My name is Legacy. Thank you for opening this thread.
I have been away for some time (in terms of writing), but I am happy to announce that I am back! If you are so kind as to read what I have written below, I will be eternally grateful. I will also do my best to return the favor should you take the time to leave reviews on my story.
Thanks so much for being great friends!
Now... without further ado:
Table of Contents
- One: Masara's Hero
(Tokyo, Japan - 1981)
A shiver raced down Ren's spine like a sharp winter breeze as he watched the hulking beast climb away higher and higher with surprising swiftness.
This creature… this monster, whatever it was, was scaling the towering steel construction scaffolding platforms towards the heavens. Tucked under its arm during its ascent like a sack of rice was a terrified girl in a pink dress, her shrill screams triggering a sick feeling of dread deep inside Ren's stomach.
Ren knew he couldn't waste any time. He dashed towards a metal ladder and began to climb, not entirely sure what in the world he would or could do even if he did somehow catch up to the huge, hairy beast.
He reached the top of the first ladder and found himself standing on a platform about fifteen feet off the ground. He took a few labored breaths and looked upward. Much to Ren's surprise, he saw that the oversized primate had stopped climbing. It was now simply standing on the highest platform, probably fifty feet above Ren, staring down menacingly at him with the girl still flailing desperately from in its armpit.
The fact that the creature seemed to be taunting Ren now infuriated him. A shot of adrenaline coursed through him like a gulp of hot chocolate on a frigid night. Ren growled and put his head down, rushing full speed for the next ladder leading up to the next highest platform. His arms and legs burned with fatigue as he climbed, but he forced himself onward.
*Clang, Clang, Clang!*
The booming sound of metal crashing against metal echoed throughout the entire area. Ren stopped and looked up just in time to narrowly avoid a rolling, bouncing iron oil barrel by leaping over it just before it struck him.
Another glance up at the beast told Ren that it was the one throwing barrels and large chunks of loose concrete down at him as if they were nothing but empty soda cans or small pebbles. Seeing the beast's raw strength and size caused his terror and panic to grow. This thing could easily rip him to shreds. This rescue mission was surely going to be nothing but a romantic gesture… a suicide mission… with no chance of success.
But Ren did not… would not stop. Even if it was just a gesture, even if he was climbing to his death, he couldn't give up. He had to let her know how much she meant to him.
Ren finally reached the last ladder that led to the beast's platform. He heard the monster beat its chest and roar at him from just above him. Still not having any idea what he was going to do, he gave an emboldened shout and gritted his teeth as he took off.
As he scaled the final ladder, however, something pulling on his sweater sleeve stole his attention away. Was someone trying to stop him? He tried to ignore it and focus on his task, but the tugging persisted and grew more forceful.
Ren blinked and took his hand away from the joystick. He took his coffee-colored eyes away from the screen and rubbed them until he regained his focus and the real world returned to him.
He took a step away from the machine and turned to see familiar face greeting him with an unmistakeable expression of concern.
"Hello?! Ren? Anyone in there?"
"Kenji? I uh… sorry, I didn't hear you coming," Ren mumbled, looking a little embarrassed to have lost himself so completely in an arcade game.
"Yeah, I could see that," sighed Kenji, a shaggy-haired, spectacled boy of fourteen wearing his school uniform. "You get like this every time you come to the arcade."
Ren just shrugged. "It helps me keep my mind off things, that's all."
"Well, I'm just glad I finally found you. I've been all around Tokyo looking for you, you know," Kenji said tiredly. "I should have known you'd be here."
"And you call yourself my friend," Ren said, his voice full of sarcasm.
Kenji, looking more annoyed now, replied, "I'm serious, Ren. People are starting to get worried about you. You haven't called anyone. You haven't been back to school in weeks. No one has seen or heard from you since..."
Kenji stopped mid-sentence, a look of utter horror and shame exploding across his face at what he had almost been careless enough to say.
"Oh, Ren, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to bring it up. God, I'm such an idiot!"
"You are, yes," Ren replied with a smirk. "But it's fine, Kenji. He's gone. It happened. It's not like it's a secret."
"Yes, but I shouldn't have--"
"It's all right. Let's drop it," Ren said a bit more sharply.
