THE ROYAL TWINS
I first began writing this series of novels in 2002, when I was approached by the head of a large LA entertainment business owner, to write a huge story for the Young Adult collectable trading card came industry. I was one of the top three writers in consideration, but I lost the job because I insisted that no one is killed. I continued writing the stories and self-published the first edit of this book in 2008, and sold 450 printed books. Readers thought it would be the next Harry Potter. I had completed Book Two and most of Book Three when I stopped writing in 2009. During the past 8 years, mostly working on the Lucky Two Crows books, I’m become a much better writer, and have made these Crystal Spheres books 100% better. These are very exciting adventures for readers of all ages, and because the hero’s are 16 years old, it is put in the Young Adult genre.
Episode One. The first two Episodes, 100 pages, are ready for review. Chapter One , Episode Two is below.
I rose before dawn, and setted out on the fifty mile journey from my apartment in Shanghai, to the mythical, yet quite real, Kunlun Mountain.
I was glad to have my old 4Runner to traverse the well-kept, but unpaved road, which meandered for over twenty miles through heavily forested land after I had left the highway. I stopped for coffee and a light breakfast at the village of Xaidi, a mile from the entrance to the mountain cemetery.
Standing under the massive wooden torii gate about to enter the cemetery at Kunlun Mountain, I paused to take in the remarkable beauty of this sacred resting place. The gardens were impeccably landscaped, with pagoda sitting areas, lotus ponds and moss covered stone pathways. The cemetery stood in quiet grace as a natural refuge, a sanctuary too far from Hangzhouʼs urban sprawl to ever be noticed.
The reason I returned once a year for the past ten years to this historical Chinese cemetery at Kunlun, was to visit one large stone crypt in particular–a most intriguing and fascinating structure located at the very far end of the cemetery, a good half mile uphill climb from the car park.
The cryptʼs design was classical ancient Chinese, from the time of the Ming Dynasty. Its modest two-level pagoda eaves were carved right out of the granite mountainside, securely cradled as it proudly jutted out from its perch, facing East into the shrouded early morning sun.
As I entered the cemetery that morning, a lone raven swept down from the pines and landed in the path in front of me, chattering away. This curious and loyal bird had become my friend and companion on my yearly trek up the mountain. I scattered a half bag of breadcrumbs on the ground, comforted by her presence. “I’ve never given you a name,” I said to her.
“Ki-kaa,” the raven answered back.
“Ki-kaa? I donʼt think so.” I smiled as I took a deep breath, inhaling the rich forest air. As usual, there wasnʼt one living human to be seen. It was so quiet I imagined I could hear the whisperings of the spirits who lived there. As was my custom, I sent them a silent prayer and asked permission that I might enter.
Answering for a thousand ghosts, the raven squawked and flew down the path, inviting me to follow. I tightened the backpack in which I carried my new digital equipment, lenses and lightweight tripod; all I needed for my rigorous trek up to the higher level. In my pocket was a small digital camera, which I carried for the inspirational shots I inevitably took along the way.
My name is Tashi, which sounds Japanese, since my mother was half Japanese, half Chinese, and my father was American. Iʼm a detective. I work for an eccentric older man by the name of Mr. Mimi, who never was a detective; mostly a grump. He inherited his fatherʼs business and for some strange reason insists on carrying on the name—Mimi Investigations. I do all the field work since heʼs some-what of a recluse. He is a recluse. He needs me, though he would never admit it.
I’m also an amateur photographer, which is the profession I think I would have been better at, if only I had a rich patron. I’m fascinated with graves and have taken thousands of photos of tombs and crypts. People love photos of Hangzhou, everyone takes pictures of the lake and trees and temples, or buy them. Hardly anyone takes photos of graves, and no tourist would buy a photo of a tombstone. So Iʼm a detective with a meager salary, with a photographic advocation.
Why I choose to take these photos is beyond my own knowing. I started having a weird compulsion to stop my car at every cemetery I came upon, get out and walk around. Early mornings, with the mist on the tombstones, would offer the surreal look I wanted, which made the best graveyard photo. Over the years I have visited just about every cemetery from Shanghai to Hong Kong, even some as far north as Xian, where the terra cotta army was buried. My computer is filled with thousands of wonderful photos that nobody wants and only I will ever see.
