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Orphan Reborn

2

The Way of the Sword Begins with its Impracticality

22

1

Natalie picks up the mask that her murderer wore on the day of her death. She looks at it and confirms that it was the exact same one.

 

She looked around her and she immediately noticed that there was something odd about the meditation area. The trees looked a bit younger and less taller than last time.

 

The pathwalk toward HQ did not look the same. It was as if the whole landscape was still the same but with miniscule differences.

 

Natalie stood up and checked her body for any differences. She realized that she was smaller. Her muscles were a bit underdeveloped and she felt lighter.

 

“How can I lose weight?” Natalie said. “In just a matter of minutes?”

 

Her eyes widened. She was making weird noises over and over to test the changes in her voice. Like the trees and the pathwalk, it was also different. It had a little more pitch but it was familiar.

 

“What’s happening?” Natalie thought to herself. “Am I a different person?”

 

She looked at her hands and found them flimsier. Her skin looked a little bit brighter even when it was night time. She was still wearing the trainee uniform and it was still a perfect fit. The colors did not change. including shoes, undergarments, and the headband around her head.

 

“Headband? I have a headband?” Natalie finally noticed that she was wearing a headband. “I also have my blade and my gun with me.”

 

Natalie collected her thoughts on the recent events. She sat on the ground while still holding on to the kabuki mask.She was still not sure if she was alive.

 

She remembered the feeling of a sharp blade slicing her neck and she was certain that it went through all the way and decapitated her.

 

The image did not bother her. It was part of her training to think rationally in an unknown situation. Gathering any information about the circumstance was always the first step.

 

She continued to concentrate. The blind light that she saw after her murder was something spectral and out of this world. Not to mention the curtain made of televisions. She tried not to dwell into it too much.

 

What was important to her was that she was alive and she had a body with senses to use to navigate the world.

 

“This world. Is it the same as mine?” Natalie stood up immediately, holding the hilt of her blade. “There might be hostiles I don’t know of nearby.”

 

Natalie observed the vicinity for any commotion. She did not find any threat whatsoever but she doesn’t want to let her guard down.

 

“I should move. Staying here is risky,” Natalie said as she continued to move toward HQ.

 

Natalie approached the vicinity of the Break Ridge Corporation. She went to the quarters and peeked through the windows of the rooms. She was hiding behind the bushes to secure a location where she can gather more information.

 

There were other trainees that were walking out of their quarters. It looked like there was going to be another sporting challenge.

 

“Natalie Breck,” one of the trainers spotted Nat hiding from the bushes. “Your concealment skills are dull as usual. You are as obvious as a peacock in heat.”

 

“Sir Jaori?” Natalie recognized the face of one of her trainers. He still had his earrings on but his hairstyle was different. She knew it was from a long time ago but she was not sure when. “Sorry. I wasn’t even trying to conceal my presence, just eavesdropping.”

 

“Very well, your eavesdropping skills are dull as usual. You should practice more,” Jaori mentioned as she walked toward Natalie. “You’re going to be late to your evening challenge, little Nat. Please go now.”

 

“Before I go. I have a very stupid question, ma’am. What date is it today?” Natalie asked recklessly. She wanted to know right away her situation.

 

“Knowing today’s date is part of your training when you were still young. That simple skill should be something you have mastered by now. Along with it is telling time without a watch or a clock,” Jaori explained. “If you don’t know the current date and time, then you have yet to master the skill, unfortunately.”

 

Natalie never really liked trainers in the corporation. They all think they were some sort of enlightened monks. They always think they know what’s happening, she thought.

 

“At least now I know that this is indeed the same world I am familiar with and it is inhabited by humans,” Natalie thought to herself. “I think I should just head toward the training grounds and ask someone there.”

 

Upon acquiring the knowledge that she was in the same world that she lived in before, all she had to do now was to know how she was alive, what year it was, and of course, who was responsible for all of this.

 

Natalie has not considered that she might be having a dream. Considering how real and tangible things were around her, it would be a far-fetched conclusion.

 

Given the fact that Natalie was able to still perceive the world using her senses, she can also say that she was technically alive. Not a ghost or a floating ball of energy. Thanks to her conversation with Ms. Jaori.

 

“So I’m back in the past, my memories still intact, and I can interact with the world,” Natalie found it easier to walk around the premises because of her new information. “That explains the lesser muscle mass and a fairer skin of my body.”

