Kenji fell. He was asleep long before he hit the ground, nor did he feel the ground when it eventually came for him. His conscious mind began to run slower, then slower still, as he sunk down through blackness, interspersed with patterns of green and purple.
Kenji watched. He did not reason about what he saw, nor did the thought to do so enter his mind. He watched the memory the same way one would watch television after an exhausting day. Aware, but detached.
There was an enormous crowd inside with him. He could only just see the pre‐noon light as it flowed in through the massive picture window over everyone’s heads. He stood on tan shag carpet, up against dark brown wood panelling on the walls, which he would have thought were tacky and outdated, if he could have thought about much in the first place. All kinds of people, stuffed as close as they could stand, and he could see that the crowd extended out into the hall as well through an open door.
They were all dressed the way he assumed people had dressed around ten years ago: almost everyone wore suits, patterned collared shirts, dress slacks, and colourful dresses. They held suitcases & clipboards, and everyone’s pockets were filled with pencils and cigarettes. A balding yellow Skeith stood at one side of a table, and attempted to look at everyone in the crowd as he spoke.
Alright, everyone… I expect we’re all on the same page. Both in this room and out on the street. The first neopian… to walk on the moon… by the end of this decade. You all heard the speech. The whole world heard it. And now… the entire world is watching us. And we’re gonna make good on that promise.
The people in the crowd had many reactions. Some smiled, and some were nervous, many at the same time. The Skeith at the table continued.
Each one of you has talents of your own. And, in all likelihood, you’re going to get to show that off. Many of you are going to be put on teams. Three, maybe five people each, and you’re gonna have to get along. …You are going to be supervised, but not micromanaged. This is the big leagues, we know better. You’re gonna get a lot of feedback, and you’re gonna have to take it. Make sure that whatever you design… bends over backwards to accommodate what everyone else is doing. There is no way anyone can have an entire space shuttle fit in their head at once, so we are… compartmentalizing it, like this, for ease of organization. he chuckled,
…And if we’d realized so many of you were gonna come at once, we’ll we uh… we’d have rented a much bigger room. Hehehehh.
There were some chuckles amongst the crowd, but not many. Quite a few people pushed each other around in the back, and out in the hall, to see and hear what he’d said.
All of you are going to have to get situated with neopian resources, get your names and signatures written down, etcetera. We have people. Lots of people, apparently. So we gotta get this malarkey sorted out into a well oiled machine.
Kenji recognized someone in the crowd. A blue Ixi with short horns, round glasses, curled hair, and a white coat, who stood near the front of the crowd. He looked at her, and couldn’t help but think that she looked familiar.
Oh. he thought to himself,
That’s the lady that was on TV… while we were getting ready to fight the ghoul. Amy? Her name was Amy, right? Right.
Kenji had been moved between the table and the picture window, though he didn’t remember when or how. Something tapped at the glass behind him. The entire room stopped, as if it were a movie paused, though Kenji didn’t notice this. He turned his head to the right, then toward the direction of the knock, to look outside.
The sky stole his attention first. It was a beautiful sunny day, and looked as though the sky itself had been painted by an artist instead of it being formed by natural processes. Thin streaks of white clouds flowed and converged like paintbrush strokes in a sky that was an intense azure. A plane rose up in the sky, and the contrails made a white diagonal line up and away. Out in the distance was tan‐ish grey concrete, then farmland, then mountains behind all of that. Huge airplanes sat on the concrete below the windows, aligned with painted lines in the tarmac.
This is… airport conference room? Or a building next to an airport, he realized,
on either a second or third story.
Something tapped on the glass again, and he turned all the way around to look. Someone stood out there, on the decorative ledge outside the window. A long brown haired Lutari with pastel colored fur stood by his clawed toes on the edge as if he were weightless. Kenji felt his chest tighten, and he smiled.
It’s him. His best friend Dakota was right outside the window.
It’d been so long. Dakota smiled and pressed his clawed hand against the glass. The excitement Kenji felt made his breath catch in his throat, and made the world feel like it had begun to spin. The faces in the crowd all started to blend together, and the world outside the glass became even more beautiful. Dakota said something, but he couldn’t hear him. Kenji leaned in closer, and put his hand up to the glass, against where Dakota’s hand was.
The barrier between them had begun to crack.
The dream ended in a whirlwind of sights and emotions. Kenji was on his side, disoriented and groggy. They were all still in the same room they were in yesterday.
Kenji. Kenji, hey. Wake up, man.
Rei stood over him, and she jostled him by the shoulder. He looked up at her, and blinked a few times. The sun was up, and he was on the floor.
It’s…? he squinted at the morning light,
What… what happened?
Hey, goodmornin! We got him!
The ghoul Kenji. We won!
He narrowed his eyes,
Did I… what did I do?
What do you mean?
I don’t remember what I did.
Oh uh, yeah. Sorry man. We all missed what happened. He had some kind of knock‐out gas or something. We all fell asleep, but Warren got him.
Kenji sighed, and put a hand up to his head,
Rei stood up,
What? No, no, there was nothing we could do! Don’t worry about it.
He wobbled to his feet, as he pushed himself up off the ground,
Chikushō… he muttered to himself,
doji… kaiwarezoku… useless, useless….
