Chapter 15:

Soft rain follows the dawn

Dive into the Night

When I woke up that morning, I could already hear the patter of heavy rainfall outside of my window. I sat up in my bed and immediately checked my phone. Maybe some part of me wanted to think that last night never happened, guess that was just wishful thinking. There weren’t any new messages. I got off my bed and freshened up in the washroom before making breakfast. I continued to watch the rain as I ate.Bookmark here

As I finished eating, I got a new notification on my phone. When I saw Touma’s name as the sender, I already knew what the message was about. His message didn’t say that much though.Bookmark here

Touma: [I’ve sent the location to everyone, let me know when you’re here.]Bookmark here

[Drive safe, no need to rush yourself.]Bookmark here

I put down the phone and breathed an uneasy sigh of relief. When we disbanded last night, Touma just told us to trust him and wait for his message. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit anxious. I went into my room and quickly got changed. Before I left the house I made sure to grab my umbrella. Bookmark here

As I stood outside of my door, I opened my phone and checked Touma’s message again. The location he sent was on the other side of town, so I if I leave now I can meet him in about an hour. I looked up at the darkened sky, this rain wasn’t going to let up anytime soon. I opened my umbrella and walked over to my car.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

After parking his car and paying the parking fee, Leon took out his phone and began to text Touma.Bookmark here

Leon: [Hey, I’m here. Just let me know where to go.]Bookmark here

Touma: [Take the elevator, 20th floor, take a right and go all the way down the hall. We’ll be on the left after that.]Bookmark here

Leon put his phone away and walked into the hospital. Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Exiting the elevator, Leon stepped out onto the twentieth floor of the hospital. The beige-coloured hallway was immaculately clean, and nearly devoid of people. As Leon walked down the right hallway, he occasionally noticed a nurse or doctor working. Reaching the end of the hallway, Leon looked to his left and saw Touma, May, and Saya sitting at a waiting area. Touma gave him a wave as he walked over.Bookmark here

“Where’s Hayate?" Leon asked as he met up with the others.Bookmark here

“Busy, or so he says,” Touma replied. “I … think it may be understandable why he didn’t want to come. Well … I’ll go get the doctor.”Bookmark here

As Touma walked away to the nurse’s desk, Leon turned to May and Saya.Bookmark here

“How are you two holding up?”Bookmark here

“Tired,” May said in her usual deadpan voice.Bookmark here

“I think I was mostly anxious this morning, and it’s not even exam season yet,” Saya said with a weak laugh. “I … just hope he’s alright.”Bookmark here

Leon remained silent, he knew there was not much he could say that could improve the mood. A short moment later, Touma returned with the doctor. Bookmark here

“This … is all our visitors, doctor.”Bookmark here

“Ah, good morning to you all. Normally I would not be permitting visitors while we are still monitoring our patient’s condition. However, Detective Shirokane has assured me that you are all close friends of Mr. Ryusei. I do still ask that you keep your visit short.” Bookmark here

The doctor led the group to a room at the end of the hallway. He opened the door and walked into the room. Kaz laid on a bed at the back of the room, he had a respirator over his mouth and had several IV’s hooked up to him. The four members of the team stood on both sides of his bed as they looked at Kaz. Bookmark here

“H-He’s okay, right?” Saya said in a worried tone. Bookmark here

“Rest assured miss, we’re keeping an eye on his condition around the clock,” the doctor said in response. “His vitals and brain activity are all normal but… he just has not regained consciousness. We are not completely sure what caused his current condition as it does not line up with anything we know.”Bookmark here

“Kaz…” Leon said in a low voice.Bookmark here

The group looked over Kaz for another couple minutes before Touma finally spoke. Bookmark here

“Let’s give him some rest, everyone. We can talk over drinks downstairs.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

At the hospital cafeteria, Leon walked back to the group’s table with a tray of drinks. He sat down and began to hand them out.Bookmark here

“Here’s your coffee, no milk. Here’s your tea,” he said as he handed drinks to the other members.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Leon,” Saya said as she took her drink.Bookmark here

“So, Touma. What were you going to talk about up there?” Leon asked.Bookmark here

“Well … it obviously pertains to our friend upstairs. As of right now, we’re one of the few people who actually know that he’s in the hospital. For the sake of his privacy and his sanity when he wakes up, I would like to keep it that way.”Bookmark here

