Brightstar: The Rising Superhero
A mechanical roar dissipated in an alley after the engine was cut off. Aunty Kusagi kicked the stand down before parking it right beside a brick wall.
After taking off my helmet and saddled it within my arms. I glanced around me and saw nothing but warehouses, factories, and a container ship just right in the distance. Yep, right there, docked right next to the closest pier. If that was not proof enough then what more do I need. So I’m pretty sure we are at the city dock.
“I watched how you fight. I mean the footage from the news. I think I understand what you need to improve, but be warned, I never taught anybody.” Aunty Kusagi explained while taking a left in this tight alley. “My methods are a bit unorthodox. Meaning it came from my childhood. And I never had a normal childhood if that is not obvious enough.”
The half rabbit woman stopped in her tracks before turning around to face me. Behind her was an old deteriorated subway entrance. The sign above it was littered with all kinds of obscene graffiti. I could barely make out the official writing on the sign. So I gave up trying to figure out where this entrance led to.
One thing does come to mind, supposedly, the subway system was abandoned years ago before I was born. After a large part of this city collapsed into a giant pit.
“You need to be very careful down there.” Aunty’s tone shifted becoming serious. “Don’t look at anybody. Don’t talk to anybody. Don’t trust anybody. If you did the things I told you not to do then all you need to do is glare back like you mean it. It’s all about bravado down there. They don’t know if they can take you down and that goes vice versa. So show them you’re not afraid.”
“Sure, no problem.”
“Good. And don’t worry too much. Just have fun in there.” Aunty’s tone shifted again to her cherry self. She took my hand like I was in kindergarten, and sure it was embarrassing, but I don’t mind it as we moved forward into the abyss.
Descended from the darkness and appeared on the other side. Immediately, We were greeted by bright neon lights. Another city beneath a city, built upon the remnants of the old one. The structure here isn't built to be safe, more of aimed to be practical with what they have. So most of the buildings here seem to be built on top of each other using anything they could find, even the broken pieces. A makeshift city brimmed with Hybrids, shady individuals, and anything in between.
“Woah.” Still, the complexity of it all amazed me.
“Welcome to the Undercity. The name is self-explanatory.”
A barrage of exotic smells from cooked unknown meat to a weird stench hit my nose as we entered the crowded market area. I tried to avoid eye contact as much as possible. Which made me shadier than the shady people around me.
Suddenly, Aunty shoved a stick of grilled meat near my face. “Here. Take a bite.”
I took it then took a whiff of the odd-smelling food, “What kind of meat is this?”
“It’s meat. Just try it.”
“Not suspicious at all. I hope I don't get a stomach ache from this.” With every ounce of my courage, I took a large bite out of it. Against my instinct to spit it out, I chewed multiple times, and surprisingly, it tasted good. However, I couldn’t put a pin on what kind of meat it was since the spices were glaring at my taste buds. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.
Later on, Aunty brought me to a building with no sign outside, but it had a big man with a rhino head guarding the entrance. The rhino man had a broken horn probably from a past fight. We stood in front of the man. He looked down at me then exhaled a strong breeze against me. Aunty grumbled in her throat causing the man to turn and meet her. His eyes widened and he quickly moved away.
“So you do remember me,” said Aunty with a smirk.
The rhino man groaned as he rubbed his broken horn.
After we entered the establishment, my ears were bombarded by strong cheers. In the middle of the room stood a metal cage, large enough to fit a whole stage and two people. Those two people were Hybrid, and they were not having a tea party inside. An exchange of punches followed by a plethora of kicks shook the stage and roused the crowd to the brim of their excitement.
“Kusagi!” A humanoid with a combination of a man and a shark stomped toward us. Those scars alone on his face told me this man isn’t shy from a fight.
“Collin, is that you?”
“Who else could it be!” He threw his hand like he was about to smack a brick wall, but my aunt caught it with ease and turned it into a handshake. “You’ve grown, Little Bunny.”
“Of course I did while you look awful. What happened to you?”
