The clock tower tolled 7 times before Ayame finally noticed that the bell even did so. By then, her head was already resonating with its mysteriously ominous ringing, waking her with the usual feeling of annoyance. She lazily unhinged her body from its position of locked repose and sat up. She squinted her eyes, more out of frustration than sleepiness, the bright crimson hue of her irises barely peeping through her narrow view, although it was more than enough for it to glow in a fiery splendor within the dim lighting of the room when a ray of light grazed by them.
"Another year huh…" she mused dazed as she got out of her bed to prepare for school. Once she finished her breakfast, she set out into the sunlight. Her long red hair flared like a blaze as it caught the wind and the sun, emanating an ambient yet sharp scarlet hue.
The trail to her school was just like any normal school rout in the suburban towns of Japan. Although it was late spring, the cherry trees still had some of their blossoms left over, shedding their pink pedals like snow. They had a certain whimsicality to them as they drifted between the paths. Students ran past her, laughing while skipping through the beautiful scene before them. Some stopped to glance at Ayame before they ran off with their friends. She didn't feel as free spirited as them and thought only to ignore the other students. She eventually arrived at her school steps, stopping to look at the grayish-brown rectangular building that loomed above her.
"Well then… Here goes another year" She took a step and crossed the automatic contracting security fence into the dusty school field.
"Ayame! Hey Ayame! Are you there?"
"Mmmmm….." Ayame mumbled as she lifted her head off the desk. She then met face to face with a girl with short light black hair and glasses staring back at her. "Oh hey Rika…"
"Don't 'hey Rika' me missy! The moment you walked into this room, you sit down at your desk, and plop your head down and dose off! Now what kind of attitude is that? Show some oomph will ya? I the first thing I ever hear from you is the bonk that ur head makes when u drop dead."
While she was ranting, Ayame had already ignored the lecture from her friend and plopped her head down once more. "Nooooo," the girl on the desk grumbled. "I will exert my minimalist attitude that I should be exerting whenever I want to!"
"Ma-tsu-mo-to A-ya-me! You get rid of that lazy attitude right now!" and with that, Rika brought down her hand and karate chopped the red headed girl on the head.
"OW" she yelped as she recoiled from the sudden pain in her upper cerebral area. "What was that for?"
"To get you awake of course" her friend replied curtly.
"What's the point?" Ayame retorted, clearly annoyed now. "I'm ok as it is."
"Who knows," Rika said playfully, "maybe people will notice your beautiful eyes and hair if you go about more and-"
"I don't want people to say anything about my hair!" Ayame shouted suddenly. Rika immediately went silent when she noticed the desperation in her friend's voice.
"It's my mother's hair…" she murmured as her eyes looked away.
Rika's eyes looked at her with knowing concern, as her friend's predicament is all too well known to her. She placed an encouraging hand on her friend's shoulder.
"Alright, then. Well, try to be more upbeat kay? I'm sure people will like you a lot better that way."
"Eeeeeeh…" said Ayame and she put her head on top of her arms and stared blankly forwards.
"Hey heater girl!" jeered a voice outside the classroom door. "Why don't you warm up my lunch with your special powers will ya?" Ayame looked up and saw a group of boys snickering at her.
"Yeah heater girl, why don't you do mine too while you're at it?" said a girl from across the room.
"Leave her alone!" Rika shouted as another wave of laughter came from not only the boys in the hallway but from students of the class as well.
"Whatever, loser" one of the boys in the hall said as they started to leave. However, one of the boys stayed behind.
"Hey you with the short hair," he called out.
"What do you want?" the receiver said with annoyance.
"Why don't you leave that weird-ass punk girl beside you? I bet you'll be a lot more popular if you did you know."
Ayame's chest tightened as he said this.
"Just get out of here!"
"Well, that's too bad."
As he left, Rika turned to her friend and said, "Don't listen to them, I know full well that your ability is nothing to be ashamed of and you should too."
"But he's right…" the red haired girl mumbled.
"What was that?" Rika asked.
"Nothing, nothing…" sighed Ayame as she blankly stared in front of her. She didn't understand why her friend still bothered to stay with her. Ever since she could remember, Rika always defended her even though she ran the risk of ruining her reputation for being stuck with a weird looking girl with weird heat powers even though it's true. Despite Rika's glasses, she had an appeal that was quite different than those of the other pretty girls but she garners a sense of outgoingness that could gather the attention of many if she tried. Rika was her only friend and Ayame dosen't know what she would have become without her support. She felt that she had no right to limit her friend's life because of her own existence.
