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The brunette tapped her nails on the counter. She blinked her amethyst eyes at the clock and frowned. It was already 5 o'clock, and not a single soul had entered the convenience store. She recalled the instructions her boss gave her and sighed. "Restock when it's empty!"
Seventeen-year-old Ingrid Choi huffed as she heaved a box to the shelves. "This is ridiculous," she sighed and wiped the sweat from her forehead. She lived in a small apartment in Shinjuku near her school. Since the allowance her sister sent her every month wasn't enough, she worked part-time alongside modeling. Despite the glamorous nature associated with modeling, she only saw it as a means to earn money.
Compared to the other models, she wasn't as glamorous—her raven hair was straight and only reached her shoulders. Fortunately, she was blessed with thick lashes and large amethyst eyes. Her skin wasn't flawless, but it wasn't something make up couldn't handle. It helped that she was tall, which was what caught the scout's eye. As her manager said, "Being tall is your biggest advantage."
While restocking, her phone started ringing. "Hello?" she answered, clipping her phone between her neck and shoulder.
"Ingrid, this is Ouchi. Are you free this weekend?" It was her manager from the modeling agency.
"I... suppose. Is there a new shoot?"
"No, but someone wants to meet you. Can you come in on 3 o'clock this Saturday?"
She went through her schedule mentally. "Of course. Bye, Ouchi-san. I'm working right now." She answered and hung up. She rolled her eyes and walked towards the counter. Great... there goes my Saturday. She tossed the empty box on the ground and heard the bell ring.
A tall boy walked in, glancing around the store. "Wow... it's so empty..." he gasped.
Ingrid watched the light bouncing off his silver hair with glee. Finally, a customer! "Welcome to K-Mart! How can I help you?" she asked in an obviously rehearsed voice. The boy turned around and his droopy emerald eyes lit up when he noticed her. He smiled, revealing a pair of dimples. "I'm here for the job," he replied.
She handed him a piece of paper. "Here, write your name and number, I'll inform the boss."
He scribbled down his details and headed to the shelves.
Ingrid glanced at the paper as she put it in the register. Kei Kawasaki. The first thing she noticed about Kei was his height. His elbows were above the shelves! That wasn't the only thing she noticed; she also found his soft-spoken demeanor and gentle smile cute. Like most tall people, he was clumsy and knocked things over left and right. He shot her an apologetic look and replaced the fallen items swiftly. Did he work in another store before this?
A few minutes later, he returned with an armful of snacks.
"Wait! This, too!" He grabbed a newspaper from the stand. But it's already 5 o'clock... She decided not to question him and put it in a bag. Her eyes accidentally grazed over the title: 'Seedlings: Japan's shocking new phenomenon!'
"Seedlings, huh?" She picked up a copy and began reading once he left.
"I'm home," Ingrid announced to no one in particular and slipped into a pair of slippers. Her apartment was small but came with a kitchen, bedroom, and a bathroom. A small television and a kotatsu sat in the living room, with the kitchen opposite it.
She walked to her room and tossed her bag on the ground. Her room was no bigger than her living room, with just enough space for a closet, desk and some space to walk around in. To counter this, she nailed shelves onto the wall and swapped her bed for a futon that she kept in her closet.
She plugged in her phone and let it charge. Her phone started ringing, with a call from an unknown number.
"H-Hello?" She picked up despite the unease bubbling in her stomach.
"Is this... Ingrid Choi?" The voice on the other end belonged to a man who had trouble pronouncing her name like everyone else in Japan.
His voice sounds strangely familiar... "Yes... who is this?" she replied, the feeling of unease growing stronger. Her guts told her to hang up, but another side of her asked, 'what if this was an important call from work?' She wasn't risking it, and she reasoned with herself—the voice was familiar, which could be a good sign.
The man on the other end coughed nervously. "Look... this may sound weird, but you have to believe me." There was a long pause. "You are in serious danger if you don't leave this instant—"
Ingrid hung up and gingerly put her phone down. No, Ingrid. You will not slam your phone.
She took a deep breath and retrieved a towel from her closet. "Someone should do something about these calls," she grumbled. Her phone started ringing again. She checked the caller ID and frowned—it was the same number. She wanted to give him a piece of her mind, but she had no time for this nonsense. Finally, her phone stopped ringing.
Although she had wanted to give him an earful, she decided this was for the best.
"Crap... she's not picking up, Isei!" Kei stared at his phone anxiously. He glanced at the entrance to a shabby apartment, turned around and grabbed his friend's shoulders. "Can you use it? Just to check if she's okay—"
Isei shook his head frantically, his scarlet hair dancing wildly. "Y-You know I can't do that! What if she's in the shower?" He pointed at the band-aid on his cheek. "Remeber this? Thanks to a certain someone," he said angrily, glaring at Kei, who squirmed uncomfortably, "a certain someone beat the crap outta me! You gotta be kidding me if you want me to use—"
They heard a loud whistle and saw a girl with purple hair waving at them from a balcony. "It's Ririko!" Kei gasped. She blew them a kiss before disappearing from view. They exchanged panicked glances and Isei sighed in defeat. "Fine..." he said dejectedly.
