It got dark pretty quick in a school at sunset.
“Gee, it gets dark pretty quick in here. The sun’s still setting outside!” Asuka Toyama took out her phone and turned on the flashlight. A relieved sigh came from behind her. “Scared of the dark, Rokka?”
“Me? N-no, what makes you say th-”
Rokka yelped and jumped behind Asuka.
“Ako! Come on.”
They kept walking for a bit.
“It’s so annoying how our class is all the way in the other wing. Why’d you have to leave your books behind, Ako? Don’t you check?”
Ako laughed. “Too busy fighting against the forces of...eh. Whichever’s nearby, I guess.”
“Y-yeah. I can’t believe they l-left a door open at all, though.”
“Still scared? My flashlight’s on and everything.”
“Well… ‘s not really about the light, it’s about what might be...outside of it, right?”
“Yeah! Like the Haneoka ghost!”
Rokka stopped in her tracks. “A...gh-ghost?”
“Maybe it’s a demon? I’ve never seen it.”
“Rokka, Ako’s just making something up.”
“No, no, I swear it’s true! It was really active a few months ago.”
“Definitely untrue. I think I heard Moca making this up.”
“Yeah, she was brainstorming with the rest of Afterglow back in October. It’s nothing.”
Rokka exhaled in relief. They kept walking.
“Ok, I just know this building shouldn’t be this big.”
“We’re just walking slow.” Ako started running. A minute later… “Hey, how’d you get ahead of me?!”
“Yeah, you’re faster than me!”
“No, I mean something is wrong.” She shone her flashlight across the doors. “None of them are labelled. They all look the same.” She turned around. “You see th-” She was alone, away. Not with Ako and Rokka anymore. Not even in what seemed to be a hallway.
If she had blinked, Rokka would have missed what happened. It seemed even too fast for her to catch either way, but something had gone, in two directions at once, taking Ako and Asuka away and leaving her alone.
Something was off. Not in a particularly bad way, but the air was charged in a way that was...new. It seemed like Rokka could see far more than she ever could before. Like looking into a hall of mirrors. It made her a little nauseated, but she was getting used to it. She didn’t like what she could see, though. Glimpses of something. The shape that stole them. Rokka could barely see it, with how fast it moved.
It was circling. It would move towards her for a second, then rush back, and appear in a different hallway. Had there been this many hallways before? She swore there were more every second, surrounding her in entrances to wings she’d never seen. And that...thing was in all of them, no matter what. She was standing in the middle of a many-pointed asterisk.
She couldn’t tell how long it had been. Seconds, maybe. Hours, maybe. The thing was stepping towards her. This time, it wasn’t moving backwards. Rokka had nothing she could do. Out of options. Probably out of time. She closed her eyes. Distantly, she hoped Ako and Asuka would be okay.
Rokka raised her hand in front of her. Out of instinct, more than anything. She heard heavy breathing coming towards her.
At the last second.
There was a pressure around her wrist. She felt something flow away from...from her mind? From the space she occupied? Whatever it was, it left from her palm. Maybe it was just her own blood.
Did dying feel like nothing at all? What did? She opened one eye just a bit, half-expecting to see her own body, from above. But she didn’t. She saw an empty hallway, with a long black mark all down the walls. There was some kind of mark on the back of her hand. And she saw a hand around her wrist. Someone was next to her. Had saved her, probably. Or taken her from the creature that had vanished. Rokka wrenched her arm away.
“Calm down, Rokka.”
Rokka wasn’t about to listen. She fell backwards and started crawling away, looking up at the hooded figure in front of her.
“I’m not here to hurt you. Really, I was just helping you aim.”
“Wh-what happened? Where did it go?”
“Well, you… ‘killed’ it. That kind of thing doesn’t really die, but it’s gone.”
“I...what? That doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t kill anything. I didn’t even touch it.”
“To put it simply, you have some kind of...unnatural ability. It was latent until this place came under that thing’s control. Which was...approximately sunset.” The figure helped her up. Rokka couldn’t see her face.
The woman straightened. She was wearing a long robe, held at the neck with a star-shaped clasp. Rokka suspected that even without the robe’s huge hood, there’d be some reason her face wouldn’t be visible.
“You must have had quite a shock. Apologies. Terrible things can happen for a reason.”
“Don’t worry. They’ll be okay. That creature’s territory dissolved thanks to you. They’ll wake up in their beds with no memory of what happened.”
“What...what if I hadn’t?”
“If I hadn’t come here, things would have played out differently. That’s why I’m here.” She looked away. “The deaths of Udagawa Ako, Toyama Asuka, and Asahi Rokka changed the world forever, you see.”
“We...would have died?”
“I’m only telling you this because it’s not going to happen anymore. Your latent ability wasn’t activated, in the place I came from. I had to help.”
“You’re from the future?”
“One of them. One that will hopefully never come to pass. You’ve already changed it, a little. There’ll be hope yet.”
“So, what exactly is this ability I have?”
“I never knew. It’s slightly similar to a few that I’ve seen, but it seems to be unique to your family.”
Rokka blinked. “Like, my entire family?”
“Again, it’s buried pretty deep. Not everyone has potential for it. And even then, it would stay latent until one of those creatures was nearby. You needed a bit of a kick.”
“Close as someone can get to it, I suppose. You’d have to practice. Right now all you can do is disrupt those things.” She thought for a moment. “I think it helped you see better, as well. I didn’t get much feedback from that part. Then again, I only interacted with your ability for a second.”
Rokka couldn’t really process all this. Magic? Monsters? It sounded like a dream. Or a nightmare, from what had happened. But she could see it. The faint mark of a closed eye, on the back of her hand.
The figure noticed Rokka looking down. “Ah, yeah, it’s a little rough to deal with all this information, huh? You couldn’t imagine how it was for me.” She laughed, a little wistfully. “Had to get a crash course, essentially.” She looked up. “I think I’m being called away. I’m sorry, Rokka. Strict schedule, this time travel stuff. You need to get going, by the way.” She started walking, into the air like there were invisible stairs.
“Wait! Is there anything you can tell me?”
The figure stopped and pondered for a second. “Look out for Mitake Ran. She’ll deny herself, at first. And be prepared for when the stars fall out of the sky. I’ve really gotta run.”
“I’m helping myself as much as I’m helping you. I...lost too much.” She vanished.
Rokka looked forward. Forward at the only real hallway. Forward at the black stain that was slowly vanishing. Down at her own hands, clean despite the destruction they were apparently capable of. She started to walk back to the exit. The air was still charged. With a little determination, now. She’d be ready to make things work out. Hopefully.
There was no darker place than the edge of the world. Kasumi Toyama sat on a lip of void, looking out over the hole in time and space where her home used to be. She’d made a change today, if today was a concept that mattered right now. She wished she had arrived in time to see her sister again. She couldn’t count the years, like she couldn’t count the stars. But Asuka would be happy, for longer. That Kasumi wouldn’t be alone this time.
She had to remember her name. Kasumi Toyama. Kasumi Toyama. The heart-pounding star that was ready to go out forever, to fix the world that had brought her here. To vanish, and let the right things happen. To let the real Kasumi flourish. Maybe this time things could be different. She made one change, after all. What’s another?
She hadn’t played guitar for eons. Well, not really. It hadn’t been that long. But for too long, she hadn’t wanted to express the emotions she felt. No amplification needed. She was making the only sounds.
At this point, her fingers couldn’t wear out. She played on and on, into the night with no sunrise. The sun stayed where it was.