It was the late afternoon by now, and the local arcade was beginning to fill with more and more uniformed school children excited to spend their spare lunch money at the multitude of colorful and flashing video games that lined the outer walls.
"Sure gets crowded this time of day," Ren muttered under his breath as he rummaged through his jeans pockets for more tokens.
"Ren, are you okay?" Kenji asked, going so far as to place a hand on Ren's shoulder. "Have you been coming here everyday?"
"Not everyday," Ren said, waving him away.
"When are you going to come back to school?"
Ren's expression remained emotionless. He inserted another coin into the machine and began to play again.
"I'm not coming back," he said without looking up.
"To school. I'm not coming back to school."
"Of course you are," Kenji said, almost laughing. "Look, I'm sorry about what I said. Take all the time you need. I don't mind taking notes for you or bringing you your homework until you get back."
"I'm serious," Ren said as he manuvered the joystick to avoid more rolling fireballs thrown by the virtual-beast. "I start at the plant tomorrow."
"You're dropping out of school to work at the power plant?!" Kenji looked like Ren had just kicked him in the groin.
"Yeah, why shouldn't I?"
"You can't be serious! What about your future?!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, come on!" Kenji replied, slumping his shoulders in exasperation. "You get great marks in school. You're the only first-year student to make the baseball team. You're brilliant with computers and video games. I've never seen someone take apart one of those Famicoms down to the screws and put it back together like you..."
"Kenji, you're rambling. What's your point?"
"Don't you want to do something with your life? You could get a baseball scholarship to the University. You could study computer engineering or whatever. You could be anything you want. You could be rich someday. But quitting now and working at the plant for the rest of your life won't help you achieve your dreams."
Ren's stony face cracked a smirk at this. He thought Kenji sounded just like his mother. He finally turned from the game to look at his friend.
"Dreams…" Ren said with a roll of his eyes. "It's time to stop acting like kids, Kenji."
"Dreaming about playing pro ball. Designing video games. Going to the University. It's fun to dream about that kind of stuff when we're kids, Ken, but we've got to grow up sooner or later. We've got to be realistic."
"What part of getting an education is unrealistic?"
Ren actually laughed at this. He stopped when he saw Kenji looking so hurt and confused.
"You remember my cousin, Ryu, don't you?" Ren asked seriously.
"Yeah, he was a ball player too, wasn't he?"
"Exactly!" Ren said, wagging his finger at Kenji. "Ryu had everything you are saying that I have. He was awesome at baseball. He got a scholarship to Kyoto University to pitch for them. He was smart in school. Everything was great."
"Yeah, see?" Kenji interrupted. He was about to continue when Ren cut him off.
"Everything was great... until he tore a tendon in his elbow at practice one day. He was never the same. Before he knew it, he was off the team and his scholarship was gone. Without it, he couldn't afford to stay at the university. He had to move back home and ended up getting a job as a garbage man."
Kenji sighed. He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes like he was in pain. He looked defeated.
"Ren, now you're the one rambling. What are you trying to say? You aren't your cousin, you know."
"Dreams, Kenji," Ren said, shaking his head. "Dreams are for the privledged. Dreams are for people with rich parents, for people with powerful friends. What if I don't get into the university? I'll be left with nothing just like Ryu. Better to start making my living now rather than waste years of my life and end up with nothing to show for it!"
"Ren, why are you being this way?"
"Kenji! My father is dead! Don't you realize I'm the man of my house now?! My mom works part time in a grocery store. I have three sisters. We need money! I have to grow up! My future that you keep talking about... it's here! My future is now!"
Ren knew instantly that Kenji was ashamed. Ren, stared blankly at the floor and fidgeted with the nearby change machine. Despite his friend's blatant remorse, Ren was angry. Why couldn't Kenji understand? Why did he care so much? There were hundreds of people making good honest livings by working at the power plant. What right did Kenji have to judge him? ... Why had his father left him in this mess?
"I'm sorry, Ren," Kenji finally whispered, tears on the verge of spilling from his eyes. "You're right."
"That's why I'm here, Ken," Ren replied, gesturing to the room at large. Seeing Kenji's shame made Ren's anger dissipate somewhat.
"Here at the arcade, I mean. Like I said, I start at the plant tomorrow, so today's kind of the last day of my childhood. After today... Well, I just wanted to enjoy my last day of being a kid."
