Babysitting for Free
The forest provided closure. Situated outside of the bustling city, it allowed those who resided it in a comfort that could not be found anywhere else. The green leaves coating the trees shielded the floor from the barbaric late spring sunlight. It was near the middle of June X798, the seventeenth day of the month to be exact. The summer solstice would soon be arriving. That meant big changes where coming to Shimmer City.
Summer meant that the kids were going to be getting out of school. The temperature would warm dramatically to the point which people would complain. It seemed as if those who lived in temperamental climates could never be pleased. Winter was too cold, spring was too wet, and summer was too hot. It looked as if autumn was the only season to not attract any ire – sure the temperature was cooling down at that point of the year, but it was at that intersection between hot and cold that was at least tolerable. Also, everyone seemed to love the various colors of the newly turned tree leaves.
Nevertheless, spring and summer were still perfect seasons in their own right. No longer having to worry about neither the cold nor academics restraining him, Jiyūjin Shinkirō could finally breathe a sigh of relief. It was time for the young mage/swordsman to get back to his roots – training – and the forest was the ideal place to conduct his regimen. Besides the animals that took up residence within its depths, Jiyūjin would be largely undisturbed. By ordinance of the mayor himself, entry to Shimmer Forest was prohibited by those who were non-magic users unless they were traveling to or from the city. This was all do to a particular tragedy that occurred a few years back; a tragedy from which a few mischievous children never recovered.
Jiyūjin began his training by first relocating to his favorite spot – a clearing near the center of the forest. It was surrounded by tall trees with strong bark. Although, the bark of these trees had already been heavily withered by what appeared to be slash marks embedded deep within them. Jiyūjin had already been numerous times before. There were well over a hundred slash marks scattered along the surface of trees throughout the clearing. One specific tree, the tallest one encompassing the clearing’s perimeter, had slash marks reaching towards its halfway point. Jiyūjin was on a mission to slash his way up to the tree’s peak. He intended for today to be the day he accomplished it.
A proud grin shaping his lips, Jiyūjin stood before the towering tree with his head held high and his chest puffed. Clenched in his wielding hand was a sword unlike any other – Kenage Monshō, the Gallant Crest. Kenage Monshō was unique in its appearance. While the blades of most swords were crafted from metals, Kenage Monshō’s appeared to be formed out of a blue crystalline substance. As it was a long sword, one would be expect its blade to reflect its length. It did but to an extreme. The sword nearly toppled its wielder who stood at an average of five feet and nine inches. Unable to carry it along his hip like most swordsmen did their weapons, Jiyūjin hauled Kenage Monshō along on his back. He didn’t seem to mind. He loved his sword and would refuse to ever use another weapon if he could help it.
Jiyūjin slipped into a fighting stance, gripping the hilt of Kenage Monshō firmly. The red ribbon that dangled from the hilt swayed near the ground as it anticipated the boy’s propulsion. With a stunning athletic ability, Jiyūjin boosted from his stasis towards the tree with remarkable speed. He reached the tree within the minute, placing his foot on its bark and pushing himself upwards. Jiyūjin made it not too far up the tree before gravity forced him back down. As recognition of his progress, he used his sword to crave a horizontal mark into the tree. The added weight of his large sword in conjunction with his own weight then forced him back onto the ground rather quickly. Having been through this routine an uncountable amount of times, Jiyūjin had learned how to land on his feet. He did so while still facing the tree – his vigor still intact.
Jiyūjin continued to climb the tree until he made it about seventy-five percent of the way up. It took him more than three hours to progress that far. By the time he was finished, his stamina was almost nearly depleted. The tree was now scarred by Jiyūjin’s sword. He just didn’t know when to give up. It was already impressive that he was able to make it that far up the tree. Most boys his age would have found covering just a few feet to be difficult. Deciding that it was finally time for a rest, Jiyūjin drove Kenage Monshō’s blade into the ground and leaned against it. In a stark contrast to the time which he spent training, Jiyūjin only took a few minutes to recover before resuming his overexertion of himself. Jiyūjin ripped his sword’s crystalline blade out of the earth and faced the tree again.
“Alright tree!” Jiyūjin hollered. “Finally I conquer you!”
Jiyūjin rushed the tree. This time he would take a different approach to making his way up. He was going to try and reach a higher starting position than before so he would consume less energy in trying to continue upwards. Before reaching the tree, Jiyūjin jumped with the intention of at least making it an eighth of the way towards the top. Gravity didn’t necessarily agree with his theory. Jiyūjin found himself back on the ground. Unfortunately, he wasn’t prepared for the sudden landing and did not get to land on his feet.
“Ouch!” Jiyūjin spat, pulling himself up off his own back. Luckily, he had withstood worse than the fall’s impact and was thus prepared for his collision. “Forget it.” Jiyūjin looked at the tree with scorn before pointing at it. “But don’t think I won’t be back! You haven’t seen the last of me!” Jiyūjin wanted to believe that the rustling of the tree’s leave was an acknowledgement of his vow. Collecting both his sword and his composure, Jiyūjin turned away from his adversary and exited the clearing. Leaving the forest would be an entirely different goal on its own.
