“Yuki, let’s go. We don’t have time to waste!” Felicity declared and we headed out once again.
We arrived at the mall, heading to the decoration store first. She pointed out party items and I placed them in the shopping cart. Felicity was really trying her best at making a good party, quite befitting of her personality.
“This is a lot,” I observed, noticing the amount piling up.
“I have most of the Christmas decorations at home, but I wanted stuff specifically for this party,” Felicity explained.
She placed a large amount of effort into this. Was Felicity just this nice? I wondered about her motives. Felicity maintained an upbeat composure but there must be some hidden darkness. I would like to witness that side of her. Same for Tess.
“Yuki, let’s hurry! The sale items are over here!” Felicity ordered.
We finally finished after three hours of shopping in the mall. Felicity pulled out her shiny credit card during checkouts, more proof of her wealth.
“I’ll take these back to the car. Yuki, can you go to the supermarket over there and start getting food? I’ll text you the list,” Felicity said.
I nodded, heading for the meat aisle first. I glanced at plates of meat, not sure which ones were good. Not my specialty, I leave it to Felicity. The list included baking supplies, easy enough for me to pick out.
I noticed a classmate from high school while placing a bag of yeast into the cart. Her name was Len Rui. One of the more active students I knew, she was the treasurer for the student council and played sports.
“Yuki, it’s been awhile! How have things been?” Rui asked.
“It’s been a rough month but I’m glad it’s almost over,” I replied, recalling Ichizen’s death and the training from yesterday.
“Ah, sorry to hear that. Are you baking some sweets to give to Ichizen?” she asked, a smile on her face.
“About that..,” I said, surprised Rui didn’t know about Ichizen’s death.
I was in the same classes as Rui for the last two years of high school. That in turn meant she knew Ichizen pretty well. I suspected she liked him, but Rui never said anything about it. Out of everyone, she should have already heard about his passing.
“Did something happen? I came back from a trip overseas so I’m not caught up with anything,” Rui asked, her medium length black hair swinging.
“Ichizen got into an accident a month ago and he….didn’t make it. I thought you might have heard,” I revealed.
Rui’s expression changed within seconds. I saw sadness in her eyes and my thoughts wandered back to the decisive moment. There was no denying it. A lot of the responsibility for the incident was on me. Before I could dwell any further on it, Felicity tapped me on my shoulders.
“Yuki, I’ve been looking for you. Oh, who’s this, a friends of yours?” she asked.
“Felicity. This is a friend from high school, Len Rui,” I responded, clearing my head of any previous thoughts.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Felicity Smoke,” Felicity introduced with a dazzling smile.
“Sorry about that. Yuki just told me some rather sad news,” Rui reciprocated Felicity’s smile with her own.
Felicity noticed the expression on Rui’s face, prying no further. I was thankful for her doing that. After catching up with Rui and updating contact information, Felicity and I resumed our shopping.
“Cheer up, Yuki. You still feel responsible for it, I can tell from your eyes. But I’m sure Ichizen would not approve of your moping right now! The party on Friday will definitely give you a good boost!” Felicity encouraged, noticing my expression.
I nodded at her words. Meeting Rui had shaken me. While Ichizen was definitely an idiot at times, he had a lot of friends. He had an impact on people’s lives. The least I could do was continue that. It was how he lived his life and that made me feel a little better.
Winter Break Week 1 Thursday
Meeting with Rui yesterday got me thinking about Ichizen’s state of affairs. I wondered if he left any clues behind. After my conversation with Rui, it was the right time to visit his house.
“Hello!” I greeted Ichizen’s mom with a smile.
“Yuki, it’s been a few weeks. How are you feeling?” Mrs. Michi asked, a soft expression on her face.
“I’m doing well. It’s been a little hard to adjust to the fact Ichizen isn’t here anymore,” I admitted.
“That boy, he would be overjoyed whenever you came over. It’s a shame I won’t see that anymore. Please come in, it’s a cold day. I’ll make you some tea,” Mrs. Michi offered.
I accepted her offer, bowing in thanks. A flood of memories came back to me once inside. Some good, some bad. Still, it was odd to not hear Ichizen’s trademark yell whenever a guest came over.
I followed his mom into the dining room, seeing someone unexpected. A woman the same age as me sat there, picking up a tea cup. She had medium length brown hair tied back into two long ponytails in the back. This was Ichizen’s cousin, Machi Manami.
“Manami, it’s been awhile,” I greeted, taking a seat next to her.
“Yuki, I could say the same. I come back for break and I get hit with bad news one after another. I find out that my adorable, younger cousin has died in an accident and then I hear that our grandfather is ill. It’s really all too much to take in,” Manami said, her eyes filled with melancholy.
“It is quite unfortunate. I should have been there for him,” I said.
“No, he died as he lived. It may be the greatest compliment for someone like him. He loved adventure and in a way I guess he did get it. This really sucks. I thought I would come back for a nice break,” Manami said, attempting a smile as she sipped her tea.
“Now, now. I just got news that Grandfather will be fine so that’s one less thing you can worry about, Manami. You can still enjoy your break,” Mrs. Michi reported, placing a cup of tea in front of me.
“Ah thank you. By the way, do you mind if I go see Ichizen’s room? I may be intruding but I just.. want to know what he was doing,” I requested.
“It’s no problem at all, Yuki. Just be careful. I’ll have to get around to packing his things up sooner or later,” Mrs. Michi agreed to my request.
“Thank you very much. Manami, how long are you here?” I asked, sipping the tea.
“For four more weeks. Yuki, you mind if I tag along with you? I’m curious as well,” Manami asked.
“Go ahead. It’ll help since I’ll have someone to talk to. Oh, sorry, I got a text,” I said, feeling my phone vibrate.
