If life is a journey and every hardship and joy a lesson, where does that leave two men whose lives ended years ago? Unable to let any naïve, blinded person choose the same path they did, they'll teach these foolish, innocent boys a lesson many never come to term with: Life isn't fair and ignorance can't save you forever.
Well, here's the edited version of Real, in Rocky's point of view. Feel free to ask questions and give constructive criticism. In fact, I encourage it. I really do need feedback to write more. It gets me motivated. :)
Rocky observed the newcomer with a critical eye. He looked to be a withdrawn and mysterious person; neither his eyes nor his actions gave way to any apparent emotions. He had young features but looked as if he held the weight of the world on his shoulders; dark eyes gave off the impression that he had ageless knowledge. Of course, Rocky knew that wasn't true. Grandpa introduced the thirty five year old man as Susumu Yamazaki, an acquaintance of his who'd studied the arts of the ninja for years. For one month, he was to be their teacher while grandpa went on a well-needed vacation to his hometown, Kouga. He and his brothers were sad to see him go, but Rocky had looked forward to training with this new person.
Although he found himself thinking differently given the current situation.
Executing stance after stance of martial arts for three hours straight was tiring. Executing stance after stance of martial arts for three hours straight in the pouring rain was pure, utter hell. Susumu had briefly told them that it was a part of their training before he threw them out of the house and into the yard.
Tum-Tum grumbled numerous complaints while carrying out a few strikes next to him. Colt was near-cursing as a thankfully dull throwing star slipped in his hand, leaving only Rocky calm and unperturbed, as his ninja name suggested. Rocky held a sword, feeling it slip out of his grasp far too often than his liking. When a particularly strong slash sent it flying out of his grip, he simply picked it up again.
In the process of retrieving his sword after it had flown off towards the house, Rocky took some time to observe Susumu again. He'd tried to watch the man before, only to be scolded for slacking off. Rocky had been stunned that he'd sensed a lag in his actions, especially given that Susumu sat meditating a good distance away, his back to them.
Susumu was a person with a thin, lithe form who wore dark clothes that contrasted against his pale skin. Black hair was tied into a long, low-hanging ponytail and spiked in the front. He stood still as a stone, unwavering against the weather. For his age, Rocky admired his skills; grandpa had spoken highly of them.
Rocky lost track of time when he noticed a figure emerging from the house. He recognized it as Susumu's friend, a man named Souji Okita, who, according to Susumu, was a prestigious swordsman. Grandpa welcomed both of them with open arms, confident in their abilities to teach his grandsons. Both Rocky and his brothers had taken a liking to Souji and his sunny disposition instantly.
He doesn't look strong enough to be as good as Mr. Yamazaki says, Rocky considered as Souji approached them. For awhile, he and his brothers actually mistook Souji for a girl, until they'd addressed him as a "she" at which point Susumu had actually laughed at them. Well, he'd partially laughed, it seemed to be more of a scoff than anything. Souji bore them no ill-will even after he found out though; he merely smiled and laughed lightly.
Although, no one could blame them since Souji was feminine, right down to the graceful way he walked. His Japanese outfit flowed behind him, its plain surface speckled with mud; he didn't seem to mind.
The young man came to a stop in front of their little practice area, all smiles and cheer. Tum-Tum was the first to ask the reason of his trudging out in the rain to talk to them.
"It's really late, can't you see?" Souji said, pointing at the dark and dreary sky. Rocky found him to be a bit childish in his actions.
"Mr. Yamazaki didn't say we could go yet," Rocky said, not daring to relent in his sword strokes. He really didn't want to see Susumu mad.
"Silly, you'll catch your death of cold out here," Souji giggled lightly. Nope, Rocky thought, not like Mr. Yamazaki at all. For a moment, the ninja could have sworn he saw Souji's face flicker with some unknown emotion, knowing only that it was sad. Maybe that happy expression is only a mask, Rocky thought, trying to get a good look into Souji's eyes. The man's head was turned at an angle that made it impossible, though.
"We can't," said Tum-Tum. "We'll get in trouble." Rocky knew that the lack of rest was wearing down on the younger boy even though he spoke so energetically.
"Nonsense, you won't get in trouble. I'll take care of it, so go on inside. I made dinner." Souji gave them a reassuring nod and walked off to Susumu.
"Well?" Colt said, stopping after they watched him go. "I'm dead tired. Let's go in."
"Yeah, me too," Rocky agreed as they headed back towards the house. As Colt closed the door behind him, he heard Souji shout a loud greeting to Susumu.
Somewhere along the way, he abandoned his sword in the mud.
Following a hot bath, Rocky met his brothers in the kitchen. They weren't eating.
