Sayaka grabbed the book from the table and threw herself on the sofa. She sighed at the scene outside the window.
Two months of non-stop smog. Was it never going to end?
She longed for the days when she could open the doors to the patio and take a deep breath of fresh air. She missed being able to go out for a long walk on a sunny day.
Now, everything was dark and dreary. The sun hidden behind the never-ending clouds of billowing smoke and ash. No one knew where it came from or what caused it.
The young lady wondered what had happened to the beautiful touristic attractions around her city.
The Bamboo Forests. The Three Frog Throat Waterfalls. And even the Mountain of Ancient Dragons that she could once see from her home.
Now, most likely, devastated and decimated by the onslaught of dirt, grit, and grime that probably covered them just like it did the entire city.
Sayaka had no idea where her family was either. They had left her at home for the weekend and gone on a short trip to visit relatives in a neighboring city. She stayed home because she had to work that day.
After finishing, Sayaka had planned to catch the five-o’clock train. At noon, however, storm clouds began to gather over the city and a strange, black drizzle began. It came down as thick goo similar to oil and didn’t stop until well after dark.
She was not brave enough to venture outside until it stopped. So, Sayaka missed her train. She didn’t even want to leave the building after the rain stopped. She didn’t like the look of it and knew something was wrong.
Sayaka wanted to stay in the building all night. But her boss refused to let her sleep there. He offered her a ride home. Fortunately, his car had been parked in the garage under the building. And he dropped her off in the garage under her apartment building. So, she hadn’t gotten wet the entire time.
Most everyone else hadn’t been so lucky. Many came down with a strange illness. Most died in less than a week. No one that had gone out in the rain that day had been known to survive.
The smog started before dawn. When she got up, Sayaka couldn’t see more than three feet outside. She tried calling her family, but never got an answer. Over half the people that lived in her building had died in the past few months.
As soon as she saw the smoke, Sayaka had run to her father’s secret panic room and grabbed the gas mask. It was a specially designed room in the center of the apartment.
Her father had prepared it in the event of a catastrophe, stocking it with weapons and enough food for the family for three months.
But since she was here alone, it would last much longer. Sayaka was grateful that she didn’t have to venture out into the world to scavenge for food like she heard most of her neighbor’s doing.
Every once in a while, her neighbor would stop by for a visit. Sayaka would share a little food with her and in exchange get caught up on the latest gossip.
It was the only contact that Sayaka had with the outside world. Phones had stopped working. TV channels no longer broadcast news. Even the internet had gone eerily silent. Strange since she still had electricity.
Sayaka wondered how long that would last though. She figured that it would get shut off eventually. Not that she was too worried because her father had left a generator in the secret room. So, she would be fine for a while.
She wondered how long the world would continue like this though. How long till the rest of the people in her building died from being exposed to the elements like this?
Was this the end of the world like the stories her mother had told her as a child? Had Amaterasu Omikami hidden herself in the cave once again causing this darkness to fall upon the earth?
She closed her book and tossed it off to the side. There was no use in pretending that she wanted to read. She wanted to go outside. She wanted to run in the streets. And she wondered if she would ever get that chance again.
One thing she knew for sure though. Nothing would ever be the same again.
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Fletcher stood at the edge of the lake surrounded by steep mountains. The edges of his thick, dark cape whipped and wafted in the warm wind that surrounded him. He gripped his spear tightly and tried to contain the emotion that surged within him.
Relief that the battle was over. Joy that he was still alive. Sadness over the senseless death of people he knew and loved. Nervous apprehension of what would come next as the world tried to pick up the pieces and carry on. A twinge of fear at the thought of returning to Alamorth once again. Guilt for having started this whole mess when he arrived. Anger at those who pushed him into it.
The thoughts swirled in his head like uncontrolled water flowing over the precipice of Niagra. The emotions raged through his cells like fire around the great phoenix’s feathers.
Fletcher took a deep breath and closed his eyes trying to push the emotions out of his mind. He focused on the fact that he was still alive. Grateful that despite everything he had been through, he was still alive.
The stormy emotions raging inside of him began to subside slowly as he took several more deep breaths. He opened his eyes once more and looked around. Fletcher stood in awe of the destruction that had taken place around him.
The crackling sound of the flames licking and consuming what was left of the once-mighty vessels of a great army filled his ears. The smoky scent of burning oak filled his nostrils from the broken and burnt-out hulls of charred ships surrounding the edge of the lake. Or rather, what had once been the bottom of the lake.
It now lay dry and barren. Eighty percent of the water that had once filled this crater was no longer here. Turned to steam, most of the great lake’s liquid had been vaporized into the atmosphere by flames from the Sword of Alamorth.
Fletcher lifted his eyes to look at the sword in the middle of the lake. It had landed point down and sunk deep into the soggy, lake bottom. He watched in awe as the sword slowly began to disintegrate and self-destruct from the bottom up. And yet, it did not fall over or move. The sword continued to hover over the water and float silently in the air.
