So, this is my second book in my urban fantasy world, but it's a standalone. It's 28 chapters and 102k words.
I'd like to have some readers go through the whole manuscript and give me reader comments while letting me know if something didn't make sense. Below is the first chapter of BURNING POTATOES FOR THE GLORY OF PEACE aka Burning for short. If it interests you, please leave a comment, email me travis(dot)sullivan(at)gmail(dot)com or tag me in a twitter message @pranabowjake
If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave comment below.
I look forward to meeting new readers and hearing everyone's response.
In a few days, I'll write a blurb for it and ask for more readers, but for now, if you like this opening, please get in touch.
Chapter 1 (Jerked into trouble)
Crack! John’s white cellphone
snapped in half as he flipped it open.
The screen-half bounced off the
steps leading into Higashi-Washinomiya station and landed beside the red
“Fuck!” he said to himself, wincing
when he heard his voice carry through the empty streets of this backcountry
area — well, backcountry as far as Japan was concerned. In truth, it reminded
him of the main stretch on Moffet Road back in Alabama.
Clean air. Brisk wind despite the
summer heat. No towering buildings. The worst place ever. Being here set his
teeth to grinding, and when the clouds dashed forward, the sun reflected from his
cellphone screen into his eyes.
Squinting, John spiked the panel
half of his cellphone then stomped on the screen. Now how am I going to ask — No! I’ll do it in person. Can’t back out
now. Though, it would have been nice to grab some food before going to the gym
The handful of people moving towards
the train station avoided looking at him so hard it felt like they were staring.
What was there problem? Just because
he was a foreigner … .
Sighing, he climbed the steps into
the station, and forgetting to slouch, he busted his head on the doorframe. A
jolt of pain drew his shoulder blades together. He yelled and stomped several
After being in Japan for so long,
you’d think ducking through doors would be automatic.
He rubbed his head and wondered why
the doorframes weren’t at least a few inches higher. Japanese people weren’t
that short. And this door would have been troublesome for anyone just over
six-feet, much less him. Starting forward again, he pulled out his wallet and touched
it to the ticket gate.
The ticket gate read the Suica — a
train pass — inside his wallet then dinged.
As he moved towards the men’s
bathroom, a middle-aged cleaning lady stepped out with a bucket in one hand and
a mop in the other. She wore her brown hair — a bit darker than his own — in a
bun. Just like his mother. His mother … .
John’s heart slammed into his chest,
and he gasped. His hands trembled.
His mother appeared in his mind.
Suddenly, a sneer contorted her lips.
A choking sensation washed over him.
His mother growled.
John’s muscles slacked. He reached
towards the nightstand beside his bed and patted its smooth surface. Why had he
come home to visit her? Love? Because he missed her? She had always been such a
kind and caring mother, but —
Something cold rested under his
hand. Something hard. Something sharp.
He killed the memory and turned away
from the bathroom. Why? Violent
shakes contorted his joints. No! Focus on
today! After wiping the tears from his cheeks, he stumbled over to the
escalator then rode it to the second platform.
Dozens of people crowded the Utsunomiya-line
platform where the trains bound for Tokyo stopped. Buzzing conversations
riddled the air. The musty stink of Japanese salary-men and their inability to
use deodorant made John gag.
By moving closer to the tracks and
away from the smell, John tried to hold down the rice-ball he had eaten earlier.
He closed his eyes. More than anything right now, he needed to relax. Have a
peaceful day. Something ticked in his head. His stomach felt like it was on
fire, and it turned. Breathe! In through the nose. Out from the mouth. Don’t
puke. Calm! Once his stomach settled, he opened his eyes.
Gray stones littered the train
tracks, standing out among the brown ones.
What were those for? And why had he
never seen them before now?
Something pulled at him. A hunger. The
gray stones pulsed — thumped like a beating heart. They called out to him.
In order to inspect them further, he
leaned forward. Maybe I could grab —
“You can see them? Fucking
wonderful,” a youthful voice from behind John said in Japanese. The voice
carried the vowels a bit too long.
I thinking aloud again? John spun.
