The second installment in the adventure of mystic Katsumi Sekihara is now online.
Chapter 10: Millennium Mystic 2: Crossroads 32
I had spent ten years getting nowhere.
I gathered enough information to learn about how the Shidow organization came to power, but nothing about my real goal: locating and protecting the missing artifact. There exists five artifacts that the Shidow call a “Fallen Jewel.” They are each protected by a spiritualist family and correspond to the Fu Xing elements of Fire, Water, Wood, Metal, and Earth. In addition, there are the domains of Lightning and Void, which do not interact with those five and do not have their own shrines, but the Shidow managed to locate mystics of those two domains. It was a mystic of the Void that helped form Shidow in the first place.
I was a mystic of Wood / Air. My family protected the Fallen Jewel of Wood until it disappeared 400 years ago. Shidow are now after this jewel. For years I wondered why they would be after this jewel when they likely have the others under their control. I learned after some on-the-job interrogations that the jewels by themselves have little power. They are merely links to the “gods” that rule those powers. The Jewel of Wood, however, actually had the full power of its gods. Not only that, but it didn’t have a physical form in the traditional sense. Its true shape was unknown, and that is why neither I nor Shidow have been able to locate it.
Between the time I started this quest and now, I have gained little more than the blood of half a dozen enemies, all of them from mystic families. Four of them were mystics of Fire. The last two were mystics of Earth, which was a tougher fight for me. Luckily, my fights with them awakened some powers I didn’t know I had. As it turns out, my Wood powers are far more powerful than my Wind powers. I’m capable of temporarily strengthening my skin and I can regenerate wounds quickly. Combining Wood and Wind, I can confuse with leaves and throw spears of bark with the speed of a bullet. Most importantly, I can accelerate the growth of plants at will. As a result, I never have to buy fruits and vegetables from the market; I only need to use the seeds.
There was one ally I had. She helped set up my current life. It’s thanks to her that I have this apartment and this job. I looked up to her like an older sister in the short time I knew her. I suppose by now I’m the older brother.
In the corner of my apartment is a small hokora. Inside are seven stones that react when someone of their alignment approaches. It hasn’t failed yet to detect my assassins. Of course, in the past three years only the Wood stone has reacted.
Thanks in large part to my killing every Shidow agent that tried to spy on me, I have been able to evade Shidow while posing as a teacher at a nearby high school. My new name is Sakai Kazuya. In the last two years I’ve gotten to know a lot of young students, some bright, some not so bright. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed being around them. It didn’t seem like too long ago that I was a dropout that didn’t want anything to do with school. Hell, I even destroyed a school. And yet here I am, 32 years of age, pretending to be a role model.
I took the job because I thought it would give me the time to do some research in peace while earning a salary. Before I knew it, I got caught up in the work of actually being a teacher.
Sasai: Hey, snap out of it, Kazu!
Katsumi: I’m awake, Hizuki.
This is Sasai Hizuki. She looks fairly young for a 45-year-old, but it’s starting to show. After some prodding I went on ONE date with her and decided never to make myself go through something that terrible again. She completely took advantage of my kindness and nearly sucked my account dry in just one hour. I’ve made sure to shoot down any further attempts to get into my wallet, but I haven’t been very effective at getting her to stay out of my office. And by office I of course mean my desk, which I keep bordered off from the rest of the lounge via a small but imposing bamboo fence.
Sasai: So I was thinking, how about we go out? It’s been a while.
Katsumi: No thanks. Don’t you have any students you can try to seduce?
Sasai: Hey, believe it or not I like freedom. Although… I wouldn’t mind giving that new one a shake…
Katsumi: Huh? What new one?
Sasai: You really haven’t been paying attention. There’s a new transfer coming in tomorrow. He’s even in your class.
Katsumi: Is that right? The paperwork must be buried somewhere.
Sasai: Uh huh. So tell me, is there anyone else in your life that keeps you away from me?
Katsumi: I have my own reasons to keep myself away from you. And what makes you say that?
Sasai: You’ve been hanging around that one student a lot recently. You know, I think I saw her enter your apartment once.
Katsumi: What? Oh, you mean Seino. Well, she’s… Wait, you’re suggesting…
Sasai: I suspected you were into the young ones, but that’s kind of off-limits.
Katsumi: Will you PLEASE stop trying to make trouble?
Sasai: Ha ha ha, sure, sure. You’re so easy!
