“Yuki, this way!” Felicity directed, leading us toward a classroom.
“Oh man, these walls are really cool. The pictures drawn on them give me a good vibe,” Ichizen remarked.
Small and obscene drawings of various objects were positioned in a strategic pattern to avoid detection. People hurrying to class probably never noticed them. However, if someone had time, the drawings would stand out immediately. How had the school administration not notice these yet? I felt some disgust, but also pity for the students here.
“Yeah, I don’t really think so,” I finally responded.
“What are you guys looking at?” Felicity asked, noticing us pause.
Tess stood ahead of us, glancing up at the ceiling. Felicity tilted her head to the left and said nothing. Come on, really? If Felicity failed at noticing these drawings, the school really was complete crap.
“Oh, I wonder who redrew them?” she finally said.
“What do you mean?” I questioned, curious about her statement.
“Apparently the seniors two years before us did this as their senior prank. They ordered invisible ink for it and no one noticed until after graduation. It took them until my senior year to finally remove them,” Felicity explained.
“Your school is awesome,” Ichizen said.
“It’s certainly not boring,” Felicity replied.
“Where exactly are we heading?” I asked, sidetracked after Felicity’s long explanation.
“I wanted to talk to an old teacher first. You’ll get to learn more about the school this way,” Felicity answered.
“Time is of the essence,” Tess reminded her.
Ichizen appeared enthralled by the school. As for me, I found nothing of interest. The decayed, wooden stairs contained old, nasty pieces of gum. The handrails appeared unstable with a few screws sticking out. The flickering fluorescent lights gave the school a dreary feeling, one filled with helplessness and despair.
We passed by a trophy case. Awards from over twenty years ago were displayed but none of it showed any polish. I checked for any recent awards but found nothing. Damn, how sad could the school get? I was really surprised Kisai and Zhuyu managed to survive in this school.
“Here we are! This is my old English teacher’s classroom,” Felicity announced, pointing at the door.
A brass “21” hung sideways on the door. A faded nameplate, ineligible, was to the right of the door. Ichizen shook his head, unable to read it.
“They really should polish that thing,” Felicity remarked.
Tess remained silent, offering no comment. I couldn’t tell if she was mad or just indifferent. Felicity opened the door without even knocking. There was a beat up couch to the side and two bookcases surrounding it from either side. A smell of coffee lingered. The open window caught my eye since it was new, compared to everything else.
“Ah, Felicity, it is good to see you again,” a booming voice greeted.
A portly man with grey hair rose up from his battered office chair. He wore a gray checked dress shirt and blue jeans. He appeared to be in his late fifties.
“Mr. Derek, how have you been?” Felicity greeted with a warm smile on her face.
Damn, how could she pull that off? Her smile radiated happiness. Tess kept her serious face on, giving nothing away.
“Tess, you are here too. I see you’ve brought friends as well. Please, make yourselves at home,” Mr. Derek offered.
Mr. Derek, despite being portly, was actually a big man. He stood maybe 6’ 3’’, but I would take it down an inch or two because of his old age. The teacher appeared in good spirits, a wide smile on his face. Felicity and Tess sat on top of empty desks near him while Ichizen and I stood nearby.
“Mr. Derek, you seem well. How are your classes this year?” Felicity asked.
“About the same as when I taught you. Not as rambunctious as your year but certainly there are challenges as always. How are your classes, Felicity?” Mr. Derek replied.
“They’re going along well. I’ve been enjoying the literature classes there. A few of the books we read in your class have appeared on the class reading lists. Tess is chugging along with her math and science classes,” Felicity replied.
“Good to hear. Please introduce me to your new friends here,” Mr. Derek said, turning his attention to us.
“Of course! This is Tomo Yuki and Michi Ichizen. I met them through a mutual friend of mine. Ichizen is really interested in the blog I did for my senior project. He wants to know more about the hero rumors surrounding the school so I decided to bring them here!” Felicity explained.
Mr. Derek nodded with interest, shaking our hands. After ten minutes, Felicity started wrapping up her conversation. There was a knock on the door and a short man walked in.
“Ah, Mr. Mills, what brings you to our school?” Mr. Derek greeted with a slight hint of irritation in his voice.
“Mr. Derek, must I remind you we have work to do? I don’t know who these kids are, but I’m afraid you have more pressing matters,” Mr. Mills said with a smirk.
The interaction between the two men intrigued me. Mr. Mills stood a good five inches shorter than Mr. Mills. Mr. Derek showed no signs of backing down. He stood tall, a small smile on his face.
“I’m sorry, but it appears I have something to do. Please do visit again under more ideal circumstances,” Mr. Derek apologized.
Mr. Mills glanced at his watch as Mr. Derek took his sweet time locking his room door. Felicity stared at the floor with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t know who that guy is. I’ve never seen him before,” Felicity replied.
“He’s a visiting teacher from another school,” Tess revealed.
“Oh, that explains things. I’m surprised anyone would even come here,” Felicity remarked.
Did Felicity, the ever bright and cheerful person, just make a disparaging comment? It was out of character for her. I now desired to see her break down one day just to witness how different she was from her usual self.
“Enough of that! We didn’t come here just to talk to teachers. Let’s go to the school gym,” Felicity decided.
