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Thread: Crossroads of Infinity (Rating: T, bordering on M. Sometimes.)

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    Default Crossroads of Infinity (Rating: T, bordering on M. Sometimes.)

    'All dar, folks and merry X-mas to y'all! And happy holidays for all the others who've different reasons for celebrating these days! After a long long looong pause this Sith Lord is finally back in action with a new fic spawned by his overactive imagination. The good thing is I've already written some part of it so this here fic will be updated every Friday. Now, this is a non-Pokémon fic but this is no reason to just go away, isn't it? It's a slightly AU Shaman King continuation For Want Of A Nail fic, which in plain English means that it's a fic using some of the OC from the SK manga Flowers that were barely given any character traits and are just inviting some writer to use them, and placing them in a setting where something in the original series happened slightly differently. Precisely what? Read to find out :P. As usual, there are OCs here as well. Because of the format of the fic all SK things 'bout spirits and shamans are going to be explained in-story so don't worry if you're familiar only with the anime or know little of the series as a whole. The fic kinda borders on M so, be warned, there are some mature themes in here somewhere.





    Chapter 1:
    The One That Blooms In Spring


    Does life really have something special in store for us all? For some of us…any one of us?

    Are we all part of some grand design, each of us a hero of his or her own tale, main characters in a story of ours and oblivious to all the other ones just like us out there?

    To be frank, these weren’t really the kind of thoughts that plagued the mind of the seventeen-year-old that fateful morning. The soft wind, one of the last remnants of winter’s harshness, made his dark blonde hair look even wilder than it was in its usual unruly state. The boy paid no heed to the people passing him by and, one hand holding an almost-empty schoolbag behind his shoulder, just kept on walking onwards despite his still half-asleep mind telling him to swerve at some convenient corner or another. The blond was seemingly in a world of his own at first glance- an empty world mirroring the one surrounding him, where only the occasional obstacle obscuring his route and the countless of sakura petals flying round on Aeolus’ wings existed.

    Indeed, while his skin now only felt the gentle gusts of the wind, his nose would have preferred having a delicious breakfast to smell instead of blooming flowers and his thoughts were still veering towards his comfy bed and a potential escape out of his current predicament, the boy had thought about it before. About that fickle thing that we humans like to call destiny. He had dwelled on fate’s plans for him, yes- mostly when he had been little. Thoughts now dismissed as the foolish dreams of some kid. And maybe they were really just that? The blond himself didn’t know what he wanted to believe. Many times he had found himself wondering what he really wanted of life.

    Adventure? Danger? An exciting route leading him towards the very top, whatever even awaited him up there? Or just a quiet, perfectly ordinary existence without any strain or problems? The young man wanted both and yet, none. After being stuck by the inability to decide countless of times, the blond had eventually let it go, allowing the flow of life to just sweep him off his feet and take him in whatever direction it felt like.

    Did it have something special in store for him? He didn’t know. And, as of recently, he had found himself not really caring.

    But really, did the blond even have the right to say he led an uneventful life? Not many people his age lived in a hot springs inn, with a scary as hell songstress ‘mother’, three beautiful foreign waitresses and a duo of overly enthusiastic rockstar-wannabe Buddhist monks. In reality, his household was probably the strangest one out of all his peers’- even the ones whose families were in the Yakuza.

    The blond had always wondered why he felt like this- as if there had been a mistake when he had been born and two of him had ended up stuck in a single body. A lazy bum who could stare at nothing but the sky all day and a volcano of energy ready to erupt at any given moment- these were the faces of his own inner self. A combination of hot and cold the teenage used to find mysterious years ago, before he became well-known as the guy with the shortest temper among his peers and the school nurse called his mother to have a talk about disturbing behaviors and symptoms of bipolarity.

    The only reason the boy found, the only sane guess he could make, was the absence of his father. Or at least that was what that know-it-all insufferable girl in his class had told him. And since he knew no better, he believed. And so, the blond started to blame the man who he had used to admire with all his heart. The man who left nothing behind but an aged set of headphones, an old music tape collection and a couple of worn-out photos, leaving the boy behind with nothing but two too optimistic for their own good ‘uncles’ to show him how to be a man.

    Once, when he had been little, his mother had taken him to the local zoo. Even to the present date, the blond still remembered that sunny July morning as one of the best in his life. When, hand in hand with the woman that had raised him with utmost love, he eventually reached the white swans’ den, the boy was thrilled to learn that the majestic long-necked animals were favorites of his father, serving as a kind of inspiration throughout the man’s life. The youngster had lunged at the bars, ready to climb over just to be able to feel himself what his father had when the pristine-white feathers had touched his skin. But even when the set of hazel eyes finally met the creature’s black, he felt nothing.

    Nothing at all.

    To the youngster they were nothing more than all the others foreign and local, ordinary and exotic, creatures he had met previously on that fateful day. What caught the boy’s attention, what somehow made his heart skip a beat without even knowing why… were the people. Dozens upon dozens of people scouring round the lily-filled cerulean waters of the pond. Each and every one of them a character from a different story, a hero of their own adventure however tedious it was. He had closed his eyes back then- tried imagining what live looked like through the eyes of another. Even as a teenager, some part of the old habit still remained. The habit of wondering what kind of life the others lived as fate passed him by.

    Just like that ordinary morning.

    Asakura Hana, spaced out just as always, barely managed to regain his balance after a girl he vaguely knew as attending the same school as him dashed by and nearly tripped him over. It was one of those moments when time seemed to screech to a halt and then start off slowly- slowly enough for you to realize what was happening but leaving you just as unable to do anything at all. The girl sent a shock racing through Hana’s senses- all five of them suddenly flaring up and announcing their existence with a roar that clouded the teen’s mind. Despite being currently more unstable than ever, one of his feet threatening to leave the surface of the sidewalk and the other already mid-step, only one thing existed in the Asakura’s mind’s eye back then. The girl.

    The smell of her billowing short hair, colored a dark shade frequently found in the depths of the night sky, filled his nostrils with the aroma of lilies. Her eyes, the same color as her hair and partially obscured by the twin bangs adorned by a couple of hairpins that framed her face, met Hana’s hazel ones with an apologetic look that clearly said ‘I’m really sorry, I’m in a hurry’. The briefest of glances lasted even less than the magical moment itself and the teen’s eyes gradually travelled downwards, beyond the piece of toast clutched between the girl’s rosy lips and down her smooth neck. The pupils of the Asakura’s hazel orbs grew larger, even if just by an amount unnoticeable by the untrained eye, as they glazed over the upper side of the girl’s partially revealed breasts of quite an enjoyable size and the hem of her laced bra, for she was busy fumbling with the last button of her white shirt, another thing that pointed out how genuinely late she was. As time gradually sped up and, briefly afraid of possible unfortunate implications, Hana forced his eyes downwards past the girl’s green skirt and down her athletic legs until they finally reached the sight of the cold concrete beneath him.

    The magical moment was over just as suddenly as it had started, leaving the heir to the Asakura line with a hung down head, uncertain of his feelings as the girl and destiny along with her ran away even faster as the school bell was heard from across the street. An exasperated sigh escaped Hana’s lips.

    “Good grief.”

    The light turned red just as the girl barely managed to cross the street and Hana reached the edge of the sidewalk. The youngest Asakura watched with a trace of amusement as the girl, seemingly thinking that she was able to reach her destination on time, crashed into yet another unfortunate passer-by, a boy with skin quite a few shades darker than the local, and this time managed to tackle him to the ground along with herself. The still dizzy teen shook his head, partially lifting the veil of black hair that his dreadlocks had built around his face but, alas, both his hands ended up on two rather sensitive parts of the girl’s upper torso when he tried pushing himself up. A few brief moments later, a green-eyed boy walking nearby awarded the unfortunate foreigner with a snide remark about the armor-piercing slap that had preceded and helped him get up.

    The Asakura just kept on waiting for the light to change. The school bell meant nothing to him- if the choice was his, the blond wouldn’t have been even there in the first place. Instead, the young man tried to banish the nagging thought that yet another chance of excitement in his life had literally crashed into him and then walked away, uncaring. One more missed opportunity in the long list that already preceded it. The last traces of the school bell’s ringing were drowned by the noise of the column of vehicles bolting up and down the street. If not for his mother, Hana would have skipped every class possible, so the teenager just took his leisurely time crossing the busy road. The blond stopped before the very gates of his school and threw a slightly irritated glance towards the building looming on the hill above him. The morning wind drowned yet another of the boy’s sighs as he shook his head and walked in.

    “Good grief.”

    ***
    The halls of his daily prison were just like he had left them- filled with the beams of the cheery morning sun that was still taking its time to rise up. The teenager let a smile briefly dance on his lips at the irony of a school looking actually so innocent. Normal. Not drop dead boring.

    Indeed, the irony.

    Whatever ‘excitement’ of starting high school he had felt the year before was now completely, and obviously, absent. Hana just kept on walking gloomily towards his homeroom and none of the other students, busy discussing their vacations with each other, paid any attention to the Asakura- the self-proclaimed laziest student in the whole school. And dubbed ‘delinquent’ by some of the teachers. Meters away from the sliding door beyond which laid his trusty pillow-substituting desk, one unneedingly strong pat on the back nearly managed to succeed where the running girl had failed. Namely, knocking the heir to the Asakura line over.

    “Ohaio, chumley! How come you’re actually here nearly on time? Did hell freeze over or something?”

    Surprisingly to some, the half-smile that appeared on the Asakura’s face was a sincere one. While being a stranger to even some of the people in his own class and avoided by quite a lot of others due to his temper, Hana did have some friends at school. A friend at least.

    Onikawa Tsumemaru- best batter on the school’s baseball team, dubbed ‘Ogre’s Claw’ by many due to his wicked swing, a lover of sports, with a knack for bad puns and the living proof of the special kinds of friendships that bloomed while waiting for detention in front of the principal’s office.

    “Well, let’s say that Mom herself decided to make sure I was on time this morning,” replied the Asakura and barely managed to resist a wide yawn. “And how come you’re actually late? I thought you’re currently living on the baseball pitch with the new upcoming season and all.”

    “Come on, it’s just a little more training than usual,” said Tsumemaru and waved off his friend. “It’s for the good of the team and we’ve got a ton of stuff to do- train the new recruits, prepare for our first match, be ready for sudden changes of the match-ups and potentially going up against any rival schools, making sure the team has not lost its spirit during the break…”

    Hana just diligently nodded again and again, not really paying attention to the usual baseball-related spacing out of his classmate, and finally walked into the classroom only to find it teacher-free. Not surprised in the slightest by their homeroom teacher’s absence, given the middle-aged man’s usual behavior, the blond just walked over to his desk and sat down. Tsumemaru plopped down on his own place, second-to-last and in front of Hana, and kept on counting off different reasons for spending nearly 160 of the last week’s 168 hours on the pitch.

    “… then there’s the fact that Sato is a senior this year so he’ll be on the lookout for a successor to the captain’s place this season! I just have to be the one! I’m so psyched I can just… err, was I ranting again?”

    “Pretty much, yes,” mumbled Hana while still trying to catch some shuteye, head laid on the makeshift pillow that was his somewhat hard schoolbag.

    “What were we talking about again?” asked the athlete and ran a hand through his cropped black hair. Alas, Hana chose not to answer and just kept searching for his way to Sleepyland. “Uhm… oh yeah, how bad can your Mom waking you up be? I mean, I’ve been over to your place and she’s always acted so sweet and caring and stuff. Plus, she’s kinda h-“

    “The next word coming out of your mouth better be ‘hyperactive’,” cut him off Hana and lifted his head just enough to glare at his classmate.

    “Hygienic?” asked in reply and with false innocence the athlete, prompting both boys to burst out laughing. “Still, just out of curiosity, how did she wake you up?”

    The Asakura, seeing that sleep was obviously too far away for him to grasp, leaned back on his chair and balanced it on its hind legs before answering.

    “She shook me up and said ‘wake up, Hana, dear’ or something like that.”

    “And that’s scary how exactly?” asked the Onikawa whilst barely stiffening a laugh.

    “She was holding a meat cleaver.”

    Tsumemaru’s lips formed an understanding, perfectly shaped ‘o’ as all traces of laughter left his face.

    “So…” dragged out Hana “what do you think are our chances for number one this season?” innocently asked the Asakura in hopes of luring his friend into yet another baseball-related rant and using it as a distraction for a brief nap.

    But before the batter could start off with his passionate, baseball terms-filled speech, the sliding door opened one last time. An outsider would have certainly pondered why the class had stopped their chatter and taken their time to politely greet the man who certainly looked severely out of place in any kind of educational building. With wavy raven-black hair trailing behind him, the aloha shirt-loving teacher walked in with a posture that clearly pointed out the man himself was wondering if he had entered through the right door. Spaced out as always, the teacher greeted the class with a hearty wave, once again forsaking every bit of formal procedure and treating the students as his equals.

    “Ohaio, class! Ya had a good summer? Niiice. But come on, gang, I’ve told ya already, like, a dozen times. Enough with the Kyomizu-sensei stuff. Kyomizu-sensei is my father, me, I’m just your Hachiro-sempai, remember? Cause in my heart,” said the middle-aged man and bumped with his fist the part of his chest inside which laid the aforementioned vital organ. “I still feel like one of ya, dudes and dudettes.”

    Indeed, that was Kyomizu Hachiro- self-proclaimed biggest Lennon fan in all of Japan, all-around flower child and favorite of about every student in the high school. And, if rumor had it right, despised by the rest of the school staff. It seemed that these were the hazards of a total hippie being a teacher and all kinds of speculation ran amok as to how on Earth did ‘Hachiro-sempai’ still keep his job. Some of the wildest predictions included aliens, a reborn Elvis Presley and the rest of the stuff being afraid of Kyomizu showing up one morning with a chainsaw and a sawn-off shotgun if they actually showed him the door. But the majority of the students agreed that the best bet was that their favorite had already been fired- only, he hadn’t realized it yet. Or just really didn’t want to go. That was but one of the many mysteries that surrounded Hachiro-sempai, Hana’s homeroom teacher since the very beginning of high school.

    But while the whole class was already used to the various quirks and odd habits of their teacher, no one expected the trio of foreigners trailing behind the middle-aged man. The educator’s twin blue orbs hidden behind small round glasses lazily inspected the murmuring crowd seated in front. After several blinks and the customary yawn and stretch, Hachiro finally obliged to explain the situation.

    “We’ve got ourselves here,” said he and pointed over his shoulder to the group behind him. “A whole trio of transfer students. Pretty neat, eh?” It seemed that a nagging thought suddenly crossed the long-haired teacher’s mind and the man threw a quick glance back. “Yep, three. No mistake there.”

    Like never before in class, a teacher actually had Hana’s undivided attention. Something inside him, like earlier that morning, stirred up. Nothing but a remnant of a dream- the last hope for adventure and someone mysterious entering his life and turning it upside down- that was what the young Asakura felt. And with the years, even said remnant had faded away, leaving only the fragile desire for a simple change in his monotonous life. Then again, the other side of him, the one that wanted nothing more but an uneventful and easy life, asked: “Why bother?”

    Not that it mattered anyway- just like always, the bubbles that represented his hope were cruelly popped one after another as reality settled in. The transfers, while certainly a strange bunch, were all boys. And Hachiro had just finished taking his time to explain that the trio was part of an international student exchange program, thus revealing the mystery surrounding Hana’s missing classmates and the newbies taking their places.

    “Listen up, folks,” said the hippie of a teacher and plopped down on the comfy chair behind his wooden desk, legs now atop said piece of furniture. “Those guys are, like, new here so I want ya to be good hosts and... and stuff. The principal said to assign one of you guys to each one of ‘em. You’re gonna show them round here and explain how things are. So,” exclaimed the Kyomizu and enthusiastically clapped. “First, the dude on the far left! Name, likes and dislikes and other general stuff. Go on, no need to be shy. Just... let it flow out, dude. Let it all… flow.”

    Hana couldn’t help but be amused by the questioning eyebrow and skeptical look of the first newcomer. Fate would have it, the same dark-skinned teenager the sprinting girl had crashed into earlier that morning. The young man whose face was framed by the dreadlocks of his black hair hesitantly stepped forward.

    “Err, hi, everyone! My name is Al- err, Lopez Alejandro from Brazil. I’d really like to learn about your country during this year and, uhm, sorry if my Japanese is kinda bad- I had a hard time learning it. I like… well, a lot of things actually. I’ve heard it’s customary to join an afterschool club here so I guess I’ll try out for the track team. I was on it back at home.”

    The teacher waited a little to make sure Alejandro had finished speaking before clapping cheerfully once again and asking:

    “Okay, peepz, who’s gonna show Lopez-san around?”

    A few guys and a bunch of giggling girls raised hands. To Hana’s surprise, Tsumemaru was one of the volunteers. “Dude’s an athlete, too,” whispered the batter in response to the Asakura’s raised eyebrow. In the end, the Onikawa did end up the one being chosen to play guide.

    Hana was surprised to actually recognize the second boy, too. A teenager with unruly auburn hair rivaling the young Asakura’s own and bright green eyes, he had been present at the accident earlier as well. With hands shoved inside his pockets, the newcomer stepped forward with an un-amused look.

    “Green Cedric, from NY in the USA. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s as busy here as back home so I think I’ll fit in with the pace. It’s cool here. Lotsa historical stuff you can’t see where I come from. Bout clubs… I’ve heard you’ve a ‘go home club’ or something like that here. I think I’ll join that one. Yep, all done, teach.”

    The situation with the volunteers was the same as last time, with Cedric ending up assigned to one Sato Arada. Teachers’ pet, second best student in his year, shoe-in for school council president, leader of the literature and music clubs and captain of the basketball team. Not only that, but with his long silky obsidian-black hair and piercing eyes of the same color, ‘Ara-kun’ was the all time favorite of the female majority in the school. To the male part he was the living example of the anomaly that feminine looks actually helped one get a girl. Many dreamy sighs were heard as Cedric half-heartedly shook hands with the Sato.

    It was the third exchange student’s turn now- but however Hana looked at it, the little boy shouldn’t have even been allowed into the high school. Even with the wavy ‘horn’ of white hair jutting up from his head, the red-eyed boy looked short even for the eleven years he probably barely had. This time Hachiro spoke before the newcomer, who in turn just kept on sneering at the class.

    “Now, folks, this here pal’s extra special and all that jazz. He may be little and stuff but Tao Men is, like, super smart for his age so he was sent over by his fancy private school in China.”

    Many hands were raised this time, by girls who found Men so ‘kawaii’ only, but the little wonder-boy chose to voice his overly arrogant opinion before being assigned to anyone. His voice was haughty, sickeningly so, and the way he talked to the teacher could make one wonder who was actually eleven and who- in his thirties.

    “I appreciate your concern,” said the boy and straightened his aristocratic posture even more. “But you do not need to think of me as your ordinary lower-class boy. I am both better mannered and educated than the students present here so I think I am deserving enough to make the choice myself instead of relying on your dubious judgment.”

    “Be my guest, little dude,” laughed Hachiro in reply and gestured towards the class absent-mindedly.

    “I choose… this one.”

    All color drained from Hana’s face when his brain finally registered at whom exactly was Men pointing at. Hazel and crimson clashed as both boys glared at each other in a battle of wills which was quickly ended by the Asakura’s stern reply.

    “No.”

    A beat passed.

    “Nocando!”swiftly declined the teacher and jokingly wagged his finger at the teen. “We gotta be good hosts, Asakura-kun, remember?”

    “’Grats, mate,” Tsumemaru whispered after stiffening a laugh.

    The Asakura just buried his hands into his unruly blond hair and let out an irritated sigh. When he had hoped for a change in his life, Hana was really sure he had pointed out he wanted a positive one.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  2. #2
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    As promised, it's Friday and I've a new chap for ya. R&R muchly appreaciated.


    Chapter 2:
    Springtime of Beginnings



    A deep crevice split the blond’s forehead in half as the teenage irritatedly knitted his brows upon hearing Tsumemaru’s voice from the far right of the hill. Hana tried shutting off the noise and eagerly searched for the song of the birds that had guided his tired consciousness towards the land of sleep probably less than half an hour ago. Alas, his friend’s enthusiastic voice, filled with the kind of pride the Onikawa usually talked about only particularly important baseball events, kept on invading his sensitive eardrums and preventing him from getting any future shuteye.

    “And this here… is the shrine. It’s the last thing that’s left of the graveyard that was supposedly here before the school. Seriously! “

    Inwardly, the Asakura wanted to laugh at how his friend fed local rumors to the foreigner he was supposed to show around but only a bitter smile played on Hana’s lips as the source of the noise drew closer. The duo had apparently reached the shrine and, with Hana’s usual luck, the boy’s best bet was that he didn’t have much alone time left. Cringing at the thought, the blond tried to find a better topic do dwell on and eventually focused his mind on recalling the short dream he had just had. Alas, blurred images were all he could remember and in the end Hana just gave up. Eyes still closed and with only the faint beams of the sun shining through the crown of the decades-old cheery tree looming above him and through his fluttering eyelids, the teenager just waited for the inevitable.

    The foreign boy, Hana recalled him being called Alejandro, commented on the view from atop the small hill overlooking the school, prompting Tsumemaru to break into yet another long speech about how cool the place was. The Asakura let out a quiet sneeze, one that had been supposed to be a dry chuckle, after one of the hundreds of sakura petals soaring around ended up atop his ticklish nose.

    “Nice, eh? This place is empty now but there’s usually a couple or two climbing up here to enjoy the view and eat their lunches here instead in the cafeteria or in the classrooms. See, right beneath that cherry tree. That sakura is probably the oldest thing around here, also-“

    The steps of the duo of invaders finally drew close enough for Hana to be able to hear the rustling of their shoes against the fresh green grass. A familiar heavy sigh and one irritated comment later, the Asakura sourly had to admit that he had been found.

    “-Also, this is Hana’s favorite hiding spot when he ditches classes. Like right now for instance.”

    “Annoying,” was the only comment the Asakura found his classmate worthy of after such an untimely intrusion.

    A minute passed in silence. From what the blond could guess, the Alejandro guy was probably just silently watching the scene play out, not knowing what to say, and Tsumemaru was intently staring at Hana’s sprawled form. Hana could feel a familiar sense of annoyance, which usually rather quickly escalated into anger, stirring up inside him. Eventually, the boy managed to find a compromise by venting via a hoarse grunt.

    “Oh, come on! I was given a class off as the rest of you hosts, y’know.”

    “Yeah,” seemingly agreed at first his classmate and Hana could sense him plopping down on the ground next to him, with Alejandro following suit not long after. “But I don’t see your charge anywhere near here.”

    “Who’re you? My mom?” shot back the blond, barely resisting not to bark and feeling his already short fuse getting a tad bit closer to sparking an explosion. “The pipsqueak’s a pain in the ***. I dumped him with the first group of squealing girls who wanted to pinch his cheeks. Hope they tear his face off.”

    “He’s a little kid, things can’t be that bad,” finally added his two cents Alejandro. “Sure, he’s haughty and-“

    “Utterly, completely drives me crazy,” the blond finished instead of Lopez and shifted to a more comfortable position.

    “Talking ‘bout my fellow exchange-ee?” jointed in the conversation a somehow familiar voice. Curiosity got the best of Hana and he ended up taking a peak with one of his hazel eyes, which led to partial blindness because of the sudden exposure to sunlight. After some time of trying to discern something more than a blurry green background and a million of pink spots that were the myriad of sakura petals riding on the gusts of wind, the boy eventually recognized the American representative in the exchange program.

    Cedric didn’t wait for any invitations and gingerly leaned on the tree’s trunk on Hana’s free side. After putting up a show of crossing his legs and putting his hands behind his head, the foreign teenager eventually explained to the other three males the reasons for joining their coincidental gathering.

    “Well, my guide is 100% completely nuts. Being overly polite and suggesting to ask him for help for anything? That’s cool. Thinking I won’t be able to keep up with stuff here- a fair mistake. But offering me a one-on-one study session with,” here Cedric put on a mocking effeminate voice “Arada-sem-pai? Nuh-uh. No thanks. ‘Sides, what’s with the sempai stuff? He’s my age. Plus, I doubt he knows anything more than me.”

    “I wouldn’t be too sure,” replied Tsumemaru with a laugh “Sato is second-best in our year and goodness knows best in how many things. Besides baseball- the only thing that really mat- err, my point is, he’s good. Like, really. And don’t make any assumptions about him- Sato’s like that for everyone. Sometimes I think he tries to be so polite, he forgets about others’ personal space and stuff.

    “And what about the fact that the only way to change his monotonous drone is to stuff him full with laughing gas?” shot back Green and threw a side glance at the athlete with his emerald eyes.

    “That, I’ve no answer for,” admitted the Onikawa before letting out a hearty laugh. “Lately I haven’t even being noticing how he talks. Guess you get used to it after a while.

    “Hey,” the American exclaimed and nudged the still lying Asakura with his foot. “How ‘bout a swap? You dump little lord Fauntleroy and leave him to Sato ‘McCreepy’ Arada. Annoying people are paired up with annoying people and we both are home-free and able to do what we want. Figuratively speaking. Deal?”

    The unneeded feeling to snap at the other boy for even slightly kicking him overcame Hana at first but upon hearing the suggestion and weighing the possibilities, the blond came to the conclusion that the mutual alliance would have been way more beneficial. Alas, before the Asakura could express his agreement in any way, the fair face of one Sato Arada peeked from behind the tree trunk and eventually positioned itself mere centimeters away from the startled American. Hana couldn’t see what Cedric’s expression was, for the newcomer’s veil of long obsidian-black hair had hid it from view. Then again, the blond wasn’t surprised in the least as the straight-A student suddenly found himself with Green’s foot firmly planted into his stomach.

    The Asakura couldn’t help but snicker upon seeing the change in Cedric’s usually disinterested face when Arada almost immediately jumped back on his feet, only to bow down to the American apologetically.

    “I am sincerely sorry, Green-kun. My only intent was to make sure whether you were okay after I lost track of you when I needed to use the bathroom. Since you find it annoying, I will not invade your personal space any longer. Please accept my apologies.”

    “Well,” dragged out Cedric and threw a judging look at the smiling teenager across of him “s’long as we’ve settled the personal space issue-“

    “Most excellent then!” cut him off the Sato and enthusiastically clapped his hands. “I trust you are feeling fine?”

    “Just peachy,” shot back Cedric, the disinterested look back onto his face.

    “Oi, Sato-kun,” came yet another voice, this time belonging to a certain girl Hana knew all too well, from the other side of the trunk. “So you’ve found your slacker already. Geez, mine’s still nowhere to be found.”

    “Good grief,” was all the Asakura said as her footsteps drew closer. “She’s the last thing I need now.”

    Alas, despite his pleas to the Universe, the young girl eventually came into few. She headed straight towards the ever-polite Arada and, by pure chance, walked right by the still lying on the ground Hana. Even without the help of the wind, the blond’s sleepy eyes shot open as looking up the newcomer’s green skirt was a given, given his position on the grass. But knowing all too well her temper and displaying fortitude almost unheard of for a teenage boy, the Asakura averted his gaze at the first sight of pink and white stripes.

    “Ah, it was no problem Nishimura-san,” replied Arada with his signature robotic grin that was just the epitome of politeness. “Apparently there has been a little misunderstanding between Green-kun and I that we have just sorted out.”

    “Introducing,” Hana mockingly exclaimed from his place on the fresh grass and gestured towards the newcomer. “Nishimura Sayuri , class president and the reason Sato is second-best in our year. In short, she’s our very own rules-abiding saint. Except when she randomly enters a class halfway through, because almighty Nishimura-sama’s intelligence is so advanced, lessons are just a formality for her.”

    Sayuri glanced at the direction of his voice in surprise, seemingly now noticing Hana, and immediately shot a condensing glare at the lazy blond with her bright, as gold as the sun, eyes, hidden behind her thin-framed rectangular glasses. The girl bridled up and let out an arrogant ‘hmpf’, but not after awarding Hana with a swift kick to the shin.

    “Figures you’d be slacking off again, Asakura. Seriously, can you get even more immature? You were assigned a charge as well and while the poor little boy is somewhere all alone, you’re sleeping in the bushes. Figures you’d be the one to ruin the reputation of our school and get us into trouble.”

    Not caring about the angry grunt that was Hana’s reply, who was still clutching his ankle, the Nishimura just idly tightened up the ribbon, same color as her eyes, holding up her single side ponytail that was separated from the rest of her silky purplish hair falling down to her mid-back. Cedric leaned towards his fellow exchange student and asked with a sarcastic chuckle:

    “Psst! Dude, weren’t class presidents supposed to be sweet and caring in this part of the world?”

    Alejandro just shrugged and replied to Green’s smirk with a stiffened laugh of his own. Alas, the hushed exchange didn’t go unnoticed by Sayuri, who didn’t waste any time and decided to put the foreign know-it-all back on his place. Hell-bent on resisting temptation, Hana forced himself up and just watched irritatedly as the lavender-haired girl walked by once again. Sayuri, hands on her hips, threw a judging, arrogant look at the American teenager and leaned forward, on the same eye-level as him and let out her signature ‘hmpf’.

    “And what’s this? Our Western friend thinks he knows anything about anyone a world away? I was told only straight- A students were accepted in the exchange program. I guess one idiot slipped by.”

    A beat passed. Cedric’s emerald orbs just kept staring back dispassionately at the Nishimura’s irritated gold ones. Eventually, the auburn-haired boy replied with a grin… to Alejandro.

    “Hey, Al, I think Sayuri-chan here just insulted your intelligence.”

    “Why you,” let out a grunt the aforementioned girl- one that came off more like cute than angry. “Don’t you dare act so familiar with me!”

    Alas, in her righteous anger she had leaned even closer, giving Hana and the others the chance of witnessing how a shocked Cedric actually looked like as the green-eyed teenager caught an eyeful of Sayuri’s cleavage. Hana didn’t know what his fellow male was seeing, thinking or feeling, but he could make a pretty good guess, given how the spiky-haired American’s pupils grew a bit larger as he stared at the Nishimura’s rather ample bust. However, Cedric’s reaction was painfully obvious to the only present female as well. Seconds later, the sound of a fearsome slap echoed from atop the hill.

    “My eyes are up here, you perv!”

    “Duh, they aren’t,” Green replied with a smirk while nursing his now-clicking jaw “my eyes clearly show me you must’ve misplaced them.”

    Yet another slap scared off whatever kinds of critters were left in the area after the soundwave tsunami of the first.

    “Yep,” Cedric grinned at the lavender-haired girl and tried out how his jaw moved. “All better now. You’ve set it back into place. Thanks a bunch, Sayuri-chan.”

    “I just told you not to act so familiar towards me,” growled the sidetail-sporting girl and tightly clenched her fist to resist the temptation of punching the foreigner. A duo of cross-popping veins bulged on her forehead.

    “Oh, sorry ‘bout that,” said Cedric and scratched the back of his head. “But I’m just not used to all this formal stuff. We’re quite straightforward back home. I know your language but all that honorific stuff- not so good at it.”

    “Figures,” smirked Sayuri. “Idiot.”

    “My, a supposed fellow genius feeling threatened by me. Feels good,” shot back the green-eyed exchange student. “Oh, and by the way, you’ve got something right about… here.”

    Curious about what her now-classmate was talking, Sayuri’s fingers explored the area around her rosy lips until eventually they came across her signature little triangular ‘fang’, which protruded a bit from her upper lip.

    “Shows how much you know,” she replied with irritation to the boy’s ‘innocent’ insult. “Tell me, is ignorance really bliss? I wouldn’t know but I guess you’re very educated on the subject. For your information, this is-“

    “A rare genetic quirk know as ‘tiger teeth’, or as you call it- yaeba, that is most commonly encountered here in Japan and is considered cute and endearing,” Cedric blurted out in a single breath and with the most bored expression he could manage. Sayuri’s mask partially cracked, showing genuine surprise for a brief second before she glared again. “Ooh, did I steal your kill or something, Sayuri-chan? Or are you surprised I can actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk?”

    “You’re acting all familiar with me again!”

    “Sorry,” Green apologized seemingly with sincere innocence. “Changing one’s habits is difficult after all. But, you know, it really does look cute…”

    Somewhat taken aback, the Nishimura partially reconsidered barking once again at her irritating interlocutor. Only partially.

    “… It’s a shame it’s wasted on someone as annoying as you. You just shout and act all arrogant and stuff. Your yaeba serves as a reminder to others how biting you can get when you get all *****y like that, no?”

    No nearby animals fled the area this time because the last slap had chased them all away.

    “Y’know, this does get old after a while.”

    Sayuri bridled up once again and shot a winning arrogant glare towards Cedric, who was now sporting luminescent slap marks on both cheeks, one even brighter than the other. The lavender-haired student inspected the nearby area one last time and then cheerfully walked away, happy about the punishment she had served to the green-eyed teenager.

    “Oh, and by the way, do tell if you see my charge around here. Sheesh, I didn’t expect a girl to be as irresponsible as you two are,” were the girl’s last words towards the group, the last statement clearly referring to the similarly-labeled duo of wild-haired males.

    “Cheery girl,” Cedric said with a smirk and once again leaned casually on the old cheery tree. “Bright and sunny as hell itself.”

    “Pfft,” chuckled Hana and threw a knowing look towards his fellow male. “That was her on a good day.”

    “Indeed,” joined in the conversation Arada, who had been watching everything unfold motionlessly and with his unmoving grin plastered onto his almost porcelain face. “Nishimura-san is quite an energetic girl, even if a bit short-tempered. And you should just see when she’s on her PM-“

    “Too much info there, Sato,” hastily interjected Tsumemaru and held up his hands in a swift attempt to silence his classmate. After managing to miraculously achieve said feat, mostly thanks to Arada’s inherent politeness, the athlete couldn’t help but pinch his nose and add “Y’know, if any other guy said this, we’d be snickering and laughing but coming out of your mouth… just sounds wrong man.”

    “Then I sincerely apologize, Onikawa-kun,” said Arada and proceeded to bow deeply once again, this time to his classmate. “I shall never speak such things again in your presence.”

    The Sato chose to end his apology by curling his thin rosy lips into a bright vibrant smile which, coupled with the boy’s long silky hair being gently blown by the ever-present wind, ended up making the more... feminine features of his face and posture stand out even more. This, and the sense of the air itself seemingly sparkling around Arada for no apparent reason at all, had quite the disturbing effect on the rest of the high school students present.

    “Does this happen a lot?” Alejandro whispered awkwardly to his equally shocked guide.

    “Yep,” he replied with a blank expression. “And to this, there’s no getting used to.”

    The conversation was rather abruptly ended by Hana, who, having had enough with all the unwanted guests at his hiding spot, wanted nothing but to kick them all down the hill and get back to his blissful sleep. The feisty blond slumped back down onto the ground and after putting a show of turning his back to the rest, made sure they clearly understood that their presence was rather unnecessary. Using words, of course, for which his mother would have surely made him stay locked up in his room on only rice and water until he had been thirty and with a beard thick enough that no one would recognize him. Cedric clicked discontentedly with his tongue and didn’t seem to care how much time he took getting up. Getting a good stretch and letting out a bored yawn certainly showed that the Asakura’s words had not fazed the green-eyed boy in the least.

    “Tsk,” said he. “So that’s how it is, eh? Might as well get a stretch. Just think about my proposition, kay? See y’all!”

    Alas, the American teenager had failed to include one Sato Arada’s infamous politeness, complete lack of understanding of the terms personal ‘space’ and ‘time’ and fierce devotion to any assignment given to him, much less one of such importance to the school he cherished so much, and which cherished him back even more in return. Or, at least the female population of it. All of them. Point was, Cedric looked rather displeased to hear his long-haired peer proclaim he wasn’t going to leave his side for the duration of the day.

    “Such devotion,” deadpanned the American teen. “Why, Arada-hime, how bout just strangling me with that red string you’re knitting and be done with it? You can leave my carcass to the local scavengers after.”

    “My, Green-kun,” replied the Sato with his signature innocent grin. “How witty of you! Saying such things, that’s just… so amusing. Calling me ‘princess’ and all… why, that must be your American style humor, no?”

    “Nu-uh,” replied the auburn-haired boy with an empty look. “That’s my plea to the Universe to save me the suffering and end me here and now.”

    Sato Arada, possibly the most famous student in his high school and present in a whooping ninety percent of his fellow female students rather… moisty dreams, giggled.

    “There’s no God, is there?” was all Cedric could manage to say.

    In a last ditch effort, the green-eyed teen put all his strength in one last hope of finding a way and escaping the drowning ship he had been stranded on before it was too late. With a few swift steps and two strong pats on a couple of backs later, the American had declared himself now part of Tsumemaru’s ‘round the school’ tour. Mere seconds later, the beginning two of the now-trio had been swept off their feet and literally dragged down the hill by one Cedric Green, a boy now apparently hell-bent on crossing the Pacific before the one chosen to be his guide for the day had even realized his charge was missing.

    “Funny thing, Asakura-kun, don’t you think?” eventually asked Arada, completely unfazed by what had just transpired. “Green-kun claimed he was not familiar with honorifics but somehow managed to jokingly insult me with an overly polite one that implied I act and look as a member of the opposite gender. Quite ironic, no?”

    All Hana could do was pinch the bridge of his nose and shout over his shoulder to the ever-so-enthusiastic intruder to either get off the hill or risk having his head off-ed from his shoulders. The young Asakura let out a relieved, if a still a bit aggravated sigh, when he heard the Sato’s light steps gradually getting away from the decades-old tree that had served as Hana’s retreat ever since he had set foot in the school. And so, the situation was back at square one once again- the gentle wind just kept on trucking, chasing its own tail around the ever-spinning world, the myriad of cherry petals kept on following it ever so diligently and one young Hana Asakura just kept dosing on and off under the thick shadow of the sakura tree.

    According to the half-asleep mind of the blond, things were finally looking up. Now that nearly every person that could have inconvenienced him in some way had already done so and he had only the annoying red-eyed half-pint to look out for, Hana could finally rest easy and spend the rest of the school day slacking off, until eventually came the time of returning home. The nagging thought of Sayuri mentioning she had a charge as well, despite there being only three transfers and none assigned to her, crossed his mind for the briefest of seconds but its place was quickly taken over by a pleasant dream about vanilla ice cream and never-ending summer vacations. And so, time just kept on flying by and the wild-haired blond couldn’t even determine whether minutes or hours had passed without the help of his wris****ch. This time it really seemed Hana was going to be able to enjoy one of the rare moments his lazy self was fully in control and able to subdue his subconscious outbursts or melancholic thoughts.

    Until she happened.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  3. #3
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    Another Friday, another new chapter. As promised. R&R is still greatly appreaciated.


    Chapter 3:
    She Who Comes With Spring



    It started out as a thought, or maybe something more akin to a premonition. A bad one at that. Either way, the feeling was positively unnerving, yet not completely able to drag him out of the depths of the ocean of dreams. With eyes still fluttering around in their sockets, hostages to the deep stages of REM, all the blond could discern through what were probably his closed eyelids was a blurred shadow standing where the Sun had been not that long ago. He did not know if he was dreaming or awake- he was stuck in-between, unable to determine whether the lone figure was part of reality or something out of his dreams projected there. Alas, that precious sense of lull and bliss didn’t last much longer.

    The sudden pain sent a shock racing through his body that tore him off the land of dreams with the strength of an angry Roc hell-bent on prying its pray off its sure footing. The partial blindness didn’t help his situation either- opening his eyes with the speed of a bullet-train going down the Niagara falls only made him a victim of the bright sun beams a second time that day. The feeling of a hundred needles being pinned to the side of his neck refused to go away and in the end all Hana could do was clutch the source of his pain and pray for the dizziness to wear off before it was too late. The total disorientation left gradually- taking most of the pain with it- and finally allowing the young Asakura’s senses to search for the one that had apparently assaulted him.

    Alas, being able to see clearly again wasn’t of particular use either. Hana’s hazel widened, for the first thing the young man saw was a pair of shapely legs which he was able to trace up… all the way to the pair of pink panties that apparently belonged to said legs’ owner. What would’ve been normally a pleasant sight sent another wave of raging emotions through Hana’s nervous system and he did the most reasonable thing any other average Joe would have done- he scurried away and cussed like his life depended on it.

    Pathetic. I wasn’t even trying to sneak up on you.”

    Her voice was cold- the kind of cold one normally attributed to ice found deep into the most freezing of mountains, the kind of ice that was so cold… it actually burned. It was a miracle Hana’s jumbled brain, now more akin to a kilo of scrambled eggs instead of a human’s main processing unit, even registered the newcomer’s words. The boy didn’t respond, he was left positively speechless for one of the rare times in his life, and his hazel eyes just kept on darting from the girl dressed into a uniform of his own school to the small paper-knife which was partially stuck into the ground, enough that it was able to stand fully erected. A glistening drop of crimson slid down the thin blade- blood that Hana easily recognized as his own.

    “Having such a reaction over nothing deeper than a paper-cut? I really am that unlucky, aren’t I?”

    Still, no response came out of the shell-shocked teenager. Only his eyes this time focused on the girl’s own- a pair of glassy orbs, darker than the blackest of nights and as cold as her voice. The already insane speed of his heartbeat increased even more as he looked into them. Her eyes were like a black hole. All-consuming, devouring even light itself inside them and trapping it for eternity. Hana didn’t know why he reacted that way. Maybe it was the fact he was facing a striking beauty instead of the hulking brute he thought was attacking him. Maybe it was the shock of being awakened from his blissful sleep by being slashed at with a paper-knife. Maybe it was the very wound itself, from which still oozed a small amount of blood as the blond kept on clutching the side of his neck. Either way, the end result was the same- his brain was as dead as a cell phone completely dry out of battery. However, maybe by the will of the very Kami-sama the teen had some trouble believing in, Hana found the strength to mutter the only sentence he truly felt described his present feelings.

    “Are you… ****ING NUTS?”

    The girl remained silent at first, just glaring at the Asakura in a way that made him wonder how her eyes had not pierced a hole through him yet. The only things that could have been heard were the gentle wind that kept on billowing the girl’s hair, braided into a pair of twin pigtails, and the soft murmur of the students in the distance. When she finally spoke, the girl’s voice was unchanged.

    “Insulting someone’s sanity in such a rude way is not a good way to start a relationship.”

    “And that coming out of the girl who tried ripping my neck open with a paper-knife?” shot back Hana in a way that for some reason made it sound like Cedric was the one saying it. Maybe it was the reason that the Asakura was still too shocked- the American’s signature deadpan was the angriest reaction he could manage at such a short notice.

    “I never intended to harm you seriously. It’s just a flesh wound- the blade merely sliced your skin.”

    “Who the heck are you?” growled Hana and upon feeling the mighty trunk of the cherry tree behind him, realized that he had been unconsciously distancing himself from the newcomer.

    “I am Anna of the Patch tribe-“

    Hana could just feel that whatever part of his comatose brain was functioning was going dead with every word the newcomer spoke. The whole situation felt too surreal for it to be real. The wild-haired teen embraced the illusion of still being asleep but deep down, he had to admit with regret that what he was seeing was probably reality.

    “-third generation Itaku-“

    But even so, the teen still had trouble believing that the girl in front of him was real. Assaulting him, acting in such a way, just… everything about her- it was not the way normal girls acted. She just had to be some figment of his imagination, there was no possible way that there really was a colder-than-ice blonde standing there and introducing herself to him at that very moment. Hana was just an ordinary high school student bored dead out of his life the majority of the time- these kind of things didn’t happen to him. Now that it probably actually was, he didn’t want for it to be real.

    “-and your future wife.”

    Whatever the BoZ had spiked his breakfast juice with that morning, it wasn’t even funny anymore.

    “Come again?”

