Spindlerun is a fan fiction written by KidVegeta. It tells the story of
The main source of inspiration for this story comes from the novel Great Expectations.
The main theme for Spindlerun is How To Fight Loneliness by Wilco.
The secondary theme is Gravity Rides Everything by Modest Mouse.
Chapter 1: Faux Pas
In a room in a shop there stood a boy. Not a nasty, disgusting, foul room, filled with moldy breads and dripping grease, nor yet a stiff, spurious, empty room with nothing in it to order or to eat: it was a butcher store, and that meant, simply, meat. Ergo meat, as it hung by loin, bone, and gaping carcass flaunted its impressionable allure over the boy.
In his pockets lay three zeni. They were all he had. With a quick jerk of the knee, followed by a supplanted heel, he moved from the door to the register. So hastily had he done so that the butcher could hardly have looked up before the boy reached him.
The man was a commoner. He had tattered, shabby lines of grey running down his face like many little streams flowing out of an overbearing river. That was not to say his work was as crude as he. Actually, as the boy watched, the man’s hands moved with deft precision over the flank steak he was currently cutting. It all looked juicy sweet.
“What’ll ya have?” said the butcher, with his eyes lowered.
“However much this gets me,” replied the boy. He showed the man his three prized zeni in his outstretched palm.
“That all ya got?”
“Yeah, how much does it get me?”
The man paused, wiping his knife on his belly, “For that much, nothin’. I ain’t gonna give away my meat, boy,” he scratched his chin, “I’ve seenya ‘n here afore, kid. Always begging, never have the money… nothin’s changing. Yar not gittin’ anything from me; no sir. Try next door. They’ll have the slop for ya.” He laughed and continued cutting.
“Come on…” pleaded the boy.
“Nah! I’m closin’ up shop anyhow. Damned Red Ribbon Army…”
“What are you talking about?” asked the boy.
The man spat (far, far away from his work station) “Red Ribbon Army. Ya heard? They’re comin’ to town. Gonna set up shop for some ‘portant mission. Ha! If I stay open, they’ll clear me out for sure. Bunch of looters and swine if ya ask me!”
“Hey, if you’re closing up, you can give me some of that food before you go. I’m starving!” insisted the boy.
“No way. Ya pay, or ya go away,” said the man, brandishing his knife. “That’s my motto. And I’m sticking to it. Git out!”
The compelling argument of a knife in his face convinced the boy to leave. Upon returning outside, he noticed what he had not noticed before. In his prior rashness, the boy had not seen nor heard nor smelt the prevailing business of his fellow townies. Now he saw them and they were wretched. Not as he could dare to be – the boy was dirty and plain from years of hopeless misfortune on his ancestor’s part. But these people, they stood around him as the possessions of their clerisy dictated. As he could guess, they had thrown themselves into the wind, so to speak, into exodus from the crucible of Red Ribbon Army. It was only natural they looked so unfit for their journey.
Of course, the boy knew of the Red Ribbon Army. Everyone knew of the Red Ribbon Army. At best, they could be described as vaguely lawful vigilantes. At worst, they were a relentless terror. Their power and scope, by mass and money, was second to none. Not even the King’s Guard could stand up to them. They were ruthless and unsparing in their quests (whatever they may be, the boy knew of not), never stopping until completed. Coming to Orange Star City, of all places, was unexpected. It was thoroughly frightening.
Notwithstanding the grim news, the boy plodded forward into the crowd in an attempt to get back home. As he did so, a particularly jubilant man in a bright green sweater came running to him. This contrast from the lines of men and women, solemnly fleeing, was quite exceptional. And when he reached the boy, the smile on his face rose threefold.
“Here you are, my good sir!” he said in a manner that could be likened to a party balloon exploding.
This greeting was met with a flurry of papers thrown into the boy’s face, causing the poor boy to topple over. Seeing his work to be fulfilled, the jubilant man skipped away, readying another handful of papers for another unsuspecting traveler. The boy swore under his breath as he tried to stand back up. It was times like these that made him remember why he usually used the back-streets instead of going out into crowds. Tearing the papers off of him, he saw them to be mostly advertisements or banners (many proclaiming as to why the boy would, indeed, be going straight to Hell). O mercy, he had none.
The boy balled up several papers and threw the bunch at the skipping man ahead of him. Accurate as it was, the ball only managed to reach the nape of the man’s neck. Yet so surprised to this insidious attack was he that the man turned backward, over the curb, tripped over his feet and fell down; his hands outstretched up in the air, along with a confetti of his recently handled papers. An exaggerated cry befell the street, like the long drawn out howl of a baby T-rex, as the man became acutely aware of his twisted ankle. Greatly, this clamour yielded the perfect moment for the boy to stand up and sneak away from this hypocrite opportunist.
Around a brick wall went the boy, tarrying over nothing and nothing at all. More flyers, more pamphlets, more posters fell from his hair and clothes as he ran. As to how there got to be so many on him, he could scarcely tell. Once he was out of sight, he stopped himself to get the rest of them out.
The boy sat down, thinking over what he had learned today. People in this city were annoying, that was for sure. Also, the Red Ribbon Army was coming; he had no plan for them at all. There was panoptic chaos in the streets. The butcher shop, more beloved and delightfully savory than anything else he knew, was closing up. In fact, he was sure most of the shops would close up. He would be out of food.
Verily, the boy was a street urchin. A ragged, unkempt hooligan, who lived off of soup kitchens and the paltry donations of a few feel-gooders in high society. He was not overtly salubrious. The “slop”, as the butcher had described it, was not bad, he thought. He could live on it forever. That wasn’t to say he did not prefer snooping in the dumpsters behind the butcher shop for a few tasty morsels. But now it was all, all gone. He couldn’t stay like this now!
The boy pulled yet another unwanted paper off his hair. Before he could toss it away, however, he noticed the writing on it. Now it is important that I tell you what exactly the boy saw. For he paid no notice to the title, the description, or the promises spoken of in dull red print. He did not so much as see the picture of a sword splayed across the background. No, this boy saw only one thing: “Meals Provided”. To say it took more than that for him to go there, to say he had nobler intentions of self-betterment is just false. There is no mystery or twist of fate in the start of this boy’s adventure. He was simply hungry.
Yarely did the boy happen upon the gate of his destination. It was laid bare, which gave him chance to creep in. Inside the capacious space was a host of children. Many were his age, and some were older teenagers. There were a few that looked younger, around ten or eleven, but the boy was unsure. Nevertheless, no one noticed him as he entered.
The address on the poster had led outside the city. Specifically, this place was situated three miles down a dirt path from the west entrance. As he walked down the road, the boy had glimpsed at, on each side, a collection of grape and olive orchards. The illusion of wealth that emanated from these trees gave him considerable hope. He reckoned, as reckoners often do, his meals provided would be as bountiful as they would be sumptuous.
Here he was waiting in the back, when a stout woman entered at the front. Her large figure was enshrouded in many long robes. She greeted herself as Kumo quickly, and then barked at the congregation to get in a line. They did so. Then, the woman brought in helpers, sycophantic little creatures who went from child to child, asking and scribbling down each name. The boy was near the end of the line, so he got a good sight of how things went before they reached him. When they did, they tugged his shirt with ravenous appeal. Embarrassed to say it too loudly, he made a point to speak his name to them and only them.
“Yajirobe,” he said, in half a breath.
Now Kumo, line leader, began their procession anon. Purposefully vague in her intention (Yajirobe did not blame himself for not reading the handout), she took them through the courtyard, past the fountain and walls of factitious flowers, into a room. The room was not a room at all for there was no roof and the floor was all grass. Once everybody was inside, the doors were shut; Kumo stood before them. Examining the new room, the children, who had been so properly quiet earlier, moved about anxiously.
“I’m not going to pretend this’ll be easy. If any of you want to leave right now, leave. The Daimyo and I won’t have patience for weakness and most of you will fail anyway. Since we don’t know how many of you are worthy just yet, we will weed out the weak.”
“Does that mean we need to be expert gardeners?” a boy to the immediate right of Yajirobe yelled out.
No one laughed.
Kumo gave no help the stillness as she stared at the boy with unbending focus, “No. It means all of you are going to mimic me,” Kumo lay her arms out in a half-slump in front of her torso. She placed her left leg in front of the right and squatted slightly. Once in position, she waited until every child assumed the position. When they had done so satisfactorily (and those needing correction were corrected), Kumo stood back up.
“Hold that position until I return. Anyone who breaks it must leave at once,” she said, swiftly, before turning around and walking out.
Yajirobe was not conscious of the purpose of this test. He had not bothered to read about where he was. Regardless, he found the stance barely strenuous, if but for the promise of good food. His motivation was not shared by many others.
Their disquiet rose steadily for five minutes. By the sixth, nearly everyone was trembling. And by the eighth, they began, at last, dropping. At first it was two, and then three, and then fifteen and twenty-five. Astounded by their failing of this simple test, Yajirobe could only think to himself there would be more food for him.
Yajirobe perceived, in sudden thought, the boy who had made the joke beforehand. He was a small, scrawny boy with dirty blonde hair. And he just so happened to be next to Yajirobe.
Yajirobe ignored him.
“Hey, hi!” he said, trying again.
“I’m Brian! Your name is Yajirobe, right?” he laughed.
How did he know that? Yajirobe had been very quiet when he told the helpers.
“Well, I heard you tell the servants that,” he said. “That is your name, right?”
There was no going back now, unfortunately. This Brian must have exceptional hearing. It was no use hiding from him anymore. Yajirobe nodded, answering the question.
Yajirobe spoke, “So what?”
“So…” began Brian, “You look like you’re gonna go through to the next round. I thought I should say hi.”
Yajirobe grunted something fierce. It was enough to make Brian back off, giving him peace again. Not so lucky were others; up ahead, several more boys faltered. There were now thirteen left. Brian celebrated this time by talking to another boy to his right.
Unsought, but unavoidable, Yajirobe learned this boy’s name too; Harotu. He and Brian discussed how they had trained for this… how they had prepared for this. To that, Yajirobe thought about where could he be? They had each put hours, days, weeks into coming here. He had not. The only exercise Yajirobe partook in was when he’d look for food out on the street. He’d spend a few hours standing around or dumpster diving or stealthily stealing steaks; the street had made it necessity. Otherwise, he was content to being lazy.
Trying to ignore them fully, Yajirobe looked to his left, and spied a statue. It was of a melancholy man, tall, with long dark hair. He wore robes like Kumo, but they were more ornate, with little strings of gold lining the borders. He had a sword on his side as well. He reminded Yajirobe of some paracosmic super hero – one of those guys at the centre of a good fairy tale. It briefly made Yajirobe think back to when he had last read one, but he could not remember when that was.
The test now becoming decidedly prolix and with growling rising in his stomach, Yajirobe stayed his shaking arms. The back of his neck was soaked with sweat, while his knees ground together in the utmost pain. Comparing his plight to that of Brian and the others… well, they were talking rambunctiously, as if this was nothing. Any semblance of Yajirobe’s composure was now lost. He would have none of it. None of it at all!
“Shut up!” he shouted at Brian. “Just shut up until she comes back.”
Brian gave no reply; he need not to. For Kumo was already on fast approach before them, her figure swept into their sights like a beckoning wind on high noon.
“You are done,” she said, coldly. She observed the thirteen boys with a long nose and a haughty stare. She was much, much taller than Yajirobe, and larger too. Yet her presence gave him no clear symbolic meaning to the power of her authority. She clapped her hands together, “Now for the real test.”
“Another test? You can’t be serious!” said the boy Yajirobe knew to be Harotu.
“Be quiet. Backtalk again and you will be thrown out of the Academy,” she said. “The Daimyo has requested all who remain after the preliminary would take part in a brief reconnaissance expedition. As I speak, the Red Ribbon Army is marching into Orange Star City. Your job is to intercept them and steal the hat of the Commander General. Bring it back to me, and the Daimyo will agree to train you as his newest samurai students.”
Either too scared to speak for fear of being thrown out, or too dumbfounded by the monumental task set in front of them, nobody responded.
Kumo jump-started the conversation, “Get going. Do not make us wait all night.”
“I’m not doing it.”
“We’re going to be killed.”
“I’m not attacking a bunch of armed men…”
Seven boys stood staunch and opposed.
Yajirobe had, as the others talked and decided, listened. His eyes remained locked on the statue of the great warrior. Kumo had said they would be trained as samurai. This man, this statue before him was a samurai. Then, he became instinctive, realizing his desirous tendencies were misplaced. As they were, an ominous variance formed in his mind. He wanted to be that man standing there, not some street rat begging for food in the gutters. If he could be like this man, actually making something of himself, what more could he want? He had always been pitied, but never respected. Yajirobe thought, yes, he wanted to be like that statue. He wanted to have people look up to him. He wanted to have some presence outside of the slums.
He glanced back at the host. Seven had left, abandoning the proposition, grimacing at their failure. There was him and Brian and Harotu. There were three other students whose lives and names will never be delved into because they cannot possibly be important. They would be his only company on the treacherous errand. He would stay with them, to whatever end. He looked back to Kumo and the others. Though he dare not speak it, he promised to himself to have that hat by night’s end. Yajirobe had, at this crucial point, made a goal for himself for the first time in his life.
General Blue was in a good mood. His army was in their best uniforms. The cyaneous sky above, riddled with pockets of white, was shining down favorable. It was warm out, in the best of ways; not too hot, not too cold. The atmosphere was perfect for his entrance. He could imagine it now: walking into the city, the sun beaming brightly down on him and his men, the vast crowds of peoples adorning the streets, cheering him on; their hope and faith in him being absolute, chanting his name… he grinned. Luck was on his side that Blue could have this day his way.
“Dark! Prepare my capsule. I think it’s time we moved in. I don’t want our client to wait too long for us.”
“Uh, which capsule, General?”
“Imbecile!” Blue screeched. “Don’t tell me you forgot my change of clothes!”
“Oh, no General, I have it right here,” said Dark, clumsily fumbling for it in his jacket. “Here it is sir. Still sealed and fresh.”
Blue snatched up the capsule out of the dimwitted Captain’s hand. His mission was a merc operation, meaning that he was conscripted by a third party to fulfill a task. The price was sizable; the despotic Supreme Commander Red, leader over the Red Ribbon Army, had OK’d the operation solely because of the revenue it would generate. Their client was obviously wealthy, Blue knew. That was his half reason in dressing so well. He would show the client, even the city, that the Red Ribbon Army must be respected, admired, as well as feared.
He popped open the capsule, and changed quickly into a dark, decorated uniform. His vainglorious visage was second to none on this earth. It would be welcomed by all. So with a quick stance, followed by a raised hand, General Blue signaled his men into formation; thereupon, Blue marched the grievous army into Orange Star City.
He was only fourteen years old. The boy, Yajirobe was just that – a boy. When he was little, he lived in a Collective, which is a respectable name for a hideous idea. The fundamental state of it was that a group of children, mostly sons of vagabonds (not kings), would live in a large house with a common overseer. The title of overseer was a generous one, Yajirobe had thought, because he had never been taught any form of discipline by his. In the years after, he had run away and lived off the street. Mostly, he would stay in empty apartments, scrounging for food during the night. He had made his living off hapless circumstance, letting him live but not grow.
With Brian, the annoying one, and Harotu, the one the annoying one spoke with, and the other nameless beings, Yajirobe ran down the road from the whence he came. So full of exuberance was Yajirobe that he forgot the severe reality of his assignment. The others were on a high as well, for no one offered up a means to get the hat.
They arrived at the west gate an hour later. As expected, it was empty; by this time, most of those who wished to leave had left. Onward they went into the city and they found it just as quiet. Truthfully, it was not a ghost town. About half the population was already to the countryside; by advanced calculations, that left the other half in the town. Quite a few shops remained open, as did the government, but there were no bystanders on the street. Those who remained were in their homes, carefully keeping to themselves.
Yajirobe knew these streets, and he directed the others towards the city square, where the Red Ribbon Army would surely be. But the square was empty too, as they soon learned. Yajirobe had failed to take into account the vast amount of preparatory time Blue needed to make himself beautiful. As it were, the Army was just now marching into opposite gate.
The boys walked down the sidewalk, lazily drifting from one side to the other, directionless and pondering what to do. No one said much, as there was not much to say. Yajirobe was, to himself, thinking of a plan to jump out of a window onto the General, when it happened: the noise of them approaching. Coming from the cobbled streets ahead, a sound of methodical footsteps, rigidly fixed in accordance with one another was becoming louder and louder.
The six boys ducked under a gazebo. They had only moments now. The matter at hand, figuring out a strategy, seemed as imperative as it was discursive. No one had any idea what to do. One boy (let’s call him Anders) thought it would be a lovely course of action to simply ask the General for his hat. Yajirobe thought that was a terrible; just terrible. It would get them shot, more likely. Yet before he could dare argue his way, Brian spoke, describing an idea he had thought up all his own.
“Look, I can see Mr. Parroda’s house from here!” said Brian
Why does that matter?” asked Harotu, sharply.
“He’s a really famous man. My mom knew him, and we’d go over his house sometimes…”
“Get to the point,” Yajirobe grunted.
“Well, he has this orchard of Jabillos… see it there?” Brian pointed off at a tall yellow house and its grand accompaniment, “We could use a couple of those to distract the army guys and knock the general’s hat off. Then someone just has to run in and grab it before they notice what’s going on.”
It was collectively, near simultaneously that everyone sans Anders asked “What’s a Jabillo?”
Brian’s eyes were sparkling as he explained himself, “Oh, you don’t know what a Jabillo is? I guess that makes sense. They are rather exotic. The trees aren’t all that important, but the fruit on them is. You see, it’s explosive! See, when I was little, I’d play out there with my brother. Sometimes we’d get into the fruit, and well… they’re pretty nasty. The fruit explodes like a grenade. I cut my hands up from them going off. If we throw some of those at the army, they blow up, and it will knock off his hat… not to mention cause a bunch of confusion.”
It was absurd, to say the least. But it was also fortuitous inasmuch that, if what Brian said was true, this would work. Quickly, it was decided upon, since no other plan could be thought up in its stead. Brian gathered the nameless children and made a roadie-run beeline to the orchard. Hopping the fence, they had no trouble sneaking in and grabbing several handfuls of the fruit. Just Harotu and Yajirobe, who were both city boys, were left on the other side. Theirs would be the more difficult task; they would be executing the actual act. Needless to say, it was exactly now that the Army’s head marched onto the street.
Brian was quick enough, and once he armed his fellows, they lined up behind a set of buildings, using a back alley as cover. They hid in the shadows until the blue eyed man at the helm of the troop came into perfect view. At his sight, Brian let out a holler and threw the fruit. The others followed him. What was once quiet now erupted into pandemonium; the boys yelling and throwing, and the army reacting as if under attack. With the first fruits thrown, Yajirobe and Harotu hesitated. They remained unsure of the idea’s practicality.
To say the Jabillo’s fruit exploded was generous. Indeed, the pumpkin-esque little balls barely made a sound, let alone a distraction. Moreover, the shrapnel that came out – if it could even be called that – was flimsy. It did barely anything to the proceeding men, save ignite their anger.
The man at the helm mentioned before, General Blue, was outright offended by this classless act. With an outcry of horror, lest his best uniform be damaged, he dodged aside and drew his pistol. Brian and the other boys flung themselves away, distraught and broken from the failure of their deed. But Blue was merciless. His mood had turned foul moments before upon learning that no one was to greet him – no lines of people waiting to see him enter the city. There was only this group of boys, throwing fruit at him. Well, he wasn’t the Commander General of the Red Ribbon Army for nothing! He would show them who they were dealing with.
He fired eight shots, emptying his clip. Brian and the others backed themselves into a nearby building, running inside as fast they could. Mustering his composure, Blue reloaded, then holstered his pistol and righted himself. He ordered the grunts, by proxy of Captain Dark, to destroy the building. No use getting personally involved. The captain happily obliged, readying his heavy weapons division.
Yajirobe and Harotu had not moved once. Their mission was not complete, yet, but their lives were in great peril; they could be ended at any second. It was not altogether enticing to run out there just to get their heads blown off. As the line of men formed themselves in front of the building, Yajirobe saw a curious opportunity. Blue stood in front of them, a way off from the other soldiers too. If he could run out and snatch the hat off the General’s head, he would win. Well, all of them would win.
Then, the company fired. In the ensuing explosion, wrought by flame and glass, Yajirobe saw someone spiral out from it. It was Brian. He had, as the troops assumed their stead beleaguering the poor house, jumped from a window behind and ran about the troop. As he ran out, the explosion going off just behind him, he threw his last of the Jabillo fruit at Blue. Blue was too entranced by the totality of his destruction to notice the boy’s attack. Just as Brian was blown away, flung onto the ground, the fruit made contact with Blue. As it is with all these types of things, and this being such a little thing regardless, Blue became livid. No one should touch him. No one should be so uncivilized as to throw fruit at him. Aimless but resolute, he emptied another magazine toward the boy, reprimanding the uncouth strike. As the general moved forward, Yajirobe saw his hat on the ground, clearly. It had been knocked off by the fruit.
The boy had built up a large reserve of power that he was barely accustomed to. Foraging and living off of desolate places had made him strong and sturdy. Though he was hopelessly chubby as well, Yajirobe was surprisingly fast and agile. With all his hardihood, he broke from his hiding place, running out into the open. The explosion was the focal point for all of them. Not one soldier noticed him as he ran out, as he grabbed the hat, nor as he retreated back to Harotu (who had, all this time, simply played with his pocket lighter).
Thereupon, Blue came forth to Brian. His pistol held within it three shots left. Each and every one to be arbitrarily shot at the General’s will. Brian, who lay helplessly in the ash of destruction could do naught but plead. Scarcely did his words fall upon Blue’s ears. Blue, as he remained desirous of malcontent, forced his shots out, perforating the ground around the boy; though they missed, due to his overbearing agitation. As far as Blue knew, gentlemen were real men. You don’t mess with real men. He would have this boy’s life.
Unaccounted for were the others. Notably among them was Harotu. Not a farthing’s worth had Blue given to the others, as they appeared wayward and gone. Nay, in here they were not.
Harotu appeared in a crescent roll, forcing himself onto Blue. He was a small, bony boy. His fingers were so long they almost seemed they should fall off by no more than the coaxing of a soft wind. His small stature, however, gave him the advantage over Blue. Blue was no useless pretty-boy. Well learned in hand-to-hand combat was he. But Harotu was unaccounted for. He was unexpected in this party. Blue had taken his shots at Brian and missed. With no fear of the weapon, Harotu had scrambled forward and tackled the general.
It was like a spider wraps its prey. Harotu climbed about Blue with expert dexterity, totally un-countered. Though Blue roared out in sudden awareness, it was too late. Harotu took his lighter and opened it in Blue’s face. It was not a large lighter, nor a very powerful one, yet the effects of it were devastating to Blue. For, you see, Blue had this wild idea his face was perfect. No harm should or could come to it. After all, who dares tarnish great art?
Harotu knew this not. His lighter remained open for only a moment before Blue could writhe away from it. The light and heat blinded Blue momentarily, so he fell backward. His eyebrows were singed too; a cruel end to his loyal pair. Con mucho gusto Harotu, smiling at Blue’s screams, grabbed Brian and ran out of there. Yajirobe and the others would follow soon, cautious to avoid the army’s position. Yajirobe himself backed outward, hopping down a flight of stairs, then slinked out, below the smoke, back to the square. When he arrived, the five others were there. He displayed to them a proudly kempt item. The black hat of General Blue.
Yajirobe was as satisfied as he had ever been. What he had just done, with the (small) help of the others was nothing short of exemplary. Once again, his train of thought moved to the statue of the man; but this time it was not in poor manner. He was one step closer to becoming like it. He had taken on a fully equipped army, with nothing but his wits and a collection of fruit; he was sure the statue could have done no better.
Yajirobe got up with the others and made his way back to Kumo’s lair.
Blue, on the other hand, did not get up. He was still on the ground, at the burning house. He screamed out curses. He flung debris at any man who drew near to him. It went on like that into the night, so that his legion did not get properly set up before the new day.
Later accounts from his soldiers confirmed that Blue cried, copiously. There were over forty men who swore to this, by the last count. However, Blue himself denied such allegations passionately, as they would have not only undermined his authority, but shown him to be a sissy. He was beloved by his troops, he recollected. They saw him as a great leader. More relevantly, though, real men don’t cry. And as I’ve already made mention beforehand, Blue fancied himself a real man.
Kumo showed no emotion in her face when they returned. No congratulations, no reprimands; the mission was complete and that was that. No matter the improbability, the recklessness that it entailed. The city still burned as they gathered around her. Yajirobe handed her the hat. She took it carefully, examining it for authenticity. Once satisfied, she nodded and bid them off, calling her many servants to whisk them away to bed. After they were gone, she closed the gate behind her. She held General Blue’s hat in her hand, as she returned.
“Which one brought it?” asked a voice, out of the darkness.
“It was the one, Yajirobe, Daimyo,” Kumo replied.
“Yajirobe… that’s a city name,” the voice said.
Kumo nodded, “Most of them are.”
The statue that inspired Yajirobe earlier now moved. It jumped off its pedestal and onto the cooling grass.
“I wasn’t. You know I came from out here. The master let me in,” said the statue; the Daimyo.
“You were the first the master allowed like that.”
“I would like the names and pictures of all six. You will give them to me now,” said the Daimyo, awkwardly, ending the conversation.
“Of course,” replied Kumo. She bowed, dropped the hat, and then exited.
The Daimyo stayed a while under the moon. He stood still, as he had in his impression of a statue. Then, with no warning, he drew his sword. It was an elegant, sleek katana, firmly bound. He moved with it not as if it was an item that he held, but as if it was part of him. So fluid was it, that if a watcher, some onlooker were observing this, they would have been unknowing to him holding it, save for the reflection of the steel off the moon.
With legerdemain akin to that of an accomplished card sharp, he flicked the hat up with the tip of his sword, grasping around it with his quick fingers. He balled it up in his hand, tucking it into his robes, sheathed his katana, and walked out.
Kumo had left the itinerary waiting on his door. On it, he read out the names. There was Yajirobe, of course. He scanned it over. They were all city names, which was to be expected. His own class and those afterwards had all been from the city. He looked down the list. Harotu, Anders… wait. There it was. He saw the final name; Brian.
Just like him, this was a country boy.
The Daimyo tore the note off his door and pocketed it. He went into his room, which was a humble home of yore. He had a simple training mat, his small box of clothes, a desk (with which he did lots of business) and a bookshelf, filled to the brim. Most of the books were written by his late master, though he had several others. They were, of course, treasured by him greatly. But ignoring all of them, he walked forward and sat down on his mat.
Then, as soon as he had entered, he decided to get up again. Walking quickly, he exited his room and moved down the hall. He made his way to the recruits’ resting area. It was empty. Well, that was to be expected, he thought. They had put themselves through a good days work. Finding them inside the dormitories, he confirmed they were asleep. There were six sets of bunk beds, so that every child had their own. Most lay sleeping on the bottom bunks, but a small boy in a white shirt, with dirty blonde hair was on a top bunk. He was a total rebel. The Daimyo looked them all over, especially that boy, before leaving. He wondered to himself which one could be Yajirobe, and which one could be Brian.
He cracked his knuckles. Tomorrow, he would train them directly. He had not intended to do so, this soon, but the events dictated his response. It could not wait, he was sure. Truthfully, he had not even expected them to get the hat. In his mind, he had worked out two possible scenarios – one where the boys simply refused, but refused to leave, and one where they would bring back a false hat. Neither had happened.
The Daimyo knew the hat he had in his pocket was the real one. He had seen General Blue in person before. It was extraordinary that they had got it from him. This group showed more promise than any before him. He had to see it with his own eyes. Tomorrow.
As I cannot make it my perfectly accurate prediction, I should make it my humble assumption that this day was the beginning of the second week of Naigo, Lord of Hunger’s, training in the art of Ki control.
Today was January fourteenth, in the Age seven hundred forty-nine.
Chapter 2: Utopian Ripcord
Makare sat on his rock. He sat on that rock all afternoon. In fact, he had been there since sunrise. That is not to say he was a reclusive, unflinching little bugger – far from it. Makare sat in meditation because he was waiting. Waiting for them to come. The side of the mountain, completely uninhabited, ruggedly opaque, gave no allusion to what exactly Makare could be expecting. But as he sat, a figure appeared without forewarning, crawling out of an unassuming hole in the rocks like a worm out of the mud. As he landed, his heavy boots dusted up the trail, alerting Makare to his presence. The man was lanky, with long unwashed hair. He wore full leather armor, and held a sheathed katana at his side. He made no stoppage before arriving to Makare.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed.
Makare kept his eyes closed, “Just enjoying the day, Naigo.”
The mountain was indeed brobdingnagian, discernible even through the overcast sky. If one were to stand at its base and look up, the peak would not be visible, regardless of the weather. The two were two thousand metres up; indeed, remote enough to converse freely.
“Typical,” the man responded. “You wouldn’t really be doing anything.”
“Any developments from the inside?” Makare asked, moving the conversation in his favor.
Naigo shook his head, “No. The monks are the same.”
“You told me, Naigo. A whole colony of nihilists,” Makare pointed out.
“They’re worse than that. They’re solipsists. I can barely train. They just talk and talk and talk and argue about who is real. I want to slit their throats.”
“Who is real?” asked Makare.
“None of them. The aphorisms they perpetuate are worthless. What am I supposed to do knowing that I am the only person who truly exists? Well, none of them think I’m real. But that gets back into–”
“But you are learning? You must be learning something.”
“At the very least, they know about controlling one’s power,” Naigo smiled. “See, watch.”
Naigo unfolded his hands, snapping them outward in a move overdramatized by purpose. He gritted his teeth and began a series of grunts, growing from small noises, to outright screams. At last, a green ball formed in his palm; ‘twas a severely stretched tear drop. He threw it out like it was a ball, though it flew like no ball. Halfway in its arc, the energy exploded in a dark cloud of smoke. The smoke rose into the air like a plastic festoon uncurling itself in the wind before disintegrating out of sight.
“What is the estimated time for completion? They will need to be at least fifty times that size before we begin,” said Makare.
“A few weeks,” responded Naigo.
“It’s imperative that you learn to master this energy. I would err on the side of safety. If you need a month, I can give you a month. But I can’t wait a year.”
“It won’t take that long. I have nearly gotten it. Controlling is much hard than expanding it.”
Before Makare could speak, before he could so much as blink, a figure dropped from the tree nearest their right. She was a woman, most assuredly; her long blonde hair overbore her slim figure, which the taller, sullen man noted with clear distaste.
She cared naught for Naigo; her purchase was with Makare. Walking past him with an air of bold dissolution, she threw out her finger, pointing away from them, to the city in the distance.
“So, why’d you call me?”
“I need an errand ran. The Daimyo of the Iboinoshishi Samurai School has recently opened his doors to take in new students.”
“Yeah, I’ve got his address right here,” replied the woman, showing him her phone.
“All right. You remember what we talked about…” Makare trailed off, trying to find the correct word, “It’s time to implement that. Find them. Eliminate his precocious little acolytes. And I would not be angry if he were to be taken care of too. I’ll pay extra.”
“No problem,” she retorted. “The brats’ll be gone before ya know it.” She spat, grabbing onto her machine gun hanging from her belt. Makare nodded, giving her full allowance to leave. Naigo and Makare watched her slink out of sight until she was no more than a fleeting image on the edge of their eyes.
Finding his voice, Naigo spoke, “You said nothing of her before.”
“That is Launch. She is our third wheel. The uncouth member of this triumvirate. With her, I will be able to test and exploit dear Master’s troupe.”
“Fine,” said Naigo, dryly. “If you think they would fall to her, then your ignorance is great. I should have no part in this, except as a backup plan?!”
“No, of course not. You and I will lead the assault. Launch is merely a diversion, though I don’t think she quite knows that. She needs not know that.”
Day two started out much the same as any other – only it didn’t. Ere the sun rose, the six remaining children, acolytic pupils of the statue man, awoke and went to breakfast. This was the good life. Perhaps not for the others, but for he, Yajirobe, waking up to have food supplied to him, to not have to go out and beg in the bitter cold streets, to not have to rummage or sneak into garbage cans was thoroughly relieving.
