Chapter 31:

The Forest Cord Fire

Purple Prose

Women screamed out. Some of the crowd roared defiantly with applause, thinking a pitch-black stadium was part of the act, but Issei stood there, puzzled, because he knew it wasn’t.

Takao flashed his phone flashlight, but such a small light was like a star in the night sky–it couldn’t illuminate much.

“Hey! What gives?”

“Hell if I know!” Issei heard Kanka say.

Angry footsteps poured out from Stage Right, and their real flashlight scanned the whole stage. “Can someone tell me just what the hell is going on with the tech up there?”

It was Mr. Kiyabu, and he had every right to be furious, given his investment was just sabotaged.

Another deafening snap.

Something groaned with resistance above them, metal grinding on metal.


Kanka dived out of his drum set just in time as a gargantuan slab of metal fell from the rooftops and crashed into the symbols and snare with a frightening clap–he was moments away from being flattened.

Another prop collapsed to the stage, mere feet from the front row, and Issei watched in horror as it punctured the left pyrotechnics. Gas hissed from the canisters, followed by an ear-popping explosion of orange and yellow fire that rocketed to the ceiling, setting the mesh of the stadium ablaze in seconds.

Sayako screamed. “Oh my God!”

The crowd knew then that this was not a stage performance, and immediately the audience screamed in fear. Whole columns of people rushed and stepped over each other in their selfish haste to escape.

Everywhere around Issei began to turn red, and his pores on his skin flared in response to the intense heat.

“Leave! Everyone get out!”

Mr. Kiyabu gestured for Stage Left, shoving his arms against any stunned band members, crew, or techs, and soon pushing against Issei’s own back.

“Get moving! Go!”


Issei didn’t want to leave without knowing Murasaki was coming.

“They’ve all gone ahead first! You can’t pursue your dreams if you’re dead, now move your ass!”

Issei did as he was told, feeling the smoke rising ever higher as he dove past collapsed props and wiring and through Stage Left. A busted pipe fell from on high and struck him in the shoulder blade, causing Issei to reel back and seethe from the sharp pain, but he pushed on, following Takao and Kanka out of the burning stadium and onto the pavement, where it was safe, the air was fresh, and the ground was cool.

Aside from the chaotic stampede of the crowd the first couple minutes, the rest of the evacuation was like a standard fire drill in school, but it had to take the stadium security to force the crowd to act civilized and move in an orderly fashion.

“Where is she–where is Murasaki?”

Issei found Sayoko, Ichiriki, and Hamada, but he could not find Murasaki anywhere.

“Was Murasaki with you?”

Ichiriki’s eyes were darting about too–his skin was pale. “She was–I swear she was–Hamada dove out of the building as soon as we heard the commotion, and I followed him, and I swear Murasaki was behind me.”

Issei roared. “Then why isn’t she here?”

He threw his hands up. “I don’t know–I don’t know!”

“God dammit!”

There was nothing to think about. If Murasaki wasn’t here, then she must still be in the burning stadium–so that’s where he’ll go.

Takao yelled. “No Issei! Don’t!”

Issei sprinted back. Security guards threw their hands to the sides trying to stop him, but they were no match for his strength, and he body slammed both of them like a rugby player. Nothing will stop him from finding her. Nothing.

The air choked black within the burning stadium. Fire blazed everywhere. Smoke rose in columns, and the flooring was a dull red, which meant even stepping foot in the blaze was dangerous. Issei bit back his pain and pushed on, watching the skies for any falling debris.

Issei took in a breath, but smoke filled his lungs and he choked, his chest retching with disgust.

“Murasaki! Where are you?”

Everything Issei saw had whips of fire stemming off the ends. This place will collapse very soon. If he couldn’t find her…if he couldn’t find her…

There she was.

Murasaki huddled in the open of the center stage, her wide eyes darting about with her bass guitar strapped to her neck.

“Murasaki! I’m here!”

Issei pushed up through the stadium's rows as at once her eyes flicked to life.

“Issei? You came back!”

“Jump down, Murasaki! I’ll catch you!”

She scanned the nearly six-foot drop from the stage to the first row. Murasaki shook her head vigorously. “N-no, I can’t! I can’t!”

“Why not?”

Then Issei remembered, and it was no wonder Ichiriki couldn’t figure out why Murasaki wasn’t behind him: she had a deep-seated fear of fire.

