In times of strife, there is pain and suffering.
Belligerent nations vie for the resources of another, intending and inflicting much anguish and bereavement. As kingdoms fell and governments rose from their ashes, this cycle of hatred has ever endured, peace of mind and mutual understanding a thing of fantasy.
Humans are based upon many flaws, innumerable in their total but overshadowed by one.
Greed for wealth and the lusting after another's earned possessions, be they monetary or sentimental, is part of the human condition, what it is to be human.
Humans have these many faces, but little do they know of their kindred spirits in oppression, the members of an organisation known as 'Junta', dedicated to supremacy through aggression.
This organisation is comprised of humans, but not those known to all. These humans have radical abilities of lost origin, gained not through genetics but at birth. This rite or 'gift' as their community call it is a recent marvel of the world we profess knowledge of but in truth know little about.
The marvel of the 20th century began as a secret, but now the secret has grown huge and the community is numbering in the thousands across the globe. With such dangerous elements to the secrecy and safety of the society of shadows, they were brought together into institutions around the world, located in the five nations of Britain, America, Russia, Germany and Japan.
This agreement was brought about by the great conflict of the five that almost shattered the world itself. While the end of World War II saw trials and tribulations for all, the community within the five's shadows all vowed to hold to the secret.
This vow saw the signing of the Treaty of Terra, an old name of the Earth. With this treaty, the thousands now live in shadow, watching the tremulous peace of man while their own numbers rise daily.
This is the story of Japan's Radiance Academy and the darkest threat to peace never to be known.
He groaned in the dark, refusing to leave his bed.
His mother's voice was grating, and it was getting more dangerous the longer she was kept waiting, but he held to his silence as long as he could.
Before he knew it, he was pulled onto the floor, his head hitting the ground with some force. Sitting up, his eyes were slow to adjust to the light coming through his window.
'Get ready, would you?' his mother snapped, the strong scent of bacon wafting into his room from the kitchen. 'You'll be late for school.'
'But mom… its Saturday…'
'No ifs, whys or buts,' his mother threw his school uniform at him. 'You have one minute before I come back – with a frying pan. Do you understand?'
He dismissively grunted before she left him to change. Once he was, he wondered if he could slip back into his bed until he really needed to go. He had thirty minutes according to his digital clock. It was ridiculous, but his sleep-in day was being interrupted.
So he'd scored a D or two in his English class. He didn't want to go to England or America anyway. Japanese was as good a language as any. His mom didn't have to actually lock him out of the house so he'd have to go to a remedial class. His dad was always gone early in the morning, and since Tai slept in, he rarely saw him if at all.
But when he'd reached the door and looked into the kitchen, he was sitting there with his eyes on the newspaper.
'D-dad?' Tai blurted, approaching what he thought was a phantom. 'Why're you here? Don't you have work?'
'They owe me a lot a days off,' he said, smiling at his son. 'That and your mom's been wanting us to go see Kari this weekend at her boarding school. Haven't seen her in a year so it's about that time. We're not hurting for money anymore so my weekends are my own.'
'I've not seen her either,' Tai thought of saying out loud, but he thought better of it. 'Really? Put in a good word for me – she sent me an email saying that the teddy bear I sent for her birthday was meant for a lover. She's being a big whiner about it.'
His father folded the newspaper, an inquisitive eyebrow lifting.
'It was a bear holding a heart saying 'I LOVE YOU',' Tai argued, not appreciating the look. 'I thought it was the bear saying it, not me!'
'Son…' his dad held a hand over his eyes, but he was chuckling all the same, 'Kari's sensitive to those things. Women are strange like that. They're hard to understand when they get older.'
The pair of them felt a shiver, Tai looking over to his mother and feeling a deadly intent as she pressed a fork to the sizzling bacon to make it squeal.
'N-not you dear… never you… you're simple…'
Another squeal from the bacon sounded. Tai cringed at the thought of eating it burnt.
'I-I… I mean… Tai, wanna help out?'
'Nah, I've got school,' Tai said, desperately making a break for the door and leaving his father to his fate. He didn't hesitate in putting his shoes on and grabbing the bag resting by the door, turning only to shout, 'Tell Kari I'm sorry, mom!'
And with that, he closed the door behind him, a sense of doom following him even as he made it down to the streets filled with Odaiba's multitude of students, all in different uniforms of different schools of different ages.
Jittery and alive, many conversations came to Tai's ears at all the crossings he came to. Some were of plans for that evening, some were for club activities (the reason why most were even going to school) and others were about love lives Tai gave little attention to.
