Realms of Destiny
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“I’m doing it!! I’m doing it! See? Kuro-kun, I’m doing it! I’m treading water!” shouted Reina to Kurogane excitedly from the waterfall pool. The sun was warm and gentle, and Kurogane was just sitting on the rocky ledge, basking in the warm sunlight, keeping an eye on his friend from above.
“That didn’t take you very long at all.” He said. It was a mere statement, but getting that from him, was like getting a ‘very well done’ from anyone else, and she beamed. Kurogane knew this as well, and smiled to himself. He was about to walk down to join her when the sun suddenly disappeared and an unusual darkness began to close in on them. Kurogane thought that a storm was coming so he looked down to tell Reina that they better head back, when suddenly she seemed to be struggling.
“What the – AHH!” she screamed. It looked to the boy like some unseen hand was pulling her from below and she was sputtering, and within seconds was pulled under water.
“Rei!” He dove in without a thought, determined to help her up. He tried to find her by waving his arms around under the water but was unable to find her. When he emerged from the water to take a deep breath he realized, to his horror, that it was not water that he was swimming in, but a pool of crimson blood. In shock, he hurriedly backed out of the pool. No, not again! Once again he realizes now that he is in a bad dream, but to wake up…he felt a cold wispy hand brushing through his shoulder giving him a grave-like chill down his spine. He quickly turned back to face his lifetime foe, the phantasms.
“Release us, why do you trap us?”
“I can’t release you even if I wanted to!” he tried to talk back to the phantasms. If releasing them would stop him getting these nightmares every time he dreamt of something good, he would gladly do so.
“Demon, you’re torturing us!” the trapped phantasms who always seemed to be in pain in his dream world kept repeating over and over again the phrase he’d been hearing for as long as he could remember. They couldn’t hear him speak, but at least now, he knows that it is just a dream and to get out of this nightmare, he would have to find his light.
Where is it? Kurogane thought to himself. The Light was always close by. Whenever he found himself in a nightmare like he is right now, if he could find the light, it would stop the phantasms from approaching him, and then he’d be able to wake up.
Kurogane first looked up into the sky where the sun was…not there. He then looked beyond the countless phantasms, and to his relief, it wasn’t there either. It would’ve been tough trying to break through their ranks. He turned back towards the pool of blood where he last saw Reina, and there, just under the water, he could see it, a glowing light. He quickly ran straight back into the pool, and though he was almost waist deep in blood, which was in itself quite unsettling, the phantasms didn’t seem to be moving anywhere near the pool. As he moved closer towards the light he could hear a voice coming from the light. He wasn’t quite able to make out what it was saying. Nevertheless, it was a lively voice, seemed to be conveying something cheerful.
He moved closer, reached his hands towards the globe…”…Day, Kuro-kun!” He touched it….
“Happy Birthday Kuro-kun!” it was the familiar voice of his roommate, bright and early as usual.
“Rei-sama, you shouldn’t wake him up so suddenly like that!” that was Sousuke-sempai. Kurogane opened his eyes to see the two bantering just above where he was sleeping. He tilted his head the other way to see that the sun had gone up and it was already quite bright; he must have overslept.
“It’s already 9, he should wake up, or he’ll lose half his birthday just sleeping like this.” Said Rei with not much sympathy for the sleepy boy. “Besides, it’s not every day that a boy turns twelve!”
“It’s not even my real birthday. You just made it up.” Kurogane said finally, rubbing the sleep off his eyes. He had in fact been sleeping for almost ten hours, and the thought surprised him. He looked out of their rooms and thought back seven years when Reina, out of her own volition, as usual, gave him a Birthday, just because he couldn’t remember his own birthday, and she felt the need to celebrate his existence annually. She decided that the day he came into the dojo would be his ‘Birthday’. In a sense, she would’ve have been correct. Before that day, he personally thought that life itself wasn’t worth living, and before that day, no one, including himself, ever thought to celebrate his existence.
Seven years already…he thought back, that was a mighty long time, and yet it had passed so quickly. It seemed like yesterday that he was teaching Reina how to swim in there secret spot, the waterfall and the rocky ledge in the forest.
Although he wasn’t able to persuade the rest of the dojo to accept him, he had the respect of the Hakuda household, and that was what mattered. The Master had taught him practically his entire syllabus of techniques save the ultimate one, and he thought, since it was his birthday, he might as well try asking him again to teach it to him. Once he’s learned it, he can then head out, try to find those who have destroyed what little home he ever had, and give them what they deserved.