The flames and burning ash continued to waft off of it. Then it began to rise into the air. Loose rocks around Fletcher trembled and rose up slightly along with it.
He wished that it didn’t have to end this way. Fletcher had come so far on his journey searching for this mighty weapon. And now that he had found it, the sword was disintegrating and disappearing before his very eyes.
Fletcher had started this journey with the hope that once he found it and possessed it, he would become king of all the land as the legends foretold. But that didn’t seem to be the case now.
The thought crossed his mind that his motives had not been pure. The entire time, he had viewed the sword as a symbol of power and authority. An object to be obtained for his own gain. And yet now, the true meaning of the sword became clear.
It was the symbol of freedom for his people. It had united them. Kept all of the tribes together. He was no better than any of the others. His tribe was no more special than the rest. And yet, if he possessed it, he would consider himself the best. His tribe would consider themselves more special than all of the others.
It was for the best that it be returned to its rightful place. Far from the grasp of corrupt and greedy men who would try to manipulate it and wield it for their own evil purposes. Men who would use it to control their fellow members for their own selfish ends.
Fletcher smiled at the thought that he had come full circle. He had left his tribe out of anger at his chief’s greedy and corrupt actions. And yet, he had no doubt that he would have been tempted to do the same if he had been in his shoes.
He reflected on the fact that over the course of his journey, his hope and belief had become blurred through his own desire for power which would have taken him down a destructive path.
The last bits of the sword’s handle disintegrated into bright bits of ashes and smoke. Fletcher raised his spear in a final salute. Grateful that the sword had saved him and his people. He had given it up to save the lives of those he loved. And it had been worth it.
He wondered what would have happened if he had chosen a different path. If he had run off with it, instead of using the sword to save his people. Would it still have been given him if he had done that? Had this all been a test?
Fletcher shook those questions out of his mind. He would never know. But he did know that he had made the right decision for himself and those he loved. He smiled wanly to himself and turned to leave the destruction behind him. It was time to head back home.
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Katsuro shuffled his way down the beach slowly. Watching a boat floating off to his left. Not really paying attention to where he was going. He watched the sun setting off in the distance. The sky glowed amber shades of red and orange.
The boy tired of walking and sat down in the sand. Waiting for the flaming orange ball to fade away below the horizon. Feeling frustrated and angry.
The woman would not appear this afternoon. It had been days since he had last seen her. He missed her. Katsuro wasn’t sure quite why. It’s not like they ever talked much. She never spoke at all. Just walked beside him carrying her umbrella. Listening to him blabber on about whatever was bothering him that day. But talking with her always made him feel better.
Well, at least until he had begun noticing that the recent deaths taking place in the village all coincided with her arrival. Katsuro exhaled nervously and looked around to see if anyone had followed him.
He had noticed Misaki following him earlier. The young chief’s main counselor. Misaki was an old crone who was feared by the entire village. She held great power over the villagers. They had put the new chief into power at her command.
Nobody really liked the new chief. Nor did they respect him. It’s not even that they actually respected the old crone either. It was more like abject terror that she would curse them or cause some evil to befall them.
Katsuro scoffed whenever people mentioned it. He didn’t consider himself a superstitious person at all. Which was why he hadn’t really made the connection to his new friend’s arrival and the death of the villagers. A total of nine people had already died.
It was all people could talk about. Everyone had an opinion about what was causing so many people to begin dying out of the blue. Katsuro hadn’t given it much thought. He thought it was just a cycle of life. But now he wasn’t so sure.
Maybe Misaki and the chief suspected him. Was it possible that they knew he was talking with this strange woman on the beach? The first person had died the day after the woman with the umbrella had appeared.
It’s not like she lived around here somewhere. The island was small, and Katsuro knew almost everyone who lived here since he was a young child. There were a few other villages scattered across the island. But Katsuro visited them frequently and had never seen her before.
When he looked up, she was there. Just like always. Standing in the waves between him and the sun. Her face hidden in the shadow of her umbrella. Her hair blowing out around her in the wind.
Katsuro stood to his feet. He glanced around to see if Misaki was watching. He didn’t see anyone else besides the woman in front of him. He took a few steps forward. Hesitantly. Unsure what to say.
The woman with the umbrella stood there. Unmoving. Wating for him.
“Who are you?” he finally asked.
She stood there silent and unmoving. This was different. Normally, she came forward out of the water as soon as he spoke to her. Then she would fall into step beside him as they walked along the beach.
But tonight, she stood silently in her place. Katsuro knew that she wouldn’t answer him.
“I thought that maybe you were the mother I never had,” the orphan said trying to hold back a sob. “But ever since you came, there has been only death and destruction. I never should have trusted you.”
Katsuro walked closer. Trying to see her face. Trying to look into her eyes. Moving around so the sun wasn’t shining in his eyes. It was something he had never tried to do before. He had always kept his head down when talking to her. But he had to know who this woman was.