Seino Rie is one of my best students. She seems to be a reporter, and very good at her job. I know she’ll be successful in the future. It seems that with that job comes curiosity, and I suppose I am a very curious subject. I think I’m the first person she comes to when she wants to find out something about the faculty. I try not to encourage it, but she’s just so persistent and I really don’t have any reason to deny her.
My apartment was only a few blocks away, so it’s convenient. I took all my papers with me and planned to finish things at home. As I set my briefcase down on the table, I saw an unfamiliar glint in the hokora. I immediately leapt over and opened it. The blue stone was glowing.
Katsumi: A mystic of Water is nearby…
I knew it couldn’t be coincidence, so I looked at the profile of the transfer student. Miura Subaru. There was no mystic family or even branch of one with the name Miura. Then again, it was most likely a false identity. But I mustn’t be hasty. If I go on the offense and I’m wrong, I’ll have killed an innocent boy. I suspected him though. I would have to keep a close eye on him.
Subaru: Hello, my name is Miura Subaru. Very pleased to meet you all.
He seemed like an average kid. Pretty athletic. He almost instantly got popular amongst the girls in his class. The most striking feature of him was his bleached blonde hair. I talked with his parents about it. They told me that they allowed it because “it’s the trend,” they suppose. Well, if it’s all an act, they’ve done very well. But I had no reason to act on my initial suspicions. I couldn’t clear him either, not as long as the blue rock in my hokora glowed.
After a few days of no action, I decided to ask someone for a different opinion.
Katsumi: Excuse me, Seino?
Seino: Yes, Sensei?
Katsumi: Can you see me later? I have some questions for you.
Seino: Oh, sure. I don’t have anything planned.
Katsumi: This is just between you and me, understand?
Seino: Uh… Yes, of course.
Katsumi: Good. Tell me, what do you think of Miura?
Seino: I’m not interested in him!
She gave me that answer with conviction almost immediately. I was taken aback.
Katsumi: I… wasn’t asking about that exactly…
Seino: Ah… Oh, how embarrassing…
Katsumi: Just… What are your impressions of him?
Seino: Well… I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him. He’s very popular though.
Katsumi: Yeah, I knew that much.
Seino: He’s always around a large group and is all smiles. He seems polite enough. He’s athletic, too. I don’t think he’s picked a sport he really wants to do though. I always hear conflicting reports about what sports he’s trying out each day.
Katsumi: I see. Well, thanks for your input.
Seino: Is there a problem with him?
Katsumi: No, I just wanted to know how he’s adjusting. Thank you.
Seino: Any time. It’s rare that you need to know something from me, after all.
Katsumi: True. See you tomorrow, Seino.
Just before I left campus, I noticed something strange. There was a patch of dead grass in the middle of an otherwise healthy lawn.
Katsumi: . . . The water’s been sucked dry from you, huh?
I was certain this was a warning from the mystic of Water in the area. I carefully made sure I wasn’t being followed when I walked back to the apartment.
Five days later…
Subaru: Sensei! Can I talk with you about my grades?
Katsumi: Miura? Ah, yes, of course.
Seino: Oh, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask a few questions for the paper…
Subaru: I’ll be happy to answer your questions, but this is a private matter.
Seino: Okay, I’ll wait until you’re done.
I made sure everyone had left the classroom and the door was locked. It seems it was time for our confrontation. I noticed that the number of dead grass patches had steadily grown.
Subaru: Did you see my work out there, Sekihara-sensei?
Katsumi: That’s not fair. You know my real name, but I don’t know yours.
Subaru: Subaru is fine.
Katsumi: Very well. What do you want from me? You sure took your sweet time before approaching me.
Subaru: To be honest, I wasn’t really sure it was really you. You do look different from the profile. You were the first one to notice the dead grass trails, and you were the only person of consequence to take a serious interest in them. Never tried to give them water or treat them.
Katsumi: That’s because they were already dead. There was nothing I could do.
Subaru: Indeed. Imagine, if I could do that to plants… What if I were to try to drain a human of all its water?
Katsumi: . . . I’d like to see you try.
I immediately opened the window and jumped out, running around the building and over a fence. I wanted to lead him to a construction area that I knew no one would be around after school.
Subaru: Interesting change of venue. But it won’t do you any good.
Subaru slowly walked towards my location, draining water from the grass beneath him.
Subaru: Don’t think I’m doing this to show off.
Subaru: Where do you think all this water went?
Katsumi: . . . Ah…
Subaru was deceptively quick. He lunged at me and thrust his arm just as water formed around it to form an ice blade. I dodged just in time and created some distance between us.
