Chapter 23:

Brightstar Arc 5 (Chapter 2)

Brightstar: The Rising Superhero


=FOUR=Bookmark here

I slammed my fist against the blast door. Bookmark here

Not like this.Bookmark here

I slammed my fist against the blast door again. Bookmark here

It hurts, but I don’t care. Curse them. At least let me save Zanny. No. I’m not giving up. Not like this. Not like a caged rat.Bookmark here

=THREE=Bookmark here

I glanced back at each blocked door. There must be something I could do to get out of here. However, before I could do anything, Zanny pulled on my arm. I tried to wiggle out of her grip, but she ain’t giving up. “You need to stay. You have to.”Bookmark here

“What? What are you saying? I ain’t giving up. Do you hear that? So, you should too.”Bookmark here

“No. Not giving up. I can see it. Right now. Right here.” Zanny’s eyes wandered.Bookmark here

“What are you even talking about?”Bookmark here

A thump on the small window of the blast door pulled my attention. I quickly turned and found my aunt, Kusagi, banging on the other side of the thick glass. She was saying something, but I couldn't hear her. The blast door was soundproof, there’s no way her words could reach me.Bookmark here

=TWO=Bookmark here

Several slots appeared in the ceiling. A pungent smell of gas lingered in the air. I changed my hands into hard lights and started punching the blast door. The metal dented, and the glass cracked, but it wasn’t enough. No matter what I do, it will never be enough.Bookmark here

My hands fell beside me. With a defeated gaze, I hung my head.Bookmark here

A knock on the window pulled my gaze back. Aunty Kusagi pressed her hand on the glass with tears running down her cheeks. I placed my hand against the window, against hers. A smile appeared on my face. If this was to be my end, then at least, I got to see a familiar face before I go.Bookmark here

Zanny grabbed hold of my other hand. It was a comfort I didn't ask for but appreciated. I removed my hand away from the glass and closed my eyes.Bookmark here

=ONE=Bookmark here

Kusagi watched as fire flooded the room. It was too bright for her to see Kenn. She doesn't even know if she wanted to see it. To see how her son was burned alive, his skin seared from the heat, and his body charred into blackened crisp. The thought of it was too much. Bookmark here

She dropped to her knees with a trembling hand over her mouth. Her other hand let go of the helmet and let it roll away. A whimpering squeak escaped her, but she held back the dreadful howl from her throat.Bookmark here

She wanted to scream, but it was pointless. It was too late...Bookmark here

***

In the middle of a dark wasteland, a naked man appeared from out of nowhere and dropped on fours. A watery blank ink excreted from his throat. Haru shook the headache away, then with the help of his hands, he stood up once more.Bookmark here

His toes dug into the dirt. The prickly grime between his toes. Haru never thought he would miss it. It was the same with the cool breeze as it brushed up against his skin. Even the uncomfortable mosquito bites were nostalgic.Bookmark here

He missed everything about being alive. If only he could appreciate it a little longer, but he has a time-sensitive task ahead that needs his attention.Bookmark here

A small object poked in his closed hand. He opened his clenched hand and found a skeleton finger in it. A smile appeared before he gripped it tightly for safekeeping.Bookmark here

There’s nothing much around him. Only dried orange earth, and a few dusty shrubs here and there. But, when he turned around, his eyes were glazed with white light. A gas station stood before him. His first destination has been set.Bookmark here

He sauntered toward it, rubbing his hands together to keep himself warm.Bookmark here

A slightly rusted car parked in front of the gas station. As he got close to the door, he heard shouting coming from inside. He entered the store and was surprised to find a masked man with a handgun holding the store clerk at gunpoint.Bookmark here

They turned to the naked man with widened eyes. Bookmark here

Haru raised his hands. “Sorry to bother, but can you spare me some clothes? It’s cold outside.”Bookmark here

“Who the hell are you?!”Bookmark here

“Nobody. Just looking for something to wear.”Bookmark here

“Don’t move!”Bookmark here

Haru sighed. “Can I at least cover my junk? It’s cold.”Bookmark here

“I said, don't move!” The perpetrator aimed the barrel of his handgun at Haru. Upon a closer look, the handgun was familiar to him: a matte black Glock 41 with a standard thirteen-round mag. The safety was off.Bookmark here

