X = Y
Months flew by like rain dancing in the wind. Rei continued to practice Kendo alongside Nagai, his senior, who returned from his trip to the new world, which Master Seijiro spoke about very briefly. Rei improved significantly in the four months that passed, making it Friday the 25th of December, 2015. The idea of Christmas was one that Seijiro did not celebrate, and therefore, Rei and Nagai did not think of it.
Seijiro, Nagai and, Rei were kneeling at the back of the Dojo in the first room. Whist they were facing Master Seijiro, Rei had a stroke of realisation.
"I thought Master was your father at first," said Rei with a nervous smile and expression. He giggled it off and pretended as if nothing happened.
"Pay attention. I told you, he's been here for ten years. It's odd because you're were a similar age to him when he joined." said Seijiro with a ponderous look.
"It was an eventuality, right?" Rei retorted with a mischievous smile.
"You look more like Master's son than I do, Rei!" Nagai exclaimed with a stupid looking smile on his face.
"We're talking about the wrong thing here. I wanted to teach you Bushido. It's the code you will follow if you want to continue to train here. It's also something that will protect you later in life, and very soon you will realise that you need it." said Seijiro.
"I've heard of it before, but I don't know much about it," said Rei with a nervous smile in response to Seijiro's austere face.
"I'll keep it simple since you have trouble listening. Over the centuries that have passed, Bushido was condensed down to eight virtues, authored by Nitobe Inazo. First — Rectitude or Justice. Second — Courage. Third — Benevolence or Mercy. Fourth — Politeness. Fifth — Honesty and Sincerity. Sixth — Honor. Seventh — Loyalty. Finally, the Eighth virtue — Character and Self-control. That is all." Seijiro said in his monotonous voice.
"You're not going to explain it? How am I supposed to remember them when you told me once?" said Rei in a confused voice.
Nagai slapped Rei's back with an excessive force, creating a gust of wind.
"My spine! My back..." Rei thought to himself in pain.
"Just ask me for them! I've memorised it all. Each of the virtues will mean something to you eventually. Just keep them in your mind and think of it from time to time!" said Nagai with an apathetic smile.
"You will come to understand the virtues of Bushido if you do not already understand the meaning of each. However, you cannot force it upon yourself. It must happen naturally, for you are a creation of nature itself. You understand what each of the words means in the Bushido, right?" said Seijiro in a questioning tone.
"We speak the same language, right? Oh wait, you don't speak like you're in 2015, Master. You have this old-fashioned way of speaking. It's so confusing, but I have to put a tiny bit more effort to understand you." responded Rei with an innocent, cunning smile.
Seijiro stood up. All eyes were on him. "Rei. Stand up. It seems the time has come forth for you to learn the true sword style of a Samurai. One which I learnt and perfected myself. Take a bamboo sword from the other room."
"Alright. Am I supposed to open the door on my own?" said Rei.
He stared at Seijiro's face with a devious smile he was trying to hide. Rei walked towards the door with a confused and terrified look on his face.
"How am I supposed to open this? All I've done is swing the same sword over and over again, and then do some other things you told me with the sword, and some intense behind the scenes training." said Rei in frustration.
Rei seized the door to the other room at the indent with both hands. He adjusted his body, positioning himself on the other side of the door, and he pulled with great might. He rooted his feet into the ground like the trunks of a tree. His fingers became red, and he slowly opened the door but by the smallest margin. Grabbing part of the open door for more grip, Rei managed to slide the door open steadily, at a snail's pace. He breathed heavily, and his face became red, and opening the door became an eventuality.
"I actually opened that stupid door...I actually opened it..." said Rei triumphantly.
"That's got me thinking. You've never asked us to open the door when we do anything outside like hunting or gardening..." said Nagai, questioning his thoughts.
"What was that you said? I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you. Let me get the bamboo sword that Master asked for first," said Rei, slipping away with an innocent look as if nothing happened.
