Chapter 2

Fire! Fire tore at Rem, feeding on his skin at an alarming rate, dissolving his flesh as though he had been doused in a generous portion of acid. His entire body was awash in flames. He screamed; his body wretched and convulsing in agony. Why was this happening to him? Why was he in this much pain?

    A sudden, soothing coolness passed over him and the intense pain simply vanished! Rem remained still, reveling in the newfound peace. For a moment, he’d almost thought he’d gone to hell. Wait? Had he even died? His sore midriff sure felt real, as did the pain in his arms and legs. Though, lessened in intensity, he could still feel the pounding headache that had been plaguing him. He hesitantly opened his eyes, only to find that he was actually floating face down in a pool of water.

    He panicked suddenly, only just realizing his lungs were on the verge of exploding. Arms flailing like a drowning cat, he clawed himself to the surface and took in the deepest breath of air he’d ever taken in his life. When he recovered from the subsequent coughing fit, he finally paid attention to his surroundings.

    He was in the courtyard’s water fountain, and only a few meters away, Warukko East Municipal High School was ablaze. The building groaned loudly over the sound of the flames as, bit by bit, it succumbed to the damage that had been inflicted upon it during the night’s events. The heat emanating from the smoldering structure was just as intense as it had been on the inside. Rem felt a strange sadness at seeing the school like this. Sure he’d hated having to show up and deal with its annoying populace on a daily basis, but he’d never had a grudge on the school itself. And, in a single, terrible moment, he remembered the expensive pair of sneakers still locked tight in his cubby in the building’s lobby. ‘Crap….’ Seven months of extortion down the drain. He stared at the burning building for a while, and then the obvious question came to mind.

    “H-how’d I get out here?” he whispered, “I thought I was a goner for sure…”

    “You’re welcome,” came a monotone voice from directly behind him. The hairs on the back of Rem’s neck stood on end as he whirled around to confront its owner. At the opposite edge of the fountain sat his best friend, the Music Club’s guitarist, Vinz Hayamizu, drenched from head to toe. His porcelain skin, which vastly contrasted his black hair -usually spiked but now matted to his scalp because of the water-, his dull brown eyes and black polished fingernails, reflected the flickering, orange flames that leapt up from the school. He sported the school’s uniform minus the blazer; his once white shirt now a patchwork of soot and burn holes. His androgynous good looks added an air of mystery to his whole Gothic theme, not to mention the dark crucifix earrings that dangled from each of his earlobes.

Vinz rose to his feet, revealing a slim, yet well-built physique, and gestured a lackluster greeting, his perpetually-bored expression changing into one of concern.

    “Wha!? What the hell!?” Rem exclaimed, forcing himself to keep his rate of breathing in check, “Geez, Vinz, I thought I told you never to sneak up on me like that!”

“Meh,” he droned, “it’s your own fault for not paying attention.”

Sighing, Rem turned his attention back to the burning building. “How’d you get me out?”

    “Got in through the emergency exit, got out through the window,” the Goth replied quietly. For as long as Rem had known the boy, Vinz always broached any situation presented to him with the same calm, indifferent demeanor as he did now.

    Rem stared up at what was left of the third floor and tried to envision what had occurred. The drop from the third floor windows to the second floor awning wasn’t an impossible feat, and from there Vinz could easily have skidded along the wall until he got to the courtyard. Two questions offered themselves: ‘What happened to Meteor-Girl?’ and ‘How had he ended up in the fountain?’ The former heavily outweighed the latter and so he inquired about it.

“I’ve got good news and bad news.” The pale-skinned boy simply dug his hands into his trouser pockets and shrugged, regaining a disinterested look. “The good news is that I took care of it. As usual.”

“You took care of it?” Rem asked, scrunching his face up in confusion. Then, the full meaning of Vinz’s response hit him and a panic he had never known, not even when the girl had stood before him threatening certain doom, chilled him to the core. “Wait… you don’t mean!?”