"What's wrong?" he asked, sliding into a chair, exhaustion seeping into his bones.
"I don't think that food's…edible," Colt said. Rocky couldn't help but think that his face was greenish.
"It's not that bad, is it?"
"Look," Tum-Tum said, grabbing a bowl from the counter and tilting it to show its contents. Rocky peered over the edge and blanched at the mushy gruel that stared back. Some sort of vegetable-like strips were laid out on top of the mess that vaguely looked like it had grains of rice in it.
"It looks a bit like oatmeal," Rocky said, poking a finger into the food, which was slightly watery. He held it to his tongue tentatively.
"Don't!" Colt cried dramatically. "You'll poison yourself."
"No I won't. I doubt Mr. Okita would feed us something inedible," Rocky stared at his brother in skepticism. He wasn't too sure about the gruel though, because it did seem strange. A lick revealed that it wasn't too bad, more tasteless than anything.
"It's just rice you know," said a voice from the hall. Rocky and his brothers turned to see Souji standing in fresh clothes and combing his incredibly long hair. "It's called kayu. We give it to sick people; it's easy on the stomach. I can't cook well, but I found some leftover rice and used that. It's probably the only dish I can make," Souji laughed. "I do get sick often."
"So…it's edible…?" Colt said slowly.
"Perfectly." Souji took a seat across from Rocky and set the bowls down in front of them. He started eating and it didn't seem too bad, so Rocky and his brothers followed suit.
"Ew," Colt said as he made an exaggerated gagging noise. "Nasty."
"It's okay," Tum-Tum said through a mouthful. Rocky agreed with a nod.
Shortly, Susumu emerged from the bathroom, dressed in clothes similar to Souji's, only characteristically darker, and his hair dripping freely. Rocky envied how he didn't look tired at all, while he felt as if he'd collapse any minute now. Susumu settled into a chair next to his friend, casting him a questioning glance once he saw the food. Souji smiled at him.
"Whatever," Susumu shrugged.
Half-way through their strange meal Susumu paused and looked up at Rocky and his brothers.
"You do know why we trained in the rain, don't you?"
"Yeah, you wanted to test us," Tum-Tum put it through another mouth full food.
"Chew, Tum-Tum," said Colt in monotone. He was more than used to telling him that.
"Not exactly. You grandfather gave me a run down on what he's taught you all so far. I wanted you to get that the weather won't always work out to your liking. It's unavoidable. So be prepared because I think that this rain's going to last through to tomorrow."
Rocky nodded absently, swirling his spoon in the mush. He was just ready to sleep.
Later that evening when the three ninja were in their beds, Colt's talking kept his brothers up even though they really wanted to sleep.
"What do you think about them?"
"They're nice, I suppose," Rocky yawned, burrowing into his pillow.
"Yeah," Tum-Tum agreed, although he was mostly asleep by now.
"I wonder where grandpa knows them from."
"Probably. Wonder how he got in contact with them. Mr. Yamazaki and Mr. Okita nearly had a heart attack when they heard the phone ring," Colt pointed out.
"Can't this wait?" Rocky mumbled his eyes already closed.
"They freaked at the TV too," Tum-Tum said. "And the lights and the fridge and…"
"And just about everything technological."
"…Weird. They're like…the Amish people…" said Colt.
"Colt? Listen to yourself talk."
"Hey, Tum-Tum, Tum-Tum?"
"I think he fell asleep. And I am going to as well. Night," Rocky said.
The next day brought no relief from the rain and no breaks in the grey expanse of sky that draped against the world. The gloom that appeared to seep into every crevice in the house couldn't even be flushed out by the lights. The three boys' room was no different as Susumu crept up the stairs on the silent feet. In his hand he held a bamboo stick that still held its green leaves along its length. It was a bit of an old trick used by Mori to wake his grandsons, but Susumu figured it would suffice. He'd find more creative ways of waking them when he got the chance.
Rocky acted immediately to the leaves tickling his face, snatching at a handful of green as he woke. He wondered at the repetitiveness of it, but he and his brothers didn't ask as Susumu herded them downstairs. Before he left, Rocky caught a glance at the clock besides his pillow that read five o' clock. Trudging down the stairs, he groaned at the long day ahead of them.
"Five more times, then you can go," Susumu barked at the ninja. For hours he'd drilled them in performing stance after stance using bamboo staffs. And although the sun peeked out from behind the clouds tauntingly, the rain giving no signs of letting up.
Rocky grunted in exertion as he gave one final downward slash with the pole. Sweat beaded his head and his chest heaved despite the cold rain sinking into his clothes. He walked a few steps, only to slip on the slick surface of the tiled roof. He cursed.