Rei grabbed two bamboo swords and brought them back. Too tired to close the door, he left it open behind him. He handed one over to Seijiro, who looked back with pride.
"Well done. You have passed the trial, my student. In all that time you were here, you did not once manage to open a door of that weight until today." said Seijiro, kindly smiling.
"Really? Wow. I actually did. But that still doesn't explain how you got that strong. You swung open that iron door with one finger. You didn't even flinch, and you did it so carelessly." said Rei, slightly frustrated.
"Notice also Master never once called you his student until now, Rei. Congratulations!" said Nagai.
He stood up, ran over, and slapped Rei's back tremendously hard, which inflicted pain upon him. Rei's back stiffened out, but he realised it did not feel as bad.
"Wow. That wasn't as bad compared to last time..." Rei gathered.
Seijiro walked away to one end of the Dojo, and he turned around. Rei looked at him with a slightly confused look as Seijiro assumed a fighting stance.
"You have earned the right to learn my sword style. The Destined Emperor. It is said that this sword style was created by the final Shogun of the Bakufu. It has been passed down from one generation to the next. It is a culmination of the greatest sword techniques from centuries before it up to the Meiji Era." said Seijiro seriously, whilst grandly smiling.
"The Destined Emperor? Okay then...is that the same thing you used against me, Nagai?" said Rei.
"Yeah, it was. When I smashed your side in, I was a bit late in noticing. After that, I didn't want to use it against you when we were training. Master wasn't even using it against you. Until now anyway. I'm sorry if I hurt you, brother!" said Nagai in a remorseful attitude.
"Listen closely. The key to this sword style is one where you keep eye contact with your opponent. You never loosen your grip too much to a point where you create an opportunity for your opponent to escape. It's the same thing that Nagai did to you. When you fight someone, you subconsciously stare at their eyes to read their next move. If your eyes never move, then your opponent will never know where you'll attack." Seijiro said in a firm voice.
"It's called the Destined Emperor because the one worthy of being an Emperor always knows how his people feel. His people are a reflection of him. He looks directly at them with confidence and kindness. It's pretty cool. Yep! Yep! Yep!" asserted Nagai, nodding his head in acceptance.
"You're telling me that I have to always look at them in the eye? I'm guessing that I have to learn to fight whilst fixing my eyes on a certain point, which is their eyes in this case," said Rei. "I'll give it a try!" he added.
"It's not only that. You have to plan your moves instantaneously, think quicker than you have ever before, and never hesitate to make a move. Once you do, the sword will feel like a member of your body." said Seijiro. His stance was one where he held his sword to his right, with both hands on the hilt and his body leaning on his right leg — which he bent to lower his body position — with his left leg stretched straight.
"Now, for the entire day, you will listen to what I have to teach you. Let all that you see today be engraved into those eyes of yours...those eyes of yours that seek the truth and have experienced everything. Let your body remember your reason for living, and with it, create a newer experience that will overcome your past." Seijiro said sternly.
"I will leave and tend to the things that you would have Rei do, Master! Good luck and do your best, Rei!" said Nagai, running through the door to the other room and then the back entrance.
"Remember my reason for living?" Rei thinks to himself. "I'll never forget it, Master. It's been burnt into my eyes quite literally," he responded with a smile and a raised clenched fist to his side.
Now a total of seven months had passed since Rei enrolled in Master Seijiro's Dojo. He learnt everything almost instantaneously as two more months passed following his introduction to the Destined Emperor sword style. Albeit he was defeated by Seijiro whenever they sparred, Rei got up and never withdrew from his fight, regardless of his injuries. He impressed Nagai and even his Master, who praised him for his hard work.
It was Thursday, the 3rd of March, 2016. Seijiro, Nagai and Rei were walking down the stone staircase, hidden by the trap door in the second room at the back of the Dojo. Each of them was holding a lamp with the flame encased by glass. Rei walked further than he did when he was hiding there from the police. He saw that there was an opening on the right.
