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Author Topic: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)  (Read 2092 times)

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Offline Aozora

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Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« on: January 20, 2015, 11:51:03 AM »
UPDATE: Chapter 8 Posted

WARNING: This thread is solely for posting story chapters. A subforum has been created for discussion and review:

Hello all, this is simply where I'll be posting my chapters for my story, Hikaru Rising, since the original thread on 'Develop Your Story' board is getting cluttered.

BACKSTORY
Spoiler
Angels and demons once coexisted and shared one world; however, they could not get along and were locked in an "Eternal War", until finally the Gods decided to end the fighting by completely separating angels and demons, giving each of them their own realm. Soon after the end of the "Eternal War", the Gods created the universe of mankind. Many, many years after the first humans walk the Earth, the world is plunged into the Dark Ages, a time characterized by human suffering, disease, greed, and selfishness. The dark times of this period cause humans to start worshipping demons and welcoming them onto Earth with open arms. These demons then start conflicts with angels on Earth and start massacring them. Angered by the atrocities occurring on Earth, Hikaru, the prince of angels, descends upon Earth and goes on a violent rampage, killing any demon he finds in sight. However, he is stopped by his father, King Lucidus, who then banishes Hikaru to Earth as mere mortal baby for his rashness and insolence.

PLOT
Spoiler
The main storyline takes place 19 years after the backstory and involves the development of dual plots that are both connected and related. The first plot is centered around the infiltration of the angels' realm. The realm has just been infiltrated by two demons and King Lucidus is pulling his hair out trying to figure out how the demons were able to enter his realm, why they infiltrated in the first place, and how to catch them. The search for the demons is a race against the clock because as the angels waste time trying to find the infiltrators, the demons secretly hatch evil and diabolical plans. The second plot focuses on Hikaru's adventures as a 19 y.o. boy on Earth. Hikaru embarks on a journey to prove that he is an "exceptional being unlike any other", as per his father King Lucidus's instructions, so that he can regain his status as an angel. However, along the way his efforts are constantly spoiled by evil demons and foes, who only bring him sorrow, pain, and loss. In the end, Hikaru sacrifices everything and puts his life on the line to fight the God of Destruction, Enthiran.

SETTING
Spoiler

1. Angels' Realm
2. Earth - medieval, fantasy world consisting of various kingdoms, mountains, oceans, etc
*Further details of setting of story to be revealed later

CHARACTERS

Protagonists
Characters who accompany the MC on his journey.

Spoiler
Hikaru
Spoiler
The MC of the story, Hikaru rises through the ranks of a hierarchy from farmer to gladiator to warrior to king to enlightened one to...well, it's a surprise, hence the name of the story being Hikaru Rising. His rise in stature and prominence is spurred by various life-changing events and incidents in his life and thus his personality and outlook are constantly changing. At the start, Hikaru is a very happy-go-lucky guy living on a farm with his guardian and other orphans who doesn't take life very seriously, as he thinks life is a pleasant ride and has never experienced the darkness and cruelty of the world. As a result, he is quite lazy and irresponsible but also very caring and giving. He also tends to daydream about what lies beyond his own little world.

Ardon
Spoiler
Ardon is the first to "befriend" Hikaru. He is reckless, prideful, and gritty. He also has a very pessimistic view on life, often thinking the world is a very dark place and that the only way to live is "kill or be killed." He is bent on taking revenge on the demon Thoros, who murdered his son and wife.

Naran
Spoiler
Naran is an angel tasked with protecting and guiding Hikaru following his first guardian angel's death. Naran has many traits opposite to those of Ardon, hence getting in many arguments with him. He is calm and wise, serving as the voice of reason for Hikaru and others.

Yajin
Spoiler
Yajin is a pious monk who protects the temple of the King of the Angels from demons looking to destroy or desecrate it. He is also one of the Izarren Distira ("Shining Stars"), who are 10 humans given supernatural powers by the angels to protect Earth and fight off evil. He is extremely handsome and wise in terms of strategy and planning. However, he is also quite slow, innocent, and quirky. For instance, he rarely understands sarcasm or figures of speeches and does weird yoga poses that creep people out.

Daren
Spoiler
Daren is a warrior who fights for the Kingdom of Altak. He and Hikaru click easily and their friendship grows increasingly strong with time. Daren is a light-hearted and fun guy and also extremely loyal and devoted to the King of Altak, who took him in when he was but a poor orphan and gave him a home to live in. However, Daren is terrible when it comes to creating rapport with other people who do not share his ideals, causing him to have many enemies.

Mayna
Spoiler
Mayna is a rogue warrior who hunts demons and is also one of the Izarren Distira. She is strong-willed but also quite stubborn and often doesn't listen to plans or strategy but instead wanting to do it her way. She also thinks things like intimacy, relationships, kindness, and the like are signs of weakness. She often teases or derides Hikaru when he says something that she finds idealistic or sentimental. She and Hikaru develop a romantic relationship.

Sanamaya
Spoiler
Also one of the Izarren Distira, Sanamaya is a very quirky and peculiar individual. One could describe him as a combination of Jiraya, Usopp, and Franky. He often portrays himself in a very flashy and over-the-top manner and tells great stories and titles for himself, most of which are not true. He is quite sentimental and overdramatic, being someone who would shed manly tears over even the slightest sad story.

Antagonists
Only main, powerful characters that the protagonists have to fight; not all villains listed

Spoiler
Mother of Shadows/Sarna
Spoiler
A woman who during the Dark Ages surrendered herself to the Demon King to escape burning at the stake for her dark arts and black magic practices, thereby acquiring demonic powers and becoming the "Mother of Shadows". Accepted neither by humans nor the demons, she roamed the Earth bringing despair and suffering to wherever she traversed, reveling in the pain and grief she brought upon those affected. She is strange and shady, her intentions sometimes unclear. She also thinks she is the daughter of the Demon King although this is only a self-proclaimed title.

Thoros
Spoiler
Thoros is one of the sons of the Demon King, and also a member of the Demon Knights, a group of demons who maintain demons' control and influence on Earth by ruling over various kingdoms from behind closed curtains. Thoros rules over the Kingdom of Alatak and is responsible for the deaths of Ardon's loved ones.

Aegis Legion
Spoiler
Four members of the Izarren Distira formed a group called the Aegis Legion. Under their self-proclaimed sense of justice and service to humanity, they assassinate greedy kings and rulers looking to expand their power and territory for they often align themselves with demons and neglect to properly feed and serve their people. The Aegis Legion decided to stand in the way of the Alatak Empire, which is looking to expand into the Sharia Kingdom; Alatak Empire is the kingdom that Hikaru fights for.

Demon Knights
Spoiler
After defeating the Aegis Legion, the Alatak Empire expands into the Sharia Kingdom; however, they must deal with the Demon Knights, three very powerful demons, who control various parts of the kingdom for their annexation to be successful.
 

Urashibara
Spoiler
As one of the Generals of the Abyss--three demons who directly serve and operate under the Demon King--and the commander of the Demon Knights, Urashibara, a 15 foot tall demon, stands as the last obstacle in the Alatak Empire's complete annexation of the Sharia Kingdom.

Kaza
Spoiler
As the eldest son of the Demon King and one of the Generals of the Abyss, Kaza is sent to Earth to stop Hikaru. Kaza hopes to regain all of the power and territory Hikaru stole from the demons. When Hikaru was an angel, he and Kaza fought and he came out as the victor. Kaza wants to fight Hikaru to pay him back for the humiliation and pain he felt in his last defeat.

Yubo
Spoiler
The most powerful of the Generals of the Abyss, Yubo was the only demon, aside from the Demon King, who could fight on equal footing with Hikaru when he was angel. Thus, Yubo is a very powerful demon and a force to be reckoned with. He stands in Hikaru and his group's way to prevent them from getting in the way of Enthiran, the God of Destruction's, revival.

Kan Sharaz
Spoiler
As the Demon King himself, Sharaz does not actually fight Hikaru or the others, although he is known to be incredibly powerful and is constantly pulling strings in the background.

Enthiran
Spoiler
Enthiran, the God of Destruction, is trying to be woken by the demons, who are his loyal devotees, so that they may request his assistance in crushing the entire angel race. Little do they know that God doesn't take sides and when he is woken, he erases all of existence. Thus, he proceeds to destroy all of existence using his unfathomable powers. Only a miracle can save the world.
*More characters to be revealed later

WARNING: This thread is solely for posting story chapters. A subforum has been created for discussion and review:
« Last Edit: July 18, 2015, 04:10:54 AM by Aozora »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Check out my stories here: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php?topic=12492.msg213349#msg213349

Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2015, 11:56:33 AM »
Newest chapters below


« Last Edit: February 05, 2015, 10:36:13 PM by God Usopp »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Check out my stories here: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php?topic=12492.msg213349#msg213349

Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2015, 11:57:10 AM »
Newest chapters below
« Last Edit: February 05, 2015, 10:36:58 PM by God Usopp »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Check out my stories here: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php?topic=12492.msg213349#msg213349

Offline WhiteCrow

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2015, 03:14:09 AM »
Well now... why are we not providing some more reviews for this story guys? Three chapters in and I think it's building up nicely.

Chapter 3 thoughts

Interesting chapter, did a few things that really made it stand out...

-Showed the effect of Heian being gone and how it has silently begun to show.

-Really felt like it was a chapter that served the purpose of Hikaru DECIDING to go his separate way, but threw in an unexpected loop by FORCING him to make that move.

-Yet again showed how laid back and irresponsible Hikaru really is, which lends itself to the eventual development we are going to witness.

Now a few things to point out:

-This is very much like a Hercules tale, I immediately got the vibe once we were introduced to his father, and once more when the Angel came to help him.

-I think Kovio should've had more of an interaction with Hikaru in the chapter, not a ton more, but maybe a brief 10 line convo about Heian being gone or something.

-Keep in mind that we are still in flashback mode, as I am aware. I don't know how long you intend to keep us there but considering where you started your story, you may want to consider that your story needs to also follow the present and not stay stuck on the past. Otherwise there is no true story development because we would have literally only been left with them killing that demon in the beginning. You ended this chapter well, now my personal opinion would be to take us to the present for the next one, and then come back to the past in the following one.


-Overall I think this was your strongest chapter in terms of setting, you've begun to build the road that you want us to follow and thus far it looks like a solid foundation, so keep it up.

Offline CptCog

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2015, 10:04:03 PM »
Ok so first off, i'm not amazing so take what you will from this review.

Chapter 1 Review
Spoiler
I like it the action you have incorporated here. I could get a good sense for what is happening, and it seems to be like a good shounen. In prose form, however, it feels like the jump back seems out of place. In my opinion, for the first chapter, you shouldn't include such a jarring transition. Especially since this is a prologue chapter, the time frame should remain continuous to intrigue your readers. The transition to the past seems out of place and, like I said, a little jarring to me. I don't know how this would translate into mange form, but that's just what I feel.

Also, I have a hard time figuring out who you're expressing your story through. To me, I have no idea who Hikaru is, or why I should care about him. It might be because it's in prose form, but I couldn't get any feeling for him.

Other than that, I liked it. Other than your name, I could tell your writing style had some influence from One Piece. You tend to make your evil characters a little on the more comedic side and more child like. This is great for stories as it takes away some of the maturity and makes reading the story lighter and easier. I don't know if this is meant to be shounen or not, but if it is, this character development helps.

Chapter 2 review

Spoiler
Ahh, the dreaded set-up chapter. This chapter I felt you wrote the characters well, but still to me, it felt lacking. In this chapter, I feel like you should focus more on Hikaru and his emotions through his family rather than give deeper understanding to Heian. I don't know your plans, so maybe Heian is actually a very important character and needed this understanding as much as Hikaru. I don't know. But I would also say whoever your protagonist is should have greatest priority in these early chapters. The point of these chapters is to introduce the world and the person who is the most important. And unfortunately, I didn't feel that from his chapter.

Also, I think you should be very careful of the word bugger. It means to commit buggery, which is the act of anal intercourse between a man and a man or a man and a woman, or the act of anal intercourse between an animal and a woman or a man and an animal. Although the connotations in this case are nowhere near as severe - merely a term of endearment - I still caution you in its use.


Chapter 3 Review

Spoiler
This was by far your best done chapter. It gave me a better sense of who Hikaru is and where he fits into this world. It began to set up how special he is, and begin foreshadowing events to come. It made me say to myself, "Hey, I want to find out what abilities this Hikaru guy has and how he's going to beat *censored* up!" It really started to get me interested. I also feel the world is starting to get a nice base to it. I can start relating to who Hikaru is - that lazy kid from the farm (at least I think hehe...).

My only concern is with some iffy dialogue. Most is well written and flows well, but the one that concerned me the most was, "I am an angel and my name is Patrona, Guardian of Light!"  I don't know; it sounded off to me. Maybe you could say, "I am an angel- the Guardian of Light, Patrona!" or something. Who knows if that sounds better or not. But I hope you see what I'm saying.

So this is my TLDR:

You have a good world and a good understanding of where people fit, but I feel like the focus on Hikaru is lacking in the first two chapters. I don't know how it will translate to manga, but that's how I feel in prose form. Your chapter three was the best and made me interested in the story.

So that's it. Take what you like. Disagree with me if you like as well.

Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2015, 11:49:52 PM »
WhiteCrow and CptCog, thanks very much for the reviews^^

But please post in the discussion thread next time: :thumbsup: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php/topic,12763.msg217545.html#new

CptCog, I have addressed your points in the discussion thread.
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Check out my stories here: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php?topic=12492.msg213349#msg213349

Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2015, 03:05:42 AM »
Chapter 1 Summary
Our story takes place on the outskirts of the Sharia Kingdom, where an isolated farm lies surrounded by a vast grassland. Enter Hikaru, a rather lazy and carefree 19-year-old boy with a large, overweight physique, who loves to daydream and stare at the sky. While playing with the other orphans on the farm, Hikaru is scolded by his older brother, Heian, who is angry at him for not doing his work. After assuring his younger sister, Hana, that there is no bad blood between him and Heian, Hikaru follows Heian's orders and goes to tend the livestock. Kovio, one of Hikaru's younger brothers, notices Hikaru doing his job improperly and tries to teach him. However, Kovio's efforts are in vain as Hikaru does not register any of his advice, causing him to leave in exasperation. While heading back to the farmhouse, Hikaru sees Hana waiting outside. She gives him a small bracelet made from white daisies as a token of her affection. Hikaru and Hana together go to the kitchen where they see their guardian/caretaker, Obasan, cooking dinner. Obasan is able to deduce that Heian had another angry outburst towards Hikaru and tells Hikaru to simply pay no mind. While sleeping, Heian has a disturbing dream, in which a voice repeatedly tells him to leave the farm and fulfill his dreams. He gets up from his bed and looks at the forest that leads to the outside world.

Chapter 1 v2.0: The Unorthodox Farmer
Spoiler
On the outskirts of the Sharia Kingdom, the largest country on Earth at this time, lies a quaint and quiet farmhouse surrounded by rows of various crops and endless grassland. Lying in the grass, 19-year-old Hikaru gazes at the cerulean-colored sky littered with clouds, a smile stretching across his pudgy, rounded face. The sun’s warm rays beat down on Hikaru’s light brown skin, giving it almost a golden glow. The gentle wind runs through his thick, black curly hair. His deep, slow breathing is in perfect harmony with the rhythmic expansion and subsequent contraction of his mountain of a stomach. 

“Oi Rory, have you ever thought about what lies beyond the sky? There could be a whole ‘nother world out there that we don’t even know about…” Hikaru says musingly, his eyes still fixed on the vast, blue sea above him.

Also feeling lethargic, Rory does not move a muscle and replies with a faint whimper. Hikaru smiles and pats his best friend’s dark brown fur, thinking how lucky he is to always have his trustworthy German shepherd by his side.

“Ah, we’re both feeling lazy today, ain’t we Rory?” he asks.

Suddenly, several cheerful children bombard Hikaru. Laughing, he tries to escape the barrage of excited children. Even Rory starts running around with the children, feeling more energetic.  One of the six children circling Hikaru smacks him in the back.

“Ow!” Hikaru says, rubbing his back.

Sticking out his tongue, a blonde-haired boy yells, “You’re ‘it’, Big Brother! Come and get us!”

“Oi, oi, you’re all faster than me. I can’t catch any of you buggers.”

Slowly walking up to Hikaru, a girl of only four to five years in age says timidly, “You can tag me, Big Brother. I don’t mind.”

“Oi Hana, you can’t just let him tag you! That’s cheating,” a brown-haired girl exclaims.

Hikaru, appearing as a giant next to the young girl, looks down to find two immense emerald beads, exuding beauty and innocence, gazing up at him. 

Patting the young girl’s head, her light blue hair tickling his hand, Hikaru says, “Haha, you’re too nice, little Hana. If I just tag you to avoid being ‘it’, that’s gonna make me look bad.”

Then, tickling her, he says teasingly, “Plus, you’re even slower than me, you silly girl.”

As Hikaru tickles her, Hana laughs uncontrollably and her cheeks turn a bright pink color that starkly contrast her pale skin.

“What are you brats doing?” rings a powerful bellow. The fun and light-hearted atmosphere instantly dispelled, Hikaru and the other children look towards the source of the voice to find two boys. Exuding frustration and contempt, the older of the two glares at Hikaru and the children with his fierce blue eyes, and they, in return, stare at the boy in fear and shock. The older one marches towards Hikaru and the others, his towering height and lean physique becoming increasingly apparent as he moves closer, while the younger boy follows closely behind him like a loyal attendant.

The older boy scrunches his eyebrows, his anger showing clearly through his sharp features, and crosses his arms, biceps bulging. 

“Why aren’t you good-for-nothing idiots doing the tasks that Obasan assigned?” he asks. “Go finish watering the crops, you brats!”

Disappointed that their fun had come to such an abrupt end, the five children do as they are told. Hana, however, stays at Hikaru’s side.

Turning to Hikaru, he starts, “And you…” “I should have known that you’d be frolicking around instead of working,” he scoffs.

“Oh come on, Heian. Relax a bit and take it easy for once,” Hikaru replies while scratching the back of his head and awkwardly chuckling.

Heian, ready to walk away with his back turned, says, “If ‘I took it easy’ nothing would get done in this damn place. Now go tend to the livestock like Obasan asked.”

Trying to catch Heian before he walks off, Hikaru reluctantly says, “But I already checked on them. They’re fine…”

Before Hikaru can finish his thought, Heian whips around, his rich brown hair flailing due to the speed of the rotation, and yells furiously, “Just get out of my sight already, fat ass!”

Heian’s outburst leaves Hikaru, Hana, and the other younger boy accompanying Heian absolutely stunned. Without uttering another sound, he walks off, the younger boy following close behind him. Hikaru and Hana stand in silence for a moment, until Hana finally breaks it.

“Big Brother…” Hana says, tugging on his shirt to bring Hikaru back to reality, who continues to stare in Heian’s direction with his mouth slightly hung open. Finally released from his daze, he looks at Hana with a forced smile, although it is clear that he is still recovering from Heian’s verbal blow.

“Are you feeling sad because of what Brother Heian said?” she asks, her eyes overflowing with sympathy.

“You worry too much, little Hana,” Hikaru says chuckling to maintain a good-spirited attitude. He kneels down to look her in the eyes, and holds her soft, immaculate hands. “Sometimes people say things they don’t mean. Brother Heian wasn’t trying to hurt me. He was just tired and frustrated because he’s been working a lot. But no matter what, we’re still brothers, still family. So everything’s fine, alright?” he asks consolingly.

Giving a slight nod in response and looking down at her feet, Hana says, “It’s just that I get really sad when Brother Heian says mean things to you.”

Unable to find the words to reciprocate Hana’s kindness, Hikaru simply brings her close to him and lightly kisses her forehead, causing a faint smile to brighten her worried expression and her pale cheeks to emit a brilliant pinkish glow.

At Hikaru’s encouragement, Hana scurries away, her feet gliding over the dancing grass. Hikaru simply watches Hana running into the distance for a moment, appreciating her mesmerizing grace.        

***
Deciding to save himself the pain of further verbal lashing from Heian, Hikaru does as he was told, tending to the livestock in his own special, idiosyncratic style that is devoid of any manual labor whatsoever – by talking to them.

Leaning against a cow with a pensive expression as though he is about to enter some sort of heated debate, he says, “So what do you think about the clouds, George?”

George, the name Hikaru apparently assigned to the cow he is leaning on, continues to graze nonchalantly. Rory, who lays in the grass grooming himself, also wants no part in Hikaru’s endless tirade. 

“Ah not in a talkative mood today, huh George? That’s fine. I’ll say what I think…” Hikaru says, still acting as though he’s speaking to a real person.

Looking up with the same thoughtful expression, he explains, “I think the clouds are like homes that people live in but they’re bigger than they appear, ya know. To us, they don’t look that big, but once you’re inside one then it seems a whole lot bigger…”

Off to the side, the young boy who was with Heian earlier watches confusedly as Hikaru chats away a storm…with a cow.

As he strolls towards Hikaru, Hikaru notices him and says with a delighted expression, “Hey Kovio! George and I hear were just having a discussion about the clouds.”

Clearly annoyed and struggling to suppress his anger, he says, “Y-you’re supposed to be tending the livestock.”

Not sensing Kovio’s mood, Hikaru with a goofy smile says, “Oh come on, little bro,” while slapping Kovio on the shoulder playfully.

“Why are you touching me?” Kovio mutters quickly and silently under his breath.

“This is tending the livestock! You see, I’m talking and interacting with them. I’m tending to them,” Hikaru says, placing extra emphasis on “tending.”

“No, no, no!” Kovio says shaking his head. “How many times do I have to tell you? Tending means you should be cleaning them, feeding them, you know? Tending!!”

Kovio appears to be on the verge of ripping out his hair.

“Ohh, that’s right,” Hikaru says with his hand on his chin as though he just had an epiphany. Then, he says smiling, “Don’t wory, little bro. I’m gonna get right on that,” although it is painfully obvious that he has no intention of doing so.

Sighing and placing his coarse hands on his face in exasperation, Kovio begins to walk away.

A few seconds after his conversation with Kovio, Hikaru spots a squirrel about 5 meters away nibbling away at its precious acorn ferociously. Freezing and eyeing the squirrel intensely, he whispers to Rory. “Hey Rory, you see that squirrel over there?”

Rory pops his head up, looks at the squirrel for a moment and then back at Hikaru, not understanding what is the big deal.

“I want him as my pet, Rory. I just gotta have him.” He slowly and surreptitiously sneaks up towards the squirrel. Once he feels as though he is within a reasonable distance, he breaks into full speed. Alarmed, the poor squirrel scurries away from the lumbering giant. Although the squirrel is clearly faster than him, he continues to chase it.

From a distance, Kovio stands turned around, watching Hikaru’s antics. Shaking his head and walking away, he mutters, “So useless…”     

***
As the sun slips away into the horizon and purplish pink hues emerge in the sky, signaling night’s approach, Hikaru plods back to the farmhouse, tired after a long day of pseudo work. At the entrance, he finds Hana waiting for him.

“Big Brother!” she exclaims jogging towards him.

“Little Hana, what are you doing out here all by yourself?” he asks.

“I wanted to give you something, but I didn’t want to do it in front of our siblings because I only made one for you.”

“Oh really? That’s very nice of you.”

“Since we couldn’t play tag, I went to the garden instead…and Obasan helped me make this for you.” Removing her hand from behind her back, Hana reveals to Hikaru a bracelet constructed from several white daisies held together by what seemed to be a sturdy string.

“Wow, this is amazing!” Hikaru exclaims, happily accepting his gift. “But why did you do this? You shouldn’t have gone through all the trouble.”

“It’s because Heian and everyone else make fun of you a lot, and so I wanted to do something nice for you,” she replies, her entire being just radiating kindness.

Hikaru hugs Hana in gratitude and says, “Thank you so much. I like it a lot.” He then proceeds to wear the bracelet, but notices soon afterwards that almost three-fourths of the bracelet’s length hang below his wrist.

“Oh no, it seems a bit big,” Hikaru says looking at the bracelet with his hand on his chin, causing Hana’s deep eyes to water with disappointment.

“I’m sorry, Big Brother. I can’t do a single thing right,” Hana says on the verge of tears.

“No, no, it’s okay,” he says trying to console her. After thinking for a second, Hikaru exclaims, “I’ve got an idea!” He moves the bracelet from his wrist to right above his triceps, where it tightly grips his arm.

“See, it’s all better now!” Hana seems pleased, a faint smile appearing across her lips.

He then says, “Come on, let’s get ready for dinner. I bet Obasan is cooking up something really nice.” With a nod full of conviction and a grin extending the entire width of her face, Hana follows Hikaru as they enter the farmhouse.
 
Immediately after entering, Hikaru and Hana head for the kitchen first, knowing that is where they will find their beloved Obasan.

“Something smells fantastic!” Hikaru exclaims, stepping into the kitchen cheerfully. He finds a short, elderly woman of about 60-70 years in age, toiling at the stove to cook some wonderful concoctions. Various seasonings, vegetables, and cooking utensils form a sort of fortress of solitude around the petite woman.

“Obasan!!” Hana yells as she dashes toward the amiable old lady and gives her a tremendous hug, almost tackling her into the stove.

“Be careful, Hana. You guys could get hurt,” Hikaru says in an admonishing yet concerned tone. 

Obasan defends Hana with her sweet and gentle voice. “It’s alright, Hikaru. Our sweet little Hana doesn’t know any better,” she says stroking Hana’s small back still trapped in the little girl’s embrace.

She then instructs Hana to get ready for dinner and she scurries out of the kitchen cheerfully and obediently.

“I know. She’s a gem…Hana told me you helped her make this bracelet for me. Thank you.”

Turning back towards the stove and resuming her stirring, Obasan says, “Hoho, it’s no problem, my dear. Hana was so excited about making this bracelet when she approached me for help that there was no way I could deny her.”

Hearing this, Hikaru simply smiles in appreciation of Hana.

Without taking her eyes off the stove, Obasan continues, “So was everything alright today?”

“Uh yeah, everything was fine. The pigs were a bit unruly but…” Hikaru starts to reply but Obasan interrupts him.

“That’s not what I meant…Did any of the other children give you a hard time?”

“No, not at all.”

Sensing the hesitation in Hikaru’s response, she says with a slight smile, “Ah, you’ve always been a terrible liar, Hikaru…So, was it Heian again?”