Among the Goth’s many talents were the ever incredible arts of wordplay and deception. Despite his shady exterior and uncharismatic personality, Vinz possessed the uncanny ability to get even the staunchest of skeptics to place their absolute trust in him; not that he had the need to use his silver tongue all that often. Rem was not only immune to his friend’s charms but he had found the perfect way to exploit it.

It was no secret that Rem Sasaki was a free spirit. He paid no attention to the rules, took even less notice of authority figures and had committed more criminal misdemeanors than he had fingers and toes; however, his greatest claim to notoriety was his womanizing ways. Rem’s curly black hair, creamy brown skin, and emerald green eyes coalesced with his boyish good looks and tempered physique to achieve the happy medium between pop-idol and rogue. When added to his bad boy personality, an aphrodisiac-like effect resulted, drawing females to him like plants to sunlight. Unfortunately, his reputation had reached saturation point at Warukko East High, so his trysts were usually limited to girls from other schools.

The main problem was that, because of these things, Rem’s mother kept him on quite the tight leash and usually saw through any form of deception that he might direct her way. This was where his spiky haired compatriot came in. Rin Sasaki trusted few people but, luckily for Rem, Vinz was one of them. As long as his friend corroborated his stories, Rem was golden. Anytime he needed to sneak a girl over, Vinz would ‘escort’ her there and introduce her as his own love interest. Then, he’d simply slip out a window, leaving Rem and the lucky lady to their own devices. And now that Vinz said he’d taken care of things… as usual…

    Rem splashed his way out of the fountain and tightly grabbed the other boy by the collar, his eyes wide and his face showing a perfect mix of panic and anger. “What the hell made you think THAT was one of MY girls!?”

    Unruffled as always, Vinz gave him one of his patented ‘meh’ looks and roughly brushed Rem’s hands off of him.

    “I found you both unconscious in there,” he said, “she was passed out on top of you. What was I supposed to think?”

    Rem blinked in confusion. “W-wha? Passed out on top of me…?” Vinz nodded and tossed a cell phone at him, which he fumbled a bit to catch. “Huh? Hey, this is mine.”

    “Luckily, I’d met up with an… associate… on the way here. I had him carry the girl to your place,” the Goth continued, “I called to let Chie-san know ahead of time. She should be expecting them.” When Rem simply stared at him with a dumbfounded expression on his face, he quickly added. “Don’t worry, she’s my new girlfriend. Had a bit too much to drink. She’s still out cold, the way I hear it.”

    Rem took a few sharp intakes of breath. “Do…do you have any idea what you’ve just done?!” he cried, pointing to the near demolished building behind him, “She’s the one who did all this!”

    The pale youth arched an eyebrow with all the skepticism he could muster. “Did you get hit in the head or something?”

    “We’ve got to get back to my place! If she wakes up there…” Rem could just picture his home demolished, a large pillar of flame spouting from the debris, and atop it, Meteor-Girl laughing her sexy little ass off. “C’mon! Let’s go! This place is attracting all sorts of attention.” Sirens blared, distant at first, but rapidly drawing closer to their location. Rem made to run but caught himself when he realized that Vinz hadn’t budged an inch. “Hey, come on! Hurry it up, man!”

    “…which brings us to the bad news,” Vinz announced, gesturing at the school gates. Rem followed his gaze only to find that the spectacle had already attracted quite the crowd of onlookers. Dozens of people milled about outside the school compound, pressing against the locked gates, murmuring and muttering all sorts of rumors amongst themselves. In the midst of the gathering were some of their fellow students, the horror on their faces mixed with a morbid fascination that Rem was sure he’d have shared if he were among them. A few of them had already noticed the boys, pointing them out to the ones who hadn’t.

    “If you weren’t so heavy I’d have gotten away without anyone spotting us,” Vinz noted dryly, “It was all I could do to get you out of there.”

“Screw you, man.”

The sirens were unbearably close now, and within seconds, fire trucks and police squad cars screeched to a halt just behind the onlookers. The crowd parted quickly as the fire fighters cut the locks on the gate and poured into the courtyard, several uniformed police officers and plainclothes detectives following their lead. Rem slumped to the ground in defeat as a group of officers surrounded them, barking for them to remain still. Two of the policemen rushed them and slapped handcuffs around their wrists. Rem had been in this position before, dozens of times, but tonight, he was far too exhausted and overwhelmed to make any smart-assed remarks.

