PREVIEWS - Eternal Rain Novel

BOOK 1, CHAPTER 1

JUNE 794 A.E.

FIRE GATE

The air was thick with tension. Soldiers clad in red flooded out of the army base en masse, throwing the surrounding city’s residents into a panic. “We must bring that woman back at all costs!” The people shoved past passers-by and scrambled to clear a path as the soldiers thundered through the city street on their general’s command.

“What’s going on?” came the whispers. “Don’t you know? Something was stolen from the base last night – some top-secret weapon, I think!” The procession of soldiers vanished through a watery portal that would take them to the Water Gate.

WATER GATE

Alarm bells rang through the air as the ugly clouds of billowing grey smoke drew closer and closer, and the light of the flames became visible over the trees. The graceful young woman and elderly men who made up the Council directed crowds of people out of the village. “That woman has brought them here!” one of the elders cried. The Councilwoman glanced briefly at the bronze-skinned foreigner who waited nearby.

“Mizuki-sensei!” A boy hurried toward them, and the Councilwoman motioned for the foreigner to come forward.

As the Councilwoman continued to herd her people away, she told the boy, “Takeshi, take Lady Miko to Night’s Sea. She must escape!” She quickly tossed him a glittering aqua-colored gem. “Go!”

Takeshi nodded determinedly. “Follow me!” He told the foreigner. The woman followed as he took off through the woods that spread between the village and their destination. The trees and thick underbrush finally gave way to an open field of moonlit grass. An oriental castle loomed not too far ahead. As they started up the staircase, they could hear voices at their rear. The stairs seemed unending until Miko and Takeshi finally reached the top, pulled the heavy doors open and let them close on their heels as they stepped inside. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they could see a glassy distortion, like a ring of dimly-glowing water, hanging in the middle of the wide room. “There,” Takeshi said, pointing. “You need to hurry!”

Miko cast a glance over her shoulder, bade him farewell with a brief bow, and vanished through the portal.

Takeshi clutched the crystal that the Councilwoman had given him in his hand. Please hurry, he pleaded inwardly, staring worriedly at the portal where Miko had stood only seconds before.

AUGUST 794 A.E.

EARTH

The school bell rang. Toki and her classmate joined the river of students heading out of the front doors of the building. “I can’t believe I have to do a re-test again,” Toki groaned. “It’s bad enough when the teachers get on my case, and now my parents will hear about it, too.” Her brown eyes narrowed. “And on top of that, to have been laughed out of swim class by those pretty popular girls…”

“Aw, Toki, don’t get so down on yourself,” her classmate said.

“They’re just so infuriating!!” Toki fumed.

She noticed the group of dolled-up girls off to the side giggling and whispering amongst themselves. One of them turned to look at her. “Why bother with her?” The girl smirked. “That loser will never be anything, anyway.”

Toki lowered her head to hide her face underneath her pink hair and turned the other way. A sympathetic smile worked its way across her classmate’s freckled face. “Who would want to be friends with those prima donnas, anyway?” She patted Toki on the shoulder. “Don’t even worry about what they think.” She started down the front walkway and called, “Anyway, I’ve got to catch my bus. See you later!”

“Bye, Aki!” Toki called. Toki watched her race off, with her brown ponytail swinging back and forth, until she disappeared aboard the bus. All the while, Toki managed to keep a smile on; but as soon as Aki’s bus left, so did Toki’s smile. Aw, man… She turned the corner and trudged home. How am I supposed to tell Mom and Dad that I have to come in on Sunday for a re-test? They’ll both freak out… Toki stopped briefly at the mailbox and retrieved its contents before hurrying inside.

“Hey, Toki!”

Toki sighed impatiently, shifted the pile of mail to her other arm, and kicked off her shoes.

It was her little sister at the door, waiting, her big brown eyes wide with glee, as she held some box in her arms. “Look what I got!” Atsuko showed off the jewelry set proudly, but Toki just pushed past her and trudged into the kitchen.

Putting the pile of letters and flyers down on the table, Toki announced, “I got the mail, Mom.” That was when she noticed that the small package on the top of the pile was addressed to her. She curiously picked it up and examined it as her mother, who was sitting at the table sipping at a cup of hot tea, asked the usual questions.

“How was your day, hon?” her mother asked as she started sifting through the pile of mail.

“So-so,” Toki replied as she tucked the small package into her backpack.

“Did something happen?” her mother inquired.

“No,” Toki said, “not really.” When her mother hesitated to reply, Toki knew that she had been unsuccessful in feigning casualness. But before her mother could question her further, she started out of the kitchen and toward the stairs. “Sorry, Mom. I’ve got homework to do.” She would have to tell her mother about the re-test later – right now, she felt her stomach tying up in knots at just thinking about telling her.

Toki heard her sister’s galumphing footsteps behind her as she climbed the steps and went to her room. Still, Atsuko was going on and on about that present of hers.

