(Edit 3/2020: Completely revised chapter.)

Chapter 1-1

Encounter

"Man, come on..." Akemi huffed angrily. Sunday was supposed to be family cleaning time - The day of the week where she and her father took care of the old shrine her grandparents had been generous enough to let them live at. It wasn't a large property, but large enough to require two people to manage. Cleaning by herself was low on the list of things she wanted to get stuck doing.

She heaved a deep sigh as she leaned against the now-spotless countertop in their currently-pristine tiled kitchen. "Would've been nice to know I'd be alone beforehand... Stupid Aunt Meiko." Her father was certainly not any type of scatterbrain, and normally if he had errands to run he'd give her warning far in advance; but where his older sister was concerned...

"I know this is sudden, but Meiko needs someone to help present her newest storyboards in Osaka. I'll be back in a few days."

It wasn't surprising to learn that her aunt had dropped another unplanned outing on her father like this. In fact, it was downright comical how often the woman needed him for all manner of things she could probably do on her own. Akemi tried hard not to let it bother her, but this stunt had been pulled before and she was tired of it. With a last look at her reflection in the counter, the girl tied back her bright auburn hair and resigned herself to making the best of her Sunday alone.

It wasn't long after relocating to the bathroom that an earth-shattering thunderclap echoed above the house, successfully startling Akemi into dropping the entire bottle of bleach onto the floor.

Letting out a curse, Akemi picked the container up and ran damage control. As she wiped up the spilled chemical with her washcloth, she absently wondered if they were expecting rain today. Getting the laundry inside soon would be a good idea, given how close the thunder was. With the smell of aggressive clean now permeating every inch of the area like a fog, she decided now would be better than later.

Once she opened the bathroom window, Akemi left it to air out and went to grab the drying clothes. She was surprised to see the sky clear outside with no trace of clouds. The humidity she'd been expecting was also conspicuously absent. These observations were dropped in favor of completing her easiest chore. Perhaps the noise had been a plane flying low or something.

As she turned the corner of her house, Akemi froze. Near the full clothesline was a complete stranger.

Her breath hitched as she took a step back to hide. Cautiously, she peeked out from behind the corner of the house and studied them. She didn't recognize whoever it was, that was for sure; but given they were wearing some kind of costume, she doubted she'd recognize them anyway. She tentatively decided they were probably a boy around her own age, given their height and dress. It wouldn't be the first time she saw a teenager walking around in cosplay, and she couldn't imagine an adult wearing anything like that seriously. Good gods, there was so much blue.

She'd just decided to do him no harm when the random kid started inspecting one of her shirts like a common pervert.

Akemi saw red. She ran forward and chucked the most available weapon she had - Her wicker basket - at his head. The boy didn't have time to react before it hit him square in the head.

"Ow! What was-?" Akemi heard him start to ask before cutting him off with a punch to the gut. The boy crumpled over onto his knees like a weight had hit him and coughed into the dirt.

"Just what do you think you're doing, you creep?" the girl challenged, not giving him a reprieve. "Nobody gave you permission to be here. Nobody gave you permission to start touching my clothes. Give me one reason I shouldn't drag you to the nearest police station."

A pathetic reply wheezed, "I don't... know what that is. Where am I?" The response left Akemi briefly speechless, allowing the boy a moment to sit himself on the ground properly and assess his injuries. "Mhion le, you didn't have to assault me like that. My skull is still pounding."

"You're trespassing," Akemi said flatly. "Not only that, but you were touching my laundry. You're lucky I didn't do worse. I'm still waiting on that reason, by the way."

As the mop of black hair looked up, Akemi noted how unusual it was for someone to have purely gray eyes as the intruder did; but considering her own hair color, she really shouldn't talk.

"I could give you one if I knew what the police were," he said with a frown. "I've never heard of it before." As the boy pushed himself to his feet, he added, "And I've never seen clothes like yours either. Sorry about touching them. I was just surprised."

Akemi rubbed the bridge of her nose. Of course she'd find the one pervert cosplayer that decides he wants to be in-character all the time. She didn't know if he thought that was an excuse or not, but she wasn't having it.

"Okay, if you're going to be like that, I'm definitely dragging you to the police." Ignoring the repeated question of 'What is the police?', she grabbed his wrist and marched with ferocity. Unsurprising to her, the boy started to protest.

"Hey, where- Ow! Do you have to hurt me while you're dragging me? Ease up already!" Akemi refused a reply. She didn't know what this guy's angle was, but she wasn't buying into it. She'd been in a sour mood to begin with and this random kid playing pretend only exacerbated it.

