For Your Sake.
The soft pink petals of cherry blossoms in full bloom fluttered into the wind, their sweet perfume filling the air. A light breeze accompanied the sunny spring day, the gentle rays of the shining sun marking a new beginning.
A black-haired boy got off a busy train, treading along towards his destination with a black schoolbag in tow.
‘My name is Amagiri Shinya. I am sixteen next month. And as of today, my high school life begins!’
Thrilled at the idea of starting what he believed would be the most exhilarating chapter of his life, he walked at a fast pace so as not to be late for the entrance ceremony. He was aware of how prestigious his new school was, but even that knowledge did not prepare him for the breathtaking sight that stopped him in his tracks.
In front of him was a grandiose Gothic-style building that looked more like a foreign university than a high school. It was huge and pristine with ornate decorations carved into the stone. Beyond the opulent iron gate with miniature stone dragons on both sides, well-kept foliage, flower patches and cherry blossom trees encircled the building. Pride surging in his chest at the reminder that he was one of the famous school’s students, he could not help but touch the school emblem with a star on his light blue blazer.
Umiboshi High School.
Formed after superpowers surfaced a millennium prior, Umiboshi was an elite school famous for training the strongest Sages the world had ever seen. Students from all around the globe competed to attend Umiboshi. With an acceptance rate of less than 1%, getting into Umiboshi was akin to being set for life in the Sage world. It was the kind of school that Shinya would never have had a chance to get into with his grades. His grades were not even bad; the issue was that everyone else who got accepted seemed to have perfect grades in middle school, faultless exam performance, countless extracurriculars and an ability with certified Sage potential. In line with its name, Umiboshi truly was a sea of stars.
Only by a stroke of luck did Shinya manage to get in. That stroke of luck was that he never had to sit the entrance exams or perform well in middle school to begin with, for he was scouted personally by the school.
By some twist of fate, Shinya was one of the handful of people in Japan who possessed two superpowers. Having an ability was a rarity in itself and having two was almost unheard of. In all honesty, he was not particularly good at controlling his main ability, so he had no doubt that he would have failed the superpower exam had he sat it, but it seemed that Umiboshi did not care about his performance in school and skill in using his ability as long as had two. On the one hand, it felt wrong to accept the offer while fully knowing he was not up to par with the other candidates who would have deserved a place more, but on the other hand, this was his best chance to secure his future, and rejecting it would have been nothing short of madness.
Thanking whatever gods made him fortunate enough to be admitted into a school that so many aspired to get into without even trying, Shinya hurried to the gym, where the entrance ceremony was about to begin. Once inside, he noticed that although the gym was huge and well-maintained, there were barely any people inside. That was to be expected with how few Sages and places at Umiboshi existed. He had simply not realised how empty that would feel during the entrance ceremony.
Given that he had plenty of seats to choose from, Shinya chose a random seat far from everyone else, for he knew no one. He would get to know them later when he found out who his classmates were.
The ceremony started with the students singing the national anthem. Afterwards, the principal said the name of every new student as customary, listing that this year’s first-year class had just ten students in the process. Well, at least that made it easy to become friends with everyone.
Soon, the principal dictated the start of the next stage. ‘Now, I would like to invite the first-year student representative, Mitsumaki Asahi, to give his speech.’
Upon hearing the name, a flicker of realisation passed through Shinya’s mind. ‘Mitsumaki?…’
Shinya had not been paying much attention when the students’ names were said since he was too busy counting, but now that he heard the name Mitsumaki again, he remembered something.
Popularly called by the codename ‘Nergal’, the full name of Japan’s – no, the world’s strongest Sage was Mitsumaki Isamu. Descended from one of the most famous Sage families who were notorious for giving birth to Sages every generation as if blessed by fate, he was an Umiboshi alumnus who rose through the ranks of the military at a young age. He had a son roughly the same age as Shinya. And a daughter who was not much younger too, if he recalled correctly.
‘Considering that Mitsumaki is an extremely rare last name this is the top Sage high school, could it be…?’
