A little bet
Everybody gave a joyful cry when the school bell rang for freedom. Packing their bags with piles of assorted sized books and running out of the classroom, each of them not having of a conscious of guilt of nearly stamping their teachers to the concrete floor. Girls and boys chatting among themselves on what they might be doing later on. Koganei leaned against the wall, throwing the 6-coloured rubric cube up and down as his classmates cheekily gross over the teenage magazines.
"Ne, Koganei. What are you doing anything later tonight?" asked one of them.
"Huh?" he responded in a monotonous tone.
"Tonight? We are going to watch a movie at Senji's house tonight. Wanna come?"
"Huh. No thanks." His eyes staring at the spinning ceiling fan.
"Doushite? Your favourite actress, Julia Roberts is in it. Don't you want to see her?"
"No... not tonight..."He rubbed the grass with his shoe, the tiny ants crawling all the area frantically.
"Hey, you are okay? You look so dull. Lifeless. Kind of dead."
"It's nothing. I'm not in a mood to watch movies." He put the rubric cube into his pocket. "Catch you later."
The classmates watched Koganei dragging his feet towards the school gate. One drag at a time, extremely slow and unsteady. Too slow for someone who moves around like a cat.
"Ne, is Koganei sick or something?"
"Tadaima..." Koganei greet Mr Hanabishi, who was working on some firecrackers. The friendly Hanabishi gives him a grin, a cigarette sticking out defiantly from the corners of his lips. Koganei with his eyes narrowed with boredom, sluggishly took the cigarette out and presses it onto the ashtray. Hanabishi looked at the crushed cigarette and turned his attention onto the snail-moving Koganei walking to his room. He scratched his head.
"And I thought that he would kick me in the face for smoking while doing firecrackers."
Koganei flung himself onto the bed and gave a big heavy sigh. He wasn't sure what was wrong with him but he felt like doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. He rolled over to one side and sees a long wrapped object leaning against the study table. Getting up, he walks towards it and lifts it up. He pulled the winding thread out, loosening the brown paper, revealing the object to be none other than his most prized possession. The Anki Kougan.
The Anki Kougan glowed mildly under the sunlight. Its red ore twinkled at Koganei. A faint curve at the corner of his lips, he took out a rag and wiped the Anki Kougan's golden surface.
"Gomen ne, I have been neglecting you."
Within minutes, the polished Anki Kougan glowed brightly like a brand new trophy. Koganei swings it around his body while transforming it to its different forms - a chain with a sickle, a boomerang, a scissors and a bow and arrow. When the Anki Kougan returns to its original form, Koganei sighs and put it aside.
"No, this is not how I usually feel whenever I used Anki Kougan. I would feel excited. Alive. Why is it that I don't feel anything?"
Koganei leaned against the window still and looked up at the starless sky.
Under the afternoon sun, Koganei slumped against the tree trunk, tossing the rubric cube. His face was motionless and expressionless. The sparrows hopped next to his feet and pecked onto the tiny breadcrumbs, which were previously provided by his lunch. A pair of leather shoes approached Koganei, its thin shadow frightening the sparrows away. Their flapping wings awoke Kogenai from his thoughts.
Koganei looked up at the person standing in front of him. He had a rather smooth elfish wrinkled face, pointy eyes, thin sausage lips and an arched nose. His body is rather boneless with his joints loosely attached to one another. Maybe, it will just take a breeze to break him into separate pieces. Dressed a maroon French cap with a matching coloured suit; the stranger seems to be a distinguished poet. He smiled at him, showing the 2 even rows of white teeth. White enough to take part in a toothpaste advertisement. Koganei nodded his head.
"Are you looking for something?" He asked, clicking his tongue. His head bobbed like a boat in an ocean.
"Huh? No..." Koganei replied slowly, not understanding what he meant.
"Then, why are you staring?"
"Me staring? No, I was thinking..."
"Thinking of what?" He bent closer towards him. The pointy eyes sparkling like a child discovering a big secret.
"Oh nothing... really nothing..."
"Are you sure?" The stranger eerily emphasized on the word 'sure'.
"Hai." Feeling very uneasy with the stranger's attention, Koganei gets up, intending to walk away but the stranger griped his wrist. Koganei could feel the bony fingers pressing tightly on his wrist bone, almost squeezing the life out of his veins.
