Love is a phenomenon which occurs after a pair of [Crimson Cores] collide and make a completely new core.
Newly formed core, created specifically this way is called the [Devouring Core].
This type of core contains an unequal share of each type of cores and is astonishingly unstable. It requires a constant Mana input from all sources, hence it’s name.
This type of [Devouring Core] we call The Sleeper.
When two or more Sleepers resonate with each other, creating The Bridge that connects them, forms a complex construction called The Dreamer.
The Bridge that connects two Sleepers is often described as [Red Thread of Fate] that binds two people into one, in a form of The Dreamer.
“Kap, open your eyes,” Ume shook Shiki’s head.
Shiki woke up on a tree trunk in the middle of a jungle of sorts. Sky scraping trees surrounded his exhausted body, blocking the broader view.
He felt no baggage on his back, but he still checked his rear for a sign of turtle shell. There was none. He had slight migraine. but aside from that, he felt slight discomfort in his rib cage area.
He eyed Ume as she was checking the surrounding area. Each tree, from the bottom all the way to the top she inspected carefully in order to detect some kind of anomaly or even find a correct way through the woods.
“This place is bonkers, I have no idea where to even start,” Ume complained while looking at the small pieces of the sky that fought against dense treetops.
It was night. But for some reason it wasn’t pitch black at all. It seemed like moonlight was dripping down the branches like honey.
“I can hear the brontide,” said Shiki.
Ume made a confused face as she turned around towards Shiki. She squinted with her eyes and repeated his words mockingly.
“Brontide? U’r makin’ up words.”
“It’s a real word for a sound that resembles a thunder in a distance,” said Shiki while getting up from a tree trunk.
Ume made a surprised face and blinked couple of times trying to process what just happened.
“Since when did ya learn those fancy words?” She walked behind him, mimicking his moves.
“Read about it,” said Shiki in a gentle voice as he walked in front of her.
Ume was used to a nervous version of Shiki so this one made her uncomfortable, she had to test the waters.
“Since when did ya become a leader?” She asked a question louder than she wanted to be.
“I’m not, just following the brontide,” said Shiki while looking around him, successfully passing by densely grown forest.
After couple of minutes she added, “I don’t like that word, it sounds like a brand of washing powder.”
Ume made a pouting face, crossed her arms and followed Shiki.
They walked tirelessly through the forest, when Ume screamed loudly.
“Kap! Watch out!” She jumped on his back and both collapsed, hitting a tree on the left.
“What’s wrong?” Shiki asked while swiping his eyes.
“You almost fell into a [Voidpool]. See that thing over there?” Ume pointed at a curious thing swirling on the ground.
It was a tiny pitch black pool filled with nothingness. It seemed like it wasn’t exactly at the ground, but somewhere in the space itself, just existing. Small white particles that looked like snow were rising from the pool just to gently disappear in a blink of an eye.
“What is that? Is it dangerous?” Shiki let out a small sigh.
“Duh dummy, who knows what these things can do to your body if you step on them, please be careful,” Ume worried.
“I will, I’m sorry,” Shiki got up from the ground and continued walking, watching out for the pools.
Ume couldn’t wait any longer, she had to ask.
“What happened to you? Why are you so listless?” Shiki stopped walking and exhaled a long sigh.
“I have no idea what is real anymore,” he touched a tall tree beside him.
“I’m real and so are you, isn’t that enough?” Ume raised her voice.
“Are you really?”
“W...what do you mean by that?”
She grabbed her left hand with her right behind her back and squeezed so hard that her nails almost broke through her skin.
“I have these strange episodes of… I don’t know, feels like I enter my own World,” he averted his look at the [Voidpool] that stood there passively,”last time we ran together through the school, you changed into someone else.”
Ume didn’t know how to react. She had no idea what to say. Shiki didn’t talk to her once about these things and all of a sudden she was a part of them.
“So now you don’t trust me that I am real, and you think I am some kind of an alien shapeshifter?” Ume let go of her hand.
“It’s not like that, I..” Shiki blanked out.
“Be grateful that you’re able to enter your own [World Within], some of us are forced to live within other’s.”
Ume concluded her thought and passed by Shiki with hurried steps.
She didn’t want her friend to see tiny tears that dripped down her chin.