A single look at Mitsumaki Asahi confirmed his suspicions. The boy who came on the podium was tall with sharp turquoise eyes and silver hair, and he bore a clear, albeit subtle resemblance to the strongest Sage. He had a slender, but muscular build and carried himself with effortless aplomb. Unlike Shinya who suffered from Impostor Syndrome in that gym where he was surrounded by Sage prodigies, if anyone felt like he belonged there, it was definitely Mitsumaki.
Everyone’s eyes were on Mitsumaki. His presence and charisma had been enough to get people’s attention – or perhaps they had also made the same connection as Shinya. Whatever it was, there was nobody in that room who was not focusing on him. In a heartbeat, he started his speech.
After the speech and ceremony, the students had a brief orientation session around the classroom and school. In the classroom, Shinya managed to find his seat with ease, for since he was first on the register, his seat was the closest one to the door. Unsurprisingly, he also spotted the first-year representative inside. In consideration of how small this year’s intake was, it was a no-brainer that they would be classmates. They were basically on opposite ends of the classroom, with Shinya having seat number one and Mitsumaki having seat number nine due to their last names. Nonetheless, it was not the representative who caught Shinya’s eye; it was the girl Mitsumaki was chatting with.
Her flowing silver hair cascaded down to her thin waist in waves and light delicate curls framed her face. She had turquoise eyes that looked soft and kind rather than harsh and cold: the opposite of Mitsumaki. Coupled with her curvy womanly figure, she could only be described as beautiful.
Even though they were in the classroom for a ridiculously short time in which they mostly listened to the teacher, Shinya saw several classmates, mostly of the opposite gender, approaching Mitsumaki and the girl once they were done. Neither of them seemed interested in conversing with others, so though their conversations were far from unpleasant, they did not exactly go anywhere either. Maybe it was just too early to have comfortable conversations with people they had just met, especially in the limited time they had during orientation, so he could not really blame them.
‘H-Hello,’ a quiet and mellow female voice said from his left. From his peripheral vision, he could see the source of it was a pretty girl with chest-length lavender hair and golden eyes.
‘Hello,’ he greeted back.
The girl introduced herself promptly. ‘Nice to meet you, my name is Eiju Shizuho. I will be sitting next to you from now on, so I hope we can get along. If you ever need anything or there’s anything I can help with, feel free to ask.’
How thoughtful! They had not even started high school properly yet and it already seemed like he would not have a hard time getting along with his classmates. Or with the person next to him, anyway. ‘Likewise. I’m Amagiri Shinya.’
Some small talk later, Shinya discovered that Shizuho lived in the on-campus dormitory. In Shinya’s case, he could still live in his childhood house because it was a commutable distance away, so he walked Shizuho back to her dorm before heading back.
When he exited the high school campus for good, Shinya took a last glance at it. Part of him could hardly believe he actually got admitted. The other part told himself that it was natural for one of the few people with multiple superpowers to be invited to attend Umiboshi. His conflicting emotions aside, the biggest perk of getting in was that through Umiboshi, he could basically fast-track his way to his dream of becoming a professional Sage. Everyone knew becoming a professional Sage was a sure-fire path to success.
In contemporary society, Sages were the ultimate weapons. They held important positions in the military, secret services and law enforcement, as well as politics. Nobody dared overrule the House of Sages in the National Diet, for if Sages deserted, all hope to win against both defectors and other countries in war was lost.
And it was not just Japan either. Each country faced similar problems. One truth remained constant across states: being born with a superpower was like winning the lottery. There was one phenomenon which occurred almost exclusively in Japan, though.
Ghostlike monstrosities that spawned at midnight, leaving destruction and ruin in their wake. Known for occasionally taking people off guard by looking like normal humans before revealing their true form, albeit they were otherwise mindless and chaotic. Set apart from normal humans while in disguise merely by the translucent nature of their form. So powerful that only the strongest Sages and military squads were authorised to engage them.
Above all, they were the ones who killed Shinya’s mother a decade ago.