Kei shot him a grateful look and let go of Isei. He glanced at his friend—a tall redhead, two inches shorter than him, but still tall, with expressive golden eyes and freckles on his face. His skin was tanned to a beautiful shade of bronze, a result of always being under the sun. Isei peeled off his black gym glove, revealing a purple hexagram glowing dully on his palm.
He glanced at Kei, who gave him a reassuring nod and turned to the apartment. He sliced the air in front of his closed eyes, the hexagram glowing brightly before fading. With his eyes still closed, he scanned the apartment and furrowed his brows. Uh oh, that's a bad sign, Kei thought.
Isei opened his eyes and the hexagon began glowing again. "The good news: she isn't in the shower," he said, wearing his glove.
"The bad news?" Kei asked worriedly.
"Ririko is in there with her."
An angry Ingrid splashed her face with cold water. The call hadn't left her mind, and she was growing more irritated with each passing moment. I should've picked up and given them an earful. She ran her hands under the water, basking in the warmness. Despite the cheap rent, the apartment had a decent heating system.
She glanced at the small screen near the door. It was one of the greatest invention of this century, a small screen that acted like an assistant. It was made available to the public at a shockingly cheap price, so Ingrid installed a few in her apartment. It was introduced as 'Miniko,' the modern citizen's best friend and assistant.'
"Miniko, display my itinerary for tomorrow."
"Understood, user INGRID. Displaying itinerary," came Miniko's reply in a robotic voice. It beeped and displayed a busy schedule. She noticed the corner of the screen glitching out and frowned. Is this broken?
She turned off the tap and dried her face with her towel. "School starts next week... I need to inform boss. Then I need to make plans with my sister when she comes next week. Miniko, record that." Miniko flashed softly and began typing. Someone banged on her door loudly, completely disregarding the doorbell.
Dashing to the door, she peered through the peephole and saw a green shirt. Whoever it was is too tall. She slid the chain lock and opened the door slightly. "Are you looking for someone?" she asked. Her eyes lit up when she saw Kei. "Hey, the boy from earlier! How did you get my address?"
"No time to lose, Ingrid Choi!" The redhead beside him exclaimed, slamming his hand on her door. "Listen to me, this is for your own safety! You need to—"
"You need to leave right this moment before I call security! You're the one who called me earlier, aren't you? To think I told the boss to hire you," she growled angrily at Kei, finally recognizing his voice. "Ugh, boys are the worst!"
She heard a chuckle behind her and turned around, and saw a voluptuous girl with wavy violet hair. She looked past Ingrid's shoulders at the two boys outside her apartment with a sly smile on her beautiful face. "I agree. Boys are the absolute worst, aren't they! Long time no see, darlings. Why, Isei, you never called back! I called the Kobayashi landline so many times I got blocked!"
Wait... Kobayashi? Ingrid gasped in realization. She glanced at the Miniko beside her door. On the bottom rim surrounding the screen, Kobayashi was etched in small font. "Kobayashi? The company that created Miniko?" she exclaimed.
Isei nodded. "My father did," he replied, turning to the Ririko. "Ririko... let's not be rash—"
Ririko threw her head back and laughter escaped her bee-stung lips. "Rash? Me? Oh no, dear." She phased through the door and battered her asphalt eyes at Isei, ignoring Ingrid's shock and purred, "I'm very calm... but before I get mad, we should head to your place, Isei!"
"You're unbelievable," he exclaimed.
"Agreed," Kei said and cracked his knuckles. He closed his eyes and held out his palm, a soft green hue devouring his entire body. Flecks of green started swirling above his palm, forming the silhouette of a teardrop. Slowly but steadily, the silhouette glowed brighter until it exploded in a flash of bright light, leaving a golden teardrop-shaped ornament in its wake, with sparkling green liquid swirling inside. When he opened his eyes again, his sclera was pitch black and his pupils dull green.
Ingrid's jaw went slack—all this happened within the span of no more than five minutes! It was a bizarre sight; seeing Ririko phase through doors like walking through thin air, and her future colleague's magic light show manifesting a floating ornament within seconds. She felt her knees give out and would've hit the ground had Isei not notice her buckling knees and rushing to her side in time.
"Ririko, do we have to?" His voice was no longer gentle, now sounding hollow and strident.
Swallowing nervously, Ririko took a few steps back cautiously. "Kawasaki... that was you?"
Kei advanced towards her slowly, leaving gooey black footprints behind him. "I'm not the only one with this Seed, you know..."
Seed? She read about this in the newspaper earlier. It described a strange new phenomenon called 'Seedlings.' Cities would get vandalized randomly, and seed-like objects were found in the area. "You don't wanna see this," Isei said and covered her eyes. He smelled faintly of sugar, Ingrid noticed, before the world turned pitch black.
— Prologue end —
[10/1/18] — Changed how I describe, Ingrid, as pointed out by Om Nom Nom de Plume. Thanks!
[9/2/18] — Edited how I described Kei's ability. Thanks, handna95!