"Why'd we have to train on the roof?" Colt mumbled behind him.
"You don't know how many fights I've fought on rooftops with or without rain. It's a valuable thing to learn to cope with," Susumu pointed out. Rocky started down the ladder carefully, thinking that their new teacher must have been insane to let them train of a roof all morning long. He let go of the ladder as he neared the bottom and waited for his brothers to catch up.
"Come on, let's see what monstrosity we have for lunch!" he called.
"Yeah, after that egg roll thing for breakfast…" said Colt, a grimace on his face.
"Hey, that wasn't that bad," Tum-Tum said, bouncing behind them.
"How do you still have the energy to run?" Rocky said as they walked inside. Tum-Tum shrugged.
Following a hot bath, the three boys met up for lunch in the kitchen. They entered suspiciously, not sure whether to be afraid or relived that they couldn't smell any strange foods cooking.
"Itadakimasu!" Souji said cheerily. Rice balls wrapped in seaweed, noodles that didn't seem very hot at all, and a bit of grilled chicken adorned the few plates Souji set out in the middle of the table. The young man placed bowls of rice in front of the boys before settling down to his own.
"Ita-what?" Tum-Tum commented, voicing exactly what Rocky was going to. He thought it sounded Japanese.
"Itadakimasu, I guess you can translate it to…thanks for the food, or something," Souji shrugged.
After lunch (which was not that bad), the brothers had the rest of the afternoon to themselves which they spent playing video games in their rooms. Rocky also checked in on Souji a few times, just to see how the man spent his time every day.
Currently he sat on the couch, hands folded around a cup of tea, the position they usually found him in. The more noticeable thing was that at his side a little folded piece of paper no more than two inches high sat propped up against him, which he kept glancing back at. From his position on the stairs, Rocky couldn't make out what it was. He inched closer, anxious to get a better look, hoping that it would reveal something about the mysterious man. The stair under him creaked lightly at the most inopportune moment, alerting his presence.
"Oh, Samuel, was it?" Souji said quietly, almost contemplating something far away in his mind, not really talking to the boy. "Can I help you?"
"Oh, no," Rocky said hastily, ready to make a quick escape. The swordsman's mood didn't let him though. It rooted him to the spot. "I was just wondering…wondering what that is."
He pointed to the piece of paper.
"It's a paper crane," Souji said, lifting the tiny object for him to see. Rocky came closer and stared in wonder at it. It was made of paper alright, a paper with a fine-looking surface and a design of golden, brown, and other dark colors in the patterns of flowers. Perfect, neat creases and evenly proportioned body parts gave the impression that its maker had folded it with precise care.
Rocky gave him a stare that told him to go on, but Souji remained silent. Eventually Rocky gave up pursuing the man for the clearly deeper meaning the little piece of paper held.
Susumu finally came inside near dinnertime, soaked to the bone. Souji shot from his seat and ran to his friend, fretting over him, a towel in hand. Rocky laughed as the more feminine man patted their teacher's head with the towel like he was a child. Susumu was clearly annoyed and brushed it off, making a hasty retreat to the bathroom.
"Susumu needs to laugh sometimes," Souji said, folding the towel up and replacing it on the counter. "He's too stiff."
"Yeah," Rocky nodded, unable to help but agree.
Later that night, lying awake in bed, Rocky told his brothers of his findings with the paper crane and Souji's lonesome contemplation.
"Why are you two uncovering their lives like a mystery?" Tum-Tum asked. "Do you think they're criminals or something?"
"Nah, it's just that they act weird," Colt said.
"Yeah," said Rocky.
"When did you start talking so philosophically?"
"You just ruined it."
"I'm tired." That was Rocky.
"Then go to sleep," said Colt.
"I can't, with you two jabbering away here."
1 Kayu- A Japanese dish often made of leftover rice. It is watery and somewhat like oatmeal. Since it is easy to eat and easily digestible, it is often served to sick people. Sometimes vegetables, meat, or eggs are served with it.
2 Itadakimasu- A phrase used by Japanese people to sort of express one's thanks for a meal. Said before eating.
3 Soba noodles- Buckwheat noodles. Often served cooled.
In the next few chapters, look out for that someone who made the paper crane. It should play an important part later on.
The next chapter will be in Susumu's point of view and you get to learn more about the three ninja's mysterious teacher. You will also get more of a background to his reasoning of teaching them.
As an extra sneak peek, I've nearly completed the third chapter, which is in Souji's point of view.
If you readers have any ideas of possible life lessons the three ninja's can be taught, feel free to leave it in a review!
I hoped you enjoyed reading this!
Update 8/27/09: Fixed a few spacing and extra character errors.