Rei raised her eyebrows and backed off a bit,
Hey man… are you okay? she asked him.
I’m fine. Don’t worry.
What’s… what’s the matter, man?
It’s nothing. I’m sorry for my outburst. Excuse me.
He walked out of the room white rubbing his temples, and into the hall.
Rei looked over at Warren.
They’d been watching them, seated on the bed,
Well, that’s not good. they folded their arms.
No. Uh… have you ever seen Kenji that mad before?
What’s the matter with him?
I’ll talk to him later. Just give him some time to calm down. they got up off the side of the bed,
Well. Everyone’s awake. Let’s clean this place up.
Rei raised an eyebrow at them,
So. Are we gonna talk about this?
The whole… you swooping in to save the day, part.
Oh, hah. they looked up to the ceiling,
So?? What happened?
They didn’t look at her,
That is a great question.
Are we… gonna get an answer?
No. No we are not.
They got up, looked down, then dusted something off of their jacket. It made a small metallic noise. Rei kept her eyebrows raised and stared at them, to make sure her expectations were clear,
Really. Not even a hint.
They shook their head.
Later then? At some point?
Sure. Maybe. Look, can I bribe you to not ask about it or something?
Hmm. she smiled,
They grimaced, folded their arms again, but said nothing.
What about Cold Scoopies? she asked.
Again? We were just there a couple days ago.
So? It’s on the way. We passed it to get here. Plus, I’m hungry. Aren’t you?
No. Not in the slightest.
Kenji shook his head and rubbed his eyes, as he trudged behind his friends. Warren carried one magi‐gun (which had been broken to get at the crystal inside), and Sechson carried the other. Kenji hid the rising sun behind his hand, as it hit his eyes at an uncomfortable angle. He gave up, his arm too tired to hold itself up, and he slumped his head down to watch the pavement under his feet.
He grimaced at his own weaknes. After a moment had passed, he looked to his left. They’d walked from the neighborhood just outside the school grounds, and past the businesses that had set up shop right on the edge of the campus. There was a large gathering of people outside one of them.
He stopped and straightened up as he paid more attention. Blue ambulance lights flashed with the sirens off, and people stood around outside. The Rocket, an arcade. A two story building built into a strip mall, with a fire escape that trailed off into a side parking lot. The hair on the back of his neck stood up.
Hey. Kenji stared at the crowd,
Look over there.
The rest of them turned to look at him, stopped, then to the arcade.
Hm? Oh. Rei rasied her eyebrows when she saw the commotion,
Oh wow. What’s goin on over there?
Hm. I dunno. Maybe some kids got into a fight?
What makes you say that?
It’s just a guess. Some people get passionate about that kind of stuff.
They all watched the crowd. Paramedics emerged from the dark insides of the arcade, with a stretcher in tow. It was hard to see from the distance, but it was clear that it was just a child, around 14 or 15 years old. Their eyes were wide open, but their body was motionless.
That… Rei blinked,
doesn’t look like a fight.
Mm. You’re right. But uh… it’s not our problem.
She turned to him and made an irritated, diappointed face,
What? The ambulance is already here, what are we gonna do? They can handle it. Let ’em do their jobs.
What if it’s a paranormal thing?
Why would it be?
Rei frowned at him.
Fine, I’ll… look into it later.
Rei continued to stare at him.
I’ll get somebody to look into it, okay? Come on, let’s just get somewhere where I can sit down.
Fine, fine. Alright. Rei rolled her eyes.
She watched the people stood around next to the door. There was a child there, a blue Bori with dark blue hair pulled back into a ponytail. The resemblance to Sechson caught her off guard, and she shook her head to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. As she narrowed her eyes and tried to focus on him, he walked back into the arcade, and out of sight. She looked at Sechson. He hadn’t noticed the child. She shrugged, then turned away from the arcade. They all began to walk again, and Kenji was the last to make himself move. He felt as though his eyes were drawn there, and into the side parking lot. Something about the place gave him an ominous feeling. He shook his head and tried to ignore it.
All four of them shared a table: Rei and Sechson sat next to each other and faced the wall, across from Warren and Kenji who faced into the restaurant. The waiter, who was also the cook, and the manager, stared at them as they decided on their orders.
So, uhhm… Rei looked all over the menu,
are there any specials today?
No. The special is burger.
Pffft, silly. Alright, alright. Uhmm… I could just get what I had last time….
You have thirty seconds or I’m skipping you.
Right, right, uh. How about… instead…. What’s the uh… she pointed at something on the menu,
Big Boy’s Brunch Burger?
Oh. It’s uh. Burger.
It has uh. Fries. On the burger, and on the side. Cheddar slice. Sauteed onions.
Frotwysalsagolf. Bacon, soft. Tomato slices. No pickles. No mustard.
I’m in the mood for onions. Sure! Yes, I’ll have that please!
Achyfi, please. Oh, and by the way?
What’s the…? Frot‐we‐salsa‐golf?
Secret sauce recipe.
Warren looked over and tilted their head toward her,
It’s just ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together.
Ohh hush, you don’t know that. Rei said, and stuck her tongue out at them.
