Twilight sliced its way into the common room through glass-block windows and people started standing, stretching, stuffing bags with t-shirts and socks, turning off digital alarms, rolling up phone and laptop chargers, coughing, blowing noses, brushing teeth, and through this noise of wakefulness, Jess, the Red Queen, slept on, but she has twisted up the covers and has her arm draped over her face. I continue sipping tea and Mitsuteru has become a friend. I have adeptly turned our conversation away from Jess.
"I am traveling for experience the world because I want to write," Teru says. "Where I come from is very boring, yet we have a castle and lots of historical stuff."
"Rad," I say.
"Where are you from?" he asks me.
"The midwest," I answer curtly. "What's the name of the castle?" I ask.
"Himeji," he says, "It is from the Feudal period."
"I've heard of it," I say. I sip my tea. "Have you visited?"
"Very often," he says. "Very boring now. Do you speak Japanese?"
"A little," I say smiling. "But it was it was neat when you were a kid, right?"
"For a while," he agrees. "What can you say?"
"Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto," I say. He laughs.
"My favorite American phrase is 'drop-dead gorgeous,'" he says. "The first time I heard that from my college friend, I was confused. I thought he meant his girlfriend was sick, that she was going to be dead soon, that she had cancer or another sick."
Teru leans back on his mat, quickly texts someone, tosses aside his phone, and throws up his jacket collar, then grins widely, mischievously. "But then I saw his girl, and she was beautiful, and then he said, 'Drop-dead gorgeous meaning is that girl is so beautiful that when you see her you feel like your heart is going to stop, and then you will fall on the ground and die.'"
We both laugh. "I think it was a very useful American phrase. I have seen lots of 'drop-deads' since then." We laugh more.
A few moments of silence passes, and then he says, seriously, "Your girlfriend. She is a drop-dead."
I smile, set down my tea, look at Jess sleeping, look at Teru. "Dude," I say. "She is definitely not my girlfriend."
Jess stirs in her sleep.
Teru nods. He sips his tea, and then his expression changes. He looks past me to Jess. "Your friend has bad nightmare, I think," he says.
I look over my should. Jess has sat up. Her eyes are wide, and she is trembling.
I am on my feet in a split second. Teru is screaming. Other people are screaming.
The shadowlords are nigh.
END OF CHAPTER 1