    “Our families have arranged a marriage between us since we were born,” Anna coolly explained. She narrowed her black eyes almost unnoticeably, as if she was trying to make sure she had not mistaken Hana for someone else. “You are Asakura Hana, heir to the Asakura family, are you not?”

    He wanted to lie to her, he really did. But something inside him pointed out it really didn’t matter. His words were clearly of no meaning to the newcomer.

    “Sadly,” Hana replied with a grunt. “I am. Never regretted it more than today.”

    “Why?” the blonde asked in return but in a way that clearly showed she was just keeping the conversation alive for the sake of getting a better judgment on Hana. “The Asakura line is a revered one and only the finest of shamans have come out of it.”

    A beat passed, with the wind and the distant noises of school life becoming the dominant source of noise once again. Time flew by along with Aeolus’ breaths and in the end, after several hoarse chuckles… Hana laughed. It was a madman’s laughter, mirroring the one of an evil genius managing to bring his foul creation to life at last. The blonde girl just watched, showing no signs of emotion, save for cold disinterest. Finally, the air in the Asakura’s lungs ran out.

    “You really are a psycho, aren’t you?” he said, now seeing the newcomer in a completely different light, even more unflattering than the first. “Shamans, spirits, that entire ghost crap, they do not exist! The only ghosts people see are the ones they blame for their misfortune- a thing my ancestors realized and found a smart way to prey onto. The Asakura family being made out of famous ‘shamans’? Riiight. Then why is the closest thing I’ve seen to a ghost my senile great-grandfather who just keeps on blabbering about spirits himself?”

    “You… can’t see spirits? Any of them?”

    For the briefest of seconds, Hana thought he had sensed a tinge of surprise in the girl’s still icy voice.

    “Damn right I can’t! Unlike you, weirdo!” spat out the Asakura and prepared to leave the place, the hill no longer being a save retreat. “That’s it! I’m outta here.”

    “Then we will probably see each other over dinner again.”

    Another laugh, this time more reserved than the last, escaped from Hana’s lips. The wild-haired teen clutched his sides and made a show of wiping a nonexistent tear off his eyes when he turned around to face Anna.

    “Never thought I’d regret having a girl go crazy over me, y’know. My advice: go see a doctor. Like heck you’re my fiancée.”

    “Believe what you want,” icily replied the blonde. “You can’t change how things are. Either way, we would’ve seen each other at dinner. After all, your ‘mother’ has agreed the Funbari Inn to be the home for us exchange students for the year we’re here.”

    If Tsumemaru had jumped out of the bushes and beaten him to death with his own lucky bat right then and there, Hana would have been less surprised. The young Asakura was pretty sure he prayed for a freight train to come out of nowhere and squash him - however crazy he was sure the girl was, offering a whole year shelter for a group of transfers to his school sounded just like the thing his mother would do. In Hana’s opinion, anyone hiring the BoZ, whatever history they had with them from way back when, was certainly insane enough to do something like this.

    Not that Hana showed his inner predicament. He would have died before rewarding the loony girl that had proclaimed herself his future wife that pleasure. And so, the Asakura just rigidly went down the steep hill, convinced that normalcy was now forever going to be absent even from his own home.

    ***

    It was the weirdest dinner he had ever had. Positively stranger than that one time when he had been six and some rich businessman had come home to have a romantic dinner with his mother and Hana had let his pet tarantula crawl up the man’s pant leg. Way loonier than that New Year’s when the usually quiet Marion had gotten herself drunk enough to lock lips with Kanna herself. And definitely crazier than his eleventh birthday when the BoZ had set themselves on fire due to a fireworks accident.

    No, that was the weirdest of them all.

    In fact, somewhere deep inside, the Asakura was thankful that Cedric and Alejandro were even there. They, along with the ever-reliable Tsumemaru, were the last anchors to sanity he had left to cling to that unforgettable night. His mother had ended up inviting even the transfers’ guides over and so the whole misfit bunch was now around the long kitchen table in the back of the Funbari Inn.

    Sadly, Tsumemaru was the farthest away, devouring food with the speed of a cheetah chasing a tortoise down a steep slope while drunk and on a sugar rush. Indeed, it was a shame- had his classmate been closer, Hama was sure he would have made good use of the bat he knew the Onikawa kept on his person during all times. Across him was seated Alejandro, who was having a conversation with his fellow exchange student Cedric. From what Hana could gather, they were talking about how they both ended up learning Japanese in some way- a somewhat mundane topic that majorly contrasted with the green-eyed American insisting that it had all started with his great-grandfather crash-landing his plane in Japanese territory during World War Two. Next to Cedric, and to said auburn-haired teen’s great annoyance, was seated none other than one Sato Arada. The heir to the Asakura line found somewhat disturbing how his long-haired classmate ate his dinner with all the mannerisms of a princess attending a royal ball organized to find her a suitable suitor. Of course, sitting across Arada was the little Tao Men- the one person that had showed Hana that none had the right of accusing him of having a short fuse. If the young Asakura had a foul temper, than the Chinese prodigy was an active volcano with TNT dumped into it every second. It was a good thing Men was busy with his dinner and his seemingly never-ending duty of glaring at everyone and everything around- the youngster’s tasks meant Hana next to him didn’t have to worry about any fights erupting soon.

    Now, what really bugged Hana, was the one seated in front of him. The wild-haired boy had quickly realized that his fellow blonde had mastered the art of piercing another with her eyes on the highest level. He had tried looking down and eating to distract himself- the chopsticks had fallen out of his hand. He had tried drinking to clear his head- the cold liquid had gone down the wrong pipe and Men had had to pat his back with quite more force than necessary. He had tried talking to her, wanting to shout ‘what the hell do you want’- the words had refused to leave his dry mouth. And she just kept on staring at him, drilling a hole through his skull with those beautiful yet cold black eyes of hers and slowly enjoying her dinner all the while.

    What was even scarier was that she reminded him of his mother in some way. A sick, twisted way that practically guaranteed he was going to dream of Anna being the one waking him up with a meat clever that night. And, chances were, he was going to dream of her actually using it, too. Hana let out an irritated, heavy sigh and once again tried to find a way and distract himself- this time by listening to what the others around the table were talking about.

    “…so they eventually catch up to him right before the village and all he has is a broken knife, several meters of rope and a piece of his plane’s propeller…”

    “So you really can’t see them, can you?”

    Anna asking a question, however simple it was, instantly took Hana aback. It was as if he had already forgotten how cold her voice was- the blonde’s words felt like sharp needles trying to pierce the Asakura’s very soul. The disappointment clearly evident in her tone didn’t help either.

    “Thankfully,” the boy replied as quietly as possible, not wanting the others to know what they were talking about. “I can’t. Will that make you go away, huh? I certainly hope so!”

    “Pathetic,” was the only answer the girl seemed to deem him worthy of.

    Cedric apparently noticed Anna actually talking with someone and took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with his fellow exchange student.

    “Hey, Anna, I understand you’re an Eaglelander like me, right? Lemme guess… the Midwest?”

    It was an innocent question, Cedric was being his know-it-all self and had tried to pinpoint Anna’s birthplace using her Native American looks as a clue. Alas, it was not the question itself that had sparked Anna’s fury.

    “I don’t think I’ve allowed you to call me by my first name.”

    The green-eyed teen didn’t dare blink- probably because he feared the chopstick Anna had shoved mere millimeters away from his now-widened eye would have pierced it for real if he did so. The girl’s movement had been a blur. Most of the people around the table were just now realizing something was actually happening. It was no surprise- given that Anna had somehow managed to reach Cedric in the time Arada had used to bend down and inhale some rice- the Native American girl had bent over him and shot her arm forward without a single soul noticing it.

    “The heck?!” Cedric exclaimed with justified surprise and a good amount of annoyance in his voice. “Why are you even reacting like this, Anna? S’far as I remember we address each other with our given names back home.”

    “You did it again.”

    Tsumemaru actually dropped his own chopsticks as the one in Anna’s hand was about to resume its deadly course set right for the green-eyed teen’s eyeball… when a slim yet strong hand grabbed the Native American girl’s wrist and stopped it on its track.

    “I think that’s enough, Anna-chan.”

    It was the first time Hana considered his mother was actually scarier than he thought she was. She had only curled around her slim fingers around Anna’s wrist. No pressure. No forcing her way. She had only talked, for Kami-sama’s sake! And yet, there she was- a strikingly beautiful woman most people would have thought was timid and shy, dressed in her white floral-patterned kimono and with part of her pink hair stylized into a spiky topknot- looking calmly yet sternly into Anna’s black bottomless eyes without even flinching. To top it all, the girl had actually obeyed. Without question. Without hesitation.

    Without even protesting.

    For the first time in many years, right when he looked into those amber eyes he had gotten so used to, Hana thought that he was actually brave for rebelling against his mother as much as he did. And at that moment, he was even too shocked to ponder how in the world had the woman snuck up on them without anyone noticing the adult’s presence.

    “I think we should call it a night and go to bed,” Tamao suggested with her usual sweet voice. “It’s late so I think Tsumemaru-kun and Sato-kun should phone their parents and ask them to stay here for the night. They can sleep in the room we prepared for Green-kun, Lopez-kun and Men-chan.”

    Hearing himself addressed in such a way, the ever so gloomy child prodigy of China spat out the water he had been gulping down at that moment with the strength and pressure of a fire hose. Other than that, an agreeable murmur passed over the table, with only Anna and the young Asakura himself remaining silent.

    ***

    Many different thoughts raced through Hana’s mind as the toothbrush fought a somewhat losing war with the bits of food stuck between his teeth. The blond mostly dwelled on the subject of how his life had changed upside-down for less than 24 hours, getting from ‘deadly boring’ to ’way too interesting for one’s health’ in the matter of mere hours. It was ironic really, admitted the Asakura as he stared into the hazel eyes of his foaming, frowning doppelganger into the mirror. That very morning he had regretted being overlooked by Fate. But now that she had eventually showed up for their date with handcuffs and a whip in hand, Hana was feeling understandably uneasy. The lazy bum inside of him wanted his old life back. The dormant volcano that represented the young man’s other self wanted to taste more of the excitement, while willing to deny such a thing even under the pain of torture.

    “Not that thinking about it would change anything,” Hana eventually concluded in his jumbled thoughts.

    Thankful that he was finally going to be able to be alone and get a good night’s sleep, the Asakura gulped down a glass of cold water and groggily headed into the direction of the last safe haven remaining- his room. The corridors of the inn, illuminated only by the moonlight entering through the windows, were silent- save for the thunderous snoring coming out of the BoZ’s room on the far side of the building. Hana hastily opened the sliding door, ready to enter the blissful land of sleep.

    “Do you prefer the right side or the left?”

    This was the last drop, the last straw that broke the camel’s back and finally sent Hana’s brain into insanity completely and utterly. The Asakura’s brow twitched and his pupils widened enough to leave his hazel irises almost invisible. The excess blood pressure threatened to burst either out of his nose or ears, but given the situation, the boy thought crying tears of blood would not have been a longshot. Every single cell and muscle in his body refused to obey and all Hana could do was stay where he was, as if rooted to the ground, and with his trembling hand still clutching the door’s handle. There before him, right next to the futon she had dragged over to his own, stood Anna.

    Completely naked.

    Even Hana’s eyelids were out of his control, for some suspicious reason he blamed his subconsciousness and Freud on, even they refused to obey him and close. All he could do was stay still as his hazel eyes darted around Anna’s body and soaked in each and every image of the blonde’s curves and proportions. Eventually, by sheer force of will that somehow managed to override the desires deeply-rooted into his subconsciousness , Hana managed to avert his gaze and stare at the nearest poster of Soul Bob when his eyes had started getting dangerously close to a certain area below Anna’s waist.

    “What the **** is happening here?!” finally found the strength to ask the shocked teenager.

    “Keep it down,” replied the invader as calmly and coolly as ever. “You will wake up everyone. I just don’t like being confined by clothes when I sleep. That’s all. If I as much as sense your hand somewhere-“

    “Then why the heck are you sleeping right next to me?!”

    “As a future husband and wife we have got to get used to sleeping next to each other,” explained Anna in a way that made the Asakura seem like a complete idiot for not understanding something seemingly so simple. “I, especially, think will need a lot of time to get used to someone as you. Pathetic.”

    “Like I even care what’s your opinion about me!” snapped Hana and dared to look over his shoulder and into the girl’s black eyes. “I’ve told you already, I don’t want part in any of this! Arrrgh, I’ve just had enough!”

    The sound of a door being forcedly closed echoed around the whole inn as, after taking his futon while being careful not to fall to the temptation of looking at Anna again, the Asakura walked out like an angry drunk who had sucked all the bottles in the bar dry. The sound of snoring became louder and louder as he neared the Buddhist monks’ room but the young man paid no heed to the sound akin to chainsaws rampaging in a tropical rainforest. All he wanted was some sleep, away from crazy girls and other similar phenomena. The door to the BoZ’s room opened with a creek.

    “Good luck finding a place to lie down. All the VIP space’s taken. And what the heck are you doing here anyway?” came Cedric’s sarcastic voice from somewhere in the twilight of the room.

    The stunned Asakura somehow managed to recognize the blurred silhouette of Alejandro in the darkness. The Brazilian was hopelessly trying to restrain a smaller one- most certainly Tao Men- from murdering the snore machines in their sleep.

    “Long story,” Hana tiredly replied. “You?”

    “You do remember I told you all Arada’s nucking futs and not to invite him over for dinner, right?”

    “Yep.”

    “Well, dude sleeps naked.”

    ***

    “You sure this is gonna be alright, Touma?”

    “Sure thing, Ichiro. Just stop being such a pussy already! Now gimme the keys. Still with us, Hina-chan?”

    The affirmative chirp of a girl came from somewhere inside the darkness as the mischievous, and quite misfit, trio gradually proceeded through the locked doors on their path. Their hearts were racing and their senses were sharper than ever- every miniature creek sounded like a pounding waterfall, every tiny gust of wind somehow managing to enter the building was immediately picked up by their sensitive skin and even the darkness failed to halt their march as their glistening eyes pierced right through it.

    “But, Touma, what if they find out it wa-“

    “Will you shut it already?! Sheesh, mice are braver than you,” spat the one going by the name of Touma and glared towards his partner in crime. “This is the perfect plan. We’re gonna be careful and besides, none of the teachers actually expect a prank in the beginning of the year. We’re seniors now, Ichiro, we’ve to keep the tradition alive. Right, Hina-chan?”

    Once again, the girl swiftly agreed with her brave classmate while sending the mellower one a disgusted look left unnoticed in the darkness. The trio eventually reached their destination- the science lab- and upon entering headed immediately towards the cupboard that contained what they were looking for.

    “Right. This is gonna need some bashing. Ichiro, gimme the bokkuto,” said Touma and gestured to his classmate to hand said wooden sword, stolen from kendo practice earlier that day, over.

    You… are not welcome here.”

    The brave mask of the teen crumbled when he heard that voice- each word sounding like coming out of the Underworld itself, hoarse and ghastly, comparable only to nails scratching down a chalkboard and yet as terrifying as a tiger’s roar. He turned around slowly, somehow trying not to pay attention how the hairs on the back of his neck were now like the back of a hedgehog or how he actually felt the blood draining from his face.

    “What the-“

    “Don’t you dare speak back to me, filthy human!”

    The young man wasn’t even able to cry out in pain. The tip of the wooden sword found itself crashing into his neck and pinning him to the shaky cupboard. No air entered the horrified student’s lungs as the bokkuto gradually threatened to snap his windpipe in two. If it was even possible, Touma became even paler upon coming face to face with his own classmate.

    The once meek teenager’s face was unrecognizable. A maniacal grin, far too wide to belong to a normal human, showed one too many teeth, glistening like a predator’s fangs under the moonlight and looking somewhat... sharper than usual. But the scariest part… the scariest part were the eyes. Bright crimson, like blood itself, glowing in the dark of the night and drilling a whole right through the helpless victim’s soul.

    With a hopeless shout, the terrified girl tried somehow helping out her fellow classmate, only to end up literally flung across the room. It was an inhuman feat- to lift a healthy person, be it a teenage girl, with a single hand and with such ease and then throw her away without even paying attention. There was no surprise she lost consciousness upon making contact with the first desk that was on her way.

    The trapped boy tried using his friend’s sacrifice as a distraction and lunged towards his attacker with a fierce roar, pulling back his fist and ready to put all the might contained in his young body in that fateful blow. Alas, a casual kick to the face put him back at square one, with his face now being crushed by the foot of the one that he had used to call a friend. The attacker let out a hoarse laugh and raised the bokkuto high above his head.

    “You were warned, human. Now, would you please… die!”

    The voice remained as ghastly as ever, but there was no change in its tone as it said those words. The wooden sword came down with the force of a deadly weapon, ending a blooming life before it had even begun and making sure that the last thing one young man saw was the eerie silhouette looming above his friend. The phantom’s grin was just as maniacal as the one of the boy that was his puppet and his scarlet eyes mirrored the glowing pair of his unwilling host. The long wild hair of the demon, pure white as winter’s snow, danced in the still air just as his samurai robes.

    None heard the dying scream of the teenage boy that night.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2009
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    Chapter 4:
    Spring’s Bloodied Petals





    “Here. Take it.”

    It was a morning like any other in front of the Funbari Inn. The birds were singing, the morning air was a tad chilly because of the on-and-off gusts of the wind swooping down from the mountains but the sun was shining as bright as ever. And if those things weren’t enough to persuade the casual observer that spring was in its full bloom, the millions of pink cherry petals soaring around and above the metropolis of Tokyo certainly were a strong enough argument to change the minds of even the most stubborn of people.

    All in all, it was a seemingly ordinary day for the group of young people in front of the famous hot springs. Key word being ‘seemingly’.

    “And why the heck should I do it?” asked Hana while trying to keep his voice calm. And failing, of course. The wild-haired blond eyed the schoolbag hanging from Anna’s outstretched hand with contempt.

    The teenage girl sent him one of her signature dead glares, capable of encasing even raging fire in a thick block of ice. The heir to the Asakura line, using his unique ability to survive under the wrath of such glares- one which he had refined throughout his life by facing his mother- refused to be threatened. Seeing that her piercing black eyes wouldn’t do the trick, the foreign girl apparently deemed the situation one that required her to speak to the lazy boy again.

    “Because I told you so.”

    Her icy voice was enough to make him scream in frustration, much less her words, but somehow the young Asakura managed to resist shouting. Alas, his predicament was worsened by the chuckles of the other males who were witnesses to the scene. Hana was about to tell a thing or two to the traitors when the fiancée he had never wanted spoke once more.

    “Is that the way you are going to treat your future wife? Just my luck, you had to not only be stupid and weak, but rude as well.”

    The wind blew by again, prompting the girl’s twin braided pigtails to billow along with the rest of her blonde hair. Her cold glare remained unwavering and black clashed with hazel as Hana’s tired eyes returned her challenging look. Alas, time was running out and, after getting a glimpse of a pair of amber eyes glaring at him through one of the inn’s windows, Hana took the bag from Anna outstretched hand.

    “Happy? Now let’s go before I reconsider going to that hell of a prison,” he said after grumbling some rather ‘impolite’ words under his breath.

    “We aren’t going with them,” Anna sternly announced just as the Asakura had turned around to leave. “You and I are going to walk alone. I don’t want them around.”

    The blond boy just stared at his fiancée, wordless. After all, no words that he knew of were capable of voicing his annoyance, irritation and overall desire to set half the city on fire.

    “Tough luck, mate,” said from somewhere behind him Tsumemaru. His voice, however, clearly showed more hidden mockery than genuine regret for his friend’s predicament. The traitor!

    “Come on, you guys,” joined in the conversation Alejandro. Well, at least the Brazilian wouldn’t make fun of him, Hana thought with relief. “She just wants to get some alone time with Hana.”

    Apparently that potential ally was out as well. Hana let out a frustrated sigh and tried not to look in the general direction from which he knew the little Tao Men was sneering at him. Forever the know-it-all, Cedric just couldn’t let the opportunity pass by.

    “Yeah, let’s go so Anna-chan can whip out the chains and the collar.”

    For the briefest of moments, a warm feeling filled Hana’s stomach as Cedric’s one had a rather close meeting with a ‘pebble’ the size of an average fist. Anna’s cold voice followed soon after.

    “I told you not to call me by my first name! And now you dare even add ’ –chan’ to it?”

    “Force of habit,” somehow managed to mutter the American boy through teeth clenched in pain.

    “Hmph!” was the exclamation which the ever-pompous Tao Men had deemed worthy of interrupting the conversation with.

    Hana was the one clenching his teeth this time, praying the little whelp reconsidered saying whatever he wanted to. Chances were, the Asakura was otherwise going to endure yet another lecture from his mother and a certain suspension from school for beating the life out of the white-haired youngster. Alas, the blond’s luck had apparently run out long, long ago.

    “See? That is why I call such stupid old traditions useless. Forcing a marriage on such an annoying girl and such a complete idiot will surely end in disaster.”

    “Yeah, pipsqueak,” seemingly agreed Cedric. “Like those aristocratic parents of yours that you keep on blabbering about won’t eventually marry you off to some other brain-damaged blueblood. She’s probably gonna be fifty by the time you turn thirty. Heh, centuries of inbreeding must’ve hampered your perceptions of reality, no?”

    Before Hana could let his fists tell Tao Men what he thought of him, before the red-eyed boy himself could lunge at the auburn-haired American, Anna acted. For a moment, the mask of the haughty Chinese aristocrat cracked as he let out a yelp of pain upon being lifted whole in the air by the blonde ice queen. Even Hana thought that maybe his fiancée was going a little too far this time. The Asakura, along with everyone else, could clearly see the blood dripping from the base of the ear by which the girl was holding the Tao up.

    “One more time,” she said as coolly as ever. “If I hear you refer to me as anything like that one more time, I’m going to make sure they ship you off to your parents in a casket. Understood?”

    At first, Men remained defiant and refused to bulge under the pain and the cold glare of his foe. But then again, Hana eventually realized, for all his haughtiness and annoying attitude, Men was just a little kid. Unable to bear the pain anymore, the young Tao nodded with a suppressed grumble.

    “Good.”

    After a minute of silence, Cedric was the one to break it with a sharp whistle.

    “Hell hath no fury-“

    His fellow American turned her frosty glare towards him.

    “-and so on and so forth.”

    Ever the peacemaker, Alejandro tried salvaging whatever normalcy was left of the situation. The dark-skinned boy ran a hand through his dreadlocks and motioned to his wris****ch with a forced and obviously fake smile.

    “Gee, guys, look what time it is! Let’s just go and forget about this, hmm?”

    The teenager’s black eyes, a shiny color so different from the black holes that were Anna’s, surveyed the now-silent group for any signs of agreement. Tsumemaru was quick to follow his advice, with an ever-so-bored Cedric casually strolling behind him and dragging a severely ticked off Men along.

    And so, they were alone again- the ice queen and the seemingly ordinary boy who had not been careful what he had wished for. Both averted their gazes from each other, choosing instead to focus on the little things around them. Interesting little things, such as their shoe laces or the random cars rushing by. Only the wind broke the monotonous sound of vehicles jolting past and even then, it was for a little while. The young Asakura kept on staring at his shoes in defiance, refusing to be the one to break the silence that was treated by both participants like a battle of wills. Eventually, it was neither of them that broke the silence.

    “IT’S THAT LATE ALREADY?!”

    Once again, a flock of sakura petals flew by on the wings of Aeolus’ breath. More muffled shouts were heard from inside the inn and, taking note to congratulate Cedric on a little prank well done, the young Asakura walked by his unwanted fiancée without even sparing a second glance at her.

    “We better go before he catches up to us.”

    He didn’t wait, didn’t turn back to make sure she followed. But somehow, he was able to hear the clattering of her shoes behind him, even amidst the noise of the speeding vehicles that blitzed past. The Asakura knew they were not a strange duo in the strangers’ eyes- two frowning teenagers, obviously together yet refusing to walk by one another. Perhaps the others mistook them for a bickering couple, two young lovebirds that had clashed for the very first time since hooking up? Hana didn’t care. All he wanted was to keep on walking forward, without stopping or looking back.

    The clatter of her shoes persisted and the blond knew she kept on following, probably drilling a hole through his skull with those cold black eyes of hers. The grip on both the schoolbags he was carrying tightened in a vain attempt to subdue the anger. The anger that, for the life of his, Hana just couldn’t make heads or tails of. The boy knew what the source was, oh he knew her more intimately than any other girl he had ever known. And yet she was a mystery to him, able to make him go berserk by just being there, her mere presence having the same effect as twenty Tao Mens pounding his head.

    She had outright stated she despised him. She could as well have said she hated him- Anna’s cold stare had spoken to the young Asakura more than the girl’s lips had ever had. And yet she clung to the thought of being his future wife, stubbornly unwilling to let go of a foolish tradition set up by some idiot millennia ago.

    Indeed, Anna was alien to the young man much more than an actual extraterrestrial would have ever been. The blonde had the uncanny ability of setting his blood on fire- certainly not in a good way- and being a source of anger Hana knew he was unable to extinguish. This source he couldn’t ignore or just shrug off, or hit until it broke into a million of shattered pieces.

    And so they walked in silence, a duo of complete strangers to their true selves, one half of which insisted they were destined to be together even if she probably hated him more than anything in the world. A nagging thought crossed the boy’s mind, reminded him of the irony of how he had walked that very road alone the previous morning, longing for something to come out of nowhere and change his life.

    Hana was positively sure the Universe got a sick kick out of making him suffer.

    Even the silence was becoming too much to bear and the young Asakura did the one reasonable thing he could have done given the situation. He talked to her without even turning back- just a few grumbled words in a vain attempt to find something else than the anger to focus on.

    “Why did you want us to walk alone?”

    She didn’t answer immediately. In fact, she answered much later but the lack of immediate response told the boy more than he needed, or wanted, to know. Hana knew she was smiling behind him, sneering at yet another victory over the unfortunate Asakura. He had spoken first, trying to strike up a conversation with the one he found so irritating. She had won and he had lost. Simple as that. Hana let out a frustrated sigh upon realizing that one wasn’t going to be the last clash of wills with such an outcome.

    “I just did,” Anna eventually replied, no hint of emotion evident in her voice. Just chilling, short words. Like always.

    And so the conversation ended, before it had even begun. Another sigh escaped the Asakura’s lips, a mere droplet of the volcano stirring up inside the young man. The world just kept on spinning- cars flying by and strangers heading in all directions, oblivious to the unspoken predicament of the two young souls. She was ice to him- ice so cold it set every fiber of the blond on fire, making him want to scream in fury. And worst of all, Hana realized, Anna knew that all too well.

    ***

    He found it funny at first. Hana berated himself for that thought later on but, indeed, that was the Asakura’s first reaction upon seeing the crowd of whispering students gathered at the base of the hill and the yellow tape that cut off the school from the rest of the world at the main gate. His initial guess was that some lucky bastard had vandalized the school enough that it had warranted a visit by the police. That, or some student had finally set all the awful food in the cafeteria on fire. Both, he had to admit, were things he had longed to be able to do himself.

    Then he saw the stretcher.

    It was as if there was a dark pit now where his stomach had been mere moments ago. The Asakura screeched to a halt and his widened hazel eyes took notice of the ambulance parked at the front gate, at first hidden behind the horrified audience. There were teachers around it, all of them keeping a stern face but unable to keep the grief out of their eyes. Hana realized it was his first time actually seeing his eccentric, hippie of a homeroom teacher sullen. The adults were trying to keep the students out, shield them from seeing anything that could affect them even more than the fact that there was an ambulance and numerous policemen at their school. Their efforts were in vain, however, as the stretcher being pushed down the slope of the hill was in clear view, the eyes of everyone glued to it and keeping up with its every single move.

    Suddenly, Hana’s predicament didn’t feel that important anymore.

    Anna just brushed past him, continuing her unwavering march without hesitation. He couldn’t help it and shot an accusing glare at her back for being so cold-hearted even in such a situation. The blonde hadn’t gasped like any other girl in her place would have done. She hadn’t muttered anything under her breath. She had done nothing- ignoring the rest of the world as always, she had kept on walking, leaving a proverbial frosty trail of ice behind her.

    “Are you coming or not?” she asked without turning back. “If someone has ended up dead, we better learn what on Earth has happened.”

    Outright confirming that a fellow student of his had probably died just didn’t sound right to Hana- especially considering the girl’s cold emotionless voice. Still, he followed and dived into the murmuring crowd, making his way with great difficulty when Anna seemingly squeezed herself easily through the tiniest of cracks between the others. Another wave of whispers, akin to the buzzing of a kicked beehive, washed across the students. The ones up front stirred up, turning back and relying what they had seen to the ones at the back. It was like some sick kind of game as with each step forward Hana could hear the relayed message being altered and twisted by the imagination of every shocked teenager present. Eventually, he reached the front.

    The stretcher had just being pushed inside the ambulance, disappearing forever behind the swiftly closed doors. Hazel eyes widened once again as the Asakura glanced at the red spots on the pavement that followed the stretcher’s trail. His breakfast threatened to gush out. Hana knew Anna was beside him, surveying the same scene as him with her cold unflinching eyes. More like uncaring, corrected himself the Asakura. He just kept on staring at the crimson dots like hypnotized, unable to tear his eyes off them and just letting the sea of rampant speculation wash over him.

    “Touma from class 3-B…”

    “Beaten to death by a classmate…”

    “Skull split open…”

    Then another sound, one that at first made Hana wonder whether he was the one puking his insides out, put a stop to the nervous whispering that had dominated the scene. Finally able to look away from the blood, the Asakura’s hazel eyes soon came across the rest of the now semi-permanent residents of Funbari Inn on the far side of the crowd. A rather shocked Cedric was trying to keep up Alejandro on his wobbling feet, as the dark-skinned boy kept on puking his guts out and gasping for air. The crowd quickly formed a circle around the duo, with only Tao Men stubbornly staying on his place beside them. Not that Hana thought the red-eyed boy felt any sort of camaraderie to his two fellow transfers. His disgusted look clearly showed otherwise. The Asakura concluded that the white-haired genius just wanted to show off how he was above such things. Hana caught a glimpse of a worried Tsumemaru among the audience, next to the third-years on the baseball team. Looking for information obviously, thought the Asakura.

    Eventually, the green-eyed American put the hand of his new friend over his shoulder and, saying something Hana couldn’t hear through the murmur of the crowd, slowly started dragging the Brazilian in the direction of the teachers who were still standing guard in front of the school, oblivious to the predicament of the transfer student.

    “Look what we have here! A total pussy who can’t take the sight of a covered-up body! Pathetic.”

    The senior that had come out of nowhere cut off the American’s route. His voice was angry but somewhat high-pitched and, as the young man spat at Alejandro’s feet, Hana found something… disturbing in his very posture. Cedric stopped dead on his tracks, along with every other single student around. The audience perked up, realizing that despite their shock and grief a fight was probably going to take place.

    “Touma was a true man! He would’ve never even blinked if he was here! Even the girls didn’t puke! You disgust me, whelp.”

    Like a drunkard, uncoordinated and wild, Alejandro tried prying off the grip of his friend and leaping towards the senior- one that Hana recognized as Nakagawa- the captain of the kendo team. Cedric was obviously taken aback by the dark-skinned boy’s uncharacteristic behavior and it was clear to everyone that he found trouble restraining the Brazilian, who was practically snarling and clawing at the older student. A frowning Tsumemaru, whom Hana hadn’t seen making his way through the crowd, took hold of Alejandro’s free hand. The two boys managed to somewhat keep their struggling friend still and tried dragging him over to the teachers- only for Nakagawa to cut off their escape route once more.

    “Didn’t you hear me, worm? You disgust me! Won’t you do something? WON’T YOU?!”

    Hana started to realize that the senior’s voice was shaking, as if the towering young man was trying to hold back his tears.

    “TOUMA NEVER WOULD’VE STOOD PUT LIKE THAT!”

    “But he isn’t him! Now go bawl your eyes out in some corner and let us through.”

    Cedric’s words cut the air apart and silenced even the gossiping hens next to Hana that were betting on how bad the Nakagawa was going to beat up the transfers. The Asakura could feel Anna stirring up beside him and even little Tao Men grew somewhat tense in expectation. Tsumemaru looked like he was contemplating whether to take off the ever-present bat hanging off his back.

    The fist of the older student made the wild-haired teenager let go of Alejandro’s arm and stammer several meters back. Somehow managing not to fall flat on his back, the auburn-haired boy ran a hand through his bleeding lip… and grinned.

    “Cool. An excuse to skip classes along with Mr. Latino here. Oi, Men-chan, guess you’re gonna be the only one stuck in class with Sato today.”

    “DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO THE HELL I AM?!”

    The Nakagawa had now turned all his righteous anger towards Cedric. This time the crowd was sure- the first blow had already been dealt and the receiver had showed enough crazy defiance to make them believe he was stupid enough to fight the captain of the kendo team.

    “Course I do!” quipped the American boy and fixed his emerald eyes on his opponent’s. “You’re that moron whom every school has that likes to beat up little boys because he’s incredibly stupid and has a small wiener. But then again, I think you’re just in some sick kind of depression now.”

    The second blow sent Cedric flying back into the waiting arms audience. Hungry for a spectacle even at a time like this, the students quickly straightened him up and pushed him forward.

    “Sheesh, dude, I don’t need the whole week off, y’know.”

    Another blow. Another wisecrack.

    “Seriously, I’m starting to think you really are overcompensating for something with ‘em raging fist of yours.”

    As Cedric was sent crashing onto the hard ground, Hana was taken aback by his fellow blonde making a suggestion that somehow wasn’t centered around him doing something she wanted.

    “You should go help him.”

    It was just five simple words, spoken with Anna’s usual chilly tone but somehow, Hana found himself following her advice without even noticing.

    “Why don’t you just go see a specialist? That much pent up rage isn’t good for anyone, pal.”

    Hana’s fists clenched as the apparently suicidal American had another fierce blow connect with his jaw. The Asakura felt his blood boil and something inside him, deep within his chest, purred at the thought of being able to let all of his pent up rage gush out in that fight. Tsumemaru frantically searched for someone to dump the wobbling Alejandro on so he could be free to swing his favorite bludgeoning weapon.

    “Fight back, dammit! And shut up already!”

    A beat passed. The audience stared almost agape in wait, wondering if the transfer student was finally going to budge under the pain and the threatening glare of the senior. Cedric’s emerald orbs were somehow able to find his opponent’s ones through his rapidly swelling eyes.

    “Me, shut up? Suuure, when hell freezes over.”

    “WHY YOU!”

    “That’s enough!”

    The newcomer’s voice froze everyone on their tracks, even Nakagawa with his fist still pulled back and ready to strike. An annoyed murmur passed through the crowd at being denied their gladiatorial spectacle. A girl tore off from the circle and, hands on her hips, walked towards the kneeling on the ground American.

    “I won’t have any of this anymore, Nakagawa! If you want to fight so much, then get ready to be suspended. I know you’re angry over what happened with Touma but that’s just not the way. It’s stupid.”

    The Nakagawa just stared, flabbergasted, as Sayuri- feisty, little, know-it-all Sayuri, stood up to a hulking brute more than twice her size. Of course, those that actually knew the representative of class 2-A didn’t bat an eyelash at the situation. They just pitied the fool if he was stupid enough to actually talk back to her. But apparently, the shock of a girl calling him out was enough to snap the senior out of his flight of rage. If barely.

    Letting out a haughty ‘hmph’ and flicking her lavender side-tail, the girl pushed back her rectangular glasses and extended her hand to the auburn-haired boy next to her, a witty remark already forming on her lips. Cedric just completely ignored her outstretched hand and wobbly got back on his feet before proceeding to haul himself over to Tsumemaru and a still limp Alejandro.

    “Next time your girlfriend won’t be here to save you, worm!”

    Ignoring the chuckles of the crowd and Sayuri herself muttering ‘idiot’ from somewhere behind, the green-eyed teenager just draped his friend’s free hand over his shoulder and proceeded forward. And, Hana noted, made sure the last laugh was his.

    “Such a witty remark!” he said in complete deadpan. “Whatever shall I do to find an appropriate response! Tsk, guess I’ll have to think about it. Smell ya later… Nakagawa-chan!”

    ***

    A wide yawn, clear evidence of his lack of sleep the previous night, made its way through the Asakura’s gaping mouth. Hana mentally chuckled at the thought that the probably looked like a deadly snake preparing to snap its jaws at its prey to the annoying brats playing nearby. Making sure to increase the volume of the old cassette player hidden deep inside his pants’ pocket, the young Asakura readjusted his tired body to a better position on the hard park bench and prepared to return to the peaceful land of dreams. Or at least what used to be the peaceful land of dreams- while he knew from experience that that kind of dreams were absolutely normal for the healthy teenage boy, the person that they had focused on the previous night made Hana cringe, especially considering what she had done to him in them. Nope, the young Asakura knew all too well that it certainly wasn’t the thunderous snoring of the BoZ, more akin to the sound of two constipated walruses duking it out for territory, which had caused him to dream of such things.

    But, in a sudden uncharacteristic surge of brief optimism, Hana was relatively sure that the cheery music of his favorite singer- Soul Bob- would most certainly guarantee him if not a pleasant, than at least a lack of bad dreams. He eagerly put on the pair of worn-out orange headphones, ones that certainly looked out of place in that century, and didn’t seem to care that the innocent action had made his unruly blond hair even messier than it usually was. Leaning back on the hard wooden surface and putting his arms behind his head, the young Asakura shot one last warning glare towards the underage imps jolting around the nearby playground. Nodding with glee that the music was able to cut off their ear-splitting shouts and giggles, Hana closed his eyes and prepared for some much needed rest.

    Alas, not even five minutes had passed when the irritating vibrations coming out of his other pocket proudly announced to the cellphone’s owner that someone had dared phone him in the middle of a nap.

    “What?!” Hana snapped at the person on the other line after realizing that the caller was too persistent, or just too damn stubborn, to get the hint to buzz off.

    Love you, too, honeybuns,” came the deadpan response from the other side of the line.

    Quickly recognizing the tone of the caller, Hana shook his head in frustration and didn’t waste time on formalities or any other kind of meaningless etiquette.

    “What do you want, Cedric? I’m trying to take a nap here for goodness sake!”

    “Well, excuse me from interrupting such an important task. Next time I’ll be sure to ask you if you’re sleeping before interrupting, how ‘bout that?”

    “Is there any reason you’re calling at all?” shot back the blond with no small amount of anger in his voice.

    “Actually, I’m calling to warn you to be a biiit careful when you go back home. Your Mom was here a minute ago and she’s quite pissed for you not phoning her that there was actually a murder at your school . That and just walking off to God knows where. Like, apparently, you usually do.”

    Despite the green-eyed teen’s casual tone, Hana barely restrained himself from gulping- if his mother had allowed her façade to slip off in front of a nearly total stranger, the blond was surely in for the lecture of his life, being grounded until he was thirty and/or intense physical pain probably included. Tamamura Tamao was widely known as a cute, yet strong-willed songstress. Her disposition to the general public never showed how short of a fuse she actually had- there was most certainly a supernova erupting inside her if she had shown even the briefest trace of anger to an outsider. Hana wished he was able to say ‘meh, least it was a good life’, but the teen knew all too well that so far nothing had come out of his relatively short existence on that boring planet. Not for him anyway. Then another nagging thought somehow managed to override the musings on his survival.

    “Wait, where’s this ‘here’ you’re talking about? Didn’t you go to the hospital with Alejandro because the teachers wanted to make sure he was alright- precious to the reputation of the school exchange student and all that?”

    “Y’see…”

    Cedric dragging out words while wondering what to say certainly wasn’t to Hana’s liking. He had known his foreign peer for merely a day but the American seemed to be usually able to mouth off to all kinds of people 24/7.

    “Turns out him trying to decorate my shoes with his guts was just a, err, symptom of a bigger problem. The doctors said that Latino-boy reacted that way because somehow seeing the body of a dead student, covered or not, certainly doesn’t help people with stomach diseases like his. Go figure.”

    Another awkward pause.

    “Well, Al just has a weak stomach cause of an operation from when he was a kid or something.”

    “You just said it was a disease.”

    “Duh, they had to operate him because of the disease,” replied Cedric without even the slightest change in his usual tone. “Normally, he’d be fine and all but things like this, right after a transfer no less, are bound to affect him. Or at least that was what the stuck-up geezer in the white coat said. Anyway, Al will be here for a day or two and I guess I’ll stay here for now- I hate hospitals but then again, there’s not much I can do with no one to hang around with. You’re a lazy bum. Tsumemaru’s stuck at his house because his parents are dead-scared and Sato is out of the question.”

    “What about Nishimura? Apparently she’s the one in charge of Anna but I’m sure she’d be happy to help you out. After all, Nakagawa did say you’re a couple, no?”

    “Indeed, when was that moron ever wrong anyway? Suuure, I’d seek her out. She’s first on my list of people to call if I suddenly get the urge to commit suicide by having an annoying hag lecture me the whole day. Now, seriously, watch out, cause I’ve the feeling we’ll need to glue together what’s left of you later.”

    “Yeah, yeah. See ya later.”

    “Tsk. And here I thought we were having a heart-to-heart conversation. Meh, guess it can’t be helped. So long, sucker!”

    Hana could just picture the smirk on the green-eyed boy’s face as he closed the phone. Either way, now there was even more of a reason for the young Asakura to get that precious sleep of his. With the equivalent of a rampaging dragon waiting for him back at home, resting was a good course of action. Hana put back on the old headphones and prepared to return to his attempts of entering Dreamland- only for the pair of old technology to be suddenly torn off of his head. The blond teen turn around to glare at whoever had the audacity of doing this- Hana was even somewhat happy that some foolish soul had given him a reason to relieve some anger by punching something. Sadly, the someone turned to be none other than Anna.

    “You ditched me earlier,” she said with her usual chilly voice and loomed over her unwilling fiancée.

    “Maybe because I don’t want to be around you,” shot back the Asakura without hesitation and returned his fellow blonde’s glare.

    “We have to go to the school tonight,” Anna announced after half a minute or so, obviously not caring about her better half’s not-so-subtle hints.

    “You’re crazier than I thought!” shouted Hana and stood up so he could be able to glare at her easily. The kids nearby stared at him with curiosity- he didn’t seem to care.

    “Is that your way of addressing your future wife? You’re more of a pig than I thought,” replied the tan girl without even the slightest change in her tone. “I want to investigate and I want to see whether you really are so useless, so we are going tonight.”

    “Like hell we are!” barked back Hana and plopped down on the bench with frustration. “Get out of here already!”

    The young Asakura tore off his orange headphones from the girl’s grip and proceeded to put them back on, hell-bent on finally getting some sleep and ignoring the annoying girl until she was finally gone. Alas, the first thing he felt after closing his eyes was a whole Universe of pain erupting from somewhere in the back of his skull and the upbeat tune of Soul Bob’s song was interrupted by something that suspiciously sounded like little kids screaming.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2009
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    Chapter 5:
    A Midspring Night’s Nightmare



    The pain was like a second heartbeat.

    Constantly throbbing, it was also the only thing that actually showed him that he was still alive. Or wasn’t. Hana hadn’t spent much, if any, time dwelling on what it was to be dead. It was a rather morbid topic that he had understandably ignored, having no desire on spending the rest of his life worrying what would happen to his soul when his body finally ceased functioning. But, in a bout of optimism, the young Asakura chose to accept the irritating pulses of pain coming from the back of his head as a sign he still had a body to feel the pain with, ergo he was still alive. Blackness was all that surrounded him and all he could hear were jumbled noises, way too quiet and distant for him to discern them. Hana, no matter how hard the wild-haired boy tried, found no way of making his stiffened body obey any commands. Only his nose, choosing the moment as appropriate to prove itself as as important as the rest of his senses, managed to pick up some kind of a smell. The closest thing Hana could think of was wild flowers- maybe his mother had worked with that kind when doing ikebana or maybe he attributed the smell to such because he found no other way of giving the aroma an image in his mind.

