Lisa trotted up to Kenichi Shirahama in hope of a lesson.
"Oh, Lisa!" he looked surprised, as if the fact that Lisa expected something from him was an unprecedented notion. "Have you done you're conditioning?"
"Yes, sir," she answered.
"Are you sure you didn't skip anything? You have to keep your body strong, you know," he asked.
"Her conditioning is the most thorough I've ever seen in a disciple," Akisame intervened. He added pointedly, "At least, in a disciple who does conditioning on her own."
"She's a very independent learner," Kenichi beamed proudly. "Lisa… let's see. Do you want to work on Mubyoshi more or something?"
"Of course," Lisa couldn't help but think she was being brushed away. Nonetheless, she put her hat down and took deep breath in preparation for her training.
"Miu! There's a good movie in theatres today! You wanna go?" Kenichi called into the house.
"Of course!" she answered.
At school the next day, Lisa's morning was virtually identical to the one prior, but during lunch a surprise lay in wait for her.
As she brought out her bento box to start her meal, several of the boys in the class stalked up to her desk to resume their taunts from the previous day. She ignored them just as thoroughly as she'd done the day before.
Lunch had only just started, and with it the taunts, when Katsuo entered her classroom.
When they saw the secretary of the student council approaching them and Lisa's desk, their voices almost instantly and simultaneously died into silence. They stared at Katsuo, who didn't seem to notice and instead kept his eyes on Lisa.
"Hey, Lisa!" Katsuo greeted.
"Hello, Katsuo-san," she greeted in turn.
"Please, just Katsuo!" he laughed in embarrassment, to which the rest of the boys responded with a sharp gasp in shock. "Anyways, I thought that since you're knew and don't know many people that you might like to eat lunch with me and the student council on the roof."
"That would be nice," Lisa nodded and stood, collecting her bento to take with her to the roof of the school. "Thank you, Katsuo."
They climbed the stairs, both ignoring the stares from the other 2nd years. Whispers bounced across the hallways, people wondering what the student council wanted with this peculiar American transfer student.
Lisa had only heard rumors about the student council. They were apparently the strongest martial artists in the school, and the only ones allowed to fight. They held a special status among the students and were given a certain amount of leeway when it came to breaking the rules. The student council members were entirely exempt from the regulations if it was in the name of discipline.
Of course, Lisa was already used to the world of martial artists. She was, in fact, curious to find what these legendary martial artists would be like and if they would allow her a few sparring matches. Sparring with Ma Kenichi, who was at a slightly lower level than her but close enough to win some matches, was boring. She definitely didn't want to be bored with martial arts.
"Here we are," Katsuo's voice snapped her out of her thoughts when they arrived.
Including Katsuo, Lisa counted five student council members. The apparent leader was a stylish girl with long, dark brown hair and eyes almost as green as Ma Kenichi's. Lisa guessed that she was very popular, and a 3rd year.
"Everyone, this is 2nd year Lisa Kugenin," Katsuo told the group. "Lisa, this is the student council."
"Hello," she bowed with respect. The others nodded in greeting, a few responding audibly.
"I, of course, am the secretary of the student council. That's the 1st year representative," Katsuo pointed to each person as he called out their titles. "They're the 2nd year and 3rd year representatives, and that is the vice president." The last person he pointed to was the stylish girl, apparently the 2nd in command.
"It's brilliant to meet you, Lisa. My name is Eri Kuroki," the vice president introduced herself. "Please, do sit down with us!"
"I'm honored to be here," Lisa obeyed and joined them to eat. "Do I get to meet the president as well?"
"Our president is of the aloof sort," Eri admitted. "And he isn't very sociable. We don't see him often."
"You know," Katsuo started. "Outside of school, Lisa is a martial artist, too!"
"Oh, really!" Eri mused. Some of the others looked up as well with interest. "That's very interesting! Who is your master? I know the martial arts world pretty well; I might have heard of him."
"I'm sure you have," Lisa said. "I'm studying under History's Strongest Disciple, Kenichi Shirahama."
Katsuo and some of the others almost dropped their bento boxes.
