
It is the foundation of karate.
I kick high while at the same time I swiftly twirl around in the air and land in a precise crouched position, arms out. These intricate, fast movements are hard to pinpoint with the human eye and cannot be taught with simple words.
They are shown.
I expel a hash breath as I punch my fist forward while the other is tucked at my side. I repeat this, alternating each punch. “Haa!” I yell, pushing my energy outwards, my heart rate beating fast.
“Hiro! I love it! I love the intense look—keep doing that!” the photographer says, and snaps away at my quick and powerful movements. “Stunning!”
I feel a trickle of sweat as I spin around and end with another powerful kick right as the camera snaps that moment in time.
“I got it! Amazing!” The photographer lowers his camera, looking at the digital screen with admiration. He turns.“Get the bow! I want a couple shots with her aiming like some Ming warrior. Oh—and let me see a little more cleavage, tape the lapel down if you have to!” Lu, the head photographer, turns toward his short female assistant, Juno. “Get the large fan and my softbox. I’m lowering the shutter speed on this shot for a more dramatic look.”
Yes, I’m on a photoshoot.
I’m an Asian model that specializes in martial arts. My animation job in Tokyo does not pay all of the bills, so I model for anime roles, cosplay conventions—I do it all to keep myself above the water on rent.
I literally live in a fantasy world of make-believe every day.
I have even been a character in the game Final Fantasy VII for PlayStation/Xbox. I mostly pose for gaming platforms as well as anime TV shows, showing the artist what karate poses look like in perfect form.
The funny thing is, I have even drawn myself from pictures, not finding many females with my graceful body lines and precision. I have been offered movie roles, modeling gigs—you name it.
Word of my talents has spread here, unlike in China, where I was lost in a sea of too many people.
But I turn most of them down, much to their disappointment.
Not that I wouldn’t love to be an A-list movie star. It’s that I ~can’t~ act with all of the cameras on me, people bossing me around and telling me what to say and do.
I freeze up, becoming stiff.
My movements look forced, not natural.
Photoshoots and conventions I can do because I can still be myself, get lost in the movements, and still feel the energy around me come alive.
It makes me feel vibrant, energetic, and thriving.
Companies are starting to pay top dollar for me for conventions, and I have seen a few random people taking photos of me from bushes.
Well, that is probably because I was on the cover of Vogue, the Asian edition, with my hands held high in an attractive kata pose. It was about sexy/strong females or something like that, so I was chosen for the part.
That paid my rent for a while, that gig.
But here in Tokyo, it does not go far. Not when I’m turning down the bigger gigs that have my agent ready to dump me, even hanging up the phone on me the other day.
Honestly, I just want to create. I wish my job at Takeshi Productions wasn’t just an intern position.
But days blur together lately…
After the photoshoot, I stare at my reflection in the mirror as I sit in the back dressing room.
I gaze at myself with all the beautiful makeup, seeing a warrior, and then in the following instant, I see a silly girl playing dress-up. My gaze traces over my stunning costume, leaving me feeling something I don’t want to acknowledge.
“Yes? And call me Hiro, please.” I take a second, then look at Lu’s assistant. Only my grandmother calls me Hara when she’s pissed—not pleasant memories.
“You did awesome today, lots of exposure.” She smiles, holding a bowl of ramen she got out of the vending machine down the hall, slurping up noodles.
I nod at her.
Chicken broth spills on the ground with another hefty slurp. Her cheeks look like a chipmunk. “Oh, yeah,” she chews and swallows, “there is some dude here for you. British guy, tall, super hot—in a suit. I can’t quite place his accent.” She does a couple of eyebrow raises.
I laugh. “Bye.”
“Seriously,” she swallows and talks with her mouth full, “like, he won’t go away. Said he’s here from Fairy Godmother Inc.?”
I laugh again, then frown. “The what?”
She shrugs. “Maybe he’s from the U.S.? Disney?”
I frown. “I don’t do acting, remember?” I wish I could, but I suck at it.
She snorts. “Well, what should I tell him?”
Taking a big breath, I look in the mirror at my somber expression. “I’m not in the mood. Just tell him to get in touch with my agent.” I reach into my bag on the table, pulling out a card. “Here, give this to him.”
She reaches for it and nods. “Okay, we’re locking up soon.”
I think I say something back.
This is the part I hate the most, wiping off my makeup and dressing in my everyday clothing. My agent says I need to see a doctor about my depression swings.
It’s weird, though, because I’m a very happy and excited person—except for this part. I reach to grab some soap and a towel, dipping it into a bowl of water.
No medication can fix my problem, trust me.
I think Gran told me my mother was bipolar.
Maybe that is what I’m experiencing.
My problem is that I get such a high playing these amazing parts that when it’s time to go home, my body and soul don't want to.
I can see that being slightly childish, wishing to play make-believe all day. Maybe it is? The dilemma is that there is no cure for it. I have tried to fight it, but the longing never ceases.
I want something greater than just make-believe.
Maybe I’ll join the army.
I place my head in my hands, willing away the pity-party. This has got to stop, or I need a break from this lifestyle if my mind can’t handle it.
I’ll be okay.
I always am.
“Pardon for the interruption, Hiro, but do you mind if I have a word?”
I jump, hearing a confident male voice. I’m immediately alarmed as I turn to see a handsome man leaning against the door frame. His blond hair is styled perfectly, and his navy suit looks like it costs more than my rent for six months.
He speaks Chinese, I realize, perfectly.
“I said to speak to my agent,” I get out, knowing I can protect myself if I have to.
He sighs and checks his watch. “Yeah, but I’m kind of in a hurry.” He gives me a ‘sorry-not-sorry’ look. “You were supposed to respond yesterday?”
