Chapter 12:

Chapter 12: Wonder What It’s Like Beyond The Canyons?

Element U


“We’re leaving town!?” Daisuke screeched in unearthly excitement as he swung open the front door to his house.

Face broadened with boundless joy, a wide unearthly smile scrunched Daisuke’s cheeks as he gazed at his parents sitting at the dinner table. Botan and Cho, both halfway through their meal, flinched back at Daisuke’s impromptu entrance. Mouths full, they could only stare at their son as he flung his arms into the air in the doorway. All the while, three-year-old baby Misumi was fast asleep in her mother's arms.

Daisuke hunkered over, hands on his knees as he slumped against the door frame to catch his breath. Body worn thin from the mile sprint back to the house, he was due to run out of energy.

The instant Ayame informed him of the family plans he had already taken off, blitzing through the quieted village paths. His mind was already absorbed in the thought of a genuine trip beyond Nippon. It was a customary coming-of-age journey that laid the groundwork for the transition of a marked child into a capable trainee. This trip would permit the children a last glimpse of their heritage before they adapted to the wild, a final march for the family that signified their release for him out into the world. One with nature and the clan. Free to live by the sword as he pleased.

“Yes, we are. Didn’t I tell you?” Botan asked doubtfully as he grappled at his chin.

“No!” Daisuke forced out in between gasps for air head hung forward on the brink of collapse.

The two locked eyes in an awkward standoff, Botan not sure if his son was lying and Daisuke purely eager to hear more. Botan’s left eyebrow raised as he placed the leg of coar clutched within his right hand back onto the limestone cut slab. Caught up in his winded exhaustion, Daisuke just stood there and waited for a response. His mouth heated as he heaved in dry air.

Cho glanced between the two of them, caressing petite little Misumi on her shoulder as she made sense of the situation.

“Botan. You took him to see the high priest, beat him, and then carried his unconscious body home but forgot to tell our son about the trip?” Cho said feverishly as she clicked her tongue. Confusion rattled her mind on how Botan could forget such a pivotal thing.

“I guess it just—slipped my mind.” Botan chuckled with a nervous scratch at the back of his head.

Cho shook her head and passed Daisuke a kiddish sarcastic glare. Rising up from the table, she bounced Misumi higher in her arms and strolled over to the foot of the stairs.

“Just tell Daisuke now.” Cho climbed up the rickety steps, her voice lowered to a whisper. “I’m going to put Misumi down for resting time.”

Botan nodded and muscled a soft smirk for a brief moment as she disappeared at the top of the stairs. Her every step was heard above Daisuke and Botan as her tarnished leather tar coar shoes creaked upon the boards.

Focus brought down from the roof, the two men were left in a dead-end conversation with each other. Father and son. Ayame enjoyed her brief stroll through the marketplace as she made her way back to the house, an empty town hiding beneath the rising moon.

“Okay, we are,” Botan said as he straightened his posture, a sign of dominance in Paladinian culture.

“For how long?”

“Just for a few rotations. A short trip through the pass toward the sunrise. Same thing Kono did for me when I was your age.”

“But—-why?” Daisuke asked keenly, straightening himself as he leaned his right forearm on the side of the door. Mimicking Botan as usual.

“With their only being less than one full cycle left until they take you from the village, from us.” Botan heaved out a hefty sigh, many emotions tied to his stagnant release. “We thought it would be good if you stepped outside once more.”

You’re not wrong about that. Daisuke thought as he reminisced back on the last time he wandered out past the wall.

The teratoma easily overpowered and threw his and Kiyo’s bodies around, treating them like mere toys. Forced to be saved by a squad of Sun Kissed Warriors who were supposed to cleanse the forest that day. Their customary practice was a manner of kindness for the workers who harvested older and broader trees for lumber. Yet the plan went awry the instant the duo delved into their selfish desire to enter the forest unsupervised. The possibility of death was never even a concern to be considered in their minds.

Daisuke’s weariness was apparent as he recoiled at the memory. His bottom lip quivered with each time the vicious moment cycled through his mind. The utter force of the beast hit unleashed with a single blow enough to twist his stomach into knots. Enough to send him flying across the distance of three football fields. It was dreadful, but he had to learn from it.