"Alright class." The teacher called when the school bell rang. "Class is starting."
Everybody then shuffled into their own seats and the teacher set down his materials onto the podium. I guess I should thank her. Although, her friend has saved her too many times to not know how thankful she is. She'll just scold me for saying "thank you" and "sorry" too much Ayame thought slightly smiling despite herself.
"Now as you all might know, there is a new transfer student coming in today. He recently moved from England and so I want you all to help him in his Japanese whenever you can."
Oh great. Don't tell me another whap is coming here on an exchange trip… Ayame cringed when she recalled the last foreign exchange student that came in. He was obnoxious and he pestered her about her red hair and eyes day in and day out. As if I don't get enough of that treatment from the rest of the people here. Even if he isn't, I'll only be a bad image to the school since they'll think I dyed this…
"Ok, you may come in now."
A tall figure with spiky black hair slightly ducked under the door and stepped up to the podium.
He was a serious looking guy with a relatively fair complexion for a boy. The long but thin ponytail, wrapped up partly by a long band looked odd with his extremely spiky hair. He wrote his name on the board with caligraphic precision and looked straight at the front and said like any other Japanese student, "My name is Akatsuki Kyomaru. Yoroshiku."
Immediately, there was bustling among the girls in the class, about his tall, dark, and handsome appearance.
Really… thought Ayame as she looked at their giddy expressions.
"Ok, so lets see..." The teacher looked around and spotted an empty desk next to Ayame.
"Ah, you may sit next miss Matsumoto. Miss Matsumoto, you can help him fit in right?"
"Yes, teacher." she replied respectfully, hiding her dismay that he didn't pick the empty seat on the other side of the room. She did not want to deal with all the girls that would be mobbing his seat when class ended.
However it striked her as odd that he acted very much like a native, given his foreign origins.
He could have lived here before. Either that or his family was a Japanese family from here and trained him as one.
There was a still a nagging feeling that something was peculiar about him. As he came down the aisle toward her, she could feel herself reacting to him; her body became tense, and she became suddenly alert, as if there was something important happening. She could not comprehend the feeling, but it was as if she has found someone… like herself.
He also walked with unusual confidence and determination not unlike the student president of the school or someone with similar authority and independence. However, he was not charismatic but has a reserved disposition. After he sat down, he took his notebook and pencil out, and waited, not looking anywhere else but at the front. Ayame could not help but steal glances at him every once and a while. Even though she did not want anything to do with him, seeing as she avoided the possibility that he will be noticing her, the nagging feeling in her head kept on urging her to look. The possibility of finding someone like her is too great to pass.
When class ended, the predicted mob of students came to question him.
"Hey, where did you live?
"How tall are you?"
"Do you have a girlfriend back home?"
He politely smiled and replied to these questions as he walked quickly to the cafeteria. It was like he only answered enough to keep them at bay while he did whatever he wanted to do. While eating, his replies were also slow, answering the last question asked with a minimal amount of words.
"Hey Ayame, do you like him?" Rika asked her friend playfully when she caught her staring at him while they were eating.
A suprised Ayame jumped and whipped around. "Heck no! Why would I?" she retorted defiantly and continued to eating at a more vigorous rate, not noticing that her food started to get warmer.
"I bet you do~" mused the black haired girl. "The way you look at him gives it aaaaaall away."
"I do not! Why would I care for some foreigner? He's probably like them all, all weird, and… foreign… and stuff." She thought that this was the most pathetic response she had made in her life but the only thing she wanted was to get her friend off her back.
"Oh you and your xenophobia," her friend laughed. "Whatever, I guess. I think he's pretty cute. Worth a shot, no?" Ayame ignored the last comment and continued to eat.Oh crap I did it again she thought when she realized that her food was slightly steaming. Good thing the bento box wasn't made of cheap plastic or else it probably would have melted into the food. She quickly surveyed the room for whether or not anybody was watching. She spotted Rika glancing her giggling. Ayame gave her a defiant look and stowed away the rest of her lunch.
