The perfumy smell of cherry blossoms flowed through the cloudless sky. A single plane carved two white lines deep into the azure heavens. Mockingbirds perched nearby echoed noises of car doors chirping and baby kittens mewling. If I rushed my way to school, I would end up about twenty minutes early, so, without boarding the bus, I took my time and enjoyed my surroundings.
Trees with fat clumps of green leaves and pink flowers stretched across the brick sidewalk as a shady tunnel, parting away once I reached the crosswalk. Beyond them, the city, though poor, bustled with all its modern metropolitan charms. Cars whizzed past, plumes of steam from the various restaurants formed into one aromatic cloud, indistinct conversations crossed paths and went, and businesses began to open for the day.
This was the town I grew up in, and no matter how many times I walked by it, the nostalgic feelings that came with the sights, sounds and smells never got old. On this day, however, those feelings could only cheer me up for so long, knowing that an unending and unpleasant conversation with my mom loomed ahead. I was pretty sure ─ and by that, I meant absolutely certain ─ that I was going to be grounded once I got home, so I decided to take advantage of my last moments of freedom while I still could. Without stopping, I rummaged through my backpack to find my phone and send a text to Kenichi; on school days he usually checks his phone around lunch time, and with that in mind I typed an inquiry asking him how his day went so far. Strategically avoiding the details, I told him not to be surprised if I didn't answer back to his replies anytime soon, since my mom usually takes my phone away as a form of punishment, then asked if he would be available any time to help me find a present for Tomomi and hit "send".
While putting my phone in my pocket, I approached a crude cardboard sign advertising a taiyaki stand. It didn't take any careful deliberating for me to cough up 600 yen for a bag of five with cream filling, and I headed down the street while eating my snack along the way. Food was the best method to calm me down after a fight with my mom, and nothing did it best like fish-shaped waffle batter pasties. After what seemed like an honest attempt to pace myself and savor my breakfast of champions, I polished off all of them in under ten minutes about a block before I made it to the school.
Kahoshi High School was roughly one or two miles from my house, and at this time of day it was still pretty empty inside. From the shoe lockers where I changed to my indoor shoes to my class in room 3-A, I must have passed only about five other students in the halls. Even when I opened the door there were just as many classmates inside; I never had an actual conversation with any of them, but I recognized them from sitting with them throughout the year and could get a bead on their basic personalities just the same. There was Hayate, a pathetic juvenile delinquent who allegedly got caught sleeping in a house he tried to rob (nobody knows the true story), and the Save The Armenian Dragons club founder Daimon sitting to his left. A club consisting of nine students from different grades, I knew for a fact that they did literally nothing at this club except play old-school RPGs, and that Daimon's only motivation for creating it was so that they could appear more than once in the school yearbook. Behind them was Ikuko, a pock-faced overzealous student body president seated between Arata, a mouth breather who goes through gummy bears like locusts through grain, and Hotaru, a raccoon-eyed goth girl who always smells like cinnamon and apparently never grasped the concept of personal space.
I passed by the accidental trio as I headed for my desk in the back-left corner closest to the door. I heard someone get up from their seat and shuffle quickly toward me. Speaking in a low, nasally voice that was almost a whisper, Hotaru continued to creep closer and closer in my general direction. "Hey, Yumemi," she disclosed confidentially with half-hooded eyes and a wide smile while her hot breath clung to the back of my neck. "Hey, Yumemi. Hey, Yumemi. Hey, Yumemi. Hey, Yumemi."
She repeated this ad nauseum until I finally took my seat and acknowledged her. "Yes?"
There was an awkward pause as she stood way closer to me than I could have ever asked for with the same ambiguous expression on her face, almost as if my reply caught her off guard. Then finally, after what felt like about five minutes of staring, she started up again. "Hey, Yumemi."
Internally, I sobbed. Was she trying to punk me or something? I was in no frame of mind to be punked first thing in the morning by someone I barely knew, until Hotaru started talking again. "You must've still been asleep when you were getting ready for school," she mumbled at last. "your hair still looks like a haystack."
I heard Ikuko trying to stifle a laugh from her seat ahead from us once Hotaru's quip left her mouth. Hayate wasn't quite so self-conscious; on the contrary he seemed to be trying to laugh too hard at something unworthy of that response, and it's a wonder he wasn't heard clear into Australia. Smiling creepily and keeping her eyes locked on me, Hotaru walked backwards toward her seat and slowly sat back down with her ankle-length black hair whooshing behind her. Now with nobody else looking in my way, pretending not to care, I got up from my desk in my typical posture de petulance, eased out into the hall toward the first girl's bathroom I could find and looked in the mirror.
