“Oooohhh! Where is he!?” Karin Hanazono fumed as she stomped around the front hall.
It had been nearly two days since one of her closest friends, Kazune Kujyou, had gone missing during the school day. That had been two days full of panic and worry; two days of little rest and as much searching as was humanly possible. But all of her efforts were to no avail. Kazune continued to be missing. Nothing she did was able to change that.
“Calm down, Karin-chan,” Himeka Kujyou said softly as she walked up to Karin. She held a plate of cookies and a glass of milk in her hands. She held them out to Karin with a tight-lipped smile. “I’m sure… that Kazune-kun is… just fine… Really. He‘ll be back later tonight.”
Karin frowned deeply. Himeka had been the one holding up a strong front for the past few days. She had continued smiling, and she kept on saying that Kazune would be “fine”. She almost acted as though the blonde wasn’t even missing at some points. It irritated Karin that she would pretend that things weren’t so bad, but it became clear to her when she heard Himeka crying, alone in her room. Pretending that he wasn’t missing, that he had just gone off on his own on some trip that neither of them knew about, and that he would be home in “only a few hours, at the most”, was her own way of dealing with the stress.
But even self-delusion had its limits. And it was becoming painfully obvious as the seconds ticked by that Himeka was reaching those limits. She had reached them by the end of the day last night, and though the sun had barely begun to set, she was already starting to fall apart all over again.
Kazune-kun… Karin thought, smiling at Himeka. She took a cookie from the plate and began nibbling on it. She eyes slowly made their way from her purple-haired friend and back to the door. Where are you, Kazune-kun…?
Chapter One, Lost and Found
“Anyways, it’s getting late,” Himeka continued. She set the plate and glass down on a side table in the hall. “…I think… I’ll head off to bed now…”
Without another word, and before Karin could say good night, Himeka ran off. She left her alone. She didn’t really want to go at her friend, who was just about ready to fall apart. It didn’t matter how strong she was trying to appear, she was racked with worry. It wouldn’t do any good to make her cry.
“Himeka-chan…” Karin said softly, watching where the preteen had been standing. She sighed heavily. I don’t know what to do. We’ve looked everywhere for Kazune! Even Micchi is helping us look… and Shi-chan’s out there right now, looking… No one can find him… Why? Where is he?
Numbly, she took a bigger bite of her cookie. She was tired. Kazune hadn’t even been missing for two days and she was already starting to feel drained because of it. She was so used to having him around. She realized that she took it for granted. With Kazune around, she always felt safe. If she was challenged by Kirio and that mysterious Goddess, Kazune was almost always there to back her up. Even though he would be drained by the transformation, he had always been there for her.
And now, he probably needed her, but there was nothing that she could do for him. She could do nothing for the person that was always doing so much for her.
Frustrated, she punched the wall.
“Damnit…” she breathed. “Where are you… Jerk.”
Someone knocked on the door suddenly. It was three short, sharp raps. But it was enough. Karin perked up, dropped her cookie, and ran for the door. Unfortunately, her foot caught on the rug and she tripped. She went face first into the door.
“Oww,” she whined. She pushed away from the door and rubbed her nose.
The pain when away when there was another knock at the door.
“Kazune-ku--” she exclaimed as she threw the door open. Her eager anticipation was quickly cut off when she was greeted by the sight of Michiru’s usual wolfish grin.
“Good evening, Hanazono-san!” he greeted her, giving her a little wave in the process.
“Micchi…” she stammered, her eyes wide in disbelief. It was just Michiru. Not Kazune. Not the one that she had been waiting for…
Karin bowed her head in defeat. Two days was too short a time to give up the search for him, but she was already starting to feel too hopeless to keep looking. Did everyone who had someone close to them that went missing go through this? Or were they all stronger? Was she just giving up because she was weak?
“Micchi…” she repeated, looking up at him. She knew that it was silly, but she couldn‘t help but be a little hopeful. “Kazune-kun… Did you… Did you come here because you found Kazune-kun?”
The corners of his mouth fell into a small frown, and he shook his head slowly.
“No, I can’t say that I’ve found him, exactly,” he told her. He rummaged through his pant pockets until he found what he was looking for: a slip of crumpled up paper. “But when I was looking for him, this woman walked up to me and handed me this.”
He held the paper out to her. With a heavy sigh, Karin took it from him.
“She told me not to read it, but” he gave a slightly nervous laugh “curiosity got me… She said to give it to you… When I read it, I knew I had to come here right away.”
“Karin, I have your… prince?” Karin read the note out loud. She stared at it after the first line. Prince? Does it mean Kazune-kun? she silently wondered before she continued. “If you want him back, you must come to get him. Alone.”
So far she was sure that the letter was making sense. At least, if she was understanding it right, then it was made sense. Someone had kidnapped Kazune, and now they were ready to give him back. It seemed a little too simple, so she read it over a few more times. Each time she came to the same conclusion. What confused her was that they weren’t asking for anything in return. No ransom. They weren’t asking her to do anything in exchange for giving Kazune back. It was just “if you want him back, you must come to get him”, followed by the address, and directions on how to get there. The only condition was that she had to go there alone.
