PREVIEWS - Eternal Rain Novel

BOOK 1, CHAPTER 4

Sharon finished tending to Yuki’s burn and dismissed Takeshi from the room, following him out and shutting the door behind her. “You don’t have anything to worry ‘bout,” she reassured him. “Her injury wasn’t too serious.”

“Thank you, Sharon,” Takeshi said. “You’re very talented. We’re fortunate to have you.”

Sharon fiddled with a lock of her long, coarse hair and awkwardly brushed him off. “Don’t mention it.”

That was when they both heard voices outside the house. “I’ll go and check it out,” Takeshi said. “You stay here with Yuki.” Takeshi cautiously inched out of his front door and caught sight of Kita and Mara. He blinked at them in confusion. “It’s you girls. What happened?”

Kita and Mara stood, panting, at the front of the house. “Those.. Guard dudes… They ransacked the campsite,” Kita huffed.

“We got split up from the others and ran back here,” Mara added.

“Hide inside,” Takeshi directed them. “Hurry!” He herded the girls inside the house and ran in behind them, shutting and locking the door on his way. He headed to a window and kept watch through a partially-drawn shade. “How far did they follow you?” Takeshi asked.

“We lost them not too far from the campsite,” Mara reported.

“Or, rather, they stopped following us there,” Kita clarified. “It was kinda fishy… Maybe there are more of their guys nearby? Or are we not the ones they were after?”

“Where is Reka?” Takeshi asked.

Kita and Mara both blinked at him blankly. “You think he’s their target?” Kita asked. She remembered Jun-ai questioning Reka about his clothes – saying that they looked like the Guards’ uniforms. “Don’t tell me…there was some truth to what that Jun-ai girl said?!”

* * * * * * * *

Reka glared at the two Llanian Guards as they came into view. He recognized them both – they were his ex-teammates, Masato and Daisuke. It was Masato, the one with the dark hair and sharp eyes, who had spoken first. Reka mumbled his name. Why these two, of all people?

“You know these guys?” Toki asked him uneasily.

Reka didn’t answer her and instead cautiously positioned himself between her and the Guards. “What do you want?” he called.

“What do you think?” Masato retorted snidely. “We’re taking you with us.”

“Oh, really?”

“We have orders to put you under arrest!” Masato barked. “We’ll take you by force, if we have to!” He snorted when Reka unflinchingly stood his ground. “Do you really think you can get away with joining the enemy?! Traitor!!”

Reka cringed and resigned himself to a fight. There was no way Masato would let him off easily – he had too much of an ego to back down. “Your fight is with me. Got it?”

“What’s going on?” Toki asked in alarm.

Reka nudged her away. “Get out of here, Toki,” he said quietly. “You can go straight through there to the Kaita village.” He nodded toward a slightly-treaded path through the woods.

“I am not leaving you here!” Toki argued.

This girl – she was picking now of all times to be stubborn? “There’s no time for this. Go!” Reka pushed her away as Masato charged at him. He was leading in with punches, but Reka saw the glint of a weapon in his other hand. When Masato lunged at him with the knife, Reka caught his arm and used his momentum to cast him out of range.

Reka took a punch to his injured arm – it sent a sharp sting up to the shoulder. It was Daisuke this time, using Masato’s previous attack as a cover. These two know my weaknesses. I’ve gotta be careful! He grabbed Daisuke’s shirt and threw him off to the side; but Daisuke came back for another attack. Doggone it…! I don’t want to hurt him!

“Behind you! REKA!!” Toki screamed from his other side.

Reka whipped out a small knife of his own and spun to block Masato’s attack. The knives clashed, and Masato's knife flew out of his hand and into the grass. Before Daisuke could strike, Reka launched himself aside.

The two Guards collided into each other. “Daisuke, you idiot,” Masato snapped as he shoved the slate-haired boy off of him, “watch where you’re going!!” He slyly recovered his knife and scrambled back to his feet. While they argued, Reka charged them – but Masato was ready. He feinted a frontal and went for Reka’s left leg. Reka swung away and avoided the blow, but Masato landed a kick to Reka’s side. Reka crumpled to his knees. “That’s for what your Water Gate buddy did to me last time!” Masato yelled smugly.

Reka heard footsteps coming his way. To his dismay, it was Toki who was charging into the fray and inserting herself between him and his former allies. Masato easily disarmed her and restrained her hands. As if she was a match for someone with military training... You idiot! I told you to leave!

“Let me go!!” Toki shrieked.

In an instant, Reka was back on his feet. “I told you to leave her out of this, Masato!!” Reka yelled angrily. “This is between you and me!!!”