Issei relented. “Alright–I’ll come get you. Stay in the open where I can–NO!”

A shock went through Issei’s system, a shock of pure, unbridled terror. Murasaki, frozen in fear, didn’t see it, and Issei couldn’t stop it from happening.


But Murasaki’s legs trembled as a different nightmare unfolded before his eyes, something that he couldn’t possibly have fathomed.

An immensely large support beam lost its bearings and plummeted into Murasaki, slamming her body into the stage flooring as it pressed her face through the metal and wood of her bass guitar.


Issei sprinted to the wall and jumped as high as he could, and his arms grasped the floor of the stage as he clambered up.

His brain reeled with panic and his chest heaved when he saw what lay before him.

“Oh my God…oh my God…”

Murasaki wasn’t moving. Her beautiful eyes were shut, her mouth hanging open as the flames were curling around her, threatening to catch her costume on fire with the rest of the stadium. The giant I-beam had fallen squarely on her back.

It was just like before–just after graduating highschool–the day that ruined his life. The nightmare returned. Instead of a massive I-beam that collapsed onto Murasaki’s back, it was a felled oak tree that fell on Tsukasa’s.


A much thinner, weaker, more pathetic Issei pushed his thin wrists under the oak and his stick-like arms tried in vain to even make the tree budge. His hands burned, and his legs buckled.

Issei cried. “I’m sorry, Tsukasa! I can’t do it! It’s too heavy!”

The workers who had felled the tree sprang to action, and they attempted to cut the tree into smaller, more manageable sections while others heaved with him, but the pushing and rolling was just cementing Tsukasa’s fate.

“Issei…it’s okay…”

“Tsukasa, hold on! They’re cutting you free! Stay with me!”

“Remember…our dream? Make the best music…you can…become a musician…that I know you can…”

He sputtered out blood, causing tears to well up in Issei’s eyes. “Keep your eyes open, Brother! Save your strength!”

“Get…stronger…for me…maybe one day…you’ll save someone…who is…in the same boat…as…me…”

Issei kept his promise–he grew stronger and never stopped getting stronger from that day on. He had even kept his second promise. Issei was a real, genuine musician now, a rock star of a band called Secret Prose.

Now Issei had to keep his third promise: there was someone else who was hurting just like him–someone dear to his heart–someone he loved.

Issei shoved his wrists under the giant I-beam, ignoring the searing hot pain he was experiencing. He trained for years just for this event to reappear, not even knowing that it would, and as Issei squatted down and buckled his knees, he knew in this moment whether all his hard work would pay off–that he would avenge his brother once and for all–or fail once again like he always had.

Issei screamed, uttering a vocal-shattering guttural roar as he pushed up with his legs, heaving the I-beam with all his might.

Don’t you dare let her die too, you son of a bitch! Move! MOVE!

Murasaki seemed to stir–rather than her squirming trying to get free, however, it was because her back had returned to a more-relaxed state. The I-beam was letting go! Even if it was just mere inches, that was enough room to rotate the beam off her body and pull Murasaki out of there. Yet Issei was heaving more than just inches: the steel colossus heaved up past his ankles, to his knees, and even up to Issei’s hips.

With one final roar, Issei shoved the I-beam off the stage as if tossing the carcass of a once-fierce beast he had slain, and he spared no time in watching his victory tumble down the broken steps. He did it.

At once, he scooped Murasaki in his arms, one around her back and another between her legs. She cried out in pain, and Issei immediately switched to holding Murasaki with her face against his chest: the I-beam must have broken her back.

Compared to the steel girdle, Murasaki was like a bundle of feathers. Issei had to get her out of the building where she can at least breathe clean air. Stumbling, Issei jumped over broken debris, collapsed benches, sparking stage lights, stage wiring, slabs of lumber, until, with a massive kick, the Morioka Stadium door caved out.

The crowd cheered as Issei clambered out. His vision blurred, but he knew from the rotating lights and the sirens that an ambulance was nearby. He just had to carry Murasaki over there and his mission would finally be over. If he could only…if he could only…


Someone called out his name, but it was too fuzzy to make out. The ambulance lights flew up–no, it was him who was falling, and Murasaki was underneath him–she was going to fall to the pavement–he had to spin around and catch her fall–

–Issei’s head hit the cold concrete slab, and his blurry vision became darkness.