You would think that visiting cemeteries would be a bit creepy, but I donʼt think about the dead people below. The art and architecture of gravestones, especially crypts, is what fascinates me. I consider the setting, the landscaping and the variations of weather, rain, sun and shadows, that lead to a stunning composition. Of all the burial tombs Iʼve encountered, only two have truly stirred my emotions–the crypt of a Ming military ruler named Li Zicheng, who is buried in the heart of Hangzhou.
The only reason I know about this crypt in the first place, is because ten years ago, having heard about and intrigued with the disappearance of the billionaire Kozo Khang’s wife on Kunlun Mountain, I decided to come here, and by chance discovered the cemetery. I was full of youthful energy back then, so I hiked to the very far top end of the mountain clinging graveyard. My intrigue with this particular crypt began the moment I first saw it.
I was both piqued by the grandeur of the crypt itself, and the name above the door, “The Royal Twins. 1645-03-21.” The word royal to me had to refer to the Ming Emperor. I wasnʼt a detective at that time, but this was what prompted me to I choose my new profession. Where did Khang’s wife disappear to, and who where these Royal Twins?
Of all my cases, though this wasnʼt officially one, these two questions were the most fascinating and probably most unsolvable of all. There were no signs of foul play or motive regarding the wife’s disappearance. As far as the twins, I kept asking myself, why would the Ming Emperor bury his children in a crypt so far from the Hangzhou’s Temporary Royal Palace, on this faraway mountain? I really had to know, though it was something maybe only I would find interesting.
Nevertheless I continued to harbor a burning desire to know the cryptʼs entombed story–a story that I somehow figured would be as rich and ancient as the mountain itself. As the years went gone by, no matter how many crypts I visited or pictures I took, I always kept thinking about the Royal Twins on Kunlun Mountain.
Why were they here, buried together in this elegant crypt, which nobody would ever see? Access to the Ming Library didnʼt help, nor countless hours of Googling. I could find no recorded history of Ming Royal Twins, who lived and then died in 1645, and yet the crypt was there with their names, or at least a reference to them.
Often villagers keep ancient stories alive. I spent many hours in the village of Xaidi and have interviewed just about every old-timer. No one knew anything about these twins or the crypt, in fact not even one person knew the tomb existed. It proved to be another dead-end.
That didnʼt stop me. I kept thinking that there had to be a clue that I wasnʼt seeing, so I decided to take a yearly drive to Kunlun, for further on-site investigation. There had to be something I was missing. Iʼm a bit silly and maybe superstitious when it comes to rituals or even obscure clues, but I could hardly wait for March 21st, the day chiseled on the crypt, to arrive.
So there I was, actually a week early this year, ready to climb the mountain and sit for hours on the bench just outside the cryptʼs iron gate, paying homage to twins whom I knew nothing about, but felt a connection to. Maybe the twins were family I had known and dearly loved from another life. I wish that were true.
Last night I had a dream. A voice too persistent to be ignored came into my head. The voice was saying, “Come now, Tashi.” I tried to attach the voice to someone I knew, but couldnʼt. My mind insisted it one of the twins from Kunlun Mountain speaking to me from their grave. It was only a dream and I had to take it with a grain of salt, but the voice in my head insisted that I go to the crypt first thing in the morning, today, Thursday, March 13th, a week before I normally would. For the first time in ten years, I decide to alter my ritual and follow this clue, as illogical as it was.
An icy chill hung in the early morning air as I zipped my jacket and began walking past tombstones and tombs dating back to the Ming Dynasty.
I continued on past thousand-year-old warrior graves, honorably covered in rich green moss, guarded by old-growth forest, colorful flowering dogwood, peach and cherry trees, and many varieties of shrubs and flowers.
I paused at the first clearing to scan the morning sky. I couldn’t tell if it was about to rain or not; the humidity a sponge of moisture beginning for release. I snapped several photos of the low lingering fog, which gave the headstones the illusion of floating in a vapor mist. Continuing on, I wondering if the voice in my dream the night before promised the sign I had been waiting for. Would this yearʼs visit finally give me a clue about the crypt and the twins inside? I was more anxious then ever before.
Farther up the trail, the carved lava or rock headstones looked like crowded teeth jammed in a dragonʼs mouth, pushing at each other for one more inch of space. I wondered where all these buried bodies had come from, whether there was once a thriving city, now also buried in this forest wilderness.