Warren looked back out the window.
The Skeith scribbled something down on their notepad
I can give you the recipe, if you want.
Oh, wow, really?
Yeah. Just don’t show it to them. they looked at Warren and smiled, as they ripped the paper off their notepad and handed it to her.
Ohh‐ho‐ho. Yeah, you got it. Rei said with a mischievous smile, and she stuffed it into a pocked without looking at it.
Yeah. Whatever. Warren said, with no change to their expression.
I just want a water.
Kenji stared at the menu he held. Sechson glanced over to him. It looked more like Kenji was fixated on something a million miles past the menu.
You. the Skeith pointed at him,
Hm? Sechson looked up, away from Kenji,
Ah, right. he made one last glance at his own menu,
May I please have a uh, a hamburger steak?
Could I have… he glanced at Rei,
also Achyfi please? I’ve never had one before.
Mm. That’s all for you?
Yes, thank you.
The Skeith turned to Kenji.
He didn’t react, for a moment, then blinked and shook his head.
Oh. Yes, excuse me, I’m sorry. Do… do you serve dessert? At this time?
Ice cream, ano, what flavors do you have?
All the flavors. All of them.
Kenji looked confused,
Uh… all…? Of them?
Just order what you want. The logo isn’t a bowl of ice cream for no reason.
Oh… I still don’t think you’ll have it.
They leaned in closer to him, and looked even more threatening than usual:
Kenji leaned away from them,
Uh… green tea ice cream?
Yeah. Any toppings?
He blinked again, and his eyes got wider,
You… really have that?
Yeah. Any toppings? they repeated.
Y— yes! May I uh… please have chocolate syrup on top of it?
Mmhm. Iz’zat all?
Yes, thank you, very much.
They wrote something else on their notepad, and walked off. Rei looked at Kenji, and made a face somewhere between confused and impressed.
Green tea ice cream? That’s a thing?
Yes. It’s aah, very nostalgic to me. I didn’t expect them to have it.
Mmm. It’s uh… while I do like green tea… as ice cream it’s… honestly not my favorite… unless you put sweet chocolate on it, then mix it all together. My mom used to buy it from a novelty store when I was a kid.
Hahaha. Cool, cool.
Then uh, I introduced it to… a friend of mine. the cheer his expression had gained from the discussion ice cream flavors faded,
When we met. He and I would go and eat some… every once a in while.
Ah, cool, cool. Rei looked to the side and nodded. She could feel the heavy burden the phrase
a friend of mine brought to his face, as if it was her own.
Warren looked over,
You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.
Right, right. Thank you. …I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned… a certain thing. he said, and he continued to inspect the menu in silence.
Warren looked over at Rei, and changed the subject,
Well, so… we know what his name is. Or at least, what he decided on at least.
Oh. You asked th— him, what his name was?
He told me. He renamed himself to
Are you kidding? That?
Nnnope. Not kidding.
Oh, wow. It’s like he’s… one of those messed up kids from school or something. Dangerous, sure, but… hoo boy. That’s some real second‐hand embarrassment there. Even if he was… pretty scary, honestly.
Yeah. they stopped smiling,
That… that also kinda bothers me.
Yeah. A ghoul can be incredibly powerful. You saw for yourself how easily he shut everybody down.
Oh. Yeah. I see what you mean. If somebody like that could have taken us out so easily….
Well, not just that.
He…. Okay, so… while all y’all were asleep, I learned a few things about, uh, this
Are we really calling him that?
His original name isn’t important, at this point. What is relevant, however… is… that this might have been an accident.
This is… I’m not sure if I totally believe this myself, but… I don’t think he became a ghoul on purpose. This was something that happened to him.
Sechson looked up with an expression of disbelief.
Warren looked over at him,
It’s not…. Okay, so, something like that happening by accident is just… so astronomically unlikely, I… I didn’t really consider it a possibility. Yet here we are, I guess.
Huh? Rei raised an eyebrow,
didn’t even consider it a possibility? You mentioned that that was a thing, like, a couple days ago.
I was just covering all my bases, okay? I was just being thorough. I didn’t think that it’d actually turn out to be relevant.
Sechson looked concerned
What if he was lying?
I mean, that’s possible too, but what reason would he have to lie? The first ghoul, uh… in the library. Did we ever get their name?
Right. Well, whoever that guy was, they were clearly up to something. This guy though… he was a shithead obviously, but… that was it. He didn’t have any aspirations beyond just fucking with people and doing whatever he felt like. He was just… some guy. No plan, no conspiracy. It… it honestly kinda bugs me a little. You know? He didn’t even seem like he knew what a ghoul was. He kept referring to himself as a ghost. I thought that that was just a part of his weird lame‐o brooding act but… again, I’m not so sure. He may have actually thought he was a ghost.
Rei spoke up again,
What would that mean?
It would mean… worst case…. they looked out the window, and back to her,
Worst case scenario, we have someone, or something that can bring people back as ghouls against their will.
Is that something that can happen? Sechson asked,
What can do that?
As far I’m as aware, jack shit can do that. I have no idea. If there is something that can make someone into a ghoul against their will, or without them even knowing about it, I’ve never heard of it, even if it’s technically possible.
