1-4 He said, “I have found you.”
His presence was accompanied by the faint scent of the ocean. The vice-principal stared in amazement. When Youko glanced over her shoulder, the man confirmed, “It is you.”
She guessed he was in his mid-twenties. Everything else about him was breathtaking. He was wearing a long slicker like a cloak about his shoulders. His hair, an astonishingly golden sheen, curtained a marble-like face and reached to his knees.
She had never seen him before.
“And who are you?” the vice-principal demanded.
The stranger ignored him and instead did something even more astonishing. He knelt at Youko’s feet and bowed his head low to the ground. “That which was sought has been found.”
“Do you know this person?”
Youko shook her head. “I don’t. I don’t!”
As they stood there in confusion the man sprang to his feet. “We must go.”
“Miss Nakajima, what is this about?”
“I don’t know!”
Around them, the handful of remaining teachers and office personnel exchanged curious looks. Youko cast a pleading, helpless look at the vice-principal, who drew himself up to his full height. “Young man, you are trespassing on school grounds. I must ask you to leave this minute!”
The stranger’s face was a mask of indifference. He said coolly, no enmity in his voice, “It is none of your concern.” He surveyed the office with the same eyes. “Do not interfere, any of you.”
The imperial register of his voice had the immediate effect of leaving them speechless. He turned his gaze on the equally amazed Youko. “I shall explain to you later. But we must leave now.”
“What are . . . ?”
A voice, close by, interrupted her question.
He lifted his head as if his name had been called. “What is it?” he asked into the thin air. Concern darkened his face.
From somewhere and nowhere the voice echoed again. “The enemy is at the gates.”
A fierce expression replaced his impassive countenance. Nodding in comprehension he took Youko by the wrist. “Forgive me,” he said, “but this place is too dangerous.”
“There is no time to explain. They will arrive any second.”
Youko shrank from him, filled with an inarticulate dread. “Who’s they?” she cried.
She was about to ask again when the disembodied voice said, “They’re here.”
The window nearest Youko exploded.
She closed her eyes and heard a shrieking howl. The fragments of glass rained down around her.
“What was that!?”
Youko opened her eyes at the sound of the vice-principal’s voice. Everyone in the office crowded to the windows. A cold winter wind rushed in from the broad river just beyond the school grounds. Carried on the breeze was the strong scent of slaughter and the sea.
Glass littered the floor around her feet. Despite being closest to the window she was untouched.
“How . . . ?”
Before she could make any sense of the situation, the stranger addressed her. “It is as I warned. Something wicked this way comes.” He took hold of her arm. “Follow me.”
A desperate panic overcame her. Youko struggled but the stranger simply dragged her along. When she tripped and staggered, he slung his arm around her shoulders. The vice-principal stepped in front of them.
“Are you responsible for this?”
The timber of the stranger’s voice took on a stone cold menace. “You are irrelevant. Stand aside.”
“Not before you explain yourself, buddy. What are you doing with Miss Nakajima, here? This some kind of gang thing?” He shot an accusing look at Youko, “What have you gotten yourself involved in?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“And him?” he said, gesturing to the man.
Youko saw the far more terrifying conclusions drawing together in the vice-principal’s eyes: they were in this together. “I don’t know him! I swear!”
She twisted away, jerked her arm free of his grasp. At the same time, from above and beyond them, the voice called again, this time with greater alarm.
The people in the office glanced at each other, as if to discern the source of the voice.
The stranger scowled at Youko in obvious frustration. “Must you be so obstinate!” Before Youko could react or reply he dropped to his knees and grasped her feet in supplication. “Your Highness, I pledge to you my eternal fealty.” He spoke quickly, his eyes not wavering from hers. “I ask you to accede.”
“Is not your life precious to you? Say that you accede!”
Too stunned to coherently consider what he was asking, and overwhelmed by the intensity of his words, Youko found herself nodding despite herself. “I accede,” she said.
What he did next left Youko completely dumbfounded.
A beat—and a chorus of voices arose in objection. “What’s with you two? Are you nuts?”
Thunderstruck, Youko watched as this man—whom she had never seen before in her life—dropped his head in worship and touched his forehead to the instep of her foot. “What are you . . . ” she started to say, but was cut off mid-sentence.
Her senses reeled. She felt something coursing through her. Her vision momentarily went black. A low rumble like an earthquake shook the room. The courtyard outside the windows fell into muddy shadows.
“Nakajima!” the vice-principal shrieked, his face apoplectic with rage. “What the devil is going on?”