The aftermath was a living hell. Adverse treatment was required to repair Daisuke’s diminished lungs. Punctured by his own rib cage from the blast, Daisuke’s life was hanging on by a splintering thread. Only thanks to the timing of Takeo and his group were they able to escape with their lives intact.

Noticing the diminished spark of glee in Daisuke’s face, Botan scooted forward on the coar rug beneath the table. Clearing his throat, he thought back on how he was convinced to take the trip when he was Daisuke’s age. But it was the exact same situation. Coerced to go through the influence of his father, someone full of conviction at that.

“Well, it's tradition. You have to get over all fears before you can actually train, you know.” Botan said assertively with a couple of vague gestures to visualize what he meant.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s just—I want to be ready.” Daisuke paused as he took a step into the house, the door swinging closed behind him from the wind. “I’m too weak. I couldn’t even help Kiyo.”

Daisuke sat down across from his father with a resounding thud. Face sullen, he moped at his failures, self-blame for their near demise cast upon his own head. Something that enticed him to go out into the world when he was ready. Prepared to fight for his clan and family and never be the one helpless on the ground again.

He wanted to fight alongside Kiyo and become someone worth looking up to.

Watching Kiyo put his life on the line to save them both shook Daisuke to his core. But what was that green glow? That weird powerful essence surrounding him?

What does the high priest see in him? Daisuke wondered as he hung his head in shame. The only one who dug into himself for what happened, unable to come to terms with it.

“Hey,” Botan said sympathetically as he stretched his arm across the table and firmly grasped Daisuke’s shoulder. The boy barely tilted his head up to gaze into his father’s eyes, yet their silvery glossed-over green hue pierced his attention.

“Whatever you're thinking, it’ll be fine. I swear on the Sun.” Botan leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “I mean I’ll be there, what could go wrong?”

“Right,” Daisuke said with a solemn nod.

Botan reached over and brushed his hand through Daisuke’s hair. A little good-natured gesture that pricked at Daisuke’s annoyance and lifted spirits enough to draw out a smirk. The side-to-side motion of his father’s war-torn meaty hands was comforting. Somewhat emanating a safe sensation that mellowed his nerves and repressed the vexed memory.

Pulling his arm back, Botan rested his elbows on the table, fingers gripping at his palms as he popped them one by one. Daisuke cocked his head back upright and smiled at his father, the bond formed between them stronger than any rock on earth. It was unbreakable.

Each was grateful for the other. Baton was proud of the son he had raised and Daisuke was likewise respectful toward the father that had achieved so much. One of Nippon’s higher-level warriors and one of the village chieftain's personal guards.

They were blood through and through.

Botan rested his knuckles together and flexed a wry smile.

“We’ll get through all of it together. And if things go south, Ayame can just pick up the slack.” Botan joked with a gesture toward the door.

“Yeah, she can just sacrifice herself. No big deal.” Daisuke added on.

“I mean it’s her role. What can she say really?” Botan shrugged with a clueless look plastered on his face.

“Nothing!” Daisuke chimed in giddily.

The two of them chuckled at the thought and gradually fell into uncontrollable laughter for a moment. Already occupied with caring for Daisuke until he was released, she remained indebted to the family until approved to become a personal maiden for one of the priestesses.

“Why don’t we make Ayame—”


Botan’s words fumbled out of his mouth. The butt of their joke unexpectedly caught on as she burst into the conversation. Front door nearly swung off its hinges, a glowing set of eyes stared them down through the doorframe. Both Baton and Daisuke shrunk back in timid fear in the face of an enraged Ayame. There was nothing scarier.

“I can do what?!?” Ayame yelled.

Merhmm. Waaaaah! Meuhm!

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Botan said as he looked away and struggled to contain his laughter.


Ayame’s anger subsided, disgruntled by the distant cries of Misumi who was just swaddled to sleep.