Back in the classroom, Ren desperately tried to calm herself down.
“I showed an unsightly face, I apologize to you all,” Ren wiped her face with a towel.
“Nonsense, I should’ve look after you more careful,” Alp got off his chair and looked at her hunched body, “I’ll grab you some water.”
He had stormed off before she attempted to stop him.
“I even let Kappa and Ume clean up my mess, unforgivable.”
She grabbed the towel with both of her hands and squeezed it so hard as if she tried to demonstrate to the world that her strength hasn’t abandoned her.
Omi, still standing at the entrance to other room observed her silently, until his patience started breaking one thread after another.
“It’s our job to take care of each other, even clean up the mess from one another as club members...no… as frienths,”
Omi forced a smile of consolation which only irritated Ren.
“Friends? I jumped on a guy just because he carries a Prime Shard like a hyena, and wouldn’t even listen to his feelings. I bet he wanted to leave every second,” Ren’s bloodshot eyes got worse with each seconds.
“He would’ve found out about that sooner or later, and who knows what would’ve happened to him by then, you did him a feyvor,” Omi hit the wall with his fist.
“I hope you are correct. But still what happened now…” Ren couldn’t finish the sentence, Alp barged in a room carrying a glass of water.
“What happened now is my fault, not yours. I failed you as the Stabilizer,” he handed her the glass gently, “I can only vow that I will never let this happen again.”
Alp knelt in front of her while looking straight into her eyes.
He touched her hair gently and said,”tomatoes are still red, so don’t cry my queen.”
She laughed while snorting her nose.
“Seriously, you find that romanthick?” said Omi.
Alp made a sound that resembled a really mad bull which glared at matador Omi.
“Just kidding, it’s very sweet, I’ll go and grab some, something for mysellf,” Omi hopped like a rabbit when he passed by Alp and left the room.
“I feel better now, thank you,” said Ren after she gulped a bit of water.
“Have some faith in them, Ok? We all need a strong president, especially me.” Alp said gently at her ear.
“I will,” Ren said while looking down at the glass of water.
Shiki and Ume still walked through the forest in complete silence. One grabbed the hand of other nonchalantly in order to avoid all the pools of void.
“So, which type of entrance is this?” Shiki broke the silence with a question, “it’s obviously not a loop because the forest is too detailed.”
“There are a couple of possibilities,” said Ume and continued explaining,”noticed how [Voidpools] are slowly but surely directing us which way to go?”
Shiki stopped and looked around him.
“Yes, the brontide.. I mean the hum is that way, but pools decide on the path we take,” Shiki concluded.
“Exactly, my guess is that we’re in a [Labyrinth Entrance]”
“And pools are the traps?” he wondered.
“No, silly, they guide us, obviously,” Ume let out a small laugh which consoled Shiki, “I bet president left them for us.”
“She left the things that could suck us into nothingness?” Shiki’s usual nervous tone surfaced with this sentence.
Ume detected it and smiled gently,”There’s probs more to it, let’s keep goin’.”
They kept walking and dodging the pools all while the moonlight that dropped from the tress illuminated their path.
They arrived at small clearing in the middle of the jungle which had a lot of stumps scattered around, that emerged from mowed grass.
“What is that?” Shiki pointed at being that was sitting in the middle of the clearing, on one of the stumps.
Sit with me, children of stars
Tired of travel, wood and farce
Anguish in your face
Yearning for embrace
Awake at the end of my song
Walk the rest of this grove
Awake at the end of life long
You will reach the goal, for which you strove
Beautiful song came from the mouth of a woman dressed in purely white dress that completely wrapped the entirety of her body.
“Did you hear that? It’s gorgeous,” Shiki’s eyes glowed from the moonlight excitement that ravished his senses.
“All I hear is hissin’, I’m gonna’ put a decoration on her...well through her.”
Ume held in her hand giant bow made of metal that looked like platinum, and nocked the equally colored arrow. She pointed at the hissing beast that rested on a stump and released the arrow.
The arrow exploded in a form of orange fumes when it reached the beast. The beast vanished, leaving behind a lump pearl-white ash.
Shiki was speechless.
“One snake down, probs more to go,” Ume placed the bow on her back and continued walking.
“Hey, why, what?” Shiki stuttered as he was catching up to Ume.