“You mean this?” He pointed at the scars on his face. “Had a bit of a problem with a gang months ago. I had to wrestle them until they gave up.”
“You haven’t changed one bit, did you? Still the Guardian of Undercity.”
“I’m too old for that now. Now, is this the guy?” He turned to me and examined every inch of my body. “A bit of scrawny. Are you sure about this, Kusagi?”
“Sure about what?” I asked.
A big smile on her face appeared when she looked at me. “About you. In there. Throwing a couple of punches.”
I turned to the cage. Several sprinkles of blood decorated the stage. There’s even a few random teeth on the floor. “Aunty, I…” When I turned to her, I was surprised. I never saw Aunty this excited before. I squatted down and took a moment of silence before rising back up with a roar, “Let’s do this!”
“I know you would love it!” Aunty took me by the shoulders, “Listen up. There is one thing you lack. It’s instinct. I saw how you fight. You’re prone to doubt yourself and panic when things get heated which causes you to go into defence mode. That’s good, but you are not planning your next move. You are only reacting. So first we're going to make you get used to the danger.”
“Is that why you brought me here? You could have told me earlier.” With a sigh, I placed down the helmet and took off my school blazer leaving only my long sleeve shirt. “I could have brought extra clothes.”
“Oh yeah. Great idea for next time.”
“Next time? I guess this is going to be a regular thing. Does Mom know about this?”
“No. And do not tell her.” Aunty wrapped my hands with bandages before helping me put on a pair of fingerless gloves. “It’s a three-round match. The guy you will be fighting is not for show. This is a real match. He’s in it for the money. The only thing important here is to do your best and learn what you can, and....”
“Have fun. Got it. I’ll try, Coach.” I took a deep breath before facing the chain-link door.
“Great.” Aunty helped me into the ring and locked the cage door. “And one more thing: no power.”
“No power! Got it. Wait, no power?”
“Yes. Go get him!”
When my opponent entered the ring, he scared the hell out of me. A man, who was taller than my aunt, claws sharp as nails, fangs bigger than my fingers, a freaking tiger Hybrid. His biceps are twice the size of my head. He can probably kill me with a single punch. I won't lie that my legs are slightly trembling right now.
As we circled each other, he let out a deep growl which caused me to gulp and question my aunt’s sanity.
“Don’t hesitate.” I charged forward.
Oh, how wrong was I. Before I knew it, he pulled back and sent a fist toward me. It was too late to stop because I was going too fast, and I don’t have enough room to slow down. However, I did have enough time to raise my arms and blocked his fist.
It was a foolish move as I was thrown back by his strength. I managed to stand along the way until my back nudged the cage wall. My arms were crawled by millions of centipedes with needles for legs, that is what it felt like. The pain was excruciating. I threw my arms aside in an attempt to numb it a bit. It helped a little, but the pain remained.
The tiger man shook his head, laughing. I wasn't a threat to him. He must have been thinking this fight is going to be an easy one, and I couldn’t deny it.
"Air! Air!" repeated Aunty Kusagi.
"Yes!" She waved her arms, demonstrating a breeze. It looks like a Hawaiian dance to me.
Air. Air. Does she mean I should dodge like the wind? That's the only interpretation I can think of at the moment. So dodge it is.
I charged forward again. The man sent a fist straight down my path again. Though I saw it coming, my footwork was too slow. Instead of taking the full blow, his knuckle grazed against my arm after I redirected it away.
Throwing caution to the wind, I took the opportunity to get closer and landed a hefty punch under his ribs. That hit made him flinch. Though it was a small one, it was still a victory of its own.
Now fuming with annoyance because I managed to land a punch, the tiger man swung his arm and slammed it against my chest. In an instant, I lost all the air in my lungs before my body was thrown back to the cage wall. A loud thump yelped out after my back slammed against the metal bars before I fell back to the floor.
The bell rang, I lost the first round.
"Urghh." A simmering groan escaped me.
