PREVIEWS - Eternal Rain Novel

BOOK 1, CHAPTER 2

Unable to get a good night’s rest, Toki was at it again as the sun was rising the next day. Exhausted, she settled in the grass for a break, when someone called out, “Hey, you!”

Toki quickly jumped up at the provocation. Am I in trouble? She readied the weapon that Takeshi had given her for protection, dreading the moment that she would actually have to use it. Toki searched for where the voice had come from and spotted the person in a tree nearby. Uneasily, she called out, “What do you want?”

The person in the tall tree stood up on the thick bough. Now that Toki could see the full figure, she realized that it was a lean-bodied girl. The girl’s long, indigo ribbon blew in the breeze. “Looks like you’ve finally gotten a bit better with that oddball sword of yours,” the girl commented. She whipped out what looked like a hand fan as she proudly placed her other hand on her hip. “How ‘bout a fight?”

“NO WAY!” Toki shouted. Is she nuts? Or is everyone here a fighting maniac?!

“I think it’s time to test your skills a bit,” the girl insisted.

“I said, NO,” Toki repeated firmly.

“Look,” the girl kept pushing, “if you ever hope to become a swordswoman, don’t think you’ll get far with that attitude. I’m gonna teach you a thing or two – whether you like it or not!” She sized Toki up for a long moment. Who is...this total newb?! As she watched Toki try to threateningly hold the sword out despite her trembling arms, she held back a laugh. It was like watching a frightened rabbit attempt to lift a baseball bat. Believe it or not, this is an improvement over this morning, the girl thought.

As Toki was about to speak again, a familiar voice called out from behind them. “That’s enough!”

Takeshi stepped in front of Toki and faced the tall girl in the tree. The girl in the tree put her hand fan away, and when Takeshi motioned for her to come down from the bough of the tree, she jumped down and landed lightly on her feet. “Kita, this is Toki Shimeru,” Takeshi introduced her. “Toki, this is Kita Mikichi.”

Toki uneasily stared at the girl who’d threatened her only moments ago but seemed to be friends with Takeshi.

“I’ve brought both of you here for the same purpose,” Takeshi continued. “There’s no reason for you to fight each other.”

“All right, I get it, Takeshi,” Kita brushed him off. “But, seriously, you brought this squirt here to help us fight? She doesn’t seem like she could do much.”

What? Did she really have to take this from someone who didn’t even know her? Seething, Toki jabbed her naginata into the dirt and stomped forward. “Quit treating me like some NOBODY!” she exploded. Now, if only she could get up the guts to say that in front of the popular girls at school…

Takeshi stepped between the girls again. “Enough, already!” he cried. “All right, look. I’ve got to leave for a bit. Can you cool off and play nice for a while?”

“Play nice?” Who does this kid think he’s talking to? Toki bit her tongue and stepped back. He’s looking at me while saying that, too. He was just a kid, himself. What made him think he could talk down to her like a child? She seethed at the thought.

“Whatever, Takeshi,” Kita sighed.

“Good.” And with that, Takeshi disappeared off again, leaving the girls to stand in an awkward silence.

Kita finally spoke up first. “So. Takeshi brought you here, too, huh?”

“Yeah. So?” Toki said guardedly. “Why are we here, anyway? Where is here?”

To Toki’s surprise, Kita laughed a bit and suggested, “How ‘bout we walk while we talk? Aren’tcha sick of standing still yet?” As Kita turned to start walking, she added, “I know I am.”

“Come again?” Toki asked confusedly.

“Y’know, I kinda like you, Squirt. You’ve got spunk,” Kita chuckled. “But you’ve gotta loosen up a bit. You’re so uptight.”

I’m uptight? You tried to attack me! Toki thought indignantly.

And just like that, Kita strutted off as if she was about to go on a casual stroll with a buddy of hers. Toki could only stare after her in bewilderment. Okay… So now she wants to be my friend…?

“You comin’?” Kita called.

Not particularly caring for the idea of being left alone for hours again, Toki took off after her. The scenery quickly changed from woods and streams to small clay buildings with thatched roofs. “You see, Takeshi hasn’t exactly told anyone what’s going on yet,” Kita began. “I got here several weeks ago, and I still don’t know what he wants from me. The guy’s pretty mysterious. I’m sure you’ve kind of noticed that already.”