"Say no more," Kenji replied with a nod. "You're a good man, Ren."
"Man? Not until tomorrow," Ren reminded him with a wink.
"Right. But hey! I have an idea."
"Oh, this should be good."
"Shut up, Ren," Kenji said wryly. "Listen, Aiko from school told me that there's a nest of giant hornets up in a tree by the river a few miles from his house."
Ren rolled his eyes. He already knew where this was headed.
"I can't believe you still care about that stupid bug collection, Ken. We're not eight years old anymore."
"Oh, come on, Dr. Bug!" Kenji replied with a hopeful smile. "You used to love collecting insects too!"
"Yeah, 'used to.' And don't call me Dr. Bug anymore! I'm fifteen years old for God's sake. Bug hunting was fun when we were kids, but we're at the age now where it's just weird and creepy. And besides, giant hornets aren't exactly little pink butterflies. I'm not too keen on getting stung by one of those things."
"Stop being chicken," Kenji teased. "How cool would it be to have one of those in our collection? And you said so yourself, it's your last day of being a kid before you start your career at the plant. What better way to spend it?"
Ren gave him a warning glare, but Kenji put his hands up in mock surrender. Ren could think of probably a hundred ways to better spend an afternoon, but he didn't say anything.
"Come on," Kenji finally pleaded. "For old time's sake, at least?"
Ren exhaled deeply and rolled his eyes again. Kenji... simple, carefree Kenji. He was such a kid. But maybe he was right. A lifetime of predictability at the plant was in store for Ren for the rest of his life. And besides, Kenji was a good friend. He had been there for Ren at all hours of the night after Ren's father had passed.
He thought back to those warm summer mornings with Kenji and the other kids spent in the tall grass fields behind the school. They would catch grasshoppers, lady bugs, spiders and all kinds of creepy, crawly bugs in jars with airholed lids. Ren remembered riding their bikes excitedly to the library to learn everything they could about the monsters they had just captured.
It was a good childhood, free from the worries of having to bury his father and take up his responsibilities at fifteen. If today was truly the last day of Ren's childhood, he supposed one last quest for bug collecting glory wouldn't hurt. It would help ease his mind if nothing else.
"All right. Let's go," Ren said, trying to sound as unenthusiastic as possible. "But if I get stung, I'm going to kick your ass."
Kenji just laughed and cheered as the two of them left the arcade.
After stopping at the drug store for supplies, Ren and Kenji took the train just out of the city to the spot near the river that Aiko had mentioned.
Tall, sun-bleached grass rippled in the wind as did the thick, leafy bushes and shrubs growing near the edge of the river. It was late afternoon by now, but the cloudless blue sky and the still bright sunshine made nightfall seem like a lifetime away.
Ren and Kenji recreated their normal childhood routine of wading in the river bank and skipping pebbles over the surface of the water. They picked blades of grass and competed to see who could whistle them louder.
It was exactly what Ren needed to ease his emotions and forget his anxiety and grief.
The two boys finally decided to walk down the river's edge in search of the alleged hornet's nest. They reminisced about the good old days and kicked water at each other as they walked. They laughed, something Ren hadn't done in weeks. After they'd made it about a mile or two, they finally saw it.
A small group of tall willow trees with wispy, drooping branches stood before them right near the water's edge. Ren spotted it hanging from one of the higher branches near the trunk... the giant hornets' nest.
"There it is," Ren said, pointing to the hive which was the size of a basketball and the color of dirty dishwater.
"So what's the plan?" Kenji asked as he took out the protective beekeeper masks that they had packed.
"Well," Ren said, still staring up at the tree. "I figure you can climb up and smoke the hornets out of the hive and try to snag one with a net or something. I'll be down here supervising."
Kenji glared at him.
"We both have to climb, Ren. One of us will carry the smoker. The other has to bring the jar. Once we knock them out with the smoke, they should be mellow enough to catch one without getting stung."
"This is the worst idea you've ever had," Ren deadpanned. "Is it too late to go back to the arcade?"
"It will work!" Kenji insisted. "Seto's uncle is a honey bee keeper, and he says smoke pretty much puts them to sleep. We just gotta get close enough to get one in the jar."