Hikaru does not respond. He wants to avoid pointing fingers at his brother but also knows that trying to lie to Obasan is useless.

Obasan continues, “Whatever he said or did, I hope you didn’t take it to heart. You already know by now Heian has a short temper and so he sometimes says things without thinking first.”

“Obasan, if I took everything Heian said to heart, then that would make me a terrible brother. No matter what he says to me, I won’t mind, because he’s my family.”

Smiling appreciatively, Obasan says, “Your forgiving and understanding nature is truly admirable, Hikaru. I hope you always keep this god given gift…” She brings up a spoon to her mouth and tastes her famous stew. 

Satisfied with the flavor, she instructs, “You should go wash up, my dear. Dinner is almost ready.”

Hikaru exits the kitchen to prepare for dinner.

***
Hikaru walks to his room ready to retire for the day and yawns obnoxiously, stretching his arms to the point that they might fall off his body.

Heian appears around the corner walking towards Hikaru to get to his own room. Their eyes meet for a moment. While they can both sense the tension and awkwardness, only Hikaru feels uncomfortable while Heian is unfazed.

“*censored*, it’s Heian. What should I do? What should I say? …I wonder if he’s still mad at me?” Hikaru thinks to himself. 

Unable to handle the silence and tension in the air, he decides to break the silence.

“Hey uh, good night,” Hikaru says with a forced smile.

“Yep,” Heian replies bluntly and walks right past him without another word.

Hikaru gazes at his brother, slightly disappointed by Heian’s complete disinterest in talking to him and still unsure of whether he is angry with him. 

Entering his own room, Heian strips down to his boxers and collapses onto his bed, exhausted after a long day of work. His eyelids flutter for a few minutes and then he falls fast asleep.

Although he appears to be in a peaceful and restful state, his inner mind is actually quite disturbed, swirling with thoughts and voices.

“Why…why do you stay on this farm?” the voice echoes in his head.

Within his mind, Heian floats in a gray, empty space surrounded by nothing except for the comments of the deep, unknown voice in his head.

“Why do you continue to work like a slave?” the voice continues.

Floating aimlessly, Heian looks around confused, trying to find the voice’s source. “Who are you?” he exclaims. “A-are you my conscience?”

“Yes…I am the embodiment of your feelings, your thoughts, your entire being,” the voice answers soothingly. “I know you…I know about your desire to leave this farm and pursue your dreams.”

This comment catches Heian by surprise, his eyes widening. He thinks that perhaps this voice truly is his conscience.

“Obasan, Hikaru, and the others prevent you from reaching your full potential, from realizing your dreams. They want to keep you as a slave. Go…Leave the farm,” the voice rings, now sounding more urgent and firm.

Shaking his head, he says softly and without conviction, “No…no, that can’t be true.”

“Leave…leave…” the voice reiterates.

Scrunching his eyes and putting his hands over his years, Heian tries desperately to shut out the voice, but now his head is filled with images and past memories.

He sees Obasan with her gentle yet serious expression preaching to him and the other children. “The Dark Ages are a reminder of the world’s cruelty. This farm is a beacon of light in a dark and dangerous world.”

He then sees Hikaru’s face, smiling goofily as always, “Man Heian, isn’t life on the farm great? We don’t have to worry about anything here!”

“Stop, stop!” he exclaims, his hands now pressed even tighter against his head and his eyes closed. Although he tries desperately to silence the images and voices, Obasan and Hikaru’s voices continue to replay over and over again.

He clenches his teeth and digs his fingers even deeper into the sides of his head. “Shut up!!” he screams at the top of his lungs.

Suddenly, Heian jolts awake, sitting upright in his bed. Panting due to stress and confusion, he moves his hand to his forehead and rubs it gently, feeling the thin layer of moisture that had formed over the course of his dream.

“These thoughts again…this is the fifth time this week. Usually it doesn’t happen this often,” he thinks to himself while looking down at his blanket musingly.

He slowly gets out of bed and walks over to a window in his room. Looking outside in the direction of a forest, he studies it calmly.

“So the outside world huh…” he says to himself.

As Heian stares at the forest, something, shrouded in darkness, ominously stares back. From the forest, a pair of eyes with green, piercing pupils peer eerily at the farm. 

END



Chapter 2 Summary
The next day, Heian and Kovio are working together on the farm. Kovio notices something has been off about Heian and asks him what's wrong. Heian tells him that he's tired of living on the farm like an animal in a cage and wants to leave and explore the world. As the sun sets, Kovio notices Hikaru playing instead of working as always and gets extremely mad at him, subconsciously blaming him for Heian's decision to leave. Hikaru is confused about Kovio's sudden burst of anger. At dinner time, Heian seems on edge and starts eating before finishing the prayers, which Obasan, Hikaru and the orphans always do before dinner. Obasan questions Heian, causing him to explode in anger. Heian expresses his distaste with living on the farm and under Obasan's rules but the tipping point is when he says that the other orphans are not his brothers and sisters, causing Obasan to tell him to get out of the house. As Heian sits on the ground outside the farm staring at a forest that leads to the outside world, Hikaru approaches him and sits next to him. Heian tells him that he is struggling to find happiness with life on the farm to which Hikaru responds that he will start doing more work to make life easier for Heian. Heian then goes to Obasan's room to apologize. They are both sad and sorry for how they acted during dinner time. Heian lets Obasan know that he'll be leaving the next morning, which Kovio overhears. Kovio asks Hikaru to try and stop Heian from leaving. The next morning Hikaru, who stayed up the entire night, finds Heian leaving the house. Hikaru doesn't try to stop Heian from leaving however, but just asks him why he didn't tell him that he was going to leave. Heian tells Hikaru that happiness cannot come from others but rather comes from oneself. And with that they say their goodbyes and Heian leaves the farm. 

Chapter 2 v2.0: The Departure
Spoiler
The loud thwacks of an axe relentlessly pounding against a block of wood reverberate throughout the farmland. Before taking his next powerful swing, Heian wipes the waterfall of sweat from his face with the back of his hand, and turns to Kovio.

“Go ahead and take this batch of wood to the farmhouse. I’ll have the next batch ready by the time you get back,” Heian says.

Kovio vocalizes his understanding, but does not act immediately. Instead, he pauses for a second, quietly watching Heian ferociously hack away at the wood.

Without stopping his work, Heian suddenly says, “Kovio, if something is the matter, then spit it out.”

Heian’s ability to sense his uneasiness surprises him. Before he can respond, Heian continues, “I noticed you’re a bit slower than usual…probably because you’re thinking a lot about something else. So, what’s bothering you?”

Stumbling on his words a bit, Kovio reluctantly replies, “Oh, it’s nothing, Big Brother…I was just thinking maybe we were a bit too harsh on our siblings yesterday.”

Still focused on his work, Heian says, “That’s nothing to worry about. Those stupid brats probably already forgot that I even yelled at them, and Hikaru...well, he’ll be fine.”

Heian adds, “Is that it…or is there anything else?” and shoots Kovio a glance from the side of his eyes after asking his question.

Unable to meet Heian’s fierce eyes, Kovio looks down and says, “Actually, there is…” He struggles to find the right words for a moment and then looks up once he collects his thoughts.

“Lately, you’ve not been yourself. You’re so detached and cold, and barely talk anymore.”
Thinking this is the perfect time to convey his suppressed thoughts, Kovio rambles on with animated body gestures.

“Your sudden outburst at Hikaru and the others yesterday made me realize that something is bothering you too, but you just keep it inside without saying a word about it. But bottling up your feelings like this is only gonna make it harder so I really think you should…”

Kovio abruptly stops speaking after Heian throws his axe aside and falls to the welcoming grass in a relaxed and comfortable position. Kovio cannot believe his eyes; it had been ages since he had last seen Heian take a break from work.

After releasing a loud sigh from exhaustion, Heian says,

“Alright, alright. I’ll tell you…”

The wind pushes his voluminous brown hair to one side as he gazes at Kovio with his mesmerizing blue eyes. 

“I’m tired,” he says calmly.

“Tired of what? Of working so much?” Kovio asks curiously.

Heian repositions himself to lean on the wooden stump and crosses his arms behind his head. “No...tired of life.”

“Tired of life? What the hell do you mean?” Kovio asks, slightly irritated by Heian’s cryptic statements.

“Kovio, I’ve been on this farm longer than you have. By the time you’re my age, you start to wonder…is this all there is? Am I really destined to spend my entire life as nothing but a poor farmer?”

Heian notices that Kovio is starting to understand what he’s trying to say as evident from the change in his facial expression. Now speaking with more energy, he continues, “Everday we do, see, and experience the same things over and over again. But there’s a whole world out there—a world full of great kingdoms and vast oceans. Haven’t you ever felt even the tiniest urge to explore what lies beyond this *censored*ty farm?”

“I mean…I have, but I never think about it too much because Obasan says that this farm is a sanctuary from all the suffering in the world.”

“Obasan thinks that she’s protecting us helpless orphans by keeping us in this farm. But the way I see it, this farm is just a cage. Think about it…why do you think the livestock don’t just run away?”

Heian pauses for a split second to see if Kovio would know the answer, but after realizing that he is completely clueless, he continues, “It’s because they know that once they go out there, they’ll have to fend for themselves, whereas on the farm, they’re guaranteed food and shelter. In other words, the animals value their security over their freedom…” Heian then turns his head, looking towards the thick forest that separates the farm from the rest of the world. “And after thinking about it, I’ve decided that I don’t wanna just be another animal on this farm,” he adds softly.

Finally understanding what Heian is trying to say, Kovio exclaims alarmed, “Wait a second. Don’t tell me you’re actually…”

Predicting what Kovio is about to say and still facing the forest, he interrupts, “That’s right. I’m thinking about leaving.”

Stunned and at a loss of words, Kovio simply stares blankly at Heian, but after a brief moment, he says, “But if you leave, everything’s gonna fall apart here!” What Kovio really wanted to say is that he would miss him dearly but he felt embarrassed to say it aloud.

“No, it won’t,” Heian replies, turning to face Kovio and speaking more didactically now. “I have faith in you, Kovio. When I’m gone, most of the work and responsibility will fall onto your shoulders even though Hikaru is older, but I’m confident that you’ll handle everything just fine and better than me, in fact.”

“Tch, if Hikaru wasn’t so useless, we wouldn’t have to work so much all the time and things would be a lot easier. If I whip his fat ass into shape, will you stay?”

Wearing a stern expression and glaring coldly, he says firmly, “Kovio! Do not let my negative attitude rub off on you. Hikaru is your elder brother and you should respect him as such no matter what.”

Surprised by Heian’s unexpected outburst in defense of Hikaru and trying to ease the mood, Kovio says awkwardly, “Haha, I know, I know Big Brother. I was just joking.”

“Good,” responds Heian curtly. Getting back on his feet and walking towards his axe, he then says, “Let’s get back to work.” And without another word, Heian resumes chopping while Kovio takes the wood to the farmhouse.

***
As the sun sets, the last of its rays vanishing into the darkness, Hikaru plays fetch with Rory. Hana is with them too laughing and enjoying the playful mood.

Kovio walks by them, watching from a distance. He pays no mind to their fun and laughter until he hears Hikaru shout while laughing, “Come on, Rory. Stop being so slow. You didn’t even do anything today.”

Hikaru’s comment suddenly lights a fire within Kovio. Immediately turning around wearing an angry expression, he stomps towards Hikaru and the others with quick and powerful steps.

Within range of hearing distance, he yells, “Hey, fatty!”

Thinking that Heian had come to scold him again, Hikaru cringes for a moment, scared to turn around.

But when he turns around, he is surprised to see Kovio striding towards him.

“Oh hey, little bro. Wh-”

Before he can finish, he is rudely cut off by Kovio, who puts his hands on his hips and asks rhetorically, “How’s fetch going? Having fun?”

“Uh-”

Again he interrupts Hikaru putting his hand in his face. “Don’t answer that!”

Hana and Hikaru are both surprised by Kovio’s actions; they’ve seem him upset before but never act so rudely to siblings, especially an older one at that.

He continues, “You know, it amazes me…that you feel it’s alright to not do a single thing around here while Heian and I work our asses off.”

“If you weren’t so useless, life would be so much better around here,” he adds with an almost disgusted expression directed towards Hikaru.

While Hikaru stands speechless, Kovio walks away, pouting and angry.

Gazing up at Hikaru with a worried expression, Hana asks, “Big
Brother, why was Kovio angry?”

His eyes still fixated on Kovio walking in the distance Hikaru answers with a blank expression. “I’m not…too sure.”

***
While soaking himself in a lake, Hikaru ponders over Kovio’s earlier statements, feeling slightly hurt and confused.

“Kovio is right…I don’t do much around here. But usually he never gets too mad about something like that. He knows about my lack of stamina and health issues…so I wonder what got him so mad?” he thinks to himself.

He returns to reality when he sees Heian walking by in his underwear drying himself with some cloth.

Noticing Hikaru himself, Heian says, “Oi slowpoke, hurry up a bit! I’m starving today and Obasan won’t let us eat until everyone’s at the table.”

Struggling to give a firm response, Hikaru replies with a nod, “Y-yeah, you got it!”

“He talked to me. Maybe, that means he isn’t mad at me anymore,” Hikaru wonders to himself in relief.

Lightly jogging into the kitchen, Hikaru finds everyone already sitting at the table, suppressing their urge to attack the delicious meal in front of them. He says, “Sorry I’m late, everyone.”

From the corner of his eyes, Hikaru can sense Heian glaring at him for taking a long time to bathe, and deliberately tries to avoid his gaze.

The blonde-haired boy from earlier teasingly says, “Jeez, Big Brother, what took you so long?”

After Hikaru takes his seat, Obasan says, “Alright children, let’s begin our prayer. I’ll do the honors today.”

Almost in unison, everyone closes their eyes and brings their hands together for prayer, except for one individual, whose scowl stands in stark contrast to the warm and gentle expressions of the other children in the room.

“*censored* this prayer bull*censored*,” Heian thinks to himself with a menacing expression, and then starts putting food on his plate.

The clinking of silverware hitting against a plate and his loud chewing disrupt the prayer. The younger children look at Heian with drool running from the side of their mouths, while the older ones look at him in utter astonishment. He continues to voraciously stuff himself despite attracting everyone’s attention.

Obasan decides to break the silence and leans over to look at Heian. “What are you doing, Heian?” she asks calmly, although her gentle smile has been replaced with a solemn expression.

With a mouth full of food, Heian grumbles, “What does it look like? I’m eating.”

Remaining calm, Obasan counters, “Have you forgotten that we pray before eating?”

“Nope.”

“So then why are you not…?”

Finally snapping and glaring at Obasan, he interrupts, “Because I don’t want to, okay? Is it so hard for you to understand that sometimes I don’t want to do every little thing that you want?

“Heian, I think you’re unhappy about something, but this is not the time to be arguing. Please calm down and we’ll speak later.”

“No, that’s not it. I’m not unhappy. I am just being able to see things clearer. I’m the only one who sees through your façade. You act like an innocent, little old lady but really you’re just a dictator who likes working us to the bone.”

Now looking at the other children, Heian continues, “Listen you guys. Don’t let this old lady treat you like animals. You are free to do what you want. Pray if you want, wake up and sleep when you want, leave this farm and pursue your dreams if you want.”

The children return Heian’s emotional monologue with blank stares, except for Hikaru. He exclaims, “Heian, that’s enough! Don’t speak ill of Obasan in front of our siblings. How can you be so ungrateful? Have you forgotten everything she’s done for us?”

Hikaru’s intervention only further infuriates Heian, who shoots out of his chair and says, “Shut the hell up, you stupid oaf. A completely useless person like you doesn’t even have the right to preach to me about gratitude.”

Hearing Heian deride Hikaru, Obasan loses her cool. “Heian! Do not say another word! Sit down and be quiet or leave the room.”

Some of his anger converting to bitterness and resentment, Heian says, “Jumping in to defend your little Hikaru, eh Obasan? He’s always been your favorite and you always take his side even though he does nothing while I work like a slave for you every single day!” Heian’s sadness becomes increasingly clearer as he speaks.

Trying to reason with him, Obasan replies, “Heian, please do not accuse of me of such a thing. I know that I ask more from you but that’s only because I trust and depend on you so much. I did not realize you were feeling overburdened. But that doesn’t mean you have the right to take your anger and frustration out on your family!”

“Family, heh,” scoffs Heians looking away for a moment. Redirecting his gaze onto Obasan, he yells, “Obasan, I don’t know if you forgot but…we’re orphans!! Our own, real families cast us aside. These kids are not my siblings, and you are not my mother!”

Heian’s comment leaves the entire room in silence, as the children, including Hikaru, stare at Heian in disbelief and disappointment. Looking away from Heian and breaking the silence, Obasan quietly says, “Get out.”

Full of regret, Heian tries to apologize and retract his earlier statement, but before he has the chance to do so, Obasan repeats angrily, “Get out now!!”

Without waiting another second, Heian does as he is told and dashes out of the house. Hikaru stands up ready to chase after Heian, but Obasan tries to stop him.

“Leave him be, Hikaru. Sit down and eat with your family,” Obasan says stoically, staring down into her lap.

“Let me take his food to him, at least. He’s extremely hungry and his food is getting cold.”

Hikaru deciphers Obasan’s lack of a response as tacit approval, and he also leaves to look for Heian.

Heian sprints a short distance to release all the negative energy welling up inside him. Running out of fuel, Heian finally slumps into the grass, looking towards the forest broodingly. A few cows and sheep around him are grazing, but they face the opposite direction; they want nothing to do with the outside world. The little remaining resentment in him causes an unpleasant memory to resurface – a moment from his childhood when he felt Obasan favored Hikaru over him.

He was only 12-years-old and had mastered how to ride a horse. He was so excited to tell Obasan about his fantastic accomplishment but just when he was about to do so, a young Kovio rushes towards them, stating that Hikaru was having trouble breathing due to overexerting himself while playing tag. Before running off to help Hikaru, Obasan left him with a blunt yet piercing comment: “Not now, Heian.”

Breaking from his daydream, Heian thinks to himself, “Tch, why am I thinking of that now?”

Hikaru suddenly appears behind Heian.

Hearing Hikaru’s footsteps, Heian asks, “What do you want, slowpoke?”

“Nothing. I just came to give you your food.”

Hikaru sets down the plate besides Heian and is about to walk off when Heian says, “I’m sorry.”

“Huh?” Hikaru replies. He thought he heard Heian apologize but wanted to be completely sure.

“I’m sorry for everything I said to you…yesterday and today.”

Hikaru sits next to Heian.

“If you want to say anything more, now is the time. Otherwise, I’m going back,” he says firmly.

“Hikaru…you and I, we’re not that much different,” Heian says calmly and stoically, still staring at the forest in front of him.
 
Hikaru does not reply and continues to look at Heian intently in expectation that he will elaborate on what he is trying to say.

He continues, “You think I haven’t noticed you looking up at the sky all the time? We both dream about exploring the unknown. Only difference is you wonder what’s up there, and I wonder what’s out there.”

“That’s not the only difference, Heian,” replies Hikaru also averting his gaze towards the forest. “Yes, I have dreams, but what you have are not dreams; they’re ambitions.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have a desire to fulfill your dreams and make them reality whereas I have no such desires.”

Heian turns to face Hikaru now feeling more engaged and interested in the conversation. “But why? Why do you spend your life on this farm just dreaming everyday and not doing anything about it?”

Hikaru slowly turns to face Heian, as well. “Because I’m happy here. Isn’t that what we all want in life – happiness…?” He peers into Heian’s eyes for a moment and then says while looking down at the grass, “Perhaps Heian, you’ve become unhappy and that is why you are looking for more in life.”

“I suppose you’re right…” Heian says broodingly, returning his gaze to the forest.

Noticing that Heian is in a bit of a slump, Hikaru places his hand on Heian’s shoulder and shines a big grin. “Don’t worry, Brother. You’ll get over this phase and be happy again in no time. I’ll try to start carrying my own weight and making sure that the other children are doing their work so that things are easier for you, okay?”

Smiling faintly, Heian replies, “Yeah…sounds good.”

It is clear that Heian doubts whether Hikaru and the others will be able to succeed in rekindling his happiness with life on the farm, but before Hikaru can sense his uncertainty, he quickly changes the subject.

“Oi, by the way slowpoke, why is some food missing from my plate?”

“Well, it took a while to look for you and it was tempting me…”

“You ate it didn’t you!?”

Before Hikaru is able to respond, Heian leaps up and starts chasing him playfully. Despite their difference in opinions and personalities, the two brothers’ relationship remains resolute.

As Obasan sits on her bed knitting, she notices Heian slowly trod into her room with an apologetic expression and demeanor. Even Obasan feels no anger at Heian; rather, she also feels regretful for evicting him out of the house.

Deciding to speak first and looking down in shame, Heian says, “Obasan, I’m so sorry…”

“No, I’m at fault. I was overburdening you with so much work and making life unpleasant, but I was too blind to realize.”

Obasan’s eyes start to tear and few globules of water trickle down her aged skin. 

After seeing Obasan cry, Heian feels even more guilty and regretful of his earlier actions. “Never, Obasan. There are no words to describe how grateful I am to you…for taking in us orphans and providing such a happy life. I only used the work and the strict rules as excuses for my unhappiness…But Obasan, I don’t think I can stay on this farm any longer, because I am not happy with myself. And I don’t think I can find happiness until I fulfill my dreams.”

Setting her knitting aside and smiling through her tears, she says nostalgically, “I should have known this day would come; you were always more ambitious and imaginative than your siblings…” After a brief pause, she adds with a smile, “When you were young, you used to pretend that you were a great king and the other children were your subjects…I miss those times.”

Heian pauses for a moment to try and recapture those memories himself. “I’m going to miss those times, too…and I won’t be gone forever; I’ll be back. I wanted to tell you though that I plan to leave tomorrow morning itself…” 

Kovio, who was standing outside Obasan’s room, was shocked when hearing this. 

“And so I’ve come to ask for your blessings.”

Obasan gestures Heian to come closer. He kneels down at her feet and she gently pats his head with her right hand.

“Be safe, my dear and I hope you find what you seek.”

“Thank you, Obasan,” he says while standing up.

He hangs around for a moment but seeing Obasan gazing aimlessly at her feet, he assumes that she has nothing more to say and turns around to leave the room.

Obasan stops Heian just as he is about to exit.

“Heian, just remember one thing…I know you don’t believe the stories I tell of the Dark Ages, but they are true. Some of the greed and selfishness that characterized that period has seeped into the current era, transforming people into monsters. Please be wary, my dear. Do not let the evil of this world corrupt your pure soul.”

Heian simply replies, “Okay,” and leaves.

Looking at the cloth she was knitting with an apprehensive expression, Obasan thinks, “Why do I feel as though I have made a terrible decision?”

Kovio finds Hikaru cleaning up the dinner table in the kitchen. With a worried and solemn expression, he says, “Hikaru,” but before he can continue Hikaru cuts him off.

With his goofy smile and heroic pose, he says “Op! Stop right there, little bro. I know you want to apologize for earlier but there’s no need for that. I totally understand that you and Heian have been feeling overwhelmed with so much work.” Then, he flashes a thumbs-up to Kovio and says, “So, like I said to Heian, I’m gonna start picking up the slack around here to help you guys out!”

Although Hikaru is simply bursting with energy, Kovio does not reciprocate any of his liveliness and responds morosely, “Oh, that’s good…but I didn’t come to apologize.” 

Feeling slightly offended by Kovio’s statement, Hikaru tries to hide it by saying, “Oh yeah, psh. I knew that, haha.”

“Rather, I came to ask you for a favor.”

Sensing the sadness in his brother’s voice and wanting to help him, Hikaru immediately jumps on the request. “Oh yeah, anything for you little bro. What’s up?”

Looking down at his feet, Kovio says, “I overheard Obasan and Heian talking earlier…” Then, looking up at Hikaru with a blank stare, he adds, “Heian plans to leave tomorrow morning…forever.”

A brief moment of silence interrupts their conversation as Hikaru absorbs what Kovio just said. After the conversation he just had with Heian, this was shocking news for him. 

Breaking the silence, Kovio says, “You’re the only one who can stop him Hikaru. If it’s anybody, he’ll listen to you.”

Unconfidently, Hikaru replies, “Yeah, I’ll try but-”

Before he can finish, Kovio interrupts, “If you do this Brother, I’ll never get mad at you, or ask you to do any work, or-”

Hikaru walks over and places his hand on Kovio’s shoulder to stop him from rambling. “Hey, it’s okay, alright? Heian’s not going anywhere,” he says with a smile. However, deep within his conscience, even Hikaru knows that there is nothing he can do to stop Heian from leaving.   

Still having a worried expression, Kovio looks up at the bear-sized boy looming over him. “Thank you, Hikaru,” he says and walks out of the kitchen.

After Kovio leaves, Hikaru’s smile immediately transforms into a frown, as he ponders over this sudden revelation.

He squeezes the towel in his hand from stress and thinks to himself about Heian, “He lied straight to my face! But why? Why would he tell me that he’s gonna stay and get over his slump and then decide to leave the next morning. Heian…what the hell are you thinking, you idiot!?”

***
Close to six o’clock in the morning, Heian exits his home for 19 years ready to embark on his fated journey only to find a red-eyed, extremely sleepy Hikaru leaning against a wooden stump. It is evident he had stayed awake the entire night to catch Heian before he departed.

The two exchange glances and remain silent for a few moments. 

“I hope you’re not here to try and stop me, because if you are, you’re wasting your time,” Heian finally says bluntly to Hikaru, who looks out at the forest aimlessly.

“No…even if I wanted to, I think I’m too tired to try,” Hikaru chuckles, standing up and walking over towards Heian sluggishly. “But I need to ask you. Yesterday, why didn’t you tell me you didn’t want to stay here when I said that I would try to help you feel happy again?” he adds looking intently at Heian.

Heian does not back down from Hikaru’s gaze and answers him with conviction. “I didn’t know how to say it then, but I’ll say it now. Happiness cannot come from others but instead comes from within. You should remember this, Hikaru. What would you do if you did not have Obasan or our siblings? How would you find happiness then?”

Hikaru is caught by surprise. He never really thought about life without Obasan or the other children, but rather took it for granted. He looks down for a moment not knowing how to answer Heian’s question. He knows that there is not much more to say, that it is finally time to let his brother and life-long friend go off on his journey.

“I see…well then, I hope you find your happiness, Heian,” Hikaru says, looking up and extending his hand out for a handshake.