When he saw her face, Katsuro stopped dead in his tracks. He caught his breath.
She had transformed herself well, but he still recognized her. She smiled coyly. “I was beginning to think you would never catch on.”
“What’s going on?” he growled angrily. “Is this a trick?”
“I want you to be the village chief, but I needed to make sure you were worthy.”
“What about Takara? He is our chief.”
The woman cackled, “Takara is a foolish, yes man. He has no spine. But I know you are different. He will die like the rest.”
“No!” Katsuro shouted. “I will tell everyone what you are doing.”
“That’s too bad. You’ll be the next to die then, and I’ll have to find someone else to take your place.”
With a puff of smoke, Misaki was gone. Katsuro looked around dumbly. He didn’t believe anything like that was possible. He had to find a way to warn Takara, and then get off this island before Misaki could put her plan into effect.
Now, he just needed to find a boat to escape in. The boat he had seen earlier was perfect and would fit the bill exactly. Katsuro took off running down the beach to see where it had landed before it got any darker.
Khalil smiled at the girl walking beside him in the park. It was such a romantic evening. Just the way he had hoped. Melissa was a gorgeous girl, and the way the moonlight illuminated her face was absolutely stunning. He let his eyes linger on her face as they walked down the sidewalk. Melissa noticed and turned to smile at him.
“What is it?” she asked. “Why are you looking at me like that? Is there food in my teeth?”
The boy felt his cheeks blush. He was glad they were walking in the dark. Khalil was a shy person. He had never dated before. Melissa was the first girl who seemed to show an interest in him. And he was afraid to ruin their friendship. She was the first friend he had made after arriving in the USA.
Khalil hadn’t yet told her how he felt. But he had been hoping to get the opportunity to tell her how he felt. The young Filipino was waiting for the right moment to open up his heart. But he wasn’t quite sure how his lovely American friend would respond though. He didn’t want to jump the gun and ruin the moment.
Normally, Khalil was the kind of person who wore his heart on his sleeve. He was a very open person and never had any trouble sharing is thoughts. He was able to easily express what was going on in his heart of hearts with complete strangers.
But when it came to the women he liked, Khalil found that opening up to them too soon often spooked them off. They seemed to find his expressions of love too overwhelming so fast. So, he was trying to hold himself back.
Khalil just wanted to take it slow and build a strong friendship first. But it wasn’t easy. She was so pretty. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Well, he could, but Khalil didn’t want to. He sighed and turned his face away.
“I think you are so beautiful. I can’t take my eyes off of you,” he said quietly, afraid his words would scare her off, but still unable to hold his feelings in any longer. “I love you. I have since I first laid eyes on you.”
He winced after saying it and breathed out a long, shaky sigh. Well, it was out. Now, he would just have to wait to see how she responded.
Melissa started laughing. “It took you long enough to say it.”
Khalil’s heart seemed to have stopped beating as he waited to find out what she meant. He was afraid to ask her.
“But first there’s something you should know about me,” she said.
His heart sank. Half-expecting her to tell him that she had a boyfriend. How could he have been so stupid to not have asked her about it before? Melissa had never given him a reason to think that.
Khalil’s mind started to whirl as he mentally kicked himself for all the things he should have said or asked her before spilling the beans like that. He always seemed to open his mouth and insert his foot during moments like these.
Melissa stopped walking and turned to face him. She reached out her left hand and brushed the side of his face. The girl smiled and time seemed to stand still for Khalil. He waited for the bombshell. For her to tell him that she wasn’t interested in him that way.
Just then, there was a loud boom off to their left. The blast knocked Khalil off his feet. He lay on the ground stunned for a moment. He looked up to see Melissa still standing in the same spot. She hadn’t moved at all or seemed phased by the explosion.
He glanced over to see what had caused the blast. He couldn’t see much at first through the smoke and settling debris. As the scene cleared, he could make out the form of a woman. Although, she wasn’t a normal woman. There was something strange about her.
The woman’s hands glowed and there was a halo around her head. She stepped forward through the smoke and stretched out her arm toward Melissa. Lightning crackled and sizzled around her body.
“Nice to see you again, Sunbud,” she cackled with a strange robotic laugh.
That’s when Khalil realized why the woman looked so strange. She was a robot. Well, most of her anyway. Her head still looked mostly human.
Khalil jumped to his feet and tried to grab Melissa’s arm to pull her away. “C’mon, Melissa! Let’s get out of here.”
“Go, Khalil. This is what I needed to tell you. I’m not quite like you.”
“What? Are you an alien?” he asked, glancing from Melissa to the strange woman in front of them.
“No, but I can’t explain it now. Just get out of here. I’ll tell you about it later. But it’s not safe for you here. Go and call the police.”
“But I can’t leave you,” he said. “I told you I love you.”
Melissa grabbed Khalil’s face with both hands and kissed him.
“Go. She’s only here for me. I can handle her.”
Kahlil turned and ran to find someone who could help save the woman or whatever she was that he loved.