Once again, the sycophants from yesterday came upon them and ushered them into a quiet room to eat. It was a massive hall, easily one hundred feet tall. Their footsteps rang out in loud echoes over every inch of the room as they entered. And the breakfast was beholden unto them. Rows and rows of it there were, stretched out over every table in eyeshot. Surely they knew of Yajirobe’s appetite. Surely they had taken into account how much he could take in, was his thought. It was not for them; the other five would have to wait. Yajirobe ran forth, pushing them all aside, his stomach growling with insatiable vigor.
And then he tasted it. The sheer fallout that came afterwards was not even from the obvious disappointment of the flavor. Yes, he had overhyped his senses into thinking this would be the greatest, most delectable meal in all of time. No, it was not that. A hollow feeling came up from his gut, as he grappled with this. He had come here for food, nothing else. The inspiration of the statue the day before had worn off (not to mention, the statue was really a man (but Yajirobe knew this not)). The sole impetus of his getting the hat was a distant recollection, not more pronounced now than his like for his fellows. Food was what he was going on now. He reached out to taste another average bite. Then, Yajirobe found the bacon, and he forgot his troublesome worries.
It was quickly established in Yajirobe’s mind, now that he had food to fill his deficient needs, that Brian spoke with articulate elocution. Harotu, his nearest companion was more bumptious in his speech. Anders spat in disjointed way, which could only be explained by his lack of knowing what to say even as he said it. Nevertheless, the way in which they conversed, in a hobnob sort of way made Yajirobe jealous of them. He could not admit it, nor could he deny it, but he really wanted to be able to talk like them… with better company, of course.
Harotu proudly talked about how he had taken down the great Officer. How, if it were not for him, Brian would be a dead boy. A dead boy! Brian replied with a playful grin, “I distracted him for you. Besides, his gun was empty. It’s not like he coulda done anything.”
“No! He’s a big army guy. He would have put you in a stranglehold. Or used his knife…”
“He had a knife!?” squeaked Anders in the background.
“And then Yajirobe got the hat,” continued Brian. “I saw him get it. He’s really fast. I bet he could have outrun the bullets, dontcha think. Right, Yajirobe?”
Yajirobe was not listening. He was eating bacon. In fact, he had eaten three plates of it; nearly the entire portion allotted to them all. As the candy bar of the meat world, bacon had eluded Yajirobe until this point. This was his first time trying it. He could not stop eating its salty goodness.
“What’s this called?” he asked to everyone, holding up a single piece of the precious bacon. He was careful to keep it close to him, lest some fox-handed thief were to grab at it.
“Bacon,” said Harotu. “How do you not know that? Didn’t your mom ever cook it for you for breakfast?”
Yajirobe’s mom had not. His silence gave up that answer readily enough. In fact, Yajirobe had never known his mother at all. His father had never spoken of her, and he had no early memories of a face or voice or anything to match to a woman. There was also the fact that Yajirobe had grown up homeless. Had he had a mother, bacon would not have been on the menu, regardless.
There were four doors on the far wall. Each clearly superannuated beyond their means (relegated to the backend broom closets, no doubt), Yajirobe saw. Their wooden frames hung in deterioration and splinters of wood were already felled by years of decay. The tables, the chairs, the floors were no different. This hall was old, but there were no old people in it. Befuddled by this, Yajirobe lost contact with his part in reminiscing with the others. He watched the four doors, when two things occurred simultaneously.
The first was the expected; Harotu, that loud mouth, wanted Yajirobe to back him up. As he had said it: “You were there, you saw me save him!”. Yajirobe had. Yajirobe didn’t care. It was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, but unavoidable to realize that he wouldn’t be leaving Harotu anytime soon. As he remembered the statue, though its influence had dulled upon his hasty mind, and as he remembered his mission, and where he was, Yajirobe knew fully well that he was here to become a samurai now. He did not like Harotu. He did not like Brian. He did not even know the other three existed. But ignoring them was doing nothing. He had sworn to stand by them, not socialize with them. If he was to make them stop, he would have to take charge.
Before Yajirobe could open his mouth to show his errant authoritarianism, the second occurrence occurred. Across the marble floor, a door opened (second from the left), and in walked a man. No, it was not a man, thought Yajirobe. It was too unworldly in its appearance and mannerisms. As it got closer, however, Yajirobe saw it to be very much alive… but that could not be! This man walking toward him was the statue. The brave and noble statue which had inspired him. How could it be alive?! Yajirobe did not ask the others. Nay, he needn’t. They had gone quiet, their eyes (beady little eyes) tracing the man’s trajectory until he reached them. When he did, he made no attempt at hailing them. He stood with his shoulders slumped, staring with his large black eyes.
“Who are you?” blurted out Yajirobe, so stunned at seeing him. His question echoed thrice before the man answered.
“I am the Daimyo,” he said coolly.
“What’s your name?” asked Brian.
“What’s yours?” he replied in a childish retort.
“Brian,” replied Brian.
It was barely perceptible, but the man changed his manner of cold indifference at once. Turning his body to face Brian, primarily, he spoke, “What do you want?” It was a sort of awkward attempt at conversation that unveiled not only impatience, but clear inability to actually converse.
Brian responded, however, “W-we’re here to get training, sir. From you.”
The man’s eyes wide, his mouth partially agape, there could be no other emotion than astonishment in his being. “Oh. Let’s go.”
The Daimyo spun around and walked out to the door he came from. The six children quickly followed him, Yajirobe snagging a few more pieces of bacon for the trip before trailing behind.
Unlike the first training area, the outside was open land, filled with lush, rolling hills. The left was guarded by a forest, the olive trees Yajirobe knew of. To the right, they were boxed in by the base of a huge mountain. Singularly manifested, with no rocky guards to figure, it hung in lone distortion – like a sore tooth.
The Daimyo led them out to it in a ragged half-line. There were three barrels to their immediate right. That was it. No Kumo, no servants, nothing else. In each barrel were long, wooden sticks. As they got closer, they saw these sticks were clearly molded in the likeness of swords. The Daimyo was the first to get to them. He looked them over before speaking.
“Show me how you fight,” he said. “Go in pairs and duel.”
“Those are just sticks! Anyone can swing one of those around!” shouted Harotu with much temerity.
“Yes. Until you prove yourself to be worthy, that is what you get,” said the Daimyo. He brushed his own katana, in its sheath toward them, “One of these is given only to those who deserve it. Only those who prove themselves to have the skills and honor honed by the Master.”
“Who’s that?” asked Yajirobe.
“It’s me now,” the man answered. “Show me your inherent skill, please,” he said, gesturing to the barrels around. “I would like to see them before we start.”
The six boys shuffled into position upon taking their bokkens. Yajirobe and Anders were paired, as were Harotu and Brian. The Daimyo stood back, watching over them like a person who watches, but Yajirobe felt no intrinsic comfort coming from this man. If he were to be injured, or maimed, there couldn’t be help emanating from this beatnik overseer.
Yajirobe took his wooden sword and circled Anders, pairing his hands off in oblique perspective, with a subtle countenance of composure. While never having handled a sword before, Yajirobe thought it prudent to jab with the point. It was a strategy as intuitive as it was effective, like any other offensive attack would have been. Anders had a different method; and that involved swinging the sword around wildly, like a drunk with a bat in the ratworks of Riften. Needless to say, Ander’s maneuver, wholly unexpected by its cunning brashness, knocked Yajirobe’s bokken clear out of his hands, causing it to sail several feet before spearing itself in the soft grass behind.
Triumphantly, Anders stood over Yajirobe. He swiped his sword across Yajirobe’s face. With a ribald cackle, Anders stood over his defeated, “Ha! Look at that, I beat you! You fat bum! This is what you get for ignoring me yesterday. I told you I was the most skilled out of us all. Now you pay for it!” Yajirobe shook him off, finding it as deplorably unlistenable as some treasonous Lombax lies. But Anders raised his bokken against Yajirobe again, holding his dominance completely. Brian’s and Harotu’s fight continued behind them and it was not unfolding in a far-off manner from this one.
Brian’s condition was no more the better than Yajirobe’s, as his left him thoroughly dominated. Harotu, who was more than a year elder, had gracefully used his bokken to disarm him in a flummox of quick slices. Still, Brian had not given up, instead vaulting himself at Harotu in a futile attempt at overcoming his foe. Nay, Harotu had seen him coming.
It was over in a moment. Harotu sidestepped around his opponent, interchanging positions with him, and pushing him over, forward, onto the grass. Harotu finished him by slamming his bokken into Brian’s calf, cutting it open. Brian let out a whimper as the blood flowed out. Harotu laughed.
“Come on Brian, aren’t you better than that?” he said.
“Ah, you didn’t have to cut me like that. You come on, Harotu!” replied Brian, in torrents on the ground.
“What kind of response is that? You could run at the Red Ribbon Army with nothing but a piece of fruit, but you whine and cry when I hit you with a stick? What’s wrong with you?” said Harotu, laughing.
“Nothing. Get off me, dude.”
“Does it bother you?”
“Yeah, get off!”
Harotu smirked, “Look at whiney Biney. He can’t take a little pain without crying like a baby.”
“Enough!” rang out a voice. It was the Daimyo. Silence immediately fell over the three training groups. Yajirobe and Brian still lay on the ground, perpendicular to their betters. The man waded quietly through them, and began pointing. “You, and you. And you too,” he said, pointing to Harotu, Nameless Child 1, and Brian, “Well done. Step forward.”
Anders, understandably, was vexed as much as he was outraged at his non-inclusion.
“Hey, what gives? I won too.”
“I know,” responded the Daimyo.
“So?! I should be picked too!”
“Yes sir,” said Anders, “I’m easily the best swordsman here. I’ll show you. I’ll even fight you if I have to!”
“I have to accept that. I’m obligated,” he replied.
Anders’ hardihood aside, the Daimyo was not impressed. Lest he be put on a tangent, he would deal with the boy as quickly as possible. He nodded, allowing Anders forward. The boy, his bokken in hand, proudly took stance before the Daimyo. But, his confidence was fugacious at best. He charged the man with in a triple blind unguarded maneuver. The Daimyo read his form without difficulty. He dodged the boy, jumping into the air, back-stepping, even twisting his body in a great unnatural spin to avoid the attack. The man had not even drawn his own defense yet. Anders stopped, looking for some kind of inference in how to land a hit. His gamble, perhaps, was ill-contrived.
The Daimyo took his opportunity and tapped a toe to Anders’ chest. Though it seemed like nothing, Anders let out a voiceless scream, dropped to his knees and fell over, in shock. The Daimyo lowered his leg, and stood over his flock, silently. Anders’ arms covered his rib cage, though he was not making any movement. Blood was dripping off his lips. The Master heightened himself to speak, just as a group of his servants came screaming out, running as fast as their little legs would carry them. They took to Anders, and his lying body, feeling, pressing for signs of life. In hysteria, they brought a stretcher, carried by two muscled trainers. Putting Anders on it (who was, at this time, still silent and still), they rushed out as quickly as they had rushed in. The troop watched him go, and never did any of them see or speak of him again.
“Confidence in one’s ability is a desirable asset. But arrogance is something I will not tolerate. None of you are better than one another. None of you are better than what I expected. Get it out of your minds that any of you are gifted in any way. Because you are not. My training will make you exceptional, but you are not exceptional yet. I need each one of you here. You all provide a necessary part to the completion of our goal. Don’t let your egos block your abilities in my training. Wasting my time and wasting yours will lead us all to ruin.”
The Daimyo lowered himself and walked out, satisfied with his speech.
General Blue clicked open his phone. He was determined to contact his client today. The army, his army, was growing restless. It had been hours since they had taken position in the town square. That had been with little incident. After the group of boys had disgraced and humiliated him, Blue had burned down three blocks of houses in retaliation. By which thought, no one had dared stand up to his tempest. The phone rang twice before being picked up.
“General Blue. I have been waiting for this call.”
“Ah, yes. This is General Blue of the Red Ribbon Army. I have brought the army you requested to Orange Star City. I await your directions.”
“Yes, of course. I have forwarded you a detailed list of what to do. Do not speak of these directions to anyone aside from your commanders. And keep contact with them to a minimum. I desire secrecy in this endeavor.”
“Understood. Is there anything else?”
“Yes. Do not burn or remove the bodies. Leave them where they fall.”
“And who do I thank for requesting the services of the Red Ribbon Army? You must have a name?”
“The payment for your services will be paid fully by me. My name is Daniel, as the receipt will confirm. The transfer will occur when I next get your call, General. Do not call me unless you have completed your task.”
With that, the call was terminated. Blue stood up straight, determined to read out his instructions immediately. He was unfamiliar with such secrecy, especially from a client. There were so few big names left in the world of who had both the money to pay and the power to impress his army. Yet, he had known immediately that whatever it was, it would be highly illegal. That was no concern, Blue assured himself. He had been taught to take on these missions with obdurate professionalism.
As he read the message left for him on the phone, even Blue became slightly unnerved by what he was going to do. But, it was his duty. Commander Red trusted him; Blue would honor that trust. He had ordered genocides before. This one was no different.
General Blue gathered his men with great vivacity. One thing Blue had that no other General could claim to, was the respect, the admiration of his troops. They formed rank for him immediately. With one more chance to showcase his emblematic masculinity, Blue led his men out of the city, toward Igaron Mountain. It was his day again.
The silver barrel, unreflective and stagger-locked, was barely noticeable against the collective backdrop of the city behind. The TC-150 anti-material long rifle was not only the most expensive weapon known to man, but it was by far the primary choice of any elite shock trooper… that is to say, if they could afford it. Lucky for Makare, Launch was quite rich.
She lay on the top of a five story building, unmoving and completely invisible. Indeed, even if a person were to be on the roof with her, they would not have seen her, with her camouflaged and non-reflective gear. She sighted down her scopes, adjusting her trajectory to match the wind speed.
Wind-speed: 15 km/h, SSE.
Bullet Travel Time: 3.0238 seconds.
Distance From Target: 3218 meters, 4% incline.
Launch kept her safety on, however, as her mission was not yet appropriately unfolded. She saw twelve figures standing on the lower level of the Southern Bridge. She clicked in her zoom to verify their appearances. Five children, ages eleven to sixteen. One man, in his mid-twenties. They matched. She waited for the others, obviously tertiary in importance to clear the way, and let her targets coalesce into her sight.
Earlier, Launch had rigged the bridge with explosives. It was not a hard job, as the bridge was currently in disrepair and shut down. There was no security for it (for, why should there have been?), leading her to have no trouble at all getting onto it and planting the mines.
Launch loved these explosions. It took every bit of her to keep herself contained, phlegmatic, and determined to wait. She twitched her finger, impatiently waiting for them to stop talking and begin traversing the bridge. Then she would be able to shoot.
The plan was decidedly simple. The boys would run the length of bridge, and she would shoot the man. The explosions would, well, explode taking the pupils in the fire. In one fell swoop, Makare’s mission would be completed. She still did not understand the full extent of this. For all she knew, the Iboinoshishi Samurai School was a rival of Makare’s, and would be the first victim in his long hit list. Of course, there’d be others too. But starting out with a man and a couple children was weird, to say the least.
The man glided forward, signaling to not only his students, but to Launch that the game had begun. Launch stayed herself, making a perspicacious inclination to wait until the first lines of blasts detonated. As they did so, a couple of the children got caught in the explosions, and faltered. All the better to eliminate distractions.
The man was fast, she gave him that. She had planned to take her shot halfway down the bridge, but he was already nearing the end. She moved her barrel slowly and carefully down to him, when the man suddenly stopped. Perfect.
The wind had died down to 9 km/h, so she readjusted her scope quickly, keeping one eye on the man, careful as to not lose him. Since he had stopped, the children were getting closer. The shot needed to be taken now. Launch clicked the safety off her rifle and put her finger on the trigger. Taking the wind into account, she aimed just above his right shoulder, giving the bullet plenty of time to be pushed into his skull by the wind.
Launch pulled the trigger.
In this instance, though she did not see it, a first, small child irrupted onto the screen. The magnetic barrel compartment lurched forward as it spilled out the bullet. Launch held her breath. She waited the full three seconds for the boy to miss the bullet; to get out of the way and reopen her target. But he did not. He skidded forward, up and stopped just in time to take the bullet in the throat. The bullet tore through him, instantly dropping him, and pierced through to the man. The bullet hit the man in the leg, tearing through his vastus intermedius and causing him to topple over.
Yet Launch saw only the felled body, the blood, the quiet. The brief flash of light that had followed the bullet’s impact had blinded the hit area. She only saw the aftermath, and it appeared as successful as she had hoped. Her mission was completed. Well, the first part of her mission. Now she would tell Makare the news.
“Daimyo, we are done.”
“Yes, you may go away now.” he responded, his arms folded.
The Daimyo watched his men clear out the last bits of the rubble before them. The bridge they stood on was barely upright. Indeed, it was substantially perforated and crumbling. It was an excellent obstacle course for which to test them. They, the five of them, stood behind him. Doubtless, the children did not see it this way. They stood stiffly by respect, not nature.
To make matters worse, the wind was picking up. The folly was like mismasoning a ventriloquist. Yajirobe shivered. It was a cold, unavoidable wind. The kind that chills one to the marrow. His hair blowing wildly about him, the boy stepped up. The Daimyo nodded, seeing them approach. His lean figure silhouetted behind the spires jutting up in the distance, blanketed like a sheet against the high cold.
A slight continuance of whistling took up, but that was merely Yajirobe’s nose. He saw a flicker of pain shoot across the Daimyo’s face. The sound must’ve hurt him bad.
Now with the last of their Master’s servants behind them, the boys saw the bridge laid plain. It was worse than Yajirobe would have expected. Because there were no cars, it gave the allusion that the bridge was wider, but with the deep cracks and holes adorning it so nicely, that allusion shattered in an instant. The fall below would be substantial. Yajirobe could not guess how far it was, as he could just barely make out the water with his eyes, but even if he did survive the fall, the cold waters would freeze his body, turning him into a corpse before he could get back to land. That was a given.
Their Master snapped them out of their anxieties. He spoke quietly, though it carried over the tempest weather, “Get to the other side without dying.”
Brian was shivering not only from the cold, but from the prospect of running a bridge, especially considering the wind could easily blow him off the edge. He drew himself up, kneeling on the ground so as to get as far away from the sides as possible. Harotu, Nameless Child 1, and Nameless Child 2 showed no signs of being particularly handicapped by the height in which they were staying. Nonetheless, they did not move.
The Daimyo watched Brian before speaking, “The bridge is clear. The natural hazardous state as well as the winds will be challenge enough. I mean this in the most serious way; it will not be easy, but the hardest obstacle here is not the bridge.”
“What is it?” asked Yajirobe.
“Your emotions freezing up. Panicking where there is no room for panic. Letting your body sink like a log because your mind cannot keep up. This is the second level where we weed out the unfit.”
“I-I-It’s-s… a bridge… w-we’ll fall…” Brian sputtered out.
“Come on, Biney, it’s not as bad as you think,” replied Harotu.
Brian gritted his teeth, “How do you know?!?”
“He wouldn’t let us do anything that would kill us,” Harotu said.
“He made us get that hat!” replied Brian, incredulously.
“Idleness begets laziness,” said the Daimyo, spreading his arms out and leaping backward, “Those who wish to continue training, follow me.”
The large, robed figure jumping backward into the windy tunnel quickly disappeared from all sight. All five watched him in a state of trepidation before moving. Harotu and the nameless boys went first. Wary, like Brian was, Yajirobe was none too keen to jump in after them. Truth be told, he was not scared of heights. It had more to do with the utter lunacy of this undertaking. He looked down to Brian, who was just sitting there wincing.
“What do we do?” asked Brian.
“We have to go.”
“Okay, suit yourself.”
“Wait… you’re like me, you think this is crazy… right?”
Yajirobe stopped, “It’s all pretty stupid, but he’s the Master.”
“Yeah, I know…”
“There’s no point in stoppin’ now. Besides, he’ll have plenty of food for us when we get back.”
Brian did not respond. Yajirobe turned and ran forward into the darkness, into the fog, into the smoke, into the smell of burning flesh. For, as any good reader would remember, that naughty girl Launch had thought it a brilliant idea to rig the bridge with explosives. Now, she had kept them as small, mere land minds, seeing as destroying the bridge would cause unwanted attention. Still, she had barely taken into account the crumbling infrastructure of the bridge, and that even a few small explosions would be enough to rip it in two.
Yajirobe had missed the blunt of the explosions, which Harotu and the others had, unfortunately, taken head on. None of them were seriously hurt, but the surprise of it alarmed even the Daimyo who picked up his own pace and had to disperse away from the pack to remain un-hit. Expelling energy and dodging for real was not what he had intended, and he was just as puzzled to the reasoning for this madness as they were.
Harotu had stopped right in front of a large rough circle protruding from the ground. It was about three feet from his end to the other, and a bit less from the sides; an explosion had come out of it, and he had only just stopped before it, sliding his heels into the asphalt to scrape himself into a stop. He had put his hand up to protect his face only to be hit by the fiery blast. As he felt himself now, gingerly, he groaned as he reached his left hand and found his pinky and ring finger were badly burned, melded together.
Yajirobe came up on him in no time. The two exchanged looks as Yajirobe passed, but only for a minute. Yajirobe clenched his face, showing that he was utterly professional as he moved on. The fog covering the bridge was pretty thick. This meant that not only could Harotu not see Yajirobe once he was ten feet away, but he could not accurately judge upcoming cracks or holes and had to carefully sidestep them. Yajirobe ran through it with a different goal in mind; the faster the better. He jumped in zig-zags, this way and that, shooting out with only half his energy so that if he came upon a hole and was to land in it and fall through to the sea below, he could use his other half of energy to propel himself over the hole and roll onto the ground. This method worked out extraordinarily well, and he was in good company for half of the bridge.
As he closed in on the two nameless children, Yajirobe ran into a few of the explosions. The first one shot him over it, causing him to land hard on his elbows, dragging them and scraping them badly. Leaving a gruesome line of red gore behind him, Yajirobe stood up. He grunted in pain, clearing his head. The wind hit him with all its fury and stung him badly. His eyes watered, his nose began running. His vision was going blurry. Then, a blast went off behind him, jarring him awake. Yajirobe stuttered forward. Harotu was running again, and had hit another mine.
Yajirobe ducked from some flying shrapnel and trudged ahead, through the dismal weather. He and Harotu weaved and weaved and weaved until they were sure they were at the end. But no, it was not the end. Hell, it could have been the middle for all he knew. Good news was that this was where the Daimyo decided to stop. They came out of the fog into a place of clear just as they watched him stop. The first nameless child reached him, joyous at his good fortune of being number one.
The shot sounded dull compared to the explosions that had rattled the boys’ ears, but it was far more devastating. The errant bullet had pierced right through the first boy’s neck, instantly killing him. He twitched, in unconscious death throws as blood shot out, pooled around him, and was carried off in the wind. The force of it pushed him forward several steps and he stumbled, gaping, gasping, grasping at nothing until he tripped up into a hole and fell through, down into the waters below.
The three boys didn’t move. Fearing another shot, they had all dropped to the ground, hugging the dark road in hopes of salvation. They had just watched one of their own die. It was impossible. How could he die? Why would anyone even be shooting at them? The fear permeated them all. Yajirobe didn’t know what to do. There was nowhere to move. Even if the shooter was alone, he could easily pick off one or two more of them where they lay. And once again his mind fell back to the thought of ‘why is somebody shooting at us?’ What had they done?
Maybe it wasn’t them. Maybe it was the man they were with. He could have a death warrant. Yajirobe looked up for the Daimyo, hoping he had a plan, only to see the man on the ground, covered in blood too.
No. He can’t die. He can’t die.
Yajirobe climbed forward, crawling past the others to reach the man. He repeated those three sentences over and over in his head. He couldn’t go back to being a street urchin. He couldn’t go back to a life of dumpster diving. This man was making something out of Yajirobe; it couldn’t end here. He pushed himself up to the Master.
The bullet had shot into his leg. What damage it had done, Yajirobe could not exactly tell. What he could tell was that the Master was in excruciating pain and was not moving. He was unconscious, most likely, from the fall, hitting his head on the hard cement ground. Yajirobe wrapped his hands around the Daimyo’s body, picking him up. If the shooter wanted to get him, then so be it. The thought of his master hurt had erased any fear from Yajirobe’s mind.
Lo and behold, this was when the bridge decided to give out.
It started with a single creak, which became two creaks, and five creaks, and rose to louder and louder groans. Metal bent and the ground cracked further. Yajirobe looked behind him only to see the arc of the first tower flailing about madly in the wind, tweaking its position. It fell down the side, slamming into the water, flat. The other side followed not long after and then the middle gave out. It was right then Yajirobe realized he needed to get off that bridge.
He was not in the best of shape himself, but Yajirobe picked up the Master and slung him over his arm, trying to drag him forward as the bridge collapsed. It jarred him, sending them both forward, but Yajirobe maintained his position. He would not yield.
He and the Master reached the end of the bridge and they were thrown onto the ground again. Yajirobe had blood all over him, though he was not sure if it was his or the Daimyo’s. Suffice to say, when he turned around, he found himself to be on the edge of a cliff; the bridge entirely gone behind him. He looked down in the basin, the small part of the bridge that had fallen about ten feet below where he was, caving in on itself and creating a small peninsula pointing outward. On it, he saw the small, feeble figures of three boys clinging to the rocks. Brian especially was wandering discursively as if he had been pushed into this and not jumped into it. Yajirobe set down the Master, then ran down the slope after them, into the screaming wind looking for any source of help for his enormous predicament.
I really want to get some sleep. It’s 5 am. Not yet light out, but I can feel it coming. It’s crucial, really, at this point to go to bed. Otherwise, I guess it wouldn’t make much difference for me to stay up the night. The night is too hard to judge. I would have thought the hour to be no later than 2 am. But, like biting into a cookie only to find the chocolate chips are really raisins, I can see the true time laughing before face. But I cannot sleep, either way. The throbbing pain keeps me awake.
The halls smell of mandarin oranges and coffee; a rather foul stench that permeates throughout the walls and into my room. This is the doing of my roommates. I do not pay them much attention, or the attention I pay them is much less pronounced than I let on. They go about their daily routines, which mostly disinvolve me. This is not one of those.
I shudder as I open my door, only to find the stench has made up residence in here while I was gone. Ghastly. I can’t stop it. By the shelf, I set down my cup. There’s no one around to yell at me to get a coaster. In my room, I have my own rules.
My room is nothing worth mentioning. I like that it is carpeted. That’s nice. If it was wood or stone, I could not possibly play on the floor. It’s lucky because most of the floors are planked in wood. The walls and ceiling being no spot of reprieve. I think it’s all mahogany. Maybe cherry or walnut. I don’t know. I am no wood expert. My little room is the sole bearer of carpet.
The pain still hurts. I reach for my cup and take a drink, trying to out-taste what I am breathing in. I wonder if, at the end, the nothingness will be black. That’s what it usually is imagined as. That or white. Black would be dark. White would hurt my eyes. I would like something different… a pink nothingness. Eh, you won’t see anyone talking about that. And I can’t bring it up to her, or them. That is no surprise. I have no close friends, or really friends at all. I have some who attend to me, but they wouldn’t want to hear this. Nor would they engage me properly. I could go out and buy a person… well if they sell people, and I could have that person listen to me. Well, I guess I already tried doing that. That’s why I have them.
I walk over to my little table and sit down. I see the box, the small little wooden box, perched atop three books, all of which I am reading currently. No! That’s not right!
I jump up, my heart slowing to a crawl as I quickly listen around and feel the air for another presence. I did not place that box there. Somebody had been in my room.
I wheel around, sighting my entire room in a single gaze, taking it all in, and processing if anything else had been moved. No, none of it had.
I go back to the box. Only this had been moved, I was sure of that. I knew every centimeter of my room; all possessions were placed according to their worth and practicality, so that I, and only I, could tell the proper setup.
The first conclusion I reach is the servants. They could have been in here. Wait, no they couldn’t have. I locked the door. I have the only key. I told them no cleaning today. I step forward and open the box. It has two small hinges on the back side that swing it open as if it were a small treasure chest. Indeed, it held a prize to me.
The box was empty.
If I had emotions, I would probably feel angry now. Well, probably anxious too. I don’t know.
Inside, there had been a ball. It was round and I liked to throw it because it could not break. When I had found it, twelve years ago, it had been in on the river bank near my house. I had played with it and thrown it and done many other activities with it. It felt as if it was made of glass, but even dropping it had not destroyed it. Throwing it into a wall or crushing it with my force or using help to squeeze it, it had never broken. Of course, it had two other peculiarities that I have never seen before in a ball – it was translucent orange and had a face of seven stars. And I am fond of that ball.
Logically, if someone came for it, it would be gone. No one would move the box, take it out, and leave it. I looked under my bed and behind the table, but it was in vain – hopelessly hopeful to find the box had come out of my closet, flown to the table, and landed precisely on the third book and dropped the ball somewhere along the way. No it hadn’t.
The ball was my sole possession remaining from that time. The before time. Nostalgia is a powerful, chiefly underrated feeling, and it encompasses me fully now that I think about my ball. Damn, the pain is coming back again.
I stand back up and survey my room. The smell of oranges, which is rather pleasant on its own, has faded away to nothing but nothingness, leaving only the hideously repulsing smell of coffee. I feel dizzy from it. I stagger for a few moments before finding my footing and my chair. Why must it hurt like this?! I cannot think with the pain! My crippled dexterity aside, this inability to cope is worrisome.
When I go to sit down, the phone rings. I pick it up immediately.
“This is General Blue. The targets you have requested are dead. I have left the bodies as they lay, as you requested, Mister Daniel.”
“G-good to hear!” I say, but it is too upbeat. Faking emotions is sometimes hard, and I cannot judge correctly the tones of which to use.
“Is that all you request of us?” asks Blue.
“That is all I need of your services,” I say, this time in monotone. No, that was no good either. He’ll just think I’m uninterested in what he’s saying. I’m really not. He has fantastic news.
It’s their fault.
“Excellent, sir. I hope we at the Red Ribbon Army have satisfied you–”
I pull the phone away from my ear, holding it carefully with two fingers. Business must be listened to, but his advertisements and self-praise… I could do without those. People often talk to me as if I want to hear what they say. Some like to make small talk in favor of getting to know me. When we face one another, that is how you may learn about a person. Not through incessant talk. Such things are migraine-inducing.
I bring the phone back up to my ear.
“and if you ever need our services again–”
And back away. It’s amazing how grown men, and dogmatic ones too, like Blue, can fall so readily into the droning of their masters. Money is involved. That makes us all be polite, until he gets paid. Once he’s paid, he won’t bother to talk, and I won’t bother to listen. That’s not completely true. I am not listening right now, anyway.
Somebody knocks on my door. It annoys me to be bothered so early. It’s her, I know it is. I bring the phone back to my ear and interrupt Blue. I had read in books that interrupting a person is rude, and I should ‘avoid doing so at any measure’, except in the pursuit of aggrandized self-righteousness, but it can’t be avoided, “Thank you, General. Your services are much appreciated. If I ever need you again, I’ll be sure to call for you at once. Goodnight!”
Wait. No. It’s not night. It’s 5am. What do I do? Call him back up and say good morning? Just for that? No, that’d be weird. I couldn’t pull that off.
She knocks again. I have no name suitable for her level of annoyance.
I remember her and stand up, dragging my bad leg to the door as I slide the phone into my pocket. Doesn’t she know the time? I should be allowed to sleep. No disturbance. I have to heal. They can take the day off. They can leave me alone. They realize how I am. This is no time to bother me. Yet she does. She assumes I’m sleeping and (knowing that) comes to wake me anyway. If only she knew I have gotten none at all.
I open the door and beckon her in. If we consider everyone around me to be a chess piece, I could easily say she is a Bishop. A very powerful piece, but only if used correctly. I feel like I am both the Queen and the King. I created this plan alone, I acted on it alone, and my skill will make it successful… but that I cannot do alone. A Queen is the most valuable piece, but it cannot win alone. I need her. Even with a zwischenzug move, I’m not sure I could sacrifice her. The others, most of them could go. Not her.
Now I’m at the disadvantage. The retaliation for using the Red Ribbon will come soon. Maybe it already came. Maybe Makare came in my room and stole my little orange ball, himself. I wouldn’t put it past him.
No chance of knowing now.
She comes in, and we sit. I am not angry at her for knocking. Her business will unquestionably be very important.
Still, the pain is killing me.
As I can make it a perfectly accurate statement by the tally’s official headcount, I was made aware of the death of forty-nine solipsist monks on this day. On this glorious day.