Subaru: I just wanted to let you know I was capable of that.
Katsumi: I see. Then allow me to reciprocate.
I used wind to cut through a tree branch and fling it to my hand. If I wanted to, I could sharpen it at will and change its density enough that it would be an even match for that ice blade.
Subaru: I see. You want to go blade to blade. But I wasn’t bluffing before.
Katsumi: About what?
Subaru: Draining a human of its water. DIE!
I felt it. He was actually trying to pull the water from my body. But the pain I felt was only momentary.
Katsumi: Did you think you were special? Water cannot defeat Air.
Subaru: Don’t think highly of yourself just because of your alignment.
Katsumi: Did you never take chemistry? Water consists of Hydrogen and Oxygen, both gases found in the air. You really think you can take control of air from an Air mystic?
Katsumi: As long as I maintain a thin wind buffer around my body, you won’t beat me that easily.
Subaru: Well, I still have other ways.
Even though I had power over the basic components of water, I could do nothing against frozen ice. Subaru’s blade shattered into hundreds of smaller but still deadly shards of ice. I flew around and into the half-constructed building for cover.
Subaru: Sensei! I’m sure you know I’m a fast learner.
Katsumi: . . .
Subaru: That trick of yours, I can do it too. Water is two gases, so you have some power over that. Well, look around you. Surrounded by nothing but iron and concrete. Why should you feel so safe?
Katsumi: . . . !!!
Concrete = Rocks + Water
In an instant, the walls around me turned to dust, and a section of the roof above me fell. I quickly flew out of the site… and fell into Subaru’s trap.
Subaru drained more water from the lawn, froze them into sharp icicles, and flung them at my direction. I increased the strength of my wind buffer and knocked any shards that broke through away with my branch. That, too, was a distraction. Subaru ran around to my side and attacked with a newly-formed ice blade. Luckily, Subaru hit me with the broad side, so I was merely knocked away. I exaggerated the strength of his attack and forced myself to get knocked back 15 meters so I could gain some distance. The fall still hurt.
Seino’s familiar voice shouted that out.
Seino: Ah… are you okay?
I lured Subaru out here because I wanted to protect the nearby students from getting caught up in our battle. If I allowed Seino to get hurt…
Katsumi: Get out of here!
Subaru: You should be happy, Sensei. At least you don’t get to die alone!
Seino: What the heck were you doing out here?
Katsumi: Doesn’t matter. Run!
She was too confused. She didn’t understand the danger. Subaru ran at us with surprising speed. I had no choice but to use my body to shield her. I pushed her away just as Subaru struck. His ice blade grazed my side, gashing it pretty badly. But as long as it wasn’t life-threatening, I could regenerate.
I could quickly patch up my skin to stop the external bleeding, but it would take much more time to completely heal inside. The energy I would need to use to regenerate would leave me defenseless. Subaru would surely take the opportunity to kill me.
As I desperately tried to come up with a plan, a terrible honking noise blared right next to my ear.
Subaru: AARGH!! Damn…
Seino: That voice…
I glanced at Seino. She was holding what appeared to be an air horn. Subaru was just as bothered as I was by the sound, but it seems something got in his eyes as well. This was my chance.
I sharpened the tip of the branch in my hand and increased its density. It was now as deadly as a spear, and one last wind burst should give it the speed of a bullet. I threw my weapon at Subaru, and it drove clean through his chest. Subaru lost his control over the ice blade on his arm; it turned back into liquid water and drenched me. He escaped by making three superhuman leaps away and out of sight, but he was a dead man. I punctured his lung for sure.
I was just barely conscious after the fight. I could feel Seino struggling to carry me, and I recognized that she was taking me back to my apartment. That’s right; she does know where I live…
* * *
It was over a year ago. She wasn’t in any of my classes, so I wasn’t sure what business she had with me. Seino Rie said she wanted to write an article about me for the school newspaper. She asked me all sorts of questions of course, and I was ready to answer with everything in my counterfeit background: my name was Sakai Kazuma, I studied archaeology for 12 years, my parents recently passed away in Odaiba, I was always too dedicated to my studies to have a social life much less a love life. I don’t remember what else I told her.
I thought that would be it, but then she said she wanted to see where I lived “to be thorough.” I didn’t want any nasty rumors circulating about me though; that was the last thing I needed, so I told her it would be okay as long as she brought one of her parents as well so I could at least say it was a meeting. She argued against it, saying that she wasn’t a student of mine and that such a meeting would be even more suspicious. I wasn’t sure about that logic, but she convinced me somehow.