    Either way, Hana deemed the faint scent a better thing to focus on than the regular bouts of pain, so the Asakura’s nose eagerly kept on sniffing and proving its importance in something else than deeming food edible. Not long after, the blond’s skin seemed to also remember it had something to do with sensing things. A chilly sensation washed over Hana, making him wonder if he was stranded in some open area. Maybe he was still on that park bench? Recalling where he had been before all Hell had broken loose inside his head turned out to be the trigger. Hana sourly remembered who it was that had put him into such a miserable state and, with familiar anger swelling up inside him, the young Asakura quickly put all his pent-up frustration into getting the rest of his body functioning. His fluttering eyelids, as heavy as lead to the young man, opened slowly but no sun blinded them. Instead, he was welcomed by another kind of darkness, softer than the previous one, through which he quickly discerned the shapes of desks and chairs. The cool wind was making the white curtains flutter in a way not unlike that of the classical ghost, giving off an eerie feeling about the seemingly empty classrooms.

    “Took you long enough to wake up.”

    Hana had no trouble recognizing the icy voice. Jerking his head around and shooting a death glare towards the only other resident of the classroom, Hana voiced his opinion on the current situation quite loudly.

    “Are you ****ing insane?! WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO KNOCK ME UNCOSNCIOUS AND DRAG ME HERE?!”

    Anna uncrossed her legs and arms and, standing up from the nearby chair she had been sitting on, casually walked to the still leaning on the wall Hana. Leaning to the same eye level as her fiancée, the tan blonde smacked him up the head in response.

    “Keep it quiet, you! He’s going to find us sooner than we want to at this rate!”

    “I DON’T-“

    The Asakura’s angry shouts were cut short as his unwanted future wife put a firm hand to his mouth and pinned him to the wall. As Hana’s hazel eyes disobediently stared down the girl’s black ones, the same scent of wild flowers filled the boy’s nostrils. For the briefest of seconds the image of Anna kneeling next to him while he had been knocked out and showing some kind of concern crossed his mind but he quickly banished it. Chances were, she had been contemplating whether to strangle him in his sleep.

    “I told you already, shut it,” angrily whispered Anna and threw a side glance at the door. “I think I sensed him wandering near here not too long ago. I don’t want us facing him just yet.”

    Him!?” spat Hana after breaking off the girl’s grip. “You know what I think? You’re probably the schizophrenic psycho who killed that Touma guy last night. Do you even listen to yourself when you talk?”

    An eerie silence descended around the teenage duo as Anna just kept on staring at the panting in anger Hana with her cold empty eyes. For a minute or so, not one of them dared do anything, both waiting for some reaction from the other. In the end, Hana turned on his heel with an irritated grumble and slid the door open with a loud thud.

    “I’m going home. You stay here chasing fairy tales if that’s what you want so much.”

    “Fair enough. Head back to the inn.”

    The ice queen actually agreeing with the young Asakura on something made the wild-haired blond freeze on his tracks. Hana glanced back with an eyebrow raised in curiosity, only to have a wooden sword shoved into his hands.

    “Trust me, you’re going to need it,” explained Anna and picked up a bokkuto of her own from the nearby desk. “I got them from the gym when I dragged you in here. He’s not going to let us go just like that. You’ll see.”

    “Yeah, right,” scoffed the Asakura but kept on clutching the blunt weapon nonetheless. Anna followed soon after as the young man headed down the corridor, towards the staircase leading to his escape of the mad situation.

    One would have said that there was surely something ghastly and creepy in the dark corridors of the school, lit only by the gentle moonlight and with only the steps of the mismatched duo echoing inside them. Hana however, was much too frustrated to take any notice of his surroundings, save for the steps he was going down and the clutter of Anna’s shoes behind him. And so, the duo just kept on marching through the empty school, with no signs of any paranormal, or otherwise abnormal, activity whatsoever. But then again, all good things always are bound to come to an end.

    “Are you humans really so foolish… that you are unable to understand even the clearest of orders?”

    Midway through one of the school’s longer corridors, Hana froze in his tracks upon hearing the unearthly voice. There was something wrong with it for sure- it was like two persons talking in full synchronicity, but one of them having the hoarest of voices or something like that. The Asakura wanted to chalk it up as Anna playing some dumb trick on him but knowing her all too well for the short time since he had met her, Hana knew that it was certainly not his fellow blonde’s doing. The young man clutched the training sword tightly and turned around to check up on his companion. For the briefest of seconds he saw her pale face under the moonlight- as dispassionate as ever and showing no trace of concern. And then he had her palm shoved into his face as she harshly and suddenly pushed him a good few meters away with surprising strength.

    The sound of shattered glass invaded his senses and his eyes widened upon seeing the silhouette of another person that had suddenly appeared between him and Anna- right where he had been a mere second ago. The newcomer had jammed a wooden sword of his own into the wall, right at the head-level of Hana, with enough force to spread a web of cracks on the surface. The assailant glared at the two teenagers and the young Asakura gulped when the newcomer’s death glare was turned towards him. The bright crimson eyes, squinted in hatred, threatened to consume him whole and the Cheshire smile spread across the attacker’s face, from one ear to another, didn’t make Hana feel any better either. His sharp pointy teeth glistened under the moonlight with an eerie glow. The web of dark veins was clearly visible through the ashen skin of the attacker and from what Hana could gather with the available lighting, patches of the newcomer’s hair were a bright white contrasting with the rest of it, which was dull brown.

    “Tsk,” hissed the young man who Hana remembered seeing around campus not that long ago- heck, he had passed the boy by just the previous day. And back then, it had certainly being a normal human, not this… ghoul or demon or whatever it was. Said abnormality continued speaking. “It would have been nice and quick. I guess I am forced to resort to a… messier method now, no?”

    Hana didn’t have any time to react as a lightning-fast kick made contact with his stomach, only to be followed by a single strike of the bokkuto that sent the Asakura flying down the corridor. The ghoul licked his cracked blue lips with a tongue Hana would have deemed too long for that of a normal human, if he had not cared more for his survival given the situation.

    “You have a sword as well, idiot! Use it for goodness’s sake!” Anna sternly ordered from her position, in which she had remained like glued despite the increasingly weirder and quite troubling turn of events. Hana, to his surprise, noted that he was still clutching the training weapon- he had probably been too shocked by the two hits to even drop it in the hassle. The pale-skinned demon looked with sick interest over his shoulder and sized up the foreign girl with his crimson eyes.

    Mere seconds later, the sword in the demon’s hands had lunged towards the girl, only to be evaded with the utmost simplicity. The attacker’s face showed a hint of surprise but he just swirled around for another go, only for his attempt at crushing some part of Anna’s body to end once again in failure as she gracefully dodged the oncoming blow. A third strike and a block by Anna’s own sword later, followed by one way too complicated maneuver for Hana to even comprehend, the ghoul found himself being forced to face the young Asakura once again.

    “So that’s how it is? The girlie wants me to finish off her man before I turn my precious attention to her?” he said and hungrily licked his lips once again.”Fair enough. Although from what I’ve seen so far, that’s not much of a man. The girl fights better than you, worm. You are a disgrace to your family- you would have been disowned and banished years ago if we were in my time! Back then worms such as you were not allowed to live on the face of Earth.”

    Hana was still too shocked to even utter something, much less form a fully comprehensible answer. However, the demon didn’t wait for a response and just swiftly shot towards him with inhuman speed. By some miracle, the young Asakura managed to block the hit with his own sword but the very force of the blow made him stagger and left him vulnerable for the second attack, which sent him back on the hard floor tiles. The ghoul humored his opponent, waited for Hana to get back on his wobbling feet, and just stared at his prey with a maniacal grin and bokkuto slouched casually across his leg. Hana had no illusions of actually standing any chance. By that moment the young Asakura was fairly sure that his opponent most certainly wasn’t any ordinary human- not to forget that said opponent obviously had a lot of experience with handling a sword, while Hana’s habit of ditching classes, kendo practice included, meant the young man knew only the most basic of stances. Maybe for the first time in his relatively short life, the Asakura regretted not paying attention to his teachers- especially the kendo instructor. Hana had been nearly forced by his mother to enroll in the club- apparently his father had even been captain in his own time. Like all things concerning his father, Hana had chosen to neglect it and it was painfully obvious that it had been the gravest of mistakes.

    “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the ghoul clicked with his abnormally-long tongue for some time before finally laughing out loud. “Oh my, you really are that useless, worm, aren’t you? You’re like all the rest of them! Filthy human bastards, leaving the Earth to decay as you care only for your selfish meaningless existence. You drove all the others away, not even caring in the slightest to leave alone those who had passed away. No, you just had to desecrate their resting places, force them to go mad, to scatter and flee and haunt forever in search of nothing! But why am I even surprised? After all, you have all fallen so far, you can’t even see us anymore.”

    “I can,” Anna announced as coolly as ever, once again not bothering to do anything and just observing the strange scene in front of her. The girl’s surprising abilities had not gone unnoticed by the Asakura- Hana now knew all too well that Anna was quite well-versed with the sword. But why did she refuse to help him, even when it was that easy to see the ghoul was out to kill them both for real eluded the boy. Sure, the ice queen certainly liked seeing others, Hana in particular, squirm but to let them get killed and just watch was way too cruel even fo-

    A curse escaped Hana’s lips as he remembered one of the girl’s last words before knocking him out. So that’s how she wanted to see whether he was ‘that pathetic’- she intended to have him duke it out with… whatever that thing was. Said thing paid no heed to the young Asakura as the ghoul was busy once again sizing up Anna.

    “So you can see me then? Interesting. You know what? I will let you leave, girlie. The worm, I will kill. But you, you I will just cripple for life. How does this sound, hmm?”

    “It doesn’t sound like a good deal to me,” Anna replied without even the slightest hint of fear in her voice. In fact, the tan girl just leaned casually onto the wall and sent a challenging look towards the demon.

    Looking back, what Hana did back then was most certainly the dumbest thing in his life. Letting out an angry shout and trying to harness all his pent-up rage, the Asakura used the opportunity that the ghoul was facing Anna and lunged forward with sword raised high. Alas, before he could even prepare to swing his blunt blade, the demon sent yet another painful kick right into Hana’s gut, without even having to face the boy.

    “You do not shout when you do surprise attacks, worm,” casually informed him the demon, foot still firmly planted into the boy’s stomach. A second later Hana’s unearthly foe finally turned around, ramming the bokkuto’s handle into the boy’s skull with full force and sending him crashing into the wall.

    The hit from earlier that day, the one that had knocked him out, felt like an ant’s bite compared to what the Asakura was feeling now. It was like his head had been split open and then salt had been poured into his gaping skull. The pain overcame every single one of his senses. All he could think, feel, see and even smell- everything caused him enough pain to make him wish the hit had knocked him out upon contact. Clutching his head in pain, the young man staggered forward, only to bump straight into his opponent and then fall flat on his back. The ghoul loomed over his helpless pray and, if it was even possible, his Cheshire grin grew wider. He chuckled ominously and the crimson eyes gave the squirming boy a mockingly apologetic look.

    “Well, I guess this is it worm. So pathetic, failing so spectacularly right in front of the girl, knowing that she is next after I am finished with your sorry self. Tsk, just like all other humans. Pathetic!”

    Hana didn’t know what caused it- whether it was the ghoul reminding him of Anna’s disappointment by spamming ‘pathetic’ over and over again or the pain had just blinded the Asakura enough that it had unlocked some primal fury inside him. All that he knew was that, almost on instinct, his left foot found its way crashing right into the demon’s shocked face, connecting with enough force to send him flying into the opposite wall. Alas, Hana’s triumph was short lived. Furious that his prey had managed to actually fight back, he had Hana pinned down once again before the boy had even managed to get up. The phantom foe raised his wooden sword high above his head and sent one last glare towards the dizzy wild-haired boy sprawled on the cold floor. Hana’s hazel eyes darted towards Anna, but the girl remained unmoving even as sure death approached her fiancée. The young Asakura didn’t even try struggling- his body had practically shut down completely after his foolish stunt. Needles to say, the prospect of dying before even reaching his eighteenth birthday wasn’t appealing to Hana. At all.

    “Pleasant dreams, worm. Now, would you please… die!”

    Hana wanted to shut his eyes, he really did. But all the wild-haired blond could do was watch hopelessly as the blunt sword descended down, promising a painful and messy death to the teenager. For the briefest of seconds, the young Asakura thought that he had seen Anna moving in his peripheral vision. But even if the tan girl had intended to do anything, all hell broke loose before the bokkuto had even reached the halfway point of its deadly journey. Assaulted by some invisible force, the ghoul let out a roar of pain as something caused him to arch his body at such an angle, Hana was surprised he had not snapped in two right then and there. Instead, the Asakura’s foe was swept off his feet and sent flying down the corridor, eventually skidding to a halt quite a few meters away.

    “I guess my hunch was right. I didn’t expect you to be here tonight, though.”

    Anna’s words brought Hana back into reality. His hazel eyes darted towards whoever she was talking to, straining to recognize his savior hidden in the dark far side of the corridor. Alas, all the young Asakura could see was a blurred silhouette- the rest of his senses were still too busy with the pain to help out in guessing the identity of the newcomer.

    “You put me to shame. I had no idea you were one, too. But this is not the time for pleasantries. Retreat is the best option now.”

    Hana ignored his fiancée’s stern ‘we aren’t running’ and instead chose to focus on the voice of the newcomer. Indeed, taking in mind the tone, manner of speaking and the fact that the silhouette clearly had long hair was proof enough that Hana’s savior was none other than Sato Arada. And, the blond had to admit, that was the last person on the whole Earth he would have thought capable of saving anything, anywhere, at all. But there he was, a dozen or so meters away from the Asakura and clearly being the one that had somehow, through some incomprehensible for Hana’s mind means, made the ghoul fly down half the distance of the corridor. Arada had the sleeve of his right hand rolled up and there was something strapped on said extended hand, that much Hana could discern. Alas, the darkness hid any other clues as to what the Sato’s mysterious weapon really was. And how, for Kami-sama’s sake, he had managed to hit so hard and from such a distance.

    “And what is this? Something that is certainly more fun than this worm here. Come on, boy, you at least look like a promising opponent. How long will you last?

    In all the commotion, Hana had somehow forgotten who the cause of the current problem was. Truth to be told, even the Asakura himself didn’t know how it was possible to forget about the… thing that had been moments away from making his head into fine paste. There had been a moment of hope at first- a moment in which the blond had believed his opponent to be dead, put down for good. Alas, aside from a few glaring bruises on his ashen skin, the ghoul looked no worse for the wear. He slowly got back on his feet and sent a challenging glare towards Arada, grinning his mad tooth-filled grin all the while. The Sato remained on his spot, unflinching.

    “Asakura-kun, when the right moment comes, we run towards-“

    “I told you already, we are not giving up!” cut him off Anna, almost with a hiss, but the long-haired teen completely ignored his peer.

    “-We run towards the north exit. Drag her along if you have to, but she has to come with us, too.”

    While completely confounded by his classmate’s words, uncharacteristically stern yet somehow as polite as ever, Hana somehow managed to nod slowly from his place on the ground. Arada replied with a curt nod of his own, not taking his eyes off his opponent. The ghoul apparently didn’t like being ignored, if one was to judge by his sudden outburst.

    “Did you even hear me, whelp? I praise you and you choose to run off, tail between your legs like some coward?! What, do you think I will let you escape just like that?! I am a demon, boy, I have the blood of the hundreds I have slain on my hands. One whelp such as you will not be enough to stop me. Now, would you please… die!”

    The self-proclaimed demon lunged towards his new opponent with such speed that he covered half the distance in the blink of an eye. Hana mentally cringed upon realizing that the ghoul had gone so easy on him, it wasn’t even enough to be called ‘playing with’. But more important thoughts, such as whether the Sato was going to survive for more than a few seconds, filled the Asakura’s mind. The doubts about his own survival followed soon after.

    “Shadow Needle!”

    The blonde’s hazel eyes widened as, right before him, the ghoul was stopped dead on his tracks. Something invisible, at least to Hana, had attacked him once again. A deep gash opened on the attacker’s shoulder, followed not long after by a similar wound right above the knee and then another one at his side. Blood gushed out of the wounds but the demon seemingly ignored his injuries, somehow managing to dodge another attack or two as the floor tiles beneath him erupted in dozens of tiny pieces, as if a hammer with the speed of a bullet had rammed into them. Alas, the ghoul’s luck was cut short- another hit made contact with his now-battered body, opening a deep wound on his chest and once more sending him flying back.

    Hana appropriately deemed the moment a right one. Finding strength he didn’t know he had in his bruised and battered body, the young Asakura sprang back on his feet and followed his classmate’s instructions. Anna didn’t refuse to follow, just scoffed and shot an icy death glare towards both boys as they sped in the opposite direction of their mysterious assailant. The spiky-haired blond had never realized how big the school really was- now it felt like he was trying to make his way through a never-ending labyrinth. There was always another corridor behind the corner, yet another staircase after going down the previous one. His burning lungs screamed for air but the young man paid them no heed and just urged his tired legs to keep on sprinting, knowing all too well that his life depended on it. Then, finally, the mismatched trio burst through one last door and found themselves under the starry night sky.

    ***
    Looking back, Hana wasn’t even sure how they had gotten to the strange destination Arada had appointed. In the dead of the night, through main and back streets alike, the trio had made an almost surreal track through the whole of Saitama. Or at least that was how it seemed to the young Asakura- all he remembered were the blurred lights of the vehicles speeding by and the sound of their own clattering steps in the darkness. Truth to be told, he didn’t even know why he had followed the Sato- one minute he had been fully intending to make the maddest dash back towards the inn and make sure he and the BoZ had every single door and window covered with thick planks. Then the other he was marching, or more like semi-running, after Arada, with a very disgruntled Anna following in tow. The blond wasn’t sure whether five or fifty minutes had passed, but in the end the mismatched trio finally arrived at the place the Sato had insisted so much on visiting.

    An abandoned arcade. Or so it seemed.

    Hana had never thought of himself as a coward- in fact, even at that moment he knew he wasn’t more easily scared than the perfectly normal average male. Indeed, the young Asakura was pretty sure that after experiencing an ‘adventure’ like the earlier one that night, any normal human being would have been reluctant to follow Arada into the old, creepy, abandoned building that seemed ready to fall apart right atop their heads. So, it naturally stung when Anna just marched in right after the Sato, looking positively more annoyed than scared in any way. Slumping his shoulders and muttering something that sounded suspiciously like ‘good grief’ under his breath, the blond decided to suck it up and just followed his peers deep into the lightless corridors of the long-forgotten by the general public arcade.

    The place was a hundred-percent utter dump. Old neon lights ominously hung from the ceiling, which itself was more akin to a brand of Swiss cheese than anything else. The dusty floor was so creaky, Hana thought he would go deaf, if some unfortunate fall through the literally wobbling planks didn’t sent him plummeting to his death earlier. Mice scurried away from the trio of invaders, hastily hiding deeper into the darkness, behind broken snack machines and arcade games alike. Hana noticed a few stray bowling balls lying around here and there, noting with suspicion how cleaner they actually looked in comparison to the rest of the place. And for some reason, half of the bowling alleys looked like they had been used recently, too.

    “Well, here we are,” suddenly announced Arada and motioned to his companions to stop. A single door, Hana was surprised it was still even attached to its hinges, stood before them. The Sato half-turned to his classmates and searched for their eyes in the darkness. “Now, he may come off as a tad strange at first but he can really help, I assure you. He is a sort of an expert in the area, trust me.”

    Anna’s glare basically summed up what Hana was thinking. Well, the difference that his thoughts were more along the lines of ‘darn it, he’s probably setting us up’ and that Anna’s look screamed ‘set us up and I’ll force feed you your own intestines’ aside. Either way, the young Asakura was quite disturbed that, of all possible people in the world, Sato Arada wanted them to meet with some unknown strange man living in an abandoned arcade spot. Saving Hana’s life or not, the Sato had never being one that the male population of school completely trusted. And even putting aside Arada’s manners, who were rather… off for a guy and the fact that every male in school was a bit jealous about the female attention Arada got on a daily basis, the long-haired teenager had clearly showed he was able to smack aside paranormal beings like puppets earlier that night.

    But, for all the thought that Hana actually put in the matter, the Sato just beamed his usual smile and opened the door without hesitation. Expecting to see something explicitly strange, the blond was somewhat taken aback by seeing nothing more alien than the rest of the building. It had been probably the manager’s office- there were old cupboards here and there and an old, three-legged desk was positioned in the center. With his overly-long legs, like ones of a basketball player, atop the aforementioned piece of furniture’s surface was a man seemingly in his mid-thirties.

    Now, what was really strange, weirder than the sense of Déjŕ vu humans experienced in their lives, more mysterious than the secret of Atlantis, positively more confounding than the Anthropic principle, certainly odder than Indian gurus supposedly reaching their three-hundreds and otherwise out-bizzaring anything extraordinaire on Earth that existed, had ever existed and was about to exist, was the man’s hair.

    A foot long pompadour, sticking out of the man’s forehead like the nose of an aircraft carrier and slicing in two the darkness by illuminating it with its greasy glow, probably because maintaining such a hairdo required more hair gel than oiling up a whole battalion of tractors, excavators, harvesters and other kinds of such machinery. And that was without counting the fact that said hairdo, which would have made Elvis himself weep tears of blood just to have it on his head for a single day, was actually layered, making it seem that it was almost shaped like a drill. All in all, the mysterious man’s choice of hairstyle certainly ranked up in the Top three of the most astounding things Hana had ever been witness to- an amazing fact considering the impossible things Hana had seen just that night.

    “My, my, Ara-kun! If you had told me you were going to come over with a bunch of guests tonight I would have made sure to clean up a bit,” said the man and let out a hearty laugh. For some strange reason, he had a pair of tacky sunglasses on, even with the darkness covering everything around him. Plus, Hana was somewhat disappointed that it was him speaking and not his hair. “And why are you here at all in such an hour? Not that I mind guests- it gets lonely here after a while. But why the change- you always come here alone. And now you have brought me over such a cute girl to chat with!”

    From what Hana could tell in the darkness, Anna’s glare screamed ‘move your finger and you get castrated with a blunt rusty knife’. Their bizarre host certainly was very well-built, judging by how his simple T-shirt stood on him, but the young Asakura was pretty sure he’d place his bets on Anna if push came to shove. As if afraid by any misunderstandings and violent bloodshed on Anna’s part happening, Arada made sure to steer the conversation into a safer territory.

    “Well, I fear we have a bit of a situation on our hands, Eki-san,” said the Sato and Hana couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something grim in his voice. “A vengeful spirit has appeared at my school. I know it’s no surprise, considering the location, but this one is different. He is… stronger, way stronger than the rest and he has managed to possess a fellow student of mine. Who, I fear… is already dead. I saw him and by the looks of it, the body is already starting to decay. And I’m sure that you have heard already but the spirit has managed to murder in cold blood another boy and scar a girl in… more ways than one. And he doesn’t seem keen on stopping. I can defeat him but as for making sure he ascends-“

    “Scar the girl how?” cut him off ‘Eki-san’ whilst twirling his pointy goatee with an abnormally long finger. Despite the seemingly casual tone, Hana didn’t fail to notice a serious undertone to the man’s voice- or maybe he was just imagining things. “Rape, maiming, kill slowly the other one in front of her eyes?”

    “Well, from what I managed to gather, there was no sexual assault,” replied Arada and prepared to continue his seemingly rehearsed report. “There are going to be emotional scars for sure but no, she has not seen him actually doing the killing, she had been unconscious at that time. The spirit, well… he carved her back. With one word. ‘Leave’.”

    “Really? And where those two feature in all this?” questioned the man and pointed at Hana and his unwanted fiancée with curiosity. The Sato replied as quickly as usual.

    “They are my classmates and they were both in school tonight- obviously trying to ambush the spirit as well. But from what I’ve seen so far, I have no idea why Asakura-kun was there. His reaction clearly shows that he has not seen a single spirit in his life so far. He still cannot- technically, all he saw was the body moving. On the other hand-“

    “Stop it right there, Sato,” icily interjected Anna and shot yet another glare towards her peer. “I’ve no intention to share my name with some weird old guy who goes by some stupid nickname, lives in a dump and gets a kick out of young women visiting his… home.”

    While remaining seemingly unfazed during the blonde’s whole little speech, Hana was fairly sure he saw Eki-san cringe at being called old. The man finally obliged to stand up and made a show of flexing his fingers before answering.

    “Well, Tsundere-chan, here’re some answers to all your questions.”

    “I didn’t ask anything. And what’s with giving me a nickname, you perverted old geezer?!”

    “Sheesh, I’ve to call you something, right? That seems appropriate. Now shut up and listen closely! First of all, I am not old- you kids nowadays just dub old anyone above twenty! Second, this here is only a temporary accommodation chosen for nostalgia purposes. Third, my field of work requires a certain amount of anonymity and fourth, do you even know what a joke is?”

    “You did try hitting on me when we first met,” added with an almost sing-song voice Arada.

    “It was dark for goodness’s sake! It’s an easy mistake considering your hair!” cried out the man in defense and pointed an accusing finger at the Sato.

    “Still, regardless of my gender, I am underage,” replied Arada with his usual robotic smile.

    “Gah! You’re… err, you’re tall for your age, dammit!”

    Anna made a show of cracking her knuckles. Despite the complete absurdity of the situation, the young Asakura found himself snickering at the sight of a two-meters-tall grown man fidgeting under the glare of a teenage girl.

    “Stupid insinuations aside,” said Eki-san and forcedly cleared his throat “let’s see what we have here.”

    The man walked over to one of the clattering cupboards and his upper half quickly disappeared into its dusty depths. Half a minute later, he emerged with a vicious sneeze and with an old worn-out book in hand. Upon being opened said book produced a fair amount of dust particles of utmost quality, but Eki-san chose to ignore them and get right to finding whatever information he needed.

    “Listen up now! Yada-yada in the time of emperor blah-blah-blah some more needless info… and here it is! A list of the ones buried in the graveyard on which your school is built on! The full list, all the way until it was shut down. Although, truth to be told, the guy you’re looking for should be one of the first on the list. He has to be quite ancient to be strong enough to get Ara-kun’s attention. If my deductions are correct- and they always are- we are looking for someone who has been a warrior when he had been alive, probably some elite soldier or something. He obviously follows some sort of a twisted code- leaving cryptic messages on a little girl’s skin but being ‘gentlemanly’ enough not to violate her and all that. But! For the first four hundred years of being used, the graveyard was one for the commoners- only traitors and such were buried there if they had been of higher status before being put down for good. So that narrows the list down to one man going by the name of-“

    The man’s long finger came to an abrupt halt as it descended down the list of names in the old book and, despite the glasses hiding the majority of Eki-san’s facial expression, Hana didn’t fail to notice the slight pursing of his host’s lips.

    “Tell us who it is already, you old geezer!” abruptly cut him off Anna. The man cringed at being called old again. But nonetheless, as it was seemingly always the case with Anna ordering something, he obeyed.

    “Amidamaru.”

    “Amidawho again?” blurted out Hana, still torn between actually believing in all the nonsense about spirits those three were blabbering about and hightailing it out of there and migrating to some foreign country. Maybe it was just his imagination, but the young Asakura was fairly sure that he had heard a distinct hiss from somewhere behind him at the mentioning of the vengeful spirit’s name. The blond threw a hasty look over his shoulder but all he saw was just the old creaky door and nothing else.

    “Amidamaru! Don’t you kids know anything nowadays?” replied with a scoff Eki-san and muttered something about the ‘uneducated youngsters these days’. “He’s like a local legend or something! A war orphan, relying only on his skills and sharp wit, he rose to the position of the best samurai the local daimyo had the honor of commanding. But then Amidamaru got way too prideful and refused to obey his lord anymore. Understandably, the daimyo sent his soldiers after the rogue samurai. Not any soldiers- his best ones. And a ton of ‘em. Legend has it that Amidamaru faced off against all of them, right at that hill where your school is, and killed every single one before dying from his wounds. The feat earned him the nickname ‘The Demon’. But we all know how history books are, don’t we? The guy’s understandably pissed after his ‘home’ has been turned into a screaming lair of bratty hormone-driven meddlers. Most of the spirits had apparently just chosen to pack up and leave but this one, this one is way too proud to do it. And he has six hundred years of pent-up rage to unleash. Those kinds of spirits get twisted with time, they just get… wrong. Even if he had been a good guy when he had been alive, he is ‘The Demon’ now. And you’ve to find a way to get through him if you want him to ascend.”

    “He did seem to favor the sword,” nodded in agreement Arada. “But how do I get him to return to his old self?”

    “First of all, learn more about him,” shrugged Eki-san and plopped back onto his creaky chair. “Find what may have been the turning event in his life that made him go all evil and stuff after lingering on as a spirit. Maybe the daimyo had tried to take his wife for himself, I don’t know. Important thing is, you have to find a way to remind him that he is Amidamaru the Samurai, not Amidamaru the Demon. But I don’t know why we are even having this conversation when she was with you when you confronted him.”

    “What are you impl-“

    “She has an Itaku necklace, Ara-kun,” pointed out the trio’s buff host and with no small amount of glee pointed at the bead necklace around the girl’s slim neck. Hana guessed that Eki-san was ecstatic at being able to take a jab at the girl, taking in mind that Anna looked very disturbed at someone discovering her secret. Whatever that secret meant anyway- to Hana the dramatic meaning of the word ‘Itaku’ was lost. His face must have showed that because Eki-san quickly delved into another string of explanations.

    “Itaku is a special kind of shaman- the Itaku focuses on communicating with any spirit, anywhere, at any time. They can exorcise, banish, summon and so on and so forth any kind of spirit. Why would-“

    “Because he can’t see!”

    Even Arada raised a questioning eyebrow at the sudden show of emotion by the usually emotionless girl. It wasn’t a shout of any kind, she didn’t even raise her voice- but nonetheless, that was the first time Hana had heard his unwanted fiancée speak without that signature tinge of ice in her voice. Anna hastily repeated her words a second later, quieter this time but the cool tone once again reigning supreme. The blonde clearly didn’t want any one of them to question her ‘outburst’, that much was obvious from her renewed death glare.

    “You… you do realize that this is probably going to kill him?” questioned the pompadour-sporting man with a more serious voice- apparently he had deduced something about Anna’s plan that Hana couldn’t even begin to comprehend. And the him getting killed part certainly wasn’t to the Asakura’s liking in the least. Hana felt renewed rage stir up inside him at no one actually asking about his opinion on the matter.

    “Why try helping the psycho at all? Can’t you just chant something and make him disappear?”

    “That’s not the point,” said Arada before Anna or their tall host could answer. “A shaman is the link between this world and the next. His or her job is to make sure spirits don’t do anything troublesome here and that they are able to ascend to, well, the next world. If I were to just beat the body until he just could not survive in it, he would have just left and searched for another host. Your fiancée has the power to make him ascend but she obviously has her own reasons for not doing it.”

    Before Hana could object to all that nonsense and demand a clear, scientific explanation for all that had happened to him so far that night, he suddenly found himself being dragged out of the lightless room. Anna had a firm grip on his wrist and apparently had decided that the conversation had ended when she had heard all she wanted to know. Or maybe she had just gotten bored- Hana could never guess exactly what was going on in that blonde head of hers.

    “Hey, Tsundere-chan!”

    Anna froze on her place and for a brief second the young Asakura was sure she would go back to deliver some sort of cruel and unusual punishment to the strange man. To his surprise, the ice queen just turned around to give a questioning, yet stern look to their host.

    “I’d try the local museum if I were you.”

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  6. #6
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    Jul 2009
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    Chapter 6:
    The Rain That Falls In Spring



    “Here! Happy now or do I have to break a few more laws to satisfy you?”

    The girl completely ignored her peer’s attempt at a biting remark. Instead, her slim fingers quickly snatched the prolonged ancient object from the boy’s arms with force one wouldn’t attribute to a female her age. And so, the glare of Hana’s hazel eyes went by completely unnoticed as his unwanted fiancée almost giddily ran her fingers through the length of the ancient katana- from the tip of the scabbard to the very end of the handle, Anna’s fingers gently caressed the smooth surface, as if the blonde was stroking not a deadly weapon, but a fluffy newly-born kitten. While knowing her for only a scant few days, Hana had surprisingly found himself quite able to see the true face behind the usually emotionless and bored girl’s mask. The peculiar glint with which her black eyes shone at that moment most certainly didn’t appeal to Hana- the fact that his peer directed an almost love-struck look towards a bladed weapon made for killing understandably made him fight the instinctive urge to gulp audibly. But, alas, those weren’t the only conflicting feelings that chose to arise in the young Asakura’s mind as he realized he had been observing the girl quite carefully for some time now.

    Hana shook his head in a frustrated attempt to banish those thoughts from his mind but only succeeded in having his now damp blond hair partially obscure his vision. The young man let out an embarrassing sneeze, as if to drive the point home that he was drenched, and quickly took another glance at his ‘partner’, ready to fend off against any future insults to his person. However, instead of sending a glare at his direction and criticizing him as always, the girl chose to unsheathe the blade with an audible ‘shing’, which was clearly heard despite the never-ending rattle of the downpour outside. The recently polished blade shone with the reflection of the girl’s cold black eyes. Hana suddenly found the combination of the katana and Anna’s yellow tracksuit all the more appropriate.

    The young Asakura’s eyebrow rose questioningly upon noticing the similar damp state of the blonde’s twin braids- the image of Anna going out in the vicious rain to check on whether he was coming anytime soon flashed through Hana’s mind. But if she had done so in a rare case of actually caring for him or just out of irritation of him running late, the wild-haired boy couldn’t determine for the life of his. Forcedly averting his gaze from the raindrops still trickling down Anna’s tan skin, the young Asakura looked around with distrust. The empty school was even more creepily quiet than the previous night- the constant clatter of the downpour outside added to the already eerie atmosphere. The twilight that was reigning supreme inside the empty corridors, despite the Sun still technically being in the process of setting down, didn’t help alleviate the heavy feeling either. Hana mentally lashed out at the gloomy clouds that had chosen just that day- or was it already night- to obscure Sol’s parting rays.

    “It’s… beautiful. And to think it hasn’t even be bloodied yet.”

    Those particular words of Anna’s didn’t have a soothing effect on the young Asakura, too. After having being forced by the scary girl to break into the local museum to ‘borrow’ the sword as the quickest method of obtaining it, Hana hadn’t had time to actually stop and examine what he had ‘borrowed’ by breaking at least half a dozen laws the boy could think of. Unconsciously, he dusted off a few more pieces of broken glass from his white school dress shirt which he had the habit of wearing over a plain black undershirt even outside of school. Deciding to humor Anna, he threw a curious look at the deadly weapon in her hands. Sure, he could call it elegant- that much was a given for any custom sword of that era. But that aside, the katana was pretty plain looking- the protector just had a few artistic tweaks and the handle itself didn’t stand out with some grand design. The blade was like any other, at least to Hana. For his fellow blonde to find anything beautiful in it, Hana concluded, she must had been either a sucker for cold weapons or intimately familiar with the secrets of the bladed tools of war. Or both. Hana didn’t know which scared him more.

    “I guess you aren’t so pathetic after all,” announced Anna with a smirk after breaking out of her stupor just as suddenly as she had entered it. The blonde swiftly sheathed the katana and shoved it back in the hands of her partner in crime. “You’re going to use this tonight for sure. And better use it well- with my luck I’ll end up betrothed to an even bigger loser if you get mauled to death.”

    “Good grief,” irritatedly muttered Hana through clenched teeth and shot a glare at the girl. “Why don’t you just gut me here and now and be done with it?”

    “Why are you even here if all you do is ***** and moan?” bluntly shot back Anna and fixed the boy with her black eyes.

    “Hell if I know!” was all Hana could come up with after an awkward pause.

    “If that’s the case, you better get it together fast,” said Anna and picked up a bokkuto, which Hana noticed just now, off the nearby wall. “No one is going to save your hide tonight. This is the point of no return, got it? Sato came by earlier but I made him realize he is not to interfere tonight.”

    For some unknown to Hana reason, another feeling despite the joy at Anna chewing off Arada swelled up in his chest. Why would the Asakura care if the most desirable boy at his school had been completely alone with the fiancée Hana had never wanted was quite unfathomable to the boy.

    “Tsk, typical. You didn’t even think of covering your face when breaking the casing, didn’t you? Or did you burst in through the windows? Pathetic and stupid.”

    Hana hadn’t even noticed when Anna had come up to him and started removing the tiny glass fragments off the shallow cuts on his cheeks. In spite of finding the slight blush that covered his cheeks natural given the situation, for some reason the young Asakura got angrier than anything else at the girl inducing even more conflicting feelings in him.

    “Like you even care!” scoffed the wild-haired teen and stormed off deeper into the rapidly-darkening building. “Let’s just go and be done with it.”

    The trip through the empty corridors was much like the one from the previous night- the fact that Hana knew there was something lurking around and actually trying to find it and fight it for some stupid reason aside. Only Anna’s chilly voice, not unlike the biting cold of the rain outside, was heard over the clattering of their footsteps.

    “I guess the old geezer did have some uses after all. His tip for the museum ended up actually helping us. I doubt you can beat that Amidamaru even with a real sword, however good it is, but maybe if you put up a fight against him with the katana that was supposedly the source of the feud between him and the daimyo, he’ll remember. Or just get crazier- that’s a possibility, too.”

    “If you don’t even think I have a chance, why send me to a certain death?” asked Hana in a tone certainly too casual for one discussing his possible death. He sounded more tired than angry.

    “There’s still some hope that you’re not as pathetic as you look. And act. Oh, and I brought this just in case.”

    Hana looked with curiosity as the blonde unzipped her top and took out a small sword, more like a very big knife, shaded deep red and carved out of some kind of stone. The young Asakura’s eyes bulged out and he couldn’t help but shout:

    “The Futsuu no Mitama?! You stole the family heirloom that’s worth a couple of Third World countries?! The Antiquity is a national treasure woman, WHEN DID YOU EVEN STEAL IT?!”

    Anna promptly smacked the wild-haired teen up the head and shot yet another death glare at him.

    “I did not steal it. Tamao-san herself met up with me in Osorezan a few days before I came here to entrust it to me.”

    “So what now, Mom’s giving away ancient artifacts as engagement presents? And how will this help in this situation?” shot back Hana and waved his hands around to emphasize his point.

    His fellow blonde just fixed his hazel eyes with her bottomless black orbs in a clear attempt to show him she regarded his response as retarded. Another few dark corridors without a single soul in them-living or otherwise- later, Anna chose to speak up again. Hana found it strange how talkative the girl was that night- especially since she didn’t talk just to insult him. Well, at least not from the start.

    “The sword’s name is Harusame, you know,” she said and threw a side glance towards the sheathed weapon in Hana’s hand. The boy couldn’t miss the hint, given how Anna had chosen that moment to stare out of the windows they were passing by and at the spring rain outside.

    “I don’t believe in this superstitious crap.”

    “Funny, you insisted spirits aren’t real not that long ago, too. Then again, maybe I’m just surprised a pathetic weakling such as you doesn’t rely on luck and other pathetic hopes like that.”

    “Why don’t you at least find a synonym for the word? It’s going to lose its meaning soon with the rate you’re spamming it,” grumbled in reply the young Asakura.

    “No need to worry. I doubt there aren’t enough words to describe your total failure to prove yourself even remotely useful, despite all of your mediocre attempts.”

    Hana just chose to grumble some more and clench tightly the scabbard of the katana in a vain attempt to subdue his fury. For all the Asakura knew, he could lash out at Anna with the sword if she pushed him far enough. No, better bottle it up and unleash it on some unfortunate soul- preferably Tao Men- later.

    “Truth to be told, I am amazed at your lack of any survival instincts. And here I doubted no one can be that stupid as to try and willingly face me a second time.

    Hana couldn’t help but barely suppress an audible gulp. In spite of expecting it, some part of him- the lazy one that just wanted an uneventful life, had hoped that the events of the previous night had been some kind of a bad dream. Alas, the hoarse voice echoing around him was no figment of Hana’s imagination. Furrowing his eyebrows, the teen noticed that for some reason the raspy voice had become clearly dominating, the second one now nothing but background noise.

    “Ready to live the last moments of your life in pain, worm?”

    With a mad cackle, a shadowed figure dropped right in front of the startled Asakura, prompting him to take several shocked steps back. Anna just watched the scene unfold, seemingly without a care in the world. The ghoul flashed a disturbingly wide grin and rose to his full height- with what little light Hana had, he saw that the body had become even more corpse-like than the night before. There was an awful really distinct odor stemming from it and patches of the ashen skin had already started to peel off. The hair was now completely white and only the bottomless red eyes were as lively as ever, ready to swallow their victim at any given moment. What was left of the sprit’s host’s tattered school uniform were bloodstained rags that hung limply from the stiff body. Deep wounds from whatever the Sato had attacked him with the previous night were clearly visible to the naked eye. What scared Hana even more was the absence of blood pouring out of them- it was as if there wasn’t even a droplet of the red liquid of life left in the undead creature. Amidamaru seemed to enjoy the effect his appearance had on the teenage boy. Licking his dark blue lips, the former samurai almost casually pulled back the wooden sword in his stiffened hand before proceeding to strike a blow too fast for Hana to even notice. The young Asakura was sent flying several meters back before realizing he had actually been hit. From what Hana could remember, an ordinary hit by a bokkuto wasn’t supposed to do that much damage to you.

    Harusame ended up released from the wild-haired teen’s grip in mid-fall, falling on the cold hard tiles and sending a loud clatter echoing throughout the empty halls. The ancient sword, clearly visible under the moonlight stemming inside through the windows, piqued the interest of the former samurai. With crimson eyes fixed on the deadly weapon, Amidamaru positioned his wooden one across his shoulders and strolled towards his battle prize without a care in the world. The ghoul’s eyebrow rose questioningly as someone else’s hand got around the Harusame’s handle first. Hana sent a defying glare towards the undead samurai and hauled his battered body closer to the sword. Eventually, under the ghoul’s disturbingly cheerful look, the young Asakura managed to grasp the scabbard with his other hand- only for Amidamaru’s foot to come down crashing on top of it, breaking a finger or two in the process.

    “I have humored you long enough, worm. Now would you please remove your appendages from the katana or do I have to literally remove them for you?”

    The sickeningly polite question was accompanied by a gruesome crunching sound as the undead samurai grinded the scabbard with Hana’s broken fingers. The cry of pain silenced even the never-ending rattle of the rain outside but nothing changed- only Anna’s black eyes showed a brief glint of concern as she stoically observed from her end of the corridor. The ghoul just laughed out loud at the string of curses that escaped the Asakura’s mouth and raised his foot, most certainly with the intention to ram it into the teenager’s face.

    Running on adrenaline, and truth to be told- having had enough of this surreal nightmare that his life had turned into, the young Asakura bit back another cry of pain as he curled his broken fingers around the scabbard and unsheathed Harusame in one swift motion. With an animalistic roar, like that of a wounded lion, Hana struck the tip of the blade forward, homing it on the ghoul’s decaying face. A strange, unknown sensation washed around his body as the young Asakura saw, heard, felt the cold unforgiving steel tearing through the flesh and bones of his foe. Alas, only Amidamaru’s hand had ended up being run through with the ancient sword. True to his warrior nature, the undead samurai had swiftly countered the vain attempt at an attack with his bare hand, opting to have his rotten flesh pierced for the chance to get a grip on the katana’s handle.

    “Now, now, what did I tell you about sneak attacks the last time we met, worm?”

