A night when the heart remembers. Spoilers up to Episode 24.
Excerpt from “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, and Dave Merenda, from The Brothers McMullen OST. Lyrics and music copyright 1995 Unforscene.
Virtua Fighter is copyright of Sega and others.
I’m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose
Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night
You gave me everything you had
You gave me light
And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
I didn’t expect to feel this way. I believed at first that when September rolls around, signalling the start of school, everything would be fresh, exciting. That one opportunity after another would present itself to me, like in every true beginning. All I had expected to do was choose–what to wear on my first day at school, which color scheme to adorn my solo off-campus apartment, and where to hang out during freshman orientation week in order to meet all the coolest people I could. But I don’t feel like doing anything. None of these matter, when I thought they would.
She looked up at the clock hanging on the kitchen wall, idly tapping the spoon against the side of the pint of toffee crunch ice cream. A moment or so later, the tapping became synchronized with the ticking of the clock’s second hand. She felt distantly pleased with herself.
It was already past midnight and the big house was cloaked with darkness and quiet. Moonlight flickered into the hallways through the large glass windows and cast strange, ominous-looking shapes against the walls. Anyone who hadn’t lived in the place for a long time would have been scared silly by now.
Not her. She had spent a good portion of her life in this house. Stealing ice cream in the dead of night had long since been a habit of hers. She used to do this with her brother, when the two of them still lived here. It wasn’t such a long time ago, but now she felt old, remembering things like that.
She shifted her gaze away from the clock, dimly afraid of being hypnotized by its steady mechanical movement, and looked down at the pint she still held in her hand, grimacing at the cold dampness of her fingers. She spooned the last bit of half-melted ice cream off the pint bottom and quickly ate it. No use in letting it melt further. Ice cream wouldn’t be ice cream when it’s no longer ice.
She had said that, once upon a time, to someone. Their butler Thomas, most probably. It gets difficult to remember things like that when she was sleepy, yet unable to sleep.
But sooner or later, she had to sleep.
Because in the morning, she was moving out.
It has been a long time, when you come to think of it. Too long a time for me to hide from my work and convince myself that I was at peace in Hagakure, the place that had made me a leader, a criminal and a savior. A place of idiosyncracies, and yet I find solace here. Perhaps I find myself in what my home stands for–secrets and unspoken tasks. During the months that immediately followed the Hong Kong confrontation, I had opted to spend most of my time in the village, unlike before when I accepted missions tirelessly, almost religiously. But this momentary stillness of the sea that is my soul would not last forever. Nothing does.
He felt strange, walking cautiously through the darkness, guided only by moonlight and his senses. At any other time, he would have chosen to go by way of the rooftops, leaping from one to the next.
He used to wonder why other people moved so slowly, compared to him. Not anymore.
He found out that doing so made it easier for them to find their way back.
Looking over his shoulder, he was surprised to find out that he had gone only a short distance away from his hut. He really had been used to moving around like a ninja caught in a battle, not a person who upheld the laws of gravity and was content to feel the ground against his feet.
It was late and yet he hadn’t felt like sleeping. He had decided that a walk through the village and the nearby woods was a good way to while away the hours. Most of the time, it was easy for him to sit on the futon and meditate or read, waiting for sleep, but not tonight.
Not when the night was so beautiful, simply waiting for him to claim it as his own.
He rarely ever had something to call his own.
In the morning, I travel to Berkeley, bringing with me a lot of my belongings and moving right into my apartment, in one of my earliest steps to being a college student. It was only a matter of hours before I would be savoring the scent of fresh paint of the place that I would be, for better or worse, calling home for the next four years or so. I had visited it several times over the summer, but I knew it would still feel different once I got settled in. I hope…I just hope…it wouldn’t make me feel so out of place. Again.
She slid off the seat by the kitchen counter and headed for the small indoor dumpster beside the sink. The plastic pint made a muffled sound as it hit bottom. She washed the spoon and placed it inside one of the drawers, thinking that she didn’t do things like this before she left home with Jacky some time ago.