"Wait, what's down here? And what's over there? I didn't see that whilst I was down here because I didn't go that far." said Rei, looking around, wondering what else could lie ahead.
"That's where we're going," said Seijiro.
The three of them entered the room, which was as big as the Dojo's first room. Jotted around the room were lamps, and there were wooden crates and boxes. There were also books, food crates and other items Seijiro had been keeping. The room, being particularly cold, prompted shivers to run down Rei's back.
"Why is it so cold down here? Can't you afford any heating, Master? Or is that too modern for you?" Rei said cheekily.
"I'm happy that you make jokes in times which are not dire. Make better ones next time. This is the best place to store food so it doesn't rot away like that head of yours." responded Seijiro with a smirk on his face.
A flicker of light in the corner of Rei's eye caught his attention. He began walking outside without alerting Seijiro and Nagai. He walked down the eerie tunnel with his arm stretched and his lamp in his hand.
"Help me find some meat and vegetables, Nagai," Seijiro added on.
"Oh! We're doing that now? Are you going to bring Rei along?" said Nagai with jitters of excitement.
"Yes. This is the perfect time for him. He wanted to learn all there is to fighting and I will fulfil his wish. Now pack all that we need. The journey to the Subterranean is no less challenging than it already is. You're going to meet the Elders again so be prepared." said Seijiro, scavenging through the crates for food.
The tunnel that Rei walked down split into three. Wooden boards nailed to the wall had paper attached to them on each path. Written on each board were two names, one on top of the other. The leftmost having Master Shinpei Osumi and Master Hiroaki Shibakawa, the middle having Master Yasuhiro Taba and Master Shuzo Hokura, and the rightmost having Master Umetori Kamahiro and Master Akinobu Motoyanagi.
"Masters? Do these tunnels lead to these Masters? What are they even Masters of? Should I risk going down there? I'd better not." Rei thought to himself.
He turned around and heard the voices of Seijiro and Nagai calling for him. They grew louder and louder, and he walked towards them, eventually meeting them.
"How far did you go?" questioned Seijiro with a relaxed expression.
"You just wondered off like that! You had me scared for a second!" exclaimed Nagai, exhaling hyperbolically.
"I wasn't going to go down those dark tunnels. I'd probably get lost. There were signs with the names of Masters, but I don't know what they're masters of." said Rei with a questioned look on his face.
"Good. We're leaving the Dojo, Rei, for I am taking you to the new world. The Subterranean. All the preparations for our long journey shall begin." said Seijiro, entering the cold storage room.
"Wait! Where are we going?" inquired Rei in a surprised tone whilst following Seijiro.
"You will see, young one. You will see what this world has to offer you, you will see what you can take, and you will realise what you can give. That will be a sign of the power you possess." responded Seijiro in an enthusiastic voice.
Rei's eyes sparkled for a moment at Seijiro's words which resonated in his ears. Images of his success flew through his mind, of him finding the person who evicted his parents from the world of the living and one where he destroyed his foe.
They exited the basement of the Dojo, walking through the opened door that connected the two rooms to the front door. The first to enter was Rei, with Nagai and Seijiro holding a large bag in one hand and cloaks in the other. Rei placed both hands into the indents in the door, and he slid it open with such a tremendous force that it caused the Dojo to shake. Slamming the door open, he surprised Nagai and Seijiro. They both smiled in amazement, and Rei stared at his hands which had not turned red. Realising this, he clenched his fists and smiled with accomplishment whilst turning around.
"I did it! Did you see that? I opened the door so easily with both hands! It made a large boom sound and shook the entire Dojo too!" exclaimed Rei in happiness.
Rei could see the proud look on Seijiro's face. He tried covering his smile, but it remained visible. Seijiro and Nagai passed Rei, who turned to look at their backs in confusion.
"We don't have all day. We want to make it as far as we can before nightfall. Here, take this." said Seijiro, throwing a black cloak at Rei.
Nagai and Seijiro both wore the cloak.