    The urge to vomit became almost irresistible as the undead samurai whispered into Hana’s ear, Amidamaru’s breadth of dead and decay filling the young Asakura’s nostrils and making even his hazel eyes water. A different kind of clatter filled the empty building as the ghoul threw away his bokkuto and reared back his fist.

    “Pleasant dreams, worm.”

    The crunch was so loud the wild-haired teen thought everyone in the vicinity must have heard it- but then he realized he probably was the only one perceiving it that way because of the pain that had erupted that very moment. The Asakura’s trembling hand confirmed that his nose had been viciously broken soon after. Amidamaru loomed above him, Harusame now cradled in his hands. The undead samurai observed the nearly spotless blade with professional curiosity but there was another, unknown glint evident in his crimson eyes as he ran a finger through the surface.

    “This… I know this sword. It is… it is Mosuke’s! This is Harusame! After six hundred long years it is mine at last. Just like… he had… promised?”

    With an irritated grunt, Amidamaru ran a hand through his bleach-white hair and clutched his head, seemingly in pain. The faint glimmer of hope that the spirit had actually remembered his true form was extinguished just as suddenly as it had flared up. The undead samurai just threw back his head and let out yet another mad cackle, good enough to make even trained mad scientists green with envy.

    “Why thank you, worm! This weapon happens to be very precious to me. I guess you are deserving of a clean death after all! Now as for the girl,” Amidamaru paused and threw a leer back at Anna, who just remained as still as ever and answered with a death glare of her own. “I did make a promise to her last night. I intend to keep it. Maybe if I nail her upside-down to the entrance and leave her screaming you filthy lot will finally get the clue that you are not wanted here.


    Hana could only watch, agape- it was difficult breathing through his nose now, as the undead samurai headed towards him and twirled the deadly katana in his hands. The young Asakura knew he was done for. Harusame had only ended up in Amidamaru’s hands, making things even worse. Anna- even if able to help- stubbornly refused to and the wild-haired teen himself knew he was no match for his foe. As his doom crept closer and closer, the heir to the once mighty Asakuras just observed his would-be killer with empty hazel eyes. The decaying body moved kind of stiffly- more like a marionette than a possessed body. Not that Hana had had any experience whatsoever with vengeful spirits up to that point- the teen eventually concluded that the body moving like a puppet on strings was natural as the host’s muscles and tendons gradually withered away.

    A hoarse chuckle escaped the teen’s lips upon realizing that he was going to spend the last minute of his life pondering on the details of a possessed body’s behavior. Not knowing what else to think of, his hazel eyes unconsciously searched for Anna but all they found was her darkened silhouette hidden behind the twilight filling the corridor. Amidamaru eventually obscured Hana’s vision, looming above him and raising Harusame high above his head.

    “Now, for the last time I plead you. Would you please die, worm?”

    The young Asakura didn’t know what took over him. Adrenaline, all the pent-up rage of seventeen years or maybe just a survival instinct refusing to go down, it didn’t matter to the boy. All he knew was that, with one last hoarse shout, he had lunged at his unprepared foe. Maybe it had been the fact that Hana was too close for the samurai to react or maybe going against a cornered human being with the body of someone roughly his size had played a bad trick on Amidamaru. Either way, the ghoul ended up being tackled through the whole length of the corridor by the roaring Asakura, who had found some unknown strength in his flight of rage. And then to the blond, accompanied by what he thought was the cry of a girl, the world seemed to turn upside down as the earsplitting noise of shattering glass washed over his senses. Denied his sure footing, the wild-haired teen was overcame by the sensation of something dragging him downwards, overshadowed only by the sudden chill running through his body as hundreds upon hundreds of raindrops shot towards him like bullets.

    And then came the pain.

    It was as if every single bone in his already battered body had shattered at the same time, leaving behind only sharp white particles that prepared to penetrate his internal organs. But upon realizing that, however painful it was, he was able to move, Hana came to the conclusion that he wasn’t in much worse shape than he had been a minute ago. Peeking through the curtain of his once again damp hair, the young man’s hazel eyes widened with horror upon seeing the stoic face of the ghoul centimeters away from his own. Even the cold never-ending barrage of the rain couldn’t wash away the stink of death emitted by the former samurai. Worst of all, it was then that Hana realized, things had been good when Amidamaru had had that mad serial killer grin on his face.

    The cry of pain never even left the young Asakura’s lips as his windpipe was nearly snapped in two in the matter of seconds. Still lying on the cold hard ground, Amidamaru lifted Hana up in the air with a single arm, at a full arm’s length no less. The samurai’s vice grip made all blood rush to the teen’s face and Amidamaru’s nails dug like talons into the boy’s neck, drawing out copious amounts of the crimson liquid. The ghoul’s emotionless gaze pierced Hana’s bulged out hazel orbs.

    “Wrong move, worm.”

    The samurai’s knee rammed into the Asakura’s stomach with enough force to keep him airborne for a few seconds before the teen was thrown away. Vicious coughs made it troublesome to stand up as the Asakura struggled to get back up on his wobbling legs. Alas, he only managed to push himself up on his knees, cringing when he used the arm with the broken fingers for support. A few painful coughs left his dried mouth and another thin stream of blood joined the one dripping from his broken nose. The distinct sound of metal scrapping against pavement behind him indicated that Amidamaru had picked up Harusame. The constant rain failed to mute the sound of the ghoul’s heavy footsteps as he advanced towards his helpless victim. Hana didn’t want to turn around. But he did it either way. His body was now seemingly running on its own and whatever it had in mind, Hana had no chance of knowing.

    The Asakura’s painful shriek resonated in the moist air as the tempered steel of the blade cut through the skin and flesh of his neck. It was only the pain at first- an overwhelming stinging sensation, as if it had been a sword made out of fire and not cold hard steel had slashed the boy’s neck. But eventually, the blood came gushing out, oozing through the Asakura’s trembling hands as he tried to stop the bleeding. Minutes passed and, eventually, Hana realized the cut had been too shallow to actually kill him. He could probably talk without problem if there was any air left in his burning lungs for it. All the while, Amidamaru just kept on dispassionately staring at the tip of Harusame’s blade, from which drops of Hana’s own blood dripped on the pavement, only to be washed away by the rain seconds later.

    “Do not count on it, worm. You will not get away that easily.”

    With a swift hard kick, the undead samurai sent the Asakura flying once more. Hana finally thought that he was in too much pain to even feel it anymore- if he hadn’t heard the distinctive cracking sound, he would have never even guessed his ribs had ended up breaking.

    “I really think that, worm. There is nothing more I want right now than to be able to slowly, really slowly rip the flesh out of your bones and then bury you alive in a casket full of salt. But you are more trouble than you are worth. I should have done this right after the girl saved your useless life last night.”

    Indeed, the pain had finally succeeded to completely detach Hana from the surrounding world. The young Asakura felt like it was all happening to someone else- the blond was just an onlooker, just emotionlessly observing as an acquaintance of his got mauled to death. Over and over again. But it meant nothing to him, not anymore. Even as the ghoul shot forward with lightning speed, leaping high into the air meters before reaching him, Hana was sure it was someone else’s problem. He just had to worry what he was going to tell his mother after coming back home in such a condition. Unconsciously, his thoughts flew towards the inn that he had always called his home and Hana found himself dwelling on mundane topics like what was he going to have for dinner. And what about dessert? Hopefully nothing with strawberries in it. Unlike the majority of the people he knew, he hated the rosy fruit with a passion for some unknown reason. Being allergic to them probably encouraged such thinking, too. The undead samurai positioned the blade of Harusame downwards and lunged towards his lonely prey.

    “Hana!”

    In truth, he didn’t register her words at first. She was just another useless addition to the picture, part of the life of some stranger who was about to die at any given second. Certainly whatever she had to yell about, a strange kind of shout that somehow tried masking the restlessness behind it with its stern tone, didn’t even matter now. The one she was shouting at was a goner anyway, why waste any effort?

    Anna. Shouting at him with a hidden tinge of actual concern in her voice.

    Victim and observer once again became one as Hana barely found strength to turn at the direction of her shout. A red blur tore apart the veil of the rain as it flew towards the Asakura, his limp hand catching it more on reflex than on purpose. The Antiquity felt warm in the teen’s hand, as if someone had been clutching it tightly all the while, making him almost forget the deadly threat lunging towards him from above. It was a split second decision, the chance of it working even smaller- he had no time to even shift the piece of sword-like rock horizontally.

    So he took one last gambit.

    Both his hands gripped firmly the Futsuu no Mitama and muscles and tendons tensed as the boy kept on pointing towards the crying heavens with the closest thing to a weapon he had. Looking back, it was a one in a million chance. Sparks flew out as the tips of the two legendary weapons made contact head-on, grinding against each other as both of them tried to push the other back. The samurai’s crimson eyes widened when his foe refused to falter, both their swords locked in a deadly stalemate. Using the force of the fall, the ghoul put all of his weight and inertia to work. Hana’s hands shook with such force he was surprised they didn’t break right then and there, much less that he actually managed to keep on holding his ground.

    And then, the first sound of distant thunder tore apart the heavens.

    A perfect copy of jagged lightning, a webbed crack shot from the tip of one of the swords, through all its length and towards its base. Its owner’s eyes bulged out in disbelieve…

    Harusame shattered into a million of sparkling shards as lightning finally flared across the crying sky and illuminated the grayness of the world. The glistening pieces of tempered steel showered the petrified duo, mirroring the spring rain around them. Orbs of crimson and hazel were mirrored in the swirling shards, giving one last illusion of life to the weapon before it finally crumbled in pieces on the cold ground. Silence once again descended.

    And then, Amidamaru spoke.

    “You…”

    The ghoul’s clenched fists would have bled if there had been any blood left in his body- his nails were buried deep into his ashen skin in his trembling fury.

    “You…”

    The samurai refused to even look at his adversary, choosing instead to burn a metaphorical hole in the pavement with his crimson eyes.

    “YOU BROKE MOSUKE’S SWORD!”

    If there had been any of Hana’s ribs left intact, they would have shattered then and there. The raging fist sent him back on the ground, denying any air to his lungs, and sent the Antiquity spiraling out of the blond’s hand. With a roar, more suitable to an animal than that of someone who had been once a human being, Amidamaru lunged towards the Asakura with his bare hands. All the former grace of the samurai, however twisted it had been, was gone. The ghoul just kept on slashing and punching and clawing at the helpless boy, mauling him with the only intend of tearing him apart bone by shattered bone. Hana’s shaking hands flailed around wildly, succeeding in only getting cut on the shards of the broken katana that littered the ground around the duo. Primal instincts once again overtook a nearly unconscious mind and the now steady hand gripped tightly a sharp piece of metal. The ghoul’s eyes widened in surprise but only a faint gurgle escaped his lips when the broken piece of his own sword was rammed between his eyes.

    Hana was too tired to even sigh in relief when his opponent’s eyes faded from crimson to their original dull brown and the now unmoving corpse pinned him to the cold ground. The rain just kept on whipping Hana’s face, like a barrage of ice cold needles, and all the Asakura wanted was to pass out right then and there.

    And then, the real pain came.

    It was like nothing he had ever felt before. Every muscle and tendon, every single cell of his body was on fire. His nervous system was on the brink of overloading as it struggled to process what on Earth was happening. He didn’t even feel the ground beneath him or the rain pouring from above anymore. All that there was, all that existed in the whole Universe, was the pain. He wanted to shout oh, so much… he wanted to shriek his whole lungs out. But his mouth just refused to obey.

    Hana feared the worst when he saw his own hand pick up the Antiquity lying next to him without the boy ever giving such a command. Alas, the Asakura’s greatest fear was confirmed when his mouth finally opened… and he heard his own voice mixed with Amidamaru’s.

    “YES! That is the most fitting punishment, worm! For breaking Harusame, for breaking Mosuke’s sword, I will make you watch as you kill her. Make you kill her with your own hands!”

    Hana wanted to warn her, to tell her to run and get that stupid Arada or that strange pompadour of a man to help her. But then again, when his legs turned him towards her on their own, the Asakura realized Anna knew all too well what was happening. With all the secrets she was keeping, the blond knew his unwanted fiancée was most certainly good enough with all that voodoo stuff to handle him or Amidamaru or whoever he was now without much problem. Indeed, she just stood there in the cold rain, watching him sternly as always. He wanted nothing more than to look away, to not see the reflection of his crimson eyes in her black ones, but once again his body refused to listen. Hana felt his lips moving again as he lunged towards his peer.

    “Do you want to know how it feels, worm?! How it feels to have her blood on your hands?!”

    “Stop,” Hana thought as all he could do was just observe his body. The Futsuu no Mitama in his pale hands, ready to strike at any given second, was pointed towards its next prey and the Asakura mentally cringed, praying to whoever god was willing to listen to him. “Please, please, please just make me stop!”

    Hana felt his own tongue lick the blood off his lips. His fellow blonde just stood still underneath the veil of the spring rain, waiting to see the outcome. No hint of emotion was evident on her face or in her cold black eyes- as always.

    “Stop, please, stop!”

    The Asakura’s hands pulled back the family heirloom, ready to trust its deadly tip forward when the right time came. The terrified Hana could now see his full reflection, in all its mad and bloody glory, in his fiancée’s eyes. The chilly raindrops kept on glistening on Anna’s smooth tan skin, kept on dancing on the strands of her silky blond hair- the world didn’t seem to care that one boy was being forced to kill his innocent peer with his own hands.

    “No, stop, stop, stop!”

    He had already reached her and now, from a few steps away, she suddenly looked so tiny and vulnerable to him. Anna’s mask showed hints of cracking for the first time as her twinkling eyes dilapidated when the Antiquity in Hana’s hands lunged straight for them. And that’s when Hana realized it.

    She wasn’t going to move away.

    Anna was willing to put her life in his hands. Quite literally, given the situation. She had all the chances, all the skills needed to get out alive and even turn the tables. But she didn’t want to. All that Anna wanted- the young Asakura understood it now- was for him to do it. It was up to Hana to decide whether any of them was getting out alive and the blond certainly didn’t like it. After all, what could an ordinary guy like him, who was just frequently bored out of his life and had temper problems, do anyway?

    The Futsuu no Mitama tore apart the veil of the rain and its reflection filled her black orbs. For a single moment, the briefest of seconds, her eyes showed fear. Fear that Hana really was in no condition to do anything. And yet, she refused to falter. His roar refused to escape his lips but Hana paid no heed to it as he mustered all his strength, all the will left in his broken body, and focused on only one single thought.

    Halt his hand. At any cost.

    “STOP IT!”

    Sparks gushed out as the ancient carved blade of stone made contact with the pavement. The Asakura’s body slid for a few meters because of the inertia but his suppressed consciousness didn’t pay any attention to the outside world anymore. Hana was almost sure he could hear his heart getting broken into a million of tiny pieces, falling to the cold ground just like the fresh blood dripping from the tip of the Antiquity. With a mocking cackle, the samurai made the broken boy look over his slumped shoulder.

    Anna just stood under the heavy rain, motionless as ever, having escaped his strike with utmost ease. A tiny cut adorned her temple where the Futsuu no Mitama had managed to reach her skin. Hana had failed to stop himself. Indeed, that was all he could think of- he had failed, completely and utterly. And the disappointment clearly evident in Anna’s eyes, for some reason, hurt more than being possessed by Amidamaru a thousand times over. The Asakura didn’t even bother resisting as the samurai pulled back his weapon once more.

    After all, was there any sense for him to even try it? Hana came to the conclusion that he really was pathetic, even more pathetic than Anna had implied when they had first met. Worst of all, she knew it, too. Her eyes couldn’t hide it from him. He was spineless, useless, didn’t even deserve the right to live any more. At least on the upside, the chances were good that Anna was probably going to put him out of his misery soon. Just like always, someone else cleaning up Hana’s mess.

    Pathetic.

    The word sent a hurricane through his mind, breaking, destroying, annihilating any kind of bent that repressed his emotions. Hana felt the familiar rage swell up inside him once again and as the internal volcano erupted, he really did begin to see in crimson as the samurai lunged at Anna once again. The unbelievable pain came back once more but the blond just ignored it, opting to focus on the quake after quake of emotions that swept through his body. From quivers to tremors, the feelings got stronger and stronger as the wild-haired boy focused his whole being into it. Each shockwave seemed to split him in two, detaching, freeing his soul from the spirit trap of the undead samurai. Alas, the unbreakable shackles between them stood strong. Hana felt his own blood pour onto the Antiquity’s handle as he dug his nails into his palms.

    “AMIDAMARU!”

    Time itself seemed to grind to a halt as the roar tore out of the teen’s throat and Hana could almost see his fiancée’s eyes widen in slow motion. And then, everything went black.

    Hana thought he was dead at first but scratched that thought not long after. The darkness around him seemed to randomly switch to the view of the real world for a second or two and the only thing that cast any light in the never-ending night around stood before him. It was seemingly out of some nightmare, a twisted being vaguely resembling a human. Some kind of scarlet matter, switching from liquid to flame to energy, engulfed the creature’s whole body and the nightmarish aura danced around in the darkness, casting eerie shadows all around. The creature’s hallow eyes bore straight into Hana’s. The boy’s shout seemed to resonate in the nothingness but with a different tone- one that felt somehow very familiar and yet, completely unknown.

    “Amidamaru!”

    Hana gasped as the surroundings once again changed and he and the nightmarish being were suddenly standing in front of a duo of pre-teens in an old rundown house. They were dressed in crumpled rags, barefoot no less, and despite clearly understanding what they were talking about, Hana undoubtedly heard words too old to be in use even a couple of centuries ago. The boy with a mop of black hair on his head awkwardly patted the back of the one sporting a short white ponytail. The white-haired boy seemed to be crying, judging from the suppressed sobs and the way he rubbed his eyes with his bleeding knuckles.

    “Amidamaru!” said the black-haired boy once again, this time more sternly. “I told you already, it’s not you’re fault! They were too many, you couldn’t do anything! They outnumbered you ten to one!”

    “But… but we promised to protect them! They all look up to us, they expect us to help them and what did I do? She told me I was like her big brother yesterday. Like family! And I was so darn useless! She was just seven, Mosuke! Seven and they killed her like it was nothing! And before that, that guy he… he-“

    “We won’t allow them to get any of us next time! That’s a promise,” shouted Mosuke and bumped his chest in emphasis. “How did you escape anyway?”

    “They thought I was dead after the beating they gave me,” quietly replied Amidamaru, shoulders still slumped. “And don’t lie to me like we did to them. Promise? Bah! How can we protect them anyway? Only you and I can battle and I’m the one that actually has this as a job. As long as you give me weapons I should fight them off but… I’m just so useless.”

    “You know that’s not true.”

    “I’m pathetic, Mosuke.”

    Hana almost felt it when the black-haired kid punched Amidamaru with enough force to knock him on the ground. Mosuke kept his fist clenched, shaking in frustration, and proclaimed loudly:

    “Enough with this nonsense! As long as we stick together, we can do anything! We just have to help each other out and hang on a bit more. Half of the younger ones will be old enough to fight in a couple of years. Until then, it’s up to us, Amidamaru! And don’t you think of quitting because I’ll always be there to punch you good if you even think of giving up again! Got it?”

    Mosuke flashed a beaming grin to his dumbstruck friend, who just took the offered hand with a small smile of his own. With a flash, the scene changed once again. Same rundown place, the boys a little older than last time.

    “You broke another one?!” cried out Mosuke in anger and disbelief.

    “It’s not my fault!” quickly shot back Amidamaru, whose ponytail was now longer than the last time. “Your swords just keep on breaking, so I need another one! Besides, I drove the bandits away, didn’t I? That’s what matters!”

    “I can’t make you a sword out of nothing!” shouted once again the black-haired boy and threw his hands up in the air for emphasis. “Why didn’t you take one of theirs? Or just go to the battlefield and get one from the corpses.”

    “They didn’t leave a single sword behind,” responded Amidamaru with slumped shoulders before shooting a glare towards his peer. “And I won’t steal from the dead, I told you that already.”

    “Then you’ll make us the ones dead with that attitude of yours!”

    Yet again, a bright flash. A small clearing in the beginning of spring was all Hana could see, with the two boys in the middle of it. Amidamaru had his hand wrapped around the handle of a katana glistening under the bright sun, one painfully familiar to Hana despite the slight difference in its looks.

    “This one is great! It just doesn’t get dull,” said the white-haired boy and raised a questioning eyebrow at Mosuke. “Where did you get the materials for it? You said you didn’t have any even for a single crummy sword much less this.”

    “Well, you see… nah, it doesn’t matter,” replied Mosuke with a sheepish grin and scratched the back of his head.

    “You… you didn’t!” gasped Amidamaru. “That knife was the only thing you have left of your father, Mosuke!”

    “Tsk, nonsense,” waved him off the black-haired boy. “Dad would have wanted this. Now we both can finally serve our purpose- I’ve given you a real sword to fight with and you can finally drive away the bandits without worrying for your weapon!”

    “Yeah but still…” responded with a faint whisper Amidamaru and focused his cerulean eyes on the glimmering blade. The cold steel reflected the dance of the sakura petals swirling around the two boys. “Tsk, never mind then. What’s its name?”

    “Harusame!” proclaimed proudly Mosuke and with yet another grin put his hands behind the spiky mop of black hair adorning his head. The young swordsmith sent a wistful look towards the several clouds quickly fleeting the clear blue sky. “It was raining while I was making it. At first I thought ‘tsk, even the skies are crying looking at us’. But in the end, rain is just rain, isn’t it? That’s why this sword’s name is Spring Rain, not Spring Tears. I refuse to let my creation symbolize the tears we’ve shed to survive until now. It will be the symbol of our hope- like the springtime rain after which all the new flowers bloom!”
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  7. #7
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    Jul 2009
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    Once again, the world around Hana was reduced to a swirl of unrecognizable colorful blurs and noises. Only the Asakura’s own trembling form and the scarlet ghoul remained motionless, until the scenery around them was rebuild with one more white flash. The spiky-haired blond was too shocked by the differences from the last two glimpses in what he guessed was the samurai’s past to adjust to the latest scene. While dressed in much finer clothing and at least a decade older, Hana did recognize easily the two grinning men- it was their surroundings that amazed him.

    Amidamaru’s and Mosuke’s laughter echoed inside the spacious halls of a mansion so posh that it probably belonged to a prince or some other kind of filthy rich royalty. Well-dressed people turned around to glare at the antics of the duo of commoners, but quite a few young ladies sent lustful looks towards the samurai and the swordsmith.

    “Yosh!” exclaimed Mosuke with glee and struck his fist up in the air. “We finally did it, my friend! With yours skills as a warrior and my talent for making even the most useless scrap of metal into a katana worthy of the emperor, we’ll never have a worry in our lives ever again. All we have to do is do our jobs and the daimyo will give us anything we want! Heck, some things will come on their own to us, methinks,” finished the swordsmith with a daring grin and glanced at the umpteenth group of giggling noblewomen that passed by.

    “I would be careful if I were you,” replied Amidamaru upon tracing the look of his lifelong friend. Still, a mischievous smile played on the samurai’s lips, showing his words were meant to be taken more as a joke than an advice. “Most of them are either daughters or wives of bluebloods. Or both. I do not want to be ordered to kill you because of a few minutes you spend in paradise.”

    “Killjoy,” muttered Mosuke under his breath. The duo let out another hearty laugh seconds later.

    This time Hana was prepared and didn’t flinch when the scenery started dancing madly around him before settling once again back into place. The young Asakura was in a lone spacious room, even more decorated than the ones he saw before. This time only Amidamaru was present, kneeling in front of a haughty man, seemingly in his forties. The apparent nobleman was scowling at the katana cradled into his hands, a sinister gleam clearly evident into his shifty eyes. Thunder roared somewhere outside and Hana caught a glimpse of the blooming cherry trees fighting the storm in the spacious garden.

    “May I... may I ask why did you request my presence, daimyo-sama?” finally dared ask the white-haired samurai. His voice was hoarse from the preceding silence.

    “No need to be worried, Amidamaru,” absent-mindedly responded the noble and just continued inspecting the katana in his hands. Hana recognized it as a re-forged Harusame. “You are not here because you have offended me in some way. In fact, you are here because I am willing to do a favor of sorts to you. Tell me, truthfully, what do you think of the abilities of your friend Mosuke?”

    Amidamaru hesitated before answering, no doubt looking for the catch in the seemingly innocent question. However, after half a minute or so the samurai decided that putting off his answer any more would have dire consequences so he finally replied, carefully picking is words.

    “Mosuke… he is the best swordsmith I have ever known, my lord. I am willing to bet my life on his abilities as a weapon-maker anytime, anywhere. I hope that the sword in your hands is proof enough that he is worthy to serve you, daimyo-sama.”

    “Indeed,” said the noble and finally obliged to look at his kneeling servant. “He is the finest swordsmith in maybe all of Japan. And that is precisely why you must kill him.”

    Lightning flashed across the gloomy skies outside and Hana managed to glimpse a minute distortion of the samurai’s features for a brief second. The nightmarish being next to Hana fell on his knees and cringed as the sound of thunder finally caught up with the senses of the ones present.

    “I-I beg you pardon, my lord?” stammered Amidamaru but managed to keep a straight face.

    “You heard me the first time. Mosuke is an exceptional swordsmith- Harusame is proof enough of it. But there is always the chance of him deserting and making a better katana for the enemy. I cannot allow this. I thought the fact that I am allowing you to be the one to put your dear friend to rest and not some random stranger will ease your soul. Or are you telling me you will not obey your daimyo’s order?”

    “N-no, my lord. I will do as you say.”

    The shrieking of the storm outside came to an abrupt end as the myriad of colors combined in a swirling typhoon yet again. Once they settled down, Hana found himself in a sparsely-lit locked-up room, meters away from a shocked Mosuke and a gloomy Amidamaru.

    “So he wants me dead after everything I’ve done for him?! That bastard!” shouted Mosuke and punched the nearest wall. Sweat trickled down the swordsmith’s face, which was distorted with anger.

    “Keep it down, someone will hear you!” Amidamaru berated his friend whilst barely looking up. The samurai’s blue eyes were sunken and his usually-well kept white hair disheveled. “But I have no intend of obeying him, daimyo or not. Not after everything we have been through together. You just run, there is bound to be another lord to welcome you with open arms. No doubt about it, given your talent. Just do not tell me where you are heading off to. I will hold them off but everyone cracks under torture eventually.”

    “Nonsense!”

    The punch, fueled by righteous fury, sent the white-haired samurai crashing onto the hard wooden floor. Amidamaru blinked at his black-haired friend in confusion. Hana was surprised no blood sprouted from Mosuke’s trembling clenched fists- the man’s nails were digging deep into his rough skin.

    “I told you before, didn’t I? That I’ll be there to punch you when you think of giving up. So suck it up, Amidamaru, and drive Harusame through my heart! I won’t have my best friend dying because of me!”

    From what the young Asakura could tell, even Amidamaru was surprised as his own fist shot upwards and downed the swordsmith with a vicious uppercut.

    “Who is giving up now, moron?!”

    Mosuke’s eyes didn’t seem to believe what they are seeing as they inspected the blood now oozing from his mouth. A mischievous grin spread on the wild-haired man’s face and he threw back his head, howling in laughter.

    “Guess we have no choice then, huh? Tsk, we’re both as stubborn as mountain goats, aren’t we? Okay then! Remember that hill that overlooks the whole town? Meet me at the top at midnight. I will do exactly what that bastard fears- I will make the ultimate sword! I will re-forge Harusame for you, make it good enough that you’ll be able to split open the skies with it! You just wait and see! Then, we’re off to find some other pretentious blueblood to feed us.”

    This time Hana didn’t pay any attention to the change of scenery around him. The nightmarish creature had suddenly started wailing, emitting ear-splitting shrieks no doubt capable of shattering even bulletproof glass. The ghoul cradled his head in his clawed hands but just kept emulating the banshees of Western lore, his distorted cries going from shrieks to roars and back in mere seconds. Hana fell flat on his back after a sharp blade suddenly lunged at him from nowhere but just ended up passing through the startled teen’s body. The wielder of the katana just kept on going forward, until he ended up dead at the feet of the samurai after the white-haired man’s counterattack.

    The vicious cries of the scarlet-coated ghoul managed to drown out even the roaring thunder above the lonely hill. The never-ending clanks and sounds of metal scraping against metal were left unheard as the bloody battle raged on, a single samurai against dozens of foes. Amidamaru was more than outnumbered, his two swords already broken in half and body littered with wounds, but the young man just kept on going- a real life demon to the unfortunate soldiers having to face him. The cold rain mixed with the blood, creating ruby rivers that washed away the gentle pink petals of the lonely sakura atop the equally lonely hill.

    “Why doesn’t he die already?!” cried out a wounded soldier seconds before having his throat cut open.

    “Die?! It’s already past midnight! Mosuke will be here any minute now, with Harusame in hands! Even a stick is more than enough to hold you off until he arrives,” responded almost cheerfully the samurai, obviously trying to mask his fatigue. He did not stop moving even for a second however, cutting down more and more soldiers with his superior skills.

    “You think so, worm?”

    The traitorous spear that pierced through the samurai’s whole body finally managed to put a stop to his dance of death. Another two found themselves buried deep into Amidamaru’s flesh not long after.

    “You really think so?” asked once again the spear-wielder and let out a mad cackle. “You are a fool, samurai, for thinking that he valued your life more than his own. He betrayed you! How else do you think we knew when and where to find you?”

    Two broken katanas fell on the blood-stained grass, letting the scarlet rivers wash over them. Albeit remaining upright, their owner had finally stopped struggling to break free, now only standing still like a statue amidst the rain.

    “He-he would never-“

    “But he did! Now, worm, would you please die?”

    Amidamaru refused to falter even as the spear was plunged more than halfway through him. Lightning once again briefly illuminated the gray world and the expression Hana saw on the white-haired man’s distorted face painfully reminded him of the Amidamaru he had faced off against minutes ago.

    “No,” calmly responded the samurai and the startled soldier found himself with Amidamaru’s clenched fingers around his throat. “Would you please die?”

    The wild-haired Asakura didn’t know what the roar of thunder symbolized better- the snapping of the soldier’s neck or the breaking of a lonely samurai’s soul.

    If it was even possible, the ghoul’s cries became louder and louder to the point that they made Hana start losing grip of his consciousness. The scarlet matter that composed the creature’s body swelled up and erupted, joining the hurricane of memories swirling around. The cacophony made the wild-haired teen close his eyes and he tried to protect his bleeding ears with his trembling hands but nothing helped- the raging storm of emotions was seemingly burned even into the insides of Hana’s eyelids.

    The ghoul just kept on clawing his own eyes out as the dream world crumbled around him.

    “Why, you!”

    The abomination paid no heed to Hana’s words, nor did he seem to notice when the teen forced his way forward.

    “Do you really think Mosuke betrayed you?!”

    The creature’s empty eyes immediately bore into Hana’s upon hearing the name. The wild-haired Asakura just kept on pushing forward, slowly but surely, struggling step after step. If anything, the surroundings seemed to be decaying even more rapidly as the red energy gradually let go off the samurai’s body and united with the raging tornado around the duo. Hana could see patches of human skin through the cracks in the scarlet coating of the ghoul.

    “ARE YOU REALLY WILLING TO BELIEVE SOME RANDOM BASTARD OVER YOUR BEST FRIEND?!”

    Everything around him grinded to a halt, color and sound fleeting as one, when Hana’s left foot found itself ramming full-force into the ghoul’s face. The scarlet aura erupted into one final flash as the samurai was literally forced out of it, finally able to look at the world with the eyes not of a demon but of a man. Cerulean blue met bright hazel, each of them seeing the reflection of the other in their former opponent’s eyes…

    And then, quite literally, the world around Hana broke down into millions of tiny pieces.

    Suddenly, he was back under the spring rain. Cold and unforgiving, the raindrops were like needles etching deep into his skin. Blood oozed from the dozens of wounds, big and small, littering his battered and bruised body. But all he could see, all that existed for Hana, were her eyes. Cold, empty and black, with only the faintest well-masked glimpse of genuine surprise hidden deep inside them. Oh, how he hated them so much. And yet, he couldn’t look away from them, even as his knees finally gave up and he felt the harsh ground scrap them through his torn pants. The Antiquity fell off his trembling fingers not long after, settling down on the wet pavement with a loud clatter. Everything around him gradually drowned into the darkness, until only she was left- centimeters away from him.

    When the blackness finally took him, the young Asakura was sprawled on the cold ground, frail arms loosely wrapped around Anna’s legs.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  8. #8
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    Jul 2009
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    I’m majorly sorry for the one-day delay people, due to RL reasons I couldn’t post this chap yesterday. This one, as the one that ends the arc, is kinda special. It’s an Interlude and interludes are going to be told from the first-person POV of the arc’s respective protagonist- in this case that’s Hana. Also, the first chap of the next arc is going to be posted after two weeks, not the usual one. I need some time to go ahead with the writing, mkay?


    Interlude I:
    The Boy And His Spirit





    Sometimes I hate myself, y’know.

    Not because I have some severe psychological disorder, not because I’m some whiny emo who thinks the world is out to get him, oh no. Plain and simple, I hate all those moments when I’m stuck between my utmost desire to spend the whole day slacking around somewhere away from others and my habit of wanting to see people snapped in two just ‘cause they’ve looked at me the wrong way. This stupid combination of hot and cold drives me insane and it wasn’t only once that I’ve thought that maybe, just maybe of course, there’s something really wrong with my mental health. But then again, there’s no way I’m some crazy loon, nothing more than a ticking time bomb that will eventually show up at school with a sawn-off shotgun and a chainsaw. Having actually seen the example of such a type of guy, at least the six-hundred-year-old version, kinda helps reinforce my belief. There’s no possible way I can end up like him.

    Back on topic, it’s the anger that always annoys me. It’s like that kind of stupid itches that just don’t go away, even after you’ve made yourself bleed trying to stop them. The fact that my sweet temper is triggered by the simplest of things doesn’t help either. Maybe that’s why most of the time I’ve the enthusiasm of a sleeping elephant- the only way my body deals with the… well, my desire to break stuff, is to make me a top-notch slacker. After all, if I don’t do anything and stay away from all those annoying people around me, there’s nothing that could possibly anger me, right?

    And speaking of things sleeping, maybe that’s why ninety percent of my special ‘slack-off time’ is spent snoring under some tree, on a park bench or in the gym’s equipment room. Sleep is, in my not so humble opinion, probably the best thing a man can experience. Well, speaking of experience, I am yet to experience some other things men can enjoy and that will probably change my viewpoint of ‘best things’ but… err, whatever! My point is, when you’re asleep there’s nothing that can annoy you. It’s just you, relaxing and not even realizing you’re doing it. True, you do dream but dreams, at least to me, aren’t something major. To me they’re just slideshow… thingies. With sound. And other kinds of special effects. Important thing is, they can’t annoy you, can’t make you angry or bug you in some other way. Plus, last time I’ve had nightmares I was in fourth grade. Maybe I just don’t bother remembering them anymore? After all, good or bad, dreams are just so mashed up no one can even hope to understand them. So why bother in the first place?

    And so, when I dreamt that dream, it was the fact that it was so damn vivid and clear that made me realize something was majorly wrong. And sick.

    At first there was nothing but darkness around me. And it was annoying- a lot. Looking back, it was probably the fact that I had been knocked out, right, down and generally in all possible directions those past few days that had made me despise the color black so much. It starts to get really irritating after a while, being able to see nothing and just float with your senses going crazy. So that’s why when she appeared, instead of mentally cringing like I usually did, I was actually kinda glad to see her. Kinda.

    Things started going down from there. Rapidly.

    The fact that all five of my senses were so active when I was just dreaming was quiiite strange. The fact that dream-me had no way of actually knowing it was a dream made things even worse. But the fact remained- my senses worked better than they had ever had in the real world. It was as if I had been always forced to experience stuff through a semi-transparent casing and then someone dismantled it in seconds.

    I didn’t even know if I had any body at all- the disorientation was pretty major- but I knew damn too well that I felt her with every single fiber of my being. Her fingers, tracing lines across my body, made me feel like my skin was on fire. Her rosy lips, doing roughly the same as her slim fingers, were surprisingly warm- I had always expected them to be as icy and distant as their owner. Her very smell was maddening and I’m still pretty sure normal humans can’t usually sense aromas so well. Hers was as vivid as the rest of her- it was almost as if I could touch it as well. Her silky hair, finally out of her ever-present twin braids, tickled, wrapping itself around me as if to goad me into running my hands through it. She whispered something but despite hearing loud and clear every word, in a tone I’d never think of her ever using, I couldn’t understand a thing. All that I knew was that even her voice was as mind-numbing as the rest of her being. It sent my mind spiraling down into pleasure-induced insanity. The sense of her smooth skin against mine drove me absolutely crazy, forcing me out of my previous stupor and my own hands soon found themselves all over her body. Senses of vision and touch blurred into one as I traced every single curve of her body again and again and my mind threatened to go numb once more by the sheer bliss of me being able to truly touch her.

    Our primal dance grew faster and faster and my sanity felt like being broken and renewed with every twist and turn. The world spun along with us but all that existed to me was her. Her bottomless eyes centimeters away from mine. Her billowing hair gently wrapped around my body. Her fingers intertwined with mine, nails dug in the back of my palm. Her breadth that caressed my neck. And the dance just quickened and quickened, the world becoming a blur and I was no longer able to realize where her body ended and mine begun. It was mind-numbing bliss- I truly wanted for it to last forever. But as the dance went on something else inside me stirred up. The all-too-familiar rage rose up and I was actually angry at her, hated her for some reason I was completely unable to point out. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted the dance to continue forever. I wanted to break her into millions of pieces just as much.

    And then the world grinded to a halt.

    A terrified shout escaped my lips when I saw the Antiquity rammed between her small pale breasts, handle-deep and with my shaking hands gripping it. I wanted to shout at her not to look at me, to gouge out her eyes that were filled with such contempt and disappointment. But I could do nothing, only watch as the blood gushed out and smeared my body. It felt warm in a sick kind of way- one all too familiar to the way her skin was so warm and inviting to the touch. And then she shrieked, her hair turning snow-white, her skin becoming cold and ashen and her eyes glowing crimson red as she kept on wailing. She was like a banshee, her shrieks morphing from wails to growls and from growls to roars in a matter of seconds. Her hands found themselves on my chest, nails digging deeper and deeper until she was just clawing and slashing and tearing me apart again and again and again. Once more she placed her now ice-cold lips on my neck but the false kiss ended up with her needle-like teeth sinking deep into my throat and I was forced to watch, unable to stop her, unable to even die and make the pain go away. Bones cracked and fell off broken as she ripped my ribcage apart with feral glee and her cold fingers wrapped themselves around the treasure we humans hide inside it. Veins and arteries strained but refused to let go when she took out her prize and examined it with the curious expression of a child pondering on whether to do something naughty or not. Her tongue slowly licked my own blood off her lips as she eyed my still pumping heart. Her needle-like teeth glistened in the darkness and she lunged forward, incisors digging deep-

    “Time to wake up, Asakura-kun!”

    I woke up with a start and ended up headbutting the beautiful girl with long obsidian black hair that had the bad luck of leaning above me. My thoughts were still jumbled and my mind was pretty much desperately trying to reboot so all I could do was fall back on the pillow because of the backlash and wonder who the hell the hottie with the strangely deep yet still kinda soft voice was. She did seem quite familiar for some reason…

    “Great gob, genius. Now we can have him hospitalized again because of a heart attack,” quipped a certain green-eyed individual that entered my field of vision. Cedric sent me a casual one-handed wave but all that I could think of was what on Earth was he doing… well, wherever I were. My whole body ached and it felt like daggers were jammed into me with even the slightest move I dared make. My head was still spinning and I must’ve looked like quite the moron looking drunkenly around.

    I was in a hospital room, one with only two beds and with me being the only patient there. The sun and the cool wind coming inside through the open window indicated that it was probably morning. Or it was just a windy afternoon. Or noon. Hell if I could figure it out. Eventually the memories, all the unpleasant very painful memories of why I was actually bedridden returned. I didn’t know how things had actually ended, last I remember was me passing out- so Anna had probably fixed things after that. After all, I was alive so the freaky samurai with the troubled past must’ve lost, one way or another. And that meant that Cedric and the girl that knew my name were visitors. I knew Cedric, even if only for a couple of days but who the hell do I know who’s hot, has long black hair and sounds strangely… uhm, boyish. Lemme thi-

    Hell. No.

    Burn in hell, Sato! Burn in ****ing hell! Oh my goodness, I need to bleach my brain!

    “So, you gonna keep on vegetating or you’ll finally rejoin the land of the living? What’s it gonna be, chief? I ain’t got all day, y’know,” asked Cedric with his usual even tone and succeeded in igniting the anger I had momentarily forgotten I had the habit of ‘enjoying’. Luckily for that smartass, I was too damn tired to move a finger, much less punch him.

    “Leave him alone already, he needs some rest,” said another familiar voice and Alejandro dragged his exchange fella away from my bed. His almost bored tone made me guess the Brazilian had gotten quite used to the American’s antics. And quite used to reprimanding him for them. Besides, the Lopez guy looked healthy enough- last I checked he had been the one in the hospital, not me. How long was I out anyway?

    Another one of my acquaintances, the one that I actually do know well enough to call a friend loomed above me from the other side. Tsumemaru was smiling with that stupid grin of his that he used only for special baseball occasions and playfully punched me on the shoulder. I ought to punch him back good but now I was too tired and too damn in pain to actually do it. He must have noticed it because he helped me get up in a seated position more carefully than he would’ve usually done.

    “Sorry ‘bout that,” Tsumemaru muttered hastily before proclaiming loudly enough to make my ears cringe. Were they bandaged, too or something? “Don’t pay attention to them! The important thing is that you’re up and runnin’ again. Things will be back to normal in no time!”

    I sincerely doubted my life was ever going to be normal again.

    “So cheer up, pal, and look there!”

    Curiosity kicked in and I obliged to look at where he was pointing so enthusiastically. I wish I hadn’t. Anna was huddled on a lone chair in the far corner, observing the scene with dispassionate eyes, legs and arms crossed in disapproval. Indeed, she did seem actually small and easy to overlook when one glanced around the room for the first time. But seeing her after that kind of sick and twisted dream made my stomach lurch and I felt whatever… thingies and medical stuff the doctors were cramming me with while I had been out rise up my throat. Still, I suppressed the urge to vomit with an audible gulp and turned to Tsumemaru in hope that he would change the topic.

    “She’s been like rooted next to ya for the ‘hole week that you were out. I think someone’s really willin’ to help ya continue the Asakura line,” he said with a knowing smirk and nudged me, causing me to cringe in pain once again. “I knew you two would get along right off the bat!”

    One, he was lying and two, there he goes with the baseball puns again. Plus, I was actually surprised his head didn’t explode by the glare Anna shot at him after his comments.

    “Come on now, let us not create any more tension,” said the Sato, now finally with head cleared after the sudden impact with my own. He plastered his signature disturbing robotic smile on his girlie face and held up his hands as if giving up. “I suggest we just keep it quiet and go outside, I think Asakura-kun has some things to discuss with our fair lady here.”

    I didn’t even care about Cedric and Tsumemaru’s blatant smirks or Alejandro’s barely suppressed chuckle as they followed outside that stupid Sato. I was actually disappointed that all of them left- yes, even Arada. I didn’t want- I was actually scared of- being left alone with Anna. I needed someone to stay in the room. But after all- when have I been lucky anyway? Despite trying to look away my eyes found themselves constantly fixed on her. I couldn’t help but wonder if the parts of her exposed body I hadn’t actually seen yet were as I had imagined them. I couldn’t help but asks myself did her skin really feel that warm or was the caress of her lips so gentle and inviting. But in the end I desperately hammered those thoughts out of my head- after all, they were just the leftovers of some stupid coma-induced dream or something, weren’t they? In reality, she was just the annoying menace she usually was, constantly *****ing and belittling me. There was probably a better chance of her killing me because I inconvenienced her in some way than anything else.