That was what Mirrors were.
Back then, Mirrors had barely started to come into existence. Not much was known about them at the time. To be more specific, their existence was still a classified state secret, and regardless of how much evidence indicating the appearance of a new hostile species piled up, it was always covered up and denied by officials. All in a petty attempt to save face.
Never could he forgive himself and the authorities for what transpired on that day. His guilt became his motivation to take a stand against Mirrors, and Umiboshi was his one-way ticket to reaching his goal.
‘I’m back!’ Shinya said when he arrived home.
‘Welcome home,’ his grandmother replied while coming to greet him at the door, her smile widening when she laid her eyes upon him. ‘Dinner is ready.’
‘Thank you. Hey, what’s with that smile?’ he asked with a soft smile of his own.
She turned to face him with the proudest beam he had seen on her face in a long time, her eyes almost tearing up. ‘I’m just looking at you. That uniform suits you well. Treasure it, will you?’
Seeing his grandmother’s infectious smile, he could not possibly betray her expectations. ‘Yeah.’
‘Go get changed, I will be waiting for you in the kitchen.’
Shinya had been living with his grandmother for about eight years. His grandfather died before he was born, so it had always been just the two of them. After his mother passed away, his father became distant. He could not even bear to look at Shinya anymore because he looked too much like his deceased mother, the biggest difference except for their gender being that his eyes were bright purple like his father’s. Even though he never said it, Shinya felt how crushed his father was when his wife died and how challenging it was for him to face the son for whose sake she gave up her life. Part of him believed dad would have preferred it if he had died instead. In order to cope with his grief, his father dropped him off at his grandmother’s for extended periods of time until he got a job abroad, at which point he transferred custody of Shinya to his grandmother permanently. Three years had now passed since Shinya had last seen his father.
The worst part was that Shinya did not even hold a grudge against his father for abandoning him. After all, it was Shinya’s fault that his wife was dead. In addition, Shinya was happy at his grandmother’s. Most memories of his father were long gone, yet the memories of his grandmother grew in number every day. She was the parental figure who was there for him day in, day out, and he had come to care about her and making her proud more than he cared about his father over time. It was not like he hated his father or anything; he merely did not see him enough to maintain a proper relationship with him.
After changing into more comfortable clothes, Shinya went downstairs to enjoy a cheerful dinner with his grandmother. They spent the evening chattering about little nothings until they went to sleep. Oh, how he wished those moments could last forever!
‘Thanks for taking me out to the amusement park, mum,’ five-year-old Shinya said happily while holding his mother’s hand and looking up at her with the innocent gleeful eyes of a child. ‘I had lots of fun!’
‘Glad to hear that, dear,’ the woman with short black hair and indigo eyes replied in a sweet voice, smiling brightly at her son.
On that day, Shinya had insisted they go to an amusement park somewhat far from their house. The amusement park had a limited-edition themed ride based on his favourite anime, which he would not miss for the world! Originally, they were supposed to go tomorrow once his father was back from his overseas business trip, but her mother’s schedule unexpectedly cleared up, so she took him to the amusement park that he really wanted to visit sooner. Afterwards, Shinya was so hungry that he begged his mother to eat out rather than wait until they got home. Truth to be told, his mother had never been the best at saying no, so she caved in easily.
Now, it was around six o’clock in the evening. Despite the good mood Shinya was in after spending the entire day outside, he was unbelievably tired, hence why he was looking forward to getting home. Usually, Shinya’s father was the one who drove them everywhere because he was the only one in the family who could drive, but since they had not waited for him to come back from his business trip, public transport was the single option left. As such, they were currently on a train platform, on which the wait for the bullet train seemed like an eternity to a tired child, even though it was an insignificant period of time in practice.
Out of a sudden, a loud noise resounded throughout the station.
An uncanny roar followed. That roar was unlike any sound Shinya had heard. It was too deep and deafening to belong to an animal, and its otherworldly quality was unlike that of anything in this world. Simply hearing the voice was enough to make his hair stand on end in horror. If he had to explain it, he would have described it as the maleficent cry of a ghost before it brought suffering upon its victims. He was not aware how correct he was until later.