The moment she and her brother were out on their own, it had all turned upside down. Everything depended on what they could do for themselves to survive. It had reduced her perspective of life to a much simpler equation.
Thus her brother hadn’t wanted to go back to the big house. He preferred the simpler life, where he was really certain of what he was working and fighting for.
She left the kitchen, easily finding her way through the semi-darkness. She could close her eyes and still remember the way back to her room. She had thought that she would forget.
Sometimes she was better off forgetting things, but life didn’t dish it all out so kindly. The deal was always to remember the past and learn something.
Remember and learn.
She stopped at the base of the winding staircase that led up to the second floor, her eyes caught by the streams of light filtering through the windows, pooling around her feet like an ethereal cloud that would bring her up to the night skies.
With everything so magical and beautiful like this, she could almost forget all her fears and doubts.
She extended her arms to the side and twirled in the circle of heavenly beams, reveling in it as if she was on a stage and the moon was her spotlight. Her unbound hair swirled, flashing gold in her own eyes.
She had never felt so free, or so sure of what she was doing.
In the moonlight, she was safe, almost untouchable.
Is this how it felt to be protected?
She wanted to remember.
It was surprising how I thought that staying in the village would just be tarrying on my part, but it seemed that a lot of people there needed my help. Not much of anything, just advice that a headman should give to his people, a tip or two from other countries on how to make this or that crop grow better, or perhaps entertaining someone’s idea on improving an existing technique, sometimes meeting young trainees whom I remembered to be babies but were now grown enough to start learning how to fight. These responsibilities that seem so simple…these help me keep my hold on my humanity. I was still one of them. I could hope that I will always be.
The village was silent as he made his way through its narrow paths that wove through the cluster of huts. Everyone slept fairly early and woke up before the sun rose to tend to the fields or begin their martial arts lessons for the day. That was life in Hagakure, day in and day out. Serene and untainted.
Just that, each and every time, its leader had to depart to see the rest of the world, so he may protect his birthplace and his clan from the evils that dwell outside.
He reached the edge of the village, from where paths towards thick groves and the mountains started. Closer to the fields and the woods, the darkness was permeated by the sound of crickets, dotted with fireflies that swept in and out of his sight.
Tiny sparks of light.
Throughout his life, he had spent most of his time by himself, training and learning and back again, but he rarely ever savored true solitude.
This was one of those scarce moments, when fresh country air and moonbeams and the mysterious nocturnal sounds all melded to welcome him into the embrace of night.
He didn’t have to hide, or pretend.
The night was accepting him as he was, without question.
It’s difficult when throughout your life you have to follow someone. Eva Durix had used that against me, and I was nearly destroyed in the process. At first, I wasn’t comfortable in the big house, with all their demands and airs, so I decided to get out into the world with Jacky and help him make his dream come true. It hadn’t been easy, when I think about being a cheesy-looking race queen parading nearly half-naked on the track, but we had to keep sponsors happy. It was always to please others, and I got so mired into it all I forgot myself. It was always them. With them, I was never free and always hurt and empty. Would it be any different if I work and fight for my own dreams? Would I be any any less uncertain, any less afraid?
In the embrace of moonlight, she closed her eyes and pictured herself running through the streets, on that fateful day in Hong Kong. She had been alone, after deliberately separating herself from her companions to draw the attention of the pursuing Koenkan.
They had closed in on her, easily because they had motorcycles and she had only been on foot, running as fast as she could with the heeled shoes and the straight-cut skirt. She had stared death in the face while cornered in that blind alley, but she had never hesitated, never regretted her decision about giving Akira and Jacky the opportunity to save Pai from that dreadful wedding.
It was because she had made that choice for herself.
She opened her eyes and found herself staring up at the moon, her eyes feeling oddly at ease under its light. Beside it twinkled the stars, fleeting and countless.
