The rain had not stopped.
Touya only half listened to his father each evening whenever he quietly asked for news. He could ignore Sakura's hesitant questions but the word had spread through the high school overnight. All the students wanted to ask him where, what and how but they saw his withdrawal. They stared at him then whispered once he'd passed by. He sat in class and could focus on nothing.
His teacher had quietly accepted a test handed in completely blank. No one bothered him when he didn't attend soccer practice. He went to work early and left late, sometimes late enough that his house was dark but for one light left on in the kitchen where a plate of dinner waited for him.
Today, Touya didn't go home at all.
He couldn't help himself, he felt drawn down the path he knew Yukito walked to travel from his house to his own. He had done so everyday hoping that he would see some small sign but of what he did not know.
He paused looking down at the sidewalk and imagined Yukito walking across this very spot. Touya closed his eyes. He wanted to see one little trace of Yukito, something he could hold or see and know that Yukito hadn't just been swallowed up by the ground.
There was a small flicker that made him look up sharply. Until now all his efforts to prod forth any information no matter how useless from the spirits that flocked around him had been fruitless. Today was different. Something was new. The usual senseless noise of their chatter was concentrated, drawing him towards one place.
His gaze went off the sidewalk and across the street. The edge of a small stand of trees that lined a low wall swayed gently with the rain. He stared at the grove dilating his mind open cautiously to whatever shadows lived here. They had seen something.
The street was empty as he crossed it, his pace quickening with the growing strength of the call. He jumped the stone wall easily and walked cautiously through the rotted wet leaves under his feet. The trees ended after a few yards and gave way to a mass of undergrowth and then, beyond that Touya could hear the rush of water into a storm drain.
Ignoring the brambles that tore at his clothes Touya prepared to enter the thicket. But then he stopped.
It didn't shock him that the police hadn't found it. Touya had seen it in their eyes when they confronted Yukito's grandparents. They weren't looking for a missing teenager that would probably reappear after a few days.
Hesitantly, Touya leaned down to pick it up as if touching it would make the implications of its presence that much more real. He pulled the open umbrella from the tangle of bushes with a little difficulty. It was torn and the metal handle was bent almost in half.
It was dry.
Touya's eyes widened. It had been raining for days but this umbrella was as dry as if someone had just dropped it there moments ago... He looked around wildly and without thinking he let the guarded walls in his mind crash open like a floodgate. It hurt, the sudden deluge of it all, reaching past the grove up the streets as far as his school and beyond. His vision dimmed with the knowledge that whomever dropped this possession of Yukito's moments before his arrival was no where to be found. Gasping, Touya fell against the wet bark of a tree and willed the walls back up until the roar returned back to a trickle.
He stumbled, soaking his trouser knees in the wet soil while he steadied his breathing. A search through the shrubs borne nothing else.
Touya walked home slowly with the umbrella under his arm. He at least knew now that Yukito hadn't simply vanished.
He had been taken.
It was a small dark confined place.
The beastly roar of the creature ripped through the air as white flames streamed around it forming solidly into burning chains. They lashed in countless numbers across its flesh, fraying open its robes and sizzling against its skin.
Touya watched as it writhed and pleaded to him with an outstretched hand. He stepped towards it shielding his eyes from the crackle and heat of the light as it intensified. The creature went mad in agony.
It threw its body against its binds futility. The wail of its sadness rang low and horrible.
Touya sat upright in bed tangled in his sheets.
His heart was thudding in his chest and his skin was damp with a cold sweat. He looked around frantically slowly realizing that he had been dreaming one of those dreams that always seemed more real that your own bedroom walls. Listening to the rain beat on the window brought him back to himself.
He jumped at the sound of his alarm clock. Shutting it off with a trembling hand he then sat at the edge of his bed.
It was that creature. It was in pain.
Dressing slowly in the near darkness of morning he did not dare yet think of what it may mean.
Touya didn't take his bicycle that day. He felt like prolonging his journey to school so he had more time to think without the other students watching him. The backpack he carried felt heavy even though it only had one thing in it besides a few books. He gripped the strap hard and clenched his jaw. The umbrella.
It was wrong not to tell Yukito's grand parents he had found it but he thought the sight of it would bring more worry than good. Even if he kept this information to himself he knew he should go and see them no matter how hard it was too look into their eyes.
Without dwelling on the idea he changed his direction and was soon standing in front of Yukito's home. Branches and leaves were scattered over the once pristine grass and the gate hung half open.
Touya took a deep breath to let in the sounds of the voices that waited like the air waited to be inhaled. A few startled ghosts fled into the trees and into the house itself.
The house seemed too dark. Touya was reminded of when he and his bored friends would wander the abandoned buildings that sat condemned on the city edge. They felt like this house did now. Unused and lonely from the outside.
The quiet as he approached the door was more unsettling than any bluster of the dead had ever produced. Too his surprise the door was slightly ajar but he knocked loudly twice before he pushed it open.