"That was 'Water' not 'Air'," whispered Aunty from outside the cage.
"I don't know the difference. You never taught me."
"Wind travel forward; Undeterred unstoppable; No shape or form, Air."
"Wait, 5,7,5, is that a Haiku?" I asked as I gathered my strength to stand up.
"Water slithers down; From the hill down to the ocean; Swerve until action.”
"You know, It would be helpful if you taught me first before sending me to fight a guy three times my size." I couldn't help myself and slipped a bit of my frustration in my words.
"I warned you that my methods are unorthodox. I understand if you want to quit."
"Quit!? Ha!" I laughed. Taking another breath in. The gear in my head started to turn.
The blow I did to him was not as impactful as I thought it would be, but it did something, enough to make him flinch. He's slow, so I can outspeed him, but his fist is large, and he has more range than me.
“Air…” I muttered under my breath.
Undeterred unstoppable. No shape or form. From what I can tell, she wants me to be light on my feet. However, it’s hard for me for some reason. Could it be that my baseball training was the cause? I trained myself not to flinch at incoming balls so hard that it became a habit. If that is the case, I just need to retrain myself, but for now, I need to deal with this guy.
I started my charge with a feint that did absolutely nothing, he saw my trick from a mile away. My mind was set on dodging his fist, but when I came to face it, I was too slow again. I barely got through but I managed to redirect.
Wait, something is wrong!
“Do you think it would be that easy?” mocked the man.
The first attack was a feint. He had hidden a second fist from me. A single uppercut right under my jaw, and I was sent flying back. I bit the tip of my tongue, leaving a trail of blood in the air. My body fell to the stage with a loud thump.
The bell rang, I lost the match.
My eyes watered while the taste of copper in my mouth began to spread. I wiped the blood off my lips then slammed my fist down. The frustration was unbearable until the tiger man extended his hand at me. An understanding smile etched on his face told me he’s been where I am right now. He knows the frustration of losing a match.
I let out a sigh and took his hand.
I was lifted with my arm raised. The crowds cheered for me. A grim sight. Ugh, the humiliation. I glanced away and clenched my fist.
A pat on my back snapped me back. “They are not making fun of you,” whispered the tiger man after he let go of my hand.
A second look and careful examination, they aren’t making fun of me. They are genuinely cheering for me. Every word they chanted was a word of encouragement. I turned to the tiger man with a single eyebrow raised, wondering what’s going on.
“They recognize your effort, and they expect great things from you, kid.” With a smirk, the man waved at me before heading toward the door.
“What’s your name?!” I yelled out.
“They called me Stripes The Tiger.”
“I’m going to beat you, Stripes. I swear on it.”
The tiger man laughed like he never laughs before regaining his composure and glanced behind him, “You better keep that promise. I will be waiting.” The man disappeared into the crowd.
I left the stage using the door I came from. As soon as I got out, Aunty embraced me and tousled my hair. “Sorry, Aunty. I lost the match.”
“Did you have fun?”
“It was… fun.” A smile formed on my face.
“I knew it. A fight doesn’t have to be dark or depressing, it can be fun and exhilarating. Now we move on to step two. Here.” She grabbed a duffle bag and handed it to me.
When I grabbed it, the bag fell on the floor and pulled me down. I didn't expect this bag to be this heavy. “What’s in here? Why is it so heavy?”
“A gift for you. Wear it.”
I unzipped the bag and was greeted by a pair of ankle and wrist weights. After a glance at my aunt, the look she gave told me that she wasn’t kidding. So I let out a sigh and wore it anyway. I could barely move my arms and legs, but it was manageable at least. I could still walk and stand though, awkwardly that is.
We went home afterwards as expected of my mom, she fussed over the bloodstains on my shirt. Which caused her to immediately call and scold my aunt over the phone. It was kinda unavoidable.
The next day, I went to school, as usual, I hung out with Jake, Ria, and Juliet until school ended. Immediately after that, my aunt took me to her workshop for training.
