Iron Rain Pt. 01byLost Boy©
Part 1: Homecoming
Today is my graduation day. Today I leave the life I have known for four years behind me. Today I leave the military school my father exiled me to and return to civilian life. Today everything and nothing changes for me and I have grown enough to accept these facts. Today is my graduation day.
There is a figure kneeling on the soft pliant mat in the gymnasium. In his left hand rests a shinai a bamboo practice sword used in the martial art of kendo. His right hand rests on his right thigh. He is perfectly still and with every breath his universe becomes smaller and smaller; with each heartbeat his mind clears and thoughts cease to be. When all thoughts are banished and his universe has completely dissolved his right hand moves without thought and grips the shinai and simultaneously draws and cuts his unseen foe with flawless precision. The figure opens his eyes and standing before him just outside of the range of his strike in an elderly man unbent by his years due to his complete dedication to his art, the art of sword combat. I am that figure kneeling and standing before me is Master Akira Kobayashi last scion of the White Lotus School of Combat.
"Perfection Shaw-san you have taken and mastered my lessons despite your unfortunate disability," his English is accented but his pronunciation is very good.
The disability is that I was born American and began my lessons late in life. But Master Akira was the father I never had and I am greatly saddened by our immanent parting of ways.
"Thank you Sensei for your kind words," I say, slowly rising to my feet. "It has been both an honor and a privilege to have studied at your feet."
"You have made me proud and to know that at least a part of my teachings will live on through you makes the sting of our parting bearable."
"I have to go and prepare for the graduation ceremony."
"I know but before you go I have something to return to you," he says and reaches around his neck and takes off the chain and the strange key that hangs from it and holds it out for me. "You gave this into my keeping when you began your studies not sure if you should keep it or not. I feel it is time for you to discover what lock it opens."
"Thank you Sensei," I said bowing and taking the key and chain into my hand.
"I hope the lock opens doors to a bright future for you Nicholas," he said smiling a rarity for the stern faced sword master. "You had better go or you will be late and that would be a poor start to a new life goodbye."
I bowed low, turned and left for my dorm room. I jogged across campus and reached my room in less than five minutes, not too shabby for being bare foot and in my ghi. I stripped down and started my shower and checked out myself in the mirror and could see my father staring back at me. I had his hazel eyes, hawk-like nose and prominent chin. I saw very little of my mother in my features but knew that her part of me was my forgiving nature, artistic soul and the hunger to be loved. The academy had killed the first two aspects and the utter lack of communication with my father had put the last to rest a long time ago. Military school was like being exiled for reasons that haunt you and keep you up at night. But as the weeks became months and then years I ceased to care or hope. I knew after I stepped out on stage to receive my diploma I would turn to face the audience and besides friends and faculty there would be no other familiar faces. He blamed me for his wife's death and nothing was going to change that not even four years of separation. A cloud of steam filled the bathroom and I stepped into the shower and felt my muscles relax as the hot water did its work. I lathered up and soaped my hard body from top to bottom and applied shaving cream to my face and made sure it was impeccably free of hair. Then I did the same to my groin and balls making sure they were as smooth as my face. It was a habit I had started years ago and like all military habits were now second nature. I dried off and examined my nails and found them fit for graduation. I dressed and made sure my captain's bars were perfectly placed. I examined my reflection once more and found no flaw whatsoever!
As a unit we arrived at the field and assembled according to name and patiently waited for the ceremony to begin. I found myself secretly hoping that my father would be in the audience but I knew better and squashed the emotion before it took root. One by one we made our way up to the stage, received our diploma and left via the opposite side of the stage. Of course there were cheers from friends and family as each cadet was given their diploma, would anyone cheer for me I wondered?
"Captain Nicholas Shaw..." came the contralto voice of the Commandant then followed by a roar of voices, whistles and clapping... well I'll be damned!
I crossed the stage in a measured step as we were instructed, took the diploma in my left hand and shook his hand with my right. I turned to face the audience and everyone was on their feet showing how happy and proud they were of me... even my father! There he stood despite all hope and I nearly cried. I turned and headed off stage while the other students had their time in the limelight. When the last of us had received our diplomas the Commandant addressed the crowd.