“If you want to save your girlfriend,” Masato taunted him, “come and get her.”

Daisuke’s eyes widened. “We were just supposed to catch them, not hurt them – !”

“Shut up and back me up, Daisuke!” Masato barked.

Reka charged toward Masato only to have Daisuke intercept his blows. “Daisuke, you don’t have to listen to that jerk!!”

“I’m sorry, Reka, I don’t have a choice!” Daisuke threw some half-hearted jabs, but Reka avoided him and swung around to go back after Masato.

Reka pried Masato’s arms away enough to let Toki slip out of his grasp and then fell back with Toki in tow.

“Why, you – !!” Masato growled.

“Get the heck out of here!!” Reka shouted again.

“Not without you!” Toki insisted doggedly.

Masato came at Reka full-speed, and Reka threw him into Daisuke. Now, before that stubborn idiot gets herself hurt…! While the two Guards squabbled again, Reka grabbed some rope from one of the destroyed tents and tied them up. “All right, where are the others?” he interrogated them.

“I don’t know who you mean,” Masato said stubbornly.

“Don’t give me that crap, Masato. Where are our teammates?”

“‘Teammates’? HA!” Enraged, Masato shouted, “Why would I tell you, traitor?!”

“You’ve already ticked me off,” Reka snapped with a scowl. “Do you really want to play games with me right now?” He held out his knife threateningly.

“Several Guard units went after Nimahari’s group!” Daisuke finally spoke up. “Their orders were to split them up and take them in!”

“Daisuke, you FOOL!” Masato exploded.

Reka put his weapon away and turned to Toki. “We’ll have to hurry if we want to catch up to the others,” he told her. “Do me a favor and stick close to me if you’re gonna fight, all right? I can’t back you up if you rush in on your own.”

Toki flushed and only nodded.

“I’m not done with you, traitor!!” Masato blurted out. “Where do you think you’re going?!”

“Stay put, unless you want to get me any angrier,” Reka threatened him. He started toward the route he’d indicated to Toki earlier. “Let’s go,” he told her. He picked up Toki’s naginata and handed it to her as she began to follow.

“Is it really okay to just leave them?” Toki asked.

Reka glanced back at Daisuke. “Never mind them,” he told Toki. “Come on!” He herded her along and rushed through the brush without looking back again.

* * * * * * * *

Kita was pacing nervously back and forth while Mara sat, waiting. The night was well along, now, and the others had yet to regroup. Sharon was back in the closed-up room with Takeshi’s injured friend, and Takeshi was keeping watch at a nearby window.

I hope Kiara and the others are all right, Mara thought worriedly.

Kita’s frustrated shout broke her away from her thoughts. “That’s it! I can’t wait around anymore!” She threw her hands in the air. “We’ve gotta do something!”

Takeshi stepped away from the window. “It seems they’re not coming into the village,” he surmised. “Maybe they don’t yet have orders to do so…”

“That’s great!” Kita cried. “That means we can get everyone and bring them back here, right?”

Takeshi stood there with his head bowed thoughtfully for a moment. “The Guards have never actually attacked the village before; if they did so without backing, they’d have to worry about tangling with our village’s security by themselves,” he thought aloud, “so it’s probably safe.”

“Arright, then let’s go get the others!” Kita cheered.

“No, let’s wait,” Takeshi said. “They know to meet either here or at the Night’s Sea castle in an emergency. It’ll do us no good to go chasing each other in circles.”

“But what if they can’t make it back?” Mara spoke up.

“If they don’t come soon, then we’ll go and get them,” Takeshi assured her. After a pause, he asked, “Mara, you’re a gymnast, aren’t you?”

Mara hopped up from where she was sitting to join them. “Yes,” she answered. “I’m active in lots of sports, and since coming here, I’ve learned some martial arts, too.”

“Excellent,” Takeshi said. “Your skills and Kita’s will complement each other, then.”

Mara and Kita exchanged questioning glances. Does he have a plan? Mara wondered.

“Why don’t we take up watch outside?” Takeshi suggested. After informing Sharon of what they were doing, he led Kita and Mara outside the house. “You’ve both already trained a bit, right?” he asked. “If you’re not going to take this time to rest up, maybe you should spar with each other.”

“Sparring in the dark,” Kita chuckled. “All righty, then.” She whipped out her fans. “Here I come!” As soon as she attacked, Mara leaped high into the air and landed lightly on her toes behind her. In that instant, she realized what Takeshi was getting at – her fans were the perfect match for Mara’s talent at leaping.

Mara shot Kita a grin when she realized it too. “Amazing!”

