Anyway, here is chapter 1. I hope you enjoy reading it, but please remember that it's a rough first draft.
Chapter 1 (Jerked into trouble)
Everything breaks. Even people … .
John pulled his cellphone out of his left pocket while he approached Higashi-Washinomiya station. Finally, I get to go home and relax. All I want to do is relax and have a peaceful, uneventful weekend. "I gue—" It snapped in half. Cursing like a drunk, he threw the broken, white cellphone to the ground and was glad that none of his students' parents were around to see him. "Of all days … ."
Very few people crowded around the station at this time, most of the city's inhabitants at his school's culture festival that he had dipped out of early. Humid, summer winds brushed through his short, brown hair. Before John walked through the ticket booth, the nose burning scent of bleach hit him in the face.
John wiped a tear from his dark — near brown — red eyes and cursed again. Though, this time it was directed at the memory of his deceased mother. "Why … did she make me do it?" After walking to the escalator, he gulped then stepped onto it, riding up to the second platform.
More people crowded the platform that headed towards Tokyo. The musty stink of Japanese salary-men and their inability to use deodorant made John gag. Moving closer to the tracks and away from the smells, John tried to hold down the onigiri that he had just eaten. He closed his eyes. Several calming breaths later, he opened them again.
"What are those gray stones for?" John blinked while he stared down at the tracks.
Several gray stones stood out among the normal brown ones along the train tracks. They seemed to pulse — to thump like a beating heart. They called out to John, and he found himself leaning forward in order to inspect them further.
"Fucking wonderful," a voice said from behind in Japanese.
John spun to see a man with grey hair yet a youthful face. He appeared to be old and young at the same time. About a head shorter than John, the Japanese man marched towards John with a menacing presence.
"Wh— why … why," John asked, struggling to get the words out, "are your eyes glowing red?"
"So … seeing the stones wasn't a fluke." The man with glowing red eyes grunted. "At least you speak Japanese."
At a loss for words, John nodded.
"But for someone to awaken here? Right in front of me?" The man spat. "And a foreigner at that."
"Awaken?" John's teeth chattered when the man grabbed him by the arm.
"No time to explain now." The man held his free hand out towards the stones, and a pencil-thick, blue cable extended from it, to touch the gray stones.
John's world lurched. His stomach twisted, and he felt his onigiri come up. While colors and shapes passed by in a blur, the splatter of vomit could be heard in the distance like a soft echo. It felt as if he were floating through the air. Wind ripped at his face. Trying not to scream, he watched Kuki station disappear behind him. Haseda station barely registered.
John fell to his knees, coughing once the man released him somewhere outside of Omiya station. "What … just happened."
"Come." The man gestured towards McDonalds. "We must prepare for the job."
"Who — better yet, what are you?"
The man shrugged. "The same as you … just older." He grinned. "Call me Hyuga."
John’s heart thumped while his mouth went dry. “I … .” His voice cracked. Should probably run away from this monster, but how? Several deep breaths later, he pushed himself to his feet. His knees were weak, and he found it hard to stand.
“We need to recharge and prepare?”
“Again … McDonalds? Really?”
Hyuga laughed. “I’ll explain once we sit down to eat.” He patted John on the back.
John stumbled forward, his knees buckling.
Hyuga reached out and grasped John by the arm, keeping him from falling face first into the street. “Besides, you need to get your bearings before we do anything.”
“Ha!” That’s putting it lightly.
Keeping John firmly in his grip, Hyuga marched towards McDonalds. With a straight face, he ordered ten large french fries and nothing else. The clerk arched an eyebrow.
John returned the gesture and rubbed at his throat. “Water too … please.”
Hyuga sighed as if the free water cost him a trip to Tokyo Disney Sea. He mumbled something about right, and then ordered a water himself. Once the ten large french fries had been piled atop two trays, he gestured for John to follow him up the stairs.
Still unsure what to make of this man who appeared to be young and old at the same time, John followed with a hesitant step. Strength slowly returned to his knees, and by the time he reached the top of the stairs, he felt like he could make a run for it. Though, he doubted he could get far if Hyuga really wanted to keep him close. John would have his peaceful weekend. He just would, but a quick lunch at McDonalds wouldn’t waste too much of his time. He could sit.
While his head jerked back and forth, Hyuga edged forward into the dining room. “Over there.” He pointed to the far corner in the smoking section.
