Rumble, a shake, perhaps an earthquake, everything shook violently. A void covered all in a thick blanket, immovable and heavy. Unknown pressure crushed inward threatening bone and muscle alike. From every direction, the world leapt into the air. It heaved like a wave, fluid and rippling, yet unnatural.
Earthquakes were a far too common experience for him. Each shake felt distant and close at the same time, as though separated from his body. Could it have been an out of body experience? Did his soul escape with a partial tether attached to his mortal coil?
The earthquake bounced him.
‘Bounce isn’t the right verb in this context…’ The supposed shaking came from two other small bodies bouncing on his bed. “Alright you two, I’m awake.” Fairly promptly the bouncing ceased, though he felt their sudden movement closer to him. Just before they considered maybe jumping more, he sprung up with a playful roar to a well planned and clearly masterfully executed scare.
“Morning!” chirped Ken, stone cold in reaction, but still beaming with energy only a ten year old could still manage.
Without a verbal reaction of his own, Jun clapped to provide that as his morning greeting. A slight blank vacant stare came from the youngest brother, but still managed to share something close to Ken’s energy behind his soft blue eyes. Jun came off more like an explosion contained tightly in a high energy shield, safe and not escaping, but no less full of vigor.
“Already used to that, huh?” Such a poor reception left him sweating a little as they tried to bore holes into him with their over eager eyes. “I think I hear Momo calling. Let her know I’m awake, okay you two?”
“OK! Let’s go tell sis we did a good job!” Ken took Jun’s hand and guided him off the bed. It only took one foot on the ground before they sprinted like rival mechs down a city street to exit his room. The stacks of manga and light novels buildings to be dodged, hopefully.
Stretching out his hand to the escaping two, his mouth barely opened for a warning before it was already too late. They grazed a couple of already poorly stacked books near the door. Slowly falling with them, it made for a fairly dramatic scene as the door threatened their exit strategy. The two young siblings squeezed through the closing door in time for the movie climax finish and left the room in a bit more of a mess.
Chapter 1 - Stained Sand
After breakfast and morning routines, he stopped by a small memorial shrine. Within the small simple wood box frame were two frame portraits of an adult man and woman smiling. Closing his eyes, he pressed his hands together giving silent morning greetings to the two. For but a moment, the constant light positive smile lowered from his lips, repainted in a thin pinched line.
Ready, he walked out of their house on the corner, a modest sized four bedroom two story modern Japanese home. Brush strokes of sun drew down through the few trees that still remained within the urban concrete jungle of metropolitan Japan. A quick jog past the well worn potted plants and simple flowers of their small front property sent him on his way to school.
A light hum escaped his lips as he walked with a small bounce in his step, a school bag slung over his shoulder hung in place by three fingers. Cool winds blew through his not quite shoulder length hair pulling his gaze up to the clear blue skies painted soft gradients down to the skyline of downtown. It would have felt more like spring with pink blossoms raining down like a star shower splattered over the azure canvas, but he lived with the imperfect view.
Behind him, a distant voice called to him. Their familiar voice cleared up his dream fog. “Yuki! Wait up!” He turned around to find two female classmates and childhood friends approaching at a brisk pace.
“Ayumi! You’re doing well keeping up with Saki.”
A rough smile stretched over her cheeks as the sweat managed to stay hidden by her long tan toned hair. She paused a couple meters from Yuki, slightly bent over attempting to keep her lack of exercise from his sights. Slowly recovering herself, she straightened back up letting her hime style hair fall on her shoulders. Small crochet lotus blossom hair pins tied the strains of hair in front of her to each side kept out of her sight.
“Sorry, we’re late!”
“No, that’s alright, Saki. I guess I got lost in thought and just started walking.”
Saki suddenly stretched out her hand grabbing at something on his head. “And through trees apparently,” she remarked, giving him a sakura pedal.
“Huh? But there’s no sakura trees around here.” Double checking the neighborhood of his childhood, his memory didn’t lie to him. “Weird…I wonder where it came from…”
“Just keep your feet firmly on the ground for the rest of the walk.”
Reaching school, Yuki separated from his friends. He took an outside path towards the back of the school grounds. Just ahead of him, past the sports fields, stood the library. But before he could take another step, his feet became sluggish. “Huh?”
Yuki noticed sand covered everything in front of him. Turning around, he looked at the surroundings and the distance. The sand rose up in mounds like dunes, it nearly looked like a painting being so picturesque. However, a cold creeping sensation ebbed through the air. ‘I know this feeling…someone’s watching…they’re looking for blood…it’s so thick in the air…’ He swallowed slowly, the weight of the air constricting his throat.
‘This isn’t normal…’ Stating the obvious. ‘Shut up, narrator…’
Yuki backed away to where the sand ended. The contrast of sand to grass came sharply. It looked as if an invisible cylinder held it up. “The hell? I really wish things would start making sense soon. It’s starting to feel like a really elaborate prank.”
“You’re not the only one…” A bored slightly deeper voice came from above him and back towards the sand. The sand suddenly moved, no revealed more of itself. It was as if two worlds overlapped and the circle exposed one. Worse for him, the sand swallowed up his legs.
An unknown man stepped down out of the sky about three meters above him. Yuki didn’t even know where to start. The fact that a man somehow walked on air like it was stairs. Or perhaps, they weren’t Japanese, but instead American and not even in style for them. It felt like they walked out of a fantasy novel wearing white robes draped over his body. And they spoke perfect Japanese as if a native.
The stranger landed on the sand finally and stared down at the trapped Yuki. “I could’ve killed you a dozen times over at this point watching you flail about.”