The moment she walked through my door, her eyes seemed to light up. Something about the place seemed to deeply fascinate her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that half the stuff wasn’t even mine. There was already a decent collection built up here when I moved in. I merely supplemented it with artifacts from my family’s shrine. I asked her if she had an interest in ancient history.
Seino: Not really ancient history… more like local history. Although stuff like this sure is interesting.
Katsumi: You are a journalist, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you be more interested in the present?
Seino: We don’t have a present or a future without the past. Analyzing how past events have shaped the present is my job too. It hones my ability to interpret what happens in the here and now and predict where it takes us in the future. I believe that there is always a great truth happening in the present that’s just outside of the public’s awareness. Studying the past may just allow us to discern that truth.
Katsumi: Hmm. You’re not wrong. But perhaps you should be a historian?
Seino: Maybe. But I love what I’m doing right now.
* * *
I woke up inside my apartment. Seino was there. She seemed to be looking for something.
Seino: Sakai-sensei, you’re awake?
Katsumi: Was anyone following you?
Seino: I didn’t notice.
Of course she wouldn’t think of it. She had no idea the kind of situation I was really in. There was a chance that Subaru or some other agent of Shidow followed us here.
Katsumi: . . . Do me a favor. Take a look inside the hokora.
Seino: Uh… okay…
Katsumi: Which stones are glowing?
If none of the stones were glowing, then at the very least there were no mystics coming after me.
Katsumi: Never mind. Can you get me some tea from the fridge?
I was still weak from trying to recover too quickly from the wound Subaru gave me. Seino got me one of the iced teas I kept in the fridge, then walked back to the hokora.
Seino: Ah… the green one started glowing.
Katsumi: Is it? That’s good.
The green stone of course responded to my own recovering powers. After all, I was the only wood mystic left in the world.
Seino: . . . Sensei… that was Miura-kun back there, wasn’t it?
So she did notice. There really wasn’t any way to explain the situation properly without pulling her into my fight with Shidow.
Katsumi: Seino, I want you to forget about what happened today.
Seino: You think I’m going to just ignore something like this? I saw you cut open! You shirt’s still torn! Mind explaining to me how that wound closed up so quickly?
Katsumi: I’m serious. Seino…
Seino: If you won’t give me any answers, perhaps Miura will.
Katsumi: That’s not going to happen.
Rie: Oh? And why’s that?
Katsumi: Because you won’t be seeing him again.
The blue stone that reacts to mystics of water was dim. It meant he had either escaped far out of range or died from my last attack.
Katsumi: I’ll tell you at least this much. We’ll probably get a note tomorrow morning informing us that Miura Subaru has transferred to another high school.
Seino: That doesn’t make sense.
Katsumi: It makes perfect sense, considering he’s dead.
Katsumi: I probably sent him on his way, but they finished the job. Damn, and I was starting to enjoy this life.
Considering I got him straight through the lung, I knew he wasn’t getting very far on his own. Even if he managed to survive long enough to escape, the Shidow group doesn’t give anyone second chances. He was definitely dead by now one way or another.
Seino: Please, tell me… What’s going on? Are you in danger?
Katsumi: I’m telling you to forget it.
Seino: And I’m telling you I refuse!
Katsumi: . . .
Seino: . . .
Seino: Then I won’t stop tailing you until you do.
Katsumi: I see. Then I have no choice but to protect you.
Seino’s will was undeniably strong. I could never convince her to do anything unless she already wanted to do it. Not with words, anyway. The only way to discourage her was to show her just how serious I was.
I took the air straight out of her lungs.
This was a technique that I managed to perfect over the years. If I do it right, they won’t die. The initial shock is like a punch to the gut. The continued air deprivation makes them light-headed and dizzy. Weaker individuals get nauseous and vomit before blacking out. Seino was one of the weaker ones.
I cleaned Seino up before wrapping her up in an overcoat. It took me two wind-aided leaps to get back to the school, where emergency vehicles had begun to arrive. I placed Seino’s unconscious body on the ground, then hid out of the way. Just to make sure she was found, I made the wind blow an officer’s hat toward her body. I went back to the apartment as soon as I saw her carried into an ambulance.
The following day, just as I had expected, the school was notified of Miura Subaru’s “transfer.” It was only a matter of time before another agent of Shidow came and discovered my identity. Hopefully I’d silenced Subaru before he could report back, but at the very least they probably knew I was in the school.
I may have to run away again. Just when I was starting to enjoy this borrowed life.