Instead, he delved into his memory and walked blankly, recalling his childhood of summer camps and soccer with his friends and his walks to school with Kari. He was sixteen now, so Kari would be twelve going on thirteen, but to him it was still fresh in his memory. Her small figure, her radiant smile and her innocent demeanour were still clear to him, years later. She was something he'd always felt obligated to protect, though he doubted she saw him as much of a shield now.
He stopped in the middle of the residential area pathway that led to his school and stared up at the sky, only one other student of his school passing him.
He wondered how it had happened so suddenly. One day he'd come home from school to find Kari bawling on the couch, their mom and dad beside her. They'd told him that she'd been crying for him for an hour since a 'scuffle' at the school where two bullies thought that Kari was the weak kid.
Funny. At least until she collapsed.
Kari Kamiya had been born weaker than most people. If it was haemophilia or some problem with her constitution no doctor had ever been able to agree on, but because of it Tai watched her, closely.
But the one time he hadn't been there, she had suffered. It ate him up inside, because despite his parents saying it wasn't he felt it was his fault. He was sloppy and dropped his guard and because of that his sister had a panic attack, one that kept her in her room for two days.
The bullies were known but nothing was really done to them, which had infuriated Tai since he couldn't touch them and give them the beating they deserved. Age in his mind was never an excuse for stupidity, but law and morals got in the way of justice.
Because they weren't expelled, his sister had been packed away to a boarding school within the central Tokyo. There it was clean and safe, but he hadn't been told where it was. All his mom would say is 'She's safe now, don't worry'.
A shame that was never good enough. In the full year since, it hadn't ever been good enough.
'I think that's us for the day,' the balding teacher mumbled, bored out of his wits by his own lesson in English. 'Tai, remember that there's such a thing as homophones. Things like 'knight' and 'night' are different, so be certain of their meaning in written tests and you'll do well.'
'Aye, aye, captain…' Tai moaned, not caring in the slightest about having a second language, no matter how compulsory it was to learn. 'Guess I'll have some lunch.'
Grabbing his bag from the side of his wooden desk, Tai slid the door open and left, wandering aimlessly down the corridor. He knew several routes, but the longest one to the cafeteria appealed to him. He wanted to kill some time anyway.
'Joe!' someone called out, making Tai freeze in place and look after the voice. 'Joe, don't run in the hallway!'
Tai's frown deepened. It wasn't the Joe he knew, but some second-year with an attitude problem. Ignoring his pointless protests with the student council president, he continued on toward the stairs at the very end of the hallway.
Joe Kido. Izzy Izumi. Matt Ishida. TK Ishida. Mimi Tachikawa. Sora Takenouchi.
The six names of his only friends were memorised from his time in summer camp. He hadn't bothered with friends in junior high or middle school, so the summer camps had been his only social outlet, at least until he turned fifteen and it had turned a little weird for him to go. That year it had only been TK there, anyway, and he'd made his own friendship group.
People had tried over the years, but who needed them? In school, a friend one day could be spreading rumours the next in some twisted bid for attention and other friends since they had something in common to speak of. Tai had been wise enough to take account of this when some girl came to him with talk of what her old friend had been doing while said girl was absent. When she returned, she found few waiting to greet her.
Sad, but it was a fact of school.
It was, in its own way, a form of politics in Tai's eyes. Nobody had friends that had been there from the start. That was something too rare to have been seen by him.
Reaching the cafeteria, populated by one or two people to every three tables, Tai figured it looked nice and quiet. He got himself some food and took his tray to an empty table, appreciating the silence of it all.
But it didn't last.
'Excuse me, Tai?'
He looked up to a pair of girls, one with a mischievous look on her face and the other behind her, as though she were trying to hide. He felt he knew their faces from somewhere, but he couldn't place it.
'Can I help you?' he said as shortly and politely as he could.
'Well, I was wondering if you minded having two girls eat with you?'
He did, but he'd never hear the end of it if he said so.
The bolder one seemed delighted, 'That's great! Megumi, sit down while I get something to eat. I'll be back in a minute or two.'
'Y-Yuri…' the girl looked ready to run away as her friend and source of cover skipped away toward the short service line. 'Hello…' she muttered, taking a seat adjacent to his, 'I didn't know that you were going to be here today, Tai…'
'Well, English isn't my thing, so my mom's making me come here on Saturdays now for remedial classes,' as he said this, Tai was wondering why the girl seemed so familiar to him. 'Why're you here, Megumi?'
She looked thunderstruck. He immediately regretted using her name – her friend had said it, and since she seemed so familiar he had used it without thinking…
'I-I…' she went a deep red, not surprising for someone using your name so informally like that. 'I've got c-club activities… I'm in the art club… Yuri does it with me.'