A sad frown replaced Shinya’s jovial expression. ‘Mum, what are those scary noises? I don’t like them.’
His mother gave him a reassuring gaze, concealing how uneasy and perplexed she truly was. ‘Don’t worry about it, Shinya. I’m sure it’s nothing. Let’s take the bus home instead, alright?’
An announcement boomed from the station’s speakers. ‘This is an emergency message. An unknown entity has appeared close to the station. Please make your way to the north exit and don’t enter the station again until the authorities allow you to do so. I repeat…’
‘Will we be okay, mum?’ Shinya asked his mother, the fear in his bones rising fast.
‘Of course, dear,’ she answered confidently, albeit she did not trust her own claim. ‘As long as we follow the instructions, nothing will happen.’
The message looped while Shinya’s mother dragged him to the north exit. Fortunately, the north exit was extremely close to their location and they were already heading towards the north exit to take the bus, so they were among the first people to leave the station.
When they got out of the station, an unimaginable sight materialised before them.
A shadowy monster with blank spheres of static for eyes and bone-like plaque covering random parts of its transparent body awaited them outside. It was unlike any creature Shinya had seen before, and by the looks of it, his mother had no idea what it was either.
One thing was clear, though. All their senses were screaming at them to get away.
‘This is an emergency message,’ the announcement began once more. ‘We recall the previous emergency message and send our apologies for the error. Please make your way to the south exit, not the north exit. The unknown creature is close to the north exit, so please head to the south exit as quickly as possible to ensure your safety. I repeat…’
Those who were already at the north exit started running back into the station in an instant. Panic had set in, and none of them could handle being near the creature any longer.
‘Let’s go, Shinya,’ his mother said while trying to lead him back in by the hand.
But Shinya could not move. The creature emanated a suffocating dark aura of hostility so strong that it paralysed him. Under the pressure of its presence, it took all he had not to fall on his knees. He was so afraid that he could not even hold his mother’s hand anymore, for his hands were shaking too much.
For some reason, the creature locked eyes with Shinya the second it noticed him. Upon doing so, the creature shot him a predatory grin made of pure white light in the darkness, its hollow eyes piercing into Shinya’s soul. And the unsettling grin drew closer and closer…
Before he knew it, he was shoved out of the way.
The one who was grabbed by the creature was his mother, not the intended target.
And the creature laughed, and laughed, chilly howls echoing in the night as it relished in its ability to crush humans at will. Meanwhile, Shinya tried to activate his superpower. No matter how much he tried, it would not come out…
Presumably to aim for Shinya, the creature threw his mother down violently. She landed on the ground with a thud, hitting her head on the corner of the pavement he was thrown against.
‘Mum!’ Shinya shouted, running to her now that he finally managed to get back control of his body. He was still trembling, and his superpower was nowhere to be found, but by mustering all of his strength, he broke free of the paralysis.
Shinya leaned down next to his mother. ‘Hang on, mum, I’m going to tell the people at the station call an ambulance,’ he declared, only to be stopped by his mother taking his hand in hers before he could get up.
Alas, blood gushed out from the wound swiftly. Too swiftly.
‘I’m so sorry, mum,’ he said between tears. ‘I couldn’t move. It’s my bad.’
Had he been patient until the next day or had he not been adamant about going out to eat after visiting the amusement park, none of this would have occurred. They would have been out of harm’s way. He could think of several other methods to prevent this and all of them involved something Shinya did or failed to do. Immeasurable guilt budded in his heart at that thought.
‘Listen, Shinya,’ she replied with what she already realised would be her last breaths. ‘It’s not your fault. Nothing is your fault.’
‘No buts. I’m grateful I made it on time. Mum is happy as long as you live, got it? So, do your best and live your life to the fullest. For my sake too.’