She had looked up at the sky like this, too, when she had hovered over the cold hard concrete of the New Las Vegas cityscape, hanging on to a rope for dear life, after being rescued by a man whom she had hurt. She had no second thoughts about making up for her mistake, putting her own safety and freedom at risk to help him bandage the wound that she had caused, because, in the final analysis, he had saved her life.
Twice, she had listened to her heart.
It had not let her down.
It is difficult when you always try to live up to a tradition, a legacy that is more a dream than a possible reality. The Shadow Warrior had always been a legend in Japan, a fabled mystery fighter who was invincible and who chose whatever cause he wished to fight for. Kage-Maru was the bravest, strongest ronin of all. As the years passed, the legend was no longer the champion of battles against impossibly powerful enemies, but a striving mercenary who had to work to keep his rustic village alive. The modern world no longer needed heroes, only good soldiers who accepted pay and never asked questions. Warriors had to conform with that change. There was no other way to survive, no other way to honor the glorious past.
Without so much as a thought, he was off the earth and perched on the highest branch of an old oak, one of the many that bordered Hagakure from the deeper forests surrounding it. He always moved out of instinct whenever his guard was down.
He likened it to listening to a voice deeper-rooted and more powerful than his own thoughts.
He likened it to listening to his own heart.
Whenever he did so, there was no regret, no guilt. No fear of facing the consequences of actions. He was only fully certain of what he was doing.
The moon was brighter from where he sat on the oak, his view unhampered. All he had to do was reach out, and he would hold the beauty that was the night itself right in his hands.
Of late, he had proven that the heart was the warrior’s most powerful weapon. Strength and skill were all acquired through training, but the warrior’s heart gave meaning to whatever one did with what he knew.
He had learned that fighting with his heart was the true way to honor his legacy.
To live my life for myself, I always have to remember to listen to my heart. I never really had in the past, because I never knew how, never tried to do so until my soul was in the danger of being stolen forever. I guess it takes that much to make me realize how much of life I still have to savor, how much is still in store for me, despite my fear of going forward on my own.
She made her way up the stairs and padded down the hallway to her room. The moon was even brighter as she entered. She decided not to turn on the light, unwilling to ruin the mood of the night.
It really was beautiful, the night.
It was the night that would lead her into a beginning.
Being true means gaining courage to fight the battles of life with certainty, without hesitation. It is never easy to come to terms with that, when there are so many things that cast their shadow on your soul. It took an unconditional act straight from her heart for me to cut through the darkness and see the need for me to listen to my own heart as well. And I did.
He pushed aside the kimono sleeve that covered his lower left arm, saw the moonlight fall on the almost-faded scar that had been the result of a flying glass ornament thrown his way.
He almost smiled.
A red scarf that had been tied around the wound, then as red as his blood, had convinced him that there was more to his life. On that fateful night, months ago, she had unwittingly bought his soul back with only her blue eyes and her compassion as payment.
It had been more than enough.
I don’t know, but I suppose I have to thank him. It was his fault and his doing, all along. He was the one who took me away in the first place, and yet he made amends. My friends told me how much he had done to ensure I would get my mind, my soul, back. Then he had saved my life, twice, during those times when I only had my heart for my guide. Was he also listening to his own heart in those times? Did he also need to take the first step, towards another beginning in his life?
I had to take the first step towards saving my soul, my honor. She did not know it, but she came into my life at the time when I most needed someone to make me see what I was really doing. She had been the light that cast aside the shadows that had nearly blinded me, and for that she saved my life. I owe her much more than she’ll ever know. With that, I had to save her, now have to protect her. She deserves nothing less.
He deserves so much more than my forgiveness. I owe him my life, for all it was worth.
She really was the one who saved me. Whatever I did and will do for her could never measure up, after all the pain I had caused her.
I will thank him once more, if I ever get to see him again. Maybe I’ll even ask him…
…why she helped me. I really don’t know what made her do such a thing…
..because I really was nobody in his life. I…
..have to know why, even until now.
And someday, I will.
I need to.