    And speaking of killing, I found myself frantically searching for the Antiquity appearing in my hands or stuck into her chest. But in the end, no such thing happened and she certainly didn’t grow claws or razor-sharp teeth as I had feared. Anna just kept on looking at me dispassionately, as if waiting for me to say something. Yet again her attitude made me want to break the nearest thing I could get my hands on- she had that particular constant effect on me. Around her, temper matters went from worse to abysmal.

    “The doctors said you were probably going to actually awaken today- not just for a few minutes like the last couple of days. That’s why all the idiots were here,” Anna eventually explained from her place in the distant corner.

    “Oh? Okay.”

    I wanted to punch myself for giving such a stupid answer. The way she looked at me notified me she hadn’t expected anything better.

    “After the fight with Amidamaru you fell unconscious so I called Arada to get you to the hospital.”

    Understandably, the thought of the Sato being the one saving my *** again wasn’t appealing in the least.

    “Why not call an ambulance? I could’ve bled to death.”

    “You weren’t losing that much blood,” icily shot back Anna. “You were out for so long only because weak minds like yours can’t handle mental attacks. Besides, they would’ve asked questions if they had found you on the school grounds. I told Arada to pretend he found you in some alley beaten up by thugs. No doubt you’ll end up in such a position one day if you ask me.”

    “Well, I’m not.”

    Anna promptly ignored my retort and just got up from her chair and headed towards the door. There really was something Indian in the short black dress she was wearing- maybe it were those frills at the edges of the skirt. The red bandana with the triangular pattern reinforced her exotic look as well- I found it disturbing I was once again paying attention to details I had ignored when first seeing them.

    “By the way, there’s someone that wants to speak with you.”

    And of course, she didn’t oblige to tell me who it actually was before she strolled out the door. To further damage my already numb mind, the answer was revealed soon after. With a brief swirl of still hospital air, a figure in a billowing white cloak formed out of nowhere at the side of my bed. Even without the pieces of red armor strapped to the man’s body and his long snow-white hair, his cerulean eyes would’ve been enough for me to recognize him. The only reason my terrified shout didn’t leave my mouth was because Amidamaru’s actions, if it was even possible, shocked me even more than him actually being in my hospital room. He dropped down on his knees, forehead laid against the floor tiles, and hastily spoke in the most normal voice I had ever heard him use in person.

    “I beg for you forgiveness! My shameful actions and weaknesses nearly cost you your life!”

    Of course, I had no way in hell of even knowing what to think. Amidamaru going from ‘KILL! KILL! MUAAHAHA!’ to actually acting like… well, how I imagined real samurai did was quite the shocker. I found myself speaking the first thing that came to mind.

    “Weaknesses? I’ve trouble believing of you as anything like ‘weak’.”

    “I am referring to the weakness of my will,” he replied, not breaking his deep bow. “If it was not for your own force of will to snap me out of my… condition, I do not dare think what could have happened. I allowed my soul to get twisted and contaminated by my bitter memories over time. You-“

    “Hold on a sec there! You’re telling me that I snapped you out of it? I actually did it? If I did, weren’t you supposed to go to the afterlife or something?”

    “Technically, yes,” said Amidamaru and finally obliged to at least look up to me. “But what keeps a spirit anchored to this world is, roughly phrased, unfinished business of some sort. As you know all too well, I may have rebelled against my daimyo but I am still a samurai-“

    “Wouldn’t that make you a ronin?”

    He promptly chose to ignore my comment.

    “- And I still have my honor. My actions in the afterlife are inexcusable. I killed two innocent boys, maimed a girl and hurt you severely. If I was alive I would have taken my life but as things are now… I fear I can only stay here for a while longer and hope to somehow repent for my sins.”

    “How do you plan on doing this anyway?”

    “Well, I…”

    Amidamaru stammering and dragging out words certainly wasn’t to my liking. The drastic change in his behavior was too much to handle immediately- not that I actually wanted the homicidal maniac back. I’d rather get gradually used to the current situation, thank you very much.

    “Well?” I asked back with no small amount of irritation evident in my tone.

    “From what I have learnt so far, earthbound spirits can work together with shamans to hunt down other rogue spirits and deal with other spiritual anomalies. And since, well, you do not have a guardian spirit yet… I was thinking that maybe I can be your partner and repent for my crimes by helping you do your duties.”

    If that was even possible, did he really think I’d take the crazy guy with the slasher smile that had tried to kill me a couple of dozen times? True, Amidamaru claimed he had changed and if things had really worked he had probably changed. But still, come on!

    “Amidamaru, even if I lost my mind and actually agreed, I can’t be your partner or anything like that at all. Shamans can see spirits. I ca-“

    And then it struck me. The realization felt strange but it was there. Plain as daylight, I could see his semi-transparent body, his real one and not some rotting corpse he had chosen to posses. Naturally, I had no idea what was happening with me. Again.

    “I-I can see you. You aren’t possessing anyone but I can see you!”

    “That is correct,” said Amidamaru and kept on kneeling next to my bed. “Anna-sama explained that the brief time that we were in the same body and your spirit had contact with a foreign one must have caused the awakening of your latent shamanic abilities. Apparently many humans have them hidden deep within.”

    “Anna-sama?”

    “She made me swear I will obey her orders from now on to repay for my threats against her and for attacking her that first time we met.”

    Somehow, Anna ordering around a former zombie didn’t strike me as strange. Maybe there really was something wrong with my brain after all.

    “Well? I know that I caused you much pain but… would you consider accepting me as your guardian spirit?”

    I didn’t know what to say, really. At first I thought of outright telling him no but something inside me prevented me from doing it. I couldn’t point out what it was. I tried telling myself Amidamaru, being a former killing machine aside, was a total stranger. But some annoying inner voice of mine pointed out I knew about him more than I did about my closest friends- even Tsumemaru. Back then in his memories, I had actually felt what the still-living Amidamaru had experienced. True, I just watched from the sidelines but it was as if I could read the man’s heart, understand why he was making the decision that had shaped his life. The words left my mouth before I actually realized I was saying anything.

    “Tsk, I hope there’s really gonna be no harm in trying then. I’ve no idea what a shaman does and how he does it, tho.”

    Amidamaru once again pressed his forehead to the ground and smiled normally for the first time since I had met him. And then I suddenly found myself with a six-hundred-years-old undead samurai crushing me into a bear hug. My barely healed bones cringed and threatened to snap once again and I found myself shouting at the top of my lungs.

    “The ‘no harm’ clause! The ‘no harm’ clause, dammit!”

    Amidamaru was quick to carefully put me down and stood, err, glided away from me with a worried expression. He probably thought he had ruined the partnership he had worked so hard for. Or probably thought Anna was going to sent him to the deepest pits of hell. Yeah, probably it was that.

    “Amidamaru, how’re you even able to touch me? Aren’t you supposed to be incorporeal without a body to posses?”

    “That’s because,” answered a somewhat familiar deep voice “you’re a shaman now, kiddo. Shamans can allow spirits to touch them to show they are actually able to interact. Guess you don’t know how to use the on/off switch yet.”

    And there it was- a freaking foot-long pompadour of impossible shape, reflecting the sunlight with the sheer amount of hair gel that required to maintain such a ridiculous gravity-defying hairdo. And to it was attached the strange man known as Eki-san. For some unfathomable reason he was now sporting a ludicrous tackier-than-life white Evils-style suit with purple cuffs and collars. Eki-san leaned on the doorframe and flipped up his even tackier star-shaped sunglasses.

    “And because you are such a newbie, you need someone to teach you the way of the shaman,” proudly proclaimed the Elvis-lookalike. “And who better to do it than I, the skillful and dashing Eki-san!” he finished by pointing cheerfully at himself and flashing a smile filled with two rows of perfect pearl-white teeth.

    “For all I know you’re just an info broker! You probably know nothing about being a shaman.”

    I’m fairly certain he wanted to punch me but Eki-san just chose to pull out a cigar to subdue his temper. Apparently the fact that he was in a hospital didn’t bother him at all. After taking a long drag, he finally obliged to reply.

    “Think what you want, brat. You’re gonna end up awed by my skills later. You’ll be begging me to teach you! Oh, that reminds me-“

    He shuffled through his many pockets and eventually found what he was looking for- a tacky business card adorned with a venom-green lizard. The color scheme was bright enough to give anyone seizures. The card proudly declared: ‘Eki-san! The man who will make your ghostly troubles go away!’. The back of the card had a phone number and some lines in a font too small for one to read without a magnifying glass. My hunch was that those were the prices. And as if he had read my mind…

    “- I expect my payment by the end of the month. I’ve already refrained from charging you for the time you wasted on sleeping so you better be quick about it. The shaman lessons ain’t free either but since I owe some favors to certain members of your family, I’ll give you a ten percent discount.”

    “YOU WANT ME TO PAY YOU FOR YOUR STUPID ADVICE AND FOR GIVING ME SHAMAN LESSONS?!”

    “Pretty much,” was his simple answer. Then he dared flick me up the nose. “It’s good to see you’re not brain-damaged and understand what I’m saying but could you keep it down a little? The cute nurses ain’t gonna like me if they think I’m harassing the patients. Oh, and it’s Eki-sensei-sama from now on for you, brat.”

    I was too pissed off to even call him out on that one. He just turned back and shoved his hands in his pockets, about to stroll out like Anna before him. However, instead of saying goodbye like normal people do, he sent me- us- a cryptic look over his shoulder. It was a strange look, the serious one that he had used when he had finally realized who the killer at our school was. That look served as a reminder that the man in the Elvis rip-off costume and the oversized pompadour could be serious and possibly even dangerous if the situation called for it. I felt strange thinking of Pompadour Man as actually capable of something. His even more cryptic parting words were of no help either.

    “You two better get ready and learn fast. Amidamaru, we’ve a mutual friend who just can’t wait to kick your ***. But we’ve to make you two are actually able to fight before we can have that party, right? It’ll be no fun otherwise, oh no.”

    And with that, he waved us a casual goodbye and left. Amidamaru just shrugged at my questioning look. Eventually silence descended in the room as I just leaned back on my pillow and the spirit of a six-hundred-year-old samurai kept me company, hovering around the bed. In the end, it was me who spoke first.

    “So, Amidamaru… what now?”

    The simple question seemed to throw him off guard and he took his time before answering.

    “I-I don’t know, Hana-dono. But we have all the time in the world to decide what to do, do we not?”

    It was then that I realized why I had accepted his offer so easily, despite all the literal bad blood between us. Frankly, these past few years I’d spent *****ing on about how opportunities just passed me by and all the interesting things happened to others. I wanted destiny to give me what I desired on a silver platter. When Anna had turned my life upside-down, I didn’t choose for it to be so. It just… happened, Anna just decided herself how things were going to be done, in typical Anna fashion. But earlier, when Amidamaru asked me to be my guardian spirit it actually meant that I was the one choosing this time. It was me that actually- finally- had the opportunity to choose in which direction my life was going to head from now on.

    Does life really have something special in store for us all? For some of us…any one of us?

    I have no idea. I don’t know if we are all part of some grand design or if each of us plays the hero in a million of different plays. All I know is that I’ve started a story of my own, with my own hands. I don’t know what kind of story it is, whether it is important or how it will end. All I know is… we are the only ones that can choose whether to have a story of ours or not.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  9. #9
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    Sorry for being late by a day but, y'know, RL reasons. Anyways, here's Arc II. Very Trope-heavy.

    ARC II:

    The Beast Within


    Chapter 7:
    Drawn Claws


    What is a human being at its core? The only creature on this planet capable of surpassing its natural instincts? Or a chained best, unwillingly taking part in a millennia old masquerade?

    According to every self-respecting scientist out there, humanity is the pinnacle of evolution on this tiny blue planet. Man is capable of processing complex thoughts, man creates technological and architectural wonders on everyday basis, man is the absolute king of this world in front of whom all other earthly creatures quiver. And above all, man is praised for his advanced communication skills- our ability to think, feel and act on something more than the basic animal instincts of fighting for survival, mating and securing territory. But aren’t we forgetting we actually are the biggest predator on this planet? Isn’t a cornered human being, afraid for its life, a nightmarish creature capable of tearing any foe to shreds to ensure its survival?

    Because, despite how much no man wants to admit it, isn’t there a caged beast inside of us all, hidden deep beneath the mask of shallow etiquette and the empty norms of our society that we are ready to abandon the moment our existence is threatened? Because, aren’t we in the dark, the most vile and hypocritical beast of them all?

    “YOU WANT ME TO PAY YOU FOR YOUR STUPID ADVICE AND FOR GIVING ME SHAMAN LESSONS?!”

    The ear-splitting shout of one currently hospitalized Hana Asakura reverberated inside the half-empty corridors of the hospital. The doctors just shook their heads at the, yet another, tactless case of someone rude breaking the peace. Some of the younger nurses looked around with lithe hands put in front of their pursed lips, wary whether someone was actually extorting a patient in their care. The people who had the unfortunate luck of actually having to visit the hospital for one reason or another wondered with unease if the commotion was going to affect them as well. Only two young men, still obviously teenagers and even more obviously foreign, deemed the frantic shout worthy of only a brief glance over their shoulders. The boy with the emerald eyes apparently even considered it credible for a sarcastic quip.

    “Well, there’s bound to be someone a good couple of miles away who hasn’t heard him shout his lungs out. On the upside, he is quite lively after vegetating for a solid week. Tsk, and here I was about to call dibs on his room just yesterday.”

    “Hana may have no sense of indoor voice,” replied the dark-skinned teenager and resumed his stroll down the corridor, leaving his companion a few steps behind. “But that’s no reason to hope he stays in coma, y’know.”

    “Gee, wherever do you get such divine revelations, Al?” shot back Cedric with false awe as he hastily caught back with his foreign friend. “I know it may sound unbelievable to you, I know that, but sometimes I just have the sinking feeling you’re just here to spoil my fun. Now why would I feel that way?”

    “Someone has to keep a leash on you,” Alejandro replied with a laugh upon seeing his American friend tapping his pursed lips with his index finger in a forced gesture of curiosity.

    “Mhm, as if someone actually has a chance of putting a leash on the Cedric Green,” said the aforementioned Green with a wide smirk and slicked back a part of his eternally sticking out auburn hair. The unruly locks got back to their previous disarranged state immediately after.

    “Overconfident much?” asked the Brazilian with a mockingly raised eyebrow whilst barely stiffening a laugh.

    “Realistic,” was Cedric’s blunt reply.

    “Wow, you really are a shy one, aren’t you?”

    “My, my, is that a half-assed attempt at sarcasm I hear?” Cedric asked back in an instant and threw a smirk at his fellow transferee.

    “Whatever,” shot him down Alejandro and brushed aside one of the dreadlocks of his jet-black hair out of his field of vision. The duo soon reached a pair of venom green double doors beyond which only very few of the other hospital guests ventured. The two boys stopped at the entrance of the next ward and the green-eyed one leaned on the pristine white wall with a scowl distorting his features.

    “That’s as far as I go, Al. Careful not to sprout aliens from your stomach when they’re checking you up. Oh, and say ‘what’s up, sucker’ to Tsumemaru for me tomorrow.”

    “You sure you can’t come to the game? He did say he’s got too many tickets to even give away, with so many people absent from class after the accident.”

    Cedric just shook his head and his frown morphed into an expression of pure annoyance.

    “It’s because of them and their parents chickening out that there’s not enough guys in the class to look after the brats from the high school… choosing… whatever something program tomorrow. Our sweet and kind Class Rep ambushed me on the street yesterday to make me agree on babysitting one of the shrieking menaces, I’ve told you half a dozen times already. Sheesh!”

    “Okay, okay!” hastily replied Alejandro and put up his hands whilst arming himself with an innocent smile and a nervous expression. “No need to go ballistic just by someone merely mentioning her.”

    “Indeed? Why should I be angry if that hag randomly decides to rob me out of my free time and forces me to do something that isn’t even my responsibility? Pfft, plainly illogical,” concluded Cedric with a dismissive wave of his hand.

    “You know, you do talk about her quite a lot,” teased the dark-skinned boy and leaned next to his friend with a mischievous smile. “True, it’s mostly bad things but-“

    “But nothing!” cut him off Cedric and put a hand above his heart. “Little precious Sayuri-chan is truly like sunshine to me. In freaking hell! She’s just there to gleefully add up to the bunch of other pyromaniac abominations searing off my ***.”

    “Sounds like belligerent sexual tension to me,” sing-sang Alejandro and earned himself a playful punch in the shoulder. Playful enough to make the youth hold back a cringe and rub the sore place.

    “You swallowed up another thesaurus or something? But indeed, who in their right mind wouldn’t fall for someone who constantly parades with her ‘superior’,” Cedric paused to add air quotes “intelligence? She never listens to others and constantly thinks she’s the right one! She is prone to needless sarcasm and considers herself the best thing since the invention of sliced pizza! Only the Almighty probably knows why she isn’t fending off individuals of both sexes with a stick yet, no? ”

    Alejandro was pretty sure his foreign friend had just described himself in a few short sentences but chose to remain silent and just semi-shrugged in agreement. Or disagreement, the gesture was meant to be uncertain but Alejandro knew all too well that his foreign friend would immediately assume the former instead of the later. Cedric had that particular habit.

    Still, time had no intention of stopping its never-ending journey for the two boys so Cedric soon found himself forced to go. Naturally, the American had apparently being already quite late because Alejandro could clearly hear the scolding his friend was receiving via a very disgruntled phone call by a positively seething Sayuri long after Cedric was out of his line of sight. The dark-skinned teen glanced at his watch with uneasiness and reluctance. According to it noon has already arrived so Al finally obliged to enter through the double doors separating the Advanced Medical Research ward from the rest of the building.

    If there was a thing on this world that an otherwise well-behaved and polite guy like Alejandro could truly despise, it was most definitely hospitals. He hated everything about them with a passion. The sterilized atmosphere gave him the creeps, the signature smell of disinfectants made his nostrils flare up and the personnel was never in his good graces either. All doctors and nurses- what kind of people they were in reality didn’t matter to him- all of them in his eyes were mad scientists gleefully willing to experiment on human bodies and cackle like crazy all the while. Of course, the boy knew this to be just his imagination and made sure to be polite with each one of the people who had treated him over the years.

    Alejandro found his irrational fear of all things hospital or otherwise medicine-related, a phobia going far beyond any possible fear of needles, quite understandable. According to him, anyone would have the same reaction after being forced to spend the majority of their childhood visiting one medical facility after another in a vain hope to subdue a troublesome illness. Whatever kind of illness it actually was, no doctor seemed to know. One expert after another shrugged and scratched their heads in annoyance at being unable to comprehend the disease, if it even was one. One day, at the tender age of six, he was just rushed into a hospital due to massive internal injuries and internal bleeding. According to his parents the doctors barely saved him on time despite his family bringing him to the hospital immediately. Some time and several overheard conversations later, the then-little Alejandro learned that the surgeons had been quite visibly shocked at his body seemingly eating itself inside out. With one-fourth of his stomach missing, the young boy was forced to endure several organ transplantations and countless experimental treatments.

    As the years passed he felt himself more and more like a guinea pig, existing in the world only to be experimented upon. He soon stopped bothering to remember the names of his doctors- they just came and went, quickly substituted by another ‘specialist’ when his father realized they were of no use and decided to pull whatever strings his mediocre position in the government allowed him to. Alejandro just kept on spending the majority of his time- and childhood- stuck next to the taunting window, watching the other kids- the normal kids- playing happily outside while he was being sheltered by his dotting parents. The walks in nature he had used to enjoy so much became an increasingly rare luxury and even as his condition stabilized over the years his parents kept him on a short leash, weary of a repeat accident when he could end up not as lucky as the first time. Still, with the beginning of high school Alejandro grew more and more confident that he was finally fine. Sure that some of the numerous experimental treatments must have done the trick, he had even managed to convince his parents to let him on the track team. About his brief forays in the martial arts he dared not tell them, wary of being forced to stay in his room until he turned thirty. Al had been very keen on doing some kind of physical activity after being stuck reading books and learning new languages from private tutors all those years.

    But here he was now, finally away from home and his overprotective parents and the cursed disease or whatever it was threatened to take his freedom once again. While appearing as a weak-willed stereotypical nice guy to many, Alejandro was absolutely resolute not to let that happen again. Lost in his train of thought and attempts to suppress his slight shuddering as he marched down the pristine corridors, the dark-skinned boy had finally arrived at his destination. The room was full of piles of notes, medical books with even more notes scribbled between the paragraphs and a ton of strange medical equipment which ranged from syringes to a deadly-looking saw. Buried somewhere beneath all that chaos was Alejandro’s current doctor- a man of dubious sanity, who’s skill of interacting with his ‘fleshy’ patients was almost nonexistent. Still the man was an expert in his area- whatever it was- and while Alejandro was fairly sure the doctor would not hesitate to experiment even on himself, he was not surprised why the world-famous Oyamada company had sponsored him. Since the owner of the company happened to be a local resident it was only natural that three-fourths of the Saitama district was sponsored by him- Al’s current school included. That at least explained why it looked more like an academy than a high school, which even had a shrine on a hill overlooking the school grounds. Oh, and the Student Council clubhouse was used to host balls.

    Thankfully, the medical check-ups didn’t last long and soon Al was free to go. The teen had no idea how to spend the rest of the day off. The thought of going back for the afternoon classes crossed his mind, if only just to chuckle inwardly at Cedric and Sayuri’s feud. Or he could go visit Hana and ask how on Earth he ended up challenging a band of ruffians to a fight. However short temper Al knew his peer had, that seemed way too far-fetched to be true. Still, both Anna and Arada had claimed so and while the Brazilian still had his suspicions of the blonde being the one curb-stomping the Asakura, the Sato had seemingly no reason to lie. Unless Anna had threatened him, too…

    The dark-skinned teen inwardly shrugged and decided to drop the issue and just focus on getting out of the damned hospital that he hated oh-so-much. The thought of enjoying some of the local cuisine came to mind- specifically the local equivalent of fast food that was called ramen- and Alejandro swiftly picked up his pace after deicing to go to the nearest noodle stand. The corridors were like an endless labyrinth and his watch seemed to have stopped. Or it was playing a really bad prank on him. Either way, freedom slowly but surely drew closer and soon enough Alejandro found himself only one corner away from escaping the malicious establishment.

    Alas, the boy’s focus on getting out proved to be his undoing. With thoughts focused completely on his upcoming treat as a means to ignore his hated surroundings, Alejandro’s forehead soon found itself having a close- and painful- encounter with another human’s head. With twin grunts of pain the newly-collided duo found themselves falling down on the hard floor and attracting the attention of the majority of the people in the lobby. Of course, Alejandro didn’t realize that immediately. All he knew was that the fall hadn’t even hurt as much as it should have and that his face was currently residing on something quite… soft. As the metaphorical birdies circling around his head started to gradually scatter, the dark-skinned teen found himself realizing several important things.

    First of all, his twitching nose could sense the aroma of lilies overriding the dreaded hospital stench so the one he had crashed into most certainly was a woman or a girl. Secondly, the pressure between his legs indicated that someone’s knee was currently stationed there. And third- and most important- all of the above meant that said female someone must had ended up bellow him meaning that the soft things his face was now pressed into were…

    “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m really really really sorry! I was distracted and didn’t mean that to happen!”

    Quite a few stiffened laughs came from the small surrounding crowd as the boy bolted up but Alejandro desperately tried paying them no heed. While thankful that his dark complexion served well to hide his blush, the teen found himself at a loss on what to do. Oh, why did those things always happen to him? On the contrary to what most boys his age would have thought, that kind of airbag was sure no funbag to him- he had ended up visiting the dentist after the last one. And while after such a crash into hello situation Cedric probably would have muttered something along the lines of ‘thanks for the mammary’, the Brazilian couldn’t force himself to say it. All he could do was curse his usual luck and pray that this girl wouldn’t turn out too vengeful.

    You again?! Do you accidently grope all girls you encounter or am I just that special?”

    Alejandro audibly gulped when he realized in precisely who he had crashed into. The bright black eyes and shoulder length hair stylized in twin bangs kept by several colorful clips were unmistakable. Or at least one rarely forgets a person when said person had nearly dislocated their jaw on the very first day of school. More appropriately, before it had even began. And in the name of all that was holy, he hadn’t even been guilty that one time. She had crashed into him! Alejandro braced himself for the impact. Innocent or not, they never liked repeat offences. Nor did they understand the first time around- the Brazilian boy had that particular nearly-everyday stroke of luck.

    “Got anything to say for yourself, pervert?” asked the short-haired girl as she got up. With hands on her hips, she stood on her tiptoes to reduce the difference in height. “Didn’t expect a spunky one, did ya?”

    “Look, I said I’m sorry!” hastily responded Al and took a few steps back to ensure his safety. “My perversion is completely accidental! Oh, for God’s sake, what am I saying?! Once again, I’m sor-“

    “Okay then!” quipped the girl, her expression changing from anger to cheerfulness suddenly enough to scare most people.

    “Please don’t hi- eh?”

    “You look like a nice enough guy and you do look genuinely sorry,” said the girl and once again invaded his personal space- not that Al had any right to complain about that. “So I’ll give you a chance to repent. But since you’re a repeat offender, you have to be my slave for the rest of the day!”

    “Wait, what?” barely managed to stammer Alejandro before the girl swiftly grabbed his hand and dragged him out of the hospital, completely ignoring his protests in the process.

    “Come on, silly, we’re wasting daylight!”

    ***

    As the day- one unlike Alejandro had ever experienced before- went by, the teen found himself pushed to the limits of his stamina. The girl- Ayame Takahashi was her name- seemed hell-bent on proving to him his physical condition was abysmal. Or she was just that good, for he found himself unable to keep up with her after the first fifteen minutes. And after each time Alejandro thought his torment was at an end, she just wanted more and more.

    Despite being on the track team back home, Alejandro hadn’t done that much running around in his entire life.

    Cafés, galleries, museums, theme parks, shops- those were only a miniscule portion of Ayame’s seemingly never-ending list. The short-haired teen was probably running on pure Phlebotinum, Unobtainium or some other kind of fantastical element yet to be discovered. She never stopped moving for more than a minute, nor did she stop talking all the while she was zooming past the busy crowds with utmost ease while Al was left frantically panting behind her. It was as if in Ayame’s veins ran sugar and caffeine, instead of blood. The hyperactive motormouth’s desire to visit the whole of Saitama- which she obviously knew since she lived there- was incomprehensible to Alejandro. Not that he had much time to think. In-between the constant sprinting, he was stuck carrying bags of clothes or enormous plush toys which she won at various arcades. And for some unfathomable reason, he had to pay for all of it- Alejandro could only be thankful that because of his condition, which could worsen at any given time, his budget was quite lenient.

    In short, Ayame refused to take a ‘no’ for an answer and after a good several hours, Al really did feel like her slave.

    Thankfully, nothing lasts forever. Eventually the day came to an end and the dark-skinned boy found himself waiting alongside Ayame for her train while the sun crept slowly below the horizon behind them. The dozens of colorful bags of all shapes and sizes in his hands felt like a ton of bricks and with his wallet now weighing next to zero, Alejandro found himself understandingly relieved that all was finally over. The young man had long ago realized any slap or punch would have been better but, alas, that just wasn’t one of his good days.

    “Well, I guess that’s my cue to leave,” pouted the short-haired girl as the train finally entered the station. Her signature wide smile came back a second later. “But we sure had a lot of fun, Al, didn’t we? How about doing it again? But you better not grope me again, okay? Because then I’ll skin you alive and boil you in hot water!”

    Throwing around such threats with such cheerfulness certainly wasn’t to Alejandro’s liking. He was about to politely refuse a repeat tour of the city but his hyperactive peer didn’t even let him start.

    “Oh, that reminds me! You haven’t bought me a gift yet! That’s not very gentlemanly of you, y’know.”

    “What?” cried out the dark-skinned boy in desperation. Some things were too much after what he had been forced to endure. “You practically robbed me today, what more could you possibly want!?’”

    “Oh, that?” waved him off Ayame and beamed her innocent smile once again. “That was for groping me. Twice. In the process of you paying for your crimes I did give you a tour of the city, didn’t I? Doesn’t a girl deserve a small present after having two of her most precious things defiled by a man?”

    Al deemed the show of Ayame protectively putting her hands around her chest and her saccharine-ly sweet pout quite unnecessary. By then he was sure enough that some kind of demon or energy vampire resided in that girl.

    “Ayame, you made me go broke!”

    “And now you’re even being familiar with me without my permission,” teased the girl and flicked him up his nose. “But since you say you’ve no money on you now, I guess I’ll take this. I like it. It’s cool!”

    Before Al could even comprehend what was happening, the motormouth had slipped his lucky charm off his wrist. It wasn’t much of a charm really, morel like a reminder of that peculiar period in his childhood when his mother had promptly decided his condition must be of supernatural origins. Several ‘oracles’ and charlatans later, his father had told her to go to the church and pray instead of resorting to petty witchcraft. The bracelet adorned with five curved wolf fangs was the only thing of the various trinkets Al had kept. It had just seemed the coolest at that time- he held no belief that it would protect him from the ‘spirits of nature that were haunting him’ as that old crone had put it. Still, if the bracelet was the one thing capable of getting him rid of Ayame, the boy was ready to gladly give it away.

    And lo, behold, the great moment of joy finally came. The manic girl was gone and Alejandro was free at last. All his muscles ached and his bones emitted strange screeching noises but the dark-skinned teen started heading back to the inn with renewed vigor. While already dark, the Funbari Onsen wasn’t that far away and Tsumemaru had showed him a few handy shortcuts. It was only a matter of time before he could collapse into his comfy bed and finally be able to rest.

    “Life or money, pops! Come on, you know the drill. Make it easier for all of us, will ya?”

    The young man froze mid-step just before turning round the next corner. Despite the darkness, Al could clearly see the trio of rugged twenty-somethings that had cornered the middle-aged man. The dark-skinned boy cursed his decision to take this particular back-alley shortcut and glued himself to the wall. The thugs didn’t seem to notice him, so he was probably free to just run away quietly. But they did have knives and the victim didn’t seem too willing- blood could be spilled if the boy didn’t interfere. Even if he called the police they would probably never make it on time. Rushing in himself seemed the most foolish of options- what could a teenage boy do to three armed thugs all by himself? Al cussed under his breath, torn between what to do. If only he had taken the long way!

    What transpired afterwards happened too fast for the young man to comprehend. A desperate shout was heard, which quickly turned into an anguished cry of pain. A loud thud was followed by a lot of angry cussing as the thugs started bickering among themselves with panicked voices.

    Alejandro slid down the wall as a sudden wave of nausea hit him. His insides wrenched and bile rose up his throat as the familiar stench invaded his nostrils. The boy couldn’t comprehend why his body was reacting in such a way- everything inside him was on fire and he had to bite his lips until they bled to resist shouting in pain. It was the same as back when he had witnessed the medics carrying the student’s body out. Only this time it was stronger, fresher and not long after the crimson liquid trickled past him as the man’s body bled to death around the corner. Actually seeing the blood proved too much for him. Its scarlet hue painted his vision completely red and the stench became even stronger. Already dripping in sweat, he couldn’t resist anymore and his retching immediately caught the thugs attention. Deep down he knew he was probably next but at the same time he just wanted it to be over.

    The pain was becoming unbearable, his insides felt like molten lava and the voices of the ruffians now seemed so damn loud, as if magnified by a dozen speakers. The teen’s trembling fist struck the dirty ground in frustration again and again but it was certainly not enough to alleviate any of his pain. The most impatient of the thugs raised his knife and the boy caught a glimpse of a pair of scarlet eyes reflected on its shimmering blade.

    A spider web of cracks spread across the concrete as his shacking fist came down one last time…

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  10. #10
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    Jul 2009
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    Chapter 8:
    Craving Eyes





    The melodic chirping of the birds was what awoke him. It was distant at first and mixed with the nonsensical hustle and bustle of the city and the usual background noises that accompanied it. But then again, the barely audible cacophony was persistent and nagging. He couldn’t help but let himself be drawn to it- slowly but surely. The rest of his senses came back soon after. The light of the day was easily recognizable through his fluttering eyelids but it was the chill of the crisp morning air that completely torn him out of sleep’s iron grip. Alejandro was greeted by a shower of swirling petals colored the most gentle of pink that rained from above. Here and there, stray sun beams managed to make their way through the blooming branches of the cherry tree and seemingly took pleasure in blinding him every time the boy tried comprehending the situation.

    Common sense arrived a bit later than the rest of his primal five but eventually the dark-skinned teen put one hand in front of his tired eyes and used the other to groggily push himself up in a seating position. The boy shook his head in an attempt to clear the thick fog that so persistently kept him from remembering how exactly he had gotten there but no clear memories came to his mind. After removing a couple of stray black dreadlocks that had chosen this rather inconvenient time to hamper his field of vision, Al realized with some bit of relief that he was on school grounds. All the various buildings, clubhouses and sport fields were visible at the bottom of the small hill which obviously meant the Brazilian boy was currently on the very same one that he had climbed with Tsumemaru on his very first day of the exchange program. As to why on Earth he was there, Al would have really liked to know himself.

    “Took you long enough.”

    The unfamiliar voice sent a jolt racing through the teen’s system. The hairs on Alejandro’s neck rose up and his ears twitched almost visibly. Another sense, different than surprise and fear, clouded the teen’s mind. Had his body not been still as sleepy and tired as his mind, the dark-skinned boy had no way of knowing what he could have done. Eventually, the instinctual desire to pounce at the speaker with metaphorical claws bared passed just as suddenly as it had appeared. Only the dreadful feeling of having an empty bottomless pit in place of a stomach remained. For some unknown reason the coppery taste in his mouth that he had just started to notice made him feel nauseous.

    “Who… who are you?” finally managed to wheeze the Brazilian after regaining some of his composure.

    “I should be the one asking that,” was the immediate response.

    Despite the situation, Al forced himself to keep his cool. It wasn’t like him to get angry this easily- this was always Hana and Men’s forte. The Brazilian took his time to examine the stranger- partly out of curiosity, partly because of his brain still being in the process of rebooting. The other boy was also in his teens- albeit quite a few years younger than Al. He seemed around fourteen, tops. And even then he looked somewhat smaller than the usual- all in all, his size confirmed the image of a bratty half-pint that Alejandro had so quickly composed for the other boy in his mind’s eye. The younger teen was dressed casually- sporting ordinary blue shorts and a red hoodie- and didn’t look in no way dangerous or mysterious. True, the boy did have silvery, almost white hair, but albinos were probably among the least of strange hair colors in this part of the world. A day-old newspaper was clutched in his hands, turned on the page with the crossword puzzles and obviously in the process of being solved. Or at least the gold-colored pen constantly flicked between the boy’s fingers led Al to believe that.

    “I’m Alejandro,” finally said the older boy after judging that no growth-stunted fourteen-year-old could pose a threat to someone his age. “What are you doing here?”

    “Again, a question I should ask,” replied the boy almost without interest, nose buried in his crossword puzzle. “As for me, I’m filling the crossword, can’t you see?”

    “Must you be so literal?” asked the Brazilian and rolled his eyes at the boy’s immature behavior. Al was willing to put up with Cedric doing this but now was neither the time nor the place for that kind of attitude.

    “Well, I did answer your question, didn’t I?” said the silver-haired teen and wrote down another word in his puzzle, tongue sticking out to show how deep in thought he was. “By the way, do you happen to know of a river in Europe with six letters? I’m this close to solving it,” added the boy and emphasized his point with his fingers, thumb and pointer finger almost touching.

    The older teen’s vision briefly flashed in crimson and this time the effort to keep himself from shouting was visible. His breathing became heavier and his nostrils flared up but nonetheless all he did was glare at the other male leaning in the shadow of the cherry tree. The younger teen remained seemingly oblivious to the animosity, still focused on his puzzle, his eyes hidden beneath a wavy fringe.

    “You know what? Thanks for nothing,” said the Brazilian as he stood up and sent one last disgruntled look at the younger boy. “I’ll just go- it seems to be morning already and since the school’s so conveniently close by-“

    “I’d do something about those red blotches first if I were you,” cut him off the silver-haired boy with a casual tone. The constant flicking of his pen came to an end. The ornate figurine of a Western wyvern that adorned it was the first thing that caught Al’s attention- but then something of a far bigger scope averted it.

    Like fully-blossomed roses, spots and stains in seemingly every shade of red covered his jeans, T-shirt, jacket and even his now-trembling hands. The world around him was drowned in a vortex of scarlet and crimson and as reality slipped out of his grasp, the dark-skinned boy felt something hard hitting his knees. The thought of having fallen crossed his mind but it was quickly banished by far more pressing matters. The coppery taste in his mouth now felt eerily familiar and the disgusting scent of blood seemed to be soaking through his very being. Absent-mindedly, Al could see himself trying to wipe it off but his conscious was in a different place altogether. But only more horror and blood awaited in that creepily silent back alley drowned in eternal twilight. Along with the blurred memories of the previous night, the literally gut-wrenching pain returned as well. And as bile roseup his throat once more, something else inside him, too, tried to claw its way out.

    “Hey! Don’t give up on me now, slick! I’m so not giving you CPR.”

    It was on pure instinct- the sudden reminder of the other boy’s presence sent a shock through his system. His hand had shot out before Al had even realized he had given it that order. Disgust filled his very being when he sensed himself somehow enjoying the feeling of his nails digging through the boy’s flesh. And then, with a sickening crack, the world felt silent once again. All the teen could do was stare down with widened eyes at the crimson droplets falling on the once vibrant green grass.

    “Do you mind stopping? This does hurt you know.”

    Looking back, Alejandro considered it a miracle that he didn’t pass out right then and there. Staring straight into his black and almost teary eyes was the younger boy- alive and well. His eyes were unlike any Al had ever seen- a vibrant shade of violet that hid some mischievous glowing spark deep inside, visible only if you dared look really really close. His neck, while still being clutched by the older teen’s shaking hand, was unharmed. The Brazilian boy was ready and willing to believe he had imagined it all- if only the fresh traces of blood weren’t still dripping down his fingers. Indeed, the dark-skinned teen concluded, an ordinary albino this was not.

    “H-how? For the love of God, how did y-“

    “Ah-ah!” cut him off the mysterious boy casually and pointed at the hand that was still tightly gripping his throat. Al let him off immediately, pulling back his hand as if the boy’s neck had suddenly turned into scorching cinders. The albino took a deep breath and started talking before the Brazilian boy had had the chance to continue his barrage of questions.

    “You know what you need the most now? A bath. And fresh clothes. Yours stink, no offense, but… yuck! Come on! There are private bathrooms and reserve school uniforms in the student council clubhouse, right?”

    Alejandro was too stunned to even protest when the violet-eyed boy tucked the newspaper under his arm and, ornate pen still clutched in the other, grabbed the older teen’s wrist and started dragging him down the hill.

    “How come you know all that? You’re too young to be a student here,” wheezed Al, suddenly finding himself unable to keep up with the energetic jog of the younger male. A loud chuckle escaped the albino’s lips at the mention of his age.

    “You got me there,” said the younger boy and threw a mischievous look over his shoulder. “I’m not the right age for high school, ain’t I? You can say I’ve just a knack for knowing things. Said school’s layout included.”

    “You know, that’s some very troubling unchildhood behavior,” barely managed to mumble the older boy while trying to dodge the entangled bushes barring his way- the younger male had chosen a dubious shortcut straight down the steep slope.

    “What, helping out a possible murderer?” shot back the albino with the most disturbing of innocent smiles.

    “Duly noted,” said Al and, shoulders slumped once again, let out a heavy sigh. He still had no clear memories after that thug had gone after him with the knife… but if the evidence on hand was to be believed…

    Somewhere deep inside him, the instinct of running away until east turned into west awoke once again- but was quickly silenced by Alejandro’s steel resolution to get a firm grip on reality. Having nothing else to alleviate his grim thoughts, the dark-skinned teen opted to focus on his conversation with the other boy. However strange it was, however audacious it was, he had no choice but to take refuge in the audacity of the albino’s words and actions. Otherwise, with nothing else to keep him from dwelling on the horrors of the previous night, Alejandro was sure he would end up insane. And so he tried his best to keep the stunningly bizarre conversation alive- all the while wondering how on Earth the younger boy’s suggestions could really help him.

    “So who are you? Some heroic albino or something? Going around helping others prove their innocence?”

    “Whenever have I said that you’re innocent?” shot back the albino and let out yet another hearty boyish laugh- the one that signified he knew he was in trouble yet took great pleasure in doing mischief. “I’m just bored, is all. And I can’t seem to know the name of that damn river! You think they have an atlas or something in the clubhouse?”

    “Your ability to change the topic from possible murder to crossword puzzles is uncanny,” whispered Al and quickly slowed down his pace. They had finally reached the campus and while it was still too early for any student to be there, the Brazilian boy had experienced enough to know that there was always the chance of someone having had a night expedition through the school.

    “Are you calling me creepy?” asked the albino and raised an eyebrow with an almost hurt expression.

    “Depends,” muttered Al and checked behind the corner before venturing fort. “Are you some kind of eldritch abomination taking a form I’m comfortable with?”

    “Err, no,” answered the younger boy with a look that hinted of him perceiving Al as creepy.

    “Then yes, I can safely call you creepy without fearing that I’m going to go mad by a revelation made to me by something straight out of the uncanny valley taking the form of a growth-stunted bratty half-pint.”

    A beat passed, the violet-eyed boy like glued once his place and only able to watch as Alejandro slowly made his way towards their destination.

    “Hey! I take offense to that last one! I’m just a late bloomer, you hear?!”

    ***

    He didn’t bother turning on the hot water. No, he needed his mind awake as much as possible. The heat would have only lulled him back to a state of semi-obliviousness or worse- make him lower his guard and allow his stunningly explosive temper to take control due to some other unexpected surprise. So, understandably, he opted for a cold shower. The freezing droplets pouring from above felt like needles pricking every inch of his exposed skin. But despite the temptation to turn on the heat, Al just diligently kept scrounging the long-gone stains of blood off his skin. Neither soap nor shampoo helped ward off the stench- and despite knowing deep down that it was only his imagination, the Brazilian boy continued his vain attempts to cleanse his conscious with clenched teeth.

    It was all so… surreal. The fact that he may have very well killed someone in cold blood was persistent. The nagging thought refused to leave his brain but every time it threatened to overwhelm him, Alejandro focused only on the never-ending rattle of the falling water. He needed to detach himself, that much he knew. After it was over, however and whenever it would happen, he would allow himself to break down and cry. Or whatever he felt like doing then. His current focus was supposed to be on the now and so the dark-skinned teen struggled to make his mind go blank. It was like all those times when he was forced to endure operation after operation when he was little. All he had to do was put on a smiling face, pretend to be a brave little boy and hide all the insecurities and doubt beneath the façade. Indeed, that much he had learned from his numerous visits to one hospital or another, concluded the boy with a grim look as he surveyed the myriad of barely visible scars spread across his stomach.

    First of all, Al had no idea whether it was even him that did it. If that it was anything at all. The blood, while very suspicious, could have come from anywhere and besides, even if something within him had flipped that previous night, it all had been in self defense. The dark-skinned boy concluded that he should at least wait and see the news before jumping to conclusions- if something had happened, a bunch of bodies wouldn’t go unnoticed by the police. Second, and quite more troubling, was the matter with his recent behavior. Never before had he been so violent. Alejandro disliked needless conflicts and fights in general but lately he had definitely not been himself. It was as if there was some… some beast inside him, running only on pure instinct and waiting for the smallest window of opportunity to take control. Al ran a hand through his damp hair and tried remembering when had been the first instance of such behavior. The day when they had found the body of that student killed on the school grounds came to mind. Thinking back, it must have been the scent of blood that made him puke his insides out. But was it the reason he had wanted to break both arms of the older student that had confronted him for being weak back then?