A Japanese man more than half a foot
shorter than John stood there. The man’s odd white shirt with countless pockets
covering it stood out against the black suit he wore, jacket unbuttoned. On
closer inspection, the pants also had the same, strange pockets, and blood ran
down the left half of his jacket. Following the trail up, red matted his gray
hair which contrasted his smooth, child-like face. The man sighed then moved
The stench of burning potatoes
filled the air.
John’s upper-lip curled, and he
scrubbed his tongue across his teeth. Who’s
cooking potatoes up here? And why?
The man’s eyes shifted from brown to
a shade of red that matched John’s then began to glow despite the daylight.
“W-why?” John stumbled backwards,
nearly slipping off the platform. “Why are y-your eyes g-g-glowing?”
“So, seeing the stones wasn’t a
fluke.” The man 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 before caressing the welt on the side of
his head. “And a foreigner at that.”
“No time to explain now. I have to
teach those double-crossing bastards a lesson. Two part.” The man grabbed him
by the arm. “Don’t puke on me like the last foreigner I met in a station. That
dirty Picasso … .” A highlighter-thick, blue cable extended from his stomach
and passed through the steel beam holding up the roof over the platform. The transparent
cable touched one of the gray stones.
The world lurched. John’s stomach
twisted, and his rice-ball came up. While colors and shapes passed by in a blur,
the splatter of vomit echoed in the distance like a soft whisper. Wind ripped
at his ears. Station after station disappeared behind him. Then, everything
The man released John’s arm
somewhere outside Omiya station, the largest train station in the area.
John fell to his knees. “What —” He
coughed. “— 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.”
mouth went dry. “I … .” His voice cracked. Should
probably run away from him, but how? He pushed himself to his feet, knees shaking. If I don’t get away and rest, I’ll
be stiff at kickboxing, and Ami will kick my ass. I might even lose to Keisuke,
but I doubt it. “I —”
need — What is the easiest way to explain
it to foreigners? Ah. — fuel.”
laughed. “I’ll explain once we sit down to eat.” He patted John on the back.
stumbled forward, and his knees
reached out and grasped onto John’s shoulder, keeping John from falling face first into the
street. “Besides, you need to get your bearings before we do anything.”
“Ha!” That’s putting it lightly.
Dragging John behind him with a firm grip, Hyuga marched into McDonalds. With a straight face, he ordered ten large french
fries and nothing else. The clerk arched an eyebrow while still managing to avoid looking at the blood covering him.
at his throat. “Water, too …
sighed as if the free water cost him a trip to Tokyo Disney Sea. “I guess I’ll take a water as well.” Once
the ten large french fries had been piled atop two trays, he gestured for John
to come with him upstairs.
followed with a hesitant step. Strength slowly returned to his knees, and by
the time he reached the second floor,
he felt like he could make a run for
it. Though, it would be best to hear the
old — young — man out. Mountain climbing class didn’t start until seven, and
anything to keep his mind off asking Haru out was welcome.
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.
why not —” John gestured towards a table on his left. “— here?”
many people to hear what I have to say.”
.” Maybe I shouldn’t wait to hear him out.
“Hurry up. Time is not our ally.” Hyuga
strolled into the smoking section and took the outer seat facing the wall.
John sat and wondered how bad Hyuga
wanted to keep John around — there was no doubt in John’s mind about Hyuga’s
ability to keep John if desired. A
quick run down the stairs and into the station could get John lost in a crowd. But
for some reason, excitement raced through his veins, and he wanted to know
more. More about these powers. More about himself. Though, he may have to
sacrifice his shot at Haru if it takes too long. Excuses. Stupid excuses. Chicken.
“John?” Hyuga’s voice carried a hint
of concern. “Are you alright? Not talking to any new voices that appeared after
awakening, are you?”
“Of course not.” John glared at the
pile of french fries in front of him. “I’m not crazy.” Like you.
Hyuga sighed. “Wonderful news.”
John arched an eyebrow.
Stuffing his mouth with french
fries, Hyuga chewed once then swallowed. “Not important. Though, eating those
“Because we Chefs need them to power
“What part of awakened do you not
“All of it?”
