Chapter 12:

Edge of the Forest, Part 2


“I met Kiyoshi first when I was living in Honolulu. It might not seem like it, but I’m born and brought up in Hawaii. My father’s family lived there for many generations. Anyway, so I was at this bar after work, it was late at night, and suddenly this tall, muscular man sits beside me and starts talking in Japanese. Asks me which part of Japan I am from, what am I doing here. Probably thought someone who wears an Aloha shirt in Hawaii is definitely a tourist. So, there’s a possibly drunk Japanese, making broad assumptions and questioning my citizenship. I started speaking in English, and behaved very rudely with him. I thought he’ll go away once he realizes I’m not from Japan, but he started responding in English as well. Mind you, at that point, I don’t know anything about Tracts; like how they can’t get drunk or learn languages by literally scanning someone’s mind.”Bookmark here

“Learn languages?!” Yukio was amazed.Bookmark here

“Come on now,” closing his laptop, Sumeragi Sensei took a silver bottle out of one of the bags, “I’ve been making TDs for… around 30 years I guess. Before that, how do you think the Tracts communicated with the people of the other worlds?”Bookmark here

Of course…Bookmark here

Yukio had to facepalm.Bookmark here

Sensei started reminiscing again, “Anyway, that was our first meeting. We met a few more times at the bar, talked about this and that. To be honest, I don’t really remember those talks, because I wasn’t terribly excited about speaking in Japanese or knowing what was going on there. Then, one day, I got really drunk. I don’t even remember the reason; it must've been a really bad day at work. Anyway, he promised me he would drive me home. I told him where my car is. And he took me home.”Bookmark here

After a pause, he continued, “Now, the thing is, he told me all of that the next morning. I couldn’t remember any of it. All I could remember was him taking me to a dark, deserted ally. And then, we were in front of my apartment.”Bookmark here

Yukio remembered how he felt the first time Amanda took him to Ohara.Bookmark here

“After that, We really hit it off. He started visiting my house often, and before I knew it, we were having bowling nights, movie nights, and whatnot. I never questioned him about what happened that night, and eventually forgot about it.”Bookmark here

After taking a sip at the bottle, Sensei resumed, “Anyway, after he knew my field was software engineering, and I had a passion for hardware, he asked me a strange question. The question was whether I’ll be interested in creating a proprietary translator device. If I’m not wrong, I had a promotion back then, and things were really busy at work. I politely declined, and he told me not to mind it. The days passed as usual, until one day. One day, when we had a huge fight.”Bookmark here

A strange, uncomfortable silence fell on the tent as Sumeragi Sensei stopped talking and started drinking more and more. After a while, he looked Yukio straight in the eyes.Bookmark here

“Look, Takanashi-kun, I won’t tell you the reason for our fight. Not because I think you’re a child, but because I have no interest in dredging up that part of the past. You should know that it was serious, and after that, I completely cut myself off from him. Started drinking more, had more and more problems at work. I thought he had no longer any reason to stay here, so he has returned to Japan. Never thought I would see him again…”Bookmark here

Yukio realized at last that whatever Sensei was drinking definitely had alcohol in it.Bookmark here

“Sensei… it’s noon…”Bookmark here

Sumeragi Sensei resumed his slightly slurred speech, pretending he didn’t hear anything, “I really want to meet him. I mean, I wanted to. I wanted us to patch up our relationship, even if it meant living a lie. I wanted to reject reality! Reality… sorry, I’m just really sad. I mean I was sad. Anyway, one day, he returns. Yes, he does. And he asks for the prototype of a microphone device my company was working on. I ask him what it's all about, and he doesn’t say anything. Until he does. Then he tells me everything.”Bookmark here

