Chapter 18:

Chapter 18: Markings of a Warrior

Element U

The morning had come.

It was a spectacle to behold as the radiant canary yellow Sun rose in the grand sky and awoke the people of Nippon. Most quick to prepare for the grand march, the departure of the newly graduated marked children. No longer theirs to burden, but now theirs to celebrate, to watch leave for greater things. For the prophesied future that was foretold over them on the day they were born; that treasured day had finally risen upon them.

The day they all would embark on a journey into the Sun.

Daisuke and Kiyo took after the morning in their own fashions. Each was the opposite of the other.

But someone popped up before the Sun could even grace the tips of the canyons across.

Daisuke woke up early before the Sun had even touched the morning sky. His eyes fluttered open at a time the moon still ruled over the blanketed darkness. Its glowing remnants were still apparent as it shone through the clouds and faded to its sullen dull state. Lightless and lifeless. A direct amalgamation of everything the Paladinians feared.

The absence of pure light. Of tomorrow.

Tuckered out from the festival, Daisuke stretched his arms into the air and slowly rose from his rest mat into the beams of moonlight that peeked through his blinds. A wake-up call to the boy’s young prepubescent mind.

Groggy and lopsided, Daisuke eased his way across his room toward the window. Shoving the chest beneath it, he lifted himself up high enough off his tippy toes to press his face against the carved wooden bars. Chin nestled onto the scrapped wood, he peeked out into the town grounds. Within seconds he was captivated by the sight laid out before him. It was a wonder to witness on its own.

A setting Moon met with the rising Sun. A clash of light, of beliefs, of time.

With a wide tight-lipped smile, Daisuke stared at the forbidden sight. An hour of the night dedicated to acts not permissible in the light. The hour of sins was almost at an end as euphoric light flooded the open sky. Mesh of a white illumination drowned out by a new burst of brilliant yellow cadence.

The anxious lively joy within Daisuke expanded as it overtook his mind, too elated for the day bleeding in.

In a swift motion, Daisuke dismantled the window bar by bar and elevated himself up and out onto the roof. Under the awakening of the heavens, he dashed across the unturned gravel-ridden cobblestone paths. No other soul was able to see his movements under the soft blanket of the moonlight being whisked away, catching rays of newborn sunshine on his way through the town.

Reaching the housing neighborhood limits, Daisuke sprinted toward the back wall. The usual spot he and Kiyo would meet up. A ritual that would now be lost with age.

Daisuke scaled the wall with ease. His hands became familiar with the pattern and muscle movements to forget them even in the dead of night. Masked in shadows, the guard couldn’t make out the lone boy scaling the wall, the marked child enjoying his last hours of freedom.

What else could Daisuke do?

“All—most—there.” Daisuke sputtered out heavily between desperate gasps of exhaustion.

The wooden spokes splintered his scathed palms. Little pricks that sent small jolts of pain through his calloused hands. Something easy to ignore as he made the final grab onto the ledge of the top of the wall. Chest uplifted from the end in sight.

Body dragged up against the weathered boards, Daisuke peeked his eyes over the edge to the open valley beyond it. Yet he couldn’t even take in the full view as Daisuke laid his gaze onto an unexpected addition to his morning. Daisuke’s bodily rinsed strain of tension washed away by delightful surprise.

Kiyo? Daisuke thought as he heaved his body upright.

The deadwood creaked beneath Daisuke’s weight, a slight bend in the frame. Kiyo didn’t utter a word. He just sat there in silence. His mind was set elsewhere as he peered out into the valley. The crisp morning air blew his bangs to the sides and unmasked his blank emotionless face and yellow eyes.

“Kiyo? Why are you out—”

“Shh,” Kiyo whispered, unmoving from his stance. Intently viewing the morning as it played out in front of them.

Daisuke twitched at Kiyo’s words, his plain response that shelved their conversation off the bat. A little thrown, Daisuke scooted over toward Kiyo, legs hanging over the edge.


“Shh.” Kiyo cut off Daisuke’s whisper with a single weightless exhale.

Fury built in Daisuke’s flustered face at the constant refusal delt by Kiyo for him to talk, not a single word able to pierce his lips.


“Shh. Shh.”


“SHHhhhh . . . SHh!” Kiyo spat out with a thrust of his pointer finger against his lips.

They both sat still for a few moments as the morning rushed past them, each enjoying the retraction of the night. Soon enough the Sun peeked over the horizon and splashed against the new morning sky. The moon slowly retracted away from it all as it disappeared behind a cluster of highlighted morning clouds.

All the scenery was enough to satisfy Kiyo, to ease the ripples of stress that swarmed his mind. Yet Daisuke’s patience only hung onto it for so long, seconds from bursting.

“Good now?” Daisuke asked eagerly.