"You are lying. You feel bored. Fighters like you will always long for challenges even though the wars are over."
"What the heck are you talking about?"
"Don't try to hide from me, boy. I saw you fighting at the Urabutousatsoujin. You were very good. I could feel the excitement in you. The enjoyment of defeating somebody who is like a pebble in your shoe. Isn't it, boy?"
"I think that you are sick in the head, old man." Koganei took a few steps back. "Maybe you ought to see a doctor."
"I bet that you have been feeling restless recently. Feeling like doing nothing when actually you want to do something. AH... I see that you are experiencing it. How do I know? I'm a hunter hunting for challenges, challenges that would fill my appetite. Why don't you and I have a little match? What do you say?"
"What kind of challenge? I doubt that you can fight."
"You are right, boy. I'm far too old to fight with someone agile like you. However, I have my nerves of steel. How about a battle of wits, eh?"
"Whatever. You are on, old man."
"Not so fast, how impatient kids are. I haven't finished my sentences yet. What about we make it more enthralling for the both of us. Let's wager. If I lose, you can have a family heirloom. Worth about 50000 USA dollars... If you lose..."
"Wait a minute, I don't have that kind of money. It's impossible!"
"Then, you have to do something about it... You accept my bet, so you have to offer something if you lose. So, what is it going to be?"
"AH... ah... argh...." Koganei pulled his hair, jumping up and down. "mmm..ah..." He stopped altogether at a mortified idea. His lips trembled as he spoke. "If I lose .... I will.. give.... An.... Anki..... Ko.... Kou... Kougan to ... you..."
The stranger rubbed his chin with his bony fingers and rolled his eyes for a while. His tongue moved in his mouth like he's chewing something solid. Then, he shook his head in a disapproving manner.
"I'm sorry, boy. But I don't think that Anki Kougan is worth a lot of money. Besides, I wouldn't know what to do with a junk."
"NAN DESU NE !!! HERE AM I OFFERING MY PRECIOUS ANKI KOUGAN TO YOU AS A WAGER AND YOU CALL IT JUNK!!!!"
"Of course, it is. What am I going to do with it? Cut vegetables?"
"You.... Numbskull... ignorant imbecile..." cursed Koganei, gnashing his teeth. "Kurei gave it to me. I'm sure that you know Kurei!"
"Who... Kurei? Mori Kougan's son? Of course, a weapon is also vital for a fighter but I'm a peaceful man. I don't like having destructive objects in my house. They would spoil the decorations. I'm an artist and my house must be tasteful in the eyes of my society."
Koganei gave a beady look.
"Since you can't use your brain, I'll decide the wager for you. If you lose, then you have to give me a body part."
"ARE YOU DEMENTED OR SOMETHING? I'M NOT LISTENING TO A SATIST LIKE YOU. THE BET IS OFF."
"You are intending to quit? That is not being a gentleman. You said that you accepted my challenge and so you must keep your word."
"But I'm going to give any parts of my body to you..."
"Then, are you telling me that a fighter like you is going rusty? Why, the tiger has lost its claws and teeth? Have the normal boring life taken away the sense of taking risks that you once dare to take?" The stranger turns away. "Seems like you have become soft. What a shame..."
"YOU ARE ON, YOU HEAR ME OLD NIT WIT? I, KOGANEI KAORU ACCEPTS YOUR CHALLENGE."
The stranger smiled. Koganei could see that he was relishing the prospect of winning.
"Jolly good. I will send my butler to pick you up tomorrow straight after school."
"WHAT DID YOU SAY???" Fuko raised her voice louder. "You agree to give a body part if you lose. You are such a idiot to accept a ridiculous bet."
"That is probably caused by Recca's influence to be reckless." Mikagami muttered.
"RECCA! This is all your fault," Fuko chided.
Recca protested, "Me? What does it got to do with me? Koganei is old enough to make decisions for himself."
"He is going to lose a body part. What if it is a leg or an arm? Have you ever considered that?" Fuko snapped at him.
"Mo ii... Don't blame it on Recca. I accepted it in the first place. Anyway, I wanted to."
"Koganei..." said Recca.
"Ever since after the Urabutousatsoujin, I have been always felt bored. There hasn't been a single fight for ages. I tried to fit in as a normal student but... daijoubu desu. I won't lose, I promise."
