The kid got out of the taxi, seeing his destination off in the distance. A large building, standing on top of the tallest hill in the region, situated behind many other, totally irrelevant houses and apartments that belonged to the small, rural village that was a few miles away from the intentionally ambiguous city. The large building had been a hotel in the old days, complete with Hot Springs, but had recently become a Youth Dormitory because of a nearby series of schools two stops away and an estimated net profit higher than what the hotel was earning beforehand.
As his body got used to not having to sit down for three hours in a taxi with broken air conditioning, the teenager took a moment to admire the view, kicking and shaking his legs to get the feeling back in them. Since he had only been in the city areas so far since entering Japan, these more traditional areas were a breath of fresh air, one that didn’t cause him to double over and choke the smeg out of his lungs that the supposedly clean city was filled with.
Instead of car pollution and factory works that were constantly spouting black death into dirty water supplies, there was just fresh air and fields that would be nice to sleep in if they weren’t filled with water and plants. Confirming his path in his head, the mysterious boy who was doubtlessly a main character got moving, guessing there to be at least a mile left to walk and three bridges to cross over to get to where the hotel was waiting for him.
The whole village ahead of him was surrounded by trees, which would have seemed idyllic if not for the implication that the village was created when a group of people walked by, wanting to build a small rural area, with at least three bridges, a youth dormitory, a whole bunch of houses and dirt roads, and determined that the middle of the forest where they were would have to be sacrificed to achieve this. Of course they knew the trees wouldn’t mind, as trees tended to like dirt roads.
The boy stretched his arms out, yawning, even though it was his legs that were aching after being in a taxi for so long with a man who was as polite as he was obnoxiously talkative, Then, slinging his bag over his shoulder, the boy headed towards the direction of the hotel. As he walked, nothing really interesting happened, so we can take this moment to take in his appearance and get that particular detail out of the way.
The young man was still enjoying the years one would enjoy as a teenager, which made sense in a chronological sort of way since he was seventeen years of age. He was as tall as a 5ft 9inch hedgehog and weighed around the same as a lion would if it weighed 175lbs, which it did. The boy wore what looked like a green army T-shirt which stretched on him thanks to his toned chest and a right arm that was slightly bulkier than his left, so it was clear that the lad was well muscled and drank a lot of milk, even though milk does not actually have muscle increasing qualities. His hair was a light brown, with enough ruffle to it to suggest that it hadn’t seen a comb for the last few days, and his chin shone proudly with a layer of stubble from a long time of journeying without remembering a razor. The scruffy little shit also had bright, green eyes which stood out more than other eyes would, unless they happened to be on display and still covered with the blood of the previous owner, and showed themselves to be an important plot detail.
Unaware that he had just been pointlessly scrutinized, the boy continued walking, reaching the bridge with the strangest feeling that someone was examining him. He looked around halfheartedly, not realizing that it would be the first of many times, squinting as the sunshine bounced off the water and into his eyes. The bridge was empty of everything that day, with the fortunate exception of a breathable atmosphere. Being as hot as it was, there weren’t even any puddles in the little bumps that covered the old tarmac, let alone any cars, humans, stray cats or plot devices. The boy yawned, his body lightly bouncing as he plodded cross the long bridge that passed over a gushing river, his eyes closing slowly as he got halfway across.
Opening quickly, as their owner heard the start of a low rumbling, the two eyes caught sight of a dense misty fog that was surrounding the bridge. Watching with a casual eye, the boy watched as it spread over the bridge until only a few feet in front of him were visible. By the time the mist had covered the structure, it had caught his attention enough for him to stop moving.
He heard footsteps; several sets of them, all at once and all around him. His hearing wasn’t as good as his eyesight, but he could tell it had to be around ten or fifteen people, all sneaking around him in various places and doing a bad job of it considering all the fog. As he heard the hiss of a small engine that couldn’t have been a car, the mist began to move, a haze of distortion dancing around him, showing the beings that were apparently trying to sneak into prearranged places a moment ago. Nine old men were standing there now, looking paradoxically dignified while wearing purple robes with blue trim. Some were wearing straw hats to keep off the heat of the sun. One had gone all the way and had a full wicker basket over his head, hiding his features save for a small barred window that he could see out of. The boy noticed one of the men had been too slow to get to his spot and, realizing that he was out in the open, had quickly changed to a standing position and pretended like all the rest that he had just appeared out of nowhere.
The young man looked at all the old people surrounding him, trying to figure out what their intentions were. They were old, and therefore useless to society, so it probably wasn’t an attack, nor an attempt to sell real estate, an event that had already happened to him two or three times already.