Today was January nineteenth, in the Age seven hundred forty-nine.
Chapter 3: Mogul’s Whelp
They were like two cats fighting over a mouse, like two seagulls fighting over a single French fry, like a simile to some other poignant and esoteric third thing. Naigo and Makare were, for lack of a better word, training. However, as vivacity will soon reprise, their collective disparity was evident.
The clash of steel was to be expected. These two were well acquainted, so there was no need to train with simple Bokkuns. Naigo wore full armor when training, which made him look like a right Shogunate. Comparatively, Makare was clothed in meager rags, like an aged and ravaged oracle barely statured against the tall opponent. Makare attacked with a swipe, causing Naigo to recoil and defend. With speed, Makare ducked under the man and rolled through his legs. Standing back upright, he punched Naigo with the hilt of his katana. The taller man grunted in annoyance, before swatting Makare aside.
Makare brushed him off and rolled backward, tucking his katakana into his belly as he did. Naigo long-chopped at him – a mere staying attack that let the taller brute get closer again. Makare parried the attack, flipping his katana in a roll over the other and kicked up the dirt around him. He turned back around to see Naigo swinging again. He parried it, stepping back over a rock. Using this small abrasion in the ground, he turned himself slightly, causing both he and his opponent to move in a different direction now. This one, he had planned.
Makare blocked every attack Naigo offered. Nothing could get through his carefully watchful eyes. The taller brute held a strength advantage over him, however, so he could not exactly turn the tables by trying an attack of his own. Instead, Makare kept Naigo at bay, constantly readjusting his katakana to meet Naigo’s. Makare walked backward, ever so slowly so that Naigo would not notice what he was doing. It worked perfectly. They walked into place, which was no more than a quarter mile away from where they had started. Makare knew this land well. He had been meditating here for months. So when he felt the slush of damp mud hitting his boots, he knew he had won.
Makare leaped backward onto a piece of wood, dodging a particularly nasty attack. Naigo had stumbled forward because of this. His attack went un-parried, and thus his full weight drove him straight into the mud. He stood there, squelching and pulling at his feet to get them loose. This momentary annoyance gave Makare all he needed. The high ground aside, he sprung off the mossy wood and jumped to the side of Naigo. The man had watched him do this, so Makare was greeted with a face full of steel. He put his own sword up to stop that, and it pushed him off to the side. No matter, really, because now he was out of the mud. Makare landed softly on a knee and then stood up.
His quarry was still ripping, fruitlessly, at the mud that had suckered him in. His weighted armor had been the main problem here; dragging him down, it had proved positively unyielding. Makare walked up to Naigo’s back, and careful not to step in the mud, himself, he tapped the brute across the back of his neck with the katana. This simple tap proved immediately that Makare had won – for if this was a real battle, that would have been Naigo’s head. He stopped pulling at the mud, and sheathed his katana. Makare did likewise, and then helped his friend out of the sinkhole, and back onto the sandy ground.
“I should have known it was a trick,” Naigo sighed.
“Naturally, you say that now.”
Naigo ruffled his hair before continuing. “Was that spur of the moment?”
“Of course. I had hoped I could defeat you simply in a blow exchange, but you have grown much stronger than me. But I’m still smarter. So I’m still better.”
“Yeah, let’s see how that goes when I get my ki under control.”
“Yes, I would like an update on that, if you could.”
“The monks are showing me how to control it after I form it. They said once I master that, I can create individual attacks faster,” replied Naigo.
“And this will take a week?”
He nodded, “No more than that.”
Naigo began cleaning his boots of mud, first taking them off, then twisting them around his arm. He took out a dagger and began scrapping off all mud as he spoke, “You never told me what happened with that Launch girl.”
“She has not contacted me since we last saw her,” Makare said with his eyes closed.
“Do you think she’s dead?”
“Daniel would not stoop so low,” he replied, simply.
Naigo knew better than to pursue action on Daniel, so he kept quiet and scrapped his boots clean.
There is that reckless intent which may swallow up a man and spit him out again, as purchase to his wandering morality. Thy quarry’s heart blackened and lugubrious from years of insular gnawing – preying upon one’s thoughts as if they were perishable goods, no more cared for than the spoiled breads in their pantry. No more indebted to than by the shackles of their duties. No more wished upon than by their invocations to simply look away while the illusion of security fades around. This cycle – one of conceited importance – was but a glimmer of thought to them. A brief flicker every now and then of some coming shadow or coming evil which they could not place, yet could not completely deny.
Yajirobe was silent. His hands were padded heavily by thick woolen gloves. His ruddy, round face was steeled up against itself, thickly and completely rigid in tantrum to the cold. He held a sword in his hands, his right hand dominate, guiding each swing forward. The bokken, or wooden sword, was crafted in the exact likeness of a real sword. However, being hardly the pupils of the Master for a week, real swords were out of the question. The Master had promised them great rewards for their patience (what have you done for me lately?! Yajirobe thought), but swinging around a piece of wood did not encourage him much. In fact, these lethargic, painfully planned exercises were a detriment to his confidence. Twice now had Yajirobe proven himself to the Master. Twice had his life been in mortal peril. And twice had the fruits of his labor been callously cast aside like a common housewife.
It was not all the Master’s fault. Brian had brought up the brilliant (absolutely brilliant) idea that since the Master had been wounded, he was not able to bring his students about on the pace promised to them. And despite him being a fickle, enigmatic warrior, the Master would have surely given his thanks to Yajirobe for saving him, had he not been bedridden all this time.
Yajirobe slammed his bokken down, splintering wood and hay all over his hapless target. It was a humanoid shape, but that hardly meant anything. It could not fight back. It could not teach Yajirobe that he kept no guard, or that his tweaked his foot to the right when preparing a back swing. The servants watched, merely. They were not trained samurai. In fact, Yajirobe didn’t know who they were. There was the Master and Kumo, and the two of them were clearly samurai, but aside from that, there were no others. Surprising, really, for school like this.
As he continued to pound that target in front of him (which did nothing but mock and goad!), a hand fell on Yajirobe’s shoulder. He stopped, and immediately craned his neck around to see who it was. It was the Master. His long black hair was flying around him, madly, from the biting winds. He was not looking at Yajirobe, though there was instant understanding that this was a conversation.
“Yajirobe, stop,” he said, simply.
“W-what?” replied Yajirobe.
“I am going to jump-start our training today. We’re going somewhere different.”
“You mean we are going to do something important finally?”
“Oh, yes. Go call them for me,” the man said, and he sounded tired and distant.
Yajirobe did so.
The Daimyo began to speak once they had all huddled around him, “The last few days–”
“Who was it?!” Brian yelled.
“Who was…?” The Daimyo asked slowly.
Harotu scoffed, “You know what we’re talking about! The one who shot him.”
The Daimyo didn’t respond. On his face was a mixture of pain from his bullet wound, curiosity at his students vigor, and reservation to answer them.
“You never said anything about all of this being life threatening,” continued Brian.
“The risks were there at your first mission.”
“Not on the last one,” said Yajirobe. “We were bein’ hunted.”
The others nodded in agreement.
“Very well. The one pursuing us would be Makare,” replied the Daimyo, his eyes like saucers, but distant and uninterested, “He won’t be a problem again. I had not thought he would try something so base against children, but I expected too much of him. I won’t allow it to happen again. You can be assured.”
“But master–” Brain started.
“Follow me,” the man interrupted. “We have training today,” he then walked off, letting them either follow him or give up.
Fearful, silent, yet loyal, the remaining four boys followed their master out of the gate and down the long cobbled road back to the city.
They had not actually gone back to Orange Star City. On his way down before, Yajirobe had noticed many trees lining the road. He had not thought much of them at that time. However, before him and the others was now something of great importance. A property gate, barely showing itself from the leaves that decorated it so generously, must have led itself back into the trees and to some tucked away little house. Its importance was not made clear to Yajirobe. Still, he followed the others into it. As he walked through the gate, he felt ever so claustrophobic when the trees became close, and the road ever narrower. He made sure to hold onto his bokken tightly. The reaching branches would surely snag it otherwise.
The walk went on for what seemed like three hours (in reality, it was seven minutes). No one spoke during it, and since they were moving single file, the heeding social friendliness was thus abandoned.
They came up upon a ruddy mill. Around it were, perhaps, hundreds of large barrels. Almost all were closed. The Daimyo motioned them forward into this quiet place, and they obeyed. Yajirobe noticed the ground was soft and muddy, horribly muddy, and it got on his feet. He grunted in annoyance, though no one heard him. Not more than a dozen feet into this place, a voice yelled out:
“Who’s that?!” it said, and Yajirobe picked up that it was a boy’s.
“The Daimyo of Iboinoshishi,” the master responded, coolly.
“Huh? What’re you doin’ here?” it responded.
A moment later, a small figure jumped out of the mill’s window, and landed pristinely onto a barrel. His shining face, long, black curly hair, and high chin met the Daimyo without any hesitation. The two locked eyes, their manners quite resigned from Yajirobe and the others. Yajirobe swore he could hear the Daimyo whispering something under his breath to this kid, but if Yajirobe, with his brilliant hearing, couldn’t even discern the words, then this boy surely could not either. Yajirobe smirked. The kid was probably a novice hear-er.
Then the Daimyo spoke for real, and his voice was more direct than Yajirobe had ever known it, “I need one hundred fifty-seven barrels, Mark.”
“Yeah, what for?” the boy replied, spitting accidentally.
“I am going to a hill. Then I will roll all of them down the hill.”
“That’s good enough for me!” the boy responded, jumping off his barrel, and gesturing to the barrels around, “There’s about two hundred here anyway.”
The Daimyo nodded, and stepped forward, “Give this to your parents,” he said, quickly handing Mark a piece of paper.
Mark looked up at him, puzzled, but then opened the paper. His eyes went as wide as something which is wide, but he pocketed the note in the stead of speaking.
“Wait!” Mark shouted, “You can only take them if I get to come and watch!”
“You can watch.”
“Ha, you promised!” screamed Mark, wagging his finger at the Daimyo, “Now you can’t take it back! You can’t take it back!”
“I was not planning on it, Mark.”
“Good, because it was a promise.”
The Daimyo did not look at Mark as he sighed. Instead, he moved forward and began collecting the barrels. The four students followed him and moved the barrels together, sliding them easily through the cesspool of muck at their feet. What lesson they could possibly be learning, Yajirobe had no idea. Before he could muster up the courage to ask, however, Brian did so for him.
“Um, sir, what exactly are we doing with these?”
“We are going to a hill, and I will roll all of them down the hill. You will be at the bottom, and will dodge these barrels.”
“But that’s crazy!” Yajirobe said.
“Why?” asked the Daimyo.
“Because… it’s dangerous. Those barrels could kill us.”
“Then leave. The first lesson I was taught by the Old Master was how to dodge barrels. It was the first test he gave me,” the Daimyo said. “Awareness of your surroundings and immediate strategic deduction is very important for you to learn. If you can’t, you won’t get any real katanas.”
“Do we really need so many?” Harotu grumbled as he moved barrel after barrel into the conglomerate, “Seriously, can’t we just dodge a barrel each?”
And then there was silence. The four boys worked with their master to tie a rope around the barrels and line them up in rows of two each. Then, the five worked small groups of the barrels up out of the muck, and back down the road. They went further south from that position, until they found a nice hill and placed the barrels on top. After that, they went back and got the rest of the barrels, moving all of them in small groups of about twenty. It took them all of five hours, and Yajirobe was at least happy they had stopped for a well-respected luncheon of cheese and milk and crackers and ham halfway through. After lunch, they went right back to carrying all the barrels up that detestable hill. It almost made Yajirobe mad – he was disconcerted at the very least – that they would only be rolling these barrels down the hill in the end: all this force and all this work just to destroy them. But the others weren’t complaining, so Yajirobe did all he could to move his line faster than Harotu’s next to him.
The phlegmatic master was offset (and annoying-so in Yajirobe’s opinion) by the bumptious and energetic little kid who had given them the barrels. Mark spoke constantly, talking about his skill and finesse in readying the barrels all by himself. He had supposedly poured wine – for yes, all the barrels had liquid in them, making them much heavier – into each barrel today. Over two hundred of them.
“No you didn’t,” Yajirobe muttered.
“Huh, what was that?” said Mark, running over to the source of the noise.
“You didn’t do all this today.”
“Yeah, there’s no way you could have,” Brian said, agreeing.
“Shows you how much you know!” replied Mark, very aggressively, “Even ask Elijah!”
“Who?” asked Brian and Harotu together.
“He poured it all today,” said the Daimyo, who was walking solemnly at the front.
“Who’s Elijah?” Harotu asked Mark.
Mark nodded to the Daimyo with a devilish grin.
“Whoa, it’s true. He does have a country name…” Brian whispered to the others. Harotu and Nameless Child 2 nodded in collective awe.
Yajirobe, however, didn’t. So what if their master was from the country. Brian was too and Brian wasn’t even the best one. Yajirobe was the best. And he had a city name. Harotu had a city name too, and he was probably better than Brian…
Yajirobe thought these thoughts to himself, and kept them to himself. Before he knew it, all the barrels were on top of the hill. The six stood there, as the sun starting setting in the distance. It had literally taken them all day to do this. They were tired, grumpy, dripping with sweat, yet the master still wanted them to go dodge all these rolling deathtraps now?
“Can’t we do this tomorrow?” Yajirobe whined.
Brian, who was breathing rather hard and leaning over a barrel, looked up. “Hey, when the old master made you do this, how’d you get through it, sir?”
The Daimyo looked pensive for a moment, then took something out of his robes. He showed it to his students and Mark, “I used this.”
The small thing was an orange ball. It had seven stars on its face, and it was partially translucent. Yajirobe had never seen such a thing before.
“What’s that?” asked Harotu.
“This is my ball. I found it in the river when I was a small boy. When my master approached me to be his student, he allowed me to use this to throw at the barrels and break them before they could hit me.”
“But… how is it strong enough to not break?”
“I don’t know. Now, go down. The sun is setting, and this will be much more difficult in the dark.”
They needed no more encouragement to make haste down the hill. Even Yajirobe went without any last retorts. When they reached the bottom, the four turned around, shielding their precious eyes from the sun, which had lowered itself to right behind the standing figure of Elijah. The master raised his hand, and then let some barrels loose with his wakizashi (which is a shorter blade than the katana). They rolled down the hill with surprising force. Within moments, the four would have to come up with what to do. Yajirobe looked at the others, and gleaned little help from them. He turned back to face the barrels coming down.
“The master used his ball, so why can’t we use something too? Look, we have our bokkens, so let’s try using those,” Brian said, quickly.
He undid his bokken, and charged forward, before lowering himself to the ground with his feet and bokken extended ahead. As the first barrels came down, Brian plunged the point of his wooden sword forward. The force of this caused it to jar itself off course, flapping and flinging about wildly to the left, but away from Brian. Yajirobe would have tried this same thing as well, but there was no time. A barrel was right before him. So Yajirobe did the first thing that came to mind.
He jumped with all the force he could over the screaming barrel, propelling himself safely out of way. Despite his weighty size and comatose disposition, Yajirobe was actually quite nimble. Just as with his speed in getting Blue’s hat, Yajirobe surprised the others by having the ability to so easily jump about.
Harotu and Nameless Child 2 did the same thing as Brian, because they were regular humans. And as we all know, regular humans cannot jump like Yajirobe. Their success was, sadly, not as real as Yajirobe’s or Brian’s. Harotu perforated four barrels with great technique, spilling wine all over himself. But then, Elijah (their master) angled a few barrels from behind, and Harotu was not quick enough to turn. His next jab was quite sloppy and unprepared, leading his bokken to get stuck in the barrel and be ripped from his hands. He cried out curses after it, but nay it was gone, and he was defensively naked. Harotu quickly punched Nameless Child 2 in the shoulder.
“Hey, give me a lift into this tree.”
The nameless child agreed, as most nameless children do, and helped push Harotu up into a nearby tree. Verily it was that all four children took this challenge easier than Elijah had expected, and even as he removed the last of his barrels, he was quite impressed by the ingenuity, the quick wit of his students.
“Yeah, yeah! Hit him! HIT HIM!” screamed Mark, who was making hell of things. “Come on!”
Elijah finished with the barrels and the four children paused down below him. Mark’s screams for blood echoed through the forest, but were paid little heed. Elijah grabbed Mark by the shoulder and, pushing him down the hill, began to speak:
“Tell your brother Daniel that I would like to see him again. It’s been a long time coming,” said the Daimyo.
“Yeah, I’ll tell him if you keep giving me money like this!” said Mark in a rowdy voice, patting the pocket which held the paper Elijah had given him earlier.
“I will make sure of it,” the man promised.
The two walked down the hill; Elijah yet limping from his badly wounded leg.
Yajirobe had expected to sleep well that night. The training had been hard and laborious. The dinner had been amongst the best he had ever had. Wild boar was his favorite meat, and this night he had been granted all that he desired. But as he lay on his bed, he could not sleep. Brian’s legs dangled over the edge of the bed above Yajirobe, their shadows casting long, snake-like shapes on Yajirobe’s face. He simply could not sleep like this.
Yajirobe stood up, preparing to walk out, when a shape caught the edge of his eye. It was Harotu, who Yajirobe liked to think as the less annoying of the two. At least he had been so far. Harotu came up to Yajirobe and, in a silent whisper, urged him to talk about something. The two of them quietly exited the bedrooms and went out into a small corridor to talk. Yajirobe was only doing this so as to not cause an argument and thus wake the others. Really, he had no plans to talk to this city-boy.
“So yeah, I couldn’t sleep either. I was thinking, you know, about how we never really do anything together. We should make this fun. We can, if we want.”
Yajirobe grumbled an affirmation of Harotu’s request, hoping that would shut him up. Sadly, it did nothing of the sort.
“Well, we could go to the city, don’t you think?”
“What’s in the city that’s so great?” lamented Yajirobe, thinking only of the closed meat shop he once beggared in.
“Lots of places.”
That settled it.
Yajirobe did not argue again. Instead, he walked over to the corner of the room, in hopes that Harotu would leave. He just wanted a peaceful night to himself, without all the others around asking questions, making him do this or that, or just talking for no reason. That was the worst. Talking for no reason at all, like right now. It made him so mad.
“You aren’t even going into town, so why bring it up?” Yajirobe said, heatedly.
“I really will, but not alone… that would be pretty lame.”
“So get Brian or that other kid to go with you.”
“Get me to go where?” said a new voice, opening the door as he talked.
Oh kami, Brian was awake now. The whole night was ruined. Yajirobe barely hid his scowl from them. He genuinely hated this inane social way of doing things.
“Oh, Yajirobe and I were just talking about going into the city tonight. You know, we couldn’t sleep and all.”
Like HFIL he was, Yajirobe thought fiercely.
“Oh, really? What are you doing there?”
Harotu and Brian worked out the details before Yajirobe’s horrified eyes. Even the nameless child 1 woke up and began helping them with what to do. At first, they wanted to go and try get into a movie for free. Then, they wanted to get something to eat. Then, they wanted to go visit Harotu’s family. Yajirobe felt the three zeni in his pocket and was ashamed that if he was ever forced to go with them, he would not have the money to pay for anything. It was something, however, that he could never bring up.
Then, the three continued their planning and they came to the conclusion they wanted to go back to the place they stole Blue’s hat. Then, they mentioned stealing a car as a way to get there faster.
And that moment was the singular electric jolt that was needed to get Yajirobe involved. If there was one cardinal fault to his anti-personality, it was his obsession, almost drug-like high that came with stealing and driving cars.
“I’ll steal a car,” Yajirobe chipped in, causing the others to stop their brainstorming and look at him.
“Really, you know how?” asked Harotu, with wonder.
“Yeah, I do it all the time.”
And he had never even been caught before. Yajirobe would show these simpleminded children how it was done.
They made their way up the now familiar path to the city. It was probably 2 am, but they were all awake. The mere thought of sneaking out and doing something on their own had propelled them into an anxious, adrenaline-fueled state of recklessness and poor judgment.
They found an old squatter, a rusting car, just inside the gate, and Yajirobe began his magic. Playing the part of professor was something new, but not altogether bad, and as he showed them crossing the wires and jump-starting the hovercar with a simple click, they admired him mightily. The three piled in behind Yajirobe, and he began driving. For Yajirobe had driven a car before, even though he was only fourteen, and he considered himself better at it than almost any legal driver.
They went off, cackling, laughing, and making a riot of themselves, down the street. Surprisingly, the streets were not abandoned; there were people out and about, even this late at night. Nevertheless, Yajirobe did not slow down; instead, he sped up. His logic to this doing was simple – the faster he got there, the less people he’d run over.
By the time they had gotten to the town center, Yajirobe was dripping with sweat. Not only had he managed to avoid hitting anyone (as people were generally able to scream and run out of the way in time), but he avoided any cops as well. With only three zeni to his name, he would not have been able to pay a ticket. Not to mention explaining why he was driving a stolen car.
Yajirobe came into the center as if he was an ice skater on an oil slick. It didn’t help that the other three were nonchalantly singing and banging about behind him. They all had really bad voices. But Yajirobe careened, nonetheless, forward. He quickly applied the brake, then the emergency brake, but it was no use. The momentum gained previously had done too much damage to be rectified by pressing a single button. The car was out of control; Yajirobe was simply a front seat onlooker, literally.
The car slammed itself into a tent, flipping over several times, before bringing down the walls. Upon hitting a large, upright black box, the car stopped and whiplashed the boys into submission. It was upside down, as Yajirobe soon realized. His door was up against the point of impact, so he shoved through the seatbelt, pushing Harotu, who was sitting next to him, out his own door. They had been cut by the broken glass, all of them had. At least no one was singing anymore. Well, that was a lie. Because when Yajirobe and Harotu stumbled out of the flipped car, they heard a singer. And as Yajirobe had thought the children to be poor in quality and timbre, he was not prepared for this disharmonic onslaught to hit his ears.
“Your world is my world!” it said, before stopping. Then a sound came from the giant upright box – a banging of sorts, which caused karaoke music to come out again. When it did, the singer resumed, “And my fight is your – no! Come back on!”
The sound went off again. Evidently, a car crashing into a karaoke machine can damage it pretty bad. Behind Yajirobe, the two other boys came crawling out of the car, coughing up blood and looking quite dazed. But even when they heard the singing, they became intensely curious. The four limped forward, and around the machine to see who this phantom singer could be.
The machine briefly came on again, and the singer continued, “My breath is your breath! And your heaaaaaaaaaaart!”
Yajirobe had never heard such bad music in his life. The sound went off again, and they heard a distinctively varying set of curse words follow. Then, they came around and saw who it was. General Blue, the man who had caused so much mental anguish to this lot previously, was standing there, making a fool of himself.
The general grew impatient at his faulty music device. He ripped out his pistol, and fired four shots into machine.
It gave a few mechanical chirps, but nothing else.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaah! Stupid machine!”
A few of his soldiers comforted the man, telling him all would be okay. They would find another karaoke machine, yes they would.
“Don’t worry even if things end up a bit too heavy, sir. It’ll be all right,” one soldier said.
“Yes, yes you are right. It’s just a machine, I…”
Blue turned his moist eyes to the four bloody boys standing in front of him. A mixture of emotions rippled over his face. Seeing what had happened to his music – fully the responsibility of the car which had just crashed into it – not to mention remembering this children from their days of sedition against his mantle of power. He had been made a fool once by them, and here he was again being pulled into the familiar fold. Not this time.
Blue did not shout, he did not cry, he did not speak. He sneered a hideous feint of reprisal and aimed his pistol at the four boys. And none of them were in any condition to beg or run.
Launch should have been in a better mood, considering she had just single handedly accomplished Makare’s goal of exterminating the Iboinoshishi Samurai School. But the Red Ribbon army was in town. She had had various amounts of experience with them before. Indeed, they had even hired her once for a recon mission. But the soldiers here were obviously not busy with any mission as they were just lounging around, creating pandemonium for all the locals. Launch included herself in the category of the deeply disturbed, as she could not even call Makare because of how loud they were.
Launch would have called Makare as soon as the op had finished, but it being so far away from her position, and being of such great magnitude, she had erred on the side of caution, and inspected the fallen bridge herself. Not finding any bodies, yet finding plenty of blood had fully convinced her. Now she was back from that and ready to give the good news. She took out her phone and began dialing.
She happened upon a street and took a left, walking down the adjacent sidewalk. She began dialing up Makare. There was a single man singing ahead of her – and he was quite repulsive – but Launch liked this song. Instead of finishing the phone number, she began humming and singing along.
“When I met you girl, my heart went knock knock… Now them butterflies in my stomach won’t stop stop…”
And then a hovercar came screeching into view. Launch ducked into a side alley and heard the calamity of the wreckage. The music abruptly stopped, and smoke filled the air. She coughed and winced as she peeked her head around the wall to see what had happened. No bodies anywhere, no general panic. These soldiers were too much. Nothing phased them.
Launched fixed the strap to her sniper rifle on her back, and went back into the alley. At least with the music stopped, she could call now. And call she did. Makare was notoriously bad at answering his phone, and often times Launch would have to either call him again four to five times, or just leave a message. He wouldn’t take any time away from his all-important meditation, even for something of this gravity. So, she left him a message.
“I’ve killed all them like you said. Four kids and one man. I better see that money in my account tonight,” she said swiftly, then hung up the phone.
She then gathered herself up and walked out, trenchantly satisfied. The car was still smoking, and the karaoke machine was still broken. Now, there were four boys standing in front of the wreckage, unmoving, facing away. They were all as solicitous as they were injured. Launch stopped, her heart skipping a beat. No, these were not just any four kids. She knew the fat one from when she almost shot him a few days ago.
“What? You can’t be serious. They’re alive?!”
Launch flushed with a combination of anger and embarrassment. She never promised a lie. If Makare got her message, and these kids got away, she’d have lost more than just the money for her bullets. Pride was a hefty commodity which she could not afford to be lost.
Launch un-shouldered her sniper, and quick-sighted at the boys. At this range, only a few dozen feet, she wouldn’t need calibration. She dropped to her knees. This would have to be quick. If the soldiers saw her aiming a weapon in their general vicinity, they would react poorly.
Before she could fire her shot, a gunshot opposite her rang off. Immediately, she suspected the shot to be at her and rolled away into cover. When no additional shots followed up, she came back out and looked through her sight at what happened.
One boy was on the ground, dead, blood pooling rapidly around the head. The other three were already running away. Damnit, she couldn’t let them get away. Launch got on her feet, and slugged forward, her expensive rifle swinging dangerously in her hands.
She caught up to one of the boys easily. He was a skinny boy with dirty blonde hair. She slammed the butt of her rifle into his face, but he ducked, causing Launch to fling herself forward helplessly. As she hit the ground, he came back at her, kicking her in the side of the head. Launch growled angrily, and stood up. She abandoned her rifle for a knife. Looking around for the boy, she held the murderous device in her hand. She was going to get him.
Then a second shot went off. Launch desperately looked about for which boy was dead now. Only no boy was dead. No boy was shot. It was Launch who was shot. She gasped sharply, falling to her knees and dropping her knife. Blood flowed out of her shoulder. She felt none of it. Clearly, she was slipping into shock. No, she couldn’t leave herself like this. The soldiers or the police would kill her. She had to get away.
Launch crawled forward, grasping her shoulder in one hand and her sniper rifle in the other, when she saw a man, followed by his guards run past her. That was who shot her. That was who needed to die. Though she was light headed, Launch could work her hands properly enough. She lay in her blood, if that could hamper her; the sniper rifle came upright, and fired.
Yajirobe felt as if he was suspended in glass. Blue being here again… no this was impossible. Of all the unlucky things in his life, this was the worst, and this would most surely cost him the most. Blue had a vengeful face that threw out the window any chance of pleading. It was just a matter of if he missed.
Yajirobe’s suspension was shattered like the glass he felt he was in, and deep shards cut into his mind and courage. Blood splattered across his face as he and others screamed. He could not hear his voice or anything at all, except the ringing of the gunshot. Immediately, he turned and ran.
He was not sure if more shots rang off, but it felt like they were nipping at his heels. The blood that was all over him now was not even his own, and he could not discern any actual wounds he possessed from his numb body. Yajirobe skidded around a corner, and went into a store. He flopped over himself as he ran into an aisle, cutting his face on it. He stood up again, and looked around. Harotu was with him. Evidently, neither was dead, and they just sat there, hiding behind an aisle of food product, waiting for the soldiers and Blue to not find him.
Neither could talk. Surely someone was dead, but if it was Nameless Child 2 or Brian, they knew not. Pedestrians looked on at these two bloody boys with scared and frightful faces. Some came to aid, asking what they could do to help. But there was nothing to be done. Yajirobe shivered. He didn’t know about Harotu, but for him, he was too scared to cry.
That last boy, the one with the white shirt, ran just out of sight. As Blue ran after him, shooting his pistol, he heard two loud cracks behind him. His two men were thrown forward, bloody and dead. He turned around, puzzled at what could possibly be against him at this hour. There was a woman, one whom he had accidentally shot moments earlier, and she was on the ground. But she had a rifle in her hands, which was smoking. Blue growled furiously at his oversight not to see her as a threat when he originally ran past. Now he would end her.
Blue shot at her and missed completely. He went to shoot again, but found his magazine empty. Before he could reload, she shot at him. He ducked, dropping his gun, and rolled toward her. Before she could move the sniper to aim again, he ran right to her, kicking her across the face, sending her flying back. He went to grab her weapon, in order to kill her, but she was surprisingly able to attack back.
Launch jumped up and punched Blue in the gut. He tried kicking her away, but she easily sidestepped, ramming her elbow down on his exposed thigh. Blue cried out in pain, then tackled her. The two rolled back, trading dominance over and over again.
“Foolish woman! Don’t touch me!” Blue sputtered. He grimaced, before touching her throat with his bare hands. To think, such a sickening gender existed, and that here he was forced to touch it. He was nauseous. This indecision, however, gave Launch ample room to counter. She interlocked hands with the general, pushing him against the asphalt inexorably. He pushed himself off Launch, giving the two enough time to stand up. Panting hard, Blue didn’t realize that his folly in not pursuing was in the fact that Launch was still armed.
Launch unhooked her snub pistol from the back of her belt and aimed it at Blue. Blue looked up just in time to see the woman shooting at him. He put his hands up in defense, blocking most of the feeble bullets with his body armor. Only once was he nicked, and even then it was just a flesh wound.
Launch abandoned her useless pistol, throwing it aside. She held her wounded shoulder gingerly as she circled Blue. Blue knew that if he fought her again in hand-to-hand, he would surely win. She had two points to her disfavor; one being her wounded arm; the other being that she was clearly an inferior woman.
Blue’s blind misogyny aside, he was careful to attack her right away. She could have more tricks he did not know of. But before he could strategize any duplicitous way of gaining victory, Launch had done something herself. Swinging a chair from a nearby restaurant (which we can all guess had tables outside), she threw it at Blue. He was not expecting this kind of thing from a woman, and thus had left himself unprotected. The splinters landed all over him, cutting and spearing him. He screamed out with rage. This was it.
Blue charged Launch as she readied another thing to throw at him. This time, a ketchup bottle of hard glass struck him in the face, breaking his nose instantly. He was knocked dizzy, stopped, and let Launch, well, launch herself at him. He barely understood what was going on when he hit the hard ground with the back of his head and she wrapped her contaminated woman-hands around his throat. He flipped over, and rolled into a table, but Launch was the more conscious.
She continued choking him as he just sat there gagging about like a suffocating fish. Where his other soldiers were, he couldn’t guess. But Blue knew if he ever got out of this, they would all be executed personally by him for letting him be murdered by a woman. He tried kicking at her, but he just hit another table, causing it to flip over. The contents flew off, hit the two fighters, and covered them in salt and pepper.
Blue couldn’t see or hear or think. He gasped free, suddenly, as Launch had let go for unknown reasons. He stumbled away, trying to get on his feet, when he looked back. He saw no blonde-haired woman about. The pedestrians were all unmoving and afraid, be it this black-haired man, or that blue-haired woman. He had no idea what happened, where she had gone, or why he was alive. He could have been unconscious for several minutes for all he knew.
Blue still saw stars in front of his waking eyes, no matter how many times he tried to blink them away. He had won, though. He did not know how, but he had beaten that woman. Serves her right.
Blue walked away from the wreckage, over the dead body of Nameless Child 2, not remembering how this whole fiasco had even started.