After class, even more students surrounded his desk to the point of blocking out all ways of exiting the crowd. Ayame only wanted to get out of there but the mob blocked her attempts of even getting out of her seat. In desperation, she tried to burst her way out of the crowd but she didn't need to, as the new student enunciated a "Hey!" Ayame stared in confusion as all the girls went silent.
"Excuse me girls, but I really need to go," the spiky haired boy said.
"Awww but can't you stay any longer?" complained some of the girls.
The boy said nothing as he ignored their pleas and walked out of the crowd
Ayame saw this as a chance for her to escape the claustrophobic trap of excited teenagers.
"Comin' through," she said as she coyly slipped out after him, leaving the group of girls bewildered and disappointed.
"Made it…" Ayame took a deep breath in celebration of her escape. She didn't bother searching for Rika as she always have club meetings to attend. As she walked out of the school, the picture of the boy appeared in her mind again. Flustered, she shook her head in an attempt to get rid of his image once more.
Don't tell me I really do like him… she thought exasperated. She then chuckled to herself at the absurdity of the idea and continued her walk out of the school. "No way," she said out loud.
For the next 3 weeks, the new boy barely talked to anybody, always smiled and replied back in short polite phrases when approached. He always left the school immediately after school, leaving no room to compromise, and nobody knows where he goes. Interest in him qickly died down when everyone realized that he wasn't very responsive. Everyday however, Ayame had the same feeling whenever she is near him even if she never saw him. She knew that he was there just by the feeling that she had. One day, she felt his presence while walking through the shopping district where she usually goes home through. Curiosity got the better of her and she decided to follow him.
I'm just going to see what he does after school. She told herself this but she knew that there was much more to her motive than that. Even that's a pathetic excuse even for herself to believe tenuously but she pushed that thought away. She walked quickly around, trying to spot him while trying to locate him where she thought his presence felt the strongest. The streets were already filled with people so the view in front of her was blocked. She searched within each store window and each alley she came across but to naught.
After a while, his presence slowly disappeared. By then, it was already sunset. "Why did I even consider following him?" already regretting her endevour as she rushed as fast as she could in the direction of her home when she realized the time.
Running past a nearby forest, his presense became suddenly clear. However along with his presence, she could feel a strange... power. It was all that she could think of to describe the feeling. She turned toward the direction that she felt they were coming from and ran towards them. After running for a while, she reached a deep part of the forest that doesn't seem to be traveled at all. The moon was out and looking around, she also realized that she was lost. The only thing she could rely on for direction was the presence of Kyomaru and the strange power that was in the same direction.
"Hopefully he'll buy the 'was following a runaway pet and got lost' excuse though I doubt it..." As she followed her senses, she eventually saw a red glow through the branches of the trees. The closer she got, the stronger the power she felt. Carefully approaching the source of the red glow, she saw a clearing where a shining red seal was etched into the ground. A spiky haired figure wearing a black trench coat with an insignia on the back stood up in the middle of the seal and it started to shine even brighter, revealing the identity of the figure as Kyomaru. He suddenly turned around as if he realized that somebody was watching him. Suspiciosly looking around the area, frantically searching for whoever is near, he spotted Ayame hiding behind a tree.
"Hey, you! Get out of here!" he shouted but his voice was lost as a gust of wind suddenly swirled around him. The seal came alive as sparks of electricity came out of it, scorching everything that it touched. Kyomaru screamed in pain as the wind and sparks engulfed him. Oh no, this is bad. At this rate, he'll die.
"Stay away!" he managed to scream as her as she ran towards him. She didn't know how she was going to help him, how she knew he was going to die, or why she isn't running away but she determined to get to him. Why aren't I running away? Everything that she felt told her to escape with her life but her legs propelled her forward as fast as possible.
"Do you want to die? Run a-" he screamed as another spark connected with him. Ayame plowed through the wall of wind, avoiding the sparks that were flying everywhere. With a final push, she reached out and grabbed his arm. The sparks stopped coming but the wind became stronger and stronger and the light grew until it completely blinded her. She felt her head spinning, her body becoming lighter. Am I really going to die? However, everything suddenly became still. The ground beneath her didn't feel like the grassy forest ground anymore but is rocky and hard. She opened her eyes and she saw they were on a plateau among a valley of rocks. The moon stood high above the sky as the valley glowed mysteriously with it's light.
"Where... are we?"