Sometimes I find myself lost in a sea of stars
A never-ending, ever-growing stretch of the abyss
I’d meet the Sun but he’s lost himself in his own warm kiss
I’d come across the Moon but she’s so separated, she’s dismissed
I’m left drifting across space and left to decay, except
There’s a scarlet cord back to Mother Earth
Down there, something kind is scattered across generations
When put up against the light it rivals the night sky-
It’s the remnants of my father’s cause
And my mother’s unconditional love calling me home.
It sits comfortably in the dirt while singing with the wind
Now if I’m ever lost again, I just have to follow the cord.
(A Dream Whispered by the Devil)
“…oh really? That’s insane! Thanks so much, I honestly couldn’t have done this without you…,” Phoenix’s cheerful voice fills the dimly lit hallway as my peers watch from afar. As I join them, Chudo-Yudo’s avatar jumps in surprise and I mouth a sorry, while Ookami stares on with intensity.
“What’s happening?” I whisper as my eyes adjust to the sight, Phoenix continues to work on her tablet while on the call.
“The next stage of our mission,” Ookami answers with a slight annoyance in her voice, “Why don’t you keep up to date?”
“Do you remember Phoenix mentioning,” Chudo-Yudo softly brings up, “The daughter of a high ranking official?”
“The one from the…Kaito family?” my memory scrambles together a name.
“Natsumi’s been trying to convince her to pass on that message to her father,” Ookami nervously bites on her fingernail. Trying to offer her some comfort, I reach out, but she immediately stops me with an icy cold stare.
Chudo-Yudo timidly whispers in my ear, “She’s not exactly in the best of moods tonight.”
“I can tell.”
“Ryuu!” Phoenix gestures at me like I’m some sort of pet, “Come here for a second.” Like an awkward meerkat, I cautiously make my way but also keep my distance. By the time it takes me to reach her, Phoenix has a pile of papers printed out and slides them to me across the table, “Okay, guinea pig, you’re up first!”
“Um, excuse me?” I’m honestly taken aback.
“She called you a ‘guinea pig’!” Chudo-Yudo shouts across the room, “It’s a type of rodent.”
“He knows what it is!” Ookami snaps back, “Question is if he knows what it means to be called that.”
“No, wait, guys,” I take a moment to push back my hair in frustration, “ I get what she’s saying, but why-”
“Shouldn’t the leader make the first move?” Phoenix sips on her tea, I shot a look at her.
“Pardon me, but Rios wouldn’t get anything done without me!” Ookami’s quick to say, “You’re calling him the leader?”
“I figured Phoenix was our leader, seeing she’s the oldest,” Chudo-Yudo whispers.
“You two-” I point my finger and try not to lose it, “Just,” I gesture a zipping motion with my figure, Ookami mockingly gestures back.
“If you children are done playing,” Phoenix pours herself another cup, “I was just about to give you updates on our mission.”
(20th September, Thursday.)
The plan is simple, somewhat. I mean, I’m a little booksmart, I did get into the institution based on my magical abilities. This will be…a test, yeah like any other test I would have done. Except now if I don’t get a 100%, I won’t just fail, this entire plan will go up in flames and everyone’s efforts will go down the drain. No pressure, all is good.
I remain hidden on top of a tree, binoculars in hand and watching (yes, watching) the Kaito family. The daughter that Phoenix’s befriended is in her room, I’m told to wait like a weirdo until she opens the front door. Quite frankly, I’m just glad their house is in a secluded area surrounded by a deep forest; otherwise someone’s going to call the police at the sight of a middle school boy lurking in a tree. It’s only the start of autumn, but I find myself shivering from head to toe. I’ll never get used to Earth’s weather, it’s like getting culture shock on my own home planet.
I tune in a part of my mind familiar with nightmares, opening my own Pandora’s box. Its cultivated over the years, I’ve only known to tame it by keeping it locked up and whipped like a horse. This Spring I encountered a different kind of fear; on the longest of nights it forces itself to the front of mind and devours me whole. From my fingertips, a mist darker than sin forms and spreads itself thin. It flows down to the roots of this tree and circles the earth, I hear a growl. I open up my phone and send my progress.
As is on cue, I watch as the Kaito daughter makes her way out of her room. I quietly climb down the tree and channel my paranoia into the manifested emotion creature. It forms limbs and learns to walk, quickly evolving into sprints and scratching at everything in sight. I keep a close eye on the daughter, she leisurely talks on her phone, only occasionally glancing out the windows. Taking steps to the tune of a nursery rhyme, I let the moonlight wash over me as the creature takes on a more human-like shape. I stop as I hit the road, instructing for my creature to wait.
The front door quickly opens and closes, the daughter starts her nightly jog, completely unaware of what awaits her. In less than a heartbeat, my creature launches itself onto her, and she screams into the abyss.
