The shining metal seahorse-thing with its single claw no longer bobbed behind the big tree out front. Haruka had checked twice, letting her gaze drift in the opposite direction while waiting anxiously for its telltale alien movement in the corner of her vision. But in her thoughts it still hovered, watching - not with the false eyes in the seahorse's head, but with the incongruously human eye that peered at her through the opening in its breastplate. She hugged her pillow to her chest, wishing she could still pretend it was just some trick of the light.
What she really wished for was Karasu in the next room for her to huddle against, if he would let her, not off somewhere with Tobi "charting dimensional instability," whatever that meant. Wistfully, she thought of Yuu, probably still buried in algebra homework.
Maybe it couldn't hurt to scout out the front yard herself. Her mom was right there in her office, if she got scared.
Outside, the front yard was green and peaceful, as empty as it had looked from her room. A car hummed along the street, and seagulls cried overhead, lonely and carefree. A sigh escaped her, and she turned to go back inside.
Out of the corner of her eye, at the edge of the yard, sleek metal curves reflected the sun.
Haruka froze, fighting the urge to let her head turn toward it. If she did, it would vanish, only to reappear someplace she couldn't see. Maybe she could talk to it, ask where it came from, but the thought made her heart hammer wildly. It hadn't threatened her in any way, but that solitary eye gazing out at her from inside its ornate metal shell inevitably made her think of the person the Dragon Knights called Noein. And Noein had killed Fukurou.
Still, she had to try.
"Hello?" Haruka said, and the reflected light bobbed, wavered. "Don't be scared. I guess I was just wondering, well... why are you here?"
A flickering movement, like it might vanish or flee. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I think you're a person in there." She remembered how that eye had fixed itself on her and fought down a shiver. "And if you know that masked guy, could you tell him to leave us alone?"
The thing jerked like a puppet on a string, and Haruka knew she was right. Emboldened, she turned toward it, trying not to flinch at the strange shining curvature of its body, which still drifted in midair like a tied-down balloon and not something made of metal. Even though she was expecting it, the eye that met hers through the gap in the seahorse's chest gave her a jolt - she hadn't dreamed it after all. Despite what surrounded it, it was an ordinary brown-black, rimmed with perfectly ordinary lashes, but if there was a human face to go with the eye she couldn't see it, not even an edge of eyebrow or fold of skin that might give her some clue as to what its owner might be feeling. Still, she drew a breath and went on. "My friends just don't want their world to disappear, or ours either. We're not bothering him, so why is he bothering us?"
There was no response beyond the drifting movement that seemed to be its default. As if it really was a machine. But that eye was still looking at her.
"Don't you have friends? A life you want to go back to?" Her eyes pled with its single one, which squinched shut in a way that was all too human, only to disappear completely into shadow.
The seahorse's single claw shot toward her.
Haruka flung herself to one side as the claw hurtled past, the grass anything but soft on her bare knees and palms as its owner veered toward her with purpose, reeling the claw back in on its metal line. The toes of her sandals scraped up turf as she pushed to her feet and ran for the back of the house. She didn't think it moved fast enough to beat her to the back door.
Yeah, and a plain old screen door would stop something like that.
She skidded as she rounded the corner, every breath stretched thin, and from the middle of the yard there came a resonant twang like sheet metal flexing as Tobi and Karasu flashed into view. "Karasu!" she screamed, not even trying to keep the panic out of her voice.
Their heads jerked up, Tobi blinking in confusion, but when Karasu's eyes locked with hers they went wide and dangerous, and he was beside her in an instant. His cloak swirled around her, its folds flapping against her ears like birds' wings as strong arms scooped her up, and then up. When her feet touched down again and his cloak settled, they were on the roof. She gathered up her courage to crane her neck, peering over the edge, but she saw nothing, not even a glint of sunlight reflecting off metal.
"Are you all right, Haruka?" Karasu's hands cupped her shoulders, his face set in lines of concern that morphed into hawk-eyed watchfulness as his gaze followed hers down into the yard. "Tobi, what did you find?"
"Nothing conclusive," Tobi called back. "My readouts are showing evidence of a recent quantum anomaly in this location, but whatever happened, this dimension has stabilized."
It was gone, then. Haruka blew out a sigh and slumped against Karasu. Stiffening, he shifted as if to take a step back, and panic fluttered in her chest. She grabbed his hand, shaking her head. "No, please - don't go."
He went still. "All right," he said softly, and his hand settled awkwardly on her hair as she leaned into him.
He smelled like sweat and static, his chest solid and comforting under her cheek. She thought of that single human eye peering at her from inside the seahorse-thing and wondered just how lonely it had to be, inside that cold metal cage with only a single claw to reach out with. Shivering, she burrowed closer, and her world contracted to the two of them, cocooned inside his cloak.
His fingers spanned the back of her head in an almost-caress. "What's wrong?" he asked.
She let her eyes fall shut against him. "Nothing, now."