No response echoed back. Only a light wisp of brittle air ran against their faces, their thin coar cloaks ruffled by the wind.

Daisuke tapped his fingers against the wooden beam, his jagged teeth bitten nails scraping at loose strands of wood. He grew agitated by the unwanted silence, by Kiyo’s resistance to talk. Struck with impatience, Daisuke leaned over toward Kiyo.

“Kiyo, why—”

Kiyo just slightly shook his head. A quiet refusal to do anymore beyond the bare minimum, entranced in the reality of the morning they were living through. Something Daisuke wasn’t keen to pick up on. Too narrowed in on the big picture, their departure overshadowed what the day truly meant.

The exact reason Kiyo came out here this morning.

What he came to experience one last time naturally before it would all change.

With his finger lifted to his mouth, Kiyo continued to gaze at the valley as Daisuke stared at him in uneasy anticipation. Uncertainty was the only constant in his mind at that moment. Only able to fumble it out of his mouth.

“But what about—”

“Listen,” Kiyo said abruptly.

“To what?”

“Just listen.”

Without further questioning, Daisuke clamped his mouth shut and turned his attention back to the valley. Both locked their narrow focus onto the barren gray wasteland before them that trickled down to the sparse deadwood forest at the center of it all. A monumental crater from the past.


Gray lanky trees topped with a mesh of yellow and orange small-leafed canopies, wisps that Kiyo and Daisuke had witnessed firsthand when embedded in the woods, were quiet within the clamor of the town. Now in the dead silent air, the boys were able to experience them again, a subtle gentle melody carried by a rising wind.


The sweet sound graced Daisuke’s plain ears, spinning down into his eardrum as he sat there and took it in. Honed in on the noise that he vaguely recognized, the sound of a blissful song that absorbed his attention.

“What is that—sound?” Daisuke asked as he closed his eyes and embraced the melody.

“The trees. It’s their song”

“Really?” Daisuke said mouth gaped open with broadened eyes, unable to contain his intrigue.

“So—for today. Just listen.” Kiyo murmured.

Daisuke nodded and looked back into the valley lit freshly aglow by the ascension of the Sun into its rightful place. The two were mesmerized by the total scope of nature laid out in front of them, something they hadn’t fully taken in before. Daisuke always geared toward the lands out of sight, out of reach. But for once they looked back on their home. The last time they could like this.

Gradually the early morning rolled into high noon, and the two were forced to split off to head back home in preparation for their departure. Daisuke sprinted back home to be scolded by Ayame for sneaking out, an illicit act to commit in the eyes of the High Priest. The nights were only for such things no others would want to know or see in the light of day. Yet Cho and Botan only showed high praise and anticipation for what was soon to come. Daisuke’s aforementioned decampment.

The next major step for all marked children.

Kiyo came home to silence. Ronin was knowledgeable of Kiyo’s acts yet never chose to deal with them as long as they never infringed on his capabilities. Today they're last together for what could be years was the same as all others. No celebration or kind words of encouragement like on Daisuke’s end. Only the glare of disapproval.

In the eyes of Ronin, Kiyo still wasn’t his son. Not yet.


The sanctuary’s ascended horns sang out in a choir to the heavens. An announcement that it was time to gather, to prepare for the final trek out of Nippon. The beginning of the journey to Harion.

Festivities from the day prior were now replaced with parting colors. Reds and oranges now turned to purples and blues. A calmer more esteemed atmosphere encompassed the entirety of Nippon. All shops and houses closed up for the day. Only families of the marked children were out in the marketplace. Others opened their windows to watch the spectacle, streamers flew and weapons smacked against the battered wood to cheer on the children.

Royal bishops and warriors peered down from the wall over the gate, those who had passed the tests before now watched the next generation embark on the same journey.

All packed up with essentials for the trip, Kiyo and Daisuke both walked down to the town square. All other clothes and necessities were provided at the temple when they would arrive, a complete wash of the people they once were to become something new. Something better.

True warriors.

At the square, families said their goodbyes and bid good luck to their children. That these marks would not go in vain but amount to what they were born for. Their potential limitless.

All marked children were clothed in plain tan kimonos, a sign of removing their identity from the village. Leaving all emotions behind here, in Nippon, as their families dressed up in formal back leather robes.

Awaiting the children, two wooden beast-drawn carts. The trip was too much of a burden on their unscathed feet. Something only a veteran could accomplish.

Daisuke hugged each of his family one by one. Cho, Botan, Ayame, and Misumi all gathered to see him off. Delighted and hopeful faces masked the hints of sorrow that damped their cheeks, tears Cho already shed for her son. But now he was setting off to cross unknown lands, to venture into the unknown.

“Just—be safe. Remember what we taught you. Okay?” Cho said warily as she embraced Daisuke.