“Ma’am!” I rush out of my spot, waving my arms about.
“-call the police! Call them now! Please help me!” she lays on her back paralysed, my creature hovering above her like a preying lion. As I always intended, the creature runs away in the dark of the night; and I happen to be by her side.
“Ma’am, do you need an ambulance first? Are you hurt?” I put on a mask of concern and gently helped her sit up, she shakes like a leaf.
“…that wasn’t…who was that? How…,” her teeth violently clatters as she rocks back and forth, I offer what support I can by rubbing her back. Eventually she manages to make eye contact with me, dear lord the guilt.
“Let’s get you home first,” I kindly offer, “I don’t see any injuries, but just to be safe.”
(The following dawn, Friday)
“A big shot’s daughter has been attacked, they’re surely going to implement a curfew or take stricter security measures now,” Phoenix writes down a few notes as Ookami monitors all screens for any sign of news. I remain in my seat, a hot drink in hand.
“Great job last night,” Chudo-Yudo’s avatar pats my shoulder as he enters the room.
“I mean, mentally traumatising an innocent girl wasn’t on my list of ‘to-do’s,” leaning back, I watch ripples form in my mug.
“Oh, she’ll be fine,” Phoenix nonchalantly waves her hand, “Besides, we’ve got more pressing matters at hand.”
“You’ll be happy to hear I’ve located the next Oddity,” Chudo-Yudo speaks up like a meek mouse.
“Which your cousin and her neighbour will clearly be looking for,” Ookami squints at the television screen, “And they won’t be as phased to see your emotion creature.”
“Oh, by the way,” Chudo-Yudo unrolls a map onto the table, from the looks of it it’s Kyoto, “I’m going to need your help to set this up. But basically,everything we have now with all the tracking; I was thinking of upgrading it to more sophisticated tech. Kinda like using the latest phone model. It is going to take up a bit of space,” he nervously glances at Phoenix, “But it’s all for efficiency.”
“Sure thing,” I take a closer look at the map myself, then our current working space, “Yeah, it all sounds great, just run me down and I’ll whip something up.”
Covering a yawn, Chudo-Yudo continues on gushing about his plans. I take a moment to let this scene settle in. For years and what was the foreseeable future, I felt so isolated and disconnected from any real human interaction. Everyone had a mask, a codename, we were literally worlds apart from our homes with no means of communication. Then this opportunity came up. As if Fate took pity on this lonely boy, and rolled a dice of chance in his direction. Sure, its taken a while, but I’ll take this humble morning over a thousand years of academic achievement. Starting to question when this is all over and done with, am I going to be caged up again?
Or worse, will that side of me come back for more blood?
Honestly bless Ookami, no one else has figured it out and she’s been helping me out when she can. Besides Chudo-Yudo, it feels like she’s the first friend I made at the institution. Yeah, she’s stuck by my side since Spring. I can’t help but feel guilty with the fact we’re hardly any closer with finding her cousin. Sure, she hasn’t spoken up about it ever since we’ve been busy with this;but I should also take the time to ask. It should be my time now to be a decent human and check up on her, because that’s all she’s ever done with me.
“I’m gonna head out a bit for some fresh air,” I announce to no one and quietly shut the door behind me. What was meant to be a brisk walk becomes more as I soon meet eye to eye with a familiar neighbour.
“What’d you do?” Shiori demands, his voice stern. I raise an eyebrow.
“Why do you care?” I try returning to my original plans for the night, but he aggressively holds me by the scruff of the neck, “Woah, pretty violent aren’t you?” Now I’m praying my cousin has never been on the receiving end of this.
“Why’d you get Miyuki involved in this?” his voice raises as Phoenix enters the hallway, clearly confused and unsure how to defuse this.
“What’s the Kaito daughter-”
“Io-chan,” Phoenix collects herself before approaching her long time friend, “Let him go.”
Out of reluctance he does and I catch my breath, I’m sweating like mad. I become light headed as their quarreling becomes background noise. Without realising it, Ookami gently pulled me back into the apartment and placed a glass of water in my hand. My ears start to pound as my feet turn into pins and needles. The arguing becomes louder and louder, Ookami kindly patting my back and wiping my forehead of its sweat. Reliving the last few minutes, I announce out loud again:
“I’ll be out for some fresh air.”
Instead of repeating the same mistake, I charge towards the nearest window. Ookami chases after me, but before she has a chance to have a civil conversation; I’ve flown out. I make sure to do so quickly and fly so high, I can hide in the clouds.
Elders tell of a time of suffering
Where you’ll be blessed by the Moon.
Even the leftovers of a Season will gather
And caress your skeleton with tunes.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a Guardian Angel
Whose ashes will offer some guidance, lulling you into a cocoon.