Continuing ever upward, the moss-coated stones on the path made the going slippery. Although the path was wide, the wildness of nature on both sides began to reign free; shoots of shrubs reached out to touch me. What a spectacular place this is, I thought as I reached a vantage point, where curtains of fog rose like a monstrous dragon up the steep cliffs, like ghosts ascending the mountain, cloaked in their gossamer veils. I felt intoxicated by the beauty.
I set up my tripod and took a series of photos of the ascending dragons, the gossamer ghost clouds, with shadowed green hills below.. These are classic Chinese shots, I proudly thought. I then turned the camera around and pointed it up the mountain through the continuing gracefully draping clouds, and zoomed in on the crypt of my intrigue and fascination, securely tucked and held deep in a granite grotto some four hundred feet above me. I took several more pictures, then folded up the tripod, stuck it back in my pack and continued my invigorating climb.
The raven, as always, led the way. “Ka-kaaah.” She reminded me of the eerie silence. Why are there no other raven calls or other birds singing?
Fifteen minutes of silence later, I arrived at a broader landing area, not far from my destination. It was a short walk over a faded red, slightly arched bridge, shrouded in its own personal fog, and onto the uneven stone path which led to the crypt. My god, how did they even build it? It’s awesome, I thought as I came upon the crypt. I now realized how easily it could be swallowed in over-growth, and yet it wasn’t. Who comes up here to maintain it? I sat on the granite bench to catch my breath, and contemplated, only for a brief moment, the ancient and very rare juniper tree, which stoically stood guarding the magnificent crypt. I took more photos and wondered why no one else was interested in the crypt and the tree and the bodies housed within.
The morning chill quickly reminded me not to sit for long, so I stood up. A new wind hit me, as if one of those gossamer ghosts had whipped up the mist from West Lake, somewhere far below, and directed it to me. I looked up to see cranes silently flying high in the sky. My raven settled on a juniper branch, staring at me. It all seemed a bit surreal.
I shook off the chill and slowly walked to the courtyard gate, eight feet away from the finely-sealed, iron-framed stone double crypt doors. I again noted the simple, uniquely designed, intricately carved in stone calligraphy.
It seems more elegant every year, I thought to myself as I looked up at the intricate ancient construction. It was much larger then any of the lower level crypts on the mountain, its roofʼs high point rising at least twenty feet above me. Modest pagoda eaves were meticulously carved out of the granite mountain to which it was still affixed. The stone roof, designed with a layered tile motif, went back about fifteen feet before it merged with the mountain rock. At the peak of the roof, close to where it met the mountain, was an unexpected large glass pyramid. I was sure they made glass in China in the 17th century, but it still seemed out of place. It seemed as if the pyramid skylight stopped the ragged mountain from totally devouring the front end of the building.
The Juniper, which had long ago tangled its roots around the sides of the tomb, seemed to hold it like a mother would, protecting it from harm. The tomb was shrouded, nearly camouflaged, in velvet green moss, inviting an artist, someone like me, to take it in and appreciate the elegant man-made/nature-protected composition; crypt, tree and moss entwined in what felt to me to be sentient beauty. My raven, glistening blacker than black against the foggy gray background, distracted my attention as she took a leap, and now perched high above on the top front peak of the crypt, smiling back down on me. I projected my thought into her endless black eyes: Do you know why I’m here today? Who are these Royal Twins, and why are they buried here?
She shook her beak and answered with a tiny “ka,” as the misty wind suddenly stopped. How would she know? Why is it so still? There was hardly a sound. No movement. Something is different today. It’s never been so quiet.
The silence suddenly broke with a deafening “Squaaaaaawk!” Then more silence. Deafening silence. Staring at her, I sensed she saw something I couldn’t see, like some unusual presence, maybe a ghost, lurking in the shadows.
The weather returned. An unnatural chill seeped into my bones. I shivered and hugged myself, wished I’d brought my down jacket, and had to remind myself that I was a professional who could and would, by trade, accept anything nature and graveyards had to offer. I began to wonder why I was there, why I put myself through such discomfort. What’s the point? Was that voice that told me come now just some dumb dream? Be with it a little while longer, Tashi. Then go home, I thought to myself. Strange dark sensations are quite normal in cemeteries, especially ones as old as this. I kept reminding myself.
