April 25th, 3184
Wednesday - Afternoon
As the four of us watch the students spar, a tall student walks to the center of one of the arenas. Draped over his shoulders lay a haori which covers a first year uniform underneath. On his right wrist was bound by a black juzu bracelet with a white juzu necklace around his neck. The student stood like a statue at the center of the arena waiting for his opponent. Soon followed an unexpected challenger—Takashi.
He made his way to the center and the two soon bowed to each other.
“Just to be sure, you still want to do this,” Takashi asks.
“Yes,” the first year confirmed, “I would like to test out my strength against a higher up. If I can at least hold my own against you, I’ll know I will be strong enough to be qualified in the honor of protecting my people.”
Takashi simply nodded his head in response as the two took a few steps backward. With the referee standing between the two students, she raises her hand and speaks.
“To my right, First Year Isamu issued a challenge against Second Year Takashi, to my left,” she announced, “Are you two ready?”
Both students nod their heads.
“Then, three! Two! One,” the referee swung her hand down as she took a large step back, “Activate your Gears!”
“First Gear,” both Isamu and Takashi exclaim simultaneously.
Nothing physical happened to Takashi—as usual—however, around Isamu’s waist, a belt formed. On the belt, over his hips, formed two small taiko drums facing upward.
The two of them stood at opposite sides of the arena as they analysed each other's slight movements. Most eyes in the room now lie on them, even those who were currently in a match already.
Isamu then starts rhythmically playing his drums as he slowly paces around the arena with Takashi moving opposite to him. Isamu’s drums, despite not changing at all, sound like he’s playing almost a dozen different drums—yet he only taps the two.
From beneath the drums, a black ash starts to spew out. But instead of falling to the ground, it starts to move around in the air like flying snakes. The ash snakes hovered around the arena until Isamu started to play the drums more intensely. Suddenly, the left ash snake darted downward to Takashi. Without hesitation, Takashi rolled out of the way before sprinting toward Isamu.
Splitting away from him, Takashi summons his two clones as they all run side by side. The one dashes forward before getting struck by Isamu’s second ash snake, forcing the clone to disappear. Takashi and his remaining clone close in on Isamu as they both attack him simultaneously. Barely able to keep up with their attacks, Isamu slowly gets pushed back to the edge of the ring. With half of their attacks landing and the other half getting blocked, Takashi summons a third clone that jumps up, ready to slam down with a fierce kick before Isamu slams his hands on both of his drums.
Suddenly from behind Takashi and his clones, a sandstorm—or rather, an ashstorm comes speeding toward them, covering half the battlefield in a thick, black, ash. From within the shadows, Isamu waves his hands up as all of the ash rises to the top of the arena revealing only two people left—Isamu and Takashi with neither clone in sight.
Now a stormcloud of ash circles above the area, ready to strike at any moment. Isamu returns his hands to his drums and starts playing again, allowing more ash to flow out like snakes. Takashi, analyzing the situation, summons his two clones as they dash toward Isamu. The first clone dodges the first snake, only to get hit by the second, forcing it to disappear. The second one, while the snakes were distracted, goes in from the side to attack at a different angle. Isamu waves his hand as a pillar of ash slams to the ground, instantly destroying the clone.
“As I thought,” Takashi murmurs, “You’ve left me with no options.”
“Is that so,” Isamu replies, somewhat surprised.
“Well except one,” Takashi says as he crouches into a fighting stance before exclaiming, “Second Gear: Infinite Soul!”
Suddenly, dozens of clones start to spew out of Takashi as they all dash toward Isamu. In response, Isamu starts playing his drums more intensely as more snakes file out of them. The ash above rumbles more chaotically as the snakes defend against the clones. Ash slamming to the ground and swirling all around, Isamu is still able to shred the clones to pieces with relative ease.
Takashi readies nearly 50 more clones as they all charge toward Isamu. He removes his hands from his drums and swings them up to his head as ash forms and moves behind him. With intense force, Isamu extends and forces his hands forward as if he’s pushing against something heavy. The ash, all at once, starts to speed across the arena, shredding and tearing the clones apart.
A moment before the ash hits the real Takashi, he dashes in, looking slightly glitchy. After a few seconds of the large ashstorm, Takashi appears on the other side in the air with his leg extended in a roundhouse kick. Startled, Isamu takes a step back before getting Takashi’s foot slammed into the side of his head.
