Chapter 16:

Chapter 16: With What Time Remains

Element U

The day was nearly upon them.

Kiyo and Daisuke’s destined departure with the other fellow marked children. To be whisked away to be trained under the upper echelons of Paladinian warriors. Taken from Nippon, from their families, from the world they were born in to step out and see what else lay beyond the known borders.

To become Sun Kissed Warriors.

The Sun rose over a bustling Nippon, lively in preparation for the Summer festival that came in turn with the graduation of marked children deemed ready for orientation. It was a day marked in high regard for all Paladinians, hopeful for their futures and development under the upper officers of the clan. Offering up part of their harvest to the ministry in the belief the Sun would smile upon them. That they would be blessed.

A belief that the next generation would be one to maintain peace and control over the lands, that the world would bend its knee to all Paladinians.

Kiyo and Daisuke the forefront of such a change.

As the distant tangerine rays scattered through the slanted crimson boards, Kiyo groaned at the summoning to embrace the morning. It had been almost four months since the cave visit, but he hadn’t forgotten a thing. The tribulations ahead and the prophecy proclaimed over his future lingered on his mind even in his deepest sleep. Dreams cursed with the inevitable pressure that weighed upon his blessed vessel. Unable to go a waking moment without considering what would come next.

Kiyo rolled away from the light and turned his timid gaze toward the open doorway. Within the cramped bedroom, he found peace in rest on his teratoma rug. Besides his resting mat, the room was completely bare. Exquisite hand-carved boarded walls painted in a delightful light baby blue retrieved from the nemophila fields on the outskirts of Nippon territory decorated the walls. A cheap expense for the top warrior of the Nippon village and one of the highest in the Sunrestu clan itself.

Despite the inviting atmosphere, Kiyo only found discomfort in his skin. Nothing else besides his silk-clothed body occupied the space. The Sun highlighted patterns of stars on the walls, a treasured sight for any Paladinian to behold. One that told of promise and far-off dreams in the constellations hand plucked by Amaterasu herself.

Symbols of their future.

Their salvation.

Kiyo despised it all.

Eyes clamped shut, Kiyo tried to fend off the morning that impeded his search for peace. To ignore the day ahead, a send-off into the very thing he was born for. Born to fight for something he didn’t even believe in.

Footsteps stomped down the adjacent hall, thunderous menacing advances toward Kiyo’s room. A definite end to Kiyo’s short-term peace. The night all he had left to cherish besides Daisuke.

His only means of escape from reality.

Please. Not today. Kiyo thought as Ronin closed in on his room.

This treatment was distilled upon him by his father as it was similar to Ronin’s own upbringing. While deemed harsh by many, Ronin only wished to bring out the best in his son. To see him rise to insurmountable heights he was yet to achieve, just as Ronin’s father did to him. A never-ending cycle of pent-up hatred and lust to become the best. But for what?

Ronin’s footsteps came to a halt, the gentle beam of light cast from the doorframe whisked away by Ronin’s presence. His shadow loomed over the boy from the hall. Attention pinned on Kiyo’s sleeping body, such a frail and pathetic sight in Ronin’s rigid eyes, he spat at the boy. After all these years, Kiyo’s full potential had only grazed the surface, barely tapped into.

But the time of trying had passed.

Days spent unlocking the power bestowed upon Kiyo by the Sun were all but gone, the time of departure descending upon them. Generations of Paladinians before him had been gifted with such genes that granted access to the immense levels of radiation in the atmosphere. From their conception, they were analyzed by deacons for the greater purpose stored within. Generations of precise breeding for this one hope to create a superior Paladinian child. The perfect warrior of the Sun.

Kiyo was such a descendant of this process, his genes foundational to their growth as a species.

All those years wasted in Ronin’s eyes.

“Get up boy. It’s time.” Ronin called out sternly.

Kiyo rolled away from his father and faced the Sun-ridden slants in the wooden boards. Opening his eyes, he embraced the faint warmth that brushed his cheeks. Such a kind and tender sensation like a mother’s love.

He despised it, with warmth only came desolation. Pain.

“Enough of this. Up. Now.” Ronin barked.

Seconds passed as Ronin awaited his son’s obedience, but Kiyo refused to move. Worn down from the extensive training, if it could even be called that, from the days prior. His body was littered with bruises, limbs whittled down to the bone. Skin raw from the constant tension it endured, his veins throbbed with every haphazard heartbeat to clear out the excess toxins.

But Ronin showed no remorse as he let out a brazen grunt.


Refusing to deal with Kiyo’s ‘childish’ behavior any longer, he slammed his bare fist into the door frame. The room shook from his knuckles' impact, yet Kiyo remained ever so still. Unfazed by the usual treatment bestowed upon him by his father.

“You know what tomorrow is. Act like it.” Ronin demanded in a dry tone as he stared Kiyo down.

Kiyo’s back tensed at the vigorous echo of Ronin’s words, a subtle threat. Yet beneath the deafening fear, Kiyo’s mind drifted away from the situation. Daisuke dashed into the forefront, Kiyo’s only hold onto a brighter reality, an escape from the hell he was born into.