“I’m not…” Despite the warning, Haru moved his hand to cover his private part. Bookmark here

It only angered the robber. Before Haru could calm the man down, he accidentally squeezed the trigger. A loud blast shook the air along followed by a deafening ring in Haru’s ear. A trickle of blood fell onto the tile floor. He turned his head and found a large cut on his arm. The bullet had flown near his arm, but not through.Bookmark here

It was odd for Haru to feel pain again. He chuckled. The two people in the gas station widened their eyes when Haru tasted his blood. “It tasted like iron.” Haru turned his gaze at the robber. “You shot a naked man. What’s wrong with you?”Bookmark here

“That was a warning. If you move again, I swear I will put a bullet right between your eyes.”Bookmark here

“No, you won’t,” Haru smirked. “You have a terrible aim. Look at your hands, they are trembling.”Bookmark here

“No. They aren’t.” He looked down.Bookmark here

Haru took his gun away with one easy move and whacked him in the head with it. The robber was knocked unconscious in a matter of seconds. He dropped to the floor and took down a shelf of chips beside him before face planted against the floor.Bookmark here

Haru turned to the store clerk. “Can you do me a solid?”Bookmark here

“A-Anything.”Bookmark here

“Can you please delete the CCTV footage for me and keep what happened here among ourselves? I don’t want any unnecessary attention.”Bookmark here

“Sure, but what about him?” The store clerk’s gaze darted to the unconscious robber.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about him. Is the car parked outside his?” Haru asked. The store clerk nodded.Bookmark here

A mischievous grin appeared. It seemed someone was looking out for him from above. He sent a flying kiss at the imaginary sky above him. Then, he took off the robber’s clothes and put them on except for the underwear. Bookmark here

A grin appeared when he saw the brown checkered poncho with a price tag. “Since I saved you and all. Can I take a few things from here?”Bookmark here

“Sure, anything you want,” answered the store clerk.Bookmark here

He dragged the robbers out of the gas station and into the boot of the car. After closing it, he sauntered to the driver’s side and unlocked the door. Getting in the car was easy, but what came next was hellish. He had thought the gear shift was automatic, unfortunately, no. It was manual.Bookmark here

The car jerked forward and back while Haru tried to remember how to drive a stick. He groaned along and threw a few slaps against the steering wheel. Out-of-control frustration wasn’t going to help him. Haru took a deep breath to calm himself before trying again. Bookmark here

It took him another couple of tries. Eventually, he got used to it.Bookmark here

Now that Haru was ready for the journey, he needed to do a couple of things first. He switched on the radio. A song was playing on the local radio: Danger Angel by Larkin Poe. It suited the mood.Bookmark here

One last thing, he placed the skeleton finger on the dashboard. It swirled by itself until it stopped and pointed toward a destination. Bookmark here

Haru shifted into the first gear and stepped on the pedal, following the finger’s direction.Bookmark here

After an hour of driving, Haru spotted someone at the side of the road. An adolescent teen was shambling forward with nothing on his back except for the medical garment he donned. Bookmark here

He stopped the car right next to the teen.Bookmark here

“Oh my, fancy seeing you here.”Bookmark here

***

“Astra!”Bookmark here

The portal appeared out of nowhere, a tear in the reality made from high voltage electricity. I was thrown out of the portal and into a wasteland below. My shoulder fell first against the dirt before the rest of my body. Bookmark here

It took a second before the portal above me disappeared.Bookmark here

A severe headache swept my head as I tried to make sense of my surroundings. There was nothing around me for miles except for dirt and dry shrubs. I stood up but forgot about my injured leg, so I dropped to one knee with a grunt.Bookmark here

“Zanny?” I called out to herBookmark here

“Zanny?!”Bookmark here

She wasn’t here with me.Bookmark here

“Again? No… Not again. Damn it!” I punched the ground repeatedly.Bookmark here

My fingers dug into the dirt as I calmed myself. It has always been like this. Someone else always saved me. I tried and tried, but I’m sick and tired of failure. This time I won’t fail. I will pay them for everything they have done. I swear on my mother’s soul.Bookmark here

