Anyways, I'm still looking for feedback on the revised chapters, and I would love to do a sort of author Q&A if there's enough interest, so if you're one of the one's that actually reads these things, please drop a comment and let me know what you think.
Chapter Two: Strength Training
Brock Balderas strode confidently through the forest. Soon, he would be able to participate in a fight that he had been led to believe was impossible. His greatest foe ever lay ahead of him, and he was eager to engage him. A katana hung at his side, and he stroked the hilt absentmindedly as he walked. His blade possessed a power that even he was unaware of, and he was sure that this next fight would allow him to unlock it. He smiled at the mere thought of the power that it would bring him.
Before long, Brock arrived at his destination. A huge warehouse stood before him, and inside was the man that Brock had recently begun to consider his rival. This man had given him a run for his money when he met him at the underground fighting matches, and now he would be even more of a challenge for Brock. Would Gregory’s zanpakuto prove too much for Brock, or would Brock be able to emerge victorious from this battle as he had all of his previous ones? Brock could not wait to find out.
“Yo!” Brock shouted upon entering the building. “Are you here, or did you decide to chicken out after all?”
“Oh, I’m here all right,” Gregory said, stepping out from behind a large crate. “I’ve been here so long that I thought you were the one who decided not to show. Then again, you’ve always enjoyed being fashionably late.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say I enjoy being late, and I wouldn’t say I’m fashionable. It’s more that I just have a hard time finding the place I’m supposed to be,” Brock responded.
“Of course, how I could I be so dumb? You don’t enjoy anything but fighting, do you? There’s nothing in this world that sates your soul so much as that.”
Brock grinned. “Jeez, you got me pegged, don’t ya? I wouldn’t suspect any less from my rival though.”
“Rival is it? From my understanding, rivals are supposed to face each other over and over again. After this battle, however, only one of us will be left standing. Therefore, I would call you a nemesis, not a rival. A nemesis can be a fated opponent, as can a rival, but from my experience a nemesis doesn’t last quite so long as a rival.”
“I don’t know about all that semantic ?$!#, but I do know that in this battle you’ll be the one to perish. So how about it, should we get started?”
Gregory sighed. “I suppose. I can’t really expect a brute like to understand any sort of literary theory. The only language you speak is the ring of metal on metal, and the only things you care to learn are those which increase your power. I guess it’s time to decide which is better: brawns or brains?”
Brock chuckled. “You’ve already made a key mistake,” he said. “By assuming my only strength lies in my muscles, you've underestimated me. Because of that, you’ve already lost!”
“Your arrogance will surely cost you, fool! It’s time to find out which of is truly worthy of the sword we have received!”
Seth stared intently at his zanpakuto. He willed it to speak, but there was no response. He waited ten minutes before he abandoned the fruitless exercise. Every day for a whole week he had tried to discover the secrets of his weapon, but to no avail. Ever since his brief fight with Mark in the Wasted Valley, Seth had heard nothing from his zanpakuto. It’s mysteries were still just that to him; he could not discover the secrets of the blade.
Seth grabbed the sheathed sword and threw it at the wall in frustration. He knew that it was more than just a normal sword, but that was all. He had gone back and watched numerous episodes of Bleach, but there was nothing in them that told him how to unlock his shikai.
Ichigo had discovered his true power when he faced off with Kenpachi Zaraki, but Seth wasn’t sure he was willing to go to such extremes to unlock his hidden potential. As much as he valued his zanpakuto, the thought of battling strong opponents forced him to think of the possibility of death. Before he received the sword, it was easy to wish for a life adventure, but now that one had found him, he realized that such a life came with inherent risks. Watching anime, Seth could believe that the main character was invincible, but in real life… well, in real life no one was safe. Any battle could be his last, and that scared him to no end.
The ringing of his doorbell startled Seth out his reverie, and he shook away his fears as he walked to the door. He opened it to find Jake waiting for him, a wooden sword in each hand and a backpack slung over one shoulder. He was dressed in all black, and a gold chain hung around his neck.
“Did your sister dress you again?” Seth asked. “You’re looking awfully goth…”
“Dammit, am I wearing all black? I should have known what she was doing the second she put that chain around my neck. I can’t wait until she’s out of this ‘phase’ of hers...” Jake grumbled.
“She may be older than you, but I get the feeling that you’re already more mature…” Seth said. “Anyways, what’s with the fake swords there?”
