Chapter 1:

The Seeker Up High

Echoes of the Sanguine

I can’t sleep.

But I’m never satisfied with just a quiet midnight stroll on the streets of Tokyo. Sometimes I feel the urge to see the city from above, in my futile attempt to make sense of it all.

I pull my hoodie over my head and check the door to my apartment building. Damn. Locked as usual.

I round the side of the building into an alleyway to the fire exit. I climb the barred lattice of the stairwell and enter via the 2nd floor window of the hallway that’s been left ajar. A sleepy security guard spots me, and I pretend that I live here by casually walking down the hall. When he's out of sight, I head back to the stairwell and climb it all the way to the top.

It’s quite easy to disable the security alarm on the door to the roof; I don’t even know if it worked to begin with.

I like the solidarity up above. When I look out onto the lit streets below, all my worries and obligations seem insignificant. It’s a free therapy session.

Tonight, it seems someone found my oasis up high.

And as I opened the door, I saw her: A young woman, crimson hair, pale skin, overlooks the busy skyline of Tokyo on the rooftop of my apartment building.

When I say my apartment, I mean as my favorite building; I don’t actually live here, but I like coming up here; It’s my favorite view of the city.

“You’re not supposed to be here.” I called out to her.

A small turn of her head, glancing at me from the corner of her amber eyes. Even from far away, I could feel her cold and empty gaze.

"Neither are you." The air seemed to chill with her words, carrying traces of defiance, maybe loneliness, perhaps a mixture of both.

She didn’t look like a local. A tourist? But the unfriendly aura around her suggests otherwise. I know seedy characters tend to appear amongst certain areas of Tokyo at night, but they usually do their business on the ground level.

Nevertheless, I approached her at the edge of the parapet. She kept her eye on me the entire time, studying me.

“Guilty.” I threw my hands up jokingly. "So are you here to have the view empty your thoughts as well?"

Realizing that I’m harmless, her guarded facade melted slightly, and a smirk slowly tugged at the corners of her lips.

"I’m searching for answers." she responds cryptically. Her gaze points toward the urban panorama and neon maze of streets sprawled beneath our vantage point.

I got a closer look at her. I noticed she’s extremely fair, like she’s never seen sunlight in a long time. Her amber eyes, now gazing at the view, softly reflected the artificial lights of the night. A small breeze fanned out her hair. Her body concealed under a matte black hooded trench coat with an excess number of zippers and straps. Her coat collar is large enough to partially cover her mouth, adding to her mysteriousness.

She’s pretty.

“It’s nice though, right? All the answers you’re looking for are out there, but just out of reach.” I point at the sliver between two skyscrapers in the distance. “And if you look right over there at this very particular angle, you can just see Tokyo Tower.

“Oh, yeah. Cool.”

Awkward pause. I continue this one-sided conversation.

“I thought I was the only one who comes up here. How did you find it?”

“This city's full of secrets. You look around long enough, you’ll uncover them."

“I’d rather have this gem stay secret. Have you told any other urban explorers about it?”

She chuckles lightly. “I run alone. I don't really stay in one place long enough to call any one spot a favorite, so your secret’s safe.”

“Why? What are you chasing after?”

She glares at me.

“You ask too many questions.”

“I’m just making conversation. Trying to figure out who you are.”

She sighs, annoyed my persistence. “I’m here for… my job."

“Job? What kind of job has you scouting from rooftops? Are you a photographer? Youtuber? Or do you climb just for the thrill?”

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you." Her tone is deadpan, but there's a flicker of amusement in her eyes.

“Better make it painless, then.” I laughed at my own joke.

In a flash, she closed to the distance between us and grabbed me by my collar. I felt something cold and sharp pressing on my neck.

Then she made a sickly smile, flashing her teeth at me. I swear her teeth looked sharp, and her canines look quite a bit longer than a normal human’s.

“Some secrets aren’t meant to be uncovered.”

Suddenly, she eyes the door, as if danger is approaching. She lets me go and faces the building across the street from us.

“I have to go.”

She turns away from the ledge and walks to the other side of the roof, away from the exit.

While heading over there, she begins to hum a tune, swinging her arms around and skipping to the melody. Her playful, almost childlike dance is unbefitting of her brooding personality, and I find myself entranced by her humming.

That tune… its familiar.

A sudden memory flashed in my mind, something hidden deep in my subconscious. A memory in my early childhood. I probably was like 3 or 4, before my mom moved us out of Osaka to New York. I remember that tune… and my father….

My father? Why does it remind me of my father?

“Hey, wait!” I call out to her.

She reaches the ledge on the other side of the rooftop. That edge faces the street, and there's a large gap to the next building over.

She looks back to me and I hesitate to answer. “…The stairs are behind you.”

She grins. “What? Afraid of a little gap?”

Then, with just one step back in her black combat boots and a graceful windup, she instantly leaps into the air, over the street, and lands on the other roof with a skid.

She must be a seasoned urban explorer.

I rush to the edge and discover the gap an entire street wide. I’ve crossed some significant gaps before, but this is a little out of my comfort zone.

On the other side, I see the woman beaming at me, like she’s daring me to follow her.

“Hey! What are you doing up here?” A voice behind me shouts.

I turn around and I am blinded by a bright flashlight. I shield my eyes and can make out the person as a security guard.

“Step away from the ledge.”