“Well, well, look who it is!” A stern-faced, young detective strode up to the two, folding his arms and giving them the most condescending of glares. “If it isn’t my two favorite misfits.” When they remained silent, a spark of anger ignited within the man’s eyes and burned relentlessly, but he restrained himself otherwise, instead, giving them a smile. “Hayamizu may get off lightly, but you…” he knelt before Rem and forced the boy’s chin up so that they were staring at each other. Rem fought every impulse that crept up within him to spit in the man’s face. “…Sasaki, I’ve finally got you.”

“Detective Matsudaira,” called one of the officers holding them, “What should we do? We don’t actually have any proof that they’re connected to the fire.”

Matsudaira craned his neck to look at the man over his shoulder. “Oh, they’re connected. That much I do know. How? I don’t. Still, we’ve got them on trespassing at the very least.” He gave a satisfied chuckle and shoved Rem’s chin to the side which, in the boy’s odd pose, caused him to topple over. “You two do know that students aren’t supposed to be on this compound at night unless sanctioned by the school… right?” The detective stood up and began to walk away. “Take ‘em down to the precinct. I’m sure Okita’ll have fun with ‘em.” He paused midstride. “Use the back entrance… they’re still minors. We’ll be in some hot shit if we parade ‘em through the streets like that.”

The officers nodded in acknowledgement, lifting the boys to their feet. Rem remained silent as they were escorted out the back way. Getting arrested alone would be more than enough to make any one of his schoolmates wet their pants, however, it was simply an annoyance to Rem, albeit a major one. His mind was more focused on getting home quickly enough to deal with the homicidal sleeping beauty.


Chapter 1

The bright, round moon had retreated, slinking behind the clouds and leaving the world beneath it in a pitch-black haze. For all intents and purposes, the darkness had conquered Warukko City, at least for a little while. Still, despite this overwhelming supremacy, the city’s sky-scape resisted doggedly, fighting back with its pulsing neon signs, jumbo LCD TVs and towering floodlights that swept the sky in wide, luminescent arcs to reclaim its lost dominance. Last, but not least, were the stars. These were the tiniest, yet fiercest warriors in the city’s battle against the night, the final bastion of light. They shone down on the city, dotting the night sky with their sporadic illumination. This night had unwittingly become a tense gridlock between darkness and light, night and day, dreams and reality. There was something strangely comforting about this kind of night.  

Rem Sasaki lay silently atop the fenced-off roof of Warukko East Municipal High School, observing this apprehensive stalemate with rapt interest. He absently reached out with his left hand, attempting to grasp the celestial bodies that were well beyond his grasp. He felt a strange bond to this particular kind of night, not just because of the fact that his creamy brown skin was in stark contrast with the rest of the Japanese population, but because he felt himself akin to the lights, persistent, tenacious, willing and able to rebel against anything and anyone he disliked. Perhaps, though, in the eyes of society, he was comparable to the darkness, aiming to defy all the rules it held dear.

The teen sighed and then chuckled wryly. Laying there beneath the stars, he couldn’t help but succumb to clichéd thoughts of feeling insignificant in the grand scheme of things; the universe and its infinite possibilities. Yup, he was insignificant alright. So much so that no-one had had the decency to wake him up from his usual class-skipping naps when school let out for the day. He awoke at dusk, only to find the entrance to the rooftop locked tight. Short of sprouting wings and flying to the cobble stoned courtyard three stories below, there was no way down.

So, Rem had no choice but to kick back and spend some quality time with himself and his thoughts. More specifically, the unsettling nightmare that had forced him awake about an hour earlier. It had been surreal, since he had dreamt it with an omniscient perspective, as though experiencing everything himself as well as observing the entire thing from a distance.

