For the first time in seven years, I had a family again. Not only that, for the first time in my life, I had a father. I had someone to play with, someone to talk to about my most private thoughts, someone who earnestly cared about my well-being. It was the most wonderful feeling.
I frolicked through a pastel-colored field in slow-motion, laughing for no particular reason as sparkles drifted past. Akagane stood at the far end of the field in silhouette and waved, but it seemed like no matter how much I slo-mo ran, I never got any closer to him. What was going on?
Suddenly, a loud ringing sound shattered the scene before me. Everything turned dark and fell away like shards of glass, and I found myself falling. No... no it couldn't have been all a dream! It was real to me, dammit!
I awoke with a start as someone elbowed me in the side of the head. "Hey, wake up, lazy-ass, it's time for second period."
I blinked groggily into the book under my face. I was seated at a desk, and in front of me was a white board with a bunch of unfamiliar words and diagrams scrawled across it in various colors of marker. Where... was I?
"Hey, if you wanna zone out through your next class, too, be my guest, but I hear the math teacher is hot," came the voice to my side again. I looked up, and my eyes widened in shock.
"Y... Yachouon-sama?!" I stuttered, bewildered.
He put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest, grinning. "The one and only." He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me out the door into the hallway. "Honestly, you're useless without me. You can do my homework tonight and I'll call us even."
He pushed me into the next classroom, and I flopped into the desk, dazed. I was in... school? And Yachouon was alive? How was this even possible?
Yachouon sat on top of the desk next to me and folded his arms, shaking his head. "Man, though, you missed some good stuff in Biology class. Sex ed, man, how can you sleep through that?" He smirked. "Probably the closest a pansy like you is ever gonna get to seeing a naked woman."
"Oh, like you're one to talk," came a voice from behind him. Kogane rolled down the aisle in her wheelchair, pointing a pen in Yachouon's face. "I interred at the hospital over the summer, and let me tell you... people come into the ER with injuries that would make you run away squealing like a baby."
Yachouon rolled his eyes. "You're fifteen, don't act like they had you performing surgery. You were just filing papers for the receptionist. And it's 'interned', you moron."
Kogane puffed out her cheeks, and I stood up in her defense, shouting, "Hey, don't pick on her! She's in a wheelchair!"
Instead I felt a sharp jab in my side as Kogane stabbed her pen into my hip. "And don't you try to defend me on amount of me being disabled! I don't want your pity or trying to do stuff for me because you autocratically think I can't do it myself!" She spun her chair around and stuck up her nose, wheeling back to her desk.
"Yeah, yeah, go work on your vocabulary assignments. You need 'em," Yachouon muttered. When I glared at him disapprovingly, he shrugged. "What? She's never going to fix that speech impediment without incentive. You guys are way too soft on her."
The bell rang and the teacher walked in with impeccable punctuality, carrying a stack of books and folders. "Good morning, everyone! My name is Mrs. Smith, and I'm going to be your teacher for Algebra I this semester. We're going to open with a little icebreaker exercise, so if you could all get out a piece of paper..."
What was this "Mrs. Smith" she was going on about? "Hisui? You're our math teacher?" I wondered in astonishment.
"Whoa, first-name basis with the teacher. And what have you been up to?" Yachouon wondered, wagging his eyebrows.
Hisui set her books down on her desk. "Let's not be disrespectful, Wan-kun. You're in a class of your peers, so I can't give you any preferential treatment just because you're my step-son."
Yachouon sat up. "No way, she's your step-mom?! Man..." He slumped and stuck out his lip. "Now it'd feel weird to hit on her." He slouched further in his seat, folding his arms. "Jeez... first the teacher lets you sleep through his Biology class because you're his 'miracle student', and now you're just gonna breeze through Algebra because the teacher is your step-mom. You don't know how good you've got it, kid."
"Oh, it's worse than you think, cuz she's also my sister-in-law," said Kogane from behind him, smirking.
