When the Petals Burn

Chapter 1 - Kawakami Rei\'s First Step

”Tell me, Rei ” the voice from below started to speak once again.

”Why do you climb? Do you think you can redeem yourself? ”

Rei kept climbing the hill. His hands were dirty and he could barely feel the tips of his fingers. How long had he been climbing this hill? How long did he still need to go on?

”Do you think you deserve reaching the top? What about all those people that will never be able to reach it because of you? ”

Rei looked up. The white glow was bright and yet so very gentle. It was the only light source in this dark wasteland. Nothing but almost black soil as far as the eye could reach. Except this light. Thats why it attracted Rei. He wanted to reach it so badly. He couldn think of doing anything other than climbing. If necessary, he would devote his entire lifetime to reach it. And yet, no matter how long he climbs, the glow never seems to get any closer.

”It was your fault. All those people. I did it for you. I sacrificed both the lives of them as well as my own for your sake. And yet you keep climbing, not even looking back at the people below you. ”

The chain attached to Reis back suddenly straightened and pulled him, with the force of the entire weight, down. Rei lost the fight against gravity and started sliding downwards, the rough ground grinding against his skin and tearing his clothes as well as his skin apart. Finally, he managed to gain a grip and stopped. He looked up, ignoring the burning pain. How much progress has he lost because of this weight? This weight, attached to the chain. This weight, that is always there, yet feels as light as a feather on some days and as heavy as a block of steel on others. This weight that never shuts up.

”You should fall to the end. You should stop climbing. You, you of all people don deserve to reach the top. Neither will you be able to. ”

Rei made the mistake of looking down. The weight was holding onto the thick iron chain, dangling over the seemingly bottomless abyss. It was making direct eye-contact with him. Its yellow, piercing eyes, which were almost hidden behind its gray hair, stared straight into the deepest part of his soul.

”Because your very life is a sin ”.

…waiting

…Morning

”….currently 7AM. Mister Kawakami is waiting for you downstairs. Good Morning, Rei, it is currently 7AM. Mister Kawakami is waiting for you downstairs. ”

The robotic voice repeated this phrase over and over, forcefully dragging Rei out of his dream. He slowly and carefully opened his eyes. The automatic curtains were being opened, letting in a blinding amount of sunshine. Seems like today is an awfully nice day.

Annoyed by the noise, Rei forced himself to sit up from his sleeping position.

”Yeah, yeah, I am already awake. ”

Recognizing his voice, the source of the robotic voice, the home management system, stops with the wake up calls and slowly lights the room. After stretching himself and letting out a surprisingly long yawn, he swiftly stood up to prepare himself for this day. There was no time to waste.

He swiftly stood up and glanced into the mirror.

”Yikes, ” he murmured to himself. His gray hair was facing in all directions. Even his long, straight sides, that usually reach below his chin, are standing up in pure chaos. The scar was still as prominent as ever.

After taking a shower and fixing his hair, Rei went back into his room to put on his new uniform. It was dark gray toned and had some red lines across the sleeves of its jacket. In the same red tone, a single letter was printed on both the left chest as well as on the back: ”C ”.

Not having enough time or motivation to think about what it meant, he quickly threw the jacket on and left his room. Using the finger scanner to open the door, Rei opened the elevator, which led directly into the living room. If he was honest, he still wasn used to this luxury.

”Goodmorning, Rei. I see you are up earlier than usual. ” The voice greeted him as soon as he entered the living room.

”Morning, grandpa, ” Rei replied while sitting down on the table and beginning to munch on his toast. His grandfather, sitting in his wheelchair, watched him closely as he let out a big smile.

”Is something wrong? ”

”Oh, no, by no means. Can an old man like me not enjoy these peaceful moments with his family? ”

”The way you treat me like a real family member has always been astounding to me. ”

”Do you not do the same? Besides, I have told you many times before, Rei. Family is not something decided by some weak connections like blood. We are a real family, no matter where you came from or where you are going. ”

”Speaking of which, where is Shi? ” Overwhelmed by the unusual amount of heartwarming talk, Rei quickly tried to steer the conversation in a different direction.

”Ah, Shishigo? He went to school early. You know how he feels about you visiting the academy, so he probably wanted to avoid seeing you off. ” His Grandfather looked down, his face showing a mix of disappointment and sadness. He probably wanted them to be together at the last moment, before Rei went off. Who knew when they were able to see each other again.

While Shishigo and Rei understood each other extremely well – even for brothers – this one topic was one of the first things that managed to create a distance between them. Rei hoped that he could talk to him once more, but it seemed like he would have to leave the conflict as it is. Well, calling it a conflict might be an exaggeration, the word quarrel probably describes it better. Whatever it was, Rei was sure that it wouldn be able to actually influence their relationship permanently. At least he hoped so.