Her chosen silence was broken when her feet no longer touched the ground. To her surprise and horror, Akemi was no longer walking, but hovering a good twenty feet above her house. She let out a frightened string of curses as she looked up and saw their roles had somehow switched. Not only was she not in control of the situation anymore, but she was being held by her wrist at arm's length by the stranger who had suddenly started floating in the air on a broom.

"Look, I said sorry, alright?" The boy frowned at her in disappointment. "I really was just curious! I don't know how to say that with more sincerity!"

"You-! You-!" Akemi struggled to make a complete sentence through the pull of gravity and her own fear. She wasn't keen on heights to begin with, much less being unceremoniously hung from them in midair. "What are you!? A spirit!? Put me down!" While she didn't particularly believe in the stories of ghosts and spirits inhabiting old shrines, Akemi was not accustomed to seeing people perform impossible feats like flying on their own. Maybe she'd somehow gotten brain-damaged from the bleach fumes.

The boy cocked his head to one side. "I'm a wizard," he stated like he was pointing out the weather. "Aren't you?"

"What!? No! Now put me down!" Thoroughly confused, the boy did as she asked and slowly lowered her until her feet landed on foundation. Once her arm was released, Akemi backed away from him at top speed, only stopped by the presence of solid wall. The boy continued to pin her with a perplexed stare.

"If you're not a wizard, then what are you?"

What was the opposite of wizard? Not-a-wizard? Akemi didn't know. She went with her best bet. "Hu... Human. I'm human, and I assumed you were, until..."

Until he flew.

Akemi sunk to her rear. He flew. Hovered, really, but her mind wasn't paying attention to specifics. What in god's name was happening to her? Bleach fumes were more serious than she thought.

"Human?" The word came out as a high-pitched squeak of terror Akemi wasn't prepared for. She refocused on the stranger, who was still perched on the broom (A broom of all things, really) but looking leaps more wary than he had been earlier. He looked her over with no ounce of leering, looked to the clothesline, and then looked to the sky. He and the broom suddenly lifted into the air once again as Akemi looked on in disbelief.

He spent no longer than a few seconds up there before coming back down in a panic. The boy jumped off the broom and immediately ran towards her. Akemi almost didn't note the fact that the broom disappeared the moment it wasn't needed, as her field of view was mostly blocked by the boy getting uncomfortably close to her on his knees.

"You! You're... You're really human?" If he'd gotten any closer Akemi would probably have seen her blue eyes reflected in his own gray ones. The proximity caused her to recollect herself and violently push him away with her foot.

"That's what I said, yes," she deadpanned. "Kindly never come into my personal space uninvited again."

The boy seemed unaware of the thinly-veiled threat, or that he'd even been pushed. The curiosity was gone from his face, replaced by fear.

"No... No, no, no... Anything but that..." His mumbles were mostly incoherent but loud enough to get his shift in mood across. Eyes pleading, he asked once more, "Where... Where am I?"

Akemi genuinely wasn't sure what to answer with, so she listed off everything she could think of. "Japan, Earth, the universe, my yard... Take your pick, I guess." The boy sighed.

"I'm sorry, I don't recognize any of that. I must be a long way from home. Forel mha... I knew I shouldn't have left my dorm." Dorm? As in a student dorm? He knew what a dorm was? Akemi raised a brow.

"If you don't mind me asking... Where is 'home' and how did you manage to get yourself to mine?" The boy gave her a pitiable smile.

"I don't mind you asking, but... Is there somewhere more comfortable to sit?"


Why she agreed to let this total stranger who had been touching her clothes five minutes ago into her house was something Akemi wouldn't be able to explain to another person. It went against her moral norm, and she was still incredibly wary of the boy; but given he'd hoisted in the air with zero effort on his part, she had a feeling he would've been completely capable of harming her had he wished to do so. He hadn't, so she decided to humor him.

For now.

She was still rather skeptical of him being a wizard, more so of his claim of not belonging to the same universe. Her best friend might believe in the occult and unknown, but she liked to consider herself a bit more logical. Yes, hovering in midair had startled her, but it wasn't like there couldn't be technology out there capable of it. Maybe he had some super advanced gadgets hidden on him somewhere.

Crow - As he called himself - was not attentive to her skeptical stares, and hadn't been since she introduced him to the kitchen. At first it'd been a matter of surprise ("Oh, this is familiar at least! You cook here, right?"), but now the boy had fixed his eyes on the table in thought.

"Take your time," Akemi said with little malice. She was impatient, sure, but if his comments had any validity to them, he was probably worse off than she was at the moment. Crow shook his head.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I just... I don't know how to explain anything. I can, I think, but... I don't know. We were taught that our universe isn't the only one, but to be thrown so far as a human world... My head's still swirling a bit."

