Realms of Destiny
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The red-haired boy looked first at the older boy, who have clearly led a good life compared to him, then turned to the little girl with a bloody bandage on her neck; he did not say anything. Hakuda had been studying the boy since before Sousuke and Reina returned, and now suddenly noticed the blood on Sousuke’s clothes.
“What happened to you? Shouldn’t you tend to that injury?” He asked the boy, gesturing to the blood stain on his shirt, slightly concerned that one of his students had been in a fight.
“Oh, this…it’s not mine sir.” Sousuke realized too late that he had just admitted to his own incompetence. His master had swung his head and stared suspiciously at Reina.
“Reina. Remove your hand .” was all the sword master said to his daughter who had been sitting in a strange-ish pose since a moment ago, one hand holding the front of her neck as though she’s about to clear her throat.
“Ahem…hem! What?” asked the five-year-old, feigning innocence. Reina had been trying her best to cover the area where the blood had stained Sousuke’s makeshift bandages. She had forgotten about her injury in her rush to greet her father, but had remembered when he pointed out the blood on Sousuke.
“Remove your hand from your neck. Now.” That was an order. Her father did not look impressed. The swordmaster’s daughter slowly removed her hand where a dark red patch stained the green fabric of what used to be her sempai’s sleeves.
“Master, I can explain! I’m the one at fault. Please don’t punish Rei-sama!” said Sousuke in a stream of excuses as he bowed as low as he could until his forehead touched the tatami mats.
“No! It’s not his fault! There was a crazy thief man with a tanto at the market today and Sousuke saved me!” Rei blurted out. “Besides, I’m fine now, the cut doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“Sousuke, what happened?” was all her father said. He kept his eyes on her, saying the question in a level tone. He didn’t sound angry, but neither was there kindness in his tone. Sousuke knew that he had to tread carefully now.
“We just got back from the market sir. While there, there was a convict on the run. He had a tanto in his hand and was trying to escape four policemen. He then tripped and fell as he was approaching where we were and so, knowing he couldn’t get away, grabbed the closest person and held her hostage. Which….happened to be Rei-sama.” He finished slowly. Every word was true of course, but his master did not seem convinced.
Hakuda knew full well that that was not all there was to the story. Two children in a market full of people could have easily slipped away in the confusion. He knew as well that the boy had the sense to do just that. Sousuke is one of, no, the best student he ever had. He may only be nine years old, but the boy was intelligent, responsible, and had the skills and reflex many adult men couldn’t compare to. However, this unusual boy Hakuda was left with eight years ago had but one weakness: his daughter, Reina.
“Why was Reina taken hostage?” Hakuda asked his apprentice.
“What do you mean? I just was!” interrupted Reina.
“Sousuke?” Hakuda looked to the boy for confirmation. He knew that Sousuke would not lie to him, even if it was to protect his Ojousama, and all in all, if it was for her own good, he would have no problem revealing. Withholding the facts earlier was done on reflex to avoid trouble if need be.
”Rei-sama…” she was looking at him with pleading puppy-dog eyes now. Sousuke looked from daughter to father, one pleading, the other demanding answers. He couldn’t sit silent forever so he chose to face to consequences. “…tripped the criminal sir. But if it wasn’t for her that criminal would have never been caught and she was doing good and doing it for the town, master.” He added as quickly as he could.
“Your training swords will be confiscated for the next week.” Was Hakuda’s verdict to Reina, whose face dropped as though she had been grounded for a month and her pocket money withheld.
“Thank you master!” said Sousuke, glad that Reina wouldn’t have to do any menial labour like cleaning the dojo or be denied a meal.
“Thank you?” echoed Rei, appalled. “Why are you thanking him?”
“And you, young man, are cleaning the dojo in everyone’s stead for the next week, and, no dinner for you both tonight. Now get cooking, I believe our little friend here had not eaten for a while.”
“Yes, Master” Replied Sousuke dutifully.
“But we’ve got so much food from the vendors!” Rei moaned. She then realized that they have all kind of momentarily forgotten about the strange boy who had been sitting very still in the corner watching the entire scene. Her father haven’t gotten around to introducing him to them both, but it seemed as though the boy didn’t want to be introduced just yet. Sousuke could sense suspicion and distrust coming from such a young boy, which worried him a little, but seeing the boy’s condition, he wasn’t surprised. Just then, the swords master changed his mind.
“Go clean them both up.” That was an order directed at Sousuke. “Heat the water, I’ll cook tonight, all of you can go clean up.” The boy quickly ushered both younger children out of the room without delay. He noted that they have escaped his master’s scolding, and he was grateful for that. Although, the boy did remind him of a stray dog, and if his hunches prove correct, he may have an additional charge starting today.
The water did not take long to heat up. Sousuke had rolled up his sleeves and tied them up with a piece of string, preparing himself to give the messy boy a good wash. The dirt was so piled up that it was difficult for him to tell which were actually bruises and which were washable mud. He had to be careful or he’ll hurt the boy. Both five-year-olds have now stripped down to a piece of towel and Reina was enjoying the hot bath while Sousuke was giving the boy a thorough scrub with soap. As she had truthfully told her father, the cut on her neck did not hurt anymore. As a matter of fact, the wound looked no more than a tiny scratch and without paying close attention, it was as though it was never there to begin with.
“I can’t really tell which of these are actually bruises but I’m gonna have to scrub abit, let me know if it hurts.” Sousuke warned the boy, and began his work. The boy hadn’t said a word since they’ve arrived, and now he just nodded. Reina did not like the silence however, so she tried to initiate a conversation with him.