After taking my blazer off, she tossed me a wooden sword. Aunty grabbed a wooden sword of her own. “Air. Water. Earth. These are the fundamentals for the Tashikawa Style. Each stance has its advantages and disadvantages.”
She demonstrated the first stance with the blade hidden behind her and the pommel exposed. “This is Air. With the blade hidden, you can make the opponent think twice before attacking you. It can be only used one time before the opponent realizes what you are up to. It also gives you a lot of room to dodge, and it focuses more on offence rather than defence because your front body is unguarded from attacks.”
Aunty swung her sword and it was so fast that a strong gust of wind followed after it. Even my eyes couldn’t keep up with the blade. It must be her super-strength from being a Hybrid.
Then she took another stance. Now, She pointed her sword at my knee. “This is Water. Good for deflection and redirection. See how I lowered my sword to feign an opponent in thinking that I let my guard down. When they strike, I deflect it then return it with a strike of my own. You kept deflecting attacks from your last fight, so I think this might be the easiest one for you to learn.”
Afterwards, she took up another stance, now, her sword raised till her midsection and the blade pointed straight at my head. “This is Earth. Blocking and perfect for preventing your opponent from charging at you.”
Aunty Kusagi took a big breath before setting the wooden sword against a motorcycle, “That is all the three core stances in our family sword style. Now you know, I need you to keep changing your stance until you memorize it all.”
Without hesitation, I started with ‘Air’ then awkwardly changed to ‘Water’ afterwards to ‘Earth’. I kept doing it while my aunt worked on a motorcycle. I don’t know for how long I practised, but before I knew it, the day had ended.
Tomorrow was the same thing. After school, I immediately went to my aunt’s workshop, and instead of stance practice, we did body training. The next day, she taught me martial arts, and we kept on going and repeating the same training in random order.
I never once stopped and asked for a break. Days turned to a week and at the end of every week, I had a match. Not against Stripes The Tiger, but other opponents. I haven't got a win yet, and it’s frustrating. They even let me use the wooden sword during the fight, and still, I couldn’t score one fight.
From weeks turned into months. I gave it all. Still, I haven't got a win until I reach my last month. A week is all I got before Bradford comes and evaluates me whether I’m fit to be a hero or not. I got the ‘Water’ stance and ‘Earth’ stance right, but I couldn't grasp the ‘Air’ stance. I don't understand why
“You will be fine, Kenn. You’re making progress,” said Aunty while she continued to work on the motorcycle.
A baseball flew toward me from the catapult machine. I tried to avoid it, but it was the same thing, I froze up at the last second before I could move again. The ball hit me square in the shoulder before dropping to the floor. I don't understand. I just can't understand. I flung the wooden sword out of frustration. It hit against the wall and bounced back to hit me in the chest.
“I can't even dodge that? PIECE OF---”
“Is it the weights?” Aunty asked.
“It’s not them. How can you be so calm? I got a week left before the evaluation.”
“You seem tense today. Why don’t you take the day off?”
“I don’t need a day off.” I reached down and grabbed the wooden sword.
Aunty took the wooden sword away. “You need one.”
A sigh escaped me, “Fine.” I took my school blazer and sat on a pile of rims. A moment of silence between us before I broke it. “Why do you and mom always get into a fight? Are you both going to be okay?”
“Quite the tough questions for a day off, don’t you think so?”
“It’s my day off. I can do anything I want.”
“You are so petty.” Her smile dropped, and a deep breath escaped her. “We may seem like we couldn't get along sometimes, but I love her. She’s my sister. My family. I know that and she knows it too. Now go away, I’m working right now.”
Judging by her mood, I better not pry any deeper. “I never see you working this hard. What gives?”
“I thought your grandma Cindy was kidding about sending me the bills for the damage I did a long time ago.” She groaned heavily. “It might have been my fault. I shouldn’t have called her old.”
“It wasn’t about that you know. You should have called her.”
“It’s complicated, you wouldn’t understand. Grown-up stuff. Now stop bothering me and go have fun.”
