Chapter 1: Premonition of storms
[ Brush 1 ]
『 Red Moon 』
Silence was an echo of an existence outside of the gymnasium walls; but the caw of crows, the chatter of pedestrians, and the hum of the evening train that broke past it, vibrating through the ground itself; was like an earthquake to my ears alone.
I could hear a moving train, when the nearest rail line was at least ten kilometres away. I could hear the crows that lingered, brooding like a sun-cast shadow on the ruined tiles of the nearby clock tower. And through it all, the voices of vaguely familiar classmates were somehow distinguishable from the crowd, chattering on as they toured the expansive attractions of the Ashihara Plaza: the largest remaining mall in the eastern archipelago.
This happened; from time to time. My hearing becoming strange; and somehow different from the capabilities of a normal human being.
Was it a superpower? No. It would only complicate things if it was.
Firstly: Outside of things like comics, superpowered heros didn't exist. That was a fact.
Second: Vigilantism was a nuisance, to the Fujihara family in particular.
Third: I was in no position to question hierarchy. It would make me an even bigger hypocrite.
Being abnormal; it was more of a side effect. Caused by a...traumatic event.
...That's what it was.
I had no intention to question that safe answer.
Letting out a tensed breath; I closed my eyes, waiting for my focus to break. These sudden jumps from normal to abnormal; they never lasted very long. All I had to do was breathe.
The moment of heightened senses dissolved as my steady breaths brought me back; the thud of arrows, slight chatter, and a familiar voice; they began to worm back into my ears, grounding me to my current location: the Seikaku Ranged Sports Center; a specifically designed training area for the students of Seikaku high school's 'ranged defense' division.
" Akashi..? Is something wrong?"
Confused eyes met mine as my little breathing exercise came to an end; making me pause.
I frowned, then shook my head.
" No...just felt a little...light headed?" I threaded together a feesable enough answer; not bothering to fake a smile—etiquette like that wasn't necessary when talking to a friend, although for me; only one person fell into that particular trust category.
" Oh okay--Wait no" Kai holstered the shotgun he had been aiming at the target besides mine; and looked at me like I'd just told him I was dying of a chronic illness. Or..something like that.
In actuality, his expression didn't change much; That innocent face of his remaining as calm as ever. But he looked worried; and I didn't like that.
" You should sit down, take a breather and... I should get you an ice pack, or water--" Kai's voice trailed off, the rest of his sentence turning into incoherent mumbling as I rubbed the temple of my forehead.
The area above my eyes throbbed, but I shrugged it off; squinting my eyes, then opening them fully. I ignored the pain, not minding the remaining bit that echoed on in the background.
I looked at my somewhat worried friend and sighed.
Being pitied, I was used to that; but genuine worry...It felt burdensome.
" Do you want a cold drink? Strawberry milk maybe?" Kai asked all of the sudden; I didn't know how the conversation came to this; but he looked serious.
" I'm lactose intolerant"
"What?" Kai said, leaning forward. He looked a bit confused, understandably.
I mumbled it, so of course he didn't hear me confess to..my embarrassing weakness; out loud.
" Nevermind..Sure" I said, waving the question away. My head felt fuzzy, and the bright ceiling lights were not helping. Rubbing my eyes, I turned to the glass fencing; the thin barrier that separated us from the bullets and arrows that shot across the twenty meter distance.
" Sure to the Strawberry milk, I guess" I answered his question.
But I didn't really hear Kai's response.
Tightening my fingers around the firm rubber grip, I nocked a new arrow to the bow's arched frame; and pointed it towards the heart of my target: the red moon circle of the twenty meter standard target.
I breathed in, the bowstring creaking as I stretched its frame. The dulled tip of my arrow gleamed under the bright gymnasium lights; and my headache throbbed further; but again, I ignored it.
By the time I exhaled, the arrow was gone.
It took flight; for but a split second, before its brief freedom ended with a small thud.
The arrow was imbedded into the standardized target, millimeters away from two others of its kind; snuggly bundled in the center of the bulseye.
[ Beep. Beep. Beep. ]
The rather distracting sound of the score board rang out as the clock flickered from [ 5:59 ] to [ 6:00 ]
My rented time slot had ended; and the allotted points: AAA, meant that my shots were within bullseye rang; every one of them. Prompted by the pressure sensitive target; the scoreboard screen functioned alot like it's predecessors; the scoreboards installed at the old school bowling alleys. Not that I went to those run down places. Not anymore.