"As you know it is custom for the Valedictorian and Salutatorian to speak for his class but this year will be different as these two students will make introduction to the student voted as the best representative of our school. Please welcome Sergeant Marcus Brady to the stage."
Another roar from the crowd and Marcus took the stage and when the noise died down he held up a piece of paper then crumbled it up.
"I had a nice speech all lined up for you about what the future is going to mean to our graduating class but Terry and I decided to share some memories of the past that greatly impacted our lives and why we achieved our academic success. When I was a freshman I was going to run away and never look back on this place. I was angry, tired and scared to death..."
I remember when I caught Marcus packing his things and ready to run, run to anywhere but here.
"... I never told anyone about it until now. A dear friend of mine talked me out of it and told me this. 'When a sword is being forged it is hammered, beaten and thrust into the fire over and over again. If the sword is taken out unfinished from the forge it is brittle and will surely break. But the secret is to bend with the blows and embrace the process so that in the end you are a gleaming three foot razor that all men will fear.' He was and is a huge fan of the Samurai sword and so thanks to his words I stand before you today tall, strong and razor sharp!"
The crowd rose to its feet and roared their approval. The Commandant took the podium once more and when silence had returned he spoke again.
"Thank you Marcus. Now our second speaker is Lieutenant Terry Wilkes please welcome him to the stage."
Terry took the stage in his ground eating strides and smiled brilliantly to the audience before speaking.
"I am the tallest member of my class," the crowed murmured at his six foot seven inch frame, "and has cost me nothing but grief because we have no basketball team here and I had no place to fit into until someone stepped in and found me a niche to call my own. Half way through our freshman year the school offered a special martial arts program to learn the art of Kendo or Japanese sword fighting. Only twenty students were chosen and I was not among them... well not until someone campaigned to the Commandant himself on my behalf. It wasn't easy for him to even get an appointment, he is a busy man our fearless leader, and the program was experimental but still he stuck his neck out for me and I was accepted as the twenty first student to Master Akira Kobayashi. After four years out of the original twenty one students only four endured to senior year and due to our success the program will continue. Kendo has taught me discipline, courage and the deepest meanings of honor and if not for that chance all those years ago I would not be the young man you see before you today."
The crowd once more got to its feet clapping, whistling and roaring. Once they calmed down Terry continued his speech.
"Here to present the first annual Kendo championship ribbon Master Akira Kobayashi."
The wizened figure strode across the stage with his preternatural grace and his usual mask of the stern teacher etched upon his face. He wore a kimono of finest golden silk adorned with white lotus blossoms.
"Ladies, Gentlemen and cadets four years ago I was contacted by this fine place of learning to teach the ancient art of Kendo. I was hesitant to be honest for most teachers of Japanese decent send students that had come from their respective countries back once they have achieved the rank of teacher. It is highly unusual for a Master to leave Japan and teach overseas. Saying that, I contracted for four years to see if any would embrace the art and take its deeper mysteries as a lifestyle and not just a sport to be played. I told myself that if just one did that I would renew my contract and continue on for another four years. It is my greatest honor and with deepest pride to announce the winner of the first annual Kendo championship ribbon Captain Nicholas Shaw."
I suspected they were talking about me but I was in shock and someone behind me had to give me a gentle but firm push to get me moving towards the podium. The crowd's noise level reached a new volume and in an emotional fog I stood before Master Akira as he pinned the ribbon onto my uniform and he bowed to me and I mirrored his gesture with a brilliant smile on my features. I turned to the crowd and there was my dad crying along with an attractive blond who was standing next to him and screaming herself silly. After what seemed like forever I stood there looking out at the audience and collected my thoughts.
"I don't know what to say no one warned me about this. Like many students I arrived here four years ago with mixed feelings about our place in the world and unsure whether our parents loved us and had abandoned us here for one reason or another. But I discovered that time away has made me more self reliant, disciplined and all the more hungry to be with my family from this day forward. For four long years I have as Marcus put it so well been hammered, beaten and forged into a better human being and thanks to friends and faculty my life will be a shining example to all those around me of what anyone can achieve if they want something bad enough." I thrust my fist into the air. "Go class 2011!"