He had become deeply attached to his friend, their bond something beyond words. Wherever Daisuke went Kiyo would go, whenever Daisuke needed help Kiyo would be there, whatever befell Daisuke Kiyo would relieve him of it. They were bound by blood; they were brothers.

“Downstairs. Come in a turn, I won’t hesitate to end this behavior.” Ronin intruded as he tore a chunk of the doorframe right off the wall.

Regardless, what followed was inevitable in Kiyo’s mind.

Another round, a final session to end his lifetime of training before the transition. Kiyo’s body shuddered in anticipation, fearful of how far he would be pushed that day. How bad his skin would burn beneath the utter disappointment in his father’s eyes.

“Son, you know what this day will bring. The image you must uphold for—”

But it all halted at a single thought, Kiyo was struck with a question that had absorbed his focus. His ears zoned out his father’s idle enraged chatter as he pondered the thought. Mind weak to cope with the realization as Kiyo’s flesh became ice cold. Body riddled with relentless timid shakes, he repeated the same desolate thought in his head again, again, and again.

What else can you do to me?

“Understand?” Ronin said viciously under the wisp of his scruffy breath.

A moment of bitter silence passed, no words uttered as Kiyo took account of what could befall him if he refused. Kiyo nodded, anguish hidden underneath his skin as he clenched his hands onto his elbows. He dug his nails into his skin and cut through the epidermis. Blood drenched his teeth bitten cuticles. This wretched pain partook in sheer effort to keep himself from lashing out, from worsening whatever punishment Ronin had in mind.

Without another word, Ronin took notice of Kiyo’s visual understanding and made his leave. Every board groaned for relief on his way out down the hall. A ferocious march that echoed throughout the house. Yet in its wake, the ominous quiet breeze of the morning seeped back in.

Sitting upright, Kiyo gazed down at his forearms. His veins tinged a dark green from the constant strain of chemical radiance suffered within his body. His hands grappled at his palms as he squeezed them tight and tried to contain the emotions within. The fear, pain, sadness, and all the things he was taught were signs of weakness.

Things to eradicate.

But you can’t get rid of all your emotions, can you?

Tears plummeted from Kiyo’s eyes onto his worn crusted skin. But no sorrow was shown on his face, only an emotionless porcelain doll-like stare. It was the most he could muster, muscles too stiff to flex out a scowl. Mentally lodged between two states of thought he tried to decide whether to give up or run. To escape this torment. Yet the choice didn’t even matter. His mind made up to get past all of this as Kiyo rose to his feet.

Stepping out into the hall, Kiyo peered over the railing into the open center of the household. Ronin stood on the training square at the very base surrounded by frivolous vines and blooming otherworldly flowers, patiently waiting for Kiyo to follow suit and join him.

Another session in waiting, his last.

In silence, Kiyo smudged the tears into his supple cheeks and trudged down the spiral staircase toward his father. His bare feet slapped the smoothed concrete as he came to a stop right in front of Ronin. Emotionless and hollow of any resentment. A husk.

The only feasible way to get it through it all again.

“Now. Show me.” Ronin demanded through the grit of his teeth.

And Kiyo did, again and again and again.

Soon enough the afternoon swept in over Nippon, now thriving with energy as shopkeepers and native villagers filled the marketplace. Almost three, the evening graduation of the local marked children grew near. Decorations adorned houses and shops. Hung over the village square, blood-soaked paper balls lined the sky, each illuminated by a small carved glowstone within. At the center of it all, the sanctuary’s doors and windows were open wide for all to bear witness to their transition into the next phase of their lives.

A long treacherous path to becoming true warriors.

Everyone was out of their homes or watching from the posts around the walls. An event to behold as the marked children of the village would be prophesied over by the local soothsayer. An administrator of the high priest for Nippon. One who would foretell the destiny of this newly birthed generation, who would foresee what they would contribute to the next era.

All Paladinians wore traditional robes gifted to them by the council, an ethnic custom passed down from the beginning of their known world. Back when the lands were cleansed of fire.


Yet one problem reigned above all within Daisuke. Clothed in only his loincloth, he ran about the house from Ayame. Face flustered as he weaved her attempts through the house. Botan and Cho both remained preoccupied with their own duties in the square, Ayame left to deal with the troublesome child.

“For the last time, Daisuke, hold still!” Ayame shouted with outstretched arms as continued the relentless chase.

Daisuke raced around the dining table. Each dive to restrain him fell flat, body only more well adapted to escaping Ayame’s flustered attempts. Overflowing with childlike excitement for the day that awaited them, he couldn’t wait for the Summer Sun Festival to begin.

Yet he had to outlast Ayame to make it there under his own conditions.

“Master Daisuke! You’re too old for this!”

Ayame tailed the child with strenuous strides, hands full with his attire for the day. His formal Sun robe woven from freshly strewn coar fur was a pleasant amenity many marked children adored the privilege of wearing. Tanned in the open Sun to fade the applied warm flower dye colors, all coated in a thin layer of painting blood. But it had one flaw.

“That thing itches!”