That, she was certain that she could do.
“Maybe it was Mr. Glasses Man and… and Kirika-senpai…” she murmured. She still had trouble thinking of the upper classman as her enemy. But he was, and this was the situation. She had no one else to think of. They probably took his ring… and now that they’re done, they’re giving him back…
Or just coming after me.
Her hand clenched around the note. Hot tears burned her eyes. If they hurt you, Kazune-kun… even… if it is Kirika-senpai… I’ll never forgive them!!
“Well, Hanazono-san? What say we get a move on?” Michiru chirped. Karin was suddenly reminded of the older teen’s presence, and she stared blankly at him. He just smiled at her. “C’mon, we’ve got to go save Kazune-kun, don’t we?”
“Oh… Y-Yeah, but…” she stammered. “You said that you read the note, right? They said--”
“I’ll stand outside then,” he cut her half-hearted protests off. “It’s dangerous to go it alone. If I’m at least outside, waiting for you, then isn’t that better?”
Karin continued to stare at him. Yeah. I would feel better if Micchi’s there with me. Kazune-kun always said not to fight alone… Maybe I should let him come with me. But it’ll be dangerous for him. If it’s them… I don’t know what’ll happen. What if he gets hurt?
She heard a soft sigh pass through his lips.
“I promise to stay away from danger,” he said. “I just want to help get Kazune-kun back safely. That woman… she seemed rather strange. Beautiful, but strange.”
Karin was confused.
“What woman?” she asked him.
Michiru perked up a little, smiling famously. “Oh! It was some woman that I‘ve never seen before that gave me the note!”
Her eye twitched. He seemed rather happy that it had been a woman, a beautiful woman, that had given him the note. Under any other circumstances, she would not have concerned herself on the subject… much, but Kazune was in trouble, and he was thinking about a woman. There was too much at stake for them not to be focused. Still, if it was a woman, than the odds that it was Kirio and Kirika that had kidnapped Kazune greatly lessened. At the very least, she knew that she would not be fighting any Gods on her own.
At least that was what she was hoping.
“Micchi… maybe you should stay here,” she sighed. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”
He shook his head. “I want to go, Hanazono-san.”
After some begging and pleading, and getting lost too many times to count because of bad directions and a lack of light that kept her from reading street signs properly. Karin found herself standing before a huge, abandoned warehouse. Michiru was with her, seemingly oblivious to the perilous circumstances under which they had come. She wished that she could have thought more of him, but in all honesty, she had never seen more than that out of him.
“Micchi, promise me that you’ll stay here,” Karin pleaded as she spun around to face her friend. He had already promised countless times to stay out of the warehouse, and away from danger--and that if danger came to him, he would run--but she had to make sure. Whoever it was that had taken Kazune had to be strong. She could not believe that he had been taken against his will by anyone, unless they were at least twice as powerful as he was. And even then, he would have gone down fighting.
Michiru nodded wordlessly. He didn’t even put up a fight. A part of her was a little disappointed. He should have argued with her, at least to be gentlemanly. But the current situation was too serious to be taken so lightly. There was no time for little games like that. This was not the time. Even Karin could understand that.
Karin turned and made her way for the front door. At least that was what she had decided to call it. She had no idea if warehouses actually had front doors. There were doors on every side, so which one really was the front? The one that faced the road? Probably. That was the side that everyone saw, so naturally that was what it would be called.
Again, her eye twitched. What am I thinking? she silently yelled at herself. Get a grip, Karin! Kazune-kun’s in trouble and you’re thinking about which is the front door?! Gah! You idiot!!
The door moaned loudly when she pulled it open, as if giving fair warning to whoever it was that was inside that she had finally arrived and was coming in. The sound echoed throughout the dark hallway that it opened to. Karin stood in the doorway for a moment, trying to make her decision. She knew that she had to keep going in, but at the same time, it was so dark. She had no idea who, or what, was waiting for her in there. What if they were waiting in the shadows, and when she walked in, she was suddenly ambushed? She would be of no use to Kazune then. She would have failed him then.
“Karin-chan, please be careful.” Himeka’s words echoed in her mind. There had been tears in her eyes when she said that. “Please, bring Kazune-chan back home to me.”
Karin glanced back at Michiru. True to his word, he hadn’t moved closer to the warehouse, though he looked like he wanted to. He was not a coward. If she called for help, and he heard her, then he would come to her aid. She knew that. But that was the last thing that she wanted. No one else needed to be in danger here.
Go in, and get Kazune-kun out, she reminded herself. Himeka’s waiting for you to bring him back.
She turned back to the dark hallway, sucked in a deep breath, and took her first step forward and into the warehouse. The door slammed heavily behind her. The resounding bang that resulted from it made her jump a little.