“Do you smoke?”
“Then why not —” John gestured towards a table on his left. “— here?”
“Too many people to hear what I have to say.”
“Oh … .” I don’t like this at all.
“Come on.” Hyuga strolled into the smoking section and took the outer seat facing the wall.
Despite John never sitting on the inside, against the wall, he didn’t complain. Who knew what this Hyuga was capable of. “So —”
“Start eating first. I’ll talk.” Hyuga shoved a fistful of french fries into his mouth and chewed once before swallowing.
John’s stomach turned. How could people eat like that? And french fries nonetheless. “Ummm —”
I said eat.”
The burning smells of rancid tobacco drifted through the air while the bustling conversations blanketed the entire dining room. So many people continued to walk in. John’s fingers clung to the table.
Puke rose into the back of John’s mouth. The unclean table twisting his stomach tighter than Hyuga did on the trip back to Omiya. After forcing himself to swallow, John began to eat some unhealthy, disgusting french fries.
“That’s more like it.” Hyuga ingested another handful of french fries. “You’re probably asking yourself, why did we only order french fries? And what does this have to do with magic?”
Yes … actually … . “Wait … magic?” A french fry caught in John’s throat, and he nearly choked.
“Well, that is a general term for it. It’s more of a power than magic.”
I want to argue about how stupid this sounds, but … . “And the potatoes?”
Hyuga swallowed another mouthful. “Every type of power-user must pay a cost. Ours just happens to be potatoes.”
“That makes perfect sense.”
Hyuga’s brow scrunched.
John rolled his eyes. Japanese people just don’t understand sarcasm. “By perfect sense, I mean that it makes absolutely no sense at all.”
“I see. … A foreigner joke?”
“Not that much, but a little.”
Before groaning, John squeezed the bridge of his nose. “Great … . This is wonderful.”
“I’ll make an exception for you since your Japanese is so clean.”
John nodded, trying not to smile. One thing he was proud of was his level of Japanese after studying for so long.
“Anyway, Chiefs —”
“Chiefs?” John blinked a few times and shook his head. “What —”
“Our kind. It’s the designated term for power-users who require potatoes.”
“Where was I?” Hyuga scratched the crown of his head. “Oh yeah. So, potatoes are the fuel that we burn in our stomachs to power our link … s.” He stared into John’s eyes. “Red … so, who have you killed?”
John swallowed. My mother. “Killed?” He shook his head. “No, no, no. I was born with red eyes.” Wasn’t I?
“I see … .”
“You’re so racist.”
Hyuga chuckled. “Sometimes. Too bad though. Having someone else on my side with more than one link would have been nice.”
“More than one link?”
“Yes. A Chief is only born with one link. They must kill someone close to them to harvest more.”
John swallowed again, nearly choking on the french fry in his mouth. Is that why mom was trying to suffocate me in my sleep that night? “I understand. But how do potatoes we eat, power the magic?”
“Simple.” Hyuga waggled his index-finger. “You open your mind and ignite the oven in your stomach. It with activate your link, and you attach the link to an infused item.”
“An infused —”
“Just try to burn for now and extend your link.”
John closed his eyes, and for some reason, he could see three objects. One looked like a pile of gold while the other two were stone-like and hot to the mental-touch. Why had he never sensed these before? Is that what Hyuga meant earlier by awaken? Because John was sure what the second source of heat was, he fed the golden substance into only one.
Heat. A blazing inferno. Then … the strong scent of burning potatoes filled the area around him, crushing the stink of tobacco.
His stomach felt like it was on fire, though it didn’t hurt. John opened his eyes to see a glowing, translucent cable extend from his stomach. “What?” Once he began to tremble, he lost the connection and the link vanished. Though it thinned, the smell of burnt potatoes still remained.
Hyuga clapped. “Very good. For your first time, that was amazing.” After checking his watch, he shook his head. “I’ll explain more later. For now, just eat.”
Feeling a touch of excitement, I began to shovel the french fries into my mouth. My peaceful weekend could wait a little while longer.
John glanced about the crowded street in front of the securities firm. Why did we come here? Through the corners of his eyes, he peered at Hyuga who seemed to be scouting the area. Does he want to buy gold or something?
The vroom of cars ripped through the still, stale air when the traffic-light changed from red to green — or blue as they call it in Japanese, despite it being green. A chilly wind whipped between the crowded buildings.