I stood and turned to face the light in the faint distance. Without wasting time, I started walking. From minutes to hours, I finally arrived at the light. Turns out, it was a massive billboard beside a road. Bookmark here

A straight tar road stretched out before me. Two options for me to choose, left or right. I have no idea which direction led to Nirvana City, but I had to keep moving, so I did. I took the left.Bookmark here

Two pairs of lights shone from behind me. I turned my head to the side and saw an incoming car. I was about to raise my thumb for a ride, but the car stopped right next to me. I couldn’t believe who it was in the driver’s seat: Haru Tashikawa, my biological father or grandfather. I don’t even know anymore.Bookmark here

“Oh my, fancy seeing you here,” Haru said with a grin. “Come in, stranger, or should I call you, grandson?”Bookmark here

“Am I dead?”Bookmark here

“I felt like you asked me that before. Fortunately, no. You are not dead, but we have a lot of work to do.”Bookmark here

I’m too tired to ask for an explanation or question what I am seeing right now. So, I got in the car and rested my back against the seat. “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”Bookmark here

“I was, but I’m back.”Bookmark here

“How?”Bookmark here

“I had help from my wife.” Haru chuckled. “The reason why I'm here is to save my two daughters. And guess what? I need your help.”Bookmark here

“Your wife? Wait, but Mom passed away… and I don’t know where Aunt Kusagi is.”Bookmark here

“As you can see, death isn’t the end, and don’t you worry about where they are. I’ll find them. I just need your brawn because I may be alive, but I don’t have my power.”Bookmark here

My eyelids were heavy. I kept dozing off and waking up. Haru was explaining something, and I was trying so hard to pay attention, but the fatigue was a formidable foe. I tried to stay awake as much as I could. Bookmark here

Haru noticed my struggle, so he reached into the back and tossed me a soft blanket.Bookmark here

“Rest. You need it.”Bookmark here

I quickly took that offer and fell asleep. A quiet dream was all I wanted, but what I got was a nightmare. The city was nothing more than burning piles of rubble. At the bottom of destruction lay all my family and friends. I stood on top of it with my Katana plunged into Ironhide’s chest. Bookmark here

I was smiling while his blood dripped down my arms. Ironhide’s body changed into Haru, then again, into my aunt, and my mother was next, and it kept changing from friends to family until I was roused awake with a sharp pain in my chest.Bookmark here

My hand gripped my chest while gasping for air until I calmed myself. The car was parked beside the road. I couldn’t find Haru in the driver’s seat, but when I turned my sight to the rearview mirror. I found him taking a piss near a shrub without a shirt on while a handgun snuggled behind his waist.Bookmark here

Any slight movement caused me to groan. I exited the car and leaned against the car’s body. I noticed a messy first aid kit laid on the trunk. Bookmark here

“What happened to your arm?” I looked at Haru's patched arm.Bookmark here

“Uhm?” Haru turned his head. “Oh, someone shot me.”Bookmark here

“Someone did?”Bookmark here

“It was a robber.” He finished his bathroom break and walked to the first aid kit. “Take a seat. We need to treat your leg before it gets worse.”Bookmark here

I opened the back door and took a seat at the edge. Haru brought the first aid with him and kneeled in front of me. He lifted my injured leg with great care. After he undid my bandage, I noticed a brief pain in his gaze before he treated my wound.Bookmark here

“Is it true, did you kill your parents?”Bookmark here

“I did.”Bookmark here

I didn’t expect him to answer honestly. “Why?”Bookmark here

“Hate, but mostly anger. They killed my uncle. The only one who raised me and loved me unconditionally. So, I go after them. At first, I didn’t know it was them until I met my mom and found out the truth. Apparently, I’m not even their real son.” Haru smiled. “That’s how I met Kusagi and Catty. The two most adorable daughters slash little sisters one could have.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean by you’re not their real son?”Bookmark here

“I was a clone of their son. The real Haru died a long time ago. Turns out, my parents were trying to avenge his death. Revenge is a funny thing. It’s a vicious cycle. It never… stop. Even after death.” Haru chuckled. “They killed my uncle, so I killed them. It’s amusing, I tried to run away to stop it, but I couldn’t. Catty’s life was at stake.”Bookmark here