 

Natalie heard a thundering applause from the training grounds. She was right around the mess hall and her destination was just ahead.

 

“First thing I’ll do is to ask one of the lesser self-righteous trainees for the date, then I can finally move on to my next step,” Natalie said.

 

As soon as she entered the training grounds, the yammering and the bickering of boys, men, and gentlemen stopped.

 

“Hey look! It’s Ms. Pew pew pew!” one of the boys started to insult. “Are you going to run away and keep your distance again?”

 

“Come on, give her a break, guys. That’s just what girls do. Let her do her own strategy,” one of the guys added.

 

“A strategy of a wuss!” Someone from the back of the crowd shouted.

 

“Now this is more like it,” Natalie whispered to herself.

 

The whole stadium was filled with laughter and ridicule, all directed at Natalie.

 

For most trainees, Nat’s victories on training simulations were never really acknowledged by any of the trainees. Since most of her strategies were about avoiding direct contact, evading bullets, and shooting someone on the head.

 

Most fights done by the male trainees were always head on, with little to no dodging and more on parrying. Combat with male to male trainees almost always ended with a training sword an inch away from their vital parts. That was a sign that the duel is over.

 

Only Nat brought a new kind of combat to the training grounds. Trainers don’t question it since almost all training simulations were free for all. They just make sure to counsel Nat after.

 

“Focus, Natalie. Focus on your own strength,” Natalie closed her eyes ignoring the rants and insults against her. “If I were to find my killer, I have to be stronger than my old self. I must not give in to anger.”

 

Natalie was already gripping hard on her gun’s handle.

 

“Natalie!” a voice was heard from the crowd.

 

It was Largo. His hair was still long and his body was a bit thinner. He was accompanied by Jaori. Both of them were walking toward Natalie. She can only imagine if it was Largo from two or three years ago in her time.

 

“Your sword. You forgot it in your quarters again,” Jaori said, handing the plastic training sword to Nat.

 

“Largo! Am I glad to see you,” Natalie exclaimed. “Quick, what’s today’s date?”

 

“April 4, 2014. Please don’t tell me you are losing touch of your body clock skills too,” Largo said. “And what do you mean you’re glad to see me? I just mentored you on using the dagger this morning.”

 

“Why did you answer that question? She is supposed to know what date and time it is,” Jaori said disappointingly.

 

“Four years! That’s it!” Natalie smiled while raising her hands in the air. “Thank you so much!”

 

“What is happening with you? Are you okay? Did you hit your head again?” Laro was a bit concerned.

 

“It’s not everyday you get to hear Natalie Breck say ‘thank you’,” Jaori added. “Let alone the ‘so much’ in the end.”

 

“Natalie, please proceed and descend to the arena,” said the trainer who would referee the duel. “Ready or not.”

 

“Why do I always have to go first,” Natalie ranted. “What is this duel about anyway?”

 

“It’s a sword only duel,” Largo patted Natalie in the back. “I know how reluctant you are to learn the way of the sword, but trust me it’s for your own good.”

 

The moment Natalie set foot into the arena, the terrain had transformed into a desert scenery. There were still covers around her and there were at least a dozen slender stone pillars that were easy to climb.

 

Natalie’s opponent was someone that she recognized from her time. He was as young as she is and was around average with both gun and sword. Unfortunately, she was nowhere near his caliber when it comes to wielding swords.

 

“Shit. I will basically dodge and evade the whole time until I tire him out,” Natalie whispered to herself. “Without my guns, that’s my only way to victory.”

 

“You may now begin,” the trainer announced.

 

Her opponent immediately lunged toward Natalie to deliver the finishing blow immediately. They both knew that one of them was a more inferior swordsman. Her first move was to evade the frontal attack and keep her distance and sought cover from the stone pillars, as always.

 

The crowd laughed hysterically.

 

The boy continued his assault and dashed toward Natalie again. He wanted to keep a close distance to Natalie and not give her a chance to think. He knew that in the desert terrain she would have the option to use pebbles, rocks, and sand to use against him.

 

Natalie evaded the repeated assaults again and again. She managed to pick up a rock and a couple of pebbles and threw it with precision toward her opponent’s head to throw him out of his concentration.

 

Of course, the boy deflected the rocks and pebbles with his blade effortlessly. It was part of their training to deflect projectiles that came their way.

