Chapter 13:

Land of the Unknown


Yukio was hiding behind a tree, with his back resting on the trunk. He was trying really hard to hear the creature’s breathing. And to hold on to his sanity.Bookmark here

He had no idea how much time had elapsed since he started running, and how he managed to keep the creature at bay and survive this long. But none of that mattered now. He was just waiting for the slightest of sound behind him.Bookmark here

He was no longer breathing through his noses. His clothes were clingy with sweat and unimaginably dirty, and he had lost one of his shoes some time ago. One of his palms clutched a sharp piece of rock, and the rock was instantly crimson.Bookmark here

He kept waiting.Bookmark here

Then the sound came. But not from the direction he was expecting.Bookmark here

His phone suddenly started beeping, disturbing the silence of the forest.Bookmark here

By the time Yukio took it out and stopped the timer, it was too late. The creature had heard him, and it was coming for him. The sound of its footsteps, which made the earth shake, indicated it’ll reach him in a few seconds.Bookmark here

This time, instead of running, Yukio closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.Bookmark here

“There you are!”Bookmark here

He opened his eyes, and saw the person he was expecting to see a long, long time ago.Bookmark here

It didn’t take Kawata Minori much time to understand what was happening. He quickly grabbed Yukio’s hand, and they both disappeared.Bookmark here

The next second, the creature slammed into the tree. A part of its skull moved, and an eye emerged from the hole. It scanned everywhere, but couldn’t trace the prey.Bookmark here

The sound of another hollow roar filled the whole forest.Bookmark here

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“Why couldn’t you come earlier?!”Bookmark here

“I had no idea what happened to you, where you were. Just Jumping at your location without any information could’ve been dangerous. I hope you understand.”Bookmark here

Yukio was standing with Kawata-san in a small, empty room whose walls indicated that it was also a very old one. If someone stepped outside of it, he would’ve observed that the room was part of the ruins of a building. Surrounding it, there were many other similar kinds of buildings; some covered with greenery, some completely decimated, and all of them completely devoid of human life. And that didn’t change no matter how far someone travelled.Bookmark here

They were on Earth 2.0. Yes, according to Kawata-san, that’s what Sumeragi Sensei called this world. It was apparently the world that was most similar to earth; but it was also the only one without any people. For some reason, the humans had gone extinct from this planet. All that they left behind were some buildings and cultivated lands. Judging by their condition, the buildings were hundreds of years old.Bookmark here

The reason Kawata-san brought him here was because he had something important to do here. And he had already jumped a lot today; before coming to look for him, he took Sumeragi Sensei back to Earth. He also jumped a few times to get deeper into the forest, until he found Yukio. And now he was too tired for another inter-world Jump.Bookmark here

But at that moment, Yukio didn’t care about that.Bookmark here

Kawata-san was scratching the back of his head, smiling as usual. Yukio, standing in one shoe on an uneven floor, with his hands still dripping blood, couldn’t believe what he just heard.Bookmark here

“Dangerous? It would’ve taken one second! I could’ve DIED!”Bookmark here

Yukio shouted, and then slowly sank on the floor, panting.Bookmark here

“Okay, look, I’m sorry. I understand that it was really tough for you, encountering a wild animal like that. But did any of us tell you to go to the forest? It’s bad enough that Sensei would need to start that module from the beginning again, but you made him sleep in that dangerous place. And went out, leaving him alone. Seriously, what were you thinking?”Bookmark here

Yukio looked up at him with a blank expression. He could clearly see Yukio’s state, and even now he was busy scolding him?!Bookmark here

He turned his face away, his anger palpable.Bookmark here

“Okay, here’s what we are gonna do,” Kawata-san talked to him as if he was a child, “I am going to get out for a bit. For the job. When I’m done, probably in an hour, I’ll return. And then we’ll go back to Earth and get you treated. For now, just stay here. Okay?Bookmark here

After a while, he took Yukio’s silence as his acknowledgement. “Good.”Bookmark here

Then he walked out of the room.Bookmark here

Yukio felt a bit strange, watching him leave like that. When was the last time he saw a Tract walking to go to a destination?Bookmark here

He suddenly remembered his walk with Amanda in Ginza.Bookmark here

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Yukio was in a familiar place, holding a very familiar thing in his hand. Without looking at it, he could tell that the baseball bat in his hand was partially red, and dripping a dark liquid. Yes, that’s how he saw it; that exaggeration was what his mind remembered. The body lying face down in front of him was, dramatically, lying in a pool of blood.Bookmark here