“No!! Oh, no!! No!!” Naigo bellowed with the rage of all those who rage at things which are rage-worthy.
He stood, alone, inside the mountain. This was the place of his training, where queer solipsist monks had trained him in the art of ki control and manipulation. Surely, he was just supposed to get another lesson. In vain was it, really. For what lay around him were the bodies of the monks. Dead. Shot. Bloodied. No survivors.
Naigo bellowed again, throwing his boot at the far wall. Seething with fright (at what to do now?) and the hatred of Daniel for betraying him so, he could do only one thing: call Makare. It was a good thing he knew how to work a phone.
“We have a problem.”
“Really? I just got a message from Launch that was quite surprising. Although, further efforts to contact her have proved–”
“No, you fool! Not Iboinoshishi! Me! My monks! They’re dead! Daniel did it!” Naigo spit. “All of them are just here… dead!”
“No survivors?” asked Makare, unconcerned.
“Would I call if I had survivors?!” Naigo screamed, echoing his voice threefold in the dank cave.
“No, obviously not.”
“What do we do?!”
“How close were you to mastering your ki? Percentage-wise.”
“About halfway,” Naigo said, slower, calming down.
“Good. You know what it is they were teaching you correct? They have it in their manuscripts?”
“You can teach yourself, can’t you? Grasping the basic concepts already, it should be easy to read what they have put down and follow it to gain enlightenment.”
Naigo didn’t respond for several seconds. His hoarse breathing continued, however, in irregular bursts.
“Is that not an option?” Makare asked.
“I can do it,” responded Naigo, simply.
“All right, good. Then we should have little trouble. I’m glad I reminded you of the records before you burnt the place down.”
Makare continued in his monotone, uncaring voice, “There is one more thing I need you to do. Even if Launch has lied to me about killing all the boys and killing Elijah, I need you to rally all of your men to the cave. We will take up camp there.”
“Why? You said we didn’t need anybody before.”
“If Daniel really ordered the killings, we will have to deal with him afterward. Besides, with the monks gone, I will simply use your men as a failsafe.”
“So what? The Daimyo could kill them all, even at once!”
“He could, but his pupils could not. Leave them to your men. Leave him to us. Do you understand?”
There was a brief pause, as Naigo spit again, “I understand.”
“I will be there soon. If there are bodies, please be sure to get rid of them before I meet you.”
With that, Makare ended the call.
“Yeah, I’ll be sure all right,” Naigo leered at the monks who could no longer hear him.
He paced about for several moments, before drawing his wakizashi. Naigo sat down on a rock, looking down at the bloody back of one of the monks. He twirled his blade casually over the dead man’s back, absentmindedly looking over the whole room. It was lit still by torches, implying this had occurred only recently. How recently could not be known. If only it had been during his training. He would have personally disemboweled any assassin Daniel had paid.
Suddenly, Naigo jabbed his wakizashi into the back of the man, spilling blood all over his hand. He crooked his hand around, swinging it into an upright motion, causing the body to spin up in the air, and land again on his blade. Naigo stood there, his hand outstretched, with a dead monk on his knife, bleeding through him.
“I’m going to eat you tonight.”
As one can surely deduce by this point, I am on neither side. Kami help me.
Today was February first, in the Age seven hundred forty-nine.
Chapter 4: I Love The Monkey Head
Appliances have gone berserk. I cannot keep up. Treading on people’s toes… It’s all their fault, really. Makare is going to kill me (if he finds out), and Elijah watching over my little brother, Mark. Not to mention, someone stole my ball. Well, they should know better. Both of them should. These samurai need me more than I need them. I am no ally to them. They need me.
I make sure no one is around while I do this. If that brute Naigo finds me, I’m dead. Simple as that. I can’t let this go through, however. Without some assurance, without some backup plan, I am a fool. I place another charge on the stalactite to my left. Yeah, I’m in the cave I ordered General Blue to kill a handful of monks. I don’t know where they went, but the bodies aren’t here right now. Lucky for me.
I have coated all of the explosives in a thin veil of dirt to hide them from sight. I’m sure no one will see them. There are twenty-eight in total, and all are in place. If I activate them, they will collapse this cavern and kill Makare, Naigo, and all their men. Then, I roll over and carefully creep out from behind the rocks. I make sure none of them are looking – and they aren’t. There are only a few stragglers off on the other side, and it looks like they are still putting up camp. Good thing I got here before the main bunch did.
I carefully crawl out of the opening, and stumble back onto the trail. Igaron Mountain is a beautiful place, really. I’m sure I’d like it more if my twisted ankle wasn’t still hurting like a badger in a beehive.
My understanding with Makare is simple: I give him money, he doesn’t destroy my winery. He doesn’t kill my brother Mark. He leaves us out of the land squabble. Really, that sounds worse than it is. Without my resources, he couldn’t pull of any sort of attack on the Academy anyway, but I’m still worried he will break under the pressure and come after me.
Elijah is more difficult for numerous reasons. One, he’s not as bloodthirsty as Makare. I don’t think he cares about anything. His parents owned our land before us, so he has always retained an interest in my dealings. Of course, when I found a small orange ball in the house, he was quick to request it, but I never gave it to him. Now it’s gone.
The monks are dead. I ordered it. If only they had killed Naigo too, that would have been really special. That crazed monk-samurai-whatever is too unstable for me. If he somehow learned what he said he was going to… well, that’s why I’m here. Once he gets out of control, I press my button, give the voice command, and the explosives go off. Ideally, all of them will be in there when it happens, but if not, I have other ways to finish them off. Too bad the Red Ribbon soldiers couldn’t stay around. Blue gave me notice that they needed to leave on a separate assignment to find some Dragon Balls. Whatever those are.
As I walk down the mountain, careful not to trip on my bad leg, I look out over Orange Star City. A long, uninterrupted section of smoking grey is manifesting itself over the northern sector. I sigh. I don’t know what the good General is up to. At the very least, the commotion is nowhere near my house.
The mayhem and paranoia that accompanies the army makes me to be happy that I live in the town center. Wherever the army goes, they will bring some type of drama with them. That can be assured. I know it from personal experience. Last time the Red Ribbon was near my house, and some kids broke onto my property and stole some fruit from my trees.
Snot-nosed little punks.
There was a fire creeping up, ensnaring the paper with its brightness. In no more than a moment, the dead, black piece of paper fell to the ground, and what ash remained of it smoldered over itself. It fell into a pile of likewise ash, but much of what already lay was quite cold.
The lighter sparked again, sending another burst of flame into a thus un-tampered with piece of paper, and the cycle began anew.
Harotu was sitting inside a building, though to call it that anymore would be an overstatement. The windows were shattered, and the door was long missing. Inside, the aisles of food and parcels were thrown about; several rows had collapsed in on themselves, and there was a white dust coating all of it. Harotu was pinned up against the back of a fallen row of canned food, peeling pieces of paper off and setting them on fire with his own lighter. He bowed his head as a little more of the ceiling caved in above him.
There were a few other refugees inside, namely the shop owner himself, but they kept to the far wall. Yajirobe was sleeping, covered in debris, in the far corner. Only Harotu seemed to be conscious. He glanced over at his fellow samurai-wannabe, then threw a can of soup at him. Yajirobe grunted awake, and scowled over at him.
“They’re gone. We can go,” Harotu replied.
“Yeah, I’m not going anywhere,” Yajirobe said, gruffly. He rolled over, his back facing Harotu, and did not speak again.
Harotu hopped up, pulled his grey hoodie over his face – nestling him into a chelonian state – and ventured out into the streets. Though it was, as previously said, only half past one, the district was silent. There were none out in the open, except those who were lying dead, bleeding long lines into the sewer bars. Harotu had not, at first, deemed the damage to be so severe – he had thought Blue’s tantrum was local. But not like this. This was bad. In front of him, as he squinted his eyes out of irritation of the floating dust, Harotu saw, clearly, the gaping maw of destruction lent itself not only to a small section of just outside the shop, but perhaps a third of the entire city.
Jagged gash marks had torn through the buildings in diagonally straight lines. Only, it hadn’t been from something as non-piercing as bullets, but it was full-on artillery that had to have been used. Nothing over two stories was even standing, and that which was was barely in as good condition as the shop he had just wandered out of. Blue and the army were gone. There was no trace of their uniforms. Harotu had seen the insecurity in Blue’s eyes last night. The only reason he would have done this would be to show his soldiers that he was still worthy of being their leader. Or maybe not.
Harotu felt his lighter again while he walked. The dust that littered the air, like some time-encapsulated bit of flower thrown about, made him feel cut off from that which was around him. The amount of it was enough to block out the sun, so it was like night while Harotu walked further. And it was barren, the city was. Not a single living person had he come upon. Had he not seen with his waking eyes Yajirobe and the huddled masses of peasant families, he would have thought this place cleanly exterminated.
More dead lay before him, unattended to, like the sultry remains of a popsicle long forgotten. Harotu stopped here, unshouldering his backpack and popping open the zipper before pulling out a hook-shaped object. He ran his nimble fingers over it, feeling the grooved base for the string. Upon finding it, he pulled the lighter out of his pocket. Pushing it up against the string, Harotu clicked it open, sparking up a flame, and igniting the string. But he did not dare let it go just yet. The timer of a regular shell, such as the one he had in his hand, had a duration of over thirty seconds. Simply throwing it away would ruin the whole point of what he was doing. He needed to get his mind off of the death in this city, and there was no better way than to indulge in his pyromania. There was no better way to vent.
There was still time. Long years of messing with fireworks had taught him well.
Having carefully counted down the seconds before the firework went off, Harotu flung it at a broken window. Then, it burst in a brilliant flash of red. It echoed down the streets several times and for a moment he forgot everything. Then the streets once again went silent. No doubt the surviving citizens around would think this as no more than another bomb.
There was, before the debris of Harotu’s firework had even touched the ground, a noise of movement to the boy’s left, causing him to lose track of the falling remnants. Spinning around, he saw someone pushing their way out of a pile of refuse.
That figure was dazed, sullen-faced, and covered in grime. He stumbled out of the shambling door that had thus prior been his place of refuge. His dirty blonde hair was sticking up in all directions, his white shirt was torn, his elbows were red with dried blood, but there was no mistaking – at least to the ever perceptive Harotu – that this was Brian. He was alive. Why he was here, so far away from where Harotu and Yajirobe had holed up, was not as clear. There were two dead Red Ribbon soldiers at Brian’s feet, and they were the only two Harotu had seen killed. It would be too awkward to bring it up, though.
Brian made a calm approach toward Harotu, but quickly abandoned any sort of communication. He would not so much even look at Harotu. Brian did do one thing; he held out his hand, palm up, toward Harotu and spoke a broken, cracked sentence:
“Give me one.”
Harotu smirked, and pulled another shell out of his backpack.
It was midday before Yajirobe was conscious. His stomach was grumbling again, putting him in a freshly foul mood as he awoke. Sitting up, he was quickly reminded where he was – the half destroyed grocery store. He was surprised to see Harotu was back, for after his departure prior, Yajirobe was not in the mood to speak with him again. Nevertheless, this being a grocery store meant there were ample amounts of food around. The owners wouldn’t mind if Yajirobe took a few things.
Upon seeing Yajirobe moving, Harotu slid off the far table and ran over.
“So yeah, we were thinking it was time to leave now.”
“Back to the Academy?” Yajirobe asked.
“Yeah. It’s going to take a while, so we better start now.”
Yajirobe pocketed a few bags of chips before continuing. “We need breaktist first.”
“Are you serious?!” Yajirobe began, winding himself up into kami knows what. “Breaktist is the most important meal of the day. Figures some stupid kid like you wouldn’t know a thing about it.”
“You mean breakfast…” said Harotu, hiding a laugh.
“That’s what I said,” Yajirobe mumbled, turning a bit red.
“Alright, we’ll get some food first. You have money, right?”
Yajirobe had three zeni to his name. Instinctively, he reached in his pocket, where he always kept them and found the precious coins to be undisturbed. He looked back and nodded to answer Harotu. He only hoped whatever they were getting to eat wouldn’t cost more than that.
They gathered up Brian and walked out. They didn’t speak about last night. Harotu wore his hoodie. Brian stumbled along, looking at the ground, and as vacantly as ever. And Yajirobe led them forth, as he ever would.
By the corner of Tanner Street, on the holding property of a relinquished weapons depot now stood a two story hobnob diner. As any sane mind could tell, the owner of this fine establishment was clearly foreign – or at least lost in the past, as the building’s bright neon lights (of enthusiastic lunchtime deals of which there were no comparison!), its sparkling pink paint, and its wide-windowed walls which offered many a glimpse inside were not only alien to the normally reserved people of this city, but also positively bizarre. Compared to the drably blue coloured buildings around it, which were as unassuming as they were imposing, it should come as no surprise that the three wandering boys chose this place to eat.
Yajirobe ordered the waitress to give them a booth. He was not sure if Harotu was homeless, like himself, or if he had never been to a restaurant. But Yajirobe made it explicitly clear that he would dine only at a booth. And the waitress happily obliged, and led them further in, to the back of the first floor, and to an otherwise unoccupied area. Yajirobe was already on good terms with her for this.
After they had gotten their menus, and looked over what to get, Yajirobe realized the brevity of his situation. Seeing these prices, there was nothing he could buy with three zeni. He made several quick glances over to the other two to see if they were similarly distressed. Harotu appeared not, but his squinting eyes and slack jaw rarely gave any emotional tell. Brian had not so much as opened his menu; instead he had his head down on the table, eyes closed.
Yajirobe was not a very proud person, nor was he inclined for arrogance. Still, asking either of them for money to eat was out of the question. He looked back down at the menu. He was starving. It wouldn’t be right to go hungry. His ears were getting hot and his neck began to sweat. There was simply no way of getting around it. He would have to ask one of them.
The waitress returned at that most inopportune moment, and Yajirobe was cut off from making the embarrassing request. She smiled at them with that I’m-so-happy-even-I-can’t- believe-it type of look before asking their orders. Harotu’s was simply staggering. He named plate after plate of food, and by the end of it, Yajirobe was sure he’d spent over a thousand zeni. No way he had that much. Well two could play at that game. Yajirobe ordered a full ham, honey glazed, and figured if Harotu could do overspend, so could he. This was assuming they were going to pay at all. Brian shook his head solemnly when the waitress asked him for anything. Then, she left, with that same sickly smile upon her face.
“Do you actually have that kind of money?” Yajirobe grunted out to Harotu as soon as she was gone. His voice was a little too curious.
“Of course not, but I’m hungry. Why? Do you?”
Yajirobe slit his teeth, “No way, man.”
Harotu nodded, “Then we’ll bail after. No big deal.”
Yajirobe turned to respond to the boy next to him, when he caught a look at a photo hanging from the wall. This diner had many like it; most were in black and white, but this one was different. It was in color, but more importantly Yajirobe knew the man. He had seen him before. The curly red hair and devilish grin were unmistakable. He was shirtless, and posing for the picture, showing off his sharp muscles. His hands were covered in boxing gloves. He knew this man from somewhere.
Yajirobe had forgotten what he and Harotu were discussing.
Within minutes, Yajirobe snapped out of his pondering. Several employees had to be called to carry all of the food the two boys had ordered. And whilst gormandizing all of it with little reprieve, Yajirobe saw his waiter come to check on them.
“Is everything going all right?” she asked.
Yajirobe dropped his fork and pointed a fat finger to the picture to his right, “Who is he?”
She fluttered for a moment, “Uh, oh that’s Daniel Parroda. He’s the regional lightweight boxing champion.”
Yajirobe breathed in sharply. He remembered. This was the man Yajirobe had encountered in the street. He was the man who had given Yajirobe the flyer for the Samurai School. He was the very same man who Yajirobe had made trip and cry. And even his last name was vaguely familiar.
“Daniel Parroda. That names familiar.”
Harotu shook his head, “Never heard of him.”
“We took that fruit from his yard when we stole the hat,” Brian replied, muffled by his arms over his face. “My mother knew him too; she used to take me to his house for dinner.”
Yajirobe could not grasp why this man, this champion boxer had been out throwing papers around to people in the streets. And Brian knew this man already. There was something wrong here, but there wasn’t time to deal with it.
The waitress returned and asked for the bill, swiftly returning the anxiety and embarrassment to both Yajirobe and Harotu. They didn’t have the money to pay. However, just as they were stuttering out explanations, Brian raised his hand. In it, he held a check: for in his sloppy handwritting, Brian had scrawled an amount for over 11,000 zeni. That was more than Yajirobe and Harotu had spent together, though they breathed not a word about it. And the waitress took it, and there was nothing said.
Yajirobe couldn’t so much as look at Brian. Why did he have to go and do that to Yajirobe? Brian could have told them he was paying, not just come up with it at the last moment, when the other two had not the money in the first place. However, Brian was now sitting up and looking about. His eyes were trained on something, and for a few seconds he stared at it, unblinking. And then what color remained in his face, drained instantly.
“There are some guys watching us,” he whispered in a hoarse voice.
“What?” Harotu responded too quickly.
“To the left,” Brian nodded.
They all looked, and saw them. Where prior this area of the diner had been utterly vacant save for their presence, several others had slid in and taken seats near them. Clearly, this was the first moment Yajirobe had noticed.
The two watching were men of scant age with swarthy, sneering faces. They left their eyes bare to watch the boys, even as the students stared back. They did not seem to ever look away. Coupled with their collective filth, and dark clothing, these two held an ominous presence.
“Let’s get out of here,” Yajirobe said.
“What, do you think they’re dangerous?” Harotu asked again.
“Of course they are,” Brian wheezed. “They’re probably soldiers.”
“They don’t look like soldiers–”
“Shut up Harotu!” Brian whispered, even more agitated now. “We have to go!”
Yajirobe placed his eyes firmly on these two men. They had clearly been watching him for a reason, and even now they were staring with empty, vapid eyes.
“Then I’m going first. Just wait a few seconds before following,” he said with all the authority he could muster.
Then, Yajirobe inched himself out of the booth. He was careful to not look again at the men, instead focusing his eyes on the less-conspicuous waitress standing to their left. Neither moved as he did so, which made Yajirobe sigh in relief.
Harotu stayed put for a few seconds after Yajirobe had left, fumbling with the packages in his bag. He did not attempt speaking to Brian again, and there was no need. The dull, lightless look in Brian’s face was no more enticing toward conversation than a rugby tournament to ballerina.
After waiting the specified time, Harotu quickly slouched his way out.
At time, the host of three boys tarried onward through the twisted remnants of the city, and for a while they felt not the cunning eyes of their previous pursuers; but yet, they were not alone. On the forbearing of a particular sidewalk, which lay itself in urbicolous disarray, there appeared the shadow of a figure behind them. It was only there for a moment, and then it disappeared again. The three could only glimpse at him, barely seeing flashes of flesh between buildings. What they could tell was it was only one tracker this time; much quicker; much louder. And Yajirobe became annoyed at himself for not bringing any defenses with him. The bokkens, their only weapons, had been carelessly left in their dormitory. Were this pursuer filled with evil intent, they had little stopping power against him.
Reconnoiters were not often forgotten or diminished. To Yajirobe, this other being had now become more than a simple bother, and he detested the unwanted attention. Brian walked but did not talk, and Harotu was silent as well. It was time again to show these two his abilities. How they would be shown, he already knew.
Around the second sharp corner from Pallard Street, Yajirobe grabbed the two boys by their shirts and thrust them in front of him, pointing and whispering them into the open door of a disheveled room. Neither questioned and both obeyed. He followed them in immediately, darting his eyes around for anything he could grab.
And then, like slime oozes out of dark places, the figure they had caught trailing them came into view. Yajirobe noticed immediately who it was – the wily-faced rascal, that voracious boy at the old winery. Mark. He looked no older than Brian, but perhaps a year younger than Yajirobe. He was small, but stout, his wide shoulders and broad chin already forming into shapes well beyond the maturity of the present company. He walked with an impish sense of bravado, as if his mind held more confidence than his body could realize. And he had a bold and disastrous look upon his face; one that could only mean he was spoiling for a part in this.
Yajirobe threw himself back to the street, bolting at Mark. He had no weapon, but he was bigger. In Yajirobe’s experience, that meant fists would do. The boy had paused a moment, as not seeing the three off in the distance had given him directional vertigo. He did not even see a blundering samurai-wannabe approach him, with fists swinging.
Mark was knocked onto the ground in an instant, and so sudden was his shock, so paralyzing his fear, he could not move. But there was no mercy. Not only was this for the tortuous company he had forced Yajirobe to endure today, but for when they had gone to his home and he had insisted to tag along for no reason other than mentally pain them. Yajirobe felt no love lost as he stood over the swiftly bruising boy. Despite the master holding the utmost respect for this little fiend, that respect had not bled over to his students.
Harotu wandered out slowly. “Isn’t that the kid who was following us around before? And he’s doing it again…” he said in disbelief. “I thought he was one of those soldiers coming to kill us.”
“He’s not that important,” Yajirobe huffed, still throwing punches on the defenseless kid.
“Well, what are we doing with him?”
“Get one of your firecrackers out and we’ll set it off on him or something.”
“Whoa, Yajirobe. That’s dangerous.”
“So what?” he responded fiercely.
“So… we shouldn’t do that. He could catch on fire.”
Yajirobe turned away from Harotu, even as he knew those words were truth.
The boy below them stirred out of his catatonic state with immediate lividity, “Hey, why’d you do that?” He pushed himself away from Yajirobe, wiping the blood with it.
“Because you were following me.”
“Following you? You must think you’re pretty special, then. I was just walking home.”
“Oh yeah, and what were you doing out here anyway? We know you live outside of the city.”
Mark smiled with a brutish grin, “I was just coming back from Karate practice. My brother was teaching today.”
“Going all the way back to that winery? That’s pretty far for someone as stupid as you.”
“No, I was going back to our house in the city! My brother’s pretty rich, so he has his own house here. I stay here on weekends while training for my Karate. My brother teaches me pretty good.”
Mark rubbed his swollen cheek. Then, he turned his eyes once again to the study bloke in front of him, “Come here. I’m gonna punch you in the face. Nobody hits me and gets away with it.”
Yajirobe was genuinely taken aback, “Yeah, fight you. Listen kid, I could knock you out in one punch.”
“Then do it!”
Yajirobe’s blood boiled over. This little prat. This little, stinking prat. He would pay for those words.
There was not so much blood today. Kumo tended to the Daimyo well, and his wounds were healing. Yet it was a gunshot wound, and such things are hideous. His injury was just below the kneecap, from when Launch had mis-shot through Nameless Child 1’s skull. He never had complained about it. In fact, he was lying in his bed, his eyes closed, calmer than ever.
“They’re gone,” Kumo said, folding a new bandage over the man’s bare leg. “All of them are. I checked their beds.”
“I am sure they’re in town. They will be back in time for training.”
She raised her eyebrows, “That’s in ten minutes. Even for you, that’s optimistic.”
“Yes, maybe. Will these bandages limit my movement?” he asked.
“Yes. You won’t have nearly the amount of quickness you normally would rely on.”
“Then our training will be hampered.”
Kumo stopped wrapping up his leg. “What do you mean?”
“I never told you who shot me, did I?” he asked, playfully.
“I never asked,” she responded, coldly.
“It was a merc Makare sent after me. I thought it would be beneath him, but evidently I was wrong. Now, as for the students, we must accelerate their training. Makare will go after them as he’s gone after me. I am sure of it.”
Kumo scoffed, “What makes you sure he already hasn’t?”
“If you, Kumo, cannot find them, I am sure Makare is having an equally difficult time tracking them down. But they aren’t safe in the city. That much I know.”
Kumo shook her head. She was not playing around as her Master was. Nevertheless, she quieted down and finished her duty. When she had finished, she helped Elijah up, and, with the assistance of a servant, carried him outside. Down the hallway, which was paved with smooth tile, they set down their Master on a bench and stretched him so that he could properly meditate. Then, something caught their eyes, and they stopped.
The city, far off and pinnacled, had not been seen by either today, and now they beheld its smoking ruin rising in great columns. Kumo saw in her Master’s grey eyes worry. His calm face was gone. He finally did look like he’d been shot by a gun.
Forgoing the veritable stalemate that would otherwise have arrived given the proper amount of time, Mark, the thick-chested, if short, boy charged headlong into Yajirobe. He drove himself hard, and to its force the larger boy was mostly unprepared. He braced at the last moment, lashing his elbows out in a defiant thrust against this bouldering boy. But Mark was not to be so easily thrown back. His cheek was resolute and his face calm; this time he attacked with a roll. Yajirobe jumped out of the way, though Mark was able to grab his legs. Tripping over himself, Yajirobe flipped back only to be knocked to the pavement by a spring-push.
Mark was far more sophisticated than anyone could have hoped. Nearly did he get a stranglehold position from that very move. However, Yajirobe himself was quick on his feet, and like a vicarious snake, he wove and rolled out of Mark’s grasp. His cheek was ripped open. Mark not only had the speed to evade him. He had power behind those blows. Yajirobe thought quick. He did not know this part of town, but if it was like the cesspool of his upbringing there would be one point to his advantage around here somewhere. Stalling through pained feint, Yajirobe winced and wiped the blood from his face, letting his guard down, and making sure Mark knew not to attack. Yet his eyes were not idle; he combed over the entire street for a sign of what he could do. Finding nothing, he dropped his eyes to his feet. They would have to do.
“Heh, that’s right. You’re bleedin’,” Mark touted proudly. “Come on, I’ll get your other cheek too.”
Misdirection was his goal. Importance now not lay with what was seen, but verily what remained unseen. As Yajirobe drew attention to his battered cheek, he had simultaneously dropped to a knee and untied his shoe, letting it sit loose below his foot. He poised his arm back behind his leg to avert attention, then looked up. They were about three meters apart, and at this distance, his plan was destined for disaster. He slowly began sliding his foot forward, imagining as if the streets were covered in ice – and his practice during those foul winters here had taught him that patience was the key.
“Well? Are you givin’ up, then?” Mark asked.
“Who said I was givin’ up?” Yajirobe replied, heatedly.
“Then hurry up! My brother’s waiting for me at home.”
The look on Yajirobe’s face could have torn any one of them to shreds. “So what?”
Mark’s face was cool again. “He’s a professional boxer,” he nodded. “Yeah, you think I’m tough. Just wait ‘til you meet him. He trains me.”
“I don’t think you’re tough,” Yajirobe spat. He was now a sure meter closer, though his quarry had no inkling.
“That’s what you say! My brother knows I’m the best in his class. The best he’s ever seen! I’m gonna be the next World Martial Arts Champion, you can bet on that.”
The champ continued talking for what seemed like hours. He did not notice the slowly creeping jackal in front of him. And then it was too late.
“You talk too much.”
Yajirobe thrust his foot upward, catapulting his shoe off his foot and propelling it into Mark’s face. The force of impact was tremendous, and it literally shot him back, past the street into a pile of rubble. Yajirobe had formed dogged pursuit at once, and before Mark could look up, his broken nose bloodying up his vision, Yajirobe had taken him by the neck and thrown him back to the curb. Deliriously, Mark waved his arms about with little merit and pushed up against his foe. This continued for a few moments before he gained back his full consciousness. Pausing to spit out a generous amount of blood, he stopped his flailing. The quiet set in at once, though the stifled air held in tandem; the fragile wineryboy was not ready to give in. At the same time, he had nowhere to go, and no defense to put up. The hulking mass of the samurai-to-be Yajirobe was right in front of him with a fist already raised.
Mark thrust his chin up, “Do it.”
The punch did not go through to fulfill the order; indeed, it was already in mid-swing when Mark had uttered his request. Still, he had enough time to duck out of the way, and watch as the hapless street urchin went tumbling by him. Through adrenaline, his vitality was freshly renewed. So, Mark jumped sideways, grabbing the shoe that had been thrown at him in one hand. He latched himself on the taller boy’s back like Cortshire’s manic depressive leech. With ferocity, he swung the shoe around, brought up the strings and began choking Yajirobe.
However, this did not go well with Yajirobe. If anything, it made him angrier (which is positively frightening). Actually, as soon as Mark tried his little technique, Yajirobe simply rolled over on top of him and crushed him with his weight. If only that could have been enough. The two wrested back and forth – Mark struggling to strangle his quarry relentlessly, and Yajirobe back-slamming the boy over and over again.
One final time, Mark got a good roll and was once again on top (where he deserves to be). As he began implementing his attack once again, he felt the rumbling and sliding below him of another slam, something happened that neither of them intended.
Harotu had run up, his backpack in hand, and side-swung it into their mass. Ultimately, it hit Mark in the back of the head, knocking him forward and making him land in a pool of blood and dirt. Yajirobe let his breath out, looking up to see what had relieved him. Harotu stood there, none too happy, but offered Yajirobe a hand nonetheless.
“Really? You couldn’t just leave that kid alone?”
“Look who’s talking,” Yajirobe replied with his grumpy face.
“He was already bleeding before. Besides, you were too.”
Yajirobe shook his head and sat up. Leaving Mark, he dusted himself off before returning to the street. Harotu continued scowling and silently seething, but it was done. Mark was dealt with, even if someone didn’t like it.
As Yajirobe stepped back out in the street, he saw Brian standing in the middle, facing away from them. In Brian’s hand was the only weapon he could muster at this place; a broken shard of glass, duly picked from the nearest shattered window. Too tired to bother asking what he was doing, Yajirobe walked forward, intending to yank Brian out of place and drag him back to the Academy.
There was one problem with that plan. In front of Brian, perhaps on the other side of the block were two men. No, they were not any two men so much as they were not any men known to the group. But their faces were familiar if only for their heinous demeanor. Yajirobe stopped and stared.
Two of them there were, wild and untamed, as if they had lived their whole lives in distant squalor; their dark hair filled with grime, their dirt-spotted faces guarded by wispy beards; their gnarled teeth darkly stained, their wilted fingers hanging in trepidation; their sallow skin shining with sweat, their bare foreheads covered in mountains of warts; and in their eyes, insatiable, and terrifying, looming ever closer was a forlorn cacophony pooling in unseated madness.
They each drew dark katanas, of which their atramentaceous blades curved like grim claws. They lowered themselves to the ground, not so much crawling, not so much running, and their pinpoint movements were almost vertigo-inducing. One had snaked left past a dumpster and disappeared. The other dropped to slithering convulsive patterns, though his face was upright and wanderless. Yajirobe and Harotu stepped back, naturally, but they had no weapons. Fatigue was rank in their bodies, and for any attempt to run, they would be overrun. Now before them, they had a predator closing in on easy prey, and yet another skulking about and unseen. Yajirobe had a weird feeling that his neck would be cut open by that one.
There was, still remaining, the question as who these men were. Neither was Red Ribbon, clearly. Only the army had taken interest in these boys, and some comfort had come with that. For even as those men had been as menacing as anything, the boys had known who they were and what they were capable of. The same could not be said today.
The man reached Brian and, wasting no time, sliced an arc upward. Brian sidestepped it, but was still grazed. He winced audibly as a quick line of blood formed on his white shirt, staining it. Yajirobe let out a yell and thrust himself forward, headfirst. He knocked the man back, and gaining position over him, squeezed the katana out of his hand. Yajirobe wrestled with him, trying to take the sword, but it was no use. The man flipped the hilt up, knocking Yajirobe under the chin, immediately rendering him unconscious. His body sagged down on the man, and the weight alone prevented him from cutting Yajirobe so soon. Brian and Harotu had charged the man too, and between kicking him in the side of the head, and smacking his face with a backpack, they had rightly forgotten he still had his sword. Rolling off the beleaguered body of Yajirobe (and there was no time to behead him quite yet!), the man arced several more slices at the boys.
Harotu’s backpack spilled open, and the outer pocket let loose all of their many pyrotechnic illegalities. And as he dove, Brian attacked from behind, but he was then yanked backward by his hair. The other man, the other predator, had now revealed himself. Clearly garnering that two on one would end in his disfavor, the man revealed himself and allowed the advantage to return to him. He held Brian by his short, dirty blonde hair on the nape of his neck and picked him up off the ground. His katana firm in his hand, the man prepared the swift execution maneuver.
Brian, seeing his own shadow in the daylight sun behind, could see every movement of this. Just as the man raised his arm, flexed his wrist, and prepared to dismember him, Brian brought his hand up, which still held a small fragment of glass, and plunged it into the man’s arm with all the force he could.