'That so?' Tai was trying, really he was, but feigning interest was taking too much effort.
He went back to his food. Megumi and Yuri… the names rung familiar, but… he couldn't place where he had heard them before.
'Kept you waiting long?' Yuri was smiling boldly between Tai and her friend, and he was beginning to sense a certain awkward atmosphere he didn't entirely appreciate. 'That – that's a no, right?'
Tai wanted to hit his face into a wall. At least that way, girls would stop bugging him so much. Ever since Kari's incident and transfer to boarding school, he preferred acting like a lone wolf. With time, he'd even grown tired of the soccer club because of his 'fans'. That was almost five months ago, but even though he played with some friends in games at the park, the girls apparently hadn't learned to leave him alone.
'So… how're you two doing today?' Tai tried to maintain politeness. 'I hear your both in the art club.'
'Megumi tell you that?' Yuri waved a hand dismissively. 'Truth is, I'm only there to pass the time on weekends and when I'm bored. Megumi here's the artist. You should come see her painting, I bet you'd-'
'Yuri!' the shy girl slapped a hand onto her friend's mouth, her ears a shade redder for it. 'S-she's only messing around… I mean, I d-do paint but…'
'Whatever it is, I bet it's great. I'm not really into art, but I'm sure you're great at it.'
Tai went back to his food at a renewed pace, though he was careful not to look too hasty to the watchful girls. While Megumi fidgeted, her eyes darted to him when she thought he couldn't see and promptly to the table otherwise. All the Yuri girl did was smile wryly.
'So Tai, what are you doing now?' Yuri offered to break the silence.
'I… well, my lesson's finished but mom and dad left to see my sister, so I'm gonna go to the city for a while until they get back.'
He immediately regretted saying it – he could see the cogs working behind Yuri's conniving eyes, her smile broadening as she nudged Megumi under the table.
'I-I w-was thinking of g-going to the city t-too…' she mumbled almost incoherently, 'w-want to go t-t-together?'
'You'd do that to me?' Yuri said with mock-offence, 'And after all I've done for you, you leave me to the art teacher alone? That hurts…'
'Y-Yuri…' she shyly complained.
'I'm kidding. Your dad wouldn't let you go alone anyway, so you might as well, right?'
'Don't I get a say?' Tai chuckled, but he was deadly serious.
But this apparently went amiss.
'I'll trust Megumi to you then, Mr Soccer Champion,' she teased, up and leaving as quickly as she had eaten, which was quite fast as not a grain of rice remained.
Tai sighed heavily, being stuck with acting as the girl's personal bodyguard of all things before he'd had a chance to decline. Well, he'd had a chance but he wasn't listened to. Yuri might as well have been his mom since neither would let him ask or say anything not to their liking.
He glanced over at Megumi and sure enough the poor girl looked so embarrassed and awkward it was adorable. If life were an anime, she would have steam coming from her ears. He couldn't help but smile at this.
'Are you okay?' he asked gently, watching her jump in her seat. 'Hey, I don't bite… so, what's it you want in the city?'
'I-I-I w-want… t-to… see a m-movie…'
'A movie, huh?' Tai wondered if he'd really have to care for her all day after all. 'I can drop you off at the theatre if you want.'
For the first time, she looked directly at him, 'I-I thought you might w-want to… you know, it's the weekend and all, so…'
'You want me to go with you?' she nodded, much to his inner chagrin. 'Well… what's the movie?'
'The Kingdom of Ice movie,' she stated, sounding like she was calming down a little.
He thought on it carefully. The movie was known as a 'chick-flick', he knew that much from the internet, but there were apparently some big battle scenes to cater to people other than teenage girls. He would refuse ordinarily, but the poor girl seemed the crying type and there were people around.
He was still in his first year and he didn't want the next two filled with rumours of him being 'that guy' who hurt 'that girl's feelings'. There was no greater shame for a school student.
'That's got action in it, right?' Tai asked her, getting a frantic nod. 'Sure, I'm game. Good thing I've got my wallet with me.'
The walk to the train station had been several quiet minutes Tai never wished to repeat. It might be against his better judgement and will, but a girl was effectively telling him bluntly what she felt, even if she was doing it badly.
Boarding the train with Megumi, Tai knew that his father's wisdom hadn't been misguided, even if he'd earned his mom's wrath.
Besides them the train car was empty, but still Megumi sat directly beside him. She sat so close in fact that their elbows were touching. Perhaps that would explain the blush and the panicked fidgeting beside him. To his surprise he could even feel her heat through his school blazer.
How was he supposed to let her down easy? She wasn't making it easy for him, that was for sure.