“Kuro-kun…Kuro-kun, wake up.” Said Reina waving her hand in front of him.
“I am awake.” He looked at her and opened his red eyes wide to prove the point. Sousuke smiled and Reina laughed. I guess it’s nice that they’re easy to amuse. Thought Kurogane to himself. He got out of bed and started tidying up his futon, rolling it up to put it out of the way as the other two started discussing what to get for a celebratory dinner. When he finished putting away the futon he stood up straight and turned towards the other two when Reina pounced on him with a massive hug.
“Happy Birthday again!” after seven years, he thought he’d be used to her invading his personal space, but the way she does it just made him jump every time. He calmly but not unkindly made to detach himself from her, but when his hand touched hers, she grabbed hold of it and put something inside.
“What’s this?” Kurogane held up what looked like a charm. It was made in the same fashion as any ordinary Japanese charm, in a sky blue bag, embroidered with two cranes and lotus flowers, tied to it was a string of the same colour and a pink and yellow bell.
“Your present. I made it myself,” said Reina with pride.
“With Sousuke Senpai’s help, I’m sure,” added Kurogane.
“Happy Birthday Kurogane-kun.” Sousuke gave him a warm smile as he always did. Sixteen years old, the older boy had had his growth spurt, but because of his daily training, unlike most boys, he did not become lanky, but physically toned and with his attractive and fair complexion, and green eyes like that of a foreigner. All the female students in the dojo fawned over him, the male students wanted to be like him, and the level of popularity between Kurogane and Sousuke was as wide as the gap between the dirt on the ground and the stars in the sky.
Even though the red-haired boy constantly told himself that he didn’t care what others thought of him, that very fact was enough to make him ever so slightly jealous. However, Sousuke had always been kind to him and treated him with respect the way Reina did, so Kurogane thought, it would be enough if he could perhaps beat Sousuke in a duel. He would remember to do that once the master taught him the ultimate technique as well.
“If you don’t want it then give it back.” The girl made to snatch it away, but Kurogane was ready for her and put it out of reach.
“Thanks,” said the Birthday-boy.
“Anyway, the dojo’s Spring Tournament starts at 3 pm today. If you want to get some training in before lunch, I think you better get changed now. I’ll wait for you in the training hall,” said Reina happily, bounding out of the room, down the corridor, towards the training hall. She is determined, this time around, to actually duel Sousuke for real because last month her father had finally given her permission to use a real sword, which meant, under Soratenshi no Ryu that she is now recognized as a ‘fighter’ and can fight whoever she wanted that also held a similar weapon.
“*sigh* I guess it couldn’t be helped this time around.” Said Sousuke to the only person left in the room as he gave a helpless shrug, referring to the real katana that Reina was bounding down the corridor with.
“She’s not a little girl anymore Sempai; “ said Kurogane with confidence. He certainly didn’t feel like a child, and he would’ve headed out and braved the cruelty of the outside world any day.
“She’s too young to be carrying that killing instrument.” Said Sousuke simply. Kurogane had not yet been given the katana, and that was another reason why he had not yet left, what use would his bokken do against the knives and swords of the gangsters who trashed his home years ago? However, he disagreed with the Soratenshi top student, age is just a number, and he is more ready for that katana than any dandy twelve, thirteen, or even sixteen-year-old students in that dojo who took twice to three times the amount of time it took him to master the techniques, and had never been through nearly as many hardships as he had in his life.
Kurogane finished tying up his hakama trousers then grabbed a piece of ribbon on the shelf to tie back his neck-length hair. There was no point in going to this tournament really. Without Reina and Sousuke in the same pool as him, none of the other students would’ve been any challenge at all. It would mean as the ‘better’ student, he’d be helping his fellow students improve by posing a positive challenge, a pair-work exercise. He hated pair-work.
“We will now begin our Spring Tournament for this year. On the board, you will see who you’re fighting first. The rule is simple, get your opponents knees to touch the ground and you win the round. You progress if you win and you drop out if you don’t. The finalists will fight to submission and the winner gets to be the new class president.” Hakuda announced the rules of the tournament. By class, he meant the difference between the two classes, those who use wooden swords, and those who were given permission to carry a real sword. Reina had been president of the lower class for the past three years and she was well respected, if not adored, by the other students. However, having moved to a higher class to join Sousuke now, the position is up for grabs.