Yachouon threw his arms in the air. "Great. So you're telling me I'm the only one in this class who isn't related to the teacher?"
Suddenly the door burst open, and a girl in a short black skirt, black platform shoes, and giant hoop earrings stumbled in. "Sorry I'm late, but my dog ate my homework!" she exclaimed. She flopped her books in a mess on an empty desk, then immediately sat down and pulled out her phone to punch out a text message.
Hisui checked her class roster, which couldn't have been very long considering there were only four of us in the room, two of whom were family. "Let's see, you must be... Wakage-san?" she queried. Wakage was too engrossed in her phone to respond, though. "Seeing that this is the first day of class, you shouldn't have had any homework for your dog to eat. Now, could you please put away your phone so that we can get class started?"
"But this is important! A matter of life and death!" Wakage retorted.
"You're just updating Facebook with a picture of your new shoes," Yachouon monotoned. He pointed at his ears and explained, "These ears pick up everything, including wifi."
Hisui pursed her lips, then finally announced, "All right, class, if we're going to be so engrossed in our wireless devices, then let's relate it to math." She turned around and began writing a complicated-looking equation on the board. "The Fourier Transform translates a function from the time domain into the frequency domain, which allows a digital signal to ride on an electro-magnetic pulse that is carried over the air."
My head listed to the side as my mouth gaped open. "Th... this is Algebra?"
She grinned. "No, this is Differential Equations and Signal Processing. Now, would you prefer to do Algebra?" We all put our distractions away and nodded solemnly. Hisui winked, then turned back to the board and erased the imposing equation. "Then let's do Algebra."
When class completed, we all stumbled out of the room in a daze. While the Algebra was definitely easier to grasp than whatever that equation was that she'd given us at the beginning, it still took a bit of time to wrap my head around the concept.
"Aagh, I prefer Biology," Kogane groaned as she spun lazily in her wheelchair. "Shop class is next, and even though the teacher is my brother, I'm still bad at building things."
"Are you related to everyone at this school?" Yachouon wondered, pillowing his arms behind his head as we walked down the hall. "Not looking forward to the machine-shop, though. Those places are too noisy." I glanced over at Wakage for her opinion, but she was too busy trying to take a picture of herself with her phone.
We entered the machine shop, and Akagane stepped out of the interior office wearing a black polo shirt and safety goggles. "Welcome to the most important class of your lives, students. I am Mr. Smith, and I shall be leading you through the process of crafting your own tools: the most basic of necessary survival skills."
"I can just order them on Amazon," Wakage mentioned boredly.
I raised an eyebrow at him. "'Mr. Smith'? I didn't think you even had a last name. And I was kind of expecting it to be... cooler than that."
"One's surname is a declaration of one's profession," he explained. I suppose that made sense, since he was indeed a smith. But it was still somehow disappointing.
He handed out safety glasses to everyone and led us all into the machine room, which was already buzzing with the sounds of ventilators and generators, which was causing Yachouon to fold his ears back. "Our first lesson will deal with simple machines. Does anyone here know an example of a simple machine?"
"Um... a toaster?" I guessed.
"A phone that only makes phone calls?" suggested Wakage.
Kogane rolled forward and back in her chair. "A wheel," she offered.
Akagane pointed at her and responded, "You are correct. A wheel and axle is one of six basic machine components. Simple machines are essentially the most basic tools that can be used to cause something to move. Can anyone think of another?" He glanced at his sister. "Aside from Kogane. I admit she has an unfair advantage due to cohabiting with me."
I rubbed my chin. Kogane had already said "wheel", so something else that could help move something... "Um... tie a rope to it and pull it." That wasn't exactly the name of a machine, though.
"Very close, you are on the right track," said Akagane. "Perhaps you wish to lift this object upwards. Using your same example, how would you modify your tactic in order to perform that feat?"