Wow. Hotaru wasn't kidding. In all the hustle-and-bustle of getting ready and trying to avoid my mom, I had forgotten to brush and style my hair entirely. Describing as a haystack would have been generous; it looked more like a black lionfish on my head. How did I not notice this before I left the house?
I balanced my book bag between the sink and my knee and rooted inside. Sometimes I would have a comb or something inside for a rainy days, but this time, nothing. Looks like I would have to make do until I got home. Applying some water through my hair, I tried to use my fingers as a brush to the best of my ability, which probably took me about ten minutes altold. I usually wore my bow headband and put my sidebangs in a little braid, but this time I would have to go without. Staring at my reflection without my accessories, it made me feel incomplete ─ almost naked, even.
I cradled my face into my palms and sighed. "It's gonna be a long day."
"Was she the only one to wake up?"
Two of Lampetia's suns shone warmly through the Tomb of the Star's Parthenon-shaped structure, and Segin was at work on patrol first thing in the morning. It may have been far ahead of schedule, but these were exceptional times ─ after all, for the first time in seventeen years, a member of the rebellion was active again, and Fornax wasn't even one of the more badly wounded ones. Someday soon, the others would awaken with her.
Unfortunately, "someday" would not be today, as the other stone layers over the Cirque du Peur's physical forms remained intact. For hours and hours, far into the night and even until daybreak, the hooded one waited, seated in front of the rows of petrified bodies. The awakening of the constellations was something worth staying for and witnessing, but this was only part of a main concern ─ all this time Segin was there alone in the quiet, with dreams of Lampetia's conquest ground to a standstill and no one to talk to. Fornax, wherever she was, had broken free and left to the knowledge of no one else ─ and she still had yet to return. "Where could she be?" Segin thought aloud.
"I'm he-e-e-ere!" The stillness was broken by a suddenly loud noise from the Tomb of the Star's south entry; its heavy rock doors were thrust apart abruptly, wrenched open with a sweeping motion by none other than ─
"Fornax!!" Segin gave a scream of surprise and bolted upright. "Can't you ever be quiet for once? And where have you been all this time?!"
Fornax paid no attention to the guardian under the hood; instead she examined the stone stars in the building. "Wow, everybody else is still healing, huh?" she remarked with an awestruck tone. "They're all sleeping like babies ─ fuddy old babies. It's been way too quiet here without them around, you know? Oh! I'm sure you already do know, don't you? Boy, I really do miss them, we did so much together! And I miss my queen so much too! What about Pictoris, for that matter! I was so sad when she... Never mind, forget I said that! I would have never imagined Octans to be petrified so easily ─ or Mensa! Well, Antlia was really no surprise, and his family must have done something terrible to the goddesses for him to be embodied without sight, but... wow, I thought I'd never wake up! I wonder if everyone else missed me as much as I missed them? Like Horologium and the Navire Team and Microscopii... heck, even those bossy old grumps Norma and Caelum! Caelum's okay, but Norma's too... you know... Norma-y, let's put it. I'll tell you what, her crystal really helped me out in my search for ─"
"Fornax, please!" Her tangent was cut short when Segin took hold of her by her jacket's collar and shook rapidly back and forth in frustration. "Just shut up and slow down, you know I'm working nights!" Then, as soon as it started, the shaking stop. "Wait... what did you just say?"
"Norma's too Norma-y?" Fornax asked innocently.
"No, after that!" Segin released Fornax's collar and jabbed an index finger in her face. "Do you have any idea how long I waited for you and everyone else to wake up so I could tell you our new plan? Then when you finally do get out, you up and leave without doing so much as telling me first where you were going! What were you searching for?!"
Fornax's face went blank with confusion, and she picked at her lip with a gloved pinkie. "Where?" She murmured quietly. "Let's see, first I said how everyone else was still sleeping, then about Pictoris, but we don't talk about her..."
"...You're kind of stupid, you know that?"