Ren muttered his doubts and shook his head but donned his netted mask and grabbed the smoking device, a small metal can with a spout like a tea kettle. Kenji lit the filament inside and smoke began to eminate from the spout.
"Okay, you ready?" Kenji asked from inside his mask.
"These things aren't going to protect the rest of our bodies if the hornets attack," Ren said, trying to hide the apprehensiveness in his voice.
"That's what the smoke is for. Let's go."
Ren cursed under his breath, but joined Kenji as they both hoisted themselves up the willow branch by branch. Ren realized right away that they were now close enough that he could hear the faint hum of hornets above them. It was not a comforting sound at all.
Both Ren and Kenji were skilled climbers from all the experience they had gained throughout their younger years, and they had little trouble reaching the hive. They moved slowly but deliberately even as a few straggling hornets buzzed past them.
Ren swore many times as the hornets passed his face, but was poised enough to do so quietly and without many sudden movements. The black and yellow hornets lived up to their name; they were huge. Much bigger than the common honey bees and spiders that Ren used to collect. The stingers they wielded caught Ren's eye right away. They looked like small, venom-spewing daggers.
Ren now regretted the decision to put himself in such close proximity of such dangerous looking insects, but he was too high up off the ground to go back now. He clutched the smoke can tightly, but luckily, up until now at least, none of the insects suspected Ren or Kenji as enemies.
The boys used extreme care as they both manuevered themselves like gymnasts until they climbed up into a high branch a few feet above where the nest hung.
"Okay," Kenji whispered quietly from the next branch. "Pour the smoke. Slowly."
Ren, gripping the thick branch he was sitting on with his legs, leaned over and aimed the smoker so it was directly above the hanging hive by a few feet. He moved slowly and quietly, trying to steady his shaking hands as he tilted the device like a watering can.
The thick, gray smoke poured from the spout like coffee and billowed around hive. Ren's heart skipped a beat as he saw the black, shiny eyes of several curious hornets poke out of the hive, but the thick cloud of smoke seemed to be serving its purpose as the steady buzzing sound seemed to lessen in intensity and volume. The hornets walking on the surface of the hive moved slowly and sluggishly if at all. The group that flitted through the air nearby seemed to mellow as well, flying in more relaxed and smooth patterns.
"Nice work," Kenji whispered. "Keep pouring while I try to catch one of those ones hovering around."
Ren nodded. He continued to hold the can so that smoke kept pouring out, but a ticklish sensation on the back of his neck stopped him instantly. Ren froze. He could feel an insect crawling on his neck, and he was sure that it wasn't something harmless.
"Kenji..." he said, not wanting to even draw in a breath so as to anger the hornet on his neck. But Kenji was busy trying to coax one of the drunken hornets into his waiting jar.
Ren prayed that his stillness would mean that the hornet would fly away with no damage done. He thought about gently waving the hornet away, but he didn't dare. He remembered reading how territorial the insects were. What in the world had they been thinking coming up here?
And then several things happened at once.
A stiff breeze whipped through the wispy willow, forcing both Ren and Kenji to brace themselves on their respective branches. Ren, nearly falling out of the tree, lost his grip on the smoker, which tumbled from his hand, falling to the ground with a multitude of metal-sounding thuds as it bounced off branches on its way down. Then, as Ren had expected, a sharp pain pricked him in the side of the neck and instantly began to burn like someone had put out a cigarette on his skin. Ren shouted and reactively swiped wildly at the culprit before his better judgement could stop him.
He couldn't answer before another burning pin-prick stabbed him in the shoulder. Then another in the forearm. And another... and then another.
Ren felt himself getting dizzy. The excruciating pain was actually beginning to subside as the swarm of hornets buzzed angrily. Kenji's voice was starting to sound further and further away. Ren hoped the hornets hadn't been stinging him as well.
Obviously abandoning all hope at catching any bugs today, Ren tried his best to climb his way down towards the ground away from the angry hornets, who were now free of their smoky sedation. But he couldn't move fast enough to escape the stings. His thoughts were racing, but everything else seemed to be moving in slow motion.
Eventually, Ren's grip failed him completely. His extremities went numb and he felt gravity take him into its arms towards the ground. His descent was slow and almost peaceful as if he was a rock sinking to the bottom of a lake.
Then, everything went black.