It was the year 2027. Shiki Arasawa was at the kitchen table, quickly trying to finish her breakfast before leaving for school. Her mother, Hanako Arasawa, sat at one side of the table with a cup of tea in her hand.
"Don't scarf it all down," she advised. "You're gonna choke on it."
"Gotta leave, mom," Shiki said, "today is graduation day. It's the last day of school!" She finished the last cup of milk and ran to the entrance, where her shoes lay waiting. Swiftly, she fitted her shoes on and opened the door.
"Hi, Shiki!" Ai exclaimed. As if she were waiting ever since the first break of dawn, Ai leaned against the pillar supporting the porch. She wore a great big smile on her face, but carried an air of dissatisfaction. "Today's the day, huh?"
"Today's the day," Shiki repeated. Pushing her hair back, Shiki laid her eyes on a tall young man. He had dark blue hair and light blue eyes, and he also wore the school uniform that Shiki and Ai wore.
The young man suddenly noticed Shiki, and made an affectionate smile. Shiki couldn't help herself from smiling back.
"Good morning, Ikuto," Shiki greeted, addressing the boy by his first name.
"Hey, my cute little Shiki," Ikuto replied. He unconsciously scratched his arm while looking away from her. "Why don't we…walk to school together?" he asked. Then, in a clearer voice, "It'll be the last time we'll be able to."
"Mm!" Shiki nodded. She ran to his side and grabbed his left arm, much to his surprise. They turned around and began walking off, and Ai scrambled behind them.
It was a sunny day, with no clouds in the sky; a perfect prelude to the new life ahead of them. After all, their paths would split after this fateful day, in one way or another. It had been three long years since they first entered high school, and now they would graduate as easily as they had enrolled. This day felt more different than the rest. This day promoted change forever.
Shiki, Ikuto, and Ai reached the school gates, laughing and reminiscing all the way. Students filled the school grounds with chatter and excitement, but none more so than Yosuke Yanagiya.
"Shiki!" Yosuke shouted. He was several meters away, waving his arm back and forth like a monkey. "I can't believe it's here," he said as he got closer. "We're almost out of high school—Oh, and I see that the lovey-dovey couple is actually especially lovey-dovey today."
Shiki and Ikuto blushed at the thought. They took a glance a t each other, but quickly turned away when they saw the red on each other's cheeks.
"How long has it been, Shiki?" Yosuke pressed on.
"A-A couple months now…" Shiki answered.
"Wow! I'm surprised it's already been a couple months. Four, to be exact."
"Shiki…" Ikuto murmured. He tugged at her sleeve. "Let's go to the gymnasium now."
"Oh…well, I'll see you guys later!" Shiki prepped herself up and then ran at full speed while dragging her boyfriend off. He was struggling to catch up, but he looked like he was having fun.
"Ikuto Sasagai," Yosuke said under his breath. "The lucky guy, #100 to ask her out, and succeed…" He glanced at the forgotten Ai. She seemed happy for her best friend, but also lonely for her own self. Yosuke sighed to himself and greeted her, then accompanied her to the gymnasium where the big even was to be held.
Everyone inside was either talking or laughing; no one was silent. Shiki and Ikuto stood at one side of the gym, busying themselves before the event began. Before long, rumors started to float around the building, and they were very hard to ignore.
"Hey, have you heard? Something big's gonna happen soon."
"Something big? Like what?"
"I don't know. Maybe an invasion or a war or something—Look, all I know is that the government's been hiding this secret project, and they gonna use the experiments to destroy the world!"
"What? That's crazy! Are they gonna use some biotechnological weapon, like a nuclear bomb?"
"Actually, I heard it's a person!"
"A person? You mean a monster disguised as a person!"
"No, no! An actual person! I heard he looks like a high school student. And I heard he sneaks into high schools to look for prime targets to practice on! What if he was here, right now?"
"That's scary! I'd hate it if he picked me! Oh, unless he was hot. That's a different story!"
"What if he's watching us, right now…?"
Shiki suddenly grasped Ikuto's arm, and looked up at his face. He saw the movement and noticed her discomfort. Ikuto smiled softly and led her away from the gossip. Then, the graduation started.
Many students were bored out of their minds while listening to the principal's lecture. All they really cared about was the diploma, which only went on at the end. To them, the lecture was not really worth the diploma.