Tess? Oh, it was about the party tomorrow. She asked if I wanted a ride. I thanked her for the offer and accepted it. An immediate response arrived with an ETA for me. I was wary of it. Tess always arrived earlier or at unexpected moments. Putting my phone away, I finished the tea and headed upstairs with Manami.
“This brings back memories, Yuki. I remember how Ichizen would use the hallway as a race car track and push all his little toy cars across here. You would alway stand near the edge, making sure to not let them fall off the stairs,” Manami reminisced.
“Oh yeah. You always teased Ichizen by hiding his cars. He always fell for it when you said you didn’t know anything,” I nodded at her statement.
We arrived at the front of Ichizen’s room. A plain white door, nothing special hanging on it. Manami turned the doorknob but it remained closed.
“Locked,” Manami tried the door one more time.
Ichizen never locked his door. What was going on here? My mind flashed back to the mysterious text messages which started it all. Could the sender of those messages have anything to do with it?
“Oh, sorry about that. I locked the door after peeking in. I just couldn’t take it,” Mrs. Michi said, handing us the key.
Manami and I stepped inside. The inside was nostalgic. A disheveled blanket and pillow lay on top of the bed. There was a wooden desk with two computer monitors on top near the window.
Ichizen’s cousin inspected a medium sized bookcase on the left side and stared at it with a soft smile. Pieces of lined paper lay scattered across the desk. Some had red marks on them and others were highlighted. I opened the drawer and saw various writing utensils. A few pens, two highlighters, three erasers, and pictures. I checked the photos.
“You find anything interesting, Yuki?” Manami asked, looking over my shoulder.
“Just some photos. Guess he still kept them after all this time,” I replied, showing her the photos.
Manami glanced at them and nodded. The photos were of me, Manami, and Ichizen during our younger days. Sometime around fourth or fifth grade. I looked down at his computer and reached for the power button but decided against it though.
“Ichizen really was an idiot, but he did do well in some subjects,” Manami muttered as she waved around a stapled essay.
Manami was right. Ichizen struggled in most subjects, but excelled in writing. I hated to admit it but he was probably much better than me. For now, the desk had been investigated enough. Time to move on to something else.
Manami stared out the window, a thoughtful expression on her face. I checked the bookcase. Volumes of assorted manga were flat on the shelf. What else did I expect? Ichizen never was one to keep things in an orderly fashion. On the bottom shelf, I saw textbooks and a photo frame.
“Hey, Manami, do you know this person?” I called her over, handing the photo frame over.
Manami focused on the picture. For a good minute, there was just silence. Finally, Ichizen’s cousin returned the frame back to me.
“I don’t know. Maybe his girlfriend?” Manami finally said.
“He never talked about it before. I guess he could have just never told me,” I responded.
I took a picture of the photo frame. Zooming in on the unknown female, I took two more. Placing the photo frame back in its original position, I glanced at the top of the bookshelf.
Assorted photos were displayed, some including me and others with his group of high school friends. However, I couldn’t quite focus because of the picture from before. Who was this girl? It agitated me and Manami saw my frustrated expression.
“Yuki, it’s okay. I’m sure Ichizen had his share of secrets he hid from us. Although, I do understand your feelings. It does piss me off he never told us about this girl,” Manami said.
There were posters plastered on his walls, some of bands he enjoyed and others of idols he liked. Something felt off. As if I was missing something that was usually in this room.
“Yuki, I’ve been thinking….Yeah you have the same thought as I do. Where’s Ichizen’s display case?” Manami pointed out the thing bothering me.
Ichizen’s display case was usually next to his bookshelf. I bought him a four shelf glass case for his fourteenth birthday. Manami and a few other of Ichizen’s friends contributed but I came up with the idea. Ichizen kept his robot model kits and trophies he won over the years.
“Yuki, this is really weird. It looks like someone’s been in his room. But that’s not possible, right? I mean you heard Auntie, she said that she hasn’t been in here to clean up at all,” Manami said, looking at the spot where the display case was.
“It’s possible that his dad came in but it wouldn’t make sense. Everything else is untouched,” I said, walking over to the spot.
I felt my pendant moving after touching the spot where the display case originally was. Tess said outside of her artificial dimensions or another world, none of our powers worked. Yet my pendant reacted. When I moved my hand away, it remained still. Hmm, I would have to call Tess later and ask her about it.
“I guess there’s nothing else to do for now. Want to try asking Auntie?” Manami asked, stretching as she stood near the window.
“Yeah, let’s do that. She might be able to tell us something,” I agreed.
Walking back downstairs, I saw Mrs. Michi looking at something on her tablet. She raised her head at the sound of our footsteps. Manami returned the room key and glanced over at me.
“Mrs. Michi, Manami and I went upstairs to look at his room and noticed his display case was missing. Did something happen to it?” I asked.
“Oh, I guess you didn’t know, Yuki. But Ichizen broke that thing a week after your last visit. He was pretty sad about it. I didn’t see it myself, but he assured me he had taken care of the mess. I checked and it seemed fine so I just left it alone,” she revealed.
“He’s had it for so long now that I thought something happened,” I said.
“It is really a shame though. After all that effort you went through to get it for him,” Ichizen’s mom lamented.
Even though I heard the story from Ichizen’s mom, something felt off. Why would my pendant react? There had to be more to it. I thanked Mrs. Ichizen for her tea and updated my contact information for Manami.
“Remember to come by soon and see me again,” Manami reminded as I walked out the door.
On my way home, many thoughts entered my mind. The picture of the unknown girl with Ichizen irked me and then there was my pendant. I wanted to accept the story that the display case broke. Yet, something was off. Preoccupied with those thoughts, I finally noticed two unexpected people exit out of a car upon arriving at my house.
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.