Kenko crouched behind a cart wheel, hiding. His heart was racing, beating in his chest like a drum, the sound filling his ears. The Oni was getting closer to where he and Yumi hid, he was sure the sound would give him away. He looked around at the devastation caused by the attack, imagining the terrified faces of the other monks, his gaze fell upon Yumi now and they shared a knowing smile. He signalled to her to go around the other side of the cart. They prepared to take down the Oni in a pincer attack, hoping to stay out of reach of the beast’s devastating attacks. One, two…
Just at that moment a crashing sound erupted from the bushes behind them! Out emerged the new boy, Riku. Leaping onto the cart, he barely touched down before kicking off once again into a beautifully executed flying fist attack. Down went the Oni and up rose Kenko’s fury like a river ready to burst its banks in a storm. The three children converged upon their imaginary foe, Riku standing tall, feeling very happy with his agile attack.
“What did you do that for?” demanded Kenko, annoyed by the older boy’s inability to stick to the rules of the game.
“Sorry Kenko, I just wanted to help out” apologised Riku, arms open.
“Well you shouldn’t have, I told you, Yumi and I get to take out the Oni” replied Kenko.
“Sorry, I won’t next time…” muttered Riku despondently, at Kenko’s ignorance to his offer of an olive branch. Kenko nodded, his anger abated slightly by Riku’s acquiescence. On seeing this exchange, Yumi couldn’t help but speak up, she loved her brother dearly but she couldn’t stand the way he treated Riku.
“Great leap though Riku, you would have punched that Oni square in the face” she smiled encouragingly at Riku. Kenko felt his anger boil back to the surface
“But he shouldn’t have bothered, we could have done it” snapped Kenko.
“So… he did and it was great, let’s play a different game now,” Yumi fired back.
“Why bother? Why don’t you just play your stupid games without me” whined Kenko. He was too angry to think rationally; all that was left to him was to stomp away. Angry with Riku, for turning his sister against him. Angry with Yumi, for taking Riku’s side.
Master Ekusa stood tending his beloved bonsai. He normally felt centred by the miniature perfection of his trees. Today however having observed the exchange between his young students he couldn’t quite find the tranquil state of mind to which he was accustomed. He knew the play of young children shouldn’t disrupt his thoughts so; there was just something in Kenko’ that continued to perplex him.
Every man has free will to follow the path he chooses, and one can, through strength of will, stay on a path not true to oneself. Unfortunately Ekusa reflected upon his own teachings; true happiness is only achievable through accepting one’s nature, ignoring this leads to sadness and self-destruction. The elements of every man’s personality are a reflection of their true self. The care free, wild, wilfulness of Fire. The relaxed, accommodating and logical Water. In Kenko’s case Master Ekusa saw a strange mix with lots of conflicting traits and emotions in his young ward, the flexibility and understanding of wood, juxtaposed by the strong yet brittle nature of metal. He was a curious boy.
“But the pride of the boy, the passion, the anger…” Ekusa’s mind whirled with conjecture time as ever, would reveal the boys path, all he could do would be to guide and advise him. With that decision made in Ekusa’s mind he found himself no closer to an answer. Confounded by what he knew of the boy’s nature, clashing with that which he could feel. Master Ekusa sighed and refocused on the manicured leaves in front of him, letting his breathing slow and his mind open to the universe around him.
Kenko’s innate ability and the speed at which he learned both impressed and concerned the teachers. Many discussed in the quiet corners of the temple whether Master Ekusa had let his emotions blind himself. So oblivious to the obvious rage the boy seemed to have festering just below the surface?
Riku was well in touch with his own path, easily dealing with Kenko’s misguided dislike of him. His time at the Temple had been made more difficult by the younger boy’s ire however he had never had problems making friends. Riku had been at the Temple of Ro-Kan now for 6 cycles, since his seventh birthday, he had had numerous run ins with Kenko and knew he should probably keep his distance. He just couldn’t help himself, he enjoyed being able to observe the effect his presence had on Kenko, and he enjoyed messing around with Yumi, she played such fun games.
