All at once nations worldwide realized what had happened.
Two European cruise ships suddenly disappeared from radar. Five American airplanes lost contact in one spontaneous moment. Three earthquakes ravaged Shanghai, China, and Kyoto, Japan. Seven tornadoes rose in Moscow, Russia en masse, down to the last second.
The first casualty, however, was in Paris, France, around 2 AM in Western European Time.
As the new nightshift guard quietly strolled the dark premises of the building with a single flashlight and baton hanging from his belt, he did not notice one of the passing doors gently swing open; like a childish specter peeking inside, sneaky and naughty.
It was the Louvre Museum, one of the largest and most famous museums in the world. The building, a former royal palace, lies in the center of Paris between the river of Seine and the famous street of Rue de Rivoli. Among the thousands of priceless paintings inside the Museum was the famed Mona Lisa. On that night, however, the enigmatic smile had vanished. An almost piercing, ferocious aura fell upon the woman's ungodly gaze. Her eyes swiveled, crazily and hungrily.
The footsteps echoing in the halls abruptly letup, the guard sensing something amiss… If he had decided to cower, had decided to run in fear right then and there, he might've been saved. But because he was determined, because he was new to this line of work, he knew no hesitancy. That would be his downfall.
Slowly and surely he turned around and headed for the stairs. Behind him, a shadow darted across the creamy white ceiling.
The guard continued, trying to remember the nightshift procedures if there was ever an emergency. He entered a large unlit room before his flashlight died. While he incoherently grumbled about his good-for-nothing batteries, something soft and warm grazed the back of his knee.
"Qui-est ce?" (Who is it?)
He was met by silence. The only thing he could do at the moment was to wait for his eyes to adjust. Sadly, that was one second too long.
He whirled around, hearing a low rumble from the other side of the room. A second louder rumble shook the floor, the vibration nearly painful to bear.
Among the well-known sculptures in the museum's collection were the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo. Venus de Milo was an ancient Greek statue believed to depict Venus, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. A marble sculpture, slightly larger than life at 203 cm high, not including its missing arms.
The base she had stood on was currently empty. It was as if she had simply walked away…
The guard fell to his knees, the floor convulsing as if mines were exploding underneath the tiles. He looked up, eyes now dilated.
Before him was the towering sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike, known as the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It stood 10.7 ft, including the wings, standing on the prow of a ship, representing the goddess as she descended from the skies to the triumphant fleet.
The marble wings pulsated.
Despite the fact that the figure was significantly damaged, missing its head and outstretched arms, the masterpiece still held an alluring ambience. The tattered clothing on the sculpture fluttered in the nonexistent wind.
Shocked and in denial, the guard watched the moving embodiment step off its pillar. Like an angel of death, it glided down to the floor and to the guard, feeling his presence; feeding on his breath.
"C'est trop tard." (It's too late.)
Blood spilled exactly half past two.
"They're denying it!"
The news room was hectic as ever. The newscaster was still getting his hair combed even as he sat down, rustling the random papers handed minutes before. Cameras were wheeled to their position, three cameramen yet to arrive, and the Teleprompters were still being adjusted. The newsman dismissed the makeup artist before rereading the report.
"The government denies any rumors of unexplained homicides, mysterious kidnappings, or even the vanishing aircrafts, ocean liners, and spaceships… what the hell?" he cursed. "This is complete bull! What about the missing planes? Or the killings in Europe? I'm supposed to go along with this crap?"
"We're on in 10!"
He reorganized the papers and rechecked the notes. "Ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous." Seconds ticked away.
"And I'm supposed to be trustworthy."
"I should've become a doctor."
"Two," he mumbled, counting along.
Souta Higurashi stared, shocked and unmoving.
That's how Grandpa found his grandson, lying on his back and watching the TV upside down on the carpet. For a moment he wondered if that would help his own back problems before responding properly as an adult.
"Souta, what are you doing?"