The Skeith returned, with plates of food on one arm.
Burger. They said, and set down a burger the size of the plate it was on in front of Rei, with light‐red, salmon colored sauce on it. It had fries and sauteed onions on it, and orange cheese that peeked out from under the sesame bun, just as they’d described it.
Warren whispered to themselves,
Damn, that was fast.
Ooh, it looks amazing! Rei turned to the Skeith,
Mm. You’re welcome.
They handed Sechson his plate next.
Burger steak. Kenji looked up, recognizing the dish. It too was the size of the plate, and it was garnished by some sort of green herbs Kenji couldn’t identify, spices, cheese, and grilled onions.
Oh? Sechson looked up at him,
You like these too?
Yes. he nodded,
They make it in Shenkuu too. I forgot they had it here.
Oh, nice! I’ve never been to Shenkuu before, I didn’t know that. he turned to the waiter,
Ice cream. Green tea. they set down a huge bowl of ice cream in front of Kenji. It was covered in chocolate, and had a metal spoon stuck into the side of it. The ice cream was darker and had more of a natural green color than similar colored mint chocolate ice cream.
Kenji bowed his head,
Thank you. Thank you very, very much.
Mm. they said, as Kenji began to mix it all together inside the large bowl with the spoon.
They turned to Warren, and handed them a glass.
Here is your artisanal, pure, filtered spring‐water. Only the best, for you.
Yeah. Thanks. they set it down off to the side, next the napkin holder by the wall.
Enjoy. they started to walk off, but turned to say something else:
By the way. I’m low on to‑go boxes. So y’all better eat all of it here before you go runnin’ off again.
Oh, yes! Rei waved,
You got it!
All of them started to eat, except for Warren, who stared out the window, and Kenji, who busied himself as he mixed the chocolate sauce into his ice cream. Rei bit into her burger, and
ohhh this is so good! See, Warren, look, she pointed at the sauce on the burger,
I hate ketchup on burgers, and I hate mayo in general; there’s no way it’s just those two mixed together.
I’m telling you, it is.
It’s not, dude, I’d be able to tell! I’m the one eating it!
You wanna try it yourself?
No, I don’t.
Well, then, I guess that settles it.
Sechson chuckled at the two of them, as he cut off a piece of his steak and ate it. He looked over at Warren.
Warren looked over,
How does one become a ghoul in the first place?
Oh. Warren raised their eyebrows, and looked overwhelmed for a moment,
That’s uh… that’s kind of a tough question.
It is? Why?
Yeah. Nobody really knows the specifics anymore.
Was it… lost to time or something?
Essentially. Everyone that knew how to do it is dead. Appropriate, I guess. Hahah. It’s possible we’ll find out, if any‐a‐these ghouls around here decide to tell us. I don’t really see that happening though, unless my hypothesis is correct. About it being an artificial thing.
Right. So… ghouls can’t turn other people into ghouls?
No. I realize you made a comparison to vampires earlier. The other day, I think. As far as being undead, and needing food or else they go bonkers, sure. But that’s basically it. They can’t spread the curse around like a disease. That’s why the concept of
making more ghouls is so bizarre to me. I mean, we know it’s some kind of ritual. It has something to do with leaving neopia, the physical plane behind, and it has to take place during a lunar eclipse. That’s all anyone knows anymore.
Question. Rei raised her hand at Warren.
What all happened last night with the ghoul?
What?? I thought you said you wouldn’t ask!
I said maybe I wouldn’t ask. I didn’t promise anything she smiled.
No. I’m not discussing it, they shook their head,
it’s not important.
Dude, come on.
Uhhhg, come onnn. You can’t do that! I wanna know what happened! I bet it was cool!
It was not cool. Believe me. I just did what I had to do. I took care of it. I called Lucine, I called the homeowner, and said that it was taken care of. It honestly wasn’t all that interesting.
Pffft. You… she shook her head,
you obviously have a uh, way different definition of interesting than I do.
Yeah, well. Warren shrugged,
It’s not important.
There’s a reason I ask, though, like, not just to hear the story.
Yeah. So, with the first ghoul we fought. That guy was this, like, powerful sorcerer or whatever, right?
Maybe. He never really got to do anything as far as what you told me.
And this guy, nasty dude from last night, was just some weirdo with sleeping gas.
The weirdo that didn’t even know he was a ghoul was the one that beat us.
Ahh. I think I see where you’re going.
Yeah. The first guy… was a fluke.
Uh‐huh. I told you. He’d’ve kicked your collective asses if you hadn’t done your whole… surprise attack, bull rush, thing. Absolutely. I haven’t forgot about that.
And that same strategy didn’t work on this guy.
Noo, it very much did not.
Well? I wanted to know how you did it, so that we could, like, be better prepared next time.
Warren sighed again, leaned back, and let their head hang over the back of the booth.
I mean… they lifted their head back up and looked at her,
I’m not sure what to tell you. These guys have access to weird, old magic. This guy wasn’t even using straight‐up magic anyway, that was a 1.
Sechson looked confused.
Yeah, that uh, red glow in his hand? Where the mist came from? I’ve seen that before. That was a gift, from a deva.