Jake cracked a smile. “They’re for your training!” he exclaimed
“And who’s going to be training me? You? I don’t mean to sound like a *@#!, but I think I have a little bit of an advantage over you...” Seth asked.
“If you could see my eyes right now, you’d notice that I’m rolling them,” Jake said. He continued: “I never really told you, but I’ve been getting martial arts lessons from a blind man for a while now. My mom thought it was a good idea; blind people might appear to be easy targets to muggers and whatnot.”
“You’ve been learning to fight for years now and you never thought to mention it to me?” Seth asked, !*#%?*$ an eyebrow.
Jake grinned. “I’ve been running a long con on you, of course. I was hoping to surprise you one day by beating the crap out of you, but it seems more prudent to reveal myself now in order to help you out.”
“I don’t know that I believe you, but I guess I’ll give it a shot. Just remember: if you get hurt, don’t go blaming it on me.”
“I was about to say the same to you. Anyways, where can we go to get some privacy? Don’t want to be disturbing the neighbors with your cries of pain. It’s still pretty early, you know.”
“There’s that nice clearing in the woods about half a mile from here,” Seth suggested, ignoring the verbal jab.
“Perfect,” Jake said, stepping past Seth to go further into the house. The two left via the back door, hopped the wooden picket fence that enclosed Seth’s backyard, and headed off into the woods. It wasn’t long before they arrived at their destination.
Jake tossed a wooden sword to Seth, who caught it and hefted it, trying to get a feel for the weight. It seemed to be about the same as his katana, so he nodded his approval and turned his attention to Jake, planning to ask if he was ready, only to find his sword already flashing in at him. He managed to get his own sword up in a hasty block, but Jake pressed the attack.
Seth backpedaled rapidly, his arm swinging back and forth frantically as he tried to ward off his friend’s blows, with varying levels of success. Jake landed a couple of solid hits on Seth’s torso, and numerous glancing blows on his arms and legs. This continued until Seth tripped over a rock and landed hard on his rear. In an instant, Jake’s sword was at his throat.
“Jesus, maybe you should have let me prepare myself first!” Seth cried.
“That would have defeated the purpose of the exercise. I wanted to see how much inherent skill you had. By attacking you like that, I forced you to rely on your instincts and reflexes. The fact that you blocked as many blows as you did, especially that first one, is impressive. Adding that to your win over Meat Slicer the other night, I’d say your zanpakuto has instilled into you a basic knowledge of fighting. It will be our job in these training sessions to further hone those skills, to refine them. By the time you I’m finished with you, you’ll be able to defend against a surprise attack like that with ease, and you’ll even be able to launch a counterattack.”
“Alright,” Seth said, picking himself up and dusting himself off. “Let’s get started then.”
An hour later, Seth’s entire body was in pain, both from bruises and from exertion. He was a pretty athletic guy, but his body wasn’t prepared for Jake’s rigorous workout. The warm-up exercises were a piece of cake, but once they got to sparring, Seth’s strength began to wane. Jake was coming at him at a slower pace than before, but it was still slightly faster than Seth could keep up with. The faster Seth got, however, the faster Jake attacked.
Jake was taking an evolutionary approach to his training, the same way his own master had done with him. Every time Seth adapted to Jake’s attacks, Jake stepped things up, forcing Seth to further adapt. This line of training meant Seth’s skills were improving at rapid pace, but it was certainly rough on the body. Jake recalled how he had felt after his first day of swordplay and cringed. He would be glad he wasn’t Seth when tomorrow morning rolled around.
At the one hour mark, Jake called for a break. Seth sank to the ground and laid back, arms and legs splayed. Jake pulled a towel from his backpack and tossed it to Seth, who used it to wipe the sweat from his face. Jake grabbed another one for himself, and then pulled out a couple of water bottles. Seth drank greedily, and finished the whole bottle in a matter of seconds.
“You’re gonna regret that during the next round,” Jake warned.
“Next round?! I thought that was it…” Seth groaned.
“Haha, not even close, bro. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get you into fighting shape. You never know when those people that attacked Mr. H’s shop might show up to collect the zanpakuto they left behind.”
“I guess this is the perfect time for me to intrude then,” came a voice from the edge of the clearing. Seth was on his feet in a flash, and Jake stiffened. A bald man in a white tank top and jeans stepped into the clearing. “Not that I want your zanpakuto or anything, but I was part of the group that stole the zanpakuto. Most of us went our separate ways after the deal went down, so you don’t have to worry about some organized group trying to steal your weapon.”