Shaking Hikaru’s hand, Heian says, “Make sure to help out Obasan as much as you can, slowpoke. She’s getting old so she’ll need all the help she can get.”

“I’ll do my best, Brother.”

Turning around, Heian begins walking away towards the forest that separates the farm and the unknown. Without walking away and waving casually, he adds, “Try to set a good example for all the brats too.”

Before Hikaru knew it, Heian was already several miles away, appearing as merely a black silhouette against the rising sun. While Heian would continue to move forward at a breakneck pace, he would never forget the days he spent on the farm, as evident by the proliferous tears that raced down his face.

Hikaru stood in place watching his brother until he was nothing more than a speck in the distance. 
 
END
« Last Edit: April 08, 2015, 12:07:02 PM by God Usopp »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

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Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2015, 12:11:25 PM »
Chapter 3 Summary
The story transitions to the Realm of Light, a world inhabited by angels, where the King of Angels, Lucidus, convenes a meeting with his Cabinet. His Cabinet consists of three members: a seer, Yogen; his brother, Oruda; and the military commander, Guran. They discuss that angels are dying on Earth at the hands of demons and that darkness is rising again. Lucidus asks Yogen if his son, Hikaru, is faring well as Yogen always keeps watch over Hikaru with his powers. On Earth, Hikaru finds himself with more work now that Heian is gone; he has had to take on more responsibility. While working, Hana appears suddenly pestering him to play with her. He reacts aggressively and scolds her to which she runs away crying and saying that Heian used to always play with her. He decides he needs a break to calm down and takes a nap. Kovio wakes him up when the sun is setting. Kovio is mad at Hikaru for not making an effort to stop Heian from leaving. After returning to the farmhouse, Obasan scolds Hikaru for not doing his task and taking a nap instead. After hearing her cry, he realizes that she is angrier than usual because she feels sad about Heian leaving. As Hikaru works in the fields at night, picking more fruits and vegetables for dinner he realizes the farm is on fire. He rushes over there to see what happened and sees the dead bodies of his siblings on the floor. He then goes into the kitchen and is attacked by a demon but Obasan protects him, revealing that she is an angel by the name of Patrona assigned to protect him by his father. She gives Hikaru a medallion and tells him to protect it with his life. Hikaru runs away while Obasan/Patrona fights against the demon. As Hikaru runs into the forest, a mysterious woman watches the scene of disaster.

Chapter 3 v2.0: Till Kingdom Come
Spoiler
Far beyond the universe of mankind exists the Realm of Light, a world inhabited by angels. Luscious, green fields, pristine oceans, and modernized gothic-style architecture characterize the landscape of this world.

War, poverty, and crime have never set foot on this land; they are complete strangers here. The notions of night and darkness are also completely unfamiliar to the inhabitants, as the Torch of Vatra constantly illuminates the Realm of Light. The Torch of Vatra is a towering structure on top of which burns an eternal flame created long ago by the Fire God himself. Not far from the Torch is a colossal castle surrounded by a vast courtyard. This is King’s Court, where King Lucidus, the Ruler of the Realm of Light, and his officials reside.

During a peaceful day in the realm like any other, children play in the courtyard of King’s Court while a meeting takes place inside the castle involving King Lucidus and his Cabinet, which consists of his three closest advisors. These advisors are Yogen, the seer who sees and predicts all; Guran, the commander of the realm’s military forces; and Oruda, the King’s brother. The room is small and dim-lit with a few orb-like devices serving as the only sources of light. King Lucidus and the Cabinet sit at a small round table.

“As always, thank you for joining me, my friends,” Lucidus begins, looking at each of his advisors.

He continues, “I have convened this meeting today to address the issue of the growing power and presence of demons on Earth. Yogen informed me that two angels died on Earth recently at the hands of demons.”

“They were exceptional angels…Truly a tragedy,” Yogen says morosely, looking down and shaking his head.

“Oh so those halflings are still welcoming demons, heh,” Oruda snarls disinterested, his tone oozing with condescension towards humans and demons alike.

“While there is less suffering and disease, greed and lust for power persist. The demons are taking advantage of humans’ evil desires and winning their favor,” Lucidus replies, his tan-skinned face appearing solemn and worried.

Suddenly, the man sitting in between Yogen and Oruda bangs the table with his fist and sits upright. “Your Grace, allow me to lead an army into the human realm. I can easily put an end to these atrocities!” exclaims Guran with a fierce expression.

Lucidus replies calmly, “No, such an action would turn Earth into the new battleground for the Eternal War. I banished my son from this realm for almost doing exactly that.”

Using the mention of Hikaru to change the topic, Yogen says, “Your Grace, speaking of your son, perhaps it is wise to move Hikaru into the Realm of Light with Earth becoming increasingly unsafe.”

Yogen’s suggestion provokes an outburst from Oruda, who suddenly becomes more engaged in the conversation. Leaning forward and glaring at Yogen, he exclaims, “Yogen, don’t be ridiculous! Humans are forbidden from entering our realm; Hikaru must once again become an angel before he can return.”

Gazing down at the table and with a brooding expression, Lucidus declares, “Oruda is right…we cannot bring Hikaru into our realm yet. We can only hope that Hikaru and the other humans save themselves from the rising darkness before it is too late.”

With that final statement, Lucidus stands, signaling the end of the meeting. Oruda and Guren quickly leave the room, while the elderly Yogen slowly crawls towards the exit with his walking stick. Lucidus intercepts Yogen before he leaves, however, to talk with him in private.

“My good friend…How is my son doing?” Lucidus asks softly, placing his hand on Yogen’s back.

Yogen chuckles. “Ah, asking about Prince Hikaru again, Your Grace? Do not worry. I have been observing him through the Orb of Clairvoyance.”

Continuing to speak consolingly, he places his hand on Lucidus’s arm. “He is fine. Although it has only been one flare since he was banished, he has already reached adulthood since time on Earth passes by much faster than it does here in our realm. He is happy and healthy, and Patrona is watching over him carefully.”

“I see…I’m glad to hear that. I apologize for constantly pestering you but nowadays I can only think about my son. Even now I wonder what he’s doing…”

***
Rising slowly from his cot, Hikaru yawns loudly, his massive stomach bulging. The nascent rays of sunshine peek into his room. After letting hyperactive Rory lick him a few times, he climbs out of his bed to wash his face and get ready for another day of work.

Upon entering the kitchen, Hikaru finds his siblings enjoying a hearty breakfast while Obasan works away her magic at the stove.

“Ah Hikaru! Have some breakfast,” Obasan says, her face beaming with warmth.

Hikaru happily takes a place at the table and Obasan sets a scrumptious omelet before him, ripe for devouring.

While enjoying his breakfast, he and Obasan notice Kovio about to leave the farmhouse.

“Come have some breakfast, my dear,” Obasan says enthusiastically.

However, Kovio bluntly responds, “No”, and leaves the farmhouse to do his work.

Obasan’s disappointment from Kovio’s response shows clearly in her face as she stands in contemplation for a moment.

“He’s been acting weird lately,” Hikaru says with a confused expression, referring to Kovio’s refusal to join them for breakfast. “Breakfast has always been his favorite.”

“He’s upset at me for not stopping Heian,” Obasan replies sadly. “He’s always looked up to him, and now that he’s gone, he probably feels like he has this empty void inside him.”

From Obasan’s expression and tone, he can tell that Kovio is not the only one missing Heian dearly, but her as well. She simply resumes her work at the stove and Hikaru goes back to stuffing his face with omelet.

After finishing breakfast, Hikaru trudges out of the house to do his work but Obasan stops him before he leaves.

“One second, Hikaru. Here’s a list of fruits and vegetables I need for dinner tonight. Heian used to take care of this but since he’s not here, I’m asking you. I hope it’s not too much.”

Hikaru takes the small parchment from Obasan’s gentle hands and examines the litany of ingredients. He hesitates for a moment unsure of whether he will truly be capable of completing the task. However, he also does not want to let Obasan down so he accepts it. “No problem, Obasan. I can do it.”

“Are you sure?” she asks.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Hikaru says with a smile as he leaves the house. 

***
Hikaru’s feet shuffle sluggishly through the tall grass of the cornfield. His pet, Rory, follows slowly behind him.

“Oi Rory, this is a lot of work, huh? Now I realize how much Heian did around here…”

Rory simply whimpers in response, also tired from the constant moving and working.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go, bud. Obasan needs a lot of ingredients for dinner today,” he says as he picks some vegetables from the crops and places them in his basket.

As he exits the cornfield and walks through the tall grass to his next task, Hana suddenly attacks him.

Laughing and running, she pats him and yells, “Tag! You’re ‘it’!”

“Oh, hey, little Hana,” Hikaru says slightly irritated by her sudden appearance. “Maybe we can play tag another time, okay?”

“No, no! Let’s play now, Big Brother!” she replies disobediently yet playfully, tagging him again.

“Come on, Hana. Not now,” Hikaru says more firmly.

However, Hana ignores Hikaru. She continues to circle around him, her hair appearing like blue streaks in the wind. She skips blissfully without a care in the world.

Usually, Hikaru would join right into the fun without a shred of hesitation. However, feeling extremely overwhelmed with the work, he loses his patience. He grips her arm tightly and yells, “Stop it,” leaving Hana completely shocked and scared.

He releases his grip, surprised by his own outburst of frustration and regretful of scolding his dear little sister.
 
Her eyes watering and her voice shaking, Hana says, “You’re mean! Heian used to always play with me.” Hikaru tries to apologize but she runs off in tears.

Brooding over what Hana had just said, Hikaru remembers a time when he saw Hana and Heian playing tag. Hana was giggling as always and Heian was yelling, “I’m gonna get you, you bugger.”

“That’s right…” he recalls to himself. “Heian had so much work and still used to play with her all the time. I don’t even have one-fourth of the work he had and I couldn’t entertain her for five minutes…” 

He releases a loud sigh and looks at Rory lying down in the grass. “Actually Rory, a short break wouldn’t hurt right?” he says thinking that another daydreaming session might relieve him of some stress.

Settling in the grass next to Rory, he gazes up at the sky like he always does. He stares for a moment but soon his drowsiness overtakes him. His eyelids flicker several times, finally closing permanently.

***
Feeling something shaking him, he slowly opens his eyes to find Kovio leaning over him. 

“Oh, hey Kovio…*censored*, it’s night already!” Hikaru exclaims looking around.

“No *censored*, genius…How long have you just been lying around for anyways? Did you get everything Obasan asked for?” he asks with his hands on his hips.

“Well…kinda,” Hikaru says nervously as he stands up.

“Jeez,” Kovio says looking inside Hikaru’s basket, his face suddenly assuming an expression of exasperation.

Turning to Hikaru, he asks with frustration, “This is all you have? I should have known…” Kovio suddenly remembers what Heian told him before he left about respecting Hikaru, and immediately alters his tone and demeanor.

“I mean, it’s not a lot but it’s good enough. If you could take it to Obasan since it’s almost dinner time, that would be nice,” Kovio says, forcing himself to speak and act as respectfully as possible. Hikaru simply stares at him, confused by his sudden change in behavior, but then, it hits him. He looks down at the ground and says, “Heian told you to be nice to me, didn’t he?”

Mention of Heian suddenly dampens the mood. Kovio, about to walk away, stops in his tracks and stands facing away from Hikaru. He replies coldly, “So…what of it?”

Hikaru pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts. The icy gusts of the night bite at his skin, the cold feeling further amplified by the gloomy atmosphere that Heian’s absence has left on the farm.

He looks at Kovio and says, “Kovio…if you’re mad at me about not stopping Heian, you can tell me.”     

Still turned around, Kovio replies bitterly, “No, why would I be mad Brother? All you did was give me empty promises and cool guy poses.”

“Kovio, I really did try! What did you want me to do? Break his legs?”

“Heh, like you’d ever put enough effort for something like that,” Kovio scoffs, maintaining his sarcastic tone. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone now.”

Kovio begins to walk away again but Hikaru tries to stop him. “I know you miss Heian but come on, little bro! Don’t be so down. Everything’s gonna be alright.”

Finally, Kovio turns around to face Hikaru and yells, “Everything’s not gonna be alright!”

Hikaru is slightly taken aback by Kovio’s sudden outburst of emotion and the streams of tears slowly rolling down his face.

Kovio continues heatedly, “Everything’s alright for you cause you’re always in your own little world. You still walk around with that carefree attitude and stupid smile. You don’t care that Heian left at all while the rest of us –”

Kovio stops abruptly, trying to hold back tears. Embarrassed by his display of emotion, he turns around to leave. Wanting to comfort him, Hikaru yells out his name but Kovio continues to jog towards the farmhouse.

Sympathizing with his brother, he thinks, “Kovio…”   

***
Hikaru enters the kitchen to find Obasan knitting at the table casually, which is in stark contrast to how he usually finds her—toiling and sweating at the stove.

Looking up and smiling at Hikaru, she says, “Ah, you’re back! Did you get everything?”

“Yeah. Here you go,” Hikaru replies, handing the basket of fruits and vegetables to Obasan.

She stands up and after taking a quick peek into the basket, her smile slowly fades away. “What is this?” she asks.

“The ingredients you asked for.”

“Yes Hikaru, but this is not even one-fourth of what I asked for. Where are the rest?” she asks with a stern expression.

“I’m sorry, Obasan. This is all I was able to get,” he replies, shrugging his shoulders.

Slightly irritated, Obasan raises her voice. “Hikaru, don’t lie to me. I know you’re capable of more than this. Tell me the truth.”

“Uh, I may have dozed off for a bit,” Hikaru says chuckling awkwardly and looking down.

Obasan, on the other hand, is not amused. She lets out a sigh and placed the basket on the table, while gazing at Hikaru seriously.

“So instead of doing what I asked, you decided to take a nap?”

“It’s not that I wanted to Obasan. I was tired and I dozed off without realizing. I’m really so-,” he starts but she interrupts him.

“Apologizing won’t help Hikaru. I don’t have enough ingredients to make dinner for all the children because you weren’t responsible.”

“But Obasan, I’m not good at doing things like this. I’m slow and get tired easily and-” Hikaru replies defensively but Obasan interrupts him. 

“Are you telling me you plan to stay how you are forever? I thought that after Heian left I could rely on you, that you would be more active and responsible. But I see now that you’re still living without a care in the world. It’s time to grow up Hikaru.”

Hikaru is absolutely stunned, his mouth unable to articulate any response. Obasan has scolded him before, but never like this.

Taking her eyes off of Hikaru and going back to her knitting, Obasan says casually, “Go get as many ingredients as you can in the next couple hours. And you can explain to the children why we’re having a late and small dinner today when you get back.” 

Hana, who was observing their discussion from the entrance of the kitchen, walks towards Obasan and tugs at her gown.

“Obasan, why are you mad at Hikaru?” she asks innocently.

However, Obasan completely ignores her and continues her knitting.

Sensing that Obasan no longer wants to talk to him, he picks up the basket and leaves the kitchen wondering why Obasan was in such a bad mood. His question is answered, however, as he exits the house when he hears muffled sobs. He immediately recognizes the sobs of his dear old guardian, who was grieving over the loss of one of her children, Heian. The grief that Obasan held inside was directed as frustration towards him. Hikaru staggers at the entrance, his mind occupied by Obasan’s crying.

Now understanding what Kovio was trying to say earlier, he thinks sadly, “So you too, huh Obasan?” and leaves the house to do his work.

With Rory by his side, Hikaru labors in the field, picking various fruits and vegetables, his mind distracted with thoughts about everyone’s emotions and reactions to Heian’s absence.

He thinks about Hana, Kovio, and Obasan and how much they all miss Heian. Unable to handle the medley of emotions welling up inside of him, he snaps, throwing the tomato he just picked into the forest – the same forest that Heian passed through to reach the outside world.

“It’s all your fault, idiot!!” Hikaru yells in the direction of the forest. “You probably don’t even think about us out there and everyone over here misses you so much…I miss you so much,” he says, finally calming down and quieting his voice. “Damn it, just come back al-”

Hikaru is unable to finish his sentence because his senses explode. The distinct smell of smoke fills his nostrils; Rory’s barking pounds away at his eardrums; and the stampede of livestock heading into the forest distract his vision. He whips around to find a pillar of smoke and fire rising from the farmhouse.

“Oh no…” he mutters, and sprints back to the house.

Maneuvering his way through the dancing flames, he kicks down the front door to find only devastation and ruin. He starts walking into the house, shouting out the names of his siblings to see if anyone is there. As he walks forward, his foot hits some sort of heavy object. The sight that meets Hikaru when he looks down to see what he stumbled upon is one that will be forever burned in his mind.

The dead bodies of his brothers and sisters littered the floor with blood splattered everywhere. And the body he stumbled upon belonged to Kovio. Kovio’s eyes stared blankly into space and his chest was replaced by a gaping crimson hole. This was the first time Hikaru was introduced to the gruesome phenomenon of death. He could not fathom the situation; he could not understand whether he was experiencing reality. He screamed at the top of his lungs, tears flowing from his eyes like torrential rain.

Muttering to himself that this must be a dream, Hikaru examines body after body. “No, no please, please,” he mumbles to himself repeatedly, his eyes bulging and body sweating.

When he gets to Hana, he can no longer control himself. He wails uncontrollably at the top of his lungs and squeezes her petite body in his arms. She felt limp and wobbly, as her bones had been completely crushed.

Suddenly, Hikaru hears groaning coming from the kitchen. Gently setting down Hana, he dashes to the room to find Obasan trapped in a pile of debris. Hikaru rushes to her aid and tries to help remove the debris.

“Hikaru…” she says weakly.

“Don’t worry. I’m here, Obasan. I’m gonna get you out!” he exclaims hurriedly.

As Hikaru struggles to remove the debris, a terrifying and monstrous creature almost seven feet in height appears in the entrance of the kitchen. It fixes its paralyzing gaze on Hikaru, Rory, and Obasan. Hikaru notices its sharp blue pupils, which stand in contrast to its red sclera. Horns protrude from its head and fangs jut out of its mouth. Its shaggy brown hair almost reaches its knees.

As the monster makes its way towards them, Rory leaps in its path, growling confrontationally.

“No, Rory!” yells Hikaru fearing for Rory’s life.

Rory attacks the monster and bites its leg, causing it to release a ground-shattering roar.

Meanwhile, Hikaru is still struggling to lift the debris off of Obasan. He is close but the weight of the debris becomes increasingly more difficult to handle.

The monster flings Rory into the wall, grabs him, and rips him into two. After throwing Rory’s remains aside, the monster starts to well up its chest, charging up for something – something bad.

Seeing Rory so violently butchered, Hikaru uses his anger and fear to channel the last bit of energy into fully removing the debris from Obasan, releasing a fierce cry while doing it. However, Obasan remains unconscious and immobile.

“Obasan, wake up!” he yells, shaking her lightly. As he turns towards the demon, his vision is filled with a blast of flame rocketing towards him. He turns away and closes his eyes for a moment.

Opening his eyes again and looking forward, he finds two feathery white wings embracing him. Hovering over him is a young woman, whose pale skin, pristine white clothes, and soothing aura make her appear as light itself. The woman whips around to face the monster.

“You have done well, Hikaru,” she says, revealing her melodious, sweet voice.

“Who are you?” he asks, eyeing her suspiciously.

“You don’t recognize me, my dear?” she asks turning her head back, her gentle, silvery eyes peering at him.

“O-obasan?!” he asks in disbelief.

The monster does not waste any time; again it leans back, welling up its chest. 

“Yes…but my real name is Patrona, Guardian of Light, and I am an angel!” she declares and repels another ball of fire with her wings. The dispersed flames dance around her, giving her a shining and graceful appearance.   

“Hikaru, you must go!” she says turning around once more.

“What about you? I can’t just leave you here with that thing!”

“Listen to me! This demon will kill you and I can’t let that happen. I promised your father that I would keep you safe.”

Although Hikaru wants to help Patrona, her mention of death fills his mind with images of his lifeless siblings and mutilated pet dog. Terrified by the notion of ending up in a similar state, he obeys his guardian’s command. But before he flees the scene, Patrona hands him a medallion she was wearing around her neck.

“Take this and protect it with your life. Do you understand?”

“Wh-what is it?”

But before she can respond, the demon tries to leap onto Hikaru. Patrona intercepts the attack, forming a barrier that sends the demon flying backwards.

“Go already! What are you waiting for?”

Hearing the urgency in her voice, Hikaru doesn’t waste another second. He clutches the medallion tightly in his hand and shouts loudly, “Don’t die, Obasan!!” before sprinting out of the house.

In response to Hikaru’s final message, Patrona says to herself, “Don’t worry, my dear. I’ll be with you ‘till kingdom come.” She then faces off against the demon.

Meanwhile, Hikaru runs like he’s never done before, heading straight for the forest. The desire to survive gives him the everlasting fuel to keep running.

A shadowy figure observes the burning farm from a distance. The darkness and shrubbery of the forest conceal her full appearance. Her black hair is long and strewn with black strands covering parts of her eyes and face. Her green piercing eyes starkly contrast her gray skin. But the most distinguishing characteristic is the wicked smile she wears as she peers at the farm and chews on the tomato that Hikaru had thrown into the forest earlier.   

END
« Last Edit: April 08, 2015, 12:07:57 PM by God Usopp »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Check out my stories here: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php?topic=12492.msg213349#msg213349

Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2015, 11:42:38 PM »
Chapter 4 Summary
While sleeping in the forest, Hikaru has a nightmare, in which his siblings all died suddenly right before his eyes with blood flowing from their mouths. He wakes up and realizes that his dream is actually reality and that his family is really all dead. After mustering up his courage, he decides to go back to the farm and look for Obasan. Once at the farm, he realizes that Obasan is dead as well. He cries for being a coward and not being there to help her. He buries all his siblings and his caretaker and starts yelling at God for his suffering. He starts crying over Hana's grave on the bracelet she gave him. He realizes that his tears were causing the flowers to grow anew again, white and pure. Hikaru wonders if this is a message from God and starts looking around. He notices the wooden stump with an axe stuck in it and remembers something Heian said to him before he left. He then realizes that he's not alone; he has the memories of his family and his brother. Hikaru takes the axe, the bracelet, and the medallion and embarks on an adventure to look for Heian.

Chapter 4: I'm Not Alone
Spoiler
Warm sunshine juxtaposed with the cool air creates the perfect weather on this autumn day. The leaves of the shrubbery in the forest have lit up in an explosion of orange and red, contrasting the yellowish brown color of the grass and crops in the farmland.

The sun bathing him in its light and the wind lightly biting at his skin, Hikaru glides through the grass with Rory by his side, reveling in this beautiful day. A wide smile illuminates his countenance and a melodious tune resonates from his mouth.

Suddenly, Hikaru stops humming and skipping when an image of several objects lying in the grass pops into his field of vision. Wanting a better view, he scrunches his eyes and walks closer to find all his siblings, except Heian, lying in the grass motionless, eyes closed.

His pleasant expression converting to one of slight bamboozlement, Hikaru wonders what his siblings are doing.

“Oi, what are you guys doing? Taking a nap? I thought that’s supposed to be my job,” he chuckles.

However, after receiving no response, a lump forms in his throat, as he looks down at all of them in worry and fear.

“Guys?!” he asks anxiously, gazing at each of his siblings in apprehension.

But still, he hears no response. He rushes to the blonde-haired boy’s side, kneels down, and shakes him vigorously.

“Oi, what’s wrong? Wake up!” he yells desperately.

Suddenly, the blonde-haired boy flashes his eyes open and sticks out his tongue while grinning slyly. Immediately afterwards, the rest of the children also awaken while laughing and running.

The brown-haired girl approaches the blonde-haired boy and says, “We got him so good, didn’t we?” with a mischievous grin and high fives him.

Hikaru continues to stare blankly in confusion and shock at his laughing siblings.

“Wh-what’s goi-” Hikaru starts, but before he can finish the blonde-haired boy slaps his cheeks, squeezes them together, and looks him square in the eyes.

“It’s okay, Big Brother. Calm down. It was just a prank,” he says slowly to ensure Hikaru registers his words.

He removes his hands and Hikaru’s cheeks bounce back into shape. Hikaru lets out a loud sigh and notices Kovio and Hana walking towards him.

“You guys were part of this too?” he asks standing up on his feet.

“They forced me too,” Kovio says looking away embarrassedly, while Hana simply giggles innocently.

“Guys!” Hikaru yells, attracting everyone’s attention. The children look at him wondering why he interrupted their fun.

Having their attention, he continues with a concerned expression, “I know you guys just wanted to play a joke but you cannot do that!”

“Are you mad at us, Big Brother,” a voice peeps from below. Hikaru looks down to find two little beady eyes gazing up at him.

He kneels down to look Hana directly in the eyes and says, “No, no, I’m not mad…”

Sadness then overwhelms him, his eyes watering slightly, as he looks at Hana. “But I was scared. For a second I thought, I lost you guys forever.”
Without a sound, Hana falls forward onto Hikaru’s shoulder, her arms hanging lifeless and her body making no movements whatsoever.

Confused, Hikaru asks, “Little Hana, are you okay?” but again there is no response.

Hikaru gently lifts her off his shoulder and looks at her to find her face extremely pale and her mouth reddened from blood.

She suddenly coughs, ejecting blood onto his white shirt.

Eyes bulging, he screams, “Hana! Hana! Stay with me, Hana!” However, she continues to look down aimlessly while crimson fluid drips from her mouth.

Hikaru looks around frantically at Rory and his other siblings, who are experiencing the same mysterious event. They all appear weak and sickly, coughing blood from their mouths.

Hikaru places his hands on his head, ruffling his hair, as tears and snot flow down his pudgy face. “What the hell is going on?” he thinks.

Suddenly, he hears a thud and he whips around to find Hana lying frozen in the grass. The sight of her pale body splattered with crimson paint in the golden grass was so beautiful yet so dark.

“Hana!!” he screams and shakes her, desperately hoping that her eyes will pop open and a grin will appear just like when the blonde-haired boy surprised him. But nothing happens. She is dead.

Finally accepting the harsh truth, Hikaru sobs in capitulation. He looks up at the sky, now appearing dark and grim, and screams at the top of his lungs, “No!!”

***
“Aaahh,” Hikaru yells, swiftly sitting upright, his eyes bulging from the torture of his gruesome nightmare. He surveys the environment, greeted by the vibrant greenery of the forest and the warmth of the sun’s diffused light. Feeling something tapping against the top of his head, he looks up to find the morning dew from last night’s downpour dripping from the leaves of the tree he slept under. As another droplet of water splashes onto his forehead, it hits him; rather, it punches him like a boxer issuing the knockout blow – the heart wrenching realization that his dream was not a dream. It was reality.