"That's something we have in common, then." Akemi donned a matching frown. "You could start by proving you are what you say you are, if that helps." Crow looked up from the table.

"You don't believe me?"

"Not entirely, no. Magic is a very fiction-only concept here. I've gone most of my life thinking it doesn't exist outside of stories, and asking me to believe that it does with no further proof is... Well, saying it's difficult is putting it mildly."

"That... makes sense, I guess," Crow mused, tapping his cheek in thought. "Can you guys store things in your imagination?"

Akemi blinked. "What?"

"You know, imagination storage!" Crow beamed. "Or maybe you don't know? Guess that's something I can show you after all."

With no further explanation, Crow pinched the space by his right ear and pulled his hand away. A weathered leather book followed his hand and grew from minuscule to proper size with the motion. He plucked the full-sized book from the air and held it out to Akemi with a smile. "See? Imagination storage!" The girl leapt out of her chair and backed against the wall again with wide eyes.

"I... I see! I get it now..."

"You don't have to be so scared..."

"I'm not scared. I'm startled. There's a difference." As if to make a point, Akemi removed herself from the wall and walked over to Crow with no hesitation. Immediately she grabbed his head and started inspecting every angle of him. "You don't look like you have any weird gadget on you..." Crow ducked down to get away from the touch.

"Personal space!" he reminded her. "You have yours, I have mine!" Akemi stepped back, hands up in genuine apology.

"Sorry, sorry. It's just... I really don't have any explanation for someone pulling a book out of their ear, so-"

"Not my ear," Crow corrected. He looked down at his book. "My imagination. If you have an item with personal significance, you can basically store it in your mind. Helps with important stuff you don't want to carry around, but you get a headache if you carry too much. Lucky for me I only have my first magic guide." He set the old book on the table and opened it up to a page with what looked like a map. "This is my world. We call it Maccai, which means... something I don't think translated." The wizard hummed in contemplation. "Come to think of it, I'm surprised translation still works here. I don't know why it wouldn't, but cool."

"Translation?"

"Oh, yeah, you see, a lot of people speak different languages in my universe so everyone carries an enchantment with them at all times that allows them to understand and speak the same language as someone as long as they're close to each other." Crow pointed to his headband. "I keep mine on this since I don't really go anywhere without it. I got it when I started my part-time delivery job."

"Huh, you don't say..." Akemi realized this answered a question she hadn't even realized she'd had. It was a little weird to hear someone from a completely different world speaking perfect Japanese. It was also fascinating to learn even wizards needed part-time jobs. She leaned forward to look at the illustration in the book, which was surrounded with writing presumably in the owner's language. "You said this is a magic guide, right? Are there spells written in it?"

"Yeah, but just basic ones. The harder ones are in my BAG!" Crow's sentence trailed off into a yell as he stood up in a panic. "I forgot my bag! I left it on the ground to go exploring and then you threw that basket at me and-!"

"Relax," Akemi cut him off sharply. "It's absolutely still there. Hardly anyone comes to this place anymore. You're the first non-familial visitor in a while." Finding another question, she asked, "How did you get here anyway? I don't think you brought that up yet." Crow's panic receded just enough to answer her.

"Err, well... I lost a bet with a friend so I had to go to the edge of our kosrrier, and-"

"Kosrrier?"

"Oh, guess that doesn't translate either. Uhh..." Crow spread his arms out. "So there's this big veil made of pure light that blocks star showers from getting in and destroying everything... You can technically get close if you fly high enough but we're not supposed to because it might ruin its integrity or something. I got close and wanted to touch it and... I don't understand what happened. The veil sucked me in somehow and suddenly I'm in a completely different place." The boy's frown returned. "The veil caused this, and that's about all I know... I don't know how I'm going to get back without it."

Akemi understood almost none of what was said. What she did understand was that this boy might've forced into a one-way trip away from his home. That in mind, she started to feel a bit bad over her initial treatment of him; but not before reminding herself that any human she found doing the same weird stuff would've deserved it. This just happened to be a special case.

"Do you have anyone you could contact?" she asked. Not that she knew if contact was possible...

Crow scratched his head. "Uhh... My teacher, I guess, but I'd rather not let him know about this if I can help it. My friend Hyde would be the best bet since I don't know a lot of other people aside from Hyde's sister... but she's a nightmare on the best of days. Least I remembered to pack my mesair before leaving..." He sounded like he was talking more to himself than her at this point, but he answered her question nonetheless.

"You should probably go contact your friend, then. I'm sure he's worried about you."

"He'd better be. It's his fault I'm here."

"Well, you didn't have to take the bet in the first place, you know." Crow huffed as he got up to go find his bag.

"Trust me, it would've been worse if I hadn't."