Takeo awoke from his sleep, his vision blurry and his head throbbing. It was very late as there were no lights coming from inside the Temple and outside the window, the stars were twinkling. He absent mindedly grabbed his Eviscerator and checked to see if it was loaded. After confirming, he felt a bit sheepish for having gotten into this habit of constant checks with the Eviscerator. He took off the upper layer of his leather clothing, leaving a white undershirt he wore with his normal uniform.
Digging around in his backpack, he was shocked to see the food he and his other human cohorts had stolen from the pirate ship during their imprisonment had not molded or gone stale. He layed the food out on the table and sorted through it, finally grabbing some odd colored bread. He sniffed it, but smelled nothing wrong with it. He squeezed it and it crunched with the freshness of it coming out of the oven. He flipped it around to scan for any green coloring of mold that may have gotten on it, but found none. Finally, he took a bite. To his relief, there was nothing wrong with the taste, or so he gathered. He never had bread from Avalar in his life, so the different taste could in fact mean that there was something wrong, but he was too tired to care at that moment. He swallowed the bit in his mouth and took another bite.
Wiping his hands, he placed the piece down on the table and continued to chew the bit in his mouth and rumage through his bags. After pushing the countless rounds of weightless ammo for his Eviscerator out of the way, he finally found something he had not seen in a long time, something he forgot he still had with him. It was his bandana, known in Japan as the Hachimaki. When he first started training, every recruit was given a hachimaki that had the red circle in the center with the red lines portruding from the circle itself. This was to symbolize the Rising Sun that was also found on the Japanese flag, the flags for the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy. In the center of the hachimaki were two Japanese characters that were situated on either side of the Rising Sun. It said 日本 (Nippon Ichi, The Best of Japan).
He held the hachimaki in his hands and memories flooded back to him.
*August 10th, 1922*
*Training camp under the command of Major Yamasaki, ten miles north of Tokyo, Japan*
It was hot day in the camp. The sun was mercilessly beating down on the lands and the men, both the recruits and the officers, were sweating.
It had been seventeen years since the end of the Russo-Japanese War with Japan being the victor and seizing new influence in Asia and the Pacific. The Emperor and his Generals sought to expand their already growing military and secure dominance in Eastern Asia. No one could tell now, but the new power of the Imperial Japanese Navy would conflict with the United States Navy of the Pacific in a mere thirteen years. Six more years after that and America will be drawn into the massive worldwide conflict known as the Second World War.
A young Takeo Masaki grimaced as he felt the hands of his friends touch the brusies on his shoulders, back and arms. There were five people all together, Takeo included.
"What did you?" asked one of them as he winced at the sight of the purple splotch on Takeo's forearm.
"I was beaten with the bamboo sticks by the instructor. I failed the mud trekking course by two seconds. Myself, along with three others were punished for our failure."
"Only two seconds?" commented another. "That's completely stupid. It could've been a lot worse."
"I said the same thing myself, but they told me that even one second could mean the difference between life and death. I will try harder not to fail..." Takeo growled to himself.
"You better not. You bruise easier than a peach." joked another. This earned him a few chuckles.
"It's lunch now. I'm hungry and they're serving sushi today!" Takeo said, putting his muddy shirt back on. He felt for his forehead and took off the hachimaki that was given to him since the start of his training one month ago.
He collected his wooden tray of rice, dried seaweed, and red sushi and headed towards an empty spot on the grounds. There were no tables, but none of the trainees minded. They all just gathered in small groups and ate. Takeo's friends joined him and they ate vorasciously. The rigors of the hard training was enough to drain even the most hardened of them all.
"Once I'm done with this, I'm going back to college. From there, I plan to enter the business field." commented one with a mouthful of rice.
"You Matsumoto? A buisnessman? Ha!" Everyone laughed except for Matsumoto, who was annoyed and confused.
"What? You don't think I can do it?" Matsumoto asked indignantly.
"If you can't put your uniform on straight..." One of them began, laughing.
"That was only once Kogyo!" Matsumoto growled.
"Yeah and the entire damn camp saw it! They put you on latrine duty after that didn't they?" Kogyo laughed.
In a reluctant attempt to disarm the situation because he was enjoying it, Takeo tried to change subjects.