Mi̱téra used to say, how wonderful it is to be made by Nature’s hands
But this alone won’t soothe your suffering.
In fact, she would sing to me every night,
“I take the darkness that accompanies the Moon
I take the withered pieces of what was once Spring’s colours
I take the words of that Angel and have it inked during monsoon afternoons-
See how I’ve made another life from Nature’s tune?
It’s mine, I’ll entwine it with my soul and use it on my body kindly.
But these won’t be the only things that envelop me during temperamental typhoons.”
I’m waiting for the Moon to come out. Some mornings still aren’t kind to me and my folk. But that wasn’t because of who I am, it happened because of what I did. And what I did wasn’t entirely right, I had my reluctance from day one; but I still went along with it. Now I can’t step out of an apartment without being bombarded with a question I don’t know how to answer. Is this…my punishment?
I think I’m losing oxygen. Slowly and discreetly as I can, I descend back down at an empty park. It’s still too early for anyone to see me, if they did, they’d probably brush it off as their eyes playing tricks on them. It’s strange, it’s basically autumn, but mornings like these feel so warm. Sweat cascading down my back as I catch my breath. Maybe I should take a walk, I roughly remember Phoenix’s address.
I pass by a jogger and his dog, waving as he gives a polite bow.Shoot maybe I should have done that. I keep my eyes focused on the horizon, just in time for my stomach to growl. Okay maybe I should take a short walk. But going back so soon to him, that’s going to mess up my head. Now I’m starting to worry again if he’s ever been that aggressive with my cousin, and I can only continue to worry. Shaking my head, I hear the sound of the local radio station playing. Oh what it’d be to have a normal life. Not exactly one free of stress, because that’s all part of the plan. But one that’s normal:none of these secret societies isolated from the rest of humanity,all this scheming for a family you only want to get close to again; and most of all, no killer neighbour down your hall.
Okay, I’ll cut him some slack. Just a neighbour with anger issues, hell, he’s technically not even my neighbour.
I keep walking these streets as if I know where I’m going. As if I know these paths by heart. I let the waking birds chirp, I let them ease me like a lullaby. I find myself feeling nostalgic for a neighbourhood I’ve never visited until now. As if…I’ve seen all of this in pictures and heard stories.
I’m drawn to a house that’s partly traditional and the other part modern. Besides its eye catching design, something more subtle has me in a trance. A family name sign, one that spells ‘HOSHIZORA-KUSANAGI.’
I don’t have any Irish blood, but call me lucky.
The front door slowly opens and in a panic, I hide right around the corner. My heart beating with the intensity of a thousand drums. Collecting myself, I take another look. A young gentleman of nearly average height takes out the trash, I dig myself deeper into the wall as if that’ll make me invisible. I know that silver hair anywhere, and those turquoise eyes only confirm my heartache.
Ott-nii’s grown so much, it’s insane. Sure, he doesn’t have the build of a bodybuilder; and the last time I saw him, he was just a younger teen. But that’s the thing, ‘the last time I saw him’ can mean four years or the past week; and during that time I have had a single new picture or video call.I’m sure he’s grown and matured in ways I’ll never keep up with, especially with moving to Japan. Especially with…oh God that’s right, Setsu-oba…
He turns his head back to the house entrance and I instinctively turn the other way. Realising how ridiculous my last action was, I look again. Now it’s Ib-neesama, her elegance oozing even at this angle. She’s come out holding an envelope and some papers, her gaze is directed at me; and realising it is me, she quickly returns to whatever conversation she was having. Okay, I’m not the stealthiest and it’s fortunate she was the only one that saw me.
The ache starts pounding itself into my ears.
Before the two of them go in, Ib-neesama stops, probably coming up with an excuse. Making sure Ott-nii’s gone inside, she waves at me as I raise my chin as a ‘hello’. Gesturing at me to go inside, I decline, and I don’t know why I am though. I’m losing sight of what I can and can’t do. But I feel I should do it, I feel I’m declining for the better. We maintain eye contact until my heart can’t handle it anymore, so I leave them once more.
I find that I’m searching for something before Death knocks
Pacing through endless, vast fields covered in more questions
As if the mighty Ocean is mocking me everytime I swim
Or the hills grow steeper whenever I try to climb them
I’ll venture to the Horizon itself and crack apart the core of this Earth
But sometimes all I have to do is look up, and realise
I have a scarlet cord connecting to space
Where something astronomical is waiting to be embraced.
It can be seen by the naked eye, yet so delicate it hides
Something crafted with only the utmost care, it rivals fresh winter snow
I know what’s up there, I’ll join it when I grow wings the size of tides
but until then, I’ll look after my end of the cord down here below.
(Later in the day)
“Okay, I’ll admit I went too far. So I’m here to apologise,” Shiori hands me a wrapped box as Ookami scribbles away at her notebook, meanwhile Phoenix paces around us in circles.