Shinya understood that those were his last moments with the person he loved most. However, as a child, he refused to acknowledge that he was about to lose his mother. ‘Don’t leave me, mum!’
‘I wish I had that option, dear.’ Her kind voice was quietening more and more with each sentence. ‘I will be watching over you from the sky. Until we meet again, there’s one thing I want you to remember.’
‘What is it?’
‘I love you. Mum will always love you most.’
With that, her eyelids closed, and her body went limp.
In the background, the creature that had been watching the event unfold was cackling maniacally, like it was all a meaningless joke.
Shinya turned to the creature, unadulterated hatred unlike any he had felt before blazing in his tearful eyes. ‘You…’
Since the spectacle was over, the creature had run out of patience and swung at the little boy who was weeping next to his mother’s corpse.
However, the hit never reached him.
The hit was blocked by the world’s strongest Sage. ‘Get away, kid,’ his booming voice ordered.
His memory beyond that point was fuzzy. He vaguely recalled giving a statement to the police and attending the funeral.
Years later, Shinya learnt that there should not have been a Mirror out in the open during the evening, and yet, that Mirror somehow managed to elude everyone who could have vanquished it for at least almost a full day since spawning.
Most of all, Shinya resented himself. Despite being a Sage, he had not been strong enough to protect his mother. Hell, he could not even use his superpower when it was needed.
When he processed what had taken place, he made a promise to himself. He swore that he would become a professional Sage who could protect others and destroy Mirrors once and forever.
Shinya awoke in cold sweat, his heart beating so hard that he could hear it pump blood through his body. Although he had just woken up, he was alert, and he could feel the remnants of the adrenaline his nightmare generated cursing through his veins.
‘That nightmare again…’
It was not the first time he dreamt of the night his mother died. When he was younger, he used to wake up in tears after dreaming of the day his family fell apart frequently. But now, he was just so accustomed to that sorrow that he barely felt anything anymore, which made him worry that he was losing his compassion and humanity.
‘Guess I will get some water and go back to sleep.’
Fully intending to follow his plan through, Shinya got out of bed, stretched a bit and began to head towards the door.
‘What was that sound?’
Random loud noises during night-time were never a good sign. Shooting a quick glance at his phone showed that the clock had just struck midnight. That could only mean one thing.
A Mirror was nearby.
Unfortunately for Shinya, he lived in quite a remote residential area. They were relatively far out in the suburbs, to the point that commuting to school would have been unbearable had he lived a few minutes farther. Most Sages and military squads authorised to handle Mirrors were based at too big a distance to ensure fast response times. Some areas ending up in that position was unavoidable due to the scarcity of superpowers, and sadly, his area was one of those.
Under normal circumstances, civilians were expected to hide or try to evacuate until reinforcements arrived to deal with the problem. Too bad nobody had any idea when exactly that would be.
‘Shinya, are you up?’ his grandmother asked from beyond the door.
‘I am, grandma,’ he replied, opening the door for her. ‘Did you hear that noise?’
‘Yes, that’s what woke me up. It sounded very close; we might have to leave.’
Like hell he was going to let that happen. His grandmother was poorly, frail and not in a state to travel. Besides… There was no need for anyone to move if the Mirror was defeated speedily enough.
‘Grandma, you go ahead and hide. I will be back in a bit.’
‘What are you planning to do?’
A strategy forming in his mind, he rested his hand on her shoulder with unwavering determination and conviction in his tone. ‘I will protect everyone.’
‘Take care!’ With that, Shinya sprinted out of the house, seeking the origin of the noise.
Today was different. He was no longer an ignorant child who froze in terror and could not keep his power under control for long enough to make himself useful. Ever since then, he had grown stronger, and though he still had a lot to learn, he was an Umiboshi student with two superpowers. The authorities would not dare lay a hand on a potential future asset. In this scenario, saving lives took priority over whatever the authorities would have to comment on his actions. He had sworn not to let others experience the same sadness he had felt when a Mirror wrecked his family, and now was his first chance to keep his promise to himself.