Images of his bloodied siblings and mutilated dog littering the burning house fill his mind. He sobs to himself quietly, the tears rolling down his face furiously. The events of last night replaying in his mind, he finally remembers Obasan ordering him to run, and he looks down at the medallion around his neck, which she had told him to protect with his life.

He immediately leaps up thinking, “I need to go check to see if Obasan is okay!” However instead of rocketing out of the forest, he remains paralyzed in place. Although his mind tells his body to move, it refuses to listen, as the cold fist of fear clenches him in its deadly grip.

“What if that monster is still there?” he wonders while looking down at the mulch.

“No, no!” he thinks while shaking his head. Looking solemnly ahead, he tells himself, “I have to check on Obasan.” Yet, his body does not move again.

“What the hell?” he exclaims, punching his leg.

He tries again in futility, urging himself, “Come on, move!!”

Disappointed by his lack of fortitude, he falls to his knees, the palms of his hands resting against the mulch and tears falling from his face to the ground. “Why am I so pathetic?” he thinks to himself.

Suddenly, he starts to feel warmer. He looks back and above to see the sun, which had maneuvered its way through the thick bush to reach him. He could feel its exuberant rays soothing him, replenishing him, lifting him.

Standing up, he takes a deep breath and says, “I’m okay…” He looks intently in the direction of the farm for a moment and then zooms off without looking back.

***
Hikaru treads slowly through the grass, keeping an eye out for any sign of the demon. Finally, he reaches the charred ruins of what used to be the farmhouse. The rain from last night had salvaged what remained of it; without the rain, the farmhouse would have been reduced to ashes.

Before entering the farmhouse, he closes his eyes, knowing what awaits him. Having walked through this house countless times before, Hikaru is able to maneuver his way to the kitchen with his eyes closed. As he slogs to the kitchen, however, he cries silently, knowing that the dead bodies of his siblings litter the ground beneath him. Every time his foot hit against one of their bodies, his tears would flow even more rapidly. 

Before opening his eyes, he touches the wall to determine his location. After realizing he is in the kitchen, he slowly opens his eyes and scans the room. Never before had he seen such disarray and chaos with debris strewn everywhere.

Finally, his eyes lock on to Obasan, who is still in her angel form. She is leaning over the stove, a sight so familiar to Hikaru. Wearing a faint smile and with tears in his eyes, he warily walks closer to Obasan and calls out her name but receives no response.

He moves to her left side to get a better view of her. He first immediately notices Obasan’s countenance. A peaceful smile graces her lips yet something is not quite right. Her silvery eyes are empty and aimless. Observing more closely, he happens across a wooden splinter protruding from the wall behind the stove. He follows it and finds that it ends in Obasan’s stomach – a large red blotch encircling the point of contact. He jerks back and covers his mouth with his hand as tears roll down his face.

Collapsing to the floor, he says aloud, repeatedly and unintelligibly, “I’m so sorry, Obasan. I’m a coward.” He continues to sob and mutter uncontrollably.

***
The sun sets in the horizon, ushering in the purplish and pink hues that color the sky. Usually around now Hikaru would be heading back to the farmhouse, where the cheerful faces of his family would greet him. But instead, he sits in front of Hana’s grave, one among a line of nine graves. He stares blankly, his eyes and cheeks red from crying so much over the past four hours, which he spent burying his guardian and siblings.

Never before had Hikaru worked so hard. The peaceful, happy Hikaru would have collapsed from exhaustion after digging the first grave itself. But this current Hikaru dug nine graves, placed the bodies of his family and pet in them, and then closed them. What is it that drove him – fear, sadness, a combination of both, or perhaps some other emotion that transcends even human understanding? Whatever it is, it is a powerful motivator.

Sitting there, Hikaru continues to stare at Hana’s grave. The bracelet she gave him rests on top, the white flowers now brown and wilting. Throughout this entire nightmare of an experience, he had been constantly overwhelmed with fear and sadness. However, there is one emotion he has not yet felt – anger.

He has no more tears to shed after crying out enough water to fill rivers and he has no more to be frightened of after losing everything. So he wants to be angry. He wants to place the blame of losing everything on someone or something.

Looking up at the sky, he spreads his arms out and cries, “Why?!” displaying the most menacing expression he’s ever worn.
     
“We prayed to you every damn day! Why?” he yells again.

“You took everything from me! I have nothing! Noth-”

His outburst of rage does nothing to help relieve him of his pain but instead resurfaces his sadness. He collapses onto Hana’s grave, his tears falling onto the bracelet.

Suddenly, he notices that his tears are causing some sort of reaction. The flowers on the bracelet were transforming, once again taking on the appearance of beautiful, cotton-white daisies. He takes the bracelet in his hands and gazes at it confused for a moment.

“What the hell? They grew back…” he thinks to himself and then turns to the sky once more.

“Is this supposed to be a sign? Are you trying to tell me something cause I have no idea what it is!” he yells.

He then looks around, thinking that perhaps the regrowth of the daisies is meant to be some sort of implicit message from God.

He continues to scan the area but nothing catches his attention. Just when he is ready to give up, his eyes stumble across a familiar object – a wooden stump with an axe stuck in it.

“Heian,” he mutters ever so softly to himself.

Suddenly, he remembers what Heian said to him before he left: “Happiness cannot come from others but instead comes from within. You should remember this, Hikaru. What would you do if you did not have Obasan or our siblings? How would you find happiness then?”

Slowly getting back on his feet, Hikaru thinks to himself while still staring at the wooden stump, “That’s right…I haven’t lost everything.”

He places the newly revived bracelet back on his arm. “I still have my brother and the memories of my family.”

He strides towards the wooden stump with confident steps and while yanking out the axe from the stump, yells to himself, “I’m not alone!!”

He heads once more straight for the forest but this time he is not running away but rather facing his new challenge head-on. With nothing but the bloody and dirty clothes on his body, and three items – a medallion, axe, and bracelet – Hikaru embarks on his life-changing journey.

Before entering the forest that separates the farm from the rest of the world, he has one last thought: “Heian, I’m coming for you!”

END

Hey guys, I just wanna write a quick little note and thank all those who have helped me in the development of this story and have followed along. I do hope dearly that you all continue to support my work by sharing your thoughts. I can't begin to say how much it means to me.

I also wanted to say a little bit about this chapter. This chapter is the pivotal point in my series where essentially the "Exposition" phase has finished and now I'm hitting the "Rising Action" phase meaning things are only gonna get more interesting from here on out, so this is a very special and important chapter. In addition to that, I sincerely think that this chapter is one of the best chapters I have written so far and am quite proud of it. I think that you all will enjoy it very much. Happy reading!  :thumbsup:
« Last Edit: April 09, 2015, 12:45:08 AM by God Usopp »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

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Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2015, 03:39:16 PM »
Hello all, finally finished chapter 5 - this one took awhile. Hope you guys read it and share some thoughts on it.
A short recap for you guys below so this chapter doesn't feel super confusing.

Spoiler
RECAP
- Hikaru's brother Heian left the farm to explore the world and fulfill his dreams (Ch. 2)
- The farm was destroyed and Hikaru's family was killed by a demon (Ch. 3)
- This demon seems to be in cahoots with a green eyed, gray skinned witch (Ch. 3)
- Obasan, is actually an angel by the name of Patrona, and left Hikaru with a medallion before her death (Ch. 3)
- Hikaru leaves the farm to look for Heian as he is the only family he has left (Ch. 4)

Chapter 5 Summary
Back in the Realm of Light, King Lucidus receives news of the death of his son's guardian, Patrona, from a young messenger named Kalem. He is very confused about how the demon was able to pass the barrier around the farm and asks Kalem to fetch Yogen as he is always watching Hikaru and should know the answer to this mystery. Meanwhile, the witch and the demon who attacked the farm are hiding in a cavern. The demon is in a great deal of pain for reasons unknown. A hooded man suddenly appears as a projection telling the witch, known as the Mother of Shadows, that she failed in retrieving the medallion. He tells her to try again but not to fail. Hikaru finally reaches a city known as Triven, which is the business hub of the Sharia Kingdom and is extremely chaotic and noisy. He is attacked by merchants and a gypsy almost steals his medallion. After leaving the marketplace, he heads towards a stone tower atop the highest hill of the city, which is where Obasan's friend lives. He wants to ask Obasan's friend, Sir Bren, if he knows anything about Heian's whereabouts. On his way to the stone tower, he passes by the slums and a young boy gives him an idol of the God of Light, Anshu, to help him in his search of Heian. Once he reaches the stone tower, Hikaru does not find Obasan's friend, Sir Bren, but instead meets a woman. The woman tells him that Sir Bren has left for the Capital and that she is Sir Bren's adopted daughter. She gives Hikaru a letter Sir Bren wrote to Obasan, in which he confesses her love to her. While passing through the marketplace, Hikaru overhears a merchant and his assistant talking about going to the Capital to tell their customer, Lord Byron, that they can't deliver his harvest. Hikaru asks them if he can hitch a ride with them to the Capital so that he can look for his brother. At first, the merchant and the assistant reject Hikaru's request to give him a lift to the Capital but they they decide to help him after talking amongst each other, or so it seems. The merchant and assistant bring Hikaru to the outskirts of Triven where a cart and the driver are waiting. Hikaru is about to board the cart when the driver throws him against the ground and ties his wrist together with rope. He realizes that the merchant is trying to sell him as a slave to compensate for the lack of harvest. Hikaru tries to escape but the driver knocks him unconscious.

Chapter 5: Triven
Spoiler
“Your Grace, I have terrible news!”

A young messenger almost trips over his own feet as he rushes into the throne room.

Lucidus and the acquaintances with which he was speaking look towards the panicked boy, startled by his sudden entrance. From his royal chair, the King of Angels peers down at the boy, his expression calm and composed.

“What is it Kalem?”

“Your Grace,” Kalem stutters, “Patrona, our Lady Light, has been killed.”

Lucidus’s acquaintances gasp and start chattering amongst one another. Luciudus, however, has no voice for words. He gazes down into his lap in utter disbelief.

“It was a demon,” Kalem adds in a muffled voice as he stands crying into his forearm.

Baffled, Lucidus places his hand on his forehead and muses over the news he just received.

“But…I don’t understand,” he says. “No demon could have possibly passed the barrier surrounding that farm, and even if it did by some minute chance…it could not have defeated Patrona. She was endowed with the powers of Anshu, the God of Light, Himself…”

He then turns to Kalem once more. “And what has become of my son? Is he safe?”

Wiping the tears from his face, Kalem replies, “According to the Watchers, your son escaped unharmed. He is currently roaming the human realm alone.”

“Hm, I see. I will have to find a new guardian for him immediately…”

Lucidus’s expression suddenly intensifies. “Wait, why are you delivering me this news? Where is Yogen? As the Head Watcher, he should know the answer to the mystery of how the demon was able to infiltrate the barrier.”

“Lord Yogen is currently attending to other business, Your Grace…lecturing to the children I believe.”

“When did this incident occur?”

“In human time, the Watchers say it happened only yesterday.”

Lucidus places his hand on his chin and glances to the side in contemplation.

“Yogen always monitors Hikaru and all that is happening around him…how could he have not seen this?”

He then turns towards the sniffling boy and says, “Once Lord Yogen has finished attending to his matters, inform him that I would like his presence. That is all. Thank you, Kalem.”

Kalem bows deeply and says, “Of course, Your Grace!” before scurrying out of the throne room.

***
The twinkle of the stars and the glow of the crescent moon bathe the ground of the barren woods in a warm light on this cold, dark night. As piles of leaves flutter and leafless trees dance to the wind, chilling shrieks erupt from an isolated cavern.

A lone fire projects the shadow of the writhing creature onto the cavern walls as it continues to bellow in agony while tightly clutching its brown shaggy hair. It wanders its bulging blue eyes wildly, desperate for relief from the pain.

A woman inches closer to the demon, her appearance becoming increasingly clear through the light of the flames. The glowing green in her eyes and the stark gray of her skin amplify the eeriness of her wicked grin. As she glides forward, the long strands of her black hair sway in harmony with her black cloak, which covers her entire body.

The demon roars even louder and holds its arm out towards the woman in a vain attempt to stop her from moving any closer.

The woman chuckles, flashing her flawless white teeth.

“Oh my dear,” she says, “you must accept the darkness, not fight it.”

She giggles again, savoring the demon’s suffering. However, her sadistic entertainment is interrupted by a burst of light in the shadows of the cavern behind her. She turns around to see that the light had manifested itself into a bluish projection of a hooded man, whose appearance and features were completely concealed.

“Mother of Shadows, you failed to do what I asked,” his deep voice rumbles.

“Well, that’s such a harsh word – ‘failed’ – is it not?” she grins. “My friend and I tried our hardest,” she says referring to the demon growling softly in the corner.

“It is of no matter. Now that the boy’s guardian is dead, he is unprotected. Retrieving the medallion should be a very easy task. But this time, do not fail.”

“Hmm, and what’s in it for me?” the woman asks in a voice similar to that of a little child.

“I already told you…the Demon King, Kan Sharaz, whose love you yearn for so deeply will accept you with open arms.”

“And why would my father do that?”

“Because the medallion the boy wears holds the key to the downfall of the angels. If I inform the Kan of your aid in its retrieval, he will bring you into his realm and hail you as a hero.”

The woman’s sudden outburst of laughter shocks the hooded man.

“What is so funny?” he asks.

“You are! You said that I’ll be a hero,” she sputters through her giggling. “You really are funny,” she says letting a last few snicker loose. “Since you’re such a funny man, I’ll do what you ask, but I will do it my way.”

“Your methods are of no concern to me…”

The man eyes the demon in the corner for a moment and says, “Why do you keep that monster alive? There is no more need for it.”

The Mother of Shadows displays a smile that would make even the bravest warrior cower in fear. “To accomplish what you ask, I will need my loyal pet. Like I said, I will be doing this my way.”

Although suspicious of the scheming witch, the man refrains from expressing his doubts. He can only hope that she will succeed in completing her mission.

“Very well. We will speak once you have retrieved the medallion.” And with that last statement, the projection of the man vanishes into the darkness with a burst of light.

The Mother of Shadows then turns towards the demon once more, her wicked smile stretching across her face.

“Rest up, my dear. We’re not done yet.”

***
Under the sweltering heat of the afternoon sun, Hikaru trudges along the dirt path, his slow, methodical steps in rhythm with his panting. He is so close. Civilization – bustling streets, loud noises, shanty buildings – lies just up ahead. However, he can feel his legs losing fuel and his eyes flickering.

“I should have rested more,” he sighs, his knees buckling and sending him to the ground with a thud.

Despite the dirt and sweat covering his body, the white flowers on his bracelet rest securely on his arm, pristine as ever. The gold medallion Obasan left with him reflects the intense sunlight, glowing brightly, and Heian’s axe lies snugly between his backside and his pant waist.

He lies down and covers his face with his forearm to shield his eyes from the sun. The rough, uneven surface of the dirt feels uncomfortable against his back but he pays no mind, simply wanting a brief period of solace from the seemingly endless trek.

“Heian, where the hell are you?” he thinks, closing his eyes.

Images of Heian and his family fill his head, providing him with a surge of energy. He jumps onto his feet and marches forward. The source of this energy is unfamiliar to Hikaru, but he does not care so long as it keeps driving him, so long as it suppresses his once lazy and careless temperament.

“Not yet…I can’t stop yet!” he thinks as he trudges along the dirt path, inching closer and closer to the city walls.

Once entering, the yells of street vendors promoting their goods and prices at the top of their lungs to attract customers; the bumping and shoving of hordes of people; and the explosion of various aromas, most of which were quite unpleasant, immediately bombard him.

As he maneuvers his way through the tight spaces of the narrow city streets, an enthusiastic merchant wearing a cloth wrapped tightly around his head and a white robe covering the length of his body approaches him.

“Hello, hello! Welcome to Triven, the business hub of the great Sharia Kingdom! You seem new to these parts. Would you be interested in these snake tooth necklaces? They ward off evil spirits and bring one nothing but good fortune! You can buy one for just 10 chillings, and if you buy another, I will sell it for half price!”

The merchant shakes the necklaces uncomfortably close to Hikaru’s face.

“Uh, I-I’m not interested. Thank you.”

However, Hikaru underestimated how persistent merchants can be in urban hubs. The merchant continues to pester him into buying one of his necklaces, but Hikaru backs away slowly until finally finding himself running through the crowds just to escape the parasite of a man.

“Jeez, now I know to avoid these guys,” he thinks as he scans the hullabaloo of the marketplace to ensure that other merchants aren’t waiting to ambush him.

As he watches the city folk attend to their daily business, however, he can’t help but feel slightly nostalgic. He misses the serenity of his life on the farm with his loving family. It was so quiet and peaceful – the complete opposite of the madness that lay before him in the form of people screaming, shoving, and running.

As he strolls through the street, he notices a man swipe a basket of fruits and vegetables from an elderly woman.

“Help, thief!” she yells but barely anyone notices and the few who do completely ignore her plea.

And then to the side, he observes a gang of rowdy men following and harassing a young maiden. These were not the only two instances; immorality ran through the crowds of people like a rampant disease. 

“Obasan was right…” he thinks to himself. “I never expected the outside world to be this unpleasant.”

A disheveled, cross-eyed woman wearing a bandana appears at his side suddenly.

“Young man, there is something special about you!” she exclaims moving strangely close to him and peering into his face with her deep emerald eyes.

Before Hikaru can respond, she grabs his hands, scrutinizing the lines in his palms.

“Oh my!” she gasps. “You shall attain unimaginable greatness but the path you will take is one full of despair and pain.

“Oh…I see,” Hikaru says reluctantly, unsure of how to respond.

She abruptly releases his hands and holds out her palm.

“That will be 5 chillings,” she says quite bluntly.

“My apologies Madame. I don’t have any mon-”

Before Hikaru can finish his thought, the woman lunges for his medallion, attempting to lift it off his neck.

Shocked, he falters for a second to register what’s happening but when he does, he yells, “No!”

As soon as he yells, the woman yelps and jerks backwards, clutching her hand in pain. Hikaru notices a searing red mark on the palm of her hand, the same one she used to grab his medallion. The sound of his voice had caused the medallion to react and burn her.

The woman looks at him with a mixture of confusion and fear. Hikaru scans the vicinity to find several onlookers staring at him with the same confounded expression. Hikaru yells, “I’m sorry,” before darting through the street into a deserted alleyway.

Finally finding a moment of respite, he leans against the wall of a dilapidated building and falls to the ground to catch his breath.

“The farm was like heaven compared to all this,” he muses.

He shakes his head. “I can’t think about that now…I need to find Obasan’s friend. If I want to find Heian, my best bet is to start there. Obasan always used to talk about her friend’s house and how it has this huge windmill on it…but how the hell am I supposed to find it in all this?”

Sighing, he gazes at the sky. Expecting an unblemished, cerulean sea like the one he was accustomed to seeing on the farm, he is instead greeted by a sky that has been grayed and dulled by the smog of the city. Through the haze, he notices a black streak gliding through the sky – a bird larger than any he’s ever seen before. He follows it as it moves farther and farther away from him. In tracking the bird, he happens across a tall stone building mounted firmly on the highest hill of the cityscape, the three colossal white fans of a windmill turning gently in the wind.

“There it is…” he thinks in awe.

“But it seems so far away…looks like it will be a long walk,” he sighs as he gets back on his feet and starts towards the stone tower underneath the setting sun.

***
The sun now barely peeking over the horizon and the sky brimming with pink and purple, Hikaru heads towards the hill on which the stone tower sits, escaping the chaos of Triven’s marketplace. He now passes through residential areas, the sounds of merchants and townsfolk yelling replaced by the laughter of children playing in the streets. Seeing the children frolic without a care in the world, Hikaru recalls bittersweet memories of fun times he had with his siblings, tears forming in his eyes. But he knows that was all in the past and so he carries on towards the stone tower atop the hill.

As Hikaru walks through the residential areas, he notices the environment beginning to change. Makeshift dwellings on the side of the roads replace the mud and stone houses; small, flickering fires provide the only warmth and light rather than the traditional oil lamps. He is in the slums. Rows of beggars litter in the streets, drowning in waste and muck.

As Hikaru passes before them, they give him blank stares, full of fleeting hope that perhaps – just maybe – he could save them from their suffering. Unable to handle their yearning gazes, Hikaru looks down as he walks to avoid making eye contact. However, he feels a gentle tap on his arm. Looking up, he finds a small, disheveled boy, his beaming smile appearing like a ray of sunshine in this dark pit.

“Hello Brother! Do you think you could spare some change for me and my family?” he asks, a wide smile still gracing his lips.

Hikaru looks at him with pitying eyes. “I’m sorry, little one. But I too, have no money. I am simply a wandering traveler looking for my brother.”

The boy’s eyes light up; it was as though he felt some personal connection with Hikaru after hearing that he was in a tough situation not too different from his own.

“That’s okay, Brother,” he says reaching into the satchel at his waist. He takes out a small idol and displays it proudly to Hikaru.

“This is Lord Anshu, the God of Light. If you pray to him, you will surely find your brother and be happy in life.”

Hikaru recognizes the idol almost immediately. He is familiar with all the gods, especially Anshu, as He was Obasan’s favorite. She used to tell all sorts of tales about His grand feats, adventures, and battles.

“Here, take it,” the boy says pushing the idol towards Hikaru.

“Oh no, I can’t-”

“Just take it,” he repeats with a smile. “I have a lot more anyways,” he chuckles, showing Hikaru the inside of his satchel, which was filled with idols of Anshu.

Unwilling to reject the boy’s generosity, Hikaru takes the idol and studies it as it rests on his palm. The idol was small, approximately half the size of his pinkie finger. The idol portrayed Anshu as painted white and blue with a pleasant smile, pointing his palm outwards in blessing.

He then looks up at the boy, whose delightful demeanor feels like a breath of fresh air from all the dreadfulness he’s witnessed since arriving in Triven.

“Thank you, little one. I will cherish this always.”

“Good luck and safe journeys,” the boy replies while waving good-bye. Hikaru walks forth, placing his new gift in his pocket.

***
After what seemed like ages, Hikaru finally reaches the foot of the hill, the stone tower that was apparently home to his deceased caretaker’s friend looming over him. Starting the trek upward, his is captivated by the vibrant life all around him. A multitude of plants and trees line the hill from its base all the way to the apex, and various animals roam to and fro in bliss. He had never seen a hill like this before.

As he reaches closer to the stone tower, the slowly rotating fans of the windmill become increasingly larger – a truly splendid sight. After staring at the windmill for a few moments, he finally breaks his trance and walks towards the front door. He grabs the handle and slams it against the door several times. There is no response. He knocks again and just when he is about to lose all hope, the door cracks open, the face of a young woman peering at him through the small space.

“Who are you? What do you want?” she utters with blazing speed.

“Uh-My name is Hikaru…May I speak with Sir Bren?”
“He’s not here right now. Good-bye.” The woman begins to close the door but Hikaru reacts quickly, stopping the door with his hand.

“Please, my caretaker was very good friends with Sir Bren. I need his help with something.”

The woman opens the door completely, revealing her short, thin frame. She gazes curiously up at the ragged giant looming over her with her small blue eyes. “Your caretaker…would you happen to be one of the orphan children who lives with the old lady on the farm?”

“Yes…” Hikaru pauses for a moment, struggling to find the strength to continue speaking. “But, the farm is no more. It was destroyed and my family was killed.”

The woman stares at him shocked. “Oh I see…I’m very sorry to hear that. Please come in,” she says.

As soon as Hikaru enters, he notices a large room with wooden flooring and a spiral staircase in the center that reaches to the top of the tower. The room was scattered with kempt, white beds.

“Are there others living here?” Hikaru asks following the woman as she climbs the stairs, her hips moving back and forth underneath her light blue dress. 

“No, I am the only one though this is actually Sir Bren’s house. He took me in when I was just a little girl on the streets and raised me like a father. When Sir Bren was still living here, this house served as a shelter for those living in the slums, which is why there are so many beds. Sir Bren is an exceptional man; he cared for the poor with unparalleled love and sympathy. After he left for the Capital, I tried to continue his work but I was unable to. I could not handle caring for and treating so many people at once…not without Sir Bren at my side. I decided finally to stop using this house to accommodate the poor. Since then, I have been having slum dwellers at my door constantly asking for shelter. I thought you were one of them as well…hence, the rude greeting.”

“I see…” Hikaru says as he follows the woman into a room with rows of dusty bookshelves and some furniture in the middle of it.

“Please sit,” she says softly. “I’ll get you something to eat.”
Hikaru plops into the sofa the soft cushion feeling even more comfortable after only having dirt to rest on the last few days.

The woman returns with a cup of tea and water and some biscuits and places them on a table in front of Hikaru. The sight of edible material causes him to throw etiquette outside the window.

Without a single word, he lunges for the biscuits and devours them. Then, he gulps down the water and scalding hot tea with giant swigs. Slowly, he lifts his head, finding the woman sitting across from him and staring at him stoically.

“I’m sorry,” he says with embarrassment.

The woman raises her hand showing him her palm. “Don’t apologize. I understand what it’s like to go hungry…I’ve experienced it myself.”

Hikaru smiles awkwardly and wipes the biscuit crumbs from his face with the back of his hand.

“So why are you looking for Sir Bren? Were you hoping he’d allow you to live with him due to…your current unfortunate circumstances?”

“No, no,” Hikaru says waving his hands. “That’s not it. Before my family was killed, my brother, Heian, left the farm. He wanted to explore the world, enjoy all of life’s pleasures…He’s the only family I have left and I’m trying to search for him. I was thinking that maybe Heian came here to see Sir Bren…”

The woman places her hand on her chin in contemplation. “Hmm, I don’t believe anyone by the name of Heian has visited here…I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen or heard about your brother.”

Hikaru looks down at the ground in disappointment. “I see…”

The woman stares at Hikaru for a moment, her eyes filled with pity. “If you’d like…you may stay here tonight, but no longer. If the slum dwellers hear that I’m housing someone, they will pester me till the day I die.” 

“Thank you for your offer, but I should be on my way,” Hikaru says slowly as he stands from the sofa.

The woman does the same. “Then I wish you all the very best.”