“Sorry, masters. I didn’t . . . I didn’t know Misumi was sleeping.” Ayame whispered between cupped hands, not wanting to cause any more ruckus.

“Ayame, it’s fine. Just please help Cho, settle her down.” Botan responded with a tip of his head toward the stairs.

Ayame bowed and sped across the room to the stairs. Her face flushed a bright pasty pink, unable to them in the eyes as she darted up the stairs. Yet her situation only worsened as Daisuke’s memory came back to him, the whole reason he was in such a hurry to arrive home.

“Oh wait, can Kiyo come with us on the trip?”

Ayame froze in place. Feet planted upon the tattered boards, she peeked over at the travesty about to unfold. Botan simmered into confusion as his gaze fell back on Daisuke. Left eyebrow raised, conflict rose within his mind toward the request. The journey was seen to be a blood-borne tradition, or a father-son experience all things considered.

As the question settled, Botan’s intrigue rose. A narrow focus that closed in around his son like a fierce winter wind. Silence was all that whisked into the room amidst the three stuck in the conversation. Unable to contain it any longer, he spat out the obvious across the table.

“Why?” Botan asked directly.

“Cause he’s my friend.” Daisuke pointed to the top of the stairs. “Ayame said he could.”

“Hmmm, she did. . . did she?” Botan said in an agitated manner. Without a single movement of his neck, he flicked his gaze across the room to Ayame glued to the stairs. Shaking under Botan’s watchful eyes, she couldn’t budge an inch as she raced to think of a way out of the situation. Anything to distance herself from the conversation about to ensue.

“I’m going to—to help Cho,” Ayame muttered as she made a break for t.

Fastening her pace, Ayame sped up the stairs straight into Misumi’s room. Her feet squeaked as she tiptoed down the hall as fast as possible. The quiet murmur of her and Cho’s voices echoed through the cracks in the floorboards as Ayame slipped into Misumi’s room.

And like that, there were two, each to fulfill the other’s company.

To answer their questions.

Braced with a stone-faced composure, Botan stared Daisuke down, anxious to get to the bottom of this. To figure out why Daisuke would request such a thing. Yet it couldn’t be helped that Daisuke was clueless about Botan’s sudden resentment. Sat in his own little expected delivery of a guaranteed yes he awaited it with a clenched smile. He was already ten steps ahead, mind wandering on the trip far down the road.

“Your friend . . . is he the same one from the woods?”

“Yeah. Kiyo.”

Botan let Daisuke’s response settle within him as he slipped into deep concentration. His gaze dropped off to the table between them. Chin cushioned by his bare palm, he pondered how to phrase his response. Trying to think of the right way to align the words in his mind.

Botan tapped his right fingers in a continual pattern to ease his concentration. Mind made up, he smacked his fist on the table and glanced at his son, who still sat idly by. Daisuke, one to get easily lost within his own imagination, was dragged back to earth by the sudden motion.

“He’s a marked child as well?”


“Hmmm.” Botan straightened his posture and crossed his arms over the top of his chest.

“Is everything okay?” Daisuke asked anxiously, offset by Botan’s sudden change of composure.

“Son. Do you know what he is? What he’s a part of now?”

“What do you mean, father?”

Botan cleared his throat with a scruffy cough and slammed his fists on the table. The outburst of pent-up anger came as a bitter surprise to his son. Daisuke scuttled back to the wall and pushed himself up to his feet. Like that, the entire atmosphere flipped on its head, celebration spiraled into frustration.

“Daisuke. That boy—Kiyo is said to be a possible savior. The one meant to redeem us all.” Botan barked with a steady point, eyebrows furrowed and teeth gnashing at the air.

A silent wind passed between them, Cho and Ayame listening in from above as the entire house fell still. Daisuke’s retaliation, his response, fell under heavy anticipation. This day Ayame had feared would come.

“Isn’t that—good?” Daisuke said abruptly, stepping toward Botan in shaky confidence.

“For some. . . yes. But not with him, it’s too risky to be around someone like that. It’ll only end poorly.”

What? I don’t understand. Daisuke thought, completely lost in the conversation.