Taking no chance, she escorted me out of her workshop. “But? But! Wait! Oh, come on.”
“No training. Only rest. Promise me.”
“I promise.” The door slammed shut immediately after I answered.
After all my protests, I was kicked out of the workshop, physically and verbally. Once again, I was met with the crowded sidewalk of this city. With fifty bucks in hand after Aunty slid it in, I turned around and examined every shop and business. Hoping I could find something to do until the rest of the day.
Even after a minute passed, I still couldn’t figure out what to do. After another few seconds, I facepalmed myself when I realized I had friends. I have friends. What a popular thing to say. I do have friends. Yes, I should spend time with them.
I reached in my pocket and took my smartphone into a super-cool pose. Laughing villainously, I mean heroically, I dialled in my first message to Jake.
[You free? Wanna hang?] Sent.
Okay, got rejected immediately. No matter, I still got other friends. Choosing from my limited list of contacts, I chose someone I know I can count on.
[Ria! My friend! My beautiful comrade! I was wondering if you would like to hang out with me?] Sent.
[I would, but I can’t. A bit busy with training and stuff. Any other day, I would take the offer but not today. Maybe some other time. Sorry. Also P.S: I know I’m beautiful, no doubt about it XD] Received.
Shot down twice. That’s not good. While looking at my list of contacts, a pair of sweat crawled down from my forehead. This isn't good. It’s worse than I thought. The only ones left are Mom, Aunty Kusagi, Mr Aariv, Bradford, and Juliet. All four of them are bad choices and that only leaves me with Juliet.
I did get along with her at school and learned a few things about her. For example, I know she lives with her dad, and her mom passed away a long time ago. In terms of her history, that’s all I know. She had a habit of becoming nervous when I talked to her, but that was kinda cute though.
My butt landed on the stool right outside the shopfront. With newly formed stiff shoulders, I stared at the keypad for a short moment while hesitating every word I chose for the text. Shaking my head clear, I went with the classic.
[Hey, do you want to hang out?] Sent.
Straight. Forward. Doesn’t seem desperate at all.
[Yes! I’ll be right there.] Received.
That was quick. I know. I’m that good. Wait, I didn't even tell her where we should meet.
My shoulders perked up and I shrieked forward. Somehow, Juliet was already behind me and I didn’t even see her coming. I turned to her with wide eyes and the response she gave me was a confused tilted look. “If you don't mind me asking, how did you get here so fast?”
“Oh. I was already on the other side of the street when you called me. Not! Because I was stalking you. I was already there and you texted me. It was all a coincidence.” Juliet fidgeted on the spot as she explained, it’s cute.
Nodding my head, “I’ll take your word on that.” My stomach growled. “We should get something to eat first.”
“Where do you want to eat?” Juliet asked.
“There’s a restaurant near here. They cooked up a mean steak. Do you wanna check it out?”
“Okay!” That’s a lot of excitement for one girl.
We began walking. Passing by a few shops on the way there then took a right turn before arriving at our destination. I’m pretty sure this was the location. The internet said the front door was hidden on the second floor in this building. The internet also said I could miss it if I wasn't paying attention.
After a surprisingly easy search, we found the restaurant in a hallway that was naturally hidden by the cabinet next to the stairs. Upon entering it, our sight discovered a homely restaurant. A melodic symphony in tune with Jazz circled us from the speaker above. While a strong gust of delicious steam spread all over the dining area from the kitchen door.
We took a seat by the stained-glass window. Her eyes widened and sparkled as she scouted every inch of this room.
“Not bad for a hidden restaurant,” I said.
“I have never been to one before. I saw a restaurant right next to my apartment, and I always wanted to go in.” That was a genuine response from her.
“Oh, does your dad always cook at home?”
“No. Usually, when it’s dinner time, I bought food from the convenience store nearby.”
“Food from a convenience store? Wait, is everything okay at home?”