My hands balled into a fist. “Can you teach me how to kill?”Bookmark here

Haru finished wrapping my leg with a fresh bandage and sighed. “Aren't you supposed to be a superhero? The last time I check, they saved people, not murder them.”Bookmark here

“You think I didn’t try?” I narrowed my eyes at him while gritting my teeth. “I tried everything. God-damn it! I tried…” My eyes started to well up.Bookmark here

“And by killing them is your answer?”Bookmark here

“Yes. Isn’t that what you do? Isn’t that why they feared you?”Bookmark here

“So, you're trying to be me?” Haru stood up.Bookmark here

“If that's what it takes, then fine by me.”Bookmark here

“Come along.” Haru walked to the trunk.Bookmark here

I followed him. Haru opened the trunk, causing me to take a step back. A man was lying inside. It seemed he was tied up with cable ties and gagged with a piece of cloth. He wasn’t wearing anything except underwear. His eyes were glazed with fear. Haru grabbed his arm and tossed him out of the trunk. Bookmark here

He proceeded to take out the handgun and placed it in my hand. I looked at him with a raised eyebrow.Bookmark here

“What’s going on?”Bookmark here

“Kill him.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“I said kill him.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“Listen, Kenn. This man is a robber. He has hurt so many people and a drug addict as well. There’s no way he can change for the better. Add the fact, he shot me while I was naked. In conclusion, he’s a bad man. It's better for him to die here, rather than let him loose and hurt other people, don’t you agree?”Bookmark here

“But?”Bookmark here

“But what? You wanted to kill. To do the right thing. I’m giving you a chance.” Haru took my wrist with a firm grasp. Gone the gentle and kind man, came the cold and ruthless man. He helped lift the handgun in my hands and aimed for the man in bondage. “All it takes is one easy squeeze. So, what is your answer, Brightstar?”Bookmark here

I yelled from the bottom of my heart, the anger, the hatred, the anguish, and everything. I wanted to squeeze the trigger. To prove myself that I could do it. If I can’t, then who would? All the deaths and suffering were on me. I have to.Bookmark here

“AAAAAHH!!!”Bookmark here

In the end, I couldn’t do it. I fell to my knees while tears were running down my cheeks. I can’t do this anymore. Without any hesitation, I pressed the tip of the gun against my jaw. This was the only way to end it. To end the pain. I squeezed the trigger. A loud bang followed suit, enough to shake the air and caused a deafening ringing.Bookmark here

Blood splattered across my face. I opened my eyes and noticed the barrel was tilted away from my face. It was then when I realized that the blood wasn’t mine. Haru’s hand was over the tip. He had pushed it away at the last second. Blood drizzled from the torn flesh between his thumb and fingers. It drenched the grip and along with my hands.Bookmark here

Yet, there wasn’t a single pain on his face as he looked at me. Only a small smile. I let the handgun fall out of my hands. With both hands, I covered my eyes and sobbed my heart out. Everything was pouring out. Haru took me into an embrace and I cried against his chest.Bookmark here

“It’s okay. Let it all out.” He patted my head despite his wound. “I’m here.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t know if I could. Eventually, I had to stop. There weren’t any tears left. I didn’t have any strength to stand up. Bookmark here

Haru understood my situation. He carried me to the car and gently set me in the passenger’s seat before returning to the robber. I saw him wash his wound with alcohol and stitched it up with ease.Bookmark here

However, I was worried when he pulled out the handgun and fired three rounds without blinking. I jolted forward on my seat and was about to leave the car, but stopped myself when I saw the robber standing up, trembling in fear. Haru leaned closer and whispered to him, something that caused him to nod. Haru handed him a wallet before the robber took off into a sprint in the other direction without looking back.Bookmark here

Haru proceeded to put on a shirt and stretched his neck. He stared at the horizon, before returning into the car and continued to drive it.Bookmark here

It has been a full three hours drive. We haven’t said a word to each other after what happened. I understood that Haru was giving me some space. I’m glad for it, but I noticed something weird during our ride. Haru would quite often take a glance at the skeleton finger, which was odd. I cleared my throat.Bookmark here

“What are you looking at?”Bookmark here

Haru perked up and flashed me a quick smile. “Oh, this? It’s my wife’s finger. She’s helping me out.”Bookmark here