Hyuga chuckled. “I see. Well, a Chef
Is the type of power-user we are. It
means our five points of interest are potatoes, our Stomach-Fridges, our
Stomach-Ovens, our Links and infused items.”
“That makes perfect sense.”
“Really? I guess I’m getting better
“No, not really.” John slapped
himself in the forehead. Japanese people just didn’t understand sarcasm. “By perfect sense, I mean it made absolutely
“Ah. A foreigner joke?”
“A bit. Your people — Never mind.”
“While I talk, you eat.”
“Okay … .”
“As a Chef, you’ll have to consume
potatoes and store them in your Stomach-Fridge in order to use your abilities.
Your body will do this automatically, so you don’t have to worry about it.
However, eating potatoes will never fill your belly. If it’s all you eat, you’ll
One of the greasy french fries
caught in John’s throat, and a fit of coughing pressed his face against the
table. Gunk clung to his face, and he had to peel his cheek from the disgusting
Something hard smacked against his
back, and the french fry dislodged from his throat.
Rubbing his eyes, he sat up and
“Don’t mention it.” Hyuga grabbed
another handful of french fries.
“So, if these won’t fill us up, why
didn’t we order anything else?”
“Because it’s easier for a newly
awakened Chef to look into his Stomach-Fridge if the rest of his stomach is
“I see.” That I’ve been abducted by a madman. A grin tugged at John’s lips,
but he suppressed it.
“Do exactly as I say.”
John nodded, and following Hyuga’s
instructions, John closed his eyes. He reached out with his mind, peering
inward at his stomach. It didn’t make sense, but it was better to indulge —
A large mound of gold appeared in
his mental vision.
“Describe what you see,” Hyuga said.
“The sun. Shaped like a mountain.
Glowing.” John opened his eyes, sure he could still see the mound of gold if he
focused. Therefore, closing his eyes was probably not necessary.
“That is your Stomach-Fridge. The
golden mound is your supply of potatoes.”
“So, I’m really a Chef?”
“I said so earlier, didn’t I?”
“Yes … .”
“I’ll explain the other three things
after we visit the securities firm.”
In silence, they stuffed their face
then hurried out of McDonalds and down the road to an expansive, four-story
Why had they come to a securities
firm? Did Hyuga need to buy gold? And how much longer would this take? The
afternoon was already wasting away.
John’s stomach growled, but he wasn’t hungry. Not really. Just nervous.
He needed to hurry. Time … .
Just how long would this take?
If he didn’t make it to the gym
tonight, he might never again work up the nerve to ask Haru out. And after what
she did to him, it was only right.
Haru’s beautiful image formed in his
mind, and everything else vanished. Long, silky black hair cascading over her
incredible breasts. A cute smile and lusty almond eyes. Her face just on the
edge of recognition.
Had he met her before joining the
rock-climbing class? Before that night? Fire burned in his lungs, and agony stabbed at his brain. Why did she save
him from such a wretched situation in the worst way possible? No matter. He
would still ask her out after rock-climbing class. But what was she trying to
tell him last week? Did she —
nudged John in the ribs, and reality
solidified, killing the memory. While
staring at John, Hyuga arched an eyebrow. “You there?”
“This is twice now.” Hyuga tugged at
one of his breast pockets. “Are you one-hundred percent sure there is no voice?”
“Anyway.” Hyuga pointed towards a pair of guards on the corner of the red-brick building, 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 they have posted
around this entire building.”
John narrowed his eyes. He acts like —
means that their security is lax because they have ties to a local branch of the yakuza.”
A long moment later, John blinked. “You’re planning to ro—”
clamped his hand over John’s mouth. “Not so loud.”
Slowly, Hyuga removed his hand.
Once their conversation settled in, John’s
eyes bulged. “Wait, wait, wait.”
do you mean yakuza?”
as it sounds.”
we’re going to r— I mean buy from the yakuza?” I hear they’re worse than the
smile touched his eyes. “You catch on quickly.”
only a local branch. Besides, I owe them.” Hyuga moved towards
the entrance. “Let’s see what they’re working with.”