“So…my name’s Reina, you can call me Rei. What’s yours?” her grey eyes looked into his red ones and she thought to herself how beautiful and unusual the colour was. The boy did not answer immediately. “Look Sousuke! He’s got a gem just like us!” exclaimed Rei and pointed to the boy’s chest. Sousuke had been sitting on a stool scrubbing the boy’s back. At that comment he quickly moved around to note that it is in fact a gem very much like theirs’, and by looking into it he could see swirling essences of fire and what looked like a bit of earth. Reina grabbed hers that was hanging around her neck even in the shower, and Sousuke quickly produce his from his bracelet as well. The boy’s blank expression immediately changed to one of surprise. However, both Sousuke and Rei didn’t know what to make of this boy’s gem as it, unlike theirs’, seem to be lodged firmly into the boy’s chest, it looked inhuman of course, but unusually natural, as though it belonged there. Sousuke’s hands slowly extended towards the red gem, but before he could get anywhere close, the boy violently brushed his hands away.
“Don’t touch it!” He exclaimed protectively. Sousuke quickly held both his hands up, indicating that he meant no harm. If that gem was the same as his, there is a reason for the kid to be over protective of it after all.
“Don’t worry, I mean you no harm.” The boy stared back at him, still distrustful.
“You’re just like us. We know that gem is special to you as ours is to us. I’m sure we can be good friends. So, what is your name?” Said Reina helpfully. She was getting extremely excited. There aren’t that many children around her age training under her father, and the fact that this new boy had suddenly arrived, not only was he around her age, he also has such a mysterious feel about him that she felt intrigued, his hair and eyes are an unusual colour which she found very cool; now, to top it all off he’s got a special gem just like her!
“A..kuma…Shindou Akuma…they called me demon.”
“That’s just mean. What kind of heartless drunk would name their son demon?”
“Rei-sama!” Sousuke gave him a warning look. “Don’t mind her, she didn’t mean to...”
“My mother died giving birth to me, and my father feared me. He only held onto me because he thought I was some freak child with a gem in his chest. He got killed by some gangsters a week ago, but I got away. Akuma was just what everyone in the village called me.” Reina almost regretted asking the question. Sousuke realized then that this boy must have had a rough childhood. Considering the superstitious nature of the people around here, it explains a lot that this child who had killed his mother at birth, with such unusual features, would’ve been thought a spawn from hell.
“I’m sorry to hear that…” The nine-year-old began.
“If it’s any consolation, neither of us had ever met our mother too, and Sousuke’s father died in a raid when he was one; but he’s been a part of our family since before I was born so he’s like a brother to me.” She gave Sousuke a bright smile which he returned. “Hmm…Akuma won’t do. We’ll give you a new name.” Said Reina matter-of-factly. “Gimme a minute to think it over.” With that, she scrunched her eyes tight as though deep in thought.
“Well, if you’re going to do that then you two better switch places. You can do it while I wash your hair.” Said Sousuke, giving Akuma a gentle push. Reina reluctantly left the comforting warmth of the bath and took the boy’s place. She was looking at him trying to find a defining characteristic that would be a good prompt for the new name. However, everything about him was defining. As mean as it sounds, Sousuke found no difficulty in understanding why people would give him such a name. He is unkempt, has blood-red eyes and hair, a feral attitude, that gemstone embedded in his chest and…
“What’s that tattoo?” Asked Rei suddenly. She was pointing to the right side of his chest. Beside the red gem there was a black mark of an intricate design. On the small boy it looked about the size of his palm.
“It’s a birthmark.” said the red-haired boy. Rei tilted her head almost ninety degrees to try to figure a shape out of the black mark. It looked kind of like an upside down bat wing.
Wing..wing..black wing…”Aha! I got a name for you!” She blurted out suddenly, startling Sousuke and sending some foam into one of his bright green eyes.
“Ah!” He fumbled for the wooden bucket and quickly washed the irritant away.
“Oh, sorry sempai, are you alright?” asked Rei, concerned.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Was his reply. It stung a little, but it’ll go away soon enough.
“So yes, name. Your new name…is...Kurogane!” as she said this, she pointed at him in a dramatic pose to add impact.
“K…Kurogane?” he juggled it around in his mind, imagining himself being called that Shindou Kurogane…
“It’s your birthmark. I think it looks like a wing.” She explained.
“Kurogane is a good strong name, Shindou Kurogane, great idea Rei-sama!” said Sousuke with a smile. “Do you like it Shindou-kun?”
“I think it’s alright…” was all he said, blushing. Although, both Sousuke and Reina can see that he likes it, a lot. Kurogane. No one had ever sat down and took the time to think of a name for him. A name defines an individual, and with a strong one like that, he felt the new confidence that he could become stronger. Kurogane is a million times better than Akuma whichever way you look at it. “From now on, I’m Shindou Kurogane. ” He said finally.
“Yup, and I’m Hakuda Reina.”
“I’m Akagawa Sousuke, sorry I haven’t gotten around to introduce myself earlier. Nice to meet you.“
“And you.” Said Kurogane. He’s only just met these two today but they have a lot more in common than he ever thought he could with anyone in this world. They both seem to understand, to an extent, the importance of the gem. Neither of them looked at him with the hatred and fear the same way everyone else did, and not with pity either. They are a kindred spirit, never known a mother’s love, and yet they seemed happy enough. To them, he is no demon but an individual who deserved a proper name. They have treated him with respect. At that moment, the red-haired boy thought to himself …and you will do the same Shindou Kurogane.