This man screamed out suddenly, dropping both Brian and his sword. Howling still, he did not notice as the small boy flipped around, sliding on his heels, and grabbed the sword. With two hands (for this was much heavier than Brian had anticipated), he poked forward, attempting to puncture the man’s neck. However, his aim was off, and blade just went below his third rib.
Seeing as katanas are hardly the go-to weapon for stabbing, this had not pierced deep. Brian became horrified as he felt how little the blade had actually gone in. He tried thrusting it again, but the man was able to stop him. He gripped the blade, and snapped it sideways, grunting only a little in displeasure as he ripped the weapon from his bones. His hand was cut up real bad from that.
“Yajirobe, wake up!” Brian screamed, for the first time snapping back to reality since last night. He backed up, kicking Yajirobe, who lay next to him, back into consciousness. The larger boy grumbled and cursed softly, but did not wake. Brian took another step back.
Behind him, Harotu had been expertly dodging the attacks of the wayward soldier. For all his worth, Harotu lacked stopping power, finishing power, but he could easily prolong these fights almost indefinitely with his agility. But, this was no game, and he was toying around only because he had no way to kill the man or get away.
“Stop!” the first man breathed out, his voice as vacuous as his blade.
He thrust the pointed edge forward in a maneuver of pure impatience – as for anyone should know stabbing with a katana is a dangerous gamble, and one that very easily could result in the breaking of the blade. He shot several attacks toward Harotu, though they all missed. The boy, seeking respite, retreated back into a blown-out wall, and searching for anything to use as a weapon, moved further in.
But with Brian, his pursuer was ever cold and undaunted. He drew a dagger from his boot and took one giant leap, placing himself within a half-meter of Brian’s chest. He smiled a splenetic smile of which there was only his victory in sight. He raised his hand and began motion for the student’s neck.
Then, the man stopped, jostling himself to the side, moaning in broken fervor, but dropping his weapon too. For as he had come unto Brian and had tried to end his life there, this man had stepped on Yajirobe. And Yajirobe, through all the power he could then gather had kicked the man, who was un-expectant to this and defenseless yet. His shin in splintering ruin, he fell. Brian quickly scooped up his dagger and pointed it at the man; and he was their prisoner.
Yajirobe sat up, and stared at the man, “Who are you?”
The man smirked, but refused to answer.
Brian threw a piece of brick at him. “Answer him!” His voice was hoarse, and he spoke in no more than a whisper.
“Hey, wasn’t there another guy around here?” Yajirobe asked, nonchalantly. He didn’t realize the lethality of their situation.
The two spun around, having forgotten about Harotu. And there they saw him, captured like a bird in a basket, held by his hair, the other predator gleefully displaying his catch. Brian stepped forward, displaying his stolen weapon. He motioned for the man to duel him. This garnered nothing more than a laugh in the standstill.
“Put him down.”
There was, then, the silence broken, and not any one of them had uttered those words. Yajirobe was once again thrust into obscure confusion as he looked around for who had said this. And then, from behind the hanging Harotu, and the wayward samurai, came another man clothed in black. In one fluid motion, he drew a small sword, which glinted for but a moment before being raised to the neck of the man, and then just as quickly going back. So quickly had this happened, that Yajirobe was not even sure it had – that was until the man dropped Harotu,] and fell sideways, his head rolling cleanly off, and blood spurting and pooling about. Harotu immediately ran over to the other two boys and turned to face this person.
His head was cool, but wild. He was restrained, but agitated. He walked the thinnest line between perfect tranquility and unrelenting rage. He tread ever careful so far.
“Three little samurai. Well done. Well done. You have captured one of my men. That is no easy feat,” he said, stopping at the cornerstone. “We have not been acquainted, I think. No? Your master has mentioned me, I’m sure. After all, he would have told you I am a dangerous man. Very dangerous to samurai.”
“Well, who are you then?” Yajirobe grunted.
“I am Makare, one of the few samurai of old world. Back when we were taught properly with form and wisdom and discipline. Your master is an old friend of mine. We went to school together at the same place you now attend.”
Harotu looked once at the hostage before speaking, “What do you want with us? You’re trying to kill us… right?”
“What I want is the perversion of our old teachings eradicated. I want the Academy back, under my leadership, to teach the true way, the best way of becoming a samurai. I want this reckless endangerment gone and replaced with the evolving concept of ki.”
Yajirobe sneered, “Why don’t you just move somewhere and open your own school? Who cares if you’re here?”
“I very much care,” the man continued, “You see, our old master gave your Daimyo the position of samurai chief lightly, and Elijah is too young to appreciate it. He has wrought only squalor and distaste since then. Need I even tell you, he and the woman are the only ones even capable of wielding a sword? All others have left. Meanwhile, I command an army of men, much like the one you have behind you, and we are many. We are everywhere. This we will take back now. You three are the only living reminders of what Elijah has taken. Oh yes, he has offered classes before three times to the rabbles of the willing and over privileged alike. Each time, they have ended with only death and cowardice. You three are his only surviving test subjects. But that will end here,” he stepped forward, opening his cloak and revealing his loose scabbard, of which his blade hilt could be seen, “Don’t run now. I have wanted to kill you myself for a long while.”
“What? What?! C-c-can’t you like of-ffer us a part in your army? Y-you said we were the only surviving students, so we could be really helpful t-to you!” Harotu pleaded.
“Shut up, Harotu,” Brian whispered.
“No, my own abilities suffice for all three of yours, many times over.”
“No, please!” Harotu pleaded, “Please!”
Makare ignored him. Brian stepped forward and prepared his own attack. Yajirobe had sat up, and now seeing death before his eyes, the will to survive had overtaken him, and along with Brian he stood against Makare. Though Harotu fell and cried and writhed in his wretchedness, Yajirobe had grabbed a shard of the broken katana at his feet. He and Brian looked at one another, Yajirobe nodding to the other to go first, and first he went.
The dagger was disarmed in a heartbeat, and Brian’s arm was left cut. Yajirobe attacked. He parried two blows, then dipped under Makare and rushed at him. Brian jumped up and did the same. But the man was no novice to these cheap tactics and withdrew himself, spinning his blade before him like a fan; and nobody would dare move forward.
Then he lowered to the stature of a panther and angled his way forward. Yajirobe saw his movements, and predicting them, jumped over the charge, landing back on his feet instantly. He pulled down, scooped up a piece of brick, then turned to throw it only to find Makare had stopped. The samurai straightened his back, facing away from them. He let out a long sigh, and let his arm fall, clinking the katana on the ground.
“You three are lucky today. But only today. I will have your corpses soon enough,” he spoke, calmly and quickly. He sighed, closing his eyes, and raising his head to the sky.
Yajirobe frowned, “What do you mea–”
A tempest came to them, then, and it formed up before their very eyes, blocking everything else from sight. Makare was shrouded in it, but he yelled mightily, and much sound came forth. The dust obscured their view. From within it, only a moment after it began, Makare’s body came flying outward, hit a slab wall, and fell, crumpled and broken. He looked much smaller now, like a child in a robe with a broken neck.
The dust settled, and before them all was Elijah, their samurai master. He wore white robes, and on his leg was soaked red. His bandages having come off in this scuffle, he now limped forward, closer to Makare. Throughout this time, Makare had not moved a muscle.
The Daimyo slowly limped forward, his elegant katana pointed up. It was the first time Yajirobe had seen his master unsheathe the noble blade. He paused with his blade tip but a centimeter from Makare’s face. Then, Makare came back to life, and looked up, his defiant eyes piercing his opponent with malice.
“You and I have our quarrel, Makare, but you will not touch my students.”
“Students?” Makare spat, “You and I were students. Taught by a real master of the art. Those over there,” he nodded to Yajirobe and the others, “are not. Your swordsmanship is unparalleled, but your philosophy is all wrong. Those three are the product of your vast inabilities.”
Elijah pushed his blade tip closer, pushing it into Makare’s cheek, “Your monks’ teachings. I know all about them. Cheap tricks for the weak. You should know better than to be deluded by them.”
Makare sneered, “One day I’ll get to you and teach you how to get to purest hell.”
He thrust his head up, cutting his chin and cheek, but ripping himself away from the blade. Elijah’s blade was pushed to the side, and before he could bring it back, Makare was on his feet, sprinting out of the city. They watched him go, but their Master held his hand up, warning them to not pursue. As if any of them had that thought in their minds.
Elijah rekindled his students by speaking first, “In light of these events, your training must be heightened. Tomorrow, we begin sword-work. I expect those of you who wish to remain to be there: 8 am, the training area. This is what you’ve been wanting, I think. Real blade use and proper dueling, and I promise it will not take long. Be there.”
Elijah turned away from them, pulling up his robes around him, when Harotu questioned him.
Harotu’s eyes were burning, and he was on his knees, holding his sore shoulder, “Sir, what are we supposed to do with him?”
Him was, of course, the surviving assassin. He had not moved all this time, especially now that a potentially lethal samurai was in his presence. His hope to go unnoticed now brought to failure, he attempted to run off, much like his commander had just done. But this time, Yajirobe and Brian were quick to hold him; they grabbed his shoulders and threw him back down.
“That is up to you,” The Daimyo replied.
“What?! How can we do anything with him?” Harotu asked. There was fear in his voice.
Elijah turned back to them, knelt down, and pulled something out of his boot. He threw it toward them, and Yajirobe caught it. It was their Master’s knife. Its ornate onyx lining was unmistakable, but even more so was its meaning. The three boys could not speak. All of their throats had run dry.
Elijah bowed to them, taking his leave, and swiftly walked off.
“Well, yeah. I’m not doing it,” Harotu said, almost too quickly. He stood up, facing the man, “Which one of you will?”
“Not me,” Brian replied, sullen-faced.
Yajirobe need not answer. He knew as soon as he had caught the blade that the responsibility was on his shoulders alone. He looked at the other two, the dagger in his hand, and shrugged as best he could. Harotu nodded, understanding him, and Brian stepped back. Both of them were not to be part of this.
“You can… you can handle it yourself, right?” Harotu said, slowly.
“Yeah,” Yajirobe grunted.
“Then let’s go,” Harotu muttered to Biney.
Brian’s head was bowed and his face dark. Before he left, he looked once toward Yajirobe, and then left. Yajirobe remained stony-faced. As soon as the two other boys had left, the man attempted to overpower Yajirobe by kicking him. Yajirobe had expected this and jumped out of the way, landing in front of the man and knocking the wind out of him with a palm to the ribs. He wasn’t so tough now that he didn’t have a katana.
“Lemme go… lemme go! I swear, I won’t hurt ya… I swear!” the man pleaded, his eyes watery and hapless, but ever watching the blade.
Yajirobe grabbed his throat. This man deserved to die. He had tried to kill Yajirobe, and would their roles be reversed, Yajirobe would already be dead. Nobody would miss him. Nobody would care. He was just another soldier. If he was let go, he would try to kill them again. He was evil. It was justified. It was right. Yajirobe put the knife up to the man’s neck and shook off his feeble defenses. Pressing the blade against the soft flesh, Yajirobe slid it, drawing blood. As soon as he did, the man howled and fought him. Yajirobe stumbled away, snatching the knife close to his chest, sure not to lose it. He looked over this man, whose neck bled.
“Please! Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!!”
“Shut up,” Yajirobe said haughtily. “Just be quiet!”
Yajirobe’s hands were trembling, though he didn’t know why. He had placed the blade to the man’s neck, and even started slicing, but he could not continue through. There was no honor to kill a defenseless man here and now. He had thought it would be easy to kill someone, but it was not nearly. This man was alive and fighting him and looking at him… Yajirobe, as weird as it sounds, could not kill someone who was watching him. It didn’t sit well. The assassin’s blood could not be on his hands. He couldn’t let it happen. Ultimately, living with himself, being a cold-blooded murder would be worse than anything this samurai could do to him. If the man was let go, he would try to kill them again. That was given. He would surely try again. Yajirobe pocketed his knife.
So be it.
At first the man did not move, for this new devilry was beyond his comprehension. Yajirobe mumbled something he could not hear, then kicked up the ground, sending debris everywhere. He put his hands in his pockets and left. Just like that. The man, bewildered, stood up, and, clutching his neck, peered around the building after the boy.
Yajirobe continued walking, but looked over his shoulder, “Don’t forget it,” he said.
The man nodded, yet Yajirobe could not see him. He turned the other way, trotting out in the opposite direction. He stepped on something rather soft as he went, though the unconscious Mark did not feel anything. Maybe he would when he wakes up.
It was sunset in the Western Park. This part of town was a rare place for Yajirobe to visit. Mostly, rich parents would take their spoiled kids to play on swings and slides which were probably each more expensive than a whole car. Yajirobe was not sure if this place was normally crowded, but it was not at present. He could finally thank General Blue for one thing, and this was it. The swings were empty.
Unlike the other two, who were most likely in their Academy dorms, Yajirobe had not gone back yet. Instead, he had wandered the city and found this small hidden away piece of aristocratic society. At least there weren’t any bodies out here. Yajirobe sat down on the grass and brought out the knife. It still had some dried blood on it, which he wiped away as best he could. He ran his fingers over the blade, flipping it back and forth. His Master had wanted him to kill that man. Was that what samurais did? Were they all cold-blooded murders? He hadn’t thought killing somebody would be so hard to follow through with.
Yajirobe speared the knife into the soft dirt. He growled. No, he wasn’t weak. He wasn’t. Flustered, the samurai-in-training stood up and walked over to a nearby bench. Ordinarily, he would just sit on one of these. But he was tired. He needed this rest. There was no way he was making it back to the school tonight. He could sleep here.
However, just as he was to lay down, Yajirobe spotted on the benches spikes, and he could not sit on those. Puzzled as to why this bench was so useless, he looked around for some explanation, and found it.
There was a box on the side post of the bench, and on it read a simple note: ‘5 Zeni for 15 minutes’. Yajirobe swore under his breath and kicked the wood plank (to which he instantly regretted). These rich snobs knew no limits. This was an outrage to make him pay for a bench. At the same time, he blushed, merely thinking about it – and was glad no one could see him.
For with only three zeni to his name, this bench was far too expensive to sit on.
As they underestimate me, these samurai forget I am the reigning lightweight boxing champion. I will have my victory with or without them.
Today was February second, in the Age seven hundred forty-nine.
Chapter 5: Regret, Regret, Regret
Several significant setbacks systematically and slowly separated to now come back together and eat at him. Makare had not only his army’s slow pace to worry about, but Elijah too, and even Daniel was a threat. There were so many that needed to die, and there was so little time.
“It’s not as vast as I remembered it,” said Makare. He stood on Igaron Mountain, on the rock he had so often meditated. Below him was, nestled by olive and oak, the old Academy. Empty it looked, and neither fires nor sounds came from it, nor were there any defenses being put up. From his keen vantage point, he could see nothing he could not conquer. “But we are still not ready.”
Naigo, who was scraping mud off his boots around the tree, looked up, “We have over two hundred, Makare. Surely your old friend can’t take on that many.”
“He can and he would. He will also have the help of multiple students, so we must take everything into account. I cannot risk having too few samurai.”
Naigo shook his head, “I’ve brought many from the south, but you Makare, you have no men following you. I thought you went to school here. How many were enrolled?”
“One hundred forty-three.”
“And none follow you today?”
“Just you, Naigo. Most of the others are mercs or worse. They are barely better than common thieves and not worth my time. It’s far less a remarkable profession than you would think.”
“Yes, yes. I am sure.”
“What’s that, Naigo? Some sarcasm?” Makare sniffed. “That’s not like you.”
“I’m itching for battle. My sword is lonely. Tell me already, how many men do I need to bring for us to go?”
Makare began counting on his fingers, “We have… two hundred and thirty men? Yeah. So, counting three students, Kumo, and the servants, and of course Elijah, I think we would need no less than seven hundred.”
Naigo raised his cheek, almost laughing, but very much skeptical, “I doubt there are that many of us in the whole world. Maybe you’ll need to swallow your pride and hire some of those common thieves.”
“It won’t come to that.”
“And, I’ll need more zeni too. These two hundred we have so far weren’t cheap,” continued Naigo, ignoring Makare.
“That’s fine. I was just heading out to Daniel’s anyway. I’ll get more money from him,” Makare said. “And I may be gone a while, even if the money itself shows up quickly.”
“Why?” Naigo asked.
Makare looked him in the eyes before breaking his gaze, “Don’t be alarmed, my good samurai. I have personal business. But until I’m back, you will by my succedaneum and lead these men. Should Elijah stage a sneak attack, or anyone else come by, I want you to deal with them.”
“I can do that,” the larger samurai responded, with no lack of enthusiasm.
Good. Makare saw how bad the man wanted to rip someone apart. He just hoped Naigo wouldn’t take it out on their growing army. Makare took one last look at his old Academy, the last look he would see of it in such peace. It held to him no more interest than when he had watched a devils darning needle coat a glass window in fog as a child. Such animals were peasants’ delights, not his. Alas, he remained transfixed. A small part of him wanted to go there now… but he couldn’t. That would ruin all he had worked toward.
He nodded to Naigo, giving a half-hearted wave to the rest, and descended from that mountain like a jackal in the night.
The coldness was not bad compared to the wetness that accompanied it. In his night spent outside, Yajirobe had been coated in it, and now he was shivering. Miserably, he had returned down the dirt path, past the wineries and trees, to the place mandated by his master. It was 7:59 in the morning when he stumbled past the gates, past the huge doors, and out toward the crisp green training area.
Elijah, his master, was waiting, as were Brian and Harotu. The two boys noticed the dried blood on Yajirobe’s orange training shirt, their little eyes flickering with innumerable theories, but no words did they speak. Instead, the three silently settled into formation as their Daimyo began to talk. His sword was out, and he walked slowly, his shoulders thrown forward, but his neck high, his eyes piercing, but his mouth calm.
“I have made each of you a katana,” he said, echoing over the still air, “You will learn to use them in the coming days and weeks.”
“How long is it going to take, exactly, sir?” Brian asked, his voice cracking.
The tall man stopped, staring down his pupils. He had no anger in his eyes, looking instead with controlled impatience. “However long we are given by Makare. He gathers men to assault the Academy. They will kill you if you do not fight back. And fighting back – that is what you will be taught today.”
“How many of them are there?”
“Their numbers are irrelevant,” the Daimyo continued, moving over to a tall barrel and reaching in, “We are not learning to attack, but to defend. In fact, 95% of everything we will learn will be defense. The smarter samurai is always he who can defend better. The smarter samurai is he who knows that battle should not be sought, but should be expected. We are always at risk when carrying katanas, and you must realize this,” he said, pulling out three blanketed objects. “Now take these; they are sharp. Very, very sharp.”
He handed each boy a sheathed blade. Each hilt was black, the collar golden, and the sheathe silvery and white. As Yajirobe grasped his, he became aware of how heavy it actually was. No, these were no bokkens, no child’s toys. What his master had just given him could easily kill a man. Yajirobe spied his own name inscribed in flowery letters on the blade closest to the hilt. It almost made him smile.
Then the Daimyo returned to their head and drew his own sword. And the boys drew their own, as awkwardly as they could. Brian in particular had a hard time with the weight. Once they all had their swords out, Elijah showed them the blood groove – a small indentation which let the blood of their enemies flow easier – by demonstrating cutting open a watermelon. Harotu quivered at this. And thence he told them many things, of which no great expressions need be made. Much of it was quixotic, and needs not repeating.
Of parrying, Yajirobe quickly learned, it was not all that different from using the wooden practice swords, only more dire. The katanas were frail – a good deal more than their previous experience had led to believe, and Elijah made it clear that as they parried, they were to never, under any circumstance poke with the katana. That made Yajirobe wonder why they bothered sharpening the point, then.
First they trained in Sabaki defense, and learned moves to defend against the sword, the punch, the kick, and the mind. Though as Yajirobe found these teaching natural, he continuously saw Brian keeping up with him, equally or sometimes even faster, while Harotu slowly lagged. They learned correctness first, a painful and often times humiliatingly slow form of blocking which looked no less than a ridiculous dance. But as they added speed, and later power, Yajirobe understood the most important aspect of their training. It was not even in being correct or flashy, but in patience, and he suspected that if he was more patient, the skill would come much easier.
After a plethora of garrulous anecdotes by his Master, which spanned days and days, Yajirobe began to notice fires and black figures surrounding their indomitable walls on the mountains around. As they grew more and more numerous, their master remained pococurante. But their training shifted quickly from parrying and defense, from graceful and swift arcing parrying, to deliberate and vehement blows. It was an audience unwelcomed.
Every night, after hours of training, Yajirobe sheathed his sword, his arms feeling light and sore, and went to bed. And there he would find the other two. By now, he was too tired to be annoyed at them.
“There has to be at least five hundred,” Yajirobe heard Harotu say as he entered the dorm.
“I think there’s a thousand, honestly,” Biney replied, looking up as Yajirobe entered. “What you think, Yajirobe?”
He grumbled as he sat down on his bed, “Who cares?”
“We could just leave. There aren’t that many of them yet. We could sneak out–” Harotu began.
“So you’re a coward,” Yajirobed quipped.
“No… but just look at it! There’s only three of us. And there’s, what, hundreds of them? Maybe even thousands?”
“The master will help,” said Yajirobe, rolling out his bed.
“I don’t care how good the master is, he can’t take on that many!”
“How do you know that?” Brian whined. “You aren’t an expert.”
“And neither are you.”
“If you tried to leave, I bet the master wouldn’t let you,” Yajirobe began. “He looked like he spent a lot of time making those swords, or something. He must’ve known only the best of us would still be around by now.”
Harotu rolled his eyes and shook his head. Clearly he was outnumbered. Instead of continuing the argument, he flipped over into bed with a jovial collection of ‘whatevers’ and ‘lames’ peppering under-breath like a fine chianti.
Brian and Yajirobe watched through the window as the fires of settlements shined bright. They could even see the small figures of clothed men pacing back and forth. Yajirobe would be lying if he said he wasn’t trembling.
“You plan on fighting, right Yajirobe?” Brian asked him.
He sighed, “I’m not gonna run out there and attack them.”
“Oh come on, you too? I didn’t think you were a coward after what we’ve already done.”
Yajirobe shook his head. “That was too fast. We didn’t even think about it. But these guys are all lining up day after day, and it gets worse when you think about it…”
“You’re going to run, too? You’d leave us to die?”
Yajirobe stared into Brian’s face. He didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, he despised Brian and Harotu. It was merely his nature. From the beginning, they had gotten off wrong (though if there was a correct way, Yajirobe knew it not), and here they were, several months later, and Yajirobe’s opinion had barely changed. Sure he knew them more, sure he had almost been friend-like to them, but he had not been engaged in it. He had sat back and tagged along or added in token sociality. But they had lost one after another, mission after mission. It was Yajirobe and Brian and Harotu. He could no longer hide behind the others. He could not forget why he was here. He was here to be a samurai. He was here to help Yajirobe; himself. He was here to learn how to defend himself. He couldn’t pretend that had anything to do with the others. Maybe he wouldn’t run, but he wouldn’t lay his life on the line for any of them. If they were to die, so be it. There was nothing clichéd or poetic about it. Yajirobe was a realist. Whatever he had to do, he would do. He didn’t care what anybody else thought.
He saw Brian’s face recoil in shock, but it was late and he was tired. Yajirobe walked back to his bed and jumped in it, ready to fall asleep and get those cursed lights out of his mind.
In the morning, the sycophants pried the sleepy students to the wet grass. Before them stood Kumo in full armor as well as Elijah in armor of his own. This was exceedingly rare, as the samurai-in-training had never seen their teachers suit up.
“Today, we’re going to show you a battle. I have already spoken to Kumo about it, and we’ve agreed to both go all out,” Kumo nodded, “Pay attention specifically to what I do, students,” he said. “I expect you to explain to me what happened when we are done.”
The two samurai got into positions and bowed. Kumo’s stance was tall, with her left shoulder leaning forward. She gripped her katana’s hilt lightly. On the other hand, the Daimyo showed no position. He stood tall and still, but did not even place his hands on his scabbard. She drew her own, rushing Elijah. She swung – a real blade – at him. But the man jumped into the air, pulling his knees into his chest as he rolled over her. Landing, he drew his own katana and swung in a fluid movement turning around to face her. The woman had expected this and parried with a graceful arc. Off her parry, it sliced toward Elijah’s chest, but he was ready and pushed her blade back.
She stumbled and he ran forward, around behind her and took up position. Kumo, expecting an attacked, had lunged forward in desperation to parry a blow which did not come. In doing so, she fell over, her arms splayed and sword out. The Daimyo walked up, kicked her sword away, and placed his sword on her throat. And thus it was over.
“Students, what can you tell from that battle?”
Brian was first, “You beat her, sir.”
The man nodded, “Specifically, how?”
“By lettin’ her do all the work,” Yajirobe said. That was too easy. He was well learned in how to avoid doing any work. Seeing what Elijah had just done was like looking in a mirror.
“Good, yes. That is it. When fighting, you must remember: Fight on your terms. By defending the vast majority of the blows, I was able to set the pace and let my opponent waste far more energy. Most of the samurai you will fight in the coming days will be very impatient. As impatience grows, so does carelessness. The longer you control them, prevent them from hitting you, the more open they will become. Now students, prepare your katanas and duel us. Harotu and Brian will go with Kumo, and Yajirobe come here.”
(Cue Parting of the Sensory)
Yajirobe had never dueled with his master. None of them had. Well, Anders had, but that kid wasn’t around anymore. He stepped up, and watched as his master took the same position, or lack of, he had against Kumo. Yajirobe drew his katana and fell into a low crouch, cautiously approaching. When he felt ample close enough, he swung. The man jumped back, his cloak furled around him and drew his sword in response. Taking this time to gain ground, Yajirobe ran forward with his blade out. His master parried it, pushing Yajirobe away and onto the ground. Yajirobe rolled quickly, just escaping a hacking blow behind him. Now covered in mud, he stood up and took stock position.
The man circled him, enclosing around him slowly and slowly enclosing around him. Yajirobe watched him, and not just the sword, but all of Elijah’s being. The man jumped on his toes, causing Yajirobe to panic and send his blade up to block. But it was just a feint. And Elijah then moved his sword freely to Yajirobe’s leg, cutting it. The boy felt immediate pain, but did not look down or move. Instead, he dropped his sword onto his master’s, pushing it away before it could do more damage. His master attempted a flurry of attacks to Yajirobe’s chest in attempt to dislodge him, but it proved as fruitless as a tree without fruit. Yajirobe found it rather easy to parry the attack, only having to move his sword half as fast as the attacker. Maybe there was something to being defensive.
He could see Elijah reeling up for a power attack. His flurry died down slowly, but it was discernible. Yajirobe braced himself, and as he guessed when the attack would come, he dove out of the wave. Sure enough, his master had switched up his blade movements just at that second. But Yajirobe’s sidestep had given him the advantage; an unguarded flank which he sliced his sword toward. His master saw it at the last second, but could not move. Yajirobe was able to hit him cleanly in the back, somewhat deep. Blood pooled and soaked Elijah’s robes. He turned, at that point, and batted Yajirobe’s sword out of his hand, then kicked him to the ground. Showing no sign of pain, he bowed to Yajirobe, and spoke:
“That was a good move. But you must remember to stay on guard. Even getting a hit in, your opponent will still be alive. Keep your guard up at all times.”
Yajirobe nodded, his heart beating almost too fast to hear that. He couldn’t believe he landed a hit. The two looked over at Kumo, who had been fighting Brian and Harotu simultaneously. Now the boys were fighting one another, and they seemed rather angry. It was probably about last night. Kami only knows how bad it would have been if Brian was fighting Yairobe. Both Brian and Harotu traded blows, knocking each other back, sparking blades together, and not backing down. Neither was inclined for defense.
Harotu preferred spamming the same move over and over again. But his vicious upward cut, though it was staying, could only do so much. Eventually Brian deflected it, leading to Harotu to stumble back. He didn’t even see Brian as the white-shirted boy sliced one more time. It hit Harotu across the face. He screamed openly and fell. But Brian stood there, neither pitiful nor pitiable, blood dripping and flowing down the blood groove of his blade, and his high, cold face looking down on impious little Harotu.
The coming days featured no more than the same. They perfected their art of dueling slowly, but it all came as certainly as more fires and more men came around their temple. By the third week, all of them had gained significant finesse and discipline to marry their strength. The result was positively better than expected, and even their master could not take the three of them on at once again.
It was the fourth week, on a stormy, wet, foggy day that things changed. The five were shivering between mind and metal on the far lawn when the gates opened. Upon seeing what he was letting it, a servant had screamed out,and hastily rang a bell for the Daimyo. It was a hackney strategy, but it worked well enough to get his attention. The downside was that Naigo and Makare would know something was up as well.
Nonetheless, the Daimyo and his students (not to mention Kumo! She’s very important!) sprinted out to the cobbled courtyard to see what was the matter. It was there, before them that they saw it; a great steed; a black horse. On it was mounted a man; a familiar man. He was dressed the same as the one who had rang the bell. Yes, it was a servant of the Daimyo, one of the many who had attended to them these months. And he was headless.
(End of Parting of the Sensory)
“You will never underestimate your opponent. They will be treated with respect and honor – for they can kill you. They can always kill you if you lack preparation. But you will not and they, in turn, will not kill you. We fight on our terms, on our turf. We never fight an enemy who dictates the battle. And we will lead them here, no matter how many there are, and we will kill them.”
It was the day of the fifth of May. The headless man had arrived two hours prior. And now, as the Daimyo and his students watched, the mountains were emptying. Samurai marched against the Iboinoshishi School. They had not yet identified the Lord of Hunger, master of the arcane, but Yajirobe had been assured that he was coming. Yea verily, he was coming.
The Daimyo had called them to the roll of hill just in front of the buildings, on the far side from the gate. Here, he had promised one final lesson. In front of them was a dummy of straw. Behind them, the endless hordes of their enemy. Elijah faced the dummy from ten meters away. He spoke:
“This move should be one of your most powerful. It’s called the Iaigiri. Watch closely.”
The Daimyo lowered himself into a crouch, his right hand loosely holding onto his scabbard. Then, he began running, yelling at the same time. Upon reaching the dummy, he drew his sword, and in one movement, sliced the wooden figure in half. He stood up, back to his onlookers.
“I hope you can mimic that simply from seeing it. We don’t have time to practice, I must confess.”
“Sir, where are we supposed to go? They’re almost here. Wouldn’t it be better to fight up on the walls?” Brian asked him.
“You and Yajirobe will not be fighting. Not yet.”
“What?! Are you kidding me?!” Harotu yelled back, in utter disbelief.
“No, they have to do something for me first. Consider it my zwichenzug, if you must.”
“Wait, what?” asked Yajirobe. He was clearly not privy to what a zwichenzug was. Lucky for him.
The Daimyo, taking long strides, had reached back to his boys. He reached into his robes, and pulled out a small contrivance from within. It was an orange ball with seven stars. He handed it to Brian.
“Please give this to Daniel. Tell him that I no longer require anything from him,” Elijah smiled with an awkward half-pull, and it looked like he had never smiled before.
Yajirobe’s understanding was blurry, “Why didn’t you give us this yesterday or something when they weren’t attacking?”
“I didn’t think of it yesterday. Now please go. I will need your help as soon as you are back.”
“No… no way. No fucking way, man,” Harotu spat, “I am not doing this alone!”
Elijah the laodicean ignored him, “As soon as you give it to him, return here. Get going.”
And then he walked out with Kumo, leaving the three boys alone. Brian had the orange ball with the stars on it in his hand. He looked at it curiously.
“Well that’s it, I’m leaving. Screw this!” Harotu said. Before the two could dissuade him, he had bolted off to the dorms.
“Wait, come back…” Brian said, raising his hand. But Harotu was gone.
“Let’s just get this over with. It shouldn’t be dangerous or anything,” Yajirobe offered, and Brian nodded.
Brian was still keeping an eye toward the dorms as they left, his ever sulking eyes hoping for some last breath of courage, but alas he saw none. They were thereafter escorted to a porter-gate in the back wall and escaped out into the forest of olive trees. Behind them, the smoke ever rose.
But as they waded through the brush, Yajirobe noticed how ostentatious their orange training clothes were. It grew readily most disheartening as he saw a group of eight men guarding the path in front of them. After a quick conference with Biney deeming Yajirobe’s turn to be the distractor, the larger boy stumbled out onto the dirt and started yelling at the group.
“Don’t move, buddy!” he shouted.