With a deep boom and a small shockwave, Takashi’s kick sends Isamu flying a few feet before crashing just out of the arena as a small stream of blood follows. All of the ash falls to the ground before suddenly evaporating.
After a moment of silence, the crowd starts to cheer and the referee begins to yell.
“And the winner is Tak—”
“Someone get the nurse,” Takashi exclaims, still in his casual tone as he interprets the referee, “I kicked him hard. Blood came out of his head somewhere.”
After a moment, a few of the school nurses came to Isamu’s side to examine the damage. Aside from serious bruising where he had gotten kicked, a lot of blood trickles out of his other ear.
“First Gear,” the nurse murmurs.
In her hand, a small hammer forms. Lightly, she then taps Isamu’s ear a few times as she wipes the blood away. At first, the blood simply continued to flow until it finally came to a stop. Seeing as though the bleeding had finished, she then tapped the bruised part of his face until it suddenly reverted back to normal. With all of Isamu’s injuries dealt with, she looks up to Takashi.
“Would you like for me to patch you up, too,” she asks in a sweet tone.
Takashi, covered in small cuts and nicks from the ash, simply shakes his head.
“No, they’ll heal soon enough,” he says, "Thank you."
After a quarter of an hour, Isamu had woken up and the crowd eventually dispersed, returning to their previous activities and training. Being moved onto a padded mat while unconscious, Isamu sits up and looks around. In front of him, Takashi extends his hand as he helps him to his feet.
“You’re a good fighter,” Takashi states, “Good reflexes, diverse range of power, and a steady hand.”
“I—I… Thank you,” Isamu stutters.
“I think you’ll do very well in the tournament, and might even win,” Takashi says before looking and nodding in our direction, “But you will have a little competition, I’m sure.”
Isamu turns his head to our little group as he scans us. He nods his head and I nod mine in return.
“Thank you very much for this practice,” Isamu says as he returns his attention to Takashi.
Isamu takes a deep bow as Takashi returns with a bow of his own. The two then part ways as the four of us look amongst ourselves before Kiyoko speaks.
“Did Takashi imply that we could maybe win the tournament?”
“Well, I don’t know about you,” Ena scoffed, “But I know that I’ll be able to win with ease. If that is all I have to worry about, I’ll be fine.”
“You’re saying that we’re not a threat,” Kiyoko retorts.
“Do you really think that someone without their First Gear is really able to stand up to me?”
“For your information, princess, I just unlocked my First Gear the other day,” Kiyoko responds as she places her hands on her hips.
“Oh, bravo,” Ena slowly clapped, “Now that you can use such a basic technique, I’m sure I’ll be shaking in my heels when I see it.”
“Congratulations,” Miho blurts out, interpreting their argument, “Now we’re finally on equal footing!”
“Uh, thanks,” Kiyoko says cautiously, “Are you being sarcastic—I can’t tell with either of you.”
“What,” Miho draws the word out, “Of course not!”
Kiyoko looks to me for help.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured, “Miho is legitimately proud—unlike someone.”
I give a glance to Ena as she puffs. Thinking about it, if this is going to be our regular group from now on, Kiyoko isn’t on good terms with either Miho or Ena. I feel kind of bad for her, and I don’t think I’ll be able to change their opinions of each other. Best bet is just to increase this little misfit group to a few more people. Isamu looked pretty kind. I hope I get to fight him in the tournament, and if I do, it would be great to become friends with him.
After a little more conversation, the school bell rings as we all part ways. Kiyoko and I say our goodbyes as we head into our separate rooms. The tournament starts just after four days. As confident as I am in myself, Miho is slowly catching up—as well as Kiyoko. Ena is around my strength, or arguably even stronger. And Isamu. Well, he was able to keep up and force Takashi into his Second Gear.
If I even want to think about winning this tournament, I’ll need to get a lot stronger to keep up with the competition.
The sun starts to set as the sky grows dimmer. Instead of staying in and relaxing, I change my clothes into more active wear until a sudden force from within alerts me. My eyes dart to my window and see a shadow slowly move past. After a few seconds of silence, a heavy knock comes from my door. Hesitantly, I make my way over to the door and slowly open it. On the other side waiting for me is Jiro. On alert, I stiffen and burrow my brow. With his monotone face, he sighs.