“No you’re it!”
“Why do I have to be it!”
“Because I tagged you!”
A sweat drop rolled its way down the back of Jiyūjin’s head. He wished that his ears were deceiving him. Did children really have the nerve to play in the forest after that incident that took place? Jiyūjin figured that parents would be more cautious about their children’s safety to keep them close to home. While Jiyūjin had already traversed a significant distance back towards the city, he was still relatively deep within the forest. Dangerous animals such as bears and wolves still loomed within this part of the forest. The playing children best get out before sunset if they wanted to live.
The devil that sat on Jiyūjin’s shoulder wanted him to keep walking and mind his own business. Perhaps another tragedy would be necessary to teach children to follow the rules. It was a damn good thing that Jiyūjin never did listen to that devil. If he did then his life would’ve turned out very badly by now. The angel on Jiyūjin’s other shoulder had a much better influence than the devil. He was more logical and less cynical. Jiyūjin had all the appropriate talents to keep the children’s out of harm’s way. It was his duty to protect their innocence and lead them to safety.
Jiyūjin changed his course and began walking in the direction from which he heard the children’s voices. Sure enough, in another clearing, he found two boys still squabbling over a supposedly fixed game of tag. One boy had black hair while the other had brown hair. The brown-haired boy was in the face of the black-haired boy and was yelling aggressively about the results of the game’s most recent round. The black-haired boy wasn’t backing down, however, and got right back with him.
“You cheated and you know it, Ben!” The brown-haired boy growled.
“Shut up, Chris!” The black-haired boy retorted.
Jiyūjin inserted himself into the argument almost immediately afterwards. “You guys have to quiet down!” He advised. “Do you want predators to come after you?”
As it turned out, all it took to get two young boys to stop arguing was to have a sparkly crystalline sword. Upon laying their eyes on Kenage Monshō, Chris and Ben stopped their feuding and came together to admire it.
“Wow, what a cool sword!” Chris exclaimed.
“Yeah, it’s blue!” Ben pointed out.
Great job detective, Jiyūjin thought, squinting his eyes at Ben. Never mind that. Time was ticking by and sunset would be arriving soon. He had to get these boys back to the city. “Well, are you guys coming with me or not? You can’t stay here.” “Why can’t we?” Ben asked, his voice whiny with protest.
“Yeah, why can’t we?” Chris added, stubbornly folding his arms.
“Because it’s not safe!” Jiyūjin shouted. “There are things that go bump in the night in these woods, things that eat small children!”
“Things like what?”
“I want to see some things like that!”
“It would be really cool if those things could breathe fire!”
“Will you two shut up?” Jiyūjin demanded, his voice simmering down once he realized that these kids were a lost caused. Jiyūjin slapped his face out of stress. Saving these kids was nothing but a waste of time. They didn’t even want to be saved. “Whatever,” Jiyūjin hissed lowly, “you guys can stick around here if you want to. Don’t come crying when something tries to eat you!” Jiyūjin turned away from Chris and Ben and left them to their own devices. However, he began feeling terrible shortly after resuming his trek back to the city.
I can’t leave those brats there, Jiyūjin mused. Their blood will be on my hands if they’re killed.
Jiyūjin persuaded himself to return. As it had not been long since he left, Chris and Ben were still in the clearing. With Jiyūjin no longer around to distract them, the two boys recommenced their dispute. It was now physical – Chris and Ben shoving each other to establish dominance. Playing mediator once again, Jiyūjin intervened and split the two boys apart.
“How are you two friends? You don’t even like each other!”
Chris and Ben ceased their argument. Now that Jiyūjin was back, they could focus their energy on admiring his sword instead.
“Can I hold it?” Ben asked.
“No,” Jiyūjin declined.
“Can I hold it?” Chris asked.
“Why would you ask that after I just told him no?” Jiyūjin countered with a question of his own.
Chris and Ben exchanged glances and silenced. They weren’t going to get the sword after all. There was only one other thing they could do.
The red handprint smoldering on Ben’s face sparked new controversy. Jiyūjin leaped back, not wanting to get caught in the ensuring scuffle. Ben clearly didn’t appreciate Chris’ method of tagging, pouncing on him and striking him with a flurry of jabs and kicks.
The noise they made increased exponentially. Chris and Ben were now the forest’s epicenter of chaos. Birds squawked furiously in retaliation for the cacophony they caused, insects buzzed about in confusion, and squirrels stopped and jerked their heads as they climbed to their hollows. The majority of the forest’s residents, unable to physically stop the fighting between Chris and Ben, simply reacted passively – adding their own sounds of protest to the already dissonant mixture.
Those who preferred the innate harmony of the forest retreated with hopes of shielding their ears from the horror; but, one denizen decided that enough was enough. Having previously enjoyed the luxury of a nap prior to the eruption, the Vulcan wasn’t at all pleased by the sudden end of his slumber. The hulking primate was enraged.