"I see," Eri remained calm. "I assume that means you're Katsujinken?"
"I haven't made my choice yet," Lisa explained. "But I was born into a Living Fist family, so I am as of now."
"Isn't it so liberating to have a choice?" Eri smiled coolly. The other student council members exchanged glances.
"I agree," Lisa nodded, ignoring their suspicious behavior. "It's very liberating."
"Ma Kenichi!" Tsubasa, who apparently liked to address people by their full name, called out to him.
"Yea!" he responded with ease, flipping his long black braid over his shoulder.
"Don't try to be cute," she smacked him on the head. "Anyways, you failed the last math test. You should really start getting serious."
"I failed it?!" Ma Kenichi gawked at the paper as she handed it to him. "Aw, man! You know, if my mom finds out about this, she's gonna kill me!"
"What are you gonna do?" Tsubasa asked.
"Tell my dad," he answered immediately. "He's sympathetic to people who fail in academics. After all, he repeated a grade in high school."
"Not that," she snapped. "What are you gonna do about your grade? If you fail the next test, you'll have to take a supplementary exam!"
"Oh, that," Ma Kenichi waved it away. "I'll just study this time. I'll probably pass."
"Wha-! You mean you didn't study this last test?!" Tsubasa raged. "Take your education seriously, dammit!"
"Will you help me study?" Ma Kenichi asked. "Normally I would ask Midori, but he's dead!"
"M-Midori?" Tsubasa's jumped back in shock. "You don't mean… Midori Niijima, do you?" Midori Niijima was, of course, Haruo Niijima's deceased son.
"Yeah!" Ma Kenichi nodded. "He was a family buddy, you could say. His father is a friend of my master."
"Midori Niijima…" Tsubasa's face fell. A dark look shadowed her eyes, and she turned to walk away. When she spoke, she sounded very distracted. "I'll study with you. We can set up a time later. Just pay attention in class and you might not get tossed out for excessive stupidity."
"Will do," Ma Kenichi answered without picking a fight. Something about Tsubasa's reaction to Midori Niijima's name bothered him. What did Tsubasa know about the circumstances surrounding Midori's death?
"She's definitely a candidate," Eri said.
"She didn't seem that impressive to me," the 2nd year rep shrugged anxiously.
"I think she's perfect!" Katsuo interjected.
"You're biased, Romeo," the 2nd year rep reminded him.
"I think she's super nice!" the 1st year rep chimed.
The 3rd year rep remained silent.
"Lisa Kugenin, huh?" Eri mused thoughtfully. The other student council members looked to her. "Let's tell our masters. They'll know what to do."
"Well, this is a surprise," Ryuto Asamiya noted as Tanimoto climbed into his training building via the window (even though the door was a perfectly viable alternative).
"Yeah, right," Tanimoto rolled his eyes. "You sensed my ki coming from a mile away."
"To what do I owe the honor?" Ryuto said, pushing up his glasses with a half-smile.
"I came to give you a response about the Yoake thing," the hooded martial artist responded.
"I trust you gave it serious consideration?" Ryuto questioned.
"Of course," Tanimoto nodded. "But Yoake's purpose is to teach kids the Satsujinken way, and I don't really like brats. Also, I don't think the Killing Fist is better or righteous; I just think it's what works for me."
"Plus," Tanimoto looked at Ryuto sharply. "I am Hermit. I refuse to be held down by any organization or its rules ever again. After Ragnarok, I was an idiot to join Yomi in the first place. I would have to be Kenichi-level stupid to join another group."
"Yes, well," Ryuto shrugged. "I suspected you might choose this direction. You always were a loose cannon, even in high school."
"I try," Tanimoto saluted in farewell. "See ya, Odin."
"Bye, Hermit," Ryuto waved as well. Tanimoto's hooded figure sped out the window by which he'd come, and he disappeared.
Ryuto exhaled long and deep. Most masters didn't refuse the offer to join Yoake since almost all other Satsujinken organizations collapsed after Yami's defeat. It was a pity, though, that such a brilliant master such as Tanimoto "Hermit" Natsu was a standoffish man.