“A new warrior enters the fray,” a man to the right said silently, yet loud enough so people on the other side of the bridge could hear him. “Welcome, Sagara.”
“Huh?” the boy tried to interject, being interrupted straight away.
“Both good and bad times are heralded, and he shall stand in the middle, as his lot have always done.” The boy swung around again. This time it was an old man to his left, but by the time he pinpointed which one it was, the man’s mouth had already closed, making it hard to tell if he had said anything at all.
“Excuse me!” shouted a young delivery girl on a bicycle as she passed through the group, nearly ramming into one of the old men and completely ruining the atmosphere. All the old men glared at her, anger seeping from their pores at the ruination of their one main scene. Although the cyclist was unaware of it, tonight she would be eaten by fire termites and burned alive for her unforgivable actions, though for now she would have to settle to being pushed into the water by the last old man. At the girls sudden scream was silenced by a splash, one of the men found the moment to regain his composure, continuing to speak once again.
“Losses shall be made, and experience gained,” he mumbled quietly, but his words still appeared to be louder than most klaxons. The youth found it very confusing for his eardrums. The other old men had snapped back to attention and finished off by saying all at once:
“It is their path, the only one they can take, and the one only they can take…” All bowed their heads and fell still.
The teenager stood confused as they proceeded to do nothing else whatsoever. The only one left moving, he hovered for a few seconds, briefly wondering if they had all just inconsiderately died without explaining their actions to him. Watching on, waiting for anything to happen, it took him a few seconds before he realized that he had let his bag drop to the floor. He knelt down to pick it up, keeping an eye on the old men, feeling that if he was to look away they would disappear forever, like some bad special effect. Eyes skimming around the bridge, a small box caught his attention.
“Wow, a smoke machine, cool,” the boy we shall now call Sagara stated, rushing up to the small, hissing box past the group in front of him. His outburst knocking them off guard, the old men turned their attention back towards the teenager, mouths falling open in mild bewilderment, all signs of immobility gone as they looked at each other, glancing at each other in uncertainty. Observing the small box for a few seconds, Sagara giggled to himself, blocking the hole and releasing it, getting a huge puff of smoke in his face for his efforts.
“Cool…” he said after doing it again, still sniggering to himself. “But I gotta go. Well, not really. But…y’know.”
The old men continued to stare, the one closest to the boy hadn’t realized that his hat had fallen off and trapped a cat underneath it.
“See ya.” The teenager walked off, leaving them standing there, the ache in their jaws going unnoticed even by the ones who still had teeth. It would take them a few minutes to do anything practical. The old man with a mustache was first.
“Is that…really him?”
“I heard he was somewhat… special” another one, with wrinkles where his mustache should have been, had he not bet it away the other week, began to say, stopping in mid sentence to prevent a coronary.
“Did the cards make a mistake?” the man whom he had bet it to said, trying to scratch the part of his head where he had fitted the mustache only to realize there was a basket in the way.
“We shall have to see,” a fourth stated, thinking it over carefully. “Let us wait here, to see if another teenager fitting the description comes past.”
They would wait the rest of the day. No other seventeen-year-old, tall as a five foot six hedgehog, heavy as a one hundred and seventy pound lion, light brown haired boy who was irrelevantly American with emerald green eyes and a scar down his back would come by that day.
They were more than a little disappointed.
It’s here! He’s here. At last the stoolie comes.
He’s different from what I imagined. American, definitely American. If the old men hadn’t shown up, I would have passed him off completely. Bloodlines I guess. He must be the first white Futabatei ever. Now I have to wait. Stick to the plan. That’s what’s important. I made the plan and I’ll stick to it. The plan is good, I’ll stick to it the whole way. Making new plans takes too long. Bad enough I had to make a second plan. Old people shouldn’t die so early! They ruin things when they do that.
Stupid. I can’t strike here. Such a shame. It would be easy, but weak I am in body at present time. I need him alone. Totally alone. With that girl following him, and this village defending him, it may take months, when I only have weeks.
But there will be a moment, I know that much. The puppets are already dancing.
Finally reaching the top of the steps that led to his destination, the boy called Sagara exhaled as hard as he could, the carbon dioxide being evicted from his body by the nasty landlord of his lungs.
The dormitory that was to be his new home looked nice close up, almost looked like an old castle. It might have even been considered one a few centuries back, except a lot of the outside was made of wood with wide ground floor windows and would have probably been easy to invade on a weekly basis. Casually striding towards what appeared to be the main entrance, still panting from the stair climb, his lungs now throwing out the other tenants that were constantly appearing within its investment, he looked to the wooden doors, which were large and overbearing, making it look even more like an easy to invade castle. Reaching the wooden frames, he wondered if he should knock. It was a hotel, but from what his mother had told him, there might not be a receptionist at all times.