Hikaru smiles and starts down the staircase to exit the house when the woman cries, “Wait, I almost forgot! There’s actually something I need to give you. Please stay there for one moment.”

She rushes past him and climbs the stairs. Hikaru stands confused for a moment before the woman comes dashing back down with an envelope in her hands.

“Here,” she says gesturing to Hikaru to take the envelope. “Sir Bren asked me to show this to your old lady if she ever visited while he was away…but since she’s not here anymore, I think it’s best I give it to you.”

Hikaru opens the envelope and starts reading the letter:

   Patrona,

   It has come time for me to leave this place. As per your instruction, I have done everything in my power to help and care for the impoverished in this city, yet I feel my efforts have been in vain. They continue to suffer in an endless cycle of despair – which I am incapable of breaking. There is nothing more I can do here.     

   Darkness rises throughout the world. I fear the return of the Dark Ages and so I must act to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring once more. This decision was not made in haste but rather after many days of deliberation.

   This is not the only reason I wish to embark on such a journey however. At one time, you would often grace me with your appearance but no more. I have not seen you in the past five years. I understand you are occupied with looking after the orphan children and protecting the King’s boy. But I cannot bear to live this life without seeing you. I know this longing is shameful – a direct violation of the very ideals we were raised upon. To rid myself of this Iccha (“desire”), I must distance myself from you. But no matter the distance between us, please know that I will always love you.


Looking up from the letter, Hikaru appears surprised and contemplative, which piques the woman’s interest.

“If you don’t mind telling…what did Sir Bren write to your caretaker?” she inquires.

Hikaru turns towards the woman and says softly, “He told her he loves her.”

***
Hikaru feels the patter of the light rain against his head as he walks through the streets of Triven’s marketplace, wondering what will be his next step now that his plan of speaking with Sir Bren ended unsuccessfully.

The sun has completely set and night has fallen. Merchants and vendors start packing their goods to escape the rain and find solace in their comfortable homes.

Off to the side, a young man appearing slightly shaken runs towards one of the merchants.

“Where is everything?” the merchant asks, his eyebrows scrunched in anger.

Fearing the merchant’s wrath, the young man puts his hands up and attempts to explain himself. “Listen boss, you won’t believe what I saw. I went to the farm like always to pick up the harvest and guess what!? The whole thing was burned to a crisp and no one was there!”

The young man’s mention of the farm catches Hikaru’s attention and he starts eavesdropping on the conversation from a distance.

The merchant scoffs and throws his hand in the air in exasperation. “Well, what the hell do we now? I’m already late on my shipment and I need to deliver soon or else I’m gonna lose Lord Byron’s business!”

He stands in contemplation for a moment and then says to the young man, “I need you to go to the Capital and tell Lord Byron that we’re having some difficulties at the moment and that we’ll send him this month’s harvest as soon as possible.”

Still overhearing the conversation, the mention of the Capital sets the gears in motion within Hikaru’s mind. “The Capital…Heian used to always dream about that place. I probably have the best chance of trying to find him there.”

Hikaru hurries towards the merchant and the young man. “Um, excuse me.”

They both halt their conversation abruptly and turn towards Hikaru appearing slightly irritated by the interruption.

“I overheard that you’re planning to go to the Capital. I was wondering if I could join you in the trip. Reason I’m asking is because I’m looking for-”

The merchant’s expression now crumpling into one of utter annoyance, he says, “Get lost kid. Do we look like *censored*ing chauffeurs to you?”

Hikaru refuses to be discouraged by the merchant’s blunt dismissal and decides to use his last resort – the sympathy card. “Listen, I don’t mean to be burdensome but that farm you were just talking about now used to be my home and it was burned to the ground, along with my family. Only family I’ve got left is my brother and I need to look for him in the Capital. We’ve given you business all these years with our harvests. Least you could do is help me out this one time…please.”

The merchant and the young man stare at Hikaru’s desperate eyes for a moment before glancing at each other.

“Uh, please give us a moment,” the merchant says with a smile before pulling the young man with him to the side so that they can speak privately.

“You’re not actually planning to help him are you?” asks the young man.

“No, of course not,” the merchant replies. He then moves closer to the young man and whispers something in his ear while Hikaru is not looking.

The young man’s face lights up. “Oh!”

“Don’t do anything to screw this up and just act naturally. Got it?” the merchant asks pointing his finger at him.

The young man nods in agreement vigorously and the two approach Hikaru once more.

“We were simply working out the logistics of whether we had enough space in the cart to accommodate you,” the merchant explains. His face then widens into a grin. “And it seems that we have plenty of space for you. We’ll give you a lift to the Capital.”

“Thank you so much!” Hikaru says delighted and relieved.

***
As Hikaru accompanies the merchant and the young man to the outskirts of Triven, he notices a large cart attached to three horses and a tan-skinned driver of monstrous size standing next to it. The driver standing next to the cart quickly covers it with a blanket as though he was trying to hide something and then approaches the group of men walking towards him.

Addressing the merchant, he says, “Sir, I’ve prepared the cart. Everything is ready.”

“Thank you very much. Also, I’ll need you to give this boy a lift” the merchant replies, slowly nodding at the driver and then glancing at Hikaru.

The driver nods back in understanding. “Please, this way…” the driver says gesturing to Hikaru to board the cart. Meanwhile, the young man struggles to hold back a smug grin. 

“Thanks you so much again,” Hikaru says to the merchant and starts towards the cart, completely ignorant of the fact that he is being deceived.

But as soon as he turns his back, the driver grabs him and hurls him onto the ground. Hikaru lands against the ground with a loud thud but before he can react, the giant of a man sits on him, trapping him against the ground, and ties his wrists together with rope.

The driver then forcefully lifts him onto his feet as Hikaru looks around with immense fear in his eyes. He sees the merchant and young man both grinning smugly and asks, “What the hell’s going on!?”

The merchant approaches Hikaru and looks at him with the most despicable expression. “Ah, I forgot to tell you didn’t I…? I run a little side business that – hm, how should I put this – involves selling humans to interested parties.”

Hikaru looks at the merchant with bulging eyes now comprehending the situation: he’s being taken as a slave.

The merchant chuckles at the sight of Hikaru’s expression. “I need to compensate Lord Byron for this month’s harvest which I was not able to provide due to your family’s misfortunes…and what better way to do that than to send him a young, healthy boy.”

He then quickly turns around and while walking away says to the driver, “Make sure to deliver him to Lord Byron. Nothing should go wrong.”

“No, please…you can’t do this!!” Hikaru yells after the merchant tears flowing from his eyes, but the merchant ignores him and continues to walk away.

Desperate to escape, Hikaru starts writhing.

“Hey, stop! What do you think you’re doing?” the driver says to him.

Hikaru steps on his foot and bumps him with his back causing the driver to lose his balance and finally breaking free from his grasp.

He then runs with all his might but the fatigue from his travels and the rope locking his hands in place significantly reduce his speed.

Noticing Hikaru trying to make his escape, the merchant yells to the young man, “He’s getting away. Get him!!”

The young man runs after him but his small frame is no match for Hikaru’s overpowering size and fails to grab a hold of him.

But the driver, furious that he was outplayed, charges towards the lumbering Hikaru at full speed like a lion hunting its prey and slams Hikaru to the ground with his titanic body, knocking him unconscious.

The merchant slowly walks towards the incapacitated Hikaru and looks at him with a scowl. “Piece of *censored*…that’s what you get for trying to run away.” He then notices the shining medallion around his neck, which had popped out from underneath his shirt from the impact of the driver’s tackle.
“That looks nice…I think I’ll take that,” the merchant says snatching the medallion from Hikaru’s neck.

As he twirls the medallion with his fingers, the merchant adds, “Enjoy the Capital boy,” with a smirk. As the merchant and the young man walk away, the driver drags Hikaru towards the cart.

END 

« Last Edit: July 18, 2015, 03:13:53 PM by Aozora »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Check out my stories here: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php?topic=12492.msg213349#msg213349

Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2015, 01:08:34 PM »
Chapters 1-5 Character Profiles

Hikaru
Gender: Male
Age: 19
Occupation: Farmer
Description: Main Character
Appearance:
-Short, curly black hair
-Dark brown eyes
-Tan skin
-6',1'' tall, 200 ibs, overweight, soft rounded facial features
Character Traits and Personality: caring, playful, daydreams constantly, deep thinker, lazy, irresponsible, overly trusting

Heian
Gender: Male
Age: 19/20 (several months older to Hikaru)
Occupation: Farmer
Description:
-Foster brother of Hikaru
-Oldest orphan on the farm
-Often scolds Hikaru for not working
Appearance:
-Flowing brown hair of medium length
-Blue eyes
-Light skin
-6',2'' tall, 160 lbs, muscular & lean, sharp features
Character Traits and Personality: respectful, loyal, ambitious, hardworking, strict, short-tempered

Hana
Gender: Female
Age: 5
Occupation: N/A
Description:
-Foster sister of Hikaru
-Likes to play and spend time with Hikaru
Appearance:
-Beautiful light blue hair that reacher to her lower back and partially covers her forehead
-Green eyes
-Pale skin
-3',5'' tall, 30 ibs, small & thin
Character Traits and Personality: very kind, innocent, playful, gets embarrassed easily

Kovio
Gender: Male
Age: 15
Occupation: Farmer
Description:
-Foster brother of Hikaru
-Looks up to Heian as a role model
-Often gets irritated of Hikaru
Appearance:
-Short black hair, slightly spiky
-Black eyes
-Light skin
-5',8'', 140 ibs, lean & fit
Character Traits and Personality: bad at hiding his emotions, caring, impulsive

Obasan
Gender: Female
Age: 60-70 (human form)
Occupation: Farmer, caretaker
Description:
-Guardian/protector of Hikaru
-Angel (named Patrona) disguised as an elderly human
-Takes care of orphans on a farm
Appearance:
-Gray hair tied back in a bun
-Hazel colored eyes
-Light wrinkled skin
-5',2'', 100 ibs, thin & frail
Character Traits and Personality: very kind, caring, tells stories and life lessons, has traditional values, e.g. religion, family, etc

King Lucidus
Gender: Male
Age: ???
Occupation: King of the Angels
Description: Father to Hikaru
Appearance:
-Flowing black, curly hair
-Hazel colored eyes
-Tan skin
-6',3'' tall, 180 lbs, medium build, strong facial features
-Character Traits and Personality: wise, calm, prudent, kind, forgiving

Oruda
Gender: Male
Age: ???
Occupation: Lead Advisor to the King of Angels
Description:
-Hikaru's uncle
-King's brother
Appearance:
-Very long, straight black hair
-Hazel colored eyes
-Tan skin
-6',3'' tall, 160 lbs, lean, sharp facial features
Character Traits and Personality: sarcastic, cynical, distaste for humans/demons, envious, careful planner

Guran
Gender: Male
Age: ???
Occupation: Head of Angels Military Forces
Description: Hikaru's Commander when he was an angel
Appearance:
-Short, brown hair
-Orange-brown eyes
-Light skin
-6',5'' tall, 200 lbs, medium build, strong features
Character Traits and Personality: brash, loud, prideful

Yogen
Gender: Male
Age: ???
Occupation: Head Seer
Description:
-Hikaru's tutor/teacher when he was an angel
-King's personal friend
Appearance:
-Short grayish brown hair
-Gray eyes
-Light skin
-5',11'' tall, 130 lbs, thin, old, tired features
Character Traits and Personality: knowledgable, friendly, soft-spoken

Demon
Gender: Male
Age: ???
Occupation: N/A
Description: Mysterious demon who attacked the farm, killing Hikaru's family
Appearance:
-Long (knee-length), shaggy brown hair
-Blue eyes
-Dark brown skin
-7' tall, 250 lbs, medium build & muscular, demonic features
Character Traits and Personality: ???

Mother of Shadows
Gender: Female
Age: ???
Occupation: N/A
Description: Witch who ordered demon to attack farm
Appearance:
-Long, thin black hair
-Glowing green eyes
-Gray skin
-7' tall, 150 lbs, thin, sharp features
Character Traits and Personality: sadistic, wicked

Hooded Man
Gender: Male
Age: ???
Occupation: ???
Description: Mysterious man trying to retrieve Hikaru's medallion
Appearance: ???
Character Traits and Personality: strict, bent on achieving his goal(s)


 
« Last Edit: June 21, 2015, 10:07:08 PM by Aozora »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Check out my stories here: http://forums.mangaraiders.com/index.php?topic=12492.msg213349#msg213349

Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2015, 05:24:14 PM »
Man, this chapter took me way too long, but here it is finally. Please read and provide feedback. Thanks.

RECAP
-Hikaru went to Triven to look for Sir Bren, a friend of Obasan's/Patrona's (Ch. 5)
-Sir Bren is not there, he left for the capital (Ch. 5)
-He finds out Sir Bren loves Obasan/Patrona (Ch. 5)
-Merchant captures Hikaru as a slave (Ch. 5)
-Hikaru is on his way to the capital as a slave for Lord Byron (Ch. 5)

Chapter 6 Summary
In the angel realm, Yogen, the seer, apologizes in tears to King Lucidus for failing in his duty of monitoring the farm, which led to Patrona's death. Lucidus forgives Yogen, calling him his friend. He asks Yogen how the demon could have passed the barrier Patrona made around the farm, but Yogen does not know the answer. Meanwhile, Hikaru, and other new slaves, arrive to Larth, the capital of the Sharia Kingdom, and admires all of its sights. He arrives at the estate of his slave owner, Lord Byron. While bathing to look presentable before Lord Byron, Hikaru is treated cruelly and his belonging are forcefully taken from him. Hikaru and the other new slaves present themselves to Lord Byron and their trainer, Sir Drago. Sir Drago tells them that they will fight as gladiators. Lord Byron gets upset at Hikaru for crying and pleading and strikes him in in anger. That night Hikaru has a dream of Heian running away from him and he's unable to keep up with him. The next day during training Hikaru is unable to complete the initial warm-up run. Consequently, Drago whips him until he finishes it. Another gladiator named Hanz helps bring the unconscious Hikaru back to the slave quarters. The next day Hikaru can't even do the run because he's too tired and falls unconscious. Drago orders no one to help him and leave him lying there. After training ends, Hanz tries to help Hikaru but gets caught. Hanz and Hikaru are sent to the dungeon. Sir Drago visits them and returns Hikaru's belongings to him. Hanz tells Hikaru not to give up and keep fighting. Hikaru follows Hanz's advice and trains very hard over the next several weeks. Three weeks later, he completes the run without taking any breaks or getting whipped. However, during the training session, he spars with another gladiator and gets demolished. Drago and Lord Byron talk in private, planning Hikaru's first gladiator fight.

Chapter 6: Unbroken
Spoiler
King Lucidus sits at his desk, scrutinizing the document in his hand. As he rubs his temples in exhaustion, he eyes the mountain of papers lying on his desk wondering why the stack refuses to decrease in height.

His head slowly drifts towards the table and his eyes struggle to remain open. Suddenly, the door starts creaking, jolting him awake. Yogen walks into the study room, his face a pinkish-red around the eyes and nose and his eyes full of tears.

Lucidus looks at him for a moment. “Ah Yogen, I wanted to speak with-”

Yogen rushes towards the King and falls to his feet. Shocked by this sudden action, Lucidus is unable to finish his sentence.

Through his tears, Yogen sputters, “Your Grace, I know that there are no words that can atone for what I’ve done. My carelessness and irresponsibility have led to the death of a most beloved sister, a dearest friend. I know that you may never be able to forgive me. If I could reverse time to prevent this from happening, I would!”

He starts sobbing, his tears gently falling against Lucidus’s pristine feet like rain droplets trickling onto a white blossom in full bloom. “Forgive me, Your Grace,” he mumbles repeatedly, still hunched over Lucidus’s feet.

Throughout Yogen’s tirade, Lucidus listens with a stoic expression. He stands from his chair suddenly and grabs Yogen firmly by his shoulders with both hands.

Alarmed, Yogen looks up at the King and realizes he is slowly being lifted from the ground by Lucidus’s reassuring grip. He wants to say something but the sound refuses to escape his lips and before he knows it, Lucidus has swathed him in a warm embrace.

From the doorway of the office, Lucidus’s brother, Oruda, quietly watches the two men embracing one another with a scowl. He leaves in a huff.   

Lucidus finally releases Yogen and takes a step back, a gentle smile gracing his countenance.

“Yogen, you have been my closest friend since childhood. How could you even consider that I would blame you for Patrona’s death? He places his hand on Yogen’s shoulder. “You need not ask for my forgiveness for I never blamed you even for a moment, my friend.”

“Your Grace…” Lucidu’s words bring tears to Yogen’s eyes.

Before Yogen can say anymore, however, Lucidus interrupts him. “But there is one thing…” 

“Oh…?”

“I wanted to ask you how a demon could possibly pass the barrier Patrona constructed to protect the farm.”

“To be honest, I cannot offer much input on this matter. Whether or not one is able to pass through the barrier depends on the amount of darkness harbored within one’s heart. A vile demon that took the lives of innocent orphan children and our dear friend would never be able to pass the barrier.”

Lucidus runs his hand over his beard. “Then how? How was it able to enter?” he ponders in frustration.

Both stand in contemplation for a moment until suddenly Lucidus muses, “What if the demon were to conceal itself within the body of another, one whose heart is pure and sinless?”

“Even that would not work. When a demon assumes a host, the host’s heart becomes infected by the darkness of that demon and would not be able to pass through Patrona’s barrier.”

Lucidus sighs in exasperation. “Then this matter remains unsolved…”
He turns towards Yogen and peers at him intensely. “I want you and the other Watchers to investigate this. I fear my son’s life is in danger and I won’t find peace until we find the one responsible for Patrona’s death.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Yogen says while bowing deeply and crawls out of Lucidus’s study.

***
Hikaru opens his eyes slowly, greeted by the warm sunlight shining onto his face through a gap in the canvas covering the cart. The rope locking his hands and feet in place and the sporadic rattling of the cart make for a rather uncomfortable journey. The cart suddenly jerks throwing Hikaru into a hard object. He looks up slowly to find a scruffy face staring angrily at him.

“Sorry,” he says with a meek smile and quickly distances himself from the giant. He then notices that the cart is full of behemoths with scraggly beards and intense expressions. A lump forms in his throat upon the realization that a life of slavery means he’ll be spending much of his time with this sort of crowd.

***
The cart halts to a sudden stop. The canvas is lifted and the door of the cart is flung open. A soldier inspects the inside to ensure that the driver is not smuggling any illegal goods.

Hikaru yearns to scream at the top of his lungs and beg the soldier to help him, but he knows within his heart such actions are futile.

“Okay, you may proceed!” the soldier yells to the driver and slams the door to the cart shut.

The titanic iron gates slowly open, ushering the wobbly cart into the grand capital of the Sharia Kingdom, Larth.

Hikaru creeps towards the edge of the cart and peeks outside through a small space, his mouth agape in awe of the sights that greet him. Rows and rows of buildings stand several stories high; shopkeepers prepare for another day of business; bourgeoisie and noblemen alike stroll about with wide smiles; various statues, fountains, and monuments decorate the landscape. The sights were truly befitting for the capital of the largest kingdom in the world.

He turns towards the other men in the cart. However, unlike Hikaru, they simply stare at the ground, completely disinterested in the sights of Larth. The stoic, pained expressions of the rugged men bring Hikaru back to reality, and remind him of the even harsher reality that awaits him.

***
Hikaru’s heart skips a beat when the cart stops. He had been sitting in fear and anticipation for the past few hours. The door to the cart bursts open revealing a mid-day sun shining in full blast. A soldier appears. “Out of the cart now!”

Hikaru quickly does as he is told. Upon exiting the cart, he notices five soldiers clad in silver, spotless armor. From the expansive land stretching for endless miles and the giant mansion looming over him, he deduces he has arrived at an estate, most likely belonging to his master. As he absorbs the foreign surroundings, the rest of the slaves exit the cart.

Without wasting a second, the soldier yells, “Follow me!” Hikaru and the other slaves obey without a word. They follow him into the slaves’ living quarters, a small building adjacent to the mansion. The soldier then leads them into a large bathing room with several depressions in the ground filled with water. He orders the other soldiers to remove the rope that binds them. As they do so, he barks to the slaves, “You will be meeting Lord Byron and your master trainer. Get cleaned up and make sure you look presentable! Throw all of your clothes and belongings into that pile in the corner. You won’t be needing them anymore!”

While Hikaru quickly strips and throws his clothes aside, he hesitates when it comes to his belongings. Heian’s axe, Hana’s bracelet, and the small idol of Anshu the boy gave to him in Triven – these were precious to him. Hikaru stares at the objects anxiously, unwilling to simply toss them aside but also fearful of what will happen if he doesn’t.

One of the soldiers notices Hikaru holding onto these items and approaches him. “What do you think you’re doing?! Put them in the pile and get in the damn water!”

Hikaru stumbles on his words and the soldier lunges for his belongings. Alarmed by the soldier’s sudden movement, Hikaru tries to protect them and yells, “No stop!” His resistance was in vain, however, as the soldier yanks his precious items from him and hurls them into the pile as though they were garbage.

Hikaru pleads, “Please, those mean a lot to me. I’ll do anything if you let me keep them.”

He then pushes Hikaru into the water without a morsel of mercy. “Shut your mouth and bathe, fat ass,” he smirks and walks away.

Hikaru simply sits frozen in the water, his eyes wide and mouth agape. Now he understands that he is nothing more than an animal, a lowlife, a slave.

***
Hikaru and the other slaves had been escorted to an area nearby their living quarters that resembles a miniature coliseum. The dirt underneath his feet tickles his toes and beads of sweat trickle down his face as he stands attentively in a line with the other slaves, wearing nothing but a loincloth. His body glistens underneath the fading rays of the setting sun.

Before them stand two men. A bald, dark-skinned man with tattoos lining one side of his face and a rather intense expression steps forward.

“Listen up, you maggots! As you all know by now, you are all the property of Master Byron,” he declares, gesturing to the smiling elderly man beside him, who strokes his beard casually. “But you’re not just any slaves, you’re gladiators!”

The dark-skinned man’s comment catches Hikaru by surprise as his eyes widen in response to the disheartening revelation. “Gladiators!?” he wonders in disbelief. 

He continues while pointing to the elderly man, “That means you all fight to honor the name of Master Byron and the House of Faustus.” He then bangs his chest plate with his fist. “I am your master trainer and you shall address me as ‘Sir Drago’. My job is to train you maggots and make sure that you don’t get slaughtered like pigs in the fighting arenas. We shall begin training first thing tomorrow morning!” Drago then bows to Lord Byron, giving him the floor.

His hand still glued to his beard, the elderly Byron scans the row of hefty men standing before him until his eyes fall upon Hikaru, who appears like a needle in a haystack with his rather portly physique.

Noticing Byron’s gaze, Hikaru starts to feel insecure, but does his best to continue staring forward and maintain his rigid posture.

Byron glances to the side and beckons to a soldier keeping guard, who rushes to him immediately in response. He and the soldier share a few whispers before the soldier returns to his post.

Byron slowly walks forward, gliding in his silver cloak. His expression maintains that equivocal, mysterious smile, one that seems to belong to a mask as opposed to a human face. He walks along the row of slaves, inspecting each one closely, until finally arriving at Hikaru.

He faces Hikaru and speaks with surprising amicability. “I’ve been told that you’re from a family that has been one of our most highly valued benefactors. Without your harvests, my family and I, as well as countless others in this city, would have starved…I am extremely sorry to hear what happened to your family.” Byron’s words of sympathy don’t seem to match his temperament and body language.

Hikaru continues to stare at some fixed point in the distance, avoiding eye contact, but his lower lip starts to quiver and his eyes water. “Please…” he murmurs.

“Pardon.” Byron brings his ear closer to Hikaru.

A few tears escape Hikaru’s eyes and trickle down his cheeks; however, his gaze and stance remain unmoved. “Please…let me go.”

Hikaru suddenly senses a dark cloud drift over him and looks down for a moment to notice that Byron’s artificial smile has vanished, now replaced by a menacing look.

Byron swings his hand furiously, striking Hikaru on the left side of the face. He clutches his cheek and jaw in pain. He can handle an elderly man’s slap but the rings on Byron’s hand did a number on his face. Wiping a smidge of blood from the edge of his mouth, Hikaru looks up again at the lord and sees it finally – his true face, what really hides behind his mask.

Byron glares at Hikaru with wide, hysterical eyes and a scowl. “Never plead or shed tears again,” he growls.

Drago seems unsurprised while many of the other gladiators appear shocked by their master’s true nature. Hikaru simply stares at him in horror. 

***   
Hikaru lay on a cluster of rice sacks in the barracks, ready for a night’s rest after spending much of the afternoon and evening performing household duties for Lord Byron, along with the other new slaves. His thoughts drift towards what all had transpired today. The soldier’s cruel treatment of him and his belongings, Drago’s alarming news that they would serve as gladiators, Byron’s dictatorial nature – these events played in his mind over and over again.

“How…how did this happen?” he thinks solemnly. “How did I end up here…like this?”

A single stream of tears flows from each of Hikaru’s eyes as he continues to stare at the ceiling stoically. “Is it really my fate to spend the rest of my life as a slave…Am I never going to see him again?”

An image of Heian appears before his eyes, an image he remembers endearingly, where Heian had a peaceful smile on his lips that made his crystal eyes shine even brighter. “Heian, I hope you’re alright,” he wishes, as his eyelids begin to droop.

His vision now enveloped in darkness, Hikaru finds himself in a dream, taking place in his point-of-view. He’s running after an energetic boy on the grassy plains of his farm back home, heaving and struggling all the while.

Suddenly, the boy stops in his tracks and turns around to face him. A young, vibrant Heian stands before him, pouting. “This is why I don’t like playing tag with you, Hikaru,” he complains. “Why’re you so slow? From now on, I’m gonna call you slowpoke.” Heian sticks out his tongue at him and then darts off into the distance.

He makes no effort to chase after him, simply watching his brother widen the gap between them. He reaches out his hand towards the blur in the distance that appears to grow smaller and smaller. “I’m sorry” – the only words he could bring himself to say to his brother, who he may never see again.

***             
Just as the day before, Hikaru ventures onto the soft, dirt field of the training grounds for his first day of rigorous gladiator training. This time however he stands underneath a blinding ball of white and yellow that slowly makes its ascent into the cloudless sky, and among a much larger crowd of gladiators compared to yesterday’s that includes the veteran fighters, as well as the new ones like himself.