 

The boy stopped his assault to catch his breath. While Natalie still hid behind a rock trying to think of a strategy.

 

“You know that we basically have the same amount of stamina. I will always keep up with you,” the boy said, rushing toward Natalie again. “Unless you can parry with your sword or land a blow on me, we can do this tango for as long as it takes.”

 

The boy was right, Natalie thought. All he had to do now was corner her and overwhelm her with sword slashing techniques, which she doesn’t have any idea on how to counter.

 

“At least I won’t go down without a fight,” Natalie said.

 

The boy finally started to corner Natalie closer to the edge of the simulation. She still managed to throw rocks and pebbles at the boy, just like what she does when she’s using guns. But the speed of the projectiles were just too easy to deflect for the boy.

 

Natalie was running out of space. Since the training simulation was still basically a room, she was cornered. Her options started to dwindle and her last resort was to parry on her last dodge, to at least make it a bit challenging for the opponent.

 

The boy dashed toward Natalie to claim his victory. She successfully parried the first slash, then the second. But on the third slash, her strength was overwhelmed by the boy’s full upper body power.

 

While parrying, the boy pushed Natalie down to the ground with a low kick. He then placed the tip of his sword upon her neck, a sign that he has won.

 

The crowd went wild. The only time Natalie loses was with sword only duels, which was rare because the most realistic combat situations were free-for-alls.

 

But it was with sword only duels that trained the trainees to last longer in combat.

 

She would usually rant about how impractical and inefficient swords were, but she knew too well that it was only with a blade that she would be able to protect herself. Natalie got up and dusted herself.

 

The boy was the first one to climb up to the catwalk where he was welcomed with praises and cheers. Natalie followed closely behind her. Her white uniform was covered with dirt but her face never displayed any sign of despair.

 

It was only natural for Natalie to be defeated by an average swordsman. That only meant that she needed to train harder.

 

Before Natalie was about to go alone outside and drink some water in the mess hall, the trainor that refereed the duel asked her to go to Largo and Jaori sitting on the designated trainors’ benches.

 

Natalie was welcomed with their chuckles and readied herself with their snide remarks.

 

“I can’t believe I have to deal with a sword only duel right after I got reborn,” Natalie said. “Here comes the samurai talk again.”

 

“Natalie, sit beside me.” Jaori invited Natalie. “That was horrible by the way.”

 

Largo and Jaori snickered.

 

“Do you know why you were defeated?” Largo asked.

 

“Because I was not able to hold up on my parries? And my form was off. I need to build my core more,” Natalie explained.

 

Both Jaori and Largo were a little bit surprised by her response. She wouldn’t usually care about the art of the sword.

 

“Well, yes. Technically, you are correct,” Largo continued. “But the most essential is mental strength.”

 

“What do you mean by that? Mental strength,” Natalie rolled her eyes.

 

“The moment you stood in the arena, you already thought that you would lose, did you?” Largo asked.

 

“It was really obvious by the way,” Jaori added.

 

“Obvious how?” Natalie asked intently.

 

“Body language,” Largo answered. “And all the times that you sparred on sword only duels. You always maintain a distance until your opponent corners you.”

 

“There’s nothing for me to do. I tried to be resourceful and I made use of the surroundings around me,” Natalie thought. “All I can do with a sword is parry a little and maybe four or five slash sequences. I mainly mastered the technique on how to lunge forward, backward, and sideways to cover great distances and evade both ranged and melee attacks. Which is good for gunmanship. I cannot see why it’s not perfect.”

 

“There is no perfect strategy. That is one of your mistakes. You dwell too much in procedure, probability, and computations,” Largo continued to explain. “True combat is all about instinct and keeping a leveled head. Everything else is just a distraction.”

 

“I still don’t know what you mean,” Natalie said.

 

“Maybe you want to go back in the firing range and go on a gunslinging rampage,” Jaori suggested. “You know, to clear your head. As always.”

 

Natalie remembered all the times that she went to the firing range to clear her head and keep her confidence intact after a loss. She alway felt good pulling the trigger. It was addicting.

 

But that was the old Natalie. If she wanted to survive in the real world after she graduated, she needed to learn the way of the sword.

 

“Show me,” Natalie said.

 

Jaori and Largo smiled at each other.

 

“Show me what real combat truly is,” Natalie looked determined.

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