Warren looked over to Sechson,
It’s thaumaturgy. Do you know what that is?
Uhhh. he looked to the side,
Thaumaturgy is magic that people get from deva, demons, spirits, or what‐have‐you. The ability to work miracles. It’s an ability you can activate at will, without actually using your own magic reserves. It has uh… different restrictions. And it’s generally not easy to get your hands on, at least, not these days.
Oh… I see. he said, as his face turned thoughtful, and he looked to the side.
Powerful Fæ can grant abilities like that too, but that hasn’t happened in a long time. They used to do that all the time back in the middle ages, when magic was more popular. When it’s from a deva, however, they’re called charismata. And that’s way older. That’s some‐a‐that
weird old magic I was talking about earlier.
Rei leaned in close,
How’d he get his hands on something like that? And from a deva??
I have no idea. That’s the problem. I don’t know what to warn you about, or prepare you for, because they could pull some kind of bullshit out their ass that I’d never thought of. I haven’t seen anyone using charismata in fuckin centuries. Who knows what else these people are gonna have up their sleeves? Fuckin super powers? Warren glanced and tilted their head towards Kenji, then back to Rei,
It’s possible! Who knows!
Sechson hadn’t touched his drink so far, and while Warren ranted, the Bori took a sip of it.
Hrrk— eckh. he gagged,
Oh… oh my Lord, this is horrible.
Warren looked over, a huge grin now on their face, and laughed, while Rei rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Oh come on, Rei folded her arms,
it’s not that bad.
Sechson pushed open the front door to his house, and the rest of his friends followed. They took off their shoes on the stone tile step‐up before the sitting room. Kenji was winded, but tried not to show it. Warren tossed the two magi‐guns they held away, and Sechson winced as the metal clattered onto the wooden floor.
Whooh. Goodness. Warren huffed,
Well. I’m done.
Hm? With what? Rei looked over at him.
Just… all my plans for today have been shot. We were supposed to have a meeting this afternoon, but… do y’all wanna cancel? I’m… just exhausted.
Rei tilted her head,
You are?? It’s only…. Oh. Wait. You didn’t uh. Get to sleep last night did you?
Haha. No. No I did not.
Aww, sorry about that. That’s probably reasonable. she turned to Kenji,
Whaddya think? You wanna call it a day too?
He had walked over to the table to get the backpack full of books that he’d left there last night,
Hai… I’m… going back to bed. I’m not waking up until I have classes tomorrow.
Oh goodness, hahaha. Still tired?
Mmm. Cho… just a little. I’m sorry.
Alright, yeah. I guess we’re uh, canceling it then.
Sechson looked disappointed, but nodded as well.
I do have a lot of reading to do. I’ll get my books.
Oh, yeah? You got books? Rei asked.
Uh‐huh! I bought a few of them the other day! I was gonna mention them yesterday, but uh, Warren pulled out the briefcase of ghoul stuff and I forgot about it.
Sechson brought out a cloth bag, and slid the books out onto the table. Most of them were about the same dark brown color as the varnished wood.
Aah. Kenji perked up, and he unzipped his backpack,
Almost forgot…. I have books for you also.
Yes, supposed to give them to you before. I didn’t get to last night either.
Wait… from the library? Oh, wow! Thank you! That must have been—
Kenji paused and looked up at him,
Warren looked over,
So, you found them all?
Yes. Well, not all. The one by Bren was not there. It said…
pending reprint at author’s request.
Author’s request? Really? It said that?
Warren scrunched up their face,
That’s… weird. Maybe his estate has the rights to the work or something. Well, you got Boolin’s?
Kenji nodded again.
Good. That’ll work. Thank you. Did you get these books yesterday?
Hai, yesterday morning. I was free that day.
Hmm. Warren looked concerned,
I… see. As long as you’re alright.
Kenji looked down at the titles of the books already on the table.
What are Ghouls? by Cannizarro, The Rusty Ghoul Catchers by Derel Karak, Ghoul Catchers: the Quest Continues by Vivian Larue.
What… are these?
These, Warren looked down at it,
were all that Sechson could find on his own.
We thought you weren’t going to go to the library after the whole uh… thing… that happened.
Kenji made a sideways glance at him,
I’m fine. then looked at Warren,
Where did he find…?
I uh, I dunno, Warren shrugged,
Probably a local bookstore, newspaper article archives, something like that. Most of this is just creative writing, stories and stuff.
You read through them already? Rei asked.
Yeah. I mean, he shrugged again,
I skimmed through a couple the other day.
Sechson tilted his head,
Are they not good books?
Well… creative writing isn’t a bad thing, obviously, some of it is legitimately educational. But we’re looking for… historical accuracy, you know? Hell, one of them even has some kind of weird self insert character married to King Altador. Like, what??
Yeah. I dunno what that’s about. Anyway. The information on ghouls is sorta all over the place, but… Warren pointed to the last book Kenji had looked at,
this one seems more accurate than the rest of them, even though it was clearly written for children. Have you read that one before?
Hai, hai. Kenji only half‐listened, as he took the library books out of his backpack and onto the table as well,
Oh, this one? If I did, I don’t remember, no.
Ahh. Well, skim through them if you want, on your own time.