" Wow, nice shot!" A chiper voice commented; startling me out of my thoughts.
I looked down; and the smiling face of a girl greeted me. Thick square framed glasses hid her eyes; the light reflecting off of it irritating mine.
Who the f--
Turning my head, I looked around me; but the expected head of blond hair was nowhere in sight.
"Where'd he go..?" I mumbled, looking towards the crowded side benches, where the majority of the teens gathered for the after practice chat circle. Hanging around the snack bar was a bit lazy for students of a high end athletic school; but the black and white workout clothes pointed out that they were clearly my schoolmates.
But Kai wasn't there.
Wasn't he getting.. Strawberry milk? Or something?
What the hell man, you can't just dissapear into thin air--
A hand waved in front of my face; then a face popped up behind it like a jumpscare.
" Hello. Fujihara-san? I was talking to you, you know "
" Ah, sorry" I backed away from the stranger and put on a smile. " Do you need something or..."
The girl was wearing a red cap, and a jacket, evidently not of the school brand; meaning she wasn't a student?
Why does she know my name then? Who the hell..
A creep--Nah. That name tag—a part-timer? But I never introduce myself...with my last name..
Did grandmother send someone to keep tabs on me again..? --But this persons manarism is too childish for a butler..
" Ah, and you're gone again!" The girl snapped her fingers in front of my face, making me flinch back slightly.
The girl tucked back the bangs of her short cut hair; in vain as the black curtain fell back over her face instantly.
" I'm sorry but, do I know you?" I said, trying not to lose my cool. My head was buzzing; the headache I ignored getting worse by the second. I didn't want to deal with a difficult person, especially not now.
Instead of answering my question, the girl walked straight past me. Leaning on the glass, she patted the number [ 13 ] carved into the metal lining; it was the practice spot that I had rented out for the past two hours.
" I'm here to fix this up, an error in the sensory gauge—or something along those--" The girl chuckled before looking back at me; there was an instant change in her expression—like she had seen a ghost.
" Ah? wait--are your eyes...red? " She looked shocked; something like fear visible behind those glasses. Pushing up the black frames that had fallen down her face, her hand quivered slightly she looked straight at me again.
Focusing not on her face, but the bright red cap above it; my eyesight blurred a bit.
Oh right...my time slot expired...Ow
" Wait. Calm down--" the girls voice blurred away before I heard the rest.
Tilting my head, I looked towards the number [ 13 ] target. My arrows were still there, stark black against the red bullseye. A bright red.
Something flickered over that red; then the pounding of my head became too loud, painfully loud.
My vision flickered again, and again; like the lights would during a typhoon, but somehow worse. A sharp pain shot through my head; then my vision flickered off; replaced by something else entirely.
A strange scenario; that somehow reeked with a sense of familiarity; playing out right before my eyes:
[[A silhouette against a crimson stained sky; on a single crop of land, surrounded by a pristine body of water. The figure fell, strands of white hair flowing along side a breeze, from which the waters surface remained untouched. It was a rippleless mirror, reflecting the image of a singular moon; a moon that the sky itself lacked. The red of the sky seeped through the water; swirling and solidifying into its circular image. A moon dyed a crimson red, burning brightly under a moonless sky. ]]
The ethereal surroundings began to fade, the moon's circular image melding over the target—making it appear as though my arrows had shot through the moon itself.
My ears popped as the noise of my surroundings rushed back to me. Worried voices and confused murmurings, it all melded together inside my aching head.
I felt anger, towards what, I didn't know. It was something like the emotion of betrayal, but before I could process it, I tiled backwards, and my consciousness slipped.
I flinched awake, right as I lost all balance and fell.
" Whoa--" I heard a voice gasp.
Someone caught me before I could try to so myself.
Something like a cup fell to the ground, and a splashing sound followed.
My head buzzed, and for a few seconds, I just hung there as dead weight.
" Aki?? Are you okay??"
Kai sounded panicked, but my muddled trilingual brain was simply confused. For a moment, all I heard was gibberish; my brain refusing to translate the language I was fluent in.
I tilted my head up, and stared blankly; and black eyes looked back at me. A slight squint made creases at the edge of his eyes, a subtle sign that I had associated with confusion, or perhaps worry.
I blinked and got back on my feet.