“I thought Grandma Lina was your wife.”Bookmark here

“Lina…” He chuckled. “I haven’t heard that name for a while. Sorry, let me get back to your question. I loved Lina, but there is someone else in my life, or the afterlife to be exact. Her name is Aeterna, and I loved her just as much as I loved Lina. The only difference was I’m married to Aeterna.”Bookmark here

“So, I have two grandmas?”Bookmark here

“I understand your confusion. It’s complicated but in a way yes.”Bookmark here

“What’s Grandma Aeterna like?”Bookmark here

“Grandma Aeterna? She must be flipping in joy, hearing that.” The finger on the dashboard vibrated. Haru smiled when he noticed it. “Aeterna is someone who would sacrifice anything for the one she loved and stays loyal till the end of the day and keeps doing so reincarnation after reincarnation. Aeterna isn’t a Human or a Powered. To put it simply, she is a Goddess.”Bookmark here

“A Goddess? You are one hell of a ladykiller, grandpa.”Bookmark here

“It’s a curse and also a blessing.” A proud grin appeared on his face. “We talked about my love life, what about yours?”Bookmark here

“Me?” I perked up with surprise.Bookmark here

“Yes, you. Who else am I talking to? Come on, spill the beans.”Bookmark here

“Uhm…” I sat quietly for a moment, staring at nothing. A flash of Juliet’s face appeared in the back of my mind. My hands balled into a fist. “Her name was Juliet. I thought we had something, but she betrayed me. She was working with Bradford all along. I don’t know why, but it is so hard to convince myself that it wasn’t true. None of it was true.”Bookmark here

“Love, no one said it was going to be easy. I think we should steer away from that topic for a while. You know, Catty was quite the crybaby back when she was a kid. She put on this brave face, but inside, she was hurting. Her name actually was taken from her other name, Catalyst.”Bookmark here

“Her name was Catalyst?”Bookmark here

Haru smiled and nodded. “Also, Kusagi name came from mashing two Japanese words. ‘Kuro’ means Black. And ‘Usagi’ which means Rabbit. I know I wasn’t the greatest name giver in the world, but I gave it my best.”Bookmark here

I laughed. “Was Aunty Kusagi always…?”Bookmark here

“Feisty? Hot-headed? Unfortunately, yes, but that’s the best part of her. When I first met her, she was ready to bite my head off.”Bookmark here

“I was wondering what you say to that robber before you let him go.”Bookmark here

“Oh?” Haru chuckled. “I told him that I know his face and name, and I know where he lives. So, I’m giving him a second chance. After three years, I’m going to find him and if he doesn't live the life of an honest man, then I’m going to kill him.”Bookmark here

My eyes widened slightly. “Did you mean that?”Bookmark here

“Of course, I mean it. Why do you ask?”Bookmark here

“So, if he doesn’t change, you’re going to kill him?”Bookmark here

“Is that weird? I mean, I'm probably going to kill him anyway. People don’t change, trust me.” Bookmark here

The skeleton finger pointed to a gas station with a giant skull of a Tyrannosaurus rex on top of the roof. Haru parked the car beside the gas station. I left the car and stretched my body. Haru gave me some money to buy whatever I need. While he goes to a payphone and makes a call.Bookmark here

I washed my dirt-ridden body in the bathroom. After I felt refreshed, I went into the gas station and bought a set of clothes. It consisted of a hoodie, sweatpants, and a pair of sandals. I wasn’t aiming for a fashion gala, I only needed fresh clothes instead of this medical apparel I had on.Bookmark here

After buying a few other things such as chips, mineral water, and a first aid kit, I headed back to the car. Haru seemed busy with a call. So, I cleaned my injuries all by myself. It wasn’t difficult. The only hard part about it was washing my wounds with alcohol. It burns and itches. Afterward, I finished it off with freshly wrapped bandages.Bookmark here

“We might have to stay here tonight.” Haru appeared on my left.Bookmark here

“Who did you call?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know if you know her. It’s an old friend of mine, Cindy.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I met her before.”Bookmark here

“Great. Well, she’s coming to us, but she needs time to get the stuff I wanted.”Bookmark here

“She must have freaked out when you called her.”Bookmark here

“Indeed, she did.” Haru smiled. “It’s going to get dark soon. How about we have something to eat at the diner next to the gas station?”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