Juliet turned to me with a tilted head. In her eyes, I saw a sense of realization explode. “I’m fine. My dad is just a very busy person.”
I stopped myself from prying more when Juliet donned a saddened expression. A cloud of silence grew at our table. It seems to be a wall of awkwardness between us. As I tried to think of a subject to break that wall, a waiter came to our table. He spooked us with his polite greeting, “Welcome. May I take your order?”
My eyes glanced at the menu, “I’ll take this one.”
The waiter noted down then turned to Juliet, “For the Miss?”
“Ah-uh. Hmm...” Juliet seemed to be struggling with the menu as she fumbled her words out. She then leaned forward closer to me from her seat. The waiter stared at us with a slightly raised eyebrow. “I don’t know what to do,” she said.
I coughed out a laugh before leaning forward and whispered, “Don't worry I got you. Just take a look at the menu and pick which one you want to eat and drink.”
“Oh!” She leaned back in her seat while her eyes scanned the menu.
It took Juliet a while to figure out what she wanted, but eventually, she figured it out. It doesn't take long for the chef to prepare our meal. When it came out, both of our noses took a full blast of the seductive fragrant. A steak grilled to perfection still sizzling on my plate while a thick sauce dripped from its side. My stomach growled from the smell of it.
Juliet on the other hand ordered the fish with fries. She took the fork and quickly tore through the crunchy skin then pierced into the soft goodness inside. We both enjoyed our meal. Since the food was too delicious, our attention was stuck to our meal. We didn't even exchange a word as we enjoyed the food.
“Yesterday, I saw him.”
A stylistic woman in a suit and tie leaned against her lavish chair. It was none other than Cindy Crowe. She overlooked a training area from her office. A teenage girl with a fierce determination trained non-stop below. Every time she falls, she gets up and tries again.
“He’s not working for me. Is Haru’s DNA sample in the vial?” asked the gentleman. He had an Asian genetic in him with his black short hair, combed backwards and drenched in hair oil. The silver three-piece suit he wore had the impression of wealth and power.
“Yes, it is. His untouched genetic sequence for my family’s safety. That was the deal.”
“Your own flesh and blood are not working for you? I don't believe it. Tell me why he is there?”
The gentleman let out a small sigh while a glass of whiskey was gently stirred in his hand. He took a sip before placing it down beside the coaster, not on top of it because it was intentional. He patted down his silver suit for any dust before taking the vial beside his drink and stored it in his pocket. Finally, he stood up from the sofa.
“I never lie.” Such fierce seething anger coming from the gentleman as he said it with a clear and cold tone. It was bone-chilling. The man took every word Cindy used to his heart and found it so disgusting that the very statement was a mockery against God itself.
“It was nice doing business with you, Mr Ironhide.”
He stopped in front of the doorway. A devilish grin appeared, “How is Ricky doing these days? Still, cooped up in her lab? Or is she still recovering from the incident? Poor thing. It must have been traumatic for her after the crash. Her only son. I wonder if I should go visit her?”
“The deal was my family’s safety.”
“Oh yes. Family. But Ricky isn't your family. She is your employee.”
“Haven't you done enough?” Cindy tightened her grip till it shook with a fit of hateful anger.
“Not if she crosses me again.” Mr Ironhide snickered a laugh after he took a glance at Cindy. Understanding fully what he said and how it made the woman who was filled with feelings of pride felt the anger he felt.
However, before he leaves, Mr Ironhide had one more thing to do. To sweeten his victory over the woman even further, he gently pushed the vase filled with flowers off its end table. Letting it break upon impact against the floor. It was petty of him. And he loved every second of it.
“Oh, one more thing, if you lie to me about this...” He showed the vial before storing it in his suit.
“I know what will happen.”
“No, you don’t. You can't even comprehend the things I would do to you.” The bottom of his slick shoe stepped on the plants. He spat on it before kicking all of them including the dirt at the sofa. Finally, with a calm demeanour, he says, “Never call me a liar.”
That was his last word before leaving Cindy’s office.