John stumbled forward and followed Hyuga into the yakuza-owned securities firm. Why am I still here?
The answer was simple. Magic. Power.
A way to escape his worthless life. Maybe.
they could even step on the plush, pink carpet, a loud chime rang throughout the expansive room. A lavender-like scent clotted the air. Three men in white
suits stepped through a door behind the
long, glass counter, and they
glared at John.
Did they know? Were they already on
His heart raced. I should have made a run for after we left McDonalds. I
should have, but … .
sauntered up to the counter. “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”
one with a golden pompadour like Zack’s
friend Keisuke stepped forward. “How may I help you, Mr … ?”
man pursed his lips.
Is his family name really the generic Nakamura? John counted eleven security cameras around the room. I know I’m poor, but am I really going
to help him rob this place?
placed his hands onto the counter. “I’m interested in making an investment …
one that won’t be damaged by our fluctuating
economy. One that won’t be … traced.”
you have come to the right place.” The man glanced at John again. “But why did you bring a foreigner here?”
chuckled. “Don’t you see how big
he is? Those defined muscles and that ridged jawline?”
“Ah. A bodyguard.”
makes sense since no one I know
likes to push his type around.” The
man leaned in close to Hyuga. “So, let us get down to business.”
Hyuga fidgeted with a button on his suit
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 the
shadowed indentions along the walls. Every time one of them made eye
contact with John, his neck or lower-back
Click-click-click. Hyuga tapped his fingers on the glass counter.
“And what is the maximum amount I can buy without having to register it with
“One-million yen’s worth.” The man gave
Hyuga a toothy grin. “Well, if you give me a day, I’m sure I could get you five times the normal allowance and just
keep it between us.”
After taking a step backwards, Hyuga bowed. “That
sounds … perfect.”
the man bowed in return, he waved his hand in the air, and his companions rushed into the back. “Then I’ll see you
clapped his hands and walked out of the building.
spun on his heels and followed like — what he suspected — a good bodyguard should do.
they walked away, Hyuga patted
John on the back. “Tell me about the
cameras and guards.”
losing my nerve with Haru, if I miss kickboxing tonight, Ami is going to pound
my face in. Glancing at Hyuga, John made up his mind. For
once in his life, it felt like he had a purpose. He would stay. Despite the
loss of opportunity.
As they walked towards Omiya park,
John detailed the layout, guards, cameras and even the strange tingle he had
felt across his skin. Hyuga nodded after each detailed explanation.
Once they made it into a secluded
section of the park, Hyuga handed John a feather and pointed to a bench. “Sit.
This may take a while.”
“Alright … .”
“That’s a feather.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
John squeezed the bridge of his nose.
“You’re really out of touch.”
“Because I don’t care about the
“Ah. So, why did you give me a
“It’s an infused item.”
“But what about Stomach-Ovens and
“All three go together.” Hyuga
scratched his chin.” “I’ve been meaning to ask, but I don’t know a nice way to
phrase it. Anyway, who have you killed?”
mother … . John’s heart stopped for a long moment, and his eyes bulged.
When the next beat came, it felt like a sledgehammer had crashed into his
chest. His breaths came in ragged bursts. “N-no one. I-I’ve never killed
anyone. W-why w-would you even think something so horrible of me?”
“I see. It’s just that your eyes are
red, and Chefs only gain red eyes if they have killed another Chef.”
Think. “No. I’m a foreigner.” Yes.
Use his racism as an excuse. “Unlike Japanese people, we don’t all have
“If you say so. But —”
“I do! Why is that even important?”
“Because all Chefs are only born
with one Stomach-Oven which creates one Link.” Hyuga clicked his tongue. “The
only way to get another Link is to kill another Chef close to you like a friend
or a relative.”
that mean — No! Shut up, brain. Focus on the present. On Hyuga. “Does that
mean you have more than one Link since your eyes glowed red earlier?”
John swallowed and took a step back,
tripping over the side of the park bench.
Twigs snapped and leaves crunched
under his butt. Something sprinted through the woods behind him, and birds took
flight. The pine scented air did nothing for the growing unease in his stomach.
