Master Zayo – the name which echoed greatness and honour across the land of the rising sun. The world was vast, yet tales of his might and victory swept like gale winds across the oceans and foreign soils. His legend told shared by children on the playgrounds, who one day dreamed of being heroes as epic as him – spearing tales of how the great martial artist vanquished all evil that dared defy peace, and spread wisdom like a prophesied messiah.
Many had lost their lives scaling the unforgiving mountain in the valley of shadows to reach the legendary sensei’s dojo at the summit, desperately pleading him to take them on as a student, to learn his philosophy and his wisdom. Yet even to those that had narrowly escaped the jaws of death to reach the great master, they would only end their journey in futility. As nearly all were turned away, deemed unworthy of inheriting his teachings.
In his lifetime, hundreds of prospecting students had scaled the merciless mountain – with less than half able to reach the dojo at the summit. Some were old war heroes, some were prodigies among their countries, some had travelled across continents, only to be turned away to venture back the great distance they had crossed in vain.
Yet none had surprised the old master as much as the young boy on his knees before him. He was on verge of death, yet still pleaded with all his remaining life to be taken under the wing of the great master. His skin was as pale blue as the ice he had just scaled over, stained with mud, dirt and blood. It was truly a shock that someone of his thin and frail build could survive even a thunderstorm without snapping like a tree branch, let alone scale to the summit of such harsh, unforgiving terrain. The boy looked too young to have reached his teenage years yet. Or perhaps, judging by the tattered rags he wore, the homeless boy hadn’t eaten enough to grow to his full size.
He fell to his withering knees that could barely support his frail weight and bowed before the master. Zayo brushed his glistening silver hair back to his shoulder and pierced his gaze at the pleading boy. His eyes widened at horror gazing into the boy’s soul – tarnished in darkness, in a magnitude he had never seen before. The master had fought against some of the world’s most heinous villains, yet never had he come across a stained soul as the boy’s. “I see nothing more in you than a soul hungry for vengeance. Leave my presence and never dare to return with a heart as black as yours”
“I wish not for vengeance,” the boy pleaded, his voice breaking down, and his breaths thinning, “Even at my age, I’ve known nothing but hardship and tragedy. I failed to protect the only one who held me dear, now there is no light left in my life to guide me through the darkness that consumes me. I do not seek vengeance, I only wish to make peace with my demons.” Yet still, the master turned his back on the pleading lost soul.
“I beg you, do not send me away. If I do not die on the mountains on my return, my demons will become the end of me”
“Pity will get you nowhere boy,” replied the master coldly, “In the wrong hands, my teachings could cause the deaths of more than just your meaningless life, and I’m prepared to sacrifice your own to protect the souls of the innocent. Only those I see worthy may inherit my ways.”
“Then I’ll prove I am worthy,” he cried as he launched himself off the ground with his diminishing strength and held his shaking fist to his chest. “I’m staying here until you change your answer. I won’t eat, I won’t rest, and I won’t back away until you take me as your student. I’ll withstand the harsh weather of the mountain and patiently wait through my hunger and show you that I’m tough and disciplined enough to take on your training. Though there is nothing but darkness in my heart and my past, I’ll endure it all to show you that my iron will shall never turn to evil.”
The master paused as he gazed at the boy once more, growing a fond curiosity for the boy. Yet could not brush past the malevolence that lay dormant. He breathed a sigh as he gave his answer and walked away. “Very well” he growled. “But heed my words, boy. You place just so much as a foot on this dojo, and you become an intruder in my home. You’ve clearly heard tales of how I vanquished my adversaries. I’ll unleash the same wrath onto you, should you dare intrude in my home.”
The storm that night ravaged the mountain summit. Lighting ripped through the shrouded skies. Hail pelted down like a shower of icy arrows. Each as sharp as a spear, piercing into the boy’s skin. The wind bellowed and howled down below. Yet the boy remained sat on his knees, keeping his stoic gaze at the dojo entrance. The taunting blows of the wind that burned his body could not compare to the demons that burned away at his mind. The memory of his mother’s death tormented his every thought. As he could vividly picture the face of her killer, clenching his grasp around her throat, turning his murderous gaze at his cowering boy who helplessly watched, petrified. Leaning towards the boy and whispered close into his ear…
“Rice ball?” The boy stumbled back at the voice that suddenly appeared. He turned to face the girl, offering him a plate of food. Her red hair lit up the pitch-black night sky like a campfire, and her warm smile could melt the ice that blanketed over the mountain. She couldn’t have been any older than he was, yet what struck him most was the shining white Gi she was wearing, with a black embroidered Kanji on the right – ‘Zayo’. “You must be starving!”