The samurai, seeing him, instinctively drew their blades and charged. While they did so, running past the trees and leaving the point unguarded, Brian jumped out and ran at them from behind. The two closed in on the men, then drew their swords, and in the same movement, swiped toward their foes. Completely taken aback by the fact their opponents were fighting back, the men fumbled and crashed into one another. Yajirobe swung with an upward arc, sending the samurai out of the way, and a few into the air. He back-slashed the closest samurai to him, as that man fell, and then sheathed his sword along with Brian. They scurried out, not wanting to wait for those who were still alive.
The two made good time to the winery from there on out. They had been this way so many times it was second nature to know to turn right at the second fork and to snag into the near-hidden gate on the edge of the city limits.
There they came upon the house of Daniel Parroda, the reigning light-weight world champion. Where the wine burned and the wood turned to ash, there before lay a house of greater and older stature than any they had ever seen; truly, it had been nigh autochthonous. Now it was but a mucky ruin, splendored no more. The two grasped their sheathed swords in tepid hesitation on their approach forthwith. Someone had been here recently to desecrate it.
And there, upon a flaking window frame bathed in brine and fire was he, Daniel. His back broken, his head thrown back, his stomach up, his chest and neck cut to pieces, his face stained with tears, his eyes ever open and staring far-off, and his breath no more, he lay in naught but xanthosis. His brother, Mark, was nowhere to be seen.
“You look so tired and unhappy.”
Like a raven watching amongst the chaos, was there yet another. He positioned himself on the roof, between two high beams, and was ever content. Jumping down, splashing the ever flammable alcohol up on the boys’ clothes, he spread his arms to welcome them in. And as they beheld him and saw his dark hair and sharp eyes, they knew him to be Makare.
“What’s he doin’ here?” Yajirobe pondered to himself.
The man approached them, “I was taking care of some personal business before coming home. But I see Elijah’s sent me a taxi. He’s impatient,” the main grinned, “Well, if he insists, I cannot refuse.”
The man drew his sword.
The two hadn’t even attempted to resist, hadn’t even drawn their swords. There they were, flying through the brush like lemurs, frantically interchanging positions as they leapt and bounded over twig and leaf. As soon as they had seen Makare’s sword, Yajirobe had ran. He might have screamed like a 4 year old girl too, but the details on that are a bit sketchy. Brian, ever aware of his own mortality, had followed right behind. The southern winds gave them great purchase while they fled, and they could smell the alcohol blowing toward them, and knew ever how close the great and terrible man was. Alas, it was too close, ever constantly. For Makare craved their blood, toward which no satiable replacement could be found; it was best, then, that they stayed far, far away.
And their training had thus paid off. Athletic though they were not, nor had they been attempting to become, both boys now ran with endurance unrivaled. They had not so readily given to the thought that they were training themselves to be in peak health – just looking at Yajirobe’s plump figure could prove that otherwise. It was more that, at this point, they had reached their mental maturity; their fighting had been streamlined beyond efficiency to harmony. The substantial power increases were coincidental at best. Here they were, as they outran Makare, and laid him in his own sallow expectations, that Yajirobe and Brian had come to their own. This was theirs, their now spindling run.
A great volley of smoke flew up ahead, and they could see the Academy itself burning. They neared the sorry state to find many a body piled by the walls, and blood – so much blood – ran over the otherwise untainted limestone. The wooden porter-door was ajar, lying around it were several servants, long dead and long bled. But in front of them was a backpack; and it was Harotu’s. He was nowhere to be seen.
Yajirobe and Brian had paused to catch their breath, wherein Brian had been feeling over the small orange ball their master had (in vain) given him. Still, as they heard more screams coming from within, the two snapped out of their respite and ran in, Brian snagging Harotu’s backpack over his shoulder before stepping through the door.
Beyond the threshold stood Kumo, the large woman bejeweled of steel and sweat and by her many sycophants stood. They battled a horde of scanty samurai mercenaries, and the bodies were piling up ever more. No sign of Harotu or Elijah were around. The two students ran up to help. Still, they remained puzzled to their master’s absence.
“Where’s the Master?!” Yajirobe yelled hoarsely over to Kumo who was busy hacking off a man’s neck.
She ripped off the man’s head, sending blood down her chest, “I haven’t seen him! One of you needs to go find him, quick. All the servants I’ve sent looking haven’t returned! Elijah better not be dead… or we’re dead too! Ah! I need the other one of you to hold this point!” she breathed, motioning to a wound on her side, “Hold them until I patch this up.”
More and more bad men ran toward them. It was all slow motion as they watched the death and destruction. They were animals, all of them. It was frightening, overwhelming. They held his life on their hands, those men running at Yajirobe.
He didn’t need to think about it. Yajirobe stepped forward, “I will do it…” he said, his voice was soft and shaking. “I will do it!” this time, he shouted it. The servants and enemies together stopped their fighting to see this young boy, this young samurai step unto his own and face the coming onslaught.
He was not brave, nor was he fearless. But Yajirobe was going to stand and fight until he had won or until he had died. If there was one thing he had learned all these months, it was that he would do things on his terms, his way. He would not be caught and strangled in a far room as he cowered and hid. No, he would fight them here, and he would win. Oh, how he hoped he would win.
“Kumo, it’s been forever.”
Makare, the wolf, landed to the ground. He had snuck in behind by the same door Yajirobe had come through prior, and all the guards were long-dead. Now, he had infiltrated far into the Academy and was remarkably free to do what he pleased. Only a few servants had stood up to him, and he quickly slit their necks with little effort.
There was a difference between a man with a sword and a man who could use a sword.
And now he stood here at a medical station outside of the food hall, where Kumo was sitting and being applied bandages for her wounds. A quick swipe and her attenders were dead.
He smiled, “You were always my favorite bitch in the academy. Did you know that?”
Kumo lunged at Makare. He fell into stance, gripping onto the sword’s hilt sticking up from his belt. But before he could unsheathe it, a blast of energy came roaring over his ear to hit her head on. It landed squarely in her bosom and sent the woman flying back, no doubt wounded, if not dead. Naigo stopped behind Makare, giving him proper backup.
“I didn’t think you’d make it, Makare,” the man spoke.
There he was, the Lord of Hunger, finally making his appearance. His wore a long black cape like Makare, but his was less tattered and only a single piece. He sported a huge pointed crown on his head which was painted in the shape of a red human skull. He walked not with his katana, for it lay sheathed and bloodless. Instead, he carried two wakizashis (smaller blades than katanas, but larger than daggers) in each hand. His gloves smoked still from his energy which he had created. Now he walked on out at Makare’s nodding.
“All the north-lands are yours for helping me, Naigo,” he assured. “Just kill his acolytes!”
The taller man paused and looked and saw: It was Yajirobe he did then fall his eyes upon. The boy was standing with a host of others, and they were fighting off a relentless enemy. But Naigo had them in his sights. He sheathed his blades, for there was a better way to kill them. He prepared a ball of pure, concentrated energy.
It was a red ball, flowing with electric and sparks, and dripping burning pieces onto the now-scorched earth. It took time, but he was gaining control every time he did this. While the energy formed in his hand, he supported it with obligatory grunts. With grim satisfaction, he saw that the energy was forming quickly into a tear-drop ball. The others were too far away to see him. Even if they could, none of them would have any idea what he was doing. They wouldn’t know they were about to die. This was Naigo’s favorite part.
He felt it more than saw it when the energy was ready. Looking down at his hand, the ball was no more than the size of a globe. But its lethality factor would not be questioned. Lining himself up, he arced his arm back, flicking his wrist, and threw the ball directly at the group of resisters. He had men fighting amongst them, and surely they would perish with the rest. But this was war. Naigo would do whatever it took to win. And everyone must lose pawns to get the king.
It was not immediate, but far quicker than an arrow that the ball reached the mark. It exploded on impact, throwing bits of bodies – intestines and chunks of chests and so much skin – and ground around in a swirling storm. Yet the primary quarry, Yajirobe, had looked left at the last moment, and seeing a whirling strike on approach and flung himself away and survived.
Naigo growled, and drawing his wakizashis, he ran at Yajirobe.
The boy was blinking himself out of dizziness when he saw Naigo charging him like a bull seeing red. He barely had time to bring up his sword with his tired arms and block. But the crash of impact itself was so monumental that it flung Yajirobe back regardless.
He stood up again, trying to stop seeing spots and began forming his own plan of attack. Yajirobe remembered what his Master had told him. He had to dictate the flow of this battle. He had to keep calm. He could win this. Instead of retaliating with a charge of his own (surely, that would result in nothing more than a missing head), he steadied his blade and dared the man to come and get him. Well, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea either.
Naigo roared in disapproval, but nonetheless could not refuse. He took the offensive, unable to stabilize his bloodlust. Turning his body, he slammed down with both blades. Yajirobe blocked them easily and kicked Naigo’s feet out from under him, springing back, and taking the same position again. This time, Naigo swung high with one blade, and low with the other. Yajirobe jumped between them, flipping his katana, to bounce them away. As he landed, he saw Naigo open for attack, and struck the man’s chest. He screamed out, trying to kick Yajirobe, but to no avail. Yajirobe attempted another hit, but Naigo was already recollected. He now had madness in his eyes.
The man rushed Yajirobe with a flurry of attacks. Yajirobe was pushed back, slowly losing ground as he could do nothing but block hit after hit of metal on metal. His speed had been deceived by his height. Yajirobe did not think this man could have been able to move so fast, and now he could barely block all of the jabs. Some of them were even making it through. Several light scrapes started forming on his forearms and face, but still Yajirobe blocked. Until he saw an opening, he had no other choice.
Naigo reprieved and flipped over Yajirobe, trying to cut his head off as he jumped. But Yajirobe had ducked and rolled away, just barely missing a second quick-slice to his ankles. Before he could stand up Naigo was already on him. Kicking up with both feet, Yajirobe was able to hit the man’s arms and push him back. Then, seeing the fatigue that Naigo had, the boy knew it was time.
He did not run directly at Naigo, but in more of a spiraling circle. As the man turned to face him, Yajirobe noticed all of his reflexes were far slower than before. Good. He could attack now. Yajirobe tried a high cut, which knocked away one of Naigo’s wakizashis. Then, Yajirobe moved forward and was so close he could have stepped on Naigo toes. He parried back and forth with the giant’s single, smaller blade. Naigo knew this game all too well. For he had his other hand behind him, and was readying for critical execution another energy beam; and all this he did while doing nothing else but blocking. With a single wakizashi, he was a sitting duck. Or he would have been if he didn’t know how to create energy blasts. Naigo knew far too well the assumptions the young would make when thinking they were ahead.
Yajirobe did not see it until it was too late. The energy blast came as suddenly as it did painfully. Naigo rolled his blade out of Yajirobe’s, stepped back, and point-blank fired with his other hand into Yajirobe’s face. The boy couldn’t even scream in pain because the air had been sucked from his body; his eyes blinded, his katana fallen to the ground, he had nothing left with which to defend. Yajirobe staggered forward, coughing hoarsely and unable to see. He swung his hands out, trying to punch Naigo, but the man was far too smart to get close. Instead, he took his last wakiazashi and threw it at Yajirobe, sticking him in the neck and making him fall with a sudden, airless gasp.
“Elijah! Elijah, come out. You coward. You sit in safety as everyone around you fights with valor and dies. Elijah?! Where are you? I have not come here to simply bloody my sword on your servants. Let us fight! I look forward to it! But you don’t… could it be that you are scared? Elijah, the child prodigy, now too scared to come out and fight me. ME?!” Makare unsheathed his sword and began pointing it around at the houses around them. “Burn it. Burn it all. Naigo, I said burn it. I don’t care about this place, I don’t care about our history together. If he won’t face me, destroy it!” Naigo remained silent, “Do it!”
Brian had spent all of this time searching for his missing master. He was just now reaching Elijah’s chambers, and opening the door, he saw the samurai. This house was one of the few not burning yet. There was little time. The man was sitting in his room, on a mat, in meditation. At a time like this.
“Sir, Mr. Daimyo, we’re under attack! We need your help. They’ve killed nearly everybody. You have to help!” Biney squeaked.
“Did Daniel appreciate his present?”
“He was dead when we got there, sir,” Brian said, gravely.
The man kept his head bowed and eyes closed when he spoke, “I didn’t think Makare would get to him that fast.”
“But… sir… the battle… they are attacking right now! We need you!”
“You don’t need me.”
“Yes we do! You’re the best samurai in the world.”
“No, I’m not.”
Brian stopped. His face grew red with anger as he thought of all he had done for this man. They held him in such high regard. Why was he just giving up now? Heck, Elijah had been the one pushing them to train for this moment all along! Just a few hours ago he was giving them advice for this fight! Brian shook his head in disbelief, “Have some courage! We’re fighting for you!”
“Fighting for me. Why?”
“Because you’re our Daimyo. You’ve taught us everything, and showed us how to fight, and… and…” Suddenly a huge explosion went off behind them, a red blast shining through the paper windows, over Brian’s distressed face, “You are not beaten! You are not beaten…”
Elijah stood up, “We are not beaten,” he said to himself. “I know who yet remains. Yajirobe and I, and you, Brian. Any one of us is a match for Makare. He is not as great as he thinks himself to be. But my plan must be trusted, no matter what it is. I know more than you think, Brian, and if you wish to live, you will do as I say.”
“What do you mean, sir?” breathed Brian.
“His companion, Naigo, he is a samurai of the south. I never feared Makare, but the company he kept, especially in these recent days is chilling. Daniel couldn’t get to the monks in time, and now he’s dead for it. Naigo learned from those solipsists how to win.”
“You mean murder us.”
“I mean just that. Naigo wields a power which none of us can bear resistance to. He will destroy us, the world no doubt. They did not believe me! Even Makare will become his slave!” he lamented. “Where is Yajirobe?”
“He’s holding them off, sir.”
Elijah bowed and nodded on his exit, gathering himself up before walking out, out of the room, out of the courtyard, and to where Makare and his diabolical creation stood. Brian followed him meekly. As they went, they saw many bodies and many fires, and even that of Kumo’s beleaguered corpse in the ruins of the old refectory. But no tears did Elijah have for any of them. He walked confidently out, all the way to the shouting man, and stood pause. Behind him was the hulking mass; the elephant in the room; the man of magic; the Lord of Hunger; Naigo. He stood ever still.
“You and I have business,” began Elijah, pointing swiftly at Makare. “Your pet does not.”
“Naigo is with me. Just like they are with you. I have already killed Kumo and one of your students. You are next.”
Elijah shook his head, “Brian has more power than I. Naigo is not stronger than the two of us.”
Naigo hissed, “Wouldst thou bet thy life on it?”
“Hold your tongue, vagabond,” Elijah said, batting an eye. “Makare, you are nothing. I could end you now, as I should have years ago, if not for your caretaker.”
“Yes, our old master was a lovely man, wasn’t he? Didn’t want you killing me. I’ve got to thank him for that. It’s too bad, really that’s he’s gone. He’d love to see you now. How you’ve lost. His most promising student turning out to be nothing more than a failure. It’s just that I’ve got Naigo that you can’t do anything. You may as well give up,” Makare laughed.
“You called for me. You unsheathed your sword. We duel. The others will not be kill–”
“Hahah, no. I am no fool, Elijah. I know you are the superior swordsman. But I am the superior mind. I don’t want you dead yet, anyway.”
“Give up, or Naigo kills the boy. Or is it too much to ask for you to show a little humility?”
“You are the superior mind, shouldn’t you know?”
But then, there came a sound from behind, and the group beheld Yajirobe. He was bleeding and covered in grime, but he was alive. He stumbled forward, with his katana in one hand. Naigo was aware at once and kicked the boy, knocking the sword out of his hands, causing him to fall into a pile of rubble. Both Makare and Naigo were shocked that Yajirobe was even alive.
Elijah pointed to Yajirobe. “You will never get it out of me, but I have told Yajirobe and Brian where the old master’s grave is. It would be foolish to kill the last two who know of its location.”
Makare flushed. He had never known how the master had died or where he was buried. In fact, Makare had thought their master had pulled an Elvis and was still alive… He stopped, lowering his blade. If what Elijah had said was true, he would need to keep these boys alive. There was a huge chance it was nothing more than a trick. He knew that. He was no plebian. But at the same time, if Elijah was telling the truth… this meant more to Makare than anything. His old master, whose name is long forgotten, always had favored Elijah. Makare hadn’t been allowed near him during the last days. He hadn’t even known his shogun had died until three years after the fact. He needed to see the grave. He needed to.
“Naigo, take the two boys and bind their hands…”
“What? You wanted them dead a moment ago!”
“I-I… w-we need them,” Makare stuttered, “I didn’t know until just now about what information they carried. Now they are valuable alive. Bind them! Do not question me again!”
He spat in Naigo’s face; the man growled softly, but obeyed.
“Come on, master! We have to fight them!” Brian pleaded, but Elijah simply shook his head.
“No. His terms are merciful. He will take you two as prisoners to wherever he may go.”
“Quiet. Do not disrespect me in his presence.”
“Don’t struggle, or I’ll cut off your arm,” Naigo said approaching Brian. Brian at first held up his sword to fight, but seeing how tall Naigo was, he quickly let it fall. Slumping his shoulders, he meekly lifted his hands to let Naigo bind them After Naigo had done so, he bound the unconscious Yajirobe’s hands and had guards take them away. They carried Yajirobe, but Brian was forced to walk.
Makare, now turning to Elijah, raised his sword over his head and brought down the hilt upon Elijah’s face. And his old peer refused to fight back, instead just smiling at Makare. Makare was irate. How could he smile at his defeat? How could he mock the greatest samurai in the world?!
Makare grabbed the back of Elijah’s head and pulled forward as he swung his hilt inward. Elijah’s face and the metal connected hard, and it sent him sputtering. Then, he took his boot and raised it to Elijah’s face and kicked him unto the ground. “It’s not long now,” he said, before turning and leading the three others away, into the night. “I will kill you, I promise that, little Daimyo! Yeah, Daimyo all right. You were never a shogun, and you never will be. I’ll kill you in front of them. And if they don’t talk, well I’ll kill you anyway.”
Still the Daimyo smiled.
That was the tipping point. Makare took out a small blade, and cut Elijah’s neck. It was not hard enough to actually kill him, but it was deep enough to make him go limp and start convulsing. But Elijah laid his head and coughed up blood, and his teeth stained red but his lips curled in a small smile, as he if felt he had won. Makare was already gone and did not see it.
And there they left Elijah in the dust. The burning fires lighting their way, at least for a little bit. Only punctuated by Brian’s seldom screams and cries to his master, they otherwise moved in silence. The last army of Makare, now with barely more than one hundred men left alive and two prisoners to his name, took the long walk up to Igaron mountain and to their final resting place.
What can I say? I’m a dead man, and I’m most certainly not walking.
Today was May ninth, in the age seven hundred forty-nine.
Chapter 6: This Is What You’ll Get
-four hours prior to the end of the last chapter-
I haven’t told you yet. I haven’t made things clear. But I will. I will tell you all of it. Kais know if I have enough time.
My name is Daniel Parroda. I am the reigning world-class lightweight boxing champion. My mansions, my popularity, my servants, my fame, they are all behind me now. Here I am; at the edge of the Orange Star City, in my father’s winery, where I should be safe. The two samurai factions have, up to this point, remained calm and civil. To this point, but not now. Not anymore. On my phone, I just got a message from Makare. He wishes to talk to me alone. I fear he knows I killed those monks so many chapters ago. I fear he’s come to kill me. There is little I can do about it.
Mark, my little brother, is here. I look over to see what he’s doing only to find him fast asleep. I can’t help but smile, even as my heart beats with fear. He’s still got that half-eaten steak next to him. That’s just a perk of my success. He gets all the best things he wants. But that won’t last. He’ll have to earn it himself once I’m gone. He’ll have to become a champion too if he wants more prime meat. But Mark’s been training so hard and mostly for me. I couldn’t do anything he’s done when I was his age. He’s going to be stronger than me. He’s going to be stronger than anybody realizes. I know he will. I walk over to him, waking him up as gently as I can.
Running my fingers through his curly black hair, I speak softly, “Hey bud, we have to go,” and he stirs awake. “Come on little devil, wake up.”
He is sluggish to get up. In the meantime, I go back to my desk and pull out a small TACPAD. This is my golden ticket, so to speak. The explosives I put in Makare’s cave headquarters will go off with just a single push of one of these buttons. But I can’t press them yet. The armies could be outside. Makare surely is.
We have a contingency plan for this. The master of the Samurai school is supposed to send me a message. He has to know Makare’s coming. He has to know when I should press the button and kill them all. He has to! I really should have bought a telescope and lived on a mountain. I really don’t know what to do. I’m in a goddamn state of weltschmerz, a word which here means I’m depressed.
“Where are we going, Danny?” I hear Mark say behind. Good, he’s up.
“You’re going to head back to the city, okay?”
“We were just there…”
I nod, “I know. But there’s no time for questions. Grab your bag, and I’ll meet you in a few hours.”
“But why can’t you come now?”
“I have business, kiddo,” I smile. “It’ll be easier for me to finish if you take a head start.”
His face remains un-assured. I want to tell him. I want to. But I can’t. If he knew what was about to happen, he would never leave. I can’t let him die too, if that’s what it will come to. I can’t risk it.
There’s a knock at the back door. I’m out of time.
“Go now,” I breathe, “before you speak again. And here, take this,” I reach over onto my bed and hand and grab something before throwing it into his chest. “Don’t forget this.”
It’s my championship belt. The entire buckle is pure gold. I can see the wonder in his eyes, the curiosity, but I can’t tell him why. I can’t. There’s another knock at the door, this time more forceful. Makare’s getting impatient.
“Take good care of it, Mark. You’ll be a world-champion one day. Just keep training like I’ve taught you.”
He opens his mouth to retort, but the door beats again. This time it’s nearly thrown off its hinges. The megalomaniac is going to break through.
“Go! Mark!” I say just as the door flies forward off its frame, hitting the table behind me. “Mark, run!”
He tucks the belt close to his chest before turning and bolting. Opening the front door, he runs out, and soon I cannot even see him through the windows. I feel a creeping shadow on my back. He’s right here.
“My most important accountant. Daniel Parroda.”
The voice is none other than Makare’s; that dour wolf.
“Mister Makare,” I say, turning to face him cordially. “This is… unexpected.”
“I hope not,” he sneers.
I feign surprise, but that’s more formality than self-protection. “Oh, why?”
“There’s something that hasn’t been adding up. I was just thinking about it. The Red Ribbon Army… how did they find the monks? And why bother killing them? What threat were they? It didn’t make sense. The army doesn’t work like that. They are far too big to get that petty. Far too professional. But then I remembered you, Daniel. Of the few people I had told about the monks, you were the only one with a pocketbook big enough to finance an army.”
Makare holds his arm akimbo, grasping onto the hilt of his katana. Oh no, no, no. He’s going to grab it. I don’t have a weapon.
“I do have money, if that’s what you want to know,” I reply, keeping my outward appearance as calm as possible.
“You killed them. You ordered and now Naigo has to learn all by himself, and it’s so slow!” the man yells. “Ki control is not so easy to free-ball, you know. Well, that’s it. That’s it. I already have your money, and we have enough men now to take out Elijah’s school.”
Makare shakes his head, squinting his eyes. I see him grip the hilt of his sword more firmly. “You are no longer needed.”
He draws his blade in a single flick, slicing toward me. I am nimble enough to jump out of the way, but there is a glaring problem to my strategy (or lack thereof). I simply don’t have a way to get close to him. He’ll cleave me before I can.
I mean, Makare could have brought a sword for me if he was an honorable man.
“Makare, we can talk this over. I ha–”
“No talk. You are no longer needed.”
He comes closer, now twirling his blade around like some dandy. Tearing through my fine wood tables and all my papers and trophies and pictures, he really is making a mess of things. I run backward, looking for a weapon as he continues to carve a path. I turn around for a second, but Makare is on me at once, and a last minute duck is all that saves my head. He hits the nearby power cord, ripping it open; and it sparks and hisses, cutting out the lights. I can’t do anything about that.
With the lights out, I slowly move away from the scene of destruction. Hopefully his hearing isn’t that great. And then, I feel the cold steel whip across my chest. The gush of blood comes next. No… I can… I can still… fight…
I don’t feel the pain. It feels like a soft hair running back and forth over my chest. I feel the stickiness of the blood. The cold air on my gaping wound. Yet I don’t feel the pain. Behind Makare, there is a small fire brewing. I can see his silhouette now. In pure adrenaline, I break forward, hitting the katana away and connecting my fist with his face. He howls out and drops the sword. I’ve got him. I’m not the reigning lightweight champion for nothing.
Stumbling back, Makare can’t defend against these world-class punches I’m throwing at him. I barrage him in the face and chin with punch after punch until he trips over himself and falls over. The fire is getting bigger. I see the katana glinting back light from it and grab it. Running to Makare, I jump on top of him, pinning him to the floor boards. He is just barely recovering from my assault when he looks up to my face. I have the katana and I’m bringing it down.
And then, I feel it. The pain; all of what had cut into me before finally rushing to me, my pain receptors on overload, I can’t even see. I drop the katana, screaming at the top of my lungs. This hurts. This hurts more than anything I have ever felt. I’ve been beaten bloody, pummeled mercilessly, but never cut open. The wounds on my chest have to pretty deep. I can’t breathe… I can’t breathe…
I blink my eyes until I see some semblance of color again. As my vision comes back from the pain overload, I still have Makare pinned. I go to strangle him. As I do, he raises his hand and pulls something out of his shoulder strap.
No! I reach for it, but it’s too late.
No, wait! Wait!
I’ve given all I can, but it’s not enough. My arms are too lethargic from the pain. He brings the small dagger up to my throat and sticks it in. Blood rushes into my throat, down to my lungs, out my mouth. I truly cannot breathe now. I can’t find the TACPAD. I can’t even activate the explosives. It’s too late. No! I don’t want absolution. I don’t want forgiveness! I just want to kill them all… kill them all…
It all goes blurry. My body’s responses have kicked in. I’ve grabbed the knife, tried to pull it out, but I’m not there. That is not me doing that. I’m just here. I’m just in my mind. I can’t feel anything. I can’t see anything. I can’t hear anything.
Makare pushes the blade deeper and deeper into my throat. My body fights him every inch of the way, but it’s no use. I can’t win. I’m running on fumes. I’ll choke to death on my own blood before he can move me. I feel my body swelling up to pyknic proportions as my insides scream and flutter. I’m already gone. I’m gone.
I try to think of my little brother, Mark. I can’t. My mind’s gone laconic. I can’t think. I just see him. He’s got my belt. He’s standing right there. It looks so good on him.
It looks so good on him.
-after the end of the last chapter-
The muscae volitantes in his eyes were having a proper party. That was his best guess. Dang buggers were moving around with more vigor than he had ever seen. Yajirobe stirred awake on a barren, cold slab of rock, smoothed out and flat. On the back edge, it dropped sharply down into a crevice. The left and right sides were guarded by natural rock, and ahead was a single, barred door. He was in prison, or at least a really, really bad hotel; and he was alone. Brian and his master were nowhere around.
Yajirobe groaned and grunted. He had suffered a terrible loss at the hands of Naigo, if he remembered correctly. That was all he had remembered. Now here he was, in who-knows-where, aching and hurting and bleeding and writhing. He had been nothing but flouted, being left here. Yajirobe didn’t know why he was still alive. If they had lost – which they must have if he was in such a wretched place – then why had he not died? Both Naigo and Makare had been eager to eliminate him. He did not know; Yajirobe had never had an affinity toward the analytic aspects of life. He only wanted some pork in his belly, and nice sun to warm him. That’s all.
A loud clamour then rose up to equal echo on the left of Yajirobe. He looked over, curiously, for before he had seen naught but dark rock. Now looking closer, he saw the rock had many holes in it, enough to see through onto the other side. He approached, peering in, seeing a mirror prison chamber on the other side. Only, instead of Yajirobe staring back at him, it was the gaunt and grime-eyed Brian. He had in his hands the small, glimmering orange ball.
“You’re alive!” Brian exclaimed, with a brief smile.
“Yeah, where are we?” Yajirobe asked, not even trying to muster up a smile himself.
“That other samurai… Makare, I think? Well, he brought us up here. We’re inside the mountain.”
Yajirobe squinted. “Why’d he take us alive? He could’ve just killed us earlier.”
“Master told them we knew what happened to the shogun, where he’s buried and stuff. You know, the supreme samurai that even taught our master.”
“No, I don’t…”
“Well, that’s why Makare’s kept us alive,” Brian explained. “But I think they’re going to question us soon. You should, um, be prepared. I think it will hurt.”
Yajirobe growled, “Grr… I don’t even know where that old guy’s buried. I’ll just tell him that.”
“They won’t believe you, Yajirobe.”
Yajirobe wasn’t listening. He was more concerned with how to get out of this dank place. He spoke again, “We need a plan to get out of here.”
“I’ve already tried getting through the doors. Besides, there are a bunch of guards outside,” Brian shrugged. “And our swords were left back at the Academy.”
“Hmph, it’s no use sitting here–”
There was a creaking of the door then, and both boys turned to see what it was. Though Yajirobe could only see spotted pieces of the other jail cell, he could glimpse at the door. Brian’s, it was, and it was opening. In strode the man in black, Naigo, though he wore his crescent helmet. Along with two guards, they grabbed Brian, who pocketed the small orange ball just before they pulled him back. He fought against them, but being that the three were full-grown men, it was a short stint of rebellion. The group pulled Brian out, and as they walked away, down the rock halls, Yajirobe could hear their footsteps and Brian’s pleading echoing back. They must’ve gone several hundred feet before he could no longer hear their walking.
His skin still burned from that weird attack Naigo had used on him. Yajirobe had no idea what that was. It was almost like the Lord of Hunger had been able to create fire and then use that as a weapon. Yajirobe shook his head. He’d joined the wrong club. Samurai were cool and all, but being able to throw fire, that would be really cool. Then, Yajirobe thought more and more of this, and he came to realize how much work that would be. That would be awful, trying to make fire come out of your hands. And that didn’t even take into account if he would be burned. Yeah, that was too much work to worry about. He wouldn’t worry about it.
Yajirobe stayed there for what seemed like a few minutes, dangling his feet off the edge of the enclosure and thinking about how many plates of salted pork he could eat. Fifteen was his current record, but on his stomach today? He could probably beat that. Yajirobe guessed maybe eighteen plates. No, no, no. It wouldn’t work. He felt in his pockets, and sure enough, those three dastardly zeni were still there. With but this triumvirate of simple coins, he could not buy himself any goods whatsoever. He was extenuating himself so much that Yajirobe had forgotten where he was.
Yajirobe stood up.
“No way I’m getting tortured,” he whispered to himself.
Brian was now screaming in quick succession, relentlessly. Yajirobe couldn’t take it. He hunkered down, shifting his mass forward, then ran to the door. He slammed into the cold, prison bars; to which end, he lost his balance and was flung away. Deprived of food for too long, he could barely muster the energy to hit that pole. Were he at full energy, the fledging samurai would surely have beaten it down. Yet, even under the noise of Brian’s cries of agony beyond, the ringing reverberations from what Yajirobe had done had garnered enough attention to make a guard run over.
“Stopeet! Quiet yerself,” drolled the guard. He walked into view with a torch in hand, only to find Yajirobe keeled over on the slab. “Lookee here, it’s just a prisoner.”
Yajirobe looked up, and felt a wave of paroxysm at seeing this man. For who could it be other than that melancholic assassin of yore; the man who’s life had been spared by Yajirobe. When the man saw exactly who he was, he recoiled equally, but did not run. His cover was blown; he had nowhere to go. Yajirobe stared him down in cold disfavor.
“You!” Yajirobe exhaled.
“I… uh… I don’t…” he stammered.
“You’re still here, after I saved you!” Yajirobe shook his head in tepid anger. “You shoulda just left, man.”
“I, uh, ya don’t know what I havta do…”
Yajirobe stood up, walking straight to the barred door, “Look, there’s not much time. Just let me out.”
“I can’t do that…” the man said, uncomfortably.
“Hey, I saved your life, I coulda killed you if I wanted,” Yajirobe continued. He punched the wall in anger.
“Now pay me back. Let me go and I won’t bother your master anymore.”
“I saved you!”
The man could hardly refuse. His tactless words were convincing no one. What Yajirobe had said was indeed true. “All right, all right,” he whispered. “Go fast.”