Rem had awoken from it with a start, letting out a scream that might very well have been heard for miles around. The significance of that bizarre dream, any hidden meaning it might have possessed, was completely lost on him. All he could do was stare up at his outstretched left arm and wonder why the dream had felt so real, why his left arm still throbbed as though the pain had really affected it. Just then, something else caught his attention.

Far overhead, a shooting star made its way across the night sky, its tail trailing after it like streamers on a kite. A smile crept upon Rem’s lips as he studied it, wondering what wish he should make. He wasn’t a sentimental person by nature, but even he took time to enjoy the little things. Before he could think of a suitable wish, however, a second shooting star sped after the first, mirroring its trajectory flawlessly. The boy let out an enthused whistle. Shooting stars were rare on their own, but two? He just had to get a picture of this! He dug a hand into his trouser pocket in search of his cell phone…

“Rem, you idiot!” he chided himself, immediately lifting the device in front of his face. He could have easily phoned someone to come open the door for him, meaning less time on this god-forsaken rooftop! He sulked at his own foolishness as he checked his cell for activity. There were numerous missed calls and text messages; some were from the numerous Asou Academy girls he’d fooled around with one time or the other. Most, however, were from a contact he had maliciously dubbed ‘Sho-chin’. The boy grimaced expectantly as he dialed said Sho-chin’s number.

Upon entering high school, he had been pressured into joining one of the many extra curricular clubs that were available, as all freshmen were. He’d chosen music because he was already well practiced with the drums, and because he thought he’d be able to breeze through the experience without much of a hassle. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t counted on a club president as fanatical as Shoji Yamakuza.

“SAKAKI!!” a high pitched voice roared through the receiver. Luckily, Rem had anticipated such a greeting and had held the phone a good distance away from his ear.

“It’s Sasaki,” Rem corrected.

Shoji ignored him. “Just because you’ve got a little skill doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice with the rest of us! The culture festival is-”

“Settle down, Yamakuza,” Rem cut in, “I’ve got a good excuse this time.”

“You’d better have! This is the third time you’ve flaked on us this week!” Shoji shrieked.

Rem explained his predicament, afraid that the other boy would call him on his stupidity, but to his surprise, Shoji simply heaved an exasperated sigh. “Oddly enough, this doesn’t surprise me,” he muttered, “Sit tight, I’ll send Vinz your way.”

“Thanks.” Rem snapped the cell phone shut and then placed his attention back on the shooting stars. What he saw made him spring up to a sitting position in shock.

The two lights had broken away from their original flight paths, instead, turning sharply in midair and launching at each other. Rem’s jaw dropped as the lights clashed, broke apart from each other and clashed again.

“Oh man…” He got to his feet and brought out his phone once more to record the spectacle. After another clash, one of the lights made a beeline toward the west, into the distance. The second light darted after it, spiraling across the sky like a punctured air balloon in swift pursuit. It eventually caught up, the first light having abandoned its getaway. They crashed into each other again and again, the twin lights dancing across the sky, sometimes near, sometimes in the distance. He couldn’t be certain, but as they drew near he was sure he could feel the slightest rush of hot air around him with each collision.

Rem’s eyes darted left and right, struggling to follow the lights as they sped, twisted, curved and then collided with each other yet again. The lights hovered in place for a few seconds and then one of them simply dropped, falling from the sky at ungodly speeds. Confused and amazed as he was at that point, it took the boy quite a few moments to realize that the light was rocketing right toward him!

Letting out a startled yelp, Rem took a few shaky steps back, tripped and fell onto his haunches; a violent blast of hot air buffeting the rooftop as the light drew closer. Given the gargantuan force that preceded it, he knew that a collision would most definitely destroy the rooftop. There was no escape! Scrambling backwards in a panic, the boy did the only thing he could; raise his hands in front of him defensively and close his eyes.

A second passed, then another, and then yet another.

Hesitantly, he opened an eye; peering through the long, thin fingers he’d spread out in front of him. The object that had been only just been on a collision course with the rooftop now hung in midair a few feet away. The air around him was sweltering, causing beads of perspiration to pour down his face. He withdrew one of his hands, using the other to shield his eyes from the near-blinding light. Slowly rising to his feet, Rem cautiously observed it. From what he could discern, it held the shape of a sphere of about one meter in diameter. Taking deep, nervous breaths, he drew closer to it.

