Chapter 35: This Foreboding Feeling
As Takeshi pushed opened the door, he found it falling to a worn out floor where it coughed up dust. Stepping over the fragile thing, he entered the house with a flood of light and as the hardwood crumbled like twigs under his feet, he realized exploring the second floor wouldn’t be an option. Instead, he could only follow a trail of empty bottles as it led him through a curtain of webs, and into a once extravagant room. He was sure there had been valuables here at a time; a vase that sat atop a pedestal in the corner, and a line of plates above the fireplace, but all there was now was a raggedy couch and tattered rug, and pieces of the ceiling that had joined them as time passed. Following the room brought him to a dining room through an arch, and made him pinch his brow as he interrupted a macabre feast.
“Someone must have thought this would be funny.” Sakuya came up behind him, and felt her eyes bulge at the sight.
“Bandits,” Takeshi replied as he moved into the room and ignore the dirt and dust covered skeletons that sat around a dinner table. “I’ve seen something like this before, as if to say they weren’t afraid of the town or whatever, a group of bandits would sit the dead up like this.” He continued through another door and found himself in a kitchen.
“That’s right, you’ve probably seen a lot of stuff like this.” Sakuya followed close behind.
“A lot more than I was ready to see.” He continued across broken-checkered tiles and stopped as he peered into a perilous darkness. “When I finished my training with my teacher I was about fourteen. I thought I was ready to go looking for my parents, but I learnt quickly just how unprepared I was.” He took a step as Sakuya joined him at his side, and they continued deeper into the abyss. “It bothers me,” He admitted as he found a beam of light on the other side of the room.
“That it feels familiar?” Sakuya looked around, and found a wooden box in the shadows of a furnace.
“Yeah.” Takeshi said as he moved toward a desk in the light. “This place feels a lot like a village that the Town Stealer attacked… It feels like it just wants people to forget it…” His eyes sunk as he found a journal, and threw back its cover. “The reason I was in Hokutaga…” He began to flip through the pages. “Was because I wanted to see the village I grew up in.” He said as he found writing and took a seat.
“That must have been hard for you.” Sakuya said as she pried open the box.
“It was, but at the same time, it made me feel pathetic… I guess.” He murmured as gave his eyes to the words, and his mind to the past.
He recounted as he recalled, telling her of what his town used to be. It was a small one like all those the Town Stealer had assaulted before, with a circle of twenty-or-so houses opening into a square. If he followed a road, he could find his school and few other buildings, a weapon shop and grocery store, and a place where he had often gone to see newborn pets. He admitted, as he gently flipped the pages of the tattered book, that he didn’t know what he was expecting when he had decided to go home, but it was nothing like what he felt when he saw the fire damage, and the bloodstains of anyone who was foolish enough to fight.
“I was five when it all happened…” His attention left the tome for a moment. “I didn’t really have much cares back then, the most I had to worry about was when my dad would get home. The only travelers I had met were the people he invited home for dinner, and all of them were people he had invited before. I had just started school and everything, so my afternoons were pretty free with the other kids and me playing around the fountain in the square.”
“That’s awful!” Sakuya exclaimed as she realized how terrible the moment had to be. “You were so young, there was no way you were prepared for any of that.” She looked to him as he stared through the basement window.
“Not at all. I was playing in the square when I realized my mom didn’t call me for dinner. I tried to remember where she was…” His head lowered as distant panic pulled at his heart. “The store…” An evening flushed sky flashed in his mind, and a realization, that the store had never seem so far off before. “I remembered that she went to the grocery store, and decided I’d go there too, and we’d walk home together. I thought I’d help her make dinner for dad and whoever his guest would be, I even laughed because I didn’t mind if it was the one with the daughter who always tried to kiss me.” Now he leaned forward as he held his head.
“Did you ever see her again?” Sakuya forgot the box as she turned and listened.
“I’m not even sure.” Takeshi closed his eyes and remembered a chained woman walking thirty people ahead of her, and he tried to remember if that was really her. “I started running, thinking that I’d be with her before nightfall, and then I heard a horse and a scream.” He recalled the pain of falling as he heard the horse, and the scream made him trip. “I ran, not from it, but toward it, and…” A sudden pain jolted up the back of his head, “I was struck and knocked out. When I woke up, I was in chains, I remember my father calling for me, telling me that everything would be alright, but I can’t remember my mother saying anything… I’m not even sure it was my father.” He said as he remembered how strange his father’s voice had seemed with depression and exhaustion weighing it down.