Just then, Megumi's cell phone began to ring with a pop song popular the year before. Not hesitating in silencing the song, she immediately pressed 'receive' and put it to her ear, shielding her mouth and the mouthpiece with her hand.
'Megumi, you dog! How goes the trip?'
Tai groaned within – it was Yuri's voice coming through the earpiece. Now his mind was tickled more by this, as the name and attitude of the girl seemed more familiar to him still.
But where from? He still couldn't think of who she was.
'Alright… I'll see you later…' Tai looked back after spacing out, Megumi returning the disconnected phone to her pocket.
'So… your dad sounded nice…'
'Y-yes. He's very protective of me.'
'Can't imagine why,' Tai thought sarcastically. 'Listen, I was wondering if it's really okay that you're here. I mean, don't you have a painting to paint or whatever?'
It wasn't the smoothest way to let a girl know you wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but he had little other option.
And that was why he felt like crying when it failed.
'Oh, n-no… I – um – I… finished my painting a long time ago… I hang around for Yuri's sake…'
'That's nice of you,' Tai said through a smile, wondering how someone could be as dense as she was being.
'Don't mention it. We're about to arrive at the station.'
The movie hadn't been what he would class as a classic. It had in total two minutes of battle scenes to two hours of mushy stuff for a queen who'd come into mystical magic and turned tyrant because she could. Tai had actually nodded off for half an hour. When he woke up Megumi had neither noticed nor had the film's plot really advanced.
All in all, a waste of yen. As they left the theatre, Megumi had a spring in her step as though she'd watched a classic on par with The Eastern Dragon's Claw.
Now that had been a film Tai would watch fully and happily.
'Alright, anything else you feel like doing?' Tai was strained by the experience of losing two hours, but he'd been taught to be polite to women. 'Megumi? You hear me?'
The girl wasn't next to him anymore. She was across the street at a memorabilia store that sold merchandise of the theatre's movies. A mutual benefit, to be sure, but Tai felt as though a stone had fallen into his stomach when she waved him over excitedly.
'Do you have a cellphone?' Megumi's nerves were gone, so Tai admitted that the movie had an effect. 'Tai?'
'W-well… I was wondering if you might like a cellphone strap. To remember today by…'
Reluctantly, Tai complied and approached the shelves, looking with Megumi at the cellphone straps sat upon them in neat columns. There were chibi, insignia and symbols for your cellphone, but Megumi's eyes were fixed on one set.
The movie's title might have made it obvious, but a snowflake that enveloped a small heart at the centre was a little too much for Tai. If anyone saw, he'd never hear the end of it, least of all from his friends at the park. He could almost hear it now.
'Why is such a cold-hearted guy playing a team sport, anyway?'
He chewed at the inside of his cheeks, trying his best to think of a way out of it, but Megumi was already at the register with a pair of them. He could feel his life slipping away as money traded hands and a transaction was completed.
She held it out to him, the snowflake and its heart strangely the most imposing thing he had seen that day. His mom was one thing, but being cornered like he was – he was even more astonished as he slowly took it and gave the girl a smile, a joyous look coming over her.
'It's nice…' he muttered, attaching the strap to his cell phone while Megumi did the same.
'Well, I s-should maybe be heading home now…'
Tai scratched at his unkempt hair and sighed in relief at this. He was free to go to the arcade like he'd planned.
At least that had been his plan.
Megumi was still following him closely. At first he thought it was to go to the train station, but once they'd passed it, he couldn't help but wonder why she was hanging around. Could she not take a hint, or was she doing it on purpose?
'Why're you, y'know, still following me?'
'I thought that you didn't mind me being here.'
'Well, sure, but…'
'Oh, and Tai?'
'Yeah?' Tai looked back at her, but it wasn't the blushing girl from before – her eyes were flat and narrowed. 'Uh, did I say something wrong?'
'You sound so disappointed…' she sniffed – a forced touch, but it was effective. 'Don't you like me?'
Tai was caught off-guard. Not only by what she was saying but how her attitude had suddenly become blunter since the movie. It had changed so dramatically it was unbelievable.
'I – uh… well, I don't really know that much about you,' he decided on, as it was a nice way to say that he couldn't place her face or Yuri's at all.
'You d-don't?' it seemed that took the wind out of her sails. 'H-haven't you ever noticed anything I d-did before?'
'Well…' he shrugged, 'I just try to get by from day to day if you know what I mean. Don't really need to notice things.'
'B-but… but I was at your soccer championship, r-remember?' she sounded almost broken by what he was saying.
Honestly, he didn't, but he was too nice to say it.
