Age 749, Sunday, June 30, South City Airport
I stepped out of the boarding tunnel, making my way past the luggage section, smiling in amusement at those who were frantically searching for their suitcases.
Thank god for inventories— I frowned at that, the quest I’d received only two days prior coming to mind.
I wondered if the Eternal Dragon could actually answer my question. With a huff and shrug, I shouldered my backpack— wouldn’t want the airport security folks to get antsy, now would I— and made my way to the airport’s arrival section.
I was stopped for a few minutes to endure a line of questioning, but was let go as soon as the security realized he wasn’t really getting anywhere questioning a kid.
I would’ve been annoyed by this point but I realizedthat, had I taken the long route, it would’ve taken me over a week to get home.
A few hours of sitting comfortably in a plane, followed by dealing with a few disgruntled security officers? Sublime by comparison.
“Ten!” I heard a familiar voice call out from behind the crowded masses at the arrival section. I peered closely, trying to pinpoint the source, before smiling at her as she waved frantically.
Jean – Lv 7
I adjusted the strap on my backpack, before pushing through the crowd easily, ignoring their dismayed cries as my mom almost leapt at me with a crushing hug.
“Hey, mom.” I grinned, hugging her back fiercely, though I made sure to restrain myself. With my strength as high as it was, it would be the height of stupidity to really put any force behind the hug.
The faint sound of snapping necks came to mind, ruining the heartfelt moment.
“You’ve gotten a lot taller!” My mother stepped back, really looking at me. She looked at my arms, her eyes wide in surprise.
I looked down, not really understanding until I realized that I hadn’t been so.. Muscular before I left.
I was still somewhat lean, but my muscle definition compared to back then was worlds apart.
“My baby boy’s growing up so fast!” Mom hugged me again, before smiling coyly. “Is this how you’ve been wooing that girl, Chichi?”
My face turned red. “Mom!”
“It’s a shame you didn’t bring her over with you, son.” She said, huffing in faux displeasure. “Then again, I’m sure you’ll do it eventually.”
I kept my mouth shut as she led me out of the airport and towards the parking lot. After about a minute of walking around aimlessly— mom had forgotten exactly where her car was parked— we were strapped in and on our way.
“So, did you find the old Master?” Mom asked as we stopped at a light, close to home.
“Yes, mom.” I confirmed. “You wouldn’t have believed it, but he looks like the oldest guy who’s ever lived.”
She snorted. “Don’t be rude.”
“You’re the one who laughed.” I mumbled.
“What was that?” She said, eyeing me mischievously as she pulled up to our house. “Did you say ‘I don’t want my favorite food, mom’?”
“…” I gave her a deadpan look, which she returned.
And so the ultimate staring contest was initiated: who would blink first? Who had the guts to stay the course and bring home the gold?
She blinked first.
“Yes!” I cheered as I exited the car, with mom following me, grumbling all the way inside.
The house was just as I remembered it. Sniffing, I caught a whiff of dinner, kicking my shoes and turning to my mother.
“Go take a shower, son. I’ll get the food ready!” She ordered before giving me another hug and a kiss. “I’m glad you’re back, honey.”
I smiled slightly, watching her go to the kitchen.
“Me too, mom.” I almost whispered, feeling very sad for a long moment. I looked around— really looked around this time.
I slowly moved up the stairs, my fingers running over the smooth, dark wooden rail.
My feet moved of their own accord and took me to my room, the muscle memory so ingrained I could probably do it in my sleep.
I stopped at the door for a moment, staring at the rectangular, taped on piece of cardboard which said:
“So corny,” I grinned in approval at the sign which I had lovingly placed a year ago. “So awesome.”
I opened the door and stepped in the old room, flipping the light switch.
Yep, everything was exactly the same as when I’d left it in April. I took another few steps, surprised at how clean everything was.
“Mom must’ve been taking care of it all this time.” I said in realization. I felt bad about leaving her alone, here.
Setting the backpack gently over the bed, I grabbed one of my spare outfits, and went to take a shower.
A few minutes later, I exited the bathroom, hearing my mother call my down for dinner.
“Coming!” I shouted, knowing my voice would carry well downstairs, before entering my room and changing.
I heard her call me down once again.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” I said as I walked down the stairs, the smell of food even stronger.
Mom was already seated, not having dug into her meal just yet. She was waiting for me.