“Wanna know who it’s from? Do you?” Atsuko kept asking. Her dark pink hair bobbed as she bounced up on her tip-toes.

“I don’t care, Atsuko!” Toki snapped.

Atsuko puffed out her lip. “You’re just jealous ‘cause I got a present and you didn’t.”

“I’m not jealous!” Toki retorted. “Just leave me alone, twerp!”

“I’m telling Mom you called me that!” Atsuko threatened her.

“SHUT UP, you brat!” Toki exploded.

“MOM!” – And off ran the tattle-tale back down the stairs. It was always like this.

Toki stormed into her room and slammed the door shut. Ugh, what a pain! Toki thought. I need to relax. Toki changed into a sleeveless top and skirt and put her school uniform back into her closet, and then she started rummaging through her backpack for her journal when she caught sight of the little package and pulled it out instead. “It’s from Aunt Miko,” she mused as she examined the label again. Toki eagerly tore the wrapping open, wondering what present she’d gotten. Honestly, the thought did cross her mind to go back and rub it in Atsuko’s face, especially when she saw what it was: a turquoise gemstone pendant on a golden chain. “It’s so pretty!”

As soon as she slipped the pendant’s golden chain around her neck, a bright flash of light lit up the room. She felt the carpeted floor drop out from beneath her feet. “What the – ?!” When the light at last receded, the off-white walls of her room and her bed and small dresser had vanished. Grass tickled her socked feet, and a fresh, strong, leafy smell surrounded her. “Where am I?!” It was dark. The pale light of the moon revealed a field, a small stream, and a large, ornate building, like an old-world Chinese castle, its wide stairs spread far in front of it. In the shadow of the building, she could make out the form of a person. “Who – Who are you?! Show yourself!”

“There’s no need to be alarmed.” The voice belonged to a boy – a kind of small boy, certainly younger than Toki, with blue hair and a strange tattoo on his right cheek. “My name is Takeshi Nimahari,” he said as he took a few steps forward and smiled. “I’m your ally.”

“Ally?” Toki looked around again. Surely, this couldn’t be real. “Say what? What’s going on?” she wondered aloud.

“Welcome to the Water Gate,” the boy – Takeshi – said. “I brought you here because I need your help.”

“You want my help?” Toki asked incredulously. “For what?”

“I want to wait for the others arrive before I go into any lengthy explanations,” Takeshi said.

“The others? What others? Who else did you bring here?” Toki questioned him.

“You’ll find that out soon enough,” Takeshi replied. “For now, I need you to take this.”

He suddenly tossed some kind of long, sharp object toward her, and Toki screamed and braced herself before it landed gently at her feet. Flustered, she blurted out, “Are you trying to kill me?!?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” Takeshi apologized. You could have caught it, was what he was actually thinking. He was a little underwhelmed, actually – yes, he understood that she knew nothing about this world whatsoever, but she was supposed to be special. Was this really the Keyholder that he and Lady Miko had risked so much to reach? “Anyway, that’s actually yours.”

“Whoa, hold it! What is this for?”

“For your protection,” Takeshi replied.

Toki stilled for a moment. My… Am I in danger…? She examined the weapon – it was a blade on a long, mahogany shaft. “This is some kind of sword, right? I don’t know how to use a sword. I’ve never even held one before.”

Takeshi walked down the steps of the castle. “Here. Let me show you the basics,” he offered. “Though… I can’t say I’m much of an expert in swordplay, myself.” He smiled bashfully.

Toki could only grimace, as any little confidence she had was quickly crumbling away. I’m doomed. Takeshi made her take the thing – told her that it was called a “naginata”. She struggled to balance the heavy blade on the wooden shaft. She would underestimate its length, and it would get lodged in the dirt. Each time, Takeshi would shout out what she was doing wrong. This is real. I’m learning how to use a weapon. Don’t you know I’m the worst in Phys Ed? She would trip and fall and drop the blade, and Takeshi would chide her. For every small step forward, she felt worse and worse, with Takeshi pointing out her failures like a drill sergeant. Her ability was severely lacking, just as always; therefore, this couldn’t be a dream. Why me?

Finally, Takeshi ended it. “That’s everything I can show you. I hope it’s enough…” He watched her just sit there and poke at the naginata as if it were some foreign object. Of course… I don’t think she’s gotten much better, he thought. “I should probably get going now.”

“Wait!” Toki cried. “I’m not ready!”

Takeshi was glad she was at least taking this seriously now. Maybe she could improve, if she really put her mind to it. “You’d better keep practicing, then, shouldn’t you?” He smiled at her and added, “I’ll be back with a sleeping bag for you until I can arrange for something more permanent.” With that, he waved and turned to leave.

Just like when Toki had put on the pendant, there was a blinding flash of light. “What on earth?!?” She shielded her eyes. When she could see again, Takeshi had disappeared without a trace. Toki knelt down and picked up the naginata – her naginata. “What have I gotten myself into?” she wondered aloud.