The others nodded in agreement as Touma swept his hair up and began to explain the situation.Bookmark here

“I’ll start with how we found him, since it will help explain the rest of the story. His estate discovered him in his room this morning around 4AM. He was unconscious on the floor and the window in his room remained open. From there he was immediately brought to this hospital and kept on the twentieth floor.”Bookmark here

“Wait if he was at home, then how was he missing for the past couple days?” Leon asked.”Bookmark here

“To answer that, I’ll start from the beginning with the night of the Country W incident. News of the incident reached media sites around 10PM at the earliest, but I would assume that he got the news first. It caused him great distress and he broke from the pressure, causing him to run away. One of the staff said that he locked himself in his room for the whole night. The estate later privately reported him missing when they discovered that he was no longer in his room. The only evidence to go by was an open window.”Bookmark here

“How did he end up in the dream if he seemingly ran away?” Saya asked Touma.Bookmark here

“Well that’s the thing, I don’t think he ran away. I believe the open window was a red herring, meant to throw off anyone looking for him. I believe that from that night onward, K had always been in the Dream until last night.”Bookmark here

“So Ka- … K, he was in the Dream for over three days?” Bookmark here

“If my prediction is correct, yes. I don’t know how, but he dove his entire body into the Dream instead of just his consciousness. His room remained untouched until he reappeared this morning in his room. While the department believes that he climbed back through the window, I think it’s more likely that he never even left his room. As a result, I believe his current condition is caused by massive overexposure to the Dream. While his body is physically fine, his mind is heavily taxed from his time in there.”Bookmark here

“So what’s our plan now Touma?" Leon asked.Bookmark here

“Our current problem is two-fold. First is that we have no idea when K will actually wake up, as such we cannot count on his strength in our party anymore. Second also involves his status within the Dream. He did not leave normally, as we all saw him fade away. While it is good we managed to find him in reality again, he may no longer have access to the Dream.”Bookmark here

“That’s just great, we lost our leader and our strongest attacker,” May said as she sipped her drink.Bookmark here

“Unfortunately that is how our situation is, tonight we’ll head back into the Dream and reassess our situation. Best we can do for him now is finish the exploration of the Dream on his behalf. Does 11PM work for everyone?”Bookmark here

As the others approved in unison, Touma finished his drink and stood up.Bookmark here

“Alright, I’ll see everyone again tonight.”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

As Leon entered the village, he found that his hands were still somewhat shaky. He could not stop thinking about his fight against Kaz, and the conclusion to the fight that led to Kaz fading. Bookmark here

A slight thought suddenly crossed his mind. Is Kaz’s coma a result of our fight? Would the result have been different if I handled that differently? Bookmark here

Leon pushed the thought out of his head as he reached the centre of the village, where Touma, Saya, and May were already waiting.Bookmark here

“Where’s Hayate?” Leon asked as he arrived.Bookmark here

“I’ve already briefed him about our earlier conversation at the hospital, so he knows what we do about Kaz’s condition. I also did tell him we would be meeting at 11PM tonight,” Touma replied.Bookmark here

“He’s here,” May said as she pointed forward.Bookmark here

Hayate approached the group from the other side of the village with a somewhat melancholic expression on his face.Bookmark here

“Good to see you are still doing okay, Hayate,” Saya said to him as he reached the group.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry for being late. Was just … thinking about a lotta stuff,” Hayate replied in a somewhat low tone. “I’m glad they found Kaz, and that nothing bad happened to him.”Bookmark here

“Well since we’re all here now, let’s go talk to the fox spirit about our next target,” Touma began to say as he turned around.Bookmark here

“Wait a minute,” Hayate interjected. “I think there’s something we have to do before that. If Kaz ain’t gonna be joining us anymore, we’re going to need a new leader.”Bookmark here

Touma turned back around and sighed.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I … didn’t want to be the person to bring it up, but I suppose you are right about that. Kaz was the person who called the shots, and it’ll be hard to have an organized fight without someone new taking over that position. Did you have someone in mind?"Bookmark here

“If we want someone who can do the same job as Kaz, I can only think of one man for the job. That would be you, Touma. You’re the other brain of this group, so its only natural if you were the one who called the shots.” Bookmark here