“As I thought,” Takeshi mused.

Suddenly, a flash of light zipped past them – it was a small fireball. “GET DOWN!” Takeshi cried, and a bigger one passed over their heads as they hit the ground.

“The Guards?!” Mara cried.

“So much for ‘they’re not attacking the village’,” Kita muttered.

“No, this is still far enough on the outskirts where they could get away with it if they really wanted to test their boundaries,” Takeshi told the girls. He nervously glanced back at his house.

“Figures,” Kita muttered. “Well, then, I guess we fight.” The three got back up to defend themselves as two Guards emerged from the brush.

* * * * * * * *

Toki stumbled through the underbrush as she tried to keep up with Reka and prevent the blade of her naginata from getting tangled in the branches of bushes at the same time. “I don’t see anyone,” she huffed and puffed. “Are you sure we’re...going the right way, Reka?”

“Takeshi had Sharon take Yuki to his place,” Reka replied quietly. “We’ll hopefully find at least them there.”

“Yuki is…that blue-haired girl’s name?” Toki tried to hack away at a low-hanging branch, but the blade of her naginata got lodged in the wood instead. As she tried to pry it out, Reka turned around and helped her ease it safely free.

“Yes,” Reka replied. “She’s Takeshi’s – ”

“—Girlfriend?” Toki guessed.

Reka choked down a laugh. “Childhood friend,” he corrected her. His face reddened a bit as his shoulders shook with barely-contained laughter.

Toki blinked at him, and her face, too, reddened. “Was it that weird of a guess?” she mumbled in embarrassment. She eased, though, at seeing Reka relaxed enough to act more his age.

The calm, however, didn’t last. Toki and Reka heard shouting not too far away, and they could smell smoke. Reka led Toki through the dense shrubbery, and when they at last burst out of the woods, they found Takeshi, Kita and Mara struggling against more Llanian Guards. Smoke was rising from some singed plants near Takeshi’s house, and Takeshi was defending Kita and Mara from the Guards’ fire. Reka realized that Mara was hurt, as she was huddled up at Kita’s side, cradling an arm.

One Guard broke through Takeshi’s defense, and another rushed him.

“TAKESHI!” Toki screamed. She started to run to them, but Reka grabbed her arm to hold her back. “He’s outnumbered!!” Toki cried worriedly.

“Don’t worry,” Reka said, “Takeshi can handle himself.”

“What are you saying?!”

“He’s only taking those hits because he’s covering the girls,” Reka told her. “Let’s get them out of here first, so Takeshi doesn’t have to worry about them.”

Toki nodded uneasily. “Okay.”

Unfortunately, Toki’s shout had caught the attention of the Guards, and while one continued to pressure Takeshi, the other started toward her and Reka. Toki tensed.

Reka nudged her forward and told her, “Keep moving!” He choked out the flames that the Guard shot at them as Toki pressed onward. Soon, they’d worked their way past Takeshi and the Guard’s partner, and Toki ran to Kita and Mara, while Reka held off the Guard that was following them.

“You’re all right, Squirt!” Kita cried.

“Quit it with that stupid nickname, and let’s run!” Toki told her. She took note of Mara’s injuries then – a burn on her right arm and a burn on her right leg. She and Kita helped her up and away.

“Sorry about this,” Mara apologized.

“Don’t even mention it,” Kita told her.

As soon as the girls were far enough away, Takeshi started pulling water from under the ground. “Reka, move away!” he called. Reka broke free from the second Guard and fell back to where the girls were taking shelter. Water began bursting from under the dirt. “It’s time for you two to leave,” Takeshi warned the Guards.

“Don’t let him pull anything!!” The Guards ganged up on Takeshi before he could attack, pinned him and got in a few punches and kicks.

“Let’s help Takeshi now!” Toki begged.

“No, it’s too risky,” Reka told her.

“I’m not afraid of those stupid Guards!!” Toki burst out – though her legs and shoulders trembled with fear.

“It’s not the Guards I’m concerned about,” Reka said. He gestured for her to look back.

Takeshi had fought his way free and started pulling water up again. The water shot up fast and built into a wall – he was done holding back. The Guards clambered away, but didn’t get far before Takeshi released the wall of water upon them and washed them into the woods.

Kita whistled. “Somebody got serious,” she said in surprise.

Toki just stared in shock as Takeshi stepped toward the unconscious Guards and bound their hands for good measure.

Finally, Takeshi motioned for Reka and the girls to come back. Kita let Mara hang onto her and limp alongside.

“That sure was crazy,” Kita commented. “You just let it all loose, huh?”