Toki looked in the windows of some small shops as she listened. “No kidding,” she muttered. “You should go back home.”

“You’d think after a few weeks I would,” Kita agreed, “but I don’t know how.”

“What?!” Toki cried, her attention finally drawn away from the many sellers’ stands that lined the dirt path they were following.

“That’s right. None of us know how we got here or how to leave,” Kita told her. “We’re stuck here until Takeshi’s done with us or decides to kick us out.”

“Wait a second. Who’s ‘we’?” Toki inquired.

“There’s a whole bunch of us,” Kita said, counting on her fingers as she listed, “me, you – then Takeshi said he’d brought others too, but I haven’t met them yet. We’re just waiting for them to show up, I guess.”

“For real?” Toki asked in disbelief. “What have you been up to all this time?”

“Me? Well… Takeshi wound up introducing me to this girl who lives near the village, and she’s been teaching me how to fight.” Kita smiled with excitement at the thought – fighting was just something she enjoyed? “Like in the movies. I’ve always been into that stuff.” Yup. In other words, challenging her earlier was just her way of copying off of some old martial arts film. “By the way, my teacher’s a ninja.”

Toki was having a hard time believing her. But then, just being in this place was already unbelievable enough. “So where’s your weapon?” Toki asked.

“Right here,” Kita said, pulling out two red-and-green hand fans – it really was a fan that she was holding before.

“Fans? Really? You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Toki chuckled.

“These aren’t ordinary fans, Squirt,” Kita corrected her proudly. “They give me control over air. Just one of these can whip up a twister in seconds!”

“Wow! Really?!” It was like something out of a superhero TV show. Toki couldn’t help but grin.

“You’re funny.” Kita chuckled. “You remind me of my little sis’ back home.”

“You have a sister? What is she like?” Toki asked. She found herself wondering what her own sister was doing now, and just as she’d gotten lost in the thought, Kita walked off into one of the shops. “Hey, where are you going?” Toki called and ran after her.

“Look!” Kita pointed out a dress hanging on a rack near the doorway. “It seems like this one would suit you!”

“I can pick out my own clothes, thank you very much!” Toki cried in embarrassment.

“Aw, come on, you’re running around in your socks,” Kita pointed out, “and we don’t know how long we’ll be stuck here. You might as well have fun with it.”

Toki felt her face flush. “But I don’t have any way to pay you back,” she admitted.

“Oh, is that all?” Kita’s face lit up. “It’s on me! Just consider it a gift to make up for picking a fight with you earlier.” She winked at Toki and called over a helper in the shop.

Toki resigned herself to accepting the gift, especially seeing how psyched Kita was to be shopping with someone she said reminded her of her sister.

The shop helper took Toki’s measurements and fitted the dress for her. When it came time to pay, only traded goods were accepted, and Kita gave the shop helper some well-crafted knick-knacks (which she said she got from the girl who was training her). By the time it was all said and done, they had a dress on the way that they’d have to pick up later that night. What an odd place, Toki thought.

As they left the shop, Kita was ready to resume their conversation again. “Okay, back on topic… Where was I?”

Toki was about to ask her more about her sister, but she gave up when Kita got her train of thought back.

“Takeshi says this place is actually some kind of alternate dimension,” Kita said. “Seems nuts, I know. But who else can we ask about this stuff besides Takeshi?”

Toki’s disbelief was only growing. “Another dimension, huh? Now I know the kid’s crazy…” And yet, as Kita said, who could they trust? Toki wondered if she should even trust Takeshi, after all that had happened. Come to think of it… he knew my name, and I’d never even introduced myself… she realized. “How does he know us, anyway? What makes him think he has the right to keep us here?” As Toki thought more and more about it, her anxiety—and anger—grew.

“He seems harmless enough,” Kita said resignedly. “I mean, he’s just a kid, y’know?” She shrugged. “Maybe Takeshi’s got a few screws loose, but I think we can trust him.”

“TRUST him?” Toki blurted out. “What has he told us about himself, huh? – Nothing! How do we know he’s not gonna – ?”

“Uh, Toki!!”

Before Toki could take heed, she collided with a boy on the path and fell – and, as she glanced around in confusion, she noticed for the first time the way some of the village's residents around them were looking at them, some even hiding.