He could not avert his gaze from the food that seemed to taunt steam his face. He gritted his teeth and tore his head away from the plate. “Come on, don’t be like that”, she continued. She placed the plate beneath her umbrella and offered the boy a hand. “I’m Fyura, I’m new here too!”
“Tamashii” he replied in a faint whisper.
“You should eat Tamashii, you look like you haven’t in a while, you could really use the strength if you’re going to try and out-stubborn the master”. Tamashii looked at the plate in sorrow. If only she knew the magnitude of truth her words held. Yet he was determined to not break his iron will. As a homeless orphan, hunger was a pain he was all too familiar to. He wasn’t about to let a temptation as meek as food break his iron will. He had to show the master he was determined to prove his worthiness – whatever the pain he had to bear.
Fyura planted her umbrella above the boy and rested the plate next to him before she returned to the dojo. She stood next to the master, watching the boy from the window. “He’s a stubborn one,” he said with a tone his voice that seemed to resemble pride. “But will he know to wait for his opportunity, or learn to SEIZE it? Will he give in to his temptations, or will he learn to strengthen his heart from wavering?”. Fyura tilted her head, confused at the words of the old man. She shrugged her shoulders and continued to gaze at the kneeling boy, shivering in the storm. She could not help but feel sorrow for the boy, but trusted with all her heart there was kindness behind the master’s cruelty.
Three nights had passed, bearing storms that raged with greater fury bearing down their mighty wraths. Yet Tamashii remained sat at the doorstep of the dojo, patiently waiting for the master to change his mind. Fyura bought a meal for him three times a day, always greeting him with her radiating smile. He envied her – naïve to the cruelty of the world, shielded from the shadows that consumed this unforgiving life. She kept him company and attempted to befriend him. But Tamashii kept her distant from his companionship, lest the master would not have a change of heart.
The storms ravaged away at the sky and on Tamashii, and his hunger began to burn inside. Yet he remained patiently sat, haunted by the thought of giving up. Haunted by the memory of his mother’s death. If only he had the strength to protect her then. He didn’t even value his own life. Yet somehow, she valued his own life over hers, enough to make the ultimate sacrifice. He hated his very existence. He hated the thought of living yet feared her death to be in vain if he failed to keep himself alive. He clenched his fist tight and pierced his gaze at the dojo, and the raindrops ebbed away the dirt and weakness from his grey-tinged face. He was prepared to sacrifice all that he had to prove the master of his patience and dedication.
As the sun beamed its golden rays above the peak of the mountain on the afternoon of the fourth day, Tamashii could not help but wonder why Fyura made no attempt to get him to eat. Perhaps the master had caught her and forbade her from helping the stubborn root who refused to be moved. Or perhaps she had grown tired of him, turned her back as everyone else had. He could not help but feel slightly relieved having the temptation of breaking his will removed from him. Yet strangely, felt sorry for himself for having succumbed to such a pitiful state.
His train of thought was quickly broken by a sharp cry for help in the distance. Instinctively, he darted up in response, yet began to stagger in dizziness. With a sharp shake of his head, he sprinted towards the pleading cry. The screams seemed to muffle and louden as his vision blurred and cleared. He had no energy to even stand and felt himself slowly fading out of consciousness from his burning hunger. Yet, with sheer will power alone, he propelled himself forward towards the danger.
Tamashii stared wide-eyed and horrified at the sight before him. Fyura lay crushed underneath a giant boulder, that towered over her like the mountain itself. It couldn’t have been any less than 5 times her size, weighing down her tiny body like a heard of mammoths on top. Tamashii pelted forward to rush to her aid, when the growling voice behind him stopped him dead.
“Leave her”, it growled behind him. Master Zayo stood gallantly on the mountain ledge, his draping long Gi fluttering with the roaring winds. “She is my student, and if she lacks the strength to free herself, then she is not worthy to continue her training. Tamashii gawked at the size of the boulder crushing the helpless girl. He was amazed she was not dead yet, being crushed under a weight of that magnitude.
“You are not to help her. If she dies, then she has failed as my student." The words of the master sent a shiver down his spine. Just who did he see to be worthy if this so-called great master would allow a little girl to die under his harsh training?
“This is your opportunity to show me your patience, to show me how unwavering your willpower truly is. To show me your heart will not be swayed to darkness, no matter what befalls you.” Tamashii looked back at the girl desperately holding on to her life. He was prepared to die begging to be taken under the master’s wing. But he could not bear the thought of someone dying in his place.