"...Octans, Mensa, Horologium and Microscopii, then Norma and Caelum and Norma's... oh, oh, ohhhh, yes! Yeah, there was the comet river! And Earth people! There was this dowsing crystal I had from Norma before she─! And then I was on an island looking for her with it, but... So I pretended to be a shopkeeper to look for her, but it wasn't her, but it was someone like her even though she was completely different, and then she finally showed up, and then my Delta, but then what happened was─"
"Hold it, hold it, hold it!" Two outstretched hands trust out from the dark blue cloak, interrupting Fornax's stream of chatter. "Who was it you were looking for? Norma?"
"No!" Fornax squealed. "Lepus!"
Shadowed underneath the heavy mantle, Segin's eyes slowly widened. "I was trying to look for Lepus," Fornax repeated, "and I did, but..."
Fornax sighed. "It's funny," she began, "she has every reason to be as active as she was before, but as it was I had a very hard time locating her power. Needless to say, the fact that she let her magic go this long unused to the point where it can't even be tracked anymore... for a moment, it seemed that she had forsaken her identity, or refused to acknowledge, even, all she had done in the past."
A hushed, three-second silence fell between the two. "For a moment, it seemed?" Segin asked.
"Well... yes," Explained Fornax. "She did eventually show up, and she can still use her powers, too. But that was after I found someone else possessing Lepus' magic; I think she came to help her."
"Someone with her magic?"
"Truth is stranger than fiction, as these Earth people say. She's a young girl, not of our kind, but she has innate abilities she doesn't know she has. For someone who never used magic before, Norma's crystal was still sensitive to her when we met. Natives on that planet who can channel this magic are very few and far between, especially our types of powers, and I have no clue how this could have happened... Could Corona Austrina have made this planet a Lampetian colony?"
"I highly doubt it," admitted Segin. "but it's not to say it's impossible. This is something I should investigate further, along with how this girl got Lepus' power..." There was another pause, and Fornax added, "You know, it's probably only a matter of time before Yumemi... before the girl is sought out by other clans. Depending on which one wins her over, this could be an end for us, and I know for a fact that the Orions would benefit from having her on their team. As for the Zodiacs and the─"
"Oh, you're right!" Segin gasped. "Do you think they're on their way to her planet now?"
"If they haven't made it already," Fornax admitted despondently, now holding Norma's shard of crystal in her hand and gazing at its colors. It was only an educated guess, but if she was able to locate this girl's whereabouts right after awakening, then other factions might have already made that discovery ─ factions who wanted to put an end to the rebellion. It would explain Yumemi's stubbornness from the night before, no doubt, which was something beyond what Fornax was willing to admit.
Suddenly ─ unexpectedly ─ the cloak was thrust into Fornax's arms. She promptly looked up to see what Segin had in store, only to find that no one else was in the Tomb of the Stars. "Hey! Wait! Do you..." Fornax cried out, but she was all alone with her petrified companions. The rising suns, in their afternoon height, stretched her shadow across the floor and into the orphaned Aganju, whose guardian left to explore the possibilities of this mysterious blue planet being under their jurisdiction or to have a "talk" with the rival teams, no doubt ─ not necessarily in that order. Watching particles of stardust catch the rays and float across her eyes, Fornax called once more, "Do you know what a 'birthday' is?"
The Westminster chime of the school bell sounded merrily through the halls, announcing that sixth period had come to a close. Now that the final class of the day had ended, a smattering of classmates tried discreetly to sneak out for home or to their clubs without taking part in the required end-of-the-day cleaning tradition. The other kids in my class grumbled about having to tidy up the room over the next fifteen minutes, but I, on the other hand, loved it. Actually, cleaning and housework in general was something that never felt like a chore to me. I could listen to music or the TV in the background, I didn't have to concentrate too hard on what I was doing, and it allowed me to mellow out and let my mind wander; all the while taking pride in doing something productive. It was strangely therapeutic, actually.
Right as I volunteered to clean the whiteboard, I felt my phone vibrate with a text alert in my pocket. Thinking it was Ken's response, I checked my screen to confirm my suspicion and was pleasantly surprised to see no backlog of missed messages ─ for once. Normally I appreciated the attention, but today I was just thankful that Mom didn't blow up my phone while I was in class. I hunched over in an empty corner of the room and pressed the phone closer to my face to read Ken's message:
"hey sorry it took so long to get back to you. my day has been okay. we had to do line dancing in gym and dissect a worm for science class /poop emoji.
i'm going to be busy with sports meets for a few weeks and i have a dentists appointment on friday but after that i think i'll be clear until whenever. let me know when you can when we can start getting together and we can mull it over with a few king of tokyo rounds, but i'll try to think of gift ideas in the meantime.