The bottle was finally empty. Sensei shook it a few times, then unceremoniously dropped it at the ground. With an irritated expression, he said, “And that’s how I learned about Minus Plus. Needless to say, it took me a long time to believe him, but when I did, it changed my life. I left my job, my friends, relatives, and even my parents to shift to Japan. I started working on a different prototype of the machine he wanted, and after a year, finally made it work. It was the first TD, and it was created solely with the help of Kiyoshi. Then I used the factory of one of the Tracts to quickly mass-produce them. And the job made me so excited, I started learning the languages I encountered through him… now that was a blast, haha…”Bookmark here

“Why did he need the devices? I mean, why then?”Bookmark here

Sensei flashed a big smile.Bookmark here

“I told you, didn’t I? He told me everything. It was a threat he couldn’t handle alone, and so he needed others beside him. And to get others beside him, he needed the devices.”Bookmark here

Even before Sensei muttered the next word, Yukio realized the reason.Bookmark here

“Tiztaanians.”Bookmark here

Yukio was beside Sensei now. He moved his laptop, arranged a pillow, and slowly made him lie down. During that time, Sumeragi Sensei kept muttering.Bookmark here

“He had to do something… He was Tetsuya Kiyoshi, after all. The leader of Minus Plus.”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

The sun of this world was exactly above him when Yukio left the tent. They had arrived in Kemirsh in the morning, and most of their work was already done. He hoped that Kawata-san would return any moment and ask them to pack their bags. Whatever software-related work Sensei was doing, he could easily finish once they returned to Earth.Bookmark here

Yukio was feeling really bad. Not only did he disturb Sensei’s work, but he also made him remember things he clearly didn’t want to remember. It would’ve been better to wait and ask Amanda about Kiyoshi-san. She was still the only one with whom he could be completely frank.Bookmark here

After all, he didn’t like Kawata-san.Bookmark here

He was one of those people who could get along with anyone. But Yukio was the exact opposite of him. Besides, something in his behavior always made him think that he was… trying too hard. Yeah, that was it.Bookmark here

Before falling asleep, Sensei muttered some more about Kiyoshi-san. About how he was responsible for their relations with three of the other worlds. He was blurting some other things as well, but Yukio wasn’t interested. The truth was, he didn’t want to know what happened between Sensei and Kiyoshi-san. He just wanted to know more about Tracts, and understand them.Bookmark here

So that he can understand himself.Bookmark here

Before he knew it, he was deeper inside the Forest of Kelna. Although it was quite hot inside the tent, a cool breeze coupled with the shadows of the trees kept the temperature bearable here. The place was also filled with lots of bushes, containing strange-looking flowers. Some of them smelled good as well.Bookmark here

He wanted to pluck some of them, but the mental image of Amanda’s puffed cheeks deterred him.Bookmark here

He took out his phone, and started clicking pictures of his surroundings. It was the only thing the phone was capable of at that point, since he couldn’t contact anyone. After taking a lot of pictures of strange bugs, flowers, and ferns, he set a 30 min timer and pocketed his phone. He intended to see as much as he possibly could within that time.Bookmark here

As Yukio was walking, a fruit dropped on his foot. It looked like a mango, but its inside was as green as its outside. He looked up at the tree. One of its branches, where a lot of fruits were hanging, was slowly swaying in the wind. As if some bird recently flew off from there.Bookmark here

He felt that something was off.Bookmark here

He looked back. The tent was still visible, and he intended to keep it that way. Neither Sumeragi Sensei nor Kawata-san told him anything about not leaving the tent, so he was taking advantage of that. But that didn’t mean he wanted to lose his way and get lost in this potentially dangerous place.Bookmark here

Dangerous. Huh.Bookmark here

Yukio realized what was off. None of the birds were chirping anymore. It was definitely not the case when he first entered the forest, as the direction he took initially was towards the song of an unknown bird. But, other than the occasional ruffling of leaves, the forest was completely silent.Bookmark here

Until a low growling sound entered his ears, and instantly gave him pin pricks all over his body.Bookmark here

He was unsure where the sound was coming from. After hiding behind a large, thick bush, he started checking his surroundings carefully. And soon enough, he noticed the trees on one side moving violently.Bookmark here