Yajirobe nodded. Gripping the ansate of the door, the man quietly pulled it open, even as it creaked on its rusted bolts. Hopefully nobody heard. The man watched Yajirobe wearily before the latter turned and ran out. As he went, they could hear Brian’s cries rising.
The greater man, with a helmet painted with a red skull and robes of black had taken the small boy to the centerfold room, where he and his fellow master in evil, Makare, had taken up repose. Therein, he had come to the boy, Brian, and sat him on an incline chair. Many taciturn soldiers were milling about, and none were suicidal enough to stay too close. For Naigo was in rare form. His gormandizing tendencies had been replaced by purpose. He did not bother strapping Brian down. Drawing his sword and placing it to the helpless boy’s neck was enough to tell Brian he was not going anywhere.
“Tell me what I want to know,” Naigo began.
“I… don’t know what you want…” Brian responded, anxiety driving him.
“There was a great samurai whom your Daimyo killed. He was buried somewhere. You know where.”
Brian’s eyes were saucers to the blade digging into his forehead. “B-but, I don’t! I hadn’t even heard of this guy!”
Naigo responded by digging the blade deeper into the flesh. Brian screamed in agony and blood spurted out, coating the interrogator’s dark coat with a crimson tide.
“He taught your Daimyo how to be a samurai. Elijah has nothing but contempt for those he doesn’t agree with. He killed his old master, just as one of you will kill Elijah.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” the boy cried.
It was no use. Naigo removed the blade, ripping it back, and pulling more flesh with it. Brian gasped and slumped forward, spilling a stream of blood down his shirt and front side. Breathing heavily, covered in blood, and crying in pain, he looked up to the man. The steely-eyed samurai flouted Brian and gave him no rest. Bringing up his boot, Naigo pinned Brian against the chair. He pressed harder and harder, crushing the student’s chest. Slowly, but surely, his bones began cracking, and Brian had to stop screaming, for the air was being sucked out of his lungs.
“It’s not a question of if you know where he is buried, but how many bones I have to break before you tell me where he is.”
He let go. Brian hacked and coughed up blood, wheezing so much he was shredding the inside of his throat. Barely able to breathe, he could not much less tell Naigo the information, had he known it. In anger for wounding Brian too severely, Naigo compounded the misuse of his hostage by slicing Brian twice across the face with his blade. The boy shuddered – that was all he could do. But he could not talk.
“Prepare the other one. This kid’s no use to us anymore,” he said, solemnly.
Naigo stepped forward. He began to create a ball of energy, much as he had on the battlefield hours before. This one shined deeply indigo. He grunted in excess, as the energy molded into a ball. He had nothing to fear. The kid was just sitting there, spitting up blood, not moving his broken bones. So Naigo pulled his wrists up, flipping the blast over, and prepared to dunk the ball onto Brian’s head, which would incinerate the useless boy.
Naigo went through the motions, but Brian had looked up at the last second. In doing so, he had also grabbed the orange ball out of his pocket and thrown it right into Naigo’s face. The man had not expected this, and the shock alone caused him to stagger back, and as he did so, he lost grip on his energy, dropping it. The blast curved downward, hitting Naigo in the leg, and burning through his robes. He growled a low growl and fell over. Before the few mercenaries around could see what had happened, Brian had jumped up, and limped off.
Brian could only get so far with a cracked ribcage and a sliced face. He could barely see out of his blood-filled eyes, even constantly wiping it all away. So, Brian did not see a small table in his way when he rounded a corner. He fell into it, crying out again. He could hear Naigo behind him, furious as a bull in a rodeo. He would be here any second. Brian tried to get up, but he found he couldn’t. He was too weak, too tired. He fell back into the rubble that he just tripped over.
There was a hard-pack just under his lower back which Brian pulled out. It was Harotu’s backpack. Brian had been carrying it when Makare had captured him. Here it was… and all the fireworks were still inside. Brian’s heart jolted. He had a plan. Looking up, there was a torch hooked to the nearest wall. He crawled over and pulled down on the wooden holder, causing the torch to fall directly into his lap. He screamed again as the fire burnt his chest good. Pulling it off of him, Brian pulled out a particularly large firework and lit the fuse with his trembling hands. Then, he collapsed.
The footsteps of Naigo and his men were not hard to hear, and as Brian listened attentively, he timed it perfectly. Right when the group came around the corner, he threw the backpack, desperately and hopelessly to the troops. The fuse itself, still burning, couldn’t detonate on impact. Naigo, at its helm, caught the bag between his hands, and seeing the burning fuse coming from within it, yelled out before throwing it to the ceiling. A moment later, the firework exploded, causing a chain-reaction of explosions from the others still within. But they had blown for no use. The smoldering bag fell, from over ten feet above their heads, and had done no damage to them.
Still, at that moment, a piece of something buried in the ceiling, beneath a thin layer of dust, hummed awake, being triggered by that last explosion.. A circular-shaped contraption it was, and the tip of it turned red. When it did, many others, like a sea of red eyes, like a host of evil insects in the night, turned red too. And oh, did they hum.
Naigo could not see or hear this. His focus was only on Brian. He swiftly moved forward, with impressive speed considering one of his legs was burnt black by his own energy blast. He dropped to his knees, grabbing Brian around the neck, and pulling him to his chest. Naigo raised his hand, telling his men to stay back. Brian fought him, but Naigo was too strong. He was just too strong.
The man took out one of his wakizashis and lifted Brian’s shirt. The boy was pleading with him now, pleading for his life. It fell on deaf ears. For Naigo drew his wakizashi into Brian’s flesh, just below the belly button. His thirst couldn’t be slaked. He sliced deep and delicately, sure as to not rip the skin. Brian fell into shock, his screams dying down, and his body began convulsing. Naigo grinned, openly.
The samurai of the south ripped open Brian’s stomach with his black fingernails, scraping out the organs from within. As he did so, pulling out the intestines and liver, he lowered his face and took a generous bite with his yellow teeth.
At that moment, the explosives on the roof, the ones Daniel had planted so many days earlier, went off; and they coated the cave with fire and shrapnel. Neither the men, nor Naigo could move in time as the sweeping walls of fire descended upon them; and it consumed not only the bodies of every man within, but also that of the rock itself. Then did the once infallible stone walls collapse and crumble and everyone within was wrought by vivisepulture. And the samurai from the south, the precocious purveyor of the art of Ki, was taken from this earth.
His grand escape was purely auspicious, purely chance. Yajirobe had gotten out, he really had, at the last second. The gatekeeper of whom Yajirobe had life by the throat had been warily quiet and slow in letting him out. Thereafter, sneaking amongst rocks and foul things, Yajirobe had stayed away from the light, stayed far out of sight. He had barely crawled out of a filthy crack in the side of the mountain when it had all gone to hell.
He wanted to go get a sword, go get some quiet to formulate an idea to free Brian and kill his inseparable captors – but it was too late. The rock had just blown its top. The sonic force had sent Yajirobe flying, literally, several feet out, leading him to tumble over himself down the side of the now silt-strewn side. Boulders and cobble followed him like loyal dogs. To Yajirobe, they were equally undesirable. He sat up, just in time to duck again as the rocks flew over him. He had no idea what was happening. It was as if the mountain was exploding. But that couldn’t be. Mountains don’t spontaneously explode.
A dust cloud, thereafter, came up, and it coated itself in the mountainside generously. Yajirobe had taken a last look back to the cave’s entrance, but seeing it completely collapsed into a mighty crater, he let any hope of rescue go like the fleeting wind.
He hadn’t thought it to be like this. Just a few nights ago he had spoken to Brian. He had told that boy to his face that he didn’t care. He wouldn’t save him. Well, Yajirobe hadn’t saved him. He hadn’t. But he’d be a bold-face liar to say he didn’t feel remorse for it. He was here, out in the wild, after some cataclysmic event he had had no part in. Everyone was dead. Everyone was gone. He was just here.
Yajirobe made his way down the mountain, finding a deer trail that took him back toward the Academy. His stomach rumbled in exquisite pain, reminding him that salted pork had not yet come. His feet were fatigued and felt like Styrofoam. The momentum the boy had created going downhill had caught up to him, and Yajirobe tripped over himself, falling forward and landing with a crash into a tree at the bottom.
Getting up, quite annoyed, Yajirobe noticed a flicker of gold stuck in the wood. He stood up and saw it: a katana. Yes, it was his katana! The black hilt, the gold neck, the long, slender blade… it was his, it had to be! Eagerly, he jumped forward, going to pull it off the tree it was tied to, when he spotted a note on the blade’s tip. Picking that up, he read:
“To whom it may concern, to my greatest student and rightful samurai, I congratulate you. You have passed the test. You have activated Daniel’s mine field with the tools I have helped you achieve. And now that he and Makare are dead, you have passed your final test; and you are a samurai like me. I will reveal it all now. Please come to the Daimyo’s chambers in the Academy as soon as you have read this.”
Yajirobe pocketed the note. He didn’t know about Daniel’s minefield. No sir. But that was regardless of the fact that the sword was here. He ripped the frail ropes from with it and took it into his hands, feeling it over for familiarity’s sake. Alas, it was not familiar. It didn’t feel quite right. He froze. This was not his sword.
Yajirobe stole a look at the hilt, and saw in the flowery inscription that it was Brian’s name, not his, that had been placed here.
It was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown down his back. His master had been so confident here that one of them would get out. And he had bet it all that it would be Brian. Had his master no faith in him? Had Elijah not watched Yajirobe properly? Not seen how he had done so well since their first mission?! Had he not remembered how it was Yajirobe, not Brian, who had dueled his master and injured him?
Yajirobe’s fury rose faster than a kangaroo being startled by a tiger snake. Anyway, he took that sword, he did, and started on in a full sprint back to the Academy. He would show Elijah who the best samurai was. He would.
As he ran, Yajirobe came around the bend and stopped (almost as suddenly as he had begun moments ago). For there, standing in front of him was an ostentatious man; Makare, who had half his face burnt black. His sword was already out.
“Clever, clever boy!” he spat, his eyes bugged. “Your hybris knows no bounds! To blow up the mountain… what shame have you?! What were you thinking?! Everyone is dead now! Everyone but us! What am I to do? There are no samurai left to follow me!”
“I didn’t do it…” Yajirobe responded in a startled rasp. He was just as stunned as Makare was.
“Didn’t do it? Didn’t do it?!” Makare screamed, falling to his knees, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!”
He sat there, seething and spitting, his hands warbling and clasping against themselves like little serrefines, a word which here means medical forceps. Yajirobe could see how bad Makare’s wounds were from this position, and indeed they were haunting. The samurai’s face was almost blown away on the left side, his eye bloodshot and dark, and his mouth hanging agape by strings of flesh. Blood, cauterized black, coated his entire face. Then he looked to Yajirobe; and the grip on his sword grew ever tighter.
“Hmph, whatever man,” Yajirobe said, trying to sidestep around this hideous wreck.
“Get back here!”
Makare threw himself forward, leaping up and flipping his sword over his head. Coming down, his blade barely glanced Yajirobe’s previous position, as the younger samurai dodged away from it in instinct. Grimacing at the katana in his face, Yajirobe drew his own, slicing the opponent away. Makare, staggering backward, screamed again.
The boy would not be able to just walk away from this one. He would have to deal with Makare once and for all. This man would be his ascendant match.
The mountain to their right was boiling in spectacular orange light. The layers of explosives Daniel had planted must have been quite deep, as even now, sporadic blasts were continuing to fire off, flinging more and more rock about. The cave where once Yajirobe had been a prisoner now flowed with fire; for as time wore on, more and more of the rugged land caught up in like-fire.
But Yajirobe held the advantage. He had two good eyes. Now, circling back right, watching his opponent, he faced his back to the burning mountain. In the grim night, the brilliance so oncommon behind, he would blind that man, he would outmaneuver the great swordsman – he knew he could. Makare was now approaching him. It was time to end this.
Yajirobe stayed his feet, allowing Makare to make the first move. He was acutely aware of Makare’s skill. It was even greater than that of Naigo – from whom Yajirobe had been handed a terrible defeat only hours ago – that there was no reason to go running into that sword. Oh no, that was not for him.
The man, in his time, had come straight to Yajirobe with a tempest hot in his hand. His technique was ephemeral, reckless, but his power was great. The force of his hits pushed Yajirobe back, breaking the boy’s guard. He stumbled back into the dirt only to see the wolf on him again, pounding him with slice after slice. Yajirobe did his best to block, but he was cut deep across his collarbone. Gritting his teeth, Yajirobe punched Makare across the face with a knuckled hand wrapped around his sword’s hilt. Doing this caused the man to lose a tooth, spluttering backward. Yajirobe cautiously got up and kneeled down for an Iagiri attack. Sheathing his sword, he ran forward, and prepared to unsheathe it again.
Yet this trifled strategy was well-met by his veteran opponent, and Makare balanced on his feet just in time to see it. Jumping into the air, he flipped and parried Yajirobe’s sword-thrust upside down. So sudden was this defensive move that Yajirobe’s surprise allowed him to drop his sword, and lose it to the night. Makare landed but a foot behind him, swinging as his feet hit the ground. Yajirobe dove out of the way, with lag, but quickly enough.
He was at a huge disadvantage now. Not only had he lost his sword, but Makare had somehow gotten behind him and had the flaring fires to hinder the student’s sight. It was threefold as difficult now to see anything, let alone a displaced sword among the ash. Makare drove toward him once more, this time in a charge with his katana point-out. Yajirobe paused. Makare would be trying to scare him with this move. But Yajirobe knew that attacking with a katana’s point was not only dangerous to the bearer, but stupid. The brittle blade could snap. He had an idea for how to make that happen.
Twisting around, Yajirobe stood staunch in the ground. Before the man could get to him, he began running forward. Makare saw this at the last second, and stopped. He flipped his blade around, now having drawn Yajirobe too him, and swung it downward from over his head. Yajirobe had bit on this trick; now he paid the price in blood, in a long gash down his chest as Makare got a hit on him.
His entire body was numb and his head felt like it was on fire. Yajirobe fell down to the ground and could not move. Yajirobe was a coward by nature. He had always been one. Even in the months of training, he had been a coward. Never had he wanted to do any of those courageous things he had done. Never. It was only at night when he fell sore into bed that Yajirobe had shaken and quivered and cried about what he had done. Every night he had fallen asleep promising himself to get the hell out of that Academy. But he had nowhere else to go. His laziness equal to his cowardice had kept him here; in prime position where he should not or could not be.
Makare placed his blade to Yajirobe’s neck.
“Get up and kneel.”
Yajirobe did so. His mouth was too dry to beg.
“Now… I’ve got you all. I’ve killed every one of you,” Makare spoke, walking back and forth. “This would have been better had Naigo and my men survived. They were all a colossal waste of money. I should have known.”
Yajirobe’s voice cracked as he tried to speak, “W-what happened to them anyway?”
Makare stopped short, not facing Yajirobe. He buried his face in his hands. And that’s when Yajirobe saw it: his sword was just a foot to his left. He could see it! Yajirobe’s heart skipped a beat. He could reach it. And Makare wasn’t facing him. The man was too concerned with Yajirobe’s question.
Makare began nodding his head, rigorously. Simultaneously, he began waving his sword around to no one and no one in particular. “That’s what I like to know about it,” he hissed.
He turned to face his quarry, readying a heavy blow to decapitate poor Yajirobe. He found something much different. Yajirobe had thence grabbed his own sword and readied it in time to block. He shattered Makare out of his quasi-drunken stupor and knew it then, for it was his time to take the offensive. Screw it, Yajirobe thought. Defense nearly got him killed last time.
He stepped forward, within a tooth’s snare of his foe, and traded blows without end. And the mountain burned and exploded still. Yajirobe cut up and down, left and right, punching through every one of Makare’s defenses. Yajirobe now commanded this fight. He hooked his blade around the back of the other samurai’s blade, causing it to fly forward. Using that momentum, he propelled his own blade into Makare’s chin, ripping it open, giving free-flow to the crimson within. Yajirobe spun around, kicking Makare off, and hunkering down into a charge. He ran forward again, this time brandishing the katana well above his head. As Makare went up to block it, he slid under, pushing his heavy boots into the man’s shins, splintering them. He, Makare, fell over, howling in pain. But he fought back Yajirobe even then, and their blades clashed and sparked ever still.
The boy jumped back from a long swipe. He tried approaching again, but the man, like a cornered animal, swung wildly again. Yajirobe parried it, putting all of his strength into it. He would not die! His adrenaline was in control now, not his brain. Yajirobe pushed Makare back and then flipped his blade. The man was now defenseless. There was no going back. Yajirobe arced the sharp side down on Makare’s hand. At that moment, it was severed; Yajirobe had won.
The man squirmed like a worm out of dirt; he screamed like he was being boiled alive. Before Yajirobe could even do a single thing, Makare had, between fearful eyes and splattering blood, crawled forward, getting onto his feet, and began running. He didn’t have to think about it. No, Yajirobe just acted on discipline when he ran after the old villain. He jumped to the air, his katana held high and proud, and then Yajirobe brought it to and through Makare’s neck as he landed.
It was over.
Yajirobe sheathed his sword, took a few steps forward, then collapsed. He was utterly and absolutely spent. When he came to the ground, Yajirobe’s head collided with something small and orange. He could not make it out as his vision became dark, but there was one thing Yajirobe thought before he fell into sleep: he would have a headache in the morning.
It was after four in the afternoon when Yajirobe awoke. He was greeted with several waves of pain, many of which were in places he didn’t know could feel pain. With an annoyed grunt, he pried out something from under his ear – his accursed pillow from last night – and saw it to be the small orange ball his master had given Brian. He pocketed that.
Getting up, Yajirobe made sure not to look at Makare’s headless corpse. He was never one for bodies, no sir. Now that he had won, however, the only place to go was back to the Academy. Even from here, he could see it. While most of the buildings smote in ruin, he was sure that whoever wrote that note to him was still alive. And by ‘whoever’, Yajirobe meant the Daimyo Elijah. Heck, they had told him to go to the Daimyo’s quarters.
It was a short trek back to the smoldering gates. The carapace, now destroyed, looked unnatural and alien. It was a sad state of affairs this place was in. Yajirobe limped through, searching for signs of life. As my scholars remember, Yajirobe was not conscious when the Daimyo had been so badly wounded. He had no memory of it. It was by luck, then, that Yajirobe had gone into the one building left untouched. This was, by coincidence, the master’s chambers. He had paused as soon as he came to the hallway, which was filled with doors, when he heard talking. It was not a man talking.
Still numb in his fingers, Yajirobe had trouble drawing his sword properly before entering. That was okay; it really was. Inside was no last soldier of Makare, no last assassin come to rid the world of Yajirobe (HFIL forbid). Yet, the figure was equally hated. He was perhaps Yajirobe’s third least favorite person in the whole Dragon World.
Mark was sitting on a small stool perpendicular to a bedside. There, next to him was the instigator himself; Elijah.
“You?!” Yajirobe said, completely dumbfounded.
Mark looked back, nodding, before giving Yajirobe the shoulder again. “He’s here, sir.”
There was a cough and a click.
“Well, hurry up and get over here,” Mark said.
Yajirobe sheathed his sword (oh how he would have liked to use it to make Mark leave) before approaching. He saw there where his master lay. The man’s eyes gleaned with a light when Yajirobe came into view, but that quickly faded into two dark pools of emotionless-stare. Yajirobe kneeled at the edge of the bed and placed his katana on the sheets. He had an extremely serious face on his face. Or so I’m told.
Yajirobe began. “Those guys are dead. I made sure of it.” Elijah nodded. He closed his eyes, and the three sat in silence for kami knows how many seconds before Yajirobe burst out in speech again. “Well, is that it?! I just beat them all. The least you could do is congratulate me!”
Still with his eyes closed, Elijah opened his lips, “I am glad you won, Yajirobe. And I am saddened that you are the only survivor.”
Yeah, it was Brian’s sword, Yajirobe thought. He knew Elijah had expected Brian to survive and Yajirobe to die. For all his indecency, Makare hadn’t been wrong about Elijah.
“So, then that’s it? Are you going to continue the class?” Yajirobe asked him.
“No, no. That was your final test… and besides I don’t have many resources left. You saw how Makare destroyed the school and killed all my servants… “
Yajirobe looked disgruntled. “So?”
His Daimyo was weak, causing him to speak very slowly, “The time of the samurai is over. With what Naigo has unleashed, I fear his type will become the norm, and we will be obsolete.”
“So what am I supposed to do now?”
“Do what you like,” the tired man crackled.
“And what are you gonna do, master?”
“I don’t know, maybe recover from my wounds. Maybe visit my friend the Ox-King. I have things to discuss with him.” He seemed very uninterested.
Yajirobe couldn’t believe it. This didn’t make sense. He had expected more, more to be gained, more to be taught. “I’ve barely learned anything.”
The Daimyo contained a chuckle painfully, while Mark helped hold down the bandages, “Ya–yajirobe, you just killed the two most powerful samurai in the world.”
“I thought you were the strongest.”
“M-maybe so… but… I’m in no… position to fight you… if you want to kill me, that is.”
Yajirobe shook his head, “Hmph, that’s it. I’m outta here. If you can’t teach me anything else, I’ll just go find food somewhere else. That crazy samurai that could shoot fire out of his hands probably blew up the kitchens too.”
“That he did.”
“No use stickin’ around then. You guys can, uh, clean this up, right?” Yajirobe stammered with his face going red. He did not wait for a response, “Great!” He went to leave, but Yajirobe remembered something. He took the small ball out of his hand and tossed it on the bed. “There, I found that at the bottom of the mountain.”
The Daimyo nodded upon seeing it, “Thank you, Yajirobe, for returning my possession.”
“Oh yeah, do I get to keep my katana now?” Yajirobe breathed, pointing to Brian’s sword.
The Daimyo sighed long, closing his eyes and falling to his soft, soft pillows, “Yes, take it. Take it for him. And Yajirobe… remember what we’ve done here, and why we’ve done it. Don’t ever forget that you’re a samurai by heart… N-now Mark, please fetch my water. If I’m going to go see my friend the Ox-King, I’m going to need a lot of water.”
Yajirobe had nowhere to go. At first, he’d gone back to the city, back to his old life, and back to the old meat shop where three zeni (his only money) couldn’t buy a thing. It was a heavy blow to him when he had returned to that all-important butchery and found it to be boarded up. Yajirobe learned thereafter that the old butcher had been killed months ago by General Blue, when the good General had destroyed half the city. Nevertheless, the samurai broke in through the locked door with his katana, and found the meat molded, abandoned; wasted away. It was a terrible, terrible loss.
After that, Yajirobe had felt truly lost. He left Orange Star City and went south. The aimless journey yielded a simple lifestyle. He would hunt for fish and pigs and jackalopes when he felt hungry, and he rarely met a fellow human being. He liked not having to socialize or talk to them. At the same time, though, it felt more eerie every day to go so far south. By a few months’ time, he even past the great South City, where Naigo had come from. Still, without seeing anymore samurai, he was happy. Maybe they’d been wiped out in the last war.
The next few years were as noteworthy as Jason Cropper’s music career. That was okay – Yajirobe was not one for a sybarite life. Between feasting on wild animals and relaxing on the prairies of the southwest, Yajirobe was able to hone his sword-skills on not only trees but the occasional bear or wolf. It was his greatest joy to fight and kill these wild beasts and then eat them. Though he rarely tried too hard, for it was in his nature to not try too hard, Yajirobe gained a substantial amount of power from this. In fact, it should not have been too radical to call him the strongest of all humankind.
It was in the age seven hundred fifty-three that Yajirobe found in a small pond an orange ball not unlike that of his fallen master’s. This one, however, had but one star on it. Twas a terrible thing, finding that ball. The thing brought him nothing but misfortune, for soon after, he became acquainted with that monkey boy Goku, and got sucked up in the great Piccolo debacle.
However, for all the variance and ultimate unknown that came from those quests (of which are surely well known enough for me to not have to describe them), Yajirobe did eventually find himself in a predicament. He was up on the old cat’s tower (Korin, to be specific), which he had stayed at ever since the defeat of Piccolo. Three other warriors were now here training under the great Master Korin, but Yajirobe was not. He was more along for the ride than anything else.
It was a sunny day, and Yajirobe was taking in the warm rays when the old cat came to annoy him again.
“Hey Yajirobe, shouldn’t ya be training with the others? The tournament’s only three years away, you know,” Korin beamed. Well maybe he did, I don’t know. He never opens his eyes so it’s hard to tell.
Yajirobe snorted himself awake, “Huh? What tournament?”
“Ya know! The World Martial Arts Tournament! Where all the greatest fighters in the world get together to beat each other senseless. It’s very popular.”
Yajirobe shook his head.
“Aw c’mon Yajirobe. Don’t tell me you’re going to let those four (Tien, Yamcha, Krillin, the clown) get stronger than you… ”
Korin would not give up. “All right, tough guy. Heh, I can sense your power, and just between you and me, I know you’re the strongest out of all us here.”
Yajirobe opened an eye, “You’re lying.”
“Oh am I now? Fine, you’re not the strongest. Or you won’t be sitting there like that. Just think, Yajirobe, that if ya entered the tournament, you could win. You could get all that prize money! 500,000 zeni!”
Whoa now. That was a lot of money. With that kind of money, he could buy all the food he wanted. He was the strongest, the cat had said, so it had to be true. Sure it was a disheartening aphorism for the others, but it was positively profound to Yajirobe. He was the strongest in the world. Out of everyone, he had the most skill. He liked that. He didn’t like so much that he would still have to train some more (when he just wanted some sun).
Maybe if Yajirobe gave everybody some food they would agree not to train and he wouldn’t either. That way none of them would ever surpass him and he wouldn’t have to train. No, that was unrealistic. At this pace, he could still do minimal training and beat anyone. He would win this tournament.
Yajirobe nodded to Korin, whose lips pursed into a devious smile.
“All right, whatever, I’ll enter. Now let me get some sleep, stupid cat.”
Today was May 10th in the age seven hundred fifty-three.
Chapter 7: Scarred For Life
Bygones be gone!
Yajirobe was in internal quarrel, on the brink of irruption. Korin, the wise master, had only days ago convinced Yajirobe to show his worth, his highest quality. Since then, Yajirobe had not deigned to train with the other human warriors. He was not so much for crowds and thought it best to do his training alone. This proved to be utterly impossible, as in the small space that was usable in Korin Tower, he had no privacy. So his prodigality wasted away, all while Tien, Krillin, and Yamcha gained much power.
It was around May 16th that Yajirobe had had enough. He made up a quick sack of pork buns and rice and hooked his katana back to his belt (he hadn’t touched his katana since being up there). Without so much as saying goodbye, he jumped onto the railing, preparing to jump. He had forgotten how high he was; vertigo and acrophobia set in at once, causing him to fall back. He saw a blur of white go over him as he fell.
“Where ya goin’, big shot?” It was the cat.
“Uh, nowhere…” he replied lamely.
“Not goin’ to train somewhere, huh? Have ya finally stopped bein’ a couch potato?”
Yajirobe didn’t want the word to get out, no sir. “I already told you, I’m not doing anything.”
Korin jumped up to the rail Yajirobe had just fallen from with the nimble speed that I can only compare to that of a cat’s. He smacked Yajirobe on the top of the poor boy’s head with that warped piece of driftwood he kept as a walking stick, which made the samurai curse. “That’s ridiculous,” Korin said, “it’s borderline cumulus. Don’t pretend you weren’t sneakin’ off.”
Yajirobe, like all of us, knew Korin was speaking nonsense. “That doesn’t make sense– ow! Stupid cat! Stop hittin’ me!”
“Then start dodging. Your reflexes are slow from all those pork buns, eh?” Korin cackled.
Korin turned to face the other way. He was watching the sun start to set in the distance. It really was a spectacular view from this high up; yet he was the only one enjoying it. Tien was busy dueling Krillin and Chiaotzu at the same time, and Yamcha was doing some pushups. Of course, the samurai was right here groveling. It was then Korin got his greatest idea in all his life, and though such a thing was pleonastic, it was by no means bad. That’s why Korin was the master, really. He had a fondness toward prospicience.
“Yajirobe, before ya go… take Yamcha with ya.”
“Hmph, I’d rather fight King Piccolo by myself.”
Korin shook his head. “Sorry ta tell ya, but he’s dead. Otherwise, I’d be glad to set ya two up.”
“I know he’s dead, I was just…”
“Look, Yamcha needs a training partner. Tien and Krillin (with a little help from his friend) are training partners. It’s natural to pair you and Yamcha together. Besides, you’ll get stronger that way.”
Yajirobe didn’t respond.
“Huh, huh? Well?” Korin asked, poking Yajirobe’s soft flesh with the pointy end of his stick.
“I’ll stop when you agree to train with Yamcha.”
Yajirobe shook his head, standing up too. He gathered his clothes about him and picked up his food sack. He wasn’t used to having the pride of a samurai around him. It felt weird trying to look all confident and fearless. But he had to get away from this cat.
“He can’t keep up with me,” Yajirobe said before doing a fluid jump right over the rail, and back down to earth.
Korin watched him go for a while; then, he burst into chuckling and returned to the tower’s floor. He found Yamcha in a pool of his own sweat, over in that corner by the water barrels. The man was training pretty darn hard, doing one handed pushups. Korin walked over to him, and walked right up on top of his back, causing Yamcha to shudder in discomfort at the added weight.
“Hey, M-m-ma-master Korin? What are y-you doing?”
Korin sighed as Yamcha kept doing pushups, “You can stop now, ya know.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry!” Yamcha laughed nervously. He rolled over, and Korin fell off (but landed on his feet, I promise you that).
“Yajirobe’s agreed to train with you. He’s left the lookout to find a better place for ya two. You should probably go after him now.”
“But… um… where exactly did he go, master?”
“You’re a big martial artist now, arentcha kid? I’m sure you can find him.” Korin nodded at Yamcha. Yamcha got up quickly, frantically looking for his gym bag with all his stuff in it. Upon finding that, after messing up a good portion of the tower’s lower floor, he said his goodbyes to Tien, Krillin, and the clown and then dove over the edge himself.
Whether Yajirobe knew it or not, Yamcha was coming for him. They were going to train together. Nothing could go wrong. They would become bestest friends.
His years of solitude had wholly been his own. Yajirobe’s journey, his training, they were all a separate part of him. Nobody had asked him where he came from. Nobody had asked him who taught him in the military tactic of samurai. In turn, Yajirobe had almost forgotten about his training; he’d almost let what he’d learn fall to floccinaucinihilipilification. But pardoning the sesquipedalianism, here he was, out in the wild again, making the long trek back to Orange Star City. He was a ronin now. He was masterless. That was for sure. Elijah, his old master, had not once contacted him in the four years since their last meeting, and now Yajirobe could pretend no longer that he served a Daimyo.
Moving through small towns and big cities alike, Yajirobe inadvertently learned that samurai were becoming exceptionally rare. Anyone who saw him had to shout out, had to talk to him, had to ask him about his katana. And of course, every city had the resident badass who would start the conversation with a droll of ‘Haven’t seen many of your kind ‘round here’. Yajirobe’s sharp intuition led him to believe this was still a result of the war he had fought in years ago. Maybe there were no samurai left. Maybe he’d been part of the last school.
He hadn’t much of a plan to train for the upcoming tournament. The cat had already told Yajirobe he was amongst the elite of the world. He had killed Cymbal with a single swipe of his sword (kami how good did that thing taste). What motivation was there to get all sweaty and sore after that? Still, he made his way back toward the Academy in hopes that his old Daimyo remained alive and would be able to teach him something new. The trek itself was almost completely uneventful, merely filled with bear-hunting and following the white lupines back north. Yet this changed on a foggy day near the end of July, just a day before Yajirobe reached his destination. At this point in time, the samurai had picked up on someone tracking him, and much like his ambush of young Mark years prior, he planned to set a trap for the reckless fool.
It was nearly sundown, and the fog had remained. Yajirobe was in the lower swamplands, just a few dozen miles below the wine orchards just outside the great city. The fog was well accepted, as it provided ample cover for what Yajirobe was planning to do. He undid his pack, unrolled his sleeping bag, and got right in it, pretending to be asleep. He also had his katana stashed with him under the blanket to slice off the head of whoever was after him.