The path leading to the gym was crumbling. Ichizen looked around, but there was nothing to see, only tree stumps. Tess remained silent, not saying a thing.
“Oh, that’s weird. The gym door is locked,” Felicity said.
Ichizen walked up to the door and tugged on the handles. Tess stood back and watched the entire situation with no interest. Ichizen noticed my agitated expression and then glanced over at the window. He walked over and peered through it.
“Oh, I see something!” Ichizen announced.
The rusted handles were an ugly copper color. Peering through the dirty glass, I saw a chain wrapped around the interior handles.
“Who chains the doors on the inside?” I muttered.
“Yuki! We found something!” Ichizen yelled.
“Did you just vandalize the window?” I accused, noticing it open.
“What? No! Why are you accusing me of that?” Ichizen protested.
“Who opened it then?” I asked.
“Someone on the inside!” Felicity declared.
Ichizen, without waiting, crawled in. Tess followed behind him, her actions so fluid that this couldn’t be the first time she had done this. Felicity urged me to go before her and I obliged.
Jumping in, I found myself in a corridor. I looked ahead, seeing a door lead out to the track field. To my right, twin doors led into a gym. Felicity appeared behind me, her eyes scouring the room for something.
“Fel, what are you doing here?” a voice asked.
A girl, wearing track pants with a white T-shirt, stared at us. I noticed her golden hair and green eyes. I glanced over at Felicity, realizing the similarity.
“Memoria, can’t your big sis come to visit you?” Felicity replied with her trademark cheerfulness.
“It’s definitely weird when some boy looks through the window,” Felicity’s little sister responded, shaking her head.
“Okay, you’re right. I needed to get in so it’s very lucky you were here!” Felicity said, giving a thumbs up.
“Whatever you say. I’m going back to practice,” Memoria said, leaving.
“That was fun. I wish we spent more time talking to her,” Ichizen remarked.
“Oh, does she catch your eye?” Felicity inquired.
“She’s certainly pretty. Getting back on track, what are we trying to find?” Ichizen asked.
“Follow me to the gym storage room!” Felicity announced.
Ichizen followed her like a puppy. The floors were scuffed and the painted lines fading in the gym court. However, all the windows were new. They shone with a brightness achieved only through vigorous cleaning or a recent installation.
Three minutes later, we arrived at a huge steel door. Felicity pulled out a key from her pocket and unlocked the doors. I stared at her, surprised to see her in possession of such an item.
“Oh, I borrowed this from Mr. Derek’s room. Pretty sneaky, huh?” Felicity said, flashing me a smile.
“I’m kind of impressed. Good job,” I muttered.
“What’s inside here, anyways?” Ichizen asked, walking inside.
The doors shut immediately after he stepped in. Felicity and Tess glanced at each other with knowing expressions. I pulled on the handles but they did not budge.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked, glaring at the two women.
“So it happened,” Tess remarked.
“What do you mean, `it happened`? What are you talking about?” I demanded, confused about the entire situation.
“I don’t know exactly how to say this but…,” Felicity began.
The floor shook all of a sudden and I fell down. Tess and Felicity maintained their balance at first but they too finally fell. After five minutes, the shaking ceased. I stood up, trying the doors again, unable to open them.
“You want to tell me what’s going on?” I asked.
“Okay, Yuki, I want you to calm down and listen to me. I didn’t know this would happen,” Felicity replied.
“Tomo, calm down. It’s not Fel’s fault,” Tess finally spoke.
“You know something and you’re going to tell me right now!” I threatened, walking over towards Tess.
I reached out to grab the collar of her shirt. Tess jumped back, avoiding my hand and real emotion finally appeared in her eyes. I stepped back, thrown off by her sudden change.
“Tomo, I repeat, calm down. Fel, is anyone else here besides your sister?” Tess asked, her voice authoritative.
“No. I don’t even know why the school still has classes here. Especially what happened during that time,” Felicity answered.
“Good. Let’s get this door opened,” Tess said.
Tess removed the six hairpins from her hair. With a bright flash, the six hairpins formed into the shape of a key. Tess waved her hands in front of the steel door and a large lock appeared. She inserted the key into the lock and the steel doors flung open. There was nothing but old gym equipment inside. No signs of Ichizen at all.
”Follow me. Fel, stay here and watch the door. Make sure no one comes,” Tess barked and then pointed to me.
”Wait, where are we going?” I asked, my voice calm now.
”I’ll explain once we locate Michi. We’re running short on time,” Tess replied.
I could abandon Ichizen and pretend nothing occurred. However, I didn’t have it in me to do be so callous. Better follow Tess and see what she could show me before denying the existence of everything I experienced.
“Fine. I’ll go, but I’ll make this clear. We better find Ichizen,” I declared.
“We’re wasting time talking,” Tess agreed and signaled Felicity to close the doors.
I glanced around the room, seeing torn gym mats and deflated sports balls. Tess moved a storage shelf with one hand and pointed at the wall. She moved her left hand over it and a swirling ball of light appeared.
“Okay so do we touch it or….?” I asked.
“I’ll do everything. Just wait,” Tess replied.
Tess plunged her key into the sphere and I shielded my eyes as the light intensified. When my eyes finally adjusted, I found myself in an unfamiliar environment.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.