We went to the diner and filled our stomachs with as much food as we could. Surprisingly, both of us were starving. It has been a while since I had real food instead of the grub they served back in the lab. However, for Haru, it must be quite taxing to come back to life. He was chowing down as much as I did.Bookmark here

After a good dinner, Haru checked us into a small motel across from the gas station. As I laid on the mattress, I never felt this comfortable before. I had been strapped to that contraption for a while. I had to sleep while standing. It was uncomfortable, and that was an understatement. To be on this hard bed was like having a cloud underneath me.Bookmark here

“Don’t forget to shower first before heading to bed. I’m going to the gas station to buy a pack of beer. Also, don’t forget to lock the door.”Bookmark here

Haru left the room. I locked the door behind him. After undressing myself, I took a cold shower. The dripping cold water was heavenly. All the dirt, grime, and old blood were swept away. I was careful to make sure my injured leg didn’t get wet.Bookmark here

I thought I was safe, but it seemed my mind didn’t think so.Bookmark here

My heart suddenly dropped. From out of nowhere, a scream jolted my body forward. My mind wanted to remember how it felt like to have scorching liquid flowing into my veins. The lost control of my power, it wasn’t like before, it felt forceful and vile. And the cuff going through my flesh was a nightmare.Bookmark here

Zanny, Kusagi, and other’s faces bore into my mind. I couldn’t get it out. Suddenly, I forgot how to breathe. My legs gave out, and I fell on the bathroom floor.Bookmark here

I kept my knees close to my chest and embraced it tightly. My body was shaking. I didn’t know why. I shut my eyes, then tried to purge those feelings and memories away. However, it didn’t help, I felt worse by the second. I felt alone and my mom… isn’t around anymore.Bookmark here

A sudden touch snapped me to reality. Haru was drenched with the cold shower. The pack of beers on the floor behind him. The pain in his eyes betrayed the brave smile he put on.Bookmark here

“I-I can’t move.”Bookmark here

“Sitting in a shower isn’t much of a shower, is it?” Haru lifted me in his arms. He brought me out of the room and sat me at the edge of the bed. He didn’t forget to close the shower valve before grabbing a fresh towel. Afterward, he dried my body. Bookmark here

Haru didn’t ask. He didn’t mention anything. All he did was take care of me. Even as far as putting on my clothes for me and combing my hair.Bookmark here

“Mom’s gone. I don’t know where everyone is, or whether they’re fine or not. I don’t know where I am. I don’t even know what to do.” My eyes started to well up.Bookmark here

“You’re here with me. Focus on me.”Bookmark here

“What if this thing I have is going to be forever? I can’t keep pulling you down with me.”Bookmark here

“You’re not pulling anyone down with you. You aren’t going anywhere. And I will try to be here for you. It isn’t just me. There are other people too. People who cared about you as much you cared for them.”Bookmark here

“I’m supposed to be a Hero. What kind of Hero am I, if I can’t even keep myself together?”Bookmark here

A sharp flicked against my forehead snapped my attention. Haru stood before me with furrowed eyebrows. “You are a good kid, Kenn. Always has been, but you are a kid nonetheless. What you have been through would break a full-grown man. I know what it felt like to lose someone. To lose control. To feel with so much hatred and anger…”Bookmark here

Haru sighed. “Maybe it was my fault. My terrible gene passed on to you and so does my curse. You can blame me if you want. I deserve it, but please don’t lose hope. You’re still here. You can still do something about it, even if it's as small as brushing your teeth. As long, you keep going, I swear one day it’s going to get better. Don’t let them win over you.”Bookmark here

My hands balled into a fist and I nodded. It was hard to keep the tears down, but I managed to toughen myself up. I need to keep moving. Bookmark here

He patted my head, then set me down on the bed. Haru was gentle when he placed a blanket over me. Then, Haru laid beside me with his arm on me. “I will be here when you wake up. So, don’t you worry, okay?”Bookmark here

I had never felt so safe sleeping than right now. Haru reminded me of home, of mom, who has always been there for me. I guess this was where she got it from. Slowly, darkness pulled me down, but I wasn’t afraid because Haru will be there for me when I wake up.Bookmark here

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