“Would you mind watching where you’re going?”

The boy’s irritated comment snapped Toki back into the moment. She had knocked the redhead onto his backside, and she was awkwardly perched over him. Toki’s face flushed. She instantly jumped to her feet. “Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t mean it! Really!!” She clumsily caught the boy’s wrist. “Here, let me help you up!” she offered.

The boy abruptly jerked his arm back. “No, that’s okay,” he declined tersely, masking a wince. “I don’t need your help.” Toki stepped aside, and the boy got to his feet.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Toki asked.

“Yeah, it’s no big deal,” the boy replied. He dusted himself off and straightened out the orange bandanna that hung around his neck. As he took his first good look at the girls, he commented, “I don’t think I’ve seen you two around here before.” He blinked at them inquisitively. “What are your names?”

Kita stepped between them. “I’m Kita Mikichi,” she introduced herself, “and this is Toki Shimeru.” She gestured to Toki. “We’re kind of new around here,” she explained.

“I see. So, tell me, are you two part of Takeshi’s gang?” the boy asked.

“Yeah!” Toki blurted out. “How did you know?”

“The name’s Reka Norikawa,” the redhead introduced himself. “Takeshi invited me here too. Have you seen him?” he asked. Under his breath, he muttered, “It’s hard to get in touch with that guy.”

“Yeah, we saw him this morning,” Kita replied. “And before that, Toki met him when she got here last night.”

“Last night?” Reka repeated. “Then are you the last one?”

“Me?” Toki asked. “I guess so…” The others that Takeshi and Kita kept talking about were here already? Where, then? “Um… Just how many people did Takeshi bring here?”

“Eight, including myself,” Reka replied.

“EIGHT?!?” Kita and Toki blurted out in unison.

“That’s right,” Reka replied.

He’s putting eight people through this? Toki thought to herself. “Do you know why he brought us here?” Toki figured there was no harm in asking, since Reka seemed to know a lot about what was going on.

Reka replied, “All I really know at this point is that he has a plan up his sleeve. In case you didn’t know, there’s a big problem between the Gates right now. He wants us to help him patch things up.”

“‘Gates’?” Toki repeated.

“The dimensions,” Reka explained. “Here, we call them ‘Gates’. This is the Water Gate, and I come from the Fire Gate. Takeshi’s asking people from all over to come and help out.”

Toki felt the eyes of the villagers on them and heard their murmurs as she, Kita and Reka made their way out of the market. Now that Reka had explained, she realized that it was mainly him that the villagers were looking at. Is it because he’s not from here? Toki guessed. We all stick out, don’t we? In any case, it felt good when they were free of the stares and heading back into another wooded area.

“You seem to know Takeshi pretty well,” Toki observed. “Are you two friends, Reka?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call us ‘friends’,” Reka replied, “but I’ve gotten to know him a little. We’re more like partners.”

“Oh. That’s a surprise,” Toki said, and Kita cocked an eyebrow in disbelief.

“So, Reka,” Kita spoke up, “do you know your way around pretty well?”

“Somewhat,” Reka answered. “Why? You guys looking for a tour guide?” he asked with a grin.

“I guess you could say that,” Kita chuckled.

“Maybe you guys should look around and get accustomed to the place,” Reka suggested. “It looks like we’ll be here a while.”

The woods gave way to barren rocks and valleys. Soon, they were walking through a rocky gorge. “You ready to turn around?” Reka asked.

“Nah,” Kita said, “I’m up for some adventure!”

“Fine,” Reka complied, “but let’s walk a bit faster, okay?”

“Go faster?” Toki panted. “I’m tired already!” As she hunched over a bit from fatigue, she noticed the bandage wrapped around Reka’s right wrist. His arm… Is that why he wouldn’t let me help him up earlier? “Uh, hey, Reka,” she finally spoke up, “what happened to your wrist?”

Her attention captured, Kita looked down at the bandage as well. “Are you hurt?” she asked.

“It’s nothing,” Reka said curtly. The coldness in his icy-blue eyes was a little scary. But it only lasted for a moment. Suddenly, his expression changed to alarm, and Reka held his arm out to stop the girls.

“Huh? What is it?” Toki asked.

They tensed as two older teens dressed in red shirts similar to Reka’s stepped out from behind the tall rocks of the gorge walls. “Freeze where you are!” ordered the older of the two.