“I will, I will. You can let go, Mother.” Daisuke muttered softly.

Putting his arms out between them, Daisuke clutched Cho’s shoulders and flashed a brave smile to his mother. Only nine, but Paladinians were ones to mature fast. Required to do so in order to cope with the flow of this harsh reality.

Cho took the subtle message and released her son for Daisuke to only be bombarded by Ayame from above.

“You better not act out. If you do I’ll run over there, you know I will.” Ayame piled on as she ruffled through Daisuke’s hair.

He tossed her hand off and smirked at the playful gesture. A little twinge of embarrassment was apparent as Daisuke’s face glowed a bright cherry red.

“But—” Ayame paused as she bent down to look Daisuke right in the eyes. Her pale green eyes locked in with his, the jokes set aside as the truth reared its face through a trickle of grief as the years passed. “We will miss you.”

“I know,” Daisuke responded as he broke off eye contact with a sudden hug.

Ayame just stood there and took it in. Her mind was cluttered with the fact he may not return, that this could be the last time she saw his gnarly smile. The trials themselves were something that have claimed lives and left others who failed mentally distraught. Unable to find themselves afterward, most commonly ended up as scouts. Those sent on suicide missions.


“You better come back,” Ayame whispered into his ears as Daisuke slipped back.

Daisuke nodded and turned his attention to Misumi, her left arm stretched out toward him. Face brimmed with joy and wonder, unsure of what was happening but proud of her brother nonetheless.

“Bye-bye!” Misumi yelled giddily as Ayame held her right hand. She waved at Daisuke with her left, the teeny palm flopping wildly in the open air.

With a little shake of his right hand from his side, Daisuke waved back. Botan stepped forward and stared his son down. His face set aglow with a promising smile, proud of the son he had raised. Now stood before him, a marked child who graduated into a future warrior.

“Son. This is it.” Botan said adamantly with a fatherly groan.

“Yeah, it feels . . . weird,” Daisuke muttered nervously, a little shudder trapped within his legs.

Botan was fast to notice the trickle of fear within Daisuke.

“You’ll get over it soon enough. I felt the same way.”


“For sure, I mean, I don’t say it much . . . or really never have. But I was the last one to get on. To say goodbye.” Botan said in confidence behind the confinements of his right palm.


“Daisuke, look around,” Botan said as he tilted his head to the crowd ahead of them. “Every marked child is the same every year.”

Daisuke followed his father’s gesture and took notice of the many other children visibly shaking in the crowd. He was prepared for the journey, but the first step to take appeared to be a mountain of jump. A treacherous accession into a life that was beyond his understanding. One that decided their entire future. Their normal lives abandoned for something far greater.

For the clan.

“It goes away. The fear of the unknown.” Botan said with a slight pause to make sure his son grasped what he meant, not wanting him to miss a single word. “But that’s a part of it. You’ll see.”

“Right,” Daisuke said with an understanding glare on his face, the seriousness that wrapped over his excitement.

“But Daisuke,” Botan said with a heavy sigh, gaze shifted from Daisuke to the lines of children loading in one by one. “Remember one thing when you get there.”

“What?” Daisuke asked avidly.

Botan’s smile faded away as he knelt in front of Daisuke. Pure fright and severeness pulled back all other emotions, left with nothing but the truth. Daisuke gulped down his nerves and awaited his father’s words, keen to listen but fearful of what they could be all the more.

“Get away from Kiyo,” Botan whispered directly. There was no hint of a stutter or change of tone in his voice. It was brutal honesty, the reality he wanted to instill in his son. A path to safety.

Daisuke could only shake his head and try to laugh it off.

“But why—”

“Just do it.”

“Okay.” Daisuke lied.

“Promise me you will.”

He couldn’t. Daisuke slowly stepped away from Botan, unable to look his father in the eyes as he spun around. Back turned to them as he let out the only word he could think of.


With a wave of his arm, Daisuke darted into the crowd toward the wooden carts. His family was left in worry for their son’s health. Born with ties to the one prophesied to save Nippon, but at what cost?

Further back in the crowd, Ronin and Kiyo arrived late to the procession. The two of them were close enough to talk but Kiyo made sure to put some distance between himself and his father. A couple of steps meant the world to the boy, guarded by the public eye from the abuse he grew accustomed to. His mind however was more centered on what came next, the end of his father’s cruelty. Specks of joy fluttered within him toward the mere idea of cutting ties, of leaving his father in the past. This day their last together as father and son.

If only it were true.

There was no escaping his control. Going only fed into what Ronin aimed for. To force Kiyo to become what he couldn’t. A savior.

Ronin walked with Kiyo to the edge of the marketplace, stopping his son with a hefty hand dropped onto Kiyo’s shoulder. Kiyo’s body sagged under the weight as he stood there, blank-faced and impatiently waiting.