Scrambling backwards on his hands
and feet like a crab, he buried himself halfway into a bush. “You’re going to —”
Laughing, Hyuga doubled over. He
clutched at his ribs. “No. You. Don’t understand. I. Had several. Friends in.
The war.” His laughter subsided, and his chest rose and fell as he panted. “Lots
of wounds that ensured death, but didn’t bring it instantly. On their behest, I
“So … you’re not going to kill me?”
“Emperor no! I’m trying to teach
you, not harvest you.”
John climbed to his feet and
stumbled over to the park bench, plopping down.
“Just like when you found your
Stomach-Fridge,” Hyuga said, “search for a pulsing heat source. That will be
“Try it with your eyes open.”
Eyes halfway shut, John grimaced
before forcing them to remain open.
Inside his stomach and near the
golden mound rested two black pits. Heat radiated from them and seemed to call
out to his Stomach-Fridge. They wanted to be fed. For some reason, he wanted them to be fed.
Somehow creating a mental shovel,
John moved some of the potatoes from his Stomach-Fridge into one of the black
An inferno raced through his veins.
Life! Ecstasy! Goose bumps raced along his arms as the heat from that
Stomach-Oven intensified. The soft fabric of his button-up shirt caressed his
skin and made him want to cum in his suit pants.
He wanted to see Haru this very
minute. To kiss her. To love her. To return the favor for what she did to him.
Suddenly, his teeth ground together, and he found himself growling.
How dare she do that to him? Making
him betray Sara like that. Making —
Tears filled his eyes as the strong
scent of burning potatoes filled the air around him. Everything in front of him
blurred and tinged red. Holding his hand out, a deep crimson light bathed his
A blue cable-like thing extended
from his stomach, passing through his arm and the park bench alike. As thick as
a five-hundred yet coin, the transparent cable stopped after reaching more than
three feet from his middle.
John moved his hands through it, excitement
washing away his tears. “Is this my Link?”
“Yes.” Hyuga applauded. “It’s
amazing you came so far on your own, but you should have embraced the cold
“Think of it as a balance to the
heat of burning. It’ll allow you to control your emotions better, but you have
to embrace it before you burn.”
“Okay.” John pulled the potatoes
from his Stomach-Oven, and nausea punched him in the gut.
The world lurched.
He found himself staring into the
treetops, clouds spinning like a waterspout.
Hyuga grabbed John by the forearm
and pulled him to his feet. “Careful. If you burn without the cold, the withdrawals
will feel worse than any hangover you’ve ever had.”
John clutched at the side of his
head as he sat back on the bench. “I don’t drink.”
“Beer doesn’t count.”
“It does, but that’s beside the
point.” Hyuga stepped away from John. “Anyway, like you moved the potatoes from
your Stomach-Fridge to your Stomach-Oven, imagine your emotions being gathered
into a box then seal that box. The more often you do it, the easier it becomes.”
closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Like
the potatoes in his Stomach-Fridge, he grabbed ahold of his emotions and
shoveled them into a mental cage.
Darkness surrounded him. It
whispered of betrayal. His mother. His friends.
Coworkers. Students. His heart screamed. Cold. No. Cold did not do this state
justice. It was worse than streaking in the South Pole. Like ice fishing with his rod.
John wrapped his arms around his chest. “What is this?”
clapped. “The first half of balance.
Color me impressed. Normally, learning to create a balance takes months.”
monotone voice, John said, “What next?”
“Burn while thinking of the Link as a third
John found his Stomach-Fridge and burned, tossing several shovelfuls of potatoes
into his Stomach-Oven. The inferno
buffeted his emotions, searing the mental cage and warming his bones. Peace
soothed his muscles, and he rested his hands on his lap. On its own, the Link
extended from his middle.
that your arms and legs no longer work,”
Hyuga said, “The only thing
that exists is the Link.”
John focused on the Link, removing his body from his thoughts. All that
existed was the Link. Only the Link. Move.
Move! The Link jerked back then shot forward.
Thinking of it like a new limb, he whipped it through his thighs to see if it
would snag under his control.