“What do we have to worry about then?” Jake asked.
A wicked grin spread across the man’s face. “Me, of course.” The man rushed forward, drawing forth a zanpakuto, and went straight for Seth. Seth got his sword out in time to block, but now it was like fighting Jake at the beginning of the day again. The man was just too fast; Seth couldn’t quite keep up. Before he knew it, he was bleeding from multiple shallow wounds, and his sword had been sent flying.
The bald man backed away, his sword held up and at the ready. “Go ahead kid, pick it up. I don’t like attacking unarmed opponents, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.”
“Who are you?” Seth asked. “What the hell do you want from me?”
“The name’s Brock Balderas, and I’m just looking for a good fight.”
“Well, as you can see I can’t give you one. I’m no match for you.”
“Sometimes it’s not about the skill at swordplay but the power of one’s blade that determine the victor in battle. How about it kid? Release your shikai and give me a run for my money! I’ll even take it easy on you and keep my own sword sealed.”
“I don’t know how to release my blade, so I guess you’re out of luck.”
“Sorry kid, but if that’s the case, then you’re the one that’s out of luck!” Brock drove his blade forward aiming for Seth’s head, and then suddenly stopped. And turned gray. In fact, the whole world came to a halt, as if someone had pressed the pause button on the universe’s remote.
“What the--” Seth started.
“Seth,” a familiar voice said from behind Seth. He whirled around to see a strange woman regarding him. She had orange hair and orange and black patchwork dress.
“You’re my zanpakuto spirit, I take it?” Seth said, eying the woman warily.
“You are correct, Seth. Your opponent has forced me to reveal myself earlier than planned. I was planning on letting you develop your physical skills before I added magical attacks to your repertoire, but there’s no point in holding off it means your death.”
“So you’re here to tell me your name then,” Seth reasoned. The woman nodded.
“I am Nichibotsu, the Setting Sun. With me by your side, the power of darkness will be yours. Shadows will rise to your call, and your enemies will fall before you. But beware, for every power comes with a weakness: should you face the light, you will lose. Oh, and don’t forget: dodge right.”
“Wha-” Seth began , but then he was facing Brock again, and a sword was coming for his face. He did as Nichibotsu instructed and dived to right, narrowly avoiding death. He scooped up his sword, rolled, and came back to his feet ready to fight for his life.
“Sink below the horizon, Nichibotsu!” he yelled, not quite sure where the words for the release command came from. His blade glowed as it transformed itself. Its blade straightened out, and at the end a semicircle formed. A number of smaller blades fanned out from the semi-circle to create the likeness of a half-sun.
“There we go, that’s more like it!” Brock declared gleefully. “Now we can really get started!”
“My thoughts exactly,” Seth said. He pointed the sword at Brock, and with a thought conjured an orb of darkness around his head.
“What the hell?!” Brock exclaimed. “What kind of cheap trick is this?”
“That’s the power of darkness!” Seth crowed. “And now, I’ll end this.” He swung his sword out to one side. “Jake! Let’s retreat!”
“Right!” Jake said, having gathered up everything he had brought for the training.
“What?! You’re gonna run away?! But things were just starting to get interesting!” Brock fumed, stomping his foot. As Seth and Jake took off, Brock yelled: “Don’t think this is over kid! Once you get stronger, I’ll be back! You’ve officially made yourself my rival, so I hope you’re happy!”
Back at Seth’s house, Jake said, “Man, that guy was nuts, huh?”
“Tell me about it,” Seth replied. “You’re not the one he has a grudge against. We’re definitely going to have to step up our training if I’m gonna stand a chance against guys like him.”
“Definitely. Starting tomorrow, it’s training 2.0. You can master your shikai on your own time, but when you train with me, we’ll be focusing on your fighting skills, just like today. Only more intense. Yeah, if you thought today was bad, then you’re just going to love tomorrow.”
“Great,” Seth sighed. “See you then. I’m gonna go bandage these cuts and ice these bruises.”
As Jake took his leave and Seth prepared to tend to his injuries, he couldn’t help but wonder what exactly he had gotten himself into when he picked Nichibotsu up off the floor of Mr. H’s store.
Meanwhile, in an abandoned warehouse in the middle of the woods, a body lay propped against a large crate. Its chest was caved in, and a katana with a purple hilt was still clutched in its right hand. He had never even gotten a chance to release it.
Translation: Nichibotsu: Sunset.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.