My eyes widen. “Oh! My agent gets my mail for gigs.” I realize now that this was the gig my agent hung the phone up on me for saying no. “Sorry, I don’t do acting gigs.”
He raises his brows. “Thank goodness, neither do I.”
I stare at him.
“Yeah, so…sorry, but thanks.”
He smiles at me and glances around the dim dressing room with a less than impressed look on his face. I don’t blame him. It’s an ugly dressing room.
“Hiro, this is not an acting gig—perse.” He makes a face like he’s rethinking. “Okay, there is a little acting—well, a lot perhaps, but just at first—if you’re not an awkward person.
“Nothing wrong with being awkward—I personally love personality quirks. They win a lot of missions for us, actually.”
He smiles at me, and I think the planets align. I’m surprised I didn’t see a sparkle on his white teeth.
I frown at him, not sure what he is talking about. “I…okay, like I said, not interested.”
He is delusional?!
“Really?” he asks, his blue gaze seeing too much, making me nervous. He has a very penetrating stare, like he sees straight through the bullshit. “Because I have a feeling you’re going to want to hear the details.”
I tamp down my frustration and take a breath. “Fine, are there cameras involved?”
“No,” he says, “not on this mission.”
That makes me pause at the odd answer. “Director?”
He again makes a face. “Well, not in that sense, but you will have guidance for your safety.”
“Wait… You said mission?” I’m so perplexed right now. “What is this job?”
He winks at me. “I thought you would never ask,” he says and takes out a glowing letter from his suit coat, making my eyes bulge, jumping up out of my seat.
“What is that!”
“Your job offer,” he says, handing me the letter.
“What—Wow!” I gasp. “How is it doing that!?” I take the letter, looking at the man as if he is a magician. “Whoa! Like—what?!”
“Hiro,” he says calmly, eyes sparkling. “And call me Pierce, by the way. We are running late, so please make haste.”
“Pierce? Last name?” I ask, opening the letter in awe of its glittering.
How the hell?!
I look up at him. “Your last name is Charming?”
Not as strange as this letter!
It takes me a few minutes, after reading the letter twice, to regain my composure. I look at the man called Pierce. “The Fairy Godmother?! A competition!?”
This is insane.
Can it be real?
Someone must be playing a massive trick on me…knowing that I would eat this up in a heartbeat. I look around for any cameras, trying to slow my pulse.
“Yes, that is her name.” He watches me. “That woman hates to be late, so…”
I swallow, my heart pounding hard.
“How does she know about my father dying in the army?! And my mother overdosing on drugs because she could not get over his death? My family has covered that up for years. No one knows how my mother really died.”
I close my eyes.
“I’m sorry to hear that, truly,” Pierce says softly. “But, hear me, Hiro. This is no joke. You are chosen by Fate to embark on the fantasy of a lifetime, and I have a feeling this is your calling.”
He continues at my wide-eyed expression, “You will be competing against four other women to win the heart of the FGI target, thus changing the universe with true love’s kiss.”
I go to speak, but my voice is gone.
It’s like my soul is surging, hearing the words I wanted to hear all my life. “Impossible.”
“Mmm,” he smiles down at me, “dear Hiro, impossible is not a scientific term. Just that possibility seems unlikely. And this just became very possible.”
I swallow. “ Prove it.”
What am I saying?!
“I will do more than that,” He pauses as his gaze travels over my body. “Interesting.”
I feel my cheeks heat. “What?”
“You are very beautiful, Hiro, and I see that you love martial arts,” Pierce says, eyeing me curiously.
“I –uh, yes. I don’t just love martial arts. I have been practicing it all my life. It is my life,” I say, feeling breathless, like I’m floating.
He starts laughing.
I stare at him.
“I see why you were chosen,” he continues. “Now, you need to sign the contract if you want me to prove anything to you.”
“I can’t just sign it!”
“Sure you can,” he says. “Trust me, Hiro, this will be the first day of the rest of your life.”
I go to argue, but then I stop.
Something in his gaze is severely serious, and there isn’t one ounce of humor there.
I stand in silence, thinking that I can always get a lawyer involved if I want to back out, right? If this is a scam. I’m breathing hard, feeling this intense compulsion to sign it. Like the energy around me is pulling me.
I think I want this to be real so bad that I might be the biggest naïve fool for signing this.
“Hiro,” Pierce urges, “this is not a practical joke, and you’re in good hands. Let me prove it to you. I get that this is beyond strange to you, but trust me when I say, reality is stranger than fiction.”
“I go to a different world?” I whisper, trying not to sound like I believe this yet. My cheeks stain red in embarrassment at being so gullible so fast.
“Correct.” Pierce steps toward me, handing me a pen.
I slowly take the pen, trying to read him. “This is crazy.” But this letter is GLOWING.
“Exciting is a more fitting word,” Pierce offers with a nod to the paper.
I clear my throat. “You realize that if I sign this and you start laughing, I will break both of your arms faster than you can say ‘Mommy.’”
Pierce raises a brow. “Ouch,” he grins, “that doesn’t sound pleasant.”
I nod and look back to the glittering paper.
I sign it.
I expel a breath, waiting for him to say he now owns my soul!
He does not and touches his ear like he is talking to someone. “I’m going to need an extraction,” He pauses and rolls his eyes. “I’m going to need an extraction,” he says in English.
I speak very good English.
“Uh-huh.” he says. “When is she not mad at being late? That is the real question.” He looks at me and winks. “She’s ready.”
My heart is thundering, wondering what is happening. I GASP when I feel my body tingle. “Pierce! What's happening?”
What have I done!?
“Relax, and welcome to Fairy Godmother Inc.,” is all I hear before everything goes dark.