His grandson awkwardly pointed at the TV. "American News Network…"
Grandpa watched the scene. "That's not News."
"He's fighting off two worms."
"Worms?" his eyes bulged. "They're the size of cars!"
"Yeah, they must feed them a lot in America!"
The two watched as one of the cameramen wiggle into the ensuing struggle, jump onto one of the worms, taking off his shoe and raising it above his head while clutching the fat lips of the beast, sharp jagged teeth lining the inner cavity, and—
—then the lights went out.
"Oh!" the two groaned in unison.
There was a feminine scream from the kitchen before the lights flickered back on; that is, before deciding to shut down altogether.
"It can't be a blackout," Souta managed to mumble out before Grandpa stood up.
"This is a demon at work!" he yelled. "Everyone, get into position!"
"You," Grandpa blindly pointed to his grandson (in reality he was pointing at the coffee table). "You must scout the grounds for intruders!"
"What?" the little boy frowned. "What about Kaede?"
A pregnant pause.
"Oh…right. Orphan. Sorry."
"That's all right, my boy. You have yet to understand the framework of a young female mind."
"Now get scouting!"
"Because you're the man of this household!"
"…and you're not?"
A momentary pause. Then a very loud crash.
"Grandpa has left the room!" his voice came from the hallway. "Leave the second floor to me!"
There was an audible slam, followed by another crash. Souta sighed and crawled out of the living room. More nimble than his grandpa, he maneuvered around the dark room like a cat.
"I do all the work around here," he quietly whined. "Why can't sis pick up the slack?"
Never mind she was now the official guardian of a sacred jewel. Never mind she went missing two days ago with the rest of the passengers of Flight 234. She was still his sis. And he knew she was still alive.
He faltered when something dashed past him.
It couldn't be the housecat – he was still being groomed. Unnerved, he decided to disobey and turned for the kitchen, intent on retreating and cowering behind his good old reliable mom.
Souta felt an incredible force push him back, a sharp blow to the abdomen leaving him dazed. Caught off guard, he hardly noticed slamming into the door situated down the hall; that is, until he smashed his head on the wood, leaving a visible crack as he sled down to the floor.
Head still spinning, he analyzed the situation and scrambled to his knees while reaching for the doorknob. If a mad murderer was inside the house then he needed to get out of the house.
His fingers hardly brushed the steel handle before his small body was lifted in the air, legs and arms dangling as the attacker loosely held him by the back of his shirt.
"No," Souta groaned, a little dazed from the beating. "Let go!"
Souta's protests went unnoticed. The assailant opened the door and promptly marched out of the house, easily holding onto little Souta as if he was a bag of grocery.
"Help!" Souta screamed, mouth going dry. "Mama! Grandpa!"
"Don't even bother."
The angry response sent chills down his spine.
The world seemed to stand still. The city of Tokyo was usually noisy and bustling with drunks and tourists, but, tonight, it was deathly hushed and lifeless, almost like an unearthly veil suffocating the life out of the city normally thriving beneath their shrine.
Souta lashed out, uselessly thrashing under the captor's grip. "Let me go! LET ME GO!"
And that's what happened. Souta fell on his face with his arms and legs sprawled out, somewhat comically and still very painfully. Souta picked himself up, groaning, and he was met by a snort.
"A real Higurashi, aren't you?" there was a resigned sigh. "Get up."
Souta turned to face the man, terror and fury fighting for dominance inside his mind and gut. Terror won out when he saw the barrel of a 12 gage shotgun pointed at his forehead.
"I said," he growled behind his ski mask, "get up."
Souta obediently got on his feet despite his trembling knees and labored breathing.
"Our ride's waiting. Start moving." He pointed his gun to the steps of the shrine.
From one of the second floor windows, a girl watched the little boy slowly descend down the steps with the abductor following behind him. She stayed leaning on the windowsill with a placid expression on her pale face. She heard an engine start in the distance and tires skidding on the ground before speeding out of the street. She stayed frozen, watching the dark city with a disinterested look.