“I guess I did,” Takeshi granted her. “That technique – the Nami Kaita – is a last-resort tactic.” Takeshi glanced back at his house. These guys can use fire. As soon as they wake up, they can get loose easily. He looked at Mara and asked, “Where did they get you?”

“My right arm and leg,” she replied.

“Kita, please take her back inside and have Sharon take care of her,” Takeshi requested. “I’ll go make a report to Kaita’s guardsmen, so we can get these two in custody,” he went on, “and since the others have yet to join us here, it seems we need to go and look for them. Reka, Toki, can I leave that to you?” His gaze settled intently on them.

Toki just stared back at him. She realized that she was still shaking. I’m done. I just want this to be over. And that – Takeshi’s power… is scary... If he can do that, are we up against something just as scary – or even scarier?

The Squirt is scared, Kita realized. She slung her arm around Toki’s shoulder, and Toki snapped right out of it. “Hey, don’t freak out,” Kita told Toki with a wink. “After all, you’ve got that guy with you.” She nodded toward Reka. I know I can trust him with her. He’s protected us before; and he did get her this far safely. Toki nodded uncertainly, and Kita mussed up her rosy hair. “You’ll be fine!” Kita reassured her again.

“Okay, okay, stop it!” Toki cried until Kita finally released her and stopped tousling her hair.

“All right, we’ll go after Kiara and the cousins,” Reka agreed.

“Thank you,” Takeshi said. “Meet the rest of us back here—in an hour, tops, if you can. Otherwise, we’ll start to worry.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Reka agreed.

With that, Takeshi left to make his report, and Kita took Mara inside the house to get her wounds tended to.

“Ready?”

Reka’s voice made Toki jump. Yes, they were about to go and fight again. Reka waited for her to answer. She nodded uneasily and followed him once more into the brush.

* * * * * * * *

San-Qiung, Jun-ai and Kiara still had the Guards chasing at their heels when they ran out of space to run. Ahead of them was a lake; behind them, the enemy. Jun-ai spun on the Guards and unleashed a storm of projectiles on them. The Guards jumped back to avoid them, but the fact still remained that they had the upper hand – there was nowhere left for the cousins and Kiara to go, unless they wanted to try their hand at swimming in the dark. “This suits me just fine,” Jun-ai growled. “I was getting sick of running.”

“Jun, don’t do anything rash!” San-Qiung pleaded with his cousin.

“There are three of us and two of them! We can win!” Jun-ai insisted.

“I don’t know about you,” Kiara said, “but I’d rather not take the chance of getting any scars here. And unlike the two of you, I’m not a fighter.”

“Give yourselves up,” called the younger of the two Guards, a blonde with blue-grey eyes. “I’d rather not fight, if at all possible.”

“HA! Right!” Jun-ai spat sarcastically. “Well, too bad for you! I’m just itching to let off some steam!” She reached into the pouch on her hip for more shuriken.

But the Guards were quicker this time. With a simple wave of his hand, the older one sent Jun-ai splashing into the lake. “Jun!!” San-Qiung shouted and spun to fish her out.

Kiara threw her arms up in surrender. “I’m unarmed!” she cried. “Please don’t hurt me!”

The older Guard huffed and stood down. “Too easy,” he said flatly. He turned briefly to his partner. “Katsushiro,” he said, gesturing toward Kiara, “take her into custody.”

The blonde sighed and approached Kiara as San-Qiung finally pulled his cousin out of the water. “She’s surrendered. I suggest you do the same.” San-Qiung stood and glared at the boy, who restrained Kiara’s hands.

“You COWARD!” Jun-ai glared daggers at Kiara and got to her feet.

“That’s more like it.” The older Guard went at Jun-ai with a knife, and San-Qiung blocked him with his sheathed sword. “After that tiresome chase, you should at least give us the honor of a fair fight.” The teen, though not as muscular as San-Qiung, was breaking through San-Qiung’s guard.

This is the strength of someone who’s seen real combat, San-Qiung realized. And these people are not even as strong as the army we will inevitably be facing… Just as the Guard broke through, Jun-ai jumped from behind her cousin. “What are you doing?!”

Jun-ai pulled a weapon from her hip pouch and went at the Guard. “Get BACK, San-Qiung! You don’t have to protect me!!”

It only took an instant for the Guard to grab her arm, reel her in and knock her out. “It was a good effort,” the Guard said. He then turned to San-Qiung. “Your turn.”

The guard suddenly spun as a rustling in the brush behind them caught his attention. He ducked just before something swung over his head. When he got back up, he saw a girl holding the shaft of a long blade toward him.