Silence fell over the room. The only thing that was to be heard was the crunchy toast that was being chewed on. It wasn necessarily an awkward situation, but the mood was still rather gloomy. Bringing up the topic to his Grandfather was probably a bad idea.

”Well, Im sure hell be over it soon. Shi is not the kind of guy to hold long grudges. ” Gulping down his last bite, Rei abruptly stood up to get ready to head out. His Grandfather nodded in agreement and let out another big smile.

After getting everything ready and double checking his bag, Rei opened the front door and stepped outside. The citys tall buildings reflected the morning run.

”Ill be off, ” he said, trying his best to not make this moment emotional. He didn want to see his Grandfather sad.

”Take care, Rei, ” replied his grandpa with a simple hand waving motion.

Rei walked off, not looking back. He headed to the nearest High-Train station and only had to wait for a few minutes before the train arrived at high speed. It was riding on a slim iron track that was about 10 meters in the air and went through the entire city. Transport like cars and bikes became far less popular in the last few years.

The High-Train let down an automatic staircase that Rei used to enter the vehicle after scanning his ticket at the entrance, which contained his assigned seat. He sat down and fastened his safety belt. Looking out of the window, the large city stretched as far as the eye could reach. Only in the background Rei could make out a few mountains, but the rest of the view was filled by silver toned buildings that towered into the sky. He wanted to use this time to relax on the way. After all, his life would change dramatically after he would arrive at the academy. The train started to move, but it didn take long until a robotic voice was played through the speakers.

”Seat number 372, please use your safety belt. Seat number 372, please use your safety belt. ”

The train started to accelerate and the buildings next to the track seemed to fly by.

”We repeat, seat number 372, please use your safety belt. ”

Rei tried to relax and ignore the commotion, but he made the mistake of glancing at the affected seat. A young man stood next to the seat, almost hugging himself onto the wall, likely to keep his balance while the train was moving at high speeds. He wore a brown hoodie and some old, large pants. He pressed his face against the walls, so Rei couldn make out his appearance. More and more people directed their attention towards the law breaker and whispering emerged through the car. Many people seemed to be obviously troubled, unsure of how to act, or if they should act, including Rei. After all, this man and his problems have nothing to do with him. It wasn his problem. It wasn his duty to keep passengers like this guy in check. And yet, he couldn stop thinking.

”Did the guy forget his ticket? Did his seat malfunction? Is he planning something? ” Those thoughts filled Reis head, and soon his entire focus laid on the stranger. Most people ignored the situation and went back to their business. Many of them plugged in their headphones to blend out the annoying robotic voice, which was still playing on repeat. While Rei himself decided to not interfere with it, he still kept his yellow toned eyes straight on the man. He was almost glaring at him, but since the man was facing the wall, that didn matter.

If Rei had one attribute that he could rely on, it was his intuition, which was currently telling him to stay aware of the situation. Humans are selfish, so any situation can escalate if a person just has enough reason to do something like that. And in a world of imperfection, such reasons can stem from any kind of struggle, conflict or even determination. That said, the older man seated next to the wall-hugging guy seemed awfully bothered. He tried to ignore what was going on by typing around on his business tablet, but he was also visibly reaching the limit of his patience: his leg was shaking up and down, he repeatedly fixed his gaze upon the young man and, intentionally or not, clicked his tongue multiple times.

”We repeat, seat number 372, please use your safety belt. ”

The pressure continued to rise and the car was filled with an uncomfortable atmosphere. Soon though, the train started to decelerate as it was approaching the main station. The young man in the hoodie seemed to have a hard time adjusting his balance in order to stay on his feet. Luckily for him, the train came to a halt. Rei could hear the staircase extending, as he carefully unfastened his safety belt and tightened the grip on his backpack. The doors of the car began to open and at the same time the young man, who was up until now still hugging the wall, made his move. In a surprisingly fast motion, the guy pushed himself away from the wall, grabbing the tablet of the older man next to him in the process. Before the victim even realized what was going on, the thief was already sprinting down the stairs.

There was no reason for Rei to act. This wasn his problem.

Stay out.

He didn have to put himself into trouble.

Don interfere.

He didn have a strong sense of justice.

This has nothing to do with you.

He wasn a hero. He was just a 17 year old boy with the desire to be different. To create… change.

All the people around him didn move. They looked away, minding their own business. Of course they would, getting involved with something like this was stupid. But if being stupid was the key to become different from all of these selfish people, to make a change, even if it was just a slight one, then that was perfectly fine by Rei.