* * * * *

“What are we doing here, San-Qiung? This is a waste of time.” Jun-ai put her hands on her hips and impatiently looked around. “Who is this Takeshi guy, anyway?”

Her cousin looked up at the small boy dressed in blue, with a mark on his face and hair even bluer than his shirt, who was walking their way. “That must be him.”

“There you are!” Takeshi hurried toward them. “I’m glad we could finally meet. I’m sorry I couldn’t contact you earlier.”

“Are you Takeshi?” San-Qiung asked.

“I am,” Takeshi answered. He shook San-Qiung’s broad hand. “I brought you both here because I need your help,” Takeshi explained.

“And that’s your excuse for stranding us – ?!”

“Stop, Jun,” San-Qiung cut her off. Turning back toward Takeshi, he said, “I apologize for my cousin’s rudeness. Please pardon her.”

Takeshi accepted the apology with a nod. “Allow me to apologize as well, for causing you needless frustration,” he said. “If you come with me to my village, I can explain everything.”

That was when a man with slate-blue hair and a facial marking came running toward them. “Young Takeshi!” he called. “There’s been a sighting! The Fire Guards have been spotted in the Wind Labyrinth!” The man halted and caught his breath. “Three visitors were seen leaving the village in that direction. I assume they were your guests – one of them was that Llanian child…”

Visitors? With Reka? Takeshi’s blue eyes widened with alarm. “San-Qiung, Jun-ai,” Takeshi said urgently, “before we go to the village, can you come with me to help them?”

“Why should we go with you?” Jun-ai spat.

Her cousin stopped her again. “Very well,” he replied.

“Why should we do anything he says?” Jun-ai hissed.

San-Qiung calmly explained, “If Takeshi brought us here, then he can help us get home.”

Her cousin didn’t have to say more. It couldn’t be helped, then – they needed to be on this Takeshi kid’s good side if they ever wanted to leave this place. Jun-ai bit her tongue and nodded her reluctant agreement.

* * * * *

“What do you mean, you left it?!” Kita cried. She and Reka blocked the two teens’ paths to Toki, and Kita held her fans at the ready as Reka blocked a punch.

“My naginata… It’s still back at that courtyard…” Toki shook with fear. So this was why she needed a weapon – to protect herself from people like these. I can’t believe I forgot it back there… I can’t fight. And now these two have to cover for me. The guilt hit hard and fast. Why am I so useless?

“Squirt! Earth to Toki! Get back in the game!” The older of their two opponents slipped between Kita and Toki and knocked Kita away. Toki froze, and the boy knocked her out.

Kita scrambled back to her feet with her fan drawn and blew the older teen away from Toki with a burst of wind. “Toki!” Kita skidded to a stop and attacked the boy again with another strong burst of wind. The boy crashed into the gorge wall and sat stunned for a moment. Kita looked around for the other one and saw him and Reka going at each other fiercely. “Reka, are you all right?” she called.

In the instant that Reka glanced her way, his opponent seized his bandaged wrist and twisted his arm. Reka let out a sharp cry and forced his opponent back with a blast of hot air.

“Get back!” Kita called out. As soon as Reka could jump out of the way, she blew the boy away with a gale-force wind from her fan.

“DUCK!!” That was Takeshi’s voice.

Reka yanked Kita down, and a storm of shuriken flew over their heads and lodged in the dirt, forcing the enemies back. “What the heck is going on now?!” Kita cried.

Three of you couldn’t even hold off two scrawny goons?”

Kita sat up and looked back at the twig-thin, almond-eyed girl and the tall, slim-but-muscular young man with Takeshi.

“Pathetic,” spat the girl.

Says the one who’s even scrawnier than the goons, Kita retorted silently.

“Do you need a hand?” the tall young man asked in a thick Mandarin accent.

“Yes, please!” Kita spoke up.

The young man pulled a sheathed sword from behind his back. Using the sword’s hilt, he knocked out the older of the two enemy teens.

Takeshi stepped up to the younger and raised his hand, pulling groundwater from under the dirt. He froze the boy's hands together and said, “I suggest you leave.” That was enough to send the outnumbered fighter running with his tail between his legs.

“Let’s go to the village now,” Takeshi said. “The others are waiting.”