“Mind you, if there was a receptionist, it would be pointless to knock when I didn’t have to. Then again, if there is no one there then knocking would be worthless.” Ignoring the voice telling him this probably counted for trespassing, he pushed the door aside. Peeking inside, he slowly scanned the surrounding area with brown eyes.
“Phew, it’s empty,” he muttered aloud, ignoring the fact again that he probably seemed more and more like a burglar now, especially with the large brown bag on his shoulder. Stepping inside, he began to slip his shoes off on the porch, and then paused with a look of annoyance on his face.
“Am I supposed to have indoor shoes?” He had forgotten them. “I’ve forgotten them.” It would appear that he would have to go barefoot. “I’ll have to go barefoot. Lucky my socks are clean.” Leaving his trainers besides a box containing many other pairs of white shoes, he stepped carefully onto the heavily polished, wooden floor. Being careful not to slip, he pondered his first course of action, deciding in a millisecond to ruin everyone’s day with attention seeking.
“Is anyone here?” he shouted into the air of the hotel. He waited as a small period of uneventful time passed “Hello?” Another small period of time passed and he found himself looking hard at the surrounding furniture, to see if he had somehow mistaken residents for pieces of upholstery. A short period passed again, much longer than the previous one. He gave up waiting.
“Ah well,” he said, dropping his bag in the middle of the empty floor lobby, assuring himself that it wouldn’t disappear until he returned. “Might as well explore.” Picking the first opening to the left, he started to walk down it, sliding against the polished oak as he got moving. Above him, the boy was unaware he was being watched by a certain mysterious girl, of whom importance won’t be realized until around page eighty, but whom much speculation should be made about in the meantime.
His exploration continued for two minutes and, despite finding nothing, boredom was nowhere on the boy’s face. With all the corridors looking the same there wasn’t anything special about the place to see. There was also no sign of any of the inhabitants. He couldn’t have been fully aware of what the situation here was, but he knew there were some people here by the shoes that had been left by the front door.
As he walked, his socks swishing beneath him, his nose suddenly caught a pungent whiff of nostalgia. Memories of humid rose traveled through his nostrils and told him to follow the aroma blindly, threatening to beat him with fruitcake should he refuse. Immediately growing excited, he pushed the doors aside to see a pool of water ahead of him, steam rising from it like anxiety from a poorly written metaphor. Eyes beaming with excitement, he rushed out to the hot springs, his clothing being magically discarded in multiple piles across the rocky floor as he rushed for the nearest pool of water. Slowly, with great anticipation, he placed his toes slowly into the pool below him, the lukewarm feeling accompanying it confirming his wishes.
Sighing with glee at the mere touch of the water soothed his big toe, his body melted further into the pool. Without a towel or any clothing left on, he had no reason to be slow and was soon in the middle, dropping to his knees to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Pretty soon the warm water had covered his body, bubbles emerging from under the blue waters. When he would next come up, it would be by a rock on the far side, where he would lean against before quickly falling asleep.
Tsunade Otsune. A beautiful young girl (by her own opinions of course, which was of course the most important opinion of the all, as she had deduced through both scientific equations and a bout of solipsism) at the age of nineteen walked through the same corridor the boy was in a few moments ago, completely unaware of the situation that had previously happened and more importantly, unaware of the situation that was about to happen. Opening the door to the hot springs, she slowly began to remove her clothes from her stunning young body and place them in a small basket. Seeing the other baskets empty, she smiled at the prospect of having some time to herself, grateful for any peace she could get in this place.
Ever since the new manager had shown up a few months back, and had shown himself to be more hormonally challenged than the last owner had been (though only by default), things had been hectic. The number of occupants was small anyway after the guy’s grandmother had died and had now diminished significantly because of him. She couldn’t entirely place blame on the young man. She had already ascertained that he wasn’t that bad of a guy or anything. He was just at that cliché age where he spoke to a girl’s chest instead of her face.
“Stop,” she sad to herself. “Relax. Enjoy yourself.” She took her glasses off and placed them on top of her clothes, not wanting them to break whilst in the springs. Her vision immediately became blurred as she stepped out into the springs, but she was more than used to it by now. They had gotten significantly worse over the last six years, down to 20/50 at the last check up, but it was bearable.