"You know," a mysterious figure said, "your little cousin's just been kidnapped."
Kaede slowly turned to the man sitting on the branch next to her window. His head and forehead was mostly shadowed by the leaves, but that didn't hide his boyish face or his ethereal hair. He sat with his arms and legs crossed on the thick branch, a slow sneer stretching across his face. Two amber eyes examined the land before rising to scrutinize the girl, fixated on the child that was detached from the world.
"You don't care, do you?"
She shook her head. "I'm surprised you made it here. The Guardian didn't even make it past the East Sea."
"You have a way," he smirked, "with changing topics. I suppose you get that from your sister."
"Perhaps. Perhaps not," Kaede's fingers traced the bandages wrapped around her right eye. "How did you arrive? The water tribes must be warding the seas by now."
"I'm a very persuasive guy," he leaned back on the tree. "They let me hitch a ride on a whale demon. You know how docile they are."
Kaede bowed her head. "It's a shame the Guardian didn't make it. I apologize for the inconvenience."
"Kind of glad she isn't here. She's probably one of those prissy schoolgirls. Modern times screwed up most of the humans, if not all."
The little girl made a noise, thoughtfully, not disagreeing with his speculation. "The new Guardian didn't have time to train. Her powers have not come into maturation."
"And the family?"
"They have barely enough sutras to protect the shrine. You saw what happened to the boy. I'll have to do my best to protect the two adults. They'll wake up in a few hours."
"The boy?" he yawned.
"He's safer as a hostage. I doubt the captors will harm him; it's either them or the demons."
"I'm amazed they didn't find you upstairs. They must be really sloppy," he held the branch for support and got on his feet. "So what now?"
"We must retrieve the Guardian." Her voice was definite. An unquestionable order.
"And when you say 'we', you mean… me," he sighed. "Yeah, it's this again. If she's alive, I fetch the Guardian. If she's not, I fetch the Jewel. And her body. For the sake of the family, right?"
"You have an obligation to aid the Guardian in her time of need. Ever since the first Kaede."
"And she's the first Guardian I had the honor of bringing back dead," he examined Kaede's face. "By the way, I like that new look of yours. You might need an eye patch. Then you'll actually look like the second Guardian, not just have the same name."
"Maybe it's supposed to be this way," she cleared her throat. "I'm the next Guardian after Kagome."
"Then good luck to you, squirt," the enigmatic man stood on his bare feet and crouched, an animalistic habit. "The North Pacific Ocean, right?"
"The North Atlantic Ocean, actually."
He paused. Anyone else would've questioned her knowledge. Kagome had been traveling from China to Japan on a short flight. If something had gone wrong, there was a slight possibility that she had ended up past the islands of Japan and in the North Pacific Ocean, east of Japan. However, if she was supposed to be in the North Atlantic Ocean, her flight would've had to pass the Americas, or gone the completely opposite direction and traveled through China and Kazakhstan after takeoff.
But he knew Kaede, and Kaede was a very shrewd girl.
She watched him leap out of the tree and disappear into the shadows, leaving an unexplainable emptiness in Kaede and the shrine. Kaede sat quietly, staring out the open window. The stars shimmered in the pitch black darkness, the only calmness the world knew at the moment. Dead, crinkled leaves littered the cement ground. She'd have to start sweeping tomorrow.
"Out of all the Guardians," she whispered as the wind picked up the leaves, "you loved Kikyou the most."
Kagome was one of the passengers inside the fuselage.
Everything was vivid. The doors. An electrical malfunction allowed the doors to burst open while at cruising altitude. Everything was vacuumed out the doors. Windows cracked, bodies sucked out through the small holes to unimaginable death. Shoes flew everywhere. To live, she ignored the screams. To live, she moved forward.
Kagome opened her eyes.