"That's the spirit, Koganei," praised Recca, patting him on the back. "Later, we will come with you. Think of us as your supporters."
"Recca...." Fuko placed her hand over her forehand. Mikagami silently did so too.
As the stranger has said, a car was awaiting for them at the school gate. Koganei and the rest are drove to a mansion where a maid leads them to a room. Sitting down on a couch was the old man, smiling at them. Smiling like a dagger. Another maid placed drinks onto the circled table.
Koganei and the rest observed the surroundings of the room. Paintings of all kinds are arranged neatly on the pastel walls. The colours of the painting are swirled and mixed into various features, objects and scenery - castle, dragons, knights, fair maidens, and plains of flowers and peaks of hills or mountains. Koganei noticed a painting hanging above the couch where the old man was sitting. Framed designed with wooden-craved roses with thorn stems, was a grotesque pool of human limbs, highlighted in red background.
The maid bowed at them and was about to leave when the old man grunted.
"My dear. I want you to bring me a chopping knife." The old man instructed the maid. Her eyes widen with shock.
"A chopping knife, sir?"
"Yes, yes, and bring a nice thick wooden board as well."
"But...but... you aren't doing what I'm thinking of..."
"What a maid should do is to listen and not think. Go and fetch them."
"Yes ... yes ... sir." The maid stammered as she retreated to the kitchen. Within minutes, she returned and placed the required objects onto the circled table.
"Splendid!" The old man clapped his hands. "Let's begin." He took out a dusty box, blew at the lid and opened it, showing 2 rubric cubes.
"Rubric cubes?" asked the surprised Koganei.
"One must be fair to his opponents. Like you, I used to play with this when I was a child. Since you are a child, I'll lower myself to your standards. I would like your friends to jumble up the 6 coloured sides of the rubric cubes. Don't let us see them. The game is to arrange the rubric cubes back to its original form. The person who finishes first is the winner." He waved his hand. The butler opened a velvet case.
The group marvelled at the beauty of the white jade necklace, lying comfortably on the surface of the cushion.
"This white jade necklace belongs to my late ancestors who once lived in China. If you win, this belongs to you."
"Of course, Koganei will win." Recca poked him with his shoulder.
"Demo..." Koganei mumbled. "What am I going to do with it? I don't wear jewellery..."
"It doesn't matter!" Fuko hissed at him. "The most important thing is that you don't lose a body part."
"It's worth a country, I can tell you that." The old man sipped his wine, letting the sweet red liquid trickle down his throat. His Adam's apple moved up and down.
"But what am I going to do with a necklace?" mumbled Koganei again.
"You could always give it to Yanagi. Her birthday is coming soon," said Mikagami nonchalantly, facing a painting of a Sakura tree as he jumbled up one of the rubric cubes.
"Hime's birthday is coming soon?" Recca slapped his hand to his forehead. "Oh no, I don't have any more money since I bought Final fantasy 10. Yoshii, Koganei. Win this for me and we can give this necklace to Yanagi together."
"Seems like you are taking advantage of the situation, Recca," Fuko jumbled up the other rubric cube. "What if Yanagi get to know about this? Anyway, how are you going to explain to her if she asks how are you able to afford a heirloom?"
"When that time comes, then we'll decide what to do then."
"How lively you people are," laughed the old man. " All right then, the 2 rubric cubes are jumbled up. The long-haired gentlemen, could you be the referee?"
Mikagami nodded his head and quietly said, "On your marks, get set and GO!"
The 2 opponents set off like a cannon. The group watched carefully as the rubric cubes are set back to the original form. Koganei looked rather confident. On the other hand, the old man was collected while he casually turned the sides from left to right, up and down. The clock ticked the seconds away... From the corner of his eye, Koganei sees the old man is on the edge of winning. His heart pounded as his eyes turned onto the chopping knife. The sound of the rubric cubes turning quickens each heartbeat. Somehow, his thoughts began to wander...
"You are clever with the rubric cube," commented a man dressed in red, having a scar on the left side of his face.
"No, not really," replied Koganei, smiling back.
"Why don't you join me? I need someone who has quick thinking and reflexes like you. Together, we can stop the evil in this world." He held out his hand.
Koganei looks up at the face so filled with warm and compassion. It gave him a sense of being protected. He takes the outstretched hand.
"II yo... Mr."