He reached out with his Link and touched the feather with it, but until he thought, grab the feather, it remained
unattached. Once linked, his muscles grew taut. His mind sharpened. He lifted his arm, and it zipped into
the air, far quicker than he had expected. Moving quicker than lightning, he jabbed twice. Keisuke and Taisei would be so
jealous right now.
is a wonderful development.” Hyuga scratched his palms. “You learn so fast. Now, let’s —”
hey, hey!” a plethora of voices said as one.
heart thumped, and the Link slipped from his grasp, springing back into his gut. The urge to vomit burned the back of his
throat as he pulled the potatoes from his Stomach-Oven. “What?” Opening the mental cage, the
darkness around his emotions — the cold — vanished, and he turned towards the
voices. Almost five seconds later, his strength and reactions returned to normal.
large group of yankees — Japanese delinquents
— approached from the woods. Two held pipes, but the other six didn’t
appear to be armed.
High school? Older? Hard to tell. However
old they were, they were clearly looking for a fight.
first. John stood and adopted a southpaw, kickboxing stance.
glanced between John and the yankees. “Reestablish your Link with the
John ground his rear foot into the dirt. “No
what do we have here?” the biggest yankee with a pipe asked. He lifted a cheap-looking iron pipe and rested it on his shoulder. “Two
fools coming into our territory —”
burst forward and jabbed the biggest
yankee in the throat.
pole fell from the yankee’s grasp, and he dropped to the ground, clutching his throat. He writhed in the dirt, gasping.
While every other yankee gaped, John spun and
elbowed the other weapon holder in the jaw.
yankee’s grip loosened.
snatched the pole from the yankee’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.
was with John. Each of the yankees took a step backwards.
Hyuga strolled forward and grabbed the other pole when he passed it. “You
should burn —”
leaped towards the group of yankees,
and the pole bent over the head of the second-biggest as John brought it down with all his might.
Five left. “Shut up and help.”
point in arguing now.” A fresh, familiar yet distinct wave of burning
potatoes entered the air. With a flick of his wrist, Hyuga felled two in an instant.
the bent pole, John slid past the
falling man and landed a one-one-two combo on the short, bald-headed yankee.
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.
parried the green-haired one to the left and brought a knee into his gut.
After grabbing him by the neck,
John twisted and threw the green-haired yankee
to the ground.
blue-haired yankee charged forward.
Shoulder first, John leaped towards the blue-haired yankee and crashed into his middle.
tackle slammed the blue-haired
yankee onto his back. He gasped, and his
body went limp.
The abrasive sound of metal on bone reverberated
rolled off of the unconscious man as the bald yankee fell on top of his blue-haired friend, a pole wrapped around his head like an elementary school kid’s hat.
was … beyond impressive.” Hyuga dusted his hands off then helped John stand.
going to chide me about leaving my back open?” Like Ami would have?
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.”
all it takes is one to end me.”
may be so, but I doubt many would have done half as well as you did without a feather.”
that what you used?” I didn’t see him holding anything in his hand
other than that pipe.
opened his jacket and pulled a feather from
one of his countless pockets. “Of course. The physical enhancement it
grants is beyond useful.”
we get back to preparing for tonight?”
Following Hyuga’s instructions, John
linked to the feather in his pants’ pocket, and they sparred. Trading blows.
Tightening his Link’s grip on the feather. Moving his Link between two
feathers. Each of Hyuga’s orders only took John a few moments to pick it up,
but Hyuga insisted he repeat the process over and over until the daylight
The moon rose into the sky, and
Hyuga massaged his neck. “It’s time.”
“Are we really going to do this?”
John bit into his lower-lip, still not relishing the idea of crossing the
“We have no other choice if I’m to
find out who their real boss is.”
“Then … let’s get this over with.”
Hyuga led John to the securities
firm and around to an alley on the back side. The back half of the building had
no windows, doors or anything resembling a ladder that would allow them access
to the roof. It was just solid, red brick. With a Love Hotel less than five
feet behind him, the stink of sex hung thick in the air. Dried squid. Rotten
John ran his fingers across the
rough bricks. Even with the enhanced strength
of a feather, I
doubt we can bust through half a foot of concrete. He licked his lips.