A shiver shot down John’s spine, and his teeth began to chatter. He tightened his faded-black suit jacket. I thought it was supposed to be summer already?
Hyuga walked past John and nudged him.
Hyuga nodded towards a pair of guards on the corner of the wide, four-story building that was the largest securities firm in Saitama. “Them and —” He gestured at a small group of guards who John only now noticed on the far side. “— that group are the only guards that they have posted around this building.”
“So … ?” John narrowed his eyes. He acts like —
“It means that their security is lax because they have ties to a local branch of the yakuza.”
After a long moment, John blinked. “You’re planning to ro—”
Hyuga clamped his hand over John’s mouth. “Not so loud.”
Hyuga removed his hand.
Once Hyuga’s entire statement replayed in John’s head, his eyes bulged. “Wait, wait, wait.”
“Yes?” Hyuga smirked.
“What do you mean yakuza?”
“Exactly as it sounds.”
“So, we’re going to r — I mean buy from the yakuza?”
Hyuga’s smile touched his eyes. “You catch on quickly.”
“It’s only a local branch.” Hyuga moved towards the entrance. “Let’s see what they’re working with.”
Aghast, John stumbled forward and followed Hyuga into the yakuza-owned securities firm.
Before they could even step on the plush, pink carpet, a loud chime echoed throughout the room. A lavender-like scent hung in the air. Three men in white suits stepped from the back room, and their eyes darted in John’s direction, glaring at him.
Anxiety wrapped against John’s heart, and he was sure that its thump thump thump could be heard by all in the room. He licked his lips. I should have made a run for after we left McDonalds … .
Hyuga sauntered up to the counter. “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”
The one with a golden pompadour like his friend Keisuke stepped forward. “How may I help you, Mr … ?”
The man pursed his lips.
Is his family name really the generic Nakamura? John studied the room, counting eleven security cameras. When he realized what he had just done, he shook his head. Am I really going to help him rob this place?
Hyuga placed his hands onto the counter. “I’m interested in making an investment … one that won’t be damaged by our fluctuating economy.”
“Then you have come to the right place.” The man glanced at John again. “But what did you bring a foreigner here with you for?”
With an open mouth, Hyuga chuckled. “Do you not see how big he is? Those defined muscles and that ridged jawline?”
“Ah … a bodyguard.”
“That makes sense as no one I know likes to push his type around.” The man leaned in close to Hyuga. “So, let us get down to business.”
“Good.” Hyuga began tapping his left foot.
A bodyguard, huh? John puffed out his chest and tried to look as menacing as possible while he strolled around the room. He was checking for danger and found eleven guards posted in random sections of the large room. Every time one of them made eye contact with John, his skin itched. He wanted to burn — to feel that surprisingly exhorting flow of power through his veins.
Hyuga clicked his fingers on the glass counter. “And what is the maximum amount I can buy without having to register it with the government?”
The man gave Hyuga a toothy grin. “Well, if you give me a day, I’m sure I could get you twice the normal allowance and just keep it between us.”
After stepping away from the counter, Hyuga bowed. “That sounds … perfect.”
Once the man bowed in return, he waved his hand in the air, and his companions rushed into the back. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Bright and early.”
Hyuga clapped his hands and walked out of the building.
John spun on his heels and followed like — what he suspected — a good guard should do.
While they walked away, Hyuga questioned John about the cameras and guards. Together, they began to make a plan that would most definitely ruin a peaceful weekend.
Holding a feather, John sat on a bench in the near-desolate part of Omiya Park. Why is this so difficult?
The smell of burning potatoes made breathing difficult. Despite that, Hyuga paced back and forth across the patchy grass. Twigs crunched under each thundering step. He appeared to be going over the plan in his head.
John focused and strained, attempting to move the link as if it were a part of his body. It wasn’t working. “Why?” He yelled in frustration. “Why won’t it do as I say?”
Hyuga’s knees buckled, and he nearly fell over laughing.
With bared teeth, John stared at Hyuga. “What! Do you think is so funny?” His rage flared to life and exploded through his thoughts like it had never done before. Was this a side effect of burning potatoes?
Hyuga gasped, catching his breath. “Your frustration.”
“What?” John growled.
“First, harden your emotions. I forgot to mention this, but burning makes everything … . And I mean everything more vivid.”