“Stop droolin’ on snake girls, this is not that type of story, now keep movin’,” said Ume harshly.
“That was the shadow as well?” asked Shiki while following Ume.
“Yeah, snake shades are pretty common in love quarrels,” Ume said while animating her words with hands,” while one party hears singin’, other one hears hissin’.”
“Amazing. I’m really glad I have you here,” yet again, Shiki couldn’t contain his amazement towards Ume’s knowledge.
“Of course you are! Don’t forget that… dummy,” Ume said with pouting face.
They continued walking through the moonbathed forest.
“Humming is starting to sound really weird,” Shiki said while cleaning his ears with a finger.
“Gross! Stop doing that in front of a lady!” Ume put her hands on her hips and bent in Shiki’s direction,”never mind, what do you mean by weird?” Ume sighed.
“Sounds like someone is beating the drums,” he said.
“Drums as in rock band drums?” Ume’s hopefulness was so adorable to Shiki, he barely found the strength to crush girl’s wishes.
“Not really, more like tribal music,” he scratched his back and looked away.
“Great, I always wanted to befriend bunch of half-naked shadows that do the rain dance,” she dodged Shiki’s gaze as if it was somehow his fault and continued talking to herself.
”What does that have to do with luv? I’ll never understand girls.”
Shiki didn’t have the courage to point out the fact that Umeko is a girl as well so he kept his thoughts for himself and just moved on.
As time passed, more and more pools spawned around them. Soon, they had to backtrack themselves because the pools would lead them to dead ends.
Finally, they where led to a big river made entirely of [Voidpools] that prevented them from proceeding further.
At this point, even Umeko doubted that the pools were the work of their president Ren, but more like traps as Shiki suggested in a first place. But she wouldn’t say it out loud, of course.
“Now what?!?” Shiki yelled at Ume that almost fell into the pools out of surprise.
“Have you lost it? Stop yellin’ at me,” Ume regained the control of her legs and burrowed her feet into the ground.
“I can’t hear you!” Shiki yelled even louder,”the drumming is way too loud, I think we’re close.”
Shiki was right. Couple of meters across the river, the forest’s end neared. The unusually lit torches with pale green lights could be seen at the far end of the forest but neither Shiki or Umeko noticed them. They were too focused on the problem in front of them.
“What are your powers in this world?” Ume jumped so she could reach Shiki’s ear.
The feeling of her warm breath on the ear and her tiny body that was rubbing and clashing against his, made him blank out from the question even though he heard it loud and clear.
“I...I…” the glow on Shiki’s hand became apparent. The color blue was much clearer and almost iridescent.
He felt as something was moving inside his hand, but the feeling was not painful or gross, just otherworldly. Slowly but surely, scales that look like pieces of a turtle shell started to form around his left hand, while the glow was breaking through his right.
“Eww that’s hmm, pretty, in a way,” Ume watched the scales forming on his hand that stopped spreading half way through his arm.
“What do I do with this?” Shiki yelled while looking at his arm.
He didn’t panic. This wasn’t his first rodeo, he knew that different worlds meant different powers but what gave him the strongest headache is that these powers never come with instructions.
“Try squirmmin’ it around, maybe something falls out,” Ume acted like a dancing eel with a straight face.
Shiki laughed at her, but followed her strange advice anyway.
As he wiggled his hand, small pieces of scale flew out of his hand onto the ground, creating a sturdy piece of shell.
The results surprised both Ume and Shiki.
Ume jumped where the shell was lying and observed it closely.
“It feels solid, maybe we can use it to cross the pools somehow,” Ume thought out loud while touching the shell and knocking on it with her fingernails.
Shiki wondered why was his right hand glowing so fiercely so he tried to block the light by clapping with his hands.
He slowly spread his hands and as he was doing that, the glow on his right hand was pulling a big piece of shell from his hand.
“You’re kidding,” Ume was baffled.
When he pulled the rest of it out, he threw it onto the [Voidpools]. It created a big piece of bridge made out of shell. Parts of shell completely blocked the pools so nothing was coming out of them.
They both looked astonished. Happiness overwhelmed Shiki’s mind, as he was finally feeling useful. Without a doubt in her mind, Ume jumped on the bridge to test it out.“It’s amazing!” She yelled while smiling from ear to ear.