“Are you prepared to watch over him? I know Ronin, and he is not that man. Daisuke—you're only going to hurt yourself by being friends with him.” Botan said wholeheartedly.

But all Daisuke heard was slander. Face coiled in a ball of empathic anger, he punched his fist into the wall and cracked the boards in half. Splinters sprinkled out onto the floor as he glared at his father. Downcast by his narrowed eyes glowing a timid green.

“I’m not leaving him, and he’s coming with us,” Daisuke said adamantly.

Botan just waved his son off without a word and leaned back in distaste. With a silent headshake, he refused to look at the boy. Hands preoccupied with the stress building in his face, Botan heaved out an egregious sigh. Daisuke was ashamed of his father’s disapproval. The heinous future thrown upon Kiyo’s name only shredded Daisuke’s own pride. That the very person he strived to surpass would only grow into a burden too insurmountable to bear. To be with.

What does he know?

Daisuke stormed off upstairs, his footsteps dramatic as he stomped into his room. Flinging the curtain closed behind him, he collapsed on the floor and curled into a ball. Legs sinking into his chest, he tried to forget about the conversation that just happened, his entire confrontation with his own father.

The night his only way to escape it all.

Tomorrow was all he had to look forward to.

Kiyo was somewhere within tomorrow, and that’s all where Daisuke wanted to go. To tomorrow.

Morning rose and settled over Nippon, the usual routine falling upon Daisuke and Kiyo as they endured the early riser training. But the instant noon settled within the vast blue skies overhead they each made haste to the marketplace. Per Daisuke’s request the day before, they finally decided to venture through the cobbled streets on their terms. At the age seen to be self-reliant within the fine defined borders of the village, they were able to roam without a guardian. Without Ayame.

It was magnificent.

With every step, they passed by a horde of different shops, each one gridlocked with customers and lines for whatever item they had up for sale. Bids were cast all around, countless voices amped for the catch of the day. On top of that, it was a popular day for the marketplace in general as a recent teratoma herd was killed and left for harvest nearby. Shopkeepers were quick to purchase the materials to build weapons, clothing, food, or plain furniture. Anything that was deemed of use to their customers.

The two boys strolled through the midday market. A tender aroma of freshly roasted coar and brandished swords wafted throughout the town square. Everyone served their assigned purpose, from selling and producing goods to assignment in the paladinian forces.

“Kiyo, look at that!” Daisuke exclaimed as they passed by a spear shop. The rack was lined with expensive custom obsidian chiseled spear tips with an arrangement of staves. Ranging from some constructed of teratoma bones, dead wood, and other extravagant materials.

“Cool,” Kiyo said weakly as he flashed a curt smirk. The movement of his lips was enough to send waves of agony across his face. Every pore was stretched thin, strained from the extreme heat that beat down on his facial hide cover. Every inch of his skin left rough and frayed.

Flakes crumpled off as they continued to make their way through the open square. The frosted specks were obscured by an ashy rain cast down from an updraft of wind that carried the remnants of a recent acid rain storm.

Daisuke continued to get lost in the moment as he took Kiyo from shop to shop, admiring the hard work of the shopkeepers and inspecting the weaponry. Eyes wide, full of childlike wonder, he examined every weapon with his bare hands. Fingers wound around the handles, the slick texture felt so right in his grasp.

“Kiyo, look at this,” Daisuke blurted out as he analyzed a shorthand carved obsidian dagger.

The shopkeeper handed off another sale and took notice of the two marked children. leaning over the table toward the boys, he flexed a vindictive side smile. All truth was smothered beneath the cash grab he saw within the youngins. Right hand massaging his mangy beard, his scruffy white hair ran down the sides of his wrinkled face. Dim yellow eyes locked onto Daisuke as he pointed at the dagger.

“I see you have a good eye.” The shopkeep said with a gracious grin.

“I do?” Daisuke questioned, not sure what to make of the complement.

“That blade was forged over yonder in Skanagai. Beautiful place and the best obsidian mines in the world.”

“Really?!” Daisuke uttered innocently, eyes broadened by the swindler's words.