As Fyura clawed out to escape, the haunting memory of his mother’s death suddenly flashed before him. Fyura’ s eyes pleading with the same desperation for help just as his mother did on that fateful night. Her screams echoed deafeningly in his mind, as look in the killer’s eyes tormented his nightmares, glaring the message he could never forget. If only you had the strength to protect her…
Instinctively, Tamashii ran towards the dying girl and clawed away at the boulder, desperate to dig her out of danger. He lunged at the rock with the last of his frail strength. But it was no use. The boulder wouldn’t even budge. He clawed his fingers between the gaps and thrust his body upwards. His face reddening as the blood punched into his head and his arms. Tears flooded his face as he felt his muscles tear into shredded fragments. Yet still, he refused to give up.
If only you had the strength to protect her…the voice in his head taunted. He threw himself back and rolled up his sleeves and pelted his knuckles into the boulder. If he couldn’t lift it, he’d have to smash his away into it. He ignored the crunching of his bones as he kept thrusting his arms furiously. Until suddenly, the boulder began to slowly rise. Tamashii fell to his knees and gawped in awe as Fyura lifted the giant boulder effortlessly with her legs and catapulted it into the sky. Catching it on her shoulder on its descent, as she beamed her warm sunshine smile at him. “You were actually prepared to sacrifice your dream to come help me. You’re so sweet!”
“Your first lesson is complete,” bellowed the master as he placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “Though patience is a virtue, time waits for no one. Desert flowers bloom only once in their lifetime. The seeds wait patiently in the sand for the first glimpse of rainfall. If they miss their window, they may never bloom with the others, and be left to fade forever into the sand. Much like that flower, we patiently wait for our opportunity, and take any window that opens for us to bloom. Else, should we miss, we too may drift away our only chance, and our potential too will fade away. That is my first teaching to you, and will be the first of many”
Tamashii’s defeated face suddenly beamed with hope and excitement. “Does this mean…?”
“Yes”, the master began, “Though your heart did waver, you chose to act selflessly despite the temptation to act for your own behalf. I’ll fetch your Gi from the tailor in the morning. Your training has already begun. We will tame the darkness within you, and I promise you, we will make peace with your demons together.” Fyura flung the boulder away and ran with overwhelming excitement as she congratulated Tamashii, but the celebration was immediately stopped by the stern gaze the master gave. “But the day is not yet over,” he continued, “come my children” he gestured the two to follow him.
The two stood at the edge of the nearby waterfall. The cliff was jagged and steep. A fall would mean certain death. The surrounding cloud shrouded the view of the river below, creating the sense of a bottomless fall, where those who fell prey would seem to descend for an eternity. Though Tamashii had managed to ascend to the summit fearlessly, he could not help the dread that overcame him as he looked down below from the ledge. As he slowly retreated from the ledge, he felt a hand reach for his back collar. “It is now time for the physical endurance of your training,” said the master, as he lifted the petrified boy and hurled him over the ledge.
The boy’s scream echoed among the cliffs, as it slowly disappeared into the mist. There was a moment of silence as his scream faded away into the bottomless depth, before a roaring splash erupted from the void. “Gosh master, don’t you think you’re pushing him too hard on his first day?” But Fyura’ s question was responded with a stern gaze from the master. “I think I’ve been too soft on YOU lately”. Fyura gave a nervous chuckle as she slowly backed away. But the master swiped her up before she could run away, and with a mighty throw, he launched off the cliff into the river below.
Fyura darted up from the water, desperately gasping for air. She began to uncontrollably shiver as the icy water stabbed away at her skin like a million daggers. But Tamashii lay still and silent on the river, attempting to process the rapid-fire of events that had just occurred. “You have until sunset to climb back up” bellowed a voice from above, his echoes shadowing the large water crashing from the top. “Else you miss dinner and go to bed on an empty stomach. That goes for both of you, if either one doesn’t make it in time, then neither one is eating tonight!”
Fyura broke into a panicked frenzy at the master’s threat, as she desperately urged Tamashii to begin climbing. “We have to hurry! We’re having Sashimi tonight; we can’t miss out on that!” But Tamashii lay peacefully still, staring silently at the dojo at the summit as a tear rolled down his cheek, his lips taking a shape to something they hadn't before in a long time - a smile. An approval from his hero, and a hot meal after a hard day's training. It was already more than he could ever ask for.