"Um... loop the rope over a tree branch and pull on it?" I answered.
"A pulley, then," Akagane simplified. Oh, yeah, that. "A pulley is a second simple machine, combining a wheel and a rope. It is used to move something in a direction counter to the direction of force. With an array of pulleys, one of moderate strength is able to lift something far heavier than would be normally possible."
We spent the rest of the class period learning about ramps, levers, screws, and wedges as well, and the different scenarios when each would be a practical choice for performing desired tasks. All in all, it was an interesting class, though being the first day we didn't get into anything hands-on yet. I'd never built anything before, but with Akagane as my teacher, I was excited to someday put his teachings to use.
The bell rang, and the four of us headed to lunch. Yachouon rubbed his ears and groaned. "Ugh, I'm going to hate this class. And I don't think the teacher likes me much, anyway." He sighed. "Well, music class is after lunch, and I hear the teacher's a babe. That sounds more up my alley."
We turned the corner and were suddenly ambushed by an oni! Or, at least someone dressed as an oni.
"Students! Open registration for the drama club begins today, and I just know many of you are thespians at heart!" he exclaimed, shoving a pile of fliers into our arms.
"Excuse me, WHAT did you call me?!" Wakage wondered in shock. She then immediately pulled out her phone to report how offended she was to Twitter.
"Oh, hey, Omosaki-san," I said, looking at the flier in my hands. Apparently the first production of the year was called "Memoirs of a Daiyoukai", the story of one young youkai's journey to save his family from a powerful threat.
That's right... that's what I was supposed to be doing, wasn't it? I'd gotten so caught up in learning and interacting with my peers that I'd already forgotten my true objective. That seemed to be happening a lot recently.
I waved at the others and said, "You guys go on ahead to lunch. I need to talk to... uh... 'Mr. Smith'." Akagane seemed quite comfortable in his new role, so I wondered how much he'd forgotten as well.
I started to jog down the hallway, but nearly tripped over Shigeka, the school nurse. "Don't run in the halls, young man, you'll fall and break your face! And then where'll you be, hm?" I side-stepped around her and then quickly... power-walked to Akagane's office.
However, when I reached the machine shop, I found that Akagane was already thoroughly engrossed in making out with the math teacher against one of the workbenches. I quickly retreated, having learned more about screws in those three seconds than I really cared to know.
Instead I went outside to clear my head. He'd hopefully be in a more talkative mood later and we could figure out what we were doing here. When I rounded the corner of the building, though, I heard a high-pitched voice shout, "Hey, give that back! I thieved it and you can't have it!"
Ryakki was jumping and fruitlessly trying to grab at an item held over her head by Oniuma, who sneered at her derisively. "But it is our birthday. We deserve to have it."
Onishika stood on the other side of her and folded his arms, shaking his head. "Foolish little misfit. Stealing from a theif can hardly be considered wrong. Therefore it is only right that the larger and stronger should win."
"You're only bigger due to getting held back all the time," Ryakki retorted, punching him in the shin. "You think you're powerful for picking on a kindergartener?"
Oniuma grabbed her by the back of the collar and lifted her in the air. "Foolish move, little misfit. If you're going to be violent, don't expect us to hold back."
It was at that point I had to intervene, even though these schoolyard bullies were three times my size. I leapt between them and grabbed Ryakki from Oniuma's hand, then landed safely on the ground with her and whirled around to face them. My hand gripped at the empty place on my hip where my sword usually hung, and I had a moment of panic when I realized I was only armed with a #2 pencil. Steeling myself against my approaching attackers, I decided it was time to find out of the pen really was mightier.
I put up a valiant fight, surely, but in the end all my effort was undone by an annoying little thing called Zero Tolerance. And because I'd "instigated an incident involving a weapon", I found myself sent straight to the principal's office to answer for my crimes.
The principal appeared in a flourish of smoke and flames, and I just had to recoil in disgust. Okay, seriously, with all the other insane crap that was going on right now, he's the principal? I mean, sure, who else would it be?