To put it simply: She felt like crap. Her hair was wet, her wet clothes clung to her wet skin, and it was hellishly cold. The waves tormented her again and again. Her shoulder was sore as well as her ankles and forehead. She blinked. Her world was discolored and unstable. She couldn't straighten her reality. The sky was an odd hue of violet, and the sand was neon yellow. Then it all stopped.
Kagome picked herself up, getting to her hands and knees. Drip, drip. Her hair masked her bloody face and her body shuddered involuntarily. She was sure one of her body parts was mangled. Shuddering again, she parted her hair. The wound on her forehead was gone. It had healed?
She turned around and sat down, exhausted. Her legs were numb, but still moved. Her shoulders ached, but were not injured. She was covered in blood, but she was not hurt. It made no sense.
Kagome looked at her hands, for people in these kinds of situations examined their hands first. Her left hand was fine, but her right hand was raw. There was a visible indentation shaped like a half moon on her palm. She wiggled her fingers. They were fine too.
Then, instinctively, she looked down. The jewel worn around her neck was cracked in half. That's when panic settled in.
"Aw man," she moaned. The lawyer's words hauntingly repeated inside her head.
"You will need to protect it with your life: Simply because that jewel's existence is much more significant than yours."
She survived. But the jewel hadn't made it unscathed.
It was absolute mockery. Lady Luck was toying with her. Fate was laughing at her. Worst of all, she was extremely hungry. Which was odd, because she remembered eating the in-flight meal before everything came crashing down. Nothing made sense. Why wasn't she scarred? Why wasn't she dead? She felt weak and hungry… and really thirsty. But that still didn't explain why she didn't have any cuts or broken bones.
The plane was no where in sight. She looked out into the ocean, the sun shining brilliantly over the flat beach. It was also a bleak day. Still, it was better than staring at a ghastly sight of corpses and body parts. The only thing that made real sense was the jewel. Understandably, something that fragile and precious would break in a spectacular plane crash.
"¡Oye, ven acá!"
Kagome snapped her head back, giving her a mild whiplash which earned a very loud curse. She held her neck and looked around, dazed. A man wearing an eccentric outfit was running towards her. And he was holding a rope.
"¡Oye, ven acá!" (Hey you, come over here!) He repeated as he rushed to her side, threateningly holding up the rope with a deceptive smile on his bony face.
She stared. Kagome had no idea what this nutcase wanted to do with her, and she didn't want to find out. She got to her knees and stood up shaking. Kagome turned around. And shrieked. The nutcase was in front of her.
"But…" Kagome uttered. "But you were… just behind… and now you're… front?"
"Oye joven." He smirked with false courtesy. His hands shot out, and before Kagome could step away she found her wrists firmly bound together. "¿Cómo te llamas?"
"What?" she knew he asked her a question. But she never heard this kind of language. At least never in Japan or China…
"La tengo." (I have it.) He yelled, waving at someone behind her.
She turned and met with a horrific sight. Rows and rows of girls stood disdainfully behind numbers of men dressed in the same, unusual outfit. Girls of different origins, short, tall, wide, thin, blond, brunet, maybe red haired, maybe freckled, waited impatiently with scowls and glowers on their faces. All of them were bound to a single chain, forced to stand barely apart from one another.
"What's going on?" she turned back to the foreigner. "What're you doing?"
Kagome saw it. Their eyes connected and he stared. Then his pupils dilated and constricted inhumanly. And he smiled knowingly. He was not human.
She stayed stunned as the foreigner dragged her to the girls. She stayed stunned while the foreigner tied her to the chain. She stayed stunned as the men pushed her forward, forced to follow the line. They weren't human. And she wasn't in Japan.
"Demons," she whispered.
And grimaced. What could possibly go wrong now?
A drop of rain answered that question. Kagome looked up as the clouds began to gather overhead. Another droplet on her nose. An unsettling breeze. Soon it was pouring on the beach.