As sure as the fog was thick, footsteps became apparent. They squelched and suckered on through the mud, getting closer. The louder they became, the faster they became, and soon it sounded like someone was right on top of Yajirobe. He slowly unzipped his sleeping bag, careful to not make any noise with the action. Just as he had finished and laid his hands back upon his trusty scabbard, he saw a patch of orange – which was not unlike his own orange clothes that he had been given by his samurai master. Still, it was more logical to assume this was an enemy and not a fellow student (for all of them were dead or gone). He drew the sword swiftly and jumped up, yelling loudly and swinging wildly.
The other also let out an equally compelling cry and took to the air, attacking Yajirobe with a flying kick. This hit Yajirobe in the chest, causing him to fall backward into the swampy ground. Before he could raise his sword against the mysterious enemy, a mucky boot slammed down on his forearm, causing crushing pain, making Yajirobe let go of his sword. When he did, the man kicked the metal away. It was then, Yajirobe could get a good look at his face. It was Yamcha.
“Hey, Yajirobe!” he grinned. “I finally found ya! Didn’t think it would take this long… but whatever! We can get started now, right?”
“What do you want?” the grouchy samurai responded.
“You know master Korin said we should train together. You’re pretty powerful, so I guess he was right. It’ll be awesome.”
Yajirobe sat up, grumbling about the mess Yamcha had put him in. He was all muddy now! He looked up. No, this man, this fighter wasn’t better than him. He couldn’t just come here and kick Yajirobe around like that.
Yajirobe lunged at Yamcha, catching the taller by surprise. They rolled back into a brackish pond, trading blows. Yajirobe was in no mood for what had just happened, and with every righteous blow he leveled on that self-proclaimed fighter, he grew angrier. Flipping off of Yamcha’s chest before hitting the water, Yajirobe landed on the edge of the pond. He fell down into position and waited for Yamcha to attack.
“Yajirobe… stop… Hang on, man…” Yamcha began. “We’re on the same side!”
The samurai wouldn’t hear it. He ran forward, jumping in the air. Then, he came down on Yamcha’s head with clubbed fingers. Yamcha let out a gasp of pain, staggering back while Yajirobe smacked him with several punches across the face. He was too dazed by that jump attack to see clearly; his eyes were covered with dark spots, and between flashes of bronze and orange, he hadn’t much time to dodge. Yajirobe then knocked out Yamcha’s knees, sending him falling. But before the taller man hit the ground, Yajirobe grabbed onto Yamcha’s hair and threw him to the sky. Then, he turned around, ran back, and gave himself room for momentum. By the time Yamcha came back down, Yajirobe was in a full sprint, and he connected a head-butt right into the falling Yamcha’s back.
Spitting up blood and shaking in pain, Yamcha tried his best to stand back up. Already Yajirobe was attacking again, this time with his feet. Yamcha blocked Yajirobe and kicked him, spinning him around. He elbowed the samurai across the face, then lowered his shoulder and barreled right into him. The two locked into blows, with Yajirobe being clearly faster. He slapped and scooped and blocked away every single attack Yamcha threw at him. He didn’t even seem to be using his full power. Yamcha was amazed. He knew Goku and Tien were the strongest… but Yajirobe? He wouldn’t have guessed. Yajirobe hit him across the face, causing him to fly back into a bunch of tall grass.
He double-kicked Yajirobe away and stood up, thinking madly about what he could do to win. Wiping away a trail of blood running down his forehead, Yamcha squatted down and threw his arms out. He was breathing hard, yeah, but he was grinning too. Flinging his arms in either direction, Yamcha created several afterimages, which were exact copies of his body. Yajirobe had to stop and look carefully. He hadn’t seen this move before, and he couldn’t sense energy, so it was not easy to detect which was the real Yamcha. He stepped forward, putting his bet on the one on the left. He swung high, jumping in, but it was just an afterimage. He tripped from his own momentum, and within half a second, Yamcha was on him. He grabbed the samurai by the shoulders, and punched him across the face, pushing off with both feet and then punched Yajirobe deep in the gut. Having the wind knocked out of him, Yajirobe couldn’t do much but stand there, sputtering, mouth agape, in an almost a full-on apoplectic fit. Yamcha took this as his time to try his most impressive move: The Wolf Fang Fist. With a move like that, nothing could go wrong.
He hunkered down and began charging up his ki. Yajirobe would have sworn he saw a figure of a wolf shaping around Yamcha’s figure if he were a bettin’ man. But that kind of magic was not real. It was just a trick.
The time it took to charge up this attack, however, gave Yajirobe enough time to catch his breath and look around. He saw part of his katana beneath the mud a few feet off, so he ran over to get that. Behind him, Yamcha let out a howl like a rabid animal. Yajirobe only had seconds to get to his sword. The svelte figure of Yamcha streamlined himself into a pointed line and then dove toward Yajirobe. The samurai stopped, plucking up the hilt of his sword. Yamcha had his arms out and was running clean at him. There wasn’t time to move. Yamcha was on him, jumping just then, and giving the samurai no chance to get away. Instead, Yajirobe, wanting to escape (otherwise) certain deep scratches, swung his blade twice. Both times hit Yamcha on the cheek, creating an X like cut on the man’s soft cheek. At once, Yamcha screamed out in pain and forgot about his Wolf Fang Fist, instead crashing straight to the ground. He was bleeding pretty good.
Yajirobe sheathed his sword, then returned to his sleeping bag. “Now leave me alone.”
“Wh-at… why Yajirobe? Why’d ya have to cut me up?! We were supposed to be training!”
“No,” Yajirobe corrected him while pulling out a pork bun from his sack, “you came and attacked me.”
Yamcha was covered in blood and had his bag open, searching for something to fix his wound. Clearly, his feeble attempts at bandaging himself up were proving messy. “I-I already told you, man! Korin made us training partners!”
Yajirobe shook his head. “I’m not training with you.”
“Well, too bad. I’m not going anywhere!”
And the two continued their groveling toward one another as the sun fully set and they were drenched in blackness. Yajirobe, being ever the master of prescience, decided to go to bed, for he knew he didn’t want to oversleep around this swarthy fellow, and he had places to go. But he found it very hard. Aside from Yamcha’s whining and whimpering while he had stitched his wound back together and bandaged it all up, Yamcha had the most annoying idiosyncrasies when he slept; not only would he snore, but he would occasionally howl like he had during his one attack. Yajirobe got almost no sleep.
In the morning, he was so exhausted that Yajirobe couldn’t even be bothered to complain about Yamcha still being there. After packing his things, he had gotten up, and prepared to make the last short walk to the Academy, and ever was Yamcha there to keep him company. Yajirobe yawned all his worries away.
It was all gone. All, all gone. Most of the buildings were buried under moss and weeds. Yajirobe walked in silence as he passed under the gates now made of vines and looked around. The grass had grown tall and wild. Where once he had trained on crisply trimmed and regulated areas, there was no regulation remaining. Quite simply, the entire place was a mess, though he suspected it could be an oasis for traveling gypsies. Walking through it all, he found no signs of life, no sign that anybody had been around this place recently.
Yamcha had followed him in and refrained from talk. Perhaps he was still sore in the jaw from the deep cuts Yajirobe had given his otherwise flawless face. Perhaps he didn’t quite realize the significance of this place. No matter, he stayed back.
Yajirobe had spent less than a year here. Yet, it had seemed like his entire life. Before he had trained to be a samurai, Yajirobe had been nothing; he lived off garbage and hopes and handouts. So unimportant had all of it been, that truly Yajirobe felt like the time he spent here, in this place, had been his entire life. It was amazing, breathtaking, when he thought that he was the only one who got through. Anders, nameless children 1 and 2, Brian… they were all dead. They had died trying to become what he had become. And Harotu had run away like the coward he was. Yajirobe was it. He was the only samurai. His master was gone now, too. He was the only one left of that time. He was the only person who knew about what had happened here.
He wandered back to the one building left standing, which was Elijah’s house. Entering inside, he found it to be much as he had left it. The bed looked the same. In fact, the stool that Mark had been sitting on when he last saw him was in the same place. But the bed and it were empty; abandoned. Elijah had spoken of an Ox-king. Maybe that’s where he had gone. Yajirobe knew of no such man, for the first mentioning of him was just moments before he had left. With a name like that, though, Yajirobe had no plans of seeking him out. And Mark, that little devil, Yajirobe could only guess what happened to him. Most likely he’d become a beggar, pitifully pitiable, sitting in a dusty hole without recognition nor importance. Well, one could hope.
Yajirobe went back outside to the crisp new day. Without his old Daimyo, he hadn’t much to do. His entire journey had hinged upon the fact that Elijah was here and could train him some more. He was very disappointed that he was alone amongst the ruins, that no sententious man was lurking around.
He returned to the gate and made way back to Orange Star City, through the old forest he had so frequently traversed. Yamcha’s presence was becoming, sadly, ever more cogent, and Yajirobe was having more trouble ignoring him. The man’s sore, but proud pantomime was clear enough. They would have to train, somehow, someway. Yamcha wouldn’t let him get far without another battle. And they were a long way from Korin Tower. He wanted to put it off as long as he could. He didn’t like Yamcha.
Orange Star city was quite different from when Yajirobe had last been there. For one, there was a new butcher shop open not a block from where the old one had been. Alas, he couldn’t bother going in; he was broke. The rest of the city had been cleaned up since the General Blue debacle. In fact, the streets and buildings looked so new that he didn’t recognize half of them. But most importantly, there was a new feature throughout the city which Yajirobe had neither seen before nor expected; posters, and they were everywhere.
They were of street-fighters, the noblest of professions. Manotaur, Bastion Booger, M.I. Smooth, Tugboat, Mr. Satan, Ze Gangsta, and the most famous one: The Blue Meanie. They were plastered about every window on every building, advertising themselves, their victories, their accomplishments, and their upcoming fights. The entire city had devolved into a street-fighting mentality. Yajirobe would not.
Assuming Yamcha had money (he better, Yajirobe thought), they made way to a restaurant. Before they could go inside the nearest one, however, the two were swept up in a crowd filled with excessive pink and yellow and screams and sparklers. Then they were thrust about, and the two poor martial artists found themselves face to face with a hodge-podge street fight. As the people chanting around them made them aware, the two fighters were Mr. Satan and The Blue Meanie. This was amateur hour, pure and simple. Yamcha smirked through his pain. These two were just pathetic little men. How he would like to show them a real fight. A world-class fight.
Mr. Satan was a young man with curly black hair and a thick chin. His broad chest and large muscles behooved him. “This fight won’t last more than a minute!” he proudly predicated to the roars of the crowd, laughing ever on.
The Blue Meanie didn’t say a word. He wore a blue mask and had blue hair, which is probably where his name came from. Instead, he just circled around the taller underdog. The crowd roared again, and a self-proclaimed referee, a mousy man in a black-and-white striped shirt, jumped in the ring, screaming ‘Begin!’.
The Blue Meanie snaked toward Mr. Satan with his arms outstretched. His cape was out, and he looked pretty menacing. He moved closer and closer to Mr. Satan, who just stood there with his hands on his hips, beaming at the crowd. When his opponent got to him however, Mr. Satan impressively dodged a high kick, whirling around the man and hand-chopped into the man’s neck. At once, The Blue Meanie fell over, unconscious, and the referee blew his whistle. Mr. Satan had won. It was great.
“Ha ha, he didn’t have much in him, I told ya!” Satan boomed. “What a maroon!”
The crowd screamed back their love for him.
After the fight, the energy died with The Blue Meanie’s career, and Yajirobe was happy to have a little quiet. The crowd dispersed at once, being led away by the victor. Yajirobe had thought Mr. Satan looked familiar and his fighting style was too. But the samurai couldn’t think from where he’d seen this person before. It was puzzling. In just a moment, it was him and Yamcha again. That hapless man. He wasn’t looking forward to training with him at all.
Yet the most striking thing about that fight had not been the vague familiarity of Mr. Satan, nor his prowess on the street. No. It had been about The Blue Meanie. Yajirobe couldn’t get the image of him out of his mind. The blue mask, the blue cape, the blue hair. It was so very rad. Despite just watching probably the single greatest upset Orange Star City Street Fighting would ever see, Yajirobe could only think about the mask. He was going to be in a tournament. He was going to be fighting like this. Not only would a mask look amazing, but it would hide his identity. Nobody would know it was him. That way he wouldn’t get any fan mail or people bothering him for autographs! Yes, it was the perfect plan.
Yajirobe’s hunger for food was gone, thus leading him away from the restaurant. He turned to the right and moved toward the market, which housed many local shops. The closest one to him had all sorts of cheap things; toys, clothes, balloons. But he saw what he wanted hanging from the first window. It was a red mask with blue lining. He moved up to it, grabbing it quickly before anyone else could. Looking it over, he found the price tag.
Yajirobe went numb.
With Yamcha watching him in befuddlement, Yajiroble went up to the cashier and drew his three coins. Yes, he had enough for the mask. He could buy it. Finally, he had found something he wanted. Finally. These three coins which had plagued him so much over the years would be used. He had always had them, since the beginning of this long journey, and never had he anything to spend them on. Well here he was, finally getting rid of them. And it wasn’t even on food.
“I’ll take the mask.”
Yajirobe tore through the plastic wrapping and hastily threw on the mask. It fit all right. Then, he went back to Yamcha and stared him down.
“Hey, nice mask there, bud,” Yamcha laughed.
Yajirobe looked up at him. He had once thought that becoming a samurai would be impossible. He had once thought holding the power he held, having the abilities he had would be impossible. The samurai were gone. Elijah had said it himself; their time was over. But Yajirobe was not gone. He was not over. He was a samurai, and he would proudly display that. He would honor his Daimyo in the tournament. If Yamcha was to be his training partner, he would work with it. Despite what he thought of Yamcha, he knew that without training, he would not win the tournament. And without winning the tournament, none of this would matter. It would all be for nothing, surely.
“Let’s go train then,” Yajirobe replied, not completely apropos.
Yamcha grinned and patted him on the shoulder, “All right! Finally!” And Yajirobe led him out of there, wearing his mask as proudly as The Blue Meanie had minutes before. But unlike the Meanie, he planned on winning. He was in a class of his own, and he’d only get better, if he felt like it.
Yajirobe could think of no better punching bag for the next three years than the man to his side.
(Cue Missed The Boat)
Today was August 2nd in the age seven hundred fifty-three.
Endnotes and How I Wrote This
- Chapter Name Origins:
- Faux Pas - A reference to the boys breaking protocol by stealing Blue's hat. It's a bit sarcastic, because what they did was certainly more serious than a simple faux pas.
- Utopian Ripcord - Original name. It is named after the dead monks, who were killed, thus shattering their utopia lifestyle.
- Mogul's Whelp - A reference to a lord of the rings tcg card, Morgul's Whelp, which is referencing Mark, who is the 'whelp' of his rich brother, Daniel.
- I Love The Monkey Head - Reference to the cheat code of the same name for Age of Empires 2. This references Yajirobe's inability to kill the samurai soldier.
- Regret, Regret, Regret - This is about Daniel being dead. Though he has no dialogue in this chapter, it is based on his regret about dying. The reference comes from Halo 2, during the opening cutscene for the second (playable) level.
- This Is What You'll Get - A reference to the chorus of the song Karma Police by Radiohead. A lot of people die in this chapter, but the title is specifically tailored from Brian's perspective toward Naigo.
- Scarred For Life - Again, another common saying. This is in reference to Yajirobe cutting Yamcha's cheek, and is not a very serious name.
- Careful readers would note that Elijah surely went to the Ox King's castle, for later on when Dragon Ball started, the 7 star dragon ball was found in his palace.
- The ultimate story in being told in Spindlerun is not about Yajirobe's growth, nor about anybody's sacrifices or anything. It was a tale of how Yajirobe got his mask for the 23rd World Martial Arts Tournament. It only took about 50,000 words to tell.
- The reason for having some people named Daniel and Brian and Elijah, etc, while others are named Yajirobe and Makare and Naigo and Kumo has a specific purpose. Being that Yajirobe is a canon name, and Mark is the canon name for Mr. Satan, I felt the need to use both Japanese and English names, but differentiating them. The Japanese names denote people born in cities. Yajirobe, Harotu, Makare, and Kumo were born and lived in Orange Star City, and Naigo lived in South City. The English names were for people who lived in the countryside outside of the city. Daniel and Mark originally lived on a winery outside of the city, and that was the old home of Elijah before he became Daimyo. Brian, who in the early chapters mentioned knowing Daniel and having dinner with him sometimes, also came from a southern winery out in the countryside.
- Orange Star City was later renamed Satan City, after Mark rose to fame as a fighter. My use of Orange Star City is almost exclusive, as the DB universe called it Satan City whenever it was mentioned (being that by that time, Mr. Satan had already risen to fame, and this story takes place before he did).
- The song General Blue was singing in the third chapter is One Time by Justin Beiber. I looked up the most popular song for that day, and that was it. Never listened to it, instead using metrolyrics, so I don't know if Blue was singing it correctly, but it wouldn't be worth it to listen to the actual song to find out.
- The entire opening paragraph of the first chapter is a reference to the first paragraph of the first chapter of the novel, The Hobbit.
- Yajirobe's affinity for driving stolen cars is actual a random personality quirk that he had, according to the Dragon Ball Wiki, so that's why I included it; hopefully the way it was included wasn't so random.
How I Wrote This:
This is mainly a catalogue for myself into how I made this so I can remember years from now.
Firstly, it began with research. Using Dragon Ball Wiki, I found that Mr. Satan was only 1 year younger than Yajirobe, something I never would have thought otherwise. The entire basis for the plot came from having Mr. Satan and his brother being there as a third party to the two samurai factions. Seeing that Yajirobe could be any age before 18, I opted for 14 to give myself some leeway if necessary, which made Mr. Satan 13. Of all the Dragon Balls (pre-DB, so this is before the first wish), only the seven star ball was available, so I had to know to somehow use it, but get it to Ox King's castle by the end. It was important to the story to not use the cliche of having all seven balls, but using a single ball to make a difference; something which never really is done in stories, or even in the actual manga. And then, I saw that using other characters where I could was necessary. The Red Ribbon Army hadn't started looking for Dragon Balls yet, so they were available, and Launch wasn't with Roshi yet, so she was too. After having all of that, the plot flowed rather naturally. I knew at the end that I wanted to accomplish a few other things. Namely, I would explain how Yamcha got his face scarred before the 23rd tourney, and how Yajirobe got his mask. The rest of the characters, Daniel, Elijah, Kumo, Makare, Naigo, came out of the plot needed to have some kind of conflict. The research also bled over to general samurai stuff, as I wasn't comfortably knowledgeable on how samurais fully operate. Almost all of the sword-work and Elijah's maxims were researched and made very accurate.
The research done, I created a list of words and phrases I wanted to use. The "What a maroon!", "That's ridiculous, it's borderline cumulus!", etc, were phrases I wanted to use prior to writing any chapters, and I had those on a page of specifics. There were others, such as using the Jabillo trees and having Mark constantly be referred to as a devil. Particularly important in this part was the use of Launch. She was meant to only be in a few episodes, so I had come up with her clash with Blue early on, knocking over a table and spilling pepper. In fact, I had that worked out before I even knew Blue's hat would get stolen. These specifics were easy to add in, and by the last chapter, every single one of them was used.
There was also a word list, of rare/unusual/nonstandard words that I planned on using throughout the story. Those are in the picture to the right, which I wrote out in varying handwriting. Every word on there, except for ecod is used in Spindlerun at least once.
The fourth part was the outline. This is the only story I have yet done this for, so I will put in all of my outlines for every chapter below. Note that they are not always accurate, as when I'm writing the chapters, sometimes they naturally lean me towards doing things differently. I haven't changed the outlines at all, however. The chapter 3 outline is ridiculously long, but after that, I made an effort to keep them shorter, because the shorter and more succinct an outline is, the more use it ultimately proved to have. Each outline was written almost immediately after I finished the chapter previously, and some of them remained for weeks before I attempted writing to them:
Chapter 1 Outline: The story begins in a butcher store, with a boy wanting to buy some food. He doesn’t have enough money to buy anything, so he is turned away. In addition, the man is closing up shop because the Red Ribbon army is coming. The boy goes outside and sees the city in exodus. Seeing all of his food shops closed up, he takes the advice of a poster and goes to a samurai camp. He doesn’t know that it is a samurai camp; he just goes for the promise of food. He is revealed to be Yajirobe. When he gets there, he finds a whole group of children. They are immediately taken into a room, past a statue, and forced to hold a position. Those who break the position must leave. Yajirobe meets both Brian and Harotu at this time, but he is not fond of them. Only ten students manage to hold the position until the instructor gets back. When she does, she gives them a “mission”. They must intercept the Red Ribbon Army, which is on approach to the city, and steal the hat of the commanding General. A few students leave and will not do it. Brian has an idea to use the fruit of a sandbox tree to distract the army as they isolate and take the hat from the general. Yajirobe is forced to do the deed. He manages to get the hat with little effort and everyone leaves before the army can realize what happens.
Chapter 2 Outline: Makare is sitting on the side of the mountain. Naigo comes down, and the two discuss Ki and the monks living up there. Launch is introduced at this time. The next scene is during the morning, in the Iboinoshishi School; Yajirobe and the others are eating, discussing the things they had done. They are taken out to the grasslands. The Daimyo is there; Yajirobe is shocked to see that the man in the statue is real. The Daimyo asks Yajirobe, who was the victor of yesterday who is the second strongest. Yajirobe says Harotu is the second strongest, and is allowed to fight him; Harotu is given the advantage of having a Bokken. He and Yajirobe fight, but cannot best each other. The others spar too. Brian and Anders fight. Anders takes a cheap shot, knocking the wind out of Brian, making him cry out. Harotu gives him the nickname “(Whiney) Biney” thereafter. Anders gets all confident and says he’s better than both Yajirobe and Harotu. The Daimyo responds by letting Anders duel him. Anders does not even touch the Daimyo before he toe taps Anders to the ground; he is hurt extremely badly, making a team of helpers come out and rush him away. He does not return, ever. Next scene is of Launch. She is spying on the boys, but does not move. Next scene is of Blue; he meets his client, by phone, and is given his instructions. He appears shocked at what it is he has to do, but remembering his duty, he gathers himself up, and his troops march away to the mountain. Next scene is Yajirobe and everyone else on an abandoned bridge. The Daimyo orders them to traverse it immediately. He had rigged it with traps and whatnot to test their awareness. All five reach the end, but they have their share of troubles. In fact, Brian seems to be the most capable of this part, but it is a close race and too early to tell. At the end, the Daimyo gives a short, awkward speech about the necessity of awareness over all else. Nothing – including power and ability - is more important than being aware of your enemy and your surroundings. Final scene is in first person; the speaker has trouble finding a lost item and it drives him crazy as he searches for it. He contemplates over several mundane things that are very important to him. A phone rings; on it is General Blue. He tells the person he is done and expects his reward. The man hangs up on Blue.
Chapter 3 Outline: Starts out with Makare and Naigo sparring. They are in the forest at the edge of the mountain. Makare shows his sword prowess and guile, which shows that he is not only a formidable opponent, but a brilliant strategist. He defeats Naigo. It cuts to Yajirobe and the three others. They are training with bokkens on wooden dummies and with each other. Elijah is there, not showing any signs of his wounded leg. Yajirobe speculates that he is good at hiding his emotions. The four remaining boys are still in shock at the death of their comrade in front of their eyes, yet all of them have stayed. Elijah is dissatisfied with their training, and wishes to make them gain experience more quickly. He takes the four boys to a wine orchard, the one that sits in front of their school. Elijah is in his best gear. They happen upon a boy, standing on a barrel, who lets them in. His name is Mark. Elijah asks if he can use some of the barrels, promising to pay for them. Mark agrees so long as he is allowed to tag along (he looks to be about a year younger than Yajirobe). Elijah tests their awareness by lining the hills with barrels and letting them roll down, with the boys at the bottom. They have to dodge anything coming at them. The lot still have their bokkens with them, and Brian comes up with an ingenious idea to use their bokkens to puncture the barrels as they roll down, shattering them and making them go away. Elijah sees this and is impressed. Yajirobe dodges some of the barrels by jumping, which also impresses Elijah. Harotu uses the other boy to help him climb a tree and miss the barrels. This impresses Elijah too. At the conclusion of it, it becomes evening and they return back to base. Mark was a loudmouth in their stay and they are happy to be leaving. They ask Elijah why he took them there and he tells them that at his own house, the Master had come to him and done this same exercise. The way he had defeated it was with his small ball – throwing it and shattering the barrels, somewhat like how Brian had done it. Later that night, Yajirobe is restless and Brian is up. Harotu and Yajirobe talk about going into town, discussing the places they like. Brian requests to come, as does the second nameless child. They all go into town, when Yajirobe spies a car. Yajirobe jumps into it and crosses the wires, causing it to start up. The others get in. They joyride, making quite a racket as they go. They curve up and turn into a small enclave. In it is General Blue. He is at a karaoke stand and is singing some popular song when the car comes and crashes into the karaoke machine. This stops the song and agitates Blue. He draws his gun and points it at the four boys. Cuts to Launch. She is walking down the street, preparing to call Makare when she notices the boys she had seen before on the bridge. There were four of them still alive. She puts her phone away, draws a knife and runs at them. As she does, Blue shoots one of the boys, the nameless one. The shot hits him in the heart and kills him. Hearing the shot, everyone scatters, including Launch. She ducks behind the wreckage. When she comes out, she attacks Brian, but he dodges her, showing his skills he had learned. Harotu pushes Brian out of the way and kicks Launch back. She falls into Blue. Blue obviously gets all anxious around her. She loses track of the boys, who run off, and turns to Blue. He takes offense and shoots at her. She dodges and runs at him with her knife. They fight for a bit before tumbling out into an outside restaurant. The pepper, of course, gets spilled, causing Launch to sneeze. The scuffle is over and Blue doesn’t see Launch any more. She changes back into her blue form and wanders off. Cuts to the next day, as this all happened at night. In the early morning Naigo comes out, agitated with all his ferocity. He is inside a cave. There are bodies everywhere. He lets out a shriek. He calls up Makare and tells him the news. Makare is shown to have been trying to contact Launch and failing. He agrees to take matters into his own hands for a few days and tells Naigo to calm down, get his men, and stay put. Naigo does so and sits down. He unsheathes his knife and picks up a corpse. He looks it over before telling it he will eat it. End of chapter.
Chapter 4 Outline: Starts in first person, Daniel begins the second stages of his attack against both Makare and Elijah, with him coming out of Makare’s fortress cave, unnoticed, having just planted a bunch of explosives in there to collapse at a later time. Switches to a scene with Harotu and Yajirobe in the city. They end up finding Brian, and try to get something to eat. Yajirobe can’t pay for anything with only 3 zeni. Switches scenes. Naigo’s soldiers arrive with Makare, and they overlook the samurai school, planning on when to attack. Cuts back to Yajirobe. They also find Mark (Mr. Satan), who fights Yajirobe and beats him. They all stay in town, however. Cuts to Kumo, who with the help of servants, is applying treatment to The Daimyo’s damaged knee. Back in the city, from the point of view of a Makare soldier, General Blue has since left Orange Star City, but torched a good deal of it before he left. Makare gets words that the boys are in the city, and goes personally to see them. They fight him, but all three are not good enough. He is going to kill them, but The Daimyo comes and intervenes. The two briefly duel before Makare leaves. The Daimyo sees only three boys left, doesn’t question it, and tells them he expects them back by tomorrow morning, giving them no punishment. Brian and Harotu leave with him, but Yajirobe stays, thinking over whether he really wants to be a samurai. He is out in the grasslands, outer-area place of the town, where there are parks and whatnot. He is tired and tries to use a bench, but cannot. It requires 5 zeni to sit on, and he does not have that much money.
Chapter 5 Outline: Like wolves, the samurai of Makare begin gathering around the school. Makare requests Naigo leads them, as he has personal business to attend to. Naigo’s forces are not yet large enough to assault the Academy. At the school, Elijah trains the three boys in sword work. As they train, they can see and hear the army coming in around them. Harotu breaks under the pressure and gives up his training. Several days of training continue, but as the forces around them get larger and larger, Elijah suddenly stops, and orders his two remaining pupils to go fetch a small orange ball for him at Daniel’s winery. When they get there, they find it in ruins, and Daniel dead. They find Makare there, and he chases them right back to the school, which is being attacked. Though the two boys fight off many soldiers, and Kumo helps them, Elijah is not fighting. He seems unconcerned, and even when Brian goes and gets him, he simply admits defeat, and hands the two boys over to Makare. Makare thinks this is a game, and orders them be placed in his mountain stronghold while he figures out what game Elijah is playing at.
Chapter 6 Outline: Starts in flashback, first person with Daniel. He talks about how he and Elijah have worked up a way to kill Makare. The signal that he was to detonate the bombs in the cave was to be when a child came to give him an orange ball. Mark is there, and Daniel tells Mark all about how he is proud of his brother, etc. Makare comes at that point. He and Daniel duel, but Daniel, who lacks a weapon is severely outclassed and killed. Mark does get away. Cuts to real time with Brian and Yajirobe in separate chambers. Although they have been searched, Brian still has the dragon ball. He talks with Yajirobe through a hole in the cave walls, and they discuss a means of escape. This is cut short by Naigo coming and taking Brian. Naigo then tortures him about where the old master’s grave is. Yajirobe meets his guard and sees it’s the man he spared. That man agrees to let Yajirobe out. At this time, Naigo is torturing Brian, who gets away. He sees Harotu’s pack of fireworks, and creating a spark, lights them on fire and throws them at Naigo, but this doesn’t do much except explode. Naigo grabs Brian, cuts him open, and starts pulling out his guts, and eats him alive. However, the explosion near the roof has triggered Daniel’s explosions which go off now. Yajirobe just barely gets out when everything starts exploding, so by the time he is outside, he doesn’t know where Brian is. Brian and Naigo and everyone else are killed in the explosion. On a tree outside the door is a note and a katana. The notes talks about how Elijah knew that whoever was reading it was the best samurai. He looks at the katana, and it has Brian’s name inscribed on it. Not much farther down the path is Makare who is alive, but damaged by the explosion. He fights Yajirobe. Yajirobe kills him. Yajirobe returns to find the master in his room being attended to by Mark. They all talk, and Elijah says that the time of the samurai is over. Yajirobe has far surpassed him, even if he is sad that it wasn’t Brian who won. Yajirobe then departs from the place and goes to his prairie. Must be sure to make mention of him meeting Goku in this part.
Chapter 7 Outline: Yajirobe decides to go into the 23rd Martial Arts Tournament and begins training by himself. He is pestered by Tien and Chiaotzu’s training so decides to leave the lookout, going back to the Academy to find his master and train there. While doing so, Yamcha tails him. They end up finding the Academy, but it is abandoned. They go into town after some fighting and mutual pestering. This is where Yamcha gets the scars on his face. There are posters of Mark all over the place. They see him fighting in a local street, but Yajirobe’s honor prevents him from fighting. While in the market, he finds a mask for sale for 3 zeni and buys it.
Next would come the writing. As previously mentioned, I would write the outlines right after finishing the chapter before them. But then, it was often weeks, even months, before I sat down to write the actual story. Each chapter was very long, even from the beginning. Each chapter was usually around 8000 words, but chapter 1 was 6000 and chapter 7 was 4000. For chapters 1-4 I wrote them at once. Meaning, I sat down, and bam wrote all 8000 words of each of them. After that, I didn't do that anymore, and for the last three chapters, I would write bits and pieces, adding on, and eventually doing a read-over to make sure it was okay. After writing each one, I made sure to do several read-throughs, so as to not have to come back later and change things. Then they would get posted, being posted in half-chapters on fanfiction.net instead of the full chapters. And that was it. After the chapters were done, they were posted and I transferred them onto a word document housing all written chapters, saving the outlines too. Originally, I wrote in calibri without proper spacing, which was a huge hassle to post on the wiki, as I had to manually space between each paragraph before posting. I changed over to Times New Roman with single spacing (0 point before and after) so I didn't have to do it for the last chapter. That was a little too late, though.
And that was it. I won't be keeping a hard copy of the outlines any more now that they are on this wiki, and just put the Yajirobe story in with the rest of the hard-copy story collection. Anyway, if anyone has read this far, awesome job. I didn't know you had such a fascination with my rambling thoughts!
- 2014 Official Dragon Ball Fanon Wiki Awards - Best Multi-chapter Stories:
- An epilogue (of sorts) to this story was posted in my 2016 one-shot collection, The Heels of the Unknown. It features Elijah trying to track down Makare's legendary katana, which has fallen into the hands of a bandit chief since the end of Spindlerun.