Drago, standing next to several barrels full of various weapons, scans the motley crew of men that present attentively before him with a fierce gaze.

“We shall now begin today’s training!” Drago declares. Many of the men break into a jog, while Hikaru and the other newcomers look about dumbfounded.”

“What are you waiting for maggots!? Keep up now!” Still rather confused, Hikaru and the others follow in the veteran gladiators’ stead and begin running laps around the training grounds.

“Faster, faster!” Drago yells at the panting and sweating men. However, Hikaru begins to feel exhaustion creeping into his legs and lungs just as he finishes the first lap. He slows down, lagging behind the rest of the group, but keeps moving in fear of what might happen if he stops. He summons his remaining energy to force a few more steps but then collapses to the dirt on his hands and knees. In trying to keep up with the others, he had exerted too much energy from the start, rather than save it for the many more laps to come.

His hawk-like eyes locking onto Hikaru, Drago snatches a whip from one of the soldier’s monitoring the training session and stomps towards the exhausted boy.

Feeling some inkling of power returning to his legs, Hikaru tries to get back onto his feet. But just when he is about to do so, he feels the stinging lash of the whip against his back.

He screams out in agony, attracting the attention of some of the other men. One gladiator in particular, bald and lean, looks back at Hikaru while running his laps and chuckles, “Looks like we’ve found ourselves a new play toy.” Two other gladiators, who form the bald gladiator’s entourage, smirk in agreement.

“What’s the hold up boy? Get up!” Drago barks as he strikes Hikaru again.

This time Hikaru suppresses his desire to scream at the top of his lungs, but the expression on his face clearly conveys his unbearable pain. Without even thinking, Hikaru rises to his feet and starts moving forward again at a snail pace with Drago close at his heels.

It isn’t long, however, before Hikaru’s body capitulates again. Another lash from Drago sends Hikaru back onto his feet, staggering and weak.

The other gladiators have finished their run and have proceeded to other training regimens, while Hikaru continues to endure his torture. Every lash of Drago’s whip provides him with short spurts of energy that bring him closer and closer to the finish line.

***
The sun bathes Hikaru in its warm rays, as he trudges the last few steps of the final and tenth lap of the run, before vanishing below the horizon. He staggers for a moment and then falls face first into the dirt with a thud, revealing his bloodied and swollen back – courtesy of Drago. Having been dried a while back, the blood from his wounds no longer flows like water, but rather forms large, crimson blotches.

The training grounds is empty, save Hikaru and the ruthless master trainer. Drago throws his whip aside and gazes at Hikaru sprawled motionless in the dirt. “Master Byron wanted me to keep an eye on you, boy. I have a feeling we’re gonna be spending a lot of time together.” With that, Drago turns and walks back to his quarters.

Hikaru lays alone in the dirt half-conscious. He can barely see or hear, as the unbearable pain and trauma has dulled his senses.

Gray storm clouds begin to form in the sky, releasing a thunderous downpour. Rain droplets fall continuously onto Hikaru’s back but he feels no pain, only a numbing, tingling sensation. The cool, soothing shower lulls him into a deep slumber, and he lays there in the wet dirt like a plant being watered.

***
Hikaru awakes to a dirty glass pressed against his mouth and the sensation of cool water soothing his dried throat. He rests on a stiff cot, which although uncomfortable, is much preferable to a bed comprised of rice sacks. 

“You’re awake?”

Hikaru averts his gaze slowly to the side to locate the source of the voice. He finds a young man, not much older than himself, looming over him, and realizes that he’s not in his barrack, but rather in a smaller one accommodating only three or four slaves with much better arrangements and furnishings.

“I didn’t know which cell you belonged to, so I’ve brought you to mine,” he says softly. His hazel eyes radiate warmth and kindness, something Hikaru has not felt in a long time since he’s left the farm. His light freckles and golden locks further amplify his soft and gentle aura.

Hikaru opens his mouth in slow motion, revealing the white crust that surrounds his lips from dehydration. “Th-ank you” he mutters at a volume that could barely be heard. Before the boy could answer, however, Hikaru winces and moans in pain.

He draws closer to Hikaru in concern. “Are you okay? Don’t speak,” he says firmly.

Hikaru heeds his advice, once again slipping into the depths of unconsciousness.

***
The next day Hikaru finds himself being dragged by two guards to the training grounds. He finds a place to stand among the rugged gladiators, who listen to Drago’s spiel, as is the ritual before every training session. However, Hikaru fails to hear a single word that leaves Drago’s mouth; in fact, he can barely see Drago, who appears as nothing more than a brown blur before his eyes. He sweats more than usual while his legs quiver uncontrollably. The effects of yesterday’s training persist.

To Hikaru’s dismay, the men suddenly begin their laps around the grounds. Hikaru clambers after them, unable to keep up with the rest of the pack from the start itself. He proceeds a short distance before falling flat on his face unconscious.

Irritated, Drago scowls at the sight of Hikaru and dashes over to where his body lies to give him another dose of his brutal treatment. But after a couple of lashings, he realizes that not even the whip can revive the absolutely exhausted Hikaru. He turns towards the other gladiators and halts the run to secure their attention for a moment.

“Listen up! This boy will remain here until he regains consciousness,” Drago declares, pointing to Hikaru. “Anyone who tries to help him will be thrown in the dungeon without food or water for 24 hours. Am I clear!?”

The other gladiators confirm their understanding with a booming “Yes Sir” before resuming their run.

***
Several hours pass and Hikaru remains lying in the smooth sand of the training grounds underneath the light of the countless stars that shine above him in the night sky. Although he’s mostly regained consciousness, he doesn’t get up; or rather, he doesn’t want to get up, for he’s lost all hope thanks to Drago’s torturous training. Now he’s nothing more than a lifeless vegetable, wallowing in despair.

Suddenly, he hears footsteps drawing closer towards him. When he looks up, he immediately recognizes the face although he had only caught a glimpse of it yesterday. 

The young man, who carried Hikaru back to the slaves’ quarters the day before, fixes his hazel eyes upon Hikaru, a somber expression lining his gaze. Without a word, he slowly brings Hikaru onto his feet and supports his weight as he helps walk him back to the slaves’ quarters. 

Hikaru turns to the young man, his eyes brimming with gratitude. “Why are you helping me?”

The young man remains silent, keeping his gaze fixed ahead, but not for long, as the sound of a soldier’s bark quickly catches his attention.

“You there! Stop!” One of the guards confronts them both, wearing a stern expression.

***   
With a stream of dribble running down the side of his chin, Hikaru rests in his cell on the icy, stone floor of the dungeon, located in the basement floor of the slaves’ quarters. He shivers, as his body feels weak from lack of food and water.

In the same cell, the young man, who tried to help Hikaru, sits against the craggy wall, the expression on his face as rigid as the walls that confine them. He lifts his head slowly to the sound of footsteps.

A man with a torch strolls through the dark corridor, passing by a few candle-lit fires that provide the faintest amount of light.

As he arrives before Hikaru’s cell, the torch’s flames reveal him to be none other than Sir Drago. He eyes the two prisoners for a moment before speaking. “You disobeyed my orders,” he snarls softly. “I expected this from the fat ass, but not from you Hanz,” he says, glaring at the young man.

Hanz returns his gaze to the ground.

“I’ll give you a chance to explain yourself.”

Hanz’s refusal to respond angers Drago. “Silence, eh? Good. You’ve earned yourself a lashing, as well.”

Drago is just about to march off when Hikaru croaks, “Wait! Food…water…please!” Mustering all his might, Hikaru lifts himself up and slouches against the wall to show Drago his respect. 

Drago eyes Hikaru with disgust. “You will get food and water when I feel you deserve it.” Drago then reaches into a small pouch and to Hikaru’s surprise, pulls out the bracelet and idol of Anshu, which were taken from him earlier. He tosses the items through the gaps between the cell bars at Hikaru.

Although elated to see that his precious belongings have been returned to him, Hikaru conceals his emotions, staring at the objects blankly.

“A token of Master Byron’s appreciation for your family’s years of service.” Drago then scoffs and leaves Hanz and Hikaru to suffer in the cold darkness of the dungeon.

Hikaru picks up the bracelet and the idol, cupping them in his hands as though he has just found a lost treasure. He sheds tears in silence before crying softly to himself, pressing his belongings hard against his chest.

Hanz turns towards Hikaru at the sound of his restrained sobs. He eyes him for a moment before saying, “That’s a beautiful bracelet. Did you make it?”

Through his tears, Hikaru blubbers, “My s-sister made it for me.”

“Your sister…how old-”

“She’s dead…along with my family,” Hikaru interrupts. The tears now flow even faster from his eyes as tragic memories of his families’ corpses and burial mounds fill his head. “Killed by some monster. I was supposed to find my brother but now I’m stuck here.” As he finishes speaking, Hikaru is unable to control his emotions any longer and begins sobbing loudly. 

Hanz averts his gaze, feeling it improper to stare at Hikaru in his moment of weakness. He peers at the ceiling, assuming a rather morose countenance himself. Noticing that Hikaru has calmed down, he says, “My family was killed too…but not by a monster – by humans.”

Hikaru turns to Hanz. “What happened?” he asks curiously.

“I used to live in a village along the Ganga River that separates the Sharia and Altak kingdoms. We belonged to no kingdom; we were a free people. King Fordigan wanted to conquer us so he ordered a raid on our village. We didn’t even fight back, but they still slaughtered many of us, including my family, and then took the survivors as slaves…so here I am.” He stops looking at the ceiling and turns towards Hikaru, meeting his gaze.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Hikaru mutters, glancing to the side.

“Don’t be. Sympathy, empathy – such feelings are useless here…” Hanz adjusts his posture, sitting upright, and looks at Hikaru intensely. “When I first came here five years ago, I was like you – weak, lost, hopeless. But soon enough, I had adapted. I had learned how to live in this hell. You can’t give up. You can’t let them break you.”

“But how? I don’t think I can survive here,” Hikaru says, his expression contorting into one of absolute hopelessness.

Hanz pauses for a moment and then continues, “Pain is like fear. After a while, you will stop feeling it, but how and when depends on you…and the strength of your will.” Hanz shifts closer to Hikaru, who listens intently. “Your will has to remain unbroken. Can you do that, Hikaru? Can you remain unbroken?” He extends his hand towards Hikaru, peering intensely into his face.

Hikaru stares at Hanz’s hand for a moment, registering what he had just heard, before clasping it with his own. Returning Hanz’s intense gaze, he says confidently, “Yes.”

***
Hikaru does his best to apply Hanz’s advice over the next several weeks, refusing to allow the arduous, painful training to shatter his will. In every training session, he experiences the crackle of the whip against his back but in every training session, he also finds himself needing to take fewer breaks while running his laps.

Finally, three weeks later, Hikaru completes the run without taking a single break while maintaining relatively the same pace as the others. At the end of the run, Hikaru notices Hanz looking at him and nodding in acknowledgement of his achievement. Hikaru feels elated and proud, but makes sure not to reveal any such emotion.

For the first time, Hikaru experiences a full training session, as he had previously always fainted after completing the initial run. He practices his swordsmanship, slicing up various targets and dummies, as well as other combat skills. While performing such training exercises, he receives a lash every so often for mistakes or missteps. However, the frequency and pain of these lashings are nothing compared to that of which he endured over the past three weeks.

As the sun begins to set under a sky splashed with pink and orange, Drago assembles the gladiators for the last program of the day – sparring. “We shall begin practice matches!” announces Drago. “Any volunteers?”

Drago’s question is met with silence, to which he responds, “Very well then. I shall select the combatants.”

Hikaru jumps slightly at the sound of Drago roaring his name. He should have known that Drago would not let him escape so easily. He may have avoided a brutal lashing but now he has to face the possibility of an embarrassing defeat.

After Hikaru walks forward into the allotted battle area, Drago scans the crowd, trying to decide who shall be Hikaru’s opponent.

Suddenly, a voice rings, “Please allow me to fight him, Sir Drago.” The crowd disperses to reveal that the voice belongs to a bald gladiator, the same one who had been laughing at Hikaru on his first day of training.

“Very well, step forward Borg.”

Borg approaches Hikaru, concealing his true intention for wanting to spar with him underneath his stern expression. “I’m going to enjoy this,” he celebrates in his mind sadistically.

Hikaru and Borg withdraw their swords and take their positions. Hikaru’s heart races in anticipation, almost skipping a beat at the sound of Drago yelling, “Begin!”

Hikaru remains frozen in place, waiting for Borg to make the first move. Upon realizing that he has no intention of doing so, however, Hikaru decides to act first, lunging at Borg’s chest with his dulled, practice sword.

Borg sidesteps the attack with ease, nicking Hikaru’s calf with his own blade in the process.

Hikaru winces from the pain, rushes at Borg once again, and misses completely.

This time Borg slams Hikaru in the side of his mouth with the pommel of his sword as he dodges Hikaru’s swing.

Some of the gladiators spectating the match begin to snicker at Hikaru’s pathetic attempts to land a blow on the wily Bergen.

Frustrated and desperate, Hikaru throws strategy and prudence out the window, charging and swinging at Bergen like a bull gone mad.

Borg conceals his amusement as he dodges Hikaru’s wild, uncoordinated attacks. Feeling he’s had enough entertainment for the day, he switches to the offensive, aiming his sword at Hikaru’s torso.

To his amazement, Hikaru dodges the jab but he quickly realizes he’s lost his balance and fallen into Borg’s trap.

Borg smirks and then directs a blow to Hikaru’s legs with his sword to knock him off his feet. As he falls, Borg immediately pins him to the ground and throws punches left and right.

Hanz watches slightly distressed as Hikaru continues to receive the relentless blows. 

With each punch, Hikaru feels his head is about to explode when he hears Drago bellow, “Alright, that’s enough!” 

Borg gets back onto his feet and returns to stand among the gladiators with a smirk, eyeing his entourage, who all wear the same expression.

Drago ends training for the day and dismisses all the gladiators. He then snaps his fingers, beckoning to the guards to help carry Hikaru back to his quarters. As the soldiers lift Hikaru onto his feet, Drago approaches him with a smug expression.

His face covered with streaks of red, Hikaru gazes at Drago through his droopy eyes, now black and purple after the thrashing he just received.

“You think you’re so great because you could run a couple of laps?” Drago sneers. Drago brings his mouth close to Hikaru’s face. “You’re nothing, boy,” he whispers, before gesturing to the guards to take Hikaru away.

As the guards drag Hikaru back to his quarters, he gazes at the sapphire sky, wondering whether he will truly be able to remain unbroken through all this.

***
Smacking his lips, Byron gently sets his goblet of wine down onto the table next to him. He relaxes in his chair, feeling the soft cushions massage his back.

Drago stands before Byron in one of the many flamboyant rooms of Byron’s mansion, well lit by countless oil lamps and adorned with a variety of expensive decorations and art pieces.

Taking another sip of his wine, Byron sings, “How does the farmer boy – uh what’s his name…” Byron places his hand on his crinkled forehead, pretending to try and remember something he doesn’t know in the first place.

“Hikaru,” Drago says.

“Ah yes, Hikaru. How does he fare?”

“He improves, milord, but he would not survive even a second in the Arena.”

Byron strokes his goatee beard as usual, while appreciating the intricate design on his maroon dress. “That’s quite a disappointment…I would have expected some sort of return on investment and so far that boy has proved quite useless to me.” He then looks up at Drago, appearing slightly more interested in the conversation. “I believe it’s time to put him to use.”

“What do you propose, milord?”

Byron flashes a wicked smile. “We’ll have him fight in the pits.”

« Last Edit: July 18, 2015, 03:11:43 PM by Aozora »
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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2015, 12:21:41 AM »
RECAP
-Lord Byron wants Hikaru to fight in the pits (Ch. 6)
-Hikaru lost his medallion after the merchant took it from him (Ch. 5)
-The hooded man, who ordered the attack on Hikaru's farm, is trying to retrieve that medallion (Ch. 5)
-Berg embarrassed Hikaru in a sparring match (Ch. 6)
-Hanz helped Hikaru while he was hurt. Has been looking out for him (Ch. 6)

Chapter 7 Summary
During his training the next day, Hikaru is told by Drago that he will fight in the pits. Later that evening, during dinner, Hanz warns Hikaru to be careful as the pits are not controlled by the monarch and don't have very strict rules. Hikaru fights in the pits against three bulls. One of the bulls fatally wounds him. While Hikaru is unconscious, he meets a mysterious being composed of light that calls itself "the Eternal Spirit" or "Universal Consciousness". When Hikaru wakes up, his eyes glow, his wounds heal, and he gains newfound powers. He defeats the three bulls easily to the crowd's surprise. They cheer for him, chanting "Hikaru the Risen." A man wearing a black cloak, who watches Hikaru's match, is also surprised by his powers, and thinks that King Lucidus did not take Hikaru's powers away when he banished him. Meanwhile, in the Realm of Light, the world belonging to the angels, the hooded man (who ordered the attack on Hikaru's farm) meets with a mysterious man with unique eyes. The mysterious man asks the hooded man to have Hikaru killed and tells him that he'll retrieve the medallion himself, which Hikaru lost. The next day during training Hikaru is bullied by the bald gladiator named Berg. Hanz steps in to save him however. Hikaru visits Hanz in his room later that night and thanks him for everything he's done, but he also asks Hanz why he's been helping him so much. Hanz tells Hikaru that he reminds him of his younger brother, who died when his village was raided. After Hanz goes to sleep, he remembers his village being raided. His house was burning and his brother was trapped under debris. Hanz tried to help his brother but he couldn't so he left his brother to die in the fire. Hanz wakes up from his dream panting and crying. Meanwhile in Lord Byron's mansion, he and Sir Drago meet. Byron tells Sir Drago that he will have to personally train Hikaru which angers Drago, but Drago has no choice but to follow his order.

Chapter 7: Hikaru the Risen
Spoiler
“Come on! Get moving!” The brash guard nudges Hikaru forward with his elbow. “Don’t want to keep the crowd waiting do you now?”

Hikaru doesn’t want to do many things, but not keeping the crowd waiting isn’t one of them. He doesn’t want to find out what lies beyond the light at the end of the corridor; he doesn’t want to fight like an animal for the enjoyment of the masses; and lastly, and most important of all, he doesn’t want to face the prospect of death. His heart races and his legs quake, yet he moves forward through the dark tunnel, his feet pressing hard against stones and pebbles with every step.

What moves him is not the guard’s provocation. No, it’s something else – something much more exciting. His mind is clear, focused only on the crowds’ roars and the beating of the drums, and his breaths, slow and steady. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion before his eyes as anxiety and exhilaration fill every pore of his body – the experience of an adrenaline rush.

Before he realizes it, he is at the entrance. A single deep breath escapes his lips as he totters into the unknown.

*** 
The day before, Hikaru attends his training bright and early as always. Along with the other gladiators, he performs his run, continuing to give his best effort and keep Hanz’s advice in mind. He maintains his distance from the bald gladiator, Berg, who, in the last session, had given him a thrashing he’ll remember for quite some time. As he sprints, the idol of Anshu dangles from his neck, hitting against his chest rhythmically with every step he takes. He had asked one of the slaves to tie a thread through it so that he could wear it as a necklace. And of course, the bracelet, comprised of daisies that have somehow miraculously managed to remain pristine despite all the disgusting hands and objects they’ve touched, rests securely on his left arm. It fits better now than before as he’s been growing, getting stronger.

Today is the first day he dons his precious belongings. If remaining unbroken means not capitulating to the oppression of his superiors, then he thought he should keep the memories of his family and God close to him as he accomplishes it. 

At the end of the run, he celebrates silently to himself. He was able to keep up with the rest of the crowd much better today and finds himself feeling much less fatigued after the run compared to previous times.

Hanz gives him a subtle nod of acknowledgement of his improvement from afar, which Hikaru returns in kind.

Hikaru proceeds to swordsmanship and combat training, blasting dummies’ heads off their tattered bodies with his practice sword.  After a few swings, he stops, uneasiness brewing in his gut. There’s something off about today. And it takes him a moment before he pinpoints the source of it – Drago. He has not lashed him even once since training started; in fact, he has not even uttered a word or looked at him since training started.

“What’s going on? Why’s he not giving me any trouble?” Hikaru wonders warily. Hikaru decides to not linger on Drago’s uncanny behavior any longer and continues with his training. 

Hikaru and the gladiators gather under a setting sun while Drago leaves a few last words to end a training session that went well – too well. He had not faced any harassment from Drago or any other gladiator, for that matter, the entire session.

Hikaru prepares to take off to his quarters upon their being dismissed by Drago. The sound of Drago’s powerful, deep voice stops him however: “Hikaru, I must speak to you.”

Hikaru flinches, thinking that leaving a training session unscathed was too good to be true. He approaches his master trainer obediently.

“Master Byron has selected you to fight in the pits tomorrow.” Hikaru’s eyes widen and his mouth drops open slightly, to which Drago responds with a scoff. “Did you do think you wouldn’t have to fight, boy?” he asks rhetorically.

“No, I-” Hikaru starts anxiously but then recomposes himself. “My apologies, Sir Drago. I am honored to fight in the name of Master Byron and the House of Faustus.” Hikaru could discern Drago is slightly taken aback by his unexpected display of discipline.

“Good,” Drago snaps. “Eat and drink well. If you die in the pits tomorrow, you will have been a waste of His Lord’s time and money. Am I clear?”

“Yes, Sir Drago.” Hikaru brings his hand to his forehead in salute and stamps his feet together, eyeing the master trainer with an unrelenting gaze, yet burning with nervousness within.

“Dismissed.”

Hikaru marches back to his quarters, struggling to rid the tightness in his stomach. He stares at the sunset while he treads along the grassy hilltops, hoping with his all his might that this won’t be the last one he’ll ever see.

*** 
The deafening cheers of the audience and the blinding sunlight muddle his senses as he makes his appearance in the battlefield of the pit. He surveys the crowds of people that flocked to watch a no-name gladiator fight for his life. The pounding of the drums, which in close proximity is like the roar of thunder, send vibrations throughout his already trembling body. The dirt beneath his feet is soft, perhaps even softer than that of the training grounds in Byron’s estate. He could discern every grain of sand and dust that strokes his bare soles, as he makes his way to the center of the field. His senses are stimulated – the adrenaline has given him a high no other drug in the world could match.

By the time he reaches the center of the field, the crowd’s cries reach a crescendo as the doors to the tunnel creak open. Hikaru recognizes the cue immediately, unsheathing his sword and adjusting his vest armor. It is time.

***
That night, after receiving the news that he’d be fighting in the pits, Hikaru sits on the floor of the dining hall, staring at the white and brown mush that lay before him on his plate. Slaves and gladiators of all shapes and sizes, genders and ethnicities, mingle and chat in the colossal hall, while guards stroll from row to row with buckets, slapping the mush onto each person’s plate. The buzz of indistinct chatter rings in Hikaru’s head as he continues to gaze blankly into his plate.

Hanz takes a seat next to him. “Why aren’t you eating?” he asks casually.

His trance broken, Hikaru turns to face him. “I uh…” He couldn’t form a coherent response with his thoughts roaming wild.

Hanz looks up from his plate, his left cheek bulging from the large bite of mush he just placed in his mouth. “You alright?” he grumbles.

Hikaru remains silent for a moment, staring back at his plate. “I’ve got to fight tomorrow.”

“Ah, I see.” Hanz muses, quickly stuffing his mouth with a few more bites and wiping his mouth with his forearm. “Can’t believe they’re sending you to the Arena already? I wish you the best of luck.”

“No…I’ll be fighting in the pits.”

“The pits?” Hanz finally stops devouring his food, turning to face Hikaru with a raised eyebrow and his hand on his knee. “Interesting. Lords don’t usually have their gladiators fight in the pits.”

“Why’s that?” Hikaru asks his curiosity piqued.

“They’re illegal. The Arena is essentially the foundation of this kingdom’s economy. After seeing the massive revenue the Arena brought in, greedy merchants wanted to increase their own wealth and power. So, they established various fighting pits for the poor folk to enjoy. His kingship tried to close the pits but many were hard to find and some had the support of lords, who received a share of the profits.”

Hanz lowers his tone. “Be on your toes. I’ve heard things about the pits. Their rules are much different.”

“Any advice?” Hikaru murmurs morosely.   

Hanz slurps the last residues of the pasty substance, wiping his plate clean. He sets it down and stares solemnly into Hikaru’s eyes. “Yeah…don’t die.”

***
Two black bulls emerge from the depths of the tunnel, snorting and kicking. Hikaru observes them warily while they do the same in return.

“Bulls?” he wonders. “They shouldn’t bother me so long as I’m not wearing red right?” And then he notices the reddish brown color of his armor and the bright scarlet string wrapped tightly around the pommel of his sword.

He watches one of the bulls scrape the ground with its hoof, glaring at him with rage in its eyes. He knows what that means. “It’s coming,” he tells himself. It lowers its head and charges at him with tremendous force. The crowd falls dreadfully silent. He freezes at the sight of a thundering behemoth – dark as coal, large as a boulder – rushing at him. He regains his senses and sidesteps the assault, missing its razor sharp horns by a hairpin.

The crowd erupts in roars for Hikaru’s fine display of finesse. He doesn’t have the time to revel in praise however, for the bull circles him, planning for another charge.

Hikaru assumes a defensive stance, this time fully prepared for the bull’s next move. But at that moment, Hikaru catches a black blur from the corner of his eyes. He whips around to find the other bull racing towards him. Fear stifles his breath and tightens his chest. He closes his eyes and leaps to the side in desperation, tumbling in the dirt.

Immediately he gets on his feet, panting and wide-eyed. He pats himself all over his torso, checking to see if by some chance, the bulls’ horns had caught him. He breathes a sigh of relief. He is fine, but not for long.

Dust swirls and dances where the bulls paw the ground. Warm air fumes from their flared nostrils. Thick saliva oozes from their mouths.

Hikaru closes his eyes. And when he opens them again, two massive balls of dark fur greet him. He takes a deep breath and rolls to the side while the bull rams into the arena’s walls. And the other whizzes past him as he whirls away with dazzling dexterity.

Hikaru’s stunning performance riles the crowd, who fill the pit with the sound of their hoots, cheers, and applause.

Hikaru could not match the crowd’s energy and enthusiasm. Fast, short breaths and quivering legs – fatigue spreads across his body like a slow acting poison. How much longer could he keep this up, if at all? He knows all too well that this battle will only end with his demise or the bulls’, and he’s not laid even a single scratch on either one. Yet, his strength is draining while the bulls look as if they’re just getting started. He has to act quickly; otherwise, he would meet a bleak ending.   