"How about you Dezaki? What do you plan to do after this?" Takeo asked, chewing on a bit of fish.
"I plan to stay in and make a career out of this." The burly Japanese trainee responded, stuffing his mouth with rice.
"Carry on the family tradition?" the last one asked.
"That is correct, Takamori." Dezaki abruptly confirmed.
"Didn't your father serve in the war against the Russians?" Takeo asked.
"He did, but he was navy. I was never partial to the waters myself so I'll stick around here." Dezaki said, once again abruptly.
They silently finished their small lunch until the whistle blowing of the instructors forced them all to stand at attention. Takeo had a hard time understanding through the incoherent yelling, but did what the group did and quickly cleaned up the place before being put back onto the obstacle course.
"Takeo?" came a voice. Takeo was startled back into reality. He looked around. He was back in the Temple with the hachimaki clenched firmly in his left hand. He placed it back on the table and turned to the sound of the voice.
It was Ignitus.
"Takeo, is something wrong? You've been standing there for quite some time." The dragon asked, approaching the human.
"I was? For how long?" Takeo asked, confused. Surely he couldn't have stood there that long?
"About thirty minutes. I was watching the whole time. You just stood there, holding onto that piece of cloth and your face was blank."
"Thirty..." Takeo started with disbelief.
"You looked lost in thought. What are you thinking?" Ignitus asked. Takeo sighed and sat down on a stool facing the Fire Guardian.
"Not thinking, remembering." Takeo reached over, grabbed the hachimaki from the table and and held it in his hands. "It's a foolish thing, pay no attention."
"No no, I'm quite interested. What were you remembering?" Ignitus lay on his belly about ten feet from Takeo.
"Oh just my early days in the army...and the friends I had there." Takeo looked up from the hachimaki and into the eyes of Ignitus. The Fire Guardian was stunned about how stern they were.
"Who were they?"
"Four very specific ones stand out: Dezaki, Kogyo, Matsumoto, and Takamori. Each one had their own unique qualities, but we were friends all the same."
"What kind of qualities?"
"Dezaki was military man through and through. It ran through the family. He was a very curt individual, but he often hung around the rest of us." Takeo placed the hachimaki back on the table.
"Then there was Matsumoto." Takeo smiled. "The man was an idiot, but we all liked him. He knew how to make everyone laugh, most often at the expense of his own humiliation. He always meant well. Another one, Kogyo, our joker was there to take that advantage. He knew how to keep everyone's spirits up, even in the most dire times. He was with me for most of the war. The last was Takamori. He was a bit of a naive individual, always looking to us for guidance."
"What happened to them?" Ignitus asked, tail gently flapping.
"They died." Takeo answered emotionlessly, the smile disappearing from his face.
"Oh..." Ignitus said, a bit taken aback.
"They all died during the war. Dezaki was killed at Peleliu, when the Americans invaded the islands.
Matsumoto always wanted to be a business man. He finally reached his dream and served as a wealthy broker at Hiroshima. Unfortunately, the Americans dropped one of their experimental bombs and he did not die in the explosion, but the fallout of radiation.
Takamori was one of the defenders at the island of Iwo Jima when the Americans also attacked. From what I was told, he was torn to pieces when doing a Banzai Charge by the American machineguns.
Finally, Kogyo was with me on Singapore. We were part of the occupying force when we wrested control of the island away from the British, but then were transferred to the Phillipines to defend against the Allied attack. Kogyo was hit three times in the chest by a sniper and he bled to death in my arms. I'm the only survivor."
"Oh my..." Ignitus mumbled. "I'm sorry for having you bring that up..."
"Oh not to worry. I mourned them a long time ago. In fact, it feels rather refreshing to talk about them again." Takeo reassured, the smile returning to his face. Ignitus smiled back and both of them chuckled. "I'm more worried about you Ignitus, why are you up at this hour?"
Ignitus stood back up on his feet, "Oh, the anxiety of an old dragon is acting up. There are so many things at stake. There are times when the situation seems hopeless, even to me." Ignitus said sadly, going to the window and watching the stars. Takeo jumped from the stool and stood next to the Fire Guardian, watching the stars with him.
"Not to worry, Spyro will make everything better." Takeo said in attempt to comfort Ignitus.
"Oh I hope so...I fear what will happen if he can't."