The stench of spoiled seafood stuck
to his tongue.
He gagged, mind falling back to that
night with Haru. Was what she did to him so wrong? Yes? No. She was looking after
him, right? He wanted to speak to her. To learn what Keisuke’s girlfriend stopped
her from saying. To ask her to do it again. Guilt for dodging her tonight kneed
him in the gut. Coward! But if she called him — He killed that line of thought.
No cellphone anyways. No! Focus! If anything, he should be thinking about how
worried his friends must be, but … .
up behind John and placed a hand on his
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 said he
leaned in close and made sure to whisper. “Unless you have some type of
super-laser or stone melting item, I think we should make our way to the other side.”
Really? “You can’t be serious.”
always serious. Especially after … .”
coat rustled. “Not important.”
clouds freed the moon from their grasp.
Its light reflected off something dark-yellow.
John rubbed at his eyes. Huh?
held a gold coin between two fingers, turning it back and forth. “This is all we need to get in.”
please enlighten me, Master Chef.”
“You learn fast.”
Hyuga‘s eyes blazed alight — shifting from brown to crimson — and
the smell of burned potatoes
filled the air around them. A sweet,
coffee like scent seemed to radiate from his Link.
Was that part of Hyuga’s distinct
He grabbed John’s wrist. “Don’t
break away from my grip.”
swallowed. Why? The question never
reached his mouth.
Link touched the gold coin. Both of
their forms shimmered.
body became light as if he had transformed
into a ghost. “What is —”
stepped through the stone wall and dragged John behind him. A tingling sensation crawled across John’s
John’s chest heaved, and he gasped for air. He
couldn’t believe this was happening. That he was a thief. Or becoming one.
Something felt wrong in his bones. He knew no other way of describing the odd
They phased through several more walls
until they slipped into the vault itself. According to Hyuga, at least. Save for the tiny radius of light
created by his glowing eyes,
darkness covered the room.
found himself looking at his feet. Why didn’t we fall through the floor?
Their forms shimmered again then
returned to normal.
released John’s wrist. “We have to
be quick about this.”
Ka-shh! Something shattered. Then, a click
echoed through the darkness, and pale yellow light bathed the room. A
deep-yellow dust littered the floor in front of John.
He looked up at 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. I think —”
lined the walls in stacks of thin bars higher than John was tall.
John’s mouth fell open.
The square stacks were arranged in neat rows that filled the circular room like
half-constructed pillars. Along
the back wall of the vault, dull-green safety deposit boxes rested on shelves.
The air fled from his lungs. If my
friends knew what I was doing … . If we get caught in here … . If …
. Jail. Dead. The yakuza. His mind blanked.
So. Much. Gold.
pulled out a pair of large, brown bags. “Link to your feather and fill this bag
to the brim.”
In a trance, John nodded then burned, instinctively finding the cold beforehand. “Are. Doing this?”
being such a baby.” Hyuga threw bar after bar into his bag. “It’s not like we’re
stealing from someone reputable.”
“I. I. I guess. You’re right.”
groaned. “Grow up, John. You have work to do.”
chewed on his lower-lip. “Okay.” He
didn’t move for a long moment. When his
fingers wrapped around an icy bar of gold, his entire body trembled. “Hyuga —”
on his tongue, John nearly jumped out of his skin.
Too soon.” Hyuga turned and stared at
John’s empty bag. “I had high hopes for you. We could have brought true
peace to this world, but if you can’t
handle a situation like this —” A second Link extended from Hyuga’s
stomach and reached into a pouch at his waist. “— you will be more hindrance
you saying?” John’s teeth chattered.
going to give you some time to think about your future. About the future of the
world. Our kind. Some time to harden for
what’s to come.”
dashed through the wall. The alarm blared louder.
heart thumped, and a sharp pain exploded in his chest. He dropped the brown bag
and ran to the section of the wall Hyuga had run through. “Why?” While pounding
against the wall, tears rolled
down John’s cheeks. “Why?” He
placed his back to the wall then
slid to the ground and cried into his