Meanwhile, a merchant, the owner and manager of the pit in which Hikaru fights, watches the battle from the stands looking quite irritated.

A boy suddenly rushes to his side. He bows so that he’s eye-to-eye with the merchant. “Sir, you called for me?”

“Release another one,” he says. He keeps his eyes fixed on the match.

“But Sir, Lord Byron asked for only 2-”

The merchant glares at the boy. “Don’t make me repeat myself,” he growls.

“Y-yes Sir,” he stammers and scrambles away, almost tripping on his own feet.

The merchant returns his gaze to the match, the corner of his lip stretching into a faint smirk.

On the opposite side of the arena sits a man, covered from head to toe in a black cloak. A few strings of gray hair peek outside his hood, and his silver eyes twinkle in the sun. He turns to the side, eyeing the gates, which slowly begin to open again.

Down below on the field, Hikaru whips around to face the gates. He could hear a low grumbling from the depths of the tunnel’s darkness. What sort of beast would he have to face now? And then it emerges – a bull of monstrous size, the likes of which he’s never seen before. It stomps its way into the arena.

He remains in place, gaping at the abnormally large creature. “What in the world did they feed this thing?” he wonders.

The beast wastes no time. It lowers its head, kicks up dust, and charges at Hikaru. The storming mass of black fills his vision as it draws nearer. He knows he can’t dodge the charge. It’s too massive. He has only one option.
He runs with full speed towards his titanic opponent and slides through the dirt, right under the beast’s belly, in between its legs.

Hikaru quickly leaps to his feet, amused by his quick wits. The audience showers him with cheers of admiration and praise. It was like music to his ears. He was unconsciously growing fond of the masses – their loudness, their liveliness. A few moments of glory blind him however, as he completely neglects the black streak racing from behind.       

The sound of flesh tearing fills his heart with fear as he’s lifted off his feet. He can’t hear the sparse gasps of the audience, only the sound of his heart thumping rapidly, as though it’s trying to burst out of his chest. His eyes widen as he’s flung into the air by the bull, its horns tainted red with his blood. He tastes the cool air against his face as he soars, before landing on the rough, stark ground with a thud. Blood oozes from the deep cuts on his back. A grim atmosphere envelops the arena. Pin-drop silence ensues.

The man in the black cloak eyes the fallen gladiator solemnly. “Prince Hikaru…” he muses.

Blood seeps through the dirt, darkening the area where he lay. That same darkness now creeps into his vision as his eyelids begin to feel heavy. They fall ever so slowly, until finally his vision is filled with nothing but black.

***
When he awakes again, he finds himself drifting in a sea of white. He looks around baffled. “Where am I?” he wonders.

His eyes catch a faint sparkle. He turns back to find a shining light in the distance. He floats towards it, not knowing why. An inexplicable attraction pulls him closer to the glowing entity.

Its appearance becomes clearer as he approaches. A bright ball of white light with tendrils stands before him, formless and fluid, as though it’s alive. Hikaru gapes at it. He wonders if this is what it’s like to see the sun from close proximity, except the heat and light that radiates from this being is not like that of the sun. It does not scorch or blind him, but rather fills him with a soothing and warm sensation.

“Hello, Hikaru.” A deep and gentle voice emanates from the light.

Hikaru jumps, his eyes wide and his mouth open. “Wh-who are you?” he stammers.

“I have many names. I am the Eternal Spirit, the Universal Consciousness. I exist within all, and all exist within me.”

Hikaru is at a loss for words, bewildered by this talking light. “Wh-where am I? Am I…dead?”

“No. You are simply within the deepest level of your consciousness, where you are your one true Self.” The entity’s words only further confuse Hikaru. “Would you like to return to the material world?”

“The material world…do you mean Earth?”

“Yes. That is the name given to it by humans.”

Hikaru’s eyes light up with hope. “Yes, I would very like that very much.”

“Then come forward and immerse yourself in my light.”

Hikaru walks towards the light with slow, prudent steps. He reaches his hand for the light, hesitating for a moment. When his hand enters, he’s surprised to find that it’s not warm at all. He then enters the entity’s body, bathing himself in its soothing light. “Thank you!” he says, as he experiences a sensation similar to flying through the clouds.

***
Hikaru’s eyes shoot open, emitting a bright yellow light.

Much of the crowd has already begun to leave. Even the man in the black cloak rises to his feet. “So this is the end of Prince Hikaru.” He mourns to himself. “King Lucidus will be devastated.” As he turns to leave however, he stops in his tracks for he could sense life, movement, hope! He whips around and there he sees Hikaru crawling back onto his feet. The rest of the crowd stares at Hikaru with a similar expression to that of the man in the black cloak, eyebrows raised and mouth agape.

The large gashes on Hikaru’s back close and heal as he stands up once again. His eyes are fierce and his fists clenched. He’s ready for round two.

And so are the bulls. The massive one charges, it’s horns pointed right at him. Hikaru digs his feet into the ground and places his hands in front of him. As the beast draws nearer, he takes a deep breath. Its horns now only a few inches away, Hikaru lunges forward grabbing its horns. The collision pushes Hikaru back several feet, but he stands his ground. He grips its horns even tighter and with a ground-shattering roar, he lifts the bull into the air by its horns and flips it onto its backside. He picks his sword off the ground and plunges it into the underbelly of the massive beast, laying it to rest once and for all.

The second bull, which left him with the two new scars on his back, gives him no time to rest. Hikaru eyes the bull as it charges at him, waiting for the opportune moment. The bull closes the gap between them fast and just when it is within feet of him, he leaps onto its back. The bull bucks and kicks vehemently, but he holds on tightly to its horns to keep his balance. He raises his sword and jams it into the nape of the bull’s neck. The red-painted blade exits through its mouth. The rampaging bull buckles immediately, sending Hikaru sliding in the dirt.

Hikaru leaps to his feet and removes his sword from the fallen beast. His eyes fix on the third and last bull. It observes him for a moment before bursting into a full speed assault. Hikaru stands calm and still. He waits until the bull is close and then sidesteps its bloodthirsty horns with unparalleled grace. A flash of silver follows his adept maneuver. The bull’s head tumbles at his feet and its body collapses past him.

His sword slips out of his sweaty, tired hand, and his eyes return to normal. The crowd is stunned. They struggle to fathom what they have just seen in the past few minutes. A lone cheer breaks the heavy atmosphere however: “Hikaru, the Risen!” Several more begin to join in on the cheers, and before he knows it, the entire crowd is chanting his name. Some yell, “Hikaru, the Risen!” And others bellow, “Hikaru, the One who Rises!”

Hikaru surveys the crowd in awe. He couldn’t quite remember what had happened during his fight with the bulls. His memories are fuzzy and jumbled. But it doesn’t matter. All he wants to do now is enjoy the sweet praise that reverberates throughout the small arena of the pit.

The man in the black cloak exits the pit through a corridor, hidden among the masses of people. “There’s no doubt…this is the power of the God of War, Vratos!” he contemplates. “That can only mean King Lucidus allowed Prince Hikaru to keep his powers when he banished him. To think he would defy such sacred laws. The Council will not be happy about this surely.”     

***
All is quiet in the Realm of Light. Not a single soul walks through the spotless streets or the beautiful buildings. And not a single soul is aware that evil develops behind closed curtains, using this quiet and holy time of day, allocated for prayer to the gods, to hide its ugly face.

The rhythmic tapping of sandals resonates as the hooded man soars up a long, winding staircase of the tallest tower in the realm. He reaches the highest floor and skulks towards what seems to be a simple wall made of marble. He places his hand against the smooth white surface. A secret entrance suddenly appears. He bends down and crawls through it, greeted by a narrow corridor on the other side. Several orbs of light line the tight walls, allowing him to navigate his way to the plain, wooden door at the end of the corridor. He clutches the cold, bronze knob and enters the room.

A whirlwind of dust stings his eyes and nose. It wafts from the old, tattered books, which have been left unopened on their bookshelves, for many a century. The room was too small to be a library, but it had too many bookshelves to be considered just an ordinary study.
At the corner of the room sits a man shrouded in shadows. He peers through a window – the only one in the room – staring at the desolate streets of the angels’ haven. His eyes have a pensive sparkle about them. He’s thinking, planning. But about what is a complete mystery. He turns slowly away from the window at the sound of the hooded man’s approaching footsteps, revealing his bizarre eyes.

The hooded man flinches slightly at the sight of them. They were two golden suns, bright and imposing. But what is more disturbing are the achromatic rings in each of his pupils. The glowing circles of hot white strip him down to his very core, rendering him weak and exposed. He could not hide anything from them.

“You…wanted too se me?” he says.

The mysterious man returns his gaze to the window. “I’ve seen something,” he whispers, his voice as pleasant as the chirps of birds in the morning. “The boy…he’s lost the medallion.”

The hooded man clenches his fists in silent celebration. “That’s wondrous news. I shall have my collaborator retrieve it immediately.”

“There is no need. I shall do it myself.”

“But even with your…” He gawks once again at his eyes.

“Complete your sentence,” the man mutters. 

“My apologies.” The hooded man stumbles on his words, breaking from his trance. “I was simply saying that leaving the realm unnoticed will be a difficult task.”

“Worry not. We will be patient and act when the time is right. In the meantime, however, I’d like you to ensure the boy’s death. It appears Lucidus left him with his powers when he banished him.”

The news startles the hooded man.

“If his powers develop, he continues, “he will prove to be a major impediment in our plans. We must eliminate him.”

The hooded man bows deeply. “I will speak to my collaborator and see this carried out at once.”

“Thank you.” He continues to stare outside.

The hooded man takes his leave, scurrying out the room. As he sneaks along the corridor like a rat, he thinks, “Our revenge is near!”

***
The day after his match in the pits Hikaru practices his swordsmanship in the training grounds, along with the other gladiators. The sun beats down on the sweating and tired men on a hot, Spring day like no other. But the heat doesn’t bother Hikaru. He fells the dummies with ease, swinging his sword as though it’s as light as a feather. Ever since his fight with the bulls, he’s found himself stronger and quicker. He’s never felt this feeling before – this feeling of power. And he quite likes it.

“Hey boy!”

Berg and his company approach Hikaru. Berg’s bald head gleams in the sun and a crooked smile sticks to his face, as always. His entourage includes one so thin that it is amazing he could even stand, and another so hefty, he looks as though he could eat the thin fellow.

A lump forms in Hikaru’s throat. Ever since Berg embarrassed him in their sparring match, he’s done his best to avoid him.

“We just wanted to congratulate you on your first victory. Right boys?” Berg’s companions nod their heads and snicker.

“Thank you. I have to get back to training.” Hikaru tries to turn away but Berg grasps his arm. He looks at the bald gladiator’s smug face, alarmed.

“Don’t be in such a rush now! It’s not like you’re fatass is gonna get any better at fighting is it?” The two behind him start cackling.

“Let go,” Hikaru says trying to break free but Berg only tightens his grip further.

“Hold on. What’s this?” Berg points to the bracelet on Hikaru’s arm. “I’ve never seen a hardened gladiator wear such prissy lil’ flowers.” He turns to his squad of stooges. “Have you boys ever seen something like this?” They shake their heads, giggling like young children.

Berg touches one of the daisies on the bracelet to which Hikaru jolts his arm back in response. He clenches his teeth and threatens, “Don’t touch it.”

His confidence is quickly shattered however when Berg grabs his shirt and brings him close. “Or else what? Do you want to fight me, boy?”

Hikaru freezes frightened by the thought of receiving another thrashing from this vicious man. But before he even realizes it, Berg is no longer breathing in his face, as Hanz appears and pushes Berg away from him.
Berg glares at Hanz, animosity spewing from the crinkles in his scrunched forehead. He then turns to Hikaru. “I’m not done with you boy. You’re lucky your lover was here to save you.” And with that, he and his entourage leave in a huff.

Hikaru tries to express his gratitude, but Hanz walks away without saying a word.

***     
Later that night, Hikaru walks to Hanz’s barracks and finds him resting on his cot and staring at the ceiling.

Lying on his back, Hanz lifts his head at the sound of approaching footsteps. He sits up when he sees Hikaru enter his room. “Well if it isn’t Hikaru the Risen!”

“How did you hear that name?” Hikaru asks curiously, taking a seat on a rice sack.

“You’re the talk of the town right now. Apparently, you lifted a bull in the air with your bare hands?” Hanz raises an eyebrow.

“You can’t believe everything you hear,” Hikaru chuckles, scratching the back of his head.

Hanz walks over to a side table, grabbing a dirty metal bottle and two rusty glasses. He pours the foaming liquid into each glass and hands one to Hikaru as he sits back down on his cot. He raises his glass with a smile. “Here’s to your first victory and many more to come.”

Hikaru taps Hanz’s glass with his own, and they both launch the fluid into their mouths. Hikaru’s face contorts in ways it has never done before as he clutches his throat.

His exaggerated reaction evokes a laugh from Hanz. “Never had ale before, eh?” he teases.

“It burns!” Hikaru says before bursting into laughter himself.

Silence follows their laughter until Hikaru finally breaks it. “I want to thank you. Without your help, I don’t think I would have made it this far.” He fiddles with the glass in his hands.
“There’s nothing to thank me for,” he replies. “Everything you’ve done and achieved up till now has been a result of your own determination and willpower.”

“Even so you’ve done a lot for me. Taking me back to the quarters when I was practically dying, stepping in to defend me today…but it makes me wonder.”

Hanz glances at Hikaru. “Makes you wonder what?”

Hikaru pauses to think how to formulate his response. “Why you’ve been helping me so much…I understand that you empathized with me because you were once like me, weak and lost. But I’m sure most of the gladiators here were once like that, and none of them cared about me. Yet you’ve been consistently putting yourself in danger to help me. Why?”

Hanz stares at Hikaru for a moment, surprised by his sudden inquiry. This is not the same innocent, clueless Hikaru he dragged back to the slaves’ quarters. As he averts his gaze, he says, “You remind me of my brother, someone I used to love dearly.”

Hikaru’s eyes widen slightly. “Used to? Is he-”

“He died during the raid of our village.”

“I’m sorry,” Hikaru mutters, looking down. “I should not have pried.”

“It’s okay. I think I’ll be retiring for the day soon.”

“Yes, of course,” he says, getting to his feet. He stops at the entrance before leaving. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Hanz leaves Hikaru with a subtle nod.

***
In the late hours of the night, Hanz writhes in his sleep, kicking the cot and shaking his head from side to side. Sweat runs down his face, forming a dark patch on the collar of his shirt. A dream torments him. But this dream is no fabrication of the mind. It is a memory – a memory of nightmarish quality.

A young, adolescent Hanz finds himself in a world of flames. His house burns, its aged wood blackening and collapsing from the rampant fire. He dashes out of his room with terror and confusion plastered on his face, maneuvering through the flames and debris. As he enters the living room, he finds his parents’ scorched bodies crushed underneath a pile of wood. His eyes well up with tears, as he looks upon his parents’ lifeless bodies. He couldn’t mourn too long however, as more flaming pieces of his house rain down from above. He dashes to the exit but freezes in his tracks at the sound of a voice.

“Help! Someone help!”

There’s no mistaking the voice. He whips around and sprints towards it. And there he finds his younger brother trapped underneath pieces of broken furniture. “Harris! Harris!” He calls as he runs to his side.

His brother, who was crying, lifts his head at the sound of Hanz’s voice. “Hanz!” His watery eyes shimmer with rays of hope.

Hanz forces a meager smile. “Don’t worry. I’m gonna get you out of here.” He grabs hold of the splintered sofa and lifts with all his might. Yet it wouldn’t budge.

His brother stares at him while he struggles, his eyes wide with fear.

All the while the house continues to crumble, fiery debris raining down around them. Hanz’s hands slide off the debris, as stares blankly.

The little hope that his brother had mustered slowly dissipates as his eyes widen. “Hanz?” he whimpers. “Please help me. Please!”

Hanz glances around. Flaming debris surrounds him and continues to fall, diminishing any hope of survival. If he wanted to live, he had to leave now. He looks at his brother, whose expression contorts in horror at the sight of his own.

“No Hanz, please no. Don’t leave me.” He sobs as Hanz slowly stands back onto his feet.

The decision between survival and family wrenches his heart. Yet amidst the red and orange sparks and the growing pile of debris, he reaches an ultimatum. He expresses an apology to his brother through his pathetic, helpless expression to which his brother responds in screams and pleads.

Hanz clenches his eyes tight as streams of tears roll down his face and dashes out of the house, the screams of his brother still ringing in his ears.

He jolts upright panting and in tears. He clutches his face, sobbing silently to himself.

*** 
A full moon lights the black sky this night. Lord Byron stares at the cream-colored ball through a window in his mansion.

Sir Drago, on the other hand, is not so happy this night. “I refuse!” he yells. “I will not train that fat pig, Hikaru.”

His gaze fixed, Byron replies, “Whether or not you support my decision is irrelevant. The boy has the potential to be something great and so you will train him. Do you understand me?”

Drago tries to say something but hesitates before storming out of the room.

As Byron continues to stare at the beautiful celestial body, a smirk appears at the corner of his mouth. He thinks, “King Ian, you may have taken Ardon from me, but I have a found a new warrior, a warrior who will honor my name and have it written in the stars!”
   
« Last Edit: July 18, 2015, 03:10:05 PM by Aozora »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

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Offline Aozora

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Re: Hikaru Rising Arc 1 (Chapters 1 - TBD)
« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2015, 04:23:42 AM »
Chapter 8 is out FINALLY. This one may not be my best writing as I started rushing a bit at the end to try and finish it up. Just to give a rough idea of where I'm at with the story and the project in general: So, I initially intended to have the arc end at chapter 10 but it seems that I'm trying to fit in too much content into each chapter (you'll notice that each chapter gets progressively larger hehe) so I've decided to make the first arc 11 chapters. So yeah, three more chapters and this arc will be done...And then there's the whole editing/revision process and changing this whole damn thing to past tense. That'll be fun. Anyways hope you guys enjoy. I think the story is getting good - slowly but surely creeping to the climax. Just hang in there with me. Thanks for all the reads, reviews, support thus far. Truly appreciate it.

RECAP
-Byron had asked Drago to personally train Hikaru because he sees potential in him (Ch.7)
-Drago doesn't like Hikaru very much for reasons unknown and often abused him during training (Ch. 6)
-Oruda is King Lucidu's brother and has quite a temper (Ch. 3)
-Hikaru was revealed to have kept his angel powers (Ch. 7)
-King Lucidus had forgiven Yogen for not properly monitoring Hikaru and the farm when they were attacked (Ch. 6)

Chapter 8 Summary
The day after his fight with the bulls Hikaru heads to training when he is stopped by a guard, who asks him to see Lord Byron. Hikaru meets Lord Byron as commanded and to his surprise is asked to accompany the lord to the Arena of Death to watch a gladiator match. The Arena of Death is packed to the brim as people from all over the kingdom have come to watch Ardon the Titan, the man deemed as the strongest gladiator in the Sharia Kingdom. At the Arena, Hikaru lays eyes upon the Princess, who has also come along with the royal family, to watch the match. He becomes enamored by her beauty. As Hikaru and Lord Byron watch Ardon demolish his opponents, Byron tells Hikaru that Ardon used to be his gladiator but now belongs to the King because he was too powerful. Byron tells Hikaru that he wants him to become greater than Ardon and bring honor to his House. Hikaru hesitantly accepts. The next day Byron is visited by another noble named Lord Randal, who tells Byron that the poor folk are planning to revolt and that the King needs soldiers to form a small army to quell the insurrection quietly without making a big commotion. Byron is annoyed by the King's request for his soldiers and becomes infuriated with Lord Randal when he makes a comment attributing his success to the King. It is revealed that Byron is the half-brother of the King and that his mother was killed by the King's soldiers when he was very young. That night, Hikaru has his first personal training session with Drago. It doesn't go well as Hikaru quickly faces the whip once again. Fed up with the abuse, Hikaru grabs the whip, invoking Drago's wrath. Drago pummels Hikaru before leaving him in the dirt alone. Later that night, Hanz goes to his barracks and finds Hikaru there, bleeding. He tends to his wounds and they talk about Hikaru's new role as Byron's "favorite" gladiator. Hanz proposes that Drago might resent Hikaru because he feels his value and purpose is being threatened by Hikaru's newfound importance within Byron's ranks. We travel to the Realm of Light now where King Lucidus has been angrily confronted by his brother, Oruda. Oruda is furious with Lucidus for not removing Hikaru's angel powers before he banished him and for not punishing Yogen for his negligence. Lucidus handles the situation calmly and puts Oruda in his place.

Chapter 8: The Arena of Death
Spoiler
Hikaru could feel the sun prickling his hand, which hovers over his forehead protecting his eyes from the blinding rays. A burning sensation envelops his body, a product of the scorching heat and stifling humidity. The weather has challenged Hikaru and the other gladiators in recent days, but never to this extent. This could only mean Summer is near, that the people of Sharia would soon have to swelter under a sun too stubborn to share the day equally with the moon.

Hikaru trudges along with the other gladiators to the training grounds. Even in the early hours of the day, the heat is unbearable, draining what little energy he and the other gladiators have left. Hikaru hopes he could somehow escape training today. And his prayers are answered, for at that very moment, one of Lord Byron’s guards approaches him.

“You there!” the guard says, grabbing Hikaru’s shoulder.

Hikaru turns to the guard alarmed, hoping he is not in any sort of trouble. “Yes?”

“Lord Byron demands your presence. Follow me.”

Hikaru nods and does as he is told, quietly slipping away from the pack without being noticed by the other gladiators.

***
The guard escorts Hikaru to the front of the mansion. Lord Byron and a few guards stand outside, waiting by a wagon attached to two stallions, white as Byron’s spotless gown.

Noticing Hikaru approaching, Byron stops stroking his beard and smiles. “Welcome Hikaru!”

Confusion slams into Hikaru. He stands speechless, wondering whether this is another one of Byron’s facades. He would not make the same mistake as last time and be deceived by his seemingly amiable personality. “I am honored to be in your presence, Master.” He proceeds with caution, watching the guards from the corner of his eyes. “May I inquire as to why I was summoned here?”

Byron’s smile stretches even wider as he waltzes towards Hikaru, his gown fluttering in the gentle breeze. “You will be accompanying me on a small trip.”

“And to where will I be accompanying you, Master?”

While Hikaru remains rooted in place, Byron boards the wagon. He looks at Hikaru with an unsettling grin still plastered on his face. “You shall find out soon enough.”

Hikaru gulps as Byron’s gaze bears into him. He doesn’t have a choice. He forces his legs to move and trots towards the wagon. As he boards, the door quickly shuts behind him and the wagon starts with a jerk, headed for a destination unknown to him.

The pair sits on opposite sides of the wagon. Byron continues to gaze at Hikaru amused, while Hikaru stares into his lap, fiddling with his hands. He yearns to look outside through the window in the wagon for another taste of the wondrous sights of Larth. But he doesn’t. Although his hands and feet are unfettered, the presence of his master alone is enough to make him feel chained, restricted. And so, without anything to do to pass the time, he dwells on his current situation. “Why is he giving me such special treatment?” he wonders, baffled.

The sound of clinking interrupts his train of thought. He looks up to find Byron pouring himself a cup of tea.

Byron shoots him a sideways glance. “Would you care for some tea?”

“No, I’m fine Master,” Hikaru says. He returns his gaze back to the ground, just enough to keep Byron barely in his field of vision. He notices Byron’s eyes fix onto the bracelet on his arm.

“I’m glad to see your belongings have been safely returned to you,” Byron says before sipping on his tea.

Hikaru shoots his head up, his wide eyes exuding gratitude. “I’m sorry, Master. I had completely forgotten. Thank you so-”

Byron shows his palm to Hikaru, cutting him off mid-sentence. “There’s no need for such formalities. After all, I did not return all your belongings. Your axe was made of a very rare wood. Several lords took interest in it, so I sold it off for a good price.”
“Piece of *censored*!” Hikaru fumes with silent rage, poorly veiled by contrived formality. “I have no objections, Master. I have no more need for that axe.” His rigid jaw and clenched fists are all too obvious for Byron to miss however, as they fail to conceal his anger and succeed in evoking another smirk from the lord instead.

Byron opens his mouth about to speak, when the cart jolts to a sudden stop. He glances out the window and announces, “Looks like we’re here.”

A brown, craggy brick wall, extending for miles into the air, greets Byron and Hikaru, as they exit the cart. Hikaru could not even see where the wall ends, as it wraps around, forming a colossal dome. Through the thin cracks of the wall’s aged, crumbling stone, he could hear the indistinct cries of a boisterous crowd.

Byron notices Hikaru gaping at the massive marvel. “So what do you think of it? The Arena of Death.”

“It’s…big,” Hikaru says for lack of a better response.

“Indeed.” Byron grins. “Follow me.” He marches towards an inconspicuous opening in the wall of the Arena, which Hikaru hadn’t even noticed until now.

Along with Byron’s henchmen, Hikaru trails the lord to the entrance, where he spots two men standing guard. The two watchmen immediately step aside, bowing deeply to the lord and allowing them to enter into the grand Arena of Death.

A narrow hallway guides them to a set of stairs. Hikaru follows Byron as they ascend, irritated by his slow, methodical gait. Keeping an even pace with Byron is almost as difficult as enduring Drago’s intense training.

Fortunately they don’t have to climb many stairs as an exit appears, welcoming the group into a stadium of epic proportions. Spectators fill every nook and cranny of the great dome, from right next to the arena, where lords and ladies and high ranking officials sit comfortably in their private boxes, to the highest seats hidden in the clouds, where peasants appear like specks that could barely be seen under the bright sun, now beating with full power in the late hours of the morning. No matter where he looks he would see people. He understands now why Hanz stated the Arena of Death is the foundation of the kingdom’s economy. With a turnout like this, the Arena of Death must have been generating massive revenue – a lucrative endeavor no doubt.

His wandering eyes fall upon a lone platform hovering not too far above him, held by two long pillars and separated from the rest of the audience. He could discern a group of people sitting there, dressed in expensive, flamboyant clothing, surrounded by soldiers and officials of the highest caliber. They are, without a doubt, the royal family. Yet one particular individual in the group seems to catch his eye more than the rest: a girl, her hair a cluster of unruly brown curls forced into neat braids; her eyes a pair of emerald gems glistening in the sun; and her face the epitome of innocence. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

Byron notices Hikaru lagging behind. He follows his gaze and smiles in amusement. “I see you’ve taken an interest in Princess Hera.”