Kiyo took a quick glance at the blade and leaned in toward Daisuke, cupping his mouth out of sight of the seller.

“He’s lying,” Kiyo whispered confidently.

“You can tell?”

“Mhm,” Kiyo murmured with a considerate nod. He ran his finger along the hilt of the blade and pointed out the minuscule crack split down from the handle all the way to the tip.

“Wooaaah. That’s so cool, how’d you see that?”

“It’s just something my—-father showed me,” Kiyo said brokenly, his right hand rubbing at a bruise beneath his left sleeve. Embarrassment blushed over the irritation brought on by the burns and blemishes from his father. His way of showing love.

“You’re so smart, I wouldn’t have ever been able to see that.”

“Thanks,” Kiyo said dejectedly.

“So . . . we got a d—”

“What’s over there?!” Daisuke said amidst inner surprise as he tossed the dagger back at the shopkeeper. Kiyo, unable to apologize, was whisked away by Daisuke’s energetic strength brought on by pure curiosity.

The two raced side by side through the market, but Daisuke couldn’t hold in the question much longer. Slowing their pace, he bit his lip as the urge clawed away at his mind. Too much to bear as he scuffed his feet against the cobbled ground.

“Kiyo, can I ask something?” Daisuke blurt out.

“Sure,” Kiyo muttered as he came to a standstill.

Relief washed over Kiyo’s mind, glad to have a reason to not move for even just a minute. His entire body ached as he slouched, barely able to keep himself upright as it was. Mentally and physically ruptured every day, Ronin made sure to not end their sessions until Kiyo was ground to dust. Beat to the point of near death, clinging onto the life Ronin sustained through the special care he had access to. His purpose was to uplift Kiyo into his foreseen destiny, to abuse his only son.

“Well—you see, my family is going out to the canyons tomorrow. And I—” Daisuke paused as he took notice of the group of people that came between them.

Split off, Daisuke rose on his tiptoes and peered between the crowd as he navigated back over to Kiyo to finish his sentence. A little peeved by their abrupt departure, Daisuke shoved his way back over to Kiyo. His small body was able to weave and squeeze between every stranger that crossed his path.

“I wanted to see if you’d want to come with us?”

The crowd cleared between them, no one else taking notice of the two boys standing feet apart in the midst of the marketplace. Kiyo, awestruck by the very question, dug his teeth into his bottom lip. Fists clenched, he struggled to get the words out of his throat.

“You. . . want me to come with your family?” Kiyo asked warily, gaze pinned down toward the ground.

Face obscured behind a curtain of pure white bangs, flecks of gold that glistened in the sunlight, Kiyo attempted to keep his emotions hidden. To be the heartless warrior his father raised him to be. But his hair couldn’t hide the entirety of the truth.

Tears sprinkled down and splattered on the flattened gravel earth. Sniffles drowned out all the other shouts and adverse voices that echoed from all around. Kiyo was all that Daisuke could see in the moment. His grief on full display.

“Why are you so nice to me?” Kiyo whimpered.

“What? Why wouldn’t I be?” Daisuke questioned with a hearty chuckle.

Kiyo wiped off the tears from his face and glanced up at Daisuke.

He was amazed, touched, and lost all in the same instance.

In all these years it hadn’t hit him. Kiyo was lost for reasoning at why this forever happy boy stuck around as a friend for so long despite how he acted. Quiet, reserved, and lonesome. It was because of something he had skipped over, something so simple.

“I mean—-were friends. Right?”

They were friends.

A subtle warmth fluttered within Kiyo’s chest similar to the friendly joy Daisuke expressed on his face. Still able to maintain a smile through it all.

“Yeah, we are,” Kiyo said as he brushed the hair out of his eyes.

Daisuke couldn’t understand the phrase, the feeling of being isolated. Hated by your only family. Regardless he strived to grasp a connection to his friend. Not letting anyone get in between them. Hand on Kiyo’s shoulder, he grasped his full attention.

They were each other’s center, purpose, and reason for moving forward.

Competition in brotherhood.

“So—will you come?”

“Yeah. I will.”