“Took you long enough, I’m dying here!” She complained, trying to sound annoyed, but her smile betrayed her true feelings.
“Sorry, mom.” I smiled, taking the seat opposite of hers. She began to dig in, with me following shortly after.
“So this Master Roshi.” She said between bites. “Was he as strong as Kai seemed to think?”
“Oh yeah! He—” I stopped for a moment to slurp in the noodles. “—he was unbelievably strong. He destroyed a mountain with his Kamehameha!”
My mom looked at me for a moment, before laughing. When she noticed I wasn’t joining her, she stopped.
“Wait, you’re serious?!”
I nodded with a grin. “He’s like some super gramps hermit. One second, the mountain was there, and the next, it wasn’t! He blew the whole thing up. Plus he had a flying spinning turtle and a cloud you could ride on!”
Damn, I didn’t like that cloud, but it was an amazing piece of magic, I had to admit.
“He sure sounds like a… strange fellow.” Mom said, unsure of what to say. Well, she probably wanted to call me out on the insane things I’d just said, but she’d already seen my use of the [Ki Ball], as well as the various clips she’d seen of the World Martial Arts Tournaments of the past.
I wisely omitted the fact that Roshi required a payment of dirty mags to even do the deed— mom probably wouldn’t react too well to that, especially knowing that I was to spend quite a few months with the guy.
The rest of the dinner was spent answering all of her various questions. Before I knew it, I was doing the dishes, watching as my [Dishwashing] skill gained a level.
Dishwashing (Lv 14 – 23%/Passive): The act of cleaning your dishes. You can get the job done at a fair speed. 15% Increase in dishwashing speed.
Very funny, game, I thought as I placed the plate on the rack and turned, only to see my mother. She gave me a hug, and a kiss on the forehead, yawning mumbling something about needing to get up early.
“Oh, good night mom.” I smiled and faintly realized it was already dark outside. “Sleep well.”
“Y-” she yawned again, giving me a wave as she went up the stairs. “Yeah.”
I watched her go for a moment, before running a hand through my hair and heading to my room. Closing the door behind me, I fired up my PC and sat down, watching it go through its booting process.
My lips quirked in amusement as my Mist account blew up with messages; a quick check showed that it was my online friends spamming me with messages asking where I was, if I was dead— that sort of thing.
I quickly answered each and every one, catching up with my mates, thoughts of letters and fortune-telling hags completely disappearing from my mind.
At least, for the moment.
Age 749, Wednesday, July 3, Kai’s Dojo
He’d been at it for a minute, and yet my old master could not even touch me anymore.
Kai raised his hand, bringing it down quickly. I sidestepped it with an ease borne out of being used to months of training in high speed combat.
He twisted his hand in an attempt to back-swipe me, but I caught his wrist before he could commit to the strike, halting his momentum with my superior strength.
“It won’t even budge.” Kai said as he kept trying to escape my grip. I smiled, easing up and letting him go.
“What the hell have you been eating, kid?” The man asked, looking at me in a new light. “I mean, I saw the Central City tournament, but still, I figured I could give you a bit of a fight.”
It was ridiculous, how far I’d come in such a short amount of time. Months ago, I couldn’t even run for ten minutes; and now, I could train at full blast for three hours with no issue. My strength was beyond the human level— I’d been at the olympic athlete level when I left South City.
Training with the Ox-King, as well as alone in the wilderness had helped raise my base stats, as well as my [Martial Arts] and other related skills. Hell, I could still sink in 52 points straight into STR and double my available strength!
I wasn’t going to, of course— training with Roshi would do that on its own.
“Mostly rations.” I admitted ruefully, watching the man grimace. “I trained really hard, Master Kai.”
“I can see that.” Kai replied, rubbing at his temple for a moment. “Just Kai is fine.”
Huh, hadn’t expected he’d say that.
“..I don’t know, it’d be weird to call you that, Master Kai.” I replied awkwardly.
“Nonsense.” He said, ruffling my hair slightly. “You’re a master in your own right, now, Ten. I didn’t tell your mom this, but after that tournament, I had dozens of people applying to join my school once they’d realized that was you.”
I blinked in surprise.