“Well—deal with it! You just have to wear it once!” Ayame groaned as she lunged forward and grasped onto Daisuke’s leg.


Trip. Whop—bang!

“Ayame, wait-wait-wait!” Daisuke squealed as she pulled him and fitted the robe over his head.

“You—will wear this—for one—day!” Ayame said in an unrelenting manner as she dragged the tattered cloth down his bare body.

Little stitches in the fabric pricked Daisuke’s skin as she pulled it down to his feet. Unable to do a thing, Daisuke flailed his arms to no avail like a castaway at sea. His voice peaked as he called out for help. for someone to free him from the confines of this dress wear.

Yet in the grand scheme of things, it was no use.

Misumi was the only other soul in the household. Already dressed in her cream-white robe tied up with red linens in a bow, she watched from the stairs as her older brother resisted Ayame’s demands. A sequestered hint of embarrassment spread across her supple pale face, lips cracked apart from humor at her brother’s resistance.

“Misumi! Why don’t you—I don’t know—help me?!” Daisuke called out earnestly as he stretched his arms toward her across the table.

With a quick roll of her eyes, Misumi scrunched her face and stuck out her tongue. She had no interest of getting involved, quiet comfortable situated on the stairs. Her refusal made clear.

Daisuke gawked in awe, mouth gaping open as he thought back on the journey to the cave, how he risked his life for her. His sister. They were flesh and blood, born from the same mother.

And she just stood there?

Left him to the wolves?

To Ayame?

“I’ll remember this,” Daisuke muttered under his breath in an egregious tone.

“Uh-huh,” Misumi commented as she skipped down the stairs toward the door.

Reaching the entryway, Misumi peered back at the two of them as Daisuke finally gave in to Ayame’s efforts. Now draped in the proper Summer festival attire, Daisuke took a long look at himself draped in the formal attire. It was abysmal. Groan after groan of irritable irritation laced his throat as he followed after Ayame.

“Can we go, Aya?” Misumi asked as she waddled over toward Ayame.

With broad glossy eyes, Misumi stretched her arms up in the air. A gracious smile spread her rosy cheeks apart as she pulled at Ayame’s robe to be held, her little fingers wound in the fabric.

“Aww, Misumi we can leave right now. How does that sound?” Ayame said in a gentle tone swooping down to pick up the child.

“Yeah!” Misumi cheered as Ayame lifted her high into the air.

“Don’t ever remember you holding me,” Daisuke commented in a scruffy voice, arms crossed over his chest.

“Well, someone would rather run naked around the house instead of putting on a robe.” Ayame smacked back with her eyebrows raised, with an irritated glare flashed toward Daisuke.

“Naked!” Misumi shrieked.

“No Misumi, don’t say that,” Ayame giggled into Misumi's right ear.

“I wasn’t—that was just once.”

Giving in to her control, the trio left the house together and ventured out to the marketplace to join the rest of the village. Transitioning into the late afternoon, Daisuke followed shortly behind Ayame and Misumi with clenched lips. Pebbles fled from him with every kick at the worn path. Yet he couldn’t stop himself from being drawn into the shimmer of light ahead. Sights set on the waves of people moving past them.

Soon enough Daisuke’s childish dismay was swept away by the countless festivities that filled Nippon to the brim. His eyes expanded, widened from sheer excitement as he spun around to take it all in. Swarms of other children play fought with sticks, parents cooked together in the square, shopkeepers displayed their most prized possessions for the day only, and guardians told stories of lands they have ventured to at every turn. The experience needless to say was magical in the eyes of a child.

A daydream if so to speak.

Mouth gapped open, feet planted onto the ground, Daisuke stopped in place and let Ayame continue ahead. Distracted by Misumi’s gleeful smile, Ayame set off to find Botan and Cho amongst the others.

Yet something particular stood out to Daisuke within his admiration for the festivities.

Between the swarms of able bodies, Daisuke’s gaze latched onto a single person who stood out amongst the rest. All alone in the masses, head hung down toward the earth as he stared into the dirt with a solemn empty expression. He appeared pathetic to most, a broken child. Hands at his side, laced with a crusty layer of blood, his scars remained hidden by the lively crimson hues of his decorated robe. Daisuke was oblivious to it all, only seeing the boy for who he was; his friend.

“Kiyo!” Daisuke clamored as he cut through the crowd.

Stuck in a moment of bliss, Daisuke charged toward Kiyo with open arms. On an emotional high, his feelings were a direct contrast to the day Kiyo had lived through. But that’s just how things were. Both were unable to understand the other, Kiyo forced to sequester his emotions as he picked up his head to take notice of Daisuke barreling his way. Attention shifted from his inner fear, Kiyo flexed out a jaded smile.

Lifting his sore crusted arm, he waved at Daisuke and squinted between his tattered bangs. A plastered smirk laced his dried spit-ridden lips, thin sunken bags hanging from his eyes. Evidence of his strenuous morning put on display for all to see, yet no one batted an eye. They judged in silence or kept their distance.

But Daisuke ran straight toward him. I mean, they were friends.

What friend would look for flaws?

“Hey, Daisuke.”