“You couldn’t do anything back then, so that’s why you felt pathetic?” Sakuya came to his side.
“I wish that was it,” His eyes met hers. “It worse than that though. I had lost everything when I was five, spent two years bound and shuffled around, and months wondering when an awful monster would make me its lunch, and despite that, after going home I somehow felt that all my hardships meant nothing because people had it worst.”
“Even if people did have it worst, that’s not fair to you.”
“I know, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. I didn’t realize why, until we came here.” Takeshi was brought back to the book in front of him, as he began to read again. “It was because despite everything, while travelling Geura, I had seen what a real Town Stealer attack could do. I had seen how much destruction and despair he left in his wake, and nothing in my hometown compared to that by far.”
“And this place feels like that?” Sakuya crossed her arms as she leaned against the wall.
“Yeah, that why I want to find the witch and the thing she’s after, if it has anything to do with the Town Stealer I have to stop it at all cost.” Takeshi looked to her, and Sakuya smiled, realizing it was too late to drop out now. “Say Sakuya, what was in that box over there?”
“I didn’t finish going through it, but most of it is music sheets.” She looked to the box and Takeshi stood and nodded.
“I thought so.” He murmured. “All this journal talks about is how the author had a song in his head. The first few entries talk about how it was a whisper, but as it goes on it gets louder and his doctor suggests he writes them down.” He put the book aside and began to go through the box.
“Don’t waste your time.” Sakuya let out a sigh. “It looks like music but the notes on the page are strange, they fall in the right lines and spaces but… it doesn’t feel like you can play that song on an instrument.” She explained, and Takeshi confirmed, as he flipped through the music and returned it to the box.
“The author says that the music felt so strange, and that he wasn’t the only one who started to hear it. He consulted the thing they worshipped and when they learned it made the music, they decided they had to bury it. It was a nice melody, but they felt like it made their mind wither away.” He explained, and Sakuya thought about the book and about the town.
It was too small for any landmark to be hidden, and yet she was sure she hadn’t seen a graveyard. She admitted to herself, that it was a strange line of thinking, and yet she couldn’t help but feel that a graveyard was where they had to go. She thought about the bones sitting at the feast of the dead, and about the bottles left scattered on the floor, that made a road to them, and then she looked to Takeshi who was deep in thought as well, and suddenly wondered why the witch sought this power above all over.
“It did this…” The realization hit Takeshi first, and Sakuya stay silent in agreement. “I thought those skeletons were set like that because of the bandits, but they were just doing what the thing wanted.” He berated himself silently as he threw the book aside.
“We’re probably looking for a crypt.” Sakuya said and Takeshi returned with a nod, then together they left the house, and headed back to the town square.
There, Aeriane and the others stood puzzled in defeat, and listened intently as the duo began to explain. They too, found the thought a bit perplexing, but couldn’t find an argument to defeat it, realizing instead that they had been pulled into a web.
“I saw a town map at the school.” Aeriane told them, but hesitated with each word. “But are we sure we want to go?” The question forced itself out, and the group went silent for a moment.
“I think…” Takeshi raised his head. “That the witch is who the music wants the most, and that even though it feels like its manipulating us, that’s more of a double-edged sword for it.”
“Then it’s time to decide how everything is going to go.” Zuku repaid his raised head with a stern look. “My siblings aren’t going to let us just go after our mom, and you guys know that they’re willing to die for her. When the fights break out, we have to know who’s fighting who, so that we can finish them quickly and stop them from draining that beast.”
“They’re your siblings so we’re in your hands.” Sakuya looked to him.
“I want you to leave Kyotaro to me, which would leave Charlie, Prea, and Dal’cade.” He looked them over and deliberated. “One of you two should fight Dal’cade.” His eyes fell onto Takeshi and Sakuya. “I hate to say it, but you should fight Prea, magic girl, Charlie’s going to be a lot tougher though.” He wondered about Jasmine, who had done so poorly against Haze.
“Don’t worry…” Jasmine gave her head a strong shake. “I won’t lose like I did before.” She looked resolute, but Zuku did nothing to hide his doubt, wondering if he could finish Kyotaro in time to come and help.
“Well worry about it, when we get to it.” He said and after retrieving the map from the school, the group set out for a crypt on the outskirts of town…