“You’ve shown everyone that Tiger Style wasn’t some gimmick.” Master Kai said. “All of us here cheered for you when we saw you compete. You wouldn’t believe what happened when we saw you actually win the thing. You’ve come far from the first day you showed up here. Take pride in it. Should you wish to start your own school in the future, you have my blessing to spread the knowledge I’ve imparted on you.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but nothing came out— the words were stuck in my throat.
Kai smiled, eyes glittering. “You don’t have to say anything, kid. Besides, you’re a long way away from settling down and starting your own school, eh?”
“Hehe, yeah.” I nodded, smiling slightly.
“I can see it in your eyes, you know.” Kai pointed out. “You’ve had a taste of what the world has to offer, and you want more, don’t you? I was the same way.”
“I— yeah.” I said, feeling guilty all of a sudden.
“And I know that look, too.” Kai gave a knowing smile. “Don’t worry, kid. I’ll look out for your mom, keep her company.”
A faint memory of a quest pop-up resurfaced.
“You and.. Mom?” I asked a little strangely.
“What?” Kai looked confused for a second. “What do you… Oh.”
What monster have I unleashed?
“Ten? Where are you going? Ten?” I heard Kai’s voice behind me as I hightailed it out of there.
“Something came up, bye!”
God damn it!
Age 749, Tuesday, July 9, South City High
“I don’t know how you managed it in your travels, son.” My old principal said, astonishment on his face as he read through the test results. “But the results are right here. You’ve passed every test our school had to offer!”
I kept my face schooled, adopting a look of boredom.
“I figured I’d hit the books for a bit in Central City.” I lied, watching the man’s face .
The truth was that I memorized all of the books while hiding from my mom and Kai, who began to pester me for information on each other. Having an enhanced INT score of 69.66, as well as my [Speed Reading] skill made things ridiculously simple.
And so, twenty minutes later, I walked out of the principal’s office with a diploma under my arm, passing through the crowded halls.
At first, no one had noticed my presence, until someone pointed and whispered to his friend. And so, the entire school knew by the time I’d stepped out of the building.
SCH’s rumor mill was still going strong, I snorted in amusement as I began to make my way home.
“Ten, wait!” I heard a familiar voice call for me from behind.
I turned to see who it was, eyes widening in slight surprise. It was one of the few classmates who hadn’t made fun of me or treated me like I wasn’t even there.
Next to him was a girl I sort of recognized, but not really.
“Pencil.” I greeted, with a grin. “I didn’t catch you in the halls, figured you were in class or something. And, uh…”
I tried drawing on my memory for a name, but I couldn’t… The name above her head though— “wait, Rula? Is that really you?”
Her slowly growing frown turned into a smile instantly.
“Wow, you’ve changed a lot.” I grinned, before looking at the two, squinting. “Are you two, uh…”
A nod and a set of blushes was my answer.
“Good for you.” I smiled again. “Things really have changed, huh?”
“You’ve gone through changes of your own.” Pencil pointed out, gesturing at my muscles as well as the diploma I currently held. “Everyone’s saying you’re going places, you know.”
“The prodigy of South City High.” Rula added in theatrically, rolling her eyes in sync with me.
I laughed and began to answer, but the bell rang.
“Damn.” Pencil said, slightly turning to check on his backpack. “I’ll come over soon, me and Rula. We can play some games, like we used to?”
I gave him an apologetic shake of the head. “Sorry, bro. I’m leaving again tomorrow.”
“Off to win another city’s tournament? East, West or North?” Rula quipped good naturedly. “Don’t worry about it, we’ll keep your poor mother company while you go gallivanting off into the world again!”
With that, they turned and left.
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I huffed in slight annoyance, my frown turning into a smile as I saw them enter the school. “They really have changed, though.”
Maybe I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was back then, I mused as I made my way home.
Perspective was key, after all.
Age 749, Wednesday, July 10, South City
“Take care of yourself, son, you hear?” Mom said as she hesitated at the entrance of her workplace.
Knowing that she was likely feeling emotional over me leaving again, we spent all of Tuesday night watching my mother’s favorite movie series: The Crushing Fist trilogy, starring Pamput.
Of course, this time, my mom kept commenting on the various fight scenes, asking me if I could pull off any of the moves that Pamput did.
After demonstrating a few, she suggested I should become a movie star.
“I have the acting ability of a dead fish.” My reply was.
“So does Pamput, and he’s raking in dozens of millions!” Her retort had made me seriously consider it, I thought as I gave her a long hug.