'Oh! Megumi, you were there weren't you! Five months is my limit, sorry… I can't remember much from then…' he scratched at his hair. 'So – uh… since you're sticking around, want to go to the arcade or something?'
Her face reddened a little as she nodded, 'The p-park sounds nice.'
'Not even playing on the team, but still he scores!'
'Nice one Tai!'
'We knew you had it in you!'
'I think that girl's from my class… Nanami? No… Meg?'
'It's Megumi genius. Don't worry, we'll get outta your hair Tai.'
'Challenge and a half right there.'
Tai scowled after the group of old teammates from his school's soccer team as they left the park for him and a quiet Megumi. Assuming a bench for himself, the girl sat beside him, her eyes following the teammates as they left the park and disappeared up the path toward the city station.
'Do you know them?' she inquired softly.
'I did, yeah,' Tai grumbled. 'They're my old team on the soccer team. One's Hiroki from my class. He's still being pissy since I left the team after the championship.'
'W-why did you leave?' she asked.
'Well, the sport's great and all, but I just lost my drive to be in the team. Last year some things happened and I just wanted some me-time's all.'
'That's not something I'm talking about. Now then, what's the big idea for being here, Megumi?'
'I was wondering if…' she looked up at the sky. 'If… i-if your sister was okay.'
Tai's blood froze, his heart coming to a standstill and his mind jamming.
'What?' he all-but coughed in his surprise.
'Kari. I was wondering how she was doing… s-she didn't seem to be t-too healthy the last time I saw her…'
'What? You've seen – what's wrong with her?'
'I saw her last month… s-she had an attack or something… she was r-really panicking and locked herself in her room…'
'When'd you see her?' Tai pressed, turning to her and sparking fright in her gaze. 'Tell me how she is – where is she, anyway? Where's her boarding school?'
'Y-you don't know where she goes to school?'
'No, but I'm about to though aren't I?'
'I thought that you-'
Just then, Megumi's cellphone blared out the pop song that was her ringtone, breaking Tai's concentration while she answered.
'Hello? Yuri, this isn't-'
'MEGUMI, HEAD DOWN!' the earpiece's shout was filled with static.
But Tai's head was brought down by Megumi herself, hugging him tightly and pulling him down to the ground with her. There was a strange whistling sound in the air for a few seconds while she held him against her chest.
'Megumi, let go!'
Once the whistling was gone, Megumi complied and released him, getting to her feet with uncommon haste. She turned her head around the entire park so quickly it was a wonder she didn't get whiplash.
'Megumi?' Tai asked, sitting up. 'Megumi, what's with you? You talk about my sister and then you wrestle me? Really?'
'Tai, stay down!'
Her words tumbled from her throat in a gasp, her breath driven from her as she staggered. Confused, Tai got to his feet and grabbed her by the shoulders.
'Megumi? Are you alright?'
He saw then just how not 'alright' she was.
Blood was seeping through her uniform's shirt and blazer in thin strips, but the moist colour permeated the stiches and began to fall down to her skirt. It was like something out of a horror movie.
Tai could see the fear in her eyes as her knees buckled beneath her and gave way. Without thinking he eased her fall. Her full weight was bearing into his arms, like she wasn't able to support herself.
'M-Megumi?' he whispered as her small breaths weakened with every second. 'Megumi! Stay awake – just keep your eyes open!' he began to panic as blood was dripping rapidly beneath her and him. 'Oh man… What happened? M-Megumi, listen to me, alright? J-just listen to me and stay awake, alright? Megumi…'
'T-T-Ta-Tai…' she breathed ever so weakly and faintly, blood escaping as she spoke. 'R-run…'
'No way!' Tai disputed, reaching for his cell phone, 'You just need and ambulance's all!'
'That's not gonna happen,' someone said from behind him – when did they-?
Megumi coughed bloodily, 'T-Ta…i… ru…n…'
'Looking rough there, Meg. Shouldn't have gotten in the way, should you?'
'Who're you?' Tai demanded, pressing the 'receive' button to call the emergency services. 'It can wait, she needs a-'
Without warning, heat and shock passed up his arm like electricity, his ear deafened by a loud bang. In a daze, he fell onto his back, feeling his hand moisten with blood.
Though it looked like a blur, he saw Megumi bleeding beside him, and the chips and piece of his phone lying between them. The cellphone strap sat in Megumi's blood with them.
'Not smart,' said the voice, ringing in his ears sharply.
'Megumi…' he hacked and coughed, still in shock but conscious enough to know he was in a pool of Megumi's blood. He had no idea what was going on, but he could feel himself falling, passing out quickly. Shaking, he reached over to her, but he fell into blackness before he was sure he'd reached her hand.