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Book Reports in the New Millennium

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Kenshirou hated being the youngest. It meant he was always stuck with the lame chores. Raoh got to oversee the second year acolytes' training; Toki was helping out in the healers; and Jagi was buying supplies down in the village. And what had old Ryuuken tasked him with? Why, compiling an oral history of their world!

It was lame. Lame, lame, lame. Who cared what came before? All that mattered was what was in front of them now. Instead of polling the other acolytes and disciples, he ought to be training with Raoh, or better yet Master Ryuuken!

Like his brothers, he had been sent out at the crack of dawn. Even though he felt like this was the kind of assignment Ryuuken made up just so he'd get the temple to himself, the old man was as sly as a snake and would nitpick any incomplete assignment until it was in tatters. So when Kenshirou returned two hours after sunset with a stack of papers as thick as two fingers, he really really really hoped the master would see he had put in real effort to his task and maybe give him a real job next time around.

"Master!" he called into the darkness of the temple, "I've returned with the records you've asked of me!"

No response.

Jagi once said he had caught the master sleeping in the temple. He swore up and down to this and Raoh had him mopping the latrines for a week.

"Master?" Kenshirou called again.

"My child," Ryuuken said, appearing like a ghost from behind. Kenshirou yelped and spun around, quickly prostrating himself.

"Master, I've returned with the records you've asked for."

"We've been looking for you all afternoon," Ryuuken sighed. "I even sent Jagi back to the village, just in case you had wandered there."

"I was in the library," Kenshirou huffed. He ended up breathing in a lungful of dust.

"Up you go, child," Ryuuken sighed, heaving him to his feet. Kenshirou dry gagged a couple times before following the old man back to the temple's sanctum. All at once, the darkness was illuminated by four pillars of fire.

"Here we are," Ryuuken said, easing himself down to a seated position. Kenshirou was quick to follow suit. Looking at the wizened old man, with his wrinkles that seemed to cut into skin, Kenshirou really couldn't believe this was the person that could bring even Raoh to his knees.

"Well?" Ryuuken said.

"Here," Kenshirou gestured to the pile of papers he had dutifully salvaged.

"No, I want to hear it with your own words."

Kenshirou did a double-take. This, he had not been prepared for.

"You what?"

"Your own words, Kenshirou."

"Can I read from my notes at least?"

"Very well."

Kenshirou bit back a complaint about fake training and went ahead, skimming the first page of his notes. "So the old hag at the clinic says that the world started when a star died. But her husband says the star never died but a part of it exploded."

"Which story do you believe?" Ryuuken asked.

"The old man's, for sure!"

"Tell more."

"So this star exploded but didn't die and the world was covered with ash. Then these huge monsters rose up from the oceans and started eating everything," Kenshirou's eyes lit up as he remembered the old man's narration, "And only our techniques could stop them."

"Is that so."

"Uh-huh! That's what he said!"

Ryuuken stroked his beard for a while before nodding. "Very well. And is that the only story you copied down?"

"No way, how lazy do you think I am?" Kenshirou flipped forward three pages, "After the clinic I went to the baths and the pops running that said his great-great-granduncle had fought one of those monsters. They were way smaller then, but if they ate a whole city, they'd grow crazy big." Kenshirou gestured with his arms to demonstrate. "So that's why we don't live with the villagers."

Ryuuken had had enough at this point. He seized the stack of papers from Kenshirou and rapped the boy on the head with them.

"That's enough of this fairytale nonsense!" he declared, "Monsters and cities, what are they filling your head with!"

Kenshirou bowed his head, knowing better than to speak.

"I'll only tell you this once so listen up: there was an asteroid. It blocked out the sun for three generations. All of humanity crumbled to dust in those sixty-five years. And from the ashes, the only thing that kept us alive was -- "

"The Hokuto school?" Kenshirou couldn't help interrupting.

"No!" Another hit on the head. "It was discipline. The discipline to survive in the face of such catastrophe. That discipline inspired our ancestors to eke out a living, however wretched and miserable it might be."

"Wretched and miserable my ass..." Kenshirou muttered under his breath.

"Boy, I asked you to undertake this to stress the importance of discipline. Not just for training or fighting, but in all things. Have discipline, boy, and you'll go far."

At this point, Kenshirou knew what the old man expected to hear. He bowed his head obediently and said: "Yes, Master Ryuuken."

"Good." The old man tossed his notes into the northwest flame. "You may retire now."

"Yes Master Ryuuken," Kenshirou repeated. He bowed again before scuttling off. He nearly crashed into Jagi on his way out.

"Oi, Ken," Jagi greeted, grabbing him and mussing up his hair, "Been looking all afternoon for you!"

"Stop it, stop it!" Kenshirou whined, hopelessly kicking his legs.

"Jagi, stop that," Toki said.

At once, Jagi set his younger brother down. Which just went to show, Kenshirou thought, that being the youngest sucked.

"Toki!" he and Jagi greeted.

"How were the patients?"

"Is it true the sun was once blotted out for sixty-five years?"

Toki blinked at Kenshirou's question before laughing. He turned to Jagi and ruffled his hair. "The patients are all doing well. The herbs you brought from the village are excellent. The seller really dries them out to maximize potency."

"I was the one who found that seller," Jagi said, puffing out his chest.

"And as for your question," Toki turned to his youngest brother, "I'm afraid I don't know. I wasn't alive then." He leaned in conspiratorically. "But do you know who was?"

Both his brothers leaned in too.

"Who?" they demanded.

"Raoh!" A pebble came flying from the darkness. Toki caught it without breaking a sweat.

"I heard that," their oldest brother growled.

Neither Kenshirou nor Jagi could help themselves and they started laughing too. Raoh huffed and crossed his arms but he didn't pelt either of them, even though his pockets were full of the little stones.

"You know," Toki conversationally started as the four of them were strolling back to their dorms. "The old man at the clinic isn't wrong either..."

Raoh shoved his shoulder. "Stop teasing them," he grumbled.