“You know me, mom.” I grinned, trying to assuage her worries. “Responsible and safe.”
“You beat up thugs and randomly fight in tournaments.” She deadpanned.
“Uh… Relatively responsible and safe?” I tried with a much more subdued smile.
It seemed to work, as she let out a teary giggle and smothered me in a hug once again, before backing away and heading into the building to start her shift.
I shouldered my backpack, frowning as she disappeared from view.
“She’ll be all right.” I said to myself, turning and walking away. “Everyone’s going to be looking out for her. Kai, the principal dude, Rula and Pencil…”
The last two seemed pretty happy now, I noted with a smile. They used to keep dancing around the subject of their attraction to one another. Things had gotten a bit tense between us before I left— wait, could it have been because of me?
For realizing you were being a third wheel, you gain +1 to WIS!
“Thank you, game.” I muttered in annoyance, the couple passing me by sending me odd looks.
Shaking off my thoughts on my two former classmates, I made my way to the repair shop.
It was an old building, but well taken care of. I caught the whiff of a relatively fresh coat of paint, before entering through the front door, the sound of power tools filling the air.
“Ah, Ten.” A stout fellow in his sixties— the owner, Peelo— grinned at me, before reaching under the desk, pulling a small case, opening it to show my boat capsule. “You made it just in time.”
“Lucky me.” I said drily, looking a tad amused.
The man did a double take, before shaking his head slightly. Wonder what that was about?
“It wasn’t all that tough to fix, really.” Peelo said, clearing his throat a few times. “None of the bullets hit the tank, so you got really lucky, in that regard. It’ll still look as beat up as it did before, though; no going around that, to be honest.”
I nodded. “I thought as much, this old boat’s been used for a long time.”
“Don’t I know it.” Peelo grinned and gave a hearty laugh. “I’m the one who built it for your old man, bless his soul.”
My eyes went wide with surprise at the revelation. “You knew my father?”
“Surprised that a young man like me knew your old man?” Peelo replied, waggling his eyebrows. I snorted at the gesture.
Young, my ass.
“Heh, I see that look on your face, boy.” The older man chortled. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re thinking. I remember when your old man came in and he saw my old man— he was the owner back then. Same look on his face, you almost look exactly like him, you know.”
I nodded in agreement and faint surprise.
Mom kept a lot of pictures. I’d gotten a few fresh looks in the last week, and it seemed I was almost a complete carbon copy of the man.
“Down to the bracelet.” He muttered.
“What?” I latched onto that.
“I said: ‘down to the bracelet’.” Peelo repeated, frowning at me.
“This actually belonged to him.” I said, lifting my hand to let him have a closer look. “Mom gave it to me.”
Peelo scrutinized it for a few moments. “It’s the same one, all right. Your old man and I used to sail a lot together; those were the days…”
They sailed together, huh?
“…Would your sailing trips happen to be to the west?” I asked curiously.
The old man blinked in surprise. “That’s right! He’d gotten me to take him quite a few trips out west— until he learned to do it himself, of course. Resourceful guy, your old man was. Not really sure why he’d want to go there, though. I guess he liked the scenery.”
“Probably.” I said, finally taking the capsule and putting it in one of my backpack’s pockets, before pulling out a map. “Can you tell me exactly where? It’s just that…”
I stopped for a moment, trying to figure out a way to word it.
“Following in your father’s footsteps, eh?” Peelo said, his expression sympathetic, and grabbed a pen, studying the map intently, before drawing a path west from the southern docks to the western, mostly uncharted landmass.
“That’s more or less it, I’d say.” Peelo eyed his work intently, nodding to himself a few times before handing me the map back. “It’s been a long time, but I’m fairly sure that’s the way. What he did when he got there, I have no idea.”
I checked the map, weighing it against the search results I’d gotten when looking up Fortune-teller Baba and nodding. It matched up nicely with the rumors of her palace being somewhere in that direction.
“That’s honestly more than I could hope for. Thank you, Mr. Peelo.” I said, meaning it.
“Don’t mention it, kid.” He waved it off, grinning instead. “You take care of yourself out there, y’hear?”
With a nod and a wave, I exited the repair shop, looking up at the sky.
“Following in your footsteps, huh…” I muttered and began to walk towards the southern docks. “I wonder what you were thinking when you first made the trip, dad?”