Everyone lost their minds and there were cheers and whistles and yes tears of joy and sorrow. I shook the Commandant's hand and left the stage heading straight for my father. It took a while to make my way through the crowd but at last he threw his arms around me and we hugged.
"I wasn't sure you were going to make it," I told him as the three of us exited the field for the waiting limo. "I am a complete jerk, who is this gorgeous young woman?"
"Nicholas let me introduce your new mother, Petra Shaw."
I guess the look of shock was apparent as another unexpected bit of news took me completely by surprise.
"Welcome to the family Petra," I said shaking her hand.
"It's okay Nicholas I know this comes as a shock but I hope the homecoming will be pleasant and show how much we have missed you."
"Petra is responsible for much of my new found happiness and success," father said pulling her close. "After the graduation party we will take you home where you can decide which college you want to go to or if the armed services is appealing. We are 'not' shipping you off again all those decisions are yours to make."
"I take it the business has improved 'a lot' since last we spoke dad?"
"Yes it has, you are heir to a vast fortune my boy and Petra's aid is why."
"So are you partners as well as a married couple," I asked.
"I told you he was brilliant," my father said. "Petra is my silent partner and contact specialist."
"Are you coming to the graduation party," I asked Petra.
"We wouldn't miss it for the world."
The academy had rented out space at a five star hotel in town for the party and it was the best any graduate could hope for. Food, a live band and door prizes for each and every student; the prizes ranged from I Phones to I Pads with two years prepaid contracts. They had dropped a small fortune for this party! I wondered how they could afford it when I saw my dad talking to a senior member of the hotel staff and handing him an envelope. Damn, I guess the business was doing great!
We left the party at around ten o'clock and headed back home. I was surprised to see that we were driving back to the old house, the house I had grown up in. I thought that with his new found wealth father would have bought a new home. We stopped and the limo let us out in front of a building that was and wasn't familiar to me. He had refurbished it and very extensively by the look of things. What had been a two story structure with an attic was now a full three story home and the roof had been modified with a glass dome over the center of the top floor. The exterior was now a gray stone of some sort with large bay windows on either side of the front door revealing the living room and library respectively.
"I love what you've done with the place," I said as I got my duffle bag from the trunk of the limo.
"Thank you," Petra said. "Your father was very indulgent when it came to the face lift on your home I am glad you like it. I hope you still have the key we sent you."
"Yes, it's around my neck why?"
"Oh you'll see," she said smiling secretively.
My father tipped the driver and led the way up to the front door which opened before we got there and framed in the flickering fire light was a curvaceous figure of a young woman. She opened the door all the way and I could see her deep autumnal hair and blazing green eyes.
"Nicholas, I would like to introduce my daughter Katarina..." Petra began.
"Everyone just calls me Kat! Welcome home Nick I have heard so much about you."
She had her mother's Slavic features and was as younger version of Petra.
"Sorry I didn't mean to stare," I said blushing.
"Hey it's okay if I were surrounded by nothing but girls for four years I'd be a little shy around the opposite sex too," was there just a hint of a lilt in her voice when she said 'sex'?
"Thanks... I appreciate it."
"Can I give it to him mother?" Kat asked but her mom shut her down with a look.
"You know better, his father will give him his graduation gift. After all it was his idea so let father and son have that moment shall we?"
"You're right of course sorry dad," Kat said her head lowered.
"She gets so excited and it's been in its box since it arrived," Petra said with another secretive smile.
I looked to my father and he just grinned.
"Come on in and let's have some coffee and we can show Nicholas all his surprises okay?"
"Okay," mother and daughter said echoing one another.
The interior of the house was hauntingly familiar for the rooms' dimensions were close to the original except the kitchen was twice its size and was something you expect to see on Iron Chef. Petra and Kat started coffee and set out some snacks while my father gave me the guided tour.