“Okay … .”
“Now, clear your mind. Make all of your emotions disappear. Become cold. Feel the cold surround you.”
John fidgeted. “So, how do I harden my emotions and then make them vanish?”
“I can’t really put it into words, but it’s a process. Just try.”
Before arching an eyebrow, Hyuga smirked. “Really?”
John closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He grabbed ahold of his emotions and tried to lock them in a box. After inhaling deeply several times, he found himself surrounded by darkness.
It was cold.
Shivering, John wrapped his arms around his chest. “What is this?”
Hyuga clapped. “Balance. Burning is hot. Your emotions should be cold.” He clicked his tongue. “Color me impressed. Normally, learning to balance the fire and ice takes months.”
In a monotone voice, John said, “What next?”
“Think of the link as if it were your arm.”
I’m already doing that … . John decided not to voice the complaint.
“Imagine that your arms and legs no longer work. The only thing that you can move in the link.”
“Okay.” John stretched the link with his mind and opened his eyes.
The link moved forward.
John reached out with his link and attached it to the feather. His muscles tightened. His mind sharpened. He lifted his arm, and it zipped into the air, far quicker than he had expected. Moving like lightning, he jabbed twice.
“This is a wonderful development.” Hyuga scratched his palms. “Now let’s —”
“Hey, hey, hey!” a plethora of voices said as one.
John’s heart thumped, and the link slipped from his grasp. What? His strength and reactions slowed, and the turn towards the voices took forever.
A large group of yankees approached from the woods. Two held pipes, but the other six didn’t appear to be armed. Each grinned like a predator.
After losing his balance, John’s fury erupted. He removed the potatoes from his stomach oven and adopted a southpaw, kickboxing stance. Weapons first.
Hyuga glanced between John and the yankees. “Reestablish the link with that feather.”
John gritted his teeth. “No time.”
“You should —”
“Well, what do we have here?” the biggest yankee with a pipe asked. He lifted it and rested it on his shoulder. “Two fools coming into our territory looking —”
John burst forward and jabbed the big man in the throat.
The pole fell from the yankee’s grasp, and he fell to the ground, clutching his throat. He writhed on the ground, gasping.
While surprise marked the face of every Yankee, John spun and elbowed the other weapon holder in the jaw.
The yankee’s grip loosened.
John growled while he snatched the pole from the man’s hand and clobbered him atop the head, sending him crashing to the ground. “Two down.” I hope that sounded confident enough to make them hesitate.
Luck was with John.
Each of the yankees took a step backwards.
Hyuga sighed and rolled forward, grabbing the other pole while he passed. “You should burn —”
John leaped forward and bent the pole over the biggest of the remaining six. “Shut up and help.”
“No point in arguing now.” Hyuga chuckled, and the smell of burning potatoes entered the air. With a flick of his wrist, he felled two in the blink of an eye.
Releasing the pole attached to the man’s head, John slid past the falling man and landed a one-one-two combo on the short, bald-headed yankee.
The bald Yankee stumbled backwards, dazed. His two remaining friends — a green-haired man and a blue-haired one — stepped forward. Their snarling expressions and cocked fists gave away their lack of skill.
John parried the green-haired one to the left and brought his knee into the man’s gut. After grabbing the man by the neck, John twisted and threw the man to the ground.
The blue-haired yankee charged forward.
Heart thumping, John leaped towards the yankee and slammed into his middle.
The tackle slammed the yankee onto his back and knocked the wind out of him. His eyes fluttered before closing. His body went limp.
Thunk! The abrasive sound of metal on bone echoed nearby.
John rolled off of the unconscious man as the bald yankee fell face first on top of his friend, a pole bent around his head.
“That was … beyond impressive.” Hyuga dusted his hands off and offered John a hand.
Taking the hand, John stood. “Thank you?”
Hyuga’s brow furrowed.
“Not going to chide me about leaving my back open?” Like Ami would have?
Before shaking his head, Hyuga scratched his chin. “Why would I do that? All in all, you took down five of them without burning. As I said, impressive.”
“But all it takes is one to end me.”
“That may be so, but I doubt many would have done half as well as you without a feather.”
“Is that what you used?”
Hyuga opened his jacket and pulled a feather out. “Of course. The physical enhancement it grants is beyond useful.”