“You still don’t like me, do you,” Jiro asks.
“Of course not, you attacked us and almost killed me.”
He stands in silence, thinking about what I had said.
“What do you want, anyway?”
“Ah, right,” Jiro continued, “You seem to already be out for some training, I see. Let me join.”
“I want to see what you can do. See if you’re worth training.”
“Excuse me,” I blurted out, “You want to train me? No way in hell.”
With another sigh, he continues.
“What will it take for you to trust me?”
“Nothing,” I say flatly, "There's nothing you can do."
With a thoughtful pause, Jiro speaks.
“You need to train, right? For the tournament. I just want to watch. But if I do, you won’t train. So what do you think will happen if I continue to stick around for the next few days as you refuse to train?”
Jiro waits for me to reply.
“Alright,” he continues, “You don’t train, you lose. You and I both know that. Is your ego really that big that you’d prefer to lose a life changing tournament rather than allow for one audience member?”
I stand in silence, refusing to speak.
“I’ll be waiting in the forest—that’s where you like to train, is it not?”
“How do you—”
I’m cut off as he jumps off the balcony and dashes faster than the eye can see into the forest.
As much as I hate it, he’s right. I need to train and the forest is my only option right now since the school’s facilities are closed after hours. He’s only watching. If he wanted to kill me, he could have done so already. This might even fuel me to try even harder.
I head for the forest and make it to the glade where Jiro stands, off to the side, with his arms crossed. Keeping my eye on him, I begin to do some warmup stretches before I start the actual training. A few hours go by as every now and then, Jiro pipes up from his cold silence to give me some sort of tip. It’s like he wants me to succeed for some reason. Or it’s a trap. I can’t tell.
Over the next few days, my routine stayed the same. Go to school, study, train, then sleep—except for on weekends where I simply continued to practice my combat in replacement of school. Any time I was training, Jiro was there. At first he was extremely quiet, only piping in once in a blue moon, but by the final day, he was instructing me and correcting me on any of my movements.
As much as it annoyed me, Jiro did help. For most of the days, I simply trained while he guided me. However, by the end of my training, Jiro wanted to do something more.
“Kid,” Jiro yelled, “Go into your second Gear.”
“What,” I exclaim, “I’m not doing that.”
“Are you scared of hurting me or something? Do you remember the last time you tried to seriously attack me with that? Do you happen to remember what it did? Nothing. Now, do it.”
With my blood now boiling, I waste no time to get in position—raising my right arm as I grab it with my left.
“Second Gear: Soul Drain,” I yell.
The black cloak floats onto my body as the purple vortex forms in my hand. I can feel the energy of everything around me getting absorbed into me as life drains from the grass and trees—Everything drains except for Jiro.
“This isn’t working on you,” I ponder.
“No, I activated one of my Gears before arriving. It can’t really work on me right now.”
This is the first time I’ve been able to use this without worrying about the repercussions of its damage.
“Why do you use it like that,” Jiro asks.
“What do you mean?”
“You activate your Gear as though it's a weapon. A special attack. Think about everyone else’s Second Gear that you’ve seen. It’s not just some automatic device that does something, one and done.”
I stop to think as I focus on the vortex in my hand.
“Of course, all Gears are different and some may simply be a special attack, but yours isn’t different in that regard.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You’ll have to figure that out on your own,” Jiro says, “Unless you’d like for me to train you later.”
I slowly lower my arm as the vortex dissipates. I exit my Second Gear as the cloak vanishes. I stand for a moment to think. Jiro hasn’t hurt me once. He’s only helped guide me. The truth is I don’t know if I can trust him, but he is getting me stronger. I might as well take his help while I can.
“Yeah,” I hesitantly responded, “I’d like that.”
“Great,” Jiro responds, “I’ll come to you when it’s time to train. Not the other way around.”
I nod my head as he dashes into the trees, immediately disappearing from my sight. I look down at my right hand. Is my Second Gear really more than just something that sucks the life out of things? Or is this all just a facade? All I know is that I’m now ready for the tournament ahead. I just hope the others got in good training like I did.
Monday arrives as Kiyoko wakes me up for what is set up to be one of the biggest days of our lives.
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