The voice was distant and somewhat muted, but familiar. I fought through a red haze that threatened to engulf me.
“Yukari Namikoya!” the voice demanded again and I struggled to put a name to the speaker.
“…Sonoma-sensei?” The haze pulled back a little.
“That’s more like it,” he grumbled, the aged dwarf of a man coming into focus.
Sonoma-sensei taught science at Shinjuku High School…but I wasn’t –
“Pay attention,” he chided me, or perhaps the whole class. I could hear them now, chattering amongst themselves in a familiar fashion. “I have a new foreign exchange student to introduce…”
I struggled against the red haze, which filled my head like a fog. What was wrong with me?
“…now, take your seat,” Sonoma-sensei instructed the new student.
I shook my head to clear it and glanced back over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of the exchange student, but all I saw was the back of his blonde head. Oh well, perhaps this new student would provide a challenge for me, but likely he wouldn’t and things would remain as they always had.
Or had they…?
I had a vague recollection of a foreign exchange student coming to our class before, but I couldn’t remember his name or even which country was from. The red haze began creeping again and I mentally forced it back – no, I was going to pay attention.
For the next few hours, I felt out of place. It was like I was having trouble shaking myself out of a dream, or like I was still half-asleep, though I didn’t feel tired, but whenever I dwelt on it the red haze would return, filling my mind with its fog. I even considered making a trip to see the school nurse, but as the morning wore on the phenomenon grew less frequent and I started to settle back into my routine.
I filed into the cafeteria with everyone else and headed to my usual table overlooking the school yard through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Taking my usual seat, I lifted my bag onto the table and reached into it for my bento box, but it wasn’t there. Had I forgotten it?
I tried to think back to the morning, but all I got for my troubles was more red fog.
Even more than not paying attention in science class, forgetting my lunch was particularly unlike me. With a sigh, I pushed my chair back, fished some yen from my bag, and reluctantly joined the cafeteria line-up.
The sandwich cost me one hundred and fifty yen. The shrink-wrapped slices of white bread with the little bit of ham poking out in the middle were nothing particularly special. I sighed dejectedly – that would teach me not to forget my lunch again.
I felt eyes on my back. I stiffened, then forced myself to relax. It wasn’t every day, but people often stared at my blue hair. I sighed and turned to see who it was this time, only to not recognize the blue eyes staring back at my own.
The foreign exchange student, it must be. He was tall and powerfully muscled with deeply tanned skin, golden blond hair, and light eyes. He stared at me in puzzlement, as if he was trying to figure out where he knew me from. I returned the stare from behind the shelter of my square-framed glasses, wondering myself at the aching familiarity I felt studying his features. Surely it wasn’t possible we had encountered each other before if he was from out of the country, but nevertheless the feeling remained. We continued to study one another until a student passed between our two tables and the moment was broken. I forced myself to return my attention to my sad excuse of a lunch.
Fresh white bread, roughly cut, with a slice of meat and a leaf of lettuce; the sandwich before me lay innocently in its cloth wrapping. My hand hovered over it, unable to reach for it as I watched pink blotches blossom on the pristine white bread, marring it with the fluid leaking from my dead mount. That sandwich, soaked pink with discharged mount water and chunks of combined metal and flesh, was all that remained of the place where we had made camp and the sand around me was soaked with blood and tears.
Something was wrong. Something was missing and it ached that I couldn’t remember what it was.
Red fog swirled in my mind, covering the strange vision until the fog was all I could see, all I could think. I forced my way past it and it was like swimming upstream against a powerful current, but then, all of sudden, I burst free of the haze.
I peeled the plastic wrap from my commercially produced sandwich and reconciled myself to taking a bite. It tasted just as synthetic as it looked, but what had I been expecting?
About Crimson Winter: City of Ruby:
Reeling after the fall of the Kingdom of Taiyou, Yukari Namikoya and her remaining allies find themselves reduced to scared refugees hidden far below the earth in the Temple of Machalite. The dreaded Lady Lilyth rules in Taiyou now and threatens to bring the whole world under her dominion one piece at a time.
And what the Lady Lilyth can’t control, she plans to destroy.
In a desperate bid for the survival and freedom of the various races of Crimson Winter, Yukari must seek to uncover secrets the Vile Emperor has kept hidden for a millenia and in order to do this, she has to journey to the last place she’d ever thought she’d go – the Ruby City.
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Thank you for sharing this excerpt!