    So there was some possible connection between his condition and his temper? That was a possibility, albeit a rather strange one. Then came the matter of his memory gap from the previous night up until that morning. Truly, there wasn’t much he could deduce there so Al moved on to the next topic- the younger boy that he had so conveniently awoken next to. By far, the albino was the strangest of all elements in Alejandro’s amateur deductions. As much as it pained him to admit it, the Brazilian knew he had broken the boy’s neck back then. He had heard and felt the snap. But why was the younger male unscathed afterwards, even without a single bruise on his neck? While that train of thought scared him, the teen knew he had to press further. True, there was the slim possibility of the albino being some kind of hallucination but he had gotten them inside the student council clubhouse. Alejandro being in the absurdly luxurious showers while the younger boy looked for the stash with the reserve uniforms was proof enough. So Al had to operate on the assumption that the albino was very much real.

    Dozens of theories about the possible connection between whatever had happened last night and the mysterious boy crossed his mind- each and every one of them more ludicrous than the other. Soon Alejandro found himself with no other plausible explanations but those of supernatural origins- and he was as willing to believe in those as he was in the blatant lies that Cedric sprouted with a straight face the majority of the time. Finding himself unable to come up with a realistic explanation that didn’t involve some million to one chance, Alejandro decided to finally give up. With a heavy sigh he twisted the knob and put on the towel that he was sure was suitable for a high-class hotel. Now only if that guy would hurry up and get back with a uniform before some member of the council got in his head to come nearby…

    A quarter hour more passed in silence, Alejandro turning angrier and colder by the minute. Finally, as if the heavens had heard his grumbled pleas and barely-hidden threats, the knob of the bathroom door turned with a creek. Not even bothering to hide his annoyance, the dark-skinned boy rushed towards it, ready to gleefully kick out his rather unhelpful helper after taking the clean set of clothes…

    “What took you so-“

    “Who on Eart-“

    A somewhat mocking sense of déjŕ vu washed over the Brazilian teen as his head met that of another human with a dizzying explosion of pain.

    Sometimes Al wondered why he had been surprised back then. Surely, after such an outstanding streak of bad luck, the habitual return of his usual female-related accidental habits was imminent. And so, Alejandro found himself pinned on the cold ornate tiles by the unfortunate soul that had chosen to rush in through the door at that very moment. Suffice to say, the dark-skinned teen was in a state of total panic. The throbbing pain in the back of his head didn’t help coming up with a good excuse for being there either. Something tickled the tip of his nose- that, and the accompanying familiar aroma of lilies, only increased his fear of whom he had crashed into. Or rather, who had crashed into him.

    Al dared open only a single eye, the other still clenched shut in pain. But, even with a possible head trauma included, there was no way of mistaking the face mere centimeters away from his own. Ayame looked positively mortified. The shoulder-length veil of her dark hair only served to emphasize how pale she had turned. This, in turn, only made the blood rushing to her face more prominent. Even her usually sparkly black eyes were fixated straight into Alejandro’s own, not daring to even blink or break eye contact as if in fear of what might happen. All in all, Ayame was the perfect image of a living statue and while trying to ignore her warm breath tickling his chin, Al couldn’t help but ask himself what was with that change. From what he knew of the girl she was more likely to overreact than to suddenly shut down all systems.

    And then it hit him.

    He was wearing only a towel. With Ayame on top of him. In the clubhouse bathroom. Alone.

    Al was sure even a supercomputer would have trouble sorting out the list of unfortunate implications that would arise if someone saw them at that very awkward moment. The Brazilian boy searched his scrambled brain for the appropriate words to make the girl relax and, most importantly, move away before they were discovered but another nagging thought suddenly crossed his mind.

    At first, he didn’t even know how he could even think of such a possibility. Even taking into account the plausibility of him being a triple murderer, it made him sick on the inside. Guilt and common sense dashed in a mad race to stop him but he could feel it- something deep inside him- stirring up and taking control. His conscious was slowly dragged into the background and the primal part of him pushed forward, clouding his mind in a haze of instincts. While vaguely aware of his nails somehow digging through the floor tiles when he clenched his fist in a vain attempt to restrain himself, all he could think of was her warm breath caressing his face. She felt so light, like a feather, and he could feel her firm breasts pressed to his chest even through her bra and white shirt. Ayame suddenly seemed so maddening, so… so desirable to him that all rules were quickly discarded from his mind. Briefly aware of seeing the crimson glimmer of his eye reflected in her own, Alejandro slowly raised his right hand with the intent to seize his pray.

    Until it was stopped in its tracks by a sharp whistle.

    “For someone who claims it happens accidently all the time, you’ve really went out of your way on this one, pal.”

    The poisonous mist of desire surrounding Al’s mind dispersed itself on the spot, leaving only the sheer horror of what he had been about to do behind. Still, nothing bad had happened and all Al could do was to follow the usual routine in these situations. Plaster an innocent smile, curse his luck and hope for the best.

    “But it’s not what it looks like!”

    “You’re half-naked and with a girl on top of you. I’d appreciate any suggestions for a better angle of looking at it but I think I see the show just fine from here, thank you,” said Cedric with his usual all-knowing smirk plastered on his face and leaned on the doorframe.

    “You really are a jerk, you know that?” grumbled the dark-skinned boy but couldn’t force himself to add any venom in his words. If the emerald-eyed smart-aleck hadn’t chosen to magically appear just that moment… Al inwardly shuddered at the thought. “It was an accident!”

    “Whenever have I heard that one?” pretended to ponder the auburn-haired American. “Mind informing me what are the chances of this particular setup happening?”

    “Uhm… a million to one?”

    “You have truly outdone yourself today, General Solo,” congratulated Cedric and mockingly clapped several times for good measure.

    “Is there any particular reason for you to be here?” asked Alejandro with a sigh and shot yet another meaningful glare towards his peer.

    “Well, I was sent here to check why on Earth Ayame is taking so long. Y’see, one of the prep school brats got nauseous and the council president sent her to get some aspirin,” said Cedric and proceeded to retrieve the aforementioned medicine from above the sink, careful to avoid any contact with the couple still lying on the floor in the process.

    “Prep schoolers? What are they- and you- doing in the council clubhouse anyway?” questioned Al with a raised eyebrow.

    “Asked the half-naked guy who’ll get kicked out of the exchange program if what I saw just now happens to reach a certain Council President’s ears,” said Cedric with a beaming smile and tossed the pills from one hand to another. “The school’s taking part in that high school tour program, remember? And to my great disdain, if I may add, I am too. Who knows what kind of brat I’ll be stuck babysitting. As for you, I’ll save your *** yet again by not telling anyone what I saw here.”

    “How generous of you,” shot back Al in an attempt to redirect some of Cedric’s annoying sarcasm back at him.

    “Ah, sarcasm. How original,” deadpanned the American with an eyebrow raised for emphasis. Al seriously considered breaking his neck right then and there.

    “Anyway, Al, I’ll be going before they sent someone looking for me. While I would truly appreciate the absurdity of the situation, I’d rather have someone sane to talk to back at the inn with Hana hospitalized and all that.”

    With a casual wave, Cedric was suddenly gone. Or not.

    “By the way, Al, you still have a mortified girl straddling you,” came the emerald-eyed teen’s cheery voice from somewhere around the corner, prompting Ayame to suddenly reboot and jolt up with a yelp. Alejandro would have been perfectly content with just that but the Universe promptly decided to have the girl slap him for no apparent reason. Twice. Somewhere amidst the dizziness, Alejandro slowly came to the realization that the media trivia of girls being able to hit harder than villains was one hundred percent accurate.

    “What are you doing down there?”

    Righteous anger swelled up inside the dark-skinned teen when he found the main reason for his latest accident leaning above him with a pile of clean clothes in hands.

    “What took you so long?!”

    “Dude, do you even know how many six-letter rivers are there in Europe?”

    Alejandro promptly kicked out his unhelpful accomplice outside.

    ***
    Sleep refused to come to him but it was not like he even wanted it to. There was a deep fear of what he was going to see- or even do- when his conscious finally slipped away and allowed his body to be ruled by instincts alone once again. And so Alejandro could only lie motionless on one of the few Western style beds in the inn and stare at the ceiling of polished wood. The room he shared only with Cedric after Men had demanded to move out was hidden in the veil of the twilight. The only light was the one provided by the dim moon peaking inside through the double windows.

    Countless of grim thoughts raced through the teen’s mind as time slipped by. Something was wrong with him- that much Alejandro was sure of. His uncharacteristically violent tendencies as of late aside, what he had been about to do to Ayame earlier that day still made him shudder. Cedric may have been his usual insufferable jerk self but never before had the dark-skinned boy been so glad to see his peer as back then. Whatever it was, something was making Al do things he normally wouldn’t think of. It was like some primal beast- never thinking, always just feeling and doing whatever its instincts dictated. If only he could just pinpoint the reason for that behavior!

    The mosaic of shadows kept on dancing across the wooden ceiling, gradually changing with the ever-moving myriad of clouds outside. The noise of a shoot-out coming from the TV in the BoZ’s room filled the air for a while until it was quickly muted after the shout of an angry woman- most likely Kanna’s, the bossy one of the waitresses. The young man’s eyelids felt like lead and he found himself having trouble keeping them open. But he had to, he knew there was no choice but to struggle and so he did. Alejandro barely recognized reality anymore but kept on brainstorming various possibilities for his uncanny misfortune. Tons of trivia he had picked up around the hospitals over the years was carefully weighted and discarded. Schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, bipolarity and a dozen more other mental illnesses passed through his imaginary investigation but in the end nothing changed. He came out empty-handed and more tired than ever.

    The nagging thought of having insulted Ayame in some way, despite the accident somehow miraculously not being his fault, was the last thing that kept Alejandro’s mind from completely running on to the land of dreams. Deciding to speak to her tomorrow at school and apologize, the Brazilian boy turned to his side and finally decided to allow himself some sleep. After all, excruciating himself wouldn’t help keep his newfound explosive temper in check either. Besides, there was no sense waiting for Cedric- he hadn’t come back after school nor he had turned up for dinner. Alejandro vaguely guessed that the American must have called to inform Miss Tamamura where he was staying- otherwise the residents of the Funbari inn would have been divided in search parties and sent out long ago. Seconds before finally succumbing to fatigue, the brief thought of what had happened to that strange albino boy crossed Alejandro’s mind. But as with all the other thoughts that crossed one’s mind just before falling asleep, it was quickly substituted by others- even more bizarre and outlandish.

    Alejandro entered the gentle embrace of dreamless sleep with a tired smile, without even being aware of the lone crow curiously watching him through the window.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  11. #11
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    Jul 2009
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    Chapter 9:
    Bared Fangs



    Taking a turn for the worst is putting it mildly,” Alejandro concluded in his grim thoughts. His eyes were bloodshot and had prominent bags under them. While seemingly absent at first, the teen’s dreams had soon turned into an endless sequence of running of something, of some… crimson-eyed beast who stopped at nothing to reach him and shred him to pieces with its abnormally large claws. Several times Al had woken up and several times he had tried going back to sleep- only to end up in the vile clutches of his REM induced visions once more. In the end he had given up altogether, spending what was left of the night rolling around in his bed, the sheets drenched in sweat a long time ago. The dark-skinned boy was completely alone- Cedric really hadn’t come back home that night. Al had kept the vain hope of faring better in the morning but the Universe seemed inclined to torture him to no end. There had been an emergency report on the morning news. After nearly twenty-four hours of barely managing to cover things up, the police had allowed the TV crews on the crime scene. The distressed anchor who could barely keep his stoic persona had strongly advised parents not to let their children watch. Of course, Kanna had been the only adult at the table that morning and, still partially fuming of having had to make breakfast for the ‘hormone-driven brats’, had only watched the report with almost professional interest herself. As always, Anna had refused to show whatever she had been thinking and Tao Men had just knitted his eyebrows and put down the bottle of milk with badly-hidden disgust. Alejandro had bolted for the bathroom seconds later, barely managing to keep the contents of his minimal breakfast inside until he reached it.

    For a split-second the dark-skinned boy had thought he had been seeing all-red once again. The dirty pavement, the graffiti-littered walls, even the rusty overturned garbage bins, everything was splattered red. Bright scarlet and dull crimson painted a vicious canvas of various spots and blotches meters up on the brick walls that surrounded the secluded back alley. Bits and pieces of something that had been human once rolled around in literal pools of blood, the police still having trouble determining the number of victims. An elderly officer practically shaking in his shoes had informed the reporter they hadn’t collected all the pieces yet. There was something eerily reminiscent of a broken ribcage embed into one of the walls, what remained of its contents slowly dripping down.

    Again and again and again.

    “It must have been some kind of rabid animal. Or maybe even a pack of them,” the police had claimed. Al wished he didn’t know better. The metaphorical cherry on top of the cake had been the announced of another four as of yet undisclosed crime scenes like the one shown. Not only the dark-skinned boy’s stomach but even his brain had grinded to a halt back then. He couldn’t be responsible for them, too, could he? He remembered everything since waking up. There was no way he could have done that… carnage. His conscience and simple logic spoke otherwise, pointing out to him he could have done it all on the same night… or even just the one before. What if he had sleep-walked during all that time he dreamed of being chased of what was probably himself? But there was not a single drop of blood on him or on the sheets! Al couldn’t have changed them as well, could he? But why he hadn’t done so the first time around then?

    Full of doubt and with constantly twisting stomach empty, Al had barely hefted himself to school. Heck, Men and his duo of bodyguards- the ones that had arrived after the school killer accident- had picked him in their car halfway. Alejandro was too afraid to look at himself in the mirror but had a pretty good idea he must have looked like the living dead- while being the friendliest to him compared to the rest of the transfers, Men wasn’t known for being overly generous or sympathetic. And so the Brazilian boy had spend the majority of the day barely paying any attention to the teachers, his heart and stomach twisting every time someone had started discussing the grisly murders. And boy, did everyone like to speculate a lot. Some part of him wondered if anyone would think of an otherwise ordinary high school student such as him being behind the murders. Eventually it was time for PE and Alejandro could finally slump half-alive on the benches while the boys and girls took turns running laps. The gym teacher, while looking like a stereotypical Sergeant Nasty working in a school after a forced retirement, took pity on the Brazilian boy and allowed him to just mope around and watch.

    It was an otherwise ordinary day. The sun was shining brightly and only the occasional fluffy white cloud or two dared to crawl across the clear sky. The other students were, naturally, in a great mood. Soon enough the boys were done with their exercise and slumped around Alejandro one by one, some lying down and others giddily chugging down bottled water. The dark-skinned teen, lost in his grim thoughts, showed no indication of acknowledging there were others around him. As the other boys- and the males from the high school choice program- passed their time with leering and assessing their classmates of the fairer sex, Al kept on dwelling on the possibility of being a psychically-unstable mass-murderer. While somewhat amusing, especially the parts where Tsumemaru explained to the shy boy assigned to him his way of assessing girls, the class’ banter proved insufficient to distract Alejandro enough. Still, he had to sourly note that evaluating a girl on an ‘as sexy as famous baseball player X was good’ basis was probably the strangest and most amusing thing he had heard in a long time. If only all that wasn’t happening to him, he would have probably been rolling on the ground laughing by then. And judging from using himself as the baseball comparison to Sayuri Nishimura, a girl deemed AA+ in the normal student language, Tsumemaru apparently considered himself God’s gift to the game.

    “I think you should go to the hospital. Straight there, if I may add. With all due respect, I don’t think the school nurse is qualified to attend to you, taking into consideration that you look barely able to stand.”

    After brushing aside the veil of his dreadlocks, Al came face to face with Tao Men- one of the few not taking part in the whole evaluation conversation. Still, the Chinese boy-genius did throw the occasional look at some of the better-looking girls but since he had strong enough will not to ‘lower himself to the level of commoners’ and tried to act gentlemanly, Alejandro was willing to let a little hypocrisy slide. After all, Men was on the verge of entering puberty himself.

    “Why so concerned suddenly?” asked the Brazilian boy with an eyebrow slightly raised.

    “Am I not allowed helping out others from time to time?” shot back the Tao in his usual haughty tone. His wine-red eyes narrowed slightly at Al. “I assure you, I have no ulterior motives in mind.”

    “That’s some suspiciously specific denial, y’know,” replied the dark-skinned teen with a forced half-hearted smile.

    “If something happens with you there will be only that moronic American and that witch to talk to back at the inn,” admitted the white-haired boy after some hesitation and looked away, his pose as proper as ever. Al had the feeling Men had substituted the ‘b’ with a ‘w’ only to retain his cultured image.

    “So, would you like to have Shu and Kyo drive you over?”

    “No, thanks,” said Alejandro after some consideration. “I think I’ll wait and see how I’m feeling when the classes end.”

    “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes, Al, pal of mine?”

    The familiar voice and the even more familiar sarcasm hidden in the tone made the Brazilian boy look up with interest. And lo, behold- none other than one Cedric Green was standing before him, littered whole with scratches and bruises covered by a myriad of band aids. While a probably beaten up Cedric was an amusing sight, Al took more interest in the little girl accompanying his friend. Well, little wasn’t quite the right word to use. She had to be one year away from entering the joyous world of high school to be part of the program and so she was just a bit below average in height for her age. While tired, Al’s black eyes quickly glazed over her, the Brazilian boy evaluating what kind of person he was facing on habit. While seemingly a late bloomer, the girl probably wasn’t ever going to be anything more than modestly endowed- least it would save her the leers of a certain baseball fan and co. She was slim, with big and wide silvery eyes that would certainly scream ‘innocence!’ if they could. Her hair, adorned with a butterfly hairclip at one of her twin bangs, was the curious shade of dark to medium blue that was usually encountered only in Japan and reached to her mid-back. While tweaked, Al recognized it as a hime cut or whatever they called it around here- the local equivalent of the princess curls, only straight and framing the face. All in all, the appearance of the cute girl in the uniform of a middle school Al didn’t know of was almost… fae. There was something peculiar about her that the dark-skinned teen couldn’t quite determine and he just settled for pitying the obviously polite female for being stuck with someone such as Cedric.

    “Did some local gang attack you, Green?” asked Men and finally snapped Al out of his musings. “It will be rather unfortunate if something was to happen to you.”

    “Nope, it was no gang, Men-chan,” shot back Cedric, suddenly serious. “I vandalized your car and that gay duo that hauled themselves over from China went all kung-fu on me.”

    While looking somewhat shocked at the emerald-eyed teen’s comment, the blue-haired girl stiffened a slight giggle. Alejandro found himself having to defuse the situation despite his personal problems which were, quite truthfully, way bigger than the two boys’ childish fight. And judging by the way Men’s face rapidly became a color similar to his eyes, more than words were going to be flung around.

    “So, Cedric, what’s the name of your friend? Normal people introduce new acquaintances to their friends, y’know.”

    The wild-haired teen had just opened his mouth when Men suddenly changed the topic again- as if out of spite at Al denying him his fight.

    “Not to sound rude or anything, but what’s with the contacts, Alejandro? You never struck me as the type. Or are you trying to emulate me?”

    Al’s brain didn’t even register the haughty teasing of the wavy-haired Chinese. Terror gripped his heart at the thought of being somehow stuck with those dreaded crimson eyes constantly. Had he been like that the whole day? Probably- otherwise Men would mention the sudden change and he hadn’t spoken to anyone at breakfast so that was why the Tao mentioned it just now. The dark-skinned teen knew all too well that not answering immediately would be suspicious- but he had no idea how to respond either. What if Men somehow miraculously connected him to the murders?

    “That, Men-chan, is what happens when one bets against me. I told him not to do it but no! Latino boy just had to try, didn’t he?”

    The brutal onslaught of his paranoia grinded to a halt when Al met his friend’s mischievous emerald eyes. Once again Cedric ended up saving his ***- in the morally dubious way that made the Brazilian think his American friend could slip by even a lie detector. Still, the blue-haired girl behind the Green was suddenly looking somewhat uncertain and… scared?

    “And what did happen, precisely?” asked the Tao, eyebrow raised in inquiry. “I would be just thrilled to learn.”

    “Wouldn’t you now? Latino boy should be glad he put up a good fight. Otherwise it would’ve been the full costume, not just the cool contacts and the fancy manicure.”

    Alejandro barely resisted jumping in surprise. All he dared do was glance down to his hands- how could he have missed his now curved nails jutting out in such a way? Was he that distracted by his grim deductions or did they gradually grow out during the day? Just great, now Cedric had ended up saving him from something Al didn’t even know of. Images of crimson and scarlet veiled his mind again as the young man pictured himself creating that very carnage he had seen on TV with the claws that now adorned his hands. If someone made a connection-

    “But!” Cedric exclaimed theatrically way too suddenly and suspiciously for Al and Men not to notice. “Al knowingly faced me in a contest of observation and since one of my many strong points are precise attention to detail and uncanny memory, it is only natural he ended up losing. I knew we should’ve bet money.”

    Alejandro paid no attention to his friend’s carefully cultivated blatant lies. Cedric’s female companion had suddenly frozen on the spot, silvery eyes wide in fear and lower lip quivering. Hell, the slender girl was shaking almost whole and staring at the Brazilian boy as if she had seen a ghost. Or… a monster. Fear and paranoia once again gripped the young man’s heart. How could she have known? And so suddenly? If Cedric hadn’t swiftly grabbed her hand and squeezed it along with his sudden exclamation she would have surely gasped or even screamed out loud. Cedric’s actions hinted to Al that there were some hidden depths between the emerald-eyed deadpan snarker and the blue-haired girl. He somehow knew how she would’ve reacted. And for some reason she had understood the Green’s intention for her to stay put just by a squeeze of a hand.

    Still, Cedric was showing no intention of letting go and while looking somewhat uncomfortable, she dared not make him stop. Unfortunate implications were bound to arise because some of the other students soon noticed the American holding hands with a middle school girl. Alejandro searched his brain for some way to inform his friend of the sudden turn of events. But, unsurprisingly, Cedric had a whole ‘nother thing in mind…

    “After all, how could have Al known what color was the bra Sayuri-chan wore yesterday? I told him time and again “It was pink!” but our passionate South American here was so insistent with his red that he lost our little bet. Ain’t I right about the color, Sayuri-chan?” finished Cedric with a shout over his shoulder.

    “Curse you, Cedric, CURSE YOU!” were the words that best described how the dumbstruck Alejandro felt about the situation. He did know that Cedric’s favorite way of saving him from one mess was to drag him in another but that was just… wow.

    The blue-haired girl was now wide-eyed and appalled for a whole different set of reasons, Men’s eyebrow was seemingly stuck in an upward arch and the crowd around them was now paying no attention to the misfit duo’s joined hands. A familiar voice roared Cedric’s full name and one seething Sayuri Nishimura came into view, fists clenched and with a curious blush on her cheeks that hinted at the Green actually been right in his guess.

    “I’d like to say ‘nice seeing ya’ but since boy-genius was here…” dragged out Cedric and threw a look behind him to determine how far was his imminent grievous injury. “Well, Al, pal of mine, Men-chan, I gotta bolt. Sayonara!”

    Cedric was suddenly gone just like he had appeared, dragging along the still shocked silver-eyed girl. Al briefly wondered if some teacher was going to make trouble for Cedric just strolling in and out of school that day. And then his train of thought took a sharp U-turn when he noticed Sayuri was now channeling her rage at the one other particular person that had supposedly been part of the nonexistened bet on her choice of underclothes.

    ***
    Al had found himself forced to flee the scene not long after. While positively hilarious for the onlookers, Sayuri’s righteous fury, one he knew full well he didn’t deserve, threatened to awake something inside the Brazilian that he would have liked to keep hidden. The otherwise innocent laugh and chatter of the crowd had become an unbearable background noise that was about to drive him insane with its constant buzzing. The lavender-haired girl’s rant on manners and inappropriate behavior had started standing out more and more amidst the other voices until hers was all the dark-skinned teen had been able to her. It had been nagging, annoying and Al knew he hadn’t deserved it. The beast caged inside him had stirred and had sniffed the air in anticipation, it had prodded the boy’s mind in the way that insured its release. Alejandro knew that he had been influenced, knew that just wasn’t him but it was all so… so tempting! The bespectacled girl had kept talking on and on, thinking she was oh-so-above him. The young man had had to clench his fists to resist temptation and a mere second later he had felt his newly gained claws draw blood from his torn skin. Sayuri’s slender neck had looked so vulnerable and exposed. All it would have taken was one simple small squeeze to shut her up. Or perhaps he should have torn her face off? She was really bad indeed, shouting at him for something he hadn’t even done. Oh, she had deserved it that one…

    Sayuri had suddenly gasped back then, a hasty action meant to hide her quivering yelp. All the rage that had engulfed him until mere seconds before drained away as the golden-eyed girl took a scared step back. He had scared her, with his mad craving eyes that shone crimson and with the expression that clearly showed his desire to hit something until no one could ever discern what it had been before. Alejandro had felt the pain once again, the searing feeling in his lower abdomen that made him think his insides were on fire. After a hasty half-muttered excuse and after assuring he was out of the class’ line of sight he had broken into a run.

    And there he was now- a lone trembling boy in a foreign country, forsaken by everyone without them even knowing it. Alejandro was lost in the busy streets of Saitama in more than one sense of the word. The young man didn’t know what to do anymore. His… condition was rapidly worsening, worst of all- it was beginning to be even visible. Even going to the hospital was out of the question. Sure, the crazy specialist that had been assigned to observe him during his stay would have gladly helped, even if just to discover the scientific truth behind Alejandro’s recent behavior. But things would have never stopped there. The doctor would soon enough report to the police after reaching to the logical conclusions. No mercy would have been shown to a foreigner killing off the local residents in such a brutal manner and it wouldn’t be long until he was sent in chains to some insane asylum. Or worse, to some laboratory where they would experiment on him in hopes of finding ways to induce whatever he had in others and control the changes.

    Rage swelled up inside Alejandro once again as he realized the world would not even stop turning for a second without him. He was merely an insignificant speck of dust, a cog in a grand machine that couldn’t care less whether he was there or not. Everyone around him just passed by without even paying him a second glance. Mothers with jittery children clutching their hands hurried down the streets hoping to get home and dump the heavy bags filled with groceries as soon as possible. Dozens of young couples walked hand in hand among the busy crowds, basking in their love while Al drowned in misery. Numerous no-good small time gangsters and punks strolled casually around like they owned the whole place. Some middle-aged man kept on taking photos of someone inside a small cozy café- most certainly yet another stalker or paparazzi after the latest idol singer. Cars driven by salarymen painfully late for their work zoomed past the teen, outpaced only by the couple of delivery boys that masterfully navigated the urban jungle and traffic jams on their scooters.

    All was right in the world- as long as Alejandro wasn’t there to break it. And as a mad scowl formed on the dark-skinned teen’s distorted lips, he could almost feel his teeth turning into fangs. The desire to paint the whole town, no the whole city, no… the whole world red was becoming unbearable.

    Bile rose up Alejandro’s throat when he realized what he had been thinking. And, disgusted with himself, the boy just forced his staggering feet to go forward, away from those that he could hurt. All he could do was walk away- and hope none ever went after him. Maybe he would end up lucky for once, chalked up as one of the victims of the very beast he actually was? “Yeah, that’d be nice,” concluded the boy in his jumbled thoughts…

    The very familiar feeling of losing his sure footing and gravity dragging him down suddenly overcame Alejandro as someone jolting out of the very café he had overlooked earlier crashed straight into him. The numerous bumps on the back of his head-all results from similar accidents nonetheless- protested in pain when they once again kissed the surface of the hard pavement. Al’s vision was obscured by whoever had fallen on top of him but the painfully familiar feeling of two round squishy things shoved into his face and the aroma of lilies that filled his nostrils hinted at Murphy ’s Law once again being the sole one at work in Alejandro’s life. The teen vaguely remembered he had decided to apologize to Ayame for the previous such accident but the day had been so terrifyingly awful that he had completely forgotten. Not that it mattered anymore. All the Brazilian boy had to do was nod his head, mutter he was sorry and shrug off a couple of slaps or punches. Then, he would just continue on his less than merry way until he was somewhere far, far away.

    “Oh, it’s you!”

    To say that the cheerfulness in Ayame’s voice took him by surprise would have been an understatement. Instead of shouting or slapping him, the energetic girl quickly got up and helped him along as well, running her mouth all the while.

    “This is becoming somewhat of a routine, y’know? Never mind, I’m kinda guilty this time so I’ll let it slide. About yesterday… look, I should’ve knocked and all that and I definitely shouldn’t have hit you! I was just very… surprised, is all. Will you please, please, PLEASE forgive me?”

    Struggling to comprehend the barrage of words, Alejandro stared with surprise at her wide pleading eyes colored sparkling black. With hands if in prayer and a cheerfully apologetic smile on her face, Ayame certainly gathered quite a few looks by the passing crowd. Afraid of any attention paid to his rather… beastly self by proxy, Al quickly accepted her apology and tried leaving with the excuse he had some work to do. Needless to say, such things never worked with his spazzy peer.

    “Can I help? It’s not something shady, right? Oooh, maybe you are part of some local gang and you’re going to beat up some rivals all by yourself? That’d be… well, illegal but cool nonetheless. And what’s with that getup anyway? By the way, that reminds me! Did you hear about the attacks of that mysterious beast? Of course you have, everybody has! Silly me. So, what do you think it is? A crazed mass-murderer? Aliens? Maybe a werewolf? Hmm, I wonder if it has something to do with that disappeared little boy that they reported on the news later today…”

    The girl’s words passed by Alejandro’s mind without even being noticed, his thoughts once again busy with his sins once she had brought up the subject. The desire to run away became stronger and stronger until the dark-skinned teen could barely keep himself from sprinting down the street and out of Tokyo, without ever looking back. Al hesitantly slowed down his pace until he eventually stopped and forced himself to talk to his loudmouth peer.

    “Look, Ayame, I really have to go. Besides, are you skipping school, too, or something?”

    The girl, still in her school uniform, playfully knocked her head and shook it.

    “Gosh, I’m acting just so silly today! I was waiting at the café for that boy that I’m working with on the program. He lives just around the block and had to get some things so I stopped by for a drink ‘till he’s ready. Shoot, I completely forgot about that! I was on my way to his house when I bumped into you and you distracted me. That’s very unkind of you, y’know,” berated him the girl and wagged her finger with a cheerful smile. “But he was late, too, anyway. Well, I guess we part ways here. Till next time, Al-kun!”

    Self-pity or not, the Brazilian teen couldn’t help but chuckle at Ayame’s antics, much less using a shortened version of his given name. The majority of people in their school would have came to quite untruthful conclusion had they heard her act so familiar with him. Hah, and she had accused him of acting like that. Hypocrite.

    Still, Al was scared that if he didn’t go now he could never force himself to. Steeling himself, the dark-skinned teen sent one last parting look at the girl running in the distance, her short midnight-black hair billowing behind her as she zoomed past the appalled passer-bys. Alejandro shook his head and headed in the opposite direction with a dry chuckle. He would miss all that, her and Cedric, and Anna and Hana’s antics and even Men’s self-centered behavior of an insufferable genius. And Tsumemaru’s baseball talk and the wackiness of the BoZ brothers and… just everything. But, alas, he had to go. For the better of everyone.

    Unless…

    What could only be described as animal instincts stirred up deep inside the boy. The beast that Al desired so much to keep hidden sniffed the air and narrowed its crimson eyes. The last Alejandro had seen of Ayame was her swerving into some back alley shortcut to save some time… and that man with the camera had ‘inconspicuously’ followed her soon after. The cogs in the Brazilian’s brain went to work with a tired screech, somewhat happy of having to dwell on something other than mysterious murders and animalistic carnage. Ayame had been in that café, the one the middle-aged creep had been observing through his camera. Al had chalked him up as some paparazzi but even if there had really been some star undercover there, why leave his post and slip into the dark corners of Saitama where no one with good intentions and enough common sense usually went? Could he have been stalking Ayame? She certainly could gather the looks of many a men with utmost ease and in a bustling metropolis such as Tokyo, anything was possible…

    Alejandro hadn’t even noticed when he had started backtracking, his pace quickly growing faster and faster until he broke into a sprint despite the protests of the pedestrians. Soon enough he had dived deep into the shadier parts of Saitama. For once his heightened senses served him well- the scent of lilies was like a visible trail of crumbs in the labyrinth of one-way alleys and wooden fences. The aroma became stronger and stronger, until eventually his perked up ears caught her voice as well. There wasn’t horror or anything similar in it. On the contrary, it was more angry than anything else, her words berating someone that Al was yet to see. After turning around one last corner his peer finally came into view- furiously struggling in the clutches of the grinning man, who was too busy to notice the newcomer while trying to unbutton the girl’s shirt. Despite the attacker brandishing a knife, she struggled and kicked and talked even more than usual. Alas, her efforts were in vain- however strong she was, she was just a small girl to the grown-up man.

    “You…”

    His insides twisted like burning snakes and he had to lean on the wall for support but despite all the pain, despite all the regret for his previous sins… this time, Alejandro searched for the rage consciously. The man’s sick laughter resonated in his ears and gave him a target, something he could focus all his pent-up fury on. The beast inside the boy roared triumphantly.

    “You…”

    Al could vaguely discern his fingers, no- his claws digging five deep crevices into the brick wall as he clenched them into a fist. Flashes of red obscured his vision and the dark-skinned teen gleefully felt his razor-sharp teeth cutting his dried lips when he spread them into an insane slasher smile. Ayame noticed him first, started shouting something Al didn’t even discern. The creep noticed him as well and pointed the knife at him. The man was trembling whole, his shaking hand barely able to hold his puny weapon. Indeed, Al could literally smell his fear and it tasted so… ecstatic. Yes, this man truly deserved what he was going to get.

    “You BASTARD!”

    Debris erupted from the wall as Alejandro jolted forward, right hand still stuck in the bricks and driving a wide horizontal crevice through the wall ,tearing it apart as if it was nothing but paper. The creep didn’t even have time to cower in fear- in an instant Al was upon him, mad laughter turning into a vicious victorious howl, and driving his right fist into the man’s face. The strangest of pleasant emotions filled the boy’s being as he felt bone and skin shatter under the pressure and he didn’t even pay attention when the bones in his own hand finally caved in and broke due to the impact. Warm blood showered the dark-skinned teen’s face as the man’s face literally dented and he was sent flying a dozen of meters behind. The creep ended his forced flight into the wooden fence at the back of the alley, shattering it into toothpicks in the process.

    Alejandro knew Ayame was clutching his free arm, trying to pull him back and chattering his ear off in the process. But he paid no heed to the girl, instead just lovingly stared at the broken teeth embed into his own bleeding knuckles, even his fingers deformed and bulging at the strangest of places where his bones had broken. Yes, love was the right word. Alejandro was already in love with his own carnage. All thoughts of running away fled the boy’s mind. In all his live he had never felt so… alive. Al knew, just knew, that if he embraced this side of his he would never have to fear for his health or well-being ever again. No sickness or foe would be able to beat him. Not then, not now, not ever.

    Miraculously alive, Ayame’s assailant shakily got back on his wobbling legs and attempted to run away from his inhuman foe. Al’s killer grin, if it was even possible, grew wider. It was child’s play to shrug off the girl and pounce at the fleeting coward. It was an uncanny jump, more akin to a supernatural predator than a human teen. Not caring for his own injuries, Alejandro once again pulled back his right hand and prepared to end it all the moment he landed on top of the man…

    At least, that’s what would have happened if someone hadn’t somehow grabbed his ankle in mid-flight and hadn’t flung him backwards into the already ruined brick wall.

    “And what do we have here? I came expecting some no good gangbangers mugging a pretty lady and all I get is some grumbling beastie that has already saved the cute girl? Meh, today just isn’t my day, is it?”

    The speaker was… downright bizarre. A freakish, insane, uncanny, extraterrestrial, tremendously fantastic foot long pompadour that glittered under the minimal amount of sunlight reaching the shady area was attached to the head of the man. The man was middle aged, sporting the tackiest of Elvis Presley high collar suits and even stupider star-shaped sunglasses. A half-burnt cigar was clutched between the man’s teeth, lips curved into a knowing smirk. The man somehow achieved the almost impossible feat of making Alejandro even angrier. How dared that weirdo deny him his prey? And was he a moron? Who in their right mind would dare oppose someone such as Al anyway? Maybe that… drill-like thing on his head was some eldritch abomination controlling the idiot’s brain? That had got to be it, concluded the Brazilian in his muddled with bloodlust mind and kneeled in preparation to jump at his new opponent. Cthulhu’s cousin or not, that thing was going to end up in tiny shreds if Al had any say in the matter.

    His surprise grew even bigger when, despite his newly-found supernatural speed, the man dodged his left claw with an almost casual step back. Still, his elongated fingernails left five bloody gashes on the weirdo’s torso. However shallow, they did draw blood. And that was enough to motivate Al even further. Taking advantage of the failed swipe the boy used his left hand as balance to flip himself over. The mid-air roll ended up with the Brazilian executing an almost perfect right hook. One that ended easily deflected into the nearest wall, the teen’s already broken fingers suffering even more from the impact. Ignoring the pain, Alejandro turned around for another go with face distorted in anger and bloodlust. Alas, he only ended up with the man’s own right fist in said face. However tall and muscular the man was, Al didn’t expect it to hurt so much. This time he was the one sent backwards and the boy found himself digging the claws of his uninjured hand into the concrete to grind himself to a halt.

    “Bravo!” said the weird man and clapped his long hands, ending in appropriately long fingers. He took off his sunglasses and tucked them safely inside his breast pocket before adding, ”But I’ve no time to waste with you, brat. If you’re gonna pull off some miracle, I suggest you do it now.”

    Words couldn’t describe Alejandro’s fury. A cloud of dust rose in the air behind him as the teen lunged forward with bared claws, ready to slice the man in dices if that was what it took to shut him up. He was so close- his curved nails could almost touch the man’s nose- when Alejandro suddenly found himself with the sole of the weirdo’s shoe in his face. Like the recoil of a spring, the man stomped down his abnormally long leg with vicious force, Al’s nose finally giving up under the pressure and breaking. Ayame’s shouts for them to stop, angry that they weren’t listening and not actually too concerned for his well-being, reached his ears. Alas, with head continuously grinded into the ground there wasn’t much Alejandro could actually do. His left hand somehow found its way to the man’s ankle, claws digging deep and ready to crush the bone in pieces.

    “Ah-ah! Not so fast, gringo.”

    It wasn’t the man’s words that scared him. No, they meant nothing to him- except a few good reasons to get even angrier and run even wilder. It was the presence that he felt, some… thing appearing nearby so suddenly that it had to have just materialized out of thin air. Actual fear gripped the dark-skinned teen’s heart and he struggled to get free. Alas, it was in vain. His muffled howls were the only kind of protest allowed by the strange man that kept on pinning him down. And then it entered Al’s field of vision. A tiny green lizard sprawled around the man’s shoulder, certainly out of place but otherwise inconspicuous enough for most people to shrug it off. But not Al- oh no. The instincts that had served him so well until a minute ago were positive- it meant trouble.

    Big, big trouble.

    With an almost mocking hiss, the lizard lunged at the struggling boy and brought alongside all-consuming darkness. Ayame’s protests still rung in Al’s ears…

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
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    Fancy villa on Alderaan
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    This has gone un-updated for far too long. I apologize.


    Chapter 10:
    False Fur



    “Nap time’s over, Sleeping Beauty. Chop-chop now, you don’t want to miss all the fun, do you?”

    The voice sounded like a squawking ostrich grinded between millstones. Or maybe it was just the headache, Alejandro couldn’t tell. It hurt even trying to think, attempting to move probably would have caused each and every bone in his body to snap in two. Unless they hadn’t already, for all the teen felt was only stinging pain after even the slightest moves of his possibly torn muscles. It pained him to even breathe- he could practically sense his ribs grinding together just above his wheezing lungs. Aside from the pain, nothing else indicated his body actually was there. He was otherwise totally numb. It was like someone had shoved him into a set of medieval armor, rendering any attempt at movement impossible. The dark-skinned boy was barely able to fight against his aching body- even his eyelids refused to open at first, feeling heavier than lead.

    Of course, they did eventually- right after Al had stopped fearing that his lungs were going to burst and just before the horror that his stiffened neck would snap like a twig if he tried to look up settled in. The sinking feeling of his nose being double its normal size didn’t help either. Nor did the constant itching that was starting to rapidly spread around his right arm for that matter. Whoever the speaker was, he must have had enough with waiting for the teen to reply. Al found his head forced up, a gruff hand suddenly clutching his dreadlocks and hoisting him up. The possibility of his scalp detaching itself from his skull seemed imminent and, in fact, so was the pain for that matter. An anguished scream of pain swelled up inside the Brazilian boy but all his sore throat could produce was a pathetic nonsensical grunt.

    “Not so giddy now, eh, punk?” said the man and shook the boy by his shoulders a couple of times. Alejandro thought he was going to finally break in pieces. Oh, he would gladly choose such fate if he knew for sure that it would make the pain go away.

    Still, his vision did clear shortly after. The unmistakable surrealistic visage of a glistening, foot-long pompadour immediately came into view, along with the man attached to it. Or was it the either way around? Al had great difficulty telling the difference in his condition. What’s more, the rather disturbing realization that he was shirtless, bound in rope and in some kind of abandoned warehouse soon struck home. Even the pain was reduced to a background sensation as Al’s rebooting brain grinded to a halt. Miraculously finding himself able to move, maybe due to the shock upon realizing his situation, the dark-skinned teen rammed his forehead into the stranger’s face with full force. Ignoring the new set of aches that the headbutt had managed to achieve, Al dashed blindly in a vain attempt to find the exit.

    A faint curse and an irritated grunt behind him hinted that his apparent kidnapper was now hot on his heels. Knowing full too well that there were no chances of actually outrunning a grown man on his own territory in his current condition, Al grinded to a halt and attempted to surprise his opponent with the first kind of roundhouse kick that came to mind. Alas, his hope of the creep getting stunned by the audacity and sheer stupidity in his sudden change of tactics died out immediately. A gut-wrenching pain sent his body into a convulsing shock, his very abdomen suddenly feeling so hollow and utterly empty that it somehow threatened to devour him from within. Ironically, the only reason that Al didn’t slump all the way in a pathetic heap on the concrete floor was that the man with the ludicrous hairdo had oh-so-effortlessly caught his foot.

    “I strongly advise you against any sudden movements,” said the hulking stranger and let go off Al’s foot with a sigh. “You’re enough of a headache as it is.

    “Why… what… do you want with me?” barely managed to wheeze the dark-skinned teen as he fought for every breath of air.

    “Could it be possible that you are as dumb as you’re incompetent?” said the man and laughed out loud, muscular hands on his hips. “You think that you can just go around and play avenger without someone noticing you? What, did you think you were the only one with such a gift? Or maybe you thought you were doing the world a favor by ridding it off that scum? Well, here’s a newsflash for ya, gringo. You can’t go around killing people like some rabid animal and expect to be hailed as a hero. Some knight in shining armor you are, you would’ve turned on the girl afterwards if I hadn’t been there. Lousy control doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

    Al had the vague feeling that his dumbstruck expression was what tipped off the grown-up about his initial conclusions. Or maybe the guy with the weird hairdo could read minds and had taken a glimpse at Al’s silent prayer of thanks to the Almighty that his jeans had apparently stayed on all the time.