“W-what, me? No way, there’s no way I can match Kaz’s level of shot calling, the best I can do is make strategies before battle.”Bookmark here

“You’re always supporting us from the back, so you can always see what’s going on. I know you would be the best choice for our next leader. Hey, you guys agree with me right? May? Saya? Leon?”Bookmark here

May sighed and turned to Hayate.Bookmark here

“No, I don’t think Touma would be a good choice.”Bookmark here

“What?! Why not?” Hayate angrily replied.Bookmark here

“Precisely because Touma is a backline caster. He doesn’t have the power or the speed to react to any change during the battle. You remember what happened with Saya and Kaz?Bookmark here

Hayate grimaced. Bookmark here

“Alternatively,” May continued. “I would say that Leon would be a better choice of leader. Since he has better awareness than all of us, he can call out tactics on the move. That valley fight would have gone far differently if not for him.”Bookmark here

“Me? Really? I don’t think I’m really suited to be a leader,” Leon began to say.Bookmark here

“Touma was much more knowledgeable about Kaz’s tactics and shot calling, surely he would be better!” Hayate argued.Bookmark here

“I’m sure Leon can create new tactics and strategies as our battles continue to change.” Said May, nonchalantly. Bookmark here

“And I’m sure Touma can grow stronger and faster as we continue to fight!”Bookmark here

May crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at Hayate.Bookmark here

“Honestly just sounds like you don’t like Leon.”Bookmark here

May knew she hit the nail on the head, as Hayate’s expression briefly changed into a mix of anger and melancholy. Bookmark here

“You’re right. I don’t like him. Never did. We fought together all that time and Kaz decides to recruit this one outsider to our team. And for what? Just cause he was strong?” Bookmark here

“Well you always went on about how much strength was important to you, and how Kaz was fit to be the leader because he was strong. Since Leon beat Kaz, that makes him strong enough to be a leader then, doesn’t it?”Bookmark here

Hayate angrily turned to Touma. “Touma! Saya! Say something! You both agree that Touma should be our new leader, right?!”Bookmark here

Touma looked away and pondered for a moment, before he returned his gaze to Hayate. Bookmark here

“No, I agree with May. Leon is much more suited to being a leader than I am. During our fight against Kaz, I was powerless to help Saya. We need a leader who we can count on to have our backs, and one we can all adamantly support."Bookmark here

Hayate turned to Saya.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry,” she said after a brief pause. “I don’t think I am qualified enough to give an answer to this. I’ll abstain.”Bookmark here

“Two votes to one,” May said with a smug smile. “Looks like Leon’s our new leader.”Bookmark here

“Hey, Hey. Wait. I didn’t agree to anything yet,” Leon tried to interject again.Bookmark here

“No, if that’s the case then I ain’t staying here,” Hayate said angrily.Bookmark here

He turned around and began to walk away from the group.Bookmark here

“Hayate where are you going?” Touma asked.Bookmark here

“Doesn’t matter where I’m goin’, you’ll be fine since you have your ‘new leader’.”Bookmark here

May turned to look at Touma.Bookmark here

“So, what’s the plan then?”Bookmark here

“Plan’s unchanged,” Touma sighed. “We’ll talk to the fox spirit and find our next target.”Bookmark here

Touma glanced over and noticed that Saya was slightly distressed from the event that just unfolded. Bookmark here

“Saya … you okay?” Touma said in a concerned tone.Bookmark here

“I-I think I should go after Hayate,” she said, somewhat worried.Bookmark here

“What?” Touma said, surprised. “I … think I can understand your concern, but he’s clearly still recovering from what happened to Kaz. I think we should just give him some room.”Bookmark here

“I know, but … he’s going to get into trouble if he encounters a Nightmare. You, May, and Leon. All of you guys are strong, so you guys will be fine. But … Hayate doesn’t have anyone to watch his back.”Bookmark here

Touma wanted to say something, but no words came out of his mouth.Bookmark here

“I-it’s what Kaz would have done, right?” Saya smiled as she began to go after Hayate. “I’ll try my best to convince him to come back. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure to keep in touch; both in reality and through the animal spirits."Bookmark here

“W-wait…” Touma began to say, but Saya was already far into the village when he managed to get his words out.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.