He put as much pressure on his feet, contracting his muscles, before bolting away. Instead of using the stairs, he used the railing to slide down, perfectly keeping his balance. The thief had already built a decent distance between them, so Rei had no time to lose. He shook off his backpack and accelerated, keeping his eyes on the mans back. They ran through the station with people quickly watching the action scene unfold, before going back to their own business. They couldn care less about something that didn affect them.

Selfish pricks.

The thief must have heard the approaching footsteps, because he glanced back, only to see Rei sprinting as fast as possible towards him. The man panicked and tried to speed up, but it was too late. Rei stretched out his arm, managing to get a firm grab on the thiefs hood. With all his force he then pulled the criminal back, who, since he was running at high speed, had no chance of staying in balance. With a painful impact the guy hit the ground, still grabbing onto the stolen business tablet. Before he could react, Rei stomped on his chest, making sure that he had no means of escape. Only now Rei got a clear view of his appearance. His face was slim and the jawbones defined clear outlines. There was barely any meat on his face, even his arms and legs were incredibly thin. It was surprising that he managed to run this fast with a body like this.

”He looks poor, is he from the Yogore district? ” Rei thought to himself.

”P-Please don call the cops on me! Im just tryin to survive out here! ” The thief still seemed to be out of breath. Rei forcefully grabbed the stolen device out of his hand, before removing his foot from his chest. A fair deal.

Rei couldn possibly know what forced this guy to become a thief. Greed? Hatred? Desperation? Or was it the simple wish to survive after all? For a short instance, memories started to flood back, before Rei managed to focus on the current situation again.

”Go, ” said Rei. Again, Rei didn feel like a hero. He just didn want to end up being the same as the people around him.

The troubled thief slowly stood up, offered Rei a thankful but also frustrated glance before running away. Rei walked back to the station, both to return the phone as well as to pick up his backpack. As he grabbed his backpack, the old man from the train reached him. He had a serious look on his face and stared directly at Rei.

”Are you an accomplice of that thief?! Where is my phone?! Give it back or Ill involve the police! ” Before Rei could even explain, the man grabbed him by his collar and tried to act tough. Does this guy really not understand what had happened?

”I got your phone back for you, ” Rei said calmly but with a slightly aggressive undertone, while handing the man the phone.

Surprised, the man snatched the phone from his hand. He didn seem to trust Rei, which was no wonder. It was unusual for a stranger to get involved with something that didn have anything to do with them.

”Wait, where did that Yogore scum go then? ” the man continued interrogating Rei, without even releasing a single Thank you from his mouth.

This man just assumed that the thief was from that district, huh?

”He got away, ” lied Rei. A man like this would probably never understand why he let a criminal go, so it was for the best to just lie. Making this situation unnecessarily complicated was the last thing he wanted. The old man still had Rei in his grip, which annoyed him even further. Rei quickly grabbed the mans hand and forcefully freed himself from him. This wasn the moment to waste time with people like him.

”Fine, you can go, ” the man added with a spiteful tone as Rei walked away.

”Like I need your permission, old man, ” Rei replied under his breath, but the man either didn hear him or decided to ignore it. Why did such a commotion have to happen today? Well, things like these weren exactly unusual, but it was still annoying to have something like this occur on such an important day.

He quickly looked up the location of the academy, before walking off. It was located pretty far away from the main station. It wasn even really part of the city, but could instead be found in a remote area, surrounded by some of the only nature in this modern metropolis.

After a good 30 minute walk, he could spot quite a few trees in the distance. Cherry trees to be precise. The pink petals, flowing through the air, decorated the small road. Rei hasn seen real trees in a pretty long time. The plastic ones in the city that are used for decoration just don have the same feel to them.

”Why does such a revolutionary have to be located so far away? ” he complained to himself while walking up the hill.

Trying to distract himself with the good view, a building could soon be seen at the end of the road. No, it wasn really a building, but instead just the outlining walls. Their simple, silver tone was supported by various, glowing-blue lines that gave them a unique and modern look. Behind these walls mustve been the school area. The school that Rei would attend for the next 3 years. Well, it called itself a school, but a Military Academy would be a more fitting description. It was still hard to believe that Rei had managed to get through the elimination process in order to make it here. His grades weren really bad, but in the eyes of his middle school, it was an understatement to call him a problem student. He himself wouldn call him such. He wasn causing the problems, but merely the person to act upon them.