Calm down, Karin! she encouraged herself.
After a few moments her heart stopped trying to jump up her throat, and she felt ready to continue. She did, keeping her gaze and hands directly in front of her. She could not see anything in this darkness. It was too dark, and there were no windows to provide light. Not that that would be of any help: it was night, the sun had set, and there really was not any light outside to depend on.
Finally her hands hit something solid. A cold, metal door stood before her. Or a metal wall. Either way. she was just surprised to find that she hadn’t walked into anything. Well, she did walk in to a wall, just as she had been expecting, but this one she had been prepared for. She had honestly expected to walk in to some piping or a bucket or something that was randomly laying around. It was as if someone had cleared the way for her.
Maybe they had.
Her hands searched the hard, cold surface before her until she found the doorknob.
She turned it.
A blast of cold air welcomed her into the room. She peeked her head around the door and gazed about the room. It was enormous. Bigger than any room she had ever been in before. It was even bigger than any room at Kazune’s and Himeka’s home.
“H-He... Hello?” Karin called tentatively.
The was no reply.
But a strange mass of darkness crumpled on the floor caught her attention. Beams of moonlight put it on the spotlight in the center of the room. Had that been intentional?
“Kazune-kun!!” Karin cried, recognizing his pale blond hair. She ran over to him. “Kazune-kun, omigosh! Are you okay!?”
Karin dropped down to her knees at his side. Kazune had not responded to her in any way. She reached for him, then hesitated. Was he hurt? She could faintly remember it in class, that if someone was hurt, that it was best not to move them. He looked like he was in good condition, except for the fact that he was unconscious. Was that a good sign? But being unconscious was a bad thing, right? So he really wasn’t in a good condition. And if that was the case, then she shouldn’t touch him… right?
“You can have him now,” a woman’s voice jarred Karin from her thoughts. “I’m done with him.”
Karin looked up. Across the room stood a woman with long, purple-tinted hair. She was dressed in strange robes, arms crossed, as she smirked at her. She could barely make anything else out about the woman, but she knew it. The woman was beautiful.
“The kid’ll sleep well for a few days. I don’t know if he’ll wake up before then, but he’ll be okay once he wakes up,” the woman told her.
“Keh. He really was worth my time,” she purred.
Karin remained perfectly still next to Kazune. He still had not shown any signs of life. Was he alive? She couldn’t tell at the moment, but she was willing to take the woman’s word for it. If she was willing to give him back, then it probably was not worth the trouble. Besides, she had no idea who or what the woman was. It was different from Kirio and the mysterious Goddess. They were just like her. Her ring tingled unpleasantly in the presence of the woman. It was nothing like her normal enemies. She had no idea what to make of it.
If Kazune was able to help her, then it would have been different. He might have known and understood what she was, and how to defeat her.
But if that was truly the case, then wouldn’t this moment have been avoidable?
The woman stalked over to them. She knelt down before Karin, next to Kazune’s unmoving form.
“D-Don’t…” Karin choked out in a whisper. She wanted to yell ‘don’t touch him!’ at the woman, but the words just wouldn’t come out. The feeling had grown worse the closer the woman came to them. Fear paralyzed her. She couldn’t move, or speak.
The woman just smirked, her eyes flickering over Karin’s face. “You’re cute. I can see why you were the key.”
“But, you’re not my type,” the woman sighed. “So get lost. Take him with you. He’s useless right now.”
“What… are you… saying…?” Karin questioned.
“Mmmnnnn…” Kazune groaned. His entire body shifted position as he slowly began to wake. He rolled to one side, and his eyes fluttered open.
“Kazune-kun…” Karin had no idea what to say. They situation was strange.
The woman smiled down at him. “I’ll miss you. You were my favorite toy.”
Kazune’s eyes went big and round at the sight of the woman. Her voice only seemed to make it worse. He opened his mouth, and at first nothing came out. But then suddenly a shrill cry came from him, a long, wordless howl that Karin didn’t know humans could make. He tried to move, scrambled to get his body up and run, but he just could not get the right coordination for it. He stumbled and tripped over himself, eventually landing on Karin’s lap. He cowered there, holding his hands over his ears and muttering things under his breath.
Kazune-kun…? Karin wondered. What had happened to freak him out so much?
“Hanazono-san!” Michiru’s voice was barely audible past Kazune’s howling. “Kazune-kun! What’s wrong?!”
Karin glanced back. Michiru was running towards them at full speed.
“Micchi…” she said softly. Tears filled her eyes.
Not even two days, and this had happened to Kazune. Whatever it was. The woman had done something awful to him. And it was her fault. It had to be. If only she had looked harder, and not worried about how late it got or how tired she became, then maybe they could have found him here. Maybe if he wore his ring on his finger, then she could have found him easier… Or maybe if she would have just paid more attention, and been smarter, then she could have learned more. She could have searched out his ring without him putting it on.
Karin glanced back at the woman, and gasped.
The woman was gone.