“Shall we get back to preparing for tonight?”
John nodded again. “Sure, why not?” Trying to avoid thinking about the loss if his peaceful weekend, he decided to go cold first and then burn.
When clouds obscured the moon, John dashed across the streets and into the shadowed alley behind the securities firm. He didn’t understand why Hyuga had chosen this side since there were no doors. Even with the enhanced strength of a feather, I doubt we can bust through half a foot of concrete … .
Hyuga crept up behind John and placed a hand on John’s back. “Are you ready to make an undocumented withdrawal?” With the dark sky and lack of street-lights, it was hard to tell what expression marred the elderly youth’s features, but his voice brimmed with confidence.
John leaned in close and made sure to whisper. “Unless you have some type of super-laser or stone melting power item, I think we should make our way to the other alley.”
“Well … .”
Really? “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m always serious. Especially after … .”
Hyuga’s coat rustled. “Not important.”
The clouds freed the moon from their grasp, and the light reflected into John’s eyes.
John blinked. Huh?
Hyuga held a gold coin between two fingers, turning it back and forth. “Anyway, this is all we need to get in.”
“Oh … please enlighten me, Master Chief.”
“You learn fast.”
Before tugging John towards the wall of the securities firm, Hyuga grinned. His eyes blazed alight, and the smell of burning potatoes filled the air around them. “Don’t break away from my grip.”
Hyuga’s link touched the gold coin, and their forms shimmered.
John’s body became light as if he had become a ghost. “What is th—”
Hyuga stepped through the stone wall and dragged John behind him.
With ragged gasps, John found it hard to breathe. I … can’t believe this is happening. Despite feeling invigorated for the first time since Haru had raped him, he worried about the rightness of what they were doing as well as the loss of his peaceful and quiet weekend. He could never get this time back, and Monday always came out of nowhere, to slap him across the face.
The phased through several more walls until they slipped into the vault itself. Save for the tiny radius of light created by Hyuga’s glowing eyes, complete darkness.
John found himself looking at his feet, wondering why they hadn’t fallen through the floor itself. When his form returned to normal, the thought trailed off.
Hyuga released John’s shoulder. “We have to be quick about this.”
Something clicked, and a pale yellow light bathed the room. A deep-yellow dust littered the floor in front of John.
John looked up at Hyuga.
Hyuga dusted his hands off. “Gold is the most versatile of the infused items, but it breaks down into dust as soon as your link breaks contact with it.”
“Noted —” John’s mouth fell open.
Gold lined the walls in stacks of thin bars higher than John was tall. It was also arranged in neat rows forming out from the wall like bookshelves. In the back of the vault, there appeared to be safety deposit boxes.
The sight took John’s breath away. If Taisei knew what I was doing … . If we get caught in here … we’ll spend the rest of our lives in jail. … Or dead since this place is owned by the yakuza.
Hyuga pulled out a pair of large, brown bags. “Link to your feather and fill this bag to the brim.”
After licking his lips, John nodded. He burned, instinctively finding the void beforehand and freezing his emotions. “Are you sure we should be doing this?”
“Stop being such a baby.” Hyuga threw bar after bar into his bag and ground his teeth. “It’s not like we’re stealing from someone reputable.”
“I guess you’re right … .”
Hyuga groaned. “Grow up, John. You have work to do.”
John chewed on his lower-lip. “Okay … .” Still feeling wrong about this whole thing, he hesitated once his fingers wrapped a fridged bar of gold. “Hyuga —”
The alarm roared.
Choking on his tongue, John nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Fuck! Too soon.” Hyuga hissed when he noticed that John hadn’t filled his bag with anything. “I had high hopes for you. We could have brought true peace to this world, but if you hesitate like this —” A second link extended from Hyuga’s stomach and reached into a pouch at his waist. “— you will be more of a hindrance than a help.”
“What are you saying?” John’s teeth chattered.
“I’m saying that I’m going to give you some time to think about your future. About the future of the world.”
“Time to —”
Hyuga dashed through the wall.
The alarm blared louder.
John’s heart thumped, and a sharp pain exploded in his chest. He dropped the brown bag and ran to the section of the wall that Hyuga had run through. “Why?” While pounding against the wall, tears began to roll down his cheeks. “Why?” He placed his back to the wall and slid to the ground, crying.
Next: BURNING chapter 2