There was a piece of cake, on a paper plate and wrapped in plastic, still on the table.
Wait a minute… is this…? Rei picked it up.
Oh. Oops. Yeah. Sechson looked it over,
Hey Kenji uh… do you still want your cake?
Hmm? Kenji looked up.
We got a cake for everyone, and uh, we wanted to save you a piece. It’s been sitting out, though….
Ano… no, no, I…. he paused,
Well…. I think I will. Thank you. Sorry if I’m being rude.
You’re not rude, don’t worry!
Thank you. he smiled a little,
I… appreciate it.
Sechson looked down to inspect the books Kenji brought.
Oooh, are these…?
Mmhm. Kenji let Rei hand him the plate with the plastic wrapped cake on it,
There is more than just ghoul things here, also.
Ah, Warren pointed at some of the books,
Yeah. I didn’t realize you were gonna be fixated on ghouls when you first joined, so I had him get a lot of other, more general, stuff. Uh… psychic stuff… dream stuff… different dimensions… supers… deva, demons… thoughtforms. Buncha weird shit. Dunno how much you’re interested in any of that stuff, but hey, it’s there, if you want it.
Oh wow. That’s… a lot to take in at once. Thank you.
Rei piped up,
And absolutely nothing about infohazards or novamancy!
Yes, that is correct. And, like I’ve said before, I’m not gonna start on that right now, it’s way too dangerous. Especially with this guy. they jabbed their thumb in Sechson’s direction,
If I’m not gonna teach that stuff to you, I’m certainly not gonna teach it to him.
Uhhhg. Well, I would be mad as hell if you skipped over me.
Warren rolled their eyes,
Right, so. Everyone goes their separate ways, and, we all meet back here tomorrow evening? Sound good to everybody?
Sechson looked like he was in thought for a moment, as Kenji unloaded everything and closed his pack up.
I… guess so.
Kenji, who’d finished unpacking, took that as his que, and waved one hand a little.
Oh, gosh, already? Alright then. Rei chuckled,
Bye Kenji! See you soon! Rei waved back.
Kenji nodded as he put his shoes back on, and slipped out through the door.
See you all tomorrow.
She smiled and continued to wave, until he’d turned away to walk down the driveway. She sighed and looked over to Sechson,
Well. I guess I oughta get goin’ too. I haven’t done any of my chores or homework today. Bleh. she giggled.
Haha alright. Sechson said as she walked over to her slippers and went to the door.
I gotta work on my destruction magic homework anyway. I’ve been putting that off too. I’ll see ya later!
See ya soon! Sechson waved, and she waved back, as she close the door and walked off the same way Kenji had gone.
Well. Warren looked over at him,
I guess it’s just us now, huh? Warren hadn’t moved from the spot they were in when the conversation began, and they didn’t look like they were about to leave now, either. They sat down in one of the wooden chairs by the table. They wobbled a little as they did so, and stabilized themselves on the hard wood.
You… uhm… I thought you said you were tired?
Oh I am. I am extremely tired. But, I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Privately. I just haven’t gotten the chance until now.
Oh. Uh, alright then…?
Right. By the way, have you ever heard of Zenner cards before?
The same sun shone through the windows of the administrative building. The only sound inside was hard dress shoes against carpeted floors, aside from the background rumble of distant industrial air conditioners. Rose, a Lupe in a blue dress, carried books full of actors’ lines against her chest. She turned the corner, from the hall to a large side‐room —the temporary drama club location— and opened the door.
It was dark, compared to the rest of the building, though slim rays of light came through the gaps in the closed blinds. Someone stood in the room, and he turned to look at her. Her hand had gone up to turn on the light switch by unconscious force of habit, and she jumped from the shock of the sight of someone there she didn’t recognize. He wore a black hooded cloak with gold accents, gold jewelry, black eyeliner, and what looked like historical qasalan garb.
Oh!! Oh my goodness. she put her hand to her chest
Goodness… you scared me. I didn’t expect anyone to be in here.
He turned to her, and pulled back his hood,
Ah. My apologies. he bowed his head.
She looked him up and down. The Kyrii’s face was covered in scars, like he had been stitched back together after some kind of terrible accident. Other parts of him, like his hands, were so damaged that they seemed almost mummified. Despite his scars, he dressed like an aristocrat, from his well manicured hair to the regal way in which he held himself. He was youthful, muscular, and slim, though he had the white, peppered hair of someone several times his apparent age. His expression was like still water.
He must not realize he’s not supposed to be in here. she thought to herself.
Could I… help you with anything? she asked.
Hmm. It’s possible.
He inspected the room, and looked around as though there was something interesting on the walls she couldn’t see.
I’m… terribly sorry, but, we… haven’t quite opened yet.
Yes, yes, I’m aware. Don’t worry. What I’m looking for evidently isn’t here.
Are you here for the… she began, but got distracted by his garb,
…I must say, your costume, it’s…
He looked back at her with greater intensity. For a moment, she saw something intimidating in him. An undertow of paranoid anger flowed underneath the stoic waters.
It’s stunning. she continued, and acted like she didn’t notice,
The artistry is just… just impeccable.
…Thank you. It’s… an original piece.