“O…oi…” he sputtered, sweating bullets, “W-what is this thing?”

As if in answer to this question the sphere shattered, scattering shards reminiscent of broken glass across the rooftop. Rem let out another startled cry and shut his eyes as an object flew out of it, as though shot from a cannon, directly at him catching him square in the chest. The blow knocked the wind out of him and toppled him over. The world around him spun uncontrollably for several minutes. He felt nauseous, as though he would throw up at any given moment. His head ached, and he was sweating more profusely, his clothes clinging to his lean frame because of it.

    Amidst all of this, he was distinctly aware of a slight weight pressing down on him. Even with his mind in turmoil, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this load was familiar. Swallowing hard and fending off the headache, he inched his eyes open unsure, and most definitely afraid, of what he’d find. Staring down at him, with a puzzled expression on her face, was a girl around his age. Her slender, curvy body lay pressed against his. Her long, golden-blond locks flowed along the length of their bodies. Rem widened his emerald green eyes as he stared quizzically and nervously into hers.

    ‘W-where’d this chick come from,’ he wondered in exasperation. Like any hot blooded male his age, his eyes instinctively scoured her astonishingly sultry form with the greatest appreciation. She was petite, her well-proportioned figure displayed in full through a jet-black, skintight body fitted suit that clung to her cleavage. Her strange clothing sparked several ideas into Rem’s mind about her identity. Perhaps she was a cosplayer of some sort. Though, as he instantly reminded himself, cosplayers didn’t randomly plummet from the sky like meteorites. His gaze moved back up to her face. She certainly wasn’t Japanese. Her features were Caucasian. A tourist, maybe? Coupled with the clothes, the thought came to him that she might even be some foreign secret agent!

Rem shook the thought out of his head almost as immediately as it had come. No matter how desperately he tried to justify this girl’s sudden, bizarre appearance, nothing he considered made any sense.

The boy’s eyes once again fell on hers in an attempt to gain some insight he might have missed the first time and what he saw made him gasp. Her eyes had suddenly grown bloodshot. Her hair, previously straight and flowing, had bristled, taking on a likeness to a porcupine’s quills. The corners of her lips curled upwards oh so slightly, morphing her bewildered expression into one of complete insanity.

Strangely, as she raised a hand over her head, the first thing that entered Rem’s mind was how familiar the crazed look on her face was. Then, as she brought her tightly clenched fist down on him, the urgent need to prevent his face from being smashed in prevailed. Her punch landed in the spot where his head had been only a second before. His finely tuned instinct had kicked in at a very opportune time, causing him to crane his neck ever so slightly to the left. The sudden movement sent another wave of the mysterious nausea through him; the headache he’d been holding at bay also flooded his senses and his body wretched involuntarily because of it. The impact had caused the entire rooftop to shake, and Rem slowly turned to see her withdrawing her forearm from a rather sizeable hole. She’d just punched through a thick layer of concrete! Effortlessly! Panic swept over him as she raised her arm yet again. She still had him pinned, and feeling unwell as he was, there was no way he could move to avoid another of those earthshaking punches the way he had before.

‘Okay, okay, calm down Rem,’ he told himself. True enough, Rem had been pinned like this before. A quick knee to the gut usually did the trick. After that, it was a simple matter of flipping her over and getting the hell out of there! Before he could put his plan into action, though, a series of earsplitting cracking sounds saturated the otherwise hushed rooftop. Then, he felt a sharp jolt underneath him. He didn’t dare move, and even the girl on top of him laid still, her fist still hovering threateningly overhead. There was another crack, an even sharper jolt and then he felt the surface he’d been lying against sink, slowly at first and then it sped up with a vengeance. Disbelief plastered itself on the boy’s face as the rooftop buckled under him, sending them both through it to the classroom below.