“Not exactly a fair rematch if you ask me,” I meekly comment as I unwrap the box, “And I accept your apology.”
“That’s not the only reason you’re here,” Phoenix stops and fiddles with her skirt, “Is it, Io-chan?”
“So we’ve both been keeping secrets from each other,” leaning back, Shiori plays with his hair, “Oh boy, this wasn’t how I expected it to all come out.”
“Let’s start with the basics,” Ookami clears her throat as she turns a new page, “You’re a zombie, she’s a phoenix. Natsumi-senpai has been studying at the Amatus Prudentius Institution, a place you’ll never go to. There, she met us, her lovely juniors. Usually students aren’t allowed to go back to Earth, let alone keep in contact with the outside world for security reasons. Lil Rios here-” she waves her pen at me.
“Was extra, extra homesick.Where it all kicked off is when he found out Nastumi-senpai can not only go back to Earth, but she’s been living a double life. How this only happened four years after he enrolled is beyond me,” girl’s got a point though. “So he worked extra hard, got the two of us involved,” Ookami puts her notebook down and sternly looks Shiori in the eye, “As Rios has explicitly told you before, we’re capturing what Oddities we can before you and his cousin does. All in the name of appeasing the Corona Seraphina, who are these beastly overlords our institution respects and admires after our original world basically had an apocalypse.”
“Thank you, Ookami,” Phoenix finally takes a seat next to me, her temperature rising by the second, “Partly why we kinda ambushed,” she awkwardly makes a clicking sound, “Seems convoluted, I know, but it’s all part of a necessary plan. One which, you’re unknowingly trespassed on-” she slides a book across the table, “And now, you’re playing by our rules.”
Picking it up, Shiori raises an eyebrow, “It’s just a bunch of animal drawings.”
Snatching it back as sparks fly off her fingertips,Phoenix starts to blush, “They weren’t good with words back then…and a picture tells a thousand words.”
He mouths an apology as she continues, “As our predecessors have settled debates in the past, we’ll be holding a tournament. Now, I know this is more of our institution’s tradition, but like I said, you’ve gotten yourself involved-”
“Yeah, and like you said, unknowingly,” Shiori interjects.
“-the Corona Seraphina aren’t something, or someones, you’d want to mess with. The Chairman and everyone back at Amatus Prudentius are already trying their best to appease them. Please, Io-chan, I need you to cooperate. This does have serious consequences,not only for us students, but it can cross over to Earth.”
Without reluctance, Shiori offers his hand; to which Phoenix firmly shakes-solidifying this conversation.
“Tournament will consist of two teams, obviously us versus you guys,” she begins, opening the book. “There’ll be a number of battles, for each one, a member from one team will face off the other,” after every line she flips the page, showing an illustration of how this will happen. “How it ends is seeing which team progresses the most; this is determined by winning one match, that’ll give your team a point. To make sure it’s fair by the end, the two strongest opponents will face each other.”
After shaking Phoenix’s hand, he shakes Ookami’s. Then Chudo-Yudo’s avatar ( who came late). Finally, mine, I never realised how cold he’d be.
“If we win, you’ll stop hunting the Oddities and lift the curfew. But of course if you win, you’ll do as you please,” Phoenix closes the book and maintains eye contact with him, “Of course, talk this through with Ryuu’s cousin. We’re not really giving you a choice, but just so she knows what’s happening. Free feel to pick your teammates, oh and-I know I said there’ll be battles, but not all of them are traditional hand-to-hand combat and necessarily physical.”
“How many teammates are allowed?” he finally speaks after all the explanations.
“Six in total,” Phoenix swiftly responds.
“So, where’s your other two?” yikes, wishing he didn’t ask that.
“Well…,” Phoenix breaks their eye contact, coyly looking in another direction.
Shiori simply blinks back, clear confusion is painted all cross his body, “You mean to tell me, you’ve planned and executed this whole-I don’t even know what to call it-you guys have done all of this, from the sounds of it since Spring, and you still haven’t completed your team?”
“Ey look here, it’s not easy to get students back to Earth,” Phoenix fights back, “I was the only one before these kids joined in-”
“If this were a war, and you just declared it- you openly admitted you don’t have enough numbers.”
“Okay, did we really think we’d make it this far?”
“Oh my God, you didn’t even have that much faith in yourself?”
“I-I’ll bring in my c-cousin!” Ookami stutters out of the blue, something I’d never thought she’d do. As her hands tremble, Phoenix gently pats her back, asking if she needs anything. “I’ll find Kazim again. And when I do, he’ll be our 5th member. I can’t guarantee our 6th, but I’ll find him,” with a steady gaze, she looks at Shiori, “So you better start getting animal masks and discussing code names for your team.”