8th of Wealsun 377 ONT: Kaiden Academy, Fire Nation
Hikaru learned quickly to protect what little gear he had as the ‘pranks’ and harassment did not abate over the coming days. He also learned to check his bedding for ‘presents’ both living and otherwise that ended up in there. Even meal time was a challenge with the entrance blocked by the Six if he came too late and difficult to leave on his own unless he stayed late. They wanted him to make a scene, to attack them out of frustration and helplessness and in doing so be removed from the Academy to no doubt live in shame with his mother on their estate. But Hikaru was determined to make it and began working on ways to counteract the various problems he faced.
With the practice weapons, armour and other training gear, Hikaru made certain to never get attached to a particular piece or set. This meant that the sabotage did not always land on him and made no new friends for the Six. It didn’t curb their efforts either. With meals he went a different route and instead offered to help out in the kitchens for a chance to eat first and early. It meant more work but meant that the Six could not touch him or his food anymore. The final piece was changing his route regularly to and from the barracks to the various training exercises and classes. In a way Hikaru enjoyed the challenges and trying to outthink his opponents and that kept him from becoming complacent as he put real effort into learning everything taught to him. Who knew what would end up being useful?
With shadows stretched long and the sun heavy on the horizon Hikaru spied movements in the shadows of the Phoenix gate. He tensed as it moved to black his path but relaxed as the silhouette dissolved in the light to reveal Yukiko. An annoyed Yukiko by her expression and Hikaru stopped to let her close the distance between them. She stopped a few feet away and crossed her arms. “Well?”
“Well what?” Hikaru was confused. She expected or wanted something of him but he had no notion as to what it might be. By the stony expression on her face and the silence that stood between them it was the wrong thing to say. “Right so I missed something here.”
“It’s been more than a couple of days. I know you’re not that dense so why?”
Now Hikaru was annoyed. She had toyed with him at their last meeting and now she was here mad at him for not following after like a puppy to answer her questions about what he did wrong. He wasn’t sure if the fact that she was here now meant that she might like him or she was one of those girls who desired attention and got mad when they didn’t get it. He was hoping for the former over the latter and tempered his words to match. “Honestly it felt like it was going to be a poor game to play and I’ve got my hands full with training and other unfortunately necessary things.”
“Like avoiding the Ishikawas and their lackeys.” Yukiko nodded somewhat mollified. “Tricky to do as they seem bent on tormenting you.”
“You have no idea.” Hikaru sighed, “The worst is the instructors turn a blind eye to it. The most I’ve gotten out of one of them is a threat to the training group that we will all spend a month cleaning and repairing the field gear if any more of it is tampered with.”
“That just means they will start to get more creative. I’ve seen a couple of close calls where you didn’t know it but your change of direction fooled them and you missed some bad stuff behind some tents. Luckily it sounded like they will be gone for a few months on training manoeuvers with the light cavalry so you should get a reprieve.”
“So you’ve been watching me have you?” Hikaru grinned as it meant this wasn’t just a chance encounter meant to make him look bad. “Stalking me around the Academy to learn where I’d be.”
“I-I haven’t done anything of the sort!” The evening shadows hid her face but the change in posture suggested he was close at least. “The stuff between you and the Ishikawas is so obvious one cannot help but see it. Who else rushes from the classes so fast or takes extra duties when they don’t have to.”
“Well I need things to keep me distracted and productive so they have less opportunities to harass me. If I had someone like you to talk to and spend time with then maybe I’d be less busy with other things.” Hikaru shrugged and looked to Yukiko, “That is, of course, if you have time to spend being distracted by me?”
“What makes you think I want to?” Yukiko crossed her arms, “Maybe I just came out here to confirm my first impressions of you.”
Hikaru grinned, “That you wanted to do even that much is an encouraging sign so how about we start over without any outside involvement or anything.” He straightened and gave her a proper formal bow as one would from a high house, “Hajimemashite, I am Hikaru Yamamoto and you would do me great honour if you would name the time and place where we could meet again for the chance to get to know you.”
Yukiko stared at Hikaru for the longest of time before she sighed and turned shaking her head. “You are a strange one Yamamoto. Three days from now as the sun meets the horizon be at the lightning tree.” And with that she walked away and Hikaru stared after her wondering what it all meant. But at least he would have the chance to speak to her again and he liked that very much.
14th of Goodmonth 377 ONT: Kaiden Academy, Fire Nation
“I’ve had it!” Natsu stormed into the kitchen where Hikaru had his head buried in the large pot he was scrubbing. The resounding bong noise let Natsu know that he’d surprised his friend. With a groan and a glare Hikaru extricated himself from the pot and asked, “Had it with what?”
“Gomen, Hikaru. The six have gone too far this time.” Natsu was pacing and Hikaru looked around to make sure they were alone. Thankfully the others had left content to let him finish the dirtiest and largest pots on his own. “They want me gone and by Ymeri they might just do it too.”
All trace of the normal humour that was such a part of Natsu was gone and Hikaru noticed the blood on his hands. “Who? What happened?”
“They replaced my dulled practice blade with a real one designed to look like a practice blade. Right up until our swords met and the pewter came off. But that wasn’t the worst part as I was sparring against Kita and he’s better with the blade than I am. I prefer to use my own weapons. But right at the point in the dancing snake combination where you have to commit to the lunge and your opponent goes for the high parry he suddenly twisted into the path of my blade. I-I pulled it, tried to change my direction enough but I still scored the hit down his side right to the ribs.” Natsu’s hands were shaking. “I dropped the blade and called for a medic or a healer but I couldn’t stop it.”
Hikaru thought about it for a few moments and shook his head, “Not good my friend. How is Shiro Kita?”
“He’ll live but it will be a week before a true healer can get out this way so that’s good.But they were calling for my head from the moment the blade struck and Kita fell. I know it was them though, the way he was grinning even as he fell he knew they’d won something.”
“Hmm, at worst they send you home and at best you get lashed and confined to the barracks for a while before rejoining the others. Not good options either way.” Hikaru frowned, “I think we need to speak to Yukiko and see if she knows anything that can help and talk to Captain Rugenji. He knows this isn’t something you would do.”
“I could have killed him. He knew that and still he smiled.”
“Yes because they knew either way they win something and you are better with the blade than you believe or you would not have been paired with Shiro Kita. He was counting on the fact you would pull the strike.” Hikaru grabbed the pail of soapy water and held it out to Natsu. “Wash and we will see what can be salvaged of this. Then we can talk about how we get them back.” Yukiko would disapprove he was certain but they could not just let the Six get away with stuff like this. If they did then he and Natsu would be better served quitting in disgrace and Hikaru was not going to back down.