It had been a week since Riku had last seen Kenko outside of the lecture theatre, and he was distinctly aware of the hostile body language directed at him. Riku was telling a story as he walked along, quite a few of the monks were eagerly keeping pace to hear about his life before the temple. Riku had never been sure why, but in his short life people had always been drawn to him.
Kenko sat in the shade of a tree and watched the boy, torn by his feelings, he knew that he would like to be friends with him but then he also knew that he would like everyone to listen to him like that, he’d been here longer hadn’t he? He was the strongest wasn’t he? Even Yumi laughed more when he was around, his own sister.
With the last thought Kenko stood and strode purposefully to catch up with the group of fledgling monks, all of them still older than he, being younger than the minimum age that the temples would accept new students.
As he came alongside the group, Riku stopped and affably welcomed him to the pack by stepping aside. Kenko didn’t respond, he merely stood and listened. Riku attempted to pretend to be unconcerned by Kenko’s presence, pressing on with his story. “And so then I would change their moons for them, my dad let me count the moons we had made after a day’s trade” explained Riku.
“How distasteful,” muttered Kenko.
“What did you say?” Asked Riku, more aggressively than he intended.
“I said how distasteful, sullying our temple with stories of merchants, the lowest of the low, PARASITES” Kenko responded, spitting the last word, as if it left a sour taste in his mouth. Kenko had heard these views expressed before but knew nothing of their truth. Kenko had no memories from before his days at the Temple, being only a toddler when he and his twin sister found themselves under the care of the Monks of Ro-Kan. Riku’s anger was written all over his face, but like a dark cloud, briefly concealing the afternoon sun it passed, he composed himself and replied;
“What is it pray tell that your father does for a living?” Kenko blinked, stunned by Riku’s cruel words.
A moment of calm preceded the action.
Kenko flung himself at Riku blinded by his tears and rage. His flailing strikes missing as Riku flowed around him, everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Riku was neither throwing blows nor being hit by them. The anger exhibited by Kenko, subduing the normal rowdiness that accompanied such an altercation. No shouts of encouragement were uttered to either fighter. Finally Riku brought an end to proceedings hooking his leg behind Kenko’s and letting the boy fall, like an apple from the tree, to the ground. Kenko hit the hard ground of the courtyard with a jarring thud, knocking the wind out of him and bringing forth stinging, bitter tears. He looked up to see Ekusa looking down at him, all the boys had dispersed leaving him and Riku with the old Master. The look with which Ekusa now appraised the boy would stay with him for a long time, disappointment etched deep into the features of his ancient face. In silence Kenko dragged himself to his feet, still trying to catch his breath, he fixed his eyes on the dirt floor of the temple. Unable now to meet either RIku's or Master Ekusa’s gaze, he bowed and made his exit.
Kenko walked slowly, oblivious of all around him. His thoughts consumed by the unending replay of what just occurred. Having wandered the temple he found himself perched high on the wall of Ekusa’s Bonsai garden. Since he could remember he had enjoyed sitting up here, watching Ekusa tend to the little trees. Now however he felt flurries of different emotions and thoughts. His fury unrelenting as Riku’s words echoed back to him.
What did his father do? Kenko’s history, his origins, remained a mystery.
How does Ekusa dare look at me like that, he won’t even tell me where I come from!
He jumped off the wall, and landed deftly on the balls of his feet, among the tiny trees. He ripped them from their pots in savage delight, throwing them against the garden walls. He grabbed, snapped and broke them until he had no rage left. All that was left to him now was a very cold feeling in his stomach, a freezing knot of regret. He surveyed the carnage of the scene, his eyes filled with an altogether different type of tear. He fled now, clearing the courtyard, leaving the temple limits behind him, forcing his way headlong through the brush of the forest. He ran blindly, the branches whipping at his face, accepting the brambles tearing at his skin. He was running from his shame, running from his nature.
Master Ekusa had watched on from the shade of a willow tree. His chest felt heavy as he watched the boy’s actions. He had lovingly nurtured some of the trees for more years than most people had been alive. He had looked after the boy as best he could since he came into his care.
He felt, for the first time, as old as his years.