"We should keep hidden. You don't want anyone to find out who you are. Not after all that time has passed..." said Seijiro with a distant smirk on his face.
Rei put on the black cloak and covered his head with the hood. He also covered his mouth and nose, ensuring the only thing the world saw was his eyes. They trekked through the forest for the entire day — travelling past the mountains onto winding roads. They crossed rivers and walked over bridges to new areas past the town that Rei had never visited before. Albeit they remained in the forest away from the public eye — Rei was fascinated by what he beheld. He was captivated, more by what was there that he was never aware of than what he could see.
Night descended, and they created a fire with twigs surrounded by rocks. They sat around it and cooked meat and vegetables with water in a large cauldron-like bowl that hung over a fire.
"How far did we walk?" said Rei in a tired voice. "I'm done for today. I can't go any longer. I'll die if I have to take another step." he said with a smirk on his face, finding his joke funny.
"We have another day of this to go, Rei!" exclaimed Nagai. "I had to do this when I went to the Subterranean and back! It gets easier once you do it a dozen times. Becoming fitter and healthier makes it easy too!" he added, guilelessly smiling.
They slept the night over, continuing their journey through the winds that lightly touched their faces to the sun that battered them with heat. On the second day of travelling, past midday, they arrived at a peculiar house. It was large and looked like Seijiro's Dojo, resembling a Feudal Era home.
The Dojo, established on the edge of the town, was discernible from the rest of the houses, whilst cars drove in the distance further away. There were more modern houses but still a considerable length away from the Dojo.
"Is this another Dojo?" said Rei, who turned his head to survey the area.
"Not quite. It's more of a disguise than a Dojo. You'll see when we enter. Come on!" said Nagai with a happy look on his face. "This place brings so many memories. All of them seem bad, but they're better than anything I have!" he exclaimed.
Rei stared at Nagai, implying if he was thinking straight. The doors were regular sliding doors, unlike the ones at his Dojo. Once Rei opened it, a gust of wind greeted his face as the feeling of enlightenment smashed every single nerve in his body. Power, anger, determination and perseverance were the feelings that embellished themselves within his soul. He was witness to the fights of many warriors inside of the Dojo. He was nonplus about the perfection within the moves of the students who were fighting. Within white lines that divided the floor, each fight occurred between two participants.
Nagai and Seijiro began to walk into the Dojo, but Seijiro stoped. Nagai also stopped, confused by Seijiro, who turned around to look at Rei.
"Master? Is there something up?" said Nagai.
Nagai turned around, and both Seijiro and he were looking at the immense shock on Rei's face. He was stunned by fascination from the fights he observed. Seijiro smiled like a proud father watching his son's amazement unravel into fireworks that illuminate the entire sky — bursting into flames of hope and resolution.
"This is the new world that you wanted to see, Rei. If you're too afraid to come in...No, you're not afraid," said Seijiro, briefly pausing. "This is only just the surface. What's left after the surface is what was concealed by it." he continued.
Nagai smiled and ran up to Rei, putting his arm around him.
"Come on brother. There's more than this! You have to check it out, now!" he exclaimed, smiling stupidly at Rei, who was still looking ahead of himself and not focusing on Nagai.
Eventually, Rei lets out a huge smile which became a clear sign of his dedication and commitment to fighting. "Yeah! Let's go!" exclaimed Rei.
They entered and went around the outside of the fights. Rei looked carefully as many students, wearing different pieces of clothing, were using different fighting styles. Some wore head guards and gloves, and others fought bare-handed on soft mats, which lessened the damage from being tossed onto the floor.
"Everyone! Stop your fighting and line up!" exclaimed a voice that bellowed across the entire Dojo.
Rei was shocked, turning his head quickly, trying to find the foci of that obnoxious shout. Nagai rotated around, and Seijiro let out a sigh. Everyone that was currently fighting, and those sitting on the side, quickly stood and lined up.
"Did you really have to do this, Shinpei?" said Seijiro with an unamused expression.