    Rem stirred slowly amidst a pile of rubble and broken furniture. His body ached something awful and the first stable breath he drew filled his nostrils with the dust that had clouded the air around him, evoking a series of short, hacking coughs. Blood trickled in veined rivulets down from a long, thin gash on his forehead. The way he felt, nauseous and in pain, the boy was quite content to just lay there until someone found him the next day.

    However, he was all too aware that a certain crazy female lay in wait somewhere in the dust filled room.

    Pushing aside some debris, Rem struggled to his feet. As he did, a severe rush of vertigo unsteadied him and he almost fell over again. The movement did, however, force him to double over and vomit. ‘There goes a perfectly good cheeseburger,’ he thought ruefully. He was trembling, sore all over and he could feel his body temperature rising. What was happening to him? He almost never got sick. Shaking these thoughts away, he swept his eyes across the now destroyed classroom. He had bigger problems than being sick.

    The moonlight shone down through the hole he’d fallen through, but the haze of dust and debris obscured his vision.

    A sudden unknown force, akin to the thick, pulsing vibrations of bass, and accompanied by a flash of light, pierced the air an inch or so from his face. The surge shot past him and struck the wall that separated the classroom and the third floor’s main corridor, reducing it to a pile of oversized rocks. The force of the blast tore the dust cloud apart, revealing the girl’s position on the opposite side of the room. She stood with a twisted, perverse grin and her right arm was outstretched toward him, residual energy crackling around her open palm.

    It didn’t take Rem long to connect the dots. Adrenaline surged through his veins and he was sprinting down the corridor long before she fired the second blast. Another explosion rang in his ears as the classroom on the opposite side of the hall caved in on itself. A third flash of light soared past him, then a fourth and a fifth. An ominous whooshing sound penetrated the corridor, followed by a continuous, dry crackling of flames. More explosions thundered through the corridor as they tore the ceiling just ahead of him to shreds, causing it to collapse, right between where he stood and the third floor staircase, his only exit.

    “Shit!” Rem stared at the burning wreckage that blocked his way to freedom in despair, “shit, shit, shit, shit!” If his situation hadn’t been dire before, it sure was now. The fire had spread to the walls, the billowing plumes of smoke causing the sprinkler system to kick in. The cool water that rained down upon them was a brief respite from the heat, but it wouldn’t be for long, not if he couldn’t find a way to escape! He quickly turned, his eyes searching feverishly for an alternative. There was an emergency exit at the opposite end of the hallway, back the way he had come. It was usually locked but, through the smoke, he could see that it was partially ajar. And Meteor-Girl, as he’d dubbed the golden-haired terror, stood between him and it, letting out a low, abrupt laugh.

Just who the hell did this girl think she was? Didn’t she know that messing with Rem Sasaki was a death sentence? Any of the students who traversed this very hallway during the daytime could attest to his less than perfect reputation. They would probably tell of the times Rem had bullied his underclassmen into doing his bidding, or of the times he’d sit on the sidelines and harass the girls’ softball team while they practiced. Or even the most damning blow to his character: that he often consorted and/or picked fights with the local gang element.

These thoughts sent a red-hot surge to his ego, and his demeanor shifted almost imperceptibly. His eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared, and the sides of his lips curved into a wry grin. He gathered himself up off the floor and idly wiped the blood from his lips. Everyone who set foot into this building feared him! Why shouldn’t she!? Like the crackling flames leaping and dancing around them, Rem’s ego refused to let him cower before this threat any longer. It didn’t matter who this girl was, or if she had him outclassed in every way imaginable. Rem Sasaki wasn’t going down without a fight.

    The girl let out another cackle as he struggled to his feet, her crazed eyes never leaving him. Putting his back against the wall of rubble to support his weakened frame, Rem directed a finger at her. “Didn’t you get the memo?” he spat, “You just don’t fuck with Rem Sasaki!!”