It was also a shame that Tanimoto's disciple, Ma Kenichi, wouldn't be a part of Yoakeko (夜明け子), the disciple counterpart to Yoake. Yoakeko was to Yoake as Yomi was to Yami.
Speaking of disciples, Ryuto thought to himself as he sensed his own disciple's ki approaching the building. He waited patiently as his pupil rushed to the door and entered excitedly.
"Yes, Katsuo?" Ryuto Asamiya asked him. "What is it?"
"Asamiya-sensei," Katsuo, the 3rd highest ranking member of Yoakeko and secretary to the student council, was breathing hard from his run. "I met the disciple of Kenichi Shirahama! She's still deciding between Living Fist and Killing Fist!"
"Oh! Is that so?" Ryuto blinked in surprise. "As the bad news leaves, good news comes." He smiled slowly, deep in thought. Katsuo grinned. "She's still deciding, eh? Well, we ought to help her make her decision."
I was overwhelmed.
The protective arms of a loved one carried me through the sea of flames.
Bamboo mats, which I'd watched him train on for so many years, were on fire.
The walls were stained with the fire's orange light, the glow muffled only by the thick smoke that rose to the ceiling.
I was overwhelmed by the fire.
His shirt and arms were on fire, but he still lifted my limp body high above the flames without flinching.
His master's calls had harsh urgency and concern, her voice weakening as she died.
As she died.
He reached the doorway, and his strong legs gave out.
I fell and rolled away from him. I strained my neck to see him collapsed on the ground.
His mouth formed the word, "Go!"
The dojo burned around me, and still I remained frozen.
Even as fire slapped my face, I froze.
Tsubasa awoke in a cold sweat.
She hadn't had that dream in a long time; she wondered what it was that had brought forth such terrible memories.
She fell back onto her pillow. Surely the trigger had been his name on her lips the previous day.
She could still remember her frozen reaction when his name appeared in conversation:
Whenever she asked herself who she was in love with, that name was still the first one to come to mind. Midori was her sempai and her close friend.
After so many years in authority, the class president was unaccustomed to any sense of vulnerability, but she was in it at that time. Tsubasa closed her eyes and tried to return to sleep, but the memory of the flames became such vivid images that she could smell the smoke, taste the dry air, see the fire, feel the flames, and hear Midori's fearful shouts.
"How is school going, Ma?" Kenichi Shirahama asked Ma Kenichi at the dinner table a few days later. "Are you doing well in your classes?"
"Well, I am my father's son," the boy laughed heartily. "But I am working on it. I have a study date with the class president next week."
"I hope it's more 'study' than 'date'," Kenichi Shirahama warned.
"Definitely more 'date'," Ma Kensei said. "When you're old like me, you'll remember the good times more than the math worksheets."
"But," Miu glared accusingly at Kensei. She softened her gaze as she turned to Ma Kenichi. "An education is still extremely important, so don't let it slip. What you learn in school effects what you learn from your martial arts masters."
"What are you having trouble with?" Kenichi Shirahama directed his attention to the young boy again.
"Akisame could help you with pretty much anything!" Sakaki pointed out.
"Don't just volunteer me for things, Sakaki," Akisame said irritably. "But if he asks, I would consider offering assistance."
"Thank you," Ma Kenichi nodded his thanks with a smile. "But I would rather try on my own to do things before involving masters."
"That's very noble," Akisame acknowledged.
"How's… the food?" Shigure, who'd helped Miu in preparing dinner, asked.
"Very good, excellent job!" similar calls echoed across the table. Miu beamed with pride. Apachai said nothing and concentrated on shoveling food into his mouth.
The rest of the meal was spent with additional random babble about meaningless minutiae. Everyone else enjoyed it quite well; after all, there was no reason not to. Lisa just looked on in solemn silence.
Lisa waited for someone to ask her how her day at school was. She waited for someone to ask how she was doing in her classes. Even if there was nothing to report, she waited.
Lisa hadn't learned a new technique in several months.
The day that followed was a weekend, and Lisa, as always, expected a lesson. She was met with a disappointment that was becoming familiar now.