Leaning close to Kiyo’s ear, Ronin heaved in a deep solemn breath. Blowing it out in a light whisper that rippled across Kiyo’s face, very concise but impactful beyond understanding as it riveted Kiyo’s soul. It was as if his soul itself was blown out of his body. Reaffirmation of why he wanted to do this.

To earn Ronin’s respect. His father’s form of love.

Even if Kiyo had to do what he despised the most.

“Don’t disappoint me,” Ronin murmured.

Kiyo didn’t respond, much less pass a glance toward Ronin as he trudged off toward the wagon. Back tense and hairs stood on end all over his body, nervous for what awaited him. The first time Kiyo didn’t know, or couldn’t even guess what to expect.

Climbing into the cart, Daisuke spotted his friend and quickly shoved his way through the swarm of marked children. Voices squeaked and bodies squirmed through the jam-packed cart topped with a pitched tent to shade all the special. Laid across the ground leather mats for rest, water jugs, and rations at the helm of guardians for each cart.

Guardians were warriors classified for specific purposes outside of combat. Not at the bishop level of royal protection and trust, but stationed at the guard of transports and boundaries for example.

Armored from head to toe in black obsidian-plated leatherback gear, thin silky coar hair fabric lined the bodies of these guardians, their faces masked behind blood-soaked crimson headwraps.

All the children behind them either stared in awe or searched for a proper seat for the long trek there. Some others looked for friends, someone to talk to for the trip.

Daisuke was eager to do so as he finally made it to Kiyo through the mass pit of bodies.

“Kiyo! You have to come to see these!”


“The things pulling us there, it’s like their—their . . . Just come look!!”

It didn’t take a minute for Daisuke to find something intriguing, already whisking Kiyo off back through the hoard to the front of the wagon.

With a slight battle on the way there, the two finally pulled through to the front of the cart. Daisuke pulled up the flap of the tent enough for them both to gaze out of. The best view by far.

The beasts at the helm were new and fascinating to Daisuke. Gampords, a generational blend of camels, leopards, and giraffes that had transfused into a creature fit for the desert plains. It was a sturdy black-horned beast that gripped the ground with hooved paws. Covered in brown splotches, the creature retrained camouflage in the heat-beaten environment. A sturdy tail that could knock a man clean off his feet led up to a spinal line of black fur that rose over the gampords with one arched hump.

With razor-sharp teeth and a heavyset head able to crush the bones of its prey, this predator was tamed by the paladinians for faster desert travel. Two at the helm of each wagon for the journey to Harion. All that was needed to cross the disputed territory safely.

“Wow. You think we’ll see more things like that?” Daisuke asked exuberantly amidst the noise of the other marked children.

“Yeah.” Was all Kiyo could manage, still caught in the backlash from his father’s words.

“And look at the guards,” Daisuke uttered as he pointed at the two men seated at the steering point for the wagon.

“So cool.”

“Mhm,” Kiyo mumbled back plainly.

“Maybe they’ll show us—hey!” Daisuke called out as he was thrown aside.

Bumped out of place, a few other marked children cleared Kiyo and Daisuke to the sides. Inconsiderate as eagerness overwhelmed their anxiety of the situation to see the gampords. Separated, Daisuke grappled at the wooden cart and heaved himself back onto his feet. Shoving them back, Daisuke weaved his way back around to Kiyo.

“Kiyo, you okay?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

The two glanced from the rude group of marked boys back to each other. A silent agreement not to act on their emotions, their anger uplifted by the stupid lack of consideration shown toward them. Daisuke shook his head with a slightly broken smile.

“Guess they're just excited. I mean who wouldn’t be?”


The horns rang out once more, an announcement of their departure from Nippon as the wagons rolled to life.

“Woah—-okay. Wait are we—were leaving?” Daisuke said panicking, legs steadfast as he charged back through the crowd.

All marked children fought to get to the back to wave to their families. A final sendoff to those they wouldn’t see for years. Some sooner than others.

Kiyo stayed put near the back and watched the plethora of children that raced to the back. Daisuke one of them, hopped up over the heads of the other children as he tried to spot his family. Barely able to pick them out of the masses, to see their faces.

“Bye! I promise I’ll be back!” Daisuke yelled amongst the other voices.

Kiyo sulked in the back and watched, envious of the home lives they must have. His face sullen and empty as his big yellow eyes gazed at the frenzy of deranged children. One thought on his mind.

He would become the best warrior. Better than any of them. Daisuke was only able to think of his family, of what he left behind.

Regardless they had each other.

The two were bound together by a bond deeper than blood. Each hopeful in their own regard to make their families proud. To come back as something more.

But that was a long road away, one they had just begun.