“Toki!” San-Qiung called in surprise.

“Watch where you’re swinging that!” Kiara cried. “You almost hit San-Qiung!”

“S-Sorry!” Toki stammered.

Reka burst out of the brush not long after her. “Is everyone okay?” he asked.

“Reka, is that you?”

Reka spun to face the blonde Guard that was holding Kiara. “Katsushiro? What are you doing here?!” He could only stare for a moment before realizing that he had his teammates to worry about more. Kiara was in Katsushiro’s custody, and Jun-ai was unconscious near San-Qiung and the other Guard – who this one was, Reka didn’t know.

“You’re friends with this guy?” Kiara asked sharply.

Reka didn’t answer.

“Interesting,” said the older Guard, whose mouth twisted in a curious smile. “A greenhorn with a naginata and a Llanian Guard turned traitor – Let’s see what you’ve got.” He gripped the butt end of Toki’s naginata and yanked it toward him.

With a startled yelp, Toki dropped the weapon, and the Guard charged her as soon as she was disarmed. Before she could react, he jabbed her in the gut and knocked the air out of her.

The guard stared down at her. “Hm. A let-down.”

“TOKI!” Reka yelled.

Toki crumpled to the ground in tears. It hurts!! She felt like she could vomit. She was just catching her trembling breaths when Reka ran between her and the Guard, shouting pleadingly at her to get up. Her shaky arms were wrapped around her stomach, and her legs had no strength in them – how was she supposed to get up?

Reka struggled to restrain the Guard’s arms, but the Guard was much bigger and sturdier than him. Every time the Guard would push or jerk his left arm, sharp pains would shoot up Reka’s right. He could feel the wrist cracking and popping. The earlier tangle with Daisuke and Masato had aggravated the injury. He couldn’t hold the older boy at bay much longer. But Toki was still reeling from the blow she’d taken. If the Guard got loose…

San-Qiung intervened just before the Guard wrenched free. “Two against one, is it?” As he caught Reka going to Toki’s side from the corner of his eye, he spun to face San-Qiung instead.

“Toki, are you okay?” Reka asked. “You’ve gotta get up.” Just helping her to her feet set the injured arm aflame with pain, and he inhaled sharply. “Listen to me… I’ve got an idea,” he told her. “But you’ve got to hang in there and work with me, okay?”

Toki noticed him wince. He’s hurting… He’s hurting too. She tried to steady her shaky legs. “Okay,” she said and nodded tremulously. She stooped down a little and listened as he explained his plan in a voice just barely above a whisper. “But I can’t – !”

“You can,” Reka assured her firmly. “You can do this.”

They heard the scraping of metal on metal. San-Qiung had unsheathed his sword, and the Guard was going at him with a long knife. San-Qiung quickly wrenched his sword up and disarmed the Guard.

“San-Qiung, step back!”

At Reka’s call, San-Qiung sheathed his sword and backed off. Toki swept the preoccupied Guard’s feet from underneath him with the shaft of her naginata, and Reka knocked him out.

Toki stood frozen for a moment and stared, panting. His plan had worked. They’d pulled it off.

San-Qiung and Reka now turned on the blonde Guard – Katsushiro was the name that Reka had blurted out. “I have no desire to fight.” He released Kiara and raised his arms in surrender. “You win.” Katsushiro watched Reka’s eyes narrow at him. “Don’t look at me like that. You couldn’t free yourself from the military either. That’s why you’re in this predicament now, isn’t it?” He whipped out a small piece of paper, cautiously stepped forward and put it in Reka’s hand. “A gift from ShÅ«ichi,” he whispered. “I’ll be retreating now. I hope we won’t have to cross paths again.” And with that, he just turned and left.

“Are you just going to let him go?” Kiara asked.

Reka tucked the piece of paper into his pocket. “Fighting any more would be to our disadvantage,” Reka told her tiredly. “We’re all exhausted from a lack of sleep, and we’ve sustained injuries. Let’s go back to the village.”

San-Qiung picked up his cousin and carried her on his back as he headed into the woods with Kiara in tow. Reka turned to follow, but Toki was still standing behind him, just looking around as though someone was going to leap out and attack her at any moment.

“Hey,” Reka called. Toki jumped and turned to face him. Reka smiled a bit. “It’s over now. You did well.” He started to follow the others into the brush. “Come on.”

Toki eased. Actually felt a little bit proud, at his praise. A small smile inched across her face. “I’m coming,” she said and followed the others back to the village.

_________________________________________________________________________________

This is the final full-chapter preview. Thanks for reading!