The class president has the power to punish their fellow classmen with exercise, while the class president of the upper-class gets to teach when the master is absent. The lower-class students were crowding around the wooden board to see who they’ve been paired up with, although they were talking excitedly with one another, they didn’t seem too keen on the potential candidate who would become the next president. And this concern was openly voiced by the student who had to face that person in the first round.
“Master, I don’t want to fight with Shindou-kun.” Voiced a spikey-haired boy aged around thirteen.
“You don’t get to choose Ryoji, that was the point of a random allocation.” Said Hakuda. He looked at Kurogane who, having heard the older boy express his disinclination to fight him, didn’t seem overly offended. He knew that Ryoji feared him, they all feared him, nothing has changed.
“It’s not just me sir, I’m sure anyone else would’ve said the same.” He looked around the dojo to the faces of the other students, who then avoided eye contact with Kurogane and the master, but looked from one another uncertainly, knowing full well that this is the truth.
“Ryoji, you can’t not-fight just because you know you can’t beat him.” Said Hakuda. “the point of the tournament is so that you can apply your techniques outside training environment with someone you usually don’t train with, it is so you can get stronger.” The Master explained. The boy didn’t seem convinced.
“But everyone who’s ever trained with him always ends up terribly injured! Fuu-chan broke her wrist, Iba-kun got knocked out, and even Tobi-sempai broke a rib! And that’s not all…” Ryoji began listing all the students Kurogane had ever injured in the course of training.
“It’s not my fault that they’re weak enough to get injured like that.” Said Kurogane calmly.
“Now, now, well then Kurogane will be more careful from now on wouldn’t you? We’re all friends here, we must train to help each other improve.” Said Hakuda, trying to keep the peace between emotional teenagers.
“What will I ever learn if I keep holding back? What will anyone ever learn? If you’re in a fight, do you think that your opponent will hold back?” the red-haired boy retorted, he’s not about to pretend to be a cripple just so the weaklings in his class could have a staged tournament.
“Reina-chan’s not holding back and yet she still never injured anyone like you did!” said Ryoji, raising his voice. Reina hearing her name brought into the conversation moved in to demand that the older boy did not use her name in such manner. “He’s a demon! That’s what he is! And looks it too!” said Ryoji accusingly. Some of the classmates forgot about the master and nodded in agreement. Kurogane could feel a cold heat of anger begin to build within his chest.
“That’s enough Ryoji! How dare you?” interrupted Reina. Using her name as an excuse was one thing, but outright insulting Kurogane like that was uncalled for, and even Sousuke, though agreeing that Kurogane should be more careful when training with others, felt that Ryoji had gone too far.
“Apologize.” Said Sousuke as he walked up towards the quarrelling parties, looking down on the offender. Ryoji looked to his friends for help including the ones who are still injured from training with Kurogane. Not wanting to offend Reina, and more importantly Sousuke, further, didn’t say anything. However, the thirteen-year-old was not about to apologize.
“Seems like I’m not welcome to train here since no one wants to fight me. Fair enough, it’s not like I’m gonna learn anything anyway.” Said Kurogane, and with that, he pushed through the students and marched out the front door. He could feel a steady throb coming from his gem, and the heat was building up and coursing through his body like a rapid flame. He felt stronger, like he usually did when he fought, and thought that if he stayed there much longer he may end up throwing a punch in Ryoji’s face any minute…and break something, again.
“I’ll fight you!” Reina ran after him and grabbed his arm. Kurogane could feel the heat slightly leaving him, the sudden strength slowly diminishing at her calming touch. He was glad that at the very least Reina was on his side. He was about to accept her challenge when Ryoji turned around and shouted at him.
“Yea, just hide behind Reina-chan again, why don’t you. I don’t even know why you bother Reina-chan, he’ll probably break something like he did to the other students, he clearly doesn’t care whether or not you’re a girl.” Taunted the thirteen-year-old. That seemed to have struck a cord and Kurogane quickly brushed Reina’s hands off his arm.
“Don’t let him get to you!” said Reina softly but forcefully to Kurogane.
“Sorry Rei, you can’t always be there to save me.” He whispered under his breath. With that, he broke into a sprint which was so fast that Reina couldn’t react. She turned back to look at her father and Sousuke in confusion, gave Ryoji a murderous glare, then ran after him.