"Seiun!" Out of nowhere, I heard Ikuko's voice booming from behind me. "If you can go on your phone, you can help us clean up!" She pulled me up by my blazer's back and pushed me toward the bucket of sudsy water and cloth towels by the whiteboard. I moaned silently and stuffed the phone back in my skirt. At least I managed to read all of Kenichi's reply.
As I plunged a towel into the bucket, the zoning-out period already began to take place, only for me to be snapped out of it just as quickly by the rattle of the classroom's fusuma door sliding open. "Don't let me stop you," Ikuko announced from the entrance. "I've got a student body meeting to attend, so I'm afraid I can't help you clean. But I'll be with you in spirit."
"That's convenient," snorted Daimon, taking the words out of my mouth as he picked trash from under the desks.
"Well, the president's gotta do what the president's gotta do ─ there are important priorities that require my immediate attention, so I need to take care of them as soon as I can. Besides, I'm sure none of your odd jobs are cut out for me anyway," she gloated. "Smell ya later." The doors slammed shut right when I chucked an eraser toward Ikuko's head. Maybe it would be for the better; anyone with that amount of attitude would offer more hurt than help. Quickly, I picked up my projectile eraser on the other side of the room and wiped its floor germs off on my skirt before placing it on the whiteboard stand. Tying my blazer around my waist and rolling up my sleeves, I immediately sprung into work. Everyone else tried to breeze by their cleaning as fast as they could; a few others would grab their bags and announce that there were going to extend their tasks to the outside of the room, only for them to conspicuously not come back to finish what they started in the class. Over time, our task force dwindled from four to three to two, until the only ones left were me and Hayate. Even I was rushing through cleaning to keep up with everyone else.
When it came to domestic tasks, I preferred to take it slow and pace myself, but this time I wanted to be done as soon as possible. Class ran longer than expected, and at this time I was usually on my way home. Ever since Day 1 of first grade, my mom and I had a very clear understanding that she wanted me to be back right when school let out, no exceptions. Even though I was usually home an hour before she came from work, she would ask me every day if I went straight home and the answer always had to be yes (this is why I was never allowed to join any clubs, despite my proof in chapter and verse of the weird looks I got from my classmates and nonexistent social life as a result). My track record had been good so far only for things to be cut way too close today, and I didn't want this to be the day I messed up. I wasn't sure if she was still mad about what happened this morning, but me being home at any time later than 4 pm would definitely do nothing to put a smile on her face.
Cleaning the whiteboard was easy money, as was drying it off with my arsenal of paper towels ─ or at least it would have been. In my haste, I went overkill with the rinsing and got everything, from the board and stand itself to my clothes and arms, completely drenched and dripping into a puddle on the floor. Even only limiting myself to one sheet at a time, I still ran out of towels in no time and with lots of drying left to do. "Hayate, do we have any more paper towels?"
No answer. I assumed he didn't hear me. "Hayate," I called louder. "are there any more of the paper towels?" When I still got no response, I looked behind me to see if he was distracted with something else, only to find that the room was completely absent. While I was doing my job, he must have gone off and left me to clean by myself. "I didn't even hear him leave!" I shouted in frustration as I slammed an empty cardboard tube on the floor. Stepping around the puddle, I made a beeline for the utility cupboard in the back of the room and violently whipped it open. Of course, we're all out. That would be too easy. I stomped out of the classroom in a huff and went to find any other rolls of towels. There was a supply closet not far away, and it was sure to have paper towels, but all of this took way more time out of getting ready to leave than I was comfortable with. Feeling myself rapidly getting worked up, I tried to calm myself down with thoughts of Hayate ─ or any one of my other classmates, really ─ coming back and helping me. I toyed with idea of Hayate leaving to use the men's room and me bumping into him on the way to the closet, since the bathroom was right between it and our class, but when I passed it on my way, it became crystal to me that I had to clean on my own. "Dangit."
The supply closet's door was left unlocked, but its light bulb had burned out. Keeping the heavy metal door ajar with my outstretched arm, I tried to let the sunlight from the hallway seep in and guide me as I crept in as far as I could. No matter how hard I squinted and searched, I could find right away what I was looking for. Paper towels, wherefore art thou, paper towels?