Souzou Tennou (Souzou Kouchou?) sat in his oversized fur-trimmed chair and slowly laced his fingers in front of his face, scowling at me over the rims of a pair of narrow glasses. "You disappoint me..." he intoned lowly.
I glared right back at him. "Guess that means I'm doing the right thing."
With a sigh, he sat up straighter and folded his hands on his desk. "Why must you act out in rebellion against me? You assaulted my subordinates unprovoked knowing full well how I would react."
Oh, give me a break, I didn't even know you were the principal until you appeared in the office, though I guess I should have figured, given everyone else showing up. "It wasn't unprovoked; they'd robbed and assaulted an elementary school kid and I had to protect her."
"They were merely teaching it a necessary lesson," he intervened harshly. "If it did not wish to be robbed, then it should not have been carrying anything of value. What was someone of that age doing on these grounds in the first place, hm? Obviously it was asking for it."
I stood up and slammed my hands on his desk, glaring at him. He raised an eyebrow at me, and allowed himself a small smirk for obviously getting under my skin. "Let me guess. You're going to tell me that assaulting small children is wrong and that you were in the right for protecting it." He slowly rose to meet my stare and darkly continued, "Well, lest you forget, I am the principal, and that means I make the rules. Right and wrong are what I say they are. And I say... you are wrong."
Next thing I knew, I'd punched him in the face. I was probably going to get holy hell for that later when he woke up, but damn if it wasn't satisfying.
I strutted out of the pricipal's office, whistling and shaking out my bruised hand. Outside the door, though, stood Ryakki, her arms folded behind her back and her toe absently playing at the ground. "Hey... thankth for thaving me back there..." she said softly.
I smiled and knelt down to pat her head. "Hey, no problem. I'm just... glad I was able to this time. Are you all right?"
She nodded, then held out the object that the oni brothers had taken from her earlier. "Thith is my treathure. But I think it'th really your treathure, tho you thould probably have it back..."
I reached out and took the object from her hand hesitantly. "But this is... the Shikon no Tama... Ryakki-chan, why do you have this?"
"I thieved it!" she said excitedly.
Just then, Myouga, the plot fairy, jumped out of her hair and bounced on her shoulder. "Young man, don't you remember? You wished quite deeply to learn and understand things so that you would no longer be left in the dark on important matters! The Shikon no Tama felt your wish and granted it in the best way it saw fit!"
My eye twitched. "And this was seriously the best way it could think of?" I looked the jewel over and wondered, "So, is there some kind of 'undo' function for wishes? I want to learn things, yeah, but I'd like to take my own initiative on the matter, not have it hoisted upon me like this."
Myouga folded his four arms and thought deeply. "Hmm... I've heard that there is one correct way to undo the Shikon no Tama's wish, but that method has never been discovered."
I let out a defeated sigh, then halfheartedly lifted the jewel over my head and declared, "Shikon no Tama, I wish for this chapter to disappear forever!"
In retrospect, apparently the reason the method had never been discovered was because no one could fathom that the answer could be that bloody obvious. I was magically transported back to my normal life like nothing had ever happened. Strangely, the jewel was gone, too, but right now I had much more pressing matters to attend to.
I frantically ran into the artisan village and crashed through the door of the manor. Racing through the halls, I threw open the door to Akagane and Hisui's bedroom and found them both formerly peacefully asleep, but now a startled tangled mass of limbs and blankets. "Who... who goes there?!" Akagane demanded, blindly feeling around the floor beside him for his sword.
I leapt forward and gripped his shoulders, shaking him. "I'm so glad you're here. This is really, really important, so you have to tell me." His eyes fluttered groggily as his head listed to the side. I shook him back upright and stared at him with the most serious expression possible.
Finally, I gravely inquired, "Is your last name seriously 'Smith'?"