It was a beautiful day, just the perfect time to be in the soothing warm waters, the sun reflecting directly into them, bringing them to a high temperature. As long as no one interfered her for at least half an hour, she’d be content. Carefully testing the grip of the ground with her feet, she slowly approached the pool in her own time tested method. Going to step in, she caught a glance of something that threatened her sanctity, and, through blurred eyes, peered to make out what it was.
“That’s weird,” she muttered to herself, remembering there were no other clothes in the changing room. A brief flicker of anger passed over her face, as the idea of Gen sneaking in to cop a look. She stopped it quickly. He couldn’t have beaten her home.
“Oi, Futabatei. That better not be you down there,” she shouted, waiting for the figure to move. It did not. She considered going back for her glasses, to confirm whether it was the landlord or not, even though she had already placed him under strict instructions not to use the Hot Springs at is leisure (as they were for guests first). Seconds before she did so, the answer was given.
“Puhh…” a rather embarrassing, grunting noise came from the unconscious body in the pool. The noise itself told her nothing, but it caused her to spin back round to look as she saw the unidentified human readjust its sleeping position. Not allowing her eyes the chance to properly register the clothes strewn all over the outside of the building, the girl calmed down, realizing that only one person would be lazy enough to fall asleep in the hot springs.
“Oh it’s just you, Fujiko,” she said walking over, not really expecting an answer from her sleeping friend. With towel in hand she sat down next to her probably inebriated companion, placing the cloth over the rock to keep her back from being scratched. Looking towards her friend, the girl’s face was still blurred and, to be honest, it was hard to tell if she was awake or not. Fujiko’s eyes were heavily squinted and always seemed closed, but from her light breathing it seemed the girl had been out for some time.
As much as she hated to admit it, Fujiko was Otsune’s best friend. The two had known each other since the Doll festival five years ago, and though it was by extreme luck the two found themselves at the same dormitory at the start of senior high, it had been Fujiko’s extreme persistence at being annoying and constantly drunk that caused the two to stay together.
The sun reminded her of its presence, and she found herself cupping her hand over her eyes to appreciate the beauty of the summer’s day. It would be autumn soon and, although they would still use the springs, it wouldn’t be this peacefully mellow. It was definitely a time to appreciate things. Especially after all that had gone on, a little rest would be sought out by anyone in her position.
Grandma Futabatei had died, leaving the entire estate to some offshoot grandnephew. At only sixteen years old, the boy’s line of sight fell half a foot any time a girl was in the room, resulting in the hotel’s alienation of everyone in the village after he made a scene in the town center.
He was being, by definition, a natural jerk, catching a glance whenever he could and finding inappropriate excuses grab their shoulders or hold their hands. It only took a few of the old gossip ladies to turn the whole situation around from quiet, studious girls into some apparent whore den. Bad enough the rumours started. What was worse was that everyone had believed it, and no matter how much she went over it in her head, Otsune just couldn’t understand how it had been accepted so fast. She had actually punched him that first time he did it, and in public. Everyone had seen it. It wasn’t until Tina got attacked that she even realized that people were thinking such things, and it was all that guy’s fault.
But that’s what happened in a village like Heavenly Springs where the key demographics were retired elderly couples and young students aiming between middle school and University. With no middle ground (save perhaps herself, Fujiko and the guy who ran the church) in the age brackets, divisions was bound to occur in the most stupid unjustified xcuses imaginable.
And it didn’t matter how just a few months ago it was old Granma Futabatei’s sweet little dormitory for well behaved girls in the middle of their studies, now it was a veritable whore den full of cigarettes and drugs and possibly even boys.
Village folk could be so stupid.
“He could at least try to be, I don’t know, nice about it. Not trying to hide it like a guilty little pervert.” Fujiko replied by tossing and turning a little, showing her bare, if not still highly blurry, chest to her friend. “Though I suppose it is what they do at that age, the whole breast staring thing.” She looked down down to observe her own features and could completely understand the appeal. “Although still not as big as yours, ey Fujiko?”
“I would say mine are a bit smaller,” claimed the voice next to her, one deeper than what she would expect from her squeaky female friend. “Though this is more likely because I only have defined pectoral muscles, whilst yours are large bags of fat”.
Otsune squealed in horror. Her ‘friend’, who was clearly no longer asleep, was looking at her with half open eyes. All of a sudden feeling very exposed, she watched as the person in front of her sat up, moving to stand over her, their chest looking very flat and muscular than previously as her vision chose to switch back to agonizingly painful clarity. “Could you save my place? I’m going to get some juice.”
Her heart slammed into her chest. This was not Fujiko.
“Actually,” the voice continued. “I think I’ll just fall back asleep.” He did so, collapsing into the rock beneath him almost immediately.
This was a man.