“For someone supposedly so gifted, I had hoped you were just hiding your abilities secreted away here in Japan. But this has been quite the disappointment. I guess that’s why I was sent, rather insulting if you think about it.”
Pulling on his leg, Yuki felt it give a little, but it would take more than he feared the talkative man planned to allow. ‘I’ve got to keep him talking…I need to escape…’ Yuki roughed up his hair a little, putting on an embarrassed fake smile for the man. “I tend to have that effect on people.”
“Don’t have a very high opinion of yourself.”
“What can I say? I’m a high school student.”
“For a student, you’re pretty calm.”
Twisting and nudging, a little of his leg freed up. “Not the first time for me. Well this specific situation, this is very much a first time. Like who goes around seeing sand appearing on a daily basis? Besides you.”
“Yeah you get it.”
“I do. Also you can drop the pretense. Just get yourself free already, I’m tired of waiting.”
“You’re an honorable one.”
“Call it a code.”
“I can respect that.” No longer keeping it subtle, Yuki knelt down and grabbed his leg pulling out of the weight and suction of the sand. The impatient stare from the stranger rushed him a little. Once the sand gave up his legs, the ruined plan returned to his mind. ‘There’s no escaping this guy. Who is he?’
Yuki straightened himself out trying to figure out any options for himself. “Before you start with the killing. Anything more concrete you want to impart to me?”
“That’s not how this works.”
“Yea, figured as much. If you were actually a book villain, I’d have your whole plan and motivation at this point. I don’t even know why you’re attacking me, besides being an order.”
“Last chance to actually put in some effort.”
“Oh trust me, I can put in the effort!” He rubbed his hands together to paint a brave front. ‘I say to a guy that I watched walk on air and I’m guessing create this sand and completely upend my concept of what reality is!’ Panic soaked through his bones. Thankfully, he still felt he could move.
What did he have to prepare for?
Suddenly, the sand rose up near the stranger’s right foot. A mound became a pillar and stretched up to his hand emitting sand. The moment he grasped it, the sand crystalized and hardened becoming a metal sword. It had simple artistry with just a couple of emeralds embedded in the hilt, an otherwise clean functional blade.
Yuki took a step back having thought he prepared himself for anything and still came out surprised. ‘How is any of this working?!’ He frantically looked around for anything that might work for defense, but sand covered everything. “I thought we were having a fist fight!”
“I’m ending this, since you’re not willing to be serious.”
“Serious how? You made a sword out of sand and walked on air, what fantasy do you even come from?!”
“Enough talk!” The stranger dashed forward covering the short distance with grace and speed. Yuki only had a moment to react with anything before the sword would be in striking distance. Still holding onto some sand from when he pulled his legs free, he tossed it into the air at the charging stranger.
Blood sprayed through the air and painted the sun soaked sand crimson arcs. To his surprise, nearly the moment that he released the sand it all just disappeared. With his hand out in reach, the sword’s blade found his fingers and stole half of three of them. Screaming flooded through his arm and around his body in a way he had never experienced. “Shit!”
Yuki clinched his fist tightly in an attempt to staunch the bleeding. He knelt down, biting back the pain. ‘This is all real!’ It seemed obvious, but part of him still hoped for a dream or prank. He forced his eyes back open after blinking tightly. His teeth ground together pushing himself to focus.
“You really didn’t think I had a Law for that?”
Catching sight of the foreigner taking another step towards him, Yuki braced his hand on the sand and kicked out his leg in a large sweep. The surprise strike bought him enough time to get distance and with any luck escape. Forcing himself to his feet, Yuki sprinted to the edge of the sand as he remembered it.
“You’re not escape!” groaned the man with a spear in hand already moving to throw it.
He pushed for the border as he tilted his head back. In a tight window, Yuki turned at the edge while the spear flew through the air. Leaning back just enough, he lifted up his hand in weak defense as the spear vanished nearly upon hitting his bloody palm.
“Tch! Luck seems to be your only weapon.” While Yuki looked to exercise his options, the foreigner changed the situation once more. The previously well defined border expanded out revealing ever more sand. “If you’re not going to fight back, I don’t need to keep a tight rein on things.” Eyes narrowed and sword in hand, he bore murderous intent.
Frustration and disappointment dropped like weights on his back. “Sort of figured that might happen…dammit…” With the added sand, it showed further dunes completely blocking out his view of the field behind him. A straight path closed off.
A pair of voices suddenly crept into his ear. He turned, worried his attacker had some other trick up his sleeve. The answer became much worse. Two students unknowingly stepped into the man’s territory.
“What the hell is all this?”
“Is that Hayashi?”
“Don’t look away from me!” The foreigner charged at a distracted Yuki. Unlike with Yuki, the sand did nothing to slow or hamper his steps as though he ran over a hill rather than a dune.
“Run now! Get away from here!” His back turned to shield them as the sword came humming through the air. Yuki didn’t even get to push them away before the blade pierced through his shoulder.
Shocked expressions gripped tightly the two unfortunate students. Blood splattered over half of their faces. Screams of horror escaped as they fell back. They stared up at Yuki not even seeing the whole picture.
Yuki coughed as pain washed over his body. Blood painted over his cheek. “...run…” Sweat started to soak through his undershirt along with blood. ‘I’m really going to die!’ Numbness in his mind dripped slowly down with eerie foreboding.
When the sword pulled out Yuki twisted around as his legs folded. He barely caught himself from completely lying prone. The unknown attacker stood over him with the sword pointed straight at his face.
New blood sprayed over Yuki’s face with surprise carved into his eyes. Seconds peeled away as he realized it didn’t come from himself. The attacker dropped his sword as the entire sand environment scattered into orange motes of light. Forcing himself to focus, he caught a glimpse of the one behind the man. “Ayumi!? Why…”