I had to do something. I couldn’t just sit there, so in spite of the cold that stiffened my fingers, and my maybe pointless fear, and the creepier-than-normal atmosphere, I set up my tripod about twenty foot back from the crypt gate.
As a focused photographer, I was pleased it was one of those gloomy mornings of lurking shadows and invisible ghosts. The light misty drizzle that now came out of nowhere, the mother juniper and ancient moss, set the stage for a most ideal photo shoot.
At last, I was set up. I adjusted the aperture, framed the shot, and captured the whole crypt area. I then zoomed in on the stone entrance calligraphy. The raven squawked. I took a deep breath, letting the thick damp air fill my lungs, then exhaled warm air on my fingers. I looked around, distracted. I was distracted by a premonition of fear, which I couldn’t chase away.
I frozen and listened carefully. Footsteps. The faint sound of shoes on the stone steps echoed clip-clop. Iʼm coming. I turned and looked back down the path leading to the crypt. A hunched-over figure, a person, a man, wearing a brown cloak with a hood covering his head, was slowing coming towards me. The gnarled bent-over old man, arm and cane shaking, slowly clambered over the arched bridge. How did he get all the way up here? He looks like heʼs a hundred years old.
I watched as the old man approached, imagining that each step was an effort to remain outside one of the ancient graves he now walked past. Maybe heʼs a mountain spirit, I wondered. A dead old man who just walk out of one of those graves. Why is he appearing in front of me?
He stopped within five feet of me, and waited while I studied him. His cloak, a rusty brown color, was finely woven. He had a long beard, beginning white against his darkened deeply wrinkled face, which, to my amazement, turned from light to dark shades of green in its two foot length. Iʼd never seen such a long beard, or a green one. His eyes were like dark holes in the Universe, and I couldn’t look into them for more than a split second. I had seen caricatures of old men something like him in antique Chinese paintings, but never a real person like this in real life. He must be a ghost. I was somewhat shocked and amazed to see tiny little butterflies flying in circles around his head. He didn’t seem to be breathing.
A cold shiver ran through every part of my body. Was it fear? I was a martial arts expert. What could this theatrical figure, right out of a ghost play, do to harm me? And still, I was frightened.
In all the years I had been coming here, he was the first and only person I had seen at this crypt. As he bent forward, I strained my ears to listen to the creaky words which disturbed the chilled silence.
“The twins were in the way,” the old man mumbled. I pushed the audio button on my camera. “With their lives they would pay.”
“Are you talking to me?” I said to him. While I waited for him to answer my rhetorical question, the old geezer finally exhaled, blowing a draft of jasmine scented breath at me. It’s not stale?
I took a couple steps back and studied him again. His cloak was finely embroidered with butterflies, woven from the finest silk. His baggy pants were also silk, and his boots were well-crafted out of leather. He had a long stocking cap on his head, holding his very long white hair in place. I took out my compact camera, ready to take the manʼs picture, then hesitated as he opened his mouth. Kanji symbols began floating out. What the hell? Is that kanji coming out of his mouth! Black Chinese characters floated up into the air, as the tiny butterflies broke from formation and began dancing around them.
“Your mission is clear. Help them while they’re here,” he almost whispered.
After the old man said these words, the raven began to squawk loudly. He took another step forward, and his face began to pixelate. At first it appeared to be greenish gray, but then red and pink began to fill in. He had a long beaked nose, which now grew shorter. I now could look deep in his eyes The black hole from before turned into entrancing stardust. He slightly smile, arresting my fear slightly.
And then, without warning, quicker than I would ever have believed possible, he hauled off and whacked me on the side of my head with his cane, sending me flying to the ground! Click. Click. Click. My finger instinctively pushed the camera button before my head hit the cold, wet stone.
The Praying Goddess mountain – Kalalea – home of the Goddess Hina
Episode 2 – beginning
Grandfather Khong peacefully sat alone in his greenhouse.
The ambiance was steeped in an ancient stillness. While tying and trimming one of his favorite bonsai plants, a barn cat slept on his lap, purring in rhythm with the soft rush of Hawaiian trade winds, which filtered through the trees. Everything around him added harmony to his waking meditation.