"Sorry, Lisa!" Kenichi Shirahama denied. "I had plans with Miu today! Why don't you practice some of your old techniques and do extra conditioning for now, and I'll teach you a new technique later!"
"Yes, sir," Lisa answered with some difficulty. It was hard to hide her disappointment, but Kenichi was so excited he wouldn't have noticed anyways.
To keep herself from crying, she recalled her mother's warning: that even if Kenichi seemed to be weak or cowardly at times, he always had a plan and he always came through.
Akisame looked away. He knew what was happening, but he stuck by his old teachings; he must never interfere with his disciple's battles. Even if his "disciple" was now the master, this was still Kenichi's battle to fight. He decided to find an excuse to leave the dojo as to not witness Lisa's dejection. Akisame stood and retreated to his chiropractic clinic to meet his customer's demands.
Lisa didn't practice her old techniques. She didn't continue her conditioning.
She just punched the pole. At first they were weak and barely skimmed it, but as she went on she punched with more ardor and more fire. She punched violently and viciously. The pole cracked, but she kept on punching.
Suddenly, between her strikes, Lisa heard the sound of the dojo's gates being opened and closed. Sakaki and Apachai were out gambling, Shigure had disappeared mysteriously (surprise, surprise), Miu and Kenichi were out together, and Ma Kenichi and Kensei were off "bonding" somewhere. Which of the masters was returning?
She darted to the gates and was shocked at who was standing there.
It was Eri Kuroki, the vice president of the student council that Lisa had met the other day. Outside of her school uniform she was even more stunning, with a carefully selected outfit that could still be easily fought in.
"Hello, Lisa," Eri greeted with a cold smile. "I come bearing a challenge."
"None of the Ryouzanpaku masters are here," Lisa told her.
"No, they're not," Eri agreed, her eyes still on Lisa. "My challenge is for you."
"I want to measure your strength," Eri explained, setting down her purse and tying her long dark brown hair in to a side-ponytail. "Katsuo thinks you'll work well in our group, but some of the others have their doubts."
"As the vice president and 2nd-highest ranked," she went on, ignoring Lisa's exclamation. "It is my duty to investigate you, your strength, and report it to the president for revision."
"What are the terms of the battle?" Lisa asked. She might as well follow the melody and see where it takes her.
"No terms," Eri said, standing before her in a fighting stance. "Anything allowed. Victory will be declared when someone gives up or is knocked out."
"Good luck," Lisa wished as she took up her fighting stance as well. She decided to start out the fight with Muay Thai and switch to Karate once her opponent was off guard. Then a Jujitsu flip and she would be finished.
"Start," Eri called.
As was her plan, Lisa attacked with a Muay Thai axe kick right off the bat, but where her foot should have struck was met with empty air. Eri had moved!
She's fast, Lisa thought. She twisted around to locate the girl and-
Lisa gasped. Eri had quickly and with an amazing show of flexibility wrapped her legs around Lisa's head!
Without a word or facial expression, she slammed Lisa into the ground with her feet. Lisa caught herself with her hands, straining her arm muscles as she lifted her body up and flipped around to resume her fighting stance.
"Impressive move," Lisa commented.
"So I've been told," Eri responded.
Eri attacked first this time. With speeds that shouldn't be human, the vice president raced around her opponent so fast that the afterimages appeared to be clones! It made her head spin. Lisa thought that the attack style, which seemed familiar, looked agility based and not unlike ballet.
Lisa blocked three attacks in a row. She marveled at how light they were; it was almost as if Eri hadn't even been trying.
"Y-you weren't effected by my ki," Eri noted in surprise. "That's impressive…"
"So I've been told," Lisa repeated the girl's past response.
"…But it's not enough," Eri's voice came from behind her, the girl before Lisa being a mirage of Eri left behind by her amazing speeds. She struck the back of Lisa's head hard, and in a pressure point so the girl collapsed on the ground.
"This is my win, Lisa Kugenin," she said to Lisa's unconscious body.
Eri Kuroki left.
Author's Note: Sorry I'm late; I had a busy weekend (I realize that it's no excuse, but it's better than none at all). I shall try to be more prompt in the future.