He pushed off of the mound of debris and launched himself at the girl with everything he was worth. He was almost upon her when her sultry form blurred from his vision. Her unexpected movement startled him, causing him to stumble slightly mid-stride, but then a sharp pain in his abdomen dwarfed all other senses. A liquid mixture of bile, warm soda and tobacco rose from the point of impact and sputtered from his half-open mouth, spilling onto the lithe, black-clad figure that stood before him. The girl then spun around on the ball of her right foot, slamming her left into Rem’s cheek. The blow uprooted him from the spot, sending him tumbling and rolling like a rag doll all the way back to the heap of debris he’d started from.

    Rem lay punch-drunk on his back for a few seconds, but when he recovered, he groaned loudly and his body screamed protest as he fought to push himself to a sitting position, the movement causing him to throw up a third time. The blaze around them had intensified greatly during the short exchange despite the sprinkler system. The air was thick with heat and smoke. He coughed a bit as he glanced up at his assailant and shook his head weakly; chuckling as he flipped her off. Her last attack had drained what was left of his strength, but did nothing to quench his spirit. His eyes grew heavy; his breathing more ragged, his body ached in places he didn’t think could ache and the strange bout of sickness he’d suffered throughout this encounter came upon him once more.

As his consciousness slowly faded, an odd feeling of peace washed over him. He knew he was going to die; even if Meteor-Girl didn’t kill him the fire surely would. Still, despite the swell of emotions building within him, fear, despair, sadness, regret, anger, there was this calming detachment that left him satisfied. No matter what happened to him, he could at least go with the knowledge he’d given survival his best shot. With the dry grin still on his face, his eyes closed and the darkness consumed him.




He ran. Fast. Advancing quickly through the eternal expanse of darkness before him. The boy felt his leg muscles contract and expand, felt the distance being covered at a steady, yet insanely swift pace. The longer he ran the more things he had begun to notice. The sound of his footsteps coming at a very impressive rate, the beads of sweat that trickled down his face and, most importantly, the fact that he was screaming wildly; a shrill battle cry. His right elbow was bent and his hand pulled back and balled into a fist. His demeanor was euphoric, but somewhere in his mind, tiny seeds of hatred and anger had taken root. It was a strange mixture of feelings and he found it odd.

His face held the expression of the utter anarchy that clouded his mind. His eyes were wide and bloodshot. The sides of his open, salivating mouth were twisted upwards as though being drawn to the base of his eyes and two lined patterns adorned each of his cheeks in the color of crimson.

As he covered more distance, three figures came into view. The first was that of a woman. She was both young and beautiful, her long indigo hair draping over her shoulders and merging into the likewise colored cape that blocked the rest of her body from view. There were strange markings on her cheeks that curved inward as if to meet each other beneath her eyes. Her steel colored eyes were piercing, intrusive even, and held the potential for both a sense of focus and a capacity for immense cruelty within.

 Beside her stood a young man with carefree blue eyes that barely peeked out from under his mass of spiky blond hair. He was smiling, causing the double lined patterns on his cheeks to curve downward slightly. This young man seemed restless, but not at all worried about the teenager headed his way. He merely stuck one of his hands into his dark blue yukata, directly under the platinum cuirass that rested over it, and waited.

    The third figure had stood behind the first two. His steel gray eyes held the same penetrating power as the girl’s; however his were somehow more menacing. Much more. He stared out calmly, yet malevolently, through his one-sided headpiece. There was a scar on the right side of his face, from his forehead right down to the top of his lips, but it did nothing to diminish his good looks. His golden hair was at waist length, with a long shock of it falling over and covering the entire left side of his ageless face.

    The boy drew closer, his maniacal eyes and sinister grin widening to inhuman proportions. His battle cry broke off into a series of insane sounding, high pitched shrieks as he bounded closer and closer. When he was within a few meters of the trio he leapt into the air lunging directly at the man in the back, his maniacal laughter coming to a crescendo. The two young ones vanished in that instant, blurring into view a few meters away in opposite directions, their smirking faces calm and collected. The remaining man’s eyes glazed over for just one second, before he darted forward to meet the being that headed his way.

    The strange melting pot of emotions welling up inside the boy, the anger, the hatred and the extreme feeling of happiness exploded suddenly, culminating in one single feeling. He brought his arm back further aiming for the man’s head. This was anger. He stiffened his fist. This was hatred. He then let his fist fly, his maniacal laughter echoing in the darkness. This was FEAR!!!