Hikaru peels his eyes away at last.

“Many men have fallen for the Princess’s beauty immediately upon laying eyes on her as you have just now,” Byron continues, “though none of them have succeeded in winning her hand.” “I wouldn’t have such high hopes if I were you, boy.”

Hikaru rejoices silently to himself at the failures of past suitors, despite knowing that the chance of him winning the Princess, let alone meeting her, is little to none. He looks back at the platform. That could only mean the two sitting next to her – the old man with the beard that extends from his long, thin face to almost his chest, and the young lad, whose hair is lighter than the sun, and his eyes bluer than the sky – are her father, the King, and her brother, the Prince. But he doesn’t care for them, his gaze quickly focusing back onto her, the Princess whose beauty knows no bounds.     

After an expedition through packed walkways and aisles, Hikaru follows Byron to their designated seating area, located amidst a sea of well-groomed faces and expensive silk robes. He avoids the glares of nobles and officials, all of whom are enraged that a slave would dare walk amongst their ranks. Even Byron receives a few similar stares for bringing Hikaru within their vicinity, yet his smiling, nonchalant face tells them he could care less of what they think of him.

As Hikaru takes his seat, he stiffens from the palpable awkwardness. Not one other lord or lady is accompanied by a slave, yet here he is, sitting next to his master as though he is his equal. He couldn’t fathom why Byron has brought him along on this trip.

“It’s not always this crowded,” Byron says, “but today is a very special day.”

“And why is that, Master?” Hikaru says, turning to the delighted lord.

“Just watch.”

The sudden appearance of a lone man in the arena silences the crowd, as he stands facing the royal family. “Welcome ladies and gentleman to the Arena of Death!” A burst of applause follows his announcement before quickly dying.

The two gates on either side of the arena creak open. Three men enter from the right, lumbering towards the center of the arena. Hikaru observes the men – the way they drag their feet, the way they stare at the dirt, the way they hunch their shoulders. It is as though they had given up before the match had even started.

“From the east gates, we have the Band of Three!” the announcer roars, evoking a mellow reaction from the crowd. He then pauses, glancing over to the other gate. “And now the moment you have all been waiting for. From the west gates, we have…!” Murmurs and chatter among the crowd start to bud. And when he announces just three words at the top of his lungs – “Ardon the Titan” – the crowd goes berserk.

Their deafening roars pound away at his eardrums. Yet it isn’t just in his ears. He could feel the intense vibrations rattling his chest and head, as though the sound had somehow crept into his body. Amidst the hullabaloo, his eyes lock onto a strong, hefty man walking into the arena with long, confident strides. The ends of his long, brown hair dance in the wind underneath his helmet, from which protrude two metal horns, similar in shape to those of a bull.

The crowd’s roaring diminishes while the famous gladiator makes his way to the center of the arena, dragging his intimidating battle axe through the dirt, the two blades on either side of the haft as broad as a bull’s head. His overpowering nature becomes even more apparent when he steps before his opponents, looming over them.
The announcer bows to the royal family, the Titan and the other gladiators following his stead, and then looks up at the platform. “My King! Do we have your permission to begin the match?”

With a single clap of his hands, King Ian, whose influence spreads from the small villages on the bank of the Ranga River in the West all the way to the Seruvian Border that extends for miles on end in the East, fills the dome with thunderous cries once again. The announcer sprints off the field, his exit closely followed by the sound of a loud bell signaling the start of the match.

Neither the Titan nor his opponents make a move. The Band of Three crouch low, swords raised high, expressions fierce. Yet the Titan stands tall and frozen, displaying not even the slightest hint of concern. Hikaru could only wonder if the knowledge of his own overwhelming power on the battlefield had eradicated fear from his heart. But upon closer inspection of the man’s eyes, a pair of vast, empty blue oceans, Hikaru quickly realizes that that is not the case, for those are not the eyes of a man who boasts in his power. No, those are the eyes of a man who has lost everything.

Bored groans emanating from the crowd bring a faint smile to Byron’s lips. “The Titan has a peculiar habit of never making the first move in a fight.”

“I see,” Hikaru says. “Have you seen many of the Titan’s fights, Master?”

“I’ve seen all of his fights. But that’s not why I know about his habit…I know about it because he once fought for me and my House.”

Surprised, Hikaru turns to Byron. “He was once your gladiator?”

Just as he’s about to answer, the crowd’s groans convert to cheers. Byron turns to the action immediately, his eyes sparkling like that of a child eyeing his favorite sweet.

Tired of waiting, the three gladiators had lunged at the Titan and are now firing a flurry of attacks. Yet with unparalleled dexterity, he parries every single blow from his opponents.

“Amazing.” Hikaru has never before seen anyone wield a weapon that heavy with such ease and speed.
As the Band of Three desperately continues to try and land a strike on the nimble warrior, Byron resumes the conversation. “Indeed, he was once my gladiator but no more, not after the King took him from me.”

“Why did His Grace do that?” Hikaru asks.

“Because he was too powerful.” As he finishes his sentence, Byron’s eyes light up with dark delight. 

And Hikaru knows immediately what has happened. It isn’t the smell of iron, the sight of red, or the sound of torn flesh; it is something totally different, something inexplicable and inherent within everyone. He turns his head toward the arena, and there he sees it: blood. Blood dripping from the Titan’s axe, blood spreading from the decapitated corpse – blood everywhere.

The Titan keeps his axe frozen in the air after delivering the fatal blow and eyes his two remaining prey, who tremble before him. They shift backwards with every step he takes toward them.

Hikaru could only watch in pity. These three unfortunate men are nothing more than animals being sent to the slaughterhouse.

Yet Byron is more amused than ever. He turns to Hikaru. “Do you see now why I was not allowed to keep him? Lords throughout the kingdom complained that he was a killing machine, and that having him fight in the Arena was unfair.” A tinge of anger appears in Byron’s face. “But they were just jealous of me, as was the King. So they took him from me and made him property of the kingship. He fights only if and when the King demands it, a rarity nowadays.”

Hikaru pauses to contemplate for a moment. “So…you’re showing me this because you want to become like the Titan?” Hikaru asks, his confusion evident in his face.

“No.” Byron finally averts his gaze from the match and peers into Hikaru’s face. “I want you to become greater than the Titan ever was.”

Byron’s statement leaves Hikaru speechless and even more confused than before.

Byron turns back to the arena, where now the Titan has closed the gap between himself and the other two.

Both contenders put up an admirable struggle for survival, but their fate is already sealed. It isn’t long before they too, just like the first fellow, fall victim to the Titan’s blade. The crowd showers him with praise and admiration, which he returns with nonchalance. It was nothing new for him, after all. He strolls to the center of the arena and presents the royal family a half-hearted bow before exiting the arena.

Spectators file out of the stadium like ants scurrying back to their hill. Even the lords and ladies suck the last drops of wine from their glasses and bid their farewells to one another before sneaking out through their little private passageways. But amidst all this movement and activity, Byron sits. He isn’t even doing anything, just sitting, his guards right behind him and an uncomfortable Hikaru to the left of him.

“So, what do you think?” Byron smiles at Hikaru.

“It was…fine, I guess,” Hikaru says unsure of how to answer.

“I’m not talking about the match. Do you think you can surpass the Titan?”

Hikaru stumbles on his words. “I mean how can I? H-he’s so powerful. There’s just no way I can-”

“You underestimate yourself,” Byron interrupts. “I’ve heard things…they say the great Hikaru the Risen lifted a bull with his bare hands.” He brings his face closer to Hikaru’s and whispers, “And apparently even cheated death.”

“I don’t know how much of that is true. I-” Hikaru rambles.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not,” Byron says with surprising firmness.

Hikaru becomes quiet, intimidated by Byron’s sudden solemnity. 

“I know you have the potential to be something great. But that can only happen if you dedicate your entire existence to reaching that goal. So tell me…” His gaze locks onto Hikaru with frightening intensity. “Will you dedicate yourself to becoming stronger, to becoming someone who will bring glory to the name of my House?”

Hikaru’s initial answer in his mind was an unequivocal “No”. But it’s not like he really has a choice. And he doesn’t want to find out what will happen if he refuses. So he says the only thing he could say: “I will.”

“Excellent.” Byron smiles and sits back in his seat, enjoying the afternoon breeze. “You will begin your personal training with Sir Drago tomorrow and you will train with him every day in the evenings.”

“Personal training with Drago?!” Hikaru wonders shocked. Now he really wishes he said no.

“And during the day you will serve as my personal vassal. Are these terms clear?”

Hikaru pauses for a moment before answering. “Yes, Master.”

Smiling, Byron clasps Hikaru’s shoulder with his hand. “I look forward to seeing your growth.” And with that Byron stands up and makes his way toward the exit with Hikaru and his guards following him – mere specks in a vast, empty dome. 

***
His nose almost touches the pages. That’s how intently Byron reads his favorite book during the morning hours with a hot cup of tea in his free hand, sitting comfortably in the large chair of his study. The Art of Politics – it was a rather unfitting title for a book that teaches how to climb the political ladder through manipulation and treachery.

He lifts his head finally when he hears rapping on the door. “Enter,” he shouts.

A young boy marches in and says, “Master, Lord Randal is here to see you.”

“Ah, I see. Well, bring him in.”

The boy scurries out of the room and returns with a balding, portly man.

“Byron, how are you my good friend?” the man says as he extends his arm in greeting.

“Doing well, doing well, my friend.” Byron flashes his usual contrived smile while shaking Randal’s pudgy hand, which for some reason always happens to be sweaty. They aren’t actually friends. But this sort of formality is commonplace among nobles.

They take their seats, facing one another. “Have you lost some weight?” Byron asks.

Randal roars with laughter. His bushy moustache seems to grow even larger as he chortles, consuming the entire lower part of his face. “Oh you,” he says wagging his finger at Byron.

Hikaru walks into the study carrying a tray with tea and biscuits. He finds it hard to move in his new attire, which happens to be fancier than anything he’s ever worn before. He dons a new uniform: navy blue coat, cotton white shirt and pants, and a pair of black loafers.

“You need to look presentable before the high members of society.” That’s what Byron told him before revealing his new uniform.

Hikaru couldn’t complain. He could sacrifice a bit of flexibility for clothes that don’t have gaping holes in them or stink of piss and sweat like the rags he usually wears.

“Unfortunately I love my meals too much so I’ve not lost the fat,” Randal says patting his stomach with a proud grin. “But I’ve started cutting my own wood.”

“Oh?” Byron raises an eyebrow in feigned interest.

“That’s right, I’ve been using that axe you sold to me. Cuts like a charm.”

Hikaru freezes as he sets down the tray. He couldn’t believe that Byron sold Heian’s axe to this fat pig.

Randal looks at Hikaru, confused by his sudden moment of stasis. “Are you alright, boy?” he inquires.

Hikaru comes to his senses and turns to the lord. “Yes, I’m fine milord.” He forces a smile through gritted teeth before walking to his post at the corner of the room. “I’ve got to get that axe back!” he thinks to himself. 

Eying Hikaru, Randal says, “I’ve not seen him before. What happened to uh – what’s his name?”

“Perhaps you’re thinking of Sir Drago?” Byron says.

“Ah yes! Drago.”

“Sir Drago is busy training the gladiators. So Hikaru, has been serving as my vassal during the day,” Byron says, referring to the massive boy standing attentively in the corner of the room.

Randal, who was about to sip his tea, looks at Byron intrigued. “Oh, so this is the Hikaru all the common folk have been going on about? Hikaru the Risen?”

Byron shoots his acquaintance a faint smile as he takes a sip from his own cup.

“It’s amazing how your ranks grow stronger by the day Byron!” Randal sets his cup down, assuming a more serious countenance. “In fact that’s why I’m here.”

“Oh I thought you’d come to have a friendly chat,” Byron quips.

But Randall doesn’t find Byron’s sarcastic remark amusing. The mood has darkened. Even Hikaru could sense it. “It’s common knowledge that of all the lords, you have a great many men at your disposal. And so His Grace comes to you for a favor.”

At this, Byron’s smile vanishes in an instant. “He needs my men? Why would the man who commands the second largest army in the world need more men?”

“There have been whispers of an uprising. He wants to deal with it quietly without bringing in the royal guard. So he’s been asking various lords to provide men for a small army to deal with the matter without making much of a scene.”

“An uprising? In the Capital?” Byron shakes his head in disbelief.  “How soon?”

“We don’t know for certain but it appears that they’re still building their forces – slaves, gypsies, heretics. So perhaps several months to a year.”

“Why?” Byron looks irritated now. “What are they angry about?”

Randal opens his mouth to speak but stops, making eye contact with Hikaru, who was listening intently this entire time.

Hikaru quickly averts his gaze, trying his hardest to act innocent but to no avail. Byron gives him a cold stare. Hikaru, recognizing the signal, leaves the room in a hurry.

Randal waits until the door closes completely behind Hikaru and continues in a whisper. “There’s a famine going around.”

“A famine during one of the most prosperous times in this kingdom’s history? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know it doesn’t. But the poor folk are accusing His Grace of keeping all the food but he claims he isn’t.”

“Then where is it?” Byron says, his voice growing increasingly louder.

“I don’t know.” Randal sticks out his palms in an attempt to placate the simmering lord. “I’m as clueless as the next person.”

Byron places his hand on his forehead exasperated. “Why can’t he just deal with this like the others that have happened recently?”

“Well those were a bit different,” Randal says with a voice so soft, it seemed impossible for a man as loud as him.

“What do you mean?”

“Those uprisings were dealt with by…things.”

“Things?” Byron raises an eyebrow and then scoffs upon realizing what Randal is talking about. “You mean demons?”

“Listen, I’m just repeating what I’ve heard. Strange things are happening. And nowadays I don’t really know what to believe and what not to.” Randal leans back in his seat, raising his voice back to normal volume. “But one thing I do know is that an uprising will happen in this city and we need to stop it without disturbing the peace or causing a big commotion.”

“And that’s not my problem,” Byron retorts, smirking.

“Come on Byron. He’s your brother. Think of all he’s done to help you reach where you are now!”

His smirk disappears like the wind, and his lips purse into a frightening scowl. It is just like that time with Hikaru. He rises to his feet, looming over Randal, who looks at Byron with eyes wide with fear. Byron raises his hand and slaps the tray across the room, sending it crashing onto the ground. “Get out!”

Randal leaps out of his seat and races for the door. Stumbling all over his words, he quickly says, “His Grace said that, if you refused, to tell you that it’s an order and expects you to send him 50 soldiers by sunset tomorrow.” And with that, he bursts out the door to escape having to face any more of Byron’s wrath.

Byron heaves like a raging bull. He decides to unleash his remaining anger on the small coffee table, shattering its dark, polished wood with repeated stomps. “Brother, my ass!” he screams as he plops into his chair again.

He thinks back with resentment to when his mother was killed right before his eyes. Even after 50 years, he could still remember his mother’s screams of agony and the feeling of her cold, red body in his arms. The attack was ordered by his half brother, King Ian Fordigan. His mother was killed for having a son with the previous king, a crime she did not commit willingly. She was raped. He was lower than even the scum of society. He was an abomination, a bastard. But despite the odds, despite his destiny, he strove to make a name for himself. So when some blubbering idiot attributes his success to his despicable half-brother, he can’t help but explode in rage. His anger converts to tears now, as he closes his eyes recalling fond memories of time spent with his dear mother.

***   
The evening breeze feels crisp against his face and the sun, which could barely be seen over the treetops in the distance, shines its last rays into his eyes. This is the perfect sort of conditions for training – no draining heat or humidity to drain the life out of him.

He walks onto the training grounds. Squinting his eyes from the sunlight, he could see him, standing, wearing a scowl that says all too clearly that he doesn’t want to be here. But neither does Hikaru. Drago is the last person he wants to be with alone.

As he approaches, he proceeds with the usual formalities, stamping his feet together and saluting his master trainer.

His clean-shaven head gleams underneath the sunset as Drago stares at Hikaru, arms crossed and posture straight. Not a single word escapes his lips. He just stands there.

Hikaru decides it best to maintain his salutation until Drago addresses him. He could just tell from his eyes that Drago is looking for the slightest chance to make their first training session difficult for him. But he wouldn’t let him, not this time. He’s grown stronger since they first met, and he would prove that to Drago here and now.

“Tie it on,” Drago huffed finally.

Hikaru looks to where Drago is gesturing. A sack full of weights and weapons connected to a long rope. The end of the rope is a noose, which Hikaru ties around his waist. The first thought that immediately crosses his mind as he ties the sack to his waist is “Heavy.” This isn’t just a couple of pounds. No, this is easily a hundred pounds, if not more, he estimates.

“Run your laps,” Drago ordered. He hasn’t moved an inch from where he stands since Hikaru arrived, keeping his arms crossed and wearing the same scowl.

Hikaru starts his run, increasing his speed as he goes. He stops abruptly though when he sees something from the corner of his eyes: Drago reaching for a whip.

“What are you doing?” asks Hikaru.

“Excuse me?” Drago asks, fire in his eyes.
Hikaru realizes his lack of formality and immediately corrects himself. “I mean…I feel there’ll be no use for that whip, Sir Drago.”

“Oh?” A faint smirk appears at the corner of his mouth. “You think you’ll be able to complete 10 laps around the grounds without stopping once, eh?”

“Sir Drago, I don’t understand…” Hikaru grits his teeth. “Why are you doing this?” This was his desperate attempt to gain mercy from the tyrannical master trainer.

“You blithering fool!” Drago barks, shocking Hikaru. “I’m doing this so that you don’t get killed. As you are right now, your fatass wouldn’t survive a second in the Arena. But if you learn to move quickly while keeping your stamina, you might stand a chance. So get moving! I don’t have all day.”

He doesn’t have to tell him twice. Hikaru picks up the pace, trudging through the soft sand while the heavy sack slides behind him. He can sense Drago nipping at his heels. He has to keep running. And for a moment, he thinks he could it – that he could finish the entire run without stopping. But then, without any sort of indication, his legs crumple, sending him to the dirt. It is as though someone had bludgeoned him right in the knees. He tries to stand up but to no avail. He hears the whip’s crackle and then winces and bites his lip, restraining the desire to yell. It was no use. His legs would not function despite his mind’s incessant demands – a complete disconnection between mental resolve and physical capacity.

Drago lashes him again. This time he lets out a grunt and tears forms in his eyes from the pain. He had assumed that by now he is used to it. But that is not the case. His skin burns and sears where the whip made contact. “Come on!” he encourages himself, clenching his teeth and scrunching his eyes tight. To his relief, his legs finally answer his pleas. He rises to his feet slowly before pushing forward.

He manages a few more steps before collapsing to the ground again.

Drago’s scowl intensifies. Irritated by Hikaru’s incompetence, he fires several lashings in succession. Hikaru couldn’t hold it in any longer. He fills the silent night, a dazzling canvas of blue and pink, with his screams of pain.

“Stop!” he begs in his mind, his eyes, teeth, and fists clenched. Why couldn’t Drago understand just give him a break? Just this once. Another stings his back. Drago raises his whip to for the next. Hikaru opens his eyes, springs to his feet, and catches the whip in his hand.

He is proud of his act of disobedience but the feeling doesn’t last long. Because at that very moment, he lays eyes on Drago, whose expression embodies pure animosity. He couldn’t help but fear for his life, trembling before the man who looks as though he is going to kill him right then and there.

“What the *censored* do you think you’re doing?” Drago whispers with a menacing tone. “Who the *censored* do you think you are!?” Drago swings his hand at Hikaru’s face, sending him stumbling backwards. “You think just because you won just one fight that you’re so special, eh Hikaru the Risen?” he mocks as he inches towards Hikaru, seething.

Hikaru looks on in horror wondering what he should do. Should he fight or should he just accept his punishment? 

Drago answers that question for him, however, when he reaches for a pair of practice swords from the weapons rack, taking one for himself and throwing the other at Hikaru’s feet. “Come on, you’re so special right? Well come on then! Show me what you got!”

Hikaru has no idea how the situation ended up like this. He has never seen Drago this furious before. But at this point, he knows he doesn’t have much of a choice. He grabs the sword and assumes a defensive stance, prepared to battle his trainer-gone-mad.

Drago rushes at him.

Astonished by his speed, Hikaru is caught completely by surprise.

Drago rams him in the stomach with the butt of his sword before launching a powerful uppercut at his jaw.

Blood and spit erupt from Hikaru’s mouth as he staggers, dazed from Drago’s lethal attacks.

Taking advantage of the situation, Drago thwacks Hikaru’s legs with his sword, knocking him off balance. As Hikaru falls to the dirt, Drago quickly leaps onto him, pinning him to the ground.
Drago fires away at Hikaru’s face without mercy, each punch like a hammer. He finally stops after feeling his anger has been satiated. He gets to his feet and turns to walks away, but not before spitting at Hikaru.

After a few moments, Hikaru crawls back onto his feet and makes his way back to the slaves’ quarters. Navy blue now spreads across the sky completely and the crispness of the evening breeze bites at his wounds. After that experience, it is clear to him that the next several weeks will test the extent of his determination.

***       
Hanz walks along the corridors of the slaves’ quarters, heading back to his barracks after dinner. “Where has he been?” he wonders about Hikaru, whom he has not seen in training yesterday or today. His face fills with shocks as he enters his room.

Hikaru rests against the wall, his clothes tattered and covered in blood. He looks up at Hanz, clearly in pain. “Hey,” he mutters before collapsing unconscious.

***
When he awakes again, he finds himself wrapped in bandages lying in Hanz’s cot.

Hanz sits crouched on the ground. He turns to Hikaru. “How’re you feeling?”

“Better, much better,” Hikaru groans as he props himself up into a sitting position. “Thanks to you. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“It’s fine,” Hanz sighs. “I’m used to it by now.”

Hikaru gives a meek smile when Hanz asks, “What happened?”

“Training…with Drago.”

“Now? In the evening?”

“Yeah I’ve been serving as Byron’s vassal during the day and training with Drago in the night.”

“You’re serving as Byron’s vassal? How the hell did that happen?”
“I don’t know. It was so sudden. Yesterday he took me to watch a gladiator match in the Arena…he wants me to become some sort of great gladiator I suppose.”

“Ah…he wants you to become Ardon.”

Hikaru looks up at Hanz intrigued. “Yeah, how’d you know?”

“Because that old fart’s been looking for someone to replace Ardon since the day he lost him,” Hanz says slightly amused. “And looks like he chose you. Lucky.”

“No, not lucky.” Hikaru shakes his head in dismay. “I’m stuck with that asshole, Drago, for who knows how long.” He breathes a loud sigh. “I can’t fathom why he hates me so much.”

“He’s jealous of you.”

Hikaru chuckles, thinking Hanz is joking. “Yes, that must be it. Why in the world-” He stops upon noticing Hanz’s solemn expression. He couldn’t believe he is being serious.

“Drago is a rare case, one of the few slaves to ever be given the title of a knight in the history of this kingdom. From what I’ve heard, he was one of Byron’s very first slaves, an excellent gladiator, the pride and joy of House Faustus. That is until Ardon came along.”

“What happened?”

“Ardon became the star gladiator of House Faustus and Drago was casted aside. With Ardon around, Byron didn’t need Drago in the Arena anymore so he had him knighted by the King as a reward for his years of loyalty and had him become the master trainer of his House and his personal vassal, but Drago didn’t like that.”

“Why not?” Hikaru interjects. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Because he isn’t stupid. Drago knew that even though he holds the title of a knight that he’s still just a slave, subject to the whims and desires of a very shrewd lord. He thinks that he deserves to be something more than he is right now so when he sees you starting to become Byron’s favorite, he feels undermined.”

Hikaru’s eyes widen in understanding.

“Drago has served Byron for the past 30 years and so he knows only how to do two things: fight and serve. But after seeing Ardon and you he feels he’s failed at both of them. Men grow very unstable when they feel they’ve become obsolete.”

This revelation shocks Hikaru. If what Hanz says is true, he will have to tread carefully with Drago from here on out so as not to upset him.

***
The hall of his grand castle is quiet and empty during the twilight hours in the Realm of Light. He cherishes every minute of tranquility he can find during his hectic days as the ruler of an entire race. As he sits on the high throne, he closes his eyes thinking of his dear son. All is silent. That is until he hears “Lucidus!”

He opens his eyes to find his brother, Oruda, storming towards him. And just when he thought he could have some peace and quiet.

“Explain yourself, Lucidus!” Oruda roars, visibly upset.

Although taken aback, Ludicus maintains his composure. “I’m afraid I do not-”

“How dare you continue to act innocent even now?” Oruda interrupts. “Even after it is known that you let Hikaru retain his powers!”

“Looks like they’ve found out,” Lucidus muses to himself. “Indeed, before banishing Hikaru, I placed a seal on his powers, one that seems to have been broken after his close encounter with death.”

“And that is a direct violation of our Holy Code!”

“I am aware but-”

“This is shameful, Lucidus. How can a king lead his people when he himself cannot adhere to our sacred laws? You even allowed that Yogen, whose negligence cost the lives of Patrona and almost your son’s, to go unpunished. Your incompetence is really starting to show Lucidus! If I report this to the Council, this will not end well for you.”

A brief moment of silence follows Oruda’s tirade. He heaves while Lucidus sits in his chair, eyeing his brother with a solemn expression.

“My showing concern for my son is a matter unrelated to the proper governing of this kingdom. I believe if you were in my place, you would have done the same for your son. Isn’t that right, brother?” Lucidus peers at Oruda, piercing deep into his very soul.

Oruda flinches at the sight of Lucidus’s gaze and gulps down a lump in his throat.

“Your anger is well-founded and I do believe the Council will not be happy to hear what I have done, as you were. But…”

Lucidus’s gaze intensifies. “I should remind you that I am your King. And I will not tolerate insolence. Keep that in mind when you address me in the future.”

“Y-y-yes, Your Grace.” Oruda gives Lucidus a quivering bow before scampering out of the throne room.

Lucidus rests back in his chair and closes his eyes.

As Oruda walks along the corridor of the royal palace, he thinks to himself, “Lucidus you think you’re so high and mighty now. But just wait till when I’m King. I’ll put you in your rightful place.”
   
« Last Edit: July 19, 2015, 01:01:30 PM by Aozora »
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

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