"My name is Kurei. From on now, I'll adopt you as my younger brother..."
"Koganei, you must always remember that the fight is not over until the enemy is not able to move at all. As long as he gets up, you have to keep on fighting," instructed a purple-haired man.
"Hai, Raiha," answered a sorely bruised boy, leaning on a staff.
"How is he doing?"
"Not bad for a start. He does have fast reflexes but needs to be drilled on his fighting tactics."
"Sou desu." Kurei holds up a golden object. "Koganei, do you know what this is?"
The boy shook his head.
"This one of the Hokage maudough - the Anki Kougan. This weapon has the ability to change into 5 different forms. Show him a little demonstration, Raiha."
"Hai, Kurei-sama." He took the Anki Kougan.
"The form that you are seeing now is the first form of the Anki Kougan - Kiba." With swift movements, he transformed it into a chain attached to a sickle. "Second form - Ryu." Changing it into a huge pair of scissors. "Third form - Kyoku." A boomerang. "Fourth form - Mikazuki." A bow and arrow. "And lastly, the fifth form - An."
He restored the Anki Kougan to its original form and tossed it to Koganei, who caught it and staggered backwards. Brown eyes trembled.
"Your reflexes with the rubric cube is only partially sufficient for the Anki Kougan. Your fighting skills with the various forms must coincide as well. That's enough for today. Raiha, I have something for you to do." Kurei turned. Raiha followed.
"What is it?" The red cloaked man asked; his masked face not moving an inch.
"The Anki Kougan?"
"It is yours to keep. Take care of it and it'll help you."
"Kurei nisan... Raiha..."
Where are you two now?
Somehow, everything becomes a foggy mixture of red, blue, yellow, green, white and black. Koganei could hear voices yelling at him to hurry up. A vague image of the old man grinning devilishly at him. A ray of light reflected by the chopping knife shined into his squinted eyes....
"STOP THIS AT ONCE!" boomed a voice. Koganei jolted upward and stared at the intruder. It was a man, not more than in his early 20s. His looks are quite similar to the old man except it has more a more appealing feminine to it especially when he was wearing long flowing robes.
"Father, stop this madness at once," demanded the man. The maid immediately took away the chopping knife and the wooden board, showing sighs of relief. "You are go to your room, right now. This instant."
"But we are having our bet." The old man whined.
"And the deal of OUR bet is that you'll listen to me." He nodded at the butler. "I can't believe that you still have this undignified habit of yours. What is mother's necklace doing here?"
"Your father wagers this for the bet." Mikagami answers softly.
"What?" The son turned to the father. "This is an outrage. This is it! I have enough of you disgracing the family. In 2 hours, I'm sending you to you-know-where."
"No.. please.. don't ... don't send me there... I'll be good.." pleaded the old man, his eyes implored like a child.
"No. I say that you will be going there and you will be going there," said the man firmly. "Have him ready, Arthur."
The butler led the old man, who had dropped his entire grandiose manner into a childish spoil brat. Cries and whims were heard around the corridor.
"I apologize for my father's rude behaviour. It seems like he hasn't been fully cured."
"What's wrong with him?" asked Koganei.
"Father was a gambler. He loves to take risks because it excites him. Then, he became bored with usual wager of money. So, he had this berserk idea of having body human parts as the wager. Because of this, he made a lot of enemies. Every one of them was nailing him to be in jail. Thankfully, mother had died without knowing about it. She wouldn't be able to die in peace if she knew. After her funeral, I took father to stay here so that his enemies couldn't find us. I was taking an afternoon nap when I was awakened by one of the maids. Apparently, he hasn't learnt his lesson."
"Then, I must apologise for causing this."
"No, you don't have to. Father always target youthful spirited people. That's how he tricked them into this. That is why I'm sending him back to that place. Mostly that is where he will spend his last days on earth. There is nothing he can do because I own everything including him. I won it all from him. The fight was long and hard but I knew that I could find his weakness one way or another. Some losses have been made but it was all worth it. My butler will drive you all home. Once again, I apologise."
"Then, let me thank you for saving me," Kogenai bowed. The rest followed suit.
"Your welcome, young man. Just make sure that you take care of yourself and not fall into such traps again. It's not worth the risk to feel excited."
The young man smiled sadly as he held up the white jade necklace. Koaganei can see his hands clearly. Very clearly indeed.
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