Here is the continuation of Chapter 1 of Ruins of Sapphire, Volume 1 of the Crimson Winter Trilogy by yours truly, J.A. Dowsett. For Part 1, go here. To learn more about the book or to pick up the paperback or ebook at its current SALE price, check out our online store!
Lunchtime was another routine for me. I brought my own bento I made for myself in the morning and I always sat at the big empty table by the floor to ceiling window overlooking the school grounds.
I had no reason to act differently than I had before, so I headed unerringly to my usual spot at lunch, leaving an open textbook within easy view, so people would think I was studying. In the Tuesday I remembered, I had been caught off guard by a new student who’d stumbled over to my table looking to introduce herself. Only this time, when the transfer student approached me, I was ready.
“Is this seat taken?” a higher-pitched girl’s voice spoke timidly from behind me exactly as expected.
She looked too young to be in high school, but I remembered from our conversation the other day that she had skipped a few grades. She was in reality maybe thirteen or fourteen, but looked twelve, with a short bob of white-blonde hair and a friendly expression. I welcomed her and asked her to sit with me. As she did so, she waved unexpectedly to someone outside, in view of the window – that was new.
I turned to see who she was waving at. There, by the tree. He was meeting me stare for stare, as if he were watching me and not the other way around. He was of medium build and dressed as we all were in a Shinjuku High school uniform. His face was angular with strong lines, which made him appear a little older than my fifteen years. His blond hair was fashionably spiked and he met my gaze with unwavering brown eyes. I stiffened, for his expression was filled with an inexplicably familiar anger.
A group of four at a nearby table caught my eye, two boys and two girls. One of the girls with them was Shuzhue, oddly enough. She was looking down as if she didn’t want to be there but she didn’t have it in her to leave. As I watched her, I realized that in the Tuesday I remembered Shuzhue was missing by the time the swim meet began after school. She looked up and met my eyes, seeming to smile sadly in my direction. I couldn’t help but feel she was imploring me to understand something – or maybe she was just asking me silently for help.
“My name’s Reiki,” the young girl’s voice startled me into turning to face her once more. “I’ve just transferred here. It’s my first day,” she stated with a hopeful expression.
I ignored her, turning back to discover why that student under the tree had seemed so familiar. His eyes met mine once more and they flashed red. In my vision his clothes changed too – they flickered from his school uniform to his Goth blacks, with the red jewel prominently displayed.
“Is something the matter?” Reiki spoke, but I didn’t turn to look at her. My gaze was riveted on the three people at the table with Shuzhue. They were all dressed the same now – black clothes, red jewels. They were the ones who had accosted us and now they were surrounding Shuzhue.
“I’m fine.” I forced myself to break their gaze and turn to face Reiki, though I felt uneasy having them at my back, even if they were a floor away. “If you’ll excuse me,” I said as calmly as possible before standing and walking away from her.
As I exited the cafeteria, I heard the student council president of Shinjuku High, Goji Nakamura’s, voice ring out behind me, “I hope everyone is ready for the swim meet after school!”
I couldn’t think of what to do. The only thing that came to mind was to go down there and confront them, but I didn’t know if I had the courage. I could continue to let this play out, and now, being forewarned, I could avoid the park and its deadly trap…
But there was still Kaji, Yue, and Hotaru. If I didn’t go with them, would they still go? And what about Shuzhue – would she still meet her mysterious fate? If I wanted to change this, I would have to do things differently. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
I gathered myself and headed purposefully outside to face those goths and demand some answers, but by the time I got down there they were gone, and only the spiky blond-haired one remained.
As I came within view of the tree and picnic table, I saw him coming towards me. I ducked out of sight and used the corner of the building to conceal myself for the moment. He went past, his walk a confident swagger, but never looked back to see me. I tried not to stare at him with too much intensity, lest he feel me watching him as he had before.
I followed him out of Shinjuku High’s grounds. He never hesitated nor slowed. It didn’t seem to me he knew I was there. I followed him across the street at a careful distance. He was heading away from the school and perpendicular to Hyuski Heights. I couldn’t fathom where he was headed. Did he intend to miss his afternoon classes, or would he come back for them? I didn’t know him well enough to judge.
On the other side of the street someone was waiting for him. I recognized her at once. She had long, vibrant red hair and she was dressed in a school uniform, but I remembered her bell-shaped black dress.
She was looking about, as if searching for someone, and I had an instant of dread as her eyes found mine. A look of triumph crossed her face; she had found what she had been searching for – me.