A Beast to be Tamed
Staring danger right in the face wasn’t fun – it was exhilarating. Well, at least to Jiyūjin. His fighting stance already assumed and his sword already drawn, he was ready for action. It didn’t matter than his opponent was more than five times his size, could rip trees up from the ground, and would probably devour him and the kids should be lose. Jiyūjin was going to defeat his latest opponent and emerge victorious.
Vulcans were the reason why Shimmer Forest was closed off to civilians. They were large monkeys with horns. Those characteristic alone summed up just how aggressive they were. Highly territorial beasts, Vulcans weren’t nearly as common as other species because they tended to drive each other out of prospective territories. A few years ago, a kid was killed by a Vulcan while playing in Shimmer Forest. Unless that Vulcan was long dead, chances were that Jiyūjin was facing that same killer.
“You guys go on ahead and run – wait! What the hell?” Jiyūjin gasped, jaws dropping.
While he was busy confronting the Vulcan, Chris and Ben took the opportunity to make their escape. Jiyūjin was now stuck to face the monster all by himself. He shrugged his shoulders and turned his focus back on the fight. Chris and Ben escaping was actually a good thing. Now Jiyūjin could go all out without having to worry about them getting in the way.
“You know something, monkey. You stink!” Jiyūjin insulted.
The Vulcan grunted, smirking. “You’re the one to talk, human. You reek even worse than the others.”
Jiyūjin’s eyes bolted out of his sockets. Vulcans were sapient? No wonder why they were so dangerous. He couldn’t waste time in defeating the one standing over him.
Jiyūjin soared towards the Vulcan, raising his sword in preparation for an vertical slash. While in the midst of his attack, a veil of flames coated his body. He struck the Vulcan, burning it with his flames before following up with a swing of his sword. Miraculously, the Vulcan used its strength advantage to block the would be fatal blow of Jiyūjin’s sword. The fire spell did take its toll, though. A patch of the Vulcan’s green fur was now missing, its exposed skin stinging from a first degree burn.
“Darn it,” Jiyūjin hissed, jumping back in time to dodge a powerful jab from the Vulcan.
The tables had turned. The Vulcan was now on the offensive while Jiyūjin was on the defensive. Forced to parry each of the punches, Jiyūjin could not find an opening to retaliate. His predicament got worse when he became cornered against the side of a tree. The Vulcan, knowing that he had his prey trapped, aimed another jab at Jiyūjin which he managed to duck under – the three which he stood in front of being shattered into wood chips. “Damn it!” The Vulcan cursed, a big chunk of wood protruding from its fist.
“That’s a pretty nasty splinter. Here, I’ll pull it out for you,” Jiyūjin teased, rocketing towards the Vulcan. “Kaen!”
Jiyūjin rushed the Vulcan with another veil of flames, burning the primate on its side in conjunction with slashing it open. Blood showered the clearing and stained the grass as the Vulcan reared back in pain. Clenching his side, it charged Jiyūjin again while wincing. Jiyūjin’s attack did significant damage. The Vulcan was now moving at a much slower pace which meant that Jiyūjin could exercise his speed advantage.
Like a pinball, Jiyūjin ricocheted off one of the trees and went in for the fatality. That was when he was thrown for a loop.
The Vulcan no longer stood in front of him. Instead there was a young boy – a boy that he recognized.
“P-please don’t let me die,” repeated the child’s familiar voice. Jiyūjin froze.
A snicker brought him back to his senses. It was too late.
Before he could do anything to defend himself, Jiyūjin was back at the Vulcan’s mercy. Like a wad of paper being thrown into the trash can by a bored kid at school, Jiyūjin was flung through the air. He hit the forest floor with a thud and rolled. His sword landed several feet away from him. Thankfully, he was able to recover in time and retrieve it. Unfortunately, the Vulcan met him at his sword.
“You fell victim to my Take Over,” the Vulcan arrogantly teased Jiyūjin. “It’s a magic that allows its user to use the powers of those they’ve defeated. In my case, I can take the bodies of those I’ve killed and use them to my advantage. Humans are not only my food but they’re my tools.”
“Jiyūjin, p-please don’t let me die!”
Those words weren’t any different now than they were then. Jiyūjin glared the Vulcan in his eyes with fury. Then, shocking the primate, he smirked. “What? Why are you grinning? You’re about to die!”
Using the opening provided by the Vulcan’s gloating, Jiyūjin summoned another veil of flames. But that wasn’t all he did. After conjuring up the flames, he incarnated them into the shape of a sphere. He then hurled that flaming sphere at the center of the Vulcan’s stomach with his hatred for the beast fueling it. Overwhelmed by the spell, the Vulcan fell onto his back in defeat.
Jiyūjin looked at the monster with contempt. He wasn’t going to kill him. That wouldn’t solve anything.
“You have until tomorrow to get out of this forest; no, to get out of this county. If I happen to see you around here again then next time I won’t be so generous,” Jiyūjin said, his eyes crossed.
The Vulcan grunted. It wasn’t going to be moving for a while.
With all of his business taking care of, Jiyūjin slid his big blue sword back into the scabbard on his back and went on his way.