    Given the man’s reaction, Al wasn’t completely willing to rule out that particular possibility.

    “What?! Did you- I mean- damn it, punk!” said the man as his eyebrows knitted in frustration. “Are you blind on top of stupid? What, are those bulging muscles so hard to miss? Or my rugged macho features? And the hairdo!? Would you think that anything less than the manliest of men can have it look so drop-dead stunningly gorgeously good on them? HUH?!”

    Almost seething in righteous fury, Pompadour Guy, as Al had dubbed him in his mind, threw his hands up in the air and started circling around in frustration. All the Brazilian boy could do was watch the ridiculous situation from his place on the cold floor.
    “Oh, you’re awake already? You deserve a penalty, y’know, for giving me such a scare! Tsk, silly teenage boys and their urges to protect cuties like me!” berated a surprisingly familiar female voice, the speaker coming into view soon after. Ayame giddily skipped from the inconspicuous door she had entered through to her wounded schoolmate and kneeled next to him. A swat on the head soon followed as the girl deadpanned, “Dummy.”

    The folded teen magazine in her hand hit like a mace- at least from Alejandro’s perspective. Still, despite the renewed pain in yet another part of his body, the dark-skinned teen found enough strength to shout.

    “What on Earth are you doing here, Ayame?! WHAT KIND OF AN IDIOT FOLLOWS THE CREEPY OLD GUY TO HIS DESERTED HIDEOUT AFTER YOU WERE ALMOST RAPED BY ANOTHER?! AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE ANGSTING OR SOMETHING?!”

    “That’s not a very nice thing to say. He did help you, y’know,” deadpanned yet again the black-eyed girl and proceeded to use her improvised weapon once more. Apparently even such grim events couldn’t bring her down. For a moment there, Al seriously thought that maybe she would have beaten up that old creep after all.

    All color draining from his face, Pompadour Guy threw his hands up and roared, “OLD?!”

    “Okay, okay!” said a scowling Al and tried to get back up on his wobbling legs. Alas, after only a single step his legs gave up on him and if not for the steady hand of the muscular man on his shoulder, the boy would have surely found himself with face planted in the concrete. “What-“ asked the Brazilian with voice shaking, his breaths once again becoming erratic. “What on Earth is happening here? I’m fed up with all of this! If you really know so much then tell me, WHAT THE **** IS HAPPENING TO ME!?”

    If not for his righteous fury and the persistent pain throughout his whole body, Al would have surely cracked a smile at the dumbstruck expression of Pompadour Guy upon witnessing the boy actually losing his temper. Well, losing it without sprouting claws and fangs at least. Contrary to his expectations, his schoolmate just whacked him once again and berated him for his use of foul language. “I never expected this from you, Al-kun,” she said as she wagged her finger threateningly at the boy.

    “You mean you don’t know?” finally asked the muscular man, mouth still slightly agape.

    “See, silly?” chirped Ayame and after flicking away a stray lock of her shoulder-length hair, placed her hands on her hips and smiled triumphantly. “Al-kun would’ve surely told me if he knew about all the cool stuff he can do if he knew! Right, Al-kun?” asked Ayame and to Alejandro’s horror enthusiastically slapped him on the back.

    Pompadour Guy plopped down on the nearest wooden box, his abnormally long feet sticking out comically in front of him. The man rested his chin on his hand and let out a heavy sigh. “Once again, I’m stuck with the greenest of the green, aren’t I? It’s in moments like this when a man truly appreciates a nice drink to make him forget.”

    “Ooh, can I have one, too?” perked up Ayame and clasped her hands in a prayer. “Pretty, pretty, PRETTY please with cherries on top?”

    “You’re underage,” cut her off Pompadour Guy.

    “But you’re, like, a super-ultra-viciously cool renegade operating outside the law, aren’t you?” spat out the schoolgirl in a single breath and bore her wide pleading eyes straight into the man’s shifty ones. The most adorable of pouts now adorned Ayame’s suddenly oh-so-innocent angelic features.

    A beat passed.

    “No.”

    “Oooh, drats!”

    “Look, can someone here at least untie me?” interrupted Al and glared at talkative girl and the freakishly tall man.

    “Hell no!” cut off Pompadour guy and, with no small amount of effort, crossed his long legs. “I’m not taking any chances with you, punk. Not after seeing what you could do with only about one-third Huyoi-gattai. Sure, your spirit’s in what you could say is a… tangled situation but still! One can never be too careful right? Even if you do get a hold of him again, I’d like to see you try tearing the rope apart. Interwoven steel threads, gringo. Just a little pressure and it’ll cut you up like a ripe fruit.”

    “What, you’ve stolen my soul with some local voodoo mumbo-jumbo or something?” spat out Al and lifted a skeptical brow. The man seemed barely able to resist the urge of shouting in frustration.

    “Look, punk, I’m only saying this once so you listen well. First, introductions,” announced Pompadour Guy and fumbled through his pockets, a rather difficult task considering his current seating arrangement. After half a minute or so, he managed to take out a card out of his pocket with great effort. After having it shoved to the tip of his nose, Al squinted in an attempt to read the contents.

    “Umemiya Ryuunosuke, The Lovable Ladynator?” read out loud the dark-skinned teen and, despite all his hardships and pain up until now, had to bite his cracked lips to resist laughing.

    “What?!” exclaimed Ryuu in shock and almost dropped the card. Tossing it away with a grumbled curse, he went on another raid through his pockets and produced yet another card. Al had to lean back to be able to focus on the piece of paper that had almost ended up being shoved in his mouth.

    “Eki-san! The man who will make your ghostly troubles go away?”

    “S’right, punk! That’s my alias when dealing with the more… abnormal aspects one with my profession has. And I better stay known only as Eki-san, got it, punk?” Ryuu’s shifty eyes bore straight into Al’s black ones, sending cold shivers down the boy’s aching spine. With that kind of face the man could surely lead a successful band of cutthroats, concluded the dark-skinned teen.

    “So here’s the real deal, gringo,” continued Ryuu, obviously happy with Alejandro’s audible gulp. “Open those ears of yours wide and listen carefully ‘cause here comes the revelation that will turn your life upside-down and leave you with your jaw cracking the floor!” declared the man with burning passion and gleaming eyes as he shoved his pointer finger between Al’s eyes.

    “Spirits, gringo! Spirits exist in this world of ours! And you, like me, are a shaman that can see, interact with and control them!”

    The following minute felt like eternity, time slowing down to a snail’s crawl and bringing along tension and silence that could probably be cut with a dull half-broken paper-knife. Chaos engulfed the teen’s mind and the best, most logical and sensible thing Alejandro could come up with was…

    “What?”

    “A shaman!” almost shouted Ryuu in frustration at Al disbelieving his story. “Honestly, don’t tell me you have never encountered something strange that can only have a supernatural explanation? Graveyards full of seemingly living people? An old lady talking to you while no one else sees her? Pfft, that aside, you were in Huyoi-gattai with that spirit of yours. You can’t possibly not know. It’s too dumb to even play dumb in this situation.”

    “Huyoi -whatchamacallit?” blurted out Al, still as dumbstruck as ever. Eki-san looked ready to rip his precious seemingly magical hair of alien origins off, if the way he grinded his teeth was any indication. Still, the Brazilian boy had an unusual stroke of luck. Ayame’s folded magazine found itself clubbing a certain pompadour-sporting head this time, to its owner’s great surprise.

    “I told you already. Al-kun doesn’t know a thing,” said the black-haired girl and folded her arms. “Stop being such a bully and tell him already!”

    “But, Aya-chan!” protested Ryuu.

    Aya-chan?!” exclaimed Al with widened eyes. “You’re probably twice her age!”

    “Enough!” suddenly shrieked the tender schoolgirl and glared at both males, black eyes ablaze with fury. “No more interruptions! Tell him what you told me! PRONTO!”

    Barely resisting an audible gulp, Ryuu shook his head in frustration and finally obliged to proceed with his explanations.

    “Look, gringo, believe it or not, what I’m saying is true. For lack of better examples, take the classical shamans from the history books. Spiritual guides, healers, mystical warriors- that’s what we are. Basically, the shaman is the link between this world and the next. Thing is, many spirits linger on our side. Humans, animals, even some things that aren’t either. You name it, we have it. The shaman’s job is helping these sprits enter the afterlife. And that’s why we need a mochirei- a guardian spirit of our own. Y’see, some spirits aren’t too keen on ascending- they kinda like it here. Plus, there’s this whole ‘nother thing with rival shamans attacking you. Huyoi-gattai or Spirit Unity is among the most basic of shaman abilities. It’s the act of allowing another spirit to possess your body to gain access to his abilities. Say, you pull off a Spirit Unity with a pirate and now you can use a broadsword and a pistol proficiently, get it? But not only the spirit’s abilities get passed onto you- a part of his or her personality does, too. And lo, behold, you’re now cursing like a sailor and inclined to rape, pillage and burn.”

    Alejandro found himself listening carefully, despite his sense of logic practically screaming ‘nonsense!’ For some unknown reason the Brazilian boy could sense some kind of truth in Ryuu’s words, however strange they actually sounded. It felt more like… instinct than anything else, just a nagging thought in the back of his mind whispering to him to at least try and believe, even if for but a second.

    “Now, the problem here is this,” continued Eki-san after realizing he wasn’t going to receive a better reaction than Ayame’s overly-enthusiastic nods. “When in Spirit Unity, there’re two souls in a single body. So, one of them has to follow the other’s orders or they both have to agree on a given action. It’s either complete trust and striving for a similar goal on both sides or complete obedience of one of them. Anything in-between yields only lackluster, average results. But sometimes one of those spirits that like it here get in their heads that it’d be better if they had a physical body of their own. So they seek out a shaman whom they can possess and force his spirit into total obedience while claiming his or her body for their own. They can possess a normal human’s body but an Average Joe’s spirit would just ascend and the body would eventually decay to the point of being useless.”

    “That must be it!” exclaimed Al and almost jumped, eyes widening once again. Even the pain seemed to alleviate as the teen’s broken mind could finally cling to a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that could prove his innocence. “I must’ve gotten possessed by some kind of serial killer or something! That just proves I’m not the one who did-“

    “Nonsense!” said Ryuu and punched the nearby pile of boxes, sending them flying. “And what about the physical changes, idiot? Claws, fangs, animalistic instincts? There was an animal spirit inside you and you know it! Will it kill you to just adm-“

    A faint echo resonated between the warehouses walls as Ayame’s slap almost made Ryuu fall over.

    Explain,” grumbled the girl through her gritted teeth, the impact of the motormouth uttering only a single word affecting the grown man more so than the sudden slap.

    “Aya-chan, no matter what you want to believe and how much-“ started Ryuu with a suave tone that almost made Alejandro puke but the girl only kept glaring sternly at the man. A petite girl looking down on someone who was taller than her whilst sitting down was truly a sight to behold. With a defeated sigh Eki-san buried his face in his hands. “What allows the link between shaman and spirit is spiritual energy. For shamans, it’s called Furyoku and for spirits- Reiyoku. The main difference is that while a shaman’s Furyoku is a fixed thing- it’s basically our sixth sense, a spirit’s power can grow with age. A weak shaman can’t control a strong spirit. We use our Furyoku to materialize a part of the spirit on the physical plane. But if a shaman with, say 300 Furyoku tries to do this with a spirit with 600 Reiyoku, he’ll either fail or just materialize only a part of the spirit up until 300 and even this will only last a very short time. It’s simple math really.”

    “I thought you said spirits possess shamans to grant them their strength,” asked Al with desperation evident in his voice as his brain tried to comprehend all the infodump.

    “It’s the same with possession,” replied Ryuu with a shrug. “if that spirit tries to enter that shaman’s body and just persists on staying there, well… death is the usual outcome. Unable to handle all that pressure- both spiritual and physical, the human body will go really desperate and start eating itself from the inside out in hope of transforming its physical essence into Furyoku. You can guess how this turns out for a shaman whose heart, for example, gets absorbed in hope of gaining enough power to keep up the Spirit Unity going.”

    Even if Ryuu had kept on talking after that point, the dark-skinned teen had no way of knowing. The sure footing beneath him slipped away in an instant, shifting into a metaphorical quicksand that threatened to devour him. In Alejandro’s own little world- a wretched and twisted barren wasteland now compared to what it had been before- nothing existed anymore. Nothing but the sinking feeling of emptiness into his stomach and the dozens upon dozens of voices ringing in his ears. Arguing, whispering, panicking- all of them aghast as to how a ‘disease’ like his could even exist.

    “Hey, hey ,hey!” came a female voice from somewhere near him, dispersing the ramblings of a past long gone. A tinge of concern was hidden somewhere beneath the cheerful exterior of the speaker. “Are you alright, Al-kun?”

    “Theoretically,” started the boy with a sunken voice, his eyes now hidden behind the veil of his dreadlocks. “Is it possible for someone to keep on living after getting part of him… sacrificed like that?”

    “When, it’s no actually impossible,” shrugged Ryuu and gave the boy a stern look, clearly wondering why the sudden change of attitude. “But given that the whole process targets the internal organs first it’d take a miracle for anyone to make it through. Even if you somehow manage to get a transplant on time, it’ll just get sucked in as well. The only possible way is for the two spirits to, well… merge partially. Kinda. Look, gringo, all that shaman and spirit stuff, no one has gotten down all the facts as of yet. What I’m talking about is a sort of… symbiotic relationship. The invading spirit and the host’s one just find a way to coexist in the same body, both of them lying dormant. Until none of them tries to expel the other, they can both continue existing. But that depends on the perceptions of the spirits as a whole! No adult spirit can achieve this- look at yourself, you’re almost a man now! Our spirits are used to only us living naturally in our bodies- our psychological egos just can’t accept anything else. For this to happen the host has to be a little-“

    Chocolate brown widening upon the sudden realization, Ryuu jolted up from his improvised chair as if electricity had suddenly coursed through his body. The man’s long legs took him to the tied-up teen in an instant. Completely uncaring about any possible pain or discomfort caused, Ryuu hauled Alejandro up almost effortlessly. Eki-san held the boy at arm’s length, tired black and curious brown eyes locking into a duel of wills.

    “Unless the host happens to be a little kid,” finally finished Ryuu with a whisper. “Y’know, things are really starting to make some pathetic kind of a sense now.”

    “What are you-“

    Alejandro wasn’t allowed to finish for after a casual click of Ryuu’s fingers, a green burst of something vaguely resembling flames erupted from a spot in the empty air behind him. For a moment the dark-skinned teen was really glad that his throat was sore. The appearance of a small slightly elongated disembodied head made out of green energy- and with snake-like hair no less- would have made anyone scream his lungs out. The fact that Ayame showed no signs of even acknowledging the sudden arrival of the ghostly wisp didn’t help either.

    “What’s this thing?” asked Al with a small voice and eyed the floating intruder with suspicion.

    “My mochirei- Tokageroh. And this one is your… err… well, it’s yours,” concluded Ryuu with a frustrated wave of his hand and only then Al noticed another little wisp entangled in the wild mess of tendril hair the green one had. The second ball of light was silverfish in color and the closest thing it resembled was the disembodied head of some kind of wild beast. A wolf was the first thing that came to mind.

    Needless to say, the silver wisp certainly didn’t look happy to be confined by its fellow spirit. It trashed around violently, howling and growling and glaring at everyone with its burning eyes.

    “They don’t look very… threatening,” admitted Al after carefully studying the wisps, one of which could easily fit into his palm.

    “They’re in a… compressed form,” explained Ryuu after ignoring the semi-hurt ‘hey!’ that came from his own partner. “Look, gringo, I may’ve been a tad rude with you since we’ve met but… err, no hard feelings for what’s about to happen, right”

    “Wait, what are y-“ started Alejandro but couldn’t finish as he found Ryuu’s abnormally long and strong hand crushing his windpipe. The dark-skinned teen desperately tried to break free but even if he wasn’t in such a condition- and tied up nonetheless- he could never hoped to wrestle free from the vice-like grip of the muscular man.

    With a serious expression, Eki-san grabbed the silver wisp and tore it free from Tokageroh’s flailing hair. The wolf spirit didn’t take kind to its new captor either and tried to slip away but soon seemed to realize it was in the same situation as the Brazilian boy. Ayame let out an angry shout and lunged towards Ryuu, little fists striking him repeatedly, but the hulking brute just chose to ignore her attempts at freeing Al.

    “Once again, sorry, kid. I advise you start praying now. Huyoi-gattai-“

    Ryuu pulled back his left hand, the one with the silver wisp, and after a single second in which his eyes showed a faint hint of changing his mind, rammed the wolf spirit right into Alejandro’s chest…

    “-100%!”

    ***
    “Funny seeing you here,” said Ryuu as if to the empty air and took a large sip from the bottle of amber liquid in his hairy hand. “Didn’t see any crows flying around.”

    No one replied to him at first, the only sound coming from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Tokyo far down below and the howling wind that always adorned these heights. Even Tokageroh- still a luminescent flying head of green energy- stayed silent. Just like his master, who was now tiredly leaning on the railing, the spirit didn’t pry his diligent eyes off the streets of the city. Like tiny bugs crawling around endless ceiling-less tunnels, the residents of Saitama scurried in each and every direction, unawares as to what kind of miracles and dangers hid around the corners of their city.

    “Maybe I took the stairs,” eventually replied a boyish voice, its mischievousness given away by the chuckle that followed soon after. “Or you’re just getting old and your sense dull.”

    “Now, now, is that any way to greet an old friend?” shot back the hulking man as he finally tore his shifty eyes off the crowds below and threw a smiling look at the newcomer.

    “Well, that depends,” replied the boy with clearly obvious false uncertainness. His lavender eyes answered the challenge in Ryuu’s ones and bore straight into them, unblinking. “Do I have any friends here?”

    “Oh, I give up!” said Ryuu and shook his head, the contents of the bottle once again ending up in his dry throat soon after. “It’s been one hell of a day up ‘till now.”

    “Something tells me the night’s gonna be even more interesting,” said the violet-eyed boy with a chuckle and skipped next to the black-haired man. Sprawling himself over the railing, the young teen took a deep breath with gusto, allowing the wind to play with the wavy fringe of his silvery hair. “Y’sure you want to face what’s coming drunk?”

    Ryuu let out an indignant snort, cheeks flushing. No other answer came after that but the boy seemed content with the silence. Eventually he just shrugged and after taking out some kind of a book from the bag hanging off his shoulder, slid down the railing and immersed himself in it. The sun just kept on descending down the horizon, the sky turning as crimson as the sides of the glass giants of Tokyo whose walls reflected the dying sunlight. Tokageroh was the only one of the misfit trio who dared move. The green wisp, still preferring to stay in this form in case of a need for immediate intervention, flew around the skyscraper’s roof tirelessly. Whether he was just unnerved by their unwanted guest or his partner just wanted to keep an eye on all directions, Ryuu couldn’t tell.

    “I might’ve killed a boy today,” eventually said the black-haired man, the half-empty bottle once again going to his lips.

    “Why did you do it then? Why force-speed the process? Besides, you weren’t much older when Mr. Terrifying Bandit here tried to hijack your body,” pointed out the boy as he flipped over a page in his book.

    “That’s ancient history!” swiftly shot back the green wisp and let out an indignant hiss.

    “That’s precisely why,” replied Ryuu after a short pose, eyes still glued to the pedestrians in the distance. “I wasn’t even able to see spirits before then. And if one like me can pull it off, why someone like him who already has shaman powers can’t?”

    “You fought off Tokageroh’s influence,” shot back the silver-haired boy with a laugh as he finally looked back from his book. “This one is facing something way more than the angsty spirit of a bandit not even remembered by history.”

    A faint grumble could have been heard from the other side of the roof.

    “Who exactly is that spirit? Tokageroh had quite some trouble restraining him.”

    “You said it yourself,” replied the young teen with a shrug and finally obliged to stand up. “Toka-“

    A stern look by Ryuu shut him up but the look in the boy’s lavender eyes didn’t show any actual fear, despite the man being around twice his size.

    “It’s one of the Patch’s spirits,” eventually answered the teen as he leaned on the railing. A grumbled curse escaped Ryuu’s lips at the mention of the name. Overseers and organizers of the great Shaman Fights that took place every five-hundred years, that particular Indian tribe seemingly lost to the annals of history had access to one of the strongest spirits of nature.

    “Aren’t their spirits supposed to be all of the Seirei class? Y’know, refined, talking, wise, not being rabid murdering machines?” asked the hulking man almost with disinterest, his attention once again glued to the rapidly emptying bottle in his hands. “And what’s it searching for here in Tokyo anyway?”

    “True, this one has reached the needed half a millennia of age to evolve,” said the boy as he nodded in agreement. “But you do know that the other main requirement is letting go off one’s ego and willingness to discard the form he has had during his life. This one is still tied down by one single emotion: revenge. And that is the answer to your second question, actually.”

    “I doubt there’s anyone still alive from his time,” said Ryuu, playing with his wispy goatee in thought. Then, after a single look at the boy, had to stiffen a laugh before continuing.“So he must be chasing another spirit? Or is he just blindly wandering around and unable to vent?”

    “Maybe both, maybe neither,” shrugged the young teen as a mischievous smile played on his lips.

    “Pfft, like you wouldn’t know,” said Ryuu with a snort. “And what’s the deal with that kid anyway?” asked the man, his chocolate brown eyes squinting. “However you look at it, he should be dead a thousand times over by now. How long has he kept it going anyway? Even with the possibility of a spirit meld that kind of a spirit can’t coexist with him for long. Eventually the shaman’s spirit rejects the intruder!”

    “Quite nasty, right?” seemingly agreed the boy, lavender eyes wandering away in the distance. “Even those who manage to bond their souls to another as children always inevitably grow out of the ability to sustain the meld. So sad, really- it just proves we are unable to connect on such intimate levels without our egos ruining it all in the end. Growing up really does suck, no?”

    “I didn’t ask about a Psychology session,” grumbled Ryuu in response. His young interlocutor just sighed.

    “Alejandro Lopez met the wolf spirit Snow Claw at the tender age of six during a family trip through the Brazilian rainforests around ten years ago. Silver Claw’s Reiyoku is 4,700. At the time of the forced possession, the boy’s Furyoku was 170. His current Furyoku is… 3,400.”

    Ryuu almost drop the bottle over some unfortunate passer-by’s head down bellow as a stunned ‘WHAT?!’ escaped his lips.

    “That’s impossible! The very fact that he should’ve been practically vaporized on the spot the second that spirit entered his body aside, Furyoku is a… it’s fixed! Determined at birth. He can’t just have his increase over the years.”

    “Pfft, you should know better, my freakishly tall friend with a ridiculous do,” replied the younger male with a boyish laugh. “There are four exceptions to the rule and s’far as I remember, you have experienced some of them. First, managing to throw off an invading spirit’s possession can awaken the dormant shaman potential in an otherwise normal human,” said the boy as he started counting on his fingers. “Secondly, being stripped off one’s five senses and leaving only the sixth can ‘trick’ body and spirit into thinking they’re dead and then have more Furyoku added up to what they already have upon returning of the primal five senses- a sort of false rebirth and hence, a new amount of Furyoku ‘assigned’ to the individual. Thirdly, a near-death experience. And last but certainly not least, literally dying and being brought back to life.”

    Ryuu just kept on staring emptily at the reflections of the glimmering city lights on the skyscrapers’ walls.

    “Given that the boy lost half his innards, spend around two years nearly in coma and around eight more fighting to keep the balance between the two souls in his body, I say he fits number three quite well,” concluded the silver-haired boy and beamed a smile at the older male. “If you ask me, I’m surprised his Furyoku swelled up so little, not so much.”

    “That punk kept a Huyoi-gattai going for more than decade without even noticing?“ finally asked Ryuu, his left hand gripping the railing tightly and his left threatening to shatter the bottle. “Has anyone even tried sustaining Spirit Unity for so long?”

    “Well, there was this crazy old guy back home who-“

    “-Y’know what,” cut him off Ryuu as he held up the hand with the bottle and pointed irritatedly with his index finger. “I’m starting to really think I’m getting too old for this and the feeling ain’t pleasant. At all.”

    “Meh, suite yourself,” shrugged the lavender-eyed boy and with one swift move took the bottle from Ryuu’s extended hand. “I don’t really think you should drink anymore.”

    And with a mischievous smile, the young teen drank whatever measly amount of amber liquid was left on one go.

    “You can’t do that!” protested Ryuu, albeit more concerned with the act of stealing his goods than the boy actually drinking them. “You’re under-“

    “Underage?” cut him off the younger male and let out a hearty laugh. “Are you really that drunk already? After a single bottle?”

    “Well, appearance aside, your irritating bratty behavior doesn’t help remembering certain facts about you,” grumbled Ryuu through gritted teeth.

    “I just like it. Can’t I enjoy what I do anymore?” asked the silver-haired teen, voice suddenly raised and shaking hand gripping tightly the empty bottle.

    “What about the books then?” pressed on the matter the black-haired man, his interest flaring up at the chance to learn something personal about his interlocutor. “And the crossword puzzles? Hell, you were playing chess against yourself last time I saw you!”

    “Well,” hesitated the boy, eyes now hidden beneath his wavy fringe. “To get smart. Smart people don’t make mistakes so often, do they? And I don’t want to make any more mistakes… than I made last time.”

    Before Ryuu could say anything, Tokageroh’s anxious shout grabbed his attention. Far down in the shady alleys below, the shadow of a monstrous four-legged beast darted in the labyrinth of Saitama’s backstreets.

    “Apparently this particular game has entered its final stage,” said the boy as he peered over the railing. “A rivalry from five-hundred years ago is going to be resolved tonight and something tells me… the winner may yet play a bigger part in the events that are to come.”

    “A rivalry?” almost shouted Ryuu and seized the much smaller male by the shoulders. “You’re telling me there is a second spirit rampaging around and you did nothing to stop the murders? How could- dammit, you’re the-“

    “What? The figurehead?” finally snapped the boy, violet eyes now ablaze as their piercing gaze bore in the brown ones. “The time is almost nigh,” finally admitted the boy with a sigh and looked up towards the sky- almost no stars were there to greet him. “The defense measures that I was so thankful about all those years ago are coming back to bite me in the ***. Hard. I was forced to take the only option I had and if I just so happen to interfere directly…”

    Silence descended once again between the duo, the boy’s shoulders now slumped and eyes once again sunken.

    “Do you even know how frustrating it is to be unable to do anything? To be forced to watch from the sidelines while knowing full well what kind of disaster will happen eventually? I’ve only one ace and one only up my sleeve. And I can’t afford to use it until the right time comes.”

    The sound of shattered glass tore apart the silence as the bottle’s neck snapped in two. Dots of crimson now adorned the concrete, somehow a darker color than even the darkness, like holes in the night. The seconds passed and with them, the drops of blood eventually retraced their way back to the boy’s hand, flesh and skin mending back together without even leaving a scar behind.

    “I pushed my luck just by diverting the other one’s attention the other day,” eventually admitted the younger male. “Snow Claw seemed content with just breaking a few bones and running away but when the other one came and tore apart the gang… the wolf snapped when he realized who his opponent was. I think that’s why Alejandro became so increasingly violent and pushy. Even the spirit couldn’t control his primal instincts, what was left for the human bo-“

    The lavender-eyed male’s word ceased to a halt as he suddenly found a large heavy hand resting atop his head. Ruffling the wavy strands of silver, Ryuu signaled to Tokageroh to come back and prepared to descend down to the street level.

    “Then we just have to pray that the greenhorn punk of a newbie pulls it off,” shrugged the hulking man and threw one last look before retrieving his wooden sword, leaning on the wall not too far away from them. “Ain’t I right, Arty-kun?”

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  13. #13
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    Jul 2009
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    Chapter 11:
    Seething Maws



    It was coming.

    And there was no stopping it.

    It was like a force of nature. Unswayable. Relentless. Uncaring to what lengths it would have to go to get a hold of him. Where he was forced to rely on his agility, it just mowed down everything on its path. Like a charging freight train, it took down trash bins, fire escape ladders, walls. Nothing, virtually nothing, was safe from its brutal onslaught. And every time he had to climb up walls and crawl up the umpteenth fence, he winced mentally. It was in those moments that the end truly seemed nigh- snapping at his very heels, it continued undisturbed on its warpath, catching up to him in the precious few seconds he had taken to find a way out. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl as its gaping maw was just about to sever his legs- only for luck to smile on him yet again and some of the debris it had caused to get in its legs and slow it down once again.

    And then it all started anew. Yet again it gained speed unimaginable for something its size in the matter of seconds and caught up with its seething prey in an instant. Way beyond tired from the game of cat and mouse, he bared his fangs in a guttural growl and tried to dart forward faster. Desperation clouded his mind even more than the rage of having been forced to run for his life. A glimpse of hope appeared on the horizon as in one single leap he covered whatever distance was left until the next swerve in the web of dirty alleys. But instead of turning round the corner and losing precious speed and momentum he opted to jump up. His curved fingernails dug deep into the brick wall, helping him go up and try escaping the monstrosity behind him. Alas, despite going a good several meters up, his foe crashed into the building in an instant. A web of cracks exploded from the point of impact, jolting upwards just before the wall was literally split apart in pieces. Chunks of debris rained down upon him and the hard ground served as his landing cushion. But he ignored the pain, ignored how heavy his glistening fur had gotten from all the sweat and how his rasping lungs barely had enough power to keep him going.

    He could see the monster through the veil of dust that had shrouded the alley. It shook its large head, seemingly unscathed from the impact, and let out a roar that resonated in the dead of the night. Ignoring the pain in his burning muscles, he ran again, for it was coming.

    And there was no stopping it.

    ***
    Alejandro was, quite frankly, at a total loss.

    As if by an impenetrable veil, his whole mind was shrouded in a thick fog. A fog whose hazy etherealness seemed to stretch out to everything around him, engulfing it as well and creating a barren world filled with nothing but emptiness. The dark-skinned teen had no way of knowing if it was all inside his head or whether he was actually seeing any of that. All of his senses were failing him. His sight was questionable, as the mist was everywhere. His hearing wasn’t fit to rely on either. All he could hear in the total stillness of the air was his own voice. Or were those just his jumbled thoughts? In fact, was there any air at all? His skin picked up no foreign or familiar sensations. For a second Al panicked, afraid of suffocation. But still, no harm came to him. The Brazilian boy dared not declare his life out of danger. If there was any life to be endangered at all- for all he knew Al could have been nothing but a consciousness anymore.

    A single soul stripped off its earthly body and trapped inside its own mind. Alone. Forever.

    For some unfathomable reason, Alejandro didn’t panic. In fact, he rather liked his current state. He felt… at peace. There was nothing to bother him, nothing to cause him pain. The memory of having felt pain deep inside his abdomen sprang up in the boy’s mind. And disappeared just as quickly, swallowed up by the all-consuming fog. Still, what was important was that he felt no pain anymore. Al happily concluded that whatever life he had been living before- his memory was as hazy as his surroundings- this new one sure as hell seemed to be better. Fully content, Alejandro tiredly allowed the blissful mist of nothingness to lull him to sleep…

    But his one and only desire was denied, rather rudely in fact. Like the sound of thunder splitting apart the skies, a resounding roar boomed in the nothingness and shook the fog to its ethereal core. It died out as suddenly as it had appeared but its nagging presence remained behind. Al started picking up on other ones, too. Thunder, yet only a whisper, echoed somewhere far far away. Never-ending, like the rattle of the rain, the echoes called out to him. Every single one of them was like a raindrop in the ocean, sending out one tiny shockwave after another. And they grew with time. Soon enough, tremor after tremor, the fog was pushed away.

    And he started feeling again, suddenly wary of the fog as it now was nothing more than smoke filling his lungs. Al tried to scatter it further by waving his hands…

    But nothing happened. There was no trace of his hands. Or the rest of his body. In fact, all he could see were a pair of tiny white paws. The sudden return of his senses sent a shock through his system. The light suddenly blinded him, all the unfamiliar scents in the air set his nostrils on fire and the voices around him turned deafening. And then he suddenly was running, dashing away from something unknown that was speedily coming his way.

    He wasn’t the only one. Others like him were all around- the large ones that towered above Al’s tiny form encircled him and all the other pups. The loud whinnying of horses was getting closer and their thundering hooves sent tremors through the ground. A terrifying and sudden roar split apart the air and suddenly one of the large ones was on the ground. A pool of crimson now adorned the viridian grass around it but the great beast lay unmoving. A smaller one of the same color headed swiftly towards it as fast as it could on its tiny legs, only for a brown one to snag it up between its teeth and rush towards the rest of the pack before they caught up.

    He could hear them, too. Above the shrill voices of their horses, above the thundering roars that preceded the fall of his packmates, their laugh and triumphant cries echoed throughout the centuries-old forest. He was having trouble running now, his tiny legs and lungs unable to match the pace of the fully-grown beasts. More and more of them fell in shrouds of crimson until even the small ones weren’t spared. The protective wall of the adults was suddenly gone and death rained from above.

    A sudden roar of thunder. Nothing more and they were gone. Pain coursed through his own body when something searing licked one of his hind legs. With the momentum keeping him going, Al stumbled over and whined in fear of being crushed. But, just the opposite, he felt the ground beneath him vanish as someone picked him up by the scruff of his neck. And the mad dash continued, until only there were but a scant few left. And the laugh of the ones atop the horses just refused to cease.

    Al was suddenly unceremoniously dumped on the hard ground, inside some rather uncomfortable and tick bushes. He fought to break through the thorns but his savior- a grey one just like him- just pushed him sternly back with its large paw. The grey beast seemed to hesitate for some reason. But it didn’t last long, however. With a parting lick, the grey beast darted away.

    In the direction that they had come from.

    Suddenly scared of being alone, Al scuttled back deeper into the bushes, eyes glued to the trail of crimson beads left by the grey one.

    Somewhere not far away, laughter turned into panicked shouts. A cry of pain melded with the roar that always preceded death. No laughter was brought to Al by the wind anymore. Only angry shouts and the dying howl of a wolf…

    ***
    She had found him long ago. It was difficult to imagine even, especially when she tried to compare the beast towering above her when on his hind legs to the tiny bundle of fluff she had stumbled upon in the bushes. He had tried scaring her off, a rather humorous and pathetic attempt considering his size. He couldn’t even scare a little girl like her back then- quite the scary contrast to what the grey beast was today. What had once been a silly harmless snap of barely existing fangs, now could split apart the thickest of spears. No one had objected when she had brought him back to the village. It wasn’t like half the tribe didn’t practice this particular custom. Animals that have grown amidst the Patch usually proved valiant spirit guardians to the later generations. True, her mother was unnerved by the wolf pup’s presence at first. But then again- that was her mother. The woman had very strong believes as to what a girl should and shouldn’t do. That apparently had included raising flesh-eating beasts in the household.

    Still, upon approval by her father and a most vocal support by her little brother, the pup- named Snow Claw for his pearl-white claws- was allowed to stay. And so the years had passed for the little girl and her grey friend. Winter after winter, both of them growing and maturing, becoming swifter and stronger. One of them, understandably, at quite a faster rate than the other. Snow Claw had had some difficulty blending in at first. The fact that he was now living among humans aside, the everyday presence of spirits had proved quite startling to the pup at first. Still, he had grown out of his fear with the years, getting used to even the old animal ones that had gained the ability to speak. It had always been humorous to watch his ‘conversations’ with some of them in the late evenings. She had quickly made a game out of it and had soon determined that there was nothing funnier than a stubborn bull arguing with a young wolf who could only snarl and growl.

    Soon enough she had turned fifteen. And suddenly her mother was all the more nagging and constantly trying to bring that dreaded comb to her blond hair- a rarity among all the tribes indeed. Suddenly she was denied nearly all she had liked to do. No more reenacting mock battles with the boys, no more lonesome walks in the forest, no more secret training in the shadow of that old oak. Only Snow Claw had stayed by her side all the time, now apparently the pride and joy of her mother as well. She had caught her mother bribing the grey beast with half a buffalo if he kept all the boys, or rather young men, away from her. Her brother and father were the only males she could see freely. And while the tales of her father were always amusing, all her little brother did was parade with all the training he had gotten during the day and tease her how she would be stuck with some lousy spirit as a healer while he was going to be a mighty warrior with probably the Thunderbird itself as a mochirei.

    Then her sixteenth winter rolled around and miraculous rumors suddenly started running around everywhere, even faster than wildfire. Everyone spoke about the Fight, the great one that was meant to choose the next King. The village elders held speeches, announced that finally enough moons had passed… and then it had appeared in the sky. The brightest of all stars, seemingly so close that one thought it was within grasp if just you tried to reach for the skies. Its blazing trail of bluish-white split the night sky in two, announcing to the whole world that it was time again.

    It was time again for the next wielder of the Great Spirit to be chosen.

    That woman had appeared soon after. Always in the presence of the Chief, she had been at every ritual, observed every preparation for the coming events. And even the Ten seemed to revere her, always doing her bidding and following her advice. That one talked their language, knew their rituals and yet… she was nothing like them. Her wavy hair was blond, too, but nothing like the dark color the Indian girl was used to. Hers was like platinum and long enough to reach her thighs. Her skin was white, pearl white as if untouched by the sun. And her eyes… they were almost maddening, like the one of a spirit. Colored bright lavender, like twinkling amethysts, they hid something deep inside them- a mischievous and somehow cruel spark that no one dared uncover.

    Still, life had to go on. And when the Ten Officiates left the village to test those from around the world who wanted to join the Fight she had, with a lot of pleading, earned herself and Snow Claw a journey as well. Nothing too big, of course. Just a trip to one of the nearby tribes, for exchanging goods and other such regular things. The craftsmanship of the Patch was unrivaled, after all, and all the lesser tribes vied for the chance to obtain some of it.

    She, as all members of her tribe, took great pride in it. The Patch lived in houses of stone, their smiths made the sturdiest of weapons and no disease could get past the abilities of their healers. The Patch were above the others, direct servants to the Shaman King and the only ones privy to his thoughts. They were the ones destined to spread his word and, eventually, serve the future successor to the throne that was going to be chosen with their help. So, naturally, she enjoyed the trip quite a bit. The lesser tribes were ready to ransom whole herds for the smallest magical trinket and even the chiefs prostrated themselves on the ground before the Patch. Every single leader wanted to marry his sons and daughters to one of the Patch, even if said person was but a mere villager in his own tribe. But, of course, no Patch ever married out of the tribe. They only accepted people in and even then only the greatest of shamans were allowed into one of the families.

    Alas, like all great forces in the world, they have grown stagnant. Lazy and corrupt? Never. And yet, the lull of security had proven to be the undoing of her caravan. It was the last stop on their journey- a simple annual trade with one of the lesser tribes lying to the east. But, sadly, they weren’t the first traders there. The armored men had been there for some time. Their skin was as white as that woman back home, and yet, they weren’t like her. They didn’t know the customs of the people, knew nothing of their language and had no shame in showing what they wanted to take. The lesser tribe treated them like Gods. Treated them on par with the Patch, the ones appointed by the Shaman King itself to spread its word. What’s more, there were rumors, vile rumors, how the Patch were a thing of the past and the white men in the heavy armor were the new heralds of God. A blasphemy if she had ever heard one.

    Needless to say, the Patch and the white men immediately disliked each other. The hosting tribe did try to avoid playing favorites but it was inevitable. After all, their faith had been shaken and the caravan of her people had mainly consisted of merchants and craftsmen, healers and young warriors who had yet to see their first real combat. A few more than a dozen, they had never expected even the possibility of having to defend themselves. After all, any chief that dared attack the Patch would be punished by every other tribe before even the King’s servants could pass their judgment.

    But the white men? They didn’t believe in their King…

    She awoke because of the screams, the angry shouts, the thick blanket of smoke. The whole village was ablaze, bathed in a sinister red light spread by the flames which formed a twisted pillar to the heavens themselves. The white men, outnumbering her people nearly ten to one, had betrayed them, attacked in the dead of the night like the no-good cutthroats they were. The warriors of the Patch had anticipated such a move but against such odds, even the might of a shaman was outmatched. With their iron staffs, hailed like magic by the locals but recognized just as very advanced technology by the Patch, the invaders had chosen to battle from afar. The warriors of her tribe, while young and inexperienced, had fought valiantly to cover the escape of the caravan. Alas, the constant hail of lead and the large number of their enemy had proven stronger. With nearly half their men dead, the white invaders had chased after the trade caravan, fully intent on capturing them and prying the secret of their village’s location, whatever the cost.

    Snow Claw had acted then, leaving the safety of her side inside the cart and racing towards the enemy. She had never seen him so enraged, she had even feared him for a moment, having forgotten the true nature of her friend over the years. With eyes ablaze and sharp fangs bared, Snow Claw had darted straight towards the leader of the invaders. An aged limping man with ugly scars across his face- a leftover from a great beast’s claws. A trail of crimson soon mapped Snow Claws trail but even under the rain of lead, he didn’t falter. Last she saw from his earthly body was a grey streak of lightning burying its fangs in a vile, scarred man’s throat.

    ***
    If he had to be honest with himself, Snow Claw’s true pride had never been in his abilities, his shredding claws or mighty fangs. If one was to ask the grey wolf, and managed to understand him of course, he would be answered with a single word.

    Loyalty.

    It was his devotion to her, not the might of his earthly coil that enabled Snow Claw to return to the land of the living as a spirit. Not even for a second did the great wolf resent death. In fact, he was thankful for it. By shedding his mortal body he was finally like the others- a true part of the Patch, not just some domesticated overgrown beast to waste food on. Many a warrior had approached him and asked him to be their partner. Even her little brother, though little wasn’t the appropriate word for him anymore, had expressed that desire. But despite being touched by the young man’s fiery vow to avenge his tribesmen and the pride of the Patch by punishing the white invaders, Snow Claw had declined. If he was ever going to be somebody’s mochirei at all, that someone would be her.

    Her and none other.

    And despite the protests of his friend’s mother, despite hearing oh-so-many times how no woman should meddle into men’s business, she had taken him as her guardian spirit. They had quickly learned to become one. Unified, she was able to sense the wonders of the world through him and he was able to walk the land of humans through her. And when he become part of her and she of him, Snow Claw could sense her innermost feelings. When their souls intertwined, he felt her rage as his own, her hatred towards the ones who had all but enslaved that tribe and killed her people became his hatred. It was different than her brother’s hate. He wanted to defend the tribe’s pride just as much as he wanted to avenge the needless deaths of their people.

    She hated for the sake of saving what was left in the wake of the invaders, hated to achieve the needed strength to fight and defend.

    And strength she did achieve. They had been ridiculed at first, considered inferior to the ones bred and thought to be warriors. And they had surely enjoyed proving them wrong. They had trained, studied, learned the way of the Yenaldooshi, the Skin-Walkers. They had transcended Spirit Unity, went beyond even the ordinary Oversoul. She had learned to imbue his essence into a weapon, to materialize his form in the mortal world with her Furyoku. And yet, she could still be part of him, too- for she had gained the knowledge of using parts of her own body as a medium. Together, they earned themselves a new name, one that described them separately as much as together.

    A Nadleeh, they called them. The Nadleeh. Two-spirit was their moniker, for no other shaman had learned to meld their soul with a mochirei so masterfully, much less a shaman woman.

    It was then that he had taken notice of her, much to Snow Claw’s chagrin. The wolf had always sensed something odd about that one, even when he had been but a child. Maybe it was the way he had acted like an adult even as a child, maybe it was the way the man’s Furyoku made even other spirits shudder and tremble at his might. He had been somewhat of a pariah and yet, always respected, always… loved. A controversy in too many ways to count. His might earned him the respect of the warrior. He had been even asked to become one of the Ten. A request he had immediately declined.

    “The Ten aren’t allowed to fight for the title of Shaman King,” he had said.