With bated breath, he observed a small, white tail emerge from behind one of the really big trees. It looked like the tail of a monkey, except it was really shiny, and there was a round lump of mass at its end. Yukio didn’t have to wait long to find out what it was.Bookmark here

A cover was slowly retracted from the top of the tail, and what emerged from underneath it was an eyeball. It moved in all directions, scanning everything.Bookmark here

Completely disregarding Amanda’s warnings, Yukio got himself more and more inside the bush. The rough branches scratched him everywhere, and he felt several bugs roaming around his body. But he didn’t care.Bookmark here

And that’s likely what saved him.Bookmark here

A few moments after the eye disappeared, there was another growl from the distance. It wasn’t loud, but clear enough for him to understand that the beast was circling around him. The sound was moving, yet it maintained the same distance from him.Bookmark here

His nerves were on edge the whole time, but now he could practically hear his heart jumping around in his ribcage. The sensation was unlike anything he had ever felt. Even in Ohara, when a bunch of people were getting slain in front of his eyes, he didn’t feel what he was feeling now. That was almost like a fairy tale for him; something that was real, yet didn’t feel real.Bookmark here

This, on the other hand, felt very much real.Bookmark here

The next sound he heard, it wasn’t a growl. It was a roar.Bookmark here

Yukio didn’t know how to describe it, but if he had to try, it was like hundreds of lions had their vocal cords ripped out, yet they were trying their hardest to scream. It was a hollow roar, but the vibrations it created around him made him sink to the ground. Literally.Bookmark here

He was lying on the ground with his face downwards, and shivering. It felt so chilly that he was sure he was going to freeze any moment. As he slowly raised his head, he saw a while apparition slowly moving towards the tent.Bookmark here

Their tent, where Sumeragi Sensei was sleeping.Bookmark here

Yukio could suddenly feel his body again. He couldn’t see the monster, or whatever it was, but the monster couldn’t see him either, so that was fair. Still, he needed to divert its attention. He didn’t know how deadly it was, or whether it was actually harmful or not. But letting it get to Sumeragi Sensei was something he absolutely couldn’t do.Bookmark here

God dammit, Yukio almost screamed. If only he could use his powers, this situation would’ve meant literally nothing. No matter how he thought about it, the powers of a Tract were inherently defensive. They couldn’t shoot lasers from their eyes, or had superhuman strength. But they could escape really fast.Bookmark here

Searching the ground, Yukio finally found what he was looking for. After slowly getting out of the bush, he threw the stone towards a deeper part of the forest, with all his might.Bookmark here

Surprising him, the stone moved like a bullet; after penetrating a thick bush, it struck a boulder and made a loud cracking sound.Bookmark here

If it was any other situation, that would’ve fascinated Yukio. But now, he had to quickly get inside the bush and lie down again. Because the monster was coming.Bookmark here

With another blood-curdling roar, the creature ran past him, towards the part of the forest where the stone had landed. And this time, despite the creature moving, Yukio saw it.Bookmark here

If someone ever made a hybrid of a cheetah and a rhino, which was bigger than the rhino and for some reason completely white, it would probably look like this, Yukio thought. The creature was running exactly like a cheetah or leopard, and its muscular legs were somehow giving support to its armored body and head. Strangely, it had two tails and no eyes, and dark streaks on its body; he wasn’t sure where.Bookmark here

Yukio quickly got out of the bush, and started running towards the tent. He had a very small window of time before the creature returned, and he had to get away from there, along with Sensei. He hoped that Kawata-san would be here in time; even if he woke Sensei up, he couldn’t just zap them to another place.Bookmark here

When he was halfway to the tent, the sound of the creature made him realize that he miscalculated.Bookmark here

The window of time was much shorter than he thought.Bookmark here

At the nick of time, he jumped towards a thicket, and the creature narrowly missed him. Its inertia made it slam into a tree, which gave him enough time to start running. The creature wasn’t far behind, as its howl made the whole forest tremble.Bookmark here

Yukio no longer felt like he was on Earth.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.