It was a scene he had seen countless times. But this time, there was something wrong with the body.Bookmark here

It was wearing a different kind of dress, and its size was also a bit different. Something was stuck at its hair, something that wasn’t supposed to be there.Bookmark here

A hair pin.Bookmark here

A white rabbit-hair pin.Bookmark here

Suddenly, the body changed its posture, and looked at him directly.Bookmark here

It was Amanda.Bookmark here

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He fell on the floor.Bookmark here

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Yukio woke up with a jolt. He was still in a different world, in an old room that smelled of dust and mold. The sun looked like it was about to go down, making him wonder exactly how long he was sleeping.Bookmark here

Not only did his whole body hurt, his left arm was especially sour. Must’ve slept with my head on it, Yukio thought. The back of his head throbbed as well, as if he just hit his head on something.Bookmark here

As he checked the room, something felt different. It could’ve been due to the red glow that was slowly filling the room, or something else.Bookmark here

He suddenly realized that Kawata-san wasn’t back yet. He said the ‘job’ would take an hour, but it seemed like at least three hours had passed since he left.Bookmark here

After getting up from the ground, Yukio stretched his body a bit. Several parts of it were throbbing with pain; he somehow endured it. Kawata-san said not to go anywhere, but he also said that he would be back in an hour, and that wasn’t the case anymore. He had to go out.Bookmark here

He hoped there were no ‘wild animals’ in this world.Bookmark here

After stepping out of the room, Yukio realized that the space he was thinking of as outside was actually just a large space inside the building; probably a hall room. A considerable amount of sunlight came through its broken, oversized windows. On the other side of it, there was a big hole that showed the outside, i.e. several buildings in various stages of decay. That’s probably the door, he thought.Bookmark here

The roof also had big holes at places, giving him a glance of the crimson sky.Bookmark here

Wait, wasn’t I in a multi-storied building?Bookmark here

Before Yukio could finish that thought, something caught his eyes. It was at a corner, and the fading sunlight was falling directly on it, making it glimmer.Bookmark here

As he walked towards it, he also noticed something else. This room (if it could be called that) looked like it had been used recently; it was not only mostly free of dust, a few footprints were also littered here and there. The prints looked strange, as if they were made by creatures whose toes were shaped like eggs.Bookmark here

Or maybe it was the shape of their shoes…Bookmark here

His eyes started scanning every nook and corner of the room, but his attention kept returning to that one corner where the shiny object was. He approached it apprehensively, his eyes occasionally darting towards the windows and the door. When he reached it, he felt both excited and disappointed.Bookmark here

It was a ring!Bookmark here

It was just a ring.Bookmark here

He picked it up, wiped it on his dirty shirt, and looked at it carefully. The inner part of it was coated with a dark, mushy stuff that looked like fungus. On the outer part, there was a strange symbol at its round head, with similar looking runes running through its body. Yukio couldn’t identify the material; it had a greenish hue, and felt a bit slimy when pressed.Bookmark here

“There you are!”Bookmark here

Second time.Bookmark here

Before turning towards Kawata-san, Yukio dropped the ring in his pocket.Bookmark here

“What took you so long?” Yukio asked him before he could say anything.Bookmark here

“The job took a bit longer than I expected.” Kawata-san didn’t look like his usual self, but that also could’ve been due to the low light. “But that doesn’t mean you should wander off again!”Bookmark here

“What?” Yukio was unsure what he was talking about.Bookmark here

“Why did you leave the room? And even if you did, why did you travel so far? Do you really like causing trouble or something?”Bookmark here

What are you…Bookmark here

Yukio’s mind was in inquisition mode. If what Kawata-san was saying was true, it meant he was no longer in the building where they initially arrived. It was what he suspected as well. But he doesn’t remember getting out of the building.Bookmark here

Which only leaves one possibility…Bookmark here

But how? One can only Jump to a place where he has been before. Okay, also by ‘scanning’ someone’s mind and acquiring their memories. But in this case, none of those conditions were applicable. He literally came here for the first time a few hours ago. So… how?Bookmark here

“Should I tell him?” The question echoed in Yukio’s mind for a few moments. It didn’t take him long to make the decision.Bookmark here

“Sorry, I was just curious about this world,” Yukio tried to smile, despite everything.Bookmark here

“Good God,” Kawata-san sighed, “So, are you satisfied? Want to finally return home?”Bookmark here