Before I knew it, the door slid shut, almost as if someone from outside pushed it against me. Unable to keep my footing, I collapsed through the dark into a heaping pile of cleaning solution and mop buckets, yelling all the way. Beyond the door, a young-sounding voice asked, "Is somebody in there?"
That voice. I knew that voice. It was Ikuko! "Yes! It's me!" I shouted back once I got my bearings together. "Yumemi!"
I tried to get myself situated and push the junk off me so I could reach the door, but Ikuko had already opened it. "You okay? You shouldn't lean over like that, you know."
"Noted," I answered dryly, now standing up and refitting my shoes that had come undone from the fall. "I was trying to keep the door open."
"Yeah, well, that's what door jams are for." She pointed to the rubber-tipped stopper on the door's bottom center.
Ugh, you're killing me, I thought. But hey, at least I could keep looking for the paper towels. "Did you finish your stuff for the student body?" I continued the search in the meantime and found them almost instantly, knocked down and squashed underneath a well-worn broom.
Ikuko rubbed her eyes while leaning back on her heels. "You bet I did. And I guess you still haven't finished cleaning, right?"
"Everyone else went home." Glancing over her shoulder, I saw next to her a tower of books on the floor, stacked up to a height that reached half of my own body. "What are all these for?"
"Oh!" Ikuko exclaimed. "These are all books the student body members checked out from the school library. They're nearing their due date and I was supposed to return them. But..." She reached toward the trove of tomes with her foot and pushed the books effortlessly in my direction. "...since you're here, I can just have you take them for me."
"Well... I'm flattered, thank you." I replied with self-conscious sarcasm, but apparently Ikuko didn't get the hint. "Hey, you should be. After all, being asked a favor from the student body president is a great privilege."
"Ikuko, I really need to get home. I should have been home by now, and my mom's gonna kill me!"
"Don't worry about it, this won't take long!" With that, she proceeded to shove the books into my arms, crushing the paper towel roll I was holding. My knees buckled post haste and I struggled to keep my tentative balance. "What about the whiteboard?" I asked. "I was in the middle of rinsing it, and there's water dripping on the floor. Someone might slip."
"It'll be dry once you get back! You can put the books back and clean up the classroom in no time!" Ikuko waved me off and sauntered down the halls ─ in the front door's opposite direction. I craned my head toward her behind my heavy pack of dead trees. "Hey, I thought you were going home."
"I am," said Ikuko cooly. "once my meeting lets out."
Well, this got confusing. "Didn't it already end? I mean, that's why you're going to the library, right?"
Ikuko stopped walking, but wouldn't acknowledge me by facing my way. "Well, not... exactly, buuut..." Her legs crossed, and she stuffed her hands in her pockets. "...when you're someone who's as busy as myself, you tend to forget these things, unless someone else reminds you to return the books. To be completely honest, I have more important things to do than play errand boy for the librarian, but I know I have classmates who are less fortunate and don't have my same ideals. Like I said, the student body president asking you a favor is an honor." She turned toward me and winked coyly. "Toodles!"
When people are angry, the norm is usually to see red; in my case, it happened to be green. And so, my knuckles shaking as they gripped the books, my view of Ikuko as she walked away turned into a dark, screaming green. "Hey! So you just wanted me to do your job for you?!" I shouted. But Ikuko was already out of earshot. "Come back here!" In the heat on my emotions, I leaned forward as if to somehow lunge at Ikuko from where I stood, but in the process my chest knocked against the wall of books, spilling half the bundle out of my arms, onto the floor and right on my feet. I gritted my teeth as the sharp corner of a particularly heavy hardcover slammed against my big toe, and tried to blink the pain away. If only I had more of Lepus' healing water on me.
I stooped over to pick up what I had dropped, causing more books to fall. Finally, I set the rest of the heap down and began to rebuild my Tower of Bookbel. "That jerk," I hissed under my breath. She should have been there to help clean in the first place.
Hunched in a near ball on the floor, I scooted on my knees as I collected the books sprayed across the empty tile hall. From the corner of my eye, I saw a shadow from behind rapidly coming my way. A female's diffident voice beckoned, "I can help with that if you want."
I turned around awkwardly on my toes to get a better look at the peach-skinned girl behind me. Unconstrained by a uniform, she definitely wasn't a student of Kahoshi High; on the contrary, she seemed way too young to be in high school ─ maybe elementary or middle school. Her clothes were a little unconventional, or at least nothing I've seen someone wear casually if I were to pass them on the street. She wore a simple pale dress with cutout shoulders and elaborately lacy trumpet sleeves, decorated with a flashy buckled rope belt and coupled with a black pair of gladiator sandals. A bouffant bob framed her youthful face and sparkly violet eyes, colored denim with a fruit punch dye. I nodded in her direction. "Sure. That'd be great." My hands were damp with worry, and in my mind I tried to talk myself out of being scared of a grade schooler. After last night's episode with Fornax, I couldn't help but be scared at the mere sight of a shadow.
The girl crouched beside me, creating two new piles of books gathered from shuffling back and forth throughout the floor; one pile for hardcover and the other for softcover. She organized them so painstakingly, making sure they were all cover-side up and directly facing her body, starting with the thickest books at the bottom and working her way to the skinnier ones and lining the spines up with each other. Her process definitely wasn't fast, but it was dedicated to neatness and perfection, and even I found myself patting together the books in my batch seamlessly parallel to the ones beneath them. We worked together in silence, and as time passed, the anger that gripped at my lungs and stomach gradually began to release. I stole a glance at the girl's profile; her features were small and her expression blank, but her large wide eyes made her look attentive on her task. "How much of my thing with Ikuko did you see?" I asked finally.
She continued to meticulously construct her books as if it were a tender sand castle. "The whole thing."
"Oh, really?" I scratched my neck in embarrassment. "Yeah, she's a real prize, isn't she?"
"I've seen worse," answered the girl. She spoke in an unfamiliar dialect, and yet I was able to understand everything she said.
"I'm so sorry." Noticing that my pile was getting to be too tall, I halfed it and placed the top mound next to the original. "So are you a new student here?" Maybe the girl just looked younger than her actual age.
To my surprise, she didn't say anything at first. Instead, she stopped and stared at her near-completed pillars of cleaned up books, then took the top book from the softcover stack ─ a history of classical mythology ─ and studied the front and back covers before flipping through it at random. A few times she would stop at a page and gaze at it, but didn't seem to be actually reading it. Her voice could be heard again over the soft ruffle of the glossy pages she thumbed across. "You have a lot of these books. What do you do with them all?"
"They're for our library!" I chuckled. "I don't know how many people make up the student body, but they sure held on to a lot of these, didn't they?"
"They smell good," cooed the girl.
"Mmm-hmm." I tried to be nice and accommodate her, even if I was annoyed that she disregarded my question entirely. I guess it was safe to assume I wouldn't be seeing her in the halls again. For what seemed like the first time since we met, the girl took her eyes off the book she held and looked directly at me. "Where did you say your room was?" She asked.
What a way to change the subject, I thought. Pointing to the wall at my left, I showed her. "It's right over here. Class 3-A, four doors down."
For a moment the girl remained quiet, looking at the classroom entrance, then back at the books on the floor, then back at 3-A. "You know where the library is," she declared at last, "so I'll dry the floor for you."
"Oh!" I exclaimed, "That's so nice of you! Thanks!" I took her hands into my and shook them, while the girl nodded with the same expression on her face. The smallest collection of books I took first, and I moseyed my way down the quiet school. I could make out the hushed noises of classroom cleanings and club sessions in progress as I walked by the closed doors on the way to the library. I knew where it was and only passed it a couple of times during my years in high school, but didn't have the time or, frankly, the interest to actually go inside. Reading never was one of my preferred hobbies, and if given the choice between a book or movie, nine times out of ten I would pick the latter.
Stepping inside the library for the first time, I was surprised to find it bigger inside than how it looked from the outside ─ and much darker, too. Everything inside seemed to be made of wood; from the black oak shelves to the polished floors and the sets of desks and chairs sprinkled though out the room in little cliques. Hope this place never gets termites, I said to myself.
The librarian's desk was right across from the front door, and I gently put the armful of books on top off to the side. The librarian, who was up until now reading a newspaper and sipping a coffee out of a metal white thermos, glanced up toward me as I put down my stack. "Are these all you have?" She inquired in a scratchy voice, looking at me from underneath dirty blond eyebrows.
"No, I have more on the way," I flexed my sore fingers while leaning over the pile. "I don't have a card or anything, but can I just leave them here with you? They're from Ikuko." The librarian nodded, and I turned back toward the door. It took me three more trips back and forth to corral all the books, with one trip taking longer than the others due to some contagiously hysterical laughter coming from the Save The Armenian Dragons clubroom that caused me to drop my entire armload. In time though, I was able to create a small battalion on the librarian's desk, while she continued to pore through her newspaper. I went back to my classroom where I saw my new friend sopping up the last of the water. "Thanks again for your help," I called out to her, watching as she jumped back in a recoiled position with a surprised look on her face. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to scare you!" Fortunately, the girl seemed to calm down rather quickly, and with her usual blank expression she looked around the empty room and nodded subtly, seemingly happy with her work. "Is there more that needs to be done?" she asked.
"I guess there is, but not badly enough to not keep things the way they are a little longer. If everyone else is leaving, then I am too." I claimed my bag hanging from its hook on my desk and headed out the hall to the front door. The girl followed close behind. Her route must be the same as mine. Neither me or her tried to initiate any sort of conversation and we walked side by side together down the cracked sidewalk. She seemed very interested in her surroundings, craning her neck to look at the pedestrians we passed by and checking out the animals, plants and cars; meanwhile I would sneak a peek at her from time to time to discreetly marvel at her cool blue hair.
Halfway to my house though, the girl still tagged along, fully immersed in her people-watching. It struck me as more than just a case of her home being along the way toward mine, and I tried to engage her for some answers. Maybe her wandering eyes had gotten her lost and she was too absorbed to notice. "So," I asked, "what's up?"
She turned toward me and blinked, a confused look on her face. I didn't know how to break down my curiosity for her more simply, but her response made that unnecessary. "Do you ever walk around where there's a busy area and wonder how many future famous people you passed?"
"Oh my gosh!" I gasped. "I thought I was the only one who did that! No way!" Her face remained unchanged, but she seemed to be holding back a laugh. "My boyfriend thinks it's weird though. I try to point out a guy to him who has tacky pants and he's like 'there was a guy?'."
"It's funny how the quirks you think are unique to you sometimes don't seem that quirky after all," the girl sighed wistfully.
"I know," I nodded emphatically. "So are you visiting from out of town? Where are you from?"
For a split second, the girl's face changed, and her expression was frozen in my eyes. Her brows pinched together and her mouth was ajar, in a look that seemed caught off balance. Hurt, even. As quick as her reaction was, she assumed her normal face, like nothing had happened. "Someplace far away."
"How far are we talking? Like a few miles from here? Different prefecture? Country? Time zone?"
"You could say that."
She still seemed a little upset. "Something wrong?" I pressed.
The girl shrugged. "I thought you would have known already."
"Oh." I didn't know what to make of that. "How long are you staying?"
"As long as I can."
We approached a flower shop by a corner crosswalk, signalling that my house was only two more blocks away. "Really?" I urged. "Are you staying anywhere in the meantime?"
"Not exactly," claimed the girl. "I already have a place to live."
"Someplace en route to my house?" I quipped, noticing we were still on the same path.
"No. I had to go look for someone today. Someone who lives in this town."
"Okay..." I looked down at my feet. "...well, I can't really do anything about it know, but maybe later I can help you look. Do you know where they live?"
The girl stopped walking and, for the first time today, smiled. She lifted her head toward me. "I found her already."
I blinked in surprise. Then took a quick glance around the sidewalk. The only girls nearby were me and her. "You must be Yumemi, right?"
"Yeah..." I answered with uncertainty. What was happening here?
"Navi," the girl introduced herself, bowing her head slightly. "I know about what happened with you and Fornax, and I'm sorry about that ─ but I've been sent here just to see you and tell you something very important."
My eyes drifted away momentarily, then found themselves locked back on Navi. "This wouldn't have anything to do with that power Fornax said I had, right?"
"Actually," Navi confirmed excitedly, "yes it does. Did she say anything to you besides? What did she tell you?"
"Not much." I continued down the path that would bring me closer to home. "Just that there was a girl named Lepus with star powers that I have too. I'm not sure how accurate that can be though, since I've lived seventeen perfectly mundane years already. Shouldn't I know this by now?"
"Your answer is enough to tell me that you don't know how to draw on your power," protested Navi, "so the fact you've seen no evidence of it doesn't surprise me at all. Then again," she cleared her throat. "You were able to hold a steady conversation with me just fine, even though I haven't been speaking your Earth language."
I looked back at Navi in surprise. It was true, after all; the words she used and mine couldn't be more different, and yet somehow I could communicate with her perfectly.
"But that's why I'm here ─ to jump-start your latent magical abilities and train you on how to use them. Not just for your sake, but the sake of your world... your world and mine, too!"
"My world and yours?" I repeated softly, as we rounded the final bend into my neighborhood. "Navi, where are you from?"
We made it up the front steps to my house and I undid the door with my key. "Is your mom there?" Broke in Navi.
"Not yet, but I'm allowed to have friends over when she's out." Once I opened both locks, I let Navi in ahead of me.
"And your dad?"
"Don't know," I sighed. "I never met him."
"Oh..." Noticing me taking off my shoes at the entrance, Navi did the same. "Well," she continued, "I'm from the same place Fornax is from."
"And where's that?"
"Lampetia ─ a planet far removed from yours. However, many of us, me and Fornax included, are able to travel to and from with ease." She took my hand and pressed it into hers. It was barely bigger than mine. "Our bodies were created to be personified as the stars and constellations we represent. We are linked, yet nothing that happens to our forms will be translated to our stars. Embodiments of just stars, like me, don't have special powers on their own ─ similar to you Earth people. Those who are constellations, like Fornax, have innate powers that they were created with and instinctively know how to use. I guess in your terms, constellations would be what you identify as 'witches'."
"Witches, huh?" Still holding her hand, I took her with me upstairs to my room.
"There are a few others of your kind with our power, but they pose no great significance ─ all that matters to me is you, and the power you share with Lepus."
"Not Lepus herself?" I pushed open my door and sat on my unmade bed. "I know you guys keep saying I have this magic of hers, but why don't you just go to her directly? At least she knows how to use hers." This whole exchange seemed too incredible too accept; alien witches, humanoid stars and some unknown abilities I allegedly had ─ but considering the experience I had last night, I felt more open to accept what Navi was telling me.
The girl turned a chair from my desk to the foot of my bed and sat down. "Lepus can't... or... rather, she won't... use her power again. She wants to abandon her whole identity as if she had nothing at all. She even cut off all contact with me." She grasped her chin in her hands.
"Wait," I gasped, sitting up straighter. "you knew Lepus? Like, knew her, knew her? Personally?"
"Of course," asserted Navi, "but I'm pretty much dead to her now, and so is her magic. What a shame..."
Seeing Navi curled introspectively on my chair, I couldn't help but feel a little bad for her. Her friend had walked out on her and threw her potential to the wind. She seemed so eager to find someone who could replicate that. I tried to fumble a word of encouragement to her, but all I could blurt out was "I saw Lepus."
Navi's head jerked up. "You did?" Her face slowly lit up as my cheeks flushed in tandem. "Yeah," I stammered, "she showed up last night to help me while Fornax was after me and gave me some healing water."
Stunned into dead silence was Navi, and she clearly was trying to digest this new perspective. After a moment though, she still carried an air of vague disappointment. "It's nice that you had a meeting with her and saw her in action," she countered, with her head held eye. "but I strongly doubt she'll ever come back." Looking back at me, she added with a voice tinged with wonder, "she was amazing, wasn't she?"
"She was cool," I agreed, "and it was pretty neat how she could just whale Fornax's tiger like it was nothing."
Seeing her in my dream was pretty cool, too.
Navi burst into laughter and leaned forward from the chair. "So you can see what she's capable of ─ and how you can be capable of the same thing if given the proper coaching. Even more, maybe. You're a very important person, Yumemi, and we need you now!"
"Need me for what?" I insisted, ready to push myself off the bed. "You're telling me about my power and how I have to learn to use it, but you won't tell me what it is you want me to do with it."
Right away, Navi stopped laughing. She tucked her legs under her and looked into my eyes. A serious look crossed her face. "I think both of our worlds are in big danger."
Previous Chapter: mstiemiss.deviantart.com/art/2…
Next Chapter: TBD
Hooray, new chapter!! *throws party* Truth be told, I intended for this to be way longer, but this was getting to be long enough, and the place I originally intended it to end could still run on to the next scene for chapter 4~
This is where the story is starting to pick up. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
This is where the story is starting to pick up. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!