Touya had been within Yukito's home on only three different occasions. The first time was right here and no farther than this foyer while he waited for Yukito to put on his coat. The second was also this foyer when Yukito had insisted he wait out of the rain while he changed clothes upstairs. The third was several days ago in the sitting room which sat just a few steps beside the foyer while he spoke to police.
Touya was suddenly aware that the rest of the house was completely unknown to him. It should have seemed strange to him before this very moment but for some reason it had never occurred to him to wonder.
"Hello?" As soon as the sound of his voice hit the walls of the house Touya knew he was absolutely alone. The door remained open behind him emitting a wedge of gloomy light against the wooden floor.
Looking sideways he could see the small sitting room where he had mumbled to the police officers. Moving slowly, he stopped by the chair Yukito's grandmother had sat in while she failed to keep back her tears. Around a corner he saw the dark kitchen. Walking through it he found what he assumed would be a living room if it had had any furniture in it. He followed the room around which let him back out at the front door.
Where had they gone? The house didn't even seem to have that hurried sense of a departure with left over boxes and abandoned magazines on the bare floors. It was as if this house had sat in this state undisturbed for a very long time.
The foot of the stairs lay just ahead of him. Touya looked up into the gloom of the second floor and walked slowly up the creaking steps. He halted in the hall. No pictures adorned the walls and only one door along the corridor was open.
This was Yukito's room.
Touya knew it like he knew the house was void of any living thing besides himself. He laid his hand on the doorframe still weary of breaching privacy even if unwatched. Most especially Yukito's privacy.
The room made his heart lurch. Like the rest of the house save for the sitting room, it was completely empty but for a simple futon that was neatly made in the center. The window was bare. There was no other furniture and only one closet that lay open without even a hanger in it.
Yukito who loved flowers, spent hours in the library reading through over sized books of art, and sometimes looked longingly in the shop windows, slept and lived in this place. This room reflected none of the warm cheer he had.
Touya stepped through the doorway aware of the smell of dust and stale air. The futon was clean and the sheets folded sharply at the corners. The pillow lay in the perfect center at the very top edge of the sheet.
It was right then in the murky light that Touya caught a glimpse of gold. There, hanging from a simple nail in the wall was a charm. He slipped it off carefully, and laid it in the palm of his hand.
The only adornment, the only decoration anywhere was this. Touya remembered giving it to Yukito last spring during Hanami. It was for luck, he told him, and protection. It had been a whim. Yukito had smiled at him and thanked him half jokingly because it wasn't a very nice one. It was one of the cheap kind the vendors always somehow talked you into. The red paper that it was made of had started to curl and the gold plastic had begun to flake. He never thought Yukito would keep it.
He never thought Yukito would hang it on his wall above his bed.
The edges of the charm bit into his shaking fist. He tossed the charm onto the futon and walked back out into the hall. There were three other doors. One revealed a stark bathroom with faucets, Touya wasn't shocked to discover, that gave no water. The other two were dark but obviously unoccupied by anything but silence. He stood in the middle of the last room at the end of the hall and felt his shoulders begin to shake.
Touya swung around his senses flaring white hot. Someone had said his name very softly, so softly he had almost not heard it. He gaze was trained on the hall when he saw a shadow shift and move quickly away with the sound of footsteps retreating quickly on the wooden floor. This was no ghost.
"Wait!" Touya breathed, his heart beating so quickly his vision swam. He ran to the door way and saw the shape disappear into Yukito's room. Touya rushed after it, smashing his shoulder into the door jam in his pursuit.
He stood panting, the adrenaline flooding his system made him dizzy. Every fine line in the gloom stood out in clarity.
The room was as it was. The window. The bed.
His breath caught in his throat.
The charm that he had cast onto the futon was no longer there.
It was back on the nail, carefully hung on the wall and swaying softly as if it had just been placed there.
Touya left, eyes burning down the walkway covered in puddles and onto the street for home. Night was far off but the clouds were so thick overhead that the street lights blinked on one by one making circles of the rainfall, one by one.
He was so distracted, he did not see the kid walk directly into him.
Touya stopped, jarred out of his state by the abrupt contact. An automatic "Excuse me." left his mouth. He turned and his eyes widened in recognition.
It was that boy.
He was the new boy, the transfer student from China. Touya had seen him walking around by himself at Sakura's school. No one seemed to talk to him and Touya had the impression when he saw him sitting alone, that this boy preferred it that way. Small and dark haired, he stared up at Touya.
"You've seen him." The boy stated. His Japanese was functional.
Touya frowned a moment in confusion. Then he swallowed, too tired and too unsure whether or not he should put on a facade of normalcy. Before he could say a word, the kid turned his back and ran down the street in the direction Touya had just come.
It was then he realized, that he hadn't been asked a question but instead, was told an answer.
His vision was blurred and hot and thoughts filled his head with a sensation he had not felt in many days. It was small and wavering, but it was there just as sure as the charm he had left hanging in that barren room.
It felt like hope.
to be continued...