Yukio lowered his head. The answer was obvious.Bookmark here

With another sigh, Kawata-san approached him and tried to grab his hand.Bookmark here

“One thing.”Bookmark here

The sentence made him pause.Bookmark here

“How did you arrive here?” Yukio asked, “If there are no people on this world, how did someone travel to Earth from here?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know all that,” Kawata-san was suddenly his usual, smiling self, “Sugi brought me here.”Bookmark here

Sugi?Bookmark here

Yukio was surprised.Bookmark here

Does he also have the ability Sumeragi Sensei was talking about? Or did he visit this world with someone else, like Kiyoshi-san?Bookmark here

For a few seconds, none of them said anything.Bookmark here

“I think it’s better if you ask Sensei.” It was Kawata-san who broke the silence, “He knows about the other worlds much more than me.”Bookmark here

“Even though he’s not a Tract?”Bookmark here

Kawata-san just blinked.Bookmark here

Just another reminder that they still don’t trust me, Yukio thought.Bookmark here

In another time, it would’ve really irked him. After everything that he went through, there should’ve been no need for them to keep things from him. But this time, it was different.Bookmark here

This time, he was also keeping things from them.Bookmark here

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Katori, ChibaBookmark here

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“So, you know what to do?”Bookmark here

“Yes. Fujimoto-san has explained everything.”Bookmark here

“Good,” Kichiro Sakue looked pleased, “I’m sure you know how important this expedition would be for us. Be extra careful this time, okay?”Bookmark here

“Absolutely.” Amanda said, firmly.Bookmark here

Tetsuya Megumi was observing their interaction with a smile on her lips.Bookmark here

They were in the underground room, but this time there was no prisoner with them. The leader was sitting in a chair at a corner, while the other two were standing.Bookmark here

“Where is she, btw? I told her to go to Tamura-san’s house, then report back to me. What is she doing, I wonder…”Bookmark here

Her voice trailed off.Bookmark here

Amanda said with an embarrassing smile, “Probably busy with Miyu-san…”Bookmark here

“Oh. Sorry, I understand. Is she okay now?”Bookmark here

“Yes. Her legs have healed. It should take her a few more weeks to get into shape.” It was Kichiro who answered.Bookmark here

“Good,” the leader relaxed in the chair. “Amanda, you may go now.”Bookmark here

“Excuse me.” Amanda disappeared.Bookmark here

“How is he?”Bookmark here

Kichiro had no problem understanding who the leader was referring to.Bookmark here

After a few moments of silence, she said in a hesitating voice, “ He’s fine, but… I don’t think it was a good idea, sending Yukio with Sensei like that. We were supposed to-“Bookmark here

“I know what we were supposed to do,” the leader cut her out. “I had no other choice. Sumeragi-san knows what needs to be done just as well as we do. We just have to hope he makes the right call, and doesn’t reveal much to him.”Bookmark here

Kichiro was silent again.Bookmark here

“I understand we have an unpredictable element. But, I have faith in Amanda. She has managed him brilliantly so far. As long as Yukio stays in that building, and encounters him, everything should go without a hitch.”Bookmark here

“Yes, Taicho.” She faced the leader with conviction, “I believe we have a genuine chance of curing Midori-chan this time.”Bookmark here

The leader smiled.Bookmark here

“Whatever it takes.” Both of them said at the same time.Bookmark here

The next moment, there was another girl in the room. She looked to be in her late twenties, and she was wearing a Kimono just like Tetsuya Megumi.Bookmark here

“Nodoka!” The leader exclaimed, “I was waiting for you!”Bookmark here

“Sorry for the delay, Taicho,” Fujimoto Nodoka bowed gracefully, “Actually, I had an encounter with Matsuda-san.”Bookmark here

“Hiromi?” Both of her listeners exclaimed.Bookmark here

“She’s back?” It was Kichiro, “She should’ve met me at once!”Bookmark here

“There’s a reason she didn’t visit you. I found her at Tamura-san’s house. She’s being kept in a separate room.”Bookmark here

“What? Why?” It was the leader this time, “What happened to her? Did she fight any of the Tiztaanians? Did the King-”Bookmark here

“No, nothing like that.”Bookmark here

After a few moments of hesitation, Nodoka looked up at them, “She’s sick. And she’s got some bad news.”Bookmark here

Both of them looked at her with an alarmed expression.Bookmark here

“The Tiztaanians are gone. All of them.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.