"We gutted it down to the frame and added to the back and top of the house." He said as he pointed out the kitchen and massive bathroom on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen. "Each room is patterned after a country that I do business with so that visiting clients feel at home. That was Petra's idea. The living room is Germanic, the library is Italian, the dining room is French and the kitchen is just obscene."
We walked up the left side of the U-shaped staircase that led to the second floor and I didn't recognize it at all. There was a single plain door right at the top of the stairs and a door on either side of the hallway. The door on the right led to the master bedroom which had two full bathrooms attached, his and hers. The door on the left led to Kat's bedroom and she also had her own full bath. I looked at my father perplexed and I think the hurt showed through but he just smiled and pointed to the middle door.
"Take out your key and open the door. Just so you know no one but me has seen what's upstairs so you may have two curious women begging for a tour later on."
I took the strange key from around my neck and slid it into the lock and turned the key to clockwise and an alarm sounded and I nearly pissed myself right then and there. I quickly turned it in the opposite direction and the alarm was silenced and a queer humming sound ended and the door unlocked and slid into the left wall leaving only the handle visible. I didn't notice the soft sound until it ended.
"Mag-lock, the door and beyond double as a panic room in case of dire situations... I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all, I will definitely sleep safe and sound."
"Go in son and tell me if you approve of my interior design."
I opened the door and saw that just beyond was a small room approximately ten feet square and in the middle of the room was a staircase that led up to the expanded third floor.
"Take off your shoes," my dad said as he slipped off his dress shoes.
I followed suit and looked all the way up the stairs and my jaw dropped; for at the top was a shoji, a Japanese sliding door. Suddenly I knew how my room had been decorated! I raced up the stairs and gingerly opened the shoji to reveal a nine tatami mat room with a shoji in the middle of the left and right wall. I stepped into the room and took in my surroundings. The middle of the room held a short rosewood table with pillows on all sides for guests and me to sit and relax around. The back wall had three wooden sliding doors that were obviously closet space. I looked up and saw that the dome atop the house was centered over the main room and let in light from the open sky.
"Check out the closets," my dad suggested.
I crossed to the far side of the room and opened the first closet and it held kimonos of all different colors and material; there were cloth ones for warmth and silk ones for comfort. The middle closet was empty and meant for me to fill. The last closet held shelves for tea or coffee and a good sized refrigerator stocked with soda and snacks.
"You have two more rooms to explore," my dad said pointing left and right.
I chose the right side to explore first and opened the shoji to reveal another nine tatami mat room that was an awesome bedroom. Along the middle of the far wall was the large futon mattress with two short end tables and beneath the mattress was a wooden frame with drawers to hold clothing. On the wall opposite the futon was a massive plasma screen and below it an entertainment cabinet of darkest teakwood. I looked in the drawers of the cabinet to find three separate gaming systems along with a tall computer tower.
"The pc has a remote keyboard and mouse located in one of the futon's drawers but you can also access the plasma screen with this..." he said handing me a brand new I Pad II.
"I am... I don't know what to say," I said almost crying. "Thanks dad!"
"You're welcome son... are you ready for the other room?"
"I'm not sure my heart can take another surprise but... yeah!"
He led me out and across the main room to the left shoji and when I opened it my mouth opened in complete and utter shock.
"I know it's not strictly Japanese but it's a nice combining of cultures don't you think?"
"It is perfect," I whispered.
The bathroom was massive and the room itself was done in traditional Japanese style with the entire floor tiled and a drain in the middle of the floor in case the tub or shower overflowed or leaked. Even the threshold was elevated to keep water from ruining the floor of the main room. On the right wall was a deep tub large enough to easily accommodate two full sized people and for me I could stretch out and float in it without my hands or feet touching the sides and deep enough for the water to reach my neck before stopping. On the far side of the room was a cutting edge shower with nozzles that sprayed from the top, sides and back simultaneously. Both tub and shower had digital displays for precise water temperature. On the left wall was a double sink with mirrors and storage space for towels, hair products as well as other bathroom necessities. Further along the left wall were the toilet and its supplies. It was the perfect bathroom and much larger than the other two and I could tell a lot of thought had gone into each and every room.