The man, who had spiked hair at the top but his sides shaved, was wearing a completely white uniform — like one a student of Karate would wear. He had a black belt around his waist and a black belt wrapped around each arm, between the elbow and shoulder.
"That's Master Osumi to you, Seijiro," said Shinpei Osumi with a great smile. "If you weren't gone for that long, then I wouldn't have done this," he said, revolving around to address the students. "No matter who your Master is, you respect the Master of any fighting style. You all should recognise Master Kirihoshin — the Master of Kendo." he bellowed.
"Welcome back, Master Kirihoshin!" the students exclaimed, bowing respectfully.
"All of you, return to your training. You three. Come along with me." said Master Shinpei.
The three of them marched with Shinpei Osumi to the back room, exactly like the one at Seijiro's Dojo. There was a similar trap door, only the staircase was more refined and made with a smoother stone. They descended the stairs, vanishing further into the unknown.
"You must be the one that Seijiro took under his wing to train? After all this time... I never expected him to get another one!" said Shinpei, laughing with great amusement.
"Can I get a quick explanation about what's going on, please?" said Rei with a kind, compliant, deceitful smile.
"You haven't told him, Seijiro?" said Shinpei. "You're always like that. Fine, kid. I am Master Osumi to you. Shinpei Osumi. The Master of Karate. This isn't my Dojo, but a Dojo held by the Elders. They're the ones who run all of this. Take a look for yourself." said Shinpei.
At that exact moment, they arrived at the end of the tunnel, which had a light gleaming through, that pierced their eyes. It opened up to a massive fighting arena, surrounded by stands made of stone and wood. It was like an indoor football stadium but for fighting, whilst the ring in the centre was significantly smaller. Yet it had enough space to hold fifty people if they crammed them in there. Above the stands, there was a specially made seating area that was highly coveted and guarded.
"This, kid, is the new world. The Subterranean! The home of underground fighting! You'll meet the strongest of people taught by us masters to fight until your heart is smashed into your skull!" Shinpei exclaimed, laughing with obnoxious amounts of vigour.
"Is this how you earned that money, Nagai? Did you come here to fight? Who funds this all?" said Rei in extreme confusion.
"Yeah, I came here! It's not that bad for me. Winning isn't easy, and you get scratches here and there, but it works out. You're not allowed to kill people. Only subdue them or make them forfeit." said Nagai with an innocent smile, bereft of malignancy.
"The Elders are the ones supported by the official fighting organisation of Japan. They get the money and bring it here. It's not exactly legal, but it's not illegal either." said Seijiro in a lighter tone.
"That reminds me kid. Anything you see here never makes it to the surface. Understood? Otherwise, people will come after you, and that's when it all ends..." exclaimed Shinpei, laughing too audibly.
"Understood. Who are the Elders anyway?" added Rei.
"Never mess with them and respect them, kid. They're the ones before us. My Master and Seijiro's Master are up there. They set all this up! They know more stuff than we do. They taught us all there is to know!" he added. "Now kid, it's nearly your turn to fight!" Shinpei said, producing another bellowing laugh.
Rei joined in, laughing hysterically. The other three stood with him stopped, staring at him awkwardly. Rei ceased his laughter and looked at them in slight terror. "Good joke? You're not being serious, are you?" he said, his attitude dropping, plummeting.
"I'm being serious. I told you I would introduce you to the new world, Rei. It's a world you insisted upon the moment you met me. You better not regret it, and you'd better not wish that you hadn't said that. I've taught you all you need, my student." said Seijiro with a proud smile.
Rei apprehended the nature of the predicament, wishing to seek revenge on the people who ruined his life, and he braved into the unknown — ingenuous of the circumstances he would find himself in. Emotions that manifest into terror, doubt, fear and self-reflection distorted his mind and played tricks within his heart. The idea of leaving had not crossed his mind because he was determined to carry on and never turn back — for the sake of his brother and parents, whose thoughts never left him once.