    Many a woman had tried to get on his good side, for the man’s long flowing hair was like obsidian and his features had almost… feminine beauty. Indeed, about all the tribeswomen melted under the gaze of his obsidian eyes. And yet he had declined to choose a wife.

    “My descendants must be of the strongest shaman blood,” he had said.

    And she knew that was why he had asked for her hand. Snow Claw knew, too, and yet couldn’t help but ask himself why would she accept. It was only when he remembered her hatred that Snow Claw understood. Indeed, there was only one reason that his partner allowed Hao to claim her as his wife.

    Hao’s goal was her goal. The man had always wanted nothing more but the eradication of the non-shamans, at least from Snow Claw’s point of view. But people, they couldn’t understand things like he did. Hao’s words seemed almost magical, able to persuade even the brightest of minds, able to make people glorify his goal as the only right thing to do.

    The one’s who can’t see spirits like us just lack the way to understand, he had claimed. Just like the white invaders, they are vile. They destroy nature and defile it, not even knowing their wrongdoings for they are deaf to the cries of the land. The world could only be saved by the shamans. Only in the Kingdom of Shamans, and shamans only, can the earth thrive and people forget avarice and wrath, pride and lust.

    Snow Claw took a kind of sick pleasure in pointing out to her how greedy was her husband to desire the very world itself, how his anger towards non-shamans was stronger than any flame, how prideful was he in the fact that he had been born able to see spirits…

    How his lust for the blood of his enemies was beyond all bounds.

    And yet, she chose to believe Hao. It was only natural after all- she was a human. And, shaman or not, humans often willingly chose to be blinded towards the nature of others. Snow Claw had no choice but to follow. His only pride was his loyalty- and he definitely wasn’t going to allow it to waver.

    It was soon after their child was born that the second round of the great Shaman Fight finally came. As hosts, the Patch were the ones to welcome all the surviving participants of the first preliminary round in their village. It was truly a marvelous sight to behold, even for one such as Snow Claw. Warriors and mages, raging barbarians and nimble fighters, men and women from around the whole world, flooded Mesa Verdede. And amongst them, Hao found many allies, many willing to believe his teachings for their own reasons. Of course, there were those that opposed him, leading to the eventual division of two sole factions inside the participants. Those who wanted Hao for King and those who would rather die than to let it happen. Snow Claw often wondered if the side his partner had chosen was the right one.

    And when spring finally ended, the second round was at an end. With the beginning of the blazing summer everything changed. Secrets were revealed, hidden alliances uncovered and loyalties tested as even the Ten realized they stood divided, all because of one of their very own.

    The leaders of the opposing faction, the Asakura from the east that bore the face of Hao and the silver-haired man with the lavender eyes, understandably decided on taking action. It was on the night before the twelve remaining participants were to be lead to the final battleground, the one beyond the great water, that disaster struck.

    Enraged at the ones opposing him, Hao attacked first, claiming the guardian spirit of the tribe itself- the one that embodied the essence of fire, one of the five who were just a step below the Great Spirit itself. And Mesa Verdede was laid to waste in the ensuing battle, flames raging from every corner and shooting up towards the skies in a unified blaze as Hao sent the Spirit of Fire against his former tribesmen.

    Teammates fought among themselves on the streets, allies forgot about ancient alliances, Patch killed Patch…

    Brothers betrayed sisters.

    It was disturbingly apt, Snow Claw had concluded, that Hao had sent the young man against her. After all, she had refused to follow, refused to partake in the destruction of her own village for Hao’s ideals. Something the enigmatic black-haired man apparently had some trouble understanding. But he had not peered into her naked soul as Snow Claw had, he had never seen her hatred and sadness born amidst the oh-so-familiar flames that had erupted in that foreign village that fateful night. Showing his true colors, Hao had turned into what she had always despised.

    The wolf persuaded her with no small amount of difficulty but still, she did take arms against her brother. Snow Claw fought against her hesitation, tried to reason with her that by following the murderer the young man had chosen for himself the path the Nadleeh had sworn to exterminate. And yet she faltered time and again as he advanced and lashed out at her. His spirit was old, way older than Snow Claw. And against the Bear, the Indomitable, the wolf had nothing much to do than rely on his shaman’s experience and their bond.

    And so, like all others, they fought amongst the blazing ruins of their homes. They could see Hao and his new spirit in the distance, fighting against the silver-haired man with the lavender eyes, now flying atop the great winged lizard that served as his guardian spirit. The Asakura was nowhere to be found, rumors that he was stuck fighting the elite of Hao’s followers somewhere outside the village abound.

    But she had been part of said elite, too. Her brother fell soon enough, defeated. The Nadleeh loomed above him, one last blow away from victory. Snow Claw urged her, tried to reason with her that brother or not, the young man’s crimes were far too great. And yet, in the end…

    She hesitated. Faltered. Gave up.

    It was then that the traitor struck at her with all of his remaining might, crushed her petite frame and tore open her throat.

    It was then that Snow Claw felt it returning. The rage that he had felt only once before, only this time far greater, far stronger to resist.

    It was then that he imposed his will on her for the first and last time, dealing one last mortal blow to the one that she had once called family.

    And like with all great fires, the rain eventually put an end to that one, too. The crying skies vanquished the flames and after them the cheery sun shone again. But nothing was the same anymore. Hao was eventually defeated, killed at the hands of one of the opposing faction’s leaders. A new King was chosen. But to Snow Claw none of that was even remotely important. Something primal clawed inside him, burned his ethereal insides and didn’t allow him even a moment of rest. One single question, one lone ‘why’ was always on the wolf’s mind.

    Why had she spared the traitor, even after seeing the atrocities he had committed to his own family and people?

    Perhaps, like the fervor in Hao’s words, it was something only humans could understand. And so, the grey wolf fled the Patch, hell-bent on scouring the world to find and punish the last one responsible for the death of the one that he had revered and loved even more than a mate.

    Snow Claw swore upon her grave, swore upon his burning hatred, that he was going to find the Bear and banish it from this world forever.

    ***

    The frantic screams of the boy resonated into the nothingness. The fog was back with a vengeance, thick and heavy and oh-so-willing to bring him to a gruesome end. The haze and smoke filled his lungs, set them on fire and yet, they were nothing like the blaze inside the dark-skinned teen’s abdomen that threatened to burn him alive. It felt like being ripped apart from within. Alejandro was getting devoured by his very self as he was forced to endure, unable to do anything, not allowed to even die. The only thing inside his broken mind aside from the pain was their jumbled memories- of a pup and a girl, of a wolf and woman- shared through their bond in which he was forced into.

    All he wanted, the one thing Al was ready to sell his now-wretched and broken soul for, was for one single second without pain. And yet the Universe denied him death. At least for now- he knew it was imminent but from here, from inside the depths of two forcedly-melded souls, it was going to take eternity.

    ***

    His claws scraped the pavement as he slid past yet another dangerous corner. Barely having any time to build up the lost speed, he once again strained his aching muscles and darted forward. This was the last alley, he was almost out of the labyrinth. Just fifty more short meters. If he could just reach the end, he would be out in the open city. The monster behind him would lose it, unable to decide on who to pounce first, police would arrive and distract it even further while he… he would be free to target his one and only foe.

    Victory was almost in his reach.

    With one desperate jump he pounced onto the last wall, the last obstacle obscuring his path. His tired hands reached over the edge…

    And then pain erupted inside him, spreading from his abdomen throughout his whole body. It was clawing at his insides, devouring the body he had taken to fulfill a promise made five hundred years ago. His anger and resentment outmatched even the pain, he had been so sure this time was going to be different! That moment, that one second of hesitation proved to be his undoing.

    The monster’s claw lashed out and seized him by the leg, effortlessly flinging him back. His forced flight ended with him skidding across the hard ground, bones surviving miraculously only due to the spiritual augmentation. Its stench preceded it as his trained nose could barely handle sensing the monster looming above him. Two pairs of crimson eyes met and the monster’s maw spread in a twisted mockery of a triumphant smile, two rows of knife-like teeth glistening in the night. All air left his lungs when it almost crushed him with its enormous paw.

    It was, after all, the end.

    A scream echoed in the starless night, the voice one he was distantly familiar with and yet couldn’t recognize. It was a girl’s scream, the voice seemingly… off. The faint memory of hearing it before, but always cheerful and bright lingered somewhere in the back of his head.

    Or was it his memory at all? He couldn’t tell anymore, not with all the combined pain of the monster crushing him and the dubious pleasure of feeling his temporary insides self-devouring.

    Regardless, her voice came from somewhere… above. Yes, indeed, he could see her outline now in the distance. Atop the nearest roof, the girl was struggling against a much taller figure, arguing, demanding to be let to help him. Why would she want that, he wondered. Not that she actually could either way. The monster was about to finish him off any second, at least after it finished basking in its victory. And even if he did manage to find some miraculous strength, this body wasn’t going to survive much longer. The taller figure, the one that reeked of hair products, was finally overwhelmed. The girl shot straight towards the emergency stairs, preparing to go down to him.

    What a foolish girl, he thought. She was no warrior, she wasn’t his Nadleeh. She stood no chance against the monster. Something resembling relief passed his mind when the taller figure caught up to her and put a stop to her descent. She did manage to wrestle free one of her hands again but the man seemed to be taking no chances anymore. He hoisted her up on his shoulders and told her to stay still so he could come back on time or something like that. Nothing made much sense anymore.

    Even the pain seemed distant now, his sight getting foggy and all the noises getting pushed into the background. His tired eyes lingered on some trinket on the ground. A bracelet? It must have fallen off when the girl struggled against the man, he concluded. Still, it was an interesting bracelet- one adorned with five curved fangs not unlike his own. More shouts came from above, the girl coming into view once more. Having probably tricked the man she was running down the stairs even faster this time, too far ahead for him to reach her in time. Stupid girl, going and getting herself killed for nothing, he thought.

    He was partially surprised to sense his hand moving. His fur was bloodied and he could barely feel it at all and yet it slowly crawled forward, reaching out without him ever telling it to.

    The girl’s scream echoed once more as the monster reared back on its hind legs, ready for the final blow…

    ***
    He was but a boy. Small and vulnerable, clutching his tummy and in too much pain to even shout. Streaks of tears adorned his cheeks as he prayed to someone, anyone, to save him and bring him to his Mama and Papa.

    He was but a pup. Weak and insignificant, doomed to perish in the wilderness with no one to look after him. Shivers rocked the tiny wolf’s body as he tried to hide deeper, afraid of the girl extending her tiny hand to him.

    Alejandro couldn’t help but stare at the little dark-skinned boy lying in the abyss of nothingness before him. The features were the ones he saw each morning in the mirror and yet he felt no connection to the kid. In fact, all he wanted was for it to stop crying. All that whining made their inevitable death even worse.

    Snow Claw was like mesmerized by the sniveling pup. The reality of him ever being so vulnerable and small seemed almost appalling, even if it had been half a millennia ago. Regardless, it was but a memory, a shadow of the past that was there to torment him before the end. Indeed, the girl extending a waiting hand to the pup disappeared soon after.

    The abyss was disappearing, devouring itself from within and growing smaller and smaller. Even the darkness shrunk, substituted by a nothingness that couldn’t be described in words. The glass dome above them, the screen playing their final moments in the real world as if it was a tragic movie steadily started disappearing as well. And as its borders were driven back, so did their perception of the outside world disappear. After all, death was the only thing left. Now, if only the pup and the kid would stop being so damn loud…

    “Hey… don’t cry!”

    The words of the child mortified both teenager and wolf.

    Almost crawling, the tiny child hoisted himself towards his animal counterpart. A faint smile danced on his lips despite the pain.

    “I’m sure someone will come to help us soon, right?” asked the child with almost painful innocence and naďveté. The pup eyed him suspiciously and tried scuttling back.

    “Don’t be afraid! We… we can be friends, right?” asked the boy and extended his hand towards the trembling wolf. Pain rocked the kid’s body when two rows of tiny fangs bore deep into it, yet he didn’t pull it back.

    “I don’t want to be alone,” whined the kid with a sunken voice, not even caring about the blood that trickled from his hand, still in the clutches of the little grey wolf. “No one’s come. But they will! I just know it! Someone will come for you, too, right? You’re waiting for someone, right? Tell you what, if they come to help me first, I’ll tell them to help you, too! And you can do the same if they find you first!”

    The abyss just kept on disappearing, one chunk at a time. Bitter tears fell from the eyes of the pup, small body shaking in pain and ears fallen back. Afraid.

    “But if no one comes,” said the boy and tried to pet the little grey wolf with his other hand. “Then we two can be friends, right? Right? Cause I don’t want to be alone anymore. Do you want to be alone?

    With a tired whine, tears still running down his sides, the pup let go off the boy’s bleeding hand and snuggled into his waiting arms.

    The disintegrating abyss devoured the duo right before Al and Snow Claw’s eyes. The familiar shout of a girl came from somewhere high above and the roar of a beast followed soon after. The glass dome above them shattered into millions of tiny pieces that melted into the invading nothingness.

    “She is going to die, isn’t she?” asked Alejandro almost casually, voice too hollow to even be recognized as his own. “All because of me. She really is too energetic for her own good. To think she would follow me here…”

    And she is going to die unavenged. All because of my weakness.

    “Do you think it would’ve turned out differently? If I had tried to understand you instead of fearing and despising the beast inside me? Instead of fearing the change?” asked the teen and averted his eyes up, hid them behind the veil of his dreadlocks as streaks of tears ran down his cheeks. His lower body had already disappeared, engulfed in the nothingness.

    Do you think it would’ve turned out differently? If I had allowed you to approach me instead of fighting against you? Instead of hurting you?

    The grey wolf was halfway gone, his body rapidly disintegrating and vanishing into nothingness.

    “I guess we’ll never know, huh?” asked Al and let out a hoarse chuckle between his silent sobs. His eyes were glued to the blood trickling down from his hand, the one from the wound of the little boy. But even the blood, along with the hand, melted away. “Hey, Snow Claw… what is true Spirit Unity?” was the one thing the dark-skinned teen could ask before nothingness engulfed him fully, the grey wolf finally falling victim to it at the same time.

    And nothing but an empty void was left behind…

    Two souls…

    “…Bound by a single goal.”

    ***
    Chunks of concrete and all kinds of other debris erupted from the point of impact as the monster brought down both its forelegs with awesome might. Ayame’s terrified shout was choked by the cloud of dust that immediately veiled the alley. Only a pair of crimson orbs was visible, as the monster struggled to remove its claws stuck in the ground. Ryuu did manage to catch up to the girl but did nothing more, mortified by the young life lost because of his actions. The man’s trembling hand clenched the hilt of his wooden sword and with gritted teeth he was about to call out his mochirei.

    “Snow Claw!”

    The voice made everyone freeze, all but the beast whose crimson eyes searched for his miraculously still-talking enemy.

    “Spirit Unity 100%!”

    The cloud of dust eventually cleared, revealing the lone figure facing the beast from several meters away. While slightly limp and hunched, the fur was gone from Al’s body and so were the curved claws. The dark-skinned boy inspected the bracelet tightly clutched in his hand with curiosity. Funny, he had never noticed how well the hoops attached to each fang could fit his fingers. A perfect match even, concluded the boy when he tried them on and flexed the fangs-turned-claws, a far better weapon than his now just slightly sharpened nails. The teen bared his fangs, so different than the curved and twisted ones of that jutted out of the monster’s mouth, in a smile. Indeed, things had taken a turn for the better.

    Finally looking up, a single eye was revealed from beneath the veil of his black dreadlocks. The chocolate brown eyes of a wolf met unflinchingly the crimson orbs of the beast.

    The monster let out a roar as it tore out its forelegs from the just-made holes in the concrete. Its large frame filled the whole alley and the ground shook beneath it as it jolted forward and gained even more and more speed. Both boy and wolf smiled.

    It was coming.

    And they were the ones that were going to stop it.

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

  14. #14
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    Jul 2009
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    Chapter 12:
    Worn-out Claws



    Incredible.

    That was the only word that came to his mind, plain and simple. Not that much of his brain was working anyhow. It was a glorious mess, a jumbled fusion of thoughts both his own and not, all of them overruled by a state of ecstasy the likes of he had never felt before. For his eyes- their eyes- no darkness was impenetrable. And despite the starless night he could see every little detail, each single crack in the ruined pavement and even the tiniest of dents between the shaking bricks. His ears almost twitched in excitement. He could now perceive the most beautiful cacophony of sounds, from the songs of crickets hidden far away to the oh-so-close rumble of car engines and the occasional late-night pedestrian. And somehow the roars of the beast before him didn’t upset him, remaining bearable and almost… muted out by all the other sound Al actually liked to hear. His skin was more sensitive than ever as well, picking up both the mix of humidity and the heavy feeling of dread that filled the air around him. Only his sufficiently increased sense of smell bothered him, for there wasn’t many pleasant scents to enjoy in a dirty back alley, much less one currently being annihilated by what could only be described as a were-bear. Still, the relaxing aroma of lilies that emanated from Ayame was there as well, but even it was overshadowed by the suspicious reek of hair products that somehow rivaled the stench of the beast both in strength and density.

    Indeed, the dark-skinned teenager was drowning in bliss that bordered on ignorance. His body, now feeling as light as a feather and as strong as reinforced steel, literally danced out of the way of every single blow. It was like he was moving on his own, being able to pull off moves that even his most skillful of instructors had trouble with. Gravity no longer was a problem and soon Alejandro found out that there was possibly no limit to the way he could flip, twist and spin out of the behemoth’s way. Alejandro rightfully concluded that all those money and time invested in Capoeira lessons were being paid back a hundred times over. The were-bear was seemingly aghast, its fury getting greater by the second. The terrain had suddenly turned against it. Its ability to mow down anything on its path like a freight train was now useless- considering its opponent bounced around like a rubber ball and sometimes literally slipped between its legs. The tiny alley and the tall inhospitable brick walls had turned into its enemy now. Switching sides, they were now like railroad tracks. Tracks that always forced the beast into a single direction and projected the path of the attack to a foe whose main strength was maneuverability.

    Alejandro didn’t shy away from dealing blows either. The dark-skinned boy accompanied every dodge with a fist, every feint with a swift kick to the head. And there was a whole other string of thoughts playing in his head, intermingled with his own, that told him how to strike, when to do it and where to land the blow. It was a primal voice, one Al recognized as always been there but… ignored.

    Feared.

    At least up until now. Snow Claw was part of him, a second spirit inhabiting his body as much as his own. It was like being able to look in two different directions at the same time. One of them dodged, the other struck and yet both of them knew what the other was doing, felt like they were the one actually doing it. Where Snow Claw ended and the Brazilian boy began, Alejandro couldn’t tell anymore. He was now as much as beast as he was human- and the same could be said for the wolf. Because while he couldn’t pinpoint them for the life of his, Al could tell some strings of words playing in his head weren’t his, despite being whispered and shouted in a voice he was used to hearing from his own mouth.

    It was a fair deal indeed. The boy could see the world through an animal’s eyes and prowl the starless night as a beast far stronger than his usual mortal self. The wolf could borrow his knowledge and the maneuverability of a human body not restricted to running on all fours. But at that very moment the trade-off was unimportant. Because while one part of them had only the well-being of a friend in mind, the other hungered for a revenge sworn five hundred years ago amidst the ashes of a war-torn city.

    Both paths ended at the same place. The one where the beast waited, fuming in its fury of being unable to handle a prey it had almost gotten rid of mere minutes ago.

    Once again, the were-bear lunged forward. It lashed out with its enormous forepaws but found only air as Al backflipped out of harm’s way. The follow up of the beast’s attack didn’t do much either- except from getting stuck in the wall from the sheer force behind the blow. Fangs bared, a snickering Alejandro was crouching on said stuck arm and doing his best at taunting the creature without even talking. The beast roared in fury but was silenced by two swift kicks to the face, the last one accompanied by a delightful crunch as noted by both of the spirits currently present in the boy’s body. It seemed that proper motivation did really do wonders for one’s strength. Alejandro had just darted away when the were-bear tore out a sizeable chunk of the wall along with its arm and in a single swift swing tossed it towards him.

    For a second the Brazilian boy thought that his sneakers would catch fire. While stopping the flying debris he was forced back a good several meters and even the wolf part inside him strained to stop the flight of a chunk of concrete weighing roughly half a ton. Ayame cheered from nearby- in a way that once again made Al question her grasp of reality. While most people would be scared out of their mind in such a situation, the black-haired girl chose to treat it as a sports event. Booing at the opposing team included. Al just hoped the beast couldn’t actually understand anything or else he’d be forced to save Ayame when the were-bear decided it had heard enough snide comments directed towards its mother and all the other females in its immediate family.

    Still, the overly-energetic girl appeared to be in luck. The raging beast had eyes only for the newly-hatched shaman and stopped at nothing in its vain attempts to crush him into fine bloody paste. It had no success so far- aside from a few times it managed to nick Alejandro on the sides- but as time passed the dark-skinned boy noticed a disturbing trend.

    The were-bear seemed tireless. No matter how many times it crashed into a building, no matter how many times he kicked, punched or lashed out with his improvised claw, his herculean foe showed no signs of fatigue or pain. And a daunting voice in the back of Al’s head- one he recognized as his common sense and not as Snow Claw- gleefully pointed out that in a battle of attrition losing was imminent. Even the seasoned wolf spirit inside him was at a loss, snarling every time their attacks failed to penetrate the thick armor-like hide of the beast.

    The alley around them had been reduced to rubble long, long ago. The craters in the pavement contrasted with the mountains of debris piled up along their sides and some of the buildings nearby looked ready to give in, some lacking at least half a wall due to the inability of the were-bear to stop once gaining speed. Ryuu had apparently taken Ayame up on the roofs. That much Al could discern with his sense of smell and hearing- the girl’s enthusiastic shouts and the reek of hair gel were coming from somewhere above. Alejandro risked taking a peek for a second but after his head was nearly bitten off, decided against taking such risks in the future.

    But as if to spite him, the were-bear chose that particular moment to slam both its forelegs in the cracked ground, creating a miniature earthquake and sending piles of debris flying in the Brazilian boy’s direction along with the shockwave. Unable to jump away to safety- the ground had immediately given in beneath him- Alejandro found himself bombarded with chunks of concrete and a shockwave with enough magnitude to send him flying. Yet another wall met its end when the dark-skinned teen ended his unfortunate flight embed in it, sliding down a second later and leaving behind a spider web of cracks.

    The beast was upon him in less than a second. Alejandro barely saved himself from yet another forceful decapitation. The gaping maw of the beast was only centimeters away from his face, stopped on its tracks only by the boy’s trembling hands. Even with the spirit’s augmentation he felt his muscles groan and his hands were clearly bleeding- the yellowish fangs of the were-bear jutted out in all directions, making it impossible to get a safe hold of its teeth-filled mouth. Both wolf and human cursed their advanced sense of smell, now nothing more than a setback when forced to literally face the reeking onslaught of their foe. The crimson eyes of the beast bore themselves into Al’s wolf-like ones, both pairs burning with fury.

    Ayame tried to cheer him up from somewhere far above, apparently believing that coming up with a made-up theme song for him would help. But while being an optimist in general, Alejandro sincerely doubted any theme music power up would do any good in this situation. He had way more hopes for Ryuu actually doing something to help but apparently the hair-loving giant was keener on only observing. The dark-skinned teen cursed under his breath and tried pushing away the beast. Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain. His foe was unswayable, seemingly rooted to the battle-torn ground and a hundred percent unwilling to budge in even a centimeter. Alejandro once again felt his hand moving on its own- apparently Snow Claw had decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. And while Al had some trouble grasping what exactly the wolf was trying to say, the Brazilian boy readily played along.

    Most dangerous was the beginning- but by some miracle or other Al managed to grab by the throat the beast before it could bite his face off. Now struggling to contain him with only his left hand, Al felt Snow Claw guiding along his left, stretching the makeshift claws and preparing to strike. The teen could sense something tugging inside of him. It was an odd sensation, as if Snow Claw was guiding those imaginary threads that helped them intertwine and focused them at the tips of their fingers and forced them into their improvised weapon. It was as if part of him- them- was in the bracelet now and suddenly Alejandro found it very hard to keep it there. The strange feeling that had gathered in his hand vigorously tried to escape and Al struggled to contain it, afraid of what would happen if he happened to fail.

    “Icicle Slash!”

    The shout came out as a semi-guttural growl, Snow Claw’s voice resonating in synchronicity with his own. The wolf had lashed out with their charged claw and it seemed that even the air rippled with energy. Alejandro saw no fancy glow like he had expected but the deep gashes now adorning their foe’s maw were far too large to be cuts made solely by their improvised claws. Nonetheless, the boy decided not to lose any more precious time in contemplation. He swiftly rolled over beneath the beast and tried to get some much desired distance between them as fast as he could. Another shockwave knocked him off his feet as the were-bear once again slammed the ground with all his might but Alejandro moved on instinct, using a single hand to spin around like a top and meet the wall behind him with his legs and not his back. This time he was the one tugging that strange feeling- neither warm nor cold- towards the tips of his fingers. Al found it surprisingly easy- it came to him almost naturally or Snow Claw having performed it before probably meant that Al’s body now knew what to do. Was that strange sensation the Furyoku thing Ryuu had told him about? Whatever it was it helped- and it was high time for decisive action. A web of cracks spread along the wall he had used as leverage when the dark-skinned teen pushed himself forward with outstretched claws.

    “Icicle Slash!”

    Blood gushed out as five long cuts were torn open through the beast’s hide. The were-bear roared in pain at the unexpected hit and attempted in vain to catch its swift foe. Alas, the only thing it found was a harsh elbow right in its gut and, for the first time that night, the beast was actually forced back. It staggered for a few meters and eventually crashed into the remains of the demolished wall behind it. Somehow miraculously finding the needed strength, the Brazilian boy grabbed the beast’s throat once again and flexed the claws adorning his free hand, ready to strike at any second.

    And while things finally seemed to have settled down… that was when Alejandro’s luck ran out.

    The were-bear shifted beneath his hand, crying out in pain in a voice that was starting to sound disturbingly human-like. Knife-like fangs and curved claws retracted back and the beast’s matted and sweaty fur followed suit not long after. His foe was literally getting smaller by the second and Alejandro’s wolfish eyes widened in horror as he studied the face of the little boy hanging off his arm.

    He couldn’t have been older than ten! Alejandro felt sick of himself and tried to avert his eyes from the battered and bruised body of the boy. Deep gashes now adorned the kid’s skin and face and Al found little relief in the fact that despite the cuts his eyes were still seemingly intact, albeit disturbingly… empty. The bear spirit must have lunged for the first one with the potential to be a shaman it had met. The boy had probably been through hell already even without Al’s help. The dark-skinned teen knew all too well what it was like to have a spirit invade you and to top it all, that boy had been forced to be the host of a spirit Snow Claw had trouble with. Bile rose up Alejandro’s throat for he could easily picture the situation reversed. The boy was seemingly still alive- had it been any other spirit, even Snow Claw, he would have probably done better than Al any case. The vague memory of Ayame mentioning a missing kid crossed his mind but he had been way too weighed by his own problems back then. The news hadn’t registered very well and even if he had thought about it, he would have probably pointed out his strange younger friend from the day before, not some random child turned were-beast.

    Alas, Alejandro’s grim musings were cut short by the object of his guilt grabbing his throat. The child had a vice-like grip and Al suddenly found himself hesitating to strike, despite the fact that he could feel the newly-growing claws draw blood from his neck. The child’s eyes flashed in crimson once again and with an angry growl it tried to break free, even attempting to bite his captor with his rapidly re-growing fangs. The teen’s mind raced in search for answers, any answer, on how to stop the kid without hurting him anymore. But, alas, no last second epiphany came and the Brazilian boy was forced to just try and stop his foe from breaking free once again. Or, more appropriately, the part of the boy that was originally him was content with just stopping the kid.

    Al’s blood froze in his veins when he felt his right hand darting forward, the name of the attack already on his lips.

    “NO!”

    The teen’s shout cut apart the still air. Everything suddenly became blurry. His vision shifted from complete darkness to night-vision, his hearing picked up Ayame’s shouts one second and only the dreadful pitch in his ears the other and even his fangs and claws started randomly growing and retracting. Alejandro’s whole body fought a war with itself, at a total loss on whose orders to follow- the teen’s or the wolf’s. The main battlefield was the Brazilian’s outstretched hand, the one with the improvised claws, which was now frozen midway and under immense strain from the mutually exclusive commands it was receiving. The struggling kid didn’t help much either.

    Alejandro almost didn’t recognize Snow Claw’s thoughts amidst the tangled mess of his own. The wolf sounded almost hurt, almost… betrayed. And furiously demanded to know why Al would deny him his greatest desire, why would he spare someone that had tried to kill him countless times that fateful night.

    “He’s just… a kid!” protested Al through gritted teeth, now more akin to knife-like fangs whichthreatened to cut apart his lips.

    The wolf didn’t budge. On the contrary, he doubled his efforts, Alejandro’s vision was bombarded by Snow Claw’s memories of the one that had stolen the life of his partner. And amidst the jumbled parody of a movie playing inside Alejandro’s head resonated the wolf’s voice, howling warning after warning. Still, after all those centuries, the grey wolf wanted to know why his friend had spared the murderer she had renounced as family. Why she had been so weak in the end?

    It took only a moment- a single second of weakness on Alejandro’s part when he cringed in pain due to the strain put on his battered self. And the readied claw lunged forward, the bleached fangs at the tips of his fingers glistening with the still warm blood of their adversary. Alejandro felt the threads connecting him and the spirit finally break, ending up torn in pieces with nothing but a few strands serving as the strings that helped Snow Claw be the puppeteer of the teen’s body.

    “AND WHO’S TO SAY SHE WAS WEAK?!”

    Bricks once again were shattered as the makeshift claw embed itself into the wall, leaving only a lone scratch on the boy’s temple. Alejandro raced against time, using the last seconds he knew he had before the wolf regained control.

    “That was what she was fighting against, wasn’t she? She didn’t want any more people dying,” hurried to point out Al and kept on going, not even stopping to get a breath of air. “Being strong doesn’t mean crushing everyone on your path!”

    Snow Claw, while showing that his interest was piqued, seemed to disagree. Al had the sinking feeling that using such kind of reason only made the spirit think of him as a weakling.

    “Look,” said Alejandro and finally raised his voice in frustration. “I can only guess what her reasons were- mercy, sisterly love or whatever. I know I- we- are stronger than this spirit. And as the victor I am the one that holds his life- their life- in my hands, right? So, as the superior one, I decide to let them live. Any coward can kill somebody, give in to his instincts and choose to easiest way. The strong choose the hard way! Only the strong have the luxury of allowing a defeated foe to keep his life, understood?!”

    But before Snow Claw could voice his opinion on the matter, whatever it was, Al was suddenly sent wobbling back. Ryuu, probably having descended while Al had been busy trying to stop the wolf from beheading the ten-year-old, pulled the teen out of the way with a tired sigh and pinned the kid to the wall with his wooden sword.

    “You did put up quite the show but am I the only one here realizing that someone is bound to call the cops after all that ruckus? ” asked the man and buried his face in his free hand. “In the name of all that is holy, can you even imagine how much it would cost paying for all this?! It’s like a demolition crew rampaged through here!”

    As if to emphasize the man’s point, a nearby wall collapsed into a pathetic heap of rubble.

    “Scratch the ‘like’, I say!” cheerfully shouted Ayame from somewhere above.

    “And what exactly are you going to do to help us?” hastily asked Al before being reminded again of the collateral damage of epic proportions.

    “Tokageroh,” said Ryuu as he smiled smugly. The luminescent green head popped out of nowhere as his partner snapped his overly long fingers. Without any other orders, the green sprite darted towards the bokkuto and seemingly melted into it. A white sphere of pulsing white light appeared near the handle soon after and, to Al’s horror, eight crimson dragon-like heads shot out of it. The long-necked reptiles shot straight towards the little kid but Alejandro’s cry died out before even reaching his lips. The eight snake-like dragons just… phased through the boy’s skin and came out a few second later.

    Dragging along what looked like a grizzly bear. A very angry one at that. Alejandro was in awe and could only watch the process in silence. The wild beast roared and tried to lash out at its attackers but its struggle was in vain. Each of the dragons held it tightly, either coiled around it or just biting the bear’s legs and forelegs to keep it still. Eventually a crimson glow enveloped the beast’s whole body, reverting to a flying ball of red light shaped like a bear’s head. The white dragons melted into thin air as well, leaving behind the familiar green sprite of Tokageroh, his wild vine-like hair acting as both chains and prison once more.

    The little boy seemed to lose consciousness, narrowly avoiding a fall when Ryuu got hold of him and tossed him effortlessly over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes.

    A beat passed, the chilly air as still as ever and the sky now steadily getting brighter, illuminated by the sun finally rising after a long and tiring night.

    “Why on Earth didn’t you do that in the first place?” almost shouted Al, aghast as to why he had been forced to endure everything up until that point when the freakishly tall man could have fixed it with only a snap of his fingers. Literally.

    “Well, that was your very first lesson in the shaman arts. You should be glad I’m not charging you, y’know,” replied Ryuu with a nonchalant shrug.

    “My what?!” blurted out Al and felt his claws flexing in irritation. “You just stood up there and watched. Hell, you almost got Ayame killed! Good God, you are twice her size. And she just happened to slip away?”

    “First of all, I have no idea how she found you. Secondly… she is very slippery! Mhm. Very.”

    Alejandro buried his face in his hands. A faint ‘ow’ could be heard as his own claws dug into the skin.

    “Look, punk, I did come to help when you cranked up the drama, didn’t I?” said Ryuu with a tone that indicated that particular discussion was over. “I happen to prefer quality action, not sappy soul-searching. That’s only interesting when I’m the one doing it.

    “You are a horrible man, you know that?” deadpanned Al while still trying to remove his claws from his face without self-inflicting further damage.

    “As long as the ladies like it,” cut him off Ryuu with a shrug before suddenly turning serious again. “Now, what does your little furry friend plan to do with his pal over here?”

    Before Alejandro could ask what the man meant, his knees suddenly buckled. His lungs were now burning and demanding air, his whole body was aching and the bones inside of him threatened to snap at first chance. Al registered a silver-ish sphere of light with his peripheral vision for a second before it turned into the grey wolf he had seen only in his mind’s eye so far.

    The semi-transparent beast circled around his trapped foe, fangs bared, and all of a sudden Alejandro was very glad that the wolf was on their side. Seemingly. Ryuu being there suddenly wasn’t so shabby either. After circling around his long-desired pray several times, Snow Claw finally stopped and leaned back. His grey fur was bristled and claws twitching in anticipation. His chocolate-brown eyes were like glued to the bear’s crimson ones. And then…

    The wolf just stopped, shaking his head and letting out several growls and snarls that Alejandro failed to understand.

    “He says he’d like to try out this philosophy of yours,” translated Tokageroh and eyed the dark-skinned teen with curiosity. “And he’s keen on seeing you actually abide by it as well. Wolfie here wants to be your guardian spirit. For a time.”

    “I… well,” stuttered Al and gasped for breath, wary of how actually he could justify to Snow Claw something that he had come up on the spot in a desperate attempt to appease the wolf’s believes. Did Alejandro himself belief in what he had said? The teen had no way to know- his mind had been in a total jumble back then but, technically, Snow Claw would have known if he had been lying…

    “If he wants… and is willing. I don’t know much about shamans but, err, okay?”

    The grey wolf just shook his head and let out a growl that sounded suspiciously like a tired sigh.

    “I’m off to get the kid to a hospital then,” announced Ryuu and turned to leave. “Plus, I gotta find an Itako to get me rid of this guy. Good thing I know one nearby. A real piece of candy, punk, probably around your age. Too bad she has such a sour personality, finished the hulking man with a theatrical sigh. While seemingly talking to the boy, the dark-skinned teen had some doubt whether Ryuu would register any answer. The man’s thoughts were now apparently focused on the unfortunate girl he had mentioned and Al could only pity the innocent Miss that was going to have an unexpected visit by the strange man soon.

    Alejandro had no way of knowing what an Itako was either and the Brazilian shuddered when his vivid imagination suggested some rather disturbing translations. Maybe it was local slang? And the guy had said the girl was underage… Alejandro shuddered, deciding not to delve too deep into this, instead focusing on the problem at hand.

    What should he do as a shaman anyway? Run around chasing rogue spirits or something?

    Alas, the Brazilian’s musings were cut short as someone suddenly leaped onto his back. The fact that the surprise attack was accompanied by a cheerful shout and much praise directed at him were clue enough to guess the identity of his attacker. But before Al could tell Ayame to stop choking him with her vice-like hug, he felt it.

    The ominous feeling. The way time seemed to grind to a halt and the air grew heavy when that dreaded fateful moment neared…

    Unable to support her weight, Alejandro stumbled forward, managed to somehow twist both his legs in a way that practically defied probability and ended up falling back on the hard ground. It scared him that he was getting actually used to all that- his head wasn’t nearly as sore as always. And for some unexplainable reason clear only to the Universe that took such perverse joy in screwing with him, Ayame was now on top, her bust pressed right into his face.

    “Figures,” was the only thing Alejandro cared to say. Or at least that was what one could hear because of the muffling.

    Looking back, the dark-skinned teen kinda wondered why he would have thought the Universe would stop with its despicable games there. After all, after such a grand night, karma probably wanted a grand day, too.

    Ayame had just pushed herself up a bit and for that Al was rather thankful- his apply of air had been just coming to an end. Deciding to try to continue his streak of good luck- after all he had survived against impossible odds- Alejandro opened his mouth to finally point out that she had been at fault this time. And for the couple of last times as well.

    Or he would have, had the brazen smile playing on her lips not stopped him on his tracks. She was tapping her rosy lips with a single lithe finger and her neck was craned like that of a little bird, wondering whether it was wise to play in the lion’s den. One could say that she looked almost angelic with the rising sun creating something akin to a halo around her hair, marvelously contrasting with its black color. Alas, Al was no random someone and at that very moment he associated her smile with something devilish and certainly not anything angelic.

    Thankfully or not, his musings were soon cut short. Without giving any hints, warnings or reasons, Ayame lunged forward like a lioness seizing her helpless, clueless pray. She planted her lips onto his and as her short hair fell around his face like a veil cutting him off the outside world, Al could only let out a surprised and short mumble. Any further attempts at communication were denied as her tongue gleefully examined every intricate detail of his mouth… and for some reason the girl decided to pinch his nose, too, denying him his last way of supplying much needed air.

    Alejandro concluded that his current condition was somewhere between blissful unawareness, the utmost urge to demand what the hell was going on and a rather gruesome suffocation. Not that he could actually act on any of those three.

    Every second seemed like eternity but eventually, apparently satisfied with her exploration, Ayame broke off the kiss. There was some faint hint of a blush on her cheeks but all in all, she remained in her ever-present state of optimistic cheerfulness. The way she stared at him with that pair of twinkling black orbs indicated she probably wanted his opinion on the matter but the Brazilian was way too busy gasping for air. Ayame apparently decided that his was an understandable predicament and spoke first.

    “This is your reward for being such a hero tonight. Who knew you had it in ya?” said the girl as she beamed one of her usual goofy smiles. “Plus, I kinda wanted to know what’s it like to kiss a boy for a change,” Ayame finished, deep in thought, as if still evaluating the experience.

    “Kiss a boy for a change?” echoed Al and tried not to delve too deep into the topic, not with a girl straddling him while he was dressed only in his torn jeans. And whatever was left of his sneakers after that much running around. “And why on Earth did you pinch my nose?!”

    “Yeah, silly, I’m lesbian,” chirped the girl and waved him off nonchalantly, as if that bit of info was supposed to hang over her head in bright neon letters. “Nothing wrong with you guys, I guess, but I just kinda prefer a nice bust, get what I’m saying? Oh, and your breath sorta tickled, that’s why. It would’ve ruined the whole thing!”

    Of course, by that point Alejandro’s brain had just went into sleep mode, leaving for its owner only a single conclusion.

    “Either this time I’ve hit my head too hard or I haven’t hit it nearly hard enough.”

    Alejandro was vaguely aware that Snow Claw was observing from just a couple of meters away, probably shaking his head at the silly antics of the two young humans. The dark-skinned teen found himself not caring too much for this particular opinion of his newfound partner.

    The subtle epiphany that all of them should get the hell out of there before the police got there came soon after.

    ***
    “Aww, look! They really do love each other,” cooed a painfully familiar voice behind him and the wavy-haired albino couldn’t help it but cringe.

    “Why are you here?” eventually asked the boy with a forced even tone, lavender eyes tightly shut in a vain attempt to keep himself calm.

    “Why?” mockingly echoed the woman and draped herself over his shoulders, one of her hands playing with a few loose strands of his silverfish hair. “Does one need a reason to visit their family? Besides, I wanted to check up on your progress. Any luck with that apparently ingenious plan of yours? Or is this game too hard for you?”

    The young teen chose not to answer and instead shook his unwanted visitor off. She didn’t seem to mind but apparently wasn’t ready to let him off the hook just yet.

    Leaning back on the only door leading down from the roof, she bore her amethyst eyes- so much like his own and yet, different- into his and cracked a mischievous smile. She looked no older than twenty- and she could probably pass off as a senior even. Her clothing was a predominantly black and crimson- a short strapless gothic dress focusing less on frills and more on cleavage, detached sleeves, high-heeled shoes… as always, she had chosen to divert attention by it. Or maybe she just liked having everybody’s eyes on her. A single strand of her long platinum blonde hair was being constantly twirled around her finger. Again and again, ever so slowly. That particular habit of hers had always annoyed him so much.

    “It truly boggles my mind, really,” finally obliged to answer the boy. “How on Earth can you treat this as a game?”

    “Is it not one when you look at it from a certain angle?” cheerfully objected the young woman and raised a delicate eyebrow. “And I do seem to recall a time when you treated it like a game as well. But, after all, this isn’t you marching in front of great armies and conquering land after land. This game, with all of its restrictions, requires a delicate touch. It’s only understandable that one so accustomed to heavy armor can’t do a work that demands silk gloves.”

    “Spare me the metaphors, could you?” muttered the boy through gritted teeth.

    “But it’s true, is it not?” shot back the lavender-eyed woman and observed the young teen with a single mischievous eye, all the while pretending to be really interested in the strand of platinum hair curled around her finger. “And little Arty has been trying so hard! I see you are desperately trying to acquire a game piece. And already you’ve had so much difficulty! It’s not a bad piece, though, I admit it. For a pretty straightforward rook. “

    The woman paused for effect but after seeing that the boy kept on stubbornly refusing to bite, continued.

    “I’m actually quite close to getting a plaything of my own, you know. A marvelous knight not bound by such silly things like your ideals. Pragmatic. Able to go past the enemy and strike from behind. Isn’t it truly a wonder- how the pieces are able to move on the board? Come to think of it, wasn’t a knight the one that caused your last downfall?”

    “I’m sure you’ll find this precious knight of yours easy to acquire,” finally quipped the young teen, the façade of a mischievous boy now back into place. “Or was it the other way around?”

    “Oh my!” mockingly gasped the blonde and put a delicate hand over her heart. “And here I thought little Arty would be the last one to forsake the rules of chivalry. Or did you finally realize they were useless after you were nearly killed by the one you allowed to pick his weapon up?” gleefully finished the woman and bore her amethyst eyes into the boy’s.

    Seemingly frustrated from once again failing to get a response, she finally decided to leave, stopping only to whisper into the silver-haired teen’s ear.

    “It’s inevitable. One way or another, soon the whole world will shout once again…”

    “…The King is dead. Long live the King.”

    TBC
    Crossroads of Infinity

    Some say each of us is the hero of his or her own tale. Some experience this more vividly than others, some desire it more than anything else and sometimes, just sometimes, these tales clash and intertwine when one least expects them to.

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