"And with that," Mr. Katsuragi continued, "I would like our valedictorian of class 2027 to come up on stage and share a few words with us." The crowd was silent, and it seemed as though the valedictorian wasn't present to share her words with her class. Then, a single student stood up from the sea of faces and walked down the aisle. She arrived on stage, standing before her class, filled with pride and anxiety. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her insatiable nerves.
"Our humble class of 2027," Shiki began. "I'd like to…um…I'd like to…!"
Then, a strange sound echoed throughout the entire gym. It was set at an extremely high pitch; the kind that came from dog whistles and the like. It didn't hurt anyone's ears, but it distracted everyone in the room momentarily. The sound slowly died off after awhile, and all was quiet again.
"Well," Shiki began again. "I'd like to-"
All of a sudden, chaos ensued. Smoke rose to the ceiling, fire on all sides, and students ran for their lives. An explosion had set off from the entrance of the gym! It blocked off any hope for escape.
"Please stay calm!" the teachers shouted, but to no avail. The entire gym had erupted into a frenzy of fear, and not a soul could escape.
Oddly enough, there was someone in the mix that did not fit. Among the chaos, a small boy walked forward, holding a blank smile. His clothes were tattered, and his face dirty. However, he carried himself with a fearsome confidence. The boy wanted to meet someone, and no one took any notice of his greedy eyes.
"Shiki!" Ikuto shouted. He had desperately broken out of the flow and tried to reach her. Sweat ran down his arms as the fires began to rise. An idea quickly struck him, and he climbed on top of a chair to get the full view. He spotted Shiki, trapped behind the podium she stood by. Fire had surrounded the stairs leading to the stage, totally cutting her off from any help. "Shiki!" Ikuto shouted again. He tried waving to hr, but she did not notice.
The smoke that had accumulated over time now began to reach the ground. Soon, everyone would suffocate from the smoke and burn to death.
The small boy, unfazed by anyone's expression, walked straight into the flames surrounding the stage. A few seconds passed, and then he emerged on the other side, unscathed. The boy took awkward steps up the stairs, and then he stood in front of Shiki.
Shiki noticed him though the smoke and the fire, and shouted, "What are you doing here!"
"Shiki…Arasawa…?" the boy asked.
The boy made a large, wide smile, so wide that it looked as though it touched his ears. He extended one arm outward, and almost instantly, brandished a knife under his sleeve. Shiki's horror and fear reflected off the boy's blank eyes.
The boy suddenly rushed forward, throwing his knife in a wide arc toward Shiki. There was no hesitation in his movements. He knew what he wanted, and he would get it at any costs.
Shiki, on the other hand, did not. Should she run away, or fight? And if she did fight, could she win? Her opponent was a boy, but a boy with a knife.
Indecision would kill her, but her only options were fight or run. Which should she chose?
But the boy was already upon her, lunging forward for the stab. In a few seconds, it would all be over for Shiki. And she could not do anything about it.
"Shiki!" Ikuto called.
She finally heard him, and turned to look at his face. He was terrified and tortured; he wanted to run to her, but the flames stared him straight in the face. All he could do was watch. All he could do was hope.
Suddenly, a black blob crashed through the ceiling. The impact shook the gym from side to side, and threw a few students on their feet.
The boy, immediately alert, jumped a few steps back. Then, with the force of a house, the black blob landed in the space between Shiki and the boy. For a moment, all was silent except the roaring of the flames. Everyone was captured by the mysterious event that occurred.
Shiki, scared as she was, inched close to the black blob and tried poking it. Instantly, the blob reacted. Like water, that single touch sent ripples on its surface. Then, it slowly opened itself up, revealing whatever was hidden inside. Shiki watched curiously as the dark cover slowly retracted away from her.
The darkness revealed a young man, standing before Shiki. The man had jet-black hair and grey irises, and he wore a black and white jacket. He had a small smile under a pointed nose, and stood a good deal taller than Shiki. The darkness that had enveloped him shrank into a black cape around the man's shoulders.
Standing at the podium, Shiki could clearly see his face. All of a sudden, tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. She was speechless, and it was all because of the one person she never thought she'd see again, standing before her.
"Hi, Shiki," Saito greeted. "How have you been?"
End of Chapter 7