Thirty-seven years had passed since Khong bought two hundred and twenty-two acres of overgrown land just north of Kapaa, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The property was owned by a retired Chinese-Hawaiian pineapple plantation foreman. He had brought plenty of money from China, so the transaction went smoothly. He sent for a small crew of carpenters from Shanghai to update the four-bedroom house and construct a traditional martial arts dojo.
Not long after the construction was complete and the crew left, Khong began his daily visits to the local nursery. That is where he met Puna, a cute young Hawaiian girl who shared his love of gardening. Two weeks after they met he invited her over to help plant his new garden and landscape his yard. She never left. She just knew it was right being with him.
Even though Puna was only twenty-three at the time, much younger than he, they were quietly married by her Uncle Kamaka, a local Hawaiian Kahuna – a prophet and visionary – who lived in a shack on sacred land, on the foothills of Mt. Kalalea, near the town of Anahola, not far from where Khong lived. Within the year their only child was born, An Li, the twins’ mother.
Khong suddenly felt a slap on the side of his head. His eyes looked in every direction, confirming he was still alone. Returning to his stillness, he closed his eyes and searched for it, asked for it, whatever “it” was, to come into his consciousness. Within seconds he detected a faint vision; a vision of someone opening two solid crypt doors. Then two bodies, a leather book and a raven came into view. He couldn’t recognize the intruder, although he had a pretty good idea who he was. Khong had no doubt that it was the crypt at Kunlun he was seeing, the crypt of the Ming Twins.
Then he lost the vision, but the message was clear. The crypt has been opened. The Living Story has begun. We must act now.
He grabbed his cell phone and called Uncle Kamaka, “Kamaka, I got the vision. Today’s the day.”
“I felt it too, brother. Can you be here around noon?”
Khong looked at the clock. 10:30 am. ‘We’ll be there.” He hurried across the property to where his wife Puna was teaching her hula dancers.
“Puna,” he interrupted, bowing politely to her and her students.
“Excuse me,” she said to the dancers, and then walked to the nearby bench and sat with Khong. “Did you have a vision?”
“I did. It has begun. I have time to give the twins their Aikido test. Then I’ll take them to the heiau at noon. Kamaka will be waiting.
Puna returned to her dancers and praised them for their hula, then dismissed the class. This morning’s practice flowed in perfection, and she was pleased. “Come here,” Puna waved for her beloved sixteen-year old twin grandchildren Kit and Kat. They said goodbye to their friends and walked over to her.
“Your hula was beautiful today. You got it down. We have a change of plans today. Grandfather wants you to dress and meet him in the dojo.” Puna hid the anxiety she felt about what was coming, and smiled at them.
“I thought we were going to have a day off from Aikido,” Kit complained.
“What’s so important that we have to train today?”
“You’ll see,” Puna answered with a smile. “When you’re done training you can spend the rest of the day hiking on Kalalea. Uncle Kamaka has a feeling that this is the exact right time to find the upper heiau, and wants you two there with him.”
“Us?” Kit asked, pondering the impossibility of finding a sacred site most believed existed only in mythology, and Uncle Kamaka’s imagination. “Is Grandfather coming?”
“He is,” Puna answered. “Anyway, Kamaka says you inspire him. Go now, your Grandfather is waiting.”
“It would be cool if he give us our black belt test today,” I said. “I’m ready.”
We quickly changed into the black skirt hachima and padded white gi top and headed for the small dojo behind their hillside home. Aikido lessons were part of our everyday home schooling life, and most likely we never thought about the luxury of having our own private dojo and Aichido sensei, all in our backyard.
The Aikido dojo was traditionally constructed; a combination small shrine and paper screened training hall. The lovely building was slightly elevated above grandfather’s carefully tended zen garden, which was accented with perfectly trimmed trees. The piece of land between the house and the dojo was only a small section of an impeccably landscaped acre of land. Water dripped from a fifteen-foot high lava rock wall, feeding a stream that spilled into a koi fishpond. An arched wooden bridge stretched over the pond to the stepping-stones that led to the dojo entrance. Grandfather Khong had trained us in this dojo since we were only five years old.
We bowed as we entered, once to our teacher while standing, and once to the shrine’s altar while on our knees. Although we didn’t practiced the Shinto religion, the altar and the bowing was to honor all the spirits of the Earth. He told us that if we wanted to know what religion was really all about, we need only to listen to our Grandmother, who was more attuned to nature than any priest he’d ever met.