I shook my head, and a wavy puff of black hair fell over my eyes as my hairstyle fell apart.
" Akashi-kun? Are you alright?"
" What's wrong?"
A couple of classmates had gathered around, turning their attention away from the after school target practice. They were my clubmates, so I recognized their faces; but putting a name to the face was a bit hard at the moment.
" Ah...yes....I'm fine"
Am I? Fine?
I brushed back my bangs and looked at the number [ 13 ] target. The arrows were gone, the double sided target having been flipped behind the false wall for retrieval. The target looked normal. And I could see fine.
I turned my attention to the side benches, and the snack bar surrounding it.
" Actually, I'll go sit down..now.." I said.
It might have been too quiet for the others to hear; but I walked off, without waiting for a response.
✧ ✧ ✧ ✧
I sat in the far corner, squeezing in next to a group that seemed obnoxiously eager to gossip about others right in front of them. I wasn't eavesdropping, but I could hear the threads of conversation as I sat there, refusing to process my thoughts, and...other things—and the 'Fujihara family' was brought up far too often.
There were alot of rumors, regarding that family. It was actually quite the popular topic at our school, although getting involved in those gossip circles made me uncomfortable.
" Here" Kai handed me a drink, identical to the one forming a puddle on floor ten meters away.
" Hi. Move" he somewhat commanded the guy sitting next to me; his voice was polite, despite what he actually...Said.
" Why--" the guy began to protest, then froze as I have him a 'bright' smile. " Ah....Vice captain--Sorry, I-I'll move.. "
Scaring a freshman kid; that..wasn't my intent.
Kai sat down next to me while I stared through the lid of the drink in my hand; strawberry chunks floated about, and the pinkish liquid sloshing as I swirled the plastic cup.
I handed the cup back to Kai and sighed. "Thanks...but not right now. I feel like I'm gonna puke.."
I like milk, but I don't want to die of diarrhea right now. It's not worth it.
"...." Kai furrowed his eyebrows; seeming to be deep in thought... or something like that. He had an innocent looking face; but his expressions...they were surprisingly hard to read.
" There's a porridge...that's good for indigestion! My Oma* used to make it pretty often, so I know the recipe too.."
Kai looked genuinely worried; but he was talking in circles, avoiding the suggestion of just going to the infirmary—mainly because he knew I didn't want them to call home.
" Dude. You can't cook for sh*t " I chuckled; but my smile was somewhat strained.
The thought of just straight up telling him about what...I saw; it crossed my mind; but I shoved it away, along with the questions that were forming back there, seeping out of my subconsciousness.
< Hey! > Kai switched to English, looking mildly offended, then reverted back to the default. " I'm getting better!"
" So your scrambled eggs don't taste like burnt cereal anymore?" I teased, a grin stretching across my face.
" Wha-- Hey! That's a low blow.." Kai winced, turning away from the pink drink in his hand.
Looks like it was a critical hit. Now I feel bad.
I giggled, then was a bit taken aback by it. But I let it slide; policing my behavior isn't for right now. It's fine.
" Haha, don't worry! I'm worse--"
The beep of a message interrupted me, buzzing my wrist band to life. I sucked in a sharp breath and looked at the message; although I already knew what it was.
[ Your chauffeur has arrived ]
A single holographic message popped up, from the one contact that I could not dare mute. My phone was in the locker room; and thankfully, the wrist notifier couldn't take voice calls.
" They're here..?" Kai's voice was a low growl as he looked towards the gymnasium entrance—large black-glassed doors that led out into the school funded square of the commercial plaza. A person in a black tuxedo stood out; even from the distance.
< Sh*t. Who the hell called home... > I muttered to myself, mimicking a similar growl to Kai.
" ...Just stay over, my Oma will be glad to have you" Kai said, leaning forward and blocking my view.
" What about Mr. Albrecht..?" I looked at his calm face, which visibly grimaced at the question; and suddenly regretted asking it. Kai didn't talk about his sh*tty father. It was understandable.
" That.." Kai looked down. His eyes showed him to be in pain, or...maybe it was anger?
Both were justifiable. Both hurt for me to see.
" Hey, I'll be fine. Its not like I'll get permission for a sleepover anyway.."
Glancing up at the butler, who was waiting motionlessly by the doors, I patted Kai's back and smiled.
" I'll..see you tomorrow"
( Oma: German word for Grandma)
( Character Gallery: check comments for images)