But that might be different with this school. After all, this academy strived to revolutionize the military and even the society of this country. No wonder that it was supported by the state itself. Furthermore, Rei belonged to the very first generation of the schools history. Though he heard that the school system was tested by various students before, he would belong to the first grade that graduates from it. As long as nothing goes wrong, that is.

Still, while this facility was something special, in the end, it was still based on the average school system. Meaning that Rei would still need to somewhat interact with his classmates and the teachers, which he wasn looking forward to. He just wanted to go through the system, using his time to get closer to his dream, without getting into too many problems. Basically, he would do the exact opposite of the mistakes he did in middle school.

Lost in his thoughts and anxieties, Rei soon reached the great wall. In front of him he found a big gate, with a small cabin next to it. Above it, fixated on the wall, there was a sign that spelled Kaizen Academy. As soon as he approached it, a police officer stepped out of it and called him out.

”A new student, I assume? ”

”Yes… sir, ” Rei answered. He was somewhat nervous now that he was actually here.

”You got your student invitation? ”

”Ummm yes, hold on, ” he replied, quickly putting down his backpack and pulling out the invitation letter he received. It also included his new student card, which he both handed to the officer.

”Alright, we will have to check some things and fill out some reports, so don move away, ” the officer said in a threatening tone and walked back into the cabin. Rei stood there, awkwardly, not knowing how to act. Even though he did nothing wrong, getting told don move away by a police officer automatically makes one nervous.

”Are you also a new student? ” The new voice appeared right behind him, out of nowhere. Startled, Rei jerkily turned around. Behind him stood a girl wearing a bright smile, almost a grin.

”Did I scare you? ” She asked, leaning forward.

”No, I was just surprised, ” Rei replied as if he was taking offense at the word scared. He wasn expecting to meet such lively people at an academy like this. If he had to explain, his image of this facility gave him the idea that every person here would have a very strong, cold and especially serious personality. Doesn seem like his assumptions were correct.

”Wait, you
e also wearing a C. Maybe we
e in the same class? ” The girl seemed excited and pointed at Reis chest. Just like on her jacket, his also had a red C printed on. So those were dependent on the class, huh?

”Say, whats your name? Im Ahane Akari, just call me Akari! ”

Rei understood that this girl was lively, but calling someone by their first name just after they met still seemed exceptionally weird.

”Kawakami, ” he simply answered.

”Thats your last name, isn it? Your first name is…? ”

”…Rei. ”

”I see, nice to meet you, Rei! Lets work together as classmates from here on! ”

This was exactly what Rei was trying to avoid. Getting to know his classmates or even trying to make friends would only lead to problems, he knew that all too well. So natural extroverted people like Ahane – no – people like Akari were his natural enemies. But if he just ignored her, even someone persistent would lose interest sooner or later.

”The documents are ready, you can have this back. ” The police officer came up to Rei again and handed him his student card.

”Are you a new student too? ” The officer asked once again, this time not Rei, but Akari.

”Yep, here is the letter. ”

Without paying attention to the ongoing conversation, Rei walked towards the gate, which opened automatically in front of him. As he walked through, he noticed how thick the iron walls really were.

”We
e gonna see each other later, Rei! ”

He heard Akari shouting after him, but decided to coldly ignore it.

The area included 2 buildings – one of them must be for the dorms while the other has to be the actual school. There also seemed to be a fairly large outdoor field, presumably for outdoor sport activities. Surprisingly, it looked like a fairly normal school. The main building seemed to consist of two main parts, which were connected by a hallway that stretched high through the air. The big windows on it gave it a distinct, elegant look. Near the right part was an electric sign that had the words Entrance ceremony written on it. As Rei approached the building, he got himself mentally ready to finally enter it: The academy of his dreams.

He grabbed the door handle, pushed the sliding door to the side and took his first step inside the building. From here on, his life would change forever. He would learn many new things, meet various people and face the most difficult of problems. His whole life would turn in another direction: he was on the straight way to reach his goal, his dream. That was a privilege not everyone had. After all, it was the complete opposite for the man in the cell. Truly, the man in the cell had lived a boring life for the past 9 years. Every day, the man in the cell would do the same work, have the same thoughts, experience the same problems and wish the same things: To be free. To do what he wanted to do. To take revenge. And to meet the person that he wanted to meet the most. The very person that caused him to live this life.

”Today must be another great day for you, huh? ” the man in the cell spoke to himself, pushing his gray, wavy hair out of his face. He got up from his uncomfortable bed, walked over the cold ground and stared at the wall, which was covered in hundreds of white lines. Taking his piece of chalk, the man in the cell comfortably added another line to it.

”One day… ” he mumbled in his usual, croaky voice.

”…I will meet you again, Rei. ”

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