After the bows Grandfather clapped his hands to begin the class.
“Excuse me, Sensei,” Kit bowed, coming back up to sit on his heels.
“Is this about our black belt test?”
“I’m ready, unless it has something to do with six huge Russians coming at me all at once.” Kit remembered a video he once saw of a Master fighting off six Russian black belts, while blindfolded.
“Me, too,” I added. “Except if we have to fight with real swords.”
“No real swords,” Grandfather answered. “Please stand. You will be doing this test blindfolded.” He took two black blindfolds from the belt of his blue Aikido skirt, and tied them tightly over our eyes.
“To begin, I want you to demonstrate shomenuchi iriminage, the way that I taught you. I want you to accent each move with forceful gut yells. Don’t hold back the power of your voice.”
Kit immediately centered himself and as soon as he felt my energy field he shouted HA! and charged at me with an exaggerated attack, which I met with an equally exaggerated movement. Kit slammed to the mat. He quickly got up and charged at me again. I countered by relaxing and used his movement to flip him high in the air. He smashed back down on the mat. With cat-like precision, and contrary to the rules of Aikido sparing, he grabbed my ankle and tripped me. Kit sprung up as I fell on my side. He waited for my attack as I bounced up and charged at him. I was thrown into a mat-shaking high fall. They have learned well, Grandfather thought after about fifteen minutes of intense sparring.
He clapped his hands, picked up three wooden swords, and walked into the center of the mat. Without any instructions or warning, he threw a sword to each of us. We had practiced this many times, so we caught them in one motion and crouched in our stance, waiting for an attack.
With a loud tone, Grandfather invited us to charge straight toward him. His energy field, amplified by his loud shout, deflected our swords with barely a move. We went tumbling past him. “Use your voice! Louder! Use your ki!” Grandfather yelled at us.
We quickly bounced back up and charged at him again. This time in full voice, KUUUEEE, and with full intention. Now we penetrated his shield. He had to move dynamically, barely avoiding the two cutting swords before sending us into high falls, one after the other. We immediately popped up, swords held high.
We almost got him that time, I thought to my brother in the private telepathic talk we called mu-mu.
He’s the best . . . but in a few more years I’ll be better . . . you’ll see, Kit mu-mu’d back.
After ten more minutes of concentrated sparring Grandfather carefully laid his sword down, clapped his hands again and sat. We knelt in front of him, removing our blindfolds.
“Very well done.” They’re as good as anyone I’ve ever sparred with, Khong thought to himself. Eleven years of daily personal training . . . they’re ready. He looked at us intently. “You are now prepared to use your skills outside of this dojo. Your lives are about to change. The journey you have come for, your life purpose and destiny, has now begun.”
I raised my hand, trained as we both were in proper dojo etiquette. I thought to my brother, How does he know what my life purpose is?
Destiny? Kit mu-mu’d in reply.
Ignoring my raised arm, Grandfather continued, “What your grandmother and I have taught you, you both have learned well. You have the agility and common sense to meet all obstacles.”
Obstacles? Kit thought to me as he raised his hand to ask the question.
Grandfather ignored him just as he had me.
Maybe he said, ‘Popsicles,’ I thought back.
Kit giggled to himself, It’s just grandfather showing off his test-stacles. You know . . . testing skills?
I held my composure as Grandfather continued, “Although some situations will seem impossible, you will always find a way to move forward. Cooperate with each other. Blend. And don’t forget, I will be with you wherever you go.”
Was he on my date the other night with Pako? I thought.
Kit was about to burst out in laughter at his thought, Were you blending?
Blushing, I forced back my smile. As I looked over to my brother the best I could come up with was a discrete rolling of my eyes.
Grandfather sensed our distraction and loudly clapped his hands two more times. We sat up straight in front of him. Even though we didn’t grasp the full implications of Grandfather’s words, he now had our complete attention. “The mind wants to wander. You must remember to focus. A wandering mind is a luxury that won’t serve in the days to come. Pay attention. Focus.”
He looked us both in the eyes and then smiled, “Have a bite to eat and meet me at the truck in twenty minutes. We’ll go meet your Uncle Kamaka and see if there really is an upper heiau.” He dismissed us with a bow.
“By the way, you both passed. You are now third degree black belts. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Sensei.” We bowed back to him, stood, bowed again to the shrine altar and left.