There was no time to waste; each subsequent noise could spell death. And so, Shinya hurried to follow the alarmingly close sounds. A few houses down the street, the ghostly apparition was convulsing with haphazard movements, knocking down walls, cars and infrastructure at random. It was a miracle that there seemed to be no casualties yet, but if he waited any longer, that would change immediately.
‘This is bad! If I don’t do something, it will reach my house in no time.’
That settled it. He was not going to let anyone else die before his eyes again. As one of the few people blessed with the ability to defeat Mirrors, getting rid of them was his responsibility too. It was not like he had time to spare until the authorities got there anyway.
His resolution stronger than ever, he placed himself within the Mirror’s line of sight. ‘Hey, you stupid Mirror! I will be your opponent.’
The Mirror shifted its eerie white gaze to the source of the taunt, breaking into a creepy grin.
Not that grin again.
Shaking away the thoughts swirling in his brain, Shinya concentrated on dealing with the Mirror. Firstly, he had to lure it away without causing any damage to their surroundings. To be fair, he was not entirely positive regarding his odds of beating the Mirror, but even then, drawing it away seemed like an even more troublesome task.
For now, he sprinted towards a neighbouring park. It was about two minutes away if he ran at full speed. The least he could do was prevent the Mirror from demolishing property and killing unsuspecting people in their sleep in the process.
Thankfully, the Mirror gave chase like a cat pursuing a mouse. A rumour claimed that Mirrors were drawn to Sages in particular, which appeared to be true. Shinya completed the first stage of his plan effortlessly.
Seeing that his idea worked, his confidence increased. He might just be able to pull this off. ‘Perfect. It’s time for the operation to start for real now.’
A smirk tugged at his lips when he activated his ability. Purple lightning shone on his fingertips, twirling around his arms as he accumulated power. He reached the highest electricity output he had ever amassed, and yet, his superpower was perfectly under control, being kept at bay by his renewed resolve.
The second the Mirror attempted to smash him into the ground, Shinya fired the energy he collected at the Mirror, obliterating its claw. As much as he would have liked to one-shot the Mirror, one hit did not make the cut because the sturdy Mirror dodged part of his attack.
No problem. Another attack or a few more shall be enough. His main goal was not necessarily beating the mirror anyway; as long as he held out against the Mirror without causing mass destruction until people who were qualified to handle it arrived, he considered his mission accomplished.
Gathering lightning in his hands, Shinya switched to close quarters and began to pummel the Mirror with electrified fists. Soon, the Mirror retaliated by sending him flying with a blow he failed to evade. The metallic taste of blood got on his tongue.
‘As if I would let a weak punch like that stop me!’
In an instant, Shinya was back on his feet and ready for combat. The Mirror’s subsequent hit did not land on him, for he got out of the way on time.
‘The Mirror has slowed down. There are still holes in the places I hit. In that case…’
Most likely, annihilating the Mirror was feasible. His strikes caused plenty of damage, so if he took the Mirror by surprise with one big attack, it was game over.
Shinya darted around in a circle around the Mirror, shooting weak attacks at it to distract it. When he saw a window of opportunity, he released blinding lightning into its empty eyes.
‘This is my chance!’
At record speed, he channelled as much lightning as he could. It did not matter if it went out of control; in fact, if it did, it would certainly help divert the Mirror’s attention.
A powerful blast of electricity hit the Mirror head-on. When the dazzling flash of the lightning disappeared, nothing was left behind. The Mirror was eradicated for good.
Faced with that realisation, Shinya sunk to his knees, a few tears of joy rolling down his cheeks for the first time in years. ‘Hell yes! I did it!’
He succeeded. This time, he protected everyone.
Unbeknownst to Shinya, two figures that were shrouded in the darkness of the night watched him from afar.
‘What do you think, Asahi?’ a girl with silver hair that shimmered underneath the moonlight asked as she turned her head to the boy who was with her.
No hesitation could be found in his emotionless voice when he gave an answer. ‘He passed the test.’
She nodded with a smile. ‘I have to agree.’