    The sobriety of the first punch had been immense. He hadn’t even seen when it came. The man’s fist was embedded into the middle of his face, bringing with it the force of a speeding truck. Before he could be thrown backward, the second punch connected. His abdomen tightened as a shockwave of sheer power jolted through his body from that point. Blood shot out unmercifully from behind his clenched teeth. The chaos that held his mind in shrouds shattered immediately, bringing the world around him back into focus.

    There was no darkness. In fact, the room around them all was brightly lit. At the far end rested an ornate throne; a red carpet leading up to it from the entrance. There were tiny stands with black orbs as finials, lined up equidistantly on either side of the carpet. Red, gold-trimmed banners hung from three of the four metal walls, all bearing an odd emblem. Other than these things, the room was bare.

    The third blow came in quick succession to the first two, directly into his right cheek. The newly awakened young man was sent skating backwards on his feet from the combined force of all three attacks, and soon found himself crashing into the bare wall, his body deeply embedded into it and cracking it several meters in every conceivable direction. A strange light shot out from every orifice of his face and soon a thin layer of skin began to peel off his face, revealing the startled features of a dark-skinned youth underneath. Completely peeled off, the skin hardened in midair and clattered to the ground, showing itself to have been nothing but a fiendish-looking mask.

    The ageless man took a few steps towards him, his dark red cloak brushing the ground after each step. The teenager struggled, but found that his impact had warped the metal of the wall around his limbs and had him trapped.

    “W-what!?” exclaimed the young man, still desperately trying to free himself. There was a tense silence as the man stopped directly in front of the youth.

    “The where and the why are inconsequential. All that matters is that you are here,” said the man in a deep, commanding and oddly philosophical tone. The young man shuddered, but resisted the intimidation as best he could.

    “W-who are you?” he queried, his eyes narrowing, “Where is she!?” Another flow of blood escaped his lips. “Answer me!”

    “I can’t believe it,” the man went on, not in the least bit perturbed by the youth’s outburst, “You actually thought you could get away with what you did?” He stared at the boy once more. “ is understandable...”

The young woman he’d seen earlier had moved a bit closer to observe the scene. She took one look at the boy and chuckled slightly.     “Make him squeal...” her words were said with a strangely perverted amusement.

The teen grunted a bit, making an effort once again to try to escape his little prison. When he found that he couldn’t, he glanced at them and resigned himself to the consolation prize of saying, “Go screw yourselves.”

    “Don’t feel too bad,” the man said quickly, his piercing grey eyes fixed on his captive, “To err is human, which means your lack of common sense is shared with your entire species.” The boy smirked, determined not to show his captors any form of weakness.

    “I suppose that’s an insult of some sort...” he trailed off as he noticed the younger man walk up to him. With lightning quick movements, the teen was extracted from the wall and hurled backward to the floor, landing hard. Before he could reorient himself, his young assailant pinned him down, holding his left arm firmly behind his back. He yelled in pain, beginning a new struggle. “Hey...let go of me!”

    “Oi, don’t make this harder than it has to be!” came the reply. The older man chuckled at the futility of their captive’s struggling and reached out his left arm, revealing a triple-layered silver gauntlet with clawed fingers.

    “This gauntlet is your punishment,” he started, while removing the piece of armor, “if it chooses you, you shall be granted power the likes of which no human has ever seen. If it doesn’t...” The ageless man took a few steps towards the still-struggling young man. Though it was faint, there was suddenly a bit of sadism in his voice as he continued, “You lose your left arm. Either way...the pain will be immense.” The teen’s ears perked up immediately, but the sharp pain he felt flowing up his arm when the man forced the gauntlet onto it interrupted his vocal protest.

    The pain was excruciating. The boy’s eyes widened as the burning sensation increased tenfold with each passing second. He gritted his teeth, firmly determined not to show any signs of weakness to his captors. Soon, the pain grew to agonizing levels and he was unable to hold it in any longer.