“How are you faring, Hachirou? You’ve been training relentlessly since recovering from the brink of death.”
“I’m doing fine, big sister. While my first week was certainly difficult, I’ve grown accustomed to everyone’s lessons.”
“I see. In that case, let’s increase the tempo of our exercise.”
It’s well in the afternoon and I’m currently training at the village dojo. My instructor for today is my older sister Chiyoko who is teaching me hand-to-hand combat. For most of our session, we’ve been sparring in a slow manner to familiarise myself with the motions. Out of all my siblings lessons, Chiyoko’s are undoubtedly the least strenuous, but I fear she is treating with excess concern. I need to use this time to get as strong as possible. I want to be ready when the moment comes.
“… Are you sure about this? I know he’s an important figure to you, but that doesn’t mean…”
“I’ve made up my mind, Chiyoko. It wasn’t an easy decision, b-but I want to do this. I can’t explain it, but something about him makes me strive to be better, and I hope I can mean something to him too. I… I’m sorry.”
“I-it’s alright, Hachirou. I shouldn’t be stopping you. In fact, I should be glad you’re pushing forward in your life. I’m envious of how you’ve overcome your inner turmoil… unlike me.”
“A-anyway, enough talk! We need to focus on your training.”
“… Okay, big sister. But I still think we’re taking it too slow. May we speed up my training even more?”
Hearing my suggestion, she gives a disappointed sigh and suddenly disappears from sight. I feel two sharp blows to my waist, followed by a punch to my head, and in the next split second, I’m knocked off my feet by her sweeping kick. It happened so fast that I couldn’t react. My sister looks over me as if signifying the disparity in our strength.
“What I just did was a basic combo without any skills, and yet you couldn’t defend yourself. Tell me, if I picked up the pace, would you be ready in the next few days? Of course not. Don’t be so hasty. I’d rather you improved eventually rather than not at all.”
“Good. Now that will be all for today. You should get some rest before Ken’s muscle training tomorrow. I’m sure he would gladly oblige with pushing your limits.”
Hearing his name, I couldn’t help but feel my blood run cold, and it’s not from the weather. While I may have acclimatised to his lessons, it doesn’t make them pleasant.
“Where does big brother Ken keep getting those dangerous ideas?”
“Supposably, he learnt them from father after he replicated those methods from records called “movies”. He enjoyed expanding his knowledge by using them regularly in his past life.”
“I see. It’s no wonder father is so acknowledgeable!”
“Indeed. Anyway, we best depart while there is still light. I have an entire branch to manage. I’ll see you later, Hachirou.”
I bid Chiyoko farewell and make my way to the Nomura clan house. As I enter the building and make my way to my room, I notice four children standing outside Enbos’ room which is next mine.
“Yuki, Izumi, Kaito, Shou? What are you doing here, let alone in Yamagakure at all?”
“Ah, hello big brother Hachi! We’re here to play!”
“It’s so boring back at our branch without Izumi or Big Bro Enbos.”
“That’s why we begged to stay at Izumi’s uncle’s house for a few days.”
“It’s been so long since we last played, and he doesn’t seem to be in his room.”
“Ne, do you know where he went?”
“I’m sorry children, but Enbos has been visiting my brother Takumi everyday. He won’t be home until late at night.”
“Wah! B-but that means we came here for nothing!
“This is so unfair!”
“I know, let’s sleep over and then we can meet him!”
All four kids bark in agreement as they turn to me for approval. Feeling sympathetic, I tell them to wait inside while I send a shikigami to inform Izumi’s uncle and prepare a tray of tea with snacks. However, by the time I got back they were all gone.
“Children, children! Where did you go!?”
“We’re here, Big Bro!”
“Huh? What are you doing in Enbos’ place? When I told you to wait inside, I was referring to my room.”
“Hey, Big Bro Hachi, do you know what this says? I think it’s written in Arenish. There was some hair and a dirty cloth inside as well.”
“Put that down Yuki! You shouldn’t open envelopes that are not addressed to you!”
“But it was already open. Here Hachi, take a look.”
“I won’t read it, Yuki. Please children, put everything back where you found it and go to my room. If Enbos finds out, he’ll be very angry!”
Hearing my words, they mysteriously stop mid-movement and immediately leave the vicinity. Unfortunately, Yuki drops the letter in his hurry to leave, leaving me to tidy the mess.
“Dear me, they didn’t have to be so distraught. I’m sure Enbos would have forgiven them.
Wait, this is…”
“Don’t… orry. Even if… die, I’ll just… back! I’ll keep trying… save you!”
Remembering those desperate words, they mix with the heartfelt lines on the sheet to form a startling revelation. I return the letter and its contents to the envelope and step away in vain denial.
I saw it. I saw the darkness in Enbos’ soul. His hidden desperation and bottomless sorrow.
Should I console him? Will he turn me away? What should I do?
I step outside his room and take a few moments to breathe. My glorified image of him begins to fade, as it’s replaced by a lonely and flawed figure.
A lonely and flawed figure… that I can reach.
“Hrm? What’s with your grave expression, my son? Is there a problem?”