You made it yourself?
Oh, he chuckled,
ho ho, no. I had it made for me. I am no tailor.
Well, what are you then?
He thought for a moment,
You could say…. An electrician. Hmhmhm.
I… see. Well, whoever made it has incredible talent… it looks less like a costume and more of a genuine historical replica.
She saw the same tense emotion flash over his face, but it was fleet, and at the same instant, replaced by a polite smile.
I’ll… definitely let them know that their work is appreciated, should I get the chance.
She’d glanced down, and noticed that for a moment, his hand had drawn closer to what she assumed was a replica qasalan sword.
I’m very sorry, sir, but… no one but staff are supposed to be in the administrative building… until we open, that is. I’m terribly sorry. I’ll help you as best I can, however.
Yes, I understand.
Good, good. So, uhm, what do you need exactly?
Right… I’m looking for a group of individuals. They call themselves a
Oh. she frowned,
Hahaha. Yes, evidently. You’re not one of them?
Goodness, no. she shook her head.
He seemed to relax as soon as she said this, and his hand moved away from the sword.
She raised an eyebrow,
You’re meaning to join them?
No, ho ho, no. I do see you have a… low opinion of them.
Mmhm. I do. No disrespect to the individual members, of course, but I… just think the entire thing is a waste of school funding. Fools running around chasing shadows & charlitains, when they should be focusing on academics, or the arts. I’m biased towards the latter, as I’m sure you’re aware.
He chuckled. He had relaxed a great deal compared to when she had first stumbled onto him, and she tried her best to act out the same level of calm.
Apologies, for not introducing myself. he tilted forward into a small bow,
You may call me Tariq.
Good to, uh, good to meet you, Tariq. I am Ms. Rose Blau. I’m a teacher here.
Well met, then. he moved towards her,
Unfortunately, what I’m looking for isn’t here. I might as well take my leave, then, excuse me.
She moved to the side, let him through the door, then followed him out,
Why were you here for them, then?
Here? he turned around,
Ah, I was told that this is where they met.
She noticed that he didn’t actually answer her question, and narrowed her eyes. She cleared her throat, and played along,
Noo, no. Well, it used to be, until very recently, but I had to… temporarily relocate them. This room now belongs to the: she inhaled,
Brightvale University of Magic Theatre 🙲 Performative Arts Collective. Temporarily.
Ahh. he nodded, and they both walked into the hall, towards the exit,
You are a… person of theater, then?
Indeed! That’s why I assumed you were in costume.
Ah. Like the theater folk of Altador.
Oh, yes! she stopped in the lobby, next to the umbrellas & the front glass doors, and he did so as well,
Absolutely yes! I adore the theatrical traditions of ancient Altador.
As do I, as do I. Very good.
Oh, wonderful, wonderful. I even made my screen name, for the uhm, campus computer network, themed around my passion for the arts.
Mmm. I see.
I am known as [TD], theatronDelphinidine, on there, should you ever feel the need to contact me that way.
Mmhm. I see. he looked to the side.
The people who run this place, they don’t care for theatre, they think the arts are a waste of time.
Mmm. A shame. he looked back to her,
What do they focus on then? I’m assuming it’s magic, from the name. he smiled.
Haha, well, she shrugged,
That’s more a hold‐over from the old days. They’ve put more stock in mathematics and the sciences as of recent. And far too much stock into yooyuball. If King Hagan knew just how little the team reads, I bet he’d have quite a bit to say about it.
Yooyuball, really? he smiled, and his voice went up a few steps with genuine surprise. He looked out over the campus, through the glass doors. The library was visible across the street, and beyond that, large spotlights, pointing down at a field hidden behind it,
…They’re still doing that in this day and age?
They are! It’s frustrating. Infuriating. So much of the school’s budget is wasted on meat‐heads.
Hmhmhm. I may go over there just to see if the rules are still the same. he chuckled,
Oh, yes, what would that be?
You wouldn’t happen to know where they are now?
The paranormal club.
Oh, heavens no. I haven’t a clue. I’m assuming they’re still meeting up, but I don’t know where.
I see. I have… he looked to the side,
one last question for you, ma’am, apologies.
I’ve never been here, to Brightvale, before.
Ohh, I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit so far!
I have, I have, beautiful city, lovely people. Unfortunately, my… visit here was… unplanned. I didn’t bring my most important possessions with me. Far from where I come from. You wouldn’t happen to know of… somewhere to purchase fine clothing? And I do mean very fine clothing. Most of my regular attire was… left behind, he adjusted the neck of his cloak,
and I do so like to keep up personal appearances.
Kenji opened the door to his dorm room. The artificial lights were all off, so the sunlight bled in between the slats of the window blinds and no one was in there. He breathed a sigh of relief. He liked Vert, but he didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now, and he knew she’d have questions about where he was last night. He set his empty backpack down on the desk next to his textbooks, and walked over to the table next to his bed. He bent down and threw away an empty paper plate that once held chocolate cake into a trash can next to the drawer. He pulled up a cord that dangled next to it, and clicked the small plastic switch attached to it, to turn on the wax melter. A soft amber light filled the room. He opened the top drawer, and he used the light to find a packet of cubed wax. The label read
Eucalyptus & Sandalwood. He recognized the shapes of the words, but he hadn’t a clue on how to pronounce the first one. He popped it open, and put one on the melter.
Kenji sat on the side of a stranger’s bed and watched television. It was the same room, in the same house, the night where they’d fought the ghoul and woke up this morning. The memories returned to him. He’d hid in a closet, and knocked himself over. He frowned, then gripped the bedsheets tight. He turned his attention back to the television.
こんばんは! Welcome to 真夜中淹れたて!
The host of the show appeared to speak his language, even though he’d done no such thing last night. Kenji blinked and shook his head as the host continued to speak, a mixture of languages that made him feel disoriented, the meaning of the words jumbled and incorrect in both languages.
Thank you. Thank you. But what of my brother? 幽霊を見た? It could have been better. 三九. It’s completely understandable. Everyone trusts you, and me, dying someday. 完全に理解できる. I hope someone will bring us all back, as beautiful symbiotes, 400㌔㍍ゟthe power of thought. Thank you. It’s lovely. I don’t speak human, sorryません. まあ, ああ, いや. I think I’ve disrupted the nightstand.
The audience clapped & laughed without end, and they rose and fell in volume without any discernible reason. Kenji failed to make any sense of the gibberish.
Hahaha, and rememory now! 美しさに酔わないように気をつけて!
The television cut to static. Something tapped at the window.
It began to dawn on him that he didn’t remember how he’d gotten here. He looked at the door, and it was closed. The tapping sounded again. Kenji looked to his right, to the window.
Dakota was on the other side of the window. He stood there unsupported, as if he weren’t on a second story. There was nothing but darkness behind him, as the house floated in a black void. Kenji smiled, and jumped up off the bed. The garbled red text intermingled with the television static, but he ignored it, and went up to the window.
Dakota said something, but the glass was too thick to hear him, and he only caught a faint muffled sound.
Kenji curled his fingers under the lip of the window, and tried to force it open, but it wouldn’t move.
Kenji looked up, and Dakota shook his head.
No…? I don’t… I don’t understand. Kenji put his ear up to the window. The Lutari put his clawed hand to the glass and said something else, almost inaudible.
Kenji snorted and laughed, and he smiled as he pulled his ear away. He could see that Dakota laughed too.
You ahh… you can hear me, right? It’s so quiet, I have to strain myself to hear you!
Good! he said with a grin,
You call me that again and I’ll kick your ass!
They both laughed again.
Kenji put his ear up to the glass to listen.
So good to see you. I’ve missed you so much.
Yeah. Me too.
He could hear Dakota chuckle from the other side,
I hate to ask but… I need something, Kenji.
Oh…? he tilted his head.
I’ve learned things, out here. About both you and me. What I need must come from you.
I am an inheritor of Life. I did not will it, but that is my circumstance. You are a creator of freedom. That is your role.
…What? I’m… not… not sure I understand.
I need to find you, yōseichan.
F… find me…? But… you’re right here. You can talk to me any time! You could call me on the phone, or come over to visit….
You’re not remembering, Kenji. Just stay calm and try to think.
I don’t… you’re not making sense….
Dakota shook his head and smiled,
Don’t worry. It’s okay if you don’t understand right now. I’ll talk about it later. It’s wonderful just to be here.
…Alright. It is, it is. Kenji began to smile again.
Do I smell that ridiculous cologne that I used to wear? That woody perfume that I liked so much?
Hahaha! You do, you do.
You’ve been thinking of me, then. I’m sorry, Kenji.
Hai… I have. There’s nothing to be sorry about. Why don’t you come in?
Through the window?
He looked down, closed his eyes, then shook his head,
That’s what’s wrong. I’m already inside, Kenji. I need to get back out. But… let’s save that for later. Tell me what’s been going on. How have you been? What have you been up to? Where are you now?
Yes, yes. A… a lot of things have been going on. I’ve been so busy in college….
I knew you could do it.
Do you live on campus?
I do! In a dorm! I’ve got a picture of you by my bed, hahaha. I hope that’s not too embarrassing.
Noo, no, of course not. Which picture? A good one?
Oh, it’s the ahh… the picture your mother gave me… when you….
The room quaked, and the television static grew louder. Kenji’s heart sank, as he began to remember.
Oh… you’re…. No. I can’t say that. Kenji pressed himself up closer to the glass,
This is… I’m dreaming, aren’t I. This isn’t….
Dakota said something that Kenji couldn’t hear, and he put both hands to the glass. The room was turning into a maelstrom. Kenji put both of his own hands to the glass, where Dakota’s were, and it cracked against the palms of their hands.
The market district was full of people who went about their business. Crowded and busy, no one paid attention as a scarred Kyrii stepped out of a tailoring shop, and into the afternoon sunset. He wore black slacks and suit jacket, fitted just for him, with gold buttons, cufflinks, and studs. He adjusted his tie, patterned with black and bright yellow diagonal stripes. All this, over an understated off‐white dress shirt, with thin black vertical